December 03, 2004

A Friendly Fisking

Someone whose byline you'd probably recognize asked me a few weeks ago when our mutual friend Dave Weigel went insane politically. (I'm not sure if the conversation was on the record, which is why I'm being coy.) Dave's drifted leftward in the past few months, and as far as I could tell the catalyst was the Abu Gharib scandal (he ended up splitting his ticket between Kerry and Republican legislators on November 2). But I suspect the necessary condition was having recently joined the editorial board of a mainstream newspaper, where intellectual rigor is necessarily sacrificed on the altar of daily deadlines. It's not so much the ideological drift that bothers me-- ideoligical drift is, after all, what has made the Naderite-turned-conservative-turned-libertarian-turned-whatever so interesting and insightful in the past. What bothers me is the intellectual laziness; it's gotten to the point where Dave's regularly putting out stuff that should be beneath him. The only thing for it is a fisking, the intellectual-health benefits of which Dave himself has extolled.

Let's take his post from yesterday titled "Shark jumpery"

More reasons I won't restore my permalink to Instapundit. He links approvingly to this Anne Applebaum quote as the Meaning of Democratic Defeat.
At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine. Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States.

I call bullshit. First, what was Applebaum's proof of left-wing democracy-hating? Two articles in the Guardian - the British paper. She only points to one American leftist.

So? Applebaum specifically referred to "the Western left"; last I checked, the Guardian was still, for the moment, published in the West.
Both articles were liberally quoted, for example, in a Web log written by the editor of the Nation, who, while writing that she admired "citizens fighting corrupt regimes," just as in the United States, she also noted darkly that the wife of the Ukrainian opposition leader, a U.S. citizen of Ukrainian descent, "worked in the Reagan White House."

And this quote is the nugget of a column that Glenn Reynolds uses to understand "WHAT'S WRONG WITH LIBERALISM."

No, it isn't. It's clear from his post that Glenn was connecting Applebaum's column to Peter Beinert's excellent New Republic essay, which he accurately advertises as dealing with "WHAT'S WRONG WITH LIBERALISM, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT." Beinert calls on liberals to marginalize the neo-Wallacites who are so influencial in the Democratic party, and Applebaum was writing about the same neo-Wallacites in the context of the broader Western left-- and to suggest that the intellectual left in Britain and the US are entirely discreet elements is silly. Leftists on either side of the pond read each other's arguments and write for each other's publications on a regular basis.
And wait! We're not done!

1.)Is Reynolds aware of the difference between The Nation leftists and Democratic liberals? Hint: Democratic liberals are criticized by The Nation all the time.

Yes. I know because he's linking to one of those sides' salvos (Beinert's) in their ongoing intramural battle in this very post.
2.)Does Reynolds read The Nation - or any lefty news, for that matter?
Yup. If you don't believe me, run searches on Instapundit for things like "Eric Alterman" or "American Prospect" or "Guardian" ("The Nation" will turn up lots of false positives for obvious reasons).
What does he think of the advocacy in lefty news for democracy movements in Haiti, Venezuela, East Timor? Agree with them or not, don't such concerns indicate that lefties might not be such dictator-loving fascists after all?
Once again, running searches for those countries will elucidate Glenn's views on all those topics. Suffice it to say that his support for democracy does not hinge on what George W. Bush thinks about them; the support of some on the left does. Which was Applebaum's point.

3.)Here's a thought - might the total pig's ear we made of the Saddam overthrow, putting our hopes and dreams into Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi, have made some people a little skeptical of the White House's judgment in dictator-democracy disputes?.
The premises here are flawed-- Iraq would have to be going considerably worse than it is to make one wish for the days of Saddam Hussein's regime, which resembled parts of the pig considerably more offensive than the ear, and any fair evaluation of the bizarre story of Ahmed Chalabi, whose role in the administration's "hopes and dreams" Dave grossly overstates, must conclude that the jury is still out on whether Chalabi was an "Iranian spy." But even if Dave's premises here were accurate, he'd still be stealing a base, because much of the left was against dealing with Saddam beforehand, not because of anything in this administration's record, but simply because they were Republicans-- a phenomenom Dave used to understand. It is simply depraved to depend on an anti-Bush lense when deciding where to come down on questions of war and peace, let alone on "dictator-democracy disputes." (Hint: dictators are bad.)
This is why I delinked Reynolds. Strawman arguments and wimpy parroting of whatever Republican war hawks are pushing at the moment.
How deeply ironic.

It goes on:

UPDATE: Reynolds wonders whether "whether there's a figure in the Democratic establishment who's willing to take on the Michael Moore / MoveOn aspects of the party." Well, after Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas made a disparaging comment about dead mercenaries in Iraq, the Kerry campaign took him off its blogroll. Meanwhile, Reynolds maintains a link to the proud Arab-bashing blog "The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler," where can be found shit like this.

Ordering government officials to essentially tell worthless, partisan, and pathetically inaccurate "journalists" to "eat shit and die", the Republican governor of Maryland struck a mighty blow against Idiotarianism.

Why does Glenn Reynolds hate freedom of the press?

This is the best Dave could find? AIR is indeed often a haven for crude stupidity, but Dave has picked a post that-- apart from the typical AIR tone, which I don't care for-- is entirely sound. Does anyone outside of the media bubble really believe that "freedom of the press" means unfettered access to public officials for whomever wants it? (As a former subscriber to the Baltimore Sun, I am 100% sympathetic to Ehrlich's response to that paper's coverage. The Sun's lawyer's claim that this is "a violation of the First Amendment" doesn't pass the laugh test.)

More to the point, Glenn has tons of links on his blogroll to people he disagrees with-- including many lefties. And Glenn isn't running for president.

The real question is whether there's a figure in the pro-war blog establishment who's willing to take on the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler/Little Green Footballs aspects of the blogs -- or whether those aspects have become, in some important ways, the soul of the blogs today.
When Paul Wellstone died, AIR danced on his grave and was roundly condemned; James Lileks wrote a great essay that was very hard on those who succumbed to that impulse, to which Glenn Reynolds linked. Michael J. Totten-- who's guest-blogged on Instapundit-- has also taken AIR on (which Dave should know-- his is the first comment on that post). And my sense is that AIR is much less prominent than it once was (it certainly doesn't get many Instapundit links anymore).

As for LGF, it's a terrific blog. Unless I've overlooked something-- Dave is free to point it out if I have-- Charles Johnson is guilty of nothing except attracting some over-the-top commenters (given that policing LGF's comments would be a full-time job, I give Johnson a pass for his readers' behavior).

Posted by John Tabin at December 3, 2004 04:52 PM

Geez ... I wonder what you'd write if I HADN'T just gone shopping on your Amazon Wishlist. (Smiley face.)

I was probably too harsh on my immediate reactions to that post - I have this nasty habit of proscribing "gotchas!" that, on investigation, are not really that damning. And the Chalabi stuff really lit a fire under me, so my logic in that area can be ... well, nevermind. But c'mon, Applebaum mentioned one American leftist approving (half-approving, if you read the quote in question) of two articles in a left-wing British newspaper. And Reynolds seems to give her the same credulity he gives Beinart's article. He introduced Applebaum by saying "This is a problem that Anne Applebaum identified in yesterday's Washington Post."

Kerry bloggers actually did - very publicly - delink one of their biggest boosters when he said something anti-American and stupid. Glenn saw them do it (it's in the omnibus post here) ... and yet he keeps posting this "when will Democrats denounce yada yada" stuff.

I'm glad we agree about AIR. But I wouldn't give Glenn a pass on that just because his guest-blogger dissed AIR a year ago. Here's my beef - if you're going to promote all of these "the Democrats must eject so-and-so if they ever want to be taken seriously/win elections" articles, you can't give your OWN side's wacko fringe a free pass.

Posted by: Dave Weigel at December 3, 2004 07:02 PM

The problem with the Democrats is that they operate from a purely pragmatic standpoint, and will censure their own fringe ONLY when it is politically expedient to do so. The American people have come to see this, and it is this lack of authenticity which hurt the Kerry campaign as much as anything. The average voter looked at the coddling of the fringe left, and concluded that any censure was done with a wink and a nod; read ``be a good boy, take your lumps, and you`ll be back in as soon as this silly election is over``.

Dave, you may not agree, but I suspect that was and is the perception of many voters. (I definitely see it that way.) The Democrat party has to maintain their fragile coalition, and has been forced over the years to elevate the radical left or die. They hope they can hold on to the Truman Democrats, but they KNOW they will lose the left if they don`t give them a forum. It`s a catch-22 for the party. This same principle applies to the liberal movement in general. It is very difficult to hold this coalition together, and the left can ill-afford internecine warfare.

It is this desperate attempt at unity which leads the left to behave irresponsibly. They support tyrants and thugs, Islamic terrorists, etc. for the sole purpose of OPPOSING their political enemies. This political opposition is the sacrament which binds these disparate leftist groups together. Without it, they divide and fall. They are unwilling to censure the crazier elements in their coalition because of the fragility of this coalition. If President Bush says the sun is shining they go on protest marches demanding he retract his position on sunshine. They HAVE to do this; it is the only thing holding them together.

This, and the great frustration these groups suffer from as they watch their power slip away, leads to a seige mentality; circle the wagons, go into the lager, and stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone even remotely on your side. It`s why the Left rallied around Bill Clinton during the impeachment despite the fact that he did great damage to their collective causes. They simply couldn`t abandon one of their own, no matter how much of an S.O.B. he was.

I believe the American people have figured this out, and this played the critical factor in the recent elections. Even if the Left does censure their own occasionally, they do not do it often enough, nor with enough vigor, to change the perception of them. If I am correct, the Republicans will continue to solidify their gains well into the future.

Posted by: Tim Birdnow at December 4, 2004 11:45 AM

Tim - I don't know how much of the Dem's national security problem came from their alliance with hard-lefties and how much came from their traditional rep for being "weak," inflated by the Bush campaign.

In any case, keep in mind - most lefties who vote Democrat don't have sympathy for terrorism. They don't support al Qaeda - especially not like the Wallaceites supported the Soviets. Very, very few people protested against the war in Afghanistan - I'd wager they were only slightly more than protested against the war in Kosovo. There are enclaves in Berkeley and Madison and Greenwich Village which might be taking Osama's side over Bush's. Democrats don't listen to them. I'd liberally estimate there are only 50,000 such people in America.

The war in Iraq changed everything. Now there are millions of people who didn't want to "oppose a tyrant" and apparently didn't care about defending America. That makes the "radical left" look more influential than it is.

I think the Democrats real problem is out of their ability to fix - they're out of power and the GOP can define them as whatever they like. And since the GOP is in charge of our war policy, they can accuse Democrats of weakness damn easily. It doesn't really matter who they publicly expel from the politburu. Expel Michael Moore and people will find a new symbol of liberal perfidy. They need to define their national security stance, as Beinart suggests, and just sing it all day and night.

Posted by: Dave Weigel at December 4, 2004 06:45 PM


I would like to point out that the entire Democrat caucus attended the opening of Fahrenheit 911 and gave that movie a standing O. Further, Madeleine Albright suggested that W. had Osama Bin-Laden tucked away for an October surprise, John Kerry himself refused to disavow the repeated hit pieces on Bush`s National Guard service,Patrick Leahy publicly accused Vice President Cheney of launching the Iraq war for Haliburton to make oil profits, etc.etc. This is the mainstream of the Democrat Party. You simply can`t blame their bad image on Republican control of government.

There used to be something called the Loyal Opposition. That concept died with the Republican takeover of Congress. If the Left in this country ever wants to have credibility on issues they simply will have to expunge the fringe element; they can never act in the role of loyal opposition otherwise. Imagine if the KKK, the American Nazi party, etc. were a welcome element of the conservative movement in this country. People would (rightly) be revolted, and would disavow any ties to conservativism/republicanism.

I agree, the average democrat voter does not like terrorists. They need to make it clear to the leaders of their party that the kook fringe, the Not in Our Names types, are not welcome.

Posted by: Tim Birdnow at December 5, 2004 06:08 PM

Dave, is your problem with Applebaum is that she isn't making a convincing argument about the American left in particular? I don't think that was her intention. She speaks of "[a]t least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left." Unlike Beinert, she wasn't examining the American left's political coalition. But maybe your problem isn't with Applebaum at all, but with Reynolds, who is noting her diagnosis-- that some are reluctant to condemn dictators and thugs if that means siding with Bush (which isn't original; Applebaum rightly credits Christopher Hitcens for pointing this out repeatedly)-- and ascribing it to the element that Beinert seeks to purge. If so... you're still wrong.

You write above that "There are enclaves in Berkeley and Madison and Greenwich Village which might be taking Osama's side over Bush's. Democrats don't listen to them. I'd liberally estimate there are only 50,000 such people in America." If we can substitute opposition to the war in Afghanistan to "taking Osama's side over Bush's"-- and while I realize the two are not exactly the same thing, you must concede that there's a huge overlap-- then your estimate is absurdly conservative. In a New York Times poll in late October 2001, 8% said they disapproved of the Afghan war (thank you, Lexis-Nexis). That works out to 22 million Americans.

Tim-- it wasn't "the entire Democrat caucus" who attended the F911 openning, but it was many of them, including most of the leadership. (I don't think this undercuts your point-- I agree with most of what you've written above-- but it's important to keep the facts straight.)

Posted by: John Tabin at December 5, 2004 10:42 PM

Thanks, John, I stand corrected. I got carried away with hyperbole.

Posted by: Tim Birdnow at December 6, 2004 08:33 AM

I guess I have two problems. First, Applebaum's argument is some thin gruel - a British lefty article skeptical of the Orange Revolution and an approving comment by a lefty Yank magazine editor is transposed to apply to "many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein," whom Applebaum does not name. It's a cheap shot that Reynolds uses in a cheap way. Show me some actual American, Democrat-voting leftists who want Yuschenko to fail.

Second, Reynolds' tut-tutting about whether the wackos represent "the soul of the party today" is baseless. He mentions Michael Moore and MoveOn. Michael Moore supported Wesley Clark in the Dem primaries. MoveOn members held a poll on who to support - 68% chose either Dean or Kucinich. (Clark hadn't entered the race yet.) The candidates of Moore and MoveOn got hammered by adamantly pro-terror war, adamantly anti-Saddam Kerry and Edwards. The hated leftists are not the soul of the party.

As to your other point - people who opposed the Afghan war were mostly idiots, but they opposed it for usual lefty idiotic reasons. Civilian casualties, cycle of violence, etc. I would not define them as taking Osama's side anymore than I would define the anti-war protestors of 1917-1918 as taking the Kaiser's side. People who actually believe in al Qaeda's goals and want them to roll back Western Civilization - THEY'RE taking Osama's side over Bush's.

Tim - I agree that the "loyal opposition" idea ended with the Republican takeover of Congress. Tom DeLay, among some other leading Republicans, did not consider Clinton a legitimate president and worked diligently to defeat him legally and personally as much, or more, as they opposed him politically. That's what you were talking about, right?

Posted by: Dave Weigel at December 7, 2004 12:43 AM

(Don't take that last comment the wrong way. Rephrase: Political debate has always sucked and will continue to do so. See: Thomas Jefferson calling John Adams' presidency the "reign of the witches.)

Posted by: Dave Weigel at December 7, 2004 01:15 AM

Interesting that you picked WWI as an example; at least part of the anti-war movement then actually did support the Kaiser. Certainly Mencken did (his writings before the US entered the war make that clear).

But I think your focus on those "who actually believe in al Qaeda's goals and want them to roll back Western Civilization" is a red herring. What Applebaum, Reynolds, and Beinert refer to is what Christopher Hitchens wrote about in his farewell column for The Nation (Applebaum actually invoked Hitchens), when he declared that that magazine was no longer, as Victor Navasky had once described it, "a debating ground between liberals and radicals," but rather "the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden." This is an all-too-common attitude-- as is the extention of it, rooting against good things if those things happen to benefit Bush. That this inclination is distinct from Islamofacism itself is a rather weak defense of it.

The notion that Kerry is or was "adamantly anti-Saddam" is quite frankly preposterous. He voted against the first Gulf War! What he was was a desperate straddler, who struck a pose hawkish enough to convince primary voters that he might be electable while remaining dovish enough for them to find him acceptable. He beat out Dean not because the Democratic base didn't like Dean, but because they didn't think he could win.

Posted by: John Tabin at December 8, 2004 02:15 AM

Yes, some Americans supported the Kaiser, but the leading WWI protestors, like Debs, were socialists.

I didn't care much about Kerry's '91 vote because the Bush cabinet had flip-flopped on Saddam themselves (from supporting him in the 80s to opposing him after Kuwait). The romping success and speed of the war seemed to have changed his stance on military action anyway - he voted against the war because he feared another Vietnam, and the war made it seem like a Vietnam-style war was a thing of the past. Anyway, the point is he and Edwards carried their war votes into the primary and kicked the shit out of the candidates supported by Moore and MoveOn.

Posted by: Dave Weigel at December 8, 2004 09:25 AM

I think you are missing the point of why Kerry won in the primaries. He won not because of his strong defense posture but because of his Vietnam War record. He seemed ELECTABLE to the Democrats because he claimed war-hero status. Remember, Howard Dean was in the lead early, getting an endorsement from Al Gore. Dean came across (especially after his meltdown) as unstable and, therefore, unelectable. I know a number of liberals who switched to Kerry solely out of pragmatism. I don`t think the Democrats picked Kerry because of any kind of strong defense stance-quite the opposite. Everyone knew he was a dove. They hoped to fool the public.

Why, Dave, did Kerry and Edwards have to switch to such an anti-war stance after bumping off Dean? Because the Moore/ wing of the Party rules the roost. Kerry knew he had to kowtow to the radicals in his party which means the radicals ARE the mainstream of the party.

Woodrow Wilson campaigned on the slogan ``the man who kept us out of war`` and turned around 180*. He was so pro-British that William Jennings Bryant resigned from his cabinet in disgust. Germany had not been firing missiles at us for years, nor had they attempted to assassinate a former President, nor had they done ANYTHING to purposely provoke us. Any war protestors during the Great War had a very solid underpinning. Still, the Republicans, and the nation in general, got on board with Wilson once war was immenent. Iraq, on the other hand, WAS a slam-dunk; we had never really resolved the state of war. Saddam WAS a terrible fellow, and a force for great evil in the Middle East yet the left fought the President tooth and nail-even after the troops were on the ground and during reconstruction. I`m sorry, Dave, but even if what you believe is correct the PERCEPTION is of a disloyal opposition. Perhaps Reynolds and Applebaum could have presented their cases better, but I don`t think we should dismiss their fundamental premises lightly.

You have the right to think that the Republicans caused the bad tone in recent years-no need to apologize for what you believe. I think you are wrong, though. Look all the way back to Nixon and you will see an ever worsening tone of discussion in politics. (As you point out, the tone was even fouler in by-gone days. Consider the accusation against Chester Arthur that he had a carnal liason with an underage girl. I suspect that is where the ``Chester the Molester`` moniker came from.) Still, I think we witnessed a sea change in BEHAVIOR after the Republicans took power; the Democrats simply refused to acknowledge that they lost. They simply don`t know how to work as the minority and they think opposing the President on everything is being the opposition party. We no longer have a loyal opposition-we have an enemy system.

Where are the Truman Democrats? Why did Zell Miller have to change parties after all these years? Because the Party he and the other Trumanites is gone, stolen by the McGovern/Carter/Clinton wing of radicalism and bareknuckle brawling. When James Carville is the voice of moderation in the Democrats you know that the Party and the Liberal Movement has gone off their collective rockers.

Posted by: Tim Birdnow at December 8, 2004 04:51 PM

Tim, I think I'm going to agree to disagree. But I do agree about the attitude of Dems from 2000-2004. The 2000 election was seriously traumatic for them and colored the way they opposed Bush. As I posted on one of John's post-election posts, I hope that changes now. Instead of being Napoleon on Elba they can retool and become a party of reform.

The rest of our arguments are pretty intractable. I think the 2004 Democrats had a real problem deciding on how to sell their anti-terrorism policy. And their policy still isn't totally coherent, the way the neoconservative policy is. (Reshape the middle east, establish American hegemony, democracy will vanquish terrorism.) But they never became anti-war on terror. They became anti-Iraq war, or anti-the way Bush is handling Iraq. Kerry's position struck me as similiar to Nixon's position in 1968, or Eisenhower's in 1952. "There's a war going on and you're fucking it up, but we'll fix it."

Posted by: Dave Weigel at December 8, 2004 06:13 PM