Muddled In The Middle

Via HotAir, John Avlon of No Labels continues fussing over alleged extremists right and left, this time aiming at Rush Limbaugh and his criticism of the group.

But Avlon's attacks seem off-target.  While I'm not a fan, Rush can hardly be described as "far right" in country where self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals 2:1 and his program is so popular he's signing the largest radio contracts in history. Rush is mainstream-right, Hannity is establishment-right, O'Reilly is populist-right, while someone like Savage is more accurately far-right. Meanwhile, the MSM is center-left, liberals like Chris Matthews, E.J. Dionne and Joe Klein are mainstream left, and Olbermann is far left. (Most people at TDB are center-left or left, and so naturally commenters there see Olbermann as fairly reasonable, but in terms of the country as a whole Olbermann is pretty far out of step.) As a libertarian, I don't have a lot of use for the simple left/right dichotomy anyways, but that's the lay of the land within that context.

The problem with the No Labels idea is that it amounts to defining "reasonableness" as something between center-leftism and centrism and then declaring everyone else out of bounds. That's not especially useful. For one thing, fringe ideas don't always stay in the fringe as societies evolve -- 60 years ago, the concept of gay marriage was so radical it was practically inconceivable it could be a political issue. Societal evolution is usually a good thing, and it happens because we have a vigorous debate.

More problematic for the group is that calling for civility while demonizing everyone to your left and right isn't remotely intellectually consistent. You can see that in what a logical trainwreck this column becomes -- Avlon at once denounces demonization and demonizes; his group is called No Labels but he slings around "wingnuts," "hyperpartisan," "poplarizing." The "national conversation" on No Labels mostly consists of eyerolling at the sanctimony, as well it should. Perhaps James Taranto put it best:

"They will establish lines that no one should cross." Rhetorical lines. That is to say, David Frum & Co. are going to decide what you may say and what you may not. Sounds fascist, doesn't it? Oh wait, are we allowed to say "fascist"? Or did we just cross the line that no one should cross?

In other "center-lefties telling everyone else to shut up" news, the inaptly named Politifact, which shares an award with Walter Duranty, has named "government takeover of health care" the Lie of the Year.

Face, meet palm.

Now, whether a 3,000 page bill that, among myriad other commandments, forces individuals to buy insurance and insurers to enter into money-losing contracts amounts to "a government takeover" may be a matter of opinion, but to call that claim a "lie" demeans the whole concept of honesty. Never mind Obama's factually untrue claims he hadn't raised taxes, that if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor, that the health care bill would not increase the deficit "one dime," that it would be negotiated in the open on C-Span. Even on the right, there were certainly claims to be found that were actually, you know, not true -- and you didn't even need to stoop as far as Michelle Bachmann accurately quoting that Times of India piece on Obama's allegedly $200M/day trip. Accountability is surely desirable, but in the pursuit of that ideal Politifact is more stumbling block than swift and keen-nosed hound.

UPDATE:  Some excellent thoughts from Peter Suderman on the topic:

Meanwhile, our rigorous team of fact-checkers even introduce a misleading statement of their own when they claim that "the law Congress passed...relies largely on the free market."

The only way this is true is if you utterly fail to distinguish between the concepts of "the free market" and "a highly regulated private sector," which is a far more accurate description of what the health care law relies on to accomplish its goals.

Sadly, making important distinctions doesn't seem to be their strong suit. Somehow when picking their lie of the year, Politifact settled on a minority party exaggeration with elements of truth--and managed to ignore the near-continuous stream of full-blooded whoppers coming from the folks actually running things.

posted by Dave on 12.17.10 at 02:07 PM


I find Mike Savage refreshing.

dr kill   ·  December 17, 2010 3:10 PM

I don't like labels either, and I can't come up with a label for myself that entirely fits. Once you label yourself, the label seems to invite people who share it to tell you what to do or threaten to take it away.

What I can't figure out is who Avlon is trying to appeal to. There are a number of libertarians like me who are not comfortable calling themselves conservative. So what is wrong with being called a "libertarian conservative" or a small-l libertarian? Or even "libertarianish"?

"No labels" seems awfully contrived.

Reminds me of the way some highly partisan activists go out of their way to call themselves "non partisan."

And why would anyone who genuinely doesn't like labels adopt a "NO LABELS" label?

Eric Scheie   ·  December 17, 2010 3:37 PM
Eric Scheie   ·  December 18, 2010 1:06 AM

They'll be gone and forgotten in six months ,,tops

Maaku   ·  December 18, 2010 7:56 AM

Your argument that popularity argues against extremism falls flat on it's face considering that far-left political hacks like Hitler were extremely popular in other countries. Are you telling me Hamas isn't extreme because its popular in Palestine.

Rush is an extremist when it comes to having government intrude into people's personal lives.

Avalon also argues correctly that Rush uses labels in order to divide. Problem is, as you've pointed out, Avalon is a hypocrite on this issue.

Brian Macker   ·  December 18, 2010 8:33 AM

What exactly is wrong with "divisive" though?

As I see it, the idea that strong disagreement is morally wrong (shorthand: "divisive") is a ruse to silence disagreement, and nothing more.

Barry D   ·  December 18, 2010 8:50 AM

"Societal evolution is usually a good thing..."

What a paralyzingly bizarre thing to hear from a blogger whose banner contains Greek statuary. Or are you distinguishing "evolution" from "devolution" in some way that's not apparent? Say what you will about our forefathers, they paid their own bills.

Anonymous   ·  December 18, 2010 9:14 AM

No Labels" Sheesh, it's just the natural successor to the Coffee Party and F*ck Tea. Just a little slicker than the first, and not quite as insulting as the second.

Sgt. Mom   ·  December 18, 2010 9:17 AM

Well what I dislike about divisiveness is when it is done to demonize your opponents and misconstrue their actual positions. Think Marx and his demonization of the bourgeoisie if you don't get it.

Brian Macker   ·  December 18, 2010 10:10 AM

It's not the call for civility that's the issue so much as who is calling for it. Frankly I'm tired of all the hollering too.

But after eight years producing the most atrocious, hysterical, earsplitting howling during the Bush Administration, Liberals are finding that shrieking isn't as much fun when it's coming AT you as it is when it's coming FROM you.

So if they want to lecture anyone on good manners and civil discourse, they need to start with, "we're sorry -- we were wrong."

jblog   ·  December 18, 2010 10:35 AM
M. Simon   ·  December 18, 2010 10:53 AM


Well, of course Hitler wasn't far left in his time. He was populist, socialist, nationalist, and racist, and Germany had been deeply traumatized when it put him into power after a plurality vote. But I think you raise a good point, one that I thought a bit about when writing this post.

The argument over where the objective political middle lies is essentially the overall political argument itself (another version of arguing over what the objectively correct policies would be), so I'm only trying to argue on the basis of where the political middle of the country is. I think on that basis it's a truism to say one cannot be both widely popular and extreme.

I think one could try to argue that Rush is only widely popular among the right and therefore could be extreme or "far right," but that's a difficult argument to sell given that Rush is the Right's most popular spokesperson.

TallDave   ·  December 18, 2010 12:59 PM

Rush is mainstream-right, Hannity is establishment-right, O'Reilly is populist-right, while someone like Savage is more accurately far-right.

Are you sure? I'd agree with you except for O'Reilly. He just seems populist. I don't see the 'right' part.

Kevin   ·  December 19, 2010 9:35 AM

The ideology formerly known as liberalism?

b5blue   ·  December 20, 2010 4:06 PM

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