Lightness and Darkness in the Political Blogosphere

Last week Brad Warthen, an editor at The State (South Carolina) paid Liberal Values a compliment at his blog in a post entitled A candle is lit in the partisan darkness. While the topic was initially about John Edwards, it turned into a more general discussion of partisanship. Brad wrote that “partisans are so accustomed to spouting the nonsense that all evil comes from those people in that other party, that their conditioning keeps them from perceiving the actual tactical situation that lies before them.”

In contrasting my post with such a a partisan post at The Democratic Daily, Brad wrote “Ron Chusid, seems to be a guy who sees beyond such things, despite the title of his blog.” Before I explained in the comments, Brad did have some qualms about the title of this blog writing, “I don’t understand how intelligent people, such as this writer, can surrender their thought processes to an off-the-shelf set of values — which is what a person seems (to me) to do when he is willing to label his own value set with one brand name or the other.”

As I explained, I use liberal in the broad historical sense, as well as considering its European meaning, as opposed to using the label to limit views to one “brand.” The issues I concentrate on are definitely liberal, including a stress on civil liberties, separation of church and state, and limiting powers of the government over the individual. Many of the issues of the day I concentrate on, such as opposing the war and the influence of the religious right are also shared by most in the liberal blogosphere. Other principles I uphold at Liberal Values such as the free market were clearly liberal historically but at different times this has been viewed differently. Using Liberal in the title of the blog does not mean lining up with the liberal blogosphere or the Democratic Party on all issues.

Another reason for using Liberal in the name of the blog was a reaction to the type of partisanship which Brad criticized in light of the manner in which the right has demonized the word. Of course this does sometimes lead to problems from both sides of the political spectrum. There have been a number of conservatives who have commented here under the misconception that I’m a partisan Democrat and assume I hold views which are quite different from those actually expressed here. Fortunately for every comment such as this I receive many comments or links from others which are more like Brad’s comments.

For the most part liberals have been more open to the concept of a blog which agrees with them on major issues of the day including Iraq and social issues but does disagree from time to time. I would even argue that such toleration of a variety of viewpoints is part of being liberal.

The major exception has come from the same blog which Brad pointed out as an example of posting partisan nonsense, The Democratic Daily. As those who have followed this blog from the start are aware, I was involved in building The Democratic Daily but ultimately left due to their increased intolerance of holding any opinions other than a narrow set of viewpoints in vogue there. The final straw was when they defended Mel Gibson and desired to suppress my criticism of his anti-Semitic comments and belittled criticism of Holocaust Denial as unworthy of discussion.

The Democratic Daily has come under criticism in the blogosphere this week as well as in Brad’s post of last week. What is ironic is that it comes from a source which for a while had been fooled into supporting the blog wars that The Democratic Daily has periodically launched against Liberal Values for failing to fall in line with what they see as the only proper views to be expressed by a liberal blog.

Michael van der Galien has had two entries on his blog which I am aware of which repeated some of the false claims being spread by some of the writers at The Democratic Daily. These were posted while Michael was also posting at The Democratic Daily and freely admitted that he considered Pamela (editor of the blog) to be a friend. Blindly backing a “friend” can easily lead to a number of misconceptions.

Sometimes the temptation to say “I told you so” just becomes too hard to ignore. The following is a portion of a recent post at The Democratic Daily:

So, I’ve been watching it trickle into national consciousness, culminating in yesterday’s massive non- violent protests (and the scum-sucking Klansmen and Kewpie Dolls from Hell™ of the Rightie blogosphere proving that Jim Crow is alive, well, and running the “Party of Lincoln” — See Michelle Malkin’s “props” to Michael van der Galien, a Dutchman who “loves” America and posts on Joe Gandelman’s “The Moderate Voice” HERE. Sadly, Michael used to post HERE, on The Democratic Daily, but his “moderate” credentials have been sacrificed, evidently, for increasingly strident Right Wing attacks. It is truly sorrowful to see a White Dutchman pompously and self-righteously lecturing Southern Blacks on racism in the USA. Formerly, he’d seemed a decent guy.)

The real issue here isn’t who is right about this particular case but how The Democratic Daily so quickly resorts to personal attacks. Hart also was involved in controversy recently when he ethically showed no problem with the idea of shooting those he disagrees with if only those pesky laws did not prevent him from doing so.

Michael initially responded to this post in the comments with “Ah, attacking me nowadays no? Nice.” He also entered his own post at his blog entitled When Liberals Go Wild. This led to an email exchange which Michael posted in which each calls the other an extremist. Michael concludes, “And some people wonder why I’m criticizing the left more and more…” If only he paid attention when I first pointed out to him how close minded The Democratic Daily has become and how they are not representative of much of the left. Todd, who has a history of fabricating attacks raises a false charge against Michael in the comments and is quickly shot down once again.

On the other hand, Todd is correct in arguing that Michael was wrong for posting email without the consent of the author. In response a supporter of Michael wrote:

I’m not normally a big fan of it, but since Michael and I were recently the victim of the practice and since there was zero criticism from the so-called “progressive blogosphere” elements that are now outraged at Michael, I’m honestly not inclined to see your protests as anything other than manufactured.

I’m sick and tired of being on the sucker end of double standards. So, until I start seeing some consistency and willingness from so-called “progressives” in regards to their (claimed) standards of civility, decorum, and the like, well, I’ll stand with my friends.

I am unaware of this episode, but certainly agree that the same standard applies to all. Similarly, even before leaving The Democratic Daily I protested their habit of attacking conservatives because of being conservative (as opposed to providing rational arguments against their points) and for engaging in improper conduct such as posting personal information on those they disagreed with.

The blogosphere certainly contains many points of light and darkness. One principle which might have helped in the dispute note above would have been to concentrate on disagreements over the issues as opposed to quickly resorting to personal attacks. At Liberal Values I strive to be objective and consider the argument as opposed to the individual or party in the views expressed here. That is why I do not follow a particular “brand” as discussed above. I have often agreed with certain people on some issues and disagreed on others. Unfortunately once one side turns a dispute into a personal attack it is very difficult to keep it from progressing down this road.

New York Times Responds to MoveOn Ad Controversy

The ombudsman for The New York Times has responded to the controversy over the MoveOn ad. There have been two major issues–whether MoveOn unfairly received a price break for ideological reasons and whether an ad using language such as “General Betray Us” should have been run at all.

The answer to the first question remains murky. Clark Hoyt, the ombudsman for The New York Times writes that “the paper now says that the advertiser got a price break it was not entitled to.” Later in the article the following explanation is provided: paid what is known in the newspaper industry as a standby rate of $64,575 that it should not have received under Times policies. The group should have paid $142,083. The Times had maintained for a week that the standby rate was appropriate, but a company spokeswoman told me late Thursday afternoon that an advertising sales representative made a mistake…

Eli Pariser, the executive director of, told me that his group called The Times on the Friday before Petraeus’s appearance on Capitol Hill and asked for a rush ad in Monday’s paper. He said The Times called back and “told us there was room Monday, and it would cost $65,000.” Pariser said there was no discussion about a standby rate. “We paid this rate before, so we recognized it,” he said. Advertisers who get standby rates aren’t guaranteed what day their ad will appear, only that it will be in the paper within seven days.

Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, said, “We made a mistake.” She said the advertising representative failed to make it clear that for that rate The Times could not guarantee the Monday placement but left with the understanding that the ad would run then. She added, “That was contrary to our policies.”

The issue remains unclear as those of us who purchase advertising (or conduct any type of business) are well aware that virtually all prices are negotiable and “upgrades” are commonly given by salesmen to make the deal. Whenever I purchase an ad I generally hold out for a better rate and salespeople always seem able to find a way to give a better price. Providing a customer with a stand by rate, even if the ad is to appear on a certain date, is hardly beyond the types of breaks I’ve personally experienced. I still wonder if sales people at The New York Times have given such price breaks to make an ad sale in the past, if this was a simple error, or if this was a favor granted uniquely to MoveOn for ideological reasons.

The other issue is even more ambiguous. Hoyt writes:

The answer to the second question is that the ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, “We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.” Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, said that, while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for The Times to print.

The Times bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially. Jespersen has rejected an ad from the National Right to Life Committee, not, he said, because of its message but because it pictured aborted fetuses. He also rejected an ad from that contained a doctored photograph of Cheney. The photo was replaced, and the ad ran.

Sulzberger, who said he wasn’t aware of’s latest ad until it appeared in the paper, said: “If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue. … Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.”

For me, two values collided here: the right of free speech — even if it’s abusive speech — and a strong personal revulsion toward the name-calling and personal attacks that now pass for political dialogue, obscuring rather than illuminating important policy issues. For The Times, there is another value: the protection of its brand as a newspaper that sets a high standard for civility. Were I in Jespersen’s shoes, I’d have demanded changes to eliminate “Betray Us,” a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier.

If the advertising was up to me, I would have also avoided language such as “Betray Us” but it is less clear as to whether others who wish to use such language in an ad should be prevented from doing so. Exact rules could never be written to handle all such potential ads and it is understandable that there could be disagreement even within The New York Times as to whether this particular ad should have been run. Regardless, the Times deserves credit for openly discussing this issue.

Hoyt also writes:

By the end of last week the ad appeared to have backfired on both and fellow opponents of the war in Iraq — and on The Times. It gave the Bush administration and its allies an opportunity to change the subject from questions about an unpopular war to defense of a respected general with nine rows of ribbons on his chest, including a Bronze Star with a V for valor. And it gave fresh ammunition to a cottage industry that loves to bash The Times as a bastion of the “liberal media.”

I agree with Hoyt that this gave the Republicans an opportunity to change the subject in the short term, but I also believe he attributes far too much significance to the right wing noise machine. Yes, plenty of conservative pundits and bloggers are taking advantage of this to both avoid discussion of the war and to bash The New York Times. However, while they may have had influence in the past, they have been discredited over the past couple of years and convince far less people than they could in the past. They will probably always continue with their echo chamber and convince each other of the correctness of their extremist beliefs but far fewer people believe anything they have to say.

Most Americans, assuming they are even aware of the controversy, will soon forget the ad but the war will not go away. They will realize that, as Bill Richardson wrote, Ad’s don’t kill people, wars do. The conservatives won a Pyhrric victory in the Senate with the resolution condemning the ad. Their supporters may have cheered, but most Americans will look back and question why the Senate was wasting time on such nonsense as opposed to working to get our soldiers home. This example will also be of value the next time conservatives unfairly attack veterans such as John Kerry and Max Cleland and they are forced to explain why they fail to respect their own standards.

Update: Response from MoveOn

Rejection of Claims Denying Consensus on Climate Change

Conservatives who deny the scientific findings on climate change have been resorting to a number of specious arguments as to why the consensus of scientific thought should be ignored. Perhaps they realized that this was a losing tactic and over the last few weeks climate change denialists have been quoting bogus claims that there isn’t a scientific consensus. This claim is made by misrepresenting the literature, but many conservative bloggers have been eager to repeat this claim regardless of how weak the case is

Wired reports that they have run into some difficulties getting this claim published, even by a publication with a history of skepticism on global warming:

A paper claiming to show that the scientific consensus on climate change is not in fact a consensus has been rejected by the journal Energy & Environment, reports blogger Richard Littlemore.

This clearly isn’t a case of believers circling the publication wagons against anyone who dares contradict them: the journal’s editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, is a climate change skeptic, and the journal is known for publishing work that denies a link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. (For a scathing indictment of Energy & Environment, see what the American Chemical Society had to say about them.)

So if Energy and Environment wouldn’t take it, the paper, authored by endocrinologist Klaus-Martin Schulte, really is hot air. One would expect that, having hyped the paper prior to its non-publication, the bloggers over at James Inhofe’s blog will be equally vocal about its rejection. We shall see.

Council of Europe Backs Evolution and Opposes Teaching of Creationism as Science

The Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Council of Europe warns that “Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon. Today creationist ideas are tending to find their way into Europe and their spread is affecting quite a few Council of Europe member states.” They have issued a statement on The dangers of creationism in education which opposes the teaching of creationism by showing both the flaws in creationism (and intelligent design) and demonstrating that evolution is “genuine science.” The summary states:

Creationism in any of its forms, such as “intelligent design”, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are definitely inappropriate for science classes.

However, some people call for creationist theories to be taught in European schools alongside or even in place of the theory of evolution. From a scientific view point, there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of life on Earth.

The Assembly calls on education authorities in member states to promote scientific knowledge and the teaching of evolution and to oppose firmly any attempts at teaching creationism as a scientific discipline.

The lengthy document looks at both creationism and evolution in depth. Their discussion of evolution is reprinted under the fold, but it is also worth reading their discussion of creationism and intelligent design.


Barack Obama and Bringing America Together

Andrew Sullivan writes on the distinctions between Clinton and Obama at The Times of London, concluding:

Whoever won a Democratic primary by insisting on being open to Republicans? That is the risk Obama is taking. But when you observe and listen closely, you see this is what he actually means.

He detects an enormous weariness among Americans about their internal divisions in a time of war, overlaid by the anger and divisions that have deepened and widened under the Bush presidency. He suspects that if he can get past Clinton’s aura of inevitability, Democrats will realise he has a much better chance of winning a real national majority in the general election than Clinton does. Clinton polarises the way Bush polarises. She can hope for a Karl Rove-style 51% majority in a deeply divided country. He’s aiming for 55%.

Clinton, in other words, represents payback for the Democrats and liberals after the Bush era, just as Giuliani is emerging as the inheritor of the Bush legacy of divide and rule. Right now, Obama remains to the side, offering Americans something else: not payback, but a new page.

Neither black nor white, neither atheist nor born-again, a candidate who favours withdrawal from Iraq but an offensive against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, a progressive offering the working poor a tax cut, his bet is that, in the end, America wants to come together again. The unanswerable question is whether America really does.

There are actually two questions. It isn’t a question whether “America” wants to come together but whether those who vote in the primaries do. Secondly, I believe a majority of America does want to see an end to the hyper-partisanship we have been experiencing but the real question isn’t what we want but whether it can be done.

Polling shows that Obama does much better among voters who identify themselves as independents but plan to vote in Democratic caucuses and primaries where this is allowed while Clinton does better among party regulars. Obama might be able to pull out a victory if he gets enough independent votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, along with Democratic votes, to get the victory.

The country may have difficulty coming together due to the nature of the divisions we face. We not only have divisions over beliefs but over facts. The right wing has been spending fortunes for a couple of decades to indoctrinate their followers in an alternate reality which makes agreement very difficult. The right wing ignores science on matters ranging from evolution to climate change, convincing their followers that matters of established science are simply matters of opinion. They promote an alternative history in which they ignore basic principles upon which this nation was founded including the rights of the individual during times of crisis and separation of church and state. They invent facts to support their goals in current controversies, such as the claims of WMD in Iraq and a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Overcoming this divide will be difficult as the right has established a separate media to promote their views which makes Pravda look like an outfit run by amateurs. While sometimes the truth was able to make it through to those indoctrinated by Pravda, the right wing is more resistant to considering reality. News sources which contradict their alternative reality are branded as being guilty of liberal bias. They avoid actual debate with opposing viewpoints by regularly distorting and misquoting them. If that is insufficient they resort to diversionary tactics such as the attacks of the Swift Boat Liars and most recently the noise over the MoveOn ad.

Obama has a difficult task ahead as he attempts to unite this country, but it is a goal worth attempting. Fortunately a growing number of people have become wise to the faults of the extremists in control of the Republican Party, leaving hope that they will become increasingly marginalized.