My Unfortunate Experience With Daily Kos Exposes an Insidious Fault Line That Truly Is a Threat to This Democratic Experiment
“…Biden’s…told an audience in Des Moines that poor children are ‘just as bright and just as talented as white kids,’ before immediately clarifying his remarks.”
That was in August, 2019.
So, this past weekend I wrote a piece after news broke about Joe Biden’s yet again conflating several events into a self-promoting story about his humility in the presence of a brave soldier. He somehow managed one more time to merge moments of genuine greatness into a story that was less than the sum of its parts, because it was at its core, not altogether true. When confronted with the fact that the story was essentially just made up, he repeated what he’s said anytime he’s been confronted with his lack of adherence to the mere facts,
Anyone who follows me knows I have been a demonstratively vocal champion of Joe Biden’s even when others were unrelentingly critical. I don’t think he’s a racist, I don’t think he’s a misogynist, I don’t think he is a perv. I’ve been prepared for the possibility that he will be the Democratic nominee, but I do not feel that he is the best choice to deal with the challenges the next President will be facing. I have called so many other people out for disparaging Joe, but this last incident was too much for me, because I just don’t think he is at full mental acuity or capacity anymore.
It is not as though I was the only one noticing or commenting about Biden’s ever weaker performance as a candidate and the implications for beating Trump. Democratic operative Joel Payne told Reuters just a day after my piece was published,
“Biden is the weakest front-runner in a contested primary in a long time.”
PBS reported “Biden is still the Democrat to beat, but rivals see weakness” in August, 2019. MSNBC and CNN both ran segments on the self-same subject over the Labor Day weekend and The Washington Post published “It’s Time to Bid Farewell to Joe Biden” over the weekend.
And in an election when Democrats have so many really great alternatives, I think it is time to talk about the probability that Biden’s just not up for it. His intransigence about his dissembling finally pissed me off, and I am prone to do serious research and writing when I get pissed off. I have to be motivated, because the writing is hard.
So, I wrote a solid, well-referenced, thoroughly developed piece pulling together these concerns into my concise perspective. I was frustrated with deciding on a title so I ended up calling it — temporarily, at least — “Oh Joe… If I Wanted to Listen to an Old Man Lie, I’d Go to a Trump Rally.” (Here’s a link to the original article so interested parties can see what I actually wrote.) I posted it on several platforms where it got some play. People who follow me read the piece, were happy to see their own thoughts well articulated and said, “Good work.” I wasn’t completely satisfied with the title but just hadn’t come up with anything better and, frankly, I was and am pretty pissed at Joe Biden.
For me the core questions are, and I still really do want to know, at what point — after decades of plagiarism, embellishing and dissembling— do we just call it “lying”? When is it “fair” to be openly concerned about whether or not this so-called “creative storytelling” gets worse once he’s President? Isn’t this exactly what the media did with Trump at the beginning of his campaign when they just kept excusing his lies, calling them his “quirky” style? “Let Trump be Trump.”
When is it okay to mention what is becoming more and more obvious every time Joe Biden goes off script?
So, almost as an afterthought, I posted it to Daily Kos on Sunday. Literally within minutes people — who could not conceivably have read the article in that short amount of time — started posting the most foul comments. One I will repeat here used a word I’d never heard before, “troll-adjacent…,” and was the least of the just incomprehensibly nasty stuff.
“Nope, its a hit piece. Writers of diaries like this should be required to include 1) which candidate they support, 2) their ties to that campaign, and 3) if they are paid by it or some associated group.”
As always, when hardcore ideologues are confronted with another perspective, their minds go straight to conspiracy theories and agendas far too convoluted to waste time parsing. And interestingly, it never matters how well sourced or referenced a piece is, each one of these guys thinks the writer should take the time to defend their entire existence to some random person online with a particular bug up their ass.
“Your post was eloquently put, and spot on, imho. (I missed the earlier title, so I’m going on the content itself.) I like Joe, and understand why many voters would vote for him, but I am not convinced that he’s the best candidate for the future.”
And to be fair, there was a solid group of people who read the post, thought it made complete sense and said so. They too got utterly hammered by the operatives of doom.
“Everything she posted about Joe Biden is 100% accurate …”
Some of my favorite “trolls” are those who see themselves in everyone else’s opposing opinions so they project their paranoia onto all the “others.”
“I’ve seen that same idiotic phrase vomited out a thousand times by half-witted Teabaggers.”
There are those I won’t quote because I just cannot bear to repeat them again, but — as always happens — someone will start down the road of how the purest of the candidates, Bernie Sanders, is still being wronged by the Democratic Party which then starts a comment thread not at all related to the subject of the actual article and turns acrimonious fast. I challenge anyone to stop these people from co-opting any conversation; it is the needle on the record that gets stuck when everyone in the room is too stoned to get up and move the goddamned thing. This is the stuff that swings the door wide open to Russian bots and trolls to incite conflict among American voters, and these platforms not only let it happen, they jump right in the middle of it with both feet.
One guy, with nearly 16,000 comments over his 15 years on the site, calling himself “BlueGoo” was just unhinged. He argued the title was wildly “inflammatory,” specifically my use of the word “lie.” I thought changing the title might deflate his and others’ ire, so I changed the word “lie” to “dissemble.” BlueGoo approved but then went on for several hours in a bizarre “shoot the messenger” rant.
Within half an hour it was apparent that my title change was not going to stop the ad hominem lunacy so I went into the article intending to delete the post. For me, this was just one article, and if deleting the entire thing or editing the title would redirect readers’ attention to the substance, then I am good with that. Well, apparently someone had already reported it as “click-bait” and some obviously overzealous Daily Kos site administrator — without contacting me and giving me the opportunity to either delete the piece or make any changes — completely blocked my access to my own article and changed the title himself.
It was changed to — brownie points if you see the problem — “Joe Biden’s Continuing Conflation of WWII Stories Deeply Problematic.” Growing annoyed, as I could not access my own piece, I had to deep dive into the bowels of the “Daily Kos Help desk” (you don’t want to go there). I’d planned to tell someone that — while I acknowledge it is their prerogative to change a title on their platform anytime they see fit — making an error mixing up “WWII” with the war in Afghanistan is a substantial fuck up, and it is still my article. On top of that, because the admin had done all this without even contacting me to give me the option of deleting it, I would now have to go immediately onto other platforms to change the title.
This is what would be called, in more grown-up professional circles, an unnecessarily excessive course correction, but it didn’t stop there.
When I went back onto Daily Kos to check the title adjustment, I found the following disclaimer at the top of my post:
Admin Note: Click-bait title that was debunked by snopes has been changed by Admin after diarist failed to make proper edits.
I had had NOTHING to do with any of this. I contacted the “Help desk” to tell them that this was not click-bait, that I don’t do click-bait, and that putting a disclaimer on the post was presumptuous and uncalled for.
This “admin” never contacted me about any of this. He made these changes, locked me out of my post (and I still am locked out), put this at the top of the post, then let the Daily Kos mob just go crazy on the comments. And when he discovered that I’d been “banned” Mr. BlueGoo lead the cheerful gloating.
Returning to my premise: If this behavior is what one can expect from Daily Kos followers, oh well… it’s the internet. However, if this is the insultingly unprofessional way their staff manages an editorial situation, I will not send money when they solicit fundraising, and I will tell others to do likewise. I only ever came to Daily Kos last month because Kos himself quoted from an earlier article of mine, “Kamala Harris vs. Drinking Heavily and Waiting to Die” and linked it to me.
My last article had also fared well on Daily Kos and other platforms, so Kos’ followers are evidently a fickle and unforgiving bunch.
But none of that is what really matters. The bigger and more disturbing issue is those people who cloak themselves in the self-aggrandizing — and often stunningly condescending — liberalism or progressivism, then can’t deal with something as inconsequential as a critical title on a blogpost without devolving into a pack of cyber vigilantes. And, apparently, without a referee, as if that ought to be someone’s job.
How in the name of God, can we expect these same people to do the painstaking and much-needed business of pulling the Democratic Party — let alone the country — together? How can they be the ones tasked with choosing a consensus candidate who can begin deconstructing Trump’s depravity-made-manifest policies and moving us forward?
Regardless of who’s the Democratic nominee, who’s the next President — assuming of course this sort of Democratic intra-party cannibalistic stupidity of gnawing their own limbs off doesn’t bring about complete internal collapse — how will these puritanical zealots react when a Democrat gets into the Oval Office? What happens to these cults of personality when the next President discovers, as they surely will, that most of their progressive initiatives will have to be sidelined, for at least the first term, to clean up the horror at the border, or re-staff the federal government, or slow the destruction of the environment, or heal alliances with allies? That kinda shit takes time, political skill, and extraordinary patience.
With all her big plans and best intentions, a hypothetical President Elizabeth Warren may find her new mantra is “Hurry up and wait,” and how forgiving are her legions of devotees — demanding progressive action “NOW!” — going to be when their lofty expectations are not fulfilled instantly? How understanding will they be when they find out all those high ideals are not even in the “top ten” on her list of priorities because actual people’s actual lives depend on the priorities she establishes, Day 1?
It doesn’t bode well for moving this Party, and the country, in the direction I want and that we sorely need if followers of sites like Daily Kos — and many other so-called liberal and progressive bastions — can’t even idle long enough to integrate a well developed, purely fact-based appraisal of an obviously vulnerable Democratic candidate, that most of them — if they’re honest — don’t much like anyway, without devolving into a mob lobbing personal attacks and conspiratorial accusations. This all because they didn’t like the title.
Riddle me this: If, in the title, I’d had simply called Trump a “lying old man,” I doubt anyone on Daily Kos or on any Democratic leaning platform would have said a word. But because I said Joe Biden “lied,” all manner of humanity, protected by their bat shield of self-righteous progressivism, set their own hair on fire. They called me all manner of rudenesses as a matter of “principle.”
The glaring contradiction there is that that is not “principled”: If commenters were acting on principle about what they considered inflammatory on the site, they would have responded with equal outrage to my identifying Trump as a lying old man. But they didn’t. That makes those opinions their bias, not their principles. It is a choice they made to literally attack another Democrat merely because they didn’t like a word choice in a title.
These self-identified progressives at Daily Kos et al. are the social media equivalent of the same infantilizing intellectual “safe spaces” that many colleges are promoting as the “new normal.” These coddled middle-class suburban white kids often go from their parents’ home, where they’ve been kept from all manner of perceived “danger” and accountability — babysat by the most dangerous predator of all, their iPhones. Then they’re shipped off to a college where they are insulated from the ideological meanies who dare to have a different opinion. Finally, to their own little apartment where they tell themselves that the bubble of “progressive” pals and pundits they chat with in the dark amount to actual human contact. They then think, without any introspection at all, that the terror they feel every time they are confronted with the “other” is the appropriate way to feel, that their childish reactions are the way one is supposed to deal with actual flesh-and-blood human beings.
There’s a reason the right was able to get political traction around the “snowflake” trope when referring to the left, and this is it. Regardless of your place on the political spectrum, this fragility of voters’ constitutions is individually and socially destructive. A healthy democracy is not timid. It’s not biased and ideologically pure. It’s not terrified of differing opinions or perspectives. It is not cruel. But unrealized people are.
But that is a choice some liberals and progressives are making with these essentially arbitrary personal attacks and purity tests. This is not something that’s just happening TO them.
That is true of all of us.
About the Author:
Gayle Leslie is a writer, political consultant, published author, actor, and policy wonk publishing extensively on Medium. She is a native Texan, graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and Circle in the Square Theatre School in NYC. She wrote her serialized memoir, Dwelling in the Vast Divine Vol. 1 & Vol 2. You can follow on Twitter at @gayleleslie7