Friday, April 30, 2010

Hamsher's unreconstructed left-liberalism

No sooner had I been thinking, "Hey, Lev, what's Jane Hamsher up to?" than does someone bring this to my attention:

The Progressive Movement is Officially Dead
By: Jane Hamsher

Here's her argument:

Shortly after Obama took office, the White House tried to cut Social Security benefits, but they had to back off, fearful that they would lose the support of liberal interest groups who joined together en masse behind the scenes to oppose it. The administration subsequently herded them all into a room, threatened their funding, and captivated them in an effort to pass a health care bill written by the Heritage Foundation and the insurance industry. And the progressive groups went along with it, proving that there is absolutely no limit to what they’ll accept.

Of course, the White House is going to go after Social Security again. It’s the pot of gold at the end of Wall Street’s rainbow, and they desperately want that injection of cash which could keep their giant ponzi scheme from exploding. . . for a little while.

Lucky for them, Obama has successfully dismantled the opposition that kept George Bush from privatizing Social Security at Wall Street’s behest only a few years ago. Did anybody fail to get that message when majority whip Dick Durbin yesterday told “bleeding heart liberals” that they need to be willing to accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits for the economic well-being of the nation?

And there will be zero pushback. Right now liberal interest groups are afraid to oppose Elana Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court because they fear Obama will triangluate against them and they’ll look impotent to their donors. Just as the choice groups sat on their hands for the Nelson amendment in the health care bill, just like the Sierra Club remains mute in the wake of an oil spill the size of Delaware, there will be nothing more than progressive window-dressing in opposition to cutting Social Security benefits this time around. Any of these groups utter so much as a whimper in response to Durbin’s very alarming statement yesterday? Nada. Zip. Zero.

The idea that the right is more “authoritarian” and top-down than the left is absurd. Conservatives successfully organized to keep Harriet Miers off the bench for having an insufficient record, they kicked Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist out, and they’re getting ready to expel Bob Bennett — very much against the will of the party. The GOP had to get on board or lose the support of their base. Meanwhile, Democratic leadership still celebrates Joe Lieberman every day, rubbing our noses in it for ever having had the audacity to challenge him in the first place.

You know, there was a point where I thought comparing Jane Hamsher to, say, Michelle Malkin would just have been a mean joke. But it's pretty much impossible to tell them apart anymore. This is paranoid stuff. (All those links, by the way, are links to FDL, not to, say, a fact-checking website. Shocker, huh?)

Look, I'm not interested in picking on the FDL people. They have their following, and the 5% of people who think Obama's too conservative (which would include me on security issues at least) are allowed to have their little movement as well. And they can certainly serve a valuable purpose! I tend to think all this talk of Overton windows is a little silly, but there is something to it, and if dissident progressives were spending all their time outlining more progressive alternatives, exploiting weaknesses in both mainstream conservative and liberal arguments, etc., hey, that would be helpful! But instead she's arguing that Obama wants to cut Social Security benefits (which is probably true, as part of keeping the program solvent), which somehow means that he wants to privatize Social Security (?) (or perhaps they're one and the same to Jane), and that he got the entire progressive movement to go along with this solely through the force of his charisma. Which is dubious, considering how many sorts of hell unions raised solely about the (quite minor) excise tax on health insurance. Cutting retirement benefits would undoubtedly have ratcheted it up several thousand notches. Of course, no facts are really presented to back any of these assertions up. This is almost Glenn Beck level stuff here. There's something about health care reform being the product of work of the Heritage Foundation, which eerily echoes conservative obsessions with the origin of certain ideas (Is it paid for by George Soros?) rather than with the content of the ideas themselves. I could care less about where HCR came from--it's a good idea! Not the best idea, but a good and workable one, that's shown real success in Massachusetts and Germany and the Netherlands, among others. And she's angry that the Sierra Club didn't update their website about the oil spill, which has to do with Obama why? She really doesn't like Elena Kagan (whose name she misspells) because she thinks Kagan will be used in a triangulation strategy against liberals. I have my concerns with Kagan, but this is only tangentially related to anything else in the screed.

But the later reference to Harriet Miers is poignant here. Miers was certainly no rocket scientist, but my guess is that she would have done okay on the Court, and would likely have been a fair sight more moderate than Samuel Alito. She had the classic profile of a conservative-to-moderate switcher on the Court--she is Protestant, did not have a history of ideological activism, and had little judicial experience. See also: Harry Blackmun, Sandra Day O'Connor, Warren Burger (though he flipped back to the right after a time), Tony Kennedy, David Souter, etc. That's why the right wing opposed her--smartly for them, of course. Do you really think the right would have had a problem with someone about as unqualified but hard-core right-wing, like Hans von Spakovsky? I doubt it. I could be wrong about all this, I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that the Democrats' handling of Miers' nomination--attempting to torpedo the nomination to try to split the President's supporters and give Bush a loss--was misguided at best. This is all beside the point though. Miers and Kagan aren't at all alike--Kagan is a brilliant legal mind whose job mainly involves defending administration policy, whether she agrees with it or not. The lack of a paper trail makes me a little nervous, but she has plenty of defenders, and unless you buy Hamsher's "Obama is a stealth rightist" line it doesn't really make sense that he'd knowingly put a right-winger on the Court. His previous pick has proven to be entirely unproblematic from a liberal perspective. So what's the problem here again?

It's not like Hamsher doesn't have any points here, even if they're couched in a shooting gallery-style angry rant that is heavy on accusations and light on facts. But what interests me about this is that Hamsher is a liberal of the old school, and I really don't mean this in a good way. There used to be a certain type of liberal that really would spend, spend, spend and not worry about how to pay for it. (See also: John Lindsay, "Ford to City: Drop Dead") In fact, there used to be quite a few of them who would laugh off annoying "budget scolds", as she puts it. The problem is that those people gave liberalism a terrible reputation. Thanks to them, nobody would trust liberals to run the economy, and we got a long procession of Republicans with their dubious claims of fiscal conservatism running things. That fiscal conservatism isn't a hilarious punchline even now shows how deep the damage was. Even after Bush, the public hasn't quite come around to trusting liberals again.

Personally, I don't think it's a defect of progressivism that Obama's debt-reduction committee might look at making some benefit cuts. Embracing responsible budgeting is not a failure of contemporary liberalism, but rather a sign of its maturation. I don't think that making Social Security solvent should just involve benefit cuts (ditto Medicare), but that's got to be considered and it probably will have to happen to some degree. Rather than throwing down markers, liberalism has first to establish its competence as a governing force, and it has to demonstrate that government can do more than pave roads and send out checks. Ultimately, that was what the health care debate was really about. Hamsher, of course, was pretty clueless about the bigger issues at stake. And while Elena Kagan would not be my first choice for Supreme Court justice (I'd prefer Diane Wood or Jennifer Granholm), I'd be willing to actually listen to the case for her before passing judgment.

For all the talk about epistemic closure on the right, it's really fascinating to see such an acute case of it on the left. Linking only to yourself, making wild accusations without evidence, asserting things instead of proving them: it's just like Rush Limbaugh. I actually feel sorry for Hamsher--sounds like she's pretty disappointed that her vision of change hasn't worked out. She feels betrayed by the left, sees progressives as phonies, and her tone has shifted to one of besiegement, antiestablishmentarianism, and populism. I've read enough history to know where this is going. She sounds well on her way to formally shifting allegiances and becoming a hard-core conservative. Her alliance with Grover Norquist, in retrospect, seems to indicate that this transition is under way. I would like to think I'm wrong, but this narrative is all too common. In a few years, I'm guessing she'll be doing what she does under the aegis of the right, and she'll probably be extremely popular, doing speaking tours with Ann Coulter and all that.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.