Our Divided Political Heart – The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

Reviews and excerptsNPR excerpt is directly from the book; all other excerpt selections and highlighting done by web curator, Phyllis Stenerson

1 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne Jr., review by Jeff Greenfield, Washington Post, June 1, 2012

2 -  ‘Our Divided Political Heart’ by E. J. Dionne Jr., review By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, New York Times, SEPT. 28, 2012

3 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. , NPR.org – excerpt

4 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent By: E.J. Dionne Jr., Bloomsbury.com -  – About Our Divided Political Heart – Who are we as a nation? And what is it that’s tearing us apart?

5 – Our Divided Political Heart, The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, bookbrowse.com  May 2012 – book summary

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1 - Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne Jr. By Jeff Greenfield, Washington Post, June 1, 2012

“a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for.”

If you want a perfect embodiment of the political divide that E.J. Dionne Jr. describes and laments in his new book, “Our Divided Political Heart,” there’s no better place to look than the credentials of E.J. Dionne Jr.: columnist for The Washington Post; senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; professor at Georgetown University; regular guest on “Meet the Press,” MSNBC and NPR.

These credentials, the very model of a modern major commentator, are multiple red flags for the millions who see in academia, D.C.-based liberal think tanks and most of the media the very forces that helped dragoon America away from its authentic roots and traditions. They all but ensure that anything Dionne might say would be rejected out of hand. And they help explain why his ambitious and estimable mission — to remind skeptical Americans of the strong communitarian foundations of the republic — is probably doomed to failure. The very folks Dionne is most determined to convince are the ones most likely to dismiss the historical evidence that fills almost every page by replying, “Consider the source.”

“Building a new consensus,” he says at the outset, “will be impossible if the parties to our political struggles continue to insist that a single national trait explains our success as a nation and that a single idea drives and dominates our story.” Our country, he says, “has witnessed the rise of a radical form of individualism that simultaneously denigrates the role of government and the importance most Americans attach to the quest for community.” Dionne believes that figures as diverse as Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt would have been appalled by the understanding — or, rather, misunderstanding — of what “the American System” is all about. And over the next 200-plus pages, Dionne marshals an array of historians to reinforce this central point.

Where did this misunderstanding come from? For Dionne, its locus is the late 19th century, the Gilded Age, when social Darwinism was at its peak and when the Supreme Court was turning the 14th Amendment on its head, substituting corporate coddling for the goal of using federal power to protect citizens from abuse at the hands of the states. For most of our history, he argues, and especially over most of the 20th century, America has been guided by “the long consensus” — from the first Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan — that while it would be wrong “to deny the power of individualism in our history . . . it is just as misleading to ignore our yearnings for a strong common life and our republican quest for civic virtue.”

Yet, apart from that résumé that would make reciprocal respect unlikely, Dionne’s case for the rebuilding of the long consensus is exactly what the current version of American conservatism does not want. As Karl Marx once said of his fellow communists, the tea party disdains to conceal its aims. In his maiden speech last year, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) was sharply critical of Henry Clay’s compromises, embracing instead the abolitionist stance of Henry’s cousin Cassius Clay. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared in his presidential announcement speech that he sought to “make Washington as inconsequential in your life as I can,” there was no one on the right who suggested that this might be at odds with American history.

When Richard Mourdock, who recently defeated Indiana’s Richard Lugar in his attempt to extend his 36-year Senate career, was asked about bipartisanship, he said, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”

If Dionne’s effort to find common ground is likely to fail, it does not lessen his achievement. His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one. 

2 Our Divided Political Heart’ by E. J. Dionne Jr. By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, New York Times, SEPT. 28, 2012

The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr… examines current political concerns through the lens of history, religion and philosophy. But while readers will admire Dionne’s intellectual dexterity in diagnosing the historical origins of our present political problem of division and dysfunction, they may also wish he could make a more substantive case for how we might move beyond it….he situates our current divisions in the full sweep of American history, going back to the founders — since, as he observes, “Americans disagree about who we are because we can’t agree about who we’ve been.”

Dionne posits that American history has always been characterized by tension between the core values of individualism and community. Americans have cherished liberty, individual opportunity and self-expression while also upholding the importance of community obligation and civic virtue. The founders referred to these values as liberalism and republicanism, and the effort to balance and reconcile them has shaped the American character. Neither value is reducible to liberalism or conservatism as we now understand them, although communitarianism presumes a belief that government is at least potentially a constructive force. Dionne, a self-described “communitarian liberal,” acknowledges that he has much in common with conservative intellectuals like Robert Nisbet and the “compassionate conservatives” around George W. Bush. But Dionne argues that today’s Tea Party-influenced conservatives have broken with their communitarian traditions and become zealots for radical individualism. He pleads for a return to the balance between individual and community values that characterized most of American ­history.

Conservatives’ contentions that the founders believed in minimal government and maximal individualism, for example, are countered by the findings of scholars like Gordon Wood that the American revolutionaries sought to create a strong federal government and conceived of a highly communal and at times anticapitalistic version of liberty. Dionne points out that conservative justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas who claim to be able to discern the “original intent” of the Constitution are deluded, since the founders held conflicting views and some provisions of the Constitution “embody not timeless truths but sensitive compromises aimed at resolving (or getting around) pressing disagreements of the moment.”the laissez-faire doctrine of the Gilded Age was an aberration, and that “conservative individualists are thus trying to convert a 35-year interlude into the norm for 235 years of American history.”

… he hopes that Occupy Wall Street will find expression in traditional politics, just as the Progressives fulfilled many Populist goals by joining them with the aspirations of the middle class. The merger of Populism and Progressivism, in Dionne’s view, laid the groundwork for “the Long Consensus”: the active-government commitment to prosperity that expanded both individual opportunity and collective security in the century after Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency in 1901. It is this consensus, along with the balance and moderation it embodied, that is threatened by a Republican Party newly converted to the cause of radical ­individualism.

…. He shouldn’t be accused of political favoritism for diagnosing the current moment of “asymmetric polarization,” in which Republicans seek to overturn the Long Consensus while Democrats defend it. “If describing developments in American political life candidly is dismissed as a form of partisanship,” he warns, “then honest speech becomes impossible.”

… while he is justly critical of ideologically compromised right-wing history, he calls ideological left-wing revisionism “important,” “debunking” and thought-provoking.

Dionne declares that “the country confronts a time of decision,” one that demands more than “musty bromides” about moderation or mere procedural reforms…He hopes Republicans will recover their abandoned communitarian traditions The history Dionne tells can provide inspiration and guidance, but Americans will have to find new ways of thinking and acting if they are to restore the political balance that once enabled American greatness.

3 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. – excerpt of this book  INTRODUCTION – Who We Are: Liberty, Community, and the American Character – NPR.ORG 

Fear of decline is one of the oldest American impulses. It speaks, oddly, to our confidence that we occupy a lofty position in history and among nations: we always assume we are in a place from which we can decline. It’s why there is a vast literature on “American exceptionalism” and why we think of ourselves as “a city on a hill,” “the first new nation,” “a beacon to the world,” and “a light among nations.”

When they arise, our declinist sentiments usually have specific sources in economic or foreign policy travails. These apprehensions quickly lead to bouts of soul-searching that go beyond concrete problems to abstract and even spiritual worries about the nation’s values and moral purposes. When we feel we are in decline, we sense that we have lost our balance. We argue about what history teaches us — and usually disagree about what history actually says. We conclude that behind every crisis related to economics and the global distribution of power lurks a crisis of the soul….

the words hope and believe were pointed responses to a spiritual crisis engendered by fears of lost supremacy. They help explain why the Obama campaign so often felt like a religious crusade…. The difficulty in producing a sustainable economic upturn (even if the hopes for a miraculous recovery were always unrealistic) only deepened the nation’s sense that something was badly wrong. Obama … failed, particularly in the first part of his term, to understand how the depth of the nation’s political polarization would inevitably foil his pledge to bring the country together across the lines of party and ideology…Whatever Obama was for, whatever he undertook, whatever he proposed — all of it was seen as undermining traditional American liberties and moving the country toward some ill-defined socialism. Whatever else they did, Republicans would make sure they prevented Obama from accomplishing anything more. Over and over, they vowed to make him a one-term president…This book is an effort to make sense of our current political unhappiness, to offer an explanation for why divisions in our politics run so deep, and to reflect on why we are arguing so much about our nation’s history and what it means.

Americans are right to sense that the country confronts a time of decisionWe are right to feel that traditional paths to upward mobility have been blocked, that inequalities have grown, and that the old social contract — written in the wake of World War II and based on shared prosperity — has been torn up. Musty bromides about centrism and moderation will do nothing to quell our anxieties and our fears.

… our current unease arises less from a shortage of specific plans or programs than from a sense that our political system is so obstructed and so polarized that even good ideas commanding broad support have little chance of prevailing. We don’t have constructive debate because we cannot agree on the facts or on any common ground defined by shared moral commitments.   

4 Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent By: E.J. Dionne Jr. – www.bloomsbury.com

About Our Divided Political Heart – Who are we as a nation? And what is it that’s tearing us apart? In Our Divided Political Heart, E. J. Dionne Jr., one of our most respected political commentators, argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been. The American tradition, Dionne says, points not to radical self-reliance and self-interest, but to a balance between our love of individual freedom and our devotion to community. With a deep understanding of our nation’s past, Dionne crafts an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning our current political atmosphere. He shares the Tea Party’s engagement with the American past, but takes on its distortions of our history while rooting the Occupy Wall Street movement in America’s civic and Populist traditions.

Dionne offers both a fascinating tour of American history-from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln, on to Populism, the Progressives, and the New Dealers-and an interpretation of our moment’s politics that shatters conventional wisdom. He reclaims the American idea of the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. And he challenges progressives to embrace their country’s story-to redefine progress and to put an end to our fears of decline.
Our Divided Political Heart is indispensable for all who seek a path out of America’s current impasse.

Reviews

“As he has so often, E.J. Dionne has written a brilliant new book, and it places our current division in political and cultural context” –  Paul Begala, Newsweek

“[A]n earnest effort to reach across the political divide….Dionne takes his readers on a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for.His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one.” –  Washington Post

5 Our Divided Political Heart, The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, bookbrowse.com  May 2012 – book summary

Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation’s political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dionne takes on the Tea Party’s distortions of American history and shows that the true American tradition points not to radical individualism, but to a balance between our love of individualism and our devotion to community.

Dionne offersan analysis of our current politics that shatters conventional wisdom. The true American idea, far from endorsing government inaction or indifference, has always viewed the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. ystem to self-correct is its greatest asset and Dionne challenges progressives to embrace the American story he renews our hope that cooler heads can prevail with a renewed balance of individual rights and the needs of the community.” – Kirkus Reviews

Our Divided Political Heart recalls us to an American past that speaks powerfully, and hopefully, to our present political travails. Every citizen concerned about the state of our politics should read this book.” – Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice

“This is a brilliant book about America’s current political divide. But more importantly, it’s an insightful exploration of our nation’s history and our ability to balance individualism with community. That sense of balance has been lost, and this book shows how we can restore a shared appreciation for our historic values.” – Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin  

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Washington Post, and University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University. He appears weekly on NPR and regularly on MSNBC and NBC’s Meet the Press. His twice-weekly op-ed column is now syndicated in 140 newspapers. His writing has been published in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Washington Post Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, New Statesman, and elsewhere. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books, including the classic bestseller Why Americans Hate Politics, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Souled Out. Dionne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with wife, Mary Boyle, and their three children.

Has Neoliberalism Turned Us All Into Psychopaths?

By Paul Verhaeghe, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, October 2, 2014

Excerpt

…economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatization have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative…meritocratic neoliberalism favors certain personality traits and penalizes others… articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible….able to talk up your own capacities…you never take responsibility for your own behavior…flexible and impulsive…this leads to risky behavior, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces….Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak; in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other…This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults. More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other…Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system. A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goalOur presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves…There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.

Full text

We tend to perceive our identities as stable and largely separate from outside forces. But over decades of research and therapeutic practice, I have become convinced that economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatization have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative. If you’re skeptical, I put this simple statement to you: meritocratic neoliberalism favors certain personality traits and penalizes others.

There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can—you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behavior.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behavior, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare [3], the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.

This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organization.

Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak; in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett [4] has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers.” Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.

More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other, as thinkers from Hegel [5] to Lacan  [6]have shown. Sennett comes to a similar conclusion when he sees the main question for employees these days as being “Who needs me?” For a growing group of people, the answer is: no one.

Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system.

A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman [7] neatly summarized the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticize religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.

Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples. A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics – a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?

There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/has-neoliberalism-turned-us-all-psychopaths

Links:
[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-verhaeghe
[3] http://www.hare.org/
[4] http://www.richardsennett.com/site/SENN/Templates/Home.aspx?pageid=1
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Lacan
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygmunt_Bauman
[8] mailto:corrections@alternet.org?Subject=Typo on Has Neoliberalism Turned Us All Into Psychopaths?
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/neoliberalism
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-0
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ethics-0
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/personality-traits
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/capitalism
[14] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Overview – America and its culture

America

The Declaration of Independence was the first founding document in the history of the world to specifically mention happiness….For hundreds of years, we’ve stood by the idea that through hard work and perseverance, and given the right opportunities, anyone can be happy in America and achieve the American Dream. But today, the American Dream is on life support, and happiness is more elusive than ever before…being happy is nearly impossible if someone is unemployed…now, 10.9 million Americans don’t have a job…From job-killing trade policies and devastating austerity measures, to the government’s refusal to be the employer of last resort, America has lost millions of jobs, and happiness has become an unattainable dream for far too many. There’s no way we can be a happy nation again without getting those jobs back, and making sure that all Americans have an equal shot at a good job. It’s time to close the book on Reaganomics, toss austerity aside, keep good jobs in America, and make our government the employer of last resort by creating the modern equivalent of the WPA and the CCC. Only then will Americans really have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When Happiness Died in America…  By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program, December16,  2013

America’s Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom  

America at the tipping point

The Global Competitiveness Report 2012–2013,”  by the World Economic Forum, is the latest annual ranking of 144 countries, on a wide range of factors related to global economic competitiveness…Gross Domestic Product is the only factor where the U.S. ranks as #1…Health Care has the U.S. ranking #34 on “Life Expectancy,” and #41 on “Infant Mortality.” Education in the U.S. is also mediocre…The U.S, overall, is very far from being #1 – not really in contention, at all, for the top spot. The rankings suggest instead that this nation is sinking toward the Third World… America Is Far from #1 by Eric Zuesse

American Dream or Nightmare

… to what extent do an individual’s life chances depend on the income and edu­ca­tion of his or her parents? Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth…The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom…It might not be so bad if there were even a grain of truth to trickle-down economics – the quaint notion that every­one benefits from enriching those at the top… growing inequality is not inevitable…But, most importantly, America’s inequality is undermining its values and identity…America can no longer regard itself as the land of opportunity that it once was. But it does not have to be this way: it is not too late for the American dream to be restored. The Price of Inequality and the Myth of Opportunity by Joseph Stiglitz 

Culture

The nation’s population will look dramatically different by mid-century, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse and a good deal older as it increases from about 302 million to 439 million by 2050, according to projections released today by the U.S. Census Bureau…Minorities, about one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become a majority by 2042 and be 54 percent of U.S. residents by 2050. U.S. to Grow Grayer, More Diverse, Minorities Will Be Majority by 2042, Census Bureau

Culture war

Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars…the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama…It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals …people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information… How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War — And Why That’s Terrible for Our Democracy By Joshua Holland, AlterNet, February 28, 2012 -

We the People, and the New American Civil War by Robert Reich, Common Dreams, November 6, 2012

Race

…it took America — this place where the old divisions would need to be put aside so as to subjugate indigenous persons and maintain chattel enslavement of Africans in the name of “the white race” — to really bring racism, as we know it to fruition…If the elite could make the poor Europeans believe they were members of the same “white” team as the rich Europeans, then the prospects for class-based rebellion would be dampened…My goal…is to confront us with the reality that, ultimately, racial equity is in the interest of all of us; that the nostalgic remembrance of the past is not only problematic in that it tethers us to a narrative that overlooks the fundamental evil of those “good old days” for millions, but also because it commits us to the kind of nation that is not sustainable for anyone in the long run.…Tim Wise on White Resentment in a Multiracial Society  - interview by Mark Karlin

America’s Ku Klux Klan Mentality By Lawrence Davidson, Consortium News, September 8, 2012 

The Persistence of Racial Resentment

Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America By Sara Robinson

Fear of a Black President 

How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane

Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda

 Sex

…The real problem we face is racism, bigotry and willful ignorance in the face of our changing demographics, spiritual beliefs and the challenge that postmodern thought poses to people stuck in Bronze Age thinking…America’s White Male Problem By Frank Schaeffer  

Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control — And Why We’ll Still Be Fighting About it 100 Years From Now

Divide and conquer

Wedge issues are a powerful distraction — and allow the right wing to accomplish their goals while the public is preoccupied with some trumped up emotional issue… wedge issues are emotional in appeal. They bypass the cognitive function of the brain and go right to a subconscious emotional response… Why are “Wedge Issues” Essential to Republican Rule?

Throughout history, political elites have manipulated social groups to achieve and maintain power.… in the last two generations Republicans have masterfully used wedge politics– pitting us against them — to gain and keep power and to implement policies that a clear majority of the populace dislikes… Us vs Them: A Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming By James Rohrer, AlterNet.org, July 27, 2012

 

Thinking for the Future

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, December 9, 2013

We’re living in an era of mechanized intelligence, an age in which you’re probably going to find yourself in a workplace with diagnostic systems, different algorithms and computer-driven data analysis. If you want to thrive in this era, you probably want to be good at working with intelligent machines. As Tyler Cowen puts it in his relentlessly provocative recent book, “Average Is Over,” “If you and your skills are a complement to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery. If your skills do not complement the computer, you may want to address that mismatch.”

So our challenge for the day is to think of exactly which mental abilities complement mechanized intelligence. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few mental types that will probably thrive in the years ahead.

Freestylers. As Cowen notes, there’s a style of chess in which people don’t play against the computer but with the computer. They let the computer program make most of the moves, but, occasionally, they overrule it. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of the program and the strengths and weaknesses of their own intuition, and, ideally, they grab the best of both.

This skill requires humility (most of the time) and self-confidence (rarely). It’s the kind of skill you use to overrule your GPS system when you’re driving in a familiar neighborhood but defer to it in strange surroundings. It is the sort of skill a doctor uses when deferring to or overruling a diagnostic test. It’s the skill of knowing when an individual case is following predictable patterns and when there are signs it is diverging from them.

Synthesizers. The computerized world presents us with a surplus of information. The synthesizer has the capacity to surf through vast amounts of online data and crystallize a generalized pattern or story.

Humanizers. People evolved to relate to people. Humanizers take the interplay between man and machine and make it feel more natural. Steve Jobs did this by making each Apple product feel like nontechnological artifact. Someday a genius is going to take customer service phone trees and make them more human. Someday a retail genius is going to figure out where customers probably want automated checkout (the drugstore) and where they want the longer human interaction (the grocery store).

Conceptual engineers. Google presents prospective employees with challenges like the following: How many times in a day do a clock’s hands overlap? Or: Figure out the highest floor of a 100-story building you can drop an egg from without it breaking. How many drops do you need to figure this out? You can break two eggs in the process.

They are looking for the ability to come up with creative methods to think about unexpected problems.

Motivators. Millions of people begin online courses, but very few actually finish them. I suspect that’s because most students are not motivated to impress a computer the way they may be motivated to impress a human professor. Managers who can motivate supreme effort in a machine-dominated environment are going to be valuable.

Moralizers. Mechanical intelligence wants to be efficient. It will occasionally undervalue essential moral traits, like loyalty. Soon, performance metrics will increasingly score individual employees. A moralizing manager will insist that human beings can’t be reduced to the statistical line. A company without a self-conscious moralizer will reduce human interaction to the cash nexus and end up destroying morale and social capital.

Greeters. An economy that is based on mechanized intelligence is likely to be a wildly unequal economy, even if the government tries to combat that inequality. Cowen estimates that perhaps 15 percent of workers will thrive, with plenty of disposable income. There will be intense competition for these people’s attention. They will favor restaurants, hotels, law firms, foundations and financial institutions where they are greeted by someone who knows their name. People with this capacity for high-end service, and flattery, will find work.

Economizers. The bottom 85 percent is likely to be made up of people with less marketable workplace skills. Some of these people may struggle financially but not socially or intellectually. That is, they may not make much running a food truck, but they can lead rich lives, using the free bounty of the Internet. They could use a class of advisers on how to preserve rich lives on a small income.

Weavers. Many of the people who struggle economically will lack the self-motivation to build rich inner lives for themselves. Many are already dropping out of the labor force in record numbers and drifting into disorganized, disaffected lifestyles. Public and private institutions are going to hire more people to fight this social disintegration. There will be jobs for people who combat the dangerous inegalitarian tendencies of this new world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/10/opinion/brooks-thinking-for-the-future.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131210

Still United: Ninety per cent of Americans still believe in hard work and the American Dream

By Associated Press, 11 May 2013

Excerpt

  • Polls in the U.S. suggest Americans still think a lot alike
  • Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance
  • More want government action to make health care affordable and accessible
  • Many believe the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer 
  • Nine out of 10 call themselves very patriotic, believe in God and value higher education

Can we agree on this? Americans still think alike much of the time even if our politicians don’t…here’s the oft-overlooked truth: Even some issues that are highly contentious in the partisan capital have solid public support across the country…If those slivers of consensus were the starting point in debates, political compromise might just be possible.

Instead, drama and conflict are what feed this country’s party-driven politics, the news media, the bloggers and tweeters, even the pollsters who measure opinion. The 24-hour, left vs. right cacophony coming out of Washington tends to drown out any notes of national harmony.

Maybe the great division in politics these days lies between Washington and the rest of the nation.

 

…Democrat Barack Obama is on track to become the most polarizing president in nearly seven decades of Gallup records. His predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, held the distinction previously, signaling a trend…

Full text

  • Polls in the U.S. suggest Americans still think a lot alike
  • Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance
  • More want government action to make health care affordable and accessible
  • Many believe the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer 
  • Nine out of 10 call themselves very patriotic, believe in God and value higher education

Can we agree on this? Americans still think alike much of the time even if our politicians don’t.

To get heads nodding, just say something worrisome about the economy or dismissive of Washington.

Almost all Americans consider themselves very patriotic, believe in God, value higher education and admire those who get rich through hard work.

Not much argument there.

But here’s the oft-overlooked truth: Even some issues that are highly contentious in the partisan capital have solid public support across the country.

National polls show that 7 of 10 people want to raise the minimum wage. Similar numbers want term limits for Congress, support building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada and back using government money to make preschool available to every child.

There are toeholds of agreement on big, divisive issues such as immigration, abortion and guns. If those slivers of consensus were the starting point in debates, political compromise might just be possible.

Instead, drama and conflict are what feed this country’s party-driven politics, the news media, the bloggers and tweeters, even the pollsters who measure opinion. The 24-hour, left vs. right cacophony coming out of Washington tends to drown out any notes of national harmony.

Maybe the great division in politics these days lies between Washington and the rest of the nation.

Bonny Paulson thinks so.

A retired flight attendant in Huntly, Va., she rents a Shenandoah Valley log cabin to travelers. Paulson gets an earful of people grumbling about politicians, but she doesn’t hear much disagreement about the issues.

‘Washington is more polarized than the rest of the nation,’ she says.

Judy Hokse, visiting Washington with a group of volunteers serving meals to the homeless, says ordinary people are more entrenched in their political views than they were when she was a teenager in the 1970s. But the political standoff in Washington, she said, ‘is just way out there.

‘In our neck of the woods there are different opinions,’ says Hokse, of Saugatuck, Michigan., ‘but we can talk about them.’

The notion of a divided country even divides the academics.

Some political scientists bemoan a disappearing ideological center, reflected in the polarization consuming politics. Others dismiss the idea of a balkanized nation of Republican- or Democratic-leaning states. They see instead a laid-back land of mostly moderate, pragmatic voters remote from their highly partisan leaders.

Certainly there’s plenty for people to argue about.

Last year’s presidential race fanned long-standing debates over the size of government, the social safety net and taxes. Some states have begun recognizing gay marriage; many have imposed constitutional bans. Some are tightening gun laws, while others are looking to loosen them.

 

Democrat Barack Obama is on track to become the most polarizing president in nearly seven decades of Gallup records. His predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, held the distinction previously, signaling a trend.

Gallup says that 7 out of 10 people say Americans are greatly divided when it comes to the most important values. Yet with a few exceptions such as issues of race and gender and views of government, opinions haven’t changed much in a quarter-century of Pew polls tracking political values.

‘That’s a really critical point that often gets overlooked,’ said Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. ‘It’s easy to assume when we see more partisan polarization that somehow American values are shifting. In most dimensions the way Americans overall look at things is very consistent over time.’

While U.S. opinion overall stuck to the middle of the road, the politically engaged became better at sorting themselves into like-minded camps. Voters changed views or changed parties, and increasing numbers left the parties to become independents. Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Democrats disappeared.

The remaining party faithful are more ideologically distilled.

Two decades ago, Republican support for stricter environmental rules was at 86 percent, almost as high as for Democrats. Last year only 47 percent of Republicans wanted tougher environmental rules, Pew found. Democratic support remained high.

On family values, it was Democrats who changed.

Over 25 years, the numbers of Democrats saying they had “old-fashioned values” about family and marriage declined from 86 percent to 60 percent, while Republicans held steady.

Despite the party shifts, stricter environmental rules and old-fashioned values are still endorsed by 7 out of 10 people.

Likewise, the abortion debate divides the political parties and fervent activists. Yet most people stand somewhere in the middle.

They overwhelmingly say abortion should be legal under some circumstances, especially in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. At the same time, large majorities support some restrictions, such as a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors.

Gun control and illegal immigration? U.S. opinion is torn, with angry voices on all sides.

Yet some ideas are getting support from 4 out of 5 people polled: extending federal background checks to all gun buyers, tightening security at the nation’s borders, and providing a path to citizenship for some workers who are in the country illegally, if they meet requirements such as paying back taxes.

So there’s common ground.

But even where people agree on big ideas, some of those ideas may conflict with each other.

Republicans aren’t the only ones who say business is the nation’s backbone. Nearly three-fourths of Americans agree. But just as many worry that there’s too much power in the hands of a few big companies — a Democratic-sounding sentiment. Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance, but even more want government action to make health care affordable and accessible.

Details matter.

A resounding majority believes that in the United States ‘the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.” But there’s no consensus on what, if anything, to do about that.

The nation is enduringly optimistic about Americans’ ability to solve problems, but it’s pessimistic about the people who make the rules in government and politics. Majorities believe elected officials are out of touch and harming the nation, and most say they prefer leaders who are willing to compromise, a rarity in Washington now.

There’s bipartisan disdain for lawmakers. The divided Congress gets 15 percent approval from Republicans and 13 percent among Democrats, according to Gallup.

‘If you listen to the people here in town they’re all fed up,’ said Debbie Grauel, owner of an independent office supply store in Deale, Md. “Everybody’s for term limits for everybody.’

What else can bring a sprawling, diverse, free-spirited nation of 316 million close to agreement? It’s hard to say. Polls rarely measure the mom-and-apple-pie stuff.

‘If there’s something that’s really a consensus, you are not going to find surveys asking about it,” said Tom Smith, director of the giant General Social Survey since 1980. Pollsters tend to drop those questions for something new.

Of course, consensus of opinion doesn’t guarantee action. Nine out of 10 people tell Pew it’s their duty to always vote, but fewer than 6 in 10 of those who were eligible voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Nor does harmony equal tranquility.

Times of crisis create a rallying effect, epitomized by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush’s presidential approval rating jumped to 90 percent, the highest in Gallup’s history. Approval of Congress reached 84 percent.

In ordinary times, unity of opinion might be the wrong goal.

‘If everybody agreed, there would be no debate,’ said Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport. ‘There’s an argument to be made that from debate and disagreement come truth.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2323162/Despite-political-difference-Americans-actually-agree-know.html#ixzz2T5YdKwWJ
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The Secrets of Princeton

by Ross Douthat, New York Times, April 6, 2013

Excerpt

…a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class…

The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one…What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”?…The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite… The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise that “merit” correlates with talents and deserts. That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones…

Full text

SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.

Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

Every elite seeks its own perpetuation, of course, but that project is uniquely difficult in a society that’s formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind. And it’s even more difficult for an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding.

Thus the importance, in the modern meritocratic culture, of the unacknowledged mechanisms that preserve privilege, reward the inside game, and ensure that the advantages enjoyed in one generation can be passed safely onward to the next.

The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one. The outraged reaction to her comments notwithstanding, Patton wasn’t telling Princetonians anything they didn’t already understand. Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”?

That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!

Why, it would be like telling elite collegians that they should all move to similar cities and neighborhoods, surround themselves with their kinds of people and gradually price everybody else out of the places where social capital is built, influence exerted and great careers made. No need — that’s what we’re already doing! (What Richard Florida called “the mass relocation of highly skilled, highly educated and highly paid Americans to a relatively small number of metropolitan regions, and a corresponding exodus of the traditional lower and middle classes from these same places” is one of the striking social facts of the modern meritocratic era.) We don’t need well-meaning parents lecturing us about the advantages of elite self-segregation, and giving the game away to everybody else. …

Or it would be like telling admissions offices at elite schools that they should seek a form of student-body “diversity” that’s mostly cosmetic, designed to flatter multicultural sensibilities without threatening existing hierarchies all that much. They don’t need to be told — that’s how the system already works! The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite.

But don’t come out and say it! Next people will start wondering why the names in the U.S. News rankings change so little from decade to decade. Or why the American population gets bigger and bigger, but our richest universities admit the same size classes every year, Or why in a country of 300 million people and countless universities, we can’t seem to elect a president or nominate a Supreme Court justice who doesn’t have a Harvard or Yale degree.

No, it’s better for everyone when these questions aren’t asked too loudly. The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise that “merit” correlates with talents and deserts.

That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones.

But really, Susan Patton, do we have to talk about it?

I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-secrets-of-princeton.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y&_r=0

A Healthier, Not Endangered, American Society

By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed, 05 March 2013, truth-out.org

 Excerpt

I see that the economist Nick Eberstadt has written more about America’s moral collapse on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site…

What I think is interesting is that, according to his article, of the three terrible trends Mr. Eberstadt claims to see, he’s right about two: traditional families are indeed in decline; so is traditional organized religion (but growing dependence on government is mostly a myth).

From these declines Mr. Eberstadt concludes that we are in danger of social collapse. But what he somehow misses is that the notion that traditional families and religion are essential to social order is a theory, not a fact — and it’s a theory that is overwhelmingly refuted by recent experience.

I look at the United States in the 2013 of the Common Era — notice my war on Christianity — and see the healthiest society, in some key dimensions, of my adult life. Consider a couple of objective indicators: teenage pregnancy is declining, according to federal statistics, as is violent crime (see that chart on this page).

Weren’t we supposed to be in “Escape From New York” territory right now? Instead, New York in particular is a nicer, cleaner, safer place than anyone imagined possible a couple of decades ago.

And yes, I’m aware that this also means that inequality can’t be quite as corrosive as some liberals, myself included, sometimes imagine.

But back to Mr. Eberstadt: his whole argument is based on the presumption that society is doomed if the traditional — and, I think it’s fair to say, patriarchal — structure isn’t maintained without change…But now we’re a cohabiting, free-love, free-religion dystopia too — and it’s O.K.

Where Do ‘Facts’ Come From?…. for the past couple of days I’ve been seeing…the assertion that federal spending has risen 37 percent under President Obama — that specific number….Does anyone know where it’s coming from? Because if I look at the actual data, I see…a rise of 12.7 percent…it’s still kind of amazing how a totally wrong number can become part of what everyone on the right just knows to be true.

Full text

I see that the economist Nick Eberstadt has written more about America’s moral collapse on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site. Eberstadt, readers may recall, was responsible for the “nation of takers” meme that did so much to ensure victory for … Barack Obama.

What I think is interesting is that, according to his article, of the three terrible trends Mr. Eberstadt claims to see, he’s right about two: traditional families are indeed in decline; so is traditional organized religion (but growing dependence on government is mostly a myth).

From these declines Mr. Eberstadt concludes that we are in danger of social collapse. But what he somehow misses is that the notion that traditional families and religion are essential to social order is a theory, not a fact — and it’s a theory that is overwhelmingly refuted by recent experience.

I look at the United States in the 2013 of the Common Era — notice my war on Christianity — and see the healthiest society, in some key dimensions, of my adult life. Consider a couple of objective indicators: teenage pregnancy is declining, according to federal statistics, as is violent crime (see that chart on this page).

Weren’t we supposed to be in “Escape From New York” territory right now? Instead, New York in particular is a nicer, cleaner, safer place than anyone imagined possible a couple of decades ago.

And yes, I’m aware that this also means that inequality can’t be quite as corrosive as some liberals, myself included, sometimes imagine.

But back to Mr. Eberstadt: his whole argument is based on the presumption that society is doomed if the traditional — and, I think it’s fair to say, patriarchal — structure isn’t maintained without change. Let people co-habit, maybe even marry others of the same sex, choose their faith or choose not to have any faith, and we will degenerate in a Hobbesian nightmare. We used to point to Scandinavia as a counter-example, but the reply would be that their homogeneous societies (not really, but that was the legend) were nothing like ours. But now we’re a cohabiting, free-love, free-religion dystopia too — and it’s O.K.

Why do they hate America?

Where Do ‘Facts’ Come From?

Just a quick observation: for the past couple of days I’ve been seeing in a lot of places, including the comments on my columns, the assertion that federal spending has risen 37 percent under President Obama — that specific number.

Does anyone know where it’s coming from? Because if I look at the actual data, I see federal spending rising from $3.475 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2008 to $3.917 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2012 — a rise of 12.7 percent.

Obviously this is coming from somewhere, and being broadcasted by Rush Limbaugh or somebody. But it’s still kind of amazing how a totally wrong number can become part of what everyone on the right just knows to be true.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14931-a-healthier-not-endangered-american-society

Politicians Massively Overestimate Conservatism Of Constituents: Study


By Luke Johnson, The Huffington Post   03/04/2013

Politicians, especially conservative ones, massively overestimate the conservatism of their constituents on the issues of gay marriage and universal health care, an academic paper published Sunday has found.

David E. Broockman of the University of California at Berkeley and Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan surveyed nearly 2,000 state legislative candidates in the 2012 election and asked them what percentage of their constituents they thought supported same-sex marriage, a universal health care system and abolishing all welfare programs.

The result was a vast conservative misperception. Constituents, on average, supported gay marriage and universal health care by 10 percentage points more than their politicians had estimated. For conservative politicians, the spread was around 20 percentage points, meaning that conservative legislators tend to greatly overestimate how conservative their constituents actually are.

“For perspective, 20 percentage points is roughly the difference in partisanship between California and Alabama,” the authors write. “Most politicians appear to believe they are representing constituents who are considerably different than their actual constituents.”

The authors note that the conservative imbalance is particularly severe. “This difference is so large that nearly half of conservative politicians appear to believe that they represent a district that is more conservative on these issues than is the most conservative district in the entire country,” they write.

The authors note that their findings rebuke Nixonian notions of a “silent majority,” or more recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s contention that “real America” supported her and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz) 2008 ticket.

Moreover, the findings seem to have different implications for conservative and liberal politicians. Many conservative legislators, fearing primary challengers more than a general election against a Democrat, are perhaps more responsive to pressure to move further right, even while their constituents hold a different view.

For liberal politicians, they appear to have more freedom than they may have initially perceived to act on issues such as gay marriage and health care. But the perception that constituents’ wishes are more limited means that a politician may think that 60 percent of constituents need to agree before moving forward with a policy, hence, the idea of a universal health care system is often seen as out-of-reach, though it may not be.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/politicians-conservatism_n_2806684.html

A Liberal Moment

By TIMOTHY EGAN, New York Times, November 29, 2012

Still hard to believe, I told a friend the other day while trying to fathom the election results, that pot is legal in my state, gays are free to marry, and a black man who vowed to raise taxes on the rich won a majority of the popular vote for president, back to back – the first time anyone has done that since Franklin Roosevelt’s second election in 1936.

And yet only one in four voters identified themselves as “liberal” in national exit polls. Conservatives were 35 percent, and moderates the plurality, at 41 percent. The number of voters who agreed to the “l” tag was up by three percentage points, for what it’s worth, from 22 percent in 2008.

What’s going on here, demography and democracy seem to be saying at the same time, is the advance of progressive political ideas by a majority that spurns an obvious label. Liberals have long been a distinct minority; liberalism, in its better forms, has been triumphant at key times since the founding of the Republic.

Abraham Lincoln’s push for the 13th Amendment, erasing the original sin of slavery from the land, was a liberal moment, as dramatized in Steven Spielberg’s new film. Teddy Roosevelt’s embrace of the income tax, eventually written into the Constitution after he left office, was a liberal moment. “No single device has done so much to secure the future of capitalism as this tax,” said John Kenneth Galbraith.

Women’s suffrage in 1920, Social Security in 1935, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – all liberal moments. Ditto the creation of national parks, and laws against child labor and poisoning the environment, and for giving most Americans access to health care.

Democrats were the knuckle-draggers on race and populist economic reform in the 19th century, Republicans in the latter half of the 20th. The party identities change; the arc of enlightenment does not.

Which brings us to the fascinating self-portrait of the United States at the start of the second half of the Obama era. A tenuous center-left majority wants to restore some equality to the outsize imbalance between the very rich and the rest of us. If a tenuous president can lead that coalition, without overreaching, he might be remembered among the greats.

In its simplest form, this will involve raising taxes at the high end and reforming entitlements enough to ensure their continued success and sustainability. Much of that, an accountant could do. But it takes a gifted politician for the heavier lifting. That leader will have to make his still-fledgling health care act work and earn his premature Nobel Peace Prize on an issue like climate change. In the process, he could restore the good name to traditional liberalism.

For at least a generation’s time, liberals in this country have been afraid to call themselves liberal. Was it the excesses of their creed, from race-based preferential programs that went on far too long to crude speech censorship by the politically correct and humorless (one and the same) that soiled the brand? In blindly embracing, say, the teachers’ union in the face of overwhelming evidence that public education needs a jolt or in never questioning the efficacy of government programs, the left earned its years in exile.

Or was it the relentless campaign by the broadcasting and publishing empires of the far right, associating liberals with tyranny, spiritual vacuity and baby killing, that drove people from the label that could not speak its name? “Godless,” “Treason” and “Demonic” are actual Ann Coulter book titles, and a representative sample of the profitable cartooning of liberals.

Liberalism, in the broadest sense, is about expanding human rights and opportunity, while embracing science and reason. What do they call the secularists in Egypt today pushing for democracy over a theocracy? Liberals.

The Progressives of the early 20th had an amazing run – direct elections of senators, regulation of monopolistic trusts, modernization of public schools, cleaning up the food supply – with only one major blooper: Prohibition.

The New Deal’s lasting legacy, Social Security, and its counterpart of the 1960s, Medicare, allowed millions of American to live out their lives in dignity. Those programs, attacked as socialistic abominations by the Fox News shills of their day, are now considered near sacrosanct by Americans of all political stripes.

Conservatives of the last decade lost their way by rejecting science, immigration reform and personal freedom, particularly in regard to choices made by women and gays. If you believe in climate change, finding a path to citizenship for millions of hard-working Hispanics and the right to marry the person you love, there is no place in the Republican Party of 2012 for you.

Their neo-con wing started a pair of disastrous wars that all but bankrupted the country. And for leaders, at least on television, the party put forth crackpots like Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and the morally elastic Newt Gingrich. This chorus promoted an orthodoxy that forced this year’s standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, to sound even more out of touch than he already was.

All political moments are ephemeral. This one could vanish in the blink of a donkey’s eye. But here it is: a chance to shore up a battered middle class, make the promise of health care expansion work and do something about a planet in peril. Huge tasks, of course, and fraught with risk. For now, the majority of Americans have Obama’s back. But should he fail, the same majority could become something much worse – a confederacy of cynics.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/a-liberal-moment/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121130

How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party

by Kevin Baker, New York TImes, October 6, 2012

A LEADING Republican columnist, trying to re-stoke her candidate’s faltering campaign before the first presidential debate, felt so desperate that she advised him to turn to cities.

“Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city — don’t they count anymore?” Peggy Noonan lamented in The Wall Street Journal. “A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings.”

But the fact is that cities don’t count anymore — at least not in national Republican politics.

The very word “city” went all but unheard at the Republican convention, held in the rudimentary city of Tampa, Fla.The party platform ratified there is over 31,000 words long. It includes subsections on myriad pressing topics, like “Restructuring the U.S. Postal Service for the Twenty-First Century” and “American Sovereignty in U.S. Courts,” which features a full-throated denunciation of the “unreasonable extension” of the Lacey Act of 1900 (please don’t ask). There are also passages specifying what our national policy should be all over the world — but not in one American city.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Right after “Honoring Our Relationship With American Indians” and shortly before “Honoring and Supporting Americans in the Territories,” the Republican platform addresses another enclave of benighted quasi-citizens: theDistrict of Columbia. Most of what it has to say is about forcing the district to accept school vouchers, lax gun laws and the fact that it will never be a state. It also scolds the district for corruption and “decades of inept one-party rule.” Only a city would get yelled at.

The very few sections that address urban concerns contain similar complaints about cities’ current priorities — not to mention the very idea of city life. The Republican platform bitterly denounces the Democrats for diverting some highway fund money to Amtrak and harrumphs that it is “long past time for the federal government to get out of the way and allow private ventures to provide passenger service to the Northeast corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country.”

The Obama administration, the Republicans conclude damningly, is “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”

Unsurprisingly, the chairman of the Republican platform committee, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, is from a state that has no city with a population of 500,000 or more. One of his two “co-chairmen” was Senator John Hoeven of North   Dakota, which ranks 47th among the states in population density. The other was Marsha Blackburn, who represents a largely suburban district of Tennessee.

IT could hardly be otherwise. The Republican Party is, more than ever before in its history, an anti-urban party, its support gleaned overwhelmingly from suburban and rural districts — especially in presidential elections.

This wasn’t always the case. During the heyday of the urban political machines, from the Civil War to the Great Depression, Republicans used to hold their own in our nation’s great cities.Philadelphia was dominated for decades by a Republican machine. In Chicago— naturally — both parties had highly competitive, wildly corrupt machines, with a buffoonish Republican mayor, “Big Bill” Thompson, presiding over the city during the ascent of Al Capone. In the 1928 presidential election, the Republican Herbert Hoover swept to victory while carrying cities all across the country: Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Detroit; Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Houston; Dallas; Omaha and Los Angeles.

With the possible exception of Houston or maybe Omaha, it’s all but inconceivable that Mr. Romney will carry any of those cities. And that’s due in good part to the man Hoover defeated, more than 80 years ago.

The rise of Alfred E. Smith to the top of the Democratic Party confirmed a sea change in American life. Smith was not simply the first Catholic to lead a major-party ticket. He was also a quintessentially urban candidate, like no one who has ever seriously contended for the presidency before or since.

Born in 1873 on Oliver Street, on the edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown, he was forced to leave school after the death of his father. He never went back, toiling at the Fulton Fish Market for $12 a week. Elected to the New York State Assembly by Tammany Hall’s political machine, he worked his way up to speaker, then governor.

In Albany, Smith pushed through some of the most important social legislation in our history. Yet everything about him remained unacceptably “ghetto” to much of America: the way he dressed; the stogies he smoked in public; his heavy New York accent; and the way he enjoyed singing old Bowery tunes while enjoying a beer with the boys.

It was almost as if today a candidate from the projects — a high-school dropout who still dressed in hip-hop fashion and liked to occasionally drop in to a club to D.J. for a couple of hours — were to become a serious presidential candidate.

“To hundreds of thousands of old-stock Americans, Smith might just as well have been Jewish or black,” the historian Lawrence H. Fuchs wrote.New York “meant night life, short skirts, prostitution, Jewish intellectuals and the Union Theological Seminary.”

In an openly bigoted campaign, Smith was assailed in millions of coarse, anti-Catholic pamphlets and handbills; even a Methodist bishop viciously attacked his “Romanism.” He walked away from the race a bitter man and the cities went with him. By 1930, over 56 percent of all Americans already lived in urban areas.

The Great Depression secured their loyalty to the Democratic Party. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the cities showcases for the New Deal — especially New York, under the liberal Republican reformer, Fiorello H. La Guardia. Federal money poured in, but in the end the New Deal was about more than building new bridges or getting people off the bread lines. Contrary to Mr. Romney’s contention that government aid automatically turns people into “victims” and “dependents,”Washington’s intervention turned urban Americans from subjects into citizens who could claim the necessities of life as a right, not a favor.

In so doing, it began to shrivel the urban political machines, though it would take decades before they disappeared completely. The cities, which had been places of horrible suffering during the early years of the Great Depression, became alluring again, attracting a dynamic if volatile new mix of the rural poor, black, white and Hispanic. By 1950, almost two-thirds of all Americans lived in urban areas.

Save for mavericks like La Guardia, Republicans had little to add to this battle for the soul of the city. Increasingly, a Republican mayor of a major city became a curiosity. In presidential elections, big cities went Republican only during landslides.

This didn’t seem to matter in the postwar years, as demographic trends began to shift sharply away from the city. Newly prosperous whites and eventually blacks pursued the American dream out to the suburbs. The urban industrial base left too.

FOR Republicans, cities now became object lessons on the shortcomings of activist government and the welfare state — sinkholes of crime and social dysfunction, where Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” cavorted in their Cadillacs. The very idea of the city seemed to be a thing of the past, an archaic concept — so much so that Gerald R. Ford seriously considered letting New York go bankrupt in 1975.

This probably cost Ford the 1976 election — much as Mr. Romney’s opposition to “saving Detroit” may yet cost him this one, thanks to all the votes of auto-parts workers he stands to sacrifice inOhio. Tragically, once-great cities likeSt. Louis or Newark never fully recovered from postwar deindustrialization. But urban living was far from dead. Instead, the American economy began to reinvent itself in cities, as they became cleaner, greener, safer, more prosperous, more fun. As the demographic wheel turned again, both new immigrants and a generation of Americans born and raised in the ’burbs moved back in.

Today, four-fifths of the population lives in an urban area — the highest percentage in our history. Although the country remains largely suburban, one in 12 Americans lives in a city of over a million people. More than ever, they are stakeholders, owning where previous generations rented, creating their own jobs and opportunities. Traditional liberal bastions like the Upper West Side of Manhattanare now filled with the owners of co-ops and condominiums worth hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Over 140,000 New Yorkers in all — or nearly 4 percent of the labor force — work out of their homes. The percentages are even higher in Los Angeles and Chicago. Most of these individuals are skilled, highly educated “job creators” for themselves and others — the very demographic that Republicans claim to want to attract.

Some have managed it. The Upper West Side voted for the re-election of both the businessman Michael R. Bloomberg and the former prosecutor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Over the past 25 years, cities like Indianapolis, San Diego and even Los Angeles have elected — and re-elected — Republican mayors.

Yet the national Republican Party still can’t get seem to get past its animus toward the very idea of urban life. The only place that Amtrak turns a profit is the Northeast corridor — yet all Republicans can think to do is privatize it, along with the local rail lines on which millions of Americans have been commuting into cities to work for as long as a century and a half. Republicans promise to ban same-sex marriage, make it easier for anyone to get a gun, delegitimize and destroy what they mockingly call “public employees’ unions,” and deport the immigrant workers performing so many thankless but vital tasks.

In short, they promise to rip and tear at the immensely complex fabric of city life while sneering at the entire “urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” There is a terrible arrogance here that has ramifications well beyond the Republicans’ electoral prospects.

There wasn’t so much as a mention of cities in the debate on domestic issues the presidential candidates had last week. Nor did the Democrats have much to say about cities at their convention in Charlotte,N.C.They didn’t have to. Politically, Democrats don’t have to say anything about the urban experience; they embody it. But in too many cities this allows them to keep running corrupt and mediocre candidates.

Mr. Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg — both Democrats turned Republicans — saw their opportunity in displacing these tired party satraps. Between them, they embraced exactly the sort of “Chinese menu” variety of policy choices that Americans say they prefer. Between them, they backed tough law-enforcement tactics and strict gun laws, supported gay rights and major real-estate developments, opposed smoking in bars and a “living wage.”

Other Republican mayors have scored similar successes around the country. Susan Golding, the second woman and first Jewish mayor of San Diego, was a pro-gay-rights, pro-affirmative-action executive who also built that city’s first homeless shelter — and cracked down on crime while creating “one-stop shopping” for new businesses seeking permits.

The dynasty of Republican mayors begun by Richard G. Lugar in Indianapolishad a prophetic champion in the Buffalo congressman Jack F. Kemp, who tried hard to provide Republicans with a potential urban agenda when he was secretary of housing and urban development under the first President Bush. Mr. Kemp insisted that the party denounce racism and pioneered urban “enterprise zones” — there are over 800 of them today — and even tried to extend the idea of the urban stakeholder movement to the residents of public housing projects by allowing them to buy their own homes.

“This is my way of redeeming my existence on earth,” Mr. Kemp once told a group of reporters. “I wasn’t there with Rosa Parks or Dr. King or John Lewis, but I am here now, and I am going to yell from the rooftops about what we need to do.”

THE potential for change, should Republicans start shouting from the rooftops about cities, is enormous. Constituencies change parties — and in America, parties change constituents, opening them up to the concerns of others, because of the need to form broad, national coalitions. A Republican Party seeking to actively win cities, not just vilify them or suppress their vote, could open the party up to all sorts of new immigrant voters, like Asian and Latino Americans — and maybe even bring back part of an old voting bloc: black people.

At a moment when Republican Party’s “dog whistles” are more racially pitched than ever, this may sound crazy. Yet one got the impression this election season, for instance, that Cory A. Booker, the mayor ofNewark, would like some new place to turn. Mayor Booker has battled valiantly against the sclerotic, black political establishment in his own city as well as outside white indifference. A Mayor Booker who had someplace to go besides the Democratic Party with his city’s votes would be immediately empowered as never before.

Republicans in turn could show on a very human level that they are more than the mere radio ranters who constitute so much of what urban voters get to hear of the right wing. They would have to vie for votes in a manner that reflects urban realities instead of fantastical theories. Imagine a serious, practical discussion of educational reform or mass transit, instead of more heavy-handed attempts to demonize teachers’ unions or privatize the rails.

The prospects for any such change don’t seem high right now. But that may change, too, out of necessity. The Republican refusal to contest the cities has left them in a permanently defensive stance in national campaigns. This can’t continue. The courts have already struck down many voter suppression laws, and the party’s 2008 presidential results read like an actuarial table, with Republicans increasing their percentage of the vote mainly in aging districts that are losing population. In the meantime, as urban areas continue to grow, they become more and more intertwined with what were once distant suburbs, making “urban” issues all the more pertinent to everyone.

The old antagonisms between cities and suburbs will give way to cooperation over everything from where to build the next airport to how to combine municipal services to how to spread the wealth cities generate. And for that matter, over half of all minorities in metropolitan areas — including African-Americans — do not live in the inner city but in surrounding suburbs.

Republicans may not want to go to the cities. But that doesn’t much matter. The cities are coming to them.

Kevin Baker is the author of the “City of Fire” series of historical novels: “Dreamland,” “Paradise Alley” and “Strivers Row.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/opinion/sunday/republicans-to-cities-drop-dead.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121007&_r=0&pagewanted=print