Interlude—Clinton among The Others: In this morning’s New York Times, Anne Lowrey keeps presenting gloomy new economic data.
Bill O’Reilly cited these same new data on his Fox program last night:
LOWREY (9/18/13): Despite the addition of more than two million jobs last year, soaring corporate profits and continuing economic growth, income for the typical American household did not rise in 2012 and poverty failed to fall, new data from the Census Bureau show.Later, Lowrey restated the general point she reported last week: “Since the recession ended in 2009, income gains have accrued almost entirely to the top earners, the Census Bureau found.”
Over a longer perspective, the figures reveal that the income of the median American household today, adjusted for inflation, is no higher than it was for the equivalent household in the late 1980s.
For all but the most highly educated and affluent Americans, incomes have stagnated, or worse, for more than a decade. The census report found that median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $51,017 in 2012, down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, mostly as a result of the longest and most damaging recession since the Depression. Most people have had no gains since the economy hit bottom in 2009.
Meanwhile, your Daily Howler keeps getting results! “The census report looks only at money income, not income measured after taxes are taken out or tax credits are added in,” she wrote, bringing additional clarity to her report.
We’ll simply repeat our same old point. The stagnation (or drop) in incomes affects red and blue voters alike. In recent decades, the bottom 99 percent has been struggling across the board.
Red and blue together! Conservative voters have struggled in Kansas. Liberal voters have struggled in blue states.
That said, we live in highly tribalized times. O’Reilly’s explanation of the drop in median income was different from the explanation one might have heard from a host on MSNBC, had a host on that channel been discussing these data.
In times as tribalized as these, it’s hard to reach across tribal lines to find points of common interest or common understanding. How might those with progressive views communicate to others in The Lower 99—to people who are perhaps being looted by the powerful influence of those in the top 0.1 percent?
You’re asking an excellent question! That said, we’re off today on a mission of national import. For that reason, we’ll simply review a bit of old material.
How might someone get a hearing from those with whom he might not share am obvious tribal tie? Let’s review something Bill Clinton said in his lengthy 2004 book, My Life.
For our money, the most interesting part of Clinton’s book starts with his trip to Haiti in 1975, which he describes as his honeymoon trip. Why did Clinton discuss that trip, during which he witnessed a voodoo ceremony? In this passage, he explains:
CLINTON (page 237): I describe my brief foray into the world of voodoo because I’ve always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life, nature, and the virtually universal belief that there is a nonphysical spirit force at work in the world that existed before humanity and will be here when we all are gone. Haitians’ understanding of how God is manifested in our lives is very different from that of most Christians, Jews, or Muslims, but their documented experiences certainly prove the old adage that the Lord works in mysterious ways.“I’ve always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life,” Clinton wrote. As he continued this part of his book, we learn that this fascination extends to people in his own country, even those in his own state.
Clinton returned from his trip to Haiti to campaign for attorney general of Arkansas. “As I traveled the state, I had to contend with the rise of a new political force, the Moral Majority, founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell,” he writes.
“In any part of the state, I might find myself shaking hands with someone who would ask if I was a Christian. When I said yes, I would be asked if I was a born-again Christian. When I said yes, there would be several more questions, apparently supplied by Falwell’s organization.”
Without meaning to criticize the voters Clinton describes, here we see the possible instinct toward the creation of tribal divisions. We’ll guess that we humans all share this instinct to greater or lesser degree.
Faced with questions designed to trip him up on religious grounds, Clinton puzzled about how to proceed. “I didn’t know what to do,” he writes. “I wasn’t about to answer a question about religion falsely, but I didn’t want to keep losing votes.”
Clinton describes some advice he received from Dale Bumpers, then the governor of Arkansas. The young pol went on to win his election. At this point, he describes some experiences he had while in office.
“I got around the state as much as I could,” Clinton writes, “to broaden my contacts and strengthen my organization for the next election.” Soon, he’s attending a black church event in which the Reverend Robert Jenkins is inaugurated as pastor of Morning Star Baptist:
CLINTON (page 249): As Robert got into his sermon, the temperature seemed to rise. All of a sudden an older lady sitting near me stood up, shaking and shouting, seized by the spirit of the Lord. A moment later a man got up in an even louder and more uncontrollable state. When he couldn’t calm down, a couple of the churchmen escorted him to a little room in the back of the church that held the church robes and closed the door. He continued to shout something unintelligible and bang against the walls. I turned around just in time to see him literally tear the door off its hinges, throw it down, and run out into the churchyard screaming. It reminded me of the scene at Max Beauvoir’s in Haiti, except that these people believed they had been moved by Jesus.Is Clinton allowed to say that? Is he allowed to attend a black church event and say it reminded him of that other event in Haiti?
We’re going to suggest that he is! In this part of his book, Clinton wasn’t done with his review of religion-and-politics in Arkansas. “Not long afterward, I saw white Christians have similar experiences,” he writes, “when my finance officer...invited me to the annual summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals in Redfield, about thirty miles south of Little Rock.”
Clinton describes a life-long interest that grew from that first experience with these white Pentecostals. “I made that summer camp meeting every summer but one between 1977 and 1992,” he writes. “Every year I witnessed some amazing new manifestations of the Pentecostals’ faith.”
The passage which started in Haiti has now extended all the way to this annual camp meeting in Arkansas. But for Clinton, it wasn’t the ecstatic experiences of these Arkansans that seemed to matter the most. In the following passage, we would suggest that Clinton reveals the breadth of spirit that helps explain how he got to the White House:
CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.Is Clinton allowed to say that?
Bill Clinton “liked and admired” these people, who weren’t necessarily inclined to support him. They disagreed with him on abortion and gay rights—but Clinton says he admired the way they lived their beliefs. As he continues, Clinton explains his view of these inspiring Arkansans. “Besides being true to their faith, the Pentecostals I knew were good citizens,” he writes. “They thought it was a sin not to vote.”
After describing a compromise he reached with Pentecostal ministers about the licensing of church-run child-care centers, Clinton concludes the rumination that began with that trip to Haiti:
CLINTON (page 252): Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just your own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it.We’ll repeat what we said at the time. This is the most interesting part of Clinton’s very long book.
How did Clinton end up being president? Despite decades of crackpot demonization, why is he still able to communicate across tribal lines a bit better than most others?
We would suggest that we consider the ability to “like and admire” those with whom he doesn’t share obvious tribal ties. Those who may not be inclined to share his views at first blush.
“If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it,” Clinton wrote. For a modern-day liberal, that was a very unusual thing to say.
But then, the oddest statements of the last century were made by that century’s highest achievers. As one example, we think of the way Dr. King urged angry people in Montgomery to love the people who had just bombed his home with his wife and baby daughter inside.
Why would someone say something like that? What could have been in Dr. King’s mind?
For detailed text: What could have been in Dr. King’s mind? For detailed text of what he said, you can just click here.