Chalk One Up for the Moderates, and Now Comes the Bigger Challenge

Earlier this week, we got off the precipice of a no-win government shutdown thanks to the leadership of a bipartisan group of moderates in the Senate. The goal those who forced the shutdown were pursuing—to get a permanent solution for the “Dreamers” who are stuck in a legal limbo through no fault of their own—is one that I and nearly 9 out of 10 Americans wholeheartedly support.

But holding up funding for the government over other non-budget issues is always a losing strategy, even when it involves an issue as worthy as this one. The Democrats leading the charge this time learned the hard lesson that Republicans did when they tried this tactic a few years back, and I could never top the way David Brooks put it in his column earlier this week: Democrats Go for the Jugular! (Their Own).

The bottom line is no one was going to win in this shutdown scenario. The group of moderate Senators who brokered the deal to end it not only pulled us back from the brink, they got a key commitment on the “dreamer” issue: there will be a vote in the Senate before the longer-term funding bill is taken up on February 8th.

What should happen here is just a clean vote on the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that would solve the problem at hand in a fair and effective way. Unfortunately, the Republican leaders in Congress and the President have nixed that idea, insisting that increased “immigration enforcement” needs to be part of any deal. Since they are still the ones holding the power, now comes the bigger challenge for the moderates: finding a reasonable compromise that can attract enough bipartisan support to pass.

By most accounts, there is a path here that could attract enough votes to pass in Congress without holding the Dreamers hostage over unrelated changes in broader immigration policy. That path involves pairing the DREAM Act provisions with increased border enforcement funding (including at least some funding for a modified version of the President’s cherished border wall), saving debate on other unrelated policy changes for a broader discussion on comprehensive immigration reform.

There is a reason so many in the anti-immigrant wing of Congress and inside the Administration have been so afraid of a vote on that kind of compromise–they know it would pass. So now it’s up to those moderates in the Senate to see if they can craft that measure and keep enough supporters on board to pass it.

The “compromise” proposed this past week by the President is not the answer. His proposal ties a number of major immigration policy changes unrelated to enforcement that, unlike the DREAM Act, would not have sufficient support to pass on their own.

That is not meeting in the in middle, that is trying to use the urgency of action on a popular measure as hostage for unrelated agenda items. Kind of like what just happened in the aborted budget shutdown effort. Those other policy proposals from the President should be debated later as part of a larger comprehensive reform discussion.

For now, if the moderates can hold their ground on a truly bipartisan proposal and it actually gets a vote, there is hope yet we can finally resolve this issue. If not, those who oppose that solution and/or vote against it will have to wear the collar for it. Whatever happens though, shutting down the government again is not the solution.

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A(nother) Sad Day for Music

Dolores O’Riordan, the great lead singer for the Cranberries, passed away today at the way too young age of 46. Their song Zombie was one of my opening top ten songs for this blog, and her incredible voice and lyrics made that song one of the most moving and thought-provoking songs I’ve ever heard. RIP Dolores.

And the Final Song to Kick off the Raging Moderate Is…

The final song of my top ten to kick off this blog is quite a bit different than the first nine songs on my list: The Middle, by Jimmy Eat World. Yet it somehow seemed like a no-brainer for this one to bookend the Raging Moderate anthem I led off with.

No, it does not have the same social significance as the other songs I have showcased. But it’s aptly called “the Middle,” it features some solid music and advice, and it concludes with some wisdom that is especially important to keep in mind in the Kafkaesque political climate our current President is fueling: “everything will be alright.”

On this day when we recall the legacy of one of our nation’s heroes in Martin Luther King, one of his many famous quotes comes to mind here: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Dr. King didn’t mean this would happen automatically or without struggle, just that the moral imperative is unassailable and will always be a guiding light in the longer march towards justice. It is incumbent on all of us to use that guiding light to continue the march through thick and thin.

And today brings to mind another Dr. King classic we moderates should never forget: his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where he called out white moderates for failing to stand up to the injustices of racism.

That letter is a good reminder that being a moderate does not and cannot mean having no principles. I’ll talk more about my own guiding principles in coming posts, and the values Dr. King cited in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech are core among them. While we may disagree about how the specific policies for how best fulfill that dream, as Americans we can never question that the fundamental principles he laid out in his speech should guide us and are never open to compromise.

Well, that does it for the musical wisdom to get things started for the blog. While my next few posts will be more traditional musings with varied sources of inspiration, as I noted in my opening post, music will be a recurring inspiration for me and will regularly pop in the blog. In the meantime, you can hear where I get all of my musical inspiration–for the blog and otherwise–on Chicago’s WXRT, the finest radio station in the land!

Thanks for sticking with me so far!

The Homestretch of the Musical Rollout

My penultimate post in the Raging Moderate’s musical rollout features two more great songs that are good food for thought for today’s world:

  1. Earn Enough for Us–XTC

A great song by a great band chronicling the life of a hard-working soul trying to get by and raise a family while living paycheck to paycheck. That represents a lot of Americans today: the Federal Reserve again found last year that nearly half of Americans would not have the cash to cover a $400 emergency expense.

Income inequality isn’t a new issue and on some level always has been and always will be present in a functioning free society, but there’s no doubt the issue has reached very concerning levels in recent years. While the growing inequality in income gets most of the attention, it’s the growing inequality of opportunity to achieve the American dream for too many people in our country that is the real problem.

Like many things, this problem requires a multi-pronged response and may not be completely solvable, but it’s something we need to tackle with a real sense of urgency. As we do that, we all could use a little more empathy for the people working hard to make it, as this song reminds us.

 

  1. People Have The Power—Patti Smith

This classic from Patti Smith reminds us that while it doesn’t always appear that way, we really do have the power to change things for the better. While I’m fairly sure Patti would never be mistaken for a moderate, that’s okay by me—she’s an amazing artist and her words translate across the political spectrum.

Even in this age of increasing polarization, there still is a lot more most of us agree on than we disagree about. And we have great potential to use that people power to make the world a better place when we come together around those common causes.

A Couple of Classics Continue the Musical Rollout

As the unveiling of the ten opening songs continues, two classics are next on tap:

  1. Like a Rolling Stone—Bob Dylan

This Dylan classic is a good illustration of why we always should treat others the way we would want to be treated and consider how things look from their vantage point. Or put another way, what goes around comes around.

Looking at it through the lens of politics, this is one to always keep in mind.

When the party with the upper hand governs in an inclusive way, there is a much better chance the same will happen when the shoe is on the other foot. When the party in control tries to govern in pure partisan fashion (as we are seeing now at the federal level), it sets up a very different dynamic. When power inevitably shifts again, the “revenge quotient” will be high, and the net result over time is more gridlock and less lasting progress. We all will do better by keeping that golden rule in mind.

  1. After the Gold Rush—Neil Young

While in many ways we’ve made a lot of environmental progress since the great Neil Young released this classic back in the 1970’s, climate change and other man-made environmental troubles may be an even bigger challenge for us today, a challenge made that much greater by our current President and his Administration’s backwards views on environmental policy.

Protecting the environment should be an obvious goal for people of all political persuasions to come together and get something done, for our own good and the good of future generations. While the strategies for achieving that goal may vary depending on your political vantage point, the need for action should be the ultimate no-brainer. We managed to do that in the 1970’s and make some real progress on a range of environmental issues in bipartisan fashion, and we should look back on that time for some inspiration today.

Neil’s words continue to be a great call for action in 2018, and sadly, replacing “1970’s” with “the two thousand teens” could even work pretty well lyrically.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned as we hit the homestretch on the musical opener later this week.

The Next Two Songs

Continuing with the top ten songs to kick off this blog, here are the next two:

  1. Zombie—the Cranberries

Much of the conflict in politics and the larger world today is based on longstanding rivalries that sometimes go back generations. We continue the fight based on a tradition, and often without even knowing what started it.

The Cranberries made this point in a piercing way back in 1994. They were writing about “the troubles” that were raging in Northern Ireland at that time, but easily could have been writing about the Middle East, our Congress, or any number of other places where fighting today is driven by people seeking vengeance for grievances that often go back centuries.

There are many examples of this in our political sphere today, where it is frowned upon by the respective “bases” to even consider working with folks on the other side, often because of anger over past slights when the other side had more of the power. While there is no doubt it can take a lot more courage to end a fight than to start or continue one, it often is the only way forward. The success of getting past that history in Northern Ireland, while it took years of patience and hard work and is still in many ways a work in progress, should serve as an inspiration to all of us on this front.

  1. What’s So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding—Elvis Costello (Nick Lowe originally)

This one goes with Zombie above, highlighting the timeless values for living in harmony with people from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints knowing that we never will always see eye to eye.

Recognizing there are times when this strategy clearly won’t work (when we are dealing with dangerous extremes, for example), it’s a pretty good place to start from as our standard way of looking at things.

 

Thanks for sticking with me so far, and stay tuned as the list continues early next week.

The Musical Wisdom Continues

Now that we’ve established in my opening post that the Rolling Stones classic, “You can’t always get what you want,” is the Raging Moderate anthem, it is time to start revealing the remainder of my top ten songs to kick off this blog.

As technology and other advances continue to make our world a lot smaller and faster, there of course are many benefits for our society. There are also a lot of new challenges that can easily push us towards the extremes if not carefully balanced, as these next two songs illuminate well.

 

  1. We Used to Wait—Arcade Fire

Easily the newest song on my list (and what a great band these guys already have become!), and one that speaks volumes about the huge changes in the manner and pace that we relate to each other today. There are obviously all kinds of benefits to the virtually instant means of communication we have at our fingertips today compared to the days of yore when we literally used to wait for letters and other communications to arrive. What this all means for the way we relate to each other, particularly for those who have grown up with this technology from the start, is far from certain though.

Being able to fire off a message to someone else on a moment’s notice is a great power to have in a time of emergency, but it also easily can lead to an ill-considered message that can literally live forever in ways that aren’t good for anyone.  And I think we’re seeing that quite a bit in our politics today (any politician come to mind there?).

In order to find common ground and get things done–not to mention to protect our own sanity–we need to be careful not to lose some of the virtues of the old world where we used to wait, like patience and reflective thought.

 

  1. Someone’s Looking at You—the Boomtown Rats

Bob Geldof may have been writing about what it’s like to be famous in the late 1970’s–and the absurd microscope our society puts celebrities under only has gotten more glaring since then–but his words ring true for all of us today. Technology has made it so we’re all increasingly being tracked in more ways than we’re even conscious of right now, and it’s a phenomenon that only gets bigger by the day. Smart phones, the Internet, the growing presence of security cameras, and similar technologies collectively can track most of our movements today.

In many ways all of this of course makes us safer and more efficient, and no one would suggest going back. But how we balance all of this with the right to privacy–and indeed how we define privacy at all in this new world–will be one of our biggest challenges as a society in the coming years. This may be the ultimate balancing act going forward, and we’re going to have to work especially hard to find that middle ground.

 

Thanks for reading so far, and stay tuned as the list continues tomorrow.