July 10, 2004

An Infantile Disorder

Timothy Noah has fallen in love with Barbara Ehrenreich:

Chatterbox: ...Barbara Ehrenreich has established herself as the Times's best columnist. This is, of course, a snap judgment, but Ehrenreich has long been one of the most eloquent voices on the left, which, as distinct from liberalism, has not had much access to the mainstream press for many years. The Bush administration has revitalized the left, making it necessary for the rest of us—liberals like Chatterbox as well as conservatives—to keep abreast of what it's saying.... The Times op-ed page desperately needs her mature voice, her sharp mind, and the challenge her ideas pose to the common wisdom...

I say, "God, no!" and "PUH-LEEZE!!"

It may be because Barbara Ehrenreich is a typical voice of the American left that it will in all probability be a waste of ink and paper to put her on the Times op-ed page, but a waste of ink and paper it will most likely be.

I agree that Barbara Ehrenreich is a very smart and graceful writer, a keen analyst of American culture and society--she is worth, say, ten of David Brooks. But her brand of left-wing politics is an infantile disorder. Left-wing politics is, for her, primarily a means of self-expression. The point is not to actually do anything to make the United States or the world a better place--not to actually help people make better lives for themselves by improving the enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act or to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit or to raise the minimum wage or to improve Medicaid coverage.

The point, by contrast, is to assume an appropriate oppositional stance, and to feel good about oneself. Witness her argument that what upper and upper-middle class American women should do is to fire their nannies in order to avoid their children "growing up with the world's class and racial hierarchies stamped on their emerging little world views"--thus depriving relatively poor women of jobs and opportunities they found it worthwhile to grasp. If you genuinely worry, as you should, about the wages and working conditions of relatively poor women today, your first action item should not be to urge others to decrease demand for their labor.

But let's let Barbara Ehrenreich speak for herself, in her command to all correctly-thinking people to vote for Ralph Nader that she made four years ago:

Barbara Ehrenreich (2000), "Vote for Nader!" The Nation (August 21-8), p. 33:

It must be some playful new postmodernist form of politics: First you spend years ranting about the plutocracy that has supplanted American democracy and is rapidly devouring the planet. You complain about the growing numbers of Americans who can't afford healthcare or housing; you rant about the inadequacy of wages and the arrogance of the corporate overclass. then, just as large numbers of people start tuning in and even getting excited to the point of supporting the one presidential candidate who's making the exact same points you've been trying to get across all this time--you whip around and shout, "Only kidding, folks. Get out there and vote for Gore!"

Normally I'm more responsive when summoned to help save a drowning man. But none of the lefties for Gore are arguing that Gore has said or done anything recently to earn progressive support. He's going down, is all, and going down so quickly and inexplicably that no one can call him "wooden" anymore--there's a question whether he's even carbon-based. Here he is, faced with the frothiest Republican presidential hopeful since Dan Quayle, and Gore can ignite no sparks, cannot even rise above his own fundraising scandals or apparently grasp wherein the scandal lies. As recently as late June, for example, he praised an audience of African-immigrant Americans for their contributions to his campaign, promising that the money would be "helping to focus the attention of our country on issues in Nigeria or Ethiopia or Ghana or Cameroon or South Africa."

We are being summoned to save this inveterate bribe-taker because "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." That in itself is a disturbingly Orwellian proposition, easily generalized to "Don't challenge the system, you'll only make it worse." But leaving that aside, let us acknowledge that Bush is indeed scarier than Gore on several discernible issues, abortion the most prominent among them. Hence the familiar plea of the pro-Gore leftists: Keep W.'s pudgy little fingers off the Supreme Court.

Ah, the Supreme Court! Never mind that pro-choice Justice O'Connor was a Reagan appointee or that Clinton's man Breyer is one of the most economically conservative Justices around--the Supreme Court gets dragged out ever four years to squash any attempt to escape the Democratic Party. So it has been and so it will always be until we have a Court consisting entirely of pro-choice teenagers.

Abortion, which is the issue I am most frequently Gored with by the political "realists" of the left, deserves a closer look. Note first that the prominence of this issue in the Gore/Bush race above all reflects the loving concordance of the candidates on almost everything else--militarization, incarceration and the necessary immiseration of working people everywhere in the service of global capital. Note second that what has vitiated abortion rights on the ground is not so much the legal whittling away of Roe v. Wade (although quite a bit of that has gone on too, at the state level) as the relentless pressure from antichoice groups on abortion providers. And aside from reining in clinic picketers, there's not a whole hell of a lot the Supreme Court can do to fix that.

It should be recalled, too, that we didn't get legal abortion in the first place because nine men in black robes were kind enough to allow us to have it. Women fought for it by every means possible, illegal as well as legal. Surely the anti-Naderites of the left can agree that Roe v. Wade wasn't the author of women's liberation, just as Brown v. Board of Education did not create the civil rights movement. Deep social change is made by deep social movements, not by edicts.

But the left-wing Gore-ites often seem oblivious to the dynamics of real social change. They say we have to build an alternative politics--only just not yet. Wait until we replace "winner take all" elections with something more democratic, they urge. Fine, only where is the energy to reform the electoral process going to come from unless we start challenging that process with attractive third-party candidates now? Or they say wait until we have a real party--who are these Greens, anyway? But parties don't just grow by accretion. Sometimes they have to do things--grand, noble, and from a "realistic" point of view, surely foolish things--like stepping into the fray and duking it out with the bullies and their designated surrogates.

What I fear most about a Gore victory--yes, I said victory--is its almost certainly debilitating effect on progressives and their organizations. During the Clinton years, many a feminist, enviro, and labor leader was so charmed by the crumbs of "access" thrown their way and the occasional low-level progressive appointment that they bit their tongues whenever Clinton showed his true DLC colors, e.g., with welfare reform. And every time I would sputter, "Dump this creep!" someone would whisper soothingly, "But he's pro-choice (and so much more pro-labor and pro-tree than the other guy)." Is this what we're going to hear when it comes time to protest the war in Colombia or any other Gore-perpetrated horror? At the very least, the progressive Gore-ites ought to explain how they intend to avoid getting into another hostage situation should their man win.

But I can't get really mad at the Gore-ites of the left--there is such a becoming and altogether seemly diffidence about them. To my knowledge, none of them are sporting Gore buttons or bumper stickers, and I don't expect any of them to invite me to a Gore house party anytime soon. While they may firmly believe that "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," they also seem to understand that a vote for Gore is a vote for the system as it stands--and specifically for the DLC-dominated Democratic Party. Like it or not, that's how the Gore votes will be counted, and that's how they'll be spun.

Here's how generous I am: I'll tell them what they can do if they'd like to save Gore. They should stop flacking for him--stop all this carping about "spoiling" and "vote stealing"--and explain to their man what he'd have to do to start taking votes away from Nader. Like renouncing the substitution of bribery for the democratic process. Like pledging to spend the budget excess on such daily necessities as universal health insurance and childcare. Like embracing a worker-friendly approach to world trade.

I doubt that Gore could ever become Nader-like enough to steal my vote from the original, certainly not after his choice of DLC leader Lieberman as Veep. But it sure would be nice to see him try.

If you want other examples of Ehrenreich's "left-wing" politics as an infantile disorder, I can provide them.

Posted by DeLong at July 10, 2004 09:25 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Ah, thank you. I think you may have given me the term I've been looking for. I like Ehrenreich, but you're absolutely right about her, and others', "infantile disorder."

Posted by: abf on July 10, 2004 09:41 PM

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When my son graduated from Reed a whle back, Barbara Ehrenrfich (an alumna) was the commencement speaker. She began by announcing that /her/ daughter was going to /Harvard./ Paraphrasing Mark Twain, when news of her impending funeral reaches me, I will postpone all other entertainments to be present.

Posted by: buce on July 10, 2004 09:47 PM

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I love Ehrenreich - not as a wonk, but as a writer. That's her job. She's an extremely talented writer who brings up issues in ways that other people cannot - both with content and style. She definitely would not fit in writing or making policy, but that's not her job and its certainly not what she's good at. When she does veer into the policy recommendation field, she does leave a lot to be desired, but as a writer she's a lot better than a large chunk of columnists out there.

Posted by: dstein on July 10, 2004 10:06 PM

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As one of the formerly high flying techno geeks whose yearly income plunged by 85% (fewer contracts, shrinking pay) I found myself paddling furiously to keep afloat in the tax bracket where the EITC really, really matters. The EITC solved my financial crisis this year. The EITC made me (almost) willing to give my first born to Clinton, except wait! this family friendly policy was designed to help ... parents with low incomes ... imagine that! Clinton dude, love yah.
I really really do. And did I ever learn the importance of good policy to help working people, boy I sure did.

Next year I hope the company I'm starting will get me out of this tax bracket. In any case...

You nailed this one, Brad DeLong!

Posted by: camille roy on July 10, 2004 10:11 PM

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Brad I read on and see YOU are Mister EITC.

Maximum excellent karma, what can I say.

... thanks!

Posted by: camille roy on July 10, 2004 10:15 PM

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I think De Long knowingly provided an over-the-top rant. What other explanation for his knowing allusion to Lenin's 1920 tract? I have a lot more sympathy for the old anti-marxist left than for balding old V.I. Maybe our host has a soft spot for Ehrenreich's writing, if not for her policy prescriptions. He does call her ten times a Brooks, after all.

Posted by: wcw on July 10, 2004 10:19 PM

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So because Ehrenreich disagrees with you on some matters, she shouldn't be on the Times op-ed page? I don't get it. If she's worth ten David Brooks, what's the problem? Sure, it's not idea, but isn't it an improvement?

Posted by: Aaron Swartz on July 10, 2004 10:21 PM

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Er, yeah. Supporting Nader in 2000 was "infantile disorder". It was _wrong_, perhaps; mistaken; if nothing else debatable. Writing it off as "infantile" is, at best, lazy, and probably something worse.

Her point about abortion, which when the question of the frightening possibility of Bush's getting his hands on the Supreme Court _is_ probably uppermost on liberals' minds, is a good one. The party affiliation of the nominating President has _not_ been sufficient to predict the justice's votes. Is pointing this out "infantile"? If not, what fraction of the rest of her essay is "infantile"? Letting it "speak for itself" is an easy way to spare oneself the trouble of actual analysis.

Posted by: Ernest Tomlinson on July 10, 2004 11:22 PM

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Anyone who doesn't think Krugman is the NYT's best columnist is only reading the thing 5 days a week.

Posted by: Brian Boru on July 10, 2004 11:37 PM

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Gee, if Ehrenreich's politics are "infantile," then that must mean the vast right wing press punditry has fetal politics.

Ehrenreich should get the coverage of Safire, Will and Brooks combined. It would help to balance out the media a bit.

Trying to score some points with the "Kool Kids", Brad ?

Posted by: Gordon Aanarude on July 11, 2004 12:54 AM

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I think maybe you just have a dislike for Barb because she is a commie. The rightward drift of american politics is disturbing to more people than just her. Sure the dems are better than the alternative, but if they continue to drift right they will get to be less and less good.

I agree voting for nader in 2000 now looks a mistake, but I can't blame people like Barb for groping for a better alternative. Heck I voted libertarian for the last time in 2000. Neither of us is supporting a third party this time around, be grateful for that.

Posted by: Frank on July 11, 2004 01:37 AM

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Have you ever wondered why Al Gore wasn't elected?

Posted by: James Hogan on July 11, 2004 02:18 AM

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Yep, it's infantile to feel good about oneself when taking in the world's injustices,- and what other motive could one have, unless one is a freakin' masochist. It is far better to identify with the way the world is and collaborate in its injustices, while attributing its workings to the non-intentional effects of inhuman forces. That is truly the mark of superior authenticity!

Posted by: john c. halasz on July 11, 2004 02:28 AM

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Prof. Delong's rhetorical inversion of/ tacit identification with Lenin bespeaks the point. Would that the good offices of the state were as those two imagined them to be. Would that civil society were not an exclusively economic concept!

Posted by: john c. halasz on July 11, 2004 02:51 AM

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Brad writes: They are poorly paid because our technology has dropped demand for low-education labor at the same time that our educational system has failed to upgrade the formal educational skills of our workforce.

Uh, that is peculiar. Wal-Mart is, what, the largest employer in the nation? US is moving to services-based economy? And yet demand for services labor is dropping?

Posted by: a on July 11, 2004 03:42 AM

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As for votes for Nader and Gore. I think US Democratic Party is a marvel. NAFTA debate had shown that it has no socio-economic base whatsoever. It seems to expect people to vote for its candidates simply out of fear and disgust of GOP. In 2004 they will probably get lucky. But in 2000 - when few people understood just how bad Bush would be as a president - to demand the vote as if it was their due while making no concessions to social-democratic wing whatsoever was stupid and arrogant.

Posted by: a on July 11, 2004 03:54 AM

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This strikes me as completely unfair. For instance, in the exchange of letters you linked to, I see no argument by Ehrenreich to the effect that upper and upper-middle class women should fire their nannies. It is also not even clear that her first action item, as you describe it, is decreasing demand for the labor of such nannies. You only see it that way, it seems to me, because you assume that politics is about self-expression for her; you cannot derive that she holds that view from the piece to which you link.

And the pro-Nader piece you include may (in my view does) embody a mistaken judgment about what to do to improve the country, but there is no evidence that it is motivated by the narcissistic desire to assume an appropriate oppositional stance, and to feel good about herself. Moreover, even if it is so motivated, the fact is she makes arguments, none of which indicate that the point is to feel good and oppositional about yourself.

Finally, what exactly are you hoping to accomplish with this post, and with taking such an attitude more generally? Are you really hoping to scare someone off of Ehrenreich's writing who would be inclined toward it? Otherwise, I can see no advantage to this kind of approach.

Posted by: Jeff L. on July 11, 2004 05:15 AM

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Infantile is this post.

Posted by: david on July 11, 2004 05:56 AM

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In Barb's defense, in 2000 we didn't know just how bad Bush was going to be. The Democratic party stood for little, inspired nobody, and needed change. It was not totally unreasonable (though it was incorrect) to think that a strong Nader campaign would push the Dems to the left.

What does she think of Nader now?

Posted by: rps on July 11, 2004 06:00 AM

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"Have you ever wondered why Al Gore wasn't elected?" writes James Hogan.

We know why - Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris et al with help from Database Technologies and SCOTUS.

Posted by: Dubblblind on July 11, 2004 06:22 AM

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The mainstream of the Democratic Party has been extremely effective in marginalizing the left wing of the Democratic Party, at the cost of being helpless against the Republican Party. Brad said only a few days ago that the Clinton economic plan was unsuccessful because they got Part One (the Republican part) passed, but not Part Two (the one which would have justified everything to labor et al).

If the Democratic party had a strong left wing, the center could negotiate with the Republicans from a position of strength instead of weakness. As far as I know, that's the only way the party's ever been successful -- during the 30's Roosevely had a lot of angry people to his left, e.g. Floyd B. Olsen of Minnesota.

The DLC and New Republic have been so effective over the years attacking the Democratic left that it always surprises me when I see them attacking a Republican. Can't really say that about Brad, but this has been a reminder that I don't really belong.

The 2000 Nader defection didn't come from nowhere. The party leadership had been taunting them/us for over a decade by the time it happened. Matt Yglesias has plotted out a hawkish path for the Democrats which amounts to requesting the doves to depart once again. (McCain worship). The pitiful thing is that if Democrats had listened to the Nader types (and NAACP types) a bit more ten or twenty years ago on things like corporate governance, media concentration, "equal-time", and voting rights, the party's position would be remarkably stronger right now. Moore's film showed how the party preferred to lose rather than to have Jesse Jackson in the limelight.

Buce's post is one of the pettiest non-troll posts I've ever seen on this site. I don't even know what it's supposed to mean.


Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 11, 2004 06:37 AM

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I think De Long's post is a tad self-indulgent and over the top. Using Ehrenreich as the target is unfair -- she's a distinguished researcher and writer no more a purveyor of cant than the rest of us. But where you're right, Brad, is in laying out the minefield the left (Ehrenreich too) has created for itself and which it tromps across at every opportunity, losing arms, legs, brains,and reproductive capability. (No more so than the right, but that's another story.)

Both parties are so stuck in old rants and complaints that both have bad, if slightly different,odors of decay. The Democratic Platform Committee seems determined to avoid authentic and honorable positions. Instead of cleaning up its act and embracing the new, it seems to be rolling in the stench of the right.

Posted by: Bean on July 11, 2004 06:41 AM

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I frankly do not see what I am supposed to deplore in the quote provided. If the idea is that the Greens didn't do the right thing, I would suggest that that is a pretty large crowd by now, and Republicans are a lot closer to the head of the list than the Greens.

The fact is that Democrats have helped create a "permissive atmosphere" in the Congress that regularly leads to infantile outbursts by Congresspeople.

I do know that my family values didn't lean much to employing domestic labor, but figured that the union worker was the basis of national prosperity, and generally approved of employing union labor. So if your nanny is unionized, more power to both of you.

I happen to be a nurse and do have days when I wish the person treating me as a domestic would remember that I have more education, more knowledge, and more responsibility about the situation at hand than they do.

You know, I think that could happen in journalism too.....

Posted by: serial catowner on July 11, 2004 06:45 AM

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"Uh, that is peculiar. Wal-Mart is, what, the largest employer in the nation? US is moving to services-based economy? And yet demand for services labor is dropping?"

Walmart uses fewer workers to distribute a greater volume of consumer goods at lower prices. Increased productivity in manufacturing (and agriculture before that) means that there is a healthy supply of people willing to work for Walmart wages.

Ehrenreich, unfortunately, simultaneously epitomizes the best and worst of Reed College. That kind of Nation point of view of "Don't try to hold me accountable for the shoddy reasoning in my well-written polemic because I am sticking up for the little guy."

Posted by: Sammy on July 11, 2004 06:47 AM

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When one has despaired--definitively and irreversibly despaired--of causing or even witnessing any practical amelioration, then one speaks to history. The currency of that speech is the currency of absolute moral principles, and the purpose of it is to place proof on record, for later centuries to discover, that those principles were not (as superficial research would indicate) entirely eclipsed.

The compulsion to do this is an honorable compulsion, and quite the reverse of self-indulgence, since no immediate benefit or gratification of any kind flows from it. I will make a very presumptuous assertion, which is that Ms. Ehrenreich does not feel good about herself: because, under a totalitarian regime, no one who is not a moral cipher does so.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on July 11, 2004 07:04 AM

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Where is the historical evidence for this well-worn assertion: "If the Democratic party had a strong left wing, the center could negotiate with the Republicans from a position of strength instead of weakness." Let's look at the record for the past forty years.

1964: Republicans had a strong right wing, so strong that they nominated someone from that wing. Result: they were crushed. Dems were party of center.

1968 -- Dems had a strong left wing: they lost, and would have lost in a landslide had Wallace not run.

1972 -- Dem left wing so strong that it essentially dictated the nomination. Result: crushed.

1976 -- Dem left wing still strong, Carter barely wins, despite running against man who pardoned Nixon.

1980 -- Dem left wing very strong (Teddy Kennedy nearly drafted at convention). They get barely more than 40% of vote.

1984 -- Left wing weakening, but nominee is representative of Zizka's hero's Minnesota Farmer and Democratic Party. Dems are destroyed.

1988 -- Party moderating. Dukakis runs worst campaign ever.

1992 -- Left wing marginalized. Victory!

1996 -- Left wing quiet. Victory again.

2000 -- Left wing starts to come back: Naderites leave left out of the fold. Victory, but not by enough.


Drawing lessons (historically dubious lessons, in any case) from the New Deal is simply absurd. The next time American capitalism looks like it's on the verge of falling completely apart, the presence of people who -- like Ehrenreich, Tom Frank, and Ralph Nader -- believe that capitalism is an inherently corrupt and criminal system on the Dems' left flank will help the party get votes. Until that happens, all they do is make the Democrats look like fools who are more interested in tearing down the system than reforming it. This is what Brad is reacting against in Ehrenreich, this refusal to recognize that the EITC, the FLSA, etc., are not just stopgap measures but are the fundamental things government should be doing: making up for market failures rather than trying to pre-empt or control markets. Capitalism is far more of a solution -- to economic growth, poverty, opportunity -- than a problem. Clinton, Rubin, and Summers understood this. I think Kerry and even Edwards do, too. Until the strong left wing does, it will continue to do far more harm than good, not just to the Dems' electoral chances, but to the very people they believe they're sticking up for.

Posted by: Steve Carr on July 11, 2004 08:51 AM

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Sammy: Increased productivity in manufacturing (and agriculture before that) means that there is a healthy supply of people willing to work for Walmart wages.

If increased productivity in manufacturing was the reason, your clothes would be made in US and not in China. If people are willing to work for wages lower than they received in tha past, it is not a healthy transition to services economy due to increased productivity - the word here is immizeration.

Posted by: a on July 11, 2004 09:03 AM

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There is such an enormity of material to be understood, in order to formulate good politics!

And I think it is remarkable that anyone would venture to write on anything, without continuous study of science, religion, and economics. Non-fiction or fiction! How could you keep from misleading others and embarrassing yourself?

Still, it must be allowed that social observation, kept separate from those subjects, is an important raw material. But then, your remaining problem would be how to keep it fresh, under the demanding schedule of a regular column.

We have yet to see a decent account of the politics of the last thirty years, at all the various levels: (1) out of the 60's, the Left's internecine fighting in the war aftermath, vs. Right's thinktank building of message and delivery; (2) distaste for the reality of abortion combined with distrust of judicial fiat; (3) 70's inflation and oil price hikes; (4) weakness of Carter and readiness of Reagan; (5) resurge in globalization; (6) implosion of organized labor around the older industries; (7) dumbing-down of many voters with twenty years of bad schools; (8) rapid growth co-evolution of computer start-ups with plutocracy...

Now, of course, the worm may be turning again, due to the disparities of wealth and income hammering on the poor and middle class and preventing opportunity.

So we have Simple Observation, up against: the Enormous Chain of facts and inferences that have led us to this point. We can only hope that Sister Ehrenreich seriously takes up the challenge of explaining it all to us. Because it isn’t being done yet, anywhere.

Posted by: Lee A. on July 11, 2004 09:27 AM

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I think the problem Ehrenreich is facing is the preservation of her conscience. To call her "infantile" is similar to calling revolutionaries, and anarchists especially, "adolescent" (as Oakesshott did), in that they both seek to make themselves levers of change, either collectively or idependently. The conflict with economic solutions to these material injustices comes in the description of subjective states, like happiness. Happiness in economic thought is a subjectively determined state (causally), but is objectively knowable. If economics makes claims to understand causal relations, as any science does, then it must make some contribution to the manipulation of those causal structures. This would be revealed, I guess, in the many policies and institutions designed to offer positive and negative incentives. Economics then is the science of making people happy, if indirectly, becasue it assumes they are always trying to be so and it is the science of the material enablers of this drive. What then of the conscience? The conscience is a soviergnty of judgement that cannot be wholly self-reflexive. That is, it cannot be simply a matter of consistency in one's values and still have the moral meaning it does. Economics describes all action, and claims objective justification for that description, and further justification in that such descriptions are meant to improve human happiness by application of what economics learns. There is then a tension between one's subjective values as they relate to the society and one's action in society, and the characterization of subjective values in economics and their irrelevance in determining proper forms of social action. The two can merge without problems only if the values one holds concerning justice are the same that one holds concerning proper forms of social action. That is, one must have a conviction that science (not necessarily 'rationality') as a cultural force is the strognest contributor to social justice in order to avoid this tension. But science relies on a constant deferral of final judgement for its mechanism and an achieved future benefit for its justification. If those benefits are not seen, and there is no reason to assume they will come other than the general promise of science as a way to reconcile diverse opinions and judgements, then there is a crisis. I suppose the real question is: "how much benefit is enough?" But if it is a matter of justice, then it is never enough, and if it is a matter of comfort, it is an inacessible and private criterion and objectification of it either through method or actual claim is confusing at best. So, perhaps she is infantile in that she looks to her own "feelings", but it is dishonest to pretend that concern for EITC or other policy issues is the real solution to or authentic understanding of leftist issues.

Posted by: William Stafford on July 11, 2004 09:41 AM

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Does it really matter one way or another? If you look at his policies and what he's willing to deal with (and away), Joe Lieberman is to the right of Richard Nixon.

We have designated liberals these days who are Rockefeller Republicans in left-of-center drag, mostly because they've long since conceded the center. "Reporters" are considered daring if they occasionally report unpopular facts, because we have to encourage them - they usually don't.

Lots of people know better, but that's not where the money is.

Me, I think Ralph Nader is going to have 900 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis and most of our civil liberties in his honor guard in hell, but it's a little hard for me not to feel a little sympathety for Barbara Ehrenreich making ugly noises to get someone - anyone - to pay attention.

Posted by: julia on July 11, 2004 09:44 AM

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sympathy. sorry.

Posted by: julia on July 11, 2004 09:45 AM

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There is no symmetry in the "choice" between money and happiness. Money is a mechanism of the attribution of value with respect to individual choice, and happiness the orientation of choice. I know Brad's comment about this was funny, but the subsequent posts went into a moral discussion which is incompatible with the social authority of economics. You cannot discount money in any meaningful way, as a sort of cultural protest, unless you can also do something about the inherent scarcity of resources (especially with respectto some subjectively determined "adequate" amount), and more importantly the inherent materiality of life.

Posted by: William Stafford on July 11, 2004 10:00 AM

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With respect, Brad, your knee-jerk reaction here is just as infantile. The fact that Ehrenreich is considered airy and marginal is above all a testament to the putrefaction of the American political climate.

Posted by: nick on July 11, 2004 10:24 AM

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"The point, by contrast, is to assume an appropriate oppositional stance, and to feel good about oneself."

Then she should be one of the usual suspects on the comments section of SDJ.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on July 11, 2004 10:26 AM

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As other people have said or indicated, BE is a writer. She clearly enjoys doing what she does. That's why I like reading her columns, even if I probably disagree with a lot of what she says.

Posted by: Brian on July 11, 2004 10:31 AM

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Not this again. The good writer and the Good writer. At the very least, BE ie a hundred Brookes.
Pat, is that a self-deprecating remark?

Posted by: calmo on July 11, 2004 10:49 AM

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To be fair to the DLC, they turned out to be half-right. The DLC formed in an era of Republican dominance of the Presidency, and was an attempt to come up with a strategy to reverse that. Since, as will become clear this November, we are now in an era of Democratic dominance of the Presidency, they weren't totally wrong. (Though the price the Democrats have paid was probably too high.)

But the left _has_ been marginalized. I'm not sure that they're more marginalized than before, but if newspapers can find a place on their editorial pages for William Safire, then they should be able to find a place for Ehrenreich. If diversity of opinion is important, then diversity to the left of center should be treated equally with diversity to the right. The lack of left-wing voices is what allows the right to paint someone like Paul Krugman as a hard-core left-winger. There should be someone that Paul could point to say and, "no, that's a left-winger", but those someones are deliberately excluded from the media.

Posted by: Walt Pohl on July 11, 2004 11:13 AM

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I read an essay about the American philosopher, Richard Rorty yesterday, as it happens, discussing his tendency to preach what the writer (can't recall his name) calls "lay sermons". The writer points out that sometimes that is all one can do: to remind others that the higher purposes of society require attention.

I agree that we all need to take action, that reform leftism is a noble calling, and that specific and identifiable policies will improve the lot of our fellow citizens and ourselves. But not everyone can or should do the planning. Ehrenreich preaches the lay sermon of the left beautifully and effectively, and that is a lot these days.

Posted by: masaccio on July 11, 2004 11:19 AM

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I thought her column in today's (11 July 2004) NY Times was actually pretty good--the humor was actually good (as opposed to Maureen Dowd's vicious humor) and her point was sound. What's not to like?

Posted by: BayMike on July 11, 2004 11:21 AM

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So what if BE supported Nader in 2000? Was this a threat to the Democrats electoral viability?
If so, why the hell did Gore's supposedly sincere populism yield a running mate such as Lieberman?

What is infantile is thinking that brow-beating a significant part of your party's base is somehow going to bring them to reason. Take note that Kerry did not make the same miscalculation. That's progress for the party, maybe not for the centrists but definitely for the party. Maybe its time to call out "Where are the adults in the centrist sect of the Democratic Party?".

Posted by: self on July 11, 2004 11:23 AM

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1992-1996: Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress. To Steve Carr that is "Victory! Victory!" Come on, guy!

1932-1980 The Democrats had a strong left wing and did pretty well. In 1980 the liberals were decimated, especially in the Senate. The Dmeocrats have been doing poorly since.

Steve, I was not talking just about the left taking over the party, but actually having some people in Congress and some more voters voting. Democratic centrists seem to believe that party control, which they have, is enough in itself.

Your Dukakis mention was ad hoc and self-serving. You did not respond to what I said about 2000: if the Naderites had stayed in, Gore would have won comfortably. The Lieberman choice was supremely insulting. (Gore himself seems to believe that he was very badly advised).

Likewise, you did not respond to the substantive issues (corporate governance, voting rights, equal time) where the Democrats cut their own throats against the warnings of the extremist Nader types.

What is in question here, however, isn't Ehrenreich and her kind taking over the party, but having a voice in it (and on the NYT). Brad and Carr want to make sure that she doesn't have a voice in either place.

And their kind have been very successful. In controlling the party, that is.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 11, 2004 11:25 AM

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Barbara Ehrenreich is a player within the current Democrat Party. Brad DeLong is nothing but a has-been. When will our host realize that he has more in common with President Bush than the Kerry-Edwards’ ticket?

The Bill Clinton of 1992 would be soundly rejected by the Democrat Party of 2004. The far Left now pulls the strings. I know this cruel fact of life existentially discombobulates DeLong---but it’s time for him to wake up and smell the coffee. The man has been unofficially excommunicated. Senator Kerry is treating DeLong like a punk.

Posted by: David Thomson on July 11, 2004 11:46 AM

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Brad, I'd be inclined to take your complaint seriously, but for one thing. Why do you offer examples of her opinions from 2000-2003 when she just had four pieces in the NY Times in the past month? What's your beef with any of them? Did you even read them?

Posted by: scylla on July 11, 2004 12:08 PM

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David Thomson may be speaking tongue in cheek, or then again maybe not. Nobody should respond until they're sure which. Interpreters should be called in.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 11, 2004 12:28 PM

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Brad, your post is not an argument, but a polemic not so far distant from the aspects of Erenreich's work that apparently most discomfit you.

Erenreich focuses on the individual, personal consequences of government policy. Similar to Maureen Dowd or David Brooks, in fact, except that her subjects are in the bottom third in terms of wages and capital, while Brooks focuses on the top third, and Dowd focuses on the top 1%.

I guess that I don't see this as a bad thing.

Posted by: CD318 on July 11, 2004 12:29 PM

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In defense of Brad's invocation of "an infantile disorder":

The thrust of Lenin's 1920 pamphlet was you have to work within the existing political system until you have enough strength to break it. He criticizes the Spartacists in Germany for not supporting the Weimar republic, for not participating in parliamentary and other political coalitions. They looked for a revolution from below to overturn the existing order. Lenin regards this as infantile wishful thinking. In the light of the later history of the Weimar republic, it's difficult to say Lenin was wrong.

He criticizes the Workers’ Socialist Federation and the Socialist Labour Party in Britain for not being willing to affiliate with the Labour Party. True he praises them for their revolutionary zeal. Their hearts are in the right place. But "we must tell them openly and frankly that a state of mind is by itself insufficient for leadership of the masses in a great revolutionary struggle."

It seems to me that one can regard those who would turn their backs on the Democratic party and seek "pure" politics through third party candidacies as the modern equivalents of the WSF and SLP. If one does, it seems fair to borrow Lenin's characterization.

Posted by: jam on July 11, 2004 12:45 PM

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If Ehrichman is infantile, Delong is certainly acting childish, and churlish, himself.

What, precisely, was the purpose of this diatribe? It appears to be to blame B.E. for Shrub (I mean, why post the ENTIRE piece about the wisdom of voting for Nader?)

I usually like Brad's stuff, but this time he has gone WAY overboard. I think this bit was especially despicable

" Witness her argument that what upper and upper-middle class American women should do is to fire their nannies in order to avoid their children "growing up with the world's class and racial hierarchies stamped on their emerging little world views"-- "

which is A COMPLETE MISREPRESENTATION of BE's position which was:

" All the more reason, then, to work for high-quality, affordable childcare for everyone—at
decent rates of pay for the childcare workers! "

B.E. in discussing why she support "affordable childcare for everyone" she notes one of the problems with the current system---that the "unpleasant" aspects of childcare (cleaning up shit an vomit, for instance) are fobbed off on "nannies" who are generally racial minorities---and that there is a risk of children growing up having internalized the notion that some tasks are beneath them as white people, but perfectly appropriate for minorities.

The discussion is called "Are We Exploiting Our Nannies", and B.E. attempts to broaden the discussion to include all domestic workers, and the social impact of an economic system that provides genuine economic opportunity to minorities.

Shame on her. We all know that there are lots and lots of good-paying jobs with great benefits available, and if these goddam minorities would just get off their asses, they would be just fine, right Brad?

Posted by: paul lukasiak on July 11, 2004 01:04 PM

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After experiencing the last 3 1/2 years with Bush, I wonder if Ehrenreich still stands by her decision to vote for Nader. I only mention this because I seem to recall reading in one of her books that her primary residence was in Key West.
I imagine that she had some friends and neighbors who were persuaded by her arguements or at the very least mindlessly assimilated her beliefs. More like "MY vote for Nader is a presidency for Bush".

Posted by: Clayton on July 11, 2004 01:32 PM

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If Gore had run a competent campaign, he would hve won. Nader's idiocy cannot and should not take more - or even as much - blame for the Bush presidency than Gore (or Bush, or Scalia) does. And yes, I did vote for Gore.

Posted by: CD318 on July 11, 2004 01:37 PM

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Paul: Brad was not misrepresenting Ehrenreich's position. She explicitly says that even if she could afford to hire a nanny, she would not, because the very presence of a nanny "teaches the kids an ugly lesson: that there are tasks that are somehow 'below' mommy and daddy, but appropriate to darker-skinned people with broken English." Ehrenreich's point here is absurd, and it derives from her peculiar idea that certain jobs are simply degrading to do, and therefore you should do them yourself rather than hire someone else to do them. When she talks about paying childcare workers better, she means daycare workers, not nannies, and definitely not housekeepers, because she simply doesn't think people should hire people to do that kind of work for them. Thus her bizarre assertion that "paid housecleaning" is a "peculiarly intimate kind of work." There's no rationale behind her argument -- it just reflects a visceral distate on her part (which you can see quite clearly in "Nickel and Dimed" in her discussion of her time as a maid). Why it's okay to let a dental hygienist clean my teeth but not okay to hire a woman to clean my apartment (when the first is, by any standard, far more intimate and viscerally disgusting) is simply mystifying.

Brad's point is right on: Ehrenreich's argument is that when it comes to certain kinds of work, there should be no division of labor. This is not just economically bad for society as a whole, it also would have exactly the consequence Brad describes: throwing hundreds of thousands of women (nannies and maids) out of work.

Posted by: Steve Carr on July 11, 2004 02:14 PM

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And Paul, just to make the obvious point: Slate comes up with the headlines after their writers have posted, not before. The headline reflects Ehrenreich's assumption that employment is exploitation, yet another argument ready-made to doom the left to irrelevance.

Posted by: Steve Carr on July 11, 2004 02:17 PM

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Jeez. CSPAN2 booknotes had an excellent interview between Brian Lamb and Barbara Ehrenreich on today; an old interview from 1989 (though still timely in all the issues she addresses) done after the release of her book on the failing middle class. You should try to watch it, Brad, or listen online. This is a really bad post from you, a nasty smear. If you watched the interview, I think you would retract it. I really dislike your name calling posts, kind of calling the kettle black with this infantilism charge.

Posted by: Tecla on July 11, 2004 02:47 PM

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You say:

"I agree that Barbara Ehrenreich is a very smart and graceful writer, a keen analyst of American culture and society--she is worth, say, ten of David Brooks. "

This is sufficient reason to support Tim Noah's view that she should be a regular. As someone who counts himself a liberal, I still think it is important for the paper of record to have a regular feature from a smart leftist.

I think Ehrenreich can be very, very wrong. But she always strikes me as very, very smart, and I am glad to have her around to make me rethink and often sharpen my views. As such, she is as uesful as Richard Posner.

Posted by: Richard Green on July 11, 2004 03:35 PM

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w/resp to the post and comments...why not discontinue this blog and start one on the Servant Problem? It seems to be the one question that really hits home for you guys.

Posted by: Levi on July 11, 2004 03:37 PM

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Brad, you are absolutely right about Barbara Ehrenstein. Advice from her is to be avoided. She and her ilk have been very damaging to the progressive causes. Her views are based on emotion not reason.

Tony Kushner a pragrmatic lefty warns us about her kind in this interview with Mother Jones.

http://www.motherjones.com/arts/qa/2003/11/ma_586_01.html

"Listen, here's the thing about politics: It's not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this."

Posted by: Mary Louise on July 11, 2004 03:42 PM

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jam:

Not to get all antiquarian on you, but didn't Lenin criticize the Spartacists after the rebellion had been crushed by the right-wing of the Social Democratic Party in collaboration with the German militarists and after Rosa Luxemburg had been assasinated in those same events? And didn't Red Rosa write a pamphlet criticizing the Russian Revolution and the Leninist theory of the party before she died? Of course, hindsight is identical with omniscience, but are you really arguing that Lenin was more far-sighted than Red Rosa and her cohorts?

What's in a name? Ehrenreich - "rich in honors"?

Posted by: john c. halasz on July 11, 2004 03:53 PM

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Brad is the infantile one here. He hates Barbara Ehrenreich because she has consistently revealed the unspoken and unsupported assumptions economists often make. She has written about real life in Fear of Falling and Nickeled and Dimed, unlike Brad who thinks only of the theory of so-called "Free Trade." And her book, The Hearts of Men, is an amazing work of sociology that is too often neglected, as is her book with another person on the poor medical advice the male dominated medical establishment through the 1960s gave to women.

As other bloggers (see Matt Y for starters) have already said, Brad is all wet on this one.

Simply put: Barbara Ehrenreich is not only worth 10 David Brooks, she is worth 3 Paul Krgumans.

Posted by: mitchell freedman on July 11, 2004 03:56 PM

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And a million Brad Delong's

Posted by: Hal on July 11, 2004 04:06 PM

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I happen to think Brad is right here--Ehrenreich does leave a lot to be desired, although the use of the word "infantile" doesn't strike me as appropriate. But in 2000 Ehrenreich just plain and simple minimized the harm that a Bush administration would bring. We didn't have time for Nader then, the election was too crucial. And most of knew that Bush would be bad, even I, a long-time Peace and Freedom Party member, who had until then never voted for a Democrat (except Gus Newport in Berkeley) saw that if Bush won, it would really, really, cause a hell of a lot of inequality, not to mention war and other things. Those who had it tough in 2000, such as African Americans and others, were practically pleading with us not to vote for Nader. I think Ehrenreich is often just too disconnected from others (witness her statement she gave at Reed College, noted above), especially the poor, the prostituted, and other victims of hatred.

Posted by: Carl on July 11, 2004 04:32 PM

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I happen to think Brad is right here--Ehrenreich does leave a lot to be desired, although the use of the word "infantile" doesn't strike me as appropriate. But in 2000 Ehrenreich just plain and simple minimized the harm that a Bush administration would bring. We didn't have time for Nader then, the election was too crucial. And most of knew that Bush would be bad, even I, a long-time Peace and Freedom Party member, who had until then never voted for a Democrat (except Gus Newport in Berkeley) saw that if Bush won, it would really, really, cause a hell of a lot of inequality, not to mention war and other things. Those who had it tough in 2000, such as African Americans and others, were practically pleading with us not to vote for Nader. I think Ehrenreich is often just too disconnected from others (witness her statement she gave at Reed College, noted above), especially the poor, the prostituted, and other victims of hatred.

Posted by: Carl on July 11, 2004 04:32 PM

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Actually the nanny thing isn't far from the mark. Look at a society where the best, and often only, form of employment is 'sycophant to the hereditary rich', and you'll see a society about to die of old age.

Most free-born people feel this so strongly that the best nannies come from societies run by corrupt oligarchies.

Why would someone want their children raised by a person with little self-respect, setting a daily example of self-abegnation and grovelling for scraps of food or money?

The most likely explanation is that the nanny isn't seen as a person at all. Rich people are not afraid their children will become nannies, because the nanny is seen as a member of a class that the rich cannot fall into.

It's not really a new observation that "the master becomes the captive of his slaves", but it seems to be new to many readers here. Worthy of reflection or, as the hip young dude would say, "a Google search".

As for 'infantile disorder', could there be anything more infantile than Tipper Gore lobbying for a Federal law against DANCING? This was a ticket I was supposed to take seriously?

Posted by: serial catowner on July 11, 2004 04:39 PM

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What on earth is up with people who have such a problem with a smart, well-sourced writer connecting policy to the personal? Has any one of you with your noses up in the air about Ehrenreich ever worked (for your living, not as a summer job) for minimum wage? And what on earth makes you think Ehrenreich (not Barb, please--could you get any more condescending?) still thinks people should vote Nader? Get real! Here's what I wrote in the comments to Kevin Drum's post (this argument makes me tired and you'll forgive the cut and paste, I'm sure):

I recommend reading "Nickel and Dimed," especially to those who feel the need to hold their noses about Ehrenreich.

I even more strongly recommend doing what she did in that book--living for a while only on minimum wage jobs. And pray that your health doesn't fail, or your car break down. Even with the advantages of not being a parent, having been raised with good medical and dental care on a high-protein diet, and with a good education, it simply can't be done.

Then come back and argue about emotion and common sense.

(Those Koreans and Indians you see doing so well in the second and third generation here are first, not destitute and uneducated on arrival, second, have vast support networks when they get here, and third, have extremely strong cultural and family ties to help each other. It's not necessarily the end of the world if one gets sick, or a car breaks down.)

Why such pained distaste for lefties anyway? So we get upset when some normal person gets screwed. Right-wingers get into frothing rages that there may be a lefty still breathing somewhere.

I also wonder why we are consistently drawn into this repulsive "good immigrant" argument, when really we are talking about poor white people in Maine as often as not.

Posted by: mg_65 on July 11, 2004 04:40 PM

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"He does call her ten times a Brooks, after all."

Ten times zero is still zero.

Personally, I have enjoyed Ehrenreich's columns for the New York Times more than I do every other Times political columnist save Krugman. But in the future, I will bear in mind her bizarre Naderphilia as I peruse her opinions.

- Marc

Posted by: whopundit on July 11, 2004 04:59 PM

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John c. halasz:

Yes. The failed Spartacist rising and the assassinations of Liebknecht and Luxemburg had already occurred by the time Lenin wrote. That doesn't mean that Lenin was wrong. Participation in conventional politics still pays off. It's worth quoting Harry Kessler's diary entry on the day of the Liebknecht funeral:

"The troops guarding the city centre are also socialist sympathizers and probably no wholly middle-class Government could have depended on them. What gives Ebert his power, which on this occasion he has converted into the shape of troops, is the eleven million votes behind him."

And of course in the British case Lenin was clearly more farsighted than Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst.

Posted by: jam on July 11, 2004 05:07 PM

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My claim: Look at in any political system, anywhere, where a new third party arose to successfully challenge an entrenched two parties in a 'winner-takes-all' (as opposed to proportional representation) electoral system. To achieve this the third party will have to have gone through at least one and usually several election when votes for it were wasted, and were 'stolen' from the party which was closest to the new party's aims.

See, for example, the rise of the Labour parties in Australia, New Zealand and England in the first third of the 20th century. Those voting for the neophyte Labour parties would have been better under Liberal govts than Conservative govts - but long term, they were better off getting the Labour party established as a real going concern.

I am open to counterexamples to my claim. But unless you can provide them, arguing that 'Voting Nader was infantile' is simply another way of saying 'No matter how bad our two entrenched parties are, you should always vote for the least bad of them'.

meno

Posted by: meno on July 11, 2004 05:48 PM

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You're totally right. Love the comment on Nickel and Dimed--that book made me seethe.

Posted by: SA on July 11, 2004 06:00 PM

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Barbara has been invaluable by really getting into what working class people are going through. Her "Nickeled and Dimed in America" is the current "The Jungle." Barbara actually lived that life to do the story - would Brad do so? We need her voice. As good as Krugman is, we need that edge from someone like her, even if support for Nader (the example given) is a destructive, impractical indulgence.

Posted by: Neil on July 11, 2004 06:14 PM

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Nannies etc.
http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives001361.html

Including my comments.

Posted by: seth edenbaum on July 11, 2004 07:50 PM

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Oh, dear, the nanny thing.

The way to teach your kids to respect people is to show people respect in front of them. I respected the hell out of the guy who took care of my daughter for me when I couldn't afford to stay home, and he was her touchstone.

I don't think childcare is degrading (and it'd be a hell of a note for the human race if it was). I think treating any caregiver you've decided is competent to introduce your child to the world as if he or she is doing something degrading and doesn't deserve to be treated well is profoundly stupid and counterproductive, whether they're a teacher or a nanny. Kids notice that stuff.

So pay your nanny as if he or she is an employee doing a real and important job and treat him or her with respect.

Not sure what the problem is there.

Posted by: julia on July 11, 2004 08:50 PM

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It's funny Barbara argues you should fire your nanny ... my impression from Chapter 2 of Nickled and Dimed is that the ethical course of action was to stop using a nanny service that employs white middle managers who in effect take a cut and instead find a repubtable working class nanny and pay her directly. I mean, isn't that a using your personal rising tide to lift someone else's boat?

Posted by: Nick Beaudrot on July 11, 2004 09:36 PM

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Damn, Brad, go easy on poor Ms. Ehrenreich. You'll have to forgive us Lefties our little oddities. Like being unimpressed by the extra 200,000,000 people thrown into poverty as a result of Globalization (and this from Stiglitz). Or the steady erosion of the nation's wage level and Standard of Living (measured in healthcare and economic security instead of in X-boxes) of the last 30 years. Or the destruction of Organized Labor that preceded and caused it. Or the Democratic Party's right-turn in 1988 that, after winning with Clinton, lost both Houses of Congress and the White House to boot. Steady economic growth may be the best answer to alleviating poverty, but that growth has not lead to alleviation for the vast majority, but too imizeration. The economics can be as good as Gold, but if the politics aren't there, the great mass of the profits will go to the rich. AS HAS HAPPENED IN THIS LATEST RECOVERY!!!! Increased productivity only leads to increased standards of living if there is an organized Left (Labor, Civil Rights, and Environmental movements) to make it happen. Otherwise, we get the Robber Barons all over again. And we've already seen it happen withg Enron. It's really time for the Democrats and Centrists to grow up about trusting the Market to make all our lives better. Santa Claus isn't real, much less a Capitalist.

Posted by: Padraig on July 11, 2004 10:37 PM

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Gore-Bush, or now Kerry-Bush
Il n'y a aucune différence!
(or in pidgin) Alla same-same.

You might as well argue that
Chris Benoit is really a better
wrestling choice than Triple H.
The godfather is Vince McMahon,
he makes money either way.

We are being given the "choice"
of voting for two privileged-class
preppies controlled by a plutocratic, kleptomaniacal, global vampiroyalty.

Either way lies bleached bones.
As Saddam Hussein pointed out,
it's all a shadow-puppet show.

Vote ... or don't vote.
Alla same-same.
Hide, better, off the grid.

The vampiroyals now have access
to all your medical and financial
information, without your knowledge.

The vampiroyals now have access
to all your IP ports and click-thru's,
shopping purchases and viewing choices.

They might as well tattoo barcodes on
our nut sacks and turn us out to pasture.
Wait, they are already! National ID cards!

See? Alla same-same.

Posted by: Clarence Thomas on July 11, 2004 11:49 PM

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This is a joke, right?

>It may be because Barbara Ehrenreich is a typical voice of the American left....

Um, when are you nutty "social scientists" going to give it up? "Left" is just another of those noise words. One says that another is "left" if he doesn't like what the other person is saying. Grow up.

If you don't have anything intelligent to say--and you apparently don't--don't embarrass yourself by saying anything.

BTW, for those of us who have actually studied real sciences--physics, chemistry, biology, and the like--the idea that your "social science" disciplines have anything to do with science--or reality, for that matter--is a joke. If you want to continue persuading the rubes that you have anything to do with reality, feel free--religionists do that all the time. But some of us aren't duped.

Posted by: raj on July 12, 2004 12:39 AM

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What Brad is doing in this post is precisely what Cohen did in his WaPo column attacking Michael Moore. For America's center-left elite (and I use that term precisely, not as a slur), the taint of association with filthy leftists and populists must be avoided at all costs. As Cohen acknowleged in his column, he foolishly supported the Iraq war because otherwise he'd be sharing a position with those icky protesters, with their sharp rhetoric, infantile self-righteousness, and... oh yeah, the correct position. Whoops. Similarly, Brad would rather only get half of free market reform (the half that disproportionately benefits corporations and the wealthy) and be free of the taint than fight alongside Ehrenreich and protesters in trutle suits to get the whole package (that would be the policy that he supposedly cares so much about).

The trouble, I think, is that people like Cohen and DeLong (whom I normally admire greatly, but who has shown an ugly side here) care much more about being accepted in their social and professional circles than about, well, much of anything. And if (center-right) people think you're some gauche Leftist, you won't make it. Meanwhile, the people on the center-right know exactly what they're doing; they feel no need to expend energy attacking Coulter and Hannity and Rush, because they know that their policies will be advanced by that propaganda.

So who's infantile? The leftist who fights for policy directions that will help people, thus improving her sense of self-worth, or the center-leftist who fights against the leftist to improve his sense of self-worth?

Posted by: JRoth on July 12, 2004 07:11 AM

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@JRoth -- That's a very uncomfortable-making post: "For America's center-left elite (and I use that term precisely, not as a slur), the taint of association with filthy leftists and populists must be avoided at all costs..." But so exactly on target and recognizable.

I have a little problem with the overuse of the word "elite." Maybe what's really meant here is that old word "climbers" which describes the essence of the meaning of "snob" : "...person with exaggerated respect for social position or wealth & a disposition to be ashamed of socially inferior connexions, behave with servility to social superiors, & judge of merit by externals..." (Concise Oxford)

Posted by: Bean on July 12, 2004 07:49 AM

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Raj:
"BTW, for those of us who have actually studied real sciences--physics, chemistry, biology, and the like--the idea that your "social science" disciplines have anything to do with science--or reality, for that matter--is a joke."

This is retarded. I am at work and don't have time to get into it. But give me a break please. And define 'real' and 'science' ... as if there was some neutral, objective non-emotional point of view possible for a human being.

Mary Louise (on pragmatism and politics):
"Listen, here's the thing about politics: It's not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this."

Politics at every level (one on one relation, family, city, country, world) is exactly about how people live together and what is right and wrong; which leads to discussing what could or should be done differently; which is based on having ideals (which in turn is based on imagination, which is where the possibility of ethics, morals, empathy, and even things like the notion of a nation, etc come from. On this see Wallace Stevens "Necessary Angel").

Unless your only ideal is getting as much power and money as you can for you and yours. The liberals are emotional and impractical argument is tripe.

Posted by: atrain on July 12, 2004 08:44 AM

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Meno writes: "I am open to counterexamples to my claim. But unless you can provide them, arguing that 'Voting Nader was infantile' is simply another way of saying 'No matter how bad our two entrenched parties are, you should always vote for the least bad of them'."

Well, yeah. That's exactly right. After November 2000, I don't see how anyone could argue differently. This time around, both Moore and Chomsky (!) are telling people that they should vote for Kerry. Reading between the lines of Ehrenreich's "Their George and Ours" column, she seems to be thinking the same way: she certainly doesn't say anything about the advantages of a Republican White House for progressive politics.

Something similar just happened in the Canadian federal election: to prevent a Conservative (right) victory, NDP (left) voters shifted to the Liberal (centrist) party at the last minute.

Regarding counterexamples, it's possible for a new party to get started on a regional basis. Canadian examples: the NDP, the Reform Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. Why doesn't Nader try to get some congressional representatives elected locally, rather than going straight for the presidency and drawing votes away from Kerry?

By the way, for anyone reading this thread who doesn't read Brad DeLong's blog regularly, the phrase "an infantile disorder" is an allusion to Lenin's criticism of left-wing communists.

Posted by: Russil Wvong on July 12, 2004 12:39 PM

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"Politics at every level (one on one relation, family, city, country, world) is exactly about how people live together and what is right and wrong...."

ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!

Democratic politics is about reconciling conflicting interests. It's necessarily a messy and imperfect process. You're never going to get consensus on "what is right and wrong." Even if you did, you're not going to be able to get people to act according to what is right instead of what's in their interest.

To quote George Washington:

"A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that almost every man is more or less, under its influence. Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular instances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested; but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce persevering conformity to the refined dictates and obligations of social duty. Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed."

Or to quote Hans Morgenthau, attacking moral perfectionism in politics:

"There is no escape from the evil of power, regardless of what one does. Whenever we act with reference to our fellow men, we must sin, and we must still sin when we refuse to act; for the refusal to be involved in the evil of action carries with it the breach of the obligation to do one's duty. No ivory tower is remote enough to offer protection against the guilt in which the actor and the bystander, the oppressor and the oppressed, the murderer and his victim are inextricably enmeshed. Political ethics is indeed the ethics of doing evil. While it condemns politics as the domain of evil par excellence, it must reconcile itself to the enduring presence of evil in all political action. Its last resort, then, is the endeavor to choose, since evil there must be, among several possible actions the one that is least evil.

"It is indeed trivial, in the face of so tragic a choice, to invoke justice against expediency and to condemn whatever political action is chosen because of its lack of justice. Such an attitude is but another example of the superficiality of a civilization which, blind to the tragic complexities of human existence, contents itself with an unreal and hypocritical solution of the problem of political ethics. In fact, the invocation of justice pure and simple against a political action makes of justice a mockery; for, since all political actions needs must fall short of justice, the argument against one political action holds true for all. By avoiding a political action because it is unjust, the perfectionist does nothing but exchange blindly one injustice for another which might even be worse than the former. He shrinks from the lesser evil because he does not want to do evil at all. Yet his personal abstention from evil, which is actually a subtle form of egotism with a good conscience, does not at all affect the existence of evil in the world but only destroys the faculty of discriminating between different evils. 'Man,' in the words of Pascal, 'is neither angel nor beast and his misery is that he who would act the angel acts the brute.' Here again it is only the awareness of the tragic presence of evil in all political action which at least enables man to choose the lesser evil and to be as good as he can be in an evil world."

From "Scientific Man vs. Power Politics."

Posted by: Russil Wvong on July 12, 2004 12:51 PM

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Zizka (aka John Emerson): "Buce's post is one of the pettiest non-troll posts I've ever seen on this site. I don't even know what it's supposed to mean."

Assuming that "Buce" is me, it means exactly what it said. EVERY argument that's been used in Nader's defense in this thread (and everywhere else) is obviously just an argument that he should try to "reform the Democratic Party" by running for its presidential nomination -- IF he actually believes in what he claims to believe in, that is. If he cannot get enough Democrats to vote for him to win that nomination, he has exactly no chance of winning a general presidential election -- even a three-way one. In which case his only possible role will be to split the anti-Republican vote -- and thus assure the election of a GOP president considerably to the Right of what a majority of the American people actually do want.

You don't have to be Karl Frederick Gauss to figure this out. You don't even have to be Mortimer Snerd to figure this out. The only possible reason why Nader and his remaining sprinkling of supporters favor him running as a third party-candidate rather than as a Democrat are that (a) they actually are stupider than Mortimer Snerd, or (b) they just want to destroy both the Democratic Party and the process of majority democracy itself -- either out of petty spite or (as Mark Kleiman suggests about Nader himself) out of personal self-interest.

Zizka again: "1932-1980: The Democrats had a strong left wing and did pretty well. In 1980 the liberals were decimated, especially in the Senate. The Democrats have been doing poorly since."

Please. John confuses cause with effect. What the Democrats had during the 1932-1980 period (in Congress) and the 1932-1964 period (in Presidential races) was kneejerk support from the South despite that region's conservatism and white racism, which enabled the Democrats to elect candidates nationally with party platforms considerably to the Left of what the South would ahve tolerated if it hadn't also had a literally mindless, psychotic hatred of Republicans for wining the civil War. This bizarre majority coalition lasted longer in the case of Congress because there were a large number or veteran Southern Congressmen who in the 1960s started campaigning far to the Right of their national party and had a hell of a lot of seniority -- and thus an ability to bring home the bacon for their home districts. As they retired, they were usually replaced by Republicans: a process that was pretty much complete by 1994.

THAT -- not the Democratic party "ignoring its liberals" -- is what has weakened the Democrats in Congress, and there is no easy solution to it. But John also doesn't mention the fact that the Democrats in the 1990s have sensationally INCREASED their strength outside the South -- which is why they are still almost as strong nationally as the GOP. Not only Clinton but Gore won the non-South by margins of 6-10%, and Kerry has a comparable lead there now. Compare the last two close elections: 1976 and 2000. Carter swept most of the Soputh while Gore lost all of it -- but Gore almost made up for that by showing far greater strength outside the South than Carter did, with the result that he was able to add a few little items like California, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Connecticut, Iowa and Oregon to his list -- all of which Carter lost to Ford, and most of which Dukakis had lost to Bush Senior in 1988.

The Democratic Party has not become weaker because it's "abandoned its liberals" since 1980; it's become weaker only in the South, and only because that region is now voting in a "rationally bigoted" way rather than in its former TOTALLY insane way. If the Democrats move further to the Left to try to recruit nonexistent Nonvoting Liberals, it will meet exactly the same fate that the Choice-Not-An-Echo right-wing Republicans met when they used the same stupid argument to argue for running Goldwater. The Democratic Party will be able to start winning elections again with positions to the Left of its current ones only when the South finally outgrows the remaining vestiges and cultural echoes of its past racism, which will take a while longer (although one can already see that next stage of the process commencing in Florida and Virginia). And, my God, why do I have to explain this to adults?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on July 12, 2004 07:55 PM

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Thanks for the lucid analysis, Bruce. Maybe Canada joining the US isn't such a stupid idea after all.

Posted by: Russil Wvong on July 13, 2004 01:09 PM

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I don't agree with everything Ehrenreich says; she's way off base on Cosby, IMO.
But, as for her "infantilism," if the above is an example, it's a list of ancilliary reasons I'm voting Green (Green, not Nader) this year..
As for top NYTimes columnist, I'd put Krugman in a tie with Dowd.

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