Harvard Business School: The U.S. Political System Has Been ‘Hijacked’

https://www.themaven.net/theintellectualist/news/harvard-business-school-the-u-s-political-system-has-been-hijacked-mj-X8WUfskapGULM6GEKVg

by Yossarian Johnson, themaven.net/theintellectualist, 3/12/18

A new case study by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is on its way to becoming a failed democracy. (photo credit: Youtube)

A new case study by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is becoming a failed democracy. The authors of the case-study use the word ‘hijacked’ to describe what the political parties have done to governance in the United States.

Some tidbits:

America’s political system was long the envy of the world. It advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations that fostered both economic and social progress. Today, however, our political system has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address. This was the unexpected conclusion of the multiyear Project on U.S. Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, established in 2011 to understand the causes of America’s weak economic performance and rising inequality that predated the Great Recession.

The authors point to a number of American pathologies that do not plague other advanced nations.

A similar failure to progress has also afflicted the nation’s social agenda. In areas such as public education, health and wellness, personal safety, water and sanitation, environmental quality, and tolerance and inclusion, among others, U.S. progress has stalled or gone in reverse. In these areas, where America was often a pioneer and leader, the U.S. has fallen well down the list compared to other advanced countries. Tolerance, inclusion, and personal freedom are registering troubling declines, a sign of growing divisions in our society.

A poorly educated

In public education, of particular significance for citizen opportunity, in math the U.S. was ranked 31st out of 35 OECD countries (the other advanced economies using the respected PISA process) in 2015, down from 25 in 2009, 20th in reading (down from 14) and 19th in science (down from 17).5 Instead of progress, then, our government is mired in gridlock and inaction. Increasingly over the decades, Congress has been unable to get things done, especially on important issues.

The authors of the piece note how the Founders of the United States would find the rules that govern the country unrecognizable today.

The result: America’s political system today would be unrecognizable to our founders. In fact, certain of our founders warned against political parties. John Adams, our second President, said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”2 Our founders— and most Americans today—would be shocked by the extent to which our democracy has been hijacked by the private and largely unaccountable organizations that constitute today’s political industrial complex.

The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer

by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

EXCERPT – Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion…. the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s. Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960sThe revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals… opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964…Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War…legend…which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016….These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. …Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” …as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors….Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Full text

The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

Jeffrey P. Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, has written articles and books on several topics, including ideology. His latest book, co-authored with William Burr, is Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (2015).

Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion.

Modern Western conservatism came into being in response to the American and French Revolutions. Like liberalism, it has waxed and waned as a political movement during the decades since. According to some historians, the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s.

Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, which ultimately led to majority-white affiliation with the Republican Party. The revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals during that same period, which would include – along with the Catholic Church – opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964, followed four years later by Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War stab-in-the back legend by President Nixon and pro-war hawks, which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016.

But what is political “conservatism”? And are self-styled conservatives really conservative? Merriam-Webster defines conservative” as “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.” Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a conservative as “a person who conserves or preserves something; an adherent of traditional values, ideas, and institutions; an opponent of social and political change.” Wicktionary pithily defines the conservative as “a person who favors maintenance of the status quo.”

These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. These include government regulation of corporations, banks, and Wall Street, progressive income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, civil rights, voting rights, environmental regulations, and public-lands conservation. Self-identified conservatives also oppose other traditional institutions, practices, and measures, such as the United Nations, international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war, labor unions, collective bargaining, fair labor standards, and, for some, public fluoridation of water. The measures conservatives oppose were legislated, created, or practiced 50 to 100 or more years ago.

Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” – i.e., “men” as in “all humans,” including people of color and women – as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors. This was the case, for example, in the 5-4 conservative majority decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) decision, which, along with other decisions, applied a loose interpretation of the Second Amendment by asserting the individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, while also limiting the state’s power to regulate arms.

Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Nor are self-proclaimed conservatives always opponents of social and political change if overturning current social and political norms serves their own beliefs and interests. Abraham Lincoln made this point in February 1860 in his address at Cooper Institute, when he asked: “What is conservatism?” In answer, he pointed out that self-styled Southern conservatives “spit upon” the old policy toward slavery in order to “insist on substituting something new.” The present-day conservative Dinesh D’Souza defended such conservative behavior, arguing that “if the existing society is hostile to conservative beliefs . . . , it is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture . . . . The conservative must . . . . be philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical.”

To be sure, there are factions of conservatives: the far Right (e.g., American Nazis, fascists, and Breitbart owners, writers, and readers), paleocons, neocons, the religious right, libertarians, Tea Party populists, the Freedom Caucus, “moderate” Republicans, certain corporate elites, NRA executives and many NRA members – along with other factions. Their views and goals vary on specific issues. Nonetheless, somewhere in their minds, they share a common conservative core of ideas, notions, and emotions. In his book, The Reactionary Mind, political scientist Corey Robin argues that there is a fundamental “reactionary thrust” in conservatismnamely, the conviction that “some are fit to rule others.” Quoting George Nash, he adds: conservatism is “resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive of what conservatives at the time deemed worth cherishing, defending and perhaps dying for” – and which challenges their perceived self-interest. Conservatism in all its forms is oppositional and reactionary at its core. As Karl Mannheim argued, they oppose “other ways of life and thought that appears on the scene.”

It would be better for all if self-styled conservatives heeded the advice of the early nineteenth-century English churchman and academic, Arthur Stanley, who observed that “conservatism . . . destroys what it loves because it will not mend it.”

 

How the Republicans rigged Congress

 — new documents reveal an untold story – By David Daley, salon.com , February 6, 2018 – Referencing “The GOP Targets State Legislaturesby Karl Rove, published in Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2010

excerpt from How the Republicans rigged Congress: … Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics…a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” … explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence. The visionaries …managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress….It will take years to recover.” Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers…National polls suggest that Democrats … need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats… Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics…a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” … explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence. The visionaries …managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress….Now new court documents, previously unrevealed emails and once-secret internal documents — most revealed here for the first time — uncover how early the Republican planning began, how comprehensive the redistricting strategy was and how determined conservative operatives were to dye America red from the ground up. It’s the story of how strategists wooed deep-pocketed donors to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars (often in untraceable dark money) and convinced them that winning state legislative seats offered the best opportunity for enduring GOP control at a bargain-basement price. It’s the behind-the-scenes narrative of how Republicans set their sights on 107 state legislative seats in 16 states, with the goal of pushing dozens of U.S. House seats into their column for a decade or longer. It captures their glee as 2010 turned into a big red wave year, and GOP strategists defended all their state chambers, expanded their push deep into Democratic country and caught the other side [Democrats] flat-footed in a deeply consequential year. Success like this breeds many narratives. … 2010 was another story: It was a census year, and a redistricting year. Somebody had to be in charge. Hofeller wanted it to be his side. “Not playing,” he told the room, was “not an option.” Whatever the results of redistricting turned out to be, “we live with them for five elections.”Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts … and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room…. When Ed Gillespie took charge of the RSLC, however, targets expanded from direct-mail small-fry to boardroom big-shots… looking to reel in $30 million from GOP whales…By early 2010, the presentation had become sophisticated and precise. Its opening pages, revealed here, are titled “Congressional Redistricting: Drawing Maps for the Next Five Elections,” and it begins with a question: “How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” The answer? “…What will it take to dominate redistricting?… “We were prepared for the fights of the past,” …Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee …We could have done a better job of communicating to stakeholders what 2010 meant. When you’re in a legislative world you assume everyone knows.” Republicans made no such assumptions… “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly impact and shape the political landscape in Washington for the next 10 years.”…Obama had no idea just how decisive it would prove: Republicans would hold the House for the rest of his presidency….It will take years to recover.” Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers…National polls suggest that Democrats … need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats…

Full text of How the Republicans rigged Congress — new documents reveal an untold story By David Daley, salon.com , 02.06.2018

Delegates to the 2009 Republican Legislative Campaign Committee’s national meeting stayed in style at The Hermitage, Nashville’s magnificent Beaux-Arts landmark and one of the most storied luxury hotels in the world.

If attendees arrived depressed, with Democrats newly moved into the White House and controlling both branches of Congress, they partied like reigning rock stars. State legislators and lobbyists dined on $84 Chateaubriand with burgundy and mushroom sauce at Jimmy Kelly’s steak house, the historic oak-walls-and-oil-painting clubhouse for Nashville’s power set. They tasted the New South at Flyte World Dining and Wine, where the fabled bar snacks included Pad Thai popcorn with sambal caramel and the Carolina Gold Rice Risotto trimmed with a sweet corn and truffle custard.

Corporate sponsors at the $40,000 level were treated to a special Capitol Grille lunch at the Hermitage, where the Porter Road dry-age specials once roamed free among the spring-fed creeks of the hotel’s 250-acre Double H Farm. Everyone could tee off from the Hermitage’s President’s Reserve Golf Course, or gaze upon Elvis Presley’s solid-gold Cadillac limousine at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

When the Republicans were not enjoying the manicured links or the hand-crafted cocktails, however, there was serious business on the agenda.

A few minutes before 8 a.m. on Monday, June 8 — awfully early for any delegate who’d indulged in one too many Jack’s Mules or Fat’s Smashes at the Hermitage’s Oak Bar the night before — Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics.

Hofeller, the master GOP mapmaker and white-haired veteran of the most important decennial wars in politics, delivered a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” What he laid out that Monday morning, apparently for the first time before Republican state legislators, explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander.

If there is to be a blue wave in 2018, it will need to overcome a red seawall that was exactingly designed beginning a decade ago and has proven impermeable in state after state ever since. Even in Virginia last November, Democrats won nearly a quarter of a million more votes than Republicans — and it still wasn’t enough to overcome district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage. In Alabama, where Doug Jones recently became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in decades, disgraced GOP candidate Roy Moore still carried six of the state’s seven gerrymandered congressional districts.

Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence.

The visionaries at the Republican State Leadership Committee, who designed the aptly-named strategy dubbed REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project, managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress.

It proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

Now new court documents, previously unrevealed emails and once-secret internal documents — most revealed here for the first time — uncover how early the Republican planning began, how comprehensive the redistricting strategy was and how determined conservative operatives were to dye America red from the ground up. It’s the story of how strategists wooed deep-pocketed donors to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars (often in untraceable dark money) and convinced them that winning state legislative seats offered the best opportunity for enduring GOP control at a bargain-basement price.

It’s the behind-the-scenes narrative of how Republicans set their sights on 107 state legislative seats in 16 states, with the goal of pushing dozens of U.S. House seats into their column for a decade or longer. It captures their glee as 2010 turned into a big red wave year, and GOP strategists defended all their state chambers, expanded their push deep into Democratic country and caught the other side flat-footed in a deeply consequential year.

Success like this breeds many narratives. Politico finds REDMAP’s roots in a mid-2009 meeting in former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie’s office in Alexandria, Virginia. They credit Gillespie, then chair of the RSLC and more recently the GOP candidate defeated by newly-elected Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, with the idea. In my book “Ratf**ked,” which traces REDMAP and its state-by-state consequences, RSLC executive director Chris Jankowski remembered reading a summer 2009 New York Times story suggesting that 2010 governors’ races provided Republicans a road back, saying that he then understood the opportunity an unpopular president and a redistricting-year midterm wave might present.

It turns out that both of these origin stories obscure the actual start of these efforts by almost a year and a half.

Thomas Hofeller’s presentation at the Hermitage on June 8, 2009, came six weeks before the New York Times story that inspired Jankowski. Gray-haired and wearing rimless glasses, Hofeller debuted a history-shaping PowerPoint that walked Republicans through their path back to power.

Sure, the 2008 election, in which Barack Obama had swamped John McCain and Democrats expanded their majorities in both the House and Senate, hadn’t gone the way anyone in the room had hoped. But 2010 was another story: It was a census year, and a redistricting year. Somebody had to be in charge. Hofeller wanted it to be his side. “Not playing,” he told the room, was “not an option.” Whatever the results of redistricting turned out to be, “we live with them for five elections.”

Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts — and he told state legislators that they would play the starring roles. He explained how in more than 40 states, state legislatures drew both their own state House and Senate districts, along with the vast majority of the 435 U.S. House seats. He walked through the importance of being in the room when the new lines were drawn. He emphasized that the state legislative elections in 2009 and 2010 represented the party’s last chance to influence its position at what he called the “redistricting table” when line-drawing began after the census — and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room.

Hofeller reminded the legislators that the Democrats had dominated this process in 1990, with complete control over 172 seats while Republicans owned merely five. By 2000, GOP prospects had improved, narrowing the GOP edge to 135-96. Republicans, Hofeller said, could do even better in 2010. Along with Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia congressman, he laid out the details: The party would target control of state legislative chambers that either party held by five or fewer seats. They’d double down on states where the governor had veto power over the maps. And there would be plenty of money to fund key campaigns, upgrade technology, recruit and train candidates — and then to guarantee that every state legislature had a redistricting lawyer and litigator.

That money, these newly revealed internal RSLC documents reveal, began flowing from early 2008 fundraising appeals that were already focused directly on post-2010 redistricting.

“The more Republicans we can elect to state house chambers this year, the stronger our Party will be as we confront the redistricting decisions that will follow the 2010 Census,” wrote Scott Ward, then the RSLC’s president. Ward hoped to raise $1.5 million before April 2008. This would be a “’must win’” battle,” he continued, “and we must start now to gain the upper hand!”

When Ed Gillespie took charge of the RSLC, however, targets expanded from direct-mail small-fry to boardroom big-shots. These new documents reveal the first two PowerPoints that Gillespie brought on the road, looking to reel in $30 million from GOP whales: Big Oil, Altria, Walmart, AT&T and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The first, from December 2009, was primitive and unpolished. It even suggested that the 2010 census would take place in 2011.

Perhaps its most important detail is buried in the appendix: Thirty-eight legislative chambers in 19 states will control the drawing of 253 congressional seats. This report even laid out the number of credible candidates and credible targets in each of those state chambers. But the goal was clear: Gillespie and Jankowski explained to donors that they were “drawing maps for the next five elections” and that “whoever controls that process controls the drawing of maps — shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.”

By early 2010, the presentation had become sophisticated and precise. Its opening pages, revealed here, are titled “Congressional Redistricting: Drawing Maps for the Next Five Elections,” and it begins with a question: “How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” The answer? “

“Maps matter,” the RSLC presentation continues. It calls maps the first tool in winning elections. In Texas, it explains, Democrats controlled the congressional delegation by a margin of 17 to 15 before the GOP won back the state legislature. Once Republicans had the pens in their own hands, that swung to 21-11 in the GOP’s favor the very next election.

The same process played out in Pennsylvania, where 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats had represented the state in 2000, before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats. Republicans controlled the legislature and “drew maps that put two Democrat Congressman into the same district and another in a heavy Republican district.” The result? A 12-7 GOP delegation on the new maps in 2002. In Georgia, however, which also received two extra seats after the 2000 reapportionment, Democrats ruled redistricting. The result, according to the RSLC? “Total Democrat control and a desire to maximize black Democrat representation resulted in a highly gerrymandered map.”

What will it take to dominate redistricting? Gillespie lays it out as an equation: Republicans can win 20 to 25 new seats in Congress for each of the next five electoral cycles with a $31.5 million investment on state legislative races in 2010. The cost of not acting? If the Democrats controlled those seats, or they remained swing districts, he estimated that mounting competitive campaigns in those 20-25 districts would cost $255 million over the next decade.

That $31.5 million would be spent micro-targeting state legislative districts that Republicans identified as crucial to winning state legislative chambers and dominating redistricting. There would be 6,000 state legislature races nationwide in 2010. The RSLC zeroed in on 107 of those in 16 states. Win those, according to the report, and Republicans could “fully control or affect the drawing of 9 new Congressional districts” awarded during reapportionment in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. They could also affect the redrawing of maps in five states that were losing six districts after the census: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Finally, the RSLC proposed “strengthening Republican redistricting power by flipping 15 chambers from Democrat to Republican control” and defending nine other GOP majorities. The key targets: Alabama’s House and Senate, both chambers in Colorado, the Indiana and Iowa House, the Nevada and New York Senate, both chambers in North Carolina, Ohio’s House, the Oregon Senate, the Pennsylvania House and both chambers in Wisconsin.

If Republicans didn’t make this investment, the Democrats — who were “organized,” “well-funded” and “focused on state campaigns” — just might. Unions had spent $126.6 million on state elections in 2008, he cautioned, and donated just under $5.4 million to Republicans.  What Gillespie and his team could not have known was that the highly prepared RSLC had already figured out Pokemon Go, while equivalent groups on the Democratic side were trying to get a stickball game going. Democrats lacked the imagination to see redistricting in a new way and failed to play defense in those 107 districts — even after a March 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Karl Rove laid out the plan.

“We were prepared for the fights of the past,” Jessica Post, now the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and a key leader behind the 2017 Democratic special election wins, told me for the epilogue of my book. “We could have done a better job of communicating to stakeholders what 2010 meant. When you’re in a legislative world you assume everyone knows.”

Republicans made no such assumptions. Gillespie presented the PowerPoint before movers and shakers in D.C. and nationwide, making the case that redistricting provided the GOP’s path back to power — at a discount-store price. “There is a lot at stake this year with state election results determining which party will draw U.S. House district boundaries in 2011,” Gillespie wrote the moneyed in-crowd invited to one such event, a redistricting breakfast at the powerful Nixon Peabody law firm. “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly impact and shape the political landscape in Washington for the next 10 years.”

Not every effort was focused on the well-connected. The RSLC sent robocalls into Texas in June 2010 issuing the blunt message to Republicans that a Democratic majority in the Texas legislature could mean four more “Democrat Congressmen” in Washington. “Republicans only have a three-seat majority in the Texas House and there is a real possibility that Democrats could take the majority and elect a liberal Democrat speaker,” the taped call warned. “And then they’ll be in charge of the important redistricting process that will occur after the 2010 Census.” The call included three asks: The first at $75 or $100, the second at $50 or $60, the third, in order to “fight against Washington and President Obama,” settled for a smaller amount: “Can we count on you for $25 or would $30 be better today?”

But a goal of $30 million meant tapping deep pockets, and by late spring 2010, the big money was arriving. The 2010 national meeting of the RLCC was held in Atlanta from June 13 through 15 at the St. Regis Hotel. This time, agendas and calendars reveal, even the special sponsors breakfast required a $40,000 membership, and some of the biggest names in corporate America — Comcast, Coca-Cola, Altria, Archer Daniels Midland — were on board.

Gillespie presented at the State Leadership Luncheon and walked attendees through a June 2010 report, unreported until now, that included four tiers of state targets, focused on Michigan, Ohio and Texas — “where Republicans could gain as many as 14 new House seats” — as well as the New York Senate and Pennsylvania state House, where he suggested a pick-up of four seats was within reach. In all, Gillespie suggested the GOP could control 25 new House seats, while also picking up or holding eight state chambers. Eight additional chambers were toss-ups, with 16 more in play. “These predictions,” he added, a message to the money-men in the room, “assume REDMAP is fully funded.”

The roadshow roared through the South in June and July. Art Pope, a deep-pocketed and influential benefactor of conservative politics and ideas throughout North Carolina, hosted one event in Raleigh. Pope’s invitation, previously seen only by invited guests, was fiery: “As you know, in North Carolina, the Democratic Party drew gerrymandered Congressional and legislative districts, to rig the election results so that the Democrats won the majority of the seats, even when the majority of the people voted Republican,” he wrote. “We cannot stand by and let this happen again in 2011.”

Pope would put forth $36,500 of his own money for the RSLC that summer. The RSLC, meanwhile, sent $1.25 million to a group within Pope’s powerful network, Real Jobs NC. As detailed by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, Real Jobs NC filled North Carolina’s airwaves with negative ads. Pope and groups closely related to him spent some $2.2 million targeting 22 Democratic legislators who were crucial to defeat if Republicans wanted to take control of state government. They beat 18 of them.

In his previously unseen thank-you note to Pope, Gillespie raved that their efforts were “a success and would not have been possible without your leadership and active participation.”

Other wealthy donors earned a more personal touch. Dr. John M. Templeton, president of the $28 billion John Templeton Foundation, would often write six-figure checks to conservative causes, especially those battling same-sex marriage. Understandably, Tim Barnes, the RSLC founder and finance chair, spent part of his summer reeling in this big fish. A previously unseen memo he sent Templeton on July 6, 2010, shows how Republican strategists framed their plans for the funders they needed most.

Barnes opens with down-ballot victories in 2008 and 2009: The GOP had registered 61 special election wins since Obama’s inauguration, plus off-year gains in New Jersey and Virginia. He described what the RSLC had already established in 2010: Seventy-two campaign schools for candidates and staff, a centralized data center for polling data and opposition research, the $14 million already in the bank.

But more would be needed for real change. Perhaps twice as much, Barnes confided; 2010 was looking good, “with the potential to be great.” That’s when he pivoted to REDMAP, a “program dedicated to winning state legislative seats that will have a critical impact on redistricting in 2011.” Barnes expressed optimism about the political climate. “It is only July and it is clear the GOP will hold every state legislative chamber that was thought to be in danger just 12 months ago,” he wrote, naming the Texas and Tennessee House and Michigan Senate as newly safe.

“If REDMAP accomplishes its goals (107 key races in 16 states) we can gain control of up to 25 congressional seats in redistricting — a key advantage going into 2012 congressional elections,” he concluded.

By the July 2010 report to donors, the RSLC could also report stellar political and fundraising results. In the group’s first political report to donors and others, it’s clear that REDMAP would be fully funded and that a Republican wave was taking shape. The RSLC could already predict to insiders that Democrats would not take control of a single state legislative chamber in 2010. Four GOP pickups appeared solid. Twelve Democratic chambers were in play. Better still, they wrote, key swing districts could be wiped off the table: “Nearly half of the traditionally swing districts,” they boasted, “will be redrawn by Republicans before the 2012 election cycle.”

There was even better news for the private September 2010 briefing, these new documents reveal. The RSLC predicted it would hold every GOP chamber, pick up at least 10 Democratic chambers, and place another 17 in play — all of them then held by the Democrats. “Because all GOP Chambers are ‘safe,’ number of key races is expanded to 119 races in 17 states.” That’s up from the 107 key races in 16 states from the original REDMAP plan. “The congressional redistricting impact is increased to 30 seats.”

Republicans spent October executing the final step of the plan: A negative-ad blitz dropped on Democratic state legislators during the last six weeks of an already challenging electoral cycle. REDMAP would spend more than half of its $30 million after Labor Day. As all the late money and negative ads hit, Democratic incumbents across Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin were buried. Republicans took both chambers in Wisconsin, which would become a laboratory for conservative governance in a purple state. They walked away with both houses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Republicans captured Alabama’s legislature for the first time in decades. North Carolina fell their way, as did Indiana. In total, 680 state legislative seats changed hands. It was, as President Obama called it at the time, a “shellacking.”

Obama had no idea just how decisive it would prove: Republicans would hold the House for the rest of his presidency. Jankowski, however, realized exactly what it meant. Before going to bed that night, he told an Associated Press reporter that Democrats “will not soon recover from what happened to them on a state level on Tuesday. It was significant. It was devastating in some areas. It will take years to recover.”

Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers. Democrats have not flipped a congressional seat from red to blue during this entire decade in such ostensible swing states such as North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states alone currently send 49 Republicans and 20 Democrats to Washington — a 29-seat edge that’s larger, all by itself, than the overall current GOP House majority.

Democrats bled nearly 1,000 state legislative seats nationwide during the Obama era. They hold fewer than 40 percent of the lower-House seats in those five crucial purple states, with the sole but instructive exception of Michigan. In that state, Democrats have gotten more aggregate state House votes than Republicans in each of the last three statewide cycles but nevertheless have been unable to win more than 42 percent of the seats.

National polls suggest that Democrats have a significant lead on the 2018 generic congressional ballot — but multiple scholarly models suggest they’ll need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats. Such an edge can dwindle fast: In October 2016, Democrats held an edge of 7 to 10 points in similar polls conducted by Reuters and NBC. Three weeks later, Republican candidates won more votes. How important are maps? Well, just to put this in context, the big GOP wave in 2010 was produced with 51.7 percent of the vote — far less than what Democrats will need this year.

That proved to be the right wave at the right time, with the right strategy. But the Republicans did not stop on Election Day and that explains why their advantage has proven so durable all decade. According to previously unreported meeting minutes, December brought a senior leadership retreat to get moving on 2011 and 2012, with an agenda including “what changes, what stays the same, amount of travel and where, other assistance, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, etc.” There was discussion about funders who proved very nervous to be identified with such a project: “We talked briefly about the disclosure issue in raising money for REDMAP. The extent at which companies and individuals were concerned about disclosure . . . was far greater than expected.”

After that it was time for another PowerPoint for the 2011 fundraising road show: “Many commented on how well organized and good the REDMAP PowerPoint was during 2010, looked like we were ahead of DLCC, knew what we were doing, etc.” The PowerPoint had to be ready for March. Fundraising needed to be underway by April. Nothing would be taken for granted.

Jankowski and Gillespie scheduled another Nixon Peabody breakfast to let the legislative leaders know that the RSLC would assume the advisory role on redistricting usually handled by the Republican National Committee. According to the previously private invitation, Gillespie and Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, the former REDMAP chairman, would “discuss the important impact our efforts will have in securing and increasing the Republican majority in the U.S. House.”

The RSLC’s 527 arm, the State Government Leadership Foundation, stood ready to help and to foot the bill. REDMAP’s ultimate success, after all, would come not from winning in 2010, but from capitalizing on that victory for the next decade. They retained “seasoned redistricting experts” — led by Hofeller, the presenter of that original 2009 PowerPoint in Nashville — who would stand by, “happy to assist in drawing proposed maps, interpreting data, or providing advice.”

While one side of the operation focused on maps, the RSLC communication wing drafted op-eds under the name of Reynolds and his congressional colleague Bill McCollum of Florida, among others. They argued that Democrats faced oblivion at the state level because voters consistently rejected liberal policies. “It’s not about the maps, it’s about the message,” the RSLC argued. For more than two years, in one PowerPoint after another, from Nashville to Houston to Louisville, in fundraising pitches to zillionaires and small donors, the message was simple: Maps matter. Once victory was in hand, the message pivoted 180 degrees.

Gillespie took his victory lap at a private thank-you gala alongside RSLC’s legislative leaders. The “REDMAP Appreciation Luncheon” was held on March 7 at the tobacco giant Altria (formerly Philip Morris). The invitation spells out just how much Republicans had to celebrate. “In the 70 congressional districts that were labeled by National Public Radio as ‘competitive’ in 2010,” Barnes wrote, “Republicans now control the redrawing of at least 47 of those districts.” Behind closed doors, of course, maps still mattered.

Gillespie’s final talking point that day: “Conclude with thanking the RLCC corporate members for their investment. We did not spill a drop, [and] made maximum impact.”

David Daley is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” a senior fellow at FairVote and the former editor-in-chief of Salon.

More from  David Daley

 

 

 

The GOP Targets State Legislatures by Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, March 03, 2010 http://www.rove.com/article/the-gop-targets-state-legislatures-16130 -

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

…The political world is fixated on whether this year’s elections will deliver an epic rebuke of President Barack Obama and his party. If that happens, it could end up costing Democrats congressional seats for a decade to come.

Some of the most important contests this fall will be way down the ballot in communities like Portsmouth, Ohio and West Lafayette, Ind., and neighborhoods like Brushy Creek in Round Rock, Texas, and Murrysville Township in Westmoreland County, Pa. These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census, a process that could determine which party controls upwards of 20 seats and whether many other seats will be competitive.

Next year, legislatures in the 44 states with more than one congressional seat will adjust their districts’ boundaries to account for changes in population.

Some 18 state legislatures could have an additional task. As many as 10 states will have to combine districts as they lose House seats. Eight states are expected to gain at least one seat each.

Seats will almost certainly move out of Democratic states (such as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts) and into Republican-leaning, faster-growing states (such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Utah). Battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio might also lose seats. This process will be marked by a historic event: For the first time since joining the union in 1850, California will probably not get any additional seat in Congress.

Control of the state legislature matters whether a state loses or gains seats. Take fast-growing Texas, which is expected to pick up as many as four seats next year. Democrats had a 17-13 edge in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2000 elections. Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2002 and redrew the state’s congressional map. As a result, the GOP now controls 20 congressional seats in Texas while Democrats control 12. Similarly in Georgia, following the 2000 census Democrats redrew district lines to give themselves control of the state’s two new congressional seats.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans controlled 11 congressional seats and Democrats 10 before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats in 2001. Afterward, the Republican legislature redrew the map to the GOP’s advantage, creating 12 Republican seats and seven Democratic ones. (Democrats later picked up some of those GOP seats.)

To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.

Control of redistricting also has huge financial implications. The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade.

There are 18 state legislative chambers that have four or fewer seats separating the two parties that are important for redistricting. Seven of these are controlled by Republicans and the other 11 are controlled by Democrats, including the lower houses in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.

Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.

The group recently announced that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as its chairman and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds will serve as both the group’s vice chairman and chair of a special redistricting effort.

Democrats already have a galaxy of at least six national groups coordinating on state legislative races. Among them are the union-based Foundation for the Future, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Democracy Alliance. The last group has distributed $110 million for down-ballot races in recent years.

Over the past year and a half, Republicans have picked up six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and one seat in the New Jersey Assembly and won 48 state legislative special elections, for a net gain nationally of 19 seats.

If the president’s dismal approval ratings cost his party additional state legislative seats and with them control of redistricting this fall, there will be plenty of Democrats bitter about how Mr. Obama has brought low his party’s fortunes. It seems that no Democrat, at any level, is immune to the politically poisonous effects of the Obama presidency.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

The GOP Targets State Legislatures by Karl Rove

March 03, 2010 http://www.rove.com/article/the-gop-targets-state-legislatures-16130

The political world is fixated on whether this year’s elections will deliver an epic rebuke of President Barack Obama and his party. If that happens, it could end up costing Democrats congressional seats for a decade to come.

Some of the most important contests this fall will be way down the ballot in communities like Portsmouth, Ohio and West Lafayette, Ind., and neighborhoods like Brushy Creek in Round Rock, Texas, and Murrysville Township in Westmoreland County, Pa. These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census, a process that could determine which party controls upwards of 20 seats and whether many other seats will be competitive.

Next year, legislatures in the 44 states with more than one congressional seat will adjust their districts’ boundaries to account for changes in population.

Some 18 state legislatures could have an additional task. As many as 10 states will have to combine districts as they lose House seats. Eight states are expected to gain at least one seat each.

Seats will almost certainly move out of Democratic states (such as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts) and into Republican-leaning, faster-growing states (such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Utah). Battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio might also lose seats. This process will be marked by a historic event: For the first time since joining the union in 1850, California will probably not get any additional seat in Congress.

Control of the state legislature matters whether a state loses or gains seats. Take fast-growing Texas, which is expected to pick up as many as four seats next year. Democrats had a 17-13 edge in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2000 elections. Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2002 and redrew the state’s congressional map. As a result, the GOP now controls 20 congressional seats in Texas while Democrats control 12. Similarly in Georgia, following the 2000 census Democrats redrew district lines to give themselves control of the state’s two new congressional seats.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans controlled 11 congressional seats and Democrats 10 before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats in 2001. Afterward, the Republican legislature redrew the map to the GOP’s advantage, creating 12 Republican seats and seven Democratic ones. (Democrats later picked up some of those GOP seats.)

To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.

Control of redistricting also has huge financial implications. The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade.

There are 18 state legislative chambers that have four or fewer seats separating the two parties that are important for redistricting. Seven of these are controlled by Republicans and the other 11 are controlled by Democrats, including the lower houses in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.

Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.

The group recently announced that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as its chairman and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds will serve as both the group’s vice chairman and chair of a special redistricting effort.

Democrats already have a galaxy of at least six national groups coordinating on state legislative races. Among them are the union-based Foundation for the Future, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Democracy Alliance. The last group has distributed $110 million for down-ballot races in recent years.

Over the past year and a half, Republicans have picked up six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and one seat in the New Jersey Assembly and won 48 state legislative special elections, for a net gain nationally of 19 seats.

If the president’s dismal approval ratings cost his party additional state legislative seats and with them control of redistricting this fall, there will be plenty of Democrats bitter about how Mr. Obama has brought low his party’s fortunes. It seems that no Democrat, at any level, is immune to the politically poisonous effects of the Obama presidency.

‘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.

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