Illustrating the liberal/Democrat split

Echidne’s blog has become a very interesting arena between liberals and Democrats ever since Echidne recruited Olvlzl to guest-blog on weekends. While Echidne is a liberal feminist who’s concerned mostly about promoting liberal feminism, Olvlzl’s primary concern is helping the Democrats win elections.

The argument Olvlzl and I are having now over how conservative the Democrats are brings me back to the first few months of this year, when the Lamont/Lieberman race was still not around to unite liberal and Democratic bloggers.

Left-wing activists in the US are generally divided into Democrats and liberals (radicals are yet another group, but even on the blogosphere they’re tiny in comparison to liberals, let alone Democrats); in the arguments between me and Olvlzl, I tend to be more liberal, while he tends to be more Democratic.

Democrats concentrate on increasing the Democratic Party’s power, based on the idea that the more power the left party has, the more liberal the country is. Many advocated acting like the Republicans in the last few years, but lately the model that dominates is the grassroots movement of Howard Dean, loyal to no interest but this of the Party, and fervently partisan. On the blogosphere, they’re represented by blogs who concentrate on horserace politics, such as Atrios, Firedoglake, and most of all Daily Kos.

Liberals, instead, put the liberal agenda first. The Democratic Party is merely an instrument meant to highlight the agenda, but there’s nothing wrong with making risky moves that can shift the entire country left, even in the long run. As a corollary, they tend to worry mostly about individual issues, and may be practically single-issue voters. Pandagon focuses on feminism; Pharyngula focuses on science; My Left Wing is generalist but sometimes talks about how Democrats can be liberal and still win elections.

While Democrats often do talk about specific issues, they tend to choose the more comfortable or more traditionally strong issues. In practice, this now means Iraq, torture, Republican managerial competence; it used to be Social Security, and before then health care and education. This is how Glenn Greenwald, an issue blogger if there ever was one, became so big.

The ugly side of this is best illustrated by example. At Yearly Kos, Kos proclaimed everything but health care, education, Iraq, and domestic spying was unimportant; I didn’t see any Democrat attack Dean for deemphasizing gay rights, and Olvlzl is actually defending Dean’s statement to the 700 Club that the Democratic Party was against gay marriage or even civil unions.

On the other hand, although they typically don’t want to move the Democratic Party to the left so much, Democrats are often much more partisan than liberals. It’s an observation noted almost three years ago on MaxSpeak that more moderate leftists tend to be shriller than less moderate ones. It’s not ironclad here, but Lindsay is a lot more tolerant of dissent than the average Democrat; it’s probably partly due to personality, but Jessica, Echidne, and PZ all seem to have a relatively high banning threshold.

Right now the split is low-key, partly due to the Lamont/Lieberman race, which united liberals who were frustrated with Lieberman’s conservatism and Democrats who were frustrated with his obsequity. But it can easily become very deep, for example if the Democrats decide to run to the right on cultural issues like abortion or immigration.

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