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.

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