The Conservative Conversion Machine

Over at In These Times, in a thoughtful and expansive discussion on the current state of progressivism in America, How to Turn Your Red State Blue, Christopher Hayes synthesizes many of the ideas Democratic and liberal commentators have put forth since our defeat in November. Although it would be difficult to summarize an article of this magnitude in a short space, among other topic he discusses problems with two of the major lines of thought on revitalizing the Democratic party, either assuming that the electorate already contains a latent progressive majority or that in order to win Democrats need to reposition themselves within the existing ideological spectrum of the electorate. The main problem with either viewpoint, according to Hayes, is that no matter where Democrats assume the electorate currently is, conservatives have developed an extensive outreach program that gives them a huge advantage in transforming the electorate to become more open to their worldview. By contrast, liberals, progressives and Democrats have no such structure. In fact, what structures Democrats and progressives do have are openly under assault by conservatives: Consider a baby born in 2005 to a conservative family anywhere in America--that is anywhere outside of a major city where the very particles in the air are liberal. How might this child become a progressive? Her first possible exposure to a progressive worldview would be through children's media: books, videos and television shows. Conservatives patrol this border vigorously. Every several months or so, it seems James Dobson or Jerry Falwell is in high dudgeon railing against the perversions of some innocuous children's television character, from Bert and Ernie to SpongeBob SquarePants. Most recently, conservatives targeted Buster the cartoon rabbit, whose visit in one episode of his PBS show to a lesbian couple in Vermont prompted an angry rebuke from Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Next, the child will likely attend public school, an institution conservatives have sought to control by taking over local school boards in order to introduce creationist textbooks, establish abstinence-only sex education and excise any lesson plans tolerant of homosexuality. And while activists seek to influence local curricula, right-wing think tanks advocate fully dismantling public education through vouchers and other ruses.

If our hypothetical student goes to college she will finally, for the first time, come face to face with a progressive worldview. Higher education stands as the only institution in American life today with a significant progressive presence. In classes, in clubs and in dorms, students are exposed to progressives and their views. Not surprisingly, Kerry won college-educated women by nine points, and all voters with post-graduate degrees by 11 points. And while he lost college-educated men, the trend lines are promising. He managed to do four points better than Gore.

Since college enrollment continues to climb, and the economy increasingly puts a premium on post-graduate degrees, this bodes well for Democrats. Conservatives realize this #### in their armor, which explains why their attacks on higher education are so ardent.(...)

Let's say, though, that our hypothetical youngster doesn't go to college, and instead enters the workforce. If her job is unionized, she will immediately be exposed to progressive ideas about fairness and workplace democracy, but the odds are overwhelmingly against her holding a union job. Over the last 30 years, unionization has fallen from more than 35 percent to less than 12 percent of the workforce due to, among other things, a sustained attack by Republicans on the right to organize. From the instant the National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935, the business class has recognized that unions are the most direct means by which working-class voters are brought into the left. Being in a union has an even more dramatic effect on voting behavior than college. Kerry won two-thirds of union members, and among working-class white voters, a group Kerry lost by 24 points, he won a majority of those in a union.

And these are only some examples. Toss in the Right Wing Noise Machine and the extensive evangelicizing of conservative churches, and it all adds up to a conservative movement heavily bent on reaching new converts, and a liberal movement that is comparatively ineffective at doing the same.

This situation is untenable for progressives, liberals and Democrats. I have repeatedly argued that our only way out of our current electoral problems, long-term, is for the number of self-identifying liberals to close the gap on the number of self-identifying progressives. Clearly, this is never going to happen if conservative mechanisms for persuasion and conversion remain so much more powerful and prevalent in almost all areas of everyday life: in the media, at your job, in your place of worship, even in school. No one solution, such as increasing union density, developing a Left Wing Noise Machine or organizing the religious left will be enough. Unless we counter and surpass the Conservative Conversion Machine on all fronts, we are pretty much doomed. Grow liberalism, or we will remain in the minority for two generations.

DeLay & Wal-Mart action

Not a chance on earth that he'll step down, but we can make '06 in the House a referendum on DeLay, that's for sure. Two petitions, first by Common Cause, that has over 65,000 signatures; second by Public Campaign Action Fund, that has over 15,000 signatures.

Then there's Wal-Mart. The UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers International Union) is calling for ABC News to drop Wal-Mart as an "Only In America" Sponsor. 70% of Wal-Mart items are made overseas, often in Third World sweatshops. Previously, Wal-Mart was forced to drop the equally deceptive "Buy American" and "Bring it Home to the USA" campaigns, and its fraudulent that ABC includes Wal-Mart as a sponsor of Good Morning America’s "Only in America" series.

Dueling Theocons

Brownback has backed a bill that would allow religious leaders to endorse candidates from the pulpit without losing their tax-exempt status (emphasis mine): Pastors or other church leaders could use their pulpits to endorse political candidates under a controversial bill backed by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

Currently, if churches make endorsements they can jeopardize their tax-exempt status.

"This bill will finally lift the fear and anxiety from houses of worship that seek to speak out on issues that affect the local community and our nation," Brownback said during a recent Capitol Hill press conference.

The bill would allow pastors and ministers to endorse candidates, but churches still would be prohibited from spending money on a candidate's campaign if they want to retain their tax-exempt status.

Not yet introduced, the Senate bill is expected to mirror HR 235, the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.

I emphasized the section about coordinated spending to point out that while the article claims the Brownback bill mirrors the House bill, there is one major difference between the two pieces of legislation. Here is information on the House version of the legislation (emphasis mine):On Jan. 4, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced H.R. 235, the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act of 2005. The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow religious congregations to support or oppose candidates for public office and conduct partisan campaign activities without losing their tax-exempt status, as long as the activity takes place in the context of a religious service or gathering. While narrower than previous proposals, the bill still unfairly favors religious organizations over other nonprofits and allows tax-deductible contributions to support partisan activities.(...)

Since this language would permit any activity that could be deemed part of a sermon or other presentation during a religious service, it allows for the express endorsement or opposition to a candidate for public office during a sermon. Religious leaders could request that contributions be made directly to the candidates committee or other political organizations or even individual contributions of services to political campaigns. They could appeal to their congregations to vote for particular candidates.

Clearly, there is a major difference between these two pieces of legislation. One would only allow religious leaders to endorse from the pulpit without losing their tax exempt status but not directly coordinate financially with political campaigns, while the other would allow religious leaders to endorse from the pulpit and to directly coordinate financially with political campaigns. This difference is not lost on tom DeLay, who, in a rambling, paranoid, psychotic speech during which I believe he nails himself to a cross argues that Brownback does not go far enough in instituting theocracy (imagine that!), and that only the House version of the bill can be accepted: So, please, this afternoon, each and every one of you, if you know a senator give him a call. Tell him, they'll say, "Our bill can pass in the House." Tell him, "That's fine. Your bill's okay but the House bill is better and, uh, I want the House bill." Particularly if you know Democrats, uh, don't let them get off the hook, um, by hiding behind one House and the other is adjourned. We can do anything we need to do to pass any bill that we need to pass. So I appreciate what you're doing. God bless you and thank you for the Family Research Council. Yikes! Read the entire speech by DeLay, and tell your representatives to oppose both bills. Information on how to contact your Senators can be found here, and how to to contact your representative can be found here.

Ineffective Anti-war Protests

In an important article, Jeffery Feldman questions the effectiveness of established progressive means of public protest: The big story of the weekend should have been the massive anti-war march that took place simultaneously in dozens of cities around the nation and the world, involving hundreds of thousands of people. That should have dominated the front pages of America's newspapers.

Instead, a few well organized and politically connected religious militants managed to elbow the anti-war movement out of America's kitchen table conversations. As of today, Americans continue to be assaulted by the ongoing debate over the long-term healthcare decisions of one woman in Florida. As of 9am Monday morning, it was as if the anti-war movement didn't even exist.

Tell me about it. In March of last year, on the one-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, I attended an enormous anti-war march in Chicago that must have had at least 30,000 participants. It was, however, an extremely disappointing experience that left me with little hope for the anti-war movement as a whole.

There's more...

Republicans only?

Denver and Colorado, George Bush is showing up there on Monday, but the only way you can get tickets, is to pick them up at Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez's Office today. But if you have photo ID, they will given any American citizen a ticket to see the President, right?

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