At the National Education Association convention last week, the liberal orthodoxy for the most part flowed in carefully directed channels. Resolutions and “new business” items condemning the war on terror and the occupation of Iraq were set aside without debate or votes, in a conscious and commendable effort to minimize anything that could distract from the unified anti-Bush (and incidentally pro-Kerry) event. In other words, the leadership kept the 9,000 delegates “on message” (as we all say nowadays).
The message was: “We hate Bush–for education reasons.”
The popularity of the message was reflected in the 86-percent delegate vote to endorse Kerry (though there was no more warmth for Kerry there than anywhere else.)
They did hear from one of the real NEA heartthrobs, Hillary Clinton (the other one was at a book-signing across town and couldn’t make it). She knocked them dead, of course, but she too steered away from foreign policy.
The only cracks in this impressive message wall came during two instances when everyone let their hair down and their real feelings out. The first was a special benefit showing of Michael Moore’s feature-length campaign commercial Fahrenheit 9/11. This embarrassing embrace of Hollywood’s number one Euro-pet anti-American produced a hate rally worthy of Orwell.
Another moment came in nostalgic mode, when Children’s Defense Fund founder and liberal icon Marian Wright Edelman was honored with a Friend of Education award. She responded with a gratifying sermon on the old time religion. Channeling the spirit of Sojourner Truth to blast the Bush (-Powell-Rice?) administration, she repeatedly brought the crowd to fever pitch. It was charming.
But one particularly interesting moment came with her bold declaration that Bush was failing the world by “supporting brutal, corrupt dictators.” In context, this got a nice slice of the rolling applause wave that continued throughout her remarks.
But I couldn’t help but wonder which dictators she had in mind.
The Taliban? No, Bush took them out already.
Saddam Hussein? No, the U.S. got him, too.
The mullahs of Iran? Kim Jong-Il? No, Bush regards them as “evil,” and they regard him as their main problem.
Qaddafi? No, he was one of the first to get the message.
Castro? I don’t think so.
Sadly, there was no time for Q&A, so Mrs. Edelman was not given a chance to elucidate.
What does it mean? Did an old 3×5 card left over from the Reagan years get mixed in with her current ones?
Or is it just that the time-tested “Awful America” lament hasn’t fully adjusted to the changed reality of the post-9/11 world?
Modern-day isolationists now cluster on the left rather than the right. For the first time, the Left doesn’t even bother to fake concern for the victims of fascism. The brutal dictators now fear nothing so much as the reelection of a Republican president.
Democrats haven’t fully internalized these new facts. We really don’t like to think about such things. That’s understandable.
Still, if a polite silence is going to be the tactic for dealing with international fascism, we need some message discipline: Silence means silence.
The party of FDR is long gone. The modern dictator finds nothing to fear in the prospects of Democratic-party victory at the polls.
We Democrats had better get used to it.
–Hans Moleman is an National Education Association employee and lifelong Democrat who prefers to remain anonymous. He has no relation to the Simpsons character by the same name. Any similarities are purely coincidental.