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.

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