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January 16, 2007

Would That People Understood This Better

Max Sawicky:

The contemporary "Internet left" is not very left. It is vociferous, partisan, and alert to opportunities to nail Republicans and Joe Lieberman. And there's nothing wrong with that. But left? Please.

The netroots were forged in the heat of the 90s, of Clintonism, of triangulation. We are, largely, an empiricist, unideological movement -- part of Clinton's Democratic Party, even while there's a conscious effort to break away from his fetishistic centrism. The radicalism, such as it is, exists in tone, buttressed by a few signaling policy tests. Iraq, for instance. And health care. But outside of Sirota, there's very little talk of trade, and very few who reflexively question the 90s model of globalization. Unions have begun to penetrate more deeply into the online consciousness, but not hugely so. When TPM Cafe tried to start a Labor blog, it fell apart in a couple of months. There's little appetite for fundamental government intervention in the economy, or enduring pacifism abroad.

In essence, we're on the leftmost edge of the mainstream consensus on most, though not all, issues. American power can be good but Iraq is bad. Free trade is good but CAFTA is bad. The free market is good but relatively poor at providing health care. Etc, etc. Now, those all might be the right positions. They're certainly my positions, so don't think I'm exempting myself here. But they're not "a left," certainly not in the way the NeoCons and the libertarians compose the country's right.

January 16, 2007 | Permalink


Given that there's hardly anything about which neocons and libertarians agree, it would be rather peculiar if they comprise America's right.

Posted by: Tim Lee | Jan 16, 2007 11:25:44 AM

Together, they do: The NeoCons are far right on foreign policy, you libertarian folks out of sight on economics. But no, they're certainly not nuts on the same things, in the same ways.

Posted by: Ezra | Jan 16, 2007 11:29:49 AM

I guess that's fair. It just makes my skin crawl to be lumped together with Bill Kristol...

Posted by: Tim Lee | Jan 16, 2007 11:35:56 AM

lie down with dogs...

Posted by: aimai | Jan 16, 2007 11:56:34 AM

I would argue that the NeoCons and libertarians are to the Right what the "internet left" is to the left--the rightmost edge of mainstream consensus.

To find a "true right" (in the sense that a representative of the "true left" would be much more like, say, the French Socialist Party) would put you (depending on what you count as "right") in Pat Buchanan or serious federalist territory.

Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 16, 2007 12:12:38 PM

This is a good post. What I would add is that this ideology that you outline represents a pretty specific socioeconomic group - the growing professional class. Labor issues don't have a pull because practically no one in the netroots is in a union. Civil libertarian issues are huge here because, well, we're pretty well off as a bunch, and so protecting our already-existing liberties is a bigger deal than it is in the general population. The netroots have been moving more and more to the left with time, and it's a very good thing, I think, but I'm not sure how much can be done unless the demographics change quite a bit.

I mean, I like the netroots - I spend a lot of time here, I learn a lot, I find opportunities for activisim and volunteering - but I think Ezra's post is very useful in pointing out that the netroots don't represent the Democratic party, or even the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. They represent primarily the professional class as an interest group within the Democratic party.

Posted by: DivGuy | Jan 16, 2007 12:24:02 PM

It's not even a movement, really - the 'net is too diverse for that. It's more of a series of cliques or clubs, with the A-list "kewl kids" bloggers getting all the press (and press passes) and bragging rights and the rest of us just reading and linking to each other. It's wonderful and vital and has some terrific citizen journalism and the potential for lots of community building, but by and large the community that's built is more social than activist. (Which isn't a bad thing, we need social networks too, but we shouldn't kid ourselves.)

Posted by: Elayne Riggs | Jan 16, 2007 12:33:54 PM

I think the "how far left is the Internet left" answer would vary depending on your blog reading list. Certainly the big-name Lefty bloggers are a more or less center-left bunch, but go down a tier or two on the popularity scale and it's easy to find blogs whose authors are so far to the left that they can barely stomach even being called a Democrat.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jan 16, 2007 12:56:39 PM

I would argue that the NeoCons and libertarians are to the Right what the "internet left" is to the left--the rightmost edge of mainstream consensus. - Sam Chevre

That was my first thought, too! Moreover, just as we moonbats of the internet left are not necessarily ideologically the leftists or even the liberals of yore (nor the strawmen and strawwomen the righty-tighties make us out to be), even if it could be argued that the glibertarians (real libertarians are another, not necessarily rightist, breed) and neo-cons are more "extremist" than we, the extremism of the glibertarians and the neo-cons is not meaningfully conservative and only reactionary/right-wing in the inevitability that their programs, no matter how they are "sold", result in the propagation and expansion of a near-feudal social hierarchy.

Anyway, as far as fiat lux's point is concerned, this is true -- but the goal posts of what tendancies mark one as being on the far left have moved (even as certain things, the acceptance of which used to label one as quite a lefty, are now at least nominally, if not de facto, accepted by what's considered to be the right -- I wonder if their is any correlation between the acceptance of certain liberal victories and the rejection of the momentum of liberalism per se?) to the point where Truman would be considered part of the left flank of the Dem. party ... so just 'cause those bloggers are so far to the left that they are barely Dems., doesn't mean they are really all that far left in the grand scheme of things.

Posted by: DAS | Jan 16, 2007 1:13:09 PM

I basically agree with Ezra's post; I've written about a hundred comments urging my favorite bloggers, including Ezra, to take a stand (the correct one) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then it dawned on me: you cats just don't agree with me!

The netroots community values combativeness above almost all else. It's been interesting to see the netroots finally warm to Edwards. For months he'd been putting together a fine set of lefty positions and speeches focusing on economic issues, but what was the turning point for Edwards? When he labeled escalation the McCain Doctrine. The netroots is about politics.

But I don't think this issue is as simple as Ezra--or espeically Sawicky--makes it out to be. For one thing, Sawicky seems to think that to be a leftist, you have to focus on economics and foreign policy, but there's a pretty pure and unabashed cultural leftism being espoused on some big blogs, whether it's Pandagon or Eschaton. It might not suit Sawicky's definition, or vision, of leftism, but leftism it is. For another thing, what's the Internet left? I guess Ezra and Sawicky are referring to the most popular blogs and the people who hang there. My sense is, visitors to blogs are often more to the left than the authors; to read an Eschaton or Digby comment thread is to immerse yourself in some pretty hardcore, if raw, leftism. As things progress, and Democrats gain power, these people will seek out and start blogs that suit their ideologies. It's fluid. And even right now, for every Drum, there's a Wolcott. For every Tapped, a Counterpunch. For every Stoller, a Sawicky. What's more, thanks in no small measure to the Iraq War, some bloggers who started out in the center, like Ackeman and Yglesias, are moving left. Let's hope they've been truly radicalized.

Posted by: david mizner | Jan 16, 2007 1:16:53 PM

Sawicky is correct that the netroots "aren't all that left" but that has to be in part because "being all that left" is barely a respectable position in US politics these days. I'd suggest that the years since Reagan have seen a shift in the centre of gravity of US politics, certainly the rise of Fox News suggests a shift in the centre of gravity of the media. As a result, where the scariest Republican primary candidate of the last how ever many years was David Duke (who is surely "pretty far out there"?) the lefty who gets all the scare-quotes appears to be Dennis Kucinich...

In that context, it shouldn't surprise that compared to the 60s Sawicky finds the netroots to be rather centrist.

Posted by: Meh | Jan 16, 2007 2:01:13 PM

I foresee that the "Internet left"'s emphasis on party discipline will have right-wing implications in the future. If President Hillary Clinton wants to take the country into a war on false pretenses, with strong Republican opposition, I suspect that anyone on the left who protests will be named "Wanker of the day".

Posted by: digamma | Jan 16, 2007 2:01:55 PM

My sense is, visitors to blogs are often more to the left than the authors

I haven't noticed this, necessarily, but it can be hard to recognize yourself; the mirror-image is certainly true of the comment threads on the right-leaning but moderate end of the 'sphere: aside from the explicitly lefty (and quixotic) commenters, the Volokh Conspirators are the least right-wing voices in most threads, and I've seen the same elsewhere.

Posted by: Quarterican | Jan 16, 2007 2:05:48 PM

I think that there's some movement among liberals away from free trade boosterism, not "reflexively" but after much consideration. In fact it's a part of teh very same process that led some of us to concern about income inequality and health care. If we start looking at real people, and real groups smaller than the nation as a whole, the claim "free trade is good" starts looking as appealing as the claim "productivity and per capita income are up, so we're in good shape".

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jan 16, 2007 2:35:46 PM

digamma, I'm not seeing this "emphasis on party discipline" you refer to, or perhaps it just doesn't look the same from here. The current emphasis is on trying to accomplish some moderately liberal goals immediately and setting the stage to consolidate gains in the 2008 elections. It *could* develop into the kind of blind allegiance you refer to (a la Republicans c. 2002-2006), but I doubt it. More likely, there will be some who will line up with the Establishment of the day and plenty of others ready to throw brickbats at how "they" are ruining "our" Democratic party.

Posted by: jackd | Jan 16, 2007 2:54:53 PM

Where's Bob?

I agree with Sam and DAS. I don't think most neocons and libertarians are really more extreme than the netroots; they just seem that way to liberals. In terms of popular support for their views they do at least as well as the netroots folks. There are some on each side that are further out.

It's not a bad thing, in my view, that reality has moved people away from the extremes. The further out you get on either side, the more faith in ideology takes a central role.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 16, 2007 3:07:17 PM

Neocons and Libertarians aren't extreme compared to the left, they are extreme according to what most polls say the American people on average want. If you have data to the contrary, please provide it.

Posted by: akaison | Jan 16, 2007 3:42:44 PM

By the way, as I mentioned on another thread on this subject, the so-called angry middle or white collor populist or middle class populist is being credited with winning the election above all other categories. There was an article on this subject in the NY Times magazine a few weeks ago. I found that what they were saying regardless of background did indeed resonate with me.

Posted by: akaison | Jan 16, 2007 3:44:19 PM

There's no *American* Left to be found on the internet, because there's no American left at all. There's only so far left one can go as an American before you slip into despair. Asking why there's no American internet Left is like asking why there's no American internet Monarchists - no one who believes in either also believes that it would work in the U.S.

Posted by: msw | Jan 16, 2007 3:50:51 PM

Akaison, I've already provided as much data as you have. Neocons and libertarians do at least as well as netroots lefty types at the polls.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 16, 2007 3:53:32 PM

bullshit- I have more data. last year the democrats won by significant margins in both houses, they won at the state level. They did so with out losing a single race. The reason in part is because of the economic populism being talked about here. the libetarians poll at best 2 percent. The neocons were only able to win, and only then through fear and lying about who they were one election, and I will just call 2000 a tie. NEither Bush 1 or Reagan can be called either libertarian or neocon. more importantly, on poll after poll including the healthcare issue which you disputed the data but never provided any real counter data, the left leaning position is the favored position. On student loans, on jobs creation, on minimum wage, on any number of other issues, the polls all show that left leaning positions are the favored positions. You can easily google this shit and looki up for yourself. unless last years win was a matter of libertarians and Neocons winning through some process that I dont know about, then your statement has no basis in fact. Are you claiming that the democrats who won last year were libertarins or neocon? are you claiming that the american people support libertarians or neocons- if so point to polls showing them having significant wins. many of the democrats who ran- ran economically on populists positions. "the middle class is being squeezed." or similar to Webb's Wall Street Journal article which said that the biggest issue affecting americans among others is the income gap. None of this is libetarian or neocon thinking.

Posted by: akaison | Jan 16, 2007 4:05:48 PM

Akaison, I have to start almost every post to you by saying you're misreading what has been said. I'm talking about the people Ezra describes as "the leftmost edge of the mainstream consensus." You're talking about Democrats, whom most netroots lefty types find way too centrist on the whole. Probably less than half of the netroots are willing to embrace Bill Clinton., who was left of center but not enough for them. How many Russ Feingolds were swept into office in 2006? That's where the netroots are.

I never questioned your health care stats. I questioned how comprehensive they were.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 16, 2007 4:24:27 PM

your problem sanpete is that you are always misunderstood which is why I will stop the convo - poor misunderstood sanpete.

Posted by: akaison | Jan 16, 2007 4:53:30 PM

I don't think most neocons and libertarians are really more extreme than the netroots - Sanpete

Just to clarify, personally, perhaps because I'm a netroots lefty type, I believe that most neo-cons and glibertarians are more extreme than us moonbats under any objective standard of extremism. It's just that to call either group rightist in any sense other than that they are extremists whose policy prescriptions happen to benefit the already privaleged, to the point of being quasi-feudal in their potential effects, doesn't really capture who the neo-cons and glibertarians are politically (c.f. the point about monarchists in the US) just as not all of lefty-moonbats really subscribe to Dr. Sawicky's vision of liberal economic policy (which vision itself is not all that left wing).

Moreover, the calibration implicit in my agreement with Sam's comment is the calibration not based on what I'd find non-extreme or what the average American would find non-extreme, but based on the bounds of acceptable political discourse as established by the MSM and such. Thus, the neo-cons and glibertarians are further to the right, under most meaningful definitions of further from the center, than we moonbats are to the left, but the neo-cons and glibertarians are just as much authentic rightists as we moonbats are authentic leftists ... and from the point of view of what those who consider themselves to be the centrist refs of our public discourse, the glibertarians and neo-cons are no further to the right than we are to the left.

What people actually think has nothing to do with? Whaddya think we live in, a democracy? < / snark >

Posted by: DAS | Jan 16, 2007 5:36:51 PM


Here is a Pew Research Center poll on public opinion on issues in three broad categories, Social Policy, Economic and Domestic Policy, and Military and Foreign Policy. The poll is a couple of years old, and public opinion on some issues has certainly shifted since then, but I don't see much there to suggest the American people tend to favor liberal or Democratic positions over conservative or Republican ones in the aggregate. Yes, you're right that the minimum wage and health care reform are winning issues for Democrats (although the latter perhaps more in theory than in practise). Ditto for stem-cell research, outsourcing, bankruptcy laws and some other issues. But look at the results for other questions: taxes, spending, gay marriage, religious displays on public buildings, malpractise laws, supreme court appointments, the teaching of creationism in public schools, trade agreements, and the use of military force and torture. There isn't much there to comfort liberals.

Posted by: Jason | Jan 16, 2007 8:27:55 PM

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