Hmm, must polish my shoes…

by matttbastard

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What’s the Matter With America’s Progressive Intellectual Backbone?

by matttbastard

Joining in on the dead horse flogging previously initiated by my esteemed co-bloggers Kyle, tas and Dustin, Chet Scoville examines how the reaction in some quarters to, in the words of Joe Gandelman, Senator Obama’s “politically flat-footed” comments re: small town voters exposes the failure of the American liberal intelligentsia to adequately lay down intellectual foundations that progressive politicians can later safely build upon without fear of blowback like what Obama is currently facing:

If the American left were at all functional, and if the American media worked the way a free media is supposed to, [Thomas] Frank’s analysis [of why some people vote against their interests, outlined in his book What’s The Matter With Kansas] would be as well known in the public arena as Grover Norquist’s anti-government paranoia on the other side. And it would have been picked up in liberal journals, discussed, debated, fleshed out, corrected. The Democratic Party would have had analysts examine it, do some polling, some focus-grouping, some framing and marketing. And the analysis, newly corrected, would have found its way in palatable form into the campaigns, in a way that placed the blame squarely where it belongs: on the Republican politicians and their corporate bosses who have crafted the paranoia for their own purposes. This, as Bill Bradley noted three years ago, is essentially what the GOP has been doing for thirty years, to great electoral success.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the candidate has picked up the analysis without any of that other, necessary work being done. Furthermore, he made the capital mistake of deploying this argument during a primary campaign and not the general, thus inadvertently* implying that his fellow Democrats (in this case, Clinton supporters) were paranoid and unthinking.

Scoville points to this post by Bob Somerby, which, though contextually focused on Obama’s race speech, is also (IMO) right on the money in this instance:

It’s dangerous when we put our White House candidate out in front on such issues, making him lead a risky parade (Just as it would have been dangerous to have Candidate Gore deliver those “courageous” speeches about global warming.) But let’s state the obvious: Our “liberal intellectual leaders” don’t lead in any way.

[…]

For better or worse, “courageous” doesn’t typically win elections. “Courageous” is good for liberal thinkers, of whom we have very few.

Fair or unfair, the lack of impact progressive thinkers have had on American political discourse over the past several decades has left Democratic candidates all-too-vulnerable to “gaffes” such as this. Once again, I point to Sara Robinson’s three part series on how the USian liberal left can work to overcome the idea deficit. Until that happens, I’ll grit my teeth in dubious anticipation of future teapot tempests, all-but-guaranteed to be stirred up by a lazy, vacuous press corps wholly contaminated by 30 years of movement conservative propaganda.

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