Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tiny Bubbles

Reader_i_am called my attention to this article:

EARLIER THIS MONTH, two contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination stood together to stop what they saw as a dangerous drift in their party's stance on national security. At the National Press Club on May 9, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh summoned Democrats to dig in for "what will in all likelihood be a generation-long struggle against jihadism and radical, suicidal terror." Former Virginia governor Mark Warner agreed that his partymates had to refute Karl Rove's taunt that they cling to a "pre-9/11 worldview" by championing their own plans to fight al Qaeda. Though neither man named names, they implicitly chided their party's growing antiwar faction for railing against Bush's record without offering a vision of how to protect America.

The vision Bayh and Warner offered is one being heard increasingly from a host of younger journalists and policy mavens-from newly formed groups like the Truman National Security Project and the Foreign Policy Leadership Council to New Republic editor-at-large Peter Beinart, the author of a much-discussed new manifesto. It's an approach that repudiates the Democrats' post-Vietnam reluctance to use military power. Yet it also views armed force as part of an arsenal of tools-including economic development, robust alliances, and international law and institutions-that the US, as the world's de facto leader, must be ready to employ.

Such a vision would seem quite appealing, especially in a global age when there's no drawbridge for America to pull up. Yet no sooner had reports of Bayh and Warner's remarks appeared than they-and their way of thinking-came under fire from the bloggers and pundits whose influence among party activists they were seeking to curb. Across the Web, the politicians and their ilk were slammed as ''warmongers," ''Vichy Democrats," and ''enablers" of a Republican regime. And such attacks are nothing new. For months the left has been belittling the thinking of the internationalists, scoffing at how many of them backed Bush's invasion of Iraq, with The Nation-the flagship magazine of the antiwar faction-refusing to support any Democratic office-seeker who won't seek a speedy pullout.

Beneath this internecine party warfare lies a fundamental, and possibly debilitating, ideological divide.

Very well; Bayh and Warner are my kind of Democrats. I can easily see myself voting for them in two years, if I get the chance. I like Beinart, too.

But I might not get that chance. RIA also pointed to this response by Chris Bowers, who lives down the road in Philadelphia and is active in the progressive grassroots movement within the party. Beinart, Bayh, and Warner are most certainly not his kind of Democrats. He argues intelligently that the entire perspective of the Boston Globe article is skewed:

More to the point, the notion that there is a major divide in the Democratic Party either over whether to withdraw troops or not, or over which issue is more important, Iraq or terrorism, is simply untrue. For decades now, Harris has regularly polled the country on which issues it considers to be the most important. In their latest poll, only 3% of the country listed "terrorism," while 35% listed either "the war" or "Iraq." Further, numbers form Pew and CBS show less than 20% of Democrats opposing withdrawal.

This is not a major divide. This is a select few policy wonks ("a host of younger journalists and policy mavens-from newly formed groups like the Truman National Security Project and the Foreign Policy Leadership Council to New Republic editor-at-large Peter Beinart") standing almost entirely alone against the vast, vast majority of their party. Harris has found this to be the case for two years now. Further, the Pew and CBS numbers were taken months ago when the war was more popular than it is now.

The truth is that Democrats who are also proponents of a continued military presence in Iraq and who view terrorism in the abstract as more important than Iraq in the specific, have now clearly sunk to the point where they have to try and convince people that they still represent a significant wing of their own party. Really, it is kind of pathetic. Hawks like Greenberg and Diehl are now writing columns that are basically trying to convince people that there is still a divide in the Democratic Party on this issue, and that their viewpoint on Iraq has not been completely defeated. This is why the hopefully classify all opponents of a continued American military presence in Iraq under a single classification.

After reading that, I began to check myself to see if I am inhabiting a Centrist Bubble. And I think I am. Over time, my online reading habits have shed the more extreme sites from both sides -- I no longer read LGF at all and Michelle Malkin only when I find someone else linking to her. Same goes for the Left Side sites. I have narrowed my focus to people who seem to inhabit the same world I do. This keeps my blood pressure down. It also keeps me optimistic that bridges and alliances still can be built in time to hold the country together.

But it's not necessarily a reality-based approach, and if there were a sudden slump in mass opinion to one side, as Bowers says there has been, I might miss it.

The other reason I think there might be something in what he says, without checking the facts, is that the false construction he finds in the newspaper story is a genuine flaw in news reporting on issues and controversies. The mantra to "get both sides" and "be balanced" can create a false impression of balance where there is none. An article on global climate change or creationism, for instance, might quote one scientist from each side of the debate, at equal length, and leave the reader with the impression that opinion is split. It won't percolate through the copy that an overwhelming majority of responsible scientists are on one side in each of the questions. Yet the reporter has done his job -- and done it the way most people claim they want him to do it: without choosing sides, without declaring a winner.

So Bowers might be right. Or is he seeing the world he wishes, not the world that is? I'll have to wait two years to find out.

But there is cause for suspicion. For instance, he's got an interesting poll that asks readers to vote for their least prefered Democratic presidential contender in 2008. I filled it out, putting John Kerry first, and on down to the ones I'd actually like to see run at the bottom. Hillary Clinton was my 9th least favorite, meaning there were 8 candidates I liked less than her and only three I liked better. When I sent the results, this is what I got back:

Your vote always counts toward your highest-ranked eligible candidate, but it may be that some of your candidates were eliminated because they did not have enough votes. In the final round of this tally, your vote counted for:

Hilary Clinton

Yikes. In the future, I'll take my chances with Diebold. Not surprisingly, then, the results so far show Hillary is overwhelmingly the least-liked choice. It's at least a suggestion that he exists in a self-reinforcing feedback loop, at least to the degree that I do.

[Lest my intention be mistake, I'm not inviting anyone to freep this poll; don't do it if you don't think there's a chance you could vote for a Democrat].