Archive for the ‘OP/ED Newspaper Pieces’ Category

NEWSPAPER OP/ED FROM THE REV: “The Problem is Us”

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

(This opinion piece of mine appeared in The Las Cruces Sun News on Monday, July 2, 2012)

The conventional wisdom is that we are a politically divided nation, with “both sides” moving further apart, ever more determined to not give an inch, leaving the moderate “middle” a virtual no-mans land where even angels fear to tread.

What can we do about it?  I have at least one idea, and it has nothing to do with the leadership in Washington, D.C., or the political party you belong to.  It does, however, have everything to do with you and me, and it is this:

Lighten up.

I’m not asking you to change your party or your stripes or your deeply-held beliefs — I’m just begging you to take a step back from the vein-bulging rage and indignation.

Don’t want to?  Great.  Then kiss your beloved country goodbye and get ready for our next Civil War.  Won’t that be fun!

Here’s my own story of the simple (though challenging) act I am asking of my fellow citizens:  I didn’t vote for George W. Bush for President, but once he was elected, I hoped (for our nation’s sake) that he would “succeed”.  But soon I came to feel that he was heavily favoring a large (but not majority) population that shared (unlike me) his cultural, political, and religious views.  He led us into a war that I felt was questionable, at best, and reckless at worst.  I came to view him as a terrible human being.  I believed he was an idiot and the puppet of a neo-conservative conspiracy to force America into the role of an imperial power.  I demonized him, and I got angry.  I hated the man.

So when Dan Rather came forward with “evidence” of President Bush’s “draft dodging” I was ready — no, happy — to believe it.

But then there came a moment when I realized that my anger and my hatred had now become part of the problem of America.  My blind, political rage was really just a counterproductive indulgence.  Whatever George Bush’s faults as our President, he was just a man, not that much better or worse than any other.  So when I learned that the “smoking gun” that Dan Rather had shown to America was not legitimate, I stopped believing that President Bush was guilty of that particular act.  I let it go.

I’ve come to understand that those we entrust with our governance can only accomplish as much as we allow them to.  So when the citizenry is as mad and dug in as we currently are, the fallible human beings that we have elected are forced to dance to the tune our angry fiddles are playing.

So the problem that we have to solve will not be fixed by sending ever more extreme (or “pure”) elected officials to the state house or Washington D.C.  The folks we have there now are already deadlocked like two fighting dogs afraid to loosen the grip of their jaws on each other’s necks, while the rest of us languish, the economy staggers, and real people suffer as history keeps on marching, marching, happy to pass us by.

No.  The only problem we can solve is right here in our own hearts.  Only then will our most intelligent and reasonable run for office.

I pick on the TEA Party.  But, then, I have actually taken the time to get to know them and to find out what they think, believe, and feel passionately about (many of my liberal friends think me crazy for even attempting this).  And I’ve learned something important from these talks with my fellow citizens:  1) They feel deeply about what they believe, (I do not for a moment doubt their sincerity, even if I disagree with their conclusions), and; 2) No matter how hard we tried to find common ground in our conversations, I realized that there will always remain an unbridgeable gap between my view of America and theirs.

And there you have the one, historic problem of America that will not go away (even with a Civil War): there are large swaths of our population that will never agree (have they ever?).  So what do we do?  Kill each other?  Attempt to shut each other out of access to government?  That’s what we’re trying to do right now (and you can see how well it is working as China and India are busily working to displace America as the world leader in technology, education and innovation).

As much as we love to de-humanize our political leadership, smearing them as fascists, socialists or crooks, these people in our capitals are the contents of our own hearts and minds projected on a big screen.  Which means that the bad movie we are watching is not the corruption of our nation, or our government: it is the corruption of our own reason by irrational outrage and inflamed imagination.  And the only cure for that will have to come when one person at a time takes a tiny step back and recognizes that the politicians and liberals and conservatives that we are so angry at are our fellow citizens and human beings who we should treat as we would want to be treated.  Maybe then our politicians will have the freedom to do their work of making the political compromises that have served our nation so well throughout our history — the kind of compromises that show respect for the beliefs, hopes and aspirations of all of our citizens.  Even the ones we don’t agree with.

If we can do this — if you and I can do this — then there will always be hope for this nation that we all share.

Bob Diven

OP/ED FROM THE REV: “What if it’s You?”

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

(NOTE:  This opinion piece of mine ran in the Las Cruces Sun News on August 10, 2010 under the title: “Bias in America: What if it’s You?”)

If your blood pressure shoots up at the mention of the name “Obama”; if you can’t stand to watch network news because of its “left-leaning liberal bias”, and if you think Fox News is the only reliable source for “fair and balanced” news, I have a serious question for you:  Have you ever considered that it might be you that is biased?

We’ve become so used to the epithets that partisan mimics throw around that next to no-one is actually bothering to ask themselves if what they’re being told is, well, true.

Personally, I’ve taken to fact-checking every story that finds its way into my e-mail box.

Generally I’ll go to a site like FactCheck.org or Snopes.com.  This was particularly effective during the last Presidential campaign, where — to my chagrin — I would find that even my preferred presidential candidate (though consistently hewing closer to the truth than his opponent) was not always getting all his facts exactly right.  That being said, when I recently referenced FactCheck.org in an on-line posting, I was immediately attacked for using a source funded by a “lefty organization”.  When even facts are attacked purely on the basis of their source, and not on their actual merit, where, I ask you, does this leave us?

The conservative right has, at this stage of its long life, managed to build a fortress of data that somehow manages to be impregnable to the entry of facts or perspective.  By “data” I mean surveys and studies so obviously selective and skewed as to be of no use except as supports for on-air blowhards as they build their brands (based, it seems, on the alchemical idea that if enough people believe a falsehood, it is somehow miraculously turned into truth).

Based on what I have observed in the recent “debates” over health care reform, the opposition, in particular, seems to have made a decision that facts are only to be respected when they support their own arguments, and attacked when they don’t.  As an example, the preposterous notion of “Death Panels” persists (and refuses to die itself).  This is a perfect example of a sliver of fact being turned into an entire dining room set, for the original idea (supported at the time by Republicans as well) was to merely compel insurers cover end-of-life discussions between patients and their doctors.  It takes a certain kind of intellectual sleaziness to “Hitler-up” such a simple, humane idea up into a tyrannical attempt by our own government to murder grandma.  Such twisting of reality is the immoral act of one who cares not a whit about truth but only about winning, the truth be damned.  (And a kernel of truth does not a bushel make).
The step that any thinking person needs to take in the face of such manipulation, then, is to check the data (that comes across your T.V. or into you e-mail in-box) against the totality of the information out there.  The fact is that it only takes a cursory web search to get the sense of what is bogus and what is factual.

To help you out, here’s a clue to a story’s credibility:  If in any part of it the phrase “I don’t understand why the mainstream media is ignoring this story!!!” appears, there is most likely a reason: it’s probably not a valid story (there are, of course, notable exceptions, but as a general rule, this phrase should raise a warning flag).

This is one of the concepts we all need to get clear on: probability.  There is, indeed, the theoretical possibility that President Obama is not native-born.  It is also possible that he is a Martian.  Neither assertion can be completely, unequivocally disproved.  Both, however, are equally improbable.  And for us to advance as a society, we must stop diverting so much of our energies into chasing after the improbable.  (Let the “wild goose” be – we need all intellectual hands on deck)

Now to be clear, I get this sort of thing from the “left” as well, so a responsible citizen has to exercise at least a basic level of diligence and check the facts.  (Sometimes this means wading through the dozens of repetitive postings on partisan blogs and getting to a reputable news source to find an opposing critique).

I don’t expect that all of us will ever believe all the same things, or share the same political views, but how so many people can spout clearly false second-hand nonsense (based on two parts truth and 98 parts hysterical knee-jerk reaction) is, frankly, beyond me.

This is one of the reasons I keep picking on the poor TEA Party:  how can I take them seriously when over 90 percent of them actually believe that President Obama is a Socialist (a claim that makes actual, real socialists laugh), and perhaps just as many believe (or are inclined to believe) that our duly-elected President is not an actual American citizen (despite the fact that there is zero actual evidence to support their belief?)

As citizens we all share a responsibility to work towards some sort of shared vocabulary and standard of evidence that will allow us to make the critical decisions about the kind of country we want to live in.  But a lot of us aren’t even trying, and it is those people who are the greatest threat to our survival as a nation.

Is one of them you?

(Bob Diven is an award-winning artist and performer and longtime resident of Las Cruces.  He writes as the not-so-reverend bob on his blog at: http://thechurchofbob.com/boblog/)

QUICKIES: POLITICAL OPINION FROM THE REV: “Squeezed to the Left”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

(NOTE: This piece ran on the Opinion page of the Las Cruces Sun News on Monday, April 12, 2010, and led to the invitation from the president of the local TEA Party to attend their “Tax Day” rally at Young Park — SEE THE FOLLOWING POST FOR THE VIDEO REPORT)

“A man sometimes starts up a patriot, only by disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism. To instigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation, is to suspend publick happiness, if not to destroy it. He is no lover of his country, that unnecessarily disturbs its peace. Few errours and few faults of government, can justify an appeal to the rabble; who ought not to judge of what they cannot understand, and whose opinions are not propagated by reason, but caught by contagion.” — Samuel Johnson.

As a youth I learned the story of General Israel Putnam.  Standing atop Bunker Hill he looked down upon the approaching Redcoats and shouted: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!”  Apocryphal or true, this tale is deeply embedded in our collective American memory.  Much lesser known is the tale I ran across of the same General happening upon a gang of “patriots” about to tar and feather a “loyalist”. General Putnam ordered the crowd to desist.

Putnam’s granddaughter of several generations (my mother) is a registered Republican (and the daughter of an Illinois industrialist who despised Roosevelt).  My father grew up in the coal and steel country of western Pennsylvania during the depression.  A veteran of World War 2, he was a registered Democrat and held a more “liberal” view of life than my mother (whom I heard on more than one election day say: “Your father and I cancelled each other out”).  When I registered to vote (at 18), I marked “Democratic Party” only because the first admirable politician I could bring to mind (I was pretty sure) had been a Democrat.

Over the years, though, I voted for more than a few Republicans and Independents, always endeavoring to vote for the best-qualified person.  I thought of myself as a “moderate”.

But of late I’d been increasingly under the impression that I’d become more of a “Progressive” and had moved a fair bit to the “left”.  That is until I took an online survey conducted by five professors who study morality and ethics (http://www.yourmorals.org/).  Looking at how my views compared to other “liberals” (as well as to self-identifying “conservatives”) in a series of bar graphs, I was surprised to discover that I’m not a wild liberal after all: I’m a moderate!

So how did a (apparently) moderate centrist become convinced he was a Liberal?

Here’s how: The vocal far right (along with the T.E.A. Party and a large swath of American Evangelicals) have staked their unequivocal claim as sole representative of the true heart of America (their morals are “traditional”, their claims historic and their guidance divine): all contrary conceptions of America are conflated into a band so narrow as to allow no discernible distinction between a “liberal”, a “socialist”, a “progressive” or (most incredibly) a “nazi”.  There is no such thing as the “middle” many of us once occupied: they have declared (and, I think, sincerely believe) that they are IT.  They don’t think that they are on the fringes of anything, so sure are they of the rightness of their views.

Another ancestor of mine was an officer in the New Jersey Militia. One night a crowd of “patriots” burned his barn, slaughtered his cows and went after him.  He barely escaped while his wife and five children fled to Philadelphia.  Seething, he offered his services to the British Army (if he wasn’t a loyalist before, he certainly was now).  By the time the war was over, his wife and four of his children were dead.

The “minute men” and “tea party patriots” are enshrined in our National mythology.  Large numbers of the currently discontented among us identify themselves with these “citizen-soldiers” of our history with a depth of emotion that is perhaps not as irrational as I once believed: for among their ranks may indeed be the spiritual descendants of the angry mobs that torched first and asked questions later.

It was their own neighbors that the original “patriots” attacked, burned out and tarred.  Reason and restraint never have been traits associated with angry crowds and as the current assemblies increase in size and vitriolic output, the opportunity for excess and violence (from those at their fringe) grows.

What I see coming is a return to the days of Timothy McVeigh and his kind, when the darker side of our national character acted out the logical end of the ideology that the current T.E.A. Party is expressing, and blew up hundreds of fellow American men, women and children.

In the rush to pounce like claim-jumpers upon our shared historic monikers such as “militia”, “Tea Party” and “Patriot”, our social and political discourse is reduced to a playground game where the quickest to speak gets to choose sides: “We’ll be the real Americans, and you be the Redcoats”.  Well, I’m not a Redcoat, thank you very much.  I’m as American as they come.  And no self-titled “patriot’s” got the right to attack my country in the name of any patriotism that deserves to use that title.  Because violence against ones political opponents is not patriotism, it’s just the terror of a gang.  For yes, my friends, one can be both an American and a terrorist.  And one can be a liberal and an American.  The only thing one can’t be today, it seems, is an American moderate.