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Lockstep liberals police the field

One weekend recently I was helping coach my daughter’s community league soccer team; to start the 2d half, we put in a new goalie so the first half goalie could get some field playing time.  But she’d never played the position before, so I thought I’d run over and give her a few tips even I was aware of: don’t stand squarely on the goal line, cut off angles, direct your defense, find the open outlet rather than just whacking the ball up the field.

Within about a minute, the opposing coach came kind of scuttle-walking over at high speed in a weird, bent-over, I’m-not-really-here-but-I’m-embarrassed-for-you fashion and informed me that coaches in our soccer league can’t be on the back line of the field.  Then he kind of banked and scuttled back.

His team was ahead 4:0.

I’m put in mind of this by any number of recent finger-wagging missives by BarackObama.com [1] supporters on the topic of what real progressives would do instead of complaining about Obama, e.g., Rebecca Solnit’s “Stop Leftsplaining [2]” in Mother Jones, or Erik Loomis’s ongoing Lecture Series for Dull Progressives at “Lawyers, Guns & Money.”  Solnit, variously:

O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby.  […] I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. There are bad things and they are bad. There are good things and they are good, even though the bad things are bad. The mentioning of something good does not require the automatic assertion of a bad thing.  […] …as a Nevada activist friend put it, “Oh my God, go be sanctimonious in California and don’t vote or whatever, but those bitching radicals are basically suppressing the vote in states where it matters.”

And here I was this close to donating some cash to the magazine for their role in the Romney 47% expose. Instead of a line by line rebuttal of Solnit’s screed, I’ll just say this: if a few “bitching radicals” can really “suppress” — honestly, how dare Solnit repeat that slander — the vote in Nevada by talking about stuff Solnit simultaneously says “a lot of us already know,” then bitching radicals aren’t her problem, her candidate is.

At least Loomis — who loved [3] Solnit’s piece, of course —  is more specific.  I’ve already mentioned [4] his spluttering “Only a White Person” rejoinder to the Friedersdorf “Why I Can’t Vote For Obama” Atlantic Monthly cri de coeur/quality concern trolling/call it what you need to, call it what you like. In an earlier post, Loomis explained [5] that he “realized the folly of my own political errors and regretted my Nader vote” in 2000 because Nader, in his view,

…wasn’t committed to pushing progressive change from either within or outside the system. He took no leadership positions within progressive movements after 2000 to move the country back to the left except to make another vanity run for president in ’04.  […]  You turn the Democratic Party into what you want it to be by controlling the mechanisms of everyday party life. By becoming a force that must be reckoned with or at least co-opted.

Now I actually do try to do that [6] — kind of — not by burrowing into the local Democratic Party, but by pushing local action about local civil liberties and civil rights concerns.  Thing is, as far as I can tell there often aren’t that many of us [7]: the Washington Post recently reported that “Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35.”  It appears that power doesn’t just corrupt politicians, it can corrupt all too many of their supporters as well.

That’s OK, I’ll try to build a movement; I don’t mind being the ‘nut’ gathering signatures at the Farmer’s Market or showing up at a city council hearing.  For that matter, as far as I can tell, the Green Party’s Jill Stein — my preferred presidential candidate [8] — is in fact committed to building a  “progressive party not controlled by big money interests.” 

But I’m not going to wait for a movement to form to say what needs to be said when the time is right to say it.  Elections aren’t just about ObamaBidenRomneyRyan.  They’re about a discussion.  That discussion happens every couple of years, when a few more Americans actually care about politics and are actually paying attention, and when politicians are forced to worry just a little bit whether they need our votes.  People like Friedersdorf, Greenwald, Stein — and me besides — are adding ourselves to that discussion.  We’d like drone terror, Muslim-American persecutions, extrajudicial assassinations, and all the rest of our monstrous national security obsessions to end sometime well before 300 of us have been elected to Congress.  Because frankly, 300 of us are not going to be elected to Congress.

To accentuate the positive as I’m told that I should, it’s to Solnit’s and Loomis’s credit that they’re uncomfortable being on the side of a serial human rights and civil liberties violator.  But it’s to their discredit they want me to shut up about it.  Cogent arguments why, at the end of the day, you value incremental health care improvements, the higher likelihood of a slightly less abysmal Supreme Court justice, or the prospect of a “Grand Bargain” on Social Security over honoring campaign promises or upholding your oath of office are one thing.  Name-calling a loose, disorganized, sincere band of critics, or telling them to run for city council first before they’re entitled to shame a nation on the ethics of double tap drone missile strikes [9] is another.

One problem with Loomis’s recommended “Long March Through The Institutions” is that the march usually changes you.  If I had a nickel for every “I’m an ACLU supporter but” I’ve heard from politicians — especially when push comes to shove [10] — I’d be a rich man.  Indeed, Barack Obama is Exhibit A of that very problem.  But the chief defect of Loomis’s recommendations or Solnit’s deeply stupid, patronizing scoldings is simply this: down that path, it would seem, lies becoming another …Erik Loomis or Rebecca Solnit, self-appointed enforcers of metronomic leftish unanimity.

As Obama Himself has vouchsafed unto us [11], “I don’t have all the answers.”   Maybe Solnit and Loomis shouldn’t imply they do either.  They argue so very strenuously on behalf of an incumbent presidential campaign with millions upon millions of dollars.  But they’re up 4:0.  They don’t really need me to shut up, too.

EDITS, 9/30: ‘nut’ instead of nut or one.
UPDATE, 10/1: Similar reactions by Freddie DeBoer (“you’re either with us or against us [12]“) and emptywheel (“Rebecca Solnit’s Mirror [13]“). I’ll add one thing I haven’t seen elsewhere yet, about this: “Can you imagine how far the Civil Rights Movement would have gotten, had it been run entirely by complainers for whom nothing was ever good enough?” …Why yes, I can. Because that’s what happened. And it’s still not good enough. Given his views on Viet Nam — at the very time he was fighting for civil rights — I really, really doubt MLK would be taking Rebecca Solnit’s side on this.

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Lockstep liberals police the field"

#1 Comment By Bill Day On September 30, 2012 @ 11:21 am

I don’t know anything about this guy Loomis, but I can say with confidence that Ralph Nader has made more progressive change in any given year than Loomis has in his whole life.

#2 Comment By Thomas Nephew On October 3, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

The use of the Nader 2000 campaign as “punch a hippie for free” card has long since annoyed me no end. But I don’t know how much organizing/party-building Nader did after 2000, though, and that (such as it was) was Loomis’s point in the quote. Of course, Nader has been a reliable voice of dissent since then, and that’s worth a lot too.

#3 Comment By Ila On October 5, 2012 @ 2:30 am

Mr. Nephew, I just discovered your blog yesterday, and I’ve bookmarked it to read regularly. (Avedon linked to your post about Booker T. Obama) Great stuff – keep up the good work!

#4 Comment By Thomas Nephew On October 5, 2012 @ 3:38 am

That’s very nice of you, thanks! I hope you’ll feel free to comment here whenever you like.

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[…] well worth considering, and though I think critiques have generally been of the familiar, bullying, spluttering “policing the left” quality I saw in responses to Conor Friedersdorf’s foreign policy/human rights article in […]

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