Building a base is not a vice unless you’re a Democrat in San Diego

by on July 1, 2011 · 0 comments

in San Diego

by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / July 1, 2011

Right on cue after a full week of discussing the complex issues facing the San Diego Democratic Party and the media’s struggles to wrestle with complexity, CityBeat chimes in, again criticizing Democrats for trying to compete on even footing in San Diego politics.

Presumably, this is an attempt to light a fire under Durfee, if rather ham-handed. Tacked awkwardly onto the existential criticism of political parties is a suggestion that echoes the underlying point of the ongoing discussion here and in other Democratic circles — that the party must take more initiative, not shy from confrontation, become a more effective messenger for all Democrats and Democratic ideals. In short, to command instead of demand loyalty.

This is undoubtedly true and not actually being questioned in this discussion. But it’s particularly odd that what is presumably a call for Durfee to be more active and aggressive would be married to a criticism of Durfee for being… more active and aggressive.

The thing is, we don’t face a binary choice. One does not just choose Party Uber Alles or no power structure at all. Strong candidates with personal appeal and a robust party that provides a point of unity and resources for advancing shared goals are mutually reinforcing. Yes, candidates should want to want to participate, but there should also be consequences on any team for members who check out from time to time. And since Republicans have already figured this out, perpetuating the status quo simply means codifying an inherent Republican advantage. Building in an advantage to one participant in a debate is not in keeping with the aspiration to a level playing field.

It seems a noble aspiration that partisanship ought have no place in our politics, but it’s also impossible. So in criticizing Durfee on this issue, CityBeat is criticizing Durfee’s refusal in the face of reality to unilaterally disarm. And while there’s a superficial romanticism to bashing partisan politics, let’s remember what the two options are. The first is to have two (or a few) strong power bases that provide a platform from which individuals can engage in debate and press for policy solutions. These are often, but are not necessarily, political parties.

The second, reflected in the current political state of San Diego, is many weak and diffuse power bases operating without functional political parties. These isolated power bases rise and fall often, do not build upon each other, and are rarely strong enough to support sustained action on any policy platform or ideological perspective. That means that any progress over time is accidental, and just as San Diego is in effectively the same political place as it was 30 years ago, 30 years from now we still will be.

This boils down to the collision of principle vs pragmatism: Whether aspiring to the supposed ideal of post-partisan governance trumps the pragmatism of trying to actually enact beneficial policy. The trick is, the policy is the principle. It can be easy to lose sight of the actual point of politics, but ultimately the goal is to improve people’s lives. And the mechanism is policy. Everything else is the sausage-making. Aspire to as much righteousness as you want in the process of making that sausage, but at the end of the day all that matters is what gets made.

CityBeat presumably does not object to the strong-arm tactics of voters who expect their representatives to reflect their values. Nor is CityBeat itself a thug for not paying writers to compose articles for competing publications about the shortcomings of CityBeat. For the Democratic Party to establish a baseline of reciprocal support is not thuggish, it’s the most basic expectation possible. What’s most surprising is that this would be a new policy.

The traditional disadvantage of the left in San Diego is propped up largely by myth, but also finds root in an insistence that it’s inherently unethical for anyone to take a broadly strategic view of politics or engage tactically in long-term movement building. It’s precisely because too few have ever considered the long term health of the Left in San Diego that it’s ended up so unhealthy. Beginning to change that is not a vice.

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