Episode 44: Living the Greatness Again
Given that the Republican Party is in the process of imploding, this might be a good time for the Democrats to start getting their act together. So in furtherance of this worthy goal, Winston (with a little help from Horace’s daughter) wrote the following open letter to the leadership of the Democratic congressional campaign committees.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
Episode 44: Living the Greatness Again
by Steven C. Day
To: Senator Charles Schumer
Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Congressman Rahm Emanuel
Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Here at The Last Chance Democracy Café, we have an old fashioned, some might even say naïve, faith in the power of the advocacy of ideas — especially big ideas: The kind that make you stop and say “Wow!” We love George Lakoff and his books Moral Politics and Don’t Think of an Elephant, but at the end of the day, we figure that how well Democratic politicians frame their ideas won’t matter all that much unless they have ideas worth framing in the first place.
And let’s face it; the Democratic Party hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard on the vision thing lately. We’ve been too busy doing damage control: Spending our time and energy, not in promoting a broad progressive agenda, but in trying to mitigate the harm the Republicans are doing.
So we fight to uphold Roe vs. Wade, to defend Social Security and to try to salvage what little remains of the party’s New Deal, Great Society and pro-environmental heritages. But, truth be told, we’ve been doing a piss poor job even there.
True, Roe still stands (barely), but a generation of anti-abortion legislation, at both the state and federal level, has come close to making freedom of choice an abstraction. Already it’s almost impossible for poor women to obtain abortion services in many parts of the country. And new restrictions on a woman’s right to choose are being adopted all the time.
And, yes, Social Security survived the recent onslaught, thank God, but virtually every other aspect of the social safety net lies in tatters, with the situation growing grimmer by the year, as highlighted by the adoption of the so-called bankruptcy reform legislation (passed shamefully with significant Democratic support).
And I guess we can take some solace from the knowledge that there’s still an Environmental Protection Agency, even if its leadership is now made up almost exclusively of industry insiders and political hacks, the sort of people who have never seen a strip-mine, a smokestack or an oil derrick they didn’t love.
So year-by-year, we lose ground, and, for the most part, notwithstanding our ceaseless efforts to moderate ourselves into inoffensiveness, we also lose elections. And so it seemed for a time, eternity would pass.
But then, quicker than you can say criminal enterprise, everything seemed to change overnight; suddenly the Republican Party was imploding before our eyes — brought down by its leaders’ lies and incompetence, not to mention a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of high crimes and misdemeanors. And make no mistake, as political crack-ups go, this one has been a doozy: Criminal investigations flying as thick as corporate money transfers to Tom Delay’s political action committees; lies stripped bare to public view; Iraq going up in flames; prime time criminal level incompetence in responding to Hurricane Katrina; and disapproval ratings for Bush and the Republicans in Congress rising to levels normally reserved for IRS agents, used car salesmen and members of the news media.
Meanwhile, Republican recruitment for the midterm elections is in the toilet, while the Democrats continue to attract top talent (credit where credit’s due, Senator Schumer, take a bow); and incredibly, the Democrats, at least to this point, seem actually to be out fundraising the Republicans, which in a normal year would be roughly equivalent to the late Mother Teresa beating Dick Cheney in a cussing contest. And the GOP leadership must be suffering from repetitive night sweats over how close Ohio Democrat and Iraq War veteran, Paul Hackett, came to winning a special election in one of the most Republican districts in the country.
Yup, all in all, things are starting to look fairly bleak for our high flying GOP. So naturally, given this state of affairs, the whole political world is now waiting with baited breath for the answer to just one question: How will the Democratic leadership blow it this time?
And here’s our suggestion, from The Last Chance Democracy Café, for the most likely answer: They’ll blow it by trying to ride Republican Scandalmania to victory, without taking the time and effort to also develop and advocate a compelling alternative vision for America.
Are we right, Senator Schumer?
How about it, Congressman Emanuel?
It’s tempting isn’t it? One more as dull as soapsuds — but oh so safe — campaign: “They bad. We better. They crooks. We mostly not.”
And, in truth, this play it safe approach might just work — at least a little, at least for awhile. We might pick up a few seats in 2006. Maybe even win back the White House in 2008. But fundamentally little would change; and to accept a limited “victory” of this nature, given the opportunity that may exist to achieve so much more, would be comparable to settling for a field goal after recovering a fumble on an opponent’s one half yard line: Sure it puts points on the board; but it’s the memory of the lost opportunity that lingers.
The tantalizing truth is that the next two election cycles have the potential to become one of those rare redefining periods in American politics; the time when the Politics of Greed finally gives way to a new era of public duty and progressive activism.
But be cautious in your joy, oh ye Democrats, for scandal alone will not thy take to the Promised Land.
Watergate is instructive. In the 1974 congressional elections, held just three months following Nixon’s resignation, the Democrats made massive gains, picking up 43 seats in the House; two years later, they added the presidency, with the election of Jimmy Carter. But a mere four years after that, in 1980, the Democratic resurgence was dead, as Ronald Reagan stormed into office, carrying a new Republican Senate in with him.
When all was said and done, the post-Watergate Democratic bump ended up being little more than a brief detour along the road to a new Republican majority, brought on, in large measure, by the political realignment of the South.
The lesson seems clear enough: Scandals, in and of themselves, are unlikely to become transformative events in American politics. What scandals can do, however, is to fertilize the ground. Ideas then become the seeds that can lead to something more lasting.
And if you gentlemen are looking for fresh ideas, and God I do hope that you are, we here at the café have a suggestion of where you might try to find them. The daughter of one of our regulars, Horace, is running for Congress. She’s barely 27-years-old and lives in a rock solid Republican district, represented by a well entrenched incumbent: In short, she doesn’t stand a chance of winning, and she knows it. But she’s still giving it the good fight and her father (and his friends) couldn’t be prouder.
Here is the speech where she announced her candidacy. It’s far from the smoothest speech ever given, but look past that. Look at its soul.
* * *
One of the great blessings of my life was being born to parents whose love for their children, which was boundless, was matched only by their love of America. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of words and stories celebrating this nation’s greatness — words of freedom, democracy and America as the shining star, offering testimony to the rest of the world.
But my parents’ love affair with America — Mom until her death a few years ago, and Dad still today — has never been just the easy patriotism of waiving flags and marching bands on Independence Day.
You see, it was never enough for my folks that we be a great nation.
They always insisted that we also live as a great nation.
And since part of living as a great nation meant assuring equal opportunity regardless of race, in their youth they marched with Martin Luther King. Arm in arm they walked straight into the face of the water cannons and snarling dogs. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it for their children’s futures. And they did it out of love — love for the greatest nation in the history of the world.
I think of my parents often when I look around the America of today. And I ask myself: Are we living the greatness?
And when I see a nation in which the broad middle class, which played such a large part in America’s phenomenal success in the 20th Century, is now disappearing, I have to say, no, we’re not living the greatness.
When ordinary folks can no longer afford to send their kids to college, we’re not living the greatness.
When 40 percent of our nation’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of just one percent of our population, double the rate of just 30 years ago, we’re not living the greatness.
When studies prove that a child born in the United States of America, the land of opportunity, actually has less chance of improving his or her station in life — of moving up the economic ladder — than a similar child born in supposedly aristocratic Western Europe, we’re not living the greatness.
When workers in this country — blue collar and white collar alike — keep working harder and for longer hours, but still can’t stay out of debt, we’re not living the greatness.
When democracy has become little more than a cash ‘n’ carry enterprise, where only those rich enough to spread the bucks around can buy a place at the table, we’re not living the greatness.
When wages actually drop during a so-called economic recovery, with only the super-wealthy getting any benefit, we’re not living the greatness.
When the infant mortality rate in America is higher than it is in Cuba, we’re not living the greatness.
When Americans spend more per capita for health care than people anywhere else in the world, and yet our nation’s emergency rooms are so clogged up with uninsured patients who are unable to obtain basic health care anywhere else that hospital staffs find it difficult to attend to true emergencies, and patients with so-called minor emergencies are forced to wait many hours before being seen, we’re not living the greatness.
When we run up huge budget deficits to fund tax cuts for the wealthy, and then pass the bill on to our kids, we’re not living the greatness.
When the American government engages in a systematic pattern of torturing prisoners, we’re not living the greatness.
When a President of the United States repeatedly lies in order to draw the nation into an unnecessary and ultimately disastrous War in Iraq, we’re not living the greatness.
And when a great American city is flooded in one of the worst natural disasters in history, and it takes our government days to respond, we are most definitely not living the greatness.
Now, I know there are those among us who believe that America no longer can afford to live as a great nation — that events swirling around us — things like global economic competition and terrorism — have compressed our options and robbed us of much of our heritage. That we must now settle for less — less freedom, less individual liberty, less economic opportunity for ordinary Americans, less privacy, less openness in our government, less personal security, less availability of public services and less assistance when times are bad.
The dream, they say, has died.
Well, my friends, I’m here today to tell you loud and clear that that is a lie.
America has not failed its leaders. Its leaders have failed America.
And we don’t need a different dream. We need different leadership to help make the old dream real. To build an America where opportunity is a birthright, not an election slogan; where our strength comes not just from our military, which must, of course, remain the strongest in the world, but also from the physical and emotional health of our people; where educating and feeding our children is more important than pampering our billionaires; where people suffering from a natural catastrophe will know they have a government they can count on; and where never — and I mean never — will we ever again betray the courageous young men and women serving this nation honorably in the armed forces by sending them into hell unnecessarily based upon a lie.
You see, this is still the United States of America, and it is still the greatest nation the world has ever known. And it is long past time we started living that greatness again.
And together, we will make it happen.
* * *
So what do you say, Senator Schumer and Congressman Emanuel? How about a campaign that does more than just try to change votes? How about one that by calling America back to its greatness, may actually end up helping to change the nation itself?
The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at [email protected].
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
May 31st, 2006 at 2:21 pm
I pray they take the sentiment of this letter to heart (and action), but I fear that inorder for any true progressive change to be made, we will be forced to go back to the begining and start all over again. In other words, I worry that the only way to save things is through revolution, uprising, revolt…
May 31st, 2006 at 7:31 pm
Only 2 more to go! Then what am I going to do?
June 1st, 2006 at 5:42 am
I too sometimes worry that the only way to save things is through revolution, uprising, and revolt – and I’m hardly a big fan of those things, the prospect of which I find rather (ahem) revolting – but sometimes I wonder along the following lines:
What if the bad system is SO firmly entrenched that only rebellion would overthrow it, but it has somehow convinced almost all the rebellious elements to instead waste their time and effort trying futilely to win meaningless elections every 2 years? Like the Chicago Cubs, the Democrats can never win the World Series but only say “Just wait till next time!” Or even if they did win, they’d be caught helpless and powerless in a stranglehold of gridlock and impeachment and media scandals, like Clinton was but even more so. In the current national and systemic climate, would even President (say) Al Gore be able to do anything? For any fans of the old Prisoner show (NOW who’s dating themselves?), I fear that even President Michael Moore might be as powerless and helpless to change anything as Number Six was at the end of “Free For All” after he was successfully elected to the Number Two post.
Of course, usually I hope that America has not yet come to this point. But, really, how do I KNOW FOR SURE that that hope isn’t really denial?
Maybe I should stop reading foreign news and the Internet and start watching Fox News? But, alas, they don’t carry that here!
June 1st, 2006 at 2:02 pm
Great speech. Wish some Democratic candidates would actually give it.
June 2nd, 2006 at 3:15 pm
Revolution! But what form would that revoution take? I think armed struggle is out of the question. What is there that would inflame the greater populace to actually DO SOMETHING? What would get the congress to DO SOMETHING?
June 3rd, 2006 at 11:14 am
We’ve all been taught that the foundation of the democratic republic we inherited is the power of the ballot, that the act of voting is the way We The People retain the ultimate power to control the government which supposedly represents us. Running for public office is, in this context, the means by which individuals can take a direct hand in the workings of that government. But all of this is dependent on the legitimacy of the elections we participate in. Unfortunately, our election system has long since succumbed to the corrupting influence of power and wealth. And unless and until we take back that power to control our government, we have lost our inheritence, and no longer live in a democratic republic.
Scandals involving those in power is nothing new. If you can get past the sanitized version of this nation’s history and include the darker aspects in your view of what our nation has and is doing, it becomes clear that simply changing the players will not repair the damage.
The delicate balance of power that was forged by the revolutionaries who declared themselves to be independent of the economic power hiding behind the English Crown, our Constitution, made a number of unstated assumptions. For it to work, the three branches of government must operate independently, and without the corrupting influence of the power and wealth which many of those who fill those seats used to get there. For the people to retain their overriding power of the ballot, they must have access to information, and that requires the existence of an independent Press. Finally, for that vote to be binding, it must be valid.
None of these requirements is true today. To unravel the problem, we must start by reclaiming our votes. You may get a warm feeling from casting your ballot, but beware, for once you have cast it, it can be changed. Those who count the votes, and those who report the results of that counting, have far more power over who gets elected than the people who vote.
Projections of elections, based on fabricated data, are not good enough. Secretly counted ballots, tallied by easily hacked systems, is not good enough. Election officials are supposedly there to protect the sanctity of the vote, but they are not incorruptible, and a great deal of power and money is expended to induce them to accept the use of equipment and processes that turn elections into a farce.
Eternal vigilance is also the price of legitimate elections. We cannot afford to let even one more election be stolen. None of them. Not for even a single local, state or federal election.
June 4th, 2006 at 8:23 am
exactly that’s the difference between a constitutional state and a Rechtsstaat - sometimes you really can learn from the Nazis: “Even the Nazi-Government kept these formal provisions [of a constitutional state].”