Wednesday, October 06, 2010

An open letter to the Tea Partiers

I might well be flying in the face of conventional wisdom here, trying to reason with people who are generally considered to be unreasonable and irrational.  But it occurs to me that at least some of us are coming from the same place initially, in that we're sick of the status quo and want to see meaningful change that doesn't involve selling us out to multinational corporations and Wall Street.

Am I wrong?

Many of you, like us, are angered by the Wall Street bailout.  They gambled with our money, lost it, then turned around and extorted it back out of our government--out of our taxes--by threatening to take the whole economy down with them.  Infuriating, right?

We're on the same page here, believe me.  Now what I'm asking you to do is to stretch your imagination a little.  Imagine for a minute--just a minute--that there may be an element of truth in the things I'm about to share with you.  Imagine for a moment that the people who you currently get your information from are misinformed or just plain wrong.  I know it's a stretch, but I have faith that you can do it.

Now you've been led to believe that FOX News is the only source of news that isn't slanted to the left.  So you don't trust any other source at all--be it CNN, MSNBC, Routers, AP, the BBC, the New York Times, or anyone else.  So imagine for a second if your only source of information was a channel maintained by the government for just that purpose.  Imagine that you were told not to trust ANY other source of information.  Would you trust it?  So why would you think a  private organization with a clear profit motive would be any more honest?  Why would ANY source of news declare all other sources suspect?  Perhaps because they'd invalidate their bias?  Saying one source--maybe MSNBC--is heavily biased (a recent development, really) might be okay.  But all of them?

Imagine you knew a socialist.  You may, but you may not know it.  Or you may not.  Imagine asking him (or her) if they believe President Obama (or Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid) is one of them.  I will guarantee you that your most likely response is a snort of derision.  What you're being told is a "socialist agenda" is seen by those who actually are socialists as nothing of the sort.  Unless you think this is deliberate misdirection, it's pretty clear at this point that someone is embellishing the truth.  The agenda isn't remotely socialist.  It's barely even liberal.

Why do you think this so-called 'enthusiasm gap' exists?  Because many of us on the left feel betrayed by those we have elected to represent us.  You've been there.  You're there right now, as a matter of fact.  You're trying to replace those you don't feel represent you well enough.  That's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  Except, honestly, you're walking into precisely the same "hope and change" trap we walked into.

How do I mean?  Well, imagine you've picked a couple of choice apples.  You've got them in your hand and you want to take them home.  But the only thing to carry them in is a barrel full of already rotten apples.  Do you think those nice crisp apples will refresh those in the barrel, or do you think the ones in the barrel will infect the shiny new ones?  Congress is like that.  You can send your best and brightest, those with all the idealism in the world, into the fray.  But here's something to remember.  Junior senators have no power.  They don't make policy.  They barely influence it.  So therefore, by the time they rise to the level of being able to do something about the mess, they've become part of it.  Why do you think we're all still fighting the same battles?  Some of them have been going on since the dawn of the Republic.

Ain't that a stinker?

What's worse is that, by replacing our people with your people, you risk handing power back to the same exact people who have betrayed you again and again and again.  Oh, sure, they say they're concerned about the same things you are, but when have they ever done anything to change it?  Did the last Republican Congress--teamed with a Republican President--do anything at all about the issues you consider the most important?  Did they balance the budget, create jobs, eliminate pork, return decision making ability to the states, or did they simply set the stage for the economic collapse we're experiencing now?  No, you can't blame the Democrats.  This mess belongs to all of them.  It's the responsibility of both parties, and neither seems to be able to see its way out of it.

The notion that simply leaving the tax cuts in place will somehow magically heal the wound is ludicrous.  They've been in place, and yet, things aren't getting any better.  The same things that motivate companies to off-shore the best jobs, leaving behind only low-level service jobs--haven't gone away.  And even if one buys into the idea that it's all the regulation and taxation--well, what kind of a working environment do you want, anyway?  Do you want to work in a place where they can put your life and limbs in jeopardy for a little higher profits, where if you are injured, there's no recourse but begging on the street?  That's what would happen without safety regulations and worker's compensation.  The people you'll be putting into power don't believe in limiting what corporations can do.  At all.  You'd have to strip yourselves to the level of Chinese slave labor to make it worthwhile for this organizations to bring those jobs back into the country.  And what will you have gained?

You don't have to accept any of this on faith.  I wouldn't expect you to.  But I implore you to ask yourselves--what if I'm even a little bit right?  What if the people you support don't have your best interests at heart?  What then?

And, by some chance, if you're one of those for whom it's really about the so-called 'culture wars,' who really wish this country to 'return to its Christian roots,' might I ask one question?  Which sect do you follow?  Anyone who's studied the history of Christianity knows it's a long history of breaks and schisms, often followed by bloody warfare.  Let's assume for a second that the religious wrested control of this nation from the secular.  Let's say you actually won this culture war.  How long would it be before your differences began to bleed through and infighting began?  It's easy when you have a common enemy--the atheists, pagans, and secularists.  But, defeated, they'd no longer be an issue.  Then your enemy would be your former ally.  And before you say it wouldn't happen, think again.  That's the way it works.  One group would gain ascendancy--let's say the Baptists--and the Catholics would resent it.  And start working against them.  So the Baptists would have to pass laws limiting the Catholics... and the Mormons, and the Lutherans, and who knows what other sects.  This is why the founding fathers created that (allegedly mythical) wall of separation in the first place.  Because nearly all the original colonies had their own church, and they knew that the most destructive force in Pre-Enlightenment Europe was religious infighting.  So they made it so no sect could gain power over another by keeping government separate from religion.  No sect could command the government, and the government could hold no power over any sect.

The individual beliefs of the founding fathers don't matter.  What matters is the reason why they thought this wall a necessity.  Violate it at your peril.

All I ask is that you consider my words.  I'm not lying to you.  Imagine, for a moment, that you believe that.  What then?  Where do we go from here?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

He said WHAT?

Today I scandalized several of my fellow liberals by calling President Obama a "moral coward."  One went so far in retort to state that I "couldn't possibly understand his position and responsibilities."  Seriously--really?  Because I don't agree with his actions I obviously don't understand.  How convenient a rationalization.

I began by declaring straight out that I considered him a moral coward, referring in part to this article at T/O.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (my title, not theirs, btw).  Either way, the notion that this administration is not only following the same failed policies as previous administrations, but hiding them behind judicial gag orders after campaigning on a platform of transparency really chapped my hide.

It's bad enough that they're continuing some of the less than ethical security policies of their predecessors--can you say 'extraordinary rendition?'--but to announce in particular that they weren't going to be pursuing cases against medical marijuana growers, and then doing so behind the public's back while knowing the public doesn't support such actions, is an act of supreme hypocrisy.

This isn't all, of course.  Obama has repeatedly told us that he wants to do the right thing, but it's our job to "hold his feet to the fire" to make sure he does.  And to make sure Congress does.  Okay--first of all, this isn't leadership.  This is an attempt to use us as political cover.  This is suggesting that he's unable to do the right thing unless he's forced to do so by public pressure.  But what's worse is that we're supposed to do this foot holding thing while being sneered at by those he chose to fill his cabinet in direct opposition to the wishes of every single progressive constituent out there.

And it's not as though he or anyone else can claim ignorance.  This administration may be the first one that came into power knowing very well that the people (it is still 'we the people, right?) would be looking over their shoulder and commenting more or less in real time.

What I get out of all of this is "I want to do the right thing, but I'm afraid to..."  And those who seem to feel they have no choice but to carry his water--those who hinged everything on his success, take anything criticizing this side of him as a personal affront.

Speaking well does not make one a good leader.  Coming up with a great catchphrase like "Yes we can" doesn't mean much if we're left asking "Yes we can what?"  Try creating a bipartisan coalition with people who pretty much think you're the antichrist?  Good luck with that.  Negotiating from a position of weakness by taking the best possible option in health care reform off the table before negotiations even begin?  From the beginning I saw a flaw in his strategy--and people would say "oh, he's playing chess... he's two, three, four, ten moves ahead."  Near as I can tell at this point, he's an even shittier chess player than I am.

Then again, I'm not a strategist.  I'm a tactician.  That offers the ability to change directions swiftly, as events unfold.  Strategy is more long term, and tends to be more... conservative.  The Marines of my father's day were taught to improvise on the battlefield, to use the tactics that would do the job, regardless of the strategic choices that came down from on high.  Get the job done.

I think Obama made the same mistake as Clinton did when he stepped into the oval office.  He chose to "look forward rather than back" and therefore left enemies armed and dangerous drawing targets on his back.  The criminals who started unnecessary and quite possibly illegal wars, helped their friends make billions in obscene profits off the suffering and death of our own soldiers--not to mention innocent foreign civilians--, deregulated the banks and energy companies to the point they were more or less policing themselves (badly, I might add), lost billions of dollars through malfeasance and incompetence, conducted questionable (at best) warrantless and unwarranted surveillance of law-abiding American citizens, and committed a multitude of other acts of an ethical, immoral, and at best quasi-legal nature.  Not investigating their crimes left them in place to almost immediately begin a campaign of disinformation and obfuscation aimed at destroying and/or negating every single possible progressive policy change that might come down the pipe.

We're not only still in the middle of the Great Recession (despite the nonsense spouted by economists), but now have almost no chance of enacting the kinds of programs necessary to drag us out of it.  Partially because this administration's ineffectiveness at communicating both the problems and their causes has given the right the freedom to co-opt a surge of populist anger aimed at the people actually responsible for our situation, and instead aim it directly at those with the best chance of getting us out of it.

For the longest time I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.  I was willing to blame Congress for a great deal of it.  But now I simply can't.  Because the man with the tools and the access to connect with America in a meaningful way, the man who can easily outline not only the difficulties we face, but the potential solutions, cannot, or will not, do so.

We needed a Roosevelt.  We didn't get one.  And we'll all pay the price.