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Liz Joyner: An Obituary for the Ages

obit“You and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other.”

So began the late-life correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers described in the HBO mini-series “John Adams” as “the north and south poles of our revolution.”

Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll.

They, like others in the founders’ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about the business of building a country, an endeavor that if unsuccessful would surely lead to their hanging, they hardly had the luxury to stop talking to each other.

So they agreed where they could, disagreed where they had to and kicked a lot down the road a bit (toward us, in fact).

Despite the differences between them and the odds against them, the founders managed to cobble together their opus – and ours – the Constitution, which despite all probability still guides this diverse group of people forward together.

But, alas, “politics ain’t beanbag” and two election cycles later, Jefferson and Adams had no tolerance for one another.

Fast-forward a couple of centuries and most of us are likely to relate to the fix Adams and Jefferson found themselves in. We, like they, have deep disagreement with – and sometimes little tolerance for – one another. Even our understanding of the founding document we all revere is riddled with fundamentally different viewpoints.

The two founders ultimately died friends, having given history the gift of their final correspondence. They died on the same day, July 4th, 50 years to the day after the nation they built was born. Not knowing that Jefferson had passed on just hours before, Adams last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives,” providing one of history’s most poignant lessons to us across the centuries.

If we continue to choose the path of this legacy – the uneasy yet unbreakable partnership of opposites that is our unique birthright – it will never be easy. Maybe a big part of our problem is that we’ve grown far too accustomed to easy.

“Whether you or I were right,” Adams had written to Jefferson, “posterity must judge. Yet I ask of you, who shall write the history of our revolution?”

The philosophical descendants of Jefferson and Adams are alive and well today in us, in this amazing American experiment “in the course of human events.”

And we are still writing the history of their revolution.

Like the founders before us, we hardly have the luxury to stop talking to each other.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. Contact her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

Politics, Partisans & A Pint TONIGHT

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Reason #1: Why you should support The Village Square


Through the month of November, leading up to our December 1 fundraiser roast Allan Katz: The Roast, we’re going to give you an endless supply of reasons we think we deserve your financial support. Forgive the bragging, we’ll go back to our neighborly (and oh-so-humble) selves once we’ve reached our goal. So, without further ado, Reason #1:

“By gathering local and state politicians of mutually opposed political persuasions under one roof and asking them to break bread together, The Village Square is supporting an ancient and durable principle of civilization: It’s harder to hate the enemy face to face. In reasserting that principle, The Village Square isn’t just promoting better government. It’s helping to lay the foundation for a better America.”

—John Marks, Journalist, Novelist, Former 60 Minutes Producer and author of “Reasons to Believe: One Man’s Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind”

The Scene Last Night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

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Sunday at the Square: Articles of Faith

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“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” ―Linus Van Pelt in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”

(As with every great quote we ever have, h/t to Lea.)

(Photo credit.)

My Purple Post: Purple State of Conspiratorial Thinking


Mozy on over to our friends at Purple State of Mind if you want to read this there or otherwise generally visit with them (which we wholeheartedly approve of).

This semester my middle school daughter Rachel is taking guitar. Her newfound interest has come with an unexpected gift to her mother, a piqued interest in all things Beatles.

(Enter a good excuse to walk down memory lane with your daughter, mostly while she is kicking and screaming and telling you that you looked really scary in bellbottoms.)

Yesterday I was waxing away on Beatles memories (to snoring 7th graders) when I remembered the “Paul is dead” rumor that was rampant when I was just about their age. The ensuing years of not thinking about this (so very much) left me with no memory of which song said what and which you had to play backwards to hear the fateful news, sent out like an arrow straight to the hearts of all the thirteen-year-olds who oh-so-loved Paul. So I Googled it.

The song I remembered turns out to have been “Strawberry Fields”, which supposedly said “I buried Paul.”

I remember the conversations we had, the records we played backwards, the teeny-bopper bonding over what was clearly obviously ultimately a falsehood. (Unless, of course, the actual hoax is the whole Heather Mills – Paul McCartney marriage/lawsuit fiasco and goodness knows Wings, which did seem stunningly unreal even at the time and certainly in retrospect. Hmm, I’ll have to get back to you on that.)

The point here, as I am finally forced to reluctantly leave my adolescent angst rewind behind to make, is that the Wikipedia “Paul is dead” entry nearly knocked the air out of me, it bore so much resemblance to our current crop of breathless conspiracy theories. Positively brimming with logical fallacies launched in careless dedication to wishful thinking over – well – thinking.

Conspiracy v.2009 was launched by birther conservatives and tea-bagging populists sure that our duly elected President is here fully intending to burn the whole American joint down. Before liberals get smug, note that Conspiracy v.2002 was the steadfast belief that Bush was behind 9/11. Earlier whacky incarnations included yarns spun over the Lindbergh kidnapping (for which my grandparents were actually stopped and questioned because my infant uncle was about the right age), widespread speculation unraveling Kennedy’s assassination facts-be-darned and a bizarre story of a sitting president ordering a break-in of a Pentagon employee’s psychiatrist’s office. (Oh, wait.)

I can tell you with every fiber of my former middle school girl-ish self that conspiracies are great for entertainment. Conspiracy theories also foment hatred masterfully, supporting the Dr. No cartoon version of good and evil we seem to prefer to reality.

But conspiracies blow as a basis for governance.

How in the world do political parties create policy based on understanding of a conspiracy theory? It leads them to crazy dead-end wrong-headed solutions to problems that are brutally real. I’d say this go round it has led conservatives away from making a much-needed real-world argument on health care, preferring instead to bend to conspiracy-fueled town hall fury. To be sure there are people who are right about seemingly crazy things and no one believed them (uh, round earth), but statistically those moments are unicorns, not horses. We can go round and round amusing ourselves to death with our conspiratorial cohorts, fighting Darth Vader’s forces of darkness that don’t buy our thinking, or we can grow up and get on with the work that grownups do.

If we don’t move smartly toward coping with the world of the big and real problems we have, we risk making big bets on our future that the record says “I buried Paul” when it was really – according to John Lennon – (I kid you not) “cranberry sauce.”

For kicks I replayed “Strawberry Fields” a bunch of times and I swear to you, Paul is dead.

One Week: Politics, Partisans & A Pint

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Be there.

According to Luke: On Tea Parties at the Ballot Box

The Tea Party Movement is flexing its electoral muscle in a New York special election that could lay the ground work for the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 2012. New York’s 23rd Congressional District hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in more than 85 years. Parts of the District haven’t been represented by a Democrat since the Civil War, and yet it may be just that, a civil war within the Republican Party that allows a Democrat to recapture the seat.

Washington insiders and party leaders are calling the race a referendum on President Obama and the enormous spending being under taken by Democrats in Congress, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into each campaign. Moderate Republican Representative John McHugh of New York’s 23rd has resigned his Congressional seat to accept a position in President Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of the Army. Republicans quickly nominated State Legislator Dede Scozzafava. Democrats have selected a political newcomer in Bill Owens and Attorney from upstate New York. However the Conservative Party, upset with the pick of Scozzafava, has nominated their own candidate Doug Hoffman.

Political infighting in the Republican Party has ensued. Conservatives are upset with the pick of Scozzafava, a politically moderate woman with a liberal record on abortion and gay rights. The Conservative Club for Growth has endorsed Hoffman and poured nearly $250,000 dollars into his campaign. In the recent weeks Republicans Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty have come out in support of Hoffman, bucking party leaders like Newt Gingrich and Representative John Boehner, who support Scozzafava.

The Conservative Party and the Club for Growth have definite ties to the Tea Party movement in general and the growing ultra-Conservative movement in particular. Both Palin and Pawlenty are thought to be presidential hopefuls in 2012, and could be using this election to better position themselves within that part of their electorate. Gingrich believes between 20-30% of Republicans would vote for either candidate, but that “you need 50% + 1 to win an election,” and they can’t get that support.

That leaves Bill Owens. If the Republican vote is split, it will almost assure the Democrats and Bill Owens the seat. If Scozzafava wins, Republicans will call it a referendum on Obama, but might damage ties with the more conservative part of their party for 2010 and 2012. If the Conservative Candidate Doug Hoffman wins, it could be a huge step forward for the conservative Tea Party movement.

Let the conversation begin.

–Luke Inhen

(Except incivility may ultimately prove to be more dangerous)

“Incivility is the new secondhand smoke. Everyone feels impelled to disdain it, but nobody is willing to do away with it entirely.” —Tim Rutten, The LA Times

Purple State Advice on the Internet

Beware of news on the Internet. It is a trackless swamp with a few islands. Find the islands and stay there. Anything else is a morass, and you have only yourself to blame if you sink into it.Purple State of Mind

Sunday at the Square: Millennium Development Goals

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Last Sunday, U2’s Bono wrote about the Millennium Development Goals, America’s role in achieving them, and touched on the Nobel Peace Prize in doing so. In case you missed it last week like I did….

“We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

They’re not my words, they’re your president’s. If they’re not familiar, it’s because they didn’t make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity — if the words signal action.

The millennium goals, for those of you who don’t know, are a persistent nag of a noble, global compact. They’re a set of commitments we all made nine years ago whose goal is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Barack Obama wasn’t there in 2000, but he’s there now. Indeed he’s gone further — all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.

Many have spoken about the need for a rebranding of America. Rebrand, restart, reboot. In my view these 36 words, alongside the administration’s approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East and, by the way, creating jobs and providing health care at home, are rebranding in action.

These new steps — and those 36 words — remind the world that America is not just a country but an idea, a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man…

In dangerous, clangorous times, the idea of America rings like a bell (see King, M. L., Jr., and Dylan, Bob). It hits a high note and sustains it without wearing on your nerves. (If only we all could.) This was the melody line of the Marshall Plan and it’s resonating again. Why? Because the world sees that America might just hold the keys to solving the three greatest threats we face on this planet: extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme climate change. The world senses that America, with renewed global support, might be better placed to defeat this axis of extremism with a new model of foreign policy…

The president said that he considered the peace prize a call to action. And in the fight against extreme poverty, it’s action, not intentions, that counts. That stirring sentence he uttered last month will ring hollow unless he returns to next year’s United Nations summit meeting with a meaningful, inclusive plan, one that gets results for the billion or more people living on less than $1 a day. Difficult. Very difficult. But doable.

The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, “Don’t blow it.”

But that’s not just directed at Mr. Obama. It’s directed at all of us…

Hmmm. I wonder if we stopped arguing about whether Obama deserved the Nobel and rolled up our sleeves on the Millennium Development Goals, what then?

(Photo credit.)

My Purple Essay: Healthcare gets the Purple Treatment (and may live)


(The latest in the contributions we’re making to our friends discussion over at Purple State of Mind. Feel free to head on over and weigh-in too.)

At the Village Square, we started out knowing not-so-very-much about healthcare.  Then, over the last 4 months, through the wonder of the internet and a little old-fashioned elbow grease, we became students of the health care debate.  We’ve spent time with experts, read policy-wonk-ish studies until our eyeballs bled (requiring us to need – uh – health care) and even invited 200 people to dinner to talk about it all (Take 2 Aspirin, Fix Health Care & Call Me in the Morning.)  
As the Congressional debate ramps up, as we can expect a run of confusing and an increasing volume of plain dumb, we thought you might just be in the mood for a non-ideological primer on healthcare, written specially for our friends in the purple crowd.  (With all the health care studying we’ve done, we’re probably smart enough to do single day surgeries by now, but too bad for you we’re long distance.)  So here, with affection, is our non-surgical gift to you:

    Doing nothing really isn’t an option. The rising costs are unsustainable; they bankrupt individuals, handicap small businesses and even hurt larger businesses competing in global markets.

    Free market forces simply aren’t working in health care. The pro forma partisan argument between offering a market solution and a governmental one misses the salient point: The incentives that drive down cost & increase quality in a market economy are inverted in health care. The current system encourages more treatment over better care; we need to flip it. Fixing convoluted incentives is a complex task that requires grown-ups to come to the table, not the five-year-olds who seem to usually show up.

    Advertising pharmaceuticals probably ought to stop.  Heavily advertised allergy, hair loss and erectile dysfunction medications create a huge health care bill for things we often don’t really need.  It builds a consumer-driven demand effectively, yet consumers don’t directly pay for what they’re demanding.  It’s like if the mall management started paying for your teenage daughter’s shopping, a situation that doesn’t tend to produce rational decision-making and restraint. This doesn’t mean some of us don’t need these medications, but our doctor will guide us to them when we do.  Winning with the endless-erectile-rama isn’t just Big Pharma, it’s also the networks selling them ads.  Losing is – uh – taxpayers (and good golly gosh our kiddos who have to listen to 15,000 Cialis ads an afternoon).

    Common sense lawsuit reform needs to stop being a political football and start happening. There are measured voices on the left (among them Governor Howard Dean and President Obama) who admit that excessive malpractice awards can’t help but weight the practice of  medicine towards overutilization of testing.  Democrats have to just wake up and smell this coffee.  And Republicans need to stop pretending that the health reform sun rises and falls with tort reform.  It doesn’t.

    Cost-control is the big gorilla in the room.  No real advice here, because this gives me a headache.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Whatever reforms we try will be imperfect and will need to be incrementally improved.  That’s as it always has been.  Good results can start with imperfect beginnings.

    Grow up and lose the breathless good and evil story lines.  At some point the body politic needs to stop searching for a villain. Every interest in the health care fight has skeletons in their closet and owns a part of what has to change.  We’d like to see them stop throwing stones from their glass houses and – in the words of President Obama – “grab a mop.”   There are even skeletons in the closet of the vaunted American citizen. Which leads me to a last bonus health insurance insight…

    We are overweight.  70% of health care costs are lifestyle dependent.  We want to eat, drink and be merry then we want someone to give us a pill to fix it when our chickens come home to roost.  And if somebody expects us to pay for the pills ourselves, we’re going to vote them the heck out of Dodge.

If you read only two articles on health care reform, here are The Village Square picks (both long, both well worth it):