Water Man Spouts

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Setting Dick Cheney's Picnic Table

"The essence of the American Revolution -- the principle on which this country was founded -- is that direct participation in political activity is what makes a free society."
-- Robert F. Kennedy; quote from "Make Gentle the Life of This World," by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy; Broadway Books; 1998; page 12.
One of my favorite books from 1968 was Gary Synder's "Earth House Hold," published by New Directions. The book describes the politics of the day in terms of family structure. He discussed Lewis Henry Morgan's "Ancient Society," a study on how family structure in Iroquois culture impacted their political structure. The Iroquois were a significant influence on our Founding Fathers, and Morgan's book led Engals to write "Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State."
Synder also wrote about how people of all ages were looking to create a healthier, more democratic society in 1968. Those of us who were alive way back then can likely recall that this year in our nation's history led to many a family discussion -- and many heated debates -- about politics in America.
I think that 2006 may be a year of similar significance in our nation's history. Today, I am hoping you will join with me in starting the initial planning of the Earth House Hold family reunion. Many of us did not enjoy some of the recent extended family picnics. After 9-11, a lot of our extended family was afraid. We remember how our cousin Michael Moore documented this fear in his wonderful family film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." Some of our relatives were afraid that terrorists were ready to attack the Wal-Marts of rural America.
Uncle Dick Cheney and cousin Byron York were considered the voices of reason at the picnic table. They had convinced a lot of the family that Saddam had pulled off 9-11. They kept saying, "We can't wait for the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and many in the extended family believed them. Fear does that. For those of us who remember the 1968 classic film "Yellow Submarine," President Bush did a mean version of Jeremy, even in his "debates" with John Kerry. It amazed us when some of the extended American family said, " He sure makes a lot of sense. He's a real leader." No, he's not. He's a cartoon character.
But things have changed in this country, even in the time since Jeremy Bush was "re-elected." The price of gas has gone up enough that everyone coming to the reunion will be aware of how much it costs to "fill her up." And more than 2500 of our family have paid a much higher price for the family backing Dick Cheney's plans to make the country safer. While a few years back, many in the American family thought that those who strongly disagreed with Uncle Dick were the offspring of cousin James Foreman, threatening to kick the legs out from under the picnic table if he wasn't seated, today more and more citizens are listening to Cousin Kos than to the obnoxious Byron York-types, who support Cheney's violence as long as someone else is suffering and dying.
Because 2006 is a significant election year, we need to be aware of some of the themes that will play out at this summer's reunion. In any political campaign, we need to be aware of the "three groups" that are always involved: {1} those who always agree with you; {2} those who always oppose you; and {3} the undecided. One of the most basic strategies in politics is to gear your message to group #3. You already have group #1, and you'll never get group #2. In most cases, it's a pretty even split. Group #3 decides the contest, either by participating or not participating. Our goal is to have a message that convinces them that it is important that they vote.
The Cheney "Family" is going to try to present a message that they represent democracy, the flag, and national security. They use a tactic called "perception management," made infamous by forces such as the Rendon Group. Think back to the "liberation" of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, when the corporate media filmed citizens of that country waving thousands of little American flags. Where did those flags come from? Who planned such a curious photo-op? The Rendon Group.
National polls in April showed that not only was the war in Iraq extremely unpopular, and that President Bush's approval rating was in the Nixon range, but VP Cheney was ranked with the most despised politicians in our nation's history. One of the most important factors in the public's dislike of Cheney was his heading up the effort to bring the country to war in Iraq, based upon outright lies. Those lies could be summed up as the infamous "16 words" in Jeremy's state of the union speech. The national debate expanded with Joseph Wilson's exposing those lies. And it went to a lower, very ugly criminal matter when the OVP attacked Wilson and his wife.
In April, the court documents in the I. Liar Libby case had shown the American public what Patrick Fitzgerald knew -- that VP Cheney was directly involved in the campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson. This was no surprise to our group #1. And their group #2 didn't care -- they back VP Cheney. But it was shocking to group #3 to see the evidence, which was as clear as Uncle Dick Cheney's handwriting on his copy of Wilson's NYTimes op-ed.
Thus, we knew that Cheney & Co would be conducting a serious "perception management" campaign, to distract the American public from the important facts, and to convince some, including within our group #1, that the Plame scandal is much to do about nothing. Hence, they try to focus the discussion on Rove's not being indicted -- as if that is as important as VP Cheney's role. It's a sad thing to see people on sites such as the Democratic Underground snarling that the most significant issue involved in the scandal today is some article in Truthout. It's also sad to see some people being discouraged because a few of group #2 are saying that it would be best if Libby were pardoned. Of course, at most large family reunions, we can expect a few distant cousins to get ugly drunk and try to pick fights, while a couple others will cry in their beer. We need to take a more sober approach.
The democratic/progressive left has collected and organized a huge amount of information on the Plame scandal in the past few years. Most people in our group #1 have a pretty fair grasp on what happened, and how it relates to the war in Iraq. There is really no excuse for us not to have some knowledge about the case, even though it is complex. C-SPAN recently covered a panel discussion from the annual Daily Kos "reunion." that provided some interesting opinions about where the investigation of the scandal may be heading.
Yet we must remember a scene from the wonderful movie "Gandhi," in which the Mahatma is speaking to the Indian National Congress. At first, he was being ignored. But then Gandhi reminds the audience that it really did not matter much what a small collection of lawyers said in their plush surroundings, if their message did not reach the masses. This, of course, was a simple variation of the "three groups" tactic. Gandi knew that it didn't matter if one or more of the speakers at that meeting was an "expert" if the message didn't reach the larger group #3.
How can we do this? After all, we are going up against Cheney, York, and Karl Rove? And for goodness sakes! They are posting "pardon Libby" messages like tiny flags in Kuwait. More, Karl Rove is surely as rough and tough as a young, hungry Mike Tyson. First, I would suggest we stop listening to anyone who says we should focus on Jason Leopold and not Dick Cheney. Second, we need to recognize that our cousins who are taking the Eeyore helpless stance need to take a back-row seat.
In the Nixon administration, they recognized that "letters to the editor" were a powerful part of perception management, especially so during election years. Patrick Buchanan was in charge of organizing a group of people around the country, who could be counted on to write a LTTE on a given issue when Pat gave the word. In election years, citizens in group #3 are known to read the LTTE in their local newspapers, and these are considered of high value in defining "community values."
If the progressive/democratic left had people who would write a simple, one or two paragraph LTTE of their local paper today, it would be as effective as those tiny American flags in Kuwait. These LTTE should simply state: President Bush promised to fire anyone in his administration involved in outing Valerie Plame; Karl Rove was absolutely involved; Rove lied to the public, if not to the investigators; why isn't Bush firing Rove? Four sentences, and the message will connect with group #3.
More, people should make this a campaign issue for the 2006 elections. Send a letter to your representatives and senators. Ask if they are willing to take steps to have congressional investigations on the administration's lies that led the country to war. Ask what steps they will take. Let them know that you will be using their responses (or lack of response) in LTTE.
Better yet, make a 5 or 10 question survey, and send it to a range of politicians. Let them know that you will be using the results in a public way. A local citizen actually doing this type of thing will be more effective in reaching the group #3 in your local community than one of the crusty republican operatives saying, "Jeremy should pardon Scooter for the good of the nation."
This is the type of "direct participation in political activity" that Senator Kennedy was saying was needed to breath life into our democracy in 1968. We have that same need today. I am hoping that you will be able to attend this summer's American Family Reunion.


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