Guest Blogger: The Toxic Politics of Left and Right

posted by Joe Gandelman on June 22, 2006 - 1:09pm

Joe GandelmanAmerica has been subjected quietly to a Ricin attack -- but this time the deadly poison has attacked the body politic. This time, the terrorists come in the form of some political partisans, talk show hosts and even some bloggers.

Each day you see evidence of how intense partisanship and polarization is poisoning serious debate and solution-oriented politics in this country. And the pace of these highly personal “attacks” make the whole idea of Unity08 more crucial than ever before.

Consider:

Two brave young soldiers are grabbed in a professional operation in Iraq. They are brutally murdered by Al Qaeda. A top right wing talk show host then proclaims that “I perused the liberal, kook blogs today, and they are happy that these two soldiers got tortured. They're saying, "Good riddance. Hope Rumsfeld and whoever sleep well tonight." Oh, REALLY? What blogs were those? They’re hard to name because (a) leftist blogs were not saying that and (b) if one did exist that said that it was likely a tiny site and it does not represent leftist blogs. Meanwhile, a left wing talk show host, hours later, says that members of the Bush administration would have no problem at all cutting people’s heads off. A statement equally worth of contempt.

A prominent progressive blogger who blogged anonymously finds his identity outed by a major conservative website. The justification/spin is that it was to expose his alleged conflict of interests, which the exposed blogger convincingly later defends. Some others raise other conflict of interest claims against other bloggers -- but what’s interesting: in each case these “exposés” are aimed at people with whom the writers do not agree. Why aren’t they also going after people who are on THEIR side? You know the answer. (As I noted on my blog The Moderate Voice, this onetime anonymous blogger publicly defended the motives and intellectual sincerity of many conservative bloggers at a conference at Stanford last year and then joined some top conservative bloggers for drinks afterwards. HE didn’t see people who disagree as an enemy that must be eliminated).

Listening to four to six hours of conservative and progressive Air America talk radio on a drive is enough to make your head spin. Hosts of shows on BOTH sides seemingly feel their primary function is to portray partisans on the other side and their followers as evil. There is little effort (at times you do see some) to win people over with ideas or arguments; much of these broadcasts entail hurling pejorative adjectives. Left-right broadcasters have become mirror images of each other, working to arouse their party’s partisans’ passions against the other side.

Iraq becomes a big issue as both parties present resolutions that seem partially as attempts to define the other party in the run up to the election. The GOP use of the phrase “cut and run” to define Democrats and anyone who questions the war (I have supported the war and do not endorse an immediate pullout but I totally repudiate this kind of rhetoric) is a code word for the word “cowards.” It is a code word used over and over since Karl Rove used it in a speech about a week ago.

All of this points to a fact that Unity08 perhaps needs to stress more.

There are Americans who will balk at voting for a third party due to feeling that voting for a third party vote only helps a party get in power that he/she didn’t want to get in power and defeat the one that is actually closer to his/her political positions.

But there is a bigger issue than Unity’s main goal of a ticket with a Democrat and a Republican.

The issue today is that there CAN be a ticket that shows that a Democrat and a Republican can stand together advocating common values and showing mutual respect. The issue is that there CAN be a serious discussion of issues that transcends trying to demonize, discredit or take out (expose someone’s real name, etc., so they stop writing) political foes. The age of Road Rage does NOT have to be the age of Political Rage.

The body politic has been steadily and quietly fed a huge dose of Ricin the past 20 years in the form of intense polarization and rapidly deteriorating political rhetoric that has replaced issue and solution oriented debate with vilification and destruction. Arousing the intellect has been replaced by arousing hatreds (hey: it makes for better sound bytes, aka free political advertising).

Not a month goes by on my website where I don’t get an email or learn of a blog on the left or right that claims our centrist site MUST be “liberal” OR “closet Bush supporters.” We’ve been delinked, lost whole batches of left/right readers in stages (then we get new ones). Why? Because some folks apparently believe reading an opposing idea causes brain cancer. Many people now only want to read or listen to people who already agree with them. A writer who disagrees with them is the enemy -- hated, evil-intentioned with some hidden motive or agenda. (We were called ideologically “transgender” last week by a conservative site that delinked us).

Why is this and Unity08 important? Because if thoughtful people of BOTH PARTIES and NO PARTY don’t work to defuse and reverse this, and work to lift the quality of debate, this trend will worsen. And you can just see how in the future how some upset nut on the right OR left will feel he needs to take action to physically remove someone -- whether it’s a politician, a talking head or a blogger. Watching American political rhetoric steadily worsen is like watching two cars seconds before their fatal head on collision. We can see THIS one coming….

Ricin is dangerous to the body. Political Ricin is dangerous to the body politic. Unity08 can be an antidote.

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Noise and violent rhetoric on the web & in the blog-o-sphere is endemic, reflecting perhaps the nihilist bent of undergraduate education post war. But something else is at hand, particularly with the blogs. Think of it this way - it is not so much rancid chaos as the swarming of a new generation about to find its feet in the world. dKos alone gets 20 million readers a month, more than all political journals in history put together. This group has a strong life force and goes its own way. Such complaints have come recently even from the office of Mark Warner. He should be thrilled. When this generation finds its nature and path it could well send him to the White House.

POVERTY AT HOME
by Kirk Polizzi

There has been much written, investigative reports done, and speeches made, about world poverty. We know of the poor in Africa, in Central and South America, and the poor souls who live in India and elsewhere. Like everything our government and our leaders do, they continue to get their priorities wrong, and the interests of our own nation and our own people, usually come far down the scale of importance.

Nothing can be more important for a country, especially a great nation like ours, then to address the issue of national poverty. Here in America, we have poverty at home, a continuing struggle of needy Americans who are too poor to enjoy the basics of human dignity, and totally powerless to do anything about their plight. Many have given up, and given in, to despair, with little hope of ever climbing the economic ladder. Worse then losing hope, they have no voice, no one to bring attention to their suffering.

In the 1960’s our government declared a war on poverty, but that other war, in Vietnam, put the brakes on a program that was just beginning to show results. Now over forty years have now passed since that national commitment, the times have changed, our budgets may be busted, but the problem of poverty still exists and it continues to worsen. Today, we hear little from our leaders about the impoverished here in America, and someone needs to speak for the millions whose voices have been lost or silenced by their own despair. Former U.S. Senator, and Vice-Presidential candidate, John Edwards, has began a movement to recognize that here in America, the richest nation on the face of the Earth, we still have millions of Americans presently living in poverty, and millions more slipping into it. Edwards seems to be the only person in public service today talking about this very important issue.

There have been countless books written about America’s poor, but with the fast lives that Americans are living today, who has the time to stop and read a book about poor people? Without a national debate on the issue, the national consciousness will never be present, with many Americans going about their own lives not fully aware of this present continuing problem until it happens to them, or one of their own family members. Poverty can hit home and strike without little or no warning; the loss of a good paying job, the lack of a decent education, people being abandoned, a sudden medical or mental illness, a natural disaster, or just plain bad or hard luck. If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, then you have at least lived on the edge at one time or another, on the edge of poverty. Human dignity is a very sacred feeling, and once that has been damaged or upset, a persons self esteem, their faith, that there will be a better tomorrow becomes non-existent. It all becomes a vicious circle, for there is nothing worse then poverty.

To solve the problem of poverty is not government handouts to our needy, not a new welfare program, but it also means not ignoring that a problem exists as we are presently doing. Yes there is a problem a major problem in the United States. For one, the best anti-poverty program is a job, a good paying job. Another is being able to keep the good job you now have, and keeping that job here in America. In both of these cases our government is directly responsible for the plight of these people. Free trade agreements have cost millions of Americans their good paying jobs, thus, it has taken a middle class American, and slipped that American into the lower class, or into poverty. Where he once made a respectable $16 an hour, he now makes only $9 an hour, because that is the most companies are willing to pay today. He has gone from making $640 a week to $360 a week. His yearly income has gone from $33,280, to $18,720. That is a huge income loss. Just to have “a job”, is not good enough today, in the United States. It must be a good paying job.

Our government advocates a minimum wage, not a living wage. It tells employers across the nation that they cannot pay a worker any less then a set amount for an hours work. In general, an employer does pay that worker that amount; the bare minimum, or the minimum wage. At $5.75 an hour, that American is making $230 a week, or $11,960 a year. Our own government, by its own laws, places people in poverty. It makes no sense. Any American who is presently making $11,960 a year, or less, is no doubt living in poverty. By the time they pay their rent, their electricity, their water, etc., and all the necessities for just plain living, it leaves them little money for food for themselves and their family. In rural areas of the country living in poverty is worse, as people who do have a minimum wage job, usually must drive at least twenty miles to get to that job. With gasoline prices at record levels, it puts an additional burden on poor people living in rural areas. They no doubt have little or no extra money for anything, and they never can save a dollar because they don’t have a dollar to save.

I get very tired hearing from our politicians in power, how well, the United States economy is doing. By the growth numbers, yes, you would think that is the case. The truth of the matter is that they are just numbers, and they do not reflect the real human suffering that is being played out right in front of our eyes, from Maine to California, from Minnesota to Mississippi. In any society you will always have people unemployed, under-employed, poor and homeless. But in a real caring society you have leaders who stand up and recognize that there is a problem and that you try and address it with new ideas and new approaches. Welfare should never be a choice for any American, or a way of life.

The American people who are down on their luck are more ambitious, and have more personal pride then the conservatives in this country have ever given them credit for. They are honest people, who despise a government handout, a charity, all they want is to be able to make a living, an honest living, with a good paying job that gives them a living wage. If our government, democratically elected by the people, cannot take proper care of the people that put our leaders in power, then its high time that a radical change take place in Washington, on both sides of the political aisle.

There is poverty presently in America, and it is not going to be reduced or solved by a liberal handout or a conservative push for private charity and ignoring that the problem exists. Our country is too great too caring and compassionate to let the scourge of poverty remain unnoticed and ignored. A government is to make sure that our country is safe and secure from foreign enemies, and it is also to make sure that its own people are economically and financially secure, that they can live a life of personal dignity, especially, in the richest nation on the face of the Earth.

The late liberal, Vice-President, and U.S. Senator, Hubert Humphrey said it best when he said, quote, “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick the needy and the handicapped.” Using Humphrey’s moral scale, our government is presently failing that moral test by its own policies that it has set into motion.

Kirk Polizzi
907 N Santa Fe Ave
Chillicothe, IL 61523

August 27, 2005

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Kirk Polizzi, like most Americans, is against poverty and in favor of prosperity for every person, family and business.

Some, in oposition to legislating outcomes to end povety, honestly believe there is a market with mechansims that only allow poverty where we need it.

Unity-08 is more about ending poisoned politics than poverty. But I'm with Polizzi--I think politics is not so much poisoned, as people are ignorant of what to do to end poverty.

So, in a way, we get the worst of both facts: politics stays poisoned; some people stay poor; almost all people remain worried-- about money, health, war, crime and other people's stupidity.

If Polizzi is serious, I invite him to view my unity (wiki) dialogs

( If above link fails. try it as unity08ws.wikispaces.com )

If he (and YOU reading this blog) do come to the above URL (wiki), we can stay with the poverty question long enough to make sense to ourselves.

We can if we try to make such sense; and if we try to later reach a large audience with very short sentences and paragraphs.

Or have I already so abused the ideal of brevity that I've put you all to sleep?

John Gelles
Motto:
Human rights and how to pay for them are key to a livable world.

A lot of people are keen on blaming the politicians in Washington and talk-show radio hosts for the disgusting partisan atmosphere that exists in this country. Maybe these entities are somewhat to blame, but I believe there is an even bigger entity to blame for the rancor that exists in today's political world:

Us. As in, the American people.

That's right people- WE are to blame for this. The American people are to blame for it, particularly Americans who are involved in the political discourse.

We see this clearly in the so-called "netroots" in political blogs. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos- the reason I de-registered as a Democrat- is the leader of this type of partisan hackery on the left, and we have the same kind of hackery on the right from sites like FreeRepublic. The members of the "netroots" do not help solve problems- they help cause them. I've seen Kos attack Democrats for not being far left enough- he's even trying to actively campaign against Joe Lieberman, and has attacked Bill Clinton- a very successful President- in the past. Why? Because these 2 people aren't in lockstep with what Markos thinks. Markos does this day after day- today he went off on a tirade against the center-left magazine "The New Republic." To people like Kos, the moment one deviates from far left liberalism, they are "part of the right." And on the other side (if you go to a site like FreeRepublic), you'll be called a liberal the moment you break away from the Bush administration view on something. Go on that site and mention something negative about neoconservatism, and watch what happens to you.

The political activists within the netroots are just as much to blame for this country's political problems as the politicians themselves. I'm sure people like to have blogs so they can mouth off about their political views, but all they're doing is injecting more poison into an already poisonous atmosphere. They want to implement their world view upon the rest of the people, everyone else's well-being be damned.

I'm sure there are some reasonable, open-minded, moderate voices out there in the netroots/blogosphere, but they're a very distinct minority. The bottom line is that if we want to clean up Washington, we need to clean ourselves up first.

.
sss33 takes too long to leave us with a suggestion that 300 million people change their ways. There has got to be better advice than that.

If we do not want MONEY to be the power that unites our common purpose, (and usually means the rich get richer, the poor get nothing), we need to experiment with "how to bring heads together" -- when there is not technical way YOU can listen to more than a FEW other voices: the MOUTH can be BROAD-CAST; the EARS are locked into a NARROW-reception handicap.

One way I suggest is to address, not each other, but a narrow set of agenda items.

This would require each item to have a human editor to restate the item to reflect improvement from each active reformer OR tell the reformer why all his words are refused.

The places to do all this is on wikispaces -- one item to a wikispace managing editor.

The wikispaces would be linked together on one of their pages.

Hundreds of reformers could be tapped to allow the voice of the people to compete with the Money Power.

How such a system would later scale up is not clear.

But to get it started is hard enough.

If you're interested, add a page to say so on my wiki. The URL address is http://unity08ws.wikispaces.com
.

John Gelles
http://unity08ws.wikispaces.com
Human rights and how to pay for them are key to a livable world.

Blaming All , Like Blaming None, Does Not Help: We Need Answers
johngelles on June 23, 2006 - 7:04am

I am perfecty sane and able to express my opinion without elite translation thank you.

In previous messages the wiki site I asked you to join has since crapped out. Please use www.tiea.us to contact me -- or by email, john.gelles@gmail.com or indexed-savings@sbcglobal.net

I believe the system we can test to allow broad-based authorship can work better by ordinary website and email -- wiki not required.

John Gelles
http://www.tiea.us
Human rights and how to pay for them are key to a livable world.

It is not that you need translation.

You need a hub and spoke structure: you and many others write to the editor on one point. He changes the point to reflect amny opinions.

It is not possible for all authors to read all members of an audience if they become authors too.

Get it?

John Gelles
http://unity08ws.wikispaces.com
http://www.tiea.us
Human rights and how to pay for them are key to a livable world.

Anonomous--You do not get the point
johngelles on June 23, 2006 - 8:24am

I did get your point. You want to muddle opinion to fit your agenda. I've had my fill of collective editoral writers, elite pontificators, agency spokesmen, and spinmisters that pollute facts and ones true experiences. I will state my opinion, straight up and unadulterated and you keep your hands to yourself.

Imagine Anon-- yoyu are elected President! You want to know the voice of the peolple.

They all write you. You cannot possibly read all those letters. You must have editors to tp CONDENSE them to threir aggregate meaning.

YOU CAN STILL WRTIE AND SAY WHAT YOU WANT. BUT AS AN EDITOR, YOU CAN HELP TO MEET THE POWER OF MONEY WITH THE POWER OF IDEAS

GET IT!!!

John Gelles
http://unity08ws.wikispaces.com
http://www.tiea.us
Human rights and how to pay for them are key to a livable world.

Anonymous -- you can do both or NEITHER
johngelles on June 23, 2006 - 9:05am

That explains it. If Bush had read a few emails/letters or had one-on-one dialogues with a few citizens INSTEAD OF RELYING ON HIS BRIEFINGS AND HIS ADVISORS .. then perhaps he would have realized the immigration was a crucial issue, and that the Hubble telescope was more important than a man on the moon and that his advisors were WRONG on Terry Schiavo fate, and the state of the budget was more important than faith based initiatives, just to name a very few. His advisors and briefers caused his poll number to drop to the mid 20% level. So much for your theory that advisors and collator, and compilers serve a president well.

Good points, and I entirely agree. The only caveat I want to make is how suceptible even the relatively elevated minds of Unity08 are to this type of stuff, even if we don't realize it. For example, the post headlines "toxic politics" which is an appropriate metaphor, but then quickly goes on to make a paralell with terrorism. Now, everybody here can see that was just for effect, but it is a thin line between insightful and effective posting and rhetoric that incites a rabid response. I really like what this site is doing, and I really agree that there is a problem with the rhetoric and the villifaction going back and forth between the parties, such as calling each other evil or terrorists or what not. But I DON'T want to be part of a group that thinks the solution is to just call BOTH sides terrorists. Is that really progress? I in no way mean to link Joe to Ann Coultiere or Air America or whoever. It's just that we're fighting for the same minds and there are better weapons we could use. I just want to say be careful.

I started to write in strong agreement with Joe Gandelman's original post this morning, but I ran out of time. When I stopped back later in the day, I was quite surprised to see that flamefest had broken out about whether to use wikispaces to address global poverty. I've re-read Joe's post and I honestly can't see how we got from A to B.

If there is any lesson to be learned from this -- and there may not be, but I'll give it a try -- it seems to me it is that it is not enough for us to be "moderate" in the sense of adopting positions somewhere between the left and the right. We need also to be "moderate" in the sense of "temperate in conduct or expression," "less vehement." Successful political parties have to be fairly large tents in which people with differing views find a way to get along. All of us who are interested in Unity08 must find a way to do that, or else the movement will recede into irrelevance.

There is little doubt who the winning team will be whether or not the team is right, wrong, good or evil... The futurists will win because we have the youth and the computer software to replace process and make bureaucracy as efficient as google! And now that we consolidate with the realization that it is the two political parties which went bad, not the politicians we can call on existing leaders to change their party to Independent and go get the non-voter to overthrow two party control and implement reforms never possible until today thanks to this new generation... For more information visit www.appyp.com/fix_main.html

Hatred will pit expansionist against isolationist, liberal against conservative, enviornmentalist against corporate special interest... moslem agains christian... this is the evil within all people being played on ... the truth will unite, truth will resolve, and most of all truth will make you feel good ... True leaders will speak truth, not hatred... and this is how we will find them... for more www.appyp.com/fix_main.html

Mgrannis did not see the connection between "Poisoned Politics" and the desire of Gelles to get to the bottom of "what's wrong with America that Unity may address".

It started when Polizzi interpreted our problem to be "Poverty in America".

Gelles accepts that -- even if it jumps from "poison" to "poverty". The truth is that we've go a lot of obvious poverty -- and the poison in politics is metaphoric (although literal poison is in the dumps, air and water). So I wanted to be effective in going after poverty.

sss33 then muddied the waters by finding that the real problem was not with our lousy politicians or our faulty procedures. He found the problem was US--you and me--all the people. The solution was to make us better -- one person at a time.

I renewed my effort to get us see the need to give a "voice" to the people better than pollsters can -- and better than reform movements can.

Pollsters manipulate. Movements are unavoidably mostly hierarchical.

Unity08 will not represent thousands of writers -- it will represent a few insiders who either follow the polls or follow their own prejudices.

How on earth can a system be designed to give power to the "best" ideas from people at the base -- rather than give power to the moneyed interests, charismatics or celebrities at the top?

(One interesting solution -- not to my liking -- is the Karl Rove solution: find what most of the base hates and fears (like secularism and gay rights) and exploit these passions to turn the base into a swayable crowd you can use to steal a nation from its people and its original purpose.)

But the solution I wanted and Anon questioned was to find a legitimate objective brief set of "points", originating at the base and moving to the top of the movement.

Anon cam back with his positions on immigration, Terry Schiavo, men to the moon, faith based initiatives. He suggests these positions were the missing advice a President needs, not a google-like attempt to collect and codify the voice of a people.

That's where we are now.

Can any of you imagine becoming the editor of just one point? The rest of us would argue with your consensus of what we want. You end up with (say) one, two or three standardized versions of our positions (plural).

Then, if (say) there are five of us to start with, we will have some brief positions that tend to be stable and addressable.

This would be an improvement, I claim, over all the boards, blogs and issues on the unity08 site at the moment.

If you all agreed, would the system scale up to handle dozens, scores, hundreds, more?

Would our presentation of "Unity" be the best around? I say yes.

If any of you want to pursue this we have to do it off the unity08 site for a while. Only by direct email or websites can we stay with such an effort for the time it may take to make it work.

For the moment we have email, and two sites: www.tiea.us is one site (it also has my email). unity08ws.wikispaces.com is another site. (It's up and running again.)

John Gelles
http://unity08ws.wikispaces.com
http://www.tiea.us
Human rights and how to pay for them are key to a livable world.

SMALL BUISNESS TAX REDUCTIONS AND INCENTIVES

The place for American job creation is in small businesses all across America. Places like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Menards are not. We must remember too, those are the places that are paying their workers, once again, the bare minimum, offering few benefits, and getting away with it.

When the federal government replaces the minimum wage with a national living wage, indexed for inflation, then we must take care of small businessmen and women who must pay that living wage. Tax breaks for small businesses all across America who hire new workers at the living wage, would off set their wage costs. These tax incentives would be directly tied to how many new employees that they hire.

All would benefit under this economic idea; the worker, the employer, and the nation’s economy as a whole. Small business is where American jobs are created, and a balance is needed between giving American workers a living wage, and those small businesses that must pay for it.

Kirk Polizzi
Chillicothe, IL

All U.S. presidents whether they be Republican or Democrat, or whether they served their country or not, all are the Commander and Chief, and they all have a responsibility to be with are men and women in uniform from time to time.

As an American, I am getting a little tired, however, of seeing President Bush, at every photo op, eating and dining with our troops.

One may argue that this is a good gesture, that all of our past presidents have done the same, and yes, they have. The problem I have with Bush, is that almost everything he does (similiar to Reagan and Clinton)all has a political twist to it, with Karl Rove, not far behind the food line.

Bush too, has never explained why today he is such a patriot, but back when he could have went to SouthEast Asia (like Clinton)he pulled strings to avoid his so-called patriotism. In fact in many circles,from people still alive who remember,Bush was never seen in Alabama, where he was supposed to be.

It may be today, that Bush, is trying to make up all those meals he missed, when he was supposed to report. The moral of this writing is this: beware anytime you see a sitting president, especially the ones whose military pasts are not very eventful, sitting down with our men and women who bravely serve our country. A lot of it is a ploy by them, and their political managers, for average Americans to forget their pasts. This American did not forget for a moment.

Kirk Polizzi
Chillicothe, IL

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