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January  12

Bluer Than Thou

When Richard R. Szathmary, a man of decidedly conservative views, volunteered to cover last night's Bluewave NJ meeting for Baristanet, we had a feeling it was like sending a fox to cover the henhouse. But we weren't prepared for his main complaint: that liberals -- oops, we mean progressives -- are about as exciting as tofutti.

Give them some credit. On a truly blecchh kind of evening, one when probably even the most fanatical of Islamist and IRA terrorists alike would have known better and stayed home, well over one hundred disgruntled souls turned out for the first public meeting of "BluewaveNJ," an organization that even in its nascency aims, as one speaker put it, "to become to the Democratic party what the Christian Coalition is to the Republican party."

But also note this, that preaching to the choir is a very, very limited form of expression. A hymnal with but one hymn, so to speak. Or a Book of Common Prayer edited down to the God-free precepts of Unitarianism. Unlike really good hellfire and brimstone preaching, last night's sermon sounded like Henry James read aloud. Boring, in other words.

No matter that the BluewaveNJ's roots seem to be in the Howard Dean campaign, its organizers couldn't, unlike their titular inspiration, summon up even one good "Aaarrrgghhhh."

One organizer at the meeting, Richie Chevat (not to be confused with fellow organizer Cary Chevat), did speak of "the feeling that the Republicans and the right wing have to be stopped." (In fact, he said this twice.) He also threw out such dismaying terms as "Greed...hypocrisy...torture...bigotry...fear...These are the values that the Republican party represents." But he said it all in a very mild fashion. Never did appear during the two-hour meeting that the room might spontaneously burst into a chorus of "The Internationale." I'm not even sure the audience would have known the words, anyway. It was that kind of night.

Such sentiments as Chevat expressed are of course easy enough to utter in Montclair, which, as the vice-chair of the Democrats in Montclair reminded the audience, gave 80 percent of its vote to Kerry in November.

BluewaveNJ aims to be an activist group whose objectives, according to its literature, "might include defeating legislation or a proposed candidate, endorsing and campaigning for a politician, working to enact legislation (either in NJ or nationally,) or formulating a clear and concise message about an issue and joining a campaign to educate the public about it." Clear and concise message? They might start with their mission statement.

Someone in the audience said (to more approving nods) that "Democracy has been taken away from us and we have to get it back." But he said it in such a wispy, half-hearted voice, it didn't sound as if "we" even deserve it in the first doggone place. Someone from Glen Ridge added, moments later, "We won the election." Meaning of course that the Republicans stole it. This occasioned more nodding.

But no screaming! No threats! No imprecations! It was definitely a "born to be mild" kind of crowd tonight. In James T. Farrell's and John Dos Passos's novels from the 30's, people walk out of political rallies ready to break laws and kneecaps with equal conviction. In Alan Sillitoe's leftist novels about Nottingham in the 50's and early 60's, they head down to the local pub and down pint after pint while weaving dreamlike conspiracies. Even in John O'Hara's novels, the coal miners and farmers of "Gibbsville" grouse together by secretive candlelight and vow political vengeance upon the ruling classes.

But in Baristaville, the progressives go next-door to Starbucks for takeout lattes and then call it a night at around 9pm.

-- Richard R Szathmary

January 12, 2005 in Hardball | Permalink


Thanks Barista, thanks Richard. More great reporting (and witty to boot!) I just don’t understand this idea that these folks are anything other than “liberal” and “reactionary,” to label themselves “progressive” is an offense to true progressives who want to advance the national agenda, not return to some Clintonian-inspired status quo of 1996. There’s serious work to be done (overhauling the tax code, social security reform, cleaning up Rummy’s mess in Iraq and ensuring fair elections are held, expanding the No Child Left Behind initiative . . . ) but these folks would rather re-live the past two elections.

Posted by: R. Chanin | Jan 12, 2005 2:36:39 PM

Liberalism as it has been practiced in the last 30 years is dead I believe. Who knows what will emerge in it's place.

The democratic party seems to offer no alternatives to Republican initiatives.

How will the Democrats save Social Security? "it would be fine if the Bush hadn't lowered taxes"

How would the Democrats win the war? "we are only in a war because Bush lied"

you see?

Until they start providing alternative *answers* to the questions of the day they will remain out of power.

Oddly enough when one looks back at JFK (the real one) and tries to place him in the modern pantheon it is clear he would now be a neo-con!

Posted by: Right of Center | Jan 12, 2005 3:03:37 PM


Maybe Richard can find out how much rent bluewave paid luna?

Posted by: Right of Center | Jan 12, 2005 3:09:38 PM

The gathering sounds oddly reminiscent of the monthly business meetings at the public radio station a friend and I did work for on occassion years ago. Well, that is except for that part where actually suggesting endorsing a candidate or cooking up legislation. That comes tooooo close to actually doing something and actually doing something at a public radio station's business meeting is strictly verboten.

BTW- liberals/progressives/moonbats (pick one, I answer to all of them.) are suprisingly unaware of history. While I got a big kick out of the references to The Internationale, angry two-fisted Wobblies et al - those are things I would never bring up at a meeting such as last night's. It would only force me to back and explain myself.

I'm punting here but I think you pretty much have to be over the age of 70 to have seriously had to rectify your Marxist beliefs against Stalin's regime and over 40 to even know what that means.

Also "But in Baristaville, the progressives go next-door to Starbucks for takeout lattes and then call it a night at around 9pm." sounds just like a Seattle blogger gathering.

I suggested an outing to the race track this spring and you should have the dirty looks I got.

Anyway kudos to Mr. S for the coverage, it was a great read.

Posted by: pops | Jan 12, 2005 3:30:22 PM

Yawn. Can we talk about something else?

Barista, you should do some sort of demographic survey of your readership. It certainly seems more right wing than the actual populace of the area. Maybe you can monetize that, like the Wall Street Journal.

Posted by: Lex | Jan 12, 2005 4:19:51 PM

Wasn't Henry James that famous Irish novelist?

Posted by: Jackie | Jan 12, 2005 4:24:55 PM

Jackie, you are thinking of James Henry, author of "Songs Me Mither Sang Woil Fightin' The Black & Tans".

I concur. A great piece. Sarcastic political reporting (the best kind) comes to Baristaville.

Posted by: The Prop | Jan 12, 2005 4:38:34 PM

I'd like to congratulate the founders of Blue Wave for a superb start to their new endeavor. I visited the meeting briefly last night en route to another event and was impressed to see the huge turnout (though how many were Republican moles never occurred to me).

I didn't stay to hear how things developed, but the fact there was no shouting doesn't seem to me to contradict the possibility that these people will use their organizing skills to work for important changes around the state. Shouting normally does not precede effective change, whereas respectful dialogue commonly does.

I beg to differ with one point: These folks are scarcely from the Howard Dean branch of the Democratic party. Writing as the host of the DFA (Dean, then Democracy for America) group in Essex County that's been meeting in and around Montclair since February 2003 (see dfa.meetup.com/30 for more info) I would like to point out that ties between DFA and Blue Wave are perhaps more in spirit than in fact. None of the organizers of Blue Wave is familiar as a participant of DFA. We applaud Blue Wave's entry to local activism and look forward to working with them whenever it makes sense. Luckily for us on the left of the aisle, it is a big tent with room for many strains of mission and goal.

But please don't suggest that Blue Wave is DFA; we've worked awfully hard for nearly two years to establish a cohesive group in the county and state that gives citizens who want progressive social policies and candidates, along with fiscal conservativism, a place to go. That's Democracy for America. Thanks for listening.

Posted by: Katherine | Jan 12, 2005 4:44:44 PM

Thanks for that post, Katherine.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 12, 2005 6:37:56 PM

Isnt just about *every* meeting "preaching to the choir"? I mean, you go to church and pretty much it's 100% God believers there, right? You go to a Republican meeting and *shock* it's full of Republicans or those who believe similarly! Obviously you have to meet and come up with a game plan, before you can go out and educate others and create action.

Obviously the author hasn't done much except make fun of liberals...

Posted by: butchcjg | Jan 12, 2005 6:43:23 PM

Katherine above says that BluewaveNJ has no real connection with the posse once known as "Deaniacs." Well, they may not be "familiar" to her, but Richie Chevat said in no uncertain terms that BluewaveNJ is "officially" a chapter of DFA. That may nor may not have been a claim made out of expediency. I don't know. But it was certainly made. Perhaps all this is indicative of the confusion that dogged Governor Dean's campaign once he uttered that famous, seemingly absolutely primal and visceral scream?

And a correction of sorts: while I admittedly didn't vote for John Kerry, my political views are not necessarily "decidedly conservative." But I do think I can spot a fairly emotionless meeting when I attend one, where the choir in attendance seems both smug and sadly muted.

Posted by: Richard Szathmary | Jan 12, 2005 8:12:28 PM

Richard -

In a town that went 80% for Kerry (and assuming you didn't vote for Nader) then voting Bush certainly does make you "decidely conservative."

Posted by: Lex | Jan 13, 2005 9:44:24 AM


As seen from one end of the political spectrum (yours). I would not consider Bush a maximum on the conservative scale. He is about 75% of the way to Reagan if you ask me.

Posted by: Right of Center | Jan 13, 2005 10:06:39 AM

I agree. I would consider them both conservatives, however.

Posted by: Lex | Jan 13, 2005 10:18:37 AM

We agree! ??

Posted by: Right of Center | Jan 13, 2005 10:40:14 AM

Well, it was certainly below par as an effort at starting an argument.

Posted by: Lex | Jan 13, 2005 11:22:30 AM

Barista Barista, shame on you for asking only a biased republican corespondant to attend a democratic gathering. In all this town you could not find a second person with a different viewpoint to attent? I can only think you were counting on the forces of political nature to assure the observations and coverage became more complete with responsive commentary on the web.

I think it very telling that the gathering was thoughtful and considered and missing the ranting liberalism your reporter clearly longed for. I spent long days with many Blue Wave folk canvassing neighborhoods and getting out the vote to try and rebuild an enthusiasm for voting and activism. George Bush was elected because ideas and engagment count far less than working up the fervor of the 'chior'. They are to be applauded for trying to raise the bar for the democratic party. Alleluiah and AMEN.

Posted by: Tony Castrigno | Jan 16, 2005 3:28:53 PM

I just want to comment on Pops' remarks about public radio and stations in particular. The public radio business has evolved far, far beyond the characterizations expressed here. (I've worked at 5 plus two networks.) The post sullies a business--and it is a business--that relies almost entirely on money from listeners, corporations and foundations (and record low amounts from tax-payer funds through the Corporation for Public Broaddcasting. CPB is overseen by a presidentially-appointed board). From WNYC and WFUV here locally, to the smallest stations on the islands off Alaska, they are complex operations that require tactical and strategic decisions just like any commercial business. If anyone wants to know more or help provide feedback to existing and new public radio programs please email me directly. thanks.

Posted by: John Barth | Jan 17, 2005 11:06:39 AM

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