Status quo or change?

Ideas we need to talk about – e-letter of September 19, 2013 from ProgressiveValues.org by Phyllis Stenerson

Changes in America and the world over the past decade have been stunning. The magnitude and consequences are almost too much to comprehend causing most people to tune out. America is at a trajectory moment, facing multiple crises and incomparable opportunity.

Change must come from the grassroots up. What each of us does or does not do in the coming months will make a difference in ways we can’t know now, can barely imagine. The choice is stark – do nothing and allow the disastrous status quo to continue or be a part of the grassroots movement for long term, systemic change for the common good.

Our American democracy is dangling by the slimmest of threads. Now when wise leadership is most needed, we’re immersed in a political quagmire. Those elected and sworn to represent we citizens in Congress are, with a few valuable exceptions, failing miserably. Unprecedented power is being wielded by unelected operatives to serve their own agendas. We, the people, the 99%, must seize the power granted to us in the Constitution.

What makes this hinge of history tragically significant is that this time the facts indicate the future of humanity is at stake. Virtually everything and everybody are impacted. Environmental threats, perpetual war, persistent racism and economic injustice are among the crises stealing the future from our children. Major change is overdue and essential.

Another point of difference from other times is that we have access to unlimited information and ways to connect with other people that can quite literally change the world. You won’t hear about it from the main stream media, but all around the globe countless people are immersed in making change for the common good. The excitement is palpable.

My wakeup call came when the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq. I had to find out how this horrific act could be possible. Although I have been deeply involved in politics for many years, I realized my knowledge was sadly limited so I immersed myself in self-education and the progressive movement. It has been fascinating!

The Big Picture is made up of countless components, each one needing assessment, and most likely change. Underlying and surrounding all facets of public policy and society are the intangibles, the ideas that shape our understanding of the world and our place in it – worldview.

Worldview is the focus of this work. Worldview is our moral truth and intellectual truth – faith and reason – our philosophy of life. Religion and spirituality play an oversized role in politics today. The epidemic of anti-intellectualism must be reversed. Information and ideas that have been pumped into the public consciousness over the years must be peer reviewed by we, the people.

How do we know right or wrong? True or false? Smart or stupid?

The mainstream media rarely has the time, interest or context to communicate these ideas. Opinion is often skewed to favor corporate sponsors. The culture wars and religion wars are real, awesomely complex and key to influencing public opinion and making change.

Selected information and commentary have been posted on my website to help speed up the learning curve for others. No one could possibly understand the depth and scope of cultural factors impacting our politics and culture without purposeful learning. What is needed now is to take a deep, broad look at the Big Picture and how each issue is impacted by worldview. Countless citizens are doing exemplary work on specific issues such as climate change, gun control, health care and many more. Fewer of us are inclined to study the history and philosophy at the core of the American experience.

I want others who like to study civics and the humanities to connect with one another and collaboratively ignite a national conversation. Public dialogue about the big picture and radical (root) ideas is essential to understand and communicate why and how we must change the world.

I think people will be drawn into this conversation if we frame it not as getting involved in politics, but as participating in democracy.

Ideas we need to talk about include the nexus of religion and politics, the moral values of climate change and income inequality, how special interests have shaped worldviews in our country over the past 40 year and much more. To help find focus in this enormous concept, I am trying to connect as directly as possible public thought and opinion with federal government policy, particularly as relates to the future of our grandchildren. Dialogue about ideas embedded within the Big Picture is applicable to any particular area of interest or expertise.

There is already a lot happening in this arena to build upon. There is a critical need for organizations with resources and expertise to provide leadership and coordination. That is something I cannot do and am longing for others to step up and make it work. My work is available for use by all. Please let me know what’s happening – Phyllis@progressivevalues.org. Thank you.

We must move forward in the days ahead with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recent relevant articles

Before You Give up on Democracy, Read This! by Frances Moore Lappé, September 18, 2013, The Huffington Post

The End Game for Democracy  by Bill Moyers, billmoyers.com August 23, 2013

The Rise of the New New Left by Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2013

American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power By Robert Jensen, AlterNet, July 5, 2013

Humanity Imperiled — The Path to Disaster by Noam Chomsky, Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013

* * * * * * *

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American… America is the only idealistic nation in the world.
Woodrow Wilson

What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise. Barbara Jordan

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When you place a high value on truth, you have to think for yourself.
Dr. Cornel West

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.
Isaac Asimov

Time doesn’t change things. People change things.
Andy Warhol

Policy is driven by more than politics, however. It is equally driven by ideas.
Malcolm Gladwell

http://p0.vresp.com/ZDU6MS Link to e-letter online


Scandal Machine

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, May 16, 2013

Excerpt

When politicians want to turn scandals into metaphors, actual details of wrongdoing or incompetence no longer matter…reality simply isn’t solid enough to hold back the vast Republican opportunism on display this week. Whatever cranky point Republicans had been making against President Obama for the last five years — dishonesty, socialism, jackbooted tyranny — they somehow found that these incidents were exactly the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted…For Senator Mike Lee of Utah, these incidents proved that the federal budget has to be cut even more deeply. “We need to return it to a simpler, more manageable government,” he said, “because that’s the only way that we’re ever going to prevent things like this from happening.”

There are no “things like this,” beyond a coincidence of bad timing. But they do have one thing in common: when bound together and loudly denounced on cable television and in hearings, they serve to obscure the real damage that Republicans continue to do to the economy and the workings of government…

For those who are wondering whether this week’s political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, here’s a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)

Full text

When politicians want to turn scandals into metaphors, actual details of wrongdoing or incompetence no longer matter. In fact, the details of the troubles swirling around the White House this week are bluntly contradicting Republicans who want to combine them into a seamless narrative of tyrannical government on the rampage.

The Internal Revenue Service, according to an inspector general’s report, was not reacting to political pressure or ideology when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny in evaluating requests for tax exemptions. It acted inappropriately because employees couldn’t understand inadequate guidelines. The tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, never a scandal to begin with, has devolved into a turf-protection spat between government agencies, and the e-mail messages Republicans long demanded made clear that there was no White House cover-up.

The only example of true government overreach was the seizure of The Associated Press’s telephone records, the latest episode in the Obama administration’s Javert-like obsession with leakers in its midst.

Many of the Republicans who have added this action to their metaphor blender were also the ones clamoring the loudest for vigorous investigations of national security leaks. But reality simply isn’t solid enough to hold back the vast Republican opportunism on display this week. Whatever cranky point Republicans had been making against President Obama for the last five years — dishonesty, socialism, jackbooted tyranny — they somehow found that these incidents were exactly the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted.

“This is runaway government at its worst,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said at a Tea Party news conference on Thursday about the I.R.S. scandal. “Who knows who they’ll target next.” Representative Michele Bachmann knew. Standing next to Mr. McConnell, she said the I.R.S.’s next target would obviously be the religious beliefs of people seeking health insurance.

For Senator Mike Lee of Utah, these incidents proved that the federal budget has to be cut even more deeply. “We need to return it to a simpler, more manageable government,” he said, “because that’s the only way that we’re ever going to prevent things like this from happening.”

There are no “things like this,” beyond a coincidence of bad timing. But they do have one thing in common: when bound together and loudly denounced on cable television and in hearings, they serve to obscure the real damage that Republicans continue to do to the economy and the workings of government.

While Washington was arguing about e-mail messages about Benghazi, it wasn’t paying attention to the hundreds of thousands of defense furloughs announced this week because of the Republican-imposed sequester, which will become a significant drag on economic growth. It wasn’t focusing on the huge drop in the deficit, which has yet to silence the party’s demands for more austerity. And apparently it’s considered old news that Republicans are blocking several of the president’s cabinet nominees.

For those who are wondering whether this week’s political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, here’s a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)

Meet The New York Times’s Editorial Board »

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/opinion/the-republicans-scandal-machine.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130517&_r=0

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

by Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | News Analysis, 27 February 2013 

“You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

Excerpt

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry...Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable…

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think criticallyAt the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged…a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good…things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility….

…What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s. What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society...

the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world…

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life… The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

 

…We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts. We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignoranceAt stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation…The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish…what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each otherThe radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

Full Text

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

 

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

 

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

 

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

 

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

 

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

 

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

 

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

 

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

 

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

 

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

 

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

 

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

 

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

 

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

 

Toward a Radical Imagination

 

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

 

    This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

 

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

 

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

 

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

 

Endnotes

 

1.

David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

 

2.

See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals

 

3.

See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti War.com (February 26, 2013). On line: http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2013/02/25/boots-on-campus/ and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

 

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,” New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/sports/ncaafootball/a-company-that-runs-prisons-will-have-its-name-on-a-stadium.html?_r=0

 

4.

Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

 

5.

Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online: http://www.thenation.com/article/163690/cruel-america

 

6.

Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/18/cops-nab-five-year-old-wearing-wrong-color-shoes-school

 

7.

Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/since-recession-more-young-americans-are-homeless.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

8.

Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/24/guns-children_n_2359661.html

 

9.

John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0115-01.htm

 

10.

Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

 

11.

See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

 

12.

Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).

 

13.

Ibid.

 

14.

Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

 

15.

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

 

16.

This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

 

17.

I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

 

18.

Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

19.

Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-f-35-a-weapon-that-costs-more-than-australia/72454/

 

20.

John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

 

21.

Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

 

22._

Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online: http://www.alternet.org/story/155515/is_texas_waging_war_on_history

 

23.

Ibid.

 

24.

See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

 

25.

Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,”Desmogblog.com (January 31, 2013). Online: www.desmogblog.com/2013/01/31/three-states-pushing-alec-bill-climate-change-denial-schools

 

26.

Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

 

27.

John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online: https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/18-2

 

28.

Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

 

29.

Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

 

30.

James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/jan/07/an-open-letter-to-my-sister-miss-angela-davis/?pagination=false

 

31.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

 

32.

Ibid, 296.

 

33.

James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

Henry A Giroux

 

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books:   Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.

A Great Debate

By GARY GUTTING, New York Times blogs, February 19, 2013

Excerpt

…our political “debates” seldom deserve the name…Is there any way to make genuine debates – sustained back-and-forth exchanges, meeting high intellectual standards but still widely accessible – part of our political culture?..Such debates will not end our political disagreements, but they will set much higher standards of discussion, requiring fuller explanations of positions and even modifications to make them more defensible. It’s unlikely that either side would ever simply give up its view, but, politically, they would have to react to a strong public consensus if they had not made a respectable case

The only major obstacle to implementing this proposal would be getting the parties to participate. Here, I suggest, shame would be a prime motivator

Of course, many people will not have the time, interest, or the ability to follow debates of this sort. But those who do – including the leading commentators and opinion-makers – will be among the most concerned and articulate, and their views will have a significant effect on the terms and tone of the general discussion.

Facts and reasoning will never settle political issues. All of us have fundamental commitments that are impervious to argument. If an argument seems to refute them, we take this as a refutation of the argument. And, of course, many of us are too ignorant, self-interested or prejudiced on certain issues to be moved by rational considerations. But rationality almost always has some role in our decisions, and more rationality in our political discussion will at a minimum help many to better understand what is at stake in our disputes and why their opponents think as they do.

So why not give reason a chance?…

 

 

Full text

This is the year of what should be a decisive debate on our country’s spending and debt. But our political “debates” seldom deserve the name. For the most part representatives of the rival parties exchange one-liners: “The rich can afford to pay more” is met by “Tax increases kill jobs.” Slightly more sophisticated discussions may cite historical precedents: “There were higher tax rates during the post-war boom” versus “Reagan’s tax cuts increased revenues.”

Such volleys still don’t even amount to arguments: they don’t put forward generally accepted premises that support a conclusion. Full-scale speeches by politicians are seldom much more than collections of such slogans and factoids, hung on a string of platitudes. Despite the name, candidates’ pre-election debates are exercises in looking authoritative, imposing their talking points on the questions, avoiding gaffes, and embarrassing their opponents with “zingers” (the historic paradigm: “There you go again.”).

There is a high level of political discussion in the editorials and op-eds of national newspapers and magazines as well as on a number of blogs, with positions often carefully formulated and supported with argument and evidence. But even here we seldom see a direct and sustained confrontation of rival positions through the dialectic of assertion, critique, response and counter-critique.

Such exchanges occur frequently in our law courts (for example, oral arguments before the Supreme Court) and in discussions of scientific papers. But they are not a significant part of our deliberations about public policy. As a result, partisans typically remain safe in their ideological worlds, convincing themselves that they hold to obvious truths, while their opponents must be either knaves or fools – with no need to think through the strengths of their rivals’ positions or the weaknesses of their own.

Is there any way to make genuine debates – sustained back-and-forth exchanges, meeting high intellectual standards but still widely accessible – part of our political culture? (I leave to historians the question of whether there are historical precedents- like the Webster-Hayne or Lincoln-Douglas debates.) Can we put our politicians in a situation where they cannot ignore challenges, where they must genuinely engage with one another in responsible discussion and not just repeat talking points?

A first condition is that the debates be focused on specific points of major disagreement. Not, “How can we improve our economy?” but “Will tax cuts for the wealthy or stimulus spending on infrastructure do more to improve our economy?” This will prevent vague statements of principle that don’t address the real issues at stake.

Another issue is the medium of the debate. Written discussions, in print or online could be easily arranged, but personal encounters are more vivid and will better engage public attention. They should not, however, be merely extemporaneous events, where too much will depend on quick-thinking and an engaging manner. We want remarks to be carefully prepared and open to considered responses.

Here’s one suggestion for an effective exchange. The debate would consist of a series of four half-hour televised sessions, carried out on successive days. In the first session, the Republican, say, presents a pre-written case for a particular position (say that tax-cuts are better for the economy than stimulus spending). The Democrat, who will have read the Republican’s presentation beforehand, presents a 15-minute point-by-point response. In the second session, the Republican asks the Democrat a series of questions (no more than one minute per question and three minutes per response) on the debate topic. In the third session, the Democrat questions the Republican. In the fourth session, each side has 15 minutes to present a final argument. This, of course, is just one idea. I welcome readers’ suggestions for refinements or alternatives.

Such debates will not end our political disagreements, but they will set much higher standards of discussion, requiring fuller explanations of positions and even modifications to make them more defensible. It’s unlikely that either side would ever simply give up its view, but, politically, they would have to react to a strong public consensus if they had not made a respectable case. Further, the quasi-official status of the participants, as representatives chosen by their parties, would make the parties’ politicians answerable to points the representatives have made. If Congressman X says at a press conference, “Lower rates have always produced higher tax revenues,” reporters might point out the party’s representative had to retreat to a more nuanced position. Such nuance might open the path to fruitful compromise.

The only major obstacle to implementing this proposal would be getting the parties to participate. Here, I suggest, shame would be a prime motivator. Given strong popular support for such debates, it’s hard to see how the parties could answer the charge that they are shying away because they don’t have confidence in their ability to make a convincing case.

Of course, many people will not have the time, interest, or the ability to follow debates of this sort. But those who do – including the leading commentators and opinion-makers – will be among the most concerned and articulate, and their views will have a significant effect on the terms and tone of the general discussion.

Facts and reasoning will never settle political issues. All of us have fundamental commitments that are impervious to argument. If an argument seems to refute them, we take this as a refutation of the argument. And, of course, many of us are too ignorant, self-interested or prejudiced on certain issues to be moved by rational considerations. But rationality almost always has some role in our decisions, and more rationality in our political discussion will at a minimum help many to better understand what is at stake in our disputes and why their opponents think as they do.

So why not give reason a chance? How about a televised debate in the next few weeks on some key differences in the Democratic and Republican budget proposals? Here’s a concrete suggestion: Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Charles Schumer debating the question: Will tax cuts for the wealthy or stimulus spending on infrastructure do more to improve our economy?

It may not draw the number of viewers that “American Idol” does, but it would surely be an improvement on the status quo of our political debate.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960,” and writes regularly for The Stone. He was recently interviewed in 3am magazine.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/a-great-debate/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20130220

Turning Congress’s partisans into problem solvers

By Joe Manchin and Jon Huntsman, Washington Post, January 13, 2013

Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Excerpt

F…rom our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonousadopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction.…On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle……No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works…We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

Full text

Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Much ink has been spilled over what’s wrong with Washington.

The rise of partisan media, too much money in politics and congressional gerrymandering that rewards ideologues with safe seats have all been offered as diagnoses for government dysfunction.

These explanations are accurate — but almost totally irrelevant to the urgent challenges at hand.

The American people can’t just hope for the creation of a better “system.” Reducing money in politics and building a better election system are worthy and important endeavors — but they are tough, multi-year, state-by state slogs.

We need to attempt those things and to seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have. Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations.

Knowing that should light a fire under everybody in Washington. But it hasn’t. The gridlock continues, most recently with the “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and the fight over the debt ceiling looms.

From our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonous.

To be clear, we are not naïve about the challenge of fostering cooperation across the aisle. There are philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans that can’t be papered over with nice words about civility.

But adopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, no one can get everything they want. We will either work across the aisle to fix problems or we will achieve nothing.

Luckily, we are not the only ones who recognize this. On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle.

These forward-looking Americans include: Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Scott Rigell (R-Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

This is a big deal. While in past years members of Congress used to interact regularly with members of the opposite party, today members of Congress interact very little with people from the other party — or even members of their own party in the opposite body. Members’ daily lives are dominated by party caucus, policy and fundraising meetings that are focused on winning elections or destroying the opposing party. There isn’t much time left over to actually govern.

But the Problem Solvers can and will seek to change this. In the next year, No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works. And it won’t be long before members start hearing demands from their constituents to join the group. Millions of Americans who have tired of the hyper-partisanship have realized that there is an organized group that can finally give them a voice in our political system. They have gone to NoLabels.org and are telling their friends and neighbors to as well.

Despite the gloomy outlook in Washington, the United States has great potential and promise. The American people need their leaders in Washington to start supporting our economy and stop subtracting from it. We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Much ink has been spilled over what’s wrong with Washington.

The rise of partisan media, too much money in politics and congressional gerrymandering that rewards ideologues with safe seats have all been offered as diagnoses for government dysfunction.

These explanations are accurate — but almost totally irrelevant to the urgent challenges at hand.

The American people can’t just hope for the creation of a better “system.” Reducing money in politics and building a better election system are worthy and important endeavors — but they are tough, multi-year, state-by state slogs.

We need to attempt those things and to seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have. Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations.

Knowing that should light a fire under everybody in Washington. But it hasn’t. The gridlock continues, most recently with the “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and the fight over the debt ceiling looms.

From our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonous.

To be clear, we are not naïve about the challenge of fostering cooperation across the aisle. There are philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans that can’t be papered over with nice words about civility.

But adopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, no one can get everything they want. We will either work across the aisle to fix problems or we will achieve nothing.

Luckily, we are not the only ones who recognize this. On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle.

These forward-looking Americans include: Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Scott Rigell (R-Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

This is a big deal. While in past years members of Congress used to interact regularly with members of the opposite party, today members of Congress interact very little with people from the other party — or even members of their own party in the opposite body. Members’ daily lives are dominated by party caucus, policy and fundraising meetings that are focused on winning elections or destroying the opposing party. There isn’t much time left over to actually govern.

But the Problem Solvers can and will seek to change this. In the next year, No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works. And it won’t be long before members start hearing demands from their constituents to join the group. Millions of Americans who have tired of the hyper-partisanship have realized that there is an organized group that can finally give them a voice in our political system. They have gone to NoLabels.org and are telling their friends and neighbors to as well.

Despite the gloomy outlook in Washington, the United States has great potential and promise. The American people need their leaders in Washington to start supporting our economy and stop subtracting from it. We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/turning-congress-from-partisanship-to-problem-solving/2013/01/13/30e547ba-5db0-11e2-9940-6fc488f3fecd_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines


The Progressive Conscience in Action by Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Center for American Progress, April 6, 2009

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience…For progressives, a crucial guiding principle in regard to public policy is to secure the common good while protecting individual liberty to the fullest extent possible. The progressive understanding of the “common good” is based on the conviction that not only is each individual endowed with human dignity, purpose, and worth, but also that human society as a whole should reflect these characteristics. Therefore, human beings together should strive to realize social relations based on these universal values…  many religions emphasize its centrality to human goodness and dignity and have done so from ancient times. Increasingly, nonbelievers have also asserted the right of conscience as a central part of their value formation as well—a perspective that has prevailed in the courts…Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart…Another approach to integrating personal conscience into the larger social agenda has involved the cultivation of the faith community—essentially a faith-bound network of diverse human hearts... The simultaneously individual and social natures of conscience—and the recognition that it is necessary to accommodate these equally important demands of conscience—are fundamental aspects of conscience for progressives. This balanced perspective on conscience is especially crucial in relationship to democratic policymaking, which by definition requires individuals at times to sacrifice their self-interests to the interests of others or for the larger good…it would be a useful start to agree that even the most deeply felt conclusions of conscience can still benefit from honest discussion and from a periodic review of the fundamental goals that we, as a deeply faith-enriched but ultimately secular society, hope to achieve togetherConscience is at the heart of progressivism because conscience is not just a feeling but a palpable urge toward improvement—a call to action or engagement. Conscience is the way our moral sense and our moral formation come together to inform our actions in the world…the progressive perspective asks more than that. It also asks, “What do we believe is right?” and “What should we do about it?” That’s because in the progressive view, conscience is not only inward and individual but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable society…one of the central differences between progressive views of conscience and other views is the willingness to change those views with time based on new information and the social needs of the day. By contrast, conservative religious or social traditions tend to focus on divine proclamation or fixed political views and teachings, irrespective of emerging crises of social justice or changing sensibilities about the nature of the common good…In the progressive view, diverse voices of conscience come together through the democratic process and the engagement of individual and institutional values in policy debates... A progressive approach to conscience in public policy must constantly hold freedom and accountability in tension…

 

Excerpt

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience…For progressives, a crucial guiding principle in regard to public policy is to secure the common good while protecting individual liberty to the fullest extent possible. The progressive understanding of the “common good” is based on the conviction that not only is each individual endowed with human dignity, purpose, and worth, but also that human society as a whole should reflect these characteristics. Therefore, human beings together should strive to realize social relations based on these universal values…  many religions emphasize its centrality to human goodness and dignity and have done so from ancient times. Increasingly, nonbelievers have also asserted the right of conscience as a central part of their value formation as well—a perspective that has prevailed in the courts…Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart…Another approach to integrating personal conscience into the larger social agenda has involved the cultivation of the faith community—essentially a faith-bound network of diverse human hearts... The simultaneously individual and social natures of conscience—and the recognition that it is necessary to accommodate these equally important demands of conscience—are fundamental aspects of conscience for progressives. This balanced perspective on conscience is especially crucial in relationship to democratic policymaking, which by definition requires individuals at times to sacrifice their self-interests to the interests of others or for the larger good…it would be a useful start to agree that even the most deeply felt conclusions of conscience can still benefit from honest discussion and from a periodic review of the fundamental goals that we, as a deeply faith-enriched but ultimately secular society, hope to achieve togetherConscience is at the heart of progressivism because conscience is not just a feeling but a palpable urge toward improvement—a call to action or engagement. Conscience is the way our moral sense and our moral formation come together to inform our actions in the world…the progressive perspective asks more than that. It also asks, “What do we believe is right?” and “What should we do about it?” That’s because in the progressive view, conscience is not only inward and individual but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable society…one of the central differences between progressive views of conscience and other views is the willingness to change those views with time based on new information and the social needs of the day. By contrast, conservative religious or social traditions tend to focus on divine proclamation or fixed political views and teachings, irrespective of emerging crises of social justice or changing sensibilities about the nature of the common good…In the progressive view, diverse voices of conscience come together through the democratic process and the engagement of individual and institutional values in policy debates... A progressive approach to conscience in public policy must constantly hold freedom and accountability in tension…

Full text

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience. But the interface between conscience and policymaking is poorly defined, making the concept of conscience susceptible to hijacking by conservative political forces.

This is an especially important point today given the renewed debate over what has been called the “right of conscience” of individuals and institutions to decline health care or other services that they find morally objectionable. Specifically, President Barack Obama’s proposal in March to rescind a broad conscience rule adopted by the Bush administration in January—alongside a federal call by the Obama administration for public comments on its proposed rule change by April 9—demand that Americans think carefully about what it means to be true to one’s conscience in a pluralistic democracy such as ours.
Many who support the Bush rule argue that they are defenders of conscience and portray their opponents as its enemies, but that is simplistic. What it is being played out in the public debate over this rule are different approaches to thinking about how conscience informs public policy and how public policy accommodates conscience.

For progressives, a crucial guiding principle in regard to public policy is to secure the common good while protecting individual liberty to the fullest extent possible. The progressive understanding of the “common good” is based on the conviction that not only is each individual endowed with human dignity, purpose, and worth, but also that human society as a whole should reflect these characteristics. Therefore, human beings together should strive to realize social relations based on these universal values. People can differ, of course, in their view of how to define these terms and achieve that balance. In fact, given the generally sacrosanct status of the voice of conscience—its religious and secular value—it is not surprising that conscience-based conflicts arise.

But a close look at conscience through the lens of philosophical, political, and religious history shows that it was the Bush approach, and not the Obama approach, that veered from a longstanding centrist and socially responsible position on conscience. To appreciate this perspective, progressives must understand their own roots among the many traditions on conscience, and the valuable contribution that progressivism can make as we all wrestle with the question of how conscience should be adjudicated in the public policy arena.
The roots of conscience
Conscience may or may not be a uniquely human capacity, but it appears to be most highly developed in humans—attributable, according to some, to our having been created in the image of God and, according to others, by sheer dint of our ability to reason as taught through countless lessons of evolution.

Whatever the roots of conscience, many religions emphasize its centrality to human goodness and dignity and have done so from ancient times. Increasingly, nonbelievers have also asserted the right of conscience as a central part of their value formation as well—a perspective that has prevailed in the courts. In 1970, during the height of the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court ruled in Welsh v. United States that “depth and fervency” of beliefs qualified a soldier for conscientious objector status, regardless of whether those beliefs were religious in nature. This was a long overdue recognition by the courts of the role of conscience in secular values.

Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart—an indicator of its vital role in life. In the Hebraic view, for example, it is the heart that bears witness to the moral worth of our acts and that ultimately condemns or exonerates us. Muslims also focus on the heart when engaging in ethical decision making. According to the Koran, “God lies between the human being and his heart.”

In virtually all traditions, “listening to the heart” can bring one’s own voice into harmony with that of God or Truth. And virtually all religions, as well as a number of secular traditions, have constructed mechanisms to encourage heartfelt reflection as a means of finding truth and achieving justice, among them Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting), Yom Kippur (the Jewish holy day of atonement), Lent (the Christian period of prayer and fasting), and Buddhist meditation.

But individual reflection offers no guarantee of resolution when it comes to making social policy, and religious dictum can’t settle all conflicts in a secular society.
One approach to dealing with this reality has been to develop teachings that explicitly show how to apply religious rules to everyday life. Judaism, for example, has the Halakhah, a set of practical texts whose purpose is to resolve conflicts between the teachings of scripture and the rules of civil law.

Another approach to integrating personal conscience into the larger social agenda has involved the cultivation of the faith community—essentially a faith-bound network of diverse human hearts. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, the Roman Catholic Church in the 20th century has increasingly emphasized a tolerance toward individual consciences that may differ from official teaching, though it should be noted that the Church deviates from its tolerance for individual conscience when it comes to abortion and has been a stalwart supporter of Bush’s exclusionary expansion of the “right to conscience.”

Protestants, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, have found conscience not only in the individual and the community but also in social movements. The Social Gospel movement of the early part of the 20th century, which applied Christian ethics to an array of social ills and helped sow the seeds of the U.S. civil rights movement, exemplified this broader view and application of conscience.

The simultaneously individual and social natures of conscience—and the recognition that it is necessary to accommodate these equally important demands of conscience—are fundamental aspects of conscience for progressives. This balanced perspective on conscience is especially crucial in relationship to democratic policymaking, which by definition requires individuals at times to sacrifice their self-interests to the interests of others or for the larger good.

Especially relevant to the current debate over “right to conscience” is that many traditions acknowledge that individual and even communal conscience is not infallible. History has repeatedly shown that even very deeply held and age-old “obvious” truths, based on individual or societal conscience, can be mistaken. Slavery and the acceptability of torture are two examples of “rights in good conscience” that prevailed in a former era and that today are almost universally viewed as deeply flawed. The death penalty and today’s bans on gay marriage may someday be viewed in a similar light.

It may seem a small thing, but it would be a useful start to agree that even the most deeply felt conclusions of conscience can still benefit from honest discussion and from a periodic review of the fundamental goals that we, as a deeply faith-enriched but ultimately secular society, hope to achieve together.

The progressive conscience

Conscience is at the heart of progressivism because conscience is not just a feeling but a palpable urge toward improvement—a call to action or engagement. Conscience is the way our moral sense and our moral formation come together to inform our actions in the world. As a result, conscience is not fully conscientious unless one acts on that conscience. Put differently, conscience is a guide to answering not only the question, “What do I believe is right?” but also the question, “What should I do about it?”

But the progressive perspective asks more than that. It also asks, “What do we believe is right?” and “What should we do about it?” That’s because in the progressive view, conscience is not only inward and individual but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable society. Progressives emphasize this aspect of conscience and therefore struggle with moral reflection on the question, “What is it right to do that provides the most good for the whole society?” Caring for others and not just for oneself or one’s kind is, of course, a universal value found in both religious and humanist writings.
Almost by definition, the social aspect of conscience defies unanimity. Thus there will be some tension between the individual conscience and the idea of the social good. This is a necessary tension, not only because of the predictable differences among individuals but also because of the need to allow an ongoing evolution of ideas of what constitutes the social good as social conditions change.
Indeed, one of the central differences between progressive views of conscience and other views is the willingness to change those views with time based on new information and the social needs of the day. By contrast, conservative religious or social traditions tend to focus on divine proclamation or fixed political views and teachings, irrespective of emerging crises of social justice or changing sensibilities about the nature of the common good.

To be clear, this relative stasis in conservative traditions is not the result of a lack of compassion or a failure to accept change, but comes from the belief that one’s longstanding take on conscience will best serve individuals and society in the long run. Still, the result is that new social challenges find themselves having to adapt to old and potentially outdated ideas, instead of the reverse.

In the progressive view, diverse voices of conscience come together through the democratic process and the engagement of individual and institutional values in policy debates. This is not a smooth or easy process and conflict is bound to occur. However, isn’t this precisely the test of true conscience—a willingness to test limits, to allow and even demand introspection and counterpoint?

Similarly, sound public policy in a democracy comes from adjudicating among the individual claims of conscience, protecting principled dissent, and making conscientiously vigorous policies that serve the greatest good for the whole society.

The “conscience” rule must be rescinded to protect conscience

A progressive approach to conscience in public policy must constantly hold freedom and accountability in tension. The sweeping expansion of individual rights to allow unmitigated “religious refusal” in the last-minute Bush rule destroyed this tension. It destabilized the previously balanced relationship between individual liberty of conscience and the rights of patients to safe and reliable care. It permitted doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers to decline their participation in any procedure they found morally objectionable, including not only abortion, but contraception, artificial insemination, and potentially even nonreproductive health care services as well.

The Bush rule is so widely applicable that it extends not only to doctors and nurses but to anyone who works in and around places where such procedures are performed or products dispensed. It also protects institutional entities such as health insurance plans. The exclusive priority placed on the provider’s conscience tilted the scales radically from any notional center of moral gravity and made it impossible for patients to be able to rely on a uniform standard of care.

In short, under the Bush rule all the “conscience” protection is weighted toward those who object to certain reproductive procedures and technologies, while the right of conscience of patients, their families, and other health care providers whose consciences dictated differently is explicitly dismissed.

It is important to note that a number of protections are already in place for health care workers who might object to providing certain services. Most notably, the so-called Church Amendments—named after former Senator Frank Church of Idaho—offer conscience protections to individual health care providers. In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows certain organizations to make employment decisions on the basis of religion and to accommodate employees’ religious-based refusals to perform services under certain circumstances. Title VII makes clear, however, that the refusers’ rights are not absolute. It assures, for example, that in a health care setting, patient care—which is, after all, the employer’s raison d’etre—has robust standing. But the law seeks a sensible assurance of balance.

In addition, some court decisions, including Catholic Charities v. Serio and Catholic Charities v. Superior Court, have affirmed the importance of not allowing refusal rules to go too far—especially when an institution invokes a right of refusal. In both cases, the courts found that laws exempting religious employers from providing coverage for contraception in their employee health benefit plans did not apply to religiously affiliated social service agencies that employed a religiously diverse workforce, did not engage in proselytization, and served the general public. These cases sent a clear legal signal that Bush decided to ignore when he promulgated his expanded conscience rule.
All members of our society deserve to know that they will be provided a professional standard of health care. Patients must be able to have confidence that health care workers will put their lives and well-being first. In the words of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a “patient’s well-being must be paramount” when conflicts arise over the moral beliefs of professionals and patients.
While providers’ preferences should certainly be respected whenever possible, it is simply wrong when, in a secular, pluralistic society, a rape victim’s legal prescription for emergency contraception goes unfilled by a pharmacist opposed to such medicines, as happened in Texas, or when a woman with a life-threatening embolism is refused a medically indicated early abortion because of the hospital’s religious affiliation, as happened to a 19-year-old in Nebraska.
It is unconscionable for health care professionals to put a patient’s life and well-being at risk. It is time to restore the balance of individual American consciences through clear rules that uphold professional standards in health care and fully serve those who are in need of care.

Susan Thistlethwaite is a Senior Fellow in the Faith and Public Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. To read more about this program at the Center please go to Religion and Values page of our website.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/04/health_conscience.html

Not Afraid to Talk About Race by Charles Blow

New York Times, June 7, 2012
Hey, I heard that: “Oh, no, the black columnist is writing about race, again.”

Yes, I am. Deal with it. The moment we allow ourselves to be browbeaten out of having important discussions about issues that persist, we cease to command the requisite conviction to wield the pen — or to peck on a keyboard, but you get my drift.

Varying political views among racial and ethnic groups are real.

They have always informed our politics, and no doubt they will continue to do so. The idea, naively held by many, that the election of the first black president would nullify racial grievances, bridge racial differences and erase racial animosities has quickly faded. We find ourselves once again trying to wrestle with the meaning and importance of race in our politics.

In fact, one could argue that examinations of racial attitudes in politics have become more fraught as racial motives, political objectives and accusations and denials of racism and reverse-racism serve as a kind of subterfuge hiding resentments and prejudices.

Either racial attitudes are naked, blatant and visible, this thinking goes, or they’re nonexistent, manufactured by race baiters and hucksters as devices of division. The middle ground, sprinkled with land mines made up of racial labels, is now a place where fair-minded people dare not tread.

That’s a shame.

But it’s not going to stop me. Strap on your lead boots and let’s go for a stroll.

A Pew Research Center American values survey released this week offers fascinating insights into how racially divergent values and the changing racial compositions of political parties influence our politics.

Let’s look at the racial makeup of the two major parties: from 2000 to 2012 the percentage of Republicans who are white has remained relatively steady, about 87 percent. On the other hand, the percentage of Democrats who are white has dropped nine percentage points, from 64 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2012. If current trends persist, in a few years the Democratic Party will be a majority minority party. But the largest drop in the white percentage has been among Independents: they were 79 percent white in 2000, but they are only 67 percent white now.

The racial diversity among Democrats and the lack of it among Republicans means that the two bases bring differing sets of concerns to the national debate.

For instance, blacks and Hispanics are far more likely to believe that poverty is a result of circumstances beyond a person’s control than a result of lack of effort.

Blacks and Hispanics also look far more favorably on the role of government, particularly as it relates to guarding against poverty and evening a playing field that they feel is tilted. Seventy-eight percent of both blacks and Hispanics believed that government should guarantee everyone enough to eat and a place to sleep, while only 52 percent of whites agreed with that idea.

This is not to say that minorities who favor a stronger government want more government handouts. There was very little difference in the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and whites who believed that poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs (it’s pretty high for all three groups, at 70, 69 and 72 percent, respectively).

They seem to want a chance, not a check.

To wit, 62 percent of blacks and 59 percent of Hispanics say that we should make every possible effort to improve the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment. Not surprisingly, only 22 percent of whites agreed with this idea. Only 12 percent of Republicans — almost all of whom are white — agreed. This percentage has been decreasing since 2007, while the percentage of white Democrats who agree has been increasing.

Now what does that mean for the presidential race?

A staggering 90 percent of Romney supporters are white. Only 4 percent are Hispanic, less than 1 percent are black and another 4 percent are another race.

Of Obama’s supporters, 57 percent are white, 23 percent are black, 12 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are another race.

And what of the all-important swing voters (those who are undecided, who lean toward a candidate, or who say that they could change their mind)? Nearly three out of four are white. The rest are roughly 8 percent each blacks, Hispanics and another race.

That might explain why the Pew poll found that the swing voters lean more toward Obama voters on issues like civil liberties and the role of labor unions, but are closer to Romney voters on the role of social safety nets, immigration and minority-preference programs.

Put another way, Romney voters and swing voters — who are both overwhelming white — agree on the more racially charged issues.

Pointing out these correlations is not only valid, it is instructive and helpful. In large part this election will be about the role of government in our lives, and different racial and ethnic groups view that particular issue very differently.

The economy always looms large, but for those who feel left behind by the economy even when it’s roaring, but especially when it sputters, social safety nets and governmental activism can also have tremendous weight.

The trick will be to have a conversation about the direction of the country that takes that into account but lifts the language to a level where common goals can be seen from differing racial vantage points — to show a way to be merciful to those struggling while providing a path to financial independence and social equality. Contrary to what many Americans think, most people do in fact want a hand up and not a handout.
http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/not-afraid-to-talk-about-race/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120607