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August 21, 2013 10:37 AM Emo-Progs and O-Bots

By Ed Kilgore

To show how remote I’ve been from the “Emo-Prog Versus O-Bot” war that Atrios and Kevin Drum have discussed in the last 24 hours, I wasn’t familiar with either term, though it’s obviously not that hard to figure out. A writer at Ten Miles Square today illustrates the cross-pressures involved:

Politically, I wish he were more partisan and more insistent on the threat plutocracy poses to democracy and to social solidarity. In policy terms, he’s been pretty “meh” on the issues I know best: crime and drugs. And the failure to prosecute the torturers of the Bush-Cheney years - including Bush and Cheney - while politically understandable, wasn’t really morally defensible….
The pre-trial maltreatment of Bradley Manning was a crime, a disgrace, and a blunder, and if it wasn’t ordered from the White House it still should have been stopped from the White House. The obsession with leaks strikes me as both misplaced and weird. And both seem more surprising from Obama than they would have from, say, Bill Clinton. And while I understand the political landmines surrounding drugs and crime, the President could have done - could now be doing - more to make the public aware how stupidly evil it is to keep 1% of the adult population behind bars.
On surveillance, I’d be happy to see a clampdown on what the NSA is allowed to vacuum up and whom it’s allowed to share it with.

That’s from Mark Kleiman, who identifies as an “Obamabot,” and admits to some occasional “hippie-punching” in criticizing people on the left who don’t understand the peril posed by the “well-organized, well-funded, and utterly dedicated plutocrat-theocrat-racist-misogynist-obscurantist-ecocidal Red Team, whose lunatic extremism is now actually a threat to republican governance.”

The point is that it is often perceptions of the alternatives to Obama that are the dividing line between lefty Obama-haters and Obama-bots. And while the latter are prone to accusing the former of naivete and/or objective collaboration with The Enemy, the former often descend to the same kind of ad hominem attacks in accusing the latter of corporate whoredom or slavish submission to authority.

By heritage and association, I’m often lumped into the Obama-bot crowd, which only matters to me when I’m trying to have a conversation with emo-progs (viz. this exchange with Glenn Greenwald at Salon back in 2011 over alleged mass liberal “base” defections from Obama’s camp) who figure I’m a sellout and don’t much want to listen to my arguments. But I don’t feel like an Obama-bot, and am not particularly agitated about lefty attacks on the president because (a) it’s a free country; (b) “friendly fire” can be useful to shake up people living in the White House Bubble; (c) it’s primarily an elite phenomenon (i.e., the “bots” are much more prevalent among rank-and-file Democrats); (d) the “enthusiasm” of left and right activists is among the most regularly over-estimated factors in American politics, since votes are not weighted by temperature, and (e) it’s matched in undeserved influence by “the enemy is listening!” neurosis, whereby it’s assumed disagreements in one camp directly strengthen the other.

My own lack of emotional engagement in the Emo-Prog-versus-O-bot battle doesn’t mean I discount its significance in the day-to-day politics of the left, where arguments about what Obama represents date back to the early days of the 2008 presidential cycle. So what do you think, Political Animals? Do you feel you spend more time arguing with each other about Obama than you spend dealing with the Right? Are misgivings about the 44th president on the left essentially a continuation of misgivings about the 42d? Will Obama’s retirement from the White House make any of this go away? Fire away in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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