It’s astonishing how many parallels you can find among the defeats of the anti-war movement and the pro-immigrant movement and the defeat in the making of health-care reform. Of course, in times when the political debate and activism has been reduced to cool messages in 140-characters, the recurrent tragedy of liberal activism, snatching defeat even out of its own victories, is perfectly understandable.
This entry is dedicated to Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy was and is my favorite Senator. He was a friend of immigrants when it was still unpopular to be so. He was the Liberal Lion who advocated for the working poor and for the sick making no apologies, caving to no one in a party that has gotten so used to caving-in. He was a rich man inspired by service instead of greed and he served his ideals with or without a camera before him. If there is not heaven, it should be invented for him. My friend, thanks. Rest in peace.
Cenk Uygur has a great show, the Young Turks (http://www.theyoungturks.com/). Some time ago, when the center of the debate was still the stimulus, Cenk commented that when Republicans had to deal with health care reform, they would have a hard time if they tried to go against reform as health care was an issue that touched personally so many Americans. Then I remembered Hans Blix saying in 2003 how unlikely it was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and the unsustainable charges of strategic alliances between the opportunist secular Hussein and the religiously fanatic bin-Laden. I remembered what absurd sounded for a weakened regime like Hussein’s to launch an attack like 9/11 against the United States. I also remembered how badly had the Iraqi Republican Guard been beaten in Kuwait in its best moment and what absurd it was to feel threaten by an impoverished post-sanctions Iraq. An episode so absurd that made me remember the fabricated incident with Albania to help politically the President’s reelection in the movie "Wag the Dog". Worse, suppose for a minute that Iraq had really had weapons of mass destruction. Even worse, suppose that Iraq could have been able to introduce a nuclear weapon and detonate it in American soil. In other words, suppose another 9/11. Would have that made us surrender and lose our liberties? Would that have led to the Iraqi Republican Guard to occupy American cities and impose Sharia law in our territory after crossing the Atlantic in boats? Could Iraq represent a threat like the Soviet Union represented in its times? Could have Iraq occupied America like the Russians occupied Eastern Germany and then Eastern Europe after the Second World War? In the hysteria created by Republicans ultraconservatives, helped by a tamed press and CNN’s 24/7 repetition of shallow stories with flashy effects, not only the answer to these questions was ‘yes’ but also such a ridicule argument was used even to justify tax and environmental policy (Don’t you remember the Republican argument that if we did not open ANWR for drilling we would affect our national security because we would be depriving the President of the resources he needed for the war?). It was as if never before had been an insurgency so nobody could figure out what work and what doesn’t. Historical precedents were neither provided by Republicans nor demanded by Democrats, the Paul Bremer’s three ring circus was sent to Iraq and any debate could be abruptly ended chanting "U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!".
Something similar happened in the immigration debate, where illegal immigrants were portrayed simultaneously as dumb illiterate non-working welfare-seeking usurpers of public services and, at the same time, as dangerous agents of the Reconquista who stole jobs from Americans and overcrowded our schools. Serious research were not provided by the xenophobic Right nor demanded by the so-called pro-immigrant leaders and any debate could be abruptly ended chanting "No amnesty! No amnesty! No amnesty! No amnesty!"
On the other hand, the health care debate was populated not even by reasonable attacks about costs, about employers dropping their health care programs due to the "pay" part being so low in the "pay or play" rule or about Obama’s improvisation put in evidence by the time that took Obama to react to the Congressional Budget Office’s observations. Obama didn’t even reply that the first CBO’s report, courtesy of Kent Conrad, had been made on a partial bill which didn’t even contain the public option, essential according to Obama’s words, and was obviously premature! No. Adding insult to injury, Republicans not only neglected more serious lines of attach but also could, instead, impose their most bizarre arguments, from death panels and death books, to taxpayer-funded abortions on-demand, to politically-motivated medical decisions made by Stalinist bureaucrats, to health care for the always terrible and abominable, root of all evil, "illegal alien" and probably could have gotten away saying that Obama would have used health care reform to make Soylent Green with the elderly. In this case, the debate reached a point where it could be abruptly ended chanting "No Socialism! No Socialism! No Socialism! No Socialism!"
More recently, as this tragedy unfolded, I could hear Cenk bringing more bad news from health care front when reading a poll showing that on average 50% of Americans had swallowed all those whoppers: 67% believed that wait time for health care services will increase; 50% that the government would get involved in medical decisions; 60% that taxpayers will have to pay for abortions; 46% that coverage will be provided to illegal immigrants; 50% that cuts will be made in Medicaid to cover more Americans; and 54% that reform will increase premiums for Americans with private health insurance (http://www.youtube.com/...). Then I watched how Obama and Sibelius now said that the public option was not essential and how Lieberman Iscariot suggested leaving health care reform for when the recession was over.
In his show of Wednesday 2, a disappointed Cenk Uygur commented the words of George Stephanopoulus, whose source in the White House would be nobody else but Rahm Emanuel, saying that Obama is going to announce next Wednesday the death of the public option. Such a result not only confirms all I have been saying with respect to health care reform in my previous series, "The art of snatching defeat out of victory", but also the pattern I have seen for months in progressive activism.
Einstein said once that doing the same thing again and again expecting different results was insanity. Then the paradigmatic new Democratic activist accepted that it may be insanity and even completely ineffective but it was cool.
1. Improvisation has always procreated crippled children
Some time ago I wrote in Daily Kos criticizing the anti-war movement for not having developed an alternative plan despite the abundant historical evidence on successes and failures on counterinsurgency; for having reduced their message to strident slogans and women in pink dragged from Congressional hearings, exactly the terms of engagement that have worked so well for Republicans but which were clearly counterproductive for Democrats. Then I warned that falling for the kind of oversimplification that was so dear to Bush’s message could hit back for Democrats in 2006: Going for a message of "Bring the troops home!" could maximize results in the very short term but could create an open for Republicans later as they had shamelessly predicted that a precipitated retreat (from the war they mismanaged/unnecessarily began) could lead to a nasty resurgence of the civil war and even to genocide. I suggested instead going for a message based on accountability for our troops having gone to die for the ill-conceived and improvised plan of an inept and religiously fanaticized Commander in Chief. This alternative could have produced more modest gains in the short term but gains good enough to keep Republicans busy in a defensive position for some time while debating with the American people about the pros and cons of each alternative. If, as I think, the band-aid of the Surge falls shortly after we leave Iraq and the Shiites get back on the Sunnis, Republicans will come back as the incarnation of patriotism and compassion and blame Democrats for the dead and destruction resulting of the new Shiite-Sunni conflict. With the expected oil redistribution in a dead end and a flawed post-debaathification reincorporation of the Sunnis to government, the Sunnis will not run out of reasons and the Shiites have been waiting for payback time for so long. Had the anti-war movement gathered around a sound alternative, based in a sound counterinsurgency plan that justifies our demands for accountability, Republicans would have found a hard time coming back from the debacle of Iraq with anything that sounded or looked like ‘national security’. Instead, the Obama administration continues having Blackwater in its payroll.
The lack of alternatives was also clear in the immigration reform movement, which not only couldn’t provide at least one legislative proposal but also engaged in the infantile attitude of dismissing anybody who did not bring them a bill of their like. Before the alternative of "Bring me a bill that I like or don’t get back" and caving to a xenophobic Right that could effectively assemble smear campaigns, fundraising and volunteers, politicians preferred not to come back. In 2006, we counted with the Specter bill, a diminished but still good version of the Kennedy-McCain bill of 2005 and we let Sensenbrenner put the other end of the negotiation. Not surprisingly, the Conference produced nothing because both bills were impossible to conciliate. In 2007 they were also unable to produce a package of legislative proposals but then complained of the many flaws of the Kennedy-Kyl bill. We had the Cato Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center, to mention the most important think-tanks at both ends on this issue, which could have helped produce the basic information on which to build a good legislative proposal but the special mix of ignorance, vanity and mediocrity of the leaders of that movement put them in the same helpless conditions of 2005. They could have made an alliance with friendly press to convoke a contest of legislative proposals to gain additional input, so needed after decades of misinformation widespread by the xenophobic Right, but they preferred to convoke a cute contest directed to fifth graders instead. Isolated in their own vanity, mediocrity and ignorance, those same leaders prepare themselves to do exactly the same stupid things in 2010 expecting a different result.
Then we have health care reform. The White House did not prepare a couple of compatible bills to be sponsored in the House and the Senate or even monitored the process in order to improve/adjust a couple of bullet-proof bills that could be stopped by nothing. Also, Rahm Emanuel’s virtues as enforcer yielded to his virtues a professional conceder (maybe on the assumption that triangulating forever is an efficient political strategy). I know that many are going to come with the idiotic argument that in 1973 Clinton sent a bill and that failed so letting Dodd be embarrassed by the CBO and Conrad to catch the bill by its neck was more sounding politics. In that case, you could have monitored Congress to avoid the embarrassment before the CBO. Letting the bill on its own and let Conrad to take it hostage was not only the worst alternative. It was also stupid.
As I said in my series "The art of snatching defeat out of victory", Republicans know that the best hope they have to make gains in 2010 depends on weakening Obama on health care as Obama’s overoptimistic projections on the economy (Improvisation again) would make him look bad until the economy gets back on a path of sustainable growth after 2010. Nevertheless, with gains in the House and Congress, they could have a chance to make their best, Gingrich-style, to derail Obama’s economic agenda and weaken him before the 2012 general elections. Remember Gingrich forcing Clinton to begin the fiscal year without a budget, obstructing him every time he could or predicting economic cataclysms if Clinton’s tax policy was passed? Ok. That’s called reality. The improvisation to provide/monitor a couple of legislative proposals was followed by an ominous silence after the CBO, invited by Kent Conrad, crashed a partial version of the Kennedy bill. The subsequent adjustments took too long and did not wage better before the CBO as the White House could not define issues like the type of tax to cover the third not covered by savings. Kent Conrad demonstrated a better coordination with the CBO to derail the Kennedy bill than Obama to save it. When Conrad brought his silly alternative of co ops, nobody in the Obama administration could say that co ops would not be able to play any serious role in less than 40 years while the public option could play it from the beginning and that the CBO’s projections didn’t worsened but improved after incorporating the public option. Once again, Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Cenk Uygur made a better defense of the public option than Democrats with the exception of Howard Dean.
2. Letting the enemy choose the best battlefield for them
When we let Republicans to dress themselves up in the flag and replace the counterinsurgency debate with patriotic-sounding slogans, we let them choose the part of the ring were they could fight more comfortably. While few and unsupported groups gathered in something similar to my so many times recommended experience of Carpa Docente, engaging in debate with and providing independent information to as many people they could reach in public places, the bulk of the anti-war movement turned into demonstrators who chanted "Bring the troops home! Bring the troops home! Bring the troops home!" to pro-war demonstrators chanting "U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!" From then we have, as a by-product, the images of pink mothers dragged crying, kicking and screaming from Congressional hearings. The Democratic party, meanwhile, far from assembling an effective anti-war movement, instead continued sending colorful e-mails to supporters asking for money to air colorful 30" TV adds. Unfortunately zapping exists and they can hardly compete with the 24/7 ad machine that is Fox News. A result of this is that 7% of those supporting Kerry on November 2004 believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11! That percentage was significantly higher among those supporting Bush. Those volunteers gathering in those quasi-Carpa Docente could have been, if supported, an effective alternative to the thousands of preachers and their followers in the Christian Right, the foot soldiers of the Republican Right who every Sunday preach the rightfulness of Republican candidates and talking points.
There were so many historical precedents putting in evidence the improvisation and negligence of Bush as Commander in Chief (especially the bizarre year of Paul Bremer as viceroy of Iraq), there was so much evidence of the special interests that had made of the war a lucrative business and the Democratic party did nothing to counterattack. When Cindy Sheehan appeared in an ad on November 2004 I just regretted her ad had not been aired before. It put a human face (Remember the importance of putting human faces in the anti-health care reform astroturfs sponsored by an insurance company?) in the cost of the war. We would not see another one as effective until the Bush administration let the images of the coffins coming from Iraq be made public. Again, while the Republican party throw at Sheehan every label it could, the Democratic party turned its back on her and soon Sheehan was captured by the most bizarre elements of the anti-war movement, turning her into the Republican caricature. All this intellectual misery brings us to the point where we are today: Obama afraid of retreating from Iraq because predictably Republicans are going say that he is weak or because they are going to blame him when the hostilities between Shiites and Sunnis reignite (because he made no strong and informed rebuttal of the way Republicans were endorsing him the war, what is so because in 2006 Democrats preferred to run on easy slogans instead of on accountability). Obama himself has resisted for so long letting Holder go after members of the Bush administration and has pedal and backpedal on issues like Guantanamo, Blackwater and the detainee-abuse photographs.
On the other hand, the pro-immigrant movement screwed up even worse. Having a juridical tradition against the notion of caste (which is at the root of the current system); having pro-immigrant and pro-character declarations from Washington, Lincoln and Kennedy, not to mention the evolution of the Supreme Court decisions and even a critic of the restrictive immigration policies in the Declaration of Independence; having Alexander Hamilton as the archetype of the American immigrant (who could have hardly come legally with the present law), the pro-immigrant movement preferred to run not as a pro-reform but as a pro-amnesty movement, admitting that the morally flawed immigrants should be let get away with their terrible sin/crime because massive deportations were impractical and because they were human beings (while reinforcing the stereotype of the Right that dehumanized them). Having sound economic research on the real economic effects of immigration and on the ineffectiveness of enforcement of a flawed law that resembled the Prohibition on this end, always reading-allergic and suspicious of knowledge, they felt comfortable being embarrassed by inferior opponents in every debate and instead of matching a message with the mainstream, they preferred to dance on the streets with Mexican flags and invite the attendants to make catharsis, so making for the xenophobic Right very easy to portray them as the assimilation-resistant, Reconquista advocate, public-service hungry and lazy welfare-seeker and simultaneously job-stealing, gang-belonging, genetically poor and uneducated illegal immigrant. None of these charges resist the test of serious research and analysis but, busy listening their names chanted by the crowd, these pseudo-leaders didn’t care. In this they didn’t even have to move the intellectual battlefield to beat them mercilessly! Nevertheless they preferred to embrace once again the same stereotypes that had produced all the past failures. Also, if the image-fundraising-volunteer tripod was weak in the anti-war movement, in the pro-immigration reform movement was simply inexistent. In example, Casa de Maryland was proud of sending volunteers to gain Maryland (which was not at risk, and neglected tight races in Arizona, Virginia and Minnesota) or in engaging in local battles (while the main issue is of federal jurisdiction). Others wanted to make infantile demonstrations of power with strikes and defiant messages. Unfortunately I have seen no coordinated attempt to overcome this gap. The clearest example I can give of this last point is the attempt of 2007: After reaching 72% of support at one point, the reform bill fell down after the Senatorial recess, when xenophobic groups threatened even publicly those Senators voting for reform with putting their volunteers, smear campaigns and fundraising at the service of their challengers. The pro-immigrant movement simply had no answer for this and continued dancing with Mexican flags in the streets.
On the health care front, things looked reasonably good at the beginning, as good as the short term, in which almost all variables are fixes, could be. The ads against Rick Scott were the right way to begin this battle because we were defining from the beginning the critics of health care reform as people of sometimes dubious past who were trying to camouflage their real interests. Then Conrad invited the CBO to crash a partial version of the Kennedy bill that silenced Democrats and, afterwards, as a continuation of the Tea Parties, a wave of bizarre attacks about death panels and socialism. In the aftermath of the confusion resulting of the inability of the White House to answer the CBO’s observations and to formulate bullet-proof bills, the White House lost the offensive. Of course, to defend a bill, your product, you have to have one first at least in your mind and the White House, relying on the Senate, didn’t have a proposal of his own.
Nevertheless, even though, even with the basic ideas coming from the Presidential campaign, Democrats could have presented a decent battle against death panels and similar bogeymen but even their ability to articulate a defense against such clownish attacks had been lost. What is certain is that Democrats gave Republicans an open and, once these took it, they never let it go. Instead of Democrats leaving death panels and socialism for the act of comedians warming up the audience for the main speech, you could see Democratic superstars in town halls looking apologetic before the most bizarre accusations (Exception made of Barney Frank who gave the kind of answer somebody who really believes in something gives when hears something stupid). What a stream of hilarious jokes could have been made about the Stalinist dictatorships’ medical decisions made in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, or Sweden as they have not just a public option but a whole single-payer system! What a way to make anybody who dared to use death panels, death stars or Marxist apocalypses be laughed out of any room! Instead republicans got an astonishing 50% average support for their whoppers in a poll.
One important lesson here is that it makes no sense to create a micro cosmos in which we agree and congratulate one another for a good job while loosing the elections o electing people who then cannot provide on the issues. Our mix of image-fundraising-volunteers has to connect with the mainstream. When we reduce the debate to 140 characters and cool slogans; when we get trapped in the self-complacency of assuming that the mainstream should follow us because we are right, because it’s in its interest, or because it is the right thing to do; when we don’t engage in a continuous effort to redefine the debate in terms in which we can win, we let the Right decide the battlefield and they find this one very comfortable to win.
We should not be asking ourselves "Cool slogans or deep debate?" but how to bring Americans to a deep debate because "Cool slogans" is not a battlefield in which we can win easily. Effective slogans with ‘O Fortuna’ in the background are the more friendly ground for Republicans as deep debate is for us. The tactic inspired in the Carpa Docente experience that I proposed as part of a comprehensive strategy to make immigration reform possible in "Betraying Hector Perez Garcia" (http://www.dailykos.com/...) is an example of that. My experience tells me that when you have the arguments in the language more appealing to the person you are talking to, the Republican tales fall quickly and at least you can leave in them the seed of the doubt. In example, when you quote the Bible to an evangelical who has been submitted weekly to the lies of his/her preacher, you get an opening that otherwise would be very difficult to obtain. For this to be possible you need to direct the people whose information and knowledge is more appropriate for that market segment; you need to train that people first on the issues and find ways to keep the channel open (Here I am just bringing things I suggested in "My experience in OH-15 in 2006": http://www.dailykos.com/...); you need to take the opportunities (like Cindy Sheehan could have been on the war, the fall of the bridges of Minneapolis or Katrina could have been on taxes or the role of government and like every death at the border could have been on immigration. When massive crackdowns in Wal-Mart and Swift left many children in school, crying and confused, not knowing with whom to go home (if there was still something called home for them), that pain was wasted; in the Wal-Mart crackdown only 250 workers doing nocturnal janitorial work were caught out of the then 12 million illegal immigrants but when the xenophobic Right portrayed illegal immigration as hired basically by big business and "amnesty" as "corporate welfare", nobody dared to challenge such lie.
Bush used 9/11 to unleash the more irresponsible policies. It would be nice we learn to take those opportunities to right so many wrongs); you need continuity to let your message growth roots in the minds on the public (to counterattack the weekly preach of Right wing preachers) and to make the people you elect/support fear you.
On health care, the reach of our message hasn’t waged better. A CBS poll taken in August 27-21 and presented this Tuesday shows that 67% of people are confused about health care reform ideas while only 31% understand the proposals and while 31% think that Obama has presented clearly his plan, 60% think he doesn’t.
We also need to draw a line in the sand. The same way we have shied away from the battles we could have won, we retreated every time the Republicans attacked. Suddenly, Majority didn’t mean anymore having more votes. It meant first 51 votes and, when Republicans made an unprecedented use of filibuster, with no protest on our side, it passed to mean 60. Now that we have 60, a Republican Senator demands that it means now something around 80. Another example? Reconciliation. It was acceptable for Bush to pass his tax cuts but it is inadmissible for Democrats to pass health care reform. What is the Democratic answer? "We need 60!" (That, before we had 60). Why Republicans in 2007 turned Bush down on immigration after the Senatorial recess and we cannot control the people we elect? Because they have done all I have mentioned before and more and we haven’t. That’s why they don’t fear you.
Today some find consolation saying that we should not be troubled if we get a shallow reform now because Social Security was also born that way and with time it included other groups in its protection. Thus, defeat is actually victory and as the time goes by, magically, health care reform will improve by itself. Don’t worry; be happy. Sure... and the regulation we inherited from the New Deal have also been adapted and strengthened over time so preventing the economic debacle that would otherwise had began in 2007, right? Anybody else still believing in the fairy? Nevertheless, the voices at the Left asking for another party, Ralph Nader and similar claims are equally destructive. One part of choosing the battlefield is refusing atomization and fighting inside the Democratic party. When before 2006 some anti-war reader commented that we should attack Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco in order to get more decided anti-war Representatives, it sounded stupid to me. When later Lamont defeated Lieberman in the primaries only to lose to Lieberman in the Senatorial elections, it confirmed my point but if we, now that we have 60 Senators, do not challenge Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, we are going to show weakness and we will have no excuse for not providing on our electoral promises. We will look confused and weak before decided Republicans. Of course, the Lamont case shows us that it is equally stupid to think that we are going to replace Lieberman, Conrad or Baucus just electing some progressive in the primaries, doing some fundraising for 30" TV ads and convoking volunteers to cheer in rallies. First we have to make the mainstream share our points of view on the issues and that is the kind of work the religious Right has been making since the mid 70s; that’s what Thomas Frank portrayed in his book "What’s the matter with Kansas?"; that’s where pseudo think-tanks with a sharpened sense of marketing like the Heritage Foundation find their place; that’s why when I find a liberal saying infantile things like "We are going to win because the voters can’t vote against their interest and we are for the voters’ interests" my blood boils and somewhere a Republican laughs. This is also part of redefining the battleground. Let me be clear. If you tried to challenge Baucus or Conrad in the current conditions, they would not worry a bit. They adopted the positions they adopted because they knew that would not put them at risk before their voters. If you could begin to reverse the process of imbecilization [I am making up the word but you can understand what I mean] promoted the Right in enough constituencies to break their misinformation or apathy, to make them politically active (like the xenophobes who destroyed the Kennedy-Kyl bill in 2007), then Baucus or Conrad would have to begin to think twice their positions.
Getting back to health care, this is why it is healthy to count with voices like Congressmen Wiener’s and Sestak’s. Rejecting a bill without a public option or supporting it in the hopes of modifying it later is not the relevant discussion but what are we going to do to re-launch the public option if the bill falls or to reform the bill if it drops it. Having again 60 Senators is an alignment of the stars I don’t know how long will take to repeat itself, especially if the economy, as I suppose, begins to grow at a much more modest pace than predicted by the White House. The point is that if we had grown up in our activism, leaving infantile chatting aspirations behind, we should not have reached that point in a year where we reached 60 Senators. The harm is already done and realistically we should prepare ourselves to get in a second Obama administration at least the half of the Obama agenda that is not going to get wasted in his first administration. Not doing so could lead to the result I was afraid of in my previous series "The art of snatching defeat out of victory: remembering the Obama presidency as one full of half-baked reforms.
3. When cheerleading on demand battles against marketing...
When cheerleaders battle against marketing, marketing kicks mercilessly their butts. Here I have two points to make, the first of which overlaps a bit the theme of the previous section. When the Jews became the favorite scapegoat of the Nazi party, Goebbels understood that he needed constant repetition of effective slogans, not deep debate. He also understood positioning: unless you have a traumatic event that alters the paradigms of the debate, you need to repeat your lies for a long time but if you do, it usually works. Marketing is powerful and one of the concepts more important in marketing is positioning. Positioning is basically association of ideas and connects some preconception already in the mind of the consumer with the product you want to sell. Positioning is usually a long effort and a risky venture but when you get to make the connection, it is difficult to reverse. Furthermore, it is not easy to test in advance because in advance the association is not already there. That’s why repositioning, modifying an association already made, is even more difficult and riskier.
One of the most astonishing cases of positioning is the image of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan gave a virtual amnesty in 1986 where immigration reform was needed. Ronald Reagan cut and run from Lebanon. Ronald Reagan had to raise taxes and left the biggest deficits since Second World War. Ronald Reagan sold weapons to Iran, supported bloody dictators in Central America and funded the Contras in Nicaragua against its elected government. Nevertheless, Reagan has passed to incarnate in the Republican imagination, transplanted to the American mainstream, all the opposite of what he was. So good was the work made by Republicans in positioning Reagan that they have even recently tried to position the already dead Ted Kennedy as a pusillanimous serial conceder, as a professional appeaser, and as a pussy willing to betray any conviction to please the always manly Republicans.
Not even the dead are beyond their reach. At Paul Wellstone’s funeral service, when appropriate or not, some demanded to honor his life supporting his bills, Republicans portrayed that as political opportunism and we let them get away with that. Republicans have gotten so used to Democratic weakness that they have incorporated it in their diet.
Other relevant element of your mix of marketing is your organization and how it supports your marketing (positioning, image) and your sales efforts (volunteers, local grassroots organizations, local fundraising). Especially with a project so big like the one I am proposing here, sustainability and support from a big organization (progressive organization, Democratic party, etc.) although you have to begin somehow. You have to begin with the assets you have unless you are seeking for an excuse to not begin.
This brings me to the second point on this section: Cheerleading on-demand. While liberals seem to be waiting for the town hall where in cute choreography the volunteers will say "Yahoo!" and "Cheese!" when a Democratic superstar (Congressman, Senator, or even the President) will show up, Republicans have shown us that they don’t have to wait for superstars and that volunteers didn’t have to look cute. Directed and promoted by Fox News, the Tea Parties ("Tea Douche-bag Parodies") made their fury felt even against Republican superstars. In Florida 2000 they learned that a mob of volunteers could stop a recount and that no Democrat will step before the tank. Their cousins learned that they could kill Dr. Gunn, then Dr. Tiller, and then put another doctor, LeRoy Carhart, in the hit list of their followers and that they could even make bids to buy as a trophy the late Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Why then should we be surprised of Republicans disrupting town halls, insinuating the assassination of the President and showing assault weapons at the doors of town halls. Different from Tiananmen, no Democrat has step before the tank. Part of this war implies stepping before the tank. During the Civil Rights fight arrested demonstrators and the Freedom Riders usually had to suffer the assault of White Supremacist goons but that couldn’t stop their convictions and they finally won.
4. Getting the hands dirty intelligently
If you are still reading, you can see we have gone from Tea Douche bag Parodies (a. k. a. Tea Parties) to astroturfs mobilizing an elderly terrorized by bizarre imaginary bogeymen. We have also seen activism reduced to cheerleaders on-demand to decorate the podium of superstars who necessarily would have had to be gifted with the gift of ubiquity to compensate the avalanche of events performed by native and bussed "concerned citizens". On the other hand, we have let Republicans get away with bully tactics since they were with total impunity close to bring down the door that separated them from the people making the recount in Florida in 2000.
When I saw the violent Republican answer to the town halls, I remembered Karl Rove visiting the counterdemonstrators in front of the original Sheehan’s Camp Crawford or the Republican mob interrupting the recount in Florida in 2000. They were obviously so afraid of the town halls that they put Fox News to support the disruptions and didn’t care about undesirable consequences. The closest thing to a Carpa Docente (Teachers’ Tent) was a town hall and they were afraid of this kind of tactics. Let me say that such reaction validated my conclusions in the entries in which I have mentioned that tactic. But then you could question legitimately: When those manly Republicans threaten with tearing our shirts or worse, do you suggested we fought back? I know that standing before the tank could be too much to ask so let me introduce some ideas:
i) We need a minimum level of organization to coordinate security with local police authorities. Were that activism is more needed probably we would not count with proper local police support, so we need as many cameras to send images of the Republican thugs. I have many times explained in what the Carpa Docente consisted so I won’t get bore you explaining it again. Enough to say that the objective of this tactic is not to present a cute choreography for a superstar but to inform/debate with the public, what implies a minimum of security for the public to venture the get close enough to us and talk to us without having to scream. Thus, this is not an exchange of slogans: we need a perimeter that could let us engage in debate. Thus, no fistfight is needed but, just in case, send those not afraid of a black eye to the most difficult sectors.
The Civil Rights movement had to face hostile police forces who were indifferent to the attacks it suffered by White Supremacist thugs while reacting violently against any demonstrator trying to defend himself. At this time, we should not have to reach such grades of drama. Today organizers should be able to coordinate some decent security that at least resembles the security Bush’s events had, when even wearing a T-shirt with a logo offending Bush’s sensibilities could be grounds for arrest. Who I am kidding? After violent anti-abortion groups (about which even the Department of Homeland Security itself warned in a recent report) killed Dr. Gunn, shot Dr. Tiller and finally killed him, they put Dr. LeRoy Carhart in their hit list [I know I am repeating this part but still makes me angry], Randall Terry, from Operation Rescue, wanted to buy Tiller’s clinic as a trophy. What did the Obama administration to stop this? At least including anti-abortion violence in the Matthew Sheppard hate crime bill? Buying the clinic to prevent the possibility of it becoming a trophy in Terry’s hands? Doing something to improve the security of Dr. Carhart? Nope. Nothing. In the several health care town halls I’ve seen I haven’t seen one time in which a moderator gave one of these people disrupting the debate the option of behaving in a civil way or being removed. I once watched Bill Maher removing people from his show who were disturbing it because they didn’t like a conservative guest! It’s not impossible!
ii) The effort must be continuous. This is another reason to count with a minimum level of organization. There is nothing better than a sustained personal contact and if the activists get the public to send them e-mails or letters, it would be helpful to count with the continuity an organization can provide.
iii) Another reason to count with a minimum level of organization is that we need to train people on the issues at two levels: "Expert," in charge of the Tent because he knows more deeply the issue motivating the Tent, and "Basic," for those who cannot afford or don’t have time to a more intensive training. Besides that, the activists need to eat and drink something and hygienic services if they need to go.
iv) Motivating the public, used to the telegraphic flashy effects of CNN and the Republican tales of Fox, to prefer deep and informed debates is risky and costly so here is very, very important to count with an organization. The best way to achieve progress in this could be appealing to patriotism. Imagine a brochure or sign saying "Take pride in your citizenship!" and then, in smaller characters, "Give your country a few minutes to debate and be an informed citizen" and then some ideas about the specific campaign motivating the Tent, whether national security, immigration or health care.
5. And the prize for naivety is...
Cenk Uygur posed a hard question in one of his last shows: Was Obama pretending weakness in order make it look as if the debacle of health care reform was the fault of the mean Republicans (what means that he never had the intention of having the public option in the first place) or was the debacle of health care reform the result of real, chronic weakness? Let me say that the answer should not be too different in any case: if Obama pretended to have real health care reform with a strong public option but never intended to do it, why don’t propose single-payer? A public option, as the polls have shown, the public didn’t seem prepared for a single-payer but they supported the public option. It would have been much easier to sell the death of single-payer than the death of the public option, especially if he wanted to position himself as a moderate.
Instead I think that Obama was the victim of his own improvisation, of letting Organizing for America turn not in his grassroots support but into a choreographic organization, for keeping Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff even after he publicly conceded on the public option before anybody else in the White House and for the poor marketing supporting his tactics. A President with 60 Senators and wide majority in the House risking a legacy of mediocrity only to look moderate and bipartisan in order to get an also mediocre second term when you could have gotten that second term anyway with a strong liberal position that everybody could contrast with the Bush administration? It simply makes no sense but if we just pretended to be a reformer, he deserves to be challenged harshly in the primaries and if he was stupid enough to neglect so many important tactical elements or was weak, he also deserves to be challenged harshly in the primaries. What should be out of question is third party option that would only atomize liberals. What should be also out of question is naivety: You cannot expect to harvest crops in the summer if you have not bothered in preparing the field or even putting a damn seed before!
In my article "The best act of ventriloquism of these times" of October 1, 2008, I gave the reasons why the Obama administration, no matter his experiences on bipartisanship, could not count with Republicans for anything. Unfortunately, Right wing Republicans, who should have paid for the Bush administration, found a symbol of more moderate Republicans, John McCain, to immolate himself with the flag of the extreme Right he had fought many times in the past, what reinforced the Right wing and weakened moderates (http://www.dailykos.com/...). I came back on this issue on January 29, in the middle of the debate on the stimulus in my article "And the prize for naivety is..." (http://www.dailykos.com/...). I naively thought Obama had learned the lesson when I wrote on February 5 "It was time!" (http://www.dailykos.com/...).
6. Daily Kos for chatting
I have said before that what moved me to write in Daily Kos was to get closer to other Democrats, liberals like me and honest conservatives, with whom to engage in a constructive debate and, why not, implement ideas. Daily Kos as a marketplace of ideas to debate the issues, to sharpen the ideas, could lead to meetings between people of similar interests and positions so Daily Kos could only be a place to coordinate activities and define the most appropriate messages for each market segment, a place where movements, tactics and challenges could be born against the Kent Conrads of this world.
Instead, I see that activism has been reduced to registering in a Web page, receiving colorful letters asking you money for 30" TV ads and being called to attend a rally in which you chant slogans and say "Yahoo! Yeah!" On the other hand, some people want to reduce Daily Kos to a chatting page where you say funny cool thing in 140 characters, a casual page with no pretension of transforming reality. Some of those people have complained about my long articles. According to them Daily Kos should be used to feed each other cool slogans and jokes.
What’s going to be? The users of Daily Kos should answer to that with this in mind: if the Obama presidency turns into a mediocre one and the 60 supermajority is unable to pass anything, if the best they can do is to promote another Lamont only to see him beaten by Lieberman Iscariot in the Senatorial elections, they will nobody else to blame and the accusations of frivolity incorporated in the phrase "Latte Democrats" will persecute them for live.
7. A personal petition
If Obama announces the death of the public option, that means the death of that issue for some time. There is no way around it. You are not going challenge Kent Conrad just wishing it. Conrad knew that sabotaging the public option would not affect him from the beginning. Your best chance would be to put such a harsh challenge in the primaries that Obama had to fear to be a lame duck since day one if he did not provide on his promises to liberals. To achieve such result we have to work immediately.
On national security Iraq has already a timetable for withdrawing and the American public is not ready for a serious debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan because we haven’t made our homework and they are bombarded by the emptiness of CNN and the tales of Fox and other preachers. Thus, in national security we don’t have a chance in the short term. The parts of the speech of Cairo that need funding will not see money in some time. Cap and trade and check card, issues less familiar to the American public, are even more susceptible to manipulations and distortions. The next issue for which we should prepare ourselves is immigration. "Gay rights" is a possibility but the harmful effects on the Republican party could be much more devastating if we begin with immigration reform. If we let mediocre amnesty advocates prevail, we have lost another opportunity to weaken our opponents before other battles like the re-launching of health care.
The umbrella organization I propose in section 4 could have immigration as fire baptism. The plan could be based in the draft I presented in December 8, 2008 (http://www.dailykos.com/...).
This is my personal petition: If liberals who read or somehow know of this entry want to prepare the field to win the future battles, if you want to give shape to this project, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many of you have volunteered and know people in organizations, know aides, know, I hope, better people than the people I have had a chance to know. It’s up to you.
For too much time I could afford to be a volunteer and even put my own money but now I am in a dire economic situation in Los Angeles, where I moved trusting in an offer that lacked any seriousness, but if you want to count with me, let me tell you that with paying my basic bills I am satisfied. I am cheap and willing as far as you are as serious as I am on these issues, as far as you want them as much as I do.
Rumor: Cenk Uygur, a Wharton graduated, is political commentator by night and pro-wrestler Samoa Joe on TNA on weekends. He donates most of his gains to charities serving children. Former World Champion, he has been an inspiration for many children facing adversity and children love his wrestling presentations.
Bill Maher's New Rules of September 11, 2009. I couldn't add any relevant comment to that: