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1/25/2006

In praise of circular firing squads

I have a couple readers who regularly hold my feet to the fire for spending more time and effort going after liberals/Democrats than I do conservatives/Republicans. (You know who you are!) I understand their concerns, but I'd like to say a few words in defense of internecine political warfare, a.k.a. the circular firing squad. Though I am not the Captain of the circular firing squad, I like to think that I am one of its most enthusiastic members.

Why? Many reasons. Among them:

1. The Democratic Party is, effectively, in cahoots with the GOP. What I mean is: while I don't think that members of the leadership are actively collaborating with the Republican Party (I'm not that paranoid, at least not yet), the practical effects of what they are doing are almost identical to what the effects of a literal collaboration would be. In almost every instance, the Democratic Party behaves exactly as the GOP would want it to. Thus, there is a real sense in which the Democratic Party must be viewed as an enemy of progressivism, even if one simultaneously believes that it is progressives' only hope.

2. Most of the supposed 'reformers' and 'outsiders' in the Democratic Party - e.g., Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong - are simpletons (to put it kindly) whose 'bold vision' for the Democratic Party amounts to more of the same unprincipled selling out for the sake of strategic concerns, which would be bad enough if these 'netroots' gurus weren't comically bad at strategizing. So joining forces with the likes of these characters (as opposed to taking aim at them) would not only do no good, it would help make things worse.

3. There are many intelligent, well-meaning progressives who don't realize this, but are capable of being persuaded. Daily Kos is so popular and successful not because Markos is such a brilliant leader, but rather because there are people out there who are downright hungry for an alternative to the kind of Democrats we've known and hated for the last twenty-five years. Markos presents himself as precisely this alternative, and it takes a while to see that this is just an act. If the talent and passion of these people could be harnessed in a productive way, some good could come; right now, their assets are being wasted.

4. While these folks are capable of listening to reason and being persuaded, their counterparts on the right are not. A while ago, Ezra Klein called for "actual engagement with the good, or at least sound, arguments that pop up across the aisle." This is a nice thought, but it would probably end up being just as much of a waste of time as mocking Townhall columnists, because (a) there really are precious few good arguments (not sure what Klein means by "at least sound") put forward by the other side - there just aren't any good arguments for 99% of the Bush administration's policies, no matter how clever you are - and (b) even if there were, they wouldn't matter, because the vast majority of GOPers believe what they believe independently of anything resembling rational argument. So even if George Will makes an argument for the confirmation of Sam Alito that isn't quite as droolingly stupid as the argument that Ass Missile makes, not a single wingnut will change their mind even if the whole liberal blogosphere demonstrates the fallacies in Will's reasoning - rather, they'll blithely go on about what a super-duper Justice Alito will make and how liberals are just about sour grapes blah blah blah. Always remember the quote, attributed to Jonathan Swift: "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." Attempting to establish a rational dialogue with the right is a fool's errand.

However, the majority of Kossacks, as opposed to the majority of Freepers or LGFers, are basically rational (I think); thus arguing to them about the merits or lack thereof of the Moulitsas-Armstrong approach to politics is much more likely to bear fruit than just bagging on the GOP, since anyone capable of listening to reason already knows how awful they are.

5. Bloggers fly under the radar, for the most part. It may be undesirable for national media figures to be going after those who are 'on our side', since this could ultimately benefit the other party. For instance, the Kerry campaign made some significant mistakes, but there wouldn't have been any purpose in, say, Michael Moore going on television and talking exclusively about how Kerry was a fuckup. Bloggers, though, should feel no such compunctions. If someone on the 'left' routinely says stupid shit, we are perfectly justified in bashing them over the head.

6. Self-criticism is healthy and important. One of the reasons the right is so intellectually and morally bankrupt is that they hardly engage in it. One of the worst fates I could imagine for the left is a situation where any self-proclaimed liberal is immune to criticism.

7. This isn't a zero-sum game. It's not like there is a finite amount of political energy, and every bit spent firing at someone on the left is thereby unavailable for firing at the right. I, for one, have plenty of vitriol for everyone.


I could go on and on, but that's probably enough for now. If I think of anything else worth saying, I will.

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