Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hillary or Barack, Dragon Slayer for the Left? Don’t Count On It.

If you expect either Democratic Presidential candidate to suddenly morph into a hero of the left, once he or she occupies the White House, you are in for a major disappointment. Despite the rhetoric —both Hillary and Barack have bemoaned the outsourcing of jobs via so-called free trade agreements (forget that each supported free trade legislation)— the Democratic Leadership Council still holds sway within the Party, and it continues to use its power to enforce a conservative taint on the Party. It’s a shame, but true— while you will never see the Republican Party going left to gain liberal support, the Democratic Party has done the equivalent: they have abandoned the Democratic Party as the party of the people, in favor of the Democratic Party as a corporate-friendly, companionable enabler of Republican crimes and misdemeanors. Rather than building a plan to educate the American people, or forming liberal think tanks to re-frame the issues to reflect liberal values and world view, or to influence the media, smartly and slowly, as did the Republicans beginning thirty years ago, the Dems decided to cave: “Oh gosh, I’m not winning—guess I’ve gotta drop my values for the sake of being popular and getting along.”

I am not the first person to notice the problem. But some of us continue to be in denial about it and continue to imagine the Party is on our side. Some of us are plainly ga-ga over the candidates, deliriously cheering them on the campaign trail. Fine. I understand. But to those progressive, liberal Democrats who find themselves in love with a candidate, I respectfully ask you to pay attention. For example, the next time the Party comes to you for support, look closely at their literature and the tale it tells, such as the following tale:

Awhile back, I received fund-raising literature from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, including a letter from Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the current Chair of the Committee. I had never heard of the Congressman, so I looked up his voting record. Interestingly, he recently voted Yes with the GOP and contrary to the Democratic position on the Peru Trade Agreement, the U.S. Chile Free Trade Agreement, the USA Patriot Act Re-authorization, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act, and the National Defense Authorization Act. Based on those votes, I felt it was safe to conclude Van Hollen was a conservative Democrat. And this is the person who was chosen to be Chair of the DCCC! (Bizarrely, conservative Democrats are referred to in the media as “centrist.” I say No. Centrist is Thomas Jefferson and all those who represent government of, by, and for the people, not corporations. That’s our center, our soul.)

So there you are. Now I had information to help me judge the survey. For example, this promising question appeared in Part V: “How aggressively should Democrats investigate potentially illegal and unconstitutional actions by the Bush Administration?” Regardless, nowhere in the entire survey was I given the impeachment option.

Part IV of the survey inquired about priorities for the Democratic Party. Glaringly absent were such choices as restoring the civil liberties lost under the Bush administration—habeas corpus, due process law, the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution—the restoration of human rights to detainees and prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the banning of kidnapping and torture by the CIA. In fact, none of these things were mentioned in the survey at all.

Also, the Party did not appear to think outside the right-wing, neo-con box, given the above and given the way the survey framed its questions. For example, under part IV, terrorism was framed as a major issue, but military spending was not, nor the budget for the military at the expense of funding for infrastructure; then the question of 9/11 was framed as if I should buy into, or had already bought, the conclusions of the “bipartisan” 9/11 Commission, as opposed to providing an option of an independent and thorough investigation of 9/11, one where all are sworn in and must testify in public and where all testimony is done in public and included in the record, unlike what was done by the Commission—secret testimony by Bush and Cheney, without transcripts, and no public scrutiny.

The question, “Which of the following would strengthen our nation’s economy?” came in Part VII of the survey. There, tax “relief,” a conservative frame, is an option, as opposed to an option that would recognize the reality that tax breaks for the wealthy and expenditures for the Iraq war were, in part, the cause of the massive Bush deficit. Nowhere are we given the option of a tax on the top 3% of the wealthy population and/or an end to the occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of Iraq by multinational contractors and corporations.

Then, in Part XI on health care, the survey failed to give us the option of choosing a single-payer system of health care, making Medicare available to all. Instead, all options assumed the inclusion of the insurance industry, providing only government assistance to buy into industry plans. I don’t know about you, but this tells me the Democratic Party is committed to industry, not to citizens.

This opinion survey was clearly an instrument of propaganda and manipulation, designed more to steer the survey-taker away from thinking and toward the donation than to elicit an opinion. Certainly, it reflected some of my concerns but ignored, underplayed, or mis-framed my most urgent concerns.

The survey did tell one truth about today’s political climate. It corroborated my sense that the Democrats have lost not only their moral compass but have abandoned their promise to protect and defend the Constitution. Otherwise, the survey would not have had to ask what’s to be done about Bush Administration crimes—impeachment hearings would already be underway, habeas corpus and civil liberty would already have been restored. As it is, the Democratic-controlled Congress’ failure to act on these issues has left the Constitutional wrongs in place, and we are supposed to be reassured by the short shrift given them in the survey.

None of these guys, neither Congressman Van Hollen, Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton, are going to rescue us —or the Democratic Party from itself— to say nothing of slaying the neo-con dragon of death and destruction that grips our world today. It is discouraging—however, it is not hopeless. Humbly, I am reminded of what Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Perhaps one has to start with one’s own thinking, to start thinking outside the box, and then... insist your representatives do the same. Send them your vision.

My vision includes the following:

• De-funding of unilateral wars of aggression and occupation by the United States
• A trend away from privatization toward community values and responsibility (government of by and for the people, not of by and for corporations)
• A trend away from the power of the military industrial complex (cut budget)
• Public financing of elections
• FCC must require all media outlets to provide free advertising for Presidential candidates. (the air waves belong to the People)
• Paper ballots and the banning of electronic voting machines
• Election fraud and trickery prosecuted
• Single-payer health system
• Protecting people from governmental authoritarianism, i.e., surveillance of American citizens, harassment and oppressive measures which sacrifice our civil liberty and privacy.
• National Public Broadcasting returned to the public and removed of its corporate influences. WE MUST HAVE A NON-CORPORATE MEDIA SOURCE.
• Restoration of regulation as a means of holding corporations to ethical and community norms.
• An end to the notion of corporations as “persons.”
• Restoration of protections for American workers: the right to organize unions must be protected; corporations who outsource jobs should have a severe tax penalty and be required to pay foreign employees the same as their American counterparts.
• End NAFTA AND CAFTA, or, at least enforce Fair Trade Agreements.

Perhaps it is also possible to be the hero you wish to see in the world. For shy people like me, that’s quite a challenge. But maybe it’s time to go there, not like dragon slayers but —mixing metaphors here— like drops of water on stone, being so persistent that finally a hole appears in that stone. (I hope it doesn’t take that long!) All I’m saying is that even if one’s heroism is barely noticed, eventually the job will get done.

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