Okie Dilemma

The recent election and its ensuing fallout has left me confronting once again the issue of powerlessness of progressives and liberals in Oklahoma.

What is there to do? The election has brought home the fact that Oklahoma seems light years away from embracing policies and ideas that would help the state residents prosper. In fact, with the new Republican majority in the Oklahoma House, and with Tom Coburn in Washington, we can only expect the continuation of weird and radical pronouncements and proposed legislation.

All of it would be real funny if so much were not at stake.

I envision the Oklahoma Republicans will focus their attention on issues such as limiting women's rights over their own bodies, creationist disclaimers for science textbooks that contain theories of evolution, tax relief for the most wealthy in the state, and school prayer. Watch for Republican-sponsored legislation calling for a constitutional amendment limiting state budget growth.

The Orwellian-named Taxpayer Bill of Rights, along with other proposed lgeisiation, would ultimately cut public school funding at all levels and give major tax breaks to a relatively small group of wealthy people in Oklahoma.

In addition, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, already considered a freakish, right-wing extremist by the national media, will undoubtedly continue to advocate killing doctors who perform abortions or talk about the takeover of Oklahoma public schools by lesbians.

The Daily Oklahoman, meanwhile, will continue its editorial distortions and omissions, ensuring its immoral, extreme views help keep the state's residents in the dark about the gutting of Social Security or the Iraq war. (Perhaps, we should rename the state Gaylordahoma. I wonder how much that would cost the Gaylord family?)

And, for the most part, Democratic leaders in Oklahoma will stay silent or join with the Republicans for the sake of ideology or expediency.

So, again, what is there to do?

Listen. If you are a progressive from Oklahoma, there is really no reason to get depressed. Like me, you are used to the contradictions and ignorance that fuel this state's politics and thus support the state's most wealthiest power brokers. You, too, have argued to no avail with those Okie right-wingers who have and will lose money, health benefits, and job opportunities under the current conservative juggernaut in the state and throughout the nation.

So what I urge you to do, if you have not done so already, is extract yourself philosophically from the one-party, conversative system in Oklahoma and, along with other progressives, try to create something new here. We sincerely have nothing to lose. We are already completely marginalized and under fire by the state's power structure.

The state Democrats will certainly want us to work within the confines and ideology of the party, of course. But if the national trend is for Democrats to become even more Republican-lite in face of the recent election, you can imagine what this means for the Oklahoma Democratic Party, which is headed by Jay Parmley. By all accounts, Parmley is a good man, but his public views are probably shaped far more by conservative legislators in his own party than progressive Democrats.

One good sign on the Democratic front is that Howard Dean has announced he is running for chair of the Democratic National Committee. But do not hold your breath. We saw how the party ostracized him during the campaign. Party leaders could do it again.

At my university, we have formed a progressive coalition, the UCOpc, and anyone who shares our ideas is invited to join. I imagine there are other such organizations popping up throughout the state at universities or at other institutions not completely taken over yet by the right-wing.

In addition, I plan to continue to argue with those Oklahoma conservatives who have been blinded by deceitful right-wing rhetoric. This rhetoric is based on appeals to nationalism, patriotism, and religion. These are powerful concepts that have never been based on logic or rationality, so it makes our task extremely difficult.

Yet our continuing commitment to the rules of evidence, rationality, cause and effect, logic, and truth is what will keep us sane in this state.


Okie Arguments

I don’t know how many times I’ve been approached recently by a populist Okie who wants some advice on how to argue with those right-wing Oklahoma dimwits who would close all the public schools and give every bit of state money to rich people like the Gaylord family.

So here’s some pointers:

Turn The Argument Back On Them. Ask these Oklahoma dimwits what they expect to gain from policies that privilege the extremely wealthy over the middle-class in the state. Do they make more than $200,000 a year? If not, ask these questions: Do you think weakening worker rights will help you? Do you think declining salaries for working class people is a good thing for Oklahoma? Do you agree with skyrocketing health costs and insurance? What exactly has Republican politics done for your pocketbook? Now some of these dimwits are going to lie and act as if they have a lot of money, even if you know they are unemployed. LET THEM LIE, but let them know in a subtle way that you know they know you know they are lying. You can’t stop someone from hating themselves, but you can let them know—privately, of course—that you’re there for them when they come crashing down from their nationalistic high.

Counter The Reductionist Sloganeering. Make these dimwits counter every right-wing slogan and cliché with facts and numbers. You be prepared with evidence. Read, read, read, and then read some more. Do not let one conservative lie or distortion go unchallenged in your presence. Cite newspapers and magazine articles. Be ready to provide authors’ names and article titles. Follow up with an email that contains links to your articles. You might say, “I can’t remember when it was published exactly but give me your email, and I will send you the link.” Then do it.

Do Not Back Down and Bring Up The Issues. Now is the time to confront those people in your immediate circle who hold right-wing views. Do it, get it over with, and try to make a difference. There is no time to waste. You have work to do for your country. This is, perhaps, the most important presidential election in American history. You are individually responsible.

Don’t Argue With Idiots. If you have to leave to keep the peace with colleagues, then leave, so you can fight another day. Let the dimwits stew in their own ignorance But, remember, these are times for dramatic and symbolic gestures. Be prepared to received the full hatred and onslaught of the right-wing attack machine if you stand up for what is right.

Go Over Your Arguments. Make sure you know your arguments thoroughly, and you have logic and evidence. Practice with your populist friends. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake and don’t be afraid to correct a mistake. We’re honest. The right-wing lies and distorts.

Specialize. There is simply so much wrong with the current government right now, that it is so hard to keep up with everything. So pick three or four areas that you can argue. You might begin with this statement, “The four main reasons George Bush should not be reelected is . . . .” or “I’m against the torture of prisoners because . . ..” or “I believe our country is headed towards fascism because . . .”.

Keep It Local. What did Ronald Reagan or George Bush ever do for Oklahoma? Under both presidencies, the state economy tanked. Reagan’s policies were directly responsible for the state’s oil boom going bust (he supported OPEC and increased our dependence on Middle East oil) and the saving and loans scandals, which resulted in the closing of scores of Oklahoma banks (he deregulated the bank industry.) Bush continued Reagan’s policies that increased the disparity between the richest Oklahomans and middle-class Okies. Sure, you may have received a small tax, but tuition costs and health care costs are soaring. It’s all rhetoric.


Okie Progressives Will Prevail

I have one simple message for Oklahoma progressives with only a few days left before the most important election in our lifetimes: Do not give up.

We all need to recharge and get busy these last few days. We need to fight for Brad Carson, John Kerry, and all the progressive and liberal candidates on the ballot until Tuesday evening when the polls close and the last vote is cast.

It has been a busy and difficult time for progressives in Oklahoma. Many of us started raising our voices four years ago when George Bush and the Republicans stole the presidential election, and then proceeded to advance a radical, right-wing program of perpetual war and oligarchic rule. All of us were appalled and frightened when the state's largest newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, endorsed the right-wing fanatic Steve Largent for governor. (Yet we stopped Largent, didn't we?) Some of us are truly afraid our federal government is descending into a secret quasi-fascist theocracy.

How else to count for the renewed energy of the formerly cynical? (It is easy to become cynical during eight years of peace and prosperity, isn't it?) Yet from my vantage point as an Oklahoma college professor, I have seen a new political activism among Okie progressives that is only paralleled in state history by those state populist movements at the turn of the century.

Never in my lifetime have so many progressive Oklahomans organized and worked to get out the vote.

Never in my lifetime have so many progressive Oklahomans stood up unafraid and defiant in front of conservative Oklahomans to express their opinions.

Never in my lifetime have so many progressive Oklahomans stood up against the state's and nation's wealthy power brokers and said: We will ensure America remains free and democratic.

So do not give up.

I know. I know. George Bush will undoubtedly win the state's electoral votes. But many Oklahoma conservatives have been brainwashed for years by the right-wing into voting against their own interests. The cynicism and apathy of progressives have contributed to the conservative juggernaut. It will take time and energy to make middle-class Okie conservatives love themselves again. Meanwhile, we can make the vote for president as close as possible in the state, and we can assure Kerry wins the overall popular vote by a wide margin.

And we can certainly impact the U.S. Senate race in Oklahoma. Democrat Brad Carson can beat the right-wing extremist Tom Coburn, especially if those newly registered, progessive votes turn out at the polls. (The Daily Oklahoman, of course, has endorsed Coburn.)
You need to make it to the voting booth no matter what. Make phone calls, argue with people, put signs in your yards, drive people to the polls, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

It has been a long four years, and we have been fighting hard. We are down to the wire. We can win. The polls show it. We can win.

Do not give up.