Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Ironic Cherry Reads... The Cynic

The Cynic: 
The Political Education of
Mitch McConnell

by Alec MacGillis

I was one of those with my mouth hanging open when Mitch McConnell announced that he would not bring to the floor President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  We should not have been surprised.  If we had been paying attention, and we had, we knew that there was no depth to which the republican Congress would not sink in order to win.  The Obama administration began with McConnell's announcement that his most important goal was to make this Democrat a one-term president.

In retrospect, I believe we don't give Mitch McConnell enough credit, because of his looks and demeanor.  His deer-caught-in-the-headlight, tortoise-y, stiff appearance leads one to imagine that he is, well, doofy.  And late night comedians have made the most of this, doing hilarious imitations.  The media has had no lack of material pointing out his conflicting statements over the years.  As though that would horrify, or even embarrass, McConnell.  It doesn't.

McConnell was the high school nerd that wasn't all that popular, but was drawn to politics.  He had a single-mindedness that no number of losses could derail.  Like the tortoise to which he is so often compared, he continued to plow ahead, setting goals and working at them, all the way back to vice president of his junior high student council.  The other thing he did was observe, and learn.  And he was fearless when it came to attempting to persuade people to his side.

What I did not know is that McConnell began his career as a moderate to liberal republican:  pro-choice, pro-union, pro-civil rights.  Along the way, though, he learned that going negative was the way to win.  And he learned where the money was.

McConnell knows how to get what he wants.  And what he wants is the power he now wields in the Senate.  He may not be likable, but that doesn't matter to him.  His colleagues know that he is the best power broker there is.  Trump thinks he knows how to make a deal?  McConnell is like a card-counter.  He is like a chess champion.  And the goal is winning.  He has no scruples, no guiding ideals.  He will do anything to win.

In his early years he hired Roger Ailes to create ads for his campaign and he hasn't looked back.  There is no dirty trick he will not be delighted to run if it will get him closer to winning, and indeed he takes great pleasure from crushing his opponents.  There have been many races in McConnell's life when he nearly lost.  But he is willing to say and do anything to best his opponent.  He has no scruples.  There is no line he won't cross.  And he is always willing to try something new and egregious.  He plays the odds very, very well.

In the Senate, he knows everything that is going on.  He keeps fellow senators close, and strategizes everything.  He is the master of procedural tricks.  And he doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks of him.  Those republican senators that don't like him nonetheless know he knows what he is doing, and they had better play his game.  AND YET, when the Tea Party came to Washington, people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz who came to government like gunslingers, aiming to take it down, McConnell figured out how to work with them and around them.  He knew how to act like he wanted to get government moving while not opposing tactics like shutting down the government.  He knows when to stay in the background and when to be heard.

We owe as much to Mitch McConnell for the dysfunction in our government as we do to the Tea Party.  He has been the mastermind.  His only goal is to stay in power, and anybody running against him or anyone else in his party needs to be ready for a dirty fight.

He is truly a strange bird in that he thrives on fund raising, as though getting money out of donors proves his self-worth.  He is good at it.  He gets the best -- in other words, the dirtiest -- people to manage his campaigns.  His ads are going to be plentiful, and as ugly as they come.  And, as we saw in the recent Georgia 6th Special Election, that is politics in 2017.

I have said recently that when they go low, we don't have to roll in the mud with them.  But we do have to educate voters that dirty tricks and ugly accusations will be out there.  We have to let them know about the kind of people who are paying to spread the lies, and what they have to gain, and what the voters have to lose.

We also have to learn to stick together.  One of the worst mistakes that Alison Lundergan Grimes made in her run against McConnell in 2014 was to back away from President Obama.  The moment she waffled on that question, McConnell's gang came in for the kill.  That's what he does.  So don't give him, or any other republican, the opportunity to pit us against each other.  We are far better than they are, and we need to be confident when we tell that to voters.

And we need to hit, and hit back, and then do it again, each time republicans are wrong.  That should give us lots of material, right?  Then I wonder why we haven't seen, all over the country, on every television station, ads about the republican health care plan.  And tax cuts for the wealthy.  And how about job losses?  We let Trump and Pence get away with claiming to save jobs at Carrier, but how about the massive layoffs that are beginning at Carrier next week?

And speaking of jobs, South Carolina's Boeing plant, paid for by Nikki Haley with our own tax dollars, celebrated with great fanfare and a visit by the liar-in-chief a few months ago the rollout of the 787 Dreamliner.  All the doting local news stations played the video of Trump promising great jobs blah, blah, blah.  Earlier, Boeing had put out a small -- actually what to most of us would be a rather large -- fortune in advertising, blanketing the media with anti-union ads.  Now they have announced layoffs.  If voters, workers, citizens don't hear us shouting about this from the rooftops, how will they know the promise of jobs was a lie?

I saw a crawl on CNN a week or so ago that announced that gas prices were now the lowest they had been in twelve years.  Really?  I keep a pretty close watch on gas prices and I know here in Charleston, before the election, I was paying somewhere under $1.60.  I also know that shortly after the election, the price jumped up by some twenty cents.  Since then they have jumped up and then crawled down, with them finally holding steady for a while around $2.00.  Check it out at SC Gas Buddy.  When the media swallows false information, we need to get in their faces.  Campaign managers, party officials and we citizens need to make sure the news is accurate.

The Cynic is a slim book, but an awfully important political education.  Mitch McConnell, incredible as it is to believe, was determined to become a force in politics, and he has indeed.  He has set the standard for political warfare.  If we are going to win against a cheater, we need to understand the cheater and the system.  This is a good place to start.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

When They Go Low...

In that sparkling election campaign that was Hillary Clinton's, Michelle Obama led the call and response:  "When they go low... we go high."  Problem is, and the election of 2016 is proof, when they go low... we lose.

This is what republicans are good at.  In The Cynic, a disturbing book about the political career of Mitch McConnell, we find a gawky, not-very-popular young man who supported women's reproductive rights (!) as well as collective bargaining (!) in his early years.  He soon found out, though, just how sweet was the taste of victory, won in any way possible.  And the easiest way to win was by attacking your opponent.  And claiming to support any cause that would win the election, followed by enacting legislation that benefits the wealthy and powerful.

This is the republican playbook.  The moral vacuity that is the republican party will stoop to any depth to win.  The wealthy and powerful pay their way.  Voters hear what they want to hear, and believe the lies they are told writ large:  in ad buys, billboards, Russian fake news (yeah, that's what fake news was until Donald Trump appropriated it to his narcissistic ends).

We Dems just aren't comfortable with lying to win an election.  We shy away from attacking our opponent, whether it is because of our values or fear of retaliation.  I don't believe we need to, or could possibly, stoop as low as has the republican party.  But we have let republican strategists beat us to a pulp while we fight among ourselves.

I imagine that republican opposition research just can't be any more fun these days.  What happens is:  they find some questionable detail about a candidate, toss it out, and watch Dems fight about it.  And if they can't find some small actual thing, they make something up.

Take Jon Ossoff.  It wasn't that long ago that he ran the most exciting campaign since Bernie, in the truly red (don't get me started on gerrymandering) district in Georgia from which Trump's handlers plucked the evil Tom Price to Orwellize the Department of Health and Human Services.  It is no accident that they have been plucking their deplorables from redder than red districts (South Carolina has been fertile ground).  But Georgia's 6th, while solidly republican, also has its share of intelligent republicans, who chose Trump over Hillary by only one percent.

So imagine their alarm when republicans saw the populist excitement over candidate Jon Ossoff.  Of course, they did not spend much time biting their nails.  They went into action, fund raising and scheming.  They (RNC, PACs, and those even shadier groups) went into overdrive.  Had the situation been reversed, Dems might have made excuses for why they probably wouldn't win, or complained about how unfair it was that someone from the other side was giving them a tough race (only Donald Trump, in his robocalls, did that, telling voters not to let Democrats STEAL THE ELECTION).  Republicans immediately regrouped.  McConnell's playbook from his early years proves to have been the gift that keeps on giving.  When you are running against a formidable candidate there are two things that work:  lying about your opponent, running attack ads, and running attack ads that lie about your opponent (three things...).

Beginning with an ad showing clips that under a more, shall we say, objective framework, would have us think: "What a fun guy, and he sure is clever."  But in the hands of the Congressional Leadership Fund, it became a dark-tinged piece of hysteria that nonetheless made national news.  And why shouldn't it?  Republicans and republican supporters know how to get oppo research and negative messages into every crevice of the American media.  That success was followed by pieces of work that became progressively more desperate and evil, from falsely linking Ossoff to "Bay area liberals" and Nancy Pelosi, to a last truly disgusting ad that pronounces that "Now the unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting republicans."  Of course, once it was out, it was an easy matter for opponent Karen Handel to denounce the ad.  But fact is, it may have gotten those last crazies out to the polls, for which she is no doubt quietly grateful.

Yes, there was some grumbling about the ugliness of these ads.  But what did not happen was Democrats coming out in droves to talk to the voters about what they were seeing, that is, a desperate, nasty effort to manipulate the election to vote for the least popular candidate of the two.

If you are planning on running for office as anything other than a right-wing republican these days, you need to start with the assumption that the first thing republicans are going to do is find dirt on you.  If it's not dirt, they will make it so.  If they can't find anything to turn into dirt, they will lie.  So you need to tell the voters that this is going to happen.  You need to say:

"Republicans are going to do everything they can to win.  They will turn over everything in my past to find something they can twist to make it look bad.  They will distort everyday aspects of my life to make them look questionable.  They will lie.  They will put ads on TV that you won't want your kids to watch....  Why will they do this?  Because they can't run honestly on the issues.  They know that if you take a good look at their candidate, you will see that they don't have your interests in mind.  They know that if you are able to hear my message, without their lies and distortions, you will vote for me.  So know that, and let's run this campaign on the issues."

And you need to say it and say it again, every time there is a negative ad or attack.  Keep bringing voters back to the issues.  Keep reminding them why your opponent is going so low.

The other thing we Dems need to all get together on is getting together on our candidates.  These are people who for the most part don't have donors with deep pockets.  If they do, as did Hillary, you can bet republicans (talk about the pot and the kettle) will bring up their ties to Wall Street.  If they have gone to Harvard, they will make the Ivies sound like dirty words.  For gods' sake, they will bring up Nancy Pelosi and make it sound like you cohabit.

And here is where they get us, every time.  I am still hearing the smackdown between Bernie and Hillary supporters.  Trump taunted us by talking about his love for Bernie, gloated in the in-fighting.  Could he have done better after Bernie's admittedly half-hearted pleas to support Hillary than to have us turn against each other?

And then they threw out the Ossoff bones and sat back and watched us fight.  Does he support Pelosi, and why didn't he stand up for Pelosi?  Republican hate of all things liberal even became, "Is Jon Ossoff really a liberal, or is he just pretending?"  After the attack ads claiming that Ossoff wasn't really a small business owner, I heard Democrats repeating their concern that he wasn't really a small business owner.  Boy-o, talk about getting bang for your buck.

In some ways it is truly nice that Democrats don't toe the line the way republicans do.  But it is time to get political, folks.  I may have my problems with the Democratic Party, but I value any candidate that steps up to what is likely going to be a bloodbath.  Republicans don't just control all three branches of government, plus most of the states.  They have made sure that their tentacles reach the media and college campuses, where they successfully divert attention from their own manipulations by attacks on "liberal media" and "liberal college campuses."

And what they will do every time in every way, is support their candidate.  Right-wing republicans represent corporate America.  Period.  And they will do anything they need to do to get that victory.  McConnell is the master at controlling the message and the race.  Ryan knows where his financial bread is buttered.  And voters routinely mistake the unity of those who run the republican machine for truth.

Democrats can "go high," but we need to recognize the reality of politics.  You are not going to get your perfect candidate.  That means you confront a candidate that threatens not to support those democratic causes that make us Democrats.  But when it comes down to the vote, you ALWAYS vote for the best person.  That means Hillary over Trump, no matter how your heart aches for Bernie.  That means Archie Parnell even though you could see Alexis Frank, another woman on the floor of the House over the years becoming a national treasure.  And that means, stop chasing those nasty old bones the republicans throw out so they can step back and watch us fight.

About Pelosi.  She is the person who brought a bunch of hissing cats together to get the Affordable Care Act passed.  And Hillary.  She is the one who has fought internationally for the rights of women, standing up to Putin knowing that he would be a nasty and powerful enemy.  When republicans are done with them as useful targets, they will turn their sights on Elizabeth Warren (as both Trump and McConnell have already done).

These women are being targeted, not only because they are women, but because they are smart, powerful women.  And they tell truth to power, and to everyone else who will listen.  We need them, and we need to support them, wholeheartedly.  Shame on those who say Pelosi is too old to be effective, when republicans stand behind the old white men who are united with Trump in his plan to destroy our democracy (After the Georgia election there was a time when I was hearing Dems say Pelosi is too old AND Ossoff was too young, both bones tossed out by republicans.).  And shame to those who have let the unproved allegations of thirty years keep them from taking a look at all Hillary has done for us.

Fact is, when they feel threatened they attack.  What threatens them is candidates that will fight for the people and for democratic values.  And the louder we shout, the more voters respond, the bigger and uglier the attacks.  We know this.  We can fight back.

2018 is happening.  Let's stand with our courageous candidates.  Let's stop fighting among ourselves; let's stop listening to the lies and rumors put out by republican opponents.  Let us vote for our values, but let us be loud in our outrage at the perversion of our democracy that has been created by money and power.

We can go high when they go low, but we need to get down to their level to look them in the eye when we call them out.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lessons for Our Children

I am glad my children are all grown.  It would be hard to raise them right in the America we are living in today.  Our president calls people names and tells lies.  Members of Congress write laws giving more money to the rich while pretending to care about the middle class, and don't even pretend to care about the poor (or, as they derisively refer to them, the entitled).

Those who are running the country celebrate ignorance.  They deny the damage that greed is doing to our country's schools, to the ability of the elderly to live the remainder of their days healthy and secure.  They scoff at science and make laws that enable the greedy and powerful to make earth more polluted and dangerous, and claim it is to lower our children's debt.  Oh, and while they are talking about our children's debt, they are creating a society in which all but the wealthy are saddled with debt for their entire lives.

Our leaders model for us discrimination against others,  whether it be those who have different lifestyles, or religious beliefs and customs, or those who have skin of a different color, or those who struggle with disability; they have even determined that women should not have the same rights and freedoms as men.  We live, in 2017, governed by white men, who make laws determined by wealthy white men. 

And then, to cap it all, the people who are in charge tell us that they are Christians.  They use their god as a weapon, to force us to obey rules that discriminate and control us, that prevent us from loving who we choose and living the way we want.  They don't require burkas and they don't stone people who are not like them.  But they are sending the message in a way that has not been seen since the middle of the last century that it is okay to attack.  Guns are celebrated and called necessary for freedom, except that if you are lawfully carrying a gun and you are the wrong color you could be killed, and the killer exonerated.  On the other hand, cells inside a woman's womb are called life, and that is used to control a woman throughout her life.

How do we explain this world to our children?  How do we raise them to respect the world in which they live when those who govern them have no respect, and their lies and laws attack the innocent and powerless?  How do we explain a government that brags that they value the family and then separates parents from their children to deport them to countries in which they have never lived?  What do we tell them when African Americans and, Latinos and Muslims are suspected, imprisoned, deported, gunned down, while the president of the United States is allowed to lie, to mock, to cheat and steal, while Congress looks the other way?

We had a Constitution that we revered.  Then many of our politicians learned to say they revered the Constitution while they used it to justify un-American acts.  We have seen our Supreme Court become more political, and used as a tool to further the agenda of the rich and the pseudo-religious and control the rest of us.

It is difficult in this country, and perhaps especially today in the South, to raise children to respect and care for one another when racism is once again being celebrated.  When religious hypocrisy is on the rise.  When paranoia and guns are the law of the land.  When education is scarce, underfunded and riddled with indoctrination.

My heart goes out to parents today.  You have to raise your kids to recognize cruelty and hypocrisy.  But kids have great bullshit meters.  When I grew up in the sixties, we were calling bullshit on wars and materialism.  Our kids, if we talk to them, and teach them to think for themselves, critically, and if we teach them the true value of life and freedom, will know.  They will be the ones to turn the tide of this awful period.  We did move forward as a result of the rebellions of the sixties.  We take a few steps forward and a couple steps back.  I have to believe that that will happen again.  And that our kids, with our guidance, will end up leading the way.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One Last Thing about Ossoff and Parnell

Tuesday is the day it seems we have been waiting for since forever.  We have been hammered with emails.  We have been prodded and pestered about donating just $3.  We have heard from nearly every party Democrat about how important these races are.

I just have one last thing to say before Tuesday.

On Wednesday, if Karen Handel has won in Georgia, or if Ralph Norman has won in South Carolina, will you be sad, or angry, or worried?  Will you wish there was that one more thing you could have done?  Would you wish you had called your friend in Georgia’s 6th, or SC’s 5th, and told them what you know about the difference between the candidates?  Would you wish you had offered your neighbor a ride to the polls?  Will you wish you had gotten out and voted, even if it meant getting up early before work, or getting home late, or putting off some important errands?

If our Democratic candidates lose on Tuesday, and Handel and Norman get to Congress and vote to repeal your health care and cut social security benefits, will you have regrets?

A lot of us are living with the fact that there was just that one more thing they could have done to elect Hillary Clinton, and wish we could go back in time and fix it.  Like the Brexit voter who thought it was just a protest vote, there are more than a few of us who voted against Hillary or who sat on the sidelines because Hillary was not our perfect candidate.  There are those of us who were tired of promises by Democrats that seemed to be lies, and who voted for the other candidate because they were sure he he wasn't lying because of the outrageous things he was saying.

On Wednesday, we may elect someone who is going to fight against tax cuts for the rich that take away our safety nets.  We might elect someone who will fight to make our schools, our jobs, our lives better.  Or we may decide that our vote doesn’t matter and stay home.

I hope you will each do that one last thing to elect Jon Ossoff and Archie Parnell.  If there was ever a time that our democratic vote meant something, it is now.

This is my one last thing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Other Side of Pro-Choice

The other night, I turned off a DVD in frustration after about half an hour.  In the movie, a woman had learned that she was pregnant, and she was pissed off.  She was distraught, and went on about it as though this pregnancy had just ruined her career and hence, her life.  I turned the TV off when I got tired of yelling, "Get an abortion, you idiot."  "You know you don't HAVE to have a baby, for god's sake."  And, "What the hell is wrong with you???"  I was imagining an actual baby being born to this narcissistic stupid woman, and also the damage movies like this did to a woman's right to have an abortion, because it did not even consider that women had an actual choice.  I must add that I assumed in the end she had the baby and magically turned into a warm, loving mother, maybe because the title of the movie was, "Mothers and Daughters."  I may be wrong, in which case I apologize, but it truly wasn't worth another hour and a half of my life to find out.

On the other side, in one of the plot-lines in the brilliant television series, Shameless, fifteen-or-so year old Debbie intentionally gets pregnant, and battles the insistence of her oldest sister and parental surrogate Fiona to have an abortion.  As the baby is lovingly accepted into the family, Debbie realizes that parenting is far more than she thought she wanted or could handle, and that she may have made a big mistake.   

In Dr. Willie Parker's dynamic and personal account of the battle for women's right to abortion, he talks about how crucial it is to be sure a woman has actually decided that she wants to have an abortion independently and with certainty.  In Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice he describes a heartbreaking incident in which he thought a woman had made that decision, only to learn after the procedure, that she had been coerced by her husband.

It's been a few weeks since I read that book, and the description of that incident has stayed with me.

One of the things that we pro-choice advocates tend to ignore is that pro-choice means that women -- and girls -- have the right to choose pregnancy as well as abortion.  That is certainly my bias.  I was truly fortunate that I never had to face that with my daughter, because it may not have been my shining moment as a parent.  I know MY choice would have been for her to have an abortion, regardless of her choice.

We make quite a big deal, we liberals, about how pregnant girls should not be forced by parents to have a baby.  About how it can ruin their lives.  About how they will be hurt emotionally and financially.  We know that raising a child on her own is an extraordinary hardship for most women.  It is likely to impair relationships, with family, friends and potential partners.  It will interfere with educational opportunity and career goals.  The emotional stress of having a baby without adequate support will affect the health and well-being of the baby.

And of course, it just makes sense that they wait to have a baby until they are emotionally and financially ready.

But is that right?  If I am to be truly honest here, is it more right to deny a teen the right to have a baby than to deny her the right to an abortion?  And what about the pressures from husband, boyfriend, parents on adult women to end a pregnancy?

Let's take care of that latter question first.  A woman should be in charge of her own decision regarding a pregnancy.  Period.  There are social mores, as with some religions, that put the decision in the hands of the husband, most often forcing a woman to bring the pregnancy to term.  It may also happen the other way, as Dr. Parker described, in which the spouse has ordered his wife to end the pregnancy, and she complies.  Which is why it is so critical that clinics have the ability and training to interview and assess whether the woman has independently chosen an abortion.

Far more difficult is the teenager's choice.  Would you let your teenager really choose?  When I was pregnant at age twenty there was no conceivable way I would have told my parents.  My father, with whom I wasn't speaking on and off since I was fifteen, would certainly have stopped speaking to me.  My mother, with many tears and recriminations, would never ever have approved of an abortion.  And I would have been totally unable to care for a baby on my own.  But had I decided to tell my parents and keep the baby, they surely would have loved it.

Decades later, had my daughter become pregnant, I would have assumed that she would have an abortion.  Her teenage years had been rocky enough between she and I; I can only imagine the rage on both our parts as we each fought for what we thought was right.  Her life as I wanted it to be would have been over.  But her life as she might have wanted it to be....

The irony is that as parents it is up to us to make decisions about our children that affect their well-being.  And as they grow older, at some point we lose control over those choices, even though we may know better.  They may experiment with drugs and alcohol.  They can choose to fail in school, drop out or refuse to go to college, take a low-paying job with no future.  They can decide to date or live with someone who has himself made bad choices.  And one of the things they may choose, even under our roof, is whether they become pregnant, and whether or not to have a baby.

Because we have needed to be so rabidly engaged in the fight to protect our right to reproductive freedom, i.e. contraception and abortion, we have let the right wing control the other side.  We have let them talk about killing babies and how those who are pro-abortion would take away a woman's right to have those babies.

It is time to take this argument away from the anti-choice brigade.  Because what they are proposing is not "pro-life" but anti:  against both sides of "choice."

Pro-choice should mean certain rights to women and girls who choose to be pregnant.  It should mean that the government will provide to them the safety net that will assure the well-being of both mother and child.  A pregnancy should not mean hardship and punishment, difficulty finding work or even the need to find work while caring for an infant.  Proposing that pregnant women and girls should be required to carry the pregnancy to term without financial security, health care, and emotional support services is not pro-life.  It is punishment.  Punishment for those who are pregnant, punishment for their families, and punishment for the child to come.

Those who are most rabidly in the anti-abortion league tend to be those who are most determined to cut away any safety net that would actually optimize life.  That is why Texas now has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world.  In a country that has no problem spending tax dollars on prisons, we are hearing Tea Party idiots like Mick Mulvaney talk about how taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for food stamps.  While they are promoting fanciful lies about how abortion kills babies, they are cutting funding for clinics that would provide the care that would save the lives of women, infants and children.

If we honestly believe our stance is "pro-choice" we need to start talking about the right to have babies as well as the right not to.  And then we can have the argument on our own terms.  That is, that a woman or girl who chooses to be pregnant deserves the support of the government.  Health care, housing, child care -- no one who claims to be pro-life should obstruct those rights.

It is time to own this side of women's right to choice.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Trouble with Abortion

I am just finishing the book, Divided We Stand, by Marjorie J. Spruill.  It was a tough book to read, but important.  The book exhaustively documents the fight for women's rights versus the fight by right-wing republican women against those rights.  I would say it is the never-ending battle between liberals and conservatives, or good and evil, but honestly, it hurts too much to admit it.

It feels to many of us these days like we are losing the war.  Whether the war is for science and education, health care, workers' rights, voting rights, minority rights, and of course, women's reproductive rights.

And, as with every battle we are fighting, it comes down to words and communication.  Fact versus lies.  And the constant planning that goes into that fight.

We don't seem to be very good at the words.  And at disseminating them.  We are late to the game and always struggling to catch up.  We are always defending ourselves, making excuses, equivocating.  We Democrats want to get in and work for people, but we aren't very good at convincing them why, or what exactly we are going to do for them.

Abortion is the most difficult battle, because it is not pretty.  You can be proud to be gay and proud to be Black.  You can brag about being in the forefront of technology and the war on cancer.  You can celebrate lives saved since the ACA was enacted.  But how do we make abortion a positive?

It took years for the women's movement to wake up and start saying "pro-choice" rather than "pro-abortion."  Meanwhile, the right wing was "pro-life."  And we let them get away with being "pro-life," even though they were also, and continue to be, against aid to women and families, affordable health care, a living wage and workers' rights, and pretty much any program that would actually be "pro-life."

And then there are the graphics.  I recall, sometime in the 80's, driving on the highway and looking up to see a van with a fetus painted on it and some ugly anti-abortion slogan.  We see them on billboards when we drive along southern and mid-western highways.  And don't even imagine that the graphics are accurate.  In 2012, this photo claiming to be of a 12-week-old fetus circulated around the internet.

Turns out, it was a hand painted resin doll.

If you have had the dubious fortune to attend or hear a legislative session when the wackos have been bussed in, you have no doubt been regaled with how God has given us the gift of life and we have no right to murder his creations.  More clever yet is when the right wing can find an actual literate woman who can testify to her choice to have her baby, and how wonderful that has been.  Especially when the argument is whether to "save the life" of a "child" with severe, life-threatening deformities.

Our South Carolina lawmakers dragged that one out in 2015, on their way to passing the abhorrent "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act."  Not only was the woman testifying that she made the choice against the recommendation of her doctor, but lo! and behold! her teenage daughter was there to testify, as proof of God's intent.  And, because our lawmakers are still forced to pretend that there is separation of church and state, this wonderful young woman was there to talk about God her own self.  And she wore some sort of pin with a baby and God message for all to see and photograph.  It was inspirational.

And then later in the hearing, a woman who chose the late-term abortion of a severely at-risk fetus testified.

At the time, The State carried not only a photo, but video, of the wonderful child.  The second woman's testimony was relegated to a couple of statements at the end.  And what else was there to do?

Recently, an anti-abortionist argued that she was forced by her boyfriend to have an abortion, and she wanted to make sure that didn't happen to anyone else.  So, she argued, she felt it was her obligation to force women to have babies rather than change a system in which a man could force a woman to have an abortion.

An abortion is a right, but it is nothing we want to brag about.  And that is the quandary.  There is no way we can dress it up, any more than we can dress up cancer.  So we have let those who wish to take that right away from us attack us with horrible words, about killing babies, about how fetuses can feel pain, about how they can pleasure themselves in utero, control the issue.  They may have no facts to back them up, but, boy howdy! do they have the imagery.

Meanwhile, lately, with the anti-abortion activists stooping to ever lower lows, women -- and men -- are beginning to step up and fight back.  More women are coming forward to admit that they have had abortions, there are more important books written on the subject (Pro by Katha Pollitt and  Life's Work by Dr. Willie Parker) and young women are getting angry about the efforts to shame and control them.  Comedians like Amy Schumer have brought abortion out of the shadows with absolutely outrageous jokes about it.

Fact:  Abortion is a safe and minor surgical procedure.  Nobody wants to say it for fear of being thought callous, but it is like having a tooth pulled.  It becomes a Big Deal when we bring all our emotional baggage to it, which we usually do.

Fact:  It may be a minor procedure, but it is not fun, and not a choice we enjoy making, even if the government were to pay for it, which it doesn't.  We don't look forward to getting a tooth pulled either.

Fact:  Choosing an abortion may be the best option.  Or it may not.  But as Dr. Willie Parker says, every woman has the right to the facts, and to make the choice herself as best she can.

Fact:  As those sanctimonious right wingnuts make it more difficult for women to have an abortion, more women are dying.  While Texas legislators keep data about its rise in maternal death rate cloaked in secrecy, it has just been found to have the highest pregnancy related death rate in the developed world.  The same people who claim to be "pro-life" are on the forefront of taking away health care.  Women who choose to be pregnant are at risk.  Women who would get an abortion if they had a real choice are at risk.

Fact:  Women are perfectly capable of making decisions about their children.  They are also perfectly capable of making decisions about whether to have children.  It is ironic that lawmakers on the one hand have decided it is up to them to control women's reproduction because they don't believe women are capable of making the right choice; meanwhile, they wash their hands of anything they might do to help women struggling to raise a child.

Fact:  God did not choose to punish women for having abortions.  Women who have abortions can get pregnant another time.  My two adult children are proof enough that my choices were sound.  If I believed in God, I would say that He approved.

Fact:  God did not appoint lawmakers to monitor or punish women for their reproductive lives or choices.  Really.  Lindsey Graham is not more capable of deciding whether my daughter should have a baby than she is.

Fact:  Fetuses don't feel pain.  They don't masturbate.  They don't pray.  When we choose to have a baby, we also carry a lot of very romantic sweet notions about that developing fetus, that all has to do with its potential, not what it is.  There is nothing romantic or sweet about having a baby without affordable health care, or a baby born that will die minutes later, or having a baby that you are neither emotionally nor financially capable of caring for.

So, there are a lot of negatives in the above arguments.  But on the other side, we might just want to consider the positives.  We who choose abortion do it for selfish reasons.   Those reasons may include being able to finish college or take care of other children.  We may choose not to have a child we can't afford to support, or have the time to care for.  We may not want to have a child because we don't believe we would make good parents.  We may want to devote our lives to curing cancer or teaching.  We may choose an abortion just because it feels right.

In all those cases, we need to stand up and be proud of our choice.  Come out of the closet.  God doesn't condemn you, and who cares if Donald Trump does?  And we need to protect our words, and work hard to communicate our rights and beliefs.  Don't let people who are anti-abortion get away with saying they are pro-life; I guarantee, they are not.  Don't let them get away with using terms like "pain-capable" or "partial birth" or "dismemberment abortion," which latter is the most recent step on the slippery slope.  Fetuses aren't babies.  Women don't carry babies, except on their hips for a couple of years.

I am so proud of the women who are fighting this fight.  Many of them could be going about their lives assuming it isn't going to happen to them.  Abortion isn't something you grow up looking forward to, and pretty much by definition you don't plan for it.  So fighting for that right has to be more than the right to have an abortion.  It is about the right to determine our own paths, privately, freely, without government interference.  And it is about fighting for that right for all women.

Monday, June 5, 2017

When Democrats Listen

I live in a bubble.  When I get together with my friends, we share the latest Trump horror stories.  We talk about our addiction to television news, from Morning Joe to Lawrence O'Donnell.  We complain about the commentators, as though they are family we love but are so close to that all their annoying tics have gotten under our skin.

When I went to Chicago over Memorial Day weekend for a family get-together, I was surprised to find that the dozen or so family members, mostly liberals, spent little time talking about the orange-haired idiot.  We talked about food, restaurants and cooking.  We talked about our gardens.  We talked about music and movies.  We talked about vacations.

We also talked about the weather, jobs, health care, traffic, educational plans, and communities.  Which is as close to politics as we got.  Health insurance and global warming were the two actual political conversations I recall, and both were about our personal experiences, and were animated.  And by the way, Chicago was not burning; it was lovely and had experienced a warm winter and early spring.  Which fact led to the talk about concerns for climate change.

When I got home and began to get re-acclimated to my political environment, I learned that I had missed a couple of items, like the Trump shove, but the situation hadn't changed much.  The Trump family is still getting richer from his presidency, he continues to insult and alarm world leaders, Paul Ryan still spends his nights dreaming of a day when only the rich get tax breaks and government entitlements, and MSNBC still spends the entire day talking about Russia and Jim Comey, and nobody really knows what is happening politically in our fifty states.  Meanwhile, most Americans are trying to decide whether to pay for that home repair or their blood pressure meds this month.

The bucket of cold water on my return home was the interview I saw on one of the talk shows (entertainment as opposed to political) with our new DNC chair, Tom Perez.  As usual, neither he nor I could barely stay awake for his interview.  I tried reciting his canned lines along with him, but honestly couldn't care less.  Those actual people he talked about -- a popular go-to with Democratic politicians these days that is supposed to prove their relevance -- seemed to have less substance than Colbert's "cartoon Trump."

Which is a damned shame, because real people are hurting in America.  They may be watching Colbert, but I guarantee it is more for the host's comedic barbs than anything new and exciting Perez might say.  And if I sit there getting angry at Perez, what do you think those non-activist voters feel?

And that in a nutshell is what is wrong with the Democratic Party.

We are the party that is afraid of passion.  We tiptoe around anger.  We equivocate when asked if the Trump administration has committed crimes, or if the family has broken laws in its business dealings.  We are the party of "let's wait and see where the investigation leads."

Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken scare party leaders.  There aren't even words to express how badly the party handled Bernie Sanders' run for the presidency.  Keith Ellison, not a socialist but a progressive, and a Muslim for-gods-sake, could not win the DNC chair because he was too way out there for our party.

I think the labels are all wrong.  The Democratic Party is the party of conservatives, those who are stuck in the way things are and are afraid to suggest change.  We all love Bill Clinton, but he compromised our values all over the place.  Barack Obama had the country eating out of his hands when he took office, but from Timothy Geithner to the Affordable Care Act he refused to entertain radical ideas.  He neither held criminals on Wall Street to account for their ruin of so many lives, nor did he even bring up the idea of single-payer health insurance.

Typical Americans don't get into the weeds on what is going on in government.  They mostly work, run errands, try to spend time with family, and when they can, escape with TV or social media.  They only have time left for the headlines.  Which is why there was the vague but persistent attitude that Hillary could not be trusted -- republicans had made her a villain for thirty years, and nobody had time to wonder why all this time under the magnifying glass had produced no crime.  All the republicans had to do is repeat "Benghazi" and "emails" daily, hold investigations and hearings that came up with nothing, and never ever have to prove a thing.

The thing about Trump is that, stupid as he is, he is unafraid.  The other thing about Trump is that, stupid as he is, he has a paranoid, narcissistic ability to target fears and weaknesses in others.  The sixth-grade bully that called me fat grew up to be Donald Trump.  He knew how to attack and then flatter those who might otherwise have threatened him.  And the third thing about Trump is that, under it all, he is a common man.

Donald Trump looks at his adoring audience and really (honestly) sees himself.  That's how he connects.  He feels picked on and mistreated.  He believes that he is the victim.  He doesn't have big ideas, he just thinks he does.  But it turns out that that is enough for most people.  The ones who only have time for the headlines.

Where does that leave Democrats?  How do we win the contest against the lying bully?

We listen.

When candidates spend all that time and energy knocking on doors, don't tell people what you plan on doing for them.  Ask them what is important to them.  Learn how to talk in simple statements.  It comes naturally to Donald Trump, not so much to you and me.  Smart people don't necessarily know big words, and mostly they don't talk in big words.  They don't talk theory.  They honestly don't care about who made deals with Russia, and they would be happy to let the Trump family own America, if only they can have job security and health care.  Maybe enough money to take a vacation.

The challenge is in bringing the horrors that are going on in Washington home to people.  The successful Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Keith Ellison, are able to do that.  They do it because they really understand.  If Perez understands, it is in a theoretical way, and that shows.  Elizabeth Warren seems to really know what it is like to have to wrestle with the bills that come in non-stop.  And she is passionate about fighting for us.  For her, it is not theoretical.  She has seen and heard the way we live.

I know people get exhausted with their daily email barrage.  Every now and then, when I send out my blog, I will tell people to let me know if they want to be removed from my list.  The last time I did this, one of the two people who made the request was a leader in the Democratic Party.  Yes, I have been a pain in the ass about the party.  And I imagine some of my criticisms may be unwarranted.  But it seems to me that a party leader could be not just more tolerant of criticism, but could actually be curious about a critique by a fellow Dem.  Y'all know I attack you because I love you.  I really believe that we are the party that could represent the people and make the country better.

My point being that the easiest part of engaging voters (and that IS what we all say we are trying to do) is by responding to them when they speak.

Jim Clyburn made a half-hearted attempt before the last election to make it sound like he wanted to hear from us, through email and social media.  Turns out he didn't.  He wants donations and he wants us to vote for him, the latter which he is pretty sure is going to happen anyway.  He was once a hero, now he is a politician, and a lackluster one at that.

Anybody running for office, or working for the Democratic Party, or holding office, needs to respond to every contact by a constituent, with the possible exception of the obvious crackpot.  Find a literate and caring volunteer who can send a simple but intelligent reply to an email or Facebook message.  Return calls.  Return calls.  Return calls.

We voters don't want a ten-year-plan.  We don't need a complicated theoretical rationale for your stand on the issues.  We need to primarily know that you hear and understand what our concerns are.  Then we need to know what is going on right now that is working or not working (and jeez, don't forget to tell us who is responsible).  And finally, what you will do to ease our concerns.

Dems are currently throwing numbers around about how many people will lose their health insurance in ten years.  Republicans know that all they have to do is make their damage happen gradually enough that they will still get elected next time around.  With the aid of the insurance industry, premiums might even go down a few dollars for a couple of years before they start their inevitable climb.  And before you know it, by 2026, 23 million will have lost their coverage.  And to prove my earlier point, how many of you actually clicked on that link to read about the numbers?

Politicians talk.  They send out fund-raising emails telling us that terrible things will happen if we don't vote for them.  Those emails mostly go into the trash folder.

Candidates knock on doors and make phone calls.  Most of us are polite and even say they plan on voting for them, and then we do what we were going to do anyway.

What can change a vote is if you take the time to listen.  What is extraordinary from my point of view is when a candidate sends a personal email.  And what has happened to me a couple of times in the early days of an election cycle, and I can tell you is a game-changer, is when a candidate calls in response to my email, and listens to me, and seems to share my concerns.

Being a life-long Democrat, believing we share common goals, witnessing the destructive acts of the other party, I have to assume that those conversations should be a piece of cake.  If you really, passionately, actively listen to us.