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The Patriot: Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.
Nov. 9, 1915 – Jan. 18, 2011

Shriver on Time mag cover 1963Time, July 5, 1963

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr., died Tuesday at Suburban Hospital in Betheseda, Md. He was 95.

Better known simply as Sargent Shriver or just “The Sarge,” his life was a tireless demonstration of patriotism and the very definition of public service to the United States of America. Few before him—and perhaps none since—so profoundly blessed the lives of so many fellow citizens of this country and the world.

Continue reading “The Patriot: Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.”

The Incredible Shrinking Politician

Sarah Palin wants you to know she can’t be made to shut up or sit down.

A defiant Palin, appearing Monday night on “The Sean Hannity Show” on Fox News, theorized that Tucson gunman Jared Loughner might be a “left-leaning criminal” and said lies must not be allowed to live.

The “liars” in this case, according to Palin, are the journalists and bloggers who in the wake of Loughner’s assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, raised questions about Palin’s fetish for explicitly violent words and imagery, which Giffords herself had warned could lead to violence. Palin told Hannity: “But for now, you know, I want to join others who are saying, no, peaceful dissent and discussion about ideas, that is what makes America exceptional, and we won’t allow that to be stifled by tragic events that happened in Arizona.”

Palin condemned violence a total of three times during her appearance—not quite half the eight times she and Hannity condemned liberals during the interview.

Continue reading “The Incredible Shrinking Politician”

Of Nature v. Nurture and the One Ring

More and more, I hear President Obama’s memorial address in Tucson as a wake-up call to take responsibility for ourselves in civic and personal life—a call worth heeding by all of us, starting with particular attention to the words and deeds of that person in the mirror.

Like everyone else, I have room in the arena of political debate for improvement. So I intend to watch my words more carefully, especially words designed to wound rather than heal. I can think of a few of my posts that I would repudiate today for their unvarnished anger and vitriol, particularly a post wherein I called Juan Williams a “bootlicker” to Fox News for reasons I believed justified at the time. I see now I could have made my argument without being so disagreeable. For purposes of keeping myself honest, I won’t remove these posts from the historical record here. They must stand as a reminder to myself, if no one else, of how we all can be tempted by righteous anger to use words badly, carelessly, improperly and yes, even brutally, just to make our points. Just to make my points.

Today, I watched three very instructive Sunday morning programs on the major broadcast networks. All were appropriately somber and serious discussions of the massacre in Tucson. “Meet the Press” dealt in a soul-searching but civil way with societal intervention for violently deranged individuals, the limits of gun access and the responsibilities that go with partisanship. “Face the Nation” was also along these lines.

The best of the programs today was “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour, who stepped things up several notches by hosting a town hall meeting with Tucson residents and those hailed as heroes at the scene of the tragic carnage. I learned more about the American spirit in that hour than I have learned in many hours similarly spent in the wake of other tragedies. I saw how the impulse to help, to comfort and to sacrifice ourselves for others comes surprisingly naturally to most of us. And I saw how surprisingly cheap it came to Jared Loughner to sacrifice the lives of others as offerings to his demons.

We are left with weighty issues to consider. Guns rights versus gun safety. Patient rights versus societal rights. The individual versus government. Political power versus political restraint. Jared Loughner’s derangement versus society’s encouragement. These are conflicts we should debate as Americans, not as polarized enemies.

Somehow this morning, watching the last of the three programs, it occurred to me that all of the assertions about the lessons of Tucson boil down to the very oldest argument of Nature versus Nurture—that is, how our actions are a product of our innate beings versus a product of our environments and upbringings. My understanding is that, generally speaking, the jury is still out.

So what are we to make of the gunman’s role and ours? There is no bright red arrow that points from either the Left or the Right to the Safeway parking lot. No arrow of culpability and none of absolution. No sign of actions predestined by others and no indication that we can safely use words to impugn the character of our political opponents, our fellow Americans.

Evil is a mystery that neither science nor religion have fully explained, though its origin has been studied by scholars of both disciplines. Whether it is a neural spark or demonic influence, what ignites our fury to such appalling ends remains to us mythic, like the One Ring of Tolkien’s fabled Middle Earth. As a prism for understanding the mass murder of six people and the wounding of many more last week in Tucson, Tolkien’s tale of the One Ring (or Eden’s apple, if you prefer) teaches us that at its dark heart, evil is the absolute corruption of absolute power, a weapon none of us can use safely. That lesson was beyond Jared Loughner, who intended to kill as many people as he could in a fleeting spree of forbidden power over life and death. It is not beyond those of us in politics or media who teeter like Gollum on the edge of our soapboxes, tempted to wield the power of words at any cost.

*Cross-posted at Tripper John’s Big Tent

The Grievous Ambitions of Sarah Palin

Is Sarah Palin completely tone deaf?

It’s a fair question to ask, given Palin’s decision to deliver the keynote address at the Safari Club International gun convention in Reno, Nev., on Jan. 29—barely two weeks after she expressed grief in her recent video that “Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.”

Clearly, Palin’s statement shows she understands that words and presumably, actions, have power to incite violence. Yet she has no qualms about sending exactly the wrong message in the wake of this month’s attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the tragic mass murder of six people in Tuscon. So how can Palin, who contributed greatly to the GOP’s new House majority, break ranks so jarringly with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, whose mourning for those slain and injured in the shootings seems appropriately bereft of partisanship and belligerence?

Perhaps Palin had scheduled the event in advance. Perhaps she feels that pending gun control legislation offered by Democrats and Republicans alike, is important to resist as early as possible. Or perhaps she deems it more important to send a message of gun rights than a message of accountability, soul-searching and healing.

Perhaps, even, all of the above. If so, Palin’s decision to place the occasion of her paid remarks so close to the occasion of the Tuscon atrocity is just more of why the minds of so many instinctively leap to her in the wake of such chaos and blood. Whether for affirming the values of gun owners or alarming those who worry about where her militant rhetoric may lead, Palin comes to mind all too easily in the shooting’s aftermath and for essentially the same reason: her unapologetic views of politics and guns.

No national figure in liberal politics accused Palin of controlling Jared Lee Loughner’s actions. At the memorial for the shooting victims, President Barack Obama specifically rebuffed those in the blogosphere and other media who cast too much blame on the other side too quickly. Conservative media are now blaming Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for Gifford’s death, even though his department apparently was unaware she had scheduled the constituent meet-and-greet where the shooter worked his horror. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh earlier had tripped over themselves to cast Palin as a victim of liberal point-scoring, even as they scored points against liberals with unfounded accusations that Loughner is a disciple of far leftist politics. Palin, too, resorted to accusing the left of inciting violence, though the only fire she has come under is questioning of her word choices.

Palin has never apologized for her word choice, not even once. As the former half-term governor and political kingmaker toys with a presidential run, pushes her books, rallies gun owners and dismisses any accountability for her speech and tactics, it is more than appropriate to examine her conduct and ambitions. One need not utter a syllable about the Arizona massacre to ask where our country is heading when the rhetoric and imagery of violence not only frames our debate about gun rights but how we speak of fellow Americans with whom we disagree no matter how innocuous the issue. How far down that dangerous road does Sarah Palin wish to take us? And assuming Jared Lee Loughner never even heard of Sarah Palin, can we possibly trust that every violent mind loose in the nation will interpret political fixations with violence as mere political posturing?

If, to paraphrase German war strategist Carl von Clausewitz, war is the continuation of politics by other means, one has to wonder why Palin so often fuels her ambitions by casually implying that politics be the continuation of war.

Obama’s best defense

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is following up on Republican midterm election gains with an aggressive appeal to make Barack Obama a one-term president. McConnell already is calling for Republicans to oust Obama in 2012 and spreading word that the Republican agenda can’t go anywhere until Obama is gone.

Translation: The Tea Party promises to oust any Republican who cooperates with Democrats (buh-bye soon, Lindsey Graham), so the GOP is now more vested in partisan gridlock than it was in Obama’s first two years in the White House. Republicans intend to block Democrats from passing any of the president’s agenda. The newly Republican House, led by Speaker John Boehner, will strip from appropriations bills every dollar of funding for implementation of health care reform. The GOP will grind the old axes of tax cuts, small government and deregulation, with a few red-meat issues thrown in to satisfy the raving lunatics.

So why does the president humble himself as having orchestrated the “shellacking” of Democrats, when the best defense against the Republican horde is a a good offense? More than ever, this president needs a spinal transplant.

It is past time to rattle the GOP cages. The debunking of right-wing lies is long overdue. Can Obama finally start putting the Republicans in the hot seat to justify their stupid ideas and their lack of any realistic ones? Shouldn’t the president start pushing an agenda that actually does overreach, so that he has room to negotiate without bargaining away core principles? Can’t Democrats find a few hot-button issues the electorate will favor at the expense of conservatives, who routinely throw such ideas on the wall until something sticks? Where is Democratic ingenuity and populism when you need it?

Offer up to the American public a grand design of the principles and poetry Democrats should have fought with in 2009 and 2010: infrastructure spending that would make every Joe Sixpack drool, a package of job creation that would make FDR blush at his lack of imagination, deep cuts in wasteful military programs (especially where contracted in red states). And pay for it all without raising taxes. Beat the GOP at its own game by making them fight on our turf.

And stir the Democratic base by becoming the living, breathing incarnation of this passage from Ezekiel (and Pulp Fiction): “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

Work with the Republicans, Mr. President? No sir, you’ve tried that already, and everything we both care about has taken a shellacking for your efforts. For they will not work with you but have declared political war at any cost.

Mr. President, make them pay.

Heart, Soul and Strategy

A few early thoughts about “What do Dems do now?” after the midterms:

1. Begin NOW to parse the lay of the land in the coming reapportionment and battle over redistricting. Republicans picked up 690 seats in state legislatures as a result of yesterday’s midterms, flipping the lawmaking bodies of 22 states to GOP control. The midterms thus have set up the certainty that Republicans will control redistricting and the potential they will gain at least a dozen or more U.S. House seats in 2012.

The population shift recorded by the 2010 Census is expected to trigger the redrawing of congressional boundaries in at least 18 states, eliminating districts mostly in Democratic-friendly Rust Belt states and carving additional districts into Republican strongholds in the Deep South and in a swath of western states that winds from Washington state down through Nevada to Texas, which alone is set to gain four seats. So Democrats should begin now to identify the state laws affecting redistricting, the different kinds of authorities (from heavily Republican legislatures to non-partisan commissions) that will draw the maps and the process of approval.

Tomorrow, Dems should begin grooming candidates to run in the new districts and figuring out who will step aside in districts that will get merged. And finally, Dems need to put together an overall strategy for surmounting the challenges of this more difficult environment.

2. Liberal groups must start passing the hat NOW to fund massive ad campaigns, laying the groundwork for the fight to fend off Republican repeal, replacement or de-funding of health care reform. Dems have to make the reform law the most cherished body of rights and benefits  the GOP ever threatened.

3. Democrats must learn NOW how to be as bipolar as Republicans. In other words, Dems must be of two minds, and in several ways. We must press our principles always, but know when to negotiate (only when we must). We must not deliver concessions without gaining them in return. And we must fight like hell and never be afraid to show righteous anger, an emotion seemingly absent from the temperament of our president. We must present our case honestly on every issue, but never allow irrelevant details to distract from the larger message and the basic truth. We must learn how to talk with independents and lead gently, but we must legislate boldly and campaign ruthlessly.

In essence, Democrats need to show more heart to voters, more soul to the base and put more Carville-style Kevlar in our strategy.