“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

reaching out

(The following is the text of a speech I made to the Potter-Randall Democratic Club, 24 July 2006.)

The other day, my son, my fiancée, and I took something called an Authentic Happiness inventory. It was an online psychological test, and, like most such tests, maddeningly easy to figure out. You mark the statements you agree with on a list:

A. I feel like a failure.
B. I do not feel like a winner.
C. I feel like I have succeeded more than most people.
D. As I look back on my life, all I see are victories.
E. I feel I am extraordinarily successful.
I figured out fairly quickly that, in every single list, the “E” option means you are happy and the “A” option means you are depressed. Presumably, happiness is a worthy goal, and so all people should strive to be able to honestly answer “E” to the items on the Authentic Happiness Inventory.

The problem lies in statements like this:
A. I feel cut off from other people.
B. I feel neither close to nor cut off from other people.
C. I feel close to friends and family members.
D. I feel close to most people, even if I do not know them well.
E. I feel close to everyone in the world.
And this:
A. In the grand scheme of things, my existence may hurt the world.
B. My existence neither helps nor hurts the world.
C. My existence has a small but positive effect on the world.
D. My existence makes the world a better place.
E. My existence has a lasting, large, and positive impact on the world.
And this:
A. My skills are never challenged by the situations I encounter.
B. My skills are occasionally challenged by the situations I encounter.
C. My skills are sometimes challenged by the situations I encounter.
D. My skills are often challenged by the situations I encounter.
E. My skills are always challenged by the situations I encounter.
So a happy person who could answer “E” to all of these statements would feel close to all living human beings, believe that s/he was tremendously important in world history, and yet somehow manage to be challenged by all situations encountered during the normal walk through a single human life. I have met people who would describe themselves in this manner (at least part of the time); they invariably pass through therapist's offices where they hear words like "narcissistic," and "bipolar," and ''disconnected with reality" and, finally, "medication." They generally decide the therapist is an idiot and ignore these words; and that ignoring is one more small step on their inevitable march toward a clueless loss of sobriety, or spouse, or freedom, and even in that loss they continue to blame all the Others of the world.

You may have heard of the Netroots: those of us who write weblogs (online diaries) or blogs, who leverage our collective power to build a 50-state strategy by contributing $10.99 at a time to our favorite candidates even (or especially) if they live in Connecticut, and who have begun to gather in what the old cyberpunk science-fiction writers called “meatspace” (formerly known as the "real world") at meetups and the now famous Yearly Kos where national politicians recognized the Netroots burgeoning power by throwing parties for them and giving them t-shirts. For awhile now the "Netroots" have been expressing the sense that the Democratic Party, as an institution, would pass the Authentic Happiness Inventory with flying colors. The Democratic Party feels close to everyone in the world. The Democratic Party still believes that it has a lasting, large, and positive impact on the world. And yet somehow the Democratic Party's skills are in every election challenged by the situations it encounters.

The Netroots along with many of the OG - Original Grassroots - are frustrated with the lack of success of the party that so obviously represents all the people. The national Democratic Party is disconnected with reality, and we have begun to stage an intervention.

That intervention is known by different names. Markos Zuniga- Kos- perhaps the most famous blogger- calls it "Crashing the Gate". Howard Dean called it ''you have the power." But it is an intervention, and, like all interventions, it is motivated by love. We intervene because we love the Democratic Party.

For better or worse, our local blog, Panhandle Truth Squad, right here right now, these pixels on this screen, this is the Amarillo Netroots. And from our perspective as bloggers we see the same issues that plague the national party acted out in microcosm on this local stage. We have begun holding Drinking Liberally meetups in local bars on the third Friday of the month. Some local Democrats have complained that we are advocating immoral activities but we are only trying to attract a different, younger group into the party. When we go to events like Chris Bell's recent fundraiser, we are let in, because our money is green, but few people there have heard of the Panhandle Truth Squad. This, despite the fact that our readership is several times the size of the crowd at that event. Some fret that our methods - endless discussion and unserious events like Drinking Liberally - are excessively social (“Demented and sad,” as Bender the thug in The Breakfast Club says. “But social.”). Some complain that we never get away from our keyboards and a larger number complain when we do.

This past Thursday, I heard, Kinky Friedman was in Amarillo. He will probably return before the election. He will entertain, and there will be music and the beer will flow, and there will be one-liners and in America in 2006 it won't matter much that his policies are retrograde at best, lunatic at worst, and invariably half-baked. He will entertain, and that will be enough for some people. He will be passionate, and that will be enough for some. He will steal votes from us and from the Republicans and no one knows who he will steal more from. He will do it by networking with people in new and different ways.

We are the new and different way for the Democratic Party. The passion, the heart, and the soul of the Democrats today lie in the Netroots. There are too many in this aging party-especially, unfortunately, in red areas like Potter County- who are content simply to have tea parties, run a sacrificial lamb against the Republican Candidate, and lose honorably. We are not. And we are not going away.

There have been many and varied recent debates in the overheated media about Whether the Netroots are Good for the Democrats. These debates—like so many such debates—miss the point. What we are now calling the Netroots have, always and ever, hovered behind Democratic success or failure. We are better organized, now. But we were there, in 1988, refusing to vote at all in that lesser-of-evils election. The Democrats lost. We were there, in 2000, and a sad contingent of us made the misguided choice to vote for Nader. The Democrats did not place their candidate in the White House. Many of us come from extremely liberal or libertarian backgrounds and tiltled, once upon a time, at green candidates, third parties and independents. Many of us were entirely apolitical. We gravitate now toward Democrats because we recognize the horror of the path our land and world are on, and we believe that only Democrats are positioned to stop it. We are the growth in the Democratic Party. It sounds like a threat, but it is not: The Democrats may or may not win with us, but they will undoubtedly lose-and possibly die- without us. So at Panhandle Truth Squad and Drinking Liberally let's get the Netroots, the Grass Roots and the party Democrats together. We'll need all of us to fight the real enemy.

Thank you for your time.