As to the political conversation in this country. It has always seemed to me that Martin Luther King benefited greatly from the existence of the Black Panthers and Malcom X. King was adamantly committed to desegregation and non-violence - the Black Panthers were not so picky about violence and Malcom X talked about Green power - do not shop in their stores do not buy their products.
Reform movements often do better if there is a voice out on the fringe. The voice of moderate reasoned argument can be heard better if people are afraid of the revolution.
I don't see anyone moving the argument much to the left. I do see far right argument which tends to move the center further right (let us not forget that Nixon was more liberal than Clinton).
We need some flaming radical leftists just to keep the conversation from drifting further right.
I think you've got it backwards.
First, the NAACP, integration of the armed forces, Thurgood Marshall, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, etc. preceeded the Black Panthers by some time. It's much easier to argue that the Black Panthers et al. benefitted from the civil rights movement that -- at least to the young boy that I was -- seemed more inclined to reach out to all sorts of people, including my -- for that time -- conservative Republican parents.
I will briefly put on my social psychologist hat here. People with authoritarian personalities, especially when they join together in groups of similarly disposed people, think they are tougher, stronger, more realistic, etc. Unfortunately the reality tends to be otherwise. Authoritarian groups get things howlingly wrong. To make it easier for St. Mark's people to understand and accept, just consider creationists -- the people who are firmly convinced in a "theory" that doesn't come close to reality. This is especially true of "young earth" creationists. Democratically led groups are better able to accept a wider variety of views and data than authoritarian groups. That doesn't mean democratically led groups are always superior in all ways. I suspect people who have served in military combat would agree that the authoritarian mode of leadership can be superior in some cases, especially in situations such as Normandy beach on June 6, 1944. That's just one example.
How many people on this list have actually got up in front of a group of people who are not necessarily disposed to their ideas and made a case for their ideas? I have done so. I seem to be more persuasive than others simply because I try to listen to others, connect with them where their minds currently are and try to persuade them to consider my ideas. Other people tell me I am quite good at that. My currently most important topic that I speak on is management reform in the aerospace industry. Yes, there are implications beyond the aerospace industry -- but I don't go all over the map. It's hard enough to do that in an hour or so, let alone get into a more complicated topic such as health care (1/6 of the economy) or global warming.
How many people on this list are familiar with the work of Edward Tufte? He's an emeritus professor at Yale who specializes in communication. I attended one of his seminars several years ago and read two of his books. He made several interesting points at the seminar I went to. He compared, for example, the information density of a major daily newspaper (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post) with a television news broadcast of a half hour (really 22 minutes). The major daily paper has more information above the fold of the first page than the entire TV broadcast. The Washington Post's recent series about Dick Cheney -- a simpler topic than health care -- had more information and analysis than is in Sicko. One can say these things just by noting the differences in the two media. Is TV, film, etc. worthwhile? Of course. It is a different way of considering the world. Drama can plumb reality in different ways than nonfiction writing -- or fiction writing. Last March, for example, I got an interesting look into a different culture -- that of the Tlingit Indian tribe -- via a production of Macbeth that was partly in English and partly in Tlingit. I would predict that our member Christine Peters, a Tlingit Indian, could expound on this far better than I could. When I want to consider health care reform, though, I want as much nonfiction data and analysis as possible. Sicko fails that test. Why? Because it has too little information. It was made by a man who doesn't seem to listen to people different from himself. Even Al Gore -- a man I do respect -- seemed to have a difficult time with that in An Inconvenient Truth.
Back to my psychologist mode. If you want more of something, positively reinforce that behavior -- not one that some people claim makes that behavior easier to do. I don't need the "inspiration" of a Robert Zubrin -- a real nut if you ask me and quite a few others -- to talk about the aerospace industry and how I -- and some others -- think it needs to change. If you want to get more thoughtful analysis and advocacy, positively reinforce those of us who are actually trying to do that. In my case, make out the checks to "Charles J. Divine" and mail them to me at 7059 Palamar Turn, Lanham, Maryland 20706. Yes, I am joking.