Thursday, January 27, 2005

He's got the right idea, but he missed his own point

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Paul Starr shows that he at least partly understands the cause of the recent Democratic train wreck:
And liberal Democrats, in particular, have been inviting political oblivion -- not by advocating the wrong causes, but by letting their political instincts atrophy and relying on the legal system.
In other words, by using the judiciary to get their policies enacted instead of going through the legislatures or Congress, they have bypassed the dialogue and compromise that would promote their case and make it stronger. Of course, when you go the route of debate and leglislation, you have the possibility of losing -- or waiting 32 years before you begin to see the payoff of your efforts.

But in the next paragraph, Starr shows that he doesn't quite get it at all:
To be sure, Democrats were right to challenge segregation and racism, support the revolution in women's roles in society, to protect rights to abortion and to back the civil rights of gays.
Segregation was upheld by the Supreme Court, then only later struck down by the Court and by the 1964 Civil Rights Act (legislation, supported more by Republicans than Democrats); the "revolution in women's roles in society" happened partly because of social changes outside the realm of any courts -- reduced rates of infant mortality, urbanization, the trend toward work that doesn't depend on sex characteristics -- and "support" for that revolution has brought its own set of issues and discrimination, the "right" to abortion was invented from the "emanations of the penumbra" of the shadows Supreme Court's mind, and the "civil rights" of gays have never been overturned (voting, freedom of speech and assembly, etc. Having everyone approve of your lifestyle is not a civil right). Presuming that he is speaking to a sympathetic audience of the Enlightened, he glides over these points ("to be sure") as if the arguments have been made and won.

They haven't.

In fact, the old media, such as the New York Times itself, are part of the crippling of the Democratic Party. Not knowing any Republicans and rarely hearing arguments against their unquestioned stances, they don't even know that their arguments haven't persuaded. When they do find someone from "the other side" to quote as "balance," it's frequently some looney who only "proves" how slack-jawed and uncultured we are. Our arguments may not persuade either, but often our opponents don't even know what they are.

Then their protesters tell us that Republicans are simply ignorant of the arguments in favor of Democrats' agenda. Their arguments assail us from every media outlet, and we have to dig a little deeper to get the other side.

That, too, teaches us something.

I think 50 years ago the situation was reversed: it was those with an affinity for tradition who fell into complacency. They didn't have to make the arguments, because "everyone knew" they were correct. I think they largely were correct, but my point is ultimately the same as Paul Starr's: If you don't have to make your case, then you may lose by default.

There's nothing, except laziness perhaps, to prevent both sides from making a vigorous argument, which is not the same as presuming one's moral and intellectual superiority.

No comments: