Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pounding On The Table

Every once in a while, I notice some synchronicity in the blogs. Today was such a time. Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald made this observation about the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) reaction to the Republican National Committee's (RNC) statement regarding the award of the Nobel Peace prize to President Obama:

Remember how, during the Bush years, the GOP would disgustingly try to equate liberals with Terrorists by pointing out that they happened to have the same view on a particular matter (The Left opposes the war in Iraq, just like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah do! or bin Laden's criticisms of Bush sound just like Michael Moore's!). It looks like the Democratic Party has learned and adopted that tactic perfectly ("'The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists - the Taliban and Hamas this morning - in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize,' DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse told POLITICO"; Republicans are "put[ting] politics above patriotism," he added).

Apparently, according to the DNC, if you criticize this Prize, then you're an unpatriotic America-hater -- just like the Terrorists, because they're also criticizing the award. Karl Rove should be proud. Maybe the DNC should also send out Joe Lieberman's 2005 warning that "in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation’s peril." Hamas also thinks that Israeli settlements should be frozen -- a position Obama shares. So, by the DNC's Rovian reasoning, doesn't this mean that Obama "has thrown in his lot with the terrorists"?

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

Here's the RNC's statement, as quoted by Time magazine:

WASHINGTON – Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele released the following statement today:

“The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?' It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain – President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”

RNC Statement on Obama Nobel Win

This is rather similar to what I wrote here yesterday:

What I'm getting at here is that most of the winners of this prize either accomplished something concrete, or spent considerable effort trying. That wouldn't seem to apply to Barack Obama yet.

Obama Wins Nobel Aspiration Prize

The main difference I see is one of tone, I added the "yet" to the end of that sentence, because I thought it possible that he could earn the award some day. The GOP did not, but they're the political opposition. If I expected fulsome praise for an office holder or candidate from his opposition, I'd be a profoundly disappointed Internet persona.

The DNC is using guilt by association as the basis for its counter-argument. I've criticized this sort of argument when the Republicans used it. It's no more defensible when Democratic Party officials use it. Questioning the loyalty or motives of critics is a way of deflecting the observer from the fact that there's really not much evidence to back up the argument. Lawyers have a wonderful saying that applies to arguments like this:

When you have the facts on your side, pound on the facts. When you have the law on your side, pound on the law. When you have neither on your side, pound on the table.

Questioning the loyalty of critics, or accusing them of aiding the enemy while providing no actual evidence that such is the case, is a particularly low class way of pounding the table. While a few people have tried to justify Obama's award based on the facts, most rebuttals I've seen have fallen into this category. I had to read quite a few articles to provide that "a few people" link.

I'm not revisiting the merits of Obama's being awarded the prize here. Greenwald makes an excellent case against it in the Salon article I quoted. I made my case in my article. Robert Reich makes a good case here. The point is that, according to the DNC, I and those other people are now in league with the terrorists, just like the critics of President Bush were in league with them.

It's becoming a rather crowded league.

Not too long ago, I had a certain fondness for the DNC. It was run by Howard Dean until the 2008 election. Dean was responsible for the 50 State Strategy - building campaign resources and recruiting candidates in all states, not just in Democratic strongholds. After losing two presidential races, the powers within the Democratic Party were finally willing to give this a try. It worked. You can thank that strategy for the overwhelming majorities Democrats have in Congress, and the ease with which Obama won the White House. Since then, it's been run by Democratic Leadership Council member Tim Kaine. The staff Dean brought in were largely replaced.

Now that they're comfortable, it appears that the old guard have eased Dean out of the chair, and are reaping the rewards. These are the folks who thought de-regulating the banks and all the other excesses of the '80s and '90s were a good thing. They don't want to make ordinary Americans' lives better, just their own. So they're demanding loyalty. Anyone who doesn't give it will be on the outs. Rahm Emanuel has applied this principle in how he's run the White House efforts on banking and health care, and from their perspective it's working splendidly.

I find it hard to believe that Howard Dean's DNC would have issued that statement, unless it was clear that they were being sarcastic. I think that's as stark a comparison as one can make between progressives and conservatives - progressives try to earn loyalty through their actions, conservatives just demand it of those around them. The DNC is no longer a progressive organization.

Not to be outdone by their DC counterparts, the Montana Democrats have been stressing loyalty lately, as Montana Maven reports:

There has been a "lively" and sometimes contentious discussion amongst the Montana Democratic County Chairs as to how to work for health care reform in their counties in light of [Democratic U.S. Senator] Max [Baucus]'s votes against the public option and [Democratic U.S. Senator] Jon Tester's unclear position and of course our party boy, Denny Rehberg's assault on women's health care. What to do? What to do? Within the debate there have been rifts. Anybody that disagrees with the state party's unequivocal support of Max is "emotional". The emotional people have used words like "hacks" to describe no questions asked party loyalists. What started out as interesting, lively and a breath of fresh independent air has turned a bit smelly.

This morning I got another letter from a chair who asked us all to please try to get along and try to be less emotional and more willing to listen and to compromise to "continue the good work of the party."
Richard from the Flathead today cut to the chase by defending his use of the word "hacks":

"Democratic hacks hurt our party in at least two ways. By quashing criticism of a corrupt politician (as happened when several of them jumped on Christina) they engender and promote cynicism about politics in general and Democratic politicians in particular. Cynicism leads to passivity. Passivity leads to lower voter turn-out, which helps Republicans."

That's how this discussion started. We wanted to tell our Democratic reps that we are losing people and we cannot recruit people because of the severe cynicism that has set in among the citizens. I know that Jon and other Dems feel that we can still pitch that we are better than the other guys i.e. he's better than Rehberg, but a lot of us don't think that will work anymore. The question remains "How do we address this cynicism?" By circling the wagons and defending the indefensible or by being principled?

Footnote: I was interrupted in posting this by a call from the DSCC asking for money. I told him not one dime until I got Medicare for All. He was very sweet and was truly horrified when I said that I had enough of do nothing Democrats and it was time to quit. "Please don't jump ship," he pleaded. "Watch me", I said.

Democrats and Aristocrats In Montana

Once again, loyalty is stressed over performance. Montana Maven and the people she's writing about have been working for the Democratic Party in her state for a long time. They seem to have earned no respect, let alone loyalty, from their party. What is the point of being engaged in politics if it doesn't make the lives of those around us better? Simply winning, changing a legislature from the control of one party to another, isn't enough. That's the clear message there, and yet both the national Democratic Party, and this state party seem unable to see this.

It's hard to look at the results of the last two elections, where Democrats won successively greater majorities in both houses of Congress and then won the White House, and not wonder why we are not seeing progressive values implemented in legislation or in federal policies. The truth is that it's not happening because the people who are in charge of the Democratic Party see no reason to make it happen. They will continue to do so until convinced otherwise. It has proved far easier to rail against their critics, and label them as "fringe" or "Obama haters", than to actually do what needs to be done to change America's headlong plunge off the cliff.

If you are one of the people who have indulged in labeling people who disagree with the course the Democrats and Obama have taken as being "fringe", "haters", "head in the sand", "unpatriotic", or "with the Taliban", then what you have written is not just profoundly offensive. It is also counter to the interests of progressives, because the people who run the Democratic Party will never do what we need them to do as long as they can convince people like you to pound the table for them.

So, here's my version of that lawyer's saying, applied to general discourse:

If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have logic on your side, pound the logic. If you don't have either, and you just want to tell us what stupid, disloyal people we are for not being convinced of the inherent rightness of your opinion, shut the fuck up!

Someday soon, you might be glad you did. I know I will.


Anonymous said...

Much needed post, could be titled "Tis Broken, Taint Working, The Political Process".
Propaganda 101 clearly puts whatever opposition in league with existential threatening enemies regardless of their actual provenance. MontanaMaven shows the depth this disfunction politically exists, but it is unsurprising given that this level of political immaturity exists and is rampant at Jr. high school levels of socialization; the people in the country have never grown up into mature adults, and probably never will.
The political requirements of both a Republic and a Democracy call for mature adults for proper functioning. The collapse of the educational system assures such a supply of maturity is never provided. Nowhere are mature adults to be seen or emulated; adherence to the jejune is universal. This in itself will in short order bring about the demise of public political aspiration. IIRC "The Lord of the Flies" foretold of such unwelcome ending.
How this will play out is still open, the likelihood is a demagogue will appear and abduct the political process for their own ends (President Obama certainly fits this mold), subverting and subjugating any opposition to the takeover of the political process. Others will try to "fix" the unfixable, expending time, effort and treasure trying to wright an ephemeral illusion. Most will drop out, surrender to apathy, disillusioned by their powerlessness to effect change. This will not end well.

Cujo359 said...

Unfortunately, I have a similar view of our future. At least, it's one possible future, and a pretty likely one given our current priorities.

It's disheartening that so many people fall so easily into this line of argument. Some are doing it out of a sense of satire, but I think many just want to respond in kind to what's been said of us for so long. Satire sounds like a good response to me, but merely responding in kind does not.