Monday, July 23, 2012

The Circular Firing Squad

In the last few weeks there have been a couple of diaries that have excited a great deal of heated debate on DailyKos. So much so that Kos felt obliged to post a diary on the subject. Roughly speaking, the division of opinion seems to be between those who believe that there should be no criticism of the Obama Administration, at least for the duration of the Presidential Campaign and those who take the opposite view. I won't describe the two sides as factions because I don't see them as either large enough nor programatically coherent enough to justify such a label. But it does seem that there is enough of a core constituency on both sides to justify describing them as cliques.

In this context, as one might expect, we've seen an escalating spiral of hostility and paranoia on both sides. Hyperbole, over reaction and suspicion of motives have been the order of the day, none of which, as Kos has pointed out, serve the mission of this site. I think we would all do well to take a deep breath and get back to the basics of what DKos is.

DKos is a site and community dedicated to a strategy of electoral politics via the Democratic Party. In considering the significance of this point there is a truism of electoral politics that everyone should be keep in mind: It doesn't matter why someone gives you their vote, so long as they give you their vote.
Why is this important? Because by definition it excludes the kind ideological purity that some on both sides seem to hanker after. People vote for widely varying reasons. Any viable electoral strategy can't be based on refusing to recognize this fact. You can't win if you reject either those who are lockstep groupies or those who will hold their noses while voting. An effective electoral coalition must embrace both of these extremes and everything in between.

In concrete terms relating to DKos the two poles of opinion could be described as those who believe in electoral politics exclusively and those who consider electoral politics as one tactic among many and not necessarily the most important one. Obviously these divergent views may reflect differences in ultimate goals. However, such differences are irrelevant to the purpose of this site: electing more and better Democrats. Come November it will not matter whether a vote is cast for Obama because the voters think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread or because they think that he is only marginally better than the alternative. What will matter is that they vote.

Given the above, its my own view that both extremes in this current round of squabbling are in the wrong. For those who imagine that they are upholding the mission of DKos by calling for squelching criticism of the President and the Administration, even to the absurd extreme of censoring satirical cartoons and , in at least one instance, attacking one of the admins as being part of the problem, I must point out that if successful you will only succeed in alienating those voters who do not accept such strictures.

For those on the other side who seemed to be obsessed with painting the President and the Administration in the darkest possible colors, I have to ask exactly what purpose you think is being served? I do not think that the President should be immune to criticism but do you believe that his failings are such that it makes no difference whether it is he or Mitt Romney that occupies the White House? If the answer to that question is yes, then you owe it to this community as well as yourself to say so and to accept whatever consequences follow. If the answer is no, then your criticism ought to reflect that fact. Anything less than this is nothing more than an exercise in cynical manipulation.

Since I've taken it upon myself to criticize others, I'm obliged to follow my own advice and make full disclosure. I am of the camp that views voting as a matter of tactics. I supported President Obama in 2008 not because I thought that his election, or the election of any single individual for that matter, would usher in the sort of wholesale structural change that we so desperately need. I supported him because I saw his election as a necessary incremental step towards defeating and reversing the reactionary course of our politics. I didn't believe and do not believe that an electoral strategy alone is sufficient for this purpose. Neither do I believe that abandoning electoral politics provides a viable alternative. I support a combined strategy of electoral politics and mass direct action. Consequently, I will be supporting both President Obama's re-election and autonomous movements such as Occupy. I do so because I believe both serve the strategic interest of progressive, democratic change. Where either diverge from serving this goal, both deserve and should receive criticism.

Having said all this, it should be no surprise that my last words are for those here whose support for President Obama is such that they would throttle the free exchange of opinion in a misguided attempt to consolidate the Democratic base. I can't think of anything more likely to demoralize turnout in the fall than such heavy handed enforcement of conformity. You don't win close elections, and this one will be close, by scorning voters who do not share every jot and tittle of your own views.