Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Textual Analysis Time

If you are a firm believer in Derrida you may want to avert your eyes now. I just wanted to compare the piece Joe Klein wrote on the perils of the "Bloggers Bile" to the response (if that is the right word for it) offered by Sacramento State History Prof. Joseph Palermo in the Huffington Post. (Quotes from Palermo will be in green, Klein in red. Apologies to my colorblind readers!)

Let's begin with Palermo:

In his latest commentary in Time magazine, the pundit Joe Klein praises those Democrats who voted to give President George W. Bush another $100 billion to continue the occupation of Iraq.

No he doesn't. This is either a "misstatement" or a lie. Since Klein's column is there for anyone to read, including Palermo, I'd chose "lie", but I'll leave that up to each individual to decide for themselves.

Klein gets snippy with what he calls the "free range lunacy" of "left-liberal bloggers" for criticizing Congressional leaders who believe that perpetuating the U.S. military presence in Iraq is somehow in our nation's interest.

Again, not what Klein wrote. He did write:

The spitballs aimed at Harman, Clinton and Obama are another story. Despite their votes, each of those politicians believes the war must be funded. (Obama even said so in his statement explaining his vote.) Each knows, as Senator Jim Webb has said repeatedly, that we must be more careful getting out of Iraq than we were getting in. But they allowed themselves to be bullied into a more simplistic, more extreme position.

Now, maybe Palermo is simply speaking ironically here by adopting the exact kind of "simplistic and extreme" position Klein criticizes, because he couldn't have proven Klein's case better if he had had Klein write his response for him. Klein very clearly refers to Democrats who want to get out of Iraq carefully. How that equals "perpetuating the U.S. military presence in Iraq" is something that can be known only to Palermo.

Klein blames these intemperate bloggers for "bullying" Representative Jane Harman and Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton into voting against the $100 billion. He denounces their votes as "kowtowing to extremists," and he decries the "fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere." In Klein's world, lefty bloggers "savage" and "ridicule" people who do not "move in lockstep" with the "most extreme" elements.

An improvement! Klein actually does say those things! Continue:

Klein's little article, entitled "Beware the Bloggers' Bile," is an interesting piece of punditry because it shows beyond any doubt that Time magazine's top political analyst has not the foggiest idea about how grassroots activism influences leaders in a modern representative democracy.

That's right! How would Klein know how, for example, presidential candidates respond to things like grass roots campaigns? Obviously, that is something you don't learn by being a journalist reporting on multiple political campaigns! Klein would have been better off getting a history PhD and taking a job at a large state school.

Please, Joseph, enlighten us:

As Klein would have it Democratic Congressional leaders should backstab the voters who put them in power last November, continue to rubber stamp Bush's failed Iraq adventure, and remain duplicitous in one of the most costly catastrophes in modern American history.

Uh, what? The only problem with this little scenario is that it is a lie. Yes, voters did give the Democrats a narrow Congressional majority in November, but to impart a monochromatic view on what every voter wanted from the Democratic party, or from their specific representatives, goes against every single opinion poll and against 50+ years of Political Science research into mass political behavior. Other than that, Joseph, it's gold.

To make it worse Palermo says:

[Klein] sees the vote in favor of giving Bush the money to continue the occupation of Iraq as a courageous, even heroic, political choice.

Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. He certainly doesn't say that in this piece.

Joe, here's how it works: You see, there is something called the "base" of the party, and these are usually people who are passionate (unlike you) about their core political values. In the case of the Democrats, the "base" cares about labor unions, health care, the social safety net, and restraining the more murderous tendencies of America's marvelous military machine -- remember the 2.5 million dead Vietnamese?

I won't interrupt too much here, but think of Animal House.

"He's rolling."

Anyway, you see, Joe, this thing called the "base" of the Democratic Party will be voting in next year's presidential primaries, and it is comprised of many of the same people who put the party in charge of both chambers of Congress. They'll be pretty important in these elections getting out the vote, walking precincts, participating in phone banks, etc., and they're a tad bit angry about the killing and the torture and the horror their government has unleashed on the world in recent years. People who voted for the Democrats last November expected them to move substantially against Bush's occupation of Iraq. You see, Joe, this is sort of how democracy is supposed to work.

Wow. If Klein wrote anything half as churlish and condescending as this, just imagine the reaction!

Any intelligent reader's reaction to Palermo should be, "What in the hell is he talking about?" Because it has nothing to do with what Klein wrote.

A strange thing happened to me the day the House of Representatives voted to pass the Iraq-war-funding bill. Congresswoman Jane Harman of California called as the debate was taking place. "Look, I would love to have cast a vote against Bush on this," she told me. "We need a new strategy, and I hope we can force one in September. But I flew into Baghdad [with 150 young soldiers recently]. To vote against this bill was to vote against giving them the equipment... they need. I couldn't do that." I posted what Harman said on Swampland, the political blog at Time.com, along with my opinion that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had changed their positions and voted against the funding for the worst possible reason: presidential politics.

And then Harman changed her position. After we spoke, she voted against the funding. The next day, I was blasted by a number of left-wing bloggers: Klein screwed up! I had quoted Harman in the past tense—common usage for politicians who know their words will appear after a vote takes place. That was sloppy and... suspicious! Proof that you just can't trust the mainstream media. On Eschaton, a blog that specializes in media bashing, I was given the coveted "Wanker of the Day" award. Eventually, Harman got wind of this and called, unbidden, to apologize for misleading me, saying I had quoted her correctly but she had changed her mind to reflect the sentiments of her constituents. I published her statement and still got hammered by bloggers and Swampland commenters for "stalking" Harman into an apology, for not checking her vote in the Congressional Record, for being a "water boy for the right wing" and many other riffs unfit to print.

Has Palermo given an iota of evidence that the behavior of the "netroots" in this matter was justified. No. Has Palermo shown, via evidence of any sort, that Klein contentions about the Clinton/Obama/Harman votes were inaccurate. No.

Is Palermo's writing seemingly a good example of what Klein calls:

...a fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere. Anyone who doesn't move in lockstep with the most extreme voices is savaged and ridiculed—especially people like me who often agree with the liberal position but sometimes disagree and are therefore considered traitorously unreliable.

The word "absolutely" leaps to mind.

Indeed, the attitude and tone of Palermo betrays a deeply undemocratic temperament. His belief that he can speak for every single person who voted for a Democrat last November displays a staggering hubris and arrogance. It combines the shallowness of the ideologue with the certainty of the tyrant and demagogue.

Klein expresses his opinion that such behavior stinks (and blames Republicans for it!), and Palermo, like much of the left-o-sphere responds with a middle finger salute.


And, as Klein states, typical.


Anonymous said...

I guess what I would find even more disturbing is not so much his assumption that he can speak for all Democrats, but his assumption that the opinions of bloggers on the left=All Democrats.

For me, this goes back to the enchantment that academics and many media types have with the blogosphere. I'm not sure that everyone else hangs on every word the blogs utter half as much as these two groups do. Why? The media does, because blogs love to talk about the media. Academics do, because they gotta have something to publish on--and the blogs are a perfect topic.

This is not to underestimate at all the importance of these venues, or to dampen my own interest in their influence on the American political system. It's just to suggest they aren't nearly as important as Academics and reporters think they are.

It's his assumption of the blogs' all-importance that leads Palermo to say, well, because bloggers on the left are calling for something, that's what all Democrats want.

As a matter of self-identification, I'm a card-carrying leftie, as is my girlfriend. Even so, we don't hear anybody articulating our position on the war, which is this: It was a horrible mistake, compounded by mind-boggling incompetence in its execution. It was and is a disaster--one our nation created. However, we both terribly fear that a premature withdrawal of forces would be an even bigger disaster. I don't know that for sure, but I suspect it to be true.

What I want is a debate on that question without all the garbage about patriotism and defeatism on one side, and without the Bush-bashing on the other. Hey, I love Bush-bashing as much as the next Pinko. If I could find a way to make a living Bush-bashing, I'd take it in a minute. The trouble is, Bush-bashing doesn't help me, as a citizen, understand the proper course we should be taking in Iraq. (That, and I can Bush-bash on my own, and generally be funnier about it. And if I'm tired, I can always watch Conan O'Brien).

I take that the war was a bungled mistake as a given. Can't our politicians do that as well, put it aside, and have a serious conversation about what should be done with the mess we CURRENTLY HAVE on our hands? (Of course, I'm also in favor of oversight hearings out the yazoo;--I'm not in favor of eliminating Bush-bashing altogether.)

I'm sorry, what were we talking about.

Oh yeah, I agree--Palermo's an idiot.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Ah..you are a sage voice and a wise man my friend. [Yes, I know who you are! :-)]

I believe there are plenty of Democrats that hold your position on this matter almost exactly. I think Klein is right in thinking that almost all of the worthwhile Democratic presidential candidates hold some close variation of the idea.

What pisses me off about people like Palermo is how they violate the norms of intellectual honesty in the name of ideological purity. Which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has read Homage to Catalonia or seen The Life of Brian.