Saturday, April 28, 2007

Why I Vote Democratic

Yes, that's right, "Democratic," not "Democrat" as the Republicans have been saying lately. "Democrat" is a noun; "Democratic" is an adjective. I believe the English majors in elected office and on TV news are just trying to get liberals' goat with their misuse of the words, or maybe they think "democratic" is too close to "social equality" in its meaning, which would in turn mean that "Republican" equates to "social injustice."

I have voted in every presidential election since 1976, eight in all so far. In fact, I vote in every election, whether it's mid-term, referendum or special. And I have never voted for a Republican candidate. Not once. It's not that there maybe aren't some worthy Republicans running for office, but they'll never get my vote because of what the Republican Party stands for to me.

If you have read this blog before, you know that I value nothing more than fairness, personal freedom and thinking for oneself. I don't believe the government should legislate morality or otherwise concern itself with the behavior of its people unless that behavior infringes on the rights and freedoms of others. On the Left vs. Right scale, this puts me pretty far out to the Left, just shy of anarchy, and at almost the polar opposite of modern Republicans, who seem to want to control every aspect of people's lives and make each other rich at the expense of those less fortunate.

When I was younger, I believed it was important to vote my beliefs, so I voted for Independent candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1976 and People's Party candidate Barry Commoner in 1980. I think each received less than one percent of the vote in their respective elections, but this dismal showing didn't change my thinking so much as watching the 1980 presidential election returns did.

I remember sitting in my friend Curt Haensel's apartment in Madison while we were both still in college there, watching in utter disbelief as Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter to become president. It was like watching the death of hope. It was like, what were the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam protests, the Feminist Movement, the Watergate trials and all the other progressive events of our lifetimes all about? How could it all have led up to this, America putting the brakes on the free society it had been creating since John Kennedy was elected?

What followed was twelve years of nothing socially good or progressive happening, eight with Reagan and then another four with the first Bush. Money that had been budgeted for programs benefiting the people was now reallocated to defense. We outspent the Soviets and ended the Cold War. But to whose benefit? The Soviet Union splintered into several poverty-stricken, corrupt fiefdoms. America was now the world's sole superpower, and the rest of the world had better watch out, as we proved in the Gulf War. We began meddling in the affairs of other countries, toppling disagreeable leaders and providing arms for uprisings. When questions were raised, ignorance or forgetfulness were claimed. Conservative values became "family values." The anti-abortion movement gained ground. The national debt climbed into the trillions. Nationalism was seen as a virtue. And the rich got richer, the poor poorer.

While all this was going on, there were presidential elections in 1984 and 1988. I voted for Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in 1984, and I voted for Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. Neither won of course, but I was no longer voting my beliefs, I was voting my conscience. Enough with the independents! If my vote would help get the neo-conservative Republican monsters out of office, that was good enough for me.

I have voted Democratic ever since--the straight party ticket every time. If ever I have a doubt, I just need to be reminded with situations like the recent voting of Ronald Reagan as "Greatest American in History." Ahead of Abraham Lincoln. Give me a break! The nostalgia our society feels for this era of rah-rah conservatism and "America first" is completely beyond my understanding.

Hope lives again though, in the form of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. He is the breath of fresh air we all need right now. A man of the people and for the people. He will be elected our next president, and he will put us back on the path to freedom and equality for all.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Republicans equal life; Democrats equal death?

Keith Olbermann closed out his Countdown program on MSNBC last night with the best analysis I've heard so far regarding the state of fear the Republicans have been using since 9/11 to control the American people. Here is the transcript from

A special comment about Rudolph Giuliani’s remarks at a Lincoln Day dinner in New Hampshire:

Since some indeterminable hour between the final dousing of the pyre at The World Trade Center, and the breaking of what Sen. Barack Obama has aptly termed "9/11 fever," it has been profoundly and disturbingly evident that we are at the center of one of history’s great ironies.

Only in this America of the early 21st century could it be true that the man who was president during the worst attack on our nation and the man who was the mayor of the city in which that attack principally unfolded would not only be absolved of any and all blame for the unreadiness of their own governments, but, moreover, would thereafter be branded heroes of those attacks.

And now, that mayor — whose most profound municipal act in the wake of that nightmare was to suggest the postponement of the election to select his own successor — has gone even a step beyond these M.C. Escher constructions of history.

"If any Republican is elected president — and I think obviously I would be best at this — we will remain on offense and will anticipate what (the terrorists) will do and try to stop them before they do it."

Insisting that the election of any Democrat would mean the country was "back ... on defense," Mr. Giuliani continued: "But the question is how long will it take and how many casualties will we have. If we are on defense, we will have more losses and it will go on longer."

He said this with no sense of irony, no sense of any personal shortcomings, no sense whatsoever.

And if you somehow missed what he was really saying, somehow didn’t hear the none-too-subtle subtext of "vote Democratic and die," Mr. Giuliani then stripped away any barrier of courtesy, telling Roger Simon of

"America will be safer with a Republican president."

At least that Republican president under which we have not been safer has, even at his worst, maintained some microscopic distance between himself and a campaign platform that blithely threatened the American people with "casualties" if they, next year, elect a Democratic president — or, inferring from Mr. Giuliani’s flights of grandeur in New Hampshire — even if they elect a different Republican.

How ... dare ... you, sir?

"How many casualties will we have?" — this is the language of Osama bin Laden.

Yours, Mr. Giuliani, is the same chilling nonchalance of the madman, of the proselytizer who has moved even from some crude framework of politics and society, into a virtual Roman Colosseum of carnage, and a conceit over your own ability — and worthiness — to decide who lives and who dies.

Rather than a reasoned discussion — rather than a political campaign advocating your own causes and extolling your own qualifications — you have bypassed all the intermediate steps and moved directly to trying to terrorize the electorate into viewing a vote for a Democrat, not as a reasonable alternative and an inalienable right ... but as an act of suicide.

This is not the mere politicizing of Iraq, nor the vague mumbled epithets about Democratic "softness" from a delusional vice president.

This is casualties on a partisan basis — of the naked assertion that Mr. Giuliani’s party knows all and will save those who have voted for it — and to hell with everybody else.

And that he, with no foreign policy experience whatsoever, is somehow the messiah-of-the-moment.

Even to grant that that formula — whether posed by Republican or Democrat — is somehow not the most base, the most indefensible, the most un-American electioneering in our history — even if it is somehow acceptable to assign "casualties" to one party and "safety" to the other — even if we have become so profane in our thinking that it is part of our political vocabulary to view counter-terror as one party’s property and the other’s liability ... on what imaginary track record does Mr. Giuliani base his boast?

Which party held the presidency on Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party held the mayoralty of New York on that date, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party assured New Yorkers that the air was safe and the remains of the dead recovered and not being used to fill potholes, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party wanted what the terrorists wanted — the postponement of elections — and to whose personal advantage would that have redounded, Mr. Giuliani?

Which mayor of New York was elected eight months after the first attack on the World Trade Center, yet did not emphasize counter-terror in the same city for the next eight years, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party had proposed to turn over the Department of Homeland Security to Bernard Kerik, Mr. Giuliani?

Who wanted to ignore and hide Kerik’s organized crime allegations, Mr. Giuliani?

Who personally argued to the White House that Kerik need not be vetted, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party rode roughshod over Americans’ rights while braying that it was actually protecting them, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party took this country into the most utterly backwards, utterly counterproductive, utterly ruinous war in our history, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party has been in office as more Americans were killed in the pointless fields of Iraq than were killed in the consuming nightmare of 9/11, Mr. Giuliani?

Drop this argument, sir.

You will lose it.

"The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us," Mr. Giuliani continued to the Rockingham County Lincoln Day Dinner last night. "Never, ever again will this country be on defense waiting for (terrorists) to attack us, if I have anything to say about it. And make no mistake, the Democrats want to put us back on defense."

There is no room for this.

This is terrorism itself, dressed up as counter-terrorism.

It is not warning, but bullying — substituted for the political discourse now absolutely essential to this country’s survival and the freedom of its people.

No Democrat has said words like these. None has ever campaigned on the Republicans’ flat-footedness of Sept. 11, 2001. None has the requisite, irresponsible, all-consuming ambition. None is willing to say "I accuse," rather than recognize that, to some degree, all of us share responsibility for our collective stupor.

And if it is somehow insufficient, that this is morally, spiritually, and politically wrong, to screech as Mr. Giuliani has screeched, there is also this: that gaping hole in Mr. Giuliani’s argument of "Republicans equal life; Democrats equal death."

Not only have the Republicans not lived up to their babbling on this subject, but last fall the electorate called them on it.

As doubtless they would call you on it, Mr. Giuliani.

Repeat — go beyond — Mr. Bush’s rhetorical calamities of 2006.

Call attention to the casualties on your watch, and your long, waking slumber in the years between the two attacks on the World Trade Center.

Become the candidate who runs on the Vote-For-Me-Or-Die platform.

Do a Joe McCarthy, a Lyndon Johnson, a Robespierre.

Only, if you choose so to do, do not come back surprised nor remorseful if the voters remind you that "terror" is not just a matter of "casualties." It is, just as surely, a matter of the promulgation of fear.

Claim a difference between the parties on the voters’ chances of survival — and you do bin Laden’s work for him.

And we — Democrats and Republicans alike, and every variation in between — We Americans! — are sick to death of you and the other terror-mongers trying to frighten us into submission, into the surrender of our rights and our reason, into this betrayal of that for which this country has always stood.

Franklin Roosevelt’s words ring true again tonight.

And, clarified and amplified, they are just as current now as they were when first he spoke them, 74 years ago.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" — and those who would exploit our fear, for power and for their own personal, selfish, cynical, gain.

Good night, and good luck.

Friday, April 20, 2007

So it goes.

I was saddened but not surprised to learn of Kurt Vonnegut's death last week. I had been sure he would die back in 2000 when he suffered smoke inhalation from his apartment catching fire, but what's a little smoke after a lifetime of cigarettes? Still, he had been on my "death watch" list since that incident and I had been dreading the news of his death for years.

I was introduced to Kurt Vonnegut in my early teens in the early 1970s. My mother brought a copy of Cat's Cradle on one of our summer lake vacations to Waupaca, Wisconsin, and she thought I would enjoy it. I did. And I shared it with my friend John Shepherd. Before long, we had each read all of Mr. Vonnegut's fiction. His stories validated our adolescent discovery that life was absurd and that nobody really knew what was going on. We especially enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five and its premise that Billy Pilgrim had become unstuck in time. As I have gotten older, that idea has come back to me frequently as random memories of my life leap to mind at odd moments for no apparent reason. Of course, I only live in moments that have already occurred, not also in the future as Billy Pilgrim did. "So it goes."

The many excellent short stories in Welcome to the Monkey House were a revelation for John and me. We laughed out loud at several of them and were deeply moved by others. I still reference the equality-at-any-cost idea behind "Harrison Bergeron"; get misty thinking of the young lovers in "Long Walk to Forever"; and wonder if my dog is as smart as "Thomas Edison's Shaggy Dog".

In 1976, while attending the University of Iowa, I had the great good fortune to see Kurt Vonnegut speak at McBride Auditorium. He spoke of his work with the university's Writers' Workshop and answered questions from the audience, but what I remember most clearly was his reading of the first chapter of his work-in-progress, Jailbird. When he came to the description of the homeless woman with old love letters stuffed in her shoes and revealed that the letters were from the story's narrator, Walter Starbuck, there was an audible gasp in the auditorium, followed by a raucous standing ovation. Such was the power of Kurt Vonnegut as a storyteller.

To use the greeting of Billy Pilgrim's Tralfamadorian abductors: Mr. Vonnegut, hello. Good-bye. Hello.