Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Barack Obama Ought to Say to his Ex-Spiritual Advisor

With apologies to Andrew Shepherd!
Being President of this country is entirely about character. America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say
You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.
You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free".

I've known Reverend Wright for years, and I've been operating under the assumption that the reason the Reverend devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Wright's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Wright's problem is that he can't sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Reverend Wright is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it.

Well, that ends right now. Tomorrow morning. We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, This is a time for serious people, Jeremiah , and your fifteen minutes of fame are up.

My name is Barack Obama, and I am running for president of the United States of America.

Wednesday Morning:

My post at the head of this thread reflected my gut reaction to the scattered accounts of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments in front of the National Press Club. Monday, I did not watch C-SPAN or read any newspaper accounts of Wright's remarks. Tuesday morning I posted my adaptation from The American Presidency based upon excerpts, hearsay, and spin, which I picked up vicariously. Since then, I have been nagged about doubts as to whether I had been unjust to Wright by prejudging him on the basis of others' reactions.

But, before I go any further, let me make two observations:
  • In yesterday's early morning hours when I was scouting around the internet looking for comment and reactions concerning Wright's appearance at the NPC, my distinct impression was that liberal sites were silent and conservative sites were all over the story.
  • Tonight, as I was looking around for transcripts of yesterday's event, it took me some time to find them. They were not in the NYT. They were not to be found on the National Press Club's site. They were only to be found on Faux News channel.
That, as the clinical psychologists would say, is diagnostic. And this goes to the root of my complaint against Wright - why Wright is wrong.

So, I have read the full transcript of Wright's NPC performance. The truth is, as I expected it would be, that I am in amazing agreement with a lot of Wright's positions. This, probably, is not the place to go into a detailed analysis of my agreements. Let's just say that Wright's stands and statements are at least arguably defensible.
I'll concede that every thing he says is worth consideration except his statement that HIV is a government conspiracy to kill off African-Americans. This exception is not a trivial one. Wright's decision to preach such rubbish does incredible damage to the mission of reconciliation that he purports to champion.

My major, major, objection to Wright is that he egotistically thinks he is a national figure. He thinks the headlines should feature him. He thinks he is responsible for Barack Hussein Obama making it big. In fact, it's the reverse. Wright would be a nobody, if it weren't for Obama. But Jeremiah Wright thinks yesterday's, today's, and tomorrow's story is all about Jeremiah Wright. I've even read rumors that he has a book coming out in November, just before the national election is held!

Although he has inadvertently become a major political personality, Wright does not possess any political skill, instincts, or vision. He's a religious freak, nutcase or cultist. Illustrative excerpts:
..... My theological lens shapes my anthropological lens ...

..... As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

..... As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That's what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.

..... In my tradition, however, what everybody has been saying to me as it pertains to the candidacy is what God has for you is for you. If God intends for Mr. Obama to the president, then no white racists, no political pundit, no speech, nothing can get in the way, because God will do what God wants to do.
An attack on the black Christian church? Answerable to God? Is this some Ayatollah speaking? If he's not concerned about Barack Obama being elected, and sensitive as to what he - Wright - should do and not do to support him, then this self-obsessed paranoid should have been thrown under the campaign bus in the Barack's Philadelphia speech, if not before. With friends or 'family' like this, Obama does not need enemies.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Republican of the Week

If you asked me which Republican in Congress has never yielded anything - except for the balance of his time - on the issue of Busheney's war occupation in Iraq, I would have to show you the honorable . . . .

... well, really, he needs no introduction.
Some of my Liberal acquaintances, yellow dog Democrats, and such don’t much cotton to Ron Paul, because he’s a free-marketeering Libertarian. That’s not exactly a plus in my book, either.

But in these days of the twinkling twilight of American greatness, I’m willing to seek out and ally with anti-militarists and anti-fascists wherever they can be found. That’s the way is ‘twas in the mid-twentieth century, right? Back then they called anti-fascist and anti-communist coalitions, ‘national fronts’. Remember? At this juncture, our national front against Busheney and McCain is not nearly broad enough for me, so there’s plenty of room for Libertarians like Mike Gravel and Ron Paul.

One thing I like about Paul is he doesn’t pander or cater to what George Lakoff calls as Congress’ Politeness-Trap protocol:
There are certain politeness conventions that members of Congress follow. For example, anyone in a US military uniform must be commended for his patriotism, ability, and dedication — even if it is a political appointee on a political mission, like Petraeus.

There is a reason for this, what linguists call 'metonymy,' a mode of thought in which a leader stands for the institution he or she leads. If this commonplace metonymy is used, a general in uniform reporting to Congress would be seen as standing for the military as an institution.
The thinly veiled facts are that the 4- or 5-star admirals/generals are political appointees. They are personally selected by the C.I.C. They're nominated, as it were, by their accession in rank. As they ascend in rank, the president can fire see that they are retired early until he finds one with whom he can work. Thus, General Shinseki and Admiral Fallon, to take two examples, were retired early so that Bush could get who he wanted in behind them. In fact, Petraeus, Patreus, Betrayus or whatever else you want to call him, no more represents 'the opinion of the military' than the next man or woman behind him. He's there because he represents the president's position.

Lakoff goes on to say:
Because the Leader-stands-for-the-Institution metonymy is widespread, members of the Senate and the House therefore treated the general with utmost respect at the hearing.
That's why you get the GOP's and the Dem's, alike, fawning over Petraeus, demonstrating their utmost respect:
Let me start off by thanking you for your service to your country...
That's why Bush has his General Pet appear in his full-medalled regalia. Eisenhower and Bradley, heroes of the Greatest Generation of World War II, were never this immodest. Bush, the chickenhawk, has sprung the politeness trap on Congress and is hiding behind the top-ranking brass chestplates which he has personally chosen to speak for him.

Bottom line in my book: Petraeus (General Pet) is fair game. And I'm glad Ron Paul is in the hunt.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Progressivism = Patriotism

Unless our conception of patriotism is progressive, it cannot hope to embody the real affection and the real interest of the nation.
--Jane Addams,
Newer Ideal of Peace
On a recent weekend morning, I was looking for TIVO’s MLB broadcast schedule. My TV’s remote was surfing through a melee of channels when I discovered an unexpected ‘wave’ on C-SPAN’s Book TV. An incredibly articulate writer, Eric Liu, was nimbly fielding questions from an informed audience which had obviously done its homework. I watched appreciatively as Liu struck all of the right tones and hit all of the right notes. I decided to dig deeper.

Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer have co-authored (2007) The True Patriot, a lean and slick red volume which pleads the cause of a new Progressive patriotism as an antidote and antitoxin to the apostasy – some dare call it treason – of the Busheney regime. The way I read it, The True Patriot encourages liberals to become Progressives, about which I have written previously. Liu and Hanauer also show, in their hard-bound pamphlet, how a patriotic progressivism can gain adherents among centrists and righties. This pamphlet can be read on line. In the excerpts that follow, all of the emphasis appears in the original, except for my editing which appears in red. This

We are still sickened at how the moment after September 11 was squandered: a moment when the world was with us, utterly and when all Americans were yearning to be part of something greater than ourselves. We abhor the way political conversation has, ever since, settled back into a predictable pattern of cheap polarization, staged conflicts and false choices. We reject the idea that politics is about the promotion of one’s narrow self-interest and the underlying myth that millions of little acts of selfishness add up some how to a healthy community. We believe that in these cynical times – especially in these times – there should be a higher call to country first.

Readers should know that we are Progressive and Democrats ….. for too long, the Democratic Party has lacked a compelling story than can capture the moral and political imagination of most Americans. Too many of our progressive liberal friends are content either to carp from the sidelines, to wait for Republican acts of self-destruction, or to play tactical word games that position progressive liberal stances palatably while failing to articulate an overarching vision of the original purposes of politics and policy.
Patriotism, as an idea, has been co-opted over the course of a generation by right-wingers who use the flag not as a symbol of transcendent national unity, but as a sectarian cudgel against hippies, Franco-philes, free-lovers and tree-huggers who constitute their caricature of the American left. The American left, for its part, has been so beaten down by this star-spangled caricature, that it has largely ceded the very notion of patriotism to the right.
We were cheered by the 2006 elections … but we do not kid ourselves: that election was a negative referendum on a failed administration. In order to lead with a true mandate, and to earn enduring and affirmative public trust, progressives have to articulate a coherent moral framework that is compelling to most Americans and within which policy positions fit.

The authors’ research led them to re-examine the core roots of Americana: in our philosophy, politics, linguistics, religion, demographics, culture and history. Original documents and writings of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert King are reproduced, along with iconic photography. The authors were intent on their pamphlet being firmly grounded in American soil.

We freely admit that there is not one original idea in this pamphlet. We simply captured the essence of what America’s civic leaders and heroes have been saying for over 200 years. It was through our year of research that we realized that America doesn’t need a new politics, it simply needs to connect with its original patriotic traditions.

Those traditions are grounded in civic virtue, in the simple precept of country over self. They rest on a notion of public morality, which is a very different notion of morality than the one that dominates contemporary elections. Ultimately, we seek a revival of a civil religion: a patriotism every American can be proud of ….. we simply love this country. We want to make it safer for people to say that – and we want to make it harder too. No one should feel sheepish about professing patriotism, but no one should be able to get away with mere profession …..

We are neutral. As we said, we are active Progressives citizens. We hold many liberal beliefs. But we aren’t blind either. Today, only one in five voters self-identifies as “liberal”. Yet a deeper probe into the values of voters reveals that a great majority would embrace the patriotic virtues we lay out in this document – virtues, as you will see, that we believe to be inherently progressive. In short, we believe our particular conception of patriotism can bring people back into the Progressive fold and create a last electoral majority.

Finally, patriotism is the dominant frame for Progressivism because it overrides the Libertarian’s notion of absolute individual liberty.

….. the only thing in America that trumps freedom talk is patriotism: an appeal not to self-oriented choice, but to shared pride in what our freedom has enabled, pride in being a part of a world-changing experiment.

In recent months, the common good has emerged as another conceptual frame for Progressives. We love talk of the common good. It arises from exactly the same set of principles we believe in, and it reminds us that rugged individualism is no way to get a barn built. But while the common good rhetoric is necessary, it is not sufficient. We just don’t think it packs the same punch as patriotism. Pound for pound, and appeal to pride is more powerful than the idea of sharing. We want to take that fact of human nature and exploit it – for the common good.

….. this country was invented in the name of progress, justice, and betterment of self and society …. Love of country has, no doubt, been invoked to justify many acts of barbarism in human history. But love of this country – an embrace of what America ideally embodies – means love of universal ideals of human rights and aspirations.

The authors emphasize that even in this world of globalism and international corporations, nation-states are still the major actors on the world – especially the United States:

….. ours is the only nation designed to mesh cultures together and create new heartier hybrids. No place better embodies, and no nation has more leverage to propagate, the very qualities of an enlightened global community.

Here’s how the book is organized:

The structure of New Patriotism is:
  • A simple moral code: a distillation of what we believe to be a true patriotism

  • A manifesto that puts the code in context, describing the situation we Americans find ourselves in today, and offering our alternative, a proudly progressive conception that all Americans can embrace

  • A “Ten-Principle Plan, “ illustrating the public policy choices that flow from our core values – but, crucially, emphasizing that leaders should lead first with deep principal rather than specific points of policy

  • A model speech … to use or adopt to spark debate about patriotism and public morality.

  • A set of challenges and questions for the reader.
The devil is in the details, I know, but I’ll skip the cold cuts of this book to get to the real beef. The authors, in their speech template, both congratulate and criticize liberals and conservatives. Too many of my best friends are liberals, so I’ll skip their share of demerits and concentrate on the load on conservatives’ shoulders:

… here is where so many of you have been wrong:
  • You’ve been wrong to assume the market is always right.

  • You’ve been wrong to assert that what you fear must be evil.

  • You’ve been wrong to leave so many disenfranchised and unfavored people on the sidelines of public life, and off the roster of our national team.

  • You’ve been wrong to assert that citizens working together to solve shared problems – in a word, government – is itself the problem.
There are too many people calling themselves conservatives today who are preaching selfishness, narrowness, hatefulness, and fear; who have replaced the word of God with the hand of the market. That is not you. That is not what you want to protect and preserve. You are a conservative for good reasons: because there is no substitute for tradition and its timeless truths. Because, if you cut the cord to our past, then it gets awfully hard to make sense of the presence or the future. And yet the market, and the market ethic of naked selfishness, does cut that cord everyday.

Liu’s and Hanauer’s template speech ends on a note on the responsibilities of citizenship to insist on Progressive framing and imaging:

Our first duty as citizens is to be honest with ourselves and to distrust those who preach only what we want to hear: who tell us that America will be better off if we treat taxation as confiscation; if our resources are more deeply exploited; if our public infrastructure and institutions more neglected; if our children are made to pay later for today’s profligate spending; if our own views and faiths are used to suppress the views and faiths of others.

We know, in our hearts, that such a path leads to slow-motion ruin.

Now we have to imagine a better path:
  • Picture it: a politician who truly puts country above party or self – and is rewarded for it by the voters.

  • Picture it: an impassioned Great Awakening that sends us and all our neighbors into a revival of civil participation – in our clubs, churches and communities.

  • Picture it: young people who want to serve the community not because it looks good on a college application but because it flows from the values and ethics their parents and teachers have imbued them with.

  • Picture it: Americans of every income bracket supporting policies that will pull up those in the brackets below.

  • Picture it: the kind of mobilization of human capital that we saw in World War II, but this tie, leaving no groups out in the cold.

  • Picture it: a new American ethic that says the economy exists to serve us, not vice-versa.

  • Picture it: other nations, large and small, racing to imitate America – and the world being better off for it.

  • Picture it: history books that describe these times – our moment – as the “Pivot Generation,” the era when things could have gone bad and instead turned around, enduringly, for the good.
To the jaundiced eye of the average internet prowler and blogo-spheric lurker, these homilies and platitudes might fail to impress. I would remind them that context is everything. For too long, movement conservatism has manipulated and policed our society’s images, frames and language. Lethargic liberalism has been an unwitting accomplice. It’s time a more energetic and infused Progressivism to recognize, rediscover and re-invigorate the crucial images, frames, and words from our own past. That’s the surest way to restore American democracy and re-start the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iraquagmire is an occupation, not a war.

What I have been sayin'...
We have not been fighting a war in Iraq ...

We have been meeting resistance.
What would you do if America was invaded?
raises the veil of anonymity surrounding the Iraqi insurgency by meeting face to face with individuals who are passionately engaged in the struggle, and documenting for the very first time, the sentiments experienced and actions taken by a nation's citizens when their homeland is occupied. Voices that have previously not been heard, male and female, speak candidly about their motivations, hopes and goals, revealing a kaleidoscope of human perspectives. Featuring reflective, yet fervent conversations with active insurgents, MEETING RESISTANCE is the missing puzzle piece in understanding the Iraq war. Directed by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham, this daring, eye-opening film provides unique insight into the personal narratives of people involved in the resistance exploding myth after myth about the war in Iraq and the Iraqis who participate. Through its unprecedented access to these clandestine groups, MEETING RESISTANCE focuses the spotlight on the "other side", clarifying why the violence in Iraq continues to this day and providing a deeper understanding of both the toll of occupation and the human condition of resistance.
Occupations are not won or lost. Occupations are only - eventually - ended.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

These are members of Bush and Cheney's "Truth Squad"
And these early retired fired officers (below) were the original truth-tellers, exposing leadership failures in Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq.

To substitute for investigative and interpretive journalism, the mainstream media relies on a cadre of retired military officers recruited and coached by the pentagon. David Barstow, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, presents primary source documents [CLICK HERE!] detailing the how the Pentagon has deflected criticism of Iraquagmire with a group of prominent, hand-picked, retired generals. The Pentagon, in this way has been practicing Psychological Operations upon American public. That's the Orwellian concept of PsyOps, for short.

This is not surprising or shocking; nor is it news to me. What outrages me is how this is not news to the MSM.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Talking to Ourselves

Susan Jacoby, in LA Times says that Americans are increasingly close-minded and unwilling to listen to opposing views.

As dumbness has been defined downward in American public life during the last two decades, one of the most important and frequently overlooked culprits is the public's increasing reluctance to give a fair hearing -- or any hearing at all -- to opposing points of view.


Whether watching television news, consulting political blogs or (more rarely) reading books, Americans today have become a people in search of validation for opinions that they already hold. This absence of curiosity about other points of view is the essence of anti-intellectualism and represents a major departure from the nation's best cultural traditions.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Americans jammed lecture halls to hear Robert Green Ingersoll, known as "the Great Agnostic," attack organized religion and question the existence of God. They did so not because they necessarily agreed with him but because they wanted to make up their own minds about what he had to say and see for themselves whether the devil really had horns.

Similarly, when Thomas Henry Huxley, the British naturalist who popularized Darwin's theory of evolution, came to the U.S. in 1876, he spoke to standing-room-only audiences, even though many of his listeners were genuinely shocked by his views.

This spirit of inquiry, which demands firsthand evidence and does not trivialize opposing points of view, is essential to a society's intellectual and political health.

Richard Hofstadter, in his classic 1963 work, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," argued that among
...the major virtues of liberal society in the past was that it made possible such a variety of styles of intellectual life -- one can find men notable for being passionate and rebellious, for being elegant and sumptuous, or spare and astringent, clever and complex, patient and wise, and some equipped mainly to observe and endure. ... It is possible, of course, that the avenues of choice are being closed and that the culture of the future will be dominated by single-minded men of one persuasion or another. It is possible; but insofar as the weight of one's will is thrown onto the scales of history, one lives in the belief that it not be so.
Hofstadter was of course using the word "liberal" with a small "l," in the sense that the term had been used in the past -- as a synonym for open-mindedness and concern for liberty of thought instead of as the right-wing political epithet it has become during the last 25 years.


... Tell it to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who certainly had many, often bitter disagreements about politics and whose correspondence nevertheless leaps off the page as an example of the illumination to be derived from exchanges of ideas between friends who respect each other even though they do not always share the same opinions.

Adams wrote Jefferson in 1815,
You and I ought not to die, before we have explained ourselves to each other.
It is doubtful that today's politicians will spend much time trying to explain themselves to one another even after they leave office.


There is a direct connection between the debasement of political discourse and the public's tendency to tune out any voice that is not an echo. "Swift boating" can succeed in politics only because of the correct assumption that huge numbers of Americans lack the broad knowledge that would enable them to spot blatantly unfair attacks. . . . . Voters of any political persuasion who watch only cable news shows or consult only blogs that support their preconceptions are patsies for these kinds of lies.

Ironically, the unprecedented array of choices, on hundreds of cable channels and the Web, have contributed to the decline of common knowledge and the denigration of fairness by both the right and the left. No one but a news junkie has the time or the inclination to spend the entire day consulting diverse news sources on the Web, and the temptation to seek out commentary that fits neatly into one's worldview -- whether that means the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report -- is hard to resist.

Genuine fairness does not mean the kind of bogus objectivity that always locates truth equidistant from two points, but it does demand that divergent views be understood and taken into account in approaching public issues. In re-reading Hofstadter several years ago, I was struck by the fairness of his scholarship, a serious, old-fashioned attempt to engage the arguments of his opponents and to acknowledge evidence that ran counter to his own biases. I had not noticed that when I read the book for the first time in the 1960s because fairness was, to a considerable degree, taken for granted in those days as an ideal for aspiring young scholars and writers.

A vast public laziness feeds the media's predilection today to distill news through polemicists of one stripe or another and to condense complex information into meaningless sound bites.

On April 8, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus's testimony before a Senate committee's hearings lasted into the early evening. Some hearings were on cable during the day But the networks offered no special programming in the evening, and newscasts were content with sound bites of McCain, Obama and Hillary Clinton questioning the general. Dueling presidential candidates were the whole story.

Absent from most news reports was testimony concerning the administration's ongoing efforts to forge agreements with various Iraqi factions without submitting the terms to Congress for ratification -- a development with constitutional implications as potentially serious as the Watergate affair. No matter. Anyone who wanted to hear Petraeus bashed or applauded could turn to his or her preferred political cable show or click on a blog to find an unchallenging interpretation of the day's events.

The tepid interest in the substance of Petraeus' testimony on the part of the public and much of the media contrasts sharply with the response to the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. All 319 hours of the first round of the hearings were televised, and 85% of Americans tuned in to at least some of the proceedings live.

I remember those weeks as a period when everyday preoccupations faded into the background and we found time, as a people, to perform our civic duty. An ongoing war may lack the drama of Watergate, but it is doubtful that anything short of another terrorist attack on our soil would convince today's public that it ought to read the transcript of a lengthy congressional hearing or pay attention, for more than five minutes, to live news as it unfolds.

It is past time for Americans to stop attributing the polarization of our public life to the media, the demon entity "Washington" or "the elites." As long as we continue to avoid the hard work of scrutinizing public affairs without the filter of polemical shouting heads, we have no one to blame for the governing class and its policies but ourselves.

Like Hofstadter, I yearn to live in a society that values fair-mindedness. But it will take nothing less than a revolutionary public recommitment to the pursuit of fairness, knowledge and memory to halt, much less reverse, the trend toward an ignorant single-mindedness that threatens the future of democracy itself.

Hate to end on that despairing note. So I'll just say, "Good luck, America".

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Peace Island 2008!

Come Stand (And Sing) With Us - As we greet the Republican National Convention!
Twin Cities, Sept. 1-4, 2008
No one will mistake our homemade production of "If I had a banner" for something out of Hollywood.

In Hollywood, you don't have to work around the below zero wind chills and series of snow blizzards we're still getting deluged with in April! In Hollywood, someone would have probably remembered to wash her windshield glass before trying to film that "ribbon of highway" through it.

So even in the lowest-budget category, our recent film effort won't be up for any awards. But it is authentic--right down to the perfectly timed car honk! Amateurish but heartfelt.

The Power of Song

The story of how Pete Seeger's music came to inspire our Minnesota peace vigils--and also some of our preparations for the
all being planned for the Twin Cities, Sept. 1-4, 2008--is itself quite powerful. It was Norman Lear's post on Huffington Post in April 2007 describing the documentary he had just produced about Pete Seeger, that got more than a few of us in the Twin Cities peace community to the theatre during its way-too-short run. The final scene in the movie--of their peace vigil in Beacon, NY, showing Seeger and his friends holding signs while cars honk and his song, Bring 'em Home, playing during the final credits--really connected with us. One of my friends was so inspired, that she took the initiative of finding and putting that song, along with other Seeger favorites onto a special peace CD. So, a couple weeks later, Pete's voice and spirit came out of our boom box and onto our driveway as we and 40 some other peace activists launched our first major banner painting project.

It turned out to be the last nice weekend before winter, still warm enough for paint to dry outside. As we painted, we hummed along and gradually the lyrics of This Land is Your Land, If I had a Hammer and We Shall Overcome got into our souls. No doubt, it was the power of song which helped us produce so many fluorescent orange "Don't Bomb Iran" banners which we displayed a couple days later, on Halloween Eve, from Twin City footbridges scattered over busy highways, reaching over 100,000 main stream motorists.

Our Minnesota peace vigil group decided, at that point, we'd try for more than the spiritual connection with Pete Seeger and the Beacon NY group. It took about a month but ultimately we again proved Stanley Milgram's social psychology theory correct that we're all connected by six degrees. Actually, we bested Milgram's theory and found several avenues had always connected our group to Seeger's even though we didn't know it. One of the connections--only two degrees apart!--was, we discovered, through Minnesota troubadour Larry Long who has collaborated for years with Pete Seeger musically and also, beginning decades ago, on Hudson and Mississippi River clean-ups.

When I finally packed up a couple of our banners and traveled to Beacon in late February, the musical icon fell ill (after standing out in the cold during his weekly peace vigil). So Pete's grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, was forced to do without Grandpa at the public event the next day. He chose his grandfather's classic Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and succeeded in bringing the house down. Naturally we asked Tao to come out and headline our "Peace Island Picnic 2008" for which we were lucky to win the St. Paul Parks' lottery process for Harriet Island on Sept. 4, the final day of the RNC.

As you can see from the video, our group, since blossomed into the "Twin Cities Banner Brigade and Peace Island Picnic Committee 2008" is still benefiting from the power of song. It's totally people-powered as we don't have any other professional expertise or funding source yet involved with our plans. But we DO already have 77 peace banners painted; three precedent-setting marches on the RNC practiced; a schedule published for the Peace Island-Solutions Driven Conference; the aforesaid "Peace Island Picnic" park permit; and commitments from Tao Rodriquez-Seeger, Larry Long, and other local peace musicians.

So Please Come to Minnesota to March, Sing and Stand With Us!

We thought this music video might be a good way to showcase our plans for the RNC and to invite more peace and social- environmental justice themed musicians as well as plain citizen activists (like ourselves) to come participate. So please everyone who's interested, mark Sept. 1- 4 on your calendar and start figuring out how you'll get to Minnesota to help us take a stand. We'll be discussing real solutions to the issues; hoping to hold at least a hundred new banners on surrounding footbridges; marching on the RNC and picnicking for peace. Questions or suggestions can be posted at Twin City Peace Vigils. (We'd love to hear from anyone with real experience organizing such events.)

Norman Lear aptly described Seeger when he said that one person's voice can make a difference. Dare we hope, along these lines, that our collective voices and entreaties for peace might find constructive ways to not only reach RNC goers but to help turn the country around?!

Perhaps the power of song is just what a country needs when it finds itself waist deep in the Big Muddy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hug a Republican!

Friday is Respect-a-GOPer-Day!

Looking for a few good Republicans to take to cyber lunch on Friday, I stumbled on to a startling discovery. Ever hear of the R.F.O.'s? Well, they were news to me! I'm sure if I give you a clue or two, you'll guess what they are. If I say I'm sure you've heard of DINO's and RINO's, I'm sure you're going to be able to guess what RFO's are!

RFO = Republicans for Obama!

Yes! a national organization with chapters in 28 States! They have a well-thought out mission statement. And they even have a network of forums any one can join if they want to GOP-blog Obama! They have obviously been listening to Barack's actual message, without the filtering of the corporate news media, because of what they say about him. For example, RFO's took note of what Senator Obama said in Pennsylvania recently about foreign policy:
The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan, and it is George Bush that’s been naive and it’s people like John McCain and, unfortunately, some Democrats that have facilitated him acting in these naive ways that have caused us so much damage in our reputation around the world.
What an exciting discovery! These RFO's! While you're chatting up your favorite Republican at lunch, why not do some recruiting!

That's not all! You know what? I made another startling discovery: with the same effort of Googling, I could not find any organized group for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Stop me before I say a single word....

... about last night's Democratic Debate in Philadelphia or about the Annual Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner in Washington.
If I can't keep it positive or clean, I won't say a thing.
I had no time for gothic chics riding broomsticks, or pricks laughing at dicks. There was a GR8 ball game to watch!

Rafael Furcal goes 4-for-4 with HR as Dodgers beat Pirates

LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't until Day 15 of the regular season but manager Joe Torre was finally treated to the lineup he envisioned this spring.

A combination of injuries and slumps has contributed to an offense that struggled to score consistently but Wednesday the Dodgers used a 15-hit attack to record double-digits in hits for the fifth time in their last six games.

Paced by a 4-for-4 night from Rafael Furcal and buoyed by the return of Nomar Garciaparra from the disabled list, the Dodgers put four runs on the board in the first inning and eased past the Pirates, 8-1, to take the series.
What a night!

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Am a (Closet) Elitist!

It's time for a confession so I am coming out.

William Henry III says:
. . . .the simple fact that some people are better than others-smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace. Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal. Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study. Every corner of the human race may have something to contribute. That does not mean that all contributions are equal ... It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.
Yeah, I guess I'm down with all that, all except for art, which is in the eyes of the beholder.

I reserve the right to define what I mean by elites and elitism.

Elites are individuals who, by achievement and talent, have demonstrated a degree of mastery in their field of endeavor. In an open society, they should be raised to the top. In politics, this notion is also called a meritocracy, rule by the meritorious. The purest forum in which the meritorious are raised is of course in professional sports. In the athletic arena only the best players or best teams win.

In politics, merit is equated with leadership: A leader's greatness is predicated on his ability to govern a society so that its members are more successful in their struggle for existence, both when taken individually and collectively, than are the people of other countries. In open societies, selection is by elections involving campaigns. A good measure of leadership is indicated by effective campaigns.

As it happens, both in terms of sports and politics, the field is rarely level. There are always handicaps. Most prominently, inherited wealth creates advantages in education, training, expectations, etc. So that while all of us are created equal in the eyes of God, all of us are prepared differentially by society. Inherited wealth affords its benficiaries the inside track. Wealth buys the best education, the best training facilities, the best media resources and the best network of influential friends. When wealth determines all avenues to successful attainment of elite status, the polity or society is called an oligarchy. Oligarchical groupings in society are composed of members who believe they are entitled to elite status, not by individual achievement, but merely by membership in their advantaged class.

In my mind, Elitism is often used - too often used - as a pejorative term which is applied to the notion of group entitlement. It is misused as a synonym of oligarchy or aristocracy.

My use of the term elitism is more in line with the Jeffersonian theory of the ideal system of education. That was the meritocratic notion which involved sending the best students from all the grade schools around the state to the universities with the express intention, as Jefferson himself put it, of raking "twenty of the best geniuses from the rubbish annually."

In my use of the term, I believe in government by elite political leaders. As an American nationalist, I want my fellow countrymen to select and elect those among us who promise and offer the best in leadership and statesmanship.

After the last eight years of being ruled by Beavis and Butthead types, I want to see that Kennedy and Gore types get a chance to show their stuff.

That's why I'll be voting this year for someone who is, if anything, over-qualified to be President of the United States. And that's on Day 1.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

It's the Occupation, Stupid!

19th Variation on a Consistent Theme
For me, anyways . . .
David Corn, published on The Alternet writes,
Dems Miss Opportunity to Challenge Surge . . . The Democrats on the committee took shots at the the-surge-is-working narrative, but with their 10-minute-long bursts of disjointed questions they were not able to redefine the debate.
Well, of course they weren't. True to pattern, right?

But Corn, himself, doesn't do too well pointing out a direction for redefining the debate over Iraquagmire, either. Corn still clings to Busheney's "WAR" frame. In his piece, Corn actually uses the expression 'war' a dozen times. (That's not counting his usages in the "civil war" context.)

As long as Liberals buy into this frame, the debate is going to be all about winners and losers, warriors and quitters. Iraq hasn't been about war for years. Bush declared victory on May Day, 2003. By December 2003 he had captured Saddam. Since then, Bush's war has morphed into occupation mode.

It's an OCCUPATION, stupid. How many times does Corn use the words "Occupation", Occupier", or Occupy"?

Zilch, zip, and zero!

No one wins or loses an occupation. In occupations, the occupier eventually realizes an irreversibly adverse trend in his opportunity-cost equation and goes home. Isn't that always the case in uninvited and hostile occupations? (Except in cases, of course, when the occupier also becomes a colonizer?)

There's a difference between Liberals and Progressives. Liberals flail around and about because they share their language and lexicon with conservatives (and NeoCons). Progressives insist on the importance of words. (Pay attention, Hillary!) Words always effect the way we think.

Progressives want to go from point A to Point C and are aware they have to go through point B. In this instance, Point B is realizing that we are in occupation mode in Iraq. Bush is not a war president. He's an occupation president. A compliant Congress and media has allowed Bush's imagined entitlement of war powers to persist for years. Actually, all he's really entitled to are occupation powers.

WTF are those? And where were they provided for in the October 2002 Authorization to Use Force against Iraq?

Bush has sentenced the world's greatest, bravest and most professional military organization to policing gangs and ghettos in a land foreign to us in culture, language and geography. Tha amounts to military malpractice.

Bush is a C.I.C.? WTF! Give me a break..

Bush has turned the U.S. Armed forces into the American Foreign Legion. (Or the Lost Patrol?)

If you can call a spade a spade, then you can call Iraq an Occupation. Then the surge becomes a splurge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Friday is Respect-a-Republican Day!

Finding a respectable one is hard work!

I need help. So, I thought I should get an early start by throwing open the floor for nominations!

Maybe part of the problem is my motivation. Making the ol' college try doesn't get me as far as it used to. Part of the problem is, of course, that the respectable, old-school Republicans are just too hard to find. There are slim pickings among the corrupt, perverted, nouveau, Neo-Con, chickenhawking, warmongering, GOP-bots which currently infest our imperial government today.

So, I'm posting this plea for help. We gotta find a live one before Friday is dead and gone!

Addendum (Friday Night: Well, thanks the indisputible plurality delivered in the discussion (below) we are able to make a good selection for this week:

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Darfur, Burma, and now Tibet?

It's so refreshing and compelling to see our Conservatives and Liberals demonstrating together.

But this is another case of our scorched pot calling the Chinese wok, 'burned'.

I have the same problem about the protests over Tibet, as I have had over China's complicity in Darfur and Myanmar. Actually, push comes to shove, it's arguable that our own USA had more complicity in snatching renewed chaos
in Somalia from the jaws of tranquility in 2006. But that's another story.

For China, Tibet is a little more egregious, because China has forcibly colonized, absorbed and repressed Tibet.

And, for the record, I care not a whit for the Olympics. As a sports fan I have always realized that the biggest game which trumps all others is politics. It is the game in which we are all participants, as well as stakeholders and participants. Especially world politics. I was an enthusiastic supporter of Carter when he decided on the boycott of the Russian Olympics of 1980 in the advent of Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. The Olympics 'Movement' or 'Spirit' or whatever it is, is an ennobling ideal. But it is also a tarnished one. And the Chinese are tarnished hosts. But, my fellow Americans, look in the freaking mirror.

So, excuse me if I, as an American nationalist, feel myself to be a little morally disarmed. My once-great American nation used to see itself as a shining city on the hill. Yet in this young century, under Bush, my USA has become the world's greatest source of state-sponsored terror. The unprovoked, unnecessary invasion and this current endless and unproductive war occupation of Iraq have resulted in devastation that makes Tibet pale into insignificance. Excuse me, if I don't get excited or aroused over Tibet.

I'm aware that both liberals and conservatives are ecstatic over their rare agreement over this outrage de jour. What excites me more, I think, is their newfound readiness to risk arrest by spitting in the eye of local police authorities. For this generation, this is a novel willingness of throwing oneself into nonviolent, robust nonviolent, or even violent civil disobedience. Would that it would spill over into other concerns which are immediately and concretely addressable by our politics!

Some of this is attributable to the MSM. The media is bored with Iraq. The media craves novelty. The media always responds to any fresh object of outrage. And Americans also want to be trendy with the rest of the world's outrage. Oh, how much would I like to merge with the rest of the world as it demonstrates against a new world enemy # 1. But I have met the enemy. The enemy is us.

So, here is my map of Tibet:

How're They Trending in Pennsylvania?

Checkout the red-headed kid in the sweater!

Ambassador Marc Ginsberg has some questions for Gen. Petreaus and Amb. Crocker.

And he has an agenda for Congressional Democrats for this week's hearings.

Ambassador Ginsberg spent his formative years in the Middle East, particularly in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon from 1960-1968. He began his foreign policy career as a foreign affairs advisor during his freshman year in college to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (1971-1977). He was appointed by Secretary of State Vance as his White House Liaison in 1977, and then served as Deputy Senior Advisor to President Carter for Middle East Policy on his White House staff from 1979-1981. In 1994, he was appointed by President Clinton as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, making him the first American of Jewish heritage to be appointed to an Arab nation.

Let's get to the Ambassador's agenda first. The mission he has posted have to do with establishing some of these talking points:
  • Debunk the fiction that Bush's military surge has achieved sustainable military or political objectives.
  • Undermine Sen. McCain's argument that staying the course is a patriotic duty.
  • Demonstrate to the American people that the recent Iraqi government defeat at the hands of the Mahdi Army was indeed the "defining moment" that Bush claimed it was.
Ambassador Ginsberg offers ten focusing questions to fill the truth cavities in our current American mythology about Iraquagmire. Here are some of them:
  • Prime Minister Maliki launched an offensive to defeat the Mahdi Army in Basra. He was forced, despite U.S. logistical and air support, to sue for a ceasefire. President Bush declared during the fighting that this was a "defining moment" for Iraq. Why shouldn't the American people view this "defining moment" as exactly what it was: a defeat for us, the Iraqi government and a victory for radical Shiite militias?

  • If the U.S. military cannot adequately defend the Green Zone from missile attack from Shiite militias, why should the American people believe that the surge has achieved tangible, and not momentary lulls in violence?

  • General Petraeus, you are proposing that the current level of military forces remain static longer than planned. Isn't this proof that the amount of troops in Iraq will never be enough to adequately reduce the level of violence against U.S. and Iraqi forces?

  • Define "victory" within the context of the current Iraqi political and military environment? Why should this not be a recipe for disaster given the inability of the Iraqi military to meet its training goals and objectives?

  • Incubating Iraqi political reconciliation was supposed to be one of the byproducts of the surge. Yet, the Iraqi government is as dysfunctional and disunited as ever -- and our forces are now caught not just between Sunni and Shiite, but between one radical Shiite faction and another. If we are not fighting principally Al Qaeda, but one Shiite faction against another, isn't this just "mission creep" with no end in sight?

  • How much will this war cost the American taxpayer in 2008? ...

  • The Iraqi government continues to embrace anti U.S. policies and U.S. adversaries. Isn't it an insult to those killed and injured in Iraq that Prime Minister Maliki rolls out a red carpet to Iranian President Ahmadenijad whose Revolutionary Guards, by your own account, is sending arms and funds into Iraq to kill and injure U.S. troops?

  • Admiral Fallon, the former head of Central Command (CENTCOM) recently ... was forced to resign. Please explain what was Admiral Fallon's assessment of your recommendations with respect to troop levels and the overall goals and objectives that the strategy was designed to achieve in Iraq?

  • If Al Qaeda's threat has been substantially reduced, why shouldn't we more expeditiously draw down our forces in Iraq to facilitate a transfer of American forces to Afghanistan where the real struggle against Al Qaeda must be waged?
But the major talking point remains. We are not at war in Iraq. If we were, Iraq would be front-page, or front-of-the-hour news 24-7. My fellow Americans would be sucking our multi-media's spigots for each little morsel of news we could get. But the truth is, instead of warfare for glorious victory, our insanely brave, professional and competent troops have been assigned to a grinding, toiling, pointless, hopeless and endless task of policing a hostile nation. Forcibly occupying a hostile nation is the most inglorious of all missions to which troops can be assigned.

Unlike wars, occupations are never won or lost. Occupations are concluded when their cost effectiveness becomes negative. We have been beyond that point for some time, now. We just don't have leadership who can grasp that unescapable truth.

Our defining moment in Iraq has passed.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Liberalism -vs- Progressivism: Towards a Meaningful Distinction

A Long Compendium of Half-Baked Ideas, Unfinished Thoughts, and Other Errors of Subjectivity

I don't know if I am updating my thinking on this issue or just spinning my wheels on a trivial problem of labels. I don't like labels - never have. But we have always used them. Labels are always subjective, perhaps only ‘real’ in the mind of the user. But if users never attempt to explain or define them, labels become useless distractions which can generate misunderstandings. Not to examine them encourages everyone, my self included, to abuse, misuse and confuse them.

Avoiding confusion is especially important in this election cycle when political change possibly involves the shifting of Teutonic plates and the realigning of established coalitions. I hope I’m not being too grandiose or hopeful in saying this?

If we don't make the effort to distinguish between Liberals and Progressives, we surrender to the popular inclination to use them interchangeably or to send inarticulate messages. Someone who claims to be a progressive might stand accused by still-defiant Liberals of having had his liberalism 'beaten out of him' by conservatives. Alternatively, without clarity in definitions, self-identification as a Progressive might be dismissed as a meaningless surrender to a passing fashion.

I have always especially eschewed the label of 'Liberal'. In my later college days, in the first months of JFK's term, I 'flipped' and abandoned my inherited conservative identity. I found Dwight Macdonald's definition of 'radical' most comfortable. MacDonald wrote that in order to change society for the best, one had to engage in a responsible and intellectual process in order to discover the roots of existing evils. Thus, to be 'radical' in one's ends was not to be an extremist in the means; it was simply to analyze politics and address policy after one became grounded in the roots of society. And, most fundamentally, MacDonald said the root was man.

As the 60's decade continued, I felt increasing uncomfortable with the "Liberal" tag. Most prevalent in my academic surroundings were the 'white liberals'. This was definitely a pejorative term. And most - not all - of my professors identified themselves as Liberals. As Liberals, they were academics, people who pursued truth - but, I suspected, without any expectancy of finding it. As I now recall dimly, it was another one of my favorite writers, C. Wright Mills, who described Liberals as the great obfuscators.

OTOH, I presumptively thought of myself as an intellectual: one who no longer pursued truth, but one who existentially possessed Truth. I had no use for Liberals. Looking back, I cop to having been frustrated by their refusal to commit to any position. That was their academic, professional duty, of course: to entertain all perspectives, or at least as many as possible, simultaneously. But their tolerant habit of mind - weighing multiple alternative solutions, interminably - epitomized Liberalism for me, and I didn't like it. They must have considered that it was above their pay scale to take definite action or to support specific policies, or to back individual candidates.

Okay, are you following me? I am not sure I have ever been a Liberal. I gyrated from conservatism to radicalism in the early 60's. I might concede that if I had to cop to a Liberal stage of life it would have been during my hedonistic-sportsman decades of the 1970's and 1980's. I prefer to think of that period as my apolitical stage. If pressed to the wall, I'll have to make a very painful and remorseful confession: I voted for Reagan twice. Although I voted twice - legally - against George W. Bush in 2000, I was still not a Liberal. As evidence of my apolitical illiberality, I further confess I did not know who Paul Wellstone was until after he was tragically killed in October, 2002. But, by then, Bush had already radicalized me into Progressivism.

I say all of this just to establish that I currently don't avoid the label of 'Liberal' for the reason that conservatives have done a good job in recent decades, of pummeling the liberal label into the ground.

Discussing the difference between Liberalism and Progressivism is a hard topic to launch. It's more than a discussion of nuances among friends and less than a dialectical debate between adversaries. What's the diff? Everyone has their own taxonomy. I'm not sure mine will stand up to much criticism. But it is what it is.

Anything I can say in a normal length piece will be incomplete. I'll just start in a random fashion and say a little of what's been tugging at my mind. Only by inviting an exchange of ideas will I really grasp the extent to which my thoughts are tentative or settled.


Liberals are good people. I mean it. (Some of my best friends are Liberals.) They are sensitive to cruelty. They recognize inequity and become outraged at injustice. Liberals are eclectic problem solvers. They want to do good works. They see a problem, they want to fix it. They are policy wonks.

Liberals continue to respond and address each new move serially, as if each event somehow occurred in a vacuum. But Liberals often - give the impression anyway - of failing to 'connect the dots'.

When Liberals see a problem, their immediate response is to spend some bucks or send in some troops.

Liberals have an admirable view on every thing, every little thing. Many times it is an emotionally-based, or 'morality'- based position. Those types of postures tend to be static, predictable and not subject to re-examination. Liberals are often burdened with endless optimism which they inflict on everyone and apply everywhere.

That's all fine and good with me. Especially as I find myself in sympathy with most liberal positions on each issue and micro-issue. The problems arise with Liberals' effectiveness in the long term, which should require attendance to larger, macro-issues.

Liberals make creative and effective elected government officials. The problem with Liberals comes when they are confronted with the problem of winning that 'next election'. That is often said to be the difference between liberals and conservatives: conservatives are as good at winning elections as liberals are at governing whenever they manage to win.

Having just a Liberal position on micro-issues used to be effective in American politics. That was before the country became the mass-society it is today. Before, Democrats (under Liberalism) could take a position on issue X in Belvedere, California, without mentioning anything about it in Little Rock, Arkansas. Now, with the omnipresence of the electronic media, everything said anywhere, is heard everywhere, instantly. A Democrat who might be winning on position 'Y' in Arkansas stands to be embarrassed by his party's position on 'X' in California. Within the Liberal mindset, it's difficult to establish or follow an over-all strategic game plan to fit in with main street opinion across the country and the mainstream media that serves it.

Thus, the Liberals' Democratic Party is often criticized as not standing for anything.


Progressives prefer to look at problems through a big-picture lens, globally, strategically, in a pragmatic context.

Progressives see each evil or problem - recognized individually by Liberals - as only a temporary obstacle to an over all project of establishing a permanent and irreversible humane direction in our national politics, and through that, our culture.

Progressives, to my mind, are more politically oriented. Whereas Liberals tend to be casual citizen voters, Progressives remain political between election years, which used to be thought of as 'off-years'. Progressives are never 'off', 'on hiatus' or on vacation.

Unlike Liberals, Progressives are not so much on the lookout for new micro-issues for fresh sources of outrage. They are more interested in integrating small issues into a coherent whole. Instead of treating symptoms, they task themselves with systemic analysis and change.

Progressives are historically oriented. As the similarity between the words implies, progressions are nothing if not a sequence of stages along a continuum toward goals. Now, Liberals may share the goals, but the point is Progressives are more focused on the series of objectives which have to be contested for and won along the way. Progressives see that these objectives have to be strategically addressed in some sort of prioritized array.

Progressives tend to be more politically pragmatic and strategic; Liberals are less political, more idealistic. Whereas Liberals strive to win converts over to their ideals, progressives try to win consensus on objectives.

When Liberals talk of competing interests, they often fasten on the rights of individuals and the concerns of groups. Their concerns are always well-meant, not always misguided, but they can be passing fashions. Progressives, OTOH, speak of the public interest, and the obligations of intermediate action needed to attain it. Progressives have the big picture in mind; Liberals are focused on the details. On C-SPAN yesterday afternoon I heard Eric Liu, co-author of The True Patriot, contrast the roles of movement and values such that you have the
the Progressives cas as architects and Liberals cast as the plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Let me sum it up this way:

  • Liberals are policy wonks; Progressives focus on politics.
  • Liberals create menus and check-off items; Progressives draw maps and set itineraries.

A Little Bit of History

Skimping on this a lot here, but here's a quick and dirty version of recent history. I liked what I found by VikingKingQ on D-Kos a few days ago about the Progressive Era:

Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt or Robert LaFollette proposed far-sighted policies such as universal health insurance, the right to vote for women, the right to an eight hour day, the minimum wage, old age insurance, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance, the right to join a union, industrial health and safety regulations, and the abolition of child labor. In many ways, they defined the agenda that liberalism would pursue.

However, the scope of progressive imaginations was larger than just this. Progressives looked beyond the world they lived in to advocate for a new economic order, something different from either capitalism or communism. In bold, confident terms, Progressivism argued that an activist government should exercise economic sovereignty and engage in economic planning, and regulate, nationalize, or abolish the great industrial corporations of the day. Their vision was a way of life in which cooperation replaced competition as the guiding impulse of economic life, in which human values would be privileged above market values, and in which sweeping inequality would be replaced by a rough equality of wealth, a fair share in national prosperity, something they called "an American standard of living." Their rationale for this vision was not grounded in traditional liberal concerns about the individual or in Marxist ideology that the worker should own the means of production.

Rather, Progressives were animated by a faith in collective action, and a belief that the flaws in society created by humans could be fixed by humans. In a very real sense, the Progressives were the heirs of a rich tradition of American republicanism, a philosophy that saw the sovereign people as the only legitimate source of political and economic power, that believed in the defense of the common-wealth against private privilege, and that demanded the great concentrations of wealth be redistributed to create a "rough equality" among equal citizens, lest inequalities of wealth become inequalities of political power. Ultimately, the vision put forward was that economic sovereignty - the right to decide how each one of us lives our lives in the workplace, in the marketplace, and in the public square - must be taken from the hands of monopolistic corporations and restored to popular government.
VikingKingQ goes on to say, if I read him correctly, that World War II drained Progressivism dry. Post war, the Liberals trundled along without them and did pretty well under Truman. George Kennan stood the West up against the Soviets but social Keynesianism was abandoned in favor of accommodating capitalism and capitalists who were all about establishing freedom's industrial base. Progressivism staged a brief comeback in the 60's of course, but literally had its brains blown out by three tragic assassinations. What remained was LBJ. The Democratic Party fractured in Chicago between the Hubert Horatio Humphrey Liberals (obsequious and faithful followers of LBJ’s War) and the Robert F. Kennedy Progressives represented (if not led) by the uncharismatic Eugene McCarthy. That's the real reason why Barack Obama was right when he told that Nevada newspaper that all 'the big ideas' after the 60's were Republicans'. The truth of it was that all the Progressives giants had been shot down. Fast-forwarding, Bill Clinton and later, John Kerry were quintessentially Liberals. They were smart, benign, wonkish flip-floppers, and always consulting the weatherman to see which way the wind was blowing.

Now, Al Gore is a special case and provides an instructive lesson. Can you believe that, in addition to ‘inventing the Internet’, Senator Al Gore held the first Congressional hearings on global warming in 1980? He pioneered a new way of thinking about progressive economic and industrial policies which accommodated environmental concerns. Despite the fact that by 2000, the science had caught up with and validated Gore's thinking, his Liberal campaign handlers urged him to suppress his Progressive ideas. He ran as a Liberal and lost to a warmongering idiot.

The Real Choice

I want to believe that Progressives are a sub-group of Liberals. Some of us who find shelter in the vast tent of the Democratic Party are Progressives. It doesn't come down to a choice of interchangeable labels, therefore. It's a choice in attitude. To be a progressive is to be literally and directly contradictory to "conservative". "Progressive" means "forward looking". Its opposite is to be regressive or retrogressive. Somewhere in between is conservatism's or 'resistance to change', or preference for 'status quo' and stasis.

What Kind of Change?

All that I'm saying is that even though Liberals and Progressives need each other - or need both impulses - but they are separate. When they each speak of change, they have different things in mind. I think Eric Schneiderman in Transforming the Liberal Checklist, is saying that the Liberal is transactional:
Transactional politics is pretty straightforward. What's the best deal I can get on a gun-control or immigration-reform bill during this year's legislative session? What do I have to do to elect a good progressive ally in November? Transactional politics requires us to be pragmatic about current realities and the state of public opinion. It's all about getting the best result possible given the circumstances here and now.
And the Progressive is Transformational:
Transformational politics is the work we do today to ensure that the deal we can get on gun control or immigration reform in a year-or five years, or twenty years-will be better than the deal we can get today. Transformational politics requires us to challenge the way people think about issues, opening their minds to better possibilities. It requires us to root out the assumptions about politics or economics or human nature that prevent us from embracing policies that will make our lives better. Transformational politics has been a critical element of American political life since Lincoln was advocating his "oft expressed belief that a leader should endeavor to transform, yet heed, public opinion."
Transformational change requires investments in think tanks and the nurture of strong leadership. The Overton Window has to be adjusted in a big way:
  • identify a set of assumptions that control the public's understanding of an issue;
  • develop a language and message to shift those assumptions;
  • maintain a sustained, disciplined effort to bring about that change over a period of years.


A major step in moving the Overton Window is insisting on the correct framing on issues. This is just another way of saying that we need to adjust the way we think about things in dispute in our society. This involves changing the words and language we use. Let me give a couple of examples from the work of George Lakkof:
  • Pro-Life vs. Abortion Rights. Conservatives try to frame themselves as Pro-Life and their adversaries as abortion proponents or advocates. The only way they can get away with this crap is through Liberals' lackadaisical laziness and inattention. Liberals don't advocate abortion. Although often you would never realize this, but Liberals recognize that reproductive rights reside within a woman's right of control over their own bodies, their right to privacy, and their right to pursue whatever medical consultations and contraception measures as they may desire. Progressives refuse to join in conservatives' game between Pro-Life and 'Abortion-Rights'. No one is in favor of abortion or abortion rights. Abortion is not something you want to march through a wall for. But reproductive rights are! Moreover conservatives' position is not so much as a 'pro-life' posture as it a state-sanctioned forced-birth position. Progressives define their position as reserving to women the role of responsible choice.

  • Victory in Iraq vs. Surrender. Progressives say that we are not engaged in a war in Iraq. We are in occupation mode. Bush declared victory when our aggression and invasion was victorious. That was 1-May-03. The goal of this invasion was regime change and that was certainly realized by the time Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. Occupation is what follows victorious warfare. What we have in Iraq - and have had for more than four years now - is occupation. Progressives can't be put off by objections that our troops are still being killed. (eight in the last four days). Our occupation rests uneasily over a restive population. Counterinsurgency (COIN) is what we call it when an occupying force tries to pacify a people hostile to having been invaded. Pacification is rarely completed. It certainly is rarely completed when the occupier was not invited in the first place. That's what happens when one country invades another without provocation. Unlike wars, hostile occupations are not won or lost; they are merely ended before pacification is complete.

Establishing a new perspective is essential to establishing a Progressive momentum. It involves policing our language. It is hard work and sometimes unrewarding work. If I had a dollar every time I heard a Liberal use the words 'abortion-rights' and 'Iraq War', I could give up my day job.

Liberals and Progressives are Collaborators

Liberals and Progressives are in a collaborative relationship and they are mutually dependent; both approaches are required. Under the big democratic (small-d) tent, teamwork and mutual tolerance flourishes. Schneiderman again:
Finally, this is not a proposal to abandon the day-to-day struggles of transactional politics, which are still a central part of our work. Nor is it a proposal for self-immolation. Progressive candidates in tough races or in swing districts may not always be able to lead in transformational politics (although many conservative warriors displayed such self-sacrifice in the course of their movement's march to conquest). But most Democratic officials are in very safe districts, and they should be pressured to pursue transformational as well as transactional work.
Keeping this in mind, it's important to note that in making the distinction between Liberals and Progressives, I am not trying to set up any disparaging name-calling here. Many might say that the only differences between the two are nuances in different styles of thinking. I can’t find much motivation or energy to argue that point. Liberals and Progressives need each other. But what I'm saying is while it's good that you're Liberal, it would be better if you were a Progressive.

A Minimalist Progressive Program

The minimal program (goals and objectives) for a Progressive caucus, which aims renovate the Democratic Party's ability to restore American democracy and world leadership, include:
  • Restoration of the progressive income tax. Consider this as a sine quo non of Progressivism. That envelops subordinate issues such as balancing the federal budget, annually beginning to pay down the deficit and investment in infrastructure.

  • Restore science as a foundation for policy. This envelops acknowledging the fact of global warming, signing the Kyoto Agreement, legislating significant fuel economy and energy conservation, reviving medical research, especially stem-cell technologies, etc.

  • Redefine the Global War on Terror (GWOT) into something more affordable. Perhaps start by renaming it, as the Brits already have. This is actually a major part of the work in my pages and so I won't go into it here, other than to say that under George Bush, we have been recruiting terrorists more efficiently than we have been fighting them.

  • Legislate a national single-payer health care insurance. This addresses the over-all competitiveness of our economy. For-profit health insurance serves no purpose other than inflating the overhead costs of medical care. Placing the burden on employers and employment encumbers the competitiveness and elasticity of our economy.

  • End illegal immigration. A basic criterion of a non-failing state is one which monitors and controls its borders. Surely this is not too much of a task to ask of our American government. All I am saying is that debate should be over setting the desirable level of immigration and then insure that the de facto rate becomes the de jure rate. But if you don't have the spigots at the borders controlled, you have no policy.
These are big ideas. I know I missed some essentials. But real point is that the small ideas are details. Lots of things on the Liberals' shopping lists are not given bullets. Some may be shocking omissions: adjusting levels of force in Afghanistan and Iraq; restoring to the state national guards their intended duty; ending the back-door-draft of stop-loss; restoring a mainstream balance on the Supreme Court; raising the minimum wage; regulating gun control; adjusting the earned income tax credit; recognizing gay marriage. Mastering the big stuff will get us a succession of electoral victories. The small stuff will follow.

What it takes is think tanks. We have them. Think tanks can help us nudge the Overton Window. Next we need to nurture, develop and select articulate, charismatic and savvy leaders. This year we have one of those in the wings. Let's not turn him away. That was the mistake in 2000.