Who are the Left? A Liberal Response

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162 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    I just want to say that the post pic always cracks me up. I gave my wife (then girlfriend) a shirt with that design when it first came out. Something about the “rhyme” of the red Solo cup…Report

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    Good post, minor quibble/clarification: I wasn’t trying to define the left; I was answering questions from people who wanted to know what group to people I was talking about.

    But that quibble doesn’t detract from this post.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    As I stated previously, there is to my mind a value in spectrum-terminology to define, broadly of course, those that are on this side of the spectrum as compared to the other side. The three groups mentioned here certainly have their differences, but in the American context they also have their similarities. The exception is, perhaps, the bona-fide leftists who are far enough off-center to be disaffected, but generally speaking even they see a lesser of evils, they provide ideas and arguments that are used by the other factions, and support many of the same narratives. Not all, of course, but a fair number in comparison to how many they share with the factions’ rivals on the other side of the spectrum.

    It could easily be said that “left” isn’t the right term because it doesn’t fit and so on, but that’s in a long line of terms we use that have either differentiated from their original meaning or are very context-dependent. It would be better if we had different words for conservatives of the temperamental variety and conservatives of the political variety. But we work with the terminology that we have.Report

    • j r in reply to Will Truman says:

      I concur. The differences pointed out are certainly accurate and bring another level of precision to the conversation, but that doesn’t change the fact that they all occupy the space that we can comfortably refer to as “the left.”

      Also, someone could perform a similar exercise of cataloging the differences between all of the groups that compose “the right” as well.Report

    • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

      What leftist arguments have a prayer of passing Congress???
      Just. Not. Seeing. It.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    The thing that really distinguishes liberals from leftists is the market. Liberals might want to reform and tame the market through law but we do not want to elimiante it in its entirety. The left is entirely distrustful of the market in one way or another.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to LeeEsq says:

      While there’s a fair amount of truth in this distinction between “liberals” and “leftists,” I don’t think that it follows that “the left” can/should only refer to the latter. To me, the term “the left” (or, more appropriately, “the American left”) refers not only to the radical left but also to the center-left.

      Essentially, if we’re going to reduce politics to a linear progression in which there is a “left” and a “right” (and I’ve never been thrilled with doing so, but it’s more often than not convenient shorthand and certainly commonly-used enough vernacular), then it follows that anything left of the exact centerpoint can rightly be called “the left” and anything right of that centerpoint can properly be called “the right.”Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Then the left includes a sizable amount of people that supports torture.
        (I do not mind this stipulation, I’m just trying to make sure people know what they’re saying)Report

      • This. I think a lot of people want the assumption to be if you are referring to the left that you are referring to leftists. But if you want to refer to leftists, you can say leftists or far-left or left-wing. All of which are one or two words, which is easier than most (accurate) substitutes for people-who-are-left-of-center.Report

      • @kim Sure. Then again, the “right” also includes a substantial number of people who opposed it. This is one reason I’ve never been thrilled with the linear conception of politics. But it’s the way politics are generally discussed and for the most part it fits closely enough to allow points to get across.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Kim, a decent plurality of leftists spent the mid-20th century enamored by people like Stalin and Mao even though they deny it now. That amounts to approving of torture.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        totally not the people I was talking about.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        then it follows that anything left of the exact centerpoint can rightly be called “the left” and anything right of that centerpoint can properly be called “the right.”

        We have “left of center” or “left side of the political spectrum” as a phrase for just this reason. I agree that “the left” is broader than ND lays out in the post, but at the same time, “the l/Left” has accrued more specific meanings than just “everyone to the left of the middle” through journalistic and historical recountings and discussion and over the years, that I think that this understanding of the term has been superseded by actual usage for a long time now. But at the same time, those accounts are so disparate that it’s essentially become an undefined term. And either way, whether it’s popularly undefined or defined as everyone who’s left of center, it seems like a bad vehicle for Tod to use for his argument. Though that’s just a terminological question, and grabbing the term and giving it a definition of his own for the purpose of his argument in the other post is perfectly fair. (I just think that using a more descriptive term for who he’s actually talking about, and indeed better defining that, would serve him better, as would refining his terms for what he’s actually saying about whom when he describes the state of the “Right,” which is also a term with more historical meaning than simply “everyone to the right of absolute center.”)Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        You’re on the bullseye, as usual.
        Most people when they say “left of center” mean the people who oppose torture.
        Most people when they say “right of center” don’t mean the type of Republican who has socialists on their staff (ok, so, reaching. someone else has a better example!)Report

  5. zic says:

    Nice, ND.

    I think the reinvented progressive needs to be here somewhere; I’d say a centrist Democrat, ashamed to call themselves liberals after a decade of conservatives using the word ‘liberal’ as a pejorative. (I notice an uptick of this recently on some conservative websites — they no longer use ‘liberal’ as much, but ‘progressive,’ with the suggestion that they are of a lessor caliber; common in the trolling in comments. The more facts someone uses, the more likely they’ll be called a progressive lacking in some way.)Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      Should add:

      As a liberal, I firmly support strong environmental and corporate regulation. (I also believe there is over regulation, and that it’s good to review and purge the rules on a regular basis.)

      Strong environmental regulation protects our children’s future — seven generations.

      Strong corporate regulation protects individuals from abuse by corporations.

      Both help protect small investors — virtually everybody in the US — because they create certainty that the companies their retirement is invested in are playing by the rules. After the financial collapse and BP disasters, I think it’s pretty obvious that CEO’s and boards cannot be trusted to do that; they’re depending on government regulation, too.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to zic says:

      Self-identified progressives sometimes try to argue ways that they are distinct from liberals but they never manage to actually admit this. At this rate, conservatives are turning progressive into a dirty word to and the public never brought into the change anyway. We should just call ourselves liberals and fight for the honor of the word.Report

      • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

        if you’re going to identify as a liberal, I’ll take progressive. And yes, there is always a component of “liberal is a dirty word”… BUT, liberal was also /dumb/. There are any number of liberal baggage that the progressives would rather not have.Report

      • zic in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @greginak one of my early memories is going to the Sinclair station with my dad, and getting a green dinosaur soap. I was very small; and I remember: the gas was 19 cents a gallon. Full of lead, too. Tasted sweet. (I’m convinced that was a big part of the appeal of the combustion engine.)

        I remember at the very beginning of the energy crisis, when it went up to over 30 cents a gallon. It was shocking and horrible; a huge blow to our standard of living. All around here, in northern New England, people heat their homes with oil. The cost of heating oil got so bad that they sealed their leaky old homes up as tight as they could. Many got moisture problems are rotted; led to a huge decay in the housing stock due to improper ventilation. By 1978, the cost of gas drove farmers like my father out of business, and we began the rapid transition from small family farms and coops to large industrial farms.

        There’s a whole lot that fell out of the gas crisis; including foreign policy.

        We shoulda listened to Jimmy Carter, minded our business in the Middle East, and kept on driving VW rabbits instead of HumVees. Ronald Reagan and his brand of feel good doesn’t. Just look at that big hole in the air, swirling off the East Coast. A change of 47 mil. in just a few hours. If it swings toward land, where it hits, gets another Frankenstorm. (I’ve got 4 feet of snow in my yard, and it was -10 this morning. I’ve got weather-induced migraine teasing at my brain.)

        That jump in the price of gas mattered; it was Gabrielle’s horn. We didn’t listen.Report

      • zic in reply to LeeEsq says:

        And totally miss-threaded.

        The migraine. I haven’t gotten much of a break this winter. It makes me feel old and feeble-minded. I’m sorry; I should probably just keep quiet.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Hope you get to feeling better soon, @zic .Report

      • Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Migraines do suck. My wife gets them frequently and all she can do is curl up in bed and cry a bit. I’m amazed you can write when you have one.Report

    • j r in reply to zic says:

      The term liberal didn’t become a pejorative so much because of conservatives saying bad things, but because of the actual effects of liberal policies. As I’ve said here numerous times, it really seems that the left wants to pretend that the 1970s never happened.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:

        That would be your, highly partisan interpretation of what happened.

        You talk a lot about how ideology ruins everything just like Tod mentions that ideology is the enemy. Yet all your examples of ideology ruining everything are from the left-hand side of spectrum.

        Fascinating as Spock would say…Report

      • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        All I remember from the 70’s is Vietnam, Watergate, Swine Flu, and Reagan getting elected.

        Oh, and Steely Dan.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        It’s a combination of a couple of things. First, no single word can be effectively tarred without some negative association. The negative association for “liberal” is, among other things, the 70’s. That wasn’t why the right tried to make it a dirty word, but it is a big part of why it succeeded. There were actual associations made by non-aligned voters that made the word politically problematic and that gave the criticism some resonance. Liberals will argue that they were unfair associations and that the resonance was unwarranted, but the success went beyond “Republicans made it so” because Republicans don’t have that sort of power. Conservatives only wish they did.

        These days, the right has to confront some of its own issues and they are similarly too dismissive of resonating critiques because they believe that the liberals invented them. Usually along the lines of “They’re going to call us sexist no matter what we do!” Which they’re actually right about. But there is a reason that the critique has gained traction, and it’s not because liberals have the power to make it so. Liberals only wish they did.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        ND, the biggest problem liberals made the same mistakes that the British Labour party made during the 1970s; the refused to recognize the political reality that that many of the electorate wasn’t buying what they were saying. In the United States, a lot of this had to do with liberals ignoring the rise in crime and continue to press on with attempts to remedy pass racial injustices with increasingly unpopular measures like bussing. In the UK, the Labour Party ignored that lots of British voters were getting tired of thier life being hindred by union militancy.

        Maybe liberals in the United States and the Labour Party in the UK were objectively correct but as you pointed out, being objectively right is sometimes irrelevant in electoral politics becasue having the right policy doesn’t translate into votes.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        So you forgot stagflation or, in other words, the complete breakdown of the postwar economic system that was based on orthodox Keynesianism? You forgot about what American cities looked like by the end of the decade?

        And that’s not my partisan interpretation at all. I criticize right, left and center with equal fervor. And my criticisms flow from my attempt to understand the economic, political and historical factors, not my attempt to give one side a leg up.

        The fact is that the orthodoxy of the mixed economy that held sway in the post-WW2 period was very good at post-war reconstruction. Once growth leveled off, however, the tax and spend policies that it takes to support the mixed economy model result in ever-increasing fiscal deficits. Those fiscal deficits, along with an over-regulated economy, start to choke off growth and the monetary policy mechanism of the Phillips Curve is no longer enough to boost growth or increase employment. An oil price shock doesn’t help, of course, but the underlying flaws in the economy were what made the impact of the oil price shock so bad.

        That’s what happened in the ’70s. There’s nothing partisan about any of this. There is a reason why contemporary left-leaning economists call themselves “New Keynesians.”Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        No surprise, but I think @leeesq is correct. One of the interesting aspects of the current layout is how much might flip. If there is a grand realignment towards the Democratic Party and the GOP has to adjust significantly to survive, the way things are going the term “conservative” may actually become what “liberal” was.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        Maybe liberals in the United States and the Labour Party in the UK were objectively correct but as you pointed out, being objectively right is sometimes irrelevant in electoral politics becasue having the right policy doesn’t translate into votes.

        Do you honestly not see the hubris in this statement?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        Potentially. I saw an article in the Atlantic a few weeks ago that predicted the future would be White-Libertarians and Minority-Democratic voters. Polling seems to indicate that many people under 40 or so are seriously burnt out on the GOP brand. The young guys in the GOP seemed to have been late teenagers during the Reagan years.

        The main issues seem to be social.

        Now the question is whether the GOP can morph itself into a truly libertarian party.Report

      • zic in reply to j r says:


        I am no economist, but I did live through the 70’s. And all economists seem to miss a huge thing: the change in the workforce, and the associated changes that wrought in communities. Women went to work; and with that economic freedom, more often sought to end marriages that were not working for them. Children were more often left alone (I was a latch-key kid). And many of the things women did with their time, mostly as volunteers in their communities, went undone.

        Now I don’t mean to go blaming women, here. But. I’ve not seen much good economic analysis that lays out the change of income for most families as they went from 40-hour wages to 60 to 80 hours of wages; certainly it accompanied the changes of 1-car families to multi-car families, TV and dishwasher in the household, etc. But the hours of volunteerism that women did before; the economic benefits of having a parent in the home full time (I don’t believe it needs to be a ‘she.’) sort of got lost in the shuffle. Mostly, because it was women’s work, and so not reckoned to be of much value, until the problems of not having that work done begin manifesting themselves.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        jr, I was mainly pointing out that ND in the past when writing about Yglesias and other policy wonks that simply having the right idea isn’t enough in politics; you also have to go out and consider the electorate. Liberals in the 1970s were full of hubris, they thought bussing was so self-obviously right that they couldn’t imagine why anybody would be opposed to it. If there was hubris in my statment, it was simply because I was trying to channel the hubriss of liberals at the time.

        I’m also a card-carrying member of the ACLU so I’m sympathetic with the positions taken by 1970s liberals on things like civil liberties.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        Will, the GOP is probably in better shape today than the Democratic Party was during the 1970s. They still have millions of people to rely upon for votes and most of these people can not imagine voting for Democratic politcian. Certain structural elements in American politics also provides more safety to the GOP. This is probably the only reason why the various crisies that took place in the late Bush II administration didn’t have the safe effect that late Hoover administration had on the GOP.

        The real problem for the GOP is that a lot of people under 40 do not like or trust them. As this group starts to vote more and become a larger share of the electorate than the Republicans face problems.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        I’m not disputing your command of economics. But, to prevent some of the acrimony around here, you ought to note that it was Carter who did a lot of the deregulation…
        [I don’t know about most American cities, but Pittsburgh was a collossal clusterfuck that was the fault of the gov’t, the unions and the corporations. And NYC? Well, it was in a lot of ways better then than now — a bit grittier.]Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:


        I don’t feel much in the way of acrimony, but maybe I’m just reading people wrong. Where have I said a bad thing about Carter? I actually feel somewhat bad for Carter. He wasn’t such a terrible president. He just got caught holding the bag and taking the blame for a whole set of policies that had run their course. Not only did Carter start reforming the nation’s regulatory regime, but he appointed Paul Volker as Fed Chairmen to start giving the Fed some inflation-fighting credibility.

        Carter is very much like David Dinkins. Dinkins wasn’t a bad mayor and a lot of the reforms that Giuliani gets credit for were started by Dinkins. Although, it is worth pointing out that Dinkins moved in that direction in large part because he knew that he would have to face Giuliani again in 1993.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        A few people have been calling you straight out partisan.
        Saying: “Liberals fished it up, and then Dems fixed it”
        sounds a lot different to some ears than
        “Liberals fished up everything” (which, be fair, they kinda did).Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        @newdealer If things go as poorly for the GOP as a lot of people project, I expect the division to be the Fenty Party vs the Gray Party. The former probably being referred to as “the right” and including many modern-day conservatives and a lot of libertarians, but not being conservative in the current sense.

        The next alternative, in my view, is that we still have a socially conservative party that is a different sort of socially conservative than we have now and is not nearly so economically conservative.

        Which of the above happens – if either of them do – would depend on whether there is more movement to the left on social issues or economic ones.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        @leeesq I am thinking past the short term. Particularly as older voters die off. I think the arguments that young people are ever-to-be-liberal tend to be exaggerated, though for the conversation here I am assuming that I am wrong about that.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        Will, its not necessarily the GOP’s economic policies that hurt them but how they are handling social issues like LGBT rights or race. A lot of young people are pissed off by the GOP’s economic issues, particularly people in their twenties but its things like race and LGBT issues that are really going to hurt the GOP.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        @leeesq Some people are angry at the GOP for their views on social issues (or their representation of these views), others for economic issues (or their representation of the same). The pertinent question is which side is costing them less votes and build on that. Basically, looking at the most get-able votes (at the least cost) and doing what you have to do to get them.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        Nah, a far better negotiating posture is: “Who can we pick up” AND “Who won’t leave no matter what” (with an emphasis on coming up with a coherent platform… though not having one hasn’t hurt the Dems terribly much).Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        That’s part of what I was alluding to with “at the least cost”… moderating in either context will cost them votes, but a part of the equation is minimizing the loss.Report

      • greginak in reply to j r says:

        One thing regarding the 70’s. Gas prices, Gas prices and Gas prices. The oil crisis hit and that sporked up the world wide economy. There is a lot more we could say about the 70’s but there is no way to talk about the problems our economy had without acknowledging oil prices as a major factor. If there had been no oil shock the 70’s would have been a lot easier for everyone.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        Which, of course, goes to show the extreme importance of affordable energy!Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        @will-truman, and not overly relying on the car is a means of transportation. If more cities had better transit than the oil crisis would have hurt less.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        That ship done sailed.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to j r says:

        The term liberal didn’t become a pejorative so much because of conservatives saying bad things, but because of the actual effects of liberal policies.

        It’s bad enough that they “borrowed” our label, but then they had to go and get it all dirty. Conservatives are trying to do the same with “libertarian.” I wish all this popularity would translate into actual adoption of our policies.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to zic says:

      I think people born around my age and younger are more willing to call ourselves liberal, progressive, and are no longer repelled by even the s-word, socialist.

      It seems to me that when various people in the Republican Party and the Tea Party call something socialist, they are talking to people who are in the silent generation and boomers. I was born in 1980 and remember the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union but the Cold War was never really a thing for me. I never did duck and cover in school, etc.

      Conor F tries to distinguish between liberals and progressives. I think he sees progressives as being more willing to use state power and law to influence how people live their lives. Mayor Bloomberg’s soda tax is progressive in his mind. So are policies that encourage more urbanization and less driving. A liberal might want universal healthcare but would oppose the soda tax.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        If I had to describe the difference between a liberal and progressive than I’d say that progressives are more interetested in using state power for social engineering purposes is correct difference to note. You see this a lot in debates about sex education and whether or not it should be used to “correct” beliefs that might be described as “sex-negative” in society. Progressives are more willing to do this while liberals are willing to accept that diverse opinions means that lots of things are going to end up compromised.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        socialist is dogwhistling communist. And yes, the boomers got the propaganda, so they hear the dogwhistle.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        soda tax, like bike helmet laws, and smoking laws, are NOT populist. Therefore, not progressive OR liberal. Funded by the insurance companies.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        Kim, liberal and progressive does not necessarily have to mean populace. Nearly every political traditions has a paternalistic branches and populist branches even libertarianism; where some of the rhetoric is about limiting government for people’s own good so they don’t grow dependent while other rhetoric is more populist in nature.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think, though, neither a liberal nor a progressive would want to be labeled as Corporatist. (And that the progressive term was originated in part in opposition to the DLC’s liberalism).Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        I was born in 1980 and remember the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union but the Cold War was never really a thing for me.

        Seems like a world ago when it was East Germany and West Germany.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think people born around my age and younger are more willing to call ourselves liberal, progressive, and are no longer repelled by even the s-word, socialist.

        “Willing to call ourselves…progressive” is an odd way of phrasing it. Having been largely forgotten, the term “progressive” had essentially no negative connotations attached to it at the time the left picked it up. Add to that its self-congratulatory nature, and I can’t see why anyone would be particularly reluctant to adopt it. Other than a functioning sense of humility, perhaps.Report

  6. Pinky says:

    It seems strange to talk about the Democratic Party without reference to the issue that has dominated it from the beginning, race. It’s never been the big-tent party; it’s the party of lots of tents.Report

  7. Pinky says:

    Also, you seem to have written foreign policy and the military out of history.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Pinky says:

      This was meant to be a short essay and foreign policy and military are not completely my areas of expertise. You could write an entire book about the differences between liberals, leftist, and the Democratic Party on these issues, this is just a blog post.

      There is also more intra-party split. William Jennings Bryan resigned as Secretary of State because he thought that the Wilson was being too bellicose and wanted to join WWI for the allies. Champ Clark, the Democratic Speaker of the House also opposed US entry into WWI.

      Vietnam also split the Democratic Party eventually with many people in 1968 gaining brief bursts of legitimacy as anti-war candidates.

      I suppose the biggest current debate in foreign policy among the Democratic Party, liberals, and the left is Israel. I consider myself a Zionist and many people on the Left would say that does not make me on of them. I believe in the two state solution.Report

      • zic in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’d argue that for most liberals, foreign policy and domestic policy aren’t so clearly separated. Climate change, for instance, is both a domestic and foreign policy discussions; as are civil rights.

        Health care is a foreign policy discussion; to control our domestic costs, we’re going to have to shift more of the burden of early profits to other nations (presuming those profits are required to support the desired levels of r&d). As we saw, the impacts of the financial crises were global, not just domestic, and the US domestic economy was, for a good time, in far better shape after than many other countries.

        So I think most liberals view foreign policy as stretching far beyond the powers of war and military and treaty, and reaching far into the domestic policies on the table. I know I certainly do.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        The biggest current debate is on torture. (30% of Dems in favor, 60% against, or something like that). Simply because you don’t interact with Conservadems doesn’t mean that their divergence isn’t one of the most fundamental splits in the party.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’m not certain a belief in the two state solution is congruent with being a Zionist.

        Then again, I don’t think having “nights of broken glass” is congruent with being a Jew. And any society that condones (and does not prosecute) such things is no longer civil.Report

      • Pinky in reply to NewDealer says:

        Zic, I think that most conservatives would see considerable overlap between foreign and domestic policy as well. More libertarian people would emphasize the relationship between limited government intervention at home and abroad; more traditional / neocon people would emphasize the relationship between government protecting rights at home and promoting other governments to protect rights. But whatever one’s politics, there’s rarely a wall between foreign and domestic policy. That’s one of the things that struck me as incorrect in the article.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer says:

        New Dealer – The issue with your last paragraph is that Israel does not, going by its actions, believe in the two-state solution at at all.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        I do wonder why Israel/Palestine fell off the map recently…

        Has anybody else noticed that? It used to be front and center.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        The cynic in me says that you really haven’t been paying attention.
        It further says that when people are constructive, there is less press.
        There’s a boycott going on, of Israeli goods and services. Seems its gathering a bit of steam. Great thing for folks to talk about, no? Except if you’re in America…Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Kim, I’m comparing to, oh, 8 years ago.

        You didn’t even have to pay attention to notice that Israel/Palestine was being discussed.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        frankly, hillel (hillel!) is exploding about this. It may not be a D issue of the moment, but it’s the biggest thing to hit American Jews since… 1950’s.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        For the peace of the blog, let us not have this conversation.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        A response


        I often find that many campus Palestinian activists or Palestinian activists in general know very little about Zionism, what caused Zionism to come forward as an idea, the long and complicated history of European anti-Judaism and belief that Jews could never fully assimilate into European society. They just see Jews as European and leave it at that.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Oh, Roger Waters. I hope you write an album about this.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

        What would he call it? “The Wall” is taken.Report

      • Pinky in reply to NewDealer says:

        “I do wonder why Israel/Palestine fell off the map recently…”

        There’s rarely room for more than one international storyline in the news. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea have all been bumped off the front pages for Ukraine. If anything, the current storyline seems to be that international stuff just happens sometimes and we shouldn’t worry our little heads over it. I suspect that this is driven by a lot of people trying to quell their consciences about Ukraine.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        aww, no lulz? No lulz. Kat is sad kat now.

        You find that many people are ignorant? Welcome to the club. The guy who runs Sodastream is an asshole. Giving him money is morally problematic (all moral problems can be fixed with more lulz!).Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer says:

        ND – I’m quite aware of the history of Zionism and the reasons behind European Jews feeling that they needed a state of their own. None of that justifies the way in which they are treating the Palestinians.

        And the article you have linked is disingenuous in the extreme. Palestinians vote for a government, but their government has very little power; the Israeli government has the authority over most matters which affect their daily lives, and they cannot vote in its elections. Israel controls all of Palestine’s borders, and controls all decisions about what they can import and export, and how much they can import and export through their borders (with other countries, i.e. Jordan, not just their borders with Israel), and how fast it will get through, and where they are permitted to go (both internationally and within the West Bank, by means of numerous internal as well as external checkpoints).

        Most of the West Bank is in Area C, where Palestinians are not permitted to use roads in their own country – the use of said roads is restricted to the invaders.

        Regarding water, Palestinian per capital water use is 25% that of Israelis, despite the fact that most of the aquifers in Israel & Palestine are underneath Palestinian territory, and it has been declining since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Israel has exceeded the amount of water use allowed to it under the Oslo agreement (which already allocates to it the vast majority of the water) by over 50%; as a result of this, and as a result of the water use by settlements, many Palestinian wells and springs have dried up. Within the Occupied Territories, Israel forbids unlicensed contraction of wells by Palestinians and destroys unlicensed water sources; I have been to a small village whose well and houses – they are now living in tents – were all destroyed by the Israelis, in order to push them out and enable the construction of more settlements in their area of the southern hills around Hebron. Israel has also claimed control of the Jordan River, which is used solely for Israeli and settlement benefits (there are extensive settlements, both date farms and industrial plants, all along the Jordan Valley within the Palestinian Territories).

        Use of any resources within an occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying power is a crime under international law, as is deliberate transfer of the occupying power’s population into the occupied area. Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories has been characterized by constant and extensive violation of both these principles, which has only accelerated since the signing of the Oslo Accords, and accelerated even faster in the last decade.

        Regarding imprisonment, Israel can and does use administrative detention to hold Palestinians for years without trial or charges; at the end of the six-month period they can simply renew the order and continue holding the person. They currently have some 285 Palestinians in administrative detention, without trial, charges, or access to legal counsel.

        And of course setting up an illegal settlement in an occupied territory and benefitting from both the looted resources of that territory and from the creation of a economically restricted population makes a company complicit in everything that Israel does to retain control of the Occupied Territories.Report

      • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

        Katherine, if I wasn’t absolutely certain it would turn into a nasty war in the comments, I’d say you should turn that into a guest post.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think she ought to do it anyway.
        But I’m in it for da lulz.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer says:

        Chris – I’ve been thinking of doing another guest post (or more than one) on Israel-Palestine, so I’ll take that as encouragement to get one finished. I did a post earlier on settlements and water issues that was supposed to be Part I of a series, but it was interrupted by getting a position with an NGO in Haiti (which turned out to not work out, which I why I’m back).Report

  8. Chris says:

    Do I have to like Chomsky and/or Nader?

    Though anti-imperialism seems like a damn good position to take.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:


      Anti-Imperialism is a good form to take but it seems to be used as a bashing tool and without any percise definition. People who talk about Empire tend to do so in a language that is tinged with conspiracy theory.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        ND, are you saying Chomsky is a conspiracy theorist?Report

      • veronica dire in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well, “conspiracy theorist” is a pretty loaded term.

        That said, I find reading stuff Chomsky says much like reading conspiratorial thinking, which to me requires that all data be filtered through a very narrow lens.

        But on the other hand, fighting over Chomsky gets tedious fast.Report

      • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

        People who talk about empire are often concerned that their government is deceitful or does things without the consent (or even consulting) the people it is supposed to represent. Sometimes this can sound like conspiracy theorizing. Sometimes it just sounds like reality.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        “People who talk about empire are often concerned that their government is deceitful or does things without the consent (or even consulting) the people it is supposed to represent. Sometimes this can sound like conspiracy theorizing. Sometimes it just sounds like reality.”

        This raises all sorts of interesting questions that are probably unanswerable.

        When does a government do things with the consent or consulting the people? How often must the people be consented or consulted? When do we elect legislatures and allow them to rely on their judgment? What would you do if the people were consulted by the government and the people agreed with the government and against the people who talk about Empire?

        It seems to me you can throw skepticism at the entire notion of representative democracy with your questions and this is another thing that separates liberals from leftists. I am willing to work within the confines of representative democracy which means that things take time and this can be frustrating. It also means that the opposition might win every now and then because the public perceives them as having the right stance.

        The Proposition system was initially conceived of as a way of getting around corporate controlled state legislatures. It has become an unwieldly mess of too much democracy as can be seen in California and produce many contradictory policies. It can also be hijacked by corporate interests.

        I often find that a lot of times people on the farthest ends of the political spectrum seem themselves as the Guardian class in Plato’s Republic. This is dangerous and wrong.Report

      • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

        Now we can bring Chomsky in. 😉Report

      • Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        Nice Chris.

        I’m not a Chomsky fanboy but I’m definitely not a hater. Almost all of his political stuff is empirical (as you know, and as you also know he calls it “clerical work” because he’s basically just describing) and if he’s wrong his claims are easy to refudiate. He does offer some very compelling analyses about exactly what ND is talking about tho…Report

      • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

        It’s been many years since I last met a real Chomsky fan, outside of a linguistics department at least.

        But it’s been my experience that most of his detractors have only had nth person contact with his work. Hell, the only one who’s read all of Chomsky’s work is Chomsky (and maybe the Chomsky bot. He pretty much writes an essay a day.

        What strikes me most about the unknowing anti-Chomskyism is how many people on both mainstream liberals and conservatives have been influenced by some of his older, basic ideas, like those you find in Manufacturin Consent. Look at all the critique of the media these days from both sides of the mainstream political spectrum and then read the book or just watch the documentary:


    • KatherineMW in reply to Chris says:

      No, you don’t have to like Chomsky to be on the left. He voices a lot of similar points to a fair portion of the left, and he’s a strong voice on anti-imperialism, but there’s also stuff in his writings that had me rolling my eyes.Report

      • Chris in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Right, I agree with Chomsky on a lot of things, and disagree with him on a lot of others, and my philosophical reasoning results in a similar political ideal (a form of anarchism). But I’m definitely not a fan, and I would recommend people read others before Chomsky.

        I can’t stand Nader, who I’ve never considered particularly left wing anyway. I mean, wanting to protect consumers and having a sense that the environment is important is pretty weak as left wing credentials go.Report

      • Kim in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Nader is a scab who pays people under the minimum wage, and then has the gall to be proud of it.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chris says:

      It depends on what you mean by anti-imperialism. Opposing actual imperialism is one thing but I’ve noticed that for some people anti-imperialism covers a bit more ground than simply being against what France did in Algiers or more recently the Second Iraq War.Report

  9. Burt Likko says:

    Since no one else has said this to @newdealer yet:


  10. j r says:

    I’ve just noticed something off about the way that this argument is constructed. The post starts out with this towards the beginning:

    The first issue is that politics depend a lot on the context of nations. This essay is solely focused upon politics and people in the United States of America.

    The second problem is that the terms Left and Right originated in a very specific historical context and have probably outlived their uses.

    These two things seem contradictory. If you’re granting that the relevant conception of Left and Right ought to be grounded in the context of present-day America, why does it matter that the terms originated in pre-revolutionary France? As I said on the original post, the relevant point of orientation ought to be the median voter.

    Also, it is important to point out that someone could write a very similar article pointing out the various groups that make up the present-day political right. Moderate, business-minded, Chamber of Commerce-type Republicans, socially conservative evangelist Christians, Ron Paul-supporting doctrinaire libertarians, Pat Buchanan-type neo-reactionaries, they all hold a collection of distinct positions that can be plotted all over the political map, but no one seems to have an issue of just referring to them all as “the right.”Report

    • NewDealer in reply to j r says:

      I would love to read a similar article about the right, it would be illuminating. This wasn’t meant to prove anything grand or unifying. It was just meant to show how I see the differences between the Democratic Party, Liberals, and the Left.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

      Agreed on both points.

      I don’t really see the point of saying that whatever definitions we arrive at for the American terms will still be inaccurate because of different usages/realities abroad. Maybe in some senses, but in what relevant one? We’re clear we’re talking about the American context here (I think?).

      And yes, we absolutely should be more granular in talking about the right as well as the left. It’s not a clear vehicle for institutional analysis in either case. Part of the reason I’m not as persuaded by the part of the argument that seeks to establish the current state of the right as I might be, I think, is that the same problem applies to Tod’s description of the right as I fear will apply to his treatment of the left. It would be a stronger (but also more limited, less sweeping) diagnosis of the problems (“Path”) of the right if the focus was on a better-defined, better-described institutional entity or complex. (To which we would then compare something correlative on the left. Which in turn would require an actual structural-institutional comparison between those complexes, which would allow us to see whether we’re comparing apples with apples or with something else – which can be done and would be perfectly legitimate to do!.)Report

      • zic in reply to Michael Drew says:

        On a national level, Congressional voting records reveal some lock stepping going on. Definitely true of Republicans during the GWB years; and some goodly amount amongst Dems now, so there is some masking of the granularity when your party holds the executive office.

        There’s long been a meme that Democrats are many small tribes in a big tent, and prone to circular firing squads.

        I suspect when the negative space of Obama wears thin as a cohesive policy to mask the right’s granularity, we’ll see some tribal circular firing squads, too; perhaps the Republican version of that is already flowering with primary challenges from the right.

        I think it’s illuminating to chart both the granular policies and the tribal oppositions; since obstructive governing seems to be vogue right now.Report

      • The GOP had a fair amount of internal dissentduring the GWB era. Especially after Bush’s popularity faded but some even before then. One thing they did have was Tom Delay who was an effective enforcer. But even then, he had to scramble mighty hard to get Medicare Part D through the GOP congress. Immigration reform failed, Harriet Miers was shot down, and TARP passed only because of Nancy Pelosi. In each of those cases there were significant splits among the GOP. I suspect pretty strongly that had Mitt Romney won in 2008 and gone forward with Romneycare-writ-national, it would have lead to split ranks among both parties. Opposition to Obama’s agenda has been quite uniform, some for the same reasons they would have had trouble with Romney and others (a larger group) because it’s Obama.Report

      • had Mitt Romney won in 2008 and gone forward with Romneycare-writ-national

        But… he wouldn’t have. Not even conceivably.Report

      • zic in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @will-truman, personally, I’d say those things minor compared to the things they did in lock step — Iraq (and off the books), torture, Homeland Security, Patriot Act, tax cuts, etc.

        Not to mention disabling (as opposed to dismantling) much of government function like FEMA and many regulatory functions, etc.Report

      • I suspect he would not have. I don’t rule out the possibility, though.Report

      • Most of those things had significant support beyond the GOP. I consider those less indicative of the things that need lockstepping to happen. The “disabling” as you put it was executive function. The tax cuts are the big thing, though that’s a thing that went straight to the heart of party preference (and was during the honeymoon – though the honeymoon didn’t stop some dissention for NCLB).Report

      • Okay, it’s conceivable. 😉Report

    • j r in reply to j r says:

      How granular you ought to be is always going to be a function of the conversation that you are having. If I am understanding @tod-kelly’s project correctly, it is certainly helpful to break down left and right into at least a few of their constituent components, because how the larger movement evolves will be a function of how those constituent components interact with one another and whether or not some of those constituents switch camps.

      At the same time, however, I firmly believe that politics is a lagging indicator. The Democrats didn’t end up in the wilderness because conservatives were able to trick Americans into thinking of liberal as a dirty word. Democrats ended up in the wilderness because their economic and policy prescriptions led to outcomes that most Americans found undesirable. Tax and spend worked for a while until it didn’t. The reason that Democrats were able to come back is that some of them made this realization and incorporated it into their brand of politics. At the same time, the ideological movement that powered conservatism through the 60s and 70s, found itself triumphant in the 80s and 90s and by the 2000s it was so successful that it had few real enemies to oppose and began to cannibalize itself.

      Is there a danger that the present-day Democratic Party is on the verge of doing something similar? I don’t see it. In part, because there is not much that is ideologically profound about the present Democratic Party; they’re appeal is mainly pragmatic and rooted in good governance. I don’t think that there is a pressing danger of some wing of the Democratic Party leading it off into the wilderness again, but I am curious to see the rest of Tod’s series.

      ps – If anyone is interested in the constituent parts of the present Conservative movement, this is the standard text: http://www.amazon.com/Conservative-Intellectual-Movement-America-Since/dp/1933859121. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the contemporary Conservative movement is that it has roots in earlier political traditions, but it really only evolved in the post-WW2 era.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        Democrats ended up in the wilderness because their economic and policy prescriptions led to outcomes that most Americans found undesirable.

        This is overly simple. Before the 1960s, the Democrats had a coalition made up of, I won’t get the numbers right, but let’s say 25% Southern racists. Then the 1960s happened, in which 1) two historic laws were passed by Democratic congresses (with necessary Republican help) and signed by a Democratic president that separated the Democrats from essentially all of that part of their constituency, and 2) a prolonged war was fought that separated the Democratic Party (temporarily) from the support of many young, activist idealists who otherwise would have been inclined to support them.

        The 70s were also a very bad time economically, and some of that owes to liberal policies, (though it’s actually not clear to me how much the public, as distinct from ideological analysts of political economy as well as less ideological economists, saw it that way, though no doubt to some extent it did), and no doubt that was a major part of the elections in the ’80s.

        So what you describe is part of it. But it’s hardly the whole story of how he Democrats ended up in the place they did in the 1970s.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        …But, as I’ve said before and going back to my point, IMO if Tod moved his institutional focus to the parties per se, I think that would probably improve the argument. (Though of course that’s speculative, as we haven’t seen the argument yet; also, clarifying the institutional focus wouldn’t have to take that particular direction or be that limited, but it’s one possibility that I do think would on net improve the argumentation.)

        So, more broadly, the way you come at this tracks, at least in the level of resolution you’re trying to operate at, the way I would probably wan to if I were attempting the argument (even if I might not ultimately choose the parties alone as the focus).Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:

        j r,

        Is there a danger that the present-day Democratic Party is on the verge of doing something similar? I don’t see it. In part, because there is not much that is ideologically profound about the present Democratic Party; they’re appeal is mainly pragmatic and rooted in good governance.

        I pretty much agree with this, which makes the appeal of the GOP so strange to me. Nate Silver has them as odds on to take control of the Senate. And they’re a good candidate away from taking the Presidency in ’16.

        Seems to me the really interesting question here isn’t why or how the left is moving towards irrelevance, but why and how conservatives and the GOP are so close to attaining major political victories despite the last 6 years of circus antics.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        The short answer are the economy, Obama’s lack of popularity (related to the economy) and for 2014 an extremely favorable map. For 2016, the candidate they need is one who will be at least moderately distanced from the GOP congress like Bush in 2000. My view (which could be wrong) is that absence the circus, 2014 would be an absolute lock and 2016 wouldn’t look so dicey.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        Nate Silver has them as odds on to take control of the Senate.

        To be sure, I didn’t read his piece on it, but the headlines said he had them as slightly favored to do so, not as odds-on. Was that mistaken? Or has he upgraded (I feel like that was less than a week ago)?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        @will-truman is largely correct. 2014 is a midterm election and those favor an older and whiter (read: More Republican) turn-out. The economy is still great. The Democratic Party is defending more seats in the Senate and many of those seats are in places that lean or trend red or if they are turning purple are not quite purple to blue yet. Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina strike me as prime examples. I am not worried about New Hampshire for the Democratic Party largely.

        However, 2016 reverses many of these trends and makes the map more favorable to the Democratic Party potentially.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:

        I think you guys are missing my point. The topic of discussion is how the Left is Sailing Away to Irrelevance on the model of the Right’s already having so sailed.

        But the right hasn’t sailed anywhere. It’s alive and well, gaining political momentum, favored to take the Senate in ’12, likely (if they can field a decent candidate) to take the Presidency in ’16. And that leaves out what’s going on at the state level. And all of this is happening despite what we here at the League refer to as circus antics outlined in Tod’s Sailing Away series.

        To account for the current projections as deriving from the state of the economy may be a valid argument, but if so, then it actually furthers my point: acting like clowns (Sailing Away) isn’t a liability for the GOP. They’re doing just fine. Better than anyone could have predicted back in ’08. They may have gone collectively crazy, as Tod’s earlier posts do a good job demonstrating, but the electorate seems to be eating it up.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        Seems to me the really interesting question here isn’t why or how the left is moving towards irrelevance, but why and how conservatives and the GOP are so close to attaining major political victories despite the last 6 years of circus antics.

        The easy answer is that the median American voter is still center-right in political orientation and circus antics don’t matter nearly as much as some people think that they do. To put it another way, politicians and the media like to flatter themselves into thinking that what they say and do is incredibly important and that the voters take their cue from the circus that they create. I’ve never believed that to be true.

        Voters make a very simple calculation: am I/is my community better or worse off than I/it was before and who is to blame? This leads directly into the question of why the Democrats move away from their fringe element while the Republicans have been courting theirs. And the answer to that question is simply that the the left’s fringe has long been discredited while the right’s has not. This is going to sound counterintuitive to some, but it’s not.

        Politicians, partisans and the media would have us believe that every contest is between a group of card-carrying communists who want to take our guns, abolish religion and enslave us all to the COMINTERN and heartless theocratic fascists who want give all our money to monocled bankers and watch the poor die in the streets. This is nonsense. The most salient political debates right now are about whether we ought to move closer to the small government model of liberal democracy or towards the robust cradle-to-grave social democratic welfare state. A meaningful difference, but hardly the clash of civilizations that partisans want to make it out to be, especially since individual policy arguments tend to come down to only a marginal move in one direction or the other.

        Here’s the thing to remember though. The left’s fringe is made up of people who would be radicals even in a social democracy. Democrats don’t court them, because they’ve largely been discredited. This sort of actual socialism is a boutique ideology that doesn’t play very well outside of the Upper West Side, Park Slope, whatever the Bay Area equivalent neighborhoods are, and certain college towns. The present fringe of the Conservative movement is certainly exclusionary, regressive, and quite unreasonable, but there’s nothing particularly radical about what they want. They’re affirming quite traditional American values of white supremacy, homophobia, and the supremacy of community over imposition by the government. These things poll very well. There are lots of people who think, “I am worse off now and it’s all because of those damn (insert scapegoat here).”Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to j r says:

        I just want to point out that believing that

        a.) Obama’s admin obviously isn’t responsible for the poor state of the economy.


        b.) American people x1,x2,…xN will vote against current D’s because Obama and because of the state of the economy.

        indicates that

        c.) American people x1, x2,…xN are either poorly informed, ignorant, or stupid.

        Personally, I believe c.) to be true anyway, but I think people (maybe not you guys) want to believe a.) and b.) without admitting c.)Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        This sort of actual socialism is a boutique ideology that doesn’t play very well outside of the Upper West Side

        Does it even play there anymore?Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to j r says:

        Also, electoral victories represent the causal influence of gerrymandering in the House, the right-lean of the regional (not-representation-by-population) character of the Senate, the lower turnout of younglings and minorities in the midterms, etc.

        We shouldn’t conflate electoral victories in the U.S. with a changing (or not changing) tide of political opinion or ideology.Report

      • zic in reply to j r says:

        @shazbot3 I don’t really think gerrymandering plays as big a role as people think. If it does, it works in both directions; so sort of flattens itself out.

        The the rural populations through the middle of the country and the south really are Republican; dotted with urban centers, some that are democratic. The House is not gerrymandered so much; it’s Republican because there are huge swaths of the country where most voters are at least pull the lever next to the R candidate.

        The voting blocks are clumpy; it’s not a smooth distribution.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:

        Will and ND,

        The present fringe of the Conservative movement is certainly exclusionary, regressive, and quite unreasonable, but there’s nothing particularly radical about what they want. They’re affirming quite traditional American values of white supremacy, homophobia, and the supremacy of community over imposition by the government.

        I think this is a better answer than the one you guys offered. 🙂Report

      • zic in reply to j r says:



        I tried to say as much earlier today at the NYT.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        @stillwater I have issues with the whole “Sailing to irrelevance” meme. Might have said so at the time, might not have seen it as being worth it. That said, that the senate map heavily favors Republicans this year isn’t a controversial statement. That they hold artificial and structural advantages in the House is also not a controversial statement (some estimates say that the Democrats would need to carry the national vote by a whopping 7% to win back the House). It’s just not right to mistake that for electoral strength. As @newdealer says, the 2016 senate map looks entirely different and even if the GOP wins the presidency there is a good chance they lose the Senate (if they even get the senate back). Senate elections always hinge on what happened six years before.

        @shazbot3 Politicians in general run on the economy, and the suggestion that they influence it heavily, so if we’re looking for reasons why the voting public tends to give it political meaning that’s one reason why. As it pertains to 2014, though, the real reason the economy matters is that I suspect it will affect turnout more than determine votes. A bad economy is discouraging to people that the Democrats don’t want discouraged.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:


        OK. But I still think you’re missing the deeper issue here, which is that the persistence of conservatism is immune to whatever happens on the Hill or in primaries or at CPAC or wrt immigration or Tod Akin moments or SSM bans or take-it-to-term legislation or a complete abnegation of responsibility to govern or whatever. There is no level of craziness – apparently! – below which a conservative voter will say “that’s enough, I ain’t doin it no more.” Tod’s Sailing Away series was a documented record of just how absurd the TP/GOP had become. The only part about that series he got wrong – in hindsight – is the irrelevance part. The party certainly sailed away to crazy town, but since ’08 they’ve made electoral gains despite that (and despite an absolutely laughable Romney campaign).

        There’s more going on here than which Senators seats are up for grabs right now. I mean, that just begs the question, no? Or perhaps concedes the point I’m making here?Report

      • Pinky in reply to j r says:

        “traditional American values of white supremacy, homophobia, “

        I hate the fact that stuff like this isn’t laughed off the boards.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:


        j r said that about the conservative fringe and not the entirety of conservatism or the GOP. (I tend to think it’s correct, myself).Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        @stillwater and @zic:

        For clarification, I did not mean that voters still vote for Republicans because they are a bunch of racist homophobes. Voters still vote for Republicans because we are still a center-right country. The point I was making was about why the conservative fringe elements are more relevant than the leftist fringe elements.

        There is no level of craziness – apparently! – below which a conservative voter will say “that’s enough, I ain’t doin it no more.”

        Why wouldn’t this be the case? Let’s say that I believe in small, limited government, low taxes and I oppose onerous regulatory regimes. Do those preferences just disappear because the party that once championed those things has chosen to put more emphasis on social conservatism? Why would I not vote for my particular Republican representative who says things that I generally agree with just because some other Republican in some other state said something stupid about rape? What’s the causal mechanism that would suddenly cause me to vote Democrat?

        @shazbot3 :

        You appear to have constructed quite the circular argument asserting that anytime a Republican wins an election it must be because either they had unfair advantage or the voters are stupid. I can see how that sort of thing might flatter your preferences, but do you really believe it?


        Have you read much American history? Saying that white supremacy and homophobia are weaved into the fabric of American society has to be one of the least contentious things that I could ever say.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:

        Why wouldn’t this be the case?

        In the quoted comment I’m observing, not criticizing. My only point is that the myriad assertions/predictions of conservatism’s death are greatly exaggerated.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        The currently relevant debate is between egalitarians and conservatives. It goes on many frontsReport

  11. Patrick says:

    There are differences in nuance and intentions… and there are differences in outcome.

    To some extent, I’m sympathetic with Jason Kuznicki on this… to the extent that the people and policies you support are not entirely aligned with your own policies, this is a bug of representative democracy.

    However, if your personal political ideology falls under the practical outcome that – regardless of your nuance or intention – you consistently support folks that have an agenda that produces some bad outcomes, you still kinda have to accept some ownership of that. It’s not just a bug, it’s also a feature.

    If you very consistently pull the (D) lever, whether you’re a card-carrying ideological socialist or a neoliberal capitalist, the nuance is somewhat less important than the outcome.

    A lot of these discussions center on, “I want my political representation to be a la carte (particularly) as far as I accept responsibility for the outcomes.” While this can be a somewhat interesting conversation, it’s also bogus to the extent that you don’t get to pick which parts of the party platform you support and which ones you don’t when you vote. You vote for someone or something, all of it.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Patrick says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree. I just wonder how many socialists or other leftists (including anarchists) “hold their noses” and pull the Democratic lever because the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils (in their minds) as compared to socialists, anarchists, and other leftists who refuse to vote Democratic and just take themselves out of the whole election process.Report

      • Patrick in reply to NewDealer says:

        To the extent that you check out of the whole election process, I don’t think that’s a valid response to the problem of representative democracy (and that’s where my sympathy with Jason ends).Report

    • zic in reply to Patrick says:

      However, if your personal political ideology falls under the practical outcome that – regardless of your nuance or intention – you consistently support folks that have an agenda that produces some bad outcomes, you still kinda have to accept some ownership of that. It’s not just a bug, it’s also a feature.

      As regular Joe’s, we have this overly simplistic view of politics — that our complex views should, as you say, translate into a party platform.

      What this misses is what Jonathan Bernstein refers to as party elites, those activists who volunteer, organize, fund raise, run for office, campaign, serve in office. They’re in part the folk you see as delegates at conventions, in part staffers in congressional offices; they have a tremendous amount of clout. As the Republican party has demonstrated of late, they can bring the views of a minority to the forefront of the polity.

      (That’s where the real control debate is going on right now; imo, between the Republican party elites — a struggle for control of the party mechanics.)Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to zic says:

        Agreed. As @j-r puts it (and which I neglected to pick out as spot-on so will do here), “how the larger movement evolves will be a function of how those constituent components interact with one another and whether or not some of those constituents switch camps.”

        If it were my piece, the interacting entities would be think-tank/rapid-response world –> leading movement media figures –> the major-party message managers, in part. their ability to control communications of mid-level candidates/campaigns (i.e. for Senator, Gov & high-profile House races). Esp. how the effectiveness of the latter gets blunted via career incentive effects flowing from the other entities. That function is weak in both parties, but a key strategic factor in how the crazy on all sides gets managed.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        I don’t think the Kochs vote. I don’t think they are activists. I think they pay other people to be activists for them.Report

  12. Kolohe says:

    I like this post and love the taxonomy, but this part is a bit impenetrable to me:

    “This part of the Left has never been part of the Democratic Party and does not want to be part of the Democratic Party. On contrast, the Republican Party has done a lot to actively court their fringe elements. ”

    How are the Republicans courting the left’s fringe elements? I wouldn’t call the “southern strategy” nor the 15 minutes of alignment with PUMAs in 2008 courting fringe elements of the left, because the groups being courted are not the left per your own taxonomy. And say what you will about Larouchites, they keep it real and always in the Democratic Party. So who exactly are the fringe elements that Republicans (and/or Tea Partiers) are trying to court?Report

  13. NewDealer says:


    Moving stuff downthread cause I dislike too much stacking

    “That train left the station” might have been a better metaphor on public transport 🙂

    Re: Sailing to Irrelevance and the GOP

    I think this happens a lot to parties in representative democracies and it can be sudden or just mean that the party is going to spend sometime in the wildnerness. The Republican Party was born from the sudden death of the Whigs. In the UK, the Llyod George’s Liberals looked like they would be dominate for years to come but were suddenly out of government and then Labor swiftly replaced them as the left-wing party in England with the General Elections of 1923 and 24. Asquith essentially signed his party’s death warrant by letting Ramsay MacDonald be the first Labor PM after the 1923 general election.


    I think of the GOP now as the Democratic Party was during the 1970s and 80s as Lee mentioned. They still have a lot of supporters and structural advantages but they are increasingly at odds with the younger and ascendent electorate especially on social issues. They also seem to keep shooting themselves in the foot when they talk about these issues on TV and in the media. Hobby Lobby might win at the Supreme Court but it isn’t going to help the GOP win over younger voters.

    I admit that I have a partisan stake in wanting this to happen because I am hardened from years of the Democratic Party being seemingly on the outs and I am a very partisan Democratic voter, a true Yellow Dog Democrat. I also might suffer from the “How did Nixon win? Everyone I know voted against him?” problem but it seems to me that almost every article I read shows demographic doom for the GOP.Report

  14. Will Truman says:

    @stillwater How are you defining “immune”?

    Immune from losing elections? They’ve already lost elections. So I assume you’re not talking about that.

    Immune from losing control of houses? In this respect, they’ve mostly been lucky. But the luck runs out in 2016 for the senate. The House they are in relatively good shape for due largely (though not solely) to gerrymandering. Luck there runs out in 2020 unless they get their act together. Senate elections are every six years and districts are set every ten. So it takes a while to catch up to you. And if the GOP doesn’t get its act together or the Democrats are finally better able to capitalize on it, it absolutely will happen with devastating consequences.

    Arguably, their irresponsibility has been so grand that absolutely none of this should even remotely be an issue. Here I have a hard time talking too much without going after the Democrats. The long and short of this, however, is (a) they benefit from a public that isn’t on board with either party and (b) a relatively high floor. But it’s put them in much worse shape in 2016 then they should be, and I would argue that 2012 was winnable and that Mitt Romney himself wasn’t close to being the biggest problem.

    So they’re not immune from consequences. They are immune from being wiped off the political map for a while. The immigration dividends won’t kick in for the Democrats for a while. That – along with young voters – remains the looming threat. The GOP has been intensely acting on short term advantage. Despite doing so, the short-term benefits have only yielded them the ability to obstruct. Which isn’t nothing, though as California Republicans have discovered, is not an infinite pass.Report

  15. Roger says:

    The left is a loose political affiliation of aggrieved parties and the various leaders and foot soldiers nobly fighting on behalf of the aggrieved.

    The preferred mechanism is cooperative, rational, orderly planning. The leaders and intellectuals make the plans, the soldiers (administrators, government service workers, etc), carry them out, and the aggrieved receive the benefits in a virtuous and self sustaining cycle of mutual benefit.

    As with all politics, the left is ultimately about power. Power in the name of the aggrieved, for the sake of the victim.Report

  16. Vikram Bath says:

    In the context of modern American politics, I would say liberals generally support civil liberties …

    Liberals : civil liberties :: Conservatives : fiscal disciplineReport

    • j r in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      I agree and would even go a step further and say that once once you more precisely define the terms, there are a number of ways in which the left doesn’t even pay lip service to civil liberties. If by liberal, you mean liberal in the classical or continental sense, then yes, liberals generally support liberty.

      If, however, you’re talking about contemporary American progressives, I’m not sure that the equation still holds. Let’s take the Bill of Rights as a proxy for civil liberties. The 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th are largely non-controversial and accepted across the political spectrum. The left is clearly supportive of the 8th and generally supportive of the 4th (although the left has carried an awful lot of water for the Obama administration), but quite dismissive of the 2nd and 10th and hostile to a number of elements of the 1st.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to j r says:

        I quibble with your assessment of their views on the 5th, 6th, and 7th amendments. We had a Republican president sign and a Democratic president execute law that allows for the killing of US citizens without judicial review, which any reasonable definition of “due process” would seem to require. If these amendments are non-controversial, it’s that it is ignored by all.

        generally supportive of the 4th

        Um, that hasn’t been my impression at all. Most people people on the left seem unworried by the issuing of general warrants by secret courts to obtain records on people who have not aroused suspicion.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        I’m agreeing with you, but also trying to give the most charitable assessment possible. I also start with the assumption that governments, be they of the right or the left, tend to find civil liberties to be, at best, an impediment.

        I was trying to suss out the things that each side at least gives lip service to from the things to which they are openly hostile.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        depends on the democrat. You’ll find quite a few gun toting liberals in rural areas — because it’s necessary to protect yourself if you can’t get the cops to you within 10 minutes or so.

        And no matter the amount of guncontrol, it pales in comparison to the gunsmugglers on the right (The ones that got arrested for using Ron Paul dollars).Report

  17. DRS says:

    Why does this matter? Why can’t you just drop the silly labels and not worry so much about them? Just discuss issues like, I don’t know, maybe just like concerned citizens? Would that be so difficult?Report