If you're the type who clicks on links, you may have noticed that the New York Progressive Directory listed over on the right hand column of this Take Back Back New York's 24th blog doesn't lead to anywhere any more. Since Friday afternoon, the site has been dead.
I thought at first that the New York State Progressive Directory might be offline just as the result of the extremely powerful winds that blasted Upstate New York on Friday, knocking out power across our region and killing two people. Actually, the reason for the site's sudden disappearance is much more troubling.
The progressive directory was the victim of cyber terrorism in the form of a distributed denial of service attack so large that the company that hosted the site, Lunar Pages, could not cope, and shut the web site down, telling the web site's producers that Lunar Pages would no longer be willing to host the site.
In this distributed denial of service attack, the cyber terrorists set up thousands of fake IP addresses and then, from those addresses, sent such a surge of information requests that the vulnerable system designed by Lunar Pages could not keep up. So, the attack was not a hack in the classic sense of a network break in, but it had a similar destructive impact.
I have learned that the New York Progressive Directory was really just one part of a much larger network of progressive web sites that included a set of similar directories of progressive organizations and blogs in every state in the USA, a ten year-old progressive site with a prominent blog, web sites promoting Democratic presidential candidates for the 2008 election, a national progressive political merchandising infrastructure, and even a web site that discussed the symbolic-mythological context of current events. In a flash, this entire progressive network was destroyed.
Apparently, the progressive network attacked by cyber terrorists last Friday had a long list of enemies. Its contributors had spent years vigorously opposing right wing ideology, not just in the United States, but around the world. Among the people angered by various sites on the network were Republican activists, Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, large corporations, conservative Democrats, and Bush loyalists in the federal government.
The list of potential suspects is too huge to contemplate, but this much is clear: The progressive network was attacked by somebody who was threatened by its clear and honest use of free speech. The attack was intended to enforce censorship on political dissent, and although the network is currently working to get back online, for a few days at least, that censorship has been effective.
It wasn't just the cyber terrorists who made the censorship possible. Lunar Pages helped the attackers succeed when they pulled the plug on the progressive network of web sites and refused to host the network any longer. Apparently, in the offices of Lunar Pages, a decision has been made that any web site of political dissent that becomes powerful enough to gain the attention of unscrupulous cyber terrorists will be kicked off their servers. Only political web sites so ineffectual as to not to offend or gain the attention of anybody will remain online.
On a larger scale, such surrender to terrorism would be unthinkable. It would be as if the federal government, after September 11, 2001, said to New York City that Manhattan would have to secede from the Union, because its prominence made it too vulnerable to future attacks, and the USA just couldn't handle the security logistics any more.
This kind of preemptive censorship has become all-too-common in America.
Seeing this attack on the online progressive network, and the reaction of Lunar Pages to it, reminded me of the attitude of someone I met with last week, to discuss the 24th district congressional campaign. This person is working on one of the campaigns, and I won't identify who it is, because I don't want to get into personal attacks. It was the ideas that this person expressed that bothered me, not the personality of this individual in itself.
Discussing campaign strategy, this person said that the campaign on which he/she is working is struggling to prevent its candidate from being perceived as a liberal. The candidate would have to be careful about what he said, this person told me, and would have to be cautious about being associated too strongly with local liberal Democratic groups.
Now, I happen to know that this candidate is, in fact, a liberal. It has also been clear to me that he is not the only liberal Democrat running in this race. Still, it seems that this candidate's campaign staff has him convinced that letting voters know that he is a liberal is a bad idea.
It makes me wonder - why is it that people in the 24th District have such little respect for liberals? Is it a problem with liberal ideals? I don't think so. America's traditional civic values are liberal values. Democracy, equality, liberty, fairness, critical suspicion of government power, and empowerment of ordinary citizens are the ideas that have made America great, and are well within the mainstream of political thought.
The only thing that most people in the 24th District, and across America, don't seem to like about liberals is that they're called liberals. It's quite odd, but when you consider the way that most liberals participate in public political discussions, it's also quite understandable.
Ever since Ronald Reagan got into the White House, American liberals have been nervous ninnies. The personal presence of President Reagan was so powerful that he convinced liberals that things really had changed, and that the political game had to be played on his terms.
That acceptance of Reagan's rules was disaster for American liberalism, of course. From that point on, liberals ceased to set the tone for their own agenda. Everything liberal became couched in right wing Republican language, and so liberals became, in the perception of the rest of America, nothing more than weak imitations of Republicans.
When people say that Democrats don't have any ideas of their own, they're dead wrong. What Democrats don't have any more is their own language - and that includes the word "liberal".
It has become perceived as a bad thing to be a liberal not because there is anything wrong with being a liberal, but rather because liberals act as if there is something wrong with being a liberal. Every liberal proposal begins with an apology. Liberal politics has become an arena of "Yes, but", in which the fundamental right wing ideology remains unchallenged.
The people of the 24th District are cold to liberals because they have never met a liberal. Every liberal who runs for office in America these days does so wearing an elephant costume. Is it any wonder so few of them get elected?
Some voters are ideologues - and that's not a bad thing. Most voters in the 24th District, however, are not. They're open to a persuasive message of any variety. A political narrative that is compelling really can move them, because they don't care enough about party politics to be particularly loyal.
Most of all, what people in the 24th District look for in a candidate is somebody they can trust. Now, I don't like Republican politics, but the fact is that Republican politicians can be trusted to act like Republicans. People know what they're getting with a Republican.
Contrast most of our Democrats with that Republican political honesty. Our candidates start out by assuming that they've got the liberal vote wrapped up just by having their name on the Democratic line. So, they spend most of their campaign time pretending to be something that they aren't. They think they're being clever, but they're not. The problem with their strategy is that they can't pull it off.; Voters know they're being insincere, and therefore judge them to be untrustworthy.
It's a vicious cycle in which the liberal side of politics gets weaker with every lost election, and liberal Democratic politicians, in response, become more dishonest about who they really are, and therefore, even less appealing to voters.
And so we arrive at the state we are in now, where Democratic campaign workers shiver in fright at the idea that their candidates might be perceived as liberal. Democratic campaigns don't even try to persuade the voters any more. Instead, they begin with an ideological surrender. That's like starting out a chess game by giving up your queen before your opponent has even moved a pawn. It is no way to win.
It's also a kick in the teeth to liberal grassroots activists in our district, the people who set the foundation for Democrats to run for office, when candidates weasel out of a direct and honest discussion, professing to be moderates, just like everyone else, and eschewing liberal political philosophy, as if it's something to be ashamed of.
When I heard about the cyber attack on the progressive political network, I took some extra time to think about the importance of honest free speech. There are a lot of people out there, both inside and outside Americ, who want people like me to be quiet, and now I can see that some of those people are willing to act to enforce their censorship upon us.
I feel relatively protected posting this blog on Blogger.com, which has the power of Google to back it up, but what if I had a blog out there on its own stand-alone server that could become the target of a cyber terrorist attack? Would I think twice about what I write, trying to avoid offending people who might try to hack the site?
I hope not. Too many people are too afraid these days. It's the goal of terrorism to make us quiet by making us afraid, and the only way to confront and defeat terrorism is to be unafraid and to be unswayed in our course of political action.
Free speech is not free if we only exercise it when it's easy to speak. If I were to censor myself because I became afraid of someone attacking my web site, or worried that someone might call me a name, like "liberal", nothing I wrote would be worth reading. I would join that campaign worker, and the management of Lunar Pages, in the community of the afraid.
You may say it's easy for me to talk about free speech. I'm a blogger, after all. I'm not running for public office. I don't have a campaign on the line.
In a way, you're right. Sure, I'm not the one campaigning. But, if I don't speak, I've got to put up with a government built upon a democracy of silence. If I don't speak honestly, I know that I am part of the problem.
Besides, does a candidate for Congress really have anything more to lose than I do? If a candidate is running merely for the sake of satisfying their own personal ambition, by all means, that candidate should duck and weave and maneuver without regard to making an honest promotion of their true ideals.
A more sincere candidate, however, has nothing to lose. The candidate runs for a few months, and if he does not win the seat, he goes back to work in his old profession, having made a name for himself in his community.
Having a solid chance of losing the race, why wouldn't the candidate want to ensure that he at least lost the right way? A political campaign isn't just about winning. It's also about promoting what you believe in, and getting citizens involved in the democratic process, to make it stronger.
Opportunists hire political sharks to intimidate opponents and bluster open a path to victory. Opportunists say what they think people want to hear. Opportunists work with whomever they can get on their side, whether those people have the same vision or not.
Leaders have vision, and work to persuade other people to believe in that vision. Leaders work with other people who believe in the cause. Leaders inspire people into action. Leaders would rather lose than mislead.
This year, I want to help elect a leader into the House of Representatives. To the Democratic candidates, I say that it is time to be bold and time to be true. Show me your leadership.