November 05, 2005

Moral Persuasion

In response to The Straw that Breaks The Elephant's Back? , suggests the possibility of a third party, and asks "any ideas?" It got me to thinking.

Norman Thomas, Henry Wallace, George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader won certain percentages of the vote of the American population because their positions resonated, at the time, with a minority (in some cases, larger than others) segment of the voters. In other cases, "independents," not aligned with a national Third Party, like James Jeffords, Jesse Ventura, and Bernie Sanders actually won their races because a sufficient number of voters in their states were ready to "throw the bums out," meaning the Democrats and Republicans.

But overall, third parties have remained marginalized and unsuccessful. I believe it will be easier to build a majority by working within the Democratic Party than otherwise.

Ralph Nader's basic political analysis and positions were sound. It was his denunciation of the Democratic Party as being as bad as the Republican Party that was unconvincing and unappealing. Some say his personality hurt him, others that the press never covered him adequately. Nevertheless, Nader knew what was wrong with the Democrats. And, most importantly, he was right about the substantial influence in both parties of corporate power. And we owe him and others, like Bill Moyers, for communicating early and often to us about the threats of corporate control of our government and intrusion into our lives.

What we need is the moral persuasion of Nader and Moyers, encapsulated in a few compelling issues, combined with a renascent and motivated Democratic Party. We need a movement directed toward the American people that speaks of their lives, in their everyday terms, not in sound bites of extremism and division.

The Republicans used the language of good and evil very effectively. They appealed to the lowest common denominators in the American people, and they won. In 2004, the GOP juggernaut attacked Kerry as a fake soldier and traitor. It fearmongered the American people with another terrorist attack -- vote for us or the terrorists will win. It defended God, painting Kerry as anti-God, unbelieving, pro-gay sex, and a baby-killer. It pounded on these few simple issues over and over and over, in every forum possible, in TV and radio ads, in churches, at political rallies, everywhere, always. It sustained this message with hundreds of millions of dollars for months on end.

Bush and Cheney basically avoided talking about the failures of the Iraqi war, and its consequences. They avoided talking about universal health care. They avoided talking about alternative energy solutions for America. They avoided talking about poverty and economic justice. And they avoided talking about the intrusive ownership and control of America's political, economic and social life by corporations. I suggest that choosing these five most important issues that affect the everday lives of the average American and beating the drums constantly on them might be our best strategy right now.

1. The War - Lies, lies and more lies -- dead American men and women, making us less safe not more safe, ruining the future of our children's lives, bankrupting us now, and bringing shame to America's vaunted democratic ideals.

2. Health care -- the more the country ages, the more this one issue cuts across party lines -- oppose big PHARMA and its theft from the American taxpayer -- emphasize the influence of big PHARMA money, AMA money, and hospital chain money on preserving a system that benefits the wealthy over the working class. Make health care a right, not a privilege. Support universal health care and show why and how. Contrast our system with the health care systems of all other industrialized nations.

3. Energy -- Pound this one for all its worth -- alternative energy sources, wind, solar, biofuels, a national Marshall Plan is needed -- pull out all the stops. Show how the influence of the oil industry and its allies serve to retard America's progress in developing alternative energy resources.

4. Poverty and Economic Justice -- If Katrina showed the American people one thing, it was that we live in a country where the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is worse than it has ever been. Economic democracy should be the cornerstone of our message. It is something that the majority of Americans can understand. We don't want give-aways, but we want equal pay for equal work, and we want to be paid well and treated well for the work we do. Support trade unionism and explain why. Show that in every field of employment where trade unions exist, workers have higher wages and better working conditions. Educate the American people about what trade unions have helped produce for all of us -- social security, medicare and medicaid, the five-day work week, outlawing of sweatshops and safer working conditions for all workers, the minimum wage, the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act, the right to bargain for federal employees. How can we have political democracy without economic democracy?

5. Corporate Domination of Our Lives -- I saved the most important one for last, but it is actually the first thing we need to concentrate on. This one is not easy, but it is absolutely a sina qua non of any success in any other endeavor. If we do not reclaim our democracy from the plutocracy, we cannot succeed.

We need to get corporations out of our government, we need to get them out of our Congress, we need to reform electoral giving, we need to take back the airways from them, we need to control their charters and make them responsible and accountable to the people of this country. This challenge, more than any other, is the most difficult and complex, but also the most indispensable. If we continue to allow corporate control of our media, our elections, our culture, our consumer choices, our energy choices, our transportation choices, our courts, our family life, and our children's educations, we will not regain our democracy, political or otherwise. This is the most difficult because most people in this country don't feel the way some of us do about corporations. They don't view them with the same antagonism and concern. They do not personalize the negative effect of corporations on their lives. And certainly, the vast majority of Democratic officeholders, beholden to corporate coffers, don't feel the same sense of urgency I do.

I am not suggesting that we eliminate corporations. I am not suggesting that corporations play a hugely important role in our daily lives. I am not suggesting that there should not be a relationship ebtween corporations and government. I am not, per se, against the corporate model. I am saying that their influence on our lives and our democracy has gone way, way beyond what our forbears imagined when they permitted the creation of corporations.

The marriage of government and corporations - this plutocracy -- has become an insidious partnership that serves a very narrow range of interests. Corporations behave now as if they have the same rights as people. They behave as if money is free speech. It is not, and it is an insult to our founding principles and our democratic ideals to suggest it is. If that were so, then we should endorse the idea of one dollar, one vote, instead of one person, one vote. We need to explain why this is anathema to democracy and freedom. America is a democracy of, by, and for the people, not of, by, and for corporations.

Can a progressive/liberal/Democratic/labor/working poor/minority movement be built on these five issues? Is it enough? Is it too much?


Orewan said...

To win back control of the Congress in 2006 and the executive branch in 2008, democrats and independents need to package their vision for America into a cohesive idea that is simple to relate to yet inclusive of the mosaic of problems that face the country. A common thread of nearly all of the Bush administration's initiatives is a focus on short-term benefits, usually economic or political, at the expense of long-term responsibilities. When the short-term kick backs are politically motivated, as they almost always are in this administration, the debate becomes a different version of the style versus substance constrast. Here are just a few examples:

The invasion of Iraq was seen by the administration as a good political ploy, giving the republicans a "strong on defense" stamp. Public opinion polls supported the idea of going to the United Nations, so Bush went through the motions and sold the case for war. The invasion was so rushed and ill-conceived that the idea of an insurgency wasn't even planned for. Not only were too few troops used to handle the aftermath of a regime collapse, for a month Rumsfeld continued to deny that the insurgency was taking place. The President's declaration that "major combat operations" were over on May 1, 2003, was a declaraton of ignorance, incompetence, and myopic lack of thought. The administration even created the so-called White House Iraq Group for the sole purpose of spinning the war in Iraq. Bush was opposed to the 9/11 commission and finally succombed to political pressure. He was also against the formation of a Homeland Security department, and then threw something together to appease the pulic. Democrats should focus on real security measures that are proactive and point out the reactionary appearance-over-substance tendency of the republicans.

Bush has replaced knowledgeable experts and scientists in FEMA, FDA, EPA, and other agencies with political hacks, presumably because he sees spinning an agency as more important than running it. As a result, dangerous drugs are being appoved while scientists are ignored or quieted to benefit pharmaceutical companies and pollution regulations are being laxed to benefit industry and Bush's campaign. Bush slashed approved plans to strengthen the levee system in New Orleans, saving a few billion dollars in the short term and costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars now that the inevitable disaster has happened.

The Republican led Congress has created bankruptcy regulations that make it attractive and legal for corporation after corporation to dump their employees' defined-benefit retirement plans, saving the companies and their executives millions of dollars and wiping out the livelihood of more and more retirees.

The spending of the federal government is out of control, with Bush's tax cuts and the Iraq war being funded by China. The trade deficit with China is unsustainable in the long term. Cheney has actually said that deficits don't matter. Social Security needs to be fixed, not for those retiring in the next few years, but for everyone born after about 1965 who are not going to see their money. This administration won the battle to drill for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, which promises an inconsequential increase in the supply of oil at the expense of long-term environmental damage. More importantly, it belies a lack of appreciation for the need to move this country away from oil-based energy production and toward new energy sources. Republicans are making oil companies richer and creating jobs in the short term, while once again refusing to look more than ten years into the future. Arguments that technology will enable a century more of oil recovery ignore the fact that, if gasoline is $15 per gallon it might as well not exist. Republicans like to mention that technology is improving for converting coal to crude, ignoring the fact that the toxic gases produced by such an endeavor would blanket the atmosphere with poison

The Bush administration and Republican Congress has provided enough amunition for opposers to win 12 elections. If democrats or independents can with the next two, they must be retarded.

Stephen McArthur said...

Your points fit in so well with my five topics. Thank you for the excellent summation of specific Republican policies and blunders that are easy targets. As you said, with all the incompetence, foolhardiness, greed and lying the Republicans have demonstrated, if the Democrats can't make hay with this stuff, they derserve to lose.

P.S. I have added your blog to my list of blogging friends.