Monday, September 29, 2008

Repeat After Me: "Privatize the Profits; Socialize the Losses!"

I have this feeling that it's starting to sink in to the American people - this laissez-faire 'free market' crap is the biggest swindle of all time.

And I think this simple phrase is one reason why.

"Privatize the Profits; Socialize the Losses".

I think it puts it in a way that we can all understand, as succinctly as possible. This one phrase encompasses the major underlying philosophy and strategy of the predatory capitalism (and the conservative ideology that supports it) that is on the verge of destroying our nation.

So - use this phrase every chance you get!

"Well, it looks like it may rain tomorrow. Privatize the profits, socialize the losses."

"I saw that new Rambo movie last weekend. Speaking of Rambo, privatize the profits, socialize the losses."

"Did you pick up my suit at the dry cleaners?" "Did you say 'take me to the cleaners?' Privatize the profits, socialize the losses."

In the words of the magnificent Frank Luntz:

"There's a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again, and about the time that you're absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time. And it is so hard but you've just got to keep repeating, because we hear so many different things--the noises from outside, the sounds, all the things that are coming into our head, the 200 cable channels and the satellite versus cable, and what we hear from our friends. We as Americans and as humans have very selective hearing and very selective memory. We only hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest."
And in the words of the worst president in the history of the United States of America:

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”
So, let's start catapulting!

If Even Ben Stein Can See It, Bust Out Your Parkas - Hell Just Froze Over

Wow. I'm agog.

Ben Stein momentarily emerges from his intellectual coma and makes sense.

Good on ya, Benny my man.

What Is It About Working Men and Women That You Find So Offensive?


I don't get it.

If this 700 billion is a arbitrary number, as we have been told - just picked to look big - then why is there no room for mortgage relief? Why is it that it is out of the question to give judges the option to renegotiate the terms of a mortgage so people can find a way to say in their homes?

I am simply staggered that they are asking us to foot the bill for this monstrous theft perpetrated upon us, while at the same time prohibiting us from receiving any relief from the bailout for the thieves that we are paying for!

Is every single person in Congress owned by the credit card companies?

Hyenas, vultures and jackals.

Oh my.

Update: House fails to pass bailout package, 228-205.

Everyone's scared of losing their seat this close to election time.

Which means, of course, that they know how deeply the American people are opposed to it.

And they would have voted for it anyway, except that they knew they'd get their asses kicked at the ballot box.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hypocrisy So Thick, You Can Eat It With a Fork

"Taxpayer Mortgage Assistance A Deal-Breaker For Republicans".

I might have known.

These thugs are happy to mortgage our children's and our grandchildren's financial futures so as to spare the wealthiest corporate gamblers, swindlers and spendthrifts a moment's discomfort over the mess they made robbing us blind. But make an attempt to help the victims of this theft - even in the smallest way - and they're beside themselves in righteous indignation.

All of a sudden it's 'too expensive'. All of a sudden they 'can't afford it'.

Child, please.

That's Republicanism for you. Helping corporate thieves avoid any consequences for their thievery is "necessary". Helping the taxpayers they stole from is a "deal breaker." And they don't blink an eye while saying this.

While Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, predictably roll over and agree because they 'need Republican votes to get this bill passed.'

What a thing to stand on principle on - adamantly refusing to assist the taxpayer whom they intend to saddle with a trillion dollar debt in order to make things better for the criminals.

There is a point where I simply cannot wrap my head around this. I'm not anatomically equipped.

Friday, September 26, 2008

First Official Review of "The Price of Right" - David Swanson!

The first official review of The Price of Right comes from activist and writer David Swanson of and Let's Try Democracy. I'm so excited, and very happy that my first review is a reasonably favorable one with fair criticism from someone whose work I appreciate very much.

Wooo hooo!

Here's My Economic Plan

All right. Enough is enough.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Go on and let the motherfuckers fail.

That's right. In the words of the Kowboy Koward of Krawford, "Bring 'em on!"

That same old tired threat - give up (fill in the blank) or the worst thing that could happen will happen. And we fall for it every time.

Let me backtrack for a minute.

For the last 6 months or so, I've noticed that emotionally, I've gone into 'survival mentality'. I've started to ask myself what would happen if the worst came to pass. What can I do without, what can't I do without? I've started detaching mentally from what possessions I have (not that I have all that many.) What would we do if we lost everything?

And I realize that, basically, we'd be OK.

A while back, my husband and I agreed that when times get tight financially, that we would pull closer together instead of taking our worries out on each other. Money problems are the number 1 reason for marital strife. So, instead of letting the pressure of financial issues damage the one thing that has nothing to do with money - which is love - we're going to make this a time that we and our kids will remember forever in a positive light.

If we have to live in a tent, we'll make it into a cool camping trip!

So...back to my original point.

I don't think there's going to be enough political will to make the changes tht are necessary without something as catastrophic as another Great Depression. Folks, it's coming, so we might as well get it over with, and save ourselves the trillion dollars.

Tell 'em to go pound sand and see how they like it.

Now, I realize that this sounds like a very irresponsible idea. And perhaps I am underestimating the severity and global ramifications of a complete market collapse.

But if I am underestimating the scope and severity of the upcoming depression, a trillion bucks ain't gonna hold it back. If it's as bad as that, there's nothing we can do but watch it happen.

So here's my plan: if they aren't willing to help taxpayers get back on their feet - before further enriching the fat cats who caused it in the first place with their radioactive neoliberal economic policies - then tell 'em "no deal, Neil."

Let the market decide. Let them live with the consequences of their failures for once - God knows we've been living with it long enough.

And what about us?

Here's what we do: prepare for the worst.

Get used to the idea that we may lose a lot, possession-wise, and start planning how we're going to deal with taking care of the necessities - food and shelter. If you have food and shelter, share. Take care of each other. We may need to double-or-triple-up housing-wise. We may need to sleep in tents. But what's important is that we try and take care of each other so that no one starves or freezes if we can help it. Those of us who don't lose everything should help out those of us who do. We'll need to band together as Americans, and support each other emotionally as well as physically.

I know that sounds disgustingly socialistic, but it's what families do.

These are real family values, and that's the only way we're going to get through something as devastating as a global financial collapse.

And once we get through it, everyone will understand (from a first-hand perspective) that we need the kind of social and government policy that brought us back from the last Great Depression, and gave us a true middle class.

So I say hang on to our trillion bucks - if it really is as bad as they are trying to tell us it is, a trillion dollars will not fix it - it will just go to ease the pain of the investment class. And I say fuck them. Ease my pain, you lying, thieving pigs.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No One's Asking Why People Can't Pay Their Mortgages!


When I hear a description of the reasons for this financial game of 52-Card Pickup, it goes something like this:

The investment companies who bought and sold the bundled mortgages took a hit because of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. They're all connected to each other, and when one sector goes down, they drag everyone else down with them. And the reason the sub-primes went down is that people were defaulting on their mortgages.

That's where they end the narrative.

But nobody's asking why people can't pay their mortgages.

Listen, folks - it isn't just sub-primes. Do they just think that, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, huge swaths of people who have never had trouble paying their bills, who are never late on a payment, are unable to make ends meet? Did they all just go on a mad spending spree? Did they get hit on their heads so hard that the financial sense was knocked out of them?

This is the root of the problem and this is what everyone is not talking about.

So instead of addressing this problem, they're going to throw crazy money at the profiteers who made massive fortunes by taking advantage of the fact that it's getting harder and harder for regular people to keep up.

Good move.

I personally would receive a great deal of psychological benefit if Henry Paulson threw a shitload of money my way. It would be extremely therapeutic.

Fool Me Twice - We Won't Be Fooled Again

Is it just me, or do the last few days have an oddly familiar feel?

Haven't we heard this somewhere before? "Hand over the booty right now, or we're all gonna die! No time to think about it - we have to have it immediately! Do you want the destruction of the nation on your conscience?"

After 9/11, Saddam was thisclose to blowing us all away as he plotted with his BFFs the Al-Qaedas to use his vast but cleverly-hidden arsenal of WMDs on us - right this minute! Fortunately, we headed off Armageddon with a quick authorization to use military force (not an actual war or anything, for heaven's sake!), and stopped certain destruction dead in its tracks.

But wait!

Those crafty Al-Qaedas could be anywhere - or anybody! That little old blue-haired grandma who shuffles off to the library every day is probably getting plans for a dirty bomb! And because of those antiquated, old-fashioned, out-dated 'privacy' rights that are just using up extra parchment in the Constitution - and were just 'tacked on' anyway - it's imperative that we sign a PATRIOT Act (see - all caps! You can tell how important it is!) to cut through all that useless red tape that keeps us from taking the Al-Qaedas down! Quick - sign it! Sign it! Today! Not tomorrow! Tomorrow could be the mushroom cloud!

So now that they've neatly disposed of our rights and our moral authority, along with most of our money, it's time for the coup de gras - time to hand over ALL the rest of the money - in perpetuity!

"Gimme a trillion dollars in unmarked bills right now - or the economy gets it, see?"

Then, of course, if they manage to pretend like they're giving up ground with things like 'CEO Pay Caps' (that's a hot one!) and 'More Oversight' (another knee-slapper), maybe everyone will look the other way while they finish the job they started 8 years ago.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Conservatism - The Elephant In the Room

Well, here we are at last.

When I started writing The Price of Right over two years ago, the idea that I wanted to express in the book was that, as horrific a president as George W. Bush was, he was not the cause but the ultimate expression of a systematically destructive social, economic and political ideology that was driving our country away from democracy and towards, if not fascism, certainly feudalism.

It is not only Bush, but the system that produced a Bush - conservatism. It is conservatism itself that made the Worst President Ever a reality.

Ever since the 60s, when a consortium of über-wealthy conservative Republican power-brokers decided to wage war on liberals by linking everything bad in society to liberalism, and making ‘liberal’ a pejorative of the worst kind, conventional wisdom laid the blame for all of society’s ills at the feet of liberalism. Even liberals themselves accepted this - Democrats no longer wished to be called ‘liberal’ when that word could lose you an election faster that you could spit - and attempted to define their values along lines that they thought conservatives would agree with. As Republicans moved farther and farther to the right, Democrats moved right with them in an ‘Overton window’ sort of way, until ‘moderate’ Dems were more like Republican-lite, and what was now the Commie-radical far end of the left-wing spectrum would have been considered merely left of center only a couple of years ago.

When I began writing this book, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was approaching 12,000. In April of 2007, it reached 13,ooo, and only three months later, in July 2007, the Dow topped out at 14,000. In what looked to me as a repeat of the Roaring Twenties, when stocks were going wild, thanks to ‘new and creative investment instruments’, and every one was an investor, it seemed to me that the disparity between the dizzying profits at the top of the heap and the reality that average people were becoming poorer, while working longer and harder and struggling more was an indication that this kind of financial hot-rodding was doomed to crash. Next stop - 1932!

If you step back and look at the situation from a macro rather than micro perspective, several things become clear.

1.Working people of all strata were making less money.

With the onslaught of ‘downsizing’ and layoffs, people were being forced into a financial corner not of their own making. Those that were fortunate enough to keep their jobs either had to accept rather drastic pay cuts, or assume the laid-off workers’ jobs without extra pay. Raises to keep up with the cost of living were out of the question. Those that lost their jobs had a difficult time finding another at a comparable salary; many had to take jobs that paid much less, with little or no benefits. And most families needed two working partners just to make ends meet, so there was no ‘safety net’ where a stay-at-home partner could get a job to take up the slack.

2. While income from wages dropped, prices rose.

Prices of essentials, such as housing, energy, food, and transportation, continue to rise as usual, but the money to pay for them did not increase proportionally, but either stayed the same (which is a de-facto decline in real income) or actually declined.

3. Meanwhile, corporate profits soared to record levels.

This would seem to be a good thing for the economy. But much of that profit could be attributed to money saved by laying off workers, and freezing or reducing the salaries of those who still had jobs. Wall Street rewarded the corporations who cut jobs, stole pensions, reduced benefits. And the profits that ensued were often moved off-shore so as to not pay taxes on it, thereby depriving Americans of the tax revenue due to them by creating an environment in which the corporations could make those profits - providing both physical and legal structure for the corporations to utilize, such as roads, communications, power and water, and also a legal system that allowed them to be able to make contracts and conduct business with the assumption that there were laws in place to enforce contracts, and a justice system to make sure that the contracts are enforced.

The corporations did not create these physical and legal infrastructures - they were paid for by taxpayers and were the property of the American people. Yet they considered the profits they reaped theirs alone, and to pay taxes on these profits were regarded as stealing their property.

This is theft, pure and simple.

Theft of our labor - if you ask me to work for you for 12 hours and you pay me $10, you have stolen my labor. There’s no other way to put it. Saying that ‘you can’t afford to pay more’ is not an excuse - you either can afford to hire an employee or not. And paying ten guys $1 an hour instead of one guy $10 an hour is not creating ten jobs!

The Myth of the Free Market is exactly that - a myth. It’s a Utopian model that does not work in real life, because it only works if all things are equal - if the worker, the employer, and the consumer all have equal power and influence. And we know that is not true at all.

So - up to this point, we have: wages falling, prices rising, and profits escalating.

If the profit margin were roughly equal to the wage and price margin, one would assume that the market was working correctly - if there was a downturn that was felt by all, then it would be more or less attributable to forces that were outside of the wage/price/cost/profit structure - perhaps a natural disaster, governmental upheaval, or a failure of some aspect of production.

But if profits are rising for corporations, and growth is rising, and consumers are getting poorer at the same time, the only reasonable explanation is that those profits are coming from somewhere within that system - not wealth creation, but wealth transfer.

That transfer of wealth has been from the bottom to the top.

This is the natural progression of conservatism.

It’s like holding a big juicy steak in front of a starving man who only has 50¢ in his pocket, and offering to sell it to him on credit for $50, after which the poor man is excoriated for “buying something he couldn’t afford”. What the hell do you think that man was supposed to do? Say “No, I can’t afford that steak - I think I’ll just crawl off over in a corner and die”?

I (and many others) could see this week’s financial meltdown coming years ago. We knew that the economy was unbalanced. As I’ve said before, the problem with impoverishing workers to fatten your bottom line is that eventually you run out of consumers. If workers are not paid enough to meet their basic needs and have spome left over for discretionary spending, there will be no discretionary spending! Yet, conservative economic theory insists that the way to prosperity is to make the already-prosperous more prosperous, even at the expense of the majority of the workforce. So, when we actually ran out of money a few years ago, the solution to keep the masses spending and keep the economy afloat, was to dangle credit in front of us, and force us into spending money we didn’t have after taking all the money we did have.

Why is this a conservative problem?

Because of one of the deep frames of conservative cognition - the metaphor that says “Wealth=Morality”

I truly believe that this deep-rooted conviction is at the heart of the conservative mindset, and it transfers to every aspect of conservatism. It is responsible for the conservative Christian ‘Prosperity Gospel’ which says that God shows His approval by bestowing earthly wealth on those who obey His wishes, and whom He favors - and therefore, the wealthier you are, the more moral you are. It is also responsible for the assumption that, because you are rich, you are hard-working, honest, smart, responsible, strong, self-reliant and deserving - whether you are any one of those or not. The corollary is that people who are hard-working, honest, smart, responsible, strong, self-reliant and deserving should be the people in charge!

This is the core of conservatism. This is also why even poor conservatives support the rule by the rich - because they really believe, deep down - whether they are conscious of it or not - that “wealth=morality”.

So, this is the mentality that is driving us over the cliff. And this is why conservatism itself is doomed to fail if we truly want an America that works on (small d) democratic principles.

The United States was formed to escape that mentality altogether - the mindset that says the Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Conservatism, when followed to its logical conclusion, leads to feudalism - a large, poor, overworked, under-educated, powerless underclass supporting a small, powerful, wealthy, leisured ruling class.

There can be no other outcome.

I wrote about just this sort of thing two years ago, when the Dow was popping like a cracked-out Orville Redenbacher. This magical belief that tax cuts plus borrowing plus war spending equals a sound economy was never challenged because of the irrational certainty that if the wealthy get wealthier, that all will be well.

The equivalence of money and morality is a key component of the fatally flawed philosophy that is conservatism, and we are living with the results now. This is the common thread that binds together big-business Republicans and right-wing evangelicals.

Of course, you can still see the influence of this belief in the approach of Paulson to this crisis - that the perpetrators of this debacle will pay no price for their perfidy and theft. The idea of ‘too big to fail’ also means ‘too big to punish’, and ‘too big to hold accountable’. Punishment and accountability are only for the little guy. Adamantly opposed to helping the people who these policies have damaged, and instead dumping the bill for their own destruction upon the victims, while the perpetrators sail off unscathed, their stolen booty intact, thus adding insult to injury, the people in charge of ‘fixing the problem’ will instead continue the policies that have brought us to this disaster.

Just like John McCain’s idea of a cure for the havoc that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have wreaked upon us are - more tax cuts!

They simply do not get that if you kill the golden goose, you get no more golden eggs.

If you make it impossible for consumers to spend, the economy will screech to a halt. You can tell that they still don’t get it when they talk about ‘unfreezing credit’ so that people can spend again. In other words, the only way that people can spend is by going into debt! What about the notion that people could be paid enough to spend money without going into debt? That’s a novel concept, isn’t it?

This irrational idea is simply too strong and deep-seated to be changed by those who subscribe to it. Those of us who are not hostage to the idea that both wealth and poverty are meted out to those who deserve it need to start connecting the dots, and understand that it is this conservative belief system that has led to the destruction of the middle class, and that there are other values besides profit and money - the liberal American values of liberty and justice for all, and the liberal idea that we as Americans have a responsibility to all other Americans whose very lives are being decimated by this childish, selfish, destructive philosophy.

We cannot afford The Price of Right one more minute.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When Conservative Dreams Come True, or, I Hate To Say "I Told You So", but...I Told You So!

A Conservative Paradise

John McCain is right.

Everything’s going along just fine!

After all, how couldn’t it? The conservative paradise that has been worked toward by the Republicans for forty years has finally come to fruition.

Like Tom DeLay’s ‘perfect petri dish of capitalism’ in the Marianas, bit by bit, conservative economic policies have replaced the hated New Deal, and all the crummy old prosperity that came along with it. Phil Gramm, John McCain’s go-to guy on the economy, drove the last nail into the coffin by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented commercial banks and private investment banks from getting involved with each other.

And then Gramm has the gall to call us a “nation of whiners.”

Yeah, Phil, I guess we better just shut up and take it. If Phil Gramm had his way , we would not even be allowed to complain about being mugged, rolled and left in the alley for dead.

No taxation, deregulation, and speculation. Wages have been lowered, while prices rise higher and higher. Privatization, the magic cure-all for everything that government used to do, has permeated every nook and cranny of our system. After all, anything government can do, private enterprise can do better! So instead of giving tax money to wasteful government agencies to use on the people’s behalf, why not give it to business instead - to use on their own behalf!

The central tenet of the corporations in this country has been:

Externalize costs; internalize profit.

Translated: We, Big Business, take a risk. If it fails, the taxpayer pays for it. If it succeeds, we keep all the profit.

Heads we win, tails you lose.

Simple and beautiful.

Although the sub-prime mortgage bubble and the wild, arcane speculation are in the spotlight right now, the plain truth is that we, the American public, have been stolen from until there is nothing left to steal - even our children’s financial future has been stolen after they squeezed us dry.

Our labor is stolen from us for less than its real value, and then we pay twice as much tax on what we get for our labor - wages - as the investor class pays on dividends - money that makes itself.

But consumer spending is the engine that drives the economy, and when working people are too poor to spend, the car comes to screeching halt. This is what created the housing bubble and the speculation frenzy - the desperate attempts on the part of the corporate class to keep the public in the dark about the fact that there was no real money to spend - that we were flat broke. Thanks to low wages, high prices, and predatory credit card interests that bought a license to steal from Congress in 2005 with the Bankruptcy Bill, and the evisceration of unions, along with a justice system that always sides with the corporations against the individual, we have now come to the end of the ride.

We were broke a while back, so the housing industry artificially pumped up house prices, knowing that most Americans had no choice but to borrow against the ‘value’ of the home. When the alternative is bankruptcy, and even that alternative has been made onerous enough to deter all but the most determined - when the alternative is being foreclosed upon and turned out of your house with nowhere to go, is that really a ‘choice’? I don’t think so.

After 9/11, we were urged by the President to “go out and spend!” It is no coincidence that we have no savings. It’s not possible to save when you're just hanging on by your fingernails, like so many of us are these days.

There is no such thing as 'job security'. My parents' generation could make long-term financial plans, including saving, because if you had a job and did it well, the odds were that you would stay in that job until you retired. The luxury of knowing how much money you would have coming in for years ahead is one that is all but gone today. Now, if you're lucky enough to have a job that you've stayed in for a long time, you're more likely to be fired right before retirement, so your company doesn't have to pay your pension, and you can be replaced by someone younger who they can pay half your salary to.

This is an excerpt from my new book THE PRICE OF RIGHT: How the Conservative Agenda Has Failed America, which will be in bookstores this week:
Free trade is more than a way of doing business. It’s a philosophy; it’s an ideology. A philosophy with no empirical validation whatsoever. Though it’s supposed to work well for everyone because it works so well for multinational corporations and the investor class, it’s actually managed to be disastrous to most nations. It’s a belief system, like Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Like any ideology, the theory matters more than the actual outcome. And being that the benefits are so huge for those whose hands are on the wheel of the ship of state, the corporations and investor class will continue to shoehorn this dangerous, destructive ideology into the national dialogue, and do whatever is necessary to silence any other voices that may threaten their place at the trough, regardless of the ultimate threat to America’s economy.

This race to the bottom will eventually take the corporatists down with the rest of us. Our economy cannot stand the strain of continually borrowing as if we’re playing with Monopoly money. When the consumers are too poor, who will buy consumer goods? When we reach our debt limit, what will happen when China and Saudi Arabia call in their chits? The more we borrow from other countries, the worse our national credit rating, which means – you guessed it! – higher interest rates on our debt. And on whose backs will this rising debt fall? Not the wealthiest, and not the corporations – George W. Bush and friends have seen fit to slash the tax rates for these folks. Combine our rising deficits, disappearing jobs, a grotesquely expensive invasion of another nation that has turned into endless war-profiteering black hole with no fiscal oversight, and tax cuts for those who already receive the bulk of the bounty of this nation, mix with greed and power, and shake well.

Then stand back, and get ready for the explosion.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sweet Neo Con

Sarah Palin is indeed the perfect GOP neo-con wet dream. She embodies every aspect of the Dick Cheney neoconservative model - the ruthlessly impassive blood-lust and willingness to see pre-emptive striking as the first and best answer to any problem, and the craftiness to slyly poke volatile adversaries with a sharp stick, so as to encourge them to attack, thereby claiming that we ‘must defend ourselves’, the penchant for secrecy and the withholding of information on her part combined with utter disregard for privacy on the public’s part, the tendency to use the power of public office to intimidate and silence opposition and to destroy perceived ‘enemies’, meaning anyone who will threaten her ability to do whatever she wants, regardless of moral, ethical, or legal questions.

Yes, she’s all that and a bag of chips - but with an added bonus that even Cheney, in all his Straussian glory, lacks - that hard-core evangelical streak that neocons believe the ‘masses’ must have in order to keep from descending into chaos and anarchy, but which the true intellectuals who are in charge have no need for. She is a frothy, creamy sundae of Christian Soldier and Neocon Whip, with a lavish sprinkling of nuts on top. No cherry, though.

To underestimate her is to underestimate the power of PNAC. She is Bush and Cheney 2000 rolled into one. After all, who would have thought before the Selection of 2000 that the PNAC nutballs whose views were considered so extreme during the Clinton administration that even mainstream Republicans shied away from them were preparing their organization for the day Republicans returned to power so that they could spin their neoconservative ideas into official U.S. policy.

Just what do you think George W. was being fed during his pre-presidential 'education'?

Yes, Palin is a confection of neocon perfection - a Bush/Cheney/Coulter/Schlafly soufflé, puffed up and covered in cascades of gooey fundie sauce, and ready to be shoved down your throats. Or perhaps you'd prefer Baked Alaska?

Bon appétit, you sad bastards.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Energizing Our Base

With all this Sarah Palin business, it seems to me that we Democrats need to think about ‘energizing our base’.

Republicans take pride in being called ‘conservative’. Yet, ‘liberal’ is still a term shunned and avoided by Democrats. Barack Obama, in a speech in Austin, stridently denied that the policies he was advocating - reducing money in politics, making sure there is health care for all, treating our soldiers properly when they come home - were ‘liberal’ policies.

Listen: if we’re not liberal, what the hell are we?

Are we conservative? If so, why not just say so? Why stay in a party that does not define itself as conservative? Why not just go to where the conservatives are?

And, if we aren’t conservative, then what else would we be?

What are the values that we as Democrats claim to embrace?

We want health care for all, not just for those wealthy enough to afford it, right?

We want out of this grotesque conflict that we’ve been lied into which has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans, as well as uncountable innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, and has sullied our honor and credibility all over the world, isn’t that so?

We want a decent wage for those who work for a living, and a safety net for those who need it the most - not tax giveaways for those who are already so wealthy they don’t need it, don’t we?

We want government whose first loyalty and duty is to attend to the need of its people, not the greed of its corporations, wouldn’t you agree?

We want transparency, honesty and accountability from our elected officials, not secrecy, spying, stealing and stonewalling, don’t we?

We want all of our citizens to be treated equally under the law, with the same rights as everyone else, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation, right?

We want government to do its job - working for the interests of its citizens, and the private sector to do its job - making a profit; not the other way around, where government is expected to be a mere dollars-and-cents balance sheet, and the private sector is put in charge of meeting the needs of human beings, which may or may not be ‘profitable’.

We want our Bill of Rights, right? We want privacy in our homes and communications, the freedom to speak out and to assemble peacefully without government or police harassment, the right to face our accusers and see the evidence against us; the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. We want a press whose only allegiance is to the public’s right to know, not to its corporate paymasters.

Then why the fuck don’t we say so?

We are missing the point here by a country mile, and wondering why this Republican freak show is kicking our ass.

If the Republican party is defining itself by its values, and giving those values a name (conservatism) and the Democratic party is merely asserting that it isn’t the Republican party (not-conservatism) instead of naming and claiming our values as liberal, then all we are doing is writing our own epitaph - as a party, and as a social idea. As Dr. George Lakoff says, to ‘not think of an elephant’ is to think of an elephant. To define ourselves as ‘not-conservative’ is to reinforce the conservative frame as the dominant frame and to define ourselves as lacking that frame.

Liberal values are American values.

And the conservative frame, the conservative philosophy and blueprint for government, have brought us the very opposite of the things we want and were promised as Americans.

In my new book, the Price of Right, I talk about why conservatism is incompatible with American values and ideals. When conservative policies are not balanced with liberal policies, we devolve into feudalism. Conservatism is not content with being part of the whole; by definition it wants to have the whole pie to itself. The goal of a 'permanent Republican majority' shows exactly what conservatives think of other points of view, and why they see compromise as weakness and surrender. And the 'base' that the Republican party is dizzy with excitement to have engaged once again with Sarah Palin, the Christian fundamentalist/evangelicals, is very clear that it will brook no other views. To them, tolerance and diversity are not American values, but Satan's trickery.

American values are liberal values.

I know that people are afraid to use the ‘L’ word. That’s all I hear, over and over. The fear of being called ‘liberal’ is enough to make the toughest newscasters and most outspoken pundits soil themselves, backing off, groveling and apologizing for the least whiff of that dreaded epithet, ‘liberal media’ (which has not existed in at least 30 years.) Yes, yes, I know. Use the ‘L’ word and you’ve lost your election. So I’ve heard. But we haven't won by not using it, that's for sure!

The right has been extremely successful in demonizing the word that describes the Democratic party’s position. The problem is, and the Republicans knew this when they started doing it in the late 60s, that when someone takes away the word that identifies you and your ideals, there is nothing to ‘hang your hat on’ in terms of party identity, and you are forced to identify your party, not on its own terms but on the terms of the other party. And I’m sorry, but when you have only two political parties and they’re both defined by one party - one is ‘for’ and the other ‘against’ - ‘for’ will beat ‘against’ every single time. A positive always beats a negative.

This has been said by a number of people - that Democrats need to say what they’re for instead of what they’re against. But it never gets past that. No one ever says exactly how that is supposed to be done.

We’ve tried to substitute the word ‘progressive’ for ‘liberal’; I use it myself. In truth, they are similar in meaning, if you’re thinking in literal terms instead of framing terms - connecting with our deepest . But it’s like substituting Sweet ‘n’ Low for sugar; it’s yet another way to say “I’m not liberal; I’m ashamed to say that word”. Not consciously, but frame-wise, it is denying our ideals. That’s why the word ‘progressive’ has not succeeded in countering ‘conservative’.

It’s too late in this particular game to expect to make the switch to naming and claiming liberal values. But I believe that’s why we have no ‘base’ to energize at this point.

How great would it be if Obama was to operate out of a position of strength, conviction and passion, instead of a position of fear - fear of being labeled ‘the Angry Black Man’, fear of looking ‘sexist’ by criticizing Sarah Palin, fear of Republican retaliation by attacking McCain hard? Fear of not being ‘nice’ and ‘above it all’? Fear of the ‘low road’?

I can assure you, Republicans are not the least bit afraid of the ‘low road’.

I believe that Democrats are waiting for someone to stand up and get mad. That’s another Luntzian trick - keeping Democrats from speaking out by calling them ‘angry’ if they object to the abuse heaped upon them and implying that it’s a bad thing to get mad when you’re stepped on. But it’s long, long overdue.

If Obama were to take a real, strong stand and show that he believes in Democratic values bad enough to fight for them, and fight for us; if he were willing to go out on a limb and say what it is that we as Democrats stand for, and give our values a name that defines them on their own, and shows that these values are American values - not by merely saying it, but thundering it - then I think we would see an outpouring of Democratic passion and excitement such as we haven’t seen in a generation - perhaps two generations. Democrats are starved for leadership, for passion, for commitment. We need to be more than ‘not conservative.’

There is a Democratic ‘base’ out there, but no one has energized it. It’s out here, just waiting to be called by its name.

It’s not too late.