Bernie’s Most Valuable Lesson: The Democratic Party Does Not Do Enough to Represent the Values of Progressive Americans

Sanders has laid bare for all to see the political expediency that drives the Democratic establishment.

Source: AlterNet

Author:Conor Lynch/Salon

Emphasis Mine

Over the past year, the insurgent political campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders has revealed quite a bit about the reasoning of partisan Democrats, and thus separated the progressives from the liberals. As a populist candidate who has refused support from Super PACs and big monied interests, Sanders has shined a light on the unpleasant reality that the Democratic party — and its likely presidential nominee — is almost as reliant on funding from billionaires and Wall Street as the detested Republican party is.

Now, when it comes to criticizing Republicans, progressives and establishment Democrats generally see eye to eye. The Republican party is shamelessly anti-democratic and under the thumb of special interests; there is no debate about that. However, the other major party in American politics, while less shameless, is certainly no paragon of virtue. This has become increasingly evident as the 2016 primaries have progressed — and many Democrats are furious that the Sanders campaign has exposed this truth.

In recent weeks, the Sanders campaign has been increasingly vocal about the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s many troubling positions and her ties to Wall Street and other industries. Sanders has criticized Clinton’s high-prices speeches for Goldman Sachs (for which she has flatly refused to release the transcripts), the $15 million raised from Wall Street by one of her Super PACs, and the fact that top donors throughout her career have been individuals working at banks like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase.

Clinton and her supporters have defended these connections with a simple retort: You can’t prove quid pro quo. International Business Times reporter David Sirota recently mocked this argument on Twitter: “Logic I learned from Clinton: nobody should worry [about] oil cash going to the climate-denying GOP, unless theres proof of a clear quid pro quo.”

If the quid pro quo defense sounds familiar, it’s because it is the exact same reasoning that right-wing Supreme Court justices make when striking down campaign finance laws, as in the 2014 case, McCutcheon v. FEC, which eliminated limits on how much an individual can donate to national parties over a two year period. Justice John Roberts wrote in the decision:

“Any regulation must instead target what we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money.”

Of course, when it comes to climate change-denying Republicans, Clinton and her supporters realize that the influence of big money corrupts and is a threat to democracy. In fact, Clinton makes the point herself:

We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans. Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee.”

As with money in politics, Democrats rightly condemn Republicans for voter disenfranchisement. But at Tuesday’s primaries in New York — one of the bluest states in America — franchise was not expanded, but narrowed, and many partisan Democrats quickly dismissed concerns about possible voter suppression as bitterness from Sanders supporters after Clinton won a decisive victory. Almost 30 percent of New York’s registered voters, including Erica Garner, a Sanders surrogate and the daughter of Eric Garner, could not participate in the primaries because they were not registered with either of the two major parties, and missed the deadline to switch six months earlier (the longest such deadline in the country).

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, The Hill, AlterNet, and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter.





A Psychologist Puts Trump and the GOP on the Couch

What’s going on in the Republican mind?


Author:Michael Bader

Emphasis Mine

Rather than simply reacting with self-righteous contempt for the current crop of GOP presidential candidates, liberals like myself should try to also understand their appeal, however much we might believe it’s not strong enough to put any of them in the White House. The pre-scripted kabuki dances on display in their debates have made them easy targets for disdain, so easy that it’s a bit like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with your eyes open. Trump is an obviously racist bloviator, the creepiest and most blatantly disturbed of the bunch, for sure, but the lot of them come across as empty suits projecting poll-driven personas that their handlers believe will resonate with their base of angry and/or older white men. Moments of “authenticity” (e.g., they love their parents, spouses and children—imagine that!) are, themselves, always wooden, overly-crafted and ginned up with phony emotion and reported breathlessly by a media itself unable to stand on its own two feet and tell truth from fiction when it comes from these conservative wind-up dolls.

The Democrats will stage manage their personalities and manipulate their messages, too. Sanders is by far the most authentic, but he had to pivot in order to re-emphasize his record on race and women’s rights. Hillary will try to “present” herself as a human being (she’s a grandmother, after all), and the other guys—whoever they are—will do something similar when they can.

All of this is politics as usual, dutifully but cynically covered by a press corps that has surrendered even the pretense of critical thinking, instead sucking up to what they see as the basest cravings of their readers and viewers for the political version of reality television.

But while all politicians pander and throw authenticity under the bus of political expediency, the current plague of high-visibility GOP candidates project two especially pathological themes that they’ve decided will resonate with the feelings of millions of voters: paranoia and grandiosity.

As a liberal and a psychologist, I think it’s important to understand the nature and meaning of this resonance. The fears and insecurities that paranoia and grandiosity seek to diminish are feelings that a liberal agenda should be better able to address. Undecided voters can be drawn to the left or the right, and the more we understand the appeal of the American Right, the better able we might be to counter it with a more progressive and healthy message and platform. But we will never know if that’s possible or how to do it if we don’t understand the psychological dynamics behind the appeal of right-wing paranoia and grandiosity.

Let’s start with grandiosity, a term familiar to psychologists in our work with patients who need to inflate their self-esteem and self-assessments in order to ward off feelings of inferiority or helplessness. But just as individuals identify with, say, a sports team, so too do individuals identify with their nation—e.g., Team America. In our case, the political or collective version of personal grandiosity is what is known as “American Exceptionalism,” namely the tapestry of stories about the specialness of the United States when it comes to personal freedom, economic opportunity and growth, and military superiority. These stories have gained mythic proportions. They’re all captured by one unquestioned assumption: We are the greatest country in the history of the world. Period. This is a core part of the relentless drumbeat we hear from the conservative echo chamber.

But this braggadocio—what former Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright called “The Arrogance of Power”—requires that the ideal of American “greatness” be cleansed of any blemishes, just as a grandiose or narcissistic patient has to deny his or her human frailty and fallibility. This is where paranoia comes in handy. It’s easier to believe you are exceptional if you are comparing yourself with others and if you are proving your remarkable strength against naysayers or challengers. It helps, in other words, to have an enemy who is threatening your greatness.

Thus, the rhetoric of the current crop of Republican politicians, including, especially, the GOP clowns running for president, combines grandiosity and paranoia. Our nation’s greatness isn’t threatened by simple human fallibility but by Obama, Muslims, immigrants, Democrats, Planned Parenthood and Big Government. The second Republican presidential debate was laced with echoes of these beliefs, sometimes baldly stated, other times expressed as Obama-bashing. According to Carly Fiorina, “The United States of America is back in the leadership business.” Trump coughed up this hairball:  “We’ll make our country rich again, and we’ll have a great life all together.”

In other words, we’re in danger of losing our place in the front of the line, and only a Republican president has enough sinew and muscular confidence in American greatness to make sure that doesn’t happen. Grandiosity and paranoia—we’re the greatest, but we have to vigilantly remind ourselves and everyone else of that fact because we’re also threatened. A great “us” has to be continually reinforced by invoking threats from a demeaned “them.”

The current frontrunners for a “them” that threatens our perfect national collective are immigrants and radical Islamic extremists. Like the Red scares of the 1950s, our current xenophobia is based on the same paranoid view of ourselves and the world. The first thing Ted Cruz would apparently do as president is to “shred Obama’s catastrophic Iran deal.” Trump is the poster child for paranoia with his dumb “we’ll build a wall but put in a beautiful gate” through which we’ll ostensibly let in only beautiful people, and keep out the “bad dudes.” And, of course, his racist demagoguery reached a peak recently when he appeared to welcome a statement from a man in the audience who asserted: “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. You know, our President is one. You know he’s not even an American.”

What does psychology tell us about the origins of paranoia and grandiosity? It tells us that pathological attitudes and states of mind are best understood as attempts, however irrational they may seem, to feel safe and secure.

All of us seek safety and security.

Paranoia, for example, simply reflects an attempt to locate a frightening or painful thought outside the self, to get rid of threatening feelings, project them onto others, and then turn an internal struggle with bad feelings into an external struggle with bad people. For example, if I’m suffering from feelings of weakness or worthlessness, the belief, however false, that someone else is causing me to feel this way can temporarily help restore my sense of innocence and self-respect. There’s nothing wrong with me that getting rid of you won’t cure. In fact, in this paranoid version of reality, I’m a good or even great guy defending himself against an external danger. What emerges in the therapist’s consulting room is that paranoia solves an internal problem by making it an external one, even at the price of denying reality.

For example, Donald Trump is actually a balding misogynist, but he doesn’t have to feel like one if he wears a toupee (allegedly made from the hair of the critically-endangered Brown Spider Monkey) and tells himself and others that Megyn Kelly was menstruating and had it out for him.

In this sense, Trump shows us what happens when the personal becomes political. Like the United States itself, he is great and good, not declining and mean. Paranoia works pretty well when you’re feeling off your game.

Grandiosity works similarly as a defense against painful internal states. Thus, the grandiosity inherent in the axiomatic assertion that “we are the greatest nation in the history of the world” uses stories and images of American perfection, greatness and omnipotence to counteract narratives that we might be a nation in decline, or reeking on the inside from toxic inequality and a callous indifference to the welfare of the unfortunate. Combine grandiosity and paranoia and you have the current Republican talking points.

When individual psychopathology becomes a collective filter for understanding the political world, we see—as we do in the rhetoric and vision of today’s GOP—a pathological set of values guaranteed to lead to pathological policies. If I were to try to list the essential psychological dynamics underlying grandiosity and paranoia in the patients I see, and you were to simply replace the personal pronoun “I” with “America” or “the American people” and “you” and “them” with one of the scapegoats demonized by the GOP (e.g., people with darker skins, the wrong religion or different sexual orientation), the symmetry between crazy individuals and crazy politics becomes clearer. Again, to oversimplify:

“I’m not small; I’m big.” (American is not small; it’s/we’re big, etc.)

“I’m not bad; I’m the essence of goodness.”

“I’m not hurting others; I’m always helping them.”

“I’m not failing or losing; I’m a successful winner.”

“The problem isn’t in me; it’s in you.”

“If I could get rid of you; I’d be great and perfect and happy again.”

You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see that the adolescent tough-guy primping we see on the GOP presidential debate stages is the political manifestation of commonplace psychological mechanisms regularly seen in individuals, namely, desperate attempts to defend against dangerous and painful feelings and fears. And just as in therapy, the important challenge is to understand those feelings and fears, because when a Donald Trump wants to build a wall to protect America, he is subliminally playing to a wish in his supporters to protect themselves. But, again, the question is: protect themselves from what? What is being denied or defended against?

The answer is that the threats that grandiose and paranoid attitudes defend against involve feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness and self-hatred—all of which are arguably greater now than ever in our culture. American exceptionalism and xenophobia offer symbolic antidotes in the political world to the more personal distress of millions of Americans today. Trump and the other airheads on the GOP stage today offer a distorted vision of the world that, like the Donald’s orange wig, helps to cover up genuine feelings of vulnerability and impotence.

For many people, the Great Recession of 2008 dashed the American Dream to which they had come to aspire or which they believed they were actually living. Millions of people lost their homes, their IRAs and other savings that were allocated for retirement and for their children’s education. These losses—the result of financial shenanigans far, far away—were accompanied by great feelings of helplessness that caused stress levels to go through the ceiling. Mortgages went underwater and people took on second or third jobs, reinforcing a sense of insecurity along with feelings of helplessness and depression. And while being overwhelmed and powerless to stop the feeling of losing ground, people saw hedge fund managers and bankers getting bailed out. Because we think we live in a meritocracy in which rewards are distributed according to ability, people blamed themselves for not being able to make ends meet, or hold on to their jobs, or for losing money in the stock market, or for having tapped into their home equity too much. I heard these self-criticisms and doubts in my consulting room every day—feelings of helplessness, pessimism, isolation and self-blame.

In 1990, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 50% of Americans thought their children would be better off in 20 years. In 2015, a full 76% of Americans expressed skepticism that their children’s lives would be better off than their own. Even though millions of Americans were in the same boat, feelings of isolation and self-blame became more prevalent and debilitating. The ethic of individualism in our culture invariably leads people to blame themselves for their “lot” in life, even if that lot was caused by forces beyond their control. So, as the quality of life has deteriorated, the amount of depression and self-blaming has increased.

Further, as researchers such as John Cacioppo and Robert Putnam have documented, the breakdown of community organizations and bonds has resulted in increased social isolation, especially among the elderly (an important part of the Republican base, of course). In 2009, a study by Kodak revealed that most Americans felt that “we have fewer meaningful relationships than we had five years ago.” This trend has only worsened.

So we have a social landscape in which people feel increasingly pessimistic, helpless, isolated and self-blaming—feelings perfectly addressed by GOP platitudes intended to reassure us that we’re really great, all-powerful, and that it’s someone else’s fault if we’re not.

Ultimately, the appeal to an imaginary but reassuring sense of community undergirds all of these platitudes about American greatness, strength and antipathy toward the “other.” The latent message is: there is an “us” here, a great “us” full of power and noble intentions, an “us” to which everyone can belong as long as we keep “them” away or subjugated in ways that render them non-threatening (bombing them, building walls, deportation, etc.). Who doesn’t want to belong? To be part of an “us?”

The myths of American greatness serve this purpose perfectly. What is a better tonic to the pain of isolation and helplessness brought on by our market-driven and pathological ethos of individualism than to belong to Dream Team America, the greatest and most powerful nation that ever existed in the history of the world?

That the GOP has been instrumental in creating the conditions that it then seeks to heal with its so-called “muscular” foreign and military policy and jingoistic attacks on immigrants is an inconvenient truth that isn’t mentioned, but has been thoroughly described and discussed by progressive political analysts and sociologists. The Right helped create the problems that their racist warmongering and so-called patriotism aim to remedy. Psychology can’t fix these problems, but it can hopefully help us understand the mindset behind a system in which victims support their victimizers.

Michael Bader is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco who has written extensively on issues found at the intersection of psychology, culture, and progressive politics. His recent book, More Than Bread and Butter: A Psychologist Speaks to Progressives About What People Really Need in Order to Win an Change the World is available on and on his


New Polls Show Democrats Are Doing Better In Races Across The Country, Including The South

Source: Addicting info

Author: Alan J. Mostravick

“Even just a couple of months ago, the word around the campfire was that this November was going to suck and suck hard for Democrats. Polls showed them hobbling into election season with poor jobs numbers, a flawed and failing Obamacare and a congressional delegation unable to draw their Republican counterparts into any type of consensus.

When, on May 2, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their report that the unemployment rate had fallen another .4 points to a 6 year low 6.3 percent, the argument that Obama and the Democrats were bad for the economy began to ring hollow. Just imagine how much better that figure could have been and sooner had it not been for the completely obstructionist Boehner-led House of Representatives.

For months after the botched website launch, conservative pundits and lawmakers reveled in what they predicted would be the abject failure of the President’s signature healthcare reform law. First, there was no way the program was going to reach it’s necessary 7 million enrollees. But the chorus of criticism didn’t stop when Obamcare managed to sign up an estimated 10 million individuals through the program and expanded state medicaid programs. With a creative bit of goalpost movement, they then gleefully doubted those who signed up would actually pay their premiums. The insurance companies have debunked that silliness by reporting upwards of 85-90 percent of premiums. Another conservative talking point hoisted by its own petard.

As far as working with the ‘Party of No’? The Republicans have shown absolutely no proof that they intend to play nice across the aisle and work for the good of the country. So, perhaps what needs to happen is a big win for Democrats in the upcoming elections. And now we have several polls (even by notoriously conservative-leaning firms) that show this could no be a distinct possibility.

Both Fox News and the Rasmussen Reports have many Democrats in a statistical dead heat or even leading in their mid-term races, even in the rabidly Republican south. This is good news for many candidates but it is particularly good for southern Democratic Senate candidates Mark Pryor (AR), Allison Lundergan-Grimes (KY) and Michelle Nunn (GA), whose eventual victories will keep the Democratic majority in the Senate and will, in one instance, unseat a particularly vitriolic minority leader.

Many Democratic consultants are urging candidates to run on, (rather than run away from), issues like Obamacare and the economy. With the recent and continual good news on those fronts, that is cogent advice that should be heeded. With a big enough win in the elections, perhaps the Republicans in the House will understand that the country is tired of the petty politics of #Bengazi, Repeal and Replace, and the other obstructionist tactics currently being employed by that party.”

Emphasis Mine


The conservative crackup: How the Republican Party lost its mind


Author: Kim Messick

“In a recent article, I argued that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats”), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

Kim Messick lives and writes in North Carolina. He’s working on a novel.


Don’t Tell Anyone, but the Stimulus Worked

Republicans learned a lesson from the stimulus that Democrats didn’t expect: unwavering opposition, distortion, deceit and ridicule actually work, especially when the opposition doesn’t put up a fight. The lesson for Democrats seems equally clear: when government actually works, let the world know about it.

Source: NY Times

Author: David Firestone

Republicans howled on Thursday when the Federal Reserve, at long last, took steps to energize the economy. Some were furious at the thought that even a little economic boost might work to benefit President Obama just before an election. “It is going to sow some growth in the economy,”said Raul Labrador, a freshman Tea Party congressman from Idaho, “and the Obama administration is going to claim credit.”

Mr. Labrador needn’t worry about that. The president is no more likely to get credit for the Fed’s action — for which he was not responsible — than he gets for the transformative law for which he was fully responsible: the 2009 stimulus, which fundamentally turned around the nation’s economy and its prospects for growth, and yet has disappeared from the political conversation.

The reputation of the stimulus is meticulously restored from shabby to skillful in Michael Grunwald’s important new book, “The New New Deal.” His findings will come as a jolt to those who think the law “failed,” the typical Republican assessment, or was too small and sloppy to have any effect.

On the most basic level, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is responsible for saving and creating 2.5 million jobs. The majority of economists agree that it helped the economy grow by as much as 3.8 percent, and kept the unemployment rate from reaching 12 percent.

The stimulus is the reason, in fact, that most Americans are better off than they were four years ago, when the economy was in serious danger of shutting down.

But the stimulus did far more than stimulate: it protected the most vulnerable from the recession’s heavy winds. Of the act’s $840 billion final cost, $1.5 billion went to rent subsidies and emergency housing that kept 1.2 million people under roofs. (That’s why the recession didn’t produce rampant homelessness.) It increased spending on food stamps, unemployment benefits and Medicaid, keeping at least seven million Americans from falling below the poverty line.

And as Mr. Grunwald shows, it made crucial investments in neglected economic sectors that are likely to pay off for decades. It jump-started the switch to electronic medical records, which will largely end the use of paper records by 2015. It poured more than $1 billion into comparative-effectiveness research on pharmaceuticals. It extended broadband Internet to thousands of rural communities. And it spent $90 billion on a huge variety of wind, solar and other clean energy projects that revived the industry. Republicans, of course, only want to talk about Solyndra, but most of the green investments have been quite successful, and renewable power output has doubled.

Americans don’t know most of this, and not just because Mitt Romney and his party denigrate the law as a boondoggle every five minutes. Democrats, so battered by the transformation of “stimulus” into a synonym for waste and fraud (of which there was little), have stopped using the word. Only four speakers at the Democratic convention even mentioned the recovery act, none using the word stimulus.

Mr. Obama himself didn’t bring it up at all. One of the biggest accomplishments of his first term — a clear illustration of the beneficial use of government power, in a law 50 percent larger (in constant dollars) than the original New Deal — and its author doesn’t even mention it in his most widely heard re-election speech. Such is the power of Republican misinformation, and Democratic timidity.

Mr. Grunwald argues that the recovery act was not timid, but the administration’s effort to sell it to the voters was muddled and ineffective. Not only did White House economists famously overestimate its impact on the jobless rate, handing Mr. Romney a favorite talking point, but the administration seemed to feel the benefits would simply be obvious. Mr. Obama, too cool to appear in an endless stream of photos with a shovel and hard hat, didn’t slap his name on public works projects in the self-promoting way of mayors and governors.

How many New Yorkers know that the stimulus is helping to pay for the Second Avenue subway, or the project to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central? Almost every American worker received a tax cut from the act, but only about 10 percent of them noticed it in their paychecks. White House economists had rejected the idea of distributing the tax cuts as flashy rebate checks, because people were more likely to spend the money (and help the economy) if they didn’t notice it. Good economics, perhaps, but terrible politics.

From the beginning, for purely political reasons, Republicans were determined to oppose the bill, using silly but tiny expenditures to discredit the whole thing. Even the moderate Republican senators who helped push the bill past a filibuster had refused to let it grow past $800 billion, and prevented it from paying for school construction.

Republicans learned a lesson from the stimulus that Democrats didn’t expect: unwavering opposition, distortion, deceit and ridicule actually work, especially when the opposition doesn’t put up a fight. The lesson for Democrats seems equally clear: when government actually works, let the world know about it.

Emphasis Mine


What’s the Matter With White People? Longing for a Golden Age That Never Was

In her new book, Joan Walsh discusses the complex story of why many in the white working class turned conservative.

From:Salon, via AlterNet

By: Andrew O’Hehir, Joan Walsh

“Joan Walsh’s family, as she writes in her new book “What’s the Matter With White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was,” [4] participated in two of the great migrations of 20th-century American history. Joan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but mostly grew up in suburbia (first on Long Island and later in Wisconsin). As that happened she watched many of her Irish-American family members morph from bedrock New Deal-JFK Democrats into Nixon-Reagan Republicans. In her book, Joan tries to wrestle with this legacy as honestly and forthrightly as she can, without betraying either her family’s complicated lived experience or her own passionate commitment to social, racial and economic justice.

“What’s the Matter With White People?” is sure to provoke much discussion during the fall campaign, with its personal and historical approach to one of the most toxic issues in American politics: How and why the white working class became the Republican base, in defiance of its own economic interests, and whether the Democrats can ever win it back. Along the way it’s also a family memoir that captures a specific period in the history of Irish-American assimilation, one that resonated strongly with me (and will also with you, if you have immigrant roots), and an account of Joan’s somewhat improbable rise to fame as an MSNBC commentator, which came about in large part because she embraced her working-class, Irish Catholic roots. Joan revisits many of the questions of the bitter 2008 Democratic campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – which thrust issues of race and class back into the national consciousness – and argues that Obama now has the opportunity to embrace a broad, inclusive economic agenda that can both win this year’s election and help to heal the nation’s worsening caste divide.

But this isn’t a book review, for obvious reasons. Across a dozen years or so as Salon colleagues, Joan has been my co-worker, my boss and then a co-worker again (as well as a TV personality). We have had a number of late-night political debates, mostly friendly and occasionally argumentative. (One of those was about the fate of Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election, which took place when we were barely schoolchildren.) To stereotype both of us ruthlessly, Joan’s passion is the muddy trenches of politics, full of blood and compromise, while I’ve spent most of my journalistic career watching from the ivory tower of culture, with the other pointy-headed intellectuals. I am profoundly grateful to her for not mentioning, amid all the rough-and-tumble in her book, that Iwrote  [5]a fervent Salon article defending my vote for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. (Want someone to blame for eight years of Bush? Mea culpa.)

Over the years we’ve picked up that we have strikingly similar Irish-American family histories, and strikingly dissimilar approaches to framing the major issues of the day. Joan’s father and my father were both the children of recent immigrants, and were born two years apart in adjoining New York neighborhoods. Both were the first kids in their extended families to go to college and break through to the middle class, and both remained liberal Democrats as many of their relatives drifted into the Reagan coalition. While Joan was born in Brooklyn and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, I was born in the Bay Area and now live in Brooklyn. That’s where we met for lunch, in a lovely, tree-lined, multiracial neighborhood that looks like a 3-D Obama commercial, to talk about what in fact is wrong with white people.

So is there anything in this book that you’re anxious about your family reading?

Of course. Any time I’ve written anything about my family, people get upset about focusing on the negativity. I say in the book that I once called the Christian Brothers [monastic order] “foster care for the Irish poor,” and that remains a point of contention. I soften it a little bit in the book, but that’s still not popular in my family. Over the years I’ve tried to be more sensitive. And yet I still don’t think you send your kids off at 12 or 13, the way my grandparents did, if you have the wherewithal to support them.

There’s a scene in my book where my brother’s black friend is not made welcome by someone in my family, and people may be unhappy about that. We’ve had a lot of these discussions before. Once I started reengaging with my family, we revisited some of it. I am struck by the extent to which I probably acted like an entitled know-it-all, or a superior, self-righteous little ass, throughout my teens and 20s. Hopefully it wasn’t much longer than that. I understand things differently now.

I’m sure you know that anecdote by the novelist Mary Gordon, who describes going to her father’s funeral and having one of her aunts, who was a nun, come up to her and say, “Mary, you know we all hated your book.”

My father really wanted to be a writer, and at a certain point he said to me that what stopped him was this very Irish thing, where he always heard a voice in his head saying, “Who do you think you are?” Right after he died, that Mary Gordon essay ran, examining the relative lack of accomplished Irish-American writers. She literally says it’s that voice: Who do you think you are? There’s a lot of that.

You write about the fact that your father was the first person in his family to go to college, and also about the fact that he remained a liberal Democrat when many others around him didn’t. Both of those things describe my father too, and many other people. This is a tricky thing to discuss, but what’s the connection between higher education and voting for Democrats?

Sticking to my father’s family, the three boys who went to college, all because they went away to religious orders, turned out to be Democrats. The three siblings who didn’t turned out to be Republicans. When I’ve said that before, it can sound like I’m saying, “Oh, the smart ones became Democrats,” and I’m not saying that at all. What I realized writing this book was that liberalism in my family could seem like a form of class privilege. We were in the suburbs, we were isolated from the changes in New York. Of course my values are firmly held and my father’s were too. But it’s easy for us to think that integration is great and school busing is great, because those things did not affect us, by and large.

But that division is very important. Obama’s real problem right now is not exactly with working-class whites. That’s shorthand for a lot of things. It’s really with non-college-educated whites. Those are the people in our society who feel the most besieged, and in every poll they’re the most pessimistic about their chances and the chances of their kids. Somehow, for a lot of complicated reasons, they’ve come to associate their problems with what the government has done for other people but not for them.

You know, on the left we often talk about the absence of social class in the American conversation, and no doubt we should talk about that more. But I’ve come to believe the division in this country is often more a system of cultural castes that is not purely economic.

Yeah, I agree. It’s cultural caste and it’s isolation, including self-isolation. You often hear this about isolated black neighborhoods, but it can be just as true about isolated white neighborhoods, where people never go into the city and live in a lot of generic fear. And when you don’t go to college you’re just not exposed to different ways of thinking and different people. Even if you go to an all-white Christian college, you’re likely to come away with somewhat different attitudes than if you never do it at all.

On the subject of white people, one who’s been in the news a fair bit lately is Paul Ryan. Obviously he comes from a very different social background than Mitt Romney. But he’s been proclaimed as “working-class” by many commentators, and you dispute that.

Absolutely. He is a child of privilege and comfort, born into a construction business run by his family in Janesville, Wis. I think Paul Ryan is a great example of what drove me to write this book. It has been so vexing to me, and so mysterious, that wealthy or upper-middle-class white people, especially Irish Catholics, have become the face of the white working class when they never spent a frickin’ day in the working class in their lives. And that goes for Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Paul Ryan. Ryan’s not as associated with the racism and the really nasty stuff, but his politics are just as nasty. His beliefs and what he wants to do are just as divisive and damaging.

But without irony, last weekend we saw him hailed as the white working-class addition to this ticket. And again, it works. I think it works in part because the media is so removed from any kind of working-class roots themselves that they don’t think about what that means. What that has come to mean is not that you lack a college education and work your ass off doing manual labor. It’s come to symbolize being closed-minded about abortion, being hyper-pro-military, being religious, being culturally very conservative. It doesn’t have any class content at all.

How much does the Romney-Ryan ticket represent a doubling down on whiteness? You can’t get any whiter than those two guys, and I don’t just mean their skin color or cultural background. They both seem like people with no experience of diversity, no relationship to the changing nature of America.

I think the Republicans doubled down on whiteness, and I think they have a problem. It could be a winning strategy, temporarily. They are making decisions that, well, it’s not great that Latinos and Asians don’t like us, but we have to double down on that base. This could get us through 2012, and we’ll worry about 2016 later. I would think that, as a Republican, you would think it’s a problem that nine out of 10 self-identified Republicans are white, in a country that’s about 60 to 62 percent white right now. One of our two major parties is a white party! It’s not named the white party, and I’m not going to call it a white supremacist party. But it’s the white party, and they don’t seem to give a damn about that. I think that’s a demographic and political and social disaster.

In the long game, they probably still have a shot at Latinos and Asians. If the people in the Republican Party who are not racists come together and say, OK, we have to write off African-Americans for a while, but we’re really going to make a play for these other groups — I mean, they have to do that. Otherwise, it’s demographic extinction. But for 2012, their only hope is to double down on whiteness and play Paul Ryan’s “makers and takers” card.

So in telling the long and complicated history of how American working-class whites became the Republican base you go pretty far back into history. One of the things you start with is Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676.

Bacon’s Rebellion was basically English, Irish and black indentured servants — the slave codes hadn’t been enacted yet — rebelling against the colonial Virginia elite. You realize really quickly that there are no pure good guys in any of these stories. Bacon’s Rebellion is always hailed as the first multiracial coalition in American history — you know, Howard Zinn loves it! Well, they really came together to fight the Indians. That part maybe isn’t so ideal. But this was what the colonial slave-owning masters really feared. They had imported not just Africans, but indentured servants from Britain and Ireland, creating this army who, if they banded together, could topple the power structure. So they created the slave codes, which made Africans slaves for life. They started enforcing the terms of indentured servitude, which meant whites could be free in seven years, you got a gun, you got some grain. You were given white status, basically — and even if most people didn’t get those things, there was the idea that you would get them. They made intermarriage between whites and blacks illegal. They went to a lot of effort to make sure that people didn’t see what they had in common.

So you would agree with one of the central analytical points about American history as seen from the left, that it’s a long history of elite groups finding ways to pit workers of different races against each other, as a way of holding power.

I think that’s pretty accurate. I think it’s a way that people in power keep power. It’s obviously something in human nature that we’re susceptible to, whether it’s people at the top or at the bottom. It must play to something not so great in our natures, that we’re easy marks for that kind of divisiveness. Now, it’s not a conspiracy — it’s not like the Koch brothers have been handed tablets that have come down over the centuries. It only looks that way!

And then there’s the darkest moment in the whole history between African-Americans and Irish-Americans, which was the New York City draft riots of 1863. You draw an interesting parallel between those terrible events and the inner-city rioting of the 1960s.

Yeah, I really wonder how many people know about that. That began when a lot of Irish Catholics who were drafted during the Civil War rebelled against it.

Many of them were fresh off the boat, and felt they had no dog in the fight.

That’s right. For one day, it was essentially a workers’ riot, with Germans and other immigrants involved. Then it became a religious riot and — sadly, tragically and horrifically — a race riot. [At least 100 African-Americans were murdered by whites.] It was vicious. Now, there were places where Irish people protected black people, and in the black-Irish downtown neighborhood there were no murders, but for the most part it was an act of despicable savagery. You can’t excuse it, but it has to be understood as the desperation of people at the bottom who are being pitted against this other group at the bottom, and being told that this other group is above them: “You’re going to go fight for them.”

To the “whiteness studies” people [in left-wing academia], this was the Irish trying to prove that they were American, but in fact it postponed the Americanization of the Irish by at least a decade. The words that were used by the New York Times and other thought-leaders of the day was that the Irish were animals, they were savages. It’s so striking that almost exactly 100 years later, when African-American neighborhoods began going up in flames, my family and many other people used those words to describe black people: animals and savages.

Sure. Many white people all across America used that language, I’m afraid.

Almost no one saw the correspondences, almost no one said, “Hey, that’s what we were called.” There was no linking of the two things, yet before the Watts riots [in Los Angeles in 1965], the largest civil insurrection in American history was the New York City draft riots, with the Irish playing that role. To left-wing groups, the draft riots are a despicable act of savagery and racism, and to right-wing groups the ’60s riots were a despicable act of savagery and destruction. There’s no conversation that bridges the two.

Where did your personal and political interest in race come from? People who know you from TV may not know this, but race relations and racial justice and the intersection of race and economics have been enduring issues throughout your career.

Well, I don’t think I was even in kindergarten when my father started discussing the civil rights movement with me. For both my parents, that was the moral issue of the time. We watched it all on TV — the fire hoses and the dogs — and we were horrified. One day when we were alone, my father explained to me that we were “black Irish” and that meant we were possibly descended from Spanish or Moorish invaders, with dark hair and hazel eyes as opposed to the redheads and blonds. We should not look down on “those people” because we might be them. I never thought that I was black or that I would suffer discrimination or anything.

This is not you explaining that you’re really black.

No, this is not my way of explaining that I’m actually black. I have tried! I don’t get very far, so I gave that up a long time ago. I’m not, and it didn’t enter my consciousness that way. It was “do unto others,” in a really vivid rendering. I just continued, even after it was no longer fashionable, to think that racism and particularly poverty were the moral issues of our time. Ironically, I’ve lived in California for more than half my life, and California is really complicated for the black-white racial paradigm. It doesn’t really work there. Certainly in San Francisco, where you can see the black school superintendent clashing with Chinese parents, or in Oakland, where we had black and Latino parents sparring, it became clear to me that there was not going to be this natural people-of-color coalition that would transform American politics. Strife is the natural state, and we’re all tribal to some extent.

We need models of cooperation and a social future that don’t rely so much on race, and do not view whites as always being the people on top, the oppressors, the haves. The inability to parse the meaning of what it means to be white today — nobody was even trying to do that. The same impulses that caused me to be concerned about racial justice for black people caused me, later in life, to become more sympathetic to white working-class people and poor people. For those people to be told that they have white privilege, that there’s never a situation in which they are the underdog, that’s preposterous.

You write that when you first became a TV commentator, you were aware of the fact that your white working-class background was, in effect, a card you could play. But then, as you started doing it, the role became real for you. Is that fair?

Yeah, I think that’s true. The impulse to describe myself as a working-class Irish Catholic was there, and I recognized that it gave me entree to the debate. It shocked people.

Right. Being a San Francisco liberal doesn’t carry the same cachet.

No, it doesn’t, for better or worse. And then, increasingly, I felt I was speaking for people who otherwise were being represented by Pat Buchanan or Paul Ryan. It’s a stretch to call me working-class, although my mother and father were both very much working-class, or even poor. By the time I came along, we lived in Flatbush [a Brooklyn neighborhood of modest single-family houses] and my dad had gone to college, and the rest of my life was a steady, lovely climb upward. My cousins are very much working-class, they work for Con Ed, they are cops, firefighters, steamfitters, teachers. So there really weren’t a lot of people like me in that debate.

In the book, I write a lot about the experience of the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, where I felt that white working-class people voting for Hillary Clinton was exclusively explained in terms of racism, and I didn’t think that was true. Do I deny that some of it was racism, maybe a lot of it? No. But there was a lot more, and I thought it was unfortunate that debates about the two candidates’ economic policies were completely lost in charges of “You’re racist” and “You’re sexist.” It felt like going back to the ’60s again for a while.

That was a pretty hot and heavy campaign, and you don’t completely excuse yourself of all possible misdeeds.

No. As much as I wanted people to understand that the white working-class vote for Hillary represented class interests, I was also caught up in the first lady-president thing. I was shocked by that! I would have told you that didn’t matter to me at all. I didn’t start out supporting Hillary, but that became my own kind of tribalism. I felt that people weren’t really acknowledging her historic dynamic, and my tribalism got engaged, and that’s almost never a good thing.

You know, I really felt for Geraldine Ferraro, even though every time she tried to explain what she said it got worse and worse. And there was that crazy woman, Harriet Christian, screaming that Hillary had been robbed by an “inadequate black man.” I included a paragraph in a piece where I tried to explain what she meant, and there was really no explaining it. That particular cry from the heart — I should have left that alone, and explained how I felt. There are people to this day who, if they want to say that I’m a racist, point to that one paragraph I wrote about Harriet Christian. So I apologize. I was wrong.

There are so many historical benchmarks along the way, from Bacon’s Rebellion and the draft riots and onward. In more recent times, we have Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act 1965, New York City’s white ethnic voters rejecting civilian oversight of the cops in 1966, and then the Democratic Party blowing itself up in 1968, when the white working class crosses over to vote for Nixon. Is that a very rough outline?

Very rough but largely accurate. But one thing I didn’t realize was the extent to which a lot of the white working class, especially Irish Catholics, left the Democratic Party much earlier. Some of them left with Al Smith [the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928]. The Al Smith story fascinated me!

Al Smith is a fascinating figure in American history. More than a footnote, but less than a whole chapter. First Catholic politician on a national scale; first Catholic presidential nominee.

Right. He attracted black votes, he began to put together the New Deal coalition by keeping Southern whites but beginning to attract both Southern and Northern blacks. His defeat was an incredible victory for nativism and anti-Catholic prejudice, and a lot of Catholics didn’t recover. So when he didn’t get the nomination four years later, and it went to that Yankee aristocrat Roosevelt, the Irish mistrust of the elite was catalyzed. They were putting us down again! Pat Buchanan’s father left the party at that point, and some people in my family left the party. I had always believed that everybody voted for Kennedy on both sides of my family. But a lot of them had voted for Nixon — in 1960! They had also been pulled away by Joe McCarthy, another sad moment, and by profound fear of Communism. In some ways that’s reassuring to me.

You mean because it wasn’t just about race.

Exactly. It predated the civil rights revolution, and a lot of it had nothing to do with race. Yet there’s no way that the turmoil of the ’60s wasn’t a large part of it. Because the white working class came back to Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and they remained in play, let’s put it that way. And then the party split itself in half in ’68. When Hubert Humphrey becomes the face of reaction, the guy who introduced the civil rights plank in 1948 — when he becomes the worst collaborator with Republicanism and imperialism that we have, you have a problem.

You and I have had that conversation before, and I’m somewhat sympathetic to that point of view from this historical distance: the idea that when the left turned away from Humphrey in 1968, it was a moment of tragedy and lost opportunity. But given everything that had gone wrong — the assassinations, and his fatal association with Johnson’s failed presidency and his refusal or inability to speak out against the Vietnam War — I still can’t see how it could have turned out differently.

One thing I try not to do, which at times is unsatisfying, is to go back and say, “This is what should have happened.” I’m really looking at what did happen. We live with this complicated and awful legacy and what do we do with it now? If I could have voted back then — I don’t know. My father did vote for Humphrey, somewhat reluctantly. Had I been a voting-age person back then, I very well might not have. The antiwar movement was on the right side. Those movements were necessary, and probably a lot of the chaos and falling apart was necessary too, because society’s coherence was based on a lot of things that we couldn’t tolerate anymore. It was natural that we pulled it apart, and the question is, how do we come back together? The Obama coalition was a first step, but we still haven’t done it.

You know, I was on the floor of the Republican convention in 1992 when Pat Buchanan made that famous speech about the “cultural war” in America, and I still think that was a moment of twisted brilliance on his part. You and I may feel that he’s on the wrong side of that war, but he correctly perceived that the people you’re writing about feel themselves cut off and divided from the mainstream of American society, especially the educated, multicultural people on the coasts and in the big cities. Moreover, they’re right to perceive themselves as being on the other side of a caste divide, and nobody really knows how to bridge that gap.

Absolutely. It took us a while to get here, and it’s going to take us a while to get out. We can start by talking about it differently, using less divisive language. Not writing them off, even if we can’t win them back. It made me nervous in 2011 when there were stories about how Obama could win without Ohio. They’re not talking about that anymore, and remember that Obama won the white working class in Ohio. He didn’t win it nationally, but he won it in Ohio. It wasn’t as though the “Hillary voters” were unreachable, or unable to see what he offered versus John McCain. And I think they’ll be able to see what he offers versus Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. The way we sometimes congratulate ourselves on being the Obama coalition — you know, we’re younger, we’re fun and flirty, we’re colorful, we’re on Twitter! — there’s no place there for 50-somethings who’ve lost their jobs and will never get the same kind of job back, and who can’t afford college for their kids. I think there are ways to talk about these issues that should give us a better chance than when we’re fighting on a culture-war level.

I think the president has begun to talk about it that way. You know, in the 2008 campaign, the hope and change stuff — “We’re the ones we’re waiting for” — had an edge of elitism. I don’t believe Barack Obama is an elitist, but the campaign could take on the fervor of the better class of people doing what’s best for America, and that’s never good. Those were the times I was worried, and I’m not seeing that in the 2012 campaign.

One thing I talk about a lot in the book is the idea of the golden age that never was. We made the political decision in this country to create a middle class, out of fear of communism and domestic unrest and fascism. The powers that be decided that it was better to flatten income and inequality, to have a 90-something percent top level of marginal taxation. There were engines of the middle class — mortgage insurance, highway construction, public universities, college funds — and those were political decisions. One problem is that people don’t see them that way, and another problem is that they didn’t help nonwhite people nearly as much.

This great apparatus that created the middle class excluded black people for a long time, and the suburbs had restrictive covenants, where certain people couldn’t buy even if they had the means. So we left a lot of people out, and all these white people got a lot of help. Government made all these decisions to help people that were colorless and odorless, and just seemed to be the background, like the air in this restaurant. People didn’t even identify them as government help, and then you get a situation where minorities say, “We didn’t get what you got,” and white people say, “We didn’t get anything! We worked for everything we got!”

It’s a fundamental divide of understanding, where you really need to change the terms of the conversation. And that’s where I think the president has been brilliant. There’s a new debate, where we have to recognize all the things government did to make an earlier generation of success possible. We stopped doing those things 20 or 30 years ago, and we have fallen into a horrible economic and social decline.

Another fascinating tangent in your book is the material about Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who himself grew up in poverty and later became this controversial sociologist and then a U.S. senator. When I think about Moynihan’s recommendations to LBJ in the mid-’60s, urging a New Deal-scale public employment project to lift poor African-Americans toward the middle class – well, if that had been done, we’d be living in a different country today.

I completely agree. Moynihan once proposed that we have twice-daily mail delivery, to add hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and here we are talking about slashing the Postal Service. He understood that jobs were money but also that jobs were social fabric, jobs were pride. I fret about how much I praise Moynihan in this book! I know that someone is going to come up with something he said sometime –

His language can sound patronizing or paternalistic.

Right. But I think that’s a really important moment, when Michael Harrington and Moynihan are in the Labor Department and they’re proposing this massive public works project. It gets rejected because Johnson is spending billions of dollars on the war. If those recommendations had been adopted, I think things would have been very different. I defend welfare, but the idea that we were going to let society’s most marginal, vulnerable people live on welfare, raise their children alone and not have to work — first of all, it led to incredible isolation, and second of all, it was never realistic. As women from all other classes were surging into the workforce, whether they wanted to or not, the way we administered welfare at that time was a recipe for social resentment and all kinds of unintended consequences.

So, yeah, We’rput me down for a massive public employment program back in 1964, or in 2012.  W e not going to solve these problems without looking at government as the employer of last resort, and we are at last resort. African-American teen unemployment is ridiculous. These problems are just as urgent as they were then. Some of the solutions are the same, and some are different. And my last word about Moynihan is that everything he said about black people he also said about his own people. He knew that we had been on the bottom and had colluded in keeping ourselves on the bottom to some extent. Poverty, oppression and nativism had forced the Irish into ghettoes, and some had a culture of poverty that made things worse.

This is tricky to talk about, but it would be great if we could: The way that African-American poverty is on a continuum with white immigrant poverty. Some people will argue that Moynihan had no business opining on the problems of African-Americans, and that’s problematic. He did so fully believing that he could do it because his people had the same problems. If we can’t talk about that and see the common bond, we’re screwed.

You make a persuasive case, in many ways, for supporting President Obama and the Democratic Party – and you know how difficult it is, on a personal level, for me to say that! But how do you respond, at this point, to what we might call the Glenn Greenwald issues? The expensive and dubious overseas military adventures, the drone assassinations, the erosion of constitutional liberties – all the stuff from the Bush administration that we thought would go away and mostly hasn’t.

You know, I’m very disappointed on all of those fronts, and to some extent on economic fronts as well. When we’re talking about why the white working class left the Democratic Party — well, the Democratic Party left the working class around the same time. The Democratic Party drew the conclusion that government was being blamed for all these problems and so they were no longer going to be the party of government. They moved away from economic populism and greater inclusion, and they began courting business. They ceded the argument to Republicans, they joined the deregulation brigade, they signed on to the argument that entitlements are a problem and we’ve really got to cut Medicare and Social Security.

So the Democratic Party was no longer the party of working-class people and working-class ideas. There are lots of reasons to be unhappy with the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. I’m just stuck being a “lesser of two evils” person. In Chris Hayes’ book “Twilight of the Elites,” he argues that progressives are divided into institutionalists and insurrectionists. I’m such an institutionalist! I still call myself a Catholic, because they’re not going to drive me out. I call myself a Democrat because the DLC is not going to drive me out.

I don’t think Mitt Romney is going to change any of the civil liberties policies that I find abhorrent. The only thing for the left to do is build up its strength, and organize at the congressional level and the local level. We have obviously not been successful in building our case that this kind of continued military adventurism makes us less safe, and that we can afford a different way. Trashing Barack Obama is not the way to win people over to our side. On those issues I am really disappointed, but having him go away in January wouldn’t make anything better for anyone.

Emphasis Mine


Noam Chomsky on America’s Economic Suicide

From: AlterNet

By: Laura Flanders and Noam Chomsky

“Noam Chomsky has not just been watching the Occupy movement. A veteran of the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-intervention movements of the 1960s through the 1980s, he’s given lectures at Occupy Boston and talked with occupiers across the US.  His new book, Occupy, published in the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series by Zuccotti Park Press brings together several of those lectures, a speech on “occupying foreign policy” and a brief tribute to his friend and co-agitator Howard Zinn.

From his speeches, and in this conversation, it’s clear that the emeritus MIT professor and author is as impressed by the spontaneous, cooperative communities some Occupy encampments created, as he is by the movement’s political impact.

We’re a nation whose leaders are pursuing policies that amount to economic “suicide” Chomsky says. But there are glimmers of possibility – in worker co-operatives, and other spaces where people get a taste of a different way of living.

We talked in his office, for Free Speech TV on April 24.

LF: Let’s start with the big picture. How do you describe the situation we’re in, historically?

NC: There is either a crisis or a return to the norm of stagnation. One view is the norm is stagnation and occasionally you get out of it. The other is that the norm is growth and occasionally you can get into stagnation. You can debate that but it’s a period of close to global stagnation. In the major state capitalists economies, Europe and the US, it’s low growth and stagnation and a very sharp income differentiation a shift — a striking shift — from production to financialization.

The US and Europe are committing suicide in different ways. In Europe it’s austerity in the midst of recession and that’s guaranteed to be a disaster. There’s some resistance to that now. In the US, it’s essentially off-shoring production and financialization and getting rid of superfluous population through incarceration. It’s a subtext of what happened in Cartagena [Colombia] last week with the conflict over the drug war. Latin America wants to decriminalize at least marijuana (maybe more or course;) the US wants to maintain it.  An interesting story.  There seems to me no easy way out of this….

LF: And politically…?

NC: Again there are differences. In Europe there’s an dangerous growth of ultra xenophobia which is pretty threatening to any one who remembers the history of Europe…  and an attack on the remnants of the welfare state. It’s hard to interpret the austerity-in-the-midst-of-recession policy as anything other than attack on the social contract. In fact, some leaders come right out and say it. Mario Draghi the president of the European Central Bank had an interview with the Wall St Journal in which he said the social contract’s dead; we finally got rid of it.

In the US, first of all, the electoral system has been almost totally shredded. For a long time it’s  been pretty much run by private concentrated spending but now it’s over the top. Elections increasingly over the years have been [public relations] extravaganzas. It was understood by the ad industry in 2008 — they gave Barack Obama their marketing award of the year.  This year it’s barely a pretense.

The Republican Party has pretty much abandoned any pretense of being a traditional political party. It’s in lockstep obedience to the very rich, the super rich and the corporate sector. They can’t get votes that way so they have to mobilize a different constituency. It’s always been there, but it’s rarely been mobilized politically. They call it the religious right, but basically it’s the extreme religious population. The US is off the spectrum in religious commitment. It’s been increasing since 1980 but now it’s a major part of the voting base of the Republican Party so that means committing to anti-abortion positions, opposing women’s rights…  The US is a country [in which] eighty percent of the population thinks the Bible was written by god. About half think every word is literally true. So it’s had to appeal to that – and to the nativist population, the people that are frightened, have always been… It’s a very frightened country and that’s increasing now with the recognition that the white population is going to be a minority pretty soon, “they’ve taken our country from us.” That’s the Republicans. There are no more moderate Republicans. They are now the centrist Democrats. Of course the Democrats are drifting to the Right right after them. The Democrats have pretty much given up on the white working class. That would require a commitment to economic issues and that’s not their concern.

LF: You describe Occupy as the first organized response to a thirty-year class war….

NC: It’s a class war, and a war on young people too… that’s why tuition is rising so rapidly. There’s no real economic reason for that. It’s a technique of control and indoctrination.  And this is really the first organized, significant reaction to it, which is important.

LF: Are comparisons to Arab Spring useful? 

NC: One point of similarity is they’re both responses to the toll taken by the neo lib programs. They have a different effect in a poor country like Egypt than a rich country like the US. But structurally somewhat similar. In Egypt the neoliberal programs have meant statistical growth, like right before the Arab Spring, Egypt was a kind of poster child for the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund:] the marvelous economic management and great reform. The only problem was for most of the population it was a kind of like a blow in the solar plexus: wages going down, benefits being eliminated, subsidized food gone and meanwhile, high concentration of wealth and a huge amount of corruption.

We have a structural analogue here – in fact the same is true in South America –  some of the most dramatic events of the last decade (and we saw it again in Cartagena a couple of weeks ago) Latin America is turning towards independence for the first time in five hundred years. That’s not small. And the Arab Spring was beginning to follow it. There’s a counterrevolution in the Middle East/North Africa (MENAC) countries beating it back, but there were advances. In South America [there were] substantial ones and that’s happening in the Arab Spring and it has a contagious effect – it stimulated the Occupy movement and there are interactions.

LF. In the media, there was a lot of confusion in the coverage of Occupy. Is there a contradiction between anarchism and organization? Can you clarify? 

NC: Anarchism means all sort of things to different people but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on.  Actually, one piece of the media confusion has a basis because there really are two different strands in the occupy movement, both important, but different.

One is policy oriented: what policy goals [do we want.] Regulate the banks, get money out of elections; raise the minimum wage, environmental issues. They’re all very important and the Occupy movement made a difference. It shifted not only the discourse but to some extent, action on these issues.

The other part is just creating communities — something extremely important in a country like this, which is very atomized. People don’t talk to each other. You’re alone with your television set or internet. But you can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call “secondary organizations,” places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas. You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation.  Communities like that are really important. And maybe that’s what’s causing the media confusion…because it’s both.

LF: Is that why the same media that routinely ignores violence against women, played up stories about alleged rape and violence at OWS camps? 

NC: That’s standard practice. Every popular movement that they want to denigrate they pick up on those kind of things. Either that, or weird dress or something like that.  I remember once in 1960s, there was a demonstration that went from Boston to Washington and tv showed some young woman with a funny hat and strange something or other.  There was an independent channel down in Washington – sure enough, showed the very same woman. That’s what they’re looking for. Let’s try to show that it’s silly and insignificant and violent if possible and you get a fringe of that everywhere.

To pay attention to the actual core of the movement  — that would be pretty hard. Can you concentrate for example on either the policy issues or the creation of functioning democratic communities of mutual support and say, well, that’s what’s lacking in our country that’s why we don’t have a functioning democracy – a community of real participation. That’s really important. And that always gets smashed.

Take say, Martin Luther King. Listen to the speeches on MLK Day – and it’s all “I have a dream.” But he had another dream and he presented that in his last talk in Memphis just before he was assassinated.  In which he said something about how he’s like Moses he can see the promised land but how we’re not going to get there. And the promised land was policies and developments which would deal with the poverty and repression, not racial, but the poor people’s movement. Right after that (the assassination) there was a march. [King] was going to lead it. Coretta Scott King led it. It started in Memphis went through the South to the different places where they’d fought the civil rights battle and ended up in Washington DC and they had a tent city, Resurrection Park and security forces were called in by the liberal congress. The most liberal congress in memory. They broke in in the middle of the night smashed up Resurrection Park and drove them out of the city. That’s the way you deal with popular movements that are threatening…

LF: Thinking of Memphis, where Dr. King was supporting striking sanitation workers, what are your thoughts on the future of the labor movement? 

The labor movement had been pretty much killed in the 1920s, almost destroyed. It revived in the 1930s and made a huge difference. By the late 1930s the business world was already trying to find ways to beat it back. They had to hold off during the war but right after, it began immediately. Taft Hartley was 1947, then you get a huge corporate propaganda campaign a large part if it directed at labor unions: why they’re bad and destroy harmony and amity in the US.  Over the years that’s had an effect. The Labor movement recognized what was going on far too late. Then it picked up under Reagan.

Reagan pretty much informed employers that they were not going to employ legal constraints on breaking up unions (they weren’t not strong but there were some) and firing of workers for organizing efforts I think tripled during the Reagan years.

Clinton came along; he had a different technique for breaking unions, it was called NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement.] Under NAFTA there was again a sharp increase in illegal blocking of organizing efforts. You put up a sign – We’re going to transfer operations to Mexico…  It’s illegal but if you have a criminal state, it doesn’t make a difference.

The end result, is, private sector unionization is down to practically seven percent. Meanwhile the public sector unions have kind of sustained themselves [even] under attack, but in the last few years, there’s been a sharp [increase in the] attack on public sector unions, which Barack Obama has participated in, in fact. When you freeze salaries of federal workers, that’s equivalent to taxing public sector people…

LF: And attacks on collective bargaining? 

NC: Attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin [are part of] a whole range of attacks because that’s an attack on a part of the labor movement that was protected by the legal system as a residue of the New Deal and Great Society and so on.

LF: So do unions have a future? 

NC: Well, it’s not worse than the 1920s. There was a very lively active militant labor movement in the late part of the 19th century, right through the early part of 20th century. [It was] smashed up by Wilson and the red scares. By the 1920s right-wing visitors from England were coming and just appalled by the way workers were treated. It was pretty much gone. But by 1930s it was not only revived, it was the core element of bringing about the New Deal. The organization of the CIO and the sit-down strikes which were actually terrifying to management because it was one step before saying “O.K. Goodbye, we’re going to run the factory.” And that was a big factor in significant New Deal measures that were not trivial but made a big difference.

Then, after the war, starts the attack, but it’s a constant battle right though American history. It’s the history of this country and the history of every other country too, but the US happens to have an unusually violent labor history. Hundreds of workers getting killed here for organizing at a time that was just unheard of in Europe or Australia…

LF: What is the Number One target of power today in your view? Is it corporations, Congress, media, courts? 

NC: The Media are corporations so… It’s the concentrations of private power which have an enormous, not total control, but enormous influence over Congress and the White House and that’s increasing sharply with sharp concentration of  private power and escalating cost of elections and so on…

LF: As we speak, there are shareholder actions taking place in Detroit and San Francisco. Are those worthwhile, good targets? 

NC: They’re ok, but remember, stock ownership in the US is very highly concentrated. [Shareholder actions are] something, but it’s like the old Communist Party in the USSR, it would be nice to see more protest inside the Communist Party but it’s not democracy. It’s not going to happen. [Shareholder actions] are a good step, but they’re mostly symbolic. Why not stakeholder action? There’s no economic principal that says that management should be responsive to shareholders, in fact you can read in texts of business economics that they could just as well have a system in which the management is responsible to stakeholders.

LF: But you hear it all the time that under law, the CEO’s required to increase dividends to shareholders. 

NC: It’s kind of a secondary commitment of the CEO. The first commitment is raise your salary. One of the ways to raise your salary sometimes is to have short-term profits but there are many other ways. In the last thirty years there have been very substantial legal changes to corporate governance so by now CEOs pretty much pick the boards that give them salaries and bonuses. That’s one of the reasons why the CEO-to-payment [ratio] has so sharply escalated in this country in contrast to Europe. (They’re similar societies and it’s bad enough there, but here we’re in the stratosphere. ] There’s no particular reason for it. Stakeholders — meaning workers and community – the CEO could just as well be responsible to them. This presupposes there ought to be management but why does there have to be management?  Why not have the stakeholders run the industry?

LF: Worker co-ops are a growing movement. One question that I hear is  — will change come from changing ownership if you don’t change the profit paradigm?  

NC: It’s a little like asking if shareholder voting is a good idea, or the Buffet rule is a good idea. Yes, it’s a good step, a small step. Worker ownership within a state capitalist, semi-market system is better than private ownership but it has inherent problems. Markets have well-known inherent inefficiencies. They’re very destructive.  The obvious one, in a market system, in a really functioning one, whoever’s making the decisions doesn’t pay attention to what are called externalities,effects on others. I sell you a car, if our eyes are open we’ll make a good deal for ourselves but we’re not asking how it’s going to affect her [over there.] It will, there’ll be more congestion, gas prices will go up, there will be environmental effects and that multiplies over the whole population. Well, that’s very serious.

Take a look at the financial crisis. Ever since the New Deal regulation was essentially dismantled, there have been regular financial crises and one of the fundamental reasons, it’s understood, is that the CEO of Goldman Sachs or CitiGroup does not pay attention to what’s calledsystemic risk. Maybe you make a risky transaction and you cover your own potential losses, but you don’t take into account the fact that if it crashes it may crash the entire system.  Which is what a financial crash is.

The much more serious example of this is environmental impacts. In the case of financial institutions when they crash, the taxpayer comes to the rescue, but if you destroy the environment no one is going to come to the rescue…

LF: So it sounds as if you might support something like the Cleveland model where the ownership of the company is actually held by members of the community as well as the workers… 

NC: That’s a step forward but you also have to get beyond that to dismantle the system of production for profit rather than production for use. That means dismantling at least large parts of market systems. Take the most advanced case: Mondragon. It’s worker owned, it’s not worker managed, although the management does come from the workforce often, but it’s in a market system and they still exploit workers in South America, and they do things that are harmful to the society as a whole and they have no choice. If you’re in a system where you must make profit in order to survive. You are compelled to ignore negative externalities, effects on others.

Markets also have a very bad psychological effect. They drive people to a conception of themselves and society in which you’re only after your own good, not the good of others and that’s extremely harmful.

LF: Have you ever had a taste of a non market system — had a flash of optimism –– oh this is how we could live? 

NC: A functioning family for example, and there are bigger groups, cooperatives are a case in point. It certainly can be done. The biggest I know is Mondragon but there are many in between and a lot more could be done. Right here in Boston in one of the suburbs about two years ago, there was a small but profitable enterprise building high tech equipment.  The multi-national who owned the company didn’t want to keep it on the books so they decided to close it down. The workforce and the union, UE (United Electrical workers), offered to buy it, and the community was supportive. It could have worked if there had been popular support. If there had been an Occupy movement then, I think that could have been a great thing for them to concentrate on. If it had worked you would have had  another profitable, worker-owned and worker managed profitable enterprise. There‘s a fair amount of that already around the country. Gar Alperovitz has written about them, Seymour Melman has worked on them. Jonathan Feldman was working on these things.

There are real examples and I don’t see why they shouldn’t survive. Of course they’re going to be beaten back. The power system is not going to want them any more than they want popular democracy any more than the states of middle east and the west are going to tolerate the Arab spring… .They’re going to try to beat it back.

LF: They tried to beat back the sit-in strikes back in the 1930s. What we forget is entire communities turned out to support those strikes. In Flint, cordons of women stood between the strikers and the police. 

NC: Go back a century to Homestead, the worker run town, and they had to send in the National Guard to destroy them.

LF: Trayvon Martin. Can you talk for a few minutes about the role of racism and racial violence in what we’ve been talking about?  Some people think of fighting racism as separate from working on economic issues. 

NC: Well you know, there clearly is a serious race problem in the country. Just take a look at what’s happening to African American communities. For example wealth, wealth in African American communities is almost zero. The history is striking. You take a look at the history of African Americans in the US. There’s been about thirty years of relative freedom. There was a decade after the Civil War and before north/south compact essentially recriminalized black life. During the Second World War there was a need for free labor so there was a freeing up of the labor force. Blacks benefitted from it. It lasted for about twenty years, the big growth period in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so a black man could get a job in an auto plant and buy a house and send his kids to college and kind of enter into the world but by the 70s it was over.

With the radical shift in the economy, basically the workforce, which is partly white but also largely black, they basically became superfluous. Look what happened, we recriminalized black life. Incarceration rates since the 1908s have gone through the roof, overwhelmingly black males, women and Hispanics to some extent. Essentially re-doing what happened under Reconstruction. That’s the history of African Americans – so how can any one say there’s no problem. Sure, racism is serious, but it’s worse than that…

LF: Talk about media. We often discern bias in the telling of a particular story, but I want you to talk more broadly about the way our money media portray power, democracy, the role of the individual in society and the way that change happens. …

NC: Well they don’t want change to happen….They’re right in the center of the system of power and domination. First of all the media are corporations, parts of bigger corporations, they’re very closely linked to other systems of power both in personnel and interests and social background and everything else. Naturally they tend to be reactionary.

LF: But they sort of give us a clock. If change hasn’t happened in ten minutes, it’s not going to happen. 

NC: Well that’s a technique of indoctrination. That’s something I learned from my own experience. There was once an interview with Jeff Greenfield in which he was asked why I was never asked ontoNightline.  He gave a good answer. He said the main reason was that I lacked concision. I had never heard that word before. You have to have concision. You have to say something brief between two commercials.

What can you say that’s brief between two commercials? I can say Iran is a terrible state. I don’t need any evidence. I can say Ghaddaffi carries out terror.  Suppose I try to say the US carries out terror, in fact it’s one of the leading terrorist states in the world. You can’t say that between commercials. People rightly want to know what do you mean. They’ve never heard that before. Then you have to explain. You have to give background. That’s exactly what’s cut out. Concision is a technique of propaganda. It ensures you cannot do anything except repeat clichés, the standard doctrine, or sound like a lunatic.

LF: What about media’s conception of power? Who has it, who doesn’t have it and what’s our role if we’re not say, president or CEO. 

NC: Well, not just the media but pretty much true of academic world, the picture is we the leading democracy in the world, the beacon of freedom and rights and democracy. The fact that democratic participation here is extremely marginal, doesn’t enter [the media story.]  The media will condemn the elections in Iran, rightly, because the candidates have to be vetted by the clerics. But they won’t point out that in the United States [candidates] have to be vetted by high concentrations of private capital. You can’t run in an election unless you can collect millions of dollars.

One interesting case is right now. This happens to be the 50thanniversary of the US invasion of South Vietnam – the worst atrocity in the post war period. Killed millions of people, destroyed four countries, total horror story. Not a word. It didn’t happen because “we” did it. So it didn’t happen.

Take 9-11. That means something in the United States. The “world changed” after 9-11. Well, do a slight thought experiment. Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House… suppose they’d killed the president , established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international  terror center that was carrying out assassinations , overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out  Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973.  Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this.

And you can generalize it broadly. The same is pretty much true of scholarship – except for on the fringes – it’s certainly true of the mainstream of the academic world.  In some respects critique of the media is a bit misleading [because they’re not alone among institutions of influence] and of course, they closely interact.”

Former Air America Radio host, Laura Flanders is the host and founder of GRITtv with Laura Flanders, a daily talk show for people who want to do more than talk. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species (Verso, 2004) and Blue GRIT: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (Penguin Press, 2007). A regular contributor on MSNBC, Flanders has appeared on shows from Real Time with Bill Maher to The O’Reilly Factor. Flanders is the editor of At the Tea Party: The Wing Nuts, Whack Jobs and Whitey-whiteness of the New Republican Right… and Why we Should Take it Seriously (October 2010, OR books). For more information, go to or

Emphasis Mine


GOP War on Caterpillars

From: Religion Dispatches

By: Sarah Morice-Brubaker

“You guys, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thinks it is TOTALLY UNFAIR for people to suggest that the Republican party treats women voters like voiceless, unintelligent, subhuman pests. Why, that’s as absurd as suggesting that Republicans have waged a war on caterpillars!
“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media
outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then
we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee
Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s
Political Capital with Al Hunt airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”
So, dude, quick question: What if a lot of caterpillars themselves said their rights were being attacked? Would it still be obvious fiction? Oh, except, ha ha ha, that’s a ridiculous suggestion because caterpillars can’t talk and don’t vote, lack self-awareness, and don’t have opinions on public policy that affects them.
Okay, what if—just for grins, because obviously what I’m about to say is total science-fiction territory—we imagine that there’s, I don’t know, a REALLY WEIRD species of caterpillar that votes, thinks, talks, forms opinions on policy, has legal rights, is self-aware, and… uh… is actually a person? And what if a significant number of these mythical creatures raised protests about how Republican policies were infringing on their rights? I mean, really: try hard to imagine, as outlandish as it might seem, that the protests were not simply coming from “the Democrats” or “every mainstream media outlet” but the caterpillars themselves!
If it’s too difficult to imagine, try watching this video, but mentally changing the gender of the caterpillar. Also, every time the narrator says “hungry,” mentally append the words “… for equal protection under the law.” 

See, Mr. Priebus, the thing about arguments by analogy is that the two things being compared have to be sufficiently similar to warrant the comparison and the conclusion implied thereby. That’s what allows me to say, for example, “Reince Priebus comparing a ‘war on women’ with a ‘war on caterpillars’ is like Eric Fehrnstrom’s now-infamous Etch-a-Sketch remark about Romney: Each is an unintentionally revealing slip that confirms a lot of voters’ worst fears.”  But I can’t say, “Reading Priebus’ remark was like having mechanical pencil lead jammed into my tear ducts.” Because having pencil lead jammed into my tear ducts leaves lasting damage only on me, whereas your remark… well. Of course, what’s really rich is that in other contexts Priebus claims to cares a whole lot about the rights of entities that can’t speak, form opinions, be self-reflective, or vote. Because he describes himself as a “100% Psalm 139 pro-life republican”. And it’s in the name of that commitment that he can’t grant any legitimacy to the widespread alarm over what Republican policies mean for women.I just…. arrrgh. This really is the logic of a certain brand of anti-abortion conservatism, isn’t it? I claim to be “100% pro-life” because I profess to care about those in the human community who cannot speak, reflect, or vote.  But because of that commitment I’m under no obligation to give a rat’s patootie about things said, reflected upon, or voted for by a large proportion of the human community. Fetuses at every stage of development are really tiny people, beloved of God, who just want to be loved and cared for, and who hope for an army of principled selfless defenders. But women are like garden pests. Wow, good thing that Republican War on Women is a complete fiction. Otherwise I might be worried. 

Emphasis Mine


The Santorum Strategy

The Republican presidential campaign is about a lot more than the campaign for the presidency. It is about guaranteeing a radical conservative future for America.

From: RSN

By:George Lakoff, Reader Supported News

“The Santorum Strategy is not just about Santorum. It is about pounding the most radical conservative ideas into the public mind by constant repetition during the Republican presidential campaign, whether by Santorum himself, by Gingrich or Ron Paul, by an intimidated Romney, or by the Republican House majority. The Republican presidential campaign is about a lot more than the campaign for the presidency. It is about guaranteeing a radical conservative future for America.

I am old enough to remember how liberals (me included) made fun of Ronald Reagan as a not-too-bright mediocre actor who could not possibly be elected president. I remember liberals making fun of George W.Bush as so ignorant and ill-spoken that Americans couldn’t possibly take him seriously. Both turned out to be clever politicians who changed America much for the worse. And among the things they and their fellow conservatives managed to do was change public discourse, and with it, change how a great many Americans thought.

The Republican presidential campaign has to be seen in this light.

Liberals tend to underestimate the importance of public discourse and its effect on the brains of our citizens. All thought is physical. You think with your brain. You have no alternative. Brain circuitry strengthens with repeated activation. And language, far from being neutral, activates complex brain circuitry that is rooted in conservative and liberal moral systems. Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry. This is extremely important for so-called “independents,” who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth. The more they hear conservative language over the next eight months, the more their conservative brain circuitry will be strengthened.

This point is being missed by Democrats and by the media, and yet it is the most vital issue for our future in what is now being discussed. No matter who gets the Republican nomination for president, the Santorum Strategy will have succeeded unless Democrats dramatically change their communication strategy as soon as possible. Even if President Obama is re-elected, he will have very little power if the Republicans keep the House, and a great deal less if they take the Senate. And if they keep and take more state houses and local offices around the country, there will be less and less possibility of a liberal future.

The Republican presidential campaign is not just about the presidential race. It is about using conservative language to strengthen conservative values in the brains of voters – in campaigns at all levels from Congress to school boards. Part of the Republican strategy is to get liberals to argue against them, repeating conservative language. There is a reason I wrote a book called Don’t Think of an Elephant! When you negate conservative language, you activate conservative ideas and, hence, automatically and unconsciously strengthen the brain circuitry that characterizes conservative values.

As I was writing the paragraphs above, the mail came. In it was material from Public Citizen (an organization I admire) promoting Single Payer Health Care (which I agree with) by arguing against right-wing lies about it. In big, bold type the lies were listed: Single payer is socialized medicine. Single payer will lead to rationing, like in Canada. Costs will skyrocket under single Payer. And so on. After each one, came the negative: Wrong. And then in small, unbolded type, the laundry lists of policy truths. Public Citizen was unconsciously promoting the conservative lies by repeating them in boldface and then negating them.

The same naiveté about messaging, public discourse, and effects on brains is now showing up in liberal discussions of the Republican presidential race. Many Democrats are reacting either with glee (“their field is so ridiculously weak and wacky.” – Maureen Dowd), with outrage (their deficit-reduction proposals would actually raise the deficit – Paul Krugman), or with incredulity (“Why we’re debating a woman’s access to birth control is beyond me.” – Debbie Wasserman Schultz). Hendrik Hertzberg dismissed the ultra-conservatives as “a kick line of clowns, knaves, and zealots.” Joe Nocera wrote that he hope Santorum would be the Republican candidate, claiming that he is so far to the right that he would be “crushed” – an “epic defeat,” “shock therapy” that would bring back moderate Republicans. Democrats even voted for Santorum in the Michigan primary on the grounds that he would be the weaker candidate and that it would be to the Democrats’ advantage if the Republican race dragged on for a long time.

I mention these liberals by name because they are all people I admire and largely agree with. I hope that they are right. And I hope that the liberal discourse of glee, scorn, outrage, incredulity, and support for the most radical conservative will actually win the day for Democrats at all levels. But, frankly, I have my doubts. I think Democrats need much better positive messaging, expressing and repeating liberal moral values – not just policies- uniformly across the party. That is not happening.

One of the reasons that it is not happening is that there is a failure to understand the difference between policy and morality, that morality beats policy, and that moral discourse is absolutely necessary. This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010. Consider how conservatives got a majority of Americans to be against the Obama health care plan. The president had polled the provisions, and each had strong public support: No preconditions, no caps, no loss of coverage if you get sick, ability to keep your college-age child on your policy, and so on. These are policy details, and they matter. The conservatives never argued against any of them. Instead, they re-framed; they made a moral case against “Obamacare.” Their moral principles were freedom and life, and they had language to go with them. Freedom: “government takeover.” Life: “death panels.” Republicans at all levels repeated them over and over, and convinced millions of people who were for the policy provisions of the Obama plan to be against the plan as a whole. They changed the public discourse, changed the brains of the electorate – especially the “independents” – and won in 2010.

The radical conservative discourse of the Republican presidential race has the same purpose, and conservative Republicans are luring Democrats into making the same mistakes. Santorum, the purest radical conservative, is the best example. From the perspective of conservative moral values, he is making sense and arguing logically, making his moral values clear and coming across as straightforward and authentic, as Reagan did.

The Moral Value Systems

The basic moral values in the progressive moral system are empathy and responsibility, both for oneself and others. This leads to a view of government as having certain moral obligations: providing protection and empowerment for everyone equally. This requires a vibrant commitment to the public – public infrastructure (roads, buildings, sewers), public education, public health, and so on. No private business can prosper at all without such public provisions. The private depends on the public.

These values follow from certain ideal progressive family values, as projected to larger institutions. The progressive family has parents of equal authority. Their central moral role requires empathy with each other and their children, it requires self-responsibility, and responsibility for the well-being of other family members. This means open communication, transparency about family rules, shared decision-making, and need-based fairness.

This is an idealized view. Because our first acquaintance with being governed is in our families, we come to understand ideal versions of governing institutions (e.g., churches, schools, teams, and nations) in terms of idealizations of families.

The idealized conservative family is structured around a strict father who is the natural leader of the family, who is assumed to know right from wrong, whose authority is absolute and unchallengeable, who is masculine, makes decisions about reproduction, and who sets the rules – in short, the Decider. Children must be taught right from wrong through strict discipline, which is required to be moral. This maps onto the nation. To be prosperous in a free market, one must be fiscally disciplined. If you are not prosperous, you must not be disciplined, and if you are not disciplined, you cannot be moral, and so you deserve your poverty.

When this idealized family model is projected onto various governing institutions, we get conservative versions of them: conservative religion with a strict father God; a view of the market as Decider with no external authority over the market from government, unions, or the courts; and strictness in other institutions, like education, prisons, businesses, sports teams, romantic relationships, and the world community. Control over reproduction ought to be in the hands of male authorities.

For conservatives, democracy is about liberty, individual responsibility and self-reliance – the freedom to seek one’s own self-interest with minimal or no commitment to the interests of others. This implies a minimal public and a maximal private.

We can now see why the Santorum Strategy is so concerned with family values. Strict father family values are the model for radical conservative values. Conservative populism – in which poor conservatives vote against their financial interests – depends on those poor conservatives having strict father family values, defining themselves in terms of those values, and voting on the basis of those values, thus selecting strict fathers as their political leaders.

The repetition of language expressing those values leads to more and more working people becoming political and accepting those values in their politics. As long as the Democrats have no positive moral messaging of their own, repeated over and over, the Santorum Strategy will go unchallenged and conservative populism will expand. Moreover, repeating the Santorum language by mocking it or arguing against it using that language will only help radical conservatives in propagating their views.

Democrats are concentrating on the presidential race, hoping that if Obama wins, as it looks like he will, all will be fine. They are missing the bigger picture. The Democratic strategy of getting the independent women’s vote for Obama is not sufficient, because independent women may still vote for their local conservative leaders as the strict fathers they want to see in office.

Democrats have been gleeful about the Santorum birth control strategy, taken up by conservatives in the House as a moral position that if you want to use birth control, you should pay for it yourself. Democrats see this as irrational Republican self-destruction, assuming that it will help all Democrats to frame it as a “war against women.” I hope they are right, but I have doubts.

This is anything but an irrational position for radically conservative Republicans. Quite the contrary. It fits conservative moral logic – the logic used by conservative populists, male for sure and for many women as well. In some respects it embodies the most powerful aspects of conservative moral logic, strengthening conservative moral logic in the minds not only of conservatives, but also of independents who have both conservative and progressive world views and swing between them.

Here’s how that logic goes.

The strict father determines what happens in the family, including reproduction. Thus reproduction is the province of male authority.

The strict father does not condone moral weakness and self-indulgence without moral consequences. Sex without reproductive consequences is thus seen as immoral.

If the nation supports birth control for unmarried women, then the nation supports immoral behavior.

The conservative stress on individual responsibility means that you and no one else should have to pay for your birth control – not your employer, your HMO, or the taxpayers.

Having to pay for your birth control also has a metaphorical religious value – paying for your sins.

This is a classical slippery slope narrative. If no one else should have to pay for your birth control, the next step is that no one else should have to pay for any of your health care.

And the step after that is that no one else should be forced to pay for anyone else. This is, everything should be privatized – no public education, safety nets, parks, or any public institutions or services.

That is what makes conservative moral logic into such a powerful instrument. And conservative and independent women can be pragmatic about the birth control details, while accepting the moral logic as a whole.

Incidentally, Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” and “prostitute” remarks, while even more extreme than Santorum, make sense to conservatives in terms of the same conservative moral logic. Limbaugh apologized for those two words, but not for the logic behind them. Even after the apology for the two words, the logic lingers.

All moral logic in politics, whether progressive or conservative, is based on metaphorical thought processes, applying family moral values to political moral values. Republicans understand this and Santorum carries it out masterfully for the benefit of all conservative Republican office seekers at all levels, today and in the future.

The Santorum Strategy does not end with this election. It is part of a permanent campaign that has been going on since the Gingrich revolution of 1994, and will continue into the indefinite future.

Democrats tend to be literalists, assuming that the presidential campaign is only about the presidential campaign and that birth control is only about birth control. In 2010, they thought that health policy was only about health policy, even as conservatives were metaphorically making it about freedom (“government takeover”) and life (“death panels”).

It is vital that Democrats not make that mistake again.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Emphasis Mine


Could the GOP Collapse on the Payroll Tax be a Turning Point Moment?

“The Republican leadership’s collapse in the battle over extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits could also be a turning point moment that shifts the political momentum just as we enter the pivotal 2012 election year.

From: HuffPost

By: Robert Creamer

“In recent American politics, every major shift in political momentum has resulted from an iconic battle.

In 1995 the tide of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” was reversed when Speaker Newt Gingrich and his new Republican House majority shut down the government in a battle over their attempts to cut Medicare to give tax breaks to the rich (sound familiar). The shutdown ended with – what pundits universally scored — as a victory for President Clinton. That legislative victory began Clinton’s march to overwhelming re-election victory in 1996.

In 2010, Democrats passed President Obama’s landmark health care reform. But they lost the battle for public opinion – and base motivation. That turned the political tide that had propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and ultimately led to the drubbing Democrats took in the 2010 mid terms.

The Republican leadership’s collapse in the battle over extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits could also be a turning point moment that shifts the political momentum just as we enter the pivotal 2012 election year.

Here’s why:

1). Since the President launched his campaign for the American Jobs Act, he has driven Congressional Republicans into a political box canyon with very few avenues of escape. The jobs campaign has made it clearer and clearer to the voters that the “do nothing Republican Congress” bears responsibility for preventing the President from taking steps that would create jobs.

Until the payroll tax/unemployment victory, the President had failed to persuade the Republican dominated Congress to pass any provision of the bill – save one aimed at helping veterans. But the polling shows that the public has become more and more disgusted by Congressional intransigence. Since 64% of Americans believe that Congress is run entirely by the Republicans (and from the stand point of stopping legislation itis managed entirely by Republicans), the overall unhappiness with Congress has translated into distain for the “do nothing Republican Congress”.

Congress now has lower approval ratings (11% in the latest poll) than at any time in modern history. Senator Michael Bennett presented data on the Senate floor that showed that Congress is less popular than BP during the gulf oil spill. It is way less popular than Nixon during Watergate. About the same number of Americans have a positive view of Congress as support America becoming a Communist nation. That makes it the worst time imaginable for House Republicans to throw a political tantrum that threatened to increase the tax burden of everyday Americans by $40 per paycheck — $1,000 next year – right after Christmas.

Last weekend, the Senate Republican Leader thought he had blazed a path for Republicans that led out of that political box canyon – at least in so far as the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment. The bi-partisan agreement to temporarily extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance seemed to give Republicans a face saving option that – at least temporarily — took them off the political hook. But Tea Party stalwarts in the House threatened to mutiny if Boehner went along – and all week – there the House Republicans sat, at the bottom of that canyon with no escape.

House Republicans bet that the President and Democrats were desperate enough to extend the payroll tax and unemployment that they could hold those provisions hostage the way they had held hostage the debt ceiling in August. In an act of unfathomable political ineptitude, they failed to appreciate that this time, Democrats occupied vastly higher political ground.

Failure to continue the payroll tax holiday would have immediately decreased the take home pay of 160 million Americans. By refusing to agree to the compromise that had passed the Senate with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, House Republicans made it certain that they would have been held responsible.

They might as well have hung out a huge flashing sign in Times Square that said: “Republicans are responsible for cutting your take home pay and eliminating your unemployment benefits.”

Even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called on them to throw in the towel.

Democrats had every incentive to hang tough. In the end by refusing to take the escape hatch opened for them by McConnell, the nation watched House Republicans dragged kicking and screaming to support the President’s popular payroll and unemployment extensions.

The outcome of the battle was unambiguous. No one could doubt who stood up for the economic interests of the middle class and who did not. And no one could doubt who won and who lost.

National Journal reported that:

House Republicans on Thursday crumpled under the weight of White House and public pressure and have agreed to pass a two-month extension of the 2 percent payroll-tax cut, Republican and Democratic sources told National Journal.

In the end, Republican intransigence transformed a moment that would have been a modest win for President Obama into an iconic victory.

2). Strength and victory are enormous political assets. Going into the New Year, they now belong to the President and the Democrats.

One of the reasons why the debt ceiling battle inflicted political damage on President Obama is that it made him appear ineffectual – a powerful figure who had been ensnared and held hostage by the Lilliputian pettiness of hundreds of swarming Tea Party ideological zealots.

In the last few months — as he campaigned for the American Jobs Act — he has shaken free of those bonds. Now voters have just watched James Bond or Indiana Jones escape and turn the tables on his adversary.

Great stories are about a protagonist who meets and overcomes a challenge and is victorious. The capitulation of the House Tea Party Republicans is so important because it feels like the beginning of that kind of heroic narrative.

Even today most Americans believe that George Bush and the big Wall Street Banks – not by President Obama — caused the economic crisis. Swing voters have never lost their fondness for the President and don’t doubt his sincerity. But they had begun to doubt his effectiveness. They have had increasing doubts that Obama was up to the challenge of leading them back to economic prosperity.

The narrative set in motion by the events of the last several weeks could be a turning point in voter perception. It could well begin to convince skeptical voters that Obama is precisely the kind of leader they thought he was back in 2008 – a guy with the ability to lead them out of adversity – a leader with the strength, patience, skill, will and resoluteness to lead them to victory.

That now contrasts with the sheer political incompetence of the House Republican Leadership that allowed themselves to be cornered and now find themselves in political disarray. And it certainly contrasts with the political circus we have been watching in the Republican Presidential primary campaign.

3). This victory will inspire the dispirited Democratic base.

Inspiration is the feeling of empowerment – the feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself and can personally play a significant role in achieving that goal. It comes from feeling that together you can overcome challenges and win.

Nothing will do more to inspire committed Democrats than the sight of their leader — President Obama – out maneuvering the House Republicans and forcing them into complete capitulation.

The events of the last several weeks will send a jolt of electricity through the Progressive community.

The right is counting on Progressives to be demoralized and dispirited in the coming election. The President’s victory on the payroll tax and unemployment will make it ever more likely that they will be wrong.

4). When you have them on the run, that’s the time to chase them.

The most important thing about the outcome of the battle over the payroll tax and unemployment is that it shifts the political momentum at a critical time. Momentum is an independent variable in any competitive activity – including politics.

In a football or basketball game you can feel the momentum shift. The tide of battle is all about momentum. The same is true in politics. And in politics it is even more important because the “spectators” are also the players – the voters.

People follow – and vote — for winners. The bandwagon effect is enormously important in political decision-making. Human beings like to travel in packs. They like to be at the center of the mainstream. Momentum shifts affect their perceptions of the mainstream.

For the last two years, the right wing has been on the offensive. Its Tea Party shock troops took the battle to Democratic Members of Congress. In the Mid-Terms Democrats were routed in district after district.

Now the tide has turned. And when the tide turns -when you have them on the run – that’s the time to chase them.

We won’t know for sure until next November whether this moment will take on the same iconic importance as Clinton’s battle with Gingrich in 1995. But there is no doubt that the political wind has shifted. It’s up to Progressives to make the most of it.”

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partnersand a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

Emphasis Mine