A piece on the Left I wish I’d written (well, at least part of it)

December 21, 2021 • 12:00 pm

This piece by Fredie deBoer on his eponymous Substack column is free, but do subscribe if you read him often. It’s an analysis of the failure of the Left to unify themselves in a way that can appeal to middle American and defeat the Republicans—things I’m on about all the time. It also answers a question I get all the time: “Why are you always bashing the Left and leaving the Right alone when the Right is clearly more dangerous to America?” Well, I don’t really neglect the Right, and I do agree about the relative dangers. But I do concentrate on the Left, and deBoer explains why better than I can.  And he pulls no punches.

Click to read:

The part I don’t wish I’d written, because I think it detracts from deBoer’s message, is that he writes a LOT about Chris Hayes—a political commentator on MSNBC—using Hayes as an exemplar of what’s gone wrong with the Left. In particular, after Trump was elected, says deBoer, Hayes got woke. This is just a short bit reflecting deBoer’s disappointment with Hayes (even though he says he admires him):

When I think of this refusal to practice introspection, I think of MSNBC host Chris Hayes. I see two great impediments to the American liberal project, and Hayes embodies both: a fixation on Trump that nears the pathological, trapping liberalism perpetually in yesterday’s war, and a studious refusal to speak plainly and critically about the way that the Democratic party has become captured by donors and staffers whose politics are not just wildly out of step with the median American but with the median Democrat. Whether for ratings or to satisfy the contemporary lie that Trump is the worst president ever – you can read Hayes’s own writing from the Bush era to understand why it’s a lie – Hayes cannot quit Donald Trump, and thus like his party cannot settle on a remotely coherent political vision. He’s trapped.

And that’s all I’ll say about Hayes, though deBoer has a lot more to say about him. I don’t think it’s wise to use Hayes as a whipping boy for Woke Democrats, simply because it detracts from deBoer’s message. Plus I don’t know squat about Chris Hayes!

I’m just going to give two long quotes by deBoer because he expresses some of my own sentiments more strongly and with more sarcasm than I could. The bold questions are mine that I think deBoer answers (indented bits):

First, why does he (and your host) concentrate on the perfidies of the Extreme Left rather than the Dangerous Right? deBoer:

Sometimes I get people asking me why I don’t write more criticism of Republicans and conservatives. I’ve made the basic point many times before: those with influence within the conservative movement are too craven or crazy for meaningful written engagement to be worth anything, and those who are interesting and honest have no influence within the conservative movement. You can engage with Ross Douthat, who’s sharp and fair but who the average conservative would call a RINO [JAC: “Republican in name only”], or you can engage with a roster of interchangeable lunatics who lie and dissemble in defense of a cruel revanchist movement. I tend to train my fire on the broad left of center because, as much as I would sometimes like to wash my hands of the whole damn lot of them, they are the half of American politics that could actually reform, that could improve. I see no positive outcome from going through Breitbart posts and pointing out the lies. But Hayes, and other liberal Democrats who grumble and groan about left on liberal criticism, seem to think that if we just keep talking about how awful Josh Hawley and the Proud Boys are, somehow these problems will all sort themselves out.

They won’t. If you’re obsessed with defeating Trumpism, you should realize that you can only do that through securing a broad multicultural coalition, and you can’t do that when you’re alienating Hispanic voters or failing to challenge people in your political orbit when they insist that white children should be taught that they’re inherently and irreversibly racist. 70% of this country is white, Hispanic voters are not remotely as left-leaning as people assumed, immigrants are far from uniformly progressive, women were never actually a liberal stronghold, and you can’t win national elections by appealing only to the kinds of people who say “Black bodies” instead of “Black people.” This is the simple point David Shor has made for over a year, and for his trouble he gets a columnist in the Nation flat-out lying about him. Imagine a political tendency where popularism – literally, the idea that you should do things that appeal to voters – is immensely controversial. Liberalism is not healthy.

And your host will add: yu don’t need me to bash Republicans because there are already a gazillion people who do it, and you can read them instead of me.  Also, I feel more compelled to address problems in my own family (Democrats) than in that bad family across the street. It’s easier to settle family squabbles than reconcile the Hatfields with the McCoys.  Finally, it distresses me that my family is riven by a thousand differences, as well as imbued with apparent ignorance of what Americans want in their democracy—both of which will help spawn Republican victories down the road. At any rate, deBoer is right: we need a multicultural coalition, and the “elites” aren’t helping with that.

Now deBoer is not in my position on the political spectrum. In his Substack bio, he describes himself this way:

I write about everything but have a few jams that I engage with consistently. I am a Marxist of an old-school variety, which means I frequently complain about liberals, social democrats, and whatever “democratic socialism” is.

Second, and finally, what does the Left need?  deBoer, though perhaps “a Marxist of an old-school variety”, says this, first quoting Democratic ex-Senator Harry Reid, who, when asked what message he wanted to leave with America, answered “I want everybody in America to understand that if Harry Reid can make it, anybody can.”

And then deBoer riffs on that:

Does that sound anything like the message American liberalism wants to deliver now? Absolutely not. Today, American liberalism wants to tell you not that America can be a place of justice and equality where we all work together for the good of all, even as we acknowledge how badly we’ve failed that ideal. In 2021 liberalism wants to tell you that the whole damn American project is toxic and ugly, that every element of the country is an excuse to perpetuate racism, that those groups of people Hayes lists at the bottom are not in any sense in it together but that instead some fall higher on an hierarchy of suffering, with those who are perceived to have it too good in that hierarchy deserving no help from liberalism or government or the Democratic party – and, oh by the way, you can be dirt poor and powerless and still be privileged, so we don’t want you, especially if you’re part of the single largest chunk of the American electorate. Anyone who tows the line [sic] Harry Reid takes here is either a bigot or a sap, and politics is a zero-sum game where marginalized groups can only get ahead if others suffer, and Democrats fight to control a filthy, ugly, fallen country that will forever be defined by its sins. That’s the liberalism of 2021, a movement of unrelenting pessimism, obscure vocabulary, elitist tastes, and cultural and social extremism totally divorced from a vision of shared prosperity and a working class movement that comes together across difference for the good of all. In fact, I think I learned in my sociology class at Dartmouth that a working class movement would inherently center white pain! Better to remain divided into perpetually warring fiefdoms of grievance that can accomplish nothing. Purer that way. Now here’s Chris with part 479 of his January 6th series, to show us the country’s biggest problems.

Conservatives run roughshod over the country, and liberals are powerless to stop them, because liberalism has been colonized by a bizarre set of fringe cultural ideas about race and gender which they express in abstruse and alienating vocabulary at every turn. If anyone complains, liberals call them racist or sexist or transphobic, even when those complaining are saying that we can fight racism and sexism and transphobia more effectively by stressing shared humanity and the common good. Republicans tell the American people batshit conspiracy theories about communists teaching Yakub theory in kindergarten; Democrats fight back by making PowerPoint slides about why resegregating public schools is intersectional. We have reactionary insanity that expresses itself in plain, brute language and an opposition that insists that most voters don’t actually have any real problems, using a vocabulary that should never have escaped the conference rooms of whatever nonprofit hell it crawled out of. I cannot imagine a more obvious mismatch, the gleeful conspiracist bloodletting of the right against the sneering disdain and incomprehensible jargon of the left. I wonder who’ll win politically, an army of racist car dealership owners who have already taken over vast swaths of America’s state and local governments, keening for blood and soil? Or the guy in your anthropology seminar who insisted they were the voice of social justice while simultaneously making every conversation all about them?

This is all humorous and snarky, but also rings true. (I suppose deBoer’s Marxism is reflected in his concentration of class instead of race.) Be that as it may, the next time someone asks me why I bash the Left more often than the Right, I’ll just send them this post.


Note to deBoer: it’s “toes the line,” not “tows the line.” And it’s a “vise grip” not a “vice grip.”


h/t: Steve

53 thoughts on “A piece on the Left I wish I’d written (well, at least part of it)

      1. We have the clamp tools, or “vices” as they are known. They come in multiple colours. We also have coriander and aubergines, which I believe have yet to reach the USA.

              1. I learned serendipitously today that these little mistakes are called “egghorns”. “Beckon call” for “beck and call” or wet (instead of whet) one’s appetite. Not really going anywhere with this except that everything already has a name.

  1. I mostly like deBoer’s diatribe. I have a few minor quibbles (Bush was a worse president than Trump?) but he hits the nail on the head with the problems with the Woke and Democrats.

    A bigger problem with deBoer’s piece is that it seems to imply that commentators like Hayes should focus on reforming the Democrats than going after Trump. Trump as President was terrible for the country and he’s not done yet. He and his conspirators have to be held accountable. I know nothing of Hayes but we need the press to go after these people.

    If we are considering what we might wish the MSM to focus on, a la deBoer, I would say both Trump and associates and the Democrat’s lack of a coherent message and embrace of Woke ideas. Instead of telling Hayes what he should write about, we need to find new voices. It is really the MSM management and the politicians that deBoer should address. How is some MSM figure like Hayes going to come out against Woke principles all by himself? What the Democrats need most of all is some kind of anti-Trump, someone who is charismatic, much younger than Biden, who can craft a left-leaning positive message that gives voters a future that they can get behind, while explaining why Wokeness is the wrong path. I’ll admit it’s a tall order. I suspect the Dems will have to endure some big-time election losses before that can happen. Batten down the hatches!

    1. At the heart of deBoer’s critique of the Democratic Party and liberals is that they view society through a racial lens rather than a social class one. This is also the basis of why socialists have attacked the 1619 Project. In a recent NYT op-ed, he chides his fellow socialists for not convincing the American people of the benefits of socialist proposals, which, of course, requires a class based approach to solving problems.

      DeBoer resides in the same fantasy world as have other socialists for more than a century. They can’t comprehend that the overwhelming majority of Americans view capitalism, whether it be the regulated or libertarian variety, as the best vehicle to reach the “American dream.” One can argue that the American Dream ethos is another delusional myth, at least in recent decades, but, nevertheless, this is what they believe in and there is no reason that these beliefs will change soon. If this were not the case, no more than 20% of the electorate would vote Republican.

      Finally, deBoer seems not to understand that Democrats do, in fact, care for the interests of the working class. The essence of Biden’s economic program (Build Back Better) contains many measures to help working class people, regardless of race. The problem is that Democrats, generally speaking, are inept politicians and have failed to adequately convey this message to voters.


      1. You may know his writings much better than I do but, based on this article, deBoer isn’t saying that the Dems don’t care for the interests of the working class, just that they perceive them incorrectly and, when they lose elections as a result, don’t adjust. Just to take one example, many of them believe that dismantling the meritocracy will help the working class. Unfortunately for Dem election prospects, the working class likes the meritocracy just fine — it’s the slope and height of the hill they must climb that are the problems. To take another, they want racism to be solved but not the part about being made to feel guilty.

        1. Agreed, with the addition that deBoer clearly distinguishes between Democrats qua voters and Democrats qua party leaders. He doesn’t specifically mention lower level Democratic politicians, but I’d place them closer to voters, and argue that they are largely responsible for the fact that the Dems are not totally useless for the working class.

    1. “Yakub” (the black scientist who, according to the Nation of Islam, can be spelled other ways as well).

      “dishonest article”? Are you saying that the whole article is dishonest, or there’s a mistake in this one bit?

    2. “[C]ommunists teaching Yakub theory in kindergarten” was plainly comic hyperbole.

      Do you deny that Republicans tell the American people batshit conspiracy theories? Have you not heard of QAnon or Pizzagate, Jewish space lasers or Italian satellites used to alter the votes tabulated in the Dominion voting machines built to Hugo Chavez’s specs? Have you never listened to what Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Mike Lindell, Alex Jones and their cohorts actually say?

  2. Being in the grip of vice can’t be a good thing….unless it’s one of my own vices.
    Vice I see is an accepted British spelling for vise, the clamping tool, both pronounced to rhyme with ice. But being firmly in the U.S. orbit for tool suppliers we don’t spell it that way here, even though we defiantly spell “colour” and say “zed”. This is a situation where having two spellings for two different words reduces confusion. I’ll still bet a lot of us misspell it, though. “Vice” is perennially popular, whether to indulge or condemn.
    “Vise-Grips” is a trade name for the patented adjustable locking plier that cams into a sudden lock.

    So other than the spelling, I would say the same as you: a “vise-like grip.”

    Nitpicking aside I am going to forward this column to my sister.

    1. ‘Vise grip’: when I were a lad we called it a mole wrench. Still got the one I bought nearly 50 years ago. It still works, as well.

      1. You say “wrench”, I say “spanner”. Although I’ve never heard of a “mole spanner”. Divided by a common language indeed. Can “wrench” function as an insult in North America? As in, “Don’t be such a total spanner, Kevin”. Or, as I once heard on Coronation Street, “she’s got a face like a bagful of spanners” – this not being an insulting comment on her lack of physical beauty, more indicating that she looks displeased.

        Hey, Leslie MacMillan, where is this strange country of which you speak where they spell “colour” and pronounce “z” correctly, and yet get “vice” wrong?

    1. I like Chris Hayes, too. A lot. And so, by his own reckoning, does Freddie deBoer. Hayes is whip smart and articulate and a fair but tough and incisive questioner (even if he looks like someone who as a kid would’ve had his lunch money taken away from him in my old neighborhood 🙂 ).

      But what he’s not is beyond criticism. Some of what deBoer levels his way misses the mark, but some is apt; there’s a certain monomania that’s crept into Chris’s commentary of late.

  3. DeBoer’s article is long and will take time to digest. But one thing jumped out to me where he says that it is a “contemporary lie that Trump is the worst president ever.” He does not discuss whom he thinks is the worst. In 2021, C-SPAN conducted a poll of historians in 2021 to rate presidents. Indeed, Trump was not the worst according to them: James Buchanan was worst, followed by Andrew Johnson, followed by Franklin Pierce, and then Trump. But, I disagree with this consensus of historians. As bad as these three Civil War era presidents were (and they were very bad), Trump is the worst – by far. This is because of one and only one reason – no other president, as bad as he may have been, did actively collude to destroy democracy when in office. Even the much maligned James Buchanan opposed secession and took tentative actions to reinforce Fort Sumter when the Confederates demanded that it surrender.

    To be frank, I am very much pissed off at deBoer saying that those who consider Trump the worst president are uttering a lie. People may disagree with this assessment of Trump, but to call them liars is a slur. As a result, I have no respect for the man, although I may agree with other of his opinions.


    1. And not only is Trump the worst POTUS ever, he’s also the worst ex-POTUS ever, continuing with his Big Lie(s) and Big Grift.

      1. There is one former president that, at least for now, may surpass Trump in that capacity. That would be James Tyler, whom I refer to as the “traitor president.” As William Henry Harrison’s vice president, Tyler assumed the presidency on April 4, 1841, after Harrison died after being in office for only one month. Tyler was an ardent supporter of the slaveholding interest. At the end of his life, he supported Virginia’s secession and served in the Confederate congress until his death. Nevertheless, in 1938, somebody decided his portrait should be on a 10 cent stamp. Only in America!



        1. Thanks for the information. Yeah, sounds like another evil doer. And I’m sure Trump has no problem with slavery, either.

  4. If all this guy and others do is bitch about the far left and the woke, what do they accomplish – nothing I would say. Has it not been said here long ago that this woke is like a religion. It is buried in cement. You can not change or convert it. So my question is, why not find something else to talk about. Is repeating the same woke habits over and over doing any good. About like changing the Pope to an atheist. I have listed to Chris Hayes on MSNBC and he often informs his viewers on what is going on with the far right, the legal cases and much more. It is a hell of a lot better than Fox or even CNN most of the time and you actually learn things. You get almost nothing from the common national news on NBC, ABC or CBS. Mostly all they do are headlines. It is very surface. You will learn more on the night time shows on MSNBC when their regular host is there. Also, if you don’t like it, change the channel or read a book.

  5. DeBoer’s article is a good one, with a lot of pithy language that vividly conveys some excellent substance. Indeed, rather than use Chris Hayes as his whipping boy, he would have done better just to stick with the substance. Attacking Hayes makes DeBoer appear a bit mean.

    The reason that I am more inclined to criticize the left than the right is that I think the left is capable of self-evaluation and change. The right—at least until Trump leaves the scene—is irredeemable. So, I criticize the left because I’m optimistic that a positive outcome is possible. I think that DeBoer has a similar hope.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed that. But we can correctly call out the problems with our screaming children to the left of us, but getting them back in line in another thing entirely. They don’t seem to like compromise or patience.

    On a positive note, the largest coal mining union in the U.S. has recognized the benefits of the Build Back Better bill, and have been calling on Senator Manchin to have another look at it.

  7. I’m not overly fond of Bill Maher, but he’s been right on this topic for the last two years. The woke message can be boiled down to “white people suck,” and that doesn’t win elections.

  8. “This is all humorous and snarky, but also rings true.” – I’m not totally sure that very much humour was actually involved.

    1. Ruy Teixeira discusses what he calls the five deadly sins of the Left. What I think he is saying is that the Democratic Party has been identified as in sympathy or embracing these beliefs, even though the vast majority of the rank-and-file reject them. This identification is in large message due to relentless right wing propaganda as well as the Democratic Party leaders’ failure to reject them, perhaps because they feel they cannot alienate the far left. Yet, for the Democrats to have electoral success in the coming elections they must reject them. The electorate as a whole favors change, but within a capitalistic framework that endorses equal opportunity, but not guaranteed equal outcomes. Thus, in my role as pundit, I fear that even if Biden’s Build Back Better and voting rights legislation somehow pass (as extremely important as they are to the economy and democracy), this may not translate into a significant uptick in Democratic votes. For the relatively small part of the electorate that can swing elections one way or the other, cultural issues are more important than economic or voting ones. They would rather screw themselves economically in the name of maintenance of their perception of threat to their cultural values by the Left. Of course, they couldn’t care less if democracy should disappear. Until the Democrats understand this, the cultural problem along with gerrymandering and voter suppression will result in Democrats losing elections that by objective standards they shouldn’t.

      1. This identification is in large message due to relentless right wing propaganda as well as the Democratic Party leaders’ failure to reject them, perhaps because they feel they cannot alienate the far left.”

        Exactly. Relentless right wing propaganda doesn’t affect just right wing voters. It affects liberal voters too. Hence you’ve got people on the liberal side continuously criticizing the DP for not caring about or helping the ‘common person’ when in fact that is entirely inaccurate, both historically over the past 80 years or more and today. Conservatives don’t beat us, they get us to beat ourselves.

  9. There is a problem of performative politics that affects the left where it is seemingly more important to many activists to be seen to ideologically pure than to actually achieve practical change to improve most people’s lives. In the UK this was often the problem with Corbyn’s Labour Party. Corbyn has spent his career self-righteously opposing everything every government (including Labour Party governments) have done and refusing to compromise at all. It might be seen as admirable political commitment but his inflexibility has meant he has never got his hands on the levers of power and consequently has failed to change anything at all for better or worse other than the Labour Party itself. This delusional attitude was well exemplified by his insistence that he and his team “had won the argument” after losing the last election (an election that in British colloquial parlance could have been described as an ‘open goal’ for Labour after years of austerity and increasingly dysfunctional Tory government). In democratic politics if you have lost the election it makes no sense to claim you have won the argument!

    Corbyn has since been replaced as leader of the Labour Party by the much more pragmatic Keir Starmer but his attempts at making headway with the electorate continue to be hampered by in-fighting within the party with Corbynist factions sniping at him at every opportunity.

  10. We shouldn’t forget that there is a linkage between the extremes of politics, and that a case can be made for the idea that it has been the batshit crazy people on the left who have driven the Rebuplicans to become as extreme as they have. Unfortunately the reverse is also true, and the nuttier the Republicans get, the wilder the Democrats become. It’s a positive feedback cycle that can only be stopped by people on each side reining in their more extreme colleagues.

  11. DeBoer writes: “I tend to train my fire on the broad left of center because, as much as I would sometimes like to wash my hands of the whole damn lot of them, they are the half of American politics that could actually reform, that could improve.”

    Serious question: If you wanted your child, spouse or loved one to ‘improve’ would your strategy be to ‘train your fire’ on them?

    I can certainly see how relentless, badgering denigration of the left gives aid and comfort to the radical right. What I can’t see is how it ‘improves’ anything whatsoever.

  12. To some extent, I agree that criticism of the so-called left makes more sense because there is at least the belief that there might be some rational response to it, whereas we have given up on most of the right because of QAnon, PizzaGate, Jewish space lasers, and so on. (John McCain as an example of a sensible right-wing politician is no longer around.). However, I don’t think that the debate will be won by public criticism. As many have noted, academia is rife with the woke. Hence, woke hiring the woke will oust sensible people from academia, and by extension from many positions of influence.

    Remember the old joke concerning a job interview: “So, tell us something about you which is not on the internet”. Those who like myself comment on blogs and so on under their own name have probably already sealed their fate. With DEI statements all the rage, simply not commenting is also not an option. We are dangerously close to the situation where anyone without a woke Twitter profile is immediately rejected when applying for an academic job.

    Like in other instances of discrimination, that is difficult to prove. One can almost always find a reason to reject otherwise good candidates, and to hire otherwise bad ones. With things like race and sex which (at least in the opinion of sensible people) are objectively measurable, one could point to significantly different distributions in the hired and those applying which at least in some cases could point to discrimination. But that would be much more difficult in the case of the woke hiring the woke. And those shunned can no longer count on the ACLU to defend them.

    Sadly, what we probably need is affirmative action, in the sense that sensible, non-woke people play the same game but under a different sign, preferentially hiring non-woke people without leaving any evidence which could prove it.

  13. “Right-wing is more dangerous than left-wing”: I had been repeating it to myself for years and that’s the only reason I kept voting left for so long. Eventually, even this reason broke.

    No, the left is more dangerous. The right-wing is homophobic? The left supports islam, which is far more homophobic.
    The left claims to support gender equality, but it doesn’t: it makes false accusations of non-existing discrimination perpetrated by western males against women, but doesn’t spend a single word against islam and its real, terrible actions against the women. Indeed, the left defends hijab, niqab, burqa and the “freedom” of women to be oppressed by islam.
    Left-wing claims to be anti-racist, but is racist against Jews and whites. And even with blacks it is not very supportive: it only defends blacks who are killed by white police, but does not spend a single word on all those blacks – much more numerous – who are killed by other blacks. Or on blacks who are treated as slaves by Arabs in Qatar and other Gulf countries.

    Speaking of conspiracies, there are also conspiracies within the left. Anyway, stupid conspiracies does not belong to the right, but to the far-right, which are different. Far-right is disgusting, but only represents a small minority. And it looks more like the left than the right (see for example its attitude towards Israel).
    So, I stopped being leftist. We should all stop.

      1. I don’t live in the US, but all around the world, the leftists look like the new Nazis. They make statements, they do not provide any evidence for their statements, but attack whoever dares to disagree.
        Btw, what are the arguments for your statement (that the right would be worse than the left)?

        1. Your description of Nazis as people who “make statements, they do not provide any evidence for their statements, but attack whoever dares to disagree” makes them sound like normal people, assuming by “attack” you don’t mean with actual physical violence. I suggest you’ve lost the thread on what makes someone a “Nazi”.

          1. With “attack” I mean they intimidate, censor, fire people, and yes sometimes they also use violence. For example, 21% of anti-Semitic aggressions in Europe come from the left, while only the 13% from the right (less than 2/3). The large majority of anti-Semitic aggressions comes from muslims, of course.

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