Arnold Kling  

Criticizing Your Own Side

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Mark Thoma thinks that pundits on the left are more willing to criticize their own team than pundits on the right. My guess is that people on the right think it's the other way around. If so, then let me propose an explanation.

I think that when pundits criticize someone from their own team, it is usually complaining that the politician is too moderate or too ineffectual. That is, leftwing pundits criticize President Obama either for not following policies that are further to the left or for not championing left-oriented policies more strongly. Similarly, pundits on the right criticized President Bush for not following policies that were further to the right or for doing a poor job of articulating right-wing philosophy.

These sorts of criticisms are difficult for the other side to notice. It may be hard for someone on the right to think it is a big deal when a liberal politician is being criticized from the left. And those on the left do not always notice when a conservative politician is being criticized from the right. I mean, you may notice such a criticism, but you don't "count it" as a criticism, because it's the opposite of the criticism that you would make from the other side.

Of course, what would really be interesting would be a pundit on the left criticizing a liberal politician's liberal policies, or a pundit on the right criticizing a conservative politician's conservative policies. I believe those instances are relatively rare. One example might be the Washington Post editorial page, which has criticized the domination of the teachers' unions in Maryland politics. Another example would be conservative pundits who have criticized Grover Norquist for his strict stance against any tax increases.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Eddy Elfenbein writes:

I think intra-side criticism can be very interesting because everyone shares the same premises. Also, the squabbles go to the heart of what the movement stands for. Of course, the downside is when they become purity contests,

david writes:

At the present there are a lot of neoliberal-identifying left-wing pundits who have sharp disagreements with the old left, and both sides think that they are more genuinely left-wing than the other.

Dave writes:

I think Thoma comes closest with this:

"D. Democrats are a much more diverse group, including and perhaps especially when it comes to economic policy, so disagreements are more likely. There is no single, dominant, well-known party line on every issue as there is for the GOP."

I think "diverse" is maybe too kind. I would rephrase it as:

"On economic matters, the left would like to engineer their preferred outcomes. This is done by proposing market interventions and regulations. However, when the vision for the desired outcome differs, then so do the proposed policies. Similarly, one can imagine many different interventions for attempting to achieve any given goal of economic engineering.

Contrast this with (the rhetoric, if not the reality) of the right, which regularly argues for freer markets. They are concerned with process, rather than specific outcomes, even if they believe that this freedom also tends to lead to better outcomes on balance. This makes policy proposals more consistent."

Mark Little writes:

You are right of course, but perhaps not entirely. The pendulum swings and the situation is seldom symmetric. Intellectual parochialism is influenced by how dominant one's side happens to be.

(If the day comes when Fox News is considered representative of the MSM, while the folks at CBS News reasonably feel like voices calling in the wilderness, then we may read Mark Thoma's complaint without laughing. That's not to say that I think much of what's on Fox, or that Grover Norquist does not deserve much criticism.)

Steve Sailer writes:

Conservatives tend to be better team players, which has pluses and minuses. As I wrote in 2006:

Because far more than Democrats, the typical Republican is a team player, the kind of fellow who won’t let you forget that he played a little ball in school and, when the annual sales convention rolls around, is proud, deeply proud that he’s helped make this the best damn sales force in the industry! [Applause.] Equally masculine AFL-CIO rank-and-filers long helped the Democrats excel at the blocking and tackling of organizing winning campaigns, but they’re getting old and losing a step at the ground game. Most of the Democrats’ other white constituencies—feminists, gays, movie stars, New Agers, hipsters, and intellectuals—are too self-absorbed to build effective organizations.

Worse, many elements within the Democratic Party can’t actually stand each other. The white “lifestyle” liberals welcome minorities as allies because they believe being on the same side as African-Americans against the white majority validates their feelings of self-worth. Yet to be frank—not that they would ever say it in so many words—they also regard blacks and Hispanics as scandalously reactionary on such crucial issues (to them) as gay marriage.

Jim Rose writes:

he must have missed the formation of the tea party?

Dave writes:

David Frum has made a career out of doing this (recently at least). E.J. Dionne had harsh words for Obama over the contraception flap as well. It happens some, but mostly from people who lean centrist

MG writes:

Thoma's claim is worth exploring only when it is so narrowly defined as to be meaningless (what is a pundit, what kind criticism counts as supporting the hypothesis, what weight factor do you apply to each observation, does context matter, etc.). To broaden it, as some commenters appear to be already doing, in order to posit that (a) it may apply to the generic party supporter in expresing generic partisanship and (b) that Democrats are less committed to party and more to philosophy is laughable. I could list off dozens of examples, going back to the 90's which shows that Left-Liberals will will swallow ideology for the sake of Dems pols gaining political power -- Women's Rights movements overlooking Clinton's assault on women, union leaders ignoring the EPA's policies that undermine manufacturing exployment, anti-war activists turning mute once Obama found national security was great for victory laps, Occupiers who can not find a single Democratic pol or special interest to criticize in contrast to the Tea Party...Oh please. The Left needs to gain and to retain government power to effect more of the changes they desire to make than the Right does.

Andrew writes:

Can someone be a conservative AND call for tax increases?

David P writes:

A few months ago I read this article on salon that basically said the opposite.

ChacoKevy writes:

@Dave: Frum is an example I was going to use as well, but in the opposite way you did. Frum had the gig as a Bush speechwriter then landed at Heritage. His career calling out conservatives is very recent history, and came about after he was fired from Heritage for... calling out conservatives.

I agree with Thoma, yet also think Arnold is on to something as well. From my place on the left, we see guys like Frum, Powell, Bartlett, O'Neill, late-in-life Wanniski all discarded from conservative policy making. Those are the ones I pull easily off the top of my head w/o googling. But I agree with Arnold, that I can't recall as many so quickly on my side. I have to acknowledge libs went pretty hard after Juan Williams.

This could be fun for me! Who are the liberals we ran out of town?

ChacoKevy writes:

@Dave: Reading comprehension fail. Sorry, Dave, I see you too pointed out Frum's shift has been recent.

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