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New Directions, For All of Us

Okay, I'll admit it. I once voted for a Republican. That would have been a vote for Fred Upton, a Congressional representative from southwestern Michigan's 6th District, in 1992. Mr. Upton was a Republican in the classic sense. He was a pro-business type who fought to make southwestern Michigan more attractive to business. Anybody who has ever been to Benton Harbor, Michigan, knows that the region is in dire need of jobs and investments. He was a moderate conservative. I don't recall Upton as having been caught up in the more-moral-than-thou "conservatism" that we commonly find today, and, in fact, Mr. Upton has been attacked by some right-wing Republicans for not being conservative enough.
I'll admit that I wasn't particularly politically savvy in 1992, but I can tell you that there were two primary reasons that I voted for Upton:
1) I knew virtually nothing about his Democratic rival, Andy Davis. I do recall thinking that what little I did know about Davis led me to believe that even though I supported some of his positions, I also felt that he was far enough to the left that he might actually be less effective in his representation of the district than a moderate conservative like Upton. That I had such unease about Davis indicates that he and his party ran a piss-poor campaign. In fairness, I understand that in that particular district, any Democratic candidate would have been challenged to raise funds on a par with a Republican, but one has to take that into account if one wants to run on an opposition ticket in a region that heavily favors Republicans over Democrats. 2) The other reason that I found Upton attractive in 1992 was his campaign slogan (this, by the way, is proof that something as basic as a slogan can have great reach, particularly to those who don't follow politics closely, as I didn't at the time); his slogan was, "Upton, for All of Us." – "All of Us?" Wow! How inclusive! Compare that with the divisive politicking of today's Republicans and their constant assertions that either one is either "with" or "against" the Republicans, and, by extension, with or against America.
And, yes, I also voted for Clinton in 1992.
In today's political climate, the Republican party has become far more invested in pandering to the right-wing fringe than upholding quaint ideas such as unity and representation of "all of us," as Upton promised. At this point, the Republican party is primarily the anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, anarchy-for-the-wealthy/return to feudalism party. There isn't much else that they stand for, publicly anyway, other than blind patriotically correct obedience to Resident Bush.
Ironically, modern conservative (whatever the hell "conservative" means anymore...) political successes, beginning with Reagan's election in 1980, have been built, in part, on taking liberalism to task for its failures. Why is this ironic? Because the American public ditched liberalism in the early 1980's by electing Reagan partly due to the fact that liberals had not acknowledged and offered solutions to liberalism's failures (or, at least, problems commonly thought by the American public to be the result of failed liberal policies). For example, think about housing projects for disadvantaged people that were constructed with the best of intentions (and perhaps contracts to campaign donors), only to eventually help foster a state of dependency for the urban poor and then eventually become fertile grounds for gangs and drug dealers. Or, think about labor unions, intertwined with Democratic Party politics, that went far beyond the noble task of protecting laborers to the point of existing to see how much money they could take from their employers (and some might argue dues-paying members) and, ultimately, pricing themselves out of their own labor markets. Also, the fallout of a liberal counter-culture-based resistance to the Viet Nam war that began in earnest and legitimate protest against an unwinnable quagmire based on questionable pretenses (sound familiar?) that eventually morphed into a general anti-military sentiment led many mainstream Americans to associate liberalism with weakness. Thirty-plus years later, liberals are still trying to counter the perceptions held by many Americans that they are inherently weak on national defense issues.
These are just a few of the failures of liberalism, for all its promises. Many proponents of these failed policies refused to acknowledge policy shortcomings and make adjustments. As a result, the American public looked for a new direction.
The irony here is that Republicans / conservatives have not acknowledged that any of their grandiose ideas have failed. While there are some Republicans in Congress who have been expressing reservations about the direction that their party has taken under Bush 43, to raise dissenting voices would be viewed as patriotically incorrect within the party, so Republican politicians who privately express unease with Bush Administration policy toe the line out of fear of political reprisals from within the party. It is these failures, and the Republicans' refusal to acknowledge or confront them, that has Americans fleeing conservatism and the Republican Party in droves. How has conservatism/Republicanism failed, particularly under Bush's watch? Let's review a handful of pillars of the Bush Administration:
1) War on terror / Iraq: Where to begin? Fighting terrorism is a noble cause, for sure. But if we're fighting a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy, then why are we doing the fighting with a conventional army that uses conventional means designed to fight conventional wars? There are so many problems with the Iraq occupation that a multitude of books have been and will be written on the topic. Not the least of these problems, of course, is the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, in spite of the Bush Administration's best efforts to conflate the two, as detailed in this report by Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor. I think that there were some legitimate reasons to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I mean Saddam's regime was a humanitarian nightmare. Whatever the reasons, though, the job, if undertaken, had to be done correctly. This wasn't a golf outing with prospective clients where everybody was entitled to a Mulligan. When considering the money to be made by contractors supplying goods and services to the Iraq "war" and the affiliations of many of those contractors with the Bush Administration (think of the Cheney – Halliburton relationship) one has to wonder if the "war" in Iraq was designed to be drawn out as long as possible. After all, it isn't as if the Bushies weren't advised as to the number of troops that would be needed to properly lock Iraq down. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn revealed in their book, "Hubris," pre-Iraq-invasion planning for post-Saddam security in Iraq would eventually be ignored by the Bush Administration – "(Colonel Kevin) Benson and his team started with this premise that Iraq was about the size of California." (snip) "They added up all the police officers, sheriff's deputies, peace officers, corrections officers, and the like in (California) and discovered that the number was greater than the number of American troops being sent into Iraq..." The decision to ignore such advice has led directly to one gruesome headline after another out of Iraq. If this wasn't enough, the decision to invade Iraq was based on faulty and/or cooked intelligence: After being told that Iraq posed an "imminent danger," we find that Iraq was anything but. Rather than review the intelligence reports and craft policy accordingly, policy was created and intelligence was cherry-picked to support policy. Meanwhile, the jackasses responsible for 9/11 are running around in Afghanistan and Pakistan plotting their next attacks.
2) No Child Left Behind (NCLB): The fundamental idea of NCLB is to retard American children's abilities to think by replacing exercises in critical thought and analysis with rote learning. If children can't think for themselves, they won't ask critical questions of those in power. Since many school districts have had their federal funding tied to students' successes or failures on the standardized tests, schools have spent much of their time preparing for the standardized tests as opposed to pursuing more academically demanding curricula.
3) Faith-based governance and policy: It's bad enough that the "war" in Iraq is faith-based, both literally and figuratively. The administration simply chose to believe, or have faith in, the bits of intelligence that appeared to support their presupposed positions regarding the threats posed by Saddam's regime, and chose to ignore any evidence that countered those positions. Add to this the alarming number of Department of Justice (DOJ) appointments who seem to have been given jobs as rewards for their "faithful" devotion to Bush and their faith-based educations. As was recently revealed in the investigations into the firings of eight (or is it nine now... or twelve?) U.S. Attorneys for basically doing their jobs and not allowing their work to become politicized, an alarming number of graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University ("Christian leadership to change the world.") and Regent's law school ("Law is more than a profession, it's a calling.") have landed critical DOJ appointments. Regent University is a fourth-rate law school. No, really! US News and World Report ranks Regent as a Tier 4 school. On the bright side, I guess you can't call them elitist, but that in itself can be a problem, as Bill Maher so vividly put it recently.
4) Anti-environmental policy: As with the Bush Administration's preference for select intelligence in support of a predetermined and ill-advised invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration prefers to listen to scientists in league with organizations like the American Petroleum Institute http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/124642_warming02.html for information that supports the decidedly "pro-business" (at least in the short term...) interpretation of the global warming threat as, well, hot air. Sometimes, the administration simply allows individuals with no scientific background whatsoever to manipulate environment-related reports . Hey, I can think of something that would totally suck for American business; Global Warming and its aftereffects. Conservatives love to couple the environmental movement with anti-capitalist or socialist/communist activism. They believe that: 1) Since there are some individuals who are both environmentalists and anti-capitalists, then, by extension, anybody who champions environmental concerns is automatically an anti-capitalist or a socialist or a communist. 2) Given that the Earth has experienced average temperature fluctuations in the past, then a rise in global temperatures is absolutely no cause for alarm; it's natural. What no conservative that I am aware of has done is present a legitimate argument, based on scientific evidence, that the tons of pollutants that the industrialized world introduces into the air and water every day has absolutely no effect on the environment. Then, again, the Bible doesn't explicitly identify global warming as a problem, so I don't suppose a party of True Believers would consider it a worthwhile issue.
5) Assault on working Americans: Republicans support free trade agreements with countries like communist China that benefit few except corporations. The point of these agreements is to allow American manufacturers to circumvent American labor laws and unions. This allows manufacturers to greatly reduce costs. This is nothing new, but one of the lesser known ideas held by modern conservatives is the idea that the minimum wage should be abolished, as conservative columnist George Will recently opined in the Washington Post.
6) Attack on science: Intelligent Design and the idea that "competing" ideas should be presented as equals to public school students is utterly ludicrous, and most Americans, including many faithful, know it. The Intelligent Design concept maintains that since Evolution is but a theory, it is, therefore, invalid. Never mind that Evolution is a theory supported by reams of evidence, as opposed to the idea of creation that is supported by a book written 2000-plus years ago by people who had, at best, a very limited understanding of how the world works. It is as if the conservative idea of schooling is to reinforce the ideas that children bring to the classroom, as opposed to having trained professionals with at least basic levels of expertise in various fields impart their wisdom to the children. Then, there's the war on Global Warming. Not war on Global Warming itself, but war on the idea that man-made pollutants have any effect whatsoever on the world we live in (see #4 above).
7) War on drugs: Gee, we've been fighting the War on Drugs for decades now. (If the war in Iraq goes anything like the War on Drugs, we're screwed.) The War on Drugs has succeeded in creating an entire industry dedicated to providing law enforcement and corrections agencies with all manner of tools needed to fight this war. This is good for the companies that supply these products. Thus, it is in these companies' best interests that the war never be won, but, rather, that the war continue forever. America now also has many, many more (minority and poor white) people behind bars. Incarceration is becoming an industry unto itself. As the Republicans push an agenda laden with the promises of corrections institution privatization as a means to save the taxpayers a few bucks, what we end up with is a criminal justice and corrections system that has no interest in actually solving society's ills, but, as for-profit entities, has every interest in increasing police activity and placing more persons behind bars. Meanwhile, the other group that is raking in money hand over fist is the drug dealers and gangs. These guys thrive on the illegality of the drug trade. The more perilous it is to peddle a controlled substance, the more money it commands. Hell, the drug dealers love the War on Drugs.
It is a fair question as to whether Republicans are in denial of the failures of their policies, as indicated by the policy shortcomings listed above, or whether they actually view their policies as successes. Whatever the case, Republican positions on these and a host of other issues have much of the American public looking for new directions. Republicans maintain support among their base, but independents are walking away from them and it looks like it will be quite some time before we see the likes of Reagan Democrats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reagan_Democrat again. Perhaps we'll become familiar with "Obama Republicans" in the near future. One can hope...
In a nutshell, it is as if the Republicans, by clinging to a legacy of failure, have done more for the Democratic Party than the Democrats have been able to do for themselves in the last 20 years. Couple that with the fact that the Democrats seem to have found themselves a spine in the wake of the 2006 elections and it is no surprise that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Democrats is on the rise relative to those who identify themselves as Republicans, as the folks at Gallup recently reported. I can't remember the last time the Democrats, as a party, challenged Republicans as vigorously as they are these days, especially with regard to the Iraq occupation. I'm not sure that I particularly like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, but it is refreshing to see Democratic leadership that isn't afraid to stand up to the Bush Administration. I'm also not sure that I agree with every last position that the current crop of Democrats holds, but anything beats the legendary incompetence of today's Republican Party and the problems that it has created, "for all of us."


The Republican propaganda machine is unparalleled in this country. It is a force to be reckoned with. It's what gives us the Clear Skies Initiative and the Death Tax. Doublespeak, plus lots of lying and bullying, can work wonders. And it's why they're able to win on these issues again and again, despite the fact that they're working in the interest of maybe 3% of the country's wealthiest people.

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