Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

Archive for April, 2009

“Common Purpose” and the co-optation of the progressive movement

Posted by Kevin on April 22, 2009

Probably the thing that disgusted me the most about the 2008 election cycle was how many so-called “progressive” organizations seemed to be basically just appendages of the Democratic Party. It’s not a new phenomenon, of course, but I hadn’t realized the extent previously. Even now, many of the campaigns of groups like MoveOn are framed around “supporting President Obama’s agenda.” There really isn’t much of an independent progressive movement in this country, which is why we’re having so much trouble gaining traction on any number of issues.

If you doubt that all too many “progressive” organizations are slaves to Obama and his corporatist agenda, this article from Ben Smith at Politico should dispel any illusions you had. It describes a group called “Common Purpose,” which brings together “the top officials from a range of left-leaning organizations, from labor groups like Change to Win to activists like MoveOn.org” and White House officials. The purpose is message coordination, which is not something to which I’m inherently opposed, but it’s evident that in the present instance it’s a mechanism for keeping “progressive” groups toeing the White House line.

It’s not hard to tell how successful Common Purpose and similar groups have been in stifling progressive criticism of Obama. The major “progressive” organizations (to my knowledge at least) have largely ceded anger over the increasingly kleptocratic bank bailout to conservative teabaggers. And Jeremy Scahill reminds us that they’ve similarly sold out on Iraq and Afghanistan:

“…groups like the Center for American Progress and MoveOn, which portrayed themselves as anti-war during the Bush-era, are now supporting the escalation and continuation of wars because their guy is now commander-in-chief. CAP has been actively pounding the pavement in support of the escalation in Afghanistan, the rebranding of the Iraq occupation and, more recently, Obama’s bloated military budget, which the group said was “on target.” MoveOn has been silent on the escalation in Afghanistan and has devoted substantial resources to promoting a federal budget that includes a $21 billion increase in military spending from the Bush-era.

As another example, Smith’s article describes how several groups – including the Campaign for America’s Future and USAction – backed off from a campaign against the Blue Dog Democrats and the Evan Bayh faction in part at the urging of the White House: “The White House, however, was in the midst of discussions with members of the congressional Blue Dog caucus, and objected to the slogan, which was promptly changed, and the page describing the drive is gone from CAF’s website.”

“What is clear here is that CAP and MoveOn are now basically psuedo-official PR flaks targeting ‘liberals’ to support the White House agenda,” says Scahill. Why are the “progressive” groups doing this? As Jane Hamsher argues, they enjoy the illusion of having the ear of the President and they fear retribution if they don’t go along:

There’s a big problem right now with the traditional liberal interest groups sitting on the sidelines around major issues because they don’t want to buck the White House for fear of getting cut out of the dialogue, or having their funding slashed. Someone picks up a phone, calls a big donor, and the next thing you know…the money is gone. It’s already happened. Because that’s the way Rahm plays.

So what should we do about it? I don’t exactly know. I suppose some could argue that we need people like them working inside the system, but I’m not really convinced that it’s actually accomplishing anything in the current environment besides tarnishing ourselves by propping up the kleptocrats and giving their ideas a veneer of respectability. It would seem to me that one thing we need to seriously consider is whether to stop supporting the organizations involved with Common Purpose and similar groups who are selling us out to Obama and other Establishment Dems – i.e. stop donating money to them, unsubscribe from their email lists, stay away from events organized by them. I’ve already done that with several groups, such as MoveOn and Democracy for America, that I became disgusted with during the campaign because of their cheerleading for the Dems.

These “progressive” groups’ coziness with the Obama administration is the exact opposite of what needs to happen if we want to bring about real change. Currently, the pressure only seems to be coming from one direction, with Obama having every incentive to avoid radically restructuring the system. Instead of providing a fig leaf for status quo Democrats, we need to as Naomi Klein argues, “stop hoping and start demanding.” There needs to be an independent progressive movement focused not on electing Democrats, but on creating conditions under which whoever is in office has to implement progressive policies if they want to stay there.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

On my semi-closeted atheism

Posted by Kevin on April 14, 2009

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether to come out as an atheist to my family. As I’ve written before, I don’t hide my beliefs from people, but I don’t really advertise them either. And yet I don’t think anyone in my family (aside from my in-laws) knows I’m an atheist, whereas pretty much everyone outside my family who’s in any way close to me does.

It’s mostly because they’ve never asked about it; I think for the most part they assume I share their beliefs, or at worst that I’m apathetic about religion. If they asked, I wouldn’t deny it. For instance, I came out to the pastor who was to preside over my wedding. Rebecca and I were meeting with him about the ceremony, and he asked me, “Oh, by the way, what religion are you?” And I told him. It didn’t seem to bother him at all, although my mother-in-law later mentioned that he said he was “shocked.” No negative consequences came of it, though, except possibly for the uber-long sermon at the ceremony. [BTW, it wasn’t my idea to have a religious ceremony. Long story.]

But still, I worry about what might happen if my family knew. I’m reasonably certain I wouldn’t be disowned or anything, but any atheist will tell you that there can be real social consequences for coming out, since a large number of Americans pretty much expect atheists to have horns and cloven hooves. I worry that they won’t understand, or they’ll think I’m a bad person. In some cases, I’m worried I’ll have to argue about it constantly.

So, why did I suddenly start thinking about this? It happened a couple weeks ago, when I went to a speech on campus by Cheryl Jacques, former Massachusetts state senator and president of Human Rights Campaign. She mentioned that one of the reasons gay rights and/or marriage are becoming more acceptable is because more Americans, especially young Americans, know (or know that they know) gay people than ever before, and once you know gay people it’s harder to not think of them as real people, rather than just negative stereotypes.

It occurred to me that maybe the same thing could apply to atheists, which got me thinking back to those all those right-wing chain letters I get from my dad and grandmother (a subject I’ve written about here and here). Sometimes I get ones demeaning secularists, as I briefly mentioned here.

Maybe the next time I get one of those I should write back saying that I’m an atheist and it’s incredibly hurtful when they forward me stuff like that. Maybe they’ll reconsider their positions. I have no illusions that any of them will let go of religion anytime soon, but perhaps it will dispel some of their myths about atheism. Or maybe they’ll just stop bashing secularists in earshot or filling my inbox with it. That in itself would be a nice change; at least then there would be a lessened sense of impunity for attacking nonbelievers.

Mostly, I’m tired of feeling like a coward, like my atheism is something to be ashamed of when I’m around certain people. It feels like I’m hiding a big part of my life from them. In all other aspects of my life I’m proud to be an atheist, and I’m not sure I have a justifiable reason for keeping it hidden in this case. How proud of it can I be if the people closest to me, whose opinion of me I value a great deal, don’t know about it? As I said, it’s not like I have to worry about being cast out. There are many people who have come out and suffered far worse consequences from their families than I would likely face. It’s kind of dickish of me to stay in the closet out of fear of a stern talking-to.

I don’t really know when or how I’m going to do it, but Rebecca suggested that I come out to my dad first as a sort of trial run; he would probably be a bit more understanding than my grandparents. I’m already used to all of them looking at me like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick when I speak my mind on political issues; this couldn’t be much worse.

Posted in Religion | 3 Comments »

Gay marriage wins in Vermont!

Posted by Kevin on April 8, 2009

Ok, I’m a day behind with this. But, as everyone reading this is probably well aware by now, the Vermont legislature voted yesterday to override Gov. Douglas’s veto and legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first state to do it without a court order. I may not be a native Vermonter, but I’m incredibly proud of the state, and it was exhilarating to be able to play a small part in this.

This victory, along with the court decision in Iowa and the decision by the city council in Washington, DC, is a reminder, which I think we needed after recent years, that we’re on the right side of history, that it’s only a matter of time until we have marriage equality throughout the country. It may not happen anytime soon, and there are still going to be setbacks, but I’m hopeful that one day we’ll look back on opponents of gay marriage the same way we now look back on opponents of interracial marriage. Some people here wondered why the fundies were so angry when they seemed to have the upper hand, and I think now that the reason why is because they realize deep down that ultimately they’re fighting a losing battle.

Coverage is pretty easy to find, so I won’t link to it, except to point out this great article in The Nation. Also, if your blood pressure is too low today, Hemant has some reactions from the religious right over at Friendly Atheist.

I was in the House chambers that day – that’s one of the few advantages of being an unemployed househusband, that I could spend a day at the Statehouse waiting for a vote to come down. The place was packed with supporters; I was surprised that there weren’t any opponents in the crowd that I could make out, unlike pretty much every other day of the proceedings. I probably looked pretty confused as people in the gallery started murmuring “I think we got it!” while the roll call was being tallied. Honestly, I was surprised it passed; I didn’t think the House had the votes to override the veto. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to be proven wrong. I was afraid a loss here would be a big setback for the movement nationally – “Even those dirty fucking hippies in Vermont couldn’t do it; what the hell chance does my state have,” some might have argued.

As far as the Douglas’s veto goes, I agree with Jon Stewart when he reportedly asked during a speech at UVM, “Why is your governor such a shithead?” A shithead he is, probably because he’s trying to secure his right flank for election time. However, I think the veto was a net benefit for our side. The supermajority we got with the override probably gives the law much more legitimacy than it would have otherwise had. I can promise you that there are people wouldn’t have risked their seats voting for it if it hadn’t been for the need to override the veto. A few Democrats who voted against the bill even switched their votes on the override, in part because of pressure from party leadership but also in part to screw Douglas. And some House Republicans were publicly pissed that Douglas threatened the veto before they’d even voted on it.

So what’s next? Here in Vermont, the next step is making sure the legislators who voted for marriage equality keep their seats. The next dominoes to fall will likely be in New England as well. But it might take awhile for marriage equality to spread elsewhere, and from what I’ve heard, Prop 8 is likely to be upheld in California. There’s just too many places in the country held hostage by religious nutjobs and old people afraid of change.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: | 2 Comments »