Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moving Forward

There's a famous (but probably apocryphal) story of a football coach who benched a player after a raucous touchdown celebration. When the player stormed into the coach's office and demanded to know why he was benched, the coach turned to him and said, "We don't rub it in their faces. Act like you been there before."

Those words have stuck with me all my life, and whenever I've played well in a game (which is usually), at the end of the day, I shake hands and congratulate my opponent for his play. Yes, I celebrated touchdowns and home runs, as appropriate, but I tried hard to remember two things: 1) I know how it feels to be on the losing end of a big game, and 2) The angrier the other guy gets at me, the less angry he'll be at himself, and I want him to be thinking the next time I have to face him, not acting on impulse. I can beat him again. light of yesterday's rather stunning repudiation of all things GOP-- 28 governorships????-- it's time to spike the ball, and huddle up for the next set of plays. We got a lot of work to do. And now, the burden's on us.

Personally, I like Nancy Pelosi's concept of the First Hundred Hours: drain the swamp of corruption, where poisons fester in the muck, implement the September 11 Commission recommendations, raise the minimum wage ("Right now, someone is working too hard for the minimum wage"...see below), cut interest rates on student loans in half, make drug companies negotiate prices with Medicare, just as they do with the VA and with Congress' own health care plan, broaden stem cell research, & cut the deficit.

That's a lot, but there's more to do, and most of that is non-legislative for Democrats. We have to reverse the impression that many independents and moderate Republicans have that we are immoral and impositive.

So here's how and where you can help.

1) Listen to the rhetoric of the right. They're scared, hell, they're terrified! Bush all but called Democrats "terrorists" during the final weeks of the campaign and now he's stuck with us. But notice how many right wingers echoed that trope: Pelosi will force your sons and daughters into gay marriages, and into having abortions (altho no one quite ever worked out how both of those could happen, I don't think), the Dems will open the doors of America to terrorists, while raising your taxes!

So I propose our own agenda, at the netroots level: stop trying to scare people.

Yea, I know, we're not terrorizing people, the right is, but let's face facts: for every lefty who endorses national gay marriage, or reversing the ban on late term abortions in totality, neither of which I oppose and both of which I would welcome, we feed the fires on the right.

Small steps. Revolutionary change is never pretty, and unless you can point to a strong and continuing mandate, you allow for the fear factor to creep back in. Instead of tackling gay marriage, let's talk about economic justice for gays and lesbians: how would you feel if your gay son or lesbian daughter was thrown out of his or her job just because of who they lived with?

And yet, that law is on the books in most states in the union. Let's fix that first.

Let's wipe the health care slate clean, and make it so that anyone in a civil union, gay or straight, can add their partner to their health insurance. This is economic justice: we're asking people to be responsible for people they care about, and we're eliminating thousands of hospital visits that are paid for by taxpayer money.

Similarly with abortion: we want to eliminate it as much as possible. No one wants to see dead babies, of any stripe. We need a two pronged attack, one that allows and even encourages pregnancy prevention in the first place (and yes, abstinence has to have a place here), while allowing the option should pregnancy prevention not work. It's been said that my grandmother, driven to the right drive-in, could be driven to do it. That's wholly accurate. Teenage passions and experimentation will lead to sex. We want to make it not be a mistake, as much as possible.

2) Have faith. Literally. No one's suggesting that Democrats suddenly "find" religion, for a few reasons, not least of which is we already HAVE religion, we just are afraid to talk about it for fear of offending our more radical brethren.

But listen, if Andrew Sullivan, an HIV-positive gay Republican (and therefore somewhat about taking hate head on!) can speak of his deep Catholicism at the same time he writes articles in praise of "The Bell Curve", then we average Americans ought to be able to talk about our faith in terms of the political landscape, as well.

Note that the GOP has co-opted, cynically, the word values. Note also that word has a very fluid and amorphous definition. What are "values"? More specifically, what are American values? Aye, there's the rub. Apparently, if you buy into the Christian Coalition/neo-conservative nexus, they are tax cuts for the rich, pre-emptive wars, no more abortions but plenty of death penalties, guns for all, fun for none.

Astoundingly, last night on MSNBC, I actually heard a media pundit...might have been Howard about people being tired of tax cuts for the rich, and the perception that the rich got richer under Bush and the GOP while the middle class and poor got poorer. Which is spot on true, but something I hadn't heard anyone in the mainstream talk about, only us eco-wonks (I'm claiming ownership of that term).

Yet, Jesus tells us that "from those to whom much is given, much shall be expected." It's safe to say he wasn't talking about physical endowments. That's a value, too, and we ought not to be afraid to couch it in those terms. After all, if Christ was Bush's guiding philosopher, then he ought to be called to account for his failure to follow His philosophy, and only the left is going to do that.

A note to my atheist and agnostic sisteren and brethren: none of this should be construed as excluding you, but the fact is, if you want to live in France, eventually you need to learn to speak a little of the language. Similarly, if you want to communicate ideas to people of faith who might agree with you but for the language barrier, you might want to learn a bit of the lingo, enough to let them open their minds to you.

Think of it this way, if it will help: not every attorney believes in his clients' innocence, but any attorney who wants to make a living defending clients damn well sure better sound like she does, or the judge or jury is lost.

Besides, the Bible, apart from being a good book, is a cultural touchstone. Not knowing even just a few biblical passages that you can rattle off in American politics is a lot like attending a science fiction convention without having watched Star Wars or Star Trek.

3) All that leads to the next point I want to raise: we have to define ourselves.

Instructive is the result of several elections recently. In Connecticut, Ned Lamont won an huge upset victory over Joe Lieberman in the primary during the summer.

Then went on vacation for two weeks. I'm thinking he figured Lieberman would drop out, if only because he was so embarassed, but if I had run his campaign, I would never have let him do that until Joe actually announced he was out. By abandoning the race prematurely, Lamont allowed Lieberman, who still had the bully pulpit, to re-define Lamont as a tick, someone who's entire campaign rested on anger over Iraq. Lamont could have taken the media bounce and rolled out proposal after proposal, and talked about Medicare, and the prescription drug benefit and health care...he lost the vision thing, as "Bush the Elder" put it.

Similarly, in 2004, John Kerry got a big bounce from the DNC. "Reporting for duty," all that...he should have walked away with the election, but because the Republican convention was weeks later, and he was trying to conserve cash and had made it clear that no one was to attack Bush, as commander of a war time administration, he ceded the playing field to the Swift Boaters, who got news cycle after news cycle.

Had Kerry run a campaign in that time frame, it's likely the Swifties attacks would have been negated by his vigorous, spirited campaigning, which would have had him on the hustings, talking about issues. Instead, the Swifties laid the ground work for the perception that Kerry was defined not by who he was, but by what he could get.

I've heard from countless Republicans the following phrase (usually just before defining liberals and Democrats): "If you don't stand for anything, you stand for anything."

Well, we DO stand for something, and we have to find a way to crystalize it in a word that Americans will respond to.

Pelosi touched it last night, I think, but she needs to do more with it: let's talk about "justice". Which speaks volumes on so many issues: what is the role of government? What is the role of society? What is the role of the individual?

4) Final point: Justice. This isn't about the law, per se, so maybe a better word is "just".

America has always been about fairness, but "fairness" sounds wimpy, like "OK, I get to pick first, but to make it fair, I have to take Wheezy as the odd man on my team." Touchy-feely stuff, and Americans if anything are not touchy-feely.

So let's redirect the talk. Let's call it "justice". It's affirmative action, not quotas but a just opportunity. It's not "homosexual rights," but it's what Jesus would see as just treatment of one of His flock, and hate the sin, not the sinner. Any issue that is dear to us-- taxes, welfare, health care, education-- needs to be redrawn as an issue of justice, an issue of the American dream and how our nation has to help people see their way clear to that dream.

And that means defining government. Government's primary function ought to be protecting the individual and keeping him free from tyranny: the tyranny of the majority, as John Stuart Mill would put it, but also the tyranny of forces that he himself cannot control; things like big corporations with short term profit on their minds ahead of the health and safety of the average American, for one thing.

And if something is beyond even the government's control, then the government ought to be a partner with the individual in picking up the pieces, dusting him off, and putting him back on the road.

And no one's suggesting that the US government ought to be in charge of every snowflake that falls, no. But there are things like floods and hurricanes that are so overwhelming that even big business can't provide solutions to faster or better than the government, and we ought to be talking about that.

Notice that nothing I'm talking about here is new. Hell, it's what the middle of the Twentieth century in America was all about! But it's been taken away from us, and we ought to demand justice for that.