Peace On Earth, Good Will To All – Editorial by Phyllis Stenerson – December 2011

Uptown Neighborhood News 

Season’s Greetings. Happy Holidays and Feliz Navidad are some of the familiar messages for this time of year. This goes beyond the traditional“Merry Christmas” to reflect the religious pluralism and cultural diversity that has been increasing in Americafor the past 30 years. Like almost all change, there are those who demand, those who despise, those who really don’t care one way or the other and those who just want to offer their warm wishes to others as personally as possible without offending. 

Most will agree this is a special time of year. Days get shorter until the Solstice when the movement toward more light begins. In our part of the word weather change is dramatic. Winter arrives with snow, cold, ice and wildly mixed reactions. Love to ski, skate and look at the brightly lighted homes. Hate to slip and fall or slide and crash. Observance of holidays ranges from avoiding as much as possible to lavish decorating, entertaining and shopping. Some feel blessed with plenty, others become even more aware of scarcity. 

It’s all around us – music, decorations, advertising, entertainment. Much of the holiday season is about money – buying, selling, consuming. Some of that translates into generosity – giving, sharing, appreciating. 

Christmas has long been celebrated with awe and reverence by Christians as the birth of Jesus and His message of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Other cultures and faith communities have different holidays and customs. Yet, the spirit is basically the same in all major religious and spiritual traditions around the world. The shared theme is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” summarized as compassion. 

There just might be during this holiday season a transcendent moment sparked by music, words, lights, a generous gesture when all is calm, all is bright. When we feel connected to one another and know deep down in our souls that peace on earth, good will to all can be ours. 

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu 

“Peace is our gift to each other.”
Elie Wiesel

Make Democracy A Priority Action Item In 2012 Editorial by Phyllis Stenerson – January 2012

Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN

I’m urging every citizen to devote extra time this year to participate actively in democracy. It’s no exaggeration to say 2012 is a pivotal year – serious problems. Change must come from the grassroots up to those in leadership positions. 

The Tea Party and Occupy Movements have given regular people a collective voice to say they are fed up with politics as usual and are demanding change. The groups are deeply divided, however, along philosophical and partisan lines on what kind of change. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a progressive. To me that means we need to progress beyond old ways that are not working and find new, better ways to live together in peace, with prosperity for all. This involves a search for what is true, right and smart. Education and dialogue among citizens are essential. 

For years politicians have avoided tough decisions and allowed the country to become seriously unbalanced. We can’t keep putting problems off and dumping them on our grandchildren. Every part of society must be involved including government but the political process has deteriorated into nastiness that drives most people away. It may be more productive and satisfying to urge people to participate in democracy instead of being involved in politics. 

Millions of people are sticking their necks up out of their comfort zones to work for change. Join them. I’m committed. Every voice matters!

 “Democracy assumes there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”
Harry Emerson Fosdick

“In a democratic society like ours, relief must come through an aroused
popular conscience that sears the conscience of the people’s representatives.”
Felix Frankfurter

 

Desperately Seeking Moderates – Editorial by Phyllis Stenerson – February 2012

Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis 

I’m going out on a limb here to say the recent primaries for the Republican nominee for President of theUnited Stateswere unique. Never before have national candidates of one of the major political parties overtly directed their appeal specifically to a narrow demographic based on religion. This group includes about 20% of the population. 

Further exacerbating any semblance of normalcy or reason is the influx of millions of dollars by super-rich donors, about 1% of the population. Thanks to a two-year-old Supreme Court ruling these invisible donors can remain anonymous and ads can say whatever they want to influence voters. Verifiable facts seem not to be necessary. Negative charges are more powerful than critical analysis.   

And this is just the early stage of what promises to be a long and grueling election season. Imagine what will happen when the combatants turn from their circular firing squad to face the other party. 

American democracy is in a very dark place, absurdly out of balance with money power dominating people power and ideology trumping reason. At a time of critical problems including almost half the population now living in poverty, serious deliberation is needed.

Millions of regular citizens are repelled by the nastiness of the political process and won’t get involved. About 20% of the voting population is at each end of the political spectrum dominating the process. That leaves about 60% who hold mixed worldviews – a combination of libertarian, conservative, liberal and progressive depending on the issue. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff calls these people biconceptuals. We usually call them swing voters, the middle or moderates. These are the people who ultimately decide the elections. 

I prescribe the same remedy repeatedly: ratcheting up the level and quality of citizen participation in our democracy. Boost the energy way up!

Are there any political moderates out there? In Uptown? Your voices are needed. Go to your caucus, contact neighbors and elected officials, join an organization representing your perspective, send money to these organizations. Do whatever it takes to restore balance and sanity to the American political system.

Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.” Anton Chekhov

“The community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where nonconformity with accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection and where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent.” Judge Learned Hand 

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Democracy doesn’t work without citizen activism and participation, starting at the community…What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it – as if the cause depends on you, because it does.” Bill Moyers

 

 

 

What?! Editorial by Phyllis Stenerson – March 2012

Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN

Cognitive dissonance? Alternate reality? Time warp? Maybe. 

Conflicting worldviews? Certainly. 

Reading recent news leaves me wondering in what century and country I am living and who is crazy, ignorant or merely clueless. Examples: 

“Deadly Force OK Anywhere – The Minnesota State Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to allow gun owners to use deadly force virtually anyplace they feel threatened…” –  StarTribune, February 24, 2012 

A leading candidate seeking to become the President of the United States advocates virtually abolishing public education:
“Santorum Questions Education System, Criticizes Obama, New York Times, February 18, 2012 – “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.” Rick Santorum 

The United States House of Representatives held a committee hearing on birth control and religious freedom. The panelists invited to testify were all men:

“Birth control as election issue? Why? By Ann Gerhart, New York Times, February 20, 2012 – Who says you can’t turn the clock back?…Title X, the law he [Congressman George H. W. Bush] sponsored that still funds family planning for the poor, passed the House by a vote of 298 to 32. It passed the Senate unanimously. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, enthusiastically signed it. That was 1970. This is now: The issue of birth control has suddenly become an obsession of the 2012 presidential campaign. To many observers, it seems that the clock has indeed been turned back. Now gender warfare is erupting anew, at least in the spheres where political agitation thrives…” 

Far too many of our elected representatives are so distracted by absurd proposals they can’t focus on critical issues. Our nation is facing crises of epic proportions – economic justice, environmental sustainability and the decline of the American dream, to name a few.

 Media reports on sensational instead of important news. Too many citizens pay attention to celebrities and other trivia instead of information needed to be responsible citizens.

Leaders need to be seeking root causes of problems that have been created or allowed to develop over the years and finding systemic solutions. They need to be considering the transformative ideas being developed by thousands of visionary, brilliant people. And leaders need to be listening to hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who are devoting their lives to creating a better future for all. 

This was learned from my valued mentor and dear friend, Bee Bleedorn, who passed away just a year ago at the age of 99. She wasn’t ready to go until everyone learned to think creatively and systemically and is deeply missed by the countless people who were educated and inspired by this visionary. 

“The demands of future leadership and responsible participation in a pluralistic global society require new understandings, new perceptions, new skills, new behaviors and, critical to all the rest, new ways of thinking.” Dr. Berenice Bleedorn

 ”Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day . . . I believe it [human condition] susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is effected.”
Thomas Jefferson

Phyllis Stenerson is Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News.
 

 

Where Do Anti-Government Ideas Come From? by Joe Brewer

 Cognitive Policy Works, October 20, 2010

Excerpt

…candidates across the country are engaging in an ideological battle with one side claiming that government is the problem and the other side claiming that we cannot solve our problems without effective government.  This battle is taking place on a dramatically uneven playing field.  It has been stacked against the public good for decades by deep pockets of corporate wealth….For nearly 40 years now, this system has been growing in size and sophistication.  And it is surgical in its precision and effectiveness. The impacts on the US economy and political system have been devastating…

Full text

An article came out this week in the New York Times about a strategy meeting hosted by the Koch brothers, two billionaires who have funded a staunchly anti-government agenda for years.  This event highlights a deeper current of money that has been invested in an anti-government policy agenda that goes back decades.

In the midst of this election season, candidates across the country are engaging in an ideological battle with one side claiming that government is the problem and the other side claiming that we cannot solve our problems without effective government.  This battle is taking place on a dramatically uneven playing field.  It has been stacked against the public good for decades by deep pockets of corporate wealth.

Policy Agendas More Important Than Election Cycles

David Calahan, a researcher who studies the ideological basis of philanthropy, published a major report in 1999 titled “$1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990′s” that describes the web of money that flowed through the top 20 Conservative think tanks in the United States.  He identified the strategies that allow a well funded minority to dominate public discourse and set the agenda for the country.  One of his major assertions was this:

“In fact, the more fundamental changes in American politics may not be in election results, but rather in the rise and fall of different ideas and their attendant policy agendas.”

Consider the impacts of the Tea Party Movement that arose after President Obama took office.  A non-election agenda was initiated to frame the debate around anti-government sentiments.  It’s veneer of grassroots populism conceals a vast network of media outlets, high-profile spokespeople, training centers, and deep pocketed funders who made the Tea Party possible.  And yes, the Koch brothers are major donors of the effort.

How were they able to get Tea Party candidates on so many ballots?  Why do even the incumbent Republicans feel that they must conform to the extreme views of people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh?  The answer is that a massive communications infrastructure has been built to reward those who conform (and punish all the rest).

Investing in the long haul pays off.

After building a vast infrastructure it was pretty straightforward to rile millions of people up, especially since these very people experience the brunt of economic collapse.  The ironies run deep in that those who have been hurt the most by deregulation and privatization are the foot soldiers rallied to the call of freedom by this effective system for mass manipulation of public opinion.

How Far Back Does This Go?
The first major effort to build an anti-government communications system can be traced back to 1971 and the Powell Memo, written by Lewis F. Powell.  It laid out the ideas that influenced wealthy conservative businessmen to build a web of think tanks, media outlets, and recruitment centers that would go on the offensive and destroy public good will toward government.  For nearly 40 years now, this system has been growing in size and sophistication.  And it is surgical in its precision and effectiveness.

The impacts on the US economy and political system have been devastating.  These graphs tell the story well… rising international debt, increasing concentrations of wealth, lost savings of working people, explosive individual debt.  The list goes on and on.  All corresponding with the advance of an anti-government agenda throughout the 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s.

A toxic attitude was spread like a virus and the harmful policies followed.  We are now living in a country where the top 10% control nearly all of the wealth alongside a working poor living in third world conditions.  The uneven playing field has given obvious advantage to those who had the wealth to begin with.

Where Is The Progressive Response?
All hope is not lost.  A number of progressive donors finally got the wake-up call in 2005 and created the Democracy Alliance.  They began pooling their money to invest in think tanks and media outlets of their own.  Organizations like Campaign for America’s Future, Commonweal Institute, and Center for American Progress have come into being and are attempting to catch up.  But the opposition has a 35 year advantage.

Unfortunately, the progressive movement suffered a major casualty in April of 2008.  The Rockridge Institute closed its doors due to inadequate funding support from donors.  Rockridge was a unique think tank founded by George Lakoff to analyze political frames in public discourse in order to help progressives navigate the toxic culture wars of American politics.  One of the major causes for this loss was the massive flux of money into the 2008 election cycle.  Short-term gains were given myopic focus and the long-term was sacrificed.

I worked at the Rockridge Institute during this period.  On the last day of the institute, Evan Frisch and I made a plea to the progressive community that we must invest in cognitive infrastructure.  Here’s a snippet of what we said:

Create a new progressive infrastructure that embodies our ideals and values. This includes a cognitive infrastructure – the ideas, values and modes of thought that express the progressive vision. Simply churning out more policy proposals and statistical analyses without taking into account what people understand the situation to be will leave the populace bored, confused, and distant from the political process.”

This plea is more timely than ever today.  The progressive response remains inadequate because we don’t share a common vision, nor do we invest in the long-haul.  So we see an election in our midst where Democrats are blamed for the harms caused by anti-government Republicans (and a spattering of Conservative Democrats who have infiltrated the other party).  The instigators of harm are smearing the real heroes.  And it’s working!

If we are to turn the tide on this culture war and reclaim the Spirit of America, we’re going to need to arm ourselves with knowledge about the origins of anti-government sentiments.  And we’re going to need to invest in pro-government, pro-community ideas of our own.

Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.

http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/blog/2010/10/20/where-do-anti-government-ideas-come-from/

Do People Get Less Religious When Societies Grow More Egalitarian?

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, June 25, 2012

Slowly but surely, religion’s historical monopoly on the human mind is breaking apart. On its surface, the reason seems straightforward: the rise of secular democracy and especially of scientific understanding should encourage more people to give up on religion.

In fact, recent research from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that the picture worldwide is much more complex than that. While atheism is on the rise in many places in the world, others are seeing a rise in religiosity, creating a situation where the levels of belief and non-belief vary wildly depending on culture. A lot of it has to do with history and culture, but one intriguing thread can be pulled from the picture, which is that there seems to be a strong correlation between high rates of atheism and countries that prioritize economic equality and make higher investments in a strong social safety net, such as France and the Netherlands.

Could liberal policies help create non-believers? Previous research indicates that when countries embrace progressive social policy, that tends to create a decline in religious belief. The theory, often called the “secularization thesis” is that the combination of good education of its citizens and the fact that citizens can rely on the government instead of the church for poverty relief means that more people will turn away from religion. But could the reasons go deeper than that? Few people base their choice of whether to believe in God or not on something as simple as whether they can go to the church or the state in times of need. Perhaps it’s more that economic insecurity itself increases the desire to believe in God. And if atheists want to minimize the power religion plays in society, should they start by demanding a more secure and egalitarian society?

There’s a heavy body of research showing that the more stress and uncertainty people face, the more likely they are to engage in what psychologists call “magical thinking”: superstition, prayer, belief in the supernatural. In 2008, Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky published a paper in Science demonstrating that when you remove the amount of control people have over their situation, they tend to engage more in “illusory pattern perception,” which is the psychological process that creates belief in the supernatural. Other research has shown the real-world effects of this psychological tendency, showing, for instance, that people living in war zones tend to engage in more magical thinking, such as carrying lucky charms or believing in the power of prayer, than those who don’t.

We can observe these effects in ordinary situations where people feel a lack of control. Take for instance, the sports fan who is usually a rational person but nonetheless refuses to wash his favorite jersey for fear that it will cause his team to lose. Or the usually non-superstitious person who, when playing dice in a casino, blows on the dice before rolling for good luck. When we don’t have control over outcomes, we sometimes try to regain that sense of control by imagining that we’re actually exerting control through unseen supernatural means. Religion has a lot more tradition and power behind it than everyday superstitions, but psychologically, the process can be similar. People look to supernatural means to exert control over situations they can’t influence through real-world means.

Living in a country with a poor social-safety net and high income-inequality means, for most of its citizens, living a life dogged with constant insecurity and a loss of feelings of control. People worry more about losing their jobs, and if they do lose their jobs, they worry more about becoming homeless or otherwise falling into poverty. People without guaranteed access to health care worry more about what will happen to them if they get sick. Parents in places where the education system is shoddy worry more about what’s going to happen to their kids. The less control they feel over their own destiny, the more tempting it is to conjure up a God who can save you in a society that doesn’t bother.

It’s not so much that people believe the church will come through for them in a pinch. It’s that belief in God gives them a sense of control they lack in their real-world lives.

Given these patterns, it makes sense that Russia was, along with Israel, at the top of the list of countries that had the biggest surge in religiosity in the past 20 years. A large part of that, of course, is due to the end of communism and its bans on religion, allowing people to recommit to faith. But other formerly communist nations, like the Czech Repubic and Poland, didn’t see such a surge in believers. In fact, the Czech Republic saw a surge in atheism in the past decade.

Of course, the two countries couldn’t be more different for ordinary citizens post-communism. Russia has been a swirl of political and economic distress, making it a notoriously stressful place to live. Life expectancy in Russia hovers around 68 years, about 10 years short of the standard in more stable, prosperous Western nations. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, was praised by the U.N. for its remarkably high human development index, which is a rough shorthand to measure the stability and standard of living for the average citizen of a country. Life expectancy there has reached 77 years, closing in on countries like Germany and France.

Atheists who aren’t content to simply not believe themselves, but who also want to increase the secularization of a society and the numbers of atheists, need to get behind a politically progressive agenda. Right now, the United States is seeing an explosion in income inequality, high unemployment, and ever more serious cuts to the social safety net. The inevitable result of this is more stress, and more feelings of loss of control among ordinary Americans. If they aren’t going to find safety and security in the real world, they’re going to turn their hopes to a supernatural one.

Religion’s grip on power is tightly entwined with the economic misfortunes of the people. If we want to build a more secular society, the first step is building a more equitable one.
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/156007/

A status report on the Declaration of Independence – 1776 to 2012 – July 2012

Editorial – Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN – by Phyllis Stenerson

“Our dignity and honor as a nation never came from our perfection as a society or as a people: it came from the belief that in the end, this was a country which would pursue justice as the compass pursues the pole: that although we might deviate, we would return and find our path. This is what we must now do.”
John Adams – second President of the United States

* * *

“…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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” – from the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

* * *

It’s been 236 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and we Americans are still fighting over some of the same issues that divided the founders. The actual words in the document are few but we know from the founders’ writings that most envisioned a country with certain inalienable rights for all.

The signers of the Declaration were all white male property owners but over the years the government has rightfully acted, however gradually and always through a struggle, to extend certain unalienable rights to other genders, races and classes.

These rights include liberty and the pursuit of happiness with the latter meaning well being, not perpetual fun. Since mere survival needs money, we can say this includes economic justice.

As frequently happens, when I’m trying to put my thoughts into words, I find that someone else has already said what I’m trying to say. In this case, journalist Bill Moyers, one of the most respected commentators on democracy:
“…this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality – one nation, indivisible – or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others… you have to respect the conservatives for their successful strategy in gaining control of the national agenda. Their stated and open aim is to change how America is governed – to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors…So much for compassionate conservatism…”

The radical assault by conservative extremists on the founding premise of America – that all men are equal and have certain unalienable Rights – generates cognitive dissonance on a massive scale. Many of us can’t comprehend that an alternative interpretation of American democracy has been concocted and marketed to the citizenry and is being sold as reality by a leading candidate for the Presidency. And that few in the mainstream media are challenging this twisted thinking. But it’s true and we need to use every opportunity – including Independence Day, the Fourth of July – remind ourselves and others of America’s real story, that of pursuing equal rights for all.

* * *

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life…For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.”
Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

 

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Washington Post, April 27, 2012 

Excerpt

…GOP..extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted. 

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. 

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. 

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. 

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach. 

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

…the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist…

the forces Gingrich unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme and virulently anti-Washington base… 

Norquist…rolled out his Taxpayer Protection Pledge…which binds its signers to never support a tax increase…create additional litmus tests that box in moderates and make cross-party coalitions nearly impossible… 

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington…Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship… 

Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology…. 

The results can border on the absurd… 

Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures…

The GOP’s evolution has become too much for some longtime Republicans. Former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraskacalled his party “irresponsible” …Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer… “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult,…

Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP. 

If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change.

Mitt Romney’s rhetoric and positions offer no indication that he would govern differently if his party captures the White House and both chambers of Congress. 

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public. 

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth?… 

Full text 

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates. 

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted. 

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. 

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. 

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. 

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach. 

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct. 

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post. 

What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. 

From the day he entered Congress in 1979, Gingrich had a strategy to create a Republican majority in the House: convincing voters that the institution was so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority. It took him 16 years, but by bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders; provoking them into overreactions that enraged Republicans and united them to vote against Democratic initiatives; exploiting scandals to create even more public disgust with politicians; and then recruiting GOP candidates around the country to run against Washington, Democrats and Congress, Gingrich accomplished his goal. 

Ironically, after becoming speaker, Gingrich wanted to enhance Congress’s reputation and was content to compromise with President Clinton when it served his interests to do so. But the forces Gingrich unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme and virulently anti-Washington base — most recently represented by tea party activists — and helped drive moderate Republicans out of Congress. (Some of his progeny, elected in the early 1990s, moved to the Senate and polarized its culture in the same way.) 

Norquist, meanwhile, founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 and rolled out his Taxpayer Protection Pledge the following year. The pledge, which binds its signers to never support a tax increase (that includes closing tax loopholes), had been signed as of last year by 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators, according to ATR. The Norquist tax pledge has led to other pledges, on issues such as climate change, that create additional litmus tests that box in moderates and make cross-party coalitions nearly impossible. For Republicans universally concerned about a primary challenge from the right, the failure to sign such pledges is simply too risky. 

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented. 

In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade. 

On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices. 

Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth — thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge — while ignoring contrary considerations. 

The results can border on the absurd: In early 2009, several of the eight Republican co-sponsors of a bipartisan health-care reform plan dropped their support; by early 2010, the others turned on their own proposal so that there would be zero GOP support for any bill that came within a mile of Obama’s reform initiative. As co-sponsor Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein: “I liked it because it was bipartisan. I wouldn’t have voted for it.” 

And seven Republican co-sponsors of a Senate resolution to create a debt-reduction panel voted in January 2010 against their own resolution, solely to keep it from getting to the 60-vote threshold Republicans demanded and thus denying the president a seeming victory. 

This attitude filters down far deeper than the party leadership. Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock. 

Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures. 

No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking. 

The GOP’s evolution has become too much for some longtime Republicans. Former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraskacalled his party “irresponsible” in an interview with the Financial Times in August, at the height of the debt-ceiling battle. “I think the Republican Party is captive to political movements that are very ideological, that are very narrow,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much intolerance as I see today in American politics.” 

And Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the Truthout Web site. 

Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of communism in the Democratic Party, political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP. 

If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections. 

In the House, some of the remaining centrist and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while even ardent tea party Republicans, such as Mississippi freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee, have faced primary challenges from the right for being too accommodationist. And Mitt Romney’s rhetoric and positions offer no indication that he would govern differently if his party captures the White House and both chambers of Congress. 

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public. 

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends? 

Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support. 

Look ahead to the likely consequences of voters’ choices in the November elections. How would the candidates govern? What could they accomplish? What differences can people expect from a unified Republican or Democratic government, or one divided between the parties? 

In the end, while the press can make certain political choices understandable, it is up to voters to decide. If they can punish ideological extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our politics will get worse before they get better. 

tmann@brookings.edu

nornstein@aei.org

Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lets-just-say-it-the-republicans-are-the-problem/2012/04/27/gIQAxCVUlT_story.html

It’s Time to Fight the Status Quo by Bill McKibben

Solutions Time For Outrage On Behalf of the Planet, June 7, 2012

Excerpt

…slogans and proposals and will mean nothing without the requisite power standing behind them…Having written the first book about global warming 23 long years ago, I’ve watched the issue unfold across decades, continents, and ideologies…All along, two things have been clear. One, the scientists who warned us about climate change were absolutely correct—their only mistake, common among scientists, was in being too conservativeTwo, we have much of the technological know-how we need to make the leap past fossil fuel…We need politicians more afraid of voter outrage than they are of corporate retribution…So, if we have an emergency, and we have the tools to fight it, the only question is why we’re not doing so. And the answer, I think, is clear: it’s in the interest of some of the most powerful players on earth to prolong the status quo…talking endlessly about these solutions at international conferences is not going to produce them. They go against the power of the status quo, and hence they will be enacted only if we build movements strong enough to force them…We’ll never get the solutions we need—the solutions everyone has known about for two decades—unless we build the movement first.

Full text

My solution is: get outraged.Campaigners marched in Copenhagen under the banner “System Change, Not Climate Change.” On the eve of Rio+20, that message again will rise, but slogans and proposals and will mean nothing without the requisite power standing behind them.

Having written the first book about global warming 23 long years ago, I’ve watched the issue unfold across decades, continents, and ideologies. I’ve come to earth summits and conferences of the parties from Rio to Kyoto to Copenhagen, and many places in between.

All along, two things have been clear.

One, the scientists who warned us about climate change were absolutely correct—their only mistake, common among scientists, was in being too conservative. So far we’ve raised the temperature of the earth about one degree Celsius, and two decades ago it was hard to believe this would be enough to cause huge damage. But it was. We’ve clearly come out of the Holocene and into something else. Forty percent of the summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic. There’s nothing theoretical about any of this any more. Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere is about 4 percent wetter than it used to be, which has loaded the dice for drought and flood. In my home country, 2011 smashed the record for multibillion-dollar weather disasters—and we were hit nowhere near as badly as some. Thailand’s record flooding late in the year did damage equivalent to 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). That’s almost unbelievable. But it’s not just scientists who have been warning us. Insurance companies—the people in our economy who we ask to analyze risk—have been bellowing in their quiet, actuarial way for years. Here’s Munich Re, the world’s largest insurer, in their 2010 annual report: “The reinsurer has built up the world’s most comprehensive natural catastrophe database, which shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally, loss-related floods have more than tripled since 1980, and windstorm natural catastrophes more than doubled, with particularly heavy losses from Atlantic hurricanes. This rise cannot be explained without global warming.”

Two, we have much of the technological know-how we need to make the leap past fossil fuel. Munich Re again: “Whilst climate change cannot be stopped, it can be kept within manageable proportions, thus avoiding the possibility that climate change tipping points will be reached.”

We need politicians more afraid of voter outrage than they are of corporate retribution.

What does this mean in practice? Go to China where, yes, they’re emulating the West by putting up lots of coal-fired power plants. But they’re also busy building, say, solar hot-water heaters: 60 million arrays, providing hot water for 250 million Chinese, almost a quarter of the country—compared with less than 1 percent in America. I could list here a long tally of solutions (wind, geothermal, conservation, bicycles, trains, hybrid cars, tidal power, local food) and I could list an equally long tally of policies that everyone knows would help bring them quickly to pass: most important, of course, putting a stiff price on carbon to reflect the damage it does to the environment. That price signal would put markets to work in a serious way. It wouldn’t guarantee that we could head off climate change, because we’ve waited a very long time to get started, but it’s clearly our best chance.

So, if we have an emergency, and we have the tools to fight it, the only question is why we’re not doing so. And the answer, I think, is clear: it’s in the interest of some of the most powerful players on earth to prolong the status quo. Some of those players are countries, the ones with huge fossil-fuel reserves: recent research has demonstrated that the nations with the most coal, gas, and oil are the most recalcitrant in international negotiations.  And some of those players are companies: the fossil fuel industry is the most profitable enterprise in history, and it has proven more than willing to use its financial clout to block political action in the capitals that count.

If we are going to impose a stiff-enough price on carbon to keep those reserves in the ground (which we simply must do—physics and chemistry don’t allow us any other out) then we have to overcome the resistance of those companies and countries. We can’t outspend them, so we have to find different currencies in which to work: creativity, spirit, and passion. In other words, we have to build movements—creative, hopeful movements that can summon our love for the planet, but also angry, realistic movements willing to point out the ultimate rip-off under way, as a tiny number of people enrich themselves at the expense not only of the rest of us, but also at the expense of every generation yet to come, not to mention every other species.

As it happens, such movements are possible. We built one in the last year around the Keystone Pipeline, which would have run from the tar sands of Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline was a certifiably bad idea—burning the world’s tar sands alone would raise the planet’s temperature almost a half degree Celsius. (Burning all the coal will add, wait for it, 15 degrees.) And so people came together in huge numbers—we had the largest civil disobedience action in America in 30 years with 1,253 people arrested. We ringed the White House with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, five deep. We inundated the Senate with 800,000 messages in 24 hours, the most concentrated burst of environmental activity in many years. And it kind of worked—though the battle rages on, the president at least decided to deny the permit for the pipeline.

Our campaign preceded, and then was dwarfed by, the wonderful Occupy movement, which raised specific issues, like the Keystone Pipeline, but mostly concentrated on larger questions of fairness. It showed a great depth of concern about inequality and corporate power, the very set of arrangements that have produced climate change. And it offered a number of solutions—getting money out of politics, above all—that would really help.

But talking endlessly about these solutions at international conferences is not going to produce them. They go against the power of the status quo, and hence they will be enacted only if we build movements strong enough to force them. We need politicians more afraid of voter outrage than they are of corporate retribution. And so—at 350.org, and many other places—we’ll go on trying to build that movement. We’ll focus on pipelines and coal mines, and on subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. We’ll demand fee-and-dividend systems that tax fossil fuel and give the proceeds to citizens. We’ll write and march and, when necessary, we’ll go to jail. And we need those who spend too much of their time at international conclaves to join us, when you can. We’ll never get the solutions we need—the solutions everyone has known about for two decades—unless we build the movement first.

© 2012 Solutions
 Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of 350.org. His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

The politics of hatred by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

The WashingtonPost, 06/11/2012

Excerpt

…I believe the worst legacy of Richard Nixon is the soul-destroying hatred that he himself described and that he bequeathed to the nation…Nixon saw he had destroyed himself, but he also bequeathed a politics of hatred to the country that is still destroying us at the most fundamental level. This is a soul-destroying hatred of one another; the idea that it is not enough to simply achieve one’s policy aims in politics, it is necessary to obliterate the other side.

I believe that nations, like individuals, have souls….Nixon attacked our most cherished national value: the rule of law…Nixon was a master of playing off one group of Americans against another…Nixon realized that political power in an enduring sense could be gained from making Americans permanently resent and even fear each other…Anger that is “profound and long-lasting,” however, is best described as hatred. Hatred is a deep-seated aversion to either individuals or groups that goes well beyond anger, though it is born in anger..

Soul-destroying hatred is too high a price for any nation to pay for political power…We should therefore judge our political candidates and political parties on whether they pursue a politics of love and justice, or a politics of hatred. Then, and only then, can we as Americans finally escape the legacy of Richard Nixon.

Full text

Nixon’s worst Watergate legacy:

Nixon was far worse than we thought,” argue Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. As the two investigative journalists who broke open the real story of the Watergate break-in and the Nixon White House, they ought to know.

June 17, 2012 is the fortieth anniversary of Watergate, and Woodward and Bernstein have provided a critical reassessment that is important not only for understanding American history, but also understanding American life today.

When I was a college student protesting the Vietnam War, speculation ran rife among those of us committed to non-violent protest that despite our peaceful actions we were being spied on by our government. Yet, once again Woodward and Bernstein have managed to educate and shock me at the same time in their descriptions of the “War against the antiwar movement.” The willingness of the Nixon administration to engage in illegal activity in spying of Americans went far beyond what I ever feared.

From the standpoint of theology, however, I believe the worst legacy of Richard Nixon is the soul-destroying hatred that he himself described and that he bequeathed to the nation. Nixon makes this clear in his farewell speech, and Woodward and Bernstein quote Nixon’s astonishing insight into the destructive nature of hatred.

“Always remember,” he [Nixon] said, “others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

Yes, Nixon saw he had destroyed himself, but he also bequeathed a politics of hatred to the country that is still destroying us at the most fundamental level. This is a soul-destroying hatred of one another; the idea that it is not enough to simply achieve one’s policy aims in politics, it is necessary to obliterate the other side.

I believe that nations, like individuals, have souls. “The soul of a nation, like the soul of an individual, is the root from which decency arises; it is the basis of any desire to behave according to our collectively expressed values.” And as Woodward and Bernstein show, Nixon attacked our most cherished national value: the rule of law: “At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.”

The motivation for this attack was not merely winning, as Nixon himself admitted. The motivation was hatred. And it is hatred that is the national soul-destroying legacy of Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon was a master of playing off one group of Americans against another; this has caused historian Richard Perlstein to describe our country as “Nixonland, a nation where ‘two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans.’” Nixon realized that political power in an enduring sense could be gained from making Americans permanently resent and even fear each other. He “stoked the fires of discontent to shape an enduring conservative majority.”

Perlstein ultimately labels this the “politics of anger” and his argument is very persuasive that “Nixon’s polarizing impact was profound and long-lasting.”

Anger that is “profound and long-lasting,” however, is best described as hatred.

Hatred is a deep-seated aversion to either individuals or groups that goes well beyond anger, though it is born in anger. Hatred is anger that has cooked so long it has become deep-seated and irrational and no “facts” will suffice to change the views of the hater.

Americans hating each other all the time is exhausting, as energy that could be devoted to constructive change gets diverted into hating. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this well, and said that he had decided to “stick with love” because “hate is too great a burden to bear.” King had often seen “too much hate. I have seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of too many Klansmen…and every time I see it, I know it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.”

The face, of course, is often called the window on the soul. And this window showed Dr. King souls that were mangled, twisted by hatred.

Soul-destroying hatred is too high a price for any nation to pay for political power.

As Jesus asked, “What does it profit you to gain the whole world and still lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36)

We should therefore judge our political candidates and political parties on whether they pursue a politics of love and justice, or a politics of hatred. Then, and only then, can we as Americans finally escape the legacy of Richard Nixon.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/nixons-worst-watergate-legacy-the-politics-of-hatred/2012/06/10/gJQA5CSYTV_blog.html