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Bill Mattox: Keep Austin Weird

Village Square board member Bill Mattox writes in USA Today:

Several years ago, some bohemians living in the capital city of Texas began distributing bumper stickers that read, “Keep Austin Weird.”

It was their way of calling for the preservation of the community’s sometimes-peculiar identity against cookie-cutter chains threatening to “McDonaldize” their hometown.

Now, I do not consider myself a weirdo, though my teenage kids probably have a different opinion, and I actually like some national chains. But I am convinced that we need to make the Austin campaign national: “Keep America Weird.”

Read the entire article in USA Today here.

Ross Douthat: On airport security, we’re partisans first, ideologues second (we wonder when we become just Americans)

There’s a great article in today’s New York Times about the inconsistency of the argument on the new TSA airport body scanners given the ultra partisan environment today. The article certainly supports the notion advanced by our next Village Square Dinner at the Square guest Bill Bishop that we have been sorting ourselves out into “tribes” for decades now and that the pull of group think within those likeminded groups (and the lack of trust between “tribes”) is very very strong. Noticing that partisans have taken quite opposite and ideologically inconsistent positions under different presidencies (whether it’s your party’s or not) Ross Douthat writesRead all »

Purple trump the “mouthy gatekeepers”? Tuesday’s election results may tell…">Mary Ann Lindley: Will Purple trump the “mouthy gatekeepers”? Tuesday’s election results may tell…

In case you were otherwise engaged Sunday, as I was, today’s a good day to take a look at Mary Ann Lindley’s Sunday column:

The big unknown on Tuesday — and again in November — will be whether wild-animal politics, tooth-and-claw wars of words do work.

Will we be invigorated, gullible or ticked off enough to support the blunt candidates who play politics as a blood sport? Will they win — and then be expected to put aside latent bitterness and rivalries and work for all people, including those who supported their opponents?

My hunch is that the shouters and exaggerators will win in a few cases because it’s appealing to have someone tell us with great clarity what to think in a few choice, simplistic words.

Not simple, nor spare and nuanced explanations, but simplistic ones that feel therapeutic, save us time and are really an extension of the on-line world of fear and loathing.

In today’s culture of over-stimulation and given the infinity of information that bombards us, these mouthy gatekeepers show us an easy path.

They tell us how to neatly frame complex issues. They don’t ask much of me (“No, no.” I promise. “No taxes!”). They tell me who my enemies are. And they let me get back to my life.

It can all be quite seductive. And political experts insist it’s the only way to win.

And then there’s the Purple:

Last week, The Village Square, our local organization devoted to, as our mothers said, “keeping a civil tongue in your mouth,” was visited by author and former U.S. News & World Report journalist John Marks.

Marks wrote “Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture,” and his theme is that relentlessly demonizing the opponent doesn’t really enchant most Americans and that, rather than being rigidly red states or blue states, we ought to consider purple.

It’s still a passionate color; loyalty to principles need not be neutralized.

This other John Marks (not our mayor) isn’t calling for a beige state of mind, but a blending the best of both Democratic and Republican thought: compassion and self-sufficiency.

According to Luke: I think this Village Square thing is working

I think this Village Square thing is working. Let me tell you why.

Last week I had the (privilege?) of attending the Tea Party rally at the State Capitol here in Tallahassee on a Village Square Teen Square field trip of sorts. I consider myself to be a fairly liberal person (I would say I’m liberal socially and left of center to moderate fiscally.) Regardless of where I am on the political spectrum, the tea party people and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. In fact before last week I didn’t have very many nice things to say about them.

Now have a different outlook.

I still do not like Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck. Nothing you say or do will change my mind about them. The fact that they are the poster children for the tea party hurts the tea party in my eyes. However, walking through the crowd I saw no yelling or racial and socialistic slurs. There were no people with loaded guns shouting into bullhorns, and while I did see a ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ sign (a great misuse of a truly great American phrase) there wasn’t any sense of impending violence.

I was especially surprised to see all the children and young adults. Despite the two speakers I heard, who were more radical than the crowd, the feeling of the event was more like a picnic.

It made me realize that despite some misinformation (and slightly poor word choice by some in the movement) the people at the tea party protest were genuinely scared about something. It was clear to me that they had legitimate concerns and gripes with the path our country is on. And quite frankly, that’s something I can agree with.

As I walked around the rally, a liberal in a crowd of conservatives, I felt their pain. I connected with them on an emotional level.

I will confess I attended the rally prepared with my talking points…

• Healthcare is a fundamental right not a privilege
• Reaganomics? More like broken-omics?
• Yes, President Obama is an American
• No, there aren’t really death panels

I left ashamed that I thought I would need them. Maybe this Village Square thing is working. At the end of the day we are all a lot more alike than we (like to) think.

Because of the Village Square, I’ve learned to take of my partisan blinders off and see people for who they are and what they believe in. Because of that I’ve learned that maybe having a tea party isn’t that bad of an idea. I may even go as far as having a cup with Sarah Palin herself!

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


–Luke Inhen is a Florida State University political science graduate student.

(Photo credit.)

Mayor Cory Booker: “A state of sedentary aggitation”

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This Rachel Maddow interview with Newark New Jersey’s Mayor Cory Booker struck me as an interesting (and inspirational) philosophical mix of a liberal sensibility of the role of government and what it can do to help solve problems firmly inside of a fundamentally conservative philosophy about personal responsibility. In Newark they just achieved their first month in the city without a murder since 1966. In case you can’t watch the whole clip, here’s a quote:

You have a choice to make in life, every morning of your life. You have a choice to take things as they are or take responsibility for changing them. If you’re not willing to take responsibility for changing government, for changing education, for changing crime, then you’re one of the people who deserves the results we have. But if you’re one of those people like the great Americans who literally bled this soil red for us, who put sacrifices for workers’ rights, for womens’ rights, for civil rights; if you’re willing to continue, not just be a person who drinks deeply from wells of freedom that you didn’t dig but prove worthy of that by getting involved, then you can change this country. It is so possible.

We celebrate those individual heroes of hope in our city that are doing that every single day. We haven’t changed Newark because of a mayor, we’ve changed Newark because of a lot of people coming together to do things that people don’t normally do and that’s why we’re getting the results that people don’t normally get.

(Anyone know who is running against Booker for re-election? Couldn’t immediately find it.)

General Colin Powell this morning on Face the Nation

“I would caution my Republican friends that he’s got three years left to go and in that three years Americans are going to want to see some progress and not just claims that this guy’s out of office and we’re going to do everything we can to destroy him or that somehow he is a socialist taking over the country. Read all »

Liz Joyner: With friends like Conservapedia, who needs enemies?


Why not jump on over to Purple State of Mind and read this post there? They are especially hospitable to differing perspectives, so you should pull up a chair and visit a while…

I’m center left politically.

And I believe that Conservapedia, a right-wing answer to the supposedly biased lefty Wikipedia, is right up there with war, pestilence and – oh heck in for an inch, in for a mile – locusts and plague, as a scourge of modern humanity.

And I’m only slightly overstating my dislike for the flourish.

But I’d argue that my problem with Conservapedia has nothing to do with my tendency to lean left. More than I believe in progressive ideas, I believe in the American marketplace of ideas where the best ideas rise from the flying fracas of ideas that sometimes leaves us ducking. We make each other better by bringing our best arguments from each side of the aisle to the table and having it out. Occasional bloody noses and all.

I dislike Conservapedia so deeply because for something supposedly established to fight bias, they sure trade in truckloads of it.

I spent about 2 hours tonight trying to sink my teeth into the site. I found way too many pages that had been locked for edits (characterizing people who might edit as “vandals”), thin sourcing, articles written by only a handful of editors when editing was even allowed, and a heavy reliance on Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck and The American Spectator. It is rife with biased language, like referring to former Vice President Dick Cheney as “American Patriot Dick Cheney” and adding into a news piece on the Episcopal Church a reference to homosexuality as “perverted relationships.” And I haven’t even gotten to the what I find to be a thoroughly despicable article on Barack Obama (it begins “Barack Hussein Obama AKA Barry Soetoro (allegedly [2][3][4][5][6] born in Honolulu Aug. 4, 1961)”).

Wikipedia is nothing like Conservapedia. Sure, you can cherry-pick problems that any large effort has, but as a whole, they’re shooting for ascertainable, verifiable fact.**

I’d like to suggest that if their goal is to increase their “side” by even one (1) voter, Conservapedia might want to re-strategize. (If their goal is to bathe in a warm fuzzy bubble bath of righteous indignation damn the facts or the consequences – which admittedly seems to of late been the goal on both sides of the partisan divide – they’re cooking with grease.)

With friends like Conservapedia, I think conservatives don’t need enemies. In fact, I think liberal-ole-me is a better advocate for conservatism than they are: I want to hear conservative America’s best head-firmly-out-of-the-sand arguments, not the product of a deluded echo chamber.

Now that you have the backstory, here’s the other shoe dropping: I caught the founder of Wikipedia on The Colbert Report this week. And I liked him. He was like one of my favorite neighbors, or even my Grandpa (and Grandpas are very hard to hate). Maybe more importantly, I am certain that he is quite sincere is his effort to fight liberal bias (unfortunately, I believe, all the way to conservative bias).

You can’t be any more honest with other people than you are with yourself. Repeat: You can’t be any more honest with other people than you are with yourself.

When we lie to ourselves we lie to others, but we really don’t know we’re lying. And that should matter. And we all do it at one time or another, and that should matter too.

From now on, I’m calling quits on insinuating that I know someone has lied. I don’t and even if I did, that’s for – uh – Someone Else to sort out. I’m just going to go with calling them factually wrong.

Maybe then we can start a real conversation. I believe that conservatives lose the Conservapedia more often than not – have a solid argument to make.

Bring it on. Our country will be the better for it.

**Subjective argument, to be sure, has its place even if it isn’t encyclopedias. Note The Village Square on concepts of mythos and logos both having different but important places in wisdom HERE.

PURPLE: Allan Katz on the Greater Good, continued

allan-katz1John Marks interviewing Allan Katz, continued from yesterday…

On your campaign website, you write about yourself as someone who takes on the controversial issues. That means, presumably, you get right to the heart of the most contentious spirit in politics. How do you manage personally to keep your cool and build relationships across party and ideological lines?

Frankly sometimes I don’t keep my cool. And it’s hard to build and keep relationships across the divide. We feel strongly about issues usually not just for intellectual reasons, but for emotional ones as well, which makes it more difficult when people on the other side not only don’t accept your reasoning but they are indifferent to the emotional attachment you have to the issue and in many ways that is the hardest part to deal with. Sometimes you just have to work to not allow it to interfere with the other aspects of the relationship. The story I like to tell is the first time I met Barack Obama he said “Just because someone disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean they don’t have any good ideas.” While that sounds fairly simplistic, it’s important to remember. People who I’ve fought on opposite sides of local issues have remained my friends, not because I believe any more than I did in the beginning that they were right. I believed they were wrong and continued to be wrong and in some cases they chose to ignore the facts. However, that doesn’t affect my ability to be their friend or my ability to learn other things from them. And hopefully, they feel the same way about me.

You are one of the founding members of an organization called To The Village Square. That organization promotes dialogue across the divisions. It came about when a few members of both parties, Republican and Democrat, sat down as friends and started to talk about what they had in common. Right? How hard was it to get to that point, and do you see your act of community as a role model? If so, is that realistic?

It hasn’t really been difficult because we chose people to be involved that already had a shared relationship with each other. It’s important to note that a number of these people were part of a group that began sitting down before the Village Square was conceived of in an attempt to deal with some of the community issues, even though we came from diverse backgrounds. You have to be a role model in the community if you’re in a position of leadership and responsibility. In my opinion, it’s not enough to figure out which way the crowd in going and run to get in front of them. It is a question of trying to get with other people who are well-meaning and accept the axiom that if you don’t care who gets the credit, you get a lot more done.

We found a group of people in this community who want to do this and now we’re trying to take an idea into this community and hopefully some day into other communities that says there are ways we can communicate with each other where we talk about ideas and gain information and when we’re through, we may not believe one thing differently than when we started. But the process itself doesn’t just enrich us as individuals, but more importantly, we’ve enriched our community by creating a framework for people to be able to discuss things that are often very contentious. If you look at the old town hall meetings in communities in the northeast, all these people come and you’re allowed to not agree with some one and you’re even allowed to sometimes even get angry, although we try to discourage incivility. Even though we find it frustrating when we don’t agree with someone, it doesn’t mean that they are wrong, for one, or that they have nothing valuable to say.

What are the consequences of failure?

If we don’t fix this, we’ll continue to spiral downward in our ability to have meaningful political dialog in this country. It makes the zero sum game approach to policy issues that much more extreme. And when that happens in a society what you’re really doing is you are threatening an unraveling of the ability to peacefully resolve differences between us. And that is frightening. Generally what happens first is the rhetoric, so you need to attack it while it’s still rhetoric. And if we’re unwilling to do that, wherever it goes from here will not be good.

If you could give someone new to politics a word of advice about how to proceed with civility, what would it be?

It never hurts to be respectful to people with whom you disagree. I think it’s also much more credible if you’re willing to tell people things they don’t want to hear. I’ve had people come to me sort of say “Well what are you going to do for me?” And my answer is always the same: “Not a damn thing. Because it’s not about you, it’s not about me, and if you don’t understand that, we don’t have anything to talk about.” I think that the more of us in elected office who are willing to say that, the more chance that our communities will realize really something they already know. It doesn’t mean we agree on everything, it means we have common set of notions of what our community can look like, then we work together to get there.

PURPLE: Tallahassee City Commissioner Allan Katz on the Greater Good">PURPLE: Tallahassee City Commissioner Allan Katz on the Greater Good


Journalist, novelist, former 60 Minutes Producer and U.S. and Purple State of Mind-er John Marks interviews Tallahassee’s very own Allan Katz for his new series: PURPLE: The Interview.

Welcome to Purple, the first in a series of Sunday interviews-slash-conversations that will become a regular feature on this website. The conversations will cover the gamut of subjects, but we will always circle back to the question of cultural, social and political division in this country and the world.

There are no simple answers, of course, but in our attempt to wrestle with the national wrestling match, we’ll feature thinkers, artists, musicians, politicians, pastors, journalists, judges, historians, novelists, scientists and playwrights, to name just a few.

For our first chat, we’re turning to the basics of civil society, a conversation with a veteran of American politics at the national, state and municipal level, and one of our sponsors on a recent visit to Florida.Commissioner Allan Katz is currently serving his eighth year as a Tallahassee City Commissioner. Allan formerly served on the staffs of Florida Congressman Bill Gunter and current Wisconsin Congressman David Obey. He is a former member of the Democratic National Committee and was one of President Barack Obama’s earliest and most active supporters in Florida.

In 2005, Allan was the lone City Commissioner to oppose City of Tallahassee buy-in to a proposed pulverized coal plant. Allan lead the opposition in a ballot initiative to approve the plant, calling the option to own part of the plant “like investing in the last buggy whip factory.” Ultimately, new events proved Allan’s opposition prophetic and the plant was not built. Allan recently found himself disagreeing with some of the very people he worked with opposing the plant in his support of a proposed Biomass plant.

He later joined with some of his most prominent opponents in the coal fight to form the nonpartisan public forum “The Village Square,” dedicated to civil discourse and fact-based decision-making across the partisan divide (http://www.tothevillagesquare.org). For “visionary leadership” on environmental issues, this April Allan was the first recipient of the “Champion for Climate Change Award” given by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Florida Wildlife Federation. He is a partner with Akerman Senterfit, one of Florida’s largest law firms.

Commissioner Katz was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to respond to our emailed questions.

Commissioner Katz, you’ve been in public service at the national, state and local level for decades. Can you remember a time when political opponents behaved toward each other with mutual respect? Or is that just one of those Golden Age dreams that never really happened?

I think that there was a time when there was a different type of dialog. There was always a shrill aspect out there but it was a less dominant sound, it was much more on the fringes and as a result there was a respectful dialog in the middle that basically tested the different ideas about the appropriate role of government was. Should we either be protected by government or left alone by government? I think those days have changed and our debate has evolved into something much more damaging. For example – if you are concerned that prayer in the public schools is a problem because of children feeling excluded or coerced, then you are attacked for being anti-religion. At the same time, people who believe that prayer in the public schools is appropriate are being branded as religious zealots. Unfortunately that has become far too much of the common lexicon among far too many of the people in our society.

How much civility do you see in Tallahassee politics now?

In our local politics, we have a fair amount of civility. As far as state politics goes – which takes place in Tallahassee – I think we have a remarkable lack of civility. Again, that varies with different leaders at different times. In Tallahassee, we have a pretty normal bell curve… On the extreme left and extreme right you have people who are demonizing everyone who doesn’t agree with them. But for the most part I think people have a relatively common set of values. And while I’m not particularly enamored of the way some people describe people who are on opposites sides of an issue from them – from time to time – but I think generally speaking, it’s relatively civil. It could be improved and hopefully what we’re doing with The Village Square will help us get there.

These days, our national dialogue on a wide range of difficult issues seems to get worse by the day. Partisanship has turned vicious. I know there are many roots to such a complicated and deep-seated problem, but in your mind, are there one or two factors that have been most influential in poisoning the atmosphere?

At the national level, in some ways, it is getting better. I give a lot of the credit to the new president, who has done several things that I think are interesting. First of all, he’s been willing to tell people things they don’t want to hear, which I think is always a good thing. Also, he’s been willing to deal with a number of volatile issues in a dispassionate way in an attempt to work with what you have to solve the problem. His speech at Notre Dame was a good example of this. He, on the one hand, chastised everyone for demonizing people who disagreed with them and at the same time recognized the obvious point that this is an issue on which some people will never agree. And that’s something we really haven’t had anyone the stature of the President do in a really long time.

Abortion is one of the top three most significant issues that have created this inability to listen to each other. People who are pro-choice think that people who are opposed to abortion are abortion nuts. And people on the other side think pro-choice people are pro-abortion. And no one I know is pro abortion, it’s a question of how we deal with the issue. As someone who considers himself pro-choice, I’m sympathetic with people who think abortion is murder. There is a significant diversity of opinion on abortion within our society so the issue isn’t really how we’re going to convince each other, it’s how we’re going to live with each other.

Another issue that has clearly helped create some of the nastiness is the issue of gay rights. While it has been used to inflame people ][to oppose gay rights] in a negative way, ironically, as you look around the country, clearly that paradigm is shifting and its almost done the opposite, particularly with younger Americans (who many believe have a sense of entitlement which is not particularly attractive). On the positive side they seem to be color-blind and, to them, a difference of sexual orientation is insignificant.

Continued tomorrow…

Sunday at the Square: Postscript

While looking for a link to the below “Matthew 25” post, I found an interesting blogsite, the Matthew 25 Network. This post was sitting right on top, about the overblown partisan rhetoric on Obama as the Antichrist. This, to my mind, falls into the category of politics masquerading as religion, not faith working in the public square.

When you’re doing everything in your power to cultivate a Manichaean worldview among your audience, they’ll be inclined to see the most small and normal things – like differences in opinion on tax policy, for example – as the surface elements of a deep and conspiratorial struggle between Good and Evil. If everything is viewed in the light of a dispensational eschatology, a battle between the divine conspiracy and the demonic conspiracy, then everything one disagrees with is a sign of the demonic conspiracy – it can be no other way. A charismatic figure who wants to enact progressive policies can’t just be someone with different opinions; he must be the Antichrist.

This idea severely poisons our politics, which rests on the idea that people with just and good intentions can and will disagree on public policy matters – in fact, the system is designed for them to disagree and come to reasonable compromises. If every matter of public policy is another battleground in the ultimate war between Good and Evil, then compromise anywhere, on any matter, is sin. This not only leads to… things like the decline of the moderate wing of the Republican Party (as evidenced by the recent departure of Arlen Specter from that caucus in the face of a radical right-wing primary challenge) – which leads to an inability to get things done in the halls of our state and federal legislatures. If politicians can’t compromise for fear of getting booted by their own party for being a [D/R]INO*, then they can’t be effective legislators – because our entire system is built on compromise.

Why we need Texas

I think the south keeps us a little conservative.
The north keeps the south a little secular.
The marriage works.
It’s like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

–Chris Matthews on Hardball

Parker Palmer on holding tensions


From yesterday’s Bill Moyers Journal, Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

We want instant resolution. You give us a tension. We want it to get it over with in 15 minutes. We do it in everything from microcosmic situations to what happened in this country after September 11th, which is one of the great tragedies of our time, not only September 11th but our national response to it. We had an opportunity in the weeks following September 11th to really connect in new ways with the rest of the world, who were showing toward us compassion, which means suffering with.

They were saying today I, too, am an American, despite the fact that they knew more of this kind of suffering than we did. And we had caused some of theirs. Around the world people were saying, “Today I am an American.”

Well, if we had held the tension between that attack, that horrific criminal attack, and this possibility of connecting and deepening compassion, held it not through inaction but through what Bill Coffin called the justice strategy rather than the warfare strategy. If we had done that I think we would have opened a new possibility in American life. But we couldn’t. The 15 minutes elapsed and we had to hit back.

“There’s no Republican way to collect garbage”


On tonight’s Hardball, Chris Matthews, when discussing Judd Gregg bowing out of consideration for Commerce Secretary, referred to former New York Mayor John Lindsay (R), who according to Matthews said “there’s no Republican way to collect garbage.”

A wise man clearly ahead of his time.

(To my dear friend Anne: 1. Fact check, just like old times 2. More wise John Lindsay quotes 3. I remembered I always got the Ann vs. Anne wrong so I worked hard to get it right)