Thursday, May 01, 2008

James Wolcott on the Progressive Blogger-Wars

James Wolcott has a smart and entertaining story at Vanity Fair [June online edition] about the battle among the prominent lefty bloggers and the history of how these progressive bloggers have come to the scattered state they find themselves in today. I have seriously limited my own posting at Daily Kos because I do not wish to be swept up in the frenzy of Obama fever. Having written this blog of my own for the past five years while remaining a contributor to Daily Kos, I decided, when John Edwards dropped out of the race, to stick around my own little blog-neighborhood for a while and visit other blogs now and then. With some folks taking themselves much too seriously, I started the new hobby of learning how to do political have some fun with the controversies swimming all around me. Better than getting angry over the inane Clinton/Obama squabbles. I was one of the Edwards-Democrats that Mr. Wolcott refers to when he wrote:

"A born-again populist, Edwards functioned as a lubricant, a slick lining separating—and dampening the friction between—two competing iconographic surge forces (the first black presidential nominee versus the first female nominee) and drawing enough support on Daily Kos and other liberal-Dem Web sites to diffuse the animosity, competitive zeal, and gender-generational differences between the two camps. Once Edwards dropped out of the race, however, the buffer zone was removed, direct contact replaced triangulation, and the Obama and Hillary supporters faced off like the Jets and the Sharks. The rancor was disproportionate in intensity and extravagant in invective, a fervor worthy of ancestral foes. Months-old grievances seethed and erupted as if they had been bubbling for centuries in a lake of bad blood. On the most egoistic plane, it seemed like a clash of entitlements, the messianics versus the menopausals."

In the midst of it all - under the present circumstances -- having no official horse in the race after Edwards because I think he was different from the other two with a boldness in communicating his populist/progressive ideas that I haven't seen with the remaining two, I can't say that guilty schadenfraude hasn't set in on occasion when I see the car-crash of once-rational thought that so many progressive sites have become.

I'm confused by the stand many bloggers and prominent figures have taken. I lean more toward Hillary Clinton for her understanding that universal healthcare is one of the most pressing issues of our day - - and I'm a bit surprised that Michael Moore, with his documentary "Sicko" on the state of healthcare in this nation, has come out to endorse the candidate whose plan is weaker on delivering Univeral healthcare in this country. As a Progressive, I was appalled to have heard 2004 Presidential candidate John Kerry call Clinton's Universal Healthcare plan a "non-starter" and to see Obama's fear-mongering Harry & Louise mailer-attacks on the Mandate-bogey-man. It was particularly disappointing for me to have heard Senator Russ Feingold, who I admit I'd previously put on a progressive pedastal, deliberately doing harm last January by offering absolutely no public trust or benefit of doubt that John Edwards had consciously decided to tackle hard issues from a more progressive stand. I chalked this pointed skewering of Edwards up to the likelihood that Feingold would politically prefer Obama. Allegedly mature and politically seasoned Superdelegates claim to take the counsel of their children in endorsing their preference for Democratic nominee rather than explaing how the choice comes from their own experience, intuition and logic. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina comes out wielding a reverse-race-card to bang the Clintons with every time a key Southern primary is approaching. Newspaper editors seem just as confused and fragmented as the public to whom they have the ethical responsibility to report and opine. I could hardly believe my rational eyes when I saw their vehement editorial calling a solid electoral win "inconclusive" the day after Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann's comparison of Hillary Clinton to David Duke is an unfair slur that I can never forget. Cable news has been reduced to a circus .. a freak show.

I've learned a lot about the character of many people .. bloggers and leaders alike .. good and bad ... during the course of the past year. A lot of people I still see as good-hearted and committed progressives have had tough chices to make. There was never a need to become irrational about one Democratic candidate or the other, but I think it's quite safe to say that we all have had our moments. As excited as I was about Edwards' candidacy, it was always because of the issues and not because of his race, creed, gender, or personality. It was about the issues.

The overwhelming sense that I'm around a remarkable sense of angst, perhaps some political immaturity, and the palpable sense of emotional imbalance has hit me during my recent visits to the Daily Kos website..especially since Edwards dropped out. I think the experience for not only myself, but many others will have caused a natural evolution in the blogsphere toward a less Kos-centered Democrat-universe in the future. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Markos has been a great catalyst for the netroots and will continue to do so. I'm sure he knows that the people who are posting some of the things they're posting are pretty wild and intentionally vehement right now. Unfortunately, I'm seeing some of the crazier comments popping up on the front-page and that, for me, serves as a warning signal of trouble; hopefully temporary.

I appreciate James Wolcott's mention of Tom Watson's blog because I think that Tom's been an important and sane voice for Hillary Clinton at times when he could clearly see that the majority of the netroots were being incredibly unfair to her (personally) and to her candidacy.

It's a valuable lesson for me to have personally learned as the storm has raged all around and I've been left to offer words from my own conscience. It has strengthened my mother's words to me as I was growing: Follow your heart. Avoid posionous vexations to your spirit.

When Elizabeth Edwards spoke to the Women, Power and Peace conference in Atlanta today, she talked about how women need to take pleasure in the ordinary moments of every day and stressed that the real pleasure in life is reaching out to others. She pre-emptively thwarted any question about what is at the forefront of every political minds by saying, "I’m not endorsing a candidate (for president) so you can stop that one.” [see Maria Saporta's report]

Mrs. Edwards also said, "I believe we are always stronger and better if we lend our strength to others, but more importantly, if we accept the strength from others."

Although Mrs. Edwards had no political intent behind that statement, I think about how Hillary Clinton has been reaching out to all voters .. offering strength .. and I've seen her treated like a she-devil by the netroots with only a political win on their minds. I can't help but to find that a most unfortunate consequence of the capacity for destructive power behind the keyboard. As an employer of the political keyboard myself, I am embarrassed by the behavior of a few of my fellow bloggers these days. I happen to think you should never say what you'll be personally sorry for a few months later when you look back. Having no emotional restraint or basic respect in a medium where you don't have to look your fellow citizen in the eye is reveals one of the darkest angels of our human bloging nature.

When all of this is over, I think we'll look back and see how this willingness by so many to participate in the Hillary-hating, Bill Clinton-bashing mentality has harmed party unity in a way that will be slow to be overcome and healed, regardless of who scores the Democratic nomination in a race where the rules have served, albeit unintentionally, to take the perception of the people's will and has thrown it out the proverbial window. This primary season has revealed political immaturity and lack of emotional control on the part of many people who simply should've known better.

But it made great fodder for James Wolcott's gossipy story. I think he's dead-on with his commentary.


GreenSmile said...

That is a great post, Jude.
The suspicion that you have to lose your civility and eventually your perspective too in order to win an election seems to have taken hold. I recently added dailykos to my blogroll. I had not put it there in the first 3 years of blogging because its just to frantic and most of what gets written at such a busy site goes unread.

You really are a calm voice when we need it most. Any other thoughts in the vein of this post will be welcome.

I have slightly different leanings but no strong feelings either way between Obama and Clinton...either would be such a vast improvement over a McContinuation of Bush fiscal and war policies...we wouldn't have much of country left to fight over if he gets 4 years. That scary possibility we owe to the fractious politics for the nomination. Edwards would have been better.