Monday, November 08, 2004

Dinner, civil debate and the National Anthem

A friend of mine recently recounted part of a recent, shared conversation. Over dinner, my friends mother made the remark that she "could not understand how anyone would want to live in the US," given the state of our current political climate.

My friend, a rather thoughful and insightful person was rather surprised at the off handedness of the remark and the implications implied. I should mention that my friend is probably more liberal in ideaology than I am. Nevertheless, my friend was rather taken aback by the remarks. More liberal or not, my friend is nothing if not reflective, honest and thoughtful and most important, focused. My friend exhibits a great sense of balance, proportion and wisdom. I have learned much. We don't always agree, but it is intersting to see that where we differ can usually be reduced to style, not import.

The conversation relayed, irked me a bit, not because of one person's opinion, but rather, because of it's casualness.

Irrespective of one's views, it has become part of our reality that complex issues and political positions can be summed up with one liners. Even more disheartening is the reality that this kind of discourse has become acceptable and de riguer.

A while back I had an exchange with
BunkerMulligan. We were discussing a variant of this topic. I mentioned that simply having differing views did not disqualify the relevance or patriotism of worthy adversaries. I went on to mention that I considered Patrick Daniel Moynihan a real American patriot. Although in many areas, the late senator Moynihan challenged the views of some conservtives, there was never a question of his love of country or his dream to make America a better place for all her citizens. Mr Moynihan often crossed party lines and confounded his supporters and detractors on a regular basis. His entire raison d'etre was to help build a better America.

BunkerMulligan, in his usual elegant way, concurred. With a few simple words, he stated plainly that he missed Mr Moynihan and wished there were more like him.

While I can't speak for BunkerMulligan, I think we share a few similiar ideas.

Debate is just that, debate. Debate can be a healthy exercise giving us pause and insisting that we think for ourselves. At its, lowest, debate can be reduced to a toxic level, with the sole intent of poisining what I call the free market of thoughts and ideas.

The demise of real debate is cancerous. The acceptance of 'spin' as reality has made for vitriol heretofore unknown. We're all guilty of it. It is easier to buy off the shelf than to cook for ourselves. We are filled with adulterated foods, real taste compromised and the empty calories of a mindless ideology, whatever it is, providing us with intellectual irrelevant weight.

We have forgotten what fresh food for thought tastes like.

Recently, I wrote this same friend about a someone who had made rather foolish sounding allegations about the recent elections and expected them to be taken at face value

...irrespective of one's politics, [the claim that] that Mr Bush or any of his colleagues are 'facists' is not in evidence. Until such time as truly fascist behavior is exhibited, such as taking control of the press, suspending the US Constitution and the Bill ofRights or declaring martial law, John's allegations are certainly not a historical event.

Lacking any serious evidence and corroberation, John's claims are spurious at best.There is no evidence whatsoever the election was 'stolen' as John contends. Neither Mr Kerry, the Democrat Party, Democrat Party pollworkers, observers or the UN observers in place, made such allegations. If as John says, 'the fix was in,' it would be a good thing if he were to present such evidence. I'm sure the Federal ElectionCommission, in conjuction with the media, would examine such evidence carefully and seriously.

There is no evidence that the Mr Bush wishes to establish a theocracy. Is John implying that there are no Democrats who believe in God, or attend church? Is his implying that that no atheists voted for Mr Bush? There is ample evidence to suggest that there is plenty of crossover voting. I am a bit uncomfortable with the idea that democracy has no
room for some of a particular stripe. All in all, John seems to have not posted on a historical event, but rather on an unsubstatiated set of allegations.

To be certain, John's views are one side of the same coin. The same type of silliness can be heard on the reverse of that coin.

One writer in the NYT recently said that Europeans see Americans as having more in common with the Taliban than they do with Western Europeans. It is this type of thinking and pandering, along with others propogating the idea that Europe as the center of immorality, that provides in part for the decline of our civilization, as much as any other threat we face.

There are rational voices to be heard- and listened to. In an intersting confluence of fate, recent columns by liberal and conservative pundits shared a similiar concerns. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote,

... Americans rejected the hedonism of Woodstock, in which individual choice and uninhibited, personal expression trumped all. Hollywood came to epitomize for them thisnarcissism and repudiation of conventional values. They were tired ofthe new counterculture of radical change, seeing in the New Left acontempt for middle America and its values, reflected in fathers abandoning their families, the delegitimization of the sanctity of marriage, raising children without clear moral guideposts — all of which, in their minds, led to increased criminality, drug abuse,people being recast as society's victims rather than acceptingresponsibility for their own actions. They yearned to restore the authority of public institutions and toremove some of the violenceand sexuality in TV programs, records, and computer games, whose content they ascribed to the liberals who write the screenplays for TV and movies.

Against this backdrop, the Democratic Party saw its leadership shifting away from its working-class and middle-class roots, away from moral traditionalists, especially families that go to church, awayfrom those who live in unfashionable tract suburbs and even in working-class neighborhoods. The Democratic Party was increasingly identifying more with the rising elites of the information andentertainment age - what commentator Joel Kotkin calls the"hip-ocracy" of well-educated people, high-tech tycoons, Hollywood moguls and celebrities, Wall Street financiers, and an academic world of people with graduate degrees - a new social elite, much moreliberal than the country at large. Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" and "It's the economy, stupid!" reflected the need to reconnect withthe traditional Democratic middle-class constituencies, but then he exacerbated the concern over moral values and family issues with his personal behavior.

Liberals will abhor such remarks, of course, but in the context of civil debate, they are indeed, relevant.

Conservatives will applaud such remarks, of course. After all, Zuckerman is preaching to the choir. The more important question is, how will conservatives react to the following, from Common Dreams?

Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that "looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more --- a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care, stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have meaning --- and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and some sense of transcendent purpose...

Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. Its time they got over that elitist self righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson --- that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth --- a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be moved to care about the well being of anyone but themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into serious contenders


Can anyone deny the truth of what the writer states? Can anyone deny the fundamental reality that given the right focus and direction, liberal values will appeal to many? I for one, have no doubt of that. I share some of the writers ideas and thoughts. I may not agree with all his politics, but like Patrick Moynihan, Rabbi Lerner cannot be dismissed simply because of his political affiliations. We would do well to read and understand his points of view and ideas, if for no other reason that they are sound and contain more than a kernel of truth.

The fact of the matter is, truth is no less truth simply because we don't like the bearer.

I wrote recently that words can be the rifle scope on the gun, that fires the bullets that kill.

If the uncivil debate continues unabated, we will have have lost something in this country, far more precious than elections or debates. We will have lost that part of ourselves that made America great- the intoxicating addiction to the truth and the notion that as a nation, Americans want a 'land of the free and the home of the brave.'

We must be free to express ourselves, without fear of exclusion and brave enough to consider ideas and thoughts that challenge us.

As newspapers become more partisan and elites of all stripes want to do our thinking for us, we would do well to remember the words of the Pledge of Allegiance-- One nation...with liberty and justice, for all.

Who we are and can be, cannot and should not be reduced to an offhanded remark over dinner.


Wandering Mind

may not be suitable for political vegans