Debate of the Week With Insight From the Right

Joe Klein and a number of liberal bloggers are at it again. I haven’t commented so far on this dispute because I really don’t see the point in sorting out all the cross accusations of who said what when. For those who do, Klein’s response to the latest attacks is here, and a couple of responses from bloggers are here and here.

The amount of comments on this in the blogosphere greatly outweigh the importance, but there are some of interest. Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice finds that such conflict isn’t limited to the left, but is a part of modern life:

And bloggers, candidates and journalists who are seemingly fighting rear-action battles to keep things the way they were or roll the clock back will be disappointed. There IS a new media mix and political cultural style in America. The U.S. isn’t going to go back to the 50s, 60s, or 70s.

So the anger, rage and tone problem is not limited to just the left. It’s on the right. Al Gore’s new book offers pages of specific instances. You can also see it on the center (in November co-bloggers here were at war with each other for a while). These are angry times where many voters — particularly those who were not part of the “base” during an era of an administration that had government of the base, by the base and for the base — feel shut out. Those in the center often are targets of anger — rejected by the right (for being too much to the left) and by the left (for being too right). Or for being wusses who won’t definitely join one side.

Changing a position is considered untrustworthy (unless you’re Mitt Romney).

So there is anger and name calling on the left, right and in the center.

And, honestly: to each his own.

The most interesting, even if not always accurate, insights came from the right. David Frum‘s initial theory was a little extreme (although true in a handful of cases):

My own working theory till now has been that the anti-Klein sentiment exposes the tyrannical impulses of the American Left. Being a left-leaning journalist is not sufficient, comrade! We demand total unquestioning obedience! You are guilty of deviationism and individualism: Go practice self-criticism until you are prepared to submit to the perfect correctness of the thoughts of Chairman Kos!

The looney left is capable of attacking as Frum describes, but they represent a minority, and their attacks wouldn’t have reached the prominence in the liberal blogosphere that the attacks on Klein have. Frum reviews Klein’s post and develops a new theory. First he quotes Klein, with emphasis from Frum:

[T]he smart stuff [in the left-wing blogs] is being drowned out by 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.

Frum’s reply is only part of the answer, and he continues to generalize, but hidden in here is a worthwhile explanation of some of the friction between Klein and the bloggers:

Sorry Joe: that’s whining. In a media age, we who write make public figures of ourselves. We seek a public platform, but the prominence of our platforms carries a price. There will be criticism, and not all of it will be fair. Words will be misconstrued, false stories will be circulated. We’ve all experienced it. It comes with the territory…

But I am now wondering whether your critics did not also sniff out the self-regard, self-importance, and – yes – vulnerability exposed in the post quoted above. Just as you say, the left-wing bloggers are fierce, intolerant, and often witless bullies. But remember: bullies prey on weakness. Your quavering, pitiful, “hey cmon you guys, quit it” pleas only invite more pummelling. Be a man! Stop complaining. Stop paying the Danegeld of false compliments to people who don’t deserve them. Hit back when you must; otherwise suck it up and keep working.

There are many other columnists, and others receive criticism, but Klein does do a lot to bring the attacks upon him. I sometimes suspect he provokes some of these battles to increase his own publicity. On the internet, being constantly under attack by some is far better than being ignored if you make your living from giving your opinions.

As I’m linking to this post, I must comment on the more absurd comment by Eli Lake in the update to the post. He speculates that the liberal blogosphere is much smaller than it appears, but a handful of bloggers have manipulated Google to give the appearance of greater influence:

What if the netleft, that has created the impression that there is a rising plurality that would like to abandon Iraqis to Qaeda, Quds and the Ba’ath, are just a few thousand committed Marxists in their pajamas? What if the Dems have strategically miscalculated? What if their over-compensation is to appease a vocal 1 percent of the electorate that actually draws contempt from the rest of the country?

First rule of thumb is that anyone who characterizes modern liberals as Marxists is hardly worth reading. Considering the infatuation of the Republicans with corporate welfare and schemes such as the K Street Project, many of us on the left are much more stauncher supporters of the free market than those on the right. Lake mischaracterizes the position of the left on Iraq, and ignores the fact that this has become the majority position.

I’m sure he is being facetious, but I found it interesting to speculate on whether it was possible that there are only a few thousand of us in the liberal blogosphere. If so, not only would we have to be entering comments under many false names, but we’d also have to be running blogs while commenting on each other’s. Feedburner calculates that 3171 computers which subscribe to Liberal Value’s RSS feed were on-line yesterday, and this number increases by about one hundred per week. Perhaps this means that every one of these imaginary Marxists in pajamas subscribes to my feed, but it would hardly explain the number of subscribers to many of the older and larger blogs unless we all have a bank of computers in our basements. It would also be hard to explain the amount of money raised in the blogosphere if we took this theory seriously.

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