how have we spent the four years since kerry lost to bush?

[Our old friend Robert just reminded me of something that I posted here on the site about four years ago, in the wake of John Kerry’s disappointing loss to George Bush. And, as it still seems relevant today, I thought that I’d do something I’ve never done before, and just post it here on the front page again, exactly as it was on November 11, 2004. I hope you find it worthwhile a worthwhile exercise. Here it is…]

The following comment was left by Anna in the comments section today, and, as it was on the subject of tonight’s post anyway, I thought that I’d move it up here to the front page to set the tone.

So Mark, what the hell should we do?

I started (writing) a book the day after the day after the election — a lot of it is about psychology (charisma and personality variables, physical attractiveness and perceptions of competence, the psychology of persuasion, decision-making and heuristics, the social psychology of anti-intellectualism), but I also wanted to include a chapter or two about policy.

What do you think the Dems should do? Go more moderate? Less moderate? Do a better job of articulating ‘our’ values, playing the GOP as a party of big government (e.g. the party wants to get into your bedroom), it wants to take away your rights just because someone thinks you ‘might’ be a terrorist? Do you think we need to go more toward Nader (a friend of mine does; I disagree)? What?

I think that the campaign for the next election needs to start now, and clearly, the Dems need some new ideas.

The short answer is, I don’t know what to do next. I’ve been sitting here for a week now, trying to wrap my mind around it, but nothing ever comes of it. The problems just seem insurmountable. I know that’s not the case, but when you look at the machine that the Republicans have created over the past few decades (e.g. fundamentalist universities, conservative think tanks, talk radio, etc), and how it’s capable of spinning absolutely anything to its advantage (making heroes into cowards, and cowards into heroes), it just looks unstoppable.

First off, I don’t know that I’m a Democrat, or at least I wouldn’t have claimed to have been one until this last election. I probably would have referred to myself, up until 2000, as an Independent, even though I voted for both Gore and Clinton. The reason I started working for the Democrats in the last campaign was primarily because I wanted to get Bush out of office and they seemed like the best bet. And, like it or not, it looks as though the Dems will continue to be the best viable bet we have, at least through the next several electoral cycles. (Unless we look to form a third party that would draw more votes away from the Republicans than it would the Democrats, as Perot did against Bush the Elder. If there were, for instance, a move to have John McCain, or another fairly moderate Republican run as an independent, I might be convinced to join that cause (if not for the fact that I now dislike John McCain greatly).) The most important thing for me going forward is that we lessen the amount of power wielded by right-wing religious fundamentalists in our government, and I will support whoever I feel has the best chance of getting us to that goal.

So, I’ve spent the last few days wondering what I should do. Like many people, I’m considering where I can add the most value, given my talents, the time I have available, and the network of people that I have around me. I’m asking myself that every day… One of the things I’ve decided is that there has to be a non-local component to whatever I do. As much as I enjoyed my work with MoveOn, and believe that we really did have a significant local impact, I want to do something bigger, something that can somehow be replicated, or at least used, outside of the immediate local area. And I also want to be a part of something that can grow with the input of others across the country. That’s one thing. The other is that there has to be some sort of arts/entertainment component… OK, let me step back for a moment. (I know this post is a bit jumpy, but I’m thinking that I’d rather just let everything rush out than take the time to structure everything at this point.)

First off, there are a lot of people discussing the problems with the Democratic party. Some of them are dealing just with the immediate practical matters, and others are dealing with the bigger “message” issues. So, on one side you have people saying, “We need a southern Governor as our next candidate, someone without a long legislative track record, who can carry a few red states.” On the other, you have people arguing, perhaps rightly so, that the Democrats don’t have a compelling story, that they don’t have a narrative that compels Americans.

The Republicans, as I mentioned before, have a 20-year headstart when it comes to crafting and marketing these kinds of messages. For instance, they’ve carefully cultivated so-called “family values,” to the point where they now own it. It’s theirs… They have brilliant marketing people who are able to dig down deep into the reptilian brain of man and discover where the hot buttons are… fear of impotence, fear of those not like you, etc. (If you haven’t seen the new Frontline, The Persuaders, you should check it out. They spend quite a bit of time on Republican pollsters and how they, for instance, came to make the decision, after several focus groups, to refer to the “inheritance tax” as the “death tax” in order to sell Americans on reform. It’s insightful.) And, on top of that, the Republicans have so beaten up the American press that they’re too scared to do their jobs (see the early coverage of the War in Iraq). (You might also want to read this new article on the Columbia Journalism Review site if you have a chance. The author does a great job of articulating how, in the quest of being “balanced,” media outlets are often put in the position of legitimizing fringe believes. The example they give in the story is the belief held by some in the anti-choice movement that women who have abortions are more likely to develop breast cancer. While there is absolutely no scientific evidence of this, and while all indications are that they’re just suggesting it as a way of decreasing the number of abortions, the press feels pressured to treat it as though it’s a legitimate possibility.)

So, where were we?

First off (again), I don’t have any advice for the Democratic party. Personally, I’d like to see them take more of a stand against corporate power, but I understand the realities of the situation and I see how that might be difficult. At the very least, I’d like to see them stand up against offshore tax shelters and promise more rigorous oversight. And, certainly, I wouldn’t pander to the religious right by trying to come across as having “better” values than the Republicans, even though it may be the case. (Yes, I think Jesus would like us better, but I don’t want to be in that fight.) I’d like to think that there’s a better way. Personally, I think better education is in the long-range best interest of the Democrats. I think that Clinton was absolutely right when he said, “When people are afraid, they vote for Republicans. When they think, they vote for us.” We need to get beyond fear and appeal to the rational intellect of people. Of course, that’s difficult to do when attention spans are short and when the message machine you’re up against is so loud and unrelenting.

One of the ideas that I was playing around with was working to establish education programs for young southerners, or college scholarships. (Of course, if you believe the exit polls, college grads were evenly split, and Kerry only got the advantage as people started to acquire post-graduate degrees.)

My first idea, which was admittedly too reactionary, was to call for a tourism boycott of the red states. In the end, however, I didn’t think that would get us anything but increased animosity. (I do, however, like the idea of using economic carrots and sticks to red the red states to embrace modernity.)

Maybe, at the end of the day, the best thing for us to do would be to cultivate and sponsor a progressive NASCAR driver.

So, what to do… Locally, I plan to stay involved in MoveOn (who just announced today that they’ve decided to help in the fight to have all the ballots counted in Ohio and Florida (follow the link and sign the petition)). I’ve also discussed the possibility of working with a local professor friend to get a progressive book club/discussion group off the ground. I haven’t followed up on the lead yet, but there’s also the possibility that I might be able to assist in an effort at a local high school to teach kids how to use new media, like blogs, to organize politically and disseminate information. (And, if this works, there’s also the possibility of streaming content to other schools in other parts of the country/world as well.) There’s also the possibility of working with a team of people in Ann Arbor to foster closer ties to the international community through live, on-line exchanges and cultural programs. (This is just getting off the ground. I’ll tell you more when I can.)

I’ve also been talking to a number of people about trying to create a series of non-partisan animated programs dealing with subjects like the Bill of Rights and the separation of church and state. These primarily would be for young adults, but, hopefully, there would be enough humor/substance in them to make them of interest to older folks as well. And, while I haven’t yet discussed it with my friend James, the screen-printer, I also think there may be an opportunity to start churning out some viral marketing clothing pieces. This might actually be one of the more successful ideas of the bunch, if I can pull it off the way I have it envisioned. (I’ve even got a little germ of a business plan started.)

So, Anna, the truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing. Right now I’m just throwing it all in a pot and seeing what comes to the top.

On one level, there absolutely needs to be local, grass root activism. People need to knock on doors, meet their neighbors, and share information. Clearly, that’s where a majority of the work needs to be done. (Only 26% of voters polled said that they’d been visited by a representative of the Kerry campaign (and I assume that would include MoveOn, ACT, and others.) In addition, there needs to be a local social component. We can’t fight this long fight unless we have the support networks to sustain us. Whether it’s a progressive salon, or a knitting group, we all need access to like-minded people to share information with. (I’m considering a monthly Think Tank approach.) There also has to be an educational component. We need to think of the long-term and getting these ideas into people’s minds. The Democrats need to own inspiration and optimism like the Republicans own fear. (I like that. You can quote me.)

Gay marriage? I have no idea what to tell you. If it’s going to cost us an election, the practical side of me says that we need to find a way out of it, even if we know it’s the right thing. I’ve heard it suggested by Juan Cole that we take it out of the government’s hands and give it over to religious institutions (with the government doing civil unions). That sounds like a good idea to me, and it gets the subject off the table.

So, with that out of the way, here’s my platform: Universal Healthcare for Kids, Higher Minimum Wage, Alternative Energy/Energy Independence, Pro-Choice, Tolerance and Inclusion, Separation of Church and State, Nuclear Proliferation, Election Reform, Deficit Reduction, and, obviously, National Security… I must be leaving lots of things out, but that’s a pretty good start.

What we need, in a nutshell, is Bobby Kennedy to come back and lead us. We need someone that challenges us to be the Americans we have it within ourselves to be.

OK, I’m sorry this post was all over the place, but I can’t stay awake to edit. If you have ideas as to what we can all do next, leave a comment.

[So, what’s changed in the past four years? What have we learned? What have we done to ensure against losing again? And, most importantly, what is there still to be done? What can we do in these next eight weeks to keep McCain/Palin out of the White House and restore the rule of law in the United States of America?]

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  1. mark
    Posted September 9, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    You might also want to check out the comments that were left after the original post. There were a lot of good ones.

  2. ChrisT
    Posted September 10, 2008 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I read blogs. That’s pretty much all I’ve done over the last 4 years. I also had a local election yard sign in front of my house for about one week. Pathetic, I know.

  3. Posted September 10, 2008 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    “What we need, in a nutshell, is Bobby Kennedy to come back and lead us.”

    Funny, he’s who Barack Obama seems to draw the most comparisons to!

  4. K
    Posted September 10, 2008 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    So right about the NASCAR driver. They do all sorts of charitable work, it’s just a matter of finding one that votes blue. Ryan Newman, the Penske driver, is working with The Conservation Fund raising awareness and dollars for land protection. It’s called Racing for Wildlife. We need Overdrive for Obama.

  5. js
    Posted September 10, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    This is what I wrote the day after the election. Looking back, it’s a little too vague, I think, and some of the ideas are dumb, but most I still believe in.

  6. heronblue
    Posted September 10, 2008 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    well if you think that going door to door reaching voters is important – why the hell don’t you do just exactly that?

    The Obama campaign, and Move ON need all the help they can get… this is a BATTLEGROUND STATE, so what happens here is up for grabs to the one who does exactly that – gets out the most door to door coherent canvassers and get out the voters.

  7. heronblue
    Posted September 10, 2008 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    and jsheesh, given how you’ve railed on about these things here… you’re JUST giving your FIRST donation to the Obama campaign??????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????????????????????????????????????

  8. mark
    Posted September 11, 2008 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t aware that you had to give money to support a candidate.

    I’ve put in lots of hours over the years with MoveOn and various other groups and campaigns, working phone banks and going door to door, and I’d like to think those things had value.

    And, some might even say that working on this blog every night had some value too.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is I really don’t care how many questions marks you throw at me. I’ve been doing what I can for the cause, and I will continue to.

    I’m going to read Josh’s ’04 article now.

  9. mark
    Posted September 11, 2008 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Sorry if I sound pissy, but I don’t like it when people tell me what I should be doing. I get enough of that in my own head.

  10. Posted September 11, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    heron blue, please! Writing this bog and having hundreds of people read it is more than enough, and very admirable on Mark’s part. I am sick of hearing about how there is only one way to go about giving or helping a campaign. If everyon was going door to door instead of spreading the word or being supportive in other ways, all you’d have is people bumping into each other.

    I’m sorry, but I’m very appreciative of what Mark contributes on an almost nightly basis. Show a little respect! This is suprising to hear from you, given your good comments in the past. And no, I’m not trying to kiss Mark’s ass, because I have disagreed with him from time to time, but for someone to dedicate so much time on this topic simply becasue it means something to him, that he owes to to his country, and to influence perhaps hundreds of people, to me that’s worth more than any money could buy for the campaign.

    And Josh, that was an excellent article. Now you just need to move back to Michigan.

  11. Posted September 11, 2008 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    if your support or non-support of a candidate is measured by your involvement with a lame organization like MoveOn, then the world is a sad place indeed.

    I have never given a dime to a political candidate and never will just as I’ll never give a cent to a religious institution.

    My support comes with my vote. That’s what a democracy is about. Monetary donations are really akin to buying seats.

  12. Oliva
    Posted September 11, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    As if any of our $25 or $500 or even $2,300 donations are going to “buy” us a seat. But they help get us a chance to have our candidate win. (The cost of running is one more crass element of our national politics, but it is the current way. We can keep working to change that one.)

    Hosting an ongoing forum, spurring discussion and thoughtfulness, paying attention, notifying readers about events and news and ideas, among so many things, counts for a whole lot. This is one of the really worthwhile blogs, such a boon for Ypsilanti.

    As for support coming with your vote–it might help to start donating to the watchdog organizations that’ll be trying to get that vote to count.

  13. Curt Waugh
    Posted September 11, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    dude – “I have never given a dime to a political candidate and never will…” Right on, dude. I am in 100% agreement with you. (Just giving you some ditto-props.)

    Oliva – “(The cost of running is one more crass element of our national politics, but it is the current way. We can keep working to change that one.)” Um, the way to “keep working to change that” is to stop doing it. You sound like a smoker who is “working on” quitting. You either quit or you don’t. “Do or do not. There is no try.” How can you say something is wrong and keep doing it? That’s so…. Republican.

  14. not one of the cool kids
    Posted September 11, 2008 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I feel good about what I have volunteered for, stood up for and opinions I have shared that have cost me friends since 9/11/01.

    I won’t go into all I do, but I will say that I was an election volunteer for in 2004. Even though we lived in Michigan, my husband and I choose to volunteer to work in Toledo, because we knew how important it would be in the election. It was a cold rainy night and the polling station I was assigned to was a mess. There were only 2 polling booths and we witnessed many people being told they weren’t registered to vote (mostly college students, and older African American women). It was heart breaking. I watched a single mom holding her child in the rain crying to the poll workers asking why her voter registration was not valid. I heard her as she told them she didn’t have any more time to wait, she had to leave and pick up her son. Driving home to Michigan we listened to the radio and we were in shock. There were news stories about college towns all over Ohio that had messed up polling stations, etc, etc. Then it started to trickle in, the actual numbers…Kerry was losing. My heart broke that night.

    I wasn’t going to volunteer this year. My personal life has been rough the past few years and I thought I just couldn’t put my heart into it again, for my own mental health. I decided to have my bumper stickers, my signs, my voice but I couldn’t put myself through it emotionally to volunteer and lose again…so I thought. But when the Pit bull Palin arrived, that all changed. I volunteered the next day to canvass for Senator Obama. I hope to be able to go where Obama needs people the most. I will travel to the West side of Michigan, or Macomb county, or Ohio, wherever the need me to register people or just show up at a rally. Even if the website says sold out…we all should try and just show up at events so the press will report on all the people.

    What should we all do?
    I agree with Mark that we should talk to each other, our friends and neighbors. I think the two most important groups to seek out and speak to should be:
    1. Mainstream churchgoers like, Catholics, Presbyterians, and even Lutherans. We should talk to them about how these fundamentalist churches are taking over America. Tell them how voting for candidates like Palin, Bush gives these churches so much power. How these churches look down on all churches but their own or the Baptist. If you talk to or attend a fundamentalist church you will find out that they think Catholics etc are all hedonist. I am witness to many statements like that coming from these church members. Yes, many religious people vote one or two issues, abortion or gay marriage…but what these main stream churches aren’t realizing is that the are voting for candidates that down deep think they are hedonist. It may not happen in even 10 years, but if we keep electing these religious Zionists, this country will certainly change. It is vitally important that we all cherish the Supreme Court and Federal courts, and we all realize that the next President may set the tone for our rights for years and years to come. These churches have a lot going for them, America is becoming less educated every minute, and the less educated are flocking to these churches in record numbers because it gives them self worth. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s also scary. So talk to your pro-life catholic etc., friends, talk to them about what is important for the entire country, for their own religions, to not just vote for their religious beliefs but vote for the good of the entire country.

    Second: I myself think that non-union skilled laborers are a very important group that doesn’t always vote. We know a lot of young men that are struggling in the skilled labor department (carpenters, welders, factory workers) and we try to help them realize that voting democrat is so important for their futures. I think this is a block that isn’t registered and doesn’t usually vote, but if we could get them out there it would be amazing.

    If you have extra cash, I suggested buying stickers and signs for Obama and Biden (especially with Both their names on the sticker) and giving them away ourselves. That is what I plan to do this weekend. My African American neighborhood in Ypsi has NO signs, so I will buy a few and see who would like to use them. Giving money to Obama is great, but I think buying merchandise and taking it to your less fortunate neighbors, or other counties is a great idea.

    Hell, I maybe I will just drive around Macomb County a few times a month from now until the election just so people see my bumper stickers.

    One more idea: When I was in Toledo in 2004 and another non-profit were at polling stations helping people that were turned away to vote. Yet, nothing was ever proven in Ohio. I think a new group could be formed called the “witnesses” (just a little play on Palin’s church). These witnesses would just be there at every polling station in key states like Michigan, Ohio, and Florida. Just citizens watching. Not offering to help or taking names if you are turned away to vote…but just being there, maybe with a video camera, but just to take notes, and be there without an non-profit affiliation so there are non-bias people that can be “witnesses” if needed about voter fraud.

    Sorry this was so long…it’s exactly 10:00am on 9/11 and it makes me so sad and angry, I had to vent. Thank you.

  15. Oliva
    Posted September 11, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Curt, what sounds Republican is talking about absolutes and thinking that one person’s quiet protest has much chance to bring about desired change.

  16. Posted September 11, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I thought public campaign financing was supposed to circumvent the buying of positions. I was sad that both McCain and Obama elected out. More and more it seems like the media reports their campaign $$ numbers like a “whoever gets the most cash WINS” scenario. It makes me ill. This is why I will not ever give a dime to a political campaign.

  17. monica
    Posted September 12, 2008 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    not one of the cool kids — thanks for the share.
    Yes, its been clear that THAT side runs a public campaign that honors no rules. This is the side that brought us Watergate, stealing campaign books out of the Dem office (Kerry’s campaign), covert wars, etc. There’s no telling. Everyone has said that Obama needs to win by a landslide in order to win because of the likelihood of tampered voting, or voting process.

    What gets me is this – if I had kids i would be camped out campaigning. How can anyone with kids, not be simply out there working on getting someone elected who understands that we have Peak Oil and Global warming combined going on? And that we need a plan that takes these both into consideration if we want a planet that our children can find bearably livable.

    IF we have global warming going on, the only candidate with a plan is Obama. I mean, please, Palin contested the Bush administration’s placing the polar bear on the endangered list. This was the first enlightened environmental thing the Bush admin did. Why? because it might limit the oil exploration in Alaska. Screw the canary in the mine.

    Obama is the only one talking honestly about real issues. When I watched the coverage of this “lipstick” issue, my heart sank. What a distortion if you’ve seen the actual clip. As are the tax comments etc. which twist what Obama says to make it sound like he’s proposing what McCain actually is. It really is shameful – the whole thing. I don’t know how McCain can sleep at nite. All of this talk about his integrity. Its an odd definition of integrity.

    Obama is our only chance for a world that’s fit to live in for our children.

    This is simply the highest stakes election in our lifetime.

    Should the policies of the last 8 yrs on oil, the environment and benefits for the rich/special interests over the middle class (McCain’s platform)
    we may as well pack it in. There will not be time to recover from this. It will be hard enough to pull from behind now even if we start working hard with a president who knows which end is up.

    I say you can tell a tree by its fruit… and a campaign based on misrepresenting s/o else’s (propaganda) statements, but with big hype in the press really says it all. Obama is telling a more complex picture that doesn’t break into pithy high drama sound bites.

    Its clear that McCain’s side has more money from fewer pockets. And he’s got as usual all of the side groups that can make films and get air time with smear material.

    MoveOn and Obama’s campaign have enabled hundreds of little people to give a little and for it to add up to something competitive.

    Unfortunately, cool kids, i think that there is only time to get out the choir as fast as is possible, and make sure they are registered, and can get to the polls, and as you said provide witness. The McCain side lives in another world, and they pray to a different God. One that doesn’t mind being completely dishonest.

    Like you, I provided signs to the folks in my very mixed neighborhood. People were eager and emotional about having the signs, but clearly not involved and possibly not even ready to vote. It might be possible to get them on track and there with some friendly support.

    Wish you the best in your efforts – I’m with you “not one of the cool kids”; and I’ll be praying too — to that “other” God.

  18. Posted September 12, 2008 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t done much these past 4 years beyond blogging, reading blogs, reading books, going to an occasional anti-war rally, and contributing to a few causes here and there. I’m also looking for a way to (strategically) help out. I’m not an Obama “supporter”, by which I mean that a lot of his positions seem like warmed-over Clintonism, with the same dangers of “nicer” imperial interventions and cuts to what remains of the U.S. social support network as we had in the 1990s. However, I will vote for him since Michigan is a swing state, and for now I’m convinced that McCain/Palin would be worse.

    One writer I’ve been trying to foist on people is Joe Bageant and his 2007 book “Deer Hunting with Jesus” (he also has a blog). Bageant grew up in rural Virginia and served in Vietnam, before becoming “a Marxist and a half-assed Buddhist” (quoting from his website). His blog and book really paint an understanding, believable picture of the rural white poor working class. His main suggestion for urban/suburban middle-class liberals is “get out of your comfort zone, and talk to the white working class”. While I have no idea how to do this myself (being a stereotypical socially inept leftist blogger), I think it’s good advice.

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