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Florence Snyder: Less green bean casserole, more human understanding. For Paris.

3254822612_acd6e77782_zDeath happens to the best of us, and also to the worst.

We saw that again last week in Paris, and in Beirut, where hundreds of people going about the business of daily living had the bad fortune to cross paths with fanatics armed with weapons of war and hearts full of hate.

The Grim Reaper is not obliged to give a heads-up that your number’s up. There is always a chance that a marathon in Boston or a church in Charleston will be violated by twisted souls that nobody’s God would claim.

The Grim Reaper outsources only a fraction of his job to nut jobs claiming to be guided by homicidal Higher Authorities. The bulk of his business is done by Alzheimer’s and heart disease and cancer and 57 varieties of addiction.

The Grim Reaper does not respect boundaries. Surprise visits to offices and schools and family vacations are not off limits. He works his regular shift on birthdays, anniversaries, and the occasional bar mitzvah. He does not care that Americans are about to celebrate that most Leo Tolstoy of holidays, Thanksgiving, where “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This Thanksgiving, as always, happy families count their blessings and carve the turkey, while unhappy families sharpen the long knives and use them on one another. No matter what else might be happening in the world, unhappy families can rarely resist the annual opportunity to eat, drink, and resurrect ancient grievances.

In her brilliant new book Tribal, my colleague Diane Roberts reminds us that much of the human race is hard-wired to believe that God wants bloody vengeance for last week’s defeat on the football field. We should not be surprised that there are people on every continent seeking bloody vengeance for Civil Wars, and Balkan Wars, and wars dating back to the twelve tribes of Israel.

This Thanksgiving, let’s skip the competition for Smartest Guy in the Room and Prettiest Presentation of Green Bean Casserole and focus—really focus—on learning something we didn’t know about someone who shares our holiday table. That’s as close as we can come to cheating death.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

Photo credit: Gregory Bastien.



Florence Snyder: Florence’s Handy Dandy Father’s Day Shopping Compendium

3520871459_ed2586d917_zHey kids! Just six more shopping days until Father’s Day. Step away from the tie counter, please, because your father does not want another tie, unless it’s the one Jim Morrison wore at his high school graduation.

Here are some other things your father does not want: belts, bathrobes, T-shirts, cuff links, coffee mugs, and electronic devices that were on the shelves before Mothers Day and cost less than $500.

If you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re old enough to get it through your head that what you father wants from you is time.

Give him as much of that as you can spare, because God counts the years, and you never know when his number—or yours—will be up.

Here’s some stuff your father wants you to ask about:

  • What’s the first thing you remember?
  • When did you decide to become a butcher (or baker or candlestick maker)?
  • What’s your favorite movie?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
  • If you could do anything, what would you do?



For best results, have these conversations in person, and remember to shut off your father’s device, as well as your own.

And kids, while you’re home, don’t forget to clean up your room. Your father is very tired of hearing your mother wringing her hands about whether it would be ok to give away your stuffed animals.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

(Photo credit: Easa Shamih)



Florence Snyder: A Valentine to David Carr

rachel-heart-desatLike all addicts, David Carr had a drug of choice. His was journalism.

He craved the constant rush that the news business provides. The endorphins unleashed in the newsrooms where he worked in Minnesota and Washington and New York made for a better high than “the frantic kind of boring,” that Carr described in his memoir about the years he spent out of newsrooms, shacked up with the harsh mistresses of alcohol and cocaine.

Carr got sober and spent the next 25 years as journalism’s Romeo. He loved reporting the news, and was an ardent lover of people who reported the news.

Unlike many aging baby boomers, Carr had no fear of new technology and no contempt for young people who did not equate the survival of newspapers with the survival of journalism.

But he brooked no insolence from new media whippersnappers who insulted the New York Times, for which Carr had “an immigrant’s love.”

The nut graf of Carr’s life is preserved forever in the 2011 documentary film “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” Carr is seen interviewing Vice founder Shane Smith about Vice’s coverage of Liberia. Smith babbles that mainstream media “never tells the whole story.”

Carr explodes, “Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do.”

But Carr’s love was not blind. Day after day, year after year Carr documented the “industry suicide’ of old media while writing road maps for the people who will invent journalism’s future.

Some of those people are studying at Boston University, where Carr, the first holder of the Andrew R. Lack Professorship, created a “contemporary and entrepreneurial journalism” course called PressPlay: Making and distributing content in the present future.

Former Miami Herald Editor and Dean of the Boston University College of Communications says it was “…almost as the result of wishful thinking” how Carr came to the Professorship.

“Several of us were at a lunch that Mr. Lack hosted tossing about the names of people who might fit the vision of the Lack Professorship, that is, a person with a unique ability to understand and explain the changes, good and bad, that were occurring in the communication fields as a result of emerging communication technologies. Someone — probably Andy Lack — remarked that the person we were searching for would have to be on David Carr’s speed dial; it would have to be a person whom David would call when he was seeking insight into some development. Not in our wildest dreams did we think at that moment that David himself would be interested in this position and would find a way to join Boston University.”

Fiedler should not have been surprised. Carr spent every minute of his professional life teaching people inside and outside of the newsroom what journalism is, and why it matters.

On the last night of his life, Carr conducted yet another master class in finding stuff out and sharing it with the world, moderating a Times Talk about the film “Citizenfour” with its principal subject, Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists to whom Snowdon leaked a trove of classified documents.

And then he collapsed in the newsroom he so dearly loved.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Florence Snyder: Palm Beach Post’s O’Meilia leaves his mark in scrapbooks – and hearts – across America

O'MeiliaMuckraking matters, but the true test of a newspaper’s mettle is its day to day commitment to telling ordinary stories in extraordinary ways.

Florida lost one of its most gifted—and beloved—storytellers Saturday when Tim O’Meilia, 65, succumbed to cancer.

O’Meilia leaves behind wife Debbie, sons Rolly and Casey, and generations of Florida journalists who took instruction and inspiration from the body of work he produced for The Palm Beach Post from 1972- 2008.

A look at the guest book for people wishing to leave condolences on The Post’s website could double as a textbook for what makes a great reporter.

“I had the express joy of knowing him for a decade,” wrote Elizabeth Dashiell of Jupiter. “He covered the Science Museum, and came out for all of our major (and minor!) events. He was a gentleman, brilliant writer and warm caring person. I loved reading his articles and loved even more spending time with him, talking about local places and strange things. He shared my love of the unusual and knew the best way to describe Florida’s uniqueness.”

O’Meilia was a low-maintainence general assignment guy who could always be counted upon to produce a high-impact story.

“Because of his ability to turn a non-story into a great read for the front page, Tim was always picked to handle the quirky piece. He was the “go-to guy” in the newsroom. He never complained — not once — and always turned the story into something worth taking the time to read. He was a real pro, a great guy and I don’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy working with him,” wrote Pete Ebel, one of the many editors who loved to handle O’Meilia’s consistently close-to-perfect copy.

Kathryn Quigley of Deptford, New Jersey “…had the pleasure of sitting next to Tim in The Post newsroom from 2000-2002. I loved seeing his sly smile and hearing his confident, quiet way with sources on the phone. ”

Investigative reporter-turned filmmaker Gary Kane weighed in from New York: “…..Yes, you CAN believe everything he wrote, whether it was a story about a Lake Worth zoning squabble or the mating rituals of turkey vultures. No factual errors. No misquotes. He wrote with a clear, concise style. His storytelling was honest, thoughtful, clever. I imagine that countless stories carrying the Tim O’Meilia byline have been clipped and pasted in scrapbooks or tucked in boxes of mementos. Tim wasn’t a newsroom prima donna. He….wasn’t obsessed with becoming a brand. He was simply a journalist. A damn fine one….”

An especially poignant tribute comes from The Post’s veteran courts reporter, Susan Spencer-Wendel, who reported her own story of living with purpose and joy following a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Tim made writing look easy,” wrote Wendel, who tapped her best-selling memoir, “Before I Say Goodbye” out on an iPhone, one character at a time. “I loved his stories about a comet buzzing by or the new jaguar born at the zoo. There was such delight in them. He was a true gentleman and a fine and fair reporter.”

Post Director of Administration Lynn Kalber speaks for many others who think “Tim was part of that small, unique percentage of newspaper writers: Everything he wrote was gold. He made it look easy. He made us care about all of it. He taught us all kinds of things without letting us know we were learning. And to cap all of it off, he was one of the nicest guys around….”

O’Meilia, a Notre Dame graduate, could have spent most of his career at bigger papers with bigger audiences for bigger money. But as the condolences continue to pour in from all over the country, it’s hard to imagine any way he could have left a bigger mark.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Florence Snyder: The Fourth Estate in the Sunshine State

Context Florida Publisher Peter Schorsch got it wrong dead wrong when he suggested in his September 5 Saintpetersblog post that reporter envy might taint coverage of the Chris Clark imbroglio.

Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas broke the story that Floridas power elite has spent the week chewing over, praying over, and kvetching over.

Klas reported that Clark makes megabucks as a political consultant, servicing clients he also deals with in his $150,000 day job as Senate President Don Gaetz chief of staff.

That was news to the 99%, most of whom think that $150,000 is real money, and more than enough to purchase all of a legislative staffers time and loyalty to the public that picks up the tab.

In 21st century Florida, everythings legal and theres no such thing as a conflict of interest. Taxpayers, and even the press, have become desensitized to public servants who hang out their influence-peddling shingles at 5 oclock on the day they cash their last government paycheck.

But Clarks real-time revolving door is something new.

Schorsch, himself a political consultant, is open-minded about Clarks hybrid job and rightly suggests that if this is the new normal, some public dialogue is in order.

As we continue to discuss this story, a better sense of proportion is needed,” Schorsch wrote.

Nobody could argue against proportion, but Schorsch goes a phrase too far when he posits that proportion may not come from envious reporters making little more than Highway Patrolmen.

Schorsch was blogging from a family vacation and may not have intended the juxtaposition of Klas and the Green Eyed Monster.

But plenty of Tallahassees movers, shakers, and legends in their own minds do confuse real reporters like Klas with the burgeoning population of reporters turned media lobbyists.

Lobbying the press is big business, and an out-of-control cancer on the body politic. As the News Service of Floridas Dara Kam showed in a groundbreaking story this week, professional press wranglers have been redefined as an expected expenditure for anyone who wants anything from government.

“Conduits to the media”, Kam reports, have become a routine cost of doing business, and the special interests will pay through the nose for ex-reporters willing to call themselves story brokers and peddle someone’s party line to their old colleagues.

Klas is lucky, and so are we, that whats left of the Miami Herald will pay her a wage she can live on to find out things that Senate Presidents and their retinues dont want you to know.

Klas could have cashed in her credibility for a Chris Clark size income in media lobbying years ago..if she were the envious type.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Florence Snyder: Surely it was inevitable that the boomers would create TGIO (thankfully, in Tallahassee)

There’s not much to smile about in this Summer of Tsuris. Governor Rick Scott has fled the jurisdiction as Dream Defenders occupy the Capitol. Deck chairs are being shuffled at the Department of Children & Families. The Agency for Health Care Administration is using the children it warehouses in geriatric nursing homes as an excuse to bash Obamacare. Obscene “compensation” pours into the pockets of shameless officers and directors at Florida Blue.

So it was a welcome and altogether unexpected surprise this weekend to see hundreds of old folks dancing down Broadsway at Florida State University’s Opperman Music Hall.

That’s not a typo. “Broadsway” Productions is the second act of self-described recovering lawyer Elise Judelle and Peggy Brady, who recently retired after a 21-year run as Executive Director of the local Council on Culture and Arts.

Judelle and Brady are in show business full time now, and this weekend was the world premiere of a cabaret they call TGIO (Thank God I’m Old). For two solid hours, Broadsway’s troupe of singer-actors took an unsparing musical look at all manner of unfinished business people contend with in the 4th quarter of their lives. The characters portrayed come from the songbooks of pop, rock, and country, as well as the Great White Way, and the stakes are high, because time on the clock is running low.

The Judelle-Brady spirit of “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” made for a great performance, but even more interesting was the audience.

The 442 seat venue was close to full of local retirees. Some of the faces were recognizable, but most were unsung heroes of generations of state workers, educators and journalists who served Florida in the decades before it was the world’s leading exporter of late night comedy.

The token young person in the room was cast member Kelly Staver Elliott, who sang the role of a beloved granddaughter in a reimagined version of “For Good,” a signature song from Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked.” More often, Elliott was camping it up as a sweet young thing who catches the eyes of over-the-hill men armed with high hopes and a few hits of Viagra.

Audience emotions were toyed with in ways not generally associated with attorneys like Judelle, who spent much of her career doing the mind-numbing work of a bond lawyer at Bryant Miller Olive, the firm founded by the late Gov. Farris Bryant.

Show-goers toggled between uproarious laughter and barely-muffled sobs. There was a relaxed camaraderie in the audience that one used to see in the halls of power back when public service was an end in itself, and not a pit stop on the path to a lucrative life of influence peddling and no-bid contracts.

At intermission, people who used to be bold-faced names worked the room. They recognized people who, long ago, did real work competently at metal desks far removed from the corner offices of agency heads and managing partners. Unlike today’s “executive leadership teams” who always have their eyes on the name tags, looking for someone more important to talk to, they greeted old subordinates as equals, and asked after their children.

Judelle and Brady’s Glee for Geezers seems destined for future performance on the road and on the Internet. But on opening night, it felt like it was the audience that should be taking the bow.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Liz Joyner: Reviving the town hall meeting

Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, February 15, 2012 There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a town hall meeting. It’s how the business of American community has gotten done from just about the moment the first disaffected European foot hit ground in the New World.

Even if you’ve never attended one, the town meeting is buried so deep in our country’s psyche that you can probably immediately call up its intimate details – rows of folding chairs, town council up front with only a school lunch table to define their status, a charmless but functional meeting room. Someone probably saw to it that there would be coffee and cookies. Overachievers might organize a potluck. Read all »



Florence Snyder: Pot, kettle, Ed Schultz

Radio and cable talk show host Ed Schultz calls himself “The Nation’s Number 1 Progressive Voice.”

This week, he progressed to the Misogynist Hall of Fame with his radio reference to fellow opinionator Laura Ingraham as a "slut." Schultz managed to use the word twice in one sentence, which is one time more than would have gotten past the Village Square Civility Bell.

Impulse control is not one of Schultz's strengths. Last summer, the New York Post reported his meltdown in the [MSNBC] 30 Rock newsroom. Schultz was enraged that the marketing folks ran commercials that he wasn't in. When his huffing and puffing failed to win hearts and minds, he slammed down the telephone and shouted, “I’m going to torch this [bleep]ing place.”

White men with microphones have likewise been on the receiving end of Schultz verbal violence.  According to The Post, Schultz œonce told White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, ‘You’re full of [bleep].’ And after Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck revealed a condition that may make him go blind, Schultz said, “It’s a travesty he’s not going to see the country he’s trying to destroy.”

The working people Schultz claims to champion would be fired from their factories, fast food restaurants and offices if they acted nuts and uncorked about "sluts."  But Schultz seems to have a license to behave like a bad-tempered seventh grader. Following his Monday dump on Ingraham, MSNBC brass huddled for two days and emerged with this statement:

MSNBC management met with Ed Schultz [Wednesday] afternoon and accepted his offer to take one week of unpaid leave for the remarks he made yesterday on his radio program. Ed will address these remarks on his show tonight, and immediately following begin his leave. Remarks of this nature are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Accepted Schultz’ offer?  Really?

Call it zero tolerance, Orwell-style.

Schultz won't miss a week's pay, and it sounds like he could use a few days to chill out, but it will be a long time before anyone takes his “civility” lectures seriously.

MSNBC’s slogan is “Lean forward.”  It did….and spit straight into our eyes.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

(Photo credit, Schultz pictured with Ingraham: Dan Patterson)



Florence Snyder: A reflection for our third graders

Saturday started out so happily for me and moviegoers all over America.

The Metropolitan Opera’s centennial production of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West was beamed to big screens across America. Audiences were enthralled by the by rootin’ tootin’ lotsa shootin’ Old West romance staged in Italian by an international company of musical magicians, all plainly enjoying themselves. The afternoon orgy of opera and popcorn rendered fans mercifully oblivious to the real bullets flying at a New West strip mall in Tucson.

By the time I left the theater and turned on my car radio, the Perpetual Scream Machine that passes for political discourse was in hyperdrive. Police had not yet had time to notify all the families of Jared Loughner’s victims, but that did not stop any of the usual suspects from fingering all of their usual targets. Read all »



Florence Snyder: Shoeleather in the Age of Twitter

BY FLORENCE SNYDER

The year is 2020, and all that remains of print journalism is the New York Times, USATODAY, and the National Enquirer. Google has been broken up into twelve competing companies. 97.9% of all news websites have installed pay walls. All state and local public records are available on-line…for a fee. Vice President Marco Rubio has inherited the Oval Office from President Sarah Palin, who resigned to resume her career as a journalist.

That’s the way it was in a world conceived by Miami First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin for The Florida Bar’s annual Media Law Conference. The Conference dates back to the 1970s when Wall Street was beginning to see journalism as a cash cow, rather than the watchdog the Founding Fathers intended. In the 1980s, as media companies profit margins climbed past 30%,  hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists crowded into hotel ballrooms to hear media A-listers opine on the future of journalism. Times and travel budgets being what they are, the 2010 Conference was a far less lavish affair.  At times, the speakers outnumbered the paying audience.

One can only wonder how 20th century Conference speakers like Katharine Graham, Abe Rosenthal and Fred Friendly would have responded as Julin prodded veteran reporters, academics and fellow media lawyers to answer questions which have, for decades, vexed journalism think-tanks in 140 characters or less. Julin lightened the mood with James Cameron-level audio visual references to narcissistic presidential hopefuls and their tango-dancing soulmates. Still, it was a sobering picture he painted of a not-too-distant future where the body politic has the attention span of a goldfish.

Some think that day has already arrived, but Conference-goers found reason to be hopeful that real news and well-reasoned commentary will adapt to the new and much leaner environment.

Some of the 21st century’s best explanatory journalism is happening on Comedy Central; Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the Peabody awards to prove it. These modern-day Mark Twains provide a national audience the kind of fact-based, impossible-to-ignore editorial voices that Florida used to take for granted.

Howard Troxler and Carl Hiaasen are, thank God, still with us.  But Florida’s increasingly anemic editorial pages are no match for state government’s standing army of flacks and flunkies who pay lip-service to transparency while actively obstructing reporters in pursuit of stories their bosses don’t want told.

It’s always cause for celebration when front-page news slips past the government’s spinmeisters and makes it to the front page, and Conference-goers were spellbound as Gina Smith of the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. described the combination of luck, instinct and shoeleather involved in her pursuit of Gov. Mark Sanford down the “Appalachian Trail” to the Atlanta airport.

To a roomful of reporters who are expected to do impactful investigations while blogging at 20 minute intervals, it was a cheering reminder that one reporter can change the course of history.

A reminder of another kind was delivered by the Miami Herald’s former general counsel Richard Ovelmen. In a moving tribute to his friend and mentor, legendary First Amendment lawyer Dan Paul, who died this year at age 85, Ovelmen recalled how Paul leveraged his bulging Rolodex in the service of all of Florida’s journalists—not just the ones who worked for Knight Newspapers and the New York Times Company in the decades when they could afford Paul’s eye-popping hourly rates.

Under Paul’s direction, Ovelmen recalled, Florida’s media lawyers took up the cause of reporters in places they could barely pronounce.

If a city clerk in Opa Locka withheld public records, or a judge in Palatka threw a reporter out of a courtroom, publishers of mom-and-pop newspapers could count on Paul to declare a constitutional crisis and dispatch an army of lawyers bearing briefs that argued, “News delayed is news denied.”

With 20th century media on life support, displaced journalists are bringing their craft to cyberspace.  The lonely pamphleteer is on-line at places like Broward Bulldog, Health News Florida, and FloridaThinks, looking for a business model that will support the never-ending mission of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”

There’s a lot at stake, and The Florida Bar deserves thanks for reminding us that failure is not an option.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com.

Parody photo courtesy of Random Pixels. Tom Julin’s “Journalism and Other Financial Disasters” was presented at The Florida Bar’s Media Law Conference, March 26, 2010.



Liz Joyner: Down the rabbit hole in 12 months (or less)

alice in wonderland

A new NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll asked if 2009 was a period of unity or division. The only surprise in the result is that 12% of respondents actually said unity. (Perhaps the percentage of Americans without a TV set?) Even more disturbing is that at the beginning of the year, a full half of us thought it was a time of unity. What a year.

Plus “division” is a vanilla description of 2009.

Croquet balls turned hedgehogs and hookah-smoking caterpillars have nothing on the year we’ve just spent in the good ole US of A. Speaking as someone who was adequately alarmed about the sump-pump depths of our civic dialog waaay back in the spring of 2006 to go to all the trouble to form The Village Square, where we stand now is nearly unfathomable.

We kicked off the year with a run on ammo given the impending presidency of Barack Obama, despite the utter and complete absence of any indication that Obama had any intention of taking anyone’s guns.

We moved directly from there into the full-force swing of the birther movement, with duly elected and previously apparently sane representatives giving winks and nods to the idea that our president was actually some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate, verified birth certificate and fact-be-damned.

Somewhere along the way we passed the White Rabbit late to the Mad Hatter’s tea party to find that we actually have an elected president looking to take down America, capitalism, our whole way of life and probably apple pie to boot.

It’s no wonder that with all this hoo-hah about, when it was time to debate the daunting national issue of health care, we just couldn’t manage. When it was time to bring our A-game, instead we flunked out.

Civil discourse is a muscle and 2009 found it atrophied from lack of use.

Is it possible to revive a conservative party ready to make a cogent argument that has a possibility of reaching people who don’t already agree with them? Because while it appears that President Obama isn’t trying to take your guns, isn’t secretly foreign-born, isn’t trying to bring America to its knees, it is entirely possible that he is one thing that needs serious discussion: Wrong. But the opposition party, too busy poisoning the well with arguments that make them look like 60’s hippies on an acid trip haven’t really cohesively made that argument in a way that the rest of us can hear.

And while we’re at it, before liberals build a hermetically sealed media environment to rival the Fox News and talk radio empires they might want to pause to rethink. Picture Keith Olbermann’s special comments with about 15 years to percolate, and then decide if that’s ultimately good or bad for America. If the amen chorus of conservatism hasn’t really advanced a good conservative argument you’re apt to listen to, why in the world do you think that a conservative will ever listen to a liberal one wrapped in a different flavor of the same indignant fury?

In our current Adventure through Wonderland, we’ve reached the part in the story where the feuding self-righteous and uninformed are playing the role of the Queen of Hearts with her hair trigger “off with their heads” impulse. Its hard not to wonder how far real violence is behind.

It’s well past time we wake from our yearlong dream and put away childish behavior and fantasy.

Because in 2010, we’ve got a country to run.

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Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. Contact her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.



Liz Joyner: The Seesaw

tree-small.jpgNeither of my kids spent much time on the seesaw at the park in their younger days. If I had to guess why, it would be that it was a little too much work for a day at the park. It was rare when they got a seesaw partner who didn’t require serious weight and momentum adjustment—sliding forward or backward, pushing hard at the bottom to get your end back up in the air, or, as was more often the case with my slender little girls, perched suspended three feet up, pretty much unable to control a thing.

As my sixteen-year-old has grown into a young woman, she’s been exposed to many a political dinner table conversation from the perspective of my side of the political seesaw. But as much as she’s heard me yammer, I’ve only now just noticed that she’s suspended in mid air with her feet dangling, no where near solid ground. I’m afraid I’ve been responsible for providing her only half the argument in a country that requires citizens to understand the whole one.

Trying to give her a shove back down to terra firma, I’ve had a series of conversations with her about—ultimately—what I deeply believe. There’s been a bit of personal political archeology involved here, as, in the daily shuffle, there are times when I’m too immersed in the veneer to reach for the foundation. Here’s where I found my foundation: What lasts, what matters from all of our daily political struggles is what keeps America who we are. What matters is the two-party system that creates a tension of opposites, the left keeping the right from marching into fascism, the right keeping the left from slipping into communism. What lasts is the best ideas that rise to the top, the product of our endless, sometimes painfully difficult dialog. Were it not for the tension, the struggle, we wouldn’t be America.

When power concentrates on one side of this non-stop American seesaw, it’s time for the grown-ups to give it a firm shove on one side. I sense the American public is ready to give a firm parental shove right about now too. But there is risk in this weight adjustment when we’ve been so used to pushing hard and having nothing happen… we risk that we’ll send the other guy miles into the air. Okay, so I’ll admit it, right now that may not seem so bad, but pause for a moment to consider what happens after the other guy’s fanny lands back on the seesaw. I never took physics but I’m fairly sure that all that energy has to go someplace and it may not be pretty when it does.

So, here’s to keeping the big picture in mind as each “side” shoves to get more momentum… hoping there are enough grownups to keep the traffic on the seesaw well-behaved.

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Liz Joyner is the cofounder of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

**This post represents the genesis of the thinking that would ultimately become The Village Square. I first wrote “The Seesaw” in March of 2006, when the Democrats had no political power. Now they control both Congress and the presidency.

The seesaw works both ways, folks.