Good idea. (That’s all.)
There’s this, and then there is The Village Square…
Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety â€” welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.
On the eve of the August recess, members are reporting meetings that have gone terribly awry, marked by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior. In at least one case, a congressman has stopped holding town hall events because the situation has spiraled so far out of control.
â€œI had felt they would be pointless,â€ Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO, referring to his recent decision to temporarily suspend the events in his Long Island district. â€œThere is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.”
In Bishopâ€™s case, his decision came on the heels of a June 22 event he held in Setauket, N.Y., in which protesters dominated the meeting by shouting criticisms at the congressman for his positions on energy policy, health care and the bailout of the auto industry.
Within an hour of the disruption, police were called in to escort the 59-year-old Democrat â€” who has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he was elected in 2002 â€” to his car safely.
â€œI have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold,â€ Bishop said, noting that, for the time being, he was using other platforms to communicate with his constituents. â€œBut I also believe no one is served if you canâ€™t talk through differences.â€
Bishop isnâ€™t the only one confronted by boiling anger and rising incivility. At a health care town hall event in Syracuse, N.Y., earlier this month, police were called in to restore order, and at least one heckler was taken away by local police. Close to 100 sign-carrying protesters greeted Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) at a late June community college small-business development forum in Panama City, Fla. Last week, Danville, Va., anti-tax tea party activists claimed they were â€œrefused an opportunityâ€ to ask Rep. Thomas Perriello (D-Va.) a question at a town hall event and instructed by a plainclothes police officer to leave the property after they attempted to hold up protest signs.
Read more at Politico.com
For this quote, hat tip to Lea*, who somehow seems to know when anyone discusses civility on any blog across America at the same time as she drives her kids around town in endless loops, takes beautiful pictures of everyone she knows and pursues her career as a thespian in Young Actors Theatre’s Celebrity Edition of High School Musical (tired just writing all this)…
From C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”
The liberal Washington Monthly blogger who brings us this quote continues:
If you give in to “the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible”, it’s easy to see how you could end up thinking things about them that it is implausible to think about any group of human beings.. Your opponents become cartoons in your mind, and the normal duty to be charitable and generous, or even realistic, in your views about other people seem not to apply to them. You stop thinking of them as fellow human beings, and start thinking of them as enemies…
No one — not liberals, not conservatives — should forget that their opponents are human beings. And no one can afford to start down the road Lewis describes, in which you allow yourself to be disappointed when your opponents aren’t as bad as you first thought, or want them to be as bad as possible. And no one should get so wrapped up in political fights that in focussing on the mote in someone else’s eye, they lose sight of the beam in their own.
Worth noting is that Lea originally saw this post echoed on a Christian blog Cranach: The Blog of Veith. An iconic Christian author quoted on the blog of a cornerstone left-leaning publication (that I should add my sister used to work for); the left-leaning blog subsequently quoted on a Christian blog.
If you really think about it, all of this makes black a lot less black, eh?
*In the vernacular of this ugly political war we’ve found ourselves in, Lea is my “enemy” and I hers. If you find it impossible to believe that we’re dear friends, you really need to get out more.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”
Ultimately, Neiwert argues, both sides–liberal and conservative–need to surrender the unhelpful idea that they are the “heroes” of the American story. For in order for there to be a hero, he explains, we need a demonized other from which to “rescue” the nation. True heroism in a democracy is not killing “bad guys” or rounding up scary people or shouting fellow citizens into silence, effectively forcing them to eliminate their voices and themselves from the democratic scene. Rather, it is recognizing the human in the other, the messy nuance of competing interests and sub-cultures, honoring the ability to disagree (strongly) without wishing death or silence on one another. True heroism can look, from the outside, kind of drab and lacking in drama.
Below is a clip of John’s essay on what, exactly, a “Purple State of Mind” means. It doesn’t begin to do the entirety of “Let them eat purple cake” justice, so do yourself a favor and skip my version and read the whole thing HERE. John and his friend Craig of Purple State of Mind will join us in April for dinner. It might be one of your worst mistakes if you miss it.
… Itâ€™s about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency. Part of the problem for the last two decades has been a curious tendency to treat our great national debates as a cross between a game and a comedy routine. Oh, we insisted that our issues were matters of life and death, whether abortion or gay marriage, whether freedom of speech or the right to bear arms, but we hired huge numbers of professionals to fight those battles for us, our proxies, our mercenaries, our lobbyists, our activists, and their handiwork often enough turned the entire public discourse into a freak show fueled by the rage virus.
Our national conversation became a version of American Idol, the emphasis on empty gestures of cruelty, vapid sentiment and specious notions of achievement. We allowed ourselves to see this massively complex and mysteriousness country in the broadest of show biz clichÃ©s. Whether gay or straight, Christian or skeptic, black or white, we were either going to Hollywood or going home. As we now know, there is a price to be paid for triviality in bitterness, frustration and self-disgust.
Our sham dialogues on cable news network, the Hannity and Colmes effect, were as deceptive in their own way as Wall Street practices that hid the truth about the markets. Now that our eyes are open, it is time to walk away from the game. It is time to despise the trivialization of those who have different worldviews, time to stop believing that reality has anything to do with television, and time to entertain the possibility that our divisions can take us to some very dark places, even Gaza and Mumbai, if we donâ€™t wake up.
My “Faith, Politics & Neighbors” reading list is – well – let’s just call it diverse. The librarian is probably really wondering about me. One book on that list that I’ve found fascinating is The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Although the book’s basic thesis is quite hostile to organized religion, many of his points are actually central tenants of those committed to organized religion. Unfathomably, he’d agree with the conservative religious right on many things. More on that later.
One point that resonated with my Village Square take on things is his concept of a “moral community” as a limiter to our ability to bridge divides:
The notion of a moral community resolves many paradoxes of human behavior. How is it, after all, that a Nazi guard could return each day from his labors at the crematoria and be a loving father to his children? The answer is surprisingly straightforward: the Jews he spent the day torturing and killing were not objects of his moral concern. Not only were they outside his moral community; they were antithetical to it. His beliefs about Jews inured him to the natural human sympathies that might have otherwise prevented such behavior.
He continues more controversially and judgmentally, in what is an over-generalization in my mind but many would say is true in some cases:
Unfortunately, religion casts more shadows than light on this terrain. Rather than find real reasons for human solidarity, faith offers us a solidarity born of tribal and tribalizing fictions. As we have seen, religion is one of the great limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith.
I’d argue that religion at its best absolutely does find real reasons for human solidarity, but religion at its worst – in the hands of us fallible humans – can dehumanize and divide.
Playing for Change filmmaker Mark Johnson:
I think music is the one thing that opens the door to bringing people to a place where they’re all connected. It’s easy to connect to the world through music. Religion, politics, a lot of those things… they seem to divide everybody.
A must see.
Neither of my kids spent much time on the seesaw at the park in their younger days. If I had to guess why, it would be that it was a little too much work for a day at the park. It was rare when they got a seesaw partner who didn’t require serious weight and momentum adjustmentâ€”sliding forward or backward, pushing hard at the bottom to get your end back up in the air, or, as was more often the case with my slender little girls, perched suspended three feet up, pretty much unable to control a thing.
As my sixteen-year-old has grown into a young woman, she’s been exposed to many a political dinner table conversation from the perspective of my side of the political seesaw. But as much as she’s heard me yammer, I’ve only now just noticed that she’s suspended in mid air with her feet dangling, no where near solid ground. I’m afraid I’ve been responsible for providing her only half the argument in a country that requires citizens to understand the whole one.
Trying to give her a shove back down to terra firma, I’ve had a series of conversations with her aboutâ€”ultimatelyâ€”what I deeply believe. There’s been a bit of personal political archeology involved here, as, in the daily shuffle, there are times when I’m too immersed in the veneer to reach for the foundation. Here’s where I found my foundation: What lasts, what matters from all of our daily political struggles is what keeps America who we are. What matters is the two-party system that creates a tension of opposites, the left keeping the right from marching into fascism, the right keeping the left from slipping into communism. What lasts is the best ideas that rise to the top, the product of our endless, sometimes painfully difficult dialog. Were it not for the tension, the struggle, we wouldn’t be America.
When power concentrates on one side of this non-stop American seesaw, it’s time for the grown-ups to give it a firm shove on one side. I sense the American public is ready to give a firm parental shove right about now too. But there is risk in this weight adjustment when we’ve been so used to pushing hard and having nothing happen… we risk that we’ll send the other guy miles into the air. Okay, so I’ll admit it, right now that may not seem so bad, but pause for a moment to consider what happens after the other guy’s fanny lands back on the seesaw. I never took physics but I’m fairly sure that all that energy has to go someplace and it may not be pretty when it does.
So, here’s to keeping the big picture in mind as each “side” shoves to get more momentum… hoping there are enough grownups to keep the traffic on the seesaw well-behaved.
**This post represents the genesis of the thinking that would ultimately become The Village Square. I first wrote “The Seesaw” in March of 2006, when the Democrats had no political power. Now they control both Congress and the presidency.
The seesaw works both ways, folks.
Post-Village-Square… Lea called me (Liz, the liberal) and suggested that the better thing to do would be to take muffins to both the McCain and the Obama campaign offices. So, this morning we loaded up 2 baskets with an assortment of homemade muffins and Village Square bumper stickers and buttons, then made two of the more unusual visits the campaigns have likely received.
On the beautiful card Lea made:
The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.
— John F. Kennedy
*RATED R FOR NON-VILLAGE-SQUARE-ISH LANGUAGE*
Suggesting that our civic discussion has turned incivil is a vast understatement. Alas, even here where we are all about civility. Take this comment I received on this post referring – I assume – to Kathleen Hall Jamieson (who was on Bill Moyers yesterday):
You made a total asshole of yourself tonight on Bill Moyers. I used to have the utmost respect for you. You above all people were a true speaker of truth.
Not any more. *** Barack should have paid for Mcasshole to have his own half hour on TV … I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but Bush, MCcain and their ilk hate America and its citizens and your infanantile musings will do nothing other than speed up the attempt to destroy this country.
HOW COULD YOU END UP TO BE SUCH AN IGNORANT CUNT?
This example, left-leaning hatred. But any discussion of hatred has to cite right-wing talk radio and its endless hours of shoveling fury.
JEFFREY FELDMAN quoted on Bill Moyers Journal: “Our system is a deliberative democracy. And that deliberative democracy depends on a certain kind of talk, a certain conversation in order to function well. What right-wing rhetoric does, when it reaches that violent pitch, is it undermines that particular conversation, such that the focus of political debate, becomes increasingly hamstrung by fear, and the ability of citizens to engage in the basic act of civics becomes gummed up. That conversation breaks down.”
These examples are given:
MICHAEL SAVAGE:”Liberalism is, in essence, the HIV virus, and it weakens the defense cells of a nation. What are the defense cells of a nation? Well, the church. They’ve attacked particularly the Catholic Church for 30 straight years. The police, attacked for the last 50 straight years by the ACLU viruses. And the military, attacked for the last 50 years by the Barbara Boxer viruses on our planet.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.'”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “America is being overrun by an invasion force from Mexico that’ll soon take over the country[…]you psychotic liberals don’t even know you’re digging your own grave and throwing lime in there. All that’s missing is the worm from the tequila bottle to go with it.”
MICHAEL REAGAN: “Take them out and shoot them. They are traitors to this country, and shoot them. But anybody who would do that doesn’t deserve to live. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullet.”
NEAL BOORTZ:”That wasn’t the cries of the downtrodden. That’s the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not, and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them.”
NEAL BOORTZ:”It’s Ramadan and Muslims in your workplace might be offended if they see you eating at your desk. Why? I guess it’s because Muslims don’t eat during the day during Ramadan. They fast during the day and eat at night. Sorta like cockroaches.”
NEAL BOORTZ: “I already have received at least one brilliant email today about the immigration problem […]this person sent me an email, said when we defeat this illegal alien amnesty bill and when we yank out the welcome mat and they all start going back to Mexico, as a going-away gift let’s all give them a box of nuclear waste[…]tell ‘em it can, it’ll heat tortillas.”
These people aren’t helpful to conservatives, just as my poster isn’t helpful to liberals.
Hateful polemics serve their argument, their cause, and our country, poorly.
Apparently someone was onto The Village Square motto: “Facts Matter” just a tiny wee bit before we were:
[Man in general] is capable of rectifying his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong.
— John Stuart Mill, 1865, On Liberty.
All students of man and society… are aware that the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though in the wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct. — John Stuart Mill