James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, March 24, 2006

Questions for "moderates"

The debate between “moderates” and liberals over electioneering and candidates has started again.

I put “moderates” in quotation marks because I really don't know what the word means now in a political context.

Roughly seven and a half months before the mid-term elections, the self-identified moderates – sometimes “centrists” -- seem to be saying that we must not take strong stands against Bush and his allies: Russ Feingold was wrong to seek a censure resolution, forget impeachment, don't make the religious right angry, be polite, don't use strong language, support “moderate” candidates, not those who are openly liberal.

Actually, from what I can make out, the "moderates" are saying we need to get Democrats back into some position of power in Congress, and to do that we mustn't take issue with any of the right's major positions nor pick a fight with their “base” or major office holders. We absolutely must not lay claim to the moral high ground.

Doesn't sound like the way to win a fight to you? To me either.

A sort of on-line debate between liberals and “moderates” took place recently in a newsletter run by a very good man who is among those laying claim to the moderate label. The “moderates” seemed to confirm my understanding of their position, which is that “in weakness lies strength,” though I'm sure they wouldn't categorize it in that way, and I can't figure out where the “strength” shows itself.

I have some questions, and I am dead serious about this.

I want those who have taken the supposedly moderate position to answer the questions publicly and clearly, because I am just one of a rapidly growing army of liberals who are appalled by what we understand them to be saying. We believe that if they prevail, the Democrats are doomed to yet another dismal electoral failure. And that means this country will take several more steps down the road to becoming a giant emirate.

(Growing army? Yes. Can't give you numbers, but if you survey the columns by syndicated columnists and letters to editors over the past three months, you'll see many saying things the writers would not have said last fall, openly and harshly spanking the gutless wonders at the top of the Democratic Party structure. And my contacts with literally dozens of people who once were loyal Democrats provide me with much anecdotal evidence of the decline of that semi-organization. The defectors and those who have one foot out the door are disgusted to the point of nausea with what they see as the cowardice and aimlessness of Democratic office holders and party officials.)

So, to the questions:

*Seriously, what does “moderate” mean, in terms of a person and a position? Thus far, it seems to many of us to mean a person who will not take a firm stand on any issue simply because it is the right thing to do. As a position, "moderate" does not seem to liberals to have any clear meaning other than “not liberal” and probably “not as far right as Bill Frist, although he's really a good guy.”

*What is the ethical or moral bottom line for a “moderate” politician or position as defined by those who name themselves moderates?

I will be honest: We can't see it. We do see a lot of Democrats holding their fingers to the wind (and often getting the direction wrong), checking the polls and finding out where Fox News stands on the question before deciding whether it's Tuesday or Thursday.

More specifically:

*Are there political or moral beliefs or positions on which you will not compromise or from which you will not back down? If so, what are they?

Pulling our troops out of Iraq? By when? Putting an end to torture by Americans or American surrogates? How quickly and by what means? How about measures to seriously reduce global warming and our dependence on oil? Domestic spying? Demanding immediate repeal of the misnamed Patriot Act? Requiring the president to abide by the Constitution and the rule of law? What about the $105 billion to be cut from Medicare over the next 10 years? Education funding?

Please: What will you take unshakable stands on, what is open to trading?

*Assuming you are willing to compromise on many issues, what are you prepared to trade way, and what will you demand in return? Very seriously, do you expect to get anything in return for what you give away? How will you extract concessions from the right?

Those are questions of great importance, because the record of the past decade and more clearly shows that the right wingers who control our government do not compromise. They take, they don't give.

They easily collect huge sums from corporate bigwigs and they buy lots of television advertising to persuade the public to their position and to try to crush any opposition. They will not, say, give up pursuing the legal right to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Preserve if you agree to destroy Social Security, even though Social Security is much more important. How do you propose to change that fact of life?

*Why do you assume the American public will not understand if the Democrats clearly and honestly define and explain the issues? Obviously, you do make that assumption, since you don't believe Democrats should take firm public positions on the major issues between the left and right. Isn't that conceding the field to the right, which does take firm positions?

*How will you deal with the phony issues of distraction? Will you debate them, which is what's happening now, or will you push them aside and insist on talking about the real issues of the day?

I could go on, but real answers to those questions will suffice for now. Should they be forthcoming, we can talk more.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A terrible irony

During the evening of March 22, I was channel hopping, looking for something tolerable to watch on the tube while exercising, and happened on a program about the war crimes trial of Hideki Tojo after World War II. It was on one of the cable channels – the History Channel I think, though I wouldn't swear to it.

Tojo was largely responsible for creating the German-Italian-Japanese Axis. He served during the war first as war minister and then as prime minister. He was a bloody-minded, merciless fanatic who was ultimately responsible for many of the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in the 1930s and '40s.

One of the people interviewed on the program was a survivor of the Bataan Death March.

Tojo's trial and his execution in December 1948 were absolutely necessary, said the old veteran, because “we have to show the world that this country will not tolerate that kind of treatment of human beings (that is, what he and his fellows suffered on the march), and that we won't allow people to be tortured.”

The irony of that statement in 2006 America strikes like a punch in the gut.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

We get a chance to elect a fighter

Marty Sabo surprised most of the state, and his constituents, by announcing a few days ago that he won't seek reelection to Congress.

He has held the Minnesota Fifth District seat, which includes Minneapolis and pieces of a few old suburbs, for 28 years. Until the announcement, he was behaving as he always behaves in an election year, sending out more franked pieces of mail than usual and popping up where constituents gather, but not saying more than a few words to them, and leaving after a few minutes.

Early in February, I wrote a couple of pieces here saying that it is past time for Sabo to retire, and suggesting that what the district needs is a member of Congress who is an intelligent, articulate and energetic liberal. Sabo is intelligent. He is not energetic. He's inarticulate, at least in public. And as for being a liberal: He votes right, but at a time when the country is being ripped apart by right wing crooks, his voice is seldom heard.

So am I gloating?

No. Neither am I contrite.

For one thing, of course, what I say or said has nothing to do with Sabo's decision to quit. He's never heard of me, or at least not in circumstances that he's likely to remember. But judging by a meeting at which he appeared in late winter, a whole lot of his constituents had decided it was time for him to retire. Some undoubtedly told him so.

If the Democrats controlled Congress and the White House, or even if traditional (liberal) Democrats had any voice whatever in the governing of this country, most of us would be content to let Marty Sabo sit in Congress until turns 95 or drops dead, whichever comes first. In fact, we'd probably beg him to stay, because a properly functioning Congress – we used to have some – always is short of honest people who understand and care about the details of maintaining a functioning of government.

Sabo is very good at some of the most difficult, unpleasant but necessary tasks, such as parsing budgets.

But our desperate need these days is for people who will stand up and fight the neocon sociopaths now in control in Washington. We need members of Congress who command attention and can show the people the truth of what is happening and make them understand that truth and lead them to recover this country before it becomes merely an oversized version of a Middle Eastern sheikdom.

Local newspapers, notably his and my hometown newspaper, have been fawning on Sabo since his announcement. It is what they do when people die or retire.

Interestingly, they have been crediting the man with all sorts of wonderful achievements that they either didn't report or grossly underreported when the events apparently took place. Now he's getting credit for Minnesota property tax reform, for getting our fledgling light rail line built, for being the parent of an important low-cost housing project and much more.

Dear editors: If all this is true, and it may well be, you did a rotten job of giving your readers the facts.

Who knew?

But even if true, it doesn't alter the fact that the need of this time is for someone who, operating from what may be the safest Democratic seat in Congress, will stand up and fight on the overwhelmingly important issues of the day: War, the deliberate trashing of the U.S. Constitution, the destruction of the environment and the planet itself, the turning of the United States into a plutocracy.

We are under the thumbs of people who see war and other hideous forms of mayhem as spectator sports and themselves as the owners of the biggest franchise in the league; we need politicians big enough to take them on and win.

Oh, and I'm more than a little sore at Marty for the way he handled his resignation.

If he knew, as he must have, that he is not going to run for reelection, he should have told us before the Democratic Party caucuses March 7, so that people interested in running could test the waters at those gatherings.

The only conclusion one can reach is that making the announcement after March 7 was a tactical move to further the candidacy of the person he has selected to take his place – someone who might not do so well at the caucuses but can be expected to do better, with Marty's blessing, at upcoming conventions, which are attended largely by reliable party regulars.

Strib writers have several times published a list of possible candidates, but it was clear from the start that most of those people will not run. The lists are baloney. For reasons I don't understand, they seem designed to make the public believe we have a wide open situation when, in fact, the real roster of possible candidates is much shorter.

Although Sabo's daughter, Julie Sabo, a former state senator, is on the published lists, I will be floored if it doesn't soon become clear that the congressman is backing Mike Erlandson, his chief of staff and former chair of the DFL (Minnesota's state Democratic party).

Erlandson is the stereotypical party plugger – no discernible talent, but a willingness to plod along the path, waiting his turn to run for office. He was an embarrassing party chair, frankly -- inept, with a talent for saying the wrong thing and for offending both foes and should-be allies. I have no idea what he does for Sabo and his staff.

For liberals, he is an unacceptable choice. Remember those needs for high intelligence, pursuasive ability, understanding of the big issues and what needs to be done about them. He is, in fact, one of the worst possible choices among the people who might actually seek the office.

Voters in the Minnesota Fifth District, and others who want to fight for American democracy, need to make a better choice and put their money and time behind that choice.

For now, at least, the one who still looks best to me is Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, an academic and author of numerous scholarly books, who had the guts to stand up and declare himself a candidate when Sabo was still assumed to be running. Nelson-Pallmeyer provides those things I think we need: He is outstandingly intelligent, articulate, a strong and appealing speaker who has great command of the issues. Of course, I often favor the unconventional choice; I was an early supporter of Paul Wellstone. Look for yourselves.

We'll have to see how some of the others show.