Archive for December, 2004

Why Are They Called Insurgents?

December 30th, 2004 Comments off

The single most successful piece of Rove-spin, ever, has been the promulgation of the word "insurgents." Everyone uses this word, competely thoughtlessly, and so the pervasive sense is that these people are "surging in" from some unspecified outside place. Aren’t we the insurgents?

Make it stop!

Most of the attacks against the US-led forces in Iraq are by native Iraquis. Outsiders have gravitated in, sure, but the proper word for the bulk of these fighters is rebels, or militants. I’m not saying they’re good (good God no), but they ain’t insurgents. Let’s opt for reality-based language.

So bloggers, let’s get it started–stop using the word "insurgents." Maybe the mainstream press wil cop a clue and do likewise.

Controlling What You Say: Who’s Worse?

December 28th, 2004 1 comment

I don’t know who said it–can’t find it on the Web anywhere–but the other day someone told me the pithiest characterization of the reds and the blues that I’ve ever heard:

"Conservatives want to control what you’re allowed to say. Liberals want to control what words you’re allowed to use to say it."

Examples of each are thick on the ground. Conservatives actively work to prevent people from talking about evolution, or abortion, or contraception. Liberals don’t want people to say "black," or "woman" (remember "womyn"?), or other "politically incorrect" usages.

The distinction isn’t absolute, of course–few things are. Liberals are rather desperate to prevent discussion of the heritability of mental characteristics, for instance–especially intelligence. (Remember the death threats directed at the authors of The Bell Curve?) And conservatives are adamant about the usage "partial-birth abortion." But I still think that in general, the distinction holds true.

Both approaches are power plays, of course–seeking to control or at least influence what people think and speak about, and how they think and speak about it. But the effort to control what people speak about, it seems to me, is far more contrary to our founders’ intent than trying to control the rhetorical spin of that speech.

When in 1837 the mobs in Alton, Illinois threw Elizah Lovejoy’s printing press in the Missisippi (four times–the last time also killing Lovejoy) because he evangelized for abolition in his publications, that was, I think we could say comfortably, controlling what a person is allowed to say. That’s very different from promoting a particular rhetorical lexicon, and heaping derision on those who stray from that lexicon.

Likewise, passing laws that control what doctors, schoolteachers, and everyday citizens are allowed to say is a very different thing from using rhetoric to control what words people are comfortable saying.

So again, we have the "conservatives" attacking and undercutting perhaps the fundamental American right–the right of free speech–using the force of law, while the "liberals" merely seek to dominate that speech by promulgating specific language (admittedly, often in wacky and twisted ways).

Who’s the true conservative here?

How Dare They Call Themselves Conservatives?

December 13th, 2004 Comments off

If this blog has any purpose beyond the typical one (nourishing the cherished personal delusion that other people might actually be interested in what I have to say), it’s spin–crafting a coherent rhetoric that can convince reasonable "conservatives" to come over, to support traditional American progressive values, programs, and policies.

I am not the person to deliver that rhetoric to the mainstream, or to do that convincing. As a Seattle liberal atheist Jew, I’m lacking what in rhetoric is called the "ethical position" from which I can speak to those people convincingly. And I have too great a fondness for hyperbolic speech, smart-ass comments, and cheap shots; I don’t want to rein that in here. (See: "cherished personal delusions," above.)

But others, I hope, can make use of what develops here to draw together the progressive community under a clear, coherent message. That single-message consistency is what won George Bush a second term. And it is glaringly absent in the progressive community.

The message I espouse–the single "on message" centerpiece on which a coherent and convincing progressive platform can be built–is, I believe, conservatism. Admittedly, it’s an exercise in rhetorical jiu jitsu. But that kind of rhetorical technique only works if it’s based on convincing truth. And it is certainly true that the current administration is about as far from "conservative" as it can get.

Why is this approach attractive? Almost everybody likes to believe that the way they were brought up was the right way. ("Hey, my daddy whomped me, and I turned out just fine!") And the old truism is true: the older you get, the more you’re like your parents. The aging baby boomers are getting more conservative. They’re saying so out loud, and with pride. (Don’t get me  started on "pride"; suffice it to say, it’s a sin.)

Even if we don’t attempt to spin ourselves as conservatives (though we are, and I think we should), one thing we can do very effectively is deny that moniker to those who currently lay claim to it. Because they have absolutely no right to call themselves conservatives. The shouldn’t be called neo-cons. They should be called non-cons.

They are incredibly vulnerable here, and we can capitalize on that vulnerability with a constantly repeated assault on what we (spin doctors that we are) won’t actually call hypocrisy.

Let’s start with fiscal policy. The deficit and the debt are spiraling out of sight to a degree unheard of under any previous administration. As former Republican representative Joe Scarborough (one of many Republicans excoriating the Bush fiscal policy) says in Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day, "During Bill Clinton’s two terms and a G.O.P. Congress, federal spending grew at a rate of 3.4 percent, whereas government spending has grown at a dangerous 10.4 percent clip during George W. Bush’s first term." The non-con’s borrow-and-spend policy is not conservatism, it’s profligacy. ("Profligate"and "prodigal" are good words to use, spin-wise. They have great biblical associations, and they are not the kind of sins that conservative Americans like.)

It doesn’t take an expert to know that the current policies will leave our children (not to mention their children) bankrupt. That hardly embodies "conservative" values.

Corporate welfare. Americans hate corporate welfare. The non-cons are dishing it out faster than anyone in history. (As one player said to his teammate in M*A*S*H [the movie] when he told him a juicy tidbit about an opponent’s sister during the football game, "Use it!")

Environmental issues. Conservatism, one would think, should be based on conservation. But the non-cons are intent on squandering the wealth of our country’s resources during our lifetimes, leaving our descendants environmentally bankrupt. Again, profligacy and prodigality are the opposite of conservatism and conservation. A large majority of Americans are strongly behind conservation. Use it.

Civil liberties. The non-cons are actively moving us toward a radical, heavily-controlled and -monitored society like those of Saddam and Stalin. Stalin is not conservative.

International relations. That same radicalism has squandered the moral authority that gives us power in the world. Without that true moral authority, we do not have the power to convince our friends and coerce our enemies. No amount of military might will preserve this nation if the whole world hates us. Squandering our moral capital for a radical agenda is not conservative.

These are just examples. The non-cons are vulnerable to charges of profligacy and prodigality in just about every area.

Use it.

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, yea unto the third and to the fourth generation

December 10th, 2004 Comments off

It is both triply appropriate and at least triply ironic that this quotation (it’s Exodus 34:7, KJV) should lead off the first posting to this blog. First, because it’s all my father’s fault, rest his soul. (Isn’t everything? <g>) Everything you read here started with him. All of it: with one three-word opening line.

Ben Roth was a classic, do-gooder Jewish lawyer in St. Louis in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, working pro bono all over creation, for Legal Aid, the ACLU, the Health and Hospitals board…you get the picture. At one point he received a lifetime achievement award, or something like that, from the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. When he stood up for his acceptance speech (oh how I wish I had a copy of the whole thing), he opened with the words,

“My fellow conservatives…”

With all those bleeding-heart, knee-jerk liberals in the room, it brought the house down. But then he went on to explain that he was really quite serious. The ACLU, he said, perhaps more than any other American organization, was and is devoted to preserving the values of the founders, as embodied in the Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence. (Though as Gary Wills explains in Lincoln at Gettysburgh: The Words That Remade America, it took Lincoln and the Gettysburgh Address to effectively incorporate the latter into the former, giving the beliefs about equality that are embodied in the Declaration true force of law. More anon on that, in a later post.)

The ACLU is a deeply conservative organization. It is all about protecting the values upon which this nation was founded — liberty, freedom of speech, religion, the press, and assembly — from dangerous radicals like John Ashcroft, the rest of the current Bush administration, and their more fervent supporters.

The people who today call themselves “conservatives” are not just radical attackers of civil liberties. They are opposed to the most fundamental America values, values that are shared by the huge majority of Americans — today and yesterday. Whether it’s preserving the wealth of our environment for our children’s children’s children (now that’s conservative), fiscal prudence (can you say deficit spending? Ten trillion dollars?), world stature and credibility (what world stature and credibility?), or corporate giveaways, the current administration is about as “conservative” as Michael Milken and Attila the Hun. They don’t deserve the moniker, and it’s up to us to take take it away from them.

Because we are the true conservatives.

Which brings us to the second appropriate irony. By opening with this biblical quotation, I am taking the very text that the so-called conservatives claim as theirs and theirs alone, and using it to show how horribly wrong their words and deeds are. Because if their radical trajectory continues, today’s iniquities will be visited upon the third and the fourth generation in a very sad way indeed. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be left with a country bankrupt, oppressed, stripped of its wealth and beauty, scorned by the world, and crushed in recompense for the sins of our generation. (Ding dong. China’s calling…)

The “conservatives” have no exclusive claim to the wisdom of the Bible, or to any other wisdom. If we want to take back the mantle as protectors of America’s values, we need a leader who can champion the progressive values embodied in Christianity and every other religion, and trumpet those values like a clarion call, in the very language that the conservatives have co-opted as their own. In the very same way, we need to call on the deeply conservative values of the American people — a conservatism devoted to traditional progressive ideals of equality and fairness — co-opting the very language of conservatism that has been twisted, distorted, and turned on its head by those who claim to be conservatives.

We need to pull their “conservative moral values” rug right out from under them.

Because we are the true conservatives.

The Exodus quotation is approriately ironic in at least one more way. My dad was Jewish by descent, but he had about as much truck with Judaism as he did with any other religion–which weren’t much. (I had four atheist grandparents, so don’t expect to see me running for office any time soon.) But when I turn to see what he has given me, and what I will give to my children, I need look no further than Exodus 34:7. For if anything in this posting rings true for you, it is because my father visited his beliefs, his values — and yes, his iniquities — on his children.

Because he was a true conservative, and he shared it with his son.

So as I said, it’s all my dad’s fault. Everything you’ve just read started with those three words of his. The sins of the fathers shall indeed be visited upon the children, yea, unto the seventh generation. Pity my poor kids…