Walter Rhett

Means Testing Civility

In Living, Media, National Affairs, War on January 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm
Civil War Soldiers Playing Cards

Civil War Soldiers Playing Cards

Our moral imagination has loss its center, that place where the virtues of personal character, contributions to the common good, and a careful reading of experience and logic are means tested in action. What has replaced charity and hope as guiding, glorifying principles of the American milieu is power and the power to distort.

The means test for this conclusion is based on observed inconsistencies, most recently seen in the Republican controlled House. The House corrected a Constitutional faux pas of unsworn members participating in official House actions by rushing through a bill with only four minutes of debate. The Speaker insists the CBO is wrong and engaged in double counting, when it is the Republicans own bill that is being used for estimating an additional $230 billion in deficits if healthcare reform is repealed. The Speaker, with a “schedule conflict,” winds up at a Washington reception when the nation’s heart was collectively in Tucson. (His staff reports he left early.)

Three times this week, politics has danced around the media. Yet media rhetoric still has the same old fallacies, the complacent lack of accuracy and facts, the cheap shots that stifle alternatives and substitute for insights.

The first dance occurred when two senior House members, one the Chair of the Rules committee, raised their hands before a video monitor to be sworn in and later a Republican member from the floor tried to justify that gesture od standing before a as meeting the criteria for being officially sworn in. The second, when the Speaker left the reception before the President’s televised speech; he didn’t want to get caught by a camera at an inopportune video moment. The third dance, a solo, was the eight minute teleprompted video of Ms. Palin. (You could see its reflection in her glasses.) In the video, Sarah Palin uses a phrase in her defense historically used to incite violence against the religious group to which the recovering Congresswoman belongs.

Media is driving and blocking the conversations about what we share in common, the alternative ways to approach our progress, the details of fixing what’s broken.

But the clashing, opposite views have much that is the same. This is not cynical, but a deep look at underlying processes with the system. Nice or naughty, positions on both sides have been sanitized of examples, supporting detail, model building, and a weighing of pros and cons. Both sides have parsed and pared down to sound-bites and opinions that ring with catch phrases. Both sides hide the technical details of legislation in committee and staff work, making it difficult for the public to know what’s really in a bill. And its a cliche, but both sides are far too driven by money and PR campaigns and spin and blame shifting.

There’s an old Southern adage that liars steal and my mind still rings with that $8 billion we shrunk-wrapped and shipped to Iran and the money sent to Afganistan that ends up in enemy hands. While the detested Chinese build joint infra-structure projects around the world and export their workers, we funnel money to governments and fail to benefit from it being “recycled.”

Lucy Parsons, Texas born in 1853, a slave, married to a Confederate soldier, a stalwart of the Labor Movement in Chicago, offers quotes about government that won’t be heard on Fox or MSNBC, but are memorable in their guidance: “never be deceived that the rich will let you vote away their wealth” and “governments never lead, they follow progress.”

This week, especially, we are well served to remember the greatest progressive social movement in our history occurred through non-violence, and remained so, despite brutal beatings (one of which left House member John Lewis slightly impaired), lynchings, senseless murder (in Haley Barbour’s Mississippi 15 year old Emmett Till had a 75 pound cotton scale tied around his neck to sink his beaten body), cattle prods, fire hoses, and police dogs. Yet our institutional memory is so devalued that no one in the White House of an African-American President knew the civil rights legacy of Shirley Sherrod and her husband Charles, or knew that her father had been murdered and no one convicted of the crime.

Until we recognize and learn from our history, we are condemned to restore the old insanity. Decisions have lost their principles, and if we continue to allow the pursuit of power through money and deceit, our comfort will come from the wrong means and will bring about bad ends. Right now, we would do well to remember unexpected dangers lay in freedom.


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