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On Shame As A Tactic, Or, Betsie Gallardo: She Won…And So Can You! January 6, 2011

We have been following the story of Betsie Gallardo lately, she being the woman that, due to a medical decision, was being starved to death in a Florida prison.

She has inoperable cancer, her death is imminent, and her mother was working hard to make it possible for Betsie to die at home with some dignity.

As we reported just a couple days ago, half the battle was already won, as the Florida Department of Corrections had agreed to place her in a hospital so that she could again go back on nutritional support.

On January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission voted to allow her to end her life at home—and that means you spoke out, made a difference, and achieved a complete victory for the effort.

But even as we celebrate that victory, I think we should take a moment to realize that there is a bigger lesson here: the lesson that the fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), benefits for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga Bill), and Betsie Gallardo’s imminent release are all actually pointing us to a political strategy that works, over and over, if we are willing to understand the wisdom that’s been laid before us.

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.

— From chapter 78 of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

So what do all three of those victories have in common?

Well, how about this: in every case, Those Proud And Courageous Conservatives found themselves too embarrassed to hold their ground, and once the bright light of public shame fell upon them, their high-minded opposition to three good things simply collapsed.

And that’s my underlying thesis for 2011 and the 112th Congress: shame and embarrassment, which don’t really seem like weapons at all, are in fact fantastically powerful when focused upon those who are trying to do wrong—and a small group of people, combining shame with a bit of imagination and effort, can crack apart even the most unyielding opposition when they embarrass the hell out of those on the other side.

Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” can very honestly point to the “weapon of mass embarrassment” they delivered just before Christmas as the final straw that broke the back of Republican obstructionism around the Zadroga Bill—and how many of you look at DADT and John McCain and see not a principled fighter for military tradition, but a sad old man who didn’t know when to go home to Arizona and take up sitting on the front porch?

For the next two years we are going to have the chance to apply this tactic over and over and over again—and we already have Republicans and Democrats alike lining up to cut your Social Security…even as they make sure their own “defined benefit” retirement is fully funded, at your expense…and that’s a great place from which to start hitting back.

And in this Congress, embarrassment and shame actually pile up, layer upon layer, to create an amazingly target-rich environment.

Here’s a great example: Fred Upton is the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees things like the regulation of offshore drilling and healthcare—and that’s because it was just too embarrassing to give the job to Texas’ Joe Barton…especially after he publicly apologized to BP for how tough we’ve been on them after that giant oil spill last summer.

So Fred has the new gig, and he’s all happy about that, and he’s appointed himself a Staff Director, a fella named Gary Andres.

Now there’s been a lot of talk that some of these Members of Congress might be a bit too associated with lobbyists…and the name seemed awfully familiar…so I decided to Google Andres…and sure enough, not only is he a healthcare lobbyist, in 2007 he was named by Politico as the Top Lobbyist In Washington, making him the first “Top Lobbyist” of the post-Abramoff era.

Andres, just to add to the layering, is upset that Obama is deploying an “Army of Lobbyists”, even though he himself wrote the book on lobbying, literally: “Lobbying Reconsidered: Politics Under the Influence” is available in many fine bookstores.

This seems like as good a time as any to bring today’s conversation to a close, so let’s see where we are:

Even as we celebrate Betsie Gallardo’s victory, which was at least partially obtained through the timely and well-directed application of shame and embarrassment, Conservatives are feeling awfully full of themselves, despite the fact that they were embarrassed into caving on so many things so quickly in the past month.

They will set themselves up for lots more shame and scorn…I promise…and if we step up and focus the larger public on how shameful these folks are going to be, day after day after day, we can stop things like the upcoming raping of your Social Security in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, or any of the other 100 similar kinds of changes our opponents hope to enact, by hook or by crook.

So there you go, America: we have fish, and we have barrels, and if we can’t shut these folks down, then we have only ourselves to blame—and if that were to happen, then the only people who should truly be ashamed and embarrassed…will be us.

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