Opinion

Conservatives vastly exaggerate the unity of the left

There is no liberal version of the Tea Party. But that doesn't mean the left agrees on everything.

In politics as in war, people tend to overestimate the strength of their enemies.

Jonah Goldberg provided a recent example of this, arguing that the left is formidably united while conservatives are not. He may have a point that conservative unity — long a trope in American politics — is overstated, but he is decisively wrong about the degree of liberal unity.

Here's Goldberg:

[W]hy hasn't the left been roiled with ideological and factional squabbles the way conservatism has been over the last few years? Where is the Occupy Wall Street vs. establishment brouhaha to correspond with the Tea Party vs. establishment "civil war"?

We talk a lot about fusionism on the right, but the real fusion has been on the left...

When was the last time you heard liberals have a really good, public, ideological fight about anything? I'm sure there have been some interesting arguments between bloggers and the like. But I can't think of anything — on domestic policy at least — that has spilled out onto the airwaves and op-ed pages in a sustained way. [National Review]

Part of this is that each side erroneously believes that the enemy is a rigidly disciplined organization with perfect strategy and tactics.

However, Goldberg is badly mistaken about intra-left disputes. This isn't exactly surprising, since he has a completely ridiculous view of political ideology, and probably isn't keeping up on all the hot new radical mags out there. But I'm here to tell you that liberals fight — a lot.

From a conservative perspective, I bet these fights are easy to miss, since leftists are nearly absent from the political scene. I have often bemoaned the lack of some kind of Tea Party-like movement to engage with the political system. Occupy Wall Street, for all its many virtues, seemed to regard the electoral process with some disdain.

This is a major difference between right and left. The right wing has had amazing success in pushing the Republican Party to the right and getting dozens of true believers elected to national office. It is also riddled with nuttiness and is almost comically bad at many aspects of political tactics.

The left wing, meanwhile, is largely powerless, even though its policy prescriptions should be pretty popular given the current state of our deeply unequal economy. There hasn't been a significant leftist presence in Congress since the 1930s at least.

Goldberg seems to think this is an indication of consensus in the Democratic Party. But all it means is that leftists have little sway within it.

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