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February 18, 2004
Altercation in Seattle

Liz and I went downtown last night to see Eric Alterman (his blog, his Nation column, his CAP column) speak and answer questions. He wrote last year's
What Liberal Media, and has a new book out, The Book on Bush.

The event was mostly a book promotion, and it worked on me: I bought the book and fully intend to read it one of these days.

One thing that struck me at the event was the audience. Many of them seemed to be of a particularly activist stripe, and that worries me. Hard-core activists often strike me as being just as radical as the far-right, even if I agree with their positions. I honestly don't think that radicalism works very well. Person after person stood up and asked Alterman questions about piddling details of domestic or foreign policy, while he, to his great credit, maintained that the current goal was to get Bush out of office, and that we can worry about these other issues later.

For example, one woman asked about NAFTA, WTO, and free trade issues. She prefaced it by explaining that this is Seattle, this is what we care about, which is weird: Seattle has become tied up with anti-globalization sentiments despite being a very globalized city. Alterman explained, 1) globalization is not going away, and 2) it's not the point. Focus.

These issues -- globalization, gay marriage, allathat -- they're not unimportant; they're wedge issues and will and should be used to separate candidates of different ideologies. But the main mission has to remain beating Bush. This is a message to Dean supporters. It's not over. If you stop working now, you haven't done anything.

Another guy worried that when and if we do win the White House, the new wave of Democrats will consider the job finished and disengage. Alterman correctly responded, "Let's hope we're lucky enough to have that problem!"

He also made the point that I made at the caucus and I think needs to be made over and over again: The people we need to convince are not the lifelong Democrats. We have to have a message that can appeal to Independents and moderate Republicans, as well as fence-sitting Democrats. When I hear activists talk, I often feel like they're only interested in their own people and their own issues; that it's all or nothing. It's a losing strategy. It just marginalizes them even more.

I would never want to diminish the issues they fight for, and I respect them for fighting, but it's just like Ralph Nader; sometimes you have to pick your battles. Kerry might not be openly pro - insert your issue here - , but he's a lot closer to it than George.


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