Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the Leadership of Teh Left

This is funny.

Over the past few months, Jane and Glenn have been maneuvering to take over the leadership of the so-called Left by becoming outspoken TeeVee and radio personalities as well as big important bloggers, former entertainment moguls (in Jane's case) and best selling authors (in Glenn's) -- who are characterized as "lefties" by the TeeVee (and radio) bookers.

Markos and Arianna must be annoyed with them. If they aren't, they should be.

Of course none of these people -- Markos, Arianna, Jane or Glenn -- are "leftists" in any rational world. They do not speak for the Left and never have, they have little or no understanding of what "Leftist" means, and in Markos's and Arianna's cases, they were Republicans who got religion when they found they could make money (lots of it if they wanted) as Lefties rather than the Reagan Republicans they used to be.

All of them are entrepreneurs running businesses, and their products, in addition to their own sweet selves, are their "communities." These communities are sometimes left-leaning, but they are generally left-leaning in the sense of being libertarians with something of a social conscious. That's about as far as they will go.

Since the anti-Kagan hysteria started in the lefty blogs, Glenn's profile in the media has grown substantially. Jane became a media fixture during the Health Care donnybrook, whereas Markos (who always looks and sounds like he's 14) is an old hand at speaking for the "left," and Arianna has been around since dirt was new and was opining and commentating on the air just as often years ago when she was still a Republican.

While Markos may be just as happy to turn over his "Lefty" mantle to somebody else, cause he's got other things to do, and Arianna will probably be on the air until Doomsday, Jane and Glenn are still fairly fresh faces and voices on the shows, and their hostility toward Obama and the Dems is quite the tonic for the bookers compared to the heavy-footed-ness of the Dem and White House spinners.

Gee, who'd a thunk it? Teh Left doesn't like Obama any more than Teh Right does. Hm. Wonders never cease.

The only problem is that Jane and Glenn (let alone Markos and Arianna) are NOT LEFTISTS.

To the extent they are ideological at all, they are libertarians, in Glenn's case, an extreme civil libertarian (a badge he wears proudly). Socialism, social democracy, social justice -- all characteristics of the Left in any rational world -- are all but irrelevant to them. They have very narrow, and frankly from all appearances, a very self-interested, political stance, and the panoply of Leftist interests and causes, political scut work and the rest of it, doesn't interest them.

Yet they are coming to be hailed as the Voices of the Left, and they are nothing of the kind.

However, they saw a vacant space, "unclaimed territory" as it were, and being clever and bold, they moved in. Why not?

There has been a vacuum in the leadership of the Left in this country for many years.

Democrats have never really been a Leftist party, and given the way our political and governmental systems work, they can't ever be. Power (and money) in the United States is very highly concentrated, becoming more so all the time, and both of the political parties serve power (and money) first and foremost. Neither is truly ideological, but each serves as a home-place for different kinds of people who are skilled at or like to wield power. The Republican Party tends to be the home-place for predators. The Democratic Party tends to be the home-place for managers and technocrats.

Social justice only enters the picture of either party to the extent it is seen to smooth the paths of predator-Republicans or technocrat-Democrats.

From a libertarian point of view, social justice is an oxymoron. It simply can't exist. "Justice" isn't "social." It's formal. Following the law -- as written -- is perforce Justice by definition. Anything else is fraud and cant.

But somehow libertarianism and particularly civil libertarianism became conflated with Teh Left in the minds of the TeeVee and radio bookers, and the Progressive mantle fell by default on up and coming libertarians.

Of course given the fact that Democrats aren't themselves Leftists, and they are largely inarticulate as hell, bumbling and stumbling and falling all over the furniture in public appearances where they have to speak, the default to Glenn and Jane (who are both usually very articulate) as spokespeople (and putative Leaders) for Teh Left might make sense if their critiques and public policy positions (I won't say ideology because I don't think either one has an ideology) weren't frequently indistinguishable from those of Republicans.

This has been painfully apparent in the hysteria over Elena Kagan's appointment to the Supreme Court. There are plenty of issues that could be raised about her appointment, but the real issue isn't her, it's the institutional rot that made her appointment "inevitable." Rather than deal with the rot and corruption that is at the root of the problem, nearly all the hysterical antagonism toward Kagan (from Teh Left) is focused on her "inadequacy" for the job, and this focus is identical to -- though far more furious than -- that of the Republicans.

And the hostility from Glenn, who is absolutely obsessed with Kagan, looks for all the world like any Republican smear-job of any Democratic nominee over the last half century. He's toned it down somewhat in the last few days after being called on his obsessiveness, conflations, and falsehoods, and how Republican it all seemed, but still. The issue is not her. It is the institutional rot and corruption from top to bottom that made her appointment inevitable.

For Jane's part, she's been pretty much declared "nuts," and only her fiercest loyalists (of which there are quite a few, to be sure) have been able to accept her joining up with the TeaBaggers and Grover Norquist. She has crossed a bridge too far for many liberals and progressives to follow so she is routinely denounced and struggled against. Glenn is getting very close to the same point. Markos and Arianna haven't gone there, not quite, but much of their Lefty cred, such as it is, leaves aside the economic aspects of anything that can rationally be called Leftism.

It would of course be better for actual Leftists to have a higher profile than they do, but their problem is that they're not "new."

I posted part of a manifesto on the Greek mess from the International Committee of the Fourth International, and for all its correct economic and political insight and fulminating demands, it comes across as something highly anachronistic. It is Real Leftism, though, from the source -- or one of them -- and it's almost a wonder that anyone can still think that way. Few Americans ever did.

So the libertarians get the Leftist mantle by default, because the Real Left is too alien and obscure? Or is it something else?

I guess we're just lucky the LaRouchians weren't selected by the media to be the mouthpieces for Teh Left.

Whew! That was close.


  1. Ché,

    I'm getting to be a broken record. But, damn. That's well said.

    It's probably not healthy to agree with someone 100%, but I do.


    My own views are still evolving, and . . . as I mentioned, I'm trying to get back to some old things and find some new, all in the service of gaining more understanding and a better way of framing my despair.

    And it is real despair.

    I really don't know why I waste so much time over at Glenn's or Salon in general. Or, for that matter, on any site. It's time for me to find something in the real world instead.

    Have you heard of these organizations:

    Any insights into them?

    "the real left". Many claim the mantle. Who do we trust?

  2. I could be wrong...

    Jane may actually have said we, on the left, although I don't recall her ever saying it. Glenn may have said, we on the left although I don't recall him ever saying it, either. It's my impression that they have been assigned a position on the left whether they claim it for themselves or not. Personally, I don't think of either of them as Left. I think of them only as two of the most liberal voices out there. It's unfortunate that I am required to remind myself - often - that liberalism didn't used to be the sole purview of the Left. That it is now is regrettable, but that doesn't make either Jane or Glenn Left except in our media's (and some wishful readers') imagination.

    ... and, stand ready to be corrected.

    ~ bystander

  3. bystander,

    Most of what I'm referring to is their marketing as Voices of the Left, Leaders no less.

    To which none of them make any objection. Well, Arianna does sometimes, when she says she's really more of a "moderate" or "centrist."

    I've noticed both Glenn and Jane position themselves as "Progressives" -- of course without defining the term, something verboten on the Internets. And they are at pains to discuss what other Progressives should be doing or should believe.

    Which is of course to follow their lead on issues of importance to them.

    But they are not Leftists, not even remotely so far as I can tell.

    Glenn is really an enigma when it comes to political ideology. It's ironic as hell that he rails against Elena Kagan's being a "blank slate" when that's really what he has very consciously been himself with regard to his own political/economic/social ideology -- apart from civil liberties issues.

    But even on civil liberties and Constitutional issues, he's not really on the Left, nor is he even necessarily liberal. The "Citizens United" episode made that abundantly clear.

    Like Jonathan Turley, he's a formalist and a legalist. Essentially a libertarian if not a closet Federalist. Sometimes liberal in a classic sense, sometimes reactionary, such as when he says he's an absolutist on First Amendment issues. Absolutism of any kind -- including Constitutional absolutism -- is utterly contrary to the Enlightenment and the political philosophy that informed our Founders -- who were extraordinarily liberal for their time (though highly conservative by our own lights. We've grown!)

    There is an immense vacuum of public leadership on the Real Left in this country. Someone's going to fill it no matter, and for now -- for the media -- that means that Jane and Glenn among others will be assigned the role, and they will not refuse. Why should they?

    That doesn't mean that matters of social and economic justice, environmentalism, re-building community and so on don't have their activists and leaders. They do. But you're unlikely to see them on the shows...!

  4. Cu-hool,

    No, I wasn't familiar with either of those organizations. My lack of Euro-cred!

    But then, given the capitulation of most of Europe's Social Democratic and even Socialist governments to the demands of the banksters, you've really got to wonder if anybody can stand up to them.

    I've been noting how the Tory/LibDem coalition in Britain is being hailed as a model for political reconciliation in the United States. Notice what's wrong with this picture? Of course: Labour -- the British version of Social Democrats -- is completely out of the picture. Well, isn't that special.

    What's the model we're supposed to see here? Simple, isn't it? Move Right! That's right. Slough off the Progressives (in the context of Congress, the Progressive Caucus and all those creaking old nasty Liberals still in the Senate) and let the Republicans and the moderate Dems join up with one another to get things done.

    Like what? I think we know, don't we? The final consolidation of Government and Corporate interest and power, unquestioned global hegemony, and oh, yes, just a little bit of downward adjustment to the present and future of the masses.