Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Heartbeat of the Left?

Admittedly, I neither regularly read nor participate at the Daily Kos website. Talking Points Memo tends to be my blog of choice for left-leading political news and analysis. I have been following with modest interest the coverage over at TPM of the Yearly Kos convention, which has attracted the attention and participation of the Democratic establishment, in the form of the attendance of each of the presidential hopefuls. The convention coverage hasn't provided any momentous insight in to either politics or policy, but is still probably worth a look. My meager comments:

- Most impressive to me about the political left "blogosphere" has been their consistent and innovative appropriation of new technologies in engaging with political thinkers and actors, in broadcasting this content, and ultimately, in shaping the debate within the Democratic party. The post-panel informal interviews posted on TPM are a great case in point.
- While I think my politics are still consistently "progressive," I am less certain if I actually identify with the current community that is the political left -- particularly at the grassroots/blogosphere level. It is a horrible thing to say, but the still somewhat wonky, over-earnest, indignant, and slobbish political culture of the grassroots left isn't a great fit with my self-perception. Why does this image and these beliefs seem to be hand in glove?
- Since I practice my politics exclusively in bars, around kitchen tables, and at the ballot box, it is hard for me to really sense whether the political left is as energized and focused as commentators from this conference seem to think it is. Harder still is for me to have any idea how this measures up to the Republican political organization. But if the enthusiasm at the convention translates into political success, then wonderful.
- Steve Clemons' point, above, that the legacy of the Bush administration is to change the international order from one based on trust, to one based in fear is one that has been preoccupying me lately, though not in as precise a formulation. Will a turn over in 2008 be sufficient to restore some of the trust and reputation of our government, and of us as Americans abroad? Or is there deeper damage that needs to be undone, in our fundamental relationship with other countries?


Eli said...

It is a horrible thing to say, but the still somewhat wonky, over-earnest, indignant, and slobbish political culture of the grassroots left isn't a great fit with my self-perception. Why does this image and these beliefs seem to be hand in glove? "

There is definitely an image of the political left, which, once it has become a stereotyped image, is always an unattractive one. I could think of some additional adjectives. I think the self-perception point might tell us something more: that part of this culture and image are partly about the idea of politics as an avocation. People who live and breath politics all day long can easily come off in the ways you describe (although I'm also curious to hear about the slobbishness. Do you mean dirty hippies? i think you can just come out and say so if that's it). I also think the blogosphere left has some of this tone because in its current manifestation it is for the most part a phenomenon of opposition politics -- which are probably where most politics come from -- and easily falls into the frenzied and at times fevered tone facilitated by internet communities. (Think also of the soldiers of the right -- I think they too can be as over-earnest, indignant, and perhaps wonky).

So, the question is where does it leave people who have serious political beliefs but a laid-back mien (besides talking about politics at kitchen tables and bars)? Well, I can't really answer that question but think it's a good one.

Yet I think the idea of political culture is a key one. At one time such non-activists could easily affiliate with others who shared their political beliefs; politics had more of a cultural dimension (think of hollywood socialists, workers who participated in their unions, the anti-war movement). Without as many non-virtual ways to associate (see Robert Putnam), politics has become a profession -- and political action in what membership organizations exist often consists of responding to mailers or sending form e-mails. And the professionals often sound more shrill because they're no longer operating in an environment where politics has a connection to one's daily commitments, and instead have to compete with a media world that has less patience for broad ideas. (also see irony, dream book discussion).

The other point is that our political spectrum has changed. We're no longer debating wide-ranging ideas about the role of the state but finer points of what health care plan will work best to expand coverage without adversely distorting the market. Politics is wonky because we love economics (and the highly-educated blogosphere likes it more than most). Lurking here also is what positions highly-educated professionals feel comfortable taking in our national political debate, which mostly represents their interests.

By the way, I also think that the grassroots and blosphere lefts are very different ones. Demographically they certainly are (white, highly educated, wonkish, love to type, etc.), and functionally as well. Although I guess there is emerging a "grassroots" blogosphere, by which I mean a blogosphere that is actively getting involved in politics in the way of a grassroots movement.

Here's the description from a seasoned veteran of politics (decidedly non-slobbish):

Eli said...

the link wouldn't fit. try this: