No Liberal Left Behind

You know, generally I’m a fan of Matt Taibbi, but his piece The American Left’s Silly Victim Complex has really and truly pissed me off. From top to bottom, I hated just about every word of it and its infuriating insistence on treating the nastiest stereotypes of “the Left” as what “the Left” actually is. I hated that fatness and femininity were used to show how despicably irrelevant, weak, and silly “the Left” is, that the images accompanying the story (which were probably not Taibbi’s choice, but I can assure you I would sooner rip my piece from the page that let images stand I felt misrepresented me) were of a weeping little girl, an antiwar demonstrator surrounded by pink signage, and a modern tie-dye clad hippy holding a gay pride flag. And most of all I hated the patronized, paternal tone that cast women and gays and the working class as people who should be represented by “the Left,” instead of part of “the Left.” Interesting that we are not a part of “the Left,” and simultaneously we are the symbols of everything’s that wrong with it.

It would take me hours, and cause me more aggravation that I am willing to dedicate, to fully respond to everything that’s wrong with this article and its repulsive arrogance, so I shall just pull two sections.

We all know where this stuff comes from. Anyone who’s ever been to a lefty political meeting knows the deal – the problem is the “spirit of inclusiveness” stretched to the limits of absurdity. The post-sixties dogma that everyone’s viewpoint is legitimate, everyone‘s choice about anything (lifestyle, gender, ethnicity, even class) is valid, that’s now so totally ingrained that at every single meeting, every time some yutz gets up and starts rambling about anything, no matter how ridiculous, no one ever tells him to shut the fuck up. Next thing you know, you’ve got guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats leading a half-million people at an anti-war rally. Why is that guy there? Because no one told him that war is a matter of life and death and that he should leave his fucking stilts at home.

Oh, yeah. Too much inclusiveness has always been my complaint about any congregation of liberals, like the fucking blogosphere. Since I started blogging, all I can do is lament the absence of the glass ceiling I’ve experienced elsewhere, because all this stratospheric equality and respect makes my silly little head dizzy. So dizzy, in fact, that sometimes I have delusions that I’ve spent hundreds of hours fighting over things like not blaming women for rape with men who insist that they’re liberals but, hey bitch, your attitude is exactly why I can’t “get on board” with the feminism thing. Sometimes I even have delusions that male liberals have written things about me like “She’s why the Democrats can’t win,” because I’ve insisted on things like caring about reproductive rights. And sometimes I even have delusions that straight male liberals have told women and gays to just sit tight and quiet down and we swear that we’ll get to your issues eventually, just after we win the next election, that promises from “liberal leadership” are measured in Friedman Units and often we’re neither included nor our viewpoints treated as remotely legitimate at all, that we are told to shut the fuck up.

Crazy, I know—but, like I said, all the equality and respect goes straight to my head.

In a few years it will be half a century since the 1960s began. The Baby-Boomer generation that shaped modern liberalism will soon be moving on to the nursing home, many of its battles – for civil, gay, immigrant and women’s rights, for workplace protections, and against the Vietnam war and Richard Nixon – already won. They did a lot of good things, but their fight doesn’t always make sense anymore.

Wow. So we’re going to eradicate racism, homophobia, and sexism within “a few years”? I had no idea! That’s quite good news.

Unless…

Well, I don’t want to go around accusing Matt Taibbi of privilege or anything, but maybe—just maybe—he’s one of those guys who sees the end-all be-all of the civil rights struggle, or the LGBT rights struggle, or the women’s rights struggle, to be the writing of a law that says: “You’re equal now.” Maybe—just maybe—he’s one of those guys who likes to roll his eyes at a black person who objects to Tony Snow using the term “tar baby,” or at a gay person who gets bent out of shape when someone uses “gay” and “stupid” interchangeably, or at a woman who gets angry when a guy disparagingly describes the American Left as “a skittish, hysterical old lady” and “cowering, ineffectual ninnies,” even as he begrudgingly admits “it’s true that … there’s unfinished business on the fronts of women’s rights.” Gee, ya think?

In the course of an article where Taibbi does make good points about much of the disconnect between for whom the American Left is meant to be fighting and who’s funding that fight, he nonetheless fails utterly to reach out to a single American Lefty who is one of the non-leaders, one of us with activism in our veins but not a hell of a lot of access. He does, however, manage to imagine the “Midwestern union member who was laid off in the wake of Democrat-passed NAFTA can’t even declare bankruptcy to get out from the credit card debt he incurred in his unemployment. He will now probably suck eggs for the rest of his life, paying off credit card debt year after year at a snail’s pace while working as a non-union butcher in a Wal-Mart in Butte. Royally screwed twice by the Democratic Party he voted for, he will almost certainly decide to vote Republican the first time he opens up the door to find four pimply college students wearing I READ BANNED BOOKS t-shirts taking up a collection to agitate for dolphin-safe tuna.”

Too clever by half. You see, I live among Midwestern union members, many of whom were first laid off long before NAFTA when our mills closed under Reaganomics. And a lot of them, well, they’re not just active liberals—they’re proud liberals. Which is more than Taibbi can say.

But they don’t make it into Taibbi’s article about what’s wrong with the American Left. Nor do any working class feminists (hello from Red Country, that place you fly over all the time!), or black community organizers, or gay tradesmen who are working with unions to secure partner benefits, or lots of other American Lefties who maybe don’t look like him. Instead, he quotes only Senator Bernie Sanders, author and activist David Sirota, and investigative journalist and author Christian Parenti—three well-educated, well-off white men with access—thereby suggesting that what’s really wrong with the American Left just might be him.

[Via Memeorandum.]

36 Comments

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36 responses to “No Liberal Left Behind

  1. Doodle Bean

    Wow! Thanks for that! I only skimmed the article, but found far worse than you spotlighted here.

    Weird that it’s published in Adbusters. What’s happened to them?

  2. amish451

    “…battles …already won ….”

    And on what planet, in what century does this guy trip ….?

  3. anangryoldbroad

    Maybe rich white guys ought to shut the fuck up now. As in yesterday.

    This is why I quit politics. I live in GA,the Dems here in my part of the state are worse than patronizing. It was fine for me to work for them and bring food,but have an opinion or an idea? Nooo,that was better left to the”professionals”. Fuck that. Why in the hell should I work to get people elected who give not a flying monkey fuck what I think or what is important to me?

  4. Melissa McEwan

    Why in the hell should I work to get people elected who give not a flying monkey fuck what I think or what is important to me?

    This would probably be a good time to mention by way of reminder that American feminism, or, as it was called at its modern genesis, women’s liberation, grew out of the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War, because liberal women were sick of being denied leadership roles in the movement and being told to make the coffee.

  5. I hate the way that modern liberalism gets treated as a product of the 1960s. Its history goes much farther back, at least to the New Deal. Someone who wants to write seriously about liberalism ought to know this. It’s relevant because we are still fighting over some New Deal institutions like Social Security. The 1960s may have seen the apex of 20th-century liberalism, but modern liberalism is much more than a group of hippies or college-age activists.

  6. Well, I don’t want to go around accusing Matt Taibbi of privilege or anything…

    I do! Matt Taibbi is a sexist jerk. I’ve said it before and had people jump all in my shit, ‘cos he’s like this big-time lefty writer and can’t possibly be sexist.

    He sounds a lot like this young gentleman who isn’t a “biased manpig” ‘cos he’s gay. Yeah.

    Still waiting on those monkeys to get to flying out my ass.

  7. Cough.

    Hey, it’s just as inherently useful as Matt’s idea.

  8. Melissa McEwan

    Its history goes much farther back, at least to the New Deal.

    Taibbi does address that in his piece, and does so thusly: “Here’s the real problem with American liberalism: there is no such thing, not really. What we call American liberalism is really a kind of genetic mutant, a Frankenstein’s monster of incongruous parts – a fat, affluent, overeducated New York/Washington head crudely screwed onto the withering corpse of the vanishing middle-American manufacturing class. These days the Roosevelt stratum of rich East Coasters are still liberals, but the industrial middle class that the New Deal helped create is almost all gone. In 1965, manufacturing jobs still made up 53 percent of the US economy; that number was down to nine percent in 2004, and no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs.”

    I guess he didn’t notice that whole “organized liberals protecting Social Security like tenacious pitbulls” thing a few years back.

  9. Word. I had a couple people, very nice people by the way, come by on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign about a week ago. I said I leaned to John Edwards, mainly because he had seemed, so far, like the least shifty of the three realistic candidates on GLBT issues, which then led eventually to talking about the overall Democratic stance on GLBT stuff. And they said, well, is there another party you would consider voting for?

    And I said something about occasionally toying with the idea of voting Green, and the conversation moved on, but the exchange got me angry. Maybe it’s time for the Democrats to stop taking GLBT-and-allies’ votes for granted. Maybe this time I will vote for somebody else. ‘Cause I do get pissed off about this separate-but-equal civil unions shit. Maybe I don’t need to support the Democrats if they’re going to keep pulling this triangulation bull every election.

    Except, you know, what’s the point? May as well stay home and not vote at all, if that’s the plan.

    ‘S frustrating, is all. End rant. Need chocolate.

  10. Liss, the Taibbi quote, “Here’s the real problem with American liberalism…” highlights the problem even more that the other quotes.

    As you made clear, he’s part of the (apparently, supposedly) liberal media “elite” — the lib reverse of the right wing talk machine. He’s reporting from the summit where the folks in the trenches — working on progressive goals from the grassroots — are seen as ants. They’re invisible. That’s the only way he could ever have written the rest of the quote, about the “affluent” left.

    Certainly, these types of well-meaing but, more importantly, well-to-do liberals exist. Still, I guess when you’re a liberal pundit with a national soapbox and a steady check, they’re the only ones you run into — ergo they’re what all liberals and progressives are. (Just like Rush and O’Reilly think they are!)

    If IF Stone was around to read this he’d kick Taibbi in the nuts.

  11. Arkades

    My, my, my. It’s astonishing how many ways we’re alleged to suck, huh?

    We’re too damn inclusive, so the freaks don’t know their place.

    Wait, no. We’re too elitist, because the working class isn’t interested in any of our fancy-shmancy issues.

    (Damned overly-inclusive elitists! They always ruin everything!)

    Or perhaps our problem is that we’re too engaged in groupthink… everyone is required to hold to the same set of fussy, overly-PC ideals.

    No, wait. Did I imply we were too much in lockstep? Hell, no… we’re too fractured! There’s no central purpose or agenda! All these special interests running every which way and demanding their voices be heard…

    It’s sadly obvious that Taibbi has internalized a lot of the liberal-hating memes spewed forth by ’90s talk-radio hosts to the point where he flinches at the very inflection of the word/

    Here’s a tip for him: if you’re embarrassed to be called a liberal, don’t call yourself that. Call yourself whatever makes you comfortable. But don’t sit back and tell the rest of us how horribly ashamed you are to be one of us. It’s deeply patronizing, as well as unconvincing.

  12. I just read that essay and all I can wonder is who the hell pissed in his Wheaties? He writes like he believes all the crap from the righties, and he also writes as if it is still 1980.

    As for his pals who are afraid to admit that they’re liberals, then it’s time they either got off the porch and did something other than just piss and moan about how “embarrassed” they are to admit they’re liberals.

    His biggest problem is that he listened to criticism of the left…and believed it.

  13. Arkades

    Oh, and another thing…

    In a pleasant and tolerant society such as ours, why on earth would liberals develop a victim complex?

    I mean, I could understand having a victim complex *if* we were routinely bashed, belittled, condescended to, misrepresented, vilified, and then treated to blathering articles criticizing us for our oversensitivity…

    …why, it’s almost as if the very phrase ‘Silly Victim Complex’ takes an entire potential set of concerns and simultaneously minimizes their importance while somehow also holding those concerns up to be ridiculed!

    Isn’t it kind of Mr. Taibbi to point out to us how *silly* we’re being?

  14. Yikes, that mention of the New Deal may be worse than leaving it out entirely.

    no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs

    It seems to me that liberals and Democrats are doing some of this already. Aren’t programs like the earned income tax credit, family leave laws, and universal health insurance supposed to address this group?

  15. no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs

    Or, better yet, to fucking listen to us.

    I know, that’s crazy talk.

  16. SAP

    Damn. Who the hell wrote that: Taibbi or P.J. O’Rourke? Cuz I distinctly remember O’Rourke writing a whole book that read like this back in the 90s.

    Either way, this article makes it look like Taibbi is trying to angle himself a cushy network job, and figures that taking the Carville route of beating up on his own is the way to go.

    And for the record, norbizness, I’ve already got the whole Aliso Viejo-Laguna Hills area title of “Crazy Leftist Christian”, “Wacko Vegetarian Enviro-Nerd” and “Global Warming Economic Doomsayer”. I would have gone with shorter titles, but my anime love kicked in, and I started making really long titles, like “Ultra Super Mega Thruster Eco-Geek”.

  17. Wow. Now I’m bad because I care too much. I’m holding the movement back. Bad, Bad, Naughty, Naughty me!!

    With “friends” like that, who needs enemas?

  18. Melissa McEwan

    Or, better yet, to fucking listen to us.

    Zing!

  19. Liss, I won’t defend Taibbi, Sanders or Siorta, but I think you’ve mis-read Christian Parenti and his great work over the years. As a sociologist who left academia for journalism and muckracking, Parenti has produced books like “Lockdown America” on the use of incarceration against the poor, minorities and increasingly women, and “The Freedom” on what is really going in the ground in Baghdad, especially to Iraqi women. Parenti’s liberal bona fides are well-established, and it seems to be an error to dismiss him simply because he’s a “well-off white male”.

  20. Melissa McEwan

    I think you’ve mis-read Christian Parenti and his great work over the years

    I didn’t even give an opinion on Parenti or his work, so I can’t imagine how you’ve determined that I’ve “mis-read” either of them.

    Parenti’s liberal bona fides are well-established, and it seems to be an error to dismiss him simply because he’s a “well-off white male”.

    I was neither impugning Parenti’s liberalism nor dismissing him. I’m quite certain his “bona fides” are just fine. I was making a point about to whom Taibbi chose quote in an article about how the American Left is detached from average people without, for example, a publishing career, which is perfectly evident from my piece.

  21. as i’ve noted elsewhere about this article, i find anyone who self-describes as “iconoclastic” to be highly suspect.

  22. t87

    “Weird that it’s published in Adbusters. What’s happened to them?”

    I’ve been wondering that for a while.

    Remember the article a few months ago that waxed on about how cool it will be after industrial society finally collapses and people are growing vegetables in old shoes? I still can’t believe that.

    I think that the spirit that animates Adbusters is really a very “conservative” one – in the sense that they like many self-identified conservatives idealize the past. Mainstream American conservatives idealize the American west, the 1940s and 50s etc. but Adbusters idealizes pre-industrial society. Both seem to think that everything would be just swell if we could get back to that mythical perfect past.

    I still buy the damn magazine, hoping that they will come around.

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  24. Marc

    “Adbusters idealizes pre-industrial society”

    A lot of the extreme enviro people seem to do the same, which is something that really turns me off environmentalism in general. I hate the outdoors; it’s full of ugly bitey things that want to eat you, and technology and science is responsible for all good things in this world.

  25. “I was making a point about to whom Taibbi chose quote in an article about how the American Left is detached from average people without, for example, a publishing career, which is perfectly evident from my piece.”

    It would seem that if you are dismissing his sourcing, however, you’re dismissing the sources themselves, but if that’s not the case, then point withdrawn.

  26. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    I THINK I have time to dash this off before returning to the Ministry of Silly Walks: :)

    Before I begin, let me inform any new readers that I am a straight pale male and “Suhthuhn” to boot.

    Taibbi has it bass-ackwards. The Democratic Party was still a strongly pro-union party in the 1960s and 1970s, when Taibbi’s precious Non-Elite White Guys started deserting the Democrats. You see, the Democrats, along with some honorable Republicans–yes, honorable Republicans once existed–went out on a political limb to do the righteous thing and end formal segregation, aka Jim Crow. The DIShonorable faction of the GOP–which today IS the GOP–lost no time in pandering to the racism of Stupid White Folks. This pandering succeeded all too well, resulting in the right-wing Royalist hegemony we know and loathe today. [Royalist=Elephascist=Rethuglican=Evil GOP Bastards] ;)

    The Democrats have made many mistakes since then, but it all started when the Stupid White Folks deserted the Democrats, not vice versa. Taibbi needs to pull his vacuous skull out of his rectum.

    Mustang Bobby has it right. Taibbi has internalized the right-wing’s hateful stereotypes of us liberals.

    Hey Matt, did you eat a brain tumor for breakfast? [OK, who gets that reference?] :)

  27. I can’t believe you spent that much time and effort on a rambling piece of garbage that for reasons unknown to mankind references “genital warts” in the third paragraph. See, that was my clue to use the “back” button on my browser.

  28. chillindisciple

    It’s funny how liberals like yourselves love what you believe is the truth to such a degree that when someone points out a truth about you that you don’t like, you hate him and bash him for exposing it, rather than doing some self-reflection.

    What ever happened to liberals being “open-minded”?

  29. zuzu

    Oh, noes! You criticized liberal men!

    This just reads like dick-waving, frankly. Sort of like the people who idealize Jim Webb because he’s macho, and are willing to ignore some of the screamingly bad sexist opinions he’s held in the past. But supporting him gives liberal guys who are anxious about being seen as feminized for aligning themselves with the issues of women and gays a chance to feel all tough in front of the Republicans.

  30. What I’m confused by is, what occasioned this article? I’ve seen Taibbi make some of these points before, and I thought that on some occasions what he was saying made sense. For instance, he talked about the giant puppet thing and the tone problem quite some time ago, after the (let’s face it) ineffectual protests outside the 2004 GOP convention. That was a frustrated but (I thought) smart response to a particular event and a problem that that event seemed to demonstrate. But this article — and its over-the-top invective directed at just about everyone — seems to come out of nowhere.

  31. In the pieces I’ve read, Taibbi is always long on attitude, and at his best does some great research and cuts through BS. At his worst, he produces crap like this. I’ve read a few pieces by him where he’ll make fantastic points, but then needlessly and inaccurately blame a group for the problem who just aren’t culpable. I really appreciate that he delves into class issues, but I think he’s just not an insightful critiquer of the left. Honestly, this piece reeks of “people who get on my nerves” and “people who aren’t as cool or hardcore or authentic or smart as me.”

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  34. JT Farasay

    Completely unorginal. These things are a dime a dozen among a certain group of freelance magazine writers. If you really want to get mad (made me mad, anyway) read this one:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1022231/posts

    Amongst persons of a certain ilk there is, I think, the belief that liberal and leftish thought is not sufficiently intellectual. So, they create the stawman that fits this view, then they knock it down. Voila, they’re an intellectual.

    But these guys are not nearly as smart as they like to pretend for their adoring fans– basically a small circle-jerk with the same couple dozen guys. Taibbi describes them pretty well, actually. I guess he wants in.

    And that thing about the baby boomers dying off. Well, how transparent was that?

    It really isn’t about politics with these people. Really.

  35. CalifSherry

    Brava!
    Question: how prevalent are the “proud liberals” you mention? I hate that we’ve somehow allowed “liberal” to be a word that divides us. Anything you can say will be greatly appreciated.

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