Tag Archives: civility

Give Politics a Chance

“The people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

Interior design isn’t my thing. I enjoy a nice home, sure, but start talking about spackle, crown molding – or colors spelled with more than six letters – and I’m out of my depth.

The extent of my furniture buying is to venture into Ikea every four years or so, flanked by friends or family as backup. Overall, except for rooms with little visual jazz, this lack of interest results in no harm done. It’s livable.

How I treat interior design is how many treat politics. The problem with that is, public policy isn’t a boring room you can just ignore.

Even here in Washington, where people breathe this stuff, some friends cynically brush off discussion of the debt ceiling, energy depletion or defense strategy. “It’s all just theater… partisan bickering… a worldly pursuit.” In the right company, the rant will likely end with, “Throw the bums out!”

Every four years many of these folks “hold their nose” and vote—which is a good thing. The truth is, battles are raging every day in the halls of power, deciding where your tax dollars are spent – and how much. It’s worth your time and attention to follow what’s going on and make your voice heard. If people of faith, energy and creativity stayed involved, America would right itself.

I was a cynic about all this not long ago. Sometime during the ’08 election cycle while listening to talk radio and laughing at their put-downs of the other side, a question began to nag at me: What’s really going on? And if it is important, could I contribute in some way? The truth of the matter had to be more complex than these entertainers made it seem.

The journey towards that truth led me to leave a job in Colorado Springs, facing 14 months of internships and unemployment in the DC area. It’s a story too long to tell here. Suffice to say, God provided and guided my steps. Through mistakes, false starts and lost debates, a few guideposts have helped me make better sense of politics.

Sources Matter

Everyone has a reason for believing what he or she does. Yet what passes for solid conventional wisdom (say, ending foreign aid would solve America’s budget problem) is often flat wrong. And our personal experiences often supersede the bigger picture revealed by trends.

To arrive at anything near truth, take in a lot of reliable information from many sources. That’s the heart of writing research and intelligence: the ability to collect diverse facts, reams of data, wildly different perspectives – and fairly synthesize that information into summary points. Otherwise, it’s just your opinion.

It’s why I make an effort to tune in to NPR as well as Dennis Prager, subscribing to The Hill and The Morning Bell e-newsletters, and watching for updates at both census.gov and the Fortune 500. As Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

Tone Matters

Let’s assume you successfully discover some new reality from multiple sources, on an issue you believe matters. Time for the talk. (No, not the one about the birds and bees.)

It’s easier to discuss the weather and your health instead of politics and religion. Agreeing to disagree is common even among allies. As a friend told me recently: “She knows what I think, and I know her side – we just don’t bring up those issues where we disagree.”

But then no one learns anything. I talk politics with friends (and strangers) to gain from their perspective. When we differ on the big questions, I try to listen and be persuasive. This is sadly a rare thing in political circles. TV and radio airwaves are blasting with people talking over each other rather than to each other.

Back to that same chapter in Proverbs, verse 15 states: “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” Conceding a point, being empathetic, and refusing to call names all help bring people around to your point of view. Where it gets tricky is when a kind tone collides with core moral priorities.

Priorities Matter

Voices like Jim Wallis regularly call for Christians involved in politics to “broaden their agenda” and stop focusing so much on issues like abortion and traditional marriage. True enough, the Gospel has a lot to say about poverty, the rule of law, stewardship, education and even transportation.

From where I stand, we also cannot kid ourselves. There is a true hierarchy of issues when we consider the world in moral terms. How oil drilling affects the environment, and what’s economically feasible to be a good steward, has a moral angle to it. But the violent killing of over 14 million babies worldwide every year by sucking their brains out is a horrific injustice.

On this, I don’t come across as very nice to some in Washington. The goal is to be truthful, not spineless.

We will never live in a perfect world this side of eternity. Each of us have different roles to play to make our nations, our cities, and our families better, more alive, and more reflective of God’s Kingdom. As a new school year begins, I pray you will discover more of that calling. Sometimes it’s a process of elimination; interior design is not in my future, I’m fairly certain.

No matter your major, I hope you realize the value of understanding and staying involved in politics. Yes, the issues are complex. Yes, my eyes glaze over too after looking at one page of our national budget. Still: this stuff matters.

A former ORU student and University of Colorado graduate, Josh M. Shepherd works at a think tank in Washington, DC.

Cross-posted at ORU Oracle

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Channel Your Anger

Never before have I heard my brother so worked up about politics. The week of the health care vote, he’d just gotten back from Haiti—where he’d seen how billions in government aid made only a small difference (but that’s another story… or is it?)

All 2,409 pages of the final health reform bill

Now, returning home, he was mad. Every conversation led back to this 2,409-page health bill. “They really pulled one over on us,” my brother said of the powerful politicos who ignored Americans’ opinions about this bill. “I just feel helpless.”

I know the feeling. This monstrosity has hounded me since I arrived in Washington last year. As an intern in Congress, I scanned thousands of constituent letters on health care. When pro-life concerns began boiling up among both Republicans and Democrats, a letter of protest was drafted and I walked it around to get Representatives’ signatures.

The process was a disaster. The heroes were the “party of no” villains – men and women who fought tirelessly against a

Tom Coburn Nikki Haley Allen West Paul Ryan

Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., Governor Nikki Haley, Rep. Allen West, Rep. Paul Ryan

powerful majority. Still the bill passed. Some of us despise how new programs will take our freedoms with new government mandates; some care most about the theft of more personal income via taxes; some rightfully fear how time and courtesy will be lost to greater bureaucracy; and, having dealt with Medicare, health care providers detest the bill for all of the above.

But we’re not helpless. Truth is, our nation has a grand tradition of changing and even repealing laws that do not work. We have a clear, Constitutionally-mandated ability to take away political power from irresponsible leaders: it’s called election day.

Some folks (like my brother) have been politically active for years. If Washington has motivated you to make a difference, here’s some ideas on how to be effective…

1. Vote Every Time. The value of your vote cannot be overstated. Considering all the money spent on election campaigns, lobbying and the costs of running Congress, your vote is easily worth hundreds of dollars. Casting your ballot is not only part of your wealth as an American citizen – it’s the right thing to do, every time. And never forget: the 2000 Presidential election was decided by just 537 votes in Florida.

2. Dialogue with Your Friends. It’s easier to talk about the weather and your health instead of politics and religion. Trust me, I know. Agreeing to disagree is common even among conservative allies, as a friend told me recently: “She knows what I think, and I know her side – we just don’t bring up those issues where we disagree.”

I find the best teachers are people I trust. Whether or not we agree, it’s revealing to ask: what do you believe on these big issues… and why? Through this practice, including plenty of lost debates among friends, mostly I’ve learned how much I have to learn. Which is good.

3. Support Candidates You Believe In. Traditional media is shocked at the effect Tea Partiers are already having on primary elections. Polls, conventional wisdom and even fundraising figures cannot explain how some candidates are coming “out of nowhere” to win races.

That “nowhere” is a place called the heartland of America. We need hard- working average Joes to hold power in Congress, just as we need some current leaders to stay. Rather than complicate your voting decision, here’s a simple suggestion: examine the candidates’ positions and voting records carefully. Then vote for the one who is most consistent with your values. If you want to multiply your impact, volunteer for the campaign. You will not regret it.

On that final health care vote weekend, Washington became a circus of everyday Americans who descended on DC to raise their voices. I waited in a line of hundreds for the opportunity to sit in the House gallery and watch the debate firsthand. During a lull, I learned the folks seated next to me were activists from New Orleans.

“My first rally was outside the ACORN offices,” the man said. “A thousand people showed up to protest them. And I read the paper the next day, not a single mention of it! I knew something was up because even a few animal-rights protesters get front-page coverage. I’m from Nicaragua originally, so freedom is not something I take for granted. I saw how socialism starts small – then it takes over.”

If politics is making you steamed, join the party. Take action to truly make a difference.

Out of the FOXhole, Into the Battle of Ideas

When it comes to getting the news, we live in an incredible time. Americans in the 1800s had to rely solely on what stories came down the telegraph wire. Or fast forward to the 1960s, when three news networks reported the same events in the same way. Today, we are overwhelmed by options: satellite radio, hundreds of TV channels, millions of blogs and entire books that can be sent to an iPad in seconds.

To quote Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. We in the conservative movement have unfortunately given one network the power to begin every conversation, to set the tone and essentially draft the agenda on what matters to us.

Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel (FNC)

I respect the media empire Fox News Channel (FNC) has become. Roger Ailes, president of FNC since its start in 1996, says his guiding values are “God, country, family.” No wonder his network appeals to hard-working, everyday Americans.

However, it’s a dangerous thing to end your news-gathering at one media source.

After seven months on Capitol Hill, I see the love-hate relationship Congress has with Fox News—even a strongly conservative office like the one I served as an intern. The network is helping more than anyone to rally the right together. But to what end?

Fox News, like most TV networks, depends on revenue from advertisers to exist. Advertisers pay more if your audience is larger. Which means that, apart from any noble goal of truth-telling, FNC producers care most about increasing their audience. As Roger Ailes said recently on ABC News: “I’m not in politics, I’m in ratings.”

And Fox has figured out better than any other news/entertainment operation how to bring in more viewers: create an emotional connection with TV hosts, tell stories with clear-cut heroes and villains (when reality has more gray), always keep the drama high.

Bigger issues are also at stake. Every dialogue with your liberal friends (I hope you have many) is an opportunity to give new insight. Since they get news from the mainstream media, that’s your “in.”

For instance: if I started discussing President Obama’s connections to Mao, my Democrat friends would tune me out. But if I engage them with respect, talking up the stories they follow—mentioning relevant facts they perhaps missed—they’ll listen.

“It’s easier for me to watch Fox News,” a busy working mom recently told me. “At least they don’t have a liberal bias.” No need to abandon FNC entirely; even the New York Times assigned a reporter to watch Fox so the paper would not miss stories like why Van Jones resigned.

One thing we can all do is change the channel more often to hear what other credible voices are saying. Some places you can start:

TELEVISION

C-SPAN. It’s boring at first, I admit. But after a few dozen hours watching Congress in-session, you’ll begin to recognize Congressional leaders and how they discuss current events. I’d say at least 20% of current legislators are standing for conservative values; C-SPAN is the #1 source for getting to know them firsthand.

Morning Joe. A former Republican Congressman, Joe Scarborough hosts a casual panel of liberals and conservatives every weekday morning on MSNBC. Morning Joe provides a different sort of “fair and balanced”—where the right isn’t always guaranteed to win the debate. That’s a good thing.

RADIO

NPR. Without question NPR leans to the left. (Of the infamous exchange between Terry Gross and Bill O’Reilly, an NPR spokesman said: “…the interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR’s liberal media bias.”) But no one does radio news better than NPR. No one.

Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. These two conservative Jewish hosts break the mold of talk radio, giving religion and culture as much airtime as the political battles of the day.

WEBSITES

The Wall Street Journal (wsj.com). With its accurate reporting and “big tent” of conservative opinion, WSJ has recently become the most-read newspaper in the nation. Be wary, though, of a corporate bent that can get out-of-hand; in late 2008, the paper was flush with pro-bailout editorials and not a single opposing viewpoint.

The Hill (thehill.com). Congressional staff read The Hill everyday, in print or e-newsletters. Despite a left-leaning perspective, it’s a valuable source for news on Congressional legislation, election fundraising and political stories that matter.

WORLD Magazine (worldmag.com). Some faith-based voices subtly assert that their worldview perfectly matches that of God Himself. Talk about dangerous. Thankfully, the journalists at WORLD Magazine cover politics, culture and international news with professionalism – recognizing the Bible is neither Democrat nor Republican.

PODCASTING

So how do I make time for all this media and still get on with life? The secret is podcasting. All the media sources listed above have an audio or video podcast – a program you can download for free onto your computer or portable device. Learn more about how to enjoy podcasts at www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts.

A few other programs not to miss if you get into podcasting:

Cato Daily Podcast (cato.org). For advocates of limited government, there is no more reliable or thorough source than The Cato Institute.

Sunday talk shows (search iTunes). It’s like watching presidential debates, only better. Each of these shows—Face the Nation, Meet the Press, etc.—feature guests from both left and right every Sunday morning. Thanks to podcasting, you can subscribe  online and enjoy the shows after whatever weekend worship service you attend.

Like a soldier leaving his safe foxhole, enter the battle of ideas. Have you found other news media with solid reporting and centrist analysis? Share them below.

[cpac recap] Priority #1: Your Message

We all have Alzheimer’s because your mind retains basic ideas for only 16 days. It takes 7 repeated impressions for a message to be absorbed. — nationally syndicated columnist Joel Mowbray

Mowbray, an energetic speaker in his 30’s, is a media expert: he knows how much to tell the press, and precisely when so it makes the greatest impact.

Combine that knowledge with preceding speaker Christopher Doss, whose campaign work and historical studies collide in his talk on how to best craft your political message… What you get is uncommonly useful ideas for public activism.

A Leadership Institute veteran, Doss kicked off the morning with a selection of quotes from our Founding Fathers:

“Even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” – James Madison

“The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.” – Thomas Jefferson

Freedom must be worked out in each sector of society. There is no shortage of ideas to increase freedom—but how can we mobilize others around that message and make it viable? Doss and Mowbray use a simple formula.

M = E*C³ or Message = Emotion multiplied by (Credibility x Contrast x Connection)

Here’s how that formula works in real life…

Say your Message is limited government. How can you rephrase that? Coining the phrase “partial-birth abortion” and getting the media to use it won that debate for the pro-life cause.
– A Congressman can get his emotion into shrinking the state, because it’s directly related to individual freedom in America.
– To have credibility, this Representative must refuse the subsidies that many in his district demand.
– Such a bold stand also shows the contrast between this leader and the opposing candidate. (Republicans had no contrast with Democrats in ’06 and ’08, thus they lost.)

– Where many fumble is connection. To sustain your message, the folks who care about what you say need reminders on what it is, why it matters and how it’s playing out today.

Once you’ve thought through the Message Formula, dealing with the media becomes easy. Just stay on message. Reporters are not the enemy, but their goal is to put words in your mouth… through their questions.

It’s a balancing act to answer questions satisfactorily, while not giving the press much selection about what to print. Your message should make it into any answer (President Obama is a master at this).

Bottom line: stay on offense with your message and it will go a long way.

Interview with author Joel Vaughan

Joel Vaughan, author of The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition, served with the Christian Coalition for ten years in addition to his experience in political campaigns and organizations. He currently is Special Assistant to the President of Focus on the Family. [Full disclosure: he’s also a good friend, and his wife was my manager when I worked at Focus.]

Josh Shepherd & Joel Vaughan at Values Voter Summit 2009

The Civil Roar: Your book has a provocative title. But you start out saying that you disapprove of “tell-all” exposés. So why did you write The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition?
Joel Vaughan: Well, this isn’t a “tell all” book. It’s a “tell most” book. It’s PG-13 rated at worst. But a history of that great organization deserved to exist, so I wrote one.

TCR: Today the Christian Right finds its voice at Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, as well as other organizations not as religiously motivated (The Heritage Foundation, etc.) Is the message getting out to the culture as effectively as in the glory days of Christian Coalition?
Vaughan: The difference, the gap we face now, is that no one is working in the trenches, to identify voters and organize precincts. That’s what set Christian Coalition apart.

TCR: What do you think of Ralph Reed’s new organization, Faith & Freedom Coalition?
Vaughan: I think it’s much needed, although faces an uphill battle. But if anyone can make it happen, Ralph can, provided he doesn’t get distracted with other things, such as another run for office.

TCR: Who are the current voices in the conservative movement you listen to closely – in media, politics or elsewhere?
Vaughan: Well, you can’t avoid Rush. He’s everywhere – at lunchtime in the car. But he’s as much entertainment for me than informational. I also like Hannity. Glenn Beck is a little scary to me. He’s so convinced that the nation will crash – and maybe it will – but it’s a little much to hear every day. Jim Daly at Focus is a fresh voice who believes in reaching out to those we disagree with in order to present a Christian approach, rather than opening fire on every opponent.

Jim Daly, Juli Slattery, John Fuller

TCR: There are many parallels between present-day politics and the 1994 conservative Republican victory – which Christian Coalition played a big role in winning. How can everyday conservatives help achieve that goal again?

Vaughan: There really needs to be a national organization to motivate, train and activate the workers. I hope Faith & Freedom Coalition can do that, but it remains to be seen. But the parallels are there, no question. November ’94 would have happened even without the CC, I believe, so likely it will again. But after being elected, the conservatives must also govern, which the Republicans who won in ’94 failed miserably at.

TCR: What is the TEA Party movement doing well (or not) as they rally for change?
Vaughan: I really don’t know much about it. But they resent what’s happening to the country, for certain. They need to organize and focus on precincts and voter identification. That’s the key.

TCR: Can economic and social conservatives work together effectively?
Vaughan: If James Carville and Mary Matalin can live together, anything can happen. The econs have to accept the socials as bonafide Republicans, not treat them like unwanted guests at the party, and the socials have to stop ruling out another Republican simply because he’s wrong on one or two issues. It’s a big tent and we all have to work together against a common enemy: liberalism. Having said that, we can fight it out within the party, but be unified in November.

The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition: The Inside Story is available from Amazon and direct from the publisherOnce you’ve read the review here, see more over at the book’s blog. You can become a fan of the book or a friend of Joel’s on Facebook.

Entertainers are spiking the TEA Party

I am all for the Tea Partiers – average Americans who are using their free time to advocate for a return to limited government, free markets and traditional values. On the essentials, we agree. In terms of tactics, we currently don’t.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Tea Party movement is moving away from rallies and towards getting candidates elected – which heartens me. Getting together with your neighbors to wave signs (including a few offensive ones Jon Stewart will feature on the next Daily Show) will not make any positive difference. A future post here will be devoted to exactly what we can do to change Congress.

My worry: what if all this conservative energy is being misused by entertainers who pass themselves off as agents of change? I could point to many media personalities. But BlowOutCongress.com is the most outrageous example I’ve seen in awhile.

Started last year by a Dallas-area radio host, the stated goal of the website is: Every single member of Congress, all incumbents in both the House and Senate, must be blown out of office in their next election cycle.

Though my understanding of our political system is not comprehensive, three problems leap out about this wrong-headed initiative:

1. Not only is this goal unattainable, it is undesirable. Freshmen in Congress have a steep learning curve. It is usually not until entering their second term that they have figured out how committees, briefings, personal staff, town hall meetings and their own legislative ideas can work in tandem. If 435 freshmen Representatives were voted in on Nov. 2nd, an army of unelected committee staff members and others on Capitol Hill would suddenly possess a high level of control. Knowledge is power, and this all-freshmen class would not know how the system works.

2. This initiative tries to thwart how our Founders set-up the American republic. To quote BlowOutCongress: “Congress has initiated a dastardly act by programming their email systems to only receive emails from WITHIN their own districts… they block emails that don’t arrive from their own districts.” The job of each member of the House of Representatives is to represent the Americans who sent him/her to Washington.

Seats in the House are based on population, and in the Senate there are two seats per state. If you’re contacting a Senator or Representative who is not your own, you’re wasting your breath — and wasting the valuable time of Congressional staff or interns. No wonder many exhausted “dastardly” staff on Capitol Hill have a low opinion of conservative Americans.

3. Congressmen are not sitting by the phone waiting for your call, and they don’t need any more pen pals. The way talk radio hosts discuss the men and women in Congress, you’d think they were rich royalty who have no bearing on the real world. This is generally false. Many honorable Congressional leaders have fought in wars, served their local communities, stood for justice and generally made society better.

I have faith in the American people, but not in mob rule. America was established as a republic, which differs from unfettered democracy. Truth is, representing the needs of millions in their district feels like a 300 lb. weight to these Congressional leaders. They don’t need our angry calls. They don’t need our reams of research (their staff already read it). Sometimes, in the right forum, they need citizens to call out their arrogance. Always they need our prayers.

In summary: don’t fall for entertainers who are directing so much energy to ineffective causes (perhaps without even realizing it.) Read up on the issues, know what you believe and make a difference by participating in our electoral process — not trying to go around it.

Happy Holy Days!

I am a bit surprised by Christian groups who engage in the “War on Christmas” campaign. Perhaps if someone presented a clear case for why only “Merry Christmas!” is a valid greeting, I could be convinced otherwise.

Five reasons why “Happy Holidays!” works great as a Christmas greeting

1) Holidays = holy days. Look at the etymology, there’s nothing secular about this greeting. In addition to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, many consider Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve to be “holy days” – days set apart to share in thankfulness to God with close friends and family.

2) “Happy Holidays” respects Hanukkah. Because I respect that Jews observe their religious festivals, and I use the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” in discussing America’s heritage of faith, it seems appropriate to honor their celebration of eight consecutive days of gift-giving in December. Note that the observance of Hanukkah predates when the world began celebrating Christmas.

3) Followers of Jesus should not reinforce stereotypes of being pushy and overly vocal about non-issues. Christians already have a long track record of taking inappropriate actions in the public square: money-for-healing schemes on Christian TV, racial discrimination in churches, Pat Robertson’s remarks about assassinating the leader of Venezuela… the list goes on.

I do not equate the “War on Christmas” with those various scandals/offenses. What I’m saying is those actions came from not thinking through the consequences of speaking for God in mainstream culture. All those offenders perhaps had good intentions, but they harmed Christianity long-term. Surely being salt and light as Jesus exemplified doesn’t look like a pushy PR campaign insisting that the fallen world take certain actions to mollify believers. That seems and sounds wrong on so many levels.

4) The campaign to force the use of “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays” is actually a crass commercial itself. After Bill O’Reilly began achieving huge ratings in November and December whenever his cable TV show covered the “War on Christmas,” the marketplace began to take notice. The religious marketplace, that is.

As WORLD Magazine stated recently in an editorial, and I can confirm having worked for a ministry that sold these “Wish Me a Merry Christmas” trinkets – promoting this campaign to Christians leads to hefty sales of low-cost, high-priced promotional items. So rather than spending your limited giving budget on meaningful gifts or charity that could make a difference, it goes toward a self-perpetuating, largely pointless campaign.

5) Tax-deductible resources that Christian donors give for charity and public advocacy would be better used elsewhere. In DC, there is a great awareness of political capital and its limits: an organization or office can only devote time, effort, energy, public reputation, and funds to a select few causes. Otherwise, your message gets very muddy and confusing – very fast. True stewardship calls for using these valuable assets on significant causes like preserving human life or strengthening traditional marriage.

With his research staff and vast audience to provide story tips, Bill O’Reilly will certainly find a few examples of blatant religious liberties abuses in searching nationwide for juicy stories. All the best to O’Reilly in righting these perceived injustices.

Since Fox News is “looking out for the folks” on this issue, the question becomes: should religious non-profits be in the business of fleecing the flock by drumming up more outrage? Or is the message of Christmas something completely different, without a fundraising component to it?

Of course, it’s a free country and organizations will do as they please. But if I see this “War on Christmas” as nonsense, maybe other 30-something-and-younger Christians do too. And we’re tuning out the self-appointed judges of retail and media.

Your thoughts? Always interested in hearing facts or perspective I’m missing…