A Modern Version of the Story of Noah’s Ark
An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr.
Tiffany B. Twain
April 1, 2008
In the year 2008, the Lord came unto Noah,
who was now living in the United States, believe it or not, and he said,
"Once again, the earth
has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh
before me. Build another Ark and save
two of every living thing, along with a few good humans."
He gave Noah the blueprints, saying,
"You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain
for 40 days and 40 nights."
Six months later, the Lord looked down and
saw Noah weeping in his yard. And there
was no Ark.
"Noah!" He roared, "I'm about
to start the rain! Where is the
"Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah,
"but things have changed. I needed
a building permit. I've been arguing
with the building inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbors claim I've violated the
neighborhood zoning laws by building the Ark in my yard and exceeding the height
limitations, so I had to go to the Development Appeals Board for a
"Then the Department of Transportation
demanded the posting of a bond for future costs of moving power lines and other
overhead obstructions to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to
us, but they would hear nothing of it.”
"Getting the wood was another
problem. There is a ban on cutting local
trees to save the spotted owls. I tried to convince the ridiculous people
calling themselves environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls,
but they would not buy that story. Then
when I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild
animals against their will. They argued
the accommodations were much too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to
put so many animals in such a confined space.”
"Then the Environmental Protection
Agency ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an
environmental impact study on your proposed flood. And I'm still trying to resolve a complaint
with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I'm supposed to hire
for my building crew."
"Immigration and Naturalization are
checking the green-card status of most of the people who want to work. The trade unions say I can't use my
sons. They insist I must hire only union
workers with Ark-building experience.”
"To make matters worse, the IRS seized
all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with
endangered species. So, forgive me,
Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark."
Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to
shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder
and amazement. “God,” he queried, "You
mean you're not going to destroy the world?”
"No," thundered the Lord. "The
government beat me to it."
Ha! The pathos of this humor
relies for its effect on our cynicism about the absurdities of Big Government
and its intrusiveness in our lives.
Why do we have so much red tape?
The reason is simple -- and extremely complex. Our economic and political systems are a
reflection of intense struggles that involve a multitude of competing interests
that clash in their efforts to gain what they want. Without regulations and laws and enforcement
by the government, there would be monopoly abuses of power, greater injustices,
overexploitation of resources, unmanageable risks, more instability, and even
The purpose of government is to establish order and codify the
parameters of the ‘social contract’ that allow us to coexist together in
civilized societies. In ideal governance,
the government would act as an ally to the people, not as an enemy, in three
(1) Freedom. The government
should ensure people’s privacy and individual liberties and the freedom to make
personal choices that do not harm others.
(2) Opportunity. The federal
government should strive to be a fair referee between competing interests, and
it should work to ensure fairness of opportunity and legal justice for all. And,
(3) Security. The government
should ensure a reasonable balance between personal freedoms and national
The Bush Administration, with its “conservative” underpinnings,
unfortunately guided us in the wrong direction in these three arenas. It worked tirelessly to increase Executive
power and erode the personal freedoms of the people in the name of the “war on
terror”. It advanced a narrow scope of
religious righteousness and supposed ‘family values’ in order to enact
sink-or-swim social policies that favor the already privileged and the well to
do. These strategies had the effect of
making people work harder without commensurate rewards for their small share of
the economic pie. It also increased the
economic insecurity of the majority of Americans and hurt working people. And it certainly didn’t adequately represent the
interests of young people who are not yet old enough to vote.
Conservatives have done a poor job of prioritizing government
spending. When in power, they gave heavy
emphasis to military spending and regressive changes in national tax policies
that served to increase the concentration of wealth in the hands of the
few. Conservatives extravagantly spent
money on military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and on subsidies and
perks for corporations and investors.
They cut spending for domestic programs that help children and students
and the environment and people struggling with healthcare and financial
challenges. And they acted to make
everyone less secure through blowback-provoking foreign policies and unjust
imperialism and wars of aggression.
The Bush Administration was fiscally irresponsible, indulging in record
levels of deficit spending and significantly increasing the national debt. Conservatives subcontracted jobs in an
enthusiasm for privatization, and drove many of them offshore. They eliminated important bank regulations and
anti-trust laws. They allowed
shenanigans by mortgage brokers and mortgage rating agencies. They allowed lobbyists for Big Oil, drug
companies, resource extraction industries, and other powerful players to dominate
our law making. And they acted with an
excess of anti-democratic authority.
American voters would be well advised to vote for Progressive
candidates in the 2008 national elections, and to eject conservative
Here are the Top Ten Reasons:
1) LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. Fairness should be the
cornerstone of democratic governance, but conservatives have come to represent
the increasingly dominant influence of Big Money, special interests, and
right wing extremists at the expense of fair representation of the
interests of the majority of people. Honesty and accurate
information are crucial facets of democracy, but deception and fear have been
used to confuse and manipulate the people. Republican leaders have been
extremely secretive, and they have been untruthful about the reasons for war
in Iraq and conflicts of interest and war profiteering by such companies
as Halliburton and Blackwater, and about matters like prisoner torture. They have also indulged in gimmicks like the
crippling of State budgets by underfunding Federal mandates. They have additionally been dishonest about
the true nature and cost of industry-friendly legislation like the Prescription
Drug act and many other socially undesirable policies and actions.
2) FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY. Conservatives have
ironically been party to extreme fiscal irresponsibility. They have eagerly taken an expedient course
of action by borrowing great sums of money from future generations. This has created enormous budget deficits and
a rapid increase in the national debt. They have done this with the goals
of financing tax breaks for the wealthy, providing unwise subsidies
for Big Business, and fighting wars to advance corporate interests and
U.S. hegemony around the world. Fiscally responsible “pay-as-you-go”
policies have been abandoned to achieve greater political power
and short-term-oriented goals. Pork barrel spending and monetary
waste are out of control, due in part to George W. Bush’s failure to veto a
single piece of spending legislation in his first six years in office. He
presided over a $2 trillion increase in the national debt, which
increased from $845 billion when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 to a
high $9.2 trillion. This is severely
compromising the prospects of people in the future. We should instead be “paying forward” some
good deeds by redesigning our economic and political systems to ensure a wiser,
fairer, healthier and more fiscally responsible society. This could be achieved by investing more intelligently
in physical infrastructure, and by using the positive reinforcement of
incentives rather than oppressive regulations to achieve common good
goals. Surely we could find better ways
to more nearly balance the budget each year.
3) INTELLIGENT ENERGY
POLICY. We should begin to wean ourselves from our risky dependence on
fossil fuels. Many of our political leaders are "good old
boys" who are beholden to Big Oil. They are working against smart
changes in our energy policy. They
effectively oppose conservation, efficiency, innovation, and renewable
alternative energy sources in order to continue lavishing subsidies upon
giant energy corporations. Driven by the desire to reward Big Businesses,
which contribute to their election campaigns, politicians are failing to take
bold steps to reduce our addiction to wasteful usages of limited resources of
oil and natural gas. We are shortsightedly gambling with our future
by ignoring the great risks of global warming and potentially abrupt
climate change and weather extremes and rising ocean levels. Meanwhile, we are not taking courageous steps
to mitigate damages being caused -- and to be caused -- by our rash
spewing of billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every
4) THE ENVIRONMENT. Protection of clean air, clean
water, national parks and forests, wilderness areas and other public lands and
the ‘commons’ are considerations of great importance to the public health and
well-being of the American people. Instead of containing or eliminating
pollution and toxic wastes, conservatives support laissez-faire corporate goals
and consumerism. They dogmatically
oppose sensible environmental regulations, and this stance is having ominously
negative implications for the ecological health and biological diversity of our
home planet. It is a gamble to act as if
we can continue with impunity to wreak havoc on the natural world.
The Office of Management and Budget has found that the costs of environmental
regulations to business and government ARE FIVE TO SEVEN TIMES LESS than
the costs to society of pollution, adverse health impacts and environmental
cleanup. Profits for Big Business should no longer be given priority
over the general good and the health of the environment and the integrity of
Earth's ecosystems. John McCain’s record
was rated a ZERO (on a scale of 0 to 100) by the League of Conservation
Voters; this is pathetic and
unacceptable! Do NOT vote for John
McCain or other Republicans with similarly low environmental ratings.
5) REASONABLE MILITARY SPENDING. Conservatives have
championed lavish spending on the Pentagon, the military and the CIA as primary
tenets of their political and economic policies. The U.S. spends more on
armaments, ammunition, military personnel, and weapons of mass destruction than
all other countries of the world combined. This emphasis treats military
spending as a virtuous, necessary and lofty goal, but often in actuality it is
a wasteful, cost-maximizing, wrong-headed, aggression-obsessive, peace upsetting,
destabilizing, and unsustainable squandering of assets. We must choose
more honest leaders who are statesmen, diplomats and responsible
citizens. We should reject zealous hard-line ideologues and
unilateralists and apologists for militarism in the service of the goals of the
military-industrial complex. Terror tactics are almost always
driven by INJUSTICE, and yet capitalist drives to increase disparities between
rich people and the poor, and to make inequities permanent, tends to increase
injustice and social instability, making us all less safe.
6) SMALLER FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Our brilliant
American constitutional system of checks and balances was designed to prevent
abuses of power by the federal government. Yet the Executive branch has
expanded its powers at the expense of our legislative representatives and the
basic freedoms of the people in the past 8 years. Government has become more intrusive by
spying on the American people and undermining their Constitutional rights. A tsunami of social conflict is being
amplified by increasing economic inequities and a lurch of our legal system to
the right. This lurch has taken place
due to appointments of conservatives to federal courts and the Supreme Court. Civil
rights assurances in the Bill of Rights have been diminished, except for the
Second Amendment right to bear arms, which has been expanded to include
the right to buy lethal assault weapons. Fairness initiatives
are in decline. Conservatives have
enacted laws and regulations that are more discriminatory, anti-gay,
anti-women, and anti-worker whenever they have been able to achieve these
narrow goals. This is causing an
accelerating divisiveness in our society.
Corruption and the expanding “Orwellian Big Brother” power of the federal
government can serve to significantly reduce our liberties.
7) SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. Our country was
founded upon principles of limitations of the power of the federal government
and the assurance that the government would not interfere in people’s personal
religious beliefs. The ideologies of Neoconservatism strive for
domination, supremacy, greater military and police power, the suppression of
dissent, regressive tax and domestic policies, arrogantly aggressive
foreign policies, and a pandering to various religious fundamentalists.
We should choose to elect leaders who have greater respect for the dignity of
American citizens, for people in the middle class, for religious tolerance and
ecumenical acceptance, for civil rights and equal right for alls, for local and
state governments, and for a less intrusive federal government.
8) FAMILY PLANNING AND WOMEN'S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
WORLDWIDE. Population growth is one of
the biggest factors contributing to environmental degradation and conflict
between peoples, yet conservatives cynically oppose family planning
programs by enforcing the “global gag rule” and refusing to pay contributions
approved by Congress to the United Nations Population Fund. Our government has become beholden to
the right wing of Christian churches that oppose contraception and women's
reproductive rights. They advocate abstinence from sexual intercourse,
which is an inadequate way to try to deal with one of the most powerful of
9) UNITY, NOT DIVISIVENESS. Balance, moderation,
inclusiveness, flexibility, consensus building, cooperation, trust, and
“Liberty and Justice for All” are important ideals for our society. The
rhetoric of conservatives may give lip service to these concepts, but
in actuality the policies driven by conservatives reflect a belief
that any means are justified to accomplish dogmatic and narrowly partisan
ends. This results in discrimination, conflict-creating bigotry,
hypocrisy, divisiveness, Our-God-Is-Better-than-Your-God argumentation,
unfair favoritism of the already privileged, and dangerous frustration and
humiliation of those who are not insiders.
Our society is made increasingly dysfunctional by people who support
dogmas that involve absolutism, patriarchal supremacy, puritanism, and
reactionary religious fundamentalism. We cannot allow our national
leadership to drive us further in these directions.
10) CARING ABOUT PEOPLE AND PLANET EARTH. Do not
vote for conservative Republicans if you care about strong protections for
National Parks, National Forests, Wilderness Areas, Bureau of Land
Management lands, free-flowing rivers, or endangered species. Likewise,
do not vote for conservative Republicans if you favor sustainable development,
or adequate funding for public education and infrastructure improvements, or
intelligent far-sighted spending priorities, or balanced budgets,
or equal opportunity, or worker protections, or equal pay for
women, or reproductive rights for females, or tolerance, or open-mindedness,
or committed help to the most vulnerable members of our society, or empathy for
the struggles of others.
Defeat of neoconservatives in the November 2008 elections will hold them
accountable for their misguided policies.
This would force them to alter course and move towards more moderate,
healthier and saner plans for the future.
That's my opinion!
Let’s downsize the government, because it is not the government’s job to
create jobs, stimulate the economy, help create speculative bubbles, bail out
investors, or act as a militaristic aggressor.
Let’s rein in the power of the President, and act to prevent
Machiavellian intrigues, reduce socially detrimental forms of profiteering,
close unwise loopholes, prevent political corruption, and reduce the extent to
which corporations are able to externalize costs onto society.
A Smart Goal: Turn Environmental Decline into Restoration
in the long run goes hand-in-hand with the health of ecosystems. A website named EcoTipping Points analyzes
more than 100 success stories where smart “levers” have been used to make
positive changes that reverse environmental declines and restore the health of
local ecosystems. The idea of a lever
for change is borrowed from Archimedes, the Sicilian scientist who said more
than two thousand years ago that he could move the world if he had the right
lever and the right place to stand.
What are EcoTipping
Points? Gerald Marten, an ecologist at
the East-West Center in Honolulu and author of Human Ecology: Basic
Concepts for Sustainable Development
“EcoTipping Points offer a handle for
making sense of complexity -- a paradigm of hope and a fresh lens for looking
at both problems and solutions.
EcoTipping Points provide desperately needed reassurance that environmental
and social problems are not too big, too costly, nor too complicated to be
dealt with effectively.”
Gerald Marten goes on to identify the main ingredients for success in attempting
to reverse vicious cycles of self-enforcing feedback loops that are often involved
in environmental degradation. Ideas like
this are valuable to consider because they point us in desirable directions in
which local people can make a big difference in the world while we wait for
pressures to finally force our leaders to step forward to alter the misguided
intergenerational unfairness of the status quo.
Read about some of the many specific
instances in which small investments have been leveraged into large returns by
EcoTipping Points levers at EcoTippingPoints.org.
The ingredients for ecosystem restoration
success, according to Gerald Marten, are:
stimulation and facilitation. A success story
typically begins when people or information from outside a community stimulate
a shared awareness about a problem (i.e., how the situation is changing and
what seems to be responsible), and this leads to fresh ideas for possible
actions to deal with it.
(2) Strong local
institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership. Instead of top-down
regulation or elaborate development plans with unrealistic goals, we see
success where there is genuine community participation, and where communities
move forward with their own decisions and manpower and financial resources
while generating a sense of individual and group ownership for the achievements. Leaders who keep the restoration process on
track are the ‘glue’ in the stories.
between social system and ecosystem. The
restoration that we see in success stories occurs when human society and the
environment fit and function together as a healthy and sustainable whole. At the core is a “social commons”
that is explicitly tailored to managing a community’s social and environmental
nature do the work.” It
is beyond human capacity to successfully micromanage the environment. Doable and sustainable solutions give nature
full opportunity to marshal its self-organizing powers for restoration.
waste into resources. What appears to be “waste” -- such as
degraded land, abandoned buildings, garbage, sewage, or marginalized people --
is mobilized and transformed into valued social or material capital. (This is natural capitalism, as brilliantly
enunciated by Paul
Hawken in Natural Capitalism: Creating
the Next Industrial Revolution.)
"payback" helps to mobilize community commitment. Once positive results begin cascading through
a system, normal social and economic and political processes can take it from
(7) A powerful
respected leader or champion for a cause, or a site or landmark sacred to the
community, or a compelling idea becomes a symbol for the entire effort,
consolidating community commitment and mobilizing community action. (When will the idea of a Bill of Rights for
Future Generations go viral, and provide an overarching context for our
short-term-oriented politics and economics?)
social obstacles. In today’s
complex society, powerful obstacles often stand in the way of positive
change. For example: demands for
people’s time and attention that compete with contributing to the
community; dysfunctional dependence on
the status quo; governments,
organizations, or individuals that feel threatened by innovation; people who attempt to take over valuable
resources after their restoration. Local
autonomy can help to withstand social obstacles that emanate from outside a
(9) Social and
Greater diversity provides more choices and opportunities, and therefore
better prospects that some of the choices will be effective in reaching desired
from the past can be a particularly valuable resource because it offers choices
that have stood the test of time.
ability to “lock in” gains and withstand inevitable threats to sustaining those
gains is enhanced by a community’s adaptive capacity: its openness to change
based on shared community awareness, prudent experimentation, learning from
successes and mistakes, and replicating success.
“It should be recognized that even the best
levers will not solve environmental problems overnight. It is hard work no matter how it is
done. But with so many problems seemingly
spiraling beyond control, it’s important to remind ourselves of what others
have done to turn decline around.”
is an ecologist at the East-West Center in Honolulu and the author of Human
Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development. His email address is
firstname.lastname@example.org. He is always
eager to learn of more success stories, and welcomes correspondence with people
who want to apply EcoTipping Point principles to problem solving in their
Recapitulate: Let’s Not Capitulate!
can create a better future by dealing effectively with the six main reasons
that moneyed interests are so effective in using the power of the influence of
their riches to defend the status quo.
This is the key to making more sensible national plans and remaking our
nation in ways that are fairer, safer, smarter, and more sustainable. The influence of Big Money has accomplished
socially unjust, anti-egalitarian, undemocratic, and power-abusing feats by
these six primary means:
(1) It has served to consistently act to
undermine worker’s rights, privileges, power and security;
(2) It has enlisted an unprecedented phalanx
of lobbyists to advance narrowly-focused interests in Congress, thus
subjugating the interests of the Many to those of the Few, and the broad
interests of the people to the profit-prepossessed interests of large
(3) It has persistently subverted
Constitutional protections of the General welfare and legal protections of the
people and of the environment. In the
process, rich people have diminished the prospects of the majority to get equal
opportunities, or to achieve fairly-shared prosperity. This is contrary to our Founding ideals of
liberty and the right to reasonably pursue happiness;
(4) Giant conglomerates have bought control of
the mass media. The concentration of
ownership of the media by a handful of enormous corporations has allowed them
to use this power to promote deceptive propaganda and to sell us on consumer
materialism and wars, and to divide people, and to facilitate the advancement
of a narrow economic and social agenda;
(5) Wealthy people have succeeded in stacking
the Supreme Court with a narrow 5-4 majority that has consistently ruled in the
past six years in favor of the interests of corporations and against the best
interests of the vast majority of people;
(6) The military-industrial complex has been
allowed to become an octopus of deficit-financed wasteful spending and
interventionist aggression and divisive distraction. In the process, controlling interests have
perverted our domestic priorities and undermined the prospects for peaceful
coexistence and mutual security among the peoples of nations around the globe.
Mary Lease was
celebrated as the
"Kansas Joan of Arc."
Imagine there’s no afterlife, it’s easy if you
compensatory “next time around”, where any of us will fly
our souls are not immortal, just like our bodies, I vow
For this truth trains our
attention on unnecessary injustices in our societies here and now.
The fact of our inevitable deaths should train us to live more
authentic lives in the Here and Now. If
there actually will be no chance of salvation in an afterlife, because there
pretty likely will be no afterlife at all, it would force us to seek truer
justice in our societies today. Let’s do
“Humor is the hardest
to write, easiest to sell, and best rewarded.
There are only a few who are able to do it. If you are able, do it by all means. You will find it a Klondike and a Rand rolled
into one. Look at Mark Twain.”
--- Jack London, "Getting into
Print," The Editor, March 1903
“Hicks was born honest,
I without that encumbrance -- so some people said. Hicks saw what he saw and reported
accordingly, I saw more than was visible and added to it such details as could
help. Hicks had no imagination, I had a
double supply. He was born calm, I was
born excited. No vision could start a
rapture in him and he was constipated as to language, anyway, but if I saw a
vision I emptied the dictionary onto it and lost the remnant of my mind into
Twain in Eruption
“And when he talks he talks slowly and extracts each of his
vowels with a corkscrew twist that would make even the announcement of a
funeral sound like a joke.”
--- William A. Croffut, 1889
attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
--- Attributed to Mark Twain
Riff about the Slow Food
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?
Sharing the preparation of food can be a wonderful
thing. Years ago, I would share
decicious food and commemorate fun socializing as well as the concept of
freedom by throwing a Bastille Day party for 100 people at a friend’s beautiful
home. The food preparation parties that
were held for several days in advance were always more fun, in some ways, and
more intimate, than the big event itself,.
After spending a few hours preparing food, the 6 or 8 sous chefs would
all sit down to a dinner of Penne Puttanesca or Pasta Fazul, and share some
wine and good conversation. Cooking can
I recommend that one always more or less follow
a recipe the first time you make it, and then modify it to suit your tastes the
next time you make it. Most recipes can
be changed to good effect by adding spices that you like, and most of them are
not sensitive to proportions unless the ingredient proportions are important,
as in baking.
paragraphs were originally in Common
The Silver Lining to These Daunting Challenges
deal on August 2, 2011 to raise the national debt limit included a political
gimmick that Congress must vote on an amendment to the Constitution requiring
the federal government to balance its budget every year. This provision was laughable political posturing. It was certainly not a serious effort to make
specific decisions on how to reduce budget deficits over the next decade.
There is a silver lining in the dark cloud
of the near default. The $14.5 trillion
national debt at the time had been projected to increase by $10 trillion in the
next 10 years. This gambit of borrowing
money from people in the future to give it to the wealthiest Americans today
must be halted, and the turmoil caused by Republican brinksmanship has
sharpened the focus on this necessity.
So far, anti-tax dogmas have had far too much sway, but the obvious need
to stop indulging in fiscally insane expediencies of borrowing money to give
rich people low tax rates is more apparent now than ever.
The potential default crisis presented us with a
great opportunity to actually do something about the projected increase in the
national debt in the next 10 years. This
issue should be addressed now. Marginal
tax rates on high incomes should be increased from their current
intergenerational lows, and tax loopholes should be eliminated for
corporations, hedge fund managers, and rich people who are using the power of
their money to buy influence to skew the system ever-more radically in their
An honest Balanced Budget Initiative, as
proposed in One Dozen Big Initiatives to
Positively Transform Our Societies, is a revolutionary reform that would
help us create a society that is fairer to people in future generations. This reform would involve a Fiscal
Responsibility Act that would provide a powerful and effective motivation for
the principal deciders in our political system to be brought on board to
support efforts to create national policies that are more likely to be
consistent with the best interests of people in future generations.
Since our national policies are skewed overly
heavily to benefit the top 2% of Americans, 98% of people should vote for
fairer policies, and this injustice would be curtailed. If people in future generations could somehow
vote, more than 99.9% of votes would be cast for fairer and more socially and
environmentally responsible policies, and only a miniscule fraction would be in
favor of allowing powerful people today to continue to receive the lion’s share
of benefits at the expense of all others.
It is simply wrong to allow the people with the most power to
insidiously exploit the young, the vulnerable, the unfairly underrepresented,
and all people in future generations.
people see that there are sensible solutions to this deficit spending
problem. They also realize that it is
only because our political system is so dysfunctional and corrupt that this
goal is so hard to achieve. Let’s reconnoiter, and cooperate together to make
well-considered decisions on how to make our cultures fairer to future
generations, as well as to all people alive today. We simply must manage the economy in a smarter manner.
--------------- The End
The Obama Code
by George Lakoff, February 24, 2009
Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress, what can we expect to
will stress the nuts-and-bolts policy issues: the banking system,
education, energy, health care. But beyond policy, there will be a vision
of America -- a moral vision and a view of unity that the pundits often miss.
What they miss is the Obama Code.
For the sake of unity, the President tends to express his moral vision
indirectly. Like other self-aware and highly articulate speakers, he
connects with his audience using what cognitive scientists call the
"cognitive unconscious." Speaking naturally, he lets his
deepest ideas simply structure what he is saying. If you follow him, the
deep ideas are communicated unconsciously and automatically. The Code is
his most effective way to bring the country together around fundamental
supporters of the President, it is crucial to understand the Code in order to
talk overtly about the old values our new president is communicating. It
is necessary because tens of millions of Americans -- both conservatives and
progressives -- don't yet perceive the vital sea change that Obama is bringing
"code" can refer to a system of either communication or morality.
President Obama has integrated the two. The Obama Code is both
moral and linguistic at once. The President is using his enormous skills
as a communicator to express a moral system. As he has said, budgets are
moral documents. His economic program is tied to his moral system and is
discussed in the Code, as are just about all of his other policies.
Obama Code are seven crucial intellectual moves that I believe are
historically, practically, and cognitively appropriate, as well as politically
astute. They are not all obvious, and jointly they may seem mysterious. That
is why it is worth sorting them out one-by-one.
1. Values Over Programs
move is to distinguish programs from the value systems they represent. Every
policy has a material aspect -- the nuts and bolts of how it works -- plus a
typically implicit cognitive aspect that represents the values and ideas behind
the nuts and bolts. The President knows the difference. He
understands that those who see themselves as "progressive" or
"conservative" all too often define those words in terms of programs
rather than values. Even the programs championed by progressives may not
fit what the President sees as the fundamental values of the country. He
is seeking to align the programs of his administration with those values.
pushback will come not just from conservatives who do not share his values, but
just as much from progressives who make the mistake of thinking that programs
are values and that progressivism is defined by a list of programs. When
some of those programs are cut as economically secondary or as unessential,
their defenders will inevitably see this as a conservative move rather than a
move within an overall moral vision they share with the President.
separation between values and programs lies behind the president's pledge to
cut programs that don't serve those values and support those that do -- no
matter whether they are proposed by Republicans or Democrats. The
President's idealistic question is, what policies serve what values? -- not
what political interests?
Values are American Values
Obama's second intellectual move concerns what the fundamental American values
are. In Moral Politics, I described what I found to be the implicit, and
often unconscious, value systems behind progressive and conservative thought.
Progressive thought rests, first, on the value of empathy -- putting
oneself in other people's shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and
therefore caring about them. The second principle is acting on that care,
taking responsibility both for oneself and others, social as well as individual
responsibility. The third is acting to make oneself, the country, and the
world better -- what Obama has called an "ethic of excellence" toward
creating "a more perfect union" politically.
Lynn Hunt, in Inventing Human Rights, has shown that those values, beginning
with empathy, lie historically behind the human rights expressed in the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Obama, in various
interviews and speeches, has provided the logical link. Empathy is not
mere sympathy. Putting oneself in the shoes of others brings with it the
responsibility to act on that empathy -- to be "our brother's keeper and
our sister's keeper" -- and to act to improve ourselves, our country, and
The logic is
simple: Empathy is why we have the values of freedom, fairness, and equality --
for everyone, not just for certain individuals. If we put ourselves in
the shoes of others, we will want them to be free and treated fairly. Empathy
with all leads to equality: no one should be treated worse than anyone else.
Empathy leads us to democracy: to avoid being subject indefinitely to the
whims of an oppressive and unfair ruler, we need to be able to choose who
governs us and we need a government of laws.
consistently maintained that what I, in my writings, have called
"progressive" values are fundamental American values. From his
perspective, he is not a progressive; he is just an American. That is a
crucial intellectual move.
empathy-based moral values are the opposite of the conservative focus on
individual responsibility without social responsibility. They make it
intolerable to tolerate a president who is The Decider -- who gets to decide
without caring about or listening to anybody. Empathy-based values are
opposed to the pure self-interest of a laissez-faire "free market,"
which assumes that greed is good and that seeking self-interest will magically
maximize everyone's interests. They oppose a purely self-interested view
of America in foreign policy. Obama's foreign policy is empathy-based,
concerned with people as well as states -- with poverty, education, disease,
water, the rights of women and children, ethnic cleansing, and so on around the
How are such
values expressed? Take a look at the inaugural speech. Empathy:
"the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the
selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose
their job, the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but
also a parent's willingness to nurture a child..." Responsibility to
ourselves and others: "We have duties to ourselves, the nation, and the
world." The ethic of excellence: "there is nothing so
satisfying to the spirit, so defining of character, than giving our all to a
difficult task." They define our democracy: "This is the
meaning of our liberty and our creed."
values apply to foreign policy: "To the people of poor nations, we
pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and make clean waters
flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds." And to
religion as well: By quoting language like "our brother's keeper," he
is communicating that mere individual responsibility will not get you into
Heaven, that social responsibility and making the world better is required.
Biconceptualism and the New Bipartisanship
crucial idea behind the Obama Code is biconceptualism, the knowledge that a
great many people who identify themselves ideologically as conservatives, or
politically as Republicans or Independents, share those fundamental American
values -- at least on certain issues. Most "conservatives" are
not thoroughgoing movement conservatives, but are what I have called
"partial progressives" sharing Obama's American values on many
issues. Where such folks agree with him on values, Obama tries, and will
continue to try, to work with them on those issues if not others. And, he
assumes, I correctly believe, that the more they come to think in terms of
those American values, the less they will think in terms of opposing
lay behind his invitation to Rick Warren to speak at the inaugural.
Warren is a biconceptual, like many younger evangelicals. He shares
Obama's views of the environment, poverty, health, and social responsibility,
though he is otherwise a conservative. Biconceptualism is behind his
"courting" of Republican members of Congress. The idea is not
to accept conservative moral views, but to find those issues where individual
Republicans already share what he sees as fundamentally American values.
He has "reached across the aisle" to Richard Luger on nuclear
proliferation, but not on economics.
is central to Obama's attempts to achieve unity -- a unity based on his
understanding of American values. The current economic failure gives him
an opening to speak about the economy in terms of those ideals: caring
about all, prosperity for all, responsibility for all by all, and good jobs for
all who want to work.
I think Obama
is correct about biconceptualism of this sort -- at least where the
overwhelming proportion of Americans is concerned. When the President
spoke at the Lincoln Day dinner recently about sensible Midwestern Republicans,
he meant biconceptual Republicans, who are progressive and/or pragmatic on many
But hardcore movement conservatives tend
to be more ideological and less biconceptual than their constituents. In
the recent stimulus vote, the hardcore conservatives kept party discipline
(except for three Senate votes) by threatening to run opposition candidates
against anyone who broke ranks. They were able to enforce this because
the conservative message machine is strong in their districts and there is no
nationwide progressive message machine operating in those districts. The
effectiveness of the conservative message machine led to Obama making a rare
mistake in communication, the mistake of saying out loud in Florida not to
think of Rush Limbaugh, thus violating the first rule of framing and giving
Rush Limbaugh even greater power.
partly progressive, Republicans do exist in Congress, and the president is not
going to give up on them. But as long as the conservative message machine
can activate its values virtually unopposed in conservative districts, movement
conservatives can continue to pressure biconceptual Republicans and keep them
from voting their conscience on many issues. This is why a nationwide
progressive message machine needs to be organized if the president is to
achieve unity through biconceptualism.
idea behind the Obama Code is the President's understanding of government --
"not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it
works." This depends on what "works" means. The word
sounds purely pragmatic, but it is moral in operation.
The idea is
that government has twin moral missions: protection and empowerment.
Protection includes not just military and police protection, but protections
for the environment, consumers, workers, pensioners, disaster victims, and
is what his stimulus package is about: it includes education and other forms of
infrastructure -- roads, bridges, communications, energy supply, the banking
system and stock market. The moral mission of government is simple: no
one can earn a living in America or live an American life without protection
and empowerment by the government. The stimulus package is basically an
empowerment package. Taxes are what you pay for living in America, rather
than in Congo or Bangladesh. And the more money you make from government
protection and empowerment, the more you owe in return. Progressive
taxation is a matter of moral accounting. Tax cuts for the middle class
mean that the middle class hasn't been getting as much as it has been
contributing to the nation's productivity for many years.
This view of
government meshes with our national ideal of equality. There needs to be
moral equality: equal protection and equal empowerment. We all deserve
health care protection, retirement protection, worker protection, employment
protection, protection of our civil liberties, and investment protection.
Protection and empowerment. That's what "works" means --
"whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can
afford, a retirement that is dignified."
and Economics Fit Together
Crises are times of opportunity.
Budgets are moral statements. President Obama has put these ideas
together. His economic program is a moral program and conversely.
Why the quartet of leading economic issues -- education, energy, health,
banking? Because they are at the heart of government's moral mission of
protection and empowerment, and correspondingly, they are what is needed to act
on empathy and social and personal responsibility and making the future better.
The economic crisis is also an opportunity. It requires him to
spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the right things to do.
Causation and Systemic Risk
tend to think in terms of direct causation. The overwhelming moral value
of individual, not social, responsibility requires that causation be local and
direct. For each individual to be entirely responsible for the
consequences of his or her actions, those actions must be the direct causes of
those consequences. If systemic causation is real, then the most
fundamental of conservative moral -- and economic -- values is fallacious.
ecology and global economics are prime examples of systemic causation.
Global warming is fundamentally a system phenomenon. That is why
the very idea threatens conservative thinking. And the global economic
collapse is also systemic in nature. That is at the heart of the death of
the conservative principle of the laissez-faire free market, where individual
short-term self-interest was supposed to be natural, moral, and the best for
everybody. The reality of systemic causation has left conservatism
without any real ideas to address global warming and the global economic
With systemic causation goes systemic
risk. The old rational actor model taught in economics and political
science ignored systemic risk. Risk was seen as local and governed by
direct causation, that is, buy short-term individual decisions. The
investment banks acted on their own short-term risk, based on short-term
assumptions, for example, that housing prices would continue to rise or that
bundles of mortgages once secure for the short term would continue to be
"secure" and could be traded as "securities."
nature of ecological and economic causation and risk has resulted in the twin
disasters of global warming and global economic breakdown. Both must be
dealt with on a systematic, global, long-term basis. Regulating risk is
global and long-term, and so what are required are world-wide institutions that
carry out regulation in systematic ways and that monitor causation and risk
systemically, not just locally.
Obama understands this, though much of the country does not. Part of his
challenge will be to formulate policies that carry out these ideas and to
communicate these ideas as well as possible to the public.
Concepts and Patriotic Language
Barack Obama must speak in patriotic language. But all patriot language
in this country is "contested." Every major patriotic term has
a core meaning that we all understand the same way. But that common core
meaning is very limited in its application. Most uses of patriotic
language are extended from the core on the basis of either conservative or
progressive values to produce meanings that are often opposite from each other.
a whole book, Whose Freedom?, on the word ‘freedom’ as used by conservatives
and progressives. In his second inaugural, George W. Bush used
"freedom," "free," and "liberty" over and over --
first, with its common meaning, then shifting to its conservative meaning:
defending "freedom" as including domestic spying, torture and
rendition, denial of habeas corpus, invading a country that posed no threat to
us, a "free market" based on greed and short-term profits for the
wealthy, denying sex education and access to women's health facilities, denying
health care to the poor, and leading to the killing and maiming of innocent
civilians in Iraq by the hundreds of thousands, all in the name of
"freedom." It was anything but a progressive's view of freedom
-- and anything but the view intended in the Declaration of Independence or the
years, from the late 1960's through 2008, conservatives managed, through their
extensive message machine, to reframe much of our political discourse to fit
their worldview. President Obama is reclaiming our patriotic language after
decades of conservative dominance, to fit what he has correctly seen as the
ideals behind the founding of our country.
will no longer mean what George W. Bush meant by it. Guantanamo will be
closed, torture outlawed, the market regulated. Obama's inaugural address
was filled with framings of patriotic concepts to fit those ideals. Not
just the concept of freedom, but also equality, prosperity, unity, security,
interests, challenges, courage, purpose, loyalty, patriotism, virtue, character,
and grace. Look at these words in his inaugural address and you will see
how Obama has situated their meaning within his view of fundamental American
values: empathy, social and well as personal responsibility, improving
yourself and your country. We can expect further reclaiming of patriotic
language throughout his administration.
All this is
what "change" means. In his policy proposals the President is
trying to align his administration's policies with the fundamental values of
the Framers of our Constitution. In seeking "bipartisan"
support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those
values on particular issues. In his economic policy, he is realigning our
economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment
It's Us, Not
is the best political communicator of our age. He has the bully pulpit.
He gets media attention from the press. His website is running a
permanent campaign, Organizing for Obama, run by his campaign manager David
Plouffe. It seeks issue-by-issue support from his huge mailing list.
There are plenty of progressive blogs. MoveOn.org now has over five
million members. And yet that is nowhere near enough.
conservative message machine is huge and still going. There are dozens of
conservative think tanks, many with very large communications budgets.
The conservative leadership institutes are continuing to turn out
thousands of trained conservative spokespeople every year. The conservative
apparatus for language creation is still functioning. Conservative
talking points are still going out to their network of spokespeople, who still
being booked on TV and radio around the country. About 80% of the talking
heads on TV are conservatives. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are as strong
as ever. There are now progressive voices on MSNBC, Comedy Central, and
Air America, but they are still overwhelmed by Right's enormous megaphone.
Republicans in Congress can count on overwhelming message support in
their home districts and homes states. That is one reason why they were
able to stonewall on the President's stimulus package. They had no
serious media competition at home pounding out the Obama vision day after day.
national, day-by-day media competition is necessary. Democrats need to
build it. Democratic think tanks are strong on policy and programs, but
weak on values and vision. Without the moral arguments based on the Obama
values and vision, the policymakers most likely will be unable to regularly address
both independent voters and the Limbaugh-FoxNews audiences in conservative
and his administration cannot build such a communication system, nor can the
Democrats in Congress. The DNC does not have the resources. It will
be up to supporters of the Obama values, not just supporters on the issues, to
put such a system in place. Despite all the organizing strength of Obama
supporters, no such organizing effort is now going on. If none is put together,
the movement conservatives will face few challenges of fundamental values in
their home constituencies and will be able to go on stonewalling with impunity.
That will make the president's vision that much harder to carry out.
Code is based on seven deep, insightful, and subtle intellectual moves.
What President Obama has been attempting in his speeches is a return to
the original frames of the Framers, reconstituting what it means to be an
American, to be patriotic, to be a citizen and to share in both the sacrifices
and the glories of our country. In seeking "bipartisan"
support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those
values on particular issues. In his economic plan, he is attempting to
realign our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and
empowerment for all.
hasn't fooled the radical ideological conservatives in Congress. They
know progressive values when they see them -- and they see them in their own
colleagues and constituents too often for comfort. The radical
conservatives are aware that this economic crisis threatens not only their
political support, but the very underpinnings of conservative ideology itself.
Nonetheless, their brains have not been changed by facts. Movement
conservatives are not fading away. They think their conservative values
are the real American values. They still have their message machine and
they are going to make the most of it. The ratings for Fox News and Rush
Limbaugh are rising. Without a countervailing communications system on
the Democratic side, they can create a lot of trouble, not just for the
president, not just for the nation, but on a global scale, for the
environmental and economic future of the world.
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished
Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California
at Berkeley. He is the author of The
Political Mind, as well as the excellent book Don't Think of an Elephant!