Ross Douthat's comment on Matt Taibbi's Adbusters piece touched off some interesting discussion on the right side of the internets. James Poulos argues that the left is just as riven by "tensions and contradictions" -- in fact, he says, liberals are divided in the very same way -- as conservatives. It's a difficult post to quote selectively, but his main contention seems to be that both young leftists and young conservatives are finding themselves in revolt against a culture of homogenization, corporate banality, and "the open-ended expansion and entrenchment of squalid, overpriced, invasive, pancultural, inefficient, counterconstitutional, and therapeutic politics." To Poulos, articles like Taibbi's belie the notion of any triumphant liberal ascendancy. On the contrary:
Young leftists of the sort that keep Adbusters one of the consistently sane mags on the stands are now experiencing the sort of nauseous reappraisal of Democratic orthodoxy as certain young conservatives are concerning post-Bush Republican orthodoxy.This looks to me like wishful thinking. As I said before, what's odd about Taibbi's piece is that he's attacking the fringe left as though it were the mainstream left. It's one thing to do this when you're a conservative out for liberal blood; it's another to do it when you're a liberal whose views are, in fact, right in the mainstream of the progressive movement. The vital center of the liberal/progressive/whatever left is much closer to the American Prospect than to Z Mag, to John Edwards than to Reverend Billy.
[M]ost of the smart young lefties I know aren't interested in some grand convergence with disillusioned populist-conservatives; they're interested in harnessing the kind of "office-park populism" that gave us Jim Webb and Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester in order to dramatically expand social democracy in the United States. For some, this means a return the old-time religion (a higher minimum wage, strong unions, government jobs programs, etc.); for others, it means a smarter, more growth-friendly form of social democracy (think Denmark*, rather than France); for most, it means some combination thereof. But the overall model is still bigger government plus cultural permissiveness, not some kind of "small is beautiful" left-conservatism out to defend the permanent things against the ravages of modernity.And this is why, as he writes in another post, Taibbi's complaint seems to strike such a false note:
He's trotting out warmed-over Thomas Frank, kvetching about how the DLC made the Democrats "sell out on financial issues in exchange for support from Wall Street" and how "no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs" in a year when (as Matt points out) the Dems have moved so far toward the "progressive" wing of the party that Hillary Clinton, the rightward-most of the leading candidates, is running well to the left of John Kerry in 2004.None of which is to say that the Democrats are now, en masse, willing to take dictation from the progressive left -- much as I wish that were the case. But we are managing, roughly, to steer them in the right direction (and to be fair, Thomas Frank played his role in that effort). Nor does it mean that all of the left's internal tensions and contradictions have been resolved. Far from it -- yet for a number of reasons those contradictions simply aren't as stark and fundamental as the ones with which the right is faced.