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Oppositionalism: The Greatest Threat To The People’s Welfare

4:35 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

locking horns

locking horns by useless no more

Yesterday, I went to the kindergarten graduation ceremony at the local public elementary school. One of the teachers, who happens to be a member of my church and a card-carrying Republican, spoke briefly of a new after-school program that she has helped initiate. It is designed for children who are in danger of not having the basic skills necessary to begin first grade – a type of program that is quite common around the nation, but that had been sorely lacking in this rural Virginia county.

I was choking back tears as this teacher called about two dozen children to the stage – most of them from desperately poor African American families – and presented them with hugs and certificates. Knowing that she also invests a considerable amount of her personal time making home visits and tutoring these students, it dawned on me what a significant difference she makes in the lives of young children who have an incredible number of obstacles thrown between themselves and academic success.

This remarkably dedicated kindergarten teacher reminds us of how incomplete and misleading the typical left vs. right dichotomy can be. It would be easy to consider her Republican voting record and her conservative views on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control, and to conclude she has little in common with progressives such as myself. From this, it would be easy to assume that, like some Republicans, she takes a “blame the poor” attitude toward poverty issues and has little compassion for those who are suffering in this economic crisis. Because of such stereotyping, it would be easy to ignore the fact that she is dedicating her life to helping poor children in a woefully underfunded public school system.

Those of us who get pigeonholed into easy categories of left/right and Democrat/Republican often fail to see the common bonds we share with our so-called political enemies. We cannot allow differences on a handful of “hot-button” issues to be exploited by those with political agendas and ambitions. If people of good will and legitimate concern for the common welfare continue to beat up one another based on these outdated categories, more sinister forces that have no concern for the people or no particular stake in partisan politics will further consolidate their power.
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Putting Away Childish Things (And Divisive Rhetoric)

7:16 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

Like many Americans, the tragic shootings in Tucson, Arizona last January gave me pause – pause enough that I lost my taste for blogging for more than four months. But my distaste had less to do with the speculation over the alleged motives of the shooter and more to do with my own reaction to the news.

On that Saturday afternoon, I was sitting at the kitchen table working on a sermon, and my wife entered the room to tell me that a U.S Representative had been shot at a political rally. My exact words were this: “Well, I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I blame Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.” And then I turned back to my laptop and resumed my work.

About twenty minutes later, I decided to take a break from the sermon, and I logged onto Facebook. I had actually forgotten about the news from Arizona that should have been downright shocking, but I was soon reminded by the animated chatter scrolling by on my news feed. Almost immediately, I engaged in a heated debate with a conservative friend about whether the shooting could be blamed on the heated rhetoric that had been boiling over from the right since the health care debate started.
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We’re Not Lefties

8:05 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: mugley via Flickr

(Another quote from Kalle Lasn’s 1999 book “Culture Jam” – this one from the chapter “The New Activism.”)

Many jammers, including myself, were raised on, embraced and felt comfortable with the ideas of the Left. But for about fifteen years now, the Left has been letting us down. It has become tired, self-satisfied, and dogmatic. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the Left was visionary and fearless. Today, the fire in the belly has gone out. It isn’t getting the job done…

… We find in dozens of Left-sprung books, magazines, and newsletters the same old authors repeating the same old ideas of yesteryear. It isn’t that many of these writers aren’t fine journalists, or don’t have a solid grasp of the issues, it’s just that they lack passion. There’s something drab and predictable about them; they feel like losers…

… Many of the Left’s greatest voices – Lasch, Berger, Heilbroiner, Galbraith – have died or are in extremis. The vacuum has been filled by tenured professors, TV pundits, and self-proclaimed champions of oppositional culture. I’ve had dealings with many of these people: They no longer pine for real change. For them, fundamental change is just a utopian dream, and if it suddenly happened they wouldn’t know what to do with it. They’re content to give another speech at another symposium, or write yet another humorless article ridiculing the Right. Left activists, even some of the best, have been reduced to the level of little kids throwing snowballs at passing cars… Read the rest of this entry →

UnCommon Ground – New Categories For The New Political Reality

5:54 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

(This is the beginning of Chapter 2 of my “book-in-progress” which invites readers to make new friends in the shifting political landscape.  Links to the introduction and Chapter 1 can be found at the bottom, and the Facebook page can be found here.)

For progressives to forge a new political reality in the coming years and decades, we will need to break free of the false dichotomy of liberal vs. conservative that has dominated American politics since at least the FDR era. This does not mean that we will operate in the non-partisan, category-free fantasy world that Obama seems fixated on. But it does mean that the lines of partisanship will be shifting, and that those who adjust and embrace the new categories will succeed in the new political reality.

With that shift in mind, here are three new dichotomies that are emerging:

(1) Corporatist vs. Populist

 The idea that large corporations and their lobbyists have hijacked the American political system is far from new, and neither is the awareness that both Republicans and Democrats have been bought by corporate donations. Nonetheless, too many progressives are still breaking down the problem of corporatism along party lines, believing that the Republicans are the real problem and that the “true Democrats” can still work a solution. 

The past two years have cured many progressives of this notion, and we have begun to see the issue as no longer Democrats vs. Republicans, but as those who work for big business (which is almost everyone currently in Washington) vs. those who fight for the people.

(2) Globalist vs. Localist

 This dichotomy distinguishes those who see value in greater connectivity and greater inter-dependency between the various regions of the world from those who appreciate local diversity and independence.

From the abusive globalist economics of the IMF and transnational corporations; to the increasingly globalist politics emerging from organizations such as the UN and the EU; to the monoculture that is slowly spreading like a virus through mass media and cultural imperialism – in all of these ways, the world is becoming a new Tower of Babel. 

But many people are fighting back against globalism and the rise of corporate dominance – as is evidenced in our country by the local food movement and the renewal of the isolationist and secessionist spirit. “Small is beautiful” is an emerging slogan of this resistance that warms my heart. 

(3) Materialist vs. Spiritualist

I won’t say much about these categories yet, but they are very different than “secular vs. religious.” They have nothing to do with the institutions of organized religion, and everything to do with the way we live our daily lives. Are we pursuing greater financial wealth and material gain for ourselves, or are we living self-sacrificial lives that seek to improve the welfare of others?

If we can begin to break down our culture into these and other new categories, instead of just saying that it’s liberal vs. conservative to the death, we will be many steps down the road of building a new and more progressive way of doing politics.

Previously on UnCommon Ground:

Introduction, part 1

Introduction, part 2

Chapter 1, part 1

Chapter 1, part 2

Chapter 1 (Questions from Readers)

Chapter 1, Part 3

UnCommon Ground – Breaking Free From The Liberal-Conservative Dichotomy

6:37 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: Matt Stratton via Flickr

When I started this chapter, my intention was to outline the traditional sub-categories of the left and the right, and then to show how this false dichotomy needs to be broken apart and redefined in order to accurately describe the emerging political reality.

I broke down conservatives into four categories that I feel are still accurate – reactionaries, the religious right, neo-cons, and traditional small town conservatives. Breaking down the liberal half of the spectrum, however, has proven to be an impossible task - short of distinguishing those who support Democrats from those who want a third party. What we call “the left” is an incredibly complex web of factions and special interests that is difficult to classify and even more difficult to organize.

So instead of trying to neatly categorize the left, I am going to jump forward and show why such a description cannot work. It doesn’t work because what we call the progressive point of view has already broken free from the traditional left-right specturm. In my opinion, this break is a very good thing, but it is creating internal tension because as a group, we don’t yet realize that the old dichotomy is crumbling. Some of us do and are searching for new categories, but a lot of us are still clinging to the old ones.

This tension explains why progressives are having such a hard time coalescing their anger over Republican obstructionism, Tea Party craziness, and Democratic ineptitude. We’re trying to fit our outrage into that old liberal vs. conservative and Democrat vs. Republican  spectrum, and it’s just not fitting.  The paradigm is shifting, and we’re slow to catch up. We’re kind of like a clumsy young dog caught between being a puppy and being a full-grown dog.

To put it another way, what we’re feeling these days (simultaneous anger at Republicans and Democrats) is a new feeling for many of us who have been loyal Democrats. And it’s an intensified feeling for those of us who have long been suspicious of the two-party system.  To express these new or intensified feelings, we need a new language and a new set of categories.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

UnCommon Ground – Democrats, The Tea Party, Post-Partisanship, and Other Fun Topics

6:55 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: Matt Stratton via Flickr

(Before I continue with Chapter 1 and the deconstruction of the conservative-liberal paradigm, I’d like to answer some thoughtful and challenging questions about my developing thesis from FDL reader “themalcontent ”)

Do you see what has happened to the Democratic Party over the last 30 years as co-option by conservatives, or as a willing move to the right by Dems? Or both?

I think the country as a whole has moved significantly to the right, and both parties have naturally followed after them. There are many reasons for this shift, but I would attribute it mostly to the consumerism and materialism that has corrupted the culture and drawn us away form the social concerns that once characterized the Democratic Party. This cultural shift goes hand-in-hand with the rise of corporatism and the outsized influence of special interests. Bringing the country back from this shift will require social as well as political transformation.

Do you really believe the Tea Party is an independent movement? If so, then I guess I can understand your belief that “the political landscape is shifting.”

I believe that the Tea Party started as an independent movement, but was quickly identified as a threat and then co-opted by the Republican establishment. I was living in South Carolina at the time, and long before the movement made national headlines, there was an underground backlash building against the federal government as a whole.

Part of it was disbelief over the bailouts (directed at both parties); part of it was anger about immigration (directed at Republicans); part of it was racism and homopobia (directed at the Democrats); and part of it was that old-fashioned “don’t tread on me” rebel spirit that bubbles up periodically. But give credit to the Fox News and The Republicans – it didn’t take long before they had redirected the lion share of this anger at health care reform and the rest of Obama’s agenda.

Nevertheless, the core emotion of the Tea Party is independent in nature, is suspicious of all things federal, and could turn back on the Republicans in a New York minute if they are perceived to be promoting “big government” in any way. One could argue, therefore, that the Republicans are in danger of being co-opted by the Tea Party!   . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Watercooler – Why Are Liberals Angry At Obama?

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has this to say about left-wing anger at Obama:

I’ve been writing for several months about the curious sense of disappointment afflicting liberals —the belief that they’ve been let down by a president who is, in fact, racking up historical achievements. Part of the reason for liberal dismay in an ahistorical understanding of how progress works. In the liberal memory, political success is bathed in golden-hued triumph. In reality, it is a grubby, stop-and-start process that looks pretty ugly up close…

… A second reason for liberal despair is the cult of the presidency. Few people follow the arcana of Congressional debate. They attribute all political outcomes to the president, and thus when the outcome is unsatisfactory, the reason must be a failure of presidential willpower.

Allow me to cast the first stone at Chait: Most of the liberal disappointment has nothing to do with a lack of progress or a misunderstanding of how Washington works. We’re ticked off because Obama has continued and in some cases amplified the abuses of executive power that Bush began (wiretapping, torture, denial of habeas corpus, etc.) – the very things Obama promised to stop.

Please cast your own stones now. What’s on your mind tonight?