Sunday, February 27, 2005

Like a Car Crash

Today Varifrank pointed me to an interesting dustup between center-left blogger Jeff Jarvis, and far-left blogger Oliver Willis. It's like a car crash. I shouldn't watch, but it's hard to look away.

Here we see Willis attempting to villify Jarvis for not being ideologically pure enough according to Willis (and no doubt many others like him):

It is actually in large part the folks within the Democratic Party who think like Jeff who lost the last election for us. The weakest points for the Democratic Party have been their moments when they have shunned what it is to be a Democrat (intelligent answers to complex dilemmas, common sense over corporate cronyism, justice over calculated acts of violence) in order to be "just like the Republicans" (ie. voting for the Bush tax cuts or the war in Iraq).
The weirdest thing about this sort of thing is that I've seen it once before... only from the right. I was a regular at Free Republic during the leadup to the 2000 election, and I admit now that I was on the wrong side much of the time. The wisdom of experience.

I backed Alan Keyes' ideologically pure vision (stop the snickering. I was younger, pro-life was my number one issue, he is an electrifying speaker on that topic, and he wasn't quite so weird yet) and opposed Bush's more moderate appeal. I had a hard choice to make when Keyes not only was out of the race, but clearly wasn't going to carry much influence at all in the party.

I argued and debated and read. But eventually came to see reason. I backed Bush despite the fact that we didn't 100% agree on every issue (partially thanks to this guy, though he may not remember our exchanges at the time). Since then I have come to learn that this is the essence of the American political system - compromise and coalition building. And it happens within parties far more often than between them.

This is why the Jeff Jarvis' of the world so interest me (though my interest and respect taints those of his ilk within their own party - blame Heisenberg). Jarvis is simply trying to understand the electorate and allow his party to build a winning coalition. It's not exactly a new idea.

But unlike among the Republicans in the 90's, the radicals have won control of the party. It's not that there aren't sane and intelligent voices who belong to the Democratic Party and would vote against my candidate. That's a given. It's how marginalized this element of the party has become.

Jarvis calls it the "politics of immaturity":

They operate on schoolyard rules:
: 'If I don't like your game, I'll take my ball and go home.' (See 'one-man circle jerk.' Clever product placement here.)
Or to promote them a few years, they operate on junior-high clique rules:
: 'If you talk to them then you can't be my friend.'
It's all about trying to create an exclusive club. It's all about exclusion.

They measure people on whether they (a) agree totally with them and (b) attack the other side with the same vitriol as they do and (c) dare to ever think of criticizing our side.

This is the politics of immaturity.

And I've seen this all before. It certainly does exist on the right. It's just marginalized.

Hugh Hewitt is convinced that this is a good thing. He believes only a true demolition can shake up the left into regaining some sense about the electorate and the country, and they have yet to experience that.

Me? I'm not so sure. The lack of a serious opposition is giving Republican elected officials a free hand to ignore the interests of their own base - where else can we go? From drilling in ANWAR, to Bush's prescription drug benefit for seniors, to the skyrocketing federal budget, to border and immigration control, there are plenty of things the Republican base has to complain about. But whom do we complain to? There is no credible opposition proposing anything better.

But since the current "center" of the Democratic Party sees the current administration as extreme right-wing as they can possibly conceive, they're not likely to even be capable of intellectually honest inquiry, let alone effective electoral strategizing.

This is the element the Willis/Kos/Atrios contingent of the Dems just totally can't see. Must be frustrating to be a Jeff Jarvis in that party these days.

The question is whether the party purges itself of centrists like Jarvis the way they did pro-lifers, or whether they can find a way to reconcile the ideologues with the pragmatists. My current assessment leans toward the former.


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