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March 03, 2007

Joe Klein and the Extremists

By Ezra

Who is Joe Klein arguing against here? Even a left-wing strawman would find this recitation of his positions a smidge reductive. And to say that "it would be wildly stupid for me to get into a pissing match by naming names" is basically irresponsible. Either Joe Klein is arguing against real human beings with a role in the national dialogue or he is not, but until he names some names, the context of the conversation suggests he's talking about the left wing blogosphere -- he's simply retaining plausible deniability around his insinuation. And to make matters worse, Klein then updated to say, "Atrios may or may not be an ideological extremist--I was wrong to say he was, since I don't know enough about him--but he sure is a purveyor of extreme and terminally smug rhetoric," which is both a dodge and somewhat lazy.

Duncan Black was a professional economist at the University of California at Irvine and Bryn Mawr. I can promise Joe that he doesn't think -- indeed, that just about no one thinks -- "corporations are fundamentally evil." Corporations are fundamentally profit-driven, and to not know that is a failure of education, not ideology. And extreme rhetoric is neither here nor there in this discussion. It's a way of ensuring the insult Klein walked back -- ideological extremism -- is replaced by another attack, this one basically aesthetic.

All that said, I'm digressing here. The nut graf to understanding Klein's thoughts comes after he professes pride in his "wanker of the day" awards and says that "Lots of you assume that my relative moderation is some sort of carefully calculated chicken-hearted pose rather than an actual belief system. But I've come to my views honestly, after years of watching extremists on both sides of the spectrum refuse to accept the complexities of reality with disastrous consequences." I've no doubt his views are honest and arrived at thoughtfully. But that doesn't make them right.

What Klein isn't doing here is engaging the substance of the critiques made against him. Instead, it looks like he's allowing his a priori belief that "extremists on both sides of the spectrum refuse to accept the complexities of reality with disastrous consequences" to take over for argument. From there, he can term Atrios an extremist -- in rhetoric, if not in ideology -- and discount his criticisms. Thus, every "wanker" award becomes a badge of honor, as the insults of an extremist imply that Klein is the opposite, i.e, someone who accepts the complexities of of reality with beneficial consequences.

March 3, 2007 | Permalink


Joe Klein is a deeply shallow man.

Posted by: Misplaced Patriot | Mar 3, 2007 12:19:02 PM

Sincerely believing things because they evenly split the difference of what everybody else believes is calculating and chickenhearted.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Mar 3, 2007 12:24:11 PM

As was mentioned in the exchanges so far, Joe Klein shares a place on the TIME masthead with Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, two people who absolutely fit the definition of 'ideological extremist'. They advocate extreme policies in the name of their ideological principles.

But I'll bet plenty of money that Klein isn't prepared to name them as such.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 12:25:25 PM

Joe Klein is full of shit. To give him reasoned arguements against his assertions is far more than the lying tool deserves. Some might think this immoderate. It's right on the mark.

Posted by: hylander | Mar 3, 2007 12:29:06 PM

Heh, this whole exchange is pretty puffed-up, isn't it?

I think you're right Ezra, the question of rhetoric vs. idealogy goes to the heart of the question. Joe Klein is idealogically pretty liberal, certainly not a centrist by any meaningful defintion of that term. But he's very much a rhetorical centrist. He doesn't believe in calling people "wankers," "enemy of the state," or "worst person in the world." And because of this he believes he is superior to the commentators and pundits that do do so.

Of course by the same token a lot of people in the liberal blogosphere think they're superior to Joe Klein precisely beacuse he's rhetorically centrist and they're less rhetorically restrained. Somewhat ironic, especially when their overall policy positions aren't so different.

To put my own views out, I think Joe Klein doesn't have a bad definition of left-wing extremists: that is, people who hate corporations, hate America, and express that hate using inflammatory language. Oh no, strawman you say!!11!!! Yeah, maybe, but so what? Obviously left-wing extremists exist. Swampland's own comments section is full of them. Who needs a precise definition? It's like porn, we all know it when we see it.

You could respond by saying that 1) there aren't that many such left-wing extremists and 2) right-wing extremists are more prominent, more dangerous, and more extreme than left-wing extremists. I fully agree with both these points. In fact, I bet Joe Klein would too. Yeah, Klein focuses far too much of his attention on combating left-wing extremists, a pointless endeavour. But that doesn't make him a "lying tool," now does it?

I think Klein's strongest point is the one about civility and civil discourse. Take Atrio's "wanker of the day." What constructive purpose does this serve? It's just nonsense red-meat for the base--useless rhetorical extremism. You could disagree (it's channeling anger and all that), but there's a legitimate criticism to be made there. The comparison and contrast here is Josh Marshall, or even the Other Klein himself.

Posted by: Korha | Mar 3, 2007 1:12:03 PM

I distrust a person who has such a privileged access to reality, yet refuses to fess up to the simple reality of being named a wanker by a more popular blogger. There is nothing wrong with that - reality is, nobody likes to be insulted. Who wants to be called a masturbator all the time? Myself, I like masturbation, but I don't want to be introduced as a fine masturbator. Now, if Klein can't admit that simple reality, then I really distrust his ability to peer into the "complexities" of the phenomena like a wise and wizened sage. I really think he's a wanker.

Posted by: roger | Mar 3, 2007 1:15:37 PM

" the simple reality of being [bothered by being] named..." Sorry.

Posted by: roger | Mar 3, 2007 1:17:14 PM

Take Atrio's "wanker of the day." What constructive purpose does this serve?

Sometimes someone is such a wanker that to devote further time and space on it -- the WotD usually links to a refutation -- is a waste.

Yes, there are extremists in comments sections: I can think of a couple of commenters at Digby's place who are apparently still wearing red underwear, and are frankly embarrassing. But that's a form of nutpicking, and it feeds into the way that Sensible Centrists like Klein pick out the dirty hippie with the Free Mumia sign at a rally and use it to justify their refusal to engage with any arguments to their left. It's the equivalent of saying Fred 'God Hates Fags' Phelps is representative of all Baptists.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 1:24:26 PM

You're right about his being lazy, but if he were more careful he would have a good point. The items on his list are things you do see implied or stated in comments by extremists on the Left, to some degree or other. But while most of the prominent bloggers aren't extremists to a very great degree, some of their more active commenters are, and they are largely tolerated or even embraced by many others on the Left, coloring the netroots more extremely than it ought to be.

I think it's a fairly useful list of extremist views.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 3, 2007 1:28:09 PM

Personally, I think Atrios's blog would be better if he stayed away from inflammatory rhetoric like "Wanker of the Day." Obviously you could disagree.

I agree Joe Klein is annoyingly centrist and far too interested in the doings of powerless left-wing extremists. That doesn't make what he says factually incorrect, nor does it mean that he is a "lying tool" or some other hateful epithet.

Posted by: Korha | Mar 3, 2007 1:41:24 PM

Korha, you must be an Obama supporter, given that incivility and supposedly "hateful" rhertoric--WANKER!!--seem to bother you as much as injustice and abuses of power. I'm sure Obama will assume the presidency and teach everyone to be polite through the power of his pristine example.

Posted by: david mizner | Mar 3, 2007 1:46:54 PM

And of course Klein's missives are often filled with hatred and anger, just not with profanity. Because in the Kingdom of Broder you can call someone an America-hating traitor but you can't call them a wanker. Now, for my list:

A relentlessly centrist mainstream extremist like Joe Klein believes not some but all of the following:

--That leftists are a force for ill in the country and the world
-- That liberals who say stupid things speak for liberalism whereas conservatives who say stupid things speak only for themselves
-- That the War in Iraq had nothing to do with imperialism
-- that people like Joe Lieberman who push conventional beltway thinking are courageous
-- that all anger except his own is bad
-- that pols who argee with him are well-intentioned whereas those who disagree with him act with malice
--- that there's nothing braver than telling the base what it doesn't want to hear even if what is said is conventional corporate-approved blather
-- that to point out the problems with capitalism is to be a Marxist
-- that his lack of sex in the sixities means the entire era was bad
-- that his self-loathing isn't painfully apparent to everyone.

Posted by: david mizner | Mar 3, 2007 1:51:15 PM

The problem isn't Klein per se. The problem is that he represents the leftward edge of the MSM pundit class. If he was in the center of the pundit class, which is where he is in the political spectrum, people would give him much less grief.

Of course a deeper problem is that the whole damn country is out of it's collective mind regarding our obscene drive for world domination, but expecting reasonably voices on THAT topic in the MSM is likely expecting too much. I mean, sadly no one is going to give Arthur Silber a spot on the NYT editorial page.

Posted by: Larry M | Mar 3, 2007 2:35:00 PM

Actually, we left-wing extremists consider Atrios and others like him to be mere "petit bourgeois reformists." Just sayin. Anyway, the quite justified anger directed at Klein by the aforesaid petit bourgeois reformists has partly to do with the fact that he and the rest of the beltway journalistic class have failed to grasp the radical character of the GW Bush government. In its recklessness and authoritarianism, this gang is something worse than just another conservative administration, as many of us, left-wing extremists and petit bourgeois reformists alike, have long recognized. Yet Klein, who has a ringside seat and a very large megaphone, and is in fact moderately liberal in outlook and might be expected to know better, often acts as though this dangerous regime is just an updated version of the Eisenhower administration. Add to that the fact that Klein, as illustrated in the post discussed here, is insufferable. Who is he to be calling anyone "smug?"

Posted by: K. Radek | Mar 3, 2007 2:44:11 PM

Personally, I think Atrios's blog would be better if he stayed away from inflammatory rhetoric like "Wanker of the Day."

If you think that 'wanker of the day' is inflammatory, I hope you have a good fainting couch.

they are largely tolerated or even embraced by many others on the Left

Personally, while those commenters remind me of the Socialist Worker types from college who are now lawyers and accountants, I don't have a problem with them being 'tolerated', though it may give you conniptions. Treating anyone to the left of, say, Russ Feingold as intolerable simply conflates the opinions that are frankly mainstream left elsewhere -- let's say 'NDP left' -- with those of the Dave Spart types. It pushes rightward the range of opinion considered acceptable: viz., Ann Coulter.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 2:44:26 PM

Hard to beat Mr. Minzer's list above so I'll just add a few things.

One has to be a bit more than naive to think klein's position are more than calculated to appear objective while allowing to toss mud at whoever he wishes, almost always the left. It seems to me rather like the "libertarians for bush" that you see on so many right blogs. That distancing from actually placing oneself on political contiuum is somehow supposed to confer more truth to the propositions they propose. Please.

As for Atrios, I think that his popularity, in both his message and the manner in which he chooses to convey it, means it's resonating with some group of people. klein, even with the backing of Time, not so much.

Taken from the other direction, look at the line of people that waited to see coulter at cpac and consider the cheering that her "faggot" line about Edwards drew. This also says something about them. That many of them aren't strong enough in their beliefs to say it out loud also says something about them. What, I leave for you, the reader, to determine.

I would also add that I think fred phelps speaks for many more baptists and right wingers than some of the extreme lefties, whose comments in blogs were referred to by another poster above, represent. In fact, I'm sure of it. Phrase however you wish, if someone is unwilling to say "god hates fags" but is more than willing to say homosexuals are damned for eternity, then really, is the message all that unclear?

Oh, and just to confirm my DFH status Ezra, I'm not sure I entirely agree with your splicing of the "corporations are evil" issue. Yes, on the face of it, it's a silly and underinformed statement. However, if ones' only motive is profit, then how "good" could they be? That's the basic problem with the institution. There's absolutely no moral element involved. So while evil may be a silly word to describe corporate entities I wonder how many people would argue that corporations are, by definition and action, good? They are simply vehicles for the acquisition of money. And many times, as has been ampliing demonstrated, there are no rules, no morals really guiding their actions. Even the law is subject to interpretation, bent if not broken. The only crime in the corporate world is getting caught. How is that not evil in some way?

Of course, that doesn't describe every corporation. I am sure there are some that have deeply held moral prinsiples that guide their actions but how many people here would say that those are the majority?

Posted by: ice weasel | Mar 3, 2007 2:49:52 PM

Pseudo, had you quoted the entire sentence you might have gotten the point.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 3, 2007 2:50:55 PM

Joe's list is just a compilation of what he and other rightwing folks have been saying for decades, but is supported by only occasional commenters on blogs, not the blog authors of the major blogs. They are fine examples of strawman hyper-generalized arguments that can't be sustained by quoting prominent bloggers on more than one or two of the points, if any. The list could have come from an appendix of a book by Karl Rove or the Fox News daily guidance to hosts and guests.

It is a pitiful thing to read. That he isn't embarraased tomorrow would not be surprising, but he should be. Fifth or Sixth grade work, at best.

Joe is just lazy. He doesn't 'do' research, so he can't name names, and he hasn't had to in his columns for years because he just regurgitates his beliefs and the talking points of those from the right.

To me the interesting question is why Joe K has taken on the woefully weak left to pick on. It seems liek obsessive behavior to me, but wholly disconnected from political reality.

Another interesting thing is that his blog is so absent wingnuts defending his views of left extremism. Any theories on that?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 3, 2007 2:53:45 PM

David, that Joe K may not always be a great example of what he stands for doesn't mean he isn't standing for the right things when it comes to civility. That word has roots that suggest why it matters: it's an essential condition for sane discourse in civil society. The emotionalism and hatred represented by Rush, Coulter and the like are no better when they show up on the Left. If Obama is better about this than the other candidates, good for him. He earned his ideas about this by actually working with all sides in community activism. In practice, hatred and tribalism aren't all they're made out to be by their adherents.

Needless insults and polarization are good for stirring up and manipulating people's fears and anger. It makes it easier to gather disciples, at the cost of accuracy and good will. I think that's almost always a bad trade both for those whose vision is emotionally twisted up by and for the country as a whole.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 3, 2007 3:16:31 PM

"Korha, you must be an Obama supporter, given that incivility and supposedly "hateful" rhertoric--WANKER!!--seem to bother you as much as injustice and abuses of power."

Guilty as charged, at least the first part; I am an Obama supporter. "Wanker" is pretty tame as far as things go. I was referring to hylander above who called Joe Klein a "lying tool." Pretty hateful, and totally unnecessary.

I do like your "relentlessly centrist mainstream extremist" list though.

If you think that 'wanker of the day' is inflammatory, I hope you have a good fainting couch.

Well, you know what I mean. Clearly Eschaton is a highly successful blog, so whatever Atrios is doing must be working for him and his readers. And it's not a mainstream publication so there are different standards. I would just point out that people have different tastes. That's why Josh Marshall reaches a different audience than Atrios, an effect which is partly rhetorical and partly idealogical.

Another interesting thing is that his blog is so absent wingnuts defending his views of left extremism. Any theories on that?

That's an interesting observation, though I'm not sure exactly what it means.

Posted by: Korha | Mar 3, 2007 3:19:36 PM

Take Atrio's "wanker of the day." What constructive purpose does this serve? It's just nonsense red-meat for the base--useless rhetorical extremism.

I think you labor under the mistaken impression that columnists that Atrios links to have some kind of inalienable right to be taken seriously. Au contraire. It is perfectly acceptable to mock them and make fun of their silly, hypocritical arguments and to make them objects of ridicule.

The problem with the state of our discourse in journalism is that, all too often, a self-proclaimed pundit comes on TV or writes a column in a newspaper and, no matter how ridiculous his claims are, everyone else is obligated to address him or her with, "while you make good points..." This tendency has had the effect of moving our discourse rightwards because we insist on taking opinionmakers seriously as a matter of right, regardless of the content of their ideas.

Posted by: Constantine | Mar 3, 2007 3:23:33 PM

Klein suffers from the mass up-is-down delusion that afflicts those inured in the culture of the great media institutions. Which is: if lots of people from diverse perspectives say you're wrong, that's a validation of your correctness!

They reject the possibility that lots of people from diverse perspectives can all be right at the same time about a third party's wrongness. It's a tempting fallacy, but it's gone and eaten away at Klein's own sense of judgment. In the worst stages, *any* criticism becomes a validation. It's a perilous state in which to find one's self. Will Klein reach Bush-levels of delusion? Let's watch.

Posted by: underwhelm | Mar 3, 2007 3:25:34 PM

Pseudo, had you quoted the entire sentence you might have gotten the point.

Really? Because the point I'd gotten [sic] was that by 'tolerating' a few Sparts in the comments section, liberal bloggers make themselves look Spart-ish. If you were saying something different, please use different words next time.

It's the bullshit 'nutpicking' argument, combined with the skewing of the centre to the right.

My point is this: what's the alternative? Banning them? Spending half their time condemning them, as Joe Klein seems to think is necessary?

And all the while, on the other side, Freeper and Coulter and LGF-style discourse is absolutely 'tolerated': it is rewarded financially and with influence. Digby and Dave Neiwert have discussed this many, many times.

You seem convinced that the liberal netroots can only avoid the terrible, terrible accusation that it's a harbinger for the Sparticist revolution by being intolerant of any viewpoint with the whiff of a political left that's mainstream in such nests of revolution as Canada.

I'll spell it out: the dividing line between the 'acceptable right' and the 'unacceptable right' on the internets is the line between FreeRepublic or LGF and StormFront: that is, between 'nuke Mecca' and 'lynch niggers'.

The dividing line between the 'acceptable left' and 'unacceptable left' appears to be between Daily Kos and Counterpunch.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 3:55:36 PM

maybe someone else said this but

its not an extremist position to think joe klein is a wanker--its a centrist position.


Posted by: aimai | Mar 3, 2007 4:13:57 PM

S'up Sanpete? I haven't argued with you in a while. It's a complicated word and concept, civility. I'm confused about it myself. I have a fondness for people like Obama who don't impute malice to their political opponents, but I also have a fondness for people like Atrios who call assholes assholes.

As some kind of lefty, I believe that the problems that plague the world lie largely in institutions and systems, not in the human heart, and I wish the liberal blogs would undertake a more systematic critique of Power, and choose to overlook, on occasion, Dick Cheney's chronic case of wankerness.

But I discern a connection between the call for civility and the charge of class warfare. Did you notice that John Edwards, having sharpened his populism, is now considered to be angry by the Beltway? Was civilty really the correct, natural, or human response to Katrina? Many of the people now considered models of liberal civility and decency, like Martin Luther King, were in their time called uncivil and worse. If Harry Truman--now lionized by extreme centrists like Klein--were alive today, Klein would call his soak-the rick rhetoric "angry."

There's an effete, ruling class, let-them-eat-cake quality to the call for civility. Joe Klein can afford to be ostensiibly civil. But for people who're oppressed, civility might be a luxury they can't afford.

Posted by: david mizner | Mar 3, 2007 4:22:35 PM

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