New Left/Open Left/Fox Attacks and Fighting the Sprawlconomy

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 00:20

Any move in politics inevitably creates grumbling.  There are two basic responses to Open Left from people who are finding what we're doing here annoying.  One is from women who are upset that we haven't yet featured female bloggers, and took offense to the Emily's List discussion.  I'll have more on that soon, but we are very aware that the balance here skews male, so far.  Two is from older organizers that look at the blogroll and see 'Old Left' and 'New Left' and 'Open Left' and find my categorizations laughable and/or ignorant. 

Matt Stoller :: New Left/Open Left/Fox Attacks and Fighting the Sprawlconomy

I hope both of these discussions come out into the open, much as Jill Tubman's comments served to help me understand where I went wrong on our blogroll.  We can't really learn anything if people don't come forward and teach.  But regardless, I also think that this space is doing something very special, which is to create some real introspection on the left as to just who we as a group are.  Some have taken my designation as 'New Left' as an institution that is not open, which is not the case.  Some believe that Open Left means better, which is not true either.  There's lots of crappy new stuff around.  Open Left, New Left, and Old Left are all left-wing, they are just built on different technologies and different institutional structures.

Anyway, all this is a way of saying that really figuring out how groups can work together is not simple, because of the level of mistrust and lack of conversation among them.  But it's happening.  One good example is the Sierra Club, which launched a campaign against Fox News and its poor coverage global warming.  There are two significant institutional innovations going on. 

One, the Sierra Club is working with Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films and Moveon at internet speed.  That's unheard of for a large group like the Sierra Club, and speaks well of Carl Pope's tolerance for experimentation.  Two, this campaign is an attempt by an old-new coalition to use the internet to change incentives in corporate America. 

The coalition is attacking Home Depot for trying to portray itself as ecofriendly while advertising on Fox News.  To provide some context, there's a lot of 'greenwashing' going on in corporate America, with companies contributing to global warming but making money by pretending not to.  This is bad, and there need to be campaigns to change the incentive model to lie about being green.  Any greenwashing going on is amplified by Home Depot's political work.  Home Depot gave 73% of its cash to Republicans in 2006, and 87% in 2004.  As a percentage, that's more money to the GOP than Walmart.

It gets worse.  Home Depot recently had a huge CEO pay scandal, paying poorly performing ex-CEO Bob Nardinelli $200M for running the country into the group (Nardinelli is a massive GOP donor).  The AFL-CIO has the most galling piece, from their blog.

Nardelli in particular received massive September 11 option grants, grants that were issued in the wake of the September 11 attacks when prices were at record lows.

Home Depot's board used 9/11 to rip off shareholders, and is now using the label of green to mask its political agenda.  This is disgusting all around, but it shouldn't be a surprise.  Companies that make money from sprawl - and Home Depot is nothing if not a profiteer of sprawl encouraging tax incentives and cheap oil - are right-wing in their very DNA.    That means there's a good reason for the AFL-CIO to jump on this campaign simply to put pressure on Home Depot, though it's not clear they will. 

Regardless, this is building on an important internet-driven narrative about Fox News.  It's connecting the environmental movement to media discussions in the blogs, which is the first time I've ever seen it done.  Effective coalitions are built by fighting together on small battles like this, so that players know and trust each other on the bigger ones. 

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Not to mention Home Depot's labor record (0.00 / 0)
One of my best friends from high school worked at Home Depot for a while, and he used to amusedly note that the company proudly proclaimed that it provided its employees with "A union-free work environment."

Presumably some of the more gutsy unions could also get involved in this campaign.

Tiny typo (0.00 / 0)

It gets worse.  Home Depot recently had a huge CEO pay scandal, paying poorly performing ex-CEO Bob Nardinelli $200M for running the country into the group (Nardinelli is a massive GOP donor).

Don't you mean "running the company into the ground?"

Otherwise, good post, as per usual.

I blog on

irritations (4.00 / 1)
It irritates me that this website is called "open left" and yet doesn't seem to be open source.  But that is merely a matter of semantics.

Are you referring to the (0.00 / 0)
fact that SoapBlox is basically a one-man operation in terms of ownership and control? Are you worried that he might have to decide whether to sell to Google for x million dollars and turn down a Scaife offer of x+ million dollars?

Or are you referring to some other aspect of the site?

Jeff Wegerson

[ Parent ]
Interesting, But... (0.00 / 1)
While this is interesting -- and no doubt innovative -- it is still a muddle. It fails to connect the dots.

Connections are drawn between:

* Fox and the apologists for global warming;
* Home Depot and Fox because of advertising;
* Home Depot and sprawl;

But you fail to make any connection whatsoever between sprawl and global warming. The greater the distances between our homes, our work, commercials areas, etc, the more driving that people do and the more carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. But this point is ignored by most national environmental groups like the Sierra Club because fighting sprawl is an inherently local issue and is hard to talk about in a national campaign.

As a result, this campaign makes the convoluted case that Home Depot indirectly supports global warming by advertising on Fox News. But it ignores Home Depot's direct contribution to global warming because their business is based on sprawl development.

As an innovative partnership, this campaign provides a novel way to attack Fox News -- which is certainly a good thing. But as a climate change communication strategy it misses the point by failing to make the direct connection between sprawl development and CO2.

version 1.0 (0.00 / 0)
Those are all excellent points, actually.  The campaign actually got started because there's great video on global warming and Fox News.  I'll forward these comments on.  While sprawl is a local issue, that's only because it is framed that way right now, which I think is your point.  And it's a good one.

The environmental community is split and will not be repaired, and I'm going to address that strategic problem.

[ Parent ]
A Much Needed Debate (0.00 / 0)
"The environmental community is split and will not be repaired, and I'm going to address that strategic problem."

As a long-time member of said community, I look forward to that discussion. I'm not sure we'll agree, but a debate on the role of the environmental movement in progressive politics is overdue.

[ Parent ]
Not only that (0.00 / 0)
but sprawl is a hard thing to combat, because ending sprawl would rquire that Americans change their lifestyles and we all know that that is impossible.

[ Parent ]
That's not the ONLY thing (4.00 / 1)
Sprawl is one thing where government policy has a very clear and direct line between rules, programs, etc. and results.  Or lack thereof, on both counts.

American's CAN'T change their lifestyles in a lot of places because they don't have the ability to do so.  I can't take a train to work in my city because, well, we don't have a train. 

[ Parent ]
An Organizing Opportunity (0.00 / 0)
"American's CAN'T change their lifestyles in a lot of places because they don't have the ability to do so.  I can't take a train to work in my city because, well, we don't have a train."

This is an important point. Personal behavior patterns can't change until public infrastructure investment patterns change. You can't fight climate change by walking, biking and transit if driving is the only way to get from Point A to Point B in your community. Taking on the asphalt lobby won't be easy, but meeting the growing demand for walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities is a great opportunity for community-level organizing to fight climate change.

[ Parent ]
Telephone Left / TV Left / Internet Left. n/t (0.00 / 0)

Jeff Wegerson

I, Too Found The New Left/Old Left Divide Unfathomable (0.00 / 0)
The ACLU "New Left"?  They're pre-"Old Left." Founded in the wake of WWI, from an earlier incarnation during WWI.

That doesn't mean I find the blog annoying.  Just that the blogroll needs some rethininking.

Also, on the religion side of things. You really ought to have Talk To Action on the blogroll.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

So far, I like it (4.00 / 1)
This site, I mean.

Most discussions are calm and direct.  I sense a real intention to address as many issues as possible, as openly as possible.

I'm not a member of either major political party in the US - not a member of any party, for that matter, but I have been told that my ideals are "leftist" and I suppose that's probably the case.  I consider myself a Constitional Anarchist.  A Constitution between people - not states.  If you can understand that affiliation, you probably may be one as well.  That said, I hope all of us can take this quote to heart:

"But regardless, I also think that this space is doing something very special, which is to create some real introspection on the left as to just who we as a group are. "

Often, I am not even certain that the term, "group", applies to the "Left" in the USA.  Let's just say that my affinity fpr Anarchy is derived from practical experience, not political thought.

My two cents: The two party system is the main problem of the Democratic Party (probably the Republicans, too) because it forces all the factional fighting inside the parties.  In a multi-party system these pressues are relieved by coalition building, and the coalitions may change depending upon the issue.  When the two parties introject themselves it limits the coalitions that can be built because crossing party lines is a sin against one's party.

The US system can only improve by dismantling the two party system.  Instant run-off elections are an excellent idea, too.

Here's to hoping we can figure out who we are and then act accordingly.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

keep doing what you are doing (0.00 / 0)
I appreciate your effort to call out the 'old left.'

In the 80s youth-serving organizations were given federal entitlements and as a result they stopped making waves in Congress. They stopped advocating for youth-especially youth of color. Once attached to that big federal tit they became complacent.  This is an example of the old left and they need to be held accountable. 

I would also add, because I am not going to double post, I think there  are more african americans on line then people recognize.  The obama conversations on MYDD are populated by many people of color. There are also plenty of woman.  There are also plenty of old folks.  If I were you I wouldn't pander. (if you build it - they will come)

SoapBlox apparently requires a subject for comments! Go figure (0.00 / 0)
I'm the online organizer for the Change to Win union partnership. I was a little puzzled by how we fell into the Old Left/New Left/Borrowed Left/Blue Left thing too, so I'm glad I wasn't the only one :-)

Looking over our unions, it's not clear to me why some are "New Left", some are "Old Left", and others are, well, left out:


* Change to Win itself
* United Brotherhood of Carpenters
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)




* Teamsters

I wasn't really able to suss out the pattern here - the Teamsters, for example, have a really sharp online team and are doing some cool things, but they are "Old" Left?

Whether or not somebody has us in their blogroll or not isn't something I'm gonna get an ulcer over, but I agree 110% that it's useful if it prompts discussions.  All of the CtW unions are looking for ways to engage more effectively with the online community; I'd love to hear suggestions from you (and OpenLeft readers) as to how we can do that.

Jason A. Lefkowitz
Online Campaigns Organizer
Change to Win

Also missing from the blogroll (0.00 / 0)
Progressive Democrats of America
Code Pink
Hip Hop Caucus
Democracy Rising
World Can't Wait
Velvet Revolution
Backbone Campaign

these are all genuine progressive activist groups created since 2000 that organize online and offline.

what distinguishes these groups from other progressive groups is their complete independence of the Democratic Party and its consultants.

we remain independent because the Democratic establishment has proven itself incapable of fighting for progressive principles since Vietnam.

Frame Context (0.00 / 0)
I have to admit that I can identify with groups thinking that "Old" is a pejorative that they don't want associated with their group.  Instead of trying to change the connotation of the word old you could change it to something positive sounding.  You could prevent complaining by calling them, "Original" Left Groups.

Our Dime Understanding the U.S. Budget

How about just "Original Groups" (0.00 / 0)
Or "O.G."s for short :)

Jason A. Lefkowitz
Online Campaigns Organizer
Change to Win

[ Parent ]
amusing (0.00 / 0)
I don't know why, but for some reason I find that picture of a bunch of young white liberals referring to the "Oh-Geez" as really funny.

Our Dime Understanding the U.S. Budget

[ Parent ]
Do we see how easily (0.00 / 0)
the labeling and segregation of particular groups and sub-groups can lead to digressions based on semantics and egos?

With regard to "figuring out who we are" - are you defined by which groups you belong to, or do you define yourself?

(reply only if you wish to continue digressing)

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
I have hopes for the site -- I quibble (4.00 / 1)
Noticed the blogrolls -- and was amused. Everybody has to work through their own categorizations of the loosely allied, fractious folks who are (mostly) on the same side. If that's yours, I think it is deficient, but it's yours and that's fine. I make my categorizations mentally, but seldom put them out there. In a way, I have to admire you for being so upfront about this and I don't feel I have to agree.

Absence of women from the core group is much more serious, as is the absence of people of color's voices. We're not add-ons. In fact, those two constituencies are the core of the future of progressive politics. Bringing folks in later is hard -- sooner is better!

Can it happen here?

like the site (0.00 / 0)
You and Chris were the majority of what I liked about MyDD

It's cool you've gone off to do a project that is fully suited to your interests, especially since you both have a great deal of credibility and attention.

I doubt Emily's list would respond to any blog post I made, and Chris already has responses to his questions from 4 campaigns.  All the critique over stuff like the blogroll and categories indicates how seriously people are taking the project. 

There's room on the left for more than DailyKos it seems.


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