Tag Archives: America

Liberal Moderation

ModerationAll things in moderation” is a pretty sound truism. It is true for most things, but there are exceptions. Lead is never good to ingest even in moderation. Likewise, activism is not usually very effective and can even be harmful when taken in moderation.

Imagine you were an abolitionist living in the 1760’s. Would you demand a complete end to slavery or would you politely request limits on slave whippings?

Or how about if you were a feminist in the 1860’s? Would you demand equal rights or would you have request (demurely) that women be allowed to smoke in public?

How about if you were a civil rights activist in the 1960’s? Would you demand nothing less than equal rights or would you go out of your way to show how nonthreatening you are by simply asking to sit a few rows further up in the bus if all seats further back are taken?

This was the very question that troubled Martin Luther King in 1963. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” King pushed back against his well-meaning supporters and their strident calls for moderation. He correctly assessed that these friends were a bigger hindrance to the achievement of equal rights than were his opponents. The modest calls of his so-called allies undermined his own demands by making them seem unreasonable and even radical in comparison.

I feel his same frustration. In all the causes I care about, I feel thwarted by fellow “activists” who demand only minor incremental improvements with negligible benefits. Often doing a little bit is worse than doing nothing at all. It often gives the impression we’ve already “fixed” that issue, making it even harder to come back later for real effective change.

That was certainly true for Healthcare. Failing to demand national healthcare and accepting at least a public option was a tactical mistake of President Obama from the beginning. Now we are stuck with a private for-profit “solution” that addresses none of the systemic private-market abuses of our healthcare system.

JoyBuzzer.pngIn fact, President Obama took years to figure out that his moderate reasonable approach in all areas were doomed to fail. Over and over he reached out across the aisle with modest requests of Jokers in Congress, only to accomplish less than nothing. It took him what, 5 years of getting joy-buzzed to finally understand that moderation did not make his opponents any more reasonable or receptive.

Bargaining isn’t a new or complicated skill. In bazaars all across the continents merchants show us how to do it. You demand 10 times what that trinket is worth and finally settle for “only” 5 times its actual value. Only a fool starts out with its actual value and hopes to get anything close to it.

Yet far too many activists fail to apply these simple bargaining rules. In a vain hope of looking reasonable, they ask for next to nothing and if they are unfortunate enough to get it, it becomes extremely difficult to come back for more. The other party always wins when they give away next to nothing. Yet we see these moderate activists in every important area diligently undermining the “extreme militant activists” who might without their “help” bring about real change.

Healthcare: What we asked for and got was a “reasonable” giveaway to the private healthcare sector. What we should demand in the next round is nationalized healthcare. We may be willing to settle for a quality low cost public option.

Gun Control: What moderates call for are “sensible” expanded background checks and mental health services. What we should demand is a near total crippling of the gun industry and close security monitoring of those who own certain guns. We might settle for reestablishing the right to sue gun manufacturers and dramatically increased gun controls and insurance requirements.

Climate Change: What moderates call for are “realistic” industry-friendly systems like carbon trading. What we actually have to achieve in order to save our planet is a near total shutdown of carbon-based fuels and greatly expanded emission limits. Our planet simply does not have the time for moderation on this.

Campaign Financing: What moderates call for are modest reforms that do nothing except create yet more loopholes and workarounds. What we should demand is a complete prohibition from politicians receiving any outside money or working in the private sector for 10 years after leaving office rather receiving a generous government pension. We might settle for public campaign financing.

Atheism: “Non Angry” atheists call for mutual respect and a live-and-let-live attitude toward religion. What we should demand is that magical thinking, like racist or homophobic thinking, not be taken seriously in any aspect of civil society. What we might settle for would be a far stricter enforcement of the separation of church and state including an elimination of all religious carve outs and tax benefits.

War Funding: Our “pragmatic” moderates are thrilled if we can just limit the amount of annual increase in the Pentagon budget. What we should call for is a 90% reduction of our military budget and a retuning of our military industrial complex. Perhaps we might settle for only a 50% reduction.

Abortion: Supposedly hardcore Choice advocates feel lucky if they can mange to push back on just a few of the State actions to restrict abortion. We should call for Federal funding of abortion services and a requirement that all institutions receiving Federal funds provide abortion services. We might settle for much stronger Federal protections of abortion services that prohibit any State legislation that intentionally or unintentionally inhibits abortion services.

Income Disparity: Moderates beg for a slightly higher minimum wage. What we should demand is a steeply graduated progressive tax up to 90% with a maximum income cap based on some multiple of a guaranteed minimum income. We could possibly negotiate on the threshold levels.

Presidents: Moderate liberals feel lucky if they can elect a President that is only slightly to the Left of their Republican opponent, even if that takes us much farther to the Right than before. They should support Bernie Sanders and maybe settle for Hillary Clinton. But they should not vote for her out of fear. The timidity and fear of our liberal moderates ensures we keep losing ground and that is why our nation has drifted steadily Right for nearly 40 years.

In the end, moderation in activism does more harm than good. Moderation does not ever sway our opponents or make the battle any easier. The effort to achieve ANY compromise is not significantly lessened if the demands are modest. Rather it is often easier to get ones opponent to accept a significant compromise if far below the demands. And in the end the ground gained through a small compromise of modest demands is far less than the ground gained by a large compromise on grander demands. Further, you often only get one compromise in a decade or more so incremental movement is often a delusion, or at least far too slow for the people or the planet involved.

A bolder and smarter enemy will give a bit of inconsequential ground to keep their key institutions safe. They will give a bit of ground to gain a bunch of ground elsewhere. That is all the Conservatives give us in response to our modest demands. Conservatives are bold and smart and they know how to demand and bargain and play the long game.

But like President Obama, liberal moderates have no clue. They are neither bold nor smart and they generally lose the long game on every front by moderating each other with continual calls for moderation.


Confederate Flag Waving

ConfederateFlagIt is about time that most Americans seem to have finally moved past showing undeserved respect and deference toward Confederate culture and symbology. The Confederate flag needs take its rightful place of infamy beside the Nazi Swastika and the Burning Cross. The only legitimate home for it is in museums and in the Hate Symbols Database (found here).

This may sound overly harsh and many in the South would like us to take a more nuanced and balanced perspective. They argue that the flag holds a very benign significance for them. They insist that it is merely a fond memento of their history and an innocent remembrance of all the fine and good people who came before them.

But their protestations are sadly misguided. People who are so invested in this symbol almost invariably demonstrate other clear signs of racism, even if they refuse to acknowledge them as such. But regardless of any racist underpinnings, their attitude displays a stunning incapacity to empathize. They might just as well put on a comedic performance of lazy slaves painted in blackface and insist that they are merely honoring their cultural theatre traditions. No insult intended at all. Sorry if you took offense.

The reality is that Confederate flag-wavers are usually racist and are always incredibly insensitive individuals. But they are also stupidly, willfully uninformed. Their romance of the South conjures up images sun-dappled plantations where gallant Confederate soldiers sip juleps with demurely charming belles. But any figment of reality this may have had is completely overshadowed by the horrendously dark atrocities committed by these same Southerners and their ancestors.

The real legacy of the South is documented in “Without Sanctuary” by James Allen (found here), In this stark and graphic photo-collection Allen reveals just one part the depraved and evil history of the South. Between 1882 and 1950, some 3,436 Blacks were “officially” lynched in towns all across the Confederacy. And this reported number is certainly only a fraction of the actual number of lynchings which will remain forever undocumented. Let’s be clear. These murders were not committed by a few extremists in hoods during the dark of night. They were perpetrated by entire towns of “regular” Southern White folk in the bright light of day for fun and amusement.

What would happen is that a town would hold a “lynching festival” in which the big draw was the torture and hanging of a Black person. They would round one up, often on some trumped up charge, and lynch them to great fanfare for the amusement of the crowds drawn from far and wide. And since this was not enough to entertain these good Southern folk, the festival organizers might pull the body apart with horses and sell tickets to people to take a gun and “fill the body full of lead.” Atrocities that we can hardly imagine let alone believe were not only imagined but put on show by these everyday Southerners. People paid to have their picture taken with the Black corpse as they munched on popcorn and cotton candy. They would send these postcards to friends and families with pride. These postcards, saved away in the memory albums of White folk throughout the South were compiled for the picture book. It is difficult to imagine or cite a more horrific example, a sicker example, of institutionalized, popularized hatred than the lynchings this Southern culture committed for fun and amusement and fund-raising.

And realize that this was not that long ago. This is not far, distant history. This practice continued into mid-century. That means that some of the Southerners who organized or participated in these inhuman atrocities are still alive. Many more alive today were raised by people who participated in these events and shaped their worldview. It is no wonder these same people hold no shame over their sick nostalgia for the Confederate Flag.

So it is not unreasonable for any civilized American, not only Black Americans, to find this symbol extremely hateful and shameful. Abhorrence and revulsion are the only reasonable reactions that the flag deserves. The people who proudly display it deserve neither respect nor deference.

Love It or Leave It!

happy birthday americaHappy Birthday America! It’s another July 4th and you’re another year older. Let’s reflect a bit on the ways that you are another year wiser as well.

One way we’ve matured dramatically just during my lifetime is in our worldview of other nations. Back in the late 70’s I went to India where I lived and taught for a couple years. It was part of a college program and one of my mandates was to share my experience of India with my fellow Americans upon my return. And I did try, but it felt futile and sometimes even threatening. Literally every time I tried to share any sort of balanced view of India with my fellow Americans, I was immediately shut down. All they wanted to hear was how absurdly stupid Indians were and how incredibly grateful I was to be back home in the good old U.S. of A. Any attempt at balance, nuance, or context was immediately met with almost outright belligerence.

But since that time this extreme provincialism has mostly eroded away. With increasing world travel, virtual exposure through the media, and a tremendous influx of foreign born citizens, Americans no longer have such a myopic view of the world. You can now talk about other countries in a far more balanced and realistic manner. Many Americans respect and even envy our fellow nations. To me, this is a very encouraging and little recognized sign of an older and wiser America.

More evidence of growing maturity is that we have mostly gotten past knee-jerk “Love it or Leave It” reactions to any criticism or even any modicum of self-reflection.  The phrase emerged as the mindless retort to Vietnam anti-war protesters during the 70’s. In 1973 Ray Manzarak of Doors fame recorded a song called “Bicentennial Blues (Love It or Leave It).” By the way, the album on which it appeared, The Golden Scarab (see here), has always been one of my most memorable concept albums. The funky-jazz lyrics went:

  • love-it-or-leave-itWell love it or leave it.
  • I really don’t believe it.
  • I don’t understand now.
  • What you’re talkin’ about.
  • I kind of have to wonder.
  • Well if you really mean it.
  • Cause if you really mean it.
  • I better move out.
  • You say my country right or wrong.
  • If you don’t believe it you don’t belong.

That childish Love It or Leave It mentality expanded way beyond just the anti-war protesters. For a long time it was invoked by many Americans as the immediate response to any overt or even implied criticism of America. You want to save the whales? Love It or Leave It! You don’t like Merle Haggard? Go live in Russia you damn Commie-lover!

Thankfully, we’ve mostly grown out of that kind of ridiculously unintrospective thinking. Today we are largely able to discuss our failings and challenges in a much more realistic and mature manner.

Certainly, this mentality has not yet died out completely. Amongst extreme Conservatives it is still alive and well. They still cling to it like their Bibles and their guns and their Confederate flag. But even they don’t shout this sentiment with quite as much conviction as they used to.

I’ve often been tempted to throw it back in their faces. You don’t like gay marriage? Love it or Leave It my friend. You are against abortion rights? Why don’t you go live in Russia then!

Fortunately more sensible folk dissuade me from this approach. As the Public Professor urges us (see here).

It would be fun.  It would be funny.  But I say, don’t. Because America, Love it or Leave it! is just as a horrible sentiment now as it was then. It’s caustic, it’s provincial, it’s xenophobic, and it’s anti-intellectual.

I suppose he’s right. Answering childishness childishly is SO tempting, but not really the mature or productive thing to do. Still, it would feel really, really good, wouldn’t it???

So Happy Birthday America! You are indeed not only older but wiser as well!