Danny Goldberg

What Can We Learn from 1967's Summer of Love to Help Us Through Our Current Political Nightmare?

Editor's Note: Danny Goldberg is the modern version of the Renaissance man. He has a long and colorful history as an activist, author and influential music executive. Goldberg came of age at the height of the hippie era in 1967, experiencing the powerful and haunting mix of excitement, hope, experimentation and despair. He captures it all in vibrant detail and political nuance in his newest book, In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea (Akashic Books). AlterNet's executive editor Don Hazen interviewed Goldberg in his offices at Gold Village Entertainment on July 12.

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The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Anymore

Notwithstanding the addictive daily drama of leaks, tweets, and resistance, there are major issues that exist separate and apart from the 24-hour news cycle. These long-term problems are as salient in the digital moment as they were in the analog ’60s.

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Diving Deep Into Radical Thought During the Hippie Era

The following is an excerpt from the new book In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea by Danny Goldberg (on sale June 6, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Akashic Books:

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Schumer’s Warmongering: A Personal Reflection on the NY Senator's Opposition to Obama's Nuclear Deal

My father, Victor Goldberg, was in the 195th Field Artillery Battalion during World War II, landing on Utah Beach nine days after D-Day. Like other members of his unit he was given battle stars for being in five bloody battles against the Nazis in Normandy. Later he was among the American troops that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

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Hey, Democrats: 8 Steps to End Your Toxic Fundraising Habits

I’ve always respected the importance of elections, but the receipt of hundreds of fundraising emails has driven me to the brink of political despair. Seemingly all written and designed by the same consultant, they have as much sincerity as the phony pitches about millions of dollars waiting for me in a Nigerian bank account, or the diet plans from a friend’s hacked computer.

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Anarchists Vs. Liberals: What's That About?

In The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement (Spiegel & Grau, 2013), David Graeber’s engaging new book on Occupy Wall Street, the author writes of the dismal culture in Washington during the summer of 2011, a few months before the occupation of Zucotti Park:

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Why Criticizing 'Zero Dark Thirty' Is Not an Assault on Free Expression

As a long-time defender of the rights of artists -- including controversial ones -- I find it intellectually dishonest for champions of Zero Dark Thirty to pretend that serious criticism of the film amounts to an assault on free expression. 

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Come Back Woody Guthrie, We Need You: America's Great Folk Singer Would Have Turned 100

I suspect that I was not the only teenager in the late 1960s engaging in sex, drugs, rock and roll, and Vietnam War protests to whom Woody’s body of work had an antique feeling. A perfunctory one-time listening to the Alan Lomaxtapes of the man said to be one of Bob Dylan’s heroes was enough, I thought, to punch my hipness card. Arguments about unions and the venality of millionaires and the New Deal seemed like passé accounts of battles my parents’ generation had fought and won. Yet through the mysterious alchemy that the greatest works of art possess, and the bizarre devolution of American politics, many of Guthrie’s songs are paradoxically more relevant today that at the time of his passing in 1967.

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Why Do Americans Keep Getting Suckered By Right-Wing Lies?

Ideas don’t happen on their own. Throughout history ideas need patrons.” —Matt Kibbe, president of Freedom-Works, a tea party advocacy group, quoted in Jane Mayer’s piece on the Koch brothers in The New Yorker.

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Right-Wing Media Gets Desperate

Recently, Air America Radio came under attack from the same cast of right-wing media characters who have attacked the network for ideological reasons from day one.

A recent piece in the New York Post by John Mainelli states that, "Air America is in ... bad financial shape." On Sept. 20, Bill O'Reilly on Fox News which, like the New York Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation said that Air America "could be on its last legs."

This is untrue. Air America is in strong financial shape. Last week we started broadcasting from our new multi-million dollar studios.

Several weeks earlier the Board of Directors of Air America's parent company accelerated re-payment of a loan from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club of $875,000 two years in advance of a previously agreed upon repayment plan. In the last several months, Air America has expanded its executive team to augment our efforts on the internet and in affiliate relations.

The pretext for the latest smears is an initiative I launched last week called Air America Associates, in which I asked our listeners to support our programming financially and at various levels offer bumper stickers, tote bags, etc. as a way of thanking them. (We received thousands of responses, far beyond what we projected for the first few days).

Many of our listeners also listen to NPR stations and Pacifica and are used to supporting radio programming they like. I got the idea from the Nation Magazine's program, "The Nation Associates," which helps them fund investigative journalism. Like Air America Radio, The Nation is a for-profit company.

But the conservative propagandists have tried to make it seem like there is something unseemly because Air America Radio is both commercial-and a radio network, as O'Reilly said last night, "I have never seen a commercial enterprise ask their listeners for money-ever." This is also false. The modern model of the broadcasting business involves numerous revenue streams. If anything, Air America has been late in fully building such an infrastructure which the "Associates" is a part of.

For example, Rush Limbaugh's website offers his fans the "Limbaugh Letter" for $34.95 a year and a totally separate service called Rush 24/7 which includes access to archived programs at the cost of $49.95 a year. The Limbaugh site also features the "EIB Store" which sells such items as $19.95 polo shirt which amusingly says, "My Mullah went to G'itmo and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

The Sean Hannity Web-site features a "subscription" to something called, "The Hannity Insider" for $5.95 a month.

But no one tops the self proclaimed non-spinner Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly.com offers a "premium membership" for either $4.95 a month or $49.95 a year. He also offers a "Gift certificate" for $14.95. Products for sale on the Web site include:

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Hollywood on Trial

In the weeks since John Kerry's defeat in the presidential election, many Democratic politicians and the consultants who run their campaigns and various members of what Eric Alterman calls "the so-called liberal media" have suggested a variety of scapegoats to distract attention from the central strategic mistakes of the national Democratic party in recent years. Despite the obvious fact that decisive leadership and its relation to the war on terrorism was the driving gestalt of the campaign, many pundits pointed to gay marriage as a key to President Bush's victory. Despite the unprecedented turnout of younger voters and the fact that they were the only age group to favor John Kerry, numerous articles inaccurately claimed that the youth turnout did not increase or help the Democrats. Not surprisingly, that favorite whipping boy of the conventional wisdom crowd, liberal Hollywood, has now been added to the list of scapegoats – branded a supposed swing factor for the 22 percent of voters felt that "moral values" was the most important election issue.

Of course no one knows exactly what those voters who cited "moral values" meant. Democrats never had much of a chance at getting voters for whom abortion and gay marriage are litmus tests, so it's hard to figure out exactly which voters would have accepted Kerry's moderate position on those issues but would have switched from Bush to Kerry if the senator had expressed more moral dudgeon about Janet Jackson's breast – the appearance of which New York Times columnist William Safire bizarrely called "the social political event of the year." (Apparently the Super Bowl commercials for Cialis that discussed the perils of 4-hour erections are off limits for criticism by pro-corporate moralists of both parties.)

In a recent Los Angeles Times article Patrick Goldstein said "Hollywood took it on the chin" in the recent election. In fact, the entertainment business was much less of a factor in 2004 than it was in the two previous elections when the losers, Bob Dole in 1996 and Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in 2000 specifically injected moral criticism of Hollywood into their campaigns, not because they could do anything about the popular culture but supposedly to show empathy for families appalled by coarseness and profanity.

Goldstein mentioned a handful of harsh references to President Bush made by assorted celebrities during the recent campaign (the same ones that Stephanie Mansfield of the right-wing Washington Times had cited a week before): Jennifer Aniston, the "Friends" actress who called Mr. Bush "a fucking idiot"; John Mellencamp, who described Mr. Bush as "a cheap thug"; and Cher, who called Bush "stupid and lazy." Then there was the Whoopi Goldberg joke, a pun based on the President's last name that she told at a Kerry fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall.

No one denies that some entertainers said stupid things at Kerry fundraisers and they should be criticized for the remarks. But there were literally thousands of entertainment/political events during the campaign, so why single out this handful? Certainly it's not the dirty words, given the widely documented profane outbursts by both Bush and Cheney. It may not be the smartest tactic to so bluntly insult a sitting president, but no entertainer remotely equaled the contempt that Republicans heaped on President Clinton. Congressman Dan Burton called him a "scumbag," and Jerry Fallwell enthusiastically hawked a video that accused Clinton of murder. No conservative columnists or politicians suggested that Republicans back away from them.

During a campaign season that included the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, an escalation in fighting with hundreds of U.S. forces killed, rising gas prices and unavailability of flu shots, is it actually plausible to suggest that Whoopi's joke or Jennifer Aniston's expletive had an effect on the election's outcome? They didn't do exit polls about that. The only Hollywood-related quote that was ever cited by the Bush campaign came from not from anyone in showbiz but from John Kerry himself, when he said the Radio City performers represented "the heart and soul of America." A simple "thank you" would have sufficed.

Of course for Democratic campaign consultants and their friends in the media it's much better to point fingers at a tiny minority of Democratic celebrities who raised money than to question the competence of the supposed experts who spent the money on the losing campaign.

Goldstein approvingly quoted former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta as saying "The party of FDR has become the party of Michael Moore and that doesn't help the party." Similarly, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in a post-election column, "Firing up the base means turning off swing voters. Gov. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican told me that each time Michael Moore spoke up for John Kerry, Mr. Kerry's support among Nebraskans took a dive."

Of course, Michael Moore did not run for president. John Kerry did. Nor did Moore run John Kerry's campaign. The analogue to Michael Moore (and Al Franken) is William Buckley, who created a vigorous and unapologetic conservative presence in the media in the 1960s that contributed enormously to today's conservative establishment.

It is surreal for a deficit hawk such as Panetta to attack an advocate for the working class such as Michael Moore on the basis of Franklin Roosevelt's legacy, but maybe he feels that Roosevelt should only be remembered for fighting a war and not for the New Deal. As far as showbiz contact goes, Roosevelt was very close to a number of entertainers and people in the media – such as columnist Walter Winchell, whom he regularly invited to the White House, actor and comedian Will Rogers, and director Frank Capra, whom he commissioned to make a series of films to explain to American servicemen and their families why the United States was fighting World War II.

Nebraska, it goes without saying, is not a swing state, and it implausible that there were polls that measured the effect of Michael Moore's utterances. More to the point, it is pretty silly to ask Republicans for advice on how Democrats can win. They want Democrats to lose and they know that anything they say in the media is part of what political pros call "the permanent campaign." It is more likely that the Republicans are trying to psyche out their opponents so that they stay distant from one of their most valuable allies.

It should be noted that Moore has virtually nothing to do with the conventional entertainment business. "Farenheit 9-11" was rejected by all Hollywood studios. Moore is offensive to middle-of-the-road Democrats not because he is casual about his politics, which is the usual criticism of celebrities, but precisely because he is so serious. Moore opposed the war in Iraq in contrast to Democratic congressional leaders and Kerry and Edwards. Democrats should recognize that Moore's fierce opposition to Ralph Nader and firm support for John Kerry was a major factor in Nader's lack of success in attracting anti-war votes this year.

The most Orwellian element in the conventional wisdom that bashes Hollywood liberals is the way that actors magically become wise political leaders as soon as they become Republicans. Arnold Schwarzenegger is to be treated as a political phenomenon and potential president. Ron Silver, who supported Bush, was given a speaking spot at the Republican convention. One can't help but think that if Silver were against the war and Tim Robbins favored it that the same people who now treat Silver as a sage would be making fun of him and the same people who belittle Robbins would be posing for pictures with him.

The reason why many actors became so politically visible last year was that Democratic leaders, ignoring the vast majority of their supporters, failed to oppose the war in Iraq and failed to articulate core Democratic values. If the Democratic congressional leadership had reflected their constituency and voted against the war, Sean Penn would have gotten a lot less TV time. If the so-called liberal media had reported all of the news, Michael Moore would have lacked most of the content of "Farenheit 9-11."

Kristof and his ilk seemed to think that "rallying the base" is a political mistake but it was the primary strategy of Karl Rove, the mastermind of Bush's victories. Although many conservative supporters of President Bush, such as Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell, have made some astoundingly impolitic statements even by Republican standards, it is unimaginable that conservative columnists or politicians would publicly disparage them or suggest that they did more harm than good. Republicans are not threatened by populist conservatives, they work with them. That is one of he reasons why they win.

A few weeks before the election, Time Magazine asked voters whether each candidate "stuck to their positions." Bush got the affirmative answer from 84 percent while Kerry got a "yes" from only 37 percent. Bush's most popular line on the campaign trail had nothing to do with Hollywood, it was "You may not always agree with what I do, but you will always know where I stand." Until the Democrats produce candidates who can say that and be believed, tens of millions of American progressives will be forced to turn to Michael Moore and anyone else who stands up for a modern, moral progressive politics.

How the Left Can Get Its Groove Back

The follow excerpts are drawn from chapters 14 and 15 of the just published "Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit."

A few months the 2002 election I opened an envelope from the Democratic Senatorial Election Committee (DSEC) to find an invitation to a fund-raiser, featuring Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. The entire front page of the mailing consisted of the following quote: "Never before in modern history have the essential differences between the two major political American parties stood out in such striking contrast, as they do today." The quote was from former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and dated 1945. It seemed to me a terrible commentary on today's Democrats that they had to go back to the 1940s to evoke a contrast with Republicans.

The differences between the parties were indeed vivid 57 years ago in the wake of the New Deal and during the end of World War II. The Democrats' problem is that unlike the way it was during the late 1940s, the differences between the parties today are not clear to many of their own supporters, not to mention nonvoters, Nader voters, and swing voters.

By the early summer of 2002 it was clear that the Washington consultants for the Democrats had determined that "swing voters" could be swayed by focusing on prescription drug benefits, protecting Social Security, and warning of the impact of Bush economics on the stock market. These were all perfectly valid issues, but again most Democratic candidates had deliberately avoided issues of interest to younger voters and to many other parts of the Democratic base. There was no overarching moral vision of the appropriate role of government, a role that could have been articulated vividly after September 11. There were little or no references to poverty, to public financing of political campaigns, or to national service.

There was no questioning of the drug war nor any passion about the environment. This all took place against the backdrop of a Democratic strategy in the years leading up to the election in which consultants treated all messages as if they were in the last stages of a hotly contested election. Instead of looking at long-term opinion growth, they were focusing year-round on the sliver of "swing voters" who represent approximately 10 percent of those who actually vote. No attention was given to the half of the eligible people who choose not to vote. Far too little attention was given to issues that inspire emotional intensity on the part of activists who can influence media and turnout. Even among "swing voters" the assumption was that they are undecided because they are centrist on every issue. In fact, many such voters have strong convictions but can't figure out which party's candidate represents their views.

If one were to dig down and read every detailed position paper of the Democrats, in many cases one would find that there were indeed significant differences from Republicans. For someone like me, who places importance on judicial appointments, and who closely follows the Senate debates, it was not difficult to root for a Democratic Senate. But it was not at all surprising to me that most voters who follow the popular media had no idea what Democrats stood for.

Democratic strategists seem to have assumed that any reference to September 11 would automatically benefit Republicans. Instead of offering a much-needed debate about security and foreign policy, they naïvely tried to avoid the subjects that were uppermost in the minds of most Americans. As Arthur Schlesinger had pointed out, the Democrats had traditionally been the party that stressed the need for collective action via government. Why hadn't there been a more aggressive government action to protect harbors, train stations, and nuclear power facilities? Why was it so important to the Bush administration to prevent new union members from being minted in a department of homeland security that the Republicans were willing to put off the creation of such a department? These were not esoteric challenges but ones that could have put Democrats at the emotional heart of the concerns of most Americans. Instead, most Democrats robotically repeated concerns about "prescription drugs" as their advisors had directed as if all other issues were irrelevant.

I couldn't understand why the Democrats weren't calling for energy independence. It seemed obvious to me that oil affects our relationships in the Middle East, where so much terrorism originates. Moreover, Bush and Cheney both have oil industry backgrounds. Progressive publicist David Fenton suggested that a goal of energy independence could be a progressive goal similar to President Kennedy's commitment to get a man on the moon . . . .

Why assume that Republicans had the unique ability to prepare the nation for future attacks? September 11 had occurred on the Republicans' watch. No one was held accountable for security lapses. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle had enormous moral authority on the subject of fighting terrorism because his office had been the target of an anthrax attack. Yet Daschle mysteriously avoided debating the Bush security policy and rarely mentioned that the search for the anthrax criminals had turned up no suspects nor even any theories of the attack's source. Another issue that Washington mavens avoided was the performance of Attorney General Ashcroft.

Early in the year Bob Borosage, who ran a progressive think tank called the American Future, floated the idea to civil liberties groups and progressive Democrats that there should be a national campaign demanding the resignation of Ashcroft. Many progressives felt that Ashcroft had crossed the line on a number of important civil liberties issues and seemed oddly focused on unpopular cultural conservative issues. Weeks after September 11, when the nation was looking toward Washington for ideas about improving security, Ashcroft's Justice Department instead filed a lawsuit in Oregon to prevent implementation of a "right to die" law that Oregon voters had supported in a ballot initiative. For months Ashcroft had kept FBI agents focused on the drug war instead of the war on terrorism. Most absurdly, Ashcroft ordered covering for nude statues in front of the Justice Department Building.

However, neither public interest groups nor progressive Democrats chose to make Ashcroft an issue. As summer turned to fall, the Bush administration's push for a preemptive war against Iraq intensified. Bush chief of staff Andy Card implicitly acknowledged the administration's PR strategy when he told a reporter that "August is not a good time to introduce a new product," in reference to the timing of the planned initiative to convert the American public to support of a war. Bush was said to have insisted to his staff that the resolution authorizing a war against Iraq be "so simple that the boys in Lubbock can understand it."

Given the awkward and jumbled response of those Democrats who opposed Bush's policy, it was obvious that the antiwar forces were not thinking anywhere near as effectively. I recognize that there are many progressives, people who are passionately pro-environment, pro-civil liberties, and deeply concerned about poverty, who nonetheless agree with the Bush foreign policy relative to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. However, much of the Democratic support of Bush's foreign policy was said to be based on the dubious theory that by avoiding debate on the war, Democrats could get the focus of the nation back on the economy, which pollsters indicated was a better issue for the Democrats. The conventional wisdom of centrist Democrats relative to Iraq was laid out by Senator Zell Miller of Georgia in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in October. Cleverly entitled "That 70's Show," the piece managed to get in the now fetishistic Democratic insult to entertainment stars who supported the party. Miller's thesis was that the failed McGovern campaign of 1972 was still, thirty years later, the key cautionary tale for twenty-first-century Democrats. Miller, who had been a delegate for Vietnam hawk Henry Jackson at the Democratic Convention in 1972, recalled smelling "tear gas mingling with marijuana smoke."

Miller opined that "the 'peace at almost any price' position is a loser for the Democrats," adding that "the extreme left will . . . put their money, their emotion, their Ms. Streisand's vocal cords" into an antiwar movement. Of course, no one on the antiwar side advocated "peace at any price." The debate was over whether or not to initiate an unprecedented preemptive war, and the most coherent arguments from the political world against war with Iraq had come from Republicans such as Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor for the first President Bush, and conservative Democratic senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Miller advised Democrats to "respond with strength and boldness not with the same failed script that doomed us 30 years ago."

No national Democrat saw fit to remind Miller that the biggest "failed script" of the early seventies was the continuation of the Vietnam War itself, nor that a "message" tailored for conservative Georgia might not be appropriate for national Democrats. Instead, national Democrats, as expressed through the views of House leader Richard Gephardt and Senate leader Tom Daschle, bought into Miller's argument and supported the president's request for authorization for a war against Iraq. Those Democrats who disagreed with their congressional leadership made speeches on the floor of Congress and dutifully voted against the bill, but none of them spoke at antiwar rallies or staged teach-ins or expressed themselves in a way that was comprehensible to most Americans. At a moment when the Bush administration was making a radical change in American foreign policy, Democrats allowed the Bush administration to decide that a preemptive war was morally and politically valid without so much as a spirited and detailed debate. Why would anyone other than lifelong Democrats be attracted to candidates of a party who so stubbornly refused to engage this crucial issue?

Al Gore, who had been eerily absent from the public stage since winning a plurality of votes for president, made one speech articulating reservations about Bush's plan for a preemptive war, but rather than expanding on his position, he hastily retreated from public debate on the issue. Hillary Clinton, like the Democratic congressional leadership, voted in favor of Bush's war authorization bill. Of those Democratic senators up for reelection, only the late Paul Wellstone, who was tragically killed in an airplane accident shortly before the election, voted against Bush. Wellstone was leading in Minnesota polls taken just prior to his death. When Minnesota Democrats picked former vice president Walter Mondale, he followed the lead of national Democratic leaders and avoided the issue of Iraq, emphasizing instead his detailed knowledge of Senate rules. He lost.

After both houses of Congress passed the resolution giving President Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq, New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointedly wrote, "Perhaps more than he intended, Tom Daschle summed up the feeble thrust of his party's opposition on Meet the Press last weekend when he observed, 'The bottom line is . . . we want to move on.' Now his wish has come true -- but move on to what? The dirty secret of the Democrats is that they have no more of an economic plan than they had an Iraq plan." As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, the Democrats in 2002 did such a poor job of defending their agenda that a New York Times poll published on the Sunday before the election showed that only 31 percent of the electorate thought that the party had "a clear plan for the country." What makes this heartbreaking for progressives is that there are plenty of excellent plans gathering dust in the offices of policy wonks in Washington. What was lacking was the political judgment to advocate progressive government, and what was present was a cultural myopia among political consultants that actively prevented Democrats from expressing a clear agenda.

On Election Day, the low Democratic turnout permitted Republicans to control all three major branches of government for the first time in several decades. As Clinton media advisor and CNN commentator James Carville lamented on election night, "A party that won't defend itself is not going to be trusted to defend the country."

The left as well as the right can learn to communicate so that "the boys in Lubbock can understand it". Unless it connects with a mass constituency, progressive politics is like the proverbial trees falling in a forest that no one hears. Professors and critics can and should have rarefied taste. Political activists must learn to speak the language of the people, not solely the "Latin" of the political elite.

As Sid Blumenthal, former aide to President Clinton, observes, "Most people in Washington, including those on the left, love the idea of America, which is the ideals, the symbols, the monuments, and the history books, but they don't like actual Americans very much. Americans are those gross people who go to shopping malls and watch television."

This is another indulgence that the left cannot afford. Bob Dylan's message of four decades ago still works: "You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing."

Let's swim.

Danny Goldberg, CEO of Artemis Records and long-time political and civil liberties activist, is currently the President of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.