The Backseat Philosopher

Thursday, November 04, 2004

To My Fellow Democrats

We Democrats are supposedly the party of the therapists, the teachers, and the 'relationship experts.' If anybody would be proud of the title, 'active listener', it would be a Democrat. We're the soft ones who understand where the other side is coming from and negotiate.


Many Democrats think that our patience and understanding are our weakness. "We don't know how to fight like the Republicans," we all told ourselves after Florida 2000. "We have to be more like them: tougher, meaner." "We have to energize our base more."


Actually, no. Our error is that we Democrats are far less understanding than we think we are. Our version of understanding the other side is to look at them from a psychological point of view while being completely unwilling to take their arguments seriously. "Well, he can't help himself, he's a right-wing religious zealot, so of course he's going to think like that." "Republicans who never served in war are hypocrites to send young men to die. " "Republicans are homophobes, probably because they can't deal with their secret desires." Anything but actually listening and responding to the arguments being made.


And when I say 'responding,' I don't just mean 'coming up with the best counterargument and pushing it.' Sometimes responding to an argument means finding the merit in it and possibly changing one's position. That is part of growth, right?


Here are some arguments that are being made that the Democratic party has simply not responded to, in the larger sense of the word "response":

  • Whatever the UN was, might have been, or should be, it now isn't. Genocidal tyrannies are on the Human Rights commision. Saddam Hussein funneled over 1.7 billion dollars to various decision makers and world leaders to weaken his sanctions program. One out of every three votes is about Israel. Until the UN is significantly reformed, you shouldn't take its decisions seriously.
  • If we view 1000 or even 10,000 dead soldiers as unacceptable, we will never be able to fight a real war again.
  • Proportional response with no preemption allows the other side to set the pace of the battle.
  • Throughout history, governments have had a strong interest in promoting long-term child-rearing heterosexual relationships. That is why governments create a legal definition of Marriage and provide lots of benefits to heterosexual couples who enter into it. This has been true for States throughout history independent of the religious beliefs of the populace. Worrying about changing that definition, even to the point of deciding against a change, is not automatically sexism or bigotry.
  • If you never are willing to draw a line where human life starts, there will be no line.
  • Just because it says something in the Bible doesn't mean there are no ancillary arguments supporting it. And just because someone uses the Bible as a source of their morality doesn't mean that any particular view of theirs is wrong. Actually, stuff that's lasted for thousands of years is more likely to be useful than stuff that was dreamed up in a French philosophy book.
I am not saying that all these arguments should win. But I do not hear enough Democrats elucidating reasoned counterarguments to these positions. "Bush insulted our allies and the UN," "Bush lied, people died," "We have become the aggressor," "Homophobia," "Religious nut." These are not responses, these are dismissals. When Democrats start actively responding, we will succeed. Until then, we will be increasingly ignored as irrelevent.