Liberal Vs. Liberal: Top 10 Reasons Why Liberals Are Eating Their Own

Liberal in-fighting

If we can’t always stand side-by-side to get the job done, we can at least not tear each other down. We’ve got plenty of enemies to do that.

If you’ve ever spent time with a group of ornery, competitive, hip-checking, shoulder-shoving, sometimes even back-stabbing siblings, you know what it’s like to hang around in liberal circles these days. As if the world-at-large isn’t competitive and back-stabbing enough, now we’ve even got those who share a basic political philosophy, a similar worldview, getting into spit fights, hissy fits and occasionally far worse. Just witness the sort of in-fighting that goes on amongst liberal blogs, Facebook liberal groups, in various social media threads, sometimes even amongst those working together at the same sites, companies and organizations. Why the internecine warfare?

Liberal site American Prospect, in a piece called What’s Eating the Left’s Media?, posits that part of the problem, at least since the election, is that things just aren’t bad enough right now to trigger the siege mentality “let’s all stand together” zeitgeist, leaving smaller fights to foment (the current NSA scandal really has us at each other’s throats!). There’s even a growing disinterest in our higher-profile media outlets, causing them to languish (it appears MSNBC is now in fourth place on the dial and Rachel Maddow is hitting a ratings low):

But what is the grand battle in which liberals are now engaged? For the first time in a decade, there isn’t one. Sure, you can make a reasonable case that the next three years are going to be decisive for the liberal project. But it doesn’t feel that urgent to liberals. They may find a thoughtful discussion of economic inequality moderated by Chris Hayes to be interesting, but if they miss it, it won’t seem like that big a deal. So at least some of them are tuning out. [Source]

So we’re less interested in our own media and the looming landscape of “big causes” has diminished… for the moment. Does that mean liberals are almost looking for a fight?

Perhaps. In a world where fewer are paying attention, either because they’re not fired up, they’re bored, or they’re looking elsewhere for the next “big story,” the pickin’s get slimmer and that can lead to a cranky bunch o’ liberals. Let’s break down where it’s breaking down:

1. Liberal websites are in competition with each other: There are hundreds (thousands?) of liberal websites. Some are good, some are not so good. But if they’re up on the web, each one is competing for readers, ad clickers, ad dollars, subscribers, and in general, quantifiable ratings. A site’s very survival can depend on where they fall on ALEXA (a website ranking site) so the goal, for some, is not only to do well themselves, but to do what they can to drag down other, competitive sites. Don’t think a liberal would do that to another liberal? Think again. I’ve seen sites poaching other sites’ writers, starting ugly email chains with less than accurate criticisms and refusals to publish the work of writers freelancing at competitive sites. Enough blood on the floor between liberal bloggers to turn a stomach and that’s a whole lotta blood.

2. Liberal online groups can be a catty bunch:  Maybe it’s the very definition of the word “liberal” (“maximum individual freedom, favoring or permitting freedom of action”) that brings out the feisty in liberals. The sniping, attacking, tweet-tacks, Facebook reporting, taking down of pages, spreading rumors of plagiarism, sensationalism, lack of ethics is bizarrely rampant amongst some of these groups, with page owners too often attacking each other in very public comment threads, leaving those who’ve been unfairly shut down to fight to get back up, use pseudonyms to stay active, or maneuver in every which way to avoid the witch-hunting. And that’s amongst politically like-minded groups!

3. “Showgirls Syndrome”: This is when liberal writers get a case of the envies and decide to take down other liberal writers for any number of reasons that often have little to do with political dissent and more to do with jealousy. Last year, self-described “liberal” Salon writer, Alex Pareene, decided to spend a big old chunk of word count on tearing liberal creative writer, Aaron Sorkin, a new one. Was it a case of the envies? Who knows for sure, but his position that “Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals” (citing smugness, condescension, a crappy TV show – “Newsroom” – and Sorkin’s status as a “hack”) left one to question why he felt it so necessary to attack a TV writer who, say what you will, at least promotes a liberal agenda in the words he puts in his characters’ mouths. But it’s not just higher-profile writers; even amongst the writing staffs of smaller sites and online magazines you’ll find writers sniping away at each other over real or imagined offenses, aligning and realigning to competitive sites and organizations, and sending around the kind of bitchy emails and messages you’d find amongst the “mean girls” in high school. Envy, jealousy, just human nature? Dunno. But when things get competitive, be careful: “Nomi” might just shove someone down the stairs.

4. Some liberals think of themselves as more progressive, more “left,” than other liberals: This can create quite a chasm within the family. After Obama was elected, even after he was re-elected, various left-of-left groups either took to the streets, took to social meeting, took him to task for various “campaign promises not kept.” Liberal/progressive leaders of various causes all lined up to get their return for propelling the man into office and some were none too pleased when they were asked to wait at the end of the line.

5. Liberals tend to be less sheep-like than conservatives: While being less “sheeplike” is always a good thing, this also can play out in a sort of annoying sense of entitlement and superiority (some say all liberals think they know pretty much exactly what to do about pretty much everything), causing a certain pursed-lipping if a liberal doesn’t agree with what another liberal suggests. Case-in-point: when the left-leaning Los Angeles Times came out in a recent editorial suggesting that voters not vote for Proposition C, an amendment to overturn Citizens United, liberals attacked the paper as if it had suggested disbanding Social Security (one commenter even asked if the Koch brothers had already bought the paper!); this, despite the fact that the editors stated that their reasons had to do not with a disagreement with overturning Citizens United, but because the proposition “wouldn’t be binding; it was ‘vague and question-begging,’ and didn’t provide the actual text of a proposed constitutional amendment.” It didn’t matter, LA libs were mad and no amount of logic was going to change that. The proposition passed.

6. Liberals tend to be irreverent and iconoclastic: This is both good and bad. Because they’re irreverent and iconoclastic, nothing is sacred, no punch is too low, no joke too raw, no directive too terse, no expectation too high. Which means the softer, lesser, more fragile, thinner skinned of the bunch tend to get hurt, get put off, feel they’ve been abused more often than they should. Which leads to #’s 2 and 3. Hard to imagine, in fact, some of the thinner skinned liberals I know taking a dressing down from conservative bullies like Michelle Malkin or Laura Ingraham without bursting into tears. Which leads me to the next reason…

7. Liberals tend to be sensitive: This comes with the territory. When your agenda is focused on helping the sick, poor and needy; fighting for the downtrodden and less fortunate; rallying for the civil rights of minorities and those ethnically marginalized (i.e., immigrants), you tend to have a big heart, a more sensitive mien. Which means you can overreact to sometimes necessary adjustments to social programs, simply because the heart doesn’t want to see anything taken away from the needy. I watched two liberals get into it over the requirement of public schools that all children speak English, with one seeing the mandate as discriminatory and the other seeing it as a necessity for efficient teaching. After a rather heated battle, one burst into tears and left the room; I’m still not clear if they’re yet speaking to each other.

8. Liberals can get as pugilistic with each other as they do with conservatives: This is a harmonic of #7 but it has its own, more aggressive, slant. It’s well documented that liberals can sometimes overreact to slights and insults from conservatives, perhaps far more vehemently than needed, but even with each other? Yes. Certainly during this most recent NSA “scandal,” I’ve watched conversations amongst liberals explode into slings and arrows in a way that has been particularly distasteful (debating whether or not Obama is a fascist Machiavellian looking to oppress the masses by tapping their phones is rife with pugilistic possibilities). I’ve been verbally attacked myself by other liberals for not feeling as strongly as they do that he is, in fact, all that and more. I often wonder if we were doing this on the front porch instead of online if we’d actually come to blows. I wouldn’t be surprised.

9. Liberals aren’t happy enough, at least they’re not as happy as conservatives:  A Pew Study done a few years ago discovered that, by and large, liberals are less happy than conservatives. This was extrapolated from research that discovered that “a conservative belief acts as a psychological buffer in a world of increasing inequality. The idea is that conservatives tend to rationalize inequality as the result of a fair process in a meritocracy, whereas liberals tend to see inequality as inherently unjust.” While there’s something to admire about being more unhappy due to injustice and inequality, that status can also lead to a general sense of dissatisfaction, anxiety, impatience and frustration. People in those states of mind tend to snap more easily, fight more readily, and find fault more vociferously.

10. Liberals can be as zealous as conservatives: This can most definitely lead to major in-fighting. I recently read a piece from a few years ago on the Democratic Underground that was titled, “I Hate Liberals.” It included an interesting compendium of complaints as to why. The writer was himself a liberal, but was clear about the fact that he felt considerable antipathy for many in his own subculture (some of his list echoed mine here), but he had one line that stood out to me: “If you find yourself screaming in rage at someone who agrees with 90% of what you agree with, you might just be a zealot and therefore no good to anyone but yourself.” With this, I have to concur.

As the list of ‘scandals’ grows, unfolds, then disappears, only to add new ones to the media bonfire from day to day; and the political opposition continues their vehement search for new ways to denigrate and destroy the current administration; and as we in the liberal/progressive movement speak up, march, shout, raise a ruckus over one necessary battle or another, it seems important to keep our perspective on what’s really important. When I see fellow liberals attacking each other in the heat of any one of the above 10 reasons, I can’t help but get a sense of discouragement that that energy spent fighting each other would be better spent fighting to right a wrong or support a good cause. Perhaps, like any family, we can acknowledge our differences, but recognize that we’re all in this together. If we don’t always agree (and with the NSA issue percolating, that’s clearly going to be a bigger wedge as days go by), and if we can’t always stand side-by-side to get the job done, we can at least not tear each other down. We’ve got plenty of enemies to do that and, ultimately, it would be nice, despite our differences, to be able to sit peacefully at the table together when the swords are put down for dinner.