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The Gross National Debt

Friday, September 30, 2005

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos, Booman Tribune, and My Left Wing.)

[editor's note, by RenaRF] This is in response to Barack Obama's diary at Daily Kos earlier today. I was almost crying when I typed it.

Dear Senator Obama,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful post this morning. My reply to you, contained within this diary, is solely my own thoughts and impressions and is intended to provide some insight for you. I have a deep and abiding regard for your character and it is to that which I appeal.

In no way do I mean to criticize you or attack you, though the overall tone of my following response may be interpreted that way. My issues with your post are multiple, the most acute ones being related to the fact that I think you are viewing and responding to symptoms and not considering the root causes.

And so I'll begin.

I think the defining statement of your letter was this:

...win the right to appoint [judges] by recpaturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don't believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position.

That excerpt says two important things: First, it tells us that we simply must be focused on taking back control of the executive and legislative branches. We are in violent accord on that issue, though I will foreshadow that we disagree dramatically on what needs to be done to make that occur. Second, it immediately chastisizes those of us who have stepped up and criticized Democratic senators who voted to confirm John Roberts. I will ask you to consider this: What if the criticism you reference is really a broad metaphor for an across-the-board abandonment of progressive values on the part of Democrats? Please keep that question with you as you read this, because I would submit to you that it's not just about the Roberts nomination.

Senator, we haven't forgotten all the efforts made by Democrats on everything but the Roberts nomination. My mother raised me with a variety of truisms, one of which is particularly apt for this particular discussion: you reap what you sow. If Democrats portray weakness as a party, Democrats will be labelled and branded as weak. Coming back and gently, articulately criticizing us for actually calling the Democratic party weak reminds me a bit of a situation with my now 20-year old stepson. In going through his room, I found something which allowed me to catch him in a lie. When confronted with that lie, he was angry that I had gone through his room. He totally missed the fact that he had lied and that I had a right to be disappointed in him. The methods employed in proving the lie are irrelevant. I don't find decrying criticism from your own camp entirely dissimilar.

As I stated in a comment to your diary, the definition of insanity is doing what you've always done yet somehow expecting different results. Democrats have striven for congeniality in their approach to opposing the majority and have been repeatedly and squarely defeated in that tactic. Nowhere have I seen a cohesive and unified "calling out" of the opposition on their tactics. Coming back to common sense truisms, Senator, I would say that the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to that bully. When the bully knows that he can intimidate you and muscle you to achieve his end goals, he will do so. Fighting back is the only thing he understands and Democrats have not been fighting back in any meaningful way against the bullying tactics of the majority party. For example:

The above list doesn't even approach being exhaustive - I'm sure what little I have provided gives you a flavor for the generalized frustration progressives across the country are experiencing. "Calling out" Democratic Senators on the issue of John Roberts is the result of an accumulated sense that the Democratic party is, at the least, ineffective and, at worst, irrelevant and obsolete. Espousing ideas that issue a call for comity further speeds the certainty of irrelevance. Our hopes and our hearts die with every capitulation - each of which is one of the 1,000 cuts that will eventually spell our death.

Ask yourself this: why is it that the vast majority of progressives who frequent Daily Kos are able to sum up the Republican party's platform in six words? Strong Military. Lower Taxes. Family Values. Yet this pool of often brilliant thinkers can't do the same for our own party. It's not because we don't agree with a platform that has been put forward - it's that the Democratic message itself is contrary and lacks unity. Don't ask us to rally around the party if you can't provide us with the words we need to issue the cry. You can't have the support if you're not willing to do the work required to put it in place.

Most importantly, we're tired of getting punched. EVERY DAY brings a new item that we hold as absolutely imperative that we find has been sacrificed on the altar of "statesmanship". It's not time to make nice with the majority party. It's the time to get angry and knock them out. They haven't hesitated to do so with us and yet we've stood there, taking it, hoping that their eventual missteps would spell their own demise.

Well it hasn't, Senator Obama. It hasn't. The Republican party has shown time and time again its resilience in the face of consequences associated with their policies and actions. They take the heat - they stick to the script and to the plan - they ride it out - and it works. It works because no one is standing over them kicking them in the face when they try to get back up. It's not enough that the Democratic party start building frames of its own (and I see precious little of that type of activity) - we have to simultaneously obliterate the frames within which the Republicans operate. Nothing short of a full assault will do and we're running out of time and influence with which to do it. I hope that it isn't already too late.

Senator Obama, I do see great promise from you. You are a skilled and inspiring orator and one of the best chances we have as we move into the future. Hence my near-hysterical reaction to your letter, a letter which seemed to me to say the same tired old things and promote the same losing tactics. More importantly, I'm dumbfounded by your lack of anger at the way you and other Democrats are simply kicked around by the Republican party. They are humiliating you while you try to straighten your tie. They're punching you in the face while you try to shake their hand. I realize that one-on-one relationships with opposing party members are not like that - but the end result is that you wind up beaten bloody and left to die while they walk away laughing.

I'm pretty moderate as far as this site goes and yet I'm ready to take to the streets and do what the Democratic party won't or cant - it's that important - and I'm frankly shocked that you don't see it.

Hope springs eternal but it IS fading, Senator. It's sad when average people are willing to be more courageous and daring than our elected leaders.

LEAD, damnit. Stop telling us why we're wrong and lead.


posted by RenaRF at 3:19 PM 11 comments links to this post


Blogger 37 FLATHEAD said...

I followed the evolution of your diary from KOS to here.
No more "MR. NICE GUY". I`ll be back daily. Great piece.


4:26 PM  
Blogger Pontificator said...

RenaRF -- I thought I would publish this here because you would be more likely to read it than in a 400+ comment thread on dailykos, where this comment is cross-posted. :-)

I really like your diary, and you very effectively state the argument that the Demcoratic party has not stood up clearly for what it believes in, and has suffered as a result.

However, I think you are directing the argument at the wrong target. Barack Obama is doing more to effectively define the positions of the Democratic Party than any other politician out there. As an example, I strongly urge you to read his speech to knox college here:


I submit that Obama is more effectively laying out the case for the Democrats than any other politician out there.

Your beef with him seems more along the lines of a beef you should have with Joe Biden or one of the other beltway "kool kids" rather than Obama.

If you read Obama's speech closely, you see that he is not abandoning core progressive values one inch, but rather is simply taking the view that he is not going to slam people who deviate from his beliefs, but rather will continue to state core progressive beliefs in a way which people who do not follow politics closely can relate to.

For example:

"Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter."

I agree with this strategy wholeheartedly, and I can't think of anyone more persuasive than Barack Obama to carry this torch. Obama is not abandoning the Democratic party, progressive ideals, or the fight. He is simply fighting smart.

Thank you,


4:52 PM  
Blogger dezerai.... said...

thx fer talkin...though i believe that most of the dems are connected to middle path and further right it is quite nice to read your expressions..i take a more general route...here


and its like no one is listening at all...we need someone who will loose the bonds of corporate invovlement in our once democratic experiment...which has become a soul-less entity and is killing any safe and honorable way of a respectable life for all of us who want a future and voice to be heard:)

7:11 PM  
Blogger Meteor Blades said...

I'm going to be bad and repeat what I've said two other places, even though you've already replied at one of them.

Your response is not only desperate, but tough, heart-felt and polite , and one which may very well get read by the Senator if it isn't drowned out by the tons of material sent in by the screamers.

While I agree with about 80-90% of what you wrote, let me address two troublesome areas that you talk about.

I hesitate to call the first one "framing," because I hate that word, and I think it's gotten too much attention by people who think style is more important than content. That is, if we just pick the right words, the right slogans, the Democratic version of "weak on defense" or "tax-and-spend," we'll soon be knocking off Republicans in elections as far as the eye can see. That's plain nuts.

But, you write:

Ask yourself this: why is it that the vast majority of progressives who frequent Daily Kos are able to sum up the Republican party's platform in six words? Strong Military. Lower Taxes. Family Values. Yet this pool of often brilliant thinkers can't do the same for our own party.

Well, I don't know about you, but since November 4, I've read scores of Daily Kos Diaries, maybe hundreds, as well as other blogs, with thousands of comments about this inadequacy. And people DO put ideas forward for succinct, hard-hitting phrases that embody what they'd like to see the party stand for. But. we. just. don't. agree. And everybody wants nuance.

And I think that's where the difficulty comes in. For instance, what is the Democratic version of "Strong military"? I've seen a discussion about this in which two- and three-word proposals soon developed into paragraph-long slogans filled with qualifiers. Not easy to craft the perfect choice.

Secondly, I couldn't agree more with you more about taking "to the streets," a phrase which I see as including a bevy of extra-electoral techniques to push the party (and the country) in the direction not enough in the party have shown a willingness or ability to do. We took it to the streets for civil rights, we did it against Vietnam, against nuclear armageddon and Central American intervention, and we're starting to do it again this time around. Frankly, in my experience, it's the only way we'll get anything done; with the exception of the New Deal, it's always been the only way.

As you write, however, it would sure be nice to have a dozen or so Senators or Representatives at the head of the pack. But, truly, that's not how politics have ever worked in this country. It wasn't Republican party leaders who made the transition from permanent minority status to their current juggernaut.

7:19 PM  
Blogger RenaRF said...

Meteor Blades. I'm frankly honored you would visit my humble cyber-abode. And my reply, posted for you here as well:

To your first point. I hear you. To use a personal example, I've taken a lot of really good-natured kidding about being Type-A since the march in DC this past weekend (NO NO - do NOT go off on a march tangent, everyone reading this). Simply put, we needed a way to stay together on the march, especially since most of us had never met face to face before that day. We also needed a way to communicate in a crowd. I brought a bullhorn. When warranted, I used it. "We're moving out." "Everyone stop." Things like that. It worked. So I guess I'm saying that leadership has to pick up the goddamned bullhorn on the issue of our values - think about it, consider it, weigh the options and alternatives, and articulate it. Then stick to it. And repeat it. And stick to it some more. Then repeat it again. NO ONE will be happy with all aspects of it. But it has to be just agreeable enough that there's something in it for everyone. The lack of clarity starts at the top. If they articulate it and keep screaming it through the bullhorn, people will follow. I guaran-damned-tee you that Republicans, without that leadership, would be having the same bitching, moaning disagreements.

And to your second point, I couldn't agree more and it somewhat brings me back to the whole "take to the streets" arguments that have raged here on Daily Kos since last weekend. I found it energizing and if the majority involved did as well, then we're loaded for bear and ready to get the word out - whatever that word is. ;-)

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Todd Johnston said...

You are rapidly becoming my hero. Your intelligence and passion are in rare combination, and that gives me hope for this battered country.

I commented to your Barack Obama diary on dKos, but I wanted to leave you are more personal (and perhaps optimistic) message: you are being heard and having an impact.

More than anything, I respect that you refuse to sit idly by, complaining or wringing your hands in despair. You have opted to live in a true "ownership society," where people don't own 'things', but the responsibility and privelage of governing themselves.


1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You ought to stay out of the fellow's room. And having transgressed, you sure as hell ought to forget about anything you discovered in there. Oh, and your post was awful long. In fact too long for me to read it all. There is too much going on for me to devote that much time(not a real fast reader) to any one's opinion.

9:40 AM  
Blogger RenaRF said...


Sorry that there were too many words for you to read. Seems to me, however, that that is YOUR issue and not mine. I know what I said - you don't.

As to the point of giving me advice on what I should or should not do with regard to the room issue? You can go blow it squarely out of your behind. You have no sense what was at stake and you are not entitled to know the details. The last thing I will do is accept criticism from someone who has the obvious attention span of a flea.

But you probably don't know you've been insulted because you didn't make it this far...

12:07 PM  
Blogger Supak said...

E-mail, fax, and snail mail this to Obama's office. I like to hope that he's a smart enough man to know you're right. If reading anything can regenerate spinal growth, I only wish you'd written this before Christopher Reeves died.

2:41 PM  
Blogger KathyinBlacksburg said...

Thanks for some excellent commentary. Love your blog. I found your blog because of a commentary about it on another blog (RaisingKaine.com). Your article has provoked a good deal of thought and commentary in the blogsophere. I only hope it does some good. Those of us who agree with you may well be disappointed once again by our party.

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12:04 AM  

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