What does it mean to be a leftist?
Let me start by saying that this is a pretty wankertastic question. Who cares, right? I think a discussion of the merits of various Ray Price albums would lead us closer to a more just society. It’d also be more fun. Also the answer is of course Night Life.
Anyway, you’ll have to indulge me here in a question with which I hate to engage. Nothing has served the left less than cleaving off those who weren’t “left” enough to increasingly ideologically pure and small organizations. I guess the Weather Underground was pretty left all right. And they were 50 people whose major accomplishment was blowing a few of themselves up making a bomb. Great.
But if we were going to define the left, at least in this country, I guess I’d say that it would revolve around something like people who were committed to the eradication of social, political, economic, gender, sexual, and environmental inequality both in the United States and around the world through the use of a variety of means, ranging from an activist government to revolutionary cadres. I don’t know, maybe you’d have a different definition. By all means feel free to argue the point.
Anyway, I would certainly include myself in this definition of the left. I don’t really identify with liberalism per se. Liberals can most definitely be leftists although many are most certainly not. Now, my first rule of life is that no one’s description of themselves should be taken seriously. I think that’s a very good rule to live by. So your opinion about whether I am left or liberal or whatever is a lot more important than my own.
That said, I believe in pretty much the entire range of left-liberal ideas. That includes the entirety of the socialist welfare system of Europe, gay marriage, stringent environmental regulations, access to abortion, etc. I’d argue that I am far to the left of most self-described leftists on organized labor, largely because I think many of them just don’t care or see it is an anachronism. I am opposed to much of U.S. foreign policy. And yes, like most self-identified leftists, I am disgusted by the so-called war on terror, torture, the treatment of Bradley Manning, etc.
Now none of this is particularly notable. But I have other positions as well that would certainly be more controversial and pretty “left” I think. Here’s a list of 10.
1. Make recognition of the state of Israel dependent on moving the boundaries back to the 1967 lines and destroying the settlements.
2. Repeal the 2nd Amendment
3. A constitutional amendment to guarantee employment
4. A constitutional amendment to guarantee collective bargaining
5. Extend the most vigorous provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the entire nation
6. A government ban on the harvesting of most fish with vigorous regulations and punishment provisions for violators
7. An 100% estate tax. You die, the government takes it all.
8. Pricing based upon percentage of income. You go to the gas pump–the price of gas is based upon last year’s income that would be encoded on a card you have to show.
9. U.S. companies can move overseas if they want–but the U.S. minimum wage applies to those workers. Also to contracted suppliers.
10. A constitutional guarantee to terminate a pregnancy, no questions asked.
I don’t really talk about these things much. Why? They are irrelevant. They are so far out of what is possible that why bother. Do they make me more of a leftist? Who cares.
The one area I am less convinced of the so-called leftist position is drones. Or DRONES!!!!!, to paraphrase those who are outraged by them. The only difference I can see between drones and the rest of the immorality of American militarism is that drones kill less people than human-piloted aircraft. I’ve yet to see anyone present a convincing case that drones are MORE immoral than other forms of warfare. They are immoral without a doubt. But the closest thing I’ve seen to a real argument about drones’ special immorality comes down to being like a video game and the fact that the opposition doesn’t have a chance to fight back against American soldiers. The first is a reality of our technological fetishism pervading our entire society, the latter grotesque. Please convince me why I am wrong.
That brings me to the real point here: Freddie deBoer.
de Boer’s comment to Scott’s post caused me to choke up my morning ice water (I don’t drink coffee, it’s gross):
6. This blog once attacked publications like Slate and TNR for being reflexively antileft, and pressured Democrats from the left on issues like foreign policy and espionage. It is now reflexively antileft itself, and pressures liberals from the right on issues like foreign policy and espionage. It’s to the point where you’re concern trolling Bradley Manning’s torture, despite the fact that the UN torture chief found that Manning had been tortured.
Freddie defines the left as holding his own precise position on the issue that he has chosen as the moral issue of the day. Moreover, he defines the left as supporting what he wants in precisely the same method he chooses–namely not voting for Democrats in elections if they don’t follow his line of policy. Freddie has decided that torture and drones–not labor rights, not abortion rights, not the climate–is the single moral issue of our time. If you agree with him and his tactics for dealing with it, you are on the left. If you don’t, if you see nuance, if you see other issues as of equal or greater moral weight, you are excluded from his left. Therefore, because some of us here at LGM fall into the latter category and defend our position against third party flirtations and Obamaney foolishness, we are “antileft.”
Now, Corey Robin is right enough that de Boer provided some evidence for Scott’s question. It’s extremely weak evidence–Alan Dershowitz? Bill Clinton? Really? That’s as good as you can do? But he absolutely did not provide any evidence for his claim that “No, I think liberals want to be forced to support torture. What liberals want is ultimately to do what conservative hawks want to do, but only after experts and leaders assure them that they have no choice. They want extreme events to make the choice for them.” Do I count as one of these liberals? Do I want to be forced to support torture? Does Farley? Lemieux? Who precisely are these people, at least among the liberal writers on the blogosphere? Have any of us ever provided the slightest bit of evidence to this point?
I ask because Freddie is basically saying these things about LGM, the anti-left blog. He holds LGM up as everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party and liberal blogosphere. This is a blog that evidently thinks of Obama (or Bill Clinton) as a “liberal crush object.” And of course:
This is the most elementary, most important point of all: there is no internal pressure for Democrats to reform, precisely because of people like Tbogg and the crew at LGM. Defenders of Obama lay down lines you can’t cross in every direction, shrinking the bounds of the responsible or the fair or the mature or the realistic or the pragmatic or the strategic… And then you look up and there is nothing for you to do. You become Paul Begala or you are a traitor. What would Tbogg tell me to do, if he actually stopped building a monument to his own sarcasm and cleverness, if he stepped outside of his meticulously curated temple of snark and flippancy, and if he actually considered the question of what to do if you want America to stop killing children? He’d say to grow up. He has no other arrow in his quiver.
By the way, I still haven’t received my check from the Democratic National Committee for all the power I used to keep the left in line during the election. Do you people have my address? Tbogg, have you heard anything?
Back in November, Freddie said that I was going to have an interesting 2013 since I was just a pro-drone Obot Democratic Party hack who would never demand anything for my vote. What this obviously showed is that Freddie had never read a single word I had written before the post he was responding to, which was me saying essentially that Matt Stoller was a self-promoting posturing idiot, a point to which I assume we can all agree. But notice what Freddie was doing here in defining the left as precisely what he cared about to the exclusion of all else:
There are a few people out there who both associate themselves with liberalism (or progressivism, if you prefer the weasel term) and who assert the actual legitimacy and morality of the drone program. To them, well, vaya con dios. We aren’t likely to be able to talk about much of value. But most people on the broad left are defending Obama in spite of the drone program, insisting that you must (and almost all of them say we must) vote for Obama even though they disagree with this drone program. Yes, the drone program is a terrible mistake. But still, you must vote for Obama. Before the election is not the time. The years to come will be the right time. Congressional elections will be the right time. Not now, but later. Wait. Bide your time.
Well Freddie, I actually am going to have an interesting 2013. That’s because we are going to see higher taxes on the rich. We are going to see some kind of filibuster reform. We are almost certainly going to see substantive immigration reform. We might see a move toward voting standards. We might see the end of Republican hostage-taking over the debt limit. We might see a few other things as well.
That’s not leftist policy. Obama naming Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is stupid. His labor policy is tepid. His public lands policy is non-existent. His agricultural policy is terrible. His drone policy is awful. His education policy is abysmal. But on all but the last, he’s still better than the alternative in American political life in 2012. This plus the real positive changes that do happen make people’s lives better. And it’s certainly going to be better than Freddie’s preferred alternative. 10% of Americans voting for Jill Stein would have moved the agenda to the left precisely how? How has this strategy worked through American history? How has change actually happened in American history? What is the relationship between the left and change in American history? What tactics have worked and what have not worked? As my readers know, studying these issues is the point of most of my academic and non-academic writing.
So this discussion of what’s left or antileft or whatnot is pretty pointless except that it’s insulting to be accused of such a thing in such an absurd manner. As Scott said to Freddie,
This assumes that you are to my left; I believe there is no actual basis for this assumption, since I don’t believe that a willingness to endorse transparently counterproductive tactics is a litmus test for one’s leftist commitment. It is precisely your belief that you are the Last True Lefist bravely pointing out heretics that seems to be the source of the silly generalizations under discussion here.
If the definition of left is being exclusionary of issues outside of the one you choose to emphasize, then I guess de Boer is to Scott’s left. In the real world, I don’t see any evidence of it at all. I certainly don’t question Freddie’s qualifications as being a person on the left. But then, what difference does it really make if he is or not? Or if I am or not? Nada. Not to real people’s lives.
I will tell you one thing though–no left I am a part of uses the kind of sexist language de Boer throws around. Not to mention his, uh, rather questionable writings about himself as a feminist in the past. See here for awesomeness. “Man up?” Christ Freddie, is left politics a contest about penis size? If so, count me out. For any number of reasons.