A letter to a Senator by Christopher Benz
Sept 29, 2010
Dear Senator Begich,
Jim DeMint has announced that he plans to filibuster all Senate business until January, so that the government will shut down until Republicans are back in power.
This fact should be an enormous gift. Republicans have said, again and again, that they want America to fail during this administration. Republicans have made a record number of filibusters. They have stalled an unprecedented number of appointments.
Americans hate the partisan poison that has infected this country. Republicans have deliberately created it. The media feeds off it. Pundits are afraid to blame anyone for it (except for Fox News, who create it and then blame Democrats.) Using their own statements, you can prove that Republicans are responsible for stalling the machinery that keeps this country working. In our darkest hour, Republicans put partisanship first, and discarded their countrymen.
As long as people understand politics as a fight between big government and small government, Democrats and ordinary Americans will lose—and as our economy fails, all Americans will lose. It must be about results vs. partisanship, reality-based pragmatism vs. utopian daydreams.
Republican partisanship is a danger to all Americans. Make no mistake, Republicans do not care if our economy is robust, as much as they care that the powerful stay powerful. They would prefer stagnation to losing their status. A tea partier worries that he might count a Mexican as an equal in the job market. A corporate donor worries that he may have to improve performance to compete with small businesses, rather than just buying competitors. Our economy suffers as corporations manipulate laws to smother their competition.
You’re an Alaskan. We’re tougher up here. I urge you to rally your party to grow a spine. If you don’t hold Republicans accountable for the poison they inject into the campaign system, if you don’t make partisan obstruction a political liability, then it you reward it. If Democrats tolerate this poison, they encourage it, perhaps paralyzing America in the process.
In 1976, hockey in the NHL was a dirty game, led by the Broad Street Bullies, from Philly. Once the Flyers had some rings on their fingers, teams stocked up on goons, to emulate the Stanley Cup winners. But one team resisted. The Montreal Canadians were fast and talented, and size was not their first priority. They still had enforcers, though. In game two of the 1976 Stanley Cup Semis, Philadelphia’s Gary Doernhorfer raced over the Montreal blue line with the puck, bearing down on the goal. He thought he had enough space to score. Montreal’s Larry Robinson hammered him into the boards so hard the wood broke. That one hit changed hockey forever. Montreal won the Stanley Cup for the next few years, and teams emulated their fast style of play, paving the way for Wayne Gretzky and the early 1980s Islanders. Had Philadelphia won the ‘76 Stanley Cup, the age of skilled, fast hockey might not have emerged, and goons would have ruled. Wayne Gretzky, a skinny 17 year old kid, would have looked dubious, and he might have lacked a team to compliment his playing style. Instead, two decades of the most exciting hockey in history followed, all because when it counted, Robinson hit hard.
This is that kind of moment. Hit Republicans for their dishonesty, obstruction, and partisanship. Remember: Democrats won an election by treating the American people like adults. If Democrats win using facts and stressing integrity, like Obama did in ’08, facts become the dominate political style for the next decade. Republicans have a vast vulnerability—the truth. Their own dirtiness is their greatest weakness. Hit them hard. Democrats can win this election, win back popular appeal, and use your majority to put America back to work. If you fail to hit while Republicans are still vulnerable, Republicans will stall this country into a mess that no one can fix. In desperate times, we need swift action, not partisan deadlock. Make obstruction a liability.
I’m asking you to pass this advice to your fellow Senators, and even, if you can swing it, to someone like David Axelrod or Rahm Emmanuel.
I urge you to lead Democrats to vote bravely–for middle class tax cuts but not wealthy tax cuts, for disclosure laws about campaign finance, to limit the monopoly power of banks and other big business. And I urge you, and all Democrats, to seek victory by shifting American opinion to the left, rather than inching your actions to the right. Every possible fact, from economics to partisanship to corporate recklessness to government corruption, is a fact in your arsenal. Use the facts to promote a culture of results over ideology. Use the truth like a warrior for the American people. You may never get another chance.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’ve included a few simple campaign strategy ideas as a P.S., below my signature. As the son of a welder, an eagle scout, a former oilworker and simply from growing up in Alaska, I’ve learned how to talk to blue-collar Americans without alienating them. I hope you consider these ideas.
Thank you for serving our country.
These are my best ideas for winning the idea war. If even one of them helps you change a few minds, writing this will have been worth it. I apologize if there are a lot of them. I really did mean for this to be a document you could mine for phrases and ideas. If you’d like clarification or suggestions on any of them, please feel free to get in touch with me. I’ll hopefully offer a more succinct answer. (Seriously. This part is long and boring. Maybe you should come back to it later.)
First, the debate must change. Any time you let the fight become “small government vs. big government,” you lose. Talk about “results over ideology,” or “citizen government vs. utopian government.”
The smartest thing Barack Obama did was make political contributions a campaign issue. You don’t lead by example in D.C., you hit lawmakers in the votes. If lobbyist contributions becomes a campaign issue, then it corners politicians into honesty. It’s the only way to do it. Bipartisanship and anti-corruption have to be Democratic issues. Use them to hurt your opponents until your opponents begin to be bi-partisan.
Attack corruption. Every Republican economic policy, from energy privatization to relying on contractors to deregulation, is designed to create conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest make some people very rich. Conflicts of interest are easy to defend; politicians just call them “small government.” But doing nothing is just as much a choice as acting. By doing nothing, Republicans chose a Wall Street culture with so many conflicts of interest it self-destructed. That incestuous Wall Street culture would have been illegal thirty years ago, but Republicans removed laws that FDR specifically designed to prevent another Great Depression.
We’ve seen this in Alaska. Corporate interests bribed state senators to lower oil taxes. VECO bribed lawmakers to privatize prisons. Energy privatization and deregulation enabled Enron’s fraud, as well as the California and New York blackouts. Corruption and conflicts of interest are destroying the American economy, and Republican policies enable it.
Discredit their crazy Utopian plans. Conservatism is just like communism–every time it fails, they just whine, “oh, but that time it wasn’t the REAL version.” There has never been better proof than now that conservative ideas are bankrupt. As incumbents, unless you make conservatives own their failure, you take the heat. Don’t blame Bush. Conservative ideology itself caused these conflicts of interest in every level of the government and the economy. Bush was very effective at leading the country, he just happened to be leading us into the dirt.
While you’re at it, attack obstruction. It only takes one person to ruin a handshake. I said this already, but I want to reiterate it. Attack the poison of partisanship. How many Democrats say they want to start a culture war? None. But Republican after Republican is calling for jihad against the American left. These Republicans are deliberately tearing the country apart, and if they don’t take the blame for it, incumbents do.
Focus on opportunity. Democrats protect the right to pursue happiness.
People see what they’re looking for. Point it out. Say, “show me a billion dollars in a government contract and I’ll show you ten million dollars in a Republican’s reelection fund.” You want the man on a smoke break to be able to own this position, too. He needs to be able to talk to a friend about it without asking for ten minutes for an econ 101 lecture.
“Communism fails for the same reason monopolies fail. If a small group of bureaucrats control a market, it doesn’t matter whether they are party bureaucrats or CEOs: they’re going to ruin the economy.”
“Free market?” our man on his smoke break can say. “You mean a market in the mystical fairy land where government doesn’t exist? I believe in market capitalism. But you don’t turn your back on Wall Street unless you’re a knife collector.”
Point out that “small government” just means corporate government.
I believe the government’s job is to maintain competition. If salmon fishermen want to use Bristol Bay, and a mining company wants to dump acid into the bay, government regulations give fishermen a fair shot at competing for the water. Corporations don’t like to compete. They buy their competitors, or monopolize resources. The job of government in a democracy is to give the little guy a chance to compete. Anything else is feudalism.
Demand competitive markets. Republicans custom-build monopoly markets for their special interest friends. Monopolies don’t make for competitive economies, but they do buy a lot of campaign commercials.
Explain what a filibuster is. Less than 30% of Americans understand the concept. Insist on up and down votes. Tell your caucus that they can vote against a bill if they want to, but they face sanctions if they refuse to allow others a chance to vote.
Pollution is a tax on Americans.
Attack the media. Right now, people are scanning any news reports for liberal bias. The media are striving to hide the slightest perception of liberal bias, to the point of right-leaning articles framed, “is the Earth round or flat? You decide.” But reality is not fair or balanced. There are no two sides to science. There are no two sides to torture. The president’s nationality is a fact, not something up for debate. As long as journalists are judged on the basis of “balance” rather than accuracy, liars will prosper.
False equivalence is killing Democrats. The media says, “Oh, John McCain compared Barack Obama to terrorists and pedophiles. Barack Obama called McCain elderly. It’s another case of the pot calling the kettle black.” They equate Tom Delay with Maxine Waters. False equivalence means the most corrupt suffer as much as the least corrupt, so the incentive is to really go all out when you steal. Attack journalists for false equivalency. People will notice it. Journalists may correct it.
Discredit Fox News. It can’t be that hard. The station doesn’t even employ journalists, just politicians and beauty queens. Democrats have no excuse for what they’ve let Fox get away with.
Another reason to shame the media: the media enables corruption, by treating Congress like an episode of Jerry Springer. Tabloids earn profit, but America needs journalism. If people understood the details of the American health care system, health care reform would have gone smoothly. Superficial news reporting helps Republicans. It helps wealthy, behind-the-scenes donors. Brittney Spears on TV hurts Democrats because it’s not Admiral Mullen on TV.
The media will not point out anything sane, logical, or morally right. Do not count on the facts to protect you, because no one on cable news has even a slight relationship with facts. You have to point out the facts yourself for anyone to notice, and even then, you need to shame the media for ignoring them.
One last point about the media. Ignorance funds cable news. When voters lack information, lawmakers spend billions on commercials, paying the very same cable networks that failed to inform their viewers. Lawmakers can only get those billions from corporations. When elections are about campaign donations instead of facts, you know who owns Congress. Break this cycle. Demand journalism.
Harp on the Koch brothers and Dick Armey.
Break up some damn monopolies. The economy needs it.
When all you Democrats are lame ducks, close the loophole on the Disclose act. Then you might have a chance of coming back.
Thank you if you even skimmed this far. I wanted to help you in any way I could. Your sister was a first grade teacher at my elementary school, so I’ve followed you for a long time. I know you’re tough. Be tough on our behalf. Alaskans will appreciate it.