Dogmatism

dogmatismDo you have a problem when others are dogmatic — that is, when they express strong opinions as if they were facts?

Should we care whether someone is stating an authoritative belief without adequate justification?

Do we need to guard against dogmatism? Why?

If yes, how can we best do so?

Are you sometimes dogmatic?

What do you think?

Your thoughts would be appreciated. I’ll report on responses and identify the author unless you request anonymity.

A Day Driving

Dragon FortuneWhen people ask me about what it’s like to drive a taxi, I have to say the fares all blur together and offer some generalities. So yesterday, using voice-activated emails, I sent myself notes after each fare. Little did I know that it would be such an eventful day!

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Platform Progress

The Democratic Party is beginning to take its platform seriously. That development may help us rebuild the Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform year-round.

When I discuss that possibility with my taxi passengers, they respond enthusiastically.

Last night, Bernie Sanders, …

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After California

To be effective, we must overcome our fragmentation and build a national, multi-issue organization with muscle that can quickly mobilize supporters in a timely manner.

Fortunately, Bernie has built a network that can help form that powerful, bottom-up, grassroots coalition focused on national policy. He’s already won. What’s most important is building that organization. After California, Bernie should declare victory and help us build that organization.
[To read more, click here.]

Can We Build a Strong Democratic Party?

strengthIn a Facebook dialog about “The Future of the Democratic Party,” Joseph Wilson said he could not envision the Democratic Party, “as currently structured,” becoming an activist organization that serves local needs and fights for its platform year-round. He said, the Party needs to become “rooted in the community, relevant to it, and accountable to it.”

The Party’s lack of accountability is highlighted in a recent Robert Borosage post, “Does the Democratic Party Platform Matter?”  Though Borasage affirms the value of the platform, he acknowledges:

Candidates are not required to run on the platform. They are free to contradict some or all of its planks. They sculpt their own message and their own agenda.

That is the heart of the problem. The result is an incoherent Party. No one knows what it stands for.

In a prescient 2011 essay about risks associated with populism, “The American Political Parties Are Breaking Down,” Walter Russell Mead warned:

American political parties are increasingly being reduced to flags of convenience…. The decline of party structures leaves our politics less coherent and more subject to rapid mood swings [and the potential election of an authoritarian populist!]…. [When] our parties start to stand for something less superficial and knee-jerk, party structures may regain some importance.

To build a strong Democratic Party, the 2016 platform should stipulate that the Democratic National Committee will only back candidates who support its platform.

Incumbents will resist any such move. Most of them prefer not to be bothered by constituents or any structure that would hold them accountable.

Nevertheless, rank-and-file Democrats can make the Party a real, coherent, activist organization that holds its leaders accountable to promoting its mission.

Overcoming Despair

despairWhen I discuss whether Democrats can transform the Party into an activist organization, I often hear cynicism. The cynics say the Establishment is too powerful.

But Bernie’s campaign refutes that proposition. His ability to raise money and get a progressive majority on the platform drafting committee is evidence of our potential.

One correspondent asked, “How do you think outsiders can take over the Establishment? What’s the process you could foresee to do so?”

I replied:

1) Formulate a reform platform…
2) During regularly scheduled elections, registered rank-and-file Democrats elect candidates to the local Central Committee who support that platform.
3) During regularly scheduled Assembly-district caucuses registered rank-and-file Democrats elect Democrats who support that platform.
4) Those Central Committees and Assembly-district committees elect representatives to the State Party who support that platform.
5) The State Party elects representatives to the Democratic National Committee who support that platform.

Though the California Democratic Party is a bit more complex than that brief outline, its basic bottom-up structure is in place. And I believe the Party in other states is similar.

Thus far no one has presented an argument for why Bernie and his people, in alliance with other Democrats, cannot restructure the Party into an activist organization that serves local needs and fights for its platform year-round.

That scenario certainly seems more realistic than the notion of building a new national organization or developing the Green Party into the coalition that we need, as another correspondent recommends.

So I remain hopeful that Bernie will focus like a laser beam on reforming the Democratic Party.

Why Forget the Platform?

platformFor the Democrats to forget their platform after the Convention is puzzling. That’s why I opened “Make It Binding?” with a series of questions, including “Why must it merely be symbolic?” and “Could all Democratic office holders be expected to actively support the platform?”

On Facebook, Valerie Winemiller replied, “Why go to the bother if it’s going to be dumped in weeks?” I responded:

Good question. If you are so inclined and are able to get an answer, it might be interesting to ask your Congressperson that question. Personally, I think people do it because ideologues like to have ideological battles.

They can make a point, educate the public, and build support for the future, while sacrificing the present and failing to establish democratic collaborative structures.

Valerie commented, “Sounds about right. I will write to Barbara Lee [who’s on the Drafting Committee].”

It will be interesting to see if Congresswoman Lee clarifies the reasons.

Later Roy Birchard touched on another point that was already on my mind. He said, “Because it’s the pretty wrapping on the present under the tree.” His comment prompted me to say, “Yes. A marketing tool. That may be the main reason.”

But those answers don’t seem sufficient. So later I googled “why political parties weak,” reviewed some results, and reflected more on the issue.

Two thoughts come to mind. Party leaders hesitate to punish officeholders who don’t support the platform on one issue because they want support on other issues. And leaders don’t want the rank-and-file to oppose disloyal incumbents in primaries, because any such challenge might be a precedent that could threaten them as well later.

Regardless, if only to satisfy my curiosity, I intend to investigate the matter further. Your thoughts are welcome.

Make It Binding?

handshakeWhy is the Democratic Party platform neglected after the Convention?

Why must it merely be symbolic?

Couldn’t it be more than a public education exercise?

Could it be used as an organizing tool to help transform the Party into an activist organization that serves local needs and fights for its platform year-round?

Could all Democratic office holders be expected to actively support the platform?

Could decisions concerning Party leadership positions be based on whether the official fully supports the platform?

Could Party funds for local campaigns only go to candidates who back the platform?

If Democratic officeholders repeatedly fail to uphold the platform, could the Party support an alternative in the next primary election?

Could those and other steps be taken to make the platform binding?

If not, why not?

With that approach, Democrats could widely distribute a clear, concise, and powerful platform. The Party could hold its officeholders accountable. And the Party could become a real, coherent, activist organization, rather than merely help Democrats get elected.

With cost-effective precinct organizing, the Party could nurture face-to-face community with Democrats who share a commitment to the platform, a desire to help improve it in the future, and a willingness to learn from one another in order to become more effective.

If this year’s convention declines to make the platform a binding organizing tool, a caucus within the Party could push for that goal in the future.

By electing supportive candidates to local Party committees, and then doing the same with state committees and the Democratic National Committee, we can eventually transform the Democratic Party into a powerful activist organization.

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NOTE: After receiving feedback to this draft and making revisions, I may soon send it to the Drafting Committee.

“The System” or “The Establishment”?

estab;oshmentA recent cover story by Michael Kazin for The Nation magazine offers a strong critique of populism. The essay is titled, “We Know We Hate the Establishment—but Do We Know What It Is? The vague term obscures where power really lies.”

Kazin argues:

To train one’s ire at the establishment is to embrace a baby-simple analysis of how power works…. Any substitute for the vapid critique of “the establishment” must reckon with the structures and ideology that sustain an unjust system….

Railing against the establishment also ignores the mass resistance to ways of thinking that would have to undergird a truly democratic and egalitarian society. The hope that we can bring about fundamental change by exposing an immoral cabal and crushing its power fails to confront the deeply held belief in the essential fairness of capitalist society. The tenacity of this conviction helps explain why Americans keep [voting the way they vote]. There’s a feedback loop between the political and economic institutions that sustain inequality and an ideology that forecloses alternatives…..

Nor does Bernie San­ders’s bashing of wealthy insiders get at the real obstacles to advancing toward a society that would ensure a decent life to every American….

Until we are able to speak more realistically about those obstacles and why they persist, protesting the establishment will obsess and frustrate us….

Unfortunately, Kazin only addresses “political and economic institutions,” and one deeply held belief concerning our current economic system.

But all of our major institutions are woven into our dominant social system. Many other beliefs are critical. And many personal behaviors reinforce the system.

Those omissions discount the value of comprehensive, simultaneous personal, social, cultural, and institutional reform throughout society.

Nevertheless, his essay points us in the direction of a deep systemic analysis.