Monday, July 17, 2006

DemocracyFest: A Participant's Report

A New Wave Coming...

Okay, Bush. Big breath. Time to sit back on the balcony of our Laguna Beach cottage (with a good cigar!) and reflect on what happened this weekend down in San Diego at the DemocracyFest.

First, the energy and the optimism. Reading back over my two brief entries fom the gathering, I find I unwittingly repeated myself about that sense of democracy at work. No surprise though, because that, indeed, was the overwhelming sense I came away with.

Yes, there's grievance. There's anger. There's frustration. There's a very real sense that we've seen the democracy we so much value snatched away from us by your grab for presidential power; by a ruthless political right wing that has been far more concerned with winning elections than with reasoned argument, civility, and respect for democratic processes; by an infinitely greedy corporate world that uses its wealth to work its will and further its financial interests in the political arena; by a minority of evangelical Christians bent on imposing a sham morality on the business of government; and by the manipulation and corruption of electoral technology.

And I concede, Bush, that you, particularly, in person, came in for some quite unfavorable reviews for your performance in office. It also won't surprise you to hear that in these progressive Democratic circles the chief object of their criticism was your war.

Okay. But the overwhelming and more positive theme was that we Democrats can do better. That America is better than its current reputation in the world, that we are a kinder, more rational, more compassionate people than might appear from the actions of those who have rudely--even illegally--grabbed the reins of power. The discussion was not primarily about negativity and judgment. It was about what we need to do to create a better future; what we need to do, as the oft-repeated mantra had it, to "take back our country."

The first priority--if my reading of the convention is correct--is to restore free and fair elections: COUNT THE VOTE, COUNT MY VOTE was the refrain. This, by common consent, is the basic requirement of the democracy that you, Bush, so freely tout abroad--and so freely flaunt at home. (Talk about autocratic Russia, Bush! How dare you lecture Putin?) As several speakers made clear--most notably, and most eloquently, Brad Friedman and State Senator/candidate for Secretary of State Debra Bowen--the electronic voting machines that are currently in use are easily hackable and vulnerable to all kinds of misuse. In the recent CA 50 Busby/Bilbray election fracas, notoriously, voting machines were routinely taken home (on "sleepovers") by election officials in the weeks preceding the election, in a mockery of electoral security. There was universal support for the demand for a reliable, nation-wide paper trail system for the purpose of monitoring and subsequent verification by recount. The equitable distribution of machines--another flagrant violation in recent elections both in Florida and Ohio--must also be assured.

For the rest, I can do no better than run down Governor Howard Dean's list from his Saturday night speech. (I wrote about him after the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas, where I was hugely impressed, as you may recall, Bush, by his energy, the breadth of his vision, his dedication to the democratic process, his scrupulous avoidance of political compromise, his integrity...) I also wrote recently about the myth of the absence of Big Ideas amongst the Democrats--a tiresome received idea that I hear endlessly repeated. Here are Howard Dean's--no, the Democratic Party's--Big Ideas:

1. electoral reform: count the vote, make the vote count;
2. maintain a strong defense--and one that avoids the misuse of our military power in ill-conceived, internationally unsupported, and hopelessly mismanaged adventures like your invasion of Iraq, but rather acts as a stablizing force to promote world peace;
3. energy independence, and the growth of a new, creative, job-creating industry to lead the world in the development of alternative energy sources;
4. the creation of a national health insurance plan that would cover all Americans: if countless other civilized countries can manage this feat, why not the US;
5. a public education system that ensures equal opportunities for all (another requirement, in my view, for a healthy democracy);
6. retirement security: hands off our social security system; and take action to prevent big business (United Airlines, Enron...) from cheating employees out of their legitimate pensions.

Okay, there are a ton of other issues that need to be addressed. But this big six is a good start. Your Republicans have managed skillfully to implant the "no ideas" lie in the minds of millions of otherwise thinking Americans. It's not true.

And finally, not least, what came out of this weekend was, I sensed, a commitment to get out there and do the work. Howard Dean has July 29 earmarked as the date on which we must all get out and "knock on two million doors." It's not just a minority of progressive Democrats who are disenchanted with the direction in which you have misled this country, Bush. According to the latest poll figure I heard, you have just a 35 percent job approval rating. Those dissatisfied voters include an awful lot of conservative Republicans and indeed a whole lot of evangelical Christians, some of whom have begun to speak out in public about the many ways in which your administration short-changes precisely those whom your Jesus instructed us, repeatedly, to take care of.

We need to speak to those 65 percent of disaffected Americans about the values they hold dear. Do they see those values being honored in the words and actions that proceed from your administration? I doubt it. This is the refrain to which Governor Dean returns in all his speeches: "We [Democrats] can do better."

So there you have it, Bush. The DemocracyFest--at least through the eyes of this one participant. I trust that the readers of our diaries will take note, take courage from this growing movement, and add their voices to the demand for change. We need to stop buying into this skillfully-promulgated Republican myth that Democrats have no ideas, no vision, no leadership, no direction. Enough! Those doubters should go see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," and honor his prescience and vision. Or read his book. He's had the right "Idea" for years. Go listen to Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, Barbara Moxer, Mark Warner... Go read the blogs. And above all, go out and talk. Say things out loud.

More about DmocracyFest tomorrow, Bush. Stick with me...

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