Monday, July 31, 2006

"Politics is Identity"

St. Yglesias speaks!
I think heterodoxy is great. Which is to say that I have a certain number of more-or-less heterodox views -- about the death penalty, about affirmative action, about gun control, about education, etc. -- and I think those views are great. But in virtue of my thinking those views are great, what I actually want is to convince people to adopt my views, which is natural. Being heterodox is a bad thing, not because everyone should conform to the prevailing orthodoxy but because if you're heterodox it means your side is losing the argument -- the goal is to turn your heterodox views into the new orthodoxy. Thus, I find a lot of this liberal hawk special pleading on behalf of Joe Lieberman a bit disingenuous.

I mean, back in the day (circa spring 2003) when liberal hawks were riding high was there a big move afoot to ensure that a robust dovish faction remained in the Democratic Party for the sake of serving the higher goals of diversity and heterodoxy? Of course not -- that would have been silly. The idea was to remake the party in their image.
The thing that has really been bothering me about the way the Lamont/Lieberman debate has developed is the fact that one side doesn't really see the debate as legitamite. If they did Anti-Lamont forces would debate policies and ideas for the future of the party. Instead you have a bunch of people who won't dare defend Lieberman on his merits attacking the opposition on essentially procedural grounds.

Since primary challenges are a long-established legal part of our government this has lead to some... "interesting" arguements. The lamest and most popular is the heterodoxy argument stated above. But that's well worn. In the NY Times, instead of arguing that Connecticut should vote for Leiberman becuase he represents their views David Brooks argues that the fact that "[Lieberman] is transparently the most kind-hearted and well-intentioned of men". I seen people argue that the Lamont challenge is not legitamite becuase he's being funded by out of state blogger. It would be a half-way decent point too, if Lieberman wasn't getting a larger percetage of out of state funding (74%!) than his challenger.

Jon Chait wrote a piece at the begining of this whole affair that while wrong is at least honest:
In the end, though, I can't quite root for Lieberman to lose his primary. What's holding me back is that the anti-Lieberman campaign has come to stand for much more than Lieberman's sins. It's a test of strength for the new breed of left-wing activists who are flexing their muscles within the party. These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent.
I think this get's right down to it. They don't like Lieberman but they really don't like the left-wing. It's called "irrational fear of hippies". Ezra extrapolates on this: "Politics is identity" he says, and the political identity of many of these Anti-Lamonter's is defined by opposition to outsiders. They arose in opposition to the New Left and when faced with a totally new paradigm (what we might call "Netroots") they find themselves unable to distinguish the difference. Of course they see Kos as the harbinger of fascism: he doesn't like TNR, right? Everyone who's not us is the same.

In a round-about way Chait hints at a debate on the merits of the two candidates... sort of:
Moreover, since their anti-Lieberman jihad is seen as stemming from his pro-war stance, the practical effect of toppling Lieberman would be to intimidate other hawkish Democrats and encourage more primary challengers against them.
It seems some Anti-Lamonter at least are honest about the task before them even if they don't want to undertake it. After all, to convince people that we shouldn't try to "intimidate other hawkish Democrats" it helps if you argue that Hawkish Democrats are right on the merits.

Identity politcs is destructive though a fair amount will always be with us. Certainly there are many on the Pro-Lamont side who are just as petty. However, we should never duck a debate especially one as important the the future of the Democratic party as this one.


Kevin said...

Aren't they afraid of Kos & Co. for very good reasons? Kos has vowed to destroy the DLC, The New Republic, and all the other moderate forces that basically underpinned the Clinton Administration. When TNR followed up on the Armstrong thing, Kos went crazy, shooting fire from his mouth and eyes. He blames the DLC for the malaise of the past X years.

Kos also equates Lieberman with the DLC. And he's done everything but buy a handgun to destroy Lieberman. It's pretty fair to say that TNR is somewhere on his hit list.

Also, wouldn't the DLC and crew feel more friendly towards Kos if his team had won, I don't know, ONE SINGLE ELECTION? It's an honest worry that his failures against Republicans have led Kos to conclude that the Dems need to be purged before they can win.

I don't know how to feel about Kos and his style. Big picture, Democrats need a firebrand, some shitkicker who's comfortable roughhousing with Republicans. His actual politics are not all that Left, despite the rhetoric. He's certainly a big fundraiser and motivator. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure he's a thinskinned jerk. That may not be a bad thing!

Tommaso Sciortino said...

To be fair KOS HAS WON SEVERAL ELECTIONS (Stephanie Herseth for one, and a few others). I'm not going to defend Kos in general becuase I'm not really a big fan. I don't read his blog and find him rather shallow.

However! I do think that Netroots (whatever that is) should be debated on substantial grounds. That is, what do they want; how do they want to get it; do we agree with both. I'm not seeing a lot of that. I'm seeing a lot of half-assed arguments about "purging" and "carpetbagging" and "just trust me they're all communists".

Now granted, it is ok to oppose something on procedural grounds alone. In fact, in this case I was until recently quite open to the argument that it was too risky to field a challenger. Polling data from Conetticut however has convinced me that the risk of a Republican pickup is small and that the money lost through an active campiagn is worht the effort. What bother's me is when procedural arguments are invented to side-step a very important debate we should be having.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I want to refine my position on Kos. If netroots is really bringing an end to "check-list liberalism" I think that is a really worthy goal. if on the other hand they just end up creating a left-wing version of the modern conservative movement (a movement which is stunning in it's ability to not pass any of the legislation that the movement claims to believe in) than I want no part of it.

I hinted at it slyly in my first post but let me come out and say it. In many ways Kos buys in the politics of group-think just as much as the Joe Chait's of the world. I think both are to be shunned. We have important issues to debate. I don't want to side-step them

Paul said...

If I'm understanding Kevin properly, I think I'm to second him.

My feeling about Kos and Co. is that they're people for whom politics is more about team identification than about any sort of coherent ideology. They remind me vaguely of all the Cubs fans back in my home state. They don't care that it's painful to be a Cubs fan - no matter how much they'd love to see the Cubs win, they're not seriously considering jumping over to a more successful team.

So I think to some extent it's easy to overestimate Kos as a useful tool to win elections and policy debates, because it's not obvious to me that Kos cares as much about winning as he does about having a team and sticking with it through thick and thin.

And like Kevin said, maybe that's a good thing. But maybe not - maybe it just satisfies us to live vicariously through Kos.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

I don't like Joe Lieberman, 98% because he's a bad person, 2% because he talks like the fart in the Ren & Stimply Christmas episode "Son of Stimpy."

That is all I have to say.

Aaron said...

For whatever it's worth, I think that the better tack to take Lieberman to task not because of individual issues that he's unpopular on (if that's your rationale, you have to denounce a lot of Democrats on Iraq, for instance), but because he's a douche that praises Bush at Democrats' expense. Though I still question the wisdom of going after him now -- and extending indictments to the DLC, Bill Clinton and all other forces of moderation in the party.