A Tale of Two Matts

10 Jul

Michael van der Galiën recently posted an insightful meditation on the difference between the analysis of a political scientist and a “political junkie”:

For Political Scientists, however, we have always been here before. Every new political issue can be related to older issues. You don’t have to take anything at its face value, because chances are it is in reality an older controversy dressed up in new clothes. And, as much as it pains me to repudiate the me of 15 years ago, I can see a lot of merit in this view. Political junkies always see the world they live in as a “tipping point” (the most overused trope of the last fifty years). Every issue is of epoch making importance, each setback is a “disaster”, and every politician can be categorically labeled as ally, enemy, hero or traitor.

This immediately brought to mind two of the blogs I frequently read, Canadian musician Matthew Good’s blog and Matt Zeitlin’s blog. The differences between the two are an instructive comparison of blogospheric punditry, but not in the way you might think. Depressingly, Matthew Good’s blog is often a bewildering mix of the worst of both worlds, combining the world-changing assuredness of the political junkie with the too grand scope of a freshman political science student. Zeitlin, on the other hand, manages to provide cogent analysis of daily events while keeping his historical wits about him–and he’s only seventeen.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, here’s a selection of posts from Matt Good and his contributors, with great observations like this one:

Given the fact that the US is, like many other Western plutocracies, a shadow of its former promise, why is it currently deemed near treason to demand the complete reform of government?

I’m disappointed to learn that I no longer live in a liberal democracy, but a country where Microsoft and Wal-Mart determine who runs the country (or perhaps make it a foregone conclusion with their contributions?). As long as I get a free copy of Windows Vista when I go to “fake-vote,” or whatever it is I’m doing in the voting booth¹. This is bad freshman “proof by assertion” mixed with the political junkie’s belief that each action by the Bush administration is irrecoverable and a signal of bloated American imperialism’s impending demise. Good doesn’t say exactly what “the complete reform of government” might mean, and that’s one of his major problems. He often alludes to actions or past events without context or further explanation:

I never thought that I would become such a proponent of the Second Amendment with regards to the formation of public militias to safeguard against the tyranny of the federal government. But to be honest, maybe it’s time for real Americans to think about unfortunate alternatives.

As Good is usually a proponent of non-violence, I doubt he means violent revolution, but what else is the reader to assume? What are these “unfortunate alternatives”? Having to stick a gun in my local congressman’s face for voting for the Patriot Act?

The bigger problem, I think, is that Good and his contributors have a conception of democracy that is muddled at best, and contradictory at worst. Then there’s this unfocused post on “democracy” by contributor Dale Mugford that lists several different conceptions of democracy, then finishes thusly:

Like many words thrown around by those who care not for the righteousness of truth but rather the bottom dollar, final objective, and the success of deceptive lies- democracy, if it holds any potency at all among the minds of people, will be used against them. Democracy is no longer a political motive, a system of organization, or a social construct- it is a conceptual canvas painted as necessary to make a pretty picture masses and classes alike will appreciate looking at- regardless of how far from reality it may become.

Fantastic. Also: What the hell? I figure he’s talking about using the spread of democracy as your battle cry for neoconservative foreign policy, but it’s lost in rhetoric like “those who care not for the righteousness of truth”. Not to mention that earlier in the post he describes the US as a “deformed democracy” which is funny considering it was written almost three weeks after the Democrats took back congress. What exactly is he looking for in a democracy?

Actually, it quickly becomes apparent that what Good and company are looking for in a democracy is a country that lines up amazingly close to their own political beliefs. That way, the novice political analyst can reconcile American liberal democracy and a two term Bush presidency. Democracy doesn’t always produce liberal ends, which is why we have constitutions that protect minority rights, and, in America, liberal institutions that check the power of the executive, so when you think you can hold “enemy combatants” indefinitely, the Supreme Court laughs and laughs².
They also lack the political junkie’s understanding of the issue constituents and policy factions that make up the American political landscape. Sure another “x” number dead in Iraq is a tragedy, but is anyone in America fighting to get us out of there? What are the proposals? Also, how does one square supporting Al Gore for president (and thinking he might run as an independent, no less) and a withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan?

Ultimately, Good’s political musings are a conglomeration of talking points from what Michael Bérubé has termed the Sovereignty Left, and his own banal (though at times, better) political judgments of the day’s newsworthy events. Thus the constant drone of high, moralistic rhetoric and flogging of America the Empire mixed with daily criticism of yet another Bush administration political horror/actual horror. Any political junkie worth their salt would know that the political winds are changing, and there’s (hopefully) an emerging Democratic majority, so there’s no need to pretend that dissent is wholly unwelcome or that the Bush administration daily brings us one step closer to the abyss.

My suggestion? Good should take some blogging lessons from Zeitlin and try something like this which combines the best of policy understanding with a junkie’s pragmatic political understanding. And for God sakes, put the Chomsky down for a minute.

Now, with all of that said, don’t forget to buy Matt Good’s new album Hospital Music, available July 31st on iTunes.

¹Usually it’s furiously scribbling as many members of the Justice League I can remember as write-in candidates.

² In Political Science, this is known as the theory of “The Hilarious Executive”


3 Responses to “A Tale of Two Matts”

  1. Dale July 11, 2007 at 2:33 am #

    An insightful and well-formed indictment. In my own defense, the piece on Democracy was written years ago and re-posted for the archives due to a server loss, so forgive me my blunders of youth : )

    While you have poignantly dissected some of our ‘junkie’ tactics, you fail to recognize the blog’s personal nature, which is deeply entrenched and woven through the writings of all the contributors.

    We don’t decree ourselves anything but political junkies when it comes to articles on politics. The fact is we’re people with an interest in politics, and share that interest along with our personal stories.

    My question to you is, who are you? The lack of identity makes it hard for me to want to engage you further.

  2. paxamericana July 13, 2007 at 4:00 am #


    First, I’m Corey, a 25 year old MFA student in Creative Writing (poetry) at George Mason University.

    I totally understand the political junkiedom, since I count myself a junkie too (in contrast to having an “expertise” to offer, which I don’t). I also recognize that the political opinions of the blog come from a personal and deeply felt sense of justice and political engagement.

    My criticism was that, at times, the blog mixes the worst impulses of the political junkie (to see each event as a new phenomenon and thus more important) and the “political scientist” (who sees everything in grand terms, an unchanging narrative).

    I understand the personal nature of many of the convictions, but at times I find the blog lacks context. For example, the failings of the Bush administration are well chronicled. But one could read through (much) of MatthewGood.org and think the US had only one political party. Rarely is there mention made of what Democrats are doing, or what the political debates are in the country. There are lots of policy makers, pundits, and elected officials–beyond Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky–who are articulating opposition (and succeeding). What about the E.J. Dionne, Paul Krugman, Todd Gitlin, Matt Yglesias, and Brad DeLongs of the world?


  1. Pax Americana « Matt Zeitlin: Impetuous Young Whippersnapper - July 11, 2007

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