Wednesday, July 28, 2010

So, Why ARE Liberals So Miserable?

We arrive at another Twitter-inspired blog post, tailored for one portion of the national population. Today, Dr. Melissa Clouthier, a conservative libertarian blogger, straightforwardly asked me: "Why aren't lefties happier?"

Indeed, why aren't we on the Left happier? I think Dr. Clouthier is right on a general level. Naturally, there are many happy liberals and some frustrated conservatives; moreover, our two-party system unavoidably masks the more complex politics of various individuals, making it hard to determine what kinds of liberals are especially grumpy (or, conversely, more cheerful). This question and the topic attached to it can easily devolve into broad stereotypes and bland generalizations. Neither items are helpful - the former fail to respect individuals, while the latter paper over differences and squelch the meaningfully revelatory dialogue we need in America. I know I won't speak for every single liberal or capture the entirety of what it's like to be a lefty, but I'll try to be as honest as possible. I want conservatives and right-libertarians to see lefties as we are, with our good motivations and reasoned thought processes but also with our manifold weaknesses, sins and failings.

So, on with the show, a brief essay that will only hit on some major points and not go too deep in any one direction (out of respect for everyone's time during the middle of the week). I do welcome comments, and would be perfectly happy to field a boatload of questions from members of the conservative blogosphere and conservative activists in general. If a follow-up essay is requested by any conservative readers, I'll write it and will sincerely try to address relevant questions/comments/tension points in a meaningful and transparent way.


Why are lefties not happier? As with almost all complicated realities in life, there's no one answer which will fully satisfy, but there are a few factors that emerge more strongly and broadly than most. One factor is religion. It's not so much whether religion is good or bad - that's the clash between the secular Left and the religious Right - but more simply, how religion is interpreted and emphasized.

I consider myself a progressive Catholic. I've been in the middle of multiple sociocultural crossfires. The secular Left thinks I'm too religious, while the Right thinks I'm not religious enough (generalizations to a point, but again true for the most part). Speaking from a place of progressive Catholicism, I'm aware of the difference between much of liberal and conservative forms of Christianity. The issue of Biblical inerrancy (whether the Bible is literally true or not) has, matter of factly, carried enormous implications for the ways in which one receives the Christian faith as a young person and then carries it as an adult. Leaving opinions aside, it is simply a reality in American life that the question of Biblical inerrancy strongly affects the rest of a person's religious mindset (if one remains religious to begin with). Liberals and conservatives both have sex and raise families and want their children to do well, but they acquire different points of emphasis that, over time, branch out into still more differentiations that create different kinds of people.

To directly address why lefties aren't happier, "we" (broadly defined, at least within our Christian adherents) think that human beings, while indeed flawed, are basically good. We acknowledge that human nature is frail in the face of temptation and vulnerable in the face of manipulation, but we lefties feel that if a person grows up in good circumstances, with a good upbringing and solid social supports, s/he will ripen into a contributing member of society and a fundamentally decent person. This is why we are: A) very sad when a person doesn't have strong social and familial support systems in childhood; and B) fervently desirous of changes to laws and policies that do not remedy the problems disadvantaged youth face. Our (theological) belief in the goodness of the human person clearly makes us lefties more wounded than, for instance, a Southern Baptist or non-denominational evangelical who believes in Biblical inerrancy and views human nature with a more sin-centric framework emphasizing the fallen nature of the human person. There are so many finer points that could be fleshed out here, but (for the sake of time/length) won't be. I do think the basic outlines of the matter do help to establish why lefty Christians (and certainly some lefty secularists) are less happy than righties.

Another core factor - which flows from everything just said - is that because conservatives cast a more skeptical eye toward human nature, they are much more willing (from the interactions I've had with conservatives on blogs since 2003) to simply say, "Life isn't fair - deal with it." Conservatives get frustrated just like anyone else, but it's been my experience that they are, on balance, better able to vent their anger, let it go, and move forward. Their skepticism of human nature allows them to possess and sustain a cultivated awareness of life's difficulties, which then enables them to develop a tougher and more resilient attitude to life. It's not cold - surely not to conservatives themselves - but merely a steely defense mechanism, a necessary survival tool that liberals would do well to cultivate on a more consistent basis. Lefties aren't as ready to admit that life isn't fair; we want to make life fairer! Again, I won't flesh out the policy merits (or demerits) which issue from such a dynamic; merely understand that this is how we generally think, and why we are less happy than righties generally are.

One other major determinant of conservative happiness and liberal misery is also connected to (broadly outlined) religious experiences. The specific factor in play here is the difference in interpretations of salvation. The liberal Christian experience generally holds that people are saved communally, and lefty Christians will often stress the need for works to accompany faith. The conservative Christian will place more emphasis on individual salvation, a personal decision of faith, and the need to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Obviously, lefty Christians don't discount pure faith and interior belief, just as righty Christians don't dismiss the need to do good works. Nevertheless, there are differences in emphasis, and because your typical lefty Christian will see salvation through a more communitarian lens, s/he will weep more when s/he sees social dislocation, cultural drift, war, economic injustice, and other things that - in a lefty's mind - most centrally tear at the fabric of humanity. The conservative Christian - understandably upset at many of the injustices s/he sees in the world - does manage to walk with far greater internal confidence and assurance of personal salvation, bolstered and given ballast by a less-shaken belief in Jesus. Mel Gibson's The Passion certainly tapped into this vein of feeling and revealed the consuming confidence and happiness of many evangelical Christians who reside well to the right of the political center.

Well, I said I don't want to take up too much of your time. That's it for now. Again, follow-up questions or even requests for follow-up essays on uncovered terrain would be quite welcome, even encouraged. My e-mail address:

In a closing postscript that should not be diminished by its place at the very end of this post, I want to add: Just in case you have never heard this before, dear conservatives, I want to say it clearly and publicly: You are not the enemy. You are not evil. You've simply had collections of experiences and contours of existence which are very different from mine. If you and I swapped life stories (as is true for any two people who come from different backgrounds and face different points of poignancy along life's road), we'd probably be on the other side of the aisle. I'd be the conservative libertarian in Houston, and you'd be the progressive Catholic and former soup kitchen director/Dorothy Day admirer in Seattle. Peace be with you!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Special Edition: Twitter Follow-Up on Shirley Sherrod

Twitter's great limitation is that 140 characters cannot fully unpack conversations on matters as complex as race. Yet, the virtues of Twitter outstrip the limitations because we can at least initiate exchanges that - courtesy of blogs (and e-mail, and other media) - are able to be extended.

Here is one such attempt to take a brief Twitter dialogue and elaborate on it in the blogosphere. I appreciate the comments made on Twitter, and will attempt to address them concisely in a post of modest length. (Feel free to respond in the comments section. If you want a longer follow-up essay, I will honor your request and provide it, all while trying to answer the more specific questions you have.)

The first thing I must do is to perform the task of any newcomer in a conversation: Mention who I am and where I come from (geographically and, of course, in other senses as well).

I'm a white male, so immediately, I know that I cannot fully relate to the experience of Shirley Sherrod or other people of color. I grew up in Phoenix - which exposed me to hostile conservative speech - and moved to Seattle, a place which has exposed me to a hollow lip-service form of liberalism mouthed by whites who might talk a lot about diversity and pacifism, but who fail to walk the talk (by a wide margin) on both levels.

I consider myself a progressive, but definitely not a Democrat. (I'm fed up with that party, which does not stand by progressive values.) I disagree with conservatives on fundamental questions of policy, but because of my experiences of faux-liberalism - or liberalism that trips lightly off the lips but is not followed up with action - I think the Right has a point when it accuses the Left of failing to live up to its ideals.

Though progressive, another thing which puts me in the middle of many national debates is that I'm Catholic. For conservatives, I have not been Catholic enough; for Seattle liberals, I've been far too religious, too intolerant of secular viewpoints. I can't understand what it means to be discriminated against on the basis of race, but I have tasted discrimination based on religion (albeit less than severe).

So, that's my background in brief. I'll now share just a few thoughts about Friday afternoon's conversation with Professor Blair Kelley, whose force of conviction is admirable, substantial, and rooted in a very strong moral foundation.

My views of Shirley Sherrod are, on the whole, quite positive. This is an inspiring woman whose story is exactly what enlightens a nation and moves an issue forward into a more enriching space and context. Such a notion is easy to understand; one doesn't have to tell a predominantly liberal audience why Sherrod's journey rings with resonance and beauty.

What understandably got lost in my criticism of Sherrod is that I was only criticizing her for one action on one localized level. The entirety of her story, and her full body of work this week in the national spotlight, rate high marks. Naturally - rightly - you were puzzled at best, and very possibly miffed, that I would criticize her.

Well, there's this (admittedly) nagging part of me that, in a forum like Twitter, will cause misunderstandings if not unpacked in a more expansive setting: I often respond to generally positive pieces of work by mentioning the 1 or 2 ways in which they could have been better.

Thursday night, for instance, Joan Walsh of Salon wrote a terrific piece on Sherrod's husband, and on Twitter, I complimented her for the piece. However, I also threw in a modest criticism based on a few phrasings that seemed to be turn-offs for any conservative readers of her piece. Ms. Walsh felt I was giving conservatives too much leeway, and that - in many ways - approximates the sense I get from your responses on Friday afternoon.

For context on the Joan Walsh issue, you can read the blog post which immediately preceded this one. As for this issue pertaining to my exchange with Professor Kelley, let me simply say the following:

Shirley Sherrod did not make a mistake of morality or ethics or character. She made a mistake of political game-playing, in my one (and hardly definitive) lonely opinion. Sherrod is within her rights to sue Andrew Breitbart, and I hasten to reiterate that I cannot honestly know what it must be like to be in Sherrod's shoes tonight.

What I do feel, however - and this is why I would give Sherrod a B-plus for her full week of actions instead of a solid A - is that while Sherrod did nothing morally or ethically wrong, she did miss an opportunity to sustain and/or consolidate the gains she made in our national racial environment before she insisted that Breitbart's website, Big Journalism, should be shut down.

One thing to realize about race - and I'd like to think this statement holds up under scrutiny regardless of the racial identity of the person making it - is that the larger populace is edified by a lived-out example and deep testimonials more than quick sound bites in a hyper-accelerated (and partisan, and fragmented) media landscape. When Barack Obama made his Philadelphia speech in the spring of 2008, the country was edified because it gained a chance to read about and reflect on race in a much more textured fashion removed from the food-fight realm of flamethrowing, talking-point-spouting cable yakkers with no sense of nuance.

In other words, there's a way to teach the country about race, and there's a way to inflame problems even with the best of intentions. The jujitsu of politics - of winning the nation's hearts and minds the way Dr. King did in the 1960s - is different from the realm of morality. There was never a question about the rightness of Dr. King's beliefs and aspirations during the Civil Rights Movement; the lingering question was HOW to go about affirming those values and giving them ratification in the legislative sphere.

The record shows - at least from this student's perspective - that Dr. King suffered punches and body blows (as did the lunch-counter protesters and the people who experienced both the water cannons of Bull Connor and the clubs of Selma) in order to win the war for civil rights. The nonviolence King so faithfully adhered to was powerful precisely because it never struck back at wrongdoers and oppressors. Nonviolence, lived to its fullest, caused the doers of violence to be fully exposed before the nation's eyes. A tipping point was reached where the populace could no longer ignore the nonviolent fidelity and human goodness of civil rights protesters, cast in vivid relief against the harsh polar opposite of thuggish police and the bullies who upheld Jim Crow.

I don't want to take up more of your time, so I'll race to the immediate conclusion and see if you want me to elaborate more on on this issue in the future:

Shirley Sherrod is a hero; I simply think that she ran 97 percent of the race and, near the finish line, resorted to the kind of act that was not politically astute, the kind of act that Dr. King or Gandhi probably would not have resorted to. By going to a sound-bite realm (a CNN talk show) instead of giving a lengthy speech or perhaps asking Bill Moyers to come out of retirement for a one-shot 90-minute special conversation, Sherrod - for the only time this past week - played the political game on Andrew Breitbart's turf and terms. In so doing, she allowed a lot of conservatives who, on Wednesday, were largely in her corner to - on Thursday night - lose their newfound admiration and respect for her. The net result for the nation was still positive, but oh, a big chunk of political capital was squandered.

That's all for now. Thanks for taking the time to comment and raise questions. I'm happy to listen to further remarks and treat them with the sincerity and respect they most certainly deserve.

POSTSCRIPT - Tackling a few of your itemized questions (without naming names or identifying Twitter handles)

** A Vatican 3 Catholic believes in ordaining women and implementing other Church reforms that the Second Vatican Council (Vatican 2) did not achieve. Basically, a Vatican 3 Catholic advocates a further modernization (and laicization) of the Church.

** To the poster who felt I was put in my place: I ask these questions with no rancor whatsoever, and purely in a spirit of honest curiosity:

1) What made you feel I was "put in my place"?

2) What made you feel satisfied about the progression of the conversation I had with Professor Kelley?

3) What did I say or suggest that was off-putting? Did I address it in the essay above? If not, how can I improve my speech and conduct with respect to racial issues in the future? I'm always looking to improve.

** To another poster who referenced ACORN: Does Breitbart's takedown of ACORN mean that he should be taken down with the same hardball tactics he used? Perhaps the best way to take down Breitbart - a figure worthy of being taken down - is to ignore him into irrelevance and not give him continued publicity, which translates into sustained (high) traffic and page views for his network of websites. Moreover, the specific place in which Sherrod erred was not so much the lawsuit as the claim that Big Journalism should be shut down. How is that protective of free speech? Focusing on the libelous actions of Breitbart - without casting a wider net - would have seemed more politically (and legally) astute. Just two cents....

** To another poster: No, Sherrod is not duplicitous. I hope the essay above addressed that. She merely made one tactical misstep during an otherwise heroic week of performance in the national spotlight.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Journalistic Jujitsu: Or, Why Lefties Must Be Better

NOTE: This very occasional blog series, devoted to Left-Right dialogue, is taking a brief detour here to focus on what would ostensibly be viewed as liberal journalistic outlets. -M.Z.

I get paid a little bit to write about sports, but writing about politics and the affairs of nations is even more essential to my soul, because it is in that larger realm where I will be judged by my maker. Therefore, I feel compelled to write a brief essay about left-themed journalism... and begin it with a sports metaphor.

College basketball, with 347 schools playing at the Division I level, is divided into multiple tiers. The schools that aren't elite - and lack huge athletic budgets - are called "mid-majors." A devoted defender of these "have-nots" in college hoops says that when a mid-major plays a "power conference" school such as North Carolina or Kansas, "It's 5 against 8. The poor team has to be 10-15 points better than the rich team, because the rich team will get at least 8-10 points worth of favorable calls from the officials."

People on both (all) sides of the political divide feel that their group is playing 5-on-8, with the opposition having the three referees in their corner. Speaking as a lefty, it is not the place of this essay to debate the 5-on-8 issue, but to proceed in a manner that will render the officials irrelevant.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that liberals are shorthanded in the national journalistic climate and the political tensions that accompany it. There's reason to think as much: The Iraq War, the September 2008 economic meltdown, and the torture debate all witnessed the Establishment decide that the serious and appropriate position was not the liberal one. Grassroots progressive values have a hard time working their way into the center of national debate, and especially the military-industrial complex.

What are liberal journalistic outlets to do in the face of this? The journalist certainly can be an advocate, but this form of advocacy - different from community organizing or nonprofit work - is constrained by a need to adhere to facts, which are certainly open to some degree of interpretation but ultimately transcend one viewpoint or ideology. One must ask the liberal journalist, especially at an editorial level, the following question: What journalistic change/reform, more than anything else, could transform the world for the better? Sure, more money would mean better coverage, but at the level of editorial policy, what new point of emphasis - if absorbed on a massive scale by liberal media outlets - would point ourselves in a much better direction... not only in America, but across the globe?

My answer (which has been developing in my head for the past few weeks): nonviolent public affairs coverage.

What does this mean? It means that anyone who calls him/herself progressive - and surely cherishes the example of figures like Jesus, King and Gandhi - needs to be more intentional about following the way of nonviolence in public journalism, not just private practice.

The 5-versus-8 metaphor is instructive because it portrays a situation in which the shorthanded team has no margin for error. That's really where liberals and liberal journalists are today in America. The JournoList incident was not an outrageous scandal, but it was worrisome and depressing because - say what you want about off-the-record technicalities - it still showed liberal journalists spending the balance of their time worrying about a political contest instead of talking about the issues affecting a broken nation with people in misery.

Jesus, King and Gandhi - the trinity of nonviolent teachers - demand far more words than this essay will give them, but they all share some core traits that can be briefly stated: They fought, but they did so spiritually, and not (primarily) with words; they didn't make conflicts personal; they all learned not to carry anger or resentment toward their chief oppressors, truly regarding the Oppositional Other as worthy of (and needing) forgiveness; and, most centrally to the notion of nonviolence, they all suffered torments while resisting the impulse to verbally or physically lash out at their tormentors.

The political theater of nonviolence - mastered by Jesus, King and Gandhi - basically involves this progression: Speak about the need for nonviolence and the supreme values you cherish. Live the nonviolence you promote as central to the improvement of human civilization and morals. Teach others exactly how to follow this difficult path (the way Branch Rickey taught Jackie Robinson). Keep living the value of nonviolence. NEVER, EVER GIVE IN TO THE TEMPTATION TO STRIKE BACK. When the other side keeps exposing itself as violent while you maintain your authentic and loving nonviolence, the public reaches a tipping point. The consistency of the faithful nonviolent example eventually does topple the doers of violence and the promoters of hatred. Minds and hearts then change.

The obvious difficulty here is that in 21st century America, with a vast proliferation of media outlets and - hence - individual journalists, just one loose cannon can derail any attempt by large groups of liberal journalists to - in their reportage and in their public appearances on talk shows - embody nonviolence. However, this difficulty should not dissuade liberal media outlets from trying to more consciously practice nonviolence in public communications and reportage.

Does this mean that a bully - like Andrew Breitbart - shouldn't be called a bully? No. (An ethos of nonviolence, though, would suggest that the best way to deal with a figure like Breitbart is to ignore him into irrelevance; he, like other tempters of professed nonviolence advocates, wants to provoke a violent reaction which will expose hypocrisy and thereby undercut the peace-seeking Left at large.)

Does this mean, of course, that the Left should roll over and play dead in the face of the Right? That's a rhetorical question - of course it shouldn't.

Do consider, though, the potential of a more consciously nonviolent community of American liberal journalists: Given eight years (two presidential election cycles) of faithful practice, combined with a consistent pattern of focusing on holding the Democratic Party accountable, the ranks of liberal journalists - unconcerned with combating the Republicans - might garner more wide-ranging respect from the entire population. Doing advocacy journalism in ways that help and lift up ordinary people, while withdrawing from the Beltway noise machine, could give liberal journalism credibility with the common person, enabling the Left to be seen - in a decade or so - as not the extension of MSNBC, but as nothing other than the responsible player in American journalism writ large.

Is there so much more to unpack here? Yes. However, we all have busy lives... especially the liberal journalists who - I hope - will read this essay. I do think the basic outlines of this vision have been drawn, to the extent that you can see what's going on. I welcome any and all questions or remarks in the comments section, and you're also welcome to e-mail me anytime.

Meanwhile, give a little consideration to - if not the entirety of this vision - the possibilities that can emerge whenever a Christian/Gandhian ethos of nonviolence gets infused into mainstream political debate. Lefties and lefty journalists simply have to be better in order to defeat the militarism, secrecy and poverty we progressives rightly detest.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Federer Fans, Nadal Fans, and a Window Into Political Discord

There's room for one more blog post at the end of a cluttered and busy week, and it falls outside the realm of politics... well, not quite, now that you mention it.

This is a sports post and not inherently a political one, but even a brief stroll through the landscape of tennis fandom has something to say about the way people approach any contentious subject.

As Rafael Nadal tries today to win the Wimbledon crown his injury ceded to Roger Federer in 2009, it's worth making a few points about these two champions and the way they're perceived by the public. A number of things need to be said, and a number of questions need to be asked, about the roots of support and opposition that have penetrated deep into the conversational topsoil whenever Mr. Federer and Mr. Nadal occupy center stage.

We all have our preferences as sports fans. It's a free country. Some fans gravitate to Federer's ice, others to Rafa's vibrant fire. Some women will respond to Fed's Swiss polish, many others to Rafa's Mallorcan flair. A Fed fan might be touched by the way Federer relates to his wife, Mirka, while Nadal fans might be stirred by the deep bond Rafa enjoys with the family and the neighborhood that hold him so close. On the court, the precise flourishes of an in-form Federer are wondrous for some, while Nadal's unceasing determination and energy rouse many other tennis souls to flights of ecstasy. Fed fans love how Roger set a new standard for tennis excellence; Rafa fans thoroughly appreciate the fact that someone else is stepping up to the plate and leveling a stern challenge to that very standard.

All of this is good and healthy and human and, one should add, quite necessary. We need differences to complement each other and lend fullness to the human experience. To be a sports fan - like a connoisseur of art - is to be one person out of many, one carrier of a unique set of tastes and preferences that will differ from the next guy or gal. All of this is good.

It's the unnecessary collection of distractions and tangents and friction points which detracts from the majesty and marvelousness of what the Federer-Nadal era should be.

Why is it that Federer's press conference - following his quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon on Wednesday - was somehow perceived by some as finally (or rarely) revealing Federer's humanity? Was this humanity not present before? When Federer failed to live up to (by a small margin, not the large margin I had originally perceived) the highest standards of conduct, why did that come across to some as being a welcome moment that somehow humanized Mr. Federer?

When Nadal asked for a medical time-out in his third-round win over Philipp Petzschner, why was that viewed as an act of dubious sportsmanship on Mr. Nadal's part, given that he missed Wimbledon in 2009 because of balky knees?

And here's the biggest question of all: Why is it that when an athlete receives either too much coverage or what is felt to be a misguided form of coverage in the press (coverage, it should be added, that he himself is not manipulating or orchestrating), the athlete becomes less attractive in the eyes of many fans?

Nadal suffers from this dynamic when his comments on injuries are referenced. The same thing applies to his five-set wins. It is true that there is at least some degree of a double standard in terms of the way Rafa's comments and on-court performances are treated in comparison with Federer. When the Swiss is pushed in a five-set escape, more alarm bells go off than is the case with Rafa. Mr. Nadal doesn't receive the "what's wrong?" chorus to the extent Federer does; I don't think that claim is tenuous.

You might be wondering: "How does NADAL suffer here?" He suffers in the realm of fan perception. Because of the media's double standard and because of the shadow (unnecessarily) cast by medical time-outs that have a legitimate basis in the reality of Rafa's frail knees, a number of fans come to like Rafa a bit less than they would otherwise.

Rest assured, though, Mr. Federer also gets scarred among tennis fans for similar reasons.

Whenever the media does a fawning piece on Fed, or brings an old classic Federer match into the discussion of a present-day battle unfolding live and in real time, a lot of groans are articulated on tennis message boards and blogs. Federer's pervasive media presence and frequent presence on a TV screen have created a (hyper-)saturation effect which makes Federer a turn-off for a number of tennis fans. Yet, I would dare to say that for both of these great champions and fine sportsmen (imperfect, but still very good over the long run of time), the media coverage - in its tone, tenor, content and quantity - substantially effect the extent to which the player is appreciated and admired by the tennis public.

Well, the Wimbledon final is four games underway. Time to shelve this post. I would simply like to get some in-depth feedback from a wide cross-section of tennis fans.

I leave you with this point: You can hate the media - often, you should - for what it does to try to bend perceptions of tennis stars and other athletes. Let's focus more on being critical of the media and not taking things out on the players themselves if they have nothing to do with the nature of the (wayward) media coverage being directed at them. On the other hand, if a great player and sportsman - no matter how sterling the reputation - does say something (or do something) to merit criticism, one shouldn't be afraid to acknowledge as much and, if need be, call that player (like Federer after his Wednesday press conference at Wimbledon) on the carpet.

Let the feedback flow once the Wimbledon final is over.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Fourth of July: An Empty American Holiday

America turns 234 years old on this latest observance of the Fourth of July. There is much that remains inspiring and remarkable about the United States and its origins. This country is in many ways a miracle and, even now, a lasting example of what human civilization can and should be.

However, the passage of time has also eroded much of the spirit which so thoroughly animated and motivated our Founders, the people who so bravely fought against overwhelming odds to give life and birth to a most amazing idea: That human beings are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It's the final line of the Declaration of Independence which regularly stirs me. Contemplate the depth of sacrifice involved in the founding of America and the principles that made it great:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Gosh, that's nothing less than electrifying. This small band of citizens, seeing the flame of freedom snuffed out in their midst, didn't passively allow themselves to be consigned to such a fate. They acted - boldly, creatively, shrewdly, courageously, and with uncommon energy and scope - to establish the more perfect union that has benefited so many of us who call ourselves "American." It's really rather breathtaking.

So, the question begs to be asked: Are we, the American citizens of 2010, pledging to each other our (capital-L) Lives, our (capital-F) Fortunes, and our sacred (capital-H) Honor?

More to the point, what do we do as a nation on July 4 to show as much?

Seems to me the parades and the flags and the barbecues and the baseball and the fireworks and the John Philip Sousa are as far as we get... at least for 95 percent of us.

Without belaboring the point or going into a long stemwinder of a soliloquy, I propose two things:

1) In your own quiet moments and workings, find a simple way to help a fellow man or woman by giving a piece of your Life, Fortune or sacred Honor to a person in need of uplift.

2) Nationally, I propose that at 8 p.m. Eastern time on July 4, we spend one hour to simply mark the weight of the occasion in a plain manner the Founders would approve of. We should stop as a nation - much like Muslim societies do in their five-a-day calls to prayer - and gather around the television as all our networks (all of them!) broadcast one hour devoted to a commemoration of who and what we are as a Republic.

Have the Declaration of Independence be read out loud, followed by the Articles of the United States Constitution and their amendments. Have all our presidents' names vocalized (even the bad ones), have all our House speakers and Senate majority leaders named. Have all our Supreme Court chief justices named.

The exercise might seem small and minimalist to many, but it would be a way of educating our youth in a public manner and conveying the important, relevant idea that our history and heritage matter.

Why is this important to me?
First of all, Americans are terrible at studying, let alone appreciating and cherishing, history in general. A populace more educated in history and civics is a population that is less prone to passively accept affronts to freedom and rights both communal and individual.

Secondly, though, I was inspired to conceive this idea because I live in Seattle. Several months ago, it was revealed that the city lacked the funds and sponsorships to stage its annual Fourth of July fireworks show over Lake Union. When this shortage of funds was announced, the people of Seattle reacted as though a profound human crisis had been encountered. The $500,000 needed to stage the show were quickly raised - in about 36 hours over the airwaves of the local talk radio station - and the city rejoiced.

Fireworks are all well and good - nothing wrong with a little holiday fun - but when they acquire such importance, centrality and urgency from the populace while far greater human needs go unmet in this city, it only affirms in Seattle what seems to be the case in America at large: We react more strongly in defense of our entertainments and comforts than in defense of the poor and of constitutional principles that sorely need our vigilant daily advocacy.

Please - do something meaningful for a neighbor on the Fourth of July. If you like the idea of a public reading outlined above, call your local congressional representative. I'll attempt to do these things myself.

I'll also not attend Seattle's fireworks show on the night of July 4, 2010.

It's time to make America - its values and the birthday which gave rise to them - more imbued with meaning. It's time to devote to America a little more of our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Respecting the Process, Serving the People: Key Components of the Left-Right Divide

It's worth returning to this blog for a few posts. This isn't a high-maintenance everyday blog, but when issues emerge that demand attention, they ought to be written about.

We return to the marketplace of ideas, then, by exploring a key component of the Left-Right divide: the law.

The Elena Kagan hearings - like any hearings for a prospective Supreme Court justice in the United States - raises the familiar cry of "judicial activism!" This is otherwise known as the central source of Left-Right division, with all its attendant hypocrisies: "When you do it, it's an abuse of power; when I do it, it's inspired leadership." The same is true in the courts and the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate: "When your side interprets laws, it's judicial activism. When we interpret law, we're faithful to the Constitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers."

Sadly but surely, every hearing for a Supreme Court nominee seems to turn into a Kabuki theater festival, even if - as is the case with Kagan - confirmation is almost guaranteed. These show hearings rarely if ever generate more light than heat, thereby dividing our Republic even more on this, the weekend celebrating its 234th birthday. Just how can we deal with matters of law in a more constructive manner? It's a topic worthy of extensive deliberation, but let's at least try to establish a few basic principles in a brief space.

A very good discussion starter comes from my conservative libertarian pal John Cary, who shared on Twitter a article from author Frank Turek on Ms. Kagan. The piece is an effective critique of Kagan from a conservative perspective and owns a lot of heft on a purely logical level removed from purely political considerations. Turek's best point emerges in his criticism that Kagan is way off base when she says that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is "a moral injustice of the first order." That is indeed a laughably inadequate assessment of what justice means, and Turek pounces in a manner befitting an appreciably sharp mind should.

Mr. Turek seizes the moment and uses Kagan's comments to illustrate the need to follow established guidelines and mechanisms for interpreting and enforcing laws. The law can't just be deemed good or bad; there needs to be a basis in the legal canon and its accepted tenets. Personal opinion and a deep-set worry that a given law (or ruling, or both) will lead to negative consequences doesn't satisfy legal standards.

All of this is an accurate enough commentary, a critique that conservatives generally lodge against liberals. The Right in America is of the firmly-held belief that the Left ignores structure and statute and - based on personal opinion and preference - foists its values and recommendations on the American public at large. The American Right thinks that the American Left injects opinion into law and bends interpretations of law to suit its own desires. Conservatives and Right-leaning libertarians feel that the Left is constantly trying to (extra-judicially and otherwise) re-engineer American society in accordance with its aims.

Now, that's a lot to digest. Is it true? Well, this blog really isn't about answering questions like that. The purpose of this blog is to get at the matter of HOW WE DEAL WITH DIVISIVE QUESTIONS SUCH AS THIS.

I'm of the personal opinion that Kagan's very much a centrist. John Cary is of the opinion she's hard Left. On the issue Mr. Turek talks about - DADT - Kagan is guilty, at least on a basic level, of operating in a manner consistent with the conservative critique of liberals. However, Mr. Turek - and this is where I have a difficult time with his still-valuable and thought-provoking column - advanced the view that "the military rightfully discriminates against numerous behaviors and conditions" in order to promote the highest possible level of performance.

My beef is not, of course, that the military discriminates against certain behaviors and conditions. It must indeed discriminate on certain levels. That's not where Turek goes astray. Where Turek errs is in his implicit assumption that homosexuality is one of the conditions which the military is right to discriminate against. To put a finer point on Turek's reasoning, as soon as he left the realm of structure and process in which conservatives are more naturally comfortable, he wandered into a more open-ended place in which - according to his own critique - liberals actually DO have just cause to recommend a better formulation or arrangement of policy. Turek provides an important public service to the country, and to the ranks of American lefties, by demanding of them an intellectual and structural rigor which is consistent with set-down components of recognized law. However, by that very same set of standards, once the realm of structure is left behind and the realm of interpretation is entered, liberals or progressives are no longer foisting their beliefs on everybody else.

In other words, Elena Kagan does need to recognize the military's role in shaping its own policy; by extension, liberals need to be cognizant of the proper domains and jurisdictions applicable to tenets of our constitution and its laws. That's the benefit of Turek's thoughtful piece. However, when one then gets to the debate surrounding what the military should in fact do, and how it should go about doing it, the terrain shifts to the content of policy itself, not the constitutionality of procedure.

What we have before us, then, is a dynamic where liberals need to give more weight to the proper place and position of process in the establishment of laws. The ruling on Citizens United - which established that corporations are people - is just such an instance. Like other American lefties, I do find the idea odious and noxious; however, as a matter of constitutional fidelity, I don't see how one can honesty rule otherwise under current conditions. Money - while not something people equally share - is indeed a form of free speech. If we're serious about protecting speech, well, we have to allow money to be spent by corporations, which are run by individual people. The result sucks and is detrimental to the fabric of our democracy, but that's what the constitution says, so for now, it has to be followed.

The thing the Left needs to do, though - and this is where I'd like to see the Right join in, too - is organize a movement to promote the public financing of campaigns and render the problem moot. If one is confronted by an unpleasant reality connected to the faithful application of the supreme law of the land, one should not persist in arguing that a court decision failed to apply the law. No, one should work around the law, or - to present another alternative - amend the law.

There is an amendment process to the constitution. Why won't (shouldn't?) leaders among the ranks of the American Left propose a 28th Amendment? That's where lefties have to possess more agility, acuity and passion. Unfortunately, they get wrapped up in fighting over the same piece of turf, usually to their detriment.

Now, on the other hand, when procedure and jurisdiction are not in question, I'd like to see conservative friends acknowledge the notion that liberals really aren't "re-engineering American society to suit their own whims." Liberals are guilty of this in some respects, I hasten to say ( Citizens United being one such prominent case ), but with respect to - for instance - the death penalty, the constitution sets forth a metric of "cruel and unusual punishment."

It would certainly seem to this lefty that if death doesn't represent cruel and unusual punishment, nothing does. Moreover, as a Christian who is all too aware that Jesus died at the hands of capital punishment, I remain even more baffled that any Christian - as is also the case with war - could be unbothered at best and sanguine at worst in the face of other people being killed by an extension of the state. If the Left is wrong to foist beliefs in an extra-judicial or extra-constitutional manner upon the populace, as it sometimes does, the Right needs to bear in mind that the Left's beliefs not only aren't always foisted, but that in many cases, they don't hold sway at all in the public arena. There are instances in which progressive, left-leaning values have something to add to the whole of society. Sure, they're subject to abuse and misapplication (just like the views of the Right or the views of any other political persuasion), but they deserve a place at the table and have a role to play in the evolution of our society.

Bottom line: If liberals don't like a law, they need to deal with it in creative ways or move to amend the constitution (conservatives can do the same on issues that cut against them). However, if procedural and jurisdictional issues are not in question, the liberal position - while perhaps meriting disagreement - doesn't need to be seen as an undue imposition on the people. The gaps between theory and reality, between definitional exactitude and the messiness of public practice, aren't easily resolved in real life. Liberals will tend to want to create the right result, while conservatives will insist on a process faithful to tenets of law.

I suggest that both sides be ready and willing to address the portions of the problem that they have historically and instinctively neglected.