JFK: Voice of Collective (Non-partisan) Aspiration

Nov. 22, 1963. Three shots. Historical shock. The near destabilization of the American system. A hurried reordering of executive leadership and governing priorities. Every question asked, and unanswered. Importantly. Exactly fifty years ago today, Pres. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., was shot and killed, in Dallas, Texas. Though official filings cite Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, no judicial process has ever found him guilty. Instead, we have the controversial and selective report from the Warren Commission, and the shooting remains a more or less unsolved mystery.

Ultimately, what matters most is what we learn and what we put into effect.

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Free Our Energy Markets

Climate change is a market failure—the most costly in world history. The failure of so-called “free markets” to accurately express the cost of carbon-emitting fuels in consumer prices has led to the accelerating destabilization of global climate patterns. That failure stems, in large part, from the fact that our energy markets are not free and open at all, but rigged to favor specific enterprises that deal in specific high-emitting fuels.

We can free our energy markets in a way that allows both conservative pro-business free market thinkers and also progressive pro-environment zero-carbon crusaders to come together and to vote for a brighter, more prosperous future. First we need to unrig the energy marketplace, and then we need to make sure we do so in a way that does not punish households and communities or impede their ability to transition into the new open market.

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9/11 Should be a Day of National Reflection & Reaffirmation

The four coordinated hijackings, resulting in three deliberate attacks and one downed passenger jet, took 2,977 innocent lives and sowed fear and dismay across the world. They were acts of unconscionable evil intended to not only harm innocents and terrify the wider population, but to destabilize American democracy itself, and derail a people’s journey through history, possibly to erode its most virtuous contributions.

It was a clear, sunny morning and the first plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center had sparked a sustained global news flash, bringing hundreds of millions of eyes to the television footage. There was confusion and disbelief, and just as it was becoming clear there must have been a devastating loss of life, a massive fireball engulfed the top half of the South Tower, clearly signaling a deliberate terrorist attack was underway.

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United, to Earn a Democratic Future

During the American revolutionary period, Benjamin Franklin published this cartoon —we’ve updated the coloring and the text— with the caption “Join, or Die!” His meaning was that the new states would need to join together into a unified overarching political structure, or they would be easily overrun by the British empire. In Lincoln’s words, “a house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

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This Land is Our Land (video)

This video is an expression of the ideal that in a democracy, the nation belongs to all of its people. It is our view that the power structures through which people of privilege exercise their will are no more private or wholly their own than the government itself. In a true democracy, every citizen should be committed to fostering and honoring the whole landscape of democracy.

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Fear of Difference is Opposition to Democracy

The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. It is a nation that has wrestled with vicious undercurrents of racism and xenophobia, and has emerged ever more democratic, generally trending toward a more perfect union representing the foundational ideals that were, in the 18th century, so far out of reach, but so necessary as core aspirations. And over time, it is a nation that has become richer, stronger and more democratic, by getting closer to those foundational ideals.

In advocating for the most effective way to form a new democratic nation in Argentina, Juan Bautista Alberdi wrote that Argentina should follow the example of the United States and encourage major waves of immigration, because the resulting society, with a large population, with diverse backgrounds and a commitment to building something new, will make for a more sustainable and democratic republic.

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George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796)

When Pres. George Washington left office after his second term, he warned of the political passions that swell among competing factions and that lead to the rise of despots. He explained that partisan interest can invite an erosion of legitimate electoral and representative processes:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” (¶22)

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Respect for Complexity Makes Democracy Possible

We’ve all had conversations where someone has fallen into the temptation to argue that simplicity is the most necessary quality for anything that can stand the test of time. But the natural world builds resilience into systems of all kinds by fostering unrelenting complexity; the key feature that makes complexity work is the intelligence with which diverse and competing interests fit together to achieve the wider aim of standing up against external threats, decay and decline.

In the landscape of public policy, this means rethinking our attitude about the problematic complexity inherent in dealing independently with a wide variety of diverse and competing stakeholder interests. It is, of course, easier for those who have to decide what adjustments to make, regarding any policy or practice, to exclude most stakeholders and only answer the needs of those whose interests fit simply and comfortably with their own. But then, that is not democracy.

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Rise of the Revolutionary Moderate

What took place in Egypt between Jan. 25 and Feb. 11, 2011, was a revolution, but it was non-violent and it joined together disparate ideological factions, rich and poor, old and young, Christian and Muslim. It gave the lie to the notion that moderation in politics cannot be a revolutionary force for transformative change.

In the United States, we have put far too much stock in the idea that identity politics boils down, in this aftermath of centuries of discrimination, to liberal versus conservative, with two diametrically opposed views on every policy. Conservative activists are “radicals” somehow intent on ruining the middle class, while progressive activists are “revolutionaries” somehow intent on waging a Marxist class war.

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Red-Blooded Conservatives & Blue-Ocean Progressives

There is a fallacy at the heart of the political discourse of late 20th and early 21st century America: that conservatives and liberals are diametrically opposed, unable to work together, and committed at their very core to one another’s destruction. Certainly, when ideology comes into the debate, there are hotly contested arguments to be had. But honest conservatives and honest liberals have a lot more in common than we normally admit.

At the heart of what motivates people to call themselves conservative, there is an impulse to gravitate toward clarity, toward what is known to be good in people and in society, toward a set of principles by which society can find its way through the turbulent waters of an unknowable future. At the heart of what motivates people to call themselves liberal or progressive is a not-too-dissimilar impulse to gravitate toward reason, toward what is known to be good in people and in society, toward a set of principles by which we can work together to calm the seas of a turbulent and unknowable future.

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