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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 10th, 2006

Investigations are so very rude and distasteful (Glenn Greenwald, “Unclaimed Territory”) — Greenwald takes aim at “journalists” like Tim Russert who are trying to spin Democratic investigative plans if they retake one or both houses as “payback” — rather than the necessary first steps towards reining in a runaway president and his party. Greenwald:

Journalists like Russert identify with the political figures they are supposed to be investigating and fighting against more than they identify with anyone else. They see them as their partners, as one of them — all members of the same Beltway elite institution which is the source of their wealth, their fame, their prestige, their self-esteem. They derive everything that matters to them from that institution, and so that institution is the one that demands their principal allegiance and becomes the principal source of their identities.

Katrina and the Common Good (Boyd Blundell, “TPMCafe”) — Why was Katrina such a tipping point for the President’s approval ratings? Blundell answers — and weaves that into a response to Tomasky’s “Common Good” piece (“Party in search of a notion“, American Prospect, April 18). Despite the long excerpt, you should read the whole thing, it’s all good:

The answer is that it offered irrefutable images that he was not looking after the common good. It undermined the average American’s self-image of being part of a country that actually worked. Without consciously changing their mind on a single policy, a good quarter of the country just stopped believing in the President.

Remember, this change of heart happened mostly in people who were not personally affected by the disaster at all. During the evacuation, random people were falling all over themselves to do nice things for us (and every other ‘refugee’). There were a variety of motives in play, but chief among them was an urge to counteract the image on TV that Americans just didn’t care about the people in New Orleans. There was, at least temporarily, a surge of domestic patriotism that made people not only willing but eager to undertake some personal sacrifice as a declaration of solidarity with the people of New Orleans. Those ‘selfless’ acts did something to restore in their minds their vision of America as a place where people cared.

It is important that people like Tomasky understant this phenomenon, because I don’t think he really understands what ‘common good’ means. In his ‘proof’ paragraph, he explicitly endorses the language of “Good for the majority/not just for the few”. But the having something be good for the majority [of individuals] rather than the few [individuals] is simply a more just utilitarianism, and has little to do with the common good. Instead, as the name indicates, the common good refers to goods held in common. It’s like a park. If you have a town with 200 houses and a 50 acre park in the middle, the value is more than the quarter acre per household it costs. It’s also more than the fact that I get to walk in a big green space I couldn’t afford on my own. It’s value is as a place where the community can interact in a beautiful, friendly environment. It’s a good that cannot be broken down into ‘individual’ units. It’s a common good.”

Farewell to Warblogging (Matt Welch, Reason) — I’m late noting this one (published in early April), but Matt gets more right here in being occasionally wrong than some critics do who are apparently always right. Welch recalls an early encomium to all things warbloggy:

“What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?” I enthused. “I’d say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s…a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.”

… and follows with “Man, was I wrong.”. Well sure, but mainly in not using the words “the worthwhile bloggers” instead of “warbloggers.” That is, the fraternity of the seminal event for many bloggers, 9/11, and the novel new way of discussing it — and being read, at least by a few — led to utopian expectations about the quality and nature of the dialogue that would follow.

Edroso is right that even at the time there was a troubling quality to blogging by folks like Den Beste or Reynolds — not to mention Charles Johnson et al. But many long-popular “war”bloggers (in the sense that 9/11 seemed to galvanize their writing), e.g., Gary Farber, the now relocated Sgt. Stryker,* Jim Henley, and Matt Welch, have acquitted themselves very well — their old stuff holds up tolerably well to reexamination, and their new stuff continues to entertain, inform, and surprise. (Ken Layne‘s newest site generally does all three at once.)

Straight-Line Projections (Mark Schmitt, “The Decembrist”) — Another blast from the recent past (March 22). Recalling Joe-Bob Briggs’ assessment of Sunday talk shows — mostly “nothing more than “a straight-line projection from the present” — Schmitt continues:

Reading Elizabeth Bumiller’s cold assessment this morning of Bush’s futile effort to justify the Iraq war reminded me of Joe Bob’s second observation. It’s tempting to play the game of “the press is cowed by the right,” or “the press is all a bunch of liberals.” The fact is that the main bias of the press is toward the assumption that, however things look now, that’s how they will remain. For my money, over the last few years, no reporter has been more “in the tank,” more slavishly devoted to the conventional wisdom on Bush’s genius and Bush’s overwhelming political strength than Bumiller. Part of that was the isolation of the bubble, but more important was that straight-line projection: Bush is politically strong, therefore he will remain politically strong.

Now of course, Bush looks ridiculously weak, so the straight-line projection has him going down the tubes. Bumiller’s video presentation on Bush is an even more potent example of her shift over to the alternative projection. As a friend in Iraq reminded me a few weeks ago, things are never either as bad as they look when they’re bad nor as good as they look when they’re good. Under Bush’s apparent strength in 2002-4, there were some incipient weaknesses just as his apparent weakness now disguises some political strengths. The press isn’t biased toward the right or the left (generally speaking, with some exceptions), but it is biased toward inertia. That’s a factor that’s worked hugely to the advantage of Bush and the right, and now it will kill them.

This seems somewhat at variance with Greenwald’s observation above, yet both have that “truthy” feel to them. There’s the “Beltway as social club” theory (Greenwald), and “conservation of conventional wisdom momentum” theory (Schmitt). Immoveable object meets irresistible force? Pass the popcorn. It’d be a nice bonus if people like Tim Russert or Chris Matthews were finally discredited, too.

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* No link in accordance with that writer’s wishes, given that the old name was used.

7 Responses to “Worth reading”

  1. Nell Says:

    Whee, doggies, that Boyd Blundell piece is excellent on many levels. Thanks for the pointer, Thomas.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Glad you liked it. I don’t mean to get after Tomasky, who I think is a good guy. But a lot of what he calls individualism those ‘individualists’ call finally starting to share in the common good, the dream: women’s rights, gay rights.
    He’s right that there’s got to be more to life and politics than that, but Blundell is right that there’s more to the common good than (roughly) “Social Security and rural electrification” — without denigrating those achievements at all.

  3. Paul Says:

    That Stryker guy was a purposefully over-the-top character that was meant to be the meta-joke for all the posts and stuff. Hell, at his core, he was an in-joke that 6 people got. Eventually, he intelligently designed into a characterization of an aspect of my personality. And other complicated words.
    He was serious about a lot of stuff, but a lot of it was just trying to find a good joke in the given material.

  4. Gary Farber Says:

    I always figured lots of people still remembered Sands of Iwo Jima, myself.
    I’m tempted to say a lot more about what you said about Matt and Edroso and stuff, Thomas, but a) it’s too late right now; and b) much of what I’d like to say is too indiscreet or impolite to say in public, anyway.
    But it should be obvious what I thought from my own post on Matt’s piece, back when he wrote it. (And who was Roy Edroso talking about when he referred to “Goldberg”? It couldn’t be Jonah Goldberg, who a) has never had a blog, unless you consider the “Corner” function at NRO to be a blog; but b) more relevantly, that thing didn’t come into existence until years later; but I’ve no idea what other Goldberg he could mean.)
    I will, however, point out that I never linked to den Beste or said a positive word about him, unlike some bloggers I can think of who later, well, let me stop this sentence there.
    Ditto that I never said anything positive about Charles Johnson, although I do recall that in late ’01 LGF was reasonably sane, unlike a year later.
    Glenn I certainly once had a much better opinion of, though.

  5. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Gary,
    For a second I misunderstood you and thought I’d said something about you that contradicted your comment above. Anyway, I decided to cut stuff from this post that went into more length about it — it didn’t fit this format, yet seemed not to quite be worth a post of its own. I try to not do a lot of “blog inside baseball” posts, it makes me too conscious of wasting time.
    Mainly, I don’t exempt myself from self-criticism; for my part, I at first took both the LGF site and Den Beste more seriously than I do now, occasionally citing or praising one or the other thing I found there. But I eventually got disgusted with Johnson and LGF in particular for his incitements and commenters’, well, racist hate rants. I agree with you that LGF seemed a lot saner early on, but maybe I missed something I shouldn’t have, maybe because I was too enraged by 9/11 myself. Den Beste did sometimes engage in worthwhile discussion and real debate, including with me on a couple of occasions. But his posts were generally pompous, and often so long (but I’m one to talk) that they had the opposite effect all over again. He was fairly open about his (I’ll paraphrase) “poke the Middle East with a stick, rearrange it to our liking” argument for invasion, which I found and find unacceptable. OTOH, I eventually bought in to the Iraq war, and I suppose Den Beste advanced the WMD argument at some point as well. So again, I’m one to talk.
    Paul,
    Re the in joke; I’ve actually never watched “Sands of Iwo Jima,” so I didn’t get it at first, and forgot later if I ever found out. And re “serious about a lot of stuff, but a lot of it was just trying to find a good joke in the given material,” why, that’s all most of us can claim. It’s the blogger code of ethics!
    [return to “Worth Reading“]

  6. Paul Says:

    Thomas, it was about two beers shy of being called, “Ted Striker’s Not Over Macho Grande”, so don’t take the Iwo Jima reference too seriously.
    Basically, think of the most uber-American ever: John Wayne. Next, think of the uber-American’s most uber war movie: Sands of Iwo Jima (which is actually real good and John Wayne’s best role. A real three dimensional character in a damned good war movie). Add the two and you have the recipe for the most Uber-fucking-American Blog Ever.
    Since we routinely mocked the uber-patriots amongst us, the joke fit. It was a riff of my “You’re a fucking idiot, you know that?” routine that I was generally known for at the time.

  7. Gary Farber Says:

    “Since we routinely mocked the uber-patriots amongst us, the joke fit.”
    Kinda scary how seriously and straight it/you were taken, isn’t it?
    I repeat what I’ve said before: I deeply admire how deftly you managed to slip out the back door of that, with hardly anyone even noticing. Did even a single person blog about that?
    Thomas, I always felt den Beste was a pompous long-wind, and while I didn’t always disagree with him, to be sure, I didn’t learn anything from him, either. When lots of fellow liberals (I’m not trying to pick on you here; I have someone else primarily in mind, frankly) were praising him for his insights and breadth of knowledge, I was thinking he was saying stuff that, when correct (as he certainly was on many facts), I knew perfectly well and had read at great length on in past years, and felt was highly obvious, but, as I said, incredibly pompous and windy about.
    Then there was the stuff that was just running off the rails. In short, I felt from the start that I didn’t see what the fuss was about, beyond that I’ll grant that while he was incredibly long-winded (along with that Eject, Eject, Eject! guy), he was a clear writer.
    But also to repeat myself, I think LGF was just relatively sane in the first few months after 9/11; it was only after a while that it started to spiral down the racist/hate tubes.
    But the dynamic towards further extremism has clearly been an overwhelming dynamic for almost every blogger, over the years, it seems to me. Positive feedback cycle, plain and simple. Few resist it entirely. Whatever the ideology. There are only differences of degree.
    Of course, we all think it’s due to events proving our POV ever so much more. Naturally, we’re right, of course, and our opponents are wrong and loons. Obviously.

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