Friday, February 19, 2016

No matter who wins Dem nomination, progressives, liberals and centrists must turn out in Nov. to vote for her-him

By Marc Jampole

In the nearly eight years I have been writing OpEdge, there are only two issues that have attracted large amounts of negative response on Twitter. By large, I mean more than 20 people making uncalled-for attacks on me, including at least one who bombards my Twitter account with a rapid-fire series of negative tweets, out of what is now 38,500 people receiving my Twitter feed. Until this week, I have received this relative onslaught of negativity only when I have come out in favor of gun control or advocated raising the minimum wage.

Now a third issue has led to a “firestorm” on my Twitter account: my support of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. I have been flamed and shamed on Twitter all this week for endorsing Hillary in an OpEdge article.

I have also noticed a lot of ad hominem attacks against Hillary Clinton coming from Sanders supporters among my 1,800 plus Facebook network of mostly progressive friends. By ad hominem attacks, I mean unnecessary insults and unproved accusations. It’s absolutely amazing how much Democrats who hate Hillary have absorbed the right-wing’s decades-old campaign against her. By contrast, I have seen almost no comments from Hillary supporters on social media that I would consider negative campaigning against Bernie. To a person, the Clinton supporters go out of their way to show Bernie the love, although usually adding “but Hillary is more electable and will get more done.”

Here’s another small piece of anecdotal evidence that Bernie supporters are going negative: For the first time ever, someone accused me of being an unethical hack who accepts money to color my political and social opinions. A Facebook comment by a woman named Barbara L. Bowen suggested that the Clinton campaign paid me to write an essay endorsing Hillary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I own a public relations agency, I have never accepted money to support any position or product on OpEdge, nor has my work for any client affected my OpEdge opinions, nor have I ever been involved in a “stealth” campaign of any sort. Ms. Bowen created the accusation out of the same thin air from which the rightwing has created nonsense about Hillary through the years. FYI, the only reason I mention Ms. Bowen’s name is that I contacted her via Facebook email and gave her the opportunity to apologize and withdraw the comment, which she did not do.

My social media universe isn’t a perfect microcosm of the real world, so the negative campaigning I have seen from individuals supporting Bernie constitutes anecdotal evidence only. It points in a certain direction, but it doesn’t prove.

When people respond with irrational anger towards candidates it makes them think in funny ways. I discovered this anew when I misused “flip-flop.” My comment was that the fact that Hillary has changed her mind about issues such as the Iraq war and overly strict drug sentencing laws is a good thing: it shows growth, rationality and the ability to admit when you’re wrong. She was therefore not a flip-flopper. It turns out that I was wrong to write that to “flip-flop” you need to vacillate between two views. “Flip-flop” is merely a nasty way to say someone changed her-his mind on an issue. Many Bernie supporters corrected me, always repeating that Hillary’s “flip-flopping” was by definition a bad thing.  But as it turns out, “flip-flop” is a meaningless invective, a piece of mud thrown at people whom we don’t like. Applying the term “flip-flop” turns additional study, new facts, maturity or a personal epiphany into a negative trait. Did Obama flip-flop when he came out in favor of gay marriage?

Ironically, the ugliest comment I have seen so far hasn’t been on social media and didn’t come from the Sanders campaign. It was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declaring there is a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” meaning that women should vote for Hillary just because she is a woman. I would hope that no woman would help or vote for Nikki Haley, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman or Joni Ernst for any reason.  Albright, who later apologized, was entirely in the wrong, but the comment did bring into sharp focus the age divide that separates younger and older Democrats, men and women, when it comes to Hillary versus Bernie.

I was young once, too, and an ardent supporter of the anti-war candidacy of Eugene McCarthy in 1968. After Humphrey won the Democratic nomination, I saw my progressive peers of all ages stay home from the polls thinking there was no difference between the Happy Warrior, a long-time liberal and one of the very earliest of mainstream white voices to stand up for civil rights, and the man who defeated him and then disgraced the presidency, Richard Nixon.

It was not the last time that progressives didn’t vote for the nominated Democrat because they thought he was too centrist and thereby assured that a conservative who practiced crony capitalism and thumbed his nose at laws would be elected. It happened again in 2000, when nearly 2.9 million progressives voted for Ralph Nader believing that there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush, whose administration later failed to read the signs pointing to the 9/11 attack and then responded by misleading the American people, fought a war for no other reason than to give out military contracts, created a worldwide torture gulag, lowered taxes on the wealthy to create an enormous deficit, tried to privatize Social Security, created a Medicare drug benefit that guaranteed that drug prices would soar, proved incompetent in its handling of natural disasters, fought environmental regulations and ignored global warming. No one suspected Bush II’s incompetence during the election, but his conservative ideology and dedication to crony capitalism were always apparent.

Then came 2010, when millions of young people who had been energized by Obama and voted in 2008 decided to stay home. The result was a Republican sweep of state offices that led to the gerrymandering a Republican Congressional majority and the passing of dozens of state laws that extended the rights of gun owners at the expense of public safety, restricted a woman’s right to an abortion, cut support of education and aid to the poor, and made it harder for people to vote.

My concern, then, is not with the nastiness I see from Bernie supporters per se, but with the possibility that it will cause the millions of people excited by Bernie’s campaign to stay home in November. This year’s Republican candidates for the most part are lying racist demagogues who want to lower taxes on the rich, reward their cronies and those who are bankrolling them, gut social welfare programs even more than they already have been and embark on military adventurism abroad. That the rightwing John Kasich is able to present himself as the most reasonable of the Republicans demonstrates what a sorry lot the GOP is fielding.

The primarily older Hillary supporters lived through these awful elections, which may explain why so many of them go out of their way to write, “But I’ll support Bernie if he gets the nomination.” In my Facebook world very few Bernie supporters have made a similar pledge to support Hillary.

I am not telling Bernie supporters to back off their criticism of Hillary. But I am asking them to remember that no matter how much they love Bernie, they must support the Democratic candidate, no matter who it is. Hillary Clinton is not the perfect candidate for progressives, but neither is Bernie Sanders. But the alternative to either should make all progressive, liberals and centrists fear.

It’s okay to be angry, but don’t let that anger lead to the three most terrible words anyone in this country could ever utter, “President Ted Cruz.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dionne’s new book presents conservatives as idealists; forgets most are class-based self-serving crony capitalists

Reading E. J. Dionne Jr.’s Why the Right Went Wrong provides an illuminating contrast to Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. Both cover the same history: the Republican Party and conservatism since the 1950s. But whereas Mayer focuses on the mechanisms by which economic and social right-wingers took over the Republican Party and drove public discourse to the right, Dionne’s story is one of how their ideas developed and changed over time.

The overarching narrative Dionne relates is the gradual movement of mainstream Republicanism away from accommodation with the New Deal and towards the extreme social and economic policies of the John Birch Society. Dionne tells his tale with an unexpected naivety, rarely if ever questioning the purity of motives of right-wingers. He may disagree with them, but he presents them as principled individuals. Unlike Mayer, Dionne never details how inextricably intertwined the ideas of the funders of conservatism were with their own self-interest. He never explores the way economic right-wingers have exploited the fears and mythologies of social conservatives. His picture of Bush II is not as a crony capitalist who misled the public so his associates could benefit from government war contracts. No, in Dionne’s rendition (pun intended), George the Torturer is a “compassionate conservative” against whom less forgiving and more right-wing conservatives rebelled. We never learn from Dionne the extremes of lying and manipulation in which a few ultra-wealthy families and their educated and well-paid factotums have gone to subvert the Democratic process.

Another difference between the two books is that Mayer’s describes the complete battlefield of ideas in the American system, including the dense network of nonprofit organizations, think tanks and university centers that promulgate and promote the ideas that animate politics, what William Domhoff called the “public policy model” by which an oligarchy can control the democratic process. By contrast, Dionne limits himself to the final stage of the process, elections and a few pieces of major legislation. By doing so, I believe he underestimates the degree to which a handful of billionaires have high-jacked the political process, which is the major theme of Mayer’s tome.

Reading both these books in the same month also made me realize the profound impact that two actions the Reagan administration took have had on the course of U.S. history since the 1980s. First, there was the massive Reagan tax break to the wealthy he pushed through early in his first term, which gave billionaires enormous amounts of new money to fight against social welfare programs and for lower taxes, at the same time giving them more incentive to do so, i.e., more wealth to shelter. Mayer doesn’t explicitly connect the tax cut to increased rightwing spending on politics, but she makes it impossible for the thoughtful reader not to draw that conclusion.

Dionne drops the other shoe: In Reagan’s second term his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended the Fairness Doctrine, which required the holders of television or radio broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner the FCC deemed honest, equitable, and balanced. By ending the Fairness Doctrine, Reagan enabled radio and television stations to broadcast partisan ideologues such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity without having to air opposing views. The billionaires bought up stations, created networks and created the many voices who made and still make the same false statements about unions being bad, taxes being too high, and the nation being overrun by immoral and unreligious outsiders (recently to include the President himself!). While the creation of hundreds of shell organizations to promote fallacious research and self-serving theories helped the billionaires move the conversation to the right inside the beltway, the right-wing radio and TV demagogues reduced these ideas to simple messages and insults for those in America’s heartland. 

Throughout his book, Dionne postulates that there is a good conservatism and a bad conservatism. The bad conservatism “resisted movements on behalf of African-Americans, workers, women and other groups facing exclusion,” whereas the good conservatism offers “incremental adaptation” as an alternative to change that is too radical or comes too quickly. In describing good conservatism, he evokes Edmund Burke, the 18th century British politician who supported the American Revolution but not the French one. In Dionne’s reading, conservatives go wrong when they oppose all change and do the right thing when they merely try to direct change in an appropriate direction, e.g., in using a private model to provide universal healthcare.

But Dionne’s differentiation turns conservatism into nothing more than an attitude or a point of view. The good conservative accepts the basic premises of a mixed economy and a state-sponsored safety net for the poor, elderly and disadvantaged, but wants to make sure we are careful about change and make it according to basic American and constitutional principles.

Unfortunately, the core of the conservative movement since the New Deal has comprised a number of explicitly stated bad ideas that would turn back the clock on centuries of progress, such as no government regulation, no unions, no minimum wage, low taxes on the wealthy, no Social Security, market solutions to all social problems and enforcing the public morality of the 19th century on private individuals. Supporting these conservative views is an ugly and mostly implicit mix of nativism, racism and sexism.

In other words, conservatives are not the most reasonable among those who want to improve the world, as Dionne wants them to be and imagines they once were. Instead, they have a consistent political platform that over the past 35 years has set the United States on the path of becoming a nation of a few rich and mostly poor.