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12/09/2004

Line in the Sand

The 2004 election clarified the demarcation between the Democratic and Republican Parties. The difference is not one of policy, but one of epistemology and temperament. When confronted with new information, Democrats seek to evaluate it on its own merits, while Republicans seek to subvert it to their own ends. The act of identifying as a Democrat is a declaration that one is open to new information, that one desires that facts and knowledge guide their programmes. Republicans believe that they have all the answers (derived either from tendentious readings of the Bible or tendentious readings of Burke/Smith/Hayek/Locke), that new information is either the product of a conspiracy or in fact supports their preconceived positions.

There used to be few differences in policy prescriptions between the GOP and conservative Democrats like those in the Blue Dog coalition or at the DLC. Those similarities, though, are overwhelmingly an artifact of the disingenuousness at the core of the GOP strategy, where they use policy for GOP institution building and power consolidation. Republicans adopt DLC-style policies as their own to hide the radicalism of their true preferences. Simply laying their preferences on the line would result in their repudiation - only after the soil has been tilled will their radical policies be able to take root. The 2004 elections emboldened the GOP, and they are letting slip their masks of reasonableness. Treating transaction costs as accounting fictions, withdrawing troops from Iraq to enable an assault on Iran, eliminating the income tax - these are precursors of the real Republican agenda, and it is far to the right of the DLC.

As I read Ed Kilgore's eloquent indictment of GOP dishonesty, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders. For the last four years, Democratic opposition to Bush has been hindered, ironically, by an unwillingness to recognize the real radicalness of his agenda, an intertial extension of a presumption of good faith. We haven't been able to indict his depiction of reality because it requires an accusation of malicious intent, and some Democrats were reluctant, either strategically or constitutionally, to take that step. It is a hard step to take, to deny the rationality of one's political opponent, to simply declare them as an enemy. But it must be done - the GOP took that step a long time ago, and like al Qaeda strategizing against us in the 1990s, too few of us even realized we were at war.

Any entity under assault (even one united only by epistemological similarities) must first rally the troops. The DLC must extend to the democratic wing of the Democratic Party a presumption of good faith and reasonableness. The democratic wing of the Democratic Party (DWPD) must do likewise for the DLC. First steps:

  1. Stop the bullshit. Al From, Bruce Reed, and Peter Beinart must stop impugning the integrity of a substantial portion of their Party. If From and Reed can't get their kicks elsewhere, if they need GOP validation to feel good about themselves, they should leave. Similarly, Dean should stop with the Republican-lite talk, and people like Sirota should stop with the vilification of DLC style politics. Even if we disagree on ultimate policy, we can agree on how we make decisions - calling the DLC "Republican-lite" diminishes the Democrat/Republican divide by making it look like Republicans arrived at their positions reasonably.
  2. Start talking amongst ourselves. It is too clear that the DWDP and the DLC wing don't communicate with each other enough. We approach each other with suspicion, the DWDP concerned that the DLC is beholden to corporations and hawks, the DLC concerned that the DWDP embodies the leftist caricatures promoted by the right. I have said for a long time that every legitimate policy position is represented within the Democratic Party itself - to this point, that has been viewed as a weakness, but it must be turned into a strength. We should hold fora where liberal and conservative Democrats can actually debate and communicate, exchange ideas and arguments. I would love to see Moveon.org or CAP fellows actually debating PPI or TNR affiliates. These fora shouldn't be limited to the internet or inside the Beltway, but should take place throughout the country, in Cincinnati and Austin, Fargo and Miami, Fresno and Boston. The various Democratic organizations should go so far as to hire Democrats that come from the other wing. We have a dynamic Party, full of ideas, but our dynamism is hidden by fraternal bickering and GOP demonization.
  3. Highlight Republican power madness. This is not something that most Democratic strategists will agree with - people like Shrum think the electorate can not be moved by complicated arguments. They may be right, but if they are, we are screwed regardless, so we may as well go down fighting. The Bush administration has been characterized, more than anything else, by corruption of process. We need to make that corruption the centerpiece of our critique. We need to achieve the seemingly impossible task of convincing the American people that Bush can not be trusted; the only reason I believe it possible is because it is true. Press releases accusing him of misleading us into war don't do nearly enough to make the case, we must focus on communicating persuasive arguments directly to the people.
There has been much talk on this topic. I have an old post on the DLC, which shows some evolution in my thoughts on the issue. Josh Marshall has lengthy thoughts here. Atrios here. Kevin Drum has written extensively on the matter. Update: Kos here.

 

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