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E-Pluribus | November 15, 2022
"Progressive" is losing its luster; politicians, even former ones, should stop trying to police "disinformation"; and a post-MeToo movie.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
James Freeman: Is ‘Progressive’ Now a Bad Word in U.S. Politics?
You do not have to be too old to recall the rhetorical shift among left-wing politicians from use of “liberal” to “progressive,” but James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal writes that the bloom seems to be off the “progressive” rose already. In his Best of the Web column, Freeman runs down a list of Democratic politicians who were reluctant to be labeled as such and thus (hopefully) avoid association with the more extreme views some voters attribute to those known as progressives.
This column has long been skeptical of the wokesters of the progressive left, who seem to specialize in societal regression. To this day no one can name a great civilization they’ve created, while almost everyone can think of people they’ve cancelled. Now Democratic candidates seem increasingly wary of being identified as progressives—and for good reason.
[ . . . ]
Grant Stringer of The Oregonian newspaper reported on Friday: “McLeod-Skinner refused to call herself a progressive despite touting the support of progressive officeholders and groups, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus that includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.”
Who would want to embrace the label after the destruction wrought by progressive policies in Oregon’s largest city and the national inflation stoked by Washington’s enactment of much of the Sanders spending agenda? Still, it makes one wonder why Ms. McLeod-Skinner thought it wise to oust the relatively moderate Democrat who holds the seat.
[ . . . ]
Ms. McLeod-Skinner’s effort to downplay leftist associations may remind readers of another 2022 Democrat who came up a little short of victory after being enthusiastically backed by Sen. Sanders. Just like Ms. McLeod-Skinner, Wisconsin’s candidate for a U.S. Senate seat had to spend much of this year’s general election campaign trying to distance himself from his progressive supporters. . .
Read it all here.
Scott Shackford: Presidents Bush and Obama Mistakenly Think We Need Their Warnings About Disinformation
While their intentions may be noble, Scott Shackford of Reason says the credibility of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama on the issue of disinformation is in tatters. Even without the history of the War on Terror for Bush and the Affordable Care Act for Obama, Shackford argues that the federal government is the last place U.S. citizens should be looking for help sorting out fact from fiction.
This week, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama will be at conferences lecturing about democracy and apparently warning against the spread of disinformation.
Yes, it's a real "[checks notes]" meme moment. The Bush administration launched a post-9/11 war that had almost no relationship with the terrorists responsible, based on bad intelligence and misleading the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Obama's signature domestic accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, was dependent on him selling Americans a lie that they would be able to keep the health insurance they had.
[ . . . ]
[B]oth teams here seem to be arguing that the solution to disinformation is for the government to get further entangled in what is supposed to be independent journalism in order to fight whatever they're deeming is disinformation. The George W. Bush Presidential Center's page about "combating disinformation" leans heavily on supporting "local journalism" as an antidote for disinformation in disconcertingly vague terms: "The public, along with the executive and legislative branches, should take the lead in defending and promoting freedom of the press and the role of journalism. The private sector, Congress, philanthropy, and news readers/viewers should support local journalism."
Read it all.
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Freddie deBoer: A Movie for the Post #MeToo Moment
While his review necessarily holds back on details to avoid spoilers, Freddie deBoer says the new Cate Blanchett movie Tár is a must-see in the age of cancel culture. Writing for Bari Weiss’s Common Sense, deBoer says the film avoids heavy handed moralizing and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions on a tale that sounds, as one TV show famously puts it, ripped from the headlines.
[T]he film's real triumph lies in its utterly dispassionate gaze, its bone-deep neutrality towards what it's depicting. The most deft choice Field has made is to render Lydia both beguiling and guilty. There are both frivolous and serious accusations against the titular character in this film, and it's momentarily unsure which will make the bigger difference. This uncertainty is existential. If the film were not willing to make Tár charismatic, it would be soulless; if it were not willing to make her guilty, it would be gutless.
I have seen this film represented as a pro-MeToo tale, and I’ve seen it dinged for failing to underline more explicitly Lydia’s guilt. At no point does Blanchett deliver a powerful speech, exposing her cancellation as an injustice; at the same time, while Lydia receives a stern comeuppance, it’s also an absurd one, which prevents the story from feeling like a pat tale of crime and punishment.
Complaints about Tár’s ambiguities misunderstand what makes the film so powerful: Its almost documentary tone, its insistence on keeping the story at arm’s length and dramatizing without lecturing, helps capture the strange moment we find ourselves in regarding MeToo. Many have suggested that the movement has run out of steam, and the Johnny Depp trial was represented at the time as a sign of brewing backlash. Stories like that of Aziz Ansari, whose attempted cancellation sparked fierce public debate about whether it was deserved, introduced a dose of uncertainty into what had been a simple narrative of good and evil. I say all of this as, more or less, a defender of MeToo’s goals and many of its outcomes. Ultimately, the chilly refusal to arrive at a pat conclusion makes Tár the movie it is. Field seems almost to be saying, “I’m not going to just hand you the conclusions; I tell the story, only you can judge.”
Read the whole thing.
Zaid Jilani and others discuss one response in a New Yorker article to the likely outcome of the Harvard/UNC cases before the Supreme Court:
Alex Griswold and Noam Blum question Kurt Wagner’s interpretation of Elon Musk’s “free speech absolutist” claim:
And finally, via the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a lesson in how not to mayor: