Opinion » Bill Cope

Mr. Cope's Cave: Knowing is Good; Doing is Better

by

By now, perhaps you've learned that, as of next week, my time writing for the Boise Weekly is over. One more "Mr. Cope's Cave" will appear in this spot Monday and, on Wednesday, my last column will be printed. I have something I feel needs to be said in the worst way and I have been wanting to get it said for a long time. So, given the situation, I guess I'd better get to saying it.

It is this: Liberals, progressives, Democrats... my friends, comrades and fellow seekers of a transcendent and satisfying future for our species... compared with conservatives, you are far too willing to sit on your butts and let others do the tedious, hands-on work of making our vision come to fruition. 

Not all of you, of course. Not to mention the leaders of our local opposition who toil so tirelessly to inject a hint of conscience into Idaho politics. I have met many of you who volunteer your time and energies in support of liberal candidates and progressive causes, be they environmental, civil rights related, political, matters of justice or whatever.

But not enough of you. What I've seen instead are people of liberal inclination who seem to think that if they keep up with events, have a relatively clear picture of who's up to what (in either the national theater or more local venues) and vote, they are fulfilling their civic responsibilities.

In a more balanced political atmosphere that might be plenty. At one time, I imagine it was sufficient for dutiful Americans to educate themselves about the issues of the day, figure out which side they are on, then show up at the polling booth to support the candidates most simpatico with that position.

That's not enough anymore. It is not a balanced political atmosphere, not nationally and certainly not locally. In spite of Americans demonstrating repeatedly that this is a center-left country—in ways ranging from the overwhelming opposition to privatizing fundamentals such as Social Security, public schools, the Veterans Administration, etc.; to our generous tolerance of the myriad of minorities in our land; to the majority garnered by Democrats in four out of the past five presidential elections—the right has succeeded in seizing a share of the power that far exceeds its true number of followers.

It's no mystery how they do it. It is what an excess of money can do, and the right has more rich people—particularly among the filthy rich—than the left. With that money, and compelled by the lust to have even more, the right has funded an army of agent saboteurs to distort and manipulate the system to their benefit alone.

Still, even with all the money spent, even with all the paid toadies working to undermine every blessing the left has brought Americans, even with decades of subterfuge designed to keep them perpetually in power, even with their own networks spreading their corrupted version of "the news," they could not keep President Barack Obama from being elected and re-elected. They could not defeat former President Bill Clinton. And they had to resort to chicanery to keep former Vice President Al Gore from taking his rightful place in the Oval Office. This says to me that when the left is active, the left prevails—no matter how much money is spent, no matter how many paid operatives are contracted to stop them.

But a step forward doesn't mean much when the next step is backward. The obvious proof of what I say are the disasters we suffer in mid-term elections. It is not unusual for there to be a drop in the number of votes cast between a presidential election year and the following mid-terms of 30 million or 35 million. And the results make it clear who is not voting in greater numbers in those mid-term contests. If center-left voters had brought anywhere near the same enthusiasm, energy and, most important, turnout to the 2010 mid-terms as they had to the election of Barack Obama, there would be no Tea Party. There would have never been a Speaker of the House John Boehner or Mitch McConnell controlling the Senate. There would not have been eight years of obstruction and gridlock. The man you put into the White House might well have accomplished everything you hoped he would when you put him there.

So why do liberals seem less dedicated to maintaining their level of involvement between presidential elections than their counterparts on the right?

I'm willing to admit my perception is skewed, but my observation is that there are too many of us who think that knowing something is the equivalent to doing something. I have a not-so-funny joke I tell people who don't get what I mean about this lazily smug attitude on the left. "Liberals collect issues of The Nation magazine," I say, "while conservatives are collecting assault rifles."

That may be overstating the case, but not by much. We liberals have had a tendency to think that as long as a threat is out in the open, it is, in some magical way, neutralized. That as long as someone is writing about it, talking about it, commenting on it, explaining how awful it is, knowing about it, then there's nothing we need to do about it, ourselves.

I have encountered this detachment in my own small way during 20 years of doing opinions in this newspaper. I'm so glad you're saying these things, Bill. They need to be said, and somebody has to do it.

Yes. Partly true. But the rest of the truth is that saying it... reading it... sharing it with like-minded friends... nodding your head at what you read, thinking, You bet! That's what I think, too! is avoiding the reality that most of the things we object to must be confronted head-on. Simply agreeing with one another is no more effective at changing the effect of a disturbing phenomenon than having a common definition of fascism would have stopped Adolf Hitler.

And, no. This is not an appeal for you to donate more money than you do to progressive causes and candidates... not that it wouldn't help. But matching money with money is not the ultimate solution. It is the fervor, the commitment and the physical involvement of conservatives that must be matched. The hands-on presence of motivated people, willing to sacrifice their time and energies to do what they feel in their hearts as well as think in their heads is right—that is what I don't see happening enough among my fellow travelers.

In part, it is because our priorities are compartmentalized. LGBT advocates may not see fracking or gun violence as their concern, just as pro-public education advocates do not involve themselves in the fight to keep Planned Parenthood alive. Environmental activists stay focused on their purview, while organized labor activists stay focused on theirs and gun regulation activists stay busy with theirs. It's something we don't see as much on the right. When conservatives are in for something, they're all in. An anti-choice Republican is as likely to be anti-gun regulation, anti-conservation, anti-union, anti-immigration, anti-feminism, anti-everything-we-are-for, as he is to be a white, aging, frightened man.

But those white, aging, frightened men all understand the thing so many Democrats don't: There is only one issue. It has many faces, many names, many manifestations, many arguments... but the outcome of any and all of those manifestations can only take one of two directions. Forward or backward.

This is what I've believed for more than 20 years writing for this paper, and it is what I've believed throughout my adult life as a liberal. We must all move together—act together—or we go nowhere.

Thank you for allowing me this last rant.