Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dissent and Liberty

It is fun to read bumper stickers. My travels take me to many locales across America, and I am intrigued by the language of these ubiquitous message boards.

From the Left - usually plastered on old Volvos or new hybrids - I read phrases such as, "Dissent is the purest form of freedom" and "subvert the dominant paradigm" and even the oxymoronic, "pro-child, pro-choice."

From the Right, there are numerous digs at our current President: "NObama" and "Impeach Now." There are also the standard 2nd Amendment symbols and even the humorous, "Buyer's Remorse?"

In addition to standard political fare, there are environmental, religious and social messages that festoon our autos. From Christian to Darwinian fishes, from "love your [Earth] Mother to "Jesus loves me and my tattoos" we enjoy getting attention with a snappy line.

All of these observations compel me to stop and thing deeply about our public language and the people that are shaping the current debates. America has a long history of acrimonious public debate and it would be categorically wrong to say that our current exchanges are worse than ever. What is different is the meaning of words and how perceptions can be shaped so quickly by a few visuals or a sentence or two.

Words like "dissent" and "freedom" and "liberty" are used by all parties to express their "rage at the machine" or frustration with "the elites" or fatigue concerning "business as usual." What is interesting about 2010 is that these terms are being used by people who heretofore have been quietly part of the American tapestry, patiently working, voting and hoping for a better future. I am speaking about most of the participants in the grassroots Tea Party movements. Much to the horror of the Established Left, these folks are claiming the right to speak their minds, actually hold elected officials accountable and even be a bit noisy (and properly nosey) in the process.

From the 1960s to the present, the Left has has claimed exclusive rights to certain words and phrases. "Freedom" means sexual experimentation, document theft (OK if it is from the Pentagon, but we will ban you from reading Obama's school records), flag-burning, anti-military protests, environmental sabotage and other expressions against "the machine." Ironically, the Left have failed to see that they are "the machine"in so many facets of public life! Consider
  • The stranglehold the Left has over the academic discourse at most universities and their utter disdain for dissenting opinions from well-educated women and men. When guests are verbally and violently forced off platforms at "free" places like Berkeley, there is something wrong. When a defender of Israel is caricatured as a "Nazi", we have reached the height of deconstructionist hubris and mental torpor.
  • The media monopoly of the networks and newspapers that this elite have enjoyed for years. With the advent of the Internet and Talk Radio, this "machine" is threatened and has to resort to shopworn rages against capitalism and unregulated communication. They will defend the late George Carlin's foul language, but they want to "balance" public debate. Sorry friends, but the First Amendment includes liberty for conservatives to speak.
  • The ownership of terms connected to "social justice." Oh my, this term has been the Left's hammer against the rapacity of capitalism, the evils of American imperialism and the need to levy higher taxes on the productive so that the dependent will keep voting for the candidates of "the people." For a half-century, the Left has claimed moral superiority because they want to forcibly redistribute wealth, alter the nature of how Americans read the Constitution and redefine what is "fair." They want "smart-growth" - a euphemism for social planning and control. They want "green" policies - good, but who regulates the regulators?
  • One final set of terms: "Global Climate Disruptions." Here we see another fabrication of manipulative language to keep Americans in a state of fear and coerce more tax dollars for pet causes. With the current science is turmoil over global "warming" the academic and financial elites whose livelihoods depend on propaganda have to find other ways to advance globalism. Ironically, no one on the Left criticizes Al Gore's personal fortune or lifestyle. No one exposes George Soros' amoral destruction of currencies. As long as certain rich folks own a hybrid and give to the right causes, all is forgiven. But woe to the CEO with a smokestack!
Tea Party participants are calling for
  • "Dissent" - this means confronting the awful administrative and budget processes of all elites in power, Democrat or Republican.
  • "Liberty" - this means less government intrusion into all aspects of public and private life.
  • "Accountability" - our elected officials are responsible for how they mange public funds and whether certain projects are needed.
  • "Borders" - this is not a call to vigilantism or xenophobia, just legal immigration and the end to violence.

Having defended the agitators from the Tea Party Movement, let me hasten to add that merely reacting to current policies and trying to reify some kind of nostalgia past will not do in the 21st century. The Right must demonstrate, in real deliverables and dollars:

  • How the "magic of the free market" is going to help the unemployed whose jobs are overseas because of multinationals looking at the bottom line.
  • How"'family values" will unleash compassion on the single mother who must cope with child rearing, work and the stigma of being abandoned.
  • How "pro-life" translates into policies that protect the unborn and prosecute the truly guilty, while holding parents accountable for their freely-chosen actions.
  • How "strong national defense" can also mean less wasted money for defense contractors, pay-offs for politicians and a leaner, more efficient military.
  • How "more local control" must translate into infrastructure rebuilding a private-public partnerships.
  • "How "equal opportunity" means a fair shake for those still affected by centuries of discrimination and structural rejections.

I commend the right of all Americans to dissent, to make their ideas known and to rigorously debate issues. I condemn, however, the gratuitous attacks of both sides - not one wins when we use terms like "tea bagging" of "femi-nazi." It may get attention and a chuckle, but it is a destructive diversion from real debate.

For my friends on the Left and the Right - you must want for others the liberties and opportunities you crave for yourself. The Left must make the case that "smart-growth" is not Big Brother creating an Orwellian system rules by an academic elite. The Right must demonstrate that free markets require ethical oversight and that personal responsibility but be balanced by community compassion.

Both sides of our political divide need to balance a budget and within this context argue passionately for particular priorities. When a millionaire "green" builder calls for an additional dollar-per-gallon gas tax so we can develop more public transit, he is taxing the working poor and still underfunding real research. Answers for long-term problems are almost always a "both-and" approach. For energy, let's judiciously drill domestically AND fund alternatives. Let's consider nuclear energy AND solar power. Simply yelling at each other and taxing current habits will not propel us forward!

Word matter and in an era where Truth is up for grabs, we need to be clear what we mean by any words we use. Integrity demands no less, and the future of our nation rests on creating a narrative that aligns with reality and maximizes the potential of each person.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To My Children on 9-11

Today is the ninth anniversary oldest son's 18th birthday. As we were preparing to celebrate this milestone, multiple attacks stunned our nation and forever changed how we see September 11. There are so many images and words filling the media spaces that I wondered what I could add to the mix.

I dedicate this essay to my oldest son Michael, for whom 9-11 will always cast a shadow over his birthday. I dedicate this work as well to my other two adult children, Charlotte and Christopher, who, together with Michael, make my wife Kathleen and myself the proudest parents on earth. This essay is my letter to the emerging generation of adults who will need to redeem the messes that my generation have bequeathed to them.

My dear children,

On this auspicious day I want to thank you for bringing so much joy to your Mother and myself and offering so much good to a troubled world. All of you have authentic faith, passionate hope and a deep love for God and people. Your community service inspires us and many others.

I am sorry that our generation could not figure out how to avoid unnecessary wars and offer help to the poor compassionately and effectively. The proof of this is the debt we leave for you to manage. Please forgive us for not balancing our checkbook. Our idealism and avoidance of pain have placed you in shark-infested economic waters.

The attacks we remember on this day were not America's fault. There are millions of militant Muslims who believe in jihad in order to bring the entire world under an Islamic caliphate. If these attacks had occurred in Europe eighty years ago, there might have been some justification, given the colonialism that placed the former Ottoman Empire in the hands of England and France. But "9-11" was neither a right-wing conspiracy nor a legitimate defense of national or religious interests. It was terrorism of the worst kind, carried out by evil men.

You will have to navigate a tightrope between living with the liberties of a pluralistic society and exercising vigilance toward Islamicist leaders. Yes, your Muslim neighbor is most likely friendly, peaceable and a natural ally as you battle the hedonism and narcissism of a culture with theistic amnesia. At the same time, be aware of the difference between enjoying religious freedom (the genius of our First Amendment) and the increasing demands of some radicals for public accommodation of the specific religious practices.

It is my fervent prayer that you will get to see greater peace in the Middle East. But this will only come when Arab leaders stop their dissimulation and unequivocally acknowledge Israel's right to exist with secure borders and diplomatic and economic cooperation with a new Palestinian state.

Please keep the memory of the Holocaust alive as you learn and teach history, make movies and shape public culture. The events of 1933-1945, especially the systematic murder of millions, must not be normalized, placed in a category with other events, or allowed to fade into the mists of memory. The Shoah is proof that the most educated, scientific and "cultured" nations can lose all moral restraint when they abandon Judeo-Christian beliefs and morality and replace it with pseudo-scientific ideologies of Left or Right.

OK - there are some bright spots in all this darkness!

You will have access to global knowledge and, therefore, the opportunity to forge friendships and partnerships that cross all cultural lines. You will continue to befriend, marry and do business with people that your grandparents would never have met.

You will find cures for many cancers and (we pray) for AIDS. You will offer a healthier life for everyone willing to align their lives with sound habits. Your work ethic and common sense are much greater than ours, so I am confident that future budgets will be better and, if we do not self-destruct soon, we will see an improving economy.

You are a generation committed to justice and compassion and you will find new ways to help the needy and poor move from surviving to thriving.

Dear ones, this is not my last testament. My best days are ahead and I want to work with you to bring glory to God and good to others. Let's displace
  • Fear with faith
  • Hatred with love and mutual respect
  • Materialism with generosity
  • Hedonism with service
  • Narcissism with care for our neighbor
  • Daydreaming with vision
  • Propaganda with authentic, clear speech
  • Image with integrity
  • "Politically-correct" cliches with careful reasoning
  • Cowardice with courage
Together we can make a difference beginning today.

I love you, my children and thank you for walking onto the future with me.

Dad, Daddy, The Dad-Person, Father, Pater Familias or the Dadster

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Clear Thoughts in a Cloudy World

A fringe, small-church pastor wants to burn the Muslim scriptures, the Qur'an. Burning the Qur'an benefits only extremists, and hinders the cause of dialogue and peace.

Palestinian leader Abbas' vision of a new state includes no Israeli political or security presence. On the surface, this sounds reasonable, until one realizes that neither Abbas nor any other Arab leader has given unconditional recognition of Israel's right to exist in secure borders. They also flatly refuse to have any shared capital in Jerusalem. Now is the time for all people of conscience to urge Israel to extend the freeze on new settlements in exchange for real progress and for Abbas to look for ways to agree on terms instead of excuses to exit the talks. Oh yes, and the current vision has no room for Jewish citizens either, unlike Israel, which gives full rights to its Arab citizens. By the way - in 1947 the U.N mandate gave 80% to a new Arab nation, today called Jordan. The other 20% was divided between Jewish and Arab Palestinians. Israel's original borders contained a majority Jewish population. In essence, Arabs were given 90% of the territory and still refused to live in peace. Notice that Israel has prospered while most nations around her are awash in poverty. The refugee camps are a deliberate strategy of the Arab states to keep hatred of Israel alive - so that radical Islam will not topple their regimes! Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PA are all funded by the Saudis and others to make sure they keep the pressure on Israel and off of their benefactors.

The Ground Zero Mosque is not illegal; however, it is unwise and a deliberate flash point conceived by radicals to further their agenda. It is amazing that the Left will defend this construction while shrilly condemning any Jewish or Christian symbols and words in public space. The demonic alliance of the radical Left and militant Islam have one shared aim: the destruction of the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of the American life. Each of these subversive forces thinks they will win the battle for the public square once the old religious influences are gone. The tragedy of such thinking is that the removal of our lasting values will end in either religious or secular totalitarianism and the loss of liberties gained over hundreds of years.

Too much governmental control of the economy yields stasis and decline as creativity and wealth production yield to mind-numbing bureaucracy and zero-sum thinking. No ethical or regulatory oversight yields Love Canals, foul air, lakes and rives. We must encourage private initiative and public responsibility. We must protect profits and property rights while promoting community well-being and opportunity. Whenever taxes are low, government revenues increase. The Democrats refuse to see this simple math because they cannot imagine any restraints on spending. The Republicans have to demonstrate an intelligent understanding of what federal, local and state governments should do - and what prerogatives must be left to the people.

Historical ignorance is fueling folly in the public square. Freedom without morality and reverence becomes anarchy and eventual totalitarianism - hence Nazi Germany in 1933. Centralized control gives us Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Today's "liberal" foundations were yesterday's "robber barons." The problem is not that the rich should not give back. The deeper problem is that the compassionate, non-profit sector forgets where all the money comes from! At some point, wealth must be created. Risk and reward are vital to progress.

"Social justice" must include not only fair trade practices and public accountability - it must empower wealth creation and understand that there will be differences in income levels. I do not see Al Gore divesting himself of the more than $100M he has made since losing the 2000 election. George Soros may give to liberal causes, but his wealth comes at the expense of whole nations. Conversely, the Right has not articulated who should be the recipients of public generosity and how to help people in times of economic upheaval. It is not enough to say, "get a job" when there are no jobs. Jim Wallis of the Evangelical Left needs to realize that conservatives are not against fairness and generosity - they just think such values are best administrated locally and privately. Glen Beck needs to stop castigating those to promote social justice and demonstrate by his words and deeds creative ways to partner with folks outside the conservative bubble.

We can trim the federal budget and balance it within three years. Of course this means 10 new fighter jets instead of 15 and hammers that cost $20 instead of $900. It also means decentralizing all humanitarian aid and helping thousands of federal workers find jobs in the private sector. It means privatizing all political and public employee pensions. It means inviting ethical business execs to examine all levels of government and streamline the systems. It means that we cannot prosecute wars and have a welfare state. Europe is more generous with her public benefits because the USA has borne the major military costs for two generations.

The clouds are still in the sky, but I hope I have been clear. There are ways forward, but they are the "road[s] less traveled" and only faith, hope and love in large amounts will propel us forward.