Fredrik deBoer Is Being Unfairly Attacked Even If He Is Wrong on Policy

Fredrik deBoerI generally agree with Scott Lemieux, but I think he’s being disingenuous in his article, The Party Left Me And Other Complaints of the Voter-As-Atomistic-Consumer. It’s an attack on Fredrik deBoer’s article, I Am Opposed to a Hillary Clinton Presidency Because of Her Policies and Her Political Judgment. Martin Longman apparently completely agrees with Lemieux. And it just makes me think, “Didn’t anyone read deBoer’s article to the end?

You see, if you didn’t read deBoer’s article to the end, you would get a skewed view of it. Most of it is a litany of everything he disagrees with Hillary Clinton about. And he has the right. As I’ve often noted, Bernie Sanders is no socialist but just a good old fashioned New Deal Democrat. Fredrik deBoer is a socialist, apparently. He wrote, “I am a lukewarm supporter of Bernie Sanders. I am not much of a Democrat. Sanders would be, in my ideal world, the compromise candidate himself.” So it isn’t surprising that he has lots of complaints about Hillary Clinton’s policies. The majority of it consists of 5 long paragraphs starting, “I am opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because…”

Not About Hillary Clinton

But the article is not about his displeasure with Hillary Clinton. His displeasure is with those who he thinks claim that there is something pathological about people on the far left. He is responding specifically to Amanda Marcotte, who wrote in New Republic:

What you’re seeing is a huge drift in the party, away from having our leadership be just a bunch of white men who claim to speak for everybody else. We’re moving to a party that puts women’s interests at the center, that considers the votes of people of color just as valuable as the votes of white people. Unfortunately, some of the support for Sanders comes from people who are uncomfortable with that change and are looking to a benevolent, white patriarch to save them.

I understand Fredrik deBoer’s irritation. I’ve fought this same battle for a long time. The idea that Sanders supporters like him because he’s a white guy is ridiculous. Young women overwhelmingly support Sanders; are we really to believe that they are racist and sexist? And didn’t these same people vote for a black man in 2008 and 2012? What Marcotte wrote is the result of something that is all too common in the world of liberal punditry: the “I’m the perfect liberal” syndrome. In it, the pundit thinks that they are the most liberal that you can reasonably be. The king of this is Jonathan Chait who is fine with people considerably more conservative than he is but utterly intolerant to anyone slightly to the left of him.

Fredrik deBoer Doesn’t Like Being Called a Sexist

Fredrik deBoer’s entire article is summed up in this passage:

You might reject any or all of these substantive reasons for rejecting a Clinton presidency. You might find them deluded or unfair. You might take them to be self-evidently ridiculous. You might find that my characterizations of Clinton’s policies are biased or inaccurate. You might find them accurate and believe that they are the correct policies. All of those are reasonable, constructive responses. But they are all arguments based on substance, on acknowledging the existence of meaningful and relevant differences between two candidates who have vied for the same party’s nomination. Instead, so often these discussions have focused, as Marcotte and others have done relentlessly, on left-wing politics as a matter of hidden pathology, secret motives, and bad faith.

Now it turns out that I don’t agree with Fredrik deBoer on his reasons to not vote for Hillary Clinton. And I reject his argument against voting for the lesser of two evils. It strikes me as elitist. People with secure lives can look at the long-term, but a Trump presidency would be horrible for the weak in the short term (and the long term, I believe). So I’m with Scott Lemieux on those matters.

But despite Lemieux claiming that deBoer was just asking for a substantive debate, he’s being disingenuous. Fredrik deBoer was asking that people not claim that he didn’t have arguments and was just against Hillary Clinton because he was a bigot.

I’m not saying that Lemieux can’t attack deBoer’s arguments against Clinton, but they are a side show in the article he picked, and his article misrepresents beBoer’s argument.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

17 thoughts on “Fredrik deBoer Is Being Unfairly Attacked Even If He Is Wrong on Policy

  1. I read the Lemieux piece and I don’t think he is being unfair to deBoer. deBoer is essentially whining that we don’t like his policy positions because they are wrong and are telling him so.

    I do think there has been a serious under counting of the support Clinton has from young women though (I can’t imagine why.) Of course I am one of the hated over 30s so what do I know? *goes off to cash her GIANT novelty check from David Brock*

    • Lemieux didn’t address deBoer’s argument. Maybe it’s just me, but when I write a response about one part of an article, I make that clear. DeBoer’s article was not “Here’s what I think, tell me why I’m wrong.” (I think there have been plenty of them already.) It was “Here’s what I think, stop calling me a bigot.” Yes, deBoer is a whiner. Reading his twitter feed it seems that he thinks people are ganging up on him on some listserver or something. It brings out my pity. It brings out arrogance and ridicule from certain pundits — pundits, I will remind you, that I agree with on the substance.

      • I have tangled with deBoer online and he blocked me on Twitter. He seems really…well.

        And while I agree with the part about how one should make it clear they are responding to one part of the post…deBoer has a history so he isn’t given the benefit of the doubt any more.

        • That’s brilliant! No one ever blocks me! I guess I would have to engage more on Twitter. But it is exactly the fear of that kind of rancor that keeps me from doing more on Twitter. Although I did tweet out this brilliant bit of satire. (I mention it because most people don’t realize it’s satire. He’s just so good.)

          • He’s so skilled at portraying that character, I think it almost undermines his witty satirical writing. I laughed my a** off, but the non-sequitur examples of ignorance are delivered so low-key, it’s exactly in tune with what a dingbat would say. (I love the low-key stuff. The jokes are like Easter eggs!)

            • He does have the character down. The bigger problem is that there really are people like that. No one in England was actually suggesting that we eat the babies of the poor.

      • Thing is, deserved or not, people do gang up on him. Yes, there is an identifiable Internet political group that has been systematically unfair to another one. Lemieux, the bigot, belongs to the first group, and deBoer, the flawed-but-interesting writer, belongs to the second group.

        “Whiner” is a nice all-purpose putdown that only can be used against people participating with good will. Because deBoer does not use aggressive rhetoric, he cannot defend himself from unfair attacks by people who are being dishonest. Because a powerful group is willing to pretend DeB is “whining”, others will believe it.

        The person who calls the other a “whiner” is an aggressor who pretends to be something else. Very, very similar to the Bush supporters in 2002. The word “whiner” is not used by serious people of good will, who have something to say.

        I don’t know how to write a turnstile in HTML, so I’ll just say it is a theorem that a person who frequently disparages someone else as “whining” is a verbally passive-aggressive asshole, and unworthy of anyone’s attention.

        I am sick and tired of people defending obviously unfair verbal abuse, especially people I used to respect.

        • I referred to him as a whiner because because I went through dozens of twitter comments about people talking behind his back. I get that. But as a public intellectual, you need to build a thick skin. Since I mentioned him, William Buckley apparently felt very embarrassed by how he responded to Vidal’s crypto-Nazi remark. And I think that this resulted in his exceptional interview with Noam Chomsky the following year — and generally being a good interviewer with people he disagreed with. So I would like to see deBoer toughen up. I don’t think he has anything to fear. Political discourse is often like high school. I’m sure he will toughen up. I fear I am too old to break my habit of casual insults. (I don’t take your comment as an attack on me, but it is a good opportunity for my own self-reflection.)

          You are right: deBoer is an interesting writer and thinker. I think of him sort of like I do Ward Churchill, although I’m far more in line with deBoer. It’s important to have people who drive “our side” nuts. I really only know Lemieux from his writing on the judicial system — which I quite like. But he is more an establishment type. We need an ecosystem or we will turn into the conservative movement.

          But I’ll admit to having a certain man-blindness. Again, remembering Buckley saying, “I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered,” I tend not to worry about men who could clearly lay me out with one punch, as deBoer could me.

          But please don’t judge me or anyone else on one thing or one period. When it comes to me, I could provide you with dozens of cases of me being far worse — so much worse that I shutter to think of them.

          • Did you ever see the documentary on Buckley/Vidal, “Best Of Enemies”? It provided some info on how much the two really hated each other. And while I naturally take Gore’s side, he was trying to provoke Buckley and get him to lose his cool.

            I’d forgotten about the Chomsky/Buckley debate. That was a good one. But hell, as we know, Dr. Noam doesn’t try to provoke anyone, and is almost impossible to provoke himself (coughSamHarriscough)

            • Yes, I did see that documentary. It was very good. Although I thought it was a little nicer to Buckley than he deserved. He’s ended up with a reputation for being far more reasonable than he was. He’s a great example of what conservatism is, however. Even with all his education and advantages, he still couldn’t get past his racism. It was still the fundamental thing that drove his domestic and foreign policies. And if you look at David Brooks, you will see the exact same thing. And these are the “reasonable” ones.

          • Perhaps I was unclear because I felt angry.

            It’s like this. The 2000 US Presidential election was rigged. The locution ‘whiner’ was used by supporters of the Chimp to stifle discussion, instead of answering it. By using ‘whiner’, they were signalling that their views are not to be questioned, and that no one could disagree with them for serious reasons. No, people could not possibly be concerned about the election being rigged – they’re just whining because they lost. Brian Leiter called them ‘sore winners’. Chimp’s supporters tried to tell people that their opponents were suffering from ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ – they just disliked Chimp for no goddamned reason.

            Prominent Clinton supporters, less prominent supporters, and more generally people I used to read and respect, are using the same tactic. Lemieux’s been at it for a long time. He’s never wrong, and anyone who tries to criticize from the left is called ‘leftier than thou’ – he’s not even willing to concede that someone might hold other views for worthwhile reasons. And that word, ‘whining’ – great way to dismiss criticism instead of answering.

            L’s an extreme case. More generally, Sanders supporters are called ‘whiners’ instead of engaged on the issues. Same people who once decried underfunding of public institutions – now those asking to do something concrete are ‘whining’. Same people who once decried the criminalization of poverty – now those asking to reverse the trend are ‘whiners’. Sore winners.

            So this is the thing. People I once respected, now acting in a way no different from Chimp’s defenders. This leads me to believe they were never principled in their opposition to Chimp, because they’re acting just the same as Chimp’s chimps.

            It’s really just straight out of Manufacturing Consent. But now it’s done by people who have read that book!

            Just in case you did not know – the new edit box sucks, and this is particularly relevant to me, because I pretty much always want to edit my comments.

            v 1.1

            • I’ll look into the edit box. I don’t like that the font size of the comments is so small. Can you tell me what specifically you don’t like? I don’t use the system; I just occasionally see it and it offends me. I may not have much control of it, but I will do what I can.

              I’m not sure I entirely understand your argument. In the article, I did actually talk about liberal pundits who consider themselves to be as far left as is acceptable. To me, the king of that is Chait. I’ve never seen Lemieux that way, but then I haven’t read him for very long.

              When I used the terms whiner, I meant it in a very specific way. And having thought about it for a few days now, I think it is due to the fact that he hasn’t been blogging very long (even though he is quite successful). I’m certainly not talking about him whining regarding anything he’s said about Sanders or anything substantive.

              On an vaguely related note, I do find it funny that one of the reasons Sanders was initially dismissed was that he could never raise the major money needed to run for president. And now the Clinton campaign is claiming that Sanders’ loss is all the more pathetic because he out-spent her. I tell you, if you’re on the left in this country, you simply can’t win.

              • It really was not directed at you, but rather at others who frequently use the term ‘whiner’ as a dishonest alternative to considering what people have to say. I’m seeing little else from Clinton supporters, just as I saw little else from Bush supporters before. So it strikes me as being like the ‘n’-word now.

                Basically, I can have respect for people who disagree with me, but I have little for people who substitute verbal abuse and ad homonyms for argument. And right now, that is all I’m seeing from Clinton supporters, many of whom I once respected.

                Bush Derangement Syndrome – the claim that liberals hate Bush for no damned reason. Similarly, Clinton supporters have called Sanders supporters racist, misogynist, or just crazy, instead of engaging. And it’s not just a few of them; it’s almost every single one.

                L is interesting in that he basically calls Chait a fake liberal for the same reasons I don’t take his liberal bonafides seriously. I would feel differently if he ever admitted he was wrong or conceded that leftist critics have a point or conceded that changing the country’s direction requires a change of leadership in the nominally-left-wing party, but his instant response, every time, is verbal abuse – often with dismissive words like ‘whiner’. I no longer read LGM.

                The edit box is very, very tiny and impossible to browse. I’ve no particular preference to how it should be, but right now you only can see one sentence at a time, if that. I don’t care much about font size, etc., for these things are always under the reader’s control.

                • On a computer screen you can click on the edit box, bottom-right hand corner, and enlarge it to the size you want (don’t ask me how long it took before I discovered that!) On a phone … well, the hopeful editor is pretty much f****d. It can be done, but it’s tricky as hell.

                  What you describe about Clinton fans … it’s almost exactly what Elizabeth has been describing about Sanders fans. I suspect, although I know no Twitter, that a few rude misbehaving people have created bad blood on in both camps, and personal animosity shouldn’t be the hallmark of our lefty/liberal side! We’re the practical ones!

                  E.g., there’s issues I severely disagreed with about the Carter presidency (Afghanistan, bailing on unions) but do I think he was a good president? Hell, yes! Is the world a better place because he’s still alive and doing his work? Damn right it is! Carter’s a total badass, my disagreements aside.

                  ‘Cause I’m a liberal, man! I always aim for the ideal and always want a better world. It’s in my blood. But I appreciate every step that makes things less sucky, no matter how small. Was Carter a perfect Prez (by my standards)? Nuh-uh. Was he better than Ford, or He Who Shall Not Be Named? Is the Pope Catholic? (Well, some conservative Catholics think he’s the AntiChrist, but ha-ha, folks. You bought into this infallibility shit, now roll with it!)

                  Our team aren’t the doctrinaires. We’re willing to accept that there are other voices with different ideas about how to reach the same goal (making society better. Not perfect; better. And there’s no shortage of room for improvement.) We will infight like crazy people over who’s got the best strategy for making society better, because we’re pretty passionate and invested in this stuff. (Dismissingly label me a SJW? Not so fast, jerks who use that term. I’m a social justice NEEDER. I could stand a much heartier helping of it, and so could the people I love.)

                  I believe both you and Elizabeth when you describe encountering online opponents who behave terribly. Good Lord, do I know it happens! But that shouldn’t dissuade us from our shared goal. Let’s make American society suck a little less. And, on odd-numbered days, I believe we actually will …

                  • Well, I don’t believe both of us, and I don’t think our goals are shared. And I don’t think that symmetry is there.

                    “Both sides do it.” Not. I think there probably are lots of bad-behaving Sanders supporters, bad-behaving UFO freaks, bad-behaving ex-punks. However, I have not seen a single articulate Sanders supporter dismiss arguments from Clinton supporters that really are arguments. Nor have I seen mass slander directed at Clinton supporters (“you’re against Sanders because you hate Jews, right?”).

                    I’m not buying. Been poked in the eye enough times, thank you.

                    • I don’t engage in online debates of the sort you’re describing, so I don’t really know much about them. When I do encounter a broad characterization like the ones you mention, I try to consider the source. Elizabeth, for example, has experienced a lot of sexism, so naturally it’s something she always wonders might be motivating criticism of her or another woman. I’m poor, so I suspect class snobbery a lot. Racial monorities are on the lookout for racism, and so on.

                      Considering the source is also a guideline I go by when I’m deciding whether to respond to something I find problematic. It’s not infallible to be sure (for example, I know nothing about you, so I wouldn’t know when to keep my mouth shut or not.)

                      Here’s one I run into every year. I do some baseball blogging, and inevitably there’s gonna be a couple of posters, like clockwork, complaining about why people think we should change Native American team names/logos. And I believe I know excellent reasons why we should. Sometimes I’ll share a few, sometimes I won’t.

                      Like if it’s a pretty young person, I might explain some history about the names. Whether or not fans who like the names now are themselves intending offense, pretty much every single one of those team names was originally meant as a slur. If it’s someone my age who seems really receptive to the obstacles oppressed groups face, I could mention how the NCAA only requires teams to change nicknames if the local tribes want it changed. The Florida State Seminoles got the OK from Seminole communities to keep the name, so they get to keep it. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux got permission from some communities but not others, so they changed the nickname. (MLB and the NFL have no such rules, alas! Because the Cleveland mascot and Washington DC nickname would be SO gone!)

                      The other day, it came up, and it was an elderly North Dakota hockey fan. And I just changed the subject. College hockey fans in this area are super-intense, so I just knew I wasn’t gonna get anywhere what that guy. If he starts insulting members of other ethnicities directly, I’ll request he be banned, but until then I figured I’d create more good blood by ignoring the comment. And sometimes good blood results in you having a discussion with another person on the same topic, and the third party you created good blood with might read what you wrote in that discussion and take it better than if you’d aimed it directly at them. And I’ve managed to create some good blood over there, and write stuff on the racism Native players faced, and gotten people to read it!

                      So that’s my (fascinating, no doubt!) thought process on Internet engagement. I’m sure you go about it the way you find most effective, and are a great deal more experienced than me. I just think about this stuff a lot. Because I’ve seen the bad behavior you describe, I’ve done it at times (everyone has), and I believe it’s possible to create an atmosphere (in some places, with fewer posters than YouTube or whatever) that makes bad behavior less likely.

                • Yeah, I’ll try to get to the edit box. As you may have noticed, I’ve been AWOL — too much work and depression.

                  I agree with most of what you said. Although I think Twitter and Facebook and whatnot don’t bring out the best in people.

                  BDS always makes me think of Sandra Day O’Connor had said, “It’s my party that’s destroying the country.” But she was still the one who made sure that her replacement was made by a president of her party. And then she was replaced by the most radical person on the Court — someone she apparently despises. Liberals had lots to hate Bush for. But given how he became president, he got far more respect than he deserved.

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