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November 6, 2002

Ground-level politics
Posted by Teresa at 09:21 AM *

Bad news. The Republicans have the senate. Mondale lost in Minnesota. How? It snowed. The Republicans organized a better get-out-the-vote operation than the Democrats.

How these things work: This past weekend, I was visiting my friends Nancy and Elric in Auburn, NH. Along with all the political solicitation phonecalls, they got a call from their local Democratic organization, asking whether they needed a ride to the polls on election day. They didn’t, as it happened; they’re both mobile and their house is very close to their polling place. But if the election had happened when Nancy was ill and Elric had a dislocated shoulder, the offer of a ride could have been good for two votes.

(Note: Either side will give you a ride if you ask for it. There’s no obligation. But local Democratic organizers phone likely Democrats, and Republicans phone theirs.)

This is real political action. And if you’ll excuse me for saying so, if even a fraction of the effort some lefties put into personally gratifying but politically low-yield activities like petitions and street theatre were to instead go into voter registration drives, door-to-door canvassing, and get-out-the-vote operations, their causes would be in much better shape right now.

Real political action is always social. The primary interaction isn’t between you and your political ideals; it’s between you and other people. If you don’t engage with your fellow citizens, you might just as well have stayed home, or joined a community theatre group.

And I don’t mean confrontations, or hectoring and lecturing them. You have to talk with people—real talking, the kind where you make eye contact, take turns, and respond interactively.

On the altered role of the news media:

There was a long period when semi-theatrical symbolic political street action was more effective than it is now, because the national news media would pick up the story and transmit your message for you. You may have noticed that they’ve stopped doing that.

In fact, these days they’re doing the opposite. If you turn out hundreds or thousands of demonstrators, they’ll underreport your numbers and ignore or distort your core message. What gets on the evening news won’t be the march’s organizers’ well-thought-out speeches and banners; it’ll be the scruffiest fringe sociopaths who’ll turn out for anybody if it means they can throw bricks through windows and trash cars.

We got into the habit of thinking of the news as a public utility: Turn on the tap, and out flows relatively fair, impartial reportage. But that’s not the case. News organizations are businesses. And for some time now, those businesses have been passing into the hands of Very Large Corporate Arrays, while the news itself has been concentrated into fewer and fewer channels.

As I’ve said before, the goal of the wealthy and powerful is to achieve a happy state of all profit and no risk. If you don’t support people and policies that favor that outcome, you must not expect the mainstream news media to be your friend.

Deal with it. Stop wasting brain cells wondering why the blunders, lies, and acts contrary to the public good of Reagan and the Georges Bush have gotten so little play, and how they can get away with gross libels and the public flayings and disembowellings of politicians like Clinton, Gore, and McCain. The way the world works is not a secret.

The good news is that if you do get organized and start generating real power, the media will start coming round again. Big money may run the news, but big money follows power, not ideology.

Voting as though it mattered:

Get real, vote real. If you want to make changes happen, you have to get your guys elected. Deciding the whole system is corrupt so why bother, and/or casting symbolic votes and protest votes for non-starter candidates, is like wasting your ammunition on symbolic volleys that don’t hit anything. The other side won’t be impressed, and they’ll still be aiming their own shots at you.

Vote for real candidates even if you know they aren’t going to win this particular race. It lets them know you’re there, and encourages your side to try harder next time in your district. It also lets the guy who did get elected know you’re there. He also cares how you vote. It may affect his actions in office.

All races matter. In the 2000 election, Nader’s vandals claimed there was no difference between the two major parties’ candidates, so a vote for one or the other didn’t matter. And that was a huge lie; but it’s never true of any candidates in any race. If identical twins with identical platforms ran for the same office, they’d still be supported by different organizations, funded by different contributors, have different sets of political friends and allies, and be attached to exceedingly different national-level organizations and networks.

Attitudes, ideologies, allies, and language:

Power is good; purity’s a trap. Our political system is based on compromises and coalitions. Sacrificing effectiveness in the cause of perfect ideological purity is for wankers and dilettantes. If you want to do good, you need the power to do good things. That means you have to get into the game and play it right alongside everyone else, even if it means you have to come into contact with people who don’t think exactly the same way you do. After all, if you’re not coming into contact with people who don’t believe the same way you do, who are you preaching to?

Activists who pretend to disdain the compromises of power politics are just complaining that they can’t get as much power as they want via their preferred means.

Before you put the boot into your own candidate for insufficient adherence to some point of orthodoxy, ask yourself whether you like the other candidate better.

Cultivate all your potential allies. Above all, stop telling people they aren’t on your side. They may never figure it out on their own, in which case they’ll be indistinguishable from people who are on your side.

Be polite. Most especially, be polite to people who don’t have a perfect understanding of all the fine points of your political analyses. Explain how you think this point here, which they do agree with, hooks up to that point over there. They may thereupon decide they agree with that one too; whereas if you denounce them for not understanding that second point, they may decide they don’t agree with any of your points, so there!, and will undoubtedly decide that you’re a jerk.

Nobody will ever think you’re a genius because you’re berating them.

Use normal human language and stick to concretes. It’s the real thing, and it works. One reason the Wobblies got stomped so hard was that they put their case in plain, strong, vivid language that everyone could understand. That made them a real threat. Marxists who talk like English is their second language, and their first language is not from this planet, are no threat to anyone.

The bad guys (I’m not talking here about the Marxists) have to speak in abstract terms and weird twice-removed symbolic phrases because what they’re proposing would sound too awful if they said it in clear. Don’t copy them. They may sound slick, but the real human voice is what gets through.

Splitters and spoilers:

Thuggery is never okay, unless your personal goal is to wind up governed by thugs. What I have in mind are the Green factions that deliberately act as spoilers in elections where liberal Democrats are defending a seat. What those Greens are saying is that the only good they recognize is their own good. If your good happens to get in their way, they’ll sacrifice it without thinking twice. You and the rest of the country aren’t as important as them getting into power.

If they do get into power, don’t kid yourself that they’re suddenly going to turn into lambs. In fact, their natural allies will be the thugs on the opposing team.


Democracy isn’t something we have; it’s something we do. Giving an equal shake to the little guy is important because we’re all little guys.

This is so frustrating. If the government had proposed to take as much money away from people with 401(k) plans via taxation as has been lost by the market going into freefall, there’d have been white collar riots in the streets. But just mutter “No new taxes,” and they’ll all stand there, hypnotized, while the bad guys rifle their pockets and clean out the till.

You hurting? Go volunteer.

Comments on Ground-level politics:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 04:31 PM:

Bravo, Teresa.

What gave the Republicans the last race Trifecta wasn't issues, or better candidates, but the ability to get people out the door and walking in the direction of polling places, the weather or flaky voting machines bedamned.

The only thing missing from your analysis is the Leadership question. Bush had the ability to rally his troops. It doesn't matter to the G.O.P. that he's a insider-trading ex-coke snorting frat boy who can't breath and eat pretzels at the same time. He got his constituency riled up and pointed at the polls.

I wish the left were similarly non-picky. They seem determined to tear into anyone who doesn't wear cheap suits, live in a boarding house, and have the top ten Pacifica Radio talking points memorized.

God, I am so f**king depressed. Maybe I should make a big paper mache effigy of Ashcroft with devil-horns on his heads and holding a Starbucks cup in one hand and a three-eyed pig labeled ADM in the other. Yeah, I bet that would help.

#2 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 04:32 PM:

Wow. Great essay. May I print it out & post it around the University of Oregon? In fact, may I point our local "alternative" newspaper to it?

#3 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 04:38 PM:

Wow. Thanks, Teresa. I needed this kick in the ass, about now.

#4 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 05:17 PM:

As always, thanks for the wisdom, Teresa.

This election (even before reading your wonderful essay) I gave myself a kick in the pants and researched candidates and went and voted.

Lately it's been a vicious self-fulfilling downward spiral of cynicism. The apathy brought about by watching things to to the hot place in a handbasket, convinced me it couldn't change or get better. Which caused more apathy, which caused more inaction, which led to me voting less and less, which led to more of my side not getting the offices, which led to more see how it goes.

And now the handbasket is on fire and I finally woke up and said "whoa, maybe I should pay more attention and vote more..."

About the news media: amen to that.

#5 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 05:21 PM:

Great essay which deserves to be reproduced.
I also love the use of the Norman Rockwell illustrations, particularly the last one (we're all little guys).
I needed a dose of inspiration on this rather dismal day (both politically and weather-wise).

#6 ::: Anne KG Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 06:27 PM:

Good point about getting out the vote - and it can be done well, or very very poorly. In August I volunteered for a primary election campaign here in Ann Arbor that was very poorly run, and called supporters way too much the week before the election, didn't spend enough time talking to people who hadn't yet made up their minds, and then on election day failed to keep track of who had already voted. Therefore they made evening phone calls to people who had already voted, annoying them further and wasting volunteers.

This election, I had a much more pleasant experience. I was recruited into the Ypsilanti Campaign For Equality (YCFE), in a neighboring district. YCFE was fighting a ballot proposal that sought to overturn an anti-discrimination law that was passed there last year. They used truth to counter twistings of the truth, they had a wonderful group of volunteers who were very on top of things, and it was a joy to help them on election day. I spent a while helping to coordinate volunteers, and then two hours as a "challenger" in the polls, which mostly meant that I highlighted names on our lists of supporters as they were added to the list of voters (people who had voted). I was pleased to know that my work would help them efficiently get out the vote later in the day. (I had other responsibilities, which included making sure that no one harrassed, campaigned at, or coached voters within the polling place, and potentially challenging a voter if I had good reason to believe they were not legit -but there were no such incidents while I was there).

And later in the day, I helped take an elder member of the community to vote. (It was cold rain here at that point in the day.)

Oh, and the Ypsilanti proposal was defeated, which I think reflects a well-run campaign of motivated, smart people working in earnest. An "up" note (along with the election of Michigan's first woman governor) in an otherwise frustrating election.

#7 ::: Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 06:55 PM:

Just to play Devil's advocate:

"What gave the Republicans the last race Trifecta wasn't issues, or better candidates, but the ability to get people out the door and walking in the direction of polling places, the weather or flaky voting machines bedamned."

How did the G.O.P. get people out the door if not using issues, or better candidates?

There're TV ads, but I've never known anyone who's admitted to being swayed by one.

#8 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 07:00 PM:

Good points, Teresa.

Just a comment on why protest marches and rallies have become ineffective. In the 50s and 60s, the idea that people would actually take to the streets was shocking. The ideal of conformity was stronger, and the action of defying conformity meant more. Somewhere along the way, people on the left got the idea that simply marching or rallying amounted to "doing something." The theatrical nature of protest marches and rallies survived without an understanding of the theory or practice of civil disobedience -- or a realization that overt protest is one of a set of tools for political action that is useful in certain situations and not others. Meanwhile, the government has realized that willingness to get out in the street doesn't equate with willingness to do much else, and so they know that they can safely ignore protests.

The last few protests I've been involved in have been sad and futile affairs. I'd rather put my political energies elsewhere.

(God, I'm so depressed. There's so much work to do, and I'm not even sure that much of it is possible.)

#9 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 07:23 PM:

"How did the G.O.P. get people out the door if not using issues, or better candidates?"

Organization. Ideological ferver, which isn't quite the same as an issue. Organization. Lots of lots of money. And organization.

The Democrats aren't totally helpless. Unions do a good job of letting people know what's up and motivating them.

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 07:48 PM:

Wow. I just checked out the illustrations. Brilliant and cheeky, Teresa.

I'm sending out the link to a bunch of people who I'm pretty sure spent the day feeling like they've had a great big pully bounce off their head . . . but this pieces deserves to be published on widely circulated dead trees somewhere.

#11 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 07:50 PM:

Or, maybe, perhaps, it wasn't the Democratic GOTV efforts that failed? Maybe the Democrats lost because Democrats *wouldn't* vote for them.

Why? Because the Democratic Party's offical platform this year has been "Well, whatever that George guy says, we guess."

Democrats didn't vote because Democrats looked at the DLC, and Gephardt, and Daschle, and said "But, they're Republicans! Where's my party? The party again the war? The party against corporate crime? The party that belives the state should help the less fortunate. It's not the Democrats anymore. It's not the Republicans. Where can I go?" Of course, the answer was nowhere. So they didn't go.

That's why the Democrats lost. There was no reason to vote for them. The party leaders *refused* to fight Bush. Why should the rank and file fight for the party leaders? The party refused to fight the GOP. Why should we fight the GOP for them?

They deserved to lose. And, as long as the offical Democratic Party platform is "whatever", and as long as Daschle and Gephardt contiune this "Well, okay George" plan they're using, the Democrats will continue to lose. And they will continue to *deserve* to lose.

I categorically refuse to vote for a minority party who's sole role in the government has been to whinge a bit and then rubberstamp the worst of the majority party's excesses. I categorically refuse to support the party of the DLC. I voted GOP in a race for the first time in my life, because Gephardt will never again get my vote. I will continue to vote *against* the DLC, because having 2 GOPS is no more helpful than having one of them, and I don't have a prayer of making the GOP liberal.

I want the Democratic party back. If there's *any* hope out of this, it's that maybe, just maybe, the Democrats will wake up, turf Gephardt, turf Daschle, turf McCauliff, lose a couple of the borderline Republicans who weren't voting with the party anyway, and emerge as an real opposition party. Then, and only then, will we have a chance to stop the upcoming nightmare.

#12 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 08:08 PM:

I will continue to vote *against* the DLC, because having 2 GOPS is no more helpful than having one of them, and I don't have a prayer of making the GOP liberal.

Good point, but, if you live in Massachusetts you know what a liberal GOP is. It's hapless. What's the point of voting GOP in the Bay State if it's the same as voting for the hackerama on Beacon Hill? Me, I'm glad Romney won, just to prevent one-party rule here. But the state GOP is brain dead. Libertarians are making more sense and energizing more voters here than the in-bred derivatives of William Weld.

I think you're right about Dashle and Gephardt (who, I understand, is going to step down tomorrow, or at least announce it). But then, what the heck were the Minnesota Dems thinking digging up Walter Mondale?? Why didn't they draft Alan Dershowitz (or his Minnesota equivalent)?

#13 ::: Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 08:25 PM:

Gephardt is gone, but I think the main one who needs to go for Dem success is McCauliff. He's always come off as the Dems version of Ari Fleischer to me. I always feel dirty after listening to them.

#14 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 08:35 PM:

The illos are excellent. Who's out there drawing such stirring stuff about politics any more? Avram, can we suggest a calling for you?

And do try to get this wider exposure, Teresa. We need it.

#15 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 08:35 PM:

First, I must note that I mispelled Terry McAuliffe's name.

Secondly, while Gephardt stepping down is a good thing, it's only minorly good, unless he decided not to run for the presidency. Gephardt in 2004 is an almost certain Bush victory.

#16 ::: Helen Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 09:05 PM:


We haven't met, but I've been lurking on yours and Patrick's weblogs for some time now.

At World Fantasy this weekend, Jonathan Carroll said that the secret to good writing was to write for the "oh." Verbally, of course, this caused a gentle titter to ripple through the audience, but in his explanation, his meaning became clear.

At various times, while reading, or perceiving in some fashion at some kind of art, you sit up and go, "Oh." The whole gestalt of the thing--the art, the book, the piece of music--suddenly converges into a crystalline point of, "Oh."

This essay that you've written made me sit up and say aloud, "Oh." I felt a little self-conscious about it, being now aware of what that phenomenon is, but the thing is, you hit on a number of issues that I get from my peer group, particularly with regard to cynicism, apathy, and ideological puritans (be they right or left). I've railed at it, but incoherently. I can't explain it. I've felt that it's like the perplexed look you get with readers who don't 'get' speculative fiction.

Also, thank you for the nudge. I've stopped commenting on politics because I get the rude, ad hominem, illogically constructed passive-aggressive yammer hammer from the youngish right, and I don't deal with that well. At least I take some consolation in the fact that my state--Pennsylvania--fared not too badly. Rendell won the governorship fairly resoundingly, though not deafeningly. My congressman is now a Democrat. I'm looking to Rendell to realize that the Democratic party is lost, to be the one to help it find new leadership. When he was the chairman of the DNC, he was often told to roll over. Now, he's the one to look to. Everyone around here is abuzz with the idea that we have a Democrat we're proud of. Not sure how it will go with a Republican state legislature, but it's enough to make me feel a little more optimistic than I might otherwise.

I'm posting a link in my journal--I hope that's ok. And, I'd like to pass the link specifically to the alt-weekly here in Philadelphia to which I regularly contribute, if that's ok. Whatever the case, I'm going to think about this one for a while.

And hope to share the "oh."


#17 ::: Anne Willick ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 09:07 PM:

Thank you. I needed this, and I think many more people need this than will read it.

#18 ::: Nancy ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 09:21 PM:

T. --

Remember all those "vote for our candidate" phone calls we were getting while you were here this last weekend? To the point of irritation? We complained to Shaheen's (Demo.) crew about it, pointing out that it was actually turning voters off, and we were told that apparently about 60% of the nonstop calls that began on Sat. were =not initiated by the Shaheen organization.=


#19 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 10:30 PM:

I've heard a lot of political rhetoric lately, especially from the left, which, if taken seriously, would imply that the only way to make things any better would be the violent overthrow of the state and possibly of most of society. (E.g. the claims that elections are all fake now, the Constitution is null and void and we are ruled by dictators untouchable by democratic means.)

I wish people wouldn't talk this way when they actually mean something else; it doesn't help.

#20 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 11:02 PM:

But, I've done all those things. Honest to god. Well, I tried like hell to volunteer after the 2000 debacle and got no response from my local Dems. I suppose I shoulda gone down and pounded on the door, but I wasn't sure where that door would be.

I've done all those things and it hasn't helped a bit. The fat cats continue their gutting of the economy. The Republican leadership continue their gutting of the Constitution. The war on drugs has made guns this year's popular fashion accessory and drugs are everywhere. This country jails and/or kills its young men, particularly its young black men, in record numbers. In the richest country on earth children go to bed hungry while Ken Lay buys $6000 shower curtains. I can't even fantasize about moving to another country. With those psychotic little fuckers in charge, there's no safety anywhere.

I'm going to go to bed and pull the covers over my head is what I'm going to do. That'll accomplish as much as anything else. Your screed is well written, but I'm deathly afraid it's wrong. Remember the email you sent me saying, "But what if we're wrong?" We are.


#21 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2002, 11:56 PM:

Chris: Avram, can we suggest a calling for you?

I'm no Norman Rockwell, but on the trip up to Boston I contemplated taking up political cartooning. If inspiration strikes I may run some stuff in my LiveJournal (where I'm about to post a rave about Teresa's essay).

#22 ::: pdq bach ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 01:57 AM:

Brilliant, accurate and exactly what I've been saying to some activist friends of mine, albeit much less eloquently, and while pulling my hair out. Bravo.

#23 ::: Ampersand ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 04:46 AM:

As I said on my blog, it's silly to call for politeness while calling folks you disagree with vandels and thugs. I guess it works here on your blog, because you're preaching to the choir; but I can't imagine it'll change anyone's mind.

You're talking the language of insults; whatever your goals are, you're not writing as they include being listened to by Greens, or having a respectful dialog with anyone who doesn't agree with you already.

I know about the ride phone-calls, because I spent some time this week calling likely Democratic voters and seeing if they needed help getting their ballots in (I wonder how many people in the choir here did the same?). I think that's an essential form of activism.

But I think street theatre and protests have a place as well. It's fun, and it helps counter the crippling sense of isolation so many left activists feel. If you enjoy your politics, you won't burn out as quickly, and you'll have more energy and enthusiasm for making the phone calls and stuffing the envelopes.

I disagree with your implied premise that we have to choose between correct and not-correct forms of activism. We can, and should, use many forms; there's no law that says we can't do phone banks, talk to our neighbors AND paint our face purple and join an anti-Bush protest. Nor does any person have a monopoly on the "right" way to seek change.

Finally, is there the slightest reason to think that the tactics you're recommending work? Many people - me included - volunteered to bring out the Democratic vote this election, using exactly the sort of person-to-person tactics you suggest. There were next-to-no lefty "spoilers" (here in Oregon, the Greens specifically decided NOT to run a candidate for governor). Nationally, the Democratic leadership embraced your philosphy that staying in power mattered more than ideology.

In other words, I think we pretty much tried your preferred strategy this year, and the results were a disaster. A month ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with much of your essay (although I think Green-bashing is lame). Now, I think a lot of what you're saying seems less credible.

#24 ::: Kent Roller ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 06:22 AM:

So you know where I stand, I'm an NRA member. I'm a business owner. I'm more conservative than I am liberal. I do not hate big business nor the rich because I know I have the opportunity to be the same. I voted for Bush in 2000. I voted for Linda Lingle here in the ultra liberal state of Hawaii.

Linda Lingle is the first Republican governor after 40 years of Democratic Party rule. Today I listened to the Democratic Party pundits crediting our new governor's win to more money and better organization. They are wrong, much like you are wrong Theresa.

No republicans called me. No republicans offered me a ride. No republican candidate came to my door. Democrats called me. Democrats offered me a ride. Democrats came to my door. I received the same amount of literature in the mail from both parties. I saw the same amount of commercials from both parties.

I hardly talked to anyone about the election. There was no need to talk about it. After everyone came back from lunch on Tuesday, it was understood whom we voted for. We felt what was right and we did it. I believe that's the way it went across the nation.

What I'm saying is that I figured out on my own what the right vote was. Ads did not sway me. What did sway me was reading liberal sites like yours and sites on the other side. I also listen to a lot of radio and read between newspaper lines. My own info gathering gave me the calculations to formulate my understanding of what is right.

What's right? What's right is that government has no business meddling in culture. Social engineering in this age of alternative media is impossible. Therefore, liberalism and the party credited with supporting liberalism will fail. Government has three duties. Protect people physically, preserve the Constitution, and get out of the way of everything else. Since the New Deal, government has become a parental figure. People eventually turn away from parental guidance in favor of control of their own destiny. The vote results yesterday were as much a maturing of America as it was a popularity contest.

Here's one example. It's just one example. Try to see the point instead of harping on me as a gun lover or something worse.

One of the reasons that the Democrats lost is because of their position on the second amendment- despite the fact the McAuliffe and Carville ordered their candidates to shut up about gun control. Now it's fair to say that the average belief of Democrats and Liberals is that America would be a 'better' country if the so-called gun culture were eliminated. That's what I mean by social engineering. You can't do it.

I don't hear much in the media about the fact that the NRA worked hard to inform voters in those states where we saw republican senate gains that the Democratic candidates had very anti second amendment voting records. Take Max Cleland in Georgia. He's a war hero for sure, but he was anti second amendment. Voters knew that. Little else can be attributed to his loss- not even his opposition to Bush's homeland security. The best homeland security is an armed populace.

Certainly the second amendment issue wasn't the only influential factor in the GOP sweep, but it speaks to my point that individuals do not want government telling them they can't defend themselves at the most personal level. All that voters with second amendment interests had to do was look to the crime epidemic in Great Britain, where social engineering of their 'gun culture' has run amok.

That's all I have to say. I'm sorry you and your regular readers feel so bad. I do not gloat. The pendulum is simply swinging the other way for a while.

#25 ::: Sigrid Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 06:25 AM:

It is no surprise to me to find you, Theresa, with the words I have been looking for these last two days. Here in Minnesota a lot of folks are feeling that their vote didn't count. I've been trying to explain why I think they are wrong, why I participate in the system despite the various flaws. This helps with the words.

#26 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 08:09 AM:

The news media have been focusing their cameras on the scruffiest part of the rally. (Todd Gitlin's book The Whole World Is Watching, on how the media covered protests against the Vietnam War, is a must-read.) I don't think this is because of the corporate control of the media; it's because violence and wierdness get ratings, whereas well-behaved people holding picket signs gets yawns.

#27 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 09:29 AM:

Issues of, well, issues aside, it occurs to me that people interested in getting a particular political message out would do well to attend one of the Viable Paradise lectures by TNH and others on the techniques of literary exposition. Many of the basic principles -- to get across necessary information, attach it to something else inherently interesting; the source of information and the point of interest should be the same; tell people the information after they're interested in it but before they realize they need to know it -- would appear to be quite similar in most respects.

#28 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 10:27 AM:

Nice work. Politically, I'm quite distant from you and your readership, since I vote about 80% Republican. But I don't have to agree with your politics to agree with the points your essay makes.

As someone from the "other side," I can tell you that the I'll-paint-a-big-sign, I'll-chain-myself-to-the-gate style of politics, long favored by some on the left, can evoke eye-rolling and snickers from those who don't already share the worldview. That is to say, from the ones the activists need to convince.

That's been a big difference between the Right and the Left for some time: the conservatives have had, on the whole, a better grasp of real-world politics. (Bill Clinton had it down cold, of course, but he's hardly a Man of the Left. He's a Man of Clinton.)

I don't, for example, have much fellow feeling at all for religious conservatives, but I'm willing to put up with them to get a better approximation of the economic and foreign policies I prefer. On issues like stem cell research I instantly part company with them, so I do what I can to change their opinions or fight their influence.

So it isn't always a smooth fit. Nothing is. The steel tariffs were a terrible Bush decision, to pick another example, but I'm not going to throw him and his party over the side just for that. As you suggest, I just look at the other party and realize that these are the choices I have.

And I don't waste much time ranting about evil Democrats, because they aren't. They've come to different conclusions about people and institutions than I have, but we're both a long way from real evil.

North Korea, now that's an evil government. If a political party shows up advocating that we should become like North Korea, I'll get really worked up. Until then, it's good to remember that red-faced arm-waving doesn't convince anyone. Votes do that; getting people elected does that.

#29 ::: David Owen-Cruise ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 11:09 AM:

On choosing Mondale:
Remember, we had one week to get an electable DFLer out across the state. The living Dems with immediate name recognition across the state are:

1) Roger Moe, the inept political hack who was in the governor's race, and lost.

2) Skip Humphrey, the inept political hack who lost the governor's race to Jesse Ventura.

3) Mike Hatch, maybe, but he was running for AG quite successfully.

4) Fritz Mondale.

The other possiblities were all running for their own House seats. Fortunately, it's four years before the next statewide office comes up.

#30 ::: Yahmdallah ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 11:51 AM:

I guess we're gonna find out what Bedford Falls would be like if George Bailey (James Stewart) hadn't been born. Welcome to Potterville.

... Maybe we can hope for Clarence to come back in two years.

Thanks Teresa. Great post.

#31 ::: ruprecht ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 06:55 PM:

2004 will be interesting. Lots of Dems are talking about moving left, abandoning the center and retaking the liberal base. This may crush the Green party as they overlap. Only time will tell but this is also likely to lose them the center (Reagan democrats and Clinton Republicans) whose whim truly decide elections.

At least they'll have integrity which may help position them in 2006 or 2008 when the whims of the center are looking for change.

#32 ::: Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 07:07 PM:

Kent Roller wrote,

What's right? What's right is that government has no business meddling in culture. Social engineering in this age of alternative media is impossible.

Exactly! And that is why I am a liberal, and oppose the William Bennett/Rudy Giuliani-in-the-museum-door school of Republican conservativism.

#33 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2002, 10:11 PM:

>Lots of Dems are talking about moving left, abandoning the center and retaking the liberal base. This may crush the Green party as they overlap. Only time will tell but this is also likely to lose them the center (Reagan democrats and Clinton Republicans) whose whim truly decide elections.

Alternatively, it may help them attract the disaffected working class who don't have a prominent champion right now, and cause the GOP to counter with its own move to attract the undecided center, which will alienate their rightist base enough to tear the party to shreds.

One can hope.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2002, 03:09 AM:

So much to say here, but not at this hour. For now, this: Yes, y'all can pass this essay along. That's what it's for. All I require is that the text include the words, "Copyright 2002 by Teresa Nielsen Hayden".

#35 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2002, 03:16 PM:

Thanks for permission to redistribute! Also, not enough time at this hour (four more drawings to go on this project and I want to get them done today.) However...

I've been thinking (uh-oh) about the taxonomy of political scams operating in our current rhetorical environment. So far I've come up with three:

  1. We'll give you something for nothing, so vote for us. Into this category place, especially, "No new taxes." But also the idea that societies magically organize themselves. (By the way, I think the illusion that government services are not needed is fostered by the suburban city form, which is carefully designed to provide an illusion of a comfortable "natural" environment.)
  2. You're part of our elite, so support us. "I do not hate big business nor the rich because I know I have the opportunity to be the same." The opportunity is like a lottery ticket--there can only be a few winners. So they give the marks lottery tickets and tell the marks they're members of the club. But when the interests of large business come into conflict with those of small business, their judges won't agree. "You're not a member. Never will be."

  3. An isolated invidividual is powerful, so there is no need for organization or political activism. Into this category put the idea that any single individual's purchasing decision has influence over a mass market. Also, I think, the idea that idividual gun ownership will protect all rights. Without other rights--to assemble, to organize, speak freely--I do not see how any single gun owner can oppose the well-organized and trained military and police forces the government can bring to bear. And the minute gun ownership threatens the current government it'll go the way of any other right.

Whew! Writing all that out, I'm not sure even I agree. Now, back to work...

#36 ::: Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2002, 01:28 AM:

Randolph Fritz has hit upon some useful observations.

Where I live, voters passed referenda calling for, e.g., more police to be hired, but failed to pass the accompanying referenda providing the tax money to do so. This was not some loose connection, this was a straightforward two-part proposition.

#37 ::: Stephen M. St. Onge ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2002, 05:34 PM:
#38 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2002, 07:42 PM:

I have edited. As I said in the comments section to "Guns in New Hampshire", I'm open to the idea that I did so mistakenly; and if you even half-convince me of it, I'll restore your text.

The point is not that I found those remarks odious. If I had, I would have deleted those comments entirely. But there are interesting conversations that can't happen when there's too much noise and not enough civility, and I want to hear them. I'll read the lightning-and-thunder arguments elsewhere, and enjoy them when I do.

Stephen St. Onge, I particularly regret zapping your remarks. You say interesting things. This truly is a matter of maintaining tone, not a reaction to your content.

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2002, 03:28 PM:

Nice list, Rudolph.

I'm not sure how to articulate this, but there might be fourth symptom in your taxonomy. Crudely put, they often contain an appeal to justice on the behalf of wronged property owners: Little old ladies having their land taken away because a yearly puddle qualified it a wetland. Ranchers' offspring getting nothing because of the Estate Tax. Land that couldn't be logged because of Earth Firsters. And so on.

This may be a subset of the You're Part Of Our Elite appeal, in that the vast majority of people "wronged" by environmental regulations or who leave taxable estates are corporations or the very rich.

#40 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2002, 03:57 PM:


Hmmmm, interesting point. In the propagandizing there is something of the "lottery ticket" argument. But there's an aspect of "the government is out to get you" to it. Sort of an appeal to paranoia.

#41 ::: Kashei ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2002, 10:37 AM:

I found this site while blogsurfing so maybe you've written about this already elsewhere: I think it is the worst idea ever for the Dems to have Nancy Pelosi be their leader. I'm a hardcore Republican and I promise you that 'my side' is beyond gleeful that the Democrats have chosen her. And of course, anything that makes us happy....

#42 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2002, 02:57 PM:

I've seen one or another group rejoice at the opposition's choice of leader. By my count they've been wrong oftener than they've been right -- not by an overwhelming margin, but often enough to give me pause when I'm tempted to say that sort of thing myself.

How long have you been following politics, and how much do you know about American history, that you think Nancy Pelosi's even in the running as the Democrats' worst idea ever? We need some perspective here.

And are you by any chance under the impression that she's some kind of wifty rainbow-coalition spiral-eyeballed Bay Area unrealist?

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