Bob Somerby has shifted his focus this year from critiquing the performance of the mainstream press to looking also at how liberal bloggers treat factual material.
Although his analyses along that line have been good, he doesn't seem to have hit his stride yet in that undertaking. Blog posts are not the same as newspaper articles. I haven't been one who hoped that the blogosphere would replace other forms of journalism.
Because most writing on politically-oriented blogs is not reporting. It's analysis, polemics and sometimes just name-calling. A partisan blog post just can't be evaluated the same way as a news article. Somerby's getting there, but he hasn't quite gotten it down yet. Because he's looking not only at the facts in question but also at the political strategy involved. He doesn't always sort the two out well.
Having said all that, Somerby is mostly on the mark in his comments about Atrios' hurricane posts: Katrina Creep (Part 2)! 09/07/05. There are plenty of examples on display the past week and a half to illustrate how reckless, callous and incompetent the Bush administration has been on emergency preparedness. There's no need to rely on unsubstantiated reports to make the case, as Atrios did in one instance.
I've said myself that it's hard to imagine that race hasn't played a role in the feds' pathetically sloppy response. Class has as well. David Neiwert at his Orcinus blog has been looking at cases in which people have been trying to use the scenes from New Orleans to make racist points, e.g., The New Orleans race vampires 09/03/05 and Race baiting 09/06/05.
And it's certainly legitimate to suggest and/or accuse this administration of racism or some varieties of that in its response to the horror scenes in New Orleans. If someone withheld that judgment until they get a video of Bush and Michael Brown saying, "I don't care if those n****** drown", then they would be playing a game that white Southerners like Trent Lott and Haley Barbour learned to play with real finesse a long time ago. (Although Lott started getting careless on it with the Strom Thurmond incident.)
Both those guys (Lott and Barbour) have kissed up to the overtly racist White Citizens Council. But in normal mode of operation, they're not going to be out in public waving white supremacist tracts or making crassly racist "jokes." That's what they have people like the Citizens Council and the junkie bigot Rush Limbaugh for.
I agree with Somerby on a couple of other points. I just don't understand why some people, including Jesse Jackson, have decided that "refugee" is a dirty word. People who have to flee an area suddenly, like people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama did, are refugees. The idea that "refugee" somehow means "foreigner" is a new concept to me. Now, I suppose that some level of stigma does attach to being a refugee. But I can't see how changing the label to "displaced persons" or something would change that.
And I also agree with him on the use of profanity up to a point. AOL Terms of Service rules aside, I tend to think that when it comes to using profanity in posts, less is more.
But just as I'm not inclined to be prissy about the use of "refugee," I also don't get too bent out of shape by the occasional cuss word in a political piece.
And I think Somerby may also be falling prey to the canard that I referenced in the previous post. Mentioning that Atrios' factually-challenged post was picked up as an example of liberal perfidy, he writes:
Meanwhile, progressives of a certain age can recall the last time such nonsense occurred - the time when the mindless "Yippies" did all they could be make progressives seem like clowns. As red-state Houston houses the homeless, our brilliant professors shout loud, nasty names. Result? This will become an increasingly conservative country, in which mature red-staters house the homeless—and institute their tax and military policies—while our dumb-ass liberals rant and rail. But so what! People who run with Atrios will have the thrill of having been so right! Why, everyone will have been racists but them! Readers! Oh what a feeling!
But then, all last week, as the waters rose, we saw the [expletive deleted] rise on the web. [Maybe Somerby isn't prissy about all dirty words!] At Salon, we saw a brutally doctored transcript - whose author should have been instantly fired (details tomorrow). At the twin Posts (Wash- and Huff-), we read absurd, inane essays on race. At the Times, we saw Frank Rich misstate basic facts to “prove” preferred points, as he never fails to do. And we saw our professor [Atrios] yelling “[Cheney]ers” in a string of factually- and logically-bungled posts. Yes, we once saw the Yippies do this - create an atmosphere which doomed liberal values and gave us Ronald Reagan’s tax policies. But then, if these are “liberal” values, who would want such values to prosper? As The Band asked when the bad moon was risin’: Oh, what kind of love is this, that goes from bad to worse?
I'll venture a bit of speculative mind-reading myself and suggest that perhaps "progressives of a certain age" have gotten a tad squeamish about what it takes to shake up a complacent public and - an even harder case - the timid Democrats in Congress.
The Yippies, for those not immersed in 1960s nostalgia, were a group of political-minded hippies who were also political activists. The original hippies were into peace-and-love personal transformation without being especially political. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were probably the best know Yippies. And, as I assume a professional comedian like Somerby, knows, the whole point of the Yippie schtick was to act like clowns. The "New Left" philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who was quite a serious man and decades older than Hoffman and Rubin, even managed to squeeze a philosophical point or two out of such actions.
But did the Yippies discredit liberal politics? Despite one of Richard Nixon's more famous statements to the contrary, the American people are not like children in the family. Did any sentient adult in 1972 really believe that prominent liberals like George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey or Walter Mondale were Yippies? Even the Republicans who claimed things to that effect could hardly have taken it seriously.
I hope liberals will clear their heads on this disempowering notion that bad manners or outrageous jokes by antiwar activists is responsible for the Republican strength of today. While it was a small part of the mix, small is the key word here.
"Respectable" citizens groused about strikes and labor demonstrations in the 1930s. (Still do, actually.) And growing up in Mississippi, I heard endlessly how uppity blacks and "outside agitators" were just making things worse by stirring up resentment among the whites who never had any bad feelings toward "the nigras" before. The idea that a few Yippie demonstrations in the 1960s are responsible for the strength of the Republican Party today is the same kind of complaint.
As I suggested of Todd Gitlin's revisionist/Republican view of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the last post, "progressives of a certain age" may be letting their own experiences and the memory of ancient political polemics give them a skewed memory of some aspects of that period.
[My original post called Michael Brown "Mark" Brown. The text has been corrected.]