In "More on the O'Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha: The Right-Wing Urge to Kick Down," I offered one explanation of how non-rich white people can get motivated to kick down on those below them (especially blacks, but also any of those "takers" they like to contrast with the virtuous, hard-working people they like to see themselves as being). It is an old con job, where the dominant class sells a phony picture to induce one group of people they are exploiting to take their anger and frustration out on those below them.
Kick downward at the suppopsdly lazy, good-for-nothing poor, rather than protest upward at the source of the real injustice.
But that explanation doesn't explain the impulse to kick down shown by the likes of Bill "What White Privilege?" O'Reilly, nor by the rich men with whom Mitt Romney sought to ingratiate himself with his "47%" comment.
Surely, part of the motivation for the distortion of reality is that the warped picture provides justification for the elite's lack of compassion for those who suffer under their domination.
But something deeper is going on.
It is not only the poor who experience being the recipient of a downward kick. That template of the downward kick is so ingrained in the culture - at multiple levels, and especially in some parts of the culture - that even many who, in socio-economic terms, are in dominant positions have had profound experiences of that kick-down pain.
Summary: From the perspective of the evolution of life, it can be seen how value is an emergent -- but none the less real -- dimension of the reality of creatures like us humans. Evolution operates on the principle that life is better than death. Operating on that basis, evolution brings into existence creatures who experience that fulfillment is better than misery. That is the foundation of value. and it makes value fully real in every way it could be.
1) the imbalance in intensity in the political battle raging in America is largely due to the deficiency of moral and spiritual passion in Liberal America,
2) this deficiency is the by-product of the worldview that is strong in Liberal America, according to which "value" is considered a matter of subjective opinion, and thus not really real, and there can be no such thing in the human world as "the battle between good and evil," and
3) it is a mistake to believe that intellectually responsible thinking about the evidence of our world requires that we reach those conclusions.
In order to regain its moral and spiritual passions, Liberal America does not have to to embrace the forms traditional religion has used to represent the issues of good and evil. That reconnection can be achieved, by moving further forward along the path of rational, empirically-based scientific knowledge.
In other words, the path of evidence and reason can provide us good answers to those vital questions of value -- answers that can connect us to those deep parts of our human core from which comes the passionate intensity required for this urgent battle.
This piece has appeared this week in several of the newspapers in my conservative congressional District (VA-06).
Recently my wife and I attended a reunion of her first cousins (and their spouses). These cousins are the children of the children of a couple of Swedish immigrants who settled in Iowa to farm in the late 19th century.
What a wonderful family event! Just enough people to fill all the seats around a table not so big we couldn't all converse together. In all our time together, there wasn't a single hurtful word. Even the spouses, like me, were embraced in the family feeling, all glad to be together.
All these cousins -- except for the two children of those Iowa farmers' youngest child (which includes my wife) -- are Republicans.
We know each other's political orientations, and like a lot of other families in recent years, we know not to talk politics. (Even so, at a previous reunion two years ago, when I was running for Congress as the Democratic nominee, I was touched at how excited, even supportive, about my run they all seemed to be - family feeling seemingly trumping politics.)
But as we drove off afterwards, I thought of the troubling contrast I saw.
In the gathering of the cousins, our togetherness was imbued with a spirit of cooperation. There was a "barn-raising" spirit, as everyone just naturally pitched in together to get things done--things like feeding us all and cleaning things up.
But has there ever been a political party in America that was so little imbued with a cooperative spirit as the party they support? Never has "compromise" been treated as such a dirty word as by today's Republican Party. Never has a party been less interested in working together to do the people's business.
In my previous piece on "The O'Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha," I said that it's unclear whether conservatives like Bill O'Reilly really want to help foster a culture of responsibility among people at the lower end of the economic spectrum -- in particular, in black culture -- or whether they just "enjoy the excuse to beat up on an oppressed people, as their kind have been doing in America for centuries."
It looks a lot like it's the latter. We can infer this eagerness to kick down on those at the bottom from how much conservatives of this kind are willing to distort reality to justify their attitude of blame and attack.
Remember Mitt Romney's infamous "47%" comment in the 2012 presidential election? However much that comment reflected Romney's own beliefs, he surely had reason to believe that this condemnation of half the country as "takers" suited the beliefs of the Republican fat-cats to whom he was speaking.
After that 47% remark was made public, many came forward to expose how distorted was the notion that all these millions of Americans were somehow parasitic on the American bounty the fat-cats prided themselves on creating. This 47%, it was pointed out, included not only people who had retired after years of hard work, but also people supporting families, sometimes needing to work more than one job to make ends meet. Hardly parasites.
Somehow, it served a purpose for these rich Republicans to imagine that the bottom half of America were leeches on the body of the American economy.
But on the right, it's not only the rich who seem drawn to this distorted fantasy. This I know from years discussing politics with a conservative radui audience in my part of Virginia.
Summary: Americans think the nation is heading in the wrong direction. My biggest worries are 1) that our democracy is increasingly being transformed by the influence of big money into a plutocracy, and 2) we are failing to act vigorously to address the pressing emergency of global climate change. On both issues, the Republicans are playing a darkly destructive role, while the Democrats are failing to press the battle with the necessary vigor. That pattern reveals the essential core of America's national crisis. (This piece ran as an op/ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch this spring.)
Are you, like me, unhappy about where you sense our nation is heading? Do you, like me, fear that the prospects for our children and grandchildren will be darker than what we have known?
For years, the polls show, a substantial majority of Americans have been unhappy about where our nation is headed. But we don't all see the same dangers or agree on what to do about them. For example, the fear of millions that Obamacare is another step toward a socialist tyranny has little to do with reality. This distraction is indeed just one more symptom of what's gone wrong.
Here are my two most important areas of concern:
** The accelerating replacement of government by and for the people by government by and for big money.
** The disruption of the earth's climate system, on which our lives depend, is gaining momentum, while our nation remains incapable of responding appropriately.
Both crises reveal a pathological political dynamic darkening the prospects for our nation and its people.
The plutocratic threat to our democracy has long been visible, but not in living memory has our descent into the rule of the money system gone so deep.
People like Bill O'Reilly call upon people to raise themselves up while helping keep a foot on their necks.
Conservatives like O'Reilly do have some kernels of truth on their side. They rightly think people should develop good character, including virtues such as discipline and responsibility for oneself. And they are rightly concerned to assure that social policies don't discourage people from developing such virtues.
But after those kernels of truth, their map of the world is dominated by a river of denial.
First, as Jon Stewart pointed out in his confrontation with O'Reilly, they deny how much their own ascent was boosted by the advantages their culture gave them. As Chris Hayes put it in his October 16 segment on the O'Reilly/Stewart confrontation, there are "two types of people--those who recognize they're standing on something built to help them, and those who believe they are natural giants."
(Hayes cited a poll conducted by researchers at Cornell University in 2008, asking people if they had ever used government social program. 57% said no, but the researchers established that 94% of those people were mistaken and had used at least one. On average, they'd benefited from four.)
In his effort to get Bill O'Reilly to acknowledge "white privilege," Jon Stewart focused on the advantages O'Reilly got from growing up in the new, post-war, middle-class community of Levittown. It was a community that supported O'Reilly's becoming the so-called "self-made man" that he is.
Those advantages amount to "white privilege," Stewart argued, because the town was closed to black families (until a federal housing law passed in the late 1960s forced those gates open).
The right-wingers are eager to scold blacks for not developing a culture of responsibility. But if you want people to develop the virtues of discipline and responsibility, it is folly - or perhaps hypocrisy - not to be equally concerned that the society provides those people the opportunities to reap the rewards to which those virtues are supposed to lead.
This piece begins a discussion that is addressed especially to those who believe that there is no such thing -- and can be no such thing -- in the world as an "evil force."
Summary: Why does that the line from Yeats apply to America in our times? "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."
One important reason is that the battle playing out in our politics is fundamentally a moral and spiritual battle, and while the right is connected to their moral and spiritual passions (even though that connection has been made on the basis of lies) Liberal America is not.
Much of that disconnection in Liberal America is due misguided beliefs, including: 1) that "value" is not really real, and 2) that there is nothing in the dynamics of the human world that warrants being called "evil," an "evil force," or "the battle between good and evil."
These beliefs, I will argue, are not only a source of weakness, but also mistaken.
The crucial battle in America today is being fought in the political arena, but the heart of it goes deeper than politics. It is at the moral and spiritual level. The issue in America today is this: will constructive or destructive, life-serving or life-degrading forces prevail in shaping this nation's future?
The battle to decide this question has not been going well. The lamentable core dynamic of this battle is all too well captured by the line from Yeats: "the best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."
So let's get this straight: if you won't reveal who you voted for in a past presidential election, then you have "disqualified" yourself with voters, according to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd (about Kentucky Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Now, let's list a few things you CAN say, according to the idiot inside-the-Beltway political press, and still be qualified for election.
*You can repeatedly lie, as Barbara Comstock did, about your reasons for voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 Virginia Democratic presidential primary, and still be "qualified."
*You can, as uncounted Republican candidates have done, deny climate science (or claim that you're "not a scientist" and not answer the question) and still be "qualified." Denial of climate science (or gravity, or evolution, or the fact that the earth is round, etc.) of course, should be an automatic disqualifier for ANY public office, let alone high public office.
*You can, as Paul Waldman notes in this piece, flirt with the "'Agenda 21' conspiracy theory - in which the U.S. government and the United Nations are supposedly conspiring to force rural people in Iowa and elsewhere to leave their homes and be relocated to urban centers," and still be "qualified."
*You can suggest, as Republican Tom Cotton in Arkansas has done, that "ISIS is now working with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate America over our southern border," and still be "qualified."
*You can suggest, as Virginia Republican Ed Gillespie recently did, that "the fact that we have a porous southern border today is not just an immigration concern, it is a...public health threat...with the growing concerns about Ebola," and still be "qualified."
*You can lie and claim the "Personhood" bill you sponsored, legislation that would ban all abortions, as well as numerous forms of contraception, embryonic stem cell research, etc., doesn't exist, yet somehow still be "qualified."
*You can constantly make offensive, extremist, bigoted, insane comments - like "perennial wingnut powerhouses...Iowa Rep. Steve King and Texas' resident wacko Rep. Louie Gohmert," yet still be "qualified."
*You can vote to shut down the U.S. government, after threatening the financial stability of the world economy over the debt ceiling, as Mitch McConnell and many other Republicans did, and still be "qualified."
*You can, as god-knows-how-many Republicans (including Barbara Comstock and Ed Gillespie) have done, take anti-government extremist Grover Norquist's crazy pledge, and still be "qualified."
Summary: We all know how to respond to evil. Again and again, our popular stories and mythology take us vicariously and gratifyingly through the process -- e.g. in films like "Avatar," "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," where our heroes put themselves on the line to defeat an evil force in defense of sacred values. Why is it, then, that as we face that same essential situation in America's contemporary reality, we fail to respond as our heroes do?
The the destructive force that has arisen on the right is only one side of America's present national crisis. The other side is the weakness of the response from Liberal America to this profound threat to our nation's well-being.
I've described President Obama's failure to wage the battle that must be waged. But the problem of liberal weakness - and of its blindness - is not confined to the president. These defects were evident among Democratic leaders before Mr. Obama assumed the presidency, and they are manifested, I would assert, by Liberal America taken as a whole.
It is important that we understand the sources of this weakness.
It's not that we don't know how to respond to an "evil force," for this is something our society's culture (popular and otherwise) has taught us well.
Consider how three of the most salient narratives of modern American popular culture put us through our paces-- evoking the pain and outrage of seeing injustice done and sacred things destroyed, and instilling in our hearts the will to fight the necessary battle to prevail over evil and set things right.
Paul Krugman is a hero of mine . Because of his brilliance, his integrity, his batting average at being right, and the choice piece of journalistic real estate he occupies, Krugman has my vote for MVP among all the pundits of our times.
But regarding the piece Professor Krugman just published in Rolling Stone, arguing that "Obama has emerged as "one of the most ... successful presidents in American history," I must - regretfully, but strongly--disagree.
Our differences here are matters of how we weigh different parts of the picture. Krugman goes through a list of Obama's achievements - such as health care reform, financial reform, and others - and I largely agree about those.
At the same time, Krugman acknowledges that failure of Obama's that's salient for me, when he writes: "He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically."
So which should be weighed more heavily, the achievements or that failure to deal rightly with this "scorched-earth Republican opposition"?
Summary: Liberal America does not perceive well the nature of the force that's taken over the right. Not perceiving what we're up against has enormous consequences, because understanding one's foe - its nature, its way of working, the disposition of its forces - has enormous implications for devising the best strategy for defeating it. Providing a good understanding of what it is we are up against is one of the central purposes of this "Press the Battle" series.
I've undertaken to present this "Press the Battle" series because, believing it might make an important contribution, I feel a moral obligation to do so. At the age of 68, and after a whole decade of fighting against this ugly force that's taken over the right, I'm certainly not doing it for fun.
Maybe now is a good time to explain why I think what I'm presenting here might just possibly help turn the tide of battle. A reader recently wrote me privately wondering when I was going to stop the preliminaries and explain what I'm proposing to do. The fellow evidently has missed the point: this -- getting the picture I'm painting in "Press the Battle" into the national conversation as far as possible -- is what I think is important to do.
How could it be important? What is it about this picture I'm painting that I think could have a meaningful impact on the battle over what kind of nation America will become?
The answer begins with the title here: "Liberal America, You Don't See What We're Up Against, and It Matters."
Where my "The Trolls Have a Strategy, What's Ours?" piece appeared on Huffington Post, a reader wrote:
This post just adds fuel to the fire of a shameful, hateful cycle of Us vs. Them. Don't focus on belittling people who don't agree with your views; seek common ground and understanding. Liberals cannot claim to be compassionate if they can't find compassion for their detractors. Be the change!
And here's how I replied:
The first entry in my series had the title, "#1 Many Liberals Don't Like the Idea of Battle, But the Alternative in America Today is Much Worse." You, [reader's name], are an illustration.
Yes, it would be nice to be able to have a decent world while always being "nice," but not every situation allows for that choice. Unfortunately, history sometimes gives people "the undesirable choice ... either to fall under the domination of aggressors, or to match their power in order to defend what is held dear."
One tool does not fit all situations. So it is necessary to have a diversity of tools in one's toolbox: tools for building bridges, and tools for waging battle.
Seeking common ground is a good thing, and I've already told the story of my background in doing just that throughout the 80s and 90s. (See that history in the second part of this second entry.)
So sayeth 2013 Virginia Republican Lt. Governor nominee E.W. Jackson:
*"What we're responding with [to ISIL] is so milquetoast and weak and limp wrist..."
*He calls a no-fly zone a "flyover zone."
*He advocates for putting U.S. "boots on the ground" and not fighting it "through surrogates."
*He says "I know it doesn't look good right now" for Ed Gillespie.
*Says if Republicans win back the Senate, he expects them to block appointments to the judiciary and the cabinet...
*He likens Eric Holder to Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell and says Holder's been "extremely racially divisive."
*He mentioned his conference call with retired General "Jerry" Boykin (now a VP at the Family Research Council "extremist" group). For a few of Boykin's controversial comments, see here. Examples include:
*"In an October 15, 2003 speech to a community church in Oregon, Boykin was recorded stating that Islamic extremists hate the United States 'because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan.'"
*"The following day the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on Boykin. Among several quotes, the article revealed Boykin giving a speech about hunting down Osman Atto in Mogadishu: 'He went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, 'They'll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.' Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
*"On September 26, 2009, Boykin gave an address at a How to Take Back America Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, hosted by the Eagle Forum. According to the Canada Free Press, General Boykin asked the audience. 'What are you prepared to give up for America? Are you willing to pay the ultimate price?" He followed up with warning, 'there is no greater threat to America than Islam'."
*He was part of a team that produced a book which said, "most mosques in the United States already have been radicalized, that most Muslim social organizations are fronts for violent jihadists and that Muslims who practice sharia law seek to impose it in this country."
This morning's Washington Post had a curious article, entitled "Jim Webb, former senator from Va., takes on his party's hawks. And maybe Clinton." I say "curious" because it made the point-blank, matter-of-fact (as if it's glaringly obvious) statement that Jim Webb is "antiwar," even an "aggressive, antiwar populist." But is there any actual, ya know, evidence that Webb is "antiwar" in a general sense, as opposed to being against specific wars fought at specific times in specific ways, while also being FOR other wars fought at other times in other ways?
The Post article, written by former National Review reporter Robert Costa, doesn't get into that -- it simply states it as a matter of fact, point blank, that Jim Webb is "antiwar." But is he? Let's look at a few data points from his record. But first let me just make absolutely clear what my point is here: the following is NOT meant as criticism of Jim Webb, but of the Washington Post article (and the media more broadly) for wildly oversimplifying this complex, strategically thoughtful and highly knowledgeable (certainly on foreign policy and national security matters) man's views, and by shoehorning the whole thing into an inane, wildly oversimplified, political narrative about the supposed "hawk" Hillary Clinton being challenged by the supposed "antiwar" Jim Webb. It's just lame on all levels. With that, here are some of Webb's actual views on this subject.
I may be one of the few people in the Congress who still strongly supports the Vietnam War. I believe that the logic for the Vietnam War was sustainable, and I believe that the American people, in spite of the way we look back at Vietnam, also agreed that the political logic for Vietnam was sustainable, even though the way that we fought the war was not sustainable.
That's right, Webb strongly supported the Vietnam War then, and he strongly supports it in hindsight. And why didn't we fight that war in a "sustainable" way, one that might have led to victory? In Webb's view, part of the problem was the "anti-war left."
Summary: We in Liberal America are now embattled. America has been in kindred battles before, and on those occasions to which we look to see our finest American ideals expressed and embodied, great American leaders have shown the way: "See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle." But in this crisis, in this battle, Liberal America is falling far short of our nation's finest ideals. Why is that? ****************
The American electorate is probably about to give more power to a party of traitors.
This statement, though shocking, can be verified by these steps (many of which are substantiated here):
The Republican Party ("the Party of No") has chosen to prevent anything from being accomplished.
To choose across-the-board obstructionism is to knowingly hurt the nation.
The Republicans' motivation for obstructionism is to regain power.
To sacrifice the good of the country to gain greater power over it is to betray the nation.
The dictionary definition of "traitor" is "a person who betrays a friend, country, principle...."
Most pollsters say that, in the upcoming elections, this "Party of No" will gain seats in the House and the Senate.
What's wrong with America that a political party can act in such a disgraceful way and profit from it?
Something must be amiss with those who will vote for so demonstrably traitorous a party.
But something is also wrong with the part of the American body politic that opposes the Republicans -- i.e. Liberal America.
Compare how Liberal America is dealing with this destructive force with what Americans, through their greatest leaders, have done in their finest hours: the nation's founding, the Civil War, and the World War against fascism.
"I heartily agree that we have a dysfunctional government, but isn't it the people's fault for voting in the Republicans in the first place?"
To which I gave a response I'd like to share here, because it says a lot about how I see the essence of what's going on in America today. I wrote:
The question of "fault" is a tricky one.
Yes, at the very least one can say that a serious defect is revealed by the vulnerability of so many millions of Americans to being conned in this ugly way. It is possible to perceive the defect in these people, and in the culture that shaped them.
I live among these people, and they are many of them wonderful people. And they've got no clue what it is that they're supporting.
So yes, there is a lot of brokenness that goes onto having these people get conned into lending their support to an evil force.
But the question of whether, or how much, we should look at this as their "fault" depends on how we understand the whole workings of brokenness in the world.
There's so much idiocy from former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in this interview, where does one even begin?
1. He claims that hard-right Republicans like Mitch McConnell aren't conservative enough, is "vehement about not believing anything." Riiiight.
2. He claims that the Democratic Party's "establishment...is the liberals." Uh, what? That's certainly news to most of us who consider ourselves progressives, liberals, etc.
3. He claims you can only win as a Republican if you're a hard-right true believer. Yeah, like Ken Cuccinelli, for instance, who ran as a hard-right true believer and...LOST to Terry McAuliffe. Uhhhh.
4. He states, "at the presidential level, 100% of Republican nominees who ran as conservatives won, and 100% of Republican nominees for president who ran NOT as conservative...have all lost." OK, so let's unpack that whopper with a few facts - yeah, those pesky, liberal things, I know! LOL
OK, so I'm not sure how far back Cooch wants to go with this, but it's hard to argue that Herbert Hoover didn't run as a true conservative. As we will recall, Hoover lost the 1932 election in one of the greatest landslides in U.S. history to FDR. In stark contrast, moderate Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected easily for two terms. Richard Nixon - other than Watergate and Vietnam, of course - governed in many ways as a liberal (negotiated "detente" with the Soviets, announced the formation of the EPA in June 1970, supported the Clean Air Act of 1970, supported the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, proposed a private health insurance employer mandate, imposed wage and price controls, enforced desegregation of Southern schools, etc.). And yes, Nixon the moderate/progressive Republican was reelected in a landslide in 1972.
As for Cooch's hero Ronald Reagan, he "raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office," "nearly tripled the federal budget deficit," "grew the size of the federal government tremendously," "did little to fight a woman's right to choose," "signed into law a bill that made any immigrant who had entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty," etc, etc. And Reagan won reelection in a landslide in 1984.
As for George HW Bush, he ran as a more liberal, "kinder gentler" version of Reagan in 1988, and...yes, won! (note: Bush lost in 1992 more because of the economy and possibly the Ross Perot independent candidacy than because he didn't run as a hard-core conservative)
Summary: It is clear the Republicans, with their obstructionism, have deliberately hurt the nation. That betrayal explains why the American political system is now more dysfunctional than in generations, maybe ever. The American people are quite dissatisfied with the performance of their government, but they need help understanding where the problem lies. I ask President Obama: Why are you not using this last opportunity to tell the voters what's gone wrong, so they can use their votes to get back a government that does the people's business?
Hey, Mr. President. Why aren't you out there on the hustings talking to the American people? There's an election coming up, and the American political system is more dysfunctional than it's been in generations, maybe ever. What does it mean that you, as president, are not using this last opportunity of your presidency to talk to voters about what's gone wrong with the system and what voters can do now to get back a government that does the people's business?
The people know that something's gone terribly wrong, as we can see from the record-setting low esteem in which the people hold the Congress. The people's displeasure presumably that has something to do with another record the Congress has been setting in the past four years: its off-the-charts, unprecedented failure to accomplish much of anything to meet the considerable challenges our nation faces.
I assume you know what the problem is -- that it's the result of the Republicans' having made it their top priority, even before you became president, to make you fail by blocking everything. That, even though the nation faced major challenges.
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