Justice O’Connor on civility and civics education

“I believe that we are at a critical point in our nation’s history. We face difficult challenges at home and abroad. Meanwhile, divisive rhetoric and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown out rational dialogue and debate. We cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.” –Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, The Sacramento Bee

(Thanks to Tanja for sending this our way.)



Our broken conversation (as told through a week in the life of Newt Gingrich)

Welcome to today’s Purple Post (why not go on over and read it at Purple, John’s about to write about tomorrow’s rapture, which will probably not be boring):

This week’s brouhaha surrounding the newly-minted candidacy and ensuing political missteps of Newt Gingrich provides an opportunity to understand just how wacky our civic conversation has become. Here’s how the apparent crash and burn started:

DAVID GREGORY (Meet the Press): “…Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…”

GINGRICH: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate… I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

Essentially Gingrich had just staked out a semi-populist/smidge libertarian middle position that appears now to be similar to that of the majority of the American people (who don’t quite like either Ryan’s or Obama’s).

The right’s reaction was predictably based on Gingrich’s lack of loyalty rather than a recognition that he was riding the cresting public opinion wave while the rest of the party was likely being cumulatively tugged under it. This was so predictable because we’ve gone tribal, Shia and Sunni style, where no one on one side is ever going to advisedly take an opinion (publicly) against their own “tribe”, never mind what they actually think. The condemnation was round and swift, ending the week in the traditional conservative perp walk to the Rush Limbaugh show where countless Republicans have found themselves after saying ridiculously obvious things such as… no, Limbaugh isn’t the head of the Republican party, he’s an entertainer (Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS and RNC Chair Michael Steele) or that Limbaugh throws bricks (uh, duh) (Rep. Phil Gingrey R-GA). Gingrich did the standard prescribed perp dance too, trying to say he didn’t say what he clearly said.

Of course none of this has ever been about reality, Gingrich just had to pay his tribal dues. Then again having paid them, it won’t make a bit of difference because in tribal politics like ours, he a goner. No “Sunni” would ever have supported him no matter how reasonable he became measured against their positions and he’s politically dead to the “Shia” now having disagreed with them on 1 (one) topic.

Indeed, over at America’s other political tribe, I heard precious little discussion of whether Gingrich had a point or possibly a bit of political courage, notably not by the people who ought to have thought he did. Ridiculing him has become sport, so why stop when he says something that presumably makes sense to them? Gingrich couldn’t buy a friend, even while representing a majority opinion in America. Instead most liberals didn’t seem able to resist taking general cheap shots. If you lean left and are resisting my point, think of the syndrome suffered by talk radio where no matter what position a Democratic leader takes and how close it is the position espoused by conservatives, the talk-radio crowd will tie themselves up in twisty illogical rhetorical knots to stake a position against him/her even if they have to argue against what they’re always arguing for. Hypocrisy is just so last season these days.

Liberals did that to Gingrich this week. It’s all because we lead now with our tribal anger.

Queue up Gingrich’s official spokesman’s statement, maybe the most bizarre I’ve ever heard, and you’ve got the three-ring circus at full-freakish tilt (you can also watch John Lithgow’s dramatic reading of the statement, starts about 3:30):

“The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote. “Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”

And so it goes.

Barely a peep this week in the way of an articulate conversation on health care and about whether Gingrich’s point had any merit at its heart. You see, we aren’t actually trying to solve any problems anymore. Keep this up and we’ll be getting exactly the public policy we deserve.

Ask the Shia or Sunni how well this has worked for them.

(Illustration credit: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)



Ross Douthat: A Requiem for Huckabee

Noting that “we live in an age of economic stagnation and social crisis, and the two are intimately connected,” Ross Douthat wrote this about the end of Mike Huckabee’s 2012 presidential prospects in The New York Times:

He’ll be missed because he embodied a political persuasion that’s common in American life but rare in America’s political class. This worldview mixes cultural conservatism with economic populism: it’s tax-sensitive without being stridently antigovernment, skeptical of Wall Street as well as Washington, and as concerned about immigration, family breakdown and public morals as it is about the debt ceiling.

This combination of views represents one of the plausible middle grounds in American politics.

Read the whole article HERE. Hat tip to Bill Mattox for sending it our way.



Caricature-defying quotes: Rachel Maddow

“Giant incredible rocket ships have a way of rendering politics meaningless, just as close proximity to scientific glory is a really good cure for cynicism, world weariness or being jaded about what human beings can accomplish.” — Rachel Maddow

(One of our theories here at The Village Square is that if we actually knew each other beyond the cut and paste quotes that uber-partisans regularly feed us, we’d like each other a little more. So please help me keep an eye out for people who’ve been – well, uh… divided — by the gaping partisan divide doing something intensely, decently human that you can’t help but kind of like…)

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Village Square must-see: Eli Pariser on the “Filter Bubble”



On Pro Publica

Think Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman on the big screen as Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. Think My Lai massacre, Love Canal.

Think Ford Pinto.

If you haven’t given investigative journalism a whole lot of thought lately, you might want to start. Because in the past it’s been an integral part of America’s civic life, it’s natural to assume its out there alive and well like some kind of invisible democratic force field, but the reality is that along with the rest of journalism, everything about investigative journalism has changed virtually overnight. Turns out it’s going to need a new business model. Read all »



Liz Joyner at TEDxFSU: Mixing it up at The Village Square

TEDxFSU: Liz Joyner “Mixing it Up at the Village Square” from The Village Square on Vimeo.


(Check out TEDxFSU HERE.)



Mark Halperin on extreme partisanship

“If he repelled a Martian invasion tomorrow, I’m not sure he’d get to 65%.” –referring to the tiny bounce in the polls that President Obama got after Osama bin Laden was killed

It is worth noting that George Bush Sr. got to 90% approval after the Gulf War & there was probably more ambivalence among Americans about whether that was a good thing than whether killing Bin Laden was. Perhaps a clear measure of how divided and dysfunctional our politics have grown since?



Leading & Misleading

From Glenn W. Smith’s The Politics of Deceit:

Following Thomas Paine’s advice, we should wake up and understand that our long habit of not thinking our political practices wrong does not make them right. . . Their very structure lends advantage to those who would mislead rather than lead, to those who believe their own power is more important than the health of democracy. . . The dissolution of social mechanisms for working out our differences – and celebrating our similarities and common purposes – has contributed to the deterioration of the public sphere and made possible the ascendancy of the politics of deceit.



Specks and logs

For the sake of truth in advertising, perhaps 2.5-ish centuries of one national motto is enough and we should switch to go with a motto that seems to (too often) be the real tone in modern America. So how’s this for a redo on E pluribus unum:

“I see the speck in your eye, but haven’t a clue about the log in mine.”

How’s that for helping to chart the future of America in the world?

Maybe you’ve got other ideas?



Merthiolate

It came to me one day while applying antibiotic ointment to my young daughter’s scrape. With similar wounds to my daughter’s in my own childhood, out came a rectangular amber glass bottle of Merthiolate or Mercurochrome. The pinkest liquid you’ve ever seen – over the top pink, pink on heroin. There are lots of different kinds of pain, but two childbirths later I don’t think I’ve ever felt more burn than was delivered by that little bottle.

At my house, the Merthiolate ritual was the same every time. Mom or Dad would lift us along with our newly cleaned [insert appropriate body part here] to sit on top of the kitchen counter. Some quorum of family members would stand around us poised to assist, cheeks poofed out with a lung full of air, pointed at the wound. On cue, after the medicine was applied, all the helpers would immediately start blowing (lots of new germs, I can see all these years later) on the carefully cleaned wound to make that infernal sting stop. Read all »



Great quote.

From today’s discussion on Meet the Press:

‘My grandad said all the time “Tavis, there are some fights that ain’t worth fighting even if you win. There are other fights you have to fight even if you lose.” And if the proposition we start from is about whether this is going to get me re-elected… there’s no courage, there’s no conviction, there’s no commitment…’ — Tavis Smiley



Differences in liberal vs. conservative brain stucture found

A British study released Thursday in Current Biology further supports theories that there far more to political difference than just who we vote for. It’s already been shown that there are differing levels of brain activity in the amygdala and upper brain cortex in liberals and conservatives, but apparently there is also a difference in the size of each part of the brain. Conservatives have more brain mass in their amygdala, the region of the brain associated with fear. Liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex which is associated with managing uncertainty and conflict. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether the political bent affected the size of the brain region or if the brain differences started the whole shebang. It continues to be our assertion that it’s understanding where people are coming from – differences in brain and all – that makes all the difference in having a constructive civic dialogue with them. Read all »