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UnCommon Ground – Searching For The Soul Of Populism

5:45 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

In recent weeks, I have schlepped across the aisle to in order to converse with our conservative counterparts. It has been an enlightening experience.

Specifically, I have joined conversations about repealing “Obamacare” and the “folly” of climate change theory. In many ways, the conversation has been predictable. I was immediately reviled and ridiculed for being a liberal. In fact, within a few minutes, I was identified as a progressive blogger, told to “go back to FDL,” and warned that I was already on a “watch list.”

Undaunted, I soldiered on despite the danger and made my progressive arguments as calmly and as patiently as I could. I was encouraged to discover that by hanging in there and being a respectful dissenter who was willing to take some abuse, I could actually have a decent conversation. I suspect that my experience was similar to what a conservative would face here in these pages.

But I was most surprised not by the grudging civility, but by an unexpected piece of common ground. Over the past couple of months, I have been writing a series called “UnCommon Ground.” It seeks to find points of intersection between progressives and certain traditional, small town conservatives – but not the hard-core neocons and Tea Party types that are typically found on conservative blogs.
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UnCommon Ground – When Big Business and Big Government Merge

2:02 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: Matt Stratton via Flickr

Just how much common ground is there between progressives and traditional conservatives? Not enough to bring them together, say some critics of my suggestion to forge a new type of political alliance. The two groups might share a distaste for the current state of government, they argue, but this distaste has come about for very different reasons.

Conservatives blame big government for our nation’s problems, while progressives blame big corporations. Conservatives want to reduce the influence of Washington on the business community, and progressives want to reduce the influence of big business on Washington. It might appear that the two are mutually exclusive philosophies that could never unite politically, even as strange bedfellows.

Supporters of my suggestion, however, say that this is a false dichotomy. They claim that in today’s political environment, there is little difference between government and business. The two are not competing powers with their corresponding constituencies on the left and the right. Instead, they now act as one unified interest, over and against the interests of the people. The only way for this unified interest to be stopped is for people from both sides of the old spectrum to recognize their common enemy and unite in resistance.

Oddly enough, I agree with both the supporters and the critics. The supporters are absolutely right in that government and big business have slowly merged into one all-powerful political force, manifest in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. The people, trapped in this corporate-controlled two-party system, have been consistently pitted against one another as the plutocrats have consolidated their power. Citizens from the left and the right, if they want their power back, have no choice but to look for some type of friendship with one another.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

UnCommon Ground – Conservatives For Economic Justice

8:21 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: Matt Stratton via Flickr

Consider the following quote from a prominent American religious leader:

We look back on slave-owning churchgoers of 150 years ago and ask, “How could they have treated their fellow human beings this way?” I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today and ask, “How could they live in such big houses? How could they drive such nice cars and wear such nice clothes? How could they live in such affluence while thousands of children were dying because they didn’t have food and water? How could they go on with their lives as though the billions of poor didn’t exist?

Is materialism a blind spot in American Christianity today? Surely this is something we must uncover, for if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to question just how effective we will be in declaring the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth. More pointedly, if our live do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all.

What kind of religious leader do you think would have uttered these words? Perhaps a liberal academic type? Or maybe a radical urban activist?

Would you believe that this was said by David Platt, an evangelical pastor of a 4000- member megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama? This is not a man who would ever be confused for a progressive, but these words offer a withering criticism of American church and society that fit rather well on the pages of FDL. . . . 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 →

UnCommon Ground – All Conservatives Are Not Created Equal

5:26 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: Matt Stratton via Flickr

(This is a continuation of the first chapter of a book I am writing called “UnCommon Ground.”  The first part of the chapter can be found here, and the introduction can be found here and here.)

Before I dig any further into this shared space which I believe exists between progressives and traditional conservatives, it is necessary for me to define exactly what I mean by “traditional conservatives.” In fact, it will be helpful to define all the major categories on the American political scene. Starting with the conservative side, here’s the typical spectrum of views that needs to be broken apart and reorganized to reflect the shifting landscape of the 21st century:

The Reactionary Right – Currently represented by the insane half of the Tea Party, this group harbors intense anti-federal government sentiment; an overdeveopled sense of “don’t tread on me” individualism; and a not-so-subtle aura of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Many in this group would be happy to drag the country back to 1955 (or even 1855). They have typically aligned with the Republicans, but have recently become furious with the entirety of the Washington establishment, including the GOP rank-and-file.

Their political goals range from taking over the Republican Party to seceding from the union to violent rebellion, and their rhetoric is passionate and inflammatory. These are the people who were screaming at health care rallies, who call Obama a Nazi, and who have been talking openly about “watering the tree of liberty.” Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are prominent politicians who have courted the Reactionary Right, but they have no real national leader – a characteristic which fits well with their ideology. Progressives have zero chance of finding common ground here – and why would we want to?  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

UnCommon Ground – Failed Bipartisanship And The Need For Systemic Change

8:14 am in Politics by Jim Moss

graphic: outtacontext via Flickr

(This is the first chapter of a book I am writing called “UnCommon Ground.”  The introduction can be found here and here.)

In 2007, as the Republicans were beginning the process that would eventually nominate John McCain, the following poll asked conservatives to list their top ten issues for the upcoming presidential election. The results were telling:

1)      Illegal immigration – listed by 86%

2)      War on terrorism – 80%

3)      Federal spending – 65%

4)      Judicial appointments – 64%

5)      Flat tax/tax cuts – 61%

6)      Size of government – 61%

7)      Iraq – 55%

8)      Social Security – 45%

9)      Entitlement programs – 38%

10)   Abortion – 36%

At first glance, this poll seems to confirm that conservatives have little in common with progressives. I could not find a comparable survey, but a reasonable guess is that progressives would have come up with a much different list – GLBT rights, climate change, universal health care, regulating the financial sector, and so forth. Any issues that would be shared between the two groups (taxes, War on Terror, Social Security, abortion, etc.) would find them at polar opposites with no hope for reconciliation.

This apparently complete disparity between conservatives and progressives is a false construction. Both major parties as well as the mainstream media have fueled the dichotomy that has created the rigid “us vs. them” mentality that dominates American politics.  . . .

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(Un)Common Ground: Two Worlds, Not Quite So Far Apart

8:14 am in Democratic Party, Elections, Liberalism, Politics, Progressivism by Jim Moss

photo: Matt Stratton via Flickr

(This is the second half of the introduction to a book I’m writing on how progressives can make new friends in unexpected places in this shifting political reality. Here’s the first half of the introduction.)

In many ways, I lead a double life. By day, I seem quite conservative. I am unabashedly Christian and speak fervently about the decline of American values and the need for spiritual renewal. My theology is quite orthodox, and I have little tolerance for those in the church who want to water down our doctrines or soften the demanding message of the Gospel in order to accommodate the changing culture.

In addition, I fit the stereotypical image of what a “nice, young conservative man” looks like. I am a Southerner. I am a preacher’s kid. I went to a traditionally conservative Presbyterian college. And I became a preacher myself and have served in mostly conservative congregations.

I am heterosexually married with two kids, and my wife is a full-time stay-at-home mother. I am cleanly shaven and have short hair. I have no piercings or tattoos. I dress conservatively – usually an Oxford shirt and khakis. I own a mini-van. And I am a member of the PTA.

Of course, none of these traits are the exclusive property of the right side of the political spectrum. But taken as a whole, they do suggest someone who votes Republican – which is why many people have been quite surprised when they discover my true political feelings.

Because by night, I am a progressive political blogger. I write passionately about poverty, the plight of the middle class, the environment, health care, and the scourge of corporatism, Those who are familiar with my work would have no doubt that I am at home in the progressive movement. On The Seminal and now at MyFDL, I have found my kindred spirits and the people with whom I choose to make a stand.

But here’s the part that will surprise a lot of people: I feel the same way about the conservatives with whom I worship and practice ministry. These two very different spheres in which I move are not at all in contradiction.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →