Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Politics of Emotion

We’re scared, we’re confused, we’re enraged — and that’s the way they want it

AFP photo


This last week has been a doozy. An entire thesaurus of emotions bombard us every day, every night, and we’re at the point now where those of us who think, who care, who take the burdens of the world personally, are on sensory overload, dangerously close to imploding. Exploding. Doing ourselves no favors by feeling emotions so raw, so painful they render us, in the end, helpless.

The catalyst this time? Another Black man’s senseless death at the hands of the police — say his name: George Floyd— and it’s almost more than we can bear. The Minneapolis cop who killed him did it in front of us, in broad daylight, gloating, smiling for the cameras, his knee pressing harder against George’s neck as George pleaded for his life, called for his mother, said I CAN’T BREATHE.

Three other cops stood watch over the killing. According to witnesses, at least one of them helped to hold George down. The crowd around them pleaded for the cop to stop but he didn’t move, didn’t ease the pressure, didn’t consider the minutes it took for the life to seep out of George Floyd’s bones. There were nine of them. Nine minutes. Two of them were probably a waste of time. At seven minutes George was already beyond help.

As reports of George’s death began to surface, sorrow turned to rage. And rage turned to helplessness. It happened again. We couldn’t stop it. That portion of our nation who feels these things sat back and cried. Some of us did it in public, in front of the cameras, as we tried to grapple with emotions so out of control we couldn’t put words to them.

We watched as people who built their reputations on giving us the words that eased us, motivated us, energized us, fell apart before our eyes, reduced to weeping out of sheer frustration.

And Donald Trump, seeing us as pitiful, as vulnerable, as easy marks, grabbed at the chance to twist the knife and make it worse. The president-in-name-only didn’t rise to help a nation get through this, didn’t give the speech that would comfort or settle us or make us believe justice would be served. No, he took to Twitter and instigated. He teased, he taunted, he threatened. (“When looting starts, the shooting starts.”)

Inevitably, the outrage took over and the protests devolved to riots in the streets across the country. Stores looted and burned. Some would say emotions blew it all up; others saw it as rank opportunism. Whatever it was, fire lit the skies, entire buildings were reduced to rubble, and we were left to feel. What the hell is happening?

After a few days we were back to protesting for the right reasons — because George Floyd was dead and because black lives have to matter. Thousands of us marched peacefully, without incident, and the rest of us, watching from home, rejoiced at the numbers, at our unity, our solidarity, our humanity.

But Donald Trump wasn’t done with us. He spent the riot days hiding in a bunker beneath the White House. We got wind of it and we let off some steam by making fun of him. So he put on his “I’ll show them” face and upstaged us by marching a few hundred yards, in broad daylight, looking for all the world like a tinpot dictator, a coterie of sycophants marching a few steps behind him, along a route lined with armed guards, to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where rioters had done some damage, and where he then stood, unannounced (and unwelcome, it turns out), muttered a few unintelligible words, held a bible over his head, and walked back to the White House.

AFP/Brendan Smialowski
                                       

It took maybe 20 minutes, but in order for Trump to make that walk, the crowds lining that street had to first be dispersed. Nobody knew it was coming. Suddenly the police came from out of nowhere and began forcing the crowds away, pushing, shoving, spraying them with tear gas, spattering them with rubber bullets.

Those of us watching in real time at home were horrified. It made no sense. They were more than a half hour from curfew. They were protesting peaceably. They had the right to be there. And uniformed men in riot gear came at them as if they were mad, snarling dogs.

Our hearts were in our throats. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Was this it then? Was this the battle we’d long been afraid of? Would we now be fighting for our very lives?

No. It was just that Donald Trump wanted to make a show of walking those few yards because we made fun of him hiding in a bunker and because a damaged church made the perfect backdrop for his phony piety in these times of crisis.

Or something.

And we come away from this scared, confused, exhausted, wondering how many times we can go through this without just coming apart or just giving up. Knowing that’s what they want. They want us to come apart. They want us to give up.

And we can’t. When our emotions get the best of us we have to stop a moment and rewind. We owe it to ourselves. But quit? Can we? You know we can’t. Because this is who we are. And that’s who they are. And it’s either us or them.


(Cross-posted at Medium)

Friday, May 29, 2020

I Have No Power

And I'm powerless to change that.


The pain I feel these days is existential. It’s not about the crunching in my knees or the flatiron pressed against my chest as I breathe, it’s harsher than that. It’s the pain behind knowing the world around me is a dangerous place and, as hard as I might try, I can do nothing to make it better.

This is new for me. I am the resident Pollyanna, the believer in great things coming from ordinary people, the pusher of positivity when everyone else sees darkness ahead.

People come to me looking for answers, and if I don’t have the answers I think I can at least comfort them with my positivity. As if all it takes are a few sunny words accompanied by a knowing smile. As if those few moments of respite will solve anything.

What bullshit.

I was a picky eater and when my mom told me about starving kids in China who would give anything for even a bite of what I was refusing, I would cry just thinking about them, their poor, wasted bodies — skin and bones. But I still wouldn’t eat it. And when lunch was over I skipped away, on to something else.

Later, when I had my own kids, I did the same thing, only it was poor starving kids in Africa. It was a lousy way to teach about awareness — as if filling their bellies was all it would take to remove the awful images of wholesale, planned starvation and death.

I came into this world thinking I could save it with sympathy and empathy. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t feeling sorry about something I had no control over. But feeling sorry can’t take the place of actually doing something. It’s why we’re so sick of “thoughts and prayers”. It’s too easy. It’s a brush-off. It’s “Oh, poor you! Here — let me hand you a posy. Feel better now? I know I do.”

I wanted to do more. I threatened to do more. I promised to do more. I did what I did and it wasn’t nearly enough.

I’ve been a liberal activist for more than 60 years, calling, marching, protesting, singing, writing — all without once feeling violated or threatened. Throughout my long years of what I called ‘activism’ I was never in any danger. I’m not saying this out of guilt. I’m saying it because now I’m aware. I chose activism over complacency, but if I had been active enough I would have, at some point, felt the sting of fear. I never did.

No matter how incensed or enraged I become when I find out about terrible actions against individual or groups, I can’t begin to understand how it must feel to be in the middle of those danger zones. How it is to have to live with it throughout my entire life. I’m not there. I’ve never been there. I never will be there.

I’ve been a writer for more than 30 years, much of it dwelling on rights issues, but I’ve been safe there, too. For the last 10 years I’ve focused on writing to change minds, but that hasn’t happened. All the while I’m writing to make a difference, I’m marveling at the writers who get it. Those writers who spoke to us so vividly, so masterfully they made us gasp at the majesty of their words. Surely this would do it. This, this amazing piece of writing would change the world, or at least our country, or at least… But it didn’t. It doesn’t. They couldn’t do it, either.

I’m writing this now because yesterday I saw Bakari Sellers break down and cry on CNN. This man who sought to change us, to make us aware, to use his often brilliant prose to bring us to attention and DO SOMETHING, broke down out of a feeling of frustration and pure, agonizing helplessness.

The catalyst was yet another murder of an innocent black man, in broad daylight, with cameras rolling. The killer was a member of the Minneapolis Police Department. He put a knee to George Floyd’s neck and kept it there for nine minutes, as George pleaded for his life, called for his mother, said he was in pain, said “I CAN’T BREATHE”.

Other police officers stood there for those nine minutes and did nothing. They could have saved George Floyd, who wasn’t resisting, was crying out, was barely breathing after a few minutes of that pressure on his neck, but they didn’t.

Once again, the police officer wasn’t put in handcuffs immediately, wasn’t taken into custody for murdering a black man. We were assured that he would be fired. The authorities would look into it. They would ‘look into’ an incident that was witnessed by dozens of people, was filmed and sent out to the airwaves, was clearly, without a doubt, without provocation, a deliberate killing of an innocent man.

And Bakari Sellers wants to know how he’s going to explain this to his son. How does he keep his boy from being afraid when this same horrible scene happens over and over and over?
“There’s just so much pain,” Sellers said, sobbing, “I get so tired.”

Add Bakari Sellers to the long, long list of activists who work so hard, who try so hard, and who, when another tragedy happens, end up having to acknowledge how little they can actually do.
Then there are the rest of us. We have no power. The reality of our powerlessness is hard to take. All we can do is howl.

(Cross-posted at Medium)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What Happened Between Joe Biden and Tara Reade?

Nobody really knows. And that’s the problem.

Photo: Liz Roll, FEMA. VP Biden consoling hurricane victim
I consider myself a feminist. I support the Me-Too Movement. I’ve written about women’s issues for decades. I was a charter Ms Magazine member, joining up before the first issue was even printed in 1972, and it was as if Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, was written just for me.

I hated what Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky and I said so.

I hated what Anthony Weiner and so many other powerful men have done, sex-wise, and I’ve said so.

Still, much to the consternation of many of my friends, I defended Al Franken. (Full disclosure, no shame.)

I’ve spent most of my writing life looking for an honest man and constantly being disappointed. (Don’t even get me started on the Republicans.)

I worked hard to get Hillary Clinton elected in 2016, and I’m not over the trauma of the outcome yet. Before I kick off, I want to see a woman sitting at the Resolute Desk, owning the Oval Office. This year I wanted it to be Elizabeth Warren.

I voted for Warren in this year’s primary and hated how badly she lost her chance at the presidency. Joe Biden wasn’t even in the running for me. But, as I wrote after she dropped out, I’m going all out for Joe now.

There are things about Biden that bother me, but there were things that bothered me about each of the candidates, including Warren. That’s as it should be in a country where we still have free thought and are allowed our opinions. In a profession like politics — where ideas are a dime a dozen and purity is in short supply — a certain amount of tolerance is a necessity. The way we get things done is by working on them from the inside, not the outside.

We don’t fall in love with politicians. Giving full and absolute loyalty to a single person who may ultimately hold power over us is anathema to most Americans. Most of us look at people and issues with our eyes wide open and react based on their performance, not — I’m just going to say it — on their likability.

So about Joe Biden: Joe can be likable. Millions of Americans like him and those who know him well like him a lot. Still, he’s a public figure, so we’ve seen, too, that he can be silly, irritating, confused, and confusing. But we’re in troubled times now and what I see in a Biden presidency is the kind of calmness, experience, and sanity we’re craving. And — here’s where we may part ways — I see an innate sense of decency.

I’ve heard all of the reasons why Joe can’t be trusted with the presidency: Plagiarism, Centrism, Anita Hill, voting for wars and corporate livelihoods, riding on coattails, cozying up to the GOP, senility, flagrant linguistic sloppiness, goofiness, handsiness— and now sexual accusations.

The oppo stuff is typical — build a case against your rival by exaggerating the things that might make him look bad and ignore any good he’s done. But sexual accusations are something new. These we have to take seriously.

Which brings me to Joe Biden’s accuser, Tara Reade. I’ve read both sides and I don’t know what to believe. I should be able to concede that she believes Joe thrust his fingers into her vagina when she was interning for him in 1993, but I’m going to be honest here: I’m not even close to that point yet.

Most women I know — me included — want to believe every woman. We desperately want to make up for all the times women weren’t believed, and give full support to the women who aren’t believed. But the truth is, women have lied about being raped. We know it happens. Our gender does not prevent us from lying, even about something as serious as rape.

I went along with “Believe all women” for a time, because our goal was to make a point: There were too many men who got away with serial sexual abuse because for too long women were led to believe they couldn’t win by telling the truth. One by one, we watched big men fall — Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein — and the length and breadth of their abuse was stunning. It was as if they knew there was no chance the woman would be believed. And why would they worry? Women weren’t believed.

But this story has an odor to it. It didn’t come out until after Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee, and it’s being pushed hard by factions known to be hostile to Democrats and the Biden team. The latest, thrown out there as a ‘bombshell’, is that Tara Reade’s mother called into the Larry King Show in 1993 and told the whole story. Except she didn’t. The caller, an unidentified woman, complained that a certain nameless senator was causing unspecified problems for her unnamed daughter and she wanted to know who she could contact in the Senate to complain about it. That was the extent of it. There is video of the call.

In an article in the Intercept, disingenuously entitled, “New Evidence Supporting Tara Reade’s Allegations Against Joe Biden Emerges”, Ryan Grim manages to prove just the opposite — that there is no supporting evidence — then soldiers on, working up to the burden being on Joe Biden to prove his innocence:
In interviews with The Intercept, Reade also mentioned that her mother had made a phone call to “Larry King Live” on CNN, during which she made reference to her daughter’s experience on Capitol Hill. Reade told The Intercept that her mother called in asking for advice after Reade, then in her 20s, left Biden’s office. “I remember it being an anonymous call and her saying my daughter was sexually harassed and retaliated against and fired, where can she go for help? I was mortified,” Reade told me.
Later in the article, Grim shows clearly that the King Show transcript says no such thing.
Congressional records list August 1993 as Reade’s last month of employment with Biden’s Senate office, and, according to property records, Reade’s mother, Jeanette Altimus, was living in San Luis Obispo County. Here is the transcript of the beginning of the call:
KING: San Luis Obispo, California, hello.
CALLER: Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
KING: In other words, she had a story to tell but, out of respect for the person she worked for, she didn’t tell it?
CALLER: That’s true.
King’s panel of guests offered no suggestions, and instead the conversation veered into a discussion of whether any of the men on set would leak damaging personal information about a rival to the press.
There is nothing there that I can see. Still, it’s being used as proof that Biden has a lot to answer for. There are no Senate records showing that Reade filed a formal complaint; there is no evidence that the attack took place, no witnesses, yet the internet is awash with hashtags accusing the Democratic nominee of being a rapist.

I’ve thrown my full support behind Joe Biden for reasons I’ve already described and won’t go into again. I’ve made no bones about it on Facebook and on Twitter, and the response, not just from Republicans, but from purported Democrats as well, is wearying to say the least. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been shouted down after being told that I’m supporting a sexual predator.

So, as I defend his public record, or give the reasons why we have to go with Joe (to keep Trump from winning and to bring bona fide expertise into his administration), more often than not anything I have to say has no validity because “Joe Biden is a rapist”. End of story.

But it’s not the end of the story. The story is the accusation. That’s all we have. He’s the Democratic candidate for the presidency and there is an accusation of rape hanging over him. I don’t know whether or not it’s true. Nobody does except the two people involved, and they’re telling different stories.

Is it likely? I find it hard to believe, but anything is likely. Who would have believed Dr. Huxtable would be capable of truly sickening sexual assaults?

Rape accusations are, of necessity, highly sensitive. Physical evidence is rare, witnesses are even rarer, and the accusations can surface long after the alleged attack. Most often it’s the woman who has to do the proving.

I’m keenly aware of all of it, and my heart goes out to every woman faced with having to deal with the reactions to any accusation of a sexual nature. But the fact is, we just can’t destroy a reputation if there isn’t enough to go on. And right now there isn’t enough to go on.

________________________________

(Cross-posted at Medium)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

It's a Pandemic. You'll Have To Change The Way You Do Things.

I don’t have to tell you we’re in the midst of a near-total shut-down, trying to save as many citizens as possible during an already deadly pandemic. People who aren’t sick yet are hurting, too, trying to maintain their lives, trying to stay safe. Workers are out of jobs and struggling to stay afloat. Businesses are suffering, many of them already in their death throes. They may not survive this. Our unemployment rates are pointing toward astronomical. This recession may turn into a full-blown depression. And the worst part: People are suffering and dying in numbers that grow exponentially, without signs of slowing. We’re all terrified, and I’m not making it better by reminding you of just how much.
But here’s the thing: We have a chance now to show the country who we are in a crisis. It’s our make-or-break moment and it’s up to each of us to rise to the challenge. We’ve done it before. This is all sounding familiar.
“We Can Do It” — National Museum of American History

I lived through rationing during World War II. I know — I was only a kid — but I remember things. I was in charge of collecting and cleaning bottles and tin cans. I peeled off labels, washed them, cut off the can bottoms, stuffed them inside the cans and stomped them flat. (That was the best part.) I bundled newspapers and cardboard and listened to my parents complain when there wasn’t enough coffee. (They were allowed one pound once a month for each of them. I didn’t count as a person yet.)
We kids brought our dimes to school and bought War Stamps and pasted them into books. My parents bought Victory bonds when they could.

Wikimedia

The idea of rationing was to make sure everyone had just enough, but not too much. The problem with rationing — just as now — was that they never figured how to stop greed. We were warned against black marketeers almost as often as we were against ‘loose lips sinking ships’.
Hennepin County Library — with permission
Wikimedia Commons

We saved grease and took it to the butcher because it could be used for explosives. In some parts they collected garbage to feed hogs. People grew Victory Gardens and shared what they grew.

National Archives

We stopped traveling when gas was rationed, and rubber tires were as valuable as gold. Our giddy idea of wealth was a spare tire and a patching kit. 

Library of Congress

When Nylon became a commodity used for parachutes, women took to wearing leg makeup and drawing fake seam lines down the backs of their legs. (Because working women were required to wear skirts and ‘hose’ at all times.)

Source: Smithsonian
Poster source: Foundation for Economic Education

There were posters on walls and in magazines reminding us that our days of being wasteful were behind us. We had to be good citizens or Hitler and Tojo would win. And we didn’t want that, did we?

National Archives

Yes, much of it was propaganda meant to scare us, but it did the job: We were scared. It was our government at work, doing everything they could to keep the armies of the world safe and efficient against our common enemies, and, as good citizens, we were required to help.
Notice a pattern in these posters? It was all about shaming. It was all about being proud to be an American. You want to be a good citizen? Then do what you can to keep our boys alive. Let’s win this thing!
And we did. There is no question that too many Americans died in that war, but we did what we had to do to keep even more Americans from dying. And we felt good about it. That was key. We weren’t sitting on our hands waiting for something to happen, we were a force. We had it in us to make simple sacrifices that ultimately made the difference.

Wikimedia

So here we are again. We’re being asked to take stock and see what we can do to help. If it takes shaming, I’m all for it. If it takes constant reminders about what you can do for your country, remind me. Constantly.
But what if we could do this by just thinking about it and doing the right thing?
What if we didn’t hoard?
What if we didn’t gather in crowds?
What if we learned new ways of doing things?
What if we conserved food so others could eat, too?
What if we came together in hundreds of thousands of communities and looked out for each other?
And what if, when this is over, we kept it up?
Every life lost is a tragedy. Everyone is in danger. If we can do even a little to help the cause, we must do it. If we can do more, we must do more. We’re citizens of the world and the world is hurting. It really is up to us now.
(Cross-posted at Medium)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

I Cried When Warren left, but Now It’s Biden. Here’s Why.

Joe Biden - Flickr public domain

On Friday, March 6, the morning after Elizabeth Warren invited Rachel Maddow into her home for a live interview to discuss her withdrawal from the presidential race, her thoughts about the plans she put forward, and her hopes for the future, I watched two brilliant women talk for an hour without notes, without scripts, without guile — just putting it all out there — and I felt sorrow. Abject sorrow. And I knew I wasn't alone.

But when the hour was over, after they helped me send sorrow packing and replaced it with hope and pride, I knew where I would transfer my allegiance. It would go to the candidate with the greatest chance of building alliances and winning.

I know he may not be Elizabeth’s choice or Rachel’s choice, but Joe Biden is now my choice. It’s no secret I wanted a woman president. I stopped even considering a man when I saw there were women who could not only do the job, but far surpass many of the male candidates. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren — it’s tough to watch them fail when they’re so damned qualified — but something happened, I honestly don’t know what,  and they didn’t make it to the end.

I built what I’ve written here as a Twitter thread, but I thought I could use this format to make it more accessible. I hope I can convince more voters that there are valid reasons to vote for Joe Biden. These are just some of them:




Watching Warren on @Maddow last night with anger, sadness, and pride. She didn’t make this run but she has a plan. She’s not done, and neither are we. I’m going with Biden now and I’m at peace with that, not because I think he isn’t flawed — he is. But here’s the thing:

Joe will disappoint me, he’ll infuriate me, he’ll embarrass me, but he won’t do anything to deliberately hurt me. People who know him intimately — including his colleagues in DC — talk about his big heart. He gives his cell phone # to people who tell him their painful stories.

He has the support of people like Jim Clyburn, a man with more integrity in his little finger than all of the Trumps put together. Joe understands the necessity of a Big Tent and when he says we’re all welcome, he means it. The people around him mean it. And I need that.

He’ll build a cabinet of people who respect their positions and understand the work ahead. The pros will start in on Day one, the only drama being the enormity of their tasks. I won’t have to wonder if they know what they’re doing. I won’t have to question their motives.

Every Democrat already working in the halls of Congress, in the halls of justice, will get behind Joe, steering him, encouraging him, and he will listen. He will brainstorm. He will understand that the country comes first. He will work hard for us — and he will make mistakes.

Joe Biden has made plenty of mistakes, almost all of them mistakes we’ve hashed over for years. Anita Hill, plagiarism, the Iraq War vote — so many others soon to be fodder for both the left and the right in the coming months ahead. I make no excuses for Joe’s past blunders.

But I’ll support him now, without equivocation, because, of the three old men that are my only choices, (not that Trump is even remotely my choice) he is by far the best to lead us out of this mess. It’s not because he’ll work miracles. He won’t. He’ll be far from perfect.

But he’ll bring with him the best of the best. The proven workers from inside and out. The established pros who are already working tirelessly to take down the Republicans threatening whole segments of our citizenry day after day after day. Social programs will be safe.

He’ll have a powerhouse behind him, already in place, already keenly aware, and deeply embedded in the process of removing the very real threats coming from the White House, from Congress, and from the courts. They know the secrets. All they need now is the unobstructed power.

The transition, if Joe Biden is nominated, will be smooth and seamless. They know Joe and Joe knows them. They are the ‘establishment’, and that’s to our advantage. They’ve seen up close and personal the damage the Trump regime has caused. They’re positioned. They’re ready.

But, until we’re in that place where we’re the decision-makers, we’re mere voices in the wind. We’re hurting but we’re not shattered. We have the means to build again, together. The enemy isn’t us, it’s them.

                                                                            ***
(Cross-posted at Medium)

Saturday, February 29, 2020

I Am That Liberal You Think You Know


I’m a Liberal Democrat, capital L, capital D. I’ve been a Liberal Democrat my entire adult life. I’ve never been ashamed of being either one. Why would I be? We Liberal Democrats have a long history of public service in the best sense of the words. We’ve been the caretakers while the Republicans have traditionally fought against any thought of taking care of all citizens. Emphasis on ALL citizens.

We work at being inclusive while the Republicans pride themselves on their exclusivity. While we’re trying to build a country they’re building a club.

So here’s a radical thought: Let the Liberals do it. Give us a chance to show how it could be done.

 Liberals, you like to remind us, are the classic political nerds, not good for anything but maybe wedgies or noogies. Quaint na├»ve little do-gooders lost in a world of ruthless cruelty without weapons adequate enough to bruise a flea.

 In the 1980s, around about the time the actor Ronald Reagan, friendly Midwestern Liberal turned hard-hearted California conservative, was enshrined as The Teflon POTUS, the word went out that Liberals — those ridiculous “for the people” gadflies — were ruining the country by helping too many undeserving and impoverished leeches, by welcoming foreigners, by insisting that workers be represented by hard-nosed unions, by pushing the toxic notion that health care shouldn’t be for-profit, and by tightening, enforcing, or inventing regulations that were or would be anathema to the gold-plated entities they targeted.

It wasn’t hard to convince the many millions that health, wealth, and happiness could only come from a government without teeth, from the benevolence of ridiculously powerful corporations, and, if all else failed, from that venerable standby, Old Testament God.

 All that stood in the way were those insufferable Liberals.

 Liberals became such pariahs an entire bloc jumped ship and took on a new name: Progressives. (I would describe them for you here, but I admit I don’t know the difference. So far they’ve been relatively friendly. Don’t look to me to rock that boat.)

 But what we Liberals are known for are hearts that gush blood whenever injustice rears its massive, ugly head. We see a bleeding heart as a badge of honor. The same with tears. We cry when things move us, and we don’t hide from our emotions. Our anger stems from compassion, our outrage roars at cruelty. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and it’s not meant as a fashion statement.

 Liberals have a long history of getting things done. We pulled the entire country out of a great depression by hiring our citizens to do meaningful busy-work, by using our charitable might, by giving dignity and hope back to a country mired in poverty and hopelessness.

 We built the unions and gave workers a voice. We put an end to child labor. We fought to give every adult citizen the right to vote, no matter their gender or color. We helped the poor and the elderly by creating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air act, and the Clean Water Act. We ended a recession that nearly destroyed the middle class.

 We did all that and more against the wishes — and the might — of fat cats and right wingers who sorely wanted what we’re heading for today: a country ruled by non-contributing despots whose only interests are power, greed, and self-preservation.

 We are not that country and we never will be. The Trump phenomenon is an anomaly, destined as a vivid warning in our history books, a long chapter on how close we came to letting our democracy die. We’re still a majority of the good and, thankfully, most of us aren’t ashamed to show it. It’s our time now and there’s much to do. They’re out there waiting for us and they have heavy weapons. 

The truth-tellers are under barrage and the liars appear to be winning. Not in any honest way — that’s not their MO — but they’ve built a formidable army with thugs in both the House and the Senate, corrupt judges with life-long positions and no former experience, rules and laws that favor the wealthy and crush the poor, shady dealings with foreign dictators, and, if all else fails, voting machines spewing out questionable tallies.

We can’t afford to get it wrong this time. We are a country on the brink and this is no time to dismiss anyone working to change this mess. Do we need labels to tell us apart? Not as much as we might think. It’s enough that we’re on the same team. Not everyone on the team comes from the same background, but everyone should have the same goal. To win.

Come November, 2020, we have to win. There is no other acceptable outcome. So I’ll be That Liberal and you be…you. But let’s work at winning together. It's only our entire country that's at stake.

(A version of this appears at Medium)

Friday, February 28, 2020

Bernie Lost This FDR Liberal and It's His Fault, Not MIne

Source: Forbes


I’m a liberal and Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. Both of us have our roots in good old FDR blue collar pragmatism. I thought, way back in 2011, when I wrote glowingly about him, that if he ever decided to run for president I would be first in line to cheer him on.

I wrote:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, held the senate floor for 90 minutes yesterday, talking directly to President Obama, pleading, cajoling, scolding — begging the president to take the lead on obvious things like lifting the poor and the downtrodden out of the depths, protecting them from any more grief, and demanding that the rich pay their fair share of U.S. taxes.

He was voicing everything I believed and he was one of the very few. I wanted to go on liking him. I wanted it so much, I went on pretending, long after I had grown squeamish about what I was seeing from him.

I wanted to believe his shouting and his finger-wagging were simply signs that he was immersed in wanting to do the right thing, but he smirked. He smirked a lot. And it was his haughty, knowing grin whenever his audience reacted to his many anti-Democrat accusations that convinced me this was not someone calling for solidarity.

In time it became clear that his idea of doing the right thing was to build himself up by attacking any Democrat who wasn’t willing to go along. He latched onto “establishment Democrats”, “corporate Democrats”, and encouraged the term “neo-libs”. He kept it up long after the 2016 primaries, when he should have been joining the Dems in supporting not only Hillary Clinton but every Democrat working to get elected in every city, county, state, or federal battleground.

He didn’t do that. He balked at everything, including handing the primary vote over to Hillary when it was clearly long past time. He talked up “revolution”, pushing his followers to stick with him long after the space between the primaries and the general election had closed behind him. He tolerated chaos from his own ranks when what we needed desperately was unity. His was a mission unto himself and the Democrats he refused to join up with had no place in it.

It comes down to this: Bernie is my first choice as revolutionary leader. As revolutionary leaders go, Bernie ranks right up there at the top. But if Bernie should win the presidency, his days as a radical revolutionary leader are over. He wouldn’t in a million years be able to accomplish as much as he might if he stays on the outside pressing for the goals he has outlined during his campaign…

 …A president has to be all things to all people. The leader of a revolution has to stay focused on the cause. Bernie, if he wins, won’t be able to do that and he’ll disappoint the people who are counting on him to make radical change. They’ll start a revolution without him, or in spite of him, or against him.
I haven’t changed my mind. Donald Trump may have shown us what the true Dark Side looks like when it gains ultimate power, but the Democratic presidential candidate can’t be a frothing revolutionary. Some would like to think we’ve moved that far to the left, but we haven’t. And we shouldn’t.

Bernie cemented it when he brought in known haters like Cenk Uyger, Michael Moore, David Sirota, Nina Turner, and Susan Sarandon. They went on the attack against Democrats, almost as if Donald Trump and the entire GOP were not the real threat.

I’ve never been convinced that Democrats shine as a party when they move away from wanting to be allies to all Americans, and not just some Americans. We’re not the party of dividers. We’re at our best when we’re lifting each other up, not dragging each other down.

I submit that Barack Obama’s popularity stayed constant mainly because he refused to get down in the mud. He refused to attack his allies or to get vicious when he was going after his enemies. He understood — and admired — the honor and the obligations of his office, and he’ll be remembered for that, long after Donald Trump disappears into the twilight.

I am a Democrat. I’ve been a Democrat for more than 60 years and, no matter how frustrated or disappointed I am in my political family, I’ll never be anything else. I will always vote the party.
I can say that, knowing there are entire factions out there still promoting a “hold your nose” policy when it comes to Democrats, or worse, a lean toward, “No other Democrat is good enough so it has to be fill in the blank, or else.

There are ways of doing battle without digging in the dirt. The Democrats must always take the high road. It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us right. We take the high road by showing what we’ve learned over the years — that we can and must help others while helping ourselves. We don’t see kindness as weakness. We can be revolutionaries without losing our way. Our eyes are on the prize and our prize is a country working toward the common good.

Bernie Sanders never became that Democrat. He relished the chaos in 2016 and did nothing to calm the waters. His talking points never became action. His talk of being a champion of women or people of color, for example, is still more fluff than substance.

His followers have built a long-lasting cult around him, and he’s using them again to rise to the top. I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t do that, but since he has, I’m out. I've already cast my vote for Elizabeth Warren, who shares many of the same visions, but without feeling the need to divide us into camps based on our loyalty to her causes. (If he wins the primaries, I’ll deal with it and support him. Because that’s what Democrats have to do.)

The defeat of Donald Trump is essential if we’re ever going to get those programs that both the left and the moderates agree need fixing. We can only defeat him if we work together. When Bernie shows signs of wanting to work together, I’ll come back and write a different story. But until then, this one will have to stand.

(A version of this appears in Medium)