The Last Word on Greenwald and O’Donnell

The left side debate of the week that’s all over the netscape – duel more like it; they were pressing hands to stomach wounds while raising shooting arms to fire – was Glenn Greenwald’s Aaron Burr stooping, he hoped, to conquer Laurence O’Donnell’s Alexander Hamilton. Joe Scarborough, their host, loved it. Two guys on the Left circling each other in public combat? Forget the commercials. You got cameras on this, right? Mika Brzezinski had the pained expression of a hostess watching two shrill uncles drawing blood from each other over the dinner table.

So who won? Who’s still standing? Who becomes a face of currency?

Well, if you read me – and if you don’t, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do – you know how I feel about Greenwald (like so and so and so and so): the way he feels about just about everyone else, certainly anyone who is horrific enough to hold positions contrary to his own. Contempt is too kind a rain to fall on their benighted beings. O’Donnell, on the other hand, is the kind of political believer who, regardless, knows how to live in the real world. He also consulted and wrote scripts for The West Wing. There’s no way I’m not liking him. Before that, of course, he had a long career as a pro on the Hill (though Greenwald characteristically does not acknowledge that and calls him just another cable news guy), doing the kind of work Greenwald could never escape from purity to perform. That is until, perhaps, he underwent another transformation like the abrupt Meg Whitmanesque entrance into public conscience he too experienced several years ago.

All that throat clearing aside, I call it a draw. Truth is, they were shooting past each other. O’Donnell is right on the ostensible topic of debate. The Greenwaldian argument, typical of those who can only see a reality they shape with their own eyes, is that the Democratic midterm failure was not to have run the varied races more liberally. O’Donnell, taking the races individually, had pointed out three of them – Russ Feingold, Blanche Lincoln, and Alan Grayson – in which the left wing of the Democratic Party had clearly misread the contest and led their party to defeat through excess. Was the answer to Lincoln a candidate notably more liberal – in Arkansas? Before his 2008 election Grayson’s district had been in Republican hands for 26 years. His margin of victory in ’08, against an incumbent breaking a term-limits pledge, exactly mirrored Barack Obama’s. Yet Grayson chose to make himself the poster boy for the congressional Left. You’d a thunk he was repping Pelosi’s district.

He didn’t run liberal enough?

On that other hand, that’s the ground game the likes of Greenwald will never play. He’s a lawyer. He calls a ton of witnesses, suffocates you in detail, and, on his blog, provides enough links to bound your property line. And that is exactly what he did after the debate, posting a long supplement intended to prove that O’Donnell had said what Greenwald had previously accused him of saying that O’Donnell denied on Morning Joe. I’m not interested in that. GG’s always got to be right. You know what he was like as a kid, don’t you?

“You did, too, say it. I heard you. I’ll tell you exactly what you said. You said….”

What I am interested in – the reason I am even blogging about this – is where Greenwald is right and the now proclaimed socialist O’Donnell is partly wrong.

O’Donnell kept referring to exit polls and voter self-identification as liberal or conservative. Greenwald countered with polling about what Americans think on particular issues. That’s where they kept crossing, and now that Greenwald is going to appear on O’Donnell’s The Last Word tonight to continue the debate, maybe they will focus on that disconnect.

O’Donnell is among those who describe the U.S. as center-right. I, like Greenwald, think this is wrong. What polling on the issues – particularly economic safety-net and quality of life issues, but many others now, too – tends to support is that the U.S. is actually somewhat center-left. This is not pre-Depression America and no one but the hard core right and libertarians wishes it were. What is center-right is the nation’s cultural self-perception, borne of the national mythos. It is the reason the U.S. cannot pursue even the best of European social-democratic policies in anything like a European manner. The Right will always appeal to that mythos and self-conception to rouse resistance against policies and programs it can taint as contrary to the American way.

The challenge to the Democratic Party and to liberals is to find practical solutions, simply as the manner of doing political business in this country, to what they will most successfully understand as not a bug, but a feature.


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