A Liberal’s Lament: Preaching to the Choir!

Why is it that I have the impression that liberals are losing the battles?  Yet, I wonder:  How can that be when you analyze the polls about various issues and find the public as a rule favoring individually virtually every major progressive piece of legislation?

Take the idea of taxing the wealthy and the corporations.  It’s no contest: the public – even a plurality of Republicans – loves the idea.  And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: the majority says get us out of there.  Global warming: it’s not only 95% of scientists who see it as a real human problem, but so does a majority of ordinary citizens.

Yet, the politicians who favor these ideas are scared stiff of pushing them through to law, afraid they’ll alienate some hidden power (read Tea Party and similar nuts) out there that will short circuit their careers.

A carload of us drove out to spend seven hours Saturday, Sept. 17, at Madison’s Fighting BobFest 10th Anniversary program, hearing from a host of progressive (or is it liberal?) speakers wax eloquent on issues close to all of our “bleeding heart” sentiments.  To a person we wondered if – as exhilarating as the day was – whether we wasted a day that was only more preaching to the choir.

Some of the finest speakers of the liberal community brought down the house with successive applause, standing ovations and cheers and whistles.  The crowd – which filled at least two-thirds of the house (seating capacity is 10,231) – seemed to erupt in applause almost constantly.

After introduction by Ed Garvey, the Madison attorney and two-time statewide candidate, the program began immediately with Mike McCabe, executive  director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, who called the growing amounts of money going into political campaigns “a crime,” and noting that the historic development of Wisconsin’s  progressive legislation of 1911 (workers compensation, the vocational school system and much more) grew out of earlier legislation that banned corporate money in political campaigns.   Now, with recent Supreme Court rulings that have brought corporate money into campaigns, he said the “first problem facing the nation is money in politics.”

Tony Schultz, a Farmer’s Union member from Athens,Wisconsin, showed that farmers can be eloquent progressives, as well.  Retired Congressman Dave Obey offered an eloquent and philosophical commentary on the social contract that Americans of all political persuasions had accepted as standard American behavior until the growth of the uncaring reactionary right after the Reagan years.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the only Independent in the Senate (and a socialist), offered a full menu of reforms which – as they were citied – drew raucous applause and often standing ovations.  Along with former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, Sen. Sanders stressed the need for strong unions.  “Without collective bargaining, you’re reduced to collective begging,” Sanders said, while Hightower called the dramatic landing on the Hudson River in 2010 a “union-made miracle on the Hudson,” since all of the actors in that heroic rescue were union members from Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger himself and the flight attendants to the rescuing firefighters and EMTs.

What Sanders also said made the most impression on me as we pondered about the futility of “speaking to the choir” only.  After running down the progressive agenda, which included single-payer health insurance, stronger labor unions, taxing of the wealthy, fairer foreign trade policies, and removing our troops from current wars, he said pointedly, “Not one point that I mentioned is not what the overwhelming majority of Americans want.”

And he was right, if you are to believe many recent polls.  Now more than 80% of Americans agree that spending to build bridges, roads and schools is important; 71% said that any budget deficit plan should include both spending cuts and more taxes, particularly on the rich.

So how do we begin to get this message out to the entire congregation of American voters – and not merely keep the secret within the choir loft.  For one thing, we need to figure out a way to speak out over the constant falsehoods spouted by Fox News and talk radio; we need to get the local media more aware of these issues, a difficult task since the news hole is tightening up.

Somehow, we have to make an issue of the fact that this gathering in Madison of perhaps 7,000 persons listening to top national speakers was worth covering.  (To my knowledge there was not a word about Fighting BobFest in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nor on the local television stations.)  It’s a fact that our message is getting lost in the din of a mainstream media that seems to find plenty of space for Tea Party meetings that attract even one-tenth or one-hundred as many participants.

Yet, my friends, there is the social media; witness the April Spring in the Mideast where Twitter and Facebook and such helped spur those citizen uprisings; there are the traditional door-to-door, citizen grassroots efforts as well.

Whatever we do, we must recognize that while such feel-good gatherings as Fighting BobFest may be exhilarating they are indeed nothing but choir practice; we need to sing out across the rooftops to the entire congregation.

Ken Germanson, Sept. 19, 2011



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