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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Building blue communities, birthing blue babies and illumintaing self interest

Which would you think could turn those red and pink states blue sooner? They are all important, but more vital than the birthing - and educating - of future socially conscious and culturally generous Americans, more challenging than enticing out-of-state progressives to accept the challenge of red state politics, is getting our fellow citizens to realize, and vote, their own self interests.

Living in Georgia, where state Republicans literally broke out a broom at their celebration in Atlanta, Tuesday night, it all seems rather insurmountable. Just because the GOP have spent the last eight years in power in this state, doesn't mean it is either inevitable or for the good of the state. Just because this is a traditionally conservative state, doesn't mean  it cannot be a conservatory for strong, progressive ideas. Finally, just because the blue bleeds to red once the vote gets outside the state's urban zones, doesn't mean that the people voting there are all aware of the consequences of touch screening a Republican slate of candidates.

[caption id="attachment_440" align="alignright" width="261" caption="Blue counties in Georgia that voted for the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. Almost all the blue represents metropolitan areas of the state's largest cities, including Atlanta, Athens, Savannah, Augusta, Albany, Macon and Columbus."][/caption]

In Georgia, like many other southern and western conservative states, the social ideals of the electorate move as slowly as a man with a push-mower on a sweltering, summer day. In fact, it could be argued that the mood hardly changes at all - only the labels worn by those elected do. After all, this is the state that awarded Lester Maddox, a segregationist Democrat, the governorship in 1966, and elected Jimmy Carter governor right after that.

To put that into context, Maddox and his Dixiecrat contemporaries, like Alabama's George Wallace, would have been darlings of Jim DeMint, Rand Paul and Sarah Palin's Tea Party followers today. If you doubt it, check out Wallace's rhetoric during his independent presidential run in 1968. "They're building a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia," he said at one point during the campaign. Can't you just hear the Embarrassment of Alaska saying that?

"His campaign in California and other states attracted the interest of the far right, including the John Birch Society," cites a Wikibin article on Wallace's failed bid. If you look at the crowds from his rallies that cycle, you'll see many faces, and many signs, that are similar to today's TP gatherings. He actually carried five Southern states that election, as the candidate for the American Independent Party (any one of which could have given Democrat Hubert Humphrey the election), including Georgia.

The last two-term Democratic governor in Georgia was Zell Miller (1991-1999), whose eccentricities and knee-jerk conservatism led him to the floor of the 2004 Republican National Convention, as keynote speaker and outspoken supporter of George W. Bush.

The thirty years from Maddox to Miller shows that very little changes in Georgia politics. Yes, we elected a string of Democrats in that time, but most just rode the tide of the Southern Democrat machine that was so prevalent in this part of the country in the twentieth century. The tide shifted within four years of Miller's leaving office.

Even though we elected another Democrat, Roy Barnes, as governor in 1998, he only served one term, being swept out in the Great Changeover of 2002. That's when Georgia elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction - Sonny Perdue - and both houses of the State Legislature went to the GOP. In fact, many of the Democrats who did get re-elected, sensing the changing winds, switched parties, giving the Republicans an even more overwhelming majority.

If you are thinking, "Okay, campaign like a Republican; govern like a Democrat," that probably won't work either - at least, not in this political climate.  Barnes, who lost another bid for a second term, Tuesday - to the crooked former Congressman, Nathan Deal - tried to run with Republican ideas this time. He came out in favor of an Arizona-style immigration law and against the recently passed Affordable Care Act (Healthcare Reform).

There's no telling if another candidate, running on a similar, pandering platform, would have done any better than Roy. That is, the majority of voters either didn't trust him because he was Roy Barnes - who took the states' rights, confederate emblem off the state flag when he was governor - or they just don't want to vote for Democrats.

Roy's disingenuousness  was probably his downfall. That, and the fact that the state Democratic Party is afraid to back a bolder candidate. If you are going to be derided and pigeon-holed as a Pinko or Liberal or Socialist, no matter what you stand for, if they're not going to believe what you say anyway,  you may as well say what you believe. They'll respect you more for it, and they may even vote for you, as long as you are honest and can demonstrate that you love this state as much as they do, and you're putting their best interests ahead of your own.

By the way, we would welcome progressive carpetbaggers, too. Y'all come.


Friday, November 05, 2010

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Elections 2010: A Requiem for Reason

American reason should not be an oxymoron, and irrationality should not be the flame that powers our politics. We are smarter than that.

It is hard not to feel, that in a year where candidates use fictional beheadings, claim there is shariya law in American communities, and make hay about some stupid, bong-induced college prank, all in an effort to rile up people to vote for them, our ability to reason has gone into hibernation.

Imagine you are watching a magician perform on stage, and he has just "levitated" his lovely assistant. As she floats horizontally in front of him, her gown draping from her long legs toward the floor, the magician dramatically runs a hoop around her body, from head to foot and back again. He performs this maneuver because he wants to convince you that what you are witnessing is real, that the beautiful woman in front of him is actually floating. You know it cannot possibly be real, that this is some kind of trick, and still, you let your mind suspend reality for just a moment or two, and allow yourself to entertain the notion of, "But, what if it is?"

That moment of cognitive dissonance gives us a buzz. Serotonin, that lovely neurotransmitter, makes us feel we fit wonderfully and perfectly in this moment of universal time, validates us for who we are, what we are, and with whom we associate ourselves. There is no such thing as unsound judgment, because by allowing ourselves to suspend reality, we can believe that everything we think, feel and hear is actually happening. A woman is floating, ungrounded, in mid-air. Headless torsos are rotting in the Arizona desert. People in Dearborn, Michigan, are having their hands chopped off and being stoned to death. There is an anti-Christian cult of students at Baylor University that ties up young women and makes them bow to Aqua Buddha.

We believe these things because we want to, or don't in the case of the Aqua Buddha story. (The funny thing is, that even though Jack Conway's story about Rand Paul is the closest to a real event, it backfired because the Democrat's insistence that this was a legitimate campaign issue jumped the shark. Ahh, irony.)

That brings us to Saturday's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the National Mall, in Washington, DC.  There was a bittersweet air about the crowd, at once poking fun at this year's insane political discourse...

[caption id="attachment_409" align="alignleft" width="143" caption="Photo by Annie Parker"][/caption]

while at the same time, lamenting the power it had over a frighteningly large amount of the electorate.

The craziness of this election, as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert pointed out, played out under the shimmering lights and fog machine clouds of 24-hour cable news, all helping us get that cognitive dissonance rush, because like a magic show, in order for a medium like television to work, we have to believe - even if it's only for a moment - that everything we are witnessing is real.

For Stewart, reality is the give-and-take, community mentality that gets people from different backgrounds and beliefs through the Lincoln Tunnel. He's right that sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel is not the Promised Land, but New Jersey. The thing is, the rational, sane way to look at life as part of our American community, is that the light at the end of the tunnel may never be what we want or expect or think we deserve. But it's the light in which we live.

Don't forget to vote, and make that light just a little brighter.


Monday, November 01, 2010