Saturday, August 04, 2007

YKos redux

The YearlyKos Convention is all over, except for a "multi-faith service" and an informal brunch tomorrow morning, plus a few affiliated gatherings, like the Iraq Veterans Against the War reception. This afternoon, we had the Presidential Leadership Conference, with 7 out of 8 Democratic candidates for President, and smaller meetings with individual candidates, followed by a cookout with the Teamsters Union on a deck overlooking Lake Michigan. The evening wrapped up with a closing keynote by DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas. The whole event has been, if I may toss in a cliché, "like drinking from a fire hose." I'll try to piece together some of the highlights of my YearlyKos experience.

I arrived in town on Wednesday night, much too late to schlep down to the convention center and pick up my credentials, but there wasn't much of a line Thursday morning. I spent the rest of the day in wall-to-wall meetings, barely squeezing in a moment to snarf a quick, overpriced chicken sandwich from the food court. We talked about holding Congress accountable, state and local blogging, promoting your blog (Hey, look at me! Over here!), consolidation of traditional media outlets, GLBT issues, and science issues. The highlight, though, was the opening keynote address. Dick Durbin, the senior Senator from Illinois, was scheduled to appear in person, but the FISA vote kept him in Washington, so he appeared via video linkup. Still, he spoke with conviction about the value of the netroots community in promoting an agenda of change for America. DNC Chairperson Howard Dean appeared in the flesh,

Friday, I missed a big chunk of General Wesley Clark's morning keynote because of my groggy fuzzy-headedness, but I did at least get to hear some of his commentary about how badly executed the Iraq War has been from even before the actual invasion. General Clark opposed the war all along, but he also said that if circumstances did require U.S. military action in Iraq, we should have sent at least 500,000 troops, instead of less than 1/3 that number. I'm paraphrasing, but we opened a can of worms and were shocked to discover that there were worms in that can.

My next session was "Left Behind by the Right," a panel discussion with Cenk Uygur ("The Young Turks" on Air America Radio, plus The Huffington Post), David Brock (Media Matters), John Dean (from the Nixon White House to Conservatives without Conscience), and Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) — except that Arianna wasn't able to make it due to a broken ankle; she sent a stand-in. I was most interested to hear from John Dean, since I grew up on the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1974. (I was 10 years old, but there was nothing else on TV.) Dean talked about the notion that, by today's standards, Barry Goldwater, "Mr. Conservative" himself, would be considered a liberal. Goldwater was definitely a libertarian, which is political ground the neoconservatives seem determined to cede to the liberals. Dean said that his own views had not changed much since his years in the White House, but that he now was well to the left of center. It was also interesting to hear the stories of what prompted the shift by these prominent activists from conservative to liberal. David Brock, in particular, was an insider in the right-wing media, there in the room watching the vendetta by the "independent" prosecutor's office against the Clintons. He became so disgusted by the distortions and outright lies by the right-wingers that he founded Media Matters for America, dedicated to exposing their misstatements. He also talked about the difficulty of being an openly gay man in the right-wing.

I attended a couple of sessions on the subject of "framing," meaning choosing the language of discussion for a particular topic. The right wing has been extraordinarily successful with tactics such as referring to the inheritance tax (which is, quite literally, a tax upon inherited wealth) to "the death tax" (which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a tax on death). The left has been extraordinarily unsuccessful with phrases like "gun control" (suggesting government agents coming to take away your means of self-defense). The left also tends to clinical, cerebral abstraction. One potent example was a clip of Al Gore from the 2000 Presidential debates. Gore went on at some length about the figures of how much Medicare costs would increase under Bush's plan. It turns out that Gore was completely right: Medicare premiums increased significantly as a direct result of Bush's programs. However, his rhetoric was so disconnected from emotion that it left the audience stupefied. I read Gore's recent book The Assault on Reason, and I agree with much of its argument, that we have allowed emotion disconnected from reason to hold sway in our political debates, but the answer is not to flip the coin to reason disconnected from emotion.

On Saturday, I attended a session with Anthony Romero, the head of the ACLU. Romero took office literally a week before 9/11, and he's been busy ever since, combatting the Bush administration's assaults on freedom and the Constitution. Romero was, by his own admission, feeling somewhat disheartened by the Congress' capitulation to George Bush's sudden rush to gut the FISA law, the main protection we as Americans have against the government's power to eavesdrop on our communications without our knowledge and without a warrant. The ACLU has also been involved in a number of "canary in the coal mine" cases around not only the warrantless wiretapping but also Guantánamo and habeas corpus. To many Americans, those concepts are meaningless abstractions, but consider the cases of John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla [puh-DIL-luh, not puh-DEE-yuh]. Both are U.S. citizens, but the Bush administration claimed the right to hold them indefinitely without charge and to torture them while in custody. We can be sure of one thing: it will take years to undo the damage George W. Bush has done to our Constitution and our legal system.

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