Red-Baiting As the Last Refuge of Infants - and the Triumph of Political Propaganda

by: David Sirota

Tue Feb 17, 2009 at 00:16

Note: Here at OpenLeft, we are saving some posts on "meta" issues for the overnight time slot, as it (not surprisingly) tends to be the lowest traffic, lowest breaking-news time of the day. We think this stuff is important movement-building stuff, but in the interest of not interrupting the ongoing news of the day, we are making an effort to put it in the overnight time slot. - D

Sadly,* in what had been (at least on my part) an attempt at a substantive debate about differing strands of progressivism, Nate Silver has opted to now act like an infant - or to be even more precise, that of an infant whose behavior suggests his parents too often strapped him to a chair and forced him, Clockwork Orange-style, to watch a running loop of Sean Hannity.

In our ongoing debate (which I've done my damndest to keep substantive), he issued a rejoinder tonight that includes a lot of true, if now banal, points about political populism, which I and other political journalists/scholars have written long books about. He's also right that I fundamentally believe corporations have way too much economic and political power in this country - I make no bones about that belief, and neither do the vast majority of Americans, according to polls. To Nate, though, that uncontroversial and wholly understandable (and empirically sound) belief held by upwards of 85 percent of the population is odious and a Threat to the Republc.

Make no mistake about it: Like most progressives, I've never said all corporations are evil, nor do I believe that. But I have said, and do believe, that corporations as economic and political institutions have far more power than individuals and citizens, and that we need to seriously address that imbalance.

Where Nate exposes his infant-hopped-up-on-Hannity roots is in his insistence on red-baiting people he disagrees with. It is most likely learned behavior - that is, left-bashing behavior taught to him and to our society for years, and that is becoming more intense as the political left in America gains a tiny bit more power.

David Sirota :: Red-Baiting As the Last Refuge of Infants - and the Triumph of Political Propaganda
Yes, according to Silver, progressives he disagrees with dream of recreating the brutal Soviet Union here in the United States:

And this is what ultimately bothers me about Sirota. Compare the experience of the working class under Bill Clinton to that of the Soviet Union, which had infant mortality rates about three times that of the United States, significantly shorter life expectancies, extremely high rates of alcoholism ... life was not good. Not that I'll have to spend much time convincing you about most of this.

To be fair, I don't know that David would literally endorse a Soviet-style economic order over Clintonism ... but given the lack of restraint and qualification that he tends to place on his opinions, he should think more carefully about where his conclusions lead. (emphasis added)

As the grandson of ancestors who were forced to flee the brutality of the Bolsheviks, I'll do my best not to take the flippant red-baiting personally. It's not easy, of course - watching someone insinuate that I sympathize with - or may actually want to emulate - one of the most brutal regimes in contemporary history, and one whose brutality impacted my own family...well, let's just say that if we were in a bar, we might have to step outside. That said, knowing Nate is oddly comfortable throwing out blanket insults so casually, I won't take it personally and will instead stick to the substance (or "substance") of Nate's diatribe.

The fact is, while many progressives have certainly been critical of Clintonism - and far more specifically, of the Clinton administration's financial deregulation; corporate-sculpted trade policy; record of exacerbating economic inequality; and refusal to more seriously fight for a progressive economic agenda - most (including me) have never written or said anything to make an objective observer even question whether I "would literally endorse a Soviet-style economic order over Clintonism." Nor, by the way, have most Clinton-critical progressives (including me) ever argued that the Clinton administration's economic record was worse than any president in the last 30 years.

The idea that my conclusions about corporate power - which, again, are the conclusion of the vast majority of Americans, according to polls - could ultimately "lead" to the resurrection of the Soviet Union in the United States asks us to believe in a fantastical hallucination that could only be classified as science fiction or the script of Hannity's America.

Last I checked, never in our 200 year history have we had a situation where workers and citizens have dangerously inordinate and disproportionate power over corporations and moneyed institutions. Last I checked, every time any progressives push to even meagerly address the structural political and economic power imbalances in this country, they are tarred and feathered as communists or "dangers" by the Nate Silvers of the world - whether they are Fox News demagogues, Chicago School economists, or Nate Silver (who, I just found out, is a University of Chicago/London School of Economics guy himself).

Now, as I've said before, I'm not surprised by any of this. I'm not surprised, for instance, that a guy of relative privilege like Nate would state without qualification that the Clinton administration's economic policies were "a tremendous success, particularly for the working poor," and not bother to mention something like, say, the administration's move to mercilessly cut the underprivileged off of welfare at a time of rejuvenating budget surpluses. I'm not surprised to be called "dangerous" or be likened to Soviet dictators by a guy whose major act of political engagement is not doing the hard work of political activism, organizing or movement building, but of studying poll numbers from the Ivory Tower.

This, as I said yesterday, is the standard warmed-over tripe that we've all gotten used to from the DLC and from the Republicans for the last decade. It's only going to get more angry, resentful and widespread as our movement makes more gains (and as a personal aside just as a writer, when someone like Nate continues going back to the most hackneyed rationales, it's a tell-tale sign the writer has some serious limitations in the craft he/she purports to be a master of).

However, what I am surprised about is Nate's incredibly lack of self-awareness. That, along with answering substantive arguments with catcalls of "Marxist" is the ultimate trait of a political infant. After spending his time slandering me and untold thousands of progressives as "dangerous," "pessimistic," "reactionary," not "rational," "Marxist" and now "Soviet," (his words, all of them), he has the temerity to claim that his opponents "exist in a world of Good Things and Bad Things and Capital Letters -- and so I don't."

If someone can throw out those Bush-style "with us or against us" epithets and screeds, and then innocently tell his readers that he doesn't "exist in a world of Good Things and Bad Things and Capital Letters" - then that person (regardless of how many polls he can crunch, and regardless of whether he thinks crunching polls makes him a Grand Political Philosopher) is exhibiting (hopefully fleetingly) the political cognition and self-awareness of an infant. And the only response to infant behavior is to either ignore the whining and crying, or try to find a pacifier to shove in his mouth.

Unfortunately, I'm all out of pacifiers.

The big problem, of course, is not Nate Silver, an insignificant blogger/poll transcriber, or David Sirota, a minor journalist/author - it is what Nate's infantile lack of self-awareness represents in a broader context - namely, the triumph of destructive political propaganda.

As the major battles over policy begin to be waged, it's a safe bet that at least part of the opposition to any kind of real reform will come from those who have been taught for so long in so many ways to hate progressivism that they have no idea their hatred is A) ideological and B) taught/manufactured by our culture. We see this often during election campaigns - remember those videos at McCain rallies of people slandering Obama? They don't even really know why they hate him or "liberals" or "the left" - they know that they do, and are supposed to.

I'm not, of course, likening Nate to the right-wing hate crowd, but the indoctrination evidenced by the lack of self-awareness is a related phenomenon. Our culture has taught society for so long to despise transformative change and all the tumult that that brings, that many are paralyzed by an ideological antipathy to that change, whatever kind of change it is. And so when faced with it, they slander it with hyperbolic epithets like "Marxist" or "Soviet" or "dangerous" - all while purporting to be above those who "exist in a world of Good Things and Bad Things."

How to break this propaganda? Well, that's the question of our age, because it means breaking through a culture that tries to infantilize citizens into political submission, subservience, or at least disengagement. I think we've actually made a lot of progress in breaking that propaganda, but clearly, when you see examples like Nate's post tonight that substitutes cheap McCarthyism for actual thought and that exhibits a shocking lack of self-awareness, you realize how difficult change will really be.

UPDATE: The funniest thing Nate wrote is his addendum saying that "the problem with Sirota is that his arguments are self-righteous, accusatory, and oversimplistic." This, from the guy who splits the world into everyone who agrees with him, and Stalinists. I can't tell if Nate meant to be funny or not, but it's damn funny.

* By the way, I really meant "sadly" not just as a rhetorical device, but to express some level of sadness. I think Nate is a valuable part of the progressive constellation, I think he's trying to mature beyond just being a numbers cruncher, and I think that's a good thing. But it kinda bums me out that he first foray into movement activism is to slander everyone he disagrees with as Soviet sympathizers. I'm hopeful in the future that if/when he matures further, he tries to have a few debates on the merits of actual policies, rather than focusing his attention on subdividing his world into those who agree with him on political strategy (ie. people who he says are "rational") and the rest of the Planet that he insists is too "radical."

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Seriously (3.50 / 8)
Can you two take it to e-mail? Nobody wants to read your pie-fight.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

then don't read it. Nate said Sirota was advocating for Stalin. (4.00 / 9)
I think David has a right to defend himself using the tools he has, since Nate has used the tools that he has to attack him.

[ Parent ]
"tools he has" (4.00 / 8)
Are the tools he has to respond really ad hominem attacks?  I understand that the comparison to Stalin may have hurt David personally but it's clear that Nate was referring to centralized political planning as an economic system rather than massive political oppression.  Perhaps he should have said "leninism" rather than "stalinism" but to assume he was accusing David of desiring massive political repression is to argue in entirely bad faith.
With this post, David has exponentially escalated the level of ad hominem attacks in this debate.  Some examples:

"act like an infant"
"infant-hopped-up-on-Hannity roots"
"whose major act of political engagement is ... studying poll numbers from the Ivory Tower."
"(and as a personal aside just as a writer, when someone like Nate continues going back to the most hackneyed rationales, it's a tell-tale sign the writer has some serious limitations in the craft he/she purports to be a master of)."
"a political infant"
"insignificant poll-transcriber"
"substitutes cheap McCarthyism for actual thought"

Nate, on the other hand, is clearly referring to David's political positions.  He's not criticizing him as a human being, or as a writer.  He's not accusing him of acting in bad faith or from bad motivations.  And he's certainly not trying to denigrate the value of his work.  This post is unnecessarily personal and unnecessarily offensive.  This is a political argument; David should be responding by defending his political beliefs.  Explain why his arguments are different from Marxism, and explain why his position is better than Nate's.  Explain why corporations should have less power.  Explain (preferably with data, but we all know that's "insignificant") why Nate's conclusions about Clinton-style economic policies are flawed.  Don't call him a baby.  What is this, preschool?

[ Parent ]
Ad hominems (4.00 / 4)
Are not what you seem to think they are.

Neither Nate nor David, so far as I can see pulled out a single ad hominem, they just insulted each other.  David did it bluntly, Nate did it with more subtle means (that doesnt make it better, and IMO is actually close to dishonesty).

Insult: You are fat and wrong.

Ad hominem: You are fat, therefore you are wrong.

[ Parent ]
two new faces (0.00 / 0)
making up stuff that didn't happen.  hmm

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Ad hominems (4.00 / 2)
I haven't gone back to read Silver's tiresome retort to Sirota's hackneyed reply to this irrelevant internet squabble, but I did read this piece, and there are ad hominems:

Sirota is claiming that Silver is immature and THEREFORE he cannot be trusted to make an argument.

He is arguing that he has no experience in political engagement, but is an ivory tower poll watcher, and THEREFORE shoudn't be taken seriously. (This could be a legitimate argument if it were specific, but as it stands is a general effort to discredit all Silver's comments).

Other comments are probably not ad hominems, although aggressively stated (eg "substitutes cheap McCarthyism for actual thought" - I do wonder what "luxury-style" McCarthyism is, or what a not-so-actual thought looks like).

[ Parent ]
I'm never in favour of letting logic get in the way of a good ranting phrase (4.00 / 2)
I've always operated under the impression that McCarthyism is cheap because "cheap McCarthyism" trips off the tongue very nicely. The tautology inherent in the phrase is less important than its verbal impact.

Similarly, "actual thought" is a clear exclusionary phrase. It aims to set the boundaries for what is legitimate input to the debate well away from the position of the opponent. Again, I tend to think that it may be rhetorically unethical, but in the context of polemic ethics have normally been thrown under the bus anyway so it's probably best by this stage of the argument just to hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
another guy that just signed up (4.00 / 2)
acting like he's been here for a long time.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
you care about this way too fucking much. (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
No, he didn't! Stop those distortions that only put oil in the flames. (4.00 / 2)
Silver wrote:
"To be fair, I don't know that David would literally endorse a Soviet-style economic order over Clintonism"

Even hinting at David allegedly endorsing "a Soviet-style economic order" is unfair, of course, so this is where Silver really went too far. But he didn't allege Sirota "was advocating for Stalin" - that's just something you made up!

As I understand Silver's point, he expresses concern that David's economic policy could lead to all productive means being state owned, and economy being planned centrally instead of by supply and demand  - those are the main characteristics of "a Soviet-style economic order". And while I think this is a really farfetched conclusion, afaik it's true that David never explained exactly what kind of an economic system he would prefer over the current one which he always criticizes so harshly. So, at least Silver tried to make a valid point, but in an outrageous fashion which doesn't adavnace a rational discussion.

Really, this is already a somewhat ridiculous flamewar, much of it simply based on the different points of view of someone who studied economics and someone who is has a degree in journalism and political science. But it's commenters who distort the arguments of both sides, making them even more insulting, who feed those flames. Deliberately?

[ Parent ]
red-baiting is red-baiting, who cares if it's Stalin or someone else? (4.00 / 6)
In America, accusing someone of being for the "Soviets" because they are advocating for leftist policies has a very loaded history.

It's stunning to me (though not surprising given the Democrats' history) that someone who calls himself a liberal would call Sirota a "Soviet" because he is at the left, questions corporations and criticizes Clinton.

Calling him "far-left" would be far less offensive, and wouldn't have all the betrayal connotations the country has inherited from McCarthy.  

[ Parent ]
There are HUGE differences between Stalin's policies... (4.00 / 1)
and the Soviet economic system. The former are responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, the later is an inferior method of managing the economy, as proven by history.

I understand your point about the "loaded history", even though I think that's a bit surprising since we Yurpeans, which were much closer to Stalin's regime, don't see it that way. Only radical right wingers here come up with talking about Stalin whenever someone mentions the Soviet system. Most others are more likely to talk about Gorbatchev and why his attempts at reform were still doomed. Well, whatever...

I mean, of course you have a point that Silver should have called Sirota "far-left" instead. But even though his hinting at David advocating Soviet style economics was grossly unfair, he didn't say he is stomping for Stalin. Let's pls take care at not distorting the arguments which are already inflammable enough.

[ Parent ]
But Sirota is (4.00 / 14)
not far-left.  Hell, Ralph Nader is not far-left.

Sirota is on the left wing of a pro-capitalist party, the Democratic Party.  At most, David is a democratic socialist.  His writings tend towad reform capitalism.  Both are quite mainstream in the rest of the world.

But in Silver's mind, anything to the left of his safe, privileged liberalism is too scary to deal with, so he attacks with red baiting.

David is being quite polite with Silver.  Apparently Silver does not know how many lives were destroyed with  accusations that people were red.

Frankly, Silver's red baiting is akin to racism or sexism.  It is politically and morally wrong.

He owes David an apology.

[ Parent ]
very very good point (4.00 / 7)
"Sirota is on the left wing of a pro-capitalist party, the Democratic Party.  At most, David is a democratic socialist.  His writings tend towad reform capitalism.  Both are quite mainstream in the rest of the world." This is 100% correct.

[ Parent ]
I am a democratic socialist, Sirota clearly isn't (4.00 / 4)
he's a reform capitalist advocating for a mixed economy, if you're arguing to go back to FDR's policies, you're not a commie. Even if he was a socialist, why is that so taboo, can't we have a reasonable discourse in this country? I'm a socialist, but I can talk about politics civilly with people to the right of me without accusing them of being Batista or some right wing dictator.  

[ Parent ]
No, he isn't. Only makes sense from Silver's point of view, sure. (4.00 / 1)
And I guess this is based on Nate misunderstanding David for advocating nationalizing industry. Of course, there's no real base for this. But maybe it would be a good idea for David to go one step beyond case-by-case criticism and instead explain how his plan for a broad reform of the current capitalist system looks like. I have to say, I can't remember David ever having done that. But it sure would help a lot in preventing dumb misunderstandings like Silver's.

[ Parent ]
The Road to Serfdom (4.00 / 5)
Last I checked, is a classic reflection of Chicago school ideals. Under this worldview, totalitarianism is the inevitable result of a centrally planned economy. If Silver is of this worldview, then the distance between Soviet style economics and Stalinism is temporal not ideological.

I've barely paid attention to this dispute and thought Sirota's tone was too harsh at the beginning but was sharing his anger by the end of this diary. This isn't because I find his angry style compelling (I rarely do), but because I agree with him on the substance.

I would need a full length book to describe the ways in which referring to a lefty democrat as  marxist/stalinist/soviet is not only inaccurate but profoundly insulting to the lefty and to the memories of those who lived and died under the Soviets. I despise the casual tossing around of marxist, etc. as a substitute for "really bad idea." It's shameful to exploit that sad legacy in lieu of making an argument. And, perhaps not so oddly, it appears to cause the casual tosser to become desensitized to the magnitude of suffering he is referring to and putting into service.

[ Parent ]
you know David, this is a strong and fair rebuttal, but... (4.00 / 11)
But your point is not helped by comparisons to "Hannity" and "infants". It's bad enough that Nate is wrong. So point out that he's wrong, and let him wear that.

I hate this (4.00 / 4)
I strongly respect both you and Nate.  This policy discussion should be much more civil than it is.  Nate is certainly wrong to compare your views to Stalinist Russia.  That is well beyond the pale.

I agree, it is stunningly beyond the pale (4.00 / 4)
and I was truly stunned when I read that. I knew moderates were not over McCarthyite temptations, but to use such arguments so directly and so quickly is just stunning. And depressing.

[ Parent ]
here is what i want to see: a discussion of the causes and consequences of stalinism between silver and sirota. (4.00 / 4)
seriously, if people want to throw things out about stalin (i.e. silver), they should be ready to put up or shut up about it.  does nate know anything about stalinism as a political-economic system?  does he know about the early years of the soviet union?  

ps: did nate graduate from the chicago school of business? if so, ok. if not, lay off the U of C... (4.00 / 1)
there are a bunch of good marxists there ;-)  

[ Parent ]
Why the USSR, anyway? (4.00 / 12)
What was especially irritating was Nate's implication that any brand of radical anti-corporatism would entail endorsement of the Soviet political and economic system. Why, there's a vast panoply of radical leftist governments one might choose to model oneself after! From Maoism, to Castroism, to Chavezismo, to that Bolivian guy, even the Kerala state government in India... But everyone always acts like the Soviet Union was the be-all end-all of socialism in practice. It's annoying.

[ Parent ]
There is also scandanavia (4.00 / 7)
and many other european social democracy.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Good for the goose... (4.00 / 4)
David throws around words like "brown-shirt" to describe people who disagree with him on the internets, so I don't think Nate is the only person here who is engages in hyperbole.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
Tom Frank had a good description of the Democratic Party of the late 1990s (4.00 / 19)
and I think Silver fits it well. He basically said that the party had morphed into something where they wanted to be known as the party of the cool corporations, like Apple and Starbucks, Steve Jobs and the Google CEO. I found it funny that Silver used the example of Apple and Starbucks (especially Starbucks) as examples of 'good' corporations. I'd like to see Silver get a job at a Starbucks and try to raise a family on $8 an hour. Or better yet, try to form a union at that company so he can have a decent wage and be told by the company's CEO that he's being 'selfish'. Or maybe Silver thinks forming a union at Starbucks is too close to a Soviet workers state for his tastes.

I think that's the fundamental flaw is these posts of his. He thinks populism as he sees it is not a coherent political philosophy. So the only viable political philosophy left is communism if you're to the left of Silver. Well populism is a political philosophy that does not have to include right-wing or left-wing reactionaries. It simply means bringing the corporate state under democratic control. That apparently is too much for Silver to consider.  

Silver's a smart guy (4.00 / 11)
A genius at statistics. But his world view is formed by a corporate education. He has no interest in bucking trends or learning about the reality of corporatism. He may not be invited back on MSNBC.

Until this I had only read his polling analysis. It's interesting to see that he's basically a typical Freidmanite.

And his allegience to the "experts" is just his programming from his time at the University of Chicago economics program. Chris Hedges sums it up perfectly.

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and halls in places like Cambridge, Princeton and New Haven to the financial and political centers of power.

The nation's elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive. They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers and rigid structures that are designed to produce certain answers. The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service-economic, political and social-come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the "specialist" and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions. It destroys the search for the common good. It dices disciplines, faculty, students and finally experts into tiny, specialized fragments. It allows students and faculty to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing moral, political and cultural questions. Those who defy the system-people like Ralph Nader-are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter.  

[ Parent ]
slight problem - NOT 'competent managers' (0.00 / 0)
cuz if they were competent the auto industry, the steel industry, the finance industry, the health care industry, the education industry ...

wouldn't all be in such catastrophic messes.

what the 'elite' schools do is find the people best suited to be in charge, to be head of the pack of the sheep.

these ain't people who are gonna stick 95 theses on a door or figure out how to make printing cheap or help create the internet or get people to stop drinking water with feces in it --------

they're just fucking bureaucrats, HEAD bureaucrats, AND, from what I've seen in the last 30 years, they EXCEL at getting in charge and they EXCEL staying in charge - little else.


It is too full o' the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way

[ Parent ]
The excerpt (0.00 / 0)
is it from one of Hedges articles or books?

[ Parent ]
Silver's no genius (4.00 / 1)
He just knows statistics. Lots of people do. The predictions he generates aren't particularly good.  

[ Parent ]
Excellent description, adam. (4.00 / 2)
It simply means bringing the corporate state under democratic control.

But Democratic contrl threatens rule of experts.  It goes to the core of Silver's economic, social, and psychological prvilege.  

[ Parent ]
Can't take credit for that description (4.00 / 1)
It's the last line of Goodwyn's 'The Populist Moment'. And it's stuck with me for years now.

[ Parent ]
me also. (4.00 / 1)
I read that book around 1986 or so in a history class.  Wrote a paper on it.  That must be why it so resonated with me when I read it from you.  :-)  

[ Parent ]
Perfectly said, Adam (4.00 / 6)
You know, this debate began as a disagreement over whether or not to criticize Obama's policies--his bailout plan, in particular. But that debate--which seemed at first glance to be about the role of activists relative to politicians (or experts)--is really about ideology. And that's usually the case: I've been maintaining for some time that the tired debate about Whether or Not to Criticize Obama is usually, in fact, an ideological argument pitting more populist progressives against people who welcome modified Clintonism.

It's an old, crucial debate, no less crucial because it's old--stretching back to at least to when Clinton embraced Rubinism, then pushed NAFTA. Jimmy Carter v. Ted Kennedy is in there too. Nate Silver sought to expose Sirota but ended up exposing himself as a fan of Clintonism. Good. Now we know, and can deal with him and his defenders on those terms.

I believe that the truth and most Democrats are our side (the populist, anti-corporate side) but that doesn't mean we have the upper hand. After all, the president is, more often than not, on their side.

[ Parent ]
Methinks (4.00 / 5)
Nate should stick to statistics and numbers.

University of Chicago elite? (4.00 / 8)
David, I argued against Nate Silver on his site, and I'm going to be critical of you here. This bugs me:

"University of Chicago elite."

It is hilariously ironic that, in a post criticizing Silver's lack of self-awareness in using a right-wing frame, you would do the exact same thing in criticizing him. Specifically, you are making an ad hominem argument - tarring him as a "university of chicago elite" - that is fundamentally anti-academic and anti-intellectual. It's the same thing conservatives do when they rail against eggheads, San Francisco liberals, pointy-headed liberals, et cetera.

And before you respond that the U. of Chicago reference is different because it's well-known as a conservative institution, I say: but that's not your point. The emotional force of the slur is in its implication that Silver is not to be trusted because he's associated with an elite academic institution. That's a classic conservative gambit. And that's not fair to him, and it's not an intellectually honest way of arguing against him.

Though I'll admit, his calling you a Soviet commie was worse.

Fair point, but (4.00 / 3)
That's a fair point, though in all honesty that wasn't what I was trying to imply. I was trying to suggest that it shouldn't be surprising that a white male of relative privilege wouldn't think of mentioning the slashing of a program that disproportionately helped people without such privilege.

But your point is well taken and I have changed the sentence.

[ Parent ]
I guess that's why I didn't see it (4.00 / 7)
But I made the same point below. And I think it's a valid one for this reason: The bullshit Silver is selling is straight out of the Chicago School.

Nate Silver is a fiscal conservative with a Friedman bent. It permeates his commentary. So there's nothing wrong with identifying and associating that commentary with his source.

I'm a big fan of Silver's polling analysis. But his political and economic views nauseate me.

And what the fuck's up with this website. I've been here for 40 minutes (first time in over a year I think) and I've hardly seen a progressive viewpoint except Sirota's. I have no doubt there are others, Bowers among them, but seriously. Comment after comment, and a few diaries I checked, and it was all the same centrist shit I can get at every other loyal Democratic site. Is that what this site is? A bunch of loyalist Democrats who wouldn't know a truly progressive idea if it hit them with a food stamp.

I've been immersed for the last week in the history of the New Deal, where a real left movement, from Francis Townsend to Huey Long, battered a centrist Democratic president to finally, in his third year in office, pass some serious progressive legislation.

The left is dead in this country. And the progressive movement is a bunch of liberals who got tired of being called liberals and who think Bill Clinton was a progressive president.

I wonder if there is a website where real progressives gather and I don't have to listen to a bunch of people selling fiscal conservatism as the serious economic philosophy of the New Left. Not that I mind getting out in the trenches. But it would be good to have a home base every now and then where I don't have to educate people on why corporation are inherently bad and why trade3 liberalization is a con game.

[ Parent ]
Ah! (4.00 / 1)
I was about to make the same point. It bothered me a lot too, especially since my own university is an "elite" one as well-- the same one that George McGovern, Adlai Stephenson, and famous populist William Jennings Bryan attended.

Elite institutions can produce some great progressives (or, in Bryan's case, if not progressive, certainly a fiery populist), and we should respect Nate's accomplishments-- attending U of C doesn't turn him into an Ivory Tower elitist. The implied anti-intellectualism really turned me off, and I'm glad to see that David changed at least some of it.

[ Parent ]
Interesting. (4.00 / 2)
You atendance at an "elite" university is quite important to you.  It privileges you in many ways.

Having attended an "elite" law school on a full scholarship in the late 80s, I can tell you it's just a school.  Life is about what you do with your education, not where you went to school.

[ Parent ]
No (4.00 / 1)
That's not quite the point that I was trying to make. What David seemed to imply before he changed his post was that the very fact that Nate was "a University of Chicago guy" meant that he was out of touch and lost any credibility to speak on economic issues. It was the part of the piece that wasn't based on anything Nate had written, it was just that attending an "elite" university inherently made you a member of the privileged, Ivory Tower class, and invalidated your opinions on economic issues.

That's what I found distasteful, partly because I felt a little insulted as a student of such a university, and partly because there are plenty of counterexamples-- people who David would probably respect as genuine populist progressive fighters who also happened to earn a spot at an "elite" university. The fact that Nate was good enough to earn an undergraduate degree at University of Chicago doesn't make him an elitist. In my world, we respect success.

As to your point, sure, my university gives me lots of privileges. But what I value most is the exposure to other ideas and people with whom I wouldn't otherwise have contact. It's not because I want "connections" to get success. It's because I appreciate the chance to hear what other people with other backgrounds have to say. Diversity of thought is valuable.

[ Parent ]
He is a neoliberal (4.00 / 2)
so the U of C shoe fits.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Policy (4.00 / 1)
I wonder what policies Nate actually supports.  It's kind of strange to wander right into this fairly abstract ideological (or at least, terminological) debate without having read almost any substantive advocacy or critiques from one of the parties.  I really have no idea where Nate stands on almost any left-of-center issue, apart from his desire to have Democrats elected.  Rather than continue in this rather unhelpful vein (and, as I expected, it's getting worse), it might be useful if David asked Nate a few specific questions about policies and priorities, to better figure out what real disagreements about practical politics they might have.  I suspect that those disagreements would be considerably smaller than the accusations of "Stalinism" and "McCarthyism" might suggest.

The Only Thing Democrats Agree On (4.00 / 5)
Is not wanting to be Republicans.  I've actually been quite impressed with the party unity that has been shown thus far.

Also, Nate Silver has described his own politics:

I should pause here to note that my beliefs are not quite typical of a Kossack.  I am very left on social issues, but more moderate on economic issues (tending to default to market-based solutions, but recognizing that these fail in some critical areas like health care and the environment).  And so I feel a little misplaced on the one-dimensional political spectrum.  Obama has a lot of appeal to people like me.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Hah (4.00 / 6)
Maybe he should add that market-based solutions have also failed in the area of markets.

[ Parent ]
Excellent point. (4.00 / 4)
He is incapable of seeing that reality.  It calls into question his privileged place in the world.

The market failed.  

[ Parent ]
One of these (4.00 / 5)
"I don't hate the gays just don't ask me to pay taxes" Democrats. Now we know.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Distortion (4.00 / 1)
He's not a fucking randite. He favors a role for government in health care, for crying out loud. Get some perspective.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
the only good of out of this (4.00 / 4)
Is that maybe David will realize we didn't like being compared to Nazis for supporting Obama.

Anyway, Nate is way over the line.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

Takedown (4.00 / 1)

Hey Mr. Sirota

Great takedown! You Rock!


Buy American (4.00 / 3)
Buy American

From what I gather, part of what triggered
this debate was David Sirota's support for
the "Buy American" provision of the stimulus.

I definitely feel that Mr. Sirota is right
in supporting "Buy American". But I just want
to say that even if it isn't included (and
it looks like it won't be) there is nothing
stopping Americans from using their mighty
purchasing power to "Buy American".


And for why it matters see:

"Deep Economy"

What is Marxism? (4.00 / 1)
If one could distill Marxism down to a few words, one might call it a theory of everything (economics, politics, and history) through the lens of class struggle.  

If Nate Silver chooses to call David Sirota a "Marxist" for arguments based upon (what seems to me, at least, to be) a view of America as a struggle between an evil corporate elite and the working class, is Silver necessarily wrong?  I would see Sirota as at least strongly influenced by Marxist thought, but I would not consider it a pejorative to do so (although I am more influenced by Weber and not kindly disposed towards Marx).

It's a shame that Silver went off the rails a bit by bringing the Soviet Union into it.  And it's silly for Sirota to bring in an ad hominem attack on Silver's upbringing and education as a reply. If Silver wanted to go with historical examples, I think he would have been better off making an analogy of the philosophical differences between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael in terms of pushing for change in both method and scope.  I'm not saying that David Sirota is like Carmichael, but I think it would be a much more interesting discussion if Sirota and Silver had to refute/support that comparison.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

Nate's Addendum (4.00 / 3)
It's worth noting that Nate has added this to the end of his post:
Addendum: You know what, this has obviously gotten a little carried away. The problem with Sirota is that his arguments are self-righteous, accusatory, and oversimplistic. Here, we generally aim for nuance and poise. To the extent that this post has not reflected that spirit, my apologies. I'm going to make one last substantive observation about the Clinton economic record in a separate post ... and then we're done with this.

The swipe at David aside, I choose to read this as something of an apology for the Stalin remark-- or, if not an apology, an admission that the rhetoric he was using went a little too far.

Petty disputes and name-calling ("Stalinist," "infant-hopped-up-on-Hannity," etc.) are some of the excuses for why traditional media doesn't always take this medium seriously, and I appreciate that Nate is willing to relax and stop this before it gets out of hand. While a serious discussion of progressivism will help refine our message, fighting like this isn't going to help change the minds of voters.

I have a great deal of respect for both Nate Silver and David Sirota, and I think they're both a valuable part of the progressive movement (regardless of what that means or if it's a movement or if it's even progressive). But guys, you're both taking this way too personally.

I'm not sure it can be regarded as an apology (2.67 / 3)
considering that sentence was written in the same blog post in which chooses to accuses the left of Soviet sympathies just for being to the Left.

[ Parent ]
As the son and grandson of Soviet refugees (4.00 / 5)
on both sides of my family--20's and 30's on my mom's side, in Soviet Central Asia, 40's on my dad's side, in the Balkans--I'd take exception to such an accusation as well. It's a pretty cheap and lazy shot taken, I'm betting, by someone who is deeply conflicted about these issues and projecting these conflicts onto others.

Typically, when someone lashes out in such nasty and adolescent manner, it's a defensive reaction against their own insecurities about such matters. I'm guessing that Nate is feeling very, very defensive over his stances on these issues, most likely having been attacked over them many times before, and instead of stepping back and reexamining his stances, and that of his imagined adversaries, he's just reflexively counterattacking.

I say this as someone who's been there. When one's long and deeply-held beliefs are challenged, the natural, unfortunate instinct, is to defend them by lashing out at those who criticize them, rather than reexamine them in a thoughtful and temperate manner. So I'm guessing that Nate is just defending long-held beliefs and assumptions, and just isn't ready to revisit them in light of overwhelming evidence that Clintonianism clearly hurt the lower income portion of the country, and barely, if at all, helped the middle portion. It's only the better off who did well. Well, until now, that is.

Hopefully, he'll come around. It's hard to let go of long-held beliefs.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

I'm being hit by an intrusion attempt on this page, or so my virus software tells me:

Attacker computer: (,80)
Attacker URL:

The AV SW is telling me that I'm ok, but I keep seeing weird activity on the status bar of IE7. Just letting everyone know to watch out.

I'll notify the site via email as well.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

You're losing your argument (4.00 / 6)
by alienating your readers.

You (as well as Nate) lose readers when you write attacks that veer from the actual debate. Having regularly visited both sites, I was actually trying to understand you two. But when you get into the tedious and unimaginative insults, I don't feel it's worth my time to read whatever substance might be sandwiched along with the mud.

(Now if your insults were more creative, perhaps I'd stay with you. So either really let fly or get back to the reasoned argument.)

And, come on, if you believed in what you had to say, you would respond from that belief, not from emotional pain. Nate Silver can only hurt you if you let him push you into writing posts that make your readers wonder if you think your arguments simply can't pursuade on their own merits.

If you don't believe in your own ideas enough to refrain from the ad hominem, why should we even read them?

Everybody could stand to elevate the discourse (4.00 / 2)
David, you're attacking Nate for his "lack of self-awareness."  

In addition to the substantive differences you guys have, you are upset because you think Nate has made it personal, whereas you have tried to focus on substance.  
Then you write  "Nate Silver has opted to now act like an infant" and go on to make personal attacks on him rather than sticking to the substance of the debate.  This strikes me as somewhat hypocritical, perhaps even un-self-aware.

If you think you're justified because "he did it first," then I am saddened as well.  I would hope for more from grown men and women.

Look, you can write whatever you want and however you want, and obviously a lot of people enjoy reading your work (myself included, most of the time).  However, in terms of effectiveness, many people are turned off by name-calling and insults.  To be honest, I didn't read your entire post because I was so disheartened by the opening bit.

FWIW ... maybe it's just me.  But judging by some comments, others feel similarly.  You're so brilliant and have such an interesting perspective; it's a shame to have people tune out your message because of the manner in which it's delivered.

Just my 2 cents, of course ...

Republicans can't fix our country; they're too busy saddlebacking.

[ Parent ]
I agree with Sirota (4.00 / 2)
Silver is a great pollster, as far as I'm concerned, but when it comes to substantive issues he brings little to the table. (He really had to scramble to keep his blog going once the election was over). I've been disappointed by a number of things he's written, n just the Sirota pieces -- most recently one expressing surprise at a bad column by George Will, who he had earlier respected. Will has always been malicious, dishonest, and partisan. He just has a veneer of intelligence, and that was enough to fool Silver.

Silver started this, and Sirota was right to fight back. Silver (a U. of Chicago economist) represents the right wing of the Democratic Party. We have to work with them, and they have to work with us, but we don't have to let them slime us.  

[ Parent ]
Okay, but (0.00 / 0)
I'm not saying you can't agree with Sirota, and I'm not saying that I do or don't agree with the substance of his argument.

What I'm saying is that if David is correct and Nate has descended into personal attacks rather than sticking to substance, "fighting back" with personal attacks on Nate while complaining that Nate isn't sticking to substance and is making personal attacks ... it all seems a little juvenile, as well as hypocritical.  

At best, it's a total distraction for me and many others from the substance of their discussion.

And I'm not sure where "Silver started this" fits into adult discourse, either.  I teach kindergarten kids; I get enough of this attitude at work.

Republicans can't fix our country; they're too busy saddlebacking.

[ Parent ]
Nate should go back to crunching numbers (4.00 / 8)
Nate's roots at the Chicago School of Economics are showing.

It's funny. It's always the elites who try to redefine populism when the rest of us know exactly what it means.

In the progressive netroots, and even among the general political class for the most part, the term almost always refers to economic populism. It ain't rocket science.

Bringing up Hitler in this context, or even alluding to a non-economic definition is pure sophistry.

I won't bore you with how vernacular language often encodes potentially complex subjects to maximize communicative efficiency, but that is what is at play here.

Often time words evolve in the vernacular and nerdy little geeks like to huff about there literal meanings. BUt it's no use. Once a word has become code, there's not a lot you can do about it.

Like the word progressive, for example. As recently as 5 years ago, progressive referred to people like myself who identified specifically with the Progressive Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and had abandoned liberalism for its obsession with cultural issues and dependence of braintrusts of elitism that sit around all day arguing over the true definition of populism.

But, at the speed of a broadband internet connection, liberals who were tired of being called liberals from the rabid right suddenly became progressives. I even had one clown claim to me that the Bravo network was progressive because, presumably, they aired Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

The fact is, however, the original Progressive movement was inherently, economically populist.

"Taking on the power of corporations" is another code of sorts - depending on who's saying it. But there should be no mistake. Apple and Monsanto have one thing in common - they both are own by common stakeholders who are a part of a corrupt, corrosive culture we also vernacularly call corporatism.

And while corporatism does, in some respects, benefit society, their dame far, far outweighs those benefits. This dame is not just the result of a few bad apples, as Mr Silver would suggest. It is a systemic flaw in the organizational principle of the corporate structure. This is not the forum to educate on the perils of corporatism or to cite why some real experts on democracy, from Jefferson to Lincoln to both Roosevelts, abhorred them so. But this: any time you have a system where men can act without consequence or accountability, you will inevitably find men at their worst. And that is the corporation in a nutshell.

The whole red baiting thing is interesting (4.00 / 1)
There is the logical leap from "no corporate power" to "state socialism" and the whole emphasis on it.

That being said what I think Nate was getting at is that there are reasons to despise transformative change beyond the whole soviet canard.  

To make a programming comparison there is an essay out about the cathedral and the bazzar  at

The point it makes is that incremental solutions deal much better with bugs.  And the same applies to policy as law is just software on humans.

Fundamentally I don't trust transformative change because it does not rigorously test every element of its plan for usability, efficiency, and so on before moving to the next step.

I think that incrementalism is the real populist position.  Transformative change is much more likely to come from CEOs and dictators rather than a democracy.

To make a corporate comparison

If you look at google the reason why they can put out so many great and solid products is because they embrace the incrementalist mindset.  They don't give their engineers direction and if something bubbles up and becomes popular more people can work on it and produce a better more solid product.

Whereas microsoft embraces the transformative mindset.  The process is locked down and resistant to input so the leader of the team can execute their goals.  The problems are that they generally release bug filled products that execute a singular vision by people who have little ability to change the product for the better.


You both belong into kindergarten! (4.00 / 4)
And once again you don't do nothing to advance a serious discussion, David, and instead chose to put oil into the flames. Really, none of your stories should be published without being proofread by an editor first:

"Sadly,* in what had been (at least on my part) an attempt at a substantive debate about differing strands of progressivism, Nate Silver has opted to now act like an infant - or to be even more precise, that of an infant whose behavior suggests his parents too often strapped him to a chair and forced him, Clockwork Orange-style, to watch a running loop of Sean Hannity."
Ad hominem, and immediately showing the reader that you aren't really trying to advance a "substantiate debate". Totally hypocritical.

"Now, as I've said before, I'm not surprised by any of this. I'm not surprised, for instance, that a guy of relative privilege like Nate would state without qualification that the Clinton administration's economic policies were "a tremendous success, particularly for the working poor,""
"A guy of relative priviledge"? I looked up infos about Silver's background and found nothing to support this! Nowhere any hint that he has wealthy parents who financed his education. Instead we find he is kind of a math genius, so it's much safer to assume that he solved the tuition problem by receiving scholarships and grants through superior notes and tests. Or do you think it's a sign of priviledge that he owned a computer of his own at age 13? D'oh.

"However, what I am surprised about is Nate's incredibly lack of self-awareness. That, along with answering substantive arguments with catcalls of "Marxist" is the ultimate trait of a political infant. After spending his time slandering me and untold thousands of progressives as "dangerous," "pessimistic," "reactionary," not "rational," "Marxist" and now "Soviet," (his words, all of them), he has the temerity to claim that his opponents "exist in a world of Good Things and Bad Things and Capital Letters -- and so I don't.""
Ad hominem, and quotes taking out of context. For instance, the longer quote you used above shows that Silver didn't really slander you a "Soviet", but warns that your economic opinions could lead to a "Soviet-style economic order". Very farfetched and quite unfair, but at least the reader can understand the base of his argument, while it's obvious your accusation of him slandering you as "soviet" has no base at all.

"The big problem, of course, is not Nate Silver, an insignificant blogger/poll transcriber, or David Sirota, a minor journalist/author - it is what Nate's infantile lack of self-awareness represents in a broader context - namely, the triumph of destructive political propaganda."  
Insignificant blogger? Says who? Just like you, the guy had media appearances, stories in newspapers, and has been quoted extensively. Also, he is an economist, former consultant at KPMG, columnist, baseball and statistics analyst, co-author of books, and just secured a contract for two books from Penguin. His resumee is every bit as impressive as yours. So, if you are a minor Journalist/author, he is at least a minor analyst/author, not simply an insignificant blogger. I like your use of understatement in this sentence, but even whn using this technique your are actually applying it in an unfair way.

"I'm hopeful in the future that if/when he matures further, he tries to have a few debates on the merits of actual policies, rather than focusing his attention on subdividing his world into those who agree with him on political strategy (ie. people who he says are "rational") and the rest of the Planet that he insists is too "radical.""
And I'm hopeful that the real grownups here will stop this ridiculous catfight! The wiser head should give in, but when it becomes obvious that neither of both rivals is really wiser, wise guys from the outside should step in and stop further escalation. Chris, Paul, pls put your feet down on this nonsense!


I hear that (4.00 / 4)
Really, it doesn't matter who is right or wrong, the infantile manner of the writing and the inability of both to stay above the personal is embarassing. Truly embarassing.

Retract the insults,privately if necessary and get back to the issues. I feel the reputations of fivethirtyeight and openleft have been damaged in the eyes of their regular readers.

I'd also like to point out this is typical of the left, and the only loser here are the left or progressives or indeed anyonewho wants to look at the issues, for a more just and equitable society, whatever your issues might be.


[ Parent ]
They're made for eachother (4.00 / 2)
They each fall back on reflexive centrism or leftism without developing a more coherent political argument. Although I argue that Sirota has been more substantive in this exchange so far, largely because Nate has to straddle his own and Obama's centrism and the leftist rhetoric Obama used in the election.

Unfortunately Nate developed a reputation for statistical analysis by telling people what they wanted to hear. If you look closely he is a bit too Zogbyesque, building models that support his political case then trimming them to match reality as the election approaches.  

[ Parent ]
Interesting point (4.00 / 2)
For all the many complaints about Rasmussen as a "Republican" pollster, they too, as I recollect, got the actual national electoral result dead-on -- unlike more Democratic favorable pollsters such as Gallup.

If Nate Silver's results are inherently trustworthy because he happened, in the end, to call the election accurately, why doesn't the same argument apply to Rasmussen?

[ Parent ]
I think (4.00 / 3)
Nate was simply trying to get David to define himself and his anti-corporate attitude. What would be an end-game exit point for Sirota? What does he envision as just the right amount of corporateness and the right amount of people-power, does he see it as possible within this system, etc.

The Soviet Union was just one way of drawing an example of non-corporate economic sludge that seems none-too-attractive as an outcome, not that Nate's accusing David of being a wannabee Beria, he wants to know how far to the left on corporatism and market economics David is.

(Similarly, Sierra Leone and some other anarchic states are perfect examples of conservative "shrink-and-drown-government-in-a-bathtub" attitude taken to its logical conclusion - no taxation, no government, no infrastructure, no laws, and thank God no arts funding).

re (4.00 / 4)
If you're "simply trying" to get someone to "define himself," you don't accuse him of harboring Soviet sympathies. That has clearly a very loaded history, and one that in this country has been used for decades to dismiss the Left as unpatriotic and dangerous.

You use terms like "far left" or even "Marxist" - words that are already laughable if thrown around very quickly, but at least they don't have the patriotism connotations of Nate's post.

[ Parent ]
I think Nate (4.00 / 1)
wanted something concrete, not abstract like "far left" or "Marxist". The Soviet economy is a practical example of a nice thought that didn't implement well.

If there's another practical example of anti-corporate collectivism without historic baggage, let me know.

[ Parent ]
The spanish civil war (0.00 / 0)
Its generally cited by George Orwell.


[ Parent ]
Godwin's law! (0.00 / 0)
"The spanish civil war" - an example of anti-corporate collectivism without historical baggage? Only for those who manage to ignore the fascist elephant in the room!
Surely you're joking, Mrs. Transgendermom!

[ Parent ]
Silver (4.00 / 6)
This is one of the clearest and most indisputable descents into red-baiting I have seen in years. If you do not understand the role that plays even today in maintaining corporate order in the US today then you do not understand very much about 20th century history. Silver is policing the left; making sure that they know what is acceptable in political discourse. It is not only that this is odious on its own; McCarthy was not an isolated case. He was helped by Democrats like Hubert Humphrey who competed with McCarthy in viciousness and who devoted their careers to attacking the far left. Neo-conservatism has its roots in the sort of anti-Communist, red-baiting within the Democratic Party that Silver now represents.

And how do you call comparing someone to McCarthy? (0.00 / 0)
Well, Victor, your unbased accusations and distortions don't do anything to advance a serious discussion, either.  

[ Parent ]
I understand your point Gray (4.00 / 6)
there are two sides to every argument. And the right space to occupy, the intellectually most correct, is right in the middle, triangulate every dispute.

But here is to a serious discussion. Do you think that the historic roles of red-baiting and anti-McCarthyism have played "equal" roles in stifling debate? You do not like name-calling; I don't either. The point of red-baiting is reductionism: reduce criticism of corporate power to support of Soviet style economics. You know there a whole range of models even for socialist ideas, even for regulated corporate capitalism. Similarly in red-baiting you reduce any criticism of US foreign policy to support for Soviet communist expansion. I do not know how old you are. But this was the justification for Korea, Vietnam, the interventions in Iran, in Guatemala, the 50 year embargo of Cuba. That school of "thought" is exactly the school of thought (and the practitioners and promoters of red-baiting anti-Communism as well) of modern neoconservatism. Are you making the case that the pushback against that type of McCarthyism is the same as the practice? If so, then make that case. Show how the anti-McCarthy response to redbaiting has created the problems in post-World War II America. You asked for a serious discussion please contribute seriously to this discussion. Those of us who have seen repeatedly the harm done by red-baiting (and the reductionism and smearing that are its modus operandi) not only to individuals but to this country as a whole think it absolutely  merits a serious discussion.

[ Parent ]
Red-baiting (4.00 / 2)
I've wondered, as I've listened to Rush and Hannity, whether classic red-baiting has real force as memories of the cold war fade.

Not that it's right.  

[ Parent ]
I do not know. (4.00 / 1)
But like others who have posted here it was particularly effective historically, and it has  reverberations in our current political debate. Look at how quickly the Republicans tried to brand Obama's policies as socialist (very common during FDR's presidency too).Clearly the force of the charge is diminished as less and less of us know its historic role or how it was used. My own feeling is that if Silver could answer the criticisms of corporate rule being raised by progressives short of branding them support for a Soviet style economy, he would have done so. It is always the cheaper way to go. And I think it reveals his intellectual deficiencies.

[ Parent ]
Actually you are probably right. (4.00 / 1)
It's effectiveness is clearly less now than in the past.

[ Parent ]
I understand your point, it's just that I don't believe Silver intended any red baiting! (4.00 / 1)
Afaics he was trying to make the argument that David's economic preferrences could lead to a centrally planned economy (I don't think there's real evidence for this, but imho that's his point). By using the example of the Soviet union's system, he then made the grave mistake of making his argument vulnerable to accusations of "red-baiting". I don't think this was the point he intended to make, and the ammendment to his blog post seems to confirm this.

So, I think that this discussion about Stalin and McCarthy goes way beyond the scope of the real argument, and is unfair to both David and Nate. Let's get back to the main topic, "what defines progressive policies", pls!

[ Parent ]
Let's see (4.00 / 1)
as you understand Silver: "he was trying to make the argument that David's economic preferences could lead to a centrally planned economy." But you do not know the basis for this assertion saying you don't think there is any evidence for this. (In fact the basis for the assertion,  as we both know and as Silver pretty explicitly states, is Sirota's continuing attacks on the corporatocracy.) Then he links it to the Soviet Union. Now, forget the namecalling for a minute and think about this. Read it over. You are the one calling for a serious discussion. (Actually I called for it too and indicated why the two attacks redbaiting and anti-McCarthyism are NOT equivalent and asked you to address this. You did not.) But isn't it clear from what you yourself say that if you want a serious discussion Silver has to stop redbaiting since that is the end of the debate not the beginning as you so clearly indicate?

[ Parent ]
There is no way in hell that is true (4.00 / 5)
Maybe this is a language barrier thing. I wouldn't know. I don't know more than a dozen words of German, so I won't criticise your knowlefge of English without good cause.

However, I do think you have failed to comprehend the semantic resonances of what Nate was saying. He referred to "rational progressives" and "radical progressives" as two groups opposed on more or less every point of how they saw the world. That naturally leads to an implication that "radical progressives" are irrational, and this is only helped by the characteristics he assigns to each. There's a clear DFH implication here. Especially when he then describes radical progressives as being associated with the "far-left". That has very specific associations. It's not just about being further left than somebody else. It's not just one step beyond left-of-centre. It carries the implication that the thing in question is so far left that it's teetering on the edge of the Overton window and doesn't really belong in the political discourse. It's broadly equivalent to "hard left", although perhaps with less of the organisation that term implies.

Then let's take Nate at his own words:

4. A world dissolute of corporate power implies one of two things: state socialism or social anarchism.

When I suggest that Sirota's modes of thought are Marxist, I don't mean that figuratively. I mean that literally: the logical conclusion to his project is some version of a workers' state.

He is suggesting that Sirota is Marxist - which is an absurd suggestion, but let's roll with that for a minute. He then gives us one of his trademark pretty graphs and a few paragraphs of reasonably substantive if not entirely convincing argument, before eliding Marxism into the Soviet Union. That his point of comparison is the particularly emotive issue of infant mortality rather than the established and well known infrastructure and production shortcomings of the USSR is also noteworthy. This is a substantive argument only in a thin outer shell.

Underneath that, he's suggesting that David Sirota is a dangerous agitator who favours baby-killing. Misrepresenting Sirota and claiming, with not a shred of evidence, that:

5. The political goals of Sirota, if enacted, might be acutely harmful to the working class

is quite clearly dishonest and there were quite enough rhetorical elbows thrown that it's hard to believe Silver wasn't red-baiting. To accept that we would have to believe that Silver, who normally picks his words very carefully, accidentally chose a whole flurry of phrases with broader anti-leftist resonances, that he truly can't tell the difference between standard social democratic populism and Leninism and that he's never had an argument with a left-winger before. I don't find any of those things plausible.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Socialism in the Communist Bloc did not help workers (0.00 / 0)
That doesn't mean every socialist in Poland or Hungary was a baby killer, simply that the air around the effort was poisoned.

Nate is basically saying, "rail against corporatism all you want, the extreme opposite would be those gray belching state-owned factories and the shops with nothing/rows of the same bland things, or else a general anarchy - how close to that opposite do you propose?" He's not seeing much of a compromising, splitting the difference in Sirota, and Sirota just responds "you've got to be kidding". The pragmatic rationalist corporate-fellow-travelers-DLC-loving "progressives" obviously are just abetting capitalism running amok. So what are the radical progressives leading us towards?

[ Parent ]
Scratch a centrist like (4.00 / 6)
Silver and you'll find a red baiter.  The Soviet Union.  What a farce.   It eneded 15 years ago.

Look, under you bed, it's a commie!  

Silver is a numbers guy who is out of his league as a political or economic thinker.  I recall his diaries of hero worship on Daily Kos as poblano.  No subnstantive content other than poll numbers.  

He is an enemy of workers.  He likes to privilege his own group, those educated at "prestigous universites."  Along with his cult of "experts," his core beliefs are anti-democratic.    

Thanks for calling him out, David.

I don't always agree with your posts, but I never doubt whch side you are on.  The side of working people, not the bosses.  Silver seeks to promote the bosses, hiding their power in a cult of "expertise," while demonizing any pro-labor figures.

That he stooped to using the Soviet Union against you by implying that you were a commie or commie sympathizer, shows me that you have him on the run.  The comparision is so silly and so transparent.

It is not Bill Clinton or the Soviet Union.  There are other choices.  Even in 1992.  Like Jerry Brown.  :-)

Silver must defend corporations, becuase he dientifies with his subclass, the "creative class, i.e., upper middle and upper class, highly educated technocrats who serve the 1%ers directly or indirectly.

By joining Silver in debate, you allowed him to expose the bankruptcy of his own thinking to all.  Good work, David.

We need more like you.  

The Soviet union still is THE prime example for a centrally planned economy... (4.00 / 1), what other example should Silver have used? Cuba? North Korea?

"Silver is a numbers guy who is out of his league as a political or economic thinker."
Politically, maybe, even though he won a Scholarship for high school debaters. But he studied economics at the UofC and at the London school of economics. From his stories, it's obvious that Silver knows more than Sirota about economic issues.

"He is an enemy of workers.  He likes to privilege his own group, those educated at "prestigous universites."  Along with his cult of "experts," his core beliefs are anti-democratic."
Really, Tom, these unbased accusations are really below you! Can't remember you sinking so low. What's the matter with you today?

[ Parent ]
I don't like red baiters. (4.00 / 6)
I grew up as a teenager fighting agaisnt the Vietnam War.  We were called commies.  Any movement for progressive change has been called communistic.  That Silver would willfully lower himself to red baiting says it all.

When on Earth has Sirota suggested a Soviet style command economy?  Link, please?  No, Silver needed a strawman, so he likely drew from his U of Chicago Econ 101 where the Soviet Union was counteposed agaisnt Friedmanesque free markets.  And his strawman would serve the purpose of implying taht Sirota was a crazy commie, well outside the bounds of reasonable discussion among the elite.  It was dishonest intellectually and morally wrong.

Silver's comments are beyond the pale.  Red baiting is wrong.  He took the path of Limbaugh.    

Knowing the history of the New Deal, Roosevelt was called a commie.   The Great Society.  LBJ and Humphery were called commies.  McGovern was called a commie.  And Obama was attacked as as socialist just last year and even now.  The modern Republican Party was built on McCarthyism.  See Nixon in 1946 and his campaign against the Pink Lady in 1950.

Silver went way over the line.  

I do see him as an elitist who unthinkingly privileges experts rather than independent thinking.  I have read his drivel.  Once he gets outside numbers and polling, he has little of interest to say.  

I stand by what I said.  Read his writings.  I think my description is accurate.  

[ Parent ]
Ok, I see how this touches a sore point for you, but... (4.00 / 2)
I still think retaliating in the very same kind ("an enemy of the workers" - come on!) ruins your case. Sinking to the same lows as the one you're criticizing doesn't help your arguments at all.

However, thx for clarifying the background of your position, Tom.

[ Parent ]
Thanks, Gray. (0.00 / 0)
Take care.

[ Parent ]
PS. It is not (4.00 / 4)
that individual corporations ro rich people are "evil."

It is that a system based on the systematic exploitation of people by a small elite is neither moral not efficient over the long run.  Its need for constant accumulation is  bouncing against the ceiling of the carrying capacity of the Earth.

It's the system that is fatally flawed at its core.  In seeking to make a more humane capitalism, if not democratric socialism, no individual corporation is truly important, other than as a rallying cry for people to organize against specific wrongs.

It's the system, as I'm sure you know.  Silver seeks to defend the unequal relationships of power in the system.  Making the trains run on time rather than building a new railroad, so to speak.

Yawn (4.00 / 5)
The problem with Sirota is that his arguments are self-righteous, accusatory, and oversimplistic.

- Nate Silver

A world dissolute of corporate power implies one of two things: state socialism or social anarchism.

-  Nate Silver (same post).  

Yeah, lots of hypocrisy, on both sides. (0.00 / 0)
What else is news? We can only hope that those folks sometime in the near future will get exhausted from this catfight...

[ Parent ]
not to point out the obvious (0.00 / 0)
But gee, Gray, if this all bothers you so much, why have you written about 1,000 pages worth of comments on it?  It's almost as if you're seeking to antagonize David Sirota or something...

[ Parent ]
Just being bored, and killing time. (4.00 / 1)
But as for "seeking to antagonize" David Sirota, there's a grain of truth to it. Imho David isn't a purely positive force for progressive politics, and I crticize this regularly. But, no misunbderstandings, pls, I'm much more concerned about his style of making arguments than their content. Imho David time and again totally unnecessary insults ("STFU") other liberal groups, and engages in unfair stereotyping, and this results in dividing liberals instead of uniting them behind good policies and intiatives. And, needless to say, this works to the advantage of republicans, who are masters of the "divide et impera" strategy.

So, even though I like to pull David's leg every now and then, it's nothing personal, but genuine concern about him creating rifts among liberals. Ok?

[ Parent ]
one could successfully argue (4.00 / 1)
That it's the corporatists and the Clintonistas who are causing this rift of which you speak.

[ Parent ]
Here's the deal (4.00 / 6)
Full disclosure -

I used to consider myself a Marxist of some sort.  I knew and moved in the orbit of several people who actually did believe that the Soviet model was worthy of emulation but I never joined their organizations or agreed with such positions.  At the time I knew them, they were kind of pathetic, older than I, and their positions obviously the residue of youthful passions that hadn't quite abated.  If you ignored their starry-eyed world politics, though, they remained what they probably started as, determined fighters for everyday working people.  I was never a Communist but I was an anti-anti-Communist.  If you don't understand the difference, I guess you had to be there.

As for myself, coming along later, it was obvious that the Leninist model wasn't much help in building the new society we all wanted.  And so I drifted in the orbit, doing the best I could to make a difference and got washed along by the great rightward drift that tragically enveloped America.

Now when looking back at it all, one thing is clear.

The Soviet Communists were instrumental in building a worker's paradise - just not in the countries they ruled!!  The perceived value of their system, highest after the revolution, then slowly and steadily declining as the grim reality of their creation became clearer to all, forced capitalism to moderate itself.  The need to do so withered as the Soviet system declined.

It was that system of moderated capitalism that won the Cold War against the Soviet Union - NOT the hyper-libertarian Wall Street we've known in more recent times.  The Hoover-era capitalist system would have perished without the Roosevelt reforms.  As for the American workers, they've been victims of a grand historical game of bait and switch - they were persuaded to grant their loyalty to a system that seemed to be taking good care of them, only to have the floor yanked out from under them as soon as the corporations no longer needed this loyalty.

But see, I remember with fondness, the mixed, moderate economy I grew up with.  I have no desire whatever to recreate Soviet Communism, but I will give the devil his due, and say that without him, we wouldn't have gotten to the American workers' paradise of the fifties and sixties.

So the real question is, can we achieve anything like that again without the threat of revolution and without having some other folks on the other side of the world living in chains propping up our paradise?  I no longer consider myself a Marxist, because I don't think I know the answer to that question.  I will note that many societies manage to exist without the vast disparities of wealth that are ruining this country.  The rich may not live as well as our rich, but the not-so-rich live better.  I have traveled to such countries and they impress me.

But I do know that unless we're willing to question the legitimacy of the usurpers who have instituted the plutocracy that now rules us, we'll never get to a better place.  Wealth must be regulated, not granted unlimited power.  To say that there is nothing between this and Stalinism is nonsense - such places exist in the world today and they are better off than we are are.

Nate Silver's stupid, reductionist, McCarthyite smear tactics stand in the way of the serious analysis we need,

and he can kiss my ass.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

I'll reply to myself here (4.00 / 2)
because I ended rather inarticulately.

Nate Silver's stupid, reductionist, McCarthyite smear tactics stand in the way of the serious analysis we need,

and he can kiss my ass.

What I should have said:

Whatever political merit McCarthyism might seem to have had in the period of moderated capitalism vanishes to nothing in this period of hyper-capitalism.  

It's not only morally repugnant, it's politically stupid - see Sirota's post on Lind's article.  Silver's pathetic attempt to reprise 50's era McCarthyism today is disgusting and will ultimately have the effect of fracturing the Democratic Party, with no upside because the populist wave is being pushed toward the Republicans and this will only get worse if Silver's preferred policies are allowed to prevail.


he can kiss my ass!

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
David, as Cenk would say "you're at a 10 and you need to be at a 2" (4.00 / 1)
I actually agree with what you said.  Especially this part:
The big problem, of course, is  [...] the triumph of destructive political propaganda.

As the major battles over policy begin to be waged, it's a safe bet that at least part of the opposition to any kind of real reform will come from those who have been taught for so long in so many ways to hate progressivism that they have no idea their hatred is A) ideological and B) taught/manufactured by our culture.

I understand how frustrating it is to be receive the political-rhetoric equivalent of "friendly fire".  But, David, you really need to take it down a notch.

This post would have been 10x more effective if it was half as long and half as heated.  A single paragraph juxtaposing Silver's red-baiting attack with his claim not to "exist in a world of Good Things and Bad Things" would have quickly driven the point home.

I'd like to get a bit meta (4.00 / 6)
And ask people to stop with the "a pox on both your houses" schtick.

Sure, maybe you wish we could all just be friends. But this is an argument between David Sirota and Nate Silver. I've never seen David back down in a situation like this, and Nate has been lauded as a predictive wizard for quite enough time that it'd make even the most humble man quite secure in his own beliefs.

Add to that Nate's clear attempts to smear David and Sirota's usual vituperative style (which, full disclosure, I personally enjoy a great deal) and it's clear that everybody just making nice isn't an option.

And that's even before we get on to the vexed question of exactly how much it is permissible to verbally eviscerate somebody for inartfully implying that you're a Stalinist.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

Hear hear! (4.00 / 4)

This is not some personal spat between two egotistical narcissists - whatever their psychological makeup may be.  There's an important issue here, as I've tried to argue, but it seems over the head of many of the younger participants here.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
I tend to agree (4.00 / 3)
It is a personal spat, but it's a personal spat brought on by an important issue, and that's a perfectly legitimate way for it to come out.

Beneath the personal rancor, there's a good deal of very important ideological rancor between a populist and ideologically-based view of the world and an elitist and immovably pro-Obama administration view of the world. That's a fight which the blogosphere is going to keep having, the arguments and rhetoric of both sides need to be studied carefully, and we ought to at least be willing to put up with a bit of bickering to gather this information.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Nates Silver is a fellow traveler of Al Giordano (4.00 / 3)
Al came to Chicago just after the election in an attempt to be an "organizer" by organizing his local readers into a, well, organization. He calls his fans "field hands". I am a fan of Al's and have been since late 2003. Now Al loves to get cute with his writing especially when he's on the attack. And usually that's where it stays, cute. His whole "chicken little" schtich is an example.

But lately it's worn a bit thin and has become increasingly annoying especially when he's been attacking David. I've commented as gently as I could on Al's blog about it being a problem for me.

But here's the thing. When Al came to Chicago and met with his "field hands" as a treat he had Nate Silver tagging along. So I have not doubt that Nate sees Al as sort of an elder statesman or even a mentor or whatever, clearly I don't read his mind. But fellow traveler most likely fits as well.

Jeff Wegerson

Giordono is a stange person (4.00 / 1)
he is a major defender of Hugo Chavez, then he turns around and supports the right wing of the Democratic Party and the neoliberals who have red-baited the Chavez regime.  I don't know maybe he is just into personality cults.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Populist vs Technocratic Progressivism (4.00 / 2)
Maybe what would help as an exercise is for each side to reword the other sides writing in a mature and non-inflammatory fashion

So, to rework some of Nate, how about we use 'populist progressive' vs 'technocratic progressive' or 'meritocratic progressive' ... maybe p-prog vs t-prog for short

The populist branch always has front and center a concern for people-power (not state power as Nate suggests), which views itself as fighting for balance against centralized power of private interests and insider interests (including in govt)

In other words, with populism, the locus of power is with the people, and you use one shift or another to prevent elites and insiders from consolidating too much power away from accountability to the people

The technocratic branch is not anti-people or anti-people-power, but as far as decision-making goes, planning and organizing society, there is an assumption of expert-rule

Experts are by their nature very different from the average voter, and insiders who want power will tend to figure out how to deal with experts to accomplish that task

But experts may or may not feel they can talk to average people fully about the issues, simply because of complexity

The gap in communication about and intelligibility of expert actions from the people's point of view means that in practice, the technocratic branch will often feel distant and therefore suspect to the populist branch

So this is about who decides and who understands how decisions are made, and thus who feels that their concerns are or are not fundamental to the process

A related issue is open government

Populist progressivism rests on open government, because the more the people can see, the more they can develop the ability to explain what is going on in the people's language

This leads to the ability to participate and influence and obtain meaningful results

Technocratic progressivism also believes in open government as a matter of principle, but may not have the time and energy necessary to translate all that is revealed by open government in a manner that makes sense to the average voter

At an extreme, technocratic progressivism conducts a debate which is open, but only really meaningful to experts, who don't live close enough to the lives of average people to bring, at the level of intuition, instinct, emotion, will, raw value, the people's sensibilities into the debate

Conversely, populist progressivism, in demanding a seemless and simple link between the popular sentiment and action, can skip over valid and important technocratic concerns

In either case you could get underperformance, gaps in energy or ideas can affect both process and result in ways that are good for noone

Ideally these two branches of the progressive tree function smoothly as part of one tree, neither is dispensible and both seek a successful American experiment on the basis of our core national values, ideals, themes and norms

Neither is less patriotic than the other

Long live a fully free, happy and unified America, in which populists and technocrats guarantee a bright future!

Addendum (4.00 / 1)
It's useful to imagine just how these two branches can complement each other

Populists will often promote large, bold, simple gestures that seek to get life back on track

Technocrats will often promote smaller, more nuanced and complex processes that are deemed to be more accurate

The small and obscure steps of technocrats, occurring sporadically, will tend to deplete any sense of continuity of change

So you could get some good stuff and then just a petering out for lack of political capital

The large and dramatic steps of populists, concentrated together, engender a lot of push-back and potential for roll-back, as well as chaotic change that could be interpreted in a myriad of ways

This can lead to a sense that the movement has lost its focus or its comprehension of reality, loss of support by technocrats, and a petering out for lack of idea-capital

So really you want something of both

This can look like smaller, sober, technocratic steps, continued seemlessly and relentlessly so as to support a long-term populist wave of positive sentiment

Or you can have larger, dramatic, populist steps which have nevertheless been thought through fully over a long preliminary period, and perhaps tested out in miniature, so that when enacted they carry the full support of experts and can also be managed well in implementation

I'd say Democrats right now are trying to do a combination of both of these combinations

But the point is you could let either side appear to lead and nevertheless have both sides participating and happy with the overall longer-term effects

Finally, noone here supports changing the fundamental American model, including free-market economics; the issue is that the people should perceive that the system is working optimally for people; that it be fair, open, inclusive, participatory, including the domains of economics, politics, media, culture, religion ... everything about the direction of our lives as Americans

[ Parent ]
Philosophically, we should never assume capitalism is the endpoint of human development (4.00 / 1)
Whatever debates people may engage in about the best economic ways forward in a variety of circumstances, one of the mos ridiculous things done is to assume based on the past 200 years of history that capitalism under liberal democracy is not only better than a number of other alternatives, but the endpoint of human civilization.

Maybe it is.  Maybe no other superior way of conducting ourselves economically can or will ever arise.  I don't know.  I doubt that's the case, and I certainly hope it's not the case.  I think there are more democratic ways of organizing ourselves and our use of economic resources, but not any that seem possible in the near future, or so I assume.

But there is now a rather lazy assumption that as soon as we nail a few details down then, bang, that's it, and the rest of humanity's future lies in the tweaking.

To put this another way, El Cid (4.00 / 2)
I view the endgame of the Cold War as a game of chicken.  The game where two teenagers drive their cars at frightening speeds towards one another and the first one to turn is "chicken" and loses the game.  Soviets were the chickens in that analogy, but the question remains, how much better were we the winners?  They collapsed first, but are we now, a mere 20 years later, also collapsing?

Obviously, our system was quite a bit better, but, IMHO, the Cold War did not prove what so many think it proved - that it solved all historical questions for all time, in favor of free market capitalism (the freeest possible), for ever and ever.  That would be more than a bit disingenuous, especially as the system that won the Cold War was a mixed system, not the hyper-capitalist mess that was visited upon the working class of the victors, who thought they'd bought a piece of the rock.

Which is why I'm pissed off about this Silver fusillade, and pleased with your take on it.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
david, you exaggerate and assume in my opinion what nate said (4.00 / 1)
i don't understand how you get all that out of nate's posts.  He doesn't seem to be calling you a commie.  What is wrong with the radical left title?  I like that definition of myself and like this site because you fight for radical ideas.  that's not a bad thing.  you have to keep the politicians honest, that's a good thing, even on our side.

I just think nate was wondering how far you can go with ideas like that before you start treading into a socialism economy.  But lets face it, Bush opened us right up into quasi socialism with bailing out the banks and now us maybe having to nationalize them.

I consider universal single payer health care in this country a radical idea given how tough it has been to push by our side.  it's quasi socialism, but not a complete socialism.  I think capitalism is the best with a mix of socialism - safety nets, universal health care, ect.

plus I think obama agrees with us on most of the issues, but he has to do it well and carefully because we just cannot fail on healthcare and bringing the economy back.  If he would have failed the stimulus, how could he move on to the next thing.  

Nate Silver has jumped the shark (0.00 / 0)
He had fifteen minutes of fame last year because for some reason everyone thought he was a genius at predicting elections. As it turns out, not so much. So now, his web traffic declining as people stop obsessively refreshing his page fifty times a day, he picks a blog fight with someone who has done more for progressivism than Silver ever will.

Then as if that wasn't bad enough, he resorts to red-baiting. Jesus, the guy is a scum bag.  


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