Updated: Apr 5
By Thomas Neuburger
Estragon: Nothing to be done. Vladimir: I'm beginning to come round to that opinion.
This may appear to be a piece about Matt Taibbi. It's really a piece about why the Democratic Party has such a hard time winning against palpably soft competition.
Matt Taibbi often takes time on Twitter to answer honest questions from regular people, normal voters and citizens, unlike many journo-celebs who only talk to each other. Sometimes (actually often), other regular people comment on the exchange.
In that light, consider this exchange:
Nice soft close: “which is the opposite of persuasive.” Stylistically very Taibbi. But let’s look at this a bit more closely.
Why Do Mainstream Democrats Now Hate Matt Taibbi?
The self-styled left (and some of the actual left) is so closed off to Taibbi at this point that he’s fair game for any sort of attack. “Which means Republican,” as in the tweet above, is actually mild. As Ross Barkin put it in a 2021 New York Magazine profile: “Few journalists, in polarized 2021, divide the New York-D.C. nexus more. Taibbi is viewed in more liberal quarters with increasing suspicion bordering on outright disdain, a remarkable development for a magazine star once considered Rolling Stone’s successor to Hunter S. Thompson.”
In an entirely gratuitous and dishonest insult, Democrat Stacy Paskett, the ranking member of the House committee before which Taibbi testified, called him “this so-called journalist.” That led the way for every Democrat to follow. The rest of the session was, in the opinion of those not hateful of Taibbi, “character assassination.” This from Democrats, from all of them, his former natural base.
Where is this coming from?
Outside the Committee Hall
It got worse outside the committee. Emma Vigeland of Sam Seder’s Majority Report (a person and show I’ve long admired) said as part of MR's coverage of the hearings, “Don’t worry. The hearings will continue with the help of once-venerated reporter Matt Taibbi, who now is a PR person for Elon Musk and Twitter. This is Matt Taibbi’s characterization of his press releases on behalf of Elon Musk, which he calls ‘reporting’.” The tone, the dripping disdain, is a shocking reversal from a show that had hosted him frequently for years.
Vigeland played a clip of Taibbi saying that the Twitter Files was “by far the most serious thing I’ve ever looked at." Then, discussing his highly praised work on the 2008 financial crisis, Vigeland comments, “I think that's an interesting tactic because that kind of undercuts his own past work, right? Which I guess doesn't really matter to him. He doesn't give a damn since he's cashing in.”
That’s quite an accusation, all speculation, made against a man Sam Seder has had on his show a hundred times, and a person I’m sure once considered a friend.
(Of these now-gone relationships, I’m reminded of this sad statement from an earlier Taibbi piece, “Allred then went on MSNBC, where my former friend Chris Hayes with a straight face suggested he didn’t see a ‘government angle’ in either the Twitter Files or our testimony — both of which were more or less entirely about that issue.” My former friend.)
Back to the Majority Report. Another host, picking up on Vigeland's remarks, then says this about why Taibbi worked on the 2008 financial crisis:
To be honest I’m not surprised Taibbi has this perspective [on the financial crisis] because…
I’ll pause while you think about what’s about to be said. Why did Taibbi choose to write about the crash?
…if you look at it from his perspective, the financial crisis was good for him. He got this great reputation that Republican Congress people can cite about how great of a journalist he is. Made a lot of bones out of that as the Gonzo journalist. And I read all that stuff too. I don’t remember much if it. It doesn’t stick with me. I mean, he called Goldman Sachs the ‘vampire squid’ — I guess that was useful [sic].
I will say like I'm troubled looking back on it, and I would like to get a reassessment of his work on this by someone who's not a capitalist, because he sums it up August 5th 2013 on Twitter: “My whole argument against modern Wall Street has been that it's anti-capitalist perverted by incestuous ties to the state.” Sounds like libertarian.
And then he said April 11 2016: “I don't know many people who would describe what's gone on with these two big to fail banks since 2008 is capitalism.” So like it's not a surprise from his perspective because, like I said, [his] whole reputation was made as all these people were being thrown out of their homes. And him being a child of wealth, he has no ties to that. Also the type of people that are paying him now, Elon Musk did really well from the government response to the financial crisis, which was to flood the zone with cash.
He goes on (and on). Consider the accusations here.
Matt Taibbi, former beloved, or in Vigeland’s terms “once venerated,” journalist, only wrote about the financial crisis because it “was good for him” because it gave him “this great reputation that Republican Congress people can cite,” and why should he care about people suffering during the crisis, since he’s a “child of wealth” and “has no ties to that.” Also because Elon Musk, who’s “paying him now,” made a ton of money from the crisis.
What a wicked man. Who thought so at the time? Not Sam Seder, nor any of his show's hosts. How foolish they must feel to be so fooled. I'll bet they're looking today for signs they missed of Evil Matt Taibbi dressed as good, the man who so completely fooled them all?
Where is this coming from, this bitter hate? This is clearly a kind of assassination.
Coverage in the mainstream media was no better. Huffington Post:
Matt Taibbi Smirks Through House Committee Grilling About 'Twitter Files' The independent journalist refused to confirm he made money from the project, saying instead that he “spent money he didn’t have before."
The voice, it seems, was everywhere the same. Taibbi should be hated. Not disagreed with; not rationally engaged. Hated. And by his former friends.
Where Is This Coming From?
To answer that question, consider the following premises. I think the first four accurately describe the thinking of mainstream Democratic leaders since the shocking electoral loss of 2017:
Modern Republicans (leaders, media, and crucially, their voters as well) represent the worst threat to the American Republic since the Civil War. 1a. Or possibly since the founding, since Southern Confederates didn’t wish to institute Hitlerian reforms that would remove democracy altogether from how the state is run.
Any act by any individual or organization that advances the Republican Project, inadvertently or not, is as dangerous as the Project itself.
Because the Project is evil, its supporters are also evil — or in the most generous cases, deeply stupid.
Stopping the Project means stopping its supporters and adherents. All of them.
Taibbi is a supporter, inadvertently or not, and therefore must be stopped.
Because his support is probably not inadvertent (both the MR host and Democratic committee members are certain, or say they are, that his motive is money), total reputational destruction is a reasonable weapons. After all, the whole of American democracy is at risk.
The Problem in a Nutshell
Statement one above could well be true. I believe it's true myself. But does all the rest follow from that?
In addition, even if it does, the problem is that this Democratic Party response — this hate-Republicans-at-all-costs messaging (while party leaders themselves cut deals with them) — is not going to work, won't blast them past their opponents with near the speed it ought to, given their opponent's obvious flaws.
Mainstream Democrats run roughly even with Republicans in electoral contests except in protected districts. They certainly run roughly even with Donald Trump in the only vote that counts, the Electoral College. And Democratic leaders are the reason for this is so.
As I wrote elsewhere, in each presidential cycle the voters have only two choices. It's the Party of the Status Quo…
…versus the Party of Fake Rebellion against the status quo…
What do you think would happen if Democrats ran a candidate of Real Rebellion, a Bernie Sanders, say, à la 2016, against the candidate of Pretending to Care about suffering voters, Donald Trump or any of his ilk? Would real rebellion against predatory rule by the rich “trump” fake rebellion financed by the rich?
Of course it would. Sander would have beaten Trump in a landslide win, had he had the chance to do it in 2016. All the momentum was his.
But Democrats, the other wealth-financed party, won’t take that course. Which leaves them only one argument. In Taibbi’s language from the start of this piece:
talk like this is a big part of why I left the Democratic Party. It’s always “Vote for us or you’re a right-wing insurrectionist Putin-lover,” which is the opposite of persuasive.
This is literally the Democrats’ closing argument, and it's the worst one they could advance. It makes them, not just wrong, but ugly as well. The "opposite of persuasive" to be sure.
Yet this is the only argument they’ve got, if they can’t in turn attack their own wealth class and this time actually mean it. Sad news for us.
Estragon: I can't go on like this. Vladimir: That's what you think.