June 04, 2006

Unity 08

I watched a Democrat, Gerald Rafshoon, and a Republican, Doug Bailey, on C-SPAN this morning talk about the organization they have helped to found, Unity 08, which seeks to nominate a unity ticket for President in 2008. What they mean by a unity ticket is either a Democrat for President and a Republican for Vice President, or vice versa. Or, for that matter, an Independent for either position combined with someone from either major party. Or maybe even two Independents.

It was heartwarming (snicker, snicker) to watch these two old political foes sitting in each other's laps and making nice while talking about the good old days when they were top political advisors for President Gerald Ford and Governor Jimmy Carter, battling it out for the Presidency 30 years ago (30 years ago!) in 1976. Each of them made it clear that, back then, there were no personal attacks as part of their campaigns. Rafshoon said the worst he got from Bailey was that Jimmy Carter was "untested." They both agreed that the worst the Carter campaign did was attack President Ford's actual record. As Candace Olson would say: "How divine." (If you don't know who she is, you don't watch enough Home and Garden TV.)

They and their organization want to bring back civility and "unity" to American politics, but I am afraid that they want to do it in a political environment that is far different from what it was 30 years ago. Even though the Republican Right and the Christian ideologues were beginning to forge an alliance that now dominates American politics, it was, then, not yet in control of the Republican Party. What is different today is that religion has blended so intimately with Republican politics that personal Christian beliefs make it impossible for compromise. True believers cannot compromise their personal Christian beliefs. And if one's personal political life is driven entirely by one's personal Christian beliefs, there can never be a political environment that allows for the kind of political civility and unity that Bailey and Rafshoon seek.

And what makes all this much worse than it was in 1976 is that we have a large and influential group of people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and John Gibson who daily spew the kind of lies and hatred that never allows for moderation or compromise. And they do so on behalf of the Republican Party as if they were official spokespeople for the Party, and not one Republican calls them on their bilious lies and distortion.

Worse, we have a press corps whose power to serve the public interest has been dramatically circumscribed and limited by a profit-driven corporatocracy. In 1976, how many of us could imagine an entire news network dedicated to worshipful partisan reporting and commentary on behalf of the Republican Party, 24 hours a day?

As the press has lost its way in American politics and no longer serves as a persistent and effective watchdog over government, Christian fundamentalism has intruded in government in ways we once could not imagine. Religious ideology has increasingly become the driving force of government service.

The icing on this ugly and bitter cake is how our political campaigns have become perverted by money in ways we were only beginning to see in 1976.

Doug Bailey and Gerald Rafshoon can't imagine having treated each other with the level of disrespect that reigns today, but they are not going to bring back the kind of civility and "unity" until three things happen:

1. Americans successfully oppose the unconstitutional impact of religion on our government;
2. the press takes back its independence and starts to serve the public interest once again;
3. and the devastatingly anti-democratic effect of money is removed from the political process.


Dicky Neely said...

Oh what to do?
Maybe spending limits could be imposed at, say one dollar a head, as determined by the number of registered voters as of a certain date in whatever constituency is voting in the election.
A mayoral race then would be limited to one dollar for the registered voters voting in the last election. Here in my city that would be around $30,000. A very generous amount I would say!
A federal, state or local election board could collect the contributions and dole the money out, equally, to those deemd qualified to run in the particular election. Those contributing to the fund would have no say or knowledge of which candidate they would contribute to.
A candidate could qualify by paying a small fee and collecting a certain amount of signatures, at their own expense.

thepoetryman said...

The parties need be scrubbed and we need fresh ideas, people, checks and balances and a complete overhaul of the system. It is in disarray and the first step is impeachment and removal of the regime of Bush and then wipe the halls of congress and work our way to a start that has no resemblance what so ever of either Dem or rep. Period. Start fresh. Clean slate. Do away with oil reliant vehicles, the oil companies will survive, helkl, plastice is made from oil...everything is made from oil!

That is my proposal, rudimentary as it may be.... :>)

podvizhnik said...

1. Americans successfully oppose the unconstitutional impact of religion on our government;
2. the press takes back its independence and starts to serve the public interest once again;
3. and the devastatingly anti-democratic effect of money is removed from the political process.

I don't see how you can remove the 'unconstitutional' impact of religion on our government. Doesn't the same Bill of Rights which forbids the government to establish a national religion also specifically allow "the free exercise" of religion?

Is the press not independent now? What police powers does the government exercise over it? Whether it serves the public interest is another question: like any business, newspapers and broadcasters serve their own interests and those of their shareholders first, and then of their paying sponsors (advertisers). PBS and NPR are no different, except their "shareholders" are board members of the CPB.

How is the influence of money in politics anti-democratic? It's extremely democratic--anyone with money can make themselves heard; you don't have to belong to a hereditary caste. Anyone without money can either go out and get it, or else attach themselves to an organization with money and influence that furthers their goals--AARP, Sierra Club, NRA, you name it. (It's called 'freedom of association.') Or are you proposing the establishment of a Jacobin-style ruling elite who would be sequestered from all contact with filthy lucre? If that were so, then George Orwell (whom I admire, and all of whose works I own and have read) would truly be restless in his grave.

Stephen McArthur said...

I dare say George Orwell, whom you say you admire, would resent the intrusion of narrow-minded Christian bigotry into our government policies and practices. Don't try to put words in my mouth, or distort what I know is true about the US Constitution - namely that it allows for the people to pratcie their religion freely. I never said that the practice of religion is not protected by the US Constitution. I do believe that the intrusion of certain narrow Christian ideologies into what I believe should remain non-secular government programs works to undermine our Constitution.

You have every right to believe that journalism should serve the bottom line of newspaper and media holding companies. You also may believe that the tradition of journalism in the service of truth and justice is a silly notion, and that every writer and so-called journalist owes his or her entire allegiance to the finacial success of the corporation. Orwell would oppose you, in spite of your admiration of him.

And finally, you seem to believe the impact of money in politics is free speech, or in your words, "extremely democratic." There are distinct classes of democratic participation and you represent one of them well, whether you are rich or not. At the very least, you are an apologist for that class. One class, because it has so much more money, can speak louder than everyone else. There is a built-in mismatch. No matter how many thousands of people give contributions of $10, $25, or $50 to a candidate, they cannot compete with corporate money, corporate receptions, corporate events, $10,000-a-plate dinners, or the corporate-sponsored, information-gathering trips at exclusive golf resorts. Who gets more access and recognition? Five thousand campaign contributors who give $25 each, or twenty-seven high-level executives from one company who give $2000 each, along with their wives for $2000 more? The idea of “free” speech in this context becomes meaningless.

Money, as it is employed by corporate power in politics, is unequal speech and highly undemocratic no matter how you protest it's all just "exremely democratic."

podvizhnik said...

I'm rather dismayed to see a 'fan' of Orwell prefacing his comments with phrases reminiscent of a Two Minutes' Hate ("narrow-minded Christian bigotry ... narrow Christian ideologies"), as well as saying "Don't put words in my mouth..." while then proceeding to put thoughts in my head that "Orwell would oppose." Such tactics detract from your main points, which are worthy of comment and examination. If you'll permit me:

Money, as it is employed by corporate power in politics, is unequal speech and highly undemocratic no matter how you protest it's all just "exremely democratic."

It is true that money is power; the framers of the Constitution were acutely aware of that, which is why they protected freedom of association--which you appear to think of little value. While the rich can buy an hour at a $1000-per-plate dinner with a politician, those who aren't rich can associate to form groups like the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which have permanent presence in Washington, and which even the richest can't ignore. The American Legion, to give another example, is founded on millions of ordinary people who give as little as $20 a year and meet locally once a month; yet politicians listen to it. You yourself exercise freedom of association by publishing a weblog and entertaining comments. And I daresay that if you found yourself with a billion dollars tomorrow, you would not refrain from exercising political influence. In fact, people with that kind of money can hardly avoid it. Politicians seek them out and study them. (Full disclosure: though far from being one, I know two billionaires personally.) Is this a good thing? Of course not. But we have to seek ways to limit it that do not abridge the freedom of everyone. Opinions on how to do that should be welcome from all quarters.

You are also correct in your insight that sincerely-held religious belief has a transformative effect on the believer's whole personality. (I suppose this could be called bigotry, but if so, then Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were bigots.) But in what way is it undesirable that this affect one's rights and duties as a citizen? Should such persons be forbidden to vote? If they can vote, can they not run for office? And, assuming they can; if elected, to what extent is their personality allowed to influence the myriad ways in which they carry our their jobs? Who can they talk to, and when, and how? Who should they meet, or avoid meeting? Who are they allowed to associate which, and in what way? What are they allowed to think, and when are they allowed to think it? These are questions that anyone who supports not only secular government, but exclusively secular government--which, if I am not mistaken, includes you--must address in order to present his viewpoint coherently.

Stephen McArthur said...

You confuse a Two Minute Hate with opposition. I don't think it would surprise you to know that I do defend their right to hold such beliefs. I just don't want them using the government to stuff their religious beliefs down my throat. I will call them on their bigotry and anti-democratic practices with every breath I have. And in that context, your use of the phrase "Sincerely held religious beliefs" worries me. Is that like "sincerely held racialist beliefs", something along the lines of a sincerely held religious belief that blacks are subhuman or that Jews are an inferior race? Where do you draw the line in your defense of "sincerely held beliefs?" Can it be that mere belief, for you, is the means that justifies the end?

Why am I not surprised that your sincerely held relativism sees no moral difference between the "sincerely held beliefs" of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi and those held by people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Using the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center as examples of
the equal exercise of the power of money is amusing. Weighing
their influence against that of corporate power on the issues that count most -- war, energy, health, the environment, education -- is pretty silly. If only it were true. Perhaps you have been spending too much time with your two billionaire friends.

I do support a completely secular state, devoid of religion. There are too many governments that have been run by religions and religious beliefs that have proven the awful nature of such rule.

By the way, I can read the subhead on your blog, but I feel the need
to inform you that my mother was pro choice. That a woman chooses to give birth says nothing about a woman's belief regarding the right of a woman to choose.

podvizhnik said...

I see. We could define sincerity as that element which gives an opinion or a belief definitive; for example, your opinion that religion and democracy are incompatible. So if I read you correctly, it is OK for citizens to have religious beliefs as long as they aren't sincere, that is, as long as they aren't allowed to influence their actions. So the only approved Christians, Jews, or Muslims would be the hypocrites, then--since they would be 'free' to profess their principles (on private property only, for fear of stuffing them down someone's throat, whatever that entails)--but not to dare practice them on government property or in government jobs; or, likely, jobs involving government contracts or which receive government money, or government tax breaks, since you the taxpayer would be subsidizing them. And they certainly couldn't practice them in the voting booth. If I were the relativist you label me, I wouldn't have a problem with that, since my beliefs would be between me and God--if, naturally, He or She existed--and me alone.

I always like reading about evil corporate power. It must cause you considerable irritation to have to use software developed by the likes of Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, running on a computer whose technology was most likely developed by IBM, and which communicates over a wire system developed by Ma Bell, to say nothing of the utilites whose power turns it on. And we'll pass over who made the car you drive (or the bus you ride), the food you eat, and the clothes you wear. Politicians should take no interest in any of these things except at tax time--is that right? Politicians should take interest only in making sure that their select company is "devoid" of any taint of religious belief--and what else, again? We didn't catch that. Oh, yes, combating global warming. Well, given all of the above, what with corporations and churches on the rampage, you must not have much hope that America can be salvaged. North Korea might be comfortable for you, if only they'd signed the Kyoto accords--wait! There's Cuba! There, sir, is a country which practices your principles. And, of course, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.

Stephen McArthur said...

I never said religion and democracy are incompatible. Democracy is what allows for the free practice of religion. Where I draw the line is when religion becomes part and parcel of a government; i.e., when dozens of Islamic countries have as their first clause in their constitutions that Islam is the religion of the state. This is a fairly simple distinction that I don't think needs more explaining, I hope.

As for the corporate power structure, I leave you to your sincere hero worship. In fact, I am not all that happy with much of the technology that has been developed which has destroyed community, family, and environment. True believers and catholic (not to be confused with Catholic) apologists for the corporatocracy will forgive any technology anything, I suppose. It's all progress and it's all sincere.

podvizhnik said...

I'm gratified to see that we do agree in our opposition to "establishment of religion" after all, although to see examples of Middle Eastern countries cited surprised me; I wasn't aware that as an American you felt any threat from Islamic governments. (It's possible that you may not be an American, which I'd overlooked.)

My use of the word "sincerity" seems to have been more problematic. I do not use it as a universal excuse; I am still not clear on how you use it, and I'm unlikely to understand since I'm going to leave this thread alone after this.

I will not accept the label as an apologist for corporate abuse of power; in fact, I am an officer in an international organization which stands against it. My point all along has been that such power can and should be used responsibly. But responsible language has to be used if we are to make any progress in that direction.

You will have the last word; it is your 'blog, after all. But our exahange prompted me to re-read Orwell's essay on "Boys' Weeklies," along with Frank Richards' response to it as published in Orwell's "Letters and Journalism," vol. 1. We would all do well to try to be able to write like both those men did, and with that I bid you farewell.

chicago dyke said...

4. hell freezes over.

nice blog. good post.

freeman77 said...

Great debate by pod and S.McA. They actually did a fine job of demonstrating the unity movement spirit. These are strong arguments followed by a partial resolution with room for further discourse and development by others.

Bruce Larson*Moore said...

Seems to*me that most of these issue's resolve to one thing, the current world system is out of balance, and the solution should be labeled "Relationship*08", as the term "unity" is a step and threat to far for those who hold fear as their guide. Once fear is overcome and ultimately defeated, unity will be the natural evolution of all states.

The Last*War