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  • Wise Conservatives Needed

    • Posted on Sep 27, 2015
    Here's this morning's (9-27) Courier column.  It's about how little wisdom we see on the national political scene, particularly among the GOP candidates for President.  With the Pope's visit, we're seeing a huge split among conservatives--instead of changing their minds about climate change, etc. they reject the Pope, as do Catholics, amazingly enough. 

    Do adults ever change their minds?  I'm beginning to believe that very few ever do.  Where are the wise conservatives who can, in fact, change their minds.   

    Wisdom—the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln so memorably put it—is never in long supply.  We all need more from everyone.  

     It’s the ability to take the high road, the long view, to accept the things you cannot change, to radiate gratitude and kindness, to empathize more than criticize, to recognize that we’re all in this together.   

     On the current scene, Pope Francis best exemplifies wisdom, and Catholics rightly and mostly support him for what he’s doing for their Church.  He’s energizing and challenging, a transformative figure.  

     He’s still a conservative, understand.  He supports the basic tenets of Catholicism, yet wisely challenges aspects of them. 
    Conservatives believe in tradition, authority, sanctity, and loyalty as core values.  Pope Francis has exhibited all of these in his speeches and behavior.   Yet he also insists that authority can go too far. 

     “Who am I to judge?” he said in reference to gay priests.  He’s also been following the humble path of all genuine spiritual leaders, literally washing the feet of poor and homeless people.   That startles everyone.   

     The polar opposite of the Pope, would be—duh—Donald Trump.  He’s the role model for fools and folly, for ignorance and ego.  He currently leads the Republican field.  Wise conservatives must feel mortified.   

     I’m among the first to admit that any working government needs a balance of conservatives with their insistence on tradition, etc. and liberals, whose core values 
    of equality, justice, diversity, and change inevitably clash with conservatives’ values.     Ideally, somewhere between those two a balance emerges.  Too much of either ideology leads to indefensible policies and unsustainable practices. 

     That’s where we need wisdom.  And that’s where the current crop of GOP contenders fall short.  Perilously, frighteningly, shockingly short, with Trump leading the pack to the bottom.  

    He’s probably the most foolish human being in the western hemisphere, a fool’s fool.  Worse, he’s probably a phony fool, putting on a bully mask to garner support.  
    In contrast, wise conservative leaders, from Pope Francis to Eisenhower to (at times) Reagan, the elder Bush, and Colin Powell all deserve respect and credit for upholding conservative principles, but doing it wisely.   

     Where is such wisdom in the current GOP field?  They use Obama as a scapegoat for all the world’s ills, they lie about his background and record, they cannot give him any credit or gratitude for his accomplishments.  That would include lowering the deficit, expanding health care coverage, growing attention to climate change (which the Pope supports), serious use of negotiations to resolve conflicts (Cuba and Iran) and so on.  

     Wisdom begins with giving credit where credit is due.  That sets the stage for focusing on where real disagreements lie.  Then the work starts, and everyone benefits.    
    A reverse case in point, now generating massive controversy, is the GOP’s Planned Parenthood defunding.  Carly Fiorina’s impassioned address at the GOP debate could have begun with her admitting that abortions cannot legally be funded by the government, and that abortion services amount to just 3 percent of women’s health services that Planned Parenthood provides.  

     Then she might have asserted that those videos were in fact disturbing, and she would support an investigation to determine if the group was selling “body parts,”
    which is flat-out illegal.   

     That approach would have boosted her wisdom credentials. Instead, she took the fool’s low road, referring to stock video footage not related to Planned Parenthood, and made a blatant attempt to smear the organization.  

     GOP lawmakers continue on this path with threatening to defund the entire federal government over a non-issue that whips up their base. 

    Where are the leaders who would side with the Pope and other wise conservatives to stop this foolishness? 

     We need them, now.   

    Go comment!
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  • "What Went Wrong?"--Assessing Obama's Legacy

    • Posted on Aug 18, 2015
    This appeared in Sunday's (8-16) Waterloo Courier, and probably is the first of two installments, as you'll see if you read to the end.  Yes, Obama didn't do what he might have done, but. . . 

    Now that the end of President Obama’s second term looms, pundits of all persuasions have begun to ponder his presidency.  How good is/was he? 

     Did he fix problems?  Did he create new ones?  In what ways has he been good and bad for the country?  Did he forsake more promises then he fulfilled?    

     Granted, answers to these questions will no doubt change over the years. Presidents’ reputations rise and fall depending on unpredictable events and issues.  So current assessments of Barack Obama’s presidency are tentative at best. 

     Still, pundits need to work, and Presidents’ policies and personalities provide it, nonstop.  This applies especially to Obama, our first Black president, and a man whose actions have been endlessly scrutinized by a deeply hostile opposition.   

     The latest and most interesting assessment comes from David Bromwich, a Yale English Professor and political commentator.  His essay in the June Harper’s magazine,  “What Went Wrong?” offers a critical analysis of Obama, and deserves reading, especially for the President’s longtime supporters. 

    Bromwich is no hard left or right ideologue, as so many political commentators seem to be.  He offers a balanced, serious, and important analysis of Obama’s “centrist” approach to issues and problems.  

    Very likely, “What Went Wrong” will serve as a reference point for future historians looking to assess Obama’s legacy.  

    Essentially, Bromwich measures the President against an implied ideal leader—and Obama inevitably falls short.   For Bromwich, events since 2008 called for a decisive personality with no fear of conflict and political manipulation.  

    The ideal Obama would have handled an obstructionist GOP immediately, raised hackles to the skies, and proceeded through political mayhem to get a single payer health care system, closing down Guantanamo, and would have avoided getting bogged down Afghanistan.   

    That’s the powerful, decisive Obama who never appeared, insists Bromwich.  
    Instead, his unshakeable belief in working from consensus and agreement led to paralysis and indecision with too little follow-through, which would have taken serious political courage. 

     Issues like gun control and climate change have gone by the wayside because of vicious and organized political opposition that he might have confronted, especially during his first two years, when Democrats controlled both houses.   

     Bromwich ends his analysis with the damning assertion that . . .”Much as
    one would like to admire a leader so good at showing that he means well, and so earnest in projecting the good intentions of his country as the equivalent of his own, it would be a false consolation to pretend that the years of the Obama presidency have not been a large lost chance.”

    Because Bromwich compares Obama to what so many voters expected and wanted, rather than what we got, he falls short, and this frustrates supporters as much as detractors. 

    Yet there’s another way to measure him, and that has to do with comparing him to what he actually did accomplish.   That comparison yields a different result. 

     As an example of comparing ideal vs. real, consider measuring America by its ideals—its rebellion against an oppressive regime and founding documents based on enlightenment ideas of freedom, rights, equality, and justice. A shining city on a hill indeed.  

     But measured by how it actually treated indigenous peoples, slaves, women, and non-propertied citizens, it’s no better than any other country, and in some ways worse. 

    Ideal vs. real always yields such different results.   So too with Obama.   

     In fact, Bromwich himself asserts at beginning of “What Went Wrong?”   “His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.”

     So compared to recent past and near-future Presidents, Obama stands tall. 
    Indeed, I would hope for another article soon from another pundit, “What Went Right?”  

    Plenty did, in spite of a shamelessly hostile GOP.  

    Go comment!
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