Truth and Democracy

Inviting those who live in the right-wing alternate universe to join the rest of us out here in reality.

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Location: Hackensack, New Jersey, United States

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Ultimate Straw Man: Political Paranoia, 2010 Style

The picture at the upper left of this column is an image from my favorite T-shirt of the last year. There’s a new boogeyman in America and his name is Barack Obama. In some circles he represents all that is evil in modern day America. I can tell you that I briefly met, then Illinois Senator, Barack Obama in 2005. I didn’t come away from that meeting believing that he would be the long awaited savior America seemingly needed (nor do I believe this now) but I also saw no evidence that he might be the “Anti-Christ”, as fully one-third of rank and file Republicans believe he either is or may be, according to recent polls. He was simply a politician and a man; no more, no less. I found him to be less personally engaging than Bill Clinton (yes, I met him too, more than once) but more compelling than, say, former NJ Governor Jon Corzine (not a tough feat).

If you believed the right wing spin machine and its dedicated followers, though, you might be afraid to leave your house knowing that this guy is president. Since I fact check what I see reported in the news media, actually read legislation and have a pretty good working grasp of world and American political history (as well as human history, sociology, religion and pre-organized religion belief systems), I don’t suffer from the politically self-serving delusions of an increasingly psychotic American right wing. I and those like me (you can call us the “fact-based community”, as a Bush White House official once scornfully did) still cling to having a rational, well thought out response to the world around us. Watching televised news these days can make us feel like an endangered species. Perhaps we are one, at that.

I read a letter to the editor of The Record newspaper here in New Jersey recently in which a dedicated right wing activist justified all of the current Obama-hating by stating that he had promised himself he would give the new president all of the same respect which he felt that George W. Bush got from the left. He then launched into a litany of every disrespectful transgression which he felt liberals were guilty of during Bush’s tenure. His letter did give me a brief pause because there is no doubt that the left wing in this country had (and still has) very little regard for our previous president. I suggest, in response, that we investigate the grievances which the left had toward George W. Bush and determine how legitimate they were, or weren’t. Then we can examine the right wing image of and narrative about Barack Obama and how they portray his presidency thus far, as opposed to reality. This promises to be a very interesting experiment. Let’s get started.

Bush took the oath of office in January 2001 under a tremendous cloud of controversy. He had lost the popular vote by more than a half million votes, the first time the Electoral College system had contradicted the popular vote in the modern era. The circumstances under which Bush won the state of Florida, and thereby the presidency, were also bad enough without his own brother being Governor of the disputed state. Everyone remembers the alleged recount, the “hanging chads” and the US Supreme Court ruling in Bush v Gore. Fewer people know what the state of Florida did, long before Election Day 2000, which eliminated thousands of legitimate and likely Democratic, African-American voters or the lengths the Republican controlled Florida state legislature was prepared to go to if the Supreme Court had failed to rule on the case along partisan lines. And what ever happened to normal judicial standards which would have forced justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from the Bush v Gore case due to immediate family ties to the Bush campaign and transition team?

The bottom line was that the 2000 presidential election was stolen in Florida. I don’t care which suspicious aspect of that vote you choose to focus on, Jeb Bush’s administration in that state was simply not going to allow his brother to lose there. I, myself, felt my radar triggered that something was amiss very early on election night. When the networks declared Al Gore to be the winner of Florida, based on exit polls and early returns, a reporter reached Bush, who was sitting with his brother Jeb, for comment. Bush, never known for composure under fire, looked as cool as a cucumber while stating that he was absolutely convinced that he would ultimately win Florida. The expression on his face was that of the cat who just ate the canary. I called a close friend at that point, one I’ve mentioned in previous columns, and told him I suspected that something was amiss. The networks are historically very careful about their election night projections, exponentially more so since that night. They hadn’t called a state wrongly before in my lifetime.

Gore voters, being a slight majority throughout the country, and especially the more liberal among them, were stunned and furious that an election could be hijacked in such a way in modern times and in the world’s most respected democracy. This did not make for a cozy beginning with Bush. The new president then exacerbated the bad feelings by departing from his “uniter, not a divider” campaign theme and appointing right wing extremists and neoconservative foreign policy ideologues to his cabinet as well as hundreds of positions throughout the executive branch. It was crystal clear from the very start that the Bush administration would be a right wing activist one. I mean, John Ashcroft, Attorney General? I had no doubts after that appointment.

After an already shaky start, Bush’s approval rating languished somewhere around 40% by September 10, 2001. A few weeks later, as the nation rallied together in the face of shocking barbarism, his approval rating rose to somewhere between 80 and 90%, depending on which poll you looked at. Then Rush Limbaugh went on the air with a week long theme of how Bill Clinton and liberalism were really at fault for the terrible events of 9/11. No one on the right stepped up to chastise Limbaugh for tearing at the unprecedented national unity America was experiencing, not even its Commander in Chief, who could have benefited from a continued cooperative atmosphere. Instead, the right wing and Republican Party chose to run with Limbaugh’s false and partisan narrative and bashed Democrats over the head with it politically for years to come.

Throughout his two terms, Bush provoked anger among rank and file Democrats time and time again. Let’s list some examples of Bush’s partisan, non-“uniter”, initiatives:

• Choosing to “spend” budget surpluses on tax cuts aimed mainly at the wealthy rather than paying down national debt in 2001

• Using 9/11 to ram through the semi-constitutional USA Patriot Act and consolidate unprecedented power in the executive branch of the federal government.

• Diverting the “War on Terror” campaign into a wholly manufactured necessity for an invasion of Iraq, based on a “democratizing the middle east” theory born of the neoconservative think tank “Project for a New American Century”. (i.e., lying us into war)

• Then, during the Iraq War, extending more tax cuts, again aimed chiefly at the wealthy, while the sons and daughters of the working and middle class were fighting and dying “for our freedom”. (so much for shared sacrifice during a time of war)

• Standing by quietly while his supporters launched a vicious and fictitious campaign to denigrate the military service of his 2004 presidential opponent.

• Maintaining similar silence as protestors against him were routinely rounded up and moved as much as a half mile away from any appearance he made, into distinctly Orwellian sounding “Free Speech Zones”. (I wonder how the Tea Party folks would react if subjected to that kind of treatment by Obama?) “Last time I checked, America WAS a free speech zone”, I commented when I first heard about this.

• Leaving his Texas ranch in the middle of the night, when he never lost a minute’s sleep after a briefing entitled “Bin Ladin determined to attack the United States”, and flying Air Force One “red eye” in order to sign a bill passed by the Republican congress, along pure party lines, allowing the federal government to inject itself into the personal affairs of Michael and Terry Schiavo. Thereby appeasing the furthest of the Christian right wing fringe. (so much for limited government)

• Reacting with jaw-dropping slowness to a hurricane and flooding disaster in the largely minority, Democratic voter strongholds of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast, one year after an incredibly robust intervention when a similar disaster hit the key electoral state of Florida during an election year.

• Encouraging his cabinet level departments to use taxpayer money to produce fake “news” segments promoting his agenda and then peddling them for air time on local news outlets without warning viewers that they were nothing more than government propaganda.

• Pushing for Social Security privatization which would have resulted in a third of Americans’ SS money being invested in the stock market. (Did you see where the Dow got to last winter? Wasn’t that a brilliant idea?)

• Also pushing (and later signing) a Medicare Prescription Program (Medicare Part D) which amounted to a gigantic unfunded federal mandate and which most Democrats believe, with ample evidence, was conceived to sabotage the entire program and hasten its fiscal demise.

I could go on longer but suffice to say that this is a mere taste of Bush’s own lack of bipartisanship and his penchant for instigating those who saw things differently. More than everything he did while president, Bush suffered from a larger problem with the left which Obama is also afflicted with from the right. The broader problem was personal. The left never liked Bush’s persona or what he appeared to stand for, which was everything a liberal dislikes and distrusts. Bush wasn’t very bright and those on the left respect intelligence and thoughtfulness. He admitted to not reading much, not giving serious consideration to opposing viewpoints and was more interested in belief than fact. This kind of attitude infuriates liberals. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, never exhibited any sense of humility about that fact and failed in every business venture he tried, only to be bailed out by family and powerful friends.

He also allied himself politically with the kind of Christian fundamentalists who seek to undermine constitutional church/state separation and impose their narrow set of religious and sociological beliefs on the rest of America, through legislatures and the courts. Even the most adamant followers of Jesus on the political left tend to see the church/state boundary as an important protection of personal religious freedom. Perhaps this is because the left values respect for the beliefs of others, contrasted with the right wing’s derision of “multiculturalism”. Atheists, like me, are downright incensed (pardon the unintended pun) by the growing trend toward “dominionist” government being supported by the Christian right. The bottom line is that a country music listening, O’Douls drinking (due to alcoholism, *O’Douls has some alcohol in it, duh! Truly sober alcoholics tend to drink lots of coffee instead), brush clearing, pickup driving, false populist from one of the most powerful families in the world, was just not our kind of guy.

Now what about Obama? Just how partisan has he been? Well, he was elected by a majority of more than 8 million votes, 53% to 46% (and ACORN didn’t fix anything, that’s more right wing paranoia. They reported fraudulent applications supplied by some of their contracted workers which led to exactly ZERO ineligible votes) and a more than two to one margin in the Electoral College. This hardly equals the questionable circumstances which led to the Bush presidency. Upon his election, Obama appointed a cabinet in which he first held over Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He then offered a cabinet position to conservative Republican Senator Judd Gregg, which Gregg later refused after the GOP leadership pressured him to decline. Despite these overtures, Republican Senators are still blocking scores of Obama’s nominees to various government positions. Who is not acting in good faith or a spirit of “bipartisanship”?

Obama has since pulled this nation back from the brink of a depression with a Stimulus Package and targeted industry bailouts which offered less government spending than economists from across the political spectrum had initially recommended. He did this on equally bipartisan advice that at the time and as deep as the crisis was, only the federal government was capable of injecting the kind of capital necessary to reignite economic growth (was I the only one listening when they said this?). By all unbiased accounts, it worked. An economy that was hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs per month last year is now creating them again. America’s economy has grown sharply for two quarters in a row and the Dow has nearly doubled since the day Obama took office.

What has been the Republican reaction to this? So far, Tea Party protests over “too much government spending”, which we are recently learning have largely been orchestrated by GOP lobbyists, and Republican lawmakers repeating the talking point that “not a single job has been created by the Stimulus Package”, though more than 70 of them have gone back to their states and districts and taken credit for jobs created by this measure. Is Obama the one being an extremist in this scenario? On which side is the bipartisanship and fairness lacking?

What about guns? Arms dealers couldn’t keep up with the demand for weapons immediately prior to Obama’s inauguration. Since then, the number of armed militia groups in the country has nearly quadrupled. Oklahoma legislators are even considering a bill which would form a state sanctioned armed militia to prevent enforcement of “unconstitutional federal mandates”. This is laughably ironic considering that the constitution’s provision for state militias puts those militias squarely under the authority of the Commander in Chief. (Yes that would currently be Obama) The fact is that forming an armed organization for the potential purposes of waging violence against the government is in itself a violation of federal law. Can anyone say “Constitutional Crisis”? I thought you could. Then there’s recent blogging to the effect that Obama not only wants your guns but also wants to prevent you from fishing. That sounds realistic, don’t you think?

Where’s the evidence to back up all of this feverish “constitution protecting”? Well, last year, when it was reported that right wing activists were openly carrying automatic weapons outside of presidential appearances, Obama was asked to comment. He replied that he “supported their right to do that”. How dare he? The totalitarian bastard! No wonder some right wingers fear that they’re going to be rounded up and put in detention camps (amazingly, they really do). Can you imagine George W. Bush’s response if some gun-toting lefties had been so much as trying to loiter outside his public appearances? I’m betting those “Free Speech Zones” would have been shifted an awful lot further away, like maybe another state! And hey, if Obama is such a freedom hating, anti-constitutional maniac, then what happened to those speech zones anyway? Wouldn’t he be using them much more actively than the Bush administration? It doesn’t make sense and it never will.

Then there’s healthcare reform. Boy oh boy, if Obama was ever guilty of shoving his radical agenda down Republican throats, this was the perfect example, right? Not so fast there, John Boehner, you bronzed God. Let’s look at some facts. The new health care reform law, passed last month, contained so many Republican proposals that it closely mirrored a 1993 GOP alternative to the Clinton healthcare initiative. It also strongly resembles a law signed by current 2012 Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Even more telling is the rumor (I freely admit that its only a rumor as of right now) that staffers at the conservative Washington think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) were secretly rooting for health reform’s passage because it contained so many of their original ideas. There was nothing but compromise involved along the healthcare reform road, especially in the Senate, where many argue that there was, in fact, too much compromise.

Despite their fervent complaints, the GOP just never made an honest approach to the table when it came to health care. From “death panels” to “covering illegal immigrants” to “federally funded abortions” to “killing grandma” to “government takeover of your healthcare” to “rationing” to (most ironically) “gutting Medicare”, the Republican contributions to the process were many but hardly constructive or bipartisan in nature. They’re aim throughout the process was as clear as a bell, kill health reform and undermine Obama. GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina put it most succinctly when he told Republicans that they would make healthcare reform “Obama’s Waterloo”. When the Senate Finance Committee went to the unprecedented length of forming a bipartisan “sub” committee of three Democrats and three Republicans to hammer out a truly bipartisan health reform compromise last summer, it was the Republicans who walked away from the table, led by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley as he began to echo the “death panels” falsehood.

Even now, in the wake of its passage, GOP Governors and State Attorneys General are pursuing legal actions against the new law. This is political pandering to their far right wing base, nothing more. Most legal and constitutional experts say they don’t have a chance in hell. This means that they are throwing away meager state taxpayer funds, as we climb out of a recession, in order to achieve nothing more than a partisan political victory this November. Once again, it is clearly Obama and the Democrats who lean totalitarian and refuse to foster good will and a bipartisan atmosphere, in an alternate reality at least.

What about foreign policy? Surely this is the place where Barack Hussein Obama’s extremist ideology is undeniable! After all, he’s patterning his nuclear policy after that pinko commie Ronald Wilson Reagan. And his supplicant use of international diplomatic strategies reminds us of one of history’s most internationally naive and foolish presidents, Richard M. Nixon. How will America ever survive while he literally hands us over to our enemies? I just don’t know, to be honest with you. When Sarah Palin invoked Reagan’s name while criticizing Obama’s nuclear policy last week, she once again proved herself to be so very clueless as to not even recognize her own irony. If she doesn’t know the difference between North and South Korea or the constitutional role which the Vice President plays in the US Senate (don’t apply for a job you don’t understand, good rule of thumb), how can we expect her to know that Ronald Reagan also signed a pact with the Russians to cut our respective nuclear arsenals by one third? Where would she have heard that Reagan often spoke of a world without nuclear weapons? Not in that crazy Pentecostal church in Wasilla that she’s so fond of, that’s for sure.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s no room for reasonable criticism of Obama’s foreign policy thus far. Fair and fact based criticism, even of foreign policy, is a healthy necessity in a democracy, unlike what the GOP, FOX News and the rest of the right wing told us during Bush’s presidency. There’s room for rational critique of his domestic policies as well. But there is very little rationality happening on the right since Obama’s election. It’s as if the mere fact of Obama being president is slowly driving conservatives insane. And it’s not over by a long shot. As Wall Street reform looms, the Republicans have already unveiled their next line of shiny new outright fantasies. What “death panels” were to healthcare reform, “endless taxpayer bailouts” will be to financial reform.

That’s right, Senate Republicans are going to go to the mat to defend the “too big to fail” banks, finance companies and Wall Street dice rollers (the same ones who just took nearly a trillion dollars of our money and now want to keep things just as they were before the collapse they created) by claiming that a reform bill which forces those large institutions to create a fund specifically designed to prevent future taxpayer bailouts, is going to result in “endless taxpayer bailouts”. White is black, black is white, up is down and fiction is the new fact. Welcome to the right wing alternate universe. Don’t stay there too long, it could be hazardous to your mental health.

To be fair, I was not originally a supporter of Mr. Obama. In fact, I worked for Hillary Clinton in Bergen County, NJ during our January 2008 presidential primary race. We won here too, by more than 10%. I saw Obama at the time as an inexperienced political opportunist who hadn’t “paid the dues” necessary to deserve the presidency. This very attitude turned out to be the Hillary Clinton campaign’s undoing. A sense that she was entitled to the nomination, that it was “her time”. I also firmly believed that Obama would inevitably become the nation’s first African-American president, but not until it was “his time”. I supported him in the general election because I realized just how much I had underestimated him and because the Republican ticket was incredibly unacceptable. I don’t agree with him on every issue across the board and I recognize his mistakes when they happen but I believe he is moving America and the world in a vastly superior direction to his predecessor.

As I said earlier, Obama is a politician and a man, nothing more, nothing less. He isn’t perfect but he’s far from the fascist boogeyman his opponents portray him as. He’s already publicly admitted to making mistakes in his first year. Six years into his presidency, Bush was asked at a press conference if he could name a mistake he had made during his tenure, he was unable (or more likely unwilling) to name a single one. This was one of the most telling moments of the Bush presidency. Decisiveness is important but humility is a great virtue. President Obama offers both of these characteristics as well as willingness to learn and thoughtfulness. As I pointed out earlier, his intellectual nature, ethnicity, ancestry, his education, community activism and his overall confidence while happening to be black, make him everything which the right wing hates. His persona is detestable to them, even more than Bush’s was to the left.

I close by quoting my new favorite T-shirt, “Make up your mind, he can’t be all four”. A closeted Muslim, peacenik hippie, devoted communist or fascist Nazi he isn’t. And he can’t be whichever one of these things best fits your political whims, depending on which week it is. How dare you expect him or any of us in the “fact based community” to respect your ideas or offer an olive branch of bipartisanship, while you’re carrying around signs depicting him as Adolf Hitler or even worse, dressed up as a primitive African witch doctor! Give us a call when you’re ready for a return to reality. We’ll leave the light on for you.

Paul Roth, Jr.

### CBS News released an extensive poll of Tea Party supporters earlier today. It found that some 64% of them believe that President Obama has raised their taxes this year. Taxes were, in fact, cut for over 100 million Americans and average tax returns were higher than they have been in many years. A Happy Tax Day to all of you deluded pseudo-intellectual right wingers out there. You’re proving my point for me. Keep on watching FOX News and protecting yourselves from the truth. ###

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Just Let Him Play

“Known as a civilized game, golf is the only sport in America in which a player is compelled to call a penalty on themselves, even if no one else witnesses the infraction. Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring that philosophy into politics?” - Me

Tiger Woods is in Augusta, Georgia. Few phrases have ever evoked more excitement in golf fans. This year, however, no phrase has been cause for more controversy or more judgmental behavior, ironically coming from a gossip driven celebrity media. Tiger’s personal life is in tatters, OK? That’s Tiger’s business and that of his family and close friends, not mine and not yours either. I can appreciate the disappointment of a parent who is raising a child that idolizes Woods. But all he can ever do to mend that situation is live his life better going forward and continue to make all of us proud of him on the golf course. I heard something somewhere once about “he who is without sin” and casting “the first stone”. Tiger is a golfer, the greatest damn golfer who has ever lived. He is not, however, responsible for raising your children. In light of recent events, it may be all he can do to raise his own. Leave him alone now to do what he does best, win golf tournaments.

There is no better location or tournament in the world for Tiger to make a return to competitive golf than the Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters tournament. The level of control which Augusta’s board of directors and members enjoy over the entire event, far more than any other PGA Tour host club, will allow Tiger to enjoy relative privacy and freedom from negative attention. Augusta reserves the right to limit media access to the players and course in any way it sees fit. Tickets are not available to the general public, instead being reserved only for members of the club and those whom they wish to invite. No more protected atmosphere exists in professional golf. If you tune in on Thursday hoping to hear the crowd at the first tee booing Tiger emphatically when he is introduced, you will be sadly disappointed. Augusta National would simply never allow that to happen. Tiger’s welcome will likely be more reserved than in the past but it would never be downright rude or aggressively negative. Augusta National just doesn’t do that to its past champions, especially an historic four time champion whom the members have embraced as one of their own.

And Augusta’s warm embrace of Tiger Woods has been a great story in itself. Barely forty years ago, within my own lifetime, African-American players were barred from participating in The Masters tournament. Augusta has come a long way. When the club began lengthening their legendary course in the late 90s, after Woods had made it look a little obsolete in winning the ’97 Masters with an 18 under par finishing score, there were some who speculated that they were “Tiger-proofing” the layout because they didn’t like the idea of a black champion. But this train of thought is counterintuitive. Adding length to the course doesn’t make it harder for Tiger, it makes it more difficult for the shorter hitter instead. The real agenda behind the Augusta National redesign, a decade long project, was to update the course in such a way that it could no longer simply be “overpowered” by younger, stronger players using modern golf technology. The integrity of the original design was at stake and the course needed to be updated in order to bring it back in line with its intended challenging features. The vindication of this strategy came last year when Augusta National replaced New Jersey’s Pine Valley CC as the world’s most challenging golf course in a worldwide ranking survey.

In a press conference held on Monday, Tiger stated that he has been received back, by the Augusta fans and his fellow players alike, more warmly than he could have hoped. He also said that he believes he is going to win the championship. I would like to know why this comment raised eyebrows in some circles, as it apparently did. Anyone who knows the first thing about Tiger knows that he has never stepped on a golf course in his life without believing that he was going to win. It’s just not a part of his nature to consider losing. Yes, he is dealing with a lot of distractions which have nothing to do with golf. Yes, he has been away from competitive golf for longer than is normal for him. Yes, the odds are against him winning this time. How about that? Tiger Woods as the underdog. I happen to like underdogs myself. But whether he fails to make the weekend cut or triumphs for his fifth green jacket, the ceremonial garb bestowed by Augusta National on the winner, just having him back is enough for those of us who love the game. The Masters is a very special event for the players and the fans alike. It becomes that much more special when Tiger is in the field. Forget everything else for this one weekend, just let him play.

### When I first sat down to write this column it was my intention to open with a brief biography of my life in the game of golf. Since I am not very skilled at saying things in a brief manner, that part of the column took on a life of its own and went on for many pages. So, for those who are interested, what follows is a narrative of my own golf career (with some additional comments on Tiger at the end). I sincerely hope that boredom is not the result. ### Paul

When I was about 5 or 6, I held a golf club in my hands for the first time. There must have been something natural about it because I took to the game right away. My family didn’t belong to a fancy private club. My father had spent his life around golf, caddying at the Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly, NJ during World War II and playing the game ever since. I spent the first few years of my “career” playing the nine 20 to 35 yard holes of a pitch and putt course at a nearby driving range. My equipment consisted of a 1940’s Tommy Armour 7-Iron and an equally ancient putter, which almost looked more like a 1-Iron, both were hand-me-downs from my father. At age 11, I played my first real 18-hole golf course, Waukewan Golf Club in Center Harbor, NH, while on vacation. I shot a 99*. A year later I astounded my father (and my mother, who joined us to watch) when I shot a 39 on the front nine of that same course.

* I shot a 13 on one hole on the back nine. However, when I reported this fact to my Uncle Jimmy at the next tee, who was keeping score for the group, he pretended not to hear me and insisted on writing down 8 instead. I protested but he wouldn’t listen to “a little kid”. So much for golf’s integrity!

I wasn’t a particularly special talent, although the occasional onlooker might see me hit a good shot and mutter something about a “future tour player”. I knew better. At 13, I played in my one and only junior tournament. I was so nervous that I barely slept the night before. After playing the first three holes in a respectable (for 13) one over par, my nerves got the better of me and I finished with a score somewhere in the mid-90s. When I saw the top scores of that day in my age bracket, from the mid-70s to the low 80s, I knew that my dreams of the tour were more fantasy than anything. By my mid-teens I had gotten bored with golf. I wasn’t really improving much and another priority had arrived on the scene, girls. Playing golf was not exactly your ticket to teenage social coolness circa 1980, far from it in fact. I eventually put the clubs away and rarely thought of the game for more than a decade.

In the mid-90s, however, my life had reached a crossroads. I had been working in the stand-up comedy business, as an agent, for several years but I was no longer happy with the daily stress level which that industry offered. After watching the 1995 US Open with my father, I asked him if I could join him and his friends at the Haworth Golf Club, the next morning. My first tee shot in many years was eventful, to say the least. I connected with a driver on Haworth’s par 5 first hole just well enough for the ball to rocket, at an altitude of about 2 inches, directly into one of the red tee markers ahead, which mark the ladies’ teeing area. The marker was completely obliterated. Undeterred, I continued. A more optimistic sign came on the 2nd hole, when I lofted a textbook greenside bunker shot to within 3 feet of the hole and tapped in the ensuing putt for a par.

That summer, I played as often as I could. Obviously, I was much stronger than I had been as a child and technology had advanced far enough that I could now hit the ball to lengths which I had only dreamed of as a child. More and more I was going out to play on my own, at public courses. Strangers were watching me play and, when they would discover that I hadn’t played regularly in over a decade, many were quite impressed. One afternoon, on a course operated by Bergen County, I busted a drive of over 280 yards on a long par 4 hole. As my group walked down the fairway from the tee, one fellow asked me, “Why don’t you try and become a pro”? This hadn’t occurred to me before. Why not try? The tour was well out of the question but maybe a club pro, a teaching professional. I was unhappy in my current line of work. What could it hurt to devote my life to getting better at the game and seeing how far I could take it? After all, in just a few weeks back I was regularly shooting in the low 80s. Just a couple of weeks later, I broke 80 for the first time in my life, shooting 77 at a not very difficult course in Parsippany, NJ. This strongly reinforced my budding dream.

Early in 1996 I took a job at a golf retail store in nearby Rochelle Park. I can’t bring myself to provide details on just how significant the effective pay cut was. Suffice to say it was truly humbling. But I was neither a homeowner nor raising a family, so the sacrifices were my own. I played every day, practicing before and after each round as well. Before long I was playing below a 5 handicap. Ask the nearest golfer in your life if you don’t know what this means, I’m explaining too much detail already. There was a problem though. Because of my lack of experience under pressure, my scores would rise dramatically whenever I would enter a tournament. In ’96, I attempted to qualify for both the NJ Amateur and Mid-Amateur Championships. In both cases, I thoroughly embarrassed myself. However, unlike at age 13, I didn’t give up. I kept playing and gradually got better at controlling my nerves.

By 1999 I was ready to declare myself a professional, meaning that I could no longer play in amateur events. I could however accept prize money, lesson fees (I was not ready to teach at this point though) and seek work as an Assistant Golf Professional. These days, most golf pros reach this point after college, in their early 20s. I was 32 years old. After a few interviews, I was fortunate enough to be hired at one of the most prestigious private clubs in the entire northeast. The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, NJ is an historic location. Its 27 holes, divided into East, Center and West nines, were designed by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast. It had played host to the prestigious Ryder Cup competition between US and European pros as well as several US Amateur Championships. In 2008, after a redesign and lengthening to bring it up to current tour standards, Ridgewood hosted The Barclays Championship, one of the final four PGA tour events of the season which now determine the season long winner of the FedEx Cup. Phil Mickelson won the event.

Being an assistant at Ridgewood also meant a very humbling link to the past. In the mid-1930s, one of the greatest golfers of all time, Byron Nelson, had been assistant professional at Ridgewood. I now held the same title as once had “Lord Byron”, as Nelson was known. Imagine the impact of that on my father. An assistant golf professional, however, does not gain automatic entrance into the PGA (Professional Golfers Association). In order to become a PGA Professional, one must first complete years of training. In order to enter into that training you must first prove that you possess adequate playing ability to represent the PGA. The PGA’s Players Ability Test (PAT) was designed to weed out possible wannabees from those who are the genuine article. Barely 10% of those who take the test ever pass it. In fact, the PAT is not so much a test as it is a tournament of sorts, and a challenging one at that. The PAT, held by regional offices of the PGA throughout the year is 36 holes of golf (2-18 hole rounds), usually played on the same day (morning and afternoon), with a “target score” requirement in order to pass. In other words, you aren’t playing against other competitors; you are playing against your own scorecard. Any serious golfer can tell you that knowing what score you have to shoot before even teeing off is a serious mental challenge.

On March 27, 2000 I entered the PAT through the New Jersey section of the PGA. This event was held at the Stanton Ridge Golf & Country Club in central NJ. Despite the early season date, the weather conditions were fairly favorable. It was unusually warm (in the 60s & low 70s) and sunny, although there was a significant wind out of the west (15-25 mph). The target score for this PAT was 154. A pair of 77s would therefore equal passage. While this may not sound overwhelmingly difficult to the highly skilled golfer, I reiterate that the real challenge is in knowing that you have to shoot this score right from the start. Out of nearly 60 entrants that day, only 4 players passed.

After playing the first nine holes in a somewhat lackluster 38 and gaining a par at number 10, I arrived at the 395 yard, par 4 11th hole. The 11th at Stanton Ridge is flanked on the right by forest running its entire length, which is marked as a hazard (for non-golfers, really bad place where you don’t want to go). After using a fairway wood off the tee to safely place myself on the left side of the fairway, I was left with about a 165 yard second shot to the hole. I hit a 7-iron a little bit thin (a little too low on the clubface) but watched as the ball landed on the front of the green, bounced once, and proceeded to roll into the hole for an “eagle” 2. I was now just 1-over par for the round. I finished the first round with a score of 74. Meaning that I would need to shoot 80 or better in the second round in order to pass. While hastily eating a brown-bagged lunch on the hood of my car in the parking lot, I recommitted myself to not thinking about score again on that day. I would play my 2nd round one shot at a time and one hole at a time, forgetting the previous and ignoring the next, in line with fundamental golf psychology.

I proceeded to play the opening nine holes of the second round in a two under par 33. Five strokes better than I had played it in the first round. I coasted on the second nine to a score of 38, not playing extremely well but avoiding any disasters which could cause me to breakdown mentally. The final results; 74-71-145, I had passed the PAT by nine shots. I did not own a cell phone at the time and my resulting search for a way to inform my family of this achievement bordered on the comical. It was early evening by the time we finished play, the clubhouse was now closed, the pro shop empty and locked, and the lone remaining PGA of New Jersey official running the event did not have a phone with him either. I had to drive into the nearest town and search for a payphone. Upon finally finding one, I decided to play it cute. When my mother answered the phone, I informed her, in as dejected-sounding a voice as I could muster, that “It wasn’t even close”, implying that I had badly failed. After reiterating that “it wasn’t close” I followed with, “yeah, 74, 71, 145, I passed by nine shots”. My mother howled with approval and my father picked up an extension within seconds. My father, who had spent his life in the love of the game, was audibly crying as I recounted the details of the day which had made me a qualified candidate for PGA membership. He repeated each detail back to me in amazement when I finished describing it.

Later that summer, in July, I posted my best finish in a PGA tournament. In addition to holding the PAT throughout the year, regional sections of the PGA also sponsor tournaments for the pros and assistant pros in their area. Usually held on Mondays, when private clubs close for course repair, these events offer “teaching” professionals an outlet for competition. The prize money naturally pales in comparison with tour golf but the pride of competition and the chance to augment one’s salary a bit make it a worthwhile pursuit. At Harkers Hollow Golf Club in northwestern NJ, on a day also marked by significant winds, I shot a one under par 70 to finish a close second in that day’s NJPGA tournament. I won about $600, a pretty OK day’s wages, for playing golf! I hadn’t even played that great. I had just managed to make several crucial par putts, varying in length from 6 or 7 up to 14, 15 feet. This was not unusual for me; my best rounds of golf had more to do with short game superiority than tremendous ball striking. I was far from a “perfect ball striker”, as some golfers are known.

My professional golf career got sidetracked when, in 2003, another lifelong obsession supplanted it, politics. Golf has since become secondary but not forgotten entirely. Although I once again have not played regularly in several years, I am still possessed of an understanding of the game, even at its highest levels, so that watching a PGA Tour event with me can make listening to the TV announcers unnecessary. I can still identify the strategies, thoughts and concerns of a tour player, struggling for a victory, in a fashion which enhances even a non-golfer’s understanding and appreciation of the game.

I had many great experiences and fascinating encounters along the way in golf. The lowest 18 hole score I ever shot was 67. I did it twice, once at High Mountain GC in Franklin Lakes, NJ and also at Overpeck, a county run course in Teaneck, NJ. My skill at the game peaked in early 2003 when I carried a plus 1 handicap (again non-golfers, ask someone, it’s too complicated to detail here). I played golf with local sports heroes like former NY Giants Howard Cross, Phillippi Sparks and Phil Simms (a member at Ridgewood CC). This is rather ironic because I’m a lifelong Jets fan! I had the opportunity to meet former Cleveland Indian Larry Doby, the first African-American player in baseball’s American League shortly after Jackie Robinson broke in on the National League circuit.

Other sports heroes like Yankee greats Gene Michael and Yogi Berra were regular faces at Ridgewood CC along with other sports legends like Bobby Thompson (the shot heard round the world) and college basketball announcer Dick Vitale (yes, he’s really that enthusiastic off camera too).There were non-sports personalities as well, like singer Michael Bolton or actor Joe Pesci (you try telling him that his girlfriend’s outfit doesn’t meet the club’s dress code! I refused to sacrifice myself). One of the most unique moments, though, was sharing Ridgewood’s driving range with music legend Willie Nelson. Just Willie and me, out there all by ourselves, hitting balls together on a misty, overcast afternoon. He was wearing beat up blue jeans, black boots, an oversized raincoat, a bandana and had a pony tail all the way down his back. Talk about dress code violations, nobody cared though. Then there was golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

I grew up worshipping Nicklaus. When I was 13, my father took me to see the third round of the 1980 US Open at Baltusrol GC in Springfield, NJ. I followed Jack around the entire course as he set himself up to win the Open the following day. I almost didn’t find my dad when it was over (I wouldn’t have much cared after the day I had). In May of 2001, Ridgewood CC played host to the Senior PGA Championship. I was able to speak with Nicklaus for just a moment between holes during the final round. To my great shock, I was slightly taller than him (he had seemed a giant when I was 13). I told him that I had become a professional at the very club where they were playing and that my entire life in golf would not have happened but for his example. He thanked me and moved on to the next tee, leaving me hoping I hadn’t disturbed his focus any (I doubt it, knowing him).

I’ve never had a hole in one. Ironically, the closest I ever came to one was on a par four hole, rather than the usual par three. The 7th hole on the Pines course at nearby Blue Hills GC is a 300 yard par four on which both tee and green are slightly elevated, with the fairway running below. One summer afternoon I blasted a driver toward the green which landed on the front and rolled right past the hole, nearly falling in, before settling three feet to the other side. There’s a lot of luck involved in a hole in one no matter what the golfer’s skill level. My father played his entire life before finally scoring an “ace” while in his seventies. He has since been sidelined for several years now by arthritis and injuries to his hands and wrists. He is approaching 80 in just a couple of months and I know that he misses the game a great deal. I wish that I could find a way to help him play again, I have made overtures to this effect but he stubbornly refuses. He may never play golf again.

I run into a lot of people on the political left who can’t understand how I managed to thrive in a golf atmosphere which they see as being dominated by rich, fat, white Republicans. I admit there were times when I had to keep my mouth shut, which is against my very nature (in case readers hadn’t noticed). However, golf is not as one-sided or one-dimensional as some people may think. For example, it has been at times erroneously described as a game of man against nature. This is a fallacy. The true definition of the game of golf is in cooperation with nature. The best golf course designs, for example, do not destroy nature’s beauty but rather enhance and protect it. Many of today’s newer courses are being designed and constructed in a manner which intentionally protects and promotes the indigenous plant and animal life therein. Furthermore the game itself, when played properly, is not a struggle against nature’s elements but rather an effort to play within the elements and even use them to help one reach the game’s goal of using the least shots possible from teeing ground to hole. It is not man against nature; it is man cooperating with the landscape and weather conditions to produce the best result he can. That is the timeless beauty of the game of golf.

The vision of golf as being dominated by old, wealthy, white republicans wearing funny looking pants and hats, a decidedly American stereotype of the game to begin with; has become obsolete in recent decades as well. Today public courses, rather than their exclusive private counterparts, are swelled beyond capacity with very down to earth players while new public and municipal venues proliferate throughout the country. Young people, unlike what I described in my teens, are taking to the game of golf like wildfire. Gifted young athletes, who used to focus primarily on sports like baseball and basketball, are promising to make the next generation of professional golfers unlike any we have ever seen. A single person, more than any other, is responsible for the recent mainstream growth of golf. That individual, of course, is Tiger Woods. Only Arnold Palmer in the 1950s and 60s ever did nearly as much to remove the American stigma of golf as an elitist game. And only Tiger has ever influenced such an explosion of young people, excited to partake in this game. It may take up to 50 years or more for golf historians to truly appreciate what Tiger has meant for golf as a whole.

So just let him play. He will still have to deal with the damage he’s wrought in his personal life. But this is golf. This is more than just golf; this is The Masters, a rite of spring which means more to golfers than the opening day of baseball season. Having Tiger Woods there and competing elevates what would already have been one of the season’s highlights into the stratosphere of history. If he should win this Masters it will be talked about forever, right along with the rest of his incredible career. Tiger’s presence in a tournament makes the event exponentially more exciting. Tiger in The Masters is the stuff of which dreams are made. So sit back and enjoy. Forget the TMZ, gossip and scandal driven news culture for a weekend. Instead, focus on the greatest golfer of all times attempting to overcome yet another obstacle to his lofty place in sports history. For the first time, it’s an obstacle of his making. I, for one, in my lifelong love of golf, am going to be suspending personal judgments and rooting for him with all my energy.

Paul Roth, Jr.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Why The Coffee Party Movement Could Fail


When Annabel Park launched into a Facebook tirade, in January of this year, about how the Tea Party movement seemed to be portrayed as the only grassroots voice of political change, she struck a gigantic nerve. The onetime Obama “Campaign Operative” (right wing reality-speak for unpaid volunteer) soon launched the well-intentioned, if somewhat awkwardly named, Coffee Party USA movement. In barely two months this idea has attracted nearly 200,000 Facebook fans, some 50,000 more than the Tea Party has gathered in over a year. Bearing in mind that the Tea Party crowd isn’t a very Facebook-friendly demographic, this is still quite an accomplishment.

Ms. Park, her filmmaking partner Eric Byler and those they have gathered to steer this national movement, have been given a tremendous opportunity to facilitate a great political shift in this country. They awoke the liberal giant in America which seemed to be napping ever since the Inauguration of Barack Obama. They could have shown this country the size and power of a reality based American majority which has become lost in the cacophony of right wing disinformation and extremism. It was probably too late for them to move health reform legislation in a more progressive direction. However, they could still provide the Democrats in congress with a visible demonstration of this majority, one which Democrats clearly need in order to hold firmly to their principles on upcoming legislative issues like financial reform, immigration and the environment.

Instead, Ms. Park offered this on Tuesday as a blueprint for the future: “We are working around the clock to figure out what the best process and available tools are for deliberating issues and voting on collective actions. While we will continue to meet regularly in coffee shops, at least half of our activities will take place online. E-democracy is still an experimental field ...with many promising developments, but no obvious precedents. We are taking some time to research which tools would best serve our needs as a growing, bottom-up, grassroots community. Within a matter of weeks, we should be able to share with you some effective offline and online tools so that we 1) Facilitate open, civil dialogue, 2) Engage in informed deliberation, and 3) Vote on our actions and proposed solutions using a secure, transparent process. In short, we will practice democracy together as a community, as fellow Americans and our voices will be heard across the country and in Washington.”
--- Annabel Park, 3/30/10, .

Rather than assemble a real political alternative to the Tea Party, they have chosen instead to settle for some kind of touchy-feely, national political E-group therapy session, where right wing propagandists are encouraged to freely dump their garbage anytime, with the assurance that no one will be able to call them out for just who and what they are. After all, that would be uncivil. Once again, the great liberal majority in America has raised its massive head, surveyed the nationwide damage being wrought by right wing zealots and offered its ferocious battle cry, “Can’t we reach some kind of consensus here? Can we just be a little nicer to each other, OK?” You’ll forgive the conservative movement for not exactly shaking in their (Jack) boots.


Three weeks ago the Coffee Party’s Facebook page was a beautiful thing to behold. With only a sliver of national media attention, a couple of reports on CNN and one mention on MSNBC, people were pouring in to the tune of more than 10,000 per day, clearly giddy that they had found an outlet which would surely stand up against the right wing nonsense and Tea Party vitriol they were being bombarded with every day in the media. They were dying to take part in such a crusade.

Look at Coffee Party’s Facebook page today. Go ahead, look at it. This column will still be here when you’re done. – Join the Coffee Party Movement, under “Just Fans”. This page is still the movement’s main avenue for member communication. It is looking more and more like just another political Facebook page every day. Right wingers link to disinformation sources, incite debate and then deny every fact that’s presented by rational people, until said rational folks just give up and go away, leaving the righty behind to claim ideological victory. Engaging in internet debate with a right wing activist is not unlike trying to swim in quicksand. Eventually you tire of the whole experience because you realize that, no matter what you say or how well you present fact or argument, you are debating with a brick wall.

Here are a couple of examples of what I dealt with on that page within just the last 72 hours; One disingenuous individual posts a story about the AAPS’s (American Association of Physicians and Surgeons) intention to file a lawsuit seeking repeal of the new healthcare reform law. He asks if the idea of doctors opposing HCR concerns anyone. Then, a couple of fair minded but apparently poorly informed folks discuss their concerns about a dwindling medical profession and what it might mean? When I and someone else, who are a little better acquainted with political activist groups, point out that the AAPS is actually a front group for right wing activism, one which also seeks to end Medicare; it is WE who are accused of poisoning the discussion. “They’re still doctors! Doesn’t their professional opinion count? Why do you dismiss them just because they’re conservative?” Actually, most of them aren’t doctors and even those that are clearly have much higher political priorities than, say, the well being of their patients. But is there any point in my even saying these things?

Another exchange begins when someone posts a link about gun rights activists planning an armed march on Washington later this month. I notice a comment by someone from Tennessee who seems mystified by the controversy because he’s “never heard anyone say that Democrats might take away people’s guns.” This sounds innocent enough, right? Maybe he lives in a shack in the middle of nowhere, has never been exposed to mass communications of any kind, just bought himself a computer yesterday, logged on to Facebook right off the bat and started plugging away at political discussion. It’s possible, right? When I respond by saying that gun rights advocate groups and conservative Republicans have been using such scare tactics for many years, a fact which anyone, right or left, who pays nominal attention to politics will admit without hesitation, the original questioner demands that I offer proof to back up my statement.

After one 45 second Google search, I provide three separate links for him. The first being a 20 minute video of a CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference on the “current anti-gun rights climate in Washington”. (Who’s in charge in Washington right now?) Second, a FOX News report on a massive surge in firearms sales in the days leading up to President Obama’s Inauguration. And last but not least, a widely read blog post under the title, “First Obama wanted your guns and now he wants to prevent you from fishing”. My confused friend from Tennessee, rather than acknowledge that this was, indeed, a common theme in politics, responded in the following manner: first he said that he didn’t have the necessary software to watch the video link. Then he insisted that the second and third links were not satisfactory proof (in less educated terms than I use) and that I would have to provide him with physical proof that an official NRA spokesperson had ever said the exact words, “Democrats are going to take away your guns”. At this point, I belatedly understood that I was not engaged in an honest exchange and so I withdrew in order to preserve what was left of my sanity.

In my third example, it was I who was did the posting. I posted a photo of the first eight Hutaree Militia members (there was later a ninth) to be arrested recently for hatching an apocalyptic plot in Michigan. I then pointed out that the same Republicans and right wing media personalities who condemn African-American rappers for songs like “Cop Killer” and blame liberalism and even violent racial tendencies for such a musical expression of violence, astoundingly maintain deafening silence when an all white group of anti-government, religious extremists plan to actually kill police officers and then bomb their ensuing memorial services. I further pointed out that the right wing displays such silence on this kind of story because anti-government extremists and religious zealots make up a part of their political base, one which they are afraid to alienate. Was this post potentially inflammatory to Republicans? Yes. But it was something more also, it was the TRUTH! It wasn’t very long before a seemingly impartial fellow from Colorado read me the Coffee Party “riot act” about civility and accused me of “propaganda”. Really? I was just pointing out a glaring hypocrisy which anyone who’s been paying attention to the political give and take in this country for a while can confirm. I’m so sorry to have offended anyone.

The last straw came when, in frustration with all of the deliberate disinformation being allowed on this page, I posted an Amazon link to the book “The Republican Noise Machine” by David Brock. Brock is a former right wing attack-author (The Real Anita Hill) and Washington Times reporter who was rejected by his conservative patriarchs after writing what ultimately became a very fair biography of Hillary Clinton, too fair for the right wing and so they banished him. After recounting his unusual career twists in his tell all “Blinded by the Right”, he used “...Noise Machine” to detail the more than forty year history of activist right wing media in America. He explains, with a former insider’s understanding, its origins, patrons, its power to undermine democracy by misinforming the public and the equally crucial parallel strategy of denouncing mainstream media as “liberally biased”. Brock has since gone on to found Media Matters, a watchdog group which specializes in debunking false right wing reporting.

I offered the book as a way for liberals to understand just what they’re up against. An explanation of why their right wing counterparts seem to live in an alternate universe, one with a very different set of facts and a completely different narrative of world and American history. I closed my comment by observing that this right wing media movement was “the most organized effort to deliberately dis-inform a nation since Joseph Goebbels’ Third Reich Ministry of Information”. Now was that a little harsh? Maybe. Especially in light of how people get whenever you bring up the whole Nazi thing (See those right wing Obama/Hitler posters). As if I was somehow accusing them of genocide. Yes, it was harsh. But, once again, it was also TRUE! Not backing down on that, no sir. It took less than 90 seconds for my post to be removed. Dis-information is fine but information about dis-information, we can’t have that!


Look, I come from the James Carville School of Democratic politics. In June of 1992, a friend was reading to me from a New York Times article about, “this guy who’s running Clinton’s campaign”. Carville was quoted in that article as saying, “Your opponent can’t lie about you when he’s got your fist down his throat”. My friend and I both agreed that, after campaigns like those of Mondale and Dukakis, it was about damn time a Democrat was going to hit first and hit harder. I’ve never forgotten that quote and I never will. And that was from a time when Republicans were an awful lot less…well, awful. Back before the days of FOX News Channel, when Rush Limbaugh was much more unique in his right wing radio crusade, when congressional Republicans were offering a healthcare reform alternative to the Clinton reform package which looked eerily similar to the “socialist, government takeover of healthcare” just passed by Obama and Co. Long before anyone thought of holding these seemingly white-supremacist Tea Parties or demanding the president’s birth certificate (and then refusing to accept it when offered).

The point is that when you are engaged in political discourse with today’s right wing, you’d better be prepared for a serious battle. People are spitting on US Congressmen, calling them nigger and faggot. They’re carrying signs about watering “the tree of liberty” with “the blood of tyrants”. What do you suppose they mean by that? Just this week, a 70 year-old man deliberately smashed his truck into the rear end of another car because it sported an Obama/Biden bumper sticker. The second driver’s 10 year-old daughter was in the back of that car, by the way. And if you’re waiting for the current crop of Republican lawmakers to demand an end to this behavior, don’t go holding your breath. They’re too busy accusing Democrats of partisanship because they have the audacity to complain about it.

In taking a pacifist attitude into the current political arena, the Coffee Party may as well bring a feather to a knife fight. The results will be much the same. And the Facebook page is not the only area of disappointment which needs to be covered. The timid nature of the Coffee Party was also revealed during national conference calls, in which leaders of the movement talk directly with organizers from all over the country. The leaders who participated in these calls were obviously far more terrified that one of us would say something negative about the Tea Party than they seem to be about right wingers taking over their Facebook page. They offer little support for suggested concrete actions, even on a local level. Worse yet, when their national “media” people would send out a press release template, which local organizers can then modify for their own area, they were so filled with spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors that I spent more time correcting than personalizing them.


If I’m going to complain (and I think its pretty clear that I am) then I’d better close by offering some helpful suggestions as well. So here’s a little message directed at Annabel, Eric and whoever else is left helping them put things together…..Get off of your **collective butts and do something big, visible and meaningful, now, while you’ve still got a fair amount of progressives left who will join you! Every time you’ve managed even a little national focus in the media, the hibernating left wing in this country has poured onto your website and Facebook page chomping at the bit to join in. There are untold millions out there who still don’t know you exist. Less than half the attention the Tea Party is getting would bring them all right to your doorstep. Find a way, quickly, before you lose traction altogether!

And if you seriously believe that you can alter the nature of American politics by asking a few right, left and center leaning folks to sit down together every so often in their local coffee shops, I’ve got this awesome bridge over in Brooklyn that I’ll sell you dirt cheap. Just don’t ask for the deed, my dog ate it. You’re never going to fix what’s wrong in America by some kind of political osmosis. You’re going to have to act and you’ll have to draw attention to what you’re doing along the way. You’ll need a more pragmatic and practical strategy as well. For all of their faults, the Tea Partiers already understand these basic principles. You’d better incorporate them too, and fast.

For example, if you truly want to bring honesty and civility back to our national conversation, you’re going to have to loosen the right wing’s stranglehold on our news media. Right now, 30% of rank and file Republicans believe that President Obama “could be the anti-Christ”. Two-thirds believe he is a “socialist” (US socialist party denunciations of this notwithstanding). There is a tremendous dis-information problem here. To change this, you have to push for re-regulation of media ownership and possibly the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Republicans will be of no use to you on this issue; it will be a partisan effort all the way. You can provide Democrats with the will necessary to make this happen by showing them how large a voting base you can deliver for them.

One more example; In order to change the corrupted political culture in Washington (and many state capitols as well) there must be a tremendous push for real campaign finance reform. This one can be a little more bipartisan in nature. I’d actually be surprised if many among the Tea Parties wouldn’t join you in pressuring congress to quickly find a way to overturn the recent Supreme Court ruling, in Citizens United. That’s only the first step though. Finding a way to make elected officials more accessible to all of their constituents while somehow constitutionally limiting the obscene amount of influence wielded by special interest money will be a fight for the ages. It may make healthcare reform look easy, by comparison. It must be done, however, in order to return our representative government to its rightful owners.

More immediately, none of this will ever happen if the Republican Party is rewarded at the ballot box for their heinous behavior in the 111th congress. Such a victory will only further empower the far right wing and embolden the Republicans to continue their partisan warfare with the president. You’re going to have to make fighting against potential GOP gains in November priority number one for the remainder of 2010. Are you afraid that someone’s going to call you an “Obama front group”? Guess what, they already have. So what? Let them say whatever they want. Never apologize for your beliefs. Stand up for what you believe in and the good people you’ve inspired to get involved will line up with you.

I don’t mean to pretend that I would automatically have all of the means or the practical knowledge necessary, if I were ever to accidentally spark a movement this large or with this much potential. What I can say for certain is that I would damn well make the most of it if I did. This opportunity is too precious; don’t let it get away from you. If its advice you need, find the best available. If money is the issue, go ahead and ask progressive people for it. Do you really think the Tea Party is funding all of its national and local activities from grassroots? Now that you’ve stumbled upon the power to shape the kind of change you’d like to see in America, do everything you have within you to lead us in that direction. I’m sure I’m not the only progressive who has become disenchanted lately. But we’re still out here watching and hoping you’ll come around.

Paul Roth, Jr.

PS – Tell your Facebook administrators to start doing something about all of the right wing propaganda. Enough is enough. “Honesty”, remember?

** - And stop using that word in all of your literature, you’re making it too damn easy for the far right.