Just Get Mad, Get Smart
April 9, 2002
By Ernest Partridge
you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the
result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not
the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a
defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle."
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing
that ever has."
- Margaret Mead
If Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, or some other
such Bushista operative were to read a sample of the progressive
websites, would they be particularly concerned about what
they saw? They just might not. Instead, they might reflect,
"this is a small cabal of discontents spouting off to each
other, but not really going anywhere."
There was a time, not too long ago, when such a brush off
might have been justified. But the progressive internet is
alive, robust, and growing. So it is the task of this and
like-minded websites to give the Bushista media-wonks something
to worry about.
To do so, we must assuredly work diligently to spread the
word and attract many more visitors to the dissenting internet.
And the message must be aimed beyond the "choir" of like-minded
So it is past time that the web writers, editors and publishers
ask themselves: "do we wish merely to "rage, rage, against
the dying of the light," or do we wish instead to re-ignite
the torch of liberty and take back our democracy?"
If the latter, then we must understand that these two objectives
are often at cross purposes, and that if we are prevent our
rage from getting in the way of our objectives, we will often
have to apply some self-discipline and employ some tactical
For example, in the progressive websites you will find demands
by some correspondents and occasionally some writers that
such wing-nuts as Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, and the like
be "taken off the air." Bad move! On the contrary,
the more the public is exposed to these crazies, the greater
the benefit for the progressive cause.
True, in the past, Robertson, Falwell and the religious right
have done great harm to our body politic. But now they are
proving to be their own undoing. No amount of left-wing criticism
of Robertson and Falwell could possibly damage them as much
as they besmirched themselves with the inane post 9/11 comments
("its all the fault of the gays, the feminists and the ACLU").
And every time Ann Coulter opens her pretty fascist mouth,
she drives away droves of fair-minded citizens from the Republicans
ranks. So please, just hand them the mike and let them rant.
By and large the editors of the progressive internet are well
aware of the capacity of right-wing crazies to self-destruct,
and thus are wisely more than willing to give them ample space
to do so.
Another cross purpose: rage leads to incivility and abusive
language, while "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Remember
that CNN's Aaron Brown cited the "incivility" of his critics
as his excuse for ignoring the substance of their complaints.
As I read some of the e-mails that he received, I must concede
that he has a point.
In contrast, Tom Daschle's soft, sweet and unruffled demeanor
is driving the GOP bonkers. Lott, DeLay and the others would
like nothing more than for "Cool Tom" to pop his cork. So
long as he refuses, he stands out as the one who "keeps his
head while all about are losing theirs." (Kipling)
Of course, the Democrats in Congress and beyond are in urgent
need of a backbone implant. But their message should be strong,
passionate, eloquent and focused, without being shrill and
vituperative. The public has had quite enough of "the politics
of personal destruction."
Here, for your consideration, are a few "tactical guidelines
Don't alienate Republicans - recruit them.
To win back our government, we must assemble a sizeable majority
- sufficient to overwhelm Florida-style election "fixes."
This means we must win the votes of most independents and
more than a few Republicans. Many Republicans are sorely offended
by the takeover of their party by right-wing crazies. So don't
insult these moderate Republicans by calling them "Repugs,"
or by attributing the outrages of a few right-wing nut cases
to all Republicans.
Instead, flatter our Republican fellow citizens with calm
and reasoned arguments. Remember that Nixon remained safe
in his office until he lost the support of Republicans such
as Howard Baker and John Dean. Then he was finished. Even
now, there are some noteworthy defections from Bush's Republican
party; among them Arianna Huffington, David Brock, Kevin Phillips,
John Dean (again), Jonathan Turley, and even (Gawd help us!),
Larry Klayman and Dan Burton. There is good reason to believe
that a great many will follow.
Cool the abusive rhetoric - Don't imitate the Freepers.
I'll admit that I gain a cheap thrill when I read such clever
monikers as "AssKKKroft" and "Rhenquisling." However, I submit
that these smart-ass verbalisms are costly. The Freepers convince
no one but themselves with their antics, while most others
who are aware of them are quite put off by their childish
Nothing is to be gained by acting like left-wing mirror-image
Freepers. Far better to stand out and apart with mature behavior
and thoughtful language. The Republicans lose on the issues,
which is why they divert public attention away from issues
to personalities (e.g., Clinton's zipper, Gore's body language,
Bush's "likeability," etc.). So get back to the issues, in
a way that directly touches upon your audience.
Wean yourself from the corporate media, and let them know
you have. It's on the record: the corporate media
lied to us about Gore and Bush during the 2000 campaign, they
lied to us during the post-election fight in Florida and again
in the November "Consortium Study" of the Florida election.
And they continue to lie, distort, and distract (remember
the false reports of the"White House trashing," Bush's "magical
Air Force One mystery tour" on 9/11, and the rumor of Ken
Lay's sleepovers in Clinton's White House)?
The media has thus squandered its credibility, and there
remains no good reason to believe what they are telling us
- including those damnable "approval rating" polls. (See "Following
the Light" and "About
Those Polls"). So tell them that you know that they lie
(and specify the lies), and that you are "mad as hell, and
not going to take it anymore."
In addition, tell them that you will henceforth look abroad,
to the BBC, CBC, The Guardian, The London Times, The Toronto
Star, etc., to find out what is happening in your own country
and what others think of us.
Recognize and exploit the distinction between the profession
of "journalism" (reporters and columnists) and the business
of "the media" (management and owners). Then address the journalists
"more in sorrow than in anger." Ask them, "what kind of
a country and a world do you want yourselves and your children
to live in? Is it the kind of a country and a world that you
are helping to bring about?"
Journalists are generally more aware than most others of
national and world conditions; after all it's their business
to know these things. Thus they know that our civil liberties
are being severely curtailed, that national policy is dictated
by private corporate interests, that the national wealth is
flowing "upward" at an accelerating pace, and that the United
States and its President are held in contempt abroad. Closer
to their professional concerns, they are also aware of the
increasing conglomeration of the mass media and of the Bush
administration's closing of access to public information.
And they are quite aware that the foreign press is regarding
our captive and jingoistic media with increasing contempt.
As professionals and as citizens, at least a few journalists
must be alarmed at these developments. Granted, most journalists
are mere time-servers, content to follow the directives of
their corporate bosses. However, it is just possible that
a few authentic journalists are ripe for rebellion, and if,
at last, a Murrow, Cronkite, or Woodward/Bernstein (c. 1972,
not 2002) steps out , then who knows, some may find the spine
to march to a different drummer. And once a parade becomes
conspicuous, others will fall in. It has happened before -
with Viet Nam and Watergate. It can happen again.
Appeal to Self-Interest. We need to point out the
distinction between greed and enlightened self-interest. Few
journalists want to live under an oligopoly or to see the
dismantling of the First Amendment, nor do they want to lose
the trust of the public. Few businessmen and corporate leaders
want to demolish the economy or foment revolution as they
strive for even greater wealth. Both have to be convinced
that this is the direction that the nation is taking. Right
now, they don't quite see the connection. But be patient,
a few of them will - and then more and more.
There is a strange right-wing myth, at large amongst the
punditry and in the Congress, that all national prosperity
issues from the investments of the very wealthy, and thus
that the more we give to the very well-off, the more will
"trickle down" to the rest of us. Unfortunately a sizeable
portion of the public has been convinced of this absurdity,
and thus expertly persuaded to act against its own interest.
Hence the Bush tax cut.
In fact, national prosperity is a communal accomplishment,
the result of the cooperation among workers, investors and
government. The unconstrained greed of a very few can lead
to ruin for all, including the greedy, as we discovered to
our sorrow in 1929. Either we prosper together, or we allow
a few greedy and self-serving "utility maximizers" to bring
down the economic house upon us all. (See my "On
Civic Friendship" and "The
Appeal to a higher loyalty than party, and to a higher
patriotism than "follow the leader." Presumably, the ultimate
loyalty of the discerning American citizen is to the nation,
to the democratic ideal, to the rule of law, and to founding
charters of the Republic - the Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution. When the leadership of a political party
violates those charters, it has likewise relinquished its
right to claim the support of the citizens.
The Republican party has claimed the Presidency through a
violation of the voting rights of Florida citizens and a usurpation
of power by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the Republican
Bush administration is denying the Congress its function of
executive oversight, and, through the atrociously labeled
"USA Patriot Act," is curtailing the citizens' rights under
the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments to the
Those who hold party above the Constitution continue to support
Bush and the Republican Party. Those who hold Constitution
above party, are defecting and joining the opposition. A third
faction of Republican supporters, the vast majority, simply
haven't thought much about it. It is the task of the progressive
opposition to remind these individuals of their proper loyalties,
and the implications thereof.
As for "patriotism," we should encourage our fellow citizens
to follow the examples of the acknowledged "patriots" of history.
Their allegiance was not necesssarily to the political leaders
of the time - not in the case of Washington and Jefferson
(King George III), not in the case of Klaus von Stauffenberg
(Hitler), not in the case of Mandela or Gandhi or Sakharov
or M. L. King. The loyalty of all these "patriots" was to
universal moral principles and human rights, which in all
these cases absolved them of allegiance to the political leaders
of the time. (See "On
Preach "Christian morality," of the sort endorsed
by men and women of good will of all faiths, and of no faith.
I refer here to morality (behavior) and not doctrine (beliefs).
Theological beliefs (e.g., the virgin birth, the trinity,
salvation by faith, Biblical inerrancy, etc.), are and should
be private and thus outside the scope of politics. On the
other hand, on matters of politics and morality, when "the
religious right" asks, "what would Jesus do?," answer them.
What would Jesus do about war? "Blessed are the Peacemakers"
About retaliation? "Turn the other cheek" and "love
your enemies ... do good to them that hate you." About wealth?
"Sell all thou hast, and give to the poor." About punishment?
"Blessed are the merciful." About school prayer? "When
thou prayest, enter into thy closet... use not vain repetitions."
And finally, remind "the religious right" that Jesus directed
his strongest criticism to the hypocrites.
It is truly astonishing that anyone who has read the Sermon
on the Mount (Matthew, Chs. 5-7) could ever believe that "God
is a Republican."
Give the GOP its hanging rope. Pride and arrogance
goeth before the fall, and the GOP has an abundance of both.
If expertly dealt with, this arrogance can be turned against
the Bush regime. True, the Republicans have effectively utilized
the talents of tactical and propaganda geniuses - the most
gifted practitioners of the black art of advertising and public
relations. And they have the opulent financial support of
their corporate sponsors.
But beyond that, there is good news. For all their tactical
cleverness, these guys are not very bright. Moreover, they
are "terminally arrogant" - i.e., like Joe McCarthy and Richard
Nixon before them, they can bring about their own destruction
with their excesses. When McCarthy took on George C. Marshall,
he swallowed the poison pill that eventually did him in; likewise,
when Nixon felt he just had to find out, by whatever means,
what was in the DNC files at the Watergate.
With time, George Bush and the GOP are likely to provide
their opposition with an abundance of ammunition. In fact,
they are doing so even now. For example, there is the spectacle
of Bush's inane rhetoric ("axis of evil"), Trent Lott's and
Tom DeLay's hyperbolic attacks on Tom Daschle, and John Ashcroft's
antics (e.g., covering the offending aluminum boob, calico
cats, interference with the "states rights" of Oregon and
Furthermore, Bush's lifelong struggle with English syntax
is so troublesome that he dare not speak in public unless
he is mouthing someone else's words in front of a Teleprompter.
Ronald Reagan could get away with it, since he was a professional
actor. George Bush is no Reagan.
Don't form a new party, capture an old one.
Let's face it, the Democratic Party of today is somewhat to
the right of what used to be called "moderate Republicanism."
We can thank the so-called "New Democrats" for that. But while
there is much to criticize about the Democratic Party, it
is plainly the lesser of the evils. Yes, I am familiar with
Ralph Nader's quip that "when you choose the lesser of two
evils, you get an evil." However, as his campaign proved,
if you refuse to make that choice, you will end up with the
greater of the evils.
So take a lesson from the right-wing: if you don't like a
political party as it is, then capture and transform it. To
the progressives, we say, "take over the lesser of the evils
and abolish the evil."
Practically speaking, this is by far a better strategy than
that of establishing a third party, which must be built from
the ground up and which must recruit a following from those
accustomed to alliance with the major parties. Far better
to take over an existing structure and cadre of supporters.
Get involved and be heard. Support the progressive media
- what's left of it. Subscribe to The Nation, The Progressive,
The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and such. Even if
you don't have time to read them thoroughly, your subscriptions
will support these alternative voices.
Log on to the progressive web sites (see "The
Internet, Last Refuge of the Liberal"). Spread the word,
and if you can, send a donation. Half of the US households
now have access to the internet. If a sizeable portion of
the population abandons the cable and network news media for
the websites, through which one can access the foreign and
progressive press, the "established" media must take notice.
The internet just could become the last hope for the "free
press" that Jefferson believed was the cornerstone of a free
and open society.
Post in a conspicuous place the addresses of your senators
and congressperson, and write them at least once a week. (You
can find these addresses at www.senate.gov
Write at least three letters to major media, complaining of
"the cult of personality" and other outrages. Be specific.
Don't just complain. If they do something right, express your
appreciation and support. E-Mail will do. Personal "hard copy,
snail mail" is more effective.
And vote! Pester your liberal friends and be
sure that they also vote. Volunteer to drive voters to the
polls, or to serve as a precinct election official. Participate
in voter registration drives. Conventional wisdom tells us
that candidates win elections by getting more supporters to
the polls. But some Republican genius came up the the idea
that it is just as important to encourage one's opponents
to stay home. And that has been the secret of their success:
get the right-wing stalwarts to the polls and convince everyone
else that elections don't matter.
However, as the GOP is fully aware, the more people vote,
the worse the news for the (so-called) "conservatives," since
the stay-at-homes are disproportionately the poor, minorities,
and the politically alienated.
Above all, remember, we are the majority! A
majority of voters (or those permitted to vote) cast their
ballots against Bush in 2000. While the Republican spin machine
has made the word "liberal" anathema to most citizens, a clear
majority of citizens nonetheless endorse the "liberal" agenda:
social security, health care reform, environmental protection,
abortion rights, increased minimum wage, etc.
Against this, the GOP propaganda mill has conned the American
voter with meaningless slogans ("compassionate conservatism"),
slander ("Gore claims that he invented the internet"), witch-hunts
(the $70 million Ken Starr inquisition), and scare tactics
("they're gonna take away your guns"). The enormous financial
resources of the GOP have built a Potemkin village - an impressive
display comprised of cardboard, paste, and bailing wire, without
foundation and vulnerable to collapse once a few strategic
blows are applied.
However, unfocused bluster and rage alone will not take it
down. It will take, reflection, study, discipline, and tactical
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer
in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He
publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" www.igc.org/gadfly