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Ross Douthat: On airport security, we’re partisans first, ideologues second (we wonder when we become just Americans)

There’s a great article in today’s New York Times about the inconsistency of the argument on the new TSA airport body scanners given the ultra partisan environment today. The article certainly supports the notion advanced by our next Village Square Dinner at the Square guest Bill Bishop that we have been sorting ourselves out into “tribes” for decades now and that the pull of group think within those likeminded groups (and the lack of trust between “tribes”) is very very strong. Noticing that partisans have taken quite opposite and ideologically inconsistent positions under different presidencies (whether it’s your party’s or not) Ross Douthat writesRead all »



David Brooks: It’s really about whether you believe in the founders’ vision of equilibrium or not

David Brooks channels Village Square in Monday New York Times op-ed:

“For centuries, American politicians did not run up huge peacetime debts. It wasn’t because they were unpartisan or smarter or more virtuous. It was because they were constrained by a mentality inherited from the founders. According to this mentality, a big successful nation exists in a state of equilibrium between its many factions. This equilibrium is fragile because we are flawed and fallen creatures and can’t quite trust ourselves. So all of us, but especially members of the leadership class, should practice self-restraint. Moral anxiety restrained hubris (don’t think your side possesses the whole truth) and self-indulgence (debt corrupts character). Read all »



Clinton + Bush

Larry King interviewed George H.W. and Barbara Bush last night – an interview I’d highly recommend you catch if you can see it in its entirety (I think they replay over the weekend). Most Americans will hear the sound byte of Mrs. Bush zinging Sarah Palin that managed to make our daily media do-loop, but here’s what we thought was the relevant news:

President George H.W. Bush: “I have a very good personal relationship with [Bill Clinton].

Larry King: (to Barbara Bush) “What do you think of his relationship with Bill?” Read all »



The tea party is right, but it’s not [right] because we don’t need government. We need government to not be idiotic.

No one can say “go.” No one can use their common sense. Everyone has their nose in a rule book… but people have to be free to make decisions to balance different goals…The current political system has almost a conspiracy to argue about things that aren’t relevant.”

—-Phillip K. Howard, Common Good (on The Daily Show last night)



“Recount” makes Knight Foundation news

Knight Foundation KIt was ten years ago last week that America woke up without a president-elect, in what was to become the 37 bizarre days of legal wrangling and political brinkmanship we know as the Florida Recount. To mark the anniversary, Knight Community Information Challenge project The Village Square brought together seven of the central players in the drama that riveted America in the most challenging transition of power in American’s history. The event received national press coverage. Read all »



Campaign 1800’s: Hermaphrodite raised on hoe-cakes

A footnote: I love this video but they join the “War on Context” with the snarky “try cracking a history book” at the end as – while they are exactly correct that foul things have been said in the name of campaigning through history, they get a Village Square rap on the knuckles for doing some major cherry picking.

First of all, we should note that the Jefferson and Adams campaign was ultimately the first election in human history with a peaceful transition of power from one party/group of people to another… let’s just say given the unique feat they were undertaking, it’s not that hard to imagine that tensions ran high. The standard way to handle it up until then was with bayonettes. Read all »



Washington Post: “Widening disconnect between the polarized political system and less-polarized public.”

Why’s this happening? According to the op-ed’s author Robert Samuelson:

“First, politicians depend increasingly on their activist “bases” for votes, money and job security (read: no primary challenger). But activist agendas are well to the left or right of center. So when politicians pander to their bases, they often offend the center. In one poll, 70 percent of registered voters said Republicans’ positions were too conservative at least some of the time; 76 percent likewise thought Democratic positions often “too liberal.”

Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three. Read all »



Sunday at the Square: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, is out with a new book that’s of interest to Village Square-ish thinking. Co-authored with David Campbell, American Grace seems to make many of the arguments our organization has advanced about division in America: To the extent that we can have positive interactions with our neighbors – regardless of how different they might be on matters of faith – we seem able to put aside differences in favor of community. From the New York Times:

…the story told in this book, by the social scientists Robert D. Putnam of Harvard and David E. Campbell of Notre Dame, is urgently relevant to the recent surge in interfaith tension. Read all »



Living the narrowcast, baby

Fascinating article in today’s Washington Post that hits on the problem The Village Square is trying to solve:

The increasing polarization of cable news is transforming, and in some ways shrinking, the electoral landscape. What has emerged is a form of narrowcasting, allowing candidates a welcoming platform that helps them avoid hostile press questioning and, in some cases, minimize the slog and the slip-ups of retail campaigning.

“There’s no question it’s contributing to the splintering of the political system and the means by which people get information about that system,” said Robert Thompson, who runs the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “If there’s no standard base line of fact and reporting, where can the conversation go?”

Love to hear what people think, both sides of the aisle. Read the whole article HERE.



We honor those who have served.



Village Square wins highly competitive national Knight Community Information Challenge Grant

Tallahassee, Fla., – The Community Foundation of North Florida, in partnership with The Village Square, recently received a $72,000 challenge grant to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents around community issues. The project entitled “We the People” will create a 21st Century virtual and face-to-face public square by offering unique town hall forums, in addition to constructive online engagement through a community problem-solving Wiki. The project’s goal is to renew Read all »



A Bastille Day Special: Let them eat (purple) cake

LET-THEM-EAT-PURPLE-CAKESeldom have four words ever brought such disastrous consequence to the person who uttered them, or so goes the legend of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” and that nasty business of her public beheading.

While a visit to modern day France finds Versailles proper positively dripping with the wretched excess history has assigned it, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, the private residence of the French queen, tells a somewhat different story. Rather than the gilded surroundings the king’s riches would surely have afforded her, she built a likeness of a quaint Austrian village, complete with working vineyards and livestock.

Could Marie-Antoinette – symbol the world over of condescending wealth – be misunderstood? My trip to France last summer had me scratching my head and returning home to learn more about the queen we love to hate.

Turns out the words we’ve put in poor Marie-Antoinette’s mouth may have been spoken – if spoken at all – by the wife of a different King Louis decades earlier. And even if the doomed queen had said it, a familiarity with French law regulating the price of bread suggests she would have probably meant “let them eat expensive bread with less flour in it for the same price,” a rather generous and common sense suggestion during a flour shortage.

We do know that Marie-Antoinette said “it is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.”

Oops.

Apparently when vein-poppingly angry people pick up their pitchforks and roll out the guillotine, they’ve been known to get it wrong from time to time.

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, will be given away as a door prize at a coming Village Square dinner!

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, actual Village Square door prize!

As uber-partisanship and the culture war have opened a gulf between us, we have been toting our own pitchforks lately. We’ve created opposing custom-ordered villains a la Marie-Antoinette, complete with oft-repeated misquotes, half quotes, and an occasional story spun of whole cloth.

In Revolutionary France, misinformation about the queen was fueled by the libelles – venomous slander-filled booklets produced by political opponents. Besting the distribution of French libelles, America’s present day incarnation sends distortions by email clear across the universe tout de suite.

Even as Americans are called to other countries to handle the fallout of ideological hatred gone to seed, we have a homegrown and thankfully only verbal – version of what journalist John Marks calls “wars of absolute dichotomy” brewing, fueled in part by a lot that we’re getting plain wrong about each other.

John, assigned to cover Bosnia for U.S. News & World Report, has seen the danger of absolute dichotomy. He’s since teamed with college roommate filmmaker Craig Detweiler to make the film “Purple State of Mind,”a conversation between friends with different religious worldviews. John and Craig were our Village Square guests in Tallahassee in 2009 – see their program here.

John explains that shaking up partisan red and blue to make “purple” isn’t really about seeking homogenized agreement but “about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency.”

On the queen’s behalf, I’d add “the utmost in factual accuracy.”

If we’re going to bring the best of America to bear on the big problems ahead, we can ill afford the cartoon version of a civic dialog that neglects the real consequences of creating fictions rather than grasping facts. At another perilous time in our history, the Founding Fathers set a high bar for the debate because they couldn’t afford the luxury of getting it wrong.

Marie-Antoinette met her end at Place de la Concorde, Revolutionary France’s version of our televised public square, where her beheading earned the eighteenth century’s equivalent of high Nielsen ratings. Whether or not she had it coming, most of us would like to think our decision-making has grown to reflect a higher standard in the couple of centuries since, regardless of potential for market share.

As we begin writing the history of what happens next in America, perhaps we can start by at least getting the quotes right. To do that, we might occasionally put down our pitchforks long enough to break bread with someone who doesn’t see it our way. Or, maybe, in a hat tip to learning the lessons of history, we should eat cake instead.

Only this time, make it purple.

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Liz Joyner is Executive Director of the Village Square