09/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How the Right Continues to Get It Wrong

I've been deluged over the last six months by all kinds of letter-writing and petition requests from every progressive committee and cause that has my email address. There are also one or several conservative groups that continue to send me stuff. I read their stuff just for laughs, but honestly there's nothing to laugh at, sort of like Dennis Miller, even when he was a liberal. I laugh at their sheer audacity, and I laugh only because otherwise I would explode in anger over how ridiculous their positions are. The messaging being done by the progressive and liberal groups is in its relative infancy compared to the vitriol and hate propagated by conservatives since the first Bush presidency, further exacerbated by Bill Clinton's dubious signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which allowed broadcasters and publishing companies to buy up and control local area media markets all over the country.

The Republicans were as wrong in their message then as they are now, but over the course of 20 years (almost a full generation), the relentless hammering away with virtually no opposition has taken its toll. We progressives were asleep at the wheel during all of this and we allowed things to deteriorate. The seeds that were sown even before 1988 have produced a bitter harvest being played out in places like St. Louis, Tampa, Philadelphia and anywhere else that there have been disruptions in town hall meetings.

In my last post I chronicled my conversation with Rhonda Welsch, a conservative woman of 40 who was 12 years old when Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his first term. Ms. Welsch, having grown up in a conservative area and household, has nothing to compare her experiences with. Willfully ignorant and incurious people prefer what they're used to and don't handle change easily. The progressive message has a long way to go before these people pay attention, and no real change will be effected until the conservatives realize that they are going to have to compromise the way our founding fathers did. I wonder if that will happen in my lifetime. I don't know.

Back in 1998 I attended a reception for Sandra Mortham, then Florida's Secretary of State. As an arts administrator I donated $25 to her campaign fund and reasoned that she had been good to Florida's arts organizations and she was approachable. At that point Florida was #2 nationally in arts funding and Mortham was an enthusiastic supporter of arts across all disciplines. She took pride in citing figures that every dollar invested in the arts was returned threefold to the community. It was also known at the time that her opponent in the primary was to be a woman named Katherine Harris. Jeb Bush was the Republican candidate for Governor. There was some scandal about improprieties in her office and Bush eventually endorsed Harris who went on to win the primary.

That small donation got me inundated with direct mail of all kinds from every conservative Florida and national politician, as well as pointed hate mail against the Clinton administration by people like Leonard Starr, Newt Gingrich, Bob Barr and others too numerous to mention. The tone of all this mail was tortured logic, blatant misinformation and outright disdain of any Clinton policies or progressive political positions. Once Jeb Bush took office this state took a backward slide from which it has never recovered, and Katherine Harris was at the forefront of that decline. Today, Florida has virtually no money for the arts, and totally disdains any funding for the proper education of our most precious resource: our children. I'm still on some of their mailing lists and from time to time they waste their money on mailings to me.

Rhonda Welsch is not alone. Corporate executives, attorneys, physicians, Wall Street bankers and other professionals of the same age group grew up with the same messages being pounded continually without an organized, coherent and attractive counter-message. They cut their teeth on greed and selfishness; they really don't understand ethical behavior and they really feel that they are entitled. I blame myself and every other progressive for not being more vigilant and not acting when we could have. Jimmy Carter might have beaten Reagan if we'd had the proper grassroots in place. The race was very close until the final weeks. We could have made the difference. The kind of activism we displayed last year could have made the difference in 2000 as well, especially in Florida. So much for complacency.

I continue to get viral emails forwarded to me by a dear friend who happens to be a racist libertarian. To his credit he doesn't generate them, he just forwards them. He's an ex-NYC cop who became an actor and a singer, and he's fun to be with as long as we don't discuss politics. Many of his emails show his appreciation of the arts in the form of the female anatomy in various poses and states of physical activity and undress. The others, unfortunately, are a rehash of all the vitriol, myths and baseless attacks from the 2008 campaign, including several rants by Jackie Mason about Barack Obama. I actually became a Huffington Post blogger by forwarding all of his e-mails to the Post during the campaign so I have him to thank for all this, but I digress -- the purpose of this column is to show why the Republican message is and has been wrong.

In the beginning of this post I told of all the letters and petitions I receive. Some stuff I delete, as we all do. I do sign most of the petitions, but not the ones I disagree with. Somehow, a petition I signed got to the office of our soon-to-be ex Senator, Mel Martinez, and someone had to have misread it, because it alleged that I opposed government-funded abortions. Here is the letter I got from Martinez:

Below is a response to the recent comments I received from you:

Dear Mr. Waxman:

Thank you for contacting me regarding your opposition to the use of taxpayer funding for abortion services. I appreciate hearing from you and would like to respond to your concerns.

Every human life is precious. We must uphold our Constitution which ensures Americans the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but even before these -- the right to life. I am committed to promoting a culture of life in America.

Like you, I am opposed to all abortion, and do not support the use of taxpayer funds for any abortion. I appreciate you sharing your views with me, and rest assured that as your Senator, I will continue to support the right to life.

Again, thank you taking the time to share your views with me. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. In addition, for more information about issues and activities important to Florida, please sign up for my weekly newsletter at


Mel Martinez
United States Senator

That's funny, because any time I contacted him it was about either single payer, or barring that the public option on health care, and that I was solidly in favor of those options. I never once mentioned abortion. So, I wonder if he and Charlie Crist share the same mail responders since Crist seems to have a problem with answering his mail as well. If on the off chance I did sign the wrong petition, I sincerely apologize for that lapse in judgment. Frankly, abortion is a non-issue. It belongs between a woman and her doctor and nowhere else -- however, people like Mel Martinez continue to use it to obscure the real issues confronting him. He is a coward and his letter is a cop-out. He has never completed a government job he started and now, at a time when Florida needs responsible people in leadership positions, he chickens out. That's the Republican message that they are sending. He may be a decent man; many people have told me he is, but none of his actions save his Sotomayor vote show any integrity or compassion for his voting public. Good riddance to both him and his message.

A tale of two citizens

The monthly meeting of The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades was held on Thursday, August 6 at their headquarters in Orlando. Coincidentally, this was the same day of the disrupted Tampa town hall meeting. Several politicians were there to update the members on their respective positions. The first two people to speak were freshmen congressional representatives Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas, both of whom have constituencies in Orange County. The union members were a mixed group, some Democrats and some Republicans, but all were well-behaved and respectful. Grayson was poised, sure of himself and completely at ease as he gave an impromptu talk about his many childhood illnesses. His parents, both teachers, had been on strike during one of his illnesses and there were questions as to how they would pay for their son's medical treatment. He then spoke on the merits of Health Care Reform, which he fully supports, including the public option, and he is fighting hard for the bill's passage although he acknowledges it is not perfect. His term for the bill was "Peace of Mind."

Kosmas, who came late to the meeting, was much stiffer in her presentation. She apologized for only hearing the "peace of mind" part of Grayson's speech and then, much like a university teaching assistant in economics not yet sure of her subject, launched into an essay about being cautious in crafting the bill. She appeared ill at ease with anything to do with health care and over the course of 15 minutes managed to say very little at all. In a safe atmosphere where there is no threat of disruption, a friendly union hall where she gained a lot of support over her years in the Florida Legislature, she chose to play it worse than safe -- she was non-committal. What's she afraid of? She beat Tom Feeney on his own turf in a district he drew for himself as a lifetime fiefdom. Obviously the fear of the Republican message bothers her more than the constituency of East Orange County Democratic voters that she's avoiding. East Orange County Democratic voters were instrumental in her being elected and they can also deny her re-election.

The Republican message is inherently wrong. It has led us down a dangerous and destructive path for a full generation. To acquiesce to the message is also wrong. This is not mathematics. Two negatives do not make a positive. Last week I saw a sign on a local church sign: "There is no right way to do something wrong." It's a great message.