Kathleen Parker: The Omen In My Mail

This morning, nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker gives us a peak inside her inbox.

And it’s not pretty.

She describes receiving emails reacting to her column citing concern about Sarah Palin’s qualifications as “[n]ot just angry, but vicious and threatening.” A sampling:

I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should “off” myself.

Parker correctly suggests that there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle, “… that’s the way one begins to think when party loyalty is given a higher value than loyalty to bedrock principles.” Parker writes:

Such extreme partisanship has a crippling effect on government, which may be desirable at times, but not now. More important in the long term is the less tangible effect of stifling free speech. My mail paints an ugly picture and a bleak future if we do not soon correct ourselves.

The picture is this: Anyone who dares express an opinion that runs counter to the party line will be silenced. That doesn’t sound American to me, but Stalin would approve.

Readers have every right to reject my opinion. But when we decide that a person is a traitor and should die for having an opinion different from one’s own, we cross into territory that puts all freedoms at risk. (I hear you, Dixie Chicks.)

… Our day of reckoning may indeed be upon us. Between war and economic collapse, we have enormous challenges. It will take the best of everyone to solve them. That process begins minimally with a commitment to engage in civil discourse and a cease-fire in the war against unwelcome ideas.

We could not agree more.

Declaration on Civility and Inclusive Leadership

From the Center for the Study of the Presidency comes an intelligent and inspirational work, Declaration on Civility and Inclusive Leadership, setting an appropriately high bar for our nation’s leadership. It’s high time we stop being primarily Republicans and Democrats and become (deep breath now, this is radical) Americans. As David Abshire (this week’s Village Square speaker) and Max Kampelman write:

Civility does not require citizens to give up cherished beliefs or “dilute”
their convictions. Rather, it requires respect, listening, and trust when
interacting with those who hold differing viewpoints. Indeed, civility
and inclusive leadership have often been exercised in the American
experience as a means of moving to higher, common ground and
developing more creative approaches to realize shared aspirations.

Liz Joyner: Ode to the three-legged stool

stool_1_lg.gifI am enamored with the three-legged stool.

In looking back on just where such an oddball affinity came from, I’m thinking it started with its colorful use as a prop by the late great He-Coon Florida governor Lawton Chiles. In his 1991 State of the State speech, Governor Chiles waved a three-legged stool in the air as an illustration of the American system of balance of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Saw a leg off, and that stool won’t sit right.

I’ve come to believe deeply, even reverently, in the balance of powers. The three legs of the stool of democracy achieves what is best in human history by acknowledging what is worst in human nature… that too much power tends to get the best of us pretty easily.

When I came back around to the religious faith of my childhood as an adult, good grief if I didn’t find another three-legged stool sitting right there in my Episcopal faith. The legs of this stool are Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

For a hoot, I googled “three-legged stool.” Apparently that little stool is a metaphor for balance in just about everything – Ronald Reagan’s conservative coalition, executive managerial theory, mind body & spirit – and on and on.

I recently found another sensible three-legged stool in Jim Wallis’ book The Great Awakening:

All three sectors of a society need to be functioning well for its health and well-being – the private (market) sector, the public sector, and the civil society (nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations, of which faith communities are a part). It is indeed like a three-legged stool. Each sector has crucial roles to play, and each should do what only it can do and not replace what the others can do better.

Private vs. public, business vs. government, church vs. state. The now dull and predictable political argument rages on, straining credibility that it never settles on the obvious conclusion that it’s “and” rather than “either/or”.

That lowly three-legged stool, it sits so close to the ground – so inconspicuously that you might just trip over it. But when you need to get something way up high, whether it’s a can of tomato soup or the makings of a fine democracy, it is so there for you.

All we have to do is make sure it sits right.


Liz Joyner is the cofounder of the Village Square. Contact her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

On civility and a conservative icon

Today’s New York Times editorial page honors William F. Buckley Jr. who died yesterday at the age of 82:

There are not many issues on which Mr. Buckley and this page agreed or would agree – except, perhaps, the war in Iraq, which Mr. Buckley regretted as “unrealistic”and “anything but conservative.” Yet despite his uncompromising beliefs, Mr. Buckley was firmly committed to civil discourse and showed little appetite for the shrillness that plagues far too much of today’s political discourse.

For a time back in the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Buckley and the liberal columnist Murray Kempton were something of a traveling road show. And they were friends. Yale’s angry young man turned out to be not so angry after all. He hated most of what the liberals stood for. He didn’t hate them.

He didn’t hate them.

There’s baby, then there’s bathwater

I’m reading the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, recommended to me by my conservative friend Lea. The book talks about “Level 5 leadership” being one of the required conditions for a company to achieve greatness.

Level 5 leadership isn’t at all what you’d expect it to be. Level 5 leaders are humble, a little awkward when it comes to slick media sound bites. But behind the scene, they demonstrate single-minded determination to achieve solid results. Once exceptional results are achieved, they tend to be leaders who give credit to their employees or even luck. They build things that are solid, that last. They’re the best of what American capitalism offers. They’re kind of American like apple pie.

According to Collins:

The recent spate of boards enamored with charismatic CEO’s especially rock star celebrity types is one of the most damaging trends for the long term health of companies and if this trend persists – if we see a triumph of celebrity over leadership and we maintain our misguided mix-up between those two concepts – we will see very few great institutions the next century.

It occurred to me as I read this passage that this zillionaire show-off CEO is substantially part of the picture I think many liberals have in their brain when they think of big business. They notice what’s wrong with big business, not what’s right with it… not the “Level 5 leadership” that’s out there and does capitalism proud. Slick zillionaire leader boy (or girl) isn’t good for anyone, if you follow Collins thinking; not for America, not for capitalism, not even for their company. This person is a distortion, an aberration, an example of the excess that tends to always create trouble (in River City, that starts with “t” that rhymes with “p” that stands with pool).

That got me thinking that maybe liberals tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when they’re talking what’s wrong with big business. They develop a hostile tick about “big business.” And I’m thinking that conservatives tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when they’re talking what’s wrong with government… “big government.”

All this baby throwing out when really the problem we all share isn’t either the business or the government but the excess that exists in both?

What would happen if liberals attended to the excess that exists in government and conservatives attended to the excess that exists in corporate America? What would happen if we demonstrated “Level 5 leadership”, reaching for greatness within our own general sphere of influence? Where might we be then?

A bipartisan valentine


Today’s New York Times features a tale of bipartisan love by self-described lefty Ann Hood, author of “The Knitting Circle.” Describing her husband-to-be, a Republican:

Whatever his current politics, it was too late: I had already fallen in love with his combination of whimsy and steadfastness, his ability to fix broken doors…

“You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.”

A great quote from Doug Floyd via The Village Square’s very own purveyor of great quotes, Lea.

That’s all.

Senator Bob Graham on “the cancer of hostile partisanship”

Former Florida Senator Bob Graham wrote this week about the imperative of crossing the hyper-partisan divide in order to effectively – get this – govern. He pointed to the very real consequences of putting party ahead of country:

• Almost seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, we still have huge gaps in national and homeland security. Our military is stretched thin and our nation remains vulnerable to catastrophic terrorism.

• Nearly 50 million Americans still have no health insurance, and the number of the uninsured rises every year.

• As evidenced by the bridge collapse in Minneapolis last August and the crumbling levees in New Orleans, we have recklessly neglected our infrastructure.

• Gas prices remain high, but we still have no real energy policy.

Graham says the next president “has an opportunity — and an obligation — to attack the disease of partisan hostility and to set the tone during this election.”

On January 7, Senator Graham met with other national leaders concerned about the cost of our partisanship. Some of the recommendations arising from that meeting:

• Congress must restore and modernize the campaign finance reforms enacted after Watergate. Today, a presidential candidate accepts public financing at the risk of being discounted as weak and irrelevant.

• The media must insist that future presidential debates each focus on a single issue. Candidates can hide behind sound bites when a debate covers every and all subjects. But when candidates must spend a full 90 minutes discussing health care or national defense, voters will learn who is for real and who isn’t.

• Political parties must fundamentally reform the dysfunctional presidential primary system. We need a better process in 2012 — one that empowers all Americans. My preference would be four regional primaries, held at three- to four-week intervals from January to April.

• Our citizens must be educated to use their powers for effective participation in the political process. Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport.

“Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport.”


On candy and cod liver oil

For the purpose of argument, I’m going to say that the democratic process, at some level, is about who gets candy and who gets cod liver oil. When one group gets their way, they’ve almost never asked for fish oil.

Although it may elude children, adults know in the long run who the winner will be on the health front, and it’s not the recipient of the candy.

While you won’t actually see “candy and cod liver oil” on the ballot, I’ve learned through three conversations on property taxes sponsored by The Village Square this year, that’s partly what Florida’s January 29th vote will be about.

We invited politically diverse speakers who are knowledgeable on the property tax issue to educate us. Then rather than arguing, we listened.

While there was substantial disagreement on just how many teaspoons of cod liver oil (in the form of budget cuts) government should take, there was wide agreement on some fundamentals.

It seems that Florida is having a bit of a chow down lately courtesy of “Save Our Homes” and we’re starting to pay the price.

Before “Save Our Homes” passed in 1992, capping the property tax increase for homesteaded property owners at 3%, we all paid our fair share. After “Save Our Homes” we have kept taxes low for the majority on the backs of the minority. Blessed with the sunshine people want, Florida has until recently been able to make ends meet because new residents, first-time homebuyers, snowbirds, renters and those wanting to do business in this great state remained willing to foot the bills.

But now these people are carrying pitchforks over the taxes they are paying; there just aren’t enough of them numerically to prevail at the ballot box. Sooner or later though, and it may be sooner in the form of decreased tourism and a slowed real estate market, these villagers are going to poke us with their pitchforks.

As if that weren’t enough, “Save Our Homes” has had another unintended consequence.

When local governments make spending decisions, it is fundamental to representative democracy that they have to run the gauntlet with citizens to raise taxes. But because the burden of increases has been borne by the minority, most of us never felt it in our pocketbooks so we never showed up at “city hall”. Spending, as a result, tended to creep up.

Like most legislative results of the democratic process, Amendment 1 imperfectly attempts to tackle the problem. Non-homesteaded property owners will have a 10% cap on tax increases, businesses get tangible personal property exemptions, and the 3% annual homestead tax increase cap will be portable to a new home (if it passes constitutional muster). Making the amendment attractive to more voters is a doubling of the homestead exemption (less the percentage dedicated to schools).

Many feel what will ultimately be required to restore tax fairness to Florida, along with cuts in spending, is to either abandon the wildly popular “Save Our Homes” or make it more equitable. But with Amendment 1 giving most of us our dessert now – in the form of portability and doubling the homestead exemption – it might become impossible for 60% of Floridians to vote to take the prescribed medicine later.

One of the forum’s speakers, Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro evoked Walt Kelly’s long-running comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

There has been a time or two in history (think Rome) when the people’s demand for “candy” has gotten the better of them and the whole civilization came crashing down. I, for one, think this particular democracy is capable of better.

You know, now they make cod liver oil in pills that don’t give you fish-burp.


Life here in the wild, wild west

Did you know that while there are regulations on the veracity of advertising regarding the cereal you eat or the juice you drink, there is absolutely nothing regulating truth in political advertising?

Brooks Jackson, from the organization Facts.org offers us a bottom line: “If all you know about candidates in an election is what you see in their ads, you are going to cast a very poorly informed vote.”

On the PBS program Bill Moyers Journal Jackson continues:

The first amendment gives the press in this country and that includes broadcast outlet terrific freedom which is used to make a lot of money. But it’s there because the voters need information to base a sound decision on. And I think In too many cases broadcasters and cable outlets are making huge amounts of money from running these political ads which in many cases are false and misleading and they’re putting very little of that money back into some reporting that would inform their viewers about when they’re being scammed…

…If you think commercial advertising is misleading, you’ve got to realize it’s the wild wild west when it comes to political advertising.

So as campaign 2008 ramps up, remember “let the buyer beware.”

“An education in discourse”

I just caught this rerun of ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters,” a drama about a diverse family politically. Kitty (Calista Flockheart), the conservative daughter of a liberal mom (Sally Fields), is about to marry a Republican candidate for president (Rob Lowe) and the campaign is heading into Iowa.

There’s your set-up – give it a watch.

“…a president matters. And so do we.”

This week brought us a typical brain-dead political discussion about who did what in the civil rights movement. King! Johnson! King! Johnson!

Politics played to our lizard brains, replayed endlessly in incomplete soundbites on the 24-hour cable news do-loop station of your choice, repeatedly asks us to pick “either/or”.

But reality is nearly always about “and.”

As a tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King today, I want to share Bill Moyers nailing that concept.

As this day ends, the day we set aside to honor Dr. King, if I don’t miss my bet, he would have been all about sharing credit with President Johnson… possibly with one or two others…

Here’s to what real leadership is all about.

Moyers on the signing of the 1965 Civil Right Act:

Martin Luther King had marched and preached and witnessed for this day. Countless ordinary people had put their bodies on the line for it; been berated, bullied and beaten, only to rise and organize and struggle on against the dogs, the guns, the bias and burning crosses. Take nothing from them. Their courage is their legacy.

But take nothing from the President who once had seen the light, but dimly, as through a dark glass and now did the right thing. Lyndon Johnson threw the full weight of his office on the side of justice.

Of course the movement had come first, watered by the blood of so many championed bravely now by the preacher-turned-prophet who would himself soon be martyred. But there is no inevitability to history. Someone has to seize and turn it. With these words, at the right moment – “We shall overcome” – Lyndon Johnson transcended race and color – and history too – reminding us that a president matters.

And so do we.

America, go to your room.

No matter your candidate in ’04, no matter your candidate in ’08, no matter your party, this isn’t good news: ugly South Carolina political tricks are baaaccck… This time with this piece of high-minded political discourse targeting Senator John McCain from a group calling themselves “Vietnam Veterans against McCain.

Last spin through South Carolina for the Senator, pro-Bush groups conducted push-polls asking voters how they would feel if they knew McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock. Truth? The Senator and his wife adopted an Indian ORPHAN from MOTHER THERESA’S ORPHANAGE, no less.

Then there is this smear against Mitt Romney a “mailer in heavily evangelical South Carolina, purporting to be a holiday card paid for by the Mormon Temple in Boston, wishing fond holiday wishes from the Romney family,” beginning with this sentence: “We have now clearly shown that God the father had a plurality of wives…” The FBI is investigating, though a lot of good it will do candidate Romney as a postscript months down the road.

Then there is this anti-Romney mailing out to Florida voters:

“Help me sound the alarm that one day the Mormon Church plans to replace the Constitution with a Mormon theocracy. Mitt Romney’s political success indicates this may be sooner than most have thought…”

Then there is email, this breathless Obama as undercover radical Muslim screed that’s been arriving in in-boxes for months. One version even mentions that email fact-checker www.snopes.com had verified the story when it had, in fact, done the exact opposite.

And, now, a Village Square pop-quiz. Referencing our last post, do you suppose these tactics target our:

    1. Human brain
    2. Lizard brain
    3. Our inner second-grader?

Hint: My apologies to second graders for impugning their intelligence.