Thursday, February 16, 2006

War Crimes (2/16/2006)
It's time for the United Nations to step in and charge the United States with war crimes.


My country is dying.

My country has become cruel, and dangerous, and fraught with corruption. The promise that was America has dwindled from a blazing fire to a pale fluorescent flicker...

Once upon a time, the world looked to us for leadership, for strength and integrity, for hope, for compassion. This image has been shattered. When the United States invaded the nation of Iraq on March 19th, 2003, we shattered that image. When the first photos of prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison were broadcast on April 30th, 2004, the shards were shattered further. Yesterday, the image finally evaporated.

Yesterday, Australia's SBS TV broadcast additional, more brutal and disturbing, images of prisoner torture by the United States.

While the US media was having a good old time getting hopping mad about Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident, it gave this far more important story much less coverage. I too was complicit in this, and for that I am deeply ashamed.

My government has allowed clear human rights violations to take place in my name and in the names of my countrymen. It has made excuses, and allowed a few soldiers to take the blame for a systemic problem, and quibbled about the wording of the Geneva Conventions, and meanwhile, human beings were being beaten and humiliated and tortured at its behest.

This has to stop. The world needs to know that the American public does not support torture.

The American people must stand firm and demand accountability from our government, and we must demand that the rest of the world not bow down to the power of the United States.

As an American citizen, and a citizen of the world, I beg for this.

The United States government didn't want the world to see these photos, because they were worried that seeing them would fuel anti-American feelings abroad. What they should be worried about is that the United States is violating the sacred rights of its prisoners to live free of torture and coercion.

The problem lies not in the world seeing these photographs. The problem lies in the policy of the US government to commit war crimes against its prisoners.

Some Americans believe that anything that could potentially hurt al Qaeda is worth doing. Some Americans, especially those in the highest offices of our "democratic" government, believe that anything goes so long as it supports our "war" on terrorism.

The world needs to tell these Americans that this abuse will not stand. Please, hold us accountable. We have invaded, and murdered, and destroyed, and tortured, and we need to be shown that we are not all-powerful. We need to be told that we do not have the right to abuse the world just because we are a powerful nation.

With great power comes great responsibility. The United States is wielding its power without one shred of responsibility. This government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people--it's time for the people to speak and demand that our leaders be tried in a court of law for what they have done.

Without the rule of law, we have no justice. Without accountability, we have no hope.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Walk Tall and Carry a Big Shtick (2/12/2006)
The DLC is at it again, as always, and forevermore…

As reported in the Des Moines Register, Gov. Tom Vilsack said last Monday that Democrats risk political backlash if they object to the Bush administration's wiretapping but cannot show that Americans' civil liberties are at risk.

"If the president broke the law, that's unacceptable. But I think it's debatable whether he did," Vilsack told Des Moines Register editors and reporters.

It’s not debatable, Tom. Even the President has admitted that. But since the DLC (Debilitated Lunatic Club) can’t seem to figure it out, I’m going to help them along.

This is for you, Governor.

FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (which covers all government implemented electronic surveillance, both domestic and international), enacted in 1978, requires prior judicial approval. This means that the government must get a court order in order to perform electronic surveillance on a United States citizen on US soil. The order comes from a secret court, the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), and is thus safeguarded from compromise.

The Supreme Court has been very careful on the subject of electronic surveillance and the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court put forth the following requirements, which must be met in order to perform a wiretap without impinging upon the 4th Amendment:


  • A showing of probable cause that a particular offense has been or is about to be committed.
  • The applicant must describe with particularity the conversations to be intercepted.
  • The surveillance must be for a specific, limited period of time in order to minimize the invasion of privacy.
  • There must be continuing probable cause showings for the surveillance to continue beyond the original termination date.
  • The surveillance must end once the conversation sought is seized.
  • Notice must be given unless there is an adequate showing of exigency.
  • A return on the warrant is required so that the court may oversee and limit the use of the intercepted conversations.

In case you aren’t familiar with the 4th Amendment, Tom, here it is: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now, the secrecy of investigations which require the use of wiretaps and other forms of electronic surveillance is somewhat inevitable—it’s pretty tough to find incriminating evidence against someone if they know you are looking, that’s a given. Understanding this, we can accept the need for the FISC to oversee FISA applications and implementation.

Of course, even taking this into account, the surveillance program which has been used by the Bush administration falls short of legal on several fronts. The FISC has granted 4,000 warrants since 9/11, leaving many of us extremely curious as to why the Bush administration felt the need to circumvent the process and the law on dozens of occasions.

Bob Barr, in a recent article, summed it up quite nicely:

The language of the statute itself ought to be clear enough. But in case anyone was still in doubt, discussions at the hearing about the legislative history of FISA reminded us that no less a revered and respected former federal judge and attorney general than Griffin Bell, fully understood that the FISA law was indeed intended to be the sole vehicle whereby the federal government is authorized to conduct surreptitious electronic surveillance to collect foreign intelligence of American citizens within the United States.

However, the administration seems to believe that it is entitled, in our “post 9/11” world, to work outside the law when it is convenient. Bush admits that the program is illegal, but in essence, just doesn’t care.

One of the biggest problems with the President’s assertion that his program was and is necessary in order for the United States to be protected from terrorists after September 11th is that it may have been implemented just after he entered office in 2001, before 9/11. Even excepting this possible circumstance, a group over more than a dozen legal scholars have said:


"The program appears on its face to violate existing law," wrote the scholars of constitutional law, some of whom worked in various senior capacities in Republican and Democratic administrations, in an extraordinary letter to Congress that laid out, point by point, why the president is unauthorized to permit the NSA to spy on Americans and how he broke the law by approving it.

"Even conceding that the President in his role as Commander in Chief may generally collect 'signals intelligence' on the enemy abroad, Congress indisputably has authority to regulate electronic surveillance within the United States, as it has done in FISA," the letter states. "Where Congress has so
regulated, the President can act in contravention of statute only if his authority is exclusive, that is, not subject to the check of statutory regulation. The DOJ letter pointedly does not make that extraordinary claim. The Supreme Court has never upheld warrantless wiretapping within the United States."

Additionally, "if the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA," the letter continues. "One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the President - or anyone else - to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."


The argument claimed by the administration uses the Unitary Executive Theory:


The unitary executive doctrine arises out of a theory called "departmentalism," or "coordinate construction." According to legal scholars Christopher Yoo, Steven Calabresi, and Anthony Colangelo, the coordinate construction approach "holds that all three branches of the federal government have the power and duty to interpret the Constitution." According to this theory, the president may (and indeed, must) interpret laws, equally as much as the courts. (FindLaw)
Basically, the administration wants us to believe that the executive (i.e., Bush) should perform oversight on himself, which is completely irrational. Our government was created with a built-in system of checks and balances to avoid this exact thing.

The Judiciary branch of the US government has the duty to interpret the Constitution—the Executive does not. Any high school freshman who has taken United States history can tell you this much.

But our President believes he has the right to operate above and outside the law, without oversight. In his six years in office, he has issued more Presidential “signing statements” than all previous Presidents combined.

Apparently, Tom Vilsack believes this as well. Of course, this might have something to do with his own possible Presidential ambitions—he is widely speculated to be a candidate for the Democratic ticket in 2008.

More likely, this is just another cheap and easy way out of a tricky situation for the DLC. They can come out and say “if it is illegal” and never have to make any attempt to hold the administration accountable. Yet another pathetic shtick meant to attract moderate voters who are worried that the Democratic Party doesn’t have the proverbial balls to keep Americans safe from terrorism.

You sure showed ‘em, Tom—keep on shying away from standing up for our rights, and watch us sweep you into the oval office in 2008. Better yet, keep it up and watch us sweep you and the rest of the DLC out next time we exercise our right to vote.

Drinking the Sand (or How to Sell It Without Selling Out) (2/05/2006)
We already know that the left needs to work on its marketing skills—but how do we sell our ideas without selling out?
“People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand
because they don’t know the difference.” -The American President
There’s been a lot of discussion on the left in the past couple of years about the way we market ourselves to the American people. The DLC actually speaks of it in exactly those terms—as if the party or the candidate were a product that needs to be sold to the voters. They’ve used this tactic, with some success (but mostly failure), for some time now, but most of us who come from the more humble portions of the progressive movement don’t think much of it.

The reason we don’t think much of it is that the party and the candidate are not the products. Our ideas are the product.

The DLC doesn’t get this. Ground troops in the progressive movement do.

You see, those of us who hack away at keyboards all day, make phone calls all day, write letters to representatives all day—we don’t assume that all of our work must be done within the confines of the status quo. If we did, we’d be called conservatives instead of progressives. So we spend time actually talking to other people, finding out how they think and why they vote the way they do. We spend time reading books about politics and history and philosophy. And we, apparently, have been able to learn a few things the Democratic leadership has not.

For instance, many of us have observed, time and time again, that many Democratic politicians have moved further to the right on issues like choice, gay rights, and gun control because they believe they can win over conservative voters by doing so. We’ve also watched this theory proven wrong, time and time again. We’ve told them it doesn’t work. We’ve written articles, and books, and blog entries, and letters to the editor telling them that it doesn’t work. Voters don’t want to be placated—they want something to believe in.

Inconsistency is one of the biggest problems amongst Democrats. Constant waffling over issues running the gamut from clean elections to welfare to war keep progressives from designing a solid platform based on ideas, not issues.

You see, conservative politicians know what they want. They want to cut social programs and public education altogether and pump all of our tax dollars into the military. They want the rich to get richer and to hell with the poor and the evaporating middle class. So what do they do? They can’t tell the American people what they really want, so they create a rhetoric that allows them to accomplish all of these goals without actually stating them flat out. They stand up in front of crowds and talk about old fashioned family values, and one nation under Jesus, and they tell the devout poor that liberal teachers’ unions are destroying our public schools and wouldn’t it be wonderful if their kids didn’t have to be indoctrinated by communist public school teachers? They tell the people fairy tales about vouchers and the American Dream.

They go on television and say God Bless America and talk about “changing the tone” in Washington, and it all sounds very folksy and inviting. President Bush stands at a podium on Capitol Hill and tells them that the American people are not going to ask for a “permission slip” to defend themselves, and they eat it up.

Conservatives simply hide their real agenda in order to appeal to voters. They package it as traditional, and inside the package is a cluster bomb made up of corporate welfare programs, environmental deregulation, and a general system of corruption that the voters of this fair nation would never elect.

Democrats, on the other hand, hide their real agenda because they are stupid. They assume that the people must be voting for conservatives because the people are becoming more and more conservative themselves. What they don’t realize is that the people are drinking the sand because they don’t know the difference. And in the absence of real leadership, they will choose that which appears more authentic.

You can’t appear more authentic when you are copying your opponent. Duh.

The joy of being a progressive today is that the majority of the American people are on our side. When voters are polled on the issues, they come out more favorably toward progressive positions than toward conservative positions.

But we’ve spent so much time debunking the right and shouting about its claims versus its practices and pointing out when conservatives break the law that we haven’t had any time to work on ourselves.

Let them hang themselves—we don’t have to do it for them. Certainly, adding fuel to the fire when necessary is only sensible, but this maniacal concentration on what the other side is doing gives them all the time in the world to get their act together and us no time at all to play catch-up.

We don’t have to hide our agenda. We don’t have to lie to the American people. We don’t have to move to the right and we don’t have to invoke God and we don’t have to make them afraid and we don’t have to give in.

We do need to be authentic.

We need to stand in front of the American people and tell them we have a vision for America’s future. And then we need to tell them what it is, in as few words as possible. We need to tell them that we care about their jobs, we care about their kids, we care about their safety, we care about their rights and freedoms, we care about the air they breathe and the water they drink, we care about their health, and we care about their futures.

We need to be honest.

We need to tell them that we respect their right, guarded by the United States Constitution, to practice any religious faith they choose without interference and without discrimination.

We need to tell them that we respect their right to privacy as United States citizens, and that we will never, for any reason, try to take that right away.

We need to tell them that we respect their need for good paying jobs with benefits, and we need to make a solemn promise to the American people that we will safeguard their right to those jobs.

We need to tell them that we respect the environment, and we do so because a polluted environment has a negative effect on the health and happiness of the American people. The American people have the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

We need to stand up and tell the American people that we respect the right of their children to a quality, public, free education. No child living in the United States should be deprived of the opportunity to learn the skills he or she needs to become a productive member of our society.

We need to guarantee the people that we will protect them from harm. No American citizen should have to live in constant fear of terrorism or war or violence.

Most of all, we need to tell our fellow Americans that we will do all of this because we care about their futures. They deserve the guarantee of a transparent government of, by, and for the people.

All we need to do to “sell” our message is be ourselves. We need to talk about the things that are important to us, explain why they are important to all Americans, and stop playing defense all the time.

Conservatives have to work really hard to sell their message, because it’s all secrets, and lies, and creative language.

We don’t have to play that game. We have all of the passion and conviction and strength the other side has—we just have to be brave enough to let the people see who we really are.

Echoes of Fascism: Rhetoric We’ve Heard Before (2/06/2006)


"My administration has focused the nation's resources on our highest priority - protecting our citizens and our homeland," Bush said in his budget message. "Working with Congress, we have given our men and women on the front lines in the war on terror the funding they need to defeat the enemy and detect, disrupt and dismantle terrorist plots and operations."

"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation. We must
take steps to ensure our domestic security and protect our homeland." -Adolph Hitler



According to Dr. Lawrence Britt’s “14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism,” we are in big trouble here in the Disunited States of America. While the American right continues to laugh at our comparisons of Bush’s ongoing rhetoric and the rhetoric of fascist dictator Adolf Hitler, it is no laughing matter.

We do not make these comparisons lightly, nor do they give us joy.

Dr. Britt named these as the fourteen defining characteristics of fascism:

  • Powerful and continuing nationalism
  • Disdain for the recognition of human rights
  • Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  • Supremacy of the military
  • Rampant sexism
  • Controlled mass media
  • Obsession with national security
  • Religion and government intertwined
  • Corporate power protected
  • Labor power suppressed
  • Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
  • Obsession with crime and punishment
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption
  • Fraudulent elections

The talking heads of the radical right like to point out that Hitler belonged to his country’s socialist party, but I ask them to consider this: If you run far enough to the left, you will eventually cross over into the right. The political spectrum is really more of a circle, not a straight line. In addition, using a socialist platform to win the hearts and minds of the people does not make one a socialist. Kind of like how using a platform of “compassionate conservatism” doesn’t automatically make one compassionate or conservative.

Our current government promotes unquestioning patriotism, policies of torture and indefinite detainment without access to counsel, identification of Islamic terrorists as something all US citizens must live in fear of every day, the importance of strengthening our military while cutting funding for other government programs, the abolition of the legal right for a woman to make her own health decisions, and discrimination against homosexuals. Our mainstream mass media is controlled by the right. Our President is obsessed with national security, maintaining the power of corporations to drive policy, pollute the environment, and ship American jobs overseas and south of the border. The American right shows a clear disdain for labor unions and their objectives. Intellectuals are not respected for their knowledge, but mocked. The very word “intellectual” is used as an insult by the right. The conservative-heavy US government is constantly touting its “tough on crime” image while simultaneously languishing in more corruption than the majority of Americans are even aware of. And our elections have become a worldwide joke.

It’s more than a little bit scary.

And what is scarier is the fanaticism with which right-wing commentators support our descent into fascism. In her August 17, 2005 column, conservative radical Ann Coulter (best known of late for her suggestion that someone assassinate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens) had this to say, “America has been under relentless attack from Islamic terrorists for 20 years, culminating in a devastating attack on U.S. soil on 9/11 . It's not going to stop unless we fight back, annihilate Muslim fanatics, destroy their bases, eliminate their sponsors and end all their hope.” She is also well-known for saying, a few years ago, that we should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. Coulter, of course, is widely considered a hack and a radical, so let’s not stop there.

The American right shudders in disgust when a liberal accuses the government or the right-wing media of propagating fascist policies. However, they aren’t so disgusted that they can’t use the same words to describe us:

"In Newton County, Georgia, the ACLU threatened a school board with litigation if it didn't remove the words 'Christmas holiday' from the school calendar. The county caved and removed the words because it couldn't afford to defend the lawsuit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is fascism, that is, using the threat of terror, which a lawsuit is, to promote policy" (Bill O’Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/2/03).

Of course, it is more than appropriate for the President of the United States to use the constant threat of terrorism to justify the illegal torture of detainees, the illegal denial of counsel to detainees, the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, the illegal… No, forget it, I don’t have enough time to write this list.

The truth is, the right wing has taken over all branches of the United States government consistently using the threat of terrorism and the memory of September 11th. This reeks of fascism.

And our government will continue to travel toward becoming a fascist regime if we do not fight for change.

Trading One War for Another (2/03/2006)
The story of a woman who fled the civil war in Uganda and came to the Land of the Free, only to see her son imprisoned for trying to exercise his rights.

Today I had the enlightening opportunity to speak to a fellow Military Families Speak Out member, Sarah Lucas of Boston, Massachusetts, about the denial of her son’s Conscientious Objector claim and his current imprisonment at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma.

While Sarah’s son, Private Neil Quentin Lucas, is not alone in his situation, the details are certainly unique and frankly, startling.

The Lucas family is Christian. Neil’s father served in the US military for 24 years. His mother immigrated to the United States to escape the civil war in Uganda that has been called the worst humanitarian failure in the world today. She came here with her sister to make a life in a country where she would not have to live in fear. She never dreamed that she would end up watching her son go through the following nightmarish scenario with the United States military.

Neil Quentin Lucas wanted to be a writer. He studied his art in college, and hoped to pursue his dream after graduation. However, he found it difficult to get a job in the field, so he took a job in a plastics factory, and then, when he needed to make more money to pay off the debt he had incurred going to school, he decided to join the Army.

Neil’s parents were not entirely comfortable with his decision, as they are morally opposed to war and violence. They cautioned him to make sure that if he joined the Army, it would be in a non-combatant role. Neil assured his parents that he would never volunteer to carry a weapon or use one to kill other human beings. It was contrary to his entire sense of moral conviction long before he ever considered enlisting.

Thus assured, Neil’s parents gave him their blessing, and he met with an Army recruiter. He told the recruiter that he wanted to be a writer, and asked if the Army had any use for someone with his skills. The recruiter told him that they did. Lucas told the recruiter that he was willing to be deployed to Iraq or any other place the military needed him to go, but only as a non-combatant. He told the recruiter that he could not train with weapons or carry a weapon of any kind, and the recruiter told him that there were places in the Army for conscientious objectors who wanted to serve in the armed forces in a non-combatant capacity.

The recruiter did not tell Lucas that that place was prison.

Neil Quentin Lucas enlisted, and went to Ft. Knox for basic training. When he arrived, he was told he must participate in weapons training. He told his commanding officer that there must be a mistake, that he was supposed to be there to be a writer, and that he had told his recruiter that he was a conscientious objector and could not be involved in weapons training, combat exercises, or active participation in any combat operations.

His commanding officer laughed in his face.

Neil realized that his recruiter had lied to him. The recruiting officer never told Lucas that he had to fill out a slew of separate paperwork in order to be considered a non-combatant. Neil refused to take part in the activities he found morally objectionable, and was punished by his commanding officer.

Following this, Neil Quentin Lucas filed the appropriate CO application, and tried to go through the chain of command and CO claim process the right way. His first CO application was apparently torn up by his commanding officer. According to Sarah Lucas, her son was also ordered not to talk to the press about his situation.

Lucas filed a second CO application in summer of 2004, and it was ignored by the military bureaucracy. In January of 2005, he was ordered to deploy, in a combat unit, to Iraq. Lucas reported to the base as ordered, turned in his weapon, and refused to deploy.

His mother, Sarah Lucas, gave me the family’s account of what followed. Her son was immediately arrested and held pending charges. In March, his CO application was denied by the US military and he was informed that he would be tried in a court-martial. The military was willing to pay for two character witnesses to fly to Ft. Stewart, where Neil was being held, to testify in his defense. He chose his father and his pastor.

Neil’s witnesses were not actually allowed to participate in the trial itself, but gave their testimony beforehand. The investigators in the trial, according to Mrs. Lucas, concluded that the case never should have been brought to trial and that there was no basis for a court-martial. The base Chaplain and Lucas’s commanding officers overruled this, the court convicted Lucas, and sentenced him to 13 months in a military prison at Ft. Sill, where he sits awaiting release this summer. Two clemency appeals have been made on his behalf, and both have been denied. His mother contacted her US senators, Kennedy and Kerry (both D-MA) and asked them for help. They did nothing.

Sarah Lucas described the course of events as an “up and down roller coaster.”

She asked me, “How do you sleep when your son is in jail? He’s there with criminals—people who are dangerous, who have committed violent crimes.”

She blamed herself and her husband for not knowing the protocol, saying, “The only place we failed was not asking him to get written… confirmation of his request [for non-combatant status].”

Due to what she and her family have had to endure, Sarah became a member of Military Families Speak Out. When I asked her what prompted that decision, she gave the following statement:

I do not believe that this war is justified in any way. If we are fighting Al Qaeda, then this war should have started in Saudi Arabia. Why Iraq if we are spreading democracy? Why was this our choice? Saddam Hussein is a man of our own making. The American masses do not take time to educate themselves about the world. It bothers me that people are so lethargic in their thinking. It bothers me that it is only the poor who are doing the dying, most of the dying is being done by the poor.


It should bother all conscientious Americans that the United States military, an institution that is supposed to be volunteer-only, would force a young man to choose prison rather than be sent to kill and possibly die against his will. It should bother all conscientious Americans that a woman came here, to live the American dream, to see her children grow up in a safe place, and had it all taken away from her as if it were nothing at all.

Neil Quentin Lucas made his beliefs clear from the beginning. He was a writer, not a soldier, a young man who simply yearned for the opportunity to realize his dreams. Now he is just another young man who will never feel the warmth of trust in the Land of the Free. Now he is just a prisoner.

A prisoner of conscience. A prisoner for peace.

The Progressive Revolution (1/31/2006)
The Democratic Party has left us high and dry too many times: it’s time to move on.

For years, true progressives within the Democratic Party have fought to force the party to hold on to our ideals. We have called, and emailed, and written letters, and showed up at office doors, and set up our own infrastructure that tries to fight the Democrat’s battles for them.

We created our own media outlets, blogs, radio programs and stations to counter the right-wing’s domination of the mainstream information industry. We did all of this out of our passion to change this country for the better.

And then we used all of it to keep on supporting a party that no longer supports us. The Democrats take our help, and our money, and our passion, and use it for their own ends. They make token gestures of appreciation, like yesterday’s doomed-from-the-start Alito filibuster, and never really get anything done that the base wants done. Again and again, they give us just enough to keep us hanging on, waiting for the day when they will stop simply calling themselves Democrats and start actually being Democrats.

When will we stop taking the bait?

Whenever a loss like Alito or Kerry or Iraq happens, there is a backlash within the progressive movement calling for a revolution within the party or for the creation of a viable third party. After a little while, we let go of our anger and go back to the grind for the DNC.

We are the base of the Democratic Party. We could be the base of a party based on true democratic ideals. Instead of urging voters to oust ineffective Democrats, let’s give them a better option. Let’s give them a party that will fight for clean and open government, free of corruption and corporate influence. Let’s give them a party that will fight for the rights of the American people to earn a living wage for their work. Let’s give them a party that will fight to clean up our nation’s polluted rivers and lakes and skies. Let’s give them a party that will balance the budget and cut wasteful government spending. Let’s give them a party that will uphold the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Let’s give them something to believe in again.

We are millions strong. We are bright, and passionate, and capable. And we have something the other side doesn’t have—the right of it. Again and again, polls show that the American people want clean government, job security and economic security, retirement security, an end to needless and unexplained wars, environmental regulation, and the right to live their lives as they see fit without intrusion from the government.

We can give them all of this. We just have to be willing to try. We have to cut ourselves loose from the coattails of the Democrats, and stop accepting their table scraps like dogs.

We have the chance to make a difference. We have the netroots, and the grassroots, and a thriving alternative media. Let’s use them to brighten America’s future.

No More Time for Ignorance (1/28/2006)
We owe it to the American people to do better than this.

We’re losing.

We’re losing the battle for a woman’s right to choose, and we’re losing every other battle we try to fight.

From every corner of this great nation, I hear “why?” Why, why, why, why, why won’t people listen to us? Why are people so short-sighted? Why are people so narrow-minded? Why are other people trying to push their morals on the entire country?

You have got to be freaking kidding me.

Here are some better questions:

  • Why won’t we listen when people on our own side tell us exactly why the country won’t listen to us?
  • Why are we so short-sighted?
  • Why are we assuming that people won’t listen because they are narrow-minded?
  • What the hell do we think we are trying to do when we argue for something—sell Amway???

Here’s the thing—every single individual human being in this country is guided by some sense of morality. You can call it “personal belief” or “values” or whatever you want, but it’s all the same. Republicans are not the “moral values” party, as many have asserted. They are just the only ones talking about politics that way.

Many years ago, conservatives were losing. Believe it or not, it’s true. They were losing for the same reasons that we are losing now. They were disorganized, made up of a lot of small organizations fighting for different conservative causes, floating in the political sea without so much as a small island worth of infrastructure.

In case you missed the memo, that is exactly where we are right now.

So there they were, all of these little sailboats full of conservatives, accomplishing nothing. Do you want to know what they did? They decided to stop. They realized what they were doing wrong, and made a conscious effort to change the way they did business.

They got together. All of the little groups argued and tried to decide whose agenda was the most important. Then they compromised. They made a decision to work together, despite their own agendas, knowing that presenting a unified front was the only way to win.

They pooled their money, and used it to build infrastructure. They started the Heritage Foundation and bought up media time and trained interns from the best colleges and universities in the country. They hired intellectuals (believe it or not, they don’t really despise them, that’s just good marketing) to come up with catchy conservative language, and political strategists to design agendas, and writers and on-air talent to get their language and agendas out into the public sphere.

They did all of this over a matter of thirty or forty years.

We are at the beginning.

We are in the same place where conservatives found themselves forty years ago. The difference is, we’re still cursing the darkness instead of grabbing a pack of matches off the bar, striking one up, and seeing what is right there in plain view for us to see.

We’re not going to win tomorrow, or the next day. We probably won’t win on Alito, and we probably won’t win on impeachment, and even if we do, we’ll still be in exactly the same place. No, forget that—we’ll be even worse off, because we’ll feel like we are making a difference, but in reality, we will not even be scratching the surface.

We need to start thinking in terms of big picture politics, and stop fighting issue by issue. Don’t switch off your reception-meter! I bet you’ve heard that one before, but keep reading, because unlike our leaders, I am going to try to explain it to you.

I am going to use a woman’s right to choose as my example, because it is easy and because it is on everyone’s minds right now. Progressives are almost universally pro-choice. What does this mean? It means that we support the right of a woman to make her own health decisions. That is what it means. It doesn’t mean we personally favor the procedure of abortion, just like it doesn’t mean that we personally favor the procedure of breast augmentation. It means that the health decisions of American women are their own damn business and none of ours and none of the government’s.

Why does it matter to conservatives? Please, feel free to email your answers before you finish reading this, because I really wish I could know what is going through your mind right now. So take a quick minute and jot down your answers and send them to katherinebrengle@aol.com. Good, now that’s done.

Choice is an issue for conservative politicians for one reason, and one reason only. It has nothing to do with life, or religion, or any of that malarkey. It is about their prevailing mode of morality and that is absolutely it. George Lakoff said it best, so I am going to use some of his words here. Thank you, George.

We tend to look at all social orders in terms of families, because this is something we can all understand and all have in common. Conservative values are based on what Lakoff calls “strict father morality.” I doubt you find this surprising. Under strict father morality, there are two types of people, companies, countries, universes. Think of it as a sort of Daddy-Knows-Best philosophy on life. Because it is, by its own definition, male-centric, women are basically children in our nation’s family.
Daddy is the moral authority in our big, dysfunctional family. He makes the rules, and when they are broken, he doles out the punishment. It is his duty to do so. And, if you agree with James Dobson, the punishment works best if it causes the child physical pain.

So, if a woman is essentially one of society’s children, then her transgression (becoming pregnant) is a mistake she has made. She has broken Daddy’s rules (by being sexually irresponsible), and it is his (i.e., the government’s) duty as the moral authority to punish her. She is punished by being forced, legally, to bear the unwanted child and care for it once it is born.

Progressives question how conservatives can be pro-life but against government financial assistance for these mothers and their children. The answer is very simple, if you look for it within the confines of strict father morality. In the strict father moral code, the father is not responsible for fixing the mistakes of his children. He is responsible for punishing the children, and they are supposed to learn not to make mistakes through this punishment. Therefore, if a woman becomes pregnant by mistake, it is her responsibility and hers alone to accept the consequences of that mistake. In this case, it is her responsibility to raise her child with no assistance from Daddy.

Doesn’t sound so contradictory anymore, does it?

Now, let’s approach this issue from the other side, what Lakoff calls the “nurturant parent” worldview. In this model, the parent figure is gender neutral. This immediately puts men and women on equal footing with the dual responsibility of caring for social children. Children are not disciplined with violence, but nurtured and treated with compassion, empathy and respect. When a child makes a mistake, or breaks the rules, the child is taught what they did wrong, and helped to make better choices in the future.

Because the woman in question is considered part of the moral authority, rather than submissive to it, she makes her own decisions with no interference. If she chooses not to bear the child, this is her choice. If she chooses to carry the pregnancy to term, or has no choice (as may be the case in the near future), the child she bears is a separate entity and is to be protected from harm by both its mother and the larger parental unit—the government, and the rest of society. In this model, the mother would be given access to education and resources that would help her not to become pregnant again if she did not want to, and the child would be given every opportunity a planned child would have had.

This is how all progressive and conservative positions break down. Every last opinion of each side fits into that side’s worldview. From taxes to the environment to outsourcing, from the death penalty to public education to election reform—none of the conservative positions contradict one another, as none of ours do.

Conservatives know this already. That’s why they just sit back and laugh when we try to challenge their “contradicting” viewpoints.

Most of us don’t know it. That’s why we can issue those challenges without taking a minute to realize that all of our opinions are exactly the opposite of theirs and therefore, by our standards, also contradictory to one another.

It’s time for progressives to get with it. It’s time for us to get together, pool our money (yes, we have some), and start building serious infrastructure. It’s time for us to hire intellectuals and political consultant and interns. It’s time for us to get serious.

It’s time for us to do all of this because, as much better as conservatives have become at playing the game of politics, the truth is, they really are destroying America. They are, and they don’t care. They don’t care because they answer to a moral worldview that tells them that they are doing the right thing by leaving the poor to starve and freeze to death on the streets, telling women they aren’t smart enough or moral enough to make their own decision, allowing irresponsible corporations to destroy our fragile world ecosystems, and sending our military to kill people who have no intention of doing us harm and die themselves protecting a legacy of greed. None of this bothers them, because they believe that it is right and moral and good.

It’s time for us to accept that the vast majority of conservative voters will never change their minds as long as their worldview remains unchanged. And the only way to change it is to invest in the future of the American people by letting go of our personal issues and getting together and compromising and playing their game better than they do.

It can be done. We can let go of just being Democracy for America, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a thousand other little sailboats, and become a true progressive movement.

We can do it, and we must do it, because when it comes right down to it, we are right and they are wrong and there is no other way to say it. The American people have a choice—they can keep letting Daddy beat them with a belt when they forget to clean their rooms, or they can opt for a society where life is valued, where personal responsibility is valued, where natural resources are valued, and where democracy is valued above all.

So far, only the right has given them anything to believe in. It’s now or never for the left. We’ve all heard the old cliché, “There’s no time like the present.” Well, soon our beautiful country will be so far gone, there will be nothing left to save.