The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Beach Reading

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and I wanted to point to some good books for people to check out when they head to the beach.

Tragedy & Farce, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

This is one I hadn’t heard much about in the media, but it is an extremely astute look at the media: its history, why it has failed, and what might be done about it. Nichols and McChesney blame the corporate media for the failure in reporting what was going on before the Iraq war, for doing a terrible job of policing the Democratic primary race, and for atrocious coverage of the 2004 election. They pinpoint the problems of concentrated media ownership and explain how it came about and what they prescribe to lessen its impact. They end with a description of some grass roots organizations that have media reform as their primary goal, including an organization, FreePress, which they started themselves as an umbrella group to create more public participation in media policy decisions. As an example, they discuss broadband internet coverage in communities, and how that battle will be fought by large monopolies like cable companies.

The book features several exclusive interviews, including one with Howard Dean and one with John Kerry. They make the case that Kucinich, alone among the Democratic presidential candidates, understood the problem of the media, but they credit Dean with figuring the problem out as his candidacy went on. They also politely point out the ways in which Kerry signaled he had no clue about the problem of the media, and how that hobbled the Democratic run.

It’s an extremely lively read, with an emphasis on the proper, vital role of an honest media in a democracy, and how our broken media has ushered in tragedy (the Iraq war) and farce (election 2004). They discuss the “Dean scream”, Rathergate, Bush’s wire in the first debate, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and the media’s incredible coddling of Bush.

Crashing the Gate, Jerome Armstrong and Markos Zuniga

Jerome and Markos are two of the earliest and most successful progressive bloggers. This book really discusses the make up and dynamics of the Democratic party, and why they lose so many elections – and what can be done about it. The first problem they describe is the machinery of the party as made up of several separate interest groups: labor, environmentalists, women’s groups, etc., and how the party has continued to act as a collection of these groups, rather than including these groups and citizens at large as members of a larger progressive coalition. Another problem with the progressive movement is a failure to identify, fund, and nurture young talent. Conservatives bankroll large numbers of writers, activists, and politicians through the early parts of their careers, and Armstrong and Zuniga describe the beginnings of such infrastructure on the progressive side. They also describe several tactical failings of the Democratic party in the last 30 years or so, including only concentrating (and sometimes only contesting) certain “battleground” states and congressional seats. This strategy is being reversed now by DNC chair Dean and his “50 state strategy”, but the damage has been severe.

The heart of their critique of the Democratic Washington insider culture is really their description of how Democratic consultants, who get paid huge sums of campaign funds whether their clients win or lose, have a lock on the campaign gravy train. It works like this: say you are someone running for a House seat. You need lots of money for your campaign, and the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), whose job it is to allocate campaign funds for the party for these races, says, “OK, we will give you some money, but you must hire our buddies as your campaign consultants and managers, and they will make your commercials and report back to us as to whether you are ‘behaving’”. These chummy consultants then get their huge fees whether they win the races or not, and innovative campaigning, especially campaigning focused on local issues and strengths, is stifled. It’s maddening to read about this corrupt system, especially when you think about all the people who were eating ramen noodles so they could contribute another $10 to Kerry’s campaign in 2004, and especially when you consider that Bob Shrum, who has been a campaign consultant on seven losing Democratic presidential campaigns (seven!) was again hired to make more millions on Kerry’s campaign, making his record 0-8. The GOP, as corrupt and full of cronyism as it is, would never put up with that kind of failure. The problem is described in much more detail by Amy Sullivan in this article, “Fire the Consultants”.

Another interesting insight in the book is the effect of the McCain-Feingold act on campaign financing. It seems that people on all sides agree that McCain-Feingold gutted the Democratic party’s financing system when it came online in 2002. They had been depending on huge, corporate donors, unlike the GOP which had many smaller contributors (that’s a non-obvious reversal in how we normally think of the parties). Many of the national Democratic leaders thought it was going to be the death knell for the Democratic party, and so the GOP was happy to go along with getting it passed. Why would Russ Feingold be part of such a piece of legislation when it would hurt the Democrats so disproportionately? Feingold may have saved the soul of the Democratic party with this legislation. He cut off the big money donors and is forcing the Democrats to turn to smaller donors, the actual people they represent, for financing. He did it deliberately, and it actually poses a good chance of ending the lock that corporations have on Democrats’ actions.

Finally, there is this description of what Armstrong, Zuniga, and many people saw in Dean’s candidacy in 2003. It’s too good to pass up:

On March 15, 2003, when [Dean] spoke at California’s annual state Democratic Party gathering at the convention center in Sacramento, Dean was still registering below 5 percent nationally in the polls. We were there expecting the usual Republican-lite speeches, but hoping for more. The evening before, we had watched John Kerry give a “keynote address” that was so long and failed on so many levels it was tragically comic – the convention hall lighting was too dim, the speaker system never worked, and Kerry made bad jokes about his prostrate. The crowd milled around uninterested while Kerry labored on, his wife Theresa fidgeting by his side. The next afternoon, a prerecorded address from Joe Lieberman provoked hissing from the generally liberal crowd. John Edwards elicited boos and catcalls as he attempted to defend his support for a war that was about to start. The crowd, a few thousand of the party diehards in California, was getting a close look at the men seeking the Democratic nod, and not liking what it saw.

And then Howard Dean walked on stage.

“What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq?”

That brought loud cheers from the delegates.

“What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting tax cuts which have bankrupted this country and given us the largest deficit in the history of the United States?”

More cheers. Dean certainly had the crowd’s full attention, and he was just getting warmed up.

“What I want to know is why the Congress is fighting over the Patient’s Bill of Rights? The Patient’s Bill of Rights is a good bill, but not one more person gets health insurance and it’s not five cents cheaper. What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing up for us joining every other industrialized country on the face of the earth in having health insurance for every man, woman, and child in America?”

By now the chants of “Dean! Dean!” had begun and the crowd was on its feet.

“What I want to know is why so many folks in Congress are voting for the President’s education bill – the ‘No School Board Left Standing’ bill – the largest unfunded mandate in the history of our educational system?”

And then Dean fed that “red meat” crowd a line borrowed from the late Paul Wellstone which resonated with them.

“I’m Howard Dean, and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”.

Dean then blasted both John Kerry and John Edwards for their support of the Iraq War, talked about how he’d balanced the budget in Vermont and how every child under eighteen was covered under Medicaid in Vermont. He then wound up the crowd a bit more.

“We are not going to beat George Bush by voting with the president 85 percent of the time. The only way that we’re going to beat George Bush is to say what we mean, to stand up for who we are, to lift up a Democratic agenda against the Republican agenda, because if you do that, the Democratic agenda wins every time.”

On a roll and all pumped up by now, Dean raised his voice louder as he closed his speech.

“I want my country back! We want our country back! I’m tired of being divided! I don’t want to listen to fundamentalist preachers anymore! I want America to look like America, where we are all included, hand in hand, walking down. We have a dream. We can only reach the dream if we are all together- black and white, gay and straight, man and woman. America! The Democratic Party!”

The crowd was on its feet, the convention hall shaking from audience pandemonium, the speech serving as liberation of sorts – a vindication for every party activist who had lived through the Democratic Party’s “abused puppy” routine the previous two years.

I love that description. I heard a similar speech by Dean at a fundraiser in Philadelphia about two months after that, and was similarly moved. There is a brief description in the book about how the Democratic Party establishment then moved to crush Dean’s candidacy, and just how effective it was in doing that. If only they could have done the same to Bush.

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