Sunday, August 23, 2009

Civility Strikes Back!

“This President has, I think, exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is [...] I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. He has a…This guy is, I believe, a racist."~ Fox television host, Glenn Beck

Sometimes things happen in the world of American politics that give me hope. In response to the irresponsible, and incendiary comments above, spoken on the air by Glenn Beck during a segment of the FOX & FRIENDS news program, advertisers are pulling commercials and the millions they represent from Beck's show. Some of the companies pulling the ads carry a lot of clout in American business: Wal-Mart, Geico, Proctor & Gamble, and Radio Shack are just a few of more than 20 such businesses, and the list continues to grow. is spearheading the effort to put these and other businesses on notice for providing financial backing for the purveyors of corrosive and inflammatory language. The results have been surprising to say the least in a time when the public has become inured to hyperbolic commentaries which have slowly become the norm in our discourse. I am proud to say that I am a signatory to the petitions that has forwarded to the business community. And the effort has paid off in another way, Beck has been asked by News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch owned company that runs FOX, to "take a week off." Like I said, sometimes there is cause for hope.

While this story may represent a refreshing example that civility is not yet dead in our public discourse, it would be premature to think that on its own it can bring us out of the dark place at which we've arrived. It has taken us a decade or more to get here, and it will take a lot of hard and sustained work to get back to civility and mutual respect. The way ahead won't really become clear to us if we fail to understand the steps that have brought us to this sorry pass.

Those wanting to retrace the steps that have placed our public conversation in peril will be doing themselves a favor if they read "The Eliminationists," by David Neiwert. The book's subtitle indicates that it is both a cautionary tale, and a rallying cry for restoring the respect and decency that has gone missing from our political discourse: "How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right." In the reading, it proves to be an accurate, chilling rendering of recent developments in culture and politics that have led inexorably to the situation we find ourselves in, one in which hate speech no longer exists on the fringes of public life, but has taken up residence comfortably in the mainstream.

Neiwert provides a quietly irrefutable gathering of evidence drawn from news reports, scholarly works, and interviews which make the case that extremist language has for years been drawn from the darkest, hate-filled corners of society, repackaged for mass consumption, and released into the mainstream. The effects can hardly be denied. Frankly, the fallout resulting from Beck's stupid irresponsibility has been stunning not because it was well deserved, but because it happened at all. That is how desensitized we have become to rhetoric and demagoguery that in times past would have been worthy of the strongest condemnation.

Neiwert's book is important in that it identifies a poisonous element in our public discourse that has not only been allowed to flourish by all of us, but has actually been encouraged by some really bad actors in the fields of media (Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter), culture (Robertson, Falwell, Dobson), and from those in positions of political leadership (Lott, Tancredo, Palin). Once the source has been identified, it becomes the duty of every citizen, be they Republican or Democrat, to stamp out this infection wherever it rears its head in public life. Our very ability to preserve democracy depends on good citizens standing up for civility. That is precisely what has done.

It needs to be the beginning, not the end of the fight to restore the public square that hatemongers have stolen from us.

Update: Since this post was first published, the number of businesses that have pulled their ads down from Beck's show has grown to at least 50.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Difference Between Liz and Dad? Lipstick

"America needs a commander-in-chief, not a global community organizer."~Liz Cheney from a speech delivered in Atlanta, Georgia

The French have a term that describes monstrous children; l'enfant terrible. But in the case of Liz Cheney, daughter of the former Vice President, one gets the feeling that in Dick Cheney's eyes, the more monstrous the child, the better. Indeed, the comment above and others uttered by the younger Cheney in defense of torture, sketchy wire taps, and the glories of Guantanamo, surely must warm the cockles of dad's heart. Or whatever Cheney has that passes for one.

Liz Cheney's fallacies are easy enough to dispatch. Left unsaid in her outrageous statement is the fact that if America has a President, then by definition she has a Commander-In-Chief. Someone please inform Liz that his name is Barack H. Obama. What Cheney is really signaling is her own preference regarding the style in which the office is handled.

Problem is, we've seen that style and its less than desirable results for the past eight years. The consensus among most intelligence agencies in the aftermath is that these policies have left us less safe. It stands to reason that if the American President is frequently the source of angry protests throughout the world, and in fact is often burned in effigy at such demonstrations, it does not bode well for our security. Conversely, when Germans waved hundreds of American flags when Barack Obama spoke in Berlin in 2008, I felt safer.

This apparently doesn't penetrate Cheney's one-dimensional (and aggressive) worldview. Thus, in interviews and panel discussions she continues to channel dear old dad by advocating the American President if you will, as a sort of "Global Community Destroyer." This was clearly one image of our country and its leader that the world, and more importantly the American voter recently rejected. But Cheney will not be deterred by the mere facts of an election.

She is fond of trumpeting the canard that the Bush administration "kept the country safe for eight years," conveniently omitting 2001, the year that they didn't. Remember, 3000 innocent Americans died on their watch. By that measure alone, Obama's doing a better job. And don't even get me started on the Bush/Cheney non-response to Hurricane Katrina.

Yet instead of feeling humbled or shamed by these failures, both Cheney's continue making the rounds demanding a respect that is hardly deserved, all the while impugning the patriotism of citizens and leaders who are doing a better job than did they in the field of foreign policy and diplomacy. So how does one wrap this up as politely and as succinctly as possible?

Liz Cheney is full of crap....Yeah, I think that works for me.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Home Is Where The Heart Is

When my young family lived in the Dallas area during the early to mid-80's, I could only go three to four months at a time without feeling an urge, almost a positive obsession to see, of all things, pine trees! I spent half of my youth growing up amid the concrete, glass and steel of the metro-plex and the other half here among the rolling green hills and forests of East Texas. Perhaps because I was surrounded by these verdant woods when I was born, this is the place that I identify with most. It's home.

But home is not always the most welcoming of places if in your politics, your religion, and I suppose just in your overall view of reality itself, you tend toward the liberal outlook. In that sense, I would have to say that I don't fit the profile of a home grown East Texan. That said, I am absolutely committed to claiming my place at the table here at home.

Somewhere along the way I escaped the insular mind-set so typical of East Texas, but I didn't escape, nor would I wish to escape, the natural beauty of this place. So "loving it or leaving it" is simply not an option here. No, I am absolutely inclined to stay and claim my rightful place as a native son, and raise my voice loud and clear and speak my piece. Furthermore, I would suggest that other liberal East Texans stand up and do the same. After all, what good is American free speech if Americans are too timid to use it.Here in East Texas its common upon entering restaurants, book stores, doctor's waiting rooms, and coffee houses to find ubiquitous televisions tuned to FOX news. There is an unspoken assumption here that the public is OK with news that is so slanted to the right as to no longer deserve the title of "news." I have on occasion raised objections with businesses just to let them know that the "assumption" at least from my point of view was off base. I wonder how it might level the playing field of our public spaces if other liberals quietly, yet firmly spoke up.

Believe it or not, I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (I'm not proud of it, but there it is). At the time I was a fundamentalist Christian and I wholeheartedly bought into the idea making the rounds in those days that "Good Christians" voted Republican. Time has changed my view considerably. Now, after being a practicing Buddhist for some 24 years, I would find it quite difficult (if not impossible) to vote that way again.

But liberals who happen to be Christians obviously can (and do) vote Democratic. Let's face it, the GOP did quite a number on religious people for a number of years by co-opting the Christian message in order to win elections. But ownership of the "Values Vote" has come into serious question in the wake of a rash of high-profile sex scandals of late, and the light being admitted into the room seems to be waking religious Democrats to the truth that they have (and have always had) values aplenty. I don't think we'll be falling for that one again, and that's good for liberals. It's good for America. As Linda Seger writes in her 2006 book "Jesus Rode A Donkey," no one has a corner on Christ.

We live in a place caught in a moment of transition between the rural values of a fading past, and the new exigencies of a fast paced global environment. The landscape features farmlands, antiquated water towers and derricks, as well as microwave towers and satellite dishes affixed to thousands of rooftops. We attend our various houses of worship on Sundays and spend our evenings surfing the web. Liberals have a stake in making our home welcoming and comfortable for everyone regardless of their particular set of values, opinions, and loyalties.

Sure, East Texas will always bear the marks of the conservative values and families who settled and developed the land, but liberals have been here all along and have worked and contributed mightily as well. We should never accept second class status in our own home. Conservatives may outnumber us, but we liberals are free to speak our minds and to stand firmly on principle when it's called for. Know that, and live accordingly.