Monday, June 8, 2020


As part of my new job with Pesticide Action Network, I am responsible for composing Iowa-based social media posts on a semi-regular basis.  Essentially, I am responsible for that channel one to two times per week.  One of our goals was to exhort my fellow Iowans to vote in the primaries on June 3.  Please note that I was not telling anyone how they should vote - just that we wanted people to participate.

Thank you for participating in the Iowa primaries!

I do, however, think it goes without saying that if I am representing PAN then I am hoping to reach people who want to change things with respect to corporate agriculture and the overuse of pesticides.

A Clear Statement That is Hard to Argue Against

In my last post encouraging voting, I included an abbreviated version of this quote:
"So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform. " *

Read it carefully - then tell me if it applies and if it rings true.  I'll wait here.

What do you think now?  As a representative for PAN in Iowa, I am hopeful I can help to motivate people to make some changes.  I do, in fact, protest the status quo.  I am, in fact, trying to raise awareness, educate and promote organization for change.  And I do believe part of the process is participating in the election process.  How about you?  Even if you think you're "not political,"  you'll probably agree that this is a logical and straightforward statement that can be widely applied.  We've got to say what we want, work to get others to hear it and perhaps agree on action and then we all have to vote to put people in place to make these things happen.

Guess what?  This statement is ALSO LIKELY true if you do not agree with the things I am proposing. 

I was dutiful and put the attribution for the quote in the post.  And, it received some negative feedback that had nothing to do with the content of the quote.  And some positive feedback, that may not have been any more specifically motivated.  The response was driven largely by personal feelings regarding the author.  Or, I suppose it was a 'bot response' that was triggered by the individual's name who supplied the quote.  I'll never know that - but I do know it was intended to rile people up on the name and not the content of the quote.

How often do we close our eyes and stop our ears because of the source? 

*Who wrote/said this?  Barack Obama

This is NOT Barack Obama.  But, he was said to be truthful. And he had his detractors.
Who Said These?
I went and selected some quotes from former Presidents of the United States that I felt were pretty good messages when you look at them without attribution.  Even if you THINK you know who said each of these, I want you to read them and consider the message and what comes to mind for you as you read them.  I realize we are missing the larger context of the surrounding words.  But, we are a culture that seems to like to take short quotes and ascribe them great importance - so let's play along, shall we?

a) “There could be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others."

b) "People are more impressed by the power of our example rather than the example of our power...” 

c) “Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive. And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.

d) “While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth, and sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this...

e) “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

A call to service to others.  A call to set a good example.  A call to stand up to power when it is in the wrong.  A recognition of inequality and a call to address it.  And a call to personal action.

I selected these, in part, because they are all fairly consistent with other words spoken by each of these presidents.  They certainly do not summarize all of what they stood for or said - to expect that would be ridiculous.  I am also certain we can find plenty of specific examples of each presidency that is not consistent with what was said here.  All I am saying is that I believe each of these are a valid recognition of what these people were about or what they wanted to be - despite all of the inconsistencies each person exhibits. 

So - who said these?
a) George H.W. Bush
b) Bill Clinton
c) George W Bush
d) George W Bush
e) Barack Obama

And now, I have tainted each of these quotes because I have associated them with a person for whom each of you likely have a strong opinion.  Did (or do you) "hate" Bill? George W? Barack?  Are you tempted to howl that the quote I selected is an aberration or that it doesn't mean what I think it means (ah.. Princess Bride, the quotes I can use from that movie!).  If you did, I just made my point.  You discarded a piece of potential wisdom you could have collected and made personal to your betterment so you could be upset.  Well done.

Now stop it.

Sometimes we need to hear things we don't want to hear.
When The Source Taints the Message
First, let me point out that I have my own opinions about each of these people.  But, when push comes to shove, I firmly believe that each of them wanted the best for this nation.  Each of them applied themselves and their staff in an effort to do what they felt was right for the nation and its people.  We can disagree with how they went about prioritizing and executing that duty.  Each of them had faults and made mistakes (and as a president, there are rarely small mistakes).  And, each of them accepted that there would be (and should be) criticism.  Why?  Because, if there is no dissent, then we aren't thinking hard enough to find the best solution and we are clearly leaving someone out who needs to be heard.

The "Big Finish" - Well Not Quite

The whole purpose of this blog post is to (hopefully) make two points.

When we look at an idea, proposal or a statement, we should ponder its merits and what it means for us.  Then, we should consider the source.  Once you consider the source, you get more context as to what the purpose of the words might have been.  After all, with a little bit of editing, Attila the Hun could sound a bit like Ghandi.  Ok... maybe that's an exaggeration.  But, the context of the representative can make it clear as to the purpose of the statement.

The point is still this: dismissing something off-hand because of the source is a good way to miss something important or useful and a certain way to fail to see common ground we might have with those we often disagree with.

When we consider who will represent the things we desire, we need to remember that most people are NOT going to exercise the first point.  Instead, they are going to filter the message based on their feelings for the representative.  Much of the time, I would agree that it would be better to educate people to spend more time trying to understand the points people we disagree with are trying to make - just so we can find that common ground - or so we can find an even better idea.

However, I will now give you one more quote:
“My motto is: Always get even. When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

Hmmm.  I wonder who wrote that one?

How I Selected Quotes

Let me give you full disclosure on what I did here.  I hunted for quotes from our most recent presidents by doing a Google search using their name and the word "quotes."  For every president other than Donald Trump, there were a host of potentially inspirational and/or valuable ideas and words.  The preponderance of those that appeared for Trump were worse than this one.  Unlike the other presidents, I had to dig quite a ways to find something that wasn't.. well... ridiculous.

To make the point, I did a search for James Garfield - just a randomly selected President of the United States and here is quote number 2 on the list I found.
“There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It really matters very little whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or running a business or bringing up a family. They teach the truth by living it.”

The quote I selected for Trump was somewhere in the 40's in the list I was scrolling through.  Even Warren G Harding, typically listed as one of the worst Commander's in Chief the United States has seen, had a few that had some value.  Though I admit his was a bit difficult to wade through as well.

So, I leave you with this thought.  If the current President of the United States is a spokesperson for an agenda you support, you might want to consider that your point of view just might be tainted beyond repair by its association with an individual who has a disappointing and offensive body of work to his name.  I am disappointed in other public servants (and I use those words on purpose) who have not called him to heel.  Only now are some prominent conservative personalities, such as George F Will and James Mattis, speaking out strongly - telling us we need to remove the President and the Republicans who have enabled the farce that is his presidency by voting them out in November.

Again, I give you full disclosure.  My own political falling (or failing if you see it that way) is to generally be left of center because I tend to believe a key component of governance is to protect and serve the people - in particular those who need it most - by providing services, support and proper regulation of the things we use in common.  This means that those who need protection and service the least are those who will find themselves providing a greater proportion of resources to help the least of those.  At present, this places me firmly on the "liberal" side of the ball - while recognizing that there is much to be said about other points of view.  And, I hope you will give me benefit of the doubt that I try to consider each issue without first consulting the "manual for whatever ideology that seems to fit me."

I believe that most people want to see themselves as helpers and as a positive part of the country.  This is why I prefer to hear multiple points of view and ideas.  We all have value and we need to start acting as if others also have value.  This is why it is important to me that we have people of integrity representing our 'big ideas.'  In this way, we can actually work on the merits of what we propose - and find a better solution because of it (are you seeing a theme here?).

I hope we can all live successful lives that include service to others. (G.H.W. Bush)
I pray that we learn to understand the power of setting an example (Clinton) and that it motives us to teach the truth by living it. (Garfield)
I want us to call to account those who wield power incorrectly and address inequality and failed justice for those whose circumstances of birth place them in positions where they are abused and oppressed. (G.H.Bush)
Let us be the change that we seek. (Obama)

And let us seek change that comes from the better part of all of us - and do it together.   (Rob Faux)

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