Sunday, August 12, 2007

Terms of the Debate

Curious discussion at dinner last night. We were having a third birthday party for my old friend and upstairs neighbor TF. This is not a significant birthday for him ... just one of those nameless numbers between 40 and 50 ... but the particular flow of friends was such that he has ended up having a party in his honor for three successive weekends. Lucky guy.

After a lot of liquid lubrication, and all of us well sated with fabulous homemade American food, we turned to politics. All tended to agree that we are being won over by the Hillary momentum, and that Obama seems a wee callow if more impressive than one might think by reference only to his thin resume.

But then I averred that the Republican I fear most is Giuliani by reason of the possibility that he might snow the middle. And then came what I call the liberal defeatism. "The Midwest hates Hillary ... People are too stupid, and she can't win ... No one is going to vote for a woman." I was quite annoyed, the more so as sundry accused me alternately of being too intellectual and too disconnected from reality. It is always curious when San Francisco liberals accuse each other of not being in touch with Iowa.

It crested on a discussion of Katrina. I tried to point out how Katrina had turned Dubya's politic credentials upside down, and my interlocutor pointed out that New Orleans is still a mess. I don't get the logic there, but perhaps I missed something.

It annoys me when liberals accept the terms of the debate provided, via the mass TV media, by the right. It's like bad generalship that sets out to fight the previous war when every war ... military or political ... provides the opportunity to change the terms of conflict, the opportunity for a paradigm shift. Never has such an opportunity been more obvious than right now, and it seems to me that the greatest danger is for liberals to resist the paradigm shift lest we lose, and thereby guarantee a loss on the opponent's chosen battlefields.

I think many liberals cannot quite fathom that we won the last election ... perhas they miss the comfort of losing and not being responsible. For that matter, notwithstanding all the grumbling, we have not understood that we arguably won both the previous two presidential elections. If we should have won them, but didn't, then the problem is with the process not with our arguments. Hillary appears to have understood, at last and to her credit, that she has to play to the discontent and to the ideas even as she makes great play of acting presidential. I am one of those who applaud her statement that someone running for president should not say everything that they think because there are consequences.

It is certainly a long journey for an old radical to say that because I continue to think that state secrecy is the source of great miseries in history. But Clinton needs to make the volatile 10% on the buble between red and blue think that she can do it, that she has the moxy and the intelligence, and the guts to pull it off, to be a president. Those standards are not applied to Republicans ... witness the Fred Thompson phenomenon which appears to be based purely on how he looks and the fact that he has been on TV ... well, also on the fact that he does the angry male thing well.

So Hillary is doing the "acting" part well. But more importantly, I believe she is, perhaps cautiously, trying out the new paradigm ... that healthcare matters to everyone including business, that the war is a disaster but there is no quick fix, that climate change is for real. The majority of Americans are on the liberal side of each one of those questions, and the job is to translate that into victory.

By the way, she did very well in the gay debate on Logo, by report (I have not seen it). She pointedly would not cave to any kind of apology on the marriage part of the partnership debate. She said as directly as she could that marriage is not now, but civil unions are. We don't like that, but the political reality is that the marriage battle has moved us forward ... has forced the issue ... but we need to win some battles now. If we win a battle here or there called "civil unions", it's still a win, and we can change the semantics in due course. But if every battle has to be hara kiri, then we are begging for defeat. Liberal defeatism. We don't need it ... we should not be comfortable with it.

Again, weird feeling for an old radical to say such things ... for somebody who cut his teeth in the gay liberation movement of the 70s. But, right now, the nation and planet and our species needs us to win, not to becontent with splitting hairs at dinner parties.

That is a little self-congratulatory, of course, and I am actually not satisifed that I made my points last night to any good effect ... such is the problem with dinner parties of course. Their joy is in the camaradery, not necessarily in intellectual accomplishment. Perhaps my disappointment is only that I did not win the argument. We arguers are like that ... and all the more ready to get back to the fray next time up.

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