Sunday, February 14, 2016

Bullying in Politics is on the Rise! When in Doubt in Responding There's no Better North Star Than President Obama re: How a Real Democrat Acts ...



Bullying in my world of political advocacy on behalf of Democrats is on the rise and civics literacy is on a downward spiral, making being a participating citizen in my own representative Democracy more difficult than it's ever been as I've had to add to the work of informing and inspiring paying close attention to my response to the stimuli.  It can be pretty nasty out there!

But. With President Obama as my role model, I do okay!

Truth. Sometimes I feel like pushing back against the hate and or the ignorance of our founding document – hard – but I stop and I think about the President and his knowledge and his love of our nation and his political temperament, despite it all, and I, for lack of better terminology, behave myself and go forth more diplomatically in my advocacy work which is done in the midst of the citizenry he and I share.

Which brings me to the excerpts of a recent speech he gave in Illinois I am going to share here because in the heat of it all, as is his habit, he is thinking about how we, as a citizenry, can be better, including him!

Based on my experiences in the 2016 world of primaries and caucuses a whole lot of us should be doing that with him. It's long, probably a 15-20 minute read but this is the perfect time to pause and to hear him and then to return to the election process...


Remarks by the President in an Address to the Illinois General Assembly
House Chamber

To be a rookie in the minority party, as I was, is not much fun in any legislature.  We were called “mushrooms” -- because we were kept in the dark and fed a lot of manure. But one benefit of being in such a position -- not being invited into the meetings where the big deals were being made -- is that I had a lot of time to get to know my colleagues.  And many of us were away from our families, and so we became friends.

We went to fish fries together.  We’d go to union halls.  We’d play in golf scrambles.  We had a great bipartisan poker game at the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association...away from the glare of TV, or the tweets, or the GIFs of today’s media, what we discovered was that despite our surface differences -- Democrats and Republicans, downstate hog farmers, inner-city African Americans, suburban businesspeople, Latinos from Pilsen or Little Village -- despite those differences, we actually had a lot in common.  We cared about our communities.  We cared about our families.  We cared about America.

We fought hard for our positions. I don’t want to be nostalgic here -- we voted against each other all the time.  And party lines held most of the time.  But those relationships, that trust we’d built meant that we came at each debate assuming the best in one another and not the worst.

...And we wouldn’t bend on our most deeply held principles, but we were willing to forge compromises in pursuit of a larger goal. We were practical when we needed to be.  We could fight like heck on one issue and then shake hands on the next.  Somebody like Jesse White was able to travel around the state and people didn’t even know what party he was necessarily from because he brought so much joy with the tumblers and the work that they were doing.

So I want you to know that this is why I’ve always believed so deeply in a better kind of politics, in part because of what I learned here in this legislature...A microcosm of America, where Democrats and Republicans and independents, and good people of every ethnicity and every faith shared certain bedrock values.

...And I learned by talking to your constituents that if you were willing to listen, it was possible to bridge a lot of differences. I learned that most Americans aren’t following the ins and outs of the legislature carefully, but they instinctively know that issues are more complicated than rehearsed sound bites; that they play differently in different parts of the state and in the country. They understand the difference between realism and idealism; the difference between responsibility and recklessness. They had the maturity to know what can and cannot be compromised, and to admit the possibility that the other side just might have a point.

And it convinced me that if we just approached our national politics the same way the American people approach their daily lives –- at the workplace, at the Little League game; at church or the synagogue -- with common sense, and a commitment to fair play and basic courtesy, that there is no problem that we couldn’t solve together.

And that was the vision that guided me when I first ran for the United States Senate. That’s the vision I shared when I said we are more than just a collection of red states and blue states, but we are the United States of America.  And that vision is why, nine years ago today, on the steps of the Old State Capitol just a few blocks from here, I announced my candidacy for President.

Now, over these nine years, I want you to know my faith in the generosity and the fundamental goodness of the American people has been rewarded and affirmed over and over and over again.

…The point I’m trying to make is I care about fixing our politics not only because I’m the President today, or because some of my initiatives have been blocked by Congress -- that happens to every President...

The reason this is important to me is, next year I’ll still hold the most important title of all, and that's the title of citizen.  And as an American citizen, I understand that our progress is not inevitable -- our progress has never been inevitable.  It must be fought for, and won by all of us, with the kind of patriotism that our fellow Illinoisan, Adlai Stevenson, once described not as a “short, frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”  It requires citizenship and a sense that we are one.

And today that kind of citizenship is threatened by a poisonous political climate that pushes people away from participating in our public life.  

...So that’s what’s on my mind as I come back to Illinois today.  This is what will be a focus of mine over the course of this year and beyond:  What can we do, all of us, together, to try to make our politics better?  And I speak to both sides on this.  As all of you know, it could be better, and all of you would feel prouder of the work you do if it was better.

So, first, let’s put to rest a couple of myths about our politics.  One is the myth that the problems with our politics are new.  They are not.  American politics has never been particularly gentle or high-minded -- especially not during times of great change.

…My point is, the problem is not that politicians are worse, the problem is not that the issues are tougher.  And so it’s important for us to understand that the situation we find ourselves in today is not somehow unique or hopeless.  We’ve always gone through periods when our democracy seems stuck.  And when that happens, we have to find a new way of doing business.

We’re in one of those moments.  We’ve got to build a better politics -- one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas; one that’s less of a business and more of a mission; one that understands the success of the American experiment rests on our willingness to engage all our citizens in this work.

...And that starts by acknowledging that we do have a problem. And we all know it. 

…you’ve got a fractured media.  Some folks watch FOX News; some folks read the Huffington Post.  And very often, what’s profitable is the most sensational conflict and the most incendiary sound bites.  And we can choose our own facts.  We don’t have a common basis for what’s true and what’s not.

...You’ve got advocacy groups that, frankly, sometimes benefit from keeping their members agitated as much as possible, assured of the righteousness of their cause.  Unlimited dark money -- money that nobody knows where it’s coming from, who’s paying -- drowns out ordinary voices.  And far too many of us surrender our voices entirely by choosing not to vote.  

...But this isn’t just an abstract problem for political scientists.  This has real impact on whether or not we can get things done together.  This has a real impact on whether families are able to support themselves, or whether the homeless are getting shelter on a cold day.  It makes a difference as to the quality of the education that kids are getting.

...But so often, these debates, particularly in Washington but increasingly in state legislatures, become abstractions.  It’s as if there are no people involved, it’s just cardboard cutouts and caricatures of positions.  It encourages the kind of ideological fealty that rejects any compromise as a form of weakness.  And in a big, complicated democracy like ours, if we can’t compromise, by definition, we can’t govern ourselves.

Look, I am a progressive Democrat.  I am proud of that.  I make no bones about it. 

...I believe that people should have access to health care.  I believe they should have access to a good public education.  I believe that workers deserve a higher minimum wage. I believe that collective bargaining is critical to the prospects of the middle class, and that pensions are vital to retirement, as long as they’re funded responsibly.
  
...I believe we’re judged by how we care for the poor and the vulnerable.  I believe that in order to live up to our ideals, we have to continually fight discrimination in all its forms.  I believe in science, and the science behind things like climate change, and that a transition to cleaner sources of energy will help preserve the planet for future generations.  

I believe in a tough, smart foreign policy that says America will never hesitate to protect our people and our allies, but that we should use every element of our power and never rush to war.

Those are the things I believe.  

But here’s the point I want to make.  I believe that there are a lot of Republicans who share many of these same values, even though they may disagree with me on the means to achieve them.  

…And where I’ve got an opportunity to find some common ground, that doesn’t make me a sellout to my own party. …So trying to find common ground doesn't make me less of a Democrat or less of a progressive.  It means I’m trying to get stuff done.

And the same applies to a Republican...

… Our Founders trusted us with the keys to this system of self-government.  Our politics is the place where we try to make this incredible machinery work; where we come together to settle our differences and solve big problems, do big things together that we could not possibly do alone.  And our Founders anchored all this in a visionary Constitution that separates power and demands compromise, precisely to prevent one party, or one wing of a party, or one faction, or some powerful interests from getting 100 percent of its way.

So when either side makes blanket promises to their base that it can’t possibly meet...that kind of politics means that the supporters will be perennially disappointed.  It only adds to folks’ sense that the system is rigged...

Now, I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this. These trends will not change overnight...

But I do want to offer some steps that we can take that I believe would help reform our institutions and move our system in a way that helps reflect our better selves.  And these aren’t particularly original, but I just want to go ahead and mention them.

First is to take, or at least reduce, some of the corrosive influence of money in our politics. 

...The second step towards a better politics is rethinking the way that we draw our congressional districts. …let’s be very clear here -- nobody has got clean hands on this thing...

The fact is, today technology allows parties in power to precision-draw constituencies so that the opposition’s supporters are packed into as few districts as possible.  That’s why our districts are shaped like earmuffs or spaghetti. It’s also how one party can get more seats even when it gets fewer votes.

And while this gerrymandering may insulate some incumbents from a serious challenge from the other party, it also means that the main thing those incumbents are worried about are challengers from the most extreme voices in their own party...

  Now, this is something we have the power to fix.

 …Now, the more Americans use their voice and participate, the less captive our politics will be to narrow constituencies.  No matter how much undisclosed money is spent, no matter how many negative ads are run, no matter how unrepresentative a district is drawn, if everybody voted, if a far larger number of people voted, that would overcome in many ways some of these other institutional barriers.  It would make our politics better.

And that’s why a third step towards a better politics is making voting easier, not harder; and modernizing it for the way that we live now.  

...that brings me to my last point, which is, even as we change the way system works, we also have a responsibility to change the way that we, as elected officials and as citizens, work together.  Because this democracy only works when we get both right -- when the system is fair, but also when we build a culture that is trying to make it work.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about something a friend of mine, Deval Patrick, once said to his constituents when he was governor of Massachusetts.  He said, “Insist from us and from each other a modicum of civility as the condition for serving you.”  This is what he told voters.  “Insist on us having a modicum of civility.”

I think that’s something that all of us, as Americans, have to insist from each other. Our children are watching what we do. They don’t just learn it in school, they learn it by watching us -- the way we conduct ourselves, the way we treat each other.  If we lie about each other, they learn it’s okay to lie.  If we make up facts and ignore science, then they just think it’s just their opinion that matters.  If they see us insulting each other like school kids, then they think, well, I guess that's how people are supposed to behave.  The way we respect -- or don’t -- each other as citizens will determine whether or not the hard, frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government continues.

I’ve got daughters that are getting older now, and one of the most important things about being a parent I think is them just seeing what you do not when you're out in public, not when you're dealing with somebody important, but just how do you do -- how do you treat people generally.  And it makes me much more mindful.  I want to live up to their expectations.

And in that same way, I want this democracy to live up to the people’s expectations.  We can't move forward if all we do is tear each other down.  And the political incentives, as they are today, too often rewards that kind of behavior.  That's what gets attention.  So it will require some courage just to act the way our parents taught us to act.  It shouldn’t, but in this political environment apparently it does.  We’ve got to insist to do better from each other, for each other.

Rather than reward those who’d disenfranchise any segment of America, we’ve got to insist that everybody arm themselves with information, and facts, and that they vote.  If 99 percent of us voted, it wouldn’t matter how much the 1 percent spends on our elections. 

Rather than reward the most extreme voices, or the most divisive language, or who is best at launching schoolyard taunts, we should insist on a higher form of discourse in our common life, one based on empathy and respect, -- which does not mean you abandon principle.  It doesn't mean you're not tough.
Rather than paint those who disagree with us as motivated by malice, to suggest that any of us lack patriotism -- we can insist, as Lincoln did, that we are not enemies, but friends; that our fellow Americans are not only entitled to a different point of view, but that they love this country as much as we do.

Rather than reward a 24/7 media that so often thrives on sensationalism and conflict, we have to stand up and insist, no, reason matters, facts matter; issues are complicated.  When folks just make stuff up, they can’t go unchallenged.  And that’s true for Democrats if you hear a Democratic make something up, and that’s true for a Republican if you see a Republican cross that line.

Rather than accept the notion that compromise is a sellout to one side, we’ve got to insist on the opposite -- that it can be a genuine victory that means progress for all sides.,,,

And maybe, most of all, whenever someone begins to grow cynical about our politics, or believes that their actions can’t make a difference or it’s not worth participating in, we’ve got to insist, even against all evidence to the contrary, that in fact they can make a difference.  And in this job of being a citizen of the United States of America, that’s a big deal.  It's something we should revere and take seriously.

(Following a riff on Lincoln)

...And those victories did not solve all of our problems.  He would be attacked at times for the compromises he was prepared to make by abolitionists and folks from his own side.  It would be 100 years more until the law guaranteed African Americans the equal rights that they had been promised.  Even 50 years after that, our march is not yet finished.  But because Lincoln made that decision not to give up, and not to let other voices speak for him, and because he held in his mind the strength of principle but the vision, the ability to understand those who disagreed with him, and showed them respect even as he fought them -- because of what he set in motion, generations of free men and women of all races and walks of life have had the chance to choose this country’s course.  What a great gift.  What a great legacy he has bestowed up.

And that’s the thing about America.  We are a constant work of progress.  And our success has never been certain, none of our journey has been preordained.  And there’s always been a gap between our highest ideals and the reality that we witness every single day.  But what makes us exceptional -- what makes us Americans -- is that we have fought wars, and passed laws, and reformed systems, and organized unions, and staged protests, and launched mighty movements to close that gap, and to bring the promise and the practice of America into closer alignment.  We’ve made the effort to form that “more perfect union.”

Nine years to the day that I first announced for this office, I still believe in that politics of hope.  And for all the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and for all the imperfections of our democracy, the capacity to reach across our differences and choose that kind of politics -- not a cynical politics, not a politics of fear, but that kind of politics -- sustained over the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime, that’s something that remains entirely up to us.

May Democratic activists find something in President Obama's words that gives strength to go on because ~ it's not easy out there...

The full transcript can be found here

and it can be found on video here 

Thank you for reading!



G., aka Partisan Democrat

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