3/01/2005

Gimme an "F"

From Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect:
Well, it was delightful to read last week that President Bush believes in a free press and vital opposition.
In Russia.
Here in the United States, the story is different. His administration turns three willing journalists into paid propagandists. At the same time, it turns a propagandist into a journalist by giving him access to the White House’s daily press briefings. Meanwhile, a top administrator of the Social Security Administration -- an arm of the government that is supposed to remain scrupulously free of public partisanship -- goes on a pro-privatization tour with four Republican officeholders, saying his role is simply to inform the American public, but failing to explain why he’s informing only that portion of the American public that’s represented by Republicans. And finally, one of the administration’s most slavish congressional henchmen, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, subpoenas the tax documents of an organization that had the bad judgment to send a representative before his committee to say not what he and the administration wanted to hear about the “Clear Skies” initiative but what the organization actually thought. And these are just the examples that have come to light in February.
I’ve been writing lately about the internal discussions Democrats and liberals need to have to understand and update their core philosophy and communicate it to voters more effectively. Those discussions are vital, but they’re only one side of the equation. There’s something else Democrats need to do, which isn’t nearly so complicated. They need to fight.
We’re just a month into George W. Bush’s second term, and already it’s becoming pretty clear what this country will look like four years from now if the Democrats don’t fight. Let’s just start, for example, with public television. The fate of the republic will not rise or fall on this question. We survived without it until 1965, and one supposes we will again, especially since public TV has pretty much been reduced to showing those pitiful Britcoms that even my mom is getting tired of.
If preventing mediocre programming were the impulse, yanking the subsidies from the Public Broadcasting Service would be fine. But we know that is not the impulse. As the recent attacks on PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell show us, the impulse is one of enforcing cultural purity: The kind of people who work at PBS are the kind of people who think it’s all right for a cartoon character to pay a call on a lesbian couple, and a community that is run by people like that, to today’s right, is a community that has to be destroyed.
Amtrak, too, could be gone in four years, making the United States the only advanced country in the world without a subsidized public rail system (increasingly, if something will make America the only advanced country without X, that’s all the more incentive for these yahoos to undertake it). Again, Amtrak is a long way from perfect (the lighting on the Acela feels like an interrogation room); we survived without it until 1971, and one supposes we can do so again if we have to, although air and highway traffic along the East Coast would become abominable. Amtrak, of course, has nothing to do with the culture wars. But funny thing: The vast majority of the people who depend on Amtrak live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. I hardly need to say what they all have in common politically, but it has to do with the word “blue.”
Democrats will be tempted to think of these battles as fights over television and trains. They are not. They are part of a larger project of the Leninist right of remaking society to conform top to bottom with the goals and priorities of the right-wing state. Television that offers positive gay couples and foreign programming and artsy-fartsy symphonies is counterrevolutionary. Subsidized railroads that chiefly serve populations that voted incorrectly are dispensable.
Too many elected Democrats still don’t understand what’s happening in this country. They want to seem “reasonable,” and they think they can work out compromises with these people. Tom Daschle thought that, too, and he went to his political death, so to speak, still not quite willing to believe that conservatives would do or say anything about him in order to get him out of office. By the time he realized it, it was too late.
Which brings us back, as most everything does these days, to Social Security. Now that the administration sees that its privatization show has bombed in Peoria and will need Democratic votes by the time it gets to Broadway, it will start using conciliatory rhetoric and talking about bipartisanship. There are a handful of Democrats who always fall for this.
If these Democrats “compromise” on Social Security, they need to face consequences. I’d like to think Howard Dean, more impressive than I’d expected so far in his first two weeks as party chairman, is having one of his people secretly looking into whether primaries against Democratic senators in 2006 -- in states like, oh, let’s say Connecticut, to pick one out of the air -- are a live option if those senators compromise on Social Security.
This is a moment of truth for Democrats. The Social Security fight is symbolic of a larger struggle in which the ascendant right is trying to remake the nation in its own image. The nation, despite giving Bush 51 percent of its vote, is admirably resistant to this push in many ways. The Democrats had better represent this resistance.

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