Loving Our Country and Hating Our Presidents

Posted February 27, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Two very low points in American History in my lifetime were the resignation of Richard Nixon and the decision by Lyndon Johnson to not seek reelection. I recently watched the movie Selma. I felt the pain of President Johnson struggling with the Voting Rights Act, knowing that it would lose the South for the Democratic Party for years to come. The office of President of the United States is the most visible and most important role in shaping human destiny, at least since World War I.

I was fortunate to have had a sidewalk vantage point for the inaugural parade of John Kennedy in 1961 when I was 24 after having cast my first vote. In 1993, I watched the inauguration of Bill Clinton from a distance beyond recognition of anyone on the podium, an experience I shared with my 18-year-old daughter. There is excitement in watching the inauguration of your President of choice.

As history is written and revised, former presidents are mocked in ridicule or deified; remembered with belated praise or defamation, and compared to and listed among the best and the worst. There are parallels in the elections of 2000 and 2008. As the Florida Court decided to suspend the count of contested ballots we witnessed the contradiction of the popular and electoral vote majorities. While Democrats were still in a state of denial, we were attacked on 9/11 and the nation rallied behind President Bush. It was one of our highest moments of national unity and spirit of patriotism.

In the ensuing years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we grew war weary. An eight-year reign of a Republican administration, with mounting casualties and impending financial disaster, came to a painful and unpopular end. Our election cycles of four or eight years are chronicles of the rise and fall of heroic figures.

As we begin the seventh year of the Obama administration, we remember the Bush administration. We watch the comparative numbers of approval and disapproval ratings, and surveys of right track or wrong track for the direction our country.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were elected and inaugurated at times when America was angry at itself, or at least angry at each other. In each case we faced the paradox of wishing for, and contributing to, the failure of each President. We have now spent fourteen years dedicated to demeaning and opposing our presidents. We have questioned their intelligence, their religion, the behavior of their children, and ultimately their love of country. We have perpetuated and exaggerated the anger from our reluctant acceptance of losing.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like Vietnam, were prolonged, without a clear purpose, and continue to be costly in deaths and broken bodies. The wars were fought by a voluntary military with multiple deployments and dismal support from a disaffected populace and a hawkish but conservative Congress.

Among the most significant moments in the Obama administration, were the earliest meetings of the Republican Congress and the alleged commitment to make President Obama a one-term president devolving into accusations of negativity and active intent to insure his failure.

In the aftermath of the elections of 2012 and 2014, we have the choice of impasse or compromise. We have listened to the Conservative Political Action Conference and Rudy Giuliani; followed the clash between Speaker Boehner and the President over the invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And we ask, “How can we proclaim our love of country, our patriotism, and our moral integrity, in a sustained effort to promote and find delight in the failures of our Presidents?”

God’s Country Music and Democrats

Posted February 20, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

I spend a lot of time studying the contradictions of my life. I grew up in an environment of a fundamental, conservative Democratic South and somewhere in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights and anti-war movements found my earliest contradictions. Without having to move my residence or go through a religious epiphany, I became a liberal Democrat and something I might define as a rational Christian. I was raised on Country and Gospel music. In my second book, The South Side of Boston, there is a chapter called “God’s Country Music.” The title has a double meaning of whether it was God’s music or the music of God’s country. If you grew up in this environment you understand.

I wrote, “People make up songs about sad things. Folks in the country like songs about dying, about being lonesome, about being sick, or not having any money. I think country folks feel better when they’re not very happy about anything.”

On a more spiritual note, “Grand Ole Opry people sing songs about dying and going to Heaven. They sing about the old rugged cross, the sweet-by-and-by, about gathering at the river, crossing over Jordan, and being washed in the blood of Jesus.”

Then there is the patriotism, “At school we mostly sing songs about being Americans, and God blessing us, and purple mountains, and bombs bursting in air, and the flag. We sing one song about Christians marching onward, and I don’t know if that’s a church song, a school song, or what it is. I don’t know why Christians would be marching like they were in a war or something. “

This was written from the perspective of an innocent, and maybe naïve, eight-year-old boy who grew up in a one room school and a one room church, in 1944 during World War II. With very few exceptions, the friends and cousins with whom I shared that place and time are now very conservative Republicans. When I was campaigning for the State Legislature this Summer I visited a restaurant in the community in which I was raised and asked the patrons to sign my qualifying paper. I was among people who knew my family, who had known me all of my life. After I told them I was running in the Democratic Primary, many refused to sign my paper.

I have tried to decide what happened in the lives of southern people that led them to not trust their government for six years. I wonder why, if they still identify with country music, the same literal interpretation of the Old Testament, with stock car racing, with the tradition of raising food and milking cows, and defend the little people, and no longer identify with the demographics of the Democratic Party. Most of them who are not farmers, work for somebody else or the government. They still don’t like big corporations or rich people. Many come from a family tradition of union membership. They probably grew up in home that had a portrait of President Roosevelt on the wall or over the fireplace. They send their children to public schools, usually on a bus, and would give the last bite of their sandwich to a hungry stranger.

They accept the logic and fairness of integrated schools. They agree in principle with the voting rights legislation; no one should be denied the right to vote. I don’t think they were offended at President Johnson’s civil rights statement about “losing the south.” They probably watch the scenes from the Selma with the same sense of regional and ancestral pain that I feel.

Most of my friends accept and appreciate my success in owning my own business. It doesn’t bother them that I wear a tie everywhere I go. We all have come to expect to send our children to college, and we no longer fear people who have a degree in something. It is okay to leave the family farm and live in town. There is no negative stigma about having written a book. Most of us are not as “country” as we used to be, even though we might wish we could have kept most of the good parts. I have found that most of the principles that I embrace as liberal, my friends also embrace as traditional family values that come from the same Bible we all read, and fit them into their interpretation of and preference for conservatism.

I have been impressed when Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have publicly made supporting statements about President Obama, at a time when you would assume that if you were in the field of country music or automobile racing you were a conservative Republican. When I was campaigning, I tried to limit my conversation to public education, which was the only reason I ran for the office. I felt public education was under attack by the political organizations that country people did not like and did not trust. Yet, most of the comments were from distrust, or dislike, of President Obama. They didn’t trust Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, or Rachel Maddow or Al Sharpton, and didn’t want government health care or handouts, an abortion, a same-sex partner, or a background check to buy a gun. They were sure children were learning something in Common Core and liberal textbooks that was not good for them.

Since then, I have contemplated the debates on health care, on corporate and personal tax rates, on social security and Medicare, on the Keystone Pipeline and corporate confiscation of property, government regulation of coal mining and clean air and water, the Walton Family and big-box retailers, and the Koch Brothers, and bank bailouts, and the cost of endless wars, Israel and Palestine and the Middle East, academic standards and textbook content, cheap Chinese labor, and television preachers and big churches, and I wonder what happened to me or to the country people that I used to know, while we sat together and listened to Roy Acuff, Marty Robbins and Eddy Arnold.

Fact, Fable, and Fallacious Reasoning

Posted February 12, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

With the news that NBC has disciplined Brian Williams for speaking and repeating information that was not true, a respected icon of network broadcasting now has a damaged career. In contrast Jon Stewart is stepping down at the peak of his career as one of the most highly respected voices of credibility, though it was intended for the few.

Network television may have forsaken its role of factuality and fallen victim to a competition that thrives on commentary and the art of fallacious reasoning. Jon Stewart came to us on Comedy Central bringing his brand of satire and parody. He was able to dissect and identify the superficial and fallacious reasoning of network commentary.

In former generations, journalists were held in high esteem. I remember the careers of Huntley and Brinkley, of Cronkite and Murrow who voices were uncontested. Their message was perceived to be factual and the news anchor was there to deliver it in its purest form.

Journalists come with many titles depending on the medium. Some write fiction; some write nonfiction. Some claim factual accountability; some admit to a mission of persuasive journalism to convey the corporate propaganda. We identify our journalists as novelists, satirists, essayists, or humorists. They are reporters, columnists, news anchors, editors, and political activists.

In literature, we separate fiction from nonfiction for appropriate shelving in book stores and libraries. Yet we know it is impossible to separate fact from fiction in the genre of historical nonfiction, the creative narrative, or in the analysis of politicized news coverage.

The misconduct of Brian Williams was seemingly and knowingly a false presentation of something that did not happen. Call it what you will, it was not true. Newscasters are held to a higher standard than news commentators. We tend to divide our television networks and editorial print into the ambiguous categories of “main stream” and “right wing.” Both terms are considered derogatory, knowingly slanted left or right. This justifies the practice of fallacious reasoning in the field of persuasive journalism.

I wonder why any public figure or journalist would put his or her credibility and respect at risk by a spoken or written misrepresentation; an ill-chosen comment; a hurtful word; or an overt display of prejudice.

Many journalists find a place of refuge in fallacious reasoning. It serves the purpose of deception and seduction without being labeled as untrue. It does not have the integrity of the fable, the fictitious story that makes a moral point often using animals as characters. Its heroes are not legendary, and its moral message is not always benign.

The aim of network television is viewership; the aim of print journalism is circulation. This is accomplished by the capture and retention of kindred minds. Those who write and publish books are not so much purveyors or truth or wisdom, but rather seekers of assent to give validity to divergent or original thought.

The many devices of fallacious reasoning have names, many in Latin, but better identified by their English names—begging the question, false dichotomy, inductive and deductive logic, faulty analogy, tautology, equivocation, and damning the source. Freedom of thought is discouraged in appeals to authority, tradition, fundamentalism, and the consensus of the proverbial, monolithic crowd. Ultimately there is the slippery slope and the red herring.

I would not try to find an excuse for Brian Williams or journalists past and present whose careers have been terminated or sidetracked by self-inflicted wounds. I would not extol undue praise for television personalities whose corporate mission it is to seduce and deceive the low-information viewer. But I know I will miss Jon Stewart.

If Not Hillary then Who in 2016

Posted February 3, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Both political parties are beginning to look toward the 2016 presidential primary in Iowa. With the departure of Mitt Romney, the Republican Party is left with only two moderate candidates—Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Jeb is burdened with his family name and a nationwide reluctance to elect a third family member. Governor Christie just made another verbal gaffe trying to explain his previous statement about vaccinations and parental choice. There is also the fear that as President, at some G7 or other meeting of heads of state, he might tell some President or Prime Minister to “sit down and shut up!”

In the most recent poll in Iowa the top four Republican choices are—Scott Walker with 15%, followed by Rand Paul 14%, Mike Huckabee 10%, Ben Carson with 9%, and another dozen or more right-wing candidates with 1 to 8%.

The Democratic Party has a very different dilemma. In the most recent Iowa poll Hillary leads with 56%, Elizabeth Warren with 16%, and Biden with 9%. The Democrats are stuck with the question, “If not Hillary then who?”

Historically, the candidate closest to the middle has an advantage with independent and undecided voters. Whatever reservations the Democrats on the left might have about Hillary would probably be offset by her appeal to independent voters and women. Hillary is perceived to be a little more business friendly and a little more hawkish than President Obama.

The other advantage for Hillary is the Republican control of the House and Senate and the low approval rating of Congress. The inability of Congress to introduce or pass legislation for alternatives to the Affordable Health Care Act and no ideas for immigration reform may be conducive for the Democrats retaining the White House.

It is difficult to determine the mood of the country. Every poll indicates that a majority of people believe we are moving in the wrong direction. But when you extend the question you find that half of the respondents think we are moving too far to the right and the other half thinks we are moving too far to the left. The wrong direction opinion reflects the antithetical extremism of the tea party and Religious Right in one direction and a liberal, progressive, and more humanistic movement to the left.

It seems that most voters are either one or two issue voters. Each voter identifies specific issues within a long list from foreign policy, economics, reproductive rights, education, and the First or Second Amendments, often with conflicting priorities. Some older people on social security and low income people often vote for Republicans with conservative positions opposing government assistance and supporting gun rights. Liberals who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are more willing to spend money and deploy the military to repel the savagery of ISIS and Boko Haram. Small business owners often are swayed to oppose the regulations that are directed at corporate monopoly and environmental harm. The Republicans seem to have a more effective media dissemination of misinformation. The Religious Right has been successful in labeling liberals and main stream Christians as secular or non-believers.

Most Democrats believe Hillary will run, or at least hope she will. Republicans have the option of forcing their nominee to the right to win a primary, and having to move back to the voter consensus in November. In contrast, Hillary comes with an established record of public service, eight years in the White House, and a logical balance of liberal and conservative principles. Currently, the polls are showing her beating any of the potential right-wing candidates by 10% or more.

Battlefields, Batons, Bombs, and Bullets

Posted January 25, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Those of us who have spent our lives in the South have different viewpoints about the preservation of battlefields and the display of authentic period weaponry. This is a meaningful addendum to our preservation of architecture, pristine landscape, and our homage to ancestry and tradition.

There is a parallel reverence for the plantation life style and the pageantry of a South that many of us are only three generations from people who were born during that era. I grew up with images of kinfolks in gray uniforms marching to defend our land against the Yankee invaders. Our landscape has become sacred land, stained with the blood of thousands of young men. Whether they died to defend or abolish slavery, or whether they died for the autonomy of region or a clash of economics or culture, they exemplify the bravery, the sacrifice, and the folly of war, and should be honored accordingly without regard for place of birth or color of uniform.

The age of the battlefield may have ended. We no longer march in formation accompanied by fife and drum as depicted in art and on book covers. We live in a culture of war with unmanned drones, snipers, nuclear devices, and the savagery of ideological sectarian terror.

As we watched the nominations for best movie we were reminded of the historical cultural and philosophical divide in America—Selma, The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and The Theory of Everything, among others. These depict heroic figures endowed with skills and limitations, intellect, obstacles, and courage for which they suffered and are now revered.

I defer my judgment on these movies until I have seen them all. I just watched Selma and I will see The Imagination Game later this week. I don’t think I can see American Sniper. I think it would be too painful for me. I lost my World War II hero, when he lost his life from a bullet from his own gun, thirty-nine years after we thought he had escaped the demons of war.

Both American Sniper and Selma have been controversial. I don’t know why Carmen Ejogo was not nominated for her portrayal of Coretta Scott King. I don’t know if the movie was an accurate portrayal of President Johnson. I don’t know if American Sniper was celebrated by conservatives as a movie about a hero, or if it appeals to a liberal audience as it depicts the lingering horror of war and death at the hands of a friend with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Until I have seen the others, I don’t know how to compare their portrayal of struggles for freedom. We all agree that World War II was a threat to world freedom and the victory in the first cyber war was instrumental in our victory. The hero of The Imagination Game came home to an appreciative country only to lose his own freedom.

The success of American Sniper is indicative of the mood of the country now. The Imagination game had a lesser audience as it portrayed a different kind of war. The Theory of Everything played to a limited and esoteric audience with a taste for intellectual heroics, held hostage by physical obstacles.

As I watched the march across the bridge in the march from Selma to Montgomery, as a liberal, I wondered if this movie would appeal to a conservative viewer. Is non-violence a fair way to fight guns and batons, and Selma not considered a battlefield? Is being willing to die for freedom in Alabama less courageous? Is this struggle for freedom less heroic than Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

Redistribution of Wealth

Posted January 19, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There is an old joke from one of the Democratic National Conventions that is meaningful in this discussion. A journalist asked one of the delegates why he favored one of the unsuccessful and unlikely candidates. He replied it was for his proposal for redistribution of wealth. He was going to take all of the money in America and distribute it equally among everybody. The journalist explained that concentration of wealth was a natural historical phenomenon of free market capitalism, and that hard working and smart people would eventually get it all back. To which the delegate replied, “But he is going to do it every Friday night.”

Whether you are a student of Keynes, Malthus, Adam Smith, or Jesus you find some common principles of distribution of wealth in the complex field of economics. Wealth changes possession through several methods—the sale of goods and services, employee compensation, profit, charity, theft, government assistance, and taxation.

Most economists believe that the ideal result of free market economics is the egalitarian near-equal distribution of wealth among an expansive middle class. Among our many human rights is the right of ownership of personal wealth and also a reverence for those things we share in common—either as part of the environment of God’s creative genius or the infrastructure and social contract of the laws and functions of a benign civil government. These include clean air and water, roads, schools, the military, fire and police, public utilities, parks, and the untouched riches of fossil fuels and the aesthetic beauty of the earth.

We define the right to own wealth either by manual labor and sweat of our brow; by monetary risk of capital; by our marketing and managerial skills; or the blessings of inheritance from the generations that preceded us. We do not expect nor would we want an imposition of financial equality by restraint of ambition or compensation for laziness or ineptitude.

From these principles we have adopted and finely tuned an economic system of free enterprise, or capitalism, with some essential government entitlements, supplements, or assistance. The history of our country includes cycles of change in the distribution of wealth. We read the narrative of former barons of industry who gained massive wealth. These created family dynasties built largely on the labor of others. These families have built our museums; financed our arts and universities; enabled the success of industry and invention; cured our diseases; built our hospitals; and established charities for posterity. More recently the unique wonders of social media and entertainment have provided disproportional wealth to individuals whose names have become icons of wealth and examples of the American miracle of compensation for skill and creativity.

In the last several election cycles we have reintroduced the concept of redistribution of wealth as either ideal or offensive government action designed to take from the rich and give to the poor. The irony of the term is that redistribution of wealth is the natural flow of the mechanics of commerce. In spite of taxation and regulation, our wealth has become concentrated in the possession of a very few, while half of our citizens are receiving some form of government assistance.

The competition of free enterprise requires some government regulation of unfair practices and poor stewardship of the environment. Not all of our human infirmities and inequities of opportunity can be remedied by funding from churches, charities, and acts of kindness. The alternative is that we embrace some standard of taxation that is proportional to the blessings we enjoy, and compassion for those who may not be able to share those blessings.

Freedom of Irreverence and Disrespect

Posted January 14, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Our First Amendment provisions for freedom of religion, speech, and printed media were the first priority of our Founding Fathers. We have imposed very few mandated limitations on free expression. We cite the principle of “clear and present danger” or “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” There are few statements of extremism that might be designated as slander, or the criminal level of libel if false and causes definable harm.

As early as the 1800 election cycle, we came to expect some degree of malicious speech in politics and the democratic elective process. Malicious speech, while protected in our Constitution, is prohibited in our Christian Bible and frowned upon by most main stream Christian denominations.

Our Bible is replete with references to and condemnation of blasphemy. This is defined as “speaking of God, or sacred entity, in an irreverent, impious manner.” Within the Christian faith, blasphemy is one of the least forgiven of enumerated sins.

We are engaged in a “war on terror.” No one would question that. This is an overt combination of acts of violence with some deranged expression of radical fanaticism often with vocal attribution to a deity or religious icon. The Koran and our Bible condemn disbelief and curse the “infidel”. Both religions condemn acts of violence. Both documents allocate vengeance and punishment to God, by whatever name. Both documents include historical acts of violence condoned by God as punishment for disobedience.

Some of the countries of the Middle East practice a theocratic suppression of the secular. Christians are being persecuted in many countries. Many countries condone acts of violence as punishment for religious violations. Women are denied many freedoms, and abused in many religious cultures.

The art of caricature and cartoon images have historically been an acceptable comedic medium within our freedom of the press. Our newspapers and magazines thrive on political and cultural satire and ridicule. Standup comics and television hosts play to a receptive audience with the foibles, frailties, and misbehavior, of politicians, preachers, and the famous or fallen heroes.

Our political satire seems to come in four and eight year cycles depending on which political party is in power. We have come to defend and repeat disrespect for our Presidents, Congress, our city officials, and all forms of civic authority.

As a nation of religious and secular morality, we are compelled to some degree of respect and reverence. While irreverence and disrespect in speech or print is protected in our democracy, we have some limitations defined by our religious documents and our theories of secular ethics.

As I visit churches, of many denominations, I am hearing a shift in the pulpit message from works and behavior, to faith and divine will and less attention to rational religion and secular ethics. We are concurrently becoming more fundamentally religious and more secular in a divided interpretation of ethics.

There is a fine line of separation in religion. As a source of comedy routines or casual jokes, religion is the most conducive subject for hilarity and ridicule. The growth of mega-church preachers and television evangelists has created a behavior and nuance of language and showmanship like no other profession. Rarely do we think of religious comedy as irreverent, and consider it rightfully earned attention and fair game for satire.

The wording and spirit of our Constitution give us great freedoms of disrespect in civil matters. Our allegiance to Christian and civil principles preclude irreverence for Jesus and the God of our Bible. Our respect for friends and neighbors, and the whole of humanity, should include some voluntary restraint of inflammatory religious expression.


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