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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Way Over the Line

Some days you open up your email and a message just jumps off the screen and flies up your–well, your sensibilities. That happened to me today when I read a toxic little note from self-styled populist avatar David Sirota ripping me apart for a post I did about Russ Feingold’s recent indictment of the DLC for doing things it did not do (e.g., creating the Clinton Health Plan). My post, written in a tone of bored sarcasm, was described by Sirota as a “temper tantrum,” a “meltdown,” and an “attack” on his very self, reflecting my “rage” and moreover, my “fear” at the rising tide of people-powered politics, etc., etc. This is all standard Sirota rhetoric aimed at anyone who disagrees with him, but he also called me a liar, which where I come from is pretty damn serious, and way over the line.I have a strange history with David, who is as reasonable and conciliatory offline as he is frantically abusive online. I first became aware of Sirota back in 1997, when I interviewed him (then just barely out of college) for a writer-researcher job with the DLC. He got sent up for a final interview with Al From, along with two other people, and didn’t get the gig. That was obviously the right decision for all concerned.Next time I noticed David was when he blazed into political journalism with not one, but two, nasty, slur-ridden attacks on the DLC and party “centrists” generally, towards the end of 2004. The American Prospect invited me to rebut one of them, and then Matt Yglesias–no big DLC fan–did a definitive smackdown of the factual inaccuracies of the other.But in no small part because of his willingness to pick up the phone or the keyboard and say abusive things about anyone, particularly Democrats, who dared to differ with his exact views, Sirota has become a major blogger and mainstream media quote-meister. He has also, to credit his considerable energy, written a book, Hostile Takeover, that is earning him serious attention with the same sort of indictment of both Republicans and Clintonian Democrats as part of a vast corporate conspiracy to enslave the nation.In a TPMCafe discussion of Hostile Takeover, I said nice things about Sirota’s analysis of D.C. Republicans, and actually agreed with most of his suggested policy agenda, but then had to say something else about his habit of demonizing people who don’t agree with him:

David’s approach creates a political as well as a moral hazard. The attribution of corrupt motives and systematic mendacity to anyone questioning his brand of “populism” and everything that goes with is what leads him to think of Bill Clinton as a “sell-out,” or to describe Rahm Emanuel as a politician obsessed strictly with his status within the “corrupt establishment,” and to confidently assume that anyone working in Washington, DC, spends his or her spare time toadying up to “elites” at “Georgetown cocktail parties”….. It’s how you wind up believing that all the vast differences that separate Ds from Rs are completely meaningless… [a]nd it’s ultimately how you forget the real-life consequences–which Hostile Takeover examines so thoroughly–of Republican rule as compared to that of “corrupt” centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton.

All these qualities are illustrated for the umpteenth time by David’s latest post, supposedly motivated by my “attack” on him for praising Feingold’s remarks. As consumers of Sirota’s rhetoric know, anyone who disagrees with him, however mildly or briefly, is invariably “attacking” him and “lying” about him. He can sure dish it out, but for a blogospheric street-fighter, he has a hard time taking it. What’s hilarious is that the “lie” David accuses me of comes from my suggestion that maybe the DLC isn’t the political behemoth its more paranoid critics always assume it to be. Why is that so offensive to Sirota? Maybe because if the DLC is not the ultimate Giant, then David Sirota ain’t no giant-killer, either. The Sirota style is perhaps best illustrated by his choice of words to describe yours truly: “formerly a Zell Miller staffer,” underlined with a link to a news report about Miller’s despicable 2004 Republican National Convention speech. The reader is presumably to understand that my secret fidelity to the GOP cause–which of course, I am lying about–is exposed by this association. Here’s the thing: I worked for Zell from the fall of 1992 until the end of 1994, in a period when absolutely no one thought of him as anything other than a very loyal and partisan Democrat–indeed, as a bit of a “populist.” And I have written far more sad and angry words (here, here, here, and here) about Miller’s slide into apostasy and his eagerness to serve his old enemies in the GOP than anybody else you will meet. So my work for Zell Miller in the early 90s is clearly no more relevant today than David Sirota’s interest in working for me and Al From in 1997. If I did a post casually referring to Sirota as a “disappointed job-seeker at the DLC,” he’d be rightly offended. But he shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.Lots of bloggers I talk with have the same private opinion of David Sirota’s tactics as I do, but think he’s useful to The Cause, precisely because he matches the single-minded energy and “take no prisoners” style of bloggers and pundits on the Right. Indeed, that’s what Matt Yglesias concluded in his American Prospect review of Hostile Takeover–a review, BTW, that sparked a long Sirota post repeatedly accusing Matt of various forms of dishonesty, including “dishonest regurgitation of Big Business’s talking points.”If that’s so; if Sirota’s type of fulmination actually contributes to the goal of expelling the venal GOP gang that’s running our country right now, then I suppose the offense caused by his chronic character attacks on fellow Democrats is just acceptable collateral damage. But I really don’t see that calling people like me or Matt liars serves any purpose other than to start stupid fights that aggrandize Sirota’s self-image as a brave truth-teller fighting the godless and omnipotent Washington Establishment. I wish some of his friends who find his talent for invective so useful would have a private word to him now and then and suggest there are a few lines in intra-party debate that should not be crossed.

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