Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Michael Lerner in Praise of the American People

I discovered Rabbi Michael Lerner five years ago when he was promoting his book The Left Hand of God on NPR.  The book came out at a time when the Religious Right was in its ascendency and progressive churchgoers were silent.  Being suspicious of orthodoxy and drawn to contrarians who embrace ideas out of line with their own party, I subscribed to Lerner’s magazine Tikkun and have followed him ever since.

Lerner’s article “In Praise of the American People” is featured on the home page of today’s Huffington Post.

In his post-election analysis, Lerner makes the case that the Republican Party erred in its effort to rally its base against the “other” in our society (the immigrants, the gays, the big government freeloaders, the urban elitists), especially in light of the off-line acknowledgement that such “others” constituted 47% of the population.

At the same time, he rails against Left-wing religiophobia that assumes anyone who believes in God is intellectually stunted, pathologically in need of a father-figure or otherwise unenlightened.

Lerner’s take-away from the election is that the American people are not so locked into their personal financial self-interest as the pundits think.  Sure, we care about jobs and financial security.  But Lerner believes the longing for “a politics of meaning” is stronger than the politicians understand.

“Turns out that Americans, like everyone else on the planet,” says Lerner, “are willing to sacrifice material well-being to serve higher ethical goals, if they think others are willing to do the same.  They are just as hungry for a life, a social order, a family and a community that have some higher meaning…as they are for material economic security.”  

This is a truth about the American character that seems to have eluded the funders of Super-Pacs and the high-priced marketing experts who specialize in negative ads.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Makes a State Red or Blue?

The post-election punditry is laced with red and blue maps, showing voter preference by state and county.  I’ve started to wonder why it is that the south is so consistently red and the coasts so consistently blue.  What is it about where we live that is so predictive of political preferences?

This was confirmed for me at a recent family wedding.  My siblings and I are divided roughly 50-50 between Democrat and Republican (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily lead to cordial chatter over cocktails a month before a presidential election).  The family is spread out all over the country now and, while our political parties of choice aren’t perfectly aligned with where we live, the correlation is pretty high.  And yet we were raised in the same house with the same values, all well-educated professionals with similar economic self-interests, and roots in Arkansas.

It’s easy to see how someone who is very poor or a recent immigrant or gay might choose one political party over the other.  There are some real differences in the impact of party platforms on these groups.  But geographic voting patterns are a little harder to explain.  There are poor people and rich people in both Arkansas and California.

There’s no question but that we are influenced by the values and preferences of our friends and neighbors.  And there are some historic reasons for certain regions of the country to have become dominated by one political party or the other.

Democrats like to watch MSNBC and Republicans like to watch Fox because we want to hear from people who affirm what we already believe.  It’s disturbing to listen to the other side’s point of view.  Nobody wants to second guess their own beliefs.

They say more of us are in the middle than at the extremes, and I believe that’s true even though you wouldn’t think so based on what we hear in the news.  If we had four or five active political parties, the way they do in Europe, I think we would be less likely to fall into these polarized camps.

Let’s hope our elected representatives can leave behind their red or blue identifiers in the weeks ahead and find a rational compromise that will avoid the “fiscal cliff” and give the economy a boost.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Demand Courage from Politicians Right and Left

Whoever wins tomorrow’s election, let’s hope they will have the courage to lead the country towards economic solutions that will make better lives for our children and grandchildren.

Neither political party has been courageous enough to demand the sacrifices necessary to cut the deficit and generate renewed economic growth.  They believe we wouldn’t elect them if they told us the truth.

Democrats:  Tell us the hard truth that we have to give up some of our retirement and health care benefits so that something is left for the kids.

Republicans:  Tell us the hard truth that we must pay more in taxes to keep our social structure healthy enough to create a prosperous future for our kids.

It is cowardly of politicians to pander to our self-interest.  It is immoral to ask our legislators to sign oaths not to raise taxes, as if our social contract to one another were a dirty word.  It is deceptive to pander to the demands of special interests who tack on never-ending entitlement costs as if it were our God-given right to live forever.

We can deal with a little hardship, at least if we feel the burden is fairly distributed and our limited resources are being managed carefully.

Tell us the truth.  Tell us what we must sacrifice for the common good.