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Team of Rivals; Team of Neighbors

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Back when The Village Square was just a gleam in a few of our eyes, the concept of “A Team of Rivals”, as described in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book of the same title, was highly recommended to us as intellectual fodder by journalist, friend, thinker and all-around-smart-guy Neil Skene.

Perhaps our Village Square version could be best described as a “Team of Neighbors”?

We’re glad to see that President-Elect Barack Obama is finally falling in line behind our “Big Idea.” (Yes, it should be duly noted that we had this idea well before Barack Obama, although – to be honest – a few years after Lincoln.)

To be sure, Lincoln’s team contained a component of the adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” But political calculation aside, a connection between divergent camps of prominent thought yields an expansion of creative thinking (even if difficulty comes in holding its hand), serving to improve the success of any solution chosen.

Better discover the weaknesses of your “side” with an “opponent” before finding out in blood and money.



Peggy Noonan: “hit our game in a higher way”

More from Peggy Noonan, author of “Patriotic Grace”, on Meet The Press yesterday:

We may in our country may face difficult days ahead. And even immediately ahead. When you keep your mind on that you release, whoa, this whole partisan gamesmanship is OVER, it’s yesterday. What we need now is grace. We need real patriotism in which patriotism isn’t used as a weapon in a campaign. Patriotism actually needs grace in order to function. We need to be our best selves right now, we’ve got to hit our game in a higher way. We’ve got to be forbearing. We’ve got to be adults. I sometimes think one of the problems in America is there are too many people who don’t want to embrace the role of a grownup.



“Beware the terrible simplifiers.”

Bill Moyers commentary on the week of political goings-on with the Reverend Wright media blitz contained in it both a finger-wag at politics as usual (hard not to love that) and the daggone best quote I’ve ever heard. Moyers:

Politics often exposes us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I’ve never seen anything like this – this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner. Both men, no doubt, will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we’re paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burkhardt who said: “Beware the terrible simplifiers.”



Purple State of Mind

If you like The Village Square, you’ll love the new movie Purple State of Mind. The website is worth checking out and you can buy the DVD online as well.

Hat tip to Lea, who has her finger on the pulse of – well – everything.



On civility and a conservative icon

Today’s New York Times editorial page honors William F. Buckley Jr. who died yesterday at the age of 82:

There are not many issues on which Mr. Buckley and this page agreed or would agree – except, perhaps, the war in Iraq, which Mr. Buckley regretted as “unrealistic”and “anything but conservative.” Yet despite his uncompromising beliefs, Mr. Buckley was firmly committed to civil discourse and showed little appetite for the shrillness that plagues far too much of today’s political discourse.

For a time back in the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Buckley and the liberal columnist Murray Kempton were something of a traveling road show. And they were friends. Yale’s angry young man turned out to be not so angry after all. He hated most of what the liberals stood for. He didn’t hate them.

He didn’t hate them.



“…a president matters. And so do we.”

This week brought us a typical brain-dead political discussion about who did what in the civil rights movement. King! Johnson! King! Johnson!

Politics played to our lizard brains, replayed endlessly in incomplete soundbites on the 24-hour cable news do-loop station of your choice, repeatedly asks us to pick “either/or”.

But reality is nearly always about “and.”

As a tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King today, I want to share Bill Moyers nailing that concept.

As this day ends, the day we set aside to honor Dr. King, if I don’t miss my bet, he would have been all about sharing credit with President Johnson… possibly with one or two others…

Here’s to what real leadership is all about.

Moyers on the signing of the 1965 Civil Right Act:

Martin Luther King had marched and preached and witnessed for this day. Countless ordinary people had put their bodies on the line for it; been berated, bullied and beaten, only to rise and organize and struggle on against the dogs, the guns, the bias and burning crosses. Take nothing from them. Their courage is their legacy.

But take nothing from the President who once had seen the light, but dimly, as through a dark glass and now did the right thing. Lyndon Johnson threw the full weight of his office on the side of justice.

Of course the movement had come first, watered by the blood of so many championed bravely now by the preacher-turned-prophet who would himself soon be martyred. But there is no inevitability to history. Someone has to seize and turn it. With these words, at the right moment – “We shall overcome” – Lyndon Johnson transcended race and color – and history too – reminding us that a president matters.

And so do we.



Civility 101: A draft

We’ve been thinking for a while now about just how this civility thing might go, and all that thinking has produced some ideas. Just to confuse you, here’s our tickler:

Bring your human brain.
Hold opinion lightly at times.
Eat potato salad, make potato salad.
Recognize horse manure before tracking it.
Find the wedge. Lose the wedge.
Fight like Founding Fathers.
Get (un)personal.
Lose the evil “they.”
Build your vocabulary.
Remove punctuation
Meet your batty brain.
Hold discomfort.
Be a comparison shopper.
Elevate substance over symbolism.
Err on the side of laughter.

Next week we will jump right in to discussion about bringing your human brain and leaving your lizard brain at home (when you come to the Village Square AND – we might humbly suggest as long as we’re being bossy – when you drive and when you vote).



Political Ads: Can’t We Just Grow Up?

NPR Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon:

Do you remember when candidates used to appear in their own commercials? Many of them seemed a little stiff wearing a sober suit and white shirt framed by an American flag, a bust of Lincoln and family pictures as they made obvious, irreconcilable and insupportable promises.

“I will improve schools, hire more police, teachers and trash workers and lower taxes, create jobs, and get snow, guns and homeless people off the street by being tough, fair, generous and stingy to all of our citizens , regardless of race, creed or hair color, the number of toes they have or whether they were ever stupid enough to vote for my opponent. I welcome your support.”

I miss those ads. At least they gave you a glimpse of the candidate talking about issues, even in hilarious non sequiturs. These days candidates hire consultants to publicize the names of their opponents just so they can splash mud and slime on them. It’s as if Coca Cola bought ads just to show people taking a swig of Pepsi Cola and spitting it into a gutter.

The candidate used to at least risk rejection by asking, sometimes pleading “vote for me” in his commercials. Now they hide behind hired voices who ask “you aren’t really going to vote for that guy, are you?” Then have the candidate mutter at the end like some nine-year-old being forced to admit that he hit the baseball through the window “I approved this message.”

There’s an old Madison Avenue adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Many current campaign commercials don’t even try to sell sizzle, they just hurl sleaze. People who create them are using the expensive power of articulation to produce messages that are just about as mature as kids razzing each other on the playground.

Look, I’m from Chicago, I love covering politics there and still follow it like a contact sport. I know, as the old Chicago columnist Findley Peter Dunn wrote in 1898, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It has always been rough because the stakes are high. I am not one of those people who says “I wish we had a high-minded political system like they have in Canada.”

The sad fact is that candidates and soft money groups run vicious ads because the evidence is, they work. We might be appalled but we often follow through.

When ads become so personal, intense and insulting it’s difficult for the candidate who survives, I won’t even say “wins,” to climb atop the ooze and act like a human being, much less a statesman. And difficult for voters to respect or trust who they’ve elected, in spite of what they’ve been told. These ads may help candidates win the game, but they also risk tearing up the field and burning down the stadium.

By the way, my name is Scott Simon and I approved this message.