Ten Steps to Republican Rebranding and Conservative Redemption

by Kevin

Dear Republican Party and Conservative Friends,
 
I sincerely hope you are beginning to feel a little better. A week ago today you received quite a shock when President Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election by a very decisive Electoral College margin and a comfortable popular vote lead. To add insult to your injury, four pro-gay-marriage initiatives passed, pro-labor candidates won in Wisconsin and elsewhere, The “Rust Belt” voted solidly for Obama, and liberal women won lots of seats in Congress. We have all heard that Governor Romney and his campaign team are still shell-shocked and trying to understand what happened, because they had been in denial about a potential defeat. Their wake up call was sudden and brutal. Mr. Romney had not even written a concession speech, making his extremely gracious and noble final statement even more remarkable for its genuine dignity and apparent intentionality.
 
The GOP can have a bright future and win again if you will implement ten steps to Republican rebranding and conservative redemption. I have thought carefully over the past week about whether or not to publish these ten steps. As a liberal Democrat, I’m afraid you might actually read my advice, take it seriously and succeed. I have been a consultant to Fortune 500 companies (conservative Republican institutions largely) for 22 years, facilitating market research, new product development, branding, positioning, and strategic planning projects. The ten steps listed here do not come from nowhere. They are my professional assessment regarding the GOP path to future success, based on decades of analysis of disasters similar to the 2012 election in corporate settings. After thinking twice, I realized that it is healthier for the American democracy to have a thriving but reasonable conservative wing in politics. I consulted with Paul, my very dear friend and fellow blogger for Two Old Liberals, and he urged me to publish these ten steps. I have to agree with his reasoning: “One party rule is very seldom a good idea. People get cocky and arrogant; and they get lazy without an opponent to keep them fit.”  
 
Ten Steps to Republican Rebranding and Conservative Redemption
 
1. Embrace Hispanics wholeheartedly and become their partners in immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The Bush brothers (Jeb and G. W.) have known for a long time that the Republican Party must embrace Hispanics to survive the rapid demographic evolution of the American electorate toward a minority majority. The wages of ignoring this development became painfully evident for you in last Tuesday’s election. Unfortunately, when President G. W. Bush tried to move the GOP in this direction with friendlier immigration legislation, you rejected it. When the Tea Party extremists and Rush Limbaugh were allowed to hijack the GOP, your message to Hispanics became very hostile: “We don’t want you here. Get out or we will throw you out.”
 
A lot of Hispanic voters are conservative and would make natural Republicans if you would embrace them and become their advocates. Many Hispanics are devout Catholics who certainly do not believe in abortion or even birth control! Many are hard-working fiscal conservatives who hold very strong family values and would not be supporters of gay marriage. Does that portrait look like Democrats? No, it looks like Republicans, but you have forced them to vote Democratic in self-defense with your hostile rhetoric.

Oh, I know, I know… You believe that you ARE welcoming toward Hispanics and that it is just Democrats who make you look bigoted toward them. Well, Hispanics PERCEIVE hostility from you, and perception is everything in politics and in business. How can you change that perception? You could start by never nominating another candidate who talks about “self-deportation,” and by marginalizing the extreme voices in your party who describe Hispanics as lazy moochers. Support pro-immigration legislation with a path toward citizenship, and then move on to Step 2.
 
2. Nominate Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as your 2016 presidential ticket. Or find another set of candidates who would be equally attractive to Hispanics. I recommend Jeb and Marco, because Jeb’s wife is Hispanic and they have a son, George Bush III, who is movie star handsome, charismatic, articulate, and Hispanic! Jeb is a center-right Republican who understands the imperative to adopt pro-immigration policies and befriend the exploding Hispanic demographic segment. Marco Rubio is young, good-looking, conservative, articulate, magnetic, and has a storybook gorgeous wife and family… and he is Hispanic. Unless you are ready and willing to become a minor regional party of grumpy old white men and crazy right-wing extremists, you will seriously consider nominating a pro-Hispanic ticket for the 2016 election.
 
3. Become enthusiastic supporters of women and empower them in society and politics. Stop the “war on women” now! I know, I know… You do not believe there ever was a GOP war on women. You feel that Democrats and a few right-wing wackos pinned that undeserved reputation on you. Okay… maybe so. But women PERCEIVE that you are hostile toward them, and perception is everything. How could you have let this happen, Republicans? Women make up the majority of the electorate, for God’s sake! You simply cannot allow this continuing perception that you want government to be able to intrude into women’s private lives and take control of their bodies. Issue a commandment to all old men in the GOP forbidding them from mentioning rape ever again. They lost that right with “legitimate rape” and rape that is “God’s will.” And any hint of trespassing into a woman’s control over her own body with ideas like “forced trans-vaginal probes” (speaking of rape…) is strictly forbidden, forever, period.
 
The Republican Party must enthusiastically support women and their right to earn equal pay for equal work and hold positions of power and authority in American society and politics. In this connection, it is time to aggressively seek and cultivate female candidates for office. The age of women in politics is thundering toward America like a tsunami along with the Hispanic and minority majority. You don’t believe me? Take a look at New Hampshire’s 2013 delegation to Congress — all women. Also in 2013, on the Democratic side of the aisle in the House of Representatives, women and minorities will comprise the majority for the first time in history, and it won’t be the last time.
 
When you look for female GOP candidates, run as fast as you can away from anyone who says she can see Russia from her house, or who urges citizens to exercise 2nd amendment remedies, or who thinks she might have been a witch at one time. Walk away from all these nut cases who have taken over your party and its messaging. Start looking for women candidates formed in the mold of hard-working, sane, professionals like Kay Bailey Hutchison, Olympia Snow, and Condoleezza Rice. You know they are among you. Bring them forward.
 
4. Exercise control over your nominating process to avoid extremists and run candidates who can win.  Republicans had a chance to take back the Senate in the 2012 election but you blew it again with extreme right-wing candidates who insulted and verbally abused the electorate. You cannot win elections when you attack the people you need to vote for you — women, Hispanics, gays, and other minorities. Stop it!

And your slate of presidential candidates in the Republican primaries this year looked like a clown car — Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, etc… Give us a break! Do you really expect the American electorate to take you seriously when you present a list of crazy candidates like those for the presidency? Weren’t you embarrassed? It was very amusing and entertaining for the rest of us, but also pretty scary, when we considered that you were actually proposing that one of these nut cases should hold the most powerful job on earth.

There were four reasonable candidates — Tim Pawlenty, John Huntsman, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Pawlenty was apparently too moderate and ran out of money and steam early and dropped out. Huntsman was too liberal for you. Ron Paul was too libertarian and uncontrollable. And that left only Romney who was pushed so far to the right by the endless primary debates with clown candidates that he ultimately did not have a chance in the general election, despite his desperate last-minute attempt to disavow everything he had said during the primaries and turn hard toward the center. Get a grip on your nomination and primary processes, GOP, or your clown car will be replaced by a new and more reasonable party of serious, classic conservatives. You cannot win with your current slate of Tea Party extremists and dogmatic right-wing ideologues.
 
5. Befriend the LGBT segment and support gay rights and marriage. I’ll never understand it, but apparently there are lots of us gay people who would like to be conservative Republicans. A “gay Republican” has always seemed to me, as someone once described it, to be “like a 12-point buck at an NRA convention.” But, be that as it may, there are lots of LGBT people who want to get into your club, and can’t do it, because you constantly tell us you don’t want us or like us and we are an abomination against God and nature. You didn’t want to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and you don’t want to let us marry each other. Now, I ask you, what American institutions are more conservative than the military and marriage? We are asking for the right to serve our country in the armed forces and enter into the commitment, stability and responsibility of the institution of legal marriage. As conservatives YOU should be applauding these impulses and helping us to realize them. Then you’d get lots of gay votes, which if I’m not mistaken, still count as much as straight votes.
 
Barry Goldwater understood this. Remember him?… your 1964 Republican nominee for the presidency? I’ll never forget him: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” He also famously said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.” In 1993 on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Senator Goldwater said, “I see no harm at all with having gays in the military… I think that if you left it up to the American people, the attitude would be, ‘What the hell, there’s nothing wrong with a gay as long as he doesn’t misbehave himself.”  True classic conservatives want to get government out of people’s bedrooms and private lives and grant everyone fundamental civil rights for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Return to your classic conservative roots and the fundamental principles of freedom to win elections again, Republicans. 
 
6. Support clean renewable energy sources and the effort to stop and reverse climate change. My Nov 4, 2012 post at http://TwoOldLiberals.com entitled “Mother Nature Sends Sandy to Make Climate Change a Conservative Issue,” defines five compelling reasons why climate change is a conservative issue: A.) Loss of property;  B.) Extinction is bad for profits;  C.) Cost of preparedness and disaster response;  D.) Public and political pressure mounts;  E.) Everyone cares about the survival and happiness of their kids and grandkids.  Beyond that, what could be a more natural conservative value than leaving our children and grandchildren an environment that is at least as healthy and able to sustain life as the one we inherited? Conservatives are careful to maintain their home as an investment in the future stability and security of their families. The earth is our only home. It is time for conservatives to demand that we stop destroying this habitat for the sake of our children.
 
7. Work openly to reverse voter suppression and support the Voter Empowerment Act. You may have heard earlier in the campaign that there was an “enthusiasm gap” among Democrats. There probably actually was a disturbing degree of apathy among Democrats at that stage. But you took care of that by doing everything in your power to suppress the traditionally Democratic vote. You worked hard to make voting impossible for seniors, students, poor people, and anyone without a photo ID. You tried to shut down early voting and same-day registration wherever possible. You sent out disinformation about the date and location for voting. You did not provide enough voting sites, machines or ballots so that many people had to wait 2 or 4 or 6 hours in line, jeopardizing their jobs and their children’s safety. The net result was rage on the part of the people whose vote you tried to suppress. That anger more than filled the “enthusiasm gap,” and those folks came out like never before to vote. Your tactics backfired. Oh, I know, I know… You think that you did not do this at all… that it was some other nefarious force sabotaging voter rights to make you look bad. But these people PERCEIVE that you tried to stop them from voting, and perception is everything. How can you correct this perception? Work openly to reverse voter suppression, and support the Voter Empowerment Act. Become known as every voter’s advocate and friend.
 
8. Define fiscal conservatism as more than just eliminating taxes and regulations for business and banking. I know it is near and dear to your hearts, Republicans, but this continuing crusade to reduce taxes for the wealthiest 2% of Americans just isn’t going to fly anymore. At least 60% of Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. And since we have all been suffering through the Great Recession for over four years, we certainly do not buy the line that simply removing regulations from business and banking and allowing the free market to have its way will work at all. We know too much now. We know that greed is part of human nature and will take over if unchecked. We are also smart enough to know that the math for balancing the budget and paying down the national debt will not work if you refuse to add more tax revenues into the equation and insist on increasing military spending, as did Mitt Romney in his ill-fated campaign. 
 
A lot of people are naturally fiscally conservative — even some moderates and some liberals. But you are going to have to say more than just “no taxes or regulation,” to get more of the fiscally conservative vote. You will need to outline detailed plans and programs that define fiscal conservatism, in a way that makes intuitive sense to strapped middle class householders who are desperately trying to balance their own budgets, pay down their debts, and stay afloat financially in the midst of a recession. You will also want to explain to voters how your fiscal policies will help them to do that in their personal lives.
 
9. Revive the moderate wing of the Republican Party. After last Tuesday, isn’t it time to give the electorate a moderate option within the GOP again? I’m old enough to recall when there was a liberal wing of the Republican Party — George Romney was one of them, ironically, and, of course, Nelson Rockefeller. Today American politics has moved so far to the right that I sometimes feel I cannot find any moderates in either party, let alone liberals. But, of course, you do have moderates — very highly respected individuals within the GOP — Gen. Colin Powell, Ambassador John Huntsman, Gov. Chris Christie, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and others. If it is true that elections are won in the center, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to offer the electorate some centrist candidates? And while you are at it, stop holding so many debates in your primaries. They only force everyone to the extreme right.
 
10. Stop obstructionism and make an effort at bipartisan collegiality and communication. Ever since Sen. Mitch McConnell vowed that his only job was to insure that Barack Obama would be a one-term president, and the Tea Party substituted hostile obstructionism in place of governing, every last vestige of simple civility, let alone comity and collegiality has vanished from Capitol Hill. Serious professional legislators like Republican Senator Olympia Snow are leaving public service, citing the loss of a civil climate essential for governing as their reason. The entire electorate is sick to death of this obstructionism and lack of civility in public life. We miss the days when Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy used to hurl barbed, amusing comments and insults at each other on the floor of the Senate by day and then go out with a bipartisan group for a convivial evening of banter and laughter over drinks and dinner in the evenings. That was healthy for the Republic. The hatred and despair that we see now on Capitol Hill are poisonous and ruinous to the future of governance. It must stop now.
 
Oh, I know, I know… You feel that this is all the fault of the Democrats, not the Republicans, and it has been pinned on the GOP by the biased liberal press. Okay fine. Let’s say you are right. But the electorate PERCEIVES the obstructionism and lack of civility as coming primarily from the Republican side of the aisle, and perception is everything. So how can you reverse that perception? YOU be the bigger people. YOU take the high road. YOU, Republican Senators and Congress people, should agree that starting today you will invite a bipartisan group of colleagues for drinks and dinner every evening when in Washington D.C. and make every effort to have a good time and maintain a civil tone in everything that is said and done. This is what the American people want. If you restore civility in public discourse and governance, you will begin to win again.
 
What will be left of conservatism if Republicans adopt these ten steps? Classic conservatism — the high-minded thinking conservatism of decades past — would have adopted all of these ideas without difficulty and considered them a natural part of conservative philosophy. Here’s just a partial list of what’s left: Strict constructionist constitutional interpretation; fiscal conservatism that seeks to balance the budget and pay down the debt; overwhelming military might seems to be popular across the political spectrum (I’m sad to observe;) permissive gun ownership rights (God help us;) capital punishment (God forgive us;) strong law and order programs; smaller centralized government; more power to local and state governments; pro-business policies; superpower policing of international law and order (ill-advised, in my opinion;) expansion of democracy on the planet; support for moral and ethical decency; religious liberty; and the maintenance of an unbiased, objective judiciary.
 
And… my apologies. I must end this long list of criticisms withone final insult that I hope my Republican friends will consider: Did I mention that it’s all about perception? Today the increasingly brown and young, modern electorate perceives the Republican Party as an outmoded group of very white, much too old, overly male, mean-spirited and grumpy, obstructionist bigots, who care only about preserving power and wealth for the white privileged upper class, and have no clue about what is really happening and changing in America today. I’m very sorry, but that is how you are perceived.

If you want to win again, listen to the young people within your own ranks. They see that America is quickly becoming a minority majority. They know that same-sex marriage is no skin off their own noses and inevitable. If you don’t believe me, listen to Megan McCain and her mom. Your own young people know that the planet is warming so rapidly and dangerously that the very existence of future generations is threatened. Republican youth understand intuitively that power is shifting to women and it is time to get on that band wagon. They know that civil discourse and promoting the right of all Americans to vote is the proper and honorable way to go. 
 
If you want to win the midterm and 2016 elections, you will need to adopt at least steps 1, 2, and 3. Please do, for your own survival. We liberal Democrats need you. We miss the debates and discussions we used to have with you. Those arguments helped both of us define ourselves. We all need the contrast with one another to know what we believe. The dialogue is healthy for democracy and essential for a vibrant America. So, come back to life and sanity, Republicans! Find your way out of the corner into which you have painted yourselves, conservatives! We all need you and we miss you. You are part of our great American family!
 
Love, – Kevin

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO MAD

by Kevin

Money Screws Up Everything!

Sometimes I just hate money. It screws up everything. Any first grader can see that I was born to be an artist. So, of course, I’ve spent the last 22 years as a business consultant to Fortune 500 companies. It was my own fault that I didn’t make any art during most of those years, but I forgive myself. I’m not the only one who would say that if it were not for having to make money, they would be doing something else. People should do what they were born to do, shouldn’t they? Yes… but money screws up everything. For decades some of my more idealistic friends have been urging, “Give up that job! Follow your dream! You are an artist!” Well… I AM an artist, and I AM following my dream, but I don’t want to starve in the gutter. So I have worked full time at my job and then performed a second full time vocation “following my dream” as an artist.

Even pleasure is evaluated according to how much money you pay for the experience. If you go on an expensive cruise or spend time at a fancy resort, everyone assumes you had a wonderful time. If you stay at home and sit in your backyard garden, the same people feel sorry for you. Frankly, I’ve had some truly lousy times on cruises and at fancy resorts, and some of my best times in my own garden, so the price tag on a vacation is a false indicator of its value. Money does not equal fun.

Money madness takes on much more serious forms as well. To get a lot of money, or only what they perceive to be a lot of money, some people are willing to steal, murder, betray loved ones, enslave each other, demean and prostitute themselves and others, and do all manner of illegal, immoral, cruel, awful things. Money basically brings the worst out in people. Why does everyone love it so?

Money is making a mess of our society right now. The Occupy Movement has famously pointed out that the richest 1% of U.S. people holds more wealth than the other 99%. They are doing their best to hold onto more power than the lower 99% too. In fact they are attempting to destroy the middle class. Scranton, PA is broke and the mayor has announced that they are now going to pay their fire fighters and police force minimum wage! Hard working teachers, civil servants and salt-of-the-earth blue collar union members are under attack. As median household wealth drops, people are afraid that others are getting more than they do, and they resent their friends and neighbors having a retirement plan or health insurance or a decent hourly wage. Money envy yields dangerous results.

Meanwhile, the apparent Republican nominee for the presidency may be worth about a quarter billion dollars. Nobody knows, because a great deal of his wealth is hidden in offshore accounts all over the world. Like all his wealthy friends, Mitt pays less than 15% taxes on his income while you and I pay over 30%. I don’t begrudge him his wealth, unless it was ill-gotten, but I do think he should pay his fair share of taxes – as much as you and I pay. President Obama has generously proposed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000. Even billionaires would get that much of a tax cut, and then the rest of their temporary Bush income tax break would be rolled back to pre-Bush levels. But Romney and the Republicans want the fat cat tax breaks to become permanent. Discrepancies in fairness, like this one, around money and taxes make everyone mad, including me. Money is power, and those who have it often prove capable of stacking the cards in their favor for getting even more.

There’s No Money in Heaven

I certainly hope there is no money in Heaven. One of the things I look forward to enthusiastically about graduating from this mudball and moving on to the next realm is getting rid of money! I cannot imagine money being part of Heaven, can you? Of course not. Money is “the root of all evil.” There couldn’t possibly be any money in Heaven. We won’t need to eat or worry about shelter, since we will be angels, sleeping on clouds or something. We won’t have to buy cars, since we will be able to fly, right? In Paradise we won’t need any possessions other than our harps and white robes, which I assume will be issued at the Pearly Gates. We won’t have to go shopping. We won’t need money! YAY!

It’s kind of amazing, actually, that more people have not tried to come up with alternatives to money here on earth, since it is such a total pain in the ass. Barter is probably the most common effort to get around money, but it isn’t very precise, and someone is always feeling cheated, as in “I think my assistance building your barn was worth more than this one old goat you gave me!” Communes have been an interesting effort to get away from money in my lifetime. Supposedly everyone works as hard as they can for the good of the community without receiving any money to show for it. But then somebody is always slipping into lazy freeloading, and that causes resentment. Besides, most people do want to have a few possessions of their own and a little bit of privacy.

In our society the conservatives loudly proclaim the supremacy of unregulated capitalism – not what I expect to find in Heaven. Even in the material world, capitalism is beginning to look a little shaky. The unfettered economy of extraction, exploitation and abuse of resources, nature and people is ruining societies and our environment. It is increasingly clear that the powerful wealthy elite 1% is succeeding in redistributing wealth from the middle and lower classes to the extremely wealthy. The Republicans are very open about wanting to shred any semblance of a security net, and get rid of all social programs – eventually even Medicare and Social Security – leaving the poor to die in the streets and the remnants of the middle class increasingly desperate and impoverished. So much for our national Christian values of feeding the poor and clothing the naked. They even seem to want to deprive all but the wealthiest families of educational opportunities, to make sure that they keep control of all the money and power. They certainly don’t want another president like Obama, because he believes in fair taxation, equal opportunity in education and work, and fair pay for work done.

It’s a battle royale on planet earth right now over money, whether you want to talk about the Arabian oil fields, or the European Union, or extreme Third World poverty, or the increasing polarization of the U.S. classes. So I guess we’ll have to wait for our halos, wings and harps before we can look forward to living without money. Capitalism will catapult us into Heaven more quickly, however.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

Here on earth we are caught in a veritable rat race for money, money, money! My 87-year-old dad points out that back in the 50s, when I was a kid, a good middle class life meant a small modest home with one car in the driveway, a washing machine, and a black and white TV set with three channels… maybe a radio and a stereo, too, if you could afford them. That was a good life. Now we think we are utterly deprived if we can’t have a gigantic house and a big garden shed full of lawn equipment, one car for each family member of driving age, plus some additional recreational vehicles, unlimited high speed Internet access, cable TV with hundreds of channels in almost every room, endless travel and entertainment, huge closets full of clothing, phones in every pocket, college educations for everyone, major retirement savings and more insurance than you can shake a stick at.

 Insurance… now there’s a money pit! I pay for auto insurance for three cars, home and fire insurance for two properties, phone line repair insurance, $500/month for my own health insurance and $1,000/year for professional liability insurance because I’m an independent contractor and an artist with a display room downtown, $2,250/year for disability insurance, lots of life insurance, and I probably have insurance for my insurance! I feel guilty because I don’t have dental insurance and long term care insurance. I know I’m irresponsible for not having those, but I just cannot afford anymore damn insurance! Give me a break! That’s another good thing about going to Heaven… You don’t have to buy insurance in Heaven. You’re already dead!

Money may make the world go ’round, but it makes my head spin! I hate the way people respect you more if you make a lot of money and suspect you of being subversive if you choose not to make as much money as you could, or not to display ostentatiously how much money you make. And if you ever sell your big house, pay off all your debts and radically downsize, you will find out that people resent you for dropping out of the money rat race. “How dare you reject the game! You can’t do that!”

Living With Less

Oh yes we can… we CAN live with less… a whole LOT less. It was a very short time ago that people lived with less than we can now imagine. When my father was a boy, his home had no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They weren’t terribly poor. Those things just hadn’t reached many of the rural areas yet. They worked the farm, milked the cows and tilled the fields by the rhythms of the rising and setting sun, the weather and the seasons. They lived close to the land and their animals. Forget the 50s with the one car, TV set, and washing machine. In my father’s youth there was virtually no technology except for a few gasoline engines and 19th Century mechanical devices. At that time he could not have imagined our smart cell phones, iPads and computers facilitating instant and constant communications and business dealings; our global jet travel; our video-game-like drone warfare; and all of our gadgetry, amenities and luxuries. A light bulb and an indoor toilet and plumbing were life-changing luxuries to him.

It is time to live more simply again. Our extraction and pollution economies and technologies are raping the planet and killing it as a livable home for plants, animals and humans. We are starting to see that all around us now. We had no winter this year. Colorado has burnt up. Thousands of heat records were shattered by the end of June. Millions of households had to survive temperatures over 100 degrees with very high humidity without any electricity for air conditioning for a week. What will August be like? We have to reverse Global Climate Change if we want to survive. We have to change how we live and be willing to live with much less. We have to become friends with the Earth and the plants and animals again. Their fate will be ours.

You Can’t Take It With You

Money is not the key. You can’t take it with you. It won’t offer you permanent happiness. Money applied intelligently might be able to improve conditions for all life on earth and for the environment, but so far we are applying it to commit suicide. So it’s not working. Money is not working for us.

But enough of this frivolity. Let’s get serious. I have bad news: We are all going to die. If we are lucky, we will get old first, and then die. I have made a personal study of the aging process. Growing old is about giving up things bit by bit until we finally have nothing and then we let go of the body. At that point we will leave the material world of money, utterly penniless, whether we had billions when we died or nothing at all. Death is the great equalizer. It enforces the ultimate equitable wealth distribution. You may have gotten the impression that s/he who dies with the most money and toys wins. But it ain’t true. Only the intangibles that have fed and defined our souls stay with us. Money, or “mammon,” will mean nothing to us at the moment of our graduation to the next realm.

I’ve never been a Bible thumper, but the words of Christ say it best. There is so much unchristian Christianity going around these days. So, don’t take my word for it… Listen to the source:

Matthew 6:19-33

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

BONJOUR, MONSIEUR LE PRESIDENT

By Paul

France elected François Hollande president of the Republic this past weekend, replacing Nicolas Sarkozy, in a contest that pitted against each other two very different ways of addressing the financial crisis that has plagued Europe, and the rest of the world, for the past several years.  Sarkozy seemed to represent to the majority of French voters all that went wrong in the first place:  the indifference and arrogance of the powerful and the moneyed over the lives of everyday working people.  But Hollande, a Socialist in the classic French vein, has a Herculean task ahead of him.  He will have to come up with some kind of plan that calms everybody down a bit, including those who voted for him in the first place, those who voted for Sarkozy (still some 48% of the French electorate), the Germans, the rest of Europe, the Americans, the markets, and just about everybody else in the world, it would seem.  He’s going to be a busy man.

Greece, too, had something of a troubled weekend.  The results there were not quite as clear-cut as in France, but still things got pretty badly shaken up.  Given a parliamentary style of government, the winner of the majority of votes had three days to attempt to piece together a ruling coalition from among an enormously fractured and fractious bunch.  That didn’t work, and so now others are trying, although with very little hope of succeeding.  The Conservatives initially came up with the most votes, but even so that was a measly 20%.  Their archenemies, the Socialists did even worse, getting less than 14%, a paltry amount given the former popularity of both parties.  In the end, the basic message seems to have been the axiomatic: throw the bums out!  Unfortunately, some of the bums are probably still going to have to attempt to work together to solve very basic problems, along with a few other parties now thrown into the mix.  These others include the radical leftists (neo-communists?), who got over 16% of the vote, and those far-right anti-immigrant thugs, the so-called Golden Dawn Party, which came away with almost 7% of the vote.  Add to all this muddle one other very important, if rather stark, item, namely, that it could also be said that one of the big losers this past weekend in Greece was none other than the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her politics of European austerity.

But why should we even care very much what happens on the other side of the Atlantic?  Yes, of course, we all know that world markets are impossibly intermingled these days, and so from that point of view, if the thread breaks in Europe, the garment can quickly unravel in the United States, as well.  So, there is that to keep in mind.  And as a result, no one should be surprised that the markets have developed a serious case of the heebie-jeebbies.   But aside from these considerations of intertwined markets, the basic politics of the situation in Europe may not be all that different from what’s playing out right here in our own backyard.

It’s probably unfair and maybe even a little dangerous to make too many one-for-one comparisons between Europe and the U.S., but, well, I’ll go ahead and make a few all the same.   The first that occurs to me is the Sarkozy-Romney mix.  I don’t mean so much in terms of personality (Sarkozy appears to have something of an annoyed, and annoying, Napoleon complex, while Romney goes for a well-scrubbed and over-starched Mr. Clean look).  But each one champions the rich, and appears to be just fine with telling the rest of us to suck it up and act responsibly, the theory being that those tax breaks to the wealthy are somehow supposed to magically rescue the economy and create new jobs.  How has that approach worked so far, Monsieur Sarkozy? France is weakened and teetering economically, and the jobless rate is well over 10%. 

But still, let’s try to be fair about things.  The French debt is totally out of hand, and laws that govern how companies can hire – and fire – people are hopelessly out of whack.  Everybody is covered by a top-notch healthcare plan, toward which they pay very little at least in direct expenses, and come August, you will find très peu of the French still in Paris if you happen to visit, because they are all lounging  à la plage.  Their Greek counterparts were once able to boast similar amenities, but are now lucky to have a job of any kind, and even their once vaunted healthcare network is looking shakier and shakier.  On top of all that, both countries made a choice years ago to be part of a Euro zone, and so the threads that bind them together – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer –are today far stronger than those which bind them to the rest of the world.    

But the choices, if not the answers, for all of us appear in fact to be coming clearer.  What really does any country do that finds itself overextended on the one hand, and underfunded on the other?   The same case can be made right now to an extent here in the United States, as well.  The reasons why this is happening depend on how you see things, that is, on your politics.  On the overextension side of the equation, it has to do either with giving out too many handouts to a bunch of laggards, or possibly with having decided to wage endless wars for questionable reasons, while on the underfunding side, it would be because we’re giving too much to the little guy who doesn’t pay his own way or pull himself up high enough by his own bootstraps, or because of years of unwarranted and unwise cuts to the wealthiest of Americans in the dubious name of “stimulating the economy” (again, depending on your politics).  These are all very familiar questions that we in this country have been grappling with for a long time, but they are beginning to sound all too familiar to our European cousins now, too. 

Which ought we to choose, the approaches of Sarkozy-Romney, or of Hollande-Obama?  Which will turn out to be the better choices to get us out of the ditch and back on to the road to prosperity?  Do we cut, cut, cut, that is, taxes and services, or stimulate, stimulate, stimulate, in hopes of jump starting the economy?  The French, and to a certain extent the Greeks, appear to be opting for the latter right now.  Here in the U.S. we chose something along these lines four years ago, and – again depending on your politics – it either has, or it has not, worked.

Personally, I’m still putting my money (literally, I guess) on Mr. Obama.  Just as if I were French, I no doubt would’ve voted for M. Hollande.  If I were Greek, I don’t know what I’d do, maybe just head for the hills and hide out for the next couple of years.  But what I really don’t get is the “all austerity, all the time” approach to economic crises.  Sure, we have to save, and we have to act – and to spend – responsibly.  No question, and no argument there.  But countries get “better” economically through robust growth and expansion, as well as through austerity, and nobody, “no body,” ever got fatter by dieting. 

It seems to me that what it will come down to in the end is some kind of a fair balance between the two extremes of austerity and stimulus.  That’s what I think M. Holland will have to try to do in France.  And that’s what Mr. Obama has attempted for the past four years, but that is not what M. Sarkozy has done, nor is it what Mr. Romney would do, if he could.  So, I’m with the French on this one – je suis avec les Français!    And OK, I’ll admit up front to being something of a Francophile.  But you don’t have to sit down every morning to croissants and café au lait in order to know that both sides have got to compromise in order for us to get out of the mess we’re in. 

So, finally, what I say is: vive la France, vivent les Etats-Unis, vive Monsieur Hollande, et vive Monsieur Obama.  Oh, and yes, God help them all, vivent les pauvres Grecs, as well.

THE TYRANNY OF AMERICAN OPTIMISM

Relentless Dogmatic Positivism

vs.

Critical Thinking, Realism, Affirmation and Action

By Kevin

A Personal Rant

The title for this essay is also the name of the illustration – “The Tyranny of American Optimism.” I cannot take credit for the phrase. I don’t know who first said it. I heard it at a time when I was suffering from this peculiarly American drive to suppress rational discrimination and realism in favor of relentless dogmatic positivism. Some family members, friends and work associates were criticizing me for what they saw as my pessimistic views about the world and human behavior – perspectives that I felt were rational and realistic. They were, and still are, uncomfortable when anyone talks about Global Climate Change, or the theft of U.S.elections, or when someone warns of impending economic collapse due to unsustainable financial practices.

There is a tendency toward Orwellian mind control in American society, attitudes and business. We are attempting to spread our thought policing methods of relentless dogmatic positivism throughout the world along with McDonald’s and Starbuck’s. Orwell’s “1984” is especially evident in corporate America. Enron was allowed to bankrupt its investors and defraud the business community and the world without anyone questioning its corrupt ways. Wall Street got away with selling disastrous credit default swaps and poisoned derivatives to us, very nearly pushing the world into global depression, and nobody asked how these impossibly complicated financial instruments really worked. Despite our very close call with total financial collapse since the economic house of cards fell down in mid-September, 2008, we are still hearing demands for total deregulation of the financial industry. Many people even now want to blindly trust the greediest among us with our future. Shouldn’t we stop for a minute and rethink our reckless ways?

What’s Positive about Positive Thinking?

There is a lot that is positive about positive thinking. In order to be spiritually and psychologically and physically healthy one must lead an affirmative life. That is to say, we need to envision, affirm, and focus with gratitude upon what is good in life – Spirit, Love, Wisdom, Hope, Creativity, Vitality, Prosperity – all the goodness within and around us. No practical person would ever suggest, however, that positive thinking means closing our eyes to the greedy, destructive and negative forces also arrayed around us. If we did that we would not be able to prepare and defend ourselves against dangerous elements at work in the world. How do we protect our children against predators? We tell them about bad people who might try to lure them away with candy and promises of fun. We describe what can happen and ask our children to confront these unfortunate realities so that they will not fall victim to them. We have to do the same thing for ourselves as adults. We need to face potential negative outcomes, plan for them and then invent strategies to avoid and overcome them. Even while we face our worst fears we must work hard and enthusiastically to achieve our highest hopes. Ignoring potential adversity is like sending a naïve child into the woods unprepared to identify and respond to the wolves lurking there.

The Dangers of Relentless Dogmatic Positivism

Several years ago I had the privilege of serving as an instructor in an international business training seminar. At one point in our discussion I happened to mention to these business women and men from other parts of the world that in their dealings with the USA they would encounter “the tyranny of American optimism.” I explained that it was characterized by zero tolerance for questioning the current strategies, raising concerns about the business climate or practices, any form of skepticism, and any tendency to prefer autonomy and independent thought over team spirit and group activity. They all thanked me warmly for opening up that topic, admitting that they had often spoken to one another about this peculiarly American business psychology which they simply could not comprehend. They questioned me closely about it: How could it be in any way practical to require positive group thinking to the exclusion of sensible empirical analysis? How do you identify and solve problems if you are not permitted to acknowledge them? What has happened to the American spirit of individualism and freedom of expression? Why is critical thinking and evaluation now viewed as negativity in the USA?

Why, indeed? I have thought about their questions for years. Only a few beginning ideas have occurred to me about why Americans seem hell-bent on abandoning individualism, freedom of expression and personal discrimination and critical thought. I suspect it begins with our Puritan roots. We have a founding tendency toward rigid authoritarian religious dogma that shuns questioning, doubt and intellectual rigor. We tend to mistrust open-minded thinkers and intellectuals. In recent decades there has been a return to those tendencies with the powerful resurgence of right wing fundamentalism in the USA. Many Americans will admit that they like to have all their questions about how to live and think answered for them by religion. They do not want to have to struggle with doubt and questions and problem-solving. They want simple formulaic answers and they wholeheartedly embrace philosophical and religious systems that offer clear recipes for living a good life without having to think or analyze the world around them.

Simplistic dogmatic positivism is tragically dangerous in today’s world which is facing the potential extinction of the human race and other life forms as the earth becomes uninhabitable over the next 100 years due to Global Climate Change caused by human folly. There are other very dangerous and serious socio-political conflicts and problems like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, overpopulation, poverty, hunger, and potential pandemics as well. But humanity will not have the luxury of solving those problems if we don’t first save ourselves from extinction due to Global Climate Change. And yet a large portion of our population believes that all the scientists and climatologists sounding the alarm about global warming are just fear-mongers engaged in a conspiracy to destroy our economy. What possible motivation could they have to commit such a crime? All the experts agree that we are in dire trouble and must act urgently now to reverse Global Climate Change, but our attitude of relentless, simplistic dogmatic positivism keeps us in denial. While we pretend not to notice and insist that everything is fine, both polar ice caps are rapidly melting as is theGreenlandand all the glaciers. Eventually frozen methane beds in the sea floor could be released, causing exponentially accelerated warming. The oceanic base of the food chain may be disrupted, and the Gulf Stream could be altered, throwing Europe into a new ice age. Nevertheless, we ignore all the signs. I am writing this on Feb 27 in snow country, but it is 58 degrees outside and my spring flowers are coming up. Meanwhile, mega-storms spawned in warmer oceans have already devastated the gulf coast, and gigantic tornados are terrorizing American towns. And the games have only just begun. How long can humanity remain in “positive denial?” Wouldn’t it be better to face facts and take serious steps to save ourselves now?

Living a Considered Life and Taking Action

Five years ago, just weeks before the real estate bubble burst, Robert and I sold our big beautiful 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom house in the suburbs where we had lived for over nine years. We bought eleven wooded acres in the wilderness with a half-acre stocked pond, a stream and many springs. We paid off our debts with the proceeds, and we have no mortgage now. We are rebuilding a crumbling old trailer house to transform it into our painting and sculpture studios and woodshop, while improving and adding onto the little hunting cabin that has become our new home. We’re halfway off the grid, but some day we’d love to become totally energy independent. We hope to grow and can our own food. We want to learn centuries of living skills from our Amish and Mennonite farmer neighbors. We have much work to do and a lot to learn, and we are more enthused about it every day.

Some of our friends think we are insane. What we are doing threatens their commitment to the “American Dream.” We were role models. We had achieved that “dream” even though much of it was a nightmare for us, and now we have turned our backs on it in a fit of negativity some people think. How could we refuse to have credit card debts and a huge mortgage and car payments? How could we walk away from a show home that had been featured in local papers and on pond and garden tours? How could we refuse to pretend that that the world is fine, and face financial and environmental crises unprepared, in panic and horror as many people apparently prefer to do? We will just have to allow people to think us mad, for we choose to face obvious realities now and prepare as best we can, rather than to bury our heads in the sands of relentless dogmatic positivism. Meanwhile, we are very excited about our new woodland life. We love it! We do not agree that it is foolish or pessimistic to read the handwriting on the wall and respond with appropriate life changes aimed at survival for as long as possible with the highest quality of life we can create.

A life anchored in Spirit, positive affirmation and gratitude does NOT require that one must become a dogmatically optimistic automaton with one’s head in the sand. We can all live very positive, creative lives without giving up independent critical thought and analysis leading to creative problem solving and strategic planning. A considered life is still the best life. It is not enough just to decide what one wants, visualize it, think positively and wish for it to come true. Childhood words are “need, wish,” and “want.” Adults say, “I will do this” and “I will not do that,” or “I am willing to do this” and “I am not willing to do that.” It is very natural for children to engage in a great deal of magical thinking. Mature adults observe the world critically, analyze the conditions relative to their own needs and desires, and creatively solve problems and invent strategies for achieving their goals. Yes… that process involves a lot of painful confrontation of inconvenient truths, difficult soul-searching and doubt, and long hours of analyzing potential scenarios and solutions. But the alternative is living by default and blindly suffering the consequences. Living a considered life is often hard work, but the result is a rewarding sense of critical understanding, the guidance of inner conviction, and a sense of profound personal meaning in life.

Are You Angry?

It’s not hard to imagine why a lot of people are feeling angry these days, during a time of such great economic uncertainty and fiscal scarcity. Folks are mad because they’re frightened, scared that they will not have enough for themselves or their loved ones, worried that even what they do have might be lost without their being able to do anything about it, and concerned that the future may not turn out to be any better – and maybe even worse – than the present.  So, of course, who among us does not “get” these apprehensions?  And it’s axiomatic that fear can turn into anger, and from there it’s natural enough to feel that we want to lash out.  

 But if all this is so, why is it that some people express their unease – OK, their anger – by joining the Tea Party, and some choose what I would consider better, more human – more humane – ways of channeling that distress?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, but I have to admit I’m not sure I have any easy answers. 

 Here’s a story, though, that might have some bearing.  It’s about an incident that happened to me a few weeks ago, the afternoon of Pres. Obama’s State of the Union Address to be precise.  I was walking out of my gym at the same time as this very nice older gentleman whom I know who also works out there.  He’s eighty-seven years old, he told me, and he used to be a high school principal.  He and I often trade jokes about heating up the workout machines so much that the next guy can’t use them, mostly because we know our days of heating up machines, or most anything else for that matter other than maybe an electric blanket, are pretty much long gone.  He’s definitely someone whom I would consider to be a “nice guy,” funny, engaging, and personable.  So, I was a little taken aback when I heard his response to what I thought of as a pretty innocent, even innocuous, question on my part about whether or not he was going to listen to Pres. Obama’s speech that evening.  What he said was:  “Well, I suppose I’ll have to…have to listen to him tell us why he’s giving away so much of our money to people on welfare!” 

 So, what was I to think?  Is the word welfare code for “those lazy people who don’t want to work,” for people who sneak into our country only to use up our precious resources.  Or, more specifically – let’s face it – for those people of “a different color” who sponge off us good, white God-fearing Americans, who worked so hard all our lives and now deserve what we’ve gotten for ourselves, and what “they” now want to take away from us?  A lot of Americans seem to believe that the situation in the country has been reduced to a zero-sum game, that is, one wherein there are only so many goodies to go around.  It’s as if they were thinking:  “I had a third of the pie before, when there were only three of us eating it, but at this point I only get a quarter, or even a fifth of the pie, now that there are for our five of us at the table.  And on top of that, YOU guys didn’t even help MAKE the damn pie in the first place!”        

 Let me say right off that I think these kinds of simplistic explanations don’t do anybody any real service.  They’re a kind of reductio ad absurdum, in which we posit that there’s only so much to go around, and if YOU get some of what I had, then it necessarily follows that I get less.  It reminds me of politicians who compare the federal budget to somebody’s household budget.  You know, the ones who say: “Well, if parents don’t have enough money to take their kids to the movies, then they just make the decision not to GO to the movies!”  Well, of course that’s what they do.  Especially if they don’t have enough money to feed them either!  But these comparisons are not just apples and oranges, they’re more like atoms and whole star systems.  I’m not an economist, but I know that governments have always had to burrow as part of even very prudent and responsible fiscal planning, and they will probably always have to do so.  And a pie, or a movie, is not the same thing as a multi-billion dollar government program, set up to serve millions of people, most of whom, by the way, while they were working, paid into the very program that now helps them when they’re in need. 

 So, I’m not saying to anyone, don’t be angry anymore!  As much as I don’t like to admit it myself, I get mad sometimes, too.  But let’s funnel our anger at what deserves it.  Let’s get really pissed, maybe, at impersonal bureaucracy, at the wealthiest of the wealthy, who pay little or no taxes, at corporate polluters, who poison our air and our water supply, or at holier-than-thou preachers, who use God as a cudgel to beat us up with and who claim to have a monopoly on knowing what God says about how to live.   I definitely could get behind some good old anger at all of these.  But not at people who struggle on a daily basis to find a job, not at those who can’t put food on the table for themselves or their kids, not at those who have to choose between eating dinner and paying for their medication. Oh, and I have to be honest and admit as well, not at anybody who knows how to make a really good pie!  

Paul