Turning the tide

I was able to spend part of this morning at the Tides Foundation’s Momentum conference, where a room was filled with enthusiastic, energetic progressives, mostly engaged directly in issues of social justice, green politics, diversity and other inspiring causes. Together with a great weekend for Obama, it contributed to my increasing optimism about my country and the wider world.

The first morning session at Momentum was on democracy and there were a number of outstanding speakers. First Alex Gibney, director, writer and producer of the Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side” spoke about his film and the rather chilling understanding it gave him about the US and torture. “We’re all complicit. We let it happen.” Fortunately, Gibney was able to end on a more uplifting note. “Taxi to the Dark Side” has been embraced by the US military and it is now required viewing at the Army Judge Advocate General school. So we can hope that when we get rid of the Bush administration, the bulk of the military will back away from the dark side.

Drew Westen, the Emory University psychologist who published The Political Brain last year, followed Gibney. He talked about the importance of framing — Ă  la Lakoff — with wit and intelligence. In discussing the failure to override Bush’s veto of the S-CHIP health program, despite polls indicating 80 per cent of the country supported it, Westen cautioned, “Do not take your acronymns out in public.” There isn’t support, he said, for S-CHIP, there’s support for making sure all working parents can get healthcare for their children.

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, is as eloquent, moving and fluent a speaker as I can recall. I don’t agree with Patel’s belief that religious division is the key issue in today’s world, and I thought he twisted history to fit every 20th century hero into his advocacy of religious pluralism. But there is no denying that Patel is an extraordinary young leader. One to watch.

Finally, the session was closed by Larry Lessig. Lessig’s switch from information politics to corruption had been widely covered, so I was interested to see what he had to say. His unique presentation style is highly effective, and his drumbeat of evidence on the corrosive effects of money on our legislators is unarguable. I didn’t, however, think he was yet bringing any particularly novel insights to the issue. I trust that will come.

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