A Modern Day Easter Tale

Imagine that a scruffy looking guy shows up on the scene preaching the values of peace, love, and looking out for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable among us. He calls himself Abdul of Damascus, and we learn he comes from a family of refugees and recently managed to make his way to the U.S.

Abdul has an engaging and charismatic manner about him and walks the proverbial walk on his values every day. He speaks truth to power and openly challenges the establishment whenever he thinks they are falling short of living up to these core values. And he finds a lot of material to work with there.

While he speaks of God, he suggests we need to challenge the established religions, noting that they do not always live up to these core values in their policies and practices. In particular, he believes we should be forgiving and judge others by what kind of people they are in their hearts; not by what they look like, where they are from, how much money they have, their sexuality, or their past mistakes.

People are quickly attracted to Abdul’s positive messages of hope, equality and a shared responsibility for helping the less fortunate. The next thing you know, he is an internet and social media sensation, and people everywhere are starting to challenge the status quo.

Where would the story go from here?

I obviously made up this story, and I know that my fictional Abdul would never be mistaken for a moderate (raging or otherwise). On this Easter weekend though, I tried to imagine what the story of Jesus might look like in our modern world, and consider whether our society’s response would be different if it happened today.

XTC, a great band who made my top ten list of musical inspirations for another one of their classics when I kicked off this blog, explored a similar theme in their ‘90’s hit, The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead. If you have not heard that song in awhile, I encourage you to take a few minutes to click this link and listen to it as you read this.

If you know the song, you know Mr. Pumpkinhead met a similar fate to Jesus in the end. While it is hard to imagine a modern day Jesus literally would be nailed to a cross today, it is not so hard to imagine he would find himself in danger. As an “outsider” who looks and acts differently than most of us and espouses views that fundamentally challenge how we are living our lives—both individually and collectively through our governing bodies—there is little doubt that many would instinctively view him as a threat.

While chances are we will never be faced with this scenario, there is one thing we all can take away from this whether or not we are celebrating Easter this weekend: to be more tolerant of people who don’t look or act like us or always share our same views.  So many of the divisions in our country today are being exacerbated by people retreating to their own echo chambers, tuning out opposing viewpoints, and demonizing those who do not agree with them.

While there of course are much larger lessons from the story of Easter than that “tolerance” takeaway, it is one we all have the power to carry out and one that would make our world a much better place.

 

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Turning Outrage Into Action

If there is any issue that puts the rage into this raging moderate more than inaction on sensible gun control, it is hard to imagine what that would be. But as many have remarked over the past few days, this time feels like it really could be different. For that to happen though, the overwhelming majority of us who favor reasonable gun policies need to turn our current outrage and energy into a longer-term action plan that has real staying power.

In the wake of the most recent mass shooting in Florida, the Onion again ran its longtime headline for these all too common moments: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. They used their sarcastic wit to underscore that we need to take a hard look in the mirror to see why the U.S. is so unusual in this regard. As the Onion once again put it: “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

Except this time, with the courageous fellow students and families of the shooting victims in Florida leading the way and inspiring us, we aren’t acting so helpless: more Americans are organizing to counter the NRA than ever before. Corporate America is taking notice too, publicly taking stands to disassociate their brands from the NRA for the first time in my memory.

And politicians and commentators from all sides of the political spectrum increasingly are speaking out and demanding action. A Florida Republican with a lot of credibility on the issue recently made it a point to publicly support an assault weapons ban. And Max Boot, hardly a liberal, really nailed it in the headline for his recent op-ed: “The Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact.” Those are just two of many examples of the changing landscape, and we need to keep building on that momentum.

To do that, we need to understand where the primary source of the NRA’s outsized influence on this issue comes from. People typically believe that the NRA’s power comes from their campaign contributions and associated heavy investment in lobbying at all levels of government. That stuff matters for sure, but in the scheme of things can be countered relatively easily.

What makes this more challenging is that the NRA’s principal clout is mobilization, not donations, as a very good article in the New York Times a few days ago noted. The NRA is able to mobilize their voters and thereby give a vocal minority outsized influence in a way that few others have been able to do.

That’s what we need to counter for the longer haul. And as we do that, we should heed the words of David Brooks in his recent op-ed, Respect First, Then Gun Control. While I disagree with his premise that for gun control to be successful, people from red states have to lead the way (a premise he also questioned in a subsequent column), Brooks makes a number of important points we should all keep in mind as this debate unfolds. While I have no problem demonizing the NRA and its leadership—they bring that on themselves—we should be careful not to demonize all of its members just because they may not immediately agree with us here. Like most issues facing our country, sitting down and listening to the other side respectfully can go a long way towards finding common ground. And as Brooks said well, while there are fringe elements who should be called out as such, painting everyone who disagrees with us with the broad brush of “enemies” won’t help us get there.  Congresswoman Robin Kelly from right here in Illinois is one of the best advocates for reasonable gun control policies anywhere, and sets a great example in the way she approaches those who aren’t there yet.

So with respect where it is due, we need to stay mobilized on this issue in the same way the NRA has done so successfully. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a “Turn Your Outrage Into Action” platform that inspired the title to this post and is a great place to start. They have three central action items for our elected officials: require background checks on all gun purchases, ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and enact “extreme risk” laws. The great majority of us who favor this kind of reasonable approach need to make this one of the core issues we hold our elected officials accountable for in the same way the NRA has done in reverse with just a small fraction of the overall popular support we have on our side.

And we need to maintain that commitment when the initial shock and outrage of this latest incident naturally starts to subside for those of us fortunate enough to not be living it firsthand. The NRA and its allies are depending on us to do just that and lose our current focus on this issue, which to their credit they will never do. If we as the once quieter majority can maintain this energy as a core position for the longer term though, the NRA has no chance. And that is when we’ll start to see real action in Congress.

We can do it, and you and me need to be right out in front.

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.

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 the specific policies for how to 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.