Democrats vs. Democrats — One of Them Will Lose
Why do mainstream Democrats hate Matt Taibbi?
Estragon: Nothing to be done.
Vladimir: I'm beginning to come round to that opinion.
This may appear to be a piece about Matt Taibbi. It's really a piece about why the Democratic Party has such a hard time winning against competition as palpably soft as modern Republicans.
Matt Taibbi often takes time on Twitter to answer honest questions from regular people, normal voters and citizens, unlike many journo-celebs who only talk to each other. Sometimes (actually often), other regular people comment on the exchange.
In that light, consider this exchange:
Nice soft close: “which is the opposite of persuasive.” Stylistically very Taibbi. But let’s look at this a bit more closely.
The self-styled left (and some of the actual left) is so closed off to Taibbi at this point that he’s fair game for any sort of attack. “Which means Republican,” as in the tweet above, is actually mild.
As Ross Barkin put it in a 2021 New York Magazine profile: “Few journalists, in polarized 2021, divide the New York-D.C. nexus more. Taibbi is viewed in more liberal quarters with increasing suspicion bordering on outright disdain, a remarkable development for a magazine star once considered Rolling Stone’s successor to Hunter S. Thompson.”
“Outright disdain” indeed. “Brutal” is more accurate.
In an entirely gratuitous and dishonest insult, Democrat Stacy Paskett, the ranking member of the House committee before which Taibbi testified, called him “this so-called journalist.” That led the way for every Democrat to follow. The rest of the session was, in the opinion of those not hateful of Taibbi, “character assassination.” This from Democrats, from all of them, his former natural base.
Where is this coming from?
His Former Friends
It got worse outside the committee. In an episode that’s painful to retell, Emma Vigeland of Sam Seder’s Majority Report (a person and a show I’ve long admired) said as part of their coverage of the hearings:
Don’t worry. The hearings will continue with the help of once-venerated reporter Matt Taibbi, who now is a PR person for Elon Musk and Twitter. This is Matt Taibbi’s characterization of his press releases on behalf of Elon Musk, which he calls ‘reporting’.
The tone, the dripping disdain, is a shocking reversal from a show that had hosted him frequently for years.
Vigeland played a clip of Taibbi saying that the Twitter Files was “by far the most serious thing I’ve ever looked at.” Then, discussing his highly praised work on the 2008 financial crisis, Vigeland comments:
I think that's an interesting tactic because that kind of undercuts his own past work [on the 2008 crisis], right? Which I guess doesn't really matter to him. He doesn't give a damn since he's cashing in. [emphasis mine]
That’s quite an accusation, entirely speculative, against a man Sam Seder has had on his show regularly for years, and a person he may have once considered a friend (though perhaps no more).
To be fair to Vigeland, I’m not sure she means what she says. She may just be piling on, playing Follow the Democratic Leaders, mimicking their vicious slanders with one of her own. Like when someone in a mob says “Hang the man,” and those around him join in.
(Of now-lost relationships, I’m reminded of this sad statement from an earlier Taibbi piece: “Allred then went on MSNBC, where my former friend Chris Hayes with a straight face suggested he didn’t see a ‘government angle’ in either the Twitter Files or our testimony — both of which were more or less entirely about that issue.” My former friend.)
Back to the Majority Report. An off-screen host, picking up on Vigeland's remarks, then adds this about why Taibbi worked so hard on the 2008 financial crisis:
To be honest I’m not surprised Taibbi has this perspective [on the financial crisis] because…
I’ll pause while you think about what’s about to be said.
Why did Taibbi choose the crash to write about? Journalistic interest? Because corruption mattered to him? Or to set himself up later for Republican love?
You guessed it:
…if you look at it from his perspective, the financial crisis was good for him. He got this great reputation that Republican Congress people can cite about how great of a journalist he is. Made a lot of bones out of that as the Gonzo journalist. And I read all that stuff too. I don’t remember much of it. It doesn’t stick with me. I mean, he called Goldman Sachs the ‘vampire squid’ — I guess that was useful [sic].
I will say like I'm troubled looking back on it, and I would like to get a reassessment of his work on this by someone who's not a capitalist, because he sums it up August 5th 2013 on Twitter: “My whole argument against modern Wall Street has been that it's anti-capitalist perverted by incestuous ties to the state.” Sounds like libertarian.
And then he said April 11 2016: “I don't know many people who would describe what's gone on with these too-big-to-fail banks since 2008 is capitalism.” So like it's not a surprise from his perspective because, like I said, [his] whole reputation was made as all these people were being thrown out of their homes. And him being a child of wealth, he has no ties to that. Also the type of people that are paying him now, Elon Musk did really well from the government response to the financial crisis, which was to flood the zone with cash.
He goes on (and on). Consider the accusations here.
Matt Taibbi, a “once venerated” journalist, only wrote about the financial crisis because it “was good for him” and gave him “this great reputation that Republican Congress people can cite.” He doesn’t care about people who suffered from the crisis since he’s a “child of wealth” and “has no ties to that.”
What a wicked man the man must be!
Yet who thought so at the time? If Vigeland is right, how foolish they must feel now to be so fooled. I'll bet they're looking today for signs they missed of Evil Matt Taibbi dressed up as good. Surely his mercenary heart must have shown through then.
Coverage in the mainstream media was no better. Huffington Post:
Matt Taibbi Smirks Through House Committee Grilling About 'Twitter Files' The independent journalist refused to confirm he made money from the project, saying instead that he “spent money he didn’t have before."
The song, it seems, was everywhere the same. Taibbi should be despised. Not disagreed with; not rationally engaged. Despised, even — and especially — by his former friends.
I ask again, where is this coming from?
Where This Is Coming From
To answer that question seriously, consider the following premises. I think the first four accurately describe the thinking of mainstream Democratic leaders since the humiliating presidential loss of 2016:
Modern Republicans (leaders, media, and crucially, their voters as well) represent the worst threat to the American Republic since the Civil War.
Or possibly since the Founding. Southern Confederates didn’t wish to institute Hitlerian reforms that would eliminate democracy from the governance of the state.
Any act by any individual or organization that advances the overall Republican Project, inadvertently or not, is as dangerous as the Project itself.
Because the Republican Project is evil, its supporters are evil — or in the most generous cases, deeply stupid.
Stopping the Republican Project means stopping all supporters and adherents, be they willing or not.
(Taibbi addendum 1) Matt Taibbi is a supporter, willingly or not, and therefore must be stopped.
(Taibbi addendum 2) Because his support is probably not inadvertent — Seder’s hosts and the Democratic committee members are certain his motive is money, a sell-out to advance Elon Musk — destruction of his entire career is a reasonable response. After all, the whole of American democracy is at risk; literally all.
I don’t think any of those statements, stark as they are, misrepresent the Democratic Party position. Everything I’ve observed since November 2016 confirms them all.
The Problem in a Nutshell
Statement 1 could well be true. I believe it myself, though about the leadership only. (I have other thoughts about Republican voters.)
But does the rest follow from that? Does it justify the destruction of free speech, to take one example, in order to preserve it? (If you doubt that’s what’s on offer, click the link.)
And even if it does, even if the means are justified by the end, the problem is that this Democratic Party response — this hate-Republicans-at-all-costs messaging (while party leaders themselves cut deals with them) — is not going to work. It won't blast them past their electoral opponents at near the speed it ought to, given their opponent's obvious and fatal flaws.
Mainstream Democrats run roughly even with Republicans except in protected districts. They certainly ran roughly even with Donald Trump in the only venue that counts, the Electoral College. And Democratic leaders are the reason that this is so. Will all this vitriol make them more attractive, or less?
Letting Republicans Lead the Revolution
As I wrote elsewhere, in each presidential cycle the voters have only two choices. It's the Party of the Status Quo…
…versus the Party of Fake Revolt against the status quo…
If you don’t like the status quo, you have no one to vote for, just people to vote against.
What do you think would happen if Democrats ran a candidate of Real Rebellion, a Bernie Sanders, say, à la 2016, against the candidate of Pretending to Care what happens to suffering voters? Would real rebellion against predatory rule by the rich “trump” fake rebellion financed by the rich?
Of course it would. Sanders would have beaten Trump soundly, had he had the chance, in the 2016 race. All the momentum was his, and he won almost every head-to-head primary contest in states with open, same-day primary voting.
But Democrats, the other party of the rich, won’t take that course. Which leaves them only one pitch. In Taibbi’s language from the start of this piece:
It’s always “Vote for us or you’re a right-wing insurrectionist Putin-lover,” which is the opposite of persuasive.
This is the Democrats’ constant closing argument, and the worst they could advance. It makes them, not just wrong, but ugly as well, the “opposite of persuasive.” Yet this is all they have, if they can’t themselves attack the people’s real enemy, and this time actually mean it. Sad for us. Sad for them as well.
Estragon: I can't go on like this.
Vladimir: That's what you think.
For a look at how Seder himself explains “what went wrong with Taibbi,” listen here starting at 4:15.
Wonder if Mr. Neuburger (or Mr. Taibbi) realize that the explanation for the left's vehement rejection of Taibbi is found in narcissism theory, a la Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism"? Taibbi ceased mirroring them by telling the truth, and the associated narcissistic injury results in narcissistic rage. These individuals and their collective manifestation are pathologically incapable of being reasoned with. The vote-with-us-or-you're... reflects the split representation of objects per psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg.
I've been following Taibbi for a few years (loyal Substack subscriber). What baffles me is how anyone can honestly interpret his behavior as anything but genuine, open, and forthright. Like you said, he responds to ordinary people and "notables" the same way. He's been completely transparent about the process and the (the few very reasonable) conditions agreed upon. His critics think he just made all this stuffed up? If he cherry-picked he certainly picked from some especially fruitful section of the orchard. And seriously, a go-it-your-own reader-supported subscription model on a brand new platform under attack by the rest of the mainstream media is his get-rick-quick scheme? How many of these critics could survive on that same model--ON THEIR OWN? These people are delusional or horrible, and probably both. The Democrats have lost the plot, and they will eventually--as will all of us--suffer for it.