November 23, 2005

My Letter from Howard Dean

I got a letter from Howard the other day asking me if I have seen enough, meaning enough of the Republicans to contribute to the Democratic National Committee and work to get "Republican corruption, incompetence and arrogance" out of Washington DC.

The letter is a really good bill of particulars about the disgraceful behavior of the Republicans (Delay, Frist, Rove), the Bush administration's abject failures with Katrina, its packing of the courts with right-wing ideologues, its broken promises to the seniors, children, and working families of America. Four pages of a kind of evil-doer listing of how bad things are under the Republicans and how supporting Democrats can make the Republicans "pay the price for caring more about their own power than the best interests of the American people."

What is not in the letter is what really bothers me. In fact, it astounds me that there is not one mention anywhere in the letter about the war in Iraq.

Granted, there is nothing in the letter about the health care crisis, the exploding trade deficit, the record-setting national debt, the increasing concentration of wealth in America, or the takeover of our national and local media by corporate power. But to leave out what is the dominating issue of our time, a war that is killing American men and women daily, along with hundreds of Iraqis, and which is bankrupting the country, is unconscionable.

No discussion of how the Democratic Party must find a way to campaign effectively on this issue, to offer some answers, some solutions. The gorilla in the room is simply ignored.

Here is what Howard Dean wants me to do, however. In bold letters on the first page, he exhorts me to

First, please help to increase the visibility of citizen opposition to the Republican special interest agenda -- by proudly displaying the enclosed "Enough is Enough! Vote Democratic!" bumper sticker in a prominent place."

Can you guess what the second thing is he wants me to do? Yep, send money now.

Almost three pages are spent describing the Republican outrages, and I am asked to put a bumper sticker on my car and send money. In all fairness, he does mention that there is something called the 2006 Election Action Plan and that we need to recruit strong Democratic candidates, provide financial, strategic and technical support to them, and conduct effective voter outreach campaigns and extensive get-out-the-vote efforts. I am inspired now!

I started my politicial career in 1968 as a campaign worker for a Democratic candidate for the California assembly in San Diego, and worked for Alan Cranston who was running for the US Senate. In 1972, I was an advance man for Henry "Scoop" Jackson in his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination. I know that we have to give money, and we have to put bumper stickers on our vehicles, and we have to put signs up, and we have to organize precinct workers, and telephone call centers, and we need to register voters, and we need to organize get-out-the-vote efforts, and we need drivers to take people to the polls, and we need to drink alot of coffee and work 24 hours a day. But isn't there something more? What's missing? Could it have something to do with what we stand for?

I know that the Democratic Party attacks the Republicans for giving huge tax breaks to the rich, but what is the Democratic Party plan to redistribute wealth in this country at a time when the concentration of wealth is worsening?

I know that the Democratic Party opposes the Republicans on privatization of Social Security, but why isn't the Democratic Party supporting raising the cap on the social security tax on the rich which would solve any problem the program might have for the foreseeable future?

I know the Democratic Party is outraged by record oil profits, but what is it doing to rally the country around the only thing that will solve our energy crisis, a Marshall Plan to conserve energy immediately and to develop and build alternative energy sources for the medium and long term?

And finally, I know that most Democrats are critical of the Bush war in Iraq, but why did they turn their backs on John Murtha who has spoken truth to all the lies? Democrats ignored Wayne Morse in 1964 and we had ten more years of death and horror in Vietnam.

My reaction to Howard Dean's letter was basically this: it felt like a playground fight between two boys, one that has the ball, and the other one who wants the ball. Other than one boy calling the other all kinds of names, I am left to wonder which boy really deserves the ball more.

It has to be more than this. Until the Democratic Party really starts addressing the issues that are destroying our country's democracy, it will only win because the Republicans are incompetent, or corrupt, or lose their minds.

I know that in the short term things will be better if the Democrats take control of the government. They generally have better instincts about social and economic justice issues. I have no confidence, however, that things will change sufficiently to reverse the slide into plutocracy and oligopoly.


Anonymous said...

Mr. McArthur:

Regarding your letter from Howard Dean, I suppose you know as well as anyone that it's a little bit early in the game for the Democrats to lay out their battle plan, if in fact they have one. If I was an executive at the DNC, I wouldn't want the Republicans to know what cards were in my hand. And what can Dean say about the Iraq War that almost every gradeschooler doesn't already know? Yes, it will take a strong sense of direction from the Democrats to get voters to see them as being radically different from the Republicans; however, Dean and the DNC may not have the imagination to pull that off. Time will tell.

However, I disagree with you somewhat about the fact that we must throw money at them. Nor have I ever seen a bumper sticker or a yard sign, or received a phone call, that made me want to put an "X" alongside some candidate's name inside the voting booth. Voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts are certainly essential factors in achieving victory, but "what's missing" is that emotional link -- which is something that causes the voter to see the Democrats as a safe and wise alternative.

Stephen McArthur said...

The Democrats "battle plan," as you call it, had better be well known now by the Democrats and all who are working to help them win in 2006. If it is not well defined and common knowledge now, then when? And what's the big secret? If the Republicans can't guess what issues the Democrats might use to campaign with over the course of the next twelve months, then they deserve to lose.

Let's face it, the Republicans are campaigning now against the Democrats. Every word they choose to attack the Democrats is part and parcel of that campaign.

I am pretty certain I did not advocate "throwing money at them." And I am not sure who "them" is. And I agree with you about bumper stickers, and phone canvassing, and yard signs -- all I was doing was describing the traditional things campaigns do, all across the country, each and every election cycle. I was trying to be facetious when I said "I am inspired now!"

The emotional link is, indeed, crucial. In fact, in my original draft I wrote of the heart and soul of the Democrats and what they stand for. And the need for that to be front and center. Not sure how I left it out, but your adding it back in is welcome.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I sent this message before, but it apparently did not go through. So, let me try it again.

No, you didn't say "throw money at them"; that was mine. And by "them," I meant those shadowy figures in either party who receive and dispense our money -- often foolishly, I might add. They pay agencies big bucks, for example, to produce ads that are as interesting as a rainy Sunday afternoon. Mind you, repetitive Democratic ads are just as tiresome as the Republican variety. And when we hear that a party has spent a hundred million dollars on their campaign -- “so far” -- we are forced to ask, "On WHAT, for heaven's sake?" Indeed, TV political ads have nearly become the equivalent of yard signs. So if we "throw money" at that kind of campaign mentality, more often than not we might as well put our cash into a pile in the back yard and burn it.

Personally, I think the Democrats’ battle plan should have a great deal to do with establishing that “emotional link” that you and I seem to agree upon. You see, the Democrats really represent the "People’s Party." During the twentieth century, it was the only party that cared enough about the elderly, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the average person to actually initiate legislation to provide assistance. Clinton, for example, tried to give us national health care, but the corporations ran those misleading "Harry and Louise" ads that doomed that legislation in Congress. But think about it: we can thank the Democrats for insuring our banks savings (1933 Banking Act). When it comes to REALLY supporting our troops, the Democrats gave us the G.I. Bill. It was the Democrats who gave us the Housing Act and the Model Cities Act. It was the Democrats who tried to give the poor and our less-fortunate school children a decent meal, by passing the Food Stamp program and Head Start. It was the Democrats who took steps to protect the American investor, by passing the Securities & Exchange Act. For the workers in America, it was the Democrats who guaranteed us at least a minimum wage … who established unemployment compensation … who gave us OSHA and the Job Corps … and who took steps to protect our retirement funds. It was the Democrats who initiated our great interstate highway system … who passed the great Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act … who gave us the Peace Corps and VISTA. It was the Democrats who gave the elderly some dignity and independence when they set up Social Security and Medicare. And we can thank the Democrats for helping to save Europe via the Marshall Plan. I could go on and on, of course, but you get the point. Do some of these measures have flaws? Certainly! And they can be corrected! However, that doesn't negate the great political heart the Democrats showed by turning them into law.

What the Democrats must do is realize who they are and proudly proclaim their rich history of helping the common man. While they can never change the mind of a neoconservative who is filled with self-righteousness and uses "liberal" as if it were a swear word, they can at least try to remind some of our more open-minded citizens who they are and on whose side they have stood over all these years. It's not exactly a battle plan, but it would be a start.

Stephen McArthur said...

Dear Whoever You Are --

I could not have said it better myself. It's just a start, it is IT.

Nuff said.

enigma4ever said...

I just wanted to weigh in- some small thoughts compared to MrA...who should give his name- he raised some interesting points....At some point Dean has to take a stand about this war- and in writing...and yes, even when sending out fundraising letters- because at this point Guts would sway alot of people and win alot of hearts and minds....and I doin't like the poor folks over in the sands held hostage by politcal manueverings- and that it what is happening...Thanks for sharing the Dean letter...and your analysis...