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In the Spirit of Jimmy McGriff
by Charles Keil
Submitted 11/15/04

Most of us Kerry/Edwards voters are sad today because we hoped that maybe, perhaps, just possibly, we could begin to talk about the really important issues again after our side either squeaked in or picked up a big majority as the public repudiated the plunge into unilateral, preemptive, perpetual wars abroad and repression at home. Instead we're sitting here scratching our heads wondering how to keep the Republicans from winning huge majorities of the Black Christian and Latino Catholic vote next time. Have you noticed that the Republicans have been building their solid base with "our" voters, the poor, the working class, those most victimized by the system, ever since the Iran hostage crisis way back in the early Reagan era? It has been a slow, steady, obvious process for a quarter of a century and the Democratic Party leaders and think-tankers still don't "get it".

 
  Diagram redrawn from Bateson 1972 (Steps to an Ecology of Mind): pg. 491

The two big mistakes the Democrats make could be called "trying to find the center instead of trying to find the truth" and "flying the progressive banner instead of dealing with the wheels of destruction." The wheels are autocatalytic or self-promoting – "the bigger the population the faster it grows; the more technology we have the faster the rate of new invention; the more we believe in our 'power' over an enemy environment, the more 'power' we seem to have and the more spiteful the environment seems to be"– and, sad to say, the three wheels reinforce and accelerate each other! Pride goeth faster before a fall. We're so proud to think that techfixes and bioengineering might help us feed more people – temporarily. Gregory Bateson (1972:490) optimistically believed in 1970 that stopping any one of the three wheels would stop the other two; 34 more years of "progress" have passed and now we have to stop and probably reverse all three wheels for a while, just to be on the safe side.

Note that these powerfully interlocked wheels of growing hubris, increasing population and out of control technology are called "progress" even though they are constantly generating more pollution, famine, wars. These wheels are grinding up the speciation and, if not stopped and reversed, will eventually destroy most or all of vertebrate life on this planet. These wheels will most certainly destroy us humans and other big mammals high up on the food chain, and soon. Is it smart to call this "progress"? Is it smart to base a politics of "hope" and "change" and "respect for science" etc., on this idea of "progress"? Would any rational human being want to be part of a "progressive politics"? Or join a "libertarian politics" that liberates these wheels to destroy life on earth more quickly and efficiently with less regulation? Is it any wonder that thinking Americans, intelligent Americans, Americans in touch with their feelings and with reality, Americans grounded in their family life and communities, would come to deeply distrust "liberals," "libertarians" and "progressives" as pointy-headed, egg-headed, air-headed elitists in love with abstractions and blind to a world that is, in cold hard fact, becoming ever more dangerous for their children and fatal for their grandchildren?

We will know the DNC is finally "getting it" when they ban "progress" and "progressive" from the party platform and candidate rhetoric. And they have to stop looking for the "center". Look and listen to what "centrism" does to NPR and "the news hour" where tweedledum slightly left of center talks to tweedledee slightly right of center, and we all fall asleep from the twaddle. There is no bland center where 51% of Americans all agree on anything. If you aim for this nonexistent center you compromise positions on issues before you even know what your position is! The flabby, least offensive, sort-of-a-position has no hope of bringing together image, issue and character to inspire people. Trying to not offend 51% of the people is a sure path to 49% of the vote. Especially when the non-existent center is drifting steadily to the right and you are trying to appear "progressive" so as not to alienate the "liberal" base of the party. The "issues" turn to mush in your hands and slip thru the fingers.

I can think of at least 20 interesting and important moral issues on which Kerry/Edwards were more conservative than the radical, extremist, neocon Republicans. Yet they never boasted: "By being consistently liberal over the years we have become the true conservatives in this race!" We want to conserve the constitution, conserve the entire bill of rights (privacy, habeus corpus, freedom of speech, a dozen emotional issues right there), conserve the resources, conserve the environment, conserve the treaties, conserve the rule of law, conserve the alliances, conserve the dollar, conserve budget and reduce the deficits, conserve social security and medicare, conserve the separation of church and state, conserve the balance of powers between the branches of government, conserve a woman's inalienable right to control her own womb, conserve local schools, conserve states rights, conserve democracy, conserve the Judeo-Christian principles that make the torture of prisoners unthinkable, conserve jobs, conserve energy . . . . it really is a long list and it fits with the dignity and somewhat aristocratic woodeness of Kerry, or Gore before him. Why not have the image, the issues and rhetoric all match up authentically with the truth that "conserving" is what Democrats do and what Republicans don't even talk about anymore? Seeking the conserving truth instead of the non-existent "center" would have enabled Kerry/Edwards to really pound out the awfulness of a torturing policy approved at the very highest levels by hypocritical non-practicing Christians. On every issue framed conservatively they could have been bold and convincing – the constitution is about freedom and balance, the bill of rights is about freedom and justice, and we not only talk the talk but we walk the walk.

Why did the genuine Kerry appear phoney to 51% of the voters?

Why did the phoney Bush appear more genuine to the same 51%?

How could even a tiny % of voters think that "morality" was a Bush strength and a Kerry weakness after Bush lied us into war? tortured prisoners? murdered thousands of civilians in Iraq? What's moral, "limited government and local control" about saddling the schools with more federal testing requirements and then cutting the funds? What's moral about attacking human rights, attacking nature, trying to control everything from a kleptocratic center of power? What's moral about finally using the word "genocide" in Sudan after a century of not having the word in our vocabulary, and then do nothing to stop it? Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

Finally, I think the biggest failure of Kerry/Edwards and the Democrats was in not taking their consistent conservatism to that "poorest county in Nebraska" that has been voting 80% Republican in recent elections. The way to win big in the "swing states" is to struggle for the hearts and minds of working people in the so-called "red" states. When I asked Jimmy McGriff, the great jazz organist, how he created a good groove he explained to me: "Each day anybody's mood changes. So a musician catches it because when he goes to a club he's got to take – say if there's a hundred people there – a hundred moods and put them into one before he can get to the people. Because unless you do that, forget it – it's not happening. Milt Buckner told me one time, when you go in look for the person that's not applauding, the person that's not patting his foot. Play to that person. If you get that guy to clapping his hands, you got the whole house. And he was right. You just get that one person. I heard Duke Ellington one time say that to the guys. He wasn't talking to me, but I had to laugh to myself remembering that being told to me. So these older guys must have been thinking like that."

We Democrats have to start thinking like that. Forget the rhetoric of "progress." Forget finding the shifting "center." 1) Seek and speak the truth to conserve the rule of law and what's best in our democratic traditions at home. 2) Seek and speak the truth to build a Global Organization Of Democracies (GOOD) that can do the police work required to conserve the rule of law, stop genocides and arrest terrorists around the globe. It's a very simple program, clear, consistent, that will improve our security and the security of others without resorting to morally and fiscally bankrupting wars, and it's a simple program that the poorest person in Nebraska can and will applaud. People in the swing states might even dance to it.

Lakeville, CT



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