Origin of Phyllis Stenerson’s worldview

by Phyllis Stenerson

A worldview embedded within America’s story

Each of us sees the world through a unique worldview developed over time by our life experiences, consciously or subconsciously. How we think and feel about local and world events impacts our individual lives and our interconnected world.

Each of us has a story. In a democracy, the blending of all our stories creates America’s story. Naturally, tensions are inherent and persistent, the loudest voice gets heard, the most emotional motivates and other clever communications tactics.

Democracy is America’s form of government, an essential component of a civilized society. Our representative democracy reflects and impacts our lives. Politics is the process of influencing government. Some people are intensely focused and gain power so that their positions prevail. Some citizens are scarcely aware of the larger world around them and live with outcomes of other people’s involvement. Most of us fall somewhere on the continuum between these extremes.

My life story and worldview

Since what I say and write is sifted through my own worldview, you have a right to know my basic life story and philosophy so you can process and evaluate my work, assuming you’ve chosen to read it.

Briefly, I was born the day World War II started, grew up first in a farming community and then a rapidly growing suburb of Minneapolis. The role for Scandinavian, Lutheran, working-class women was narrowly proscribed. I stayed with the parameters until I became the first in my family to go to college and further explore alternatives.

After a period of dropping out of college and working at resorts jobs in upstate New York and Idaho, I got married, moved to Colorado, then California, and back to Minnesota, had two sons, bought a nice house in a nice part of the city and was a “stay-at-home” mom while my boys were little. I got involved in their school plus community activities and politics, worked part-time, got my college degree, got divorced, worked full time to support myself and so on.

Other major influences on my worldview included becoming a Unitarian-Universalist, and having a mentor who was a pioneer in the studies of creative and higher level thinking, all the while growing older amid unprecedented political and cultural upheaval. I worked for two Members of Congress, one first as a fundraiser and then as a District Office staffer, the other as a big bucks fundraiser. In the first case the year was 1978. We started the fundraising project by sorting through 3 x 5 cards with donor information from other campaigns, then discovered the newly emerging PACs (political action committees). So, I’ve been part of the problem as well as part of the solution.

The best thing in my life now is having two sons grow into successful husbands and fathers, smart daughters-in-law and three perfect grandchildren.

My life and work in these times

When the Bush administration launched a pre-emptive war with Iraq in 2003, I was flabbergasted, angry and needed to find out how this could happen. I’ve dug deeply and persistently into a broad range of media and learned a lot, thereby discovering how little I actually knew about American history, culture and current affairs. Things are not always as they seem.

“Culture wars” became part of the American vernacular. I labeled this as media hype and brushed it aside. However, as I worked through the tangle that is our country’s social fabric, I came to realize that culture wars are real and at the core of the deep divisions quite literally threatening our democracy and the promise of America.

A major insight came in learning how significantly a person’s worldview impacts their attitude toward politics, and how this worldview is influenced by life experiences, especially family, religion, education and community connections. People have lived in tribes or clans since the beginning of civilization. We still do. A major differentiating factor is the extent to which we stay within our clan of origin or branch out to discover, or create, a different reality.

I became fascinated, some might say obsessed, with this endlessly complex phenomena and began collecting information. At the start of this journey in 2005 information relating to the cultural and religious dynamics influencing politics was rare. Over the past nine years knowledge and analysis generated by experts, public intellectuals and ordinary people has expanded exponentially thanks in large part to the internet, independent journalism and dramatically heightened awareness, at least among a subset of the electorate.

Over time as the data base expanded, a framework was developed to make the ever-increasing volume manageable. I want to share this information with the public as a contribution to citizen education, a vastly under appreciated and under-utilized cornerstone of democracy. I believe a broader, deeper understanding among the electorate of the concept of worldview and the “culture wars” is essential to renewing democracy, and quite literally, saving the world for future generations.

Multiple crises are real and must be faced straight on. As citizens of the world’s first and greatest democracy, we have a sacred responsibility to do our best to help create a better future for all.

Multiple opportunities are ready to be seized by an activated citizenry to collaboratively create innovative, intelligent and moral ways to transform America.

Posted Feb 8, 2014 -latest revision – Feb 10, 2014

America’s story and moral politics

Real events do happen in the real world, but people can’t help trying to fit them into larger stories.  We love to connect the dots.  Storytelling isn’t some atavistic remnant of our pre-scientific past; it’s how our brains are hardwired…There’s no question facts will play a part in how we rate the deal, but there’s too much input bombarding us to process as data.  What will win the day isn’t the power of facts, but the power of one story or another to feel right – yes, an emotion; we will retroactively find the facts we need to make our path to that feeling seem rational. The public sphere is where competing storylines slug their way out, it’s where politicians, journalists, experts and yakkers connect the dots, find patterns and fashion narratives …When no one knows what comes next, the political advantage goes to the most powerful narrators.  When no one knows how things will end up, the same events can be construed as signposts toward tragedy or triumph…But as we lay odds on those outcomes, it’s useful to recall that the lessons of history are more art than science, and the art is the skill of the storyteller. It’s Important to Know How the Stories We Tell Ourselves — True, or Not– Shape our World… for Better or Worse By Marty Kaplan, AlterNet, November 26, 2013

How the Media and the Elites, Not the Voters, Move the Country to the Right

The Constitution is inherently progressive 

Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control? 

Right wing message machine

.…Part of the answer to the enduring quality of such a destructive politics can be found in the lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970’s and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the com­manding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated… one starting point for understand­ing this problem is what has been called the Powell Memo, released on August 23, 1971…The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists by Henry A. Giroux

With the mainstream media in the hands of the mostly conservative wealthy, it’s difficult for average Americans to learn the truth about critical issues…Five Preposterous, Persistent Conservative Myths by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams, April 2, 2012

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic By George Monbiot, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, March 7, 2012

The Fascinating Story of How Shameless Right-Wing Lies Came to Rule Our Politics

Message wars

…the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world…. rank-and-file right-wingers were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytesThat these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual LeftYet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems…The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world. Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved. America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry

Even Right-Wingers Become Liberals When They Turn Off Fox News

Moral Politics

“All of the various fields of human inquiry — theology and philosophy and morality and psychology meet rather beautifully in politics. And sometimes I wonder if politics isn’t exactly that, it’s the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical moment on earth in which we live.” Tony Kushner – writer of “Lincoln” interview with Bill Moyers

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt and usually fruitless business. It’s much nobler to do community service or just avoid all that putrid noise…. you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere…Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public goodpolitics is the best place to develop the highest virtuesWhy We Love Politics By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 22, 2012

The Spiritual Crisis Underlying American Politics By John Amodeo, PsychCentral.com, October 14, 2013

America is NOT a Christian nation

America Is Not a Christian Nation and Never Has Been: Why Is the Right Obsessed With Pushing a Revisionist History?

Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” –  Here’s What Would That Would Actually Look Like 

Religion wars

…Wall or no wall, politics and religion have always been inextricably intertwined, and we won’t win until we recognize and deal with that fact…Why Progressives Can’t Ignore Religion By Mike Lux

…The increase in coverage of the religious right’s longterm strategy to transform American culture has led to a number of responses charging “leftists” with fearmongering… Reconstructionists themselves  hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldview are in a conflict for dominion (so in their view “we” are fighting for it too)…It is not fearmongering, paranoia, or religious bigotry to try to understand their goals and strategies. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to. The Pundits and the Dominionists by Julie Ingersoll

…the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can’t easily be replaced with anything else. Religion has been central to the formation of human communities — and to how we approach the future… all successful religions thrive and endure because they offer their adherents a variety of effective community-building, social activism, and change management tools that, taken together, make religion quite possibly the most powerful social change technology humans have ever developed…in a nation where over 90% of everybody has some kind of God-belief — and the overwhelming majority of them ground their political decisions in that belief — abandoning the entire landscape of faith to the right wing amounts to political malpractice…To our credit, a lot of our best organizers and activists are starting to realize the magnitude of this mistake. We’re paying a lot more attention these days to learning to clearly articulate progressive values, to express ourselves in explicitly moral language, and to put forward more strongly progressive frames, narratives, and future visions to counter the bankrupt conservative worldview that’s brought us to this sorry place in history… If we’re going to overwrite their [right wing] brutal and anti-democratic story of how the world works, the most important step we can take is to tap into the vast reach and deep moral authority of our remaining progressive faith communities, and amplify their voices every way we can.…there’s very little agreement about the nature of God — but a very strong consensus that the act of radical community-making is the most intensely holy and essential work that they do… Progressives of faith have always played a central role in our political victories in the past. It’s time to stop imagining that somehow, we’re going to take the country back without them now. Six Reasons We Can’t Change the Future Without Progressive Religion By Sara Robinson, AlterNet | News Analysis, 09 July 2012 -

…historian Garry Wills details the intertwined histories of “Enlightenment religion” and American evangelicalism…Wills shows how Jefferson and Madison led in developing the principle of church-state separation, our country’s unique contribution to political theory and practice, which is enshrined in the Constitution,…This is a story also well told by UU ministers Forrest Church and Gary Kowalski in recent books So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State (Harcourt, 2007) and Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America’s Founding Fathers (BlueBridge, 2008), and Frederick S. Lane in The Court and the Cross: The Religious Right’s Crusade to Reshape the Supreme Court (Beacon, 2008)…Wills concludes with a section on “the Karl Rove Era” and the faith-based government of George W. Bush. [Karl] Rove’s “real skill lay in finding how to use religion as a political tool,” making the executive branch “more openly and avowedly religious than it had ever been.” Ironically, he notes, Rove has “no discernible religious beliefs himself.”…His book’s importance lies in its clear refutation of the “Christian nation” idea that many theological conservatives and would-be theocrats have been pushing for well over a century. In Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America, Reason for alarm — Books about reason in religion, environmentalism, and U.S. culture. By Edd Doerr, UU World, Winter 2008

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America

Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists

The Bible is a Good Book, But God Didn’t Write It

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

Right wing religious extremism

…The Republican Party is no longer a political party—it’s a full-fledged religious movement. The political ideology fueling this movement is religious to the core; and while it might be easi­est to label the religious element “Christian,” that designation is too broad and generous for the true complexities at work here…Republicanity is a culture that merges politics and religion…and unashamedly and unreservedly blows apart the longed-for “wall of separation” keeping the two spheres separate. Now more than ever the case can be made that our pol­i­tics are a form of reli­gion and that reli­gion is the new politics. ‘Republicanity’—The GOP Transformation is Nearly Complete By Gary Laderman

… what I’m willing to do, which the mainstream church is not, is to denounce the Christian right as Christian heretics…what they have done is acculturate the worst aspects of American imperialism, capitalism, chauvinism, and violence and bigotry into the Christian religion… I think the great failure of the liberal tradition that I come out of is they were too frightened and too timid to stand up. I don’t know why they spent all the years in seminary if they didn’t realize that when they walked out the door they were going to have to fight for it. And they didn’t fight for it. Chris Hedges on Christian Heretics, Truthdig.com, Nov 2, 2013 -

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’

American Theocracy — Clear and Present Dangers by Alan Brinkley, March 20, 2006 by the New York Times

Progressive and secular spirituality

… the rise of secular spirituality in this country, a liberated set of values that exists largely outside organized religion… Religion was hijacked for political gain by the right wing beginning as far back as the Nixon era, yet there is a much stronger current of secular spirituality running through our history.….secular spirituality…Nothing about secular spirituality is radical. Most of its principles are articles of belief for millions of average Americans who have largely been shut out of politics for eight years.… But secular spirituality isn’t limited to the left or the progressive movement in general. It is a national phenomenon, one that will swell steadily in the coming years, particularly among the young. Born after the divisive culture wars that gave the right wing its main chance, the younger generations yearn for new values.…Nothing less than spiritual renewal is needed across the board… Obama And the Rise of Secular Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Dave Stewart, Beliefnet.com, January 18, 2009

…Spiritual Left did not, of course, originate with the 60s.…it dates back at least to 1838, when Emerson and other Transcendentalists began their quest for a path “away from the old ‘religions of authority’ into a new ‘religion of the spirit.’”…sought a first-hand experience of the divine grounded in nature and community rather than institutionalized dogma. Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation, championing as it did from its very beginning unpopular causes like abolition and women’s rights…
While many in the Spiritual Left are politically active, many others eschew direct participation in the Political Left because it remains locked in a destructive cycle of conflict with the Political Right…
Amorphous and anti-authoritarian, the Spiritual Left is perhaps best defined as a borderless association of leaders. Free thinkers and independent seekers of spirituality beyond dogma, its members engage in–and disengage from–political activism as a matter of personal conviction, not ordained groupthink…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected… Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010

Susan Jacoby on Secularism and Free Thinking, Moyers and Company, March 1, 2013

America’s Soul

There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the over­all well-being of a nation’s inner core. America’s soul is in a fragile state. It has suffered severe violations over the course of this past decade and to lesser degrees, in previous decades…A conscious effort to “dumb down” the education of this nation qualifies as a crime against the soul of America.…I deeply believe the soul of our nation can’t take much more of their strategy of deliberate division against the peo­ple of their own nation. That is a true crime — and perhaps their greatest crime — against the soul of this great nation. Crimes Against the Soul of Amer­ica by Caroline Myss 

Overview – America’s Story

Real events do happen in the real world, but people can’t help trying to fit them into larger stories.  We love to connect the dots.  Storytelling isn’t some atavistic remnant of our pre-scientific past; it’s how our brains are hardwired…There’s no question facts will play a part in how we rate the deal, but there’s too much input bombarding us to process as data.  What will win the day isn’t the power of facts, but the power of one story or another to feel right – yes, an emotion; we will retroactively find the facts we need to make our path to that feeling seem rational. The public sphere is where competing storylines slug their way out, it’s where politicians, journalists, experts and yakkers connect the dots, find patterns and fashion narratives …When no one knows what comes next, the political advantage goes to the most powerful narrators.  When no one knows how things will end up, the same events can be construed as signposts toward tragedy or triumph…But as we lay odds on those outcomes, it’s useful to recall that the lessons of history are more art than science, and the art is the skill of the storyteller. It’s Important to Know How the Stories We Tell Ourselves — True, or Not– Shape our World… for Better or Worse By Marty Kaplan, AlterNet, November 26, 2013

How the Media and the Elites, Not the Voters, Move the Country to the Right

The Constitution is inherently progressive 

Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control? 

Right wing message machine

.…Part of the answer to the enduring quality of such a destructive politics can be found in the lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970’s and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the com­manding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated… one starting point for understand­ing this problem is what has been called the Powell Memo, released on August 23, 1971…The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists by Henry A. Giroux

With the mainstream media in the hands of the mostly conservative wealthy, it’s difficult for average Americans to learn the truth about critical issues. The following five conservative claims are examples of mythical beliefs that fall apart in the presence of inconvenient facts:
1. Entitlements are the Problem
2. Charter Schools are the Answer
3. Corporate Taxes Are Too High
4. Jim Crow is Dead
5. Poverty Is Declining Everywhere
6 and 7. Evolution and global warming don’t exist.
These are just too preposterous for words.  Five Preposterous, Persistent Conservative Myths by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams, April 2, 2012

How Propaganda Can Slowly Repair the Image of an Utterly Disgraced Public Figure Like George W. Bush By Matthew Wolfson, Los Angeles Review of Books, posted on AlterNet.org, January 2, 2014

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic By George Monbiot, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, March 7, 2012

Conservatives’ Reality Problem 

The Fascinating Story of How Shameless Right-Wing Lies Came to Rule Our Politics

Tentacles of rage: the Republican propaganda mill, a brief history

Message wars

…the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world…. rank-and-file right-wingers were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytesThat these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual LeftYet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems…The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world. Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved. America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry

Even Right-Wingers Become Liberals When They Turn Off Fox News

 

 

The Progressive Economic Narrative in Obama’s State of the Union

by Richard Kirsch,  Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute; author of ‘Fighting for Our Health’, 2/13/2013

Two years ago, frustrated by a conservative resurgence in the 2010 election, a group of progressive activists, economists, communicators, and pollsters came together to write a compelling story about our view of the economy (as Mike Lux relates). Our goal was to write a story that people could easily understand, based on our beliefs about how to create an economy that delivered broadly shared prosperity — a story that could stand up against the right’s familiar recipe of free markets, limited government, and rugged individualism. The core of the story we developed in our progressive economic narrative (PEN) was: “The middle class is the engine of our economy. We build a large, prosperous middle class by decisions we make together.”

So it was a milestone in our work to hear President Obama tell our story and use our language in his State of the Union address. The key line, delivered at the top of the speech and quoted in almost every news story, was “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.”

Taking another lesson from PEN, the president prefaced that quote with an explanation of what the economic problem is, focusing on how working families and the middle class have been crushed. In PEN we say, “American families are working harder and getting paid less, falling behind our parents’ generation. Too many Americans can’t find good jobs and too many jobs don’t pay enough to support a family. Big corporations have cut our wages and benefits and shipped our jobs overseas.” Here’s the president’s version:

But — we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged. It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of Americas economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.

When it came to describing how we build this middle-class engine, the president again used the same ideas frame laid out in PEN: “We build a large and prosperous middle class through the decisions we make together; investing in our people, expanding opportunity and security, paving the way for business to innovate, and to do business in ways that create prosperity and economic security for Americans.” The president’s agenda was based on these same concepts:

Invest in people through education (starting at Pre-K), skills we need for today’s jobs, affordable health care, and a secure retirement.

Pave the way for businesses through research, infrastructure, and green energy.

Do business in ways that create prosperity, with a higher minimum wage and pay equity for women.

The president’s story contrasted sharply with Marco Rubio’s. Rubio also paid homage to the middle class, but he told the conservative tale:

This opportunity — to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life — it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs. Presidents in both parties — from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan — have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.

So the fight is joined. For too long, progressives have not taken on the conservative story with our own narrative. As a result, even when people agree with us on specific issues, they still hold fast to the right’s definition of how to move the economy forward. We have, with the simple tale told by the president and in the progressive economic narrative, a very different story, an economy driven by working families and the middle class, which we create by decisions we make together, with our government as the catalyst.

Our next task is to tell this same story over and over again in all of our communications. Repetition is key. People need to hear the story whenever we communicate on an economic issue. We give examples of how do to that on job quality, job creation, the federal fiscal mess, and health care at progressivenarrative.org.

President Obama left out one part of the progressive economic narrative in his speech. As we say in PEN, “Our political system has been captured by the rich and powerful and corrupted by big money in politics. The issue is not the size of the government, it’s who the government works for — powerful corporations and the richest few, or all of us. We have to take our democracy back to ensure that our economy will work for all of us. “

That’s a story that politicians are reluctant to tell. As always, we need to lead and the leaders will follow. It is up to us to build an America and economy that works for all us. Clearly describing our vision of how to do that is a crucial element of building power that progressives overlooked for too long. We’re much closer when the president tells that story to the nation. It’s up to us to keep telling it every day.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-kirsch/the-progressive-economic_b_2680460.html

America’s Story

“Democrats stand on their message so poorly. Republicans, on the other hand, win the salesmanship merit badge every single year.” Lew Goldfarb

Situational analysis — commonly misnamed conspiracy theory

Even Right-Wingers Become Liberals When They Turn Off Fox News By Paul Rosenberg, Salon.com, November 8, 2013 …there is broad consensus across the boards on the basic contours of government spending priorities…It’s just that the center is not where it’s supposed to be: It’s not somewhere in between the two parties, it’s well to the left of the Democrats in D.C. If you look at how much liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans agree with one another — regardless of the positions they take — you come up with figures for a cross-ideological consensus…the big picture was strikingly clear….nobody ever asks the public what they want in ways that allow them to articulate a coherent vision… the bottom line boils down to this…The real polarization in American politics is a split between symbolic conservative intuitions on the one hand, and pragmatic liberal facts on the other…The more informed that people become, the closer they are to the problems that need solving, the more liberal they become…Sober facts bring us together. Unchecked fantasies drive us apart…We need facts now, more than ever, to get our country — and our government — working again.

It’s Important to Know How the Stories We Tell Ourselves — True, or Not– Shape our World… for Better or Worse By Marty Kaplan, AlterNet, November 26, 2013  …narrative. Real events do happen in the real world, but people can’t help trying to fit them into larger stories.  We love to connect the dots.  Storytelling isn’t some atavistic remnant of our pre-scientific past; it’s how our brains are hardwired…There’s no question facts will play a part in how we rate the deal, but there’s too much input bombarding us to process as data.  What will win the day isn’t the power of facts, but the power of one story or another to feel right – yes, an emotion; we will retroactively find the facts we need to make our path to that feeling seem rational. The public sphere is where competing storylines slug their way out, it’s where politicians, journalists, experts and yakkers connect the dots, find patterns and fashion narratives…This process is often accused of being powered by political ideology, moral bias, religious dogma or personal psychology, and all that may be true to some degree, but I think the underestimated driver is our innate need for narrative.  Once upon a time isn’t kid stuff; it’s species stuff. However, stories that feel right may be clueless about reality.  We are chronically required to revise the patterns we see in the past because we’re forced to absorb history’s hairpin turns.  At any given moment, there’s a fair chance that the stories we tell ourselves about the world are goofy…When no one knows what comes next, the political advantage goes to the most powerful narrators.  When no one knows how things will end up, the same events can be construed as signposts toward tragedy or triumph…But as we lay odds on those outcomes, it’s useful to recall that the lessons of history are more art than science, and the art is the skill of the storyteller.

You Might Have Been Fooled by Republicans Ifby The Thom Hartmann Program,Truth-out.org, The Daily Take, November 7, 2013… Republican Party, don’t care about making sure that all pregnancies are brought to full-term. Instead, they care about protecting the Republican brand, and the interests of big-business. And the only way to protect the Republican brand, to keep Republicans in power, and to further the interests of big-business is to bring together a whole bunch of small, sliver-sized single-interest groups – like the pro-life movement – under one big umbrella, and convince them Republicans care about their issue. Republicans have to build a coalition this way, because if they were honest about their governing philosophy, they would lose every single election. Democrats have a clear governing philosophy, and that’s to do whatever it takes to protect average hard-working every-day Americans….

 

How the Media and the Elites, Not the Voters, Move the Country to the Right By Paul Rosenberg, Salon, November 19, 2013  …the notion that Christie’s a moderate is absurd…The media may eventually fall back to a more plausible take: that Christie, like George W. Bush before him, is a governing conservative, not a burn everything down conservative. It’s a distinction that’s not always easy to make…especially when the media helps out, as it did during 1999 and 2000, painting Bush as a bipartisan Washington outsider… Clinton definitely helped move the Democratic Party right…To begin with, the “move to the center” narrative is implicitly based on the “median voter” school of political science analysis, which paradoxically assumes that low-information median voters are the crucial drivers in U.S. politics, while at the same time assuming they’re sophisticated enough to move incrementally left or right, in careful calibration to how parties and candidate present themselves. … small groups with specific self-interested goals are more readily organized for political action than large groups representing broader, common interests. Political action of any sort requires an investment of time and energy, simply to understand what’s going onthere is much more for small special interests to gain by investing not just time and energy, but also pots of money — which is why blocks of big donors play a much larger role in determining the contours of political power, forming the de facto core of political parties… Democratic elites abandoned liberalism well before Clinton what actually happened — and continues even now — was a rightward shift of the entire political class, regardless of public opinion generally. The “center” elite journalists are talking about is not the center of public opinion, as it pretends to be, but rather, the self-referential center of elite opinion, which they are tasked with helping to construct, legitimate, normalize and ultimately present as existing without any conceivable alternative.  This is particularly true on economic issues, where the public is far to the left of both political partiesMeanwhile, back in reality, over this same time periodthe general public became steadily more liberal……  When Republicans, for various reasons, stopped being the party of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility with the election of Ronald Reagan, they threw the everyday policy world into a period of prolonged, multifaceted chaos, as the decades-long pattern of rising average incomes came to an end. But elites of both parties were ultimately responding to a changing world, with rising new challenges from abroad and the rapid erosion of forces constraining them from below — which had never been all that strong to begin with.  Together, these are forces that both reflect and reinforce the rapidly growing phenomena of economic inequality — income, wealth and political purchasing power.   The left-right spectrum for median voters is increasingly more like a holographic projection cast down from on high by competing elites with the means to control the illusions presented to us as everyday politics, or more commonly, simply as spectacle. This is why, for example, there are very real parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, right alongside vast differences.…What’s most notable, for present purposes, is the complete lack of any GOP donor block that would work to steer the GOP “back to the center” in any sort of coherent way. It’s hardly surprising. The more unequal that wealth and power become, the less and less likely it is that any donor block on either side would act to move either party to the left — where the disenfranchised median voters of America have been left behind.


The Con­sti­tu­tion is inher­ently pro­gres­sive by John Podesta and John Halpin, Politico.com, Octo­ber 10, 2011 - Pro­gres­sives dis­agree strongly with tea party views on gov­ern­ment, tax­a­tion, pub­lic spend­ing, reg­u­la­tions and social wel­fare poli­cies……As pro­gres­sives, we believe in using the inge­nu­ity of the pri­vate sec­tor and the pos­i­tive power of gov­ern­ment to advance com­mon pur­poses and increase free­dom and oppor­tu­nity…Cou­pled with basic beliefs in fair play, open­ness, coop­er­a­tion and human dig­nity, it is this pro­gres­sive vision that in the past cen­tury helped build the strongest econ­omy in his­tory and allowed mil­lions to move out of poverty and into the mid­dle class. It is the basis for Amer­i­can peace and pros­per­ity as well as greater global coop­er­a­tion in the post­war era…Our orig­i­nal Con­sti­tu­tion was not per­fect. It wrote women and minori­ties out and con­doned an abhor­rent sys­tem of slav­ery. But the story of Amer­ica has also been the story of a good nation, con­ceived in lib­erty and equal­ity, even­tu­ally wel­com­ing every Amer­i­can into the arms of democ­racy, pro­tect­ing their free­doms and expand­ing their eco­nomic opportunities…

America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry,  January 15, 2013 by Consortium News The real struggle confronting the United States… is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions.….Simply put, the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world. The American Right’s collective departure from reality can be traced back decades, but clearly accelerated with the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan on the national stage. Even his admirers acknowledge that Reagan had a strained relationship with facts, preferring to illustrate his points with distorted or apocryphal anecdotes…The remarkable success of Reagan’s propaganda was a lesson not lost on a young generation of Republican operatives and the emerging neoconservatives who held key jobs in Reagan’s Central American and public-diplomacy operations, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. The neocons’ devotion to imperialism abroad seemed to motivate their growing disdain for empiricism at home. Facts didn’t matter; results did…But this strategy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytes…That these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual Left. Simply put, the Right fought harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America did for the real world…This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons – with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post – the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice. Sometimes, the Right’s contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, [author Ron] Suskind wrote: “The aide [to George W. Bush] said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ …“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.…”… Election 2012, with Obama’s reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists. After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions…Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.f course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved.

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John Kennedy, speech at Yale University during the Cold War

Myth and Its Dangers by Gary Hart, published by HuffingtonPost.com, October 7, 2012…Myths in politics… “Widely held but false idea” is one dictionary definition of myth in common usage…myths abound in recent American political history. Perhaps the most glaring and consequential was the myth that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction…Myths in politics are dangerous… Reason and facts are sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Narrow minded opinion refuses to be subjected to thought and analysis. Too many now subject events to a prefabricated set of interpretations, usually provided by a biased media source. The myth is more comfortable than the often difficult search for truth. If this strange world were the product of mere laziness it might be understandable. But today’s political myths are more perverse. They are a conscious hiding place from a changing, challenging, and often uncomfortable new world.…Myths which have no basis in truth, or which do not operate as metaphors for religious truth, eventually fade away with the passing of those who perpetuate them and in the face of reality and fact. But the most dangerous myths create demons where none exist, the demons being anyone who disagrees with the myth-makers. In the meantime, however, they serve not only to delude the deniers but to frustrate our Founders’ belief in the progress of the human mind. 

Justice and Prosperity, Edi­to­r­ial, New York Times[President] Obama and [Chief Justice] Roberts visions of Amer­ica are very dif­fer­ent. No dis­agree­ment is more fun­da­men­tal than that about the con­nec­tion between jus­tice and prosperity. To Mr. Obama, pros­per­ity enables jus­tice and vice versa…Roberts… has reg­u­larly ruled as if jus­tice and pros­per­ity are unre­lated or even anti­thet­i­cal…The con­nec­tion between jus­tice and pros­per­ity is clear and strong….jus­tice of all kinds, espe­cially social jus­tice, is an essen­tial means of achiev­ing prosperity…

12 Biggest Right-Wing Lies About America

In Obama’s inauguration speech, a new American religion

In Public ‘Conversation’ on Guns, a Rhetorical Shift

Obama Inaugural’s Liberal Definition of Rights

Obama’s mainstream pitch

President Barack Obama, Editorial  

President Obama’s Inaugural Address — excerpts

President Obama’s second inaugural address (Transcript)

President Obama’s speech at prayer vigil for Newtown shooting victims

The Biggest Lie in America Today

Why don’t bad ideas ever die?

 

President Barack Obama, Editorial

New York Times, January 21, 2013

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation… explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage…President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women….Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort…With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

Full text

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action. In the coming days, there will be no let up of political combat over the debt ceiling, gun control, national security and tax policies that can either reduce income inequality or allow such inequality to stifle economic growth and opportunity for all but the very wealthiest in this society.

But, on Monday, the president stepped back from those immediate battles to explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage.

“We have always understood that when times change, so must we,” he said, “that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

In every sphere of life — improving education, building roads, caring for the poor and elderly, training workers, recovering from natural disasters, providing for our defense — progress requires that Americans do these things together, Mr. Obama said.

That applies, he said, to “the commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other. The choice is not “between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said.   “For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women. Disappointingly, the need for stricter gun controls was noted solely in a reference to the safety of children in places like Newtown, Conn.

On foreign policy, President Obama expressed with fervor a view of the role of the United States in a world that is threatened by terrorism on many continents. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that what he wants to achieve in his second term must be done in the next two years — perhaps even in the first 18 months. Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort.

Time is not on his side. It is pointless to wait for signs of conciliation from the extreme right, whose central ideology is to render government ineffective. He has gotten off to a good start by putting forward a comprehensive plan to tighten gun laws, despite outrageous propaganda against sensible controls from the gun lobby.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that there is much left to be done to shore up the economic recovery and invest in education and opportunities for the next generation. And, above all, he stressed the importance of the middle class to America’s economic survival. “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said.

It’s natural for a second-term president to be thinking about his place in history. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama has the ambition and intellect to place himself in the first rank of presidents. With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/opinion/president-obamas-second-inauguration.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122&_r=0

Obama’s mainstream pitch

By Kenneth S. Baer, Washington Post, January 23, 2010

Kenneth S. Baer is a managing director of the Harbour Group and the author of “Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton.” He is a former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration.

If you missed Barack Obama’s inaugural address on Monday, you might have thought that it was George McGovern who took the oath of office.

“Unabashedly progressive,” said ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl; “President Obama goes on the offense for liberalism,” Politico proclaimed. A day later, Republicans jumped on board. “His unabashedly far-left-of-center inaugural speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past,” thundered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said the speech “rejected and repudiated the ideas that have dominated American political discourse since the Carter presidency. It rejected not only Reagan, but Clinton.” Former Nixon and Reagan aide David Gergen concluded: “Gone were the third way of Bill Clinton and the centrism of Jimmy Carter. He emerged as an unapologetic, unabashed liberal — just what the left has long wanted him to be and exactly what the right has feared.”

Yet Obama’s address was firmly in the mainstream — of both the country and the Democratic Party, which has absorbed the lessons of its post-1968 defeats and synthesized into its core the New Democratic values of the Clinton era. The speech sounded so robustly liberal not because the president or his party has changed but because the Republican Party has, moving far outside the norms of American political thought.

Defending the idea of a social safety net to guard against the vagaries of life is hardly radical. President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law extensions of Social Security; President Ronald Reagan worked with House Speaker Tip O’Neill to save Social Security in 1983; President George W. Bush created the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

But in a world in which Republicans have endorsed a budget that would eviscerate Medicaid and turn it into a block grant and that would change Medicare into a voucher program whose value would quickly be overtaken by inflation, protecting the integrity of these programs suddenly sounds bold. Note that Obama did not say these programs were immune from reform. And while an inaugural address is hardly the place to rattle off numbers, Obama could have added that last year he put forward $350 billion in health entitlement savings on top of the $716 billion in Medicare savings he signed into law in his first term, cuts that Republicans tried to use as a cudgel against Democrats last year.

Did Obama call for a new entitlement to deal with our economic woes? No.

In fact, keeping with the New Democratic approach, Obama rejected the old-time religion of equality of outcome and framed his vision as one of equality of opportunity: “We must . . . empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” Obama put forward neither a new government agency nor a guarantee of success. “Hard work and personal responsibility,” Obama reminded us, “are constants in our character.” Rather than relaunch the War on Poverty, Obama’s economic focus was the middle class and those striving to get there.

These differences may sound subtle, but they were an important shift in the Democratic Party’s public philosophy. In the 1990s, this change was controversial (recall the fight over welfare reform), but now it is easy to miss because opportunity and responsibility are so deeply embedded in the party’s DNA.

Defending a safety net and calling for opportunity for all is nothing new, though Obama’s call for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans is. Yet this, along with the calls for equal pay for women, welcoming immigrants and action on climate change, is radical only if viewed through the oversize tortoise-shell glasses of the 1980s.

The country has changed. In a turnabout from the past, these social issues cut against the GOP — not the Democratic Party. In the 1980s, a New Democrat would counsel against even mentioning these issues. Today, one of the most effective advocates for gay marriage is the preeminent New Democratic institution Third Way.

Perspective is everything in assessing Obama’s second inaugural address. One cannot ignore how the Republican Party’s move to the right has shifted the parameters of political debate. On economic policy, the president is in line with the bipartisan, postwar consensus on the safety net and with the New Democratic view on government’s role in the economy. On social issues, he is firmly in the mainstream and hardly a McGovernik.

But don’t believe me. Listen to Newt Gingrich: “I didn’t think it was very liberal,” he told Politico. “There were one or two sentences obviously conservatives would object to, but 95 percent of the speech I thought was classically American, emphasizing hard work, emphasizing self-reliance, emphasizing doing things together. I thought it was a good speech.”

So did I.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obamas-mainsteam-pitch/2013/01/23/0bcce614-657a-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wp_login_redirect=0

President Obama’s second inaugural address (Transcript)

Published: January 21, Washington Post

Here’s a full transcript of President Obama’s second inaugural address, delivered on Jan. 21, 2013 .

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens, each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

OBAMA: What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

(APPLAUSE)

That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.

OBAMA: The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have. Through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword, we noted that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free.

OBAMA: We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all societies ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.

OBAMA: Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

(APPLAUSE)

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled (ph) our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending.

(APPLAUSE)

And economic recovery has begun.

(APPLAUSE)

America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.

My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.

(APPLAUSE)

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

(APPLAUSE)

We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.

OBAMA: We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

(APPLAUSE)

We understand that outworn (ph) programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.

But while the means will change, our purpose endures. A nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American, that is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.

(APPLAUSE)

But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.

(APPLAUSE)

For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative.

OBAMA: They strengthen us.

(APPLAUSE)

They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.

(APPLAUSE)

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

(APPLAUSE)

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

(APPLAUSE)

We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

OBAMA: We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

(APPLAUSE)

Our brave men and women in uniform tempered by the flames of battle are unmatched in skill and courage.

(APPLAUSE)

Our citizens seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace, and not just the war. Who turn sworn enemies into the surest of friends. And we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people, and uphold our values through strength of arms, and the rule of law.

We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice.

OBAMA: Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

(APPLAUSE)

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

(APPLAUSE)

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

(APPLAUSE)

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

OBAMA: That is our generation’s task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.

Progress does not compel us to settle century’s long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.

(APPLAUSE)

For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

(APPLAUSE)

We must act. We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect (ph). We must act knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

OBAMA: My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.

And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.

My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.

(APPLAUSE)

Let us each of us now embrace with solemn duty, and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you.

God bless you.

And may He forever bless these United States of America.

END

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-second-inaugural-address-transcript/2013/01/21/f148d234-63d6-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_story.html

America’s War for Reality

by Robert Parry,  January 15, 2013 by Consortium News

Excerpt

The real struggle confronting the United States… is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions…..Simply put, the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world.

The American Right’s collective departure from reality can be traced back decades, but clearly accelerated with the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan on the national stage. Even his admirers acknowledge that Reagan had a strained relationship with facts, preferring to illustrate his points with distorted or apocryphal anecdotes…The remarkable success of Reagan’s propaganda was a lesson not lost on a young generation of Republican operatives and the emerging neoconservatives who held key jobs in Reagan’s Central American and public-diplomacy operations, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. The neocons’ devotion to imperialism abroad seemed to motivate their growing disdain for empiricism at home. Facts didn’t matter; results did…

But this strategy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytes…That these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual Left. Simply put, the Right fought harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America did for the real world…

This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons – with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post – the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice.

Sometimes, the Right’s contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.

Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, [author Ron] Suskind wrote: “The aide [to George W. Bush] said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ …

“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality….”

… Election 2012, with Obama’s reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists.

After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions…

Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.

Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved.

Full text

The real struggle confronting the United States is not between the Right and the Left in any traditional sense, but between those who believe in reality and those who are entranced by unreality. It is a battle that is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions.

These battle lines do relate somewhat to the Right/Left divide because today’s right-wing has embraced ideological propaganda as truth more aggressively and completely than those on the Left, though the Left (and the Center, too) are surely not immune from the practice of ignoring facts in pursuit of some useful agit-prop.

But key elements of the American Right have set up permanent residence in the world of make-believe, making any commonsense approach to the real-world challenges nearly politically impossible. The Right’s fantasists also have the passions of true-believers, like a cult that gets angrier the more its views are questioned.

So, it doesn’t matter that scientific evidence proves global warming is real; the deniers will insist the facts are simply a government ploy to impose “tyranny.” It doesn’t matter how many schoolchildren are slaughtered by semi-automatic assault rifles – or what the real history of the Second Amendment was. To the gun fanatics, the Framers wanted armed rebellion against the non-violent political process they worked so hard to create.

On more narrow questions, it doesn’t matter whether President Barack Obama presents his short or long birth certificates, he must have somehow fabricated the Hawaiian state records to hide his Kenyan birth. Oh, yes, and Obama is “lazy” even though he may appear to an objective observer to be a multi-tasking workaholic.

Simply put, the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world.

The American Right’s collective departure from reality can be traced back decades, but clearly accelerated with the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan on the national stage. Even his admirers acknowledge that Reagan had a strained relationship with facts, preferring to illustrate his points with distorted or apocryphal anecdotes.

Reagan’s detachment from reality extended from foreign policy to economics. As his rival for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, George H.W. Bush famously labeled Reagan’s supply-side policies – of massive tax cuts for the rich which would supposedly raise more revenues – as “voodoo economics.”

But Bush, who knew better, then succumbed to Reagan’s political clout as he accepted Reagan’s vice presidential offer. In that way, the senior Bush would become a model for how other figures in the Establishment would pragmatically bend to Reagan’s casual disregard for reality.

Perception Management

The Reagan administration also built around the President a propaganda infrastructure that systematically punished politicians, citizens, journalists or anyone who dared challenge the fantasies. This private-public collaboration – coordinating right-wing media with government disinformationists – brought home to America the CIA’s strategy of “perception management” normally aimed at hostile populations.

Thus, the Nicaraguan Contras, who in reality were drug-connected terrorists roaming the countryside murdering, torturing and raping, became “the moral equivalent” of America’s Founding Fathers. To say otherwise marked you as a troublemaker who had to be “controversialized” and marginalized.

The remarkable success of Reagan’s propaganda was a lesson not lost on a young generation of Republican operatives and the emerging neoconservatives who held key jobs in Reagan’s Central American and public-diplomacy operations, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. The neocons’ devotion to imperialism abroad seemed to motivate their growing disdain for empiricism at home. Facts didn’t matter; results did. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

But this strategy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytes.

“What was left of the Left often behaved like disgruntled fans in the bleachers booing everyone on the field, the bad guys who were doing terrible things as well as the not-so-bad guys who were doing the best they could under impossible conditions.”

That these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual Left. Simply put, the Right fought harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America did for the real world.

There were a number of key turning points in this “info-war.” For instance, Reagan’s secret relationship with the Iranian mullahs was partly revealed in the Iran-Contra scandal, but its apparent origins in treacherous Republican activities during Campaign 1980 – contacting Iran behind President Jimmy Carter’s back – were swept under the rug by mainstream Democrats and the Washington press corps.

Similarly, evidence of Contra drug-trafficking – and even CIA admissions about covering up and protecting those crimes – were downplayed by the major newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. Ditto the work of Central American truth commissions exposing massive human rights violations that Reagan aided and abetted.

The fear of taking on the Reagan propaganda machine in any serious or consistent way was so great that nearly everyone looked to their careers or their personal pleasures. One side dug in for political warfare and the other, too often, favored trips to wine country.

Distrusting the MSM

As this anti-empiricism deepened over several decades, the remaining thinking people in America came to distrust the mainstream. The initials “MSM” – standing for “mainstream media” – became an expression of derision and contempt, not undeserved given the MSM’s repeated failure to fight for the truth.

National Democrats, too, showed little fight. When evidence of Republican misconduct was available – as in the investigations of the early 1990s into Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate and the October Surprise case – accommodating Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sen. David Boren chose to look the other way. [See Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

The Democrats even submitted when the Right and the Republicans overturned the electoral will of the American people, as happened in Election 2000 when George W. Bush stole the Florida election and thus the White House from Al Gore. [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]

In the decades after the Vietnam War, the American Left also drifted into irrelevance. Indeed, it’s common in some circles on the Left to observe that “America has no Left.” But what was left of the Left often behaved like disgruntled fans in the bleachers booing everyone on the field, the bad guys who were doing terrible things as well as the not-so-bad guys who were doing the best they could under impossible conditions.

“The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.”

This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons – with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post – the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice.

Sometimes, the Right’s contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.

Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, Suskind wrote: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ …

“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

Reality Bites Back

Despite this imperial arrogance, real reality gradually reasserted itself, both in the bloody stalemate in Iraq and in the economic crises that Bush’s anti-regulatory and low-tax policies created at home. By Election 2008, the American people were awaking with a terrible hangover from a three-decade binge on anti-reality moonshine.

In that sense, the election of Barack Obama represented a potential turning point. However, the angry Right that Ronald Reagan had built – and the corresponding crippling effects on the Center and the Left – didn’t just disappear.

The Right counterattacked ferociously against the nation’s first African-American president, even intimating violent revolution if Obama acted on his electoral mandate; Obama often behaved like one of those accommodating Democrats (in retaining much of Bush’s national security team, for instance); the mainstream press remained careerist; and the Left demanded perfection regardless of the political difficulties.

This combination of dysfunction contributed to the rise of the Tea Party and the Republican congressional victories in 2010. But Election 2012, with Obama’s reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists.

After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions, including high unemployment; massive deficits; self-inflicted financial crises; a degraded middle class; poor health care for millions; a crumbling infrastructure; an overheating planet; costly foreign wars; a bloated Pentagon budget; and children massacred by troubled young men with ridiculously easy access to semi-automatic assault rifles.

Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.

Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved.

© 2012 Consortium News

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/15-9

This is Your Story – The Progressive Story of America. Pass It On

by Bill Moyers, June 10, 2003 by CommonDreams.org

Excerpt

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…but 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…
It is the most radical assault on the notion of one nation, indivisible, that has occurred in our lifetime…Ideas have power – as long as they are not frozen in doctrine. But ideas need legs… [social changes] were launched as citizen’s movements and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and in the face of bitter opposition and sneering attacks. It’s just a fact: 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.

Full text

Text of speech to the Take Back America conference sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, June 4, 2003, Washington,DC

Thank you for this award and for this occasion. I don’t deserve either, but as George Burns said, I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that, either.

Tomorrow is my 69th birthday and I cannot imagine a better present than this award or a better party than your company.

Fifty three years ago tomorrow, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the smallEast Texastown where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter – small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day. I soon had a stroke of luck. Some of the old timers were on vacation or out sick and I got assigned to cover what came to be known as the Housewives’ Rebellion. Fifteen women in my home town decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers. They argued that social security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that – here’s my favorite part – “requiring us to collect (the tax) is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.” They hired themselves a lawyer – none other than Martin Dies, the former congressman best known, or worst known, for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 30s and 40s. He was no more effective at defending rebellious women than he had been protecting against communist subversives, and eventually the women wound up holding their noses and paying the tax.

The stories I wrote for my local paper were picked up and moved on the Associated Press wire. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP ticker beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing one Bill Moyers and the paper for the reporting we had done on the “Rebellion.”

That hooked me, and in one way or another – after a detour through seminary and then into politics and government for a spell – I’ve been covering the class war ever since. Those women inMarshall,Texaswere its advance guard. They were not bad people. They were regulars at church, their children were my friends, many of them were active in community affairs, their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town. They were respectable and upstanding citizens all. So it took me awhile to figure out what had brought on that spasm of reactionary rebellion. It came to me one day, much later. They simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives. Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs, charities and congregations – fiercely loyal, in other words, to their own kind – they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like them. The women who washed and ironed their laundry, wiped their children’s bottoms, made their husband’s beds, and cooked their family meals – these women, too, would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show from their years of labor but the crease in their brow and the knots on their knuckles; so be it; even on the distaff side of laissez faire, security was personal, not social, and what injustice existed this side of heaven would no doubt be redeemed beyond the Pearly Gates. God would surely be just to the poor once they got past Judgment Day.

In one way or another, this is the oldest story inAmerica: 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.

Let me make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy; I worked for Lyndon Johnson, remember? Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail – or listen to the vitriol virtually spat at my answering machine. I understand what the politician meant who said of the Texas House of Representatives, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That difference can be the difference between democracy and oligarchy.

Look at our history. All of us know that the American Revolution ushered in what one historian called “The Age of Democratic Revolutions.” For the Great Seal of the United States the new Congress went all the way back to the Roman poet Virgil: Novus Ordo Seclorum” – “a new age now begins.” Page Smith reminds us that “their ambition was not merely to free themselves from dependence and subordination to the Crown but to inspire people everywhere to create agencies of government and forms of common social life that would offer greater dignity and hope to the exploited and suppressed” – to those, in other words, who had been the losers. Not surprisingly, the winners often resisted. In the early years of constitution-making in the states and emerging nation, aristocrats wanted a government of propertied “gentlemen” to keep the scales tilted in their favor. Battling on the other side were moderates and even those radicals harboring the extraordinary idea of letting all white males have the vote. Luckily, the weapons were words and ideas, not bullets. Through compromise and conciliation the draftsmen achieved a Constitution of checks and balances that is now the oldest in the world, even as the revolution of democracy that inspired it remains a tempestuous adolescent whose destiny is still up for grabs. For all the rhetoric about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” it took a civil war to free the slaves and another hundred years to invest their freedom with meaning. Women only gained the right to vote in my mother’s time. New ages don’t arrive overnight, or without “blood, sweat, and tears.”

You know this. You are the heirs of one of the country’s great traditions – the progressive movement that started late in the l9th century and remade the American experience piece by piece until it peaked in the last third of the 20th century. I call it the progressive movement for lack of a more precise term. Its aim was to keep blood pumping through the veins of democracy when others were ready to call in the mortician. Progressives exalted and extended the original American revolution. They spelled out new terms of partnership between the people and their rulers. And they kindled a flame that lit some of the most prosperous decades in modern history, not only here but in aspiring democracies everywhere, especially those of western Europe.

Step back with me to the curtain-raiser, the founding convention of the People’s Party – better known as the Populists – in 1892. The members were mainly cotton and wheat farmers from the recently reconstructed South and the newly settled Great Plains, and they had come on hard, hard times, driven to the wall by falling prices for their crops on one hand and racking interest rates, freight charges and supply costs on the other. This in the midst of a booming and growing industrialAmerica. They were angry, and their platform – issued deliberately on the 4th of July – pulled no punches. “We meet,” it said, “in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin….Corruption dominates the ballot box, the [state] legislatures and the Congress and touches even the bench…..The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced….The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few.”

Furious words from rural men and women who were traditionally conservative and whose memories of taming the frontier were fresh and personal. But in their fury they invoked an American tradition as powerful as frontier individualism – the war on inequality and especially on the role that government played in promoting and preserving inequality by favoring the rich. The Founding Fathers turned their backs on the idea of property qualifications for holding office under the Constitution because they wanted no part of a ‘veneration for wealth” in the document. Thomas Jefferson, while claiming no interest in politics, built up a Republican Party – no relation to the present one – to take the government back from the speculators and “stock-jobbers,” as he called them, who were in the saddle in 1800. Andrew Jackson slew the monster Second Bank of theUnited States, the 600-pound gorilla of the credit system in the 1830s, in the name of the people versus the aristocrats who sat on the bank’s governing board.

All these leaders were on record in favor of small government – but their opposition wasn’t simply to government as such. It was to government’s power to confer privilege on insiders; on the rich who were democracy’s equivalent of the royal favorites of monarchist days. (It’s what the FCC does today.) The Populists knew it was the government that granted millions of acres of public land to the railroad builders. It was the government that gave the manufacturers of farm machinery a monopoly of the domestic market by a protective tariff that was no longer necessary to shelter “infant industries.” It was the government that contracted the national currency and sparked a deflationary cycle that crushed debtors and fattened the wallets of creditors. And those who made the great fortunes used them to buy the legislative and judicial favors that kept them on top. So the Populists recognized one great principle: the job of preserving equality of opportunity and democracy demanded the end of any unholy alliance between government and wealth. It was, to quote that platform again, “from the same womb of governmental injustice” that tramps and millionaires were bred.

But how? How was the democratic revolution to be revived? The promise of the Declaration reclaimed? How were Americans to restore government to its job of promoting the general welfare? And here, the Populists made a breakthrough to another principle. In a modern, large-scale, industrial and nationalized economy it wasn’t enough simply to curb the government’s outreach. That would simply leave power in the hands of the great corporations whose existence was inseparable from growth and progress. The answer was to turn government into an active player in the economy at the very least enforcing fair play, and when necessary being the friend, the helper and the agent of the people at large in the contest against entrenched power. So the Populist platform called for government loans to farmers about to lose their mortgaged homesteads – for government granaries to grade and store their crops fairly – for governmental inflation of the currency, which was a classical plea of debtors – and for some decidedly non-classical actions like government ownership of the railroad, telephone and telegraph systems and a graduated – i.e., progressive tax on incomes and a flat ban on subsidies to “any private corporation.” And to make sure the government stayed on the side of the people, the ‘Pops’ called for the initiative and referendum and the direct election of Senators.

Predictably, the Populists were denounced, feared and mocked as fanatical hayseeds ignorantly playing with socialist fire. They got twenty-two electoral votes for their candidate in ’92, plus some Congressional seats and state houses, but it was downhill from there for many reasons.Americawasn’t – and probably still isn’t – ready for a new major party. The People’s Party was a spent rocket by 1904. But if political organizations perish, their key ideas don’t – keep that in mind, because it give prospective to your cause today. Much of the Populist agenda would become law within a few years of the party’s extinction. And that was because it was generally shared by a rising generation of young Republicans and Democrats who, justly or not, were seen as less outrageously outdated than the embattled farmers. These were the progressives, your intellectual forebears and mine.

One of my heroes in all of this is William Allen White, aKansascountry editor – a Republican – who was one of them. He described his fellow progressives this way:

“What the people felt about the vast injustice that had come with the settlement of a continent, we, their servants – teachers, city councilors, legislators, governors, publishers, editors, writers, representatives in Congress and Senators – all made a part of our creed. Some way, into the hearts of the dominant middle class of this country, had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots.”

They were a diverse lot, held together by a common admiration of progress – hence the name – and a shared dismay at the paradox of poverty stubbornly persisting in the midst of progress like an unwanted guest at a wedding. Of course they welcomed, just as we do, the new marvels in the gift-bag of technology – the telephones, the autos, the electrically-powered urban transport and lighting systems, the indoor heating and plumbing, the processed foods and home appliances and machine-made clothing that reduced the sweat and drudgery of home-making and were affordable to an ever-swelling number of people. But they saw the underside, too – the slums lurking in the shadows of the glittering cities, the exploited and unprotected workers whose low-paid labor filled the horn of plenty for others, the misery of those whom age, sickness, accident or hard times condemned to servitude and poverty with no hope of comfort or security.

This is what’s hard to believe – hardly a century had passed since 1776 before the still-young revolution was being strangled in the hard grip of a merciless ruling class. The large corporations that were called into being by modern industrialism after 1865 – the end of the Civil War – had combined into trusts capable of making minions of both politics and government. What Henry George called “an immense wedge” was being forced through American society by “the maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity.”

We should pause here to consider that this is Karl Rove’s cherished period of American history; it was, as I read him, the seminal influence on the man who is said to be George W.’s brain. From his own public comments and my reading of the record, it is apparent that Karl Rove has modeled the Bush presidency on that of William McKinley, who was in the White House from 1897 to 1901, and modeled himself on Mark Hanna, the man who virtually manufactured McKinley. Hanna had one consummate passion – to serve corporate and imperial power. It was said that he believed “without compunction, that the state ofOhioexisted for property. It had no other function…Great wealth was to be gained through monopoly, through using the State for private ends; it was axiomatic therefore that businessmen should run the government and run it for personal profit.”

Mark Hanna – Karl Rove’s hero – made William McKinley governor ofOhioby shaking down the corporate interests of the day. Fortunately, McKinley had the invaluable gift of emitting sonorous platitudes as though they were recently discovered truth. Behind his benign gaze the wily intrigues of Mark Hanna saw to it that firstOhioand thenWashingtonwere “ruled by business…by bankers, railroads and public utility corporations.” Any who opposed the oligarchy were smeared as disturbers of the peace, socialists, anarchists, “or worse.” Back then they didn’t bother with hollow euphemisms like “compassionate conservatism” to disguise the raw reactionary politics that produced government “of, by, and for” the ruling corporate class. They just saw the loot and went for it.

The historian Clinton Rossiter describes this as the period of “the great train robbery of American intellectual history.” Conservatives – or better, pro-corporate apologists – hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress”, “opportunity”, and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder ofAmericasound like divine right. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was hijacked, too, so that conservative politicians, judges, and publicists promoted, as if it were, the natural order of things, the notion that progress resulted from the elimination of the weak and the “survival of the fittest.”

This “degenerate and unlovely age,” as one historian calls it, exists in the mind of Karl Rove – the reputed brain of George W. Bush – as the seminal age of inspiration for the politics and governance ofAmericatoday.

No wonder that what troubled our progressive forebears was not only the miasma of poverty in their nostrils, but the sour stink of a political system for sale. The United States Senate was a “millionaire’s club.” Money given to the political machines that controlled nominations could buy controlling influence in city halls, state houses and even courtrooms. Reforms and improvements ran into the immovable resistance of the almighty dollar. What, progressives wondered, would this do to the principles of popular government? Because all of them, whatever party they subscribed to, were inspired by the gospel of democracy. Inevitably, this swept them into the currents of politics, whether as active officeholders or persistent advocates.

Here’s a small, but representative sampling of their ranks. Jane Addams forsook the comforts of a middle-class college graduate’s life to live in Hull House in the midst of a disease-ridden and crowdedChicagoimmigrant neighborhood, determined to make it an educational and social center that would bring pride, health and beauty into the lives of her poor neighbors. She was inspired by “an almost passionate devotion to the ideals of democracy,” to combating the prevailing notion “that the well being of a privileged few might justly be built upon the ignorance and sacrifice of the many.” Community and fellowship were the lessons she drew from her teachers, Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. But people simply helping one another couldn’t move mountains of disadvantage. She came to see that “private beneficence” wasn’t enough. But to bring justice to the poor would take more than soup kitchens and fundraising prayer meetings. “Social arrangements,” she wrote, “can be transformed through man’s conscious and deliberate effort.” Take note – not individual regeneration or the magic of the market, but conscious, cooperative effort.

Meet a couple of muckraking journalists. Jacob Riis lugged his heavy camera up and down the staircases ofNew York’s disease-ridden, firetrap tenements to photograph the unspeakable crowding, the inadequate toilets, the starved and hollow-eyed children and the filth on the walls so thick that his crude flash equipment sometimes set it afire. Bound between hard covers, with Riis’s commentary, they showed comfortable New Yorkers “How the Other Half Lives.” They were powerful ammunition for reformers who eventually brought an end to tenement housing by state legislation. And Lincoln Steffens, college and graduate-school educated, left his books to learn life from the bottom up as a police-beat reporter onNew York’s streets. Then, as a magazine writer, he exposed the links between city bosses and businessmen that made it possible for builders and factory owners to ignore safety codes and get away with it. But the villain was neither the boodler nor the businessman. It was the indifference of a public that “deplore[d] our politics and laud[ed] our business; that transformed law, medicine, literature and religion into simply business. Steffens was out to slay the dragon of exalting “the commercial spirit” over the goals of patriotism and national prosperity. “I am not a scientist,” he said. “I am a journalist. I did not gather the facts and arrange them patiently for permanent preservation and laboratory analysis….My purpose was. …to see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, would not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.”

If corrupt politics bred diseases that could be fatal to democracy, then good politics was the antidote. That was the discovery of Ray Stannard Baker, another journalistic progressive who started out with a detest for election-time catchwords and slogans. But he came to see that “Politics could not be abolished or even adjourned…it was in its essence the method by which communities worked out their common problems. It was one of the principle arts of living peacefully in a crowded world,” he said [Compare that to Grover Norquist's latest declaration of war on the body politic. "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals - and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship." He went on to say that bi-partisanship is another name for date rape."]

There are more, too many more to call to the witness stand here, but I want you to hear some of the things they had to say. There were educators like the economist John R. Commons or the sociologist Edward A. Ross who believed that the function of “social science” wasn’t simply to dissect society for non-judgmental analysis and academic promotion, but to help in finding solutions to social problems. It was Ross who pointed out that morality in a modern world had a social dimension. In “Sin and Society,” written in 1907, he told readers that the sins “blackening the face of our time” were of a new variety, and not yet recognized as such. “The man who picks pockets with a railway rebate, murders with an adulterant instead of a bludgeon, burglarizes with a ‘rake-off’ instead of a jimmy, cheats with a company instead of a deck of cards, or scuttles his town instead of his ship, does not feel on his brow the brand of a malefactor.” In other words upstanding individuals could plot corporate crimes and sleep the sleep of the just without the sting of social stigma or the pangs of conscience. Like Kenneth Lay, they could even be invited into the White House to write their own regulations.

And here are just two final bits of testimony from actual politicians – first, Brand Whitlock, Mayor of Toledo. He is one of my heroes because he first learned his politics as a beat reporter inChicago, confirming my own experience that there’s nothing better than journalism to turn life into a continuing course in adult education. One of his lessons was that “the alliance between the lobbyists and the lawyers of the great corporation interests on the one hand, and the managers of both the great political parties on the other, was a fact, the worst feature of which was that no one seemed to care.”

And then there is Tom Johnson, the progressive mayor ofClevelandin the early nineteen hundreds – a businessman converted to social activism. His major battles were to impose regulation, or even municipal takeover, on the private companies that were meant to provide affordable public transportation and utilities but in fact crushed competitors, overcharged customers, secured franchises and licenses for a song, and paid virtually nothing in taxes – all through their pocketbook control of lawmakers and judges. Johnson’s argument for public ownership was simple: “If you don’t own them, they will own you. It’s why advocates of Clean Elections today argue that if anybody’s going to buy Congress, it should be the people.” When advised that businessmen got their way inWashingtonbecause they had lobbies and consumers had none, Tom Johnson responded: “If Congress were true to the principles of democracy it would be the people’s lobby.” What a radical contrast to the House of Representatives today!

Our political, moral, and intellectual forbearance occupy a long and honorable roster. They include wonderful characters like Dr. Alice Hamilton, a pioneer in industrially-caused diseases, who spent long years clambering up and down ladders in factories and mineshafts – in long skirts! – tracking down the unsafe toxic substances that sickened the workers whom she would track right into their sickbeds to get leads and tip-offs on where to hunt. Or Harvey Wiley, the chemist fromIndianawho, from a bureaucrat’s desk in the Department of Agriculture, relentlessly warred on foods laden with risky preservatives and adulterants with the help of his “poison squad” of young assistants who volunteered as guinea pigs. Or lawyers like the brilliant Harvard graduate Louis Brandeis, who took on corporate attorneys defending child labor or long and harsh conditions for female workers. Brandeis argued that the state had a duty to protect the health of working women and children.

To be sure, these progressives weren’t all saints. Their glory years coincided with the heyday of lynching and segregation, of empire and the Big Stick and the bold theft of the Panama Canal, of immigration restriction and ethnic stereotypes. Some were themselves businessmen only hoping to control an unruly marketplace by regulation. But by and large they were conservative reformers. They aimed to preserve the existing balance between wealth and commonwealth. Their common enemy was unchecked privilege, their common hope was a better democracy, and their common weapon was informed public opinion.

In a few short years the progressive spirit made possible the election not only of reform mayors and governors but of national figures like Senator George Norris ofNebraska, Senator Robert M. LaFollette ofWisconsin, and even that hard-to-classify political genius, Theodore Roosevelt. All three of them Republicans. Here is the simplest laundry-list of what was accomplished at state and Federal levels: Publicly regulated or owned transportation, sanitation and utilities systems. The partial restoration of competition in the marketplace through improved antitrust laws. Increased fairness in taxation. Expansion of the public education and juvenile justice systems. Safer workplaces and guarantees of compensation to workers injured on the job. Oversight of the purity of water, medicines and foods. Conservation of the national wilderness heritage against overdevelopment, and honest bidding on any public mining, lumbering and ranching. We take these for granted today – or we did until recently. All were provided not by the automatic workings of free enterprise but by implementing the idea in the Declaration of Independence that the people had a right to governments that best promoted their “safety and happiness.”

The mighty progressive wave peaked in 1912. But the ideas leashed by it forged the politics of the 20th century. Like his cousin Theodore, Franklin Roosevelt argued that the real enemy of enlightened capitalism was “the malefactors of great wealth” – the “economic royalists” – from whom capitalism would have to be saved by reform and regulation. Progressive government became an embedded tradition of Democrats – the heart of FDR’s New Deal and Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, and honored even by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who didn’t want to tear down the house progressive ideas had built – only to put it under different managers. The progressive impulse had its final fling in the landslide of 1969 when LBJ, who was a son of theWest Texashill country, where the Populist rebellion had been nurtured in the 1890s, won the public endorsement for what he meant to be the capstone in the arch of the New Deal.

I had a modest role in that era. I shared in its exhilaration and its failures. We went too far too fast, overreached at home and in Vietnam, failed to examine some assumptions, and misjudged the rising discontents and fierce backlash engendered by war, race, civil disturbance, violence and crime. Democrats grew so proprietary in this town that a fat, complacent political establishment couldn’t recognize its own intellectual bankruptcy or the beltway that was growing around it and beginning to separate it from the rest of the country. The failure of democratic politicians and public thinkers to respond to popular discontents – to the daily lives of workers, consumers, parents, and ordinary taxpayers – allowed a resurgent conservatism to convert public concern and hostility into a crusade to resurrect social Darwinism as a moral philosophy, multinational corporations as a governing class, and the theology of markets as a transcendental belief system.

As a citizen I don’t like the consequences of this crusade, but 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 howAmericais governed – to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors. They are quite candid about it, even acknowledging their mean spirit in accomplishing it. Their leading strategist in Washington – the same Grover Norquist – has famously said he wants to shrink the government down to the size that it could be drowned in a bathtub. More recently, in commenting on the fiscal crisis in the states and its affect on schools and poor people, Norquist said, “I hope one of them” – one of the states – “goes bankrupt.” So much for compassionate conservatism. But at least Norquist says what he means and means what he says. The White House pursues the same homicidal dream without saying so. Instead of shrinking down the government, they’re filling the bathtub with so much debt that it floods the house, water-logs the economy, and washes away services for decades that have lifted millions of Americans out of destitution and into the middle-class. And what happens once the public’s property has been flooded? Privatize it. Sell it at a discounted rate to the corporations.

It is the most radical assault on the notion of one nation, indivisible, that has occurred in our lifetime. I’ll be frank with you: I simply don’t understand it – or the malice in which it is steeped. Many people are nostalgic for a golden age. These people seem to long for the Gilded Age. That I can grasp. They measureAmericaonly by their place on the material spectrum and they bask in the company of the new corporate aristocracy, as privileged a class as we have seen since the plantation owners of antebellumAmericaand the court of Louis IV. What I can’t explain is the rage of the counter-revolutionaries to dismantle every last brick of the social contract. At this advanced age I simply have to accept the fact that the tension between haves and have-nots is built into human psychology and society itself – it’s ever with us. However, I’m just as puzzled as to why, with right wing wrecking crews blasting away at social benefits once considered invulnerable, Democrats are fearful of being branded “class warriors” in a war the other side started and is determined to win. I don’t get why conceding your opponent’s premises and fighting on his turf isn’t the sure-fire prescription for irrelevance and ultimately obsolescence. But I confess as well that I don’t know how to resolve the social issues that have driven wedges into your ranks. And I don’t know how to reconfigure democratic politics to fit into an age of soundbites and polling dominated by a media oligarchy whose corporate journalists are neutered and whose right-wing publicists have no shame.

What I do know is this: While the social dislocations and meanness that galvanized progressives in the 19th century are resurgent so is the vision of justice, fairness, and equality. That’s a powerful combination if only there are people around to fight for it. The battle to renew democracy has enormous resources to call upon – and great precedents for inspiration. Consider the experience of James Bryce, who published “The Great Commonwealth” back in 1895 at the height of the First Gilded Age. Americans, Bryce said, “were hopeful and philanthropic.” He saw first-hand the ills of that “dark and unlovely age,” but he went on to say: ” A hundred times I have been disheartened by the facts I was stating: a hundred times has the recollection of the abounding strength and vitality of the nation chased away those tremors.”

What will it take to get back in the fight? Understanding the real interests and deep opinions of the American people is the first thing. And what are those? That a Social Security card is not a private portfolio statement but a membership ticket in a society where we all contribute to a common treasury so that none need face the indignities of poverty in old age without that help. That tax evasion is not a form of conserving investment capital but a brazen abandonment of responsibility to the country. That income inequality is not a sign of freedom-of-opportunity at work, because if it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to ride and some to wear saddles, it’s a sign that opportunity is less than equal. That self-interest is a great motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the framework of community. That the rich have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, but they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else. That public services, when privatized, serve only those who can afford them and weaken the sense that we all rise and fall together as “one nation, indivisible.” That concentration in the production of goods may sometimes be useful and efficient, but monopoly over the dissemination of ideas is evil. That prosperity requires good wages and benefits for workers. And that our nation can no more survive as half democracy and half oligarchy than it could survive “half slave and half free” – and that keeping it from becoming all oligarchy is steady work – our work.

Ideas have power – as long as they are not frozen in doctrine. But ideas need legs. The eight-hour day, the minimum wage, the conservation of natural resources and the protection of our air, water, and land, women’s rights and civil rights, free trade unions, Social Security and a civil service based on merit – all these were launched as citizen’s movements and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and in the face of bitter opposition and sneering attacks. It’s just a fact: Democracy doesn’t work without citizen activism and participation, starting at the community. Trickle down politics doesn’t work much better than trickle down economics. It’s also a fact that civilization happens because we don’t leave things to other people. 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. Allow yourself that conceit – to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there’s one candle in your hand.

So go for it. Never mind the odds. Remember what the progressives faced. Karl Rove isn’t tougher than Mark Hanna was in his time and a hundred years from now some historian will be wondering how it was that Norquist and Company got away with it as long as they did – how they waged war almost unopposed on the infrastructure of social justice, on the arrangements that make life fair, on the mutual rights and responsibilities that offer opportunity, civil liberties, and a decent standard of living to the least among us.

“Democracy is not a lie” – I first learned that from Henry Demarest Lloyd, the progressive journalist whose book, “Wealth against Commonwealth,” laid open the Standard trust a century ago. Lloyd came to the conclusion to “Regenerate the individual is a half truth. The reorganization of the society which he makes and which makes him is the other part. The love of liberty became liberty inAmericaby clothing itself in the complicated group of strengths known as the government of theUnited   States.” And it was then he said: “Democracy is not a lie. There live in the body of the commonality unexhausted virtue and the ever-refreshed strength which can rise equal to any problems of progress. In the hope of tapping some reserve of their power of self-help,” he said, “this story is told to the people.”

This is your story – the progressive story ofAmerica.

Pass it on.

 

http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/views03/0610-11.htm