Empathy in Action – How We can Truly Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have this tradition that I started about 5 years ago for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. At the time I was working at a financial institution, so naturally with the Federal Reserve closed on a national holiday, our financial institution was closed. This is why people sometimes poke fun of “bank holidays,” as they typically mirror all national holidays recognized by the Federal Reserve.

**For the record, though, even with the Fed closed, we were always open on Columbus Day. What a joke of a holiday. In the words of someone else (I don’t know who, but I won’t take credit for it), the best way to celebrate Columbus Day is to walk into someone else’s house and tell them you live there now.**

My frustration with the treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by the company I worked for was that, even though we were closed, our leadership always took advantage of the day off to schedule a full day of training. The same thing happened later in the year on Veteran’s Day, which had me equally frustrated. Yeah, I get that most people work these days, but I found it in bad taste to be closed in celebration of the holiday, only to make all workers come in. Working on the holiday when your business is open is one thing; spitting in its face is quite another. And that’s how it felt, so I resolved to do something about it and start a tradition of my own.

So here is my tradition, and it’s so simple that I hope everyone can do it. The full video of the I Have a Dream speech is about 17 minutes long, and I take a short time out of my day to watch it and think on it. That’s it. Half hour total, maybe longer if you think the way I do, which is a lot. It’s not much of a dedication, but it’s the very least I can do. The amazing thing that happens is that every year, something else sticks out at me. It’s like listening to Miles Davis Kind of Blue album after not having listened to it for awhile. Every time, and there’s really no better way to explain it than this…there’s just more.

In the case of Dr. King’s speech, maybe something he said that hadn’t resonated before suddenly resonates now due to some experience I’ve had in the past year. The experience is one of those rare times in life when you can actually feel your own growth, and I encourage you all to start something like this.

This year, the experience happened before I even listened to the speech again. A friend shared a letter that was written to the Wisconsin State Journal from Henry St. Maurice, titled, “The Golden Rule is Always Correct.”

It was a short letter; frankly, it didn’t need to be any longer to make the simple point that we should all know by now. But the part that made me sit back and ponder was regarding a discussion of “political correctness,” and how the term is tossed around with negative connotation. The writer then says this:

We learned that political correctness is better stated as empathy in action.

I wish I could do more than just bold and underline those last three words. As we sit and listen to Presidential candidates riling up crowds by assuring them that their biases are justified and any that oppose them are just “too PC,” perhaps we could better understand the reason for political correctness by simply practicing empathy.

Whether you realize it or not, we all experience bias of some kind in our daily lives. Not all of us experience racial hatred or have to overcome questions of our morality based on sexual orientation. But we all experience it to some degree. I’m told that I’m a typical guy when I forget something that I should have remembered. I’m told by old people that I don’t understand something because I’m too young, then told by young people that I don’t understand something because I’m too old. None of these things even come remotely close to racial injustice, so please don’t pretend as if I’m comparing them; what I’m alluding to is recognition of the general pattern. Because my experiences of bias as a white male are so mild as to be barely existent, I’ll usually just laugh it off. But you’re lying to yourself if you’re pretending even the littlest thing won’t leave a slight nick in your armor.

Now consider that nick in your armor, and consider what it would feel like to have someone tell you that you’re inherently less of a person, if even a person at all, because you were born with darker skin.

This brings me back to my New Year’s Resolution, which I am faithfully trying to fulfill in the first month, the same way that every other year I faithfully exercised or changed my diet in January before giving up right around Super Bowl week. This year, I hope to keep my resolution going, and I hope you can experience it with me, because that resolution was to understand others, even if I go into it knowing that I can never fully understand. But I’m going to try, because that is what my resolution is about, and that is what the article I shared is about, and that is the very least that each of us can do. Try.

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I plan to watch Dr. King’s speech shortly, but I’m going into it with a different perspective. In years past, empathy was never really on my mind. It almost seemed insulting; who am I to pretend I could ever understand what it’s like to be in his shoes? Well, I can’t, and I likely never will. But now I know that I don’t have to understand. I just have to try to understand, and knowing that I can’t possibly 100% understand allows me to free my mind from that burden, which then makes the entire picture just a little bit clearer.

If each individual took just the smallest step today, our nation as a whole would take a giant leap. Maybe I’m still at a crawl, but I’m moving forward. Join me. #Forward #MLKDay #IHaveADream

2016 Presidential Primaries (Part I – Democrats)

**This is the first in a two-part series analyzing the 2016 Presidential Primaries. Included here is the intro and the Democratic candidates. Republican candidates will be up early next week, and the entire piece will then be listed at the top as a separate page so that I can provide updates as candidates fall out**

2016 Presidential Primaries – Democrats

Joe Biden – Much to my dismay, he will not be running for President in 2016. Sadly, I’ve watched as Bernie Sanders followers and the Hillary Clinton followers beat each other over the head, which is frustrating because Bernie and Hillary have actually been very respectful towards each other.

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But here’s the basic complaints: Bernie appears to be too liberal; Hillary appears to be not liberal enough.

Enter Joe Biden.

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I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like Joe Biden? He offers a candidate that the establishment can accept if they don’t get Hillary, but without the alleged scandal issues that plague her. He has Hillary’s pragmatism and Bernie’s integrity, making him the ideal candidate to pick up the ever-important independent vote. The worst thing the Right can throw at him are some of his gaffes and blunders, but none of them were scandalous…they were mostly just goofy. At this point, looking down this list of people, is an innocent gaffe or bumbling blunder really that big of a deal? I would be knocking on doors for him tomorrow if he had decided to run and if I didn’t have my own campaign to run. He’s a statesman and a class act, and I think he would make a great President. Which usually means he wouldn’t have had a primary chance in hell.

I realize there’s no real reason to include him on this list since he already declared he will not run. But I want it on record that I think he would have been a fantastic President, and if the Democratic convention is somehow brokered, I would love to see him step up as a compromise candidate to continue faithfully serving his country.

Hillary Clinton – While it’s not necessarily her fault, I think the issue with Hillary’s campaign is that it never really stopped after the 2008 primary when she conceded to the future President Obama. Having a campaign carry on throughout his Presidency might seem like a good thing and have her in prime position for 2016 (which is where she currently stands), but that also means Republicans had plenty of time to find as much dirt as possible and note her every move. If you still think the Benghazi hearings were about four people dying, you haven’t been watching politics for very long, or you’re purposefully pretending there’s something there that isn’t actually there. That was about trying to tear down a future strong Presidential candidate from the other side, at the time serving as Secretary of State, because Republicans knew they wouldn’t be able to beat her in a general election.

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To her credit, she has weathered all of this marvelously. Some of her “scandals” seem to evolve around her making a lot of money for speaking engagements, which basically every politician at this level takes part in. The rest is circumstantial at best. I don’t know…maybe it’s possible that she did some shady things that would make her unfit for the Presidency, but at this point, having some sort of scandal following you around seems to be a prerequisite for being a Presidential candidate. Just ask Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry. The truth behind the scandal can be difficult to see with a full view, which means that we can’t just view them factually; it also has to be looked at politically. Where does it come from, who is paying to have it further exposed, and what is the agenda of those exposing it? Give me three factual details about your life and I bet I could make you sound like a monster, even if you have flawless integrity. That’s the sad state of politics, so it’s important that we see each “scandal” in full context, which includes political context.

The bottom line is that Hillary Clinton was the most influential First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. She then went on to be a so-so U.S. Senator, largely losing ground (in hindsight) due to some pragmatic but ultimately harmful votes after the 9/11 terrorist attack. After losing the Democratic Primary in ’08, she eventually was chosen to serve as Secretary of State, where I believe she has once again redefined a position, using her skills in negotiation and diplomacy to lay the groundwork for monumental diplomatic achievements. While Republicans were still talking about Benghazi, Hillary Clinton was casually telling President Obama on her way out the door that it was time to end the Cold War with Cuba. No big deal.

As someone who is anti-abortion (not anti-choice), I also find Hillary to be the candidate most likely to help lead us towards a dramatic reduction in teen pregnancy and abortion, as she has before through her various other positions. So many issues, including perpetual poverty cycles, could be impacted dramatically through some of the programs and efforts Hillary has led in the past.

Martin O’Malley – I don’t mean to make this short. I like Governor O’Malley. Really. But he was bombarded with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and he responded with “All Lives Matter.” The Black Lives Matter campaign wasn’t created for black people to feel superior. It was created because our society doesn’t treat black people with the same value as white people. This isn’t an opinion; it’s a fact. This is a lesson to anyone with their eyes on being President: don’t create a quick, simple opinion on a deep and complex issue. There is a lot to like about O’Malley, and I hope to see him in a Cabinet position for the eventual President. There’s just no real chance that he wins this primary, and whatever chance he did have to get some early attention was thwarted when he tried to play it safe.

Bernie Sanders – Oh, Bernie. Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.

I want you to do something. Close your eyes and pretend that you are yourself from 15 years ago. Now, pretend I’m telling you that a 74 year old U.S. Senator from Vermont who is very progressive but not a member of the Democratic Party wants to run as a Democrat for President. He has his eye on fighting back against the most powerful forces in America, he can’t seem to find a suit that fits, nor does he care, his hair is just out of control, and again he doesn’t care, and he kinda reminds me of Frank Costanza when he gets heated, which is almost all the time.

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Still with me? No, you’re not. You’re laughing, because there should be no chance that any of that could even remotely come to pass. But he is polling strongly in the early caucus and primary states and is putting up a strong challenge to the Hillary Clinton train. He’s talking about a revolution to a couple generations that have been apathetic towards voting and politics and for a long time because they’ve been waiting for a revolution. And some of the issues that have made this generation apathetic, namely the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War…Bernie had a pretty good idea where these things would lead, and from the House floor (He was a U.S. Representative at the time) he told everyone what would happen. We didn’t listen.

He refers to himself as a Democratic Socialist, and he continues to poll higher, which tells me that perhaps our society isn’t nearly as frightened by the concept of socialism as they once were. Or perhaps our society just realized that some of our most popular programs (Social Security, Medicare) are socialist ideas.

If Bernie makes it to the general election, watch out. What most people think they know about him is that he’s this idealistic uber-liberal. What they will see of him in a general election is a reasonable pragmatism and a nature to work together to get things done.

When I’m looking for a surgeon, I don’t care what they look like or smell like or their bedside manner; I care about their breadth of knowledge and steadiness of hand. I haven’t decided on my Democratic primary vote yet, but I still sit back and watch in amazement as Bernie Sanders overcomes every obstacle that he has been told over and over that he cannot overcome. Do not underestimate Bernie Sanders. His passion is unparalleled on either side, and he has done what I suggest to every candidate considering a run for an office that they shouldn’t be able to win.

He threw out the playbook.

Final Live Blog from SOTU 2016

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina delivered the GOP response. Whether or not you agree with what she said on policy (of which I disagreed with nearly all), you can’t deny it was an exceptional speech. She has positioned herself well for a potential VP nod, or even a dark horse brokered convention Pres candidate. Keep watching; her story is far from over.

Again, I can’t stress enough how much hope I saw tonight for bipartisanship going forward. I feel good about the future of democracy right now, at least in the rest of the country. Wisconsin needs to overcome inappropriate hand gestures during legislative session, but we’ll get there.

Thanks to anyone following along tonight. My 2016 candidate previews should be out within the week, so stay tuned.

Forward!

“It doesn’t work if we think the people who don’t agree with us don’t agree out of malice.”

“It doesn’t work when we listen only to those who agree with us.”

“We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

This speech is really transcending even a normal Obama speech. I love my President. I only hope the wind of change that I mentioned before will carry over into this year, as there is still a lot that needs to be done.

 

Live Blogging SOTU 2016

“We don’t need to build them up [ISIS] to show that we’re serious.”

This whole portion of the speech is so on the money. The fear-based rhetoric that is trying to damage the Obama administration by acting like terrorists are one move away from overthrowing our government. All it does is make them stronger. This is Terrorism 101 stuff; you don’t glorify them in effort to stop them.

Live Blogging SOTU 2016

Does anyone else feel a wind of change while watching this? A true feeling of wanting to work together?

Years ago, in what must have been Obama’s first or second SOTU, he said something about cutting the corporate tax rate…and the Republican side sat there and stared.

Tonight, he talks about cutting and changing regulations, and Republicans stood in unison. Maybe I’m the only one seeing this as significant, but my gut tells me some of these people are tired of being looked at like total loons.

Live Blogging State of the Union 2016

Interesting move to point out how Paul Ryan worked with Democrats on the budget. While this was substantial and Paul Ryan should be applauded for his bipartisanship, he was chastised by many in his party for selling out. Pointing it out on such a national stage could almost come across as a bit of a dig at Ryan, though I doubt that was the attention.

I like the idea of looking further ahead. Next year is practically set already. We need to view long-term goals and where we could be decades from now.

I tear up every time I see Gabby Giffords. What an incredible human being.