Note: The Preface and Chapters One through Twenty can be found here: The 15% Solution
This is the twenty-fourth installment of the serialization of a book entitled The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022. Herein you will find “Part 4” of Chapter 20. (This chapter is very long, and so it will be presented in five parts.) From the perspective of the 25th Anniversary of the Restoration of U.S. Constitutional Democracy in 2048, this chapter discusses “what might have been done” to prevent the fall of the old United States into fascism. If present readers find that the warnings from that far-off time have relevance for today’s, that is precisely the intent. In 1990s, the Republicans told us precisely what they would do if they ever got full power (e.g., see “Gingrich” and “Armey” on Part 1, p. 3). With the complicity/acquiescence/meek “opposition” of the “center-right” Democratic Party of the time, the nation has come precisely to where it is now. This Part 4 discusses “Progressive Attack Politics,” the related subject, the use of language in politics, and the necessary re-structuring of the Democratic Party if an effective opposition to the fascist onslaught were to be developed. Just an editorial note, the full set of references for this chapter of the book appears with each of the Parts of this chapter as published.
For readers coming into this serialization at this time, you should know that under the pseudonym Jonathan Westminster, the book is purportedly published in the year 2048 on the 25th Anniversary of the Restoration of Constitutional Democracy in the Re-United States. It was actually written in 1994-5, and published in 1996 by the Thomas Jefferson Press, located in Port Jefferson, NY. The copyright is held by the Press.
A commentator had this to say about the book: “I am in the middle of reading ‘The 15% Solution.’ For some reason I assumed it was a recent publication. About 100 pages in I looked to see when it was published. It was published in 1996. That absolutely shocked me. What it was saying then is exactly what is happening now. The race-baiting, anti-homosexual crap that takes one’s attention away from what is actually happening, and it was written about 15 years ago. Even the 14th amendment controversy is discussed in this book, as well as so much more – ownership of the media, talk radio, etc. This is truly frightening, and if the Dems do not wake up and fight, I fear there is much worse to come.” Indeed!
And so, Chapter 20, “What Might Have Been Done,” Part 4
Progressive Attack Politics
Progressive Attack Politics, related to the Local Problems Bank (see Chap. 20, Part 3, was a strategy developed by Dino Louis during the mid-Transition Era (as part of The New Patriotism). But he was never able to successfully promote it. (Perhaps the reason it never “sold” was the acronym. “PAP” is just not a good one.) It was a proposed progressive response to Right-Wing Reactionary “negative campaigning.” The latter was a sophisticated version of traditional American negative campaigning, which had been part of the American political scene since the Adams-Jefferson election of 1800. Traditional negative campaigning attacked the person of the opponent, from the charge that Grover Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child to the quiet, but persistent reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as nothing but a sick cripple. The Right-Wing Reactionary variety did engage in traditional American political negative crudities on occasion, slinging some old-fashioned mud, especially “manufactured” mud. For example, in the 1988 Presidential campaign Republican political operatives spread completely unsubstantiated rumors that the Democratic Presidential candidate, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, had been treated by a psycho-therapist and that his wife Kitty had burned a flag. But the stuff that really worked for the Republicans was very much issue-oriented, on their mythological issues.
They played to and exacerbated racism, “gut-feelings,” and empty “patriotism” (as in “revere the flag”). This was not negative campaigning as much as it is distractive campaigning. One of the early practitioners of the art, President Ronald Reagan, had actually been for things, like the touchy-feely saying “it’s morning in America” and “standing tall in the saddle,” or the mis-leading “cut your taxes,” “build up our defenses,” and “get the government off your back.” Newton Gingrich’s Contract on America (see Chapter one) was for such things too (many of the same things that Reagan went for).
What was really going on here? The touchy-feelies were irrelevant to the real problems facing the nation. And as pointed out in Chapter one, most of the Right-Wing Reactionary program components, whether Reaganite or Grinchite, were irrelevant to solving the real problems the country faced, from underinvestment to racism. In fact, the use of the term “negative campaigning” to describe this strategy that was so central to Transition Era Republican politics was itself a distractor. The term “negative campaigning” was used to get the focus of the debate that arose on its use away from the real objective of the strategy. That objective was not primarily to attack the person of the opponent, even though it might have seemed so. Rather, it was to get the focus of the political debate off what was really important, and especially off the Republican record.
Progressive Attack Politics, according to Louis, was not to be negative campaigning. It was not to engage in ad hominem attacks. When it criticized specific Republican policies, the critique was always to be accompanied by a positive recommendation for meeting an identified challenge/need. Just as the objective of distractive campaigning was to get on the offensive and stay there, so was that the objective of Progressive Attack Politics. Elections cannot be won while on the defensive.
There was also a generalized basis for attack, which could have been used against all distractive campaign elements put forward by the other side, simply revealing them for what they were attempts to distract the electorate from the real problems at hand, and their causes. Further, the charge could have been laid on that distractive campaigning was nothing but a sign of weakness, designed to deflect the voters’ attention from the real campaign issues.
To be effective, Progressive Attack Politics needed a large data-base, just like the Local Problems Bank did. A major share of campaign resources would had to have been put into issues, positions, and historical research. A sophisticated, cross-referenced computer-based positions/data files library that could have been accessed at secure terminals all across the country would have to have been developed. This would have been expensive, but absolutely essential to the success of progressive attack politics. It could easily and cost-effectively been linked to the development of the Local Problems Bank as well.
An important element of Progressive Attack Politics would have been the careful, planned use of language. The Republicans were very successful in this regard. For example, they managed to turn the rather benign, gentle term “liberal” into a dirty word by clever references to it as the “L” word (cf. “the `F’ word”). Newton Gingrich once put together an extensive guide to using the language for political purposes, to bash his liberal opponents (EXTRA!Update). The liberals could have done the same thing.
The term we now use to describe the Reaganite/Bushists, the Grinchites, the Hagueites and the other fascists, “Right-Wing Reactionaries,” could have been used with effectiveness back then too. For too long the rightists got away with labeling themselves with the rather comfortable word “conservative.” They were often not the least bit conservative, for example when it came to the environment, or maintaining the U.S. position as the world’s leading industrial power, or conserving progress in civil rights, or in maintaining civil liberties or legal precedent. Some other examples? Rather than “defense spending,” “military spending” should have been used. Similarly, the term “national domestic spending” might have been substituted for “social spending.” The latter has a soft, “socialistic,” dirty-word sound; the former has the toughness of “national.” “Personally Sensitive,” P.S., could have been substituted for the phrase “Politically Correct,” P.C. so prostituted by the Right-Wing Reactionaries.
When progressives did from time to time attack the Republicans for their proto-fascist policies and fascist tendencies, in the political climate of the time it might have been helpful to substitute the cooler word “authoritarian” for the hot-button word fascist, if only so that the Republicans could not make an issue out of the use of the word, thus once again avoiding debate on substantive issues.
The Restructuring and Redirection of the Democratic Party
Finally, desperately needed was a carefully planned and consistent electoral strategy, which in turn eventually would have required a restructuring of the Democratic Party. In essence, Democrats needed to act like Democrats, not like Republicans. To do so would have been good government and also would have been good politics. The Democratic Party would once again have been appealing to its primary constituencies. For example, in late 1995, Senator Edward Kennedy sent a memorandum to the Senate Minority Leader, Thomas Daschle (1995). Senator Kennedy had polled his “key supporters” on vital issues then facing the nation. Almost unanimously they: rejected seeking a “middle ground” with the radical right-wing Republican legislative agenda of the time, advocating rather a strong political education campaign on what the real issues and positions were; supported denial of further tax cuts for the wealthy in favor of maintaining the integrity of the Medicare program (tax-based partial payment for health services for the elderly); rejected compromise of basic, traditional Democratic principles, in favor of fighting the Republicans on matters of principle, even if it meant taking the blame for legislative “gridlock.”
The Democratic Party needed to institutionalize a lesson that it was learning the hard way through the elections of the mid-90s: it could no longer rely on the set of policies and political practices advocated by the reactionary Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). This set was nothing more than a pale imitation of the race-based “Southern Strategy” originally developed for the Republican Party by one of the founding modern Right-Wing Reactionaries, former Senator from Arizona and Republican presidential candidate in 1964, Barry Goldwater. It was brought to full maturity by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (Lind, [a]). By the late 1980s, the DLC was trying to develop a Democratic version of it that might have best been called the “Alienated White Male Strategy,” AWMAS.
A good many white males in the country had good reasons to feel alienated from the Federal government and the political process. Primarily, they had been economically abandoned by that process which began with the export of capital and deindustrialization, augmented by the wide-spread but little talked about computer revolution. However, the AWMAS did nothing for white men, other than maintain their alienation. For the AWMAS was a code term for running a campaign designed to appeal to the classic “Southern white male,” (read “xenophobic, chauvinist, homophobic, militaristic, racist”), now, fed by Right-Wing Reactionary propaganda, found all over the country.
The DLC’s attempt to develop a modern, sophisticated, Democratic-coded AWMAS was couched in terms of a “return to traditional values.” It turned out the values referred to were not those of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Rather they were the Americanized version of Hitler’s “Kinder, Kuche, und Kirchen” so beloved by the Right-Wing Reactionaries. The AWMAS strategy was based on The Politics of Difference rather than the truly American Politics of Inclusion.
Translated, this version of “traditional values” meant reliance primarily on jingoistic false patriotism; support for the military and military spending without a clear definition of goals, role, and function; “dedication to family” while using the term “family” primarily to deal with issues of sex and intra-family male power; “fiscal responsibility” without detailing just who benefits from the pro-rich policies carried out under that rubric. Most important was the strong underlying, although unstated, theme of racism. The original Southern Strategy had worked well for the Republicans since 1968, primarily because when certain Democrats were not ineffectually trying to use it themselves, the national Democratic Party came up with nothing effective to counter it.
There were three reasons why the AWMAS should have been abandoned by the Democrats and no attempt to develop a Democratic version of it made. First, and most important, it caved into racism, the most serious, divisive, demoralizing, and money-wasting national domestic issue faced by the old U.S. during the Transition Era. Second, since its original version, the “Southern Strategy,” clearly was the property of the Republican Party, the AWMAS could not possibly work for Democrats, whatever it was called. Third, the results of many state and local elections showed that the voters would only infrequently elect a Democratic candidate who adopted it and the motto: “Let’s try to out-Republican the Republicans.” As noted before, why should voters who wanted to elect a Republican choose anything other than the real thing? Fourth, even if it could work, the voting margins in the South were too wide to be overcome by such a strategy.
But in any case, why should the Democrats have developed a strategy which appealed to the worst, rather than the best, instincts of any voting group? Why in the South, for instance, should the Democratic Party, using the positive patriotism of Dino Louis’ The New Patriotism (see Appendix VII in the original, TK in this serialization), not have attempted to revive the Post-Civil War alliance between blacks and white workers/small farmers? This was the alliance that so terrified the Southern white power structure that it created Jim Crow and institutional racism to break it up and keep the two groups permanently apart. Further, the patriotic, progressive nationalist aspects of The New Patriotism might have appealed to some voters in all sectors of the country who voted Republican on those grounds rather than for racist reasons. The trying to be all things to all people strategy of the recent Presidential campaigns did not work either. It was time for something new, the Politics of Inclusion.
Primarily it was necessary for the Democratic Party to focus on policies not aimed at winning back the racist “Reagan Democrats” all over the country. But rather the focus needed to be on developing policies that would appeal to those millions of eligible voters so alienated by a political process and government that simply did not respond to their needs. Such large worker and minority populations could have been expected to respond to the strong anti-racism cast of The New Patriotism. It would have aimed at the old core of progressive Democrats who could see how they had been betrayed, the minorities, the large untapped pool of then non-voters who would have voted for a real progressive alternative if they saw one.
As part of this whole progressive strategy, the Democrats needed to return to old-fashioned “shoe-leather” politics. One of the reasons they strayed further and further to the Right during the Transition Era is that as television-based political campaigning became more and more expensive, they became more and more beholden to corporate-based political campaign contributions (Ferguson). In a little-noticed election campaign in Baltimore in 1995, the black Mayor, one Kurt Schmoke, running an underdog, underfinanced campaign for a third term, went back to political techniques of an earlier era (Janofsky). They worked. To wit:
“Rather than bombard voters in the modern mode of clever sound
bites in television commercials, Mr. Gibson [the campaign
director] said the campaign decided to sell Mr. Schmoke’s
accomplishments through more low-tech means, including a
155-page book called `Reasons to be Proud,’ a tabloid called
`Baltimore Progress’ that reviewed the Mayor’s contribution to
each of 50 areas of the city, Kurt Schmoke trading cards and a
flier of voting recommendations that Mr. Gibson called `the
wordiest Election Day ballot I’ve ever seen.
“`We had to combat the image The Sun was presenting, that
the city was going to hell in a hand basket,’ Mr. Gibson said.
`I’ve been doing campaigns since 1968, and I’ve never run
anything like this before, anything so information intensive.
I think people appreciated our appeals to their intelligence
No further comment is required.
Finally, Democrats needed to welcome and indeed encourage the defection of their own reactionaries from their Congressional delegation to that of the Republican Party. The attitude should have been: good riddance to bad rubbish. The Democrats needed to down-size, dropping its own reactionary baggage that put such a drag on progressive policy development. For example, Right-Wing, health care industry funded, Democrats were a major factor in the 1994 defeat of a modest reform called the “Clinton Health Plan.” The Democrats could have been liberated to become a truly liberal/progressive party. (In this instance, following the Grinchite/Republican example, but going the other way.) This process should have been accompanied by active attempts to recruit the few remaining liberal Republicans in the Congress.
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The original edition of “The 15% Solution” is available on Amazon.com and on BarnesandNoble.com. The 2004 print-on-demand re-issue from Xlibris is also available on Amazon.com and on BarnesandNoble.com. You will find a “Sub-Home Page” for the serialization at the lower right-hand corner of the Home Page for www.TPJmagazine.us. It contains such items as the Disclaimer, cast of characters, author’s bio., cover copy, and several (favorable) reviews, and will have a full archive of all the chapters as they are published over time. The serialization is also appearing on www.BuzzFlash.com, Dandelion Salad; The Greanville POST; and TheHarderStuff newsletter.
Jonathan Westminster and biography are based on a pseudonym.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.