Monday, July 04, 2011

Singin’ the Independence Day Blues

George Carlin used to say that he never understood the concept of national or ethnic pride, because pride is what you should feel about something you’ve accomplished, not something you had nothing to do with.  “I’m not proud to be Irish,” he’d say by way of example.  “That was just an accident of birth; both of my parents and their parents were born in Ireland, so I’m Irish.”  He would often add – while voicing his disapproval of “hyphenated Americans” – that he was born here, which made him an American.  I’m with George.  So, I’m not proud to be an American – but I have always been pleased and grateful to be an American, and in many ways I still am.

But this year, I must add that I am ashamed of what America is becoming – ashamed and alarmed, because of our dysfunctional, partisan, corrupt politics; the devastation of our economy; the zeal of Republicans/Conservatives; the ennui of Liberals/Progressives; and the dithering, dangerous ineffectiveness of Democrats.  Years ago, one of my mother’s friends often said, “We are living in perilous times.”  What must he be saying now?  What can any thinking, concerned, Leftist-in-some-kind-of-way person say now?  How about saying this: “Yes, I’m discouraged, disgusted, busy and exhausted – but I’m willing to do something, because something must be done!”? 

I had a rather startling epiphany the other night.  I watched – with a combination of horror and awe – two fascinating programs on C-SPAN.  They featured speeches from two annual political conventions that were held in Minneapolis last month.  The first was that of Netroots Nation, which says on its Web site that it “…Amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate.”

The other was that of RightOnline, described on its Web site as “…A project of [the] Americans for Prosperity Foundation dedicated to advancing liberty and prosperity for all Americans through greater citizen participation online.

Both organizations conducted Blog Conferences during their events.  RightOnline also held a workshop called “Facebook 101.”  One of the speakers told a heartwarming story about an 82-year-old woman who spoke with him briefly before the workshop, then contacted him on Facebook a few weeks later asking to “friend” him and vice versa, and she had already acquired 500 new “friends.”

Obviously, Republicans and Conservatives who were outpaced by miles by the new media infrastructure of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign were determined not to be caught with their hard drives down this time around.  What they’ve learned and how they’ve learned to use it is nothing less than impressive (and, therefore, downright terrifying).

Equally frightening was an address to the large RightOnline assembly by Conservative blogger/professional journalist Andrew Breitbart, whose Web site is very large, very impressive, and looks/reads like a full news network site.  He was introduced by someone who predicted that “he’ll be to online media what Rush Limbaugh is to radio.”  This former liberal is indeed smart, charming, funny and undeniably compelling.  He said his personal goal is to “take down the institutional Left,” and he also observed – with considerable accuracy, it pains me to say – “Liberals believe that they don’t have to lift a finger, all they have to do is say ‘I’m a Liberal’ [and their work is done].”

There were, of course, other speakers at RightOnline, and you can check out my link to their site for specifics – but I want to summarize by telling you the three ideas, oft repeated, that I found most interesting.  First, the well-organized Right genuinely believes that President Obama campaigned as a Moderate but has governed as a Liberal.  The fact that Liberals believe Obama campaigned as a Progressive but has governed as a Right-Compromising-Moderate says something very important about the two opposing views, which is that each has a very different view of reality.

Their second belief is that they are, as Breitbart put it, “in a monumental revolution to bring America back to being a Right-Center nation.”  This is important, because so many people on the Left are merely obsessed with the notion that the Right is looney-tunes – which I agree with, but our opinions are no practical match for people who believe they are in the midst of a genuine American Revolution, and as you may have noticed, they are unified in this belief and acting on it, both at grassroots and in the halls of political action.

Third, the president of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, noted that “it’s hard to be a Liberal in America today” because the Right has indeed become so well organized and united in their goals.  He also cited Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as having “ruined America” with “radically Left-Wing policies” and it is from these that the Right is determined to “take the nation back.”

For the past several years, every time I saw a sign or heard a person say “we want our country back,” I assumed they meant they wanted to take America out of Barack Obama’s black/Muslim/born-in-Kenya hands.  And while I still believe there are elements of racism (not to mention idiocy) in their opinions, their actual concern, their true belief, is that America has been co-opted and destroyed by Left Wing actions for decades.

As for Netroots Nation, sadly I must report that they came off as lame in comparison – not in their ideas, but in the size of their live audience and the specificity of their calls to action.  Cenk Uygur, a Turkish-American Liberal standard bearer whom I have never heard of – which may say more about my ignorance than his status – was their guest speaker.  He’s a regular MSNBC host, as well as the creator/host of a syndicated Liberal radio talk-show, The Young Turks, and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post.

Uygur spoke eloquently and at length, saying that “this is a Class Warfare.”  Regrettably, most Liberals and the country’s working and middle classes don’t know it, which in itself is a huge problem.  Uygur noted that America’s Founding Fathers were indeed Liberals, because of their belief in government’s protection of the rights and welfare of the People, and the separation of Church and State, regardless of each man’s personal religious beliefs.

Most important, Uygur stressed that campaign finance reform is urgent and essential because “Corporate America owns the American political system.”  He pointed out that while the Right adamantly opposes higher income and corporate taxes, the old Leona Helmsley maxim that “only the little people pay taxes” has become increasingly true because of ever-increasing payroll taxes.  Another blow to the little people will come from the Right’s desire to raise the retirement age from 65/66 to 70.  And of course, mention was made of the dangers and hardships caused by union busting.  Uygur, and others, said all the correct things – except what can and should be done about them.

I’ll begin to close with a rough summary of these ideas about those of us on the Left: (1) we cannot abandon Barack Obama no matter how pissed off or disappointed we may be, because the alternatives are unthinkable; (2) we have a moral obligation to find some bit of time in our busy lives to engage in some form of political activism, because not doing so is irresponsible, given the arduous efforts by the Right; and (3) we can’t afford to be glib or indifferent or wrapped up in our own little worlds as to believe that all that’s happening is political-bullshit-as-usual and there’s nothing so special about politics and elections this time around.  It’s not so, and I BEG ALL OF US not to be blind to the cautionary lessons of history.

Adolf Schicklgruber was viewed as a joke when he tried to become a fine-art painter in early-1920s Vienna.  Even later when, as Adolf Hitler, he became chancellor of Germany in 1933 and turned the Weimar Republic into a totalitarian, autocratic dictatorship he named the Third Reich, this seemingly-silly little man was an object of scorn and dismissed as unimportant, both by many at home and at high levels of the international political community.  They thought him ridiculous and essentially harmless, never imagining he would become the vituperous agent of Nazi barbarism.  But Germany’s grim economy, high unemployment, unprecedented levels of hunger and homelessness, not to mention the  international disrespect heaped on this once-proud nation, began to make the ridiculous seem like salvation.

I don’t believe the American Right Wing is comprised of hateful, murdering Nazis.  But I do believe their ire is dangerous, their beliefs are demented, and their capacity to gain power and reinvent America in their own anti-government, anti-labor, anti-social-safety-net and pro-profit-making-everything is very real.

On this Independence Day, let us think of what America was and can be if guided by compassionate, educated (science based), secular, progressive leadership – and what it could become if we sit back and do nothing, allowing the Right Wing zealots to take power in all quarters.


Crosby Kenyon said...

Your passion is great, your perception unwavering, but I'm afraid you are sailing against a tide of apathy on the Sea of Short-Sidedness.

MizB said...

Thanks for all the comments you've left, Crosby. Alas, I agree.