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By Michael J. Smith on Saturday December 18, 2010 11:23 AM

A minor flapdoodle has erupted in recent days after publication of "An Open Letter to the Left Establishment" sent by, who else, the left establishment, or a portion thereof. Full disclosure: though my own distinguished signature was not individually sought for this broadside, I nevertheless went to the Web site and signed on as a steerage passenger, and I encourage everybody else to go and do likewise, for two reasons: 1) The letter calls for "disruptive" protest -- an idea dear to my heart -- and 2) it made Tom Hayden furious.

Hayden's response is worth reading, if you've got a few minutes to kill, and if you enjoy the spectacle of a preening popinjay writhing under an affront to his amour-propre. But he doesn't have anything interesting to say, of course.

Bill Fletcher, however -- one of Obie's legions of "critical supporters" -- is somewhat interesting, though a little obscure, in his own clearly annoyed response to the letter:

"The Letter reads as if those named in the first paragraph have been sitting on their hands or standing at the gates refusing to permit the masses to pass through and challenge Obama... it is odd that the names would all be thrown together as if someone were actually trying to stir up confusion and promote disinformation. I don't know, but i have actually seen a film much like this before....

One thing that the authors of the Letter did not address was the question of the African American electorate. I don't know about you, but how we handle the question of this administration is particularly dicey when the African American electorate feels, overwhelmingly, that Obama is under an intense racist assault from the political Right (which is, as you know, quite correct). This basic question of the African American electorate and huge portions of the Latino electorate means that our electoral tactics in the coming two years will have to be handled very carefully, even while we put the pressure on this administration and struggle against its defense of warmed over neo-liberalism.

That second paragraph is intriguing. What's Fletcher's downside scenario, I wonder? Attacking Obie from the left is going to make some black folks do... what? Join the Teabaggers? Get annoyed at white leftists? Vote Republican? Sit out the next election?

Some of these scenarios seem unlikely -- the Teabagger option, for example. Others, though perhaps regrettable, are tolerable: tension between some white lefties and some black activists is an old story; it doesn't necessarily reflect badly on either party -- nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, and everybody has a duty to fight his own corner; and we can always get together on the things we agree about, even while sniping about the ones we don't agree about.

But one, at least, of these scenarios seems to me like an unalloyed good: namely, that disillusioned black folks might sit out the next election in droves. As I've argued many times here, it's better to do nothing than to do something that's actively harmful.

Comments (41)

So Fletcher wanted the petition to be ten paragraphs attacking the Tea Party for attacking Obama, and then some kind of mumbling addendum in tiny type about how Obama could be just a teensy bit nicer to his base?

And it's not just Black Democrats that whip out the Tea Party as an excuse every four minutes. You can't take three steps around here without hearing much the same from most Caucazoids. You wonder why any Obama voter still thinks the man is useful in any capacity when this is apparently all it takes to keep him cowed. Some frazzled-looking Righties yelling and waving around signs are now the Horsemen of the Apocolypse? Please.

Obama does what he does because that's what he wanted to do all along. Enough with the goddamn Tea Party already.

God, it's depressing to watch "the left" try to get itself up off the mat. My main reaction is who was the fool who imagined that writing an open letter to these phonies was worth the paper and electrons? What a hopeless and self-embarrassing gesture.


I signed it. If that isn't a cool enough gesture for the cool kids, fuck 'em.


I've never had any idea what's cool and what isn't, but signing on to this document satisfies my threshold criteria for low-cost mischief-making. And it does, to some modest degree, put its Obie-apologetic addressees on the defensive -- a refreshing change from their usual role of admonitory finger-wagging at the rest of us.


It's a futile gesture, perhaps, but I see nothing wrong with it. Obama's celebrity-Left supporters need to be called on their bullshit. These are the people who make it their job to keep the rest of the electorate misinformed about what the D-party is all about. I am far less inclined to judge people who have been duped than those who do the duping. I say ask them nicely once, if only so you can say you did so, then begin a campaign to boycott and ostracize them, along with the rest of the mass media propaganda establishment.


Make mischief?
Get arrested?
Pay a fine?
Get a record?
Pay more fines, suffer more restrictions?
How's that working out for our
righteous son, Bradley Manning?
Consider him now dead.
Just another victim of old fashioned
60s naive hope.
How about we get just the slightest
of how nihilistic we must be?

Come on, MJS, if Cornel West can be signatory
rather than addressee, there's hope for every
putative left anti-left -establishmentarian. Start a petition against yourself, and traffic will double overnight.

Start a petition against yourself, and traffic will double overnight.
If I really thought that would happen....

And fair enough about Cornel West. Seeing that signature gave me pause, it must be admitted. But he's the Zelig of contemporary American politics -- he shows up everywhere. Can't go to a dogfight without running into Cornel West.

My gripe isn't with the signing so much as the launching of the thing. Why not just do a direct open letter to Obama and try to gather signatures and organize some actions against his ongoing crimes?

Of course, as soon as one asks that, the answer becomes clear, doesn't it? We're locked in the outhouse, the apologizers/"workers from within" and the rest of us toilet-hugging nausea victims.

A letter from Democrats to Democrats begging the second group of Democrats to act less like Democrats when people who don't want to vote for Republicans are looking.



found this tid bit at the site of lu lu bumsted ---recovery trotter --
apropos the open letter to the left elite of a week ago or so http://www.truth-out.org/an-open-letter-left-establishment65848
u know the blistering rebuke of " the soft on barry" katrina-hayden-fletcher-moore-solomon quisling palest pink/green axis ....

" a virtually unbreakable law of left organizing which operates roughly as follows: when a Democratic President enters office, those membership organizations which had been on the outside now see themselves as having a seat at the table. This is achieved through movement leadership being offered positions-albeit low to midlevel positions-in the administration. When they are not actually invited into the administration, elite levels of the left establishment see themselves as having “access” to some these figures, with the result that organizations, media outlets and high profile figures which would otherwise be organizing grassroots protests are now counseling patience, tolerance and, at the very least, “critical” support....the perception of access to “friends” on the inside insures that the organizational infrastructure which is necessary to organize protest withers, leaving it to outside marginal groups the necessity to build this infrastructure from scratch.....all this should have been obvious to those who lived through, or at least read about, the Carter and Clinton administrations where the dynamic of co-optation was refined to something close to a science...when we confronted it anew under Obama,...those who should have been warning us had an investment in the Obama campaign and Obama brand, and what they felt it represented,.... "

enough of the mud department..so what do these militants project as doable that this "... legacy of false claims and unrealistic expectations " has smothered
".. protest on the scale and intensity which is required."

scale of protests required ??... err ...somewhere seriously north of the 2003 iraq attack demos .....as engels would perhaps interject "and then what
you know if " the system " doesn't blink ??" as it hasn't in france or britain or greece or ireland ...so far ..is there a higher form of struggle or just persistence

Al Schumann:

Being generous, it looks like the big swinging lefties buy into the liberals' vulgar social contract expectations: that their support places an obligation on the beneficiary of their efforts—who obviously doesn't feel obliged and never will. When that support flops, as it always does, they have their little fiefdoms to defend and fall back on, just like the corporate liberals. From the harrumphs of indignation at the letter, there's a good bit of wounded ego involved too.

It's sad how much they resemble the tame progressive intellectual hacks at the goo-goo think tanks. Right down to the cry from the heart, "but all you had to do was call! We'd be there for you..."

Less generously, they're a bunch of miserable retreads who get a kick out of passive aggression and contrarion goo-goo posturing, for money, and for some of them it's quite a nice gig.


Fletcher's response is the worst -- an insult to blacks and latinos.

Reading a lot of the responses here makes me think that there's a whole cadre of Lefties who believe in the "one bite" rule. If you ever voted Democrat, you don't ever get to be anything else. Last I heard, people like Sheehan, J. Frank, and Kevin Zeese, for instance, had publicly broken ranks with the Democratic Party. If any of them had a goo-goo-for-Obama stage, I missed it.

But apparently that's not good enough. The show-me-your-credentials-that-I-may-reject-them brigade is in fine form outside the Dem's compound. As much as it's in fine form within. Well, I already told the Prog Credential Brigade works equally well for the likes of Crow: Go credential yourselves, Assholes. Fuck your snobbery and your own version of gatekeeping and while I'm at it: Fuck you.

Gatekeeping what, Ms. Xeno? What institutions do a bunch of marginalized lefties and anarchist protect? Who have the targets of your silly bile prevented from gaining access to the halls of influence and power? Who has been scared away from Michael Moore and Barbara Ehrenreich by a world weary lament on the social contract?

Are you actually surprised at anarchists who don't vote, anyways? Or old timey Leninists who scoff at two party capitalist electoralism?

Oh noes, a couple of anarchists have cast asides to the anonymous ether - about acting like anarchists.

Gnashing teethies at those who've opted out a wee bit more than you, eh?. What next - complaining that the Trots and the LibComs don't agree about vanguard parties? Spitting vinegar and urine that Smith dares to run a blog about not voting for rightward ratcheting Dems?

Do you feel superior yet, Xeno - now that you've spit your disapproval at the lefties who don't make your personal gestures? Is it not enough for you that you did it? You've got some bile left over, eh?

I guess small, meaningless gestures make one a saint. Especially if pointing out the Democrats wrote a silly letter to other Democrats begging them to be less brazenly corporate makes one an asshole...

Dude, I don't care that you don't want to sign. It's your holier-than-thou shit-- that nobody apparently gets to STOP being a Democrat until... when? Until you say so?

The mentality that it's better to smother even tiny sparks of awareness rather than risk letting Not Your Kind of People™ get involved should they happen to spot those sparks is what pisses me off.

Personally, I'm disappointed as fuck in people like Moore and Ehrenreich. They seemed ten years or so to be on the path of actually seeing the Dems as they really are. But both turned back from what they knew because it was more important to them to get back in the winners circle where it was nice and warm.

But Sheehan and McKinney and some of the others that addressed them in the petition? No. I don't consign them to some kind of Perma-Dem hell just because they can communicate effectively with others outside some idealized version of Lefty Heaven.

Opt out all you want, Bud. Stay far, far away from all that mass communication shit if you can seriously afford to. Look down on any spokesperson anywhere whose name is known to those not in your literal or idelogical hometown all you like. Raise your offspring in some kind of perfect Anarchist dome where they will never run any risks of being corrupted by anything less than 110% Awesome Anarchism--- as you see it, of course. I know a few local Anarchists that I'm sure you wouldn't find up to scratch, either.

Not everyone was lucky enough to have that kind of raising, so not everyone is going to find that brand of snotty, I-was-a-punk-before-you-were-a-punk thinking an effective way to deal with others.


Seems like someone else could use a letter:

WikiLeaks Cables Detail Fidel Castro's Doomed Love for Obama


This is holier than thou?

"A letter from Democrats to Democrats begging the second group of Democrats to act less like Democrats when people who don't want to vote for Republicans are looking."

Too funny.

This is "gatekeeping"?

C'mon now. Your venom is wasted. Find some Obama apologist to bite. I'm just amused that a bunch of high profile Democrats wrote an "open letter" to another bunch of high profile Democrats in an act of silly political theater.

Getting angsty over that is odd.

Crow, why do you so often trot out the word "angst" to belittle people who think you're acting like an ass.

Whatever. Just keep tarring everyone on the list with the "Democrat" brush if it makes you feel better. Stay on top of your dungheap and, er, crow about what superior vision it affords you. Have a nice life.


Fuck your snobbery and your own version of gatekeeping and while I'm at it: Fuck you.

Ms xeno, may I just say you never fail to make my nipples hard. You nail it every time.

The list was put together by a Democrat, and is signed by a bunch of prominent Democrats, yes?

Check. Bunch of prominent Dems.

It's addressed to a number of prominent Democrats, yes?

Check. Another bunch of prominent Democrats.

It's one group of Democrats asking another group of Democrats to pretend that Democrats aren't a corporate party, but are in fact a lefty pressure group, yes?


You pretending I wrote something I didn't, from some purist perspective I don't have, yes?


Thanks, fuckyeah... (It feels weird typing that. Nothing personal.) Glad I could help.

Though you have to admit it's pretty low-hanging fruit in this case. Everyone listed on the petition is now and forever a Democrat because, uh... Crow says that they all are.

Not much of a mental workout there, really. :/

Oh, well. Like a couple of others have mentioned, it's pretty low-level ambition to drive Hayden (and others like him) into a frenzy, too. But that doesn't make Hayden's frenzy any less entertaining to watch. [shrug]


The list was put together by a Democrat, and is signed by a bunch of prominent Democrats, yes?

Based on the Proyect discussion thread, I get the feeling that John Halle, a member of the Green Party, wrote the letter.

I don't recognize all the names on the list, but I know for a fact that many of them are not Democrats and a few of them (Tariq Ali, George Monbiot) aren't even American.

My attitude generally is that if something pisses off people I loathe, and as an added plus, encourages them to reveal more of their own ugliness, it's no longer a 'meaningless gesture.' This letter did that to Hayden and Fletcher so anything else is gravy.

The left establishment shouldn't be getting a pass any more than the Party they run interference for. If they want to sell their souls to keep their places at the table, no reason why the rest of us shouldn't piss on their party.


What I did not write: Everyone who signed the list is a Democrat and a representative of the Democratic Party.

Mr. Smith grasped the essential element in the very first sentence of the opening post:

"...sent by, who else, the left establishment, or a portion thereof."

That establishment - such as it exists outside of corporate media a - is who, exactly?

By and large - Democrats. These people don't queue up to vote Republican. They haven't turned the Green Party into a viable concern. Bob Avakian might like their support for his fantasy party of the neverfuture. They aren't - and I guess I have to make this clear for MsXeno: I don't mean absolutely everyone, though people like Chomsky can be counted on to argue for Democrats when the time is nigh - out in the weeds building up fighting unions.

The signers and their addressees are largely a group of well paid, well connected professionals, most of whom having been produced by the meritocratic university system. That doesn't make them evil, wrongheaded or lacking in virtues to commend them - despite Ms Xeno's stupid insistence that this is my allegedly purist claim.

What they are: a bunch of people who, when it comes to the system that exists, can be counted on by the Democrats. And a goodly portion of them have and continue to argue for that so-called lesser-evil.

[And I'm still amused that a twenty or so word quip pointing this out inspired Ms. Xeno to conjure up wholesale fictions.]

~ Jack


mz x

poor crow let him back out of his silly hyperbole
calling the letter senders Democrats is trivial foolishness
but i'm glad you hammered the de facto
full retreat out of him anyway
even if he must wiggle and squiggle
and hiss and stomp off
like that shows us
"oh no crow isn't being a silly goose "

what retreat?

I keep typing the same thing.

op, nobody's got to retreat. It's a big internet. Plenty of room for us all. [shrug]


crow ..allah be praised will always
be with us
to grouse at the sun and moon
both at their rising and setting
he has rare moments of partial contentment

when one eclipses the other



You've fallen into the trap of arguing with Jack Crow before asking him to define his terms. This would usually be unnecessary, but Jack has a bad habit of using commonly-understood words that have a surprisingly idiosyncratic definition in the Jack Crow lexicon.

For instance, look at his last post for a great example of how he redefines "Democrat" to mean something truly bizarre:

By and large - Democrats. These people don't queue up to vote Republican. They haven't turned the Green Party into a viable concern... largely a group of well paid, well connected professionals, most of whom having been produced by the meritocratic university system... a bunch of people who, when it comes to the system that exists, can be counted on by the Democrats.

Betcha didn't know that's what the word "Democrats" means!

I suspect you'll find similar weaseling if you push him on the definitions of "angst", "left", "anarchist" (although to be fair I've never met two anarchists who agree on that definition), "purist" and so on. The best part is that he'll tell you with a straight face that your inability to adopt his own idiosyncratic usage of the word is a failing on your part.


What's particularly bizarre about noting that people who vote for Democrats, campaign for Democrats, have a (D) next to their Senatorial title, donate to Democrats and bemoan the loss of their version of the Democratic Party would best be described as Democrats?

Does it mean that every single person who signed that list is a registered Democrat or a member of the Democratic bureaucracy? No. But I never wrote that.

I have a good friend who has socialist sentiments, is a feminist lesbian, owns her own book store, and doesn't have bad things to say about Nader. She also votes Democrat every single election, donates to Democrats and worked on Clinton's campaign. It's not "bizarre" to describe her as a Democrat, even though her voter registration card has an (I) on it.

What's so hard to understand about that?


Oh Christ.

Jack has a pattern: If something isn't all red, it's blue. If you tell him it's actually purple and here's why, he'll say, I never said it was blue, so what are you on about, but as a matter of fact, purple is actually blue.

As his late pal Oxy, god rest his soul, used to say: zzzz

Are you folks really caught up on something as minor as party registration? As long as the duck is registered as a goat, it's in fact a goat?




What's particularly bizarre about noting that people who vote for Democrats, campaign for Democrats, have a (D) next to their Senatorial title, donate to Democrats and bemoan the loss of their version of the Democratic Party would best be described as Democrats?

As a Democrat-Republican-Green-DC Statehood Party-Independent, I find your terminology not entirely useful. I suspect that most of the listed signatories would turn out to have equally unwieldy political identities under your definition.

(Unless you're serious about the "and" joining those elements in your list, in which case at most one of the signatories meets your definition of "Democrat".)

I think the word you're looking for is "voter", although "erstwhile voter" or "sometime voter" would probably be better, and "suspected sometime voter" would be even more accurate. But if your message is that these people are totally not punk rock like you, then I think we've already got it.

Thanks for telling me what I'm looking for. I didn't know before you read my mind and told me what my own words meant.

I mean, I couldn't possibly have been quipping about the "left establishment" from the start. I must have had to have been arguing an exact thesis covering the entire American electorate. That's why I set myself the laborious task of making a complete theory in less than fifty words.

Ms. Xeno couldn't possibly have been imputing to me meaning I never wrote, and which could not possibly have been implied. She didn't import a dispute from Distant Ocean, either, where she also got sort of oddly pissed because I don't like the Noam and think he's a shill. I mean, that could never have happened - so it must all be about me meaning what you want me to mean.

I couldn't possibly have just meant what I wrote, back up near the top: that it's amusing to see a bunch of Democrats asking other Democrats to stop acting like Democrats. Instead, I had this really profound and mechanically constructed theory about how all the people who don't know their Democrats in fact are. I didn't really mean that I don't give much credence to an arbitrary boundary between party apparatchik and person who can be counted on to cast a vote for that Party when election comes to shove. It's just unreasonable for me to assume - especially in a grand narrative spanning the limitless number of less than 50 words - that a large number of people who aren't going to vote Republican, advocate lesser evilism and come election time worry the evil Republicans and their ending-American-history impending victories might be considered Democratic.

I must obviously have meant something else. It's all clear now.

Picador wrote:

...You've fallen into the trap of arguing with Jack Crow before asking him to define his terms. This would usually be unnecessary, but Jack has a bad habit of using commonly-understood words that have a surprisingly idiosyncratic definition in the Jack Crow lexicon...

That could be. I also wonder where he got the idea that I was ready to go to war over Chomsky.

OTOH, it could just be that he really was trying to tell a joke in a medium where it's not always easy to pick up on humor. Trouble for me is: I've spent a decade or so now hearing ad nauseum from the actual card-carrying Demo faithful about how they own my ass, always and forever, resistance is futile, etc.

There's the outside chance that it's my fault for just not finding Crow's joke all that funny. Too many people who spout that shit aren't actually joking about it.

Damnit Jack! Don't you know your words mean exactly what piccie says they mean? Piccie is the arbiter of all semantics on teh intarwebs! Anyroad, I made a similar comment on DGH using 'fauxgressive' instead of 'democrat' - but I think both work just as well.

Milton Marx:

I just read this thread, and I have no fucking clue why people are jumping on Jack. Insanity. The guy has made his point as clear as day.

Xeno, you sound like some wack job on the subway with whom Jack mistakenly, and regrettably, made eye contact. And all of you defending Ms X: You sound completely nuts.

I haven't the slightest clue what you sectarian fruitcakes are talking about. No wonder the left is dysfunctional. You can't recognize a clear argument when it's staring you in the face. Get a grip.

Miltie, your dad wants you to get down the hotel bar right way. He's running out of beer.

Oh, and bring the Vaseline.


I proly shoulda just scribbled out "fauxgressive." I guess it's my fault that I think it's funny that most faugressives end up voting Democrat. Just like their progressive counterparts and betenoirs.


We've got plenty of room to disagree about other stuff, but thanks.

Somebody needs to explain to Milton-Freewater that the first rule of jokes is that they're supposed to be funny.


Oh, well.

The extent of Miltie's grasp on humor can be measured with a micrometer. But then, Miltie doesn't really need to understand the joke - he is the joke.

Milton Marx:

Homer Simpson banging radio when Garrison Keillor is on: "Beeee fuunnny!"

That would apply here to you would-be jokesters.

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