I think both sides in the usual intraparty debates are guilty of excessive “the enemy is listening” fears, and that we need to create a free-speech zone with some simple rules of civility (e.g., I won’t call you crazy, and you won’t call me spineless, just because we disagree).
The question of civility can only be addressed by a particular, relatively delimited community. This was the lesson of the 90’s iteration of this conversation, though then it was called ‘flame wars.’ It’s quite easy to gather a thoughtful group of civil adults that can discuss and debate strategy; simply set up an identity verification program (a small credit card transaction, for instance) and moderate discussions. (The WELL does this quite… erm, well.) If you guarantee that -some- real democratic strategists, with the ears of real politicians, are reading the posts, they will probably be very thoughtful indeed. They will also be very careful, very reverent, and not only civil, but obsequious.
If someone out there starts such a forum, I’d love to be invited. I can’t imagine why they’d want me, though. I’m nobody special. Thankfully, blogs don’t work on ‘specialness’; here, anonymous strangers by the millions throw their ideas at the wall, and sometimes something sticks. They talk about cross-stitching, cross-dressing, and cross-burning with equal fervor and unequal intelligence. Early adopters gained readers and popularity, quit their day jobs, and started looking like the establishment. But there’s always some new writer adopting Hunter S. Thompson’s style or keeping a daily diary devoted to demography and statistical modeling. And the novelty, the energy, the otherness, and the insight will drive us to seek them out, probably with the help of some hyper-literate friend who scans blogs in her spare time.
This is all to the good; but for every undiscovered prodigy there are going to be thirty (or maybe three hundred) name-calling, misspelling, grammar- trashing, outraged fifteen year-old trolls posing as adults. Many of them will learn something from the experience of being schooled or ignored by serious-minded bloggers. All the same, so long as we are anonymous, there will be middle-schoolers acting like stock market analysts, men pretending to be women, conservatives posing as liberals, dogs and cats living together…. You get the picture. We can’t keep them out, and frankly, we shouldn’t want to. Cybernetic free-speech zones are just as preposterous as their real-world counterparts.