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Liberals bashing leftists is a big problem

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Michelle Goldberg addresses the divide between leftists and liberals inside the Democratic Party in a New York Times column urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to fight Trump and not the “squad,” the first-term leftwing congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom Pelosi dismissed as lacking “any following. They’re four people”).

Goldberg says the left is annoying, but it needs to be “courted.”

“You can rail at the apathy and nihilistic demands for purity of people who hate Trump’s politics but didn’t vote for Clinton — I certainly have. But it is simply a fact that leftists, as well as the generally disaffected, need to be courted just as moderates do.”

She has a lot to say about the left’s manners, and little about its proposals.

“Leftist criticism can be uniquely grating to liberals, especially the kind that treats disagreements over strategy as differences of morality. And some of the newcomers’ rhetoric has been stupid and irresponsible. “

Liberal bashing of lefties (also called hippy punching) is something I see constantly, both online and more subtly at the New York Times, and it is a big problem because it gets in the way of people understanding some issues. Instead people start talking about how they see themselves as moderate or practical and the importance of the  issues often get lost under the posturing.

Goldberg is saying what some well-meaning liberals say. They want unity against Trump, but they also want to keep lefties on their leash. Several points:

1. People haven’t “courted” leftists in decades. They are told they have to choose the lesser evil and like it. They are told they have to support a warmonger like Hillary Clinton and they are nihilists if they object to a party that put her forward as a foreign policy genius. And it is the same on domestic policy. We have a horrible health care system and the planet faces a climate crisis and we are supposed to settle for policies that are at best inadequate and at worst catastrophic. Who are the nihilists here? By the way, I voted for Clinton and grudgingly accept lesser evil voting logic. But as the saying goes, don’t excrete liquid waste on me and tell me it is precipitating.

2. Given that this has been the case for decades, I don’t think you can make a distinction that Goldberg does between strategy and morality. This isn’t a matter of people simply recognizing that in politics you can’t have it all. The Democratic Party and many self-described liberals want leftist votes, but do not want leftist goals.

3. How many leftists have regular columns at the NYT? Ages ago, before the internet, Alexander Cockburn had a column at the Wall Street Journal, but he was clearly a token. People on what in America is called the far left are largely kept out of the discussion and used as punching bags even in Goldberg’s piece here, when Goldberg urges that they be treated with more respect. But she is saying as much for strategic reasons. She realizes Democrats might need their votes. Good, but from her NYT throne she can dismiss leftist critics. They irritate her, but she will not entertain the notion that they might have legitimate criticisms of the liberal approach.

4. One can distinguish between structural factors and the motives of individual liberals you might know in real life or even encounter online. There are obvious reasons why the mainstream press including the so called liberal NYT acts as a gatekeeper and mainly talks down to leftists on economic and foreign policy issues rather than letting them speak for themselves. They will, however, publish radical proposals on pronoun usage. Whatever one thinks about that , it is clearly not a proposal that threatens anything they care about.

On the individual level liberals can be all over the map, but many follow the lead of the mainstream press, thinking that this is where the best thinking on political issues can be found and they echo what they read. I’ve encountered several people who dismissed the importance of US complicity in crimes against humanity in East Timor decades back and in Yemen today right up until the point where it became a mainstream stance that it really mattered. (In both cases the full bipartisan shamefulness of the story never was fully made clear by the MSM). Once their mainstream sources told them the story mattered, they agreed. Educated liberals are far more susceptible to propaganda than they realize. We probably all are. But getting back to the educated liberals, believing in the reliability of the quality liberal press is a class and tribal marker. The only exception is that they might get mad at the press for being too critical of Democrats and playing false equivalency games with Republicans. Until Trump came along, they may have been partly right.

And not all liberals or self-proclaimed liberals are honestly misled. At least one of the Yemen dismissers I have encountered was motivated by devotion to Obama: if Obama chose to support the Saudi bombing because the Saudis were upset over the Iran nuclear deal then it was unfair to criticize him. The important thing here was to protect Obama’s honor. And other liberals like the system the way it is. They favor incrementalism not as a gradual path to radical change, but to avoid it. This is so obvious a point one should wonder why the lovers of incrementalism usually never bother to acknowledge it. A sincere liberal who favors leftist goals could accept incrementalism as a strategy while admitting its dangers, but when people make a fetish about their alleged pragmatism and their incrementalism philosophy without admitting those dangers exist, then something else is going on.

I haven’t mentioned the Palestinian issue once in this post. But it should be easy to see the role of incrementalism in that case. It has led to the death of the two state solution, the outcome that the incrementalists ostensibly favored.

Donald Johnson

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

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14 Responses

  1. Donald on July 16, 2019, 2:16 pm

    Reading this piece, I realize I should have pointed out that Goldberg’s call for unity against Trump’s racism is absolutely right. Unfortunately the piece she wrote had the usual condescension and hippy punching.

    • annie on July 16, 2019, 3:47 pm

      fantastic article donald. thanks.

      • Donald on July 17, 2019, 8:26 am

        Thanks Annie.

  2. Kay24 on July 16, 2019, 3:41 pm

    When I heard Goldman speak at Islamaphobe Bill Maher’s show, she came across as refined Hasbara, who tried hard to convince the audience that Israel was the victims of the Palestinians they were killing. Bill Maher seemed to agree with her.

    • Misterioso on July 17, 2019, 11:03 am


      Bill Maher has been anti-Palestinian and a pro-Zionist toady for years. His first priority is to keep his TV show, not to seek and state the truth.

    • Citizen on July 28, 2019, 12:48 am

      Same here

  3. Philip Munger on July 16, 2019, 5:24 pm

    A thought provoking article. I find it hard to place Ms. Goldberg in the context of the struggle between leftist idealism and Democratic Party cynicism (sometimes erroneously labelled pragmatism or incrementalism). Donald seems a bit conflicted too. But he’s picked a good subject upon which to bring up Michelle’s own struggle with the subject.

    Back in September 2008, in the immediate aftermath of Sarah Palin being named as John McCain’s running mate, I met dozens of journalists whose work I had read, for the first time. Many of them called or visited me shortly after they were parachuted into Alaska. I was known to be somewhat informed about our then Governor.

    The two journalist-writers I met then who had already been writing about Israel and the Palestinians were Michelle Goldberg and Max Blumenthal. Both came to my house to meet other Alaska bloggers or people familiar with Palin’s inner circle and ideas, such as they were.

    We were engaged with the subject at hand – Palin’s fitness as a VP candidate – so I/P didn’t even come up. The only exception was when, after working with and hosting Max for a week, I handed him a CD of my music as he was headed to the airport and, after looking at it, he exclaimed “YOU wrote the Skies Are Weeping?!”

    Anyway, I’ve since been following the rise of both these talented young writers. Michelle is a liberal. Max is far more engaged in the real struggle. But Goldberg is genuine. She is not setting out to be the next Thomas Friedman or Maureen Dowd. I think she actually has wrapped her head around how perilous the times we are in are, and understands that the world is on the brink of the very last years during which we have to respond to the rapidly exploding climate emergency.

    I think perhaps she watched how Max has been all but shunned for his honesty about how creepy Israel has become, and how vastly more creepy our own country has become with our never ending wars and arms sales and so on. She feels she has things to say that are worth reading or hearing, and is afraid of losing that voice when she is able to occasionally say or write something too worthwhile to not be noticed or even acted upon.

    I’m used to being hippy bashed for my views, and when Ms. Goldberg engages in that it hurts just a little bit. But she is growing and learning as a voice of sanity.

    • Donald on July 17, 2019, 8:35 am

      My impression is that Goldberg actually reads some on the left and understands the arguments. I am being a bit condescending there myself, but with most people in the MSM I get the impression that they either never read leftists or don’t understand much of it when they do.
      Goldberg reads them, but finds them irritating. Possibly some of what she reads gets under her skin or maybe that is overly optimistic.

      “She feels she has things to say that are worth reading or hearing, and is afraid of losing that voice when she is able to occasionally say or write something too worthwhile to not be noticed or even acted upon.”

      That sounds plausible. But it is really annoying when she turns around and hippy punches Ilhan Omar the way she did several months ago.

      • DaBakr on July 19, 2019, 2:21 am


        Almost the definition of a centrist. Fancy that, considering both views.

      • Donald on July 20, 2019, 12:55 pm

        She doesn’t consider both views. She is quick to spot antisemitism whether it is there or not. It still hasn’t crossed her mind that mainstream Zionism is permeated with anti- Palestinian bigotry.

  4. echinococcus on July 17, 2019, 12:31 am

    Another thing you haven’t mentioned, Donald, is the fact that all this tempest is strictly within the teapot of the Democratic Party (not even mentioned clearly in the title, because it would somehow be self-evident to you and the like-minded.) Inside, that is, the main administrative machine of US imperialism and war of aggression. How anyone can even speak of a “left” within that highest world center of war, aggression and theft is really a big mistery, on a par with words like “left Zionist”. A logical, nay compulsory conclusion is that the role of any such “left” is to get the disgruntled back in the fold and avoid the departure of those gullible boobies who are getting disgruntled, period. As proved abundantly by the history, in our lifetimes, of all the Jacksons and Kuciniches and Sanderses and whatwillyou.
    Mind you, the sincerity of some of them, like Kucinich and Wallace, cannot be doubted, while objectively they have been playing the same role as the conscious mountebanks as long as they remained in the Party.

    • annie on July 17, 2019, 6:34 am

      Another thing you haven’t mentioned, Donald, is the fact that all this tempest is strictly within the teapot of the Democratic Party

      maybe you missed the opening sentence.

  5. echinococcus on July 17, 2019, 8:34 am

    I didn’t, really — not having it in the title is the giveaway, saying that to you it’s self-evident.

    Is this the answer to the substance?

  6. JWalters on July 17, 2019, 7:11 pm

    “They are told they have to support a warmonger like Hillary Clinton”

    This is the problem in a nutshell. The financial cabal controlling the Democratic party is an arm of the war profiteers. And their colluding spokespeople insist that this criminal control of the party should not be discussed! This is deadly rot at the very root of the Democratic party’s advertised principles. The financial collar on Nancy Pelosi’s neck was shown vividly when she declared that even if Washington DC crumbled to the ground, Israel would get their fat payment on time. That’s a payment the U.S. must borrow to make, and which Israel immediately deposits in a bank and collects interest on. A great explanation of Israel’s financial relationship with the U.S. is given by a former investigator for the financial industry Jake Morphonios. Spoiler alert – it’s a scam.
    “This is the Perfect Explanation of How the War Industry Works!”

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