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liveblogging: the state of our values

Well, I'm coming to you live -- complete with my “I'm blogging this” t-shirt -- from the Kittamaqundi Community Church in Columbia, Maryland, where my friend Heather Kirk-Davidoff is enabling minister (the equivalent of a senior pastor in their non-hierarchical structure).

Oh well ... can't get on the wireless network here -- I'll have to upload when I get home. By the way, this is NOT going to be proofread and such -- hope it's helpful and/or fun even with typos and gaps.

Well, I just had to introduce myself to everyone as the liveblogger present. We're about to have a discussion of our values to prepare us to think as we watch the State of the Union address, but we started with a moment of silence in memory of Coretta Scott King. “Maybe we can gather some of her strength,” Heather said.

And then the pastor emeritus spoke for a bit about his experience at the recent Faith and Values conference, where one of the first and most important things they had to do was to say “NO” -- literally and loudly -- to cynicism.

What values would you like to have talked about tonight? If you were setting the agenda, what would the priorities be?

Some of the things various people there said:

  • fiscal responsibility
  • take care of the poor
  • encouraging listening to world opinion
  • having integrity -- speaking the truth and following up with appropriate action
  • consistency in foreign policy
  • decisions made on the basis of facts and science
  • no war -- no fighting (a young boy said this -- go, guy!)
  • a social safety net for the vulnerable
  • health care for all -- particularly children
  • energy independence
  • we can't 'spin' ourselves into prosperity
  • fully funded education programs
  • motivating people with hope rather than fear
  • less standardized testing (also from a young 'un)
  • personal accountability -- INCLUDING FOR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
  • gay rights (also a young 'un)
  • reform on lobbying (someone else added that we should REMOVE, not reform, many of these practices)
  • protect social security
  • full energy and FUNDING behind the Millennium Development Goals
  • a livable wage
  • reducing global warming
  • sacrifice is necessary sometimes
  • good immigration policy
  • planning for population growth
  • stewardship of the Earth
  • no segregation AT ALL (another young 'un)
  • paper trail for voting machines

What key values do these ideas reflect?

  • generosity
  • sacrifice
  • honesty
  • compassion
  • responsibility
  • accountability
  • public interest/common good
  • respect for one another

... and then it was time to turn on the televisions. The commentators were talking about how he'd said before that he needed to spend his political capital as he saw fit, and that a lot of it slipped away or was squandered on blunders with the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. They're also talking about what (if anything) the president can do to avoid being seen as a lame duck. They're expecting a “philosophical call to arms” -- and it wouldn't surprise me if the philosophical and the literal went hand in hand in the president's address.

The commentators are talking about the Supreme Court members there, including two ones appointed by George W. Bush. I have to say that my heart sank at that point -- probably the first of many in the evening. I like something that Heather said earlier, though -- that watching the State of the Union in the midst of a community like this can be a source of support, and a way to avoid sinking into cyncism even when the news doesn't look good.

A nominee for most inane comment so far, as they tried to wring meaning out of Bush's arriving early for the address: “every president has his own clock -- this president's is different from Bill Clinton's. They have their strengths; they have their weaknesses.”

And there it is: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States,” and in Bush comes to applause. What I'd give to see Martin Sheen as President Bartlett coming down the aisle instead ...

We're hearing that Cindy Sheehan was to be the invited guest of Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California, but was Sheehan was arrested and removed from the premises tonight.

And here comes the first lopsided smirk of the evening from the president. If there were a drinking game in which that required a sip, I bet everyone present would be roaring drunk before a third of the speech was through. And the first standing ovation, as soon as the president was announced from the lectern. *sigh*

Today our nation lost Coretta Scott King, he's saying, and we're grateful for her life. Another standing ovation -- I'd be standing too if I were there.

First 9/11 reference: “We have gathered under this dome in moments of national mourning ...”

“Tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger.” We have to work with one another in a spirit of mutual respect and good will.

“We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom,” rather than retreating because it's easy. This guy said that Jesus is his favorite political philosopher? WDJD -- What DID Jesus Do?

Second 9/11 reference in the first five minutes -- this time implying that we're defending our own citizens with the Iraq war -- and he even referred to WMD.

We're spreading democracy, “writing a new chapter in the history of self-government.” Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran mentioned as places where people aren't governed by a democracy, and we're not forgetting that they need freedom too.

He's on to radical Islam now -- and another WMD (“weapons of mass murder”) reference. “The terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear ...” they hope they'll break our will, so “the violent will inherit the earth.” But we won't let them, he says. Interesting use of Sermon on the Mount, considering what the rest of that paragraph is like: “If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone.” “There is no honor in retreat.” “We will never surrender to evil.”

America rejects the false comfort of isolation. We liberated people from death camps in Europe, and now we're called to liberate others. He's speaking positively repeatedly of how “we're on the offensive” in all of these different places now.

“Our work in Iraq is difficult because our enemy is brutal.” Recounting progress there now. “I am confident in our plan for victory. I am confident in the spirit of the Iraqi people ... we are winning.” Another standing ovation.

“The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home.” Iraqis are increasingly taking the lead, and we can reduce troop levels as they do. “But those decisions will be made be commanders in the field, and not by policymakers in Washington D.C.” Our coalition has learned from our military experience in Iraq ... along the way we have benefitted from the experience of criticism and counsel ... but there is a different between responsible criticism that leads to success, and defeatism that leads to failure. ... Second guessing is not a strategy.“

”With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have the duty to speak with candor ... Members of Congress, however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, we must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and ... (finish) this vital mission.“

”Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices.“ ”Those who know the cost also know the stakes.“ Letter from a deceased Marine, staff sergeant Dan Clay -- whose family is there, and gets a standing ovation -- the longest one so far tonight. And they're still clapping.

I'm resenting how he's linking negatively criticism from Congressional representatives with the need to honor those whose lives are at risk in the military -- as if criticizing the president's policies is insulting the troops, who are bound to obey.

He's lauding ”Protection of minorities in strong, accoutnable institutions that last longer than a single vote“ -- he's talking about Egypt, though. I wish he felt that way about me.

He's calling for Hamas to disarm and recognize Israel -- another standing ovation.

Saudi Arabia needs reform too. ”Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, as they will reflect the traditions of their citizens; but liberty ... is the hope of all humanity.“

The regime in Iran sponsors terrorists, and the ”small clerical minority“ is oppressing the people. The nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nucular [sic] weapons.

Let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future ...” and we hope one day to be friends with a free and democratic Iran.

We're supposed to fight disease in “hopeless lands” -- so far, so good. “Americans believe in the God-given dignity” of someone with AIDS, or fleeing from genocide. Clearly he's talking about the MGD's -- educating girls. OK ... is he going to FUND these things? He's urging Congress to show the world our compassion -- and also to fund “the offensive” against terrorists. Law enforcement deserve our support and thanks. Another standing ovation. But I'd really love to hear a concrete promise about funding the MGD's here ...

... But I don't get one. Instead, he urges Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

Another 9/11 reference. To prevent another attack, the president has authorized monitoring (wiretapping) communications. He's just said twice that he has that constitutional authority. He says this has prevented terrorist attacks. “If there are people in this country talkin' with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.”

“We need the support of our friends and allies.” To get it, we “need to be clear on our principles.” FDR and Reagan cited as being anti-isolationism. The war against terrorism will be fought be presidents from both parties, and need bipartisan support in Congress. Standing ovation, with some closeups on less-than-enthusiastic applauders.

“Our economy is healthy and vigorous.” “Even in the face of high energy prices and national disasters, America has turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.” “This creates uncertainty, which makes it easy to feed people's fears” -- aptly said about foreign policy, but he's saying that about competition from China and India. He did just say that immigrants aren't a burden on our economy, but an asset to it that we need -- that's good.

Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it.“ And here come the tax cuts. He's declaring that his tax cuts ”have led to more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth,“ and they must be made permanent, which he says is what it would mean for the Congress ”to act responsibly.“

Now he's touting how he's cut spending (excepting, of course, spending on security and war) -- he's promising to cut the deficit in half by 2009. Another standing ovation.

”I am please that members of Congress are working on earmark reform“ -- and we should pass the line-item veto.

We must confront the larger challenge of manditory spending and entitlements. Reference to ”two of my favorite people: me and President Clinton,“ and a close-up of a not-very-amused Hillary Clinton.

”Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security“ -- and wild cheers and a lengthy standing ovation ensue, which clearly does not please the president. Now he looks PISSED.

”Every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse,“ so he's going to create a commission to study the effect of Baby Boomers' retirement. What a revolutionary idea!

And here's another huge-ass smirk during the standing ovation.

”With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker.“ How 'bout we MAKE TRADE FAIR, though? Now he's advocating immigration reform, including greater enforcement and a guest worker program.

Affordable health care -- WOO-HOO! But how's he going to say we get that? ”Our government has a responsibility to provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that obligation.“ We're going to control costs with better IT for electronic records. Promising more portable health coverage. And we get a smirk. And Congress should pass medical liability reform so counties won't lose OB/GYNs.

”America is addicted to oil.“ The best way to break this addiction is through technology. We've spent $10 million to develop cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy resources. Announcing an initiative -- investing in zero-emission coal plants, wind and solar technologies, and nu-cu-lar technologies. ”We must also change how we power our automobiles.“ Hybrid and hydrogen-fuel-cell cars. Wood-chip and ethanol (?) cars. Goal to replace more than 75% of oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. Move beyond a petroleum-based economy ... that would be good. Wonder if he's going to bring up ANWAR.

And to keep America competitive, we have to cultivate talent and creativity above all. Initiative to encourage innovation by giving kids a firm grounding in math and science. (And where's the funding? Will it go to poor neighborhoods?) Funding basic science. Wants to make permanent the R&D tax credit.

We need to encourage children to take math and science, and make sure those are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. No Child Left Behind a good start. AP courses, wants to bring math and science professionals to teach in classrooms (Are they good TEACHERS, though? We could pay teachers more, too.)

America's greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but in who we are and how we treat one another. Violent crime down, welfare cases reduced, fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades, and children born to teenage mothers has gone down for 12 years in a row. ”A quiet transformation, a revolution of conscience“; people are finding that ”a life of responsibility is a life of fulfillment.“ Everyone here tonight -- Democratic and Republican -- has a right to be proud of this record.

Many parents still have deep concerns about the direction of our culture. Just equated corruption among public officials with ”activist judges“ redefining marriage. ”A hopeful society depends on courts that render equal justice under the law.“ Honestly, where's my justice? If my name were Stephen Dylan Breuer instead of Sarah Dylan Breuer, I'd have health insurance now, as my partner's employer would recognize my marriage (perfectly legal in Canada -- we were civilly married there).

Smirk with another reference to how he'll appoint good judges and not 'activist judges' (I don't think he used this phrase here) who make law from the bench rather than interpreting it.

Oh, and he'll put Dr. Moreau out of business -- he's condemned ”human-animal hybrids.“

We musn't forget or betray our pledge to be worthy of people's trust.

We show the character of America in our compassion and care for one another. ”Helping America's Youth“ initiative, helping caring adults to care for children. Hmm ... think this means he'd be in favor of letting Karen and I adopt?

A hopeful society comes with aid when there are natural disasters, and stays with relief efforts until people are back on their feet. We must address deeper challenges in places like New Orleans that were there before the storms hit. Better schools for every child, more economic and home ownership opportunities for all. That sounds good.

HIV/AIDS -- can be prevented, treated, and defeated. Half of all AIDS cases occur among African Americans. Reauthorize Ryan White Act, and end waiting list for treatment in America. And we'll lead a nationwide effort working with African American churches and faith-based groups to administer testing and lower stigma until there are no new infections in America. Sounds good, but how will it play out?

MLK reference now, along with WWII and other 'victories for freedom.' Will we turn back, or finish well? Nope. And we'll compete in the global economy. We're optimistic about America's finish and faithful to its cause. God bless America -- BIG SMIRK.

Tim Russert commenting on how many times half the audience was standing while the other was sitting.

Now the discussion starts -- how much could the president get through? They're saying not much. People are saying that the only really surprising thing in this State of the Union speech was how hard the president was lobbying Republicans beforehand; normally the president would be able to expect a warm response from his party-mates without the effort.

They've turned down the sound on the televisions, and now we're going to discuss: What values did you hear that you were pleased with?

  • professing caring and compassion for people with AIDS
  • wanting to support education
  • alternative energy sources

What did you want to hear that you didn't hear?
cooperation with other nations (except for about the military)
use of ”isolationism“ and ”isolationist“ to describe anyone who doesn't support his Iraq policy

Democratic response:

Missed the beginning. Coretta Scott King ... Our faith and values teach us that there's no higher calling than serving others. Our mission of serving others is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad judgment. We see that in the Gulf Coast and in Iraq. good news: There's a better way. In Virginia (is this an omen for a Mark Warner run for the White House?) and other states, we're focusing on common solutions to common problems, and that's why Virginia has such an efficient administration. You have the right to expect the government to live within its means and be there for you and your children when you're in need. There's staggering national debt -- we've gone from huge surpluses to national debt. You don't make your kid pay your mortgage, but we're passing out debts down to our grandchildren. Education, health care, and law enforcement are all areas in which states are having to pick up the slack as the federal government fails. No Child Left Behind has saddled states with unfunded mandates, and it's hurting education. Billions of dollars are being cut from student loan programs that help working families get their kids through college. States and Congressional Democrats (and Republicans) are proposing solutions, but the administration resists. Health care is going down the tubes -- Medicaid cuts for our most vulnerable citizens, and new drug program has been more complex and expensive and less reliable. The system needs to serve consumers better. States have tried to allow citizens to buy drugs from other countries where they're reasonably priced, and the administration fights it. The president called on our commitment to win the war on terror and support our troops, and we must. Our commitment compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war? We now know that the American people were given inaccurate information about our reasons for invading Iraq.” Troops not given the best body armor and other equipment, and the president is proposing troop cuts, and wants to further reduce military and veteran's benefits. We have to give the troops the tools they need, and without sacrificing the liberty that we send our troops abroad to defend.

On energy, Americans are using more than ever, paying more for it, and are more dependent on the Middle East than ever before. We need shared sacrifice -- like from the oil companies, who are making record profits. More public investments and alternative energies to boost the economies and strengthen national securities.

No rational immigration policy -- a patchwork of state and local efforts. We should allow lawful immigration, but protect our borders.

Keep jobs in America, protect family farms -- the federal government isn't a reliable partner for any of these things. There's abetter way -- focusing on service, better results for people. Protecting the rights endowed by our Creator, and ensuring that the light of liberty shines on every American. Democrats are leading that effort, trying to reform the government to further service and results and get rid of cronyism and corruption.

This guy's single-eyebrow-raises are really starting to bug me.

We ask all Americans to join in these efforts, because America can do better.

OK, now we're discussing some more. Some reactions from people in the room:

  • The president talks about freedom all the time, but Cindy Sheehan was hauled off in handcuffs tonight. What kind of freedom is he talking about? If you speak up, protest, or resist, he wants to suppress it.
  • “How bloody well dare he take words that mean so much to me -- compassion, freedom -- when what he's talking about doing doesn't make sense with how I understand those words.”
  • Very glad to hear the Democratic response emphasizing fiscal responsibility.
  • “I feel terrorized by George Bush.”
  • Our budget is a moral document. John Edwards is working on poverty issues -- he also said the budget is a moral document. I'm 57, and I never thought about it that way before.“ Congress is voting tomorrow on the budget -- we should keep that in mind and take action.
  • His use of MLK's not backing down as a justification for continuing to make war in Iraq was awful. MLK was committed to nonviolence.
  • If each of us wrote a letter to the editor to our newspapers, that would help get the word out.
  • Respond -- not with bitterness, but respond.

Closing prayer: God, a request has been made already tonight for blessing for this country. Bless us also with humility, with repentance, with clarity, and with insight, to take action on our values.

January 31, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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What a powerful response to the state of the union address. I had watched political things in community during the presidential debates and found it helpful. I get so irritated that I hadn't thought of doing it for the S. of the U. But I can tell from your response that it keeps one from just getting too irritated.

Posted by: hypatia cade | Feb 1, 2006 8:52:36 AM

I had the thought that we needed Mystery Science Theater 3000 to cover the speech -- your commentary adds a nice touch of realism. {As an aside, I lived in Columbia for the 3-4 years before I entered the monastery ... thanks for the taste of home!)

Posted by: steph | Feb 1, 2006 11:48:47 PM

At least you did the responsible sober liveblogging. I was doing the irresponsible drinking liveblogging. Balance is achieved. ;)

Posted by: ginny | Feb 2, 2006 11:36:22 PM

Your fortitude, even in community, expressed by watching that man spew bilge is highly admirable.

Posted by: janinsanfran | Feb 4, 2006 1:53:14 AM

Thanks for your great blog entry on the KC event. We want to share with you from the discussion at our meeting.

We also had a another State of Our Values in Columbia MD the same night but in the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia MD on 1-31-06. Our evenings were very similar. We have one person who attended the recent conference on DC on Spirtuality and Politics with Jim Wallis, Richard Rohr and others and who inspired by that event to participate in this values discussion - See these links for more information:
Politics and Spirituality Conference and
Politics and Spirituality Conf

On 1-31-06 we also started with a prayer remembering Coretta Scott King and her legacy of work carrying on her husband's vision of equality for all, social justice and anti-poverty work and peacemaking.

Folks at our event express these concerns among others:

Education themes:
Help for kids who are dropping out of school
Real help for education for our kids (no child left behind is not funded and is not working)
More financial aid so that all kids have access to higher education

Help for families where parents have to work 2 to 3 jobs to make ends meet

Wish for a commitment that America won't launch preemptive wars

More U.S. support for UN Millennium Project ( http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/ ) to establish development goals that will help eliminate hunger and starvation worldwide.

Fund social programs domestically and cut war expenses

A consistent ethic of life that focuses not just on prenatal issues, but helps folks in all stages of their lives

Improved energy policies

As Oprah Winfrey says, truth does matter. Have more truth telling from our political leaders

Reform campaign financing - make air time available to all candidates

Supporting torture subverts our moral authority in the world

Equality for all regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation

These concerns address many values:

The values of Compassion.... help for children and families in our society to have the resources to development and make their maximum contribution to the common good ....as the Preamble to the Constitution says "promote the general Welfare" ....and not just the good of rich elites. As Biblical prophets say, help women and children and strangers among you.

The value of peacemaking

The value of education so that people can develop fully and contribute back to society

Values of equity for all

Values of truth-telling and integrity modeled by leaders

Values of conservation of the earth that God created and that we want to leave as a legacy to our children

Values of global compassion - extending care to all peoples, not just Americans

Value of hope and integrity (a hopeful stance that is antithetical to aggressive actions motivated by fear)

After watching the State of the Union, many present were shocked that more than ½ of the time in the address was devoted to issues of war.

We had a great variety of folks, some members of Columbia United Christian Church, folks from other churches, some folks who do not participate in religious services, a person born into a Jewish family but who may not be practicing - good diversity. We listened respectfully to each other and to the State of the Union address and the Democratic response. We hope to have more opportunites in the future to listen to each other, and hold up our values. Folks present expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be together in dialogue.

Posted by: Ruth | Feb 12, 2006 4:02:34 PM

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