I'm 60 years old and I have never seen a scarier time in America. Maybe back during the McCarthy Era it was this scary, but that was a little before my consciousness of politics and the world kicked in. Not even the 60's and Nixon were this scary. The assault we face from the extreme right today is far more ruthless, insidious, and destructive than ever before. Its aims have already been achieved to a large extent, but greed, righteousness, and ignorance know no bounds. The one thing it has not yet been able to conquer completely is the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution was an agreement among the people to establish a liberal democracy (small l, small d). The right wishes to destroy that and replace it with a theocratic oligarchy. This aim is clear, stated, and bankrolled.
But that is not what I want to talk about. I say these things only to remind myself how important this election is, of the fierce urgency of now. The fight is no longer on the national level. It is inside our local and state governments like a cancer. We have to brand the Republican Party for exactly what it is today—a traitorous, extremist, authoritarian threat to our very freedom that must be opposed at every turn.
So what I really want to talk about is: How do we talk about it persuasively with the vast middle that has no clue what is going on? How do we make it clear that the GOP has jumped the shark and become the Tea Party? How do we paint them as the extremists they are and shift the window to the left?
What I want to offer below the double gnocchi are some practical things to say to people who do not have a clue.
First off, let me set some grounds rules. I proceed on the assumption that most people who do not have a clue about politics are not evil or stupid, just distracted and ignorant of what is going on. So I figure, if I can plant a few seeds in their heads, they might grow.
Secondly, I live in Indiana, a state known for its moderation and avoidance of extremes. So if I can reveal the GOP as extreme, I appeal to what is commonly referred to as "Hoosier common sense." Even more particularly, I live in Kokomo, a city literally saved by the auto bailout and the stimulus, yet in a county that will likely vote Republican—the very definition of cognitive dissonance.
So, how do you fight it? Well, I had an interesting conversation with a prototypical Hoosier, an umpire I did a double header with last Saturday. I tried out some lines on him that I've been thinking about, and the effect was startling. I could literally see him rock back a little each time he heard one.
We had worked together a few times in the past and we got along well. His kids had attended the school where I taught and I had umped his son's games at times. Back in '08 I had talked with him about Obama as he had mentioned he was undecided. I don't know how he voted. He's a reasonably smart person, a very nice guy, a devout Christian, and clueless about politics, no doubt voting against his own interests frequently based on social wedge issues.
Anyway, on Saturday, we greeted each other before the game and we were chatting as he was gearing up to ump the first game and he said something like, "You're interested in politics aren't you?"
Well, that was his fatal mistake. I said something like, "I sure am. I'm angry all the time. This is not the America I grew up in. You know, from 1940 to 1980 we had a very progressive income tax and we had top tax rates of 90% and 70% and we had the greatest economic boom in American history. The middle class grew faster than anytime anywhere ever, and now we seem to think that giving rich people all our money is going to help us."
He said, "Well, I just worry about the government supporting people who don't want to work."
Well, there are a lot of ways to answer that one, but I went with, "You can't stay on welfare for long anymore. They changed that law back in the 90's."
Well, he flinched on that one so I used my favorite line, (incredulously) "You think poor people are ripping you off? Rich people are taking your money, not poor people! Ever since 1980 we have seen wealth concentrating in fewer and fewer hands."
He flinched again.
Now I tried another of my lines. (exasperatedly) "How much wealth does it take before it becomes obscene? [Obscene is a very powerful word.] How much is enough?"
Another twitch. He's really listening now.
So now I pivot to the local stuff. "You know where the money came from to get rid of Lugar, don't you? [Now "Lugar" is a magic word in Indiana. The Tea Party may have hijacked the GOP primary, but Lugar probably polls at 90% among "independents" like this guy.] Most of it came from out of state. From the Koch Brothers—you know, big oil money."
He's nodding here. How else could his moderate hero Lugar have lost?
So I said, "These people are extreme. They refuse to compromise. That's not how government works."
He's still nodding.
Then he says, "About this right to work thing, I don't think it's a good idea."
He's trying to please me because most people want you to like them. I pull out another of my favorite lines. "No kidding. I don't understand why they want to turn Indiana into Mississippi and Alabama."
I have never used that line without the person's eyes literally widening.
I followed up with something recent. "I heard on NPR the other day that they had done a study on economic mobility—you know, the ability to move from poverty to middle class from middle class to rich..."
"I know," he says.
And I say, "And guess what they found out?"
"Yes," he says, anticipating what I am going to say next.
"The Southern states had the worst economic mobility and the Northern states, the blue states, had the most."
He's with me now. He does not want his "Hoosier common sense" state lumped with the ignorant and extremist South. So now I go in for the kill and offer my ultimate message.
"Who said government is bad? Who said taxes are bad? What is the government? The government is us. We formed the government for the very reason to keep from being turned into serfs. The government is the only thing standing between us and the robber barons."
He's nodding. He's says something about our local representative, a blue dog Dem who ultimately voted against right to work.
So I shift to my favorite topic, education. (I'm a teacher.) I say, "And who decided our schools were failing anyway? At our school, we're graduating 85% of our kids with two-thirds of them living in poverty. [Remember: His kids attended that school and he's very proud of the school.] What do they want?"
He's nodding again. "Those charter schools aren't working," he says. There had been a headline in the paper about a failed charter school this week.
I press on. "Right. They are taking our tax dollars and giving them to private schools that you and I have no say over. We don't get to vote for their school board."
He's really nodding vigorously now. "I know," he says, "they're just after the money."
I say, "Exactly. They don't care about education. They don't care about the kids. This is about busting unions and getting power. And about getting their hands on the money."
"Yes," he says.
Well, at this point we are walking to the field. We chat about umpiring duties to make sure we're on the same page.
We are on the field and about to begin the game. He's dusting the plate. He looks up and says, "You know, I took economics in college and I know about monopoly."
I say, "Then you know what happens when you have unregulated capitalism: Wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands."
He nods again, and I trot down to first base.