Supposedly Liberal Bully Blogs and Political Debate: New Boss, Old Boss, Etc.

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This time the topic is Social Security, spurred by Barak Obama’s decision to address Social Security (see also) in his campaign. Atrios writes:

Beating back George Bush’s plan to kill social security was probably the first major victory for the broadly defined netroots movement. I say that not really knowing if things would have been different if blogs and the like didn’t exist, but it seemed like a victory. And while we never got together in a dark smoky room to plot our strategy, it basically ended up being a two-pronged one. The first was to beat back against the “social security crisis” frame much beloved by every very serious pundit in Washington. The second was to beat back against the idea that since George Bush had a “plan” (which he never actually did in any form until very near the end of the whole debate) the Democrats needed to have a “plan” of their own. The first part of this is a perpetual game of whack a mole, necessary on just about every day the Washington Post is still publishing. And the second was a very necessary emergency tourniquet which needed to be applied very quickly.

Beating back the steady stream of misinformation about the nonexistent crisis was done throughout the blogs, on Media Matters, etc. And trying to stop the Democrats from coming up with their own crackpot plan was done through a combination of bloggers trying to explain repeatedly that people like social security, they don’t want to change it, opposing changing it is a political winner, and most importantly that once the minority party proposes their own plan they’ve guaranteed that something will happen. And that something would have been very bad. In addition, Josh Marshall especially kept an eager eye out for any wavering Democrat in Congress who decided that his/her awesome social security plan must be unveiled to the grateful public in order to beat them back with phone calls and whatever bad press could be created.

It worked. Again, absent blogs it may have played out just like that anyway. Nancy Pelosi realized at some point that the “no plan” plan was indeed the best one, and she likely doesn’t spend much of her time looking at my pictures of ponies. In any case, somehow George Bush’s social security monster was driven back into its cave and it was done in just the way the liberal blogosphere and netroots more broadly orchestrated it to happen, in a very decentralized way of course. We’re not members of any organized political party, remember. …

Whew, heady stuff, crediting blogs with orchestrating the finale of the country’s Social security debate. But in linking to that post, Digby writes:

Atrios brings newbies up to speed about why it’s such a stupid idea to bring the fake “social security crisis” back into the political dialog and also links to a Matt Yglesias post about the “whole mountain of stupid” Villagers like Joe Klein forced us to climb when Bush decided his tiny 04 mandate meant he could destroy the nation’s most successful program.

One of the problems with Klein (who has admittedly become ever so slightly less reflexively Villager in recent months) is that his views were so long considered to be the epitome of those of a sensible liberal. This had the unfortunate effect of making average citizens naturally loathe and despise liberals while at the same time marginalizing actual liberals as being beyond the pale even though they are at least as large a constituency as the social conservatives who are worshipped and embraced as Real Americans among the village elders. It remains a serious problem for Democrats who have to tip-toe around these false designations to reach out to their own voters without getting the whole village lynch mob running after them with bar-b-que forks and sharpened swizzle sticks.

Think about that for a second. Klein was (passive voice alert) “so long considered to be the epitome of those of a sensible liberal.” By who, exactly? No names mentioned and not a supporting link in sight. But couldn’t netroots powerful enough to have an impact on the Social Security debate successfully challenge the political orientation of a single man? Apparently not, because according to Digby “It remains a serious problem for Democrats who have to tip-toe around these false designations to reach out to their own voters…” leading one to conclude that both Democrats and blogs are weak and ineffectual. But of course Digby knows that pretending Klein is behemothic Goliath is an effective rhetorical position, though surely she knows it is also a dishonest one. I’m not a Klein fan, but instrumentally pretending he singularly and omnipotently mis-defines liberalism in contemporary political discourse is just ridiculous.

Vitriolic group-think norm enforcement is nothing new for the high traffic Supposedly Liberal blogs, and this wouldn’t be all that notable or alarming except for the following: Both Atrios and Digby agree that there is no Social Security problem. Digby aggressively asserts that no one “who calls himself a liberal” should be talking about Social Security:

There is no crisis. That’s not just a slogan. Even with Bush spending like a drunken sailor we’re still good until 2047. Bringing this into the conversation now for any reason is a big mistake especially when we’ve got a real impending crisis on our hands with medicare, which can only be cured with comprehensive health care reform. (And if you want to talk about a financial crisis, there’s the billion a week we’re tossing down the rabbit hole in Iraq.) Social Security as an issue helps nobody but Republicans and their enablers like Joe Klein who want to persuade people that modern life requires that they constantly put absolutely everything they have in the world on a roulette wheel called “the market.” I understand why wall street types want to get their mitts on a piece of that action but I don’t understand why why anyone who calls himself liberal would think it’s a good idea.

Atrios is even more menacing, writing:

So, anyway, having someone suggest that Social Security is a problem which needs to be dealt with by any serious candidate is like the bat signal for people like me. There is no problem with Social Security. None at all. Whatever broader fiscal time bombs exist have absolutely nothing to do with Social Security. Once you get Fred Hiatt and the gang opining about the need fix that Social Security problem, you’ve increased the likelihood of something very bad happening.

Big blog bullies Atrios and Digby have declared that anyone who wants to talk about Social Security is not a liberal, and is “increas[ing] the likelihood of something very bad happening.” No pressure there, right? Well guess what, though I agree that any changes the Republicans want to make to Social Security are likely to be counterproductive at best, I also think that Social Security should be more re-distributive of wealth, as others have argued. See, for example, this, this, and this. I also would like to see some of the gender inequities addressed, see e.g. this, this and this. But in the narcissistic, elitist world of the Supposedly Liberal blogs, caring about this makes one “not a liberal,” and either the cause, or (more likely, at least in the blog world, if the bullies decide to make one pay for challenging them, the victim) of “something very bad.” Goddess help anyone with fresh and productive ideas or a taste for social justice in this climate.

–Ann Bartow

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