Monday, June 12, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Awakening the Left

Sometimes, albeit rarely, the little guy wins (click the graphic for the story).

In case you're wondering, we did not go to the Blogger's Convention. Daily Rev is still too small and quiet a voice on the blogosphere to rate inclusion in such an event. And anyway, we wouldn't trust ourselves in Las Vegas.

But it's good to see that a few politicians are listening to what they're hearing from the web. If they now do their jobs and protect net neutrality from the strangling grasp of corporate monopolies, then they'll be able to enjoy more of the free speech and independent reporting that the blogosphere has furthered.

Now before we get to Terry McKenna's piece on how the Democrats might awaken public trust, I'd like to comment briefly on some of the reaction to the killing of Al-Zarqawi. The reaction I'm referring to happened across the spectrum of political affiliation, so there is no right-vs.-left dynamic at work in this. But the attitude was typified by the cover of Friday's New York Post, which exclaimed, "GOTCHA!" over a picture of the dead man's face, with a talk bubble inserted beside his mouth, containing the words, "Warm up the virgins".

For a flag-draped rag like the Post that purports to support the troops, this was a strange display. Such an infantile, arrogant show of hubris will only have the effect of putting the troops in greater danger, as if they didn't face enough already. War is not a hunting party; the dead enemy is not a trophy. Violence, no matter its outcome, is nothing to crow or beat one's breast over. I would ask the Post's editors, and all the media outlets that spread this attitude toward the fate of Al-Zarqawi, to think more carefully about the consequences of their actions. Remember Odysseus' rebuke to his son, Telemachus, after the defeat of the suitors; or the grim warning of Admiral Yamamoto to his officers after the carnage at Pearl Harbor. Never, ever, celebrate or gloat over the death of your enemy. When you are victorious in war, it is well to be grateful, but never proud.

And now, Mr. McKenna: how can the Democrats possibly avoid piddling away the political advantage they seem to currently enjoy?

Despite the killing of Al-Zarqawi, we are swiftly returning to normal. In the few days since that successful moment in the War on Terror, three prisoners from the gulag in Guantanamo have offed themselves; and the Israel/Palestinian mess is heating up again, after the missile attack on a recreational beach in Gaza.

On the domestic front, the US economy is stalling; this promises to lower tax collections, increase debt, and incite further problems with interest rates. One would think this would be a good time for Democrats to take advantage of the political chaos. But the Democrats remain hemmed in by their own rhetoric and by an over-reliance upon advocacy groups to help them win elections.

Where Republicans speak with the clarity of a marketing program - they want small government, low taxes and self reliance, the Democrats are a crazy quilt of interest and advocacy groups tied together by their common support for social programs. Trouble is, the advocacy groups are now as much a burden as a help.

For example: we know the world is running short of oil. We also know we don’t have an immediate replacement. Yes, we can eventually re-urbanize –, but in the meantime most middle class voters live in small towns and suburbs and depend upon their cars for all of their transportation needs. So while we dream of re-urbanizing, with its emphasis on mass transit, this will take decades – and lots of planning. In the meantime, middle class suburbanites are feeling the pinch (up to $100 per month per driver.) Maybe it is time for Democrats to support domestic oil drilling. Right now, the majority of unexplored sites are in prohibited coastal zones and in our protected wilderness – it is time for Democrats to suggest a compromise that includes a cautious approach to oil drilling along with an immediate and aggressive increase to the CAFE standard, and maybe a fuel tax on all fuels, one that funds heating fuel for the poor.

Oh – yes I know that the odds suggest that there is little more oil out there- but so what. That’s no reason not to try oil drilling as well as conservation. The point is compromise.

On to abortion. We know this is a no win issue for Democrats; so it is time to drop it. Democrats have dropped issues before – like school busing. But while dropping an emphasis on abortion, they should re-emphasize support for family planning, including contraception – and include a single payor health insurance system so that the poor have access to medical services.

Education: it is time to revamp NCLB. In this case, the Democrats should take advantage of suburban dissatisfaction. For most middle class white families, their limited exposure to NCLB comes when a local (and well regarded) public school is branded as failing. The result (beyond the bad publicity) is that a small public school in a small town is forced to spend precious tax dollars on increased monitoring and essentially, teaching to the standardized test. Invariably, the school comes out better in the next round of testing, but the success is a sham (an artifact of a testing program that defines small failures as general failure). My suggestion for the Democrats is to propose that we replace the current testing scheme with this simple method – for each school, answer three questions: 1) what is the percentage of kids who graduate high school; 2) how many matriculate into one of three options - a 4 year college, a 2 year college or a professional program (such as training to be a machinist or nurse); and 3) how many graduate. If the answers add up to a result that is equal to or better than the state average, then the school system should be left alone. NCLB should focus on the genuinely failing school systems. For those that fail under the new rubric, the result should be both closer monitoring AND INCREASED FINANCIAL SUPPORT.

Federal Monitoring: by this, I am referring to OSHA, the EPA and the numerous other federal bureaus that monitor everything from coal mining to child safety. The Democrats should emphasize their strong support for these useful agencies. But they also should consider a redirection of effort. For example – it's been a boon to all of us that we have eliminated much of the hazards that came from toddlers putting small toys in their mouths. But in some matters, the regulations have created a monstrosity that no longer serves the public. For example – if you read the safety warning of almost any new tool or device, you start off with pages of safety warnings that are so dumbed down that the average tool user ignores them. So if there is anything new to learn about safety, it’s lost in pages of meaningless test data.

So that’s it. No, I have not represented all of the issues, but you get where I’m heading. It’s an answer to those who say that the Democrats have no program. Of course, the Democratic ideologues will scream outrage – but if the Democrats want to take back America, they need to move closer to the rest of America outside the beltway and away from the large cities.

Will they do it? I don’t know. Maybe they will if they find a new Bill Clinton (but not Hillary!) But if they keep going down the road taken by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, they may still pick up a few seats in Congress, but the central problem will remain the same.

—T. McKenna

No comments: