All of these are good questions, questions that are not mutually exclusive. The debate over what it means to be progressive, liberal and a Democrat is not a zero-sum discussion. I'm glad we are having the debate. I am concerned, however, about the manner in which we are having that debate. I worry about an emerging progressive echo chamber.
In the past five years, an incredible progressive infrastructure has grown up. From DailyKos and OpenLeft, to Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, liberal voices and ideas have found fora acceptance in the national discussion that they have not had in a generation. The presence of these voices, however, means that progressives can get their news and analysis from people who inherently agree with them and, potentially, avoid listening to voices we disagree with.
This is, of course, one of the cardinal sins that progressives accuse conservatives of. It is wise to consider whether we, too, are becoming guilty of it. Chris Bowers has asked this question, but with a different spin, considering the question of whether the Obama administation sees the blogosphere as simply a megaphone for the administration's policies and PR. I would like us to consider whether we are avoiding difficult questions and uncomfortable ideas by only listening to each other and nodding in vigorous agreement.
I ask this question because of the changes I have observed in the progressive blogosphere in the past year. When I first started blogging, posts that I admired on progressive blogs were targeted, full of evidence and compelled action. Perhaps most importantly for me, they were filled with evidence to support the ideas expressed. That evidence was provided in blockquotes, and/or links to primary supporting materials. It was this dedication to rational, evidence-based discourse that allowed the progressive blogosphere to assert its superiority over the conservative one.
Today, however, I continue to read excellently-written posts that ring true to my heart. But after reading them, I am forced to consider the fact that in many of these posts, not a single link to primary source evidence is provided. Indeed, such posts, while ringing true and holding together internally, are entirely assertion when considered in the wider context.
Take, for example, the excellent post by Devilstower: "The Anchor."
Just as an example of the edge held by conservatism, the Sierra Club has an annual budget in the neighborhood of $100 million in 2008 (we can argue about whether the Sierra Club is actually liberal, but I don't think any would argue that's a pretty good neighborhood). As the largest and oldest environmental organization in the country, the Club carries a, um, big stick. On the other hand, Exxon Mobil made that much by the end of the first week in January -- that much in straight profit, not revenue. Which one do you think is more capable of spreading it's message to the public? More capable of using the media to its advantage?This post is filled with excellent points, facts, and logical conclusions from those facts. However, every single fact is simply asserted without links to primary source. This is not to say that I do not believe what Devilstower has written. On the contrary, I have no doubt that he has researched the numbers and facts cited. However, I take strong issue with the precedent established by a front-pager on the most influential blog on the 'net in stating such facts without providing a citation to their source. I do not think this is a problem in January 2010, but I think that it becomes a problem if it is a precedent for what is written in October 2010, when we will be fighting a vicious war of words at the conclusion of a difficult campaign season.
You can get millions of people in this country to join into a chant of "drill, baby, drill" because they've become convinced that more oil drilling in America will be beneficial -- even though the US passed peak production in 1972 and there is no doubt domestic production will continue to fall even if every inch of nation parks and wildlife reserves were opened for oil. The only difference that additional drilling will make is addition billions to those who hold the power, but they've successfully pushed the idea that this is a national benefit, not a money grab by an already wealthy few.
Why do many people still have doubts about something as straightforward as climate change? Because tens of millions are spent each year to see that they stay confused -- more by far than is spent trying to get across the truth. - Devilstower, DailyKos
And so I am asking, for the good of public discourse, and for the good of our principles, that we as participants in the blogosphere rededicate ourselves to evidence-based discussion and reintroduce quotes from primary sources, and links to facts and research into our posts. This will help inoculate us from criticisms that we are "just like them" in how we debate. It will insure that we are critically examining what we believe. And it will make us stronger as a community.
(As a concluding note: Finding such evidence is truly simple. the Sierra Club's financial statements are available online, and Congress discussed a resolution on peak oil in 2005. It took me about 60 seconds to find those and past the link into this post.)
Update - Apparently, Lowell and I were reading the same thing this morning.