Clarification Via Reflected Brilliance

Rather than unpack at length all the ways Nonpartisan has minconstrued certain things -- doing so would take a while, and it's probably my fault for being too oblique -- let me just recommend to everyone's attention a fine post by Tim Burke that ends with the following, which is actually quite close to one aspect of what (I thought) I was saying:

I'm going to go on calling things as I see them. If I think I was wrong about something I thought or said earlier, I'm going to say so. I'm going to be as skeptical as I can manage about my own claims and commitments. But none of that is a politics at this point: it's just a personal aesthetic, a quirk, a habitus. It's not a public conversation that I feel myself to be part of, with some precious, treasured exceptions.

We can't get back to any kind of consensus politics until people who have made mistakes are prepared to admit them. Without caveats, without evasions, without double standards. That goes for the war in Iraq. It goes for attempting to turn the government of the United States into a personality cult driven entirely by the objective of structurally locking in partisan advantage for the foreseeable future. It goes for most of what has happened in the last six years.

Of course he makes this point (among others) in a cleaner and smarter way than I did. Or could, probably.

July 16, 2007 6:04 AM | | Comments (4)

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I suppose where I disagree with both you and Tim is that I don't see any value in "consensus politics." Perhaps that's because I'm from a younger generation, raised on the Clinton impeachment and the various Republican depredations on our Constitution and civil liberties in recent years. As a result, I think this is a period in history where consensus politics are the equivalent of capitulation politics. I think this is a period in history similar to the American Revolution, where the leaders of the political right are so odious that they need to be literally driven from this continent as were the Tories. So misconstrual or not, I still don't think we can come to agreement on this.

I'm hardly partial to consensus politics -- tending, as I do, to think of "bipartisanship" in action as a nice way of saying "surrender." Also, I am in favor of taxing the rich to death. Does that sound like a centrist impulse?

On the other hand, when there is an emerging majority view that Bush's war is a disaster -- and that maybe there should be some kind of national health insurance, even -- well, then yes, progressive-minded folks are going to tend to want to be able to draw on some notion of a national interest that transcends faction.

That's just the way it is. So I have learned to cool the Bolshevik ardor enough to deal with that fact.

The difference between what you and Burke are saying is in fact so small as to hang on not much more than an attitude towards "consensus politics" as a category. In any case, Burke is saying that anything of the sort is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. That seems by far the most important point.

I suppose you're right -- I'm just so emotionally scarred at this point from the politics of the past ten years that I'm not in the mood to say consensus politics is a good thing, ever. But you're right that that's no way to win elections, and you're right that Burke is saying something not very different from what I'm thinking and feeling.

There's a thing I get at in the comments, too, that's important. Consensus (or "bipartisan") politics for the sake of such is off the table until a new generation of political figures and pundits emerge who have some of the good ethics of an older generation that are on the way out.

But. It does no good to just go on the warpath and act as if all opposition is definitionally worthless and beyond engagement. I'm not talking about your average far-right blogger or Republican in government. But I am thinking that the hearts-and-minds problem is still very much with us as far as a significant proportion of the electorate goes. You can't just run over them as if they don't exist, or ignore deeply held feelings and attitudes and cultural views that they have. So it's still eyes-on-the-prize as far as that goes, with a lot of political discipline needed. There are a lot a lot a lot of people who I think are very much persuadable that the Iraq War and Bush-style partisanship are very bad things, people who might even agree that they made personal mistakes in backing that in the past. But persuading them to jump ship involves a certain amount of restraint and discipline, and putting aside some of what people on the left might otherwise regard as equally critical issues.

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