Saturday, December 25, 2004

Get back to Capra

The holiday season always brings with it plenty of showings of Frank Capra films, and this year is no different. As I type this Mr. Deeds Goes To Town is playing on TCM and It's A Wonderful Life on NBC.

I have to admit that I'm a complete sucker for these films, as sentimental as they might be. I never fail to be totally taken in by them, identifying strongly with the hero in his fight against the entrenched forces of the status quo: the rich and the powerful, big businessmen and corrupt politicians. The Capra's populism (which I think is basically a liberal populism imbued with many of the values which form the core of progressive ideals) is compelling and potent and has appeal to a wide variety of people, some of whom might otherwise not have a lot in common politically.

In these films, it's clear that the bad guys would have voted for Bush in this past election: they are obviously Republicans through and through, caring only for their money and their power, but, as a result of 30 years of effective right-wing propaganda and some unfortunate pusillanimity and overzealousness on the part of liberals, it's probably much less obvious to most people that the good guys are Democrats. I don't think it's going too far to say that the primary task facing the party in this dark hour is to convince people, through argumentation, rhetoric, and story-telling of all kinds, that Democrats are on the side of the ordinary everyday peope in their struggle not to be plowed under by powerful forces represented by the Republican party.

We've got to re-Capra-tate the Democratic party, give it a jolt of solid, positive populism and shake off its image as a coven of special interests.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/25/2004 11:24:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kicking and screaming

I agree with those who say that the Democrats should, starting this very moment, be loudly, publicly and vigorously highlighting every lie, mispeaking, misdeed, evasion, malfeasance, mistake, misstep, distortion and untruth uttered and commited by the Bush administration.

The strategy at this moment, when we're totally out of power, the opposition party, is to oppose, oppose, oppose, oppose at every turn, underlining the Bush failures of practice and policy and undermining confidence in Bush personally whenever possible. There's absolutely nothing to be gained by being "bipartisan" or by cooperating with the GOP (exceptions might be made for working with those few non-ideological "moderate" Republicans who have in the past behaved decently to their Democratic colleagues in the Senate, but only insofar as they don't work to further the radical Bush agenda).

During the election, things were different, attacks on Bush and his policies had to be framed in a way which drew people away from Bush and towards Kerry, but didn't alienate too many people who might otherwise consider changing over, but now there's nothing much to be gained from holding back -- except that the attacks should always be done in a reasonable, rational, controlled manner, to protect from counter-attack claiming that the Dems are the wild-eyed radicals (as opposd to the Republicans, many of whom really are).

On the other hand, I don't see much point in pushing the impeachment of Bush as a trope in those attacks, because (1) people really are still sick of the impeachment thing, left over from the Clinton debacle and (2) it'll never happen, given Republican control of Congree, so calling for it again and again just underlines the fact that the Dems are powerless. That's hardly the message we want to send. (It's OK to point out the the Republicans are in total charge of the government, thus pinning any problems on them, but it's hardly worthwhile to point out the corollary, even implicitly.)

Update (12/29): Mark Schmitt makes a good point:

Being an opposition party does just not mean opposing every official Bush proposal, especially when that opposition will be futile. Merely opposing things would mean accepting the Republican agenda but saying no. Real opposition, to my mind, means taking advantage of every opportunity to reframe the agenda around an alternative point of view. And one key to that is to make the party in power pay a very high price for its mistakes.

It's the old distinction (a la Monty Python's Argument Clinic sketch) between an argument and automatic and reflexive negation:

Man: Well, an argument's not the same as contradiction.

Mr Vibrating: It can be.

Man: No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition.

Mr Vibrating: No it isn't.

Man: Yes it is. It isn't just contradiction.

Mr Vibrating: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Man: But it isn't just saying "No it isn't".

Mr Vibrating: Yes it is.

Man: No it isn't, an argument is an intellectual process... contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

(slight pause)

Mr Vibrating: No it isn't.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/25/2004 04:23:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Declining support for the war -- but more to go

Here's a post by Kevin Drum, with a followup by Josh Marshall, about the declining support for the war in Iraq. Both make good points, and, taken together, they support my contention that coming out with a strong anti-war stance was unlikely to help Kerry get elected, despite poll numbers which showed support for the war at under 50% just before the election.

Note that Marshall provides one of the same explanations that I did -- the ability for most people to cope with a fair amount of cognitive dissonance before they change a strongly-held stance.

I think also that the way the media is reporting what's happening in Iraq has changed significantly from what it was before the election, and in a way that puts me in mind of the Watergate reporting before and after the election back then. Despite the fact that it likes to position itself -- as a fearless force fighting for truth against the power of government -- the media is really (collectively speaking) a bunch of cowards who are more comfortable acting in concert then they are in taking on the powerful and the rich. With the election out of the way -- and questions of possible partisanship and bias put aside for the moment -- and a lame-duck administration in office, the media has apparently suddenly felt free to report more prominently the bad news from Iraq. (That's clearly not the entire reason, but the dynamic is overall a bit fuzzy to me -- I just know that I sense a significant change).

With the media now telling the truth about Iraq (more or less, relatively speaking), it's likely that the rate of disaffection with the Bush record and agenda there is going to grow more quickly than in did before. However, without an opposition party controlling a house of Congress, it's unlikely that Watergate will be a model for what happens next -- no officially-sanctioned investigations to jump-start things and keep the convoy rolling. Instead, it's going to be larger and larger public demonstrations which will have to do the job, a la Vietnam, and that's still some years off, I think, from getting past the mark we saw before the invasion.

(That's because the point where people will say the war was a bad idea to a pollster is lower than the point that people will actually change their minds about how to act towards the war, and that, in turn, is lower than the point at which people will subject themseves to the potential criticism and disapproval that would come from going out and actively protestiing against it.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/25/2004 03:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The demise of the yellow ribbon?

A couple of months ago, I was driving back to The City (that's Manhattan to the rest of the world) from where our company was rehearsing in upstate New York, and a conversation started about all the cars we saw on the thruway that had yellow ribbons on them, expressing their support for the troops in Iraq. The question that was raised was: did putting a yellow ribbon on your car actually do anything practical to support the troops, or was it purely a symbolic rhetorical act, with the money going into the pockets of the people marketing the ribbons? But whatever their practicality (or lack of it), it was indisputable that there were a lot of cars on the road adorned with them.

Now, an email from a correspondant of mine points out that there's been a sea-change:

I drive quite a lot on the roads of Long Island and as such am almost always in traffic. I have noticed something that is so surprising that I wanted to survey the rest of you. A month ago every damn car had a yellow or red-white-blue or other color magnetic ribbon...every one, "support our troops" was common, but there were also other patriotic mottos or exhortations.. Most cars or trucks had 2 or 3, some had a dozen, making a little pattern etc. To see these expressions of war support on a Lincoln "Navigator" or a Humvee was enough to make you want to puke.

Yesterday and today, travelling the same roads, the ribbons are gone. Not there. Disappeared, vanished. I dont mean there are half as many, or a tenth. I mean gone, as if on signal from someone. On a road where I could have counted hundreds, there were exactly 2. I can imagine that they were as easy to remove as to apply, being magnetic and not having any epoxy or crazy glue to stick them on.

Have any of you noted this elsewhere ?? most mysterious.

[Thanks to Gar]

Is this happening elsewhere as well, or is it a localized thing?

(Actually, another correspondant, who lives in Atlanta, confirms that she's also noticed a precipitous drop-off in the volume of yellow-ribboned vehicles.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/25/2004 01:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bowers' Unified Theory

On MyDD, Chris Bowers has been propounding a unified theory about what needs to happen now, the nub of which is that liberalism needs to be grown and conservatism reduced. One of the main stems of this theory concerns bringing into the liberal coalition non-ideological reformers:

I believe it is possible to break the majority Republican coalition, which is primarily an ideological coalition of conservatives against liberals, and create a majority Democratic coalition that will last for at least two or three decades, by liberalizing / progressivizing the 10-15% of the population that is currently primarily reform minded and non-ideological (and thus has a strong tendency to support major third-party efforts). While it is currently non-ideological, this segment of the population, which has existed in large numbers since at least the 1880's, has an outlook on politics that is far more closely allied with liberalism than conservatism because of its emphasis on reform. It is, to put it one way, latently liberal. This segment of the electorate can be swung toward the liberal camp, thus breaking the Republican majority coalition, if the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, reformer, anti-status quo, entrepreneurial aspects of liberalism are foregrounded and turned into a national narrative and platform. Pulling this off will also require dismantling the Great Backlash narrative of oppressive liberal elites, and replacing it with a narrative about conservatism being a force that relies on pure theory, faith-based worldviews, and that supports status-quo institutions such as corporations and the media.

Currently, the significant majority (60-70%) of the non-ideological "reformer" segment of the population, which has a tendency to vote in blocks, is allied with the Republican coalition. In fact, it was this addition to the Republican coalition that led to their 1994 sweep to power, and it remains the aspect of the Republican coalition that gives them their national slim majority (50-52% of the electorate). Primarily, this alliance is a result of the Great Backlash narrative, which identifies liberalism as an oppressive, status quo force in control of academia, the media, the entertainment industry, and the judiciary. However, unlike the conservative and evangelic / born again segments of the coalition that allies itself against liberalism on ideological grounds, the non-ideological element allies itself against liberalism not because of what liberalism stands for, but because liberals are viewed as powerful, anti-reform "insiders." It opposes liberalism not because of left / center / right reasons, but because of insider / outsider reasons. Best of all, because liberalism is a reformer ideology, liberals have the potential to swing this group more or less permanently, which is something that conservatism have never been able to do.

In other words, we win, both short term and long term, with a reformer platform and a national narrative that pits liberalism as a reformer ideology against a status-quo conservative ideology. This is how we grow liberalism and finally push the liberal electoral coalition first postulated by the McGovern campaign into power.


In our current coalition, we have almost all of the liberals, and we have most of the ideological moderates. To complete a majority coalition, we need the reformers. I believe that "moderates" who are concerned with reform and supportive of third-party movements are streaming toward the Republican Party in order to strike a blow against the insider "elites" in charge of unpopular institutions: the media, academia, the judiciary and the entertainment industry. In do doing, they are performing a liberal act while allying with a conservative party. By positioning liberalism as a reformist ideology permanently struggling against elites--which it is--we could bring a large segment of the non-ideological "moderate" population back into the liberal camp on a semi-permanent basis. This would allow us to break the Republican majority coalition which is currently run by the nation's 34% conservative minority, and regain the reigns of power for the next generation.

Right now, Republicans control somewhere between 60-70% of the non-ideological reformer vote, and between 51-52% of the national vote. The average third party vote in 1980, 1992 and 1996 was 12.6%. Bringing the majority of the 10-15% of the electorate that falls into the non-ideological / reformer category into the Democratic coalition would almost precisely flip the exiting balance of power between the two coalitions, as it would give Democrats a 51-52% national majority coalition. In the immediate short-term, this means to me that Dean absolutely must become the spokesmen of the Democratic Party. No one else up for the job even remotely approaches his reformer / outside cred nationally, not even Simon Rosenberg. Bringing the reformer segment of the electorate into the Democratic / liberal camp is even more important than increasing our share of the growing Latino vote, which is undeniably important.

Our future success is not predicated upon moving to the left or the right, but rather in our ability to move from the inside to the outside in the national political frame.

This idea appeals to me enormously (as does one of Chris' other concerns, a related one, which is the need to reframe and better articulate the liberal worldview), because it does not necessarily mean jettisoning long-held and important liberal values in a desperate attempt to attract new blood by appearing less overtly "liberal". Not only that, but I think it's right in line with my idea that the Democratic party (in our current circumstance, I think equating the Republican party with the right wing and the Democratic party with liberalism is not going to be far from wrong) needs to re-position itself as the party of praticality, rationality and empiricism, in opposition to the iron ideological dogmatism of the Republicans.

Combine this with the kind of populism that the broadening of the coalition with reformers would provoke, and, possibly, giving in to the need for more glamour in our Presidential candidates, and we may actually elect someone to the White House again.

One thing I'm pretty damn sure of is that just standing pat and presenting a strong traditional liberal stance isn't going to do it. As I wrote the other day, there's just too many of them and not enough of us.

(Be sure to read Chris latest entry, and follow up on the various links in the post to get the full flavor of the changes that he's urging.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/21/2004 11:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Framing Social Security

I agree with Tapped's Garance Franke-Ruta that this is an excellent piece of political framing:

Critics of President Bush's plan to create personal investment accounts in Social Security say he is exaggerating the program's funding problems to boost public support for his idea.

"Social Security is like a car with a flat tire," said Peter Orszag, an economist at the liberal Brookings Institution and adviser in the Clinton White House. "There is a problem. We need to fix the flat tire. But we don't need to replace the car."

As Franke-Ruta comments:

This is what effective rhetoric looks like. He's using simple, clear, understandable language and no confusing numbers. He doesn't deny there's a problem, but he puts it into perspective as being relatively minor. The simile makes the Bush plan look like overkill -- you wouldn't junk your car just because it got a flat -- while at the same time framing the problem as something small and fixable and familiar. Everyone's changed a flat tire, after all. Overall, this is a great way of saying there is no permanent crisis, just a routine but minor problem along the road with a program that's otherwise holding up very well.

This is precisely the kind of thing we need to do on every issue, to start to erode the strength of the right's current positioning in the nation's political psyche.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/21/2004 11:21:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, December 20, 2004

Don't bother listening to us

I ran across this on an interesting website about New York City skyscrapers, apparently written by, commenting on the results of the recent election:

Funny, how the one US city that has actually most suffered from terrorism [New York] gave a resounding referendum about their preference -- perhaps they know something "the reds" don't.

Yeah, just like we know that it now remains highly unlikely that we'll ever get the homeland security funds that were promised to us by Bush after 9/11. (Too important to make sure Joplin, Missouri gets its fare share, since it's such a magnet for terrorists.)

(The one and only reason I thought that perhaps Bernard Kerik as Secretary of Homeland Security might not be an entirely bad thing was that, as a former New York City official and protege of Saint Rudy, he might actually see that we got the funding we'd been promised, and still need. Of course, it turned out that he was a total dud, and would never have been confirmed, even by Bush's tame Senate.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2004 09:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Wal-Mart, welfare queen

From Inside the Leviathan by Simon Head:

...Wal-Mart's ability to keep prices low depends not just on its productivity but also on its ability to contain, or even reduce, costs, above all labor costs. As Sam Walton wrote in his memoirs:

You see: no matter how you slice it in the retail business, payroll is one of the most important parts of overhead, and overhead is one of the most crucial things you have to fight to maintain your profit margin.

One of the ways to win this particular fight is to make sure that the growth of labor's productivity well exceeds the growth of its wages and benefits, which has in fact been the dominant pattern for US corporations during the past decade.

From a corporate perspective, this is a rosy outcome. When the productivity of labor rises and its compensation stagnates, then, other things being equal, the cost of labor per unit of output will fall and profit margins will rise. Wal-Mart has carried this strategy to extremes. While its workforce has one of the best productivity records of any US corporation, it has kept the compensation of its rank-and-file workers at or barely above the poverty line. As of last spring, the average pay of a sales clerk at Wal-Mart was $8.50 an hour, or about $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the government's definition of the poverty level for a family of three.[4] Despite the implied claims of Wal-Mart's current TV advertising campaign, fewer than half— between 41 and 46 percent—of Wal-Mart employees can afford even the least-expensive health care benefits offered by the company. To keep the growth of productivity and real wages far apart, Wal-Mart has reached back beyond the New Deal to the harsh, abrasive capitalism of the 1920s.


One of the most telling of all the criticisms of Wal-Mart is to be found in a February 2004 report by the Democratic Staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee. In analyzing Wal-Mart's success in holding employee compensation at low levels, the report assesses the costs to US taxpayers of employees who are so badly paid that they qualify for government assistance even under the less than generous rules of the federal welfare system. For a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store, the government is spending $108,000 a year for children's health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for low-income families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report estimates that a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart's 1.2 million US employees.

Wal-Mart is also a burden on state governments. According to a study by the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2003 California taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical care for Wal-Mart employees. In Georgia ten thousand children of Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in the state's program for needy children in 2003, with one in four Wal-Mart employees having a child in the program.


The exploitation of the working poor is now central to the business strategy favored by America's most powerful and, by some criteria, most successful corporation. With the re-election of a president as enamored of corporate power as George W. Bush, there is every prospect that this strategy and its harsh practices will continue to spread throughout the economy.

Talk about indirect corporate welfare, Wal-Mart's profits seem to depend on the government providing the vital services its employees need, and which they would otherwise pay for themselves if Wal-Mart paid them a living wage.

It's enough to revive one's interest in Marx.

The full article goes into some detail about the indignities Wal-Mart employees are put through.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2004 05:48:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A statement of principles

As long as there's an ongoing discussion about what the Democratic party should stand for, and as long as I'm quoting stuff today, let's not forget this, from just a few months ago, as recorded by the New York Times:

BARACK OBAMA. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Dick Durbin. You make us all proud.

On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, Land of Lincoln, let me express my deepest gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention.

Tonight is a particular honor for me because — let’s face it — my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father — my grandfather — was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before.

While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor my grandfather signed up for duty; joined Patton’s army, marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through F.H.A., and later moved west all the way to Hawaii in search of opportunity.

And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter. A common dream, born of two continents.

My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ”blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

They are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with great pride.

I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation — not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

That is the true genius of America — a faith in simple dreams,, an insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted at least, most of the time.

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and our commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.

And fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents — I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Ill., who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father that I met who was losing his job and choking back the tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college.

Now don’t get me wrong. The people I meet — in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks — they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead — and they want to.

Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted, by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.

Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn — they know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things.

People don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.

They know we can do better. And they want that choice.

In this election, we offer that choice. Our Party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. And that man is John Kerry. John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and service because they’ve defined his life. From his heroic service to Vietnam, to his years as a prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we’ve seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available.

His values — and his record — affirm what is best in us. John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded; so instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he offers them to companies creating jobs here at home.

John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves.

John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies, or the sabotage of foreign oil fields.

John Kerry believes in the Constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties, nor use faith as a wedge to divide us.

And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world war must be an option sometimes, but it should never be the first option.

You know, a while back, I met a young man named Shamus [Seamus?] in a V.F.W. Hall in East Moline, Ill.. He was a good-looking kid, six two, six three, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he’d joined the Marines, and was heading to Iraq the following week. And as I listened to him explain why he’d enlisted, the absolute faith he had in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all that any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he is serving us?

I thought of the 900 men and women — sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who won’t be returning to their own hometowns. I thought of the families I’ve met who were struggling to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were Reservists.

When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued — and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this.

And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure.

John Kerry believes in America. And he knows that it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we’re all connected as one people.

If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?

John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope.

I’m not talking about blind optimism here - the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.

I believe that we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us.

America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do — if we do what we must do, then I have no doubts that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.

Thank you very much everybody. God bless you. Thank you.

I had planned on editing it down, but decided to let it stand as it was, in toto. Sure, it's a convention speech, a campaign speech, a paen to Kerry, but it's also a clear and moving statement of what we stand for, our true and abiding Democratic values, for which we never need apologize, and which we should concentrate our energy on promulgating with real vigor. This vision can move people, I think, and maybe even budge some of them from one position to another.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2004 04:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two more thoughts

Here's another brace, these from the New York Review of Books. The first is from an article by Tony Judt:

With our growing income inequities and child poverty; our underperforming schools and disgracefully inadequate health services; our mendacious politicians and crude, partisan media; our suspect voting machines and our gerrymandered congressional districts; our bellicose religiosity and our cult of guns and executions; our cavalier unconcern for institutions, treaties, and laws—our own and other people's: we should not be surprised that America has ceased to be an example to the world. The real tragedy is that we are no longer an example to ourselves. America's born-again president insists that we are engaged in the war of Good against Evil, that American values "are right and true for every person in every society." Perhaps. But the time has come to set aside the Book of Revelation and recall the admonition of the Gospels: For what shall it profit a country if it gain the whole world but lose its own soul?

The second is from Garry Wills' review of Michael Walzer's latest book Arguing About War:

Anything that might be embarrassing to a president is now treated as a national security issue—weakening him, it is said, will hamper his dealings with foreign powers. Unless we treat him as infallible, foes will see him as powerless. Since democracy is impossible without accountability, and accountability is impossible if secrecy hides the acts to be held accountable, making a just war may become impossible for lack of a competent democratic authority to declare it. A president who can make a war of choice, not of necessity, at his pleasure, on the basis of privileged information, treating his critics as enemies of the state, is no longer a surreal fantasy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2004 04:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two ideas

For the past four years, the New York Times Magazine has run a year-end round-up of the significant ideas that have surfaced in the previous twelve months. In the past, I've found these compendia to be less than successful -- too many entires, and too few memorable ideas -- but this year's seemed better balanced to me. (At least, I was able to finsih reading them all, something I'd been unable to do in past years.)

Here are two of the ideas that struck me as interesting, from the recent December 12th issue:

Hawkishness as Evolutionary Holdover

Christopher Shea

American overconfidence on the road to Baghdad has been well catalogued, but it is worth remembering that the United States hardly monopolizes military hubris. Why, for instance, did Saddam Hussein conclude that he could survive a showdown with the United States? And why did the Taliban, rather than turn over Al Qaeda leaders, roll the dice on war with America?

Dominic D.P. Johnson offers a bio-political answer to such puzzles in his book "Overconfidence and War," which was published this year by Harvard University Press. "By virtue of human psychology," Johnson writes, "we should fully expect a bias toward overconfidence by all sides in conflicts today, whether they are superpowers, small states, freedom fighters or terrorists."

To reach this conclusion, Johnson applies the logic of evolution to international relations. Following one of his mentors, the Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham, he suggests that overconfidence might once have been helpful in war and conflict. On the ancient African savannah, it was actually rational to misestimate your own capacities: a fearsome appearance and bold tactics could intimidate the enemy and help carry the day during lightning raids on enemy camps. But today, given modern weaponry, bureaucratic planning and mass armies, a cocky disposition is as likely to be suicidal as it is glorious.

Military overconfidence, in other words, is a psychological holdover -- a cognitive appendix -- from an earlier period in human history. It is perhaps most dangerous when it prompts a decision for war in the first place. And it could be the X-factor explaining the otherwise inexplicable in recent military history: French faith in the Maginot line, Hitler's drive into Russia, the American failure to heed the lessons of French defeat in Vietnam.

Most humans are prone to overestimating themselves, but leaders (who are inordinately ambitious and, by definition, have suffered few recent professional setbacks) are especially susceptible. Fittingly, the cover of Johnson's book features George W. Bush in the famous flight suit, flashing an exuberant thumbs-up.

The Soccer Model of Warfare

Jeff Z. Klein

For decades, the American military's war-fighting paradigm has been provided by football: the massing and coordinated movement of overwhelming force, replete with a playbook of long bombs, end runs, blitzes and, most explicitly, the "Hail Mary" maneuver that sealed General Schwarzkopf's victory against Iraq in 1991. But this year, American defense experts debated the heretical possibility that the United States armed forces could learn more from soccer than from the Super Bowl.

Late last year, The Armed Forces Journal published "Football vs. Soccer: American Warfare in an Era of Unconventional Threats," an article by Joel Cassman, a career Foreign Service officer, and David Lai, a professor at the United States Air War College. Soccer, they wrote, is the model for unconventional forces like terrorist organizations and guerrilla insurgencies: like a soccer team, they use finesse, patience, surprise attack, improvisation and low technology and make a virtue out of decentralized control and execution. "Contemporary U.S. adversaries who use soccer strategies tend to look at the entire world as their playing field, taking action at openings where the United States and its allies are vulnerable," Cassman and Lai wrote, citing as examples the Sept. 11 attacks, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The solution, according to Cassman and Lai, is for the American armed forces to become far more soccerlike themselves by developing small, flexible units that can operate autonomously to meet the elusive enemy wherever it appears. "The United States needs to reorient its thinking about war," they wrote, "not as a series of discrete battles ('plays') marching down a field to victory, but rather a continuous struggle" involving "a shifting combination of offense and defense" that takes place "over a long period."

Throughout 2004, rebuttal articles appeared touting "the football advantage" over what was sometimes sniffily referred to as soccer's "more continental nuances." They argued that the "gridiron approach" keeps American casualties down and is generally superior as a war-fighting strategy. But according to John Roos, editor of The Armed Forces Journal, "the military is trying for a more mobile, flexible force in Iraq, so at least for now it's leaning more toward the soccer side."

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2004 04:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The "Kerry should have been more liberal" meme

I see a lot of complaints here and on the web about the Kerry campaign, how it was run and what it did wrong, and that's both understandable and justified -- we lost an election that it was extremely important to win, the campaign (like all human endeavors) was far from faultless, and we should certainly analyze those mistakes in the hope that they won't be repeated -- but it concerns me greatly that one of the prevailing memes is that we could have won if Kerry had just been more forthrightly progressive and nore firmly embraced liberal ideas, especially a strong stance against the war in Iraq.

I think the evidence indicates that that's a lot of hooey.

It is paramount that we keep in mind that Kerry lost to Bush in the popular vote by a mere 3 million votes, or 2.46%, and that more than 60 million people voted against George Bush, more people than have ever voted against the occupant of the White House than ever before in American history. This was an extremely close election, made so by the fact that both sides turned out record numbers of people -- the turnout was very very high by modern standards. Things were not nearly so close in the Electoral College, but Bush won Iowa by 0.67% (10,000 votes), New Mexico by 0.79% (6,000 votes) and Ohio by 2.11% (119,000 votes). Conversely, Kerry won Wisconsin by only 0.38% (11,000 votes) and New Hampshire by 1.37% (9,000 votes).

That's close, really close.

Clearly, if a small number of votes (a mere handful by comparison to the national turnout of 120 million voters) had changed, the election would have turned out quite differently. That doesn't, therefore, point to a problem with the broad strategy of the Kerry campaign (i.e., to run to the center), it points instead to a number of smaller tactical mistakes which, if they'd been handled differently, might have made a difference.

Consider this: there are two ways that Kerry could have won -- he could have turned out more voters from his side, or he could have convinced some of the people who voted for Bush that he was the better choice. The first is doubtful: we're all aware that Democratic/progressive/liberal voters were extremely hopped up about this election, and their turnout was good enough to reach a record number of votes against Bush. So that leaves convincing voters who ultimately went for Bush to vote for Kerry instead.

Does anyone reading this really believe that someone who voted for Bush would have been convinced to vote for Kerry instead if only Kerry had presented himself as more forthrightly progressive and liberal?.

The idea is ludicrous on its face.

Let's face it, ladies and gentlemen, there are more of them than there are of us, and that means if we're going to win national elections, we have to somehow convince substantial numbers of them to give us a chance to show what we can do, and we're never going to do that by just standing there being boldly liberal and progressive.

I would like, if at all possible, to not spend 40 years wandering the desert while Bush and his political progeny wield the reins of power -- the devastation they could cause is just unthinkable. That doesn't mean I want to give up on our ideals or deliberately subvert our values, but it does mean that we may have to moderate our tone somewhat and join in strategic alliances with those who may not be outrightly liberal, but are, at least, rational empiricists who don't live and die by the strictures of a destructively dogmatic ideology.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2004 06:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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