Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, June 5th, 2008.

Rent Asunder


Melissa McEwan, aka Shakespeare’s Sister, has a post up at Comment Is Free on the acrimony in the Left Blogosphere between Obama and Clinton supporters.

Not just at Daily Kos and MyDD, but in many prominent blogs across the ‘sphere, the precise willingness to indulge or deny decidedly illiberal rhetoric, “jokes” and imagery has exposed just how much overt or thinly veiled racism or sexism is allowed to demean one or the other or both candidates. In some cases, there’s been an alarming amount of give, turning comment threads into hostile places for one candidate’s supporters, for women, for people of colour and/or all of the above. In others, safe spaces have emerged, where a premium is placed on providing room for debate free of harassment and silencing tactics.

I don’t know where those “safe spaces” were. On the blogosphere the only way you can provide room for “debate free of harassment and silencing tactics” is to use the ultimate silencing tactic and delete the harassing and abusive comments. Because there will be harassing and abusive comments.

McEwan continues,

The break reflects (broadly) two competing philosophies, the first valuing as much free speech as possible – an open market of ideas in which it’s every woman and man for themselves, where bravado will prevail – and the second valuing diversity of participation, and recognising the historical marginalisation of women, people of colour and the LGBTQ community from political discourse, thus placing a premium on the prevention of bullying. Not unexpectedly, the lefty bloggers yawning with boredom at “identity politics” tend to favour the former, while those who engage in “identity politics” (sometimes more favourably referred to as “fighting for one’s equality”) favour the latter.

Sorry, Melissa, but I don’t fit into either side of your dichotomy. I keep a lid on the comments and have, believe it or not, deleted a few genuinely abusive and sexist comments aimed at Clinton. However, I don’t yawn at “identity politics.” I intensely dislike “identity politics.”

Identity politics are not about “fighting for one’s equality.” They are ultimately about celebrating inequality and responding to divisiveness with more divisiveness. They are about attaching one’s ego and self-identity to a partisan group and favoring that group at the expense of other groups.

“Fighting for equality” is fighting for equality. Equality by definition has no preferences. If you are fighting for equality only for your particular slice of the demographic pie, then you aren’t fighting for equality but for favoritism.

Particularly given the nature of the Obama-Clinton struggle, it’s remarkable to me that so many women who are hyper-sensitive to sexism have been utterly oblivious to racism these past few months. People whose first concern is “equality” and not “me” do not pit one kind of bigotry against another. Bigotry is bigotry.

Identity politics too often devolve into indulging one’s ego and settling scores. For example, Marc Ambinder writes,

Matt Burns, the spokesman for the GOP convention in St. Paul e-mails to say that the RNC’s convention office in St. Paul has received numerous telephone calls in the last few hours from people who identify themselves as Clinton supporters asking how they can help Sen. McCain.

If true, this is insane. McCain want to criminalize abortion, for pity’s sake. If he becomes President he’ll get a chance to plug at least two more right-wing deadheads into the Supreme Court.

This tells me that, for at least some of these women, supporting Clinton wasn’t about feminism. It was about something deeper and more primordial and personal that Clinton, somehow, came to represent for them. This is what a “cult of personality” looks like, people.

McEwan continues,

Quite understandably, there are those who regard the internecine turmoil with no small amount of hopelessness, a “why can’t we all just get along?” exhaustion. But the emergence of competing philosophies can only be a good thing.

It’s possible that comment was partly aimed at me. I was more or less expelled — I left voluntarily, but the mob was coming with pitchforks and torches — from a leftie blogger listserv for trying to be conciliatory.

A group of Clinton supporters were collectively whining about how mean the Obamabots were being but at the same time were hurling absurd accusations about Obama, such as his secret plan to appease the Right by letting the Fetus People set reproductive rights policy. I’m serious.

One prominent woman blogger tried to censor another listserv member who had the nerve to promote his pro-Obama post — and the post was pro-Obama, not anti-Clinton — as if favoring Obama over Clinton was in itself a sexist act that could not be tolerated by civilized beings. And when I tried to smooth things out with a “let’s all get along” post I was attacked viciously by the Clintonistas for trying to shut down the “debate.” As if they hadn’t already tried to shut down pro-Obama opinions.

These were not “competing philosophies.” It was bullying. I was accused of being a sexist for using the word hysteria, but I can’t think of another word that better describes what was happening on that listserv.

Certainly there have been plenty of Obama supporters who have behaved very badly. But I think if you eliminate such inflammatory venues as Democratic Underground and just look at bloggers themselves, the bad behavior has been coming at least as much from pro-Clinton bloggers as from pro-Obama bloggers, if not more so.

Someday I want to write something more analytical about what’s gone on in the Left Blogosphere these past few months. I think I need to let a little more time pass, however. Whatever forces have been at work have been hideously destructive and personally painful for me. And although some wounds will heal, I do not think the Left Blogosphere will ever again be what it was.

A little more about comments:

I go farther than most bloggers to keep a lid on the comments here. It has occurred to me that this probably is what has kept me in the second tier, as far as volume of readership is concerned. People are drawn to ugly and acrimonious hate speech like flies to a carcass, and on many A-list blogs the huge volumes of comments are mostly one cheap, juvenile insult after another.

Over the past few months I have deleted a few anti-Clinton comments that were overtly sexist. In recent weeks there have been a few commenters here who have made comments about Hillary Clinton that border on sexism, although not overtly so, and after some struggle I’ve let them get by with it. I tend to be indulgent with regulars. Maybe I should have been stricter.

On the other hand, a couple of commenters who were long-time regulars are now banned for violating comment rule #2:

I respect and encourage substantive commentary, but comments that are nothing but insults of me or other commenters will be deleted. Repeated attempts to post such comments will get the commenter banned.

These commenters were Clinton supporters who could not write comments in support of Clinton. Instead, their comments consisted entirely of insults of me, other Mahablog commenters, and Obama supporters generally.

Occasionally someone would leave a comment saying “I support Hillary Clinton because …” and then provide reasons. These comments were not deleted. I might have responded to disagree with the reasons, but if the comment was written in a respectful and reasonable way I did my best to disagree in a respectful and reasonable way.

Such comments were rare, though. Mostly, Clinton supporters who commented here just left personal insults, often complaining about how nasty Obama supporters are.

Hysteria, I say.

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