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TODAY

Monday, May 20

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Airbags

Gapers Block will be launching a new political blog, a place for debate and diversity of opinion. And we know among you all out there are some brawlers eager for good, honest debate.

Framed above my work desk is the March 5, 1798 edition of the Aurora General-Advertiser, the advance paper for the Philadelphia Aurora (publisher: Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of the big BF). The Aurora was one of the most radical papers on the planet when it was published — and in this edition, besides a surprising number of advertisements for cures for "venereal complaints," is an announcement of the publication of a critical letter from Thomas Paine to former President George Washington.

The Aurora was such a radical paper that the ruling Federalists considered it a threat to the state — part of the reason President John Adams passed the Sedition Act, which cracked down on "seditious" materials that criticized the administration. Franklin Bache was subsequently arrested for publishing the Aurora and the General-Advertiser. His imprisonment would lead to his declining health and his death six months after the publication of the edition of his paper that hangs over my desk.

The Aurora was baldly radical, pro-Jefferson and inspired by Paine. Its aim, like Paine and Jefferson's aims, was to challenge power wherever it existed. Also the place to go if you had venereal complaints, apparently.

The Aurora would have been one of a number of papers that your civically engaged Philadelphian read. There were Federalist-leaning papers, too, that defended incumbent power, as well as more standard fare like the Evening Post and Gazette. The papers were cheap and plentiful, and anybody with a little bit of disposable income and some time could get at least a small paper off the ground. In fact the Aurora's motto was Surgo Ut Prosim — "I rise, that I may serve."

Papers like the Aurora were partisan, but they were part of an atmosphere of civic debate that was actively engaged in particularly among urban civic circles. Papers were constantly publishing "responses" to one another in very direct, engaged ways. The idea was to always be challenging accepted ideas and popular "narratives" to arrive at the truth beneath.

Debate is the best form of political writing. Blindly partisan media is filled with intellectual acrobatics to defend one party, one ideology, even individuals. We insulate ourselves from other arguments except to attack them, and discussion happens by proxy rather than directly. We have reduced ourselves to arguing about our preferences and opinions — what we "feel," how we "perceive" things, rather than what is right or wrong, true or false. In other words, we gave up on ideas in deference to taste. But children argue about taste; adults are supposed to debate ideas.

Rather than be skeptical of what partisans tell us, political discourse has trained itself to accept partisanship first, and model arguments around it.

That's no fun. So when we decided we wanted to launch a new local and state politics political blog here at Gapers Block, we made a conscious decision to encourage as diverse a range of political and ideological views as possible, to draw in readers of all stripes and encourage lively and respectful debate. Exposing readers to diverse opinion in one space is pretty rare in politics these days, but we think Chicago and Illinois are diverse places and our readership intelligent people who don't deserve to have their intelligence insulted by partisan chicanery.

We have recruited a great team of writers, bloggers, civic leaders, thinkers and activists to contribute, but we want more. We want the site to really reflect the diversity of opinion — so we may want you.

This extremely long introduction is not only to make you aware that the Mechanics political blog will be launched soon, but that we want you to contribute to it.

If you're interested in contributing periodic pieces to the blog, please contact me by October 17th, with links to or samples of your writing, your political interests, etc.

If you have a favorite blogger or local activist you know who may be a good addition, pass this along.

"Mechanics" will aspire to the best traditions of American political debate. I'm not trying to make a comparison to the Aurora (or even the General-Advertiser) but it'll definitely fit its own motto:

Dubitando ad veritatem venimus — "We get to truth by skepticism."

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon studies and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at rc@gapersblock.com.

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