Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In Case You Missed It

In Sunday's New York Times, several letters to the editor, analyzing what went wrong in this year's election and offering ideas for how the Democratic party can move forward, were published under the title "Why the Democrats Lost." Among them was a letter from someone familiar to many of us: Joan K. Davidson.



  1. "On the big issues," Ms. Davidson would like to see a progressive and visionary party. But when she lists "freedom of expression" among her cherished values (and there we're in agreement), she skates passed a paradox which most Americans not living on a coast increasingly identify with Democrats.

    As a younger generation of Progressives replaces the older, more classically-Liberal one, "freedom of expression" is more likely than ever to be sacrificed to identity politics, and to worries about privileged speech versus oppressed speech.

    The means to achieve change in these areas (college campuses being the usual laboratories) tend to come with authoritarian overtones which, of course, are at odds with freedom of speech.

    Only 25 years ago it was more apt to be the political Right which was ready to adulterate the 1st Amendment (think: flag-burning), whereas today, it is a newer, younger political Left that seeks limitations on the 1st Amendment.

    Until the party faces the fact that it can't have its cake and eat it too, that much-needed countervailing force will be fighting an uphill cultural battle which is entirely self-created.

  2. Americans are traditionally wary of giving every branch of government to one party, let alone so many governorships and state legislatures into the bargain. Is it really the best response to this catastrophe to move further left?

    Not to belabor Ms. Davidson's points to the NYT (which were softened by the inconsistencies mentioned earlier), but at what point does Groupthink become certifiably pathological? Last week's SNL sketch on "the bubble" asks the same question, only humorously, which was better late than never.

    To stay with "freedom of speech," was there anything more self-righteously incoherent than the Aldermen of our Common Council literally shouting at the council President last month over her supposed infringement of their fellow council member's 1st Amendment rights?

    Here, right at home, we witnessed a perfect example of vanity conspiring with ignorance (and with more than a dollop of sexism) when President DeStefano was savaged for demoting an Alderman from a committee.

    In fact, these Aldermen were wrong, and we told them so at the time. Their legal advisor, Mr. Dow, told them so at the time, and with admirable presence of mind.

    But reason had no part in the protest, at least as far as the false (or was it fake?) 1st Amendment issue was concerned.

    To serve their own ends, and ostensibly in defense of the Bill of Rights, these Aldermen were only too willing to sacrifice the subtler implications of the 1st Amendment on the altar of their ten-thousand pieties.

    There wasn't any question that their demoted colleague was free to continue expressing her opinions as a private citizen (had she not been, then that certainly would have infringed on her right to free speech).

    But in their public capacities, Aldermen are subject to additional constraints which the rest of us are not.

    If an Alderman is perceived as going beyond the pale of common decency, then it's the privilege of the Council President to re-set the balance on behalf of the whole. (To sum up my earlier comment, a respect for the "whole" is precisely what Democrats must continue to grapple with, as long as issues such as free speech are taken piecemeal and inconsistently, to serve this or that constituency, piety, or immediate goal.)

    See how admirably these difficult subjects were honored in the comments of Roddy Niesen, who spoke at the September Police Committee meeting:

    "As for the protest, I protest too. I'm a motorcycle-rights person. But my protests are quick - in and out - and done. Laying down in front of the police station is not a good thing. If you stood out in the park and protested, I'd wave to you and say, 'Good job.' Laying down is not good." (Udell video at 30:30)

    And there, with such brevity, this gentleman touched on all the subtleties attending the 1st Amendment, and from whence the right derived (common law and seemliness).

    Compared to Mr. Niesen's generous eloquence, we owe it to one another to reconsider the rants of the Alderman who draped himself in the flag to better excoriate the Council President over a principle for which he showed little actual knowledge or respect.

    Can those who were crying out "FREE SPEECH!" at the time now appreciate the prudent and subtle words in Mr. Niesen's account? If that's within your capacity, then the party [re-]building for which Ms. Davidson pines has already begun.