DAVID BRIN's world of ideas

The Ostrich Papers: How It Will Take ALL Decent Americans To Restore Decency To America

By David Brin, Ph.D.

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men." -- Edward R. Murrow

For some time, I've called upon moderate and liberal Americans to gather the fortitude and determination to fight for our nation's survival where it matters most.

Not by attending rallies, or going door-to-door, or energizing the base, or hanging around like-minded people, or posting livid screeds, or even sending cash to your favorite candidate. Those are all fine things. But they miss the most important fact -- and opportunity -- about this crucial election cycle.

Today's critical issue has nothing to do with the outdated so-called "left-right" political axis.

With the very survival of Constitutional government and the American Experiment at stake, we cannot afford to leave this to simpleminded partisanship.

Our opportunity -- and obligation -- is to rip open Karl Rove's "big tent conservative coalition." To pry it apart -- one person at a time -- by approaching millions of decent fellow citizens who were duped into supporting a criminal gang. One person at a time.

What? Am I really suggesting we should reach out to... conservatives?

Well, yes... some of them. Absolutely. Indeed, this is the only possible way to win an overwhelming victory. Not for liberals or Democrats or even moderates. But for America.

[image from Critical Mass]

Ponder this absolute lesson of history.

The surest way to achieve success -- in war or peace or politics --- is to break up your foe's alliance. To strip away his supporters. In this case, by showing some of them that they're more at home in our Big Tent. At least this time around.

At least long enough to save America.

Yes, I know this will be hard. It can feel so satisfying to demonize others with a single, strawman image. (Don't they do it to us?) Alas, though, it is also self-indulgent and stupid.

Suppose we could succeed in shattering Rove's coalition, would that not be worth applying a little nuance to our oversimplified stereotype of "conservatives"?

The potential benefit? It would not only end the Bush era in a landslide, we might also permanently discredit the neoconservative "revolution" and help to end the bitter, artificial Culture War that was deliberately concocted to tear our country apart.

That final point is crucial. For, if Culture War continues, even after a Democratic victory, then any Hillary Clinton presidency (for example) will be ashes in our mouths.

Sure, law and openness and respect for truth will return. Great. But we will also endure nothing less than a bitter resumption of the regional hatreds that sparked American Civil War.

Not her fault, you say? You say that "culture war" was foisted on us by cynical manipulators? So? We'll still be consigned to another four or eight years of living hell. Think Whitewater and Monica... multiplied by a hundred.

We don't just need victory for one electoral side, kicking out a set of bums. We need a victory for the very concept of decency and openness and accountability. And, for that to happen there must be a seismic change on the right.

[image from Open Salon]

The dream we should hold out to our neighbors is the restoration of a conservatism that is worth talking to. A version no longer tied to jibbering loonies and an outright criminal gang.

If we reach out and steal "decent conservatives" from Rove's Big Tent, we will not only weaken the monstrous, undead thing called neoconservatism, but we may even (to our own surprise) gain new friends.

Neighbors we can argue and negotiate with sensibly, like adults.

Indeed, possibly fellow citizens who (though conservative) may have a good idea or two.

So, you ask -- "HOW do I help break up the Rove big-tent conservative coalition?"

Here's how.

Use this handy guide to waking-up a Republican ostrich.

This essay is long and thorough, making it useful as a reference for any of you militant-moderates looking for "ostrich ammo." Do NOT send your favorite "decent conservative" here saying "read this!" All they'll see is another online tirade. This chore must be done in person. One on one.

Said one experienced ostrich converter: "You need to make firm contact with the bit that's in the sand rather than what's poking up above it. Engage them on their terms. Don't harangue."

Ask them: "What it is that makes you believe the GOP and Bush are better for America?" You can then focus your counter-arguments on what's important to your ostrich, by their own admission.

Yes, relentless pursuit is necessary, while your ostrich is in denial! But if you do make headway, there will come a time when they run out of excuses and face the uncomfortable fact they've been wrong. Let them come to terms with that in their own way.

Resist backsliding into your own urge to gloat! (After all, the left had its own era of foolish association with monsters, and it may again. Admit it!) Be supportive... but... do... not... let... go.

  1. Recognize that Rove's "big tent" is filled with contradictions. With people holding their noses. With constituencies who have never actually received anything tangible from the Bushites, for all their loyalty. With (for example) libertarians who despise religious fanaticism, but put up with raving fundies, because they imagine that "the GOP is better for free markets than the Democrats would be." (Ha!)

    We must exploit these contradictions, using blatant truth as a wedge to pry apart groups that shouldn't be allies in the first place.

  2. Go ahead and be proud that moderate-liberalism has been responsible for most of the great American accomplishments of the last 100 years. True enough.

    Nevertheless, accept that there is a decent and honorable side to conservatism. The Goldwater version -- minus today's venality and bigotry -- that always offered an important balance to the liberal urge to frantically meddle. If we appeal to this better side -- describing how Goldwater himself despised the neocon movement -- and showing how the Bushites betray even conservative standards, then you may be listened to. Better than if you scream.

  3. The key point. You can do your part, at the grass roots, by choosing one or two "Ostrich Republicans"... decent folks like your crewcut-wearing Uncle Jack, who has a good heart, but watches Fox News and wallows in the delusion that Democrats are ALL like that silly, postmodernist college professor that Bill O'Reilly railed at, last night on the boob tube. (Um... we're not!)

    Poor, deluded Uncle Jack, who actually believes that these thieving, lying, vicious, klepto-manipulative neocon loons are "conservatives" ... just like him.

OSTRICH AMMO: We'll break up this lengthy missive (rant? ;-)) with small dollops of "ammo" to use on your favorite ostrich-uncle. Later on -- some Killer YouTube clips, for the 50% of Americans who have mid-band. (NONE of us has real "broadband." Ask any Korean.)

Your stereotypical ostrich sees himself as a stand-up guy. Open. Honest. And he despises hypocrisy! Except, of course, from his own "side." So stick some of these in front of him and don't let him turn away.

Bush attacking Clinton during the (outstandingly successful) Balkans Intervention: "Victory means an exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is, and I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn."

Bush making at least twenty promises to the military men and women he has since betrayed. Check out where he denounces the practice of "using our troops as nation-builders."

But enough ammo for now. Back to the main article.

[image from Wunderground]

"So, I've chosen my Ostrich. What do I say to him?"

I've spent years trying to refine this message. Some attempts were too intellectual ... or steeped in history ... or offered detailed comparisons of the Iraq and Balkans wars, (hint: Bill Clinton was vastly better at war than our current "leader.") Or exposing the weird -- but indisputable -- fact that Democrats guard our borders vastly better than Republicans do, despite contradicting rhetoric.

If your ostrich likes that sort of fact-drenched discourse, you could dive deep into the roots of neoconservatism and see how this mad movement fits in the rogues gallery of enemies of freedom, right alongside communism.

If your ostrich reads, point him or her to a recent article in the genuinely (if flexibly) conservative journal, The Economist, about reasons for the death spiral of the Republican Party. EXCERPT:

Many conservative activists would like to pin the blame [for the decline of the Republican party] on Mr. Bush alone either because he pursued foolish policies (the paleo-conservative version) or because he pursued sensible policies in a cack-handed manner (the neoconservative version). In fact, the Republican Party in Congress is just as responsible as Mr Bush for most of the recent troubles. The Republican majority routinely appropriated more spending than the president asked for. It also larded spending bills with as much extra pork as possible. The number of congressional earmarks for projects in members' districts increased from 1,300 in 1994, when the Republicans took over Congress, to 14,000 in 2005. The Republican majority also cheered Mr. Bush all the way to Baghdad. Add to this the corruption of congressmen like Tom DeLay, a conservative hero, and the semi corrupt institutional relationship that the Republicans formed with lobbyists, and you see that Mr. Bush was only part of a much bigger problem.... It is a sign of weakness that the conservatives are retreating to their old posture as insurgents, and need a bogeywoman like Mrs. Clinton to hold them together.

Or, if you and your ostrich share a deliciously paranoid streak, you might ponder how deeply suborned the entire political process may have become, given basic flaws of human nature, and by bad men with unlimited resources.

Heck, explore together the comparison of two words... "whitewater" and "blackwater"... (try Google)... and ask him which turned out to be scarier.

Lately though, I've come to realize that what's needed isn't very complicated. In fact, it's simple. Relentlessness! If you do heed this call -- if you do pick a few decent-but-deluded Ostrich Americans to go after -- grab their lapels and do not let go!

Start with:

"Let's agree this is important. As a patriotic citizen, you should be interested, because these accusations have little to do with normal, left right disputes."

"The issue is whether the country -- and the conservative movement -- have been hijacked by a criminal gang. If a fifth of these things are true, then you, as a conservative, should be angrier than anybody!"

"Decent conservatives like you need to rescue your movement, before it becomes irretrievably associated with monsters."

Of course, once you've said that, you have to follow up. So heed this fundamental approach:

Learn the art of seeing the world through "decent conservative eyes"... AND THEN ATTACK THE NEOCON MONSTERS IN CONSERVATIVE TERMS! Use facts that are obvious. Facts that scream.

  • Like the fact that, in Bill Clinton's day, we did not have to lower our recruitment standards, forcing the Army to let in ex-felons... or offer $20,000 signing bonuses to bribe new "volunteers."

  • Or the fact that only two (just two!) of our Army's brigades are currently fully trained, equipped and ready for actual war to defend this country! All the rest have been converted into counter insurgency urban swat teams. (One general said "Bill Clinton's U.S. Army could beat our present force with one hand tied behind its back.")

  • If Bill Clinton was hiding so much, why did he cut government secrecy in half? If the Bushites are so responsible, why do they run from facts, from testifying, from oversight? Why have they multiplied government secrecy to levels ten times greater than when we were in a life-and-death Cold War struggle against the Soviet KGB?

  • In past wars, patriotic wealthy Americans stepped up, accepting the need to help pay for a struggle fought by other peoples' sons. If we're now "at war," how come the top neocon billionaires have just two priorities -- increasing their tax cuts and getting no-bid, crony contracts to NOT deliver what's needed in Iraq?

AMMO CAPSULE! After inheriting surpluses from Clinton, Bush has run up over $3 TRILLION dollars in debt. Bush's FY2002 budget forecast understated the five-year deficit by $2.8 TRILLION dollars. Federal spending as a percentage of GDP was 21.4% when Clinton took office and 18.5% when he left, but is now back up to 20.8%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased 325% during the Clinton years but only 27% during the Bush years. The S&P 500 increased of 309% under Clinton and 9% under Bush. Economic growth was considerably higher under Clinton than under Bush and small businesses grew even faster than giant ones. Isn't that what we want?

[image from TimeOut Chicago]

Oh, the list of conservative reasons to hate the Bush Gang goes on and on. It's not hard to find zingers and statistics. But keep it simple. Go right to the heart of what your ostrich already knows.

Try this list of supposedly basic conservative values:

  • Respect for professionalism?

  • Fiscal prudence?

  • Respect for the military officer corps?

  • Emphasizing military readiness over foreign adventures in "nation building?

  • Respect for science?

  • A belief in openness, transparency and accountability?

  • A distrust of secrecy?

  • Gentility and courtesy in argument and discourse?

  • A dedication to small business?

  • A belief in free markets where competition is fostered, and not catering to monopolies?

  • Government contracts that are open and granted to competent low bidders, instead of cronies of the king?

  • Saving for a rainy day?

  • Skillful management?

  • Caution in foreign entanglements?

  • Maintaining our reserves and respecting the men and women of the National Guard?

  • Respecting our allies and world opinion?

  • Protecting our strategic petroleum reserves?

  • Belief in a nation that is as clean in its habits as we are in our homes?

  • Practicing what we preach -- especially in family values?

...and so on...

Exactly which of these conservative values has not been diametrically reversed by these neocon lunatic traitors?

Dare your ostrich to find one. Find even one.

AMMO CAPSULE! Make a list of YouTube Hypocrisy Moments and force your ostrich to watch them in short jolts: Bush standing in front of the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign... and then later blaming the sailors for it when the White House had ordered it made.

Here's a real doozy in which Dick Cheney explains why it would be crazy to try to topple Saddam and deal with the subsequent quagmire. Until he later did a 180.

Another "in their own words" YouTube entry exposes a "Symphony of Lies." If your Ostrich is reachable at all, this will make him or her cringe.

Alas, YouTube only works where Americans have "broadband" -- at best pathetic by world standards. As we plummet toward 40th place in lifespan and 50th in student test scores and lose our knack for science, engineering and can-do professionalism, shall we make that decline an ostrich topic too?

I could go on with this "Ostrich Manifesto." There are countless, countless zingers that can stick in the gut of your Uncle Jack... and maybe shake him awake. For example, try this line:

"What would you have said if Bill Clinton had --"

And then fill in the blank with something any conservative ought to find repulsive, if they did not have their head buried in the sand.

Like "losing" several billion dollars in cash, by the side of an Iraqi road.

Or "losing" a quarter of a million weapons in Iraq without even keeping their serial numbers.

Or "losing" several billion dollars worth of Iraqi oil per month... which is vastly more than the right wing screamed about, during the so-called "Oil-For-Food" scandal.

Make a long list and demand -- "What would you have said if this happened under Clinton? If one thousandth of any of this had happened then?"

Now tell them how strenuously the Bushites have striven to strengthen the Presidency and insulate it from all supervision, oversight or duty -- not only to Congress but the people -- sending secrecy skyrocketing far beyond anything we saw in the Cold War. And ask this: "Do you really want future Democratic presidents to have such power? Or do you feel that the Bushites are doing this because they don't intend to ever let that happen?"

Ask them to ponder just how far loyalty to their side goes. (Psychologically, this is the trait that keeps most conservatives standing by the GOP, despite all these listed betrayals and horrors.) Do they really hate "liberals and moderates" so much that another conservative value, respect for law and due process, can just be thrown away?

Hammer home that no administration has been more universally detested by our military officers, or by the middle ranking officers of the intelligence community, or by government scientists, or -- indeed -- by almost any professional person in the United States of America, than our present band of frat-boy know-nothings.

[image from all about jazz]

To reiterate: these are all zingers that argue with your ostrich in conservative terms!

Again, don't even bother trying to remonstrate with him or her about pollution or torture or global warming or health care! Their defenses against these issues are up, prepped by Fox News. Those appeals will flow off their backs.

Where they are vulnerable -- where you can get through -- is by showing your ostrich that no decent conservative American should have anything to do with this gang of monstrous liars, morons and thieves...

...or the awful, awful pack of guys (with the exception of Ron Paul) who are parroting the same crazy stuff, all over the country, right now, while vying for leadership over a party that has simply gone quite, jibbering mad.

Oh... don't forget to lace your riffs with lots of patriotism! And make it sincere, because it ought to be.

For too long, liberals have allowed conservatives to preen and pretend they own that word. Remind your ostrich that this is about our country. It's about America, the light of freedom and center of the Enlightenment. The nation that embraced science and progress as no other ever did. The one that first put law above men. The first victor in war who showed kindness to the vanquished. The first to lead a world by virtue and example, rather than force. The one country that absorbed half of the refugees and immigrants who ever struggled to find new lives and better themselves and their children.

An America that is being hijacked, as we speak, by homegrown monsters who are every bit as dangerous as foreign communists once were.

If loyalty is the chief conservative virtue... the glue keeping so many decent conservative Americans attached to a GOP gone-mad... then USE LOYALTY to melt that bond! Loyalty to something better, greater, more important than a political party. Yes, mention humanity and the Earth and the future and posterity... all the things that give liberals goosebumps....

...but try adding loyalty to America, too.

Because America IS KEY to all those other things prospering!

Because, despite all our faults, this nation remains the light of the world and the best hope of humankind.

But, above all, because your ostrich just may listen to you then. And perhaps even remember that liberals and moderates are Americans, too.


Want to know the real tragedy?

It really is the Democratic Party's fault.

If they spent just a little time and effort on this kind of plan -- the way the early neocons did, at the Heritage Foundation -- there could emerge a fantastic web-based campaign reaching out to "decent conservatives." One of potentially staggering effectiveness.

As a side benefit -- a huge one -- such an effort could also encourage whistle-blowing by civil servants who are sick and tired of the neocon "War Against Professionalism."

Even better, picture if some democratic candidate -- or a convention speaker -- were to take up this theme. A stirring moment reaching across all our political divides, appealing for a coalition of the honest. An alliance of the sane.

It could turn into the most potent gesture and effective move against political madness since the US Army (in the person of JAG Joseph Welch) finally turned on the infamous demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy and demanded "At long last, Sir, have you left no sense of decency?" Thereupon sending THAT generation's right wing monster slinking away and letting the rest of us -- (conservatives too) -- get back to the business of civilization.

All of this could happen.

But only if we are willing to gird ourselves not to play Karl Rove's game.

He WANTS us to align ourselves left versus right. That way, all people who see themselves as right-of-center MUST support him, even if they feel ashamed. (Long ago, the communists tried this same trick on the moderate left, which proved smart enough to stand up and say no way! But apparently it works fine on conservatives.)

We can thwart this vile scheme, but only if we make our Big Tent truly inclusive and welcoming. A coalition fiercely focused upon a single issue that transcends clichés of left/right. Liberal vs. conservative arguments -- like health care -- can and must wait. We have one job now. Not only to defeat and eject the criminal gang that has seized our nation, but to utterly repudiate it, forever, denying it even a sizeable base to hide in, licking its wounds and swearing vengeance upon the Age of Reason.

Let neoconservatism flutter away into kooky corners and archaic silliness, like communism, with which it shares so many dismal traits. (Remember, the left once went mad, too.)

Sound good? Well, that repudiation can only happen if we enlist millions of decent citizens from all parts of America. Including millions who happen to be "decent conservatives."

Millions who will stand up for America, if we stay after them, relentlessly asking that they lift their heads out of the sand and see what has been done to the honor of conservatism.

An honor that's been stained and tainted, but that could still be restored... there's time!

But only if they stand up soon.

If they rise up and join the rest of us.

Helping to rescue this threatened America, our beloved country.