22 December, 2008

The post that shall not be named

So, re: my previous post, a couple days ago, Matt Yglesias put up a post entitled "The New Moderate" about how tons of centrist organizations love Obama and claim him as their own even though he is putting forward what is by and large the most boldly progressive platform in recent memory. His example was The Third Way, a apparent weak-sauce monger of "hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit", or HTIB, whose "policy ideas...are laughable in comparison to the scale of the problems they allegedly address." I didn't really have an opinion on the Third Way, but apparently they have a close working relationship with the Very Important People at the Center for American Progress, and so the offending post was removed from Yglesias' blog. Further, the CEO wrote a newspeaky post on Yglesias' blog assuring his Third Way overlords that such insolence will not be tolerated. This is his offending post in full:

I'm getting sort of tired of the endless discussion of whether Barack Obama is a wholesome liberal or an evil centrist, but I have to say something about one aspect of this story:

"Barack Obama has never made any bones about it: He is a moderate," said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a moderate public policy think tank. "People who ignored that did so at their peril."

Third Way is a neat organization — I used to work across the hall from them. And they do a lot of clever messaging stuff that a lot of candidates find very useful. But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. There are a variety of issues that they have nothing whatsoever to say on, and what policy ideas they do have are laughable in comparison to the scale of the problems they allegedly address. Which is fine, because Third Way isn't really a "public policy think tank" at all, it's a messaging and political tactics outfit. But Barack Obama's policy proposals aren't like that. At all. Nor do personnel on his policy teams — including the more ideologically moderate members — stand for anything that's remotely as weak a brew as the stuff Third Way puts out. And yet, Third Way loves Barack Obama and says he's a moderate just like them. Which is great. But everyone needs to see that these things are moving in two directions simultaneously. At the very same time Obama is disappointing progressive supporters on a number of fronts, he's also bringing moderates on board for things that are way more ambitious than anything they were endorsing two or three years ago.

Now, although the CAP leadership seems to have handled this particular conflict of interest very poorly, as an advocacy organzation they have every right to uphold an editorial position among their writers. If Yglesias is not comfortable with an editor holding veto power over his political opinions, then mayhaps CAP is not the place for him. But progressives interested in both intellecutal rigor and political power should start thinking now about how the institutions we set up will either support or stifle the free debate that is so critical for the development of good policy. For me, this goes too far in the direction of protecting short-term political alliances at the expense of being able to criticize an ally when they have bad ideas - which, in the medium and long runs, is bad for both policy and politics.


Cassady said...

I couldn't agree more. Perhaps they were just responding to his specific language more than anything, but I don't see that as a reason to censor him.

The worst thing that progressive entities could do at this crucial turning point is try to pander and appease and not see too hardline about anything.

The blogosphere is great exactly because you see the kind of (occasionally harsh) language that accompanies a strong opinion--in this case a consistently well-thought out opinion.

higgy said...

Alright, the deletion of his original post was out-of-line, but Palmieri making a 'clarification' certainly was not. Again, I don't think anyone mistook Palmieri's post as speaking on behalf of Yglesias.