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Idealism Without Illusions




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Selected E-Mails
 to the Editor,

Here are some of the feisty e-mails and letters that are coming in to Radical Middle Online Newsletter.  They're arranged in reverse chronological order.

For selected e-mails and letters from 2008, go HERE; from 2006, HERE; from 2005, HERE; from 2002-04, HERE; and from 1999-2001, HERE.

To send YOUR OWN e-mail to the editor, just click on E-Mail the Editor.


Hawken Not the Answer? (continued)

December 15, 2007

I loved your review of Paul Hawken’s book ("Is There an Invisible and Exceptionally Life-Loving Political Movement in Our Midst?,” October 2007).

It is the funniest and most insightful piece I’ve read by you, and the best piece on Hawken I’ve seen. Great work.

For my most idealistic vision, see my manifesto “The Creation of Conscious Culture Through Educational Innovation” (September 2007). It calls for a diverse educational market in order to reach children, now often starved for meaning and inspiration.

Michael Strong
CEO and Chief Visionary Officer, FLOW, Inc.
Austin, TX


The answer to your question -- "Is There an Invisible and Exceptionally Life-Loving Political Movement in Our Midst?” -- is "YES!" The movement is "Web 2.0," which is not necessarily political in its intent, but in its consequences.

As Andrew Keen argues in his popular critique of the Web, The Cult of the Amateur (2007), cost-free publication and hyper-connectivity in cyberspace has created an open mass market for ideas unconstrained by filters, gate-keepers, or traditional frames-of-reference. In every field of inquiry there is an unprecedented, unbridled freedom to articulate and communicate.

Small wonder Paul Hawken believes there are 1 to 2 million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice. There probably are! (Of course, on the Web, nobody knows whether your organization has 4 members or 4 million.)

In the face of this e-populism, traditional institutions that once served to maintain standards of quality and coherence for public dialogue are being bypassed, ignored, and thus devalued.

There are 1 billion people online today, and they've begun to realize they can speak with authority without institutional validation. A formal ideology with a "central political organization" and a "coherent political platform" -- your mournful phrases -- have been rendered superfluous in gaining access to a public platform.

But here’s where you’re right: Good political scientists have begun to express concern over the declining currency of traditional ideologies, fearing the rise of a fragmented electorate that will make democratic processes dysfunctional.

While I have always distrusted ideologies because they necessarily oversimplify the complexity of the real world, political scientists believe that ideologies are essential to the success of democracy -- for precisely the that same reason. Without political cant to simplify complex issues, even an informed electorate, they reason, will be unable to reach consensus for coherent action.

Since the 1960's, I have tried to make the complex world -- as depicted by hard data and scientific knowledge -- so straightforward and actionable that people would abandon their preconceptions, and engage in initiatives based on total factor costs and benefits.

While I typically get through to 10% to 15% of my audiences and readers, it is clear to me that the great bulk of society wants simple explanations of their circumstances, in which there are "good guys" and "bad guys," along with some things to support and some things to oppose.

With New Options Newsletter [1983-92] and Radical Middle Online Newsletter [1999-present], you have sought to create a passion for pragmatic but imaginative and integrative thinking and activism. Over the past 40 years, each of us has survived in the marketplace of ideas by engaging the relatively small percentage of "issue attentive" people whose minds are not foreclosed by doctrine or ideology.

But neither of us has been able to engender a "mass movement,” in spite of a rising public frustration over the political gridlock in our national decision-making processes and the rising numbers of "independent" voters.

Our current national circumstances appear to be creating an ideological vacuum in America -- a condition which, we have been told, politics abhors, and which will almost certainly be filled with one or more new political philosophies.

In light of the foregoing, I enjoyed your point-by-point critique of Paul Hawken’s book. In the end, you are right about it, but I’m not yet sure you understand why.

David Pearce Snyder
Consulting Futurist, The Snyder Family Enterprise
Bethesda, MD

Hawken Not the Answer?

December 1, 2007

Thanks for your article on Paul Hawken's book Blessed Unrest ("Is There an Invisible and Exceptionally Life-Loving Political Movement in Our Midst?," October 2007).  I am in the middle of his book and have found it disconcerting -- but was unable to name the problem as you have so eloquently done.

Jeremy Berg
Co-director, The Lorian Association
Issaquah, WA


I enjoyed and agree with your critique of Hawken's perspective.

Joe Simonetta
Former Democratic nominee for Congress (Bethlehem / eastern PA)
Vilcabamba, Ecuador


Hey!  Paul truly loves homeopathy these days. . . .

Dana Ullman, M.P.H.
Founder, Homeopathic Education Services
Author, The Homeopathic Revoluton
Berkeley, CA

Time for a Peaceful Revolution?

November 15, 2007

I am an avid reader of Radical Middle Online Newsletter and want to recommend a book for you to review: Matt Carson's On a Hill They Call Capital (Freestate Press, 2007).

I have purchased copies for everyone I know as Christmas presents.  It's a short read but a very incisive book about a peaceful revolution that we need to have in this country!  I think too few people understand how far we have gotten from the democracy our founders intended.

Joel Garreau, longtime reporter for the Washington Post (and author of the thoroughly radical-middle book The Nine Nations of North America), has this to say about Carson's book: "When a band of good ol' boys from Virginia decide that American liberties have been breached once too often, the resulting revolution they launch is both clever and informed by a sense of irony that only true country boys can pull off."

Maybe so.  But I think all your readers will want to help!

Lee Anderson
Springfield, GA

C'mon - a “Holistic” Approach to Terrorism? (continued)

November 1, 2007

Tremendous article (“We Can Respond Effectively to Terrorism -- But Only If All Our Insights Are Made to Count,” September 2007). I have asked my webmaster, Steff, to note it on my website.

P.M.H. Atwater
Author, Children of the New Millennium
Charlottesville, VA


Excellent work. Helps me understand how I can best contribute to making this a world I want for my grandchildren and all the world’s children.

Lincoln L. Annas
Project Manager, CONTACT (local anti-substance-abuse task force)
Wolfeboro Falls, NH


All the causes and solutions you discuss are valid. Above all, though, we need to understand the attractiveness -- for young people especially -- of the idea that killing themselves for their God and way of life is the highest GOOD. Then we need to find ways to diffuse and redirect this enthusiasm.

Terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah do many good things (like help the poor) in their own societies. Their goodness and their love of God may have to be encouraged so that their hatred of “infidels” can be reduced.

Extreme terrorism will never go away unless we get to the source -- the ideas, the memes -- and find ways to redirect or change them.

Luke Friendshuh
Engineer, Seagate Technology
Elko, MN


Your careful work and synthesis on terrorism cover a lot of ground. But here’s another perspective worth considering:

Over the last few hundred years, the overall trends of technology and society have been to empower the individual with the ability to do harm.

You used to have to be a king with an army to kill the way many individuals can today.

To some extent, there is also more opportunity for individuals to do good creative things today. But somehow the ability to do harm seems even more enhanced.

It is easy to state this problem, but much harder to know what to do about it.

David Thaler
Microbiologist, Rockefeller University
New York, NY


Congrats on your article. The following line you wrote sums up my personal thoughts on that horrid morning six years ago:

Perhaps we should see the terrorist threat as a God-given invitation to restructure our institutions so that we spend our days absorbing each other’s insights and perspectives, rather than ignoring or attacking them.

I too thought 9/11 represented a wake-up call -- not to circle the wagons and seek revenge, but to re-examine ourselves, as you appear to suggest.

Until our collective will to get along with one another -- with EVERYONE, not just other Americans -- becomes more important than being “right,” we are sadly destined to continue perpetuating the very terror we claim to be against.

John Renesch
Futurist / site HERE
Author, Getting to the Better Future
San Francisco, CA

Dear John: What I was trying to say was, just about all of us are “right” about terrorism, in our different ways. So we can’t effectively combat it until we learn to appreciate and inculcate each other’s views, and strategize accordingly. Hopefully that won’t require a massive social-psychological re-examination . . . hopefully a little humility will do.

C'mon -  a “Holistic” Approach to Terrorism?

October 15, 2007

Excellent, Mark -- just wonderful (“We Can Respond Effectively to Terrorism -- But Only If All Our Insights Are Made to Count,” September 2007). Will be passing it along.

David Langer
Creative Director, The Visioneering Group
Los Angeles, CA


I enjoyed the article and think you made your point effectively. Keep up the good work of bridging the divides.

Jeremy Berg
Co-director, The Lorian Association
Issaquah, WA


I co-direct the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project that you mention in your article on combatting terrorism. (Fyi, it is a joint project of Search for Common Ground in Washington DC and the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge MA.)

Your article says we are trying to get Americans and Muslims to talk with each other -- and that is partly accurate. But more centrally, we have attempted to organize the very dialogue you call for: to synthesize the best thinking available from a broad swath of perspectives, and then to convert it into clear recommendations and action steps.

Three of the people you draw upon in your article -- Robert Jay Lifton, Dennis Ross, and Jessica Stern -- are part of our project. Dennis, in fact, helped us put the project together.

Rob Fersh
Executive Director, Search for Common Ground
Washington, DC


Yes, there are people out there who want to kill us. But when you compare them to the Communist menace that I grew up with, they are very small potatoes.

The USSR and China had nuclear weapons, and huge technically trained militaries with multibillion dollar budgets. The Islamic terrorist budget is in the hundreds of millions, and the terrorists are spending more time and money killing other Muslims and each other than they spend on us.

More people have been drowned in bathtubs since 9/11 than were killed at the Twin Towers.

There may be another terrorist attack in the next year or so, which may kill a few hundred or thousand people. This is regrettable and unfortunate. But our all-encompassing attempts to protect ourselves against this relatively minor problem -- attempts you spend 4,000+ words celebrating -- are ludicrously misplaced, when we compare the threat of terrorism to the deaths caused by our collapsing infrastructure, and by Hurricane Katrina.

Terrorism is a problem for the police.

Teed Rockwell
College professor / site HERE
Author, Neither Brain nor Ghost
Berkeley, CA

Dear Teed: Our article should have stated that terrorism is, ALSO, a problem for the police. And see our Katrina article HERE. Country has miles to go before it can sleep . . . no corners can be cut. And they say there’s not enough challenging and ambitious work to go around?

Is a New Post-Partisan Ideology Arising? (concluded)

October 1, 2007

It is not just about lack of partisanship (“Post-Partisan! The First Uniquely American Political Ideology Is Being Born,” August 2007). After all, there’s not much political partisanship in China or Syria or Zimbabwe.

Perhaps a better word would be “post-partisanism.” Partisanism is the belief that the extreme practice of partisan politics is the best way to achieve your desired political aims -- think Tom DeLay or Karl Rove. (I thought I’d coined the word, but have now found it used in a similar way in an article by James A. Nash in Christian Ethics Today.)

I want politicians to be partisan. That’s their job. But they should be partisan while abiding by the 10 Key Elements you set forth in the first half of your article.

When I read the various proposals you describe in the final third of your article, I disagree with many of them—strongly! I’d like to argue them, and take partisan positions. But I would commit to debate following your 10 Key Elements (relationships as important as convictions, criticism well-balanced by self-criticism, overriding commitment to deliberation, etc.).

That debate, trying to find the “Post-Partisan Program,” would be a knock-down, drag-out affair. We’d look more like the “Radical Muddle” than the Radical Middle. Among the benefits of extreme partisanship are certainty and clarity of purpose. MoveOn.org is very purposeful and clear. Our debate would look like a tavern brawl in comparison.

Why must this be so? Because in the middle, there is no One Right Way. Could be a little of this, a little of that.

Which leads me to the 11th Key Element: “Let 10,000 flowers bloom.”

A key aspect of extreme partisanship is to find the One Right Way, then enforce it on everyone. But in many of the most important issues facing us, we don’t know the best answer. There may not be one. We can't even agree on what the problem is.

We need to try different options and see what works under different circumstances, in what areas, for what kind of people.

I believe that any supposed Post-Partisan Program that fails to incorporate this approach will just devolve into another ideology that turns most people off and rouses the opposing true believers.

Mike Van Horn
President, The Business Group
San Rafael, CA

Dear Mike: In 1981, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC, the New World Alliance -- predecessor to groups like Unity08 and Reuniting America -- released a 100-page platform called A Transformation Platform: The Dialogue Begins. It consisted of policy proposals on one side of each page, and “commentary” and alternative proposals on the other side. The mainstream media, the alternative media, and social change groups all shunned the platform. “Perhaps they’ll listen now,” as Don McLean put it in his song “Vincent.”


I’ve “preached” the radical middle for years. Even used the term. Another term I’ve used is ethical pragmatism.

I’ve often noticed that people at both ends of the political spectrum know the answer to every problem before they even know what the problem is. Intensity of a position seems to be high at both ends but low in the middle.

This is what must change. Putting the “radical” in radical middle is our task. We must not be a wishy-washy middle.

Roger Leiser
Chemical Engineer (retired)
Decatur, IL


I shall be sending some material to you via snail mail. One of the pieces is titled “The Moderate,” and it refutes the notion -- widely held -- that moderates are wishy-washy and don’t hold strong convictions.

Hal Rowin
Retired (sort of)
Scottsdale, AZ

Is a New Post-Partisan Ideology Arising? (continued)

September 15, 2007

For some 40 years I’ve described my political leanings as “knee-jerk moderate,” but I’ll accept “post-partisan” as a decent alternative term (“Post-Partisan!: The First Uniquely American Political Ideology Is Being Born,” August 2007).

One problem, though, is that some of the agendas set out by responsible groups in your article -- for example, New America Foundation -- are far from new, but have been sought for decades without discernible progress. Example: separating the federal budget into two components, capital and operating.

My skepticism about achieving some of the specific proposals you offer remains undiminished, at least until post-partisanship gets its boots on the ground, so to speak.

Don Lief
Portland, OR


You will be pleased to know that Hon. Paul Froelich, the most frequent commentator on my blog Man in the Middle, recently switched his allegiance from Republican to Democrat in the Illinois legislature -- but only his party label changed.

He is very much a centrist, but in your radical sense of seeking creative win-win solutions, rather than the usual divide-the-baby, win-lose approach to politics practiced by both major parties.

Jim Strasma
InfoEd Systems Manager
University of Illinois - Chicago
Arlington Heights, IL


Great article Mark!!

Major J.D. Whitlock
Blogmaster, Dead Armadillos
Chief of Knowledge and Content Management, Medical Service Administration, United States Air Force
Falls Church, VA


As a supporter of the Unity08 idea / objective / process and, hopefully, impact, I noted with both interest and some dismay that you only had two brief references to them in your Post-Partisan piece. What is your stance on their chances of success?

Alvah White
Evanston, IL

Dear Alvah: I am actually quite hopeful about Unity08, not least of all because there appear to be real adults running the show. Wrote an article about them HERE which they linked-to for quite some time. Would have discussed their agenda in the appropriate section of our Post-Partisan article, but they haven’t set one yet.


It is interesting what one encounters simultaneously -- for example, your article “Post-Partisan!” and a piece by George Lakoff titled “No Center, No Centrists” arguing that “American ideas are fundamentally progressive ideas,” and that centrism is “the creation of an inaccurate self-serving metaphor, and it is time to bury it.”

It sure would be interesting to see a face-off between you and Lakoff.

Miles Fidelman
Newtonville, MA

Dear Miles: I wrote a systemic and well-received critique of Lakoff’s best-known book early last year (“The Democrats’ ‘New Bible’ Will Raise Us-Against-Them to an Art Form,” January 15, 2006), and emailed it to him. No reply. Perhaps he thinks I’m un-”American” and should be buried! He wouldn’t be the first.

Is a New Post-Partisan Ideology Arising?

September 1, 2007

Mahalo nui for your latest newsletter offering (“Post-Partisan!: The First Uniquely American Political Ideology Is Being Born,” August 2007). One of the things I most love about your work is its honesty -- openness -- authenticity. And you are nothing if not a hopeful and bright visionary . . . realistically well-informed and pragmatically hopeful, let me say.

M. Ka’imi Nicholson
Honolulu, HI


I really don't enjoy pouring cold water on either your dream or your dreamlike writing, Mark. But a post-partisan politics has to be demonstrated by much more than talk, and especially campaign talk, before I'll buy it.

The prime requirement, in my view, is give and take on the floor of Congress. Not only were the Republicans incapable of this when they were in power, but they appear to be incapable of it when not in total control -- which is rather remarkable, if you stop to think about it.

In my view, there is no greater issue in America today; and I'm sorry to see you so blithely avoiding it. Post-partisanship has no chance for survival (let alone triumph) in a political field in which there is no give and take. And we have not seen genuine give and take in this century. And you know it!

It has taken me a long lifetime (80 years) to finally and totally lose faith in a system I was brought up to love, and virtually worship. I am hardly alone in that assessment and that reaction.

This country is literally seething in anger over what is happening today. The increasingly apparent lack of any truly representative government at the congressional level (where it should be a reliable constant) is going to have a shattering effect on the country before the election ever comes to pass. Mark my words, Mark, because it is going to be next year's top story.

Irv Thomas
Personal Web site: www.irvthomas.com
Seeker and writer
Seattle, WA


There must be a way for us to work together! My book is Call to Liberty: Bridging the Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives (2006). Our Web site is www.calltoliberty.net. I just gave a speech to 2,000 people at a progressive Catholic church in Minneapolis.

Tony Signorelli
President, Signorelli & Associates
Minneapolis, MN

Generations May Mean More to Us than Ideologies!

September 1, 2007

As a faithful reader of the late, lamented New Options newsletter, it’s great to find your writing again. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in several areas touched upon in your current writing (electoral reform, civic engagement, transpartisanship, democracy and capitalism, faith and politics).

I also appreciate the historical understanding you bring to this work, your open letter to Joseph McCormick being a prime example. Although I am two decades younger than you, I too have been part of many efforts to transform politics.

Recently I’ve been working with a few colleagues to see if we can find ways that citizens can -- together -- experience and begin to create together the next form of democracy.

Our work has a lot in common with passages from your report on the “Democracy in America” event, but there are differences too. Most importantly, at our last salon we grouped people not by ideology but by generation (Silent, Boom, Gen-X, Millennial), and asked them to come back with the story of how they and their generation assumed its political identity.

We began with the oldest generation, and asked them to pass the narration on to the next generation, and so on. By the time we reached the Millennials (age 20 and under), almost everyone was stunned by what we had not realized about other generations. And by how those generations had affected them. And by the dramatically different understanding each generation had of public life and how best to participate.

Once the Millennials spoke, jaws dropped further, as we saw in this rising generation the potential for a shift toward a new and quite compelling future. We also saw how mistaken we had been about what each of our generational cohorts had to offer that could help the Millennials seize this opportunity.

This new perspective revealed our development as individuals and generations moving through time -- and showed that our political identities and the ways we view the world are neither as fixed nor as exclusive as conventional political labels suggest.

I believe there are many exciting implications here, for our politics and for democracy itself, and my colleagues and I intend to draw them out in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, I will continue reading you. I hope our paths cross someday.

Ken White
Personal Web site: www.kenwhite.us
Coordinator, Minding the Gap Between the Present and the Future
Former Coordinating Director, Chaordic Commons
Former Executive Director, Common Cause Massachusetts
San Rafael, CA

The Primaries Are Our Stumbling Block

August 15, 2007

This letter is in response to your article "Politicians, Pundits, and Activists Are Having a Culture War. The Rest of Us Are Nuanced or Ambivalent and Looking for New Directions" (March 2007).  I found the information to be very interesting, and I agree wholeheartedly with the position of the scholars you rely on, Morris Fiorina and Wayne Baker.

Their position is that over the past 30 years, the general population has become more like-minded, but the two major political parties have moved further and further apart.

It would be interesting to hear the opinions of these scholars as to just what it was that led to this polarization. My own theory is that the main factor is the rise of the primary election as the sole method each party uses to select its candidate.

Until the late 1960's, and even into the 1970s, decisions made at the party conventions had a huge impact on not only who became the candidate, but also on what planks would be included in the campaign platform. The decisions were made by a diverse group of party leaders, each representing a constituency within the party.

The old-style party conventions were often sordid, contentious, and far from transparent. But they did usually (not always) result in a candidate whom the entire coalition of groups constituting their party could support -- and who were capable of appealing to most voters.

Under the new (and certainly more democratic) primary election method of choosing a candidate, the road to nomination consists of merely obtaining a plurality, however small, in the first primary elections. This means that a candidate can win their party’s nomination by appealing to extreme or unrepresentative elements within the party.

Post-partisans will continue to be on the outside looking in until we find a more satisfactory method of choosing each party's nominee.

Pat Cadle
West Virginia Child Care Association
Charleston, WV

“Holistic” Immigration Reform? (concluded)

 August 1, 2007

Re: your article “Liberal vs. Conservative vs. Holistic Immigration Reform” (July 2007):

Provide us all with foolproof high-tech identity cards? Why should honest Americans need a card? It is the old story of punish all because a few are bad -- which leaves the good feeling as though their good is not appreciated, so they might as well have been bad all along.

Instead of adding “encrypted data” from people’s retinas, I would severely punish anyone caught using fake ID. That would do a better job of discouraging their use.

In addition, I’d give illegal immigrants 60 days to go home and then do a sweep across America. Send anyone who doesn’t have proof of citizenship or legal entry home; with the message that if caught again they will be shot. And then stick to it. We need to retain our guts to complete the task.

Another thing: You make the point that letting in low-wage immigrants saves the American consumer money. If we want safe borders and safe neighborhoods, we must pay for them. So our lifestyle lessens somewhat. Is that such a bad thing that we want to destroy our country and culture?

Think of the generations to follow ours. When non-native workers become the majority they can vote us back into Mexico and how do you think your offspring will be treated then?

And you’re supposed to be the visionary?

Hoby Herron
Facilitator, Cracker Barrel Conversations (see p. 2 of link)
Bend, OR


Clinton actually had a plan that would have cured the immigration problem with Mexico. He intended Tax-Free Business Zones on the Mexican border to create jobs that would have been preferable to sneaking across the border to water American lawns.

The American businesses in those zones could have had huge profit increases if they had been willing to pay a half or a quarter of what they paid American workers. But because they wanted to make billions instead of millions, they paid the workers so little that those jobs provided no incentive to stay home.

The problem is the inability of the American superrich to distinguish between the legitimate right to make a profit and bloated, deranged greed. (Of course, many old-line lefties couldn't tell the difference either, which is why they used to say that there’s no difference between robbing a bank and starting one.)

Dr. Teed Rockwell
Philosophy Department, Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, CA

“Holistic” Immigration Reform? (continued)

 July 15, 2007

In your article on immigration reform (“Liberal vs. Conservative vs. Holistic Immigration Reform,” July 2007), you state

we [should] treat all our immigrants (legal or illegal) with dignity; and [we should] grant Hispanic immigrants the right to help our culture evolve just as blacks, Jews, Italians, and other identifiable groups helped our culture evolve

We have no reason to treat criminals with dignity. We should send them back across the border where they (illegally) came from.

We shouldn’t grant Hispanic immigrants any rights unless they enter this country on its terms, i.e. legally.

Those other groups entered legally, leaving the Old World behind, eager to become Americans and contribute to their new nation's culture.

Millions of Hispanics are entering illegally, denouncing and attacking our culture, refusing to learn our language, and demanding redress for ancient wrongs. Not the same!

You seem to think Hispanics just want to work at menial jobs here and send money home to Mama in Chihuahua. Of course many -- if not most -- do. But millions are here living outside the law, committing crimes, eating up Medicaid, getting free education for their illegal children, not paying taxes, filling our prisons, joining vicious gangs like MS-13, and trampling the American flag at soccer games and street demonstrations.

What deal are you offering them, Mark?

Here's my deal: Out!

John McClaughry
President, Ethan Allen Institute
Former Senior Policy Advisor, Reagan White House
Concord, VT


Being a techie, I am highest on the possibility of true employer verification using a centralized database that verifies identities.

Setting aside the question of whether the border wall would keep out terrorists (I doubt it), a wall is a relatively cruel way of keeping people out, compared to walling off the job market. And it won’t keep out day laborers.

With smart ID cards, stealing an identity and then working at a traceable location would not work -- unless enforcement is utterly casual.

Rick Heller
Co-founder, Centrist Coalition
Editor, Centerfield: A Weblog of Centrist Voices in American Politics
Belmont, MA

Dear Rick: Actually, I did not say “centralized” database -- perhaps my article implied it, and I would not be against it. But arguably the data could be maintained separately by each state, e.g. in the departments of motor vehicles (these generally also provide non-drivers-license IDs). State-run data centers is the Progressive Policy Institute’s preferred vision -- see first paragraph HERE.

“Holistic” Immigration Reform?

July 1, 2007

I was disappointed in your immigration reform article (“Liberal vs. Conservative vs. Holistic Immigration Reform,” July 2007):

-- There are problems with upgrading IDs and those should have been addressed;

-- Why did you not address the issue of cheap overseas production? It is at the root of the need for “temporary workers";

-- Where is the environmentalist argument -- shared by many -- that stuffing another 100 million people into the country is asking for trouble? Without immigration we would have a steady population. Growing ever-more populated necessarily means ever more crowded roads and less open space, and likely means a negative impact on ecosystem health, wildlife populations, and the beauty of our landscape.

A better approach to the immigration issue might be to focus on trade and the difference between our labor / environmental standards and those found in other countries. One could impose a graduated excise tax on imported goods from deficient countries, with those monies being returned to the taxed countries to pay for labor and environmental upgrades.

This would mean that California produce, for example, could be grown using labor that is paid a reasonable wage and that could still compete, globally. This would

  • make local agriculture more viable elsewhere in the country
  • take the downward pressure off wages
  • reverse much “outsourcing”

If phased in over a long period, many of the benefits would accrue ahead of schedule, as businesses planned ahead. That would remove the need for “guest workers” entirely.

One could then base immigration on a mix of family presence and skill, slowly pivoting from the former to the latter, but with overall levels at the current rate (approx. 200,000 a year).  There could even be a small, but symbolic program to admit under-represented ethnic groups, to underpin the goal of diversity.

Jared Scarborough
Employee, United States Postal Service
Payson, IL


This is adapted from the blog Indistinct Union (June 27, 2007):

Some very good ideas in [your immigration reform article. I especially] like the first point, which is scanning the current debate and reconstructing the proper interests [of each “side”] and then designing a policy that aims [to integrate each of] those.

This is what I’ve been trying to articulate more and more -- that this [requires] a deep trust in the Universe. That these views do not arise accidentally. That [healthy] organisms construct their environments [by drawing on all means available to them].

One can sincerely disagree about some of [your immigration reform] proposals. [But any true solution will] require a systems view, a wide-scope look, and -- as I’m saying -- a deep trust in [an inclusive] process.

C.J. Smith
Graduate student, Vancouver School of Theology
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Re-inventing American History? (continued)

July 1, 2007

Thanks very much for your piece on history books (“Re-inventing American History,” June 2007). I agree that new kinds of syntheses are needed and think all the books you talk about are good steps in that direction. Since [Zachary] Karabell is a former student of mine, I feel I am in some sense on your list twice.

By the way, you or your readers might be interested one day in taking a look at Give Me Liberty!: An American History, which I published a couple of years ago [2004], and which takes this theme of contested freedom and uses it as the basis for a college textbook. [The book of mine you chose to discuss,] The Story of American Freedom (1998), is a brief survey.

Eric Foner
DeWitt Clinton Professor of History
Columbia University
New York, NY

Re-inventing American History?

June 15, 2007

Needless to say, I appreciate your kind words about my book A Nation Among Nations (2006). But I want to thank you for the whole essay (“Re-inventing American History,” June 2007).

Perhaps we are at a moment when historians are willing to rethink the basic narrative of American history in ways that open it up to concerns that may be more widely shared (as you suggest) -- but also taking a stand on what they think it all means today.

I now have a shopping list when I get back home.

Tom Bender
University Professor of the Humanities
New York University
New York, NY


You are right about Tom Bender. He’s a great scholar and he’s doing great stuff with U.S. history.

Jerry H. Bentley
Professor and Director, Center for World History
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, HI

The One-State Delusion? (concluded)

June 1, 2007

Your one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“The One-State Solution Is the Most Visionary AND the Most Sensible,” April 2007) would result in the next great genocide against Jews.

You would think that the the dominance of criminal gangs and inter-clan warfare -- plus the PLO-Hamas bloodshed on the Gaza Strip -- would convince anyone that Palestinians can't live amicably with each other, let alone those (the Jews) they would most like to kill. But some of us apparently feel that their own idealistic fantasies display a “higher nature” -- and if the Jews pay the ultimate price for these fantasies, well, a place in the moral firmament has been secured for those that entertain them.

Fortunately, Israel -- half populated by refugees from Muslim countries who had to flee for their lives -- is not going to succumb to any such fantasies.

The real solution to the Palestinian problem is for Palestinians to get their heads out of the Koran, roll up their sleeves, and create the first Arab civilization -- one based on hard work, low birth rates, and intellectual endeavor. Perhaps their "friends" in the Arab world could offer them citizenship, something only Jordan has done so far.

John Coelho
Independent activist
Seattle, WA


This past semester I led two seminars -- one for college freshmen, the other for second- and third-year law students -- in an effort to come up with a one-state solution. Each class was divided into four groups: those seeking a Jewish one-state solution, those seeking a Palestinian one-state solution, those seeking a federal solution, and those seeking a secular one-state solution.

There was no requirement that the students arrive at a comprehensive solution, but in both cases they did. The law school seminar's solution, for example, was a nonfederal secular state, with two key provisions in the constitution:

-- in the preamble, a description of the history of the struggle of the two peoples and a declaration of the intention to make Israel-Palestine a homeland for both of them; and

-- a legislative process that required a supermajority for passage of any bill that was liable to disadvantage one group or the other. (Whether a bill was likely to do that would be decided ad hoc, by a constitutional court.)

Everyone was aware of the difficulties inherent in such a solution, and of course this was nothing but an academic exercise, but it was fascinating to watch the various groups of students take on their roles and grapple with the issues.

The one-state solution is, I believe, the only reasonable solution. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it is achievable.

Michael Corrado
Professor of Law and Philosophy
University of North Carolina Law School
Chapel Hill, NC


I’m just back from a two-week study trip to Israel, where the topic of “Whose land?” was much in discussion.

We read and discussed your one-state article and agreed it would be best for both Israelis and Palestinians if they could come to some such agreement, perhaps along the lines of Belgium and Switzerland. Unfortunately, the news the day after that idea was mentioned included a story about how tensions continue even within Belgium.

It seemed clear to us that most folks on both sides in Israeli and Palestinian areas would rather die than share one country. If those views continue, they may eventually get their wish.

Apart from our one Israeli friend, the only people in Israel who seemed happy to see us were the Palestinians. They couldn’t understand why our country supports only Israel, but were still very hospitable, whereas many Israelis didn’t seem to have the slightest concern whether we liked them or their country.

If I could make a recommendation to Congress, it would be that not one dollar of U.S. aid should fund any new settlements on former Arab lands, nor even one foot of any wall of separation that meanders (rather than going in some reasonably straight path) -- and that all money diverted thereby should go to Arab Christians within Israel and Palestine to repay them for homes and lands taken by Israel over the objections of even its own Supreme Court over the past 60 years.

James Strasma
United Methodist minister
Arlington Heights, IL

P.S.  For more reflections on your article and these issues, see my blog “Man in the Middle” HERE.


I hate to pour rain on this, but so far no one has been able to come up with any good solutions for doing democracy well in a segmented society that is not 1) very small and 2) European. That does not mean we won't have some successes in 25 or 50 years, maybe much sooner. But so far it has never been done. So I hesitate prescribing it for Israel-Palestine.

The classic majority-rule democracies have cross-cutting cleavages. That is, the cultural, geographical, economic, linguistic, and religious interests of the individuals in the state cut across one another, so that if I lose on one issue important to me I will win on another. In segmented societies (e.g. Belgium, which you mention as a model), if you lose on one important issue you are likely to lose on all important issues. When this happened in the U.S. before the Civil War, we had ... civil war.

You probably know Arend Lijphart's work on consociationalism [guaranteed group representation requiring consensus among all the major groups or “pillars” - ed.]. It's the best working solution we have to segmented societies, but it has two great drawbacks:

1) it reifies the divisions (not as much, of course, as two nations do, but at least with nations the interactions are restricted to a smaller set); and

2) it is highly unparticipatory, as a great deal must be decided in negotiations among the elites of the different "pillars" (again, of course, not as elite-driven as treaties and negotiations between two nations).

The first reason in particular has sent various political scientists (Donald Horowitz particularly; see "Electoral Systems and Their Goals,” January 2003) scurrying to find electoral systems that will bring "warring" peoples together rather than rigidify their differences. The trouble is, Horowitz's system was tried for a short while in Nigeria, but it resulted in deadlock, and in Fiji, where it resulted in a coup (of course, the story in both cases is way more complicated than that).

The truth is that we do not have a tried and successful form of democracy that works in segmented societies except for a few small, European societies where 1) the elites know one another and 2) they are several generations removed from overt civil war. (And in Belgium, the current superordinate position of the EU has led some to argue for partition, as in Scotland.)

Some political scientists (e.g., Andrew Reynolds) think that perhaps after a civil war, a state can start with a kind of consociationalism and then move to accomodationism, but no one knows how to do this, since if you can finally get consociationalism to work all the incentives are to pillarize. And in all these cases (unlike Israel-Palestine) they are starting with an already-existing state that has "national" boundaries and some sense (usually rather attenuated, however) of national identification.

In short, we don't know how to make existing segmented societies work as democracies. In the U.S., we were lucky that the Civil War ended in unconditional surrender and not a negotiated peace (see Monica Toft on how unconditional surrenders produce more lasting peace than negotiated peaces). Afterward the South had to put up with being in a minority because 1) they had lost so decisively; 2) they slowly got a lot of concessions after the war anyway.

I don't see any of the folks you cite on a one-state solution wrapping their minds around this problem. Until we get a better handle on this (and I think we will in time), I wouldn't wish one state on any deeply segmented group.

Jane Mansbridge
Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA


I was amazed to come upon the following statement this week by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking about Palestine: "We always said that if we have peace, then we'll have prosperity. It may be the other way around" (Wall Street Journal, 26 May 2007, p. A9).

I've believed this for years, but having it said by someone like Netanyahu seems quite significant. If the tough guys on the Israeli right actually made it a policy to encourage economic development in Gaza and the West Bank, it could pay huge dividends to Israel -- and ultimately lead to peace.

It would have to be bottom-up, grassroots prosperity, not filtered through the political elites. You’d have to make it possible for the petite bourgeoisie to get ahead, to have a stake in stable, non-corrupt polity, to gain some clout over the political / religious radicals. To develop a . . . "radical middle”!

Of course, that's only part of the equation. . . .

Mike Van Horn
President, The Business Group
Former Coordinator of the Creative Problem-Solving Program at UCLA
San Rafael, CA

The One-State Delusion? (continued)

May 15, 2007

Your work is of great value. I will put your article (“The One-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Is the Most Visionary AND the Most Sensible,” April 2007) on our web site, and include your site among those we plan to link with.

Dr. Mahmoud N. Musa
President, The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel
Former Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, Loyola University-Chicago
London, ON, Canada


As co-founder of the Centrist Coalition, I am very disappointed by your Radical Middle article on the one-state solution, which I find radical but not middle.

The unitary, so-called binational state is not in any way a compromise between (let alone a synthesis of) the Israeli and Palestinian positions. It is the Arab triumphalist position.

It is not surprising that that position would be “increasingly popular” in Europe and at the U.N. It is based on the notion that Israel is an apartheid state, and like the South African apartheid regime, should disappear.

Even if it were acceptable for Jewish culture to disappear for lack of a state, the problem is that -- instead of a Mandela, whose exposure to Communism gave him a universal vision -- all significant Palestinian groups have had a radical right-wing orientation, whether Islamist like Hamas, or nationalist chauvinist like Fatah under Arafat.

I am shocked to see that the word "Hamas" does not appear in your article. Hamas does seek a unitary state, albeit not secular and questionably democratic.

The demographic reality is that Palestinians are having far more children than Jews, and would become the clear majority over time. Palestinian society is becoming less diverse over time, as Christians emigrate. Likewise, Christians are becoming the clear minority in Lebanon, and Christian emigration from Lebanon is said to be large.

Unlike Europe and the West, Muslim lands, even relatively peaceful ones, are becoming less diverse. The Greek minority in Turkey has dwindled while the Turkish minority in Greece has been maintained. Hindu and Buddhist minorities are being pushed out of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even in Malaysia, Islamic law is advancing and the future for non-Muslims is uncertain.

The treatment of Jews by a Muslim majority -- which has been influenced by anti-Semitic ideology going back to the first Arab revolt in the 1930s -- will not be favorable.

Your solution, in the best case, would result in the peaceful ethnic cleansing of Jews as they emigrate to the West rather than live as a barely tolerated minority in a Muslim land.

You say, "[Palestinian-American activist Ali] Abunimah emphasizes that no partition is ever going to be acceptable to a majority of Israelis and Palestinians." In fact, most Israelis currently want partition. Some powerful Israeli interests make this difficult to accomplish.

I agree that most Palestinians do not want partition. They want Greater Palestine, from the Jordan River to the sea. This is explicit in the Hamas charter, which says that one Islamic land can never be alienated (precisely the Serb attitude toward Kosovo).

Their unwillingness to compromise, even since 1948, has always been the stumbling block to peace, though admittedly their extremism has led to Jewish extremism and a settlement movement that has created an additional stumbling block.

My view is that the most reasonable solution is for Israel and the Palestinians to go back to the 1967 lines, with a land swap to give Israelis access to their holy site in the Western Wall in Jerusalem (which was denied them during the period of Jordanian rule). Israel would turn over land within pre-1967 Israel in return.

True, this would be extremely difficult to achieve, but far less difficult than getting a nation of descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab lands -- Israel -- to place its security in the hands of Palestinians in a unitary state.

Your historical examples about past tolerance of Jews as a minority in Muslim lands are irrelevant. We are in a new historic era featuring globalization of a notorious Wahhabi / Salafist ideology, which allows no Jews in its home of Saudi Arabia, and which will not allow peace and freedom for Jews anywhere it is dominant.

Sorry, but this is the worst piece of yours I've ever read.

Rick Heller
Co-founder, Centrist Coalition
Editor, Centerfield: A Weblog of Centrist Voices in American Politics
Belmont, MA


Good article!

Something you did not mention: A major Israeli impetus for the two-state solution (as opposed to the one-state solution) is the much higher birthrate among Palestinians; Israel fears it could be swamped in its own country. However, leading prosperous nations have declining birthrates. If Palestinians are brought into a modern society, gain security, and have full opportunity for economic betterment, their birthrate will likely decline to the same level as that of the Israelis.

You didn't talk much about the barriers to the one-state solution. The biggest in my opinion is the number of powerful, vociferous people on both sides who strongly believe "God gave it to us!" When you believe this, anything you do to the other side is justified. Those on both sides who say "Why can't we all just get along?" are more likely to speak in a moderate tone of voice and thus get drowned out by the "chosen people" radicals.

Israel-Palestine is the textbook case for the theme of Thomas Friedman's book The Lexus and the Olive Tree (rev. 2000): Do people move forward relying on their skills, energy, and human capital? Or do they focus on the past and defend their "God-given" plot of land to the death, no matter how much suffering it causes to their people and their descendants? Unfortunately, the radicals are all too willing to silence the accommodationists on their own side.

So how does the soft power of the middle gain ascendancy? In Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia, powerful regional and global actors were influences for accommodation and peaceful resolution. Alas, in the Middle East, some of the regional actors are forces for division, hatred, and violence.

I await your next article on this!

P.S. Re: Mark LeVine’s and your idea for Swiss-style "cantons." There could be more than three cantons. Both Israelis and Palestinians may want to have secular and religious cantons.

Re: Daniel Gavron’s and Yakov Rabkin’s attempts to propose a name for the single state. I propose "Union of . . . ,” as in “Union of the Middle East,” or “Union of Israel and Palestine.”

Mike Van Horn
President, The Business Group
San Rafael, CA


Re: your enthusiastic sub-head “Precedents! -- Arab side”: The so-called idyll of pre-1948 Jewish-Arab relations is utterly belied by the facts.

The Jews lived in a state of institutional apartheid with the Arab Muslims. They were dhimmis who could not testify in court against a Muslim and had to pay extortionate taxes to “buy” the protection of the ruler; and even then, they were subject to periodic massacres. North African and Yemeni Jewry suffered terribly in the 18th and 19th centuries, were not allowed to own property, and were restricted to certain trades.

In modern times, some 40 percent of Jews in Egypt were stateless, having been denied Egyptian nationality (along with Armenians).

The 1929 Hebron massacre was not a flash in the pan, despite what Ali Abunimah and you might prefer to believe. Some 1,000 Jews died in Arab countries in the decade before the founding of the state of Israel. There is even evidence that Aron Truring’s and your so-called Andalusian golden age was a myth (see HERE).

Bataween Smith
Blogmaster, Point of No Return
London, England


Thank you so much for sharing your exceptionally well argued article with me. I greatly appreciate your utilization of my work which I endorse entirely. That is to say: you represent my views fairly and accurately.

At this point in time I am concentrating more on opposing the wall and the policy of separation that it represents, rather than in proposing a one-state solution.

I am not sure I am right in this, but my hope is to broaden the alliance in favor of mutual contact and open relations between Israelis, Palestinians and others. So many people are scared of the one-state solution -- albeit wrongly -- that I have tended recently to emphasize cooperation, conciliation, and coexistence, whether in a one-state solution, or between two states cooperating closely.

Probably we should also consider the possibility of some sort of federation or confederation involving Jordan as well as Israel/Palestine, and maybe other countries as well.

The ms. of my latest book (provisional title "Holy Land Mosaic") has just been delivered to Rowman and Littlefield. It is an attempt to depict many of the cooperation and coexistence projects currently being carried out by Jews and Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians and others.

Daniel Gavron
Former feature writer, Jerusalem Post
Former head of English News, Israel Radio
Author, The Other Side of Despair: Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land (2003)
Jerusalem, Israel


This is excerpted from the blog "Normblog" (see whole entry HERE):

Though Satin found some overtones of anti-Semitism in the advocacy of the one-state solution, mostly he didn’t. . . . What is key [in identifying the presence or absence of anti-Semitism], of course, is the acknowledgement that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state.

So long as that means what it says, anyone is entitled to argue about how wise various envisaged solutions might be. But for the acknowledgement to indeed mean what it says, a one-state solution cannot come except by way of the explicitly sought and obtained consent of the Israeli Jews.

Does Satin respect that constraint? I'm not sure. See his 10 points at the end under the sub-head “Emerging Strategy.” They include a number of points about the need for pressure from outside -- from the human-rights community, the U.S., and both diaspora peoples.

True, Satin also talks about encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to join together. And if this is what he really means, then fair enough. But it's a crucial point. A right is a right; being persuaded how to use it is one thing, and exercising it under external duress is another.

Norman Geras
Professor Emeritus of Government, University of Manchester
Co-creator, The Euston Manifesto [advocating a “new democratic progressive alliance”]
Manchester, England

The One-State Delusion?

May 1, 2007

Your radical middle “one-state solution” (“The One-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Is the Most Visionary AND the Most Sensible,” April 2007) is VERY CLOSE to what Albert Einstein pleaded for during the time he was the honorary President of Israel and its Chief Fund Raiser.

Your 5,000 word piece is a perfect fit in the larger puzzle I've been working on for a decade[, in part through our Israel-Palestine citizen diplomacy organization Turn the Tide].

Sometime in the near future I'll send you the puzzle picture as it is coming together -- including Einstein's proposals for the Israel-Palestine solution and for the bigger Big Picture needed to develop what he called a "new way of thinking" that would be required for the human species to avoid "unparalleled catastrophe."

Your role in the bigger Big Picture from the 1960s through 2007, according to my "Israeli Professor" advisor, is significant. She called you one of her All-American boyfriends whose lives are making a difference.

McGregor Smith
Founder, Miami-Dade College Environmental Center
Lake Junaluska, NC


Neither Elza Maaluf [of our Integral Israel project] nor I support the “one state” solution at this time, and neither do people around the Camp David process with President Clinton.

I think your article reflects what Spiral Dynamics Integral calls the 6th level (Green) egalitarian mindset that, unfortunately, tends to paper over the deep cultural and mimetic value-system divides and strata.

It became clear to me [during our work there] that it is essential that Palestine begin to develop; otherwise the asymmetrics are too stark. This is about the dance between the two societies (and within each as well), and all of that has to be understood. [We are] using a series of strategies designed to ratchet up the mimetics [in both societies] relying on superordinate goal formation, etc.

The so-called Integral approach is NOT a compromise between the two bipolars. So many people get this wrong.

Dr. Don Beck
President, Spiral Dynamics Integral; annual SDI conference covered HERE
Denton, TX


This is excerpted from the blog "Indistinct Union" (see whole entry HERE):

Satin suggests that a one-state solution is right for the 21st century, “a world of self-chosen identities where cross-cultural action and learning is the ideal.” Reminds me of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s floating the idea of expanding the number of states in the Union. The real issue for the future (in integral thinking) is rule of law along with meaning-creation in fluid ethnic and religious mixes, and increased transparency of knowledge, opportunity, and borders.

I have no idea how strong the one-state idea will get in the future. A two-state settlement might be the best of the worst. But I think two states could be an India-Pakistan for generations to come: border skirmishes, Palestine will want to get nukes, Kashmir-like regions in the disputed zones.

C.J. Smith
Graduate student, Vancouver School of Theology
Vancouver, BC, Canada


I think it’s a mistake to use the term “grow up” in your home page summary of your one-state article (“a sensibly designed ‘one-state’ solution could induce all parties to the conflict to finally grow up, [etc.]”). I think you need to treat the various parties with respect, and that using that term is not respectful.

Leif Running
Portland, OR


Tsvi Bisk -- the Israeli futurist whom you mentioned in your article -- is coming out with a new book this year. He might take a counter view to the one-state solution, but he would support any movement away from a static 19th-century Zionism to something more pragmatic and helpful for the region.

Personally I have strong relational contacts in the Palestinian society. [There] is a lack of leadership all around.

Jay Gary
Director of the M.A. in Strategic Foresight Program
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University
Denver, CO


I saw your presentation at the World Future Society conference in Washington DC in 2004, and was very impressed with your concept of the radical middle. As to your one-state proposal:

1. very rational, logical, and internally coherent (a good example of deductive logic applied to politics);

2. very unrealizable, and from my point of view undesirable – ignores facts on the ground (while rational it is not empirical);

3. logical arguments of intellectuals who are not even on the radar of either nation are a nice intellectual exercise but have no real weight – nor do appeals to distant past intellectuals like Ahad Ha'am. This is akin to quoting anti-Federalist Patrick Henry in the context of a logically coherent argument against 21st century Federalism and calling for a return to the anti-Federalist confederation organization of America. (By the way, the Federalists were a minority also -- like the pro-state Zionists -- but their "vision" prevailed because circumstances favored it. Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, seriously considered the Martin Buber / Judah Magnes bi-national state solution but rejected it as being impractical);

4. mental experiments are useful exercises (I use them often), but they have the danger of ignoring accumulated human emotion. The "one state solution" would turn into a slaughter house like Yugoslavia or Rwanda – it would be a nightmare the likes of which the world has never seen;

5. I prefer the tri-state, Benelux-like confederation (Israel, Palestine, Jordan) that I mention in passing in my new book, The Optimistic Jew: a Positive Vision for the Jewish People in the 21st Century (forthcoming);

6. do you really think the Jews are going to give up their state because of logical arguments about the need and nature of peace? We just "celebrated" Holocaust Day – our yearly reminder of the consequences of not having a Jewish state, with a Jewish army and a Jewish air force not contingent on the agreement of Palestinians to act to save Jews. As you may know, the "Grand Mufti [highest Muslim religious official - ed.] of Jerusalem" wrote a letter to Hitler complaining that Henrietta Szold's Youth Aliya was enabling too many Jewish children to escape to Palestine;

7. my new book contains a chapter entitled "Practical Peacemaking" – the stress is on practical, not logical. The stress is on process and crisis management, and not finalistic concepts. I supported Ehud Barak's initiative at Camp David in 2000 – I now realize how naïve I was – it stimulated the Second Intifada.

Tsvi Bisk
Director, Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking
Kfar Saba, Israel

Dear one-state correspondents . . .

Dear correspondents: Thanks for your honest and often anguished emails. On the whole, though, too much fear and not enough hope (e.g., not enough belief in the desire of ordinary people -- on all sides -- to live peaceful and fulfilling lives). Not a winning outlook. -- Mark

Purple Pain

April 15, 2007

Your article about so-called Purple America (“Politicians, Pundits, and Activists Are Having a Culture War. The Rest of Us Are Nuanced or Ambivalent and Looking for New Directions,” March 2007) is wimpy and embarrassing. Don’t you understand that there are bad guys out there? It is amazing how far some radicals have fallen.

Greg Johnson
Philadelphia, PA


This is excerpted from the blog "Another Opinion" (see whole entry HERE -- look under "April 15, 2007"):

Every once in awhile I come across an article that just really reaches out and grabs me.  One such article was “Politicians, Pundits, and Activists Are Having a Culture War. The Rest of Us Are Nuanced or Ambivalent and Looking for New Directions” in Radical Middle Newsletter (March 2007).

Mark talks about the fact that we, as Americans, actually have more in common than not.  I too believe most Americans share a certain core of collective values, which is why most of us are somewhere in the "no man's land" of the political landscape.  That is, the Middle.

Both political parties, however, have chosen to occupy the extreme sides.  No wonder there is so much apathy among voters!

What the Middle wants is the creation of a synthesis that represents the best of both parties.  If that can't be done within an existing political framework, then it will be done outside of the existing political guidelines through a new political party or through a social-political movement along the lines of those rarely seen since the 1960s and 1970s.

Paul Hosse
Community and political activist
International litigation manager for major company
Louisville, KY

Nowhere To Go?

April 1, 2007

Interesting essay (“Are the Best Conservative Thinkers Becoming Radical Middle?,” February 2007). Yes, there are some things that libertarians and liberals can agree on -- but in the end modern liberals can’t let go of their leftist passion for controlling and redistributing and rigging deals for their friends (notably labor, minorities, and women).

Somebody -- you, for instance -- ought to go back to the New World Alliance’s Transformation Platform and reexamine all of the economic, education, energy, health, and land proposals. It’s 26 years old, but astonishingly prescient and still relevant. For example, it contains the first proposal in print anywhere for Health Savings Accounts, enacted in 2003.

I am one of the last sad Jeffersonian agrarian decentralist distributist Western-progressive republican Reaganauts, with nowhere to go (in fact, [novelist and historian of forgotten political movements] Bill Kauffman once wrote an essay on me called “The Last Jeffersonian”).

John McClaughry
President, Ethan Allen Institute
Former Senior Domestic Policy Advisor, Reagan White House
Concord, VT

“It Is An Insult To Associate [Us With] This!”

March 15, 2007

This is excerpted from the blog “Eunomia” (see whole entry HERE):

While Ross [Douthat] is out of the country, I must protest on his behalf against his and Reihan [Salam]’s adoption by Mark Satin as representatives of the “radical middle” from the right (“Are the Best Conservatives Becoming Radical Middle?,” February 2007).

Ross and I may not agree on everything (indeed, I bet we actually disagree on all kinds of things that we don’t write about), but I would insist that he does not really fall under this designation and that it is an insult to associate him with something like this. In fact, I doubt very much whether anyone -- perhaps not even David Brooks! -- deserves the dubious honor of being declared a radical one-world squish in quite this way. Maybe Ross will disagree, but I don’t think he will.

What is the “radical middle”? This is part of the definition from Satin’s site:

It’s “radical” because it’s seeking solutions that are holistic and sustainable. It’s “middle” because it accepts that you can’t change people very much.

Well, okay, that’s pretty vague. At first glance, this sounds a bit like traditional conservatism, but you quickly discover that these people are using words such as “holistic” and “sustainable” simply as foils against their opponents: whatever they are for is holistic and sustainable, and whatever people not of the “radical middle” support is neither.

More concretely, what is this guy talking about? He is, in fact, mainly describing the pursuit of some sort of globalized nightmare mixed with the “pornography of compassion”. . . . Throw in the odd reference to Unity08 and you have a real traveling circus of meaningless gestures towards political and policy reform.

Daniel Larison
Blog host, Eunomia (“n., the principle of good order”)
Ph.D. student in Byzantine History, University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

GOP’s Turn to Fly

March 1, 2007

This is excerpted from the blog “Indistinct Union” (see whole entry HERE):

In “Are the Best Conservatives Becoming Radical Middle?” (February 2007), Satin I think is correct in noting that most of the initial radical middle / centrist movement came from more left-leaning progressive elements [reacting against] the Carter debacle years and Clinton's New Centrist Leftism. . . .

The Republicans [have now shown] their failure as the Democrats had . . . and they have to get beyond their own flaws. The best of the group [Satin discusses] by far is Ross Douthat -- see his piece with Reihan Salam on “Sam's Club Republicans” HERE.

Not entirely clear yet what [the radical-middle conservative position] will be for foreign policy.

C.J. Smith
Frequent contributor, Indistinct Union (“Christianity, Integral Philosophy, and Politics”)
M.Div. student, Vancouver School of Theology
Vancouver, Canada

No Storytelling, No Democracy!

February 15, 2007

I enjoyed your article “The Human Qualities We Need Now” (January 2007), which looks for guidance to award-winning novelists Toni Morrison and J.M. Coetzee. You make your point with clarity and power.

Jeremy Berg
Co-director, The Lorian Association
Environmentally-oriented architect
Issaquah, WA


I think your unusual article “The Human Qualities We Need Now” came together well, actually very well on second reading. I hope other readers find that the messages of the novelists you cite are relevant to the everyday socio-political world -- and to their own circumstances in that world.

I also hope other readers recognize the effectiveness of the novel (and of art in general) as a vehicle for bringing us in touch with our human qualities. If there is an underlying moral to your article, it is surely that the storyteller, the wandering minstrel, the court jester, are as relevant today as ever.

A story can be told through many art forms, although the form does not necessarily mean that a story is there. Even a good (and humane) historian, essayist, preacher, or orator -- those we don’t normally think of as artists -- can extend our understanding, our sense of belonging, our desire to be better, via good storytelling.

When high-quality, a story walks us through other realities without our being aware of it. When outstanding, it touches our hearts, or our exposed nerves, and -- so touched -- we may just become better people, or at least more humble people. No wonder Toni Morrison’s Beloved and John M. Coetzee’s Disgrace were rated the best.

Native American tradition, at least that of the Yup’ik Eskimo with which I am most familiar, holds that education should teach us to become human beings (their word for “human being” embodies all that is good and evolved).

I am alarmed by the self-indulgent, plugged-in youth and adults we witness every day in public. Are we not witnessing the consequences of the emptying out of art, literature, and music from our education programming, and from our public and private lives? Surely there is an essential connection between practicing and appreciating art, on the one hand, and participating in democracy and being knowledgeable about the world, on the other.

I truly hope you continue your exploration of the art of storytelling and its power for change at the deeper levels. Ah, for the gift of the excellent storyteller!

Sandra Wassilie
Writer and educator
Former elected member, Kenai Peninsula School Board
Seward, AK

The Crux of the Matter?

February 1, 2007

In your discussion of Michael Lind's new foreign policy book The American Way of Strategy ("Toward a Foreign Policy That Preserves the (Best of the) American Way of Life!," October 15, 2006), I really appreciated your paragraph as follows:

Lind uses the term "American Way of Life" positively. . . .  But does he also mean for it to convey (as it does to much of the rest of the world) unconscionable amounts of waste and pollution?  He doesn't say.  And if he doesn't mean for it to convey that, then what arrangements should we make with the other great powers to reign in our (and their) misbehavior?  These are not secondary questions.

That is indeed the crux of the matter, isn't it?  And if he does not say, then his book begins to smack of all those "50 Ways To Save the Planet While You Shop" type of books and articles out there.

If the American Way of Life means preserving the -- to me -- insane and grotesquely unsustainable status quo, then I am not interested; and, I strongly suspect, neither will be the rest of the planet.

Vera Bradova
Moab, UT

Hill's Electoral Reforms Are Prerequisites!

January 15, 2007

In your review-essay covering Stephen Hill's book 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy ("Repairing American Democracy: Changing the Rules Is Not Enough!," September 1, 2006), I fear you may have missed the point of some of Hill's suggested electoral reforms.

The reason Hill de-emphasizes redistricting reform (which you and John Avlon overemphasize -- see esp. Avlon's guest column "Political Priority #1: Redistricting Reform," May 15, 2006) is that adopting proportional representation will automatically take care of most of the districting problem.  In fact, the larger the new "superdistricts" the better.

Hill supports non-partisan redistricting commissions but acknowledges that due to human frailties and demographic realities, they are doomed to limited success.  PR will make the redistricting job much, much easier, and harder to politicize.

You also don't seem to believe Hill's suggested reforms will automatically result in a more engaged, deliberative electorate.  But the main reason for the disengagement of the electorate is that most people's votes don't count.  The vast majority of the people in this country will never have the opportunity to help elect someone they truly love as a candidate.  Proportional representation (coupled with campaign finance reform, media reform, etc.) will change that. 

In the current system, winning candidates are chosen by a plurality of a plurality -- typically the candidates anointed by moneyed interests.  In these circumstances it is entirely natural that people would tune out from the political process, with the disastrous results for society you've been monitoring.

The reforms mentioned in Hill's book are, therefore, absolute prerequisites for the kind of society you say you'd like to see.  "Socratic citizenship," "engaged citizens" and "deliberative democracy" are all  possible, but only with key electoral reforms in place.

Kevin Murphy
Professional at a major research hospital
Lansdowne, PA

Dear Kevin: In practice, I suspect consciousness growth, redistricting reform, better schools, deliberative-democracy experiments, and electoral reform will prove mutually reinforcing.  My own candidate for "Political Priority #1" is -- as readers of New Options Newsletter may recall -- "rearing a gentler people."

Condescending, Ignorant & Formulaic; Otherwise "Fine"

January 1, 2007

Nothing wrong with Barack Obama or Peter Barnes [the subjects of your last two pre-election articles], but for once Democrats did raise a whole lot of real issues in the election -- and won, with some pretty compelling new faces in the mix.

So calling the election shrill and intellectually shallow (and more than other elections) comes off just condescending. And also not recognizing that the election was a major step forward for accountability and democracy.

Seeking a radical middle is fine, but you don't want to box yourself in to the point where you fail to acknowledge the massive damage this regime has done to this country and to the world.

Take care.

Paul Loeb
Author, Soul of a Citizen (1999), The Impossible Will Take a Little While (2004), etc.
Affiliate Scholar, Center for Ethical Leadership
Seattle, WA

Dear Paul: Actually, I didn’t say the election was shriller or more intellectually shallow than other elections. I did claim that it was similar in those regards to other recent elections, and that that’s why Obama’s election-eve book was (and is) so life-givingly different. Joe Klein’s recent book Politics Lost (reviewed by us HERE) examines why our elections have become shrill and intellectually shallow, and asks what we can do about it. So does philosopher Ronald Dworkin’s new book Is Democracy Possible Here? (2006) and sociologist Alan Wolfe’s new book Does American Democracy Still Work? (2006).

The Embattled American People will surely thank you for defending their honor by calling Satin’s, Klein’s, Wolfe’s, and Dworkin’s premise “condescending.”  Some of those same People (namely, the traditional left) may  also appreciate your next sentence, which appears to suggest that Democrats are more committed than Republicans to such obviously unambiguous and uncontested concepts as “accountability” and “democracy.”  Of course, others may recognize that sentence for the partisan and intellectually empty rhetoric it is.

And your third paragraph is simply laughable.  Anyone who reads my Web site or my book can see that for the last nine years I have not only criticized the policies of the Administrations in power (when they deserved it, which was often), but have proposed positive alternatives that draw on the best ideas of left, center, right, and off-the-spectrum-entirely.  Sometimes my views may diverge from yours, but I hardly think it's because my political perspective is formulaic or because I'm less concerned that you about injustice!  I do insist on learning from everyone (even conservative Republicans) -- a life spanning the New Left, the New Age, and the legal Establishment can make you that way -- and I hope someday even my brothers & sisters on the left will forgive me for it.



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