December 27th, 2013

Who on the left is readable?

Jay Nordlinger asks an interesting question:

Do you have a go-to lefty? Someone or someones who will give you the best arguments of the “liberal” side? (I hate the corruption of the sterling word “liberal,” but there’s nothing that can be done about it.) Do you have writers whom you turn to for the sake of “balance”? Liberals who are interesting, honorable, and worthwhile?

Mickey Kaus would be the person who comes to mind for me, and Camille Paglia—although both, and the latter especially, can’t really be pegged as “liberals,” exactly. I’ve linked to both of them before.

After that there’s a tremendous falloff, except for people in the process of change from left to right, who really don’t fall into the same category.

Commenter “Eric” mentioned this essay by Tom Junod the other day, and I have to say I liked it very much indeed. You can feel Junod’s natural intelligence and honesty struggling mightily against his kneejerk tendency to parrot the party line, and—in that article, at least—his thoughtfulness wins out.

I also developed a bit of a fondness for Timothy Noah when I read his debate with William Voegeli on income inequality a while back. At least in that particular exchange (I’ve read little else by him) he seemed thoughtful, respectful, knowledgeable, and witty, and although I thought Voegeli won the debate, I thought Noah acquitted himself well.

You may note that at the time of that exchange Noah was a writer for TNR, but he’s a writer for TNR no more. He was summarily fired by Franklin Foer when the new owner came on board and decided that the magazine was going to become an even emptier and more leftist rag than ever. Noah landed at MSNBC, not exactly the open-minded venue either.

So that’s it for me. How about you?

40 Responses to “Who on the left is readable?”

  1. Snackeater Says:

    Had to laugh when I read “So that’s it for me. How about you?” and looked down and saw “No comments.” Kinda sums it up, I guess.

  2. Bill West Says:

    It’s hard to get past the slogans and sneering. I check in with Joan Walsh to see what the left is “thinking”. If she ignores a topic I can tell that they are running from it. Now she’s on income equality and has been silent on ObamaCare.

    Ezra Klein sounds like an assistant coach for the left, but at least he knows when his team has messed up.

    I too like Mickey Kaus and Camille Paglia.

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    I should probably add that I read plenty of people on the left when they’re not writing about politics or history. Of course sometimes they sneak in a sentence or two about how awful people on the right are, just so the reader knows that the writer’s heart is in the right (that is, the left) place.

  4. q Says:

    I do: Falling on a Bruise

    I disagree with 99% of what LucyP writes but she rarely falls back on attacking the person and instead sticks to her illogical views and questionable data…

  5. q Says:

    and I listen to NPR driving to work and home…

  6. Eric Says:

    Glenn Greenwald and Ralph Nader have scored points with me for sticking to their principled positions on post-9/11 security policies even when issues that were immensely urgent for Dems under Bush disappeared from the political landscape as non-issues under Obama despite that the policies were heightened under Obama. I respect that they stayed true to their principles and order of values, though I do not share their value judgements.

    Tom Barnett’s Mr. President, Here’s How to Make Sense of our Iraq Strategy, also published in Esquire magazine in 2004, and Tom Junod’s essay helped crystallize my views on – and support for – President Bush and the Iraq mission, specifically as a liberal.

    “struggling mightily against his kneejerk tendency to parrot the party line”

    Yep. Junod’s essay stood out because he turned in a different direction, at least when he wrote his essay, than most liberals at the same decision point. Even when confronted with the definitively liberal character of the Iraq mission clearly spelled out by Bush, most liberals chose the fellowship of the mob in taking up the propaganda Narrative opposing Bush and the Iraq mission.

  7. Eric Says:

    Add: In terms of partisanship, Tom Barnett supported Kerry and Obama.

  8. Bill West Says:

    I have found that the farther to the left I go, the more informed and honest the writer. features Marxist writers who believe that Obama is too conservative.

    They frame their arguments, for the most part, clearly and persuasively based upon the premises which they believe. At least you can argue with that.

    One such item is a discussion of crony capitalism and “corporateism” in a critique of an opinion piece in the New Republic. The writer says that true conservatives and libertarians are more closely aligned with Marxists in their suspicion of the collaboration between big government and big business. His complaint is that the New Republic writer didn’t recognize that the connection goes back hundreds of years.

  9. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Paglia for sure. Alan Dershowitz has his moments on certain subjects.

  10. Eric Says:

    Bill West: “One such item is a discussion of crony capitalism and “corporateism” in a critique of an opinion piece in the New Republic. The writer says that true conservatives and libertarians are more closely aligned with Marxists in their suspicion of the collaboration between big government and big business.”

    You reminded me of my visit to Zucotti Park in NYC and the Occupy Wall Street encampment there. I struck up an extended conversation with an older man who was speech-making and repeatedly pointed out to him that his positions were close to textbook Tea Party positions. He kept denying it.

    One of the bloggers over at Chicagoboyz, I forget which one, made a similar observation during his visit to the OWS camp in his city.

  11. Tonawanda Says:

    To put it another way, there is no Steyn, no Coulter, no Sowell, no Lileks and no VDH on the Left.

    The Left has folks like Garrison Keillor (who is Lileks-ish) who are lovely at what they do otherwise, but certainly not as political writers. The New Yorker is and always has been magnificent, except for their childish political writing.

    Paglia is sui generis, and Kaus may be the last “liberal” alive. They would be sent to camp if the Left has it way.

  12. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Conservatives and libertarians are suspicious of the collaboration between big government and “big donors” Money buys access and a ‘friendly hearing’. When ‘big government’ ignores the interests of its big donors, they are not happy.

    That perception does not align conservative and libertarian perspectives with Marxists in any meaningful way. Ideally, Marxists want to eliminate all private enterprise. Conservatives and libertarians want business and the wealthy to operate according to constitutional principles and balance private ambition with love of country.

  13. Sam L. Says:

    Keillor: Developed a raging case of BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) after working up to it from RDS (Repub DS). He can be funny when he abjures politics, but he likes to slip in the knife every so often.

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    I never “got” Keillor, even when he’s not talking about politics. He just bores and/or annoys me almost to tears.

  15. SteveH Says:

    Seems to me the more persuasive liberal is just a more conniving and destructive liberal.

  16. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Paglia is not conniving. Persuasion based in fact and reason cannot be destructive. It is lies masquerading as factual reason that is conniving and destructive.

  17. Cornhead Says:

    The fact that this audience has found so few candidates is telling.

    Face it. They are all loons.

    Matthews, Hayes, Maddow and Harris-Perry define looniness.

  18. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Reason, logic and common sense isn’t exactly overflowing on our side either. Look at Congress.

  19. jkp Says:

    Pat Moynihan?

    Hubert Humphrey?

    Christopher Hitchens?

    Never mind.

    Mother Jones always seemed to me to be the least offensive of the left publications, as they at least tried to tie their opinions to actual journalism on occasion.

  20. jkp Says:

    Actually…believe it or not…Ted Rall.

    He’s quite open and honest about what he believes. Doesn’t BS anything. Hates Obama.

  21. cornflour Says:

    This is why I regularly read Norman Geras. Since his death, there’s only Camille Paglia, but her voice is idiosyncratic, not Marxist.

    I’m adding this comment primarily as a plea to other readers here. If there’s anyone comparable to Mr. Geras, please let us know.

  22. rickl Says:

    I would say Nat Hentoff. He’s an old-fashioned liberal. Unlike typical leftists, he is a fierce defender of the First Amendment. He initially supported the effort to depose Saddam Hussein, but later criticized Bush’s expansion of presidential powers and the policy of rendition. He was also a vocal opponent of the Patriot Act from the get-go.

    I was surprised to learn that while he was optimistic about Obama at first, he decided not to support him in 2008 due to Obama’s position on abortion.

    I like Camille Paglia, too. I think she’s more libertarian than liberal, but she comes at it from a leftward direction. There was a recent post at Ace’s that quoted a terrific diatribe of hers about the Duck Dynasty controversy. She flat-out called the speech police “Stalinists”.

  23. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Pat Caddell but as neo mentioned, he may be one of those undergoing his own conversion to conservatism.

    Most recently, @ CPAC, participating in a panel — “Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?”

    Caddell accused the GOP consulting class of being only “in the business of lining their pockets and preserving power.”

    Calling the Romney campaign “the worst campaign in my lifetime” and criticized chief strategist Stuart Stevens. Saying, “There was a failure of strategy, a failure of tactics, a massive failure of messaging,” Caddell said.

    “Most of all there was a total failure of imagination. Stevens had as much business running a campaign as I do sprouting wings and flying out of this room.”

  24. Gina Says:

    My leftie sisters love Krugman, Friedman, Kristoff, Dowd, NPR and M&L leftovers. But they think MSNBC is a news station.
    When I was a leftie Washington Monthly was a newspaper. It delivered news.

  25. Irving Washington Says:

    I was going to just say Peggy Noonnan for a cheap laugh, but I’ll throw out John McWhorter, and Bruce Bawer, who wrote an outstanding anti-identity studies book entitled “The Victim’s Revolution.”

    But here’s the thing: McWhorter and Bawer — as well as Hentoff, Kauss and others mentioned elsewhere — are all self-identified liberal and vote consistently Democrat, none of them are leftists/ progressives, so I’m not sure any of them count.

  26. NeoConScum Says:

    Michael Kelly: R.I.P. KIA-Iraq 2003/ The Libs have long not made them anywhere near your size, Michael.

  27. right wing sort of extremist Says:

    Kirsten Powers

  28. waltj Says:

    Hentoff is pretty good. There’s consistency in what he espouses, and he seems to be up front about engaging the “other side” (that would be us) without using our conservative/libertarian beliefs as prima facie evidence of evil. I also found Jeff Greenfield a very interesting commentator on a variety of topics over the years. Even when I disagreed with him, which was frequently, he’d at least make me examine my own views for sloppy reasoning. Haven’t seen Greenfield around that much recently, though, either on TV or in print.

  29. Ann Says:

    I often read Jeffrey Goldberg. A leftie, but he’s for the most part an honest one who doesn’t take cheap shots at the opposition. He was on the staff of The Atlantic but I think they’ve parted ways; he now writes a column at Bloomberg View.

    Another one is William Galston, who did write for the New Republic, but I think now writes for the Wall St. Journal. Like Goldberg, he’s partisan, but honest, and he’s not afraid to tell liberals what they often don’t want to hear.

  30. Mike Says:

    It’s like asking if you have a go-to Nazi. The answer is no. Besides, you don’t have to read these sociopaths. Their message is blared over the MSM loudspeakers 24/7 everywhere anyway. You can’t escape their message anymore than you can escape Cicada sounds on a summer’s night.

  31. Ymarsakar Says:

    I divide the species into leaders, those who exercise their free will, those who don’t, and slave/cattle. The last option is what happens to someone who was once human, who once had free will, but gave it up willingly. A person that is considered property and basically an animal, yet has no given up on his desire to utilize his free will, is neither an animal nor a slave to me. They are just another human.

    What many on the Left try to do with columns and intellectual writing is to find an argument or an intellectual position, that will purify their leadership, their totalitarian authority, of evil.

    That won’t happen. That cannot happen.

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    People are part of the Leftist allaince whether they want to be or not. This can come in the form of having family being loyal to the cause. This can come in the form of having a lesbian mother or being gay, part of a victim class (slaves on the plantation). This can come from having too much publicity or power for the Left to leave you alone (Hollywood stars and directors).

    But the Leftist alliance recruits on a scale and that scale is wide. As with death cults such as Jim Jones, once you are in, you are not allowed to leave of your own free will though they may kick you out or punish you by pushing you out to the edge of the herd for predators.

    None of the people mentioned here, concerning individual free will, is able to trump the authority of the Leftist regime. If the order is given for the Leftist members to destroy target A, they will either Obey or they will refuse to obey. But they cannot countermand the order for their organization.

    They have no standing. They have no rank. They have no authority as recognized by the Leftist Alliance. They are meaningless.

  33. Matt_SE Says:

    “They have no standing. They have no rank. They have no authority as recognized by the Leftist Alliance. They are meaningless.”

    Like Islam compared to Catholicism: there are Imams, but there is no Pope.

    The last one who had a big picture philosophy of the left was Marx, which is why his “work” survives to this day. Everyone else I’ve read nibbles at the edges.

    I have no names to add. I’m unabashedly judgmental, and decided long ago that most of these people were either full of crap, or started from premises so alien to me that there could never be agreement.

    Personally, I don’t find there to be much value in understanding craziness or evil. That tends to breed sympathy, which is not the proper response.

  34. Ymarsakar Says:

    Those that do not understand their enemy, will lose half of the time, as Sun Tzu tried to teach.

    It’s fine if a soldier feels sympathy for the enemy, so long as they follow orders. It’s fine if a warrior feels sympathy for a foe, so long as they destroy the enemy and cleave the head from the body. If they feel sympathy, then make the cut a clean one, and the death a painless one.

    Humans with the capability to break free of the shackles of authoritarian tyranny, have no problems breaking free of internal emotions as well. Sympathy and hate, neither one will command the judgment of a human with free will. Because if they do, that human is not free, but merely another tool.

  35. Ymarsakar Says:

    While the tools of the Left and those social lites in Marin and New York that operate at the bottom level have no standing or authority, they do provide a clear source of information and intel.

    I do and will listen to them and read what they write, for the purposes of gathering intel on the enemy. But I do so with the acceptance that their words don’t mean anything. They only say and think and do what they are told to say, think, and do by the Left’s authority. The Left will allow a certain leeway, such as with Camilia, but only so far. They can only go so far before the leash on their throats are yanked back. Members of the Left know these limitations. They are comfortable within the limits of their circle.

    It’s when they become dissatisfied with their position and their lot, that they tend to have to be purged or punished (Like Juan Williams was punished and re-educated). For every single Leftist propagandist, there is a file stored on a site similar to journolist or the NSA’s data storage centers. Data is collected concerning their usefulness as writers and propagandists vs the damage that results from any attempt to defect or run away.

    The Leftist alliance often won’t black list people who are popular, a Leftist, and who have already become well known. But that doesn’t apply to every day individuals who are less protected and less well known. These individuals go off the reservation/plantation. They do so in a way that isn’t allowed.

  36. Mike Says:

    Matt-SE: “The last one who had a big picture philosophy of the left was Marx, which is why his “work” survives to this day. Everyone else I’ve read nibbles at the edges.”

    Marx is it. There are variations on that theme and nothing else. Marxism is Leftism is Marxism is the Democrat Party.

    ALL Democrat voters are voting for Marxism. There are no exceptions. There should be no excuses. If they say otherwise they are lying or telling a lie (a slight distinction there).

    One is as free as a bird to vote for Democrat-Marxists. Knock yourself out. But let’s all be clear that is what it is and what they are.

    The phony pretending otherwise and massive equivocations is the hardest thing to take.

    We have to start calling these people what they are. They are hell-bent on being kept slaves and on making the rest of us kept slaves and servants. Parlez with that crowd at your peril.

  37. William Voegeli Says:

    There are two, related, ways of framing the question. First, is the left-of-center writer a completely reliable team player, one who never writes anything that deviates from the party line that advances Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, or Hillary Clinton’s ambitions? If so, Mr. Dionne, conservative readers will head elsewhere. And it doesn’t really count, Prof. Reich, if all the criticisms of Democrats are from the left, since that only calls on Democrats to go faster in the direction they want to go anyway.

    Second, does the writer make a good-faith effort to engage conservative politicians or polemicists? Or does he write from the assumption, shared with his intended audience, that the questions at issue between liberals and conservatives are all open-and-shut, ones that no decent, intelligent, sane person could dispute?

    William Galston would be at the top of my list of liberal writers worth conservatives’ time; he never, to my knowledge, commits either of the aforementioned offenses. Others who sometimes qualify are, as you noted, Tim Noah, along with Michael Kinsley, Kevin Drum, Joe Klein, William Saletan, and Mark Schmitt. Michael Tomasky used to be less reliable and more interesting, unfortunately.

    Of course, to ask the question this way is to ask which conservative writers are worth liberals’ time by virtue of departing from the party line and taking those who disagree with them seriously. I think these virtues are more common among conservatives because the public square is not neutral. Conservative writers start a column knowing that liberals still run the big universities and media enterprises. The default assumptions in most public debates, especially domestic policy ones, are liberal, so conservatives have to deal with that fact and opposing views in a way liberals don’t.

  38. Matt_SE Says:


    Yes, understanding your enemy ala Sun Tsu is one of two reasons I ever entertain the thought of reading leftists. The other is that I can’t be right all the time.

  39. NeoConScum Says:

    Best piece by a Liberal on Billy Bubba Clinton: Andrew Sullivan, writing as TRB in the March 12, 2001 issue of The New Republic. It was entitled,”Psycho”. ‘Nuff said.

    Poor Sully: I’ve long believed that the years of tussling with HIV=AIDS have significantly effected his brain. He’s now just another flabby, by-the-numbers Obama Lapdawg. Sad. That boy had real talent.

  40. Ymarsakar Says:

    One psycho calling another a psycho? That takes the cake.

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