Bytes -- March, 2002
Don't Just Get Mad, Get Smart
"The Online Gadfly"
Published in The
Democratic Underground, April 9, 2002
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the
result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the
enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If
you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can
change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
If Ari Fleischer Karl Rove, Karen Hughes or some other such Bushista operative, were to read a sample of the progressive websites, would they be particularly concerned about what they saw? They just might not. Instead, they might reflect, "this is a small cabal of discontents spouting off to each other, but not really going anywhere."
There was a time, not too long ago, when such a brush off might have been justified. But the progressive internet is alive, robust, and apparently growing. (Some progressive sites, I am told, gather several million "hits" a month). So it is the task of this and like-minded websites to give the Bushista media-wonks something to worry about.
To do so, we must assuredly work diligently to spread the word and attract many more visitors to the dissenting internet. And the message must be aimed beyond the "choir" of like-minded individuals.
So it is past time that the web writers, editors and publishers ask themselves: "do we wish merely to "rage, rage, against the dying of the light," or do we wish instead to re-ignite the torch of liberty and take back our democracy?"
If the latter, then we must understand that these two objectives are often at cross purposes, and that if we are prevent our rage from getting in the way of our objectives, we will often have to apply some self-discipline and employ some tactical intelligence.
For example, in the progressive websites you will find demands by some correspondents and occasionally some writers that such wing-nuts as Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, and the like be "taken off the air."
Bad move! On the contrary, the more the public is exposed to these crazies, the greater the benefit for the progressive cause. True, in the past, Robertson, Falwell and the religious right have done great harm to our body politic. But now they are proving to be their own undoing. No amount of left-wing criticism of Robertson and Falwell could possibly damage them as much as they besmirched themselves with the inane post 9/11 comments ("its all the fault of the gays, the feminists and the ACLU"). And every time Ann Coulter opens her pretty fascist mouth, she drives away droves of fair-minded citizens from the Republicans ranks. So please, just hand them the mike and let them rant. By and large the editors of the progressive internet are well aware of the capacity of right-wing crazies to self-destruct, and thus are wisely more than willing to give them ample space to do so.
Another cross purpose: rage leads to incivility and abusive language, while "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Remember that CNN's Aaron Brown cited the "incivility" of his critics as his excuse for ignoring the substance of their complaints. As I read some of the e-mails that he received, I must concede that he has a point. In contrast, Tom Daschle's soft, sweet and unruffled demeanor is driving the GOP bonkers. Lott, DeLay and the others would like nothing more than for "Cool Tom" to pop his cork. So long as he refuses, he stands out as the one who "keeps his head while all about are losing theirs." (Kipling) Of course, the Democrats in Congress and beyond are in urgent need of a backbone implant. But their message should be strong, passionate, eloquent and focused, without being shrill and vituperative. The public has had quite enough of "the politics of personal destruction."
Here, for your consideration, are a few "tactical guidelines for progressives:"
Don't alienate Republicans – recruit them. To win back our government, we must assemble a sizeable majority – sufficient to overwhelm Florida-style election "fixes." This means we must win the votes of most independents and more than a few Republicans. Many Republicans are sorely offended by the takeover of their party by right-wing crazies. So don't insult these moderate Republicans by calling them "Repugs," or by attributing the outrages of a few right-wing nut cases to all Republicans. Instead, flatter our Republican fellow citizens with calm and reasoned arguments. Remember that Nixon remained safe in his office until he lost the support of Republicans such as Howard Baker and John Dean. Then he was finished. Even now, there are some noteworthy defections from Bush's Republican party; among them Arianna Huffington, David Brock, Kevin Phillips, John Dean (again), Jonathan Turley, and even (Gawd help us!), Larry Klayman and Dan Burton. There is good reason to believe that a great many will follow. Accordingly,
Cool the abusive rhetoric – Don't imitate the Freepers. I'll admit that I gain a cheap thrill when I read such clever monikers as "AssKKKroft" and "Rhenquisling." However, I submit that these smart-ass verbalisms are costly. The Freepers convince no one but themselves with their antics, while most others who are aware of them are quite put off by their childish behavior. Nothing is to be gained by acting like left-wing mirror-image Freepers. Far better to stand out and apart with mature behavior and thoughtful language. The Republicans loose on the issues, which is why they divert public attention away from issues to personalities (e.g., Clinton's zipper, Gore's body language, Bush's "likeability," etc.). So get back to the issues, in a way that directly touches upon your audience.
Wean yourself from the corporate media, and let them know you have. It's on the record: the corporate media lied to us about Gore and Bush during the 2000 campaign, they lied to us during the post-election fight in Florida and again in the November "Consortium Study" of the Florida election. And they continue to lie, distort, and distract (remember the false reports of the"White House trashing," Bush's "magical Air Force One mystery tour" on 9/11, and the rumor of Ken Lay's sleepovers in Clinton's White House)?
"Fool me once, shame on you – fool me again, shame on me." The media has thus squandered its credibility, and there remains no good reason to believe what they are telling us – including those damnable "approval rating" polls. (See
Following the Light and
Polls ). So tell them that you know that they lie (and specify the lies), and that you are "mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore." In addition, tell them that you will henceforth look abroad, to the BBC, CBC, The Guardian, The London Times, The Toronto Star, etc., to find out what is happening in your own country and what others think of us.
(The Smirking Chimp is an excellent source of foreign news and opinion).
Recognize and exploit the distinction between the profession of "journalism" (reporters and columnists) and the business of "the media" (management and owners). Then address the journalists "more in sorrow than in anger." Ask them,
"what kind of a country and a world do you want yourselves and your children to live in? Is it the kind of a country and a world that you are helping to bring about?" Journalists are generally more aware than most others of national and world conditions; after all it's their business to know these things. Thus they know that our civil liberties are being severely curtailed, that national policy is dictated by private corporate interests, that the national wealth is flowing "upward" at an accelerating pace, and that the United States and its President are held in contempt abroad. Closer to their professional concerns, they are also aware of the increasing conglomeration of the mass media and of the Bush administration's closing of access to public information. And they are quite aware that the foreign press is regarding our captive and jingoistic media with increasing contempt. As professionals and as citizens, at least a few journalists must be alarmed at these developments. Granted, most journalists are mere time-servers, content to follow the directives of their corporate bosses. However, it is just possible that a few authentic journalists are ripe for rebellion, and if, at last, a Murrow, Cronkite, or Woodward/Bernstein (c. 1972, not 2002) steps out , then who knows, some may find the spine to march to
a different drum. And once a parade becomes conspicuous, others will fall in. It has happened before – with Viet Nam and Watergate. It can happen again.
Appeal to Self-Interest. We need to point out the distinction between greed and enlightened self interest. Few journalists want to live under an oligopoly or to see the dismantling of the First Amendment, nor do they want to lose the trust of the public. Few businessmen and corporate leaders want to demolish the economy or foment revolution as they strive for even greater wealth. Both have to be convinced that this is the direction that the nation is taking. Right now, they don't quite see the connection. But be patient, a few of them will – and then more and more.
There is a strange right-wing myth, at large amongst the punditry and in the Congress, that all national prosperity issues from the investments of the very wealthy, and thus that the more we give to the very well-off, the more will "trickle down" to the rest of us. Unfortunately a sizeable portion of the public has been convinced of this absurdity, and thus expertly persuaded to act against its own interest. Hence the Bush tax cut. In fact, national prosperity is a communal accomplishment, the result of the cooperation among workers, investors and government. The unconstrained greed of a very few can lead to ruin for all, including the greedy, as we discovered to our sorrow in 1929. Either we prosper together, or we allow a few greedy and self-serving "utility maximizers" to bring down the economic house upon us all. (See my
On Civic Friendship and
Appeal to a higher loyalty than party, and to a higher patriotism than "follow the leader." Presumably, the ultimate loyalty of the discerning American citizen is to the nation, to the democratic ideal, to the rule of law, and to founding charters of the Republic – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. When the leadership of a political party violates those charters, it has likewise relinquished its right to claim the support of the citizens. The Republican party has claimed the Presidency through a violation of the voting rights of Florida citizens and a usurpation of power by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the Republican Bush administration is denying the Congress its function of executive oversight, and, through the atrociously labeled "USA Patriot Act," is curtailing the citizens' rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments to the Constitution. Those who hold party above the Constitution continue to support Bush and the Republican Party. Those who hold Constitution above party, are defecting and joining the opposition. A third faction of Republican supporters, the vast majority, simply haven't thought much about it. It is the task of the progressive opposition to remind these individuals of their proper loyalties, and the implications thereof.
As for "patriotism," we should encourage our fellow citizens to follow the examples of the acknowledged "patriots" of history. Their allegiance was not necesssarily to the political leaders of the time – not in the case of Washington and Jefferson (King George III), not in the case of Klaus von Stauffenberg (Hitler), not in the case of Mandela or Gandhi or Sakharov or M. L. King. The loyalty of all these "patriots" was to universal moral principles and human rights, which in all these cases absolved them of allegiance to the political leaders of the time. (See
Preach "Christian morality," of the sort endorsed by men and women of good will of all faiths, and of no faith.
I refer here to morality (behavior) and not doctrine
(beliefs). Theological beliefs (e.g., the virgin birth, the trinity, salvation by faith, Biblical inerrancy, etc.),
are and should be private and thus outside the scope of politics. On the other hand, on matters of politics and morality,
when "the religious right" asks, "what would Jesus do?," answer them. What would Jesus do about
war? "Blessed are the Peacemakers" About retaliation? "Turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies, ... do good to them that hate you." About
wealth. "Sell all thou hast, and give to the poor." About punishment? "Blessed are the merciful." About
school prayer? "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet... use not vain repetitions." And finally, remind "the religious right" that Jesus directed his strongest criticism to
It is truly astonishing that anyone who has read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chs. 5-7) could ever believe that "God is a Republican."
Give the GOP its hanging rope. Pride and arrogance goeth before the fall, and the GOP has an abundance of both. If expertly dealt with, this arrogance can be turned against the Bush regime. True, the Republicans have effectively utilized the talents of tactical and propaganda geniuses – the most gifted practitioners of the black art of advertising and public relations. And they have the opulent financial support of their corporate sponsors. But beyond that, there is good news. For all their tactical cleverness, these guys are not very bright. Moreover, they are "terminally arrogant" – i.e., like Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon before them, they can bring about their own destruction with their excesses. When McCarthy took on George C. Marshall, he swallowed the poison pill that eventually did him in; likewise, when Nixon felt he just had to find out, by whatever means, what was in the DNC files at the Watergate. With time, George Bush and the GOP are likely to provide their opposition with an abundance of ammunition. In fact, they are doing so even now. For example, there is the spectacle of Bush's inane rhetoric ("axis of evil"), Trent Lott's and Tom DeLay's hyperbolic attacks on Tom Daschle, and John Ashcroft's antics (e.g., covering the offending aluminum boob, calico cats, interference with the "states rights" of Oregon and California). Furthermore, Bush's lifelong struggle with English syntax is so troublesome that he dare not speak in public unless he is mouthing someone else's words in front of a Teleprompter. Ronald Reagan could get away with it, since he was a professional actor. George Bush is no Reagan.
Don't form a new party, capture an old one. Let's face it, the Democratic Party of today is somewhat to the right of what used to be called "moderate Republicanism." We can thank the so-called "New Democrats" for that. But while there is much to criticize about the Democratic Party, it is plainly the lesser of the evils. Yes, I am familiar with Ralph Nader's quip that "when you choose the lesser of two evils, you get an evil." However, as his campaign proved, if you refuse to make that choice, you will end up with the greater of the evils. So take a lesson from the right wing: if you don't like a political party as it is, then capture and transform it. To the progressives, we say, "take over the lesser of the evils and abolish the evil." Practically speaking, this is by far a better strategy than that of establishing a third party, which must be built from the ground up and which must recruit a following from those accustomed to alliance with the major parties. Far better to take over an existing structure and cadre of supporters.
Get involved and be heard. Support the progressive media – what's left of it. Subscribe to
The Nation, The Progressive, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and such. Even if you don't have time to read them thoroughly, your subscriptions will support these alternative voices.
Log on to the progressive web sites (see
"The Internet, Last Refuge of the
Liberal"). Spread the word, and if you can, send a donation. Half of the US households now have access to the internet. If a sizeable portion of the population abandons the cable and network news media for the websites, through which one can access the foreign and progressive press, the "established" media must take notice. The internet just could become the last hope for the "free press" that Jefferson believed was the cornerstone of a free and open society.
Post in a conspicuous place the addresses of your senators and congressperson, and write them at least once a week. (You can find these addresses at
www.house.gov). Write at least three letters to major media, complaining of "the cult of personality" and other outrages. Be specific. Don't just complain. If they do something right, express your appreciation and support.
(A list of government and media addresses
is available at this website).
E-Mail will do. Personal "hard copy, snail mail" is more effective.
And vote! Pester your liberal friend and be
sure that they also vote. Volunteer to drive voters to the polls, or to
serve as a precinct election official. Participate in voter registration
drives. Conventional wisdom tells us that candidates win elections by
getting more supporters to the polls. But some Republican genius came up
the the idea that it is just as important to encourage one's opponents to stay
home. And that has been the secret of their success: get the right-wing
stalwarts to the polls and convince everyone else that elections don't
matter. However, as the GOP is fully aware, the more people vote, the
worse the news for the (so-called) "conservatives," since the
stay-at-homes are disproportionately the poor, minorities, and the politically
Above all, remember, we are the majority! A majority of voters (or those permitted to vote) cast their ballots against Bush in 2000. While the Republican spin machine has made the word "liberal" anathema to most citizens, a clear majority of citizens
nonetheless endorse the "liberal" agenda: social security, health care
reform, environmental protection, abortion rights, increased minimum wage,
etc. Against this, the GOP propaganda mill has conned the American voter
with meaningless slogans ("compassionate conservatism"), slander
("Gore claims that he invented the internet"), witch-hunts (the $70 million
Ken Starr inquisition), and scare tactics ("they're gonna take away your
guns"). The enormous financial resources of the GOP have built a Potemkin village – an impressive display comprised of cardboard, paste, and bailing wire, without foundation and vulnerable to collapse once a few strategic blows are applied.
However, unfocused bluster and rage alone will not take it down. It will take discipline, reflection, study, and tactical intelligence.
So, don't just get mad, get smart! And then, we will reclaim our
Copyright 2002 by Ernest Partridge