Wisdom is not the monopoly of any one party

“It’s important as I said on election night that we enter into the new administration with a sense of humility and a recognition wisdom is not the monopoly of any one party. In order for us to be effective given the scope and the scale of the challenges that we face, Republicans and Democrats are going to have to work together. I think what the American people want more than anything is just common sense smart government. They don’t want ideology, they don’t want bickering, they don’t want sniping. They want action and they want effectiveness.”

— President-elect Barack Obama in a news conference this week on the economy

Peggy Noonan: “hit our game in a higher way”

More from Peggy Noonan, author of “Patriotic Grace”, on Meet The Press yesterday:

We may in our country may face difficult days ahead. And even immediately ahead. When you keep your mind on that you release, whoa, this whole partisan gamesmanship is OVER, it’s yesterday. What we need now is grace. We need real patriotism in which patriotism isn’t used as a weapon in a campaign. Patriotism actually needs grace in order to function. We need to be our best selves right now, we’ve got to hit our game in a higher way. We’ve got to be forbearing. We’ve got to be adults. I sometimes think one of the problems in America is there are too many people who don’t want to embrace the role of a grownup.

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.

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…

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.”


“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.

Here, here!

Former U.S. Senators Sam Nunn of Georgia and David Boren of Oklahoma have invited a bipartisan group of national leaders to meet on January 7 to discuss how to “stimulate a meaningful debate during the current presidential campaign on the important challenges facing our nation.” (Quote from Atlanta Journal Constitution.) Here is a portion of their letter, sent to (among others) former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former N.J. Governor Christie Todd Whitman, former Ambassador John Danforth and Senator Chuck Hagel:

“Our political system is, at the least, badly bent and many are concluding that it is broken at a time where America must lead boldly at home and abroad. Partisan polarization is preventing us from uniting to meet the challenges that we must face if we are to prevent further erosion of America’s power of leadership and example.

. . . To say the obvious, the presidential debates thus far have produced little national discussion of these and other fundamental issues and plans to address them. If this pattern continues through this important national election, it will produce neither a national consensus for governing nor a president who can successfully tackle these threats to our nation’s future. We understand the rough and tumble part of the political process, but without a modicum of civility and respect in our debates, forming a bipartisan consensus on the major issues after the election will be virtually impossible.”

Whether or not this meeting produces a third party candidacy (and whether or not you think that’s a good idea), it’s hard to disagree with their opening volley.

Civility 101: A draft

We’ve been thinking for a while now about just how this civility thing might go, and all that thinking has produced some ideas. Just to confuse you, here’s our tickler:

Bring your human brain.
Hold opinion lightly at times.
Eat potato salad, make potato salad.
Recognize horse manure before tracking it.
Find the wedge. Lose the wedge.
Fight like Founding Fathers.
Get (un)personal.
Lose the evil “they.”
Build your vocabulary.
Remove punctuation
Meet your batty brain.
Hold discomfort.
Be a comparison shopper.
Elevate substance over symbolism.
Err on the side of laughter.

Next week we will jump right in to discussion about bringing your human brain and leaving your lizard brain at home (when you come to the Village Square AND – we might humbly suggest as long as we’re being bossy – when you drive and when you vote).

The sum of light

The Year of Living Dangerously

One of my favorite movie lines is from The Year of Living Dangerously:

“You do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light.”

The character speaking was Billy Kwan, played by Linda Hunt (cast alongside a young Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver). Though he was speaking of poverty in Indonesia, it doesn’t seem like a half-bad general admonition for a way to live a life.

At the foundation of The Village Square is the concept that, when it comes to politics, we’re in need of a bit of light right about now (and the big-for-our-britches ambition that we can contribute to the sum). Dr. Law, co-chair of our board of directors characterized us as seeking “less heat, more light.”

Of late, we’ve witnessed the growth of partisan online blogs, where people who generally agree with each other “talk” (and sometimes yell). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s civic engagement, it can be “light” but too often it turns into “heat.” Too many of us now belong to a side which pitches half an argument. Two sides with half an argument each is no substitute for citizens who understand a whole argument.

Here at The Village Square blog, we’ll strive for whole arguments. If we care about truth telling by public servants, we must care about truth telling by all public servants, on the right and the left. If we care about media accuracy, we must care about media accuracy whether it benefits the right or the left.

And as we launch our Village Square, we need to resist the temptation to vilify an average citizen on the “other” side, who is, in reality, our neighbor down the street, the nice woman at the bookstore, our kid’s softball coach. It’s so much harder to hate “people” when you meet them face-to-face.

That doesn’t mean becoming a doormat and failing to pitch or even appear to believe in your argument, as good argument is fundamental to The Village Square. But argument must incorporate a larger perspective that allows us to argue AND hold the tension of opposites at the core of our democracy. Maybe in these partisan times, our new forum will be our own version of “The Year of Living Dangerously?”

And, if there is anyone out there still listening to anything other than the sound of his or her own voice, maybe someone will notice.