Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Crucible

I recommend reading the latest from David Sirota on the debate going on about the direction of the Democratic party and his role in it. David openly admits to being provocative in his writing on the matter, but he does so with a purpose:

I make no apologies for saying some of the taboo things Democrats’ have for too long ignored (ie. corporate money has hurt the party, support for a corporate free-trade policy has hurt the party's ability to communicate with working class voters, etc.), and I make no excuses for naming names. I have made a career fighting in the trenches of the partisan wars – on Capitol Hill, on campaigns, and in my writing. My loyalty to a Democratic Party that has the guts to stand up for working people is clear.

It is in keeping with that loyalty that I engage in this current debate. The party will only get stronger if it finally has a discussion about what has happened to its core ideology, and how to get it back. Many of the debates over the DNC chairmanship and direction of the party right now are focused on a shallow debate over “new” vs. “old" - with Beltway-centric Democratic elites shamelessly bashing grassroots organizations like Moveon.org and other constituencies. As this USA Today story shows, the debates among the party’s elites still seems more like a forum for shamelessly self-promoting operatives to try to grab power, rather than a discussion about the fundamental principles of the party and its leadership moving forward.

But in my writing, and the back-and-forth with my hard-fighting opponents, I am trying to push a debate about more than just which hack is going to get ahead, and which operative is going to climb the ladder. I am trying to get us all talking about what the party actually believes in. And the more we have this discussion now, the stronger the party will be in the future.

David's is a crucible style of debate: It deliberately provokes in order to burn away the weaker parts of the argument. It doesn't allow people to rest comfortably on talking points that have become like life-preservers in a sea of turmoil. It encourages people who otherwise haven't given much thought to core principles to do just that. When people have to defend themselves it can lead to a better understanding on their part as to why they actually believe the things they do.

Years ago I used to participate in Usenet discussion groups. I made the comment then that I wasn't participating in online debates in order to persuade others to my side so much as I was find out more about my own stance on the issues. Without that test there was no way to know whether my beliefs will held up under fire.

David is right that this kind of debate, as uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, is essential. If we are going to argue our values we first have to know what those values are. Democrats became too comfortable in conventional wisdom and lost the ability to argue their beliefs. They replaced it with wonk-speak and knee-jerk rhetoric.

We have to argue our core values before we can argue over the finer points of policy. If we can't sell people on our values then we are lost.

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