We just had an election and the Democrats pretty much won - except in NE Washington where we live.  Can we do something about that before the next election?

What is the Problem?

A relatively few very conservative right wing ideologs have taken over much of the Republican party.  It didn't start out that way.  In the late 1960's and early 1970's the Republicans were floundering.  To solve this problem several think tanks were set up.  At first this worked reasonably well.  Their new ideas were conservative but political.  Then someplace along the way some of the more radical elements started bringing in some very conservative fundamentalist religious groups.  This group is still in charge of the Republican Party today.  They have suffered a setback but still they are not gone.  Their columnists are still spewing their same versions of hate, fear, and lies.  Only now they are adding excuses as to why they lost the election.

Many of their most rabid supporters are very rich, very conservative, and very comfortable with buying what they want whether it is by buying votes or buying political favors.  A prime example of this is the real estate developer from New York who financed the recent property rights initiatives in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.  When someone like this gets involved the issue becomes one of pure ideology, there is no room for compromise - My Way or the Highway!"  A reasoned political debate would consider all the issues, try to remedy the problems with the current laws, and there are some, and come to a compromise that all can live with - perhaps even agreeing to look at the problem in 5 or 10 years to correct any new problems that might come up.

Who am I?

My name is Bryan Bremner.  I was born and raised in Ferry County.  I grew up on a cattle ranch.  I graduated from Republic High School and then went to Washington State University.  I worked at several jobs across the country before coming back to Washington State University for 27 years.  I retired from there and we moved to Republic where we are building a house.

Why do I want to get involved with politics?

I grew up in a Republican family but it was a real "Compassionate Conservative" upbringing rather than the recent "sound bite" of the same name.  In college and later I observed some of the anti-war, anti-communist witch hunt protests but was not involved.  But I was moving away from my Republican heritage and moving towards a Democratic viewpoint.

The first time I really said something was when I was talking to a friend.  This was during the early Clinton years when Hillary was being viciously attacked the radical right.  My friend made some disparaging comment about Hillary.  I still don't know why, perhaps I was feed up with those attacks, but I lit into her.  "Of course Hillary supports the Presidents policies, that's what husbands and wives do, they support each other.  If you don't like a policy, say what issues you have with it and a propose a counter proposal.  You definitely do not attack the person's wife and family. " We parted on relatively friendly terms.  Several days later she called me up and asked me to come over and talk to her.  She apologized.  She still didn't like the Clinton health plan but the radical right attacks on Hillary were wrong and she should not have repeated them.  It is possible to talk to a "normal" conservative and convince them that the radical right is leading them astray.

The second real turning point was more recently in Republic.  It was just at the beginning of the debate over a higher gasoline tax.  I was talking to someone in a store and a third party joined us and began complaining about "sending our gas tax money over to Seattle to fix a bridge."  I hadn't lived in Washington long at the time and wasn't familiar with the issue.  I knew something was wrong with the argument but I didn't have the facts to know what.  Several months after this - after the issue was pretty well settled, the Democratic Central Committee passed out a sheet comparing the gas tax collected by all the counties and the taxes returned by the state to the counties.  For every dollar that is collected in Ferry County, five dollars is returned back to the county by the state.  Not a bad return for that "bridge in Seattle."  The only problem was that I didn't have the information when I needed it and the Democratic Party didn't get out the information in time to counter the radical right ideologs who take every opportunity to oppose any tax they can.

What am I proposing?
  1. A central depository of radical right statements and liberal replies.  This can be a web site.
  2. Someone to maintain and update this depository, a webmaster.
  3. Several people, at least one in each area, perhaps called editors, to scan the local media and sent articles, letters to the editors, columns, editorials, etc. to the webmaster.
  4. A larger number of people, perhaps called writers, several for each editor, who will send letters to the editor in their own area.
  5. The editor for each area will be responsible for preparing each letter to the editor.  Anyone can write the letter but the editor is responsible.  Letters in progress may be stored on the web page to invite helpful comments from a wider area.  The final submission should be given to the webmaster so that others can either submit the same letter or get ideas to write their own letter which is localized for their own area.
  6. I foresee this project covering Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan, and perhaps Lincoln counties.  I don't see Ferry County as needing more than one area but larger counties like Okanogan might, perhaps one for Omak-Okanogan and one for Tonasket-Oroville.  A larger area would rapidly become unmanageable, and cities like Spokane have different political problems.

Why do this?

Starting in the 1970's the Republican Party has been doing a really good job of getting their message out.  Conservative groups like the Farm Bureau, the Association of Washington Business, and local activists very often have articles, letters to the editor, etc., in local papers, or at least they do in the Republic News-Miner.  Democrats have not.  We need to get our message out and we don't have numerous think tanks bankrolled by rich companies and individuals to do it for us.  We need to do this ourselves.  I also think that it would be much more effective if our message were presented by someone in the community who can refer to local events.

How do we know what to say?

You can break this down into two parts, what policies do we support and how do we get our message across.  The Republicans have been very vocal on the first part; they don't think that Democrats have any ideas, or at least that's what they tell everyone.  Are they right?  Does the state Democratic Party have a platform?  Does the national Democratic Party have a platform?  Well they do.  the 2004 Democratic National Platform has 39 pages, and he Charter and Bylaws are another 22 pages.  The 2006 Washington State Democratic Platform has 19 pages plus two pages of Executive Summary.  Do most Democrats agree with them and work for them?  How can you?  These are not platforms, they are molecular level analyzes of every splinter of every plank.   To enter the discussion at the local level you need specific details of local problems or broad values that can be applied at almost every level, not a huge shopping list.  The Democratic Party Web site lists a 6-point plan for 2006, it consists of 1) Honest Leadership and Open Government, 2) Real Security, 3) Energy Independence, 4) Economic Prosperity and Educational Excellence, 5) A Healthcare System that Works for Everyone, and 6) Retirement Security.  George Lakoff in Thinking Points lists 6 fundamental values, 1) Fairness, 2) Freedom, 3) Equality, 4) Responsibility, 5) Integrity, and 6) Security.  Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed in The Plan: Big Ideas for America list 5 major ideas:
  1. A new social contract with the citizens of America
    1. Universal citizen service
    2. Universal college access
    3. Universal retirement savings
    4. Universal children's health care
  2. A return to fiscal responsibility and an end to corporate welfare
  3. Tax reform to help those who aren't wealthy build wealth
  4. A new strategy to win the war on terror
  5. A hybrid economy that cuts America's gasoline use in half
The proposals of James Carville and Paul Begala in Take it Back are organized slightly differently but are very similar.  A fuller description of all of these can be found on my web site, www.homepage.mac.com/bryanbremner/index.html, under Politics, Religion, etc.  

The Ferry County Democratic Central Committee issued a Statement of Principles in 2000 which is not too bad

Until the state and county democratic organizations come out with specific statements I would just use the local issues and frame rebuttals using the methods of Lakoff.  It should be noted that the books of Emanuel and Reed and Carville and Begala and the platforms sometimes use conservative phraseology to express their ideas.  This must be changed.

How do we get our message across?

At first I had no idea.  Then in one of my first county Central Committee meetings the Chair said that he still had a few of these little books that we might find useful.  Fine, they were cheap, so I bought one.  It was, "Don't Think of an Elephant" by George Lakoff.  It was short, well written, and to the point.  I was amazed: a political writer who talked about scientific evidence, told how you could evaluate statements and do your own analysis of a position.  I found it the clearest description that I have ever seen of why conservatives (especially religious fundamentalists conservatives) and liberals / progressives take the positions they do on issues, and why voters will agree with the positions of Democrats on the issues but vote for a Republican in the election.

In an extremely brief overview, Lakoff breaks political discussion into four factors:  Framing, metaphor, family philosophy, and diversity.  To digress, for the last year or so I have been taking notes on the books that I have read.  These notes are a sort of blog on my web site, www.homepage.mac.com/bryanbremner/index.html .  My notes on the Lakoff books are under the Book Reports link, down to the Political/Religious heading, and then to the author.  My notes cover only the major topics, if you want the details, read his books.
The people we want to convince are the ones that Lakoff calls biconceptuals.  They have aspects of both Strict Father and Nurturant Parent.  We need to frame our arguments in terms that are favorable to us, to use metaphors that they respond to, and to show how the nurturant parent model that we are supporting, fits with their beliefs.

To repeat, check out my Book Report, then read "Don't Think of an Elephant!" (120 pages) or his new book, "Thinking Points" (150 pages)  and if you want to go into more detail read more of Lakoff's books.  Steps in responding to a "Radical Right" comment would be to check the web site and see if there is already a suitable reply and if not come up with an approach, check it out with the Democratic policy ideas, try to construct (frame) your reply using Lakoff's approach.  You would then send your reply back to the webmaster (via an editor) where it would be posted for several days so that others can comment on it and then you send it to a local paper.  It is important that the final article (letter) that appears in the paper be sent back to the webmaster so that others can reuse it or support it without contradicting any of the points.
Whoa There!  What does this stuff have to do with politics?

Humans learn by linking things together.  A baby nursing is learning that warmth, being held, and food all go together.  As adults we might call this love, for pre-verbal infants, it just is.  Many other things are learned, for example stove, hot, pain.  Lakoff calls these metaphors.  At first these are fairly simple and expand by simple addition, like say a favorite blankie.  As a child matures these simple metaphors merge and join into much more complex concepts.  To see this in action, try holding a squirming four year old - thats freedom, try giving him a single piece of candy while giving his sister two - thats justice.  The important thing is that these linkages must be repeated to be permanently learned.  One of the easiest ways to extend a metaphor is to link it to existing metaphors.  This is what Lakoff would call framing.  These two concepts, metaphor and framing, constitute the first part of our task.  We must get our message out there, we must get it out there often, and we must link it to values that most people already have.

Lakoff's nurturant family vs. strict father philosophies gives us a tool to evaluate policy alternatives.  Recently conservatives have become very proficient at hiding their intentions behind misleading terminology, Clean Air Initiative, No Child Left Behind, etc.  When policy elements are compared with the assumptions and goals of these two philosophies it becomes much clearer just what the intentions of the proposers are and how their proposed changes would effect the citizens of our country.  The idea of diversity is perhaps the least important factor but it can have immense practical importance.  It is possible that the candidacy of Ralph Nader made possible the election of Bush in 2000.  We can't read major groups out of the Democratic Party just because they don't agree with us 100% but we also can't let any one group completely control our agenda.  We also must not stand by and watch conservatives vilify groups in an effort to divide and conquer.  Almost all progressive activist groups have been attacked by conservatives, Tree Huggers for environmental groups, Nazi (Commie) Lovers for the ACLU, and the list goes on and on.  We must not let these attacks drive wedges between us.

Why should I start this project, shouldn't somebody else, perhaps the state Democratic Party, be doing it?  

Wonderful, but as far as I know nobody else has volunteered.  We are living in the upper right corner of Washington with a lot of vocal radical rights, a fair number of non-vocal progressives, and quite a few silent biconceptuals who, when under a radical right barrage, think that everyone here is conservative - resistance is futile.  Political comments from liberal Coasties are instantly rejected.  Anything we do must be identifiably local.  If anyone has a better idea, please share.  If anyone knows of someone who would like the experience of managing a web site, tell them they have a job, pay is a little low but it would be a good learning experience.

Is this strictly about politics?

Yes, but.  I personally believe that most Republicans in this area are nice people who are concerned with our state and country.  On a one-on-one basis most of us can sit down with most of them and agree on many issues.  The problems arise when individuals of either party try to differentiate themselves from others and take radical or extreme positions.  Unfortunately in the last 20 or so years a number of far right conservative Republicans have joined with a number of conservative fundamentalist Christian groups.  This alliance has injected aspects of fundamentalist Christianity into the political arena totally ignoring what the Constitution says about religion.  To understand and counter many of their political points you must understand their relationship to religion.  Most of their political-religious arguments are centered in two areas, the family and evolution-creationism.  Their definition of family is expressed in their views on womens rights, abortion, gay rights and a few others.  Their beliefs on evolution are fine but when they try to specify what schools can and cannot teach they are restricting our freedom and reducing our nation's ability to compete economically in the future.  In these areas I believe that we have a duty to speak out.  In my understanding of the Constitution it seems to say that we all have the right to worship and believe as we please.  However we do not have the right to use the mechanisms of government to proselytize for a particular religion or religious viewpoint.

OK, lets go over this again, exactly who would be doing what?

I am volunteering to host the web site (act as webmaster) which would originally be at my homepage.mac web site.  If there are any volunteers or suggestions for a better web site please say so.  If anyone gets an idea for a good article they should send it to the webmaster, either directly or through an editor.  If it is a response to an article they should send a copy of the article, if it is a "just because" article - state what you are trying to do or say.  Assuming the originator is a writer she should work with an editor to get as good an article as possible.  If the originator is an editor she should try to find a writer who would be interested and work with him.  The draft article will then be sent to the webmaster for inclusion on the web site.  The webmaster will post the draft article and notify the editors of the new post by email.  The writer will examine the responses and with the editor prepare a final draft for submission to the paper.  The writer will have final authority over the wording of the article and will submit the article to the paper.  The writer will also submit the final copy to the webmaster.  Other writers or editors can then submit the article - changing it as necessary for local conditions - to their papers.  Again, any articles submitted to a paper should be sent to the webmaster.  If they are identical they will just be marked as, "also submitted to -paper name- on -date-".

Why do we need all these people?

Two basic reasons.  Newspapers do not want letters from the same people over and over.  They will, at least the Spokesman Review will, call to check that you wrote the letter and not someone using your name.  Local newspaper readers will very quickly recognize the name if multiple letters come from the person.  If they disagree they will just ignore new ones - "Its just Susan again, no need to read it, I know what she is saying."  Also if someone is really caught up in a topic they tend to skip over some basic points.  Everyone needs an editor.

If this seems like something that you would like to be involved with please contact me at Bryan@CurlewKeep.name or 509-775-0162.

Tell me again, what would a writer do?

A writer would keep their eyes and ears open for topics that need bringing to peoples attention.  Watch the media, friends and neighbors, people on the street.  When you find a topic either write a response or recommend it to your editor.  Your editor may suggest a topic.  If you write a response, work with your editor to polish it.

And what would an editor do?

An editor would also keep an eye open for topics.  When he finds one he can ask a writer who may be knowledgeable in the area to write an reply.  He would then work with the writer to get a good reply.  If the topic came from a newspaper article or letter to the editor, both the original article and the reply should be emailed to the webmaster.  It is much better to include the text within the body of the email rather than as an attachment.  Not all word processors are compatible with other computers but almost all email text comes across well.  Most email programs can accept simple formatting, bold, italics, large type, etc. and that is typically all that newspapers will accept.  Before you do too much work on a topic, check out the web site.  There may be an article on this topic already, perhaps it could be used with only minor changes for your local area.

After letting this "sit" for a while I realize that there are at least 3 problems.  I said nothing about media other than newspapers.  Where I live in Ferry county we really don't have any other media , a small taped religious station and a rebroadcast of an Omak station, but nothing local.  The second problem became obvious when I re-read Lakoff's Thinking Points, I realized I had fallen into his Trap #9, The Reactive Trap, this proposal is all about reaction.  We need to reframe the arguments in our terms and propose new solutions.  Being from the upper far right corner of Washington we probably won't have much luck changing policies in Olympia or Washington DC but we can give it a try.

The third problem is a little bit more delicate.  I just watched a speech by Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy (see my review).  In the speech, even more that the book, he draws parallels between the Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, the smaller Dutch Empire, and the British Empire and the current American Empire.  He documents very disturbing parallels between the first four and our current American experience.  In very brief he blames the turning inward, apocalyptic beliefs, and growing political power of a single powerful religion for much of the decline and fall of these empires.  I tend to agree with him but we have to be very careful to avoid the appearance of being anti-religion.  We need to attack the excesses of individuals and show how they violate the fundamental message of Christianity, of Christ, and the founding documents of the United States.  I have difficulties in supporting my arguments because I was not brought up in a religious family and I can't quote chapter and verse from the Bible.