Friday, December 6, 2013
Purple State of John
Thoughts of a wordslinger…
Yesterday, as he promoted his “Restoring Courage” event in Jerusalem in August, Glenn Beck recalled the moving, meaningful and important movie Schindler’s List. His guests shared stories of courage in saving lives of Jews during WWII.
The safety and security of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is one near to American hearts for deeply human and compelling reasons, even if you sidestep the loaded topic of biblical history and prophecy that Beck is invoking.
Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree tells part of the history of the Jewish people during the establishment of the State of Israel and the central conflict in the Middle East through the very personal history one home in Ramallah, built by an Arab family who was later forced by events to leave it.
It tells the story of a Bulgarian Jewish family who fled Europe after the war to Israel with nothing but the dream of returning to their ancient homeland after the horror they had endured. In the tumult of politics, people and their imperfection, Jewish families were allowed to claim homes that had been left by fleeing Palestinians.
It tells of the lemon tree planted in the backyard of this home by the Arab family who had to leave it.
The adult daughter of the Jewish immigrants who had claimed the home would consider two histories of the land many years later after having been visited by the son of the family who had built the home: “I had to acknowledge that this is my childhood home, my parents lived here until they died, my memories are all here, but that this house was built by another family, and their memories are here. I had to acknowledge absolutely all of it.” The visit was the beginning of a difficult, challenging friendship between the two.
The son returned to be questioned by his family about his visit to the home they had not seen since being forced to leave:
Did the light still stream in through the south windows in the afternoon? Were the pillars on the gate still standing straight? Was the front gate still painted olive green? Was the paint chipping? If it still is, when you go back you can bring, a can of paint to make it new again; you can bring shears and cut the grass growing up along the stone lath. How is the lemon tree, does it look nice? Did you bring the fruit? Did you rub the leaves and smell them, did your fingers smell like fresh-cut lemons?
The tragedy of the Middle East is deep and wide. It has planted much hatred which has since gone to seed. The Jewish people and the Palestinian people know both the tragedy and the hatred. In time, the victim becomes the aggressor, and back again the victim in an endless spin of loss, heartache, blame, retribution, repeat.
We cannot afford to look at the situation from a comfortable vantage point – one that starts the story from the transgression that most favors “our side” and pretends that what came before doesn’t exist; ignoring facts along the way that don’t confirm our righteousness. This is not a comfortable story if you tell it truly. Telling comfortable stories only serve ultimately to accelerate tragedy.
In his presentation Beck warned, as he is prone to do, not to blur the line between good and evil. A world view that places all evil over there (whether “there” is across the street, across the aisle or across the Israeli West Bank barrier) while all goodness resides here is self-deceiving, self-serving, belies the teachings of faith and only serves to pour gasoline on what is already well beyond combustible.
And what connects us? The same thing that separates us. This land.”
“Our enemy,” the Jewish daughter said softly, “is the only partner we have.”
This is usually true in epic, entrenched conflict… if you look closely enough to see the lemon tree.
BY LIZ JOYNER This week’s brouhaha surrounding the newly-minted candidacy and ensuing political missteps of Newt Gingrich provides an opportunity to understand just how wacky our civic conversation has become. Here’s how the apparent crash and burn started:
DAVID GREGORY (Meet the Press): “…Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…”
GINGRICH: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate… I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”
Essentially Gingrich had just staked out a semi-populist/smidge libertarian middle position that appears now to be similar to that of the majority of the American people (who don’t quite like either Ryan’s or Obama’s).
The right’s reaction was predictably based on Gingrich’s lack of loyalty rather than a recognition that he was riding the cresting public opinion wave while the rest of the party was likely being cumulatively tugged under it. This was so predictable because we’ve gone tribal, Shia and Sunni style, where no one on one side is ever going to advisedly take an opinion (publicly) against their own “tribe”, never mind what they actually think. The condemnation was round and swift, ending the week in the traditional conservative perp walk to the Rush Limbaugh show where countless Republicans have found themselves after saying ridiculously obvious things such as… no, Limbaugh isn’t the head of the Republican party, he’s an entertainer (Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS and RNC Chair Michael Steele) or that Limbaugh throws bricks (uh, duh) (Rep. Phil Gingrey R-GA). Gingrich did the standard prescribed perp dance too, trying to say he didn’t say what he clearly said.
Of course none of this has ever been about reality, Gingrich just had to pay his tribal dues. Then again having paid them, it won’t make a bit of difference because in tribal politics like ours, he a goner. No “Sunni” would ever have supported him no matter how reasonable he became measured against their positions and he’s politically dead to the “Shia” now having disagreed with them on 1 (one) topic.
Indeed, over at America’s other political tribe, I heard precious little discussion of whether Gingrich had a point or possibly a bit of political courage, notably not by the people who ought to have thought he did. Ridiculing him has become sport, so why stop when he says something that presumably makes sense to them? Gingrich couldn’t buy a friend, even while representing a majority opinion in America. Instead most liberals didn’t seem able to resist taking general cheap shots. If you lean left and are resisting my point, think of the syndrome suffered by talk radio where no matter what position a Democratic leader takes and how close it is the position espoused by conservatives, the talk-radio crowd will tie themselves up in twisty illogical rhetorical knots to stake a position against him/her even if they have to argue against what they’re always arguing for. Hypocrisy is just so last season these days.
Liberals did that to Gingrich this week. It’s all because we lead now with our tribal anger.
Queue up Gingrich’s official spokesman’s statement, maybe the most bizarre I’ve ever heard, and you’ve got the three-ring circus at full-freakish tilt (you can also watch John Lithgow’s dramatic reading of the statement, starts about 3:30):
“The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote. “Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”
And so it goes.
Barely a peep this week in the way of an articulate conversation on health care and about whether Gingrich’s point had any merit at its heart. You see, we aren’t actually trying to solve any problems anymore. Keep this up and we’ll be getting exactly the public policy we deserve.
Ask the Shia or Sunni how well this has worked for them.
(Illustration credit: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)
BY LIZ JOYNER
Think Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman on the big screen as Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. Think My Lai massacre, Love Canal.
Think Ford Pinto.
If you haven’t given investigative journalism a whole lot of thought lately, you might want to start. Because in the past it’s been an integral part of America’s civic life, it’s natural to assume its out there alive and well like some kind of invisible democratic force field, but the reality is that along with the rest of journalism, everything about investigative journalism has changed virtually overnight. Turns out it’s going to need a new business model.
Good to know that there are people out there working on just that.
Last month The Village Square was honored to co-sponsor a Florida State University visit to Tallahassee from Paul Steiger of ProPublica, the giant in the business of investigative journalism in the public interest. Steiger visited us on a big week for his organization as they had just won their second Pulitzer Prize. Steiger himself is also a giant in the business, having retired from 16 years as the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal to start ProPublica.
These are the people who do the painstaking sleuthing with so many dead-ends and loop-the-loops that it raises the cost of the sleuthing well beyond what is currently feasible in the bottom line of today’s struggling publications. From this work, we learn what the public in a democracy should know, the kind of information that protects us as individuals, families, as a people. ProPublica makes this work available, usually at no cost, to the giants in the business of journalism. They even pull a fairy godmother from time to time and pick up investigative work dropped by other journalists who found themselves in a time or money pinch.
Bottom line: ProPublica is important.
A scan of ProPublica’s front page today and we learn actual facts on what we know about torture’s role in finding Bin Laden, that eliminating Big Oil subsidies won’t change gas prices, that the NRC is waiving fire safety rules at nuclear power plants. They do important work like explaining the forces behind the Wall Street meltdown.
We’ve had a good test run lately of where civic decision-making goes when people don’t pay much attention to what is factually true. But what if it the sources of verifiable objective truth were just gone?
Very smart people – among them the The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation which has provided us major funding these past two years – have spent vast resources making sure investigative journalism survives journalism’s current asteroid hit. But efforts like ProPublica still rely heavily on major support of such foundation and philanthropic donors and are looking to diversify their funding.
Ultimately, it will be about what we value as a society. We clearly have public relations campaigns out the yin yang. We’ve got press releases and image consultants and 24 hour talk, talk, talk, talk. The cockroaches tend to naturally survive a catastrophic climate change. But where are we going to get the good information, part of what has been the concrete foundation of our American tradition?
A democracy has to know things.
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