Mike Huckabee's right-wing cocoon and "liberal bloggers"

The Right and the establishment media share weapons for dismissing criticisms without addressing them.

Published August 19, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

(updated below)

Politico, yesterday:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended himself Tuesday against accusations from liberal bloggers that he has been "bashing America" during his ongoing visit to Israel. . . .

Huckabee’s response pointed directly to a post by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who wrote Monday that the former governor "is now bashing America in front of a foreign audience" . . . . "Isn't there some righteous Washington prohibition on criticizing America's foreign policy while on dreaded 'foreign soil'?" Greenwald asked. . . .

"Some of the headlines from my visit to Israel have screamed 'Huckabee bashes America in Israel.' That is not just inaccurate -- it is a purposed lie," [Huckabee] wrote, referring to reports that he told Israeli reporters that some in the United States have taken too harsh a stance against the country. "I have extolled the virtues of the USA at every stop and in every comment, but have stated a position that I have stated for many years -- during both Republican and Democratic administrations -- that Jerusalem should be a united city."

"I have not bashed America! I haven’t even bashed Obama’s anti-Israel and promise breaking policy, and I have certainly had the opportunity," he continued. "I have expressed my view consistently wherever I am and don't say different things depending on who I am talking to."

Washington Post, May 29, 2009:

President Obama yesterday continued to press his administration's tough stance on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, telling reporters after a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that Israel must halt all settlement activity to build momentum for peace.

Jerusalem Post, Monday:

Huckabee, who is focusing his current tour of Israel on visits to east Jerusalem and the West Bank and meetings with settler leaders, has positioned himself in direct opposition to US President Barack Obama and his administration's demands that Israel halt all construction over the Green Line.

"It concerns me when there are some in the United States who would want to tell Israel that it cannot allow people to live in their own country, wherever they want," Huckabee had told reporters earlier in the day.

Jerusalem Post, August 12, 2009:

Huckabee's stop at the hotel will be part of a larger tour around the country, meant to highlight opposition to recent US policies, in particular the Obama administration's demands that Israel halt construction in east Jerusalem.

"This is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on Obama's policy in Jerusalem, which has just been a horror," New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told The Jerusalem Post.

That obviously all speaks for itself.  If Al Gore in Saudi Arabia, the Dixie Chicks in London and Obama in Europe all committed a grievous sin by criticizing Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush and his policies while on Foreign Soil, then Huckabee is guilty of the same thing.  The whole purpose of the trip to these most disputed and radicalized settlements -- which, for reasons Richard Silverstein and Spencer Ackerman detail, reflects a more extremist position toward Israel than any leading American politician has previously embraced -- is to protest the Obama administration's foreign policy in the region.  Manifestly, Huckabee is doing nothing else but bashing Obama and, by extension, American foreign policy while on foreign soil.  And that's quite obviously precisely how it's being perceived by the Israeli press.

But in branding what I wrote as "not just inaccurate -- it is a purposed lie," Huckabee doesn't even bother to address his Obama-bashing comments which I cited.  Instead, he simply attributes the argument to "some in the left wing of the press" (an odd way to describe the conservative Jerusalem Post) and then assumes (correctly) that his followers will do the rest of the work:  anything that doesn't come out of the collective mouth of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh is presumptively false.  

Huckabee knows that the Republican base lives in its own alternative, insular reality and any unpleasant or negative facts can be waved away not by refuting them, but by attributing them to the work of "the liberal media."  His denial is totally incoherent and substance-free -- it just tosses around the word "lie" and "left-wing press" without addressing any of the evidence I cited -- but in the warped right-wing cocoon he inhabits, that is all that is necessary to dispense with facts.  That's why roughly 30% of the country lives in its own world and possesses its own set of realities.

On a quite related note, observe how Politico characterizes the indisputable fact that Huckabee is doing something (i.e., criticizing American foreign policy while on Foreign Soil) which the Right has long insisted was a terrible sin:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended himself Tuesday against accusations from liberal bloggers . . . Liberal bloggers have accused Mike Huckabee of 'bashing America' . . . The Salon blogger argued that . . . . The liberal blogger later updated the post. . . .

All that in a piece that is less than 400 words.  In the first place, this isn't even accurate.  "Liberal bloggers" didn't voice this accusation; to my knowledge, only I did.  Indeed, The Atlantic's Chris Good, when writing about my post, even noted that:

Greenwald's point is that conservatives jumped to call Gore and Obama treasonous, and now one of their own is basically doing what Gore and Obama did. And no one (on either side, but especially on the right) has much to say about it.

Why aren't liberals, other than Greenwald, making a stink?

More to the point, what Politico is doing here is just a modified version of what Huckabee is doing -- like most media outlets, they love to characterize arguments as coming from "bloggers" and especially "liberal bloggers" because that's a cheap and easy way to dismiss its credibility in many people's eyes without bothering to assess the substance of what is being said. 

NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen predicted this week that the term "blogger" "will become such a broad term it will lose all meaning."  Matt Yglesias agrees, writing that "back in 2002-2003 there was a pretty undifferentiated mush of 'liberal bloggers' that’s become a much more elaborated ecology of people and institutions doing pretty different things."  I agree with the substance of that view.  The word "blogger" -- not unlike the word "liberal," actually -- means so many different things to so many different people that it is almost impossible now to understand what it denotes.  I'd love to hear how I'm a "blogger" in a way that, say, Time's Joe Klein and Michael Scherer or Politico's Ben Smith or The New York Times' Paul Krugman (or even Huckabee himself) are not.  There are meaningful distinctions that I think still exist -- in terms of self-perceived function, insider/outsider status, and tone, among other things -- but they have eroded to the point where the term is almost entirely impoverished of any meaning.

Despite that, I doubt that the frequent and casual use of the label will cease any time soon.  Its true function -- enforcing perceived hierarchies and slothfully demonizing arguments and people -- are too valuable to too many media figures.  It's still the case that for many media stars and their friends (to say nothing of right-wing politicians), being able to attribute criticisms to "bloggers" or "liberal bloggers" is to render the criticism inherently invalid for that reason alone.  As long as that's the case, the term will be tossed around recklessly and constantly, regardless of whether it has any real meaning.


UPDATE:  To his credit, TigerHawk -- one of the right-wing bloggers who most vehemently excoriated Al Gore for his 2006 speech in Saudi Arabia -- says today that although he shares Huckabee's views of Obama's policy towards Israel, "Huckabee was wrong to have criticized the United States from Israel and it should count against him should he run for president again."  He proceeds to offer some highly unpersuasive distinctions he claims to see between what Huckabee and Gore did (the idea that Huckabee's comments were merely "extemporaneous" defies credulity given that his traveling companion said that denouncing Obama's policies was a key objective of the trip), but even despite that, TigerHawk concludes "that there is no legitimate purpose served in attacking American policy in front of a foreign audience."

Again, I don't accept this rule that there's anything wrong with expressing criticism of one's government outside of the borders, but for those like TigerHawk who do believe that, the only intellectually honest reaction is to condemn Huckabee as stridently as one condemned Gore -- or the Dixie Chicks or Obama -- for having done the same thing.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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