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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Monday, July 18, 2005

 

the future of American political discourse

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, July 18, 2005 permalink View blog reactions
I was reflecting on my post from last week about how the latest incarnation of this blog, an attempt at forging a "purple politics" identity on the web, had never really taken off. Here's an attempt at a post-mortem.

The problem is that there are very few genuinely purple voices in politics today. Even Dean himself, whose candidacy was as purple as could be, was never able to sell that message to the red aisle - and in so doing let itself be co-opted by the determinedly blue. In other words, Dean never really succeeded in selling the concept of Purple to the Blues. The voice of the Deaniac movement was always the Blue/Progressive one, whereas the actual bulk was ordinary purple folks who just were unable to reclaim the movement from the further left in the eye of the public media. As a result, the large population of Democratic voters who were genuinely receptive to a purple message could not discern what purple there was to be had, and rejected Dean for a more purple-marketed candidate.

I supported Dean for DNC Chair because I think he can rebuild the structure of that party in a way that even he won't be able to really predict - the infrastructural changes will allow the ordinary purple folks to exert their will, and enable a genuine grassroots revival. The Dean campaign offerred much hype about this - "people-powered Howard" after all - but in retrospect, far removed from the energy and wild enthuiastic optimism of the campaign, it's clear that a true revolution of that sort is years in the making. Possibly, the revolution will even be partially stilled should a Democrat win national office. It's a fragile thing, this Dean Nation legacy.

However, as DNC Chair, Dean himself has become compromised by the need to be the Chair for all Democrats - and at present, the Blues still control the discourse on the left. Dean is still an enigma to me, but it is clear that he could not now be President. Had he won, thing smay well have been different - but Dean is done. I recognize the irony of me of all people declarinf Howard Dean's presidential ambitions dead, but there it is. Once he became Blue, the purple mantle was laid aside, and Dean's legacy will have to be be at his own ambitions' expense from here out.

What a purple revolution needs is not to be hitched to a popular figure's wagon. The decentralization of party politics and the purple-ization of political discourse are two neccessary and complementary forces, both of which must operate in tandem. As long as we wait for our knight in shining armor to rescue us, we will fail, even if that knight is named Obama or Clinton.

Here's where things have to go. A return to general principles - an articulation of what our common ground is, in such a way that every American feels a sense of ownership and camraderie to the ideas being put forth. Maybe He is against privatization of Social Security, whereas She is for it; but both should in general be for the right of Americans to grow old with dignity after a lifetime of labor, without fear of financial and social armageddon, as so characterized the experience of aging in this nation before FDR's New Deal. How we get there is one thing, but we should at least agree on first principles. Let us seek those principles.

Shouldn't abortions be rare? Shouldn't entrepeneurs be encouraged to take risks? Shouldn't employees be judged on merit rather than skin color? Shouldn't consenting adults retain privacy over their affairs? Shouldn't sovereignity of the self remain free of external imposition? Shouldn't we have a right to the fruits of our own labors? Shouldn't we be free? Shoudn't all of mankind be free?

These are the questions that we should be asking of each other, across the red-blue divide. Such a dialouge is impossible however, when conducted under the purview of that dated framework. Instead, we have to conduct the debate as neighbors, as friends, as co-workers, as Americans. Leave your party ID at the door and take this colorblind map of the states with you - we need policy, not ideology, to be the driving force of our discussions, for our own benefit and that of future generations.

Why couldn't this blog be the vehicle for such a debate? Partly because out of a sense of history, I have kept the name Dean Nation. That name refers to an idea, the one that drew me to Howard Dean and the one that all Americans would ultimately agree with was worthwhile, given the chance. But with the name comes baggage, and Dean's present role as DNC Chair ensures that he himself can no longer be the focus of a genuinely Purple dialog. Such a dialog has to occur in a blue/red vacuum, a achromatic void which we ourselves fill rather than begging the latest savior to fill it for us. My attempts at recruiting Red voices such as Bird Dog and Adam C only exacerbated the color divide rather than bridged it, as both sides talked past each other. If they talked at all.

The other reason that this blog could not serve as a medium for Purple debate was that it lacked the ability to provide a truly interactive forum. This is a technology issue, one that could be better addressed by a Scoop-style kind of forum. Daily Kos remains the best blog success story of all time, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But DailyKos is hyper-partisan, a raw energy of one-sided ferocity that is as much the antithesis of Purple politics as is the GOP's hierarchical rigidity. There's no give and take, only take. The new TPM Cafe is promising, but still distinctly Blue - Rovegate and Republicans get equal time as abstract policy debates, with the inevitable politicization that accrues.

What is needed is a means of facilitating a community without the partisanship - which requires immense self-control. How do you talk about politics without getting sucked into the gotcha game? I think it is possible. What is needed is a scoop-style site, with an active diarist community and a front-page crew who are committed to maintaining a dialouge at a higher level. Probably, anyone with a membership in a political party would not be suitable for front-page material, as they are compromised by it. It would have to be focused on facts and references, not personalities and agendas. It would need a common set of definitions for terms such as "liberal" and "freedom" and the like, and the comunity would have to be vigilant in self-policing againt the kind of demonization of the Other that occurs so routinely elsewhere.

If such a site could be established, it would mesh well with the emergent grassroots revolution that Dean is fostering. But it would neccessarily be independent as well - and as such would have to be open to participation from politicians on both sides of the aisle. Nay, not just open, but actively recruit. How many regulars at either Dkos or Red State can name a member of the opposing party whom they can genuinely and sincerely praise?

Republicanism is dangerous, and destroying the fabric of our national unity from the edges inward. So too a threat would be Democratism; though right now the emergence of the latter is less a concern. We need a short-circuit of both - to create something new. The future of the political discourse in our nation may well depend on it.


Discussion

Aziz -- Interesting thoughts. One of the things that has become clear to me in the last year, though, is that an organized response to Republicanism is critical right now. It's lovely to say that we shouldn't lapse into Democratism. Frankly, right now, that isn't even an option, especially on the national level.

Partisanship can be a very bad thing, but it is not the foremost threat to our national well-being. I've followed Dean's trajectory, not because I need to represent all Democrats, but because America needs Democrats right now.

 

Matt,

I don't think that the response that you and many other committed Democrats are instrumental in shaping could be called "Democratism." It's partisan, but not the same "-ism" as on the Right.

After all, just today Atrios designated Bill Clinton the Wanker of the Day. That simple fact illustrates to my mind the difference. Principle, not ideology.

You and the other Deaniac alums are doing yeoman's work. But ultimately we need to find a way if integrating rhetoric across the spectrum. This should not and must not supplant the job of rooting out the threat from the powermad-right. I think these can be done simultaneously. I don't advocate that DailyKos be the place for unifying rhetoric; I tried to make Dean Nation be a possible seed for it, but failed. Whats needed is a scoop style blog where the work on reunification can begin, without any slight intended on the ongoing front line war.

Think of it this way. You're taking care of winnig the war. I don't want us to finally win without a plan to win the peace.

 

Aziz: first of all, I disagree strongly with yur assertion that Dean could not now be President. On the contrary, Dean is as party chair reclaiming the mantle of centrism, of standing for ALL Democrats and not just the leftists, that he held when you started this site. I think he's a more viable Presidential candidate now than he was two years ago, and will be an even more viable candidate four years from now.

As to the substance of your post -- I do believe that it is necessary to reach across the divide, but not in the spirit of "Can't we just all get along." The problem with America right now is that there is one group of people with whom we can't get along: the Radical Right. As the years roll on and the James Dobsons and Tom DeLay's of the world continue their dominance over American politics, it is increasingly difficult to remember that ten short years ago Bob Dole and John McCain were considered staunch conservatives and the eminently respectable Barry Goldwater was a wingnut.

Right now, the Republican Party -- the real, old-school Republicans, the loyal opposition we used to know -- has a great deal of soul-searching to do. They must choose to expel the Radical Right from their ranks and return to the respectable conservatism that defined their party from Taft to Goldwater. It is a time not unlike the 1870's, when the Moderate Republicans expelled the Radicals from their midst.

As Democrats, we can help the true Republicans first by winning -- by gaining enough political power that we can actually accomplish something. Then, and ONLY then, we must show that we know the difference between Lincoln Chafee and Bill Frist, between George Voinovich and Rick Santorum. The former must be treated with magnanimity, must be encouraged with dialogue and support to expel the enemy from their midst. The latter must be treated with contempt and hounded out of public life.

So there's my plan to win both the war and the peace: first get elected by any means necessary. Then offer sanctuary to the true Republicans and no quarter to the false ones. But ONLY after we've gotten elected.

 

Jeremy,

You make good points, and I dont see us as diferring in the broad details.

Regarding Dean - fair or not (and as you will note from my own history here on DN, I've railed against the unfairness), Dean is viewed as an extremist. That could be fixable with good PR, but part of the problem is Dean's mouth. He says what he feels, doesn't qualify the statements as well as he should, and then gets systematically misrepresented. "I hate Republicans". I mean, come on! Even his confederate flag comment fell flat. He has the centrism, but not the silver tounge.

If Dean were to run for President, the campaign would be another long string of flubs, which would then have him play defense constantly, and drown the message.

But heres the main reason that Dean can't win. Because he wouldnt open his Vermont records. I read the part in Trippis book about that decision - Dean was more willing to withdraw than to unseal. This is a killer issue.

I am willing to be convinced again, though. I want to believe. How about I start an open thread on this?

As for this comment,

I do believe that it is necessary to reach across the divide, but not in the spirit of "Can't we just all get along." The problem with America right now is that there is one group of people with whom we can't get along: the Radical Right.

I agree completely and utterly without qualifier. But we arent going to get there by tryuing to excite our base only. A GOTV-centric election strategy is a loser strategy and only promotes the thin electoral margins and polarized atmosphere.

If the GOP wont reach oput to its own moderates, we should do so. Thats Dean's Western message in a nutshell - WE, not the GOP, share the values of most of America, not just the 49% who voted for Kerry.

 

Aziz, while I agree that we can't win simply by exciting our base, I'm a little worried that reaching out at this stage might saddle us with Democrats who can't tell the difference between Santorum and Chafee. I think the ideal is someone like Harry Reid -- who can reach out across the divide to the well-meaning conservatives and offer no quarter to the Radical Right. I believe Reid understands this difference; I believe Bob Casey and Jim Langevin and Tony Knowles understand it; I do not believe Ben Nelson or Brad Carson or Lincoln Chafee understand it. So I worry about overtly conservative Democrats or moderate Republicans becoming part of the ruling party and insisting that the lifeline be extended to the Radical Right.

If you can form a genuine cross-partisan organization that rejects the influence of the Radical Right, then more power to you. I actually made a stab at this myself a while back, here. But rejection of the Radical Right must be a requirement of joining -- because if they or even their sympathizers are allowed into the new purple politics, the government will never truly be returned to the people.

Now -- a word about Dean. He's said he's not running in 2008, and I take him at his word. So that means the earliest he could run is SEVEN YEARS from now, and then only if the Dems lose in 2008. During that time, he'll be gathering favors owed to him and the kind of institutional support we only dreamed of in the heady days of Dean Nation. So -- basically what I'm saying is, anything can happen in 8 years. Even Nixon managed to resurrect himself; and I know many people (myself included) would would say Gore has rendered himself electable again, after doing far less rehabilitative work than Dean will have.

In the meantime, check out this site that was inspired directly by your work: Schweitzer for President. Though I don't run the site any more, I built it based on the stuff you did over here. I consider you my blogfather. :)

 

Oh, and on a mildly unrelated note -- do you know how those guys with the DeanforAmerica store got their bumpersticker text not blurry? I have a friend trying to set up a Schweitzer store, and some of the text keeps being blurry. Any ideas about that?

 

Jeremy,

the schweitzer blog is awesome! My advice: spring for a Zonkboard. Dont go for the free version, pay teh fee and get teh pro version, so you can ban trolls and whatnot. The Zonkboard was one of the great undersung reasons for DNs early success.

Is Schweitzer actually running for President though? I started DN in part because Dean had declared his interest in being the President, as a true Dark Horse. Gov Schweitzer seems to be focused on Montana. Has he dropped any clue about further ambitions?

I would be glad to assist with the bumper sticker issue, and would even help advertise on DN for you. Send me an email at apoonawa dash blog at yahoo and we can chat about that in more detail.

 

From Adam C:

I can.

Senator Lieberman. Senator Miller. Senator Breaux. Senator Nelson (NE). Congressman Boren. Congressman Carson. Congressman and Governor Boren.

The Congressmen are all Oklahomans, FWIW.

And if you ever found said scoop-style grassroots site, please let me know. There are many centrist sites that I frequent including Centerfield.

But I must admit that if you want to found a bi or non partisan site for purple politics, it will have to drop the Deanism. Anyone who hates Republicans is not a beacon of bi or non partisan hope. At least Mehlman spends his time reaching out to traditional Democrats (black Americans mainly) and talks about overcoming divisions. You can question the sincerity, but he is putting time, effort, and voice into capturing a super majority of the country to back certain ideas.

If you do work on purpling politics, I hope the Dems you focus on are more like Lieberman than Dean and the Republicans are more like McCain than Mehlman. Both are disliked by their parties because they put partisan loyalty low on their list of priorities.

- Adam C

 

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.