Sunday, November 11, 2007

The kind-of left embarrasses with age

From: Last week Robert Scheer created a stir. Sadly, that wasn't a good thing. Scheer took part in a public debate that could have come and went with a few groans; however, he elected to post the debate (video and transcript) at his website Truthdig. You have to wonder why? Why? At an event sponsored by The Nation (naturally), Scheer attempted to tear into Ralph Nader. Maybe he was hoping Katrina vanden Heuvel would dole out some funds? Maybe he thought it would make for a lively evening? Maybe he's grown more conservative than many suspected? Maybe he was just having a bad night? Let's all hope it was the latter. Truthdig is a website that Scheer started up, after The Los Angeles Times decided they no longer needed to print a column by a retired member of their staff -- Scheer retired from the paper in 1993, he was fired in 2005, with Zuade Kaufman who likes to talk about the need for "alternative models." Judging by the debate, "alternative models" does not include political ones. "Robert Scheer Debates Ralph Nader" is the title, Google it or go to Truthdig and look it up (November 5, 2007), we're not linking to it. Scheer opens with a phoney comparison -- possible foreshadowing? -- where he notes that as a Democrat running for the US House he once got approximately 43% of the vote but he didn't do as well as a third party candidate (Peace and Freedom Party) when running for the California Senate. Somehow that's supposed to be illuminating. What it's supposed to tell is anyone's guess? Ballot access and money matter. So, for the record, do the way districts are drawn and the district he got 43% of the vote in has always been solidly Democratic. In fact, 43% of the vote may strike some as embarrassing. In fact, since it's the solidly Democratic district that Barbara Lee now represents, it may cause a historical panic for some as they try to figure out how a Republican managed to carry it? No Republican carried it. It's oranges and apples. While the third party candidate was a general election, the 43% turnout was a primary -- a Democratic primary. He doesn't explain that in the debate but to do so would undercut his points. Here's the reality, as a Democrat against that generation's illegal war, he ran in a Democratic primary and only got 43% of the vote. As a candidate in a general election, a third party candidate in 1970, he got less than 2% of the vote. No surprise. Ballot access and money matter. Scheer seems to be arguing that he put himself on the outs when he ran as a third-party candidate? The same could be said when he ran as a losing candidate on the Democratic ticket in a primary. He then feels the need to apparently demonstrate he's not just a Democratic Party Machine, he likes others. Why, he argues, he likes Ike. In fact, he wore "I Like Ike" as a button, as a child, and ranks it as among "the bravest things I ever did". Were that true, Scheer would have had a very sad life. Like Hillary Clinton's young Barry Goldwater phase, Scheer's young Eisenhower phase is something to turn into a joke, not to brag about. He goes on to inform that there are no longer Republican moderates -- a shock to many Republican moderates who no doubt feel they are under siege enough as it is without Scheer announcing their extension -- and that he doesn't think the country's "likely to get a third party" which is a prediction no one can really make. It's also a prediction that Whigs and their supporters once made as well. And when's the last time anyone voted for that party? (It no longer exists.) That prediction, he assures the audience, is his "only reference to Ralph's campaign," a self-imposed rule he quickly breaks. The Democratic Party is the only agent for change, he insists. He will attack third parties throughout and he will break his self-imposed rule throughout. He will so to such an extent that the biggest complaints on this from members of The Common Ills community came not from Greens, independents or third party members, but from Democrats. Self-identified lifelong Democrat Lynda summed it up best in the roundtable that ran in Friday's gina & krista round-robin, by explaining, "I wouldn't tolerate that kind of discrimination launched at anyone and I was insulted, as a Democrat, that Scheer's foaming at the mouth embarrassment didn't lead to his being pulled off the stage. I kept thinking, 'Oh God, someone's going to have to Old Yeller out back and shoot him.'" Scheer, in Lynda's analogy, is Old Yeller. Dementia apparently set in when he felt the need to declare the following: And I think of The Nation and I say, let's take the Weekly Standard. The Weekly Standard did not marginalize itself. When Bush came in, The Weekly Standard said, "OK, we're now going to be the conscience of this administration. We're going to help guide this administration. We're going to work within; we’re going to rally our forces." And they've been enormously effective, as have the New York conservatives. The Nation is right now the leading progressive organization in this country. Not just a news organization; it’s the leading institution in the United States on the left. No question. And it seems to me that moving into this next period, particularly, I would like to see the Democrats win, and I would like to see The Nation, and people in this room, take a responsible attitude towards that shift in power. And not marginalize themselves. If those are Scheer's honest opinions, he is a hack. We're not even talking a partisan hack, we mean a journalistic hack. The Los Angeles Times should have canned his ass decades prior if that is Scheer's honest opinion of journalism. (A) The Nation is not "just a news organization" -- it's not a news organization at all. It's an opinion journal. That's what it was created as and that is what it remains. Yes, there are the occasional news stories each year, a small number of them, but it has never presented itself as a news organization (Victor Navasky's recent book on his life in journalism made it clear that he saw it as an opinion-journal). That someone who worked for a daily paper could be so uninformed as to what a news organization is goes to a very serious problem with Scheer's grasp of reality. (B) It's not the leading institution of the left. Leaving aside that it's not all that left and never has been (look at it's history which includes racism being endorsed -- despite the fact that it started as an abolition outlet), it's circulation is dropping, though no one's supposed to notice. (C) Though its independence is worthy of question today, it is still not The Weekly Standard nor should it ever be. Leaving aside right/left issues, The Nation has not attempted (in the past) to set itself up as the friendly-advisor to the White House. To do so would be death for the publication, see The New Republic(an). Scheer sounded like a raving loony as he went on and on about "news organization" and other nonsense. Anyone with any respect for the concept (if not the practice) of journalism should have been embarrassed that Scheer wasn't escorted from the stage as he made a perfect fool of himself. We should also note that when you pass 70-years-of-age, your usage of "bro" should cease under court-order. In fact, we'd rule that after 32, you should be court-ordered to step away from the lingo unless using it for humor. One community member on the disaster cruise said she feared, after he tossed out "bro," that he was about to start rapping. She also asked that this statement by Scheer be noted: By the way, I consider it shameful that The Nation would have this cruise and not have one panel on the Iraq war. We are at war. You know. We are in a war that is sapping the treasury, will prevent us from pursuing a progressive agenda in the future, every time we try to get money for anything, we’ll hear about the trillion that had already been wasted. "At last," she says, "I thought the magazine was going to be called out. But, like [Katrina] vanden Heuvel, he made it all about pushing his economic programs. There was no concern over the dying and I'm talking about Iraqis who are being slaughtered. We were all talking about that at my table after and how this was just sad." Yes, Robert Scheer, the greatest tragedy of the illegal war is the economics. Screw the people (of all nations), it's the economics. It also bears noting that in the US administrations always are willing to go into debt over wars. The war debt doesn't prevent progressive spending. In war or out, the US government always finds a way to avoid spending on progressive programs. Let's not lie and say that if the illegal war wasn't going on and sucking up so much money, this money would be going to help the people because that's honestly not the way it's gone in decades with administration after administration -- both of the two main parties -- attempting to eliminate the New Deal safety nets. Scheer can't stop reliving the 2000 election (in a paranoid fantasy type of way) or the 2004 election long enough to face reality. The Supreme Court justices! Guantanamo! He insists both were pushed through by a Republican administration as a result of the 2000 and 2004 election. The fact that Congress had a hand in that and much more is overstepped and ignored. Get real. When Ralph Nader points out basic realities, Scheer who insists he doesn't want to name call, labels Nader a "a demagogue." Since this is not "ancient times," the Webster's definition which applies is, "a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power." Oh, Bobby. After lobbying that charges at Nader, Scheer then wants to insist that "we can all be civil." We? Nader was civil. Scheer's the one got us wondering how Old Yeller ended up with rabies. The spittle just seems to leak from Scheer's mouth with one embarrassment after another cascading out with it. Having presented himself as a progressive, having claimed that Democrats (well, that Nation cruise travelers and possibly all Americans) need to support progressive candidates, he then offers up this bit of 'wisdom': "If we find some moderates we should back them." Wow. Hold those feet to the fire, Bobby, or at least hold 'em near the Duraflame to get 'em nice and cozy. Scheer, in perhaps a typo or a Freudian slip, asks Nader if he thinks Al Gore would have invaded ("evaded" shows the transcript) Iraq had he been president? It's a nice little myth (based on Gore's last minute actions as the war drums pounded) that Gore wouldn't have gone to war with Iraq had he been declared president by the Supreme Court (the people had declared him president) but in February 2002, Gore declared: Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq. As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table. To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan's leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition. That really doesn't make a strong case for Gore as an opponent of going to war with Iraq. He later (before the illegal war broke out) made different statements. That doesn't change what he said in 2002. No one knows what Gore would have done. But the world of hypotheticals is all you can inhabit when you broken free from the gravitational pull of reality. Which is why he makes an issue out of the Supreme Court while ignoring Congress' own role in the process. Even worse, at one point he declares, "We have a Supreme Court now thanks to these Republican appointees that has absolutely no concern of civil liberties, separation of powers, any kind of accountability." Uh, exactly how many nominees (which Congress approved, but forget that for a minute) does Scheer think Bush had? The reality answer is two. They replaced a 'moderate' (right-wing, but less so on some issues) and an ultra-conservative. We're really just talking about one less extreme right-winger that has become a Justice under the Bully Boy (with Congressional approval). If the makeup of the Court is a concern (and we think it is), that goes far beyond Bully Boy and goes to, as Nader points out, a Democratically controlled Senate that confirmed Clarence Thomas among others. In fact, the Senate has been Democratically controlled for the bulk the current Court. Repeatedly he forgets his self-imposed rules of civility and not bringing up Nader's run for the presidency in 2000 and 2004 (is Scheer no longer aware that those were not Nader's only runs?). The most extreme example may be found in this 'charming' moment by Scheer: If there was a serious alternative that was emerging, that had come out of your campaign, that we could rally around, then one could say, "OK, that's a way to go." But it doesn't exist. All that we have left after your two campaigns is Ralph Nader. Having already called Nader a demagogue one might have thought that Scheer couldn't go any lower. One would have been wrong. Of those participating in the writing edition of this piece only one (Jess, who is a Green) voted for Nader; however, it is very clear to all of us that Nader's campaigns had accomplishments and since Scheer's leaving the area of "Who won the title!" to speak of impact, someone needs to tell him he's no longer insulting, he's flat-out wrong. And sounding like a dottering fool. Such as his long-winded ramble (which appears to include an endorsement of Republicans he previously claimed didn't exist and may or may not include a slam at Rocky Anderson but does include his gratitude for being able to vote, by God!) which includes this, "The fact is we have a process underway, and I don't want this to be yet another Nation discussion that marginalizes us and puts us outside what is really happening out there." Victor Navasky and others understood (though Katrina vanden Heuvel -- who loves the camera in what is, sadly, a one-sided love affair -- doesn't appear to grasp it) that The Nation doesn't exist to offer conventional wisdom or be a cheerleader, it exists to put ideas out there, to plant seeds that will grow. The seed Scheer apparently wanted to plant was that he was one of Bill Clinton's biggest critics. A statement he repeats over and over throughout the debate. Scheer has no logic to display. He repeatedly doubles back and undercuts his own point, he offers flawed examples and he really destroys his own image. He also endorses Ralph Nader's run for president in 2008. After all that nonsense, he does just that in this passage: For example the deal breaker, I think people in this room should make it very clear that they would not accept Hillary Clinton as a candidate if she continues to her current position supporting the war. I have written columns saying that. I have said, I’m on the record as saying, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton if she has the position that she has now. I have said it. I’ll even vote for Ralph Nader, I'll even write in Ralph Nader, if Hillary Clinton is the candidate and she still takes the current position on the war. But that's difference from saying there isn’t room to organize, to operate, that there are not good candidates out there are. So Nader should run, in 2008, if Hillary is the Democratic nominee? That's what Robert Scheer ends up saying. The Republicans are so bad, he tells us earlier, that he's "frightened to death" by their "unholy alliance" (he references that twice), that he sees it as "the enemy camp" and he thinks what they have "done is truly frightening." If Hillary is so frightening to Scheer that he's willing to write-in a candidate he wouldn't otherwise suppport on the ballot, logic dictates that Nader declare and start running immediately. We're not offended that he's endorsing Nader for president. We just see this as a bit laughable considering his comments about Nader and third parties, his comments about Republicans and his non-stop talk about all rallying behind the Democrats. Hillary's the breaking point? For Scheer, that's the breaking point? Why is that? Most to the left of the center who don't care for Hillary pin it off on their dislike for the triangulation of her husband's presidency. But that's apparently not a problem to Scheer who insists, "to me [Bill] Clinton looks pretty damn good. I would sleep a lot better if Clinton were president, I'm sorry. I'm not going to lie about it. The man had some sense of proportion--some sense of accountability." If Bill Clinton were president, you'd sleep better? You'd feel "pretty damn good." Exactly what is about Hillary that frightens you because all we're really left with is gender. Don't bring up the Iran resolution. If you're comfortable cheerleading Barack Obama ("I thought Obama opened up some important distance between himself and Hillary when he said that he would negotiate within the whole list of people." -- being only one of Scheer's more embarrassing drippings) who didn't care enough about the legislation to show up to vote (he's claimed that he didn't get enough notice, Senate staffers have made it clear publicly that this is not true), you really are nothing but a hack. We didn't think we were going to write that. We wanted to. But C.I. knows Scheer and offered to skip out on this feature. We wanted a group effort or nothing. C.I. asked, "Can we use a word other than 'hack'? I'm not comfortable calling him a 'hack.'" If you'll notice the term "journalistic hack" was already used. C.I.'s suggestion. C.I. had missed that passage until Dona pointed it out and it's hackery, pure hackery, and C.I. had no problem proposing that term when it came to journalism. As we go over and over the transcript, there's really no denying, by anyone, what a hack Robert Scheer is in the debate. Betty Wood, friend of Kimberly Wilder (On The Wilder Side), offered us this take on the debate: Ralph Nader is one of the most influential people of the century for a reason. He has a long history of seeing problems well before others see them. He analyzes the systemic source of the problem, finds a solution for it, and does the follow through to see a solution in place. He is frequently decades ahead of the main stream. Nader sees the larger systemic problem of the military/industrial/Congressional complex that Eisenhour warned us of and is trying to get the rest of us to see the need for the solution of this larger problem. Just playing musical chairs in the White House or Congress with the same party-with-two-names players isn't the solution. More fundamental changes are needed. One start would be for more political parties that aren't beholden to the corporations. Most of us recognise this but the Democrat apologists have a hard time breaking the cord. I hope that Mr. Scheer starts to listen and really hear what Mr. Nader is saying. She's far kinder than we are. That's something we saw reflected in The Common Ills community, Greens were less shocked, less surprised and less angry about Scheer. Not because they care less but because they put up with this crap all the time. For Betty Wood or community members belonging to a third party, this isn't uncommon. Jess notes that, as a Green, he's grown to expect it. We appreciate the fact that they endure this nonsense repeatedly and go on. We applaud that. But we're grossly offended. The community was polled as to whether or not to pull Truthdig from the links at The Common Ills and they voted ("Yes," "No," "No opinion," "Leave it up to C.I.") by 53% to leave it up to C.I. (37% voted for it to be pulled, 10% voted no opinion, no one argued for it to remain). There was no decision made. C.I. brought it up throughout the writing of this edition. We can announce it is being pulled. (A) Because the "news organization" comments are insulting. (B) Because of the remarks. On the latter, Truthdig promotes itself as a left outlet, not at a Democratic one. That's false advertising. Scheer, editor of the site, makes it clear that it's just another Democratic cheerleading site. Nothing more. Nothing less. Sheer's logic may twist and turn, but he gets his agenda across very clearly. When we heard about the debate (the community member who took part in the cruise wrote about the debate at length -- including comments regarding vanden Heuvel's public and private reactions -- in the round-robin), we were embarrassed but assumed that it was something put on for entertainment purposes. After all, what does the bulk of the magazine offer these days except entertainment? But when Scheer elected to post the debate at Truthdig he sent a message, intended or not. *It's really sad. One of his old friends went extreme right, Scheer appears to have opted for the less extreme age-makeover and headed for the center. For those needing to hear arguments of why you need to vote for any Democratic in the world (except Hillary Clinton) and needing to read the writings of the pedophile (Scheer posts Pig's writings at Truthdig regularly -- maybe in homage to those 'extinct' 'moderate' Republicans?), Truthdig is the site for you. If you're interested in reality, happy hunting elsewhere.* -------- *Note: We are finishing up this edition. C.I. had no participation in the last paragraph -- C.I. was busy on the phone to a member of The Los Angeles Times' editorial board apologizing for ripping into him about Scheer's firing all those years ago -- and we don't have time to run this by. Posted by Third Estate Sunday Review at Sunday, November 11, 2007

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