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Fighting Back

The Quiet Plot to Steal America, and What to Do About It

June 15, 2005
By Andrew M. Gracy

America is under attack. It's time to pull our collective heads out of the sand and realize the nature of the political battle that rational, constitutionally-minded Americans now face. We are, to borrow a phrase from Bill Moyers, in the fight for our lives. From the decades-long efforts to eliminate the press as the fourth estate of government to the onslaught on Social Security, from the attack on academic freedom in our colleges and universities to the attempts to stock our judicial system with conservative judges, the Right has garnered the financial and political resources in recent decades to reshape the social landscape of America.

And now it's time to take it back, come hell or high water. It's time to put away the liberal tool box - the principles of rational adjudication and fair play, the respect for the diversity of ideas and the pursuit of truth. There is simply too much at stake. It's time to bring the fight to them, and it's time to fight to win. The future of our country depends on it, and there are real, human lives at stake.

So, what does a high-minded, moral, socially-conscious person do in such circumstances? Political activism is where the rubber meets the road, and what we need is schooling in the art of political warfare, a mandate for action, and a road map to manage the terrain. We need practical guidelines, not theoretical banter. My objective here is to offer these tools, but the first order of business is to map out the terrain. And that begins by reflecting on some uncomfortable truths, truths that the majority of Americans, even informed Americans, have not yet grasped.

1. The American media have been lost to the Right.

There is no liberal bias, even in the traditional bulwarks of liberalism, PBS and NPR. Rather, there is a conservative ruse to propagandize Americans into believing liberal bias exists to divert attention from the real issues. The loss of the media as the fourth estate is a function of consolidation, i.e. corporate control over the media, and the favor-trading that goes on between corporate America and government. The lesson? Don't look to the media to help turn back the political clock. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

2. The electoral system in the U.S. has quietly been privatized in recent years by the use of electronic voting machines, and the control of elections has thereby been placed in the hands of corporations with deep political and financial ties to the Republican Party.

The truth is, the 2004 presidential election was almost certainly fraudulent (as were many of the Congressional races), and George W. Bush was ushered into office by subterfuge and against the will of the voting majority. There is too much evidence to support this hypothesis to be ignored - from exit polls to statistical studies of voting patterns in a number of states - but it is not a story that could break into the corporate media. The lesson? You've already been disenfranchised, and conventional methods of political activism will likely prove ineffective against the power establishment. But there is a darker lesson here as well: in a true democracy, one has a moral mandate to adhere the will of the people, even if one is part of the minority; in a totalitarian state, one has a moral mandate to make government beholden to the people - a mandate to resist the illegitimate imposition of power by the ruling class. Without fair elections, we live in a de facto totalitarian state.

3. The opposition is well-financed, well-versed in the politics of persuasion, and has a pathological interest in seeing 'liberal' programs, ideology, and persons wiped off the face of the earth.

One has only to look at the vitriolic rhetoric that spews forth from conservative organizations like the Project for the New American Century and the Heritage Foundation, or the political diatribes that fill the pages of conservative publications like the American Spectator, to get a sense of how deep the hatred of liberalism runs. The lesson? Don't waste your time reasoning with the opposition, because the facts don't matter.

4. The strategy that seeks to refine the message and revitalize the liberalism of the past is nothing but a Ghost Dance.

Traditional liberalism is dead. You can balk, you can insist that universal truths never die, that compassion and dignity always have a seat at the table. And in principle you are right. But it's precisely this attitude that has led us to this point, to the brink of theocracy, and to the end of democracy in America. You may be a hit at the Chancellor's annual holiday party, but you are living in utter ignorance of the political realities we face. Simply put, the Republican noise machine has managed to demonize liberalism to an extent that it can no longer be resuscitated as a political concept. The lesson? Swallow your pride and prepare yourself for the thoroughly banal world of political warfare. If you believe in truth and dignity, you have to be prepared to fight for it (just fight for it under the banner "Progressive" rather than "Liberal").

The collective paralysis gripping the liberal majority at the moment is, I would argue, the result of rejecting one or more of the four points presented above. If you believe the press is liberal, you will downplay the threat of the right considerably; if you assume elections are fair, you will hang your hopes for change on the good sense of the American people; if you view the Religious Right as a disorganized or poorly-funded group of fanatics, the current political climate will appear an anomaly, a mere blip on the radar. And, of course, if you believe that liberals are in their current situation because of an inability to refine their message, then you will devote your energies to the thoroughly ineffectual task of redefining liberalism and trying to convince your opponents it has some merit. These positions are not only contrary to fact, they are dangerous. Jousting with windmills diverts attention and resources from the real fight.

What is the real fight? Who is the real enemy? There are two forces driving the attack on democracy in America today, one ideological and one economic. The ideological engine is the Religious Right and its desire to establish a theological foundation for government. This group is highly motivated as a result of a widespread feeling by its members that religious interests have been trampled in recent decades, and by the sense that it is now in a position to fulfill its mandate. The second engine is the modern trans-national corporation, an entity that sees liberalism as a threat to the accumulation of capital and the free market atmosphere that allows it to pursue its objectives untrammeled. There are other factors, to be sure ideologues and power brokers who support the attack on liberalism out of self-interest or megalomania. But in general, these are the primary forces at work.

In recent decades, these forces have formed an unholy alliance in the interest of undermining democracy. Ideologues on the Right have recognized that they must harness the economic power of corporate America to undermine the political and economic power of the left, and corporate America has realized that establishing the conditions that work in its favor requires selling the American people on a world view that justifies privatization on a massive scale. It is this union that has ushered in an era of overworked, overweight consumers who believe that the American way of life is the Blessed Way of Life and spend their time watching reality TV and gorging themselves on fast food. It is a union that hides the dysfunction of American society behind the rhetoric of family values and patriotic slogans, an era that reverberates with contradictions like "fighting for peace" and "vote Catholic, not Kerry." It is also, and unquestionably, a union that has allowed Republicans to outmaneuver their opponents, and has led to a new political orthodoxy that will soon eclipse more enlightened ideas almost entirely.

If the people are to turn the tide and restore democracy, they must be willing to fight a new kind of war. When faced with overwhelming force, it is suicide to mount a frontal assault; the only workable strategy is subversion - a guerilla war that exploits the weaknesses in the opposing force and redirects the resources of the enemy inward, against itself. It is time for Americans to mount such an offensive, an offensive forged with words and carefully orchestrated political action, an offensive that exploits the inherent tension between the Religious Right and corporate America to undermine the conservative movement. Without the 'liberal threat' to unite them, corporate America and the Religious Right are like oil and water: the moral interests of the Right are incompatible with the pathological pursuit of wealth and power that continues to drive corporate expansion. What we need is a carefully placed wedge to divide the opposition, and that wedge comes in the form of a campaign to exploit the growing fear that corporate America is a threat to family values and the viability of our communities.

More specifically, activists need to form community-based organizations that function as independent groups, united by a common ideology and common purpose, but autonomous in function. These groups should make their presence felt both locally and nationally, utilizing the Internet as a medium for getting their message out and coordinating their activities with other, like-minded organizations. They should be structured as political action committees or non-profits, they should engage in their own fundraising and community service projects, and they should build support for their cause through the adoption of hard-hitting political strategies that strike at the heart of the conservative movement.

True, many such organizations already exist, but they exist in a form that makes it easy for conservatives to identify and dismiss them as part of the 'liberal threat.' What makes this strategy different is that the proposed organizations will adopt a platform that sounds as moralistic and self-righteous as the Christian Coalition. That's right, these groups should don the garb of the Religious Right, should invoke scripture, and wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes at every turn. Concerns about the moral fabric of America and the threat of corporate power simply will not be heard if they emanate from the mouth of the 'dreaded liberal.' We need to sound the alarm from within the conservative camp in the interest of harnessing their considerable resources in our favor. After all, the same corporations fueling America's imperialistic policies in Iraq are promoting violence on television and exposing Janet Jackson's breast, and while most people don't give a thought to the tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, they will challenge corporate power over the marketing of tobacco to children or the fat content of a Happy Meal.

Although I am reluctant to admit it, the best weapons we have are half-truths and misinformation (i.e. marketing). As progressives, we are unable to fight the conservative establishment, but as pseudo-conservatives we may well be able to awaken many Americans to the threat corporations represent to family values. So it's time to back away from the argument that the environment should be preserved for its natural splendor, and tell the conservative establishment that Bush's environmental policies threaten the lives of unborn children by exposing expectant mothers to toxic levels of mercury. Don't talk about the rights of the poor or the rights of the worker, promote progressive economic ideas by noting that the rate of abortions in America is on the rise because of Bush's economic policies ("If we raise the living wage, we protect the unborn!"). If you think this is a pointless strategy, or distasteful, it is perhaps worth remembering that Al Capone was put away for tax evasion rather than smuggling, racketeering, and murder.

In short, it is time to stop talking like a liberal and start fighting like a conservative; it's time to fight for the moral fiber of America, but in a way that exposes the conflict between corporate power and Mom's apple pie. To win our country back we will have to be wily and resourceful (characteristics that are part of the business ethos, but often lacking in the academy). In this spirit, I offer the following strategies:

1. Seek or establish alternative outlets for your ideas.

The corporate ownership of the major media makes it highly unlikely that political battles will be fought out in the limelight. Start your own newsletters, webzines, and websites. Consider using direct mailings as a strategy for reaching the voting public, and mail out provocative literature that incites animosity toward corporate power (and toward those in office who cater to that power). If you are mailing material to Republicans, put the return address of your local Republican party on the envelope to encourage recipients to look at the material.

2. Target local and state politicians for extended "information" campaigns.

Each independent group will be tuned to the particular local issues that drive the voting behavior of the community. Identify representatives who will suffer from 'ethical scrutiny,' research their backgrounds and voting histories, personal affiliations and financial ties, and start a public campaign to discredit them long before their reelection campaign (there is a lot of information about individuals available for sale on the web). Get people to write letters to the editor of the local paper, stock public hearings with citizens who can make forceful and credible challenges to the candidate's integrity on the spot, place fliers on car windshields at grocery stores, and mail pamphlets to local residents. Be relentless, ruthless, and thorough, and make sure you create an image of the offending representatives as selfish promoters of corporate malfeasance.

3. Infiltrate the Republican Party.

Recruit disgruntled Republicans to provide information about their political strategies, funding sources, candidate support structure, etc. Or, register as a Republican and start attending party meetings. Once you have someone inside the local party, you can sow the seeds of unrest by leaking information to others who can use it strategically, documenting misdeeds and unethical behavior, or disrupting meetings by focusing on irrelevancies, spreading misinformation, and engaging in bureaucratic behavior that slows down progress.

4. Start a misinformation campaign.

What ten years of siege could not accomplish, a single Trojan horse could. Conservative groups and government agencies monitor liberal Internet sites and keep track of blogging activity. Use this to your advantage. Post "Trojan horse" articles on the web that direct attention and resources in the wrong direction. Present false strategies, identify individuals in the conservative establishment who might be plausible defectors and insinuate that they have already transitioned to your side. Create suspicion among conservatives about the commitments and activities of Republican supporters, and use the web liberally to accomplish your objectives.

5. Put your money where your mouth is.

It's time to ante-up and donate to organizations fighting the right kind of fight. Whether you give to MoveOn, Watchcorp, or DemocracyNow!, you must be committed to financing the new generation of freedom fighters. If you're starting your own organization and are tapped for resources, you can support other groups by linking to their websites or writing favorable reviews of their activities. However you choose to do it, it is time to step up to the plate.

6. Utilize the enemy's resources.

Corporate America has invested a lot of energy into figuring out how to shape the American mindset through various marketing strategies, and these strategies are available in the advertising literature. Use this information. If you think spreading the political message through viral marketing will work in the demographic you're interested in reaching, use it. If you have to sell political action as a counterculture, as sexy, or as revolutionary, do it. Capitalize on the psychology of youth, the elderly, or the politically disenfranchised to shape your message and manipulate the mind set. Conservatives have long known that their plan to steal America depends on generating the right perceptions, and it is high time liberals adopted a comparable strategy.

7. Frame the issues.

This is the most difficult thing to do, to know how to tap in to the conservative mindset and present your position in a way that resonates with the moral and political concerns of the Right. First, you must know your enemy: read material on the web that gives you an idea of their interests, logic (if you can call it that), and their rhetoric. Read George Lakoff's book, Moral Politics, and other literature that deconstructs the conservative world view, then work on addressing the threat of corporate America from within that framework. Take Social Security as an example:

The way we see it: a social safety net to stave off poverty and help the disenfranchised.

The way they see it: An unjustified handout to those with moral failings.

How to frame the issue: "I'm a believer in personal responsibility and self-reliance, but corporate America is going to have control over my money if Social Security is privatized. The people in charge of Wall Street are a bunch of corporate crooks look what happened at Enron and Worldcom - and they're gonna take advantage of this situation by stealing my money."

8. Bring back the boycott.

Boycotting works if it is well organized, and the internet allows for the wide dissemination of information about individual corporations that can fuel a boycott (go to www.corpwatch.org, for example). Be creative and select companies that are central to an issue, particularly vulnerable, or both. Consider selective boycotting where appropriate: We still need gas for our cars, but if Americans select BP for a boycott, the financial pinch will reverberate throughout the oil industry.

These suggestions are meant to provide a general framework for ideological warfare, but they should not be seen as excluding the more conventional and public methods for imposing the will of the people. Let us fight alongside those who still want to work within the Democratic Party, and those who don't have the stomach for the strategy I am describing. But let us also be clear that traditional tactics will fail without the support of a new kind of activism, one that is capable of bloodying the political noses of those like Tom Delay using methods they are sure to understand.

There is too much at stake not to engage in this kind of fight. To hang your hopes on the idea that truth and justice will inevitably reemerge is idle sentimentality. Focus your anger. Focus your outrage. And then get to work turning the Religious Right against its historical ally, corporate America.

Andrew M. Gracy is a retired school teacher. He lives in Baltimore, MD.

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