Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nebraskans for Peace: When Hope Becomes Delusion

by Kyle Michaelis
I have no desire to demean the wonderful work done by Nebraskans for Peace, but the self-proclaimed "oldest statewide Peace & Justic organization in the country" seems to be showing its age - demonstrating a disturbing detachment from reality in its latest fundraising letter:
Dear Nebraskans for Peace Supporter,

This is the best time to be working for Peace & Justice in Nebraska in seventy years.

Not since the Depression of the 1930s have circumstances been so favorable. Not even the 'Sixties,' when we still had a Cold War to contend with, were this good.

The letter goes on to write about 1936 as Nebraska's "last hurrah for liberalism," as voters supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt's reelection and sent "Fighting Liberal" George Norris back to Washington D.C. for what would be his last term in the U.S. Senate:
...veering right from there onward, Nebraska would slip into a long conservative coma that - with minor interruptions - has continued pretty much right up to the present day....

But that's starting to change....

Between public dissatisfaction with the course of the war, high energy prices, the shaky economy, and concern over civil liberties, things have gotten so rocky for the White House here in Husker Nation that George Bush's approval ratings have even dropped below 50 percent.

After seventy long years, progressive politics is poised to make a comeback here in Nebraska....

Literally, an oppotunity like this comes once in a lifetime. Together, we can make the most of it.

Well, I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but NFP have put the cart so far before the horse with this letter that it borders on self-parody.

While there are some indications that Nebraskans are turning their back on the Bush Administration, there has been nothing to suggest a willingness on the part of voters to embrace a more progressive political identity. To suggest that the two go hand-in-hand is simply false on its face.

I am not denying that the first fissures in Nebraska's 'red state' mentality may already be showing, but absent validation at the ballot box such a notion remains little more than conjecture.

Hope is a beautiful thing, but - unchecked by reason and out-of-touch with reality - it can do more harm than good.

Of course, the main purpose of NFP's letter is to solicit donations. The organization does a lot of excellent work by which it has proven deserving of such investment. But, this letter falls prey to some of the very worst stereotypes of the ideologue as carnival barker - telling the people what they want to hear rather than telling them the truth.

Frankly, I'm uncomfortable that NFP would suggest the War in Iraq, profiteering by oil companies, and the Bush Administration's treading all over the U.S. Constitution amount to "favorable" circumstances. That we have gotten into so delicate and pathetic a situation is far more a testament to our past failures than it is a promise for our future.

While change is possible in Nebraska, there is - as yet - no reason to believe that change will be for the better. NFP and Nebraska's like-minded liberals will make no head-way with the conservative voting population until they provide a reasonable and measured alternative to the status quo that people actually want and with which they actually relate.

To imagine that we are anywhere close to achieving that recipe for success is utter nonsense. Although NFP can take credit for surviving and advancing some limited causes in recent years, these have not been of the sort to establish any sort of true claim to a more general trend in their favor.

There is a fine line where acceptable spin becomes unacceptable exaggeration - even dishonesty - across which I can't help thinking this letter goes beyond.

Of course, a message of 'things can't possibly get much worse, can they?' isn't likely to rally the troops (and their checkbooks) in the hoped-for manner. Indeed, national trends and polling data do suggest that some degree of enthusiasm may be warranted.

But the perfect, once-in-a-lifetime convergence this letter imagines is not supported by the facts. It has no basis in reality and is, in my summation, refuted by both the anti-war movement of the 1960s and the farm crisis of the 1980s, both of which rallied people for progressive change in a manner that is not yet in evidence and has failed to take form.

None of which is to suggest that such may not be possible in the coming years, but it will take more than platitudes and wishful thinking. It's also going to take a reconsideration of how progressives approach the issues, if not a rethinking of the issues in general.

The only thing as certain as history's repeating itself is the inadequacy of looking to the past for signposts to the future. I'm of the opinion that the politics of 1936 should hold far less sway than our vision - plainly-spoken and clearly defined - for the Nebraska, the America, and the world of 2036.

But, for now, we are stuck in 2006 and must make of it what we will. To say, however, that we have the opportunity to turn the tide and to lay the groundwork for a brighter future is fundamentally different from gathering together to sing 'Happy Days Are Here Again.'

That's not where we stand as a state. It's not where we stand as a nation.

Each day can be a step forward to a better future. Heck, November could prove a giant leap. But, if we allow false confidence to oscure our long-standing need to address our own deficiencies, we will be in for a rude awakening when the system-wide failure of Republican politics translates into little more than marginal gains nationally that won't even amount to a tiny blip of consciousness in Nebraska's ongoing "conservative coma."

In other words: cool it with the rhetoric and the hyperbole. Stay focused on the issues. And, for God's sake, save the party until we actually have something besides trends, hype, and conventional wisdom to celebrate.

Nebraskans for Peace uses as its slogan, "There is no Peace without Justice." I remind them, in the same vein, that "There is no Progress without Truth."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of your best posts ever!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Attacking the stalwart liberal bastion that is NfP is a terribly exposing way to reveal your true colors to the world. I am a young Nebraska native who lives on the west coast, and have looked to NfP for inspiration and guidance on the political and social climate in the state for the last 5 years. Their work is real, tangible, and practical. Your demeaning attempt to belittle their wisdom and ability does nothing to build collaboration and solidarity among potential allies; please rethink this approach in the future.


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