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December 09, 2004

The paradox of Left2Right

Left2Right is a new political blog whose contributors include some of the biggest names in social and political philosophy. The blog's mission is to discuss ways for the left to communicate its message more effectively to the opposition.

Based on the mission statement, I was expecting a lot of Lakoff-style analyses--written by leftists, addressed to leftists, attending specifically to the details of crafting a message to present to the right. Basically, I was expecting the blog to be a more academic version of the Daily Kos. Instead, it's turning out to be more like a liberal Volokh conspiracy. This is good. The left needs a liberal academic counterpart to Volokh. Crooked Timber does some of that work, but it is by and large an academic blog.

So far, the Volokh Conspiracy more functionally integrated with the non-academic blogosphere than any of its liberal counterparts. Volokh functions like a think tank, supplying academically credible opinion pieces on topical issues. The VC makes good use of the blog medium, linking and being linked to by other conservative and libertarian opinion leaders. Liberal bloggers read VC and link to their posts, too. Blog-to-blog dialogue may be more efficient than blogger-commenter dialogue in terms of shifting the political discussion.

The posts at Left2Right are what I wish New York Times Op/Ed pieces were like: liberal, carefully reasoned, and clearly written. For better or worse, Left2Right is engaging the right wing much more directly than I expected. That's a nice way of saying their blog has been infested by right wing trolls. I'm not sure if the blog's authors anticipated this reaction or not. Maybe they are hoping to engage directly with the trolletariat. In which case, they have more confidence in the good faith of the average Freeper than I do.

It's heartening to see academics who are willing to talk politics with the general public. The dynamic at Left2Right is different than in the comments threads at other liberal blogs. Usually, bloggers say their piece and leave commenters to hash things out amongst themselves. At L2R many the contributors tend to write at least as much in the comments threads as they do in their posts.

This is exactly the kind of exchange that many on the right claim to want. I've heard so many bitter denunciations of alleged ivory tower academics who aren't interested in making their views intelligible to the average person. Now I'm hearing a lot of bitter rants about what nerve these academics have to condescend to everyone else.

I'll make two suggestions, one to the liberal blogosphere and one to L2R. Liberal bloggers, the academic left needs our support to help start that "movement" we're always wishing we had. The right wing has been farming its experts for 30 years and now they're reaping the benefits. (These benefits include the platform they have created to lie about the liberal bias of the news media and the average academic. Ironically, the vitriol directed towards L2R is a symptom of the legitimization of the anti-intellectualism and paranoia spawned by the right wing's own intelligentsia.) So, link to L2R. Help them spread the word.

My suggestion to L2R is simpler: user registration for comments.

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Comments

I have to wonder whether the experience of being Freeped will shake Rorty's faith in the solidaristic communicative community? If he and his colleagues can stand it, I agree with you that L2R has the potential to be a powerful communicative arena for the democratic (small "d") left.

"trolletariat". Brilliant. If you just invented that word, you deserve a Nobel Prize at the very least.

Now this is an analysis I can agree with. I hadn't really considered this was the case, given the hype that it was marketed with. I don't know about the suggestion of having registered commenters, though. It depends on what they're trying to accomplish. Myself, I think the trend cuts off an anthropological treasure trove of information - you literally can't make the stuff up that commenters spew forth (from the left and the right). Lord knows it can be infuriating and quite a pain to maintain - not to mention the real possibility of a Moxie event popping up in the heaving chaos.

One of the things I think is great about academics blogging is the exposure they get of the terribly ugly and chaotic real world. And by requiring another barrier which filters that brutal and organic mob is going to remove that exposure. People act differently when they are required to reveal themselves, and that adds an artificial air of civility and etiquette.

It depends on what they want out of it. Myself, I'm enjoying the heck out of their comment threads. And if they truly want to deal with the thorny subject their blog title proclaims, then this issue is the one that has to be dealt with before any more loftier goal can be achieved.

Thanks for the post.

The folks at Left2Right should be congratulated for attracting a superior breed of trolls. I read through many of the comments on the site, and notice that most of them do make a good faith attempt at a real dialogue. The site hasn't yet degenerated into the sort of stinkbomb throwing that ruins so many comment threads elsewhere.

Thanks, Majikthise --

I wish we could use registration for comments. Typepad doesn't offer that feature. (When I chose a hosting service, I had no idea what I was looking for).

Yes, several of us are wading into the comment stream, but I'm not sure how long we'll be able to keep that up. We do have day jobs!

As long as you think they are the Trolletariat, and they they know thats what you think, you won't get much of an audience with those whom you seek to enlighten. The condescension has been obvious in the initial L2R offerings. You gotta lose that.

Laudable though their intentions may be at Left2Right, I'm not sure there is a lot to be gained by attempting to have a dialogue with the Right. Anyone who is thick enough to continue supporting GW Bush at this point is probably beyond salvation.

Better to go out and register 100 new voters. It's more rewarding and politically effective...

Rest my case.

I'm not "right-wing" at all and in fact have far more in common with the average Democrat than the hard right. However I voted for George Bush and a big part of the reason is the attitude typified by people like Peter Jung. You guys need to tell the Michael Moore / MoveOn wing to drop dead, because there is zero chance I will vote for a Democratic administration until you purge the America-haters.

I'm not "right-wing" at all and in fact have far more in common with the average Democrat than the hard right. However I voted for George Bush and a big part of the reason is the attitude typified by people like Peter Jung. You guys need to tell the Michael Moore / MoveOn wing to drop dead, because there is zero chance I will vote for a Democratic administration until you purge the America-haters.

You're "really a Democrat", but you voted for Bush because you want to punish the Democrats for Moore (a private individual) and Move-On (an independent organization)? Why don't you demand that Bush drop "The ACLU caused 9/11" Jerry Falwell or "We'll hunt liberals with dogs" Don Young?

See, the fact that you describe Moore and Move-On as "America-haters" tells me that no matter what you say here, you really are right-wing, you're not really a Democrat, and there's nothing the Democrats could do to get your vote, short of just becoming Republicans with a different name. "America-haters" just has right-wing talking-point stamped all over it. Seriously, if you're going to do that "The Democrats must move right" schtick, you need to be more subtle about it.

Hello Paperweight,

The fact he voted for GWB doesn't mean he voted for even one other Rep candidate, and his reasons (MoveOn and Michael Moore), don't mean he's anything but at least slightly right of center--not necessarily far right of center.

Keep on alienating that middle, I'll keep celebrating other-than-leftist victories.

Yours, Tom Perkins

molon labe
montani semper liberi
para fides paterna patriae

2 Questions:

1) Matthew Cromer,

Ignoring Michael Moore for the moment why do you think MoveOn hates America? What's your evidence for that? Where has their criticism of the government crossed the line? Seriously, I'm interested.

2) George Smith,

Can you offer any particularly outrageous examples of condescension by L2R? Yeah, they've got a tone and a perspective to their posts; but I've yet to read anything over there that really made me think "get off your high horse". Are you sure it's not a matter of perspective?
How different is their tone from the tone of stuff by Sullivan, at Instapundit, over at the Corner, or other conservative sites? It seems to me that they have a similar "I know what I'm talking about" voice. If anything it strikes me that they're a lot more haughty and full-of-themselves - but that may be because I strongly disagree with them.
Are there any liberal sites or writers where you have no problems with the tone?

I took at look at L2R based on your suggestion. The two long comment threads on gay rights were pretty hair-raising. I would say the 'phobes outnumbered the "liberals" by about 3 to 1, and I didn't see *any* comments from anyone self-identifying as gay/lesbian/bi. As one would expect under these circumstances, there was a little too much batting around of questions like "Is homosexuality more like bondage fetishism, or more like pedophilia?" for my taste. I'll check out the postings from time to time, but I don't have the stomach for this kind of "debate."

Mathew Cromer,

Please articulate what it is that you find so reprehensible about Michael Moore and MoveOn. What have they done that you consider out of bounds or inappropriate? Together, they brought millions of new voters to the polls while the Republican party was doing everything it could to minimize voter particition. And they did it using mostly small donations, as opposed to the corporate-sponsored outfit that you support.

Tell us, what do you find so offensive about real citizen participation in our democracy?

Uncle Kvetch: I didn't have the stomach for it, either, so I closed the thread. I apologize for letting it go on as long as it did.

The "Left to Right" concept is flawed. The only thing that can be done with most of the right is to defeat them. Politics is a competitive enterprise, and to put it in the most cliche terms, dialogue is not included among the appropriate ways for an opposing football team to deal with Oakland Raiders.

There really do exist trolls whose purpose is to derail and ruin their opponents' threads by any means necessary. Many of them believe that if they don't use obscene language and threats they can't be called trolls, but swamping a thread with contentless posts, changing the subject, creating diversions, denying known facts, etc. are just as hostile and just as objectionable.

A common type of troll is the "lifelong Democrat". Is George Smith a "lifelong Democrat"? Sort of looks like it.

Opening to moderates and conservatives among the voters is something worth doing, but people who spend a lot of time making harsh comments on liberal threads aren't the people you want to reach, and they don't really WANT us to reach out to the voters.

The polarization of the US is an actuality. The goal isn't to become one big happy American family. It's to get the Democratic vote up to about 55% or so (which you'll need to control Congress) and make the 45% miserable. That's how Rove plays, and he's winning. (Though of course, because of the Red overrepresentation in the Senate, he needs fewer votes).

I've seen worse troll threads than the one at L2R I just visited, but claiming that liberals are America-haters who don't care at all about terrorism isn't exactly thoughtful dialogue. And, as a loathesome elitist, I have to say that people who "feel" that the Democrats aren't serious about terrorism (just because they didn't nominate Lieberman?) never seem to be basing what they say on anything more serious than the "Wolves" ad.

Why did Clarke and Beers ditch Bush and join Kerry? What did the 9/11 report actually say about the Bush team's pre-9/11 performance? These things never come up in these arguments.

John Emerson,

Amen. Posters like Mathew Cromer have declared that they would not even consider voting Democratic until the party renounces both Michael Moore and MoveOn. Since there is absolutely zero likelihood of that happening, what use is there in beating our heads against the wall trying to alter his political outlook? I could hit the street and register 1000 new voters in the time it would take me to convince one right winger of the error of his ways. Reaching out to independents, moderates, and unregistered voters makes sense; reaching out to the partisan Right is an exercise in futility.

Peter, while in the abstract I admire your enthusiasm for registering new voters, in the time it takes you to register 1000 new voters, I or someone like me will probably have registered 1005 to 1100 new Republicans. To put it another way, the 50th percentile Democratic voters, measured Left v Right, are at a lower percentile than 25% with respect to the American population that cares to vote (admittedly, so far), when measured Left v Right.

You can change your views (platform planks), or you can change how your party is viewed (fool the electorate), but the Republicans need only match your efforts to win consistently when you restrict your effort to turning out the vote.

I went to Columbus, OH from Northern VA by car Monday night to participate in the GOP GOTV on 11/02, and I recall we were pretty much hanging on to hope by the skin of our teeth until about 5:30pm and further on, when the working people in OH began to get their kids fed and the sitters arrived, and then instead of answering machines I started hearing kids or their sitter saying, "Mommy and Daddy went out to vote." I was still calling at 7:15pm, and telling people that if they got in line by 7:30, they had to let you vote.

You lost because in a number of states commanding an Electoral College victory, you were a party in the monority.

If you continue as a party to behave as you have WRT the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Republicans in the next presidential election will pick off some combination of OR, WA, MI, WI, or PA.

I prefer a healthy opposition party.

Yours, TDP
ml
msl
pfpp

monority=minority

yeah

Tom, why should we take helpful advice from a committed Republican? As I said, you're on the other team. We want to beat you, but we don't care what you think. You won this time, and you may win next time, but advice from you is worthless if not harmful.

No, you don't want a healthy opposition party. You want a conservative opposition party which you're still able to beat. And you like to fuck with the heads of Democrats silly enough to pay attention to you.

Everyone else: the real variable here is the conservative echo chamber. Who is the liberal O'Reilly? Hannity? Limbaugh? Russert? -- and so on. Major media figures are conservative, centrist, or feeble stooges. Without new media, I do think the democrats are doomed. It's not about changing the message or getting better candidates. It's not even about revitalizing the Democratic Party, though that needs to be done. As long as the media is the way it is, we will lose.

[Cue troll to whine about the liberal media].

I generally support the Left2Right concept - but at times it looks like a sociology experiment gone haywire. There is an inherent problem in comments - they are what makes the blog interactive and drives certain people to read posts - but the dynamic character of conversation is problematic. So what Left2Right post authors seem to have is a quick trigger finger on closing comments sections (which I assume is at the discretion of the post author).

I would recommend that the post authors do not do this unless absolutely necessary. On a post on discussing the "Support The Troops Ribbon" phenomenon , I had a conservative poster engaged in a conversation on troops voting for Bush. Maggie stated that she was glad the troops got the Commander in Chief they wanted since 70% voted for him (I paraphrase). I responded that if we wanted to support our troops doesn't that mean we support 100% of them, regardless of who they voted for. I actually got a reasoned response from her and posted another response, but then the post was closed for comments. Academics need to appreciate the wild west nature of blogging and let them grow and evolve - they have to get rid of the desire to control the conversation - otherwise just post white papers and turn off comments altogether.

Tom Perkins wrote:

"You can change your views (platform planks), or you can change how your party is viewed (fool the electorate), but the Republicans need only match your efforts to win consistently when you restrict your effort to turning out the vote."

Tom,

Read Ruy Teixeira's "Emerging Democratic Majority" for some demographic analysis that ought to scare the pants off any Republican. As the minority population grows relative to the population at large, the Democrats will enjoy an inherent structural advantage.

Of course, this discussion is moot if we don't succeed in getting the voting apparatus fixed and made verifiable. Wresting control of the vote tabulating function from Republican-controlled firms like Diebold and ES & S would be a nice step in the direction of real democracy.

John, you do not understand my political views, they are found immediately below:

Actually, I'd prefer for there to be a viable Libertarian Party candidate; lacking that, the Republicans will have to do. I'd actually be the first to say GWB's downsides are almost as large as his upsides. What motivated me to go to OH was Kerry. The man was a topographic Klein bottle, he was all downside. I assure you that if either Lieberman or Dean had gotten the nod (or the LP had nominated Russo--with the possibility of his being unignorable by the MSM), I wouldn't have been as motivated.

I do want a healthy opposition party, it will help keep the GOP healthy, and it's past time the Dem/Left to get on with it. Either that or fragment in some fashion that creates an amalgam of Old Right and Libertarian interests that could motivate me abjectly and completely. Until this year, I’d never given the GOP any time or money. That’s what nominating Kerry did for you. I don’t think I need to mention how your nominating Hilara would motivate me—she’s the best example of the worst of her generation. Kerry was a close second.

But for so long as it is an ideological embarrassment for the GOP to go into deficit spending rather than cut services, where for the DP it is practically a sacrament, the GOP is the best place for me to put my efforts. I believe each party is steering us towards an unconstitutional totalitarian government, the Dem/Left wants us to like the old SovUnion—but somehow nicer, and the GOP wants us to be like Singapore—but somehow nicer. At least the GOP version includes some meritocracy and understanding of economics, even at its extreme, it’s still better.

And as far the “cue troll to whine about the liberal media” crack goes, here you are. Even Fox and Drudge are really quite middle of the road. I submit to you that there are no genuinely conservative or libertarian MSM outlets, and that the shrinking “Big Three” networks are in fact left of center. In fact they are about as left of center as the median Democratic Party voter.

Peter, while I completely agree that there should be a voter-verified paper record, I dispute the contextual implication that the lack of that had anything to do with GWB win in any given precinct, let alone the nation. I was there to myself see the increasing proportion of Bush voters going to the polls late in the day (at least for the poll flush sheets I was calling them off). I can tell you the 11am flush sheets had some folks take on a pasty green color. By 7pm, they were better—but the issue was held to be in doubt until about 9pm when internal updates called it for Bush.

Teixeira may be correct, time will tell. How well the very large illegal immigrant populations of, for example, Texas receive the “guest worker” idiocy GWB proposes and Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant proposition are going to show how that goes. I have to point out that it does the Dem/Left no good to increase the proportion of their wins in states on which they already have a lock; they need to win states they now tend to lose.

There are serious structural problems in the Dem/Left party which even the evolution Teixeira suggests does nothing for. The fealty paid to the educator unions works against the best interests of the students and parents in any inner city school. Increasing the legal participation of recent Hispanic immigrants in the political process diminishes the relative importance of the African American vote, and to the extent it does, it influences them to cast their votes more on the basis of their socially conservative views. The AARP votes in direct opposition to best interests of young working people.

There is also no indication I find to be persuasive, also, that even illegal Hispanic immigrants will remain militantly leftist in succeeding (and economically successful) generations. For that to be even possible, the Dem/Left must destroy their possibilities for success outside of the Dem/Left political redistributionist milieu—for example by mandating dual language (or even Spanish only) schools which isolate them from the economic mainstream, and by taxing them heavily and then giving their money (augmented by the taxes a Republican pays) after they kiss the Dem/Left episcopal ring.

I have to point out that the fractions of GWB’s constituency which are getting the most attention from the Dem/Left, the evangelicals, in fact did not increase the proportion of GOP votes they delivered over the year 2000 elections. Bush owes them no more now than he did then, all GOP constituencies turned out in equal measure in proportion to each other—together, they outnumbered the democratic constituencies by about 1.5%, ergo, the Dem/Left is a minority party.

I am unaware of any areas where the Dems can make fundamental changes to their platform without alienating as large a chunk of their current base as they seem likely to gain by making the change. An exception would be to affirm an “original intent” interpretation of the 2nd Amendment (confirming WV, MI, WI, AR, TN, et al to the Dem/Left fold), but I’ve already seen the Dem/Left debate and dismiss that option, insofar as the DU forums are any indication.

I can tell you with perfect truth and candidness that now and for the foreseeable future, I hope the Dem/Left party is a healthy opposition party…just one that remains a minority party.

Sincerely, Tom Perkins
molon labe
montani semper liberi
para fides paterna patriae

and by taxing them heavily and then giving their money (augmented by the taxes a Republican pays) after they kiss the Dem/Left episcopal ring.

should read

giving their money (augmented by the taxes a Republican pays) back to them

TDP, remembering, always throw away the first draft, always throw away the first draft...

Sorry, Dan, now that I understand what you've been trying to say, I think that you're batshit crazy. I have no idea what it is that made you decide that Kerry was so awful as to be even worse than Bush, whom you apparently also dislike. And I don't want to know, either.

I agree that there are no major libertarian media out there, but why should there be? There aren't very many libertarians, the various libertarian factions hate one another, and most libertarians are nuts.

I suppose that it's also true that there aren't any real conservative media either, but the idea that Fox is left-of-center is loony too. Please don't try to explain.

Sometimes the excuse or explanation is worse than the original statement. I'd be happy never to read your words of wisdom again as long as I live -- but I fear that fate will have it otherwise, alas.

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