Friday, December 10, 2004

My retreat from the position of semi-principled indifference from partisan-Democratic web destinations and activity that I set out last month accelerated this morning. I responded to a note from calling for members to weigh in on the pending selection of a new Chairman for the Democratic National Committee--following a very combative message from MoveOnPAC head Eli Pariser calling for the ouster of the Democrats' "professional election losers"--with the following note to New York state Dem officials:

In times of crisis, we must look for opportunity. The great political message of 2004 is that we will either reclaim our citizen-led democracy, or drift toward a dysfunctional politics that offers--as Barry Goldwater might have put it--an echo, not a choice. The future of the Democratic Party must be that of reform and utilitarian policy choices, and that means stepping away from the corporatist toadying that has characterized Terry McAuliffe's tenure as DNC Chair.

The divide between "New Democrats" and "activists" is really a false choice: on the matters of greatest importance, from fiscal responsibility to moral, muscular and multilateral foreign policy to cultural pluralism and tolerance, we enjoy broad consensus. The question is how we make the fight: on matters of principle (which also have the advantage of being broadly popular in the country) or with one hand tied behind our back in deference to special interests which will always give more support to the Republicans anyway.

There is much to be gained and little to be lost by rejecting this old approach. Freed from the constraints imposed by special-interest donor constituencies, we can become the "party of ideas" again--and reclaim our mantle of defending the middle class and standing for the best in America.

More and more, I find myself hoping that Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network--supposedly "everybody's second choice"--beats out Howard Dean and the other leading contenders and gets the job. The guy is young, media-savvy, and understands that both "sides" in this intra-party argument have merit. Of course, this is pretty close to my own position: I'm with the New Dems on substance but deplore their occasional corporatism and toadying, and the "Dean wing" (for lack of a better term) compels me on style but seems strategically wanting. We need them both if we're ever going to get back any kind of power to make policy.

Josh Marshall, as usual, puts it much better still, describing the trap of lazy thinking that seems to have ensnared so many of the DLC haters in evidence at sites like Daily Kos:
The thinking goes that those behind the "corporate/DLC agenda" are simply closet Republicans, whose aim is to put a Democratic label on Republican policies or kow-tow and make nice to Republicans so much that the Democratic party becomes even more impotent and enfeebled than it already is. Whether these points are true or not, their model for successfully winning elections has been endlessly discredited and in any case all they're really about is serially abandoning the various groups that make up the Democratic party. And what right do they have to screw, or sell-out, of $%#& blacks or unions or the poor or gays or the environment, when these guys aren't even real Democrats anyway?

...I can see kernels of truth in the caricature. But this is a highly misleading portrayal of who almost all of these people are. And the caricature is sustained by a lot of people who only know what these folks are about from left-leaning anti-DLC polemics -- though I would say the DLC folks come in for a good deal of criticism for that being the case.

So before everyone goes off half-cocked, with misleading slogans and impressions, trying to purge this or that wing of the party, I would say, find out a bit more about the groups you're talking about. There are plenty of real differences to argue about without getting into shouting matches with folks who might agree with you about more than you imagine.

I've been meaning to update the links on the left side of the blog for awhile now, and the revised list will include NDN's site as well as "New Donkey," the blog of the DLC policy director Ed Kilgore. It might be that I like these guys--as well as the invaluable Bull Moose--because they seem more independent-minded and less predictable than the leading voices on the Kossite side of the party... though, to keep a little balance, I'll probably be adding Wolcott and Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly--unquestionably the best policy/politics magazine in the country, even if their subscription services suck ass (still waiting for my December issue, fellas), as well.

I also hope to convene a mini-version of this debate at the end of this month or in January with the "What is to be Done" conference here in NYC, already postponed a couple times because of sibling illness, unforeseen betrothal and inclement weather. Less bloodletting, more good thinking with good friends.

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