Democrats, Hos and Hippies

The wonderfully irenic E.J. Dionne has a column out suggesting Democrats shouldn’t exaggerate their differences, even as they acknowledge they exist. He did a shout-out to an essay by my colleague over at The Democratic Strategist, James Vega, that warned against lumping one’s intraparty opponents on any given issue into a “camp” or “tribe” to which invidious personal motives could be attached.

With a debate over trade heating up in Congress and a contested (if not necessarily competitive) presidential nominated contest now under way, it’s probably a good time for Donkeys of every hue to think about how they talk about each other.

I’m not referring to substantive disagreements or even angry charges of incorrigible error or blindness to history or data, or charges that “the other side” is engaged in politically dangerous activity. No, it’s the temptation of “centrists” to label “populists” as emotionally enthralled impractical agitators–in a word, hippies–and the opposite temptation of “populists” to allege that “centrists” are personally corrupt or consciously in league with The Enemy–in a word, whores.

In either case, even if you believe firmly in the insult, it makes future cooperation rather difficult, and as Vega argues, tends to create a downward spiral of recrimination that is the eternal delight of the “Democrats in Disarray” industry.

We cannot all be as nice as E.J. Dionne, but it should be possible for people who belong to the same basic political coalition to make it through the day without attributing preening imbecility or brazen soul-peddling to each other.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.