The Left-Wing Blogosphere and Geithner: A Case Study of Immaturity

March 24, 2009

It’s been a few months since I stopped participating in discussions at DailyKos. I left at the time because I felt that it was devolving into a series of endless outrages and microscopic arguments over the day-to-day minutiae of what was, at the time, just an administration in transition. I still read the site and check it out daily – and since I left I am grateful that I no longer have to get into mindless arguments with people (not everyone there, just the most vocal) who define themselves as consistently oppositional, utterly impractical, and deeply immature.

It was clear since November 5th that the blogosphere wasn’t going to unite behind Obama and form an organization to help him enact his agenda. No, that would be too Republican for them – too “mindless” – too much like the Bushies of yesteryear who failed to question the Iraq War, etc etc (note, I’m using their arguments, not mine). But even in my worst nightmares I didn’t imagine that they would be so short-sighted as to join with far-right members of the GOP in demanding that the Treasury Secretary step down two months into an effort of economic recovery. Even the supposed “adults” are joining in the game: Arianna Huffington joined in the chorus. Perhaps most distressingly, Frank Rich, normally so astute at seeing past the Northeast Corridor bubble at what the pundits miss, insultingly calls the AIG bonuses Obama’s “Katrina Moment,” despite evidence that, in the real world, this media-ginned-up outrage wasn’t hurting Obama’s poll numbers (and yes, I personally believe the AIG bonus debacle is a tempest in a teapot – a distraction for those who can’t handle the notion that economic recovery might involve some unfairness).

Al Giordano smartly points out that Geithner’s departure would be a disaster for economic recovery, makes no strategic sense now, and illustrates how few of his critics are proposing a realistic alternative – both to his plan and to his position. He posted his piece to DailyKos, spurring the usual amount of “oh you are just saying we can’t criticize Obama” nonsense. Indeed, more than a few members of DailyKos have pointed out how eagerly the community and the left-wing blogosphere has been drinking from the spout of God Krugman. Yes, I know, there are plenty of economists who dispute the validity of Geithner’s bank rescue plan, and they could indeed be right. But not one of them has to deal with the practical nature of governing, nor do very few of them propose alternatives (Krugman believes in nationalization/receivership – but rarely discusses how ugly this would be, entirely ignoring the IndyMac example).

But this isn’t even my main point: my main point is that to listen to the whims and passions of some of these communities is a foolhardy endeavor. Remember how we all loved to pile on Kristol or Friedman and attack them for their poor track records of getting things wrong? Well – let’s see what happens when we apply that test to some folks in our own world.

I know, it’s poor form to call out a specific blogger…but hey, this is my site and I’m no longer on DailyKos. So let’s pick the most jarring example: a young blogger named Slinkerwink. Now, I know Slinkerwink. In fact, we worked together on a blog last year during the election. In those days I allowed my passion to get the better of me, and got caught up in some of Slink’s more virulent attacks on Obama’s campaign strategy. Well, I realized by the fall that I was wrong – and have admitted as much many times since. Slinkerwink still was convinced she was right in her diatribes against Obama’s campaign strategy. Fair enough. But given the degree to which she invested her heart and soul in his election, you’d think she’d give him more than a couple months to see how the results turn out?

Nope – Slinkerwink didn’t wait a day. She immediately launched into incessant barrages against his administration as soon as it went into transition, in particularly launching into unsourced, unsubstantiated attacks on Rahm Emanuel as the source of all things wrong in Obama’s world. Didn’t like a certain cabinet appointment? “Rahm Emanuel’s fault!” It was a constant, childish refrain. Then there would be more attacks on certain cabinet appointments, often relying on the reasoning of others. If you took issue with one of Slinkerwink’s assertions, the response would be, “Well, I guess you don’t agree with Glen Greenwald then!” As soon as there were issues with Daschle’s confirmation, Slinkerwink led a mob charge against the administration, demanding his dismissal (and, predictably, calling for Howard Dean to run HHS).

But perhaps the best example is this diary demanding that Obama withdraw Tom Vilsack’s nomination for Agriculture Secretary. In this work, she links Vilsack to everything from e.coli to childhood obesity, then uses the literate phraseology: “SAY THE FUCK NO to Vilsack!

Flash forward to this week’s NYTimes, and an article about how sustainable food activists are thrilled with the Obama administration and with Vilsack in particular – who has turned out to be much better than they imagined. In fact:

The sustainable-food crowd isn’t alone in its love fest with the Obama administration and Mr. Vilsack. Food-safety activists have praised Mr. Vilsack’s remarks about creating a single food-safety agency, and nutrition advocates are enthused about his comments on school lunches and health care reform.

So, here is a clear example in which the passions and eagerness of members of the left-wing blogosphere led to a short-sighted burst of outrage which turned out to be misplaced. An apology? A retraction? Hardly.

Who does this behavior remind me of? A certain Nobel-Prize winning economist who works for the NYTimes. Remember this gem?

I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.

How about this doozy, TEN DAYS into the Obama administration?:

Why has the Obama administration been silent, at least so far, about one of President Obama’s key promises during last year’s campaign — the promise of guaranteed health care for all Americans?

Krugman then goes onto speculate, negatively of course, all the reasons why Obama wasn’t talking about healthcare in its first ten days. Only a couple weeks before Obama…talked about healthcare in front of Congress and then released a budget that set us on the path to universal healthcare…OH, and held a healthcare summit?

Now, I’m not saying that Krugman doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to economics. Nor am I saying that his clear history of disdain for Barack Obama – and the degree to which Krugman laid that out on the line during the primaries – is now causing him to root for Obama’s failure. No.

But I am saying that he’s far from infallible. In fact, he’s often prone to hyperbole. And when members of the left-wing blogosphere cite clearly fallible opinions as fact, and then look at their own track record of outrage without even giving the smallest hint of a chance to see if they may be wrong – then we see the dangers in spending too much time letting our opinions and feelings be swayed by the blog world we know and love.

Yes, Obama can be wrong and make mistakes, obviously. He has and will. Hell, even FDR tried and failed many things in his approach to the New Deal. But when we follow the passions and whims of the moment and raise up in outrage and demand a Treasury Secretary be fired two months into a crucial economic recovery because some have a different opinion about his approach…well, I just thank goodness that there are cooler heads in the administration. In the left-wing blogosphere? There’s a lot of growing up to do.


3 Responses to “The Left-Wing Blogosphere and Geithner: A Case Study of Immaturity”

  1. Courtney H Says:

    That is what I have been thinking. Krugman won a Nobel this year for his work 30 years ago on trade policy. Lots of people have won the Nobel prize in economics. Not to take anything away from him, but winning the Nobel doesn’t make one an all knowing sage. And, it doesn’t make one with an already tremendous ego any more humble. Regarding the blogosphere, I must say ditto.

  2. Ella in NM Says:

    Great post, Dan. Thank you for being a sane voice in a sea of crazy right now.

    I have not only had to stop watching cable news, but have stopped reading too many of the comments at some of my favorite blogs because of the pathetic whining and vitriol. I just don’t get it, and quite frankly, they are “aiding the enemy”, whether they realize it or not. And it’s REALLY starting to piss me off.

    My philosophy is that we elected a gifted and talented leader, who genuinely wants to govern this country. He is doing his best to manage a crisis that has no perfect answers. He will make errors, but he has the grace and creativity and character to reassess when something is not working and change course as necessary–he just wants to actually TRY something and have it actually fail before he changes course.

    Whenever I hear these “sky is falling”, overwrought predictions that this person or that policy is leading us down the road to complete catastrophe I am immediately extremely suspicious of the motives of the person making those statements.

    I can understand some of the concerns about policy. What I don’t get–and what is starting to piss me off greatly–is the TONE of the commentary. Have we been out of power so long that Democrats/Liberals/Progressives simply lost all hope that things can actually work in this country? Do we WANT them to work? Do we WANT to see the world change or not?

    Years ago I worked with abused and neglected older children who had been in foster care for years but were finally adopted by loving parents. Many times, the kids were incredibly happy to finally have a permanent home where they were wanted and loved, but would soon begin acting out towards their new parents, often in really ugly and hateful ways. Their parents would be stunned. The kids were seeing abuse where there was only normal family structure, because they were so used to things sucking in life. Curfews were abusive. Homework hour was abusive. Household chores were abusive. It took a lot of time and therapy to get these kids past this habit of being abused.

    Is that the problem here? We have too many folks who know no other life than to hold political or philosophical views that they feel are ignored, marginalized or the “truth no one will dare admit”–but that is not really the current reality?

  3. mo Says:

    I think this post is right on and Ella’s point is also – it’s not the fact of criticizing policy or decisions, it’s the tone. We should always keep a critical eye, but keep perspective, be respectful and allow for some benefit of the doubt.

    As much as Krugman’s analysis is essential (not simply because he’s a Nobel prize winning economist on the left, but because of his position at the Times), I KNOW his tone is hyperbolic and off-putting because I used to take his criticisms of Bush with a grain of salt. (Never for a day have I ever defended Bush as a president.)

    Obviously, the right is wrong to cocoon dissent and criticism – we’ve seen where it’s gotten both the country and their party. But we’ve got to give our own leaders some more space and leeway to deal with the messiness of the real world, to develop thoughtful policies over time, and yes, to make mistakes.

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