Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons.
By this author
Pentatonix is the hottest a capella group in American pop music. They've got the biggest selling 2014 Christmas album; and it opens with "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". It is---and is not---your grandmother's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", thereby hinting at both the timelessness of Christ's birth and the ways in which each generation can (and does, and must) make the celebration come alive anew.
Building from Pops Staples' incantatory, heavy-reverb electric guitar lines, and raised up by the tight vocal harmonies of his children, this slowed-down version of "No Room At The Inn" from The Staple Singers is about as deeply rooted in the eschatological and prophetic traditions as any Advent song.
"(T)he biggest single under-discussed aspect of contemporary national politics is the consistent disparity in turnout patterns between presidential and non-presidential elections, which at the moment happen to align almost perfectly with party preferences."
If anyone's taking nominations in the category of "Best 2014 Election Analysis", I nominate Ed Kilgore's Nov. 9 post, "Turnout Disparities and the Democratic Dilemma for 2014", on the Washington Monthly's invaluable Political Animal blog.
What's so good about Kilgore's piece? Well, for one, it's from Nov. 9, 2012. That means it was written during the euphoric afterglow (for partisan Democrats) of President Obama's convincing re-election. Second---and this may be the most important reason---it remains resolutely focused on the fundamental interplay of how US voters actually behave and how the US electoral system is structured:
Let's try an experiment. Rather than dive right into a national overview of what happened at the polls, I'd be interested to see what dotCommonweal readers and contributors found most interesting about the returns from elections in their own states and localities.
(When Sen. George Mitchell receives Commonweal's Catholic in the Public Square Award later this month, there will be little---and perhaps no---mention of his work on the Iran-contra committee and his July 13, 1987 statement to Col. Oliver North. (There's no mention of it in the lengthy biographical entries about Mitchell on Wikipedia and the Academy of Achievement.) And that is probably as it should be. Mitchell's more recent work as an international peacemaker, and particularly his work in Northern Ireland, will rightly take center stage. All the more reason then, to remember it here.)
It was the summer of 1987 and the Iran-contra hearings were in full swing. As Congress came back from its Independence Day recess the man in the middle of the scandal, NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver North, began his testimony...and a folk hero was born.
With his erect bearing, immaculate uniform, beribboned chest, and puppy-dog eyes, North embodied an American patriotic ideal. A man of action who loves his country and will do what it takes to get the job done. A man alternately bewildered at and defiant of those who would besmirch the honor of his good name.
Meanwhile the Congressional investigators looked like...members of Congress. Mostly older, graying, paunchy, suited men who sounded like...well, members of Congress, speaking the orotund dialect peculiar to that body.
To the evident delight of some Republicans (e.g., Rep. Richard Cheney of Wyoming) on the 26 man (yes, all men) combined House and Senate select committees, North's reputation soared overnight as he cleverly exploited the committee's own rules to make soaring speeches in defense of himself and of the secret and illegal policies he had carried out---selling arms (despite an arms embargo) to Iran for the release of American hostages (thus providing a further incentive for kidnappers) and secretly funneling the funds raised to the contras in Nicaragua (despite the Boland Amendment). "I didn't think it was wrong; I thought it was a neat idea," said North. Most Americans watching the televised hearings cheered him on.
It was different on radio.
In most of the United States, today is Columbus Day. Recognition of the holiday is intimately tied with the Catholic presence in the United States, from initial observances by Italian immigrants and their descendants in the second half of the 19th century, to its first federal recognition in 1937.
Well, kudos to America magazine and to Rep. Paul Ryan for their mutual engagement---with each other and with Pope Francis---on the issue of poverty.
There's a nice little story in our local paper about the Kennedy family delivering its Profile in Courage award to former president George H. W. Bush for his role in the 1990 budget compromise that cut spending, raised taxes and---along with the 1993 Clinton budget---laid the foundation for the federal budget surpluses of the late 1990s.
Unfortunately for both the Kennedys and the Bushes, the historical record undercuts the notion that Bush acted courageously. As his granddaughter pointed out when accepting the award on his behalf back in May, "Candidly speaking, my grandfather didn’t want to raise taxes in 1990...". Well then, with all due respect, it's hard to conclude it was an act of political courage on his part to do so, isn't it?
Especially because Bush had painted himself into that particular political corner with his craven (and unnecessary) "Read my lips; no new taxes" pledge at the 1988 Republican national convention. "The Pledge" didn't get him elected in 1988; and breaking it was not the cause of his defeat in 1992.
No, if any politician deserves a profile in courage award for the 1990 budget deal it's then-Senate Majority Leader---and Commonweal's 2014 "Catholics in the Public Square" honoree---George Mitchell.
For those who've watched his public career over the years, the three-part essay just published by the Boston Globe on the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, and the importance of America's role in achieving that peaceful resolution, is classic George Mitchell.
He begins by acknowledging the complexity of the situation and the legitimacy of the deeply felt emotions experienced by all parties.
"Conflicts in the Middle East are many and overlapping: Arabs and Jews; Israelis and Palestinians; Persians and Arabs; Sunni and Shiite Muslims; fundamentalists and moderates; Sunni-led governments and Sunni opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. In this highly complex and volatile region, what should the United States do? What can we do?"
See what he did there? Having acknowledged the complexity and seeming intractability of the problem, Mitchell immediately frames the discussion in terms of his own country's moral and pragmatic responses, and responsibilities. He's intensely interested in dealing with the world as it is...but always in the context of thinking about the world as it should be.
Deep inside one of those lively and far-ranging discussion threads that makes dotCommonweal such a pleasure to read, I made a passing allusion last month to the issue of reparations and promised to come back to the topic. This post is a fulfillment of---or at least, a downpayment on---that promise.