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The Left's Fear of Money, Part II

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Nine months ago I wrote a post that got a good amount of attention, it was about the fear of money that some people have on the left. I think it's time for the next installment.

Last night I attended the Radio and Television Correspondents Association annual dinner in Washington, DC. I got invited by a radio-industry friend who had bought a few tables. It's a biggest-of-the-year kind of gala where anyone who's anyone in journalism and politics attends, from Senators to national TV anchors. The president is usually the invited guest, but as Bush was in Mexico, Cheney attended.

I knew, because of past experience with some reading this blog, that when I got back home and posted photos of the event a minority of my readers, but a very vocal minority, would be upset. Why? Because I'd be wearing a tuxedo at a party with famous people.


The reaction was quick and furious, and rather vicious. Some examples:

1. I was attacked for having a photo taken with Katherine Harris, the woman who threw the election in Florida for Bush. Rather than appreciate the camp value of getting a photo with Harris (and I seriously tried to get one with Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan's sister, but she left before I could corner her), I was lectured about the impropriety of being photographed with “that woman” and folks decided to accuse me of selling out. One person had the nerve to write that politics might not be personal for me, but it was for him. Another commenter even came up with the crazy idea that apparently Katherine and I had been "partying" together last night. Uh huh. Me and Katherine, quite the item, you should have been there.

2. Then people got irate that I noted that Harris was rather nice in person. I went one step further and reported a conversation I had with another friend last night who knows Harris quite well. The friend, who is a good liberal, told me that I'd be surprised, on a personal level Harris is one of the nicest people my friend knows. I report that fact, and big surprise, all hell breaks loose. I am now, apparently, broadcasting that Katherine Harris is actually a wonderful human being. No, I said she's nice in person and has a reputation, even among liberals, of being an incredibly nice person. That doesn't mean I think she's a wonderful human being, it simply means that whatever she is, it's a lot more complicated than folks would like to present.

Read Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” then get back to me and see if you still miss the point.

3. Then I make the larger observation that the nastiest of Republicans can be some of the nicest people, and vice versa for Democrats. If you live in DC and actually meet "famous" political types, you'll likely know what I mean.

Newt Gingrich, for example. I just appeared on O'Reilly, went back to the green room, and Newt starts telling me what an amazing job I did. Mind you, I was debating gay rights with O'Reilly, Newt knows this, and is still praising me. It was weird, trust me. But it was also fascinating that Newt would be that nice one-on-one.

Then there are the gun nuts. Joe can tell you stories about them. Awful people. But incredibly, shockingly nice on a personal level. And how about arch-bigot Jesse Helms, famed for being wonderful in person. Same goes for Pat Buchanan. Yes, they're horrible people, but they're FAMED for being wonderful people in person. That's fascinating, it's not something you'd expect, and I noted that fact. And of course, lots of folks freaked out again in the comments, this time saying I thought conservatives were good people and Democrats bad people.

Again, uh huh.

4. I was told I was now in danger of being wooed to the dark side (whatever that is) and that I could no longer write objectively on the blog since I'd attended this event and seen these famous people whom I now would idolize and do anything to make them happy. I get this every time I meet someone 'famous' and report back to you guys about it. Apparently, the past 20 years of working with famous people on the Hill and in my other work, including meetings heads of state, ambassadors, the secretary of state (actually two), secretary of defense, heads of major US corporations, and more didn't corrupt me, but attending one gala in a tux will. And oh yeah, when I pointed this fact out, I was accused of being egotistical.

5. I was told I was going to lose my outsider status if I continued to go to these kind of events. When I pointed out that, per number 4 above, I've lived in DC for 20 years and lost that outsider status a few heads of states and cabinet secretaries ago, I was again "arrogant" for pointing out that fact.

6. I was chastised for not making this an evening of "substance" rather than treat it as a gala. Yes, a massive dinner dance with 2,000 people in tuxedos out for an elegant evening and I'm supposed to get out my laptop and ask the hard questions, oh yeah, and kick Katherine Harris in the shins.

7. One person said they saw this day coming, AMERICAblog for along time hasn't done substantive work - as if our work on the cell phone privacy issue just two months ago wasn't substantive. Some accused me of being arrogant and egotistical for having the temerity to suggest that maybe Katherine Harris would be mortified when she found out she got her picture taken with a top gay activist. My crime? I called myself a top gay activist. Apparently I'm either not, or I'm not supposed to know it, or I'm not supposed to acknowledge it, or something. I have no idea. But apparently in defending myself I conveniently again violated some PC code of uber-liberal ethics.

8. Another person said I'd become a media whore, or something. That all I wanted was to get my face on TV, rather than helping the cause. Of course, this person has no clue about how important the media is for our cause, and how important TV appearances are for pushing our values, our projects, our legislation, our advocacy, and more generally for fighting the growing right-wing media bias. No, it was easier to attack me personally, since after all, going on TV is the electronic equivalent of wearing a tux: Someone must pay for the sacrilege.

I'm writing about all of this not to provoke the rest of you to write encouraging words. I know that the overwhelming majority of those who read this blog don't think like this. I also know that the comments are reflective of those who comment, nothing more, nothing less. But, as I pointed out 9 months, there is something seriously wrong with a core group in our party, and I really think their loathing of money and power and access and anything good in life (and perhaps even themselves) is seriously hurting our party.

There is a core group of Democrats who simply don't like money and power. They distrust it on a such a visceral level that anything that even vaguely smells of either is immediately suspect and worthy of public ridicule. Thus they freak out over my attending the gala. It's the same freak out I get when I ask for donations for the blog. How dare you try to earn money, I'm asked always, every time, by numerous commenters. Why don't you go on a budget like other Americans, one person wrote, rather than asking us for donations (as if the income were coming from somewhere else other than ad sales and donations?) That person went on to add a familiar refrain I've heard before - how dare you expect me to pay for your trips abroad! When I pointed out that most of my trips abroad have been paid for by clients or third parties like the Dutch government, the person launched into some other excuse to criticize me (not to mention, I don't recall anyone ever asking one of their employees how much they spend on their family vacation so you can lower their paycheck accordingly). And let’s not even talk about the criticism I got for going to France last summer. Yes, I decided to cat-sit for friends in Paris – the horror, the horror - and somehow that meant I was living high on the hog. It apparently meant I had a lot of money (though how staying for free at a friend’s place in exchange for taking care of their pets was somehow lucrative still escapes me - then again, there were those who didn't think it was lucrative at all, they just figured I'd spent all of your donations on the trip and publicy said so) and, again, didn’t deserve donations, because apparently writing from Washington DC is good, but writing from Paris, not so much.

The criticism happens far too often, is far too nasty, and comes from far too many people, to be written off as a few trolls or crazies. They may not be the majority of the party, thank God, but they are far too many in number to be left unchallenged.

What's at the core of all of this? It think it’s something that someone noted in the comments to the gala post below. In the same way that conservatives don't respect anyone who doesn't have money and power, a core group of liberals don't trust anyone who HAS money or power. The problem is that we live in a society where money and power are part of the key to political success. So how exactly is it that we win if we insist on keeping our wealth and our power to a minimum?

How do we expect our blogs and bloggers to continue being the first and only left-wing-noise-machine we have (along with Air America, Keith Olberman and Jon Stewart), to keep pushing the Hill, to keep working on elections and advocacy, to keep the media honest, if we think actually paying them to do their full-time jobs is somehow immoral?

The answer is: We don't win.

Too many Democrats are afraid to pay people a wage they deserve. Sure, they’ll give millions to a big-name liberal advocacy group, but when it comes to individuals, to real people, having them earn even half the salary of the muckety mucks at the big organizations is somehow immoral. Rather than ask ourselves “how much is our freedom worth? How much would I pay to get my country back?”, we look at our lives and say "I can't afford to take my wife and daughters to Europe, so why should I donate to you when all you do is spend my donation on vacations" (true post). Suddenly, the worth of my work is linked to how well YOU have or have not provided for your family. Suddenly my success is an affront to you, and must be stopped, lest... what? And the result? We don't get the best people for the job because "good people shouldn't expect to be paid." Which is a fascinating concept I'll use next time my rent is due.

I’ve even had people criticize the fact that I grow orchids. It’s a rich-man’s hobby. How dare I try to earn a living running this blog when I grow orchids. How do you respond to that kind of crap?

And it's not just wages. I think that far too many liberals have no idea what it takes to win in politics. The mixture of intelligence, creativity and chutzpah it takes to win in Washington and beyond. God knows we see it on the Hill, in terms of members of Congress who refuse to do what it takes to win, even when the opportunity is handed to them. Far too many liberals - still a minority I think, but a far too loud and influential minority - don't understand that we need money, we need power, we need influence and connections and friends in the media and even, God forbid, some Republican friends if we want to win. You simply can't sit back, hug a tree and sing cumbaya in your Birkenstocks by the campfire and expect the crystal fairy to hand you your civil rights and your country back.

If these people have a better idea for how we do all of this, I'm open to hearing it. But they don't see to have any ideas at all. All they do is criticize those who try to make a difference, then whine when they see the party continuing to fail.

I'm not going to solve this conundrum here, and I'm sure in 9 more months there will be cause for yet a third installment of this ongoing essay. But I want to share something I did over the past month that, in retrospect, really ticks me off.

The reason I got so sick a few weeks ago is because I was traveling like a fool and finally couldn't take it anymore. I went to Amsterdam on the blogger trip, and within two days of returning home had to go speak at a donor's conference in Miami to try to get funding for the blog. After getting home from that conference in Miami, two days later I flew to San Francisco to take some media training so I could do a better job selling our party and policies in speeches and in the media. After a 4 hour coffee meet-up with AMERICAblog readers, SF finally did me in. I was stuck in my hotel for 2 days sicker than a dog.

I was concerned about telling you guys that I was going to San Francisco, and outright refused to mention the Miami conference. Why? Because I knew the vocal minority would give me a hard time about it. Living the life of leisure, they’d write, making all that money traveling (as if somehow doing free appearances at conferences and trainings is lucrative, when in fact it cost me several hundreds dollars each trip). I knew that if I fully disclosed all the work-related travel I had this past month, which included going to Philly to speak, for free, and flying to Dallas to speak at a gay fundraiser, for free - both of which I canceled when I got sick - there wasn't a bat's chance in hell that I wouldn't be publicly savaged when I held our regular fundraiser for the blog, which was already a few week’s behind. If I told you guys how much I was doing to try to help the blog and the liberal cause, I’d be punished for it by the vocal angry minority. So I didn’t tell you.

So, rather than report on a rather interesting political conference – and Miami is absolutely fascinating, what I saw of it - rather than tell you about a rather interesting meeting in Philly and event in Texas (both of which I canceled, but had no intention of telling you had I gone), I chose to shut up because I knew a far too vocal minority of you would take over the donations thread and give me shit for doing my job, and ironically, doing it for free.

There is something seriously wrong here.

I have a good friend in liberal politics who always worked too much. We're talking until midnight every evening. He was working on AIDS policy, civil rights, education, poverty, all the good stuff. But he refused to ever take time to smell the roses, let alone sleep. I remember telling him once "what's the point in fighting for a world you never plan to live in?" I'd ask the same of those who are the first to criticize any time I flower an orchid or visit New York. If you love this country and this world so much, why do you so hate anyone who tries to enjoy it?

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