Thursday, February 10, 2005

Clear Blue Water

As Howard Dean seemingly moves towards victory in the race for chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, there have been a barrage of depressing but not surprising warnings of doom from the right wing of the Democratic Party.

Dean will kill us in the south! They yell, forgetting that in truth LBJ killed them in the south by taking principled stand on civil rights in the sixties. Dean will lose the values debate! They wail, forgetting that aping the twisted ideas of the American Taliban of the Christian Right is not a drive for the moral highground but an abdication of humane principles. Dean is a liberal! they shout; well, he's getting there, I reply.

Back when I worked for a young, arrogant, and ultimately successful broadcasting company I remember old industry hands dismissing our approach to radio out of hand, claiming that we were doing everything wrong (that is, differently), we were too radical, we were asking too much of our listeners, and we were doomed to fail. When we hauled in ratings and ultimately a fat payoff when the company was sold to one of the broadcasting monsters, they refused to change their tune. What this taught me is that a) the Peter principle is still in effect; b) entrenched interests rarely reflect best decision making practice; and c) those with tenure do not have any more inherent right to insight than the thinking neophyte. I think this answers both why parroting the Democratic strategy of triangulation is wrong and why I feel compentent to comment on this subject.

In his book What's The Matter With Kansas? Thomas Frank argues that attempts to move towards the center when a right wing Republican party holds the electoral cards is a dumb move as a) you are not moving to the center but rather into the waters of the right; b) you will always come off worse on hot button culture issues unless you leapfrog over the GOP to the far, far right; and c) you will not syphon off moderate upper-middle class Republicans as the GOP will always bend that little bit further to accomodate their pocket books while the Democrats only end up alienating their base. I agree with these ideas and think that the elevation of Dean could offer activists a chance to wrest the wheel away from the cautious and annoying middle lane drivers and take the party back into the realm of social and environmental justice. In short, with effort we could see some grown up policy proposals and a new direction for a new century.

Those cowards and DINOs who claim that a turn to the left would condemn the Democrats to years in the electoral wilderness seem to forget that the goal of politics should not be power for its own sake but rather power for the sake of core principles. Otherwise you'll end up like Bill Clinton, who literally made a human sacrifice to become president, ordering the execution of the mentally retarded Ricky Ray Rector to burnish a "tough on crime" image. How that Southern sociopath sleeps at night I'll never know (maybe it's in My Life: I haven't started it yet although I did note that there are almost as many photos of Socks and Buddy as there are of Hilary).

Writing about the idea of living "as if" (the approach used by Vaclav Havel in communist Czechoslovakia: he decided to live life "as if" totalitarianism had fallen and he lived in a free country) in his book Letters To A Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens offers up defenses against naysayers and triangulators that will hearten and embolden even the most timid of us who want to swim against the tide of received wisdom. He quotes the Cambridge University sage F.M. Conford on the perils of not rocking the boat, and I thought I'd share a few extracts:

There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing...

The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act more justly in the future...a little reflection will make it evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just...

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not do any admittedly right action for fear that you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case which is essentially different but superficially resembles the present one. (This means) every public action that is not customary either is wrong, or if it is right is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Another argument is that "the time is not ripe." The principle of Unripe Time is that people should not do at the present moment what they think right, because the moment at which they think it right has not arrived.

Sort of explains why Kerry bested Dean in Iowa in his role as a safe pair of hands, Bush beat Kerry in November as a "wartime President", and why questions about the direction of our war in Iraq can be silenced with admonitions to "support our troops".

We tried it the triangulators way for 13 years. In that time the Republicans have gone from a form of Reganism lite to red-in-tooth-and claw ideological Gingrichism while the Democrats have gone from the Presidency, Senate, and House to nothing. Perhaps we should heed Conford and realize that the time is now ripe.


Jim said...

I remember those heady days, back in early 2004, when Dean was raising satchels of cash via the internet and Joe Trippi was on every cable talk show.

Then, the DLC decided it was time to "wax" the upstart for the more "electable" John Kerry and before one could say "Bush's brain", the game was over.

I still find it hard to believe that Dean is going to be the DNC chair (something's sure to happen!)

All my life I've lived and breathed politics. I love the machinations of the game--the grassroots work of door-to-door campaigning, getting others to buy in for my candidate. Alternately, I've never been more disgusted by an opposition party than I am with Democrats.

I'm a registered Independent, but I'm not naive enough to think that somehow, a third party's going to make a run and put up a candidate to challenge the major two (one?) parties in '08.

It's the Democrats or theocracy, baby! I feel some hope w/ Dean at the helm, but don't ever underestimate the cold, calculated, cunning of the Clintons.

Sibby said...

Well, it's official!! Dean is the new DNC chair. Yippee!!

weasel said...

I'm of the mind that if the extreme right of the GOP were able to take over the party and make it electable (despite the general centralness of the majority of the population: check out the "State of the Union" section in the January/February Atlantic for stats and evidence from many sources) the progressive left can do the same to the Dems. I dream of a day when Dean is one of the most centerist members of the Democratic Party...

henryabbott said...

Not to mention, not taking stands on isues of importance is flat boring! If we democrats can't have power these days, we ought to at least have something to get excited about. And who knows, perhaps those few, little, hot embers will eventually light some flames in undecided voters?

ecomike said...

Ecomike says:

These are dark Democrat days of war,private pension crises, social security red herring strategies(no one discusses medicare and healthcare), Iraq war, redefining bankcruptcy in favor of the finance sector of large corporations,IMF looting of already impoverished nations, a silent growing "tax" by energy companies on consumers, a definition of citizen as mere customer of government, the relentless dismembering of hard fought environmental policy, and a growing gap between the richest and the rest of America. The last thing the Democratic party and Democrats in Congress should be doing is acting like moderate Republicans. We need to beleive that one cannot "fool all of the people all of the time". The party should advocate and prepare for a "great awakening" and ride the streets, the blogspots, the print media, and the mainstream airwaves shouting, like Paul Revere, "the corporate state is coming, the corporate state is coming!"
If the rumplestilski's of the democratic party don't wake up soon they'll find a true third party "Take the Government Back!" movement rolling down like an eighteen wheeler with no brakes. I hope Dean continues to hold feet to the fire because this is no time for moderation and compromise.
Be "Dean of Democratic Denial Breaking" PLEASE!