Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's Economic 101

There's a great post at a blog, from Northern California, called UnlawflCombtnt about how illegal immigration leads to wage suppression. While I am not knee jerk against immigration and I think the issue of how to deal with illegal immigration is nuanced and complex, the main thing I liked in this post was the explanation of how wage suppresion harms the economy.

It's author, who calls himself an economic populist, explains the link between wage suppression, over investment, and rising CEO salaries. UnlawflCombtnt claims, rightly I think, that ultimately the suppression of wages harms the economy and will lower the Gross Domestic Product. Our economy is fueled by consumer spending, not just investment. With lower wages, less discretionary income, and rising costs, workers will not be able to buy what is produced. As UnlawflCombtnt asks, "who will buy the goods?"

Eventually the high profits and huge bonuses will deflate in on themselves when suppressed wages result in a depressed market. We're already seeing flat sales in once economic powerhouses like Wal-Mart. That could be a harbinger of things to come.

It's certainly an issue to keep in mind in the debate over outsourcing of jobs and guest worker programs that is bound to be part of the Virginia's politics.

More On Fisher's Column

I would be remiss in the irony department if I didn't point out that Marc Fisher used the "a" word. He also referred to Reagan as - dare I say this - "the anti-Christ". Here's the quote:

"The second variety of Democrat believes Reagan was the anti-Christ but would never say that in public. They talk about rekindling their party's connection to Middle America, but they say this with so little conviction that no one pays them any mind."

I don't think Fisher can be accused of Jewbaiting, since it's Reagan he's referring to. And it is proof, as Info-Tech-Guy, me and others have been pointing out that this is a well-known expression in common usage to describe somebody who is poison to others for whatever reason. For example, "Senator John Smith is the anti-Christ to all trial lawyers because of his spirited support for tort reform and caps on malpractice settlements."

If Harris Miller Is Liberal, Then Liberalism Is Dead And Dinosaurs Still Roam

The early general consensus among pro-Webb bloggers this morning is that today’s Mark Fisher column in the Washington Post is damaging to Harris Miller because it leads off with the following quote:

“There are three kinds of Democrats remaining in this Republican-dominated land of ours:

One kind believes the Democratic Party lost a large portion of its support and a significant slice of its soul to Ronald Reagan and will never again be a majority party unless it lures back those folks who grew up admiring FDR and JFK but migrated to Reagan.

The second variety of Democrat believes Reagan was the anti-Christ but would never say that in public. They talk about rekindling their party's connection to Middle America, but they say this with so little conviction that no one pays them any mind.

The third kind of Democrat is still horrified by the concept of Reagan -- and says so. This set of politicians is generally assumed to be the suicidal wing of the Democratic Party.”

What got Lowell at Raising Kaine and Virginia Centrist so excited was that Fisher seems to be labeling Harris Miller as part of the “generally assumed…suicidal wing of the Democratic Party.” I like that quote too and hope it's the one that sticks in the June 13 primary. In fairness to Lowell, he also disputes the liberal label and points out that Miller is far more conservative than Fisher recognizes and Lowell spells it out clearly.

But if you read Fisher carefully, I think he actually likes Miller and his portrait of the candidate is not really unfavorable. In fact, the picture that comes across is of a warm, fuzzy unrepentant liberal who may be out of touch with Virginia voters but who is both authentic and is the candidate with an endearing integrity. He is what he is, Fisher seems to say, with apologies to nobody.

But you can only reach the conclusion that Miller is a liberal, as Fisher does, if you have absolutely no knowledge of what liberalism actually is.

If a liberal is simply an urbane, Northern Virginia yuppie who sips the best white wine with his quiche while supporting abortion rights, then Harris Miller qualifies. But if liberalism boils down to a handful of divisive wedge social issues that actually hurt the Democratic Party in Virginia general elections, then liberalism is as dead as a dinosaur and deserves to stay dead.

In fact, by Fisher’s definition of a liberal, Miller is more liberal than actor Martin Sheen, who’s been arrested more times than a gangster, for his anti-war activities. Miller would also be more liberal than the late and much revered President of the United Farm Workers Union, Cesar Chavez, or John Sweeney, current president of the AFL-CIO. All of them are (or in the case of the late Chavez, were) devout Catholics who oppose abortion.

Far from being an unrepentant liberal, Miller is a Democrat crafted in the image and spirit of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that got the magical insight that the way to defeat Republicans was to ditch the liberal label and seek the support of big business. These geniuses wanted to be considered moderates rather than liberals and their solution to the problem of the liberal label was to tack right by being stridently pro-business at the expense of the most loyal and liberal members of the Democratic base, organized labor.

Thus they supported NAFTA, CAFTA, outsourcing and guest worker programs. In fact, it could be argued that the DLC wing of the Democratic Party, along with their corporate allies in the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party, have done more to create an economy where the wages of the average worker are flat and declining at a time when large companies are posting soaring profits and corporate executives are gobbling up obscene bonuses.

Harris Miller has been the poster boy for this economy by supporting outsourcing and guest worker programs. He has stated in testimony before the House Small Business Committee on off-shoring white collar jobs, in October 2003, that off-shoring is creating downward pressure on American wages, which is an overall positive because it may help to keep more jobs in the U.S., albeit at much lower wages. In fact, he stated, “Indeed, American workers may have to get used to lower wages.”

Corporate CEOs, one presumes will be forced to get used to huge bonuses and other rewards for wrecking the American Middle Class to boost their own profits.

In addition, Miller’s organization, Information Technology Association of America, supported HR 1119, in 2003, a bill that would have taken overtime pay away from workers. All unions, most Democrats in Congress, even lots of Republicans, and most of the country opposed this legislation, which is why it ultimately failed. In addition, Miller’s ITAA has partnered with union busting law firms to further oppose overtime protections for workers.

Even more damaging, in a Virginia race, Miller supported efforts to kill an amendment to the FY 2006 Transportation/Treasury/Housing appropriation that requires public-private competitions before work performed by 10 or more federal employees can be awarded to a private contractor.

Every federal union, including the non-AFL-CIO Treasury National Employees Union (NTEU), supported this amendment. Most contractors, though, hated the amendment because the simple fact is that most private-public competitions are actually won by government workers. Until this year, 90 percent of these competitions have gone to federal workers who consistently come in with less expensive bids than the private contractors. It seems that if private industry can’t compete successfully they’d rather change the rules. And certainly, if they can’t win the contract, the whole argument that privatization and competition saves the taxpayer money gets thrown out.

The only reason for supporting a change in these rules is so that elected officials can reward their corporate and lobbying friends with lucrative contracts at the expense of both federal workers and taxpayers.

That’s not the sort of special interest a real liberal would support. Yet Harris Miller was right in there fighting for the interests of the wealthy over the worker. In fact, his whole career has been one long fight for the privileged over the ordinary citizen, even to the degree that he once declared that he loved Bush’s tax cuts, which clearly benefit the wealthiest one percent at the expense of the fiscal health of our country.

That’s not a liberal. In fact, Jim Webb, who was an early opponent of the war in Iraq, and who understands the need to rebuild the working class by supporting policies that level the playing field and make worldwide competition fairer is closer to true liberal and true Democratic values than Miller ever will be.

The real question voters need to ask – and perhaps political columnists too would do well to ask – in evaluating a candidate for the primary is not how long he’s been in the Democratic Party but how well he reflects the values of the Democrats. Take one social issue out of the mix – abortion rights– and Miller doesn’t even come close. And ironically, Webb also supports a woman’s right to choose and gay rights. That’s not even in contention. So which real Democratic values does Miller bring that Webb doesn’t other than years of flacking for special interests behind the scenes?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Save Free Speech on the Web from Corporate Greed

Just a point to consider. Ever since the Cold War, Americans have been convinced that capitalism leads to greater democracy and freedom. We have conflated an economic system with a political system.

It's true that communism, as it was practiced behind the Iron Curtain, went hand in hand with a centralized dictatorship. But it's also true that the social democracies of Western Europe were an odd mixture of limited socialism, free enterprise and a democratic form of government. The truth is there can be many mixed systems that work far better than our capitalistic one, with its dedication to the dictatorship of the market.

China, in fact, is living proof that a country doesn't become more democratic or more free simply by opening its markets. Although it has a thriving market economy and many newly minted entrpreneur millionaires, there is still little freedom in China. Its ruling class still governs with an iron grip.

And here in America, the greed of the big corporations is just as likely to stifle true democracy and freedom as it is to encourage it. As has been pointed out, for example, a free press is only free to those who can afford to own the press. We've all witnessed the growing lack of diversity of opinion in the broadcast media, where one or two large corporations, like Channel One, have bought up most of the smaller, once independent radio stations across the nation. Local programming has fallen and so has the rich mix of different voices and divergent opinions that was once the hallmark of local radio.

Now, the Internet also is being threatened, as this article in today's New York Times shows. The telecommunications conglomerates want to start charging fees for use of the Web. By charging fees, they would be creating a tiered system that would favor large commercial sites that could afford steep fees while marginalizing smaller, independent sites. Those who couldn't afford the pricey fees would have access only to lower speeds or perhaps no access at all.

This is an issue that has made for some strange bedfellows. The Christian Coalition is allied with MoveOn.com because both realize that their organizations could lose access to the larger web community if a telecomm company with a board of directors hostile to their particular political point of view were to be able to control their access.

James Sensenbrenner and John Conyers have sponsored net neutrality legislation that met with surprising sucess in clearing the House Judiciary Committee.

And group Savetheinternet.com has already gathered more than 700,000 signatures on their petition. So, go there, already, and sign it too.

Meanwhile, the corporate giants are leading a deceptive campaign of their own. They have been promoting a "hands off the Internet" campaign that makes it appear that they want to protect the current truly free Web from government interference. Nothing could be further from the truth. What they really want is to keep the government from regulating them and their ability to take a free Web away from the rest of us for their own greedy benefit.

If they succeed, we will see less diversity of opinion. Far fewer blogs. It will be the rise of the corporate monopoly Web with little input or access for the rest of us. If you think the mainstream media slants the news now, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Without a free Web, another alternative voice will be lost. The Web is truly one of the few remaining free forums for a diversity of opinion.

But the political voice isn't all that will suffer. Ironically, so will a truly free market. It was the freedom and access of the Internet that allowed thousands of small entrepreneurs to launch new businesses that are now household names. Companies like Amazon and eBay. So a true free market also will be threatened if these greedy corporatists succeed.

And among our allies in this fight are Google and Yahoo, companies that have encouraged and benefitted from the popularity of the Web.

Hopefully, lawmakers will be able to determine which side truly wants to protect the Web and go with it. But I don't trust them to do it without hearing from their constituents about how important this is to them.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Without A Vision The Democrats Will Perish

So, I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Memorial Day Weekend with my tooth extracted, feeling a bit under the weather and certainly in no mood to go out and enjoy the beautiful, sunny 84-degree day.

What a perfect time, it occurs to me, to tackle a post on what it means to be a Democrat. Of course, I really can only speak for myself and why I’m a Democrat. But for years we’ve read and heard that voters no longer know what the Democratic Party stands for. Indeed, even our activists are demanding that candidates “stand for something.” As the logic goes, all we need to do to win is show the public our values.

Even though we all know that this is true, I haven’t really seen a clear articulation of what, exactly, those Democratic values are. Or of what our vision is. I think it’s because large political parties also want to be inclusive “big tents.” And the values that a moderate Democrat in Nebraska or Alabama holds may be very different from the values held by a liberal Democrat in New York City.

So I am going to try my hand at “why I am a Democrat” with the caveat that it may not be why Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman are Democrats.

For me it boils down to the line of a poem, written by Emma Lazarus, at the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, huddled masses, yearning to be free. Your wretched refuse …”

And not because I want their cheap labor in a sweatshop.

Democrats can trace their proud history back to Thomas Jefferson who believed that “all men are endowed by their Creator …” with basic human rights and dignity. Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independence the tradition of individual liberty that has served as an inspiration for human rights struggles across the globe. He and the founding fathers also wrote into our Constitution the idea, then unique in the world, of separation of church and state. Because of their vision, those fleeing the Old World came, not just for economic opportunity, but because they were being persecuted for their beliefs and hoped to find safe haven in a new world of tolerance, reason, and freedom.

Ours is also the party of Andrew Jackson, who stood up for the rights of the common man. Jackson was very much a leader in the populist tradition.

And when Franklin Roosevelt became president, after the devastating stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression, he set up public works programs because he had a vision for the ways that government could be the solution to the economic excesses of robber barons and Wall Street speculators, who bought stocks on margin and defaulted, bringing down the Stock Exchange and the whole nation’s economy on one Black Monday.

Roosevelt also championed the rights of unions to organize and it is no accident that organized labor made its greatest gains under his administration. Roosevelt also took us to war to oppose a devastating threat whose jackboots were marching across Europe and Asia.

Then we had Truman who taught the world what personal accountability meant. His famous sign "the buck stops here" was unequivocal in its meaning. Compare it to the Ken Lays and Jeffrey Skillings of today.

And a young president, John F. Kennedy, declared, “The banner has passed to a new generation” and asked our nation to “think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?”

With these role models as an inspiration to me, here’s what I believe the Democratic Party stands for.

First of all, it stands with poor people and the middle class over the vested interests of large corporations and the super rich. That’s not to say that Democrats have to engage in Bolshevist class warfare. The truth is that we should celebrate a thriving economy that truly is a tide that lifts all ships and carries them into a safe harbor of prosperity.

That can’t happen if there aren’t laws and policies that encourage businesses to thrive. However, Democrats also know that no business ever succeeded without dedicated, hardworking employees and that they should share in the fruits of a business’s success. Businesses shouldn’t – and don’t have to – succeed at the expense of workers.

During the hopeful fifties and prosperous early sixties, companies large and small were successful and their employees also shared in the unprecedented prosperity. Our economy did well, more people were able to send their children to college for the first time and also save for retirement. More people also had pensions, health benefits, and owned homes. It was indeed a golden age of hope and success. We were a confident people unafraid to face the future.

To be sure, there was a shadow side to our success. Racism, sexism, too much conformism. And that’s what led to the turbulence for which the sixties is so famous.

But even then, Democrats were usually the ones to champion the emerging calls for civil rights for African Americans and equal rights for women in the workplace.

So to me, the Democratic Party is the one that seems most likely to champion the interests of the ordinary person. It is Democrats who usually support raises to the minimum wage, family friendly leave legislation, affirmative action, and living wage initiatives. Democrats have gained the support of organized labor, black groups, women’s groups, and gay organizations because they are ones who want to extend human rights and give every day people a fair shake.

Republicans, on the other hand, believe in small government. They believe the government is always the problem and never the solution to any problem. That’s one reason they were so ineffective during Katrina last year. And while they will tell you that their belief in small government stems from their concern for the rights of individuals, all too often it really comes from their championing the business rights of large corporations. The Republicans too often are anti-regulatory simply because they want to protect business interests. Even if the regulations they oppose would protect people from pollution, hazardous conditions in the workplace, or even food poisoning, which has increased over the past several years as a result of cutbacks in federal agencies tasked with inspecting meat plants.

Republicans, despite their belief in limited government and their gutting of regulations, have no trouble wanting to impose their morality on the public and giving it the force of law. As others have observed, they want to get the government out of the corporate boardroom and the factory floor and put it squarely in our bedrooms and doctors’ offices. Democrats want to do the reverse. They realize that a woman’s right to choose is often about an agonizing decision that only she and her doctor can make. They also realize that what people do in the privacy of their homes is not the state’s concern. But that we all have a vested interest in a clean environment, protection from global warming, and safe work environments. We all also have an interest in having a secure job, a decent wage that we can live on and educate our children on, and we all need the security of health insurance and a pension plan.

I don’t think we have to lay out a detailed road map of how to get there. Democratic candidates have released too many long, complex policy statements that nobody reads, including the idiot journalists who always demand details and substance but prove time and again, once they get it, that they are bored silly by it and would rather write about a candidate’s body language or choice of earth tone suits.

What we need instead is a clear, concise statement that outlines our vision. Something that says the following:

Democrats stand for the rights and well being of the common man. We will encourage economic growth that all can share in and benefit by. We will fight to preserve basic human liberty for all our citizens. We believe in the dignity and value of every American: men, women, black, white, and gay. We believe in religious freedom and tolerance and while we deeply respect religious piety, we also believe that all Americans have the right to follow their conscience in this important area and that’s why we don’t wear our religions on our sleeves or shove it down others’ throats. It’s out of respect for religious diversity not out of hostility to religion.

I’m sure we can refine this down to a 90 second sound byte. But that’s my basic vision statement for the party that I love.

Monday, May 22, 2006


It's Yiddish for shame. And that's what most of the people who have contributed to the bruhaha of the past several days by accusing Jim Webb of jew baiting should feel.

Oh how one small comment can blow up all out of proportion. In the May 19, Washington Post, in an article on a debate between Harris Miller and Jim Webb on Joel Rubin's "On the Record" television show, Jim Webb referred to Harris Miller as the "anti-Christ of labor."

Now, I'll admit that was an impolitic thing to say. And it was disrespectful of Christians. However, Webb was simply trying to convey the fact that Miller is anathema to organized labor and to many high tech workers in unions like CWA. It's a term that others have used to refer to Miller's stand on outsourcing, guest worker programs and even the union movement itself. Miller is on record for many disparaging remarks about labor unions and the harm they do to big business. Ok, he's allowed his opinion.

And Jim, next time, please simply refer to him as Darth Vader to the labor movement. You may lose the aliens from outer space vote, but then they won't make it back to earth for the June Primary anyway.

Meanwhile back here on planet earth, the Virginia blogosphere has erupted with charges against Webb of jew baiting. In this blog, Shawn Kenney gives a whole explanation of jew baiting and its history. Since he starts by attacking a piece in Not Larry Sabato, Ben Tribett responded that he was pissed. And then Lowell, at Raising Kaine, chimed in.

Apparently, real Jewish bloggers, Ben Tribbett, Lowell Feld, Josh Chernila, and I are all pissed at Kenney and even at some Miller supporters who've run with this charge. And here's why.

There's something really despicable about accusing an innocent person of anti-semitism. I'll be the first to agree that Jim Webb came up with probably a poor choice of language. But blowing it out of proportion for personal fun and profit as some Miller supporters and a lot of blowhard, pompous Republicans are doing is dangerous because it trivializes the real thing.

I know something about anti-semitism. My father came to the U.S. from Poland when he was 12 years old. Then he served as an American GI in World War II. He was one of the first Americans to march into one of the concentration camps. Because he spoke German, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and English, he helped translate. He saw a lot of sights and heard a lot of tales that caused him nightmares well into the 1970s. And I heard a lot of those tales from him. Plus the anti-semitism he endured as a child before he left Lublin, Poland.

I only say this because I resent mightily when the term anti-semitism is bandied about to score points off a candidate. Again, nothing is more dangerous than trivializing the charge because then when the real deal occurs, people won't believe it. If you cry wolf too often, someday you'll get eaten alive.

Nobody should realize that more than Harris Miller, a fellow Jew. Whatever else I think of his political stands and what he does for a living, he is a Jew, like me. He should realize how dangerous the flames of this thing can get if blown out of control. He needs to put a stop to it by announcing that he does not believe that Webb meant the "anti-Christ remark" as anti-semitic or as Jew baiting.

And it wouldn't hurt for Webb to say that he is not anti-semitic and that it never crossed his mind that his remark would be taken in that context.

And then lets put a rest to this whole ugly chapter. And those who can't let it rest should be exposed as the ones who really aren't the friends of Jews.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Home Again

Well, I just got in from a very long trip across Virginia and into middle Tennessee. My husband and I drove our Webb bumper sticker across 66, 81 and whatever other roads (a navigator I'm not) but we did give the name exposure as well as put mileage on the car.

The trip was to attend my nephew's graduation in Huntsville, Alabama, not too far from my husband's hometown in Tennessee. After the graduation, we spent a few days with my mother-in-law back in Tennessee and did a lot of driving and a bit of shopping and sight seeing. So, we got to see a bit of the South.

As I mentioned in the comment section of my previous post, in answer to some of the commentators there, I saw Harold Ford's commercial several times on Tennessee television and thought it was very effective. I'm tired so I apologize for being disjointed, but I'll try to convey the gist of the ad.

Ford gets out of a car and goes to the gas pump of an Exxon gas station. He asks viewers if they are as fed up with the high price of gas as he is. He also points out the record profits that oil companies have posted this year and mentions the $400 million bonus that the CEO of Exxon received. Then he looks into the camera and asks, "had enough."

I am not sure of the exact wording, but he basically says that he has too. He then states that it's time for a new generation of leadership in Washington and ends, "I'm Harold Ford and that's why I approved this ad."

I like that he is using the "had enough" theme, which I think is going to work for Democrats. Here, I've got to add, I think that's why Webb is a much stronger candidate than Miller. Can Miller credibly say "had enough, vote for me?" I don't think so.

Webb is a natural populist. He has enough government experience, as former Secretary of the Navy, to make him credible on national defense and foreign relations, but he's been an outsider now for long enough that he's not part of the problem. Miller, as Washington lobbyist, has been an insider this whole time. And he still defends outsourcing as a legitimate business practice. And in a sense it is. It's not illegal. But I think it's one of the things that a lot of voters have had enough of. Outsourcing, shrinking job opportunities, shrinking pensions, shrinking health benefits, shrinking salaries. Yeah, we've had enough.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Brief Vacation

I have absolutely nothing to say right now, which is fortunate because I am going to be taking a few days off to attend to family matters, including the high school graduation of my only nephew. Among other things, I'll be visiting Harold Ford country - the great state of Tennessee. And also Alabama. And, of course, I'll be riding up and down 81 with my James Webb bumper sticker on my car.

And then I'll be taking care of some things at home too. So I'll be in and out of home all week.

I should be on-line again next Monday. Until then, everybody have a great week!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Still Another, Stronger Plea For Common Sense Laws In Virginia

As I promised, I will give you a few more of my thoughts concerning the shooting at the Sully District police station.

First, let’s acknowledge that it will never be possible to prevent all shootings. Critics of gun control who point that out are not wrong. There will always be mentally unstable people who slip through the cracks simply because they don’t have a history of treatment that serves as a prior warning to law authorities. Anybody can become temporarily unstable at any time given the right circumstances, so there can never be a one hundred percent guarantee that we can keep deadly weapons out of the hands of all people with mental or emotional problems.

We also will never be able to keep assault weapons out of the hands of all criminals. By definition, a lawbreaker is a person who is going to disregard the law and do whatever he wants, so those bent on committing crimes aren’t going to be stopped by gun control laws from gaining access to guns.

However, the right laws can make it harder for them. Even more important, a well-written law could also put a gun out of reach of somebody with a history of mental illness and involvement with the police. Somebody like Michael Kennedy.

As I’ve already admitted, we will never be able to prevent all gun related crimes. But this particular one, I think, could have been prevented at several points.

The first is with a more proactive approach at home. I don’t want to blame Kennedy’s parents. They are already grieving a tragic loss. And Kennedy was 18. He was no longer a minor, so his parents’ options as to what to do for their son were limited by the law.

However, one thing they should have done – and I say this knowing full well that hindsight is always 20/20 – is remove the guns from their home. Their home was a small arsenal. In fairness, though, the Kennedys kept their weapons in what they thought were locked gun cases. And they would not be the first people in the world to be gun collectors. People collect all kinds of objects.

But given that their son had been in recent trouble with the police, including one car-jacking for which a court date had been set for July, an incident involving shooting at a pet, during which their son admitted to suicidal thoughts, and the fact that their son was seeking help for mental and emotional problems, they should have gotten their gun collection out of their house and into a storage facility of some kind that their son did not have access to.

Another point in the chain of events leading up to the shoot out, where this terrible tragedy might have been prevented, would have been the elimination of the difficulty in getting help for a mentally ill person if that person does not want the treatment.

This is where there is another real failure of our laws to deal adequately with treatment of the mentally ill. It is incredibly difficult to get somebody committed involuntarily for treatment. This is a point that I make with great trepidation. I am old enough to remember the terrible abuses that occurred in the not too distant past when it was much were easier to get family members involuntarily committed to mental institutions. Sometimes families sought involuntary commitments simply to control rebellious young adults whose behavior didn’t fit the narrowly proscribed conventions of the day or even to have elderly relatives declared incompetent so that those petitioning the courts for these commitments didn’t have to wait to inherit wealth. To be sure, such abuses of the system weren’t the norm, but they occurred often enough, and in some cases were egregious enough in depriving the victims of their rightful civil liberties, that it led to a backlash. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung way too far the other way, making it often impossible to get help for people who desperately need it.

I am always on the side of greater rather than less civil liberties as a matter of principle. But I know something about mental illness too, and so do you if you think about it. Unlike diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, the more serious the mental illness the less likely the person in its grip will be to recognize that he is even out of touch with reality. It’s the old saw that if you can ask if you’re crazy, you’re probably not.

Those who have had a psychotic break are so out of touch with reality that the voices they hear, the urges they have, the thoughts about how hopeless their condition is all seem real. What makes mental illness so difficult to treat is that the patient believes the distorted thoughts he has. And the more out of touch with reality he is, the more he believes them to be true.

So, getting a mentally ill person to voluntarily seek treatment is sometimes just this side of impossible. Michael Kennedy was almost able to get treatment. He was more than part way there when he checked into Potomac Ridge. Then, he walked out.

If there had been some way of preventing him from walking out the very same day that he voluntarily checked himself in, not only might Vicky Armel be alive, but so might he.

With today’s treatment options, involuntary commitment does not mean locking somebody away in the snake pit of yesterday or leaving them to rot indefinitely in the back room of an institution. Most people who go into residential treatment facilities stay for terms of anywhere from a few days to a few months. It is rare for mentally ill patients to be hospitalized for years unless they have committed a serious crime and have been ordered by the courts into treatment rather than prison.

It should also be pointed out that most mentally ill people aren’t dangerous to others. But Michael Kennedy was dangerous to both himself and to others and there was a paper trail of court dates, police records and records from hospitals that showed that. Yet I would guess that even if his parents had tried to get him into treatment against his will, they would have failed. But such treatment might have been short term, and might have consisted of medication, counseling, follow up support, a stay in a half way house, and other options that could have been life saving without depriving him of his civil rights on a long term basis.

Our laws have to change to make it easier for intervention in cases like this.

And finally so must our gun laws change. It is possible for somebody to go to a gun show, give a mental health residential treatment center as his address (many people who are in residential treatment are out patients who are able to come and go during the day), and still purchase a gun. That has to stop. Again, I’m going to make the same plea for some common sense. Isn’t it possible to admit that, even while you support the right of hunters, farmers, and collectors to have guns, some people really shouldn’t have them? And certainly, some people really, really shouldn’t own an AK-47 or a bayonet?

Michael Kennedy was one of those people. And he, as well as Vicky Armel, was failed by the loopholes in all our laws.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Silly Me

Just when I thought I actually had some computer literacy, I discovered I had a bunch of unpublished comments from readers. I just assumed that when somebody posted a comment, I'd receive an email and then I'd enable their comment to be published. For some reason, I haven't been receiving the email notifications so when I went to "comments moderation" I was shocked to discover there were a bunch of comments for different posts, going back almost two weeks.

I've hit the right button, so if you made a comment, it's now published. In some cases, I put my two cents back in and answered your comments because - well, I'm an opinionated gal.

And thank you all for commenting. Especially the ones who disagree with me. Having to consider that others have a different viewpoint is something I absolutely hate. But it does keep me honest, though not necessarily humble. I'll only look for ways to refute you, after all. But doesn't that make for more intersting reading anwyay?

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Plea For Common Sense

You don’t have to be a staunch gun control advocate to realize that something has gone badly awry in the U.S. and in the Commonwealth of Virginia. There is huge difference between taking away a farmer’s hunting rifle and having laws that protect the public from a mentally ill, suicidal teenager with a cache of military assault weapons.

When police entered the home of Michael W. Kennedy, the youth who shot Detective Vicky Armel to death at the Sully District Police Station, they found nine guns, several of which were loaded, a bayonet, ammunition and knives all lying around the house. There were still other weapons locked up in cabinets.

Michael Kennedy had on his person an AK-47 style assault weapon, a high power hunting rifle and five handguns when he drove to the police station, where he fired 70 rounds of ammunition, killing Armel and seriously wounding Officer Michael Garbarino.

In addition, at his home police found records of his mental illness and attempts to get treatment, including a file from 4/26/06, labeled “mood disorder documentation,” from Prince William Community Hospital. There were also records of his treatment at Woodburn Center, in Fairfax, and he had just checked in and then immediately left the Potomac Ridge Behavioral Center in Rockville, Maryland a week ago.

There had been a decade long ban on high power assault rifles exactly like the kind that killed Armel and seriously wounded Garbarino. Then two years ago, President Bush and a Republican Congress let that ban expire despite the nationwide warnings of police chiefs. As the Washington Post said in an editorial,

“Two years ago, nationwide police chiefs tried to convince Congress to renew the ban and they made the point that these are not weapons that hunters ever need for their sport. And no mentally ill person should ever have such easy access to these types of guns.”

In addition, the Post pointed out that since the ban expired, 44 people have been killed with assault weapons and 38 others have been wounded.

It would be easy to just blame Bush and the federal government. But the truth is, Virginia too can do something. We don’t have to wait for the federal government to craft sensible legislation that respects the rights of hunters while protecting the police and public from deadly attack. No legitimate hunter needs an AK-47 or a bayonet. Can sensible people at least agree on that much? Or is the NRA’s influence so complete and our political leaders so cowardly that the art of sensible compromise is now completely beyond them?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Virginia Trifecta

There's great news over at Raising Kaine about a bunch of new endorsements for Jim Webb. However, it all led me to the following rumination about the state of Fairfax, Virginia politics.

There is a curious disconnect between the national Democratic Party and the local Northern Virginia party. While local bigwigs in Fairfax County are lining up behind favorite son Harris Miller, the whole national party is rolling out the red carpet for Jim Webb, who recently won endorsements from Wes Clark and Max Cleland. And just today, Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, Dick Durbin, Ken Salazar, and Chris Dodd publicly endorsed Webb. Those are the big guns of the Senate. And they usually don't endorse candidates in local primaries.

But Miller is an inconvenient candidate. He’s like the kid in the choir who’s enthusiastic and well liked by his fellow singers, but who sings loudly and terribly off-key. No matter how much louder the others sing to try to drown him out, the discordant, sour notes are still there.

This year the Democrats are trying to craft a unified message and make a coordinated pitch to voters. While it’s difficult to determine what exactly that message will be – these are still Democrats, after all, and not an organized party – I am quite sure that that message won’t include hearty approval for a champion of outsourcing and “a consummate insider” lobbyist.

The Democrats are attempting to emphasize the differences between themselves and the Republicans by capitalizing on the lobbying scandal that has engulfed Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and the rest of the Republicans. A well-connected lobbyist like Miller, regardless of the fact that he is a world apart from Abramoff, undercuts that effort. This is just not the year of the lobbyist.

In fact, it’s not the year to be an insider. The Democrats best shot at winning is to run as angry outsiders and to blame everything from the war in Iraq to high oil prices on the incumbent party. It’s not only smart politics – in fact, it’s exactly what the Republicans did to the Democrats in 1994 – but it has the ring of truth to it. The Republicans have cut the Democrats out of most of their negotiations and most votes have passed or failed along party lines. Most of the lousy policy that has soured voters into saying that our country is going in the wrong direction is truly failed Republican policy that Democrats had little to do with. So, there’s no good reason not to run as an outsider and not to match the voters’ angry mood.

In this case, it’s honest as well as effective politics.

In a year when every time you open a newspaper or turn on the television there’s bad news on the doorstep about job layoffs, benefits and pension cuts, and salary cuts, the truly last thing the Democrats need is to have to try to defend a champion of outsourcing and guest worker programs who made his fortune lobbying for big corporations that make huge profits and reward their CEOs with obscenely generous bonuses for shipping American jobs overseas.

At a time when there is real, palpable anger at the way the economy is creating two America’s, Miller is on the wrong side of the fence.

To be sure, when it comes to the social and cultural issues, like abortion and gay rights, Miller is on the side of angels. But Webb has come out and said that he favors a woman’s right to choose and gay rights, effectively neutralizing those issues for the Democratic base. And then he moves off those issues. But that’s all Miller has in his favor in order to appeal to the base. And it’s considerable. A lot of Democrats, like a lot of Republicans, are more interesting in furthering the culture wars than getting elected.

Most Democrats, though, realize that to win they have to move off those divisive topics and speak to the country about the bread and butter issues that affect their lives on a daily basis. And they can’t ignore the very real national security concerns that people have.

Here too, Webb is more credible. The man served honorably in the Marines and is a decorated Vietnam War hero. He also served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration. You don’t get better credentials than those. And then he went off and became one of the earliest critics of the war in Iraq. He was one of the first to say what many in the military are now admitting privately and what some have even resigned their commissions to say publicly. He is the only candidate in this race who can oppose the Bush policies without losing his credibility in Virginia.

Harris Miller may be a nice man who stood up for women’s rights and gay rights and all the politically correct, typical liberal social issues in Northern Virginia. He obviously has a lot of friends here, many of them bright, influential people who are very loyal to him. And that speaks well of him. But he’s just not the right candidate for these times. And that’s why Harry Reid, Tom Daschle and other big name national Democrats are piling onto the Webb wagon. They’ve got a national campaign strategy to promote and Webb fits it better than Miller does.

And while all politics may be local, Virginia does not exist in a vacuum. Outside of Northern Virginia, Webb also plays better than Miller. For starters, he’s a born Virginian. He can connect better with voters in Southwest and the rest of rural Virginia than Miller can.

And in an interesting twist, he can help Mark Warner’s presidential aspirations far better than Miller can. Miller would probably lose a general election to George Allen. I don’t think that would particularly hurt Mark Warner’s chances in 2008. But if he went out and campaigned for Miller the way he did for Tim Kaine in 2004, and Miller lost, it would, at least, slightly tarnish Warner’s halo. I’m not saying it would be the body blow that ended Warner’s ambitions. Far from it. Warner has too much going for him for that to happen. But it would at least dent the armor of invincibility.

On the other hand, if Warner went full out for Webb and Webb pulled it off, it would be a real Virginia Trifecta. It would put Virginia politics on the map and give us strong momentum going into 2008. Especially since it’s Warner’s team, Steve Jardine and Dave “Mudcat” Saunders who are running Webb’s’ campaign.

Let’s put it this way, the high paid Washington insiders would be showing up at Mudcat’s property with notebooks and tape recorders in hand to see how Virginia did it and pressing their resumes into his hand for the Warner Administration.

What’s so bad about that outcome?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Anger Management

When I die and go to purgatory, I can promise that there will be no gnashing of teeth. I’m also not particularly scared of the heat – I figure that it can’t be much worse than the hot flashes and night sweats. But that’s another story.

Anyway, there won’t be any gnashing of teeth because by the time I get there, my teeth will have already have been worn down to tiny nubs by the all the teeth grinding I do right now out of frustration with my country, my party and the caliber of candidates we run.

But after having said that, I believe that we are engaging in far too much hyperbole in the Virginia Senate race. To start with, I have to say that Harris Miller, contrary to some of the posts I’ve seen on the Virginia political blogs, is not evil.

I’ve actually looked into the face of evil, heard about evil, felt the hot fetid breath of evil all my life. And Harris Miller doesn’t even come close.

When I was still a child, barely old enough to understand, I heard this story from my father. He had been a sergeant in the U.S. Army in World War II. One of his assignments in Europe was to liberate one of the German concentration camps. My father was originally from Poland and he spoke Polish, German, Yiddish and Russian. His mother had been a professional translator who spoke seven languages. My father inherited her talent for languages. So he and his unit entered this camp prepared to serve as translators and found nothing but a bunch of skeletons. They were preparing to bury them when they got the shock of their lives. The skeletons began to move. They were severely starved but living humans. The G.I.s did what American soldiers are famous for doing. They gave the starved prisoners good, old fashion American candy bars. And killed some of them.

When the medics came in, they implored my father’s unit to stop giving these people, who looked like corpses, candy bars. “You’re killing them,” The medics explained that the camp inmates needed special diets until they gained some strength back.

But those skeletal, starved people were the victims of true, almost unimaginable evil. So were the victims of Rwanda, and those of Darfur. And of the conflicts in the Balkans.

To my mind, Harris Miller doesn’t even come close to that evil.

Yes, he’s a weak candidate. And when I call for ratcheting down the rhetoric about him, I don’t mean to go easy on him. The whole point of a primary is to make sure that the party gets the strongest and the best candidate. And pointing out a candidate’s real weaknesses is not being nasty. Nor is airing honest differences.

For example, I object strongly, and am deeply offended, by Harris Miller’s role in encouraging outsourcing. Through his lobbying efforts for ITAA, while he served as their president, he has done a great deal to hurt the economic well being of America’s high tech workers. He deliberately misled Congress into thinking that there was a shortage of IT jobs in order to increase the amount of H1-B guest workers allowed into the country. He was instrumental in the off shoring of well paying high tech jobs. His efforts led to depressing wages in the industry and to people losing good jobs – the very jobs that were supposed to replace the factory employment that had been lost to China. America’s manufacturing base has been eroded. People retrained for the high tech service sector and then those jobs began leaving the country. What’s left?

What else can American workers retrain for? It’s simply unrealistic to think we are all going to turn into rocket scientists with advanced PhDs. And even, at that level, a lot of the jobs are being outsourced. The only safe jobs anymore seem to be flipping burgers and cleaning yards. And Miller’s role in this through his participation in ITAA is indisputable.

To point this out in a Senatorial campaign is not to go negative. It’s not be unfair. It’s not to engage in hate rhetoric. It’s a statement of fact that even he cannot dispute. It’s a disagreement over the direction our nation should be taking. He has every right to defend his record and his actions. But opponents also have every right to object to his credentials and to question whether he is the best candidate. That’s not hate. That’s not hyperbole. It’s a legitimate objection.

Likewise, it is legitimate for those of us who oppose him to point out that this is not a good year for a lobbyist to run. On the national level, Democrats are planning a campaign that will highlight the Republican culture of corruption. They are planning to call attention to the Republican lobbying scandals that have brought down the Jack Abramoff Republican machine.

I don’t equate Harris Miller with Abramoff. And I have a far more nuanced view of lobbying. Indeed, I know, as every real Democrat who has been even a semi-insider knows, that lobbyists have a legitimate role in government. All kinds of people lobby for all kinds of causes, many of which are very worthy. The Cancer Society has lobbyists. So does the AFL-CIO and every individual union employs lobbyist at all levels of government. And many of their causes are just. Somebody who lobbies for a woman’s right to choose is a champion of woman’s rights. Another lobbyists who plies his trait to convince congressmen and congresswomen to support a raise in the minimum wage is also doing legitimate work. And those who come to town from various church and synagogue groups to lobby for social justice issues are engaged in the exact same process as the high paid lobbyist from the tobacco industry. It’s not lobbyists per se that are the problem. It’s which causes they lobby for. And all too often the real problem is that the tobacco company lobbyist, besides the fact that he is lobbying for a crappy product, has a ton of money that gives him unfair access to an elected official. The real problem is not that people lobby but that those who lobby for the worst causes have the most money and the greatest access and power.

For that, I don’t blame Harris Miller. However, this is the year that great public attention is being focused on the role of special interest money and the lobbying that it can buy. And at a time when Democrats are poised to run as the party that will champion the interest of the ordinary citizen over the special interest money of the lobbyist, Harris Miller, however well intentioned, undercuts that message. His candidacy is counter-intuitive to, and weakens, the national message and the national Democratic strategy.

Those two things – the fact that he is a successful lobbyist, and that his lobbying efforts have been on behalf of outsourcing – send precisely the wrong message. He can’t sing in perfect harmony with the rest of the Democratic choir. He’s on a different page, singing the wrong notes and sounding a discordant voice. And that’s what makes him a weak candidate as compared to Jim Webb.

Webb, on the other hand, captures the dynamic of this year’s election. To start with, I believe that this is the year of the disgruntled veteran, angry with the Republican Party, who runs as a Democrat because of the mismanagement of the Iraq war. It started in Ohio in the last election cycle with Paul Hackett. And there are veterans running throughout the country, with the same message. Which is that is that this is the wrong war and it has been badly mismanaged by civilian leadership that has been arrogant and dismissive of the military leaders with the knowledge and experience on the ground.

And a slew of generals have retired and gone public with that message, which is unprecedented. It also resonates throughout the government. Because the truth is the Bush administration has treated all branches of the government just as arrogantly. Scientists at the EPA have resigned over the interference of political appointees with reports on global warming, scientist at NIH and the FDA have left over fake science in support of ideology on everything from birth control programs that stressed abstinence only to the approval of the morning after pill. And even in Treasury, economists have been demoralized over the politicization of their science. And we don’t even need to speak about the way the intelligence community is now being trashed. This has been the most fact challenged administration, practicing junk science, junk economics, junk intelligence, and junk military strategy. And they have looked down upon and attempted to destroy the careers of dedicated career civil and military servants who dared to offer their best knowledge, and the truth. The arrogance and lies are endemic throughout the government. That’s why the challenges to them ring true this year.

And so when a military hero, a former Navy Secretary, switches his party to point out the lies and incompetence, it will resonate with the electorate. Jim Webb, the disgruntled veteran who switched parties to speak truth to power, the old-fashioned economic populist who understands the frustrations of working people in Southwest and the high tech corridors of Northern Virginia is just a stronger candidate than Harris Miller, lobbyist for outsourcing and supporter of President Bush’s tax cuts and war in Iraq.

To point that out is not to be negative. And turn about is fair play. When Miller’s people point out that Webb is a former Democrat who became a Republican and now claims to be a Democrat, they are not being hateful or unfair. To question whether his populism is truly progressive or demagogic is also not negative. Populism has been put to use by some pretty ugly causes, especially in the South. Huey Long was a populist too. So both sides have raised legitimate questions. And whoever has the most convincing answers will be the candidate. And hopefully, the strongest candidate to face George Allen.

Having said that, I don’t even hate George Allen. But I fear him mightily. Let’s concede at the outset that at least part of real hatred is fueled by fear. I am trying, for sake of my own peace of mind, to separate the very legitimate fear I feel for Allen from hatred. Even apart from his utterly bankrupt Republican politics, which have demonstrably put our nation on the wrong direction, some really disturbing personal facts have emerged about him that convince me that he is unfit to serve in the Senate and certainly unfit to be president.

It’s not any one thing. It’s not the Confederate flag alone. But it is the fact that he was raised in Southern California and has no real connection to the Confederate flag. What has he to do with real Southern heritage?

The miniature noose that he had in his office is an entirely different story. Under any circumstances, it’s a macabre, deeply troubling, and inappropriate symbol. And then there’s the even more disturbing revelation that he had a propensity for abuse of his sister. All of this adds up to a very chilling picture.

I don’t want to call George Allen evil either. But I gotta tell you, to my mind, he comes a lot closer to it than Harris Miller every could. And that’s why we need the strongest candidate possible to defeat him. I will work for whoever has a chance to defeat Allen. But my first instinct, all hyperbole aside, is that Webb is that candidate.

Having said all that, yes please let’s ratchet down the rhetoric about our fellow Democrats, even if we have to grind our teeth and take anger management 101 to do.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Awake And Sing

It's a play from the 1930s, written by radical Clifford Odets. The review, by Adam Cohen, is in today's New York Times. And it's about the power of ordinary people to affect change when they wake up to their true conditions.

In today's climate of dissatisfaction, where over 70 percent of Americans believe that our country is heading in the wrong direction, there is still the possibility that Democrats won't win back Congress because of simple apathy.

Why do people vote with more passion for the next winner of American Idol than they do for their next senator or representative?

It's because they've been deliberately made to feel disempowered. Ask the average person why he doesn't bother to vote and he'll shrug and tell you that the line at the polling place may be too long and also that he doesn't think his vote will matter.

It's not that he doesn't believe it matters to the outcome of the election. There have been too many close elections in recent times for that. But the average person believes that it doesn't matter who is in office because "they're all corrupt," "both parties are exactly the same," or some variation of the above.

The vested interests in Congress, who do want things to stay the same, want people to believe that. Just as they gerrymandered safe Congressional seats to protect incumbents, many want people to think their vote doesn't matter.

Success at politics is often the fine art of turning out your vote while depressing your opponent's vote.

This year, however, the dynamics are different.

In a year when dissatisfaction has reached a critical tipping point, angry Democratic voters who believe that something is wrong with their country are more motivated to come out to try to change it. Meanwhile, Republicans, who are the majority party, but who are equally dissatisfied, have less incentive to get out. Many ordinary Republican and Republican-leaning independents are also unhappy with our country's direction but if they're not going out to cross party lines, they'll probably stay home. There's not much to defend unless you are truly the base.

Evangelicals will get out come rain, storm, or sleet. For them, the Republicans have actually delivered. They've gotten two Supreme Court justices, a long time ambition. They have been emboldend to push their agenda even harder by an administration that caters to them. And they are proud that they vote a narrow range of "values" issues to the exclusion of anything else, including national security and economic issues. But they are only less than 30 percent of the electorate. Their real influence comes in their ability to swing a really close election. But Democrats have tightly knit, otherwise marginal swing groups too.

The real trick is to keep it from getting that hairbredth close by appealing to a broader segment of centrist voters who do vote both their pocket book and their concern for national security. And this is the year that Democrats have their ear.

The most important thing we can do is to re-empower those voters. We have to convince them that their vote does count and that ordinary people like them not only can make a difference but that united together can make all the difference.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

National Flip A Republican Month

I just suggested this in a previous post. It was in answer to the somewhat absurd objection to James Webb because he used to be a Republican.

When conservative Democrats like Phil Gramm, Ben "Nighthorse" Campbell, and Billy Tauzin deserted our party for the Reagan Revolution, it harmed and embarrassed us. If we can get a few progressive Repubicans to actually admit that their party is bankrupt of good ideas and that its policies have failed and put our country on the wrong path, wouldn't this be a good thing worth supporting? Why then when we've got a candidate in conservative Virginia who can make these charges with credibility are some of the brightest party activists so resistant?

In order to halt our self destructiveness, I'm going to propose a National Flip A Republican Month.

Anybody who can get a successful and popular Republican progressive to admit that his party has left him and so he's turning Democrat will win honorable mention in this blog. Admittedly, I don't have much in the way of actual monetary awards. But hopefully, you'll gain the undying gratitude of every Democrat who finally sees the light and sees a victory in our future.

And by the way, this shouldn't be that hard to do. After all, there just aren't that many progressive Republicans out there. So it's not going to take long to flip a few.

In fact, some may claim we've started down the right road with Jim Webb.

All They've Got

I've been at two events, mostly attended by Democrats, in the last two days. Last night's was the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council's annual COPE dinner. James Webb wasn't there because he had a previous commitment to attend a fundraiser in his behalf in California. Granted he needs the money - but Virginia labor versus Hollywood money. Ok, maybe I'd take the money too if I were a cash strapped candidate facing a millionaire who's willing to finance his own campaign.

I do give Miller credit for walking into the lion's den. He's not stupid. He knows where labor's sympathy lies. Yet he bravely walked up to people like me, with our Webb stickers plainly visible, and he gamely shook our hands.

After the dinner, I was in the bar of the Crystal City Hilton with some other Democratic activists, long time friends with whom I've worked on campaigns before. These are the people whose side I am usually on. Except this time. I walked in on an angry discussion about the hypocrites who didn't want to support Creigh Deeds last year because of his gun stand but who are now so wild about Webb.

"I supported Creigh Deeds. I have no problem with guns," I announced crisply as I sat down. Then I added, "for me, it comes down to three things: outsourcing, outsourcing and outsourcing."

One of the Miller people said, "Well for me it comes down to not wanting to be at the Democratic Convention next time and having the head of the Virginia delegation refusing to support the party. I don't want to see a Virginia Zell Miller."

Because of the obvious anger of the assembled group, I didn't want to pour oil onto a fire. AIAW is, in fact, very polite and even a bit cowardly in person. She's not always outspoken. That's what she has a blog for. So, I'll answer the charge now from the safety of my bedroom.

Firstly, I don't want to see another Zell Miller either. But I'd sure love to see a Democratic version of Phil Gramm, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Billy Tauzin. For that matter, I'd love to see more Dave Marsdens.

Does anybody remember when Southern Democrats, like Gramm, publicly got up and left our party to join the Reagan revolution in the 80s. Oh God, I wish some ultra purist Republican had rejected them because they had been Democrats. Instead, deserters were embraced. When they switched sides, they were rewarded with plum committee chairmanships. Everything was done to publicly highlight the Republicans' gain. And every one of those Democrats who left us, also embarrassed and hurt us. Because every one of them took followers for whom it was confirmed that the Democratic Party was no longer their home.

So, if we can flip a few Republicans and return the favor when they are down and suffering low poll ratings, why the hell not seize the opportunity? In fact, nothing makes me more frustrated than the Democratic Party's constant aversion to Republicans who want to switch parties. In fact, I would love to declare next week "National Flip A Republican Week" and assign every Democrat I know to go out and get one high profile Republican to switch parties.

So, if any of my disgruntled friends would like to know, that's why I am delighted that Webb is running. Because it hurts and embarrasses Republicans who hurt and embarrassed us the same way throughout the 80s.

Then, today at the Braddock District Derby Day, I went up to another friend to ask if she wanted to wear a Webb sticker. "No," she told me, with some anger. "But I will wear a Miller sticker."

I gave her the same line about for me it being outsourcing, outsourcing, etc. She responded that her support, in turn, was about "friendship, friendship, friendship."

I don't have a quarrel with that. I am not going to demonize people I respect for sticking by somebody who has been their friend for twenty years. But it seems that most of Miller's support in Northern Virginia isn't based on a positive agenda. It's based on longtime loyalty to a comrade. And unfortunately, his campaign is based on attacks and untruths about Jim Webb. But when you have a history as a lobbyist whose main issue was outsourcing and guest worker programs, that's all you've got. But to beat Allen, it ain't much.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Northeastern Liberal Elitist Fights Back

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about how Northeastern liberal elites have driven the average person out of the Democratic Party and into the waiting and willing arms of Republicans who are more sympathetic to their culture and their religion. The latest shot across the bow comes from author Caitlin Flanagan who recently published To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, a book about the joys and agonies of being a stay at home mom. And in this Time Magazine interview, she accuses liberals of angering blue collar white men causing them to leave their traditional Democratic Party home, and taking their wives with them. According to Flanagan, these people feel disrespected by the Democrats.

I don’t buy it. In fact I think it’s manufactured populism put into the service of people who don’t have the interests of working people in mind. These are the real elites and they’ve mastered the language of populism in order to play on the real angers and dissatisfactions of working people. And play it they do, like a finely tuned Stradivarius violin. They have become experts at exploiting the politics of resentment.

Let’s start with Caitlin Flanagan herself. She accuses elitist feminist intellectuals of looking down at the decision that she and countless other women have made to stay home to raise their children in traditional families.

But real feminism has always been about choices. In its truest form, it never dictated that all women had to march in lockstep into the corporate world. All it posited was that women had a right to choose whether to work outside the home. It’s hard to realize in the year 2006, but back in the early 70s when women’s lib first burst on the scene that was a radical and threatening notion. Indeed, in the 50s when recently retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor graduated law school the only job she was offered was to be a legal secretary. Today we would think such a thing absurd and perhaps not even believe it was true. But back in the 50s lots of people barely raised an eyebrow.

Likewise, most people saw nothing wrong with a woman making less than a man for the same job. They reasoned that a working woman had a husband to support her and was just doing it for extra money or because she was bored at home. And perhaps, people thought, she shouldn’t be working at all since she was probably taking a job from a man who really needed it. Except if she was a secretary, a teacher, or a nurse. Those were acceptable jobs for women – jobs no man wanted – but still women were viewed as not needing the same amount of money as a man needed.

We always understood that among men the market was what determined wages not need. That’s the difference between capitalism and socialism. We never did embrace “to each according to his need” over market forces. Except where women were concerned. Then suddenly everybody bagged the free market for just such socialism. Suddenly need became the determinant.

Of course, if the woman was a widow with three kids and she was their sole support, suddenly the need for the same salary as a man who supported a family didn’t factor in. It wasn’t about need or market values. It was the gender, stupid.

And feminists challenged that. They simply had the radical notion that there should be equal pay for equal work. And equal opportunity. Feminists also brought sexual harassment out of the shadows and said that when a woman went to work she should be treated with dignity and not subject to harassment.

Perhaps, though, the single most important achievement of the feminist agenda, one that benefited men and women, was the Family Friendly Leave Act, which permitted employees to use their leave to care for an ill child or any family member in need. Although it’s been proven that women are the primary caregivers of sick children, aging parents, and other relatives in need, the Family Friendly Leave Act has helped anybody who has found him or herself in a situation where there is a need to care for a sick family member.

True feminism has helped to make women’s lives on the job easier. Yes, there are radicals who have taken outrageous positions in the name of feminism, but lumping all feminists together is a lot like accusing all conservatives of being John Birchers. Not true and very unfair.

However, while Caitlin Flanagan finds much fault with feminism by just that tactic, she herself is not a typical stay at home mom at all. She’s a successful writer who happens to be able to work from home. She’s one of those rare people who can have her cake and eat it too. Have a great and satisfying career while wrapping herself in the mantle of traditional values.

By the way, another of feminism’s goals is to get companies to allow telecommuting so that other office workers with less exalted careers than Flanagan’s can also enjoy the same benefit of working from home.

The truth is that most women don’t work for self-fulfillment. Nor do they hold glamorous careers. The average working woman toils at a job that is often physically exhausting, frustrating, boring, and routine. She’s a waitress, hair dresser, secretary or teacher who works long hours for little pay. And she does it because her family needs her salary. Those women are not elitists demanding an arbitrary right in the workforce as Caitlin Flanagan might want you to believe.

Indeed, women who have the means to stay home with their children are often the truly privileged. They are the ones with the money and freedom to do so. But nothing is more elitist and dishonest than a woman who makes a highly successful career out of telling other woman about the joys of staying home and not pursuing a career.

That, however, is one small aspect of the misuse of populist rhetoric. The other is the exploitation of the genuine economic grievances of working class men in the South and Midwest, especially in the rural heartland.

And it’s an old technique too. The truth about the “Northeastern liberal elites” charge is that it was concocted by conservatives in order to harness the anger of or working people and to turn it away from the factories and corporations that were actually exploiting these people and to turn it instead onto unions, blacks, feminists, “outside agitators”, and any other progressive elements that could actually provide genuine relief.

It was a brilliant tactic that in the South, especially, kept white people from joining with blacks to form unions to fight for better wages and improved working conditions. It was a strategy that exploited nativist and racist sentiments and that fed on fear of the “other”. But its real purpose was to channel resentment away from rich factory owners and onto that “other” instead.

By the 70s, the demagogic techniques of the dark underside of populism came to be exploited by Republicans. Kevin Phillips, working for Nixon, was one of the architects of the Republican Southern Strategy. And he has since turned into a real populist, writing major books about the betrayal of working people and the middleclass by the modern day robber barons of the Republican Party.

Unfortunately, many Southerners and Midwesterners bought the phony populism hook, line, and sinker. But it was never an accurate picture of what liberals were. The real picture of liberalism and what it stood for was never elitism. It’s like saying that Civil Rights giants such as John Lewis and Martin Luther King and labor leaders like Lane Kirkland and John Sweeney were the elitists but the Henry Fords, the Ken Lays and the Jeffrey Skillings were the real men of the people. Sure.

It’s especially popular, however, in demagogic circles, to vilify the baby boomer generation. It’s easy to parody the “drugs, sex and rock ’n roll” ethos of the 60s. But it was liberal baby boomers who also rode the buses into Mississippi during Freedom Summer. And three of them died there fighting for the rights of all Americans to be able to register and to vote. And to be able to sit at any lunch counter they wanted to.

Baby boomers also protested the Vietnam War, which was just as wrong as the current war in Iraq is. Some of the ways that they protested were excessive. And, yes, it always was a mistake that too many Americans took out their frustration with a misguided war policy on Vietnam vets instead of on the politicians who got us into the mess. But people, even liberals, learn from their mistakes. You don’t see a similar mistreatment of today’s returning Iraqi veterans. Far from it. No matter which side Americans are on about Iraq, today people understand the incredible sacrifice made by the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. In fact, it’s frequently the liberals who are out in front protesting that the troops are not being provided with the body armor and equipment they need to protect themselves.

But the baby boomer liberals fought for a better, more just world. Whether it was their embrace of civil rights for African Americans, women’s rights and gay rights, liberals of all generations have always fought for those on the margins of society who often can’t speak for themselves. Hardly elitist.

In fact, the angry rightwing populism of the Republicans was always a slick trick to keep allies divided, using fear, resentment and prejudice as its tools. Genuine liberal populism, though, recognizes the common agonies and common interests of all working people, whether they are women or men, black or white or Latino. It unites us rather than divides us. And it gives voice to the humble so that they may speak truth to power.