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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Hey Dems: You really have to give Third Way credit – they have unified the Democratic coalition in a way no-one else could possibly have done.

I mean, wow, when you think about it, it’s really pretty rare when Democrats from virtually every single sector of the party can find a solid common ground. After all, when’s the last time can you remember a single analysis being attacked in The New Republic, The American Prospect and The Nation, all at the same time? When’s the last time you remember a thesis being rejected by Democratic-oriented Think Tanks ranging all the way from the generally pro-Obama Center for American Progress to the very progressive Economic Policy Institute? When was the last time one Washington Post Op-Ed was not only repudiated by essentially all progressives in the Democratic coalition but also by a wide range of Democratic “centrists” including (implicitly) Obama himself, former members of DLC and the Clinton inner circle and even by Democratic politicians who are formal honorary co-Chairs of the same organization that penned the analysis.
It really is a genuinely unique achievement. Those Third Way guys really did nail those crazy lefties. To quote Woody Allen, they punched them solidly in the fist with their nose and kicked them right in the knee with their groin.
Now granted, the Third Way guys have back-pedaled with admirably breathtaking speed. In a concession that must have caused them genuine and acute physical pain, they now insist that they really do respect and admire Elizabeth Warren and Bill DeBlasio as valuable members of the democratic coalition (although they have carefully refrained from explicitly repudiating the view implied in the Op-Ed that Warren is probably more than a little nuts and wants to drive the Democratic Party over a “populist cliff”). They now unctuously complain– in faux-humble “aw, gee wiz, come on guys” style–that all they really wanted to do with that editorial was just to present their very serious perspective about Democratic economic policy.
Well, OK, let’s take them at their word. If that’s really, really, really what Third Way wants to do, then here are two things that they should immediately and permanently stop doing:

1. Stop name calling. Calling the Obama-centric Center for American Progress “the left”, as they did in one recent Washington Post op-ed is not just so damn silly that to any informed Democrat it’s laughable; it’s also deliberately intended to brand CAP’s ideas with a false political label that will discredit them with people who know nothing at all about the groups’ actual positions. Equally, saying that Elizabeth Warren and Bill DeBlasio represent “fantasy-based Blue-state populism” and are pushing the party over a “populist cliff” isn’t debating their specific views on policy, it’s deprecating them as individuals.
2. Stop creating straw men. In Third Way’s recent Op-Ed pieces, one common thread is that they never directly attack the specific policy proposals issued by actually-existing pro-Democratic groups like the Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Institute, the Congressional Progressive Caucus or any of the other real-world center-left or progressive-left think-tanks and organizations. Instead their repeated modus operandi is to create an exaggerated caricature of an imaginary “crazy left-wing” position that they wish their opponents actually held, slap a label on it they themselves invent (e.g. the “Have It All” philosophy) and then proceed to wallop the straw man they themselves have created.

Let’s be clear: an organization that aspires to be a genuine part of the Democratic coalition simply can’t engage in this kind of divisive behavior and then, when they are criticized, turn around and whine that all they really want to do is to seriously debate policy. It’s not just a transparently false claim, it’s deeply and profoundly insulting to the entire Democratic audience they are presumably trying to convince. It assumes Democrats – people like you, the readers of The Democratic Strategist — are so utterly stupid that you can’t tell the difference between schoolyard taunts and make-believe battles with fabricated straw men on the one hand and serious policy debates and honest engagement with opposing ideas on the other.
I mean, really, it’s not at all hard to tell the difference between the two approaches. As Ed Kilgore pointed out in his response to the latest Third Way op-ed, institutions with serious reputations as centers of thoughtful moderate or “centrist” thinking – groups like the Brookings Institution — have played a constructive centrist role for decades. Progressives frequently and passionately disagree with their conclusions but they continue to respect their intellectual honesty and commitment to reasoned debate.
So here’s a very simple acid test for Third Way: the next time you guys want to go out and write an op-ed, hire an outside copy-editor to remove every single damn instance of name-calling and every single fabricated, straw-man opponent from your piece. Instead, identify the very specific policy proposal or legislative bill you disagree with, demonstrate that it really represents a significant point of view within the Democratic coalition, quote directly from the document you are criticizing and then explain your dissent without directly attacking the individuals or group who wrote the document but focus rather on the specific ideas you believe wrong in the proposal itself.
If you can’t do this, then don’t complain if no one takes you seriously when you claim that all you really want to do is to seriously debate Democratic policy.
On the other hand, of course, now that I think about it for a moment, maybe I’m really wrong about this. Maybe you guys should just keep on doing exactly what you’re doing. There are all kinds of important policy issues that currently divide the Democratic coalition and which inevitably but unfortunately weaken Democratic unity. It’s a real and important contribution to the Democratic coalition to generate the kind of massive intra-party unity that you guys have generated as a counter-weight to these divisive pressures – even if it is a massive intra-party unity that is directed directly against yourselves.
P.S. Oh, and by the way, if you want to create a serious dialog with Democrats, you might also want to consider using a different platform than the Wall Street Journal. The sincerity and plausibility of your critique is not particularly enhanced when it appears alongside editorials channeling old Ayn Rand novels and paid ads promoting offshore bank accounts in remote Pacific islands.

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