Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

At AlterNet, Joshua Holland writes about FireDogLake’s mode of attacks on health care reform and Dems in Washington generally. Holland expresses my own views on the matter, which is that disagreement isn’t the problem. It’s dishonest disagreement that’s the problem.

A big reason I started blogging in the first place is that the nation’s political discourse, as conducted by mass media, had degenerated into one lie on top of another. Instead of frank, factual discussion of issues, we got political hacks bashing their opponents with any disingenuous talking point they could think up. The nadir of this was the debate we weren’t able to have about invading Iraq, because any attempt at informed discussion was shouted down by Bush Administration goons shrieking that we had to get Saddam now now now. Mushroom clouds. WMDs. Gassing his own people (15 years before).

The Right came to dominate American politics because they became brilliant at exploiting people’s ignorance of issues to mislead them, and mass media were all too accommodating. You might remember that one of the first leftie blogs to cut through the noise was the late Media Whores Online. It was thrilling to see someone, finally, call bullshit on all political “news.”

While enacting progressive legislation is an important goal, to me the bigger goal has always been to heal our political culture and find a way to allow Americans to have factual, adult, honest discussions about important issues that don’t turn into partisan Punch and Judy shows. Progressivism ultimately is about citizens using their own government to improve the quality of their lives. I sincerely think that most Americans make sensible, and even progressive, decisions about issues if they understand them.

That’s why it’s so discouraging to see lefties fall into the same exploit-the-ignorance habits of the Right. Joshua Holland says that’s what FDL is doing. He criticizes an ad FDL put out —

My problem with the ad, which appears below, is its dishonesty.

Its take-away is a big, fat lie; the FDLers, counting on people’s ignorance of some rather complicated health-care proposals, are intentionally misleading their readers. I don’t have a problem with going after Obama and the Dems with a certain amount of ferocity, but it’s saddening when ostensibly liberal people try to score political points — or earn a little street-cred — by muddying some already murky waters in order to appeal to people’s emotions rather than their intellect.

He goes on to explain in detail how the ad is dishonest, which it is. He concludes,

All this does is further confuse people about what’s actually on the table and further the narrative that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference who’s in power or what their ideological leanings might be. It just stokes generalized anti-governmentalism rather than educating the public on the specifics of the policy debate so that they can stand up for their own interests. It’s patronizing.


I get it that lots of progressives are bitterly disappointed at how the health care bills turned out. Really, you don’t have to explain it to me. I’m disappointed too. And I absolutely agree that we need to speak up about that and keep pushing the Dems to the left. But how we do that make a huge difference. Digby writes,

Many people believe that the only thing Democrats understand is pain and so the thing that will change this dynamic will be to deliver them a loss of their majority and perhaps the presidency to show the consequences of failure to fulfill the progressive agenda. That certainly sounds right, except you can’t ever know exactly what lesson will be taken from this sort of pain and if history is any guide, the likeliest one is the simplest and most obvious: they lost because people preferred what the other side had to offer.

That is exactly how it will be interpreted, folks. And if Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts Senate race tomorrow, media and the beltway crowd will interpret it to mean Dems have gone too far to the left, and the moral they will take away is to become less progressive, not more. The citizens of Massachusetts don’t see it that way, but the rest of the nation will be told Coakley lost because President Obama’s agenda is too ambitious and too progressive.

And that meme will take hold and become political conventional wisdom faster than you can say “individual mandate.” Trust me; if Brown wins, any chance we might have had to push the health care reform legislation further left before the final vote will be gone. We’ll be lucky if it’s not entirely scrapped and replaced with a bill written entirely by Republicans and Blue Dogs. Or else health care reform will be shoved aside for another 15 years.

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