Saturday, September 20, 2008

Joe Klein is Not Your Friend

There's been a lot of commentary lately @Swampland in which many have expressed (with some enthusiasm) the notion that Joe Klein is "on a roll", or "hitting them out of the park".

Relieved, earnest paeans are being posted in Joe's threads praising his newly found "effectiveness", exclaiming "bravo" in response to this dearly received "honesty".

What a fucking joke.

Folks, Joe Klein is as much of a liberal as Andrew Sullivan. I am sadly reminded of the horrifying period of recent Swampland history, in which praises were sung of Reagan speechwriter/Republican shill Peggy Noonan by certain Obama fanbois/grrls when that wretched person wrote some Obama-praising (and liberal-bashing) columns along with fellow fraud David Brooks. Just because, like the Bush 2000-voting Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein has thrown his lot in with Obama (not even necessarily Democrats) this time, it does not mean that Joe Klein likes you, thinks like you, or supports your political or policy agendas in any way.

Repeat after me:

Joe Klein is not a liberal.

Joe Klein is a Centrist.

For those of you not familiar with the weirdly hidden (I'll get to that in a moment) Centrist ideology (and who find ideological treatises boring as hell), let me just quote Joe from his 1995 Newsweek hallelujah chorus to Centrist dream candidate Colin Powell entitled "Stalking the Radical Middle":

...Bill Bradley is right: the budget won't be balanced until money power is limited. The Cato Institute has estimated that $ 85 billion -- roughly half the deficit -- will be spent on "corporate welfare" in fiscal 1995 alone. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have said a peep about this, preferring to argue over fiscal hiccups like federal funding of the arts. A true radical-middling candidate would put everything (even social security) on the table. He might even unfurl Bruce Babbitt's famous, hopeless 1988 campaign banner: "Vote Babbitt: Universal Means Testing for All Entitlements."

Restore Civilty. Colin Powell did a revolutionary thing last week, his first as an official noncandidate. In about two minutes flat, he gave Barbara Walters his positions on each of the hottest social issues. For abortion, reluctantly. For affirmative action, mildly. For gun control (while owning a bunch of guns). For capital punishment . . . And you know what? The sky didn't fall. His popularity survived (NEWSWEEK'S new poll). That's because the very prominence of these issues is a mirage, a symptom of the disease that needs to be cured: special-interest fanaticism. The real social crisis is more amorphous. When asked what troubled them most, 62 percent of Christian Coalition members cited a sense of "general moral decline" (only 10 percent cited abortion).

This is one area where the radical middle really is moderate. The dueling certainties of the Religious Right and Lifestyle Left seem equally arrogant -- and somewhat off the point, which is the restoration of all sorts of civility: civil order (in the streets), civil society (volunteer and charitable organizations), civil discourse (in Hollywood and Washington).

Right. I'm going to assume that, if you're already reading this, you don't need me to unpack all of the absolute nonsense that was jammed into just that section of his ridiculous little Newsweek manifesto.

People, we've got come to terms with this fact: Joe Klein is not a liberal.

The entire "liberal media" is not liberal --we know this.

The establishment political press corps' professional ideology, by conviction, or custom, or trade temperament or by simple peer pressure is Centrism.

The problem here is that the national political journos won't admit to an ideology at all, because that violates their "professional objectivity" code. That's why they won't label themselves in mainstream print as such. Movement Conservatives call them "liberals", and they recoil in horror. Adding to the confusion, Centrism is an ideology that fatuously characterizes itself as "pragmatic", "non-ideological" and "moderate". Centrists pride themselves primarily on the national political press corps' claim to authority and Seriousness: an absurd, often reality-denying "objectivity".

Because of this phenomenon, we actual liberals are routinely mystified by this state of affairs. Some of this has to do with our internalizing of the "liberal media" meme, perhaps.
Even the great writers and thinkers among us confuse the issue, by reasoning that Beltway "liberals" are somehow irrationally pretending away an assumed liberalism:

Glenn Greenwald
Monday March 10, 2008 09:24 EDT
The religion of balance and centrism

For any political commentator perceived to be any strain of "liberal," the first requirement for being accorded Seriousness status by the political and media establishment is "balance." To be deemed a sober and responsible thinker, one must Joe-Klein-ify oneself -- show what a good, thoughtful, decent liberal you are by eagerly spending at least as much of your time praising conservatives and bashing liberals as you do anything else. That's what a reasonable, thoughtful liberal does, by definition.

The converse applies just as rigidly. If you criticize the Right too stridently, condemn the Bush faction without qualification or restraint, or fail to posit an equivalence between Right and Left, then -- regardless of the accuracy or truth of your critique -- you are automatically deemed too partisan, shrill, and, worst of all, Unserious.

But this belief that "balance" and "centrism" are intrinsically sober is itself a deeply corrupt and shallow notion. What if one side really is far more destructive and more toxic than the other -- not even necessarily because one side is more inherently corrupt but just because it exerts far more power? What if the administration and its political followers who happen to be running the country at any given time really are radical extremists and unprecedentedly corrupt and dangerous? Under those circumstances, practicing Beltway "balance" for its own sake -- venerating Broderian "centrism" -- is deeply unserious, even dishonest and dangerous.

When there is grave imbalance in political power, corruption or extremism -- as there has been for the last eight years, at least -- then those who preach balance and demand a centrist critique of everything are the ones who are mindless, misleading partisans. They demand centrist equivalencies as an ideology, regardless of whether those equivalencies are real.

Despite all of his excellent points, Greenwald unfortunately misses the reality of the situation: the reason "Broderian centrism" loudly renounces liberalism, demands "a centrist critique of everything", and then demands ridiculously false "centrist equivalencies as an ideology" is simply because it actually is Centrism, the ideology.

This is why these people habitually distort or ignore facts that contradict their premises, and are disastrously wrong on just about everything of significance, from the Iraq debacle, to the FISA horror, to the Defense of Marriage Act, to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act...I could go on and on (as I'm sure some readers are aware). They are ideologues, just as determined in their premises and convictions as any Ayn Rand devotee or Trotskyist.

The main practical characteristic that needs to be understood about Centrism and Centrists is that, if you are in any sense of the word a political activist --even to the extent that you comment on political blogs in your spare moments, or go to your bible-based church a real lot-- they don't like you. That's it in a nutshell: they don't like politically active people trying to control their own government. They don't trust you to make the right decisions that they, the technocrats should be making for you. They trust institutions; they trust themselves. They don't trust you. They don't think that you're up to the job that citizenship in a democracy demands. They think that you should be working and shopping instead.

It also happens to be that professional class Centrists are scared shitless by the tent-revivalists, costume survivalists, antebellum Confederacy nostalgists and latter day Know Nothings who make up the Republican base. This is because they're threatened by people and popular movements in general. That's why they love to equate us with the speaking-in-tongues Pentecostals in Sarah Palin's rural Alaskan church. They think that, Left or Right, we're all nuts, and should just be out shopping for more SUV's, like normal, low-information, suburban Americans (whom they empower to ruin our political discourse every four years). You know: the people who let the political class run Washington --who genuinely judge the candidates on "appearing Presidential"? David Broder's store clerk, to whom he chats briefly when he's summering on Nantucket? They like those Americans. Incredibly, laughably, they call these political in-activists "the Radical Middle", i.e. Centrists, like themselves. That's why they claim to special knowledge of what "regular Americans" are really thinking, regardless of the reality of those claims, regardless of available polling data. That's also how the regular attendees of the National Radio-Television Correspondents' Association Dinner can know so much about what goes on in the minds of the customers of any given Applebees. This is why Conventional Wisdom is so bizarrely divorced from reality.

They guard their privilege --including the privilege of inside information on how everything actually works in government and the press-- as tightly as they can. They do so because they believe that they deserve such privilege, that they are entitled to their power. This is why they're so reflexively revolted by the concept of blogging (and commenting). Because of they worship at the altar of institutional power, they respect and even sometimes admire the Right-wing media nutcases who created their own massive (and now established) press/political machine, even whilst fearing and loathing the talk-radio show calling, mouth-breathing carnival marks to whom they condescend in print.

We need to get this through our heads, so that we don't end up letting the Villagers be the perpetually corrupt referees of a game whose rules by right should be decided by us. Don't think for a second that, once the scary fundamentalists are put down this time, they won't just ignore us again, or make "liberal" a dirty word in politics again. They will. Remember, these people loved the authoritarian George W. Bush for the past six years. Remember when he ran as a "uniter, not a divider"? Remember when they dutifully reported on his "reaching across the aisle to the Texas legislature to get things done"? Remember the Vile Gore whose public character they destroyed? That kind of thing is what these people do for a living.

Joe Klein has no problem with the Village's normal procedures; he will do whatever it takes in print to put an end to the careers of his political enemies. This time, he's made the determination that the Palin nomination signals that McCain has gone over to the dark side, meaning Movement Conservatism, and rejected institutional, Serious Centrism. He'll have no problem calling us all kinds of names when we demand that Barack Obama live up to our ideas of why we got him elected. He'll have no problem doing his best to ruin Barack Obama's political image, if by some strange chance Barack Obama even comes close to doing what we're trying to elect him to do.

Say it again with me one more time, and then remember it the next time you start to write laudatory commentary to the next post in which Joe reverses himself entirely from the years and reams of print he's spent building up the character of the "moderate", "Centrist" "reformer", "truth teller" John McCain:

Joe Klein is not your friend. Joe Klein is not a liberal.


Rose said...

I'm going to play Devil's advocate.

What if Joe Klein really is doing good work recently? Doesn't he deserve some praise for it, especially since progressives value objectivity and fairness? (i.e. we evaluate events, policies, politicians and even journalists on the basis of objective analysis, not according to what label we've chosen for them, or even the labels they've chosen for themselves) Unlike Noonan and Sullivan, Joe has contributed some excellent journalism recently; He's not merely being more favorable towards Democrats than usual.

I agree that he isn't our "friend," but I don't see any contradiction between acknowledging his elitist radical centrism and giving him credit for his recent work.

Sylvia said...

Well said.

Dorothy said...

They don't trust you to make the right decisions that they, the technocrats should be making for you.

I don't see Klein et al, as technocrats. I expect technocrats to be technically oriented and competent at their jobs. A true technocrat would embrace the blogosphere and Internet activism as a brilliant application of technology to politics. (Al Gore is the best example I can think of right now).

Klein's "centrist" buddies strike me more as plain old aristocrats: they think they deserve to be in charge because they go to the right parties and hang out with the "movers and the shakers". They're the cool kids in high school: they're in the charge because they are better than normal people, and they're better because they're in charge.

A.Lizard said...

A definition of what centrism IS, is in order.

It has had many names through history, but stripped to its essentials, it is the ideology that says that the only legitimate purpose of government is to facilitate upward transfer of wealth to the most wealthy and that the duty of the masses is to cooperate in helping their betters collect it from them.

The only difference between left centrists and right centrists is the side taken on culture wars on issues neither actually care about for any other purpose than distracting us across the political spectrum from the money they're picking out of our pockets and hoovering out of our bank accounts.

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