Saving America’s Soul – e-letter October 25, 2014

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Saving America’s Soul   Progressive Values e-letter October 25, 2014

We should begin by setting the conscience free. When all men of all religions…shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power…we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society. John Adams 2nd U.S. President

I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. Thomas Jefferson 3rd U.S. President

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience. Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr

background information for a national dialogue about America’s values and future: Saving America’s Soul – - overview – articles and excerpts or quick scan

 Democracy Should Be a Brake on Unbridled Greed and Power by Bill Moyers, Democracy Now, June 8, 2011

The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality by Gwynne Dyer, CommonDreams.org, December 19, 2011 -

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America By – CJ Werleman, Alternet.org, November 26, 2013

72% of Americans Disapprove of Republican Party…but it’s Set to Take Control of Both Houses of Congress Anyway posted on The Christian Left, Facebook, September 13, 2014 from AllGov.com

False facts and the conservative distortion machine: It’s much more than just Fox News by Paul Rosenberg, Salon.Com, Aug 18, 2014

Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment by John Atcheson, Common Dreams, June 18, 2012 — We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world… Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment. Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages…Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality. Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as reality by rightwing politicians…

The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party by Joan Bokaer, TheocracyWatch.org, 2008

The Long, Sordid History of the American Right and Racism By Robert Parry,   Consortium News May 20, 2013

Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control — And Why We’ll Still Be Fighting About it 100 Years From Now By Sara Robinson, AlterNet, February 15, 2012

How Propagandists for the 1% Are Manipulating Christian Teachings to Rob the Middle Class By Michael Meurer, Truthout, posted on Alternet.org, October 17, 2012

Wall or no wall, politics and religion have always been inextricably intertwined, and we won’t win until we recognize and deal with that fact. Why Progressives Can’t Ignore Religion by Mike Lux, AlterNet, February 27, 2012

* * * * *

soul: a person’s deeply felt moral and emotional nature; the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc.; the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe; the moral and emotional nature of human beings merriam-webster.com

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…. Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

* * * * *

From the editor, Phyllis Stenerson: This information is so important you need to learn it from a broad range of reliable sources. In the many times I’ve tried to write a succinct overview about our democracy being seriously threatened by the accelerating extremism of the Republican Party, I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude and tend to go on, and on, and on. When I first became aware of the gravity of this movement, particularly the manipulation of religion, I didn’t want to believe my head and heart (soul) screaming “This is so wrong.” Now the evidence is conclusive. Fueling culture wars using revisionist history, religion , women’s rights -  and race  as emotional wedge issues – is despicable. Thank you independent media for investigative, honest journalism. The impact is already disastrous, especially for children – /generational-justice/ , minorities and the planet and will get worse. It is the civic and moral responsibility of citizens – /citizenship/ who believe in America’s founding vision of religious pluralism and shared opportunity to fight back against extremists. Thank you for your attention. * * * * * -

The Constitution is inherently progressive by John Podesta and John Halpin, Politico.com, October 10, 2011 – …As progressives, we believe in using the ingenuity of the private sector and the positive power of government to advance common purposes and increase freedom and opportunity…Coupled with basic beliefs in fair play, openness, cooperation and human dignity, it is this progressive vision that in the past century helped build the strongest economy in history and allowed millions to move out of poverty and into the middle class …the story of America has also been the story of a good nation, conceived in liberty and equality, eventually welcoming every American into the arms of democracy, protecting their freedoms and expanding their economic opportunities…

At the heart of The American Soul (by Jacob Needleman) is a call to rediscover the timeless truths hidden within the founding vision of the American nation. Embedded in the ideals of democracy, individual liberty and freedom of conscience is a view of human nature that echoes essential aspects of the wisdom that has guided every great civilization of the world… – The Inward Work of Democracy, On Being with Krista Tippet, June 28, 2012

Crimes Against the Soul of America by Caroline Myss, Huffington Post, September 5, 2009 There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the overall well-being of a nation’s inner core…A conscious effort to “dumb down” the education of this nation qualifies as a crime against the soul of America.

The Sociopathic 1 Percent: The Driving Force at the Heart of the Tea Party By Paul Rosenberg, Salon.com, March 8, 2014 ……sociopaths are defined by their lack of empathy, conscience or any form of intuitive social awareness… It’s a mindset devoid of empathy or conscience, for whom other people simply are not real, a mindset that has gripped us collectively, ever more tightly, over the past 30 to 40 years…

Has Neoliberalism Turned Us All Into Psychopaths? By Paul Verhaeghe – The Guardian -  , posted on Alternet.org, October 2, 2014 …economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatization have taken their toll…

The Progressive Conscience in Action by Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Center for American Progress, April 6, 2009 …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…

Wasn’t Jesus A Liberal? by Gary Vance, The Christian Left, August 4, 2014 Liberalism has been under assault for years now. The battering of this grand political philosophy has altered the contemporary definition of liberal to the point that Conservatives use it as a profane word……Jesus was the ultimate liberal progressive revolutionary of all history…It is time for Christians of conscience to stand up to religious and political hypocrisy.

The Koch Brothers’ 3-Step Plan to Conquer the Next Generation  By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News, September 14, 2014 1. Defund Public Schools 2. Make Schools Dependent on Private Entities for Money 3. Ingrain students with Greed-Based Ideology -

The Spirit That Drove Us to Civil War Is Back by Andy Schmookler, Huffington Post, 9/2/2014 …the force that drove us to Civil War more than a century and a half ago, and the force that has taken over the Republican Party in our times…In both cases, we see an elite insisting on their “liberty,” by which they mean the freedom to dominate…

The Worst Ideas of the Decade — The prosperity gospel by Cathleen Falsani, Washington Post, December 2009 …The “prosperity gospel,” an insipid heresy whose popularity among American Christians has boomed in recent years, teaches that God blesses those God favors most with material wealth….Told that wealth is a sign of God’s grace and favor…

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government by Chris Hedges -  , TruthDig.com -  , posted on CommonDreams.org, October 7, 2013…This ideology calls on anointed “Christian” leaders to take over the state and make the goals and laws of the nation “biblical.”… The intellectual and moral hollowness of the ideology, its flagrant distortion and misuse of the Bible, the contradictions that abound within it… are impervious to reason and fact. And that is why the movement is dangerous.

America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry , January 15, 2013 by Consortium News -  — The real struggle confronting the United States… is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions…..Simply put, the Right fights harder for its fantasy land than the rest of America does for the real world …The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world. Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved.

Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010 …Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected…

Phyllis Stenerson, Paideia LLC  612.331.1929 – phyllis@progressivevalues.org  – http://www.ProgressiveValues.org

Paideia (pu-di’uh) is an ancient Greek philosophy of educating for citizenship to create an ideal society

Fair Use Notice: These pages contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit for educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C. § 107. The many wise and articulate writers who share their knowledge with the public via the internet are profoundly appreciated. If any writer wishes to have their content amended or removed, please contact the editor at – phyllis@progressivevales.org phyllis@progressivevales.org. Thank you.

Healing the Heart of Democracy – Book Review

Book Review By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Healing the Heart of Democracy
The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit  by Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer is a sensitive soul, a gifted writer, and a deft social analyst whose nine books, including the bestsellers The Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, and A Hidden Wholeness, speak to a broad range of readers. He is the founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, and he was recently honored with the 2010 William Rainey Harper Award previously given to Margaret Mead, Paolo Freire, and Elie Wiesel. He is profiled as a Living Spiritual Teacher at Spirituality & Practice.

Anyone awake in contemporary America knows that something is desperately wrong with democracy and the political system. The list of messes and miseries is long and lamentable: the power of big money and the clout of large corporations, a dysfunctional health care system, unending wars abroad, high levels of unemployment, a growing gap between the rich and the poor, hunger, unsafe food, the degeneration of our cities and schools, race politics and injustice, the destruction of the earth in the name of progress and profit, the collapse of the nation’s physical structure, capital punishment and the blighted prison system, and the politicization of the courts. On the opening page of this timely and soul-stirring book, Parker J. Palmer clasps our hands and admits his heartbreak over the sorry state of the nation; he says he feels like “a displaced person in my own land.”

But he is pulled out of a real case of depression by a personal journey that involves looking at politics through the eye of the heart. What is entailed within this path? Palmer lets Terry Tempest Williams explain it:

“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, without giving up — ever — trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?”

Palmer believes that many Americans are fed up with business as usual in Washington, D.C., and the odd cultural and media mix of divisiveness, toxicity, passivity, and powerlessness. Throughout the rest of the book, Palmer delineates what it means to practice politics from the heart. He shares his own journey as an accidental American citizen and then lists five habits of the heart (such as “we must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways”) which could turn things around in this country.

In the next chapter, he probes the sources of two underlying “heart conditions” which must be curtailed: consumerism and scapegoating. Another challenge facing those trying to practice politics from the heart is moving beyond the “fight or flight” response to those perceived to be enemies.

Palmer laments the waning of American public life and the growing emphasis on private life with family and friends. He would like to see more places and programs to encourage mingling with strangers and opening ourselves to diversity. He salutes Wendell Berry and others who through “the lens of compassionate imagination” have promoted the bounties of public life in a democracy. Much more could be done by classrooms and congregations to advance this cause among children and lay persons. Palmer would like to see greater time and energy in churches devoted to developing and enhancing a theology of hospitality to overcome fear of the “other.” He examines how television, circles of trust, and cyberspace can be arenas where the habits of the heart can flourish or die.

Healing the Heart of Democracy is a hopeful book that lifts up and hallows the heart as a source of inner sight. Inspired by the efforts to understand and undergird democracy by Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville, Rosa Parks, and others; the author sends us on our way rejoicing with the small portion of hope that he has planted in our minds and souls.

http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=21525

Reclaiming America’s Soul

 by Paul Krugman, New York Times, April 24, 2009

Mini-excerpt

We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals….

Excerpt

We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals….the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how [the crimes of the Bush administration] happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsiblethe ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn’t won’t make it go away…they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way…what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

Full text

“Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; we’re just too busy.

And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?

No, it isn’t, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?

For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.
But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.

That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who weren’t allied with the torturers but would nonetheless rather not revisit what happened in the Bush years.

Some of them probably just don’t want an ugly scene; my guess is that the president, who clearly prefers visions of uplift to confrontation, is in that group. But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn’t won’t make it go away.

Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/opinion/24krugman.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

Saving America’s Soul – expanded with links

This article expands upon a commentary published in the Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN, November 2012 and provides links to further information.

by Phyllis Stenerson 

We need to talk.

How did a nation founded on belief in the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all become one mired in gross inequality, obscene poverty and a corrupt political process? Opportunity for a bright future is being stolen from millions of innocent children.

Our nation’s founders brought together the best thinking of the time balancing faith with reason, materialism with moral values and the reality of struggle with the energy of hope.  For more than two hundred years the United States of America moved forward toward that dream and now we are going backward.

Democracy, one of the greatest ideas in history and the best form of government ever invented, has been corrupted by ideology, greed and lust for power of some leaders, aided and abetted by the apathy, ignorance and fear of too many voters.

The founders were abundantly clear about their intent that Americabe a nation of ideals built on Enlightenment principles of reason and the values of compassion and empathy at the core of all world religions, not one specific religion. They embedded freedom of, and freedom from religion in our Constitution and clarified this country was not established as a Christian nation.  The United States of America is now the most religiously pluralistic country in the world.

So, what has happened to our moral compass and our common sense? It is fundamentally wrong that many millions of children live in poverty while a few thousand adults live with more wealth than anyone could ever need. There is a solid consensus among scientists that climate change is real with unimaginable consequences for the future. Why are we not addressing these, and many more, crises?

The problem is awesomely complex but solutions are within reach. Democracy provides a framework for working through problems and toward answers. The founders emphasized that for the democratic process to work an educated and involved citizenry with a commitment to honor was essential.

Out of all the components in this vast puzzle, one area that is seriously out of balance is the role of money and religion in politics.  These are topics that people are uncomfortable discussing but that need attention now.

The way in which a new conservative movement was built during the 1960s and 1970s to pull power away from the dominant liberal consensus is a fascinating study. The long term strategy included investing millions of corporate dollars into think tanks and communication networks. Conservative leaders developed a sophisticated network of organizations that became known as the “right wing message machine” to influence the public. This strategy changed hearts and minds so citizens would come to hate liberals and see government as the problem, not the solution, reinforcing a radically conservative worldview. The Bible is cited as the infallible truth underlying many of the right wing’s extremist positions including opposition to gay marriage. Biblical scholars, notably the Jesus Seminars and Bishop John Shelby Spong, prove this cannot be true.

Social and cultural changes were hijacked to serve the right wing’s long term strategy. Turbulence of the time including the Viet Namwar, Civil Rights Movement and hippie’s Summer of Love, as well as women’s struggle for equal opportunity, created fertile ground in which to grow new ideas. The Supreme Court decision allowing abortion provided a “wedge issue” around which social conservatives organized society to see liberals as the enemy. “The Pill” was a major catalyst for conservatives to motivate their base. Race was always an undercurrent. Later gay rights became a wedge issue. Many Americans were disgusted by the emerging lifestyles. More recently the concept of “Biblical economics” is being used to justify right wing assertions that taxes and welfare are wrong.

Right wing religious leaders and operatives had been working for years to strengthen and grow the conservative Christian and Evangelical population. Radio and direct mail were tools in developing a cohesive power base. Many organizations including the Moral Majority were launched.  By the early 1980s this grassroots movement was becoming known to religious and social scholars but most dismissed the possibility of it making a difference.

Liberals did not adequately articulate a progressive narrative to reinforce the liberal consensus. They split off into subgroups and organized around issues instead of a cohesive worldview. This created a vacuum in the public dialogue that was filled with conservative rhetoric.

A Supreme Court decision allowing legal access to abortion and introduction of the “Pill” strengthened the women’s movement but also provided the catalyst for the conservative movement to aggressively organize opposition to liberalism among social conservatives, particularly Evangelicals.

Fast forward to 2012 when conservative Christian extremists, a small segment of the population, had gained power sufficient to select the candidates to represent the Republican Party in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States.  The party platform was strongly influenced by these religious leaders and proposes draconian cuts to the social safety net, education, health, nutrition and other programs that provide access to opportunity for all. The fringe end of the conservative spectrum includes reconstructionism, “End Times” and dominionism, the belief that the Bible should replace the Constitution.

The primary goal of the movement is to strengthen conservatism and reduce government to the bare minimum. Starving the government of tax revenue is one tactic. Obstruction by Republican Members of Congress is another.

The Republican agenda is to shift power from ordinary people to those already rich and powerful. Fundamentalist religion is used toward this goal.  When money and religion are used to control government, it is called fascism. It ceases to be democracy.

Qualities that made America great — and good – are under attack. America’s soul is in grave danger. This is what we need to talk about.

This article is adapted from commentary published in the Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN, November 2012    

work in progress – last updated 10/25/12

Phyllis Stenerson © 2012

Saving America’s Soul – Uptown Neighborhood News Nov 2012

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson, Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN November 2012 – expanded version with links to more information

We need to talk.

How did a nation founded on the vision of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all become one mired in gross inequality, obscene poverty and a corrupt political process? Opportunity for a bright future is being stolen from millions of innocent children.

Our nation’s founders brought together the best thinking of the time balancing faith with reason, materialism with moral values and the reality of struggle with the energy of hope.  For more than two hundred years the United States of America moved forward toward that dream and now we are going backward.

Democracy, one of the greatest ideas in history and the best form of government ever invented, has been corrupted by greed, fear, ignorance and lust for power. 

Our dignity and honor as a nation never came from our perfection as a society or as a people: it came from the belief that in the end, this was a country which would pursue justice as the compass pursues the pole: that although we might deviate,
we would return and find our path. This is what we must now do.
John Adams – second President of the United States

The founders were abundantly clear about their intent that America be a nation of ideals built on Enlightenment principles of reason and the values of compassion and empathy at the core of all world religions. They embedded freedom of, and freedom from, religion in our Constitution and clarified this country was not established as a Christian nation.

Religion and morality are necessary conditions
of the preservation of free government.
George Washington – first President of theUnited States 

So, what has happened to our moral compass and our common sense? It is fundamentally wrong that many millions of children live in poverty while a few thousand adults live with more wealth than anyone could ever need. There is a solid consensus among scientists that climate change is real with unimaginable consequences for the future. Why are we not addressing these crises?

The problem is awesomely complex but solutions are within reach. Democracy provides the framework for working through the problems and toward answers. The founders emphasized that for the democratic process to work an educated and involved citizenry with a commitment to honor was essential.

Out of all the components in this vast puzzle, an area that is seriously out of balance is the role of money and religion in politics.  These are topics that people are uncomfortable discussing but that need attention now.

The way in which a new conservative movement was built during the 1960s and 1970s to pull power away from the dominant liberal consensus is a fascinating study. The long term strategy included investing millions of corporate dollars into think tanks and communication networks. Conservatives created a “message machine” that changed hearts and minds to embrace a radically conservative worldview.

Social and cultural changes were utilized to serve the long term strategy. Turbulence of the time including theViet Namwar, Civil Rights Movement and hippie’s Summer of Love as well as women’s struggle for equal opportunity created fertile ground in which to grow new ideas. Many Americans were disgusted by the emerging lifestyles.

Leaders of the religious right developed organizations to strengthen a conservative Christian worldview and establish a power base called the Moral Majority.  By the early 1980s this grassroots movement was becoming known to religious and social scholars but most dismissed any possibility of it making a difference. Liberals did not articulate a progressive narrative to reinforce the liberal consensus. They organized around issues instead of a cohesive worldview.

A Supreme Court decision allowing legal access to abortion and introduction of the “Pill” strengthened the women’s movement but also provided the catalyst for the conservative movement to aggressively organize opposition to liberalism.

Fast forward to 2012 when conservative Christian extremists, a small segment of the population, had gained power to select the candidates to represent the Republican Party in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States. The party platform proposes draconian cuts to the social safety net, education, health, nutrition and other programs that provide access to opportunity for all. The Republican agenda would shift power from ordinary people to those already rich and powerful and destroy many of  the qualities that madeAmericagreat, and good.

America’s soul is in grave danger. This is what we need to talk about.

Phyllis Stenerson is a former Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News who lives in CARAG. Context including an expanded version of this commentary with links to background information can be found at www.ProgressiveValues.org, the author’s website.

Is This Election A War For America’s Soul?

by Richard Crespin, Forbes, The CSR Blog, 9/21/2012 

Decoding South Park’s Lessons for Voters

What South Park & the Ancient Greeks can teach us about presidential elections

Over the Labor Day holiday, our house was overrun — I mean blessed — by the arrival of my in-laws. Conversation stayed mostly banal but suddenly turned political when my brother-in-law summed up his view of the present election as a choice between two different versions ofAmerica. Is America a place that helps me when I can’t help myself or is America a place that lets me become the person I work to become?

He’s not alone. The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll picks up this theme of two competing versions of America, drawing a distinction between “…the president’s vision of a country that emphasizes community and shared responsibility,” contrasted with a vision of “…self-reliance and individual responsibility, a distinction at the core of the debate between the Republican and Democratic tickets about the proper role of government.”

Both Mitt Romney and President Obama, inadvertently or not, underscored which version they support, with Governor Romney telling an intimate gathering of supporters that he stands with the self-reliant in opposition to those that rely on government and then State Senator Obama calling for redistribution of wealth “…to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

How we frame this question, though, is more important than the answer, because the nature of a question dictates its answer. The question — as posed by my brother-in-law, the New York Times, and the candidates — is about a change in the absolute condition, the very definition, or soul, of America.

It’s a flawed premise, a flaw perhaps best articulated by Trey Parker and Matt Stone from the cartoon SouthPark. In their retelling of American history, they demonstrate that it is the fact that these visions compete that gives America its strength. The tempering influence of the doves allows the hawks to claim a righteous cause when going to war. Our self-reliant ethic prevents our communalism from dulling our competitive edge.

We not only need these two visions in constant conflict, we need them to continuously trade places in power. A better restatement of the question facing us in this election is which version do we need in power right now?

The temporary nature of the question makes it possible to do two things: first, concede the legitimacy of the other side during the election, and second, come together enough to make progress after it.

When we cast things in absolutes, we make it impossible to compromise. It’s the absolutist part that makes the Israeli-Palestinian question so intractable. If it was simply an argument over “land for peace,” then the matter could be put to bed quickly. Just make the trade. But if God told me that land is mine, then to compromise is to sell my soul, to betray God.

Same thing in the present election. If I’m voting about the very nature of America, then by definition no matter which side I pick, the other side must be a bunch of heretics with ideas dangerous to the soul of America. Tamping down the permanency of the question means that I’m really just choosing between which of my own instincts to give the lead at the present moment.

Looking at the question this way, the decision comes down to this: are we in a time of crisis — like the Great Depression or WWII – that requires collective action and shared sacrifice? If so, then we take one course for now and when the crisis is over, we can revert back to self-reliance and shameless pursuit of selfish interest. If not, if we simply find ourselves in a bad economic cycle, then we just need to take certain steps to kick-start growth.

Regardless of which conclusion you draw, by rephrasing the question and emphasizing the temporary nature of the decision we preserve the legitimacy of the other side and leave enough room to work together regardless of the outcome of the election.

Any one who seeks to casts these decisions in terms of absolutes should look both at the modern Middle East and the Ancient Greeks. The modern Middle East, with its tendency to rapidly degenerate any question into violence, shows what can happen when the ability to compromise disappears. The Ancient Greeks show us what happens when we overreach, trying to win too much. Greek tragedies followed the cycle of koros – hubris – ate – nemesis.

The tragic hero, having gained great power, would get greedy (koros), grow over-confident to the point of overwhelming arrogance bordering on moral blindness (hubris), go mad with power (ate), and then get brought low (nemesis). In our modern setting, I’ll pick on Karl Rove. He set out to create a “permanent Republican majority” and now we watch as the Republican party becomes a reductio ad absurdum shade of its former self: representing a smaller and smaller sliver of true believers.

I pick on Mr. Rove as an archetype. These tragic heroes exist on both sides of the aisle, pulling us into a continuing spiral of hardening absolutist positions. The only way out is by reframing the original question.

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