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Defense of liberalism in ‘NYT’ paints left as bullies but doesn’t dare to mention Iraq war

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Nikil Saval of n+1 has an essay at the New York Times that seeks to redeem liberalism from attacks on left and right that have discredited it– as a gutless caving to corporate interests, or as government overreach. There are two basic problems with this piece.

First and more important is that Saval treats the hostility leftwingers feel towards centrist liberals as unfair. The weird thing is that he mentions some past issues, like Vietnam, but he doesn’t mention Iraq or Libya or Israel, and tie them together into the general critique that leftwingers justifiably have today of liberal interventionism and liberal hypocrisy on war and peace issues.

The same is true regarding the critique that says centrist liberals are tied too closely to corporations.  The writer wants to make it seem like it is just nasty bullying without saying so explicitly. Though the headline says it; liberalism is “Mocked by the left.”

Secondly, Saval portrays liberals as innocent punching bags. As though liberals never attack people to their left.  But the New York Times regularly attacks people to its left and rarely does the Times allow lefties a chance to make their case. And though it’s a while since I’ve read the New Republic or New York Magazine, I am sure that these liberal venues don’t give a voice to consistent anti-imperialists, let alone Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) proponents. The assault on pro-Palestinian activists is one obvious example of liberals viciously branding an entire movement as antisemitic. Hillary Clinton did that. Liberals either applauded or didn’t care. Bernie Sanders wasn’t much better.

The two false attacks blend together. Trivialize the issues at stake, then pretend that it is just a case of innocent liberals being viciously attacked by extremists on both sides.

After that, wait for the commenters to proudly proclaim their liberalism. This is the really depressing thing.  One should expect the NYT to misrepresent issues, but there are plenty of readers who lap this stuff up and you see them in the comments.

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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6 Responses

  1. JohnSmith on July 11, 2017, 1:32 am

    I am so sick of this new-fangled use of the term “liberal.” “Liberal” and “progressive” are basically equivalent. You could say “progressive liberal” to indicate that you are talking about a more than usually progressive liberal. (You could also, I suppose, refer to a “lukewarm liberal,” indicating that the person really just isn’t that much of a liberal.)

    But this use of “liberal” to mean stone-cold-moron middle-of-the-road reactionary centrist neoliberal is so obnoxious.

    I’m a proud progressive and a proud liberal. I think this usage must have started because of the horrible term “neoliberal,” and that got mixed up in the minds of the young.

    Of course, in the supposed heyday of liberalism, the late 1960s and early 1970s, a lot of young people who were destined to become reactionaries went around pretending to be liberals to “fit in” and “be cool,” and to twit their families and the older generation.

    Hillary Clinton: not a liberal, but with some liberal views.

    Bernie Sanders: a liberal, but often not enough of one.

    • David Nelson on July 11, 2017, 8:40 am

      I think the problem is with those who self-identify as liberal, which then gives rise to the fitting pejorative from the left. In the currently true “liberal” fashion, though, you have the condescension right: “mixed up in the minds of the young”

      spend some time on on leftist twitter and it seems the “young” do indeed know what they are talking about.

    • Donald on July 11, 2017, 9:11 am

      Terms mean whatever common usage dictates, or anyway I find it easier to think of it that way. Your definition makes sense, but in the usage of the NYT and probably the majority of Americans Clinton is a liberal and the NYT is a liberal paper.

  2. Citizen on July 11, 2017, 4:14 am

    Succinct, accurate critique, Donald. Thank you.

  3. echinococcus on July 11, 2017, 9:18 pm

    Thank you for cutting through the intentionally confusing naming-game bs like a new razor –without a single ounce of fat. Very enjoyable.

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