The Whole World Is Watching!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004



But the public thinks the Republicans are better for the soul than the Democrats, and it’s killing us. And it will kill us more too. Read Alvin Toffler’s classic, “Future Shock.” If you’ve already read it, reread it. Toffler speaks of the endless array of new technological developments that are ripping society apart from test tube babies to cyborgs — more and more artificial items are being implanted into people and not just to save lives, but breast implants. And the more of this we see, the more people will be frightened by the dizzying turn of society away from the simple and familiar, or what I call “small town values” (a great campaign slogan if a Democrat defines it right, by the way).

So here we have more social changes bombarding the public as a result of new technology, not unlike Dahrendorf’s observations about Germany acquiring industrialism too fast to solve the attendant social problems, leading to an exhaustion and failure of the liberal movement.

To win back a world that is about to go off a cliff, we can’t have it all and if we seek to have it all we will be overwhelmed by the “off-message” cacophony and lose all. And we need to give the public more than half a man. We need to offer both body and soul. To be sure we will never be able to offer the religious voter everything the Republicans do. For starters, Bush’s faith-based initiative has given Christian groups one billion dollars and nothing to any other religious group. That’s scary and theocratic. Bush is turning Christian groups into a patronage scheme. And if we do not make an adequate, indeed a shrewd counterattack on the spiritual front, the GOP could gain a Senate supermajority and America could become a truly frightful theocracy.

If, at least in some modest way, we could offer the public both body and soul — the whole package deal — the Republicans would never win an election again. Because once we compete with the GOP, even in a modest way, for appeal to people’s souls, then the playing field is leveled and the real advantage of the Democrats emerges — that we offer infinitely more for bodily and material needs. We could then say we’re better — we give you one-stop-shopping, body and soul, the whole package deal.

For the future of our planet we absolutely have to get to the point where Southern Christians are not monolithically Republican, and more specifically, where the Midwest, with its millions of Catholic voters, is solidly Democratic, and not the nail-biting cliff-hanger it has become every four years on Election Night. Indeed, solidifying the Midwest for the Democrats would also help us in states like Florida simply because once the Midwest is solidly Democratic it would cease to be a battleground and we wouldn’t have to waste more money in the Midwest. More money would then be freed up for states like Florida. No matter what it takes, good, bad or ugly, we need to LOCK UP the Midwest for the Democrats and take it off the table. Incidentally, even New Mexico and Pennsylvania are over 30% Catholic. Even Ohio, which has fewer Catholics than some other Midwest states, is nevertheless 20% Catholic. Michigan is 25% Catholic. Wisconsin is 31% Catholic. Minnesota is 25% Catholic. Iowa is 24% Catholic. Missouri is 20% Catholic.

Think of the incredible arithmetic in this. The Northeast is already Democratic. The far West, Oregon, Washington and California are Democratic. If the Midwest became reliably Democratic, the Republicans would be left with only the South, and the West (excluding the far West). Nobody lives in the West. It’s full of lots of empty spaces, farms, ranches, mountains and deserts. Without the Midwest, the Republicans would dominate only one heavily populated area — the South. Solidify the Midwest and we have essentially QUARANTINED the Republicans to mainly one single populous area of the country. Bingo. Instant new Democratic majority.

Can we truly solidify Democratic control of the Midwest? Yes, but we will have to swallow our pride some to do it. By making a direct appeal to Catholic voters offering them more than economic issues. No, we can never offer them all the GOP does. But we don’t have to. Many Catholics voted Democratic in the past. Catholics already know we are much better on many bread-and-butter issues. If we offered them something on the religious front, not everything but something, we could shift the whole tide of history. And quarantine the Republicans in the Deep South.

So let’s be honest. There is a long list of religious issues Democrats will never offer to Catholics. Not the abortion issue, or a ban on stem cell research or prayer in the public schools.

Give them the school choice issue.

Steal it.

I know, I know. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Let me show you how, if we steal this one single issue from the Republicans, we can change everything and save the whole dying planet.

Yes, school choice.

Steal it.

Some people knock over a liquor store.

Let’s knock over school choice.

To be sure, in the hands of Republicans, school choice can become a moral, ethical, financial and constitutional mess. But in the hands of Democrats it would not have to be such a mess. Unlike Republicans, Democrats really do know how to run things well. And a Federal Democratic school choice program could require governors to put up matching funds. Most school spending is state or local anyway, and since most of the governors are Republicans, if a school choice program forces their budgets into the red, that could create enough chaos to throw them out of office. And gaining Democratic governorships means a far greater chance for fair elections in that state. Not that a Democratic school choice plan would have to be such a mess, but if it did push state budgets into the red, my heart bleeds for all those Republican governors. Bleeds mind you.

So school choice is a potential two-fer issue. It helps us win the Midwest solidly in national elections by appealing to the huge Catholic population of the Midwest, and it also helps us elsewhere to make gains and even capture governorships in various states. It’s not that I’m saying we should be ruthless or anything. Okay, I am saying to be ruthless. In 1992 Clinton campaign consultant Mandy Grunwald said privately, “This campaign scares the hell out of me because there is no one who wakes up each morning thinking how to f--- the competition.”

I’m telling you how.

First, let’s get the constitutional question out of the way real fast. The Supreme Court, the REPUBLICAN Supreme Court, has ruled that school choice is constitutional. I read their opinion. It’s conservative but not off the wall. Their opinion basically boiled down to the idea that if parents decide individually which school to send their kids to, even if the money comes from the government, that is not the GOVERNMENT favoring any particular religion. Under such a program anybody gets to send their kid to any school they want. That includes atheist schools like New York’s Ethical Culture school. And secular Afro-centric schools that cater to blacks or schools that cater to Hispanics.

It could even bring more money into schools that are run by moderate religious denominations. Presently, too many of those sending their kids to parochial schools are religious fanatics, and hence, they support fanaticism in religion. The less fanatic have priorities that are more mixed. School choice could conceivably make religion less reactionary in the United States.

And to be fair, it should be mentioned that some of the greatest leaders of progressive and liberal causes have been religious men who went to parochial school, such as the great Abolitionists, civil rights leaders, and of course the Kennedys. Many said Bobby Kennedy was the most ethical of the brothers, and as a Catholic, the most religious of the Kennedy brothers.

Yes, teachers unions are afraid of school choice because if more children went to parochial school some teachers might have to get jobs in parochial schools which may be less unionized. But there is nothing stopping them from unionizing those schools. And for the record, John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, one of the great labor leaders, who helped revitalize the whole labor movement, went to Catholic parochial school. Somehow he survived the experience.

It is simply not accurate to equate religion with conservatism and many people exposed to religious instruction went on to become great progressive leaders. School choice would not have to produce a sea change in favor of the Republicans. Even if it did it would take twenty years for those school kids to grow up. In the meantime we could kick the crap out of the Republican Party. The party could be hurt so bad it could splinter and come apart at the seams. A twenty-year reprieve from GOP Armageddon could save the whole planet. We might even get rid of the Republican Party during that time.

And of course, it is useless to complain about Supreme Court decisions as long as we don’t have a Democratic president to put some liberals into the court. New courts can overturn decisions of the past. First we need to take back the White House. I propose that we do that by any means necessary. School choice will get us back into the White House. Then we can appoint justices who aren’t such reactionary nut jobs.

Why is school choice the “spiritual” issue to appeal to Catholics? For a very simple reason. Compared to other religious issues favored by Catholics, it is the least intrusive. Prayer in the public schools, for instance, imposes religious ideas on non-Catholics that they may not want. So does teaching Creationism in the public schools. Banning abortion restricts the choices of non-Catholics. Even in the case of civil unions and gay marriage, banning that, although popular with many voters, does impose one religious view on individuals holding a different view.

However, to a considerable degree, the issue of school choice is quite the opposite and is largely a separatist issue. It allows parents to separate their children from a secular environment and place them in a religious one. That does not brainwash, contaminate or proselytize the students in the secular environment. If anything, it removes from those students the influence of religious students who would now instead be attending the parochial school. This is actually particularly significant because recent Supreme Court rulings have said that although the public school itself can not promote religion, it may not restrict students at a public school from forming a religious club or the like. And we all know those kids are nevertheless busy trying to proselytize their fellow students in the public school. Some of this is very hard sell, telling kids they are doomed if they don’t accept their religion. In a classic case of unintended consequences, school choice could actually rescue some public school students from annoying brainwashing.

Seriously, if these little Christian jihadniks want to leave, LET them. Help them do so. School choice splinters a community and actually isolates one proselytizing group from another. You see something vaguely analogous in prisons. Each prisoner learns from the others. It is like a crime university. How to crack a safe, pick a lock, kill someone without him screaming and so on. The best thing we could do in a prison would be to give each prisoner his own separate cell so he can’t further criminalize his fellow prisoners. Guaranteed: If you leave more Catholics in the public schools, more non-Catholics over time will be recruited to Catholicism.

What about the class issue? Yes, presently the rich have an advantage in sending their kids to a parochial school because they have more money for tuition. Yes, some rich people like parochial school. Some rich people also hate public schools.

Okay, I admit it. I hated public school too. We used to sing, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school, we have tortured every teacher and we’ve broken every rule.” “The Student As Nigger” by Jerry Farber was an underground leftwing classic and one of my favorite books. Hilarious read too. Fictional sections described teachers plotting to kill each other over curriculum issues.

But school choice is not — fundamentally — a clash between the rich and poor. It’s not about money. I am not speaking about how Republicans could run a school choice program because we already know that they don’t know how to run anything right. Iraq for instance. Republicans know how to destroy nations, not build them.

But what if the DEMOCRATS had a school choice program? Here’s how it might work under a Democratic president. Federal money would be provided to the states and the states would have to put up matching money. The program would be an overall school aid endeavor that would give lots of money to public schools — something the Republicans never want to do — and also some money to parents who choose to send their kids to other schools including parochial schools. How many get into the program would be limited by the money involved. Who got into the program would be determined by a set of equitable criteria devised by the Democratic administration, or it could even be decided by a lottery. A modest program would not have to harm public schools.

Public schools could wind up with smaller class size too. That’s important since in recent years burgeoning student populations in some areas have increased class size excessively. In such areas school choice could help the public schools — if a DEMOCRAT designed the program. In some cases, class size could actually be a factor in who gets to leave a class and go to a private school. And essentially what we are talking about here is a school aid program that would help both public schools and parents seeking to enroll their children in private schools of all types. The combined goals would help please more people and get the program adopted.

And this would make many Catholics very happy. Many Catholics have large families. Yes, I am sorry that they do not realize that they are not helping matters and that there are six billion people in the world, going on seven. But having a large family is part of their religious belief. And “rich people are for school choice” aside, a lot of Catholics with large families have to subsist on diets heavy in white bread or pasta because they conscientiously object to the curriculum, morals or ideas promoted in the public schools, which is their right. No, I am not Catholic. No I do not agree with a lot of things Catholics believe. No, I do not think large Catholic families should have to subsist on substandard starchy diets for their beliefs.

Essentially what we are here offering Catholics (and others seeking alternative schooling), is a federal aid program especially targeting wavering voters to get them solidly into the Democratic column. A patronage program. Pork spending specifically targeting a key voter group that used to vote Democratic, and who were a major portion of the “Reagan Democrats.” ‘Scuse me, but the world is coming to an end and we really need those voters back ASAP.

And notice how this compares with Bush’s faith-based initiative. That program funnels money to various churches and charities for the poor and homeless. That money basically goes to churches and is supposed to “trickle down” to those who really need it. How much of that money actually winds up in the pockets of Catholic parents trying to educate their children, instead of church coffers? Just asking. In this sense a Democratic school choice program could affect the lives of Catholic voters in places like the Midwest a lot more than George Bush’s faith-based initiative that is supposed to replace the safety net and doesn’t, like Newt Gingrich’s absurd proposal to put poor children with parents into orphanages instead of aiding the parents.

With school choice we can offer Catholic voters something much better than faith-based initiatives. We can lock up the Midwest for the Democratic Party for a generation. The school choice issue would also help us win over Hispanic Catholics in the Southwest. If we do it right, if we design the program so it works well, fairly, and wisely — which only Democrats know how to do with ANY PROGRAM — we can make those voters reliably Democratic for the nearly two decades that their kids are in school.

This would change the whole political map. It would isolate and quarantine the Republican Party to mainly one populous area of the country, the South. They would become known as the minority party of Southern hicks with an awful image they couldn’t sanitize and the brunt of endless jokes. They would be seen as an anachronism, a thing of the past. School choice is enough to tip the scales in a divided country. It would help us cement a coalition of multiple voter groups large enough to govern the country for many years.

Far from limiting liberalism this issue could actually empower liberalism. Just look at New Jersey’s Senator Robert Torricelli. He was much more liberal than his state, with one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate. He had mainly one striking conservative position. He was in favor of school choice. And that one lone religious issue was enough to win support of a lot of voters despite New Jersey being over 40% Catholic. It would have continued if Torricelli’s career had not ended in scandal.

Now I know what some of you will say. “That was a great blog — except for the part about school choice.” If you don’t look at this proposal as a whole, if you cherry-pick the tactics and not the greater strategy, you will miss the ship that could come in for our cause. Granting religious Americans a choice of schools is a very small, modest price to pay for a retaining the great bulk of the rest of our agenda, which is now under extraordinary attack. Imagine how the world might be different today if, during Clinton’s presidency, every time he fought for some issue, such as healthcare, he had poll numbers consistently several points higher because of loyalty from Catholics.

Get real. There’s a maniac at the wheel who is driving the whole world off a cliff. To those who can’t see that big picture, stop sitting there fretting over a few lousy bucks sent to some religious people to help coax them into recognizing that the Democratic Party serves their interests. In the larger scheme of things this is a very small price to pay for reassuring such people who worry that we are against their religion.

We all know that in Congress some of the greatest legislative achievements came about because wise Democrats let some stubborn congressman in Deadwood Gulch have some stupid dam project he had to have. That is sometimes the compromise you have to make to get things achieved. And yes, some hydroelectric dam projects are environmentally problematic though certainly not as bad as fossil fuels. And some big environmental bills were also passed because Democrats compromised and brought some stubborn congressman on board by letting him have some dam project or other in his district. This is the kind of shrewd compromise Democrats have made when necessary to hammer out progressive advances. School choice is another such compromise that could move us forward. In fact, it’s just a disbursement of funds to key voters we need. It doesn’t mar a river or landscape by building any dam. But it could help us achieve a staggering list of progressive objectives by tilting a polarized public over the divider line. You can’t get more for less.

I am talking here about a very narrow, surgical strike on a specific voting group especially, though not exclusively, in a specific region of the country we badly need to sew up. This is very different from giving away the store. One of the problems with President Clinton’s “New Democrat” “triangulation” was that it sought to make too many concessions on a broad range of issues. Among other things it placed an unrealistic and harsh five-year individual lifetime limit on welfare benefits, which will run out for millions of people with inadequate and changing job skills and requirements in a lousy job market. We will be overrun with swarms of desperate homeless people.

This draconian trend began with Newt Gingrich and ultimately brought public shock when a homeless man in the cold caught his foot on the ground and only realized it was dead when his foot fell off.

These were the kinds of Faustian bargains being made by some of President Clinton’s “New Democrat” policies. And yet, when it came to religious issues President Clinton offered religious voters much less. On school choice he promised “public school choice,” a false choice akin to a communist bureaucrat arriving in some Russian village to bring the peasants good news — “You can now vote for any communist party you choose!” Catholics were insulted by the false and useless offering of being able to choose any public school they wanted.

As a political strategy wouldn’t it have been better to offer some religious voters a few bucks than to start dismantling the whole safety net? Notice that my proposal, argue with it though you may, involves giving people something instead of taking things away. Is that really so radically different from time honored and traditional political patronage that in the past kept the party afloat? School choice does not jeopardize abortion rights, gay rights or women’s rights. It does not force prayer or Creationism on the public schools. It is the least objectionable of all religious issues we could use to appeal to religious voters.

We need more than just better tactics. We need a shrewd, surgically-targeted strategic vision, not a broad program that waters down everything. In this sense school choice is ideologically liberating for Democrats. Once we have the Catholics solidly on board we can securely push forward with much more assertive stands on many key issues, and really make a stink about them confidently, not hesitantly.

For instance, partly because support for our party is so hesitant among religious voters, we now often content ourselves with essentially “symbolic” issues like cheaper and more available drugs, instead of daring to push full speed ahead on full universal health care for all even though everyone in Europe has it. Everywhere you look we are making such compromises because we simply don’t have a large enough base. Instead of faking it with pseudo-conservative “triangulated” type stands on a broad rage of issues that irritate everybody (plus prissy comity with the GOP thugs on Capitol Hill), we need a truly conservative stand on one narrowly and cleverly selected issue so we will be free to be more progressive everywhere else.

I propose this not to move the party to the right as some have wanted, but to free the party to move, and to move the country, to the left. We are halfway to a filibuster-proof Republican Senate. When we get there people will start dying in the streets. Are you so squeamish about a little shrewd politics that you would let this happen? In short, to underpin the progressive movement we need a larger, more viable coalition, a larger base, one that brings back the Reagan Democrats. We need to bite the bullet and embrace school choice. This is the sword to slay the dragon. TAKE it. This is a calculated move, a strategic move, which could once again make whole our party, the country and — the world.

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