"While I am a great believer in the free, competitive enterprise system, and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment."
--Sen. Barry Goldwater
In 1964, the Republican Party nominee for President, Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona, lost the election to then-President Lyndon Johnson by a whopping 61% to 38.4%. He took only his home state of Arizona and five states in the deep south. But Goldwater affected a change so profound as to literally wrench the Republican Party from its former base and transformed not only our country in the process, but the world as well. Partly because of Goldwater's uncompromising stands and visceral style, the Republicans now dominate American life like never before. Ronald Reagan, Phyllis Schlafly, and countless others of the "new Right" were emboldened by his run, his style and his brand of politics and they worked almost 20 years to completely take over not only the Republican Party, but our national debate on countless issues as well. From race to welfare, from war to Social Security, from crime to collective bargaining, the Republicans lead the public debate while the hapless Democrats, desperately milking the same corporate teat for their money (but losing their souls in the bargain), lose elections and members time and time again.
The "war of ideas," firmly confirmed by this year's Presidential race, has already been won by Republicans, who are seen (quite wrongly, in my opinion) as more like the average American, better protectors of our collective safety, less elitist, more sensitive to "our" cultural values and more in the mold of the rugged-individual-who-makes-good image we have burned into our minds as quintessentially American. It wasn't that a revitalized Left failed to mobilize their people and new voters, youth and their traditional constituencies. In fact, more people did vote, and in record numbers, and guess what, they VOTED REPUBLICAN!
Why? Partly because Americans believed what they were told, from CNN, FOX and the endless bombardment from right wing talk radio-about their safety, about terrorists and about Bush's "values." (But not, interestingly enough, about the environment, or the economy) They also believed Kerry was out of touch, a Republican-lite, unable to connect, and not responsive to their values. Whether we like it or not, if we as Greens wish to really help our country and win those battles that will expand our democracy and clean up our environment for the future, then we had better admit this and think long and hard about the Goldwater example.
It is not that Goldwater's ideas should be considered here, though he was a man full of unusual contradictions. He was a friend to both John Kennedy and Joseph McCarthy, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, called Richard Nixon "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life," once suggested the US "lob one [a nuclear missile] into the men's room at the Kremlin," defended personal liberties including the right of gays to serve in the military and lamented the growing influence of religious evangelicals in his beloved party by calling them "a bunch of kooks." In addition, few remember that he worked to expand the boundaries of the Grand Canyon, promoted solar energy, was a member of the Republicans for Environmental Protection and fought to control suburban sprawl.
No, what should most concern Greens instead, now that the election is over, is his straightforward style, his raucous defense of individual liberties and his passionate commitment to American orneriness. That's right, Americans like their politics to be firm and individualistic. (Personally, I am totally opposed to any of the racist, States-rightist or anti-socialist views associated with him, rightly or wrongly but I admiringly approve of his passionate defense of personal freedom and his ordinary, honest-guy ability to inspire a new generation of fighters to take over their Party and win over the hearts and minds of average Americans. And that is what I contend we need most: to win over all those who call themselves "average Americans" and convince them that we are on their side. As of now, they don't buy that one bit.)
In an earlier article, I argued that a "muscular" Green movement is what we need to succeed in the long run. I wrote, in part, "Our party, the Green Party, is in dire need of a forceful, revitalized core strategy, akin to the Goldwater conservative one, that will take us past the hero worship or the flaky localistic tendencies that hobble us every time. We need to fight and fight to win."
Too often we Greens are hobbled by good-natured, reasoned arguments that read fine on paper but often sound lukewarm or like watered down platitudes intended to please everyone. Our presentation and sometimes our ideas sound as if they were ripped off a dozen college news boards all pasted together to irritate as many professors as they can. We have a certain knee-jerk opposition reflex that, while might be representative of our core values, doesn't do all that much to inspire confidence or build focus.
Both the Dems and Reps supported the "war" this time, and we were properly against it. OK, fine. So this year it was "Vote Green for Peace." But if the economy tanks next time around will say "Vote Green for Jobs" in 2008? Or if public schools get increasingly profitized, will it be, "Vote Green for Education"? Look, even Republicans say they believe in "jobs" in "peace" in "education" and in "safety." They just define these things differently and talk about it all in language that fills peoples needs for easily understandable positions.
I am not advocating a "dumbing down" approach to our views for that would be to fall into the same elitist, condescension I decry every chance I get. What I am advocating is to stay on message, to bring people to our side and keep our eyes on the prize. The "four Pillars"* are a perfect encapsulation of what we are all about and we can assertively, non-defensively and passionately talk about them everywhere we go. How we do that is the issue here.
But now that one of the most divisive elections in recent memory is over, we can also safely say that a number of notions the Left rejects are held onto rather tightly by most Americans. These include a deeply conflicted moral unease over abortion, a rather favorable view of faith-based education initiatives ("let's try anything") and a strong support for gun rights. Greens need to face it, many Americans are more conservative, religious and "traditional" than we counted on. As well, they regard many of our eclectic stances as elitist and condescending, while almost universally agreeing that our deep concern for environmental policies is sound.
So, our environmental focus should remain primary. Why? Because a dead planet supports nobody. We don't need to scare people or demand adherence to a group of loony Luddites but we do need to reiterate time and time again that the consensus among scientists around the world is that we are now reaching a turning point in our consumptive use of energy and it is putting the entire planets population at grave risk.
We are The GREEN Party because green is our symbol of the earth. The whole earth, and the preservation of it and its resources are essential if ANY of us are to survive or live reasonably healthy lives. It is not necessary to exaggerate the wealth of evidence regarding overfishing, overgrazing, over mining and the overuse of limited fuels. We are killing off whole species, eliminating huge swaths of land and steadily eroding the balanced condition necessary for the optimal maintenance of human life on our planet. And that's just the macro picture.
On a smaller level, our local water is barely drinkable, our grocery stores stuffed with Frankenfoods none of us should trust, our beef farming practices are destroying our midwestern water tables; pesticides, fertilizers, oil runoffs, industrial pollutants and other human wastes are increasingly being found in our food and drink products and we are fatter, sicker and weaker than ever before. This is a form of slow suicide and if we care about our children and their children's future, it must stop. And as Barry Goldwater, as well as many other Republicans before 1980, understood, the earth is NOT just a resource...it is our HOME. In fact, according to one 1999 Zogby poll, half of Republican voters called themselves "environmentalists" and actually ranked protection of the environment thigher than of cutting taxes and equally as important as "protecting family values." That┤s a huge pool of voters we can attract.
Secondly, on economics Republicans are winning despite the fact that working people are actually voting against their own economic interests. The Green vision, which includes expanded freedom to organize, a living wage, universal health care and a commitment to keeping jobs in America, as well as a focus on jobs that ensure our communities stay safe from unhealthy environmental pollutants are positions more in line with the deepest yearnings of Americans. A Green populism can insist on programs to wean us off foreign oil while exploring alternative ways to run the engines of industry and provide energy to our neighborhoods. This would employ thousands of new workers all around the country. The ideas are plentiful and quite appealing. (One excellent example is "One Way The Left and Progressives can Defeat the Religious Right and Turn the "Red" States Deep Green" by Steve Ongerth, ZNET)
Another way to win some new supporters is to adopt one of their own as, in some ways, one of ours and begin a new configuration, Goldwater Greens. Then to regularly and carefully articulate our vision and goals in a certain way that most Greens can accept now, but that non-Greens will soon realize as fully their own. Because one of the most noticeable things in this election was not just the pathetic numbers Nader and Cobb combined got, but the larger numbers the Libertarians received and even the Constitutional [sic] Party. Americans ARE hungry for an alternative voice politically, but they also want those views to sound consonant with their vision of what it means to be American and that's a bit different than what we usually appear like.
So for now, I'm suggesting we create, and create a space for Goldwater Greens. And believe me, I know there will be anger leveled at us from the Left, (and some quizzical looks from the Right) but in the long run more people will listen to us than before and we will be able to reach areas Greens are hardly welcome now. It is the Goldwater style, fierce, committed to individual liberties and with a ferocious sense of fairness, that we can use to pull in voters confused by the endless garbage spewed about Greens and "eastern elites."
What a Goldwater Green strategy might stress is a hearty defense of personal liberties (bringing in the Libertarians), a true conservatives┤ love of privacy and individual rights (which in all American fairness should extend to gays) and a radical stance against the impersonal corporatization of almost every aspect of our lives. It would demand fiscal responsibility in our federal as well as state offices, not by balancing budgets on the backs of workers, but demanding that the needs of average Americans always come before the needs of corporations. This means more federal money for schools, infrastructure, jobs and the environment and less for a military (now over 1 billion dollars daily) which octopus-like, is eating away all other reasonable options to guarantee all Americans an equal chance. America's military should not be the working class's default employer of last resort, but an option available for those willing to bear arms for their country.
A Goldwater Green would scream that the infusion of overtly spiritual or religious language into our body politic is a cheap trick designed by political professionals committed to no God but money and no value above their own lust for power. (Though it would support and celebrate America's rich spiritual heritage, diversity and depth.) It would decry as demeaning, unfair, and bullying this approach to winning people over by bombarding them with negative advertisements; sickly promoting war and death abroad while cynically shouting about abortion being murder here at home.
A Goldwater Green would not suggest that an American's Second Amendment right to bear arms was loony or pathological, (out loud anyway) but that the perverse twisting of such into a sick "right" to possess armor piecing bullets, automatic weaponry or assault rifles is both loony and pathological that must end. A Goldwater Green strategy would demand that we look at each child in America as our own, and demand that their schooling, their health and welfare and their rights all must be permanently guaranteed at the federal level.
Because Greens already favor a decentralized approach to governance we should demand that local utilities for water and electricity be all publicly owned and run by the communities that use them and then watch and see how many of us would allow our drinking water to be polluted by poison. We would demand that every party be allowed to be heard, allowing all Americans a real choice and thus all political parties get free and equal time on the airwaves. Therefore a Goldwater Green would choke with rage at the increasing monopolization of our airwaves and demand that these massive monopolies are brought under the cutting knife and distributed free to all Americans-the air belongs to ALL of us.
We would demand that any corporate entity that entered our community, employed and then flippantly fired or attacked the right to unionize our neighbors, took needed funds away from our sick, our children or our old folks must pay for it as the criminal class they have become.
It is not a matter of necessarily changing Green ideas or values, it is simply a matter of fighting with focus, and focusing our fight on issues we know Americans will listen to and agree with once heard.
Though somewhat disheartened by the election, I know I'm not going away, and I'm not going down without a fight. I'm telling people that we are sucking this planet dry with our addiction to fossil fuels like coal and oil, and that we are all responsible for demanding new ways to fuel our cars, heat our homes and power our factories. Remember: a dead planet supports nobody.
I'm telling everybody that we have got to stop this passive acceptance that WalMart and K-Mart, Starbucks and Halliburton are the only symbols of America that we have left and that, "my neighbor" is the person next door, not some fancy slogan for a corporation that doesn't give a damn about me or my real neighbors.
I'm telling everyone that this ridiculous divisiveness about what people do with their genitals (and have been since time immemorial) is none of my business, or yours, and especially not the governments and that if they want to commit together that's fine by me.
The noxious, racist tainted code words used to protect the enclaves of white suburban separatism and its selfish promotion of privatizing nearly every function of government have no place in what I call a Goldwater Green strategy. Neither does the pseudo-populist ranting against federal programs that are designed to protect our most vulnerable against the onslaughts of private greed have a place. That's for those so-called Goldwater Republicans.
Rather, a conscious emulation of the strong individualist and dare I say, radically libertarian acknowledgement of private life being sacrosanct, with a purposefully aggressive stance against nameless corporatism in defense of the whole earth and all its inhabitants, is how I think we should frame the issues.
Far too much is at stake and dependent upon our collective actions, for us to ignore the challenge presented by this election. Thus, relying on one "leader" or one simplistic Left vs. Right dichotomy will no longer work. Blacks, Latinos and working-class whites really do want to feel safe in their neighborhoods, want good schools, want to feel proud of their country, often have deeply held religious values, fear for the future and want to live at least a part of the so-called "American dream" of owning a house and working to build for a future that's better for the next generation. When mobilized, they also desire to do what's right for others, including those beyond our shores, they do care about the world and they do respond to genuine desires for freedom.
But as well, Americans retain a strong isolationist streak that can be used to our advantage to push for taking care of pressing needs at home and abandoning an imperial cop strategy designed for the profit of a few massive corporations. This is a populist message that not only can be heard but already conforms to many of Americans most deeply held positions. We certainly have a long way to go, and from this angle, nowhere but up. Let┤s go kick some ass...
* The Four Pillars of the Green Party are:
1. Ecology (or Ecological Wisdom)
2. Social Justice
3. Grassroots Democracy
Rev. JosÚ M. Tirado is a poet, writer and Green activist. He is also a Shin Buddhist priest teaching in Iceland. His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Swans Commentary, Dissident Voice, the Magazine of Green Social Thought: Synthesis/Regeneration and Gurdjieff Internet Guide. He can be reached through www.thepathofmyexperience.com
Other Articles by JosÚ M. Tirado