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August 08, 2007

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Doesn't the answer to the title question depend largely on what the purpose of progressive blogs are? If they exist for the purpose of electing progressive candidates (LaFollette in '08...now more than ever), then getting together seems a good way to network and build the connections needed to further electoral politics. If, on the other hand, progressive blogs exist for wonkery and developing the best progressive policies possible, than your argument seems to carry more weight as people become reluctant to engage the arguments of people they are familiar with for fear of hurting their feelings, etc.

And there are many other possible ideas of what the progressive blogosphere is all about, so there could be any number of answers to your question. Which is not to say that it isn't a good question, only that it raises another interesting question into the bargain.

That seems spot on G'Kar -- a lot is riding on what you see the purpose I suppose. Or maybe even the term "progressive blogosphere" confuses more than it describes. E.g., maybe it doesn't make sense to include things like MyDD with policy blogs

publius... you find the silliest things to fret about...

overall, in all things, it's better to expand your horizons then contract them...

as a lawyer i'm sure you socialize with other lawyers, who are often on the opposition side of a case: does drinking and socializing with them them make you pull any punches in the courtroom? probably not --

With the mainstream media, there is an institutional bottleneck that protects pundits as they depart farther and farther into ideological fantasylands. There aren't that many cable news shows, magazines or newspapers, after all, and it is very hard for the annoyed audience to depose old pundits for new ones.

That bottleneck hardly exists for bloggers. Should Kos take Jabba the Hut as his role model, for example, become embarrasingly corrupt and thereby lose relevance, it would be relatively easy for readers to find new inspiration elsewhere. As long as Internet access is open, then losing the "edge" is not a problem.

i'm perfectly comfortable saying that you suck and i see you every day.

Far better to meet the people you disagree with, far better to lose your edge IF that edge is primarily the willingness to insult and disrespect people.

Far better to concentrate the mind and focus criticism on ideas, not people.

"You talk about the institutions
You better free your mind instead"

Should Kos take Jabba the Hut as his role model, for example, become embarrasingly corrupt and thereby lose relevance, it would be relatively easy for readers to find new inspiration elsewhere. As long as Internet access is open, then losing the "edge" is not a problem.

but what if he becomes just corrupt enough to matter (he starts pulling punches, looking the other way, misleading his readers who trust him, etc), but not enough to notice ?

Maybe that's a problem, cleek, but I don't see that it's particularly connected with Yearly Kos. That could happen by any number of means, such as advertising (though admittedly that should be more noticeable).

as a lawyer i'm sure you socialize with other lawyers, who are often on the opposition side of a case: does drinking and socializing with them them make you pull any punches in the courtroom? probably not

I'm not sure this is the best analogy. A lawyer's relationship with the other side is expected to be adversarial. That's the whole point, the whole presupposition of the Anglo-American system. In the sphere that I take publius to be discussing, one is unsure whether the whole point is to be adversarial. Indeed, in a way, whether or not a lawyer-like adversarial relationship is the best relationship to have with politics and professional political reporters is the very question publius is asking. Or so it seems to me.

Maybe one could rephrase the question in the following way:

Does a friendly relationship with politicians and professional political reporters aid, or on the other hand detract from, the Millian virtue of engaging with the other side's best arguments?

It's a difficult question to which I don't have an immediate answer....

I agree with "obscure" above. If bloggers "tone down" their arguments against bloggers with whom they disagree, I think it will be a positive development. One of my biggest concerns about the political blogosphere is the willingness to demonize opponents, oversimplify their motives and mischaracterize their arguments. I think greater appreciation of each other as human beings with complicated and genuinely well-intentioned beliefs would make political disagreement in the blogosphere smarter and more intellectually honest. I suppose it could also inhibit a blogger from pointing out certain errors in a fellow blogger's arguments for fear of embarrassing him/her. But realistically, the blogosphere is inherently so diffuse that when Ezra goes over the top, someone will eventually point out his blunder, and maybe even take Ezra's friends to task for failing to do so as well. And that blogger's traffic will rightly increase as a result. (nothing against Ezra in particular)

I think there are two ways to look at the issue of people pulling punches after meeting personally.

One is based on the fairly progressive idea that people are basically good. On this line of reasoning, once you meet someone you get a deeper understanding of them. You can have a political discussion over drinks that will flesh out more quickly the complexity of opposing views then you can over a month of back and forth blogging. Because while blogs may allow for great essays it is a (pleasurably) slow pace of discourse. If then after this conversation over drinks you pull a punch it is because it is harder to make the ad hominem, attack against that person.

A more cynical person will say that it is because your personal relationship has robbed you of your nerve.

I would like to believe that the phenomenon is caused by the former but I know that the later has influence.

It seems like a legitimate concern to me. I think, as publius says, this is part of what has happened in Washington. Think of all those people speaking up for good old Scooter, to take one recent trivial example. There's probably a ruling class solidarity thing going on there.

In my own life I have friends who have political views I find horrible in some areas, and I pull my punches because I want them to remain friends. I try to put my point across, but I think you need hilzoy-level writing ability to make a very strong case against a position one thinks abhorrent while avoiding any whiff of hostility. I just said "writing ability"--it's ten times worse if you have to do it speaking face to face. At least for me.

You see this all the time, even within the left. Maybe especially within the left. I pull my punches here on some subjects because I don't have a taste for flame wars.

Pulling one's punches is good if it keeps down the level of hostile rhetoric that does no one any good, but it's not so good if it makes people hold back on expressing their full opinions on a subject for fear of starting a flame war. Unfortunately I think it's hard to separate the two effects.

I’m with "obscure". I think that anything that reduces some of the shrillness is a good thing. Even now you see posts like this all the time:

“I almost always agree with X. I’ve met X and he’s a really great guy. I have a lot of respect for X. But today he’s out of his flippin’ mind!

And you are really talking about folks with the same basic beliefs and principles, so where you disagree it is normally just a matter of degree anyway. Right now those minor disagreements can get magnified by the nature of the beast. A personal connection would tend to mitigate that I think.

Speaking of face-to-face meetings (possibly with people of differing political views), are any DC-area folks going to Friday's Unqualified Offerings gathering?

Overall it's probably better to meet (even) adversaries and find them human (at least most of them) and perhaps consequently tone down blog posts so that personal element is stripped away.

I don't think that means toning down the argument, intellectually.

I can tell you so-and-so's post on urban design ignores field studies, facts and an understanding of how things actually work in cities.

But it's probably better overall if I don't remind you that that such an idiotic post was typical of an intellectual dirtbag like X, even (or especially) if it's true.

Well, on some subjects I think it is extremely difficult to remain calm and that's as it should be. I'll deliberately avoid bringing up a modern day example and take slavery in mid 19th century America. Someone like William Lloyd Garrison, who had views on racial equality that became the norm maybe 100 years later would probably have found it difficult to have a polite conversation about slavery with a slaveholder, especially those who by the 1850's had ceased acknowledging that slavery was a regrettable evil and actually thought it was a positive good. Frederick Douglas would have found it even harder. Even staying within the antislavery camp you had some who believed in racial equality and others who opposed slavery, but thought blacks inferior, and even some who opposed slavery mainly because they thought its existence degraded white labor in some way. So political allies can still be pretty far apart on the issue that supposedly unites them.

I'm all in favor of polite discussions over most issues, but there are some today that are almost as inflammatory as slavery. It's not like arguing about tax policy. On some issues you should be outraged. If you can politely make a case for your position that exposes your opponent's stance as one that only a mental midget or ethical dwarf could take and you can do this without making them angry at you, more power to you.

The "blogosphere" should prove resistant to the seductions of power, even if (god forbid!) Markos and Digby and Atrios become hypnotized by the establishment and go soft. If they do, we of the hoi polloi will simply ignore them, and find more congenial bloggers to replace them. That's the real beauty of blogging. Unlike opinion journalism, where newspaper subscribers are a captive audience, bloggers of all political stripes have to stay resonant with their readers, or they'll simply be deleted from thousands of Mozilla bookmarks.

Completely true. If bloggers start hanging out, thinking the same, and talking the same, then the game is over. We will have become the MSM. And what does MSM do? It censors. After all, censorship is becoming America's favorite past-time. The US gov't (and their corporate friends), already detain protesters, ban books like America Deceived (book) from Amazon and Wikipedia, shut down Imus and fire 21-year tenured, BYU physics professor Steven Jones because he proved explosives, thermite in particular, took down the WTC buildings. Free Speech forever.

On some issues you should be outraged.

That is the crux of the problem. When we're outraged--even justifiably so--we do things that we later wish we hadn't. We lash out, we insult. That's human fallibility. It takes a lot of self-discipline to keep one's words focused on the facts. But that should be the goal.

If then after this conversation over drinks you pull a punch it is because it is harder to make the ad hominem, attack against that person.

A more cynical person will say that it is because your personal relationship has robbed you of your nerve.

There is--almost--never a good reason to make an ad hominem attack. (GW Bush is an obvious exception to the rule.) It doesn't require nerve to issue insults. It requires an admirable sharpness of mind and gentleness of heart to stick to facts and ideas when criticizing the views of others. I.F. Stone was one of the worlds great masters in this department.

Has anyone considered the flip side of the question? It's possible to meet someone in person and discover they're an even bigger asshole than you thought they were.

I don't think the quality of one's arguments and ideas changes just because you become more familiar with the arguments of the opposing side or the person who's giving them.

Frankly, I'm surprised at the question. Meeting David Broder or Tim Russert would not change my opinion of their writing or politics. It's possible that daily contact, living in the same neighborhood, having our children attended the same schools might. But I doubt it, because those things don't determine a common or shared future.

Agreeing or disagreeing with them wouldn't affect my wealth or continued employment or stardom. That takes living in a Stepford World, such as the Beltway. It requires an intimate community of interest, such as an employer/employee or a Japanese-style senior/junior relationship, which is personal and extends over many issues and for a considerable span of time.

Knowing someone better might give me insight into what they think or why they take the public positions they do. But it wouldn't make me agree with them. Any more than would sitting next to the WSJ guy/gal in the WH press room every day, or frequently facing the same defense or prosecution counsel.

But Timmeh and the Beltway Boys don't just socialize occasionally with those they cover. Their roles have changed; they consider themselves part of the same wealthy, closed community, with shared futures. Their financial wealth and continued stardom depend on treading softly on each other's turf and the turf they jointly care about. That's wholly different from occasional socializing or frequent professional contacts.

Am I the only commenter who actually attended Yearly Kos? Guess so.

1) The majority of the panels, discussions, and whatnot, many of them very good, had nothing whatsoever to do with the "MSM." This conference was not about the mainstream media, however much the media types would have liked to make it into that.

2) I met Mike Allen (Politico) and Jay Carney (Time) in the bar at the McCormick Center. Although they were polite, our "brief encounter" will have zero effect on anything I think OR write about them in the future. Far more important - because I'm just an ultra-small-fry commenting type - I think being on a panel w/ them will have zero effect on anything Glenn Greewald writes, now or down the road. You should have heard Greenwald the next morning, interviewing Anthony Romero of the ACLU, right when the FISA news had come down. In his own quiet, beautifully phrased way, he was on fire. NB Greenwald is just an example - my point is that I don't think the important voices are getting co-opted.

3) What Vincent said: It's possible to meet someone in person and discover they're an even bigger asshole than you thought they were. I don't think the quality of one's arguments and ideas changes just because you become more familiar with the arguments of the opposing side or the person who's giving them.

4) Blogs need edge or don't need edge? Dunno - I think each blog has/serves its own purpose. If you don't want to read something ad hominem, don't - lord knows there are a lot of other choices.

5) I got to meet Digby. She's a hilzoy fan.

"There is--almost--never a good reason to make an ad hominem attack. (GW Bush is an obvious exception to the rule.) It doesn't require nerve to issue insults. It requires an admirable sharpness of mind and gentleness of heart to stick to facts and ideas when criticizing the views of others. I.F. Stone was one of the worlds great masters in this department."

You threw away your point in making an exception for Dubya, who is representative of the views of tens of millions of Americans. Lots of Dubya's supporters are worse than he is--Bush, to his credit, at least tries to argue that Islam is not the enemy. Many of his supporters beg to differ. Bush denies that he favors torture. Some of his supporters are more forthright.

As for the rest, yeah, yeah, I've preached that sermon myself on more than one occasion. There are people I know who have taken positions so immoral you can't say what you think without the person knowing you think their views are monstrous. And people generally feel attacked in those circumstances. It doesn't matter how politely you phrase things if they really are wedded to that viewpoint. In fact, I think it's worse if they can listen to a condemnation and then come back with a polite response in defense of their monstrous ideas. If they respond with anger then maybe you've struck a nerve and there's hope for them, but if they respond in tones of polite condescension, it's time to walk away.

javelina: not going to Yearly Kos was my one and only regret about heading off for Pakstan. (Oh, I guess there was also the fact that the flights are so long.) Now that I know that you were there, that makes it even worse. Not even the idea that Digby is a fan (eep!) makes up for it.

I think we ought to be able to criticize people we like, that the blogosphere in general (at least, the left-and-non-Koolaid-right blogosphere) tends to be fine with such things, and that, as Stuart Eugene Thiel said, if people change, they will probably be replaced.

About Vincent's point (that meeting someone might make you like him or her less, not more): JL Austin, the ordinary language philosopher, is supposed to have said, about the idea that 'to understand all is to forgive all': “That’s quite wrong; understanding might just add contempt to hatred.”

hilzoy - Wish you had been there! But it sounds like a valuable trip.

In spite of all the follow-up grouchiness (see Firedoglake for some good examples), Yearly Kos was as well put together as humanly possible, given that @ 9 people did all the planning. There was so much going on that, in the end, everyone attended a slightly different convention - if you wanted to spend the whole time thinking about Iraq, or NCLB and education, or health care, or energy policy, or whatever issue, you pretty much could. And there was much socializing in the hallways, terraces, bar - some of it politically oriented, some of it cheerfully frivolous.

While I was running around (sometimes literally, the McCormick Center is huge), Mal had volunteered to run ALL the production in the big ballroom, including the forum with the Democratic presidential candidates, and did he ever wear himself out.

i think we should associate only with people who agree with us.

i think we should associate only with people who agree with us.

If I disagree, does that mean you have to leave?

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