Is anybody listening?

Is anybody listening?
Recently I was pleased to be part of an exercise in what has come to be known as “deliberative democracy.” The idea is that ordinary people from all walks of life and differing ideologies could come together and, given enough nonpartisan and unbiased information, could seek a common solution to a difficult problem. In this case, the problem was how to cut the projected federal deficit in half by 2025. We looked at a whole range of options — increasing taxes, cutting government programs and initiating major deductions. We also looked at total reform of the tax code. The results are to be compiled and sent to opinion leaders in Washington, such as the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission and appropriate committees in Congress. That way, they might have a sense of Americans’ thoughts on the subject.
America Speaks, the national sponsor of the event, brought together more than 3,000 people in dozens of sites across the country (including two here in Pasadena) to take part in this amazing experiment. At the end of a pretty long day of dialogue, a preliminary report was issued that included a demographic breakdown of the national participants.
America Speaks did its best to make this a truly bipartisan event. Its advisory committee, which actually put together the materials on the budget, possessed work experiences ranging from the Center for American Progress to the Heritage Foundation. And they engaged in a massive effort to ensure that the participants reflected the demographic and ideological diversity of the country. Yet, three groups were woefully underrepresented: young people, Latinos and … wait for it … conservatives (by the way, self-described moderates were also underrepresented). Only 20 percent of the participants described themselves as conservative, compared to 42 percent of Americans who self-describe as conservative or very conservative, according to a June Gallup poll.
Why? After all, isn’t the reduction of the deficit their issue? Aren’t they always complaining about too much government spending? Here was their chance to reform that tax code, cut all those government agencies and show the corrupt idiots in Washington how to get it done, right? So why didn’t they show up in greater numbers?
I think I know why. The right wing isn’t high on debate, dialogue and seeking common ground. This seems evident from the Tea Partiers’ behavior at congressional town hall meetings, in which shouting down those who disagree is standard operating procedure.  It’s also evident from the “my way or the highway” approach taken by most Republican legislators in Washington and Sacramento, even when confronting a significant majority on the other side. The exercise we engaged in required a true attempt at compromise; a recognition that tough choices had to be made that probably would not make anyone terribly happy. But that’s not their game.
When I use the term “conservative” here, I’m not talking about the Bob Bennetts and Judd Greggs, men of principle who have at least made significant attempts to deal with others from across the aisle. I’m talking about that much larger group who believe in the unerring rightness of their own ideologically driven rigidity.
These guys — and a few gals — are not good listeners. Why listen when you know all the answers already? This attitude is even reflected in some of the comments I’ve received since I started writing this column. I am told that I know nothing and I am being constantly reminded of what the Founding Fathers thought, even though I’ve offered specific quotes from those same Founding Fathers to make my points. Some people don’t even want to accept the truth when it’s literally staring at them in black and white.
Liberals don’t pose a significant threat to these folks, largely because we are almost always willing to acknowledge that we may be wrong. We are always ready for facts — those pesky little things — to disprove our theories and force us to rethink our positions.  Show us that welfare in certain forms provides a disincentive for people to work and we’ll shift our thinking, as President Bill Clinton did. Prove to us that what we thought was an ill-considered surge of troops in Iraq might actually have a positive effect on the war (which we never should have fought in the first place) and we’ll acknowledge it, as President Barack Obama did.  
And give us a choice between raising taxes and letting Social Security go bankrupt, and we’ll make the tough choice and support the tax increase — one of the biggest in our history — as President … oh, wait, that was Ronald Reagan. How did he get into this list? Maybe because unlike today’s conservatives, Reagan was a listener and was willing to recognize when reality collided with ideology. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in a recent show, he also increased the size of government, raised corporate taxes, and talked about a world free of nuclear weapons. He was, as Maddow said, “complex.”
Nevertheless, Reagan is hailed as the icon of the modern, non-listening, conservative movement. If you’re a conservative and you’re reading this, ask yourself this question:  Given the truth, rather than the myth, of the Reagan presidency, could this conservative god have survived a Republican primary in the year 2010? You might ask Bob Bennett.     

Barry Gordon teaches political science at Cal State LA and is the co-host of “City Beat” on KPAS.  Contact him at

Is anybody listening?

Is anybody listening?

Despite months of protests and the presence of dozens of
people opposed to a Rose Parade float sponsored by the Avery Dennison Corp.
saluting the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a divided Pasadena City Council
voted Monday to respond merely by supporting a 60-year-old United Nations
declaration on human rights.

Although members of the Caltech Falun Gong club and others
associated with a number of other religious, political and social groups spoke
out against an Olympic-themed float in the 2008 parade due to China’s abysmal
human rights record, the eight-member council brushed aside those concerns.

In fact, the council completely disregarded a recommendation

by its own Human Relations Commission, which called on the
council to make a strong statement decrying human rights abuses in China and
present it to officials in Pasadena’s Chinese sister city, Xicheng.

The commission had also called on council members to arrange
a meeting between human rights advocates, Tournament of Roses officials and
supporters of the Olympics float in order to have tournament officials and
float sponsors take action to support human rights, make the float less
offensive to rights advocates, or include a pro-human rights figure or group in
the parade.

People opposing the float plan to march from Pasadena City
Hall to Tournament House at 2 p.m. Sunday. Protest organizer Ann Lau said the
group will use the occasion to speak out against the council’s action Monday.
City Hall is at 100 N. Garfield Ave.

“I watched the entire proceedings from start to finish and
it was the most shameful exhibit of political cowardice I have ever seen,” said
former Mayor Bill Paparian, who in 1996 brought the Dalai Lama, an exile from
Chinese-controlled Tibet, to Pasadena.

“I am embarrassed to say I was once a member of that body,”
Paparian said Tuesday.

“Now there is no safety valve in place for the angst we saw
last night,” he continued. “We are headed for a train wreck on New Year’s Day.
People will see the float as an object of protest and people standing in front
of it will be juxtaposed with Tiananmen Square and it will be shown around the

During the meeting, Council member Chris Holden offered an
alternative resolution that would have rebuked China for its human rights
record, but the motion failed after it received the support of only Councilman
Victor Gordo and Councilwoman Jacque Robinson.

Like Paparian, Holden said the commission’s recommendations
should have been adopted, especially since Pasadena has had a
sister-city relationship with Xicheng for nearly 10 years.

“I thought it would have been a better course of action to
have acted on the recommendations and to have passed a resolution that would
have focused on the concerns brought to the council as it relates to alleged
violations in China,” Holden said after the meeting. “The whole idea of these
relationships is not just ceremonial and ribbon cutting. Part of the
relationship is to have the ability and opportunity to share insights and
values that we hold dear: democracy, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble. If
we are going to have this relationship and not try and share those values, it
kind of diminishes the relationship.”

Tournament of Roses officials did not attend the meeting.
However, Mayor Bill Bogaard, who supports having the Chinese-backed float in
the parade, read a letter to the council from Tournament of Roses President
C.L. Keedy.

“We believe it is important to separate the issue of the
Rose Parade float from any action that the city of Pasadena may choose to
undertake in support of human rights in China and elsewhere. As mentioned on
numerous occasions, we do not believe our parade nor our entries in the parade
support government policies anywhere in the world. As a result, we believe the
issue of the float should be removed from the consideration of possible council
actions,” Keedy’s letter stated.

Floats honoring the Olympic Games have been part of the Rose
Parade on nine other occasions. Missing were Olympic floats in 1936, when the
games were held in Germany during Hitler’s reign, and 1980, when former
President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the Moscow games over the Soviet
Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Although many words were spoken Monday night, the Rev. Peter
Zhou Bangjiu, a Benedictine monk, didn’t say anything as he stood at the

Brother Peter, as he is known, merely raised his arm to show
a deformed wrist and forearm from the torture he suffered at the hands of
Chinese government officials. (Please see related letter on page 4.)

Brother Peter served 26 years in prison and labor camps for
refusing to join the communist-run version of Catholicism, the Chinese
Patriotic Church. Tortured and placed in solitary confinement for two years,
his hands were shackled for four weeks, with the right cuff intentionally
tightened to the last link to cut off the circulation, which caused atrophy of
the arm.

According to one story in the Falun Gong-run Epoch Times,
the government harvests organs of Falun Gong practitioners and subjects
dissidents to prison camps and slave labor for keeping journals and practicing
other Christian faiths — allegations that government officials have

The Beijing government promised the International
Olympic Committee that it would improve its human rights record as a condition
of being allowed to host the games. But according to many people who spoke
Monday night, that has not happened.

“There are many issues the Pasadena City Council could speak
to and probably be heard about,” said Councilman Steve Madison, whose district
includes the Tournament of Roses. “But I certainly don’t feel like I was
elected by my constituents to express positions on international issues.”

NAACP Pasadena Branch President Joe Brown said he hopes the
sister-city relationship hasn’t become so close that it is clouding the
council’s judgment.

“I love China,” Brown said. “I visited there myself on
three occasions. But there is a challenge. There are human rights violations
that continue to occur. They’re using our country for nothing but political and
propaganda means.”

Subscribe Here

Subscribe to get Pasadena Weekly Digital Edition, emails and newsletters delivered weekly in your email inbox.


For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website at

By clicking to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Digital Editions