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I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the twittersphere since the Zimmerman verdict on Saturday. In the process I started following one of my favorite–now only occasional–NPR voices, Michele Norris. Norris left All Things Considered, which she used to cohost, to write a book, and started something in 2010 called The Race Card Project.

The Race Card Project. I love that name. Have you ever noticed how quick white folks are to play the “play the race card” card?

Yesterday at lunch I was skimming through the site and felt prompted to write my own six-word essay. I encourage you to take a shot at it yourself. It’s a helpful process. Mine–which hasn’t shown up yet just showed up at the site–follows.

Here’s the link: We don’t want your “White” America.

We don’t want your “White” America.

By all appearances, I’m “white” and I was raised in white middle class America. My biological father was Hispanic (my relatives on that side are mostly pale, like me). My dad, the man who helped raise me, is part Native American. My wife’s son–now my son–is black, technically mixed race. And there’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous race and ethnicity throughout my family tree.

Perusing this [The Race Card Project] site, I couldn’t help noticing an excess of comments by a few folks claiming to defend our “national identity,” [our white European identity]–defending it from the likes of me and my family.

1) By any sane reckoning, this country was long inhabited by brown-skinned natives before being invaded and colonized by fair-skinned Europeans.This was never a “white” country, except by the most despicable usurpation.

2) Skin color, while it may be a beautiful feature, is an arbitrary means of discriminating among peoples. I’m willing to wager that you could discern neither my character, intellect nor even my heritage by the color of my skin.

3) Despite its checkered past and frequent and flagrant hypocrisy, this nation, as it has existed for the last 200+ years (see #1), was founded on principles of opportunity, equality, diversity and freedom–freedom from, among other things, bigotry and oppression.

4) And we have grown in our understanding and embrace of those principles, grown to recognize and institutionalize constitutionally the rights of women and of blacks. This country is no longer, thank God, a white European good ol’ boys club. We have farther to go, but the progress that we’ve made–not some calcified snapshot of a particular point in the past–is who we are. As much, indeed, as we are in part who we were, we are far more what we are becoming.

5) Our culture is a sometimes chaotic commingling, sometimes harmonic union of a multitude of voices. Our language is notoriously and gloriously bastardized–stolen, borrowed, hopelessly corrupted, inventively conjugated–from every language on the planet.

Diversity is inherent in our national identity. More, it is what makes us great.

A monotone is unmelodic. Monoculture is weak and vulnerable. A palette of only one color–or even a few shades of the same color–offers little opportunity for expression.

This is not your “White” America.

This country has never been and–as long as I can help it–will never be your “White” America. It angers and disgusts me, but, more than that, it saddens me that anyone would want such a boring, insular, inbred construct of sameness. If that’s what you want, go make it somewhere else. If that’s what you want here, you’ve declared war on the nation you claim to be defending and I for one would be happy to see you treated accordingly.

Here’s what I love about the video of Abby Evans, the little girl who’s upset by the supersaturation of campaign ads and election coverage: just like most Republicans, the Democratic president she’s sick of hearing about–“Bronco Bama”–doesn’t really exist. Bronco might in fact be a good name for a character in one of Dinesh D’Souza’s historicized paranoid fictions.

That’s not fair to Abby. Hers was just a youthful mispronunciation. Clint Eastwood and Dinesh D’Souza et al. are ostensibly adults. They’ve less excuse for conjuring a foul-mouthed bogeyman in an empty chair and a racist, anti-American, Marxist antichrist with debilitating daddy issues and trying to insert those perjured nightmares into our imaginations.

If half of the stories floating about Obama were true–if a quarter of the paranoid fantasies about our so-called “socialist” president had anything other than the thinnest thread of relationship to reality–I’d be concerned too. And it’s telling that the Obama conservatives want us to be afraid of is the one they’ve made up. It suggests that the real Obama is a more formidable candidate for reelection and maybe not such a bad guy or feckless leader.

And, no, I don’t think Democrats have done the same–and certainly not with anything close to the same volume or anything close to the same degree of distortion.

We haven’t had to.

Romney’s dismissals of large chunks of the citizenry–including seniors and the working poor–are clear and startling frequent. His arrogance and sense of entitlement are manifest. So are his lies about the auto industry. His flip-flops on nearly every major issue in this election are in the public record–for anyone who’s paying attention and cares to see.

What we can’t see are full disclosures of his tax returns. What he doesn’t want us to look at and doesn’t want to take credit for is his actual record at Bain Capital. What he wants us to forget is that though he claims to be morally opposed to federal pork, as chairman of the 2002 Olympics, he bragged about gaming the federal government out of at least an unprecedented $400 million and by some accounts up to $1.5 billion; that’s out of a $1.3 billion budget.

A young man we know told us he would be voting for Romney. I had to ask, “which one?”

Romney says that he can create 12 million jobs if we elect him (never mind that he also says government doesn’t create jobs), but his record of job growth as governor of Massachusetts is no better (proportionally) than Obama’s. And I think it’s safe to say that Obama has faced a tougher challenge.

You may have good reasons for voting for Romney. But, frankly, I haven’t heard any from him–not any that were reflected in his record or even consistent with his previous rhetoric.

His campaign has made a point of letting us know that they won’t be “dictated by fact-checkers.” From what I’ve seen of the facts and what they say of their man, I can understand why.

President Obama has tried repeatedly to work with Republicans in Congress even when they openly stated that their primary objective was to make sure he only served one term, even as they stonewalled and filibustered at every turn. Republicans notably refused to participate in landmark healthcare reform legislation, even as he packed it with Republican ideas–Republican ideas that all-of-a-sudden became bad once he championed them, ideas like those pioneered in Massachusetts but that the former governor of Massachusetts now says he opposes and will act to repeal on his first day in office if he were elected.

I’m proud of what my president has accomplished. Among those accomplishments: far-reaching healthcare reform, helping to save the American auto industry, restoring stability to the financial sector and leading us out of our country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. I’m proud of my president’s stand against bigotry in all of its forms. I’m proud that he ended the war in Iraq and is on track to end the war in Afghanistan. I’m proud that he restored our reputation among the world’s nations.

I’m thankful that Obama is fighting for all Americans and not just a few.

I was excited to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. I’m even more excited for what we can accomplish as a nation if we re-elect him in 2012. I remember Bill Clinton, the man who helped bring us out of debt–a man who, you may recall, left our last Republican president with a budget surplus. I remember that after throwing $10 million dollars trying to dig up an excuse to throw Clinton out of office, Republicans in Congress finally decided to start working with him. I’m convinced that that can happen again. I don’t think Obama is the obstacle and I dare to believe that with the threat of another term removed, Republicans will move to cooperate and act responsibly.

Romney’s approach is at best a return to the failed policies of deregulation and trickle-down economics that led to a profusion of greedy opportunism and the crash of 2008.

At worst, I’m concerned that Romney and his colleagues on the Right will widen the gap between the already-obscenely-wealthy and the working poor, turn back the clock on the last century’s hard-won advancements in civil rights and gender equality, plunder our planet’s resources with no regard for long-term environmental consequences, restore our Bush-era status as international pariah, further explode our bloated Pentagon budget, harden our posture of aggression and militarism, disenfranchise minorities, let the sick die, leave the weak unprotected, exploit the poor, under-educate our children, under-fund and subvert the sciences, Goebbels the arts, cast aside our inheritance as a people of religious and cultural tolerance and work to wholly vacate the principles of pluralism.

And that’s just based on his promises.

I happily and proudly vote for Barack Obama–for the real Barack Obama–not the Obama imagined in propagandist cinema, or conjured in demonstrably false (and repeatedly independently demonstrated false) Tea Party email forwards, conservative memes, or birther conspiracy theories. I vote for the man who has courageously led this nation through singular difficulties and in the face of unprecedented obstructionism and a monstrous conservative campaign of disinformation and slander.

I vote for Barack Obama, not because he is perfect and certainly not–as reactionaries with little else to say like to chortle–because I think he’s the Messiah. I vote for Barack Obama because he’s a decent, articulate and intelligent man who’s spent his political career–including the last four years–fighting for regular Americans like you and me, fighting for this country and for the values and virtues that make us great. I vote for Barack Obama because he’s restored my faith in this nation and its people.

I vote for Barack Obama because he thinks it’s okay to make and have a lot of money, but he doesn’t think it’s okay that many of those who work hard and play by the rules cannot afford food, shelter, healthcare or an adequate education while the wealthiest Americans get richer and richer on the labor of the underpaid poor.

I vote for Barack Obama, yes, because he speaks well and his rhetoric resonates with our highest ideals, but, more importantly, because that rhetoric reflects the principles that guide his behavior and characterize his leadership.

I vote for Barack Obama because he understands that we are in this together–and he has a consistent track record to prove that that’s not only what he says, but what he believes and how he works.

I vote for Barack Obama because his campaign is not merely about what he will do–it’s not about what Government or Capital or Big Business can do; it’s about what you and I and all of us will do together.

One of my favorite bits in the Bible is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He uses the metaphor of a body to describe the community of the faithful. And I would argue that this theme–even when not always in the same language–is pervasive in the Jewish and Christian canons.

Each body part tends to think it’s the only one that matters and has a hard time seeing past its own ways of looking at and interacting with the world. Or, um, that’s the way the eyeball would say it. The eye wants everyone to think and act like an eye. The reality is that we’d look (damn, there’s that bias again) pretty ridiculous and be completely dysfunctional if we were all just eyeballs. Or ears. And even the lowly sphincter, toenail or intestinal villus is important–vital even.

I have rarely felt that folks fully comprehended the truth and profundity of either the passage or broader analogy or the depth and breadth of its proper application, let alone the extent to which most of our behavior belies it.

That we should fight against discrimination in all of its forms–gender, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc.–should go without saying. And yet it must be said.

Too many operate under the illusion, for instance, that we live in some kinda of “post-racial” society. However sincerely they might believe it and however much I wish they were right, I know that they are wrong. And the most telling rebuttal is the experience of racial minorities. One need look no further than the morning news to see bigotry rampant–in everyday life, in popular culture, in public policy.

Discrimination–including both extreme manifestations such as apartheid (which exist in essence in parts of this country), hate crimes, genocide, blatant economic and political oppression and lesser but still dangerous forms such as hiring, social and consumer biases and bigoted speech–is in itself an issue of justice and social responsibility. It is, in other words, a moral imperative.

So-called “affirmative action” policies may or may not be situationally effective and their inclusion in specific solutions would therefore be conditional. Deliberately, proactively–indeed, aggressively–attacking the problem is not. Action is necessary and it must be targeted and strategic. Simply ignoring the problem, thinking wishful thoughts against it or even rhetorically opposing it won’t make it go away.

As with any issue of this enormity and importance, action most be taken individually and collectively. The solution must be part of how we live but it must also be institutionalized both in corporate and governmental policy.

But my point extends beyond issues of discrimination, oppression, inequality of opportunity and disenfranchisement. Returning to the body metaphor, overcoming bigotry and xenophobia and practicing inclusion are acts of enlightened self-interest. We are stronger, smarter, more effective, more whole–indeed we can only be complete and we can only ever hope to overcome our challenges and achieve our potential–to the extent that we not only tolerate and respect, but seek out and embrace diversity.

The principle of diversity applies to religion. While we may in some sense be called a “Christian” nation, those who cling to that identity must acknowledge that “Christians” themselves fundamentally and broadly disagree about both core values and practice. More importantly, what has allowed this nation to survive and thrive is not an arbitrary “Christian” dogma but pluralism and an appropriate separation of Church and State.

Religious freedom does not mean–as some seem to think it does–that I have a right to impose my personal religious convictions on others–either to compel or restrict their behavior. As a person of faith–yea, as a person of passions and conviction–I cannot separate my beliefs and religious values from my public and political participation, but as a citizen, I must exercise and express those values in a way that respects the beliefs and values others.

To be clear, we are stronger as a nation in part because of our cultural, philosophical and religious heterogeneity.

The principle of diversity applies not only domestically but to our engagement internationally. Our foreign policy must fully respect not only the humanity but the cultural legitimacy of both our allies and those we label as “enemies.” Of course we shouldn’t embrace what is immoral or amoral, but we should be circumspect enough to recognize that many times these judgments are wholly subjective and that often it is our behavior and/or the behavior of our allies that is repugnant.

Being American doesn’t make us right. Being American doesn’t elevate us above or excuse us from accountability to the rest of humanity or to the court of nations.

Our foreign policy should be free of imperialism and it must not subordinate the rights and interests of other states. We should be cooperative participants in the international community and guardians of the ideals that unite, protect and advance all of our planet’s citizens.

Much of the greatness of our identity is that we are a nation of many peoples and that our cultural and intellectual inheritance is international, global and encompassing.

We are an immigrant nation. Indiscriminately locking down our borders or tolerating a subordinate, essentially slave class of disenfranchised laborers is inconsistent with our national achievements and the nobility of our ideals and aspirations; and it is a tragic waste of the costly lessons of our national history.

Our immigration policy must be merciful and rational and it must recognize the contributions of our undocumented residents and acknowledge and accept our responsibility to humanity beyond our circumscribed–geographically or otherwise–borders. The pathway to citizenship must be open and not unduly arduous. Our treatment of immigrants–documented or otherwise–has to respect their human rights and their basic human needs.

Again, a humane immigration policy is enlightened self-interest, appreciating and facilitating the continued infusion of vitality, innovation and productivity from our newest residents, workers and citizens.

Money, like Time, strikes me as an over-rated, arbitrary, grossly erroneous, frequently disastrous quantification of things that quite often might otherwise be holy. Money–whether intrinsically or just practically doesn’t really matter–reduces “value” to a number and renders all things fungible.

I’m not altogether convinced that it’s ultimately helpful, though I acknowledge that it works after a fashion. I’m not at all convinced that it’s good, let alone necessary.

So, yaknow, just a warning, that’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with.

I don’t find myself particularly “entrepreneurial” and past a point I don’t find the mechanisms of capitalism especially motivational. Even where it works, it too often feels dirty. I don’t mean that to be offensive; that’s just how it feels to me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

I admit that I like stuff–indeed, I like my stuff–and I’m a bit of a consumer. At this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that I might have difficulty transitioning to a system without private property; I’m not proud of that but I readily confess that it’s true. Moreover I do well enough as a capitalist; maybe better than I deserve. That being said: though I tend to be a passionate guy, there’s little in the Free Market that gets me positively hot and bothered (and, yeah, there are many things elsewhere that do).

What’s more, I know plenty of folks who work exceptionally hard and are incredibly smart but the Free Market is not their friend. It’s no good telling me that they’re not the right kind of smart, because that’s my point exactly. Capitalism favors a few forms of intelligence and effort and is either indifferent or disrespectful toward most others. We take that for granted and make all sorts of rationalizations for it. But it’s not right. Even a man like Warren Buffet admits as much (I didn’t need Warren to point out the obvious though I appreciate that he did).

I don’t have to accept it and I won’t.

I’ve seen no evidence that persuades me that the Market on its own distributes wealth equitably or that a supposedly “freer” market would do better. By no means do I believe that people are paid what they’re worth or that we’ve any hope of achieving such a fantasy with laissez faire capitalism.

It probably goes without saying but just in case it’s not obvious: I think trickle-down economics is madness.

I should clarify that I know and respect several legitimate entrepreneurs. Many of them are among the finest folks I know. And to a great extent their character is proportional to their success. We need people like them and I’m thankful that they’re my friends. But frankly I feel that much of their talent is wasted in the convolutions of a pointless game.

I’m not an economist. It’s something I considered studying way back when I was just a lad, but I leaned another direction.

I’m not an economist but it seems to me that Capitalism is mostly broke. I’m not suggesting that it has no value or that we should completely abandon it. And even if we should, I’m not sure within what time frame or by what method we could.

I certainly don’t advocate Stalinist or Maoist communism. And, though some will surely disagree, I’m not a big fan of statism.

All that to say that the word “socialist” doesn’t bother me. Its usage does. It’s overused and misused with wild abandon by demagogues, ignorant mobs, parrots, xenophobes and alarmists. It’s overused especially by folks whose view of the world fits comfortably within a scarily narrow bandwidth. Which is not to say–I feel compelled to clarify–that one can’t or shouldn’t use the word or that one can’t be intelligent and do so. Hell, intelligent people misuse and overuse all of the time ;-p–and of course they also use rightly.

I’m not so much offended if you call me a socialist, because in my heart I might be closer to that than to any other easy economic label. I don’t so much like facile labels but I recognize their inevitability.

I am a little offended when you call Democrats who are clearly not socialists “socialists” (a grammatical note that I’m sure will be lost on most: I did not say “Democrats, who are not socialists,” even though I think most Democrats, particularly our president, are not) both because I think it completely misrepresents them and, as many have been forced to point out over the last four years (as a result of all of that overuse, donchaknow), because it’s a bit of an insult to the actual Socialists and a trivialization of socialism proper.

I don’t honestly know the solution for our economic woes or for the economic injustice endemic to, well, most every modern culture. I think we’re stuck with capitalism for the foreseeable future–at least for my lifetime (and I do see that it has its benefits, though I honestly feel little urge to enumerate them, given the ubiquity, loudness and persistence, on both sides of the aisle and in the media, of those who will do that for me). But at the very least I’m convinced that it needs to be well-regulated–far better than it is or has been.

Welfare capitalism is certainly not the worst we could do.

I’m quite comfortable sidestepping capitalism completely when necessary.

What I particularly don’t tolerate well is this notion that Capitalism is some godlike primary force to whom we owe obeisance and whose principles are inviolable.

My inclination is to say that the Market and the profit motive should be subordinate and subservient to everything of value. I think in fact that that’s what good men and women who call themselves capitalists do but then when it comes to policy they too often confuse the servant with its master. Values such as honesty and integrity, the pursuit of excellence, the desire to do good and make a difference in the world–these are all things, thank God, that I sometimes find working in the Free Market, but I don’t see that they are especially at home there. And, on the other hand, I see several less noble impulses that are.

We have a social responsibility. I am my brother’s keeper.

We need each other. We have a moral obligation to one another.

Government is one of the ways that we exercise that mutual responsibility.

I can agree that Government–in general and in each specific instance–is flawed, corrupt, inadequate, inefficient. But so is every other human institution or system–including any organization, business or corporation, including the Free Market itself, including the Church. I would argue that government–depending of course on the specific context–can be more effective, more representative, more just than any and all of these other institutions. Yes, sometimes it is less effective.

I don’t think that Government is the Answer or Savior. But I don’t think it’s the Enemy. At least it doesn’t have to be. We as a nation, acting through the agency of our government have accomplished a great many good and significant things. I think it both foolish and irresponsible to abandon that effort, least of all to suggest–as many on the Right have done–dismantling, crippling or inhibiting one of our most powerful means to the common good. Even our financial success can be largely attributed to the political environment that allowed it. We are great not in spite of government, but to a large degree because of it.

To be very clear, I do not believe (and see little evidence for and much to the contrary of) the assertion that the Private Sector or the “Free” Market is intrinsically able to overcome the challenges we face better than or without a larger framework of cooperation.

Each institution is subject to its own unique weaknesses and each has its own strengths. I don’t suggest subverting or eradicating any of them, but I am emphatically opposed to tendencies I see in our society to lean on Capitalism, Commerce, Privatization as the panacea for everything that ails us. That capitalism exploits the selfish urge is perhaps its genius, but that urge is also its great weakness and what profoundly limits and distorts it’s progress toward the good.

Perhaps just as importantly, each man or woman acting on his or her own is intrinsically inferior to our acting together.

Individualism is one of the most lethal and insidious cancerous lies infecting our contemporary culture, especially Conservatism and especially the Church.

That’s certainly not to deny the absolute requirement of individual responsibility or the vital necessity of protecting individual liberties. Indeed one of the things that I believe our particular form of government is relatively (v. Business, v. the Market, v. Church, v. anarchy) well-equipped to do is to secure the rights of individuals and minorities and to prevent a tyranny of the masses or a reduction of all its citizens to a bland anonymity.

It is imperative that we protect the variously vulnerable members of our society against oppression and reckless indifference or abuse that they might otherwise suffer whether by racial animus, individual prejudice, emotionalism, consumerism, greed, dogma, ignorance, etc.

Moreover anyone who lacks food, shelter, education, healthcare, justice, economic opportunity, access to culture, represents our moral failure as a species.

I’ve wrestled for a while with whether I should go all political here. I mean, yaknow, I could lose my one faithful reader.

In the end I decided that this is who I am.

What I don’t want is for this to degenerate into one of those idiotic flame wars. So I’m enabling comment approval. I’ll probably approve your comment even if it is stupid. If I don’t, I encourage you to write your own damned blog and post a link here.

The following started as a status update on Facebook. It’s too long. I’m posting something FB digestible there and on Twitter with a link to here. There are several references to occurrences on FB but nothing overly specific, and the gist easily stands alone. Here then:

So maybe I’ve been a little obnoxious lately. I’ll grant at the very least that I’ve been vocal.

I’m not going to issue a blanket apology, because that would be neither honest nor productive, but I readily admit that I’ve said a few things (or at least said some things in a way that) I regret. I do apologize for any time I have strayed from the truth or said something gratuitously hurtful.

“Gratuitously hurtful” sounds a little overqualified, but I’m of the opinion that change is a painful process and I hope to be a catalyst for change; as such, I kinda want to cause some pain. Think of me as that asshole trainer who you know really likes you even though he pushes you in ways that you don’t think he should. Yeah, that’s maybe a bit self-aggrandizing but it’s more a statement of aspiration than belief.

I care about politics. I was thinking about it yesterday as I was driving with my honey. Just at that moment I saw someone with a Dallas Cowboys bumper sticker and I thought of all of the excesses people go to for their favorite sports teams and all of the noise they make about those teams (sometimes even more about the ones they despise) . . . or cute little kitties . . . or TV shows . . . or mediocre pop music . . . or wornout sayings that used to be clever turned into shoddy looking graphics, etc. Anyway, I feel alright talking about politics.

A few folks I respect have recently confronted me about my partisan posts. While I might disagree with them about various particulars, I want them to know that I’m listening thoughtfully and praying. And for the most part I agree with their concerns–if not necessarily how they apply to me. ;-p Even in that I’m willing to admit that I might be wrong.

I vet the things that I post on my timeline (less so but to some degree still with things that I “like”) and I pretty much stand by them without qualification. If I make a mistake I think I’m willing to own it. In my defense I usually find that I have gone to some pains to say things precisely and that precision is completely ignored for a quick and sloppy misinterpretation. To my discredit, that’s just the way language works and I maybe need to get over it. I make a point of being honest and I try to be fair but I am unapologetic about being partisan. I’m not going to promise to stop or cut back, but I’m going to try to slow down a little.

A couple of recent remarks about “sound bites” have motivated me to do something I’d been thinking of for quite a while.

So much of our conversations about politics amount to talking past each other as we twist the facts to conform to our preconceptions. I admit that I’ve done that. Of course like everyone I like to think that my biases naturally flow from the facts.

Another thing we do is assume agreement over the values behind our political choices. While I like to believe that we’re ultimately all on the same team, I’m increasingly convinced that we’re not all on the same page or even in the same play book.

Here’s what I want to do. Instead of arguing over “Truth,” factoids, sound bites, lies, accusations and innuendo, I’d like to try to articulate as clearly as I can what motivates my peculiar political enthusiasms, loyalties and inclinations. Since this is more of an internal, reflective sort of thing, I’m mostly going to try to avoid proof-texting or citing statistics, editorials or news articles, etc. I believe that my values fit nicely with the facts, with the texts that I consider holy, with sound reasoning. But as I said, that’s everyone’s bias. And it’s far too easy to lose sight of one in the process of uncovering the other. I’d rather try to be clear about the motivating values and get to arguing over the “facts” or even establishing sources later.

As I said, this is something I’ve thought of doing for a long time. Part of what’s kept me back was a desire to be complete, accurate and compelling. Screw all that. I’m just gonna start doing this. I’ll ramble. I’ll miss some things. I’ll misrepresent myself.

I would love to have your help. There’s a kind of help I’d rather not have, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it. For the sake of this exercise, I’ll try to be blunt in letting you know when you do it. Someone is sure to.

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