by Kagro X
Joe Klein's podcast interview by fellow Swampland blogger Ana Marie Cox has gotten a fair amount of attention today. But there's another part of that interview that wasn't addressed in these other pieces that interested me.
I want to respond to it not so much because it's Joe Klein who said it, but because I think it isolates something that's central to my own objections to modern political journalism, as well as political practice.
I transcribed the part I'm talking about. Here's Klein:
I think that ... the blogosphere is having a, you know, the left-wing blogosphere, elements of it, is having a bad effect, an oversimplifying effect on the Democratic Party. And let me lay this out very clearly. We have gotten six years of baloney and lies from the Bush administration. And extremism. It is a radical, right-wing radical administration.
My feeling is, and I think the feeling of a vast majority of Americans, is that the alternative to that isn't left-wing extremism and vilification, and all of this kind of, you know, nasty rhetoric that goes on. But it is comity, C-O-M-I-T-Y, which is what Barack Obama, which is his gamble in this election as well. That's what he's trying to sell. I think the alternative to extremism is moderation. I think that this country has never been governed well from the right or from the left, although it hasn't been governed from the left very often. It's only been governed well, the only way you can successfully pass legislation or prosecute a war is by governing from the center.
My objection is not to the first part of this quote. I mean, I do object to it, but not in a way that would require my saying anything more than, "Well, that's overbroad and dumb, but I suspect you knew that when you said it, and were just trying to facilitate discussion of your next point."
And it's that next point that I want to discuss. It's the definition of "moderation" Klein implies in this passage that I find disturbing and offensive, and just maybe, completely wrong.
Consider what the proper response really ought to be to an administration that gives you six years of baloney and lies. Not run of the mill baloney and lies, either, by the way. What does one do when the President of the United States lies the country into a disastrous war (and says we'll stay in it for 50 years)? When a president has his henchmen corner the incapacitated and sedated Attorney General in his hospital room in the hopes that he'll cover their asses and sign off on an obviously illegal program of warrantless domestic surveillance? When a president claims the inherent power to authorize torture? To nullify duly adopted and signed Acts of Congress unilaterally? To burn critical counter-proliferation assets for political revenge? To destroy the reputation of the United States Department of Justice, and gut both the Hatch Act and the Voting Rights Act as an electoral strategy?
What ought to be the "moderate" response to this?
In my opinion, treating it as though it were politics as usual, and that it can all be solved at the ballot box if we just bide our time and wait for the next opportunity to elect a "healer" is not moderate in the least.
No, faced with an "administration" that's this hostile to what used to be the common understanding of our constitutional system of government, I would say that aggressive action to repudiate these practices, purge their precedent, and preserve the Constitution against this systematic assault is actually what's demanded of a moderate. In fact, it might even be considered quite conservative.
Without turning this explicitly into a piece about impeachment, what this really does mean is that under the current circumstances, the use of that constitutional weapon isn't radical at all. Fighting to restore and preserve the system of governance that we've all been brought up to believe we live under is not extremism, it's the very opposite of it.
But like I said, this is not about impeachment per se. It's about rejecting the definition that says moderation is really solely about keeping the noise level down when you roll over for six years of baloney and lies.
I don't want to leave it at that, because one of Klein's main points in this interview (whether you choose to credit it or not) is that he hasn't been "rolling over" for what this administration has handed us. And that's true, even if none of us would look at his body of work and say, "Now there's a brave man."
But it seems to me that Klein, Broder and their ilk have confused "moderation" with "not making waves." Moderation has, apparently, come to mean things like glorifying Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon as a "healing" gesture for our country, even though it also meant Watergate ended without real justice -- and that future administrations would learn that a few well-timed utterances of "I don't recall" would do the trick. Moderation has come to mean that Republican recidivists like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte, John Poindexter, etc. are tolerated because we only have to suffer them in what appear to be small doses -- four years here, eight years there -- and after all, the president "deserves" his appointments.
So long as this is what passes for "moderation," the doctrine only facilitates the kind of baloney and lies Klein decries. To borrow from the example of Nixon -- and I do so because it's a clearer example thanks to historical perspective -- if the president is a crook, doing something about it is not extremism, nor should looking the other way rather than risk potentially frightening action be called "moderation" simply because it avoids risk.
Call this kind of "moderation" what it is: risk aversion. It's OK. It's a legitimate (if mostly useless) place from which to govern. But recognize that making risk aversion your guiding principle is only effective when -- in the often zero-sum game of politics -- the other players are playing by the same rules.
When they stop doing that, true "moderation" is about resetting the game and reestablishing the rules. It's not about civility for civility's sake. Nor is it about bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake. True moderation demands -- and seeks as its goal -- that accounts be settled and justice be served. To the extent that that bodes ill for one party or another (or both), it is a measure of how far from moderation they have departed.
Risk aversion in the face of radicalism facilitates that radicalism, and can never defeat it.