“The Need for Civility in an Uncivilized World”

The Secretary of State under George H W Bush was (and remains) a gentleman and a superb diplomat

The following is a speech that Secretary James Baker recently gave to a group at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in the great city of Houston, Texas.  Pierce Wire readers will know that I have longed for the return of grace, dignity, and statesmanship to the political process. Alas, I (and many of you) have largely been spitting in the wind-better than the alternative, I guess. 

Words of wisdom now follow-

“I have been asked to speak tonight about the need for civility in an uncivil world.

It is a complicated question, one that robustly challenges Christians because it puts us directly in the crosshairs of a critical theological question: How do we reconcile our Christian desire to confront what we consider wrongdoing in the world with Our Lord’s endorsement of tolerance toward others?

Further, it is a complicated question at a time when many of our values are being challenged by today’s culture.  Basic Judeo-Christian values that were generally accepted during the first two hundred years in America are now being questioned.  How do we deal with this situation?
As I consider my response, I want to make it clear that I’m no theologian and this question is probably above my paygrade!  But I am a former public servant, an attorney, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather who is now in my 88th year. And I suspect that the some of the same things that have become apparent to me are also apparent to many of you here tonight.
The world, it seems is going through a tectonic transformation — one that brings tremendous opportunities. And with them, great risks.
 
In many ways, the future looks brighter than ever.  Technology and science are marching at the fastest paces connect us with one another around the world. Mankind will be heading to Mars by 2030. And long before then, most of us will have self-driving cars.  Our health is better than ever before. Globally, we are living twice as long today as we did less than century ago. And the average life expectancy continues to rise.
Wealth, meanwhile, is spreading around the globe as more and more countries adopt America’s successful paradigms of democratic governance and free-market economics. Last year, the World Bank announced that a smaller percentage of the world’s population lived below the extreme poverty line than at any other time in recorded history.
And if you can pull your attention away from the constant deluge of negative news, you might be surprised to learn that we are living in one of the most peaceful times during the past century. The annual global death rate due to war is down from an average of 22 deaths per 100,000 people during the Cold War years to 1.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2014, the latest year with complete numbers.
 
Yes, there are risks in the world today. Global climate change, nuclear proliferation and radical Islamic terrorism are three, to name just a few. And violence and economic disparity remain difficult challenges around the world.  On balance, however, more people may be living in relative peace, better health and greater prosperity than during any other time in world history.
At the same time, sadly, our own country is going through a period of great civil unrest, perhaps the most toxic I have experienced in my life. The tenor of our national discourse is tinged with an aggressive anger and a virulent rhetoric that threatens our society. We seem to prefer arguing over statues and other symbols of the past rather than building projects for our future.
 
When you open the newspapers or watch television, it’s sometimes hard not to cringe at the bankruptcy of our public debate. We hear shrill cries for the removal of the Jefferson Monument because that Founding Father owned slaves. We are scolded that “safe places” are needed on college campuses to protect our students from discussions they don’t agree with.

America’s national ideal of e pluribus unum-“out of many, one”-threatens to become a hollow slogan as jaded Americans constantly are confronted by tidal waves of animus from their televisions and smartphones.

The practice of identity politics increasingly divided us along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual identity. Countless demagogues stand ready to exploit those differences. When a sports reporter of Asian heritage is removed from his assignment because his name — Robert Lee — resembles the name of Robert E. Lee,  it shows the insanity of the principal of “political correctness.”
The one thing that has united us in the past has been love of country, patriotism and respect for our flag and our national anthem. Now, it seems, some believe it is ok to disrespect those symbols in order to call attention to grievances they hold.  Obviously, they have a constitutional right to do that. But doing so risks unraveling what in the past has unified us.
Symbolic of our national anger is the partisan animosity between Republicans and Democrats that has brought Washington to a standstill. We can’t seem to get anything done because our government isn’t working for us.
These divisions are real. In our national politics, and particularly in Washington maintaining lines of civil and constructive communication seems increasingly more difficult.
There are, of course, several reasons for our hyper-partisan political environment:
First, there is a redistricting process that pushes congressional districts to the fringes of the political spectrum. As result, the reasonable center is being squeezed out of our politics. The art of compromise is now missing from our polity.
Second, there is the simple fact that we live in a fairly evenly divided red-state, blue-state country, with the two sides seeing the world through vastly different prisms. The problems confronting a Democrat on Chicago’s South Side are different than the ones facing a Texas Panhandle Republican.
Third, our rapidly developing social media lowers our national debate into an angry brawl. Through social media, people throw the wildest allegations against the wall to see which ones stick. Further, the spreading of fake news via social media undermines real news, and creates a jaundiced society that doesn’t know who or what to believe.
And fourth and finally, the press no longer objectively reports facts but rather acts as an advocate and player in our political debate. If you watch FOX, you think you’re watching the house organ of the Republican Party. And if you watch MSNBC, you know you’re watching the house organ of the Democratic Party.
So what can we do to revive the type of bipartisanship that is necessary for our  government to accomplish anything for the American people?
In Washington, it will take leadership in both parties!  Republicans and Democrats will have to, once again, work together and compromise if they want to get things done.  But all Americans must also shoulder some of the responsibility. Each of us needs to look inside our own heart.
The harshness of our political debate has been matched  It is becoming uglier and more crass.  The norms dictating decent behavior are eroding; and it seems that we’ve lost sight of the basic regard we owe our fellow men and women.  Rather than blame others for our myriad of problems, we should recognize that in a democracy, no one side gets to make all of the rules.
Our country has survived and thrived for so long, in large part, because we have learned how to work together on important issues. Compromise in a democracy is essential.  Our Founding Fathers differed on many issues, but they worked out compromises to define our core principles that still hold today.
As followers of Jesus Christ, when thinking about our role in society today, it’s important to ask ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” How did Jesus respond to the chaos of the day and the lifestyles that were antithetical to his morals?  He looked at people with hope, whoever they were. And all were invited to follow him — the good Jew AND the hated Samaritan.  He says in the book of John, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus didn’t focus on the political upheaval of the day, but on each individual’s heart. He calls us to love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that our neighbor is not just someone we agree with. Our neighbor is everyone with whom we have contact. He teaches us NOT to judge others, but to examine our own hearts and repent of our wrongdoing.
Jesus challenges us to love our enemies, to do good for them, and to forgive those who have wronged us. He cautions that if we aren’t willing to forgive others, God can’t forgive us.
In politics, compromise is essential. But being a practicing Christian requires us to be respectful of our neighbor even when compromise is not possible.  Working hard for our political beliefs and values is very important, but it is more important to never lose sight of walking in the light of Jesus.
Thankfully, we have been given the Good News that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, and we have also been given prayer as the way to live. We are continually told to pray in both the Old and the New Testaments.  In II Chronicles it says, “If my people who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We have work to do in the civic arena, but we also have much work to do in our hearts if our land is to be healed.  When we look at our world in the context of our faith, we could despair if we didn’t know about God’s grace and mercy. The bottom line for us Christians, however, is that we are called to show grace and mercy–even to our philosophical opponents–just as we ourselves are shown mercy.
And so, when someone makes a point, listen to it, regardless of how incorrect it may seem to you. Don’t discount people just because you don’t agree with what they say. Or the way they look. Or where they live.  Listening is an important part of learning about one another.  And in this country, we need to do more of that, and do less of the screeching that too many people today think passes as discourse.
During the six weeks since Hurricane Harvey hammered the area, Houston has demonstrated many of the attributes I’ve been talking about. In the midst of the biggest crisis our community has ever experienced, we stopped being Democrat or Republican . . . rich or poor  . . . black, white, or brown . . .  Christian, Muslim, or Jew
Instead, we’ve all been Houstonians — first, and foremost. With the single focus of restoring and healing our community, we’ve prayed for one another, we’ve helped one another and we’ve looked out for one another.  This dynamic and broad-gauged response by Houstonians has been simply remarkable. And it is precisely what we need nationally.
Yes, we have many differences among us here in Houston — just as we do in Texas and across the nation.  But in the end, we are all Americans living in the very finest country in the world — the country everyone wants to come to, and no one wants to leave.  Realizing and respecting that phenomenon is what unifies us when times get tough.
 
It SHOULD unify us ALL the time.”
 

Holy Hiatus!

The President does not lead because he does not believe America should lead.

The President does not lead because he does not believe America should lead.

OK, so those of you who profess to reading Pierce Wire from time to time might be wondering whether the author got in the way of one of the administration’s free speech purges. Remember Lois Lerner?

Do you know what is amazing? You probably had to scratch your head to actually remember Lois Lerner. You see, there have been so many improprieties in the past six years that they all tend to blend together. A scandal that may have shaken a Republican administration’s foundational tree at its roots is just another day at the office for the Obama regime.

 

This begets the question, “what hath we wrought?” Seriously, are Americans so immune to corruption and manipulation of fact that they simply don’t care anymore? Have years of distortion and progressive propaganda dumbed and numbed us to the point where we have made George Orwell’s 1984 a self-fulfilling prophecy?

There is a “glass half full” side of me that truly wants to embrace Jeb Bush’s contention that our best days actually can still be ahead of us. Jeb maintains there is no reason why our kids can’t have a better life than their parents. I want to believe that. But there are some things we need to do in order to create an environment for that aspiration to be given a chance to become reality. Namely:

–America’s teens and twenty-somethings need to wake up and realize no one owes them anything. This country’s meteoric ascent on this planet may have been a function of the right time, place, natural resources, and myriad other factors, but anyone who denies that the Protestant work ethic wasn’t the glue that held it all together does not understand American history. We have been a nation of achievers. In order to continue to be so we need yet another generation of Americans to achieve!

–We must halt the seemingly inexorable growth of wasteful social entitlements. This is not rocket science. Republicans must find a way (after fifty years of not being able to do so) to demonstrate that theirs is not a heartless creed. A true conservative is indeed compassionate, and part of that core value system is a belief in a social safety net. Alas, what we face today is something far different than a governmental safe port when elements of society are trapped  in personal storms. Democrats have hijacked the noble ideas that ignited the Great Society legislation and in so doing have created a permanent underclass in American society; one that is rewarded for not seeking employment! How ironic is it for President Obama to incessantly call out Republicans for their heartlessness when all data demonstrates unequivocally that the trillions of dollars directed toward entitlement programs have only caused more poverty and created an endless cycle of generational dependency? It’s about work, people, not handouts!

–American leaders need to lead. We may not have asked for our place in the world, but we own it. President Obama has spent 6 years trying to disown it. The President is ashamed of what he sees as our imperial past. He apologizes for the America we love. What he fails to understand is that without our hands on the helm the world will slip into anarchy. We are watching it happen right now. Putin is slowly clawing back what used to be the western perimeter safety shield for Russia. Putin is dumb like a fox. He sees the west as nothing more than a conglomeration of talking heads: all talk and too weak to take action. ISIS (the JV, as you will recall) continues to wreak havoc throughout the middle east, and their Boko Harem brethren threaten Nigeria and adjoining states. Mr. Obama continues to blame George W Bush for the evils that permeate the world. It is inconceivable in the world of realpolitik  to point the finger of blame in any direction other than directly at the President. His disengagement on virtually every front has left the world a far more dangerous place. And his obsession with doing a deal with Iran is simply mind boggling. In 2016 we must hope for a leader and a supportive Congress who will not hesitate to do the right thing when a situation arises in the world and America is the only country positioned to take action. The Bush doctrine, like it or not, is as applicable today as it was on September 12, 2001. If we don’t take the fight to our enemies, they will bring it to us.

–We need to stop being afraid to identify our enemies for what they are. ISIS is a loosely knit confederation of radical muslim terrorists. They want to plunge the world back into a darker than dark age. Should that be so hard to say? If there was a group of radical Christians intent on turning the world upside down and leaving a path of murderous destruction in their wake would anyone hesitate to call them radical Christian terrorists?

–We need to move beyond this horrible racial divide the current administration has legitimized. Do we still have racial tension in the US? Yes, of course we do. But the indisputable fact is that it is much worse today than it was in 2008, and that is because of a relentless focus by this President and his appointees to sow seeds of turmoil every time an opportunity arises. Who amongst us should not sympathize with police officers across the country? They have been vilified with the net result being that the same underclass that our Great Society created and perpetuated now considers police as the enemy. Whose job is it to get the underclass to take a step back and ask itself “what are we doing to lift ourselves out of this spiral? Is it possible we see police as the enemy because of something we are doing?”

–Stop treating business as the enemy! Success is not evil! Elizabeth Warren and President Obama represent a cynical populist brand of politics we may not have witnessed since William Jennings Bryan’s prominence at the end of the 19th century. It is so easy to attack success, and stir the passions of those less fortunate. It is also so wrong to do so. We need leadership to step up and make it clear that we applaud and reward success. We also must find a way to get people to understand that government does not make people successful. It’s government’s job to help create the environment for success. This current government demonizes success, and is predicated on the notion that people can only lift themselves up on the shoulders of government. One does not have to delve too deeply into world history to see that this thought process was also a common theme of many failed communist states.

–Embrace immigrants who come here for a chance at the American dream! We are a nation of immigrants and there is no reason Americans decades from now should not be saying the same thing. We are not a nation of xenophobes. Make the new generation of immigrants Republican by demonstrating to them that ours is the party of ideas and opportunity.

They say that blogs over 1000 words run the risk of losing the reader. And so I draw to a close. The list above is just a teaser. I could go on forever, as too, I am sure, could you. (If you have read this far, then you clearly care!)

More to follow!

 

The Surreal Presidency

Obama_plays_golfYou can’t make this stuff up, right?  The President is totally disengaged from reality as the bad guys leave  a trail of bodies in their wake and gain more and more land throughout the Middle East.  Now they not only knock on Europe’s door, but actual attacks on the European soil are on the rise.

Journalists, artists, and law enforcement officers are slaughtered in Paris. Jews are targeted in Copenhagen. Coptic Egyptian Christians are beheaded in Libya.  A Jordanian pilot is burned alive.  British, Japanese, and American aid workers and reporters are murdered.  Australian and Canadian citizens are terrorized.  The list goes on. (Let’s not forget our own US-based incident deemed by the administration to be a “workplace violence” event.  Those of us who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid refer to it as the Fort Hood Massacre.)

All these brutal murders have been committed by Radical Islamic extremists (affiliated with ISIS, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, Daesh, or Levant- seriously, who cares-they are all bad guys, hereinafter simply called ISIS.)  Without exception the murders have been perpetrated in the name of Allah.

Yet not once has the Obama administration even acknowledged the root cause of these attacks.  Radical Islam is a murderous philosophy where the end (global Islamic supremacy with its attendant Sharia law) justifies the most horrific of means. There, I said what the President refuses to say.

Last week the President attended the National Prayer breakfast and actually chastised Christians, telling them:

“We have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith…..and lest we get on our high horse and think this is (pause) unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow, all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
 (See text of speech here)

This speech was nothing short of gobsmacking.  There is no other way to say it. The President of the United States not only will not call out the Islamic extremists for their atrocities, but he goes on to equate the crusades and our own post civil war reconstruction to be equally as horrific.  In other words, we are all evil, so we should stop being so judgmental about what is happening overseas. What? Seriously?

The President stands steadfastly by his position that the enemy is on the run.  Virtually everyone, including Leon Panetta, his erstwhile Defense Secretary and a former CIA chief, thinks the President has lost his way.  (See Leon Panetta interview here )  President Obama is so absorbed by his vision of a disengaged United States that he is actually still talking of an ISIS in retreat.  An irrelevant ISIS is compatible with his non-interventionist hands-off America.  Facts are pesky and reality is something to be ignored.

Folks, this is stuff of cloud-cuckoo land.  The President talks and talks and does nothing.  Well, that is not entirely fair.  He did find time last week to film a selfie for Buzz-Feed in a shameless self-promotion of his disastrous health care plan.  The world waits for his leadership.  But it is clear this President will not take the steps necessary to stop ISIS.  Nothing. (Surely he doesn’t actually believe their capabilities and plans can be degraded solely from the bombing bays of F-22’s?)

Maybe he is convinced that if he prevaricates and procrastinates long enough, Russia, Syria, Iran and the Radical Islamists will all go “poof” and disappear in an upwards spiral of smoke.  Maybe we do not giving him enough credit.  His may be the first official foreign policy equivalent of “rope-a-dope”.  We can only hope Mohammad Ali patented the phrase.  It may come in handy again.

One can only imagine the conversations in the West Wing.  Valerie Jarrett is most likely sitting in the President’s chair, talking only to him, as he calls in from his golf cart. Ms. Jarrett counsels the President to stay the course, and not let the rabble-rousers veer him off his pre-determined path.  The President, bolstered by Ms. Jarrett’s pep talk, hangs up, smug smirk restored, and returns to his golf game.  He is more than content because the call was brief enough to allow him to finish his round and get to his Hollywood fundraiser on time.

By the way, where are his (kitchen cabinet) advisors?  Do you know of any ex Obama White House aid who does not acknowledge that other than Valerie Jarrett, the President has none?  This is the President who without the slightest sense of irony will tell you that he is smarter than the other people in the room.  Here is a little factoid for those who care; our best leaders have always been ones who are smart (and confident) enough to surround themselves with (and listen to) even smarter people.  President Obama has never see fit to do so.

It is unfathomable to think the President can possibly continue to deny the reality that surrounds him.  But folks, this is not a sublime Presidency.  We are in the twilight zone, and the President seems wholly comfortable operating from within his own surreal world. Woe is we.

 

Philanthropy Is An American Tradition

Benjamin Franklin | A Founding Philanthropist

Benjamin Franklin | A Founding Philanthropist

Philanthropy in the United States is as American as apple pie. As a people, we give more of our money to charitable causes than any other citizens in the world.

I was prompted to write about this topic by a note I saw on Facebook. I am Chairman of I Am Waters, a wholly non-political 501© 3 Foundation committed to providing physical and spiritual hydration to America’s homeless population. We recently held a successful fundraiser in Houston, Texas. In discussing the success of the event, I made the comment that we have a growing homeless population in the United States, and I Am Waters is committed to working with and helping this “underclass” of our society. One comment (in reference to our growing homeless population) posted after my observations was “Thanks to the Republicans”.

After shaking my head, and deciding to ignore the comment, I started thinking, “how can people be so misinformed?” This comment was offensive on at least two levels. It:

  • politicized a wholly non-political charitable foundation, and
  • explicitly (and groundlessly) blamed Republicans for our homeless population.

Do these people ever stop and wonder why the 10 cities in the United States with the highest level of poverty and unemployment are cities with a legacy of democrat mayors and entitlement spending that have done nothing but encourage indigence and cultures of unfulfilled expectations? George W. Bush called it the “soft bigotry of low expectations”, and he was spot on.

I write about the historical connectivity between private sector success and philanthropy because it is clear many people today have not the slightest inkling of how the United States of America became such an incredibly exceptional nation. The lack of understanding and appreciation for the work ethic and philanthropic mentality that helped us grow yesterday is part of the reason we are so challenged by such destructive social and economic redistributionist policies today.

The art of giving is not a new phenomenon. Benjamin Franklin epitomized the charitable nature of our founding fathers. Alexis de Tocqueville, when writing his book on the uniqueness of the American experiment, noted that ours was a nation that believed in creating opportunity for the private citizen to succeed; partially so that citizen (not the government) could initiate “private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of life”.

Indeed, until the last few decades, it was implicitly understood that if one were to achieve success in life, it was incumbent upon that person to find a way to give some of that success back to the greater good. This was an intrinsic American way of life, born of our pioneering colonial “can-do” attitude, and infused with and by a strong Judeo-Christian ethic. While many choose to remember George H.W. Bush’s “no new taxes” pledge in the 1988 Republican Convention in New Orleans, many also remember his call to all Americans to give of themselves to others, and for each to become one of a “1000 points of light”.

Somewhere along the way in the madness of our inexorable post WWII rush to political correctness, we lost the thread of connectivity between success and philanthropy. The progressive left began to disconnect the historical association between living the American dream and voluntarily giving back. Worse, these liberals (those who denounce our history [the way we grew into ourselves] in the 17th-19th centuries, and view virtually all past events in apologetic terms) began to build and perpetuate a new reality; namely, that success is evil, and private sector philanthropy should be largely replaced by something mandated by the federal government.

In essence, while the democrats still talk about philanthropy, (and many democrat citizens still give large amounts of money to worthy causes) the reality is that the democrat party believes in forced philanthropy though taxation, with the end game being one in which our successful producers are diminished by way of their accumulated capital being involuntarily redistributed to those less successful.

History matters! And to that person who thought to politicize the good work of I Am Waters, I implore you to look at the homeless populations and poverty levels of every government in the recorded annals of man that tried to socialize its industry, commerce, and engines of societal production.

Whenever it has been the goal of government to create equality of outcome for its people, there has been failure. Our unprecedented success and growth as a fledgling nation was, in large part, due to:

  • access to property, and
  • a governing philosophy that was driven by a desire to create equality of opportunity. By so doing, our founding fathers and those who followed in their footsteps ensured that a man’s work ethic and a burgeoning private sector economy lifted the spirits and livelihoods of far more people than ever possible in a redistributionist state.

The left refuses to acknowledge that employment and hope cannot be created by the whims of social progressive politicians. Long-term jobs are only sustained by the private sector. And only with jobs and a viable economic outlook will philanthropy thrive.

Ronald Reagan understood the importance of our history. You may see him say it for himself here: