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.
|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."