The unrelenting media spin against the Democratic party and its candidates is clearly responsible for the "election" of George Bush in 2000. (Of course, there were several independent factors which, had any been otherwise, would have resulted in a Gore victory. See "The Hijacked Election" ). And that spin continues to this day. For example, when Al Gore gave a major foreign policy speech in September, it was not broadcast by the network or cable channels. Nor was there conspicuous unbiased coverage in the print media. However, there was an abundance of denunciations by commentators and pundits. A sample: "dishonest, cheap, low, hollow" (Michael Kelly), "a disgrace – a series of cheap shots" (Charles Krauthammer), "an act of self-immolation" (William Bennett). And, of course, there were the usual irrelevant comments about Gore’s voice, posture and clothing, etc.
Similarly, as soon as a Democrat steps forward as a potential presidential candidate, he draws hostile fire from the media spinners: James Edward’s legal fees, John Kerry’s haircuts, Tom Daschle’s "whining," and so forth. In stark contrast, during the recent election, cable television covered numerous Bush campaign speeches, without critical commentary. And it seems that every time Bush’s helicopter lands on the White House lawn, CNN is there to cover it. (See Sam Parry, "The Politics of Pre-emption").
However, my purpose in this essay is not to document and defend this indictment of American journalism. I have done so at length elsewhere. (See my "Following the Light," and "Night Falls on the American Democracy" and follow the links). Instead, I wish to deal with a more urgent and practical issue: how are we, the opponents of the Bush regime, to deal with the one-party propaganda mill that is the American media.
It is a daunting challenge, for unless and until the media problem is effectively dealt with, little else can be accomplished. The establishment media is the dragon guarding the gate through which we must pass if we are to achieve a restoration of our democracy.
Here are a few suggestions for dealing with the media problem.
The Russian Solution: In my frequent visits to Russia (the first three during the Soviet era), I came to appreciate how a media in the complete control of a totalitarian government can, by "over-reaching," utterly destroy its own credibility. Virtually all intelligent and educated Soviet citizens (including members of the official nomenclatura), depended upon the Western press, the BBC, and the Voice of America, for accurate and unbiased news, not only about the "outside world," but also about events inside the Soviet Union. Pravda and Isvestiya were widely regarded as acceptable solutions to the chronic toilet paper shortage, but otherwise of little value. Gostelradio was regarded with comparable contempt.
The communist media lost its credibility by reporting domestic "news" that was clearly contrary to the experience of ordinary citizens, and international news that was contradicted by evidence that filtered through the "iron curtain." In addition, Soviet news and commentary was self-contradictory, incoherent and shrill. The Soviet peoples (about half of them ethnic Russians), though soaked in propaganda, were by and large, no fools. Well educated, well-read, and all-too familiar with the cruel and devious ways of despotism, they eagerly sought reliable information, and found it in "foreign" publications and broadcasts, despite desperate government efforts to prevent access to these media.
And so, when Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the lid of repression with glasnost and perestroika, the lid blew off and the communist regime was swept away. (Ronald Reagan had little to do with it. Instead, credit is due to Gorbachev and the Soviet people). It was as if seven decades of total government control of education and the media had never existed. (For a fascinating conversation with some Russian students in 1995, see "What if American Loses its Voice?"
After several decades of Soviet propaganda, savvy Russians acquired an appropriate contempt for their media. Americans, on the other hand, are not used to a captive "quasi-official" media, since many of us can remember the blessed days of the free, independent and diverse press and airwaves – the days when the media were graced with such luminaries as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Scotty Reston, I. F. Stone, and Walter Lippmann. In contrast, today we are bombarded with outright lies and slanders (e.g.,the "Whitewater" non-scandal, Gore’s alleged claims to have "invented the internet" and "discovered Love Canal," the alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, etc.), whitewashes and coverups (e.g., Bush’s drug abuse, his failure to fulfill his National Guard obligation, the Harken securities fraud, Cheney’s business dealings with Saddam, Bush Administration involvement with corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom, etc.), media distractions from important public issues with trivial non-stories (e.g., O.J., Jon Benet, Chandra/Condit, etc.).
The American media have provided us with an abundance of self-discrediting material. By way of retaliation, these derelictions must be collected, documented, archived, and then kept persistently in front of the public awareness until the mainstream media either clean up their act or lose their credibility.
Loss of credibility was the well-deserved fate of the Soviet media. The American corporate media today, in their present condition, deserve no less than this.
Look Beyond the Borders. This response to the media problem is directly suggested by "the Russian Solution." It is a simple and easily discernable fact: some of the most accurate news and intelligent commentary about American politics comes from foreign sources that are readily available through the internet. Correspondents from Canada, England, Australia, France, and elsewhere that are assigned to the United States are not constrained by the media conglomerates that own and control our news. So check out the foreign press at The Smirking Chimp, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The London Independent, Le Monde, and so on. (Most foreign language sources have English editions). Send these media your messages of appreciation, and encourage them to present still more news for American readers. Let them know that we are aware that our media are failing us and that we are looking abroad for fair and accurate information. Who knows? Maybe the BBC or the CBC will set up a "Radio Free America" for us.
But above all, contact the American media and tell them that you have given up on them, and are looking abroad for your news sources. If the American media don’t clean up their act, we might evolve toward a situation similar to that in the Soviet Union, where discerning individuals ignored the state media, and looked to the Voice of American, Radio Free Europe, and the BBC for information about their own country. If such a condition becomes even a possibility, the American media, out of simple embarrassment, might attempt to restore some of its balance and integrity.
The remaining liberal voices. Of course, the American media are not a complete loss. Intelligent and informed dissent can be found in "the small magazines" such as The American Prospect, The Nation, The Progressive, and The Progressive Populist. All deserve support, and a subscription to any of these amounts to a cash contribution to the progressive movement. In addition, there are a few worthy columnists in the mainstream publications who struggle upstream against the rightward flow. They include Paul Krugman, E. J. Dionne, Michael Kinsley, Arianna Huffington, Eric Alterman and Joe Conason, among others (See "MediaWhores Online" for a list with links to these worthies ). They too should be supported with letters to their editors and publishers. Finally, there is the internet – "the last refuge of the liberal.".. We’ll have much more to say about the internet later in this essay.
The Boycott Option has been suggested by the readers of some progressive web sites. Here’s the drill: tune in to Fox News or Russert or Rush or whatever. Jot down the names of the sponsors, then tell said sponsors that you will not purchase their products as long as they support the wing-nuts. Frankly, while I am doubtful that this will do much good, it can’t do any harm. And who knows? It doesn’t take a flood of letters to make a difference. And if there is anything more important to the media folks than the party line, it’s the bottom line. The down side is that the "research" requires one to tune into right-wing cable or radio, and that’s asking a hell of a lot.
"Out-Foxing" the Right. Why not a progressive answer to Fox News? The idea has bounced around the progressive sites for several months, and is beginning to be heard now and then on the commercial media. While the Democratic party can’t match the GOP in campaign funds, it can nonetheless raise a tidy sum. Similarly, there surely must be numerous wealthy individuals who are acutely distressed at the direction this country is taking, and who might be persuaded to finance a progressive cable news channel. How about those "Hollywood left-wing celebs" (e.g., Streisand, Redford, Beatty, Baldwin, Sheen, among many others) that the right-wing pundits never tire of disparaging? Not only could they gather the necessary capital, but just imagine the talent that they could put on the screen! In addition, there must be a small army of talented journalists who either left or were forced out of the mainstream media, who would be eager to join the fight. Today, Bill Moyers is about the only remaining voice with uncompromising integrity still on network television. He deserves some company. Each day brings us closer to November 2004 and, with the continuation of an unanswered right-wing media, the re-election of George W. Bush. It is past time to get with it!
"Tactical Judo" and other schemes. Judo is the martial art that utilizes the strength of the opponent to one’s advantage. It has application to the media problem. Case-in-point: The Right has repeated ad nauseum the complaint that "you can’t trust the liberal media." That is a half-truth, which can be put to good use.. The truthful half is that "you can’t trust the media." The false half is that the media has a liberal bias. Very well, let’s take the truthful half and ride with it. The more the public believes that the media can’t be trusted, for whatever reason, the more the media will be motivated to restore its credibility by adhering once again to sound journalistic standards and practices.
Another approach: the media, having become ridiculous, should be ridiculed. Nothing will grab the attention of the mainstream media as much as a growing sense among the public that it is worthy of derision. A few artful lampoons of the work of such media whores as Bob Woodward, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Chris Matthews would go a long way toward discrediting the right-wing spin machine. Come to think of it, Darrell Hammond’s take on "Tweety" Matthews is an authentic hoot. Let’s have more of it. (For a hilarious sample of devastating satire, see David Podvin’s "Whacking Pickles").
The Outflanking Maneuver. By this I mean, of course, the Internet. The trends appear to be promising. Recently I heard on C-SPAN that one-third of the population gets its news from the Internet, and one quarter from Newspapers. (No statistic given on broadcast media). Furthermore, half of American households access the internet. The internet trend is up, and newspaper circulation is down. Add to this the fact that the audience to the TV networks continues to drop. As the numbers continue to move away from the commercial media and to the internet, the media may begin to get the message that it might not be good business to offend the half of the population that votes for the Democrats.
However, a word of caution is in order. As the progressive opposition uses the internet to increasingly good effect, it becomes ever more likely that the Bush regime will try to take it from us. There are moves afoot to "privatize" or otherwise control the internet. These moves must be vigorously resisted, all the while plans must be set in motion to move to new "underground" media, should the internet be lost to us. The eventually-victorious Russian dissidents set up a network of "samizdat" – unauthorized publication of typed documents – which the KGB could never shut down. In today’s "wired" age, the opposition has on hand far greater resources, such as copiers, computers, FAXes, etc. – as the Chinese government was to discover at the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, and the Soviet communists encountered in the August, 1991 coup.
In conclusion, it is not our task to slay the dragon at the gate. Instead, we must tame it. It is not necessary, desirable, or possible to transform the media into a mirror image of the right-wing propaganda machine that it is today. A return to the sort of media that put an end to McCarthyism, and later the Nixon Administration and the VietNam war, is all that is desired. We do not want control, only fair access and honest investigative reporting. Give the public informed and responsible reporting, the presentation of evidence, open debate, and full disclosure, and the public will take care of the rest.
As I have argued recently, the Bush regime, with the assistance of the corporate media, is taking our country in a direction that few should want to follow – toward oligarchy, despotism, ostracism in the world community, and economic collapse. Continuation of a one-party media is not in the interest of those who control and perpetuate that condition of the media. Whatever medley of tactics we adopt as we confront the corporate media, we must never abandon the simple approach of appealing to the conscience and ideals of the publishers, editors, and working journalists, and invoking the honorable tradition of the free press, the First Amendment, the "fourth estate" which the founders of our republic insisted were indispensable to the politics of a free people.
Even though the American media today are subverting our freedoms and leading us to oligarchy, despotism and economic ruin, we must deal with them more in sorrow than in anger. The media, with the power of the government they serve, can crush us in a moment if they perceive us as "the enemy." And yet they require an audience – "the public" – to exist, and that is our weapon. The progressive community should work with the media toward a restoration of the condition of honorable service to democracy and liberty, that had once made the American press the envy of the world.
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the [Party's] world-view and mental habits ..., but to make all other modes of thought impossible.
It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - that is, a thought diverging from the principles of [the Party] - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods.
This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words, and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings....
Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought...
--- George Orwell, 1984 "The Principles of Newspeak,"
Liberals who are wondering just what hit them in the past twenty years, will find much of the answer to their bewilderment in George Orwell's 1984.
That classic presents an accurate description of the tactics that Right-Wing political operatives have employed in their successful anathematization of the once-honorific word, "liberalism," and in their inappropriate adoption of the word "conservative."
In the political strife of the past generation, it is the liberals who have been the authentic "conservatives" as they have treated the received political vocabulary with respect and restraint, regarding the clarity afforded by ordinary language as a necessary and valuable medium of civil and reasoned political debate.
In contrast, the so-called "conservatives," unconstrained by such qualms, have treated language as a political weapon. Because these antics have provoked little if any protest from their opponents, the Right-Wing word-meisters have utilized their semantic weapons with great skill and effect, and thus have prevailed.
(Terminological note: Because the essential purpose of this essay is to examine the use of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" in current political rhetoric, we must use these words with great care and circumspection. Accordingly, we will use instead, the terms "the Right" and "the Left," mindful that these words are also charged with emotive and ideological connotations. Indeed, it seems impossible to avoid such connotations when referring to a political faction).
The Assault on (the word) "Liberal."
The rhetoric of contemporary politics has not infected the pages of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, which thus defines the political sense of "liberal:" "Favoring reform or progress, as in religion, education, etc.; specifically, favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual..." Webster's also notes the that the derivation of the word "liberal" is from the Latin liberalis: "of or pertaining to a freeman."
To this, we might add that modern liberals regard popularly elected government, constrained by the rule of law, as a positive force for ensuring the welfare, equality and rights of the citizens. Far from being "anti-conservative," this notion is enshrined in the Declaration of our political Independence ("to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men") and in the Preamble to our Constitution, which proclaims that it is the legitimate function of governments "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."
Somehow these authentically conservative principles of liberalism have been obscured by the word-meisters of the Right, as they have associated the word "liberal" with "tax-and-spend big government," naive ("bleeding heart") benevolence toward the unworthy (e.g., "welfare cheats"), and bumbling, bureaucratic interference in enlightened private enterprise.
This semantic coup has been so successful that in political rhetoric "liberal" has become an abusive "hot button." Just consider the recent election. In TV spot advertisements (now the dominant arena of political "debate,") the word "liberal" is splashed and shouted, like a witch's curse, over the name of the (generally Democratic) target candidates. "Liberal!" Nancy Pelosi, "Liberal!" Barbara Boxer, "Liberal!" Paul Wellstone. No elaboration is offered of just what the word is supposed to mean. No need for that, since the cognitive content of the term has long since been drained away, leaving a shell of invective. Thus the transformed word, "liberal," becomes a political weapon - like a piece of rotten fruit, to hurl at the candidate.
And so, in tune with the principles of Newspeak, in current political discourse the political faction which advocates "reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual" (Webster's), formerly designated as "liberalism," has now been deprived of its traditional name. And thus, lacking a name, it has become far more difficult to articulate and thus even think of and defend the "liberal" principles of such political giants as FDR, LaGuardia, Stevenson and Javitts.
How did it come to this? In retrospect, it is difficult to determine whether the assault upon the word "liberalism" was calculated, or merely directed without design at a conspicuous target of opportunity. It really doesn't matter; it is the methodology and the consequences of this attack that should interest us.
The success of the attack upon "liberalism," and the failure of the liberals to defend their political label, can be attributed in part to the respective vocations and traditions of "the offense" (the Right) and "the defense" (the Left). Prominent defenders of "the Left" come from the academic world, where language is prized for its precision and clarity, and where the purpose of political discourse is to persuade by force of confirmable evidence and valid argument. In contrast, "the Right," drawing from the practical experience of commerce, seeks, not to prove, but to sell.
Any psychological device that promises to "close the sale" (i.e., persuade the "prospect" to buy the product or to vote for "our" candidate) is fair game. And if those devices involve the distortion of language, the pollution of plain meaning, and the subversion of free political institutions, then so be it.
George Orwell vividly described such semantic shenanigans, called it "Newspeak," and gave us fair warning. The Right, unconstrained by a "conservative" respect for the acquired wealth of meaning in our language, follows (by design or, more likely, by independent invention) the Principles of Newspeak: "provide a medium of expression for the [Party's] world-view and mental habits ..., [and] make all other modes of thought impossible."
The Right's effective use of language as a political weapon should not have come as a surprise. There was fair warning
In the early 60s, Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, coined a term "ComSymp" to mean, of course, "communist sympathizer." I recall that he said at that time that this was a "beautiful word," in that it didn't convey just how much the individual so designated was a "communist," and how much just a "sympathizer." Thus vagueness, regarded by academics as a semantic weakness, was openly praised as a rhetorical virtue by Mr. Welch.
In a similar vein, Vice President Spiro Agnew (more precisely, one of his writers) introduced the term "Radical-Liberal," soon thereafter abbreviated as "radiclib." Thus the long-honored term "liberal" was automatically tarred with the undeserved connotation of "radical" (i.e., "subversive"). This was a masterful stroke of political gamesmanship, at the cost of devaluing the coin of intelligent political discourse.
Finally, there was the abortion debate which followed closely upon the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. The anti-abortion forces quickly adopted the semantically powerful label, "pro-life." Then a savvy advocate noted that if you combine the words "baby" and "killing" you will have a no-lose political issue. Thus fetuses and embryos, back to the moment of conception (an invisibly tiny cluster of cells) were called "babies" and endowed with a moral significance more precious than that of a fully-formed adult woman. Opposition to the so-called "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" platform automatically carried heavy and undeserved moral burdens, due to the simple (yet false) implication that the defenders of Roe v. Wade were ipso facto "anti-life" and "pro-abortion." These "liberals" paid a heavy price for their unwillingness to engage in "merely semantic" debates. Late in the debate, the Left finally wised-up and adopted the term "Pro-Choice," but by then considerable damage had been done. (For more on the topic of the semantics of abortion, see "The Right to Life and the Right to Love").
In sum: "The left," poor saps, constrained by their genteel "rules of (verbal) fair play," chose not to stoop to the tactical level of their opposition. And thus, of course, they were clobbered in the political arena, as an over-the-hill actor was "cast" in the role of Presidential Candidate, and prevailed over an authentic scholar and Christian gentleman. The poor, hapless left forgot the advice of one of their own: "Tip" O'Neill, who observed "Politics ain't beanbag."
The Capture of (the word) "Conservative."
The political Right, which calls itself "conservative," is nothing of the kind. As I have noted elsewhere (see "Kill the Umpire!" ), they might better be called "radical anarchists." To these so-called "conservatives," popularly elected government - which tells them that they cannot poison the common air and water, sell unsafe and ineffective food and drugs, cheat their customers, or abuse their employees -- is some sort of occupying foreign power.
"Government," writes the Libertarian philosopher, John Hospers, "is the most dangerous institution known to man." The libertarians can at least be credited for having a consistency and courage of their unfortunate beliefs, as they advocate the abolition of all laws regulating private and "victimless" behavior. (Cf. "With Liberty for Some,"). Self-described "conservatives," on the contrary, are not constrained by consistency.
It is quite acceptable, they tell us, for government to interfere with doctor-patient and lawyer-client relationships, to establish a religion ("This is a Christian Nation!"), to incarcerate indefinitely without charge or access to counsel, and to criminalize sexual relations between consenting adults.
(As one wit has said, "the Right has taken government off our backs and put it into our bedrooms").
And finally, as we know so well, the Right has no qualms about disenfranchising citizens, over-riding state law, and conducting a coup d'etat under the guise of "law," in order to install their candidate into the office of the President of the United States.
Yet these anarchist have the unmitigated gall to call themselves "conservatives." Still worse, the press and public have consented, without protest, to this violation of our language - to this exercise in "Newspeak."
Semantic Conservatism and the Liberation of the English Language.
The Rectification of Names consists in making real relationships and duties and institutions conform as far as possible to their ideal meanings.... When this intellectual reorganization is at last effected, the ideal social order will come as night follows day - a social order where, just as a circle is a circle and a square a square, so every prince is princely [and] every official is faithful...
Confucius (as described by Hu Shih)
What, then, is the remedy?
First and foremost, the Left must become aware of just what has been done to them and to their language. And then, with this awareness, they must act - alerting the public to the subversion of our common language, and then piercing the screen of concocted labels to deal with the reality of public issues and moral principles beyond. They must, to use the old slogans of "General Semantics," direct public attention away from words to things and ideas - from maps to territories.
Second, the Left must acknowledge that the assault on the word "liberal" has left that once-honored word in critical condition. Accordingly, "liberal" must be given a prolonged rest, and perhaps even retired permanently. In the 1988 Presidential campaign, Michael Dukakis sensed the wisdom of this move, as he avoided the word "liberal" (along with all the unjust rightist baggage attached thereto), and adopted the word "progressive" to describe his program. Though it didn't "take" at the time, this "semantic handoff" should be tried again. If the word "progressive" can be attached to the meaning that Webster's assigned to "liberal," then the Left must proudly proclaim that meaning and relentlessly defend it from the attempt at semantic subversion that is sure to follow. Hopefully, with the sad fate of "liberalism" fresh in their minds, the new "progressives" will be more successful this time.
Third, the Left must rescue the word "conservative" from the radical-anarchists who have captured it. In place of "conservative," another label should be adopted to designate the Right wing, and used repeatedly until it "sticks." "Regressive" seems an appropriate choice, and it pairs nicely with "progressive."
Finally, as an antidote to the opportunistic subversion of political discourse (i.e., "Newspeak"), political "progressives" must steadfastly support the teaching of Critical Thinking, both formally and informally. Such a program has been in effect in the California State Universities for some twenty-four years. It should be extended, both geographically and "vertically," throughout all age-groups. "Critical thinking," like virtue, is universally endorsed, while it is universally violated. Almost everyone believes that he is a "straight thinker," and resents any suggestion that his thought processes might be systematically improved. Thus attempts to institute programs in the teaching of critical thinking are likely to face considerable difficulties.
In one of his final works, Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley recounted the sad fate in the late thirties of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis:
Certain educators... disapproved of the teaching of propaganda analysis on the grounds that it would make adolescents unduly cynical. Nor was it welcomed by the military authorities, who were afraid that recruits might start to analyze the utterances of drill sergeants. And then there were the clergymen and the advertisers. The clergymen were against propaganda analysis as tending to undermine belief and diminish churchgoing; the advertisers objected on the grounds that it might undermine brand loyalty and reduce sales.
And yet, as political philosophers have reiterated, from Aristotle through Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill, and on through John Dewey and the late John Rawls in our own day: the cultivation of critical intelligence is the foundation of moral autonomy in the individual, and of liberty and justice in the body politic.
In sum, and above all:
"Progressives" (formerly "liberals") had better wake up and smell the brew: those who control the language, control the agenda - they control, that is to say, what can and will be said in public discourse.
Orwell's inquisitor "O-Brien" saw this clearly, when he explained: "... the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. . ."
We must take back our language, lest others decide for us what is to be "thinkable." --12.30.02
Don't Just Get Mad, Get Smart
The Online Gadfly
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
--- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
--- Margaret Mead
If Ari Fleischer Karl Rove, Karen Hughes or some other such Bushista operative, were to read a sample of the progressive websites, would they be particularly concerned about what they saw? They just might not.
Instead, they might reflect, "this is a small cabal of discontents spouting off to each other, but not really going anywhere."
There was a time, not too long ago, when such a brush off might have been justified. But the progressive internet is alive, robust, and apparently growing. (Some progressive sites, I am told, gather several million "hits" a month). So it is the task of this and like-minded websites to give the Bushista media-wonks something to worry about.
To do so, we must assuredly work diligently to spread the word and attract many more visitors to the dissenting internet. And the message must be aimed beyond the "choir" of like-minded individuals.
So it is past time that the web writers, editors and publishers ask themselves: "do we wish merely to "rage, rage, against the dying of the light," or do we wish instead to re-ignite the torch of liberty and take back our democracy?"
If the latter, then we must understand that these two objectives are often at cross purposes, and that if we are prevent our rage from getting in the way of our objectives, we will often have to apply some self-discipline and employ some tactical intelligence.
For example, in the progressive websites you will find demands by some correspondents and occasionally some writers that such wing-nuts as Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, and the like be "taken off the air." Bad move! On the contrary, the more the public is exposed to these crazies, the greater the benefit for the progressive cause.
True, in the past, Robertson, Falwell and the religious right have done great harm to our body politic. But now they are proving to be their own undoing. No amount of left-wing criticism of Robertson and Falwell could possibly damage them as much as they besmirched themselves with the inane post 9/11 comments ("its all the fault of the gays, the feminists and the ACLU"). And every time Ann Coulter opens her pretty fascist mouth, she drives away droves of fair-minded citizens from the Republicans ranks.
So please, just hand them the mike and let them rant. By and large the editors of the progressive internet are well aware of the capacity of right-wing crazies to self-destruct, and thus are wisely more than willing to give them ample space to do so.
Another cross purpose: rage leads to incivility and abusive language, while "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Remember that CNN's Aaron Brown cited the "incivility" of his critics as his excuse for ignoring the substance of their complaints. As I read some of the e-mails that he received, I must concede that he has a point.
In contrast, Tom Daschle's soft, sweet and unruffled demeanor is driving the GOP bonkers. Lott, DeLay and the others would like nothing more than for "Cool Tom" to pop his cork. So long as he refuses, he stands out as the one who "keeps his head while all about are losing theirs." (Kipling) Of course, the Democrats in Congress and beyond are in urgent need of a backbone implant. But their message should be strong, passionate, eloquent and focused, without being shrill and vituperative. The public has had quite enough of "the politics of personal destruction."
Here, for your consideration, are a few "tactical guidelines for progressives:"
Don't alienate Republicans – recruit them. To win back our government, we must assemble a sizeable majority – sufficient to overwhelm Florida-style election "fixes." This means we must win the votes of most independents and more than a few Republicans.
Many Republicans are sorely offended by the takeover of their party by right-wing crazies. So don't insult these moderate Republicans by calling them "Repugs," or by attributing the outrages of a few right-wing nut cases to all Republicans. Instead, flatter our Republican fellow citizens with calm and reasoned arguments. Remember that Nixon remained safe in his office until he lost the support of Republicans such as Howard Baker and John Dean. Then he was finished.
Even now, there are some noteworthy defections from Bush's Republican party; among them Arianna Huffington, David Brock, Kevin Phillips, John Dean (again), Jonathan Turley, and even (Gawd help us!), Larry Klayman and Dan Burton. There is good reason to believe that a great many will follow. Accordingly,
Cool the abusive rhetoric – Don't imitate the Freepers. I'll admit that I gain a cheap thrill when I read such clever monikers as "AssKKKroft" and "Rhenquisling." However, I submit that these smart-ass verbalisms are costly. The Freepers convince no one but themselves with their antics, while most others who are aware of them are quite put off by their childish behavior.
Nothing is to be gained by acting like left-wing mirror-image Freepers. Far better to stand out and apart with mature behavior and thoughtful language. The Republicans lose on the issues, which is why they divert public attention away from issues to personalities (e.g., Clinton's zipper, Gore's body language, Bush's "likeability," etc.). So get back to the issues, in a way that directly touches upon your audience.
Wean yourself from the corporate media, and let them know you have.
It's on the record: the corporate media lied to us about Gore and Bush during the 2000 campaign, they lied to us during the post-election fight in Florida and again in the November "Consortium Study" of the Florida election.
And they continue to lie, distort, and distract (remember the false reports of the"White House trashing," Bush's "magical Air Force One mystery tour" on 9/11, and the rumor of Ken Lay's sleepovers in Clinton's White House)?
"Fool me once, shame on you – fool me again, shame on me."
The media has thus squandered its credibility, and there remains no good reason to believe what they are telling us – including those damnable "approval rating" polls.
Following the Light and About Those Polls
So tell them that you know that they lie (and specify the lies), and that you are "mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore."
In addition, tell them that you will henceforth look abroad, to the BBC, CBC, The Guardian, The London Times, The Toronto Star, etc., to find out what is happening in your own country and what others think of us.
The Smirking Chimp is an excellent source of foreign news and opinion).
Recognize and exploit the distinction between the profession of "journalism" (reporters and columnists) and the business of "the media" (management and owners).
Then address the journalists "more in sorrow than in anger." Ask them, "what kind of a country and a world do you want yourselves and your children to live in?
Is it the kind of a country and a world that you are helping to bring about?" Journalists are generally more aware than most others of national and world conditions; after all it's their business to know these things.
Thus they know that our civil liberties are being severely curtailed, that national policy is dictated by private corporate interests, that the national wealth is flowing "upward" at an accelerating pace, and that the United States and its President are held in contempt abroad.
Closer to their professional concerns, they are also aware of the increasing conglomeration of the mass media and of the Bush administration's closing of access to public information. And they are quite aware that the foreign press is regarding our captive and jingoistic media with increasing contempt.
As professionals and as citizens, at least a few journalists must be alarmed at these developments. Granted, most journalists are mere time-servers, content to follow the directives of their corporate bosses.
However, it is just possible that a few authentic journalists are ripe for rebellion, and if, at last, a Murrow, Cronkite, or Woodward/Bernstein (c. 1972, not 2002) steps out , then who knows, some may find the spine to march to a different drum. And once a parade becomes conspicuous, others will fall in. It has happened before – with Viet Nam and Watergate. It can happen again.
Appeal to Self-Interest. We need to point out the distinction between greed and enlightened self interest. Few journalists want to live under an oligopoly or to see the dismantling of the First Amendment, nor do they want to lose the trust of the public.
Few businessmen and corporate leaders want to demolish the economy or foment revolution as they strive for even greater wealth. Both have to be convinced that this is the direction that the nation is taking.
Right now, they don't quite see the connection. But be patient, a few of them will – and then more and more.
There is a strange right-wing myth, at large amongst the punditry and in the Congress, that all national prosperity issues from the investments of the very wealthy, and thus that the more we give to the very well-off, the more will "trickle down" to the rest of us.
Unfortunately a sizeable portion of the public has been convinced of this absurdity, and thus expertly persuaded to act against its own interest.
Hence the Bush tax cut. In fact, national prosperity is a communal accomplishment, the result of the cooperation among workers, investors and government. The unconstrained greed of a very few can lead to ruin for all, including the greedy, as we discovered to our sorrow in 1929. Either we prosper together, or we allow a few greedy and self-serving "utility maximizers" to bring down the economic house upon us all.
See: On Civic Friendship and The New Alchemy
Appeal to a higher loyalty than party, and to a higher patriotism than "follow the leader."
Presumably, the ultimate loyalty of the discerning American citizen is to the nation, to the democratic ideal, to the rule of law, and to founding charters of the Republic – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. When the leadership of a political party violates those charters, it has likewise relinquished its right to claim the support of the citizens.
The Republican party has claimed the Presidency through a violation of the voting rights of Florida citizens and a usurpation of power by the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, the Republican Bush administration is denying the Congress its function of executive oversight, and, through the atrociously labeled "USA Patriot Act," is curtailing the citizens' rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments to the Constitution.
Those who hold party above the Constitution continue to support Bush and the Republican Party.
Those who hold Constitution above party, are defecting and joining the opposition.
A third faction of Republican supporters, the vast majority, simply haven't thought much about it. It is the task of the progressive opposition to remind these individuals of their proper loyalties, and the implications thereof.
As for "patriotism," we should encourage our fellow citizens to follow the examples of the acknowledged "patriots" of history.
Their allegiance was not necesssarily to the political leaders of the time – not in the case of Washington and Jefferson (King George III), not in the case of Klaus von Stauffenberg (Hitler), not in the case of Mandela or Gandhi or Sakharov or M. L. King.
The loyalty of all these "patriots" was to universal moral principles and human rights, which in all these cases absolved them of allegiance to the political leaders of the time.
See: On Patriotism
Preach "Christian morality," of the sort endorsed by men and women of good will of all faiths, and of no faith. I refer here to morality (behavior) and not doctrine (beliefs).
Theological beliefs (e.g., the virgin birth, the trinity, salvation by faith, Biblical inerrancy, etc.), are and should be private and thus outside the scope of politics.
On the other hand, on matters of politics and morality, when "the religious right" asks, "what would Jesus do?," answer them.
What would Jesus do about war? "Blessed are the Peacemakers"
About retaliation? "Turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies, ... do good to them that hate you."
About wealth. "Sell all thou hast, and give to the poor." About punishment? "Blessed are the merciful."
About school prayer? "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet... use not vain repetitions."
And finally, remind "the religious right" that Jesus directed his strongest criticism to the hypocrites.
It is truly astonishing that anyone who has read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chs. 5-7) could ever believe that "God is a Republican."
Give the GOP its hanging rope. Pride and arrogance goeth before the fall, and the GOP has an abundance of both.
If expertly dealt with, this arrogance can be turned against the Bush regime.
True, the Republicans have effectively utilized the talents of tactical and propaganda geniuses – the most gifted practitioners of the black art of advertising and public relations. And they have the opulent financial support of their corporate sponsors.
But beyond that, there is good news. For all their tactical cleverness, these guys are not very bright.
Moreover, they are "terminally arrogant"
i.e., like Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon before them, they can bring about their own destruction with their excesses. When McCarthy took on George C. Marshall, he swallowed the poison pill that eventually did him in; likewise, when Nixon felt he just had to find out, by whatever means, what was in the DNC files at the Watergate.
With time, George Bush and the GOP are likely to provide their opposition with an abundance of ammunition. In fact, they are doing so even now.
For example, there is the spectacle of Bush's inane rhetoric ("axis of evil"), Trent Lott's and Tom DeLay's hyperbolic attacks on Tom Daschle, and John Ashcroft's antics (e.g., covering the offending aluminum boob, calico cats, interference with the "states rights" of Oregon and California).
Furthermore, Bush's lifelong struggle with English syntax is so troublesome that he dare not speak in public unless he is mouthing someone else's words in front of a Teleprompter.
Ronald Reagan could get away with it, since he was a professional actor. George Bush is no Reagan.
Don't form a new party, capture an old one. Let's face it, the Democratic Party of today is somewhat to the right of what used to be called "moderate Republicanism." We can thank the so-called "New Democrats" for that. But while there is much to criticize about the Democratic Party, it is plainly the lesser of the evils.
Yes, I am familiar with Ralph Nader's quip that "when you choose the lesser of two evils, you get an evil." However, as his campaign proved, if you refuse to make that choice, you will end up with the greater of the evils.
So take a lesson from the right wing: if you don't like a political party as it is, then capture and transform it.
To the progressives, we say, "take over the lesser of the evils and abolish the evil." Practically speaking, this is by far a better strategy than that of establishing a third party, which must be built from the ground up and which must recruit a following from those accustomed to alliance with the major parties. Far better to take over an existing structure and cadre of supporters.
Get involved and be heard.
Support the progressive media – what's left of it.
Subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and such. Even if you don't have time to read them thoroughly, your subscriptions will support these alternative voices.
Log on to the progressive web sites (see "The Internet, Last Refuge of the Liberal").
Spread the word, and if you can, send a donation. Half of the US households now have access to the internet.
If a sizeable portion of the population abandons the cable and network news media for the websites, through which one can access the foreign and progressive press, the "established" media must take notice.
The internet just could become the last hope for the "free press" that Jefferson believed was the cornerstone of a free and open society.
Post in a conspicuous place the addresses of your senators and congressperson, and write them at least once a week. (You can find these addresses at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov). Write at least three letters to major media, complaining of "the cult of personality" and other outrages. Be specific.
Don't just complain.
If they do something right, express your appreciation and support.
E-Mail will do. Personal "hard copy, snail mail" is more effective.
Pester your liberal friend and be sure that they also vote. Volunteer to drive voters to the polls, or to serve as a precinct election official. Participate in voter registration drives. Conventional wisdom tells us that candidates win elections by getting more supporters to the polls.
But some Republican genius came up the the idea that it is just as important to encourage one's opponents to stay home. And that has been the secret of their success: get the right-wing stalwarts to the polls and convince everyone else that elections don't matter.
However, as the GOP is fully aware, the more people vote, the worse the news for the (so-called) "conservatives," since the stay-at-homes are disproportionately the poor, minorities, and the politically alienated.
Above all, remember, we are the majority!
A majority of voters (or those permitted to vote) cast their ballots against Bush in 2000. While the Republican spin machine has made the word "liberal" anathema to most citizens, a clear majority of citizens nonetheless endorse the "liberal" agenda: social security, health care reform, environmental protection, abortion rights, increased minimum wage, etc.
Against this, the GOP propaganda mill has conned the American voter with meaningless slogans ("compassionate conservatism"), slander ("Gore claims that he invented the internet"), witch-hunts (the $70 million Ken Starr inquisition), and scare tactics ("they're gonna take away your guns").
The enormous financial resources of the GOP have built a Potemkin village – an impressive display comprised of cardboard, paste, and bailing wire, without foundation and vulnerable to collapse once a few strategic blows are applied.
However, unfocused bluster and rage alone will not take it down. It will take discipline, reflection, study, and tactical intelligence.
So, don't just get mad, get smart!
And then, we will reclaim our Republic.
Are American elections fixed? Don’t ask the mainstream media.
The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.
--- Thomas Paine
It doesn’t matter who casts the ballots.
What matters is who counts the ballots.
--- Joseph Stalin
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a philosopher with a specialty in moral philosophy (ethics) and environmental ethics. He has taught at several campuses of the University of California and at the University of Colorado. Most recently, he was the Hulings Professor of Environmental Ethics at Northland College in Wisconsin. Partridge has published over sixty refereed and invited scholarly papers, and is the editor of Responsibilities to Future Generations (Prometheus, 1981). Most recently, he has contributed numerous articles to progressive websites. He is the editor and sole writer of the website, The Online Gadfly. He resides in the San Bernardino mountains, east of Los Angeles.
For News and Opinion Concerning Environmental Ethics and Policy LogOn to THE ONLINE GADFLY: The Website of Dr. Ernest Partridge For the Best of the Progressive Internet, see
THE CRISIS PAPERS www.igc.org/gadfly
Turn Off TV and Turn On Quantum Mind
Humanity's most valuable possessions are Clean Water, clean Air and Trees