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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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Thursday, May 04, 2006


A response to Chris Bowers and Anna

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, May 04, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
Chris Bowers has posted his rationale for why he not only feels that the Online Integrity campaign is superfluous, but also can be construed as a ploy with which to bash the left side of the blogsphere.

In comments to that post, Anna Brosovic also makes some good points about the relatively restricted view of OI on privacy issues, and asks why racism was not included as well.

Since I am one of the original signatory lefties of OI, I'd like to share my thoughts in response to Chris and Anna, both of whom I greatly respect - especially Anna, with whom I blogged alongside for two wonderful years at Dean Nation. I'd like to also appeal to my right-leaning peers to be patient with me, as I intend to unabashedly address these issues from within my lefty perspective, and sincerely mean no insult.


Superfluousness is desirable

Whether OI is superfluous or not is not a theoretical debate - in fact, the question of whether the blogsphere is a civil arena or not greatly affects us all, on both sides of the aisle, but especially on the left. The reason is that lefty blogs are engaged in constant dialouge with the traditional media. Unlike the dominant paradigm on the right, where the media is a left-biased entity to be met with equal and opposing rightward bias, lefty criticism of the media arises from a focus on the essence of journalism. From the left: Journalism is taken to be a fundamental good, and the media's failure is harmful because it is not powerful enough. This is a philosophically different approach than from the right: Journalism is taken to be a fundamental threat, and the media's failure is harmful because it is too powerful.

Ultimately, then, whether we as lefties succeed in our drive to reform the media - by positioning the blogsphere as a counterweight and conscience to the media's "false balance" instincts - we must make allies. We have some already - I would praise Ryan Lizza of The New Republic as an exemplar of a writer who really understands what the blogsphere is about (and especially his insight - often critical, but always fair-minded - during the heady days of the Dean campaign).

And as Josh Marshall pointed out - part of the problem is that the media just isn't used to barbarians at the gate. It's terrifying for them, and they whine about the abuse, but if we are to succeed then that state of perpetual animosity must not stand.

So, is Online Integrity superfluous? Not in the eyes of the outside observers, who can't tell a little green football from a swords-crosser or differentiate between a "diary" and a "front page". What the OI campaign does is put our principles on our sleeve, so that when asked "where are the civilized bloggers?" we can point with somewhat reasonable accuracy and say, "right over there." If enough blogs sign onto this, we attain a kind of critical mass, which is a rising tide to float all our boats.

No, not every signatory is as civilized as we would hope, and no the refusal to sign doesn't exclude you from the circle of civility. In fact, as Armando and Trevino have both explicitly said on numerous occassions, whether a given site actually signs to OI or not is irrelevant as long as they abide by the principles in practice.

To that end I am NOT trying here to persuade Chris to sign onto OI - he has indicated he won't, and has indicated that he abides by similar principles anyway, so really the fundamental purpose has been achieved (prior to the OI campaign there was no explicit declaration of these principles on, after all). I therefore consider myDD a fellow traveler and am satisfied. The point here is to build concensus that these principles are universal and yes, superfluous - but it's not
enough to be implied. We must be explicit about these principles because we receive absolutely zero benefit of the doubt from the media and the public at large about our intentions as bloggers.

A loyalty oath?

Now, what does refusal to sign OI, and refusal to even be explicit about such principles, imply? NOTHING. The OI Campaign is a positive action, in other words it defines a positive space. That is not to say that the space defined by OI is the only such space!

Now, it is true that several blogs - right-leaning ones, all - did seize upon the OI campaign as an excuse for scalp-hunting. This is to be expected. But again, were it not this, then it would be something else, so why let this behavior mar the ideals behind the enterprise as a whole? This kind of behavior should not be rewarded by validating their accusations or lending them the credibility of a response.

It is no coincidence that the very blogs that engage in scalp-hunting with OI are largely the same ones whose user communities have on average the least integrity in the blogsphere.

We cannot allow the agenda to be continually set by the fringe. We must act in unison to define the blogsphere for ourselves. OI is a proactive attempt at this; refusal on the left to sign solely because of what the right says is a reactive posture that ultimately leaves the left without any initiative of its own. Better to ignore the fringe and see just how many of the moderate middle - on right and left - is willing to make common cause here - and embrace those with genuine good intentions.

As an aside, some has asked why blogs that (in the past) have violated the principles of OI remain on the blogrolls of OI signatories. This is a red herring. First, de-linking campaigns are pointless excercises in censorship. Remember when the Kerry campaign tried to de-link The Daily Kos?

The fact remains that the OI campaign is by design non-retroactive. This is because to "cleanse" the blogsphere would be impossible - we all have our skeletons and our pride. To build a true concensus we must start with a fresh, clean slate - and move forward anew. That is why the OI Statement of Principles says explicitly:

Adherence to this statement begins at the moment of endorsement — some of the originators of this statement have not always followed its principles, but we are all committed to doing so now.

Yes, there are blogs that signed to OI and which link to (for example) Michelle Malkin. This is not in any way a double standard nor a violation of the OI Principles. To argue otherwise is reading something into the OI campaign that simply doesn't exist - a deliberate omission.

There is no cause for any blogger to feel that refusal to sign to OI is in any way reflective of their principles and ethics. There is no cause for any blogger to feel that signing to OI is a capitulation to pressure from the right, either - as has been implied by some of the critics (not Chris, nor Anna, for the record). OI is a voluntary statement of intent; it is the definition of a "positive zone" which we the signatories hope will grow. Blogs that refuse to sign, but also uphold the principles, are a welcome penumbra to our zone and are our allies.

Blogs that violate the principles from this day forward, are not our allies, and all signatories are urged to examine their consciences as to what actions to take should a blog on their blogroll violate them (signatory or not).

Racism and further expansions of Integrity online

We cannot and must not stop with privacy issues. In fact the next great frontier is racism; as Josh Trevino wisely observed, the right takes too narrow an interpretation of racism, and the left too broad. But a common definition can be achieved - and that process must begin soon. Anna is right that "Deport Pedro" shirts are capitalizing (literally) on prejudice; so too is Joshua right when he described the attempts by Firedoglake to cast him as a racist against muslims utterly uninformed. There is a middle ground that we can find - one that once defined, I sincerely hope Chris will label as "superfluous" !

To that end, I invite those interested in helping to define the middle ground on racism to join the Online Integrity mailing list. I especially appeal to left-leaning bloggers to participate - after all, racism is supposed to be "our" issue (and I for one favor erring on the side in interpreting racism too broadly than too narrowly). But we must work in good faith to recognize that racism is a thing upon which concensus can and will be found from across the political spectrum if we are to succeed in combating it.


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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.