Charles Johnson ‘Breaks’ From the Right
In a move that has been coming for nearly two years, Charles Johnson has issued a manifesto explaining “Why I Parted Ways With The Right.” For those who don’t know, Johnson is the founder and principal author of Little Green Footballs, one of the oldest and most popular blogs. He was an elder statesman in the game when I started OTB in January 2003, known as one of the Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse (along, as I recall, with Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and the long since semi-retired Steven Den Beste). (We had a lot of silly names for things back in those nascent days.)
Here’s his list, in its entirely, interspersed with my commentary.
1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)
Without the backstory, I’m not sure what he means by “facsists” — a terribly overused word — in these cases. While I have plenty of disagreements with Buchanan and McCain, I see them mostly as radical populists; they’re certainly not supporters of Fascism. Regardless, however, Buchanan has been with us since the Nixon administration. And, at the risk of being unkind to my fellow Jax State alumnus, Stacy McCain isn’t exactly a major player in American politics.
And, seriously, the BNP? A British fringe party which “received 0.7% of the popular vote but had no candidates elected to Parliament” in the most recent elections?
2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)
Again, this criticism is wildly overblown. There have been elements of bigotry and white supremacy in our society since the beginning, with ebbs and flows depending on the economy and other events. For the most part, they’ve been trending starkly downward in recent decades.
Two exceptions come to mind in the current period: Frustration over illegal immigration, which is sometimes coupled with a fear that unassimilated Hispanics will radically change our culture, and fear of home-grown Islamist radicals. Neither of these is completely irrational nor of the same piece with, say, anti-black racism. But they can manifest themselves in ugly ways.
3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)
This is just silly. Because our major religions were founded centuries ago, their doctrines, when taken literally, aim at preserving centuries-old social mores. But women are equals in our society in ways that would have seemed fantastical even thirty years ago. We have women on the Supreme Court, women secretaries of state, women governors, women fighter pilots, and so forth. Many of these women are Republicans.
We’ve had Republican presidents most of my lifetime and they’ve not only allowed these changes to happen but participated in them. Ronald Reagan broke the gender barrier on the Supreme Court and had Jeanne Kirkpatrick as his UN rep. George W. Bush had Condi Rice — a black woman! — as his National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State. John McCain had Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Yes, opposition to abortion is a litmus test for securing the Republican presidential nomination. It has been so for as long as I can remember, however, so that seems like an odd rationale for a middle aged man to break with the right.
4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)
I’ll give him this one. This isn’t exactly new but this wing of the Republican Party has grown in size and influence over the years.
5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)
Support for gay rights — a fringe view as recently as the 1970s — has become normalized in recent years. Most Republicans, including most Republican leaders, are well beyond where, say, Mike Dukakis or Walter Mondale or Jimmy Carter were on the issue.
There is, of course, a mobilization against gay marriage — a concept that would have seemed absurd to even the most liberal Democrats fifteen years ago. But that’s hardly solely a position of the right. See Barack Obama. Or any black church.
6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)
See Code Pink, 9/11 Truthers, etc.
7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)
See Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, 9/11 Truthers, etc.
8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)
Oh, c’mon. First, Hot Air is pretty tame. Ace is mostly schtick. Free Republic isn’t a blog. And most people would have put LGF into this category two years ago.
9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)
I don’t read Geller or Spencer very much these days — a good tip for those who find a particular blog annoying! — and thought they were somewhat radical (Geller moreso than Spencer) when I did. I don’t recall either of them being advocates of fascism (unless one uses the word stupidly), much less genocide. If they’ve crossed that Rubicon, however, so what? What mainstream Republican leader supports nuking Mecca or some of the crazier ideas? Certainly, George W. Bush didn’t, as evidenced by the fact that he controlled our nukes for eight years and Mecca is still there. John McCain? Sarah Palin?
Ironically, I would have put Johnson himself into this category several years ago. Despite LGF’s prominence, I gave up on it pretty quickly because I found it a cesspool. In fairness, that was more related to the discussion forum than Johnson’s own writings. But LGF’s editorial stance toward political Islam, the War on Terror, and related issues was decidedly more radical than my own and, indeed, sufficiently outside the mainstream of our policy discourse that I felt safe in ignoring it.
10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)
Pretty much the same could have been said of George W. Bush. He was despised and vilified and only partly because of policy. The chief difference is that he’s white and Obama’s part black, so images of the two as monkeys have different social connotations.
Is there genuine anti-Obama racism? Sure. It exists, both here and overseas, on both the right and the left. And the Internet gives the fringes a platform that magnifies their numbers. But so what?
Ultimately, Liza Sabater gets it right. She notes that Johnson was “part tongue-in-cheek pundit, part awesomely generous code jock” in the early days of LGF.
Back in 2002, Anil Dash best describes my feelings about what happened to Charles Johnson: Since the attacks, Charles, at least in the context of his weblog, lost his shit.
For us old-school bloggers, political activism came out of our very personal values and had nothing to do with political parties. It explains why Charles Johnson is still reticent about calling LGF a blog just about politics. It also explains why Six Apart‘s Chief Evangelist, got into one of the first very public political altercations in the blogosphere during his Quixotic quest to understand the islamophobia heaped by barrels from Little Green Footballs.
Little Green Footballs went to such a deep end that even a white (albeit nuanced) supremacist Norwegian like the anonymous blogger Fjordman (a darling of the extreme-right blogosphere), had called out Charles Johnson and his blog as examples of Islamophobia and racism in the blogosphere. It also earned the blog it’s own “watch blog” (LGF Watch) and even the scorn of Zionist and anti-Jihadist activists.”
His blog has been a very personal journey. It wasn’t meant to be a business plan. It wasn’t meant to be his product. Little Green Footballs is Charles Johnson.The blog has changed because he has changed and that’s an amazing thing to own up to: That you weren’t the “complete” person people thought you’d be. That the space in which you post a bit of your soul is not just a product or a brand. It is you.
Sabater welcomes Johnson back to the left, which is where he naturally fit on the spectrum before 9/11. He was radicalized by those events, having his worldview shattered, and went to the other extreme on national security issues. Because American politics — and especially the American blogosphere — divided into Left and Right almost solely on the War on Terror and the Iraq War, Johnson embraced and was embraced by the Right. But he’s a social liberal at the end of the day and the American Right — and especially the Republican Party — is dominated by religious conservatives.
Like Johnson, I’m not religious and, like Johnson, I am not a fan of several swaths of the American Right or the general direction the Republican Party is headed. Unlike Johnson, there are enough other issues where I find common cause with the GOP and am irreconcilable with the platform of the Democratic Party.
Another supporter on the Left, Pam Spaulding, observes that “the Goldwater conservatives and moderates have been put six feet under by the theocrats and know-nothings. I don’t know how you can wrest the GOP back from the crazies.” While that overstates things a mite, she’s got a point. I’m essentially a Goldwater conservative myself and there aren’t too many of us. Or, at least, we’re not the organizing kind in the way that the tea partiers and religious right are.
But it wasn’t all that long ago that people were writing off the Democrats as being out of touch and too liberal to ever win back the White House. A couple of lost elections tends to bring sanity sooner or later.
And, indeed, as Joe Gandelman points out,
Both parties are now showing signs of impending splits, although time will tell how serious and politically consequential each of these splits are. Each party’s base (left in the Democrats; right in the Republicans) consider the word “moderate” a dirty word.
Some in the base of each party want to purge their party of some who they feel aren’t “real” Democrats/Republicans. Some Democrats want to push the party left…some Republicans want to push their party further right.
We live in polarizing times, I’m afraid. We’ve been through far worse — a literal civil war, for example, seems unthinkable — and likely will again. Things swing back. They always do.
UPDATE: Erstwhile Pajamas Media partner Dennis the Peasant offers an uncharitable alternate reason for Johnson’s “break.”
Jules Crittenden offers a useful roundup of other reactions, including this from Ann Althouse: “Personally, I don’t need to go through the exercise of figuring out what happened to Johnson. I’ve avoided him all these years because he seemed too extreme and hateful. Now, he’s fired up about other people being extreme and hateful? And he’s fired up in a way that seems extreme and hateful?”