Two Aspects of the Left Blogosphere

I've been reading liberal and progressive blogs regularly for a few years now; I even bought and read that Crashing the Gate book from Kos and that other guy (Armstrong, I believe). I've been pleased to see its increasing influence in politics and the political media. And of course, November 2006 brought the first enjoyable election day in all of my adult life.

Nevertheless, while I have jumped all over the place ideologically in the past decade, I have never really been entirely satisfied with the Democratic Party (I've never registered to vote as one, preferring either no affiliation or the Green Party) and what is taken to be liberalism in the US. For quite a while, I considered myself a species of Marxist, until I did some further study in 20th C. Marxism and came to reject the economic determinism that pervades most such accounts. To this day, even though my views are more complex, I would still call myself a leftist.

In any case, one thing I have come to notice is that, even though Democrat-friendly liberals and progressives dominate one hemisphere of the blogging world, there are Marxists, left libertarians, radical feminists, and others who are highly critical of the Democratic party. (I suppose this would be that radical (anti-)American left that we all hear about.) It goes without saying that they see Republicans as worse, but they don't see the Democrats as offering a substantive alternative.

I have come to read these blogs more and more, particularly these two (I've already mentioned Arthur Silber's work before, but this IOZ character is also a joy to read, even if he identifies as a libertarian). Perhaps I'm reading them more because Bush is starting to recede into the background, and I'm worried about what's coming next.

To simplify the situation, you might say there are two major factions in the Internet left, two distinct philosophies of how to effect change. On the one hand, you have what IOZ cleverly dubs "The Donkle", a mainstream, "work within the system" group that subordinates ideological consistency to the needs of a practical political movement.

On the other, there are what Joe Klein snidely refers to as the "illiberal left", those who are unwilling to "sell out" or water down their principles, who are just as eager (if not more so) to criticize Democrats as Republicans, and who reject American Empire, with minimal care as to which wing of the ruling class governs it.

A great example of the conflict of these approaches is an interchange between Steve Gilliard and Max Siwicky that I'm too lazy to link to right now (just check the archives of the News Blog if you're interested). Steve was arguing that his side is actual accomplishing positive things for people as Max and his ilk are busy having ideological discussions. (I don't quite recall Max's precise response to that point, but I will offer something in that vein below).

Now, as an individual enamored of ideas more than actions, I tend to side with the latter. Yet, I am still often torn, because I recognize that this alternative often practically amounts to invigorating and insightful discussions among intelligent people who have absolutely no power to change anything. I am not completely averse to compromise against my principles when it can lead to a palpable good.

This is probably why I vote Democratic. And yet, I see the Democrats, both politicians and voters, as suffering from a few major flaws they share with mainstream independents and Republicans. The easiest way to put it is as a kind of American exceptionalism (and again, Arthur Silber is the man to read for some excellent essays on this theme at "Once Upon a Time...").

If you look at American history since WWII, and even before (see US involvement in WWI, the Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Phillipines, the Mexican-American War, the genocide of the native population and the enslavement of another, etc.), you will see many horrific acts committed often unapologetically, even proudly, guided by this idea that America is a special force for Good in the world, so that it's fine to resort to all sorts of unsavory ends to achieve its ambitions.

Most of this past is ignored, probably because most Americans don't really care about history (or are fine with a watered-down, pro-American mythology). Even ostensibly well-educated and intelligent Democrats tend to view the actions of the latest administration as a unique monstrosity, a sudden abandonment of cherished American principles. Nevermind that, as Chomsky has demonstrated by carefully culling the historical record, every president since at least FDR has probably been guilty of war crimes as a result of covert and not-so-covert military operations (yes, even Carter).

I've said this before, and it's by no means an original insight, but here goes again. What distinguishes Bush from previous administrations is his administration's incompetence and lack of subtlety (isn't it ironic that an administration can be well-known for its secrecy?). They brazenly condone torture, indefinite extralegal detention, aggressive warfare, and a slew of other things which other administrations have kept on the DL.

Of course, I will acknowledge that this is a serious problem. If we openly condone and engage in these practices we have truly become monsters (although I will grant that there's also the possibility that by bringing them out into the open, they actually stand a chance of being changed--some variant of the heightening the contradictions argument). But let's not pretend that these are radical, totally unprecedented things.

I'd like to say more on this subject, but I've got too much other work to do. In closing, I'll say that while a continue to read excellent authors like Glenn Greenwald and Digby, I am less and less compelled by the Left Lite. If we were to seriously adopt a simple principle of consistency between evaluating the actions of our nation and those of others (what I deem to be the central point that the radical left-wing nut Chomsky argues), we would be having very different political conversations these days. Then I might be inclined to read more mainstream political sources.