Saturday, January 22, 2011


As I listen to global and local leaders evaluating problems and proposing solutions, I am arrested by the contradictory rhetoric in our public discourse. My friends on the Left tout "structural issues" such as "capitalism/colonialism" and "poverty" as "root causes" for anarchy and violence, including Islamic militancy. On the Right, I hear shrill calls for "personal responsibility" and "traditional values" and passionate calls for an end to the globalism and socialism infecting our institutions.

Behind all the debates is an issue that our late-modern mindsets wrestle with: who is responsible? Am I supposed to apologize for the Manifest Destiny ideology of the 19th century that destroyed our indigenous nations (including my own Cherokee ancestors)? Are Sarah Palin's old political ads a direct cause of murder in Arizona? The middle-class, English-bred suicide bomber in London - was he oppressed by capitalism? Why is it that a majority of poor people around the world are religious and do not kill each other? When the Right blames "government" aren't they implying that our choices as voters have been unwise? When the Left screams for "fairness" on the radio, aren't they admitting that they cannot communicate as well and have failed to win the hearts of the many in our nation?

All of these question beg the real issue - we are confused about the nature of personal and social responsibility. All the political posturing in the world will not reduce deficits, stimulate wealth creation, awaken personal accountability and refocus us on the things that matter. All the calls for traditional values, however well-intentioned (and I agree with most of these values), will not extricate single moms from the consequences of unfaithful ex-spouses.

The answer is to move beyond the either/or fallacy of our sound bites and affirm the both/and realities. Human beings are depraved and dignified, capable of absurd evils and altruistic efforts. We are sinners and saints, unique creatures and swayed by the mob. We can transcend our differences and we often retreat behind our worst prejudices. We are a paradox to ourselves. As a Biblical Christian, I believe that these attributes are the result of our unique creation in the image of God and our corrupt, fallen nature and rebellious decisions. Such theological reflection is for another space. In this essay I want to offer ways that people of all faiths or none can forge a better future by living with the tension of personal and social responsibility and historical and existential contexts for our issues.

Here are some concrete proposals that require a both/and approach:
  • Global poverty is personal and structural, philosophical and political. Powerful people and systems DO conspire to keep entire nations serving the greed of multinational corporations who care little for compassion, freedom and opportunity. At the same time, affirming a strong work ethic, the value of private property, strong familial loyalty and sexual restraint does make a difference in transforming entire regions.
  • America's slavery to the global bankers can end quickly, if we will take our medicine and like our parents in WWII, accept serious short-term sacrifices to ensure long-term liberty. An immediate 10% cut in all spending, the end of tax-funded public pensions and serious business acumen applied to all aspects of federal and state government will move us forward. No one has to starve and no veteran need be without help. Creating wealth is the way forward, not overtaxing the productive.
  • Public education requires as end to parental abdication. Almost all families can send kids to school with a bowl of oatmeal inside, a peanut butter sandwich in hand, adequate sleep and a clean body in clean clothes. The cable may need to go and life may be simple, but children ready to learn and parents alert to the content of that learning will keep educators accountable and focused. Our children need less "global citizenship" and more math, reading and science.
  • "Civil" public speech will never be perfectly attained, but we can make progress if our "public servants" hold themselves accountable to live within their budgets, stop their ad hominem attacks and form private/public coalitions to solve real problems. The brainpower, resources and will are waiting to be synergized.
We do not choose our DNA or early geography; but we can make the most of daily opportunities. We cannot control the foolish decisions of others; however, we can act reflectively, even in the opposite ways of those who have hurt us. We can live simply so others may simply live. We can choose fidelity to our spouses and integrity in our private and public lives.

We are responsible. Let's take the power of this and start creating a better future today.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Civil Speech

The horrific tragedy in Arizona is being exploited by politicians who want to restrict "violent" rhetoric - and in the process irrevocably change the intent of the First Amendment.

Throughout our history, we have confronted directly subversive and violent threats to people and our nation. The Courts have consistently ruled that there are limits to free speech - but very few and only in serious situations.

The problem is simple: who decides what is threatening? What words or symbols are off limits? As I survey the web, there is as much hatred on the Left as the Right, in fact, direct threats of murder and images of mayhem are much more prolific from the Left than anything from well-known conservatives.

If you restrict communication you have to go all the way. ALL religious symbols are out - after all, they might make someone uncomfortable. No more Che Guevara posters - he was a hero to some and murderer and thug to others. No rainbows - they might be offensive to conservatives. While we are at it, let's lower all US flags, since it is a symbol of colonialism. Oh yes, Mexican flags are prohibited too, for they incite hatred from some corners.

Let's not stop with symbols. Any strong personal attacks are off-limits. Since "ideology" is now a swear word, all philosophical speech should be banned. For good measure, we must not allow any critiques of ideas, except for the "decency panel's" enemies.

We must at all times condemn wanton violence and hate-filled speech, but we must not allow ANY elite to restrict our ability to debate fundamental ideas and issues, lest we devolve into an impersonal Orwellian state. Oh wait! That might be the agenda of the Left - keep any dissent quiet if it questions your agitation! Isn't it amazing that the Left makes heroes of people who assault police officers, call America a "land-grab" and lionize radicals who subvert our cherished norms? Of course the Right overgeneralizes as well, using the globalist/Marxist label indiscriminately.

What is the way forward? Principled action on common concerns, vigorous debate on all ideas and issues and universal commitment to peaceable debate. Sarah Palin is no threat to anyone. Neither is Keith Olbermann. Glenn Beck will soon be a memory and the Huffington Post will fade into obscurity someday. Others will emerge to continue our great tradition of open debate.

Civility is not blandness. We must debate our deepest differences freely without fear. My stance for Proposition 8 in California (supporting traditional marriage) is shared by billions of people of all religions. My convictions are not hate-filled or intolerant. I live next door to folks who disagree passionately; however, we are good neighbors and enjoy the fruits of our work. I am not inciting violence by having a conviction. Conversely, colleagues and friends who support Obamacare are not all Marxist subversives who hate America. I think they are misguided (they share the same opinion of me!), but we can debate over pizza and keep helping the poor.

I have the honor of meeting people from across the nation and around the world every week. The genius of our First Amendment is still alive - real freedom. We must desire for our opponents the same rights we claim for ourselves.