Header Blog

Senator Lindsay Graham: “We should probably start with plastic forks and knives at this first one”

Two Senators have finally caught on to what The Village Square knew all along: They’d better start eating together if they want to get along. Retiring Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) wrote a joint letter requesting that the Senate convene a once a month bipartisan lunch. On today’s Face the Nation:

SENATOR EVAN BAYH (D-Indiana): Well, first, Lindsey Graham is my friend and we need more friendships across the aisle because that’s ultimately how you get principled compromise enacted. And part of this, Bob, was informed by my father’s experience where back in the day he might have philosophical or political differences but you still reach out and try to do the people’s business. So little of that takes place because there’s so little action– interactionamong senators. We have the caucus systems. So the Democrats are over here. The Republicans are over here. They hardly ever meet to listen to one another…

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: …But he’s dead right. You know we share a locker by the– by the gym. I get to– I’ve got to know Evan when– when he announced he was going to leave the Senate. A lot of Republicans said, oh, boy, we can pick up Indiana. The first thing I thought of was, oh, no. Because at the end of the day Evan has shown a willingness to reflect Indiana values which is to find middle ground because it’s in the middle of the country. I hope people respond to the lunch and I hope it will over time mean something. I know it’s silly for most Americans to think this is newsworthy but it is.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But it does sort of emphasize how bad the situation has gotten that you would propose this.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: It’s almost tribal, Bob. And I think Lindsey is right most. Americans probably listen to this and go, well, that’s so basic it’s silly. But the caucus system really is used as an instrument of control, party control. The information that’s provided very often is designed to lead to a particular result. You spend a lot of time talking about. Well, my first day in the Senate, literally, my first day, first caucus meeting, we were already talking about the next election.

Liz Joyner: A Special Comment regarding amphibians (and human beings)

frog boiling

As promised, a companion piece to Why Glenn Beck is Stalking Me:

When Keith Olbermann hit the airwaves back in 2003, you could hear a collective sigh of relief among liberal-leaning America, long frustrated by their lack of voice in America’s media.

Conservatives who haven’t passed out reading my first paragraph should know that liberals sincerely believe that the media leans right. Limbaugh’s pinko “government-run media” is to a liberal the “corporate media” and comes with all the baggage and bias the name implies. (Parenthetically, the competing versions of media bias are explained in studies demonstrating a hostile media effect: The same story was simultaneously perceived as biased by both opposing camps, likely because they understood the subtleties of their own position and felt it inadequately represented… as subtleties usually are.)

As a center-left-leaner and a 2004 Howard Dean fan (a man with the nerve to tell us really early on that the Emperor of Iraq was buck naked, early enough to have avoided the whole affair were we listening I might add), I believe that in the years after 9-11 the American marketplace of ideas was pretty broken. Our collective trauma evolved into a very human need to march in lockstep with patriotic sounding bad decision-making.

So Olbermann was a breath of fresh air. I immediately bonded. My friends bonded. Veritable left-leaning lovefest ensues.

We were in. Keith Olbermann is chicken soup for the liberal soul. He was in our tribe.

I can only imagine that this is exactly how conservatives felt with the rise of talk radio inside of a culture that had moved dramatically leftward inside of a decade in the 60’s and mostly stayed there, likely leaving crew-cut heads spinning with culture shock. (University of Virginia professor Jonathan Haidt’s work tells us that conservatives are temperamentally more averse to change than liberals. That makes the 60’s quadruple crazy if you lean right, only double if you’re left.)

Trouble is that once in the Keith Olbermann (or talk radio) chicken soup for the liberal (or conservative) soul, we can barely notice the inevitable result of like-minded amen chorus groupiness. We were frogs in water brought gradually to a boil.

Ironically, Keith Olbermann is a frog too. And – while I’m having to force my fingers to type this measure of charity for a broadcaster I find hateful and factually wrong almost 4 times a sentence – maybe so was Rush Limbaugh? Could they both be victims of the sound of their own echo chambers?

Once in, the slight shifts toward unanimity are barely perceptible. Hyperbole forgiven. Insulting name-calling gets guilty snickers and knowing glances. Quirky family member forgiven. And then you look up a few years later and you can barely believe that someone you know and thought you liked – who might be a conservative “frog” to your liberal one – could see reality so differently than you do. And even if you were too polite to say it (which if you read blog comment threads, growing numbers of us are not), you might have thought that they’re dumb.

Lather, rinse, repeat… and you can see how we’re where we are now.

I admit that I still really like Keith Olbermann. He often makes a lot of sense to me. But my new Village Square center of gravity often leaves me uncomfortably having to forgive a bit more than I’d prefer. And it has me stretching to understand people who aren’t in my tribe. My message isn’t that Olbermann is bad/evil/at fault. It’s that he – like us – is human. As is everyone outside of my tribe for whom I have tended to not offer any forgiveness at all.

Keith Olbermann + a bunch of liberal viewers and liberal guests + 10 or 15 more years might just = right wing talk radio, the liberal edition. And if you think there is something about conservatives that makes them jump the shark when liberals can somehow magically avoid it, I’d like to suggest that you might want to hop out of the water.

I believe it’s getting hotter.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can email her compliments and critiques at liz@tothevillagesquare.org. Can’t be civil? Won’t be read.

(Photo credit.)

Florida Trend: Civility in Public Life

Florida Trend Publisher Andy Corty writes about “the hug” with President Obama that has symbolized the nosedive Governor Crist has taken in the polls:

Think back to late January. President Barack Obama was scheduled to appear in Tampa to announce federal funding for a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando and eventually Miami. That was the real news, but the question getting wide publicity was this: Would Gov. Charlie Crist greet the president as he did in Fort Myers last February or would he avoid Obama as he did last October in Jacksonville?

Partisan politics unfortunately played a major role in these decisions. After the “man hug” of February
09, Crist was pummeled from the right wing of the Republican Party for consorting with the Democratic president. The pressure grew so intense that Crist, running for the U.S. Senate, pointedly stayed away in October, saying he wasn’t even aware the president was traveling to Florida.

Such a political game runs counter to the Crist I know. He is a man who is uncommonly polite. He has friends of many stripes. He has always accepted criticism without knocking the critic. And he has typically governed toward the center. While we may personally differ on some significant policy issues, I’ve never felt anything other than warm collegiality from him. Perhaps I’m a starry-eyed political neophyte, but there’s something really “American” about fair-minded discourse between people who don’t see eye-to-eye on policy topics.

By chance I was at the Governor’s Mansion for a reception the night before Obama was to appear in Tampa, so I asked Crist about his intentions. “Of course I’m going to be with the president,” Crist replied. “It
s about jobs for Floridians. With unemployment over 11% here, there’s nothing more important than jobs.”

That was the right decision, and I applaud the governor for greeting Obama. But I wish he had also said that as governor – and as the official representative of 18 million Floridians – he would always greet the president of the United States when he visited the great state of Florida. It’s a question of civility.

Liz Joyner: “600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs” (and still we’re uninformed)

monkees 3

Fresh from one of my unique moments of agreement with Glenn Beck yesterday as he riffed righteously on the unmitigated hypocrisy of Senate Democrats, I tuned into Rachel Maddow who was riffing righteously on the unmitigated hypocrisy of Senate Republicans.

They were both completely right.

Or completely half-right. Which makes them both completely wrong.

Beck gigged Democrats who are wailing about the Republicans’ use of the filibuster threat to kill health care when just a few short years ago there was talk of the “tyranny” of the Republican majority wanting to stop a Democratic minority’s right to filibuster.

Maddow set her sights on the Republicans who were arguing for the procedural validity of reconciliation during the Bush administration when they were kings of the hill, now squawking like stuck pigs as the Democrats may use it too.

So half the TV watching audience was treated to the half of reality they liked, other half of the story be darned.

Roger Cohen shed light on the dynamic at work in The New York Times as he described a societal rise of narcissism:

Community – a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions – has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.

These trends are common to all globalized modern democracies, ranging from those that prize individualism, like the United States, to those, like France, where social solidarity is a paramount value.

Beck and Maddow are simply different choices in our national -la-carte life, and as we pick out what we love to eat, we seem to not recognize we’re eating ourselves to death.

Are we really an America with so little moral compass that we don’t give a flip about staggering acts of hypocrisy unless it’s a staggering act of hypocrisy by someone we dislike?

In their moments of slightly higher statesmanship, Republicans argue that a 51% majority shouldn’t get 100% of what they want and that our system was structured around minority rights. When Democrats are cogent, they argue that a minority shouldn’t essentially have the power to stop all governance by procedural foot-dragging.

Of course, they’re both correct.

The piece they are both missing is where our system demands that they step outside their neat and self-righteous hermetically sealed realities and deal with each other. I mean roll up the ole sleeves and really get in there and work out solutions.

Cohen agrees normal human contact is in short supply, as he recalled a recent stint of jury duty:

Thrown together for two weeks at Brooklyn Supreme Court with 22 other jurors, I was struck by how rare it is now in American life to be gathered, physically, with an array of other folk of different ages, backgrounds, skin colors, beliefs, faiths, tastes, education levels and political convictions and be obliged to work out your differences in order to get the job done.

There’s only one way this is going to turn out well for us as a country and it will be if we willingly walk away from our self congratulatory self-absorption and feel similarly obliged in our political life to work our our differences in order to get the job done. And we’re going to have to expect our elected representatives to do the same, or we should fire them.

The alternative, according to Cohen: “Or we can turn away from each other and, like Narcissus, perish in the contemplation of our own reflections.”

Yesterday Obama and the Republicans met on health care, but I haven’t quite had the courage to turn on the television to see how it turned out.

Should I?
Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of The Village Square. You can contact her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

(Photo credit)


Michael Smerconish nails it: The world of “media fiction”

Michael Smerconish, Philadelphia Talk Radio show host, who just made what seems to have been a tormented decision to change his political affiliation from Republican to Independent, talked to Chris Matthews last night on Hardball:

“We live in a world of media fiction. Where talk radio and your business everything gets presented in black/white red state/blue state left/right terms. And I don’t think that’s the way the real world is. It’s not the way I carry about my life as exemplified by people I meet on a day to day basis. It only exists in the world in which you and I work. And I, frankly, have had enough of it. I frankly think that stirring the pot at the ends of the political spectrum as been terrible for the country and I want no more of it.”

“People in the middle need a voice. We’re underrepresented in the world of talk radio and on cable stations because the bookers they only look for those who they can introduce as a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat. That’s not the bulk of America right now. What about the folks in the middle?”

Smerconish wrote about his decision to register as an Independent: “Collegiality is nonexistent today, and any outreach across an aisle is castigated as weakness by the talking heads who constantly stir a pot of discontent.”

Mike Huckabee does Village Square again

“With news that Michelle Obama would make her first appearance on Fox News, some were upset that she was appearing on Fox and some were upset with me for hosting her. How very sad. I’ve got disagreements with the president on a number of policies but I don’t have a desire to have his plans and policies fail. My goal is to see them change. If the administration proposes something that I agree with, I should say so. And if it’s a policy that needs to be revised then I should be specific as to how, not merely dismiss it because it was presented by someone across the political aisle. Political aisles are fine, but political islands are not.” –Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

General Colin Powell this morning on Face the Nation

“I would caution my Republican friends that he’s got three years left to go and in that three years Americans are going to want to see some progress and not just claims that this guy’s out of office and we’re going to do everything we can to destroy him or that somehow he is a socialist taking over the country. (more…)

Why the Village Square and Glenn Beck have just about everything and absolutely nothing in common

glenn beck

By Liz Joyner

Perhaps you didn’t know that Glenn Beck is a big fat copy cat and he’s copying me.

I wrote the essay The Square to launch The Village Square more than 3 years before Glenn Beck’s 9/12 project. In it, like Beck, we harkened back to the days after 9/11 as something we might want to emulate.

Like Beck, we have built our concept on the guiding wisdom (and sometimes the manners advice) of our founding fathers.

Finally, we’ve both launched (or in my case am trying to launch) populist movements, although I have to admit that our event attendance (and my salary) is just a wee bit lower than Beck’s. But we both seem to believe in the power of the common man, of “We the People.” (We even have a project called We the People that got us a Knight Foundation grant.)

We’re practically twins!

Except I believe Glenn Beck is currently one of the people most responsible for breaking down civil and civic discourse that The Village Square has been working to restore.

Unlike many others who agree with me about the damage that Beck is doing, I watch Beck’s show and listen to him on the radio. It has led me to some stunning head-exploding moments of weirdness where I agree so fully with an isolated statement he makes or even his basic premise, but his conclusion leads me to wail in abject agony on the floor (literally). People regularly ask me why I am torturing myself.

I do it for you.

So, humbly presented for your consideration is everything I’ve learned about Glenn Beck (and The Village Square):

1. Glenn Beck isn’t always wrong. There are parts of his perspective that would make a constructive contribution to our public debate. (The Village Square isn’t always right.)

2. People I really love really like Glenn Beck. (Weird, but true.)

3. Glenn Beck is smack in the middle of The Big Sort – the grouping of like-minded people resulting in group think to the point of denying factual reality. He needs a good friend or two who thinks his philosophy is nutty and will tell him so, forcing him to moderate just a bit. (Half of The Village Square board thinks the other half is nutty and vice versa.)

4. Glenn Beck’s show is a manifestation of many of the things wrong with our society, both sides of the aisle. We’ve gotten lazy physically and mentally and when we turn on the TV we want drama, intrigue, and self righteous fury all inside of a warm bubble bath of agreement. The show gives us what we’re asking for and don’t be all smug if you’re on the other side of the partisan fury cause you’re asking for it too*. (The Village Square seeks out disagreement as being a fundamental building-block of good decision making and democracy as our founders intended. We should note here that far fewer people are asking for this.)

5. Glenn Beck’s thinking is sloppy. Facts presented, when they are actually factual, lead inevitably to the conclusion he intended to draw from the very beginning. Facts that don’t support his view are simply disregarded. (The Village Square sees good facts as fundamental to drawing good conclusions. Sloppy thinking inevitably leads to bad results as the chickens of the factual distortion come home to roost and your action simply misses the mark…or far worse. Squawk. Squawk.)

6. Glenn Beck’s face is next to a definition of cherry-picking in the dictionary. Sometime he has to throw out half of a whole sentence to make his case because the other half a sentence blows it out of the water. (The Village Square so abhors cherry picking we draw dinner door prizes out of a bowl of 200 numbered cherries to make the point.)

7. Glenn Beck’s show is an emotion looking for facts to support it. (Our primary emotion is abject horror and despair at the quality of the civic dialogue.)

8. We need to remember that it’s not Glenn Beck’s job to govern. He’s even performed the public service of repeatedly reminding us of that, but we seem to not be listening. (OK, so it’s not The Village Square’s job to govern either.)

9. Glenn Beck needs to put down his Swami hat because he cannot read minds or infer intentions from the evil “they” he’s always, well, reading the minds and inferring the intentions of. (The Village Square doesn’t have enough money in the budget for a Swami hat.)

10. Glenn Beck plays a major role in the ramping up of the partisan fury in our national dialog. His nearly day long overreaction every day provokes an equal overreaction on the other side of the aisle against him and a spiraling cycle that may lead – and has led – to a lot of things that are very bad for our country. (Alas, The Village Square doesn’t play a major role in anything nationally. Really people, what is wrong with you?)

11. Glenn Beck seems to be serving an audience who doesn’t even want to hear the other side of the argument thank-you-very-much. By comparison, I might add, the Fox News rubric is to find someone who can make the very weakest case liberals have therefore torpedoing the liberal argument altogether. Icing on the cake if they’re ugly. (The Village Square‘s specifically finds the best argument from each side of the aisle because we want to – uh – solve the problem?)

12. Among a certain percentage of the American population, Beck’s antics are absolutely poisoning the cogent conservative argument that needs to be made YESTERDAY in order to competently solve the current mess we’re in. (Uh, has anyone noticed what Democrats do when they’re all on their own?) While conservatives may get a short term bump from the momentum he creates, it’s like using LSD to study for an exam… not a good long term strategy.

13. While we’re on drug analogies, Glenn Beck sells cocaine masquerading as cod liver oil. (The Village Square sells cod liver oil with a bit of a candy coating to help it go down a smidge better.)

14. I believe that the success of shows like Glenn Beck too often plays to the worst in human nature. (We go for the best, although we understand that the worst is there.)

Given the obvious advantages to our approach over Mr. Beck’s to the business of running a country, I’ve been sitting by the phone waiting for a major network to offer The Village Square our own hour and planning what schtick I can use to replace the blackboard and the red phone.

America’s got a choice to make. My hope springs eternal.

Stay tuned next week to our companion blog post: “Why The Village Square and Keith Olbermann have everything and absolutely nothing in common.”

“You must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country”: George Washington and our civilian-controlled military

John R. Miller writes in Sunday’s New York Times about how George Washington played a key role in forming the cherished American principle of civilian control of our miliary (thanks to Luke for finding this):

On March 10, an anonymous letter appeared, calling for a meeting of all officers the next day to discuss the grievances. Within hours came a second anonymous letter, in which the writer, later revealed as Maj. John Armstrong Jr., an aide to top Gen. Horatio Gates, urged the troops, while still in arms, to either disengage from British troops, move out West and “mock” the Congress, or march on Philadelphia and seize the government.

When Washington learned of the letters, he quickly called for the meeting to be held instead on March 15 – to give time, he said, for “mature deliberation” of the issues. He ordered General Gates to preside and asked for a report, giving the impression that a friend of the instigators would run the show and that Washington himself wouldn’t even attend. He spent the next few days planning his strategy and lining up allies.

But just as the meeting of approximately 500 officers came to order, Washington strode into the hall and asked permission to speak. He said he understood their grievances and would continue to press them. He said that many congressmen supported their claims, but that Congress moved slowly. And he warned that to follow the letter writer would only serve the British cause.

The officers had heard all this before – the letter writer had even warned against heeding Washington’s counsel of “more moderation and longer forbearance.” The crowd rustled and murmured with discontent. Washington then opened a letter from a sympathetic congressman, but soon appeared to grow distracted. As his men wondered what was wrong, Washington pulled out a pair of glasses, which even his officers had never seen before. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country.”

The officers were stunned. Many openly wept. Their mutinous mood gave way immediately to affection for their commander.

We have met the enemy and guess who he is?

Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s GPS Sunday:(emphasis added)

“In 1979 Paul Volker was appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve and he began to raise interest rates to crush inflation. It succeeded. And it had a follow-on affect around the world ushering in an era of low inflation, low interest rates and strong growth. What impresses me most about Volker was his willingness to do something that was deeply unpopular at the time in the short term for the long term good of the country. What he did then is now widely praised, but at the time he was burned in effigy as a job destroyer.

If you think about just about every problem we face in the United States, and in fact in Europe, Japan and every advanced industrial country, the solutions are readily identifiable. But they all involve trimming benefits, restricting credit, raising retirement age, trimming pensions and of course raising taxes. The effect of these reforms would be to place the country on much stronger economic foundation, but that benefit comes slowly over time while the costs are sharply felt now and by powerful special interests.

That’s why no one will propose any serious cuts in spending or any serious increases in taxation. Much easier to give everyone what they want and solve the problem by borrowing, borrowing, and more borrowing. So the core problem facing rich democracies these days is they can’t impose any short-term pain for long-term gain. And if we can’t find the the courage to do it, it is very difficult to be optimistic about the future for these countries, including the United States.

Let’s name it the Adult Party

“For the first time in my life, I see the prospect of a third party somewhere in the future. I just don’t see how we get out of the hole we’re in if Republicans aren’t willing to raise taxes and Democrats not willing to cut spending.” –David Brooks of The New York Times on yesterday’s Meet the Press

Either way we’d all go under (unless we can find a lifeguard or two)

This conversation exemplifies what’s wrong with Washington. It’s like two guys fighting in the ocean to see who drowns first. Both parties are responsible for the deficits. And both parties are responsible for the fiscal suicide…it’s because the two sides are trying to fight each other rather than actually doing something bipartisan or actually do anything. So bipartisanship has become a wedge issue, a way to make the other party look bad. So bipartisanship has been twisted into just another ring.” –The New York Times’ David Brooks on today’s Meet the Press