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June 13, 2005

Democrats are to Guantánamo as the GOP is to Kolyma

Rana posted something yesterday that got me thinking. (Props to the frogravenlady for that unique accomplishment.)

I've worked at environmental organizations for the last fifteen years, on and off, and every so often over that time I've received a letter, or taken a phone call, from someone who thinks the group I work for should be doing something other than what it is doing.

This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. As a magazine editor, I rely on ideas from people out in the world, and letters along the lines of "I think it would be really cool if you guys ran an article on [little-known issue]" are some of the most useful assistance I get from the readership. And fortunately, we get comments like that fairly often.

But once a month or so, we'll get a comment that runs along the lines of "You guys suck because you haven't done anything on [correspondent's pet topic], and you should drop everything you're working on and work on [correspondent's pet topic] or else you're wasting your lives."

[Correspondent's pet topic] is often population control, or its ugly stepchild immigration reform. For a while last year it was voter fraud. Over the last few years it's sometimes been fluoridation of drinking water, chemtrails, campaigning for Nader, campaigning against Nader, freeing Mumia Abu Jamal, freeing Leonard Peltier, dumping rock dust from the air to prevent the next ice age, and so forth. Ron, with whom I've worked for much of the last 15 years, will likely remember a few more.

The pet topic isn't always thrown at us as a magazine article either. There was one woman who called me at the Ecology Center in Berkeley to tell us that we needed to mount a mass effort to plant redwood trees in the mudflats along the Bay shore, and expressed exasperated impatience when I mentioned that the trees would both die and disrupt the habitat that was already there. We got similar calls from people angry at us that we wouldn't take their living Xmas trees from them for free to plant them out in the wild, or that our curbside recycling program didn't accept plastics, which would have cost us many thousands of dollars a month to pick up only to have the bottles end up in a landfill in China somewhere.

It's fun to recount the bad ideas that come our way, but not all the [correspondent's pet idea]s are bad ones. Some of them, like putting out an article on an important issue such as population, are fine ideas indeed. The important thing here isn't the validity of the idea, but the mechanics by which the idea is offered.

For instance, when someone wants Earth Island Journal to run an article on their pet idea, my stock response is to thank them, agree that their pet idea is worthy of coverage, inform the person of our deadline and writers' guidelines, and tell them I look forward to their submission. If their idea is far too important to be subjected to a mere article, and they think that Earth Island should devote a considerable portion of its staff and funding to doing actual work on the issue, I let them know about how they can apply for project status, so that they can put their energy to good use with Earth Island's help. (That's what the organization is there for!) And most people are grateful for the information, and some of them actually follow through.

But some of them get angry. They don't want to do the work. They want ME to do the work, and they become incensed when I don't just immediately drop what I'm doing and adopt their personal agenda as my own lifelong mission statement.

The thing is, I'm willing to follow along with that logic sometimes. For instance, I rooted for the Democrats in the 1992 presidential election. George Bush was clearly a disaster, what with the Gulf War and all. It was clear that Clinton and Gore were – despite Gore's overhyped green book – substantially to the right of Richard Nixon on certain issues. But Bush had to go, and Clinton and Gore came in, and the next year was one sell-out after another. CAFE standards were dropped at the merest whiff of opposition. A hazmat incinerator at Liverpool, Ohio was approved after Gore had campaigned against it. Clearcutting the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest was continued with a wink and nod after Clinton's Forest Summit culminated in Option Nine. A Surgeon General nominee with a common-sense approach to teen sex was abandoned, allowed to become a joke. We asked for Gay rights: they gave us "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We asked for an increase in the minimum wage: we got welfare reform. Clinton and Gore, in effect, presided over the second and third Bush terms.

This is what we were talking about when we said, back in 2000, that there was no difference between the two parties. Yeah, it was a bit of hyperbole. Yeah, we failed to foresee the sheer depths of W's depravity. So did you. So did a lot of moderate Republicans. We could recriminate until the cows nail the barn door shut after it catches fire. Personally, I'd rather throw the bums out.

But with which bums shall we replace them?

George Bush was handed a gift on 9/12/2001: the solidarity and best wishes of most of the people in the world, who were shocked at the attacks of 9/11. Since then, starting with the US's shameful performance at the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit and ramped up with every death in Iraq, he has squandered that support, wasted opportunity to bolster the US's stature in the global community.

Bush's popularity is at a startling low. He needs merely to speak out against an issue to boost that issue's support. He's accelerating the decline of the US economy by pandering to the hyper-rich, and in doing so boosting public support for things like single-payer health care. He's putting faith healers in charge of federal women's health panels. He's having oil company executives censor climate scientists. At this point, I wouldn't put it past him to appoint Fred Phelps to the Human Rights Commission.

Bush is the Democrat's 9/11. He's given the Democrats a huge gift: he's taken what were idle public sympathies on a range of economic, environmental, and human rights issues and made them urgent, visceral.

And yet the elites in the Democratic Party still tell us that those issues are unimportant side matters.

The recent flurry of controversy surrounding Kos centers on the treatment of women. During the 1960s, when a new wave of feminist thought was breaking, some male activists decried it as a side issue compared to stopping the Vietnam War, or winning civil rights for men of color, or whatever. They had a strong interest in squelching that women's lib talk. It was women who were typing up petitions and pamphlets, answering phones, stuffing envelopes, doing the dishes after long strategy meetings in which the men competed to see who could talk the loudest. Feminism threatened to interfere with the supply of unpaid labor.

The DLC folks want us to drop the work we're doing on gay rights, access to reproductive health resources, organizing for wilderness protection and so forth. That if we were really serious about booting Bush, we'd concentrate on the two or three issues they deem truly important. They not only want to sabotage our campaigns, but they can't be bothered to do the actual work... so they insist we do it instead.

This is spectacularly stupid: each of those "side issues" is a stick Bush has handed us to hit him with.

But it also illustrates that us "Naderites" were on to something with our "no difference" hyperbole.

The liberal project in America consists of stealing ideas from the left, filing off the serial numbers, and offering them up a bit at a time for public consumption. I don't mean that as a criticism, at least not today. In a sense, that's what liberalism ought to be. Drop those "side issues" and you drop the core values of the Democratic Party, such as they are. It may well be that the Dems can only win back the Congress and the White House if those values are set aside. If that's the case, I want nothing to do with it. When your best argument for winning is that you're not as bad as the guy you want to replace, I say it's time to play a different game. If the Democrats want to become Guantánamo to the GOP's "real" gulag, so be it and to hell wiith both of them. There are some of us that prefer life outside of prison.

Posted by Chris Clarke at June 13, 2005 11:23 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Damn, Chris. This is really good. I should poke at you more often, if this is what happens.

Posted by: Rana at June 13, 2005 01:18 PM
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This is interesting -- the post took a sharp turn at the end that was unexpected.

I think you're right about the "side issues."

Another way to think of side issues is "market segments we havent tapped yet." The Republican party has done a spectacular job of opening up new market segments and catering to them, to the point where they have huge swaths of people in the party who can't stand each other (fundamentalists vs. libertarians). Would that we could have such a problem!

Plus, more women vote Democratic than men, so if we take our ball and go home, there will be no more Democratic party now or ever again.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at June 13, 2005 03:27 PM
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So what is the alternative to conflicted leftists compromising their votes for a mediocre DNC? If the left abandons the DNC and it dies, there would only be the GOP, which would consolidate its power (as it's been doing the last few terms)

Posted by: liberal server at June 13, 2005 03:51 PM
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The alternative is for the DNC to adopt a strategy that involves not being mediocre. If the DNC wants votes from the hard left, they might try earning (rather than expecting) them.

Posted by: the_bone at June 13, 2005 04:14 PM
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the_bone stole my answer. So I'll just say this:

If the left abandons the DNC and it dies, there would only be the GOP, which would consolidate its power (as it's been doing the last few terms)

Exactly. We compromise, the GOP consolidates power. We don't compromise, there's a chance the GOP will consolidate its power. What Would Sun Tzu Do?

I've thought a lot recently that the only thing worse than the Bush victory last November would have been... a Kerry victory. Compromise Man in the White House, with a hostile Congress and a right-wing propaganda machine able to play to their strengths rather than having to invent villians of convenience, and the liberals would be resting easy thnking they finished the job on Election Day. Shudder.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 13, 2005 04:36 PM
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Don't you think the left has a responsibility to make the DNC less mediocre? I don't hear a plan or the how or anything active at all.

Posted by: liberalserver at June 13, 2005 06:01 PM
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Why? Why is the DNC _our_ responsibility?

Shouldn't it take responsibility for itself?

Posted by: Rana at June 13, 2005 06:28 PM
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Which, of course, is precisely Chris' point here. If Democrats want their party to work better, there's no one stopping them from fixing it. Asking members of another party to offer suggestions on how you can fix your own is one thing. Getting annoyed when they won't do your work for you is another.

I wouldn't look to either Dems or Repubs for advice on how to improve my party, and I certainly wouldn't ask them to do it for me. Why do Democrats think this is a reasonable thing to do vis-a-vis the Greens? (Or other non-Democrat leftist groups, for that matter.)

Posted by: Rana at June 13, 2005 06:32 PM
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I think the DNC has a responsibility to themselves to be less mediocre. But it's an interesting question.

There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around out there among the left/progressive/commie symp/whateveryouwannacallit side of the political spectrum. Single-payer healthcare, instant runoff voting, calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq (a war which Kerry supported), an overhaul in American foreign policy, aggressively taxing corporations and prosecuting the bad ones... man, I've been bitching about some of this stuff to anyone who would listen since I was in high school. I actually think most Democrats would be for most or all of these ideas.

Alas, the leadership isn't. Since those of us on the left are, sadly, marginalized by the DNC when we lobby for these subjects, our influence with them is nil. And it's not for a lack of trying. I frankly don't see what else can be done to make the DNC listen to us if they have no interest in doing so.

Posted by: the_bone at June 13, 2005 06:47 PM
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mind you, I'm a registered liberal (pathetic little party that doesn't always make it to the ballot in new york) and vote to the left of the dnc whenever it is an option, so I think you might have misinterpreted my point of view. I feel like it is in the interest of my extreme left objectives to influence the DNC's direction, not the greens' responsibility to help the DNC.

I think that the polemic 2 party system is obviously flawed and unable to fully represent the diversity of ideology in our country, but I don't see a practical alternative (beyond the local level) which is what I was getting at when I asked for a how. It's not the DNC I want to fix, but our country.

Just seems like you all are throwing your arms up and shaking your heads, which I do plenty of myself, but we do need to have some kind of vision or plan. Otherwise we're just sitting in our privileged safe/spoiled left circles and avoiding contact with the greater country, which I think is pretty selfish.

Posted by: liberalserver at June 13, 2005 07:16 PM
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Otherwise we're just sitting in our privileged safe/spoiled left circles and avoiding contact with the greater country, which I think is pretty selfish.

You don't see a practical alternative beyond the local level because there is not a practical alternative beyond the local level. The right started with the school boards and the churches 45 years ago. We have to adopt the same kind of strategy. The notion that there is ANY way to "take back the country" without working almost exclusively at the local level is symptomatic of the unbelievable laziness that has afflicted people to the left of Barry Goldwater these last few years.

Just seems like you all are throwing your arms up and shaking your heads,

Yes, because giving up on the Democratic Party is giving up on effective activism! And if the Democratic Party is ineffective, that's because people give up on it and look for more effective ways to effect change! And we have always been at war with Eastasia!

Incidentally, the notion that "local" equals "left choir" for all of the commenters to this thread is laughable. I work with extreme, hard-line conservatives in my neighborhood, and we get progressive things done. You just have to get off the damned internet once in a while.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 13, 2005 07:42 PM
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Ah, that looks different.

My two suggestions: push for an elimination of the Electoral College and institute instant run-off voting.

Oh, and get legislation passed that mandates a national voting oversight board, and require all votes to be tallied on a witnessed handcount basis.

Just as a start.

Posted by: Rana at June 13, 2005 07:45 PM
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Rereading, my last comment comes off more heated than I intended. I do remember we're all on the same side here. I do feel strongly about the topic, liberalserver, but I hope you won't take my snark too personally.

Oh, and I like Rana's suggestions, but they're stopgap suggestions. As with campaign finance reform, the big-money powers will find a way to get what they want afterwards... until the country has a truly informed and aroused populace.

I don't mean "aroused" in the sense of "has recently viewed a girl-on-girl pie fight," of course.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 13, 2005 08:02 PM
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I've been thinking things like this for some time: The political choices we're offered are something like "Would you rather elect someone who will steal your liver? Or someone who will steal your kidneys?" BOTH sides are lying, murderous parasites who are eating us alive. Bush II is as much the fault of the Democratic deceivers as he is the Republican deceivers.

Howard Dean makes relatively mild statements about the GOP, and leading Democrats smash through doors in their frantic haste to get to a microphone so they can disavow knowing him.

I work for one of those microphones, a newspaper. And frankly, I'm ashamed of my entire industry right now. There's not a sign of balls, or brains, out there at this moment. The White House fires lies like a machine gun, and every one of them makes it into our A section, if not the front page. The actual factual evidence exposing one of those lies (Memogate) was revealed quite some time back, and there is still NOT ONE SINGLE WORD about it in my newspaper.

Argh. I could go on and on.

The Democrats are damaged goods, kids, with not a truth-teller or a scrap of courage among them. The lot of them have sold out to lobbyists and corporations, and to the needs of their own plush, comfortable political careers.

Is Dean different? I can’t tell yet ... but I suspect he is not. Because he is a partisan hack who exists to puff up his own party, rather than to tell the truth and work for good.

I'm not the least bit religious, but I'm convinced America is in the hands of some truly evil people right now, rich destroyers who are DELIBERATELY taking America apart. Gutting it right down to bedrock. They are anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-education, anti-freedom ... people to whom if you’re not rich and powerful, you’re not even human.

About half of those truly evil people are Democrats. They’re cozying up to the Republicans, playing the game with them, because that’s what they WANT ... and the only real disagreement among the two parties is who gets the biggest slice.

As for Bush ... The truth, it seems to me, is that George W. Bush is seriously mentally ill – so fragile he can't even appear in public without having his audiences hand-picked and vetted to gush praises at him. The least little sign of a tough question and he slams his fist down and leaves. We all saw this mentally delicate man go into a lengthy fugue state on live national TV during the debates (not to mention the paralytic stupor he displayed for long minutes on 9-11, while one plane after another flew into the Twin Towers), and not one commentator, NOT ONE DEMOCRAT, has made the point that having a man who mentally freezes up (or explodes) when he's under pressure is a dangerous, dangerous man to have in the White House.

(History – if there is any more history – really will treat GW Bush as the worst president, by far, that the United States has ever had. People in the future will be shocked when they read about him, and what he did to the U.S., and the world.)

America’s enemies are in control of our nation. They’re people who were born here, grew up here, yet who have never once understood the most basic facts about it. And, cowards that they are, they’re blithely taking it apart, tearing it down, raping it ... for their own pleasure and profit.


One last comment: The America I live in, there are no political parties. There is right, there is wrong, there are good ideas, there are bad ideas, there is green and growing life, and there is destruction.

And there are people.

Not Democrats. Not Republicans.



And every time you buy into government as a team sport, thinking "This is my team, and whatever they say and do is good, and that other team is not my team, and whatever they say or do is bad," you’re being both a victim of destroyers, and a destroyer yourself.

It’s like cattle shouting and waving pom-poms about which is the best line into the slaughterhouse – screaming and cheering to convince the other cattle that this line is faster and smoother, and that one is rough and ugly.

How about if we all just grow the fuck up and stop being cattle?

Posted by: Hank Fox at June 13, 2005 08:08 PM
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I guess I'd also like to add that while I'm happy to offer suggestions, I don't want it to be part of a one-sided conversation where I offer ideas and the other side either nods approvingly or shoots them down.

I want the other person to offer up their own suggestions, too. Equal responsibility, equal risk.

Otherwise, we're again back to the "do my work for me" thing.

Posted by: Rana at June 13, 2005 08:17 PM
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I want the other person to offer up their own suggestions, too. Equal responsibility, equal risk.
Otherwise, we're again back to the "do my work for me" thing.


Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 13, 2005 08:35 PM
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Chris - Thanks. I don't agree with everything you put out there - my favorite pre-election analogy was that Bush & Kerry might be driving us to the same place, but at least Kerry had his eyes open and was considering using the brakes - but it was an excellent post, and produced some exceptional comments.

And Holy Shit, Hank Fox, you hit it out of the park. Well done.

Posted by: tost at June 13, 2005 10:41 PM
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Hank does good work.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 13, 2005 11:03 PM
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Hank Fox……..I would argue that a more apt analogy would be; would you rather vote for someone who would steal your liver, or someone that would steal ONE of your kidneys!

In theory, I can live with one kidney…….for a while……if I absolutely have to. Without a liver I am dead.

Suffice to say if one believes the Republic is at stake, that a dictatorship is poised, in the wings, to take over and stifle what freedom is left here, if you believe that, than wide and significant compromise is called for with just about whomever would join the fight in opposing the would be dictator. This is the nature of coalitions. What do I care about my own number one parochial issues if the Republic is at stake? Once the Republic is secure…its back to every interest group, or whatever name is placed on a like minded group of people who feel strongly about a certain issue, for themselves if you want

Posted by: jon st at June 14, 2005 12:09 PM
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Good stuff! Obviously, we need the Democratic party. There is no alternative in this bipartisan country other than further marginalization of our issues. But do we need its current leaders? I posted a very well-received rant on my site last week about the Dems attacking Dean while remaining silent on so many other critical issues. One reader astutely suggested that perhaps the reason they were all so eager to appease the party in power is that each one of them benefits personally from the status quo.

I'm not suggesting that the fix is in, that both parties are working in lockstep to ensure our Orwellian future. However, I am willing to strongly question the motives of individual Democrats who act with severely misplaced priorities.

To further your metaphor, Chris, Bush gave Dems a number of massive, nail-studded sticks to beat him with and instead, the Democratic elite are using these bludgeons to pound on real liberals. Ouch.

Posted by: Mike at June 15, 2005 09:08 AM
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What a great conversation!

Here's my philosophy. Not that it works for everyone, it's just what keeps me going....

Organize Green. Vote Strategically.

Check out the Green party's 10 point platform. I bet it's something you can get behind. It SHOULD be the core of the Democratic party.

If some of us can raise the awareness level of those items via the Green party, it can elevate the debate. It would be so healthy for this country if the newscasters were unable to cast everything in either/or, Republican/Democrat, terms.

And we can vote for Greens when possible, especially at the local and state level, and in a best case scenario, get one or two greens into Congress could really upset the 2-party apple cart!

We need people fighting inside the Democratic party and outside. And you can go back and forth if you like.

Organize Green. Vote Strategically.

Posted by: og at June 17, 2005 11:53 PM
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