This is a long and somewhat rambling post covering a lot of ground. The story starts and ends with Kos himself, while the tale wanders through DailyKos a bit. If you stick with me, hopefully you'll see what I'm getting at. For those who hate to see someone bury the lead, sorry about that. You can go ahead and scroll to the bottom.
NARAL in the kitchen
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a conference call NARAL organized to talk to a dozen or so "feminist" bloggers. How they decided to include me, I don't know. I felt flattered. Because of a work thing, I missed the first 25 minutes or so, but caught the end, and the presumably unscripted and informal after-conference discussion.
On Tuesday, Liza Sabater, who live-blogged the call, posted a long essay on DailyKos, front-paged by Armando, about her thoughts on NARAL and what must be done. She takes the ad apart -- which I don't need to get into here -- but then she makes some interesting rhetorical ploys.
She calls the women leading NARAL a "matriarchy," and then says:
How can I say this without sounding too harsh? Well .... hmmmmmm ... The leaders sounded maternalistic. The call came down to them defending the ad because not only do they know what they are doing; but because they've been doing it for so long, they should lead and we should follow: This is the deal : It is us and it is them.
I bristle at this kind of attitude from leaders, too, but really, Liza, how is this at all maternalistic? How is it different from what male leaders do every day? This seems like a gratuitous slap, trying to apply a gender stigma to what is a common dynamic in political organizations.
So it was with that tone set from the start of the conference that I asked Keenan if she was aware of the criticism coming from the progressive blogosphere. That the "reality-based" community believes accuracy is important in dealing with the extremists that have taken hold of the government. That we cannot give them any openings for rebuttal.
I read from the comments from both my site and DailyKos. And I stressed over and over again that they were not being attacked by our side for their mission.
I missed that part of the call, but I think she's wrong about what NARAL's critics like Markos have been saying. When people attack NARAL for endorsing pro-choice candidates, they are attacking NARAL's mission. NARAL is not a wing of the Democratic Party, it is an advocacy organization. If NARAL endorsed a "pro-life" Democrat over a "pro-choice" Republican, it would be going against its mission. And anyone who demands that NARAL do just that, is advocating against NARAL's mission. As I said before, NARAL is not the Democratic Party's bitch.
Anyway, in her dKos diary, Liza then goes into a criticism of the NARAL ad on Roberts. I, too, was critical of that ad, mainly for being yet another piece of Beltway-produced crap that looked and sounded like every other political ad. If sneakers were sold like politicians, we'd all be wearing Buster Browns. The incompetence of these poli-ad agencies is on the brink of criminal.
The fact that NARAL has bought hook, line and sinker into that whole media approach reveals just how much they are a part of the politocracy in general. I applaud them for reaching out to some bloggers, but sadly I get the sense that perhaps it was an experiment advocated by some but not wholly trusted by the leaders. I wonder how comfortable they are to have their own supporters criticizing them so openly. That's the nature of blogging, but it's not in keeping with the kiss-ass society of Washington.
The post-modern flight from values
Then Liza gets into an interesting "intermezzo" where she basically advocates the post-modern/deconstructionist/post-structuralist dogma, and labels feminism as such -- and this is intended as a positive.
I should say here that I never bought into that stuff. Deconstructionism was gaining popularity when I was in college. I never quite got how a world view espousing the belief that "there is no Truth" could be put forward as Truth.
(Debating with a post-modernist can often feel much like debating with a religious fundamentalist. Thou shalt not take Foucault's name in vain! I'd love to dive back into rhetorical criticism and explore why I feel Wayne C. Booth was right, Stanley Fish was wrong and Truth exists, despite our imperfect understanding and perceptions.... but really, I don't have the time to spare. Bills must be paid, and this blog takes quite enough time away from the bill-paying endeavors as it is. And that's the Truth!)
But there's something Liza says about feminism that stuck in my craw:
The Lawyers focus on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but The Truth. The Journalists' concern is with constructing a story around The Truth. All hell breaks loose with The Feminists.
The Feminists' job is to assume there is no Truth but suppressed truths. Our job is to pick apart the layers of meaning heaved down society's throat as The Truth. Through this process, we are not only to reveal The Truth as the constructed fallacy it is but, once shattered, recompose it into the many truths and the many stories its 'oneness' suppresses.
Then again, I became a post-structuralist, feminist scholar fascinated by Latin American neo-baroque aesthetics with no influence whatsoever from Andrea Dworkin ; and only knowing about her after developing a distaste for her partner in puritanical feminism, Catherine MacKinnon's . I still just seethe at the thought of this brilliant woman codling up to extremist Christian groups during the 1980's to legally define and ban pornography, and at the height of the Meese Commission. I still believe her involvement in giving the extreme right fodder for the attacks on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I respectfully disagree. I don't see feminism as defined by post-structuralism. The status quo is not Truth, and opposing the status quo does not require denial of the existence of Truth. Now we can get into all sorts of metaphysical notions of reality, and talk about our own Whiggish view of history and the world, and say "everything's relative" and there's no reason to believe that our morals hold any weight in the Universe. But it seems patently obvious to me that the very foundation of feminism is the moral value that women are entitled to equal rights, equal protection and an equal say. You either believe it or you don't. And believing it does not require denying the reality of Truth. We keep trying to puzzle it out. People also believed that gravity was the work of demons holding us down on the earth. Does that mean gravity does not exist as Truth? Our understanding of it probably will change in coming years, but that does not change gravity, only our perception of it.
Some people may see injustice towards women as being okay, but that doesn't mean the injustice does not exist. No, it is a Truth. How we as a society apply our laws and customs to Truth is a flawed process, based upon personal bigotries, chauvinisms, economic conveniences, cultural blindness, a comfort with traditions, and so on. But to me, that doesn't mean that the Truth does not exist, or that our ideals are automatically suspect.
Perhaps that is why I find myself agreeing with most of Liza's conclusions, but disagreeing with how she argues them. Her authorial voice is arguing from a different worldview, with different intentions than I, as a reader, have. It's hard enough to engage with a text whose conclusions I mostly would endorse.
The fact that arguments against feminism hold to different "truths" doesn't mean that Truth is dead and that post-modern approaches to debate can win the day. I think a lot of what we see as Republican success comes from their espousing their version of Truth. The Democrats, influenced perhaps by intellectual trends heavily favoring post-modern thought -- just read this "collectively edited" Wikipedia blurb on Wayne C. Booth to see how "the victors" rewrite the history -- run away from engaging in such discussion, to their great great detriment.
As Lakoff says, the left just isn't good at talking about moral values. Perhaps this is why.
The privacy gambit
How could [NARAL] be so focused on "putting choice back on the table" when the biggest concern should be The Right to Privacy : The right to make our own decisions on how to live, love, lust, and die in our pursuit of happiness.
I've argued here before why it's not just about privacy, and I question that privacy is at all a convincing argument against anti-choice rhetoric. But I do believe it would trigger a very interesting national political debate, and perhaps flush some libertarian partridges out of the Bush-ist bush.
But I strongly believe the heart of the issue is not privacy but liberty. It was the language used in the Planned Parenthood decision of 1992. And it is the value that can carry the argument against the breeder slavery status to which the "pro-lifers" would relegate women of childbearing years.
To boot, in this post-9/11 America, privacy is not that popular. When the Patriot Acts pass with such little outcry, it's clear that people now are complacent or defeatist when it comes to governmental meddling in private lives. It would be great to rattle that cage with a Constitutional Amendment protecting a right to privacy, but there's no reason to believe that this would have an effect on protections of what the radical right wing calls murder.
I could rehash my views on privacy vs. liberty, and the pros and cons of each, but this post is getting long enough as it is, so let's look at how, in comments below Liza's diary, crazymoloch questions the "right to privacy" approach:
The problem with the pro-choice argument is the premise that all discussions of abortion right must be limited to the issue of privacy. They completely dismiss any and all moral considerations. Atleast consider they (sic) such concerns exist.
For abortion rights to be limted to a discussion of privacy rights, you HAVE to assume that the fetus is not a living being during pregnancy. You rightly contend that religion shouldn't dicate the government's answer to that question. The problem is that science can't answer that question either. Should America turn to you?
Why doesn't a fetus in the second or third trimester qualify as a human life in your opinion?
First of all, the privacy argument is not "the pro-choice argument" but something being put forward by some people, and eagerly embraced by many who'd rather not talk about abortion at all. (You know, it's "icky" and all that.)
This is a liberty issue, an equality issue. Women are autonomous beings, or they aren't. The embryo/fetus is not a "person" -- the legal status of being entitled to rights -- until it is born, and no longer a part of the woman's body.
My question is why try to come up with bullshit thresholds like "trimesters" for such definitions?
Cracks in the left, and what they seem to mean
Other comments to Liza's diary are quite illuminating, too. Among them, Kos begins to show his colors:
Here's the thing -- people may think I'm dismissive (and other male bloggers), but our problem isn't with what these groups are fighting for. I think the Constitutional Amendment to enshrine privacy is brilliant.
Rather, it's clear that all the progressive groups, and that includes the women's stuff, are getting killed right now. We're losing on multiple fronts because we're fighting multiple battles. The right is a cohesive movement. They're united. We're divided. And hence we're losing.
So criticism of these groups is taken as criticism of their goals, when really, it's criticism of their ineffectiveness. We all want the same thing.
Ah, but do we all want the same thing? I want my country, America, to embrace and fight for equality, justice and liberty. Kos wants the Democrats, any Democrats, to win the next election. Do we want the same thing? Apparently not.
Kos' analysis does not ring true to me. It seems clear that the right is winning because they are taking clear positions on issues, while the Democrats have been trying to tap dance around everything. Kos seems to think that the Democrats just need to tap dance faster, and in step. That just strikes me as a ridiculous proposition. If the Democrats won't stand up for liberal/progressive values, then what do they represent? What do the Democrats stand for? We don't know. I haven't known for years.
stephanie76 calls bullshit on his post, to which Kos responds:
I mean to say, "where's them damn burkas when you need them?"
I don't care about the institutional movement that has failed to stem the erosion of privacy/health rights for women. NARAL and Co have failed. Liza seems to understands that. Lots of people do not. You, apparently, being one of them. Liza seems to understands that. Lots of people do not. You, apparently, being one of them.
Yet the status quo ain't doing anyone but the Right Wing any favors.
I care about the end result, not about whose feelings get hurt because I criticized the wrong person.
Love the burkas comment, Kos. Tell me again how you're just kidding. You say you care about results, but indict a fundamental moral value because you don't approve of the tactics of one organization. (You also seem to be quite proud of hurting feelings, as if it's some badge of honor. Is that machismo, military training or what? Do you really think that women are crying "bullshit" out of hurt feelings? Is it beyond you to consider that the emotion you're seeing and hearing is triggered by real injustice? Or are you just trying to dismiss dissent as mere emotionalism?)
cityduck offers a rewriting of constitutional history:
The ERA isn't something I've given much thought too. Why? Because in my view women are entitled to equal rights with men under our present understanding of the Constitution.
I certainly understand why the ERA was first proposed by the Suffrage Movement back in the wake of the 19th. But, that living Constitution thing appears to have prevailed over an originalist view of the Constitution. If you're not an originalist (and I'm not), there's no need for an ERA.
The problem with that thinking is that the Supreme Court has generally held that nobody has rights, unless they're specifically enumerated -- Bill of Rights be damned. Of course, cityduck hasn't given much thought to the ERA. That much is obvious. And his attitude about "no need for an ERA" is one huge reason why reproductive rights can't seem to make any real headway in many Democratic circles.
But cityduck perceives the top problem with the left as being:
(1) Identity politics: This should be self-explanatory. The hispanics advocate for hispanic rights, the gays advocate for gay rights, the feminists advocate for women's rights, etc., too often it seems that the advocacy is not for principles but for groups.
Setting aside the indictment of identity politics -- that's worthy of another long blog post, if not an entire blog -- what the heck is this about "women's rights" as being identity politics? We're talking about equal rights here, and moves against women that have implications for everyone.
Back to the "maternalistic" rhetoric....stefanie76 had enough of it:
It's probably just me ... (1.00 / 3)
but I'm willing to bet this only got bumped up because Liza is willing to kiss ass as much as the bootlickers around here.
Choice has been a winning strategy for decades. It's only losing because Democrats are moving away from it.
Note the 3 downratings on her comment, presumably for calling out the bootlickers. She makes an important point, though -- The Democrats have abandoned their position, and then used their retreat as justification for the abandonment. It's not a popular fact, but you see it all the time these days in the "Do you want to be right or do you want to win?" arguments.
I'm a left-leaning independant (sic) myself, but attitudes like this are the reason I consider the pro-choice movement to be the home of the wingnuts in the Democratic party.
I believe in the right to choose, but I think the whacked out nut-jobs who insist on pissing off everyone on both sides of the isle should be booted out of the party until they learn some proper manners and teamwork.
Yes, that's right, girls. No need to get all uppity and make the boys upset. Now go make some sandwiches for everyone, will you? We'll hear your concerns after we deal with the important shit.
Julius declines to be Caesar, uh huh
Most disturbing to me was this comment by Kos himself:
Aside from the assault on choice by the governing Republicans, abortion is the one issue in which teens are more conservative than adults. Kinds that are strongly for gay marriages and other progressive causes are trending away from Choice. Not a good long-term development.
Where does he get this data? Or is this just a subjective impression? And is that a rationale to run away from reproductive rights as a political cause? It's looking more and more like that's where he's going with this. He seems to perceive values themselves as being divisive, and so he would rather pretend they don't exist. Or maybe it's just that he wants all of us to sign up for his values. Maybe that's whence the "We all want the same thing" kind of pap.
So why should I care what Kos thinks? Well, let's look at what he wrote yesterday:
A few things -- I AM a guy with a blog. One that has built a platform that allows lots and lots and lots of people to have their say and organize and advocate for their causes. People want to equate that with "leadership" and assign me "responsibilities".
Well, what happens when i say "fuck that"? Because I'm not being falsely modest when I say I don't want that responsibility nor power and I won't take it. I'm simply not interested.
This comes from a man who is a PAC founder, and who repeatedly talks about what "we" under his leadership are going to do, who, in the same "it's not about me" post, can't help but try to claim that the traffic at DailyKos is all because of him:
This site became popular because of my style, because of my voice, because of my refusal to compromise what I believe in order to appease anyone (Daily Kos was already one of the top blogs before the move to Scoop).
As someone who's been online since 1994, I will say this: I never even heard of DailyKos until last November. I went there not for his style or insights, but simply because other people were talking about it. I went there because it was where people were going. I joined the site more for the interesting discussions -- which have mostly degenerated now into dogma exchanges -- and investigative reporting that was being done there by others -- many of whom left since then. Now I go there rarely -- and if not upon someone's reference to a specific post, then only to see what the "mainstream left community site" is saying.
DailyKos is the 800-pound gorilla. You almost have to pay attention to where it's sitting, to know what's going on in the room. He might have had a hot blog back when the word "blogosphere" had not yet been coined and most blogs were about the funny thing that happened in the office and what Uncle Eddie said at Thanksgiving dinner, and Markos most certainly deserves credit for building a community site that grew to a point where now it's a must-read mainly because it's popular (which, of course, maintains its popularity). The site now carries weight, and that in and of itself draws people. But to lay claim on all that traffic due to his own voice? Yeah, and people use the internet because Al Gore invented it.
One can only assume that, as the political season really starts to kick in, Kos will stop talking out of both sides of his mouth and give up on the transparent Julius Caesar ploy of declining the laurels, when he clearly enjoys being a "player" in politics. It's just sad, to me, that he considers reproductive rights to be too divisive to be an important issue for Democrats.
Putting one's mouth where one's money is
I suppose this is a good point for full disclosure: Kos has bought an ad on this site, which, if you read this before the end of the month, you can see in the right-hand sidebar. It says (today):
Don't click on this ad. Just consider:
Bloggers spend countless hours on their craft, creating the sort of noise machine the GOP built while the progressive movement slept at the wheel.
Please donate to blogs like this one. Help us build something wonderful. Thanks, kos
Where this gesture came from, I have no idea. He certainly did not need to do that. The ad buy came with no message. Perhaps he did it because Liza mentioned mediagirl.org at the end of her diary. (I noted the same ad on Pam's House Blend, who also was mentioned by Liza. But maybe it's a broader effort?) Perhaps it was a sort of challenge to this post that has topped the page-view logs here on mediagirl.org over the past couple of days. I have no idea. I thank him for the ten bucks (less Blogads administration fees). But I'd really like him to put his mouth where his money is, because that's where he does have quite a bit of power. However you want to explain the fat traffic to DailyKos, his having that soapbox in his name means he has a lot of reach. (I benefit from the same kind of effect, albeit to a much much lesser degree, what with mediagirl.org's modest popularity's owing to the many incisive contributors here.)
Money talks, especially in politics. But if he's going to be the non-leader leader of the netroots of the left, I'd rather he paid some real attention to what others are saying, and talked about them on his own site. When it comes down to it, the people seeing the ad here are already here. Don't get me wrong: I do appreciate the ten bucks. Maybe I'll forward it along to NARAL....
...Or maybe I won't. Liza wraps up with some interesting thoughts:
Blogging has become the breath of fresh air in American politics and activism. Let's use our platforms, pump up the volume and turn what we do into a cohesive, strategic blast. I suggested to NARAL to take bold steps and :
(1) Organize a conference of national pro-choice bloggers (men and women) for an open discussion about strategy and vision. Make sure you invite "we, the people" of the new grassroots; especially "we, the new media" of the blogosphere.
(2) Invest in the new media that blogs are creating. This is not only about supporting their own supporters through ads and what not. They really need to take a hard look at the new mass media of the internet. Case in point? Whenever I get a "GoogleNews Update" for the word ABORTION, almost invariably LifeNews appears with a link. LifeNews? Are these the people the pro-choice movement aiding and abbeting by allowing them to act like news channels? NARAL, NOW, Planned Parenthood NEVER appear in news updates about abortion. EVER. And we feminist bloggers have been repudiated by Google and Yahoo!News because we are not real broadcasters of news.
Meanwhile, there may well be a guy in pajamas in the middle of nowhere doing all those posts for LifeNews. But all feminists bloggers are bootstrappers. We don't get paid for what we do, nor do we get the big advertising bucks other bloggers get. We don't get a lifeline of millions of progressive and liberal monies or internet traffic that would allow us to do this as a legitimate news group.
An alternative, grassroots media should be one of the first items on pro-choice movement's agenda. Actually, the whole left should be working furiously on supporting progressive bloggers as this new alternative broadcasting network.
That way, millions would not be wasted on ads like the one pulled by NARAL.
I agree that NARAL needs to get a clue about "new media."
But let's be honest: NARAL needs to get media savvy when it comes to old media like television, too. Their ad sucked, as most all political ads suck. They haven't changed in 20 years. Yes, it's important that NARAL embrace the future that is interactive, view-on-demand media. But we're still living in today's world, and that means that with television you reach orders of magnitude more people, and you reach them with a medium that has the potential to not only inform, but to move emotionally. That should not be dismissed. It should be embraced and understood.
As with the rest of the politocracy, punditocracy and advocatocracy in DC, NARAL needs to wake up and smell the coffee.
And yet...and yet....
It's the liberty, stupid
What we are seeing from many so-called liberal bloggers are calls to compromise on choice or abandon reproductive rights altogether. They use NARAL as an excuse. But NARAL is no more dysfunctional and suffers no more Beltway Blindness than any DC advocacy group. NARAL's failings do not mean that the retreat from progressive moral values is the way to go. And trying to obfuscate abortion discussions in privacy rhetoric isn't going to win many arguments or sway many people.
When we say, "It's not the government's place to decide what happens in a woman's womb," we're not just talking about privacy -- we're talking about liberty, about self-determination, about recognizing protections under the law for women equal to those that men already enjoy.
And no tap dance, privacy talk, pie fight or post-modernist theories are going to avoid that fundamental question.