September 29, 2009


Sam Smith

As inevitable disillusionment grows with Barack Obama, thanks to his lackluster performance, unfulfilled promises and often indistinguishable variation from his predecessor, it is perhaps time to put our toys away and return to real life.

The Obama campaign was in many ways just a misleading trailer hyping what's turned out to be a third rate film. And as one does not remain the prisoner of Hollywood's puerile productions, there is no reason to give politics' any greater loyalty. You just admit you blew the evening and move on.

The record is indisputable: the expansion of the AF-Pak imperial war, a stimulus package that bailed out the largest banks and left workers and struggling homeowners as "lagging indicators," a plan designed to improve the health of insurance companies more than that of all Americans, and a continuation of contempt for the Constitution.

One of the reasons Obama has felt comfortable pursuing such conservative politics is that, commencing with Clinton, a large segment of the liberal constituency has come to accept the view that incumbency is a reasonable substitute for sound policy. The depressing healthcare debate and lack of opposition to the Af-Pak war reflect the disappearance of a vigorous liberal base that actually believes in something and presses for it with the same sort of passion those on the right demonstrate so frequently.

In fact, if you scrap traditional presumptions and look at the American political spectrum based on specific issues, you find that the layout is not anywhere close to what we are told. Most striking is that traditional liberals, Obama and Democrats in general are closer to the GOP on many more these issues than they are to true progressives, Libertarians or Greens. In fact, on about a half of current big issues, Libertarians are closer to progressives or Greens than they are to the GOP.

The lesson? It helps to know who your friends are. But also how few they are. Pollsters generally give those who are left of center - including Greens, radicals or populist progressives - only one choice of self-identification: liberal. Yet even this inflated category is much smaller than generally acknowledged. Here's a chart from American Election studies, showing the percent of those calling themselves liberal since 1972. The percentage has varied merely nine points over this period, with the peak tally at 23%.

And it gets worse. Of those calling themselves liberal, 8 to 11 percent described themselves as only "slightly liberal," whereas the number who described themselves as "extremely liberal" never got above two percent. According to Gallup, the only groups in 2003 that comprised a quarter or more of liberals were those who had gone to grad school and 18-38 year olds.

Looked at another way, there are fewer self-described liberals than there are blacks and latinos. And while the cliche - raised to almost religious heights during the last campaign - has the black voter as an icon of liberalism, Gallup found that even 77% of blacks consider themselves moderates or conservatives.

Further the number of self-described liberals increased just three points from 2000 when Bush was elected to 2008 when Obama won.

If you eliminate the atypical ten point surge in conservatives in 1994 (thanks to Bill Clinton's strong negatives) the gap between conservatives and liberals varied a maximum of seven points between 1972 and 2004. In other words, all the debate over these three decades produced a shift in the identity of about 4 percent of all voters (i.e half the gap).

Finally, if you take every category Gallup surveyed except political party - and that includes ethnicity, gender, age, income, and part of country - you find that the percentage of conservatives ranges from 30% for blacks to 49% for white southerners, hardly an overwhelming gap. For liberals the range is from 11% for those 65 and older to 28% for those with graduate degrees.

In other words, Americans' political self definitions tend to be consistent in time and far less varied across demographics than we usually think. What is not consistent is how they use that self definition at the polling place. For example, the percent of self defined conservatives was actually a point or two less when Reagan was elected than when Clinton won or when Gore almost did.

Of course, turnout is a factor but again it doesn't help the left of center, because - being smaller in size than the conservatives - the latter need only to enthuse their base, not convert someone else.

But it can be done. Part of the art of politics is redefining the meaning of the voter's own self identity. For example, I have often argued that we have always had Christian fundamentalists in American politics; we just used to call them New Deal or Great Society Democrats.

Three years ago I took a look at 21 safe GOP states. Eleven had above average poverty, 12 had below average income and 8 had severe drought problems. If you didn't know they were sacred GOP turf, you might think they were excellent organizing ground for the Democrats. Finally, 15 of these untouchable states, allegedly impenetrable behind their walls of faith-based family values, had above average divorce rates - all of them at least 90% greater than despicable, godless Massachusetts.

Politics is about getting people to think about the right things. The same people going into a polling place can cast distinctly different ballots depending on whether gay marriage or potential job loss is foremost on their minds.

The GOP has been brilliant over the past few decades, convincing people to obsess about the irrelevant, politicizing the non-political, and yelling "Fire!" when those around them were actually drowning. This is not conservative; it's a con.

But the right has also been increasingly aided by a self-righteous liberal elite that has lumped victims with the cons instead of trying to rescue them. They call these victims racist, stupid and act as though everyone who doesn't talk and believe like them gets their facts and philosophy direct from the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

In fact, a Pew study this year found that less than 20% of the public turn on Hannity or Limbaugh regularly or sometimes and 62% of conservatives never do. For a crowd that loves to decry stereotyping, these trad libs do a pretty good job of it when talking about those not of their ilk.

This is the worst kind of self-defeating cliquish politics. Given that for three decades, the smug self-satisfied attitude of such liberals has generally been shared by less than 20% of the electorate, it is clear that unless one wants to live in a political gated community there has to be some effort to change the game. And as Martin Luther King admonished his colleagues, among their dreams should be that someday their enemies would be their friends.

This sense is virulently absent in today's liberal rhetoric and politics. Instead we have MSNBC and Fox throwing stones at each other with conservatives, thanks to the numbers, having the edge.

To find a better way of doing it, it helps to look at some past examples of groups that, while lacking the numbers, still changed the country. Two that come rapidly to mind are the early civil rights and environmental movements.

With the key word being movement.

We have become trained in recent decades by both liberals and conservatives to define action by simply being on a national mailing list and making a contribution. Which is why Move On and Emily's List are so powerful but nobody knows what a liberal is any more.

Movements work differently. They have causes. They don't use popes; they rely on independent congregations. They are driven not by remote saviors but by visible and accessible substance. They assume a commitment beyond the voting booth, they think politicians should respond to people rather than the other way around, and they believe in "Here's how" as well as "Yes, we can."

Two of the best movements in the recent past have been the early civil rights and environmental movements.

The congregational model of the early civil rights movement is still not well appreciated for its strength and effectiveness. America's obdurate inability to deal with ethnic cruelty - which not even a civil war could cure - was finally confronted in a meaningful way largely by a bunch of twenty somethings. In so many ways it differed from the style we traditionally adopt for political change. Nothing I have covered or been a part of has come close to changing so many hearts, minds, laws and traditions in such a short time as the mid-century civil rights movement.

Among its secrets: the holistic model of a church congregation whose worker priests not only preached a message but integrated it into support, education and community building. It is a style alien to us today. We see people as voters, contributors, email activists, enemies or allies, but not as lives for which we share responsibility as we involve them in our cause.

Consider this from civil rights activist in the Mississippi summer of 1964:

"It is most interesting to talk to whites. Most of them, when they see a white man and black man standing at their door, know what we are doing and immediately turn themselves off - they are 'not interested.' But the few who do talk to us are great. In spite of the weight of their prejudices, in some cases they are deeply concerned with what is going on about them and want to try to help. One white woman, who I signed up, wanted to come to the meeting tonight. I arranged for a baby-sitter and called her back. She said her husband had learned of what she had done and she was in a bad situation. I am worried about her, but she, because of her husband's antagonism and our very sane and sensible conversation, may become quite active in her own way. It takes a lot of walking and talking on our part to do this, to gain this, but it is worth it, every bit of effort."

Key to such an effort is the assumption that changing people's minds takes effort. And it is worth it. You don't just call some people racists, get a check from others, amend a piece of legislation and then move on. It is the sort of complex work one doesn't find much of in politics these days.

The environmental movement also produced its change but not so much by effective community organizing but by effective education. From Silent Spring on, a growing number of activists taught America what its schools and media had ignored. It wasn't that easy. As late as 1995, the Washington Post ran a story about global warming that split the arguments so neatly one could easily reach the author's own conclusion: "When you sort through the confusion, how much you worry about greenhouse warming turns out not to be a matter of science."

These two movements had an enormous effect in part because they weren't just about civil rights and ecology, but also about politics. It was a politics based on specific issues rather than specific people. Last year millions voted for Obama to produce change. The civil rights and environmental movements produced change and let the presidents catch up With them.

When you only have a small percentage of the vote , such movements are a far better model than the top down, icon obsessed, cliquish approach of liberals deeply embedded in the traditional Democratic Party.

As for Obama, we just need to follow Sam Goldwyn's advice about someone else: "Don't even ignore him." It won't always work - he is president after all - but he has also made it clear that if one's politics is based on real issues and not celebrity cults, he has little to offer. When he does join a cause, we should welcome him, but as a general rule he is one more rocky ridge to cross between here and progress.

As I wrote last December, "At times the movement may find itself allied with Barack Obama; at other times he may be its major opponent. In either event, Obama will define change no better than John Kennedy defined the civil rights movement or LBJ the anti-Vietnam war movement. Change doesn't originate in the White House; what happens there merely reflects the power of the change around it. Which is one good reason not to go soft just because Obama's in the White House. If he won't be an ally, then he must be made irrelevant."

Cause-driven politics can especially benefit from a number of characteristics including:

- A congregational approach building communities of like-minded souls working on consensus-chosen issues.

- An educational approach in which activists gain support by creating more people who understand and appreciate the cause they are promoting.

- A willingness to work with people on one or more issues even when you disagree with them on others.

- A distinction between the manipulators of thought, whether media or political, and the manipulated . The latter shown respect even if you disagree with them.

- Introducing communities to a society increasingly filled with atomized individuals.

- Thinking local. Bear in mind that each of the great positive rebellious political movements of the past - such as the populists, progressives and socialists - made their impact thanks to the ubiquity and effectiveness of their local organizing more than through such national efforts as presidential campaigns.

- Basing politics on doing the most for the most, which means a heavy emphasis on economic issues Currently painfull lacking among embedded liberals.

- A willingness to cross traditional ideological boundaries. Every time you do, you weaken political stereotypes and make it easier for people to think for themselves. Two outstanding cross-ideological issues are ending the drug war and decentralizing government decisions. Starting a group called Gays for Gun Rights wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

- An de-emphasis of leftist behavior designed to prove how radical you are in favor of relating progressive causes to the American norm and traditions. The public often supports substantial change but backs off if it feels it would be considered 'radical.' Many allegedly radical positions are, in fact, quite conservative, such as conserving our constitution, our integrity, our economy, our environment and peace. It is the establishment center that led us into disasters radical and extreme: radically wrong and extremely incompetent. That's why when people call me a radical, I sometimes say, no, I'm just a moderate of a time that has not yet come.

A year ago, Sarah van Gelder of Yes Magazine gave us a clue as to what an independent progressive movement might look like - based on polls - of "an agenda that the majority of Americans support, whether they vote red, blue, green or something else."

67% favor public works projects to create jobs.

55% favor expanding unemployment benefits.

76% support tax cuts for lower- and middle-income people.

80% support increasing the federal minimum wage.

59% favor guaranteeing two weeks or more of paid vacation.

75% want to limit rate increases on adjustable-rate mortgages.

58% believe a court warrant should be required to listen to the telephone calls of people in the U.S.

59% would like the next president to do more to protect civil liberties.

79% favor mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions.

90% favor higher auto fuel efficiency standards.

75% favor clean electricity, even with higher rates.

72% support more funding for mass transit.

64% believe the government should provide national health insurance coverage for all Americans, even if it would raise taxes.

55% favor one health insurance program covering all Americans, administered by the government, and paid for by taxpayers.

81% oppose torture and support following the Geneva Conventions.

76% say the U.S. should not play the role of global police.

79% say the U.N. should be strengthened.

63% want U.S. forces home from Iraq within a year.

47% favor using diplomacy with Iran. 7% favor military action.

67% believe we should use diplomatic and economic means to fight terrorism, rather than the military.

86% say big companies have too much power in politics

65% believe attacking social problems is a better cure for crime than more law enforcement.

87% support rehabilitation rather than a punishment-only system.

81% say job training is very important for reintegrating people leaving prison.

79% say drug treatment is very important.

56% believe NAFTA should be renegotiated.

64% believe that on the whole, immigration is good for the country.

The media and the mega politicians have taught us to judge politics and our own choices by the what is going on in the White House. This isn't just Obama's fault. Back in 1994 I wrote:

"[The] preoccupation with the presidency not only exaggerates the importance of the position, it distorts the constitutional division of political power, denigrates the significance of state and local government and creates pressures for presidential action when such action may be neither wise nor even lawful. We can not, even out of seemingly harmless celebrity worship, imbue our president with supra-constitutional virtues or powers without simultaneously damaging the Constitution and the democratic system it was established to protect.

"Besides, our presidential fetish badly skews our view of our country and the changes occurring within it -- not only elsewhere in government but beyond politics entirely. It trivializes our own collective and individual roles in creating social and political change. And, conversely, it can create the illusion of great change when far less is really happening."

It's time to move beyond Obama, to seize control of change again, making it a popular and not an elite choice and design, to redistribute power we have been trained to give to the few but rightfully belongs to the many, to build congregations of progressives as vigorous as those of past, to help and not hate those whose view of reality has been warped by our monopolized information system to better understand what's really going on.

If Obama wants to join us, fine. If not, then put him behind us. The future is too precious to let the dysfunctions of power leave us prisoners of its endless failures.

September 24, 2009


The following was written in 1978 after the election
of Marion Barry as mayor of Washington DC.


1. If the people had expected you to be infallible they would have made you Pope. They only elected you mayor. It's not a question of whether you'll make mistakes but how you make them and what you do afterwards. Correct them promptly and don't be too proud to admit that your administration involves trial and error. Humility is a rare but endearing quality in a politician.

2. You probably think you have a mandate. Maybe you do, but it is a safer premise to regard yourself as on parole.

3. You promised leadership during the campaign but remember that the people want to lead too. Leadership involves listening to them as well as telling them.

4. Small plans lead to small disasters; big plans lead to big disasters. No big plan has saved this city yet; lots of small plans have helped.

5. You have more employees than many towns have citizens. Your government is a town in itself and will act like one. You will have to choose from time to time between the town that works for you and the one that elected you. It isn't easy but it may help to keep in mind that the former wouldn't be there without the latter .

6. Beware of experts. The people can show you how. They remember how many times the experts have been wrong and they have been right.

7. Let your promises lag slightly behind people's expectations and they will have many pleasant surprises. A promise is like a hand grenade. If it's not tossed at its mark soon enough it will blow up in your face.

8. At first, the press will treat you like an emperor. But they soon tire of that and will claim that you are walking around with no clothes on simply because your suit is a little tattered. Let people see for themselves how you are dressed. Remember that most voters do not come to city hall. You will have to go out and find them just as you did during the campaign. When you find them, remember that they want not so much to believe what you are saying as for you to believe what they are saying.

9. Reporters are always a pain, but they will become a scourge if your anger and frustration with them rises to the surface.

10. Some of your advisers will fail you. Move them gently but quickly out of the way

11. A mistake admitted is soon forgotten; a mistake concealed can provide news copy for days.

12. Don't be shocked or angered when your friends criticize you. They are full of unreasonable expectations, which you created. If you can't do something their way, tell them why directly and simply. No one really expects politicians not to make compromises - unless you pretend you don't.

13. If, after discussing a problem with your political aides, your bureaucratic advisers, your consultants and per-diem experts, you still can't decide what to do, try a daring experiment: ask the people. They should be allowed to make mistakes, too. Besides, sharing power also allows you to share the blame.

14. Successful campaigning involves decentralized decisions and precinct-level leadership. City government, if it is successful, involves the same things. If neighborhoods were smart enough to elect you, they may also be smart enough to help you run the city, especially when decisions affect them most of all.

15. Be considerate enough of your successors not to leave them with too many problems. It is easy, and politically expedient, to create plans that won't fail until you are safely out of office. Avoid the temptation.

16. Conversely, be considerate enough of your successors to leave them with improvements they won't have to worry about. You can't get credit for everything. Remember that a fifty-year-old tree still takes fifty fiscal years in which to grow. Plant it anyway.

17. Don't forget the small things. You are not only mayor of a major city but its head janitor and recreation director. You may not be able to bring substantial progress in every area but you can make the wait more pleasant, more fun and more attractive. Establish an Office of Amenities, Trivia and Fun and charge it with finding things people can do, rather than, in the manner of most government agencies, what they can't.

18. Buildings should be determined by the people and not vice versa. If you must plan, make sure your plans are incomplete so the people using them can influence them. Most city planners want to homogenize a town and let their structures order culture. This is the antithesis of what a city should be about. The success of a city is not determined by the logic of its design but by the multiplicity of its opportunities.

19. Avoid using "impact" as a verb. Don't use "decision-making process," "viable," or "ongoing" at all and remember that communities and people want power, not "input."

20. Never forget the Andrews Sisters song, "Don't Worry About Strangers; Keep Your Eye on Your Best Friend.' No mayor ever went to jail for what his enemies did.

September 17, 2009


Sam Smith

One of the purported scoundrels of the past for whom I retain admiration is Robert E. Peary, who either did or did not reach the North Pole in 1909. His Maine summer home on Eagle Island in Casco Bay sits eight miles to seaward of my own longtime summer, and now permanent, home. It is a gentle, thin curve, like a wooded moon daily and futilely attempting to rise further above the horizon. Open to the public, it provides an instant trip into the simple world of a century ago albeit with no evidence that the owner might have been a fraud.

Down the road, less than a mile, is the former of home of Donald MacMilan who accompanied Peary on his polar expedition.

In these parts you don't hear much talk of the numerous doubts about Peary. Myth, if close enough to home, can easily substitute for reality.

I was reminded of the Peary problem by a recent article by the NY Times' John Tierney who has little use for the explorer:

"A century later, the 'discovery' of the North Pole may qualify as the most successful fraud in modern science, as well as the longest-running case study of a psychological phenomenon called 'motivated reasoning.'

"The believers who have kept writing books and mounting expeditions to vindicate Cook or Peary resemble the political partisans recently studied by psychologists and sociologists. When the facts get in the way of our beliefs, our brains are marvelously adept at dispensing with the facts."

The NY Times gave up on Peary some time ago while the National Geographic hangs on, albeit with the caution that it "remains open to any new information, including application of new technologies, that would shed light on the question."

As I read Tierney, I found myself not taking sides but realizing how removed he was from some of the other realities of history, such as the fact that there was a time when even coming within three to one hundred miles of the North Pole was a stunning achievement and how we now live in a time filled with Tierneys but few Pearys or MacMillans. We critique the known but no longer explore the unknown the way we once did.

Many years ago my mother took my wife and I to visit Mrs. Donald MacMillan, then in her eighties. Few things I covered in Washington were as thrilling as to meet perhaps the first non-Inuit or non-Sandanavian woman to have sailed above the Arctic Circle. At first, the crew hadn't even wanted her; it was considered bad luck to sail with a woman. But MacMillan convinced them to let her go as far as Greenland. When they arrived he was presented with a petition from the crew urging him to let her stay. She would join Macmillan on nine trips above the Arctic Circle.

Miriam MacMillan's house was filled with Arctic and maritime effluvia. I sat under a nine foot long narwhal tusk as I listened to her stories.

When it was time to go, she first gave us directions and then changed her mind, got in her car and one of the last explorers of unknown places on the earth led us to the main highway near Owl's Head.

Her husband had been a teacher who came to Peary's attention when he saved nine shipwrecked people in two nights. He joined the great expedition but his heels froze and he had to turn back 26 days before Peary claimed to have achieved his goal.

If Peary fell short at the pole, it wasn't the only time. There was also Crocker Land. MacMillan described it thus:

"In June 1906, Commander Peary, from the summit of Cape Thomas Hubbard, at about latitude 83 degrees N, longitude 100 degrees W, reported seeing land glimmering in the northwest, approximately 130 miles away across the Polar Sea. He did not go there, but he gave it a name in honor of the late George Crocker of the Peary Arctic Club. That is Crocker Land. Its boundaries and extent can only be guessed at, but I am certain that strange animals will be found there, and I hope to discover a new race of men."

In 1913, MacMillan led an expedition to Crocker Land. Two weeks later they struck some rocks, according to MacMllan thanks to a drunken captain. They moved the expedition to another ship and eventually set out on foot on a 1200 mile journey that included temperatures 32 degrees below freezing. They also spent three days climbing a 4700 foot glacier.

Before long members of the party started giving up. In the end only MacMillan and three others, two of them Inuits remained. Finally they saw what appeared to be a huge island, described by MacMillan as having "Hills, valleys, snow-capped peaks extending through at least one hundred and twenty degrees of the horizon."

One of the Inuits said it was just mist, but MacMillan kept on. One hundred and twenty five miles later, he had to admit the Inuit hunter was right:

"The day was exceptionally clear, not a cloud or trace of mist; if land could be seen, now was our time . Yes, there it was! It could even be seen without a glass, extending from southwest true to northeast. Our powerful glasses, however. . . brought out more clearly the dark background in contrast with the white) the whole resembling hills, valleys and snow-capped peaks to such a degree that, had we not been out on the frozen sea for 150 miles, we would have staked our lives upon its reality. Our judgment then as now, is that this was a mirage or loom of the sea ice."

The remaining members of the expedition were finally rescued two years later after two failed attempts.

Now I'm willing to wager that John Tierney of the Times, like myself, has never experienced anything close to that. But Robert Peary and Donald MacMillan did and to dismiss polar effort as merely a fraud, even if Peary did fudge the final result, is a reflection of our ESPN culture where only the final outcome counts.

It is so easy to forget how easy we have it today. I drive a car with a GPS lady who tells me where to go whenever I'm in doubt. But I can remember not even being able to imagine such a tool. When I was a Coast Guard navigator I once had to put the Nantucket lightship back on station after it had lost its loran and its radar. Try telling a ship precisely where to go and then stop using just your own radar and loran. It's hard to even think about in the time of GPS.

And the ship I was on had, just four years earlier (before I joined it), accompanied two other vessels in making what was the third navigation of the Northwest Passage - and the first by deep draft craft.

The first passage had been accomplished about a half century earlier by a small vessel captained by Roald Amundsen. Eight years later Amundsen was the first to make it to the South Pole and fifteen years after that he flew an airship over the North Pole. Given the disputed status of Peary and other early claimants, some feel that Amundsen deserves credit for being first at that pole.

But when you read all these stories, the ultimate triumph fades in the common courage and the struggles of both the winners and the losers. Peary may have fudged, lied, been mistaken or told a sea story, but when you realize what he went through just to get within three to a hundred miles of the truth, one's judgment softens.

As Barbara Tuchman put it, "To understand the choices open to people of another time, one must limit oneself to what they knew; see the past in its own clothes, as it were, not in ours."

September 15, 2009


-- The real problem isn't what Joe Wilson, Kanye West and Serena Williams said initially. It might have been wrong, rude or even cruel, but at least it came from the heart. The real problem was their disingenuous apology. To borrow a phrase from Joe Wilson, they lied. Congress should change its rules to allow members to call the president a liar, but prohibit them from apologizing for it afterward. A similar rule could be applied by MTV and at tennis championships. In this way, honesty would might begin its return to a higher status than hypocrisy.

-- I sincerely and deeply apologize to anyone offended by the above.

-- The Senate has defunded ACORN due to the misbehavior of a few of its members. If the Senate had applied the same principle to Wall Street, there never would have been a bailout.

- Josiah Swampoodle

September 14, 2009


Sam Smith

Back when JFK was getting ready to invade Cuba, the New Republic got wind of the CIA's training of Cuban exiles.

Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger was shown an advance copy of the article, which he promptly passed to Kennedy, who in turn asked (successfully) that TNR not print it. The New York Times also withheld a story on the pending invasion, which Schlesinger would later praise as a "patriotic act" although he admitted wondering whether if the "press had behaved irresponsibly, it would not have spared the country a disaster."

Schlesinger was a prototype for that modern phenomenon, the meddlesome Harvard prof seeking manly vigor by helping presidents damage this country. Henry Kissinger and McGeorge Bundy would soon follow. Later, the staff and management of the Harvard Business School would assist at the collapse of the Russian economy even as their colleagues at the Kennedy School were teaching scores of American politicians how to repeal 60 years of social progress.

It certainly hasn't all been Harvard's fault. As LBJ once told an aide, the CIA was filled with boys from Princeton and Yale whose daddies wouldn't let them into the brokerage firm.

The American intelligentsia has repeatedly let the country down. Consider that exemplar for generations of law school students: Oliver Wendell Holmes. Prospective litigants have all learned Holmes' immortal warning that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." Fewer, I suspect, have also learned that these words were uttered in defense of the contemptible Espionage Act and that Holmes himself was among those upholding Eugene Debs' sentence of ten years in prison for saying such things as "the master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."

As early as the turn of the last century, Julian Benda noted, there had been a shift among intellectuals from being a "check on the realism of the people to acting as stimulators of political passions." He described these new intellectuals as being most interested in the possession of concrete advantages and material values, while holding up to scorn the pursuit of the spiritual, the non-practical or the disinterested.

It is true that many intellectuals and grad school graduates took a strong stand against the Vietnam War. But that was a long time ago and today there is nothing even remotely close to that era when the Kissingers and Bundys were matched by others including, in 1970, 1000 lawyers joining an anti-war protest.

In The Twentieth Century: A People's History, Howard Zinn describes a response by some of the intelligentsia stunningly at odds with what we are currently observing: The poet Robert Lowell, invited to a White House function, refused to come. Arthur Miller, also invited, sent a telegram to the White House: "When the guns boom, the arts die." Singer Eartha Kitt was invited to a luncheon on the White House lawn and shocked all those present by speaking out, in the presence of the President's wife, against the war. . . In Hollywood, local artists erected a 60-foot Tower of Protest on Sunset Boulevard. At the National Book Award ceremonies in New York, fifty authors and publishers walked out on a speech by Vice President.

These, remember, were protests against a far more liberal president than we have today - a man who had already shepherded through Congress the most progressive social changes since the New Deal.

Things really started to collapse with the Democratic conservative Clinton administration, typified by a major group of intelligentsia coming to his defense over the Monica Lewinsky affair. It's just lucky we didn't have to rely upon this craven crowd when we were fighting George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Carmine DeSapio and Richard Daley. They probably would have lectured us all about party unity.

You had Toni Morrison claiming that "the president is, being stolen from us" and Jane Smiley virtually applauding the president for demonstrating in his relationship with Monica a "desire to make a connection with another person something I trust." And there was a multinational manifesto issued by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Desmond Tutu, William Styron, Lauren Becall, Jacques Derrida, Sophia Loren, Carlos Fuentes, Vanessa Redgrave and the ever-faithful Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Obama's campaign brought this crowd alive again and, as with Clinton, one hears little talk of economic or social issues. It is all about the new savior.
Who needed to worry about foreclosures as long as Obama was in charge.

But beyond the weaknesses of the Democratic Party being turned into an elite, conservative club are some serious intellectual problems. A growing number of those in charge have been educated in graduate schools that train their students in a particular and limited perspective on life: whether it be law, business or economics. The number those trained in history, arts, anthropolgy or the classics who have also risen to the politics top is miniscule.

The favored skills have their virtue but only within a larger context, something recognized by twenty percent of the Harvard Business School graduates who have signed a pledge "to serve the greater good," a move presumably driven by a sense that the goal was not intrinsic to the school's curriculum.

These schools are an elite form of vocational training. Vocational training is useful when applied to the vocation for which one is trained. They can be helpful in other fields as well, like running a government, but only in conjunction with other values and skills.

Apply the law excessively and you can come up with endless good sounding excuses for violating the Constitution.

Apply the lessons of business school excessively and you happily bail out many of the biggest banks but hardly any homeowners in the depths of foreclosure purgatory.

Apply the lessons of economics excessively and you can declare the recession ending even as more Americans are losing their jobs.

Among the other biases is an undue faith in expertise and status, reflected in the hierarchal approach to the stimulus bill and so-called education reforms. There is little indication emanating from the Obama administration that it appreciates or respects the vast pool of competent politicians and bureaucrats at every level of our society. There is even an implicit disrespect reflected in how much control is concentrated at such a high altitude. Among the effects: a constituency of state and local officials who are somewhat or quite annoyed at Obama instead of being enthusiastic participants in his programs.

You also can drive the soul out of politics, which helps to explain why we can have such a huge recovery program with hardly any good stories of how it has helped real people. In grad school politics, anecdotes don't count; only data.

As this soulless, heartless politics takes control, the distance between the politician and the voter grows, even - as is now becoming painfully evident - to the point of nasty distrust and anger.

Some of this, in the case of Obama, is due to ethnic prejudice and some to the manipulation of issues like healthcare by the rotten right. But it is still surprising that Obama of all people - who has yet to find an issue about which he is reliably passionate and who uses the word 'bipartisan' like teenagers use 'you know' - has stirred such frenzy.

Among the factors at work may be that his very lack of conviction makes convincing argument difficult; that at a time when so many are hurting so much, he seems so distant and abstract; that he is able to present data but not draw pictures, and that he lectures when he should just be talking and scolds when he should be sharing.

Further, many of his well educated liberal constituents have made it quite clear what they think about the mass of unhappy America. If you read the liberal blogs and comments of their readers, what comes through is not a desire to reach this constituency but merely to hold it in contempt. The numbers would suggest that is not good politics.

Obama is not alone. Congress and the executive branch is increasingly filled with those who know how to speak to a camera but not to an ordinary American.

Further, as our elites become better educated, more of what passes for learning is vicarious, e.g. learned from books rather than from experience. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, books are all right in their way but they are a pretty poor substitute for life.

In earlier times the learned either had to retreat to monasteries or else have their abstract knowledge constantly jostled by the daily demands of survival as well as by the philistinism and practical knowledge of the non-literate masses. Consider how different the daily life of a Jefferson or a Frederick Douglass was in comparison with that of a Larry Summers or Henry Louis Gates. In earlier times the privilege of the insular world belonged to a few monks and scholars; today it is just another commodity one can purchase.

Among the most dramatic changes in Washington has been the disappearance of the practical person, the individuals - whether pol, hack or advisor - who compensate for deficiencies in formal learning with a superb understanding of life. They were either masters of the pragmatic or of the moral, but in either case served as the GPS of national politics.

In their place we find a town overflowing with decadent dandies who, to quote a 19th journalist, have been educated well beyond their intellects.

They keep busy creating fictions about the nature of politics and the presidency that coincidentally serve their own ambitions, until they become incapable of returning to reality.

The intelligentsia, like everything else in America, has also become corporatized. This can be seen at its worst on campuses and in publishing houses. Journalism and academia have become so subordinated to the needs of their controlling conglomerates that the vital ground between starvation and surrender has become, economically at least, increasingly difficult to hold.

The safest route is to cling to approved symbols while shucking substance, to serve in a House of Lords of the mind, robed and bewigged but naked of power and meaning.

This alteration in the relation of the intellectual to the culture was instinctively grasped by the DC elementary school student as she defined the difference between art and graffiti as "Art is when you have permission to do it." These are days when you not only need permission for art, but also to think. And among the places you go for permission are corporations and grad schools.

For much of my life I have hewed to H. L. Mencken's dictum that the liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by those "who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving . . . that doubt, after all, was safe - that the god in the sanctuary was a fraud." For much of my life this strategy has worked. Even in the gathering gloom of the Reagan-Bush years. But starting with the arrival of the Clinton administration and its cultural as well as political authoritarianism, skepticism began being blacklisted. Not only was belief to be unopposed by doubt but the terms themselves were banned. In their place was only loyalty or disloyalty.

Under current rules, truth belongs to the one with the most microphones clamped to his podium and the most bucks to buy them. In the end it has become a struggle for the control of fact and memory not unlike that described in 1984: "Who controls the past controls the future, ran the Party slogan, "who controls the present controls the past."

All that is needed is an unending series of victories over memory.

In such a time those with wrong memories and wrong facts are considered mad, disparaged, and dropped from the Blackberry. To hold power happily, one must not be curious and one must not question fully accredited paradigms. To think is to fail. . . .

America has frequently been blessed by the bitter dissatisfaction of those still barred from tasting the fruits of its ideals. It has been the pressure of the dispossessed, rather than the virtue of those in power, that has repeatedly saved this country's soul.

In this century, three such influences have been those of immigrants, blacks, and women. Yet in each case now, social and economic progress has inevitably produced a dilution of passion for justice and change.

Thus we find ourselves with a women's movement much louder in its support of Hillary Clinton than about the plight of its sisters at the bottom of the economic pile. We have conservative black economists decrying the moral debilitation of affirmative action but few rising to the defense of those suffering under the rampant incarceration of young black males. We are also at the end of an succession of Jewish writers and thinkers, raised on the immigrant experience, who created much of the form of progressive 20th century America. Now Jewish writers and thinkers tend to be too busy saving Israel to even notice the American underclass.

Meanwhile, those truly at the bottom -- such as black and white men without a college education or new immigrant groups -- are rarely heard from or about except in reports on crime and poverty.

The dirty secret of 20th century social movements is that they have been successful enough to create their own old boy and girl networks, powerful enough to enter the Chevy Chase Club, and indifferent enough to ignore those left behind.

Their elites have joined to form the largest, most prosperous, and most narcissistic intelligentsia in our history.

And as the best and brightest enjoy their power, who will speak for those who, in Bill Mauldin's phrase, remain fugitives from the law of averages? Not the best and brightest because they have built an oligarchy that gets its face from the united colors of Benetton but its economics from the divided classes of Dickens.

September 12, 2009


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Pass Obamacare and get some important restrictions placed on the predatory practices of insurance companies. It will also increase by several tens of millions those receiving free or subsidized health insurance.

On the other hand:

- The proposed cuts in Medicare would, despite the president's claim to the contrary, reduce the program's services to seniors to an uncertain degree.

- The proposed "efficiency" programs would result in some reduction in end of life services. Whether this would be as significant as the restrictions currently imposed by insurance companies is uncertain.

- The government's real and de facto subsidy to health insurance companies (either through helping people pay for their insurance or through the mandatory purchase of insurance) would be among the greatest government pork ever, similar to that in the bank bailout or in the subsidy of the defense industry by our military budget. It amount to $100 to $200 billion a year given largely to an industry that serves no social purpose that couldn't be better and more cheaply handled by the government.

- The mandated purchase of health insurance is probably unconstitutional.

- The public option has either faded into a choice for the poorest or is dead.

So what does a conscientious member of Congress do? In many ways, these legislators find themselves in the situation of someone doing business in a Mafia neighborhood. They can achieve some of their objectives, but only after paying off the hoods from the insurance company mob.

One can be moral, refuse the payoff and leave health reform to another year or one can be pragmatic, make the payoffs, and hope that on balance it works out for the best. Neither approach is satisfactory.

Another way to look at it is that either passing the bill or not passing it will cause a reaction. The nature of this reaction is uncertain. For example, one could argue that failing this time would set things in motion for real health reform. Bipartisanship, centrism and all the other cons of the Washington establishment would have betrayed us again and the argument for single payer would be stronger.

But one could also argue that passing a bad bill would also lay the groundwork for real reform as the fallacies and failures of the bill would soon be apparent to all, laying the groundwork for something better.

Depending on the time of day and what I'm reading, I can go with either approach. And I doubt that I am alone. One thing, however, is certain. Obama and the Democrats - with their cynical and false centrism - have left us with a patchwork of good and evil as bad as Wasington ever sees, forcing us to choose between doing nothing or paying off the hoods in order to do a little good.

September 11, 2009


Sam Smith

So Joe Wilson is a jerk. That's no excuse for his critics to get all prissy about his calling Obama a liar during his congressional speech.
After all now you know Joe Wilson is a jerk.

That's the way it's meant to work, but does less and less, in part because America has become so sanctimonious about proper political behavior and so indifferent to good political policy. One reason is that it's a hell of a lot easier to discuss what Wilson said than what is in the health care legislation. Politicians, the media and the public love these diversions. They're so easy to talk about and make it so easy for others to keep doing the real stuff behind the scenes.

I blame C-SPAN for some of this. I suspect the network is one of the main reasons we now have covert filibusters without the need for anyone to make a fool of themselves for 12 hours on national TV.

But it is also a larger part of our society, a growing emphasis on propriety even as our culture deteriorates. That's not uncommon. Think how stuffy the Brits got before their empire fell apart. The politesse of collapse.

If politics was as pompous and priggish as it is today, I never would have gotten interested in it. It's one of the reason I prefer watching the British parliament to the U.S. Congress; its members haven't given up their humanity just to look better on TV.

And it's not just Britain. Here are some news quotes culled from a number of countries:

[] The Legislative Assembly in Tonga has accepted apologies from two members before its two week adjournment. The apologies came from Akilisi Pohiva and Etuate Lavulavu for contempt of the house stemming from deliberations over a proposed bill on the rights to protect a person's name for commercial purposes. Mr Lavulavu said the bill followed false accusations that King Taufa'ahau Tupou had 350-million US dollars in his personal possession and the bill was drafted to protect him. Member Uliti Uata responded by saying the king was already protected by Clause 7 of the constitution. Mr Pohiva then picked up a law book and threatened to throw it at Mr Lavulavu over his reasoning for the bill. Mr Lavulavu then challenged him to throw the book so he could then hit Mr Pohiva. The Assembly is now adjourned for two weeks for the annual visits of members to their constituencies."

Parliament descended into high farce today after the word lying was banned in the Lower House. Acting speaker Brenton Best ruled that no member of the Tasmanian Parliament could use the words liar, lie or lying anywhere within the House of Assembly. Twice the parliament went to the vote to test Mr Best's unusual ruling, with the Government using its numbers to defeat the Greens and Liberals who disagreed with the ban. Past practice in parliaments around the world is that while no MP can call another a liar or accuse them of lying, the words are able to be used in general debate. But this afternoon Mr Best ruled that none of the words relating to the act of lying could ever be used in Tasmania's Lower House, in any context of any debate. . . Both the Greens and Liberals objected violently and loudly to Mr Best's interpretation of the standing orders that disallowed the L-word ever to be used in the House. "This is extraordinary; we can't use the L-word ever?," Mr Booth asked incredulously. . . "You lot are bringing this House into disrepute; this chamber should be a bastion of free speech - [how can] you suggest the word lying cannot be used at all?" Mr Gutwein said."

Catcalls and charges echoed through the West German Parliament today as it gave a rowdy and heated foretaste of the domestic political struggle shaping over German unity. Among many exchanges of insults, opposition Social Democrats called Chancellor Helmut Kohl a rabble-rouser and accused him of handling reunification as his private business. Members of the Chancellor's party, the Christian Democratic Union."

A scuffle broke out
in Taiwan's rowdy parliament over an opposition bill on Tuesday, with lawmakers exchanging punches and a flying mobile phone leaving one with a bloodied eye. The fight erupted as lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its ally, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, tried to stop a vote on an opposition bill to create an independent media watchdog. Chang Sho-wen, a lawmaker from the main opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, was hit in his left eye by a mobile phone, witnesses said. Blood gushed from his face and the lawmaker was rushed to hospital."

In what appears to be a continuing trend from the Australian House of Representatives Question Time session November 2, a further six Federal Opposition members and one Government member were ejected during and just after Question Time. Anthony Albanese, having been warned earlier to Question Time was the first removed, and after Opposition members had interjected "Boring, boring!" to an answer from the Australian Treasurer Peter Costello describing the Opposition stance on the industrial relations reform as a "scare campaign", the Speaker Neil Andrew issued a "general warning". . . Edwards said "You're a fraud, Abbott!" and he was also removed.

India's Parliament on Wednesday elected its first-ever female speaker, the daughter of a former deputy prime minister and an untouchable - a member of India's lowest caste. Meira Kumar, 64, was elected unopposed and immediately assumed her post. . . Lawmakers thumped their desks to cheer Kumar as she was congratulated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. . . The speaker's job is a difficult one in India's often rowdy Parliament. Previous speakers were often forced to issue sharp reprimands or walk out when members shouted slogans and bickered, especially over contentious legislation.

The telecast of the question hour
in Malaysia's Dewan Rakyat (parliament) is to continue despite rowdy scenes being caught 'live' during a 30-minute coverage. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he was "ashamed" after the first television coverage of parliament proceedings last week, when the new session began on a chaotic note following the March elections. . . However, Indian origin lawmaker Karpal Singh said the public outcry at the parliament's proceedings was "unwarranted" and that it should be "seen in a perspective". "We need a parliament which is robust," he said. According to him, lively exchanges and repartee enliven what would otherwise be mundane and dull proceedings. "I have been a member of parliament for 26 years. One of the dullest places on earth is the parliament," he said.

Months of political crisis for South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun reached a climax Friday, when lawmakers headed by the country's conservative opposition party voted to impeach him for violating election law and for incompetence. . . The vote Thursday followed two days of high drama, involving the reported suicide of a businessman Roh accused of corruption, the attempted suicide of a Roh supporter, the setting alight of a car on the Assembly steps, and brawling inside the chamber. Overnight, rival groups of lawmakers tussled for physical control of the speaker's podium in the Assembly - the only location from which the speaker can call for a vote, according to national law.[]

Philip Rucker and Ann Gerhart of the Washington Post added some poignant moments from our own past in a story about Wilson: "Wilson's surprising moment drew renewed attention to the Palmetto State's history of colorful politics. Historians recall the state's then-Democratic Sen. Strom Thurmond wrestling Sen. Ralph Yarborough (D-Tex.) in 1964 over a civil rights nomination, and Rep. John W. Jenrette (D-S.C.) and his then-wife Rita having sex on the Capitol steps in the 1970s. . ."

Today every politician learns first and foremost how to be appropriately insincere. And when they screw up, they say they "misspoke" or used a "wrong choice of words."

One of the problems with this is that it makes it harder to tell the fools from the wise ones. When everyone uses the same spin, when everyone - if you will - lies, then how do you tell them apart?

Which is why, for all their other faults, I still bless the British for their parliament. In Britain at least, the prime minister doesn't just pay only occasional visits totally spun and rehearsed and with no questions allowed. And it was in Britain where the speaker of the House once issued one of the finest parliamentary pleas ever: "Order. Order. Order! . . . Your behavior disfigures our proceedings."

September 06, 2009


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Someone in Obama Spin Central made a bad mistake: attempting to push a politicized lesson plan for elementary school kids to use following the president's speech to them on TV. It wasn't all that important in itself but symbolizes an apparent desire in some quarters to replace Muzak in our lives with the sound of all Obama all the time.

The lesson plan included such tacky political recommendations as having students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

Elsewhere the lesson plan suggested sample questions including, "Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything?" and, "Is he challenging you to do anything?"

Once the plan was exposed (and the Review was about the only progressive journal to help in this), The White House quickly dumped some of the objectionable language. For example, the plan now suggests that students "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."

The spinmeisters pulled out a classic non-apology. Said one, "That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it."

But other Democrats were not content to correct and move on. Instead they tried to rewrite the script so that it was only about the president giving a speech. Nothing about the crummy lesson plan.

And the liberal media joined the fray. MSNBC's John Harwood, for example, badly misstated the issue by claiming, "I’ve been watching politics for a long time, and this one is really over-the-top. What it shows you is there are a lot of cynical people who try to fan controversy, and let’s face it, in a country of 300 million people, there are a lot of stupid people too, because if you believe that it’s somehow unhealthy for kids, for the president to say "work hard and stay in school," you’re stupid." Nothing about the lesson plan.

Now it's true the Republicans and conservatives leaped on the issue as could be expected. But the Democratic and liberal media tried to argue that all those opposed were in this camp as well.

This reflects a growing Democratic tendency, whether the issue be end of life decisions, gun control, or politicized lesson plans issued by the president's staff, to treat all those opposed to the Democratic position as stupid conservatives.

And since that isn't true, the Democrats end up insulting an awful lot of people who just don't happen to agree with them on one issue. People like school superintendents who have decided not to run the speech because of its political context or parents who are also troubled by it.

Take for instance Vasselboro Maine parent, Micki Stetson, whose two children attend Vassalboro Community School. According to the Morning Sentinel, "Stetson said it's great that the president is giving a pep talk to students and that children will look at this as 'sort of a good thing, something they will remember,' but that 'the department was overstepping its boundaries. I believe the questions asked were advocating an ideology, as opposed to a critical approach. They shouldn't be asking a child how this figure inspired you. What if the figure didn't inspire them? That's political propaganda, and I don't believe that should be portrayed in the school."

Do John Harwood and the Daily Kos think Micki Stetson is stupid?

What good does it do to assign such a name to those who happen to disagree with you on one issue? Especially when even the White House tacitly admitted they were right by removing the objectionable language?

And if they do think they were stupid, would this category include the former Democratic House majority leader Dick Gephart who in 1991 said of a George H. W Bush speech at a Washington junior high school, "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students."

You start calling people stupid for disagreeing with you on a few issues and there's no telling who will end up in the pot. And every one is less likely to vote the way you want after they've heard your low opinion of them.

September 03, 2009


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - During the campaign the Review pointed out a number of uncomfortable facts about Barack Obama, including that he:

Aggressively opposed impeachment action against Bush

Had argued that conservatives and Bill Clinton were right to destroy social welfare,

Supported making it harder to file class action suits in state courts

Voted for a business-friendly "tort reform" bill

Voted against a 30% interest rate cap on credit cards

Had the most number of foreign lobbyist contributors in the primaries

Was even more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain

Was the most popular of the candidates with K Street lobbyists

Was named in 2003 by the rightwing Democratic Leadership Council named Obama as one of its "100 to Watch." After he was criticized in the black media, Obama disassociated himself with the DLC. But his major economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, was still the chief economist of the conservative organization. Wrote Doug Henwood, "Goolsbee has written gushingly about Milton Friedman and denounced the idea of a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures."

Supported the war on drugs

Supported the crack-cocaine sentence disparity

Supported Real ID

Supported the PATRIOT Act

Supported the death penalty

Opposed lowering the drinking age to 18

Went to Connecticut to support Joe Lieberman in the primary against Ned Lamont

Lent his support, as Paul Street of Z Mag noted, " to the aptly named Hamilton Project, formed by corporate-neoliberal Citigroup chair Robert Rubin and other Wall Street Democrats to counter populist rebellion against corporatist tendencies within the Democratic Party. . . Obama was recently hailed as a Hamiltonian believer in limited government and free trade by Republican New York Times columnist David Brooks."

Endorsed US involvement in the failed drug war in Colombia.

Voted for a nuclear energy bill that included money for bunker buster bombs and full funding for Yucca Mountain.

Came in at 48th in the ranking of senators by the League of Conservation Voters

Supported federally funded ethanol and was unusually close to the ethanol industry.

Promised to double funding for private charter schools, part of a national effort to undermine public education.

Supported the No Child Left Behind Act

Favored expanding the war in Afghanistan

Supported Israeli aggression and apartheid.

Favored turning over Jerusalem to Israel

Wouldn't rule out first strike nuclear attack on Iran

Called Pakistan "the right battlefield ... in the war on terrorism." Threatened to invade Pakistan

Opposed gay marriage

Opposed single payer healthcare

Supported restricting damage awards in medical malpractice suits

Favored healthcare individual mandates that would help insurance companies and banks but not citizens

Wanted to expand the size of the military.

Wouldn't have photo taken with San Francisco mayor because he was afraid it would seem that he supported gay marriage

Dissed Ralph Nader for daring to run for president again

Called the late Paul Wellstone "something of a gadfly"

Was ranked 24th in the Senate by Progressive Punch

Said "everything is on the table" with Social Security.

That's 38 reasons for starters why liberals might have been uncomfortable with Obama. Instead they treated him as if he had descended from heaven and heavily chastised those who failed to join their crusade.

Some of this was to be expected; for example, history and ethnic solidarity made black support unsurprising.

But even with Bill Clinton white liberal arguments on his behalf still had the tone of slightly embarrassed justification. With Obama there was nothing but idolatry.

Now, with a rapidity that surprised even this cynic, liberals are feeling uncomfortable with, and some even mad at, their instant hero. What went wrong?

Here are a few hypotheses:

- With the Clinton election, liberalism shifted from being an ideology to being more a combination of faith and socio-economic demographic that sought identity through favored icons rather than by preferred policies.

- The dominant white portion of the demographic found in Obama a black with whom they could identify - a handsome, well-spoken Harvard Law School graduate with none of the anger or aggressiveness of someone like Jesse Jackson. Obama was the black they had been waiting for: safe, suave, and soft spoken. They didn't notice that ethnically Obama was actually only half black and in politics he was all white.

- Many of the traditional liberal causes were now considered radical and lacking in support. Economic issues have nearly disappeared from liberalism, while supporting civil rights or opposing wars are considered just part of history. Constitutional rights are left to a small subset or to libertarians.

- With the media's help, liberals have learned to regard politics as a game rather than a cause. Pursuing a policy was the work of the naive; power is the goal, and it is assumed that once it is attained, the policies will take care of themselves.

The irony is that liberals didn't even learn anything from their successful opponents. The right had reduced politics to a few issues, which though logically were of minor importance, had become powerful- if false - symbols of righteousness. On not one issue over the past two decades, have liberals even come close to raising serious hell.

So now some liberals are beginning to notice that they have been conned again. But not much will likely occur as a result, So if anyone feels like starting a new movement - one that centers on doing the most for the most - it wouldn't be a bad time. Aside from a bunch of griping conservatives and grumpy liberals not much else is happening.