Fighting Back: Narrow Issues vs Core Values

In 'I Have a Nightmare', Nicholas Kristoff writes about the essay "The Death of Environmentalism," seemingly without having read it to the end. Kristoff writes that the environmental movement lost credibility by making alarming claims that haven't come true. He writes,
"The Death of Environmentalism" notes that a poll in 2000 found that 41 percent of Americans considered environmental activists to be "extremists." There are many sensible environmentalists, of course, but overzealous ones have tarred the entire field."
Is Kristoff unaware that there is a well-funded right-wing movement in this country that uses lies, smears and humiliation as a primary tactic to sway public opinion? "Extremist" is the wording the Right uses to discredit environmentalists, and Rush Limbaugh uses to describe environmentalists on his 20-some-million-listener radio show. No wonder 41 percent of Americans use the word! But Kristoff unintentionally echoes the "conventional wisdom" of the Right's smear campaign -- it's environmentalists' fault people think they're "extremists" because they scream "the sky is falling" like Chicken Littles. It's like saying "if only Jews [blacks, gays, women, etc.] didn't act that way people wouldn't hate them."

What I took from the "The Death of Environmentalism" was that the authors think money spent promoting environmental issues might be better spent, in the current climate of public attitudes, on fighting the Right at a deeper level, promoting core Progressive values to the general public, to foster development of a sustainable political coalition to elect candidates who support environmentalism.

Read the essay, judge for yourself. From its conclusions:
While it's obvious that conservatives control all three branches of government and the terms of most political debates, it's not obvious why. This is because environmentalists and other liberals have convinced themselves that, in politics, "the issues" matter and that the public is with us on categories such as "the environment" and "jobs" and "heath care." What explains how we can simultaneously be "winning on the issues" and losing so badly politically?

[. . .] Conservative foundations and think tanks have spent 40 years getting clear about what they want (their vision) and what they stand for (their values).

[. . .] Environmental groups have spent the last 40 years defining themselves against conservative values like cost-benefit accounting, smaller government, fewer regulations, and free trade, without ever articulating a coherent morality we can call our own. Most of the intellectuals who staff environmental groups are so repelled by the right's values that we have assiduously avoided examining our own in a serious way. Environmentalists and other liberals tend to see values as a distraction from "the real issues" -- environmental problems like global warming.

[. . .] If environmentalists hope to become more than a special interest we must start framing our proposals around core American values and start seeing our own values as central to what motivates and guides our politics. Doing so is crucial if we are to build the political momentum -- a sustaining movement -- to pass and implement the legislation that will achieve action on global warming and other issues.
Read the entire essay. It represents an important turning point in Progressive thinking about promoting narrow-interest issues v.s. core values.

Square Liberalism: Ibsen's"Enemy of the People"

The plays of Henrik Ibsen dominated European drama for half a century, and to this day much of theatre can be thought of dialectically as "anti-Ibsen". James Joyce in his teens was an Ibsenist who taught himself Dano-Norwegian in order to read the plays in the original, and in the stories in Dubliners (to say nothing of some of his youthful works) you can still see signs of Ibsen's realism -- though without Ibsen's reformist message.

According to Kenneth Rexroth the slang word "square" came from "squarehead" -- the seaman's ethnic slur for the relatively-stodgy Scandinavians among them -- and Ibsen was the squarest person in the world. For him right was right, truth was truth, and if there's a problem, something should be done about it.

The Enemy of the People was probably Ibsen's squarest play. Doctor Stockman, a highly-respected M.D. and community leader in a small Norwegian town, discovers that the mineral waters of the town's soon-to-be-opened health spa have been made toxic by bacterial contamination. He starts to get the word out and proposes a solution, but as the play progresses, his friends and allies -- including the moderate reformists and liberals -- turn against him one by one. At the end of the play he stands alone, having been officially declared "an enemy of the people".

Recently the dramatist Christopher Hampton retranslated the play. From his Introduction:

"However sympathetic he feels for Dr. Stockman's cause, Ibsen is too subtle and profound a dramatist not to know that there are few figures more infuriating than the man who is always right. Stockmann's sincerity, naivety, and courage co-exist with an innocent vanity, an inability to compromise and an indifference to the havoc caused in the life of his family and friends, as well as his own, by his dogged pursuit of principle."

Hampton is wrong. Ibsen was a square, and he wrote the play to show that Doctor Stockman was right, and that his cowardly, corrupt, thuggish enemies were wrong. Everyone in town except Stockman was willing to market a toxic health spa to sick people. An Enemy of the People is a square play. Partly for that reason, it may not be Ibsen's best play -- but "the moral of the story" is absolutely clear.

Like a parson bowdlerizing Shakespeare, Hampton felt the need to misrepresent Ibsen in order to make him palatable to the cynical modern audience. I have speculated elsewhere that we may now be living in a post-ethical age. I didn't say in so many words that I think that this is a bad thing -- but it is.

Democrats and liberals have found it very difficult to make a strong moral statement to the voters, and this is because the so-called Left has been dominated by a combination of shrewd, careerist inside players, and hedonistic personal liberationists preaching relativism. It should have been possible to achieve tolerance and diversity without making moral relativism into an absolute principle, but that's the strategy that ended up being chosen.

The outcome has been crippling. There are square arguments for liberalism, but in the world of today, only the cynical Rovian right can to appeal to squares.

(Note: This is a cross-post from my less-political site, Idiocentrism.com. I'm still in retirement.)

Framing vs. Fencing

Daily Kos :: Framing vs. Fencing: A post-Lakoff analysis. Everybody go read. There will be a test this week.


Blow To Small Business Creation

I predict that the new bankruptcy bill will have a damping effect on the formation of small businesses, and this will be one more blow to job creation. This bill makes it just too much of a risk to borrow money to open a laundromat or buy a Subway sandwich franchise.

I have a friend who is a dentist. He has been hoping to one day open a practice with his wife, also a dentist. But that takes money. Hearing about the bankruptcy bill, he said this might just clinch it that they won't be opening that private practice. This is what got me thinking about the effect this could have on a national scale, scaring people away from their dream of one day having their own independent business.

Gonna Get Smeared

Evangelical Leaders Swing Influence Behind Effort to Combat Global Warming.

First we'll see stories at NewsMax, GOPUSA and Drudge, then hear them repeated on Limbaugh's radio show, smearing each of these religious leaders and mocking them in a humiliating way. Then there will be a closed-door meeting in the White House from which the leaders will emerge, apologize in front of news cameras saying they made a terrible mistake, that Bush is a glorious leader and prophet. A month later they will all be found dead of suicide with multiple gunshots to the back of the head and body. News reports will say that "liberal bloggers" were responsible for the whole thing.

Radio that doesn't suck lives!!!

Last week, I wrote about Mark Morford's column on the overall suckiness of corporate radio, All Hail The Death of Radio. I mentioned that I wrote him about KPIG, a local radio station that is definitely NOT corporate radio. Well, apparently I wasn't alone in the impulse to tell him about radio that doesn't suck, because this week he posted a kind of a mea-culpa: And Now For Some *Real* Radio.

In it he says, "...I never really fully understood, fully comprehended, fully had crammed into my thick iTunes-drunk P2P-dazzled skull before I decried the mad sad corporatization of the airwaves, is just how many vibrant alternatives exist."

And then passes on the collective recommendations of his readers (along with info on how to tune in via the 'net, if possible).

--Thomas Leavitt

P.S. Guess whose recommendation was number two on his list? :)


Saddam Capture Another Lie?

Ex-Marine Says Public Version of Saddam Capture Fiction:
"A former U.S. Marine who participated in capturing ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said the public version of his capture was fabricated.

Ex-Sgt. Nadim Abou Rabeh, of Lebanese descent, was quoted in the Saudi daily al-Medina Wednesday as saying Saddam was actually captured Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, and not the day after, as announced by the U.S. Army.

'I was among the 20-man unit, including eight of Arab descent, who searched for Saddam for three days in the area of Dour near Tikrit, and we found him in a modest home in a small village and not in a hole as announced,' Abou Rabeh said.

'We captured him after fierce resistance during which a Marine of Sudanese origin was killed,' he said.

He said Saddam himself fired at them with a gun from the window of a room on the second floor. Then they shouted at him in Arabic: 'You have to surrender. ... There is no point in resisting.'

'Later on, a military production team fabricated the film of Saddam's capture in a hole, which was in fact a deserted well,' Abou Rabeh said."

If Programmers Were As Smart As Longshoremen

BAD ATTITUDES: If Programmers Were As Smart As Longshoremen
I’ve often said that if programmers were as smart as longshoremen, they’d have a contract as good as longshoremen. They don’t, in part because they’re proud of their weakness. They’re proud that they don’t stoop to organizing. Nosiree, these are libertarians, who would not consider acting as a group. That, after all, would hurt the super-rich scumbags they work for. And since everyone expects one day to be in the position of the exploiter, they certainly don’t want to restrict the exploiter’s actions now. Even if they’re currently the exploited.
Through corrente.


Do Dems Ban "Pro-Life" Convention Speakers?

The subject of whether Democrats "ban pro-life speakers" at their conventions is going around again. This originated after anti-choice Pennsylvania Governor Casey was not allowed to address the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he refused to endorse then-Governor Clinton for President. No More Mister Nice Blog has a great post on the subject, and he uses the magic words: "conventional wisdom." Kevin Drum has recently written about it, as have Atrios and Digby.

It so happens that the myth that "Democrats don't allow pro-life speakers at their conventions" came up at a dinner party at the home of some strongly Christian friends just before last year's election. These friends tend to be Democratic voters, but had been getting handouts and magazines at their church, designed to persuade them to vote Republican.

One thing my friends had heard repeatedly was particularly influential. They were saying they were likely to vote for Bush because "Democrats don't allow pro-life people to speak at their conventions." I also hear this repeated all the time, and it has become "conventional wisdom." You probably know that the Republicans usually add that Republicans are the party of the "big tent." In fact, you probably hear this repeated word-for-word, because that's how these things work.

The "Democrats don't allow" and "Republicans are party of big tent" seems to be a powerful, influential combination for persuading potential voters. But I didn't realize just how powerful an effect these words had on people until that dinner party.

So I did some research... Here is the record:

Pro-Life Democrats speaking at the 2004 convention:
Two members of Democrats for Life were among speakers at the party's convention. Rep. Jim Turner of Texas was speaking in the context of his role as ranking minority member of the Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island introduced Ron Reagan [also "pro-life"], who spoke in favor of embryonic stem-cell research.
2000 Convention: The Catholic Herald:
"Eight years after he was denied a forum at the Democratic convention, the late Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey was given a few moments in the national spotlight. On the closing day of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the governors two sons got the chance to make their fathers points about the sanctity of life.

[. . .] With just a few sentences each, the brothers, two of eight siblings, described their father as "a proud, pro-life Democrat" who "believed every life, born and unborn is sacred. That's why he was a Democrat," said Robert Casey Jr.
Invocation by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, At the Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, Monday, August 14, 2000: (Other Catholic archbishops declined invitations to speak in 1984, 1992, and 1996.)
"I welcome you to the "City of Angels" with all its vibrant religious, ethnic, and racial diversity. I come to this great convening out of respect for our nation's democratic traditions. I come as a pastor, not a politician; an advocate of values, not candidates.

[. . .] As you gathered your people into the land that was promised to them, you called them to heed your voice and follow your commandments. These commandments are at once simple and profound: To love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have been called to "choose life" and to "serve the least of these."

[. . .] In the span of just three weeks, our nation's major political parties will have gathered at their conventions to select their candidates for the upcoming presidential campaign. We pray tonight that your Spirit will inspire all candidates, regardless of party, to embody in their words, actions, and policies values that protect all human life, establish peace, promote justice, and uphold the common good. For it is in you, O God, that we trust.

In You, O God, we trust that you will keep us ever committed to protect the life and well-being of all people but especially unborn children, the sick and the elderly, those on skid row and those on death row.

[. . .] We make our prayer in your name.

1996 Democratic Convention, Congressman Tony Hall of Ohio:
"Mr. Chairman and fellow Democrats, I have the high honor of speaking to you today about an issue that's very dear to my heart, the needs of the vulnerable in our nation, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the children, and the unborn. The moral test of government, Hubert Humphrey said, is how that government treats those that are in the dawn of life, the children, those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick.

[. . .] I'm a pro-life Democrat. I'm one of about 40 Democrats in the Congress. And many of us have felt left out by our party's position on abortion for many years. But this year is different. For the first time, the Democratic Party has included in our Platform a conscience clause on this divisive issue. It says, "the Democratic Party therefore recognizes that individual members have a right to abide by their conscience on this difficult issue and are welcome participants at every level of the party." The Democratic Party is indeed the party of true inclusions. And it is the party where every American can feel welcome and at home. We Democrats believe that our government and our whole society will be judged on how we treat the least of these among us. So we renew our pledge to be a voice for the voiceless and we reaffirm our commitment to the principle that public service is not an end in itself but rather a means to serve others. With God's help, let us make the United States the compassionate and tolerant nation it was established to be. Thank you very much."
So the fact is that the Democratic Party conventions HAVE had so-called "pro-life" speakers, including the 2000 invocation by a Catholic Archbishop (who is obviously against abortion) talking about protecting "unborn children." And the fact remains that Gov.Casey did refuse to endorse the nominee that year. Add to this that his kids were allowed to give a "pro-life" speech at the next convention. Democrats simply do NOT "ban pro-life speakers." But they DO ban speakers who refuse to endorse the nominee.

As my dinner-party friends can testify, the story carries great weight in persuading people to not support Democrats, by convincing them that Democrats are elitists who ban "pro-life" speakers - banning people who are like them - while Republicans are inclusive "big tent" people - embracing people who are like them. So it is greatly to the benefit of the Republicans that the lie continue to circulate. Repetition is the key to making people believe things. This is an "urban myth" that is useful and powerful so it continues to be repeated.

This is another example of the use of repetition of simple phrases to create "conventional wisdom" or what we call "truisms." Such conventional wisdoms include phrases like "Social Security is going broke," "He gassed his own people" and "Children trapped in failing public schools."

Finally, let me remind you of the Seeing the Forest rule: when Republicans accuse others it probably means it is something they are doing. From a pre-convention Washington Times (a pro-Republican newspaper) story,
More than half the Republicans in the House have signed a formal complaint to President Bush about the failure to give prominent conservative, pro-life party members even one prime-time speaking role at the Republican National Convention.
(All emphasis in the quotes above was added.)

Update - Paul Waldman adds, "Just a couple more – David Bonior (then House Whip) and Harry Reid have both spoken at a few."

Remember These Names

Chris at MyDD says, "Remember these names." Well said.

These are the Democrats and so-called "moderate" Republicans who voted to let the bankruptcy bill go forward:
Biden-DE; Byrd-WV; Carper-DE; Conrad-ND; Johnson-SD; Kohl-WI; Landrieu-LA; Lieberman-CT; Lincoln-AR; Nelson-FL; Nelson-NE; Pryor-AR; Salazr-CO; Stabenow-MI

"Moderate" Republicans
Allen-VA; Chafee-RI; Collins-ME; Hagel-NE; McCain-AZ; Snowe-ME; Specter-PA; Voinovich-OH
Remember these names.

Surprise: America's priorities not on radar of Republicratic Party

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) just release the results of a poll on the budgetary priorities of the average American citizen. Just to show you how profoundly out of touch the leadership on both sides of the aisle in Washington is, let me ask this question: when was the last time you heard a spokesperson or even a leading light of either party suggest cutting the "defense" budget by anything approaching 31% (the overall average amount)?(*1*)

Who would think from the natterings of our pundit class that 65% of the American public (Democrats and Republicans alike) would favor cutting the "defense" budget and redirecting a significant proportion of the resulting savings into social services and deficit reduction efforts?!?

I found out about this via an article on Truthout (my mother sent it to me this afternoon).

Here's the article's sub-header: "Would reduce deficit, cut defense sharply, and increase spending on education, job training, renewable energy, veterans."

Sounds like a program I could get behind!!!

This is all the more astounding, considering the ongoing effort by The Mighty Wurlitzer to confound and confuse the American public. It appears all they've managed to do is confuse and confound our political ruling class and the media elite that cover them... but, on the other hand, I guess that's all they need to do, right? At least until those of us at the bottom of the political food chain start voting people out of office on a regular basis.

If there is a single politician in Washington who has suggested reallocating our budgetary priorities in the manner outlined in this article (or anything even reasonably close), I'd like to know... because I certainly haven't seen anything to that effect. My guess is there isn't. Even among the "progressives".


--Thomas Leavitt

*1* The Green Party's platform in both 2000 and 2004 called for cutting the "defense" budget by 50%; here's the relevant language from the 2004 platform: "Our defense budget has increased out of all proportion to any military threat to the United States, and to our domestic social, economic and environmental needs. The United States government must reduce our defense budget to half of its current size. The 2005 defense budget is estimated at around $425 billion, and that does not take into account military expenditures not placed under the defense budget."

Take a look at the Green Party's platform, and see what you think... even though I don't agree with all of it(*2*), I think there's a ton of stuff in there to like and that is far more in alignment with the values of the average American (exclusive of a few hot button issues) than not.

*2* I think the "steady-state economy" stuff is based on the faulty assumption that economic growth is dependent on the ever increasing consumption of natural resources, as a technologist, whose career has been built on automating systems to enable more to be done with less, I think I have plenty of evidence to argue otherwise.


The Truth About TV News: When Opinion Dominates, Everything Becomes Opinion

Unless we’re careful, we who are charged with reporting the news could lose sight of truth as our ultimate goal. We could end up in a world where, implicitly, none of us — not the audience and not the reporters — even believe any longer in the truth. (see full article by David Westin in CJR)

The UN Ambassador

President Bush has nominated "hardliner" John Bolton to be Ambassador to the United Nations. "Imagine Jerry Falwell being placed in charge of marriage in Massachusetts."

This is where Bush has apparently been getting his ideas about how the country should work with the rest of the world. (Hint: scroll to the lower right hand corner.)

Just a coincidence, look at who provides the core funding of the modern right-wing "noise machine" that put Bush into office.

Bankruptcy Bill

Talking Points Memo - Special Bankruptcy Edition Blog -- a separate blog just for the bankruptcy bill.


Credit Cards

In case you haven't heard, there's a new bankruptcy bill making its way through Congress. Read up on it here, here and here.

Kevin Drum points out that:
"Bottom line: credit card companies now make half their profits from penalties and late fees. They actively seek out customers who are likely to miss payments and end up in a penalty fee spiral, and they make a fortune from them."
"And where does the bankruptcy bill come into this?
Credit card companies want the ability to make risky loans, but they also want federal protection that protects them from bearing the risk that goes along with making those loans. That's a pretty cushy setup, as long as you can buy yourself enough politicians to make it happen. Apparently they can."
He also writes here about amendments offered by Democrats, that Republicans voted down, and other details:
"The poor get shafted, the very real crisis of medical bankruptcy is ignored, the rich are allowed loopholes that let them off the hook, and credit card companies can continue on their merry way knowing they won't have to pay the price for their own folly."
I stopped using credit cards several years ago. It's AMAZING how good it feels to be free of monthly payments and interest charges. Why would I want to contribute to the machine? If I can't just pay for something I just don't buy it. (Yes, I drive an old beater.)

Brit Hume Must Resign!

Bloggers and Readers,

Here is another story that needs to gain wider attention. Brit Hume Must Resign. Oliver Willis has been on this for 25 days, and we should all join him by blogging about it, writing letters and making phone calls. Here's the background:
On February 3rd, Hume intentionally manipulated the words of the 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to make it appear as if FDR supported privatization of social security. This is a brazen falsehood. President Roosevelt's grandson, James Roosevelt Jr., describes Hume's journalistic malfeasance as an "an outrageous distortion". We agree.
This is far more serious than anything Dan Rather was accused of. But Hume is getting away with it because we aren't making enough noise. Go read about it, and make some noise!