The Progressive Left's Marvel Team-Up Act

Over the weekend, Bill Keller had the temerity to assign some blame for the sequester to President Obama. Within a day, the left’s commentariat had settled the issue in Obama’s favor, each linking to the other and repeating the claim that Keller was all wrong. Over at the Huffington Post, Jason Linkins summarized this group effort as a “Marvel team-up”:

It takes a Marvel team-up of three different reporters, from three
different news organizations, to perform this elementary act of
real-keeping. Meanwhile, Bill Keller can, in one column, undo the work
of Harwood, his New York Times colleague.

Linkins actually mentions four reporters at three different news organizations, though three of the four–Klein, Sargent and Chait–are progressives who can reliably be counted on to side with the President. As far as a takedowns go, “Three Like-Minded Progressives Defend Obama” isn’t exactly red letter stuff, even if you throw in a tweet from a NY times reporter.

Linkins’ comparison to Marvel Team-Up isn’t meant to be taken as a serious point but it does point to something that deserves more attention: The narrowness of progressive debate. And since Linkins introduced the comic book analogy, I’ll run with it a bit.

In case you’re not a comic book nerd, Marvel Team-Up was a book in
which Spiderman would get together with another hero to solve a problem, usually a plot by a minor supervillain. It was a chance to see Spiderman swing into action with someone like the Human Torch who didn’t cross his path all that often. Often the heroes would cross swords for a bit before deciding to ally themselves for the duration of the mission.

It’s not right to call the attacks on Keller a Marvel team-up because there’s nothing remotely novel or unusual about it. These same progressive writers and a few dozen others at TPM, Mother Jones, Salon, Maddow Blog, etc. team up constantly. The progressive gang-tackle of Keller–or before that Bob Woodward or Mitt Romney–is about as surprising as sunrise and even more frequent.

The progressive left’s network of writers may span different magazines and papers but they usually function as a team, tweeting, retweeting and linking to amplify one another’s voices and attacks. For the most part, this happens with little input from anyone who wasn’t formerly part of Klein’s Jourolist a few years ago. They agree amongst themselves, citing one another for backup, and it’s settled.

When the right does this sort of thing it’s chastised as the right-wing echo chamber or a sign of epistemic closure. The latter is just a smart-assed way of saying the right doesn’t listen to anyone outside their own bubble. That may be true at times, but the attack on Keller shows the professional left has the same problem. The moment anyone–even someone with Bill Keller’s progressive bona fides–challenges the group consensus he is a villain who will be taken down in a web of hyperlinks and rhetorical fireballs.

Imagine Sean Hannity reversing his position on immigration. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that since it happened recently. Is this a moment for the right to reflect on its position or a moment for the Avengers (in the form of conservative bloggers) to Assemble! and smack Hannity down for daring to thwart the party? It’s not hard to guess which way folks on the left would frame it. The same reasoning should apply to their bitter response to Keller (and Woodward before that). Specifically, it’s time for the left’s Marvel Team-Up act to stop fighting reality and admit the President deserves a significant share of the blame for sequestration.


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