The Gadfly Bytes
-- March, 2002
Don't Just Get Mad, Get Smart
Published in The
Democratic Underground, April
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
Here, for your consideration, are a few "tactical guidelines for
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 About
Those 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 The
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 On
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 the
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.senate.gov and 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.
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 alienated.
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 Republic.
Copyright 2002 by Ernest Partridge