Political Hay

An Evening With Eric Alterman

If that's what you can call an exercise in lefty self-flagellation.

3.9.03

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Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity may do a pretty good job of fighting liberals on their radio programs. But they can be pikers compared to the real masters -- other liberals.

Whenever left-wingers speak candidly, they cannot seem to help portraying themselves as a bunch of ineffective wimps, constantly getting steamrolled by the rougher, tougher conservatives.

When they're not doing that, they're taking shots at their supposed
allies.

This curious self-loathing was vividly on display at a recent Washington, D.C. appearance by the Nation columnist and MSNBC pundit Eric Alterman.

Alterman stopped by the Politics and Prose bookstore -- a popular lefty hangout -- last Thursday to flog his latest book, What Liberal Media?

He packed the house, leaving it standing room only. This was bit of a problem since many of the audience members were so old they clearly couldn't stand for prolonged periods. More chairs were hurriedly found.

Once seated, they listened raptly for more than an hour as Alterman -- wearing the traditional all-black garb of the liberal intellectual -- expounded on his book.

It argues that the whole idea of a liberal media is a "useful myth" knowingly perpetuated by the right. One big reason it works, he said, is that liberals are just no match for conservatives in the political arena. It's not only the familiar argument that the right has more of corporate America's money. No, it is better organized too. The right also knows the political process better, fights harder in it, and cares more passionately about its issues than the left does.

What, Alterman asked, did the left have to match Robert Bartley's Wall Street Journal editorial page or Free Republic's legions of online activists? Nothing apparently.

These were backhanded compliments of course. But the tone of envy in Alterman's voice was unmistakable. "We have to be just as crazy as they are," he told the audience.

When he wasn't extolling the right's super-effectiveness, he was running down various people and groups on the left. National Public Radio? Fox News gave him a better chance to promote his book. Phil Donahue? His show was awful and deserved to get canceled. Media watchdogs Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting? Simply ineffective.

Even the Nation's usefulness to the liberal cause was questioned since it "publishes right-wingers." (Christopher Hitchens, maybe? But even that would be a stretch.)

And don't get him started on Ralph Nader.

Oh, and betcha didn't know that the Washington Post's David Broder is really a closet conservative? Well, apparently he is.

At no point did any left-wing activist in the audience seriously dispute any of this. (Except maybe for the woman behind me who took strong exception to Alterman's stray comment that Bush wasn't a moron.)

Instead, they lapped it up. After all, is there any other way to explain how conservatives could ever win when 70% of the people (Alterman's figure) agree with the left?

During the Q&A, the audience asked if there was anything they could do to break the right's stranglehold on politics. Alterman wasn't very optimistic. The right doesn't fight fair, while the left almost always does, so it'll always be at a disadvantage, he explained.

As it happens, this talk occurred on the very same day that Senate Democrats -- under pressure from left-wing groups -- sank Miguel Estrada's judicial nomination because the ABA endorsed lawyer was "too extreme."

Now, what was that about useful myths?

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