New Left Politics.
There's a strange tremor rumbling through left-wing politics right now. On the surface, it looks like a question of the spectrum--the old lefties vs. moderates debate. But I think it's more profound disagreement that stems from a generational view of strategy. Let's begin with Jonathan Chait's post yesterday. Following a post (sort of) praising Joe Lieberman, Chait took a lot of heat from a particular axis of bloggers (Atrios and Kos, though I think he was imagining a larger circle). He struck back, denouncing the denouncers.
This was similar to the whinge Richard Cohen offered today, blaming bloggers for assembling a "digital lynch mob." More and more, bloggers are equated with being at the extreme end of the political spectrum, the return of the Maoist leftists of the 70s--"the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations."
But before things devolved into a pissing match between the MSM and blogs, Kevin Drum pointed out a salient point: "if I have a problem with the Kossite wing of the blogosphere, it's the fact that they aren't especially left wing. Markos in particular specifically prides himself on caring mostly about winning elections, not fighting ideological battles." (Kossite? Did he just coin that; hey, how about Kossack?)
One more point and I'll stop retracing this (perhaps boring) internecine spat. Atrios added to Kevin's point by assembling a list of positions he felt mostly liberal bloggers would agree with--and shock of shocks Ed Kilgore of the DLC essentially agreed with the points.
Which brings us, at long last, to the point: the debate happening among lefties is new. In the old lefty debate, we had a purity test based on where you stood: pro-choice or pro-life; pro-labor or pro-business, and so on. I think this harkens back to a time when lefties ruled Washington. The tent was so big, you could afford to apply a few purity tests on your way to the next revolution. But bloggers like me who were born in the Nixon/Ford, Carter, or Reagan years have seen only pain and anguish for liberals. We've watched as liberals have lost power, lost their voice, and eventually, lost their way. Purity tests over abortion are, at this late date, about as useful as poking each other in the eyes with icepicks.
The new Lefties have a different purity test. It's whether you're willing to join the coalition and stay there, or whether you'll sneak off at the first opportunity to ingratiate yourself with the other team. Lieberman has become the bloggers' bete noir not because of his politics, but because we think he will sell out the coalition at key moments--as he has over the past five years.
A concomitant impulse among the new left is to play hardball. Most bloggers came up during the early years of Bush, and a lot of us opposed the Iraq war. Out of misplaced politeness and deference, the Democratic establishment failed the test of leadership by choosing politeness over their duty as stewards of the country. Nearly every debacle of the Bush White House implicates the Democrats who failed to function like a real oppositional party. So bloggers have been remain impolite.
As the Dems move forward through the midterms and beyond, I think we'll see more and more of a generation gap between the new left, given voice by the bloggers, and the old left. But as Atrios and the DLC have shown, it's not a gap about positions, it's about strategy.