‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism’ by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Reading this book is a little like quaffing a double espresso on an empty stomach — it’s a jolt. For this reader it was a welcome jolt. Others will find it less palatable.

Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have been Washington fixtures for three decades. They are two of the brightest, best informed and most scholarly students of our politics. They started out together as graduate students of political science at the University of Michigan, and decades ago took up residence at the Brookings Institution (Mann) and the American Enterprise Institute (Ornstein). Both have cultivated Democratic and Republican senators and House members to help them figure out the workings of the legislative branch. They acknowledge holding liberal views themselves, but throughout their careers they have tried to uphold a scholarly, non-partisan standard. Republicans once took them as seriously as Democrats did.

Six years ago they published a fine book on the problems of Congress, “The Broken Branch.” Among its many admirers was Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who gave it an enthusiastic “blurb” for the book’s back cover: “The Broken Branch is a serious step toward strengthening the Congress.”

That book was sharply critical of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for running the House with minimal regard for “regular order”— the traditional, bi-partisan way of doing business by the rule book that Mann and Ornstein revere — and instead putting political advantage ahead of careful legislating. Gingrich praised their book despite its critical assessment of his fellow Republicans.

Now Mann and Ornstein have decided that the time has come to abandon the evenhandedness still fashionable among political journalists (as opposed to the partisan talking heads and bloggers now so popular). The blunt result will be invigorating for some readers, and infuriating for others.

“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism” by Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein (Basic Books)

Their principal conclusion is unequivocal: Today’s Republicans in Congress behave like a parliamentary party in a British-style parliament, a winner-take-all system. But a parliamentary party — “ideologically polarized, internally unified, vehemently oppositional” — doesn’t work in a “separation-of-powers system that makes it extremely difficult for majorities to work their will.”

These Republicans “have become more loyal to party than to country,” the authors write, so “the political system has become grievously hobbled at a time when the country faces unusually serious problems and grave threats. . . . The country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern effectively.”

Today’s Republican Party has little in common even with Ronald Reagan’s GOP, or with earlier versions that believed in government. Instead it has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition . . . all but declaring war on the government.”

Mann and Ornstein consider “the debt ceiling fiasco” of last summer proof of these accusations. The idea of deliberately jeopardizing the credit rating of the United States by toying with a purposeful default on the country’s debt was a carefully planned strategy, they note — the brainchild of Eric Cantor of Virginia, today’s majority leader of the House.

After Republicans elected 87 new members in 2010 and took control of the House, their nominal leader, John Boehner, clearly recognized that the debt ceiling would have to be raised to keep the government operating. Unlike Cantor and those new members, Boehner remembered the political damage done in 1995 when Gingrich forced a shutdown of the federal government in a spending dispute with Bill Clinton, probably assuring Clinton’s 1996 reelection.

Mann and Ornstein quote Boehner from late 2010: “We’re going to have to deal with [the debt ceiling] as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations, and we have obligations on our part.” Cantor disagreed. When the new Republican House majority convened at a Baltimore retreat in January, 2011, “Cantor implored them to use the coming debt limit vote as their golden opportunity.” They quote Cantor in a story in The Post that revealed this episode: “I’m urging you [Republican House members] to look at a potential increase in the debt limit as a leverage moment when . . . President Obama will have to deal with us” and accept deep spending cuts.

The showdown soon arrived. After weeks of anxious uncertainty, Senate Republicans blinked. Their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, acknowledged that deliberately putting the GOP in the position of being blamed for a national default was a bad idea — not because of the economic consequences, but the political ones. Allowing Obama to blame the Republicans for forcing the country into default, McConnell acknowledged, “is very bad positioning going into elections.”

Precariously, a deal was struck. President Obama agreed to make $38 billion in cuts to the current federal budget. In return Republicans agreed to raise the debt ceiling enough to put off another fight on the issue until after the 2012 elections. Well, some Republicans agreed. Sixty-six Republicans in the House voted no; only Democratic support saved the deal and prevented default.

Those of us who follow the Washington circus may have forgotten (I had) that McConnell has already promised to repeat this drama early next year, when the debt ceiling will have to be raised again. Mann and Ornstein remind us that McConnell told Fox News, “We’ll be doing it all over” in 2013.

It is this willingness to put perceived political advantage ahead of good government that persuades the authors that we are living in a novel time that is “even worse than it looks.” They acknowledge that many of its features are not new, but all of them — from partisan warfare to the impact of money on our politics — seem worse than at any time in a century or more. Well-established, negative trends in our politics have “passed a critical point, leading to something far more troubling than we have ever seen.”

In recounting the history of how we got here, Mann and Ornstein reserve a special place of dishonor for their one-time admirer, Gingrich. His eagerness “to paint . . . his own institution [when Democrats controlled it] as elitist, corrupt and arrogant . . . undermined basic public trust in Congress and government. . . . His attacks on partisan adversaries in the White House and Congress created a norm in which colleagues with different views became mortal enemies. . . . He helped invent the modern permanent campaign, allowing electoral goals to dominate policy ones. . . . One has to look back to Gingrich as the singular political figure who set the tone that followed.” So no Gingrich blurb this time.

Mann and Ornstein rightly blame the news media for doing a mediocre job covering the most important political story of the last three decades: the transformation of the Republican Party. They are critical of the conventions of mainstream journalism that lead to the evenhandedness they have now abandoned themselves. They see a “reflexive tendency of many in the mainstream press to use false equivalence to explain outcomes,” when Republican obstructionism and Republican rejection of science and basic facts have no Democratic equivalents. It’s much easier to write stories “that convey an impression that the two sides are equally implicated.”

The authors emphasize the deterioration of the American political culture, corrupted by money and embittered by partisanship, affecting not just Congress but also, they argue persuasively, the Supreme Court. This spoiled culture has encouraged the cynicism of voters, now a serious impediment to political reforms. Mann and Ornstein write at length about both bad and good ideas for improving the situation in four long chapters that are less passionate and a lot wonkier than their more than 100-page indictment of the Republicans, which they know is going to create a marketing problem for this book.

“Some readers may be struck by a lack of balance in our treatment of the two major political parties,” they admit, but insist that they hope not for Democratic hegemony, but for “two vibrant and constructive political parties.” They mean, of course, two parties that actually believe in the efficacy of government to help society, a notion the tea party Republicans appear to reject.

Mann and Ornstein chose not to explore the history of today’s voters’ cynicism, a powerful ingredient in the poisonous brew they describe. Doing so would have given them a chance to add some even-handedness to their story. In 1964, on the eve of the disastrous Vietnam War, 77 percent of Americans expected their government do “do the right thing” always or most of the time, according to opinion polls. Ten years later, after Vietnam and Watergate, 77 percent had become 36. Today it is less than 20 percent who have that confidence in the government. The Vietnam War, largely the work of Democrats, and Richard Nixon together destroyed Americans’ confidence in their governing institutions. It has never been restored. Several generations have grown up since reflexively distrusting their government.

And now, as Mann and Ornstein document so vividly, at a time when only good government could help us rediscover our footing as a nation, our Grand Old Party defines itself as the party of anti-government. This is why the title of this book is so good: Our situation really is even worse than it looks.

Pope Francis Has A Very Stern Message For GOP Extremist And They’re Not Going To Like It

Greenville Gazette, September 29, 2015

On Sept. 24, Pope Francis gave his first address to the United States Congress. The speech, which pushed a message of peace, environmental responsibility and economic justice, did not go over well with House Republicans.

House Majority Leader John Boehner invited the Pope to speak, but the pontiff’s politically-charged address condemned many policies that the GOP promotes and called out the House for refusing to enact meaningful change in America and around the world.

The Bishop of Rome issued a particularly strong warning about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism.

“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and religion,” he said. “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.”

The Pope’s words floated awkwardly over the House chamber, which was filled with GOP politicians who are known for their dysfunctional obstructionism and extremism. Instead of trying to address the nation’s real problems, Republicans have wasted time attacking President Obama and fighting pointless culture wars. They have attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 54 times, threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood and fought sensible gun-control policies that could save lives. Meanwhile, they plot to drag the country into yet another protracted, expensive and unwinnable foreign war.

The Pope seemed to be speaking directly to do-nothing Republicans when he said that leaders must avoid “simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil.” He also said that the “contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.”

http://www.greenvillegazette.com/pope-francis-has-a-very-stern-message-for-gop-extremist-and-theyre-not-going-to-like-it/

Francis, Apostle of Politics and Pluralism

Blogs » Spiritual Politics by Mark Silk, religionnews.com,

On his first trip to the United States, Pope Francis communicated a vision of politics and pluralism that is rapidly becoming the signature social philosophy of his papacy.

In his address to Congress, Francis emphasized the importance of politics as a countervailing force to economic power (just as he had in his encyclical Laudato Si’):

If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Similarly, at the United Nations, he stressed that in a world “marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power,” the juridical and political capacity of the U.N. is “an essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities.”

Francis’ valorization of politics doubtless derives from his experience living under a repressive military regime in a continent where all too often repressive military regimes have exploited the populace for the benefit of domestic elites and foreign economic interests. It is important to recognize that his concern is not about the relative power of government vis-a-vis the private sector so much as about how humanity makes decisions.

The late economist Albert O. Hirschman differentiated political and economic decision-making in terms of “voice” and “exit.” Politics is all about people using their voices to persuade each other of the right way to proceed together. Economics is all about individuals using resources to abandon — exit — one product or situation and take up another. The conservative desire for privatization and deregulation, for market-based solutions to every problem, expresses the preference for exit over voice.

Francis is emphatically in favor of voice, and not just because, in democratic societies, it ensures that those with the fewest opportunities for exit can influence the choices that are made. It’s also because he believes that, in a world where unfettered economic and technological power makes for social and cultural uniformity, voice equals diversity.

“You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” he told immigrants in his speech at Independence Hall Saturday. “Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”

At Friday’s ecumenical prayer service at Ground Zero in Manhattan, he said, “It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city.” At Independence Hall he shaped praise of religious liberty into an “imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.” And he made an unscheduled stop at St. Joseph’s University with his friend and compatriot Rabbi Abraham Skorka to bless a new sculpture showing figures representing synagogue and church communing with each other.

Voice means dialogue, and in Congress Francis described his own desire to engage in dialogue with the working poor, the old, the young, and with the assembled legislators who have turned talking past each other into way of life. Nor did he exempt his church from this imperative, condemning “inner circles” as a “perversion of faith,” heaping praise and thanks on the nuns his predecessor subjected to ecclesiastical scrutiny and censure, and telling bishops they must “seek out” and “accompany” those whose behavior is unacceptable rather than contenting themselves with “explaining” church teaching.

Francis’ vision has, like all visions, blind spots. He may underestimate the extent to which market forces can enhance diversity. His appreciation of the gifts that different groups bring to the table leaves advocates for women’s full equality in his church cold. And while he is the first pope to publicly acknowledge the malfeasance of bishops in covering up clerical sexual abuse, the poor and the immigrant seem to draw his empathy more easily than the victims of abusive priests.

But his embrace of politics as such represents a real advance in Catholic social teaching. And his appreciation of diversity as a good in itself, inside as well as outside the church, is not something we’re accustomed to hearing from popes. At a time when diversity has become a dirty word in many societies, and when democratic politics frequently seems incapable of meeting the challenges they face, Pope Francis offers a compelling advocacy of both. We are all in his debt.

- See more at: http://marksilk.religionnews.com/2015/09/28/francis-apostle-of-politics-and-pluralism/#sthash.cZaPlwY7.dpuf

 

 

Pope Francis – excerpts and links

Pope Francis addresses Joint Session of Congress – FULL SPEECH (C-SPAN)

Pope Francis Is Speaking Truth To Power. Let’s Answer His Call To Action by Rep. Keith Ellison, Co-chair, Congressional Progressive Caucus; U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th District, HuffingtonPost.com, September 23, 2015 This week the Pope, the world’s most influential religious leader, is speaking to the world’s most powerful legislature. The Pope’s message of helping the poor, healing the planet, and balancing the scales of justice is a timely call to action. People everywhere will hear the Pope speak their truth to the most powerful interests in the world.

Pope Francis Confronts Right-Wing Media Vitriol | BillMoyers.com, Facebook, September 26, 2015 If you don’t watch Fox News or listen to right-wing radio, you probably aren’t aware of the negative coverage the pope and his message are receiving this week. Media Matters for America compiled this video: How Right-Wing Media Are Welcoming Pope Francis To America 

Francis: When a Visitor Changes Your Home by Jim Wallis By Jim Wallis, Sojourners,09-25-2015 Excerpt: …“You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” he said… Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Matt. 7:12).”… he spoke powerfully, in ways that transverse and transcend American political lines… He then asked for the prayers of all Americans, and the good wishes of non-believers, saying, “I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way.”… In the past two days, I have heard the messages of the gospel that Sojourners has spread over four decades presented at the nation’s primary venues of power and lifted up as the country’s leading national media story…. In a clear message and mandate to Congress, Pope Francis said, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology, to devise intelligent ways of developing and limiting our power, and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral.”

Senator Bernie Sanders talks about Pope Francis, Facebook, September 24, 2015

A Francis Effect for a Broken System by Timothy Egan, New Yok Times, September 25, 2015….. The challenge is not to view his remarks as left or right, a yard gained or lost in a ceaseless struggle. For what is political, or even controversial, about asking people to be more openhearted, to see dignity in the forgotten and the passed over? At its core, the pope’s message was how to live a life and share a planet…“Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.” It’s been a long time since this Congress did anything for the common good… Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for. What’s more, Francis has gone well beyond church concerns to reach for something universal.

Francis is challenging America’s political power brokers By Matthew Bell, PRI’s The World, September 24, 2015 By Matthew Bell, PRI’s The World, September 24, 2015 …Kings, presidents and prime ministers have addressed the full US Congress over the years. But until today, no Catholic pope had spoken before a joint session of the legislature…He said lawmakers must create just legislation to keep their people unified, but at the same time they have a higher purpose.”[Y]ou are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face,” Pope Francis said…The importance of dialogue was a major theme throughout the speech. And in that context, Francis talked about the scourge of armed conflict around the world…“In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade,” Francis said. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature,” he said.  As if to respond to some criticisms from the political right wing that paints this pope as hostile to capitalism and global free markets, Francis said, “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” Francis went on to say that the common good includes caring for the earthThe pope denounced ideological extremism and fundamentalism as two things that are fueling so many acts of brutality and violence around the world. But he warned that the response to such religious-fueled hatred and killing must strike a balance between combatting violence on the one hand, and protecting religious, intellectual and individual freedom, on the other….Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”… in speaking to the US Congress, with all the wealth and power its members represent, Francis is consciously wading into the worldly realm of politics. And he is presenting lawmakers with on the left and right with a challenge to rethink their views on some contentious issues.

In Search of the Francis Effect By Ross Douthat, New York Times, September 23, 2015 Now it’s time to pivot from primary politics to papal coverage, as Pope Francis prepares to take the Acela Corridor by storm. My colleague Laurie Goodstein has an overview of the state of American Catholicism …Two and a half years into his papacy, Francis is already much beloved…But … Francis … has yet to create a shift in the dynamics of attendance and participation…This combination — high papal approval ratings with no clear effect on the actual practice of the faith — might look superficially like vindication for some of Francis’s conservative doubters…But while I have sympathies with this anxiety, the reality is that judging a pope’s impact, for good or ill, based on two years of mass attendance is probably a fool’s game….So if there is or is going to be a Francis effect, any short term trend (again, positive or negative) is highly unlikely to capture its valence; what matters is what the people who find him inspiring (or disillusioning) are doing and how the places where he leaves fingerprints look ten or twenty or thirty years from now… Some parts of American Catholicism are conducting clearer Francis-blessed experiments than others, and if we’re going to see an “effect” from this fascinating pope in the long run, it will be found in those experiments and their eventual results.

Save the Pope’s Radical Prophetic Message from Media Trivialization By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun, September 23, 2015 The recent national conference of the Religion Newswriters Association in Philadelphia focused on preparing the several hundred media attendees for how to cover the Pope’s visit to the U.S. this week. But in panel after panel, we were presented with leaders of the Catholic Church who were unsympathetic to the Pope’s message…The Pope, they insisted, has no politics—he’s above politics and only a humble servant of Jesus. Apparently the right-wingers in the Church hope that the media doesn’t know that Jesus himself was a revolutionary with a powerful call to challenge the way official Judaism at that time, represented by the priests of the Temple, had become assimilated to the values of the Roman occupiers of Judea rather than articulators of the prophetic message of the Torah to “love the stranger” and pursue justice and caring for all. Few Americans realize that the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment is one of the most articulate and accessible presentations of why there is scant chance to avoid environmental disaster unless we radically transform our global economic and political order. The Pope insists that the worldview popularized by global capitalism is deeply misguided…An ethical standard must be introduced into the way we organize our economy. Technological products are not morally neutral, the Pope tells us, “for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions that may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.”…he probably also meant what we at our Network of Spiritual Progressives mean with similar points—that the Left has historically been so religio-phobic and unwilling to talk about love of the stranger…Recognizing the Pope’s prophetic role at this historical moment doesn’t mean that we can’t also urge him to rethink the Church’s stance on women, on homosexuals, on abortion, and on birth control. Yes, there are parts of what he supports that I think need to be changed…We don’t have to stop critiquing those aspects of the Church in order to embrace this Pope as one of the most significant prophetic spiritual progressives alive on the planet, a true brother and amazingly influential ally… So we at Tikkun magazine cheer on his important thinking on the environment, poverty and the need to overcome the dynamics of global capitalism and the culture it has promoted,  and do what we can to bring his radical message to the attention of a society whose media are already hearing a trivialization of the Pope’s message (with the exception of the NY Times and a very few other sources) as they try to transform him into the world’s latest momentary celebrity.

Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress – full text

BY pbs.org/newshour/ September 24, 2015 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/full-text-of-pope-francis-remarks-to-congress/

Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress as prepared for delivery on Thursday and released by the Vatican press office:

(highlighting done by web site curator, Phyllis Stenerson)


Mr. Vice-President,
Mr. Speaker,
Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always best based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.

But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).

If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.

Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

“Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” – Pope Francis

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

Senator Bernie Sanders talks about Pope Francis

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont posted on Facebook, September 24, 2015

“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.” – Pope Francis addressing Congress today, September 24, 2015

Brothers and Sisters: I am not a theologian, an expert on the Bible, or a Catholic. I am just a U.S. senator from the small state of Vermont.

But I am emailing you today to discuss Pope Francis in the hope that we can examine the very profound lessons that he is teaching people all over this world and some of the issues for which he is advocating.

Now, there are issues on which the pope and I disagree — like choice and marriage equality — but from the moment he was elected, Pope Francis immediately let it be known that he would be a different kind of pope, a different kind of religious leader. He forces us to address some of the major issues facing humanity: war, income and wealth inequality, poverty, unemployment, greed, the death penalty and other issues that too many prefer to ignore.

He is reaching out not just to the Catholic Church. He’s reaching out to people all over the world with an incredibly strong message of social justice talking about the grotesque levels of wealth and income inequality.

Pope Francis is looking in the eyes of the wealthiest people around the world who make billions of dollars, and he is saying we cannot continue to ignore the needs of the poor, the needs of the sick, the dispossessed, the elderly people who are living alone, the young people who can’t find jobs. He is saying that the accumulation of money, that the worship of money, is not what life should be about. We cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings.

He is asking us to create a new society where the economy works for all, and not just the wealthy and the powerful. He is asking us to be the kind of people whose happiness and well-being comes from serving others and being part of a human community, not spending our lives accumulating more and more wealth and power while oppressing others. He is saying that as a planet and as a people we have got to do better.

That’s why I was so pleased that in his address to Congress today, Pope Francis spoke of Dorothy Day, who was a tireless advocate for the impoverished and working people in America. I think it was extraordinary that he cited her as one of the most important people in recent American history.

As the founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, Dorothy Day organized workers to stand up against the wealthy and powerful. Pope Francis said of her today in Congress:

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

The fact that the pope singled out Dorothy Day — a fierce advocate in the fight for economic justice — as one of the leaders he admires most is quite remarkable. We are living in a nation which worships the acquisition of money and great wealth, but turns its back on those in need. We are admiring people with billions of dollars, while we ignore people who sleep out on the streets. That must end.

Dorothy Day fought this fight, and as Pope Francis says, we must continue it. We need to move toward an economy which works for all, and not just the few.

We have so much poverty in a land of plenty. Together, we can work to make our country more fair for everybody.

I am glad that you are with me in this fight.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders

Francis: When a Visitor Changes Your Home by Jim Wallis

Excerpt – In a clear message and mandate to Congress, Pope Francis said,

“Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology, to devise intelligent ways of developing and limiting our power, and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral.”

By Jim Wallis, Sojourners, 09-25-2015

Stunning is the word that most comes to me after Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Washington, D.C. The country and the media was reveling in his presence, using language like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “wonderful” in response to this extraordinary moral leader who literally transformed our public discourse in the 48 hours he was in the nation’s capital. What these two extraordinary days mean going forward is the big question on all our hearts and minds.

At the formal welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House, a very traditional template was transformed by the “Vicar of Christ,” whose presence turned everyone’s language to one reference after another to those Christ called “the least of these” in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Never have I heard the most vulnerable being the most talked about in this city.

President Obama began the pope’s visit with these words, “What a beautiful day the Lord has made.”

Indeed. Then Pope Francis introduced himself to America as “a son of an immigrant family” who was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”

Point made.

Later he went on to call us to “accepting the urgency. [I]t seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generations.”

Not clear to some political leaders — but clear to the Holy Father. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church — 1.2 billion global souls — called for the “care of our common home,” then lifted up the spirit of hope that defined his entire visit and was my favorite line of the week:

“For we know that things can change.”

In between the official events, Pope Francis seemed happiest when he was moving between ordinary people and encountering (one of his favorite words) the people of America, especially the children.

Yesterday, Sept. 24, Pope Francis delivered his own version of a State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress — one like no other in our nation’s history.

Yes, he spoke powerfully on a number of critical public issues, but he began by calling the political representatives of this country to their proper purpose and vocation as servant leaders.

“You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” he said.

“A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called, and convened by those who elected you.”

The pope cautioned against polarization, and basically told them they should work together — a very radical call in Washington’s ideological and vitriolic divided politics.

Pope Francis’ largest and longest standing ovation from Congress came when he reminded the lawmakers of the Golden Rule — something I never would have imagined.

He spoke of “a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,” and how “on this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones…”

The pope said we need to learn, “not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation … always humane, just, and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Matt. 7:12).”

That’s when all the politicians stood up and clapped.

But the most stunning thing to me was when Pope Francis brought to our attention, in a joint session of the Congress, four examples of extraordinary figures from American history to illustrate his moral convictions about how to serve the common good. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. were great choices but seemed less a surprise, but then he also named Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton; who — along with King — have regularly graced our covers and articles here at Sojourners. I really couldn’t believe it.

For the pope, each of these figures symbolizes a different American dream. In describing them, he said,

“President Abraham Lincoln — liberty; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — racial justice and inclusion; the founder of the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day — social justice and the priority of the poor; and Thomas Merton, the contemplative priest — the capacity for openness to God and a dialogue with others, even those of other faiths, with whom we need to build bridges.”

Neither Catholic mentioned — Dorothy Day, working with the poor everyday on the lower east side of Manhattan, or Thomas Merton, walking the hills of Kentucky and praying the daily cycle of prayers at Gethsemani Abbey — could likey have ever imagined being lifted up in the U. S. Congress.

When Pope Francis did speak about particular issues at the congressional podium, he spoke powerfully, in ways that transverse and transcend American political lines. He spoke in favor of abolishing the death penalty but also of protecting human life “at every stage of development.” He condemned the international arms trade as motivated “simply [by] money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” He spoke eloquently about the value of dialogue between hostile nations as an alternative to armed conflict. And throughout his remarks he lifted up the need to protect and provide justice for the poor, the immigrant, and the very planet.

After the speech to Congress, Pope Francis greeted the massive crowd waiting outside from the balcony of the Capitol building, using his native Spanish. “Buenos Días!,” he said to the diverse and beaming crowd.

He gave a blessing to the children praying, “Father of all, bless these. Bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all.”

He then asked for the prayers of all Americans, and the good wishes of non-believers, saying, “I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way.”

Yet another gesture that makes so many Americans — Catholic, non-Catholic, and non-religious alike — so deeply attracted to this pope.

In the past two days, I have heard the messages of the gospel that Sojourners has spread over four decades presented at the nation’s primary venues of power and lifted up as the country’s leading national media story. Even some of our most beloved gospel heroes were raised before the nation as the Americans the nation needs most to be our examples.

Stunned is the feeling I still have, which is taking my breath away. Pope Francis has indeed changed the national conversation in America this week, pointing to those who also changed the conversation, and then calling us all to continue to do the same. How long this will last is not the deepest question. Rather, it’s whether Pope Francis’ words will fall on fertile or rocky soil as the gospel parable asks, and who will decide in their own lives and in nation-changing movements to now keep this conversation changing.

In a clear message and mandate to Congress, Pope Francis said,

“Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology, to devise intelligent ways of developing and limiting our power, and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral.”

This is his clear message and mandate to all of us. We pray for the courage and perseverance to see that mission through. A stunning “Amen.”

Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

- See more at: https://sojo.net/articles/francis-when-visitor-changes-your-home#sthash.sqPvLXl5.HLRfO7CQ.dpuf

https://sojo.net/articles/francis-when-visitor-changes-your-home

Treason and/or sedition

Did John Boehner Just Commit The Most Unthinkable Thing? How Ironic By Tate Scholchinger, greenvillegazette.com, Full text

None Dare Call It Treason: Why Republicans Won By Bob Burnett, www.huffingtonpost.com, 11/07/2014 Democrats…devastating losses in the 2014-midterm election… Democrats didn’t fight back. Democrats routinely let Republicans get away with actions that, were the roles reversed, Republicans wouldn’t stand for…On August 29, President Obama called the Republican political strategy: There has been a certain cynical genius to what [Republicans] have done in Washington. What they’ve realized is, if we don’t get anything done, then people are going to get cynical about government and its possibilities of doing good for everybody… And the more cynical people get, the less they vote. And if turnout is low and people don’t vote, that pretty much benefits [the Republicans] who benefit from the status quo. That’s what happened in 2014. Republican voters turned out but Democrats were depressed about the prospects for change and didn’t vote. President Obama knew what was happening but for whatever reason he didn’t call out the Republicans as obstructionists, as enemies of democracy. In 2014, Democrats were weak and didn’t fight back. Democrats didn’t blame Republicans for an economy that while growing is only working for the rich. (Indeed, Democrats didn’t have any consistent message in 2014.) But liberals don’t have to hold back. Playing nice has cost Democrats control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Liberals can fight back. We can call Republicans on their immoral plan to ruin democracy. Liberals must call Republicans by their true names: traitors.

Has the 1 Percent Committed Treason? By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org, July 15, 2013 http://robertreich.org/

None Dare Call It Treason By Richard Reeves, Truthdig.com, Aug 6, 2014  the senior leader of that [Republican] party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is on record as saying in 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” In fairness, McConnell later added, “I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.” Didn’t happen. The president hasn’t changed. So the only option left for Sen. McConnell and his sidekick, House Speaker John Boehner, is presidential failure, failure of the sovereign. Under our system of government, the president is that sovereign. And the classic definition of treason, going back to 12th-century England, is: “The offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.”…

Sedition – Robert Reich, Facebook, October 7, 2013 – Suppose a relatively small group financed by a handful of billionaires (1) takes over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority; (2) secretly bankrolls candidates for these safe seats who pledge to shrink and dismember the government; (3) then, once these candidates are elected, has them shut down the government in order to repeal or amend laws the plotters dislike; (4) then forces the nation to default on its debts and thereby throws the economy into a tailspin in order to get their way; and (5) runs a vast PR campaign to convince the American public of big lies about laws the plotters dislike or policies they seek. Would you call this an attempted coup d’etat? If not, what would you call it? And what would you do about it?

Guilty of Sedition? How the Right Is Undermining Our Government’s Authority and Capability to Run the Country by Sara Robinson, Campaign for America’s Future, April 6, 2010 Sedition: Crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow or destruction…Advocating, encouraging, and sanc­tioning sedition is the new norm on the conservative side…a wake-up call for progressives…it’s time to openly con­front the fact that conservatives have spent the past 40 years systematically delegitimizing the very idea of US government. When they’re in power, they mismanage it and defund it. When they’re out of power, they refuse to participate in running the country at all — indeed, they throw all their energy into thwarting the democratic process any way they can. When they need to win an election, they use violent, polarizing, eliminationist language against their opponents to motivate their base. This is sedition in slow motion, a gradual corrosive under­mining of the government’s authority and capability to run the country. And it’s been at the core of their politics going all the way back to Goldwater…puts the short-term needs of the Republi­can party ahead of the long-term viability of the American democracy they’ve sworn to uphold…

Are Republicans Committing Treason? By Cliff Schecter, AlterNet, July 20, 2011

Seditious conspiracy

Seditious conspiracy

Tom Foley’s passing recalls the bipartisan spirit of a bygone era

By Robert H. Michel, Washington Post, October 20, 2013

(Robert H. Michel, a Republican, represented Illinois in the U.S. House from 1957 to 1995. He was Republican leader from 1981 to 1995. Thomas Foley represented Washington in the U. S. House as a Democrats from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995 when he was defeated for reelection during the Gingrich Revolution. Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, succeeded him as Speaker.)

Excerpt  

Speaker Tom Foleysaid it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week [October 18, 2013) that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust…The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency…This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power…

Full text

Try as he might, Speaker Tom Foley could not gavel the House to order. It was Nov. 29, 1994, the last day of the 103rd Congress. I had just offered a resolution honoring him, and the speaker was being given a standing ovation for his 30 years of service. Our fellow members would not sit or quiet down.

It was a fitting tribute to a great public servant who assumed the mantle of leadership in the House at a difficult time.

Tom had just been defeated for reelection, and I was retiring. In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and comity, Tom invited me to assume the chair on the speaker’s podium while he gave his farewell address. For the first time in 40 years, a Republican presided over the House, if only for a few minutes.

Tom’s remarks were eloquent. But one comment struck me then and came to mind again recently amid all the rancor and partisan brinkmanship our country can ill afford.

Tom said it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust.

When Tom became speaker, he suggested that we get together once a week to discuss matters before the House. One week, he said, I will come to your office, and the next you can come to mine. We did that regularly. We had disagreements over policy and we pushed and pulled politically, but the hallmark of our conversations was the trust underlying them. We could talk about anything, knowing that our discussions would remain private unless we decided otherwise. We had some very personal and delicate exchanges and never compromised their confidentiality.

The meetings themselves were a rarity in Washington. House Speaker Carl Albert and Minority Leader Gerry Ford used to park themselves on a bench just off the House floor and talk, but so far as I know the regular meetings Tom and I had in our offices have not been repeated since.

Tom and I last spoke four days before he died. We recalled one of the toughest tests of our relationship. It occurred in 1991 over Operation Desert Storm. It was important to President George H.W. Bush that Congress authorize military action over Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. Rep. Steve Solarz (D-N.Y.) and I introduced a resolution authorizing military action. This was an agonizing decision for me, having served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II. Sending Americans into combat is always tough. Tom harbored personal reservations about military intervention, and a substantial number in his caucus strongly opposed an invasion. Allowing the resolution to go to the floor for open debate and a recorded vote took political courage and personal decency. The debate that ensued did the country proud. The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency. As speaker, he had replaced Jim Wright (D-Tex.), himself a tough partisan who had been forced from office. This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power.

Tom and I conversed many times publicly and privately after leaving Congress. In all of those exchanges, we agreed on how to govern, how to get decisions made and how to find reasonable solutions to difficult problems.

We were too conditioned by our personal and political upbringing to assume that we had the market cornered on political principle or partisan superiority. We knew, too, that there should always be a distinction, and separation, between campaigning for office and serving in office. We were pupils of the old school.

When we stood side by side at the speaker’s podium on the last day of the 103rd Congress, political adversaries but personal friends, we knew that we were icons of a bygone era. As we visited last week, almost 20 years later, I think we both felt good about that. We both took great pride in knowing we had made things happen. I hope the past turns out to be prologue, and I think Tom would have agreed.

Read more on this topic: Chris Matthews: Breaking the deadlock on Pennsylvania Avenue Eric Cantor: Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation Joseph A. Morris: Shutdowns have been frequent tools of policy. Just ask Reagan. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Our fantasy is a Congress that gets stuff done

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-foleys-passing-recalls-the-bipartisan-spirit-of-a-bygone-era/2013/10/20/897201ca-39ab-11e3-b6a9-da62c264f40e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Washington Has Been Stopped in Its Tracks by Republican Tea Party Types, and It’s Destroying the Country

By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org, June 10, 2013

Excerpt

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform. It’s as if an entire branch of the federal government—the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law—has gone out of business…A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

Full text

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.

It’s as if an entire branch of the federal government—the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law—has gone out of business, leaving behind only a so-called “sequester” that’s cutting deeper and deeper into education, infrastructure, programs for the nation’s poor, and national defense.

The window of opportunity for the president to get anything done is closing rapidly. Even in less partisan times, new initiatives rarely occur after the first year of a second term, when a president inexorably slides toward lame duck status.

But the nation’s work doesn’t stop even if Washington does. By default, more and more of it is shifting to the states, which are far less gridlocked than Washington. Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states — the most single-party dominance in decades.

This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.

Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, for example, now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades. The legislative session that ended a few weeks ago resulted in a hike in the top income tax rate to 9.85 percent, an increased cigarette tax, and the elimination of several corporate tax loopholes. The added revenues will be used to expand early-childhood education, freeze tuitions at state universities, fund jobs and economic development, and reduce the state budget deficit. Along the way, Minnesota also legalized same-sex marriage and expanded the power of trade unions to organize.

California and Maryland passed similar tax hikes on top earners last year. The governor of Colorado has just signed legislation boosting taxes by $925 million for early-childhood education and K-12 (the tax hike will go into effect only if residents agree, in a vote that is likely in November).

On the other hand, the biggest controversy in Kansas is between Gov. Sam Brownback, who wants to shift taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class and poor by repealing the state’s income tax and substituting an increase in the sales tax, and Kansas legislators who want to cut the sales tax as well, thereby reducing the state’s already paltry spending for basic services. Kansas recently cut its budget for higher education by almost five percent.

Other rightward-moving states are heading in the same direction. North Carolina millionaires are on the verge of saving $12,500 a year, on average, from a pending income-tax cut even as sales taxes are raised on the electricity and services that lower-income depend residents depend on. Missouri’s transportation budget is half what it was five years ago, but lawmakers refuse to raise taxes to pay for improvements.

The states are splitting as dramatically on social issues. Gay marriages are now recognized in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state permit the sale of marijuana, even for non-medical uses. California is expanding a pilot program to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Meanwhile, other states are enacting laws restricting access to abortions so tightly as to arguably violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, the mandated waiting period for an abortion is longer than it is for buying a gun.

Speaking of which, gun laws are moving in opposite directions as well. Connecticut, California, and New York are making it harder to buy guns. Yet if you want to use a gun to kill someone who’s, say, spray-painting a highway underpass at night, you might want to go to Texas, where it’s legal to shoot someone who’s committing a “public nuisance” under the cover of dark. Or you might want to live in Kansas, which recently enacted a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a college campus.

The states are diverging sharply on almost every issue you can imagine. If you’re an undocumented young person, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at public universities in 14 states (including Texas). But you might want to avoid driving in Arizona, where state police are allowed to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect is here illegally.

And if you’re poor and lack health insurance you might want to avoid a state like Wisconsin that’s refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government will be picking up almost the entire tab.

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.

Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.

A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

 


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/conservatives-immobilize-congress

Links:
[1] http://robertreich.org/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-reich
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-rights
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/congress-0
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gun-control
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/second-amendment
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/states-rights
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B