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When America is in trouble, you invest in it

On the reopening of trading on Wall Street after 9/11:

“They lifted the New York Stock Exchange covered with ash-the monitors on the floor literally thick with ash, the trading floor badly damaged-and one week later, seven days, they were lined up ready to roar and ringing the bell. That day, for the first and only time in my life, I bought a stock-five thousand dollars worth, of J&J-and as I bought it on the Internet, I called my son over to watch me hit “Enter” so he would understand for the rest of his life that when America is in trouble you invest in it, you put what you’ve got right there.”

–Peggy Noonan in Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now

Who’s the culprit in the financial meltdown?


“It’s like Murder on the Orient Express. At the end, every single person stuck a knife in the victim.”
Susie Welch, BusinessWeek

“There are 300 million villains here and they are the great American people who went on a shopping spree they couldn’t afford.”
— Conservative commentator George Will

From today’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos

The Governator on partisanship

“The horrible thing about politics is the more they attack each other, the more they try to derail each other, the worse it is for the people.” –California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Parker Palmer on holding tensions


From yesterday’s Bill Moyers Journal, Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

We want instant resolution. You give us a tension. We want it to get it over with in 15 minutes. We do it in everything from microcosmic situations to what happened in this country after September 11th, which is one of the great tragedies of our time, not only September 11th but our national response to it. We had an opportunity in the weeks following September 11th to really connect in new ways with the rest of the world, who were showing toward us compassion, which means suffering with.

They were saying today I, too, am an American, despite the fact that they knew more of this kind of suffering than we did. And we had caused some of theirs. Around the world people were saying, “Today I am an American.”

Well, if we had held the tension between that attack, that horrific criminal attack, and this possibility of connecting and deepening compassion, held it not through inaction but through what Bill Coffin called the justice strategy rather than the warfare strategy. If we had done that I think we would have opened a new possibility in American life. But we couldn’t. The 15 minutes elapsed and we had to hit back.

John Marks: Krill


One of our two April 21st Purple State of Mind speakers, former 60 Minutes producer, novelist, and journalist John Marks… on the state of the media today The Death of American News, and why it’s really our funeral:

… Honestly, how could I be quiet when so many others are cheering the demise of the great, hated Mainstream Media? And especially when the people who are cheering are the ones most likely to be undone by this death?

Given my background, it won’t surprise anyone to know that I see this downfall as tragic for Americans and disastrous for our common future. How shall I put it? If, as now seems likely, we do lose the best part of our once healthy and relatively independent press, if we dispense with a professional class that aspired to objectivity, however imperfectly, we will have put in place a necessary precondition to collective suicide…

In a democracy, for people to despise the sources of hard information, however impure, is a form of death wish. My hope is that it’s just a phase, but my experience in the Balkans tells me that such phases can lead to total eclipse. In a vaccuum of information, fanatics thrive, and death wishes come true.

Is the Internet the answer? Not yet. It’s too diffuse, too unreliable and not yet profitable, so no one will put enough resources into it to underwrite serious reporting. In short, our old press is dying before a new one can be born.

American journalism was never perfect. In ways small and large, it often failed to rise to its highest standards…

The mistakes should not obscure the glories of the profession at its best. How many citizens of this country appreciate the journalists we never hear about, the ones who go to endless school board meetings till midnight before going back to the office to write about it? Who cover city hall and the water board and god knows what else so the rest of us won’t have to attend?

The stories written by those reporters are like krill in the sea, fed on by the bigger fish, who, in turn, are nutrients for the giants of the profession, an ecosystem of information, filtering up from the city desks of small towns to the network evening news shows, now decimated by the financial equivalent of global warming. When the krill die, so does everything else.

With malice toward none


“The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot by individual effort do it all or do so well by themselves.” — Abraham Lincoln

“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” —Abraham Lincoln

I cannot let this year’s President’s Day end, this 200th year after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, without a note on the strain of ideologies we’re experiencing in America today. During this past week, I heard the first of these Lincoln quotes repeated by President Obama, I saw the second on a bumper sticker on a car.

Both, most of us would agree, are true at some level. But the rub is that these two true statements, made by the same man, can conflict as well. If you push a little too forcefully on one premise, you can violate the other.

Here’s our premise: It’s the holding of both simultaneously, amidst the discomfort that inevitably creates, that is the greatness of this country. Sometimes that means one group of people push one side and a second group pushes another – and then the marketplace of great American ideas comes from all that pushing.

Although this dissension surely has its place in a healthy democracy, I’d argue we’re off course because too many of us fall in a “camp” and too few of us are willing to struggle with the conflicting ideas. Human nature wants to vilify and simplify. We want easy.

And I’d argue that real statesmanship in our leaders comes from the ability to hold dissonant ideas in tension.

Lincoln did that.

When we start hating, really hating, the other side of the argument in the great ongoing American argument, we kill the balance, we kill the tension that has to exist.

We’ve been doing a lot of hating lately.

With malice toward none…”

May the “work we are in,” sustain America another 200 years.

Liz Joyner: The Darwin bicentennial and shades of gray

darwin-large On a recent London holiday (my mini-tribute to Mother England for her role in providing me so fine a vacation experience), my Westminster Abbey tour found me standing directly atop the grave of Charles Darwin right when our quirky bird “London Walks” tour guide first mentioned the notables buried there. It was actually a bit of a shock, seeing his name right at the tips of my tennies.

Quickly moving on to be wowed by the likes of Chaucer, Newton, and Churchill, I didn’t give a whole lot of vacation thought over to Darwin’s place of rest until I rested my own Yankee arse back at my computer sorting through the snaps (still tributing).

Then it finally dawned. (I am a quick study.) Ironic, isn’t it, that the scientist most thoroughly associated with the irreligious occupies such a high place of Christian burial.

As an enthusiastic lover of irony (I’d be a groupie if irony had groupies), I felt it my duty to investigate.

Turns out that most characterize Darwin (who was actually the Chaplain on board the HMS Beagle before being drawn, on the same voyage, to his signature naturalism) as having died an agnostic. He lost a lifelong mooring in his Christian faith not with his famed discoveries but when his daughter Annie died tragically at age ten. That he might has succumbed to doubt seems understandably human in reading his eulogy to Annie:

…the main feature in her disposition which at once rises before me is her buoyant joyousness. Her joyousness and animal spirits radiated from her whole countenance and rendered every movement elastic and full of life and vigor. It was delightful and cheerful to behold her. We have lost the joy of the household, and the solace of our old age.”

Apparently Darwin’s wife remained a woman of deep faith who he, as a consummate family man, was seriously disinclined to want to ever offend.

A memorial sermon on Darwin’s passing was preached in the Abbey on the Sunday following the funeral by the Bishop of Carlisle:

“I think that the interment of the remains of Mr. Darwin in Westminster Abbey is in accordance with the judgment of the wisest of his countrymen; It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr. Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and a belief in God.”

Some one hundred and twenty-ish years after his death (and exactly 200 after his birth), we clearly haven’t sorted through that can of worms.

But with this bicentennial blurb, I wish to hereby serve notice that our subconsciously-drawn generalizations about people tend to be pretty half-baked, if baked at all.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

All about Abe


President Obama, recalling last night an apt story about Lincoln, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth, at an event in Springfield Illinois:

It was here nearly 150 years ago that the man whose life we’re celebrating today… bid farewell to this city that he had come to call his own. And as has already been mentioned, on a platform at a train station not far from where we’re gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd and said:

“To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

And on this night, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiment. But looking around this room at so many who did so much for me, I’m also reminded of what Lincoln once said to a favor-seeker who claimed that it was his efforts who made the difference in the election.

Lincoln asked him “so you think you made me President?”

Yes, the man replied “under Providence I think I did.”

“Well,” said Lincoln, “it’s a pretty mess you got me into. But I forgive you.”

So, for whoever thinks you’re responsible for this, we’re taking names.

“There’s no Republican way to collect garbage”


On tonight’s Hardball, Chris Matthews, when discussing Judd Gregg bowing out of consideration for Commerce Secretary, referred to former New York Mayor John Lindsay (R), who according to Matthews said “there’s no Republican way to collect garbage.”

A wise man clearly ahead of his time.

(To my dear friend Anne: 1. Fact check, just like old times 2. More wise John Lindsay quotes 3. I remembered I always got the Ann vs. Anne wrong so I worked hard to get it right)

We must disenthrall ourselves


Historian Eric Foner on Bill Moyers Journal commenting on Abraham Lincoln’s presidency on the occasion of the upcoming 200 year anniversary of his birth:

… when he becomes president, he realizes that he’s going to have to rethink his assumptions. You know, he says in his great message to Congress in December 1862, “We must disenthrall ourselves.” Unchain ourselves literally and from our old ideas. And the “we.” We. He includes himself as part of that “we.” “We’ve got to slough off our own assumptions and think anew,” he says. And so it’s that strong moral compass but willingness to listen to criticism and think anew that I think is the characteristic that leads him into greatness.

“Find the truth and print it.”

— John S. Knight, from The Knight Foundation website

That’s all.

I believe in journalism and journalists (one in particular)

A dear friend of mine just turned 50. She has a big job at a major daily. I want you to think about the last time you said something snippy about the media, and I want you to consider it while I tell you about my friend.

First, she comes from a solidly conservative family, despite the fact that she has to regularly field many complaints about liberal bias and probably a few about conservative bias, and lets just say some of the complaints aren’t polite. She takes them very seriously though. Her vision in assessing the complaints has to be wide, not tunnel (as you and I have the luxury to have when we’ve got a bone to pick).

There wasn’t ever a time when I went to her house as a child when there weren’t ideas being flung back and forth at 100 miles an hour. I credit our friendship and my semi-child status with her parents for my interest in the public square, in the business of America. These people were real citizens of this country, and they had the rolled-up sleeves to prove it.

They were also real writers. They sometimes kept a manual typewriter (yes, this was a looong time ago) sitting with a sheet of paper in it with a couple of seed sentences to start a story. Someone else would come along and add a couple sentences of their own, and so on.

She is smart as a whip and somehow manages to put up with my trailing a few seconds (ok… sadly, minutes) behind her.

Please think of something you know about recent events. Did you learn it because of journalists like her? Some of them put themselves in harm’s way just so you can know.

This business of journalism annoys people. It kind of has to. This business of journalism has a lot to do with keeping us a free country, of keeping the powerful accountable to us little citizens. Sure, at times they do it imperfectly (a little thing we humans bring to everything we undertake). But look at where there isn’t an independent press to rankle and I’ll show you people who “yearn to breathe free.”

Journalists are the unsung heroes of democracy, in a business that’s tougher today than it was yesterday. And despite all that, they’ll get up again tomorrow and take your abuse and mine because they believe deeply in free speech, a free press and this little thing called democracy.

Thanks to my friend for spending her years doing something really really important. And Happy Birthday.

Liberty of Conscience: A fundamental American plumb line

From Noah Feldman’s Divided by God:

The revolutionary American idea that the people were sovereign profoundly disturbed the old model: How could the state establish the religion of the sovereign if the sovereign people belonged to many faiths? The framers rose to the occasion. For the first time in recorded history, they designed a government with no established religion at all.

… The early republic was religiously diverse in that it was inhabited by several different Protestant denominations. This “multiplicity of sects,” as James Madison brilliantly realized, ensured that no one denomination had the capacity to establish its own state religion at the national level.

… The dominant idea organizing church-state relations in the framers’ era was the liberty of conscience, understood to protect religious dissenters-representing the religious diversity of the time-against compelled taxation to support teachings with which they disagreed.

…In America, the establishment of religion by the government came to be seen as posing a fundamental danger to the liberty of conscience by threatening dissenters with the possibility of coercion. The constitutional guarantee of nonestablishment sought to protect conscience from coercion by guaranteeing a division between the institutional spheres of organized religion and government.