A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Joe Claus Is A Little Winded

The post below on the infamous GOP Schiavo memo is an indicator of the major problem I have with political blogging. I'm simply not fast enough to keep up with events as they happen.

Between the fact that my primary literary form is that of the extended essay rather than the pithy comment or the hefty and juicy block quote, my old second-hand IBM running Windows 98, and the chronic jam-ups on Blogger, it takes a full three hours to get most of my posts up.

That's why my readers usually see only 3-4 posts a week, and why I am astounded at the facility of writers like the Anchoress, who can keep both the quality and the quantity up for as many as 6-8 posts per blogging session.

I just went over to The Moderate Voice to see what Joe Gandleman & Co. have to say about the "talking points memo" and it was buried already under dozens of other posts. So I'm clearly behind the event curve. But then he has done what many serious bloggers have done, got himself some help on the posting.

It's a way to handle the volume, but I wonder if it is really good for blogging as a whole. All of the contributors are excellent, as far as I can tell. But Joe's very distinctive, good natured, prose voice has become muted in the variety of prose styles, and the proliferation of source quoting rather than source linking.

I'll still keep reading, because the coverage is excellent, and his sensible, experienced vantage point permeates all of his contributors. But I question whether all the "guest blogging" and corporate blogging is not diluting the best things about the blog form. There are few of the corporate blogs which I am that genuinely interested in, and they are mostly the ones that cultivate and curry my liberal prejudices. The reason for this is that they are a fertile source of subject ideas from public politics for these posts in the wake of the utter breakdown of media journalism after 9/11.

Of those blogs, my most useful source is and remains Daily Kos, whose collective team spirit and array of intelligent ferrets of good material is without peer. But my favorite is still The Left Coaster, where, miraculously, the voices of, particularly, Steve Soto, pessimist, and Yuval Rubinstein remain distinct despite the corporate character of the postings.

I have, facetiously, and under my comic pseudonym, posted the remark above my blogroll that, "You know it's a good blog if, the more you disagree with it, the more you enjoy it." This is exaggerated, but basically true. Put more precisely, what I, at least, enjoy in reading blogs is the sense of intimacy with a definite person with definite personal foibles and definite ideas. It is also what I most attempt to accomplish through blogging myself.

This is matter of literary craft. The solo bloggers who actually do create this sense of intimacy are those with a fair mastery of not only of the mechanics of English prose, but also it's graces--the way it can be made to fit an individual mind like an expensively tailored set of clothes. The average blogger, as fine a person as he or she usually is, simply hasn't enough craft to wholly make their persona emerge from their prose.

On the Left side of my own blogroll, Matthew Ygelsias, James Wolcott, and Lindsay Beyerstein, who blogs as Majikthise, are the best such literary craftspersons. What their prose communicates is a sense of personal spaciousness, a cultivated and civilized distance from even their own most deeply held views. This is so whether that distance is achieved by the luscious bitchiness of Wolcott (after all, he does write for Vanity Fair); the easy, effortless, young, and supple intelligence of Ygelsais; or the determined, disciplined mind and searingly caring heart of Beyerstein. A similar distance and definite personality in the center of my roll, I think, is kept only by Dan Drezner, the genial, open, and terminally overeducated Chicago political scientist.

It is no accident, I think, that most of these are young, academic intellectuals, even when they are not professors like Drezner, who retain the stamp of what an American liberal arts education is capable of at its best. Most other Progressives are simply wound too tight around their own issues to be nearly as distinct personal characters in their own prose, even when the writing is as good as Kevin Drum's or Juan Cole's.

They are also, and significantly I think, largely secular Americans all with, I suspect, atheist or agnostic religious views, permeated at the core with a personal distaste for excess of "enthusiasm" inherent, I think, in all overtly religious people (including myself), and fastidious as grooming cats about the secular and intellectual character of their ethics.

This makes a pleasing contrast, and an important one, to the bloggers on the Right side of the spectrum who I read for pleasure as well as information. We may take Wretchard of The Belmont Club as the apogee of what conservative informational blogging has to offer: interesting topics, dozens of commenters fun to play political rugby with, and a challenging depth of historical and literary references. Like Dan Drezner, Wretchard is excruciatingly well educated, but, perhaps, a little too conscious of how well educated he is to be able to fully manifest his personality in his prose.

I tend to notice a similar reticence to just be themselves, or perhaps a lack of distance from themselves and skepticism about themselves, in most of the secular and libertarian conservative bloggers out there. Sometimes they are wound as tightly around their issues as the most fire-haired and unruly Progressive commenting or writing diaries on Kos. At other times, I think the attempt to sustain the intellectuality and emotional grandeur (a la Ayn Rand) of the libertarian viewpoint casts the huge shadow of that viewpoint over their private persons.

Or, occasionally, like Karol of Alarming News, submergence in the hot blood and hedonistic pleasures of youth has formed only the start of her real and mature personality, which I think will blossom into something very special, but is not yet wholly manifest in her blog.

But my favorites, and the most wholly and humanly developed, prose rich, bloggers that I have found on the Right side of the fence are three religious conservatives: the devout and humanist Catholic, The Anchoress; the measured and troubled Methodist minister, and ex-professional soldier, Donald Sensing; and Sister La Shawn Barber, evangelical, mercurial, and ambitious with the compelling intensity of a craving for water after 6 or 8 pieces of overly salty sushi.

It is, in fact, the religious "enthusiasm", combined with the ability to really write, that makes them so memorable. Between the best of the secular and the best of the religious stands the true fault line which is dividing our country and which we must soon bridge before we permanently become the house divided against itself. I read all these blogs, festoon them with comments, and write my own blog to build what rickety bridge I can over that fault line.


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