Sunday, October 22, 2006

My own Due Diligence: the making of a liberal voter

I am reading myDD more often and more thoroughly these days. I learn stuff that way.

Stoller and Bowers are experienced at sorting out the murk and mud of politics. They warn against trusting even the most cheerful of polls and they urge personal involvement and I have come a long way from my apolitical youth to agree with and endorse that approach. I don't think a person can justify blogging or otherwise complaining about how bad things [or certain politicians] are if they have only done the minimum, i.e. voting, or, god forbid, less than the minimum in supporting better alternatives either financially or by more active participation.

I don't know who reads this or what local campaigns they have to sort out but I'll describe what I do to get informed and get involved. myDD has a link to the blog of some liberal or Democrat affiliated blog for each state on its left side bar. For all my surfing and reading, I'd not run into That helps. For balance, I went to an official republican party blog to make sure I was getting my news spun in both directions. And then I read. As much as anything, the growth of my concern with politics might be characterized as an educational process, or thinking lessons. You have to do a lot of filtering. People get excited and talk mean but in the end what they say either stacks up against the facts or the average of the reporting you have gathered from all other sources...or it does not. This sort of reading tends to cause headaches but it also keeps you from taking anything for granted. I will have to write another post on the special perversity of politics as it is played on the internets...but for now, lets just say you'll often wonder if right wing and liberal blogs are actually written by people living in one and the same country.

In my back yard,Massachusetts, the political climate is more progressive than in most areas of the country but that hardly means that politics can be safely left to others. We have a decades old habit of electing a Republican governor...with the usual result that the Democrats who generally take a majority of the legislative seats are in a stalemate with the executive on some important issues. Three of the last four governors, all GOP, used the office merely as a stepping stone to cushier jobs: Weld ducked out to take an appointment [he went on to demonstrate his business acumen], Cellucci is one of the few Republicans who felt a need to flee to Canada, where he is now safe from the backlash against his party's recent blunders, and now Romney who has all but declared a run for president in 2008 and is seldom seen in Boston. Jane Swift had to make a quick disappearance from politics after presiding while terrorists boarded planes a mile from her office. Right now we have an occasionally nasty governor's race . A desperate Lt Gov. Kerry Healy with a negligible record that amounts to taking credit for anything positive that happened in Romney's administration is trying to spin Daval Patrick's effectiveness as a lawyer and his ability to do even a distasteful job well into a "don't vote for the guy who likes cop killers" advertisement. Digging into these claims is unpleasant work but the alternative is America's worst disease: shallow voter complex. The positive must be examined as carefully as the negative. In her sound bites, Healy claims she will cut taxes, the Republican mantra, but the facts are that our bridges, roads, university system, police forces, health care and natural resource protection all suffer from financial problems that the recent administrations in this state have not addressed. To promise to cut taxes when the services we need are in disrepair is irresponsible, or just a cynical appeal to the selfish side of voters. In her detailed proposals, either the promises are empty or she has a billion dollars she means do donate.

Umm, did I say occasional? The Republican, still behind in the polls after [or maybe because of] some irrelevant disgrace about a relative of Deval Patrick was fed to the Boston Herald and Healy claimed no responsibility, stepped up the nasty and rumor is we will be carpet bombed with negative ads from the Republicans until election eve. What do you do? Do you turn off to one of the candidates? Start listening to a Muzak station, avoiding newspapers and polling places? What I have learned to is how to spin things myself: her first negative ad shaved off 1/3 of Patrick's lead in the polls and, being conservative, she is going to stick with what works ad nauseum. Other ways to look at her ads that say Patrick gets murderer's off the hook are (1) when he was a defense lawyer, he really did his job and (2) Healy really wants to play the fear card. Why the fear card? Looks like that is a Republican theme this season. But like they say "crazy is repeatedly doing the something that failed and expecting it to work". The negative advertising is a reflection on her character or her desperation and it has served to put a ceiling on her own popularity. And at least one commentator from the local MSM is coming to the same conclusion.

The start of my delving into this muck was just to feed my blog. The result is that I give more money and time to the good guys that I come across...and I keep digging. On some issues, I got beyond my intuition: I could do a lot better than my general distrust of the Bush administration in reaching the conclusion that their own National Intelligence Estimate eventually did: the Iraq war makes us less safe. My ease and pleasure at seeing the toxic folly in places like where fear is the ghost in their political machine is a nice byproduct of bearing down on a long reading list of diverse sources. My favorite is still NYTimes. Look, nobody, is neutral OK? You can get twisted facts and missed understandings from any source and the only cure is to read a lot of different ones and trust your own intelligence. I think the "Select" features are not a total rip off. The blogroll and the list of sources on campaign finance on The Caucus is a great starting place for a little self education in American politics. I'm not looking exclusively for writers that agree with me but its nice when they do:
It's time we start worrying about America's Orwell deficit. Too many people in public life lack George Orwell's talent for engaging with inconvenient facts. Instead partisanship rules. Any ideas and data points that challenge one's ideology are conveniently dismissed, while the partisan Other is demonized and considered stupid, criminal or worse.
I'm reading for things I would have been worried about but never heard of before. And just because a mainstream Democratic party strategist provides them is no reason to shun explanations of things I knew mattered but was unsure how they worked, like redistricting.
It's no accident that members of Congress caught up in scandal, such as former Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California, Representative Bob Ney of Ohio, former Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, and Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana almost always come from safe districts where they know their actions will never face real scrutiny. In the hands of a Congressional majority that loses touch with the people, safe seats can lead to real danger.

One of the commonest accusations that crops up in the less formal political writing of blogs, right wing talk shows and once in a while a MSM piece is "drinking the Koolaid": the other side is stupidly sucking up lies. The imagery of political opponents as hapless wretches doing themselves in like the true believers in Jonestown is ugly and more often selfcongratulation than we admit: "we know better" is the unwritten rejoinder. Everyone with one or few sources of information is not playing politics with a full deck. My own due diligence samples everyone's Koolade and finds even the most severely distorted selections and interpretations at least tell me what their readers wanted to hear and what they need to deny. A liberal should be voter who does not need rumor or reputation [supplied by an antagonist ] of an opposing group to know who the opponent is: he or she will have the nerve and the sense to go meet a few from the other camps. I wonder if Air America's miscalculation of its market potential may include an expectation that liberals want outrage-peddlers as badly as the conservative audiences need their fix categoric thinking from the likes of Limbaugh. Nope, thats not us. People who don't know how things are going to turn out, people who get let down by the leaders they elect or, on the other hand, shocked that those leaders even got elected...neither of these categories of political herd can be said to have been realistic in informing themselves prior to the disappointment: that is koolaid poisoning for you but its more like a hangover and lots of people have had it in this country the last five years.

After all,how much due diligence could the average person who voted Republican in the last election have done? Did they get the promised security? No: referring to the Republicans as the party with the strong interest in security is like referring to pornographers as having a strong interest in anatomy: they are only interested in the parts that bring them money or votes and they appeal to people who don't want to consider the fuller context of what they so anxiously consume. Did they get fiscal responsibility after all the "tax and spend" accusations reflexively hurled at Democrats? No: we have so weakened ourselves with debt that schools, domestic infrastructure, environmental protection, basic science and even key medical research programs at NIH have all been flat funded or cut back. We are going broke making our country the most-hated-nation and have nothing to show for the spent money except Haliburton's bottom line. You see, I too have an abundance of discontents: the diligence doesn't dull one's edge or attenuate one's anger. But with so many targets on the political landscape and so few arrows in the average voter's quiver, the diligence keeps you from shooting decoys while worse menaces advance.

Anger is cheap fuel for politics, and it has worked well for the Republicans. But hope is a better fuel. We are not just against something but also for progress. If you haven't got those two in your tank, you will sputter out. Diligence, thorough reading lists and time to read, is how you get beyond the "rid us of tyrants and crooks" stage. That stage, even if it succeeds, only chops off the heads of the current crop of malfeasant fools, preparing the ground for the next crop...a guillotine ushering in a Bonaparte. The diligence should take you to the "building a better, cleaner government" stage. You need to inform and exercise your instincts about how the country could work and what would be the most beneficial order of priorities and intiatives if government was to enable us to improve our, all of our, lots rather than a few super-rich. Though many of the most liberal blogs fault DLC's sawmill for political planks, its not a bad start in forming opinions on what the positive side of one's politics should be. Just don't stop there. After all, anger may send you to the polls to oust fools but in fact a vote is cast for someone. You want candidates with constructive, inclusive and realistic plans. When and if politics gets healthy, we can again focus on the plans rather than the politicians.

My oldest impression, that politics is a dirty business full of distortions remains unchanged. But ever more clearly, US national politics and the local politics of which it is comprised, illustrate the old addage that all that is needed for evil to take root is for good men and women to do nothing.

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