Sunday, June 18, 2006

No Unity Without Tolerance Of Disagreement

In all the multitude of debates, opinion pieces, conferences, speeches and dissertations I have seen, heard and read over the last few years, all dealing with the question of what is the unifying "idea" behind the Democratic Party (this diary from georgia10 being just the latest example in a long line of examples) I sense a fundamental failure to grasp an important point: it is difficult, if not impossible, to come to some settlement of this question if Democrats are restricted from the very beginning in what they can permissibly talk about.

For too long we have seen debate on this issue hobbled by both participants and outside critics who impose restrictions on what can be discussed before the debate is even begun. How many times have we seen a discussion of what should be the Democratic position on war as an instrument of foreign policy begin with participants refusing to engage in debate with certain elements of the anti-war left? My question is this: how do you develop a reasoned argument that can persuade members of that group to join you in a Democratic coalition if you refuse to even treat them as more then just children who have no appreciation of the finer points of foreign policy?

No one wants to work with people who fundamentally disrespect their difference of opinion.

And how do you deal with the critics of Democrats who love to paint all members of the party as part of the "Michael Moore wing" if you don't know enough about that wing in order to distinguish your opinion from it without unnecessarily insulting those who don't see the problem with the opinions expressed by Moore and others?

If the Democrats are to have a truly unifying vision of government policy with regard to both foreign and domestic issues they will not achieve it by first cutting off 30-40% of the base whose opinions fall into what some consider to be outside the "grownup" category.

I think my words may be failing me here, but I hope I can make my point clear on this: engaging those you disagree with is not a surrender to their opinions. It is instead the first step towards achieving a synthesis of the diversity of opinions within the Democratic/Progressive/Left-Wing sphere. When we allow critics, both internal and external, to restrict who we can talk to and what we can talk about then we are unnecessarily crippling our ability to achieve that synthesis.

Which is precisely what our enemies want. They want to keep us from having that conversation because if we do we may actually discover that the "Michael Moore wing" and the "Peter Beinart wing" are not so very far apart. That maybe there is a synthesis that can work for all involved.

That's what happened with the Republicans in the 70s and 80s. Rather than cutting themselves off from the more extreme elements of their party, the Republicans made a deliberate effort to invite everyone to the discussion table. They didn't give a damn what critics had to say about it. They hashed out their ideas. They discussed their differences. They became aware of their commonalities. And through this process they came to understand that they could work together to achieve power.

And they did it!

When will the Democrats grow up and realize that they will never achieve any grand unity without a similar rapprochement? I'm still waiting. I'm not sure the country has that luxury anymore.


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