Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Question for Liberals

Today's question: Who do you trust?

What struck me about the Elena Kagan nomination is that essentially for liberals it was a question of trust.  There was, famously, little record to go on...except that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton had all worked with her and supported her career and her nomination (well, you could also deduce her beliefs based on her cultural background, as many supporters and opponents did, but I'll leave that aside for now).  For a lot of Democrats, that was sufficient; for a minority, it clearly wasn't.  But the Kagan nomination is hardly unique.  Whether it's the question of what will happen over time in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether Obama negotiated the best deal he could on various bills, or whether obscure provisions of some laws are consistent or not with liberal principles, most of the time, for most people, it comes down to either trusting supporters or trusting skeptics.  It comes up, too, for activists choosing which candidate to support in primary elections, or choosing which organization to support.  Of course, with all of these things, one option is to research it yourself...but even then, that often means trusting someone else's summary of research, and at any rate no one can research every issue, every nominee, every candidate by themselves.

So my question is: who do you trust?  Are there specific pols, interest group leaders, activists, pundits, or whoever who, if they support a candidate or a nominee or a bill, you would basically assume that she or it was acceptably liberal?


  1. I think there's a major hole in your analysis that this is about trust -- namely the question of on record ideas.

    One thing a number of liberal pundits did take away from looking over Kagan's career was her frequent and passionate defense of greater executive power -- the fact that she is on record* supporting more power for the Presidency for the purpose of aiding liberal social policy only makes this idea seem all the more genuine.

    What I gathered from the blogs I read at the time*, when her name was being discussed after Stevens' announcement, is that this constitutional question made many liberals uncomfortable.

    *and I apologize for not having the link on hand

  2. I'm not sure *trust* is the right word either. When I am reading and trying to understand how I feel about some person or policy, I generally react to my source's reaction. That is, I think about this process in the way my uncle once recommended that I think about movie reviews: the key is to read the same reviewer over and over (regardless of whether you consistently agree with their perspective or not). In this way, you begin to establish a third (or fourth or fifth) point of reference in relation to to the objects under consideration (movies, pols, or policies) and yourself. Though he drives me through the ceiling sometimes, I've found Andrew Sullivan's blog useful for this. He consistently offers excellent criticism about some issues, while on others his (admirable) passion drags him into the bleachers (at least from my own perspective). Only considerable time spent on his site has allowed me to get a useful gauge on how I can begin to formulate my own views in relation to his and others on a policy or person.

  3. More to address your question directly, I trust the following

    Bloggers: Kevin Drum, Mark Schmitt

    Writers: Hendrick Hertzberg, James Fallows

    Politicians: Um....

  4. It's a tough question. Many of the people I trust most are far enough to the left that they rarely give unqualified support to "liberals," so they wouldn't be much help here (thinking of, say, economist Doug Henwood). The journalists I trust most are trustworthy in part because they don't offer endorsements. Rachel Maddow is trustworthy because she tries to focus on facts, which is useful at getting to the bottom of a story, but which is more likely to identify people I shouldn't trust than people I should trust.

    If I could resurrect someone from the dead, I'd go for Studs Terkel, although he might fall into the "Doug Henwood" category noted above. Plus, like I say, he's dead.

  5. I tend to trust politicians who have consistently taken action and/or political risks on behalf of (my own, shared) liberal values. This includes, in my opinion, pols like President Obama, Al Franken, Henry Waxman, Ted Kennedy when he was alive etc. Also, I tend to trust smart pols who are pragmatic and don't just grandstand. Hence, I am more likely to trust a Waxman, who has really gotten stuff done over the years through compromise and skilled legislating, rather than a Dennis Kucinich, who may have great liberal values but doesn't have many accomplishments and is in my view mostly a blowhard.

    As for commentators, the liberal values things doesn't matter as much. Rather, the most important factors are what I perceive to be the commentators' intellectual honesty, analyctical strength, curiosity, etc. I also tend to seek out folks who have a creative big-picture view; i.e. who have vision and can see further down the road than me or most others. I definitely don't need to agree with them all or even much of the time, as long as I can learn from their insights. In this category I would put people like Andrew Sullivan, Martin Longman at Booman Tribune, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and what the hell, Jonathan Bernstein too.

  6. Barney Frank, Henry Waxman, hell Nancy Pelosi too.

  7. For pols, I look at their actual voting record. I have a couple of benchmark votes which I use to measure whether or not one is fit to hold office. For newbies, it isn't that necessary to "trust" -- if the pol is a genuine Dem, I'll support him until proven otherwise. I tend to listen to those who don't pander -- when Barney Frank tells me "this is the best we could get" I tend to believe it. I don't tend to "trust" any of them. Actions, that's the key.

    There are NO bloggers or pundits that I "trust." I tend to listen to the arguments and perspectives of Sullivan, Bernstein, Krugman, in the blog world and see if their arguments are persuasive to me. Many times, on some subjects, they are. Most of the others are just spouting or repeating what is already known, riding the waves of outrage and bouncing around the echo chamber.

    The news sources I trust the most are Agence France Presse for hard news, *some* New York Times journos, Rachel Maddow, but I have a number of journos in other news venues whom I know to be honest.

    It isn't a matter of "trust" it is more like gathering as much information as possible and making sense of it on one's own.

    So the answer to this: Are there specific pols, interest group leaders, activists, pundits, or whoever who, if they support a candidate or a nominee or a bill, you would basically assume that she or it was acceptably liberal? -- is "no."

  8. I'd say the key thing is to look at a group of people and not rely on only one voice. Among politicians, if Nancy Pelosi, Pat Leahy, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jack Reed, and Jeff Merkley are all on the same side of something (given that I have some trust in them individually), I'm going to probably be moved to that position.

    Among media and commentator types, I generally trust Fallows, Krugman, and Hertzberg, who've all be mentioned. I'd also throw Ezra Klein, Josh Marshall and John Cole into that set. And I really miss Hilzoy.

  9. For me, it depends on the issue. I trust Obama on judicial nominations and most foreign policy, but not on Afghanistan or Executive Power. I trust Krugman on economics, but not on foreign policy. I trust Ezra Klein on health care, but not on the judiciary.

    It also depends on what side of the issue the source takes. If Greenwald praises Obama, I'm apt to think Obama's decision is nearly unimpeachable. If Feingold signs on to a bill, I'm liable to think it's a decent deal, even if imperfect. But if Greenwald blasts Obama for something, I want to know his reasoning (he's good on executive power, but I found his criticism of Kagan pretty silly). If Feingold holds out on supporting a bill, I have to wonder if he's just playing a holier-than-thou routine again.

    So, I guess I try to draw from broad sources and give everyone credibility in a different area.

  10. Well, nobody. That is, I take everything I read and listen to with several grains of salt. Nobody gets a free pass with my trust.

  11. I trust: Anthony Weiner, Sherrod Brown, Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, Barney Frank, Paul Krugman, Bernie Sanders, Ezra Klein, Steve Benen. That's about it.

  12. Hertzberg and Greenwald as writers/bloggers. Very few politicians. The few that don't seem too gravy-stained would be John Lewis (whom I've met, and who is a lovely man), Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer, both from my home state of Oregon. Obama, as the British say, is getting on my tits. A great disappointment on many levels (see his recent "clarification" on the Manhattan mosque). I expected more spine. Ah, well. Turning the tables, I will also say that if I want an intelligent conservative view to wrestle against, Daniel Larison is the best of the lot, and the most honest.

  13. Liberalism isn't about trusting persons; it's about skeptical inquiry. If there is a liberal dogma, it's that all dogmas can be subjected to rational analysis. There could never be a liberal pope whose pronouncements were above criticism.

  14. Depends what you mean by 'trust' - there are bloggers and writers I trust to always give me their honest opinions and to have an interesting take that challenges me - Andrew Sullivan, John Cole, Josh Marshall, Krugman and Larison come to mind.

    There are politicians I trust to do the best they can do given the ignorance of the electorate and the intransigence of the Republicans and the wussiness of half the Democrats ... and then only in most cases but not all (President Obama, Barney Frank, Sherrod Brown, Nancy Pelosi etc).

    But there is no one I blindly follow and no one I agree with all the time.

    The people I don't trust and don't bother with are the shrill ones like Hamsher, Greenwald et al. Political purity is just annoying to me since reality will always intrude. Also the money-grabbers (Arianna - she's pretty much in a league of her own on that one).

  15. Paul Wellstone's ghost. And maybe Russ Feingold.


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