Saturday, January 05, 2008

A New Era?

This morning's op-ed page gave two lovely columns indicating that we have entered a new era.

First, there was Kathleen Parker's column on an interesting initiative called "The Village Square" Here's an excerpt from the column:

The Village Square aims to remind citizens of "The Big Idea" for which our ancestors spilled their blood -- that Americans should be self-governing. The Web site,, explains that history in the context of today's political dialogue, which "wouldn't be tolerated between 5-year-olds at recess." "We've turned 'talking' over to professional polarizers on television who make seven-digit careers surfing this wave of hostility," reads the Web site. "They warp what were once perfectly useful ideas, when understood in moderation, into black-and-white caricatures of ideas, so oversimplified they become effectively useless in solving real problems. "These entrepreneurial yellers build for us such a fundamental misunderstanding of (and contempt for) people who think differently than we do, we've stopped bothering to listen to each other. ... We're spoon-fed slick (and expensive) commercials that sell us snake oil rather than provide the facts so basic to building the informed citizenry envisioned by our Founding Fathers."

....It's not quite a movement, but both Boren's initiative and the Katz/Joyner project suggest the stirrings of a necessary political backlash. Just as an unhappily married couple nevertheless manages to produce a lovely and beloved child, the ugly divorce of politics from the people may yet birth a very American revolution. If Washington won't lead the way, then Americans will simply lead themselves. Born-again Americans. Now there's a concept.

A quick visit to the Village Square website proved to be interesting. The general ethos espoused is that we should engage in the conversation, and disagree where conviction leads us to disagree. Indeed we should disagree with vigor, for such disagreement helps to sharpen our convictions, but we should disagree with civility, for such civility helps us remain a society. In their resource page, they have a number of articles about civil discourse....including George Washington's advice for engaging in political discourse with courtesy. Their blog demonstrates that a part of civil discourse is not just tone, but also fairness to what someone actually says (rather than cherry picking their words simply to prove a point -- see this example on the Pope's comments about global warming).

This strikes very much at the heart of my new interest in asking the question "What do We stand for?" -- instead of falling into the gap of whining and moaning about "them", let us more clearly define what it is that we stand for.

And thus we move to the second op ed in today's paper. David Brooks' column about the Two earthquakes that rumbled from Iowa. His contention is that both Obama and Huckabee are outsiders who built their campaigns on running against politics as usual. His analysis of Huckabee's victory is better than most of the other pundits (who think it was simply evangelical theo-conservatism that pushed Huck past Romney). Brooks sees that there's a new era on the horizon beyond the scorched-earth take no prisoners character assassination of the limbaugh/franken dichotomy.

The old alliances are fragmenting -- no longer are the libertarians and the social conservatives bound. No longer are the labor unionists and the social progressives necessarily linked. On top of this, The Fourth Turning, still rattles in my brain -- the idea that generational archetypes drive shifts in our culture - and that when a generation of prophets (read - boomers) assume the mantle of leadership, they drive the culture into an unravelling that leads to crisis. This crisis leads to a new alignment as the culture figures out how best to survive the crisis -- is our crisis terrorism? Environmental disaster? Shaky economy? Globalization? all the above? I don't know for sure, but it seems that the old cold war answers aren't cutting it, and now we're looking for new voices that will offer new solutions.

Will this be beneficial or harmful? We will only know in hindsight. In the meantime, now is the time to reclarify who we are and what we're about. A new era indeed.