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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Defining An Intraparty Free Speech Zone

Having implicitly accused Chris Bowers of MyDD of failing to thoroughly read the writings of Steve Waldman and Amy Sullivan on Democrats and religious outreach, I must confess that I did not thoroughly read Chris’ latest post on the subject. Yes, I noted his argument against targeting evangelical voters, but he went on to make the rather different complaint that people who called for a different Democratic strategy towards such voters were reinforcing the Republican meme that Democrats were anti-religious.Now this is a complicated argument for Chris to make, since he has invested a fair number of words to the proposition that Democrats ought to build a “non-Christian coalition.” But the more important issue is that this exchange illustrates the Dialogue of the Deaf within the Democratic Party about “reinforcing opposition talking points,” which is what Chris accuses “third way types” like me of doing, and which I suggested Chris was doing in the coda of my own post.This is truly classic: “centrists” worry that lefties or hyper-partisan netroots types are feeding Republican stereotypes about our party, and then the objects of this criticism respond that “centrists” are helping the opposition by making such arguments. You see this sort of exchange all the time, though most of the anger these days is coming from the non-“centrist” side of the debate.I’ve personally come to the conclusion that all of us in the progressive camp have gotten a little too obsessed with the “enemy is listening” fear.Yes, I know about the Right-Wing Noise Machine and its influence. Yes, I’ve seen the famous Rob Stein presentation; yes, I’ve read and agreed with Off Center, and as a matter of fact, I’ve written a fair amount on my own dime about the novel nature of today’s conservative movement and Republican Party. But all of this does not really justify the totalitarian power we sometimes attribute to the opposition, and the corresponding, guerilla-like belief that anyone on our side whose words can be used by the State Police needs to be immediately repudiated, if not liquidated. Difficult as it is to accept, the truth is that nothing said by Chris, or Markos, or Amy Sullivan, or Marshall Wittmann, or me, is likely to turn up in Republican television ads, or affect actual voters in any major way. We’re all on the periphery of politics, not at its heart.Moreover, a lot of this is really about fighting the last war. The famous Machine is crumbling, by all accounts. Democrats need to talk honestly about how to administer the coup de grace in the next two election cycles, without resorting to secret meetings in smoky (or more likely, non-smoking) revolutionary bars.This brings me to Garance Franke-Ruta’s astute comment about Chris Bowers’ concerns over the Sullivan/Waldman critiques of Democrats:

If progressives can’t have honest conversations in their own magazines and blogs, where are they supposed to do it? Voters can scarcely recall what is said directly to them in advertisements during the height of election season; articles like those in the Monthly are unlikely to swing elections one way or another any more than are Bower’s own extremely frank blog items. At best, they may make political actors think more about certain issues over time.

Amen. We need to define an intra-party free speech zone that includes political arguments that one position or another hurts us or helps them, but does not begin or end with the assumption that the only possible sin is to fail to flail Republicans with the maximum force on every topic. That might have been a superior tactic to what Democrats did in 2002 or even 2004, but its wisdom, or that of any particular strategy being offered by “centrists,” is not self-evident today.Let’s really talk about it.

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