James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Democrats could win, if they quit cowering

Democrats in Washington – party officials and what's left of the office holders – continue to shake their fingers at liberals and preach that we must be “moderate,” which means, as far as I can tell, that we should accept Republican policies but modify them a mite once we've gained control of Congress. Like that's ever going to happen if things go on as they are.

Unfortunately, the fear of liberalism extends to many local activists all over the country, including some whose personal proclivities are genuinely liberal.

The population generally is conservative, the argument goes, and we have play to that if we want to win elections. Any hint of “radicalism” will drive the voters into the arms of the Republicans. We need to embrace ultra conservatives like Joe Lieberman and unprincipled opportunists such as Hillary Clinton because they can win, we are told.

That is – to be more polite than I am naturally inclined to be – absolute and irredeemable hogwash.

You need only look at nationwide election results over the past couple of decades to see the foolishness of such hunker-down advice. Does anyone actually believe that “this time it will be different” if the Democrats run Clinton or some other phony who has no moral center?

We've been hearing the same thing from the same people for at least 20 years and look where we are:

The presidency and Congress are controlled by right wing extremists. Our electoral system has been so perverted that it is only realistic to expect that in any Congressional election year some major elections will be stolen by those with the most money. Billionaire corporate executives are giving the orders in dismantling the social contract and the Constitution, and people are dying by the thousands in an illegal and stupid war that cannot be “won.” We are “fighting terror” by pursuing policies that have fostered a huge growth in terrorism around the world. The earth and its atmosphere are being destroyed at a terrifying rate. And we have a so-called mainstream news media that is essentially a propaganda machine for the people who already have all the power.

Every so often in various therapeutic communities such as Alcoholics Anonymous, someone with an exceptional memory rattles off this string of letters: IYADWYAD, YAGWYAG.

That means: If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.

The people who are telling us to set aside liberalism and vote – again, and yet again – for people who have no guts, who stand up for no principles and who have nothing real to say to the American public, need to read that sentence over a dozen times or a hundred times or a thousand times, until they understand it.

Having cost us election after election, they want us to go on doing what we've been doing, and that guarantees that the extreme right will strengthen its grip on the country.

Read and listen to what's being said, and the truth of the situation is fairly easy to grasp.

A majority of national-level Democratic politicians, especially the long-time office holders and party hacks, are so frightened that they can neither think nor function. They grew up in a system that worked for them for many years, and it is the only way they know how to operate: You cozy up to the people with money, and you give them most of what they want in exchange for campaign funds. Sometimes you can do some things for your constituents if those things don't stomp too hard on the toes of the people who paid for your campaigns.

The mantra, repeated endlessly and with increasing desperation by such people these days, is “Politics is first about winning elections.”

On its face, the statement is true, but it is being used in an untruthful way, to mask the fact that the pols are petrified by fear and confusion.

In their panic, many Democrat office holders and their hangers on cannot face the simple fact that the big-money folks no longer have any use for them. The billionaires bought the presidency and a right-wing Congress and they don't need weak-kneed Democrats any more.

Those Democratic politicians and a lot of grass roots liberals also have been conned into believing that a liberal message will not sell to the masses. This is a conservative country, says the myth, and you have to cater to those who believe George Bush makes us safe; you have to placate those who think abortion and gay marriage are the key issues of the day. Concerns as torture of prisoners, illegal imprisonment, personal privacy and rule of law are of little or no interest to most of the public says the myth.

Again, to use the most polite word I can muster, hogwash. Big time.

People who believe that recitation of supposed woes aren't paying attention to what the people of this country are saying to each other. They're listening only to the distortions of the commentators, who are even more out of touch than the politicians, and to the phony formulations of an incompetent press.

Get out in the street, people, and into the bars and coffee shops and stores. Look at the comic pages, not just the editorial pages, of your local newspaper.

Sure you'll hear some nasty right-wing comments, and shots about “communists” aimed at everybody to the left of Karl Rove. But far more often you'll hear the angry little jokes about the crooks in the White House, and the torturers, and the stupidity of the guy with the title of president, and the paranoia of the Vice President, and the bungling of the hurricane recovery and on and on. And you'll hear a lot of snorts of bitter laughter.

Traditionally non-political standup comics, the authors of hitherto entirely non-political newspaper comic strips, all sorts of people are daily taking angry little shots at the Bush crowd and the nasties who rule Congress, and their auditors increasingly agree with those impromptu criticisms. Listen to the applause.

Yeah, the Democrats are taking knocks, too, but for weakness, not liberalism. People are angry at the Democrats these days largely for their failure to take firm positions and articulate what a majority of Americans already know. And those who don't know exactly what's wrong are terribly aware that the country is sagging; they're waiting for someone to tell them the truth and suggest some workable solutions.

The public, you see, is once again way ahead of the politicians and many others whose lives are so immersed in politics that they can't see the real world.

The public knows now that the Bush crowd is incompetent in virtually everything it does or tries to do. A majority knows that the Iraq war is a disaster and that thousands are dying and being maimed for no good reason – that even the claim of providing Iraq with security and democracy is a horrible joke. It knows that torture and illegal imprisonment are not right. It knows that the upper echelons of the Republican leadership is arrogantly crooked. It knows that its schools are being gutted, that college is increasingly out of reach of its youth, that health care is quickly becoming a service available only to the affluent, that the very rich are getting every richer and more powerful while the livelihoods of people who work for a living are increasingly inadequate and endangered. The public knows that secure retirement is rapidly disappearing and who is responsible for that fact. A great many know that the scientists are right and that to continue our present abuse of the environment will bring disaster upon us.

Americans understand a great many things that Democratic office holders and party stalwarts are not giving them credit for knowing.

America's news media talk daily about “the extremist wings” of both parties.

That came about for two reasons: The powerful Republican propaganda machine pushed and still pushes the myth of the “extreme left of the Democrats” very hard. Lordy, they're even calling Hillary an “extreme leftist.”

And the ill-trained, badly educated staffs of today's press are suckers for “balance,” even and sometimes especially where it does not exist. If they correctly identify some nutter such as James Dobson or Paul Wolfowitz as being on the extreme right, then they feel the must, for the sake of that fictional balance, name somebody as being on the extreme left. Any liberal will do. The Jack Abramoff scandal is a Republican scandal all the way, but many reporters and columnists try to present it as a scandal involving both major parties.

My wanderings, the listening and questioning, have led me to the certainty that the general public isn't buying that crap.

Oh, some are, but not most.

For one thing, the right has gone too far in playing the “lefty” name-calling game. When they charge that Pennsylvania's John Murtha, a war hero, is a coward and a leftist for turning against the Iraq war, they have lost credibility that they aren't going to get back.

Here's the other side of reality, however:

The Republicans are going to win anyway unless the Democrats make some major changes.

That's because the American public generally will vote for a known crook, no matter how stupid, arrogant and rotten, rather than elect someone with no spine. We don't like wimps, and we prefer scoundrels to cowards.

One thing that the press has gotten right over the past several years: The Democrats, or at least most of the Democratic leadership, doesn't stand for a damned thing.

Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and all the rest of the spineless figures who obviously will take whatever stance they think will win an election will not sell to the American public. There are pockets where they can get a majority, but the wider public isn't that particular brand of stupid.

Find articulate candidates with the simple fortitude to call the liars liars and name the crooks as crooks and liberals can win. Find candidates who will speak the truths that the public already knows -- about education, health care, retirement plans, giveaways to the rich, the theft of the public's money by the president's cronies -- and you will win handily.

But we have to have the boldness to get rid of the gutless dodgers at the top of the Democratic Party. We have to have the nerve to dump office holders who don't fight hard for what is right.

One more compaign in which the Democrats offer jelly fish to oppose the sharks of the right, and the game will be permanently lost.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A personal note; the pause is over

This is far more personal than I generally care to be, and probably more than most readers need to know. Before getting fully back into the fray, however, I want to make some explanation of my recent absence to those who might find the inner dialogue mentioned here relevant to their own sometimes conflicting thoughts.

Others will be forgiven for skipping this piece and checking in a few days from now for the next posting.

(Don't worry. I'm not going to start spewing intimate details of my life like some dimwitted Tom Cruise clone.)

Now and then over the past few months, someone has asked me why I haven't been writing.

At first, I had no real answer to the question; I wasn't entirely sure why I stopped adding to this blog. Something didn't feel right, and though my observations about the miserable state of the country and world of Bush & Co. continued, I didn't seem to have the juice to set them down.

Fairly quickly I realized that I was troubled that my perceptions of how to deal with the evils of our right-wing government often were in conflict with the thoughts offered by people for whom I have great regard.

I have a passion for truth in public life, and we're suffocating in lies. I was (and am) extremely angry about the enormous damage being done to the world and my country by the greed-driven sociopaths who now rule the United States. I am furious at the incompetence, avarice and cowardice of what we still, mistakenly, call the mainstream news media. I am sometimes hotheaded when my sense of right and wrong is offended, and I am perhaps not the most patient of men. (Yeah, just kidding; I know that's a gargantuan understatement.) To be undeservedly easy on myself, I do not suffer fools gladly. I wanted to see leadership from those who were willing and able to confront the bad guys head on.

But, as I said, some of the people whose perceptions differ substantially from my own are good people. Some are active in attempts to rescue our country and preserve, or restore, the health of the planet. It was necessary for me to pay close attention to such people and decide whether in my rage I was losing sight of reality and failing to recognize more moderate, and perhaps therefore more practical, approaches to the enormous problems we face.

To no one's great surprise, I'm sure, I've decided that in the main, my original conclusions are correct. But I'm more comfortable in my skin, now. I can say exactly why I believe what I believe and also how and why I'm quite sure that some good folks are making serious mistakes.

It is not only possible but common to be excessively moderate. A very large proportion of middle class America is afraid -- more than merely afraid-- of appearing as anything but “moderate,” regardless of provocation. Democracy may sink into the right wing slime, but they'll never lose their calm demeanor. Until recently, even openly “liberal” columnists and commentators feared to call the Bush crowd by the name of liar, though they richly earned the title long ago.

Screw that.

We need some fire-breathing liberal politicians and muscular leaders ready to toss the corrupt and incompetent right wingers into the molten brimstone.

A couple of fairly recent events to illustrate the roots of my now resolved dilemma:

Three weeks ago or so, I was at a well-attended “town meeting” supposedly set up so that my Congressman, Martin Sabo, could hear the concerns of his constituents.

Well, hell, it's an election year, which is the only time we see or hear from Marty.

For many years, I was a Sabo supporter. He's a Democrat who has occupied his totally safe seat in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District for 28 years. He reliably votes as a liberal would have him vote. We let him slide on the fact that in public, at least, he's only marginally more articulate than George W. Bush.

But for the past four years, I've been yakking at my wife and a few politically aware friends about the fact that an empty chair would be almost as useful as Sabo. He hasn't done anything other than push a vote button in more than a decade. When he appears, always briefly, in public, as at a Democratic district convention, he seems exhausted, like a man with a very bad hangover or perhaps someone who is simply defeated by life. You feel you want to hold him up so that he doesn't sag to the floor like some vapors-struck maiden in a Victorian novel.

Well....I intend to talk about Sabo and, to a lesser extent, other Democratic office holders in another piece in the near future.

The thing is, I came away from that meeting so convinced that Sabo must be replaced in Congress that I immediately started looking for ways to help make that happen. That's true despite the fact that among establishment Democrats and some younger folk who are adoringly grateful for any member of Congress who votes as a liberal these days, Marty is a saint.

Indeed, a very good, honest, highly intelligent and hard-working peace activist I know wrote about the same Sabo town meeting and concluded that liberals must be deeply grateful for Marty's presence. Given what he said, I had to reexamine all the thoughts I had about Sabo during and after the meeting.

Then, only a few days ago, my long-ago colleague, Molly Ivins, wrote a column lambasting Hillary Clinton and other calculating, cowardly and apparently ethically deficient Democratic politicians and those who would force us to accept them as candidates for high office. In so doing she at last joined Maureen Dowd and a few other columnists who have the guts to tell off the weaklings who run the national Democratic party machinery. She also joined me; I've been ranting to same poor wife and friends about those same politicians for even longer than I've been complaining about Sabo.

Then the good liberal who paid his respects to Sabo wrote a piece saying that we should not climb on our high horses and reject Clinton and the others out of hand. To do so would be arrogant, and possibly lead us to another election defeat, he said or strongly implied. He also noted that Hillary Clinton is so very popular in New York that the Republicans are finding it impossible to field a serious candidate to run against her for her Senate. He suggested that she may have the same popularity elsewhere in the country.

Truthfully, that one didn't cause me to do any serious reexamination, but given the source of the commentary, I did think about whether it was necessary.

Clinton undoubtedly is powerful in New York, but New York has peculiarities that set it apart from all but, possibly, one or two other states. If she is the Democrats' candidate for president next time around, Dwight Eisenhower's two overwhelming defeats of Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s will look like near things by comparison, and it won't much matter who the Republicans run. Jack Abramoff could beat her almost any place in the country other than New York, Minneapolis and, maybe, a few sections of California.

About half the people I know who once were active Democrats already have all but abandoned the party. They stand on the sidelines. At least half of those I know who still call themselves Democrats are poised to bolt. And I am back to where I was a year ago, but more sure in my thoughts:

If the long-time Democratic party officials, cowed office holders and professional flapjaws who are misreading the American public give us another limp Republican Lite candidate for president, the Democratic Party is dead and gone. At best it will be a cardboard cutout propped up in the Capitol lobby to give the false impression that there still is an opposition party.

Next: Why those pushing excessive “moderation” are dead wrong.