Who Didn’t Win the Presidential Debate?

Photo courtesy of NYC.andre

Many people in America are poor, due to no fault of their own — and their numbers are growing.

If you really know any poor people, you know that to be true. If you don’t, the first sentence of this post runs against the grain of many cultural assumptions in America that tend to blame people for being poor.

On the eve of the first presidential debate, Sojourners premiered The Line — a film about the new faces of poverty in America. In this powerful documentary from award-winning filmmaker Linda Midgett, those popular judgmental assumptions against poor people are clearly and convincingly debunked.

The Line, which I am asking everyone who reads this column to watch, deftly dismantles many stereotypes about poverty and shows why a growing number of Americans find themselves falling into it. The film does so by telling the personal stories of people who have fallen beneath “the line.”

My 14-year-old son Luke watched the story of John: a banker who once made a six-figure salary, but who now finds himself a substitute teacher making $12,000 a year while trying to raise his three kids. John painfully talked about what it feels like to have to go to a food bank because he has no other viable choice.

His story caused Luke to ask his mom after the film, “John said he got straight A’s in school, so could that happen to me?”

My 9-year-old, Jack, was most impressed with James: a fellow who lost a blue-collar job after 23 years, and now — in his 50s —  was working hard to be a successful busboy.

My Mississippi-born friend Burns Strider said he identified most with Ronnie — a self-employed fisherman in coastal Louisiana whose family has been in the shrimping business for generations — who faces an uncertain future now that the shrimp have disappeared in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill that have devastated the ecosystem and the economy.

And many in the hundreds-strong crowd that packed the Washington, D.C., theater where The Line premiered earlier this week were drawn to Sheila — a mother of three who, after lifting herself out of poverty and a poor, violent neighborhood in Chicago, tripped and fell down the steps of an “L” train stop and has fought against disabilities and health care costs ever since.

Sheila attended the D.C. premiere and was a part of the panel discussion that followed the screening, along with the director, Linda Midgett, Adam Taylor from Bread for the World, and me.

What also was true of each of the people profiled in the film is that falling into poverty made them feel alone. The line that most struck me was from Ronnie who, when speaking about himself and his wife, said, “We have no confidence in the future … and we worry about our kids.”

After the presidential debate last night, I doubt if the growing numbers of poor people in America feel less alone.

The political discussion today is only about who won the debate. But millions of people who are struggling financially (and otherwise) in America are not likely to feel that they did.

Presidential candidates could make it clear to those who are experiencing very hard times that they will not be left alone. But that didn’t come across last night in the first presidential debate focused on domestic policy.

The competing narratives between Obama and Romney about tax policies, health care, the role of government, their focus on the middle class, and their differing arguments for economic growth now are being polled and debated as pundits and wonks try to determine which candidate had the best performance and how it might affect the electoral numbers.

But one thing is certain about last night: there was no clarifying discussion about what the policies Obama and Romney debated will mean for the Americans who are struggling the most.

After watching The Line, what so many of us felt was a desire to reach out to the people who, with great candor and courage, swallowed their pride (and their privacy) and told their stories, revealing how hard their lives have become.

Conservative, liberal, neither, or both — I believe many Americans would want to reach out to the people whose stories were told in The Line.

Clearly, it is the mission of the church to tell and to show the millions of people who have fallen below the poverty line that they are not alone. Jesus clearly says in the Matthew 25 that how we treat them is how we treat him.

I think we also want to live in a society that makes sure that people who are struggling with poverty are not left alone. That is the responsibility of all of us, and it is also part of the role of government.

The presidential candidates could make those who are hurting the most feel like they are not alone anymore. But that didn’t happen last night.

Journalists tell us at Sojourners that poverty is not a “sexy” issue in America — especially not at election time. Some told us that again on the day The Line premiered.

We had hoped for perhaps 100 screenings of The Line around the country. By the time the film began rolling Tuesday night, we had nearly 1,700 screenings of the film scheduled across the country and around the globe — including nearly every state and continent, even as far away as Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.

The tremendous response we are getting to this extraordinary film tells me that while poverty in America may not be a top issue for our journalists and our politicians, it most assuredly is for a growing number of people of all faith traditions and none, across denominational, political, and cultural lines.

The stories in The Line explain why.

See the film, share it, talk about it, and help make this poverty — a fundamental moral issue that impacts the health (and wealth) of the soul of our nation — a priority during this election season and beyond.

Source: SojoMail www.sojo.net

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Immigration: Unity, Morality and Common Sense

Tuesday was a big day.

Nearly 150 evangelical leaders signed onto an “Evangelical Statement of Immigration Reform.” Signers came from across the spectrum of evangelicalism, from leading Hispanic evangelical organizations, to pastors such as Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, and even Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in our broken immigration system. It was exciting to see such unity across the traditional political spectrum, which rarely happens in Washington.

Make no mistake, there are still big gaps in theology and politics among those in this group. But Tuesday wasn’t about politics. Rather we focused on the things we agreed were fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives. This coming together to help fix a broken immigration system on behalf of those who most suffer from it is just what politics needs and could begin to affect other issues, too.

CLICK HERE to add your name (and if you forward to a friend you can get a free “Immigration Reform 2012” bumper sticker).

Instead of ideology, we came together because of morality and common sense. And that’s what leaders are supposed to do.

Here’s my statement from our press conference:

Big things don’t change in Washington first; they change in the nation’s capital last. You’d think that with all the lobbyists on K Street and the billions of dollars being spent, that Washington is the most important place. But this is the place where things don’t change, where politics maintains the status quo and the special interests maintain their own interests.

Things change when hearts and minds across the country change. Things change when social movements begin, when people’s understandings change, when families re-think their values, when congregations examine their faith, when communities get mobilized, and when nations are moved by moral contradictions and imperatives.

Things change when people believe that more than politics is at stake; but that human lives, human dignity, the well-being of moms and dads and kids, and even faith is at stake.

And when moral values change, culture changes; and then change comes to Washington.

The immigration system in America is utterly broken, and politics hasn’t changed that. Both sides, Republicans and Democrats, are responsible for this failed system. They are more concerned with their political bases and their votes than with the people and families whose lives are being crushed by a broken system.

There are two signs up at the border between Mexico and the United States. One says “No Trespass!” The other says “Help Wanted.” And 12 million vulnerable people have been trapped between those two signs.

But the Bible says that these people fall into the category of “the stranger,” and Jesus says how we treat them is how we treat him. They are not the political pawns of Washington, and many of them are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We have come to know them, and to love them: we’ve come to see how their families are being torn apart, and their lives are in great danger. And we believe that breaks the heart of God; and calls us to action.

Look who is here today: Christians from across the political spectrum. The NAE, Anglo churches and Hispanic Churches whom God has brought together, the Southern Baptists, Focus on the Family, Sojourners. Has that ever happened before?

We realize our work is stronger together than as individual leaders. An effort for immigration reform of this size and diversity has never been attempted in the evangelical community. In the months and years ahead, the principles we release today will serve as the basis of outreach and communications work across the nation.

Together, we will create a national groundswell for immigration reform by reaching out to our fellow evangelicals in the body of Christ, to students at Christian colleges and seminaries, and to our churches—both Anglo and Hispanic; because God is calling us to stand together now in faith, in truth, and in the power of the Spirit—which is even stronger than the powers of Washington DC.

Together we are much stronger than divided. We represent large constituencies of Christians across America—and we are here to tell our political representatives that it is time to shed your partisan behavior — and implement a moral and biblical imperative; fix this broken system and pass comprehensive immigration reform! It is time to transcend politics and do what is right.

Together, we make a prophetic announcement today. Washington will change on this issue. Washington will enact comprehensive immigration reform…. because the people of God have come together to begin that change in our own lives and our own churches. And every Sunday we pray, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on EARTH as it is in heaven. We mean that. Amen.

Add your name, sign today.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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The Missing Religious Principle in Budget Debates

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

Both Republicans and Democrats have a religion problem, and it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, abortion, or religious liberty. Rather it is budgets, deficits, and debt ceiling deadlines that are their serious stumbling blocks.

That’s right, in a city deeply divided between the political right and left there is a growing consensus from religious leaders about getting our fiscal house in order and protecting low-income people at the same time. Together, many of us are saying that there is a fundamental religious principle missing in most of our political infighting: the protection of the ones about whom our scriptures say God is so concerned.

Indeed, the phrase “a budget is a moral document” originated in the faith community, and has entered the debate. But those always in most jeopardy during Washington’s debates and decisions are precisely the persons the Bible instructs us clearly to protect and care for — the poorest and most vulnerable. They have virtually none of the lobbyists that all the other players do in these hugely important discussions about how public resources will be allocated.

For us, this is definitely not a partisan issue, but a spiritual and biblical one that resides at the very heart of our faith. It is the singular issue which has brought together the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, and the leaders of other church denominations, congregations, and faith-based organizations across the nation.

Here is the missing principle still absent in our current debate:

We must agree not to reduce deficits in ways that further increase poverty and economic inequality by placing the heaviest burdens on those who are already suffering the most.

Religious leaders do believe that massive deficits are moral issues, and that we must not saddle future generations with crippling debt. But we believe that how we resolve deficits also is a moral issue. And our society must not take more from those who already have so much less than the rest of us.

We understand the politics of this debate. We know that Republicans will resist reforming the private sector, because that is where their core constituencies and money lie. We understand that Democrats will resist reforming the public sector because that is where their key constituencies and money are.

We also understand that neither party wants to risk actually examining bloated Pentagon spending out of political fears that they might appear unconcerned about national defense or our military personnel. During elections, both Republicans and Democrats are almost entirely focused on middle-class voters and wealthy donors, who all have special interests in the outcome of how government financing is determined.

And then there are the pollsters who tell both parties that talking about “poor people” and “poverty” will not be popular.

But we must agree with what a Catholic bishop told President Obama in a meeting we religious leaders had with him in the White House last year as the August debt crisis deal was being decided:

“Mr. President, our scriptural mandate from Jesus does not say ‘As you have done to the middle class, you have done to me.’ It rather says, ‘As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.’”

We have no choice as to what our position will be in these upcoming debates. We are telling the leaders and legislators of both parties that they must form “a circle of protection” around the most effective and vital programs that help the lowest-income American families survive in such difficult economic times. With one clear voice we also are telling lawmakers that the global efforts that literally mean life and death to the poorest around the world, who are assailed by preventable hunger and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, must be protected.

Some cuts kill. Others will destroy the small opportunities families have to lift themselves out of poverty.

We will be telling our legislators, for example — that if they really decide to take all of the proposed $36 billion in agricultural cuts from proven and successful nutritional “food stamp” programs, which go mostly to families with children, while taking nothing from the rice, corn, and sugar subsidies to rich agribusiness — they should expect to hear voices like Old Testament prophets standing outside their halls.

Or — when they plan to cut poor children’s health care or the chance for students from poor families to go to college for the first time, but block any increased revenue from the wealthiest and keep corporate welfare checks flowing — they should anticipate having to listen for the faith community’s different priorities.

And if they cut “meals on wheels” feeding programs to our most vulnerable senior citizens, but keep paying for the wheels on outdated and useless weapons systems, they should expect to hear some words from the scriptures.

How faith community leaders protected low-income entitlements in the sequestered automatic cuts agreed to in the August 2011 debt ceiling deal is an untold story in much of the media. We will ask for those protections again.

Both Republicans and Democrats could agree to the principle of protecting the most vulnerable people — as have many budget cutting processes have in the past — and the Simpson-Bowles recommendations do even now. Then the parties could have their private-public sector debates and reach the compromises necessary to find fiscal integrity. But both party’s church leaders and pastors will be telling them to defend the ones for whom God commands us to give special care.

Everything else may be on the table, but the fate of the poor and vulnerable should not be.

Source: SojoMail www.sojo.net

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Unexpected Hope: The Vocation of the Church

Photo courtesy of Ned Nas

Editor’s NoteSojourners’ CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, delivered the following commencement address Thursday morning at Virginia Theological Seminary.

I feel very honored to be invited by this class to give this commencement address, and I asked about the make-up of your class. Most of you, I am told, are going right into the church, or are already there— to ordained ministry and other missions of the church.

So I want to speak directly to you about the vocation of the church in the world. Let me start with a baseball story. I have been a little league baseball coach for both my sons’ teams over many years. And I’ve learned that baseball teaches us “lessons of life.”

Just a few weeks ago, our 9-year-old’s team was down 5-0, and we had already lost our opening couple of games. It didn’t look good. But all of a sudden, our bats and our team came alive; and all the practice and preparation we had done suddenly showed itself. Best of all, our rally started in the bottom half of the order with our weakest hitters. Two kids got on with walks and our least experienced player went up to the plate. With international parents, Stefan had never played baseball before and you can tell he doesn’t have a clue. But somehow he hit the ball; it went into the outfield. Our first two runs scored and he ended up on second base. Being from a British Commonwealth culture, he began to walk over to the short stop and second baseman and shake their hands! “Stefan,” I shouted, “You have to stay on the base!” “Oh,” he said, “I’ve never been here before.”

Inspired, other kids who had never got hits before either also got them now, then the best hitters started to hit, and we came back to win 11-6. In a long team meeting afterwards, the kids couldn’t stop telling each other what they had learned. “We didn’t give up and came back!” “Our rally started with the bottom of the order.” “Sometimes you get what you need from unexpected places.” “We all just kept cheering for each other.” “Everybody helped us win today.” Finally, our star player said, “This just goes to show you, you can’t ever give up on hope. We always have to keep on hoping no matter what.” Lessons of life. Most importantly on that day, we became a team; and have won our games since.

I think this is central to our vocation in the churches: to offer unexpected hope.

Because our mission is to the kingdom of God—“thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That is what we pray. And while the kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus, and the New Testament, it has faded as ours. Finding salvation to heaven is part of the message, getting closer to God is part of the message, but the heart of the message of Jesus was a new order breaking into history—to change everything about the world, including us.

And that’s why we can offer such hope to the world. The church is supposed to be saying, and the church is supposed to be showing, that our life together can be better. In our shallow, superficial, and selfish age, Jesus is calling us to a completely different way of life. He called it the kingdom of God—as very different from all the political kingdoms of this world. But that better way of living wasn’t just meant to benefit the Christians, but everybody else too. And that is the point of it.

Christianity is not just a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of everybody else. Rather, it is a call to a relationship; and one that changes all our other relationships. Jesus calls us into a new relationship to God; and he says that also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. You don’t always hear that from the churches. But that transformation of all our relationships, when lived out, has always been the best thing for what we now call the common good.

Since we have lost the common good in our community and public life, and especially in our politics—on both sides of the aisle—it’s time to listen again to an old but always new vision which could, and is supposed to, change our selfish behavior—and make us happier too. “Happy are those,” Jesus said, who live by the beatitudes of his kingdom.

The summary of ethics and the religious law, said Jesus, was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And that most fundamental teaching of faith flies right in the face of all the personal and political ethics which put myself always before all others; my rights first, my freedoms first, my interests first, my tribe first, and even my country first—ahead of everybody else. In other words, selfishness is the personal and political ethic that dominates our world today; but the kingdom of God says that your neighbor’s concerns, rights, interests, freedoms, and well-being are as important as yours are.
That is not only radical, it is transformational; and it is essential if we are going to create a public life not completely dominated by conflict, but one that actually can articulate what might be in the interest of the common good and even some common ground between us all. Win/win and not just win/lose. It is also essential to religion finding any credibility again. Otherwise, the next generation is just going to move on from religion. The “none of the aboves” are now the fastest growing group on religious survey’s.

But when people see that kingdom of God being actually lived out, they are first surprised by it, and then attracted to it.

Like when a huge and successful church in a midwestern state’s suburbs decides to take on the renovation of dilapidated and failing public schools in their neighboring urban area. Or like when a church in the Southern Bible Belt puts up a sign welcoming the Muslim cultural center that had just moved into their neighborhood and befriends those who were afraid of being attacked; and when that story of Christian/Muslim friendship on CNN changes the hearts of angry men in Pakistan. Or when a graduating seminarian, like many of you today, decides to start a church made up of homeless people and, after ten years, most all of their congregation’s leaders literally came from off of the streets.

When a Christian family farm business builds day care centers and houses for their migrant workers, provides college scholarships for their employees’ children, gives millions of dollars to Africa and Haiti, and still has the most successful orchard in their region, it attracts attention. When conservative southern California Anglo churches get deeply connected to Hispanic churches in their own communities, come to know each other’s faith and families, and then seek to fix a broken immigration system, it gets the attention of policy makers in Washington. When a famous evangelical mega-church in Chicago sends its people to the Middle East and starts speaking up for beleaguered Palestinian Christians, it challenges foreign policy. When another one in Ohio doesn’t just righteously proclaim itself to be “pro-life” but quietly takes in hundreds of low-income pregnant women every year to help them carry their child to term and settle into a better life, people feel helped and not just judged. And when faith-based organizations and denominations who might vote differently in elections make it clear to both Republicans and Democrats that they must not balance their budgets and reduce their deficits by increasing poverty and must draw a circle of protection around the poorest and most vulnerable, it breaks through the self-interest politics of both parties.

All these are true stories. And they are all about the unexpected and about bringing hope to hopeless times.

So my advice to you, going into the church, is to never be content with what is predictable, to never become cynical about change. Don’t be satisfied with a church whose lifestyle and behavior you can predict by just looking at everybody living around them. Your job is to pastor and lead faith communities whose vocation is to be unpredictable and to be able to offer hope where nobody else does.

That’s because you leave today, not committed to the kingdom of any culture, class, or racial group, or the kingdom of America or any other nation state, or even to the kingdom of any church, even the kingdom of the Episcopal church; but rather to the kingdom of God, which is meant to turn all the other kingdoms on the head, to break open the unpredictable, and bring new hope to lives, neighborhoods, nations, and even the world. So God bless you in that wholly unpredictable and so needed ministry of hope. And as we should all say at the end of every commencement: “Play Ball!”

And may the Lord be with you.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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It Takes a Movement: Why Politics is Frozen Solid

Scriptures say, “Without a vision the people perish,” and soon after he was elected, the president let the vision perish and the people soon followed. Without it, a vacuum formed and allowed the growth of a different sort of movement. Most unexpectedly, after the new “progressive” moment in January 2009, the “new populism” in America is now decidedly on the Tea Party Right; sparking an anti-Obama, anti-Democrat, and anti-government movement; questioning the president’s religion, patriotism, and even his birth place; and tinged clearly by some with an ugly racial edge. The “movement” is now on the other side of the political aisle. A campaign of “Hope and Change,” and “Yes We Can” was slowly replaced with the governance of diminishing expectations, and “They Won’t Let Us.” But people who feel that they are perishing can be both afraid and angry.

Washington politics has been frozen solid, with no movement or motivation to try and solve the problems of the nation. Obama’s hoped-for politics of solutions has been replaced by that of scapegoats. We have seen the opposition party adopt a politics of sabotage more intense than any in years. And newly elected politicians who view bi-partisanism as an act of betrayal won’t help. The normal negativity of the campaign season was further amplified by the Roberts court decision to remove all limits on the political spending of America’s corporations, unions, and other outside special interests. With no transparency required, the election was shaped by shadowy phantom interests that nobody knows and no one can hold accountable.

Then, of course, there is the 24/7 overtly ideological and partisan pounding of a right-wing media machine that is both “unfair” and “unbalanced,” but has much more capacity to shape public discourse than the rudderless and shallow mainstream media that seems to have no moral compass except falling ratings. The left-wing blogosphere mimics the right, and channel surfing between the political talk shows on both sides of the ideological divide reveals shows and hosts whose political views are very different, but otherwise sound more and more alike in their tone and style. On American cable television and talk radio, honest and robust political discourse has been replaced with an ideological food fight.

Civility has died in America, and urgent pleas for a more truthful and respectful public discourse from both religious leaders and former lawmakers from both parties have been ignored by a media that just loves a perpetual conflict narrative. But many in the country still long for a more moral and civil tone in our political discussion. Could civility become sexy in the repetitive shouting match which is now American politics?

A failure of communication, which the White House has now begun to acknowledge, is not a deep enough analysis of the problem. Nor is the conservative counter that the real issue is how bad and unpopular Obama’s policies are. The problem is not that Obama has tried to do too much, or not enough; depending on your political point of view. The deeper problem is this: Washington, D.C. is wired to block social change. And the system is “not on the level” as Obama has complained in his more frustrated moments. Those who want change have naively overestimated how much a new young progressive president could really do. And the new president was over-confident about how much he could accomplish with his powers of persuasion, convincing logic, sincere desire to transcend partisan divisions, and the knowledge that he is often the smartest person in the room. What has still not been really understood by Obama’s White House, by most of his supporters, and by a media that mostly focuses on who’s up, and who’s down in Washington during any given week is this: it takes a movement.

Source: SojoMail www.sojo.net

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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It Takes a Movement: A Post-Election Analysis

Jim WallisInauguration Day 2009 was highlighted for our family by a visit from Dr. Vincent Harding, the eminent African-American historian, and a member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle during the Southern freedom movement. Despite health concerns and the dangerous weather, “Uncle Vincent,” as my two young boys call him, traveled across the country to witness this moment of a history in which he had been so deeply involved. As we stood on the mall clutching our inauguration tickets in our mittens, Harding said, “It was a movement that started all this.”

Do you remember how cold it was in Washington for the inauguration of President Barack Obama? Yet, it was one of the warmest days in memory: in the way two million people treated each other on the Mall, in the hope that filled the air around the country, in the sense of history being made with America’s first black president, in the expectation that the country was about to move to a new place of change out of the grip of a deep recession, and the promise of a generational political shift. How ironically warm it seemed on that distant January day, now stands in sharp contrast with the cold and very angry political atmosphere that was evidenced in the midterm elections.

In politics there is always a spiritual choice to be made — to choose hope or fear. Leaders can build movements by appealing to a vision of what our country can be or by painting a picture of whom to blame and what to be afraid of. Obama won in November of 2008, in the midst of a recession, bank failures, and two wars, by capturing the political narrative which spoke to our values as a country and by riding a movement that had reason to hope and was ready to work for change. But the new president lost the narrative, and the “movement” is now on the other side of the political aisle. A strong values narrative attracted many in 2008, including many religious voters who had long eluded the Democrats. But now, many seem to have lost faith.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, reached farther out to the faith community than many Republicans have, including his predecessor George W. Bush — both in his campaign and the first two years of his administration. While voters have often viewed Republicans as the party most friendly to religion, polling by Public Religion Research Institute showed that most viewed Obama and McCain as equally friendly to faith in that election. Indeed,  highly energized and predominantly religious black voters overcame their cynicism to believe that another America might be possible, faith-inspired Hispanic voters dramatically shifted their allegiances, Evangelical and Catholic voters decided to break with their recent past (or their parents) because of what they heard from Obama. They were all drawn to a political leader who seemed to want to move past old political divisions and boundaries, and was not afraid to identify the moral issues at stake in politics.

But if you compare 2010 exit polls to 2006, Democrats performed 14 points worse with white Protestants, 14 points worse with white Evangelicals, and 20 points worse with Catholics.  Compared to 2008, Democrats did 10 points worse with white Protestants, 14 points worse with white Evangelicals, and 20 points worse with Catholics. That is quite a swing vote.

Given many obstacles, administration advocates believe that Obama has a two-year record of great accomplishments, including some things that his predecessors failed to do. He thinks so too, and points to historic health care legislation, the most serious financial regulatory reform since the Great Depression, no energy bill but increased fuel standards, new student loan programs, unnoticed investments in infrastructure and clean energy, a much expanded national service agenda, and a plan for educational reform which we haven’t seen in 30 years. Obama wonders why people don’t see all that, which he calls “the most successful administration in generations in moving the progressive agenda forward.” But Obama’s legislative victories inside the beltway have clearly not connected to the everyday lives of too many Americans or to their core values. Many families who are struggling and afraid don’t believe that Washington or Wall Street cares about them or is really with them. And they showed their anger at the polls, or their disillusionment by not even showing up.

Four years ago, and two years ago, people voted decisively for change; and now, in a shift no one could have predicted after the last election, voters have just voted for change again in 2010. And chilling polls show that the vast majority of the country, this time, voted against rather than for particular candidates or policies. The Republican leadership made it clear they were running a campaign that was meant as a referendum on Obama’s first two years in office. The change promised in 2008 never came about in the minds of many across the political spectrum — on the left, the right, and the center. The new president has been up against almost insurmountable odds, especially from all that he inherited, or as he puts it, the “cards we were dealt.” But, from the results we just saw and the Republican priority of making Obama a one-term President, it clearly seems that many in the country would seem to disagree with the White House assessment. What happened?

Source: SojoMail www.sojo.net

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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After This Election, We Need a New Vision Forward

This election, some good people were elected and other good people lost. Some of these officials, newly elected and re-elected, will try to find solutions to some of the great challenges facing our country today. Others will deepen the poisonous partisanship that has defined much of the past two years in politics. The polling showed, chillingly, that most voters came out to cast their ballots against candidates and policies rather than for anybody or anything. And it was a national election with deep emotions, and many local races had little to do with who was running in that particular contest.

I spoke to two friends tonight who lost their congressional bids to (in my view) inferior opponents. The races weren’t about the issues or even the candidates who were running but about national political leaders who had become negative symbols. Many people voted against whatever they could and not for anything they had hope in. Two years ago, people voted for change; and they still are.

A few weeks ago I spoke to another friend, a Republican Congressman who had lost his primary earlier this year. His voting record proved his conservative credentials, and he disagreed with the president on almost every issue he could think of. But, he explained, he made a few mistakes that didn’t allow him to stay in Congress.

He told me a story that sums up for me what happened in this election. During the health care debate his office sent out a press release entitled “Top Reasons to Oppose Obamacare.” He took those reasons and blew them up onto a banner to hang behind him during town hall meetings on health care. He started every town hall meeting taking 5 minutes to go through his list of reasons to oppose Obama’s health care plan. He then spent the next 85 minutes of those town halls talking about his vision for a conservative approach to health care reform that would cover people who didn’t have health insurance. That, he explained, was the beginning of the end of his reelection campaign.

If he wanted to maintain his seat, he explained, he should have reversed his ratio and spent 85 minutes criticizing the president and only five minutes talking about his vision for a way forward. Unfortunately, it was “scapegoats” not “solutions” that many in his district were looking for. He explained to me that one of the key moments when he realized his campaign was in peril was when a supporter stood up and condemned the president for being a “socialist, communist, and Marxist who wanted to be a dictator, open up the Mexican border and turn America into an Islamic state.” And that Obama “hates America so much that he doesn’t put his hand over his heart when the National Anthem is played.” This brave Republican said that wasn’t fair or true, that the president was a patriot, even if he disagreed with most of his policies. He explained that he thought there were lots of reasons to oppose the President but an internet rumor about whether the president puts his hand over his heart was not one of them. Talking like that cost him the election.

This November 2, most voters cast their ballot against something. Some people voted against Pelosi, Reid, and Obama. Others voted against the Tea Party. My primary concern is not the electoral math but how our country approaches politics. When all our leaders are able to do is express opposition to the “other” side, we are in a crisis of leadership.

We heard a lot of anger in this campaign, but not a lot of vision. And we didn’t see a new paradigm for what it looks like to work with those with whom you might disagree. The new Congress will need to learn to paint a vision for moving forward that isn’t based on what plays to a partisan base. The issues we face are too great and too important; the people effected too many, the responsibility to large for vision to be so absent and cooperation for the common good to be so politically impossible.

There was very little values-narrative in this election. And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns. But the issues we face now are profoundly moral questions. We have work to do.

Source: SojoMail www.sojo.net

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

More Posts - Website