Go to previous post:
While we’re being tyrannical, nanny-state liberals.

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
And while we’re in the business

Our Admirable Sponsors

May 2, 2005

The business they’re in. Kevin Drum is uncharacteristically snarky to a commenter who said uncomplimentary things about his decision to feature Dan “I’ll be defending the Bush administration’s grand strategy” Drezner on the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog. But honestly, it’s hard to see why.

I personally read widely outside of blogs and periodicals whose “line” I agree with. I’m currently a subscriber to the print edition of the Financial Times, for instance. But a large part of the energy of the left side of blogdom is indeed tribal and intolerant of heterodoxy, and that’s a good thing. A lot of left-of-center Americans who don’t happen to have nice insider gigs working for liberal magazines have spent a bunch of years recently feeling pissed on from a great height, and the recent explosion of impassioned, aggressive, and proud progressive blogs has given them back the confidence they need to mix it up with their dittohead uncles and neighbors and co-workers. As many have observed, it isn’t what Rush Limbaugh thinks that matters; it’s the way that Rush Limbaugh emboldens millions of people to be louder and more forceful in their hard-assed rightwingery than they would otherwise feel confident in being. Likewise, Atrios and Kos and Digby and, yeah, Kevin Drum are reloaded daily by hundreds of thousands of people who go to them to be braced with sharp, smart progressive talking points, not for a nice broad-minded seminar with defenders of the bad guys.

It’s Kevin’s blog, and the Washington Monthly’s, and they can certainly do what they want with it. There is, in fact, room for courteous argument with political opponents. But bloggers like Kevin (and Matt, and Josh Marshall, and other insiders, whether geographically “inside the beltway” or not) should perhaps be a little less quick to roll their eyes when their hardcore readers are honked off over courtesy being extended to the opposition. The modern American right wing got where it is today by ruthlessly extending no such courtesies. (Find me the right-wing magazine or web site that gives a platform to lefties as frequently as Salon does the reverse.) Most to the point, Kevin and Matt and Josh and their ilk aren’t famous because their hundreds of thousands of readers want to read them sipping tea with Dan Drezner. They’re famous because their hundreds of thousands of readers come to them for red meat. American progressivism has needed that kind of thing for decades. Of course the readers get angry when they find polite dialogue with Bush-defending bloggers instead. Do what you want, but for cry eye, don’t bullshit yourself about the nature of the business you’re in, or of the product you’re doing a land-office business dispensing. [03:04 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on The business they're in.:

Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 04:55 PM:

A blog that has Amy Sullivan as a regular contributor will not be harmed by Dan Drezner. Especially as his posting ties in nicely with the articles in the current issue of the magazine.

The WaMo blog is not Calpundit.

Henry Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 05:26 PM:

Let me register a strong dissent (nb that Dan's both a collaborator and a friend of mine, so I'm not unbiased). Seems to me that you have three beefs here.

(1)That Dan is a cardcarrying Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and Bush apologist. Wrong. He's pretty unique among the prominent right wing bloggers in that he argued himself around to voting for Kerry. And made it public. He's not, under any reasonable definition of the term, a right wing hack. He's susceptible to changing his mind. You may not agree with him - but he emphatically doesn't see his job as a blogger as playing defense for the Republican party administration). He's not on the other side in the sense that you say he is.

(2) That Kevin Drum should be devoting himself to the business of providing raw partisan beef to his readers. That isn't, and shouldn't be the only function of left wing blogs. Gung-ho partisan cheerleading has its place - but to claim that popular left wing blogs need to humbly beg pardon from their readers when they don't is pretty indefensible. Yeah, the fact that we argue and listen to some of the people on the other side is a political weakness; but it's what makes the left worthwhile in the first place. And "Dr. Maturin" was talking smack. Dan Drezner isn't remotely comparable to Reynolds or LGF.

(3) That there's an unhealthy clubbiness among "big bloggers" who sometimes act like they have more in common with each other than with their readers or smaller bloggers. Here, I think you have a point. But Kevin isn't an offender. He hasn't used his blog to try and launch himself into the world of talking head punditry, and he hasn't been afraid to pull his punches with excrescences like Glenn Reynolds.

Grant ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 07:00 PM:

Henry, you... you academic, you. I failed to see any knock against Dan (who is everything you say he is) or championing of demogoguery in Patrick's post.

The point is that the vast majority of the liberal blogging audience - including Kevin's (and CT's for that matter; look at your comment section) - read blogs because they're righteously pissed off. They don't feel their disgust with all that's transpired in the last few years is being represented in the media or by the Democratic Party.

Kevin seems to think that his niche is being the Voice of Reason and can therefore tell the choleric hoi polloi to talk to the hand. That's fine, but it just ain't true. There's no shortage of outlets outside the blogosphere serving up "fairness and balance."

One doesn't have be a butcher to provide red meat to the readers. I think Josh Marshall has begun to grasp this point, mixing in some healthy indignation and calls to action with his insights. I even noticed some populist rhetoric flowing from his New Democrat guest bloggers.

Anyway, I think what Patrick is driving at is that one can't simply dismiss righteous partisan anger just because it's expression offends one's sensibilities. People may often make asses of themselves in their outbursts, but their anger is genuine and justified. A smart writer will not only acknowlege that passion, but harness it - especially in an interactive medium like blogging.

Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 07:13 PM:

I find Kevin Drum at his least useful when he's doing his practiced bend-over-backward-to-see-it-their-way dance. It's not really his strength, and I don't wind up feeling informed or enlivened by the exercise.

Kevin Drum ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 07:42 PM:

I've been writing the same kind of stuff for nearly three years now. I'm a moderate, analytical liberal with a moderate, analytical temperament. It's just what I am, and most of my readers read my stuff because they like that. There's a tiny percentage of wild eyed commenters who go apeshit whenever I go 5% off the liberal reservation ó like inviting an extremely moderate conservative to guest blog for four days ó but there's nothing forcing them to read my site if it's too much for their blood pressure. I'm not Atrios or Kos, and that's never been my goal.

Besides, Patrick, I can't imagine that anyone comes to my blog because they want a diet of 100% red meat. If they are, they're mighty dim, since I haven't been providing that in the entire time I've been blogging.

I for one would be pretty unhappy if the political blogosphere becomes the print version of talk radio, although that's the direction it's unfortunately heading. There's room for all kinds of blogs, and we'd be collectively foolish not to take advantage of that.

bob mcmanus ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 07:59 PM:

"People may often make asses of themselves in their outbursts, but their anger is genuine and justified."

Hi! Hoi polloi here, with known history of venting. Felt an urge to comment, for Henry & I have a history. He came close to banning me from CT for intemperate remarks. Also was quite pleased by PNH's post.

Dr Maturin was indeed mistaken, I read Drezner & like Drezner, and Drezner is no wingnut. But the wingnuts are unreachable. Henry and I suppose Kevin perhaps believe the moderates like Drezner are best approached with calm, friendly, well-reasoned argument. I, and maybe DeLong believe the fence-sitters and "adult Republicans" need a well-aimed series of swift kicks.

Look, I feel for Henry and his desire to avoid hating. I am a hater, and it hurts to hate. I feel much guilt for hating. But they outsource torture and want to steal granny's retirement fund. They need some hating.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 08:07 PM:

The link to the "uncomplimentary things" comment needs to be fixed. Try here. Actually, I think it's even snarkier than Kevin's response. I can't argue with Kevin on that one.

As a "be pissed off, be very pissed off" liberal, I admit that I do enjoy the pundits of left-blogistan serving up red meat (preferably rubbed with garlic and herbs and roasted over a hot fire, and served with a big zin from Paso Robles). However, there's more to it. The more I find out about what's really going on, I feel more pissed off, but less inclined to blame myself, and more able to do something about it.

I'm willing to put up with a fair amount of crap if it might help us reverse the Republican takeover of my country. That even includes reading opinions by reasonable people who are part of the problem. We're going to have to deal with them one way or another.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 08:37 PM:

Henry Farrell attributes to me several views which, as far as I can tell, he pulled out of his ass. Among other things, Henry says I think that:

(1) "Kevin Drum should be devoting himself to the business of providing raw partisan beef to his readers." No, I asserted that the success of Kevin Drum's business rests on that whether he intends it to or not. And that, this being the case, he should hardly be surprised when his readers get ticked when he changes the product.

(2) "Popular left wing blogs need to humbly beg pardon from their readers" when they don't engage in "gung-ho partisan cheerleading". Yeah, I said that, right after the part where I claimed that ancient astronauts built the pyramids. This is the guy who accuses someone else of "talking smack"?

As I wrote to Henry when I thought we were having a personal email exchange, unaware that he was posting the same stuff to my comment section only with extra added bonus misrepresentations: Personally, I read Drezner sometimes and don't bear him any great ill-will. And I really meant it when I said it's Kevin's blog and he's free to put whatever he wants into it. (In fact I'm very likely to read whatever guests he brings in.) The point I'm trying to make, however, is about what I see as the reality of the progressive-blog business, looked at like any other kind of publishing business. I am not saying that any lefty blogger, successful or not, should avoid heterodoxy. I'm saying that there are reasons many of the readers who boost the traffic of top lefty blogs into the stratosphere get mad when the great and the good of lefty blogdom start looking too clubby with pro-Bush, pro-war types. Henry articulates some of those reasons--sheer human annoyance at any obviously self-regarding elite. But that wasn't central to what I was getting at. The really ravenous appetite among left-identified Americans out there, outside the media and publishing and academia and Washington, D.C., is for words that make them feel more proud and less crushed. That's why liberal blogs have exploded in popularity, and that's why people get so particularly pissed off when they get a Dan Drezner in the mix. I'm trying to say, the reasons for this aren't just because some people are intolerant yahoos. Of course some people are. But a lot of people are simply bruised, because they've been beaten. (Bob McManus's comment above speaks to this: "Look, I feel for Henry and his desire to avoid hating. I am a hater, and it hurts to hate. I feel much guilt for hating. But they outsource torture and want to steal granny's retirement fund. They need some hating." Dead right.)

I like Kevin; I've liked his blogging from the early days of Calpundit. The gist of my post wasn't that Kevin should change his style; it was to express my own view of why non-insiders read the popular left-leaning weblogs, and to opine that it's hardly surprising, given the specific emotional dynamics of recent American political history, that lots of readers of even a blog so (as Kevin himself points out) known for a more analytic tone as Kevin's should get bent out of shape when suddenly someone is guest-posting who starts by explaining that he'll be defending the Bush administration. You can dismiss the bent-out-of-shape people as toads, and you can tell yourself that the fact that you're being attacked from the right and the left means you must be right, but both of those approaches are long on attitude and short on analysis. In fact there are specific recent historical reasons that these readers have become emotional, touchy, and easily pissed off. My point is and has been that these are the same forces by which lefty blogging has become the semi-big deal it is.

I might be right and I might be wrong about this but it makes me a touch impatient to feel forced, by a reader as sharp as Henry Farrell normally is, to have to spend energy clearing away the underbrush of arguments I didn't make and attitudes I never copped.

Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 09:36 PM:

Patrick - what you wanted to say may have seemed crystal clear to you, but it doesn't come across in the post. When you start talking about " left-of-center Americans who donít happen to have nice insider gigs working for liberal magazines" and pointing to the ruthlessness of the "modern American right wing" as an example to emulate, you're not giving business advice; or if you are, you're giving the wrong impression. You're doing a remarkably convincing impression of telling Kevin what he should be doing to help build up the American left wing. And bluntly, I think it's completely the wrong advice. The job of the Washington Monthly isn't to keep tens of thousands of left wing blog readers happy; it's to change policy debates. Different job than Kos or Atrios - as Kevin says, he doesn't blog every day in order to get people's outrage up, and never has. He blogs to influence people. Getting people's dander up yeah; it's important. But they also serve who speak in reasoned tones. They've got a better chance of persuading those who haven't already been persuaded. If you really want to understand how the right has won so many victories in the last couple of decades, Rush Limbaugh and his kind are only a part of the story. It's people in the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation who have succeeded in changing the broader policy debate through speaking in the tones of sweet reason. The target audience of the Washington Monthly isn't Kevin's commenters - it's the same audience as the AEI etc. Policy wonks, journalists and decision makers in Washington. Raw partisan meat and easy gotchas isn't going to work for that audience.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 10:00 PM:

Henry Farrell points out in email that he did indeed preface his private remarks by saying he would probably recast them as comments. I missed that. My apologies.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 10:26 PM:

That said, if Henry wants to play the game of teasing unspoken meanings out of the spaces between my words, I would suggest that the same kind of loose reading applied to his comment above would yield some less-than-lovely sentiments. If we want to trade in "impressions," well, my "impression" is that Henry has come down from his tower on high to set straight us mud-spattered hoi polloi with our "raw partisan meat and easy gotchas" about what's what and whose opinion actually matters. Unfair? You bet. But the nice thing about "impressions" is that you don't have to back them up with what the other guy actually said. My tendentious "impression" that Henry is being a condescending insider is every bit as justified by the evidence as Henry's claim that I think "popular left wing blogs need to humbly beg pardon from their readers" when they depart from orthodox "gung-ho partisan cheerleading." Which is to say, hardly at all, except by really crappy standards of what constitutes a reasonable "impression."

Yeah, I really am ticked off at this point. My initial post wasn't perfectly written, but I have put a great deal of energy into trying to show that I'm not saying Kevin Drum should change his weblog, I'm trying to talk about the emotional dynamics of the mainstream of lefty blog readers, and the reasons there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of lefty blog readers. This doesn't appear to have been lost on plenty of other commenters here. I am frankly baffled (and, honestly, a bit hurt) that Henry, a blogger I particularly admire and whose company I'm pleased to have enjoyed on more than one occasion, should be truculently insisting on such an ungenerous reading of what I'm trying to say.

What kind of fucking tribune of liberal orthodoxy is it who counts among his favorite webloggers Jim Henley? Give me a break!

julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 10:29 PM:

one of the things I value about dissent from the left is how (unlike dispassionate reason) it's been uncommonly effective at moving Mr. Drum to the left, to the point where (accommodationist "moderation" being seen as the shuck that it is, in the current environment) he's giving himself the label "liberal" - something he strenuously avoided when it was more popular to avoid it.

That the Political Animal readers are less-than-tolerant of opposing viewpoints is unfortunate, but just as you're unlikely to find vegetarians in McDonalds, you're likely to find A Certain Mode of Engagement from the community in a blog which raced to throw Markos over the side so it could get back to a nice cozy debate with Professor Reynolds.

karma, neh?

Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 10:34 PM:

And while we're on the subject of apologies, my crack that "to claim that popular left wing blogs need to humbly beg pardon from their readers when they don't is pretty indefensible." comes across about fifty times snottier than I intended, and is flat out wrong to boot. The reader should be aware that this isn't one of those phony 'agree in private emails to an exchange of apologies' agreements - it's a flat out admission on my part of having seriously misstated Patrick's position on this.

Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 10:54 PM:

After having posted the last, I've just seen Patrick's follow up. I don't want to get into a row - Patrick's someone who I admire in more ways than I can say - but I do want to state my position. I'm not wanting to come off like I'm coming down to correct the hoi polloi. First (as Grant very fairly gives me grief for), I'm an academic. This means certain things. If I'm to take it seriously, it means that I'm committed to argument above everything else, and to taking very seriously the position of people who have radically different political goals than I have. It's pretty different from political activism, and when I blog, it's a sometimes uneasy mixture of the two. But I can't be as wholeheartedly committed to the fight as I would be if I were a straightforward political activist. Take that as a statement of my limitations. Second, of course I acknowledge a vital role for Kos or Atrios type activism. Not what I do - and I sometimes have problems with the specifics of what they do and say - but it's absolutely a necessary part of politics. But; and this is the third part; it's not the only part. The kind of stuff which Kevin does is as important as what Kos does - and in contrast to Kos, he can't do it if he cleaves too closely to his commenters. His commenters are not who his audience should be. There's a real value to a more reasoned, more tempered, more argued approach that would be completely lost if he listened too closely to what his commenters are saying. And the kind of thing he does is just as vital as what Kos does. The recent fight against the gutting of Social Security is a good example. The kinds of directly partisan cheerleading and targetting of weak spots that Atrios and (in a different way) Josh Marshall did were key, but so too were the more reasoned, detailed arguments of people like Kevin, Matt Yglesias and Brad DeLong. They helped move the journalists away from the "social security is doomed" shtick and sway debate.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 11:13 PM:

I don't disagree with a single word of that.

Okay, wait, I do--I think there's a bit of a false opposition being drawn between (for instance) Atrios and a "more reasoned approach". How frequently is Atrios "unreasoned"? In fact the guy is smarter than a truckload of standard bears, and while he's often blunt he's rarely wrong. Certainly by any standard of "reasoned approach" worthy of grown-ups, Atrios is 5,271,009 times more "reasoned" than 90% of the punditocracy.

Quibble done, I appreciate Henry's remarks big time. I personally never meant to be dissing the wonkosphere. Blogs like Yglesias and Josh Marshall and The Decembrist and Brad Plumer make up a big part of my daily reading, and I even (shh!) read the DLC's Ed Kilgore. All I've been trying to zero in on is the fact that anger and passion and incredulity--emotion, not analytic remove--have been the primary forces building the lefty blogosphere. Most of us don't live inside the academy or the Beltway. For most of us, the stakes are literally more than academic; it's about whether the rest of of our lives will be miserable or not.

In that context, it's hardly surprising that the appearance of a Dan Drezner on a popular liberal weblog should result in some unkind remarks. It would be astonishing if it didn't.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2005, 11:46 PM:

Personally, I read Patrick's opening remarks the way he seems to have intended them, and not the way Henry seems to have read them.

And I think the point is valid. It is a good thing to have some cross talk, and it is also a good thing for left-wing readers to not accept what they don't want to accept. It is a bad thing to expect us to always be nice and understanding when the other side will never ever be nice and understanding.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 07:27 AM:

It is a bad thing to expect us to always be nice and understanding when the other side will never ever be nice and understanding.

And that's just it, Lucy... many of us are extremely sensitive to the whole "liberals must always take pains to avoid the uneeemly appearance of excessive passion or disagreement" argument, because it's one of the pillars of wingnut attempts to control the discourse.

You can see it on a recurring basis everywhere from Instadipshit to Little Green Footballs; from Powerline to whichever crew of reanimated cadavers is guesting at NRO in any given week. The faux more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger posts about how they'd just love to talk to "reasonable" and "respectful" liberals, but gosh darn if there just aren't any to be found!

As far as they're concerned, disagreement itself is disrespect; failure to take their wildly shifting talking points at absolute face value is degeneracy. They don't actually give a rat's ass about genuinely "reasonable" dialogue; they just want to use our own vestigial sense of fair play to convince us that it's very rude to yelp while they're trying to knock us down in the dirt and pee on our faces.


Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 10:34 AM:

Patrick, what I mean by "reasoned approach" here (maybe the wrong word) is something that can win over someone who's sitting on the fence, rather than reinforcing the priors of someone who's already on-side. I don't doubt for one moment that Duncan Black is incredibly smart, but he doesn't see himself, I don't think, as being in the business of reasoned persuasion of those who aren't already persuaded. On those occasions when he does set out more detailed arguments (as he has done in fairness several times in the Social Security debate), he does a fantastic job. But it's not the bread-and-butter of his blogging.

Scott, I think you're setting up another misleading dichotomy here. I don't know that anyone's been arguing for the position that "liberals must always take pains to avoid the uneeemly appearance of excessive passion or disagreement." Certainly I haven't. Nor has Kevin. Neither of us have been shy to hide our disgust at, say, Glenn Reynolds' behavior over Ward Churchill, or at Powerline, or at where the general policies of the Republican party are leading us. I'm also completely at sea as to how Kevin's decision to invite Dan to guest-blog might possibly be considered a concession to the "they" that you are talking about (or is it?). Has Dan ever ranted or complained about the lack of "reasonable liberals?" No - he's argued with them sometimes, sometimes agreed with them. He's also voted for Kerry.

I think that this particular argument is sort-of-somehow connected to a more general argument about the extent to which winning politically involves not only ministering to your own supporters, but also building coalitions with people who aren't a natural part of your constituency. The latter may feel uncomfortable - but it's a necessary part of politics. The European Social Democratic parties kept on getting hammered in the polls in the first part of this century until they figured out that the working class was never going to give them a majority vote, and they had to create alliances with the middle class. I think that there's a similar level of discomfort here - but it's something that we have to work on. I'm not sure where we should be building those alliances, but arguing with, and engaging with, people who aren't quite on our side, but aren't implacably opposed to us, is a crucial part of figuring that out.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 12:35 PM:

"I think that this particular argument is sort-of-somehow connected to a more general argument about the extent to which winning politically involves not only ministering to your own supporters, but also building coalitions with people who aren't a natural part of your constituency. The latter may feel uncomfortable--but it's a necessary part of politics."

Of course, this kind of observation was the meat and drink of Electrolite for years. It says something that, while I still agree, I'm at this point far less big on the point, because a large part of me feels like we're no longer in normal political times. Sure, we can s-t-r-e-t-c-h for the last few extra crumbs of support, the last couple of Dan Drezners or Lincoln Chafees, and no doubt we should. But you know, the other side? They'll just cheat again, and win again. And the media will pretend it didn't happen again.

I believe in politics. I began Electrolite with several points I wanted to harp on, and one of them is that politics isn't about achieving the perfect, it's about coming up with solutions that the largest number of people can more or less live with. Far from being "necessary evils," in my view compromise and coalition are glories of civilization.

But I guess, deep down, I no longer believe we're engaged in a civilization. We're fighting people who have no intention of respecting the rules. They won't stop until they're afraid of us. So while I agree that it's important to "reach out" to the supposed reasonable center, I don't really think there's all that much there any more, and my heart's not in it. Maybe this is causing me to have a morally distorted view of certain interpersonal reactions in blogdom. And maybe I'm just being an asshole because I'm tired. I can be pretty good at giving eloquent advice; not so good, all the time, at taking it.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 01:09 PM:

Scott, I think you're setting up another misleading dichotomy here.

I wasn't setting up any sort of dichotomy at all, Henry. My post was just a "heck yeah" to Lucy's last point and a corollary to Patrick's observation that there's a big, vigorous audience of American liberals who read liberal blogs for what he termed the "red meat" of loud, proud, unapologetic liberal discourse.

My point was that there are reasons for this that go well beyond the pleasant feeling of reading opinions that are congruent with our own. It ties in to what Patrick just said-- we're not really up against the people who are inclined to civility and compromise, here. We're up against a network of intolerant, privilege-hoarding wannabe fascist wingnuts who've made a standard practice of shaming their opponents into muzzling themselves with pleas to codes of behavior that the wingnuts themselves do not follow. Because of this, some of us cherish progressive blogs that refuse to preface every opinion and analysis with a hand-wringing apology to the forces of darkness for daring to disagree with them. No more, no less.

I don't know that anyone's been arguing for the position that "liberals must always take pains to avoid the uneeemly appearance of excessive passion or disagreement." Certainly I haven't. Nor has Kevin.

I didn't say that either of you had, did I? To misquote Frank Herbert, I displayed a general garment; there's no need for you to worry that it was cut to your fit, or to Kevin's. Take it easy, man. I sense that you mean very well, but I think you're backing dumptrucks full of dirt up to several conversational molehills here.

Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 01:21 PM:

Yeah, OK, I can see where that's coming from. I'm a little more optimistic than that, but only a little. When I say that I don't know where we should be building alliances, I mean it - I just don't know where and how. None of the options on the table now look appetizing to me - compromise with libertarians (but this would involve gutting commitments that are fundamental to the left as I see it)? Get into bed with religious conservatives? (there's more in common with them than one might think - but again, it's deeply problematic). I guess the only way that we're going to win is by changing the public argument back to one which we can win - but how to do that, I don't know. I've been reading Rick Perlstein's "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus" the last few weeks, which makes a good start at telling us how they did it to us. But only after they spent their forty years in the wilderness.

Returning to the original topic, here's a simpler and more straightforward defence of Kevin's response - "Dr. Maturin" was acting like an asshole. I copy (with PNH's permission and encouragement), an extract from an email that I sent him below.

My personal reaction was that "Dr. Maturin" was behaving like a complete asshole. He effectively accused Kevin of being a sellout, before saying that he was going to delink him (modern equivalent of scratching someone's name out of the family bible). On a purely personal level, I'd have probably responded in more or less the same way as Kevin did - except that I would have been considerably ruder. As you say, it's neither extraordinary or unexceptionable that people are looking for validation or reinforcement; but if this makes them act like jerks, they act like jerks. They don't deserve any more respect than Kevin gave.
Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 01:24 PM:

Last comment was referring back to PNH's most recent, in case that isn't clear.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 01:36 PM:

As I said back to Henry, I certainly don't blame Kevin for running out of patience. I started this thread by saying I didn't think it's surprising that some of Kevin's readers should be honked off; conversely, though, I don't think it's outrageous that Kevin was curt. I myself have been certainly been rude to jerks of both the right-wing variety and of the lefter-than-thou variety. Indeed, the individual whose behavior prompted the whole "disemvoweling" schtick was a pushily insulting left-winger.

(For that matter, I've also been one or more variety of jerk on other people's boards. I am all sympathy with the wonderful varieties of humankind, when I'm not busy hating everybody.)

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 01:38 PM:

He effectively accused Kevin of being a sellout, before saying that he was going to delink him (modern equivalent of scratching someone's name out of the family bible).

Eh, I wouldn't go that far. I'd say it's just another medal-winning effort in the 50-Meter Self-Important Hissy-Fit. And the guy was a jerk, no argument there.

ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 01:55 PM:

But I guess, deep down, I no longer believe we're engaged in a civilization. We're fighting people who have no intention of respecting the rules. They won't stop until they're afraid of us. So while I agree that it's important to "reach out" to the supposed reasonable center, I don't really think there's all that much there any more, and my heart's not in it.

Yes. I used to believe that serious people wearing gray suits on both sides sat down and thought carefully about issues like tax levels, whether it's best to stimulate the economy this way or that way. I didn't always agree with the other side, but I believed they came from a place of basic belief in the system.

Now I think they want to break it, and take all the good of our state, and leave nothing for the rest of us but broken glass.

I'm a pretty good example of Patrick's mentioned market; I want actions to take and support and good feeling from my lefty blogs. I want fireside chats and heroism and hope and snark and even black humor. The last thing I want is someone to try and use argument (especially the sort constructed a la debates where you can't use ethics or morality or even anecdotal observation and must rely on rules of logic) in the face of what I find are increasingly painful truths--my mom's future is in jeopardy, her friend L will lose her life saving meds, the neighbors kids are at greater risk--and so on. Especially if they are (or appear to be) removed.

Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 02:00 PM:
For that matter, I've also been one or more variety of jerk on other people's boards.

As have we all. As have we all.

OK Scott, but given the start of your comment, "And that's just it, Lucy...many of us are extremely sensitive to the whole "liberals must always take pains to avoid the uneeemly appearance of excessive passion or disagreement" argument, because it's one of the pillars of wingnut attempts to control the discourse," I don't think it was unreasonable to assume that you were saying that someone, somewhere in the current debate (or connected to that debate) was making this argument. Of course I'll happily accept that this isn't what you were trying to say, and that I was just being oversensitive - but I don't think that I was coming completely from outer space.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 02:54 PM:

Henry, I was typing it in Lucy's general direction, in agreement with her sentiment. It was also there, as previously mentioned, by way of offering just one reason why someone might enjoy "loud, proud, unapologetic liberal discourse," to repeat myself again.

If it had been aimed at someone else specifically, I would've stuck their name on it. I'm pretty far from perfect and occasionally wide of helpful, but when I want to tsk-tsk someone present in the conversation, I do know how to use nouns.

Rest easy, man.

robert west ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 03:12 PM:

I don't think this should be taken too far, but I find it subtly ironic that in another post you are complaining about the "increasingly corroded civic culture" and that, in this post, you say that "a large part of the energy of the left side of blogdrom is tribal and intolerant of heterodoxy, and that's a good thing."

In my experience, it is the tribalism and intolerance of heterodoxy among liberals and conservatives both which is the driving force behind the corrosion of our civic culture. Once we're at the point where dissent is intolerable and discussion with dissenters is considered unreasonable, then it isn't a great leap to dissent being treasonous.

I can certainly understand and even agree (to a certain extent) with the argument which says that, for liberal ideas to prevail, we have to adopt the same unpleasant tactics that the conservatives have used. But I'm struggling with that, because those tactics are what's responsible for the corrosion of our political culture; and i'm very afraid that they represent an arms race whose "innovations" cannot later be disavowed.

LizardBreath ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 05:30 PM:

OK Scott, but given the start of your comment, "And that's just it, Lucy...many of us are extremely sensitive to the whole "liberals must always take pains to avoid the uneeemly appearance of excessive passion or disagreement" argument, because it's one of the pillars of wingnut attempts to control the discourse," I don't think it was unreasonable to assume that you were saying that someone, somewhere in the current debate (or connected to that debate) was making this argument.

I assumed that this was directed at Drum. I think his blog is great, and read him regularly, and completely subscribe to the arguments made above about the need to engage with the persuadable middle, if we can figure out who they are. However, if Drum has a flaw (a small one compared to the overall merit of his blog) it's that he does seem to slip into a willingness to accept any superficially polite engagement from the right as worthy of substantive consideration, even when it's pretty much crap, and that he has on occasion shown a similar overreadiness to disassociate himself from people on the left he regards as too extreme. I couldn't give you examples offhand, but I think of Drum as someone whose actual positions are pretty solidly liberal, but who has a strong emotional investment in being a centrist who can work with both sides, one that sometimes affects his substantive positioning.

I don't think bringing Drezner in as a guest-blogger to be politely engaged with, would have bothered the WM commentators all that much if Drum had highlighted his own position on the issues where Drezner was going to speak, and his expected disagreement with Drezner's positions. I think what annoyed them was the perception that Drum was disassociating himself from his audience in the following manner: This is a blog for polite centrists who think seriously about the issues -- all you partisan liberals in the comments section are simply childish.

This sounds much more negative toward Drum than it should -- it's hard to describe subtle things without making them sound more important than they are.

Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 10:49 PM:

Find me the right-wing magazine or web site that gives a platform to lefties as frequently as Salon does the reverse.)

Well, for what it's worth, three of the Volokh Conspirators are Stuart Benjamin, Russell Korobkin, and David Post, all moderate/liberals. None of them happen to post very often, but that's apparently by their own choice. At any rate, Eugene Volokh let them be permanent members of his blog. Not quite the same sort of thing as Salon, but quite similar to Kevin Drum's actions (that is, if he had let Drezner have a permanent home at Washington Monthly.)

corpuscle ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 11:38 PM:

I guess the remark by Kevin that kicked this whole thing off goes like this:

Dr_Maturin: Don't let the door hit you on the way out!

Now, I don't have the slightest problem with Kevin characterizing himself as "a moderate, analytical liberal with a moderate, analytical temperament." After all, that's what he is. Like me, many others of his readers will have noticed that he kept himself from advising the fellow to not let the door hit him on the ass on the way out.

But come on, Kevin, you have to admit it. It was a snarky thing to say. One might even say immoderate. Nothing to be ashamed of under the circumstances. The guy who prompted your advice had (mildly) stormed out of the place.

Still. Your readers will respect you all the more for saying it's so. A guy's got to speak truth to power, after all. Especially if it means speaking it to himself.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 11:47 PM:

Robin, did you notice that when Patrick used the phrase "increasingly corroded civic culture" he was talking about the use of intimidation by federal agents as a form of petty harassment? Not just spouting off in blog comments?

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 01:27 AM:

I'm deeply disturbed by the polarization of civic discourse into Us vs. Them, as a kind of Western Front with opposing sides dug into metaphorical trenches separated by a ruined no-man's land between them. I am sometimes puzzled by the people who think that the Left is by nature respectful and polite. Have they never heard of Stalin?

I know about the abuse of false equivalence. People on my side of the divide aren't fighting pointless and brutal wars on the other side of the world, nor are they persecuting diversity and difference at home. At the same time, when I look at the comments at the Daily Kos, Eschaton, Political Animal, and, yes, here, I often see the same viciousness and hatred that I see when I can stand to look at Free Republic.

I must oppose the cabal that now controls the American government. But whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process they do not become monsters themselves. I see in the acceptance of the energy that moves us to be more tribal and more intolerant of heterodoxy a tendency towards monstrosity. Shall there be two cities of Little Green Footballs, grinning at each other across a dead land filled with rottenness?

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 02:18 AM:

Alan Bostick: I think I left my decoder ring somewhere, because you're not making any sense at all.

You're deeply disturbed by the polarization of civic discourse . . . and this has something to do with Stalin, somehow.

You make some kind of demurrer about false equivalence, but somehow the Daily Kos is the same viciousness and hatred as (googling)oh, I see: this (quote follows)
Coming Events:
April 23-28: Hold Their Feet to the Fire -

or:Free Republic has been rallying in support of our President and the war effort since shortly after the terrorist attack on America on September 11, 2001. Later, as the inevitable war against Iraq drew closer, more and more of the "useful idiots" of the left began crawling out of the woodwork organizing so-called "anti-war" protests. FReepers are working to ensure that these communist organized (See: INTERNATIONAL A.N.S.W.E.R.) demonstrations do not go unanswered. Patriotic Americans are countering these misguided terrorist supporting leftist groups wherever and whenever they show up. Join or form a Free Republic Chapter, grab your signs, unfurl the flag, and prepare to support your country!


And -- what the hell are Little Green Footballs?

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 03:08 AM:

"Little Green Footballs" is apparently a well-known warblog. I'd never heard of it myself. There's an article about it on Wikipedia. Also, while you probably got it, I want to note that his last sentence is an allusion to The Lord of the Rings -- Gandalf (I think) saying that if the Gondorians took the Ring to use, Minas Tirith would become just like Minas Morgul.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 06:02 AM:

Alan is being a bit overwrought. The comment sections of (for instance) Eschaton and Political Animal feature frequent outbreaks of rudeness about right-wingers. The comment sections of (for instance) Little Green Footballs feature frequent outbreaks of out-and-out eliminationism. There's not a lot in Left Blogistan to match the retailing of Rachel Corrie "memorial" mouse pads, featuring a cartoon of a buldozer and the words "Got Syrup?".

It's not entirely fair to Alan, but his comment reminds me of this.

moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 08:54 AM:

Hey Alan,

I, as representative of the "left," will take Stalin, if you, as representative of the "right," will take Hitler. Deal?

Didn't think so.

Lay off.

Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 09:00 AM:

Uh, there's no way, by any stretch of anybody's imagination, that Alan Bostick can be considered part of "the right". I've "known him" (as in, "online") for years, and I can testify he has his Lefty Bona Fides in very nice order, tenkyewverymuch.

Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 09:10 AM:

Far from being "necessary evils," in my view compromise and coalition are glories of civilization.

For what it's worth, Patrick, you convinced me. This blog, and also Teresa's Making Light, has made me pause and rethink my political views, and sometimes change my mind. This has made me value democracy more highly. More highly than some of my other political ideals.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 09:48 AM:

Lucy: as I read him, Alan is saying that Stalin, usually taken to be an example of an extreme leftist, was a great polariser of political discourse, and therefore that it is incorrect to attribute all such polarisation to the right. This seems to me to be meaningful. Debateable, but meaningful.

Please note, the question of whether Stalin actually was a leftist, as we would now understand the term (if indeed there is any consensus on what it actually means) is not germane. Any convinced Marxist or Socialist revolutionary would have done to make the point. Che Guevara, perhaps.

To take up the point he was making: for my part, I, too, am sad to see attitudes hardening. Debate is ground into my soul as the only way in which rational discourse between people who disagree can be brought about. Debate, with all its silly politenesses, its conventions and its insistance on reason from evidence. And (pace, Patrick) it can't take place when the exchange consists of expressions of contempt and disgust, not only for the attitudes, but for the presence and persons of the other side.

You can say, they did it first. Perhaps they did. Must we do it, too?

If democracy assumes anything, it is that consensus can be achieved by rational debate from first principles, though this may be slow in coming. Any assumption that this cannot be done, and that is is therefore necessary to out-shout, overbully, and vituperate more effectively than the other side, is nothing less than the counsel of despair.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 11:14 AM:

Fine, Dave, so don't do that, don't "out-shout, overbully, and vituperate more effectively than the other side". Since Patrick wasn't advocating doing that, you shouldn't have a problem with him.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 12:09 PM:

Avram, Dave Luckett's palming more than just that card. There are also these assertions:

(1) Debate can only happen when everyone's pleasant to one another, and

(2) Democracy "assumes" that "consensus can be achieved by rational debate from first principles".

Neither of these categorical claims is self-evidently true, nor does the history of the world offer a lot of evidence in their favor. Quite the contrary, debate often takes place when one or more sides are thoroughly ticked off. And democracy isn't remotely about "rational debate from first principles"; it's a mechanism for achieving governance by the consent of the governed, which ideally yields results that the largest-possible number of those being governed can live with.

I'm very much in favor of being nice. The world doesn't always give us that option. Observing that sometimes it's necessary to meet aggression with pugnaciousness is not the same thing as calling on us to "out-shout, overbully, and vituperate more effectively than the other side". Forgive me if it seems to me that some people are excluding middles just as quickly as they can spot them.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 12:16 PM:

Now that I understand Alan Bostock's references --I even went to the blog about the footballs once David had pointed the way -- I think he's even wronger than when he was merely being incoherent and confusing.

Detour. Couple days ago on the radio (or was it the newspaper?) somebody was saying the Republicans are making "the same mistakes" the Democrats had made -- overbearing use of power and corruption. But it's a lie. I'm not one of those who say the Democrats are angels. But the "corruption" of the Democrats is some minor skimming of money here and there, not even a general pattern beyond what capitalism generally fosters, and there was _no_ abuse of power -- the problem with the Democrats in recent years was they wouldn't even use the power they legitimately, ethically, legally, and morally were supposed to use.

And now, some people are saying that the Democrats are engaging in the same behaviors as the Republicans did when they were out of power. And this is a lie too. Republicans lied and bribed and blackmailed figuratively and literally up one side and down the other. When Democrats refuse to give in on important issues -- or even when they do give in and simply take the opportunity to speak the truth in the process -- when they try to behave with a modicum of unity and sanity and strategy, that's not the same thing.

Alan said he's aware of the danger of false equivalences, and he proceeded to indulge in them. I don't care about his bonafides right now: I care about the fact that he said things that aren't true in support, apparently, of a strategy of smiling and shutting up.

Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 12:27 PM:

Some things bother me about this discussion.

First, people don't seem to consider why the various "red meat" tactics work. It can be argued that life is, in many important ways, worse for Americans today than it was 40 years ago. How is life worse? Well, I have read recently that disposable income is lower now for most families than it was in 1970. Then there is the whole issue of free time. Back in the 1960s feminists asserted that they wanted to share the burdens of men rather than stay at home and take care of families in the division of labor then popular. What do we have today? Men spending more time at work -- and women spending nearly as much time at work as men. Other life needs are being squeezed badly. Sleep is down -- and hostility is up.

The holier than thou posturing of some liberals and leftists is also a bit much to bear. Liberals and leftists have been active in the world. The left might not be getting its way in everything, but saying the left is totally without responsibility for the current state of affairs is not true in my opinion. For instance, consider Ralph Nader. Anyone want to argue he hasn't had an impact on our society? OK, I don't like Nader. I think he's as much a bully as, for example, many heads of corporations. I've read that, for example, at one point his staff considered forming a union to protect themselves against his unreasonable demands.

I know it runs counter to the opinions of many, but I suspect real listening to others, admitting one's own mistakes and seeking to help others is more likely to lead to positive change than "red meat" tactics.

For what it's worth, I've been known to argue with libertarians in public too. A Republican friend has described my politics as "eclectic." I admit I don't like bullies of any stripe.

Enough for now.

Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer says in re: Alan: I don't care about his bonafides right now...

Well, I only mentioned them to correct moe99's misapprehension that Alan was a "representative of the right". I don't think they're particularly relevant at any other level of the discussion, and, in fact, I only used the term as a kind of jokey way of saying it.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 01:21 PM:

Avram: I won't.

Patrick: Debate has rules, though none of them requires either side to be "pleasant" to each other, in the sense of a supine wishywashy niceness, and I was not proposing that they should. I say that debate requires neutral reasoning from evidence. That's what I mean by "first principles".

You appear to agree that democracy requires consensus. Of what value is that consensus if it is not informed? And how can it be informed by other means than by debate, involving reasoning from evidence?

So much for strategy. The second objection is tactical: any other method than coolly reasoned debate removes the contest to ground of the enemy's choosing. They want heat, not light, the more the better. I can't believe that it's good tactics to do exactly what your enemy most wants you to do.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 04:11 PM:

Meanwhile, over at Political Animal, Dan Drezner and Abu Aardvark are having a courteous debate about democratization. I haven't read all the comments, so I don't know if readers are still bent out of shape over it. I don't agree with Mr. Drezner; he has some good points, but nothing can justify or excuse Bush's adventurism. However, even if he's wrong, he's not the enemy. The enemy is not beyond wrong. They are aggressively close-minded and intolerant of anything other than their own propaganda. Mr. Drezner seems open to reason and willing to engage in civil discourse. It helps that Mr. Drum has paired him with Mr. Aardvark, so we're getting a debate, not just soapbox oratory. Good editing by Mr. Drum, a reasonably good debate -- not much to get upset about, aside from the massive stupidity, corruption, and catastrophic results of American policy.

In regards to the polarization of civil society into opposing partisan and ideological camps, I recommend reading Thucydides. There is nothing new about what we are going through. But then, if you don't know tragedy, you are doomed to repeat it.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 04:12 PM:

Aargh. The enemy is not^H^H^H beyond wrong.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 04:43 PM:

Dave l: Of what value is that consensus if it is not informed?

Dave, try reading Patrick's comment again, paying special attention to this bit:

PNH: And democracy isn't remotely about "rational debate from first principles"; it's a mechanism for achieving governance by the consent of the governed, which ideally yields results that the largest-possible number of those being governed can live with.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 10:09 PM:

I have a contrary impulse to question the forcefulness of that statement. Can't we trace the evolutionary process that developed Democracy as a government system (in India, Greece, and here), to a "rational debate from first principles?" Patrician scholars in each place (under some pressure from other classes ) conducted the debate, each time, before the system was actually implemented.

In practical application, there's no arguing the definition of democracy as "a mechanism for achieving governance by the consent of the governed." But I'm not sure I'd want to say that the system isn't "remotely about rational debate from first principles." Rational debate was a strong associated element in the evolution of "democracy" in Greece, Rome, and the U.S -- even if they all ultimately wind up giving it just lip service.

My understanding of what Patrick is getting at is that a democratic government system doesn't necessarily imply universalist, egalitarian consideration of any notion that any citizen (or representative) wants to bring before the government.

But I do like the rational debate thing as an associated feature of democracy (as opposed to the notion that democracy reduces to tight-lipped sworn enemies meeting, casting lots, and bitterly abiding by the results instead of killing each other).

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 11:02 PM:

Avram: I just have read it again. I believe he said that democracy is government by the consent of the governed. If that is so, does not "consent" imply "informed consent"? Conversely, what is this consent worth if it is not informed? By what means can it be informed if not by rational debate, that is, reasoning from evidence, this reasoning to be tested by adversarial examination?

And if this is the only efficacious means of producing informed consent, what is the effect of attempting to employ other means? Yes, there is a sense of personal satisfaction, but it is, in my experience, transitory. The other effects are that debate is degraded to precisely the extent that means other than cool reason from evidence are used. And that is the outcome that the opposition most desires.

Of course, the opposition often won't engage in debate. If democracy is a sound method of governance, that means they lose. If it isn't a sound method of governance, we've all lost, and it doesn't matter anyway.

John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 11:54 PM:

I'd like to endorse Patrick's original post, for what it's worth.

I think that the moderate Democrats (and their British equivalents) do not understand what's happening in the US today.

I'm totally burned out with this shit and deleted almost all my political links a week ago.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2005, 12:28 AM:

Debate by elected representatives (or even by a town council) doesn't *have* to be bound into the mechanism of a government for it to be a "democratic government." All that's necessary for a democratic government is that the governed recognize the legitimacy of their elected representatives, that the representatives are able to hold a fair vote on proposed government actions, and that all concerned parties agree to respect the result of the vote.

Everyone here probably agrees that informed rational debates between government representatives are a good thing -- particularly before votes on major, controversial issues. This isn't specifically required for the "democratic" contract -- that everyone accept the results of a fair vote and agree to avoid breaking the law.

Where I sympathize with Dave Luckett is the idea that we should try to avoid regarding democracy *only* as a strategy game -- with the goal of outflanking adversarial opponents on pre-decided agendas.

It *is* difficult to hold a high-minded concept of how to participate in a democratic society when some of the participants are displaying decidedly low-minded concepts (and destroying the society in the process).

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2005, 11:03 AM:

Dave L: does not "consent" imply "informed consent"?

No, it does not.

Dave L: Conversely, what is this consent worth if it is not informed?

What the hell? It's not consent that has value, it's what happens (or doesn't happen) when you don't consent that's important.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2005, 11:58 AM:

Avram: I regret I do not agree. Consent is informed, or it is meaningless. Indeed, consent secured by misinformation (and other illegitimate means) is the very stock-in-trade of tyranny.

As for its value, you seem to have placed yourself in an extremely difficult logical position by trying to say that what happens when consent is withdrawn is important, but that consent isn't. It would also appear to fly in the face of the idea cited by Patrick, and quoted by you with approval: that the very definition of democracy is "a mechanism for achieving government by the consent of the governed." If it is, then this consent is, and must be, valuable. Vital, in fact.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2005, 01:18 PM:

Dave, democracy is in operation when the governed consent. One could take the position that the democracy is good when their consent is informed and therefore valuable, and it is bad when it is uninformed, but it's nonetheless democracy.

I personally would say that when most voters get their information from political advertising (either paid or, as in the case of Fox News, unpaid), the distinction between democracy and plutocracy becomes virtually moot.

Rebecca Borgstrom ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2005, 04:44 PM:

By what means can it be informed if not by rational debate, that is, reasoning from evidence, this reasoning to be tested by adversarial examination?

. . . I freely admit that what I'm about to say is something of a sideline.

My limited experience in scientific research in an academic context suggests that it is possible to find and disseminate truth without an adversarial examination. There is certainly a necessary element of skepticism and review that can manifest as an adversarial position---but this manifestation is not an intrinsic quality of the process of informing others.

Truth is real. Informed consent does not require debate---it requires a fair process by which anyone can acquire a legitimate platform from which to disseminate data and models. Free debate is one such process, and it is, to understate the matter, considerably more politically practical than peer review. But when debate becomes the principal mechanism for disseminating truth, something vital in informed consent has been lost---that is, respect for the idea that positions can have dissimilar legitimacy, even though it's possible at any time that the more legitimate position is the wrong one.

The reason that one might abandon polite debate is simple: if you can no longer practically disseminate truth through polite debate, polite debate is no longer a tool for achieving the informed consent of the electorate. I'm kind of enh on the idea of using the tactics of the opposition, but it is not logically inconsistent to do so.

Rebecca

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2005, 10:03 PM:

Xopher: I happily accept your correction, although in another context I might debate it. Since we are considering the form of discourse that should inform political expression in a good democracy, it is a distinction that makes no difference. Do you, or do I, wish to live in a bad democracy, that is, one in which consent is uninformed? I submit, bad democracies are as bad as any other bad system.

Rebecca: Peer review. Is not general debate in a democracy a form of peer review, for are not all citizens peers, in the sense of having an equal right and opportunity to engage in it? (If they are not, can it be said to be a democracy at all?) And if that is so, what other form of peer review is there? And if it is the only such available form, would not sound governance require that it be conducted according to reasoning from evidence and fair debate, rather than by other means?

That of course does not imply that debate must be courtly, pleasant, ingratiating, insincerely respectful, or even passionless. Mannered, perhaps. Polite, in the sense of eschewing personalities and vituperation. Right up to the point where it is necessary to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

The thing is this: ultimately I have faith in the ability of my fellow citizens to discern the right and consent to it, and believe that tested reason from evidence is alone sufficient to secure this. I confess other means have their attractions. But to the extent that they depart from reasoned debate, either they will not secure long-term consent, or else democracy itself is unsound as a method of governance.

Rebecca Borgstrom ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2005, 06:19 AM:

Rebecca: Peer review. Is not general debate in a democracy a form of peer review, for are not all citizens peers, in the sense of having an equal right and opportunity to engage in it?

No.

Your statement is not correct.

Peer review is a technique for validating the correctness of data and the utility of techniques.

General debate is not.

Rebecca

Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2005, 06:46 AM:

An angry progressive is a sign that they've been boxed in by the ideological frames of the right.

But if that progressive finds 'clarity' in the form of a progressive frame that trumps the right, then the frustration that caused the anger is removed, and what becomes available instead of anger is BOLDNESS.

I only mention this because some folks are lumping the bold progressives in with the angry progressives and treating them as the same thing.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2005, 07:17 AM:

Rebecca: I accept your definition of the peer review process with gratitude. How, then, might this process work to evaluate public policy in a democracy?

Who would be the peers? How would they go about their review, considering that they are reviewing not only "the correctness of data and the utility of techniques", but the bases and effects of public policy, questions which are not only matters of fact, but of judgement.

In a democracy, I submit either that the peers are the body of all concerned citizens and that the only available and valid method of review is reasoned debate from principles and evidence OR that "peer review" is not a useful technique for this purpose (depending upon definition of "peer review").

Personally, I like the sound of "peer review" as applied to political discourse since it entails the idea of general review and examination of public policy by equals, and I do not see how this precludes debate. But if the term is incorrectly applied thus, so be it.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2005, 11:57 AM:

I've twice been an elected member of a Town Coucil. I've told the story here or in Making Light, so I'll cut to the chase. Once, in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Democracy had been practiced for 3 centuries, it absolutely worked.

The other time, in Altadena, California, lots of people ended in jail, as the Sheriff's Deputy son of the Chairman of the Town Council was part of a bunch of crooked cops who were laundering money for narcotics dealers. In that case, the corruption had spread to real estate payoffs, bribes of State Assemblymen (one later imprisoned for racketeering), the active involvement of the FBI, and my ally on the Council bankrupted in a First Amendment case involving allegedly defamatory email about the racketeer sexually molesting his daugher (in the record of a dicorce case) and being a Satanist priest (defamatory, said the court). After the attempt to run over my wife with a van, and the windshield of my car being shot out, and the bullet hole in the livingroom window, I declined to run for re-election.

From my data, 50% of communities have working democracy. 50% are ongoing criminal operations, pretending to be democracies. Of course, 2 data points is not statistically significant. But it has made me both more passionate about Democracy, and more skeptical. "Liberal" verus "Conservative" doesn't scratch the surface of what I see as the real issues.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2005, 01:37 PM:

"Do you, or do I, wish to live in a bad democracy, that is, one in which consent is uninformed? I submit, bad democracies are as bad as any other bad system."

Ah. You're willing to let people have rights just so long as they live up to your standards of rationality in their exercise.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2005, 01:49 PM:

And democracy is more just, not in that it is necessarily better at dispensing justice, but in the more cosmic sense that the people get the government they deserve. Not always, or in every way, but more often than in other systems.

I'd rather live in a bad democracy than a good dictatorship. Monarchy is somewhere in the middle!

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2005, 02:25 PM:

Well, currently we live in a state where those who should be choosing their policy makers are not uninformed, but deliberately and wildly misinformed, and where their ability to choose them is seriously hampered by logisitics, design, induced apathy, and outright deception and corruption.

I'd still rather live in it than one with no semblance of democracy.

I'd like to improve on what we have, both on the information end and on the democracy end.

And oh my dog my blender just turned itself on with nobody in the room. It's been erratic for a while: I guess it's not safe anymore.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Or you have a ghost. But surely you'd have noticed that by now.