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November 11, 2013 2:33 PM Rules of Engagement in the Struggle For the Soul of the Democratic Party

By Ed Kilgore

A post-Obama reconsideration of the positioning and policy agenda of the Democratic Party has long been inevitable, particularly insofar as defense of this president and his accomplishments against intense Republican opposition and sabotage has naturally suppressed some prior and emerging differences.

But the speed with which this “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” could become fractious and very personal was exhibited today by Noam Scheiber’s essay at TNR predicting an ideological battle heading into 2016 with Elizabeth Warren challenging the party supremacy of Hillary Clinton and her allies. Scheiber thinks the future of the financial industry could be the key issue dividing the two camps, and that Warren, not Clinton, may have the emotional high ground given the strongly anti-Wall Street views of the Democratic rank-and-file. And he predicts that if Warren does challenge Clinton for the presidency, the heat of the campaign would likely be increased by Hillaryland’s penchant for uninhibited attacks on critics complemented by the occasional bout of hippie-punching.

He could well be right, and even if Warren doesn’t run for president, there’s a decent chance someone else will who sees daylight to the left of Clinton.

So it’s as good a time as any for Democrats to try to set out some rules of engagement for any struggle for the Donkey’s soul.

Over at my other perch at The Democratic Strategist, James Vega, J.P. Green and I have put together an extensive memo examining why differences of opinion between Democrats tend to become exaggerated, and why it would be a good idea to find neutral venues to conduct civil discussions of such differences. The memo also makes a crucial point that I often offer in analyzing Republicans here at PA: it’s important to keep arguments over strategy and tactics separate from arguments over basic principles. That’s also how Democrats avoid calling each other corporate whores or crazy radicals as MSM journalists exult and
conservatives pop popcorn and enjoy.

It may not be strictly possible for Democrats to maintain the crucial unity they enjoyed during the government shutdown/debt default crisis throughout a contested presidential nominating campaign. But it’s worth an effort. Check out our memo for more details.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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