Here's a further report on the use of "alt-left" as centrist polemic against the left, Former MSNBC Host Calls Out Joy Reid & Joan Walsh The Rational National 08/21/2017:
Sam Kriss writes about The Myth of the Alt-Left Politico 08/16/2017:
The term “alt-left” was probably simultaneously invented hundreds or thousands of times, always bearing a slightly different meaning depending on its inventor. But up until now, the people who most forcefully pushed the idea of an alt-left weren’t Nazis or 4chan posters or anyone else in the orbit of Trump and pro-Trump Republicans trying to invent a mythical opposite to the alt-right. The alt-left is, first and foremost, a figment of centrist Democrats.He continues by saying, "Something like 'alt-left' was always going to happen; it’s a product of whatever it is in our brains that conditions them to think in terms of opposites." I'm tempted to think that "our" in that sentence refers to mainstream reporters and pundits who are hopelessly addicted to the "both sides do it" narrative which always assume that any weirdness from one party is mirrored by something equally weird from the other.
But he usefully explains how the Clinton loyalists used the term, in the spirit of the good old and (thnakfully!) defunct Democratic Leadership Council (DLC):
After Clinton dragged the alt-right into the world’s headlines, use of “alt-left” exploded. Conservatives started using it too, as a reflexive insult lobbed at the Democrats in general, but for the most part it kept its original meaning. For the soon-to-be-doomed Clintonites, it was an incredibly useful term. If Clinton were simply to the right of Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump to the right of her, then her project could be seen by some on the left as one that meant drifting toward Trumpism, an unacceptable compromise with evil. The invention of the alt-left allowed centrist liberals to pretend that something entirely different was going on: They were sandwiched between two sets of frothing fanatics who secretly had a lot in common with each other. It established their particular brand of liberalism, possibly encompassing a few “moderate Republicans,” as the only reasonable ground, besieged by alts.
What was called the alt-left was simply the left (the socialist left, as opposed to liberalism), with its “alt” dangling as a meaningless appendage. But in the context of the alt-right, “alt” could be made to mean “unacceptable.” Calling their opponents to the left an alt-left implied, circuitously but unmistakably, that they too were racists and sexists, transphobes and anti-Semites, without ever requiring the courage to directly make the accusation. But what united the alt-right and the imputed alt-left most of all was their habit of being rude to liberals online. (Of course, liberals are also rude online—everyone is rude online—but that didn’t seem to factor into the calculations.) The alt-left primarily defined itself by a discursive tone: strident, snarky, unapologetic. This alone was often enough to put them in the company of Nazis — it’s as if the worst thing about the Nazis weren’t their genocidal beliefs, but the rude words with which they expressed them.
Recent years have shaken up the defining factions of the Democratic Party. In the 2008 Presidential race, Hillary Clinton stressed a DLC position that distanced her from the demands of minorities and attempted to appeal to the famous "white working class" by generally trying to appear as a more moderate Democrat than Barack Obama. For people who were listening closely, some of her positions sounded more liberal than Obama's, particularly on health care.
Pundits and politicos came to talk about the "Obama coalition," which was sometimes taken to be a vague conglomeration of "minorities and young people" (Justin Sink and Amie Parnes, Will the Obama coalition survive? The Hill 11/17/2014) and sometimes described in a broader sense as minorities, women and urban dwellers and new voters. Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin provide a longer analysis of what it was in The Obama Coalition in the 2012 Election and Beyond (Center for American Progress Dec 2012).
Teixeira and Halpin included a fact that gets short shrift in more capsule description of the Obama coalition as "minorities and young people":
President Obama and his progressive allies have successfully stitched together a new coalition in American politics, not by gravitating toward the right or downplaying the party’s diversity in favor of white voters. Rather, they did it by uniting disparate constituencies — including an important segment of the white working class — behind a populist, progressive vision of middle-class economics and social advancement for all people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Should President Obama and progressives deliver on their agenda for the nation and improve the economic standing of middle- and working-class families, the potential for solidifying and expanding this progressive coalition well beyond the Obama years will only increase. [my emphasis]And they explain this about the 2012 Presidential election results:
President Obama’s huge and stable margin among the growing minority voter population meant Gov. Romney’s hopes rode on his performance among white voters, particularly white working-class voters. Both history and pre-election polls suggested this group would be Gov. Romney’s strong point. Especially if Gov. Romney could widen the president’s modest 2008 deficit among white college graduates, it was conceivable that he could run up a large enough margin among white working-class voters to take the popular vote.I'm struck by the key qualifier there: "Should President Obama and progressives deliver on their agenda for the nation and improve the economic standing of middle- and working-class families ..."
As we just saw, Gov. Romney did indeed increase the deficit in President Obama’s support among white college graduates, but Gov. Romney still fell far short of the margin he needed among the white working class. While he did improve on Sen. John McCain’s 18-point margin among this demographic in 2008, Gov. Romney’s margin of 25 points (61 percent to 36 percent for the president) was not enough. Indeed, that improvement among white working-class voters was actually less than he obtained among white college-graduate voters (7 points among the white working class versus 10 points among white college graduates). Gov. Romney would have needed about a 34-point margin among white noncollege voters (a 16-point improvement over the 2008 numbers) to win the popular vote, but he fell short.
Gov. Romney’s gains among white working-class voters were primarily driven by gains among white working-class men. Sen. McCain’s advantage in 2008 was 59 percent to 39 percent (20 points) with this demographic, which Gov. Romney improved to 64 percent to 33 percent (31 points). In contrast, Gov. Romney’s advantage among white working-class women was 20 points (59 percent to 39 percent), up just 3 points from Sen. McCain’s 17-point margin in 2008 (58 percent to 41 percent). Gov. Romney’s inability to make substantial gains among white working-class women was central to his general failure to run up large enough margins among the white working class.
But while Obama remained popular, the Democratic Party did not establish its credibility on delivering those improvements. So by 2016, Hillary Clinton faced a challenge from a candidate who identified himself as a democratic socialist, the latter term long thought to be a kiss of death in most of American politics. Bernie Sanders had a strong record on civil rights issues that are the focus of what is currently called "identity politics," another contested term of somewhat dubious value. But he attacked the role of money in politics and the neoliberal ("free-market") economics with which Bill and Hillary Clinton are so heavily identified. As is Barack Obama. I wouldn't necessarily agree that Obama's 2008 campaign presented a "populist" economic program as Teixeira and Halpin described it. But he did present a more traditional Keynesian perspective, which he successfully enacted to some extent with the 2009 stimulus package and Obamacare.
I don't want to minimize the significance of the stimulus package. Economists like Paul Krugman made a good argument at the time that the stimulus needed to be twice as large in order to secure an optimal recovery. But it's also widely recognized that the 2009 stimulus made a decisive difference in bringing the recovery, which has been stronger in the US that in the European Union.
But he insisted on packaging that success with flat-out conservative economic proposals that workers don't much care about (the balanced budget) or flat-out opposed (cuts in Social Security and Medicare). And that was a major part of the political background to the Democrats' historic rout at all levels in 2016.
The corporate Democrats seemed to be doubling-down on stressing civil rights as a way of passing off their deregulation economics and de facto acceptance of the Citizen's United campaign-financing framework. That includes the more-than-dubious practice of trying hard to paint "Berniecrats" as white racist and misogynist.
The thing about the attempt to stigmatize the "alt-left" as an unhinged and potentially violent bunch is partially in harmony with that stigmatizing strategy, and partially inconsistent. The inconsistency is that if they want to identify Berniecrats as kooky lefties, a lot of people will picture that as the left being more insistent on "politically correct" civil rights advocacy than anyone else. But that steps on the "identity" politics argument that Berniecrats are pandering to conservative whites by insulting and ignoring minorities and women.