What That Guy Said

I think NYCWeboy is one of the best writers out there, and it doesn’t hurt that I usually agree with him. Even when I don’t, he makes a thoughtful argument:

The “Progressive Blogosphere” is, still, a catch-all term for an insular group that doesn’t like to acknowledge that blogging on the left, never mind overall, is far more diverse than they suggest. The largely white, overwhelmingly male composition of the “usual suspects” (you can make a case for exceptions like Adam Serwer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jane Hamsher, and some of the mob of bloggers that make up Kos – but they tend to be exceptions that underline the mindset), and particularly, the class similar composition of educated, elite professionals, leads to a narrowness in their pieces and biases that they rarely face up to or acknowledge. And it’s just the sort of myopia that’s made it hard to develop, on the blogs, a clearer picture of what is, and isn’t, working out with the Obama Administration.

And though it’s easy to make this case by highlighting the obvious topics where unanimity has prevailed – the discussions of healthcare reform that centered on a “public option” plan that sidetracked a great deal of other reform ideas, the “Obama vs. Hillary” fights of the primaries, trendy issues like food policy and environmental concerns where liberal dreams never die – I think the failings of the “Progressive Blogosphere” are thrown into sharper relief where there’s less clear cut certainty of thought: the struggle to define a progressive approach to immigration that makes sense and could actually be accomplished; the failure to make women’s issues and feminist concerns more central to a progressive agenda; facing up to the realities of our economic and banking crises and admitting that government spending and tax policy needs basic reform – on a wide range of topics, there’s a definite lack of “progressive” sensibility in what is, ostensibly, a liberal, left-side group of writers and thinkers.

Indeed, the real problem here is that “progressive” is so poorly defined, so hazily conceived, and membership in “the club” of the “progressive blogosphere” is less about what you think than who you know and how you sell it (or more to the point, sell yourself). It’s a term that’s either too narrow to be of much use (when applied to “A-list” usual suspects like Kos, Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Yglesias, Silver and on and on) or too broad (when applied so as to eoncompass everything from LGBT blogs to feminist blogs to environmental blogs and every catchy, interested subgroup in between). It would be better, healthier, and more honest to admit – as Chris Bowers and many other “serious” bloggers seemingly can’t – that blogging is what it was, only on a far larger field with far more options: an opportunity for many interested, aspiring, and serious writers and thinkers and visual artists to put their ideas out there, try to attract an audience, develop their own unique talents and point of view. Some will be successful, some won’t. Some will stick it out, some will fade out, some will, at some point, make it big.

To suggest, as Chris Bowers does, that what we have is all we have, or will ever have, is absurd. As absurd, really, as laying markers around a “progressive blogosphere” that simply doesn’t exist. Nor, arguably, should it: we’d be better served if, finally, some of the labeled “progressive” bloggers came out and burned the term, as well as the labeling theory that drives it. The myth of a “progressive” blogosphere, and the misty, wishful storyline of “brave internet pioneers” who hacked the pathway ahead of, well, us, is pretty much full fledged fiction.

The faith in this mythology serves no one well: it’s an obvious disservice to the writers and thinkers and analysts who sit, somehow, outside the circle; but it’s also a dangerous box to dump a number of reasonably interesting, occasionally brilliant bloggers. And it’s yet more dangerous because clearly, with a lot of cash and some old school clout – Tina Brown’s Daily Beast and Arianna’s Huffington Post, anyone? – some even bigger operations will sweep in and pull the “progressive blogosphere” out from under the romantic ideals of its defenders, turning some vague liberal bromides into a cash cow where “progressive bloggers” can also be defined as Demi Moore and Brad Pitt. Hire a few “names people know” – indeed, like the Times picking up Nate Silver or WaPo window-dressing their failing print operations with an online star like Ezra Klein – and you, too can drape an otherwise soggy old media business in “new media”, “progressive blogosphere” cred. Failure to define terms, draping under developed and unformed writers in star quality, sets the stage for opportunism and selling out. And pretty soon, It’s Progressive Blogosphere, TM.

Why not get off this merry-go-round? Let’s give some of these people time to grow (and grow up), time to see the world, to drink in complexities and thnk, harder, about how the world works. And more to the point let’s – all of us – stop dancing around hazy terms like “progressive” and do the hard work of developing some principles, explaining them, and seeing what ideas, policies and practical proposals we come up with out of them. Or let’s not… because I think letting go of “progressive”, as an alternative, is also quite attractive. Let the “progressives” go off and play with the unicorns and pegasi (and Ashton and Demi and Brad) and let’s get back to the things that should drive our politics: what’s real, what’s possible, and what needs to get done. Enough with the myths, and wishing on the stars.

4 thoughts on “What That Guy Said

  1. This is all fine and good, but, like the man says, it’s a wide group. How do we, as part of the conversation, proceed? Establish basic human rights, and proceed from there? And who agrees? Or gets to vote?

    I guess this is the new paradigm; time to listen to ourselves

    trendy issues like food policy and environmental concerns where liberal dreams never die
    I would disagree that these issues are trendy, or even progressive. The safety and quality of the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink – these should not be defined is “progressive,” or liberal. These would be basic human needs.

    This article points to a profound failure; of thinking old school – national movements and party lines, and success as defined by those standards.

    But then again, I’m a populist, not a progressive.

  2. Get back to the basics: as Karen Kwiatkowski several years ago noted “The great promise of the internet may be that it brings us back to the future, so to speak. In the 1700s, de Toqueville was amazed with our American obsession with information, our abundance of little newspapers, everyone a reporter, everyone with an opinion to share, and many interested parties reading and debating these opinions and observations. This energy struck him as uniquely American, and today, this energy is global, and it is embodied in the internet, in the blogosphere specifically. The blogosphere is that rough, raw and personal reporting, complete with elements of gossip and imagination. Mainstream media is establishment media, the kings’ notices to the serfs.”

    Or Get Back On The Bus

  3. The so-called progressive blogosphere has acted exactly like the mainstream media that they complain about so strongly–pushing narratives that are obviously false, even ridiculously so, playing favorites, refusing to admit their faults, and circling the wagons when their hypocricies are pointed out.

    The words liberal and progressive have both been twisted beyond recognition.

    I’m calling myself a populist. Maybe they won’t be able to ruin that word, too.

    Carolyn Kay

Comments are closed.