Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I don't know if Saddleback made the decision to take down the offensive language due to any pressure from President-elect Obama's transition team or because of adverse publicity from Rachel Maddow, who made a humongous issue of it on Friday night. Whatever the motive, this symbolic action does not satisfy the need for real and meaningful compromise on the part of Rick Warren in return for the rare and elevated privilege of giving the spiritual message at the most momentous presidential inauguration since John F. Kennedy's. Obama should not be fooled.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Your invitation to the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, to give the invocation at your inaugural in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009, has been to the already invigorated activists among the gay and lesbian population of America what a red cape is to an irascible bull. It seems that, to Obama's advisors and, perhaps, even to the man himself, the queer vote is so firmly in hand that the downside to poking them in the eye with a sharp stick is so slight as to be completely discountable. He/they may well be right. As a gay man myself who has voted in every biannual election since 1968, I could count on one hand the number of times I have pulled the Republican lever and the kinds of Republicans who warranted that kind of "bipartisanship" from me have long gone the way of the Dodo.
Many activists are calling for you to retract the invitation to Rev. Warren to give the invocation. I think this would be a mistake. I see in this situation an opportunity for a teachable moment for the good Reverend. To retract the invitation would make you look indecisive, insincere, and confused. It would restore the Rev. Warren to his previous level of esteem among his evangelical contemporaries. Further, it would not truly satisfy your critics on the left, as it would merely mollify for the moment rather than fulfill for the future.
Here's what the you should do (with all respect to one of your high office): say to Rev. Warren that the invitation is still open for him to give the invocation at your inauguration, so long as he agrees to open his church to full membership for all people, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, religious background, sexual orientation, and gender identity or presentation.
This is the fairest resolution of this crisis I can think of. You would be saying that, while you are reaching out to him across the aisle, giving him perhaps the single biggest honor of his career, you expect that he will use this opportunity to do the same on behalf of those who are now barred from his church. You would send a message to all Americans that healing is a two-way street, that we all must do our part to close the divide that separates us and prevents us from solving the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead of us. You would be giving Rev. Warren the chance to turn Saddleback Church toward a more noble and universal purpose and imbue his appearance on the steps of the Capitol on this auspicious Tuesday in January with fresh hope for inclusion and love.
May it be so. Shalom. Peace. Namaste.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Exit polls for The Associated Press found that Proposition 8 received critical support from black voters who flocked to the polls to support Barack Obama for president. About seven in 10 blacks voted in favor of the ban, while Latinos also supported it and whites were split.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Yet, with the likely passage of Referendum 8 in California, a measure that will, perhaps for the first time in American history, take away a constitutional right from an entire class of citizens, we must face the fact that, at least for gay men and lesbians, the American Dream is still in black-and-white, not color. Arizona, likewise, voted to deny marriage equality to its gay citizens. No state has yet failed to discriminate against gay men and lesbians when given an opportunity to vote straight up-or-down on the issue. I guess you could say that those of us who love a person of the same sex have yet to "win" a single electoral vote, let alone a majority. Furthermore, with no chance that our percentage of the electorate will ever exceed the current 5-6%, the picture is unlikely to change unless straight voters have a change of heart.
There is a stark irony in the fact that African-American voters, the very ones who were most vindicated in this election, are the same demographic that votes most one-sidedly against gay rights. The same voters who put Obama in office are probably responsible for the abrogation of equal rights in California.
So, I do have mixed feelings about today's events. More than most, I see the light but at the end of a longer tunnel. I have a little less reason to hope for change, slightly less belief that true change--change that could impact my personal happiness and prosperity significantly--will happen in my lifetime. If I could make one request of the president-elect tonight, it would be this: I voted for you. I was thrilled that you said the words "gay and lesbian" in your speech tonight. Will you work tirelessly to see that, before your first term ends, I have the same rights under federal law that you do?
It doesn't take a Ph.D. in punditry to understand that this will be a watershed election. The choices are so stark as to shock the imagination:
The first-ever African-American candidate for president
The first-ever woman candidate for vice-president
Youthful exuberance vs. wizened experience
Liberal vs. "maverick" conservative
Hope vs. fear
Statesmanship vs. vituperation
American prestige and worldwide respect restored vs. continued suspicion and contempt
US leadership on worldwide economic recovery vs. fumbling ineptness and indecision
US leadership on addressing the root causes of global warming vs. drill, baby, drill
Rebuilding American infrastructure vs. another four years and $600B squandered in Iraq
More freedom for more people vs. ongoing discrimination against gay men and lesbians
Competency and vision vs. incompetency and political expediency
Civility vs. fear-mongering
Statesmanship vs. demagoguery
Team depth vs. Ohmigod, SHE's commander-in-chief!
The issues are so clear-cut that I have serious trouble understanding how anyone could be undecided right up to the day of the election. (Polls indicate that perhaps 5% of voters still fall into this category.) I suspect that they know how they will vote, they just don't want to say. My guess is that 75% of them will vote for McCain.
It's this simple, if Obama wins, things will get better. If McCain wins, they will get worse.
McCain has no idea how to win in Iraq other than by keeping the troops there indefinitely. McCain has no new ideas on how to cure the economy. He says the economy is in the ditch but he helped to put it there, voting with George W. Bush's economic game plan every time.
McCain's theme of "Country First", while helping him connect with his base--which seems to have been the primary focus of his campaign, will not help to mend relations with Europe or Asia, let alone the Arab world.
McCain's willingness to listen to the admonitions of Karl Rove's proteges to take the low road--eschewing discussion of the issues in favor of personal attacks upon his opponent--during his campaign, will assure that the heavily Democratic Congress will have little inclination to cooperate with his legislative agenda. This would mean four years of likely deadlock, which would be disastrous for the country and the world. We've had quite enough of rule via executive orders, signing statements, and vetoes.
The plight of the shrinking middle class will continue. Good-paying jobs will continue to migrate oversees while ever-cheapening labor here in America will assure a growing supply of Mexican workers eager for the relative riches here, while native-born poor will continue their slide into despair. Health care will, even more so, be the sole province of the upper middle and elite classes.
With a Supreme Court packed with clones of Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts--assuming a President McCain can get his nominees confirmed in the Senate--women's power over their own bodies will be a thing of the past, consumers will find it nearly impossible to find compensation for their injuries in the US courts, and the notion that "all men are created equal" will become "you will get what we say you deserve".
In short, America's reputation for being a haven of individual liberty, equality for all, and the iron fist in the velvet glove in foreign affairs will be in danger of being lost forever. The political gutter-sniping that will have given McCain victory will become standard fare for decades to come. Soon, America will be but a shadow of it's greatest days and the world will curse our name as the chaos that is sure to come from global warming sweeps across our only planet home.
My prediction? Obama will win with close to 300 electoral votes and 52% of the popular vote. The joyful noise on the morrow will be heard around the world.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Texas is the state that gave us George Herbert Walker Bush and his morally-challenged son, George Walker Bush, as Presidents of the United States in exchange for taking the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Some swap! Texas also gave us John Tower, Tom DeLay, Phil Gramm, and Dick Armey--the Four Coarsemen of the Texapocalypse. Texas is the only state whose legislative minority has been the object of a manhunt by the Department of Homeland Security ordered by the legislative majority. They execute more prisoners, summarily shoot more Mexicans (at the hand of Texas Rangers, circa 1900), allow more air and water pollution, pray at more public high school football games, and rear more bigots than any other state in the union.
Just this week, two stories broke in the news that reminded me, once again, of how much I hate Texas and Texans--
The first concerns a certain young lady--a McCain/Palin campaign worker, as the story goes--who claimed that she was assaulted, raped, and disfigured by a tall, black man who was upset because she had a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on her car. Matt Drudge picked up the story first, followed by a few newspapers. Soon, the McCain campaign was demagogueing the story in an effort to raise doubt in the minds of undecided voters as to who the REAL OBAMA is. Then, the whole thing collapsed when the young woman admitted that the entire story was made up. While the fictional event took place in Pittsburgh--another geographic location that seems to have its share of bigots--the disturbed young "victim" was from...try to guess...Texas.
The second horror story comes from Paris, Texas, where racism has been institutionalized. There, in September, two white men returning from a beer run across the border into Oklahoma (Paris is apparently a place where sanctimoniousness about using alcohol is more valued than the life of a black man) drove their Dodge pickup over their dark-skinned drinking buddy and dragged his body along the two-lane highway until body parts littered their wake.
One of the accused white men had been previously found guilty of shooting another "friend" in the head three times while trying to ward off "two black men" who were attempting to rob the two white guys in the (same?) truck. The black would-be robbers were never located.
According to the byzantine and bizarre machinations of Texas justice, the shooter, who was defended by the county district attorney appointed as his public defender, plead to a lesser charge of manslaughter and served a little over a year of a four-year sentence. The victim in the more recent "black buddy as road kill" case testified on behalf of the very man who may have driven the truck that later killed him, hoping to provide him an alibi. For his trouble, the African-American was convicted of aggravated perjury and spent two years in jail, nearly double what the white murderer served.
Last year, also in Paris, Texas, a 14-year-old black girl was sentence to seven years in detention for shoving a hall monitor at her high school. Just three months earlier, the same judge had sentenced a white 14-year-old girl to probation after finding her guilty of setting fire to her parents' house. Only pubic outrage at the injustice led to the release of the black defendant.
Texas never disappoints when it comes to Third-Word kinds of outrages. In fact, I feel a little bad about lumping Bolivia in with Texas. If I had my way, I would offer to rent Texas back to Mexico for the cost of tearing down the wall that now separates the two. Of course, I would require that businesses in Texas remain open to provide jobs for the former "illegal aliens" who would now have their own "state". Whites who had no real business responsibility could freely emigrate northward. When Texas was no longer a majority white "state", we would terminate the lease and welcome the new 50th state back into the fold, now transformed into a civilized society.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The title of this post is taken from an article written for Alternet.org by Jonathan Haidt, associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Virginia. Prof. Haidt has done original research on how people process information concerning actions that might be characterized as disgusting or disrespectful, specifically involving objects of affection, such as pets, or patriotic symbols, such as the American flag. He concludes, firstly, that when people react viscerally to something that someone has done or said, reason seldom enters into their response. As Haidt puts it, "feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so." Haidt goes on to argue that Democrats often fail to grasp this concept, picking candidates who sound professorial in their extensive use of facts and figures.
Haidt's second principle is that morality--the base subject of his research--is not just about how we treat each other, as liberals claim, but is also about strengthening traditional institutions which bind disparate people together as a society and living in a way that reveres the sacred and respects the noble nature of mankind. It is this aspect of morality that Haidt claims Democrats "just don't get". By dismissing this position as "narrow-minded, racist, or dumb", Democrats, according to Haidt, fail to grasp that "politics is more like religion than it is like shopping [for policy positions that will convince 51% of voters to buy]". Politics is like religion because "across eras and cultures...they are about the same thing: performing the miracle of converting individuals into a group".
One illustrative example that I have found for looking at these contrasting moral views centers around the very hot topic of marriage between individuals of the same sex. Liberals (I prefer to speak in terms of liberal vs. conservative rather than Democrat vs. Republican) believe that same-sex marriage equality is a matter of fairness, because all people are entitled to the same treatment under the US Constitution. Social conservatives, on the other hand, see same-sex marriage as a threat to "traditional marriage, the chief building block of society". They would put the moral value of a culture or tradition ahead of what they see as individual freedom to do as one pleases.
President Clinton used to sell his welfare reform proposal with words such as, "if you play be the rules, you should be able to enjoy the advantages of the good life". This was a coded message to conservatives that people should be expected to work for a living and not become dependent upon government handouts. For gay couples who wish to marry, this would analogize to "if you want to marry, marry someone of the opposite sex". Other examples would be, "if you want to live here, you must enter the country legally and learn the language" or "this is a Christian nation, if you want to have equal rights around your beliefs, you must convert to Christianity".
For conservatives, the only moral question is "How well does this individual fit into the norms of society?" This means obeying the rules (laws) as they have been on the books from the days of the Founding Fathers--at least, as far as the conservative mind understands them. I say this because many conservatives seem to feel that the rules were set by the Founding Fathers for all time and it is forbidden to change them in any way (think: Scalia, Bork, Thomas). Other rules were set by God in the Garden of Eden and are not to be modified as long as someone in some pulpit somewhere still finds them useful.
This, indeed, seems to be the Achilles' Heel of the conservative moral position as Haidt outlines it and as I believe it often functions in society today:
While it is good for our society to be bound together through sharing of common culture, values, morality, rules, etc., the binding is only as strong as the buy-in. Rules are established by the "ruling class" to establish order and protect the status quo. The "commonality" that is nurtured, even revered, is that which assures the security of those in possession of power and wealth. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers felt the need to break away from the power of King George III to bind British society together through the force of the monarchy and the church, which were inextricably bound together. There is nothing more "American" than to sever the binds that tie freedom to oppression.
In my lifetime, I have seen the tremendous changes brought about by the desire of African-Americans, women, sexual minorities, and, now, undocumented immigrants to break free from the unworkable tethers of tradition that have exploited them. Yes, it is moral to seek to avoid disorder, violence, and anarchy by setting a floor on human behavior. It may even be desirable to define what is sacred and attempt to establish a modicum of conformity as to how that should be honored. Where I differ from those on the right is in the relative value to be put on order vis-a-vis oppression. Even Jesus said that the most important rules to be remembered are to do unto others as you would have them do unto you and to love God with all your being. All else is, as someone has said, dicta.
Therefore, I say, what is the harm in telling people where and how to vote in two languages? Is how they receive the message that, in a democracy, it is important to vote more moral than that they actually are able to vote? Is the sex of the person I marry more of a moral imperative than the fact of my love and devotion? Is it more moral to be "color-blind" than to atone for centuries of slavery? Does honoring thy father and mother mean not reporting parental abuse? Does respecting the purity of young girls require consigning them to ignorance about birth control and then forcing them to bear a child they neither want nor are able to care for?
I agree with Haidt that healing the divide among Americans requires a "clear and oft-repeated commitment to guarding the precious coherence of the whole", that "America lacks the long history, small size, ethnic homogeneity, and soccer mania that holds many other nations together, so our flag, our founding fathers, our military, and our common language take on a moral importance that many liberals find hard to fathom". But I also believe that the morality we must consider as most sacred, most deserving of respect, most worthy of holding in high authority is that which underlies the symbol of our flag, the fire in the belly of our founding fathers, the honor of our military, and the resonance of our common language. To place greater value on the institution than its raison d'etre is to remove oneself from the root of all morality and demean the commonweal through the use of rote rules to divide rather than unify and preserve the current power structure rather than open the doors of opportunity to the disenfranchised.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
So said the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, to an overflow crowd of 1000 at a special service for the dead and wounded of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN.
To end the service, which was held at neighboring Second Presbyterian Church, TVUU children, whose performance of Annie, Jr. was interrupted by the shootings, sang the song they didn’t get to sing on that fatal morning. A part of that song goes like this:
When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely,
I’ll just stick out my chin…
and grin…and say,
‘Oh, the sun’ll come out tomorrow,
So, you gotta hang on ‘til tomorrow,
Come what may.
I love ya, tomorrow,
You’re always a day away!
The words must have resonated with those in attendance, as, just before the service began, the skies over Knoxville had poured forth rain, as if weeping in sympathy.
It is not easy to make sense of such an act as blasting away at a sanctuary full of people who have gathered to watch children put on a play on a Sunday morning. It is not easy to imagine how a human being could have been brought so low in his life as to do such a thing.
As I write this, three days after the event [sic], facts about the perpetrator are becoming more and more known. It appears that the safest thing that might be said about him is that he was a failure at just about everything he attempted. As people are wont to do, he likely sought to assign blame for his troubles. Ultimately, that blame descended with a vengeance upon a group of people--self-proclaimed liberals--whose willingness to welcome everyone, regardless of race, faith, or sexual or gender orientation, was deemed by this one man’s troubled mind to be the greatest threat to everything he held to be constant and valuable. Unable or unwilling to deal with his dilemma creatively, he acted in the only way he felt competent—through violence.
His first victim, Greg McKendry, was a 60-year-old man who served on the Board of the church and was an usher. (I identify personally with that description.) Witnesses say that Greg positioned himself between the shooter and the congregation. In doing so, Greg “gave the last full measure of devotion” to the cause of liberalism—to believe that the lives of those who are vulnerable are worth even the sacrifice of our own.
If there is any sense to be made out of what happened at that UU gathering place on that day—or at Virginia Tech or Columbine or a thousand other places where hatred has bred death—it must grow from the tiny seed of realization that, while lives can be altered forever in the flash of a gun barrel, it is the spontaneous act of selfless love that can turn the world around.
As Unitarian Universalists, it is our belief that “sainthood” is manifested by those who, like Greg McKendry, see a human need and fill it, though we don’t always have to die in the cause to be appreciated. More than perhaps any time in our memories, the world needs UUs to rededicate ourselves to doing the work that can heal our battered and bruised world.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
To make a contribution to the betterment of the human condition for as long as I am able and then to leave the scene before I become a burden on others.
My Personal Mission Statement—
Through my writings, to be a voice for clarity, purpose, and the betterment of the human condition throughout the world. To enable others to see how their problems are not so different from the problems of humanity, that all issues are related, and that only by working together can we create a rising tide of humanity that will float all boats, both skiff and yacht, and all whom they contain.
Friday, July 18, 2008
I'm not going to summarize what Mr. Gore says in my blog. I'd rather use the bytes to urge you to contemplate two things: 1) What might the US and the rest of the world look like today if the occupant of the White House over the last seven years had been AG instead of GWB?; and 2)How did it happen that American presidents are chosen not for the content of their ideas or character but by the timing of their sighs or their appeal on television?
How is it that GWB's dereliction of duty in the Air National Guard during wartime and his connections with Big Oil received less air time on the major networks and cable channels than AG's alleged "exaggerations" about his influence on the development of the Internet? Does a candidate's style really matter more than what she or he does? Answer: only if her or his style can be spun to instill enough fear in the electorate to overcome the things she or he does that scare the hell out of the people who own the news media.
I fault Al Gore--and his party--for being far too wimpy about the events of November and December of 2000. It seems to me that liberals/progressives are overly sensitive to the feelings of others--to the point that they let neoconservative's zealotry run roughshod over the truth, even at the cost of a very important election.
However, the mainstream media also had a vital role to play, in that--as Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols explain in their brilliant book, Our Media Not Theirs--they were far too amenable to listen to the Republican mantra that the voters had declared Bush II the winner and the Democrats were trying to forestall their will. This came about the moment the networks and newspapers became businesses and not purveyors of news. With staffing cutbacks and greater fiscal dependency on advertising, reporters became--as McChesney and Nichols claim--mere stenographers, capturing the words of partisan elitists of the left and right without inquiry into wherein lay the truth. It took Greg Palast, writing for British news media, to reveal the truth about the disenfranchisement of thousands of poor Florida voters--a direct attack on democracy that could well have, by itself, changed the outcome of the election.
Well, you may say, but that's ancient history. It couldn't happen today. If you feel this way, I encourage you to post a reply and tell me why you feel that way. I only see things getting worse when it comes to mainstream media in the US.
As for Al Gore's energy plan, all I can say is that it's bold, workable, and will be fought tooth-and-nail by the likes of Exxon/Mobile and the coal and natural gas industries. I'm with him 100%, however, and will give time and money to the effort to bring it into fruition. I don't call myself "Legacy Guy" for nothing. I believe that the greatest mission of my (Baby Boomer) generation is to make it possible for my children and their children to live, first of all, and, beyond that, to live healthy and happy lives. I'm willing to make sacrifices to make that happen but I don't see Gore's plan as being one that calls for a great deal of sacrifice. I see it as one that will do far more for real people than did Kennedy's dream of putting an American on the moon. It will be expensive--Gore estimates as much as $3 trillion over the next decade. That's roughly what the ill-advised and -fated war in Iraq will cost us before it's over. Consider what we will have when the money's spent on Gore's project compared to what we will have when all our soldiers are home from Iraq.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Since I wrote the first installment of The Case against Moderation three weeks ago, it has become pretty plain that Sen. Barack Obama has been told by his oh-so-well-paid advisors that the way to win is to take a lesson from the New Democrats/Democratic Leadership Council/Blue Dog Democrats crowd and tack right until the left shore is out of sight. With his newly-minted positions on "Free Trade", FISA, gun control, the death penalty, and, now, "faith-based" social programs, Sen. Obama risks so compromising his political cache and audacity of hope that, like Gore and Kerry, he will find the McCain campaign defining him to the voters in their way, not his. He is beginning to look--unfairly or not--like any other Washington beltway politician. Perhaps that is because he spends too much time listening to Washington beltway pundits.
So-called "swing voters" are, by their very definition, the political equivalent of vanilla ice cream--they take on the flavor of whatever is poured, spooned, or dipped over them. This may also be true of many independents, though I'm sure not all. Swing voters are as likely to be swayed to vote for someone because of the color of their spouse's hair as any one issue. The fact is, for many of them, they couldn't care less about politics, history, science, or political genius. They like what they like, end of story. Moving to the right to appease these voters on the issues is a very risky gamble. Mostly importantly, it confuses and alienates the very base that gave Obama the nomination. Secondly, it confuses those voters who don't quite understand what Democrats stand for and validates those who say there's no difference between the two parties.
We all know what Republicans stand for--small [ineffective] government, low [skewed in favor of the rich] taxes, a strong [exorbitant] defense, cozy relationships with big business, and winning at all costs. But what does the Democratic side of the slate look like? Right now, it's blank because Democrats keep erasing what was written there yesterday and replacing it with something designed to offend as few voters as possible. They used to be for a strong social safety net for the poor and the elderly, civil rights for all, prudent budgets with a vital middle class, and a best-in-the-world military. That was the legacy of FDR and Truman. Now, the Democratic mantra seems to be, "we have to work with the Republicans to avoid the appearance of obstructionism (or elitism or lack of patriotism or whatever other pejorative the other side happens to be slinging at the moment". The Party of the People that used to stand against injustice like a mighty oak has turned out to be hollowed out, filled with worms...just when the country needs it to stand strong the most.
Here's what I would like to say to Senator Obama:
If our country is ripe for change, as you seem to believe it is and as your campaign's success in the primaries seems to prove, that change will not come from the middle. As Albert Einstein once said, "The same thinking that got us where we are is not going to get us where we should be (I'm liberally paraphrasing)." We need a president with a rare vision to see the future and the path that will steer this ship of state away from the shoals. The people see you as a leader with the vision to take their hands and lead them to a more gentle America. Not everyone has that same vision and like all great leaders--Abe Lincoln comes to mind--you can listen to them for what they might have to offer. But there comes a time when a leader must connect the dots where others may not even see dots and lead, not cajole, nor pander, nor equivocate, BUT LEAD US TO THE LIGHT AS GOD HAS GIVEN HIM OR HER TO SEE THE LIGHT.
So, keep your eye on the prize, be true to yourself, and take us there by the strength of your convictions. We will be there beside you, proud as you, and just as confident that our world will heal, not from making nice with tyrants, but from pursuing the hard, tough course that will lead us away from sure madness and destruction. Surely, the challenge you face is no less daunting than that of Lincoln. If you are not willing to risk division, as he did, you cannot bring a resolution to the existential issues that face us today.
FDR once said in a fireside chat that he "welcomed" the hatred of those of the well-healed elite who felt that he was a traitor to his class. If you pursue the course that I have recommended, you will be hated by some, Sen. Obama. But you will be loved by many others. This is the fate of those who have the courage of their convictions and the power of effect real change. It cannot be helped. Welcome it. Your legacy will save our children and their children and they will sing your praises unto the seventh generation. Godspeed to you, Sen. Obama. A proud nation awaits.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
When coupled with the particular point of view of this administration--that is, belief in the almost unlimited power of the commander-in-chief in times of war (the Unitary Executive Theory) and the accumulation of vast personal wealth and power over all other considerations--our nation is confronted, as it is today, with a grave threat to its reputation around the world, its self-confidence at home, and its rule of law.
Corruption flows from such an environment as naturally as mountain streams from a glacier. When loyalty is the most important character trait from the top of an administration down to the lowly paper shufflers, unquestioning obedience trumps altruism every time. If you do what you are told, you know that you will be protected--from having to testify before Congress or appear before a grand jury to having a lucrative job when you leave. If you leak information or squeal on a fellow, you lose your entire social network overnight. No administration I can think of has mastered this system better than the present one.
Given this environment, it is only natural for people to think they can get away with anything. Just think of the stuff that this administration has done with complete impunity compared to the problems that the previous administration had over a perjury related to a purely private matter.
All this is made worse by the attitude of the neo-conservatives that they are on a mission to democratize the world and thus immortalize themselves as champions of all that is noble and good. In their minds, the ends justify the means, no matter who or what they have to stomp on to get there, including the US Constitution.
My hope is that the American people have learned a lesson from the past seven years. I hope that they recognize that the Republican Party of the past 30 years is not the Party they thought they knew (if they've been around that long). The Republican Party of today is not a "party" at all. A "party" is a gathering of disparate people under one banner for a particular purpose, whether that be having fun or running a country. The Republican Party, in its current manifestation, is more like a club--perhaps the world's largest country club. You must pay your dues to enter the Republican Party today; those dues include promising to vote with your peers on every issue, memorizing the Party talking points, and keeping your mouth shut about what goes on behind closed doors.
[George Lakoff teaches at the University of California at Berkeley in the field of Cognitive Science and Linguistics. His new book is titled, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century Politics with an 18th-Century Brain.]
Why do people vote against their self-interest? Why do Democrats cower before attacks from the other side?
Democrats operate from a philosophy that might be called the “Theory of Mind”, which says that all thought is reasoned, rational, and conscious. This philosophy contends that politics is disembodied and abstract, the purpose of which is to pursue self-interest.
Now we know from recent research on the mind that ALL OF THESE BELIEFS ARE FALSE. We now know, for example, that 85% of all reasoning is UNCONSCIOUS. It is a PHYSICAL process over which we have little conscious control. The brain is structured to run a body via trillions of neurons. The brain can’t think just any way at all; it doesn’t always fit the world as it is. Furthermore, it can’t be rational without being emotional.
Stroke or injury can destroy our ability to feel emotion. How, then, would we know what to want? We wouldn’t. We MUST HAVE EMOTION IN ORDER TO REASON.
[Ed.: Please excuse me if I take some undue liberty here in explaining complex processes in the brain about which I know very little. I’m interpreting my somewhat cryptic notes here and may not have this technically accurate, despite my attempts to sort some of it out using Wikipedia.]
There are two chemicals in the brain that regulate our emotions: dopamine and epinephrine (adrenaline). Dopamine is associated with reward-seeking behavior, such as the desire for food or other pleasant stimulation—what Lakoff calls “good emotions”. Epinephrine is associated with “fight or flight” responses and stress—what Lakoff calls “bad emotions”. When politicians’ words trigger the dopamine response, they are thought of as “good guys or gals” and they tend to win; when they trigger the epinephrine response, they are thought of as “bad guys or gals” and they tend to lose.
Shortly after beginning his lecture, a young man brought Dr. Lakoff a paper cup filled with what appeared to be a hot liquid. Upon receiving it, Dr. Lakoff quipped that, just as conservatives suspect of all liberals, he likes his latte. Later, he used the cup to illustrate what he means by “framing”. When a person hears the word “cup”, he or she makes an unconscious association through neurons in his or her brain. He or she forms a mental picture of what a cup looks like and its function—the very definition of a “cup”.
Sometimes, these neural pathways form associations that have moral connotations (metaphors). For example, the word “more” is associated with “up”, as in “fill it up”. The “less” is associated with “down”, as in “the stock market is down”. Affectionate people are thought of as “warm”; indifferent people are thought of as “cold”. These associations are physically activated in the brain instantaneously, without conscious thought. Each time the associations are made, the synapses—the physical connections between nerve endings in the brain—are strengthened (they spread and grow). Over time, they become very strong—second nature, so to speak.
In terms of politics, we as individuals are first “governed” by our nuclear families. In Lakoff’s view, there are TWO IDEALS OF THE FAMILY. If you’ve read either of Lakoff’s books on framing, Moral Politics or Don’t Think of an Elephant, you’re familiar with these.
The first he calls the “strict father” model. In this model, children are raised by a mother and father with clearly defined roles, with the father being dominant. Misbehavior must be punished, often physically, even at times painfully. The values behind this model are self-sufficiency, competency, and ambition. It is felt that these qualities will lead to success in life and, therefore, productive contribution to society. Possession of these qualities is deemed to be moral. Therefore, wealth is an indication that the person possesses these qualities in abundance and should be left alone by government. (Lakoff points out—notably--that many persons with this outlook on life had happy childhoods, despite having to submit to corporal punishment.) In these families, the parents believe that when the child reaches the age of 25 or so, they should be able to survive entirely on their own. Likewise, government should leave people alone to make their own decisions in most areas of life, including how they spend their money.
The second family model is what he calls “nurturing parent”. This value seeks to impart in its offspring the values of empathy, responsibility for others, and self-fulfillment. The duty of the family is to protect the child while she or he is vulnerable and empower the child to pursue happiness as s/he sees fit. Out of this view of the family grows the idea that government, too, should protect and empower the people. Empowerment is achieved via the courts and a regulated stock market and banking system.
Lakoff talked about “mirror neurons”. When you see or hear someone laugh, we tend to laugh with them. (Think of the laugh track on sitcoms.) The same neurons in our brains are activated when seeing someone else laugh as are activated when someone tells us a joke. This is the source of empathy.
Voting against self-interest
Voting against self-interest is NOT AN ACCIDENT. IT’S ALL ABOUT “COGNITIVE POLICY” OR FRAMES.
Conservatives have for forty years understood the connection between winning elections and framing. (Liberals have yet to get it.) If you can create in the minds of your listeners or seers a connection between an neutral political device, say, taxes, and “bad emotions”, you can change the way they think about your candidate. One way to do that is to ALWAYS associate two concepts together in a frame that gets the epinephrine flowing. (Remember that epinephrine is the chemical in the brain associated with “fight or flight”.) So, if we talk about “tax relief”, the brain AUTOMATICALLY AND UNCONSCIOUSLY associates “taxes” with “pain”. Combine that with the “strict father” notion of government as a body that neither empowers nor protects but merely gets in the way of “the market” and you have built a strong case for voting for the anti-tax candidate WITHOUT BOTHERING WITH A SINGLE FACT.
This is why it is so difficult to win political arguments. You cannot change someone’s mind without changing their brain. [This is why I have so little faith in bipartisanship in Congress. The only way to pass progressive legislation is to numerically overwhelm the opposition.—Ed.]
Democrats used to be champions of the working class (remember the New Deal?). Because of the Republicans’ effective use of frames, Dems are now looked upon by many as “liberal elitists”.
We all have BOTH parent models in our brains. A moderate has both models on political issues. But there is no such thing as a “moderate parenting model”. On some issues, one neuron pair can neutralize another neuron pair, making the individual “liberal” on some issues and “conservative” on others. Joe Lieberman is a “hawk” on the war and a “liberal” socially. Chuck Hagel is for peace in Iraq but conservative on other issues.
People vote against their own economic interests because of what Lakoff calls “conservative populism”. (Lakoff pointed out that neither Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas, nor Al Gore, author of The Assault on Reason, seems to grasp this concept.) Conservatives who love the outdoors, while they might oppose smart growth legislation, may team up with environmentalists to stop development that would diminish fishing or hunting opportunities. Some self-described “conservative” entrepreneurs are quite liberal in their business practices. Pro-labor “liberals” may be rabidly anti-immigrant.
There is hope for dialogue between liberals and conservatives. But, first, we must get past the argument over specific policies and “the facts” and get to the question, “What do you care about?”. Get your “opponent” to talk about what’s in their hearts. Perhaps you’ll find something in common that you both value—caring, empathy, freedom, or fairness.
There are two means of achieving bipartisanship. For Sen. Clinton, bipartisanship means that the progressives move to the right, meeting the opposition half-way. For Sen. Obama, bipartisanship means finding the conservatives who have liberal values on a particular issue, such as John McCain on campaign finance reform or Church Hagel on setting a timetable to withdraw from Iraq.
[This was the end of his talk. He then took Q&A from the audience. Most of the questions were about how to frame the case for selling ballot initiatives or legislation. The following are my notes from that back-and-forth…]
On the Peter Barnes’ Carbon-Cap-and-Dividend bill before Congress:
Speaker on the philosophy behind the bill: We all own the air. Polluters should pay for polluting. If you want to impose a fee for the extraction of polluting fuels, do so at the source. Ratchet down the cap on CO2 emissions by 2% per year, meaning that the cost of polluting will go up. Make the oil and gas companies bid against each other for the right to pollute by auctioning off pollution credits. The money raised—estimated to be about $1000 per person for 150 million taxpayers—would be distributed equally to each citizen.
Lakoff on oil and gas severance taxes: Don’t call anything a “severance tax”. This is bad framing. “Oil depletion fee” would be good.
Lakoff on other questions: Liberals must take back the good words that we have forfeited: freedom and liberty (others?). “Single-payer health care”—bad framing. “Doctor-patient-run health care” is better. (HB676—good). Say what you really mean. Say what values are behind your idea. Then, say why it isn’t crazy. [Show how your values are served by your policy proposal.—Ed.]
Monday, June 16, 2008
Well, no doubt, patience is a virtue--when virtue is plentiful. The problem is that that's no longer the case. Ultra-rightist thinking has dominated our national policy for the past seven years now--soon to be eight. As a result, we are in such a pickle that, in order to restore balance, the pendulum will have to swing just as far to the left, though without the name-calling and obstreperousness.
[Queer question (question you are not likely to hear while listening to NPR or PBS): Why is it that it is the liberals who are always advocating for caution, measured steps, moderation, and compromise? Hasn't it been the liberals who have been the ones to move the country forward toward real progress (as opposed to conquest)? Haven't we been the ones who have woven the safety net, balanced the budget, created sustained stock market growth, and brought justice and freedom to more people? Why should we feel that it is US who must compromise our principles in order to achieve anything?]
I'll tell you why. It's because we know that the other side is fundamentally incapable of moderation. This didn't used to be true of Republicans but it certainly is now. These ideologues, with few exceptions, only understand one thing and that is power. We on the left must realize that we will only save the planet and nation by going over them, not around or alongside them. They are only concerned about preserving their power. We are the only ones concerned about the common good, solving more problems than we create, and passing on to future generations an American Dream worthy of the name. Centrism, as George Lakoff claims, is not a political philosophy at all but rather a strategy. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late to make a real difference. This I firmly believe. It is why I believe that, ultimately, the Clinton administration was a failed one. He sold the heart of the Democratic Party for political expediency. He, more than any other man, made the word "liberal" anathema.
I still say that we need another FDR. Sure, he campaigned as a centrist. But when he was in office, he governed as a liberal and he saved the nation from its greatest crises of the 20th Century (and I'm not forgetting the Cold War here). He was not afraid of the backlash. In fact, he said that he "welcomed" the hatred of the elite who called him a traitor to his class. His courage and wisdom won him reelection twice. THAT is the lesson that I hope Barack Obama learns when he is in office.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Here are McCain's actual words:
Senator Obama would meet unconditionally with some of the world's worst dictators and state sponsors of terrorists. I would not add to the prestige of those who support violent extremists or seek to destroy our allies....Senator Obama has said, if elected, he will withdraw Americans from Iraq quickly no matter what the situation on the ground is and no matter what U.S. military commanders advise. But if we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda. Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions. A reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values. Iran will view it as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly.
So now we have the outline of the Republican spin on one of the key issues in this fall's campaign: it's a choice between kiss ass or kick ass. This, from a crowd of neocons who let Darth Vader escape so they could go after the Ewoks and managed to f*** up even that! They unwittingly lured al Qaeda into Iraq by bringing down one of the few secular dictatorships in the Middle East and disbanding the Iraqi army and the mostly Baathist police--leading to anarchy and an opening for al Qaeda--and now claim that we must stay there indefinitely to restore order, despite spending billions of dollars to train hundreds of thousands of new Iraqi troops and police for that very purpose. The only sane reaction would be to tar-and-feather the entire bunch and carry them out of town tied to a rail. At the very least, we must hope that the American voters will turn a deaf ear to such complete and utter drivel. Else, we may find Karl Rove back in the White House in 2009.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
"Woody Jenkins, a Louisiana Republican who lost in a special House election this month, said in an interview that the high African-American turnout in his district was 'probably the decisive factor' in his loss.
"The election results also raised questions about what had been a main Republican strategy for the fall, if Mr. Obama wins the nomination: to link Democrats in conservative districts to Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama, campaigning in Sterling Heights, Mich., said the outcome in the Mississippi contest, to fill a 'hard-core Republican seat,' proved that the strategy would not work.
“'They lost it by eight points, and they did everything they could,' Mr. Obama said. 'They ran ads with my face on it, and they said, "Oh, you look at this, a former liberal, and his former pastor’s said offensive things." They were trying to do everything in the book to try to scare folks in Mississippi, and it didn’t work.'” [Emphasis mine.]
Now, if I were a Republican muckraker from Louisiana, would I run an ad--in any medium--that described Barack Obama as a "former liberal"? Hell, no, I wouldn't. I would describe him as a dyed-in-the-wool, lifetime-card-carrying, unrepentant, blue-blooded liberal. Would I describe the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as his "former pastor"? I don't think so. I would say that Rev. Wright has been Obama's pastor for twenty years (which is true).Something is fishy here. Why would Barack Obama misquote an ad that the other side has run about him? Well, he might want to make them look more disingenuous that they really were, for one. But that's not the case here. If anything, Obama softened the language to make him seem less out of step with the typical Louisiana voter. (Let's be clear about this: we're talking white voters here, as well.) Since the election is over, why would he do that? Only one reason that I would judge worthy of expending energy trying to explicate: Not only does Barack want to distance himself from his trusted spiritual adviser of two decades but also the political philosophy known proudly for 3/4 of a century as "liberalism". It would seem that Sen. Obama is as anxious to leave that piece of baggage to circulate forever on the carousel of discarded descriptors as he is to break free of the Wright curse.
Why would ANY candidate for president be ashamed of the label of liberal? Is it because George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale lost so badly to their conservative rivals, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan? Did Nixon prove McGovern wrong on the Vietnam War? How many lives--American and foreign--would have been saved had McGovern been president from early 1972 through 1976? Would Watergate have happened? If Carter had been reelected, would there still be solar panels on the roof of the White House? Would the US have done something about global warming twenty years ago? Would the US hostages being held by Iranian militants have been released sooner had there been no hope that Carter would lose? Would we have been well on the way to a treatment for AIDS before Reagan could even bring himself to say the word? Would we have invaded Grenada? Would we have suffered through the loss of many billions of dollars in the savings and loan debacle?
What part of the progress of the 20th Century would be left if liberalism had not been invented? Certainly, the Cold War would have been carefully preserved, along with McCarthyism, the Arms Race, the CIA-financed coups against Allende, Mossadegh, and a half-dozen others. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion would have surely have been employed, in all its ineptness. But what of the Civilization Conservation Corps, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Housing Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority? What of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communication Commission, the Department of Labor, the GI Bill, food stamps, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Peace Corps?
Here's the only non-tax-related program of Ronald Reagan's that turns up in the Wikipedia article on Ronald Reagan's presidency: the sales of arms to Iran in exchange for cash to assist the anti-Communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua, in subversion of a democratically-elected government. So, we see that, during the period of classic liberalism of the 20th Century, conservatism has a legacy of corruption, if they can be said to have a legacy at all.
So, what is Barack running from anyway? I think I've asked this question before (I can't check from this screen). He should stop cowering before the bigots and know-nothings and reclaim his religious and political heritage before it's too late.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
[Readers, please indulge me in a little fantasy. Pretend that I am a Unitarian Universalist candidate for the presidency of these United States, speaking on the subject of health care. Note: I actually did give this speech during both Sunday services on May 11, 2008, at First Unitarian Denver.]
It’s hard to imagine someone like myself—a gay, atheistic, unreformed, unabashed, and unrepentant 1960’s-era liberal—running for any public office today. Most likely, I could get every member of my political “base” to the polls in a Volvo station wagon, a Toyota Prius, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
However, never one to concede “family values” to the likes of James Dobson and Pastor John Hagee, I will take these few minutes to explain how, for me, Unitarian Universalism informs my opinions on health care.
Because I subscribe to the proposition that every human being has inherent worth and dignity, I believe that a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system is the ONLY moral solution to the mess that American medical practice is in today.
Many decry such a plan as “socialized medicine”. My response is, “Why shouldn’t the treatment of disease be socialized? Public health is the most socialized science known to the human race.”
For those of you who saw the recent HBO miniseries, John Adams, you will likely recall the scene early on when Abigail Adams, left alone to raise their four children and terrified at the prospect of the entire family coming down with smallpox, makes the incredibly courageous decision to have the family inoculated against that horrific disease. The doctor makes a house call with a horse-drawn cart containing the pox-ravaged body of a teenaged boy. Using a crude instrument, the doctor scrapes some of the erupted goo from a pustule on the boy’s body, which he then rubs into a small cut on an arm of each member of the family. The only daughter, Nabby, develops a mild form of the disease but survives.Every new drug, surgical procedure, or therapy for a medical condition devised by the minds of men and women depends for its efficacy on clinical trials. Human bodies are the laboratories for medical breakthroughs. These people volunteer to subject themselves to some degree of risk for the sake of medical science. Since almost half of the American population either has no health insurance or say they’ve had trouble getting the health care they need despite having insurance, we must ask the value-driven question, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here?”
As Bill Moyers reported on his Journal on PBS this past Friday, if an ordinary citizen has had four major heart attacks, a quadruple bypass, an implantable defibrillator in his chest, atrial fibrillation, cardio vertigo, and a heart rhythm that goes out of whack, he would likely be uninsurable for having a preexisting condition. Vice President Dick Cheney fits this exact description and yet cannot be denied insurance at the public expense because he is an employee of the federal government, no matter how serious his heart condition.
We are the wealthiest nation on earth—for now—whose citizens experience disease, injury, and disability as capriciously as the citizens of any other country, yet for whom the ability to receive the care that would mitigate or cure these conditions is parceled out via an immoral and undemocratic merit system based upon ability to pay. Under such a system, there is nothing inherent about the worth and dignity of anyone. Your worth and dignity are measures of what’s in your bank account. My religious tradition finds this notion to be repugnant.
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations is another tenet of my faith. Yet, within the health industry, justice, equity, and compassion is meted out based not upon need or professional opinion but often upon the career prospects of an insurance company employee whose bonus is based upon the number and size of the claims that he or she denies. My religious faith finds this notion to be odious.
My faith also values the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. To me, this means that when truth is established, the responsible thing to do is to make reality conform to that truth--even if it means brushing aside reactionary attempts to impugn, deny, or obfuscate the truth; even if it means confronting a very powerful lobby or forcing the privileged to face up to the injustice of their circumstance and put their lot in with “common folk”; even if it means admitting that we CAN learn from other nation’s experience, keeping the good and discarding the bad.
My faith also believes in respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In this spirit, I would like to offer a truly radical notion that would make power brokers of both political parties and the Kings of K Street alike cringe: No one, no matter how wealthy or powerful, should have access to health care that is not available to everyone.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
A for-profit health care system is a roadblock against Jefferson’s idea of the human birthright. If you believe as I do, I ask for your vote as the future President of these United States of America. Together, we can restore Life where today there is Death and Disease, Liberty where there is Financial Obligation, and Happiness where there is Misery.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Never before in the history of the world had such a bold statement of the inherent worth and dignity of every man, woman, and child been conceptualized, let alone set down as the challenge for a new form of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. With these words, Thomas Jefferson conceived and the assembled representatives of the original thirteen American colonies affirmed that when “Governments, instituted among men and deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed, become destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and institute a new Government so as to most likely effect their Safety and Happiness.”
It is the DUTY of government to effect the safety and happiness of the people. It is a duty so sacrosanct that the people have the right, if not the obligation, to change the government should it fail to do so. This is the most important principle responsible for the birth of this, the greatest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation on the face of the earth.
Yet, today, nearly one of every six Americans is vulnerable to bankruptcy, misery, and even an early death because they do not have the financial means to pay their medical bills. Why? Because Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness has been turned into just another commodity to be bought and sold on the open market, like butter, guns, and video games. If you can pay for it, you get it. If not, well, too bad. You can always go to the emergency room, if you can get there, where you will be humiliated and treated as a charity case.
For me, the most unforgettable scene in the recent HBO miniseries, John Adams, occurs early on, when Abigail Adams, left alone to raise their four children and terrified at the prospect of the entire family coming down with smallpox, makes the incredibly courageous decision to have the family inoculated against that horrific disease. The doctor—was he a specialist?—arrives with a horse-drawn cart containing the ravaged body of a teenaged boy with an advanced case of the pox. Using a crude instrument, the doctor scrapes some of the erupted goo from a pustule on the boy’s body, which he then rubs into a small cut on an arm of each member of the family. The only daughter develops a mild form of the disease but survives.
I don’t know if Massachusetts Mutual existed in 1776. If they did, they probably would have denied a medical claim for such treatment as “experimental”, which it surely was. Perhaps the doctor didn’t charge for his services; he may well have thought that that sick boy in the wooden cart paid more than a fair price for the services rendered.
What a powerful metaphor for the reality that, as human beings, we are all both the victims and the hope of each other when it comes to the security of our health. We have all felt threatened at some time or another by a person behind us sneezing on a bus or coughing on an elevator. We have known what it is to become ill following an airplane ride or worry when a coworker comes to work sick. None of us is truly healthy until all are healthy or, at least, receiving the quality health care we all deserve.
Maintaining a quality system of comprehensive health care, accessible to everyone equally, is as sacred a trust among the free peoples of a democracy as the assurance that we will not deliberately physically harm each other. If it is a crime to willfully do injury to another person, why is it not a crime to deny that victim the dignity not to have to "beg" for the treatment that will restore her to wholeness? A civilized society takes upon itself certain obligations, including the responsibility to not only do no harm but also to do good—to see that we all—men, women, children—never suffer from lack of the best health care we as a nation can afford.
Let us take up this cause—both today and for as long as accident, disease, mental illness, and visual or hearing infirmity afflict our fellow citizens. Let us make Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness more than a promise but a hallmark of our democracy and the fulfillment of our Founding Fathers’ dream of so long ago. Let us resolve today to make comprehensive, universal, not-for-profit health care the American standard and the freshest and brightest new promise to our children and our children’s children.
Monday, April 21, 2008
You've seen them--the suited "retired Army major general so-and-so" who has just returned from a "fact-finding" mission to Guantanamo/Baghdad/Afghanistan to happily report that we "have turned the corner/seen light at the end of the tunnel/begun to kick some ass/are clearly winning the war" in Iraq. The only problem: the "scoops" pouring out of these malleable mouths were nothing but Rumsfeld talking points given a military haircut and shoe shine and trotted out to see how they would play in the lala land that is contemporary major network news.
Don't you wonder why it is that we are NEVER ALLOWED TO SEE anything that looks like death on our TV screens? Why, even the sight of a flag-draped coffin containing the remains of a US soldier is taboo, let alone the gruesome, gut-wrenching stuff that draws Americans to movie and TV gore-fests like '24', CSI, and such, week after week. As Amy Goodman said in a speech last night here in Denver, if Americans were forced--as Iraqi men, women, and children are day-in/day-out--to see scenes of war AS IT ACTUALLY IS alongside images of their pretty-boy-and-girl news anchors, they would demand an end to the madness faster than the character, Marlow, in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness can say, "The horror! The horror!"
Here's another dot for you:
If you can't look at the product of your particular enterprise at any given moment, it probably isn't something you should be doing.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Most of the words I was listening for were nowhere to be heard: "Iraqi nationalists" ("Arab nationalists" WAS mentioned, but it's not the same thing), "Iraqi death toll", "polls of the Iraqi people", "occupation", , "quagmire", "root cause", "American economy", and anything doing with the facts on the ground in Iraq BEFORE the "coalition forces" invaded that country.
In other words--with exceptions voiced by Senators Evan Bayh, Carl Levin, and one or two others--it was basically on the level of a interview delivered by rock star to a room full of groupies. Like everything else this administration and its Senate minions do, it was based on such a small sliver of reality as to have totally lost the truth of "the big picture". (Does anyone out there in cyberspace remember the Army's half-hour TV series of the '50's and '60's by that same name? Those were the days when the US government cared about such things.)
Had any of the folks on the committee read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine or Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater? If they had, I don't see how they could just sit there and take it while a parade of white-haired, white-skinned, privileged men from the deep South out-bid each other for the honor of having their noses buried the furthest up Petraeus' keester, while pretending that Iraq is anything other than a wasted mess of a country.
A "quagmire" is defined by Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary as "a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position". With Gen. Petraeus' repeated refusal to estimate a possible end date for the occupation of Iraq, claiming that it depended solely upon "conditions" on the ground, I would have loved just one senator to have asked, "General, would you say that the current situation in Iraq vis-a-vis the US could be summarized as a quagmire?"
The other definition for "quagmire" is "soft miry land that shakes or yields under the foot". Quicksand, perhaps? Like quicksand, there seem to be only two moral options in Iraq for the US: either try not to move or change position and somehow stay afloat (Bush's course) or struggle to free ourselves (withdraw) and perhaps sink deeper into the moral morass, along with the Iraqis. There must be an especially hot place in hell for those who did this to all of us.
Friday, March 28, 2008
The Obama Phenomenon
by Michael Lerner
from the March/April issue of Tikkun Magazine
The Phenomenon is not Barack Obama. Senator Obama is a masterful organizer and teacher. But this editorial is not about Obama as much as about what he elicits in others, and should not be read as an endorsement of him.
The energy, hopefulness, and excitement that manifests in Obama's campaign has shown up before in the last fifty years, only to quickly be crushed. It was there in the 1960s and 1970s in the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, the women's movement, the environmental movement, and the movement for gay liberation. One felt it flowing at rallies and demonstrations at which Robert Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, Betty Friedan, Isaac Deutscher, Joan Baez, and Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated their visions. It was there again in Earth Day, in the anti-nuclear movement, and in the movement against the war with the Contras. It was there during the campaign of Jesse Jackson in 1988 and the Clintons' campaign in 1992. And it has been there-dare we say it-in the growth of the religious right and the Campus Crusade for Christ.
What is that energy and excitement, and why does it touch people so deeply?
Since Tikkun started in 1986 we've been trying to convince the political leadership of the liberal and progressive forces that they needed to understand this phenomenon and speak to it. Sometimes we've written about it as a hunger for meaning and purpose, and prescribed a "politics of meaning" as the way to respond politically; in the last few years we've written about the need for a spiritual progressive politics to bring this energy into the public sphere.
The phenomenon in question is this: the intense desire of every human being on this planet to overcome and transcend the materialism and selfishness that shape the global economic arrangements and permeate the consciousness of all people, to overcome the looking-out-for-number one consciousness that divides us and the technocratic language that shapes our public institutions and denies us access to our common humanity, and to overcome the alienation from each other that this way of being has created so that we might once again recognize each other as embodiments of God or Spirit (or however you want to talk about the force-field of goodness, generosity, kindness, justice, peace, nonviolence, and care for each other and nature and the entirety of all that is).
We Avert Our Eyes from One Another
Every gesture, every word, every deed, every political act, every interaction with others, every message we give ourselves all combine to either reinforce our separation and estrangement from each other or to reconnect us in a deep way that allows genuine mutual recognition, the seeing and hearing of who we really are, the contact we have with the sacred in ourselves, in each other, and in the world.
We live in a world that is humanly deadening. It's not just the actual murders committed in our name. I picked up the newspaper this morning and read that U.S. forces barged into a home in the village of Door, 100 miles north of Baghdad, and began to fire at the family living there, killing four, including an eleven-year-old girl. Perhaps tomorrow they will issue a statement acknowledging that this was a mistake, as they did today about the killing of nine Iraqi civilians in Iskandariya a few days ago, and the death "under mysterious circumstances" of an Iraqi militiaman who died "in custody after being held for three days on a Baghdad arrest warrant" as a result of a bullet in the head. At some point they'll
acknowledge that the U.S. invasion let loose dynamics that have led to the deaths of over one million Iraqis, and that the "surge" could only be described as "working" because it accelerated the process of some 3 million Iraqis leaving their homes while neighborhoods were being surrounded by concrete walls to provide protection to one ethnic group while the other groups fled to "safety" elsewhere. But today, most Americans remain in a state of zombie-like denial of what this country continues to do.
Nor is the deadening process confined to the various ways we deny our involvement in the world and what is happening therein. For example, our refusal to acknowledge that paying the taxes to keep the war going is part of what makes it possible; and our refusal to acknowledge that the 20,000-30,000 children who die (on average) every single day around the world because of inadequate food and healthcare are directly connected to our global economic system in which we participate daily and which we accept as "inevitable"; and the distance we maintain from those who seek fundamental change, whom we reject as unrealistic.
No, it's not just these large systems of oppression and manipulation that deaden us. It's also our own withdrawn and depressive certainty that nothing much can happen in the world of politics and economics, or even in our interactions with each other. We walk down the streets or ride the buses, subways, or airplanes, averting our eyes from the others who share our circumstances. We are certain that if we start talking to others that they will feel that their privacy has been invaded and will resent it, suspecting that we are out to sell them something or take advantage of them or manipulate them. Instead, as Tikkun associate editor Peter Gabel has so frequently articulated on these pages, we stay inside ourselves, offering ourselves to others only in tightly controlled roles, the dimensions of which have been carefully constructed to ensure that we will not awaken in the others their own hunger for love, friendship, recognition, or aliveness.
And so we deaden ourselves and deaden each other. Each time we avert our eyes, each time we pretend not to see the homeless person, the fellow worker getting into trouble, the neighbor who needs our help, the car stalled on the freeway, and each time we tighten our face and muscles to give to the other the message of "don't go there" where "there" means "don't try to force me to be real with you when I'm scared to do that," we manage to convince the others that nobody gives a damn, that they, too, are alone, and that they would be making a huge mistake to try to break out of their isolation or to think that their own desires for connection are shared by billions of others and are not simply a manifestation of some private inadequacy or pathology.
Recently, some columnists have compared Obama to a rock star because his supporters seem to treat him more like that than like a politician. They are only partially mistaken. What the best and most fulfilling rock concerts of the past several decades have offered one generation is what other multi-generational mega-churches or Super Bowls and World Series' offer to others: a chance to momentarily experience a transcendence of all those feelings of loneliness and alienation, a momentary ability to be part of a "we" that reminds us of what it feels like to be less alone. For a moment we experience a community of shared purpose, and no matter how intellectually, psychologically, or spiritually empty that moment might be, for that moment we get a distorted but, nevertheless, powerful way of reminding ourselves of how much more we could be than when we are alone and scared.
The problem, of course, is that these moments are often based on an us-versus-them vision of the world: our community requires that some other people be the bad guys. As contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapists like to point out, we are often engaged in splitting our own internalized image of ourselves as fundamentally good and decent from another part, which we see as dirty and unacceptable and hence not really part of us at all but rather part of some "evil Other," which in the West, through history, has been the Jew, the Black man, the feminist, the homosexual, the communist, the terrorist, the illegal immigrant, etc.
The Effectiveness of Not Demonizing
Obama's appeal starts from his insistence on not demonizing the Other-the very point from which Tikkun started as a project of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health (ILMH) twenty-two years ago. At ILMH we learned-through conducting an intensive study of working class consciousness-that people moving to the Right politically were not primarily motivated by racism, sexism, and hatred, but by the spiritual crisis in their lives that the Left failed to address and the Right spoke to (albeit with distorted solutions).
Obama avoids detailing his political programs precisely because he knows that in so doing he would shift the discourse from how to break through the fear we have of each other and our "certainty" that we are condemned to be alone and alienated, back to the old discourse about point X or point Y in his health care or environmental program, leaving most people behind in despair. Instead, he confronts that despair straight on.
Obama knows that most people want a very different world, but don't believe it is possible unless someone else makes it happen. He challenges his audience by telling them that there is no one else, that they themselves are the people who must make the world different. To quote Obama from his Super Tuesday speech: "So many of us have been waiting so long for the time when we could finally expect more from our politics, when we could give more of ourselves and feel truly invested in something bigger than a particular candidate or cause. This is it. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
In short, Obama is telling his supporters, we are not in need of some magical leader, not even Obama himself. Rather, what we need is the confidence in ourselves to reclaim the public space, to break down our fears about ourselves and each other, and to recognize that it is only when we move beyond our personal lives and work together for our highest vision that anything substantial will change.
Obama has used his campaign to teach us that we actually can emerge from our frightened, withdrawn state, and enter into a public community and affirm each other's humanity, whether that be through our foreign relations, in our approach to immigration, in our economic lives, or, even, in overcoming the ossified categories of "the Left" and "the Right." And Obama presents himself with a sense of certainty that helps us overcome our own uncertainty-he is determined to win the election because he thinks we can do this if we are willing to "declare that we are with each other."
It is precisely this striving to create a transcendent experience of connection without demonizing the Other that has been the important element in the Obama phenomenon. Although the criticisms of his seeming inability to recognize the depth of the struggles that must be waged against the entrenched powers of global capital are well-founded, the Obama phenomenon promises to accumulate the power to challenge the powerful precisely by rejecting the demonizing of the other and following a path of nonviolence, not only in actions but also in words. This kind of nonviolent communication, a powerful extension of Gandhi's and King's methodology, may actually, in the long run, prove far more effective than pointing out the cruelty and hypocrisy of those who will not challenge the existing systems of militarism and global economic and political domination.
This is About Us, Not About Obama
Surely, one might object, we are giving far too much credit to Obama himself. After all, many on the Left argue, Obama is just a consummate politician, and not one committed to the programs that we all need. Obama voted against the war in Iraq, but he does not advocate the kind of withdrawal that we at Tikkun believe is the necessary precondition for any real healing in that country, namely a total and complete withdrawal not fudged by turning our military into "advisors" who could then stay in the country until it is stabilized. (Our troops are still in Germany and Japan sixty-three years after the end of the Second World War, so we know how hard it is for any government to acknowledge that "stabilization" has been achieved.) Obama does not support a single payer health care program of the sort that the NSP supports, and his ideas on health care have been less plausible than those of Hillary Clinton. Obama has not supported a serious tax on carbon emissions and his environmental programs have not challenged the global corporate polluters and exploiters of the earth, nor is he likely to support the kinds of radical changes in our Western levels of consumption necessary to save the planet from destruction. Obama has not been on the forefront of struggles against poverty and for the empowerment of workers. And Obama does not yet advocate for a Global Marshall Plan or for the Strategy of Generosity that has been central to this magazine and the NSP's approach to transforming the world.
All of the above would be relevant points if we were discussing whether to endorse the candidate Barack Obama. But we are not. We have never endorsed a candidate, despite the many who misperceived our enthusiasm for the language being used by the Clintons during the 1992 campaign and for Hillary Clinton's spontaneous speech when she explicitly endorsed our "politics of meaning" and then invited us to meet with her and strategize together in the White House in 1993. The truth is that even beyond the legal prohibitions that make endorsement impossible for a 501c3, we actually don't see any political party or candidate who fully articulates a spiritual politics of the sort you'll find in our Spiritual Covenant with America at www.spiritualprogressives.org. So while some of us may endorse a candidate in 2008 as private citizens, in no way does this extend to an endorsement by the magazine or the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Nor are we surprised to find that members of the NSP differ sharply in who they would endorse.
These Dead Bones Shall Yet Live
What we are talking about is the phenomenon of hope and the coming back to life of the spiritually dead. This is the good news of Spring, with nature blooming; the good news of Passover and its message that no system of slavery or deadness is inevitable because there is a Force in the universe that makes possible the transformation from that which is to that which ought to be; and the good news of Easter with its message that even the dead can be resurrected, or as our Jewish prophet Ezekiel put it, that "these dead bones shall yet live."
Or to put it another way: no matter how spiritually and emotionally dead the majority of people on the planet may appear to be, no matter how lost in their pursuit of money and fame and sexual conquest and me-first-ism and don't-bother-me-ism, the truth is that the resurrection of the dead is always at hand, always a possibility. Human beings can always be awakened again to choose life, to choose love, to choose kindness, generosity, ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation. That capacity of human beings is what it means to have a soul, though in my view it might be better to say that all human beings participate in the soul of the universe, which is the God of the universe.
The big task for spiritual progressives is to keep the Obama phenomenon alive whether or not he becomes the next president of the U.S; either way, the challenge is substantial. In the early days of the Clinton presidency when the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal were describing me as Hillary Clinton's guru, and Bill Clinton was steadily reading Tikkun, Hillary told me a
powerful story that has stayed with me ever after. She told of a meeting that FDR had with leaders of the labor movement who were trying to convince FDR to support the Lehman Act (to grant legal status to union strikes and organizing). After four hours of discussion, FDR summarized this way: "Gentlemen, you have totally convinced me that you are right. Now, go out there into the world and force me to do it" [emphasis mine]. His point, Hillary explained, is that even as president, the forces pushing in the direction of the status quo are potentially overwhelming unless countered by a well-organized popular movement, and she and Bill did not feel that they had enough of a movement behind them to push for their most visionary ideas.
That's why the movement is so very important.
The Living Movements We Need
It matters, however, what kind of movement. The Left and the liberal progressives have not been particularly effective in building a transformative movement in large part because they've been stuck on the level of "policy and program" while ignoring the spiritual hunger for meaning and purpose, for connection and mutual recognition, that we've been talking about in Tikkun all these years.
All of the movements and campaigns that were mentioned above were originally embodiments of that larger set of spiritual concerns, and they drew their energy precisely from their ability to reconnect to the deep and abiding hunger, often well-hidden below the surface appearance, for a return to life, to the spirit, to God, or however else you choose to express this. When that hunger explodes into life, when people are resurrected from their spiritual death, everything becomes possible. And that itself can be overwhelming, as we can see from reading how scared the people were at Mt. Sinai when God revealed Herself to the people. It feels so much safer if people can find a way to turn that energy into something not quite so revolutionary: into commandments, social programs, rituals, legislation, political platforms, or concrete demands. And there's nothing fundamentally wrong with this as long as one keeps the fires burning inside, the connection to the loving and awesome energy of the God of the universe, or of the power of staying alive to each other and to oneself at every moment.
Unfortunately, what often happens in social change organizations is that the fear becomes so great that it overwhelms the hopefulness and the love, and so they barely keep alive the pale shadow of that hopefulness, and instead try to prove that they are "realistic" by focusing their energies on struggles for this or that specific program, now increasingly out of touch with the underlying desire which led them and their supporters into these struggles in the first place. And without that desire and the contact with the
aliveness that it first evoked, these struggles become deadening and people drop away, and then they are lost. Washington, D.C. and many of our major cities around the country are filled with people who are involved in these liberal or progressive organizations that have lost their fire, and many more who have dropped out because the experience was no longer humanly satisfying or sustainable.
It's not enough to conclude that one should keep the movement alive after the campaign is finished. That was the promise of the McGovern campaign in 1972, the Carter campaign in 1976, the Kennedy campaign in 1980, the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988, and the Clinton campaign in 1992. This won't happen unless the people work to make it happen during the campaign, right now, in the midst of the struggle. And it must be done in such a way that people are not re-privatized, passivized, and then eventually demobilized. It has to be planned regardless of what happens in the actual horse race for the presidency.
And this year there is a special challenge, because the people who have returned to life and energy are not just in the Obama campaign but in the Clinton campaign, and in the Green party, and in other political parties as well, and they need to be welcomed into an ongoing movement that keeps this energy alive, without facing recriminations for not having backed whoever others think that they should have.
Win or Lose: What Obama Needs to Do Right Now
Obama himself seems to recognize, at times, that what really counts is not the horse race or even who wins the presidency, but the creation of an ongoing movement that will last. Unfortunately, he does not take the next, absolutely necessary step of telling his supporters what they can do to keep the movement going right now and endow it with the energy to last beyond the November elections. So, for example, the people in New York, California, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire and all the other states that have voted are implicitly being given the message that there is nothing for them to do right now except to donate more money to the campaigns of their candidates.
Imagine how different that could be if Obama were to ask people to meet weekly in their neighborhoods in small groups to begin to build ongoing projects of social change that would embody their highest ideals. Groups could be organized, for example, around universal health care, environmental sanity, the Global Marshall Plan as the path to homeland security, corporate social responsibility, and electoral reform. If the millions of people who have been touched by the campaigns (and yes, not only by Obama, but by Hillary Clinton, John McCain, etc.) were to begin working now for the changes they want their candidate to bring to the country, then these campaigns would stop resembling horse races and start resembling the building of mass movements and the reclaiming of social space from all those columnists, politicians, and public opinion leaders whose impact historically has been to deaden our hopes and convince us that we should just attend to our own personal lives.
This is where the NSP comes in. We are not of any particular candidacy, and not feeling conflicted about people who didn't back Obama but backed Clinton or even Huckabee or McCain or Nader or whoever. We see the big picture. We know that the key is to keep the hopeful energy alive, regardless of the outcome of the election, because that is the energy that will set the contours for what elected officials do once they have won.
That is the challenge, and for that, we need a way for people to become fully engaged in the electoral arena, and yet to recognize that what moves them is something far bigger than a great speaker and dynamic politician, but rather the goodness within them and within everyone else that has momentarily been allowed to reveal itself through the legitimating framework of an electoral campaign. But far too few people know about the NSP, and unless you help us change that (e.g. by inviting friends to a weekend afternoon or weekday evening gathering at your apartment or house and showing them the NSP video and then discussing with them our program and ideas) people will not know where to go or what to do, and instead will simply be waiting for the next round of the election from September to November, and after November will feel lost and powerless and may even feel that they've been used and tricked once again.
It has always been that way after elections. But it doesn't have to be. The movements that have been generated by Obama, Clinton, McCain, Huckabee, and others could remain alive if we choose to make them such-alive, and able to transcend sectarian political boundaries. We at NSP will do our part to make that happen, but we can't do it without your involvement.
Contact: www.spiritualprogressives.org or .
Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
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