Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Democrats: America's Team

Here's an embarrassing story. In junior high, I played football, and I sucked. I don't know why, but I sucked. I could run, I could catch, I could tackle, and I played football after school with friends and I was good. But on the team, with pads on and everything, I sucked. Frankly, I think it was just because I loved playing football, but I hated the drills and running and it just exhausted me and I couldn't think straight. Or something like that.

And for some time, the coach put me on the defensive line, which I hated (I wanted to be a running back). And while we scrimmaged during practice, I'd hit my opposing lineman hard and we'd tussle around like everyone else. And then one day my opponent realized that I wasn't actually going after the guy with the ball. I was just smacking my guy, but that was all. I guess I just liked smacking him, but I wasn't going after the guy with the ball. I don't know why. Like I said, I played football a lot, but somehow I wasn't thinking straight or something.

And so on one play, the ball was snapped, but my opponent just sat down. He didn't try to stop me. He didn't try to hit me, or block me, or tussle with me. He just sat down. And I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there. I didn't charge past like I knew I should have. I just stood there, because it was such a weird thing. And he did that several times, and it was always the same reaction. I was only hitting him because he was trying to block me. And if he wasn't going to block me, I wasn't going to hit him. And afterwards, I was really embarrassed by that and almost didn't feel like mentioning it now, even though it happened two decades ago. But it applies to this post about confrontation, so I thought I'd start off with that story.

And you can see where I'm going with this. Too often, when you're in a debate or fight or office-struggle or whatever, the main reason you're fighting is because someone is opposing you. Not necessarily because you need to convince them, or prove something. It's reflexive to defend yourself while being attacked, and it's natural to want to oppose an opponent; even if they're a good friend. That's just human nature, which probably made more sense in the caveman days than modern times.

But oftentimes, if someone's charging to knock down your door, it's best to just open the door yourself and watch them fall on their face. Sometimes, the only thing keeping your opponent standing are your punches. And too often, the harder you punish someone, the more you encourage them to keep fighting. That's the basis for most insurgencies, and it's what won Bush his re-election.

More Anecdotes

And you know what I'm talking about. You're drunk and you get in some big fight with your best friend over the dumbest of things. Something totally inane, pointless, and unprovable; but you just can't let it go. You might not care a lick about what's being debated, but you'll be damned if your friend won't admit that you're right.

Many years ago, I spent several drunken hours debating a good friend on whether the best offense was a good defense or vice versa. I was totally right, but it was stupid and pointless. I believe it ended with me head-butting the guy (as an example of a good offense); which ended the debate, so I guess I won. We remained friends after that, but it was really embarrassing. I mean, we started the debate while walking to a bar (already slightly drunk), continued the debate at the bar, and the head-butt came after the bar closed and we were back at my apartment again. And it was totally stupid, and again, I'm somewhat embarrassed to even mention this now. In my defense, it was a long time ago and I'm not quite so stupid now.

And too often, even the best of us defend something solely because we feel attacked. I once read a biography of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam (which might be a bad biography, because I liked him a lot less than before), and Gilliam described moving to England in the 60's because he disliked America, but found himself defending America whenever people discovered he was American and bad mouthed it. He didn't like defending America, but felt compelled to do so anyway. And I've heard the same thing from people who go abroad these days. You might not like what America does, but you'll be damned to have some outsider denounce your country. But it's not necessarily patriotism doing this. It's the sense of being attacked, and we all do it one time or another.

The Point

And this is all a long round-about way of getting to my point. Confrontation: Don't do it. And wholesale attacks of Bush, Republicans, America's actions, etc., are also really really bad ideas.

Am I saying we should roll-over and do whatever they want? Of course not. I'm just saying that you should always always always avoid making people defensive and back them into a corner. People will defend the most outrageous things when their emotions take over. An atheist might defend the religious parents they're always bad-mouthing for being too religious. An environmentalist might attack environmentalists for being so overbearing. I've seen arguments in which the participants literally flip sides and start arguing for the other side's position, just because that's where the argument went. They lose sight of the original argument, and will say absolutely anything to win the debate.

And Rove & Co. are experts at taking advantage of that dynamic. In fact, reflexive opposition is the entire basis for Rove's political mechanizations. That's how he operates. Getting two sides in opposition and working hard to get enough votes to win, while allowing a big enough opposition for your people to hate. That's how it's done. It's not that they get their people to hate the other side, though that is an expected outcome. It's that they get their people to believe that the other side hates them, and is out to get them. They emphasize liberal attacks on conservatives and America, so that people believe that the liberals are out to destroy them and their way of life; and that a vote for Bush is a vote of preservation. And that an attack on Bush is an attack on them. That's how it works, and Rove is a master of it.

That's why Bush's nominees are always controversial, because he wants us to say nasty things about them. That's why Bush's policies are so offensive, because he wants Democratic opposition. That's why they do just about everything. They know that they don't have a popular agenda. They know that the "common man" should oppose the conservative agenda. They know that most people believe in the Liberal ideals, and so they use Democratic opposition as a mobilizing force; to get people to support things they should oppose. And they use it well.

They will even invent Democrat opposition, and search high and low for a Ward Churchill to demonize as the "typical liberal". They'll take innocuous statements by Dean and Durbin and re-write them into scathing attacks on America and our troops. I suspect that one reason why Bush and Co. didn't care about waging war in Afghanistan was because most liberals supported it (I certainly did); and so it couldn't be used to demonize the left.

They don't want to be blamed for partisan politics, so they carefully walk the line so that both sides look guilty. Because that's what they want. Divisive politics which allow emotions to overrule logic and common-sense. And too often, we play right into their hands, and give them the partisan rancor they need to survive.

A Solution

And that cannot be the basis for liberal maneuverings. We're the inclusive guys. We believe in a healthy society which helps all people. We believe that everyone should be treated fairly and given many chances to succeed. We believe in respect for other people, and equal rights for all. And that just can't work with the divisive politics that the conservatives use.

We're the party of society, and they're the party of the individual. We're the party of union strength, collective bargaining, and class-action suits; and they're the party of oligarchs whose strength goes unmatched. We're the party of teamwork, and they're the party of division. We're the party of democracy, and they're the party of the Powerful. And so the strategy that they use to destroy us will ruin us if we use it. If we play the politics of division and confrontation, we will lose.

And so what am I saying? Should we have supported Bush's horrible war? Hell no. Should we laydown for Bush's dangerous tax cuts? Of course not. Should we keep our mouths shut about Bush's disgraceful nominees? Don't be stupid. We just shouldn't make this personal. We shouldn't attack Bush personally. And we should avoid unprovable conspiracy theories, and stick with the facts.

Maybe Bush just didn't realize that his tax cuts favored the rich so heavily. God knows that he never read any of that stuff; maybe he misunderstood what it said. And perhaps he wasn't really aware of the state of intelligence regarding Iraq. And it's possible that Bush's vetting process of nominees isn't so good, as we saw with Bernard Kerik. We know the truth, and so we should work with Bush on correcting this stuff, and getting the correct information out there. We should assume that Bush is being honest, and that he just didn't know any of this stuff, and perhaps just isn't up to the task of running our country. And when Halliburton's contracts appear to be a big ripoff to our country and perhaps causing harm to our troops, we need to inform our fine president of this, and give some helpful advice on what needs to be done to correct this.

The President is a very very busy man, and as he's said before, it's hard work. There can be no harm in offering constructive criticism to help him with his burdensome task.


But the main thing, we need to show that we're all on the same team. We're all Americans trying to make America great. That's what liberals are about, and that's what we need to stand with. We might have some differing ideas about what needs to be done, but we're all in basic agreement as to the outcome. Because that is the truth. Bush might lie to us about tax cuts and the war, (and every other god damn thing) but that's just because he thinks he needs to, in order to improve America. We think he's wrong, but we shouldn't assume that he's evil. Because we don't know if he is, and it's not the Liberal Way to assume that people are evil. That's just not how we do things, and it doesn't play to our advantages.

So we shouldn't allow ourselves to be run over. But we shouldn't give them the imagined opposition that they need to deceive our fellow Americans. The truth about Bush's incompetence will come out, and every personal attack we hurl at Bush and Republicans and anything that can be construed as an attack of our troops or America, those are all things that just add fuel to Rove's fire, and prevent people from seeing the truth. As Digby pointed out last week, Rove isn't playing Chess; he's playing Dodgeball. There's nothing complicated about what he's doing. He's counting on an offensive opposition to keep his supporters in line.

Rove & Co. want "liberal lunatics" offending people. They wanted war protesters blocking traffic and shouting insults at Bush during rallies. They want PETA splashing red paint, and "tree huggers" chaining themselves to trees, and "human shields" going to Iraq, and gays trying to get married. They want "Hollywood elites" like Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon opposing Bush. They want liberals laughing at NASCAR and deriding religion. And it doesn't matter how few people do these things, because most of all, they want "Joe Sixpack" to believe that his lifestyle is under assault by liberals, and that he needs to fight back. Without that, they're nothing but a party of rich white guys demanding more power. We need to not give them that opposition.

So we can't allow them to have their way, but we have to show that we're all on the same team. Despite Republican rhetoric to the contrary, America is a liberal nation; whether they know it or not. Red-staters might claim allegiance to Bush, but they love their social programs and federal spending. Stop making these closet liberals defend the conservative fantasies that Rove requires to ruin our nation. Stop fueling the right-wing attack machine. We're all on the same team. Act like it.

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