GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 4, 2012

Insights & Outbursts: A election year breath of fresh air

Insights and Outbursts Eileen Ford
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — “We own what we build, but as human beings, we are also built, not primarily by government but by institutions that shape our character. Responsible self-governing citizens … are cultivated in families, religious institutions and orderly hopeful neighborhoods and government has a limited but important role in creating an atmosphere where community can flourish.” — Michael Gerson.

The older I get, the more disgusted I am with the petty pursuits of political parties in an election year. Democrats claim Republicans are waging a “war on women” while Republicans rage against “ObamaCare,” ignoring domestic and foreign challenges that require compromise, not sound bites.

Thanks to fact-checking organizations, discerning voters know that both parties stretch the truth in election years. Only rabid Republicans and diehard Democrats can listen to campaign ads filled with lies and exaggerations and feel justified by their own prejudices.

When I heard about a lecture series at Gordon College with Michael Gerson talking about “The role of citizens, government and civil society” in the Science Center on Sept. 13 and “Three Responses to Suffering” in the Chapel on Sept. 14, I attended both lectures, eager for mature political commentary. (Note: Both talks are available at www.youtube.com/user/GordonCollege.)

As a PBS Newshour fan, I’ve enjoyed discussions between Republicans and Democrats, usually David Brooks and Mark Shields, but occasionally other pundits, including Gerson. All of them are able to disagree without demonizing their opponents, a rare trait in both parties these days.

Michael Gerson was the head speech writer and a senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush and is a leading conservative voice on the national media stage, writing about politics, religion, foreign policy and global health and development twice a week in the Washington Post.

He is a moderate Republican and like a moderate Democrat, doesn’t fit into “Tea Party” or “Occupy Wall Street” positions and I was impressed by his comments on the topic question, “Whose responsibility is opportunity?

He said the good news is that we’re finally having a debate, but it’s a shallow debate between “two destructive mindsets” – Republicans talking about “a contest between the makers and takers” and Democrats viewing “every political decision as a choice between radical individualism and a federal program.”

According to Gerson, opportunity should be “a shared national goal … a social achievement for which all of us are responsible in one way or another.” Instead Republicans talk about economic freedom and Democrats want the wealthy to pay more.

Gerson believes we need government in order to make a decent provision for the helpless, stating that a third of American workers are unprepared “due to circumstances of birth…a massive disadvantage to those who did nothing to deserve it.”

After the first lecture, I read Gerson’s Sept. 13 column in the Washington Post and respected his insights:

“During a presidential election in which both campaigns seem mainly intent on turning out their most ideologically typical voters — through the endless application of construction metaphors (“We did build that!”) or abortion applause lines on demand — it is worth recalling that candidates have not always run and won in this way.”

He mentioned two campaign speeches, Bill Clinton’s “New Covenant” address in 1991 and George W. Bush’s “Duty of Hope” speech in 1999, distinguishing them from current political rhetoric because both candidates challenged their own parties:

“Clinton pressed for reform of welfare, which should be ‘a second chance, not a way of life’ and criticized racial quotas, saying, ‘I’m not for a guarantee for anybody. I’m for responsibility at every turn.’ And while urging corporate responsibility, he also defended corporate profits. Bush was even more explicit in his criticism of generic Republicanism. ‘The American government is not the enemy of the American people … At times it is wasteful and grasping. But we must correct it, not disdain it. . . . It must act in the common good, and that good is not common until it is shared by those in need.”

Michael Gerson is a breath of fresh air in an election year that has debased both parties.

Eileen Ford is a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.