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April 23, 2006


My off-the-cuff feeling:

With all the Republican talk about "National Security", and "Homeland Security", they've completely forgotten about the security that really affects us where we live. Call it:

"Home and Family Security"

Make universal single-payor health "security" the centerpiece. Throw in some bits about job "security," education "security," retirement "security," child "security," and other "securities" that would give us piece of mind when we're not wrrying about falling airplanes.

Now you have something.

Thought-provoking post, Mimikatz.

I, unfortunately, did not learn about what Democrats stand for from my father. He grew up quite poor and campaigned for Johnson. But then something (I think it was a self-perception of his career aspirations) flipped him to the dark side. In the months before he died, after becoming an affluent leader in business, his nostalgia was greatest for the time he lived communally in a Catholic seminary. I think, if the Democrats could have crafted that message of simple community, it would have appealed to him in the days when he knew he was about to die. But I wonder whether it would have been strong enough to get him to give up his corner office without a fatal medical diagnosis.

I ask the same thing about the guy I met in SC just before the 2004 election. He was a poor white secular racist, worked one job maintaining port-a-johns and another doing middle-of-the-night office cleaning. But the reason he gave for being a Republican was not race-based, it was that, "if I win the lottery, I don't want them to take all my winnings."

For both these two men, their Republican loyalty was viscerally tied to a perverted notion of the American Dream; when they envisioned themselves as successful, they saw the Republican party as protecting and reinforcing their self-worth.

I think one of the processes we need to take on is a reconception of the American Dream. We need to retain (regain) the social mobility and the creativity. But we need to divorce that image from this belief that you have to defend individual stature at all costs. Or to put it another way--there needs to be some of this aspirational sense in the notion of community the Democrats sow.

Doesn't a "common good" approach demand public trust in the government?

I love the idea & the 3 specific grand projects you pick out (public health, fiscal planning, and environmental protection). Embarking on grand projects like that, like the moon landing, like the atom bomb, like social security, is exactly what government is for.

But I think of those grand projects as a pre-Nixon relic, of times when the government spoke with a paternalistic voice of authority, like the narrator in old driver's-ed videos.

Particularly after the incompetence of this administration, especially the Katrina response, I wonder how plans for these kind of grand projects would be received today. I think Bush has torpedoed public trust in gov't similarly to Nixon.

At first reflection, it seems like most of the grand projects of the last decade were weird public-private competition-collaborations. The development of the internet, Google, sequencing of human genome. I think one could make the case that Google has initiated more public service projects for the common good in the last few years than the government has.

(Similarly, in the sciences, NIH funds are dropping while scattered new funding sources appear from multimillionaires generated in the late 90s, nurtured by Bush policies, and interested in philanthropy. This arrangement hands over the steering wheel of national research from scientists to this weird collection of special-interest foundations.)

Question is: how do you credibly call for grand projects when so many citizens see their gov't as wasteful and incompetent?

Democrats can run on this: They are better at running a government because they actually BELIEVE in the benefits of government. Bush has been inept because at bottom people in his party don't believe that the gov't has a role to play in society.

The electorate has to be woken up to this idea. The electorate knows that too many years of Dem. power can be bad--gov't gets too bloated and took "sticky." But the gov't we've had under Bush in just 5.5 years has gotten way too weak and ineffectual to serve its citizens.

One difficulty I see putting forth the idea of “The Common Good” is how to explain or translate the concept to those that would most benefit. Furthermore, it may need to be a program of the populace rather than of political party.

The anger towards social welfare is based, at least in part, on the perception by many as the distribution of what little they have worked for to those that are not working. Think of it as he middle class against the lower class. I wonder, though, if the middle class was making a decent living wage, if it was not perpetually worried about how to pay the bills for heat, for food, and for health care, would they be as angry about the lower class getting some help?

Therefore, if we are at point “A,” and we want to get people to point “C,” the problem is how we explain and actuate point “B.” Simplistic, I know, by it is worth thinking about.

Politicians are not going to help. It may be in their long-term interests but it certainly is not in their short-term interests. Take for example the Bush tax refund trick of a few years ago. What was that, about $400 per taxpayer? I do not have the particular breakdown but I suspect that for a large percentage of Americans, that was truly a lifeline, but for another large percentage of Americans, that was chump change. At the time, the columnist Ellen Goodman was advocating, for those able to afford it, donating the refund to charity. I was waiting for a Democrat to advocate this idea, but without an explanation of why – or even with an explanation – that would have been a political bomb. In our house, we cashed the checks and immediately wrote checks for an equal amount to a local shelter for battered women. That is an example of how we must affect change without the support of a political party.

Using the same example of the refund trick, who on the national stage explained the concept of unfunded mandates? Did anyone explain the likelihood that the refund check was, in all probability, at least equal if not less than the increase in state and local taxes?

Here is something we have been discussing a lot in our house; the concept of the have’s getting more and more and the have not’s getting less and less. In one particular egregious, though maybe silly example, we received a catalog recently from a well-known national company and in the catalog they have a bedroom dresser of painted wood priced at $1,900. That is one thousand and nine hundred dollars. For a six drawer dresser. There are so many things wrong with this that it is hard to know where to start. Somebody is raking in the profit on this item.

Let us put aside the idea of artistry contributing to the price, as well as the fact that many people that have worked hard for the money should be entitled to buy and spend what they please.

I refuse to believe that the price of wood and materials have increased to the point that supports such a price. It is also likely that it is manufactured by either offshore labor, or if manufactured in the United States, by a minimum wage worker, so the cost of labor is not necessarily a contributing factor. Where are these huge profits going? To the company’s management and shareholders. Good capitalists would claim that this is how it should work. That might be acceptable if the profit-making company was paying their share of taxes, and not benefiting by the many tax loopholes created and enacted by the rich for the rich.

More tax dollars in the coffers might translate to better services for all or at least for those that most need the help. Who is to explain this? Who is in a position to affect this change? There are so many factors tangled up in that dresser, I don't know how we can explain clearly the wrongs, explain how many people are affected by it's price, and why.

Eh, I’m just ruminating on a Sunday morning. I have too many more questions than I have answers.

Thanks for all your reactions. I think the loss of idealism over the last 20 or so years has been a terrible blow. I have some hope that it can be reversed in the up coming generation.

The $1900 dresser is part of what I meant by the seduction of the children of the upper middle class into consumerism. And the growth of cynicism, the "won't get fooled again" syndrome.

Howard Dean did make the connection between the Bush tax cuts and the rising middle class state tax and fee burden. Kerry may have too. I think a good point of departure this time around is the magnitude of Cheney's tax refund--about equal to the income of a small community.

Actually standing up for the common good (as opposed to merely wanting to appear to be) is a radical approach. Our current political structure is premised on a high tech version of the 16th Century enclosure movements in England where the lord simply enclosed for sheep grazing the common land the poor had traditionally used to survive around the margins. I book I read recently on Japan describes Japanese politics as a system designed to take money from the many working class taxpayers and to provide it to welfare farmers and government contractors.

This is the politics we have in the United States too, from the most basic local level county boards of supervisors to the White House. And powerful factions in both major parties are active players – ney, believers – in this system. Income inequality did, after all, continue apace during the eight years of the Clinton Administration.

Actually standing up and throttling the current system would be a truly revolutionary act and it would be fought tooth and nail by the most powerful people in our society – people, corporations, and trade associations who are used to snapping their fingers and having powerful Democrats snap to attention like Lieutenant Carpenter did for Captain Binghamton on McHale’s Navy. Sir yes sir!

Mao Zedong described well what revolution really means:

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

The reason I make this point, is that working class people know when they’re being patronized and they disrespect the patronizers who, in this case, would be the Democrats. Does anybody see the current Democratic Party as likely to pull off an act of revolutionary class war that would fundamentally alter our politics and society? If not, then how can the Democrats avoid looking like a bunch of aspiring Gray Davises?

Vote for Democrats becasue we need good government to promote the common good, open doors, and equal burden-sharing.

Your comments are trenchant as ususal, Kaleidescope. I certainly don't see the Democrats being able to pull off an act of revolutionary class war. Is it too much to hope for more of an "address the problems and spread the wealth" kind of approach? After all, in general the Dems have been more redistributive than the GOP, and the class differences are greater than at any time since before the Depression, I believe.

Kevin Phillips and Craig Shipley in the article Dem from CT posted both believe the institutionalized GOP is losing the lower middle class. If the corporatists in both parties combine to perpetuate the status quo I do not see how the US can do very well, given the underlying economic problems we face. Perhaps people will just pull up the covers or watch TV, but I kind of doubt it. I more fear something like Weimar Germany, as discussed by the Cunning Realist.

What do you think we should do to bring about change? That was Zerocut's question too.

"Common good" sounds too much like "Communist". I'm serious. The people we have to reach have already decided that "Common good" isn't a good thing for them.

On the other hand, "security" is already proven to be a winner. How about our vision being "security" -- but the security of our daily lives?

44 million people don't know how they're going to pay for it if they get hospitalized. I would guess another 44 million are closely related and worried for them, too. Another 44 million are worried about what happens to their medical insurance if they lose their job. Okay, I am making the numbers up, but my point should be clear.

That's why I think a universal (guaranteed) health care, not tied to jobs, could be a good thing, and very easily positioned as a hits-home "security" issue.

Forget the Common Good.

When Democrats are willing to reclaim their title as "The Party of the Common Man", they'll find everything else they need.

Until then, it's just one endless Platform Committee meeting.


I'm interested to know if you think my take is patronizing, because we're trying to put those thoughts into effect locally; if I've missed the boat on message or audience I've got to ratchet down and rethink approach.

Your comments on revolution are eye-opening for the idealistic. I wonder if this will ever be a "movement" or if our best chances to affect change is to do it person by person and locally. Some variant of, for lack of a better term, the "pay it forward" approach.

Any attempt to do something substantial that cuts against the grain of current Dikensianism should probably take a hard look at what happened when Clinton tried the most timid of health care reforms. How was he defeated? The interests opposed to him weren't really threatened; at best they faced inconvenience, yet they went completely to the mat with an anything-it-takes focus group tested PR campaign to ridicule and demonize the Clinton Administration. The result of this was the nadir of Clinton's popularity and a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress in 1994.

Clinton blinked under the assault and it was clear to his enemies that he could be rolled. And after Clinton lost on health care he never stopped rolling.

I may be wrong, perhaps over optimistic (if you can believe that), but I remember one glimmer of Clinton's claws, when he noted that drug companies spend more on advertising than they do on R&D.

It may have been possible for Clinton to have won that fight, but it would've required taking the gloves completely off. Perhaps, with a calculated, coordinated PR strategy it would've been possible to make it as difficult for a Congressman to take campaign funds from a drug company as it would be to take campaign funds from Hamas. Entire industries, along with their executives and major shareholders (who are all big contributors to members of both major parties)would have to be dehumanized and demonized (gookified as my brother Karl says) in the same way Republicans have demonized black women welfare. An example would have to be made of them in the same way Reagan made PATCO an example to the unions.

The neo-liberal consensus (for which we're told There Is No Alternative, or TINA) would have to be ruthlessly assaulted with no flinching because every industry would be organizing to fight back and would fight back with everything it had.

Let me remind you again what the HMO, Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries did to Clinton.

The current Democratic Party is not made for biting the hand that (really) feeds it. (Can you imagine Chuck Shumer cooperating in demonizing the Insurance Industry?) So the bottom line is that before there can be any substantive reform of the current ruling bi-partisan ideology of neo-Dikensianism, the Democratic Party must be radically transformed from the bottom up.

FDR contemplated something like this at the height of his power, right after the 1936 election, when the Republicans were reduced to 17 senators. Roosevelt wanted to purge the party of its conservative, southern wing. But he first tried to pack the court, because the Court was invalidating the legislative victories he Roosevelt was winning. When FDR lost that fight, he never passed another major piece of New Deal legislation for the rest of his presidency.

It may be possible to radically transform the Democratic Party. There are some harrowing times ahead and someone with talent is going to eventually capitalize on the political opportunity created by the popular rage at the collapse of our American lifestyle. (Let's pray such a person believes in democracy.)

Again, another quote from Mao may be illustriative:

"In a very short time, in China's central, southern and northern provinces, several hundred million peasants will rise like a mighty storm, like a hurricane, a force so swift and violent that no power, however great, will be able to hold it back. They will smash all the trammels that bind them and rush forward along the road to liberation. They will sweep all the imperialists, warlords, corrupt officials, local tyrants and evil gentry into their graves. Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to the test, to be accepted or rejected as they decide. There are three alternatives. To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them, gesticulating and criticizing? Or to stand in their way and oppose them? Every Chinese is free to choose, but events will force you to make the choice quickly."

If the Democratic Party in its current format can't take the steps needed to radically reform neo-Dikensianism, to bring thre fight ruthlessly to the most powerful sectors of our society, then something akin to what Mao described in China in 1927 will eventually happen, hopefully in a more non-violent democratic way.

Could such a force be harnessed to transform the current Democratic Party? Perhaps. But it may be easier to simply let the Democratic Party die and create something new, as the Republicans did in 1856 from the last gasps of the Whigs.

Common good is OK, but it is not exhaustive.

I also favor variations on, "Democrats are about providing *all* Americans with the opportunity and security to better their lives, regardless of their means." Or regardless of their access to power, or inheritance. It's about the freedom to achieve our full potential as individuals as well. (the other side does not own the values of freedom and opportunity).

I don't think you can erase the undercurrent or mythology of individualism....you have to channel it. It's there, we can't just out-argue it. Instead, work with it; by appealing to people's desires for a better balance between individualism and communitarianism.

The Common Good as the rallying point for a people-powered Democratic Party. What a brilliant idea!

Today I announce that I am running for President of the United States of America. I speak not only for my candidacy. I speak for a new American century and a new generation of Americans—both young people and the young at heart. We seek the great restoration of American values and the restoration of our nation’s traditional purpose in the world.

This is a campaign to unite and empower people everywhere.

It is a call to every American, regardless of party, to join together in common purpose and for the common good to save and restore all that it means to be an American.

--Governor Howard Dean, The Great American Restoration.

Man, I wish I got to vote for him for President.

only problem is that when Dean said it people didn't know what it meant since it was buried in context, and he had so much trouble staying on message.

you need a messenger with serious message talent to deliver a message, or else it gets lost. Neither Dean (nor Kerry, tho he was a little bit better) was that person.

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