Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Review of the Partisan War Syndrome by David Sirota.

A link to "The Partisan War Syndrome"

He almost gets it right. Sorta. Well, not really, but there are some interesting bits in this article that got me to thinking. I had hoped, when I printed out this article last night to read at Starbucks this morning, that it would be about the incessant wars between Clarkie Dems, Deaniac Dems, Kerrycrat Dems and the like.

I don't think we have time for such things at this point. We have a party to build, grassroots to grow and stuff like that there. Not to mention the primaries are so "2003."

I will personally defend any Democrat who needs it on the political message boards and blog spots I frequent. Or anyone else for that matter when they are being unfairly smeared by partisans. I'm proud of most of our Dems, even Biden and Hillary on occasion (I know, shocking. But every once in a while...) Once in a blue moon even Joe Lieberman does something to get a cyber cookie from me.

Zell can go to hell, however.

Be that as it may, candidate wars turned out not to be what this article was about. Dang. I'm not completely sure exactly what the point of the article was, exactly. Here's an excerpt describing the Partisan War Syndrome as a "disease":

Certainly, this disease can be difficult to detect. The mainstream media regularly portrays the so-called Democratic base as a highly ideological, "liberal" or "progressive" monolith, supposedly pressing an insulated, spineless D.C. Democratic establishment to move to the "left." This portrayal creates the image that there really is a cohesive, powerful ideological force on the left, one that is committed to convictions and issues before party-much like there is on the right. This image is reinforced by the mainstream media's constant characterization of Internet blogs and the "netroots" as an extension of this monolith-as if a medium automatically equals an ideology.

As proof that such a monolith exists, the media writes stories about this or that Democratic politician-no matter how conservative he or she is - pandering to or courting the "left" by once in a while taking a mundane Democratic Party position and then blogging about it. We also see an entire counter-industry to this mythical monolith in the form of organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, which raise corporate money, put out reports attacking the supposedly all-powerful "left," and commission polls to discredit what, in reality, is a straw man.

Okay, this bit appears to be a rant about the Conservative press distorting even the most Republican-lite Democrat as a bastion of liberalism and the left. Okay. Fair enough. I've seen that. Hillary comes to mind, actually.

Here's a bit more:

This blunting of the left's ideological edge is a result of three unfortunate circumstances. First, conservatives spent the better part of three decades vilifying the major tenets of the left's core ideology, succeeding to the point where "liberal" is now considered a slur. Second, the media seized on these stereotypes and amplified them - both because there was little being done to refute them, and because they fit so cleanly into the increasingly primitive and binary political narrative being told on television.

And third is Partisan War Syndrome - the misconception even in supposedly "progressive" circles that substance is irrelevant when it comes to both electoral success and, far more damaging, to actually building a serious, long-lasting political movement. This is the syndrome resulting from the shellshock of the partisan wars that marked the Clinton presidency. It is an affliction that hollowed out much of the Democratic base's economic and national security convictions in favor of an orthodoxy that says partisan concerns and cults of personality should be the only priorities because they are supposedly the only factors that win elections. It is a disease that subverts substance for "image" and has marked the last decade of Democrats' repeated failures at the ballot box.

Okay, I'm still with him here. He seems to be saying both that the Left isn't answering the echo chamber of the Right, so that the Right can fill that chamber with any amount of garbage with no fear of contradiction, which is true. He also seems to be saying that the Left is more interested in finding someone who can get elected than finding someone who presents the ideals of the Democratic Party. I've seen that as well, from Deaniacs and Kerrycrats and Clarkies and Bayh folks and Warner folks, etc, etc. "We need a Southern Governor!"

Here's where ol' David loses me:

But then, even an issue as critical as Iraq can be subverted by the hallucinations that come from Partisan War Syndrome. As just one example, take progressives' constant genuflecting anytime Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) name is mentioned. She is forever portrayed as a champion of the left, with everyone who's anyone in politics assuming that she will have rock-solid support from the Democratic base despite her loud and continuing support for the Iraq War, and rather quiet Senate record on other progressive issues. The assumption speaks volumes about a "base" with an ideology so afflicted by a haze of hallucination that it believes the best politics even in such a polarized environment are those that avoid contrast.

Say it with me boys and girls. WHAT!?!?! Dude! What ARE you smoking?! Progressives genuflecting anytime Hillary is mentioned?! In what universe?!?!

It gets worse. Did you know that the Democratic base, as personified by blogs and the like, chase after anything with a D next to its name as long as it looks electable? He uses the Brown/Hackett mini-controversy as an example, dissing Hackett along the way.

Alrighty then. I thought Hackett rather proved the opposite. He proved that you could be a fighter, run a strong campaign, speak your mind, and almost get elected. But no matter.

Clarkies do not excape either. How about this "observation":

This delirium in parts of the grassroots left is not limited to Senate races - it is afflicting the early 2008 presidential jostling. In straw poll after straw poll on Internet blogs, former Gen. Wesley Clark leads other potential Democratic contenders. This is the same Wesley Clark who, according to a recent edition of Roll Call, was on Capitol Hill trying to convince progressive Democratic lawmakers to back off their support for legislation that would withdraw troops from Iraq.

He comments that he doesn't mean to slight either Clark or Hackett, who might still turn out to be alright. He means to slight their supporters for chasing after them based on image rather than substance. Oh, much better. Gee. Thanks.

And of course there is the normal Kerry snarking I've come to expect. If Mr. Sirota thinks that all John Kerry had to offer was that he was a veteran and electable, and had no ideological core, then he didn't look very hard at the man. So he managed to make me mad as well. You must remember, of course, that despite my moniker, I am a Kerry person, not a Clark person. So I'm not happy either. But then, David would seem to be an all-purpose, universal pisser-offer.

Is it just me. Or is this man talking out his butt.

You can read the rest of the article for yourself if you like from the above link. I found bits of it interesting. But it was an interesting point or two badly defended in my book I'm afraid. He even takes a stab at those who talk about "reframing issues" and such. Let's see, did he leave anyone out?

And who did HE vote for in the last election, for pity's sake!? Nader?! (Sorry, Nader folks. But why should you be left out of the fun, eh?)

Be that as it may, I still want to end with the one point he makes in the entire article that I will carry with me and use. I thought this was a really, really good point. I wish he would have just written this bit and thrown the rest in the garbage where it belongs:

The first major symptom of Partisan War Syndrome is wild hallucinations that make progressives believe we can win elections by doing nothing, as long as the Republican Party keeps tripping over itself. You can best see this symptom each time another GOP scandal comes down the pike. The scandal hits, Republicans respond with a pathetic "I am not a crook" defense, and both Democratic politicians and grassroots activists/bloggers berate a "culture of corruption." Yet, then these same critics largely refuse to demand concrete solutions such as public funding of elections that would actually clean up the system, and would draw a contrast between the left and the right. We see hallucinations of a victory in the next election as long as we just say nothing of substance, as we have for the last decade. But like a mirage in the desert, it never seems to materialize.

These hallucinations are the only logical explanation as to why the Democratic Party remains without an official position on almost every major issue in Congress. Just look at the last year: Democrats have no clear party position on Iraq, energy, bankruptcy, trade, tax cuts, Supreme Court nominees or corruption, other than to criticize Republicans

Those two paragraphs are very valuable to us, especially now. We're all having a gay old time watching the Republicans implode, but damn it, that's not enough! We have to figure out what we stand for as a party and then sell the hell out of it!

Yeah, I know. Easy to say, hard to do. But that should be our focus. Are we progressive? Populist? What? What can we offer the American people that is different from what they're getting from the Republicans. How do we make their lives better? What's the plan?

We must present an alternative. And if we already do, we must make sure that people know it.


Blogger sandy said...

You make alot of good points, I especially like "sell the hell out of it". Although I don't think it's an issue of not having core beliefs, like you said about Kerry, but rather the Party not coming together behind those beliefs. Sirota says Kerry has no core beliefs, mentions campaign finance, and has a Miller moment where he "forgets" that Kerry worked with Paul Wellstone on campaign finance reform. We have beliefs. We just need to "sell the hell out of them".

Great blog!!

6:53 PM  

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