Tag Archives: freedom

An Occupied Kind of Tea Party

The Occupy movement has done much to change the conversation in our country around issues of commerce, the worker’s plight, and the inequity that exists between the very rich and the rest of us. I am thankful that they’ve done it because the status quo discourse around those matters was painfully apathetic. There is one unfortunate aspect to what has happened in the Occupy movement that provides a chink in their armor, it’s a path that creates further division – not unity – for their cause.

I would have hoped that early on the Occupy movement would have recognized the similarities between themselves and the Tea Partiers that demonstrated a season before them. You can point out many differences but the power comes from pointing out the similarities. The Tea Party started as a rejection of the bail out of the banks – little guys vs. big guys, the workers vs. the monied classes.  They were hostile to Wall Street and the preferences showed them over Main St. It was said that they despised all things big, Big Government, Big Banks, Big Business and Big Taxes – hey, I see a solid half of values matching up. Even Big Government and Big Taxes are contested concepts and relative terms; I don’t know many people that want bigger taxes and government just for the sake of being big. Since the start of the Occupy movement – and since it is commonplace to pit folks against each other – comparisons have been made between the Occupy and Tea Party Movement.

It is time for those of us with respect for our fellow humans to try and recognize our similarities and affinities and draw from them rather than point and laugh at our differences. Originally Tea Partiers were grassroots, organically organized, and rightfully upset at a system that had discounted their opinion. These very basic and authentic roots resonate with most of us, especially the Occupy sympathizers. I for one, as a sympathizer, want to reach out to my fellow citizens and human beings. I can respectfully disagree with some points and then wholeheartedly agree with many others. We agree that our system is dysfunctional. We agree that opportunity should be fair and that favoritism is fundamentally unfair. We don’t like our tax dollars or reputations to be squandered doing wasteful or hurtful things to others. There are a host of values that we align with that could be emphasized instead of taking cheap shots and trying to “gotcha!” each other.

I come from a family and area in the Midwest where it is common that find myself in a room of loved ones that do not politically agree with me, it does not make me love them less. It used to make me like them less, but now I understand where they are coming from and the values that they hold dear. Because I also hold my values dear and would fight to uphold them, it gives me respect for my debate partner to hear their well reasoned points ring with passion and integrity. When I hear rigorous debate that ditches the sophomoric name calling and embraces ethical rules of engagement, I have hope for the future. A glorious, wonderful thing happens when we give each other the time and space to express themselves in a respectable manner: our guard relaxes, we feel safer and we open our minds to begin learning from each other. We will never all agree with each other, but we can remind each other that we are human and at least in that, we have some common values. If we are to continuing to exist, we might as well try to bring out the best in each other.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Changing the Frame

The right to bear arms

The last two posts have related to Gingrich’s surge in popularity lately and how he has positioned himself – or been positioned by advisers – to achieve that surge.  No doubt that the Republican establishment could teach the Democratic establishment a bit about good messaging and effective communication. Whether that communication is authentic is another matter and part of another post. Today I’d like to use another Gingrich moment as a jumping off point. He recently used a key tactic when framing an argument – changing the frame.

A few nights ago, the first question at the Republican debate was directed at Newt and it was a personal question relating to the bombshell interview with Newt’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich . She had said that Newt asked her for an open marriage and she would not grant it. Obviously this issue is explosive for the social conservatives that make up one of the three factions of the Republican base. As mentioned in Monday’s post, Gingrich and the Ladies, he is painfully aware that his reputation as a cold hearted womanizer does him no favors when running for office. The last thing Newt wants is to headline a Republican showcase with an airing of his dirty laundry. So what did he do? He did the only thing that might divert attention, he changed the frame.

One minute the audience was waiting to see if he would confirm or deny his ex’s story, the next we are hearing about the problems with our news media. Sure enough, most of us realize that there are plenty of problems with mainstream media in America, but the timing of his indignant response served little purpose other than pushing the current issue out of our minds. It reminds me of the comedic “look over there” schtick  – followed by running the opposite direction. However put-on his indignence might be, he did somewhat successfully execute a change of frame.

When a discussion leaves you no room for a position at all – the equivalent of “how long have you been beating your wife?” – it is time to call attention to the corner you’ve been put in and get yourself out of it. It may mean leaving some accusations unanswered, some questions hanging, and not feeling satisfied, but it is necessary to move forward.  The reason you let those unanswered feelings drop is because at that point you are not only spinning your wheels, but you are spinning your wheels while your opponent enjoys controlling the conversation.  Whether Gingrich should be held accountable for his personal life in a public forum is beside the issue; he got himself out of a jam to raucous applause. It is a good technique to know. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Authenticity matters

In communications, authenticity matters. A lot. Our authenticity meters are what make lawyers and car salesmen consistently despised over the years – and Congress currently. We all hate being lied to with a straight face – we don’t even like being fibbed to. We respect those that tell us the truth because it shows that they respect us. Mitt Romney has an authenticity issue, so does Newt Gingrich when he does events like this one (which I will deconstruct the value manipulations attempted there in the future), Obama too. They all are disingenuous in different ways – Romney has the problem of looking and acting like a spokesmodel – a little too polished for an Average American’s comfort – and then completing the role by saying whatever he thinks the customers want. Newt seems to say what he means but in his election bid, is fully involved in the posturing and manipulations of crowds and media to suit his cause – he can only “open up” when it seems it would serve his polling and/or the Republican establishment. Obama seems to speak from the heart and brain but when it comes to following through on his rhetoric, his resolve dissolves. His “compromises” undermine the principles he established verbally. The end result? Not many of us can agree that any of those three politicians are genuinely authentic and are as good as their word; when you match up their deeds with their speech, the integrity gap becomes apparent.

Rick Santorum had authenticity going for him. I really do believe that he is a man of faith that lives by his beliefs, I believe he is a family man and doing something he feels called to do, but his slip about black people getting welfare showed some of his underlying perceptions – possibly racist leanings. All of these attributes still fit into a character that some Americans really admire and want (sadly even the potentially racist part). However, when Santorum was confronted about the racist part, his authenticity fell apart.  He commented, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”  Quickly thereafter he back pedaled on the concept, saying that he indeed didn’t want African-Americans to be dependent on government – up to this point he might be guilty of not being pc but he is still authentic. His next move is what cracks that characteristic – he makes a planned statement, saying that he studied the footage of the rhetoric in question and decided that he did not say the word “black”. This is totally disingenuous and anyone who watches the footage can see that,  Santorum would have gained more respect if he simply stood his ground and apologized by his lack of sensitivity and his implication that black people are the main food stamp recipients in this country; they’re not. The Kaiser Family Foundation puts black recipients at a total of 22% of medicaid benefits. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Martin Luther King Jr.: It’s About Us, Not Him

What is it about Martin Luther King Jr. that makes him such a great American figure? He is held up as a gold standard for standing up for civil rights, he is put on par with Gandhi, some might even say Jesus. He still has a massive influence on billions of people around the globe. Dr. King did participate in radical civil disobedience – but so did thousands of others. He even died a martyr which does get one noticed, but again, thousands, if not millions of people have been martyrs of sorts in their own way, even if it was not broadcast on television. Why did he strike such a cord with so many and what did he really stand for?

Martin was an amazing orator. It wasn’t really his vocalizations – his style was kind of preachy and repetitive in it’s rising and falling tone, line after line. It was his words. They spoke to all of us. The accompanying imagery of the civil rights era certainly played a key role in winning hearts and minds, but even without those, it’s hard to not be moved by Martin’s words. He chose his words carefully, he used personal stories, he started with his values. What parent can’t relate to wanting their children to have the same basic rights and privileges that other children enjoy? That speaks to the value of equality, opportunity, and justice. What grown man can’t relate to the indignity of being called “boy”  as a reminder of a lower station in life? That insults the values of self-respect, personal responsibility, and disregards any achievements.  As a minister he spoke with a passion for his religion and called on the moral authority of God to override man made laws that were unjust. He appealed to our compassion when recalling those that had been jailed, beaten, and killed before him when they were simply insisting to be treated as any other human.

Martin Luther King Jr. was able to touch on the values of nearly every human on the planet in his speeches: he beautifully combined the two top priorities of both conservatives and liberals – authority and empathy, respectively. He did this consistently, unapologetically, and persistently. He did this while keeping his language civilized and his logic intact. His driving force was not fear. He was not a reactionary – unless you consider it a reaction to the injustices that began since before our country was founded.  Yes, it cannot be denied that Martin was an exceptional American and an inspiration, however, we still don’t necessarily get his message quite right when celebrating his life. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Glossary of terms

 Freedom may not mean what you think it means – at least not to someone else. I know you know what most of these words mean, I have this glossary because some regular words mean different things when you are talking about concepts, framing positions, and current political discourse. Clarifying terms is important when you need to be understood; here and in everyday conversation.

The Bill of Rights – The first ten amendments added to the Constitution to guarantee personal inalienable rights.  Please click here to read it.

Campaign Finance Reform – A movement that seeks to change how political campaigns are financed. Currently unlimited monies from corporations are the primary backers of major candidates. (see also Citizens United).

Citizens United – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a decision by the U. S. Supreme Court on January 21, 2010, declaring that the First Amendment prohibits placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions.

Civil – 1 : of or relating to citizens 2 : of or relating to the state or its citizenry 3 : adequate in courtesy and politeness (Merriam Webster)

Civil Disobedience – A purposeful, peaceful refusal to follow a law based on a principle or motivated by a principle. Civil disobedient actions may be planned and/or are part of a larger organization or movement.

Communism – A social and/or governmental system that is classless and all private property, land, and productions is collectively owned and operated by the people. This system has never been put in place according to the definition (in recorded history).

Conservative – Meanings vary yet are sometimes used interchangeably. 1 : a political philosophy relating to the idea of less government, creating economies to favor business, and socially conservative viewpoints. Affiliated loosely with the Republican party. 2 : an actual style of living or governing that preserves a resource, intention, or tradition. 3 : Modest and reserved.

The Constitution – The founding document of the United States. Please click here to read it.

Contested Concepts – Words or phrases that can have very different meanings and implications depending on who is using the word.

Example 1a: In my duties as his best friend, I knew that I needed to lie to the cop to validate his story.

Example 1b: In my duties as his best friend, I knew he needed to deal with this consequence so I told the cops the truth.

Example 2a: The true patriots enlisted in the service.

Example 2b: The true patriots marched on Washington to protest our nation’s military involvement.

In the first example, the contested concept is a how a “best friend” properly acts in a given situation. Even if a person doesn’t literally use the term best friend they might refer to the values that are held in the highest regard in your friendship. Those values that make a best friend vary greatly among people. A common political term is “family values”. The definition of the term is different for all. We sometimes use the term “family values” but infer a specific set of meaning that only applies to some of the audience. The second example shows how one person’s idea of patriotism can be a polar opposite of another person’s. Other common contested concepts in political discussions are words like “freedom”, “liberty”, “life”, “fairness”, “justice”, “bravery”, “cowardice”, and “equality” to name a few.

Democracy – A form of government in which involves some form of government sanctioned by the people or a majority of the people. A usual format is to hold elections but the touchstone element is that no social, economic, or hereditary class structure prohibits or favors one person over another.

Democratic Republic – The United States is a constitutionally limited democratic republic. It is both a republic and a democracy in that every citizen is born with the right to vote (at a legal age) but citizens do not directly make policy, they elect representatives to carry out the work of the government.

Dog Whistle – A verbal signal in a message that indirectly sends a message through implication and/or word choice. Many times the message is subtle and intended for only a portion of the total audience. Sometimes this device may be used unconsciously, other times it is very deliberate and covert. Either way the speaker can deny the implied message because it is not clear and direct – “code” words are used.

Example: Some think that when the candidate used the phrase “Keep America American” he was signaling the racists in the crowd that he was on their side.

Election Reform –A movement trying to create more transparency and accountability in the process of running elections. This may include a host of issues including vote counting procedures, redistricting boundaries, and voter eligibility among others.

Embody – What happens when someone not only learns new facts, but incorporates them into their belief systems and acts on them. For example, with the issue of plastic grocery bags, many people realize that reusable bags are better for the environment and they care about the environment, but it takes some time and practice to incorporate using cloth bags into your regular routine. Once it becomes habit, you have embodied the lesson you learned about changing that aspect of your behavior to benefit the environment.

Fascism – Centralized authoritarian based political thought (or regime) that puts national homogenous identity above individual liberties and is characterized by a merger of corporations and government. Opposition is violently suppressed.

Frames – Due to a lifetime of experiences, we all have built in “frames” or stories that go with our language. For instance when you read the word “zoo” perhaps images of animals or enclosures pop into your head, you can’t really help it, it’s just a literal or visual cue of how to understand our world through language. In political thought, different frames are evoked whether you are talking about “global warming” or “climate change”; one feels like a crisis, the other feels natural.

Framing – The act of being able to recognize and correct a frame when involved in discussions. When persuasive language you disagree with is used, you can call it out and offer alternatives. You can always offer to go first in a discussion to set the stage for how the topic will first be presented. You can recall points that activate an empathetic viewpoint.

Issues –Topics of discussion. Policies are made to address issues, values drive how you feel about these issues. In the hierarchy of importance, policies are second behind values; they are harder to get agreement on with someone from a differing value system. An example of issues are healthcare, education, financial accountability, unemployment, market regulation, and immigration. If you talk about values before issues and create the frame, you are more likely to get some agreement when you talk about issues.

Laissez faire – A style of capitalism that rejects any involvement from the public sector. “Unfettered capitalism” will find a balance in this theory.

Lakoff, George – Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at University of California at Berkeley.  Known for his focus on metaphors in language and the physical neural connections we make around them that influence the way we live our lives. He is a progressive advocate and proponent of focusing on values before issues and issues before policies in effective political discourse. Many of his ideas around political discourse form the core of the approach of this blog. His website can be found here.

Liberal – Political thought focused on openmindedness, liberty, tolerance and equality. A lack of allegiance to authority or tradition; open to change to continually progress the human condition to be better for all.  Synonymous with progressive.

Luntz, Frank – A pollster and Republican advisor/analyst. Runs focus groups to find words that people respond to favorably and unfavorably to elicit an opinion change on an issue. He is considered to be the expert conservative ally in his field. Visit his website here.

Media Reform –A movement that seeks to democratize media sources and resources. Based on the principle that a democracy needs a well informed electorate to make decisions, media reformist seek to diversify content and ownership of media outlets and make media accessible and relevant to everyone, not just as a vehicle to serve corporate interests.

Non sequitur –Latin for “does not follow”. A mechanism used to change the subject or trajectory of a story or discussion. A distraction technique used intentionally but often used unconsciously as well.

Programs/Policies – In the hierarchy of persuasive political discourse, programs and policies are behind values and issues when considering the likelihood of finding common ground. Two parties that agree on values and issues may still find reason to argue when it comes to programs and policies. They contain details that are put forth in proposals, bills and declarations and can easily dominate a conversation with petty disagreements. Programs and policies are necessary vehicles to implement values but in the realm of political ideas, they can be non-starters with any audience – those with and without alignment to any given values.

Progressive – Synonymous with “liberal”. Progression of the human condition is center to the philosophy. Values such as empathy, liberty, open mindedness, tolerance and equality are characteristic.

Prosperity Doctrine – A religious philosophy which claims the Bible teaches that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians. The doctrine teaches that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.

Republic -A form of government in which there is no monarchy and government representatives are elected.

Republican – One of the two major political party in the U.S. characterized by capitalism, social conservatism and a desire to privatize as many government functions as possible. Currently there are three main factions: religious evangelicals/social conservatives, and those for unregulated markets.

Socialism – A political philosophy that all of the people of a society own all natural resources and property, and work as a cooperative. Also a popular accusation in the U.S. meant to be negative when referring to any policies perceived to be anti-corporate. Sometimes loosely used as a misnomer to discredit democratic or Democratic ideas.

Spin -The phenomena of analyzing an event – audio, video, literary, or “live” – in such a way that it favors a particular school of thought or person.

Values – Set of internal guidelines that drive your everyday decisions and larger life trajectory. Priorities in your life mentally and emotionally arranged in an order of importance.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,