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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Note on Civility:

Last Sunday, Open Left published a critique of an article we ran here at TDS – an article by Andrew Levison titled Obama the Sociologist. The critique, by Paul Rosenberg, is tough and argues its thesis with commendable energy and seriousness, but, at the same time, it also keeps the debate civil and clearly focused on the issues. In the coming months, as greater problems and tensions arise within the Democratic coalition and community, it is going to become more and more vital that Democrats maintain certain standards of respect and civility, even as they passionately debate policies and political strategies.
Specifically, here are three positive things that Rosenberg’s does in the course of his argument:

1. He assumes the writer he is criticizing is intellectually honest and doesn’t attribute ulterior motives. There are several places where Rosenberg explicitly notes that he has the opportunity to take a cheap shot, but chooses to give the author the benefit of the doubt instead.
2. He treats a debate between Democrats over political strategy as an attempt to identify both good ideas and bad ones and not as a contest whose goal is refute everything an opposing author says. At one point (referring to both Levison’s article and a related analysis by Mark Schmitt) Rosenberg says “I want to stress that both pieces are thoughtful and have useful insights. But I believe both are colored by wishful thinking and have some very flawed analysis as well.” A strong disagreement is very clearly and firmly stated, but it avoids being rude or insulting.
3. He avoids criticizing a publication as a whole for the opinions expressed in a particular article. At one point Rosenberg says: “this is not an attempt to pick a fight, much less to position Open Left in opposition to The Democratic Strategist. Indeed, despite some differences with its initial analysis, I completely agree with the main thrust of another recent piece.”

This is an excellent starting point for a set of rules for how Democrats should debate amongst themselves. TDS supports these standards and hopes that the rest of the Democratic community – progressives, centrists, conservatives, whatever — will all follow Rosenberg’s lead.
(Note: The Author of Obama The Sociologist is developing an amplification of his original analysis that will appear in a few days)

One comment on “A Note on Civility:

  1. Barry Clark on

    Hi – I would like to add respectfully that I believe that you have cited a tonal exception to the typical post by the author cited above from another website.
    I have stopped reading blogs or authors that are pedantic and condescending – this is a condition that is common among many energized activists and intellectuals, as is a lack of awareness of one’s own blind spots. It’s important to be open about how one might actually be wrong, or where one is open to new information – without fast dismissals.
    When you say, “tough” regarding the above author, this is precisely what I am talking about.
    In politics, superiority, anger and venting of personal emotions is not persuasive to the unpersuaded. Yet that is something we witness all too often on Internet debates. Yes, it is “tough,” but not conducive to a real exchange. That is precisely why such practitioners of debate wind up in a small echo chamber of like minded, similar personalities.
    I believe that TDS sets the standard for civil discussion and debate, one which other websites would be wise to follow.
    We need debate that is open and civil – that will both persuade new people and bring out the best in the people who are already in our coalition.


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