James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A new candidate for Congress, unknown but awake

In January, while a lot of disorganized grumbling about Rep. Marty Sabo's failure to use his congressional pulpit was going on, up popped Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.

Never heard of him?

Neither had I, nor most of the disgruntled Democrats and former Democrats who make up a substantial portion of my personal circle. The only one who had heard the name knew nothing more than that the guy had been involved in some anti-war activity or another.

One of the most active and effective members of the peace and justice movement sent an email one day stating that Nelson-Pallmeyer was going to have a meeting in a Minneapolis church in a couple of days to explore the possibility of running for Congress as a Democrat. That is, he was thinking about challenging Sabo for what undoubtedly is one of the safest Democratic seats in Congress, that of Minnesota's Fifth District -- Minneapolis and portions of some inner, mostly Democrat-leaning suburbs.

Because of the short notice, and other obligations, I was a bit late getting to the meeting and missed Nelson-Pallmeyer's short talk, but I did hear and see enough to be thoroughly surprised and to gain a glimmer of hope.

It would be rational to expect maybe 10 or 15 perpetually dissatisfied people to show up at such a largely unpublicized gathering. In fact, upward of 100 people were there. The age range probably ran from early 20s to late 70s, with no particular age group dominant. Judging by appearances, the crowd didn't represent a lot of wealth, but neither did it appear to be largely of any one economic level. A very attractive mix of voters, in other words.

A couple of people who already were part of the would-be candidate's budding organization spoke very well, though briefly, and then about a dozen people from the audience stepped unprepared to the microphone to state why they wanted someone other than Martin Sabo to represent the Fifth District in Congress.


Turns out that the grumbling I'd been doing for months (see the article immediately below this) was being repeated all over the district. There's no way yet of knowing how many others feel the same way, but I certainly had a substantial amount of company. The theme, repeated in brief statements by speaker after speaker, was that the seat should be occupied by someone with the guts and the ability to fight the Bush crowd and to take the fight to the people, to use the office to show the public what's wrong and what can be done about it.

So, politics, hope and human nature being what they are, it was not surprising that, after being pumped up at that meeting, Nelson-Pallmeyer decided to run.

Here's what we have at this point:

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a resident of south Minneapolis, is going to try to get the Democratic nomination for the Fifth District seat at the party caucuses March 7, facing a deeply entrenched incumbent who will have the full weight of the party organization behind him.

The new candidate, 55, is an associate professor of justice and peace studies (more on that later) at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He is the author of many articles and 11 books on topics such as religion and politics, how food is used in social and political battles, violence in the Bible and the Quran. He has a degree in political science from St. Olaf College, a high-ranking Lutheran college in Northfield, Minn., and also attended Union Theological Seminary in New York.

He has a stack of credits for work in this country and abroad for various humanitarian organizations.

Since that initial meeting, I have heard the man speak. He's articulate, conveys warmth to his audience and is remindful in some ways of both the late Paul Wellstone and Hubert Humphrey in his early years in the Senate. That is, he has facts and numbers – verifiable facts and numbers – at his finger tips when speaking, as Humphrey did, but tends to be less pedantic in using them. He also recalls Wellstone's enthusiasm, though he's not so given to delivering stemwinders.

At early exposure, at least, he is on a personal and public-appearance level an extraordinarily attractive candidate.

From a liberal point of view, he's also talking about the right things. The Iraq war is at the top of his agenda, and he believes planning for a rapid pullout should be started immediately. He believes in strengthening and working through international systems to settle disputes and he is against American empire building. He sees degradation of the physical environment as a top priority and sees a direct connection between that, dependence on oil and true security. He's concerned about the educational system, making higher education affordable, maintaining the integrity of science and more. And he's willing to discuss both what is and what could be.

Beyond that, watch for his public appearances and campaign materials and see what he has to say.

I know little more than what's here and what I've heard him say, but it is enough for me to believe he would be a better, more active, more vocal and useful member of Congress than poor, tired Martin Sabo.

Obviously, it is highly unlikely that he will gain the Democratic nomination this year. Sabo is deeply dug in with the entrenched party regulars who are leading the Democrats toward yet more failure, and Nelson-Pallmeyer is unknown to the vast majority of people in the district.

Yet an upset is not impossible.

The Star Tribune will make light of Nelson-Pallmeyer and cover him in a demeaning way, when it deigns to mention him at all. That's not a guess, that's a fact. The picture it draws of him will not be accurate nor true. The only mention it has given the new candidate thus far was in liberal-leaning Doug Grow's column. There has yet to be a news story; the paper ignored his official announcement of candidacy. When it does acknowledge his presence in news articles, it will identify him as a lightweight “peace and justice” advocate – suggesting a rather dim and foolish individual – and rarely, if ever, mention his background, qualifications, thoughts or positions on other issues.

The editorial page staff – still liberal-leaning, unlike the news operation, which has been dragged to the right – will declare that the Democrats must, of course, stay with a reliable, proven Congressman in these troubled times and suggest that somewhere down the road perhaps Nelson-Pallmayer could be considered for office when he's paid his dues to the party and waited the appropriate number of years.

Still, don't call the man dead yet.

At the two gatherings at which I saw him, he generated an amazing degree of enthusiasm among the sort of people who who show up at caucuses and get themselves elected to county and state nominating conventions. Nelson-Pallmeyer and the people who have lined up with him – including some of his colleagues and a goodly number of his students and former students – seem to know how to organize for the caucuses, and they're diving into that with gusto.

If you can help, or come up with a few bucks for the campaign, please do so. The Democrats desperately need to replace the sleepwalkers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why a 'decent' congressman must go

Years ago, over my objections, I was assigned to review a concert by Ella Fitzgerald.

She was one of the few singers I truly admired as an artist, and I liked her, personally, a great deal. But I knew her voice was largely gone by the time of that concert. I suggested that the newspaper skip the show, as it did and does so many others. The boss insisted I do the review, however, and I did it honestly, deeply regretting the necessity of saying what had to be said.

I have much the same feeling today, writing this piece.

Most politicians, like some athletes and a great many singers, hang on too long after their talents or strength, if any, have faded. Some just get lazy, and come to view their offices as sinecures, theirs to hold by something akin to divine right.

(Yes, of course, a growing, shameful number view public office as a hog wallow right from the start, as demonstrated by the Republican Congressional leadership of recent years, but it's not anything close to a majority as yet.)

My own Congressman, Martin Sabo, is one of those who should, but will not, retire gracefully. He's one of many, I fear.

Marty, as he is known to everyone in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District – Minneapolis and pieces of some inner ring suburbs – has been in Congress 28 years. He has done nothing anyone I know can point to, except to vote, in at least a decade, and probably much longer.

An awkward speaker, he rarely appears before a television camera, and even newspaper interviews with him are extremely rare. I sometimes wonder if any reporter in the Twin Cities has his telephone number or whether they simply feel it's not worth the trouble to call him.

Other than a franked newsletter once or twice a year, his constituents hardly ever hear from him, and those newsletters are as lacking in content as an hour of committee testimony by Alberto Gonzales. They tend to tick off, in rather gentle language, Republican sins of which the great majority of his constituents already are very aware – and much less kind in describing.

He comes out of hiding every two years – election years – but is rarely seen in any one place for more than a few minutes and almost never speaks more than three or four sentences.

On Feb. 1, a day in which the nominal president, G.W. Bush, appeared at 3M Company headquarters near St. Paul to pat money guys on the head, a short article under Marty's name appeared on the op-ed page of the Star Tribune. It made many loyal Democrats, and former Democrats, shake their heads in sadness.

Marty, or whatever staffer wrote the thing, ticked off some of the best-known facts about Bush Administration perfidy: The number of dead and wounded in Iraq, the dollar cost of the Iraq war, the massive cuts to social and education services in the Bush budget. It said Americans “yearn” for honesty from Bush and concluded by calling on Bush to “muster the honesty, integrity and leadership to level with Americans about Iraq.”

As if.

Hillary Swank, now many months out of the training she did for “Million Dollar Baby,” could deliver more punch with one hand tied behind her back.

It was a typically inadequate Sabo performance.

Several weeks ago, as I write this, the congressman appeared for what was billed as a “town meeting” or some such, supposedly to listen to the thoughts of his constituents. He spoke for no more than five minutes and declined to answer questions from the floor, ostensibly so that he could listen to what the people in the audience had to say. In fact, it was another typical Sabo gambit – a way of avoiding having to say anything himself.

The one thing that he did say that made me, and some others seated near me, groan audibly, was the statement that “Politics are about winning elections.”

That's the theme this year of the Republican Lites – the people who continue to argue that Democrats need “centrist” (read without core values) candidates and that we mustn't offend the big money people.

Sabo is regarded by some within his district as a Democratic saint, although given the disgust and anger expressed by roughly half the folks who spoke at that January meeting, and by subsequent events, that may be changing. Perhaps changing rapidly. Party functionaries continue to curtsy when he walks into a room, and genuflect whenever his name is mentioned, but voters are beginning to show their doubts.

Sainthood was granted because Marty reliably votes correctly. Judged by votes alone, he is a genuine liberal, and that counts for a good deal in today's corrupt Congress. It also is widely, and undoubtedly truly, said that he is “a decent man.”

But here's the thing:

Voting right isn't enough under present circumstances. Especially, it's not enough if you're talking about somebody in a safe seat who needn't fear a challenge from the right nor worry about lacking the money to run a solid campaign.

With little effort, Marty pulls in so much money that he regularly gives large hunks of his campaign treasury to other candidates around the country. (I stopped donating years ago; I don't like some of the candidates he supports with Minnesota money.) He couldn't lose an election against a Republican or member of any other party if he was caught robbing a convenience store in the company of a teenage mistress. His may be the safest Democratic congressional seat in the country.

Given that, the person representing Minneapolis and its nearest burbs should be a powerful voice for liberal positions, a fighter for progressive values and against the cheats, liars and crooks who are in control.

His seat should be occupied for someone who will fight against the war and those who lied to the public to get it started, and against the torturers and thieves. The Congressperson from Minneapolis should fight for justice for people who work for a living and against the transfer of most of the country's power and wealth to the handful of super rich who are represented by the Bush crowd and their allies in Congress. He or she should be raising hell over the deterioration of our health care and educational systems and the fact that corporations are screwing their retirees with the blessing of the Bushies. He should be showing and telling everyone how the Bush bunch is distorting and ruining the U.S. economy.

In short, the member from the Fifth District of Minnesota should represent the people of that district.

Marty fell asleep years ago, and it doesn't appear that anything can wake him. I know from friends and family around the country that he is not only Democratic sleepwalker in Congress. The question is who, if anyone, has the guts to make them step aside?

(Next: A budding challenge to Sabo that just might work.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dawdling; Neocon morality, Republican values

In “Sweet Thursday,” John Steinbeck introduced what he called Hooptedoodles.

They're short pieces that have nothing to do with the story he was telling in the deceptively light-hearted novel, except that they did give you a greater sense of the region in which the book is set.

I've always loved the idea, and have gone back to the book from time to time just to read a favorite Hooptedoodle.

The one about a rabbit wandering onto the firing range at Fort Ord is, by itself, worth the price of the book, if you can find a copy.

Given my admiration for the idea, and an overabundance of stray thoughts, I'm going to introduce a similar idea, which I'll call Dawdles, since dawdling usually is what I'm doing when the ideas pop into my head. (I know, I know; I should wear the aluminum foil helmet more often.)

I have no illusions about being within six or seven classes of Steinbeck, but what the heck. Most of the Dawdles probably will be related to the usual topics of this site, but some may stray off in other directions entirely. Hard to say when one will pop up.

Oops, here comes one now....

I'm afraid this piece is somewhat academic in nature, but it is quite brief.

Through devious means, I recently came into possession of the super-secret “Twenty-first Century Republican Book of Morality and Values.” As a rule, only members of the highest echelons of Neocon leadership are allowed to read, let alone possess, copies of the book. They interpret it for their followers and Republican voters when and however that may be useful.

(That idea came, of course, from their supporters among the the evangelical Christian movement, who decide what the Bible means on any given topic – even if the topic is not included within the Good Book's pages -- and dole out their interpretations to their followers when and how such action is useful.)

The first chapter of the book is very long – 678 pages, to be exact – and deals exclusively with human sexual behavior, in extremely Byzantine and clinical language. It contains minutely detailed sets of rules for what and what is not permissible. Some activities are allowed to members of the inner circles of Republicanism but not to those of lower orders, of course, but the general thrust – if one may use that term – is quite uniform.

Although some of the arcane prescriptions and proscriptions may seem somewhat – peculiar – to the uninitiated, average people need not worry their heads about the details. Anyone interested in currying favor with the leaders of Neocon and the Republican Party as now constituted generally can get by without ever listening to the leaders, let alone getting a glimpse of the book, if he or she follows basic common sense.

In general, if one indulges rarely, only in heterosexual activity, and never has a sexual encounter that doesn't include shame and/or guilt, one will be wholesome enough for Neocon World.

Luckily for the followers of Neocon, the remaining chapters of the book, covering all nonsexual topics in which morality and values may play a part, are brilliantly succinct.

Whether the topic fall under the heading of business, government, elections, war, stewardship of the Earth or any other, no chapter after the core segment on sexual morality is longer than two paragraphs. Most amount to two sentences, which when followed without fail are all you really need to satisfy the requirements of today's Republican Party. They are:

Don't get caught.

If caught, lie.