Monday, January 26, 2009


Forbes has a list of the 25 most influential liberals in the media up. Reading through it, it becomes pretty clear that their definition of "liberal" is, well, touchy. As far as I can tell, Chris Hitchens is on there solely for not liking Sarah Palin (plus maybe for being an atheist). Seriously, guys, your last sentence in describing the man who loves waterboarding is that he has "supported the war on terror as enthusiastically as he has excoriated Sarah Palin" and he's on your influential liberals list? Not your influential war-supporters-with-self-respect list?

Anyway, it was clear what angle the list was coming from when they referred to Sullivan as viewing "virtually everything through a 'gay' prism" (gay in quotes, huh?) and to Hendrick Hertzberg as "having the purest voice in the choir of the East Coast liberals' 'high church'". Hell, it was clear what angle it was coming from when Chris Matthews made it on.

But what really stopped me dead in my tracks was Rachel Maddow's entry:
The presenter of her own MSNBC show, Maddow, a lesbian, has outpaced Keith Olbermann and other colleagues to attract a cultish following hooked on her blunt outsider's perspective.

It's not the fact that they mentioned she's gay. That's fine. I've mentioned it myself when introducing her, usually in the context of "Squeeeeee!" It's just the way they laid it out there--no particular point, just you ought to know--she likes chicks. In the context of the list I'm pretty sure it stands as a liberal credential, just like Andrew Sullivan being gay, Chris Hitchens being an atheist, etc. She's one of those. Gay people are never conservatives, natch (no, Sullivan, you're on the list too, see?).

It makes me shiver.

There are a lot of people on the list who make sense being there--Maddow, Ezra Klein, Michael Pollan, David Shipley, etc. But there are a lot who don't. I find myself concluding that the editors at work here don't understand "liberal" to mean anything other than liking Obama/disagreeing with Bush, and/or having some characteristics (homosexuality, for example) that Joe the Plumber wouldn't like. There's no sense of policy principles or a basic unity of opinion.

Chris Matthews doesn't like Obama because he's a raging liberal; he likes Obama because he's an intellectually shallow TV journalist whose Pavlovian programming responds well to good TV. I think most liberals would be very unhappy to count Chris Hitchens among their ranks, and I think most of the progressive bloggers I read would be unhappy with much of the list. I know Sullivan is pissed to be on it.

I think this is analogous to the Republicans' general problem: they're not thinking in terms of policy, philosophy, or principles. They're thinking in terms of political maneuvering (supporting Bush or Palin, opposing Obama) and culture wars (oh noez, not an ATHEIST!). As a result, they have nothing to offer but poor sarcasm (seriously, guys, at least be funny) and infighting (okay, that's funny). Sullivan wrote at the end of his defense of his own conservatism:

For the record: self-confident political groupings seek converts - look at Obama. Failed and failing political groupings seek to punish and list heretics.

This is an astute way of looking at what's going on now, and I think that's part of why you see people who I would call odd ducks (Sullivan) or moderates (Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum) being put in the liberal column.

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