After a significant setback, a wise person and a well-managed enterprise will pause to take stock before renewing their activity. Otherwise, mistakes will be repeated and opportunities lost, whereby the next downfall may prove to be fatal.
Following the debacle of the 2002 election, it would therefore be wise and appropriate for liberals, progressives, and the Democratic Party to soberly assess their assets, their liabilities, and then ponder, in the light of this assessment, the remedies and tactics that might be available to them as they face the struggle ahead to restore justice, liberty and opportunity to this once-blessed republic.
Here is one progressive’s inventory of the assets, liabilities, and effective responses of the Democratic Party – a severely flawed institution, which is nonetheless the only agency in sight capable of effecting a recovery from the political catastrophe that has befallen us.
We begin with this guiding observation: the Republican victory was a feat of extraordinary tactical brilliance, for the GOP managed to persuade a small majority of voters to vote against their own interests, and to ignore shameless and conspicuous mendacity, lawlessness and greed on the part of an unelected regime. This effort of persuasion was combined with a successful effort, through negative campaigning, to “turn off” potential Democratic voters, thus encouraging them to stay at home. ” Rarely has so much political gain been accomplished with so little political capital.
How on earth did they accomplish this? What weapons do we have to mount a counterattack? And what methods might we best adopt in our struggle to take back our government and our country?
We begin with an inventory of our assets:
For all their manifest success as campaigners, the Bush regime and the GOP are promoting a political program that is
immoral, alien to our traditions, and factually false. If the Democrats can get this message across to the public (no mean feat, given the corporate control of the media), they may eventually prevail.
First: The GOP program is immoral. Bush and his friends on the religious right never tire of telling us that “this is a Christian nation.” And, to be sure, our fellow citizens are well aware of, and generally endorse, the basic tenets of Christian morality. (Christian theology is another matter, not at issue here). But in an important sense, “Christian morality” is a misnomer, for these moral tenets are found in all the world religions. These include such principles as compassion, love, reciprocity (“the golden rule”), and respect for human life. To these we would add the tenets of political morality as enunciated in our founding documents: equal liberty, equal opportunity, equal justice, respect for the autonomy of each citizen (“the right to be left alone”). When stated thus abstractly, the endorsement of these principles by the American public is virtually unanimous. Division of opinion emerges as these principles are applied in our laws and our politics.
Even a casual review of these moral principles alongside the policies and practices of the Bush Administration, reveals that this Administration is without a moral compass. Protestations of “compassionate conservatism” merely add
hypocrisy to the bill of moral indictments against the Bush regime. “Compassion” is not evident in a policy that allows 800,000 impoverished citizens to lose their unemployment compensation three days after Christmas, or which deprives forty million citizens of health insurance. “Respect for human life” is not manifested in casual threats of war or in policies that result in the
deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. The principle of “equal justice under law” – a principle carved in marble above the entrance to the Supreme Court – is openly violated in the USA PATRIOT and Homeland Security Acts. The list of moral transgressions – including bribery, invasion of privacy, lying, cruelty, violation of trust – is too long to allow elaboration here. No doubt, many readers are as prepared as I am to cite further examples of immoral and illegal behavior by this regime, which was conceived in deception, hypocrisy and illegality.
Attention of the public to this moral delinquency has been successfully deflected by the public relations geniuses at work in the Administration, within the ranks of its corporate sponsors, and in its “Ministry of Truth,” the captive corporate media. Yet the fundamental immorality and hypocrisy of the Bush regime is “out there,” ready to be seen and appreciated, if only that message can be conveyed to the public at large. If and when that realization is accomplished, the Bush regime will be history. Mass delusion followed by mass awakening has significant political precedents: McCarthyism, Watergate, the Viet-Nam War. It could happen again, albeit there are no guarantees. This possibility, combined with the innate moral sense of most of our fellow Americans, constitutes a significant asset, and thus a challenge and an opportunity, to The Opposition.
Second: The GOP program is contrary to our traditions. The American republic was founded upon a declaration of the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These rights were further enumerated in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Almost all of these fundamental rights have been violated or put in great jeopardy by the Bush Administration. We believe in the rule of law, and yet five justices of our highest court have installed a President, contrary to the will of the voters, and through a judiciary edict,
Bush v. Gore, that is riddled with illogic, incoherence, and disregard of judicial precedence. We believe in the sanctity of the vote, and yet tens of thousands of Florida voters were arbitrarily disenfranchised, through an obvious and a successful conspiracy to “fix” a presidential election. We have in this country a tradition of equal opportunity and fair play, and yet Bush’s economic and tax policies are clearly designed to increase the flow of national wealth from the many who produce the wealth, to the very few who own and control that wealth. We believe that all citizens are equally accountable under the law, all the while corporate friends of the Administration (such as “Kenny Boy” Lay of Enron) remain unpunished for their embezzlement of billions of shareholder dollars, and the consequent collapse of the retirement accounts of thousands of our citizens. And George Bush himself is somehow regarded as exempt from securities laws, drug laws, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and his Administration from the Freedom of Information Act and the Presidential Records Act.
None of these violations of our political traditions -- ironically by individuals and a party that adopt the label of “conservative” -- are unknown or unknowable by the public at large. These outrages are dismissed or lathered over by the submissive media which, at the same time, denies a page, a microphone or a camera to those who would protest and expose these abuses of our traditions. Nonetheless, these outrages are “out there” to be seen by those with eyes to see and minds to appreciate. Perhaps, with sufficient energy, dedication, support and ingenuity on the part of the opposition, all this could be seen and appreciated by a decisive portion of the population. It happened, eventually, with the Viet-Nam war.
Third: The GOP program is at odds with the facts. The Bush Administration’s ongoing war with science and scholarship is a national embarrassment. (See
my “The President of
Fantasyland”). Still worse, it puts us all in peril. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool Mother Nature.” Nature will not yield to our wishes and our dogmas. If, through some extraordinary program of “re-education” every last American were convinced that global warming is a myth, the laws of atmospheric chemistry and physics would remain what they are, and consequently global warming would remain a fact. The three pillars of Bushonomics – “supply side,” “trickle down” and “free market absolutism” – are unfounded dogmas, refuted by the consequences of their application in the Reagan and Bush I Administration, and by the beneficial consequences of their abandonment in the Clinton Administration. (See
my “In Deep
Voodoo”). Bush’s preference for intuition and dogma over informed intelligence and confirmed facts is bound to lead to a collision with nature and economic reality. Perhaps that day of reckoning can be put off by almost two years, in which case Bush might win re-election. But that day will come, sooner or later. And if later, the greater will be the fall.
The opposition presents critical intelligence and science, which is to say, nature, arrayed against ignorance, arrogance, and dogma. If this intellect and expertise are mobilized and generously supported, the opposition might gain a formidable advantage. Somehow, it hasn’t yet – and therein lies both a mystery, and a challenge.
Fourth: The opposition has the potential support of “the silent elites” and
“the bewildered victims.” The “silent elites” include the intelligencia and professionals who are, apparently, stunned into silence and impotence by the avalanche of political and moral atrocities that appear almost daily from the White House and from the Republican Congress. Scientists, journalists, lawyers, historians, and more, all have a super-abundance of grievances and are fully aware of the assault by the GOP upon reason and upon our cherished political institutions and principles. And yet,
where is the outrage? Where are the teach-ins, the protests, the strikes, the marches? Where is the Gandhi or M. L. King for our time, now that we so desperately need him?
Not, to be sure, among the “establishment Democrats” – the “Republican-Lites.” In fact, a more significant opposition appears to be forming among a few admirable and disaffected libertarians and Republicans – notably, David Brock, Scott Ritter, Arianna
Huffington, John Dean, and Kevin Phillips.
Much more is required to constitute an effective opposition. But where is this opposition, and why hasn’t it been conspicuous enough to goad the Democratic politicians into an effective response to the Bush juggernaut? After all, the Bush regime has openly, even flagrantly and triumphantly, proclaimed policies that should be offensive to a vast majority of the population – to environmentalists, to scientists, to educators, to liberal and moderate religious communities, to labor unions, to women (the majority!), and to ordinary taxpayers (the vast majority). Virtually all Americans are victims of the Bush Administration policies, whereas the beneficiaries (e.g., the 2% that received more than half of the Bush tax cuts) are a minuscule minority. And yet the corporate campaign money-machine combined with the media-PR propaganda machine has (as one wit put it) managed to convince the chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders. Once again, perceptions are working against us, while the hard facts are in our favor. And once again, the challenge before us is somehow to get these facts “out there” to the public.
In addition, we are challenged to create a “community of the oppressed”
– a realization among those who have been cheated by the Bush gang (i.e., almost all of us) that we have company, that we are united in a common cause, and by a common loyalty to the political and moral principles so flagrantly violated by the usurper regime. Today, we have a mass of citizens who take their instructions, and who define themselves, according to the opiate served to them by the media – the obsequious punditry, the alleged “high approval” polls, the distractions of “entertainment” and trivia
(OJ, Chandra/Condit, Jon Benet) – all of this bereft of voices of dissent and opposition. And yet, all around these individual “audiences” are fellow victims, similarly detached from each other, and unaware that their concerns, interests and values are shared by a multitude of others. A “Lonely Crowd,” as David Reisman called it. But let them look about, and let the murmur arise among them: “Hey! We’ve got company! We’re in this together!” Then, like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave, they will turn their eyes away from the shadows on the wall, and will emerge together from their cave. If that happens (and again, there are no guarantees), there is no force on Earth that will secure the Bush gang in their ill-gotten offices.
Fifth Asset: George W. Bush. Seriously, Bush himself is a potential asset to the counter-revolution against his regime. First of all, there is his petulance and pettiness, characterized by his treatment of the Germans following Schroeder’s victory and the “Hitler comparison” by the German Justice minister. Also the silly Canadian “moron” flap. Clearly, Bush can be goaded into self-destructive behavior. In addition, if he can be drawn away from his handlers and his
TelePrompter, his fundamental and incurable incompetence, combined with his arrogance and shallowness, will become manifest. Indeed, all this was clearly displayed by his behavior on September 11, 2001, when he continued to read to the children while the World Trade Center collapsed, following which he rode around the country looking for a hole to hide in. Appalling! The world abroad saw it all, and responded with appropriate contempt. At home, his loyal media came to his rescue once again. But how long can this keep up? Is it not possible that eventually, bit by bit, the feet of the idol will turn to clay?
Sixth: Lieberman’s rule: “To live like a Republican, vote like a Democrat.” It’s a historical fact: The stock market performs better when the President is a Democrat, and still better when both the White House and the Congress are controlled by the Democrats.
(Mark Hulbert, CBS Market Watch). The reason is clear. The economy flourishes when the nation is well- integrated, and all segments perceive correctly that they have a stake in the nation and its economy. The economy stalls when it becomes exploitative, and “class warfare” emerges. To the Democrats, prosperity is a feast, to be shared. To the “conservative” Republicans, the economy is a cash-cow, to be milked for personal advantage. “Greed is good!”
Put simply: Democrats feed the golden goose, while Republicans cook it. A few enlightened capitalists appreciate this intuitively sensible and historically validated truth, and they tend to support the Democratic Party. Still others, like George
Soros, having prospered in the American capitalist economy, believe that they should give something back – something like “The Open Society Foundation” dedicated to preserving our freedom at its time of great peril.
So here is one more compelling fact which can, and should, be used to advantage: The privileged and wealthy few who support the Republican Party are betting on the wrong horse. These individuals, who are so clearly motivated by self-interest, should realize that their self-interest is best served by supporting the Democrat’s agenda which, in turn, will foster contentment and productivity among those who produce the wealth, will educate the public and thus supply the workers, innovators and managers that sustain the economy, will regulate economic activity so that fair competition is preserved, will assure that all pay their fair share of taxes so that the essential services are provided and the Federal Government does not go further into debt. None of these social and political desiderata are conspicuous under Republican Administrations, and all stand a far better chance of realization under the Democrats. That’s not political rhetoric – it’s plain historical fact. Why the supporters of the right-wing Republicans fail to appreciate this fact is one of the great mysteries – indeed the great tragedy – of American politics.
First, and overwhelmingly foremost,
the mainstream media. This is the dragon at the gate, which must be dispatched. Unless we somehow bypass this obstacle, perhaps through the internet and with the assistance of the foreign press, or unless we break through and somehow gain some access to the public airwaves, the struggle will likely be lost.
Surely no myth in modern memory is more obviously refuted by common experience and common sense, than the myth of “the liberal media.” Yet, sadly, that myth validates Goebbel’s rule: Tell a lie often enough and loudly enough and, however outrageous, it will eventually be believed to be true. And yet, how anyone could have followed the 2000 election campaign and still believed that the media had a “liberal bias” surpasses my understanding. (See my
“Post Modern Politics” and
“The Hijacked Election”).
And it continues today. When, for example, "the loyal opposition" in the person of Al Gore gives a speech, the media do not carry it. However, they publish and broadcast an abundance of articles, columns and commentaries denouncing it. Which means, they will tell us how to think, while they deny us the opportunity to hear and to decide for ourselves. Just today (as I write) I saw on CNN about three minutes of a “live coverage” of a speech by Bill Clinton. (MSNBC and FOX News did not broadcast it ). Yet CNN seems to cover every Bush helicopter landing at the White House, along with full coverage of his campaign speeches. The watchdog organization FAIR once calculated that the proportion of Republican to Democratic “guests” on the cable news channels is four to one. And on Crossfire, Paul Begala reported the following results from a Lexus-Nexus search:
There were exactly 704 stories in the campaign about this flap of Gore inventing the Internet. There were only 13 stories about Bush failing to show up for his National Guard duty for a year. There were well over 1,000 stories -- Nexus stopped at 1,000 -- about Gore and the Buddhist temple. Only 12 about Bush being accused of insider trading at Harken Energy. There were 347 about Al Gore wearing earth tones, but only 10 about the fact that Dick Cheney did business with Iran and Iraq and Libya.
If you still believe in “The “Liberal Media Bias,” I have some Enron stock that I’d love to sell you.
Second, the GOP has a formidable advantage in fund-raising – especially so since, as the hidden contents of the Homeland Security Bill indicate, the corporations, in effect, purchase legislation and Congressional “perks” with their campaign funds. Democrats have, in the past, prevailed with smaller campaign budgets. But the funding imbalance is increasing, and campaign finance reform remains a remote aspiration.
Third, The Vince Lombardi School of Campaigning. Beginning with the Eisenhower campaigns, the GOP has adopted a style of campaigning. which has nothing to do with justice, fair-play or truth, and everything to do with winning. This campaign strategy is drawn, not from political debate, but from market psychology (polling, focus groups, etc.) and advertising techniques. The Democrats, cultivated ladies, gentlemen and scholars that they are, persist in flattering the public by assuming that the typical voter is moved by logic and weight of evidence. If the GOP is to be effectively engaged, the Democrats must carefully study the Republican tactics, perhaps (alas) to imitate them, but far better to find honorable ways to defeat them. They might begin by choosing more advantageous arenas of combat, like debates, and avoiding (still better, legislating against) the areas of “marketing” advantage, such as ten second negative TV spot ads.
In addition, the Democratic strategusts use language as a tool – as a vehicle to express ideas. Their GOP counterparts, on the other hand, use language as a weapon, to distort and obscure meanings and to slander the opposition. Consider the decline and fall of the once-honorable word, “liberal” and the inappropriate adoption of the word “conservative.” (See
“Newspeak Lives”). This is yet another application of “the Lombardi Rule:” “winning is everything” – the end justifies the means.
To sum up: The Bush regime is at war, not only with the Democrats, but also with their own proclaimed Christian morality, with the traditions of the American Republic, and with demonstrable scientific fact. Were this otherwise, the corporate media propaganda arrayed in behalf of the GOP would be invincible. However, given the estrangement of the Bush agenda from morality, tradition and fact, if the public is made aware of this estrangement, the Bush team is vulnerable. The challenge, then, is to find the means to educate and arouse the public. Given the state of the media, it is a daunting challenge. Daunting, but not insurmountable.
If the above assessment is correct, there is an abundance of resources available to the Democrats and to the progressives – available, and largely unutilized. Moreover, this inventory of the available assets suggests several strategies that might be employed in the coming struggle to halt and then reverse the right-wing tide. In the next essay,
"Strategies for Underdogs,"
we will consider some of these responses.
Copyright 2002 by Ernest Partridge
Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications
Conscience of a Progressive:
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field
of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at
the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He
publishes the website, "The Online
Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website,
"The Crisis Papers".