There's a bigger issue at work in the pages I'm talking about here, though. It's true that American politics and opinion making has always been a contact sport, but it seems to me that with the advent of the blogosphere, the intensity and the regularity of attack has increased. Now that everyone is free to join the fray, writers are hitting their opponents harder and harder, and inevitably, this is affecting everyone, even the most professional and most experienced of journalists.
Now, it's not my goal to slow down the debate-- the debate is healthy and part of what makes it effective is its intensity. In such battle, people will get hit and hurt from time to time. However, what I don't see much of, at least in the blogosphere, is a sense of proportion relating to when such attacking is called for. In my judgment, a responsible writer, even a partisan, understands that the power of the attack is strong. It damages. Since we understand that, we ought not look to be hitting for the pure sake of it-- we should reserve our metaphorical violence for situations where something is at stake, where something matters. In other words, doing harm ought to be something we don't wish to do, and which we do do only when there's a higher purpose behind it.
I don't expect it to be easy to make people stop the battle royal now that so many of us are in it, at least, not for any principled reason. But perhaps there is a way to make people want to stop it, or to at least restrain themselves. What if there were a way for us to call out people who seem to be inflicting harm for no apparently serious or worthwhile reason? If enough people began to pay attention to such an effort, it would become shameful to appear on such a blog. Now, it won't do for us to find fault in the other side-- we do that all the time anyway and it wouldn't make any difference. But if we become responsible for policing our own side-- if liberals police liberals and conservatives police the right-- that could potentially be effective.
I'm not waiting for a conservative to begin doing this.. I don't believe in making decisions based on what others do or agree to when the decisions are valuable in themselves. If someone on the right sees value in this as I do, then I'd welcome it, but I see no value in waiting for that. Ultimately, this effort, if it succeeds, will be good for us anyway. And right now, I wouldn't have any idea where to begin looking for a right winger who thinks anything done by his fellows is ever possibly wrong-- well, maybe during their sex scandals. Even then, though, it's hard to tell if they think they're wrong, or just mad for getting caught..
But again, we will benefit by doing things that make us better. I believe, and I don't mind saying it aloud and plainly, that we are better than the right wing. Better philosophically, better morally, better as people, just better. That's no headline-- they think the same of themselves. But we need to be better via our actions, not just because we think it's true. Choosing inherent superiority tends to be a thing people on the right are guilty of, though we can fall into it, too, whenever we forget that our greatness, assuming we have any, comes out of our actions-- what we do, how we conduct ourselves, how we treat others.
This article by David Brooks of the New York Times brings into relief my basic sense of my own liberalism. He describes the members of both parties as belonging to two distinct groups-- the cluster liberals and the network liberals.
Over the past week we’ve seen the big differences between cluster liberals and network liberals. Cluster liberals (like cluster conservatives) view politics as a battle between implacable opponents. As a result, they believe victory is achieved through maximum unity. Psychologically, they tend to value loyalty and solidarity. They tend to angle toward situations in which philosophical lines are clearly drawn and partisan might can be bluntly applied.
Network liberals share the same goals and emerge from the same movement. But they tend to believe — the nation being as diverse as it is and the Constitution saying what it does — that politics is a complex jockeying of ideas and interests. They believe progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. Psychologically, network liberals are comfortable with weak ties; they are comfortable building relationships with people they disagree with.I have in mind my sense of my ideals and they remain quite liberal. But I also keep in mind the fact that our nation has only rarely embraced extreme positions, and when we have, it's been for temporary situations which were clearly extraordinary. I admit that I have found myself developing more of the partisan dislike of the right in recent years than I had ever had in the past, but even so, the idea that I would eschew coalition building when such a thing was possible is quite foreign to my way of thinking.
And I'm not in any way content to settle for a sense of weak compromises as the best we can achieve. I know we can eventually achieve virtually every part of the liberal agenda, but the very big and dramatic partisan moves tend to happen only under two circumstances, neither of which occur very frequently: either one of the parties has amassed an unusually strong congressional majority due to recent scandal that has driven the other party out of power, or the nation is faced with a very serious crisis-- usually a war. The less likely possibility is that an inordinately skillful individual or group rises to power in both the white house and at the head of the parties-- in such cases, skillful negotiation may result in more dramatic forms of legislating than we are normally accustomed to. And then, too, I also usually think most compromises end up being better than most disappointed partisans realize.