Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Forward: Other Winners in the U.S. 2012 Elections

So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012.  But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline.  This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles.  I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:

  1. Women’s Rights won big.  The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA.  BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins  (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.]  All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED.  Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed.  Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights.  New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member.  After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
  2. LGBTQ Rights won several victories.  The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected.  In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts.  In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated.  In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY.  Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections:  Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community.  Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
  3. Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board.  Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated).  CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs.  As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes.  The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades.  In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education.  Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things.  Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
  4. Civil Liberties.  Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment).  They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state.  They rejected legislature control over judges.  Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis.  Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
  5. Diversity and inclusion.  With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress.  Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota.  Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.

Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas.   Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving.  Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.

There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.

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November 8, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, economic justice, GLBT issues, human rights, justice, labor, religious liberty, sexual orientation, U.S. politics, women | Leave a comment

Nine (9) Years After Bush Admin. Lies Took Us to War in Iraq: Remembering Some Who Said “NO!”

Monday, 19 March 2012, will mark the 9th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq: A war of pure choice based on lies and deception–lies mainly told by the Bush administration, but aided by lies from the Blair government, and by some in the mainstream media, especially at The New York Times and The Washington Post.  They lied about Saddam Hussein’s complicity in the attacks on 9/11 (He was an evil dictator, but had nothing to do with that attack, whatsoever); about “connections” between Hussein’s government and Al-Qaeda; about Iraq posessing “weapons of mass destruction,” including chemical weapons and the pursuit of nuclear weapons; lied about Iraq as a threat to the U.S. (it was under tough economic sanctions and TWO “no fly zones.”).  The vast majority in the United States Congress and the public were, at least initially, fooled by these lies and a majority (a slim majority at the time of the invasion which, as always happens when the nation rallies around the flag, quickly grew into a large majority for the first year) supported the invasion.  But not everyone.  I was among the many who said “no,” and I, along with many in the peace movement, did everything we could to make our objections loud and clear.

It is worth remembering the public figures who also objected and did what they could to prevent this national crime and international disaster.  I begin with the 156 Congresspersons and Senators who, in October 2002, voted AGAINST the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq” Resolution.  This is not a blanket endorsement of all their actions, before or since, but simply an acknowledgement that, on that day, these elected officials were right when so many were wrong:

The U.S. Senate:  These are the Senators who refused to authorize the invasion: Daniel Akaka (D-HI), a veteran of WWII, who is retiring this year at 87; Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) a Vietnam war veteran, who is retiring this year; Barbara Boxer (D-CA); the late Robert Byrd (D-WV) (1917-2010), who pleaded against the rush to war on the Senate floor; Jon Corzine (D-NJ), a U.S. Marine reservist during Vietnam, who left the Senate in 2005 to become Governor of NJ and has since returned to his previous career in finance; Kent Conrad (D-ND), who is retiring this year; Mark Dayton (D-MN), the current Governor of Minnesota; Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is now the Senate Majority Whip; Russ Feingold (D-WI), lifelong fighter against money and corruption in politics, who was defeated for reelection in 2010 and who now heads Progressives United, a movement that seeks to overturn Citizens United and work for electoral reform; Bob Graham (D-FL), who had been Gov. of Florida from 1979-1987, and who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2004 (after a brief run for U.S. President) for heart trouble; Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a veteran of WWII who lost an arm in combat while his family were in Japanese-American internment camps “guilty by reason of race;” the late Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy (D-MA), (1932-2009) who served in the U.S. Army from 1951-1953, but who has been a strong voice for peacemaking since the days of the Vietnam War;  Patrick Leahy (D-VT); Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); Patty Murray (D-WA), who gave a Senate floor speech against the invasion warning “you break it, you buy it;” Jack Reed (D-RI), a West Point alumnus, and U.S. Army Reserve Officer; Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) who retired from the senate at the end of 2006; Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); the late Paul Wellstone (D-MN), (1944-2002), a liberal icon who died in a tragic plane crash in 2002; Ron Wyden (D-OR); Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), the only Republican Senator to vote against the authorization to invade,  who switched from Republican to Independent in 2006 and, who, as an Independent, is now Gov. of Rhode Island; Jim Jeffords (I-VT), who had been a Republican, but switched to Independent in 2001 and then caucused with the Senate Democrats.

House of Representatives:  .

Neil Abercrombie (D-HI 1st), Tom Allen (D-ME 11st), Joe Baca (D-CA 42nd), Brian Baird (D-WA 3th), John Baldacci (D-ME 2nd), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI 2nd), Xavier Becerra (D-CA 30th), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR 3rd), David Bonoir (D-MI 10th), Robert Brady (D-PA 1st), Corrine Brown (D-FL 3rd), Sherrod Brown (D-OH 13th), Lois Capps (D-CA 22nd), Michael E. Capuano (D-MA 8th), Ben Cardin (D-MD 3rd), Julia Carson (D-IN 10th), William Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-MO 1st), Eva Clayton (D-NC 1st), James Clyburn (D-SC 6st), Gary Condit (D-CA 18th), John Conyers (D-MI 14st), Jerry Costello (D-IL 12th), William Coyne (D-PA 14th),  Elijah Cummings (D-MD 7st).

Susan Davis (D-CA 49th), Danny K. Davis (D-IL 7th), Peter DeFazio (D-OR 4th),  Diana DeGette (D-CO 1st), William Delahunt (D-MA 10th), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3rd),  John Dingell (D-MI) 15th, Lloyd Doggett (D-TX 25th), Mike Doyle (D-PA 18th), John James Duncan, Jr. (R-TN 2nd)Anna Eshoo (D-CA 14th), Lane Evans (D-IL 17th), Sam Farr (D-CA 17th), Chaka Fattah (D-PA 2nd), Bob Filner (D-CA 50th), Barney Frank (D-MA 4th), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX 20th), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL 4th), Alcee Hastings (D-FL 23rd), Earl F. Hilliard (D-AL 7th), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY 22nd), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX 15th), Rush Holt (D-NJ 12th), Mike Honda (D-CA 15th), Darlene Hooley (D-OR 5th), John Hostettler (R-IN 8th), Amo Houghton (R-NY 29th).

Jay Inslee (D-WA 1st), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL 2nd), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX 18th),  Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH 11th), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH 9th), Dale E. Kildee (D-MI 5th), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI 13th), Jerry Kleczka (D-WI 4th), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10th), John LaFalce (D-NY 29th), James R. Langevin (D-RI 2nd), Rick Larsen (D-WA 2nd), John Larson (D-CT 1st), Jim Leach (R-IA 1st), Barbara Lee (D-CA 9th), Sander Levin (D-MI 12th), John Lewis (D-GA 5th), William Lipinski (D-IL 3rd), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA 16th).

Other prominent opponents of the invasion included:

U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Scott Ritter, a registered Republican, decorated veteran of Gulf War I and former United Nations weapons inspector. Ritter was critical of the Clinton admin. over Iraq’s possible cheating on sanctions. But he stood up to the Bush admin., too, risking his reputation by stating (correctly) that by 2002 Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no ability to create or purchase any. Ritter was openly derided in the media. Many claimed that he must be in the pay of Saddam Hussein. He marched in his first peace march in London.  None of those who trashed his reputation EVER offered an apology when he proved to be right. The Obama admin. should’ve given him a Medal of Freedom to publicly rebuild his reputation.

Brent Scowcraft, a Republican who was National Security Advisor to the first Pres. Bush, wrote an article in the 15 August 2002 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled “Don’t Attack Saddam!” laying out the case against invasion and occupation–and correctly predicting the length and cost of the occupation against Bush admin. claims that the invasion and reconstruction would “pay for themselves” and take no more than a few weeks.  Scowcraft also correctly predicted that the invasion would distract from efforts against terrorism and from the urgent need (then much more possible than now) of forging a just peace between Israel and Palestine. (Wow. These days it’s hard to find DEMOCRATS who prioritize Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, never mind Republicans who care about it at all.)

U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who would run as a Democrat for U.S. President in ’04 (and campaign for Sen. Hillary Clinton for president in ’08), repeatedly questioned the evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. As a career military officer, Clark was no dove, and willing to invade Iraq (or anywhere else) if he thought it warranted, but he publicly continued to point out that the Bush administration case was weak to nonexistent.

U. S. Marine Corp General Anthony Zinni repeatedly threw cold water on the Bush admin. fantasies that “regime change” in Iraq would be easy. He mocked their lack of historical perspective and predicted a long, messy, occupation that would be costly in money, lives, troop morale, and U.S. reputation. He also stressed that an invasion of Iraq would drain focus and resources from efforts to destroy Al-Qaeda and work against terrorism.

Ray McGovern, a retired high-ranking intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (responsible for giving the first Pres. Bush his daily intelligence briefing), constantly exposed the lies leading to the Iraq War. He formed Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which I often joked was “Spooks Against War,” and, in 2004, publicly accused then-Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld of war crimes. (Note: McGovern has also been very critical of the Obama administration, including Obama himself, on war, indefinite detention, keeping Gitmo open, and other related matters intertwining civil liberties, national security, and foreign policy.) McGovern became a Christian pacifist about the time of his retirement from the CIA in the late 1990s and today works with the publishing arm of Washington, D.C.’s famed Church of the Savior. I have met and talked to him at several peace conferences and been very impressed with him.

Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat with the U.S. State Department who had been U.S. Ambassador to Iraq prior to the first Gulf War. Wilson was decorated with the Medal of Freedom by the first Pres. Bush for standing up to Saddam Hussein face-to-face and making sure that ALL Americans in Iraq were able to leave the country before the start of Gulf War I.  Wilson had been asked to go to Africa by the CIA to check out part of the Bush admin.’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s attempts to get a nuclear weapon. (Wilson had the necessary contacts from his long career to easily check this claim.) He told the Bush folk that the claims were bogus and when W gave a State of the Union (in January 2003) address which repeated the erroneous claims, Wilson wrote an article, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” that exposed the lie in this part of the case for war. In retaliation the Bush administration illegally outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert operative for the C.I.A.–ruining her career and, even worse, putting numerous American and allied lives at risk all over the world. (Dick Cheney’s aide, Scooter Libby, was the only one ever charged with a crime in this matter, but I am among the many who believe that Libby acted on the direct orders of Cheney, who should be in prison for this, among other, crimes.) It is widely believed that Plame was involved in counter-proliferation work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, especially in Iraq and Iran and that her exposure set back major efforts to keep nuclear weapons from Iran. The smear campaigns against Wilson and Plame continued for years.

Pres. Barack Obama, then a little-known state senator from IL, spoke out against the invasion, calling it “the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.” Many peace activists, including myself, have been disappointed in the Obama presidency for not doing more for peace and, even on Iraq, ending the war slowly, on a timetable negotiated with Iraq by Pres. G. W. Bush in the closing days of his presidency, instead of much faster. But, it is worth remembering that Obama spoke up when it counted, showing real political courage, in trying to prevent the start of the war.

Social Justice advocate and entrepeneur Medea Benjamin, had been the founder of Global Exchange, an organization that used the principles of “fair trade” (rather than “free trade”) to work for human rights, global economic justice, and environmentalism. By 2002, it had become major success and many urged Benjamin to stay neutral in the debate over the planned invasion of Iraq. She refused (since the tragic events of 9/11, Benjamin has tried to work for a U.S. foreign policy guided by principles of peacemaking and respect for human rights) and risked her entire organization at risk to form Code Pink: Women for Peace.  Benjamin and Code Pink have used very confrontational forms of nonviolent civil disobedience to confront architects of U.S. foreign policy–not only in the Bush admin., but also in the Obama admin.

Ignored by U.S. conservative Catholics (even some of the hierarchy in the U.S.) on this matter, both the late Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI spoke out firmly against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, against torture, indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, against detention without (civilian) trials and against the Islamophobia of the “war on terrorism.”

Others could be mentioned. I invite readers to name others who spoke out and tried to stop the rush to war that resulted in a 9-year disaster and crime(s).  Many “went along to get along,” but these stood up when public, political courage was needed. We need to honor them–and promote such “speaking truth to power” no matter what political parties are in power and no matter what the context.

March 17, 2012 Posted by | History, peacemakers, U.S. politics, war, war resisters | 2 Comments

International Women’s Day: U.S. Ranks 78th (!) in World for Women in Government

Today is the 101st International Women’s Day.  Women have certainly made progress the world over in the last century, but the disheartening thing for this father of daughters is how far they still have to go–globally and here in the U.S.A.  Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian has the hard data.  Women are 51% of the global population, but there are only 2 countries where women have at least 50% of the national legislature: Andorra and Rwanda!  The U.S. has never had a woman president or even nominee by a major political party. And both times that a major party nominated a female Vice Presidential candidate (Democrats nominated U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of NY as former VP Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 and Republicans nominated Gov. Sarah Palin of AK as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008)–24 years apart(!)–she was briefly a boost, but ultimately a drag on the ticket which led that party to defeat. Currently, there are only 17 countries where women are head of government, head of state, or both.  The good news is that this is nearly double the situation in 2005.  The bad news is that women are very poorly represented in government everywhere.  The global average is only 19%.  The Nordic countries do the best, with Sweden and Finland at 42% represenation in their respective parliaments.  The United Kingdom, which has had one female Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcker, a Tory, from 1979-1990, the longest serving PM in British history), is currently a dismal 53rd in female representation in parliament. But the U.S. is even worse, 78th in percentage of women serving in Congress (either chamber).

This isn’t to deny the progress made in other areas.  One third of the U.S. Supreme Court is now composed of female justices –which is still below many other countries. Canada, for instance, also has a 9-member Supreme Court, but 4 of them are female and one is the current Chief Justice.  3 of the last 4 U.S. Secretaries of State have been women.  Women head more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, though still a minority.  But the percentage of women in Congress actually DECREASED in 2010, for the first time in decades. And now we have a major candidate for U.S. president who believes that women should NOT be employed outside the home, but should stay home and homeschool the children.  (As an individual choice that some make, I support this, where it is economically feasible. In a world where one income seldom keeps a family of four in even the lower middle class, however, this is unrealistic for the vast majority of families.  And even where it is feasible, I support it only if it is something chosen equally by the couple, not something imposed by law or social pressure.) What’s next? Arguing that women be denied the right to vote? To drive cars (as in Saudi Arabia)? To own property in their own names?

Meaning no disrespect at all to the many men who champion the rights and wellbeing of women, but it seems to me that this lack of proportional representation is DIRECTLY related to the suppression of women’s rights globally and in the U.S.  Would we seriously be debating whether or not insurance should cover birth control if the number of women in Congress (and state legislatures) represented their 51% of the population? Would anyone DREAM of having an all-male panel to debate the subject? Is there any way that the average pay for women would STILL be only 77% of male pay for the same job if women were even close to 50% of our state legislatures and Congress? Would sexual harassment penalties go unenforced or rape underreported if women were proportionally represented?  Would misogyny be openly defended as “freedom of religion” or “free speech” if women were 51% of legislatures? I highly doubt it.

I am not putting women on a pedastal. I do not believe in their moral superiority.  Alas, when they are elected, they seem to vote for wars and injustice as often as their male counterparts, more’s the pity.  They can be just as blinded by race and class as men.  Electing a woman for president will no more automatically usher in a golden age than electing the first African-American did.  The system is rigged to keep the most progressive from ever getting that far, it seems.  But the injustices that are heaped on women AS women would almost certainly decrease with greater representation BY women.  And proportional representation is central to democracy.  Electing more women to all levels of government is simply more just.  That doesn’t make any woman X better as a candidate than any man Y. Character, platforms, etc. still make all the difference.

But women have had the right to vote in this nation since 1920. So, why are we still 78th in the world in female Congressional representation in 2012?  We need more women in all levels of government and I hope both major parties in the U.S. nominate female candidates for president in 2016.

101 International Women’s Days. So far come, but, O, so far to go.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, feminism, human rights, justice, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

I’ll Miss You, Dennis Kucinich!

Ohio was one of the states which lost population in the 2010 census, which meant it also lost 2 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since Republicans captured both houses of the OH state legislature and the OH governorship in 2010, they merged Democratic House Districts–forcing fellow members to campaign against each other in primaries if they wanted a chance to continue in the U.S. Congress. Two Democrats pitted against each other this way, were favorites of mine, Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich–in a merged district that included more Kaptur territory than Kucinich territory. The result: Last night U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) lost to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), which means that his Congressional career will end this year.

I’m saddened by this since Dennis Kucinich, although he had quirks (a vegan diet; befriending some “New Age” personalities; belief that he had once seen a UFO), was also one of the few progressive champions throughout his political career. We often say that we want more politicians with real convictions, who will vote their consciences and not be swayed by special interest lobbies or career asperations–and Kucinich was that kind of person.

Kucinich was elected to the Cleveland City Council in his 20s and became mayor of Cleveland at 33 from 1977 to 1979, the youngest mayor of any major city in the U.S. Big money special interests wanted him to privatize the Cleveland power company (Muni Light) so that they could charge higher rates. Kucinich, who had grown up very poor and had watched his parents have to choose which bills to pay, refused to privatize the company. So, the big money special interests deliberately put Cleveland into default, leading Kucinich to lose reelection in a landslide. (They also had the mafia put a hit out on him, but cancelled it when he lost the election.) His political career was seemingly over. He was in political Siberia in the 1980s, except for a short term on the City Council, a failed House bid, and a failed run for OH governor.   But as privatized power companies raised rates throughout the nation during the 1980s, Cleveland continued to have some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation–and Ohio’s newspapers started to notice and wrote stories saying, “Dennis Was Right.” In 1998, Clevalnd honored Kucinich for refusing to sell Muni Light, a decision that saved the city an estimated $185 million just in the years between 1985 and 1995.

In 1994, Kucinich won a seat in the OH State Senate and in 1996 narrowly won election to the U.S. House in OH’s 10th District. He has served that District from 1997 until now–and no other election was close.  In 2004 and 2008, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. In neither case, did he get very far, but he pushed the right issues and forced candidates to talk about things they’d rather have ignored.  I was proud to work for his campaign in ’04.

Informed by the “Dorothy Day/Catholic Worker” strand of Catholicism in his upbringing, by a childhood of poverty and hard work, Kucinich’s political principles have been that of an old-fashioned liberal Democrat.  He has been a champion of economic justice in the tradition of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. A near-pacifist, Kucinich has also been a strong peacemaker who was one of the few voices to speak out against the Bush invasion of Iraq.  Kucinich proposed a cabinet-level Department of Peace which would operate with 1% of the military budget and work to solve both international and domestic problems nonviolently. He wanted to bring the Fairness Doctrine back to broadcasting so that news would no longer be propaganda.  Kucinich was a champion of the environment, of gun control, of public education, and of single-payer, universal healthcare.  He fought against torture, unlimited detention, and the erosion of the bill of rights.

When Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, Kucinich tried to stop the Iraq War by impeaching first VP Dick Cheney and then Pres. G.W. Bush.  When Pres. Obama authorized NATO air strikes on Libya without Congressional approval, Kucinich was consistent–saying that this was clearly an impeachable offense since the Constitution never allows for the president to go to war without Congressional approval.  He opposed the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and would cut the military budget in half, using 50% of the savings to pay down the national debt and the rest to fight poverty here at home.

Kucinich’s political career seems to be over, but that was true once before. Perhaps he’ll run for Governor of Ohio in 2014 or for the U.S. Senate in 2016.  But, if this is the end, Kucinich can be proud of his record of service.  I wish him well.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | U.S. politics | Leave a comment

A Day in the Life of Joe Conservative

Joe gets up at 6:00am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some pinko liberal who doesn’t trust the free market fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employers’ medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too, even though he’s middle management and doesn’t think much of unions. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry. Joe hates regulations and thinks government inspectors can’t get real jobs, but if he ever got a piece of bad meat, he’d scream to his elected officials.

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents clearly displayed because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees and contributes to the clean air he breathes by reducing auto-emissions. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor. Joe likes his ride because it lets him read the paper before work and he has less stress than those who deal with traffic jams, and, when gas prices are high, Joe takes home more of his pay than those who have to spend it at the pump. But it never occurs to Joe to thank the liberals who keep public transportation costs low.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to form a union, too. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Its noon time and Joe needs to make a Bank Deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FDIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his HUD-underwritten Mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dad’s; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electricity until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification. (Those rural Republican’s would still be sitting in the dark, otherwise.)

He is happy to see his dad who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to. After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home.

He turns on a radio talk show. The host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day). Joe agrees, “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I’m a self made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have.”

March 2, 2012 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Nearly ALL Republican Presidents Would Be Unacceptable to Today’s Republican Party

The Republican Party used to be the more liberal, pragmatic, and reformist of America’s political parties. It was created in the 1850s (the decade before the Civil War) out of the remains of the Whig Party, the Liberty Party (single-issue anti-slavery focus), the Free Soil Party (anti-slavery and supporter of free land for small farmers), and anti-slavery Northerners leaving the Democratic Party.  During the Civil War (and even more in the aftermath of that war) a conservative element was introduced into the Republican Party in that it became associated with big business–but this conservative element was fought by other, more reformist, Republicans. Big business/anti-union interests did not dominate the Republican Party (especially its presidential candidates) until the Great Depression in reaction to the New Deal of the 1930s. The New Deal was the beginning of reform among Democrats, and the first time that significant numbers of African-Americans voted Democratic (at least in the North). But the New Deal coalition for Democrats was a strange mix of Northern liberals, blue collar labor folks whom the New Deal kept from “going Socialist” (in the late 19th C. and the pre-Cold War 20th C., Socialist Parties were popular in the U.S.), and Southern segregationists who kept the New Deal Democrats from doing much on Civil Rights.  In the 1960s, the Democrats repudiated their Dixiecrat, segregationist wing. Beginning with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” the Republicans embraced racists and the reversal of the two parties was complete–but until recently there was still plenty of middle ground: conservative Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans. The disappearance of this middle ground (especially among Republicans–conservative Democrats are still around) has led to Independents becoming the largest class of voters (40%) while the percentage of voters identifying with the Democratic Party (33%) and the Republican Party (27%) is rapidly dwindling.    With the likes of Grover Norquist and his “no tax” pledge, the Conservative Political Action Committee, the Chambers of Commerce, and the Religious Right, the GOP’s presidential nominating process is now a long “purity test,” which almost every Republican president before this (including Ronald Reagan, who is now mythologized and nearly worshipped) would have failed miserably.  Below is a case-by-case list of disqualifying factors:

  1. Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president of any party (FDR comes in a close 2nd, in my view) would clearly never be nominated by today’s Republicans: He believed that the federal government trumped “states rights” in many areas and did not believe in the theory of “popular sovereignty” which Southerners used to justify slavery (and, later, segregation) or for nullifying federal laws. Lincoln supported organized labor in terms that sound like quotes from Karl Marx. He thought monopolies were dangerous and that corporate interests in politics were corrupting.  He believed in free immigration, too. Can you imagine Lincoln getting anywhere in today’s Republican primaries? [Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s 2nd VP who inherited the presidency after his assassination, was a Democrat from TN who didn’t believe in secession. He was elected with Lincoln on a unity ticket, so I’ll omit him from consideration.]
  2. Ulysses. S. Grant: Opposed “wars of extermination” (his words) against Native Americans and insisted on honoring treaties with them.  Greatly increased federal enforcement of Reconstruction in order to protect the rights of black citizens, especially in the South.  The newly readmitted Southern states protested African Americans owning property and voting, so Grant increased the use of federal troops to enforce this in the South. No “states rights” crap out of him. CPAC and the Tea Party “patriots” would have derided this man who won the Civil War as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and a traitor.
  3. Rutherford B. Hayes:  The Hayes-Tilden compromise shows why we should have abolished the electoral college by Constitutional Amendment long before Bush v. Gore. An electoral college tie threw the election into the House of Representatives. In order to get enough votes to seat Hayes, who won the popular vote, federal troops had to be removed from the South and a blind eye turned to Southern efforts to undo Reconstruction and impose segregation. But Hayes himself would not have been acceptable to today’s GOP:  He vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1879–designed to end Chinese immigration into the American West and “keep America for Americans”–which did not mean Indians.  He also tried to redress wrongs done to Native Americans–which today’s Republicans would surely have called “bribery” and a shameful “apology tour.”
  4. James Garfield: Assassinated after 200 days in office, so we can tell little about what kind of president Garfield would have become. But we do know that Garfield was worried that the erosion of the rights of African-Americans, especially in the South, would create a permanent underclass. As a partial solution, he proposed a system of universal education–regardless of race–that would be funded by the federal government, which would also ensure uniform educational standards. He was killed before ever bringing this bill before Congress, but it clearly would have kept him from being nominated by today’s GOP.  With today’s Republicans wanting to abolish the Department of Education (and some wanting to end public education altogether), I can’t see them nominating Garfield for president.
  5. Chester A. Arthur:  Prior to the 16th Amendment’s authorization of income taxes, the 2 major sources of federal revenue were tariffs on imported goods (often quite high, which led most people to buy American goods, but also led to equally high tariffs on American exports which reduced international trade) and excise taxes or “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco. During the Civil War, emergency taxes had been levied to support the war and these were not quickly repealed. Thus, by the time of Garfield’s assassination, the govt. had a surplus of $145 million (which would be trillions in today’s inflated currency). Arthur opposed lowering tariffs (which he believed would hurt U. S. manufacturing), so he cut excise taxes and used the surplus for a series of internal federal improvements.  He vetoed a bill that would have suspended Chinese immigration for 20 years.  Oh, and to all those folk who said Pres. Obama should not have called out the Supreme Court for their horrible Citizens United decision in his State of the Union address in 2010, Pres. Arthur rebuked the Supreme Court in his 1883 State of the Union for striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Clearly, Arthur, would not be nominated by today’s GOP.
  6. Benjamin Harrison:  Would be hated by today’s Republicans. He signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which is still the basis of most anti-trust law in the U.S.–used for breaking up monopolies.  He also signed the McKinley Act which raised tariffs on imported goods to 50% in order to protect American manufacturing jobs and wages. He campaigned for, but was unsuccessful in getting, full federal funding of universal education and protection of the voting rights of African Americans.
  7. William McKinley: 3rd of the 4 American presidents (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat–all liberals) to be assassinated, although there were attempts on many more (including FDR, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama–though, so far, thank God, the Secret Service has intercepted the attacks on the current president well in advance). McKinley was the author of the McKinley Act which raised tariffs.  On many other issues, he might have been acceptable to today’s GOP, since he was very business-friendly. Except for one thing: McKinley was a staunch supporter of civil rights for African-Americans. He did not try to reverse Jim Crow laws in the Southern States (adhering to “states rights” federalism), but he  used the office of the presidency (which Theodore Roosevelt would later call the “bully pulpit) to speak out against Jim Crow segregation laws constantly. And he appointed more African Americans to federal positions than any president before him–including to federal judgeships in the South.  During the Spanish-American War (which today’s GOP would have loved because of its imperialist nature), McKinley struck down a U.S. Army rule against recruiting black people and insisted they serve at all levels.  It’s barely possible that McKinley could have been nominated by today’s GOP (by keeping his more progressive views secret until after election), but once in office, today’s GOP would have deserted him as fast as they did George H. W. Bush (see below) so that he became a one-term president.
  8. Theodore Roosevelt: Although I hate his big game hunting (almost to extinction in many cases) and his imperialism in South America and Central America, there are many things about TR which I love. He took on the monopolies and waged a constant war against the undue political and economic power of large corporations which harmed both citizens and small businesses. TR created the U.S. Park System as the first step in adopting an environmental policy.  He introduced, passed, and signed the Meat Inspection Act, and the Pure Food and Drug Act (Horrors! Federal regulation! Socialism!). He formed a commission to investigate the claims of the United Mine Workers–and the results of that commission led to higher wages and shorter working hours.  He helped negotiate peace between Russian and Japan (for which this man who loved war and military service won the Nobel Peace Prize).  And, in 1911, he first proposed a system of universal healthcare for this nation. Sure, I hate his “gunboat diplomacy,” and his support for eugenics.  But TR was the most liberal Republican president between Lincoln and Eisenhower and there’s a reason that NO Republican candidate today invokes his memory.
  9. William Howard Taft: Taft was a much more conservative GOP President–and even more conservative as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a job he enjoyed far more. Business interests of his day loved Taft over TR. But Taft could not have been nominated by today’s Republicans for 2 reasons: 1) He initiated income taxes for corporations, with the initial rate being 1% of all profits over $5000. 2) Taft strongly supported the 16th Amendment which initiated personal income taxes, initially imposed ONLY on the very rich. (BTW, Republicans dominated both houses of Congress when the 16th Amendment came up and it passed in the House 318 Aye to 14 Nay and passed unanimously in the Senate. It was easily ratified by the states, too.  Republicans had not yet become the “anti-tax party.” In those days, the rich feared budget deficits far more than they feared paying taxes.) Also, Taft believed in free immigration and open borders.  Imagine what the anti-immigration forces of today’s GOP would do to a Taft presidential campaign!  And Grover Norquist would have made him a target for his tax policies alone!
  10. Warren G. Harding: First of the “conservative” Republican presidents.  But he still released Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs from prison and granted general amnesty to 23 alleged socialists and communists who were arrested during the Red Scare of 1919-1920.  He also signed the Shepherd-Towney Maternity Act which funded health centers for pregnant women and children throughout the nation and mandated that doctors give pregnant women pre-natal care (which Rick Santorum now thinks is an excuse for abortion!) and preventive care for children. This act is often considered a trailblazer for New Deal programs enacted under FDR.
  11. Calvin Coolidge: Silent Cal may have been the first “supply side” Republican president.  He worked to deregulate much and big business loved him. But he was an “accidental president” who became president only when Warren Harding died unexpectedly. Could Silent Cal have been NOMINATED by today’s GOP? I doubt it because the laissez faire approach to business that Coolidge took as president was NOT reflected in his approach as Gov. of Mass. where he opposed child labor (Newt Gingrich would have ridiculed him in GOP debates), supported wage and hour laws, favored safety measures in factories, and even supported worker representation on corporate boards! And his views on civil rights would have completely disqualified him.
  12. Herbert Hoover:  Was a good man who was just completely out of his depth when the Stock Market crashed in 1929.  Yes, Republicans have a Hoover Institute at Stanford (where Condi Rice teaches), and, yes, after the New Deal, conservatives looked to Hoover as a model. But he was NOT a laissez  faire capitalist and could not have been nominated by today’s GOP for several reasons: 1) He was a Quaker with a strong belief in religious liberty  and church/state separation and a strong opposition to war. He affirmed rather than swore the oath of office since Quakers do not swear oaths and would not place his hand on the Bible at the inauguration because he believed the Bible should be read and not used as a talisman or good luck charm.  Hoover, a self-made millionaire, spent much of the post-WWI years organizing famine relief for post-War Europe. 2)Not an isolationist, Hoover believed the U.S. should join the League of Nations, but his views got nowhere. 3) He denounced laissez-faire capitalism, believing that many large enterprises for the public good should be accomplished by public-private partnerships.  4) Although Hoover made his fortune in Western mining ventures, he canceled private oil leases on public lands. 5) He instructed the Justice Department to vigorously pursue tax evaders–thereby leading to the break up of many organized crime gangs.  6) He oversaw a public commission to set aside 5 million acres of federal land to remain pristine rather than “developed” privately. 7) In direct opposition to  today’s Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, Hoover pushed for lower taxes on low-income Americans and higher taxes on the rich, closing tax loopholes, too. 8) Though it was not enacted until the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover was the first president to advocate expanding the federal government to include a cabinet-level Department of Education.  Had the Great Depression not drowned his presidency (at first he did nothing, believing that the banks were reaping the rewards of their own stupidity, then his actions were either too small, or, made things worse), Hoover would probably be remembered today as a very liberal, progressive icon. Because the Depression ended 3/4 of a century in which Republicans dominated the presidency (broken up only by Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson–all conservative “Bourbon” Democrats), Hoover was the last Republican in the White House for a generation. Many first time voters in 1952 could not remember a time when the President was not a Democrat (FDR & Truman).
  13. Dwight David Eisenhower: Ike was the 1st Republican president of the modern, post-WWII era. He was a very progressive president by modern standards. Inheriting post-War deficits, he shrank the size of the military to save money (after ending the Korean War).  The top marginal tax bracket was 91% and Ike angered business tycoons by refusing to lower it “because there was still too much inequality” between the rich and the poor.(Can you imagine what Fox “News” would have said about Ike’s “class warfare” language?)  He expanded Social Security (including making sure more African-Americans were covered), created the interstate highway system (a huge federal infrastructure project which created numerous jobs), and, although he generally wished the issue of civil rights would just leave him alone, when federal courts ordered public school desegregation, Ike sent in federal troops to enforce this in Little Rock, AR.  During the Suez Crisis, Ike forced the UK, France, and Israel to end their invasion of Egypt–an action that today would be denounced as “betraying Israel” in every GOP primary debate.  It was Harry Truman who ordered the desegregation of the U.S. military, but he did so on his way out of the White House. Ike implemented that order and did so in 2 years time.  As he left the WH, Ike warned America of the growing dangers of the military-industrial complex.  I’d love to see Eisenhower-style Republicans make a comeback, but I don’t see any evidence of them in the current Republican Party.
  14. Richard M. Nixon:  I never could stand Nixon. He was the inventor of the “Southern Strategy” which turned the GOP into the racist stronghold it is today. He was a warmonger and more paranoid than Glenn Beck. He spied on everyone and broke law after law.  But even Nixon would be considered a flaming communist by today’s GOP. Look at his record: He created the Environmental Protection Agency. He signed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act into law–and enforced all of them.  Saying “we’re all Keynesians now,” Nixon used wage and price controls to curb inflation. JFK had lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% under the Eisenhower years to 71%–and Nixon refused to lower it further.  Although he expanded the Vietnam War, he also ended it (and the draft), against the wishes of many in his own party–something that no self-respecting NeoCon would allow, today. Nixon sent in Kissinger to negotiate peace in the Middle East–something that today would be called “betraying Israel.” Nixon negotiated arms deals with the evil empire of the USSR. He supported Roe v. Wade although Watergate overshadowed it’s importance, at first. Nixon also initiated full diplomacy with China–which would today be the equivalent of negotiating with the Taliban or lifting the trade embargo on Cuba.
  15. Gerald R. Ford: Like Coolidge and Truman, another “accidental president.” Ford, a Congressman from Michigan, never wanted to be president. His dream was to become Speaker of the House if the GOP ever gained the majority. (Democrats held the majority in the House of Reps. from 1933 to 1995.) But Nixon’s race-baiting VP, Spirow Agnew, was indicted and forced to resign for tax evasion and fraud. Ford was made VP. Then Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal before he could be impeached. So, Ford became president.  He barely got the nomination of the GOP in 1976, fending off a challenge from the right by Ronald Reagan.  But Ford supported higher taxes on corporations as a way to fight inflation. And he granted clemency to draft evaders.  He was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. (The ERA had been official GOP platform policy until Reagan.) It’s true that initially Ford opposed Roe v. Wade and supported a Constitutional Amendment which would allow abortion policy to be decided by individual states, though he later admitted that he was “personally pro-choice.” However,  presidential candidates are also judged by their spouses and Ford’s wife, Betty, called Roe v. Wade a “great decision.” All these things would have doomed Ford by today’s Republican standards.
  16. Ronald Reagan: “Saint Ronnie,” whose mythical image is worshipped by today’s GOP. NO Republican candidate for president can win today without invoking Reagan’s legacy and claiming it as his or her own. But the real Reagan was far more liberal than today’s GOP:  As California governor, he legalized abortion 2 years before Roe v. Wade, though he later opposed abortion and wanted an amendment to leave it up to the states. But he didn’t really work hard on it-and, in fact, put the mildly pro-choice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court over objections from the Religious Right. Reagan did give the largest tax cuts in history before GWB, but then, when his huge military buildup led to massive deficits, he raised taxes to pay for them. At the end of his presidency, the top marginal tax rate was 50% and he was satisfied with that–thinking it was dangerous to cut further. (The top marginal tax rate is now 33% and Republicans are pushing for even lower rates.) Reagan did some massive damage that today’s Republicans would love, but he also spent his entire second term negotiating with the USSR in order to eliminate nuclear weapons.  He granted amnesty–real amnesty, not a “path to citizenship,”– to over 3 million undocumented immigrants. Twice. Even though he broke the air traffic controllers union, this former union president (the Screen Actor’s Guild) told the world that free unions were vital for democracy.  And he had one very good idea for combatting poverty–the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families–a tax credit that today’s Republicans are trying to eliminate so that they can give more tax giveaways to the rich. Reagan was also against tax cheats and the use of loopholes and offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.  All of this is absolute heresy to today’s Republicans–so most of them won’t believe Reagan did it. But look it up. He did. (I could link to documentation but if you are reading this, you know how to search the internet and I won’t do your homework for you.) I’m not listing the many, many things Reagan did which I despise, because I am a liberal Democrat. I’m just listing the things which would keep him from being nominated in today’s GOP.
  17. George H. W. Bush: I end with the first Bush presidency because I dislike the son so much I cannot be objective. But first of all Poppy Bush the candidate who ran against Reagan in the 1980 primary would be in trouble for (correctly) calling Reagan’s supply side economics “voodoo economics.” He was right. They were and are. Tax cuts seldom create jobs and wealth does not trickle down–it has to be redirected by federal programs. The Right was so angry at Ronnie Raygun’s tax increases in 1988 that they forced Poppy Bush to make a promise, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” But Bush I broke that promise when faced with increasing deficits–and the country was better off. He was the last Republican president to have the courage to raise taxes when the country needed it.  He also ended the Cold War, took our nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert (and stopped aiming them at the former USSR) and closed numerous military bases as part of an attempt to shrink the military in a post-Cold War world. He needlessly began Gulf War I, but he wisely refused to topple Saddam Hussein because, as he correctly predicted but his son ignored, this would mean at least a decade of occupying and rebuilding Iraq. Today’s Republicans are angry when any war or occupation ends for any reason at all, it seems.  And let’s not forget Poppy Bush’s support for free birth control for poor women–He introduced legislation demanding that contraceptives be covered by Medicaid in 1970. It passed.

And there you have it. 16 of the 17 Republican presidents above  could not be nominated or elected if they were running in the current, ultra-far-right, Republican Party.  It shows a political party that is far removed from the mainstream of the nation (as the McGovern-era Democrats were) and even far from their own history as a party.  Unless corrected, that’s a recipe for disaster and eventual party self-destruction, whatever happens this November.

February 27, 2012 Posted by | U.S. politics | Leave a comment

My Liberal/Progressive Agenda II: FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights’

The cause of FDR’s presidential career was economic justice.  FDR himself was born to wealth, but his experience with polio sensitized him to the suffering of others, especially the poor.  Eleanor pushed Franklin on racial justice via strengthening civil rights protections, but FDR was cautious because he needed to keep Southern segregationists firmly in the New Deal Democratic coalition in order to have the large Congressional majorities that made the New Deal reforms possible. He was also semi-tone deaf to struggles for equality of the sexes despite his partnership with Eleanor–an equality in a White House couple not seen again until Jimmy & Rosealynn Carter and not surpassed until Bill and Hillary Clinton–and despite appointing the first female cabinet head.  But on economic justice FDR was such a champion that other wealthy people called him “a traitor to his class.”  In his last State of the Union, in 1944, Roosevelt was already dying and had to address Congress via radio from his bed rather than in person.  In this speech, FDR outlined an agenda for a series of Constitutional Amendments that would form a “Second Bill of Rights” for American citizens. But Roosevelt died in office and, although Truman defended and attempted to expand the New Deal with the Square Deal, Republicans made comebacks and, after Truman desegregated the military, they cooperated with conservative Southern Democrats to make certain that no part of the “Second Bill of Rights” ever got a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.  Meanwhile, much of that vision was incorporated into new constitutions in Europe and Japan–with input from Roosevelt appointees throughout the post-war world.  This is one reason–before Cold War fever painted any effort at economic justice as a form of the dreaded COMMUNISM–that many other nations have leaped ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic justice.

As with FDR’s pre-war Four Freedoms, I believe that his 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” should inform any contemporary progressive/liberal agenda.  It certainly informs my own vision.  Below I excerpt that 1944 State of the Union speech with commentary on its applicability for today.  Bold Face and Italics are my emphases.  Notes in brackets [ ] are my commentary.

11 January 1944, State of the Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

To the Congress:

This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.

We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.

But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.

We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.

When Mr. Hull [Cordell Hull, a former Congressman and Senator from TN, FDR’s Secretary of State, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations] went to Moscow in October, and when I went to Cairo and Teheran in November, we knew that we were in agreement with our allies in our common determination to fight and win this war. But there were many vital questions concerning the future peace, and they were discussed in an atmosphere of complete candor and harmony.

In the last war such discussions, such meetings, did not even begin until the shooting had stopped and the delegates began to assemble at the peace table. There had been no previous opportunities for man-to-man discussions which lead to meetings of minds. The result was a peace which was not a peace. That was a mistake which we are not repeating in this war.

[snip]

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations.  [FDR is planting the seeds of U.S. acceptance of a future United Nations. U.S. refusal to join the old Leagure of Nations was a major factor in its failure and U.S. isolationism was a major factor in the rise of fascism leading to WWII.]

In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples—progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.

All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars—or even threats of war.

China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:

The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community. And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.  [No external national security strategies which ignore economic justice at home or abroad is possible. Economic injustice is a major seed of instability and war.  In our own day, poverty makes it easier for terrorists to recruit followers.]

There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed.

The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades.

[Snip. FDR outlines the sacrifices needed to win the war and calls for unity and shared sacrifice.]

Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:

(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.  [What a contrast to the gross irresponsibility of the Bush admin. which claimed that invading Iraq would “pay for itself” and which continued to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy, during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars–with costs now somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion and Republicans STILL unwilling for the wealthy to pay their fair share! ]

(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts—which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war. [Whereas the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were viewed as opportunities for the Bush and Cheney families and their friends and allies to increase their wealth through sweetheart deals with corporations such as Haliburton and KBR in which they had huge interests!]

(3) A cost of food law—which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.

(4) Early reenactment of. the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.

We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.

(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.

These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits.

[snip  FDR calls for national service whereas Bush told everyone following 9/11 that they should just go shopping.  He then urged Congress to make it easier for military personnel to cast votes in U.S. elections even while deployed in war zones. ]

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation [The right to employment commits the nation to a full-employment policy.  Usually this is primarily done through private enterprise, but in recessions or depressions, government should be willing to hire the unemployed directly for meaningful national service–as in the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created much infrastructure, the Rural Electrification Project, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in which camps of young men planted trees, dug irrigation ditches, prevented run-off and soil erosion, etc. for stipends which often meant the difference between life and death for entire families.  Contemporary adaptations might include federal and state governments hiring youth for summer work in cities painting roofs white to lower lower heat indices and save electricity.]
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation [Beyond minimum wages to a living wage, i.e., a salary that allows a family to live above poverty levels.]
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living [In FDR’s day this was a call for price supports. It was a reminder that farmers entered depression in the 1920s, years before the 1929 Stock Market crash.  In our day, I would think that this commits us to work for family farmers against agribusiness and for local, healthy food, over mass-produced with genetically modified seeds and hormone-injected cattle and the prison conditions of much livestock in factory farms. This hurts not only small farmers, but the health of the nation, and the ecology of the planet.]
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.  [We have far too many monopolies and semi-monopolies today. Even the founding philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, said that monopolies made free markets impossible.]
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.  [Healthcare must be viewed as a human right, not as a commodity sold to the highest bidder.]
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. [This vision commits us to building a strong “social safety net” that includes adequate pensions for retirees, universal healthcare, and unemployment insurance, with job re-training and, where necessary, direct employment by the government.]
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

[Snip remaining.]

The remaining paragraphs show that FDR did not envision each of these economic security rights as becoming Constitutional Amendments, although he did think they needed legislation enacted by Congress.  But I think many of them should be enshrined in the Constitution itself:

  • The right to employment.  As a Constitutional right, this would force economic policies that care more about full employment than Wall St. profits.
  • The right to a living wage.  We would not have the huge income inequality of the 1% vs. the 99% today if we had living wage laws indexed to the cost of living. We would need to define a living wage as a wage or salary sufficient to keep a family above the poverty line.
  • The right of farmers to adequate remuneration. I am uncertain whether this could be a Constitutional guarantee, but it should be part of the platform for any progressive political party and should lead to legislation and policies which prioritize family farmers above agribusiness.
  • The right of businesses, large and small, to fair competition instead of facing monopolies.  Again, I think what needs to be a Constitutional Amendment (especially in light of the stupidity of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. United States) is the clear statement that Corporations are not people and have only the rights guaranteed by their charters.  But we need updated and strengthened anti-trust laws that break up monopolies from all these huge mega-mergers that drown out competition and produce “too big to fail” companies that either require taxpayer bailouts or whose fall harms large sections of the economy. “Too big to fail” must equal “too big to exist.”
  • Housing as a Constitutional Right.  This would require adequate amounts of low-income housing–and decent standards for that housing.  Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Reagan-era, homelessness was rare in this country. When I was a teen in the 1970s, the “housing problem” was the problem of inadequate housing, of slums and shacks. Then came “Reaganomics” and an explosion of homelessness that grows worse each year. We must end the blight of homelessness in this country.
  • Healthcare as a Constitutional Right.  This would not demand a particular form of universal healthcare, but would remove it as a “for profit” enterprise.
  • A strong social safety net need not be a Constitutional Amendment (although a Constitutional guarantee of adequate retirement pension would finally stop all efforts to privatize or poorly fund Social Security), but we must have strong laws for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and the like.
  • Education as a Constitutional Right.  This would not rule out private schools or homeschooling (although all parents who choose to home school should have to pass the same teacher certification requirements as public school teachers), but it would mandate a STRONG, FULLY FINANCED public education system, for primary and secondary education.  All who have the mental ability and desire to pursue college/secondary education should not be prevented by financial barriers.  Education should be free and compulsory for primary and secondary levels and as close to free as possible for the college/university level.

February 26, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms

As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress  called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside.  I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.

Let me be clear:  I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.”  What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order.  I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.

I reproduce relevant excerpts of  FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform.  Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.

[Snip]

The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America.  Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  1. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  2. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  3. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
  4. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

_____

Freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious belief and practice.

Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).

Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).

I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C.  But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.

In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, politics, religious liberty, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

The Death Penalty Around the World

In this second installment, I am still mapping the geography of capital punishment before turning to arguments about it.  Looking at the U.S., we saw 15 states (plus the District of Columbia) without the death penalty and 35 states (plus the federal government and the U.S. military) with the death penalty.  But several of those states seemed poised to eliminate it: In 2010, Connecticut passed repeal, but it was vetoed by the governor.  The same thing had happened to New Hampshire in 2000 and a threat by the governor to veto it led to repeal failing in the 2010 NH senate after passing the house.  Colorado came within 2 senate votes of passing repeal.  Illinois’ legislature has passed repeal and waits to see if the governor will sign it. Repeal movements are getting stronger in states as diverse as Nebraska, South Dakota, Oregon, Washington State, and even Kentucky and Tennessee.  So, how does this compare to the situation globally?

As shown in this nice color-coded map, there are 139 nations which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.  Of that number:  95 nations (including the entire European Union, Canada, Mexico, much of Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and much of the Southern Cone of Africa) have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.  Many of these have gone further and changed their constitutions to make certain that a crime wave cannot easily restore the death penalty.  Another 9 countries (Bolivia, Brazil, the Cook Islands, El Salvador, Israel, Fiji, Kyrgystan (!), Latvia, and Peru) have eliminated the death penalty for ordinary crimes (i.e., reserving it for war crimes or political assassinations or murders in the military).  An additional 35 countries have the death penalty on the books, but have not executed anyone in over 10 years and have not sought the death penalty for longer. (Death penalty opponents still work to get this “practical” abolitionist countries to go further and eliminate the penalty from the books.)

That leaves only 58 countries where the death penalty is retained in both law and ordinary practice. 

Five (5) countries account for the vast majority of executions yearly.  Those five nations are China ( 470 executions in 2007, 1,718 excutions in 2008, and thousands in 2009); Iran (317 in ’07, 346 in ’08, and 120+ in ’09); Saudi Arabia (143 in ’07, 102 in ’08, and 69+ in ’09); Pakistan (135 in ’07; 36 in ’08; 120 in ’09) (Pakistan sometimes trades off with Iraq, the Sudan, or Syria), and the United States (42 in ’07, ’37 in ’08, and 52 in ’09). The United States should look in shame at being regularly listed alongside the world’s greatest abusers of human rights!

The other trend to note globally is that the direction and momentum is toward abolition.  Since 1976 (the year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gregg v. Georgia that states with re-written capital punishment laws that are “fair” and not “arbitrary in application” could resume executions), 81 nations have abolished the death penalty–and the pace is increasing.  As an American, I find it embarrassing that my country has a more ruthless punishment than Turkey (abolished in ’04), Kyrgystan, Argentina, Chile, Cambodia, or Bosnia-Herzogovina!  Hong Kong won the right to remain death-penalty free even after being returned to China in 1997!

This isolation hurts the U.S. in fighting crime and terrorism since abolitionist countries usually will not extradite accused criminals to countries that retain the death penalty unless they have assurances that the person will not be executed.  On December 10, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted for a global moratorium on executions (109 “yes” votes, 41 “no” votes, 35 abstentions, and 7 absences).

January 31, 2011 Posted by | blog series, capital punishment, ethics, human rights, U.S. politics, violence | 1 Comment

Winning the Future or Building the Future? Which Image is Most Helpful for a Progressive Agenda?

George Lakoff, the communications expert who uses  brain studies to help progressives better sell progressive politics, has a column reinforcing what I said about Obama’s attempt to use center-right language to move the center back from the left.  Lakoff notes that for his first two years in office, Obama, with sizeable Democratic majorities in Congress, was all about policy and refused to sell those policies with any kind of image or narrative.  Now he has a narrative image: competition.  Lakeoff notes that the slogan “winning the future” looks to be helpful in splitting business conservative off from rabid, far-right, “Tea Party” types.  But “winning,” fits with either a war or a sporting competition and several things that progressives care deeply about don’t easily fit into either narrative.  Lakoff also has helpful suggestions for the way the Obama team can fit many of those progressive concerns into the “winning the future” competition narrative.

As I said in my earlier post, I think those of us who are U.S. progressives and liberals should try to help Obama move the center back from the right.  Bob Cornwall, who has been a more thorough Obama partisan than I am, reminded me privately that U.S. politics is always determined by who wins the center.  But, as I emphasized, it makes a difference whether one is winning the center by Clinton-style watching where the right moves the center and then moving there or trying to move the center back from the right. 

Obama is trying the right strategy, but I wonder if “winning the future” is the right narrative image to do this.  Lakoff is right that Obama had been neglecting the necessity of selling his policies–he let the right define him–a mistake made by Jimmy Carter to disastrous results in 1980.  But Obama had been toying over the last 2 years with a different metaphor: “A New Foundation.”  That’s not the metaphor of a war (which can be used for progressive ends, as with LBJ’s”War on Poverty”), but of construction.  What if Obama, or progressives independent of him, talk not of “winning the future,” but of building the future?”  That fits with the desire for investment in infrastructure, education, innovation and green energy, but it also allows more concern for the common good.  “Winning,” competitions can reinforce rightwing social Darwinist narratives of “ruthless tooth and claw” competition, which doesn’t do much for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, universal healthcare, ending the Afghanistan war, etc.  (Yes, Lakoff shows how Social Security can be defended in Obama’s image as something already earned by competitors and other ways of defending progressive programs in the competition narrative, but some of it is forced and can be easily hijacked by conservatives.)   “Building the Future,” allows us to see society not as a fierce competition, but as a web of connection or as a home (images which help bring back concern for the environment).  It also helps us forge a foreign policy that is more about cooperation than competition.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | political philosophy, U.S. politics | Leave a comment