Saturday, August 28, 2010

Reflections on August

August 28, 1963

August 29, 2005

What's goin on?

Don't let em take the fight outta you.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.


Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Reach

Since the first time I heard this song, it has had some strange powerful hold on me. I still sometimes wonder why.

In sailing, the reach is defined this way:

When the boat is traveling approximately perpendicular to the wind, this is called reaching...For most modern sailboats, reaching is the fastest way to travel.

And the morning will blow away
As the waves crash and fall
And the reach like a siren sings
As she beacons and calls
As the coastline recedes from view
And the seas swell and roll
I will take from the reach
All that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Therapist-In-Chief vs Problem-Solver-In-Chief

Plant your tongue firmly in your cheek while you read this from Roger Simon.

Q: Will Barack Obama be a one-term president?

A: Yes, he might last that long.

Honest to goodness, the man just does not get it. He might be forced to pull a Palin and resign before his first term is over. He could go off and write his memoirs and build his presidential library. (Both would be half-size, of course.)

I am not saying Obama is not smart; he is as smart as a whip. I am just saying he does not understand what savvy first-term presidents need to understand:

You have to stay on message, follow the polls, listen to your advisers (who are writing the message and taking the polls) and realize that when it comes to doing what is right versus doing what is expedient, you do what is expedient so that you can get reelected and do what is right in the second term. If at all possible. And it will help your legacy. And not endanger the election of others in your party. And not hurt the brand. Or upset people too much.

But what would Obama be doing if he was being expedient and following the polls? Maureen Dowd describes our current situation this way:

The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown, with the right spreading fear and disinformation that is amplified by the poisonous echo chamber that is the modern media environment.

But then, in true Dowd "I want my daddy to fix it" mode, she says this about Obama:

The president who is always talking about wanting to be perfectly clear is ever more opaque. The One, who owes his presidency to the intense feeling he stirred up, turns out to be a practical guy who can’t deal with intense feeling.

He ran as a man apart — Joe Biden was enlisted to folksy him up — and now he must deal with the fact that many see him as a man apart.

I guess Dowd must have missed her psychobabble 101 class when they covered the fact that standing apart from folks who are having a "weird mass nervous breakdown" might be an appropriate response.

At least Matt Bai's analysis of the situation avoids the mind-numbing psychobabble for which Dowd is so well-known.

In conversations over the past few weeks, some of the party’s leading strategists told me that it all comes down to messaging, or — here’s that ubiquitous word again — “framing.” The president who ran such a brilliant campaign, they argue, has utterly failed to communicate his successes. They cited factors like the president’s cool demeanor and suggested that he hadn’t used the right words or shown the proper empathy...

“By focusing on getting big legislative accomplishments, which was understandable, they necessarily gave up a larger image of him as president,” Mr. Podesta said, referring to White House advisers...

“At the end of the day, they set out to do a lot, and got a lot done,” Mr. Podesta said. “If the unemployment rate were at 8.5 percent and we were creating 250,000 or 300,000 jobs right now, it would feel a lot different.” But that hasn’t happened, and if Mr. Podesta is right, panicky voters wanted a president, rather than a legislator in chief, to make sure they understood why.

That one leaves me wondering just what Bai is referring to when he says, "panicky voters wanted a president." Sounds alot to me like the drivel we heard from so many commentators during the height of the Gulf oil spill who were calling for a "daddy-in-chief" rather than a President who was hard at work trying to solve the problem.

This kind of critique just baffles me. For most of my life the American public has been saying they don't trust politicians because they don't "walk their talk." Now we have a President who is doing exactly what he said he would do - and you'd think he was some kind of traitor for not paying enough attention to our feelings. If all we expect a President to do is make us feel better about the mess this country is in - then I think we should start combing the field of psychotherapists to find us a good one.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'd like a President who works to solve the problems this country is facing...I'll hire my own therapist if I need one to get through the process - thank you very much.

For my money, Eugene Robinson nails it with his article about Obama's winning streak. Just in the last few weeks:

Combat troops out of Iraq ahead of schedule - check
General Motors about to launch stock offering - check
Gulf oil spill contained and $20 billion fund for damages - check
Standing up for freedom of religion and the Constitution - check

And those are just the headline stories. How about the back-story you're not hearing much about that the DOJ has just reached an extradition agreement to bring Viktor Bout, the "Merchant of Death" to justice? Its just another in the long list of accomplishments that can be credited to Attorney General Holder specifically and the administration in general.

And so, as the right wing fuels its fear and paranoia and the poutragers wring their hands about nothing getting done, this administration soldiers on calmly doing what Presidents are supposed to do...solving problems.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Building a New Bandwagon

I expect that many folks are like me - really tired of combating the right wing hysteria that is stirred up over one issue after another. It seems that no matter how often we demonstrate how extreme and irrational these positions and ideas are, at minimum they suck way too much oxygen out of the kinds of political discussions we really should be having. Of course the latest is the whipped up controversy over building a Muslim community center in Manhattan.

In trying to understand how this happens over and over again (weren't way too many people talking about Michelle's vacation in Spain just last weekend?), I can't help but go back to the genius of Steven Colbert in giving us the word truthiness (video). Wikipedia defines the word this way:

a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

All of the recent hysterias we've been subjected to started out this way. The right wing finds something that trips people's emotional wires...connects to their feelings, and grabs them before any look at evidence, logic, or historical context has taken place. Once its been cemented in their "guts," it becomes almost impossible to challenge because that narrative has been set. Reason can't challenge those deep places where emotion attaches and won't let go.

The next step is to spread this truthiness through something we've long called the bandwagon effect.

people often do and believe things merely because many other people do and believe the same things.

This is where the media comes in. When people start talking about something - especially if it stirs up conflict and emotions, it spreads like wildfire. People hear others talking about it - so it must have some validity.

At that point, you have the ability to argue in favor of the hysteria via argumentum ad populum.

a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it

Of course, all of the polling firms are making millions off of this one. The minute a particular hysteria hits fever pitch, we get polls saying that the majority of the country agrees with the wingers. Apparently there is even an old Chinese proverb about this one called three men make a tiger.

So now you have a majority of the country demanding that something be done about the latest hysteria. Shoot...swish...score.

I had hoped that the country had decided to step off of the bandwagon created by the manipulation of our emotions - especially our fears - when Bush/Cheney were repudiated. But it seems like we were just getting over the raw emotions of 9/11 (that provided the fodder previously) when the economy tanked, people got scared, and that gave fuel to a whole new round of manipulations.

I think its important to keep combating this kind hysteria with facts and reason. But I also suspect that people need to be called to the higher nature of our emotions like compassion, justice, unity, and empathy.

Last weekend I took a look again at Obama's speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on January 20, 2008. I really recommend that you go read the whole thing. But I'd like to provide a few excerpts.

And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:

"Unity is the great need of the hour" is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome...

Unity is the great need of the hour - the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I'm not talking about a budget deficit. I'm not talking about a trade deficit. I'm not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I'm talking about a moral deficit. I'm talking about an empathy deficit. I'm taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny...

So we have a deficit to close. We have walls - barriers to justice and equality - that must come down. And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of this hour.

Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we've come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We've come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily - that it's just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.

All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.

But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes - a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It's not easy to stand in somebody else's shoes. It's not easy to see past our differences. We've all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart - that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don't think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant...

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others - all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face - war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

Does that touch you emotionally? It does me. It calls me to a higher place beyond all of the pettiness in which I sometimes engage - asks me to move towards the better part of who I am. Do you suppose we could start a new bandwagon effect in that direction?

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