17 December 2009

The trouble with Taibbi

The latest front in the long war between Hippies and Sensible Liberals is threatening to go nuclear over the half-assed Big Pharma handout posing as health care reform as well as the Afghanistan escalation, but the biggest shot so far has been fired by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone documenting Obama's wholehearted embrace of neoliberals in his economic policy team.

The debate is pretty much the usual for this sort of thing. The Sensible types accuse us of naive, puritannical immaturity who are interfering with Obama's 32-Dimensional Ninja Chess Mastery. Alternatively, we're putting undue pressure on Obama to do more than what apparent political realities allow. (This varies depending on which Sensible you ask.) Of the numerous things written on this topic, Taibbi himself has the most succinct reply:
First of all, we should get one thing out of the way — it’s not any citizen’s job to give a politician credit for his political calculations. In fact, that should rightly be part of the calculus of any political calculation; a politician should have to weigh the benefits of making, say, an unsavory insider alliance against the negative of public criticism for that move. If a leader doesn’t have to earn the admiration you give him, then a) that admiration doesn’t mean anything, and b) he will surely spend all his political capital on the people who do make him earn it.
Progressive activists should be fanatical puritans. That is the role they play in the political system; that is, insofar as Sensible Liberals share the goal of moving the range of what's attainable to the left. It seems to me that the Sensible folks are the naive ones. On the health care bill, for example, they happily followed the lead of moderate Democrats in declaring the most progressive solutions off the table by the outset. Then they are apparently surprised when Republicans and Blue Dogs cut out all of the remaining progressive elements of the bill during the inevitable bargaining phase. Why can't they see that our original bill was so rational and Sensible?

Ideally, Democrats and liberal apologists could use progressives to give them a left flank to use as a hammer in policy negotiations. They won't. Democrats won't care about alienating their base because they care more about losing corporate money than losing elections. And Sensible Liberal pundits want to be on the teevee next to Bob Schieffer, angling for a future campaign job with one of said Democrats by burnishing their anti-hippie bona fides.