Progressives Must Change

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Progressives Must Change

Ah, elections. Of course the mainstream media presumes that the House takeover is evidence of a sea change. I disagree. Things really haven’t changed as much as everyone would like to think. The Democratic majority wasn’t accomplishing much; a Republican House isn’t going to cause anything much different. If progressives don’t want President Boehner and Vice-President Palin in 2012, we are going to have to do something very different. Preaching to the choir isn’t helping — we get it. What really needs altering is that Progressives have got to reach the other side’s voters.

The voters on the other side are angry and want someone to blame. They have lost their jobs. They have had their unemployment benefits cut and their homes foreclosed upon. They have seen costs skyrocket. The right fans the flames by focusing the blame on liberals, immigrants, and gays. Yet Progressives either ignore these voters, or keep trying to reach them in the wrong way by telling people how stupid they are for believing these lies, and shoving reason-based evidence in their face to prove it.

This does not work.

The voters who elected Tea Party and Republican candidates listen to the drumbeat of FOX News and the mainstream media because no one else is giving them answers that make sense. Trying to reach them from a reason- and evidence-based place while simultaneously telling them how stupid they are is not going to work. The right has capitalized on their fear and lack of knowledge. If we want these voters, we have got to help them understand just how much worse the right will be (and has been) for them.

Such education may take going to go door to door, informing people without arguing, asking them questions like, “What does small government mean to you and why do you think it will help?” I suspect the answer would be that these people do not want to pay as many taxes because they are already broke and can’t make ends meet, not that they want their unemployment benefits cut or their home to foreclose because the banking industry has no regulations. If we get them to understand the progressive side is theirs too, rather than telling them how stupid they are and why they should listen to us, the results might be different in 2012.

Right now, these voters aren’t getting answers from us and the media will not help. We have to reach them some other way because they distrust knowledge and reason. This education has to come from an emotional place, from compassion rather than pity or self-righteousness. We have to get them to trust the progressive movement, and see that the Republicans vote against their economic interests every time. If we can show them that Republican decisions that allow corporations to put the dollar above them are what cause their problems, and that unfettered capitalism will only make their lives worse, perhaps we can turn things around.

If not, the president elected in 2012 will be someone worse than George W. Bush. I guarantee it.

We Don’t Need That

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A couple of days ago I received several emails forwarding the video of Sarah Palin being booed at the hockey game.  I watched as she stepped onto the ice with her children, boos resounding from the highest bleachers, fans waving thumbs down signs in her direction.  While I shared their sentiment, I also felt sad and sort of sorry for her, standing there with her daughters at her side, the one child so small, tossed into a giant mess of which she can have no understanding.

A few days before I received as many emails forwarding the video of the angry mobs outside the McCain rally.  I felt a similar discomfort at the sight, a vague sense of unease and knowing that even though I disagreed with their views, it felt wrong to display these people in all their rage and ignorance.

Today a friend sent me an email containing the photo of a man above.  I asked myself, What kind of fear leads a man to become this person?  What has happened in his life that this is what he believes?

This photo is being sent around to horrified liberals, an excellent representative of the trainwreck display this election has become, but I see no one asking these simple questions, trying to understand the minds of the humans on the other side.

Every day I open my email to dozens of new notices from well-meaning friends pointing out the obvious level of new lows in this campaign.  We have gotten to the point where we take hideous and superior delight in the stumbles on the other side, react in anger at the latest new lies, and laugh and point fingers at angry right-wingers screaming and acting like lunatics.  We do this, seeming to miss the hypocrisy in our own schadenfreude.

The level of simply bad behavior is evident on both sides.  I certainly do not advocate bending over and taking it in the backside, but what about our own fundamental human decency?  Are any of us on either side able to see where the other is coming from?  Are any of us able to have some compassion?

I am especially disturbed by the videos of McCain supporters screaming hateful obscenities and photos of men like the one described above, not only because of the behavior of the people in them, but because decent people I know are forwarding them on to laugh at and criticize.  This election has turned into so much us versus them.  Each side is demonizing the other.  None of this will get us anywhere that solves any of our very large, very real problems.

We receive and pass on videos of the candidates.  See our candidate?  See how good he is? Then we get a video from the other side.  See their candidate?  See how horrible he is? And while I absolutely might agree with what is being shown, I keep coming back to the belief that all this bickering and finger-pointing is doing absolutely nothing to elevate the common good.  In fact I am afraid that all of this fighting is going to lead to an all-out war among ourselves regardless which candidate is elected.  Unless and until we actually do start seeing ourselves as part of one country in this together, until we start to recognize all our humanity, we are going to dissolve in destruction and violence.  This is a very real and frightening possibility.

I know it sounds simplistic, but it is possible to focus on the issues and get this country back on track if we all start acting with a bit more civility and stop making of fun of people who must be experiencing real inner turmoil and fear to act the way they do.  We just have to take the initiative, stop passing around hate mail, and focus on what really matters.

This morning I watched a video of Obama giving a speech at a rally in Ohio.  When he mentioned John McCain, members of the audience started to boo.  “We don’t need that,” Obama said calmly. “We just need to vote, that’s what we need to do.”

Barack Obama is right.  We don’t need that.  Regardless who wins this election, we all have the very real job of putting this country back together again.  We simply cannot do it if we’re all fighting each other.