Monica Vernon for Congress

When I was running for Congress I was running against two other Democrats in the primary for the nomination.  Naturally, the political stump is competitive as it is essential to differentiate ourselves so that voters can make a decision, but, my strategy from the beginning was to clarify myself, rather than define the other two.

“I’m not running against anyone,” was my opening salvo.  “I am running for the office.”

The truth was that three accomplished, informed, and credible candidates were running for Iowa’s First District. We were also three very different people.  I include myself in that assessment, at the risk of sounding braggadocios, but I would not have run if I didn’t feel that I was qualified.

FB_IMG_1453821273631I left that race, however, when a series of debates that I was counting on for media attention were cancelled.  The viability of a path to victory was greatly diminished.  I immediately (and enthusiastically) entered a race for the State House, leaving the two other candidates to vie for the Congressional nomination.

Also, upon leaving the race I endorsed Monica Vernon. I learned firsthand throughout the campaign, from other Democrats and from my own observation, that Monica Vernon has the right combination of skills, connections, experiences, and passion to help working families in Iowa, prioritize education, to promote equality and justice for all, and to continue improving health care, forward environmental concerns, and to grow Iowa businesses.

How we arrive in life at the place where we stand is personal, and the sincerity of our journey should be judged by what we do moving forward and so I do not question the progressive integrity of either candidate. Both are good Democrats. They are passionate about public service, have done great things with their lives and want to take their experiences to Washington to serve Iowans.  Most of the progressive principles at stake are issues that all 3 of us shared, with only variations in terms of prioritizing and some policy specifics.

Monica Vernon’s personal story as a mother, a businessperson and member of the20160425_155100 Cedar Rapids City Council, have given her insights that are unique toward building Iowa’s infrastructure with an unyielding commitment to Quality of Life.

Her rhetoric has remained positive and compassionate, and those are principles of character that I look for when making an important decision.

What struck me most was that she was willing to listen, and not simply dictate her views.  She regards her relationship with Iowans as a partnership and she is eager to listen and to elicit our ideas.  That is how it should be and that is a rare quality for a politician.  And it’s the one that sealed the deal for me.  She is a person before a politician.

Again, I am not against anyone.  I stand for certain qualities and principles and I believe that Iowa Democrats have great candidates up and down the ticket in district after Monica_Vernondistrict.  And I am on record to say: “I enthusiastically endorse Monica Vernon for the United States Congress from Iowa’s First District.”


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Historical Histrionics

stopStop!  The claims being made on both sides, Republican and Democrat, regarding historical triumphs are flawed!  The political parties do not represent consistent ideologies throughout their histories.  The essential ideological arguments today are (and always have been) between Conservatism and Liberalism, and not Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans, for example, can make a legitimate claim to being highly instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but conservatism cannot.  It was from an eloquent presentation by a Republican senator who said, “This is a bill whose time has come” and enough Republicans (not the majority of Republicans), led by Everett Dirksen, overcame the bloc of Southern Democrats (not the majority of Democrats) and got it passed.

Richard Russell, a Democratic Senator from Georgia, launched a filibuster to prevent its passage saying, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states.”

Russell was a Democrat but not a liberal.  In fact, he was the founder of the Conservative Coalition that brought Southern Democrats and Republicans together to wrest control of Congress. Southern Democrats largely became Republicans in 1964 due to their anger over the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Even within the larger philosophical movements of Liberalism and Conservatism, there are different societal and economic contexts.  Republicans in Lincoln’s time were not exclusively the party of conservative values as they have become.

Lincoln considered himself a conservative Constitutionalist, and was supported by Republicans (primarily from the North), but in assuming all powers not delegated in the Constitution, including the power to suspend Habeas Corpus, he took more liberty with constitutional authority than perhaps any President in history.

He also became socially liberal in his interpretation of the natural rights the Constitution upholds. While the Republican Party was literally founded by anti-slavery activists (the abolitionists) in 1854, “emancipation” was a movement of Liberalism over Conservatism.

The claims of either political party, however, for creating huge ideological shifts in America is nonsense. One side may harbor a majority of those who hold a particular philosophical position over the other, but political party affiliations are merely a skiff deployed from that larger vessel.

John Locke who is often credited for the creation of “liberalism” defined the concept of each of us having “natural rights” and the “right to life, liberty and property.” The root definition of “liberalism” is liberty; Latin for “free.” Not today’s interpretation among anti-liberals as meaning “excessive” (as in a liberal application of suntan oil).

Conservatism, which is defined as “reluctance to accept change” actually has its roots with the Tories or the “Loyalists” who wished to remain loyal to England and the monarchy.

Take the conservative position toward women’s suffrage in the early 20th century. Life Magazine in 1905 offered this (edited here) as an argument to the more liberal North American Review which had just offered its support of the movement.

“The primary objection to woman suffrage is that it would add an enormous army of unqualified voters to the huge mass of them that vote now…There is nothing the average American woman wants that the average American man will not give her if he can get it…The average woman thinks the same… for our part, we are old fogy, and hope that it will never need to happen. Not in our time, kind Fate; not in our time, anyhow.”

The article above was not written to support the repression of women, it was intended to be a rational and reasoned argument to reflect the beliefs of many Americans at the time. It was a position to maintain the status quo and to protect what it saw as America’s best interests.

That article is clearly not the position of modern Republicans, but it is historically consistent with conservative philosophy .  What is illustrated is how the conservative status quo must be pushed by a consistent progressive movement.  We can glean from history that radical voices are required at times to unite in opposition to the status quo when conservatism denies natural human, and civil rights.

That has primarily been the course of the liberal movement and why I, personally, align myself to the left; it is the choice I make between different philosophies to fulfill what I view as my responsibility as an American.

I understand what it means to “conserve” and to be cautious; I understand why it’s important to protect that which protects us.  I also understand what it means to respect differences and to allow for new ideas. The latter sometimes has to challenge the former in order to bring about a better progression toward Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

While it may be true that modern conservatives align more with the Republican Party and liberals with Democrats, if the discussion can gravitate away from partisan bias and toward a more genuine understanding of Conservatism and Liberalism…maybe this could become a more civil political climate….and beyond that, maybe we can start to get better things done in the interest of all Americans.

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What’s your CSI?

Do you know what I’m really tired of? Besides, shortfalls in education budgets, short-sighted environmental policy, political bickering, hyperbole, and demagoguery.

I’m tired of acronyms.

The intention of an acronym is to reduce space in writing.  Once a long name,acronym thebacksofmyeyelidsblogspot like the Association for the Proliferation of Acronyms, has been established in a document, the writer can save space by using AFPUA from then on.  Makes sense.  All the reader has to do if they forget what AFPUA stands for is jog back in the article to where the name was first used.

It comes as no surprise that such shorthand would find its way into advertising and promotion.  We all know that PETA, for example, is an organization that defends the right8s of animals, but who remembers that it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?  No need to; having “PET” in the shortened name makes it even better.  Even PETA doesn’t use their full title in their own materials.

NATO is NATO whenever it’s referred to. It is really the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Except in France where it is OTAN.  The Organization of Treaty for the Atlantic North.

And maybe those are two easy ones that most people do recognize for their full titles, but acronyms have nevertheless transcended from written pages to spoken language. The idea of saving time trumps all other forms of communication, but there is a virus within the body of shortcut language:  When you don’t know what the acronym stands for, not only is time lost, but so is understanding.

There is nothing new about Acronym-mania.  The AFL-CIO has been using theirs for over 60 years.  And to be honest, saying “The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, is a mouthful.  But do we really need to know their full title to understand that ALF-CIO is a labor union?  No.

I belong to SAG and AFTRA (since merged to SAG-AFTRA), but again, knowing that they are labor organizations in the entertainment industry is enough without spelling out Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists every time.

These are cases that illustrate exactly why acronyms became popular, even necessary.  My issue here is when they replace language as part of language itself when, in fact, they are not.

In my advertising career we throw around ROI, DMS, SPAM, BR, ASP, CR, CRM, CPL and MOM and expect everyone to understand what we mean as clearly as “Please pass the ketchup.”  The other day an employee came up to mean to say: “I didn’t know what AGI meant for 2 years.  All I knew was that I was responsible for it.”

In health care we are always talking about HMO’s, MCO’s, the NIC, HIPPA and HHR. It is assumed that if you are at a meeting within any discipline that you have taken a course in that industry’s Abbreviation Program and will use these letters just as you would call for the family dog.

“Here, HIPPA! That’s a good, HIPPA!”

No one wants to appear uninformed, and in fact, the truly informed love to show how informed they are by using the too-cool-for-school acronym vernacular.  As a result very few people will ever volunteer: “Hey!  Could you explain what you meant when you said ‘The ACU challenged the ACLU responding to the DCCC regarding the CBO assessment of the ECU analysis of the GNP’?”

The trend to abbreviate isn’t going to change; it satisfies too many of our instincts.  One is to shorten everything, another is to make ourselves exclusive whenever possible.  There is a satisfaction that is realized when we speak an esoteric tongue understood only by those “in the know.”

This little essay isn’t a reprimand with even the slightest hope that Acronym Fever will ever subside, but it is a caution.   In our progression to abbreviate language, we can also abbreviate understanding.  In the effort to save time, we can lose time.

How’s that for a PSTMOT? Oh….that’s a pithy statement to make one think.

Well, it’s my birthday, too – yeah!

I’m 59 years old today. 59.  18% of half a century beyond a half century.  A mere picture-of-a-birthday-cake-with-lots-of-candles1% of a century short of 60.  60!  Holy cow!  That’s when life expectancy gets real, man!!

Yet, I don’t feel a day over 23.  People tell me that I look young, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not 23 that they’re thinking.  I must admit to feeling my age for about 20 minutes every morning or the day after my sons are with me for a weekend; aging muscles can only take so much football and basketball and football and more basketball.  But, for the most part I still feel as if my adult life has just begun.

FB_IMG_1448492742310-1At this stage of my life, I’ve been a son and a brother for all of those 59 years and I’ve been a father for 17.  I was in school for 18 years, a professional actor for 21, a television producer for 1, and a game show host for 2.  I’ve been writing for 18 years, was a restaurateur for 4, married for 14 of my years and have been a creative director for 13.  And I’ve now been a candidate for public office for one year.

I’ve known my longest friend for over 50 years.  I can remember the day we met in school and so I have an actual sense of what five decades feels like.  If I back up five decades from the day I was born it is 1907.  That’s a noodle twister!  Less than my lifetime before my lifetime Theodore Roosevelt was President, movies were silent and the average life expectancy for an American male was 46 years.  I’d be 13 years in the grave already.

So, what’s the point of this birthday diatribe of marginally depressing information?

Well….I’m not depressed, for starters. I am living a good life.  I’m nothing special, but I was given something that sometimes seems unusual.  It is an inherited motivation to stay positive and to keep moving; to define the space I occupy with energy.

I’m not pretending to be altruistic, my motives are to find gratification like anyone else, but this innate impulse to constantly discover new horizons is most satisfying when my efforts bring something positive to others.

59 years from now I’ll be 118. I intend to get there, by the way.  That will require a lot oWrinkled old man smoking a cigar - Lonely Planet here we come!f yogurt, I would imagine.  Yogurt and an occasional cigar.  The occasional cigar and a glass of wine relax me and I figure that small vices can be life sustaining.

profileI’ve learned a lot. I mean a LOT, yet I know so little of what there is to know.  I can hold my own at cocktail parties, no matter the topic, but I can’t fix your plumbing or make a new cabinet for the living room.

They say that you have to do something 10,000 times before you are an expert at it.  Well, my eyes have opened to see a new day 21, 535 times….I’m an expert, twice over, at living.

That’s the point of this.  I know how to live and I’m damned proud of that.

A Job Worth Doing!

For most of my life I have been involved with programs that deal with poverty.  My mother was a Head Start teacher and I helped her during semester breaks in high school and college, as a professional actor in Los Angeles I helped raise funds for Homeless Health Care.  Since coming back to Iowa I have been proud to work with a number of charities and service clubs and recently my Rotary Club was introduced to an organization called “The Job Foundation.”  That’s a long “o” in “Job” (the Biblical name).


The Job Foundation is a Not for Profit organization in Waterloo that operates on the premise that “economic empowerment for financially disadvantaged children” is the key to ending the perpetuation of poverty.

It does this by promoting financial stewardship to students through education and mentoring designed to teach impoverished children how to save money, how to become leaders, the importance of academic success and abstinence from illegal activities.

Please visit their website:

Their paradigm to end poverty is to give impoverished children the tools to end the cycle of poverty that they inherited.  In my view-  THAT is the answer that has eluded the political debate.

What I love most about The Job Foundation is their philosophical reason for existing: ”It’s just the right thing to do.  The success of even one child benefits us all and the continuation of financial disadvantage, in even one child, harms us all.”

I have made many arguments (on this blog and elsewhere) regarding what I consider the myths about welfare that stall our budget debates and diminishes the help America is capable of giving, and Jennifer Brost, the founder of the Job Foundation, enlightened me with her unique and very honest perspective.  She said this in regard to criticism of people who receive assistance:

“It simply is not true that people who receive assistance are not working.  They are working.  They are working 12-15 hour shifts 6-7 days a week for a yearly salary of $24,000.  Their kids only eat at school and their parents go hungry on a regular basis.  It seems no one wants to believe this is happening in Waterloo but it is and it is very traumatic and costly.”

That perspective resonates because it isn’t a sheltered or filtered perspective built from hyperbole or conjecture, it is based on experience.  Jennifer even chose to live in an impoverished building with people struggling to survive in order to discover the truth about their challenges.

I believe that the model that has been created by the Job Foundation of financial stewardship through education and mentoring could be a template to fight poverty throughout the state of Iowa.  In fact, I believe that national recognition of this paradigm of economic empowerment could go far toward providing a measureable result from social spending.

Meanwhile, we can put our trust in people like Jennifer Brost and the Job Foundation and let’s rally, individually, to give them what they need.

“Silly, flat, dishwatery, utterances”

politicsI spend a lot of time thinking about how our government does business.  I also think about the way the public debates the issues and how we are informed (or become uninformed).  And I think a lot about how bad things have gotten and how they are getting worse.

Several times I’ve said or written:  “This is the most contentious time in history.”

Never has anyone disagreed with that statement no matter which side of the political fence they stand.

Sit down for this.

What if I said….our dialogue is not getting worse?  The political climate that we are living in today might even be better than it was.

What on earth am I talking about?

I enjoy reading history, but find myself having to look a little farther than the conventional history books that have, for over two centuries, woven fairytales around the creation of America.  From what we’ve been taught in school and from the traditions and ceremonies we’ve brought into American life, we’ve come to believe that stories and those who created them were beyond reproach and that their vision was clearly defined.  But as I dig deeper into autobiographies and historical records, a more interesting perspective begins to develop.

No less than Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret for the growing animosity and “false accusations” that Americans have toward each other, toward their government Benjamin_Franklin_Portraitand even toward “our best national allies.”

While we have myriad resources today to retrieve or disseminate information and ideas, the central theme of our most contentious debates is the same.  Franklin wrote 250 years ago:  “In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

At the founding of our country and for nearly the century that followed, states bargained with other countries, and fought over where state borders should be.  Not with rhetoric and loquacious debate, but with muskets, swords and pistols.

Much has been written about the contempt that our present Congress appears to hold for members from the other party, but they seem to draw the line at verbosity.  150thCA381G1T years ago as Congress debated the Kansas Territory’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, a Pennsylvania Republican and South Carolina Democrat exchanged insults, which soon turned into a brawl.  More than 30 Congressmen from both sides joined the melee until the combatants were arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Contempt was so high in the 19th century between states that actual border wars broke out.  Do you know why Michiganders are called “Wolverines”?  Because people from Ohio found them to be no different from the angriest, most foul tempered creature of the forest.

wolverine5As they argued violently over a ribbon of land at their border called the Toledo Strip, blood was eventually shed and state militias were called to quell the dispute.  A simple border between Americans, living no more than a few miles apart, led them to view each other as fundamentally different human beings.

Things were no different west of the Mississippi when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.  The Missouri Compromise created verbal and physical warring in territories where a line divided the north from the south, allowing slavery to be legal in new states below the line, and illegal above.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a compromise of that compromise and stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory (known as popular sovereignty).  After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to have been the greatest President in our history was reviled by both sides of this dispute.

lincoln_gettysburgaddressPosters calling him a “tyrannical dictator” and a “traitor” were not exclusive to the South.  One Chicago Times writer even reviewed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address thusly: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

I have no delusions that we have solved our dialectic dysfunctions and that gentle decorum is the order of the day, but today as we argue, yell, accuse, castigate, belittle, and protest each other, it would behoove us to consider220px-PreliminaryTreatyOfParisPainting what we don’t do any more in the practice of our political debates.

We don’t fire across our state borders at each other over land disputes.  Our states no longer act as sovereign entities, negotiating with foreign powers, to bolster their own interests against other states.

And while it is true that many people, along with pundits and politicians have said nasty things about speeches our President, the Speaker of the House, candidates, or any number of representatives have made, have any been more insulting than “silly flat dishwatery utterances”?

At the very least, this historical realization can bring us hope.

It’s No Laughing Matter

It has been 11 months since I declared my candidacy for the United States Congress.  With a good staff, I ran hard and our message was heard, but momentum was never our ally in a crowded primary and I withdrew from that race last month.

Today I will file to run for the Iowa State House to represent the people of my diverse district.   I have learned a lot over this course and I believe that I have shown Iowans at events, committee meetings, and backyard barbeques that I study the issues and have ideas committed to improving our quality of life by expanding our economy, advocating for our senior citizens, farmers and veterans, protecting our environment, and educating our youth.

Yet, I am still faced from time to time with a comment that more or less goes like this:  “Gary you were a comedian, how do we know you can be taken seriously?”

needlemanI cannot (nor do I have any desire to) deny that I was once a satirist on Saturday Night Live; that once I made my living looking for laughs, whether as a performer, a writer, or even as a game show host.  The truth is, those experiences lend themselves very well to the business of politics.

The job of any artist, whether a comedian, a painter or a novelist, is to look at life with the deepest, most clarifying lens possible to reveal the idiosyncrasies, the contradictions and sometimes hypocrisies of the human condition and bring them to light.

Is it really any surprise that Senator Al Franken has been such an effective voiceal franken?

Yes, I have in my career poked fun at the way things are done in Washington, because business as usual in the District of Columba (and Des Moines) is laughable at times.  But I can easily make the distinction between those political dysfunctions and the business of the people, because that is no laughing matter.

It’s no laughing matter when education budgets do not meet the standards our institutions require, and when student debt replaces our investment in them.

It is no laughing matter when the proliferation of deadly force extends to children, while homicides in our schools, churches, movie theaters and shopping malls become epidemic.

It’s no laughing matter when the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, or the LGBTQ community are compromised or denied in the name of religion, fear or the status quo.

It’s no laughing matter when hard working Americans with fulltime minimum wagegary speech jobs remain below the poverty line.

It’s no laughing matter when labor and unions are under attack and pension funds are at risk.

It’s no laughing matter when 7 billion tons of inorganic gas is pumped into our atmosphere every year without any compensation for the danger that is caused to the health of our planet.

It’s no laughing matter when the principles of a government of the people are twisted to deny access to medicine for all of the citizens it serves.

I loved being an actor, a producer, a writer and any other hat I may have worn in Hollywood, but I know the difference between the entertainment of laughter and when the serious matters of the people and our government are at hand.

I am very clear as to why I am running for public office: To serve the people, using common sense, logic, compassion and sanity in that pursuit.









My Love/Hate Relationship

I love Politics.  I love the practice of influencing one another on civic and individual issues. I like the debate over what is best for the common good because it is from this politicsdialogue that we can emerge stronger and more secure in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

I hate Politics.  I hate the loggerheads created from opposing views and conflicting interests.  I hate the accusations that fly from having different perspectives and the castigation of individuals and groups of people that can be the consequence of our fear and misunderstanding.

I like Government.wordcloudgovfresh  I like the concept of representative democracy where power is held by the people themselves and they elect representatives to protect and improve their interests.  I like that we have a system of governance that is designed to defend the rights of even the least influential among us while protecting opportunity for all, predicated on principles of freedom and justice.

I don’t like Government.  I don’t like when it is corrupted by greed that panders to special interests.  I don’t like that it is imperfect and run by imperfect people who can be susceptible to the seduction of power.  I hate that its inequities can compromise the common good.

I like Big Corporations.  I like them because Big Business creates 50% of America’s Gross National Product and employs nearly half of all working Americans.  I like that the opportunity in America to be entrepreneurial and to expand with ingenuity literally created the world’s economy and the capacity to industrialize.thCAG9NPIW

I don’t like Big Corporations.  I don’t like them because without regulations mandated by the People they become a rogue government of their own, too often replacing morality and justice with margins and profit.  I hate when the strong arm of their influence contradicts the tenets of our Republic by serving the special interests of an elite-minority.

csp_savio-rallyI love Freedom of Speech.  I love that I live in a free country where I cannot be incarcerated for voicing my opinions and I have the right (Nay, obligation!) to protest and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  I love that I can openly influence others with ideas and I love that others can openly influence mine.

I hate that Freedom of Speech also allows for bigotry to have a forum and prejudices can bethCAW4UKDP shared which fan the flame of intolerance.  I hate that the free press, protected by our First Amendment, does not continually hold itself to standards of accountability and I hate that it can propagate misinformation as freely as facts.

I like and I don’t like some of the things that are sustained in the realization of our Republic; things that have been created from this grand democratic experiment to live with freedom and to be prosperous.  But, it is within this conundrum that we might find some of the solutions we are looking for.

There is nothing unusual about this polarity; I believe that every human being carries a duality where we struggle between light and dark; a fight in our souls between fear and faith and we conform our guiding principles to follow one direction over another so that we can give that conflict rest.  And so we take sides:  Republicans face off with Democrats, Liberals challenge Conservatives, and Bears battle Packers.

Taking sides, however, can make us feel threatened by the “other side” and so we digcalvin_arguing in deeper, creating wider separations to protect our ideals.  Perhaps, if we recognized this about ourselves and took time to realize that there are qualities we can embrace within some of the things that we dislike, and that there are ideas that we should question within some of the things that we cherish…

Maybe…we could start to move toward more shared values, greater tolerance and less fear of each other.  Maybe we could improve our conversations, our government…and ultimately our lives.

I’d love that.


“It’s YOU!”

beatlesThere’s an outtake from a Beatle recording session where they are trying to lay down vocal tracks for “One After 909” and someone keeps messing up causing them to start over.  Finally, after John Lennon stops one more time, presumably to correct the others, Paul McCartney jumps in (laughing), “It’s you, John, it’s YOU!”

The American public is similarly asking for Washington DC to start over in order to get things right by ending political deadlock and corruption.  It occurs to me, however, that a more realistic evaluation of the problem might have us pointing at each other saying, “It’s you, it’s YOU!”

How many times have we heard a politician say, at their constituents behest, “I am going to change the way we do politics in Washington!”?

thCAFQQ4WWHow long have we been complaining about Washington corruption, or the inability of Congress to make progress?

How many times have pundits, columnists and voters said, “Let’s get rid of the bastards, give them terms limits and end career politics!”?

And yet…nothing changes.

Could it be because we are trying to change the wrong part of the equation?  Could it be that we need to change first?

The men and women in Washington are there because we put them there.  They rose from our ranks, and now that they are there they bicker, fight, stall, boast, cajole, bribe, and lie….just like the private sector.

Sprinkle in a little slanted messaging and we have a political conundrum we cannot seem to escape.

That was illustrated when a bill to require a background check regarding firearms fell just 6 votes short of passing the Senate, even though a clear majority of Americans were in favor of such a measure.  The deciding number of Senators were swayed by a very powerful gun lobby because the NRA made it clear that they would use their vast financial resources to defeat any Senator who didn’t.  The Senators (and the NRA) know that money buys media and media sways voters.

Media saturation works because many people have developed (over decades) a passive relationship with information, allowing their decisions to be swayed by repetitive, clever, even false, messaging.

Senators want to keep their job.  Understandable.  The NRA wants things their way.  Doesn’t everyone?  The public wants better representation in Congress but allows their votes to be dictated by whoever spends the most money to inform them of where they should stand.

What needs to change?

tjRarely, is it necessary to go much further than Thomas Jefferson to find grist for the mill:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

“The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries…”

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone.  The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.  And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

What more needs to be said?  As we have evolved as a country we have transferred power onto representation, when, in fact, we, as an aggregate whole, possess the power in a Republic.  We are only capable of such leadership, however, when we are educated in the matters of governance.

Our Founding Fathers did not create a direct-democracy where the “majority rules,” rather their system of government was predicated on an informed electorate that chooses wisely from its ranks, the representatives, who are thereby empowered to collectively legislate for the Common Good.

So, how do we correct our faltering archetype?

We must have campaign finance reform.  We must do away with Citizen’s United and make elections publicly funded.  Each candidate receives the same budget and they debate, forum, talk, and listen among their constituents.  Unfortunately (and paradoxically), there remains political division on this issue, fueled by the very money that should be taken out of the equation.

There remains, however, a more fundamental first step that can override this dilemma:  We must prioritize public education.  We must appropriate the dollars toward education as in investment for our future, and reduce the burden of debt placed on our graduates.

Furthermore, the current trend toward specialization needs to include the foundational disciplines that were once part and parcel with developing minds.

franklinI just finished Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and Thomas Jefferson’s, as well, and I was consistently taken aback by what they would describe from their colonial educations; having learned Latin in order to translate many great works of literature.  Reading Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and Seneca and the principles of logic, along with math were part of Grammar School.

Sorry, Senator Rubio (who said, “We need more welders and less philosophers.”), but you have replaced the survival matrix of our Republic with a myopic monetization of reality.  Studying the “capital laws of this country” and philosophy were once part of basic education. The works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid and Ptolemy were recited by rote.  The curriculum was intended to expand the mind to critical thinking and analysis.

When public libraries came into existence, Franklin noted how many a poor farmer, who could not afford to go to school, would seek the knowledge contained, therein, and one grammarof the early principles of this country became to give every American child an education.

I support and respect our educational systems and the teachers who dedicate their lives to them, however, they are forced to pander to the will of a population that has evolved away from critical thinking.  As our country has expanded I find it ironic that our interest in it has diminished; a public Attention Deficit Disorder, perhaps.

It won’t be until we collectively realize where the process has derailed and rise to correct the misfire, that we will consistently find better representation.  Meanwhile, we will be condemned to repeat our mistakes.

“It’s you, John, it’s YOU!”



Make America great…again!

The line wasn’t coined by Donald Trump. I’ve heard every Republican who has declared their candidacy for the presidency state that we need a president who will “make us proud again to be an American.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Democrats were rallying to “return America to greater standing in the world” and to find our “moral authority once again.”

I remember because I was one of the louder voices.

Only 8 years before that the battle cry was heard from a Republican running against Gore that we needed to “bring dignity back to the White House.”

Clinton, before that, ran against Bush Sr. and promised to return us to “a time when America was respected more than feared.”

A letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register criticized Obama’s foreign policies and finished with the proclamation, “We need to make America great again!”

Every time I hear that I ask myself, “What ‘great’ period are they referring to?”

I hear “return to greatness” from both sides of the political fence and I wonder, “What is the criteria for greatness?”

Apparently, the letter writer felt good about the way things were before Obama even though the Bush era ended with economic catastrophe, and a foreign policy quagmire.

Maybe, they were referring to Clinton-era American pride.  Clinton did balance the budget and maintained an extended period of prosperity, but, something tells me that wasn’t the writer’s intention.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that many Americans wish for a return to the inspiration of Ronald Reagan and his “Shining city on the hill,” but, that was also when we first became a debtor nation from his fiscal inequities.  Not to mention that the “Trickle Down” revival of neoliberalism (not to be confused with liberalism) created a divide between the Haves and the Have-nots that still tangle the economic debate.

Many Americans think of the great moral purpose of World War II and the recovery from the Great Depression as the greatest time in the history of America. Although to hear the conservative revisionists speak of FDR today, you would think that every failure since, social and economic, was the result of the New Deal.

Lincoln, perhaps the greatest philosophical genius to ever occupy the White House, presided over the greatest socio/political divide in history.

There is no doubt that seeds from separatism still exist to this day as we continue to fight challenges of racism.

So…what is the period of greatness that we all, at one time or another, want to get back to?

There are two things that happen when we consider our historical greatness.  One is a natural human craving for nostalgia.  Nostalgia is not built upon a remembrance of how things were; rather it comes from what we remember about how we felt at a certain time.  We carry in our narrative the fact that we have survived, and we remember the moments of joy in the cracks and crevices of our struggles; we instinctively long for those feelings again.

Some of my happiest memories are from financially hard times long ago when I found laughs and inspirations in my journey.  I yearn for them even today.

And two, we have a collective historical consciousness about the legacy and promise of America. We are aware of the unique place in world history that our Republic occupies and we have been taught what our forefathers fought for in defiance of tyranny.

We are raised on the traditions of patriotism and the stories of struggle and triumph that define our realization of freedom and human rights.

While our history is undeniably peppered with stumbles and falls toward realizing those principles, it is still a timeline of relative progress. Together, nostalgia and patriotism conspire to give us a sincere sense of what makes this country great and we perennially long to restore her to something that we remember.

My challenge for all of us is to ask ourselves, individually:  “What is it that I believe in that makes America great?”

Does America follow the principles of freedom upon which a revolution was started?  Do we continue to define and defend human rights?

We make a mistake when we put the responsibility of America’s promise onto the shoulders of politicians before we answer those questions ourselves.  Only collectively, as citizens and politicians, can we define the moral directives that will restore our journey to freedom and guide us toward the realization of peace.

That will make us great.  Again.