Monday, February 28, 2005

Argue what you believe. Believe in what you argue.

The Moose is out with a suggestion that Democrats pull a "Sister Souljah" on Hollywood.

The short of it is that Chuck Schumer, in his role as head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, is actively recruiting pro-life Representative Jim Langevin to run against Republican Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and a group of Hollywood actors, producers and philanthropists have signed a letter protesting this action, saying it undermines the core and soul of the party. The Moose suggests that Schumer should, ever so politely, tell the signers of that letter to shove it. The Moose suggests that by doing so Schumer will demonstrate that Democrats aren't beholden to Hollywood liberals.

Now let me be up front about this. I don't know anything about this situation beyond what The Moose is reporting in his post. I don't know anything about Jim Langevin. I don't know to what extent Mr. Langevin's position on abortion has influenced Mr. Schumer's decision to recruit him. I don't know anything about the inner workings of Rhode Island politics. I don't know if this is or is not a wise choice.

But I do know some things about the important role that triangulation has played in recent Democratic history. Triangulation is the Clintonian strategy in which a Democrat convinces the great middle part of America that they share their values by openly attacking people to the left that do things that make the middle uncomfortable (rap music, gay marriage, etc.). It was a strategy that probably helped Clinton win the presidency.

But it has also knee-capped the party as a whole. When Democrats spend an inordinate amount of time attacking fellow Democrats it leaves the impression that Democrats are people worthy of attack. Thus, attacking another Democrat or a fellow traveler is something that should be done only when it is necessary. Not when it is political convenient.

The problem with triangulation is not the attacks on any individual example of questionable behavior but instead the reason for those attacks. The problem with triangulation is that has been used as a cold, calculating political move rather than a heartfelt expression of honest disagreement with those attacked.

Case in point: Howard Dean made a name for himself by attacking Democratic appeasement to the Republican agenda. But he did it because he honestly believed it was the wrong thing to do and that if it continued it would doom the Democrats. I don't think anyone, even Dean, expected him to get the kind of positive response he got for his attacks. But he didn't do it for the positive response. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

Now, if Schumer honestly feels that the signers of that letter have got it all wrong then yes, he should make it clear that they have got it all wrong. But if Schumer were to turn on Hollywood out of some calculated attempt to curry favor with the great middle then he will simply add weight to the stereotype of Democrats having no core values. Which, ironically, is precisely what the signers of that letter are warning against.

Argue what you believe. Believe in what you argue. The rest will follow.


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