The Only Real Question

When I was a new lawyer, practicing in what was at that time a big law firm (52 lawyers), the partner I worked for insisted that there was only one legal question: what should we do?

In other words, while we might analyze the legal issues in the matter before us, while we might determine what mistakes our client or others had made, that analysis was only important to the extent it helped answer the question, which was “what should be done?”

I think about that focus a lot, because it’s the same question we need to be asking about America’s political situation.

It’s easy to be cynical these days. It’s easy to fall into a position of a “pox on both/all their houses.” There are people who take–and loudly voice– that approach every time Trump or McConnell or others in the GOP do something destructive or venal–which is pretty much every day. Yes, they say, the GOP is terrible, but the Democrats aren’t much better. People in both parties are bought and paid for. The entire political class is corrupt and self-serving, everyone in Washington has sold out to the plutocrats, and the same plutocrats own the news media so we aren’t getting the whole story. Etc.

I don’t happen to agree with that broad-brush indictment, but let’s say–for the sake of argument–that it’s true. If our entire political class is corrupt, what should be done? That is a question that the cynics never answer–and seldom even ask.

One remedy, of course, would be revolution. History suggests that violent revolutions rarely achieve their stated goals–that after blood is shed and lives disrupted, the “soldiers” of the revolution who assume power end up being as self-serving and corrupt as the people they displaced. In any event, in today’s U.S., revolution is highly unlikely.( It would also be highly unlikely to succeed, despite all those gun hoarders who insist that they need weapons to repel government tanks and artillery.)

I suppose we could all just “get over it,” to use Mick Mulvaney’s inelegant phrase. Just mutter and growl, and learn to live with a degraded and unprincipled system. Like the Russians.

Or we could begin the arduous but necessary process of reform with the recognition that there are a lot of people who go into government for the right reasons, whose behaviors may sometimes be constrained by “the system,” but who are honorable, who want to serve the public good and who act accordingly.

We could also distinguish between a political party that has gone completely off the rails (a recognition that is particularly painful for someone–like me–who worked for that party for 35 years) and a party that includes a wide range of people, some of whom are exemplary and some of whom are considerably less admirable. We could then support the party that is, today, clearly the lesser of two evils.

Then, if we wanted to do more than bitch indiscriminately, if we wanted to clean up those areas of our governance that have rotted out over time, we could get off our butts and get to work.

We could return civics to public school curriculums, help marginalized folks participate in the political process, lobby for an election law overhaul that would deter gerrymandering and vote suppression and make it easier to cast a ballot. We could support–or reestablish–local news organizations that would recognize their responsibility to act as local government watchdogs. Those of us who have the time and flexibility could research policy proposals, attend public meetings, and call or message our elected officials.

An informed electorate could engage in the admittedly hard work of incremental reform–which, despite the lack of glamor and the need to partner with imperfect people, is the way virtually all sustainable reforms get done.

We could act like citizens rather than subjects.


  1. Sheila, T

    here is a group in Indy with the mission of implementing civics education for adult citizens (and students) that I was aware of a couple years ago. I can’t recall the group’s or organization’s name, but I wanted to attend the classes, yet couldn’t because they were only in Indy and held in the evening. I inquired about the possibility of webinars for those of us who are unable to drive to Indy. Unfortunately, they did not offer webinars.

    If this organization would figure out a way to create webinars (it has to be easy for a tech savvy person) they could provide this valuable knowledge to adults throughout the state. This could make the difference between Indiana citizens staying civically ignorant or having the knowledge to demand that our State Senators and Representatives work for the greater good of the people they represent rather than for the corporate interests that put money in their pockets.

    Has there been any headway in creating a webinar for the educational series? With this kind of knowledge those of us who are ready, willing and able to do more could then work locally to educate our fellow citizens.

  2. “In other words, while we might analyze the legal issues in the matter before us, while we might determine what mistakes our client or others had made, that analysis was only important to the extent it helped answer the question, which was “what should be done?”

    This question has primarily been my repeated complaining, bitching, whining, crying and moaning over those on the media and on this blog who provide their complaints against the Democratic party and those of us on this blog who are active but our actions are dismissed as useless. They offer no resolutions to replace our “uselessness”. This was my basic complaint two days ago when my comments, including a colorful, insulting comparison, were removed from the blog. We are doing what is within our limited abilities or circumstances.

    Those who have stated the Democrats in office need to “develop a spine” seem to be unaware those are the elected officials who are DOING what can be done within the legal limits they are working under. They are upholding their Oath of Office; supporting democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution; doing anything the correct way is always slower than diving head first into what appears to be the easiest way out of a situation. The Trump “situation” regarding Nancy Pelosi’s seeming non-action was the House Committees seeking all information and evidence to uphold the current FORMAL IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY. Timing is of the essence dealing with the chaotic international CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS we are now in. Naming the situation is of utmost importance to get the public’s attention. Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats are our “David” vs. Trump’s Republican “Goliath”. They have provided the answer to “what should we do” by taking action within their Constitutional responsibilities and the legal restraints ignored by the Republicans in the White House who created this international disaster.

  3. Just want to say that you need not be the “lone voice crying in the wilderness.” (Matthew 3:3) There are many groups working to bring about various types of reform. If you’re not comfortable speaking out, join a group and lend your efforts to that group.

  4. Peggy,

    Could you please list some of the group names that are working to bring about reform?

    That would enable those of us who are interested in joining them to find out more about them.

  5. Sheila,

    “I don’t happen to agree with that broad-brush indictment, but let’s say–for the sake of argument–that it’s true. If our entire political class is corrupt, what should be done? That is a question that the cynics never answer–and seldom even ask.”

    The answer is there. MLK answered that over 50 years ago: It’s DIRECT ACTION. An action, he also well stated, that LIBERALS refuse to take. And still don’t, especially, on this blog.

    Fortunately, attacking the messenger, historically, doesn’t always work.

  6. “What then are we to do?”
    We can each do what we re able to do and then do more. We need not march in lock-step, but we do need to each march to our own drummer. So pull on those boots and stand up. The road ahead is going to be hard. There will be detours and raging rivers to cross, but at the end there is a good place for us and our children. To sit this struggle out is to surrender your freedom.

  7. Nancy,

    There are national groups like Amnesty International, the ACLU, League of Women Voters, or Common Cause. There are several groups working on the environment, such as Nature Conservancy, or the Sierra Club. These groups have local offices that usually need help. There are a lot of neighborhood groups working in this area for specific locales, like Friends of Garfield Park. I no longer live in the Indianapolis Area, but I can tell you there are a lot of groups out there.

    Personally, I get involved through my church’s participation in the local Justice Ministry, which consists of members of all faiths getting together to lobby local and state officials for a specific thing each year. This year’s topic is under discussion now, but affordable housing is one of the items up for consideration, criminal justice reform is another.

  8. “We could act like citizens rather than subjects.”

    That is the point of our situation isn’t it? Republicans treat we the people like subjects, Democrats like citizens living under rule by law and empowered to protect our rights by hiring and firing those who govern.

    Normally our electoral rights come on a fixed schedule due to terms. This is an emergency though so we need to exercise them off cycle.

    We need to fire Republicans starting from the top of the crime family. Trump, Pence, McConnell, Barr. That will get us mostly back to what we are used to. Mostly but with what we must limit to a short term patch because it has its own dangers. A one party system.

  9. i suspect as pure speculation mainly the “plutocrats push that idea to discourage folks from voting and getting inb their way. otoh, i don’t think they’re that smart and cunning;)

  10. Sheila – One of your best ever – KUDOS.


    Looking for an organization, consider CommonGoodGoverning.

    We are concerned citizens worried about the world and country our children and grandchildren will live in. We fear that our democracy is coming apart at the seams due to partisanship, ideology and issue/identity politics.

    We are working to replace US House/Senate career politicians with servant leaders of either party who will take American governing toward the common good. Last November, we helped elect four of them: Conor Lamb (PA), Elissa Slotkin (MI), Dean Phillips (MN), Elaine Luria (VA). We would greatly appreciate sharing our vision with you for your thoughts. We have a brief “backgrounder” with our ideas that I can share. We are new and not yet on social media. Contact

  11. i just stalked your cv, i’m exhausted and embarrased at how lazy i’ve been!, before i retired, i practiced regulatory compliance in a highly regulated field(banking, my experience is that few folks know anything about the role and process of regulatory governance ,”the APA? what s that?” DO YOU SUPPOSE THERE IS ANY ROOM IN THE BLOGOSHERE TO DISCUSS ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES (TO PUSH BACK AGAINST THE ATTACKSVER THE YEARS AGAINST REGULATIONS AND LOOKING AT “REGULATORY CAPTURE?”

  12. I did not start my law practice in a 52-member firm but I too was imbued early on with the idea of “Now what?” Thus while facts don’t change, our approach to their use advantageous to our clients is subject to change.

    Any form of government, dictatorship through democracy, is difficult to maintain over the long haul. (See Hitler, Mussolini, Romanov Russia, Cromwell England, apartheid South Africa and other such examples). Revolutions sometimes work but usually don’t (depending upon one’s measure of success, i.e., the American Revolution worked from the colonists’ perspective but not from that of King George). I think gradual change in governing is better than sudden change in governing, but sometimes deep and sudden change is governing is called for, as in, for instance, FDR’s New Deal, which was radical compared to the laissez faire tactics of Republicans at the time, but called for since we were in the midst of a hair-raising Great Depression and on the verge of failed state status.

    Thus today we have a mentally deficient piece of protoplasm holding forth in the Oval Office who cannot be classified as a Republican or a libertarian (there’s little if any difference) or any other cozy pigeonhole who is engaged in destroying our ethics, our mores, and ultimately unless restrained, our economy and our democracy.

    So, as Sheila noted, those are the facts, but we are now beyond fact-gathering and into the “What are we going to do about it” stage, so now what? I vote for his impeachment and possible removal if Senate Republicans put country over party, and if not let them go home and explain in their town halls why they failed to vote for country.

  13. There are victories here and there for instance:
    In a ruling that could have major implications for next year’s congressional elections, a North Carolina court late Monday struck down the state GOP’s 2020 legislative district map on the grounds that it was unlawfully gerrymandered to favor the Republican Party.

    “Extreme partisan gerrymandering—namely redistricting plans that entrench politicians in power, that evince a fundamental distrust of voters by serving the self-interest of political parties over the public good, and that dilute and devalue votes of some citizens compared to others—is contrary to the fundamental right of North Carolina citizens to have elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” the three-judge panel wrote in its 20-page ruling.

    Politico reporter Jake Sherman said the decision is “potentially seismic for control of Congress.”

    “Advocates now believe that bringing suits in state court may be the most effective legal strategy for combating gerrymandering,” HuffPost noted.

  14. Marv is on the right track, except the conservatives subverted our democratic government with grass roots activists who relentlessly recruited single minded followers. I can’t remember massive marches by conservatives, except for possibly anti-abortion advocates. In the last 10 years Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions used immigration as a cudgel to gain and maintain power. See Zero Tolerance. Democrats have nothing similar. The radical 60s don’t compare with what the radical Right has accomplished. Since 1972 we’ve had 6 Republican presidents, predominantly ultra right, while only 3 Dems, none of whom were left of center, occupied the White House. The Occupy Movement and Sunrise Movement haven’t and won’t bring about radical and long lasting change. The Left lacks dedicated people like those who brought the 6 GOP presidents and, at crucial junctures, a GOP Congress. Maybe America’s masses are center-right and radical right and we just have to accept that. Are the center-left and radical left too few, or too nice?

  15. Theresa; strong words today, thank you.

    Another quote from Stephen King; “All we can do is all we can do. If it isn’t enough, it will have to be enough.” Think on that one!

  16. When Mr. Trump said he was going to deny citizenship to children born in the United States because their parents were not legal citizens, where was the outcry? It’s a right in the Constitution, people! When did schools stop teaching Civics? All citizens should know that the only way to change that rule would be to convince enough state legislators to vote to amend the Constitution. And that’s a process that takes years. More years than Mr. Trump could be in office.

  17. We need a mandate and we won’t get one until the Dems make this a priority.

    Rural economic decline began at the turn of the century. But the great recession along with the loss of massive numbers of manufacturing and mining jobs, has accelerated declining populations, produced dramatically higher higher unemployment and under employment rates, a scarcity of resources for schools, hospitals and other public services, and an increase in persistent rural poverty only slightly exceeded by inner cities.

  18. One of the most dangerous consequences of Russia and Republicans conspiring against democracy would be for Democrats to emulate their tactics because they work some times.

  19. Nancy, The class you may be referencing is called “Constitution 101”. It is an adult version of the We the People Program taught by Robert Leming, the National Director of this program. It is offered by the Indiana State Bar Foundation and it’s local affiliates in Indianapolis as well as here in Fort Wayne. The League if Women Voters is a cosponsor. And yes, there is an online version available. Go to The Center for Civic Education website and follow the links to the We the People Program. I HIGHLY recommend this course to all.

  20. JoAnn: the Radical Right never gave up. They met obstacles, polished, sharpened their message, attacked the moderates and liberals. They never said “it wii have to be enough.” For people like Bannon and Miller such words are for quitters. Even appeasers.

    Liberals are aplenty, but not united. Look at the environmental movement: organizations are abundant but lack the small group of organizers who infiltrated conservative denominations, congregation by congregation and the Catholic Church to make anti-abortion the litmus for political office seekers, then got out the vote. Bill Clinton was an aberration with the 3rd Way. Gutless. Toothless. Hillary didn’t learn, and didn’t have a three person team like Bannon, Miller and Sessions. Democrats need ideologues with a single focus on organizing and winning. Don’t polls tell us “we” are the majority? The party screwed Bernie and defanged Hillary. Never give up. Speak with one voice (not 22 or 19) and organize. Get out the vote.

  21. Wayne Moss:

    The Republicans have been very successful at winning elections by using FEAR. Fear of Blacks. Fear of drugs. Fear of criminals. Fear of Mexicans. Fear of the Russians (Well, they have now abandoned that one). Fear of Muslims. And overwhelmingly, fear of abortion. Fear of a Mexican or Chinese stealing your job. Fear of almost anyone who doesn’t look or pray like you or anyone or thing that isn’t a White Male Christian.

    Fear — being constantly afraid of nearly everything — is a much stronger emotion and motivator than a message of good governance, hope, change for the better, and progress or even less costly and better health care. Of course, most of the Republican–Conservative Mantra of Fear has been and is still based on, if not out right falsehoods, a great distortion of the truth — which gets us back to Professor Kennedy’s recent messages about civic literacy and the ability today to so easily spread misinformation.

    Let’s also not forget that the Republicans have been very successful at stealing elections through the use of Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and even the Supreme Court in 2000.

    Which brings us to your point about the number of Republicans elected President versus Democrats (6 to 3). The number of Republicans elected should be two less.

    Both GW Bush in 2000 and Trump lost the popular vote. Thus, if the will of the majority of the voters had determined the outcome, instead of the Electoral College (or Republican chicanery in Florida and the Supreme Court in 2000), the number should have been 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans.

    Perhaps not a whole lot better, but much better. Just think how much different the world might be today if Gore had been President in 2000 and Hilary (love her or hate her) now. No, it wouldn’t be perfect (What is?). But we very likely would never have attempted regime change and an oil grab by invading Iraq. We would have been fighting Global Warming since 2000. And we likely wouldn’t have a Federal Judiciary and a stacked Supreme Court for the foreseeable future.

  22. If fear works, use it.

    DEMs should talk about fear of: dirty water, dirty air, violent climate, prescription drug prices, unexpected medical bills, student debt, etc.

  23. Lester, Bernie Sanders in 2016 talked about: dirty water, dirty air, violent climate, prescription drug prices, unexpected medical bills, student debt, etc. Sanders bases his platform on all these issues. Warren has also hit on these issues.

    The rest of the Presidential Democratic field, except Tulsi are Corporate Democrats, who dance around lot’s of movement but they will not take us in a Progressive Direction.

  24. Monotonous; about all of those Democratic candidates getting money from corporations, there are corporations well aware of which party should be in office. Citizens United allows them to donate as much as they want to whomever they want and sometimes it is the good guys…and gals who get the donations.

    Even a broken clock is correct two time a day.

  25. Wayne Moss:
    “Liberals are aplenty, but not united.”

    That may be true but a useless truth.

    Here’s why it is useless:
    If we Liberals were united perfectly, beautifully, totally in our pursuit of nicety and acquiescence–whatever tiny surrender that might be achieved over tea but off the street–then all that would be achieved is a nice acquiescence. All that would be gained is a surrender that does not require a dirty fight.

    I suggest that we liberals adopt General Robert E. Lee as our role model–the perfect image of the gentleman who surrenders with polite honor.

  26. It’s worth thinking about personalities who understand and accept that freedom at all is freedom for all and also that there are many obstacles in the pursuit of happiness that can be reduced by collective action. Liberals will never be united and of anywhere near one mind like people who live by authority and order are.

    It’s a problem.

  27. Monotonous:
    “…Bernie Sanders in 2016 TALKED ABOUT: dirty water, dirty air, violent climate, prescription drug prices, unexpected medical bills, student debt, etc…” (caps mine).

    Bernie needs to frame these issues as fear issues instead of hope issues. But he cannot so long as his old tongue is in defensive mode, and at his age he is not capable of the General Sherman sort of brutality a proper offense requires.

    I’d like to see fiesty Kamala Harris and word-smith Pete Buttigieg try their hand at framing those issues as fear issues. Results might surprise them.

  28. Peggy and Linda – thanks for the suggestions. I am aware of those, but unfortunately live too far away from them to become active.

    Lester – I will email you for information on the organization you mentioned.

    Peg Maginn – Thank You! That is the class that I had in mind with my question to Sheila. I checked into it a few years ago, but it was only taught in Indy. I inquired if they might consider offering it in a Webinar form for those of us that live too far away to attend classes. At that time they didn’t seem interested in webinar classes. I will check into the Ft Wayne class schedule even though I live an hour away.

    Those of you that live in larger metropolitan areas are very fortunate to have access to the many organizations mentioned. Those of us that live in very rural locations keep getting more and more isolated from civilization.

  29. John Neal – I can assure you that rural decline started long before the turn of the century. It began in the early ‘80s in rural Indiana and continues at a more rapid pace today. Young people are able to leave and move away for better jobs and better lives. Those of us who are middle-aged and older are sadly stuck in these areas that continue to decline in multiple ways because employer age discrimination has also become worse everywhere.

  30. One great org. is Friends Committee on National Legislation. They carefully craft bills designed to promote peace and Justice and lobby all the legislators they can to pass the bill. They are very effective, and growing. I’ve supported them for years.

  31. I was taught that if you really want to understand an issue, or solve a problem you have to begin by asking the right question – Sheila just did – “What should we do?”

    I think we mostly agree that we have to reverse the direction our country is going and to try to repair the damage. I think the real trick is that we need to organize on all fronts – the Environmentalists, the Women’s Rights advocates, the Health Care reformers, the Anti-poverty proponents all have to see that working together will further all of their goals. Bobby Kennedy was a man who convinced both African-Americans and the future Reagan white, blue collar workers that there future lied in working together – Latinos and American Indians were included as well. We need that feeling of working together again. The “liberals/progressives” have to work together if we want to reverse current trends.

    The real, real trick is to continue if we win. It will take more than a single election cycle to undo the damage.

    As far as messages – I can’t remember the name of the book, but the scientist turned documentary film maker noted that we can appeal to the brain, the gut, or (you should forgive the expression) the gonads. Liberals and scientists always thought winning the argument – appealing to the head was the way to go. The right aimed at the gut (Hollywood and advertisers a bit lower). The gut argument was a winner, but it doesn’t have to be just fear. There are many ways to frame the issues that appeal to the gut — and without being dishonest.
    I do believe that this nation is basically center to center-left in their views — once you eliminate the dishonesty, scapegoating and fear. The Republican Party will likely be reborn with some true, rational conservatives – maybe with time they may recover a Rockefeller/Lindsey wing (although Lindsey did become a Democrat in ’71)

  32. Here is what I do and have done for 50 years. I work to elect democrats who will move the country to the left. Rarely have I seen one who is perfect or even who agrees with me on all issues, but more often than not I find them better than the alternative. I consider the Republican alternative and have even voted for one now and then, but I feel than my presence and activity within the Democratic Party is the best use of my time and efforts. Joined with those of like mind we have moved and will move the country to the left.

Comments are closed.