In which I talk about the current state of the Republican and Democratic Parties and will no doubt offend a whole lot of people …

My response to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/opinion/center-democrats-identity-politics.html

Note: I consider this a working draft.  I go out on all kinds of ledges here, saying what I really think.  I am very interested in your thoughts.  Please comment here, not on Facebook.

I understand why Penn and Stein feel that Democrats ought to move to the center. There is a vacuum there at present. But not because the Democrats have moved to the left. Rather, the entire spectrum has slowly been skewing to the right over the last thirty years. I argue that it is this unreflective and reactionary pull to the right (some kind of gravitational response to the Republican party’s moves, first toward the religious right in the 80’s, and now toward a kind of religious and political fundamentalism, which folks much smarter than I have likened to fascism) that is the actual cause of the Democratic party’s inability to capture the enthusiasm and support of what should be their base. I argue that most of the progressive wing of the Democratic party is not trying to lose us in the weeds of socialism but is just trying to pull us back left of center.

In the 80’s, the Republican party either courted, embraced, or was overrun by socially and religiously conservative ideology. Similarly, throughout the late 80’s and 90’s, the Republican party (and the Dems too, but that is another story) allowed itself to be thoroughly co-opted by big (I mean enormous) money, and huge multinational corporate and financial entities and their agendas. In the decades since we have seen a slow erosion of the Republican Party and its core principles. Do not confuse the current incarnation of the GOP’s deregulation and privatization frenzy with traditional conservative free-market thinking. I can remember decades ago studying philosophy and political theory when arguments for free markets were made because they were believed to bring about the greatest good for an economy. And the “greatest good” for an economy was understood to include how that economy functioned for the majority of people living in it — not just for an oligarchic few. The current GOP Healthcare Plan, the abdication of leadership on Climate change, the move to deregulate all industry and to privatize public education and resources like those in national parks are not careful, measured, strategic free-market initiatives meant to drive our nation’s economic engine towards a prosperous future for all Americans. The current Congress and Administration have in fact given up all pretense that this is their aim. No rhetoric coming out of current Republican leadership is even giving lip service to the “trickle down” benefits of any of these current initiatives.

Now the Republican Party has arrived in this strange morally bankrupt place where the only guiding principles it recognizes reflect the interests of a very particular, narrowly-construed, fundamentalist flavor of Christianity* and the profit and loss statements of major shareholders in huge multinational corporations. The Republican party of the 115th Congress and the Trump Administration are overtly rejecting such fundamental public values previously held in common by Americans as a whole – regardless of party – including a free press and public education.  Perhaps the most damning evidence of the Republican party’s wholesale abdication of itself to these 2 narrow special interests (Fundamentalist Christianity and Huge Global Corporations) is its bewildering (stupefying) lack of concern or even curiosity as to whether and/or how our national election may have been influenced by a foreign power.

Please allow that to sink in for a second. Let’s do a thought experiment. Pretend you just now returned to Earth after a 25-year absence. Pretend that you had no communication or information about anything happening on Earth since 1992. Pretend you just found out that there was credible evidence that a foreign power (the Russians, even!) had tried to interfere with our presidential election. Wouldn’t you expect that Americans would be universally appalled and infuriated at this? Wouldn’t you expect the United States government to investigate and discover to what degree their institutions are compromised? Wouldn’t you expect leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties to be falling all over themselves to prove who was the most loyal, patriotic American in the endeavor to root out foreign (commie) influence in our democracy? Of course, you would.

So why aren’t the Republicans concerned? The easy answer is, they won the election. But I contend that this is not the real reason.  I can sit here at my desk and imagine a plausible scenario in which the current administration and Republican leadership wrap themselves in the flag and spew fiery, patriotic rhetoric and go about the business of an “investigation” while at the same time controlling the process and information in such a way that whatever is discovered is not allowed to delegitimize the current Republican presidency. Close your eyes.  Do another thought experiment. I wager you can imagine that as well. I bet you could even write the kind of quote Ryan or McConnell or a Republican president might release under these conditions. However, in this case too, the current Republican leadership is not even bothering to pretend they care. The curtain has been pulled back folks; we can clearly see who is at the wheel. The reality is that these enormously monied private interests (individuals, families, corporations, financial institutions) don’t care.  And neither do Fundamentalist Christian political interests. Those parties are only served by being in power and furthering their self-interested agendas with that power.  They have no moral qualms about how they got that power.

Which brings us back to the Democrats. What did the Democrats – as a party – do in response to this seismic shift in the Republican party? Hmm? I’ll give you a moment. As far as I can tell? Nothing. The problem, as I see it, is not that the Democratic party shifted too far to the left or too far to the center. The problem is that we didn’t move at all. It’s like we were playing a football game against the Republicans, trading yardage, each team occasionally scoring, and nothing too fundamentally game changing had happened for the Dems since, I don’t know, FDR was our quarterback? And for the GOP? Since Reagan was calling the shots. And then slowly, the GOP started leaving the field. Oh, they’re still in the arena, but they’re either immersed in Bible Study and delivering fiery sermons to the crowds in the stands, or they’re upstairs in plush offices making bazillions off of concessions and licensing fees. And guess what?  They took the ball with them and now they’re bankrolling the referees. And the Dems are left lost, wandering the field, muttering to themselves. Meanwhile, the folks in the bleachers who actually have skin in the game, who are stuck in the arena, are getting angrier and angrier at both teams.

The Dems are still wandering around that field bickering with themselves because some of them think we shouldn’t have punted on the 4th down and that if only we had been more aggressive none of this would have happened.  I voted for Bernie, and I identify as a progressive, but I don’t think a hard swerve left can salvage the situation. Some, like Penn and Stein, seem to think the Dems worried too much about “special teams” and that was the problem. Penn and Stein argue that Dems’ emphasis on “identity politics” has marginalized voters in the party. I disagree. Both Bernie-crats and Centrist Dems miss the point. It is not either/or. The solution is both/and. Working class white voters are not marginalized in the Dem party because the Dem party has chosen to stand for equal protection under the law for all.  Working class white voters are marginalized because the Democratic party has not seriously addressed their actual needs in at least 35 years. The economic crises facing rural communities, coal country communities, manufacturing communities and other blue-collar communities did not appear full-blown overnight. They have been a generation in the making.  The leadership of both parties has failed to be proactive in helping these communities transition from economies and industries that were inevitably going to disappear. That is how economies and technologies work. Change happens. When railroads became the engine of economic growth, we stopped using canals. When the automobile replaced the horse, we no longer needed blacksmiths but we built roads and motels.  

The issue facing the Democratic party is not one of direction: left or center. The issue facing the Democratic party is exactly the same as the one facing the Republican party. It is a question of values. Of principles. Bernie tried, with unparalleled persistence, consistency, and integrity of message, to remind the Democrats that fundamental to our core values is making possible a healthy, quality life for all Americans. That in America, the blessings of first world citizenship (a comfortable home, education, healthcare, employment, the ability to provide for our children now and ourselves as we age) should not be the coveted prize a Darwinistic economy awards a lucky few, but the basics every American should reasonably expect to be able to achieve. But Bernie only articulated part of the promise the Democratic party’s principles need to articulate. His economic message was loud and clear. And I believe that in his heart and mind his vision includes Americans of all races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, etc. However, his reticence in aggressively addressing the ways that race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion impact people’s ability to access the American dream meant that he only articulated the economic part of what I believe the Democratic party’s core principles have to include.

What Penn and Stein dismiss as “identity politics” is actually a fundamental American ideal articulated over and over in our founding documents. Whether one is discussing the pay gap for women, police violence against minorities, marriage equality, immigration reform, or the life-threatening discrimination that Penn and Stein reduce to “transgender bathroom issues” what we are really talking about is equal protection under the law. All of us, equally, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Referring to these issues as “identity politics” is just a way of dismissing the legitimate, constitutionally protected claims of those whose “identities” are the very reasons they have historically not been granted the same protections and rights as the white, Christian, landed, men that founded our nation.  

I agree with Penn and Stein that Democrats need to work to regain the support of the working class voter. But Penn and Stein’s analysis of why the Democrats lost that support and how to gain it back is mired in outdated assumptions and rests on false dichotomies.  They remind me of Republicans who still campaign against now mythical “tax and spend” Democrats – in idiotic denial of the actual financial track records of the last almost 3 decades of Presidential administrations. Penn and Stein’s analysis cedes too much to the conventional “wisdom” (prejudices) of the day; their juxtaposition of “political correctness”, “identity politics” and “large government handouts” with “the basic values of hard work, religion, and family” tips their hand. They have constructed a straw man Democratic Party out of Republican rhetoric, reducing essential arguments about important principles to inflammatory code phrases that play to all our basest instincts. As long as the Democratic Party cedes the language wars, we cannot win.  Until we are clear about the unifying basic principles around which we cohere and for which we will unabashedly, unashamedly, and aggressively fight, then we will continue to be irrelevant.

 

 

* If you read this essay and are motivated to defend Christianity to me in the comments, please refrain.  I am a Buddhist-inspired Jew but some of my dearest friends are Christians of all flavors. I have nothing against what Jesus purportedly taught.  If you are Christian and you are offended by what I am saying, or don’t think that there is a very politically active strain of Christianity which is incompatible with some fundamental American principles, then you are lost behind a lens of Christian privilege and it is beyond the scope of this essay for me to try to correct your vision.

Learning a whole hell of a lot …

A running list of personal lessons learned 3 months into my first real foray in party politics [in no particular order].  I should say that these reflections are not based solely on one experience, but on participating in — and watching — discourse in VA around a number of primary races.

  • That people on the left of the political spectrum have all the same unexamined prejudices and bias as anyone else – including: misogyny, ageism, classism, racism, and “othering” people who don’t fit their preconceptions.
  • That taking the high road is not easy and rarely enjoyable.
  • That the biggest obstacle to the success of the ideals of the Democratic platform are Democrats.
  • That “purity” tests for Democratic candidates mean that no one is ever good enough for everyone, and that we are all too willing to draw first blood against fellow dems. We don’t need the GOP to do it for us.
  • That some folks on the left who should have more scruples about money in politics, don’t.  And folks on the left who understand the dangers of money in politics, don’t seem to realize that we can’t win elections without it.
  • That paid staff and interns does not equal “not grassroots” or “sell-out” but rather reflects the values of paying young people in politics for their time and talents so that they don’t have to starve to make the difference they want to in the world.
  • That there is no one in charge “behind the curtain.”  That we are the leaders we are waiting for.  That no elected position — either within the dem party itself — or in government, is really out of reach for those of us with commitment, clarity, and purpose. It’s time to stop complaining and get elected or roll up your sleeve and get someone you trust elected.
  • That one-on-one conversations are highly underrated and absolutely critical in making change.
  • That it’s scary as hell to take a stand in your community [however you define your community] that is unpopular or contested.  But if you are very clear about what you are trying to accomplish and why, it is possible to do that very scary thing.
  • That civility and kindness and authenticity and clarity of thought and ideas is the path that I will continue to choose — no matter what.  And if I screw up, I will cop to it and try to make it right.

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I am going to continue to add to this.   Please feel free to comment with your own observations.

 

 

 

The lady doth indeed protest

“Let it go,” I’ve told myself for hours and hours.  “It’s not worth the emotional and mental effort to respond,” I’ve said to myself.  “And,” I reminded myself, “never feed the trolls.”

And usually I can heed that advice when the trolls are clearly trolls, jumping out from dark cyber corners with such vile ugliness that you know every other stable intellect in view is rolling their eyes at them.  But what do you do with a troll that smiles and shakes your hand and travels in the same social-political circles?  With a troll that would not necessarily be universally identified as such?

Almost from the moment Mavis Taintor announced her candidacy as a Democrat aiming to challenge Dave LaRock for the 33rd House Delegate seat, Matthew Gallelli [and a few other “progressive” folks] launched a negative campaign of innuendo, rumor, and “facts” stripped of context in order to persuade people that Mavis was some kind of trojan horse, a “fake” democrat who for some reason was hell-bent on robbing Tia Walbridge of her evidently preordained right to be the Democratic candidate simply because Tia had announced first.   For the most part, myself and others who were taking the time to learn about both candidates ignored this nonsense.

For my part, I met and researched both candidates.  Even before either had announced their candidacy, I had already made a personal vow to myself that I would dedicate myself to unseating LaRock in 2017.  18 months ago, my seventeen year old came and told me that she was a transgender young woman.  I had no inkling that such a revelation was coming.  It has been quite a learning process for our entire family.  I am proud of my daughter for claiming her truth and living authentically.  And I am also very, very scared for her.  In the last year and one half I have learned:

“Statistics documenting transgender people’s experience of sexual violence indicate shockingly high levels of sexual abuse and assault. One in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.1 Some reports estimate that transgender survivors may experience rates of sexual assault up to 66 percent, often coupled with physical assaults or abuse.2 This indicates that the majority of transgender individuals are living with the aftermath of trauma and the fear of possible repeat victimization.”

I have learned:

Transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to report living in extreme poverty, making less than $10,000 per year, a standing that sometimes pushes them to enter the dangerous trade of sex work. Nearly 80% of transgender people report experiencing harassment at school when they were young. As adults, some report being physically assaulted trains and buses, in retail stores and restaurants.

I have learned that “90% of transgender people had experienced harassment in the workplace.”

I have witnessed the election of Donald Trump and saw him prioritize – within his first month in office — dismantling the federal protections for transgender students that were established by the Obama administration.

And I have seen my elected representative repeatedly display bigotry when describing LGBTQ people as “abnormal,” exhibiting “bad behavior,” and “inappropriate”  LaRock is quoted in newspapers as saying, “There is an abundance of credible information indicating that the homosexual and transgender lifestyles are harmful to kids and adults.[i]  And, that “a Board of Supervisors’ proposed resolution to recognize LGBT Pride Month in Loudoun ‘promotes homosexuality and gender confusion to people of all ages’ and could be ‘used to promote, affirm and recruit young school-aged children to those lifestyles.’ “  He has called homosexuality and being transgender a “treatable disorder”  and repeatedly uses disavowed and discredited “research” to prop up his claims that children need to be protected from this “lifestyle.”

It is my opinion that any person that holds the above views is unqualified in principle to represent his fellow Americans.  It is a moral abomination that this man is my and my daughter’s elected representative.  Not only does he not represent our interests, his beliefs are a clear and present danger to my daughter and other transgender people.  My support of the Taintor campaign is deeply personal and not colored by any theoretical or “political” interests.

Unseating LaRock was and is my sole criteria in determining which candidate I chose to support, with my time, with my money, and with my voice.   After careful consideration, I chose to support Mavis Taintor and I have made an effort to share with others, both personally and publicly, why.  In doing so, I have attracted the persistent attention of Matthew Gallelli and other Wallbridge supporters.  Rather than explain why they are supporting Tia, they repeatedly share the same out-of-context accusations against Mavis, over and over, despite myself and others explaining and refuting those accusations explicitly and point by point.

This, in itself, is tiresome but it is their right.  And frankly I was content to let these conversations speak for themselves, allowing other readers the opportunity to hear both sides and come to their own conclusions.

Until twice in the last 12 hours, Matthew Gallelli posted some iteration of “the lady doth protest too much” in my direction.

Yes, I protest, Mr. Gallelli.  I protest your glib and superficial and slimy innuendo posted over and over and over again and your continued inability to actually make a substantive claim that you can articulate and defend.   I protest you using these tactics in a Democratic primary at a time when people of good conscience are resisting forces that want to divide us and harm the most vulnerable amongst us and undermine our basic democratic institutions.

I protest your tactics and your ethics, but most of all I protest your chauvinism and condescension.  How dare you?  This lady doth indeed protest, and if may allude to another literary work, next time when confronted with the choice I suggest you choose the tiger.  You may sustain less damage.

_________________________________________

 

[i] I will not, in this post, address the specious claim that the statistics I quote above about the bigotry and difficulties transgender people face are actual evidence that this assertion might be true. It is a ridiculous and logically faulty argument.  It is akin to claiming that being African-American is somehow inherently, essentially unhealthy and offering as evidence the fact that the African-Americans have been the victims of violence and discrimination. It is blaming the victim instead of the bigots.

Why Mavis Taintor Has My Vote

I want to thank Kamie Rambo Bledsoe for showing up on my personal time line and demonstrating in person the kind of narrow minded intolerance that if allowed to continue unchallenged will keep the Democratic party in the minority in the coming years in the VA State House.

I have a number of important points to make in this post and I hope if you care about who will be representing Virginia House District 33 in November you will carefully consider them all. Frankly, I hope if you care about the future of the Democratic Party you will carefully consider them all.

(1) I want it known for the record, I am not a paid employee of the Mavis Taintor campaign. I am personally volunteering over 20 hours a week (that is nearly full time for this stay-at-home parent of three children –two of them are struggling with health issues.) In fact, the Taintor campaign offered me a job which I declined explicitly (and my family could have used some money to help with medical bills, believe me) so that all of my Progressive friends and colleagues and collaborators in my community would know that what I am saying about the Mavis Taintor comes from my own heart and values and commitment.

(2) Kamie Rambo Bledsoe raised concerns on my page that have been circulating as gossip continuously since Mavis Taintor entered the race. I will address them substantively here.

(A) First, let’s get rid the petty and childish accusation that Mavis Taintor has “liked” Facebook pages of non-Progressive organizations and Republican politicians. This is such a ridiculous point that I cannot believe I’m having to address it. Many people follow all kinds of Facebook pages representing ideas they do not subscribe to because they care about the issues that those people or organizations address and want to keep tabs on what they are saying. If you are not informed about organizations that actively work to undermine the values that you care about, then you cannot effectively work to combat them. One cannot extrapolate from the fact that one follows an organization or an individual that one endorses that organization or individual. It is a ridiculous assumption. For example, I know plenty of progressives who keep track on what happens at Fox News and listens to their reports for the same reason. But I would not offer that as evidence that they support the values that Fox News tends to promote.

(B) Mavis is 71 years old. Which means she has been voting for longer than many of us have been alive. She identified as a Republican before the Moral Majority had such a stranglehold on the Republican Party. Back when New York Republicans were actually more socially Progressive and liberal than many Southern Democrats. To condemn her because she has evolved along with the evolution of politics in America is to assert the same kind of narrow-minded hyper-partisan frame of mind that keeps so much of American politics in gridlock today. It is intolerance and as such incompatible with progressive values. The truth is Mavis has been socially progressive her entire adult life. She has always been pro-choice. She marched against VietNam in the 70’s, she marched for women’s rights and equality in the 80’s, and she marched with a million moms for stricter gun control in 2000. She voted for Obama both times, and held a large fundraiser in her home for him. And she campaigned vigorously for Hillary.

(C) Kamie Rambo Bledsoe’s continued emphasis on Mavis’ two campaign contributions to Republican candidates is another example of her under-informed petty emphasis on appearance rather than substance. When Mavis Taintor gave a one-time contribution to Rudy Giuliani it was when he was a much respected and admired mayor and she lived in New York. Her one-time contribution to Ron Paul was at the request of her son. To condemn – or judge – fifty years of adult life based on these two acts is intolerance and pettiness of the highest order.

(D) Kamie Rambo Bledsoe, and the candidate she supports, seem to think that Mavis having a career in finance is sufficient reason, on its face, to disqualify Mavis from being a powerful advocate for progressive issues. Again, I find this intolerant, uninformed and narrow minded. Mavis was the first woman accepted into Citibank’s management training program. She spent her career breaking glass ceiling after glass ceiling, and, more importantly, mentoring, hiring, and promoting other women in finance. She spent her career lending to businesses small and large so that they could grow, hire more people, and fuel our economy. When Wall Street dirtied itself with speculation, derivatives and sketchy mortgages, she got out and started her own investment company. She invested safely and responsibly for her investors and she is proud of that.

(On a personal note, twenty years ago – long before I met Mavis – I was working for a nonprofit whose goal was to ensure that 100 million of the world’s poorest women had access to small [TINY] business loans so that they could earn income to send their children to school and work their way out of poverty. These were the world’s poorest women. Citibank foundation was the first large donor to this campaign with a contribution of $100,000. And the campaign did meet its global goal.)

(3) I identify as an old fashioned “bleeding heart liberal” and am politically as progressive as they come. I am the mother of black children and white children, gay children and a transgender daughter. I have dedicated myself completely to getting Mavis Taintor elected because I BELIEVE SHE CAN BEAT LAROCK. What Kamie Rambo Bledsoe and others seem to forget is that VA House District #33 is much larger than Loudoun County. This district is 2/3rd as red as it gets. Even if EVERY Democrat came out to vote in November, it would not be enough to guarantee a Democratic victory. In order to defeat LaRock, we need a candidate with the experience, the perspective, the flexibility, and the strength to appeal to Independent and Republican voters. That is just the hard cold truth. We also need a candidate to who can raise the nearly 1 million dollars it is estimated it will take to counter the money that LaRock and the GOP will pour into the race. The candidate that can do this is Mavis Taintor and that is why I will vote for her on June 13th and why I am asking you to do so as well.

Finally, if you would like the opportunity to meet with Mavis face-to-face and ask her you own tough questions, please let me know NOW. I promise to make it happen.

Thank you for reading this, and for sharing it.

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