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Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Positive Experience at a Tea Party Meeting

Last week, I decided to attend the meeting of a local Liberal, KS group that is loosely affiliated with the Tea Party. They actually go by the name We The People, but their genesis was the Tea Party movement. I know a few people in the group who assured me their purpose was not radicalism, but rather educating the electorate and motivating involvement of the ordinary citizen. So, curious and professing an open mind, I attended. As a point of disclosure: I have already blogged about several areas of concern I have about the movement.

I sat in the back, determined to just observe and listen, to give a fair evaluation of their actions and purpose. Although there was some early discussion of national events, this group actually focused most of its energy to local and state races. The most consuming discussion centered around whether to endorse candidates, how to evaluate candidates and how to encourage more people to run for local offices. I applaud their discussion because it was civil, well informed and genuine. Although, there were several points where I felt I could add to the discussion, I purposely chose not too, as my goal really was just to watch and listen.

However, toward the end of the meeting, the moderator asked a direct question of the attendees: how many of you have a negative view and how many have a positive view of the Tea Party movement? No one raised their hand expressing a negative view and about 1/2 raised their hands with a positive view. I spoke up and asked what about a neutral view? The moderator asked me to explain what I liked and what I disliked about the Tea Party movement.

My response was that I liked the fact that the movement was encouraging the participation of ordinary people in ways not seen for some time and that they were attempting to hold our political leaders accountable for their decisions. Of course, this received a positive response from those in attendance.

Then I ventured into the areas I disliked. Here I discussed the rancorous, seemingly partisan nature of the national debate (which is not limited to Tea Party members) and the need for the movement to quickly and forcefully remove radical elements (racists, anarchists, etc.) who see the Tea Party as a possibly mainstream vehicle for their radical views if they wished to remain relevant in the political system. I was also concerned about how the movement often appeared to exist just to be anti-Obama.

However, I devoted most of my discussion to the question of whether the Tea Party truly wants to represent ALL the people or if it was just a front for a dedicated conservative movement. I explained how my own centrist views were viewed as liberal in places like Kansas and Utah, but conservative in places like Connecticut (all places I have lived). I also pointed out that there are many in our own town who are not conservative.

I will admit I was pleasantly surprised by the response I received. I was not attacked, though some asked some good, probing questions. After the meeting, I had several people approach me and thank me for my input and compliment what they saw as a well thought out, reasonable and relevant observations of the movement. Obviously I can't speak to the behavior of most Tea Party groups, but I have to commend those in my hometown Liberal, KS for what seems like a genuine and effective commitment to the idea of a truly inclusive, grass roots political movement without an excess of ideological extremism.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Taking Back Our Country?

Ok, did I miss something? People are rallying across the nation with calls to "take back our country." Exactly who do we need to take our country back from?

Were we invaded by a foreign power and nobody told me? Were we conquered by a roving band of barbarians and I missed it? Did we become a colony of another world power and I am just unaware? Obviously not, since I think Iraq and Afghanistan would take a back seat to a foreign invasion of United States soil.

So did we have an insurrection within our borders that transferred power to a king or dictator? Are we living under martial law? Have we come under the control of aliens from outer space?

As far as I can tell, we still have our sovereignty and enjoy the same rights and privileges that we have for the last 223 years. The Constitution IS still in effect. We STILL have freedom of speech, religion and assembly. We are STILL protected against unreasonable searches and seizures and arbitrary law enforcement. We STILL have the right to own personal weapons. We STILL have the right to vote in local and national elections. We STILL have the right to live and work where we choose. We STILL have the right to travel freely throughout our country. We STILL have the right to raise our children with our values. There hasn't been one Constitutional amendment or principle repealed since prohibition was repealed.

We STILL have a vibrant press that allows the expression of political ideas covering the entire spectrum. We STILL have a peaceful transition of government as political leadership moves fluidly from one party to the other through the years. We are STILL a nation operating under the rule of law. We are STILL the one nation that immigrants from around the world most want to come to. Current hardships not withstanding, we are STILL a prosperous and affluent nation.

So just exactly what is that needs to be taken back? Is it a longing for the good old days? Do we want to take back the years and rollback to the days when racism was prevalent and in fact restricted the rights of large groups of people? Do we want to go back to the pre-World War I era when women often weren't even considered citizens, but rather property? Do we want to take back the safety net that has been created to help the most needy and vulnerable portions of our population? Do we want to take back the advances in education that changed a system that often denied a reasonable education to many minorities? Do we want to take back the advances that have reduced the ability of business owners treating employees in unfair and capricious manner? Do we want to take back our welcoming nature and stop accepting immigrants from other countries...especially those that don't look like us? Do we want to take back our civility and return to the frontier days when often times the law was made by he who had the quickest draw? Do we want to take it ALL back and return to a long gone time when any mob with the greater strength and weaponry could seize the government?

Honestly, I find this whole idea ridiculous. Our country operates under the same principles as it always has. Certainly it's facade may look different from year to year, generation to generation, but the core remains the same. Throughout our history there have been movements of people wanting to "take back our country" or "return to the America I grew up with" or a variety of other similar phrases. They have always sprung up from discontent among groups of people who were upset that there ideas had fallen out of favor or failed to garner sufficient support to dictate social and political policy. Fortunately, for them, they live in a nation where it is STILL acceptable to voice that dissatisfaction and to believe that somehow our government has been hijacked by those who would prevent the very discourse taking place in the public square today!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Call To Core Tea Party Members

It is no secret that I am not a fan of the Tea Party movement that has sprouted in the United States. With that said, however, I will defend their right to organize and lobby for their views. I don't have to agree with them to respect their Constitutional rights and their political views.

With that said, I implore the core Tea Party members to stand up and take control of the group. It is time for those who are rational and level-headed to exercise some tough love on the group before it spirals out of control and overrun with outrageously radical elements.

I've already discussed in a previous blog posting the need to confront the racist element (small though it may be). Now it is time to stand up to those who seem bent on pushing down a path seemingly leading to armed insurrection. News has come out of Oklahoma that Tea Party members and some legislators there want the state to authorize the creation and funding of an armed state militia and there is similar talk in a small number of other states. Though they profess only lawful and peaceful intent, one has to seriously question this. First, states already have a militia called the National Guard. Second, it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide for the protection and defense of the states. There is no reasonable need for the establishment of such state militias. One cannot deny that there are elements in the Tea Party movement that would love to promote an armed insurrection against the federal government. As a former history teacher, I can't help but see a correlation to events in the South prior to and leading up to the Civil War (a war, which incidentally, settled the issue of the supremacy of the federal government over the individual states).

So, I implore that vast majority of the Tea Party to stand up and clearly and adamantly denounce such dangerous and divisive actions. Yours is a noble movement with just causes and legitimate concerns (yes, I can say that even if I disagree with your views and methods). Do not let it be hijacked, for the consequences could be grave for the nation and the ultimate goals of the Tea Party rejected by a nation that has always ended up rejecting political parties/movements that become too radical.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paying It Forward

One of the best movies of all time is Pay It Forward which told the story of a young teen boy who takes seriously his teacher's assignment to come up with a project that would change the world. Initially stumped as what to do, he stumbles upon the idea of paying it forward. In this process, you do something helpful and of significance for another person and their only obligation to you is to do the same for another person. Thus is created a continuing string of altruistic events which help people in need and improves the world.

The Sunday magazine insert American Profile this week had the inspirational story of a man in San Diego paying it forward on a regular basis. For the last 45 years, when he has the time and resources, Thomas Weller takes to the highway and assists motorists in distress (over 6,000 and counting). He supplies fuel, changes tires, calls emergency services, etc. And he refuses all efforts to compensate him for these generous acts, instead instructing those he helps to find a way to do the same for someone else when the opportunity presents itself. This is the true spirit of America. I pray that this philosophy will take hold and spread like a wildfire across our great country.

You can follow this link to the full story of Thomas Weller: http://www.americanprofile.com/heroes/article/39320.html

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

There IS Good TV If You Know Where To Look

People complain constantly about the quality of television today, this even as they watch endless hours of it. Reality shows that are anything but real and promote deceipt and scheming. Sitcoms that demean fathers, mothers, marriage, education, religion, etc. Dramas that constantly push the envelope of decency.

Ah, but there is good tv out there. Two examples are Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Undercover Boss. Home Makeover, though it is sometimes over the top in terms of the size of home and amenities included, has a great purpose. It rewards deserving families with new homes. Generally these families live in squalid housing while giving of their time and money to give to those with greater needs than their own. The stories of the families and the sacrifices they have made are inspiring and usually deserving of this incredible blessing.

Undercover Boss has executives (usually CEO/President) of American companies going "undercover" within their own companies. They camouflage their appearance and spend a few days working the front line jobs of their organizations. They spend time with employees who, though often the face of the company, are often the lowest paid employees. The typical experience is that they learn that the most basic jobs aren't so easy (one even got fired!) and that the company often isn't as connected to their employees and the issues they face as they believed. With few exceptions, these executives come to realize the quality and dedication of their employees and the need for changes within the structure and policies of the company. The only downfall is that the CEOs most in need of this experience are probably unlikely to participate.

If you haven't watched either of these shows, I encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed...and you are likely to be inspired.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oh, Give Me A Break!

Let the season of campaign silliness, sleaziness and hypocrisy begin! With the passage of health care reform complete and polls showing near equal levels of support and opposition to the bill, politicians in both parties are beginning the process of pandering to voters of every persuasion.

Republicans are circulating a memo that outlines strategies for taking credit for the passage of the health care reform package. Are you serious? Well, I suppose there is some support for this approach, given that many of the components of the package were originally their ideas (years ago). So, I guess they were in favor of the bill before they were opposed before they were in favor? How confusing! I can't wait to vote for Republicans who run on the idea of integrity and their commitment to the right views regardless of how it affects their election chances.

But even more ridiculous is the case of Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. She is currently running competing television ads. One touts her opposition to the health care bill, the other touts how she stood with President Obama against the Republicans in pressing the bill through Congress. She must be living in an alternate universe! 

The biggest problem in this situation is the fact that we keep electing people who treat us as if we are really that stupid! It really is time that the voters of this country demand that elected officials be honest and stand up for their votes. I believe that most people, like myself, have far more respect for people they disagree with if they show integrity than they do fore people whom they agree with but lack that integrity.