Sunday, January 29, 2006


Busting the Filibuster Fantasy

When I heard that the Senate Democrats were actually heeding John Kerry's foolhardy call for a filibuster of the Alito nomination -- now known as the yodel heard round the world -- I felt I should write something on this logic-defying move.

Then my friend Micah Sifry forwarded me a bluntly-worded critique of the filibuster strategy by Matt Stoller at MyDD, one of the nation's leading liberal blogs. Stoller's cogent, cold-eyed analysis aptly summed up my feelings about the folly of this move -- and did so with far more credibility than I ever could, given his unquestionable progressive credentials.

So instead of essentially saying ditto for several graphs, I thought it would be best to just share with you the entirety of Stoller's post.


I'm going to get a lot of flack for this post, but here goes.

A filibuster is an extreme action that requires robust public
support. We do not have this support. It's that simple. I'm all for
keeping Alito off the court, and a filibuster until after the SOTU is
a good idea. But it's very important for the netroots to understand
what's happening here. This last-minute campaign to get Senators to
switch their votes, after it became crystal clear that we do not have
the votes to filibuster, is a classic example of 'get points for
trying' politics. It's a way for Senators to get credit from the
left-wing of the party without having to actually do anything or stop
anything. The reality is that this fight was lost two months ago,
when Senators decided that going on Christmas break was more important
than preparing to defend the constitution, and PFAW and Alliance for
Justice decided that releasing 150 page documents was a good way to
build public pressure against Alito's confirmation.

By all means, call your Senators. Don't stop. Don't let up. But
don't forgive the party leadership and our groups for this travesty.
People for the American Way has been preparing for this fight for
years. And then they didn't show up. The same is true with NARAL,
and the Alliance for Justice. I honestly don't know why they are
funded anymore - that's how bad this failure has been. And Senators -
including DiFi, HRC, Kerry, and Obama - have revealed themselves to be
craven fair weather fans who expect others to do the work of standing
up for Democratic values for them. Think about it for a moment. John
Kerry called for a filibuster from Switzerland two hours after it
became public that there were not enough votes for a filibuster. That
is atrocious. Tinman points out on Breaking Blue the essential point:

If he was serious about it he would have stayed in Washington, held
press conferences, lobbied his colleagues and tried to generate as
much attention as possible. Since it was just a PR stunt, it wasn't
necessary for Kerry to change his travel plans.

Democratic insiders have failed at the art of politics. It's that
simple. Doing politics is not about saying the right thing at the
wrong time, it's about lining up a coalition to push the levers of
social change. This they just don't do. For instance, at no point
has any insider pol or group leader laid out a strategy for victory.
No one defined victory. No one laid out a path to get there. And no
one communicated with various groups, including the netroots, on
helping us be part of a coalition to win. The communications
operation here is just atrocious. The insider groups have young
communications staffers dealing with bloggers who collectively talk to
1 million people a day. These are talented people, but they aren't
setting strategy and they don't have the juice to help us with this

And don't delude yourself, this is intentional. The attitude that
the insiders have towards us is that we are a stupid ATM set up to
feed their ineffectiveness. Witness uberinsider telling us the truth
about where we fit in:

"The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for
the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to
win elections," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who
advised Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "The trick will be to
harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a
captive of the activist left."

They are telling us, broadcasting to us, that they think we're
stupid. They think that having no campaign on Alito can easily be
fixed by posting a diary on Daily Kos urging us to 'fight' a month
after the fight has already been lost. It's craven, it's crass, it's

Even so, with no direction and no communication, we've moved the vote
count on the filibuster to 37 from the high 20s. That's amazing. But
don't forget, they let us down, big time. And we should not forgive
them for this, until Alito is off the court. Because Alito and the
brutal decisions he will hand down is a reminder of the insiders'
desire for direct mail success over preserving the republic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Extreme Makeover, Hillary Edition

It's not exactly Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, but in Wednesday morning's New York Sun you will this Gerstein quoted extensively by my no-relation reporter friend Josh Gerstein about the agita that Hillary Clinton's presidential positioning is causing the Democratic insider club. You can find the full article here.

One point I would like to amplify on:

As I allude to in the article, I continue to believe that Hillary's biggest hurdle to becoming a viable presidential contender is not ideological but personal. The Republicans have done a pretty good job of caricaturing her as a radical Sixties feminazi, but it's not grounded in fact and I am confident that Hillary will gradually debunk that silly myth and convince reasonable people that she's no wild-eyed liberal. The far more damaging caricature -- and far more difficult to shake -- is Hillary as ice queen. This perception, which I will say upfront is unfair, nevertheless appears to have seeped deeply into the public consciousness. So much so that in my conversations with non-insiders about Hillary, it seems the most common and visceral complaint I hear is that she comes off as cold, calculating, and fake.

These same conversations suggest that this problem is, ironically, most acute with women, her supposed base. Some of this appears to be residue from the Lewinsky scandal; I have heard many women criticize her for enabling her husband's repeated infidelities and staying with him after he dealt her a horrific humiliation, then cynically ascribe her stand-by-her-man behavior to her political ambitions. Some of it just seems to purely stylistic reactions; many women suggest they find it hard to connect with her because she rarely lets her emotions show in public and thus betrays no vulnerability. Which is to say, in less analytical terms, they just don't like her. That is reflected in the CNN/Gallup poll that came out this week, showing that just 22 percent of women would definitely vote for Hillary for President at this stage.

To me, this represents the crux of Hillary's challenge in becoming a competitive national candidate. I just don't see how a woman in general -- and in particular a woman with Hillary's ideological and personal baggage -- can move into electable territory with a major chunk of her natural support stronghold strongly predisposed against her. There's no way she can make it up with African-American voters -- there's just not enough of them. And she's certainly not going to make up for it with the white men who are already fleeing the Democratic Party in droves. In fact, in the CNN/Gallup poll, only 11 percent of men said they would definitely vote for her, while 60 percent said they would not vote for her in any circumstance.

I suspect that this hurdle, while formidable, is not insurmountable. But not by conventional political means. Indeed, I think typical targeted efforts to rehab her image -- like her husband's courting of the youth vote through apearances on MTV and Arsenio Hall -- will not only be ineffective, but ultimately hurtful. These moves will be so transparent, and so thoroughly chewed over by the media, that they more likley than not will just reinforce Hillary's image as a calculating power-schemer instead of deflating it.

If I were writing the Hillary edition of Extreme Makeover, I would have her take extreme measures. First and foremost, I would have told her to quit the Senate. As recent history has shown it's a graveyard for presidential ambitions, and with her mega-celebrity, she simply does not need the platform to get attention the way others often do.

Once liberated, I would have her criss-cross the country and conduct as many open town-meetings as possible to discuss the country's future post-Bush -- and not the phony contrivances that Bush himself has staged, but totally open sessions with no pre-screened questions. It's risky, but I am afraid Hillary can't bust these crippling caricatures and win the presidency if she is afraid to take chances and plays it straight.

To supplement these larger town hall meetings, and connect more directly with women, I would consider setting up a series of house parties at the homes of friendly female supporters in the suburbs, with a heavy dose of them in red states. This would give Hillary a chance to talk about the historic nature of her run, how this will be a test of not of her political power but theirs, and what a Hillary victory (or an embarrassing defeat) could mean for gender equity going forward.

At these meetings, and in all her public and press appearances, I would advise Hillary to be far more open herself -- to focus on letting down her guard and letting her humanity come through. She's a funny, warm, personable woman to people who know her, and the rest of the country needs to know that her too. Show the normal range of emotions -- tell some corny jokes, laugh at yourself, even get annoyed or exasperated where appropriate.

And perhaps most risky of all, I would have Hillary be open about her motivations for these efforts. She should acknowledge she has an image problem, and that instead of running away from it, she's going to confront the caricature and puncture it. The conventional-thinking consultants and operatives will be aghast. But I bet average Americans will find her candor refreshing and -- lo and behold -- real.

Moreover, I think precisely because it's such a man-bites-dog story, this straight-shooting course could go a long way towards opening the doubters' minds towards Hillary -- at least the non-haters in the middle -- and reconsider their surface image of her. Besides, it gives her a rare opportunity to show strength and vulnerability in one fell swoop. Talk about a two-for-one deal!

Could this ever happen? I doubt it. Hillary is already committed to run for reelection, which effectively limits the time she could devote to this kind of campaign and thus the punch it could deliver. And it's probably too scary and ambitious to ponder anyway. But there's no reason she can't adopt elements of this strategy and still derive a good part of the benefit. The real question is whether the people around her would let her. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Putting the "Butt" Back in Rebuttal

This past weekend I officially arrived as a blogger/commentator -– I had the unique pleasure of having multiple posters on a prominent blog site refer to me lovingly as an “ass clown.” Indeed, that was just one of the more creative phrase-turns by Daily Kos visitors in response to my op-ed on the Alito hearings in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday. (FYI: full text of the op-ed is below.)

I read through the 175 or so Kos-posts, and beyond getting a good chuckle over some of the more colorful putdowns, I could not help but feel a small sense of vindication. The outpouring of vitriol and contempt -– and the almost complete absence of rational analysis and real argument – showed just how blind with anger the activist base has become, proving one of my central points far better than my piece itself did.

In fact, the Kosters were so riled up about perceived slights that were not present in my piece and my association with Senator Lieberman that they basically missed EVERY point I tried to make. Instead, they mostly reacted to strawmen of their own creations -– and then verbally lit the suckers on fire.

Nevertheless, I am doing to do my friends at Kos the courtesy they would not afford me, which is to take their (non-profane) contentions seriously, and do my best to clear up any misunderstanding about the intent and import of my critique.

Let me start with the lead rebuttal from Georgia10 (whom I quoted in my op-ed). After saying I was right to call out the Democrats performance in the Alito hearings, Georgia10 chastised me for using the hearings as “an opportunity to insult the Democratic base as being out of the mainstream.” Georgia10 went on to say:

“I like how Gerstein and the rest of the DLCers throw out the term "angry activist base" as if its a derogatory epithet, as if we really have nothing to be angry about but rather are seething just for shits and giggles. The base is rightly angry precisely because the party is being pulled away from the mainstream and towards a GOP-lite by the likes of Gerstein and the other consultants.”

First off, I didn’t insult anyone. I used the term “angry activist base” because it is technically precise in identifying a relatively small but vocal segment of registered Democrats that is agitating to move the party in a more extreme, confrontational direction -– and Georgia10’s own acknowledgment of her and other Kosters’ anger should put the lie to idea that what I said was unfair or inaccurate, let alone a slur. (Though one might say if the Khruschev shoe fits….)

Second, nowhere in my Alito op-ed or in my other writings do I ever suggest that the Democratic agenda should become a pale approximation of the Republican’s. The fact is, I am a free-thinking progressive who left Washington and national politics out of frustration at, among other things, how politically reactionary and intellectually timid the Democratic Party has become. So to try to pigeonhole (and thus try to discredit me) as a mealy-mouthed moderate or an insider consultant is an act of groundless projection.

Beyond being a free-thinking progressive, I am an empiricist as well. Thus I focus on what is effective in advancing our party's core principles and delivers demonstrable results, both in forming public policy and in shaping political campaigns. And that is a prime driver of my critique of the Democrats’ performance in the Alito hearings and the state of the party in general -- what we’re doing now is not working or winning.

We have to remember politics is fundamentally the art of persuasion –- being right doesn’t matter if you can’t get others to see the wisdom of your way. And recent history shows conclusively that our ideas and arguments are just not getting electoral traction with a majority of voters.

So logic would dictate we need to change, adapt, improve, what have you -– especially in light of the evolution of the American electorate post-Clinton and post-9/11. Different doesn’t have to fall into the simplistic categories of “centrist” or “moderate” –- it just at a minimum means not the same as before.

This is a big part of my disagreement with the angry activist base. It seems their conception of doing something different is either to just yell the same unconvincing ideas and arguments of the last few years louder, or even worse, to regress to the obsolete ideas and arguments of the Sixties.

This did not work in the Kerry campaign, it did not work in the Alito hearings, and it won’t work going forward. That’s largely because the “yell louder” strategy does not speak to the current fears and aspirations of the majority of the American people -– especially those swing voters who have been fleeing the Democratic Party since Bill Clinton left office. Nor does it address our obvious and sizeable credibility gap on security and values issues.

The angry activist base for the most part has trouble acknowledging this. As the Kos posts demonstrate, they tend to deal more with how they want things to be than how they actually are, and as such often fall back on narrow poll results to buttress their claims. To wit, consider these statements from Georgia10’s rebuttal:

“While his article laments our inability to connect with "values" voters, he does not refute the fact that 56% of Americans--Democrats and Republicans alike--want Alito blocked if he'll overturn Roe. Is 56% of America out of the "mainstream"? Is a view "mainstream" simply because its held by Republicans, or by those in power? Because that seems to be Gerstein's point. America, he points out, twice elected a pro-life President and Congress.

“Gerstein apparently chases the theory that we must emulate those in power, because they must've done something right by voters to get into the positions of power in the first place. But the fatal flaw in this argument is that the administration--especially this administration--does not represent the mainstream. If that were true, then violating the Constitution would be a "mainstream" value. Destroying the environment would be a "mainstream" value. Waging an unnecessary war would be a "mainstream" value. Yet poll after poll has consistently proven that the ideology of this administration is outside of the mainstream.”

I will stipulate up front that the majority of Americans disagree with the Bush Administration on a number of issues -– which in itself is compelling evidence of just how poorly our party has done in articulating and advocating a strong alternative agenda that connects with the broad middle of the polity. But clearly the President’s positions were not so odious as to motivate a majority of Americans to vote against him.

In fact, in the biggest turnout election in American history, George W. Bush got three million more votes than his opponent. I would argue that alone is prima facie evidence that he and his agenda are within the mainstream of American opinion (not to mention a testament to the complexity of voter decision-making today). Much as I don’t like George W. Bush, I don’t like that fact. But to deny it is to either delude oneself, or to argue that the majority of Americans are stupid simpletons who have been snookered by the Republicans.

Sadly, I suspect that undercurrent of condescension and contempt runs deeply among the angry activist base-- how could those idiots in red states not see that this President is violating the Constitution –- and that it is compounding their blindness to certain realities. (To wit: Georgia10’s explanation is that the Republicans are winning by “sheer trickery and deceit.”)

One of those realities is that perception matters at least as much if not more than the truth in political arguments. In the Alito hearings, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, along with the angry activist base, seemingly failed to notice the widely-shared perception was that the nominee was highly-qualified and a decent guy, a poster child for the immigrant success story.

That perception meant the bar was particular high for Democrats to try to take him out by painting his an extremist. And it was obvious to me, as it was to many objective observers, that we did not come close to delivering the goods to back up our claims. Hence we were the ones who came off looking extreme – extremely partisan and desperate.

In pointing this out, I was not suggesting we should have rolled over and played dead, nor was I defending Alito’s record, as some of the Kosters mistakenly concluded. I was simply analyzing and assessing our arguments from the perspective of the casual political consumer, who most likely was not predisposed to buy our wolf cries.

The Kosters also missed or misunderstood my overarching point. I did not say the people who make up the angry activist base are out of the mainstream. I argued that they appear to have a misguided perception of what is mainstream, which is clouding their judgment and I believe hurting the party.

That conclusion was reinforced by Georgia10’s rebuttal, which suggested that “the mainstream” is defined by some fixed objective criteria -– namely the criteria of the angry activist base. For example, in their view, you are not mainstream if you are pro-life or support the Iraq war. But the reality is that what is “mainstream” by its very definition is a fluid concept, which ebbs and flows over time, as do the boundaries of acceptability.

We can argue about what the proper barometer of mainstream is at this moment -– I happen to think election results are not a bad place to start, which is why I think it is silly to suggest that George Bush as a President is outside the mainstream. But one thing that seems certain, especially after the Alito hearings, that the simple act of branding someone an extremist does not prove they are extremist.

The Kosters seem to think that acknowledging this reality is tantamount to surrender. Consider these passages from Georgia10’s rebuttal:

"So how do we become the majority party? By courting white, female, Christian voters, of course! At least that's his suggestion. As for pointing out to America that Republicans are radical and don't hold true American values? Shhhh...shut up! Play nice with the other party. Don't be 'angry', don't label them anti-choice or anti-civil rights. To Gerstein, that's a 'tired dogma.'

. . . 'Mainstream' isn't represented the millions of Democrats online, the students, the teachers, the blue-collar workers. 'Mainstream' isn't reflected in box office sales, or TV shows, or popular culture. No, 'mainstream' becomes a term of capitulation, an excuse to sacrifice our true liberal identity at the feet of pundits and political consultants.

I am hardly advocating waving the white flag. I am simply saying the angry activist base has to do better than throwing empty, trivialized labels at people – especially labels that implicitly disrespect the people we need to convert to our side to regain control of our government.

The fact is, our party is in a multiple-election minority phase, and we just can’t afford to be intellectually lazy (let alone arrogantly self-righteous). So we either have to do a better job of showing the people who are not with us right why a judge like Alito would be harmful to their interests, or in particular, why overturning Roe v. Wade would be harmful to their interests. Or we need to shut up about those things for now and make our case on other issues that matter to voters we need to win over.

As I have said before, in the end this is not about left vs. center – it’s about new vs. old. Are we as Democrats going to cling desperately to the disappearing vestiges of the New Deal coalition and continue to hold our platform hostage to the veto authority of narrow-minded special interest groups? Or are going to vigorously compete on the battlefield of ideas and develop new narratives and new solutions to meet the country where it is 2006?

I am all for raising the minimum wage and protecting people on Medicaid and beating up on Halliburton. But that is just not a responsive governing agenda – or viable electoral strategy -- for a country threatened by global terror and anxious about the globalized economy (among other things).

I want to know, as do many other Americans, what are we going to do to dismantle Al Qaeda and stop the spread of deadly Islamic fanatacism? To clean up the train wreck that is urban public education today? To expand access to broadband technology and promote the growth of the innovation economy? To help our workers cope with the growing pains of globalization? To help parents better balance the demands of work and family? To lower the cost of health insurance for everyone? To reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies? To restore public faith in our broken political system?

I would love to have a healthy argument with my friends at Kos about the best way to answer these critical questions and seize the openings the Republicans have repeatedly given us by ignoring these problems or offering faux solutions. But sadly, our party is not even asking them. We are too busy figuring out ways to impeach George W. Bush, convincing frightened Americans we care more about the rights of terrorists than we do about keeping them safe, and refighting the battles of the Viet Nam era.

So here’s my challenge to the angry activist base: stop hurling invective, and start being inventive. Help come up with the next generation of ideas that will help realize the promise of our highest ideals (equal opportunity first and foremost) –- and that will be embraced by the doubters we need to convert to our cause. Then we can have a real debate.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Green With Enmity

With all the political controversies swirling out there the last few days -- from Hillary's plantation comment to the allegations of a cover-up in the Cisneros investigation to the White House press secretary attacking Al Gore from his press room podium -- this seems to be primetime for partisanship.

Largely lost amid all the repeated recriminations was an important act of independence and courage that, for my money, was the most important story of the day. At a public symposium honoring the 35th anniversary of the EPA's creation, five former Republican EPA Administrators put aside party fealty to directly chastise the Bush Administration for neglecting the threat posed by global warming.

Said Russell Train, who served under Presidents Nixon and Ford: "We need leadership, and I don't think we're getting it. To sit back and just push it away and say we'll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive."

It's hard to appreciate just what an unusual development this is if you live outside of the Beltway and are not privy to the silly political codes the two major parties adhere to, which strictly proscribe openly criticizing a party leader while they are in office -- especially a sitting President. That goes doubly especially for this White House, which is ruthless in its enforcement of party discipline and treats dissent like treason.

So for not one or two but five former Republican environmental gurus to call out George W. Bush in this way, well, it's a landmark event -- which underscores just how irresponsible and craven this Administration has been its handling of the most consequential environmental challenge of our time.

The operative question now is what will leadership of the Democratic Party do about it. Here you have a highly critical issue on which the president is in fact clearly out of the mainstream (or should we say jestream in this case?) and clearly ignoring the welter of scientific evidence and his constitutional duties (providing for the common defense, anyone?) to appease large monied interests. And even the most credible voices in his own party on said issue are publicly attacking him. It's never been easier for team blue to be green than here -- especially given all the scrutiny now being given to special interest lobbying. Hopefully, Dean, Pelosi, and Reid will see see this opening and capitalize on it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Ask not......

An interesting postcript on the Alito hearings from Harvard Law Professor and liberal lion Alan Dershowitz. Writing on the Huffington Post, Dershowitz argues that a big reason for the Democrats' dismal performance was that the minority had the wrong people asking the wrong questions.

In the first place, too many senators view the hearings as a campaign opportunity instead of as a confirmation hearing. Almost the entire first day was taken up with Committee members' "opening statements," which would be more accurately described as stump speeches. Things didn't get much better when the questioning began. For example, Senator Biden, the first announced presidential candidate of the 2008 campaign, spent over two-thirds of his first 30-minute "questioning" session talking about himself. Columnist Richard Cohen catalogued just a few of the things we learned about Biden, including his ethnic roots, his views on Ivy League colleges, and his thoughts on Senator Feinstein's eyeglasses (he approves). Right wing Republican senators postured about abortion, religion, and family values. We learned virtually nothing about Judge Alito. With all the pandering, posturing, and platitudes, it's a wonder that Judge Alito was able to get a word in edgewise.

The second problem with senator questioning is that most senators are not competent to question an experienced federal judge on issues of constitutional law adjudication. They are neither well-enough versed in the minutia of recent Supreme Court cases, nor are they very good at examining witnesses. Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that asking crisp, concise questions - each aimed at a single discrete fact - is the only way to control a hostile witness. The senators' meandering, multi-pronged questions allowed Alito to pick and choose which parts he wanted to answer, to speak vaguely, and sometimes to evade the questions altogether.

When Alito proved unresponsive, the senators didn't know how to ask follow-up questions. Experienced cross-examiners instruct aspiring attorneys never to "work from a list of questions, because there is no way to know what question to ask until you have heard the previous answer." But because their staff had apparently drafted the questions, the senators were largely incapable of deviating from what was written on the page. Even when Alito gave contradictory testimony, no one pointed out the inconsistencies. To give just one obvious example, in his opening statement, Alito emphasized that his personal beliefs and preferences play no part in his work as a judge. Later on, Alito said that when a discrimination case comes before him, "I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender." Well, which is it? Do Alito's personal beliefs and experiences matter or don't they? And if not - if personal beliefs are entirely irrelevant in Alito in his role as a judge - why did he refuse to answer questions about those beliefs?

The solution? Dershowitz suggests the Judiciary Committee take a page from other Congressional committees (think Arthur Liman in Iran-contra) and tap outside counsel to lead the questioning of future high court nominees, at least on the complex constitutional stuff. While not a fix for the flawed strategic thinking I outlined in my op-ed yesterday, this is a constructive, eminently reasonable proposal that should be at the top of lessons learned from the Alito hearing debacle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Why We Fight

As I mentioned in my post this morning, I want to elaborate on my op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal on the Alito hearings and offer a few additional thoughts about the larger issues I raised in it. (N.B. If you have not read the op-ed yet, I'd encourage you to scroll down to the text of the piece before reading this post.)

But first I'd like to respond to my Democratic friends who are again questioning why I am using the Wall Street Journal (an opposition organ in their mind) to criticize/attack/undermine the party. To many of them, my commentaries are an act of disloyalty and giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Consider this accusation I got today via email from a friend who works in the Senate: "you are an uninformed idiot whoring yourself to the enemy for your own personal gain at the benefit of everything you claim to support."

Despite those harsh words, I have a lot of respect for the friend who sent this, and understand his anger, as well as those of other Democrats who are frustrated with our situation and would rather not be reminded of it. But I can't say I understand the logic of it. I just don't see how our party is going to change sufficiently to become a majority party national again if we sweep our serious structural and credibility problems under the rug or tiptoe around them publicly. (To get a full flavor of those problems, see the Galston-Kamarck analysis, The Politics of Polarization.)

The fact is, the Democratic Party has gotten waxed in the last three federal election cycles, and there is no apparent evidence that our national leadership understands the depth of our deficits, let alone has the vision or strength to lead our party to fix them. Once you reach that conclusion, as I have, you have two choices. You can walk away in surrender and become an independent, as many likeminded people I know have done. Or you can, as Al Gore once said, stay and fight -- which to me means substantively yet directly calling out the elephant (or should I say donkey in this case) in the room, pushing people in our party to confront our demons, and wherever possible identify constructive alternatives.

Now, I acknowledge that my commentaries to date have been heavily tilted towards the negative, and I intend to balance that out as time goes on, because I am an idea guy at heart. But my most immediate concern is that much of our party is in denial about the challenge we face, with much of our base harboring the illusion that all we have to do is yell louder and somehow the voters we are losing will suddenly embrace the same arguments they have repeatedly rejected before. And I just don't see how we can have an intellectually honest and productive discussion about a compelling agenda to move us forward in the post-Bush era without first openly confronting the issues (and puncturing the delusions) that are holding us back.

To me, this is somewhat akin to having a brother with a debilitating drug addiction and parents who just won't deal with it. Staging an intervention and forcing him into detox could be a painful, ugly ordeal. It likely would be viewed as betrayal and might even damage the relationship permanently. But most people who love their brother would take those extreme measures and the risks that go with them to save his life.

I look at what I am doing as another form of tough love, for which I am not looking for kudos, just a little consideration. So I say to my friends in the party who unhappy with my critiques, I welcome you to question my assumptions, my analysis, and my arguments; I will be the better for it. But with all due respect, please don't question my motivations. I want to take back control of our government from the arrogant and corrupt forces that have hijacked it as much as you -- I just have a different conception of what it will take to win that fight.

Now for a few quick side notes on my op-ed:

1) My comments about abortion should in no way be construed to mean that I do not support a woman's right to choose, or that the party should compromise its commitment to this core principle. My point is simply about the math and our methods. We have yet to be able to move voters our way by attacking our opponents as anti-choice, which I believe is largely due to the fact that we are perceived by too many to be pro-abortion instead of pro-choice and insensitive to the moral complexities of this matter. As such, I believe we either have to change our rhetoric, show more respect for the moral concerns of our opponents (and the competing life interest that is at stake), and do a better job of showing the substantial harm that would come to women by totally robbing them of control of their bodies. Or we need to shut up about the issue and focus on ideas and arguments that play to our strengths.

2) A good friend who is a Hillary fan made an excellent point about the hypocrisy of our side for playing by guilt by association over Alito's peripheral membership in the conservative alumni group in Princeton. As you will see from this article, Hillary was unfairly slapped for being an editor at the Yale Law School Review of Law and Social Action, which apparently published nasty attacks on police brutality that then Hillary Rodham had no involvement with. If it was wrong to do this to Mrs. Clinton in 2000, which it was, it was wrong for the Democrats to do this to Alito last week.

3) Another good friend -- Robert George, the estimable author of the Ragged Thots blog -- made another excellent point about the opportunity cost of the Democrats' misguided attempt at turning the mild-mannered Alito into a bogeyman. George contends, and I agree, that the Democrats would have been a lot better off making Big Brother Bush the bogeyman, by focusing their attention and the media's on the NSA eavesdropping scandal, which is rightly worrisome to many Americans of both parties. Instead of grasping at straws, the Democrats could have and should have mounted a concentrated attack on this Administration's arrogant disregard for personal privacy and challenged Alito to answer question after question about the Court's role as a critical check on a power-hungry and untrustworthy President.


DT in the Wall Street Journal

What follows is the text of an op-ed I had published in this morning's Wall Street Journal reflecting on the Alito hearings. As is often the case, some of the nuance of the piece got squeezed out for space reasons. So I plan on elaborating on a few points in this space later in the day.

Base Dogma
January 17, 2006; Page A16

It's hard not to listen to the reviews of the Democrats' performance in the Alito hearings and come away thinking that much of our party is living in a parallel universe.

Most of the political establishment has concluded that the Democrats were: (a) ineffectual; (b) egomaniacal; (c) desperately grasping at straws; (d) downright offensive; or (e) some combination of the above. The American people, outside of those living in deep-blue enclaves, either were not paying attention or concluded that Sam Alito seemed like a pretty decent guy who was more than qualified. And if they saw anything about it on TV, they couldn't figure out why those pompous Democratic senators were trying to slam Judge Alito for being racist (and making his wife cry).

Yet the liberal blogosphere is agog at the way the Democrats let Judge Alito off the hook. And they're stupefied as to why the Senate Democrats are signaling that they won't risk triggering a nuclear confrontation with a filibuster. Postings on Daily Kos were typical. First, this comment from Georgia10: "Don't tell me a filibuster isn't warranted when 56% of this nation says Alito SHOULD be blocked if he'll overturn Roe. . . . I keep hearing . . . [t]hat we need 'angry' Dems, we need Dems with courage. We need Dems with courage. Well guess what -- we HAVE angry Dems, we HAVE courageous Dems. Look in the damn mirror, people. WE are the party. WE are the Democrats. We're angry, we spit fire, and our time has come."

Then there was this response from one DHinMI: "Alito is a judicial radical and far from the national mainstream on numerous issues. . . And with his anemic numbers, [Bush] wouldn't be able to count on much support from the country in ramming through the nomination."

There are many problems with this analysis. The most immediate is that even if you accept that the activist base's concerns are valid -- that Judge Alito may in fact be a "judicial radical" -- the Democrats simply didn't prove it. They certainly could not justify their absurd insinuations that he was a closet bigot. Their only sliver of evidence was his peripheral membership in a conservative Princeton alum group that opposed affirmative action and that he never was active in. That was it: no pattern of behavior, no Trent Lott-like public statements, no red flags. Beyond being reprehensible, this line of attack was degrading. It reinforced the leftover perception from pre-Clinton days that our party cries wolf on race when it can't win on the merits, and thereby lowered our credibility one rung more in challenging legitimate incidences of discrimination. Those who suggested to Ted Kennedy et al. that this was a winning play should have their strategists' licenses revoked.

Nor could the Democrats back up their central claim that Judge Alito would bring to the court a wild-eyed conservative agenda bent on taking away our rights, especially those of women. Maybe he'll vote to overturn Roe, but there's no way a disinterested observer could come away from these hearings convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he would. Indeed, I am an interested, pro-choice observer, and I couldn't say for sure how he'll rule based on the hearings. Yes, he indicated two decades ago that he thought Roe was wrongly decided (as have many other respected constitutional experts); but he was writing as a legal advisor to a pro-life administration, not as a judge. Far more recently, and relevantly, he has said he would not prejudge cases before they came to the court and that he would give great weight to precedent. It's little wonder that an ambivalent country that has twice elected a pro-life president and accepted pro-life leadership in Congress didn't flip its lid over the case against Judge Alito on abortion.

And that's the heart of the problem with our party and its angry activist base. It's not so much that we're living in a parallel universe, but that we have dueling conceptions of what's mainstream, especially on abortion and other values-based issues, and our side is losing. We think that if we simply call someone conservative, anti-choice and anti-civil rights, that's enough to scare people to our side. But that tired dogma won't hunt in today's electorate, which is far more independent-thinking and complex in its views on values than our side presumes.

That point was driven home in an incontrovertible analysis of the 2004 election results by Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck. They found that the American polity has undergone a great shaking out, where conservatives now vote almost universally for Republicans and liberals for Democrats, and that Republicans have won the presidency twice in a row because they're doing a better job of pulling moderates/independents their way -- in particular married women and white Catholics who are uncomfortable with the Democrats on values issues. Judging from the dreadful tack our party took in the Alito process, it's clear that we haven't yet internalized these political realities -- most likely because our anger at George Bush continues to blind us to them. Many Democrats just don't want to acknowledge that he's president and is going to pick conservative justices -- let alone that the two we got, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, are about as good as we could hope for.

This episode shows we don't have any leader in power who will tell our base that we're not going to become a majority party again by telling the majority they're out of the mainstream. We do badly need leaders with courage -- the courage, that is, to push our party (to borrow a phrase) to move on, to accept that we can't win with the same lame ideological arguments in post-9/11 America, and that we must develop an alternative affirmative agenda that shows we can keep the country safer, make the economy stronger, and govern straighter than the ethically challenged Republicans. Then we can worry about picking the nominees instead of fighting them.

Mr. Gerstein is a former communications director for Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Covering New Ground

One takeaway from the Alito hearings, fitting to ponder on MLK Day, is just how stale, stilted, and unproductive our national conversation on civil rights has become.

You know the script by now. The Democrats indiscriminately lob accusations of racism at just about any one -- African-Americans included -- who dares challenge the orthodoxy of affirmative action or rule against a minority plaintiff in a discrimination claim. The Republicans grumble in indignation -- in the Alito episode, they even shed a few camera-ready tears -- and fall back into the cynically safe space of quota opposition.

Meanwhile, as the boys in the Beltway continue partying like it's 1979, another generation of black and Hispanic kids are being shunted into miserable public schools and a likely life of inequality and insecurity. Not exactly what Dr. King dreamed about.

The same sameness and emptiness is too often evident in the gay rights debate. In this script, the Democrats self-righteously and obliviously suggest that anyone who does not support gay marriage is a bigot. The Republicans, even as they deny they are homophobic, complain that gays are seeking "special" rights and are pushing their radical agenda on the rest of America.

Meanwhile, an important bill to protect gays and lesbians from being fired from their jobs because of who they love -- which unlike gay marriage has the support of about 80 percent of the American people -- sits gathering dust in the congressional docket for the past decade.

If it's hope you are looking for, at least hope of someone saying something original and thoughtful on the subject of civil rights relevant to today's America, check out this article in yesterday's New York Times magazine by Yale law professor Kenji Yoshino.

Yoshino, who is openly gay, raises alarms about what he views as a new, more insidious form of legal discimination in our society that force minorities to repress their identities to conform to norms of assimilation -- a phenomenon he calls "covering."

"Civil rights case law is peopled with plaintiffs who were severely punished for daring to be openly different. Workers were fired for lapsing into Spanish in English-only workplaces, women were fired for behaving in stereotypically "feminine" ways and gay parents lost custody of their children for engaging in displays of same-sex affection. These cases revealed that far from being a parlor game, covering was the civil rights issue of our time."

I do not buy all of Yoshino's arguments or judgments, but I found the article, which is adapted from a soon-to-be-published book, to be extremely timely and thought-provoking. That is especially true of Yoshino's surprising conclusion -- he makes the counterfactual case that raising public awareness and changing social norms, not the law, is the only practicable solution to this problem.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Spying Over Spilt Milk

If you are looking for a reasonable, non-neo-con defense of the NSA's hyper-controversial domestic spying program, check out Marshall Wittman's recent post on the subject at Bull Moose.

I cannot say I share Marshall's sanguineness about entrusting this authority in this administration, which has proven to have a small problem with accountability (on the drunk-with-power breathlyzer, Cheney and his fellow neocons reliably blow off the charts, not to mention the Constitution). But as usual, the Moose makes you think twice about why we are so outraged by this development. In particular, he makes a critical point about the left's confusion about the true threat facing America post-9/11:

"A dangerous and frightening complacency has fallen upon the land. There is little concern about the continuing terrorist threat. The Senate delays passing an extension of the Patriot Act while civil liberties attorneys bicker about dotting the i's and crossing the t's. In some quarters, the Jihadist threat has been replaced by the Bushie threat."

I would contend that "some quarters" is probably too modest. Indeed, the last few years of chicken-little clucking about the Patriot Act, the treatment of detainees and now the NSA program suggest that much of the Democratic activist base cares more about the rights of terrorists than the security of our country. I don't actually believe that to be the case, but I fear that is the message we are sending into the heartland, and that it is producing the same damaging result as our outrage imbalance over crime did in the 70's and 80's, when swing voters became convinced Democrats were more sympathetic to violent felons than to their victims.

In my view, this disconnect helped kill John Kerry's candidacy in 2004. While W always made clear he would never rest until we kill all the bad guys, Kerry's lead talking point was typically about playing nice with our friends. Not an insignificant issue, but also not the best thing to emphasize to an electorate that already had doubts about the ability of Democrats in general -- and Kerry in particular -- to keep them safe. So to the average voter, who did not have time to read and compare the candidates' respective speeches to the Council on Foreign Relations, the unfortunate takeway was too often that Bush was Buford Pusser and Kerry was Barney Fife.

I'm not suggesting that Democrats should keep their mouths shut about the Bush Administration's arrogant disregard for civil liberties or international opinion. We should be condemning them when they go too far, holding hearings, seeking indictments, etc. I just think that given our political liabilities on security, we have to be more careful in our actions and rhetoric to not leave the impression that our President is a bigger enemy than Al Qaeda. And to me, that means always and repeatedly reminding the American people that we fundamentally understand that our nation is at war, that our top priority has to be to destroy those who would destroy us, and that what makes us different than President Bush is that we don't believe our government has to abrogate our basic freedoms to defend them.


High Praise from the High Priest of Ed Reform

It's not often that a writer is honored to be compared to a chimp, but I could not have asked for a stronger plug yesterday of my site from the folks over at Eduwonk, the country's leading education reform blog. Here's what they had to say about my post on the Florida voucher ruling:

"At Dan Gerstein's new blog Dangerous Thoughts he questions the logic of the decision and also raises the charter question. Gerstein has a proclivity to say interesting and provocative things so this blog should be an interesting read. In fact, in terms of his ability to shake things up -- and they do need some shaking -- Gerstein with a blog is like a chimp on acid with a loaded shotgun so look for good stuff from there going forward."

I will return the favor by saying that when it comes to providing penetrating analysis of and innovating thinking on education policy and politics, Eduwonk is the 800-pound gorilla channeling Al Shanker (the legendary leader of the American Federation of Teachers, for those not familiar with him). It is one-stop idea shopping for ed reform geeks and lay readers alike, and I would urge my visitors to add it to their must-read list.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Florida Flabbergaster

Most casual news consumers will probably see this week's decision by the Florida Supreme Court to outlaw the state's Opportunity Scholarships program as just the latest in a series of legal rulings in the voucher wars.

But I would urge anyone who cares about the inequities in our public education system to read the fine print of the ludicrous Florida opinion -- and the fine exposition of it by New York Times columnist John Tierney in Saturday's paper -- to understand the much broader and troubling implications of this case for urban school reform.

As Tierney points out, the Supreme Court chose not to ground its decision in the state's Blaine amendment, which prohibits using state funding to aid religious institutions, as most other voucher-hostile state courts have in similar circumstances (including the lower court that originally invalidated the Florida program). Instead, the majority ruled that the Florida voucher program violated the state constitution's requirement to make "adequate provision . . . for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools."

The logic behind this rationale is beyond bizarre -- it is fantastical. First off, regardless of what you think about state funded vouchers as a policy tool, independent studies of the Florida program seem to show that participating students are doing better in the private schools they have switched to -- as are the public schools who losing students and are thus being forced to improve to compete. If that is the case, it begs credulity to suggest that this initiative is somehow undermining the state's ability to provide a uniform, high-quality system of public schools.

But the real mind-blower in this ruling is what's left unsaid about the chronically underperforming public schools that the voucher kids are trying to escape. How on earth could the court conclude with a straight face that the successful voucher program violates the uniform, high-quality requirement but the disastrous public schools in Miami and other urban districts themselves do not?

I'm sorry, but on the constitutional harm-ometer, I think the failures of the public officials running the state's urban public school districts -- which are systematically denying thousands upon thousands of children access to a decent education (forget about a high-quality one) to placate politically-powerful interest groups -- rank just a little higher.

Now, in highlighting the follies of this decision, I am not making the case for vouchers. While I am open to voucher experiments, and am hard-pressed to argue against the moral case made by voucher advocates like the admirable Howard Fuller, I do not believe private school choice is ultimately an effective large-scale solution for closing the achievement gap separating the haves and have nots in our society. I believe our priority has to be to reform and modernize our public education system, reorder its priorities, and refocus it on meeting the needs of children (not the adults working in it) and producing results.

And that in the end is why I found the Florida court decision so disturbing -- its ramifications for public education reform efforts in the 15 other states that have similar uniformity provisions in their state constitutions.

Consider the example of charter schools, which are independently-run public schools that have shown great promise as a gap-closing instrument in low-income communities. As Tierney and others have noted, under the Florida court's supremely-twisted logic, charter schools could be found to violate the "uniform" benchmark and thus be outlawed. So could other unconventional public school models that don't look like the cookie-cutter, lowest-common-denominator form most urban public schools still take today.

Hopefully we can use this legal lunacy as a learning moment. If nothing else, it brings into stark relief the consequential choice that policy-makers and by extension the American people have to make about the future of our public education system. Is the priority uniformity in structure and governance -- even if it means mass mediocrity and indefensible inequities for another generation of children? Or is the priority uniformity in achievement -- that we have great schools of many shapes and sizes and equal opportunities for all kids?

You be the judge.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Hillary's Bum Right Rap

One of the most oft-repeated pieces of conventional political wisdom these days -- and one of the most flawed -- is this notion that Hillary Clinton is shamelessly changing her ideological stripes to position herself to run for President. A perfect example comes from Washington Post commentator Eugene Robinson's column on Tuesday predicting the top stories of 2006:

"(5) Hillary Clinton will also deny that she's running for president -- at least until she gets reelected to the Senate. But all the while, she will slog ahead on her epic rightward march, reinforcing her change of allegiance in the Culture War. When her support for a bill to outlaw flag-burning fails to soften the hearts of the most adamant Hillary-haters, she may have to go all the way and announce she intends to honor our troops in Iraq by baking a batch of cookies for each and every brave unit.

This criticism not only shows an obvious naivete about the modern political process -- and the serious challenges national Democrats have in gaining credibility beyond the party's activist base -- but more importantly it seems to be largely contradicted by the facts. As best I can tell, Hillary Clinton, like her husband and a lot of thoughtful Democratic leaders of this era (Bill Bradley, Al Gore, Bob Kerrey, just to name a few), has long been an iconoclastic progressive. Indeed, her record is dotted with examples of her departing from what have been regarded as liberal orthodoxies when she thinks they are outdated, unworkable, or conflict with other, higher-order progressive values.

For instance, Hillary butted heads with the teachers union in Arkansas while working with her husband's administration to reform the public school system there and put a greater emphasis on standards and accountability. And throughout Bill Clinton's presidency she strongly and consistently supported efforts that my former boss (Senator Lieberman) and other Members of both parties made to help parents protect their kids from media sex and violence and push our friends in the entertainment industry to be more responsible -- just as she has as a Senator (to much unfair and ill-informed criticism).

As for Iraq, you can disagree with her original support for the war and even question her continued defense of her vote in light of the mess that Bush has made of things and the failure to turn up any WMD. But I have yet to see any evidence to back up the charge that she has been a hawk on Iraq for pure political expedience.

In fact, all the evidence that I have seen is to the contrary -- she has been a hawkish-leaning, muscular internationalist in the mold of John Kennedy and Harry Truman throughout her time on Senate Armed Services Committee. Plus, it should be noted that Bill Clinton (who remains a hero to much of the activist base that is attacking Hillary) initially supported the war, and while he has in retrospect said that the way Bush went to war was a big mistake, he has consistently opposed an arbitrary withdrawal of American troops (just as his wife has done).

One could even argue that the politically expedient thing to do, given all the grief Hillary has gotten from the Cindy Sheehan crowd, would have been to mimic John Kerry's Iraq backtrack, and that she showed some character by sticking to her guns, so to speak. It's a debatable proposition, but one worth considering.

Now, is Hillary and her team doing what they can on the margins to make herself as broadly appealing as possible and to obliberate the silly caricature of her as a time-warped flower child? Of course, but show me a modern American president who has not done the same thing in trying to get elected. Is it really fair to hold Hillary to a different and utterly unachievable standard?

The operative question is whether she is being hypocritical or intellectually dishonest in her positioning, and so far the indictment on this count is pretty damn flimsy. That is except for the less-than-deft handling of the flag-burning bill, which I have to agree was a questionable move at best, especially given the high-pitch motive-doubting that was going on within the party about Iraq at that time. But in my mind, that sole count, even if you assume the worst, is not enough to throw a heavyweight like Hillary in the political sell-out pen.

The bottom line to me is that Senator Clinton, like any one else, is entitled to a fair trial -- she's especially due that consideration, given all the vituperation she has had to put up with over the last dozens or so years. There may evidence I am overlooking to prove that she is compromising her principles in an indefensible way -- I welcome others to make that case and show me I am wrong. But in the meantime, let's try to avoid giving into surface cynicism, as understandable as it is, and judge the woman on her record -- which regardless of its merits (a subject for another time) seems remarkably consistent to me so far.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Opening Day

Welcome to my blog. On the off chance you are not a family member or an insomniatic friend, I thought it might be useful to tell you a little about who I am, what I aim to communicate in this forum, and how I hope to illuminate in some small measure the inanities and insanities of American politics today.

I come to the blogosphere and political commentary with an inside-out perspective -- as a former reporter turned Capitol Hill staffer turned exiled consultant; and as a free-thinking, orthodoxy-challenging Democrat (yes we still exist, most evidence on the Web to the contrary).

[FYI: Here is my full bio.]

I spent my first four years out of college (Harvard ’89) reporting for the Hartford Courant before getting seduced by the promise and energy of the Clinton campaign in 1992, which made me realize I was too passionate about big issues to continue sitting on the sidelines and feigning objectivity. In Clinton the candidate, I did not see a different kind of Democrat, I saw a different kind of politician – one who had the potential to unchain our deadlocked, braid-dead system and actually translate new ideas into social progress. (What 42 did with that potential is subject for a longer conversation to come.)

So I made the leap to the other side and hooked on with my home state senator, Joe Lieberman, with whom I spent 10 incredibly rewarding and simultaneously frustrating years. During that time, I advised Lieberman on education, communication, and social/cultural policy; wrote speeches; managed his Senate press operation; had a front row seat to the ugliness of the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment drama; served as national spokesman for Lieberman's vice presidential campaign in 2000 and a senior strategist on his presidential campaign in 2003-04; and constantly struggled with how to hold onto my ideals in an increasingly warped and amoral environment.

I lasted as long as I could, largely out of loyalty to my boss. His integrity, while widely and rightly praised by many outside observers, can only truly be appreciated by watching up close how he withstood the overwhelming and omnipresent pressure to do the expedient and self-serving thing to stand by his convictions and try to serve the larger public interest.

But after a decade the weight of all the Beltway bullshit grew too much to take: the empty triumph of ideology and spin over ideas and facts -- and the shallow, reflexive thinking and vacuous, repetitive debates it produces; the routine failures to bridge differences and forge meaningful common ground – and the ritualistic dance of denial and blame that follows; the cynical, manipulative campaigns of fear, smear and scandal -- and the perverse and pervasive win-at-all-costs mentality that fuels them.

The last disillusioning straw was the outrageously disrespectful way Lieberman was treated by the party in the 2004 Democratic primary process. Here was a model leader and loyal Democrat who had marched with MLK and devoted his life to advancing the party’s core values of opportunity and freedom and tolerance, yet was persistently vilified by the activist base as a sell-out and a traitor primarily for standing by his vote to authorize the use of force against Iraq. (Unlike some of the other leading primary candidates, who cynically wilted and waffled on that issue to curry favor with anti-war voters).

I knew then that I was officially homeless politically. I also knew that to preserve my mental health I had to get out of town. (For a fuller explanation of why I left Washington, you can read a speech on the subject I gave almost a year ago at Penn’s Fels Institute of Government.) So I moved to New York, where I ended up launching my own commnications consulting practice, which specializes in advising non-profits and advocacy groups on how to win public arguments.

[For more background on Dan Gerstein Consulting, go to my website:]

The move has been liberating – in more ways than one. The distance enabled me to fully appreciate just how perverted our national politics had become. More importantly, with the freedom that comes from having nothing left to lose, I have had an opportunity as an unaffiliated pundit to share my inside-out perspective on what’s wrong with the Democratic Party and our political system as a whole and offer some ideas on how to deal with the dysfunction. [Here is a sampling of my offline commentaries, including three op-eds published in the Wall Street Journal.]

I decided this was the best way for me to apply my experience and knowledge as an ex-insider and continue making a contribution – to put a name to what too many people still working in public life are avoiding or denying, to make and articulate moral judgments, and to help push our polity in a different direction.

In doing so, I have tried to avoid the gratuitous personal attacks that have become standard fare in so much political commentary, while speaking candidly and at times provocatively about sensitive subjects and challenging preconceived notions.

That, in a nutshell, will be the focus of this blog. Dangerous Thoughts is a play on my name/web address, but it’s also an aspiration. I want to do my part – on a regular basis -- to shake things up. To inject into major debates of the day ideas and arguments that are literally politically incorrect, that threaten intellectual dishonesties and reflexive assumptions, and that hopefully can in some way enlighten and enrich our public discourse.

I obviously have a special interest in the future of the Democratic Party, and I plan on engaging some of my more traditional-leaning friends in a spirited yet respectful dialogue about the direction and duties of the donkey set and what it means to be a true progressive. But I will also speak with equal force and frequency to the follies of President Bush and the Republicans, as well as the general foibles of American politics. I am a not a partisan (except when it comes to the Red Sox), and I don’t intend to blog like one.

Along the way, I will weigh in on the bigger cultural controversies of the moment that are tinged with political overtones and touch on the deep values divisions plaguing our society – such as the fight over intelligent design, the so-called War on Christmas, and the Terry Schiavo tragedy. These conflicts desperately need some light to go with the heat they generate, especially on the Democratic side, and I’d like to see if I can help add to the dignity and understanding of these discussions.

I hope you find what I have to say interesting, informative, and ideally constructive. If you do, or even if you don’t, please feel free to share your feedback with me. I welcome different perspectives – and often learn from them.

Thanks again for visiting. And away we go……

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