In March 1991, Rod­ney King was beaten by offi­cers of the Los Ange­les Police Depart­ment. It was cap­tured on video­tape, one of the first viral videos of a new age, and it heated an unsta­ble flam­ma­ble mix­ture. The mix­ture smol­dered dur­ing the year between the inci­dent and the trial of the LAPD offi­cers; when they were acquit­ted, oxy­gen got to the smol­der­ing rags and the Los Ange­les riots, the dead­liest riots in the US in over 130 years, broke out in late April and early May 1992.

Too late, see­ing what his traf­fic stop and beat­ing had trig­gered, King pleaded with Los Ange­lenos: “Can we all get along?”

Look­ing at the cur­rent state of polit­i­cal dis­course, I think the same thing.

I was amazed, dis­mayed, and ulti­mately sad­dened by the treat­ment of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton by his oppo­nents. The Inter­net was still rel­a­tively new then. There was a World Wide Web, but it wasn’t in wide­spread use, and I got most of my online infor­ma­tion from what were called “Usenet News­groups”. Any­one with a bit of com­puter savvy could set up one of these groups and say their piece. I had fam­ily in Mena, Arkansas, so I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised to find a group called (as I recall) alt.conspiracy.mena. I can’t find any trace of it now, but here’s a sam­ple of the kind of things you’d find there.

Take the entire Vin­cent Fos­ter sui­cide con­spir­acy the­ory. Based on a very thin line of “evi­dence”, it was the most vile, nasty, evil set of accu­sa­tions I had ever seen. Even that thin reed was for­ti­fied by Rush Lim­baugh and his ilk on talk radio and TV.

Again, after 9/​11, my fer­vent hope was that we would band together as a nation and move for­ward based on our man­i­fest com­mon inter­est. Then Pres­i­dent Bush send Colin Pow­ell to present mostly fab­ri­cated evi­dence to the United Nations, and we were at war with Iraq, but at the same time we went back to our war of words (and some­times bul­lets) in what now passes for “polit­i­cal discourse”.

Nate Silver’s FiveThir­tyEight blog was a polit­i­cal breath of fresh air for me. I dis­cov­ered it in early 2008, shortly after Nate estab­lished it, and I found there a com­mu­nity of peo­ple who actu­ally amassed sci­en­tific and ratio­nal data to sup­port their posi­tions. Even the peo­ple I dis­agreed with seemed to be strug­gling to stack evi­den­tiary bricks on their side and we on the lib­eral left attempted to do the same.

When Nate moved to the New York Times and became bound by the Old Gray Lady’s com­ment pol­icy, we knew the jig was up. We tried, first at 538Refugees, then here at Log­a­rchism, to recre­ate what was lost, but Nate’s blog had that inde­fin­able qual­ity that came from his per­sonal and polit­i­cal nous and incred­i­ble intel­lect. We have since attempted to make the same match burn twice.

And so I still long for that place where we use logic, and data, and sci­ence, to feed our thought­ful, rea­soned argu­ment. A sort of polit­i­cal sci­ence forum with the empha­sis on the “sci­ence”. A place where, as the old say­ing goes, “we can dis­agree with­out being disagreeable”.

Let’s be the change we want to see in the world. Let’s go out and make polit­i­cal dis­course the way we want it to be. Slowly, surely, we will turn this wrecked bat­tle­ship around and get back to where we need to be.