Again, here is what James wrote (along with the contested article itself as well as about 20 other comments). My response to his comments follows:
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James, I am glad to see you responding to my post here, but sad you couldn’t have responded during the election. Nonetheless, thanks again for posting. Allow me to initially respond to your concerns. After I do that, I’ll try to add some comments reflecting more on what lies ahead for our 46thWard, and Uptown in particular, than focusing on the election now behind us.
I honestly don’t think we’ll get anywhere meaningful by debating as if the election is still underway. Nor, probably, will we get anywhere debating my opinion about your platform and presentation vs. yours. You write that I accused you of being a “fan” of George Bush. I did not. I did suggest that your presentation on PBS Channel 11 as well as your comments in the debate with Helen Shiller at Uptown’s Disney Magnet School offered a rhetorically heavy and content-light approach quite similar to President Bush’s.
What was offered instead seemed to be mostly an assault on Ms. Shiller rooted in character assassination, coupled with your own insistence that, unlike her, you would be a good alderman.
This failed to impress me. Again, that was my take, and I’m the first to admit my perspective is only that of one very limited human being. But can we move on to greener pastures? You list five points, which I will attempt to respond to in what will probably be too long for many and not long (explanatory enough) for others:
First you say: "I am a liberal Democrat." Perhaps you are on many issues. But somehow, on the set of issues consistently facing Uptown (and I’m talking as someone who’s lived here for the past 30 years) you have drawn around you a group of very conservative-leaning (one might even say reactionary) folks on key issues for our community. If a politician’s appeal can be known through his followers, then I would have to say you don’t appear at all progressive on the interlinked issues of homeless, housing, and poverty. Nor did I personally detect anything progressive in your platform on these subjects. You signaled you'd worked with the homeless, which I applaud. But you also seemed highly resistant to more low-income and affordable housing being built in Uptown, a fact reflected by your hostility toward the Wilson Yards low-income housing component engineered by Helen Shiller.
What I suggest, if you want the votes of progressives in the Ward (should Helen not run again), is to interview folks ward-wide about the history of what many call -- fairly accurately -- a “class war” in our Uptown. A growing number of folks would love to see this class war resolved, but I don’t think anyone will respond to rhetoric alone. You would need a platform filled with very specific, well-informed, and worked out plans to actually CREATE low income housing, more jobs for the very poor, and more help in particular for homeless men, who appear very unwelcome in the “new” Uptown some of your supporters would seemingly like to build.
Second, you say: “I have always remained a strong advocate for people who live in poverty.”James, this just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps you believe it; that’s not the question. All I can do is point to those who voted for you in this last election.
Why did the same interests gather around you as gathered around every challenger of Helen Shiller for the past twenty years? Those interests have always focused on stopping any further low-income housing in Uptown, and where possible, eliminating some or all social services in Uptown for the poor. For us long-time watchers, nothing has changed. This seems true also of your supporters, many of whom repeated the exact same anti-poor rhetoric we’ve been hearing since 1985 or ’86.
If, once again, you want the votes of a majority of progressives, you have to fight consistently for the poor, for more low-income housing, rather than against it on the very dubious grounds that it doesn’t meet HUD’s guidelines. The trouble with such narrowly defined “proper ways” of doing things creates a probable death of a thousand pin-pricks for any truly creative plans for low-income housing.
You go get HUD dollars if you think you want HUD housing. Otherwise, that housing has to be created via other plans and other specifications. Helen Shiller did go get housing dollars via one of the most innovative plans we’ve seen in this or any Chicago ward in recent memory. The Wilson Yard TIF plan created something for everyone, including the large retail outlet we’ll all use, but also created low income housing. If you wanted to appear sincere in your claims above, you would have supported this plan unreservedly. Frankly, for my own two cents, I had hoped for more affordable housing out of it than we actually got. But I do think Helen did about as well as she could considering the lack of HUD or any other government funding for housing. (Guess it is all being spent in Iraqthese days. If you don’t believe me about HUD, take a look at post-Katrina New Orleans, where up to 60 percent of their housing other than downtown is still vacant due to flood damage!)
Third, you say “I have always sought efforts to eliminate racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and sexism. That comes with being a liberal Democrat. That comes from being a Christian with strong humanist leanings.” These are good words, Mr. Cappleman. But in order to actually deal with such issues you have to become engaged with the history of these matters. Uptown’s history is particularly painful, as there has been an unrelenting class struggle here for at least four decades (and actually since the 1930s). At first Uptown was indeed the North Side’s main “ghetto” area, a place where poor southern whites, blacks, and various other racial and ethnic groups could find low-income (but also horrendously dangerous and unhealthy) housing.
Then, as speculators realized Uptown was located near Lake Michigan and had easy access to public transportation (among other things), the area became victimto selfish developers. We watched as mass evictions of (for instance) Cambodianrefugees took place via a developer who bought their building in order to turnit into high-rent apartments. The condo boom made things even worse. (I’m greatlycompacting a story which is fairly horrendous.)
So… your words are good. I applaud them. But I’d need specific plans for the future where such noble sentiments are fleshed out in hard, cash-savvy, people-savvy terms. Otherwise, you and your supporters remain vulnerable to charges of NIMBYism** regarding the poorest of the poor who are your neighbors.
Fourth, you say “I abhor the polarization that exists in Uptown. At the WTTW interview, I brought up the What the Helen* blog to demonstrate that there are deep divisions within this ward in order to confront Ald. Shiller's attempts to gloss over the anger that is present in the community.”
Sigh. Again, you must honestly believe this. But I just don’t see it. In fact, by far the most divisive campaign I saw was your own. Part of that is just good politics, in the pragmatic sense at least. That is, you were the underdog to an established favorite. Discontent is a political necessity for an underdog, otherwise the underdog will be basically unelectable. So I don’t even particularly hold it against you that you used division in order to try to build and strengthen your beachhead of voters. Where you ran into trouble, however, was in what kind of voters – and how incredibly shrill and hateful – the most public voices among them ended up being. The whatthehelen folks, as your very worst expression of support, should NEVER have been mentioned by you even strategically. That is, unless you thought their site would be helpful to your cause. I assure you it was not.
You make the same mistake in your post here to bluechristian.com you made on the WTTW broadcast. That is, you blame Helen Shiller for the rantings of extremists, while (it could be argued) you yourself are fueling the extremists' rage. And the “blame game,” even in good ol’ Bushite America, is beginning to wear thin. Extremists are extremists, angry people are often simply angry people, and will find some target to vent at.
Most of my post, actually, was directed more at the whatthehelen dot com folks than at you. But your verbal endorsement of them – because that is what it was for the viewers, whether you meant it that way or not – does implicate you. Never did you distance yourself from either them or even the more extreme voices on sites such as buenaparkneighbors.org (a site where moderate, thoughtful voices do also post). The deeply offensive comments made their about Helen, about the religious community I am a part of, and about others, were passed on by you in silence.
In retrospect, and for the future, I think if you really mean it when you say “I abhor… polarization,” you should promptly and publically reject hateful and knowingly inaccurate websites supporting your cause as being divisive. Not only would that show integrity, but it would also quite possibly lose you a few votes and gain you some votes.
Fifth, you write what appears to be a reiteration of your campaign rhetoric. In fact, I think some of that sounds like the very wording you used at the Disney school debate and on WTTW. I’m not going to respond point by point (collective sigh of relief from readers here—Trott’s already windy enough!). The election is over, and if anything perhaps I can aid you (to one degree or another) in finding lessons in the whole process. Or perhaps I won't be of use to you in that regard. If so, I'm sorry. I do realize that you are at least pondering another aldermanic run in a few years, so polishing one's rhetoric is no less important for you, a political hopeful, than it is for me, a writer.
Speaking of my writing, you said this: “Jon, there's a spirit of meanness that pervades your writing. You might see as sarcasm and dismiss the seriousness of it, but it's there. You would benefit from searching your own conscience. In the meantime, I will not sink to your level. We don't agree with one another on politics. I don't and never will agree that the end justifies the means. I also embrace a spirituality that sees an element of God's truth in all religions, including yours. I expect you to be truthful. I would think your God expects the same.”
James, when it comes to me and my motives, my voice as “sarcastic,” and many more matters of personal ambiguity, I always plead guilty. Only God knows my heart for sure; I don’t. But as for “meanness,” I don’t think I ever called you anything like your followers have called me and/or the religious community to whom I belong. Re-read what I wrote, or peruse some of the threads on Buena Park Neighbors' message board regarding us, Helen, or other supporters / employees of Helen.
The business about Denice, who works with Helen, was very Imus-ish in my opinion and the opinions of others who read it (again, I referenced it in my post to which you responded). All of that was nasty character assassination, without basis in fact. And I did hear you directly attack the integrity of Helen Shiller as a person, not merely a politician. That line is a fine one, I understand. But in my humble opinion, you crossed it early and often during the campaign.
And re sarcasm, I don’t think my comparison between you and President Bush was meant to be mean. It was meant quite literally. I did feel somewhat angry as I wrote it. If you felt that sense of indignation from me, I plead (again) guilty. Again, I would absolutely love it if you proved me wrong by your future actions. I mean that in 100% sincerety. You will find in me a solid ally if you in turn ally yourself – in action – with the poorest of the poor. You were a Franciscan once, so I know you are familiar with his way of life and not just his words. And I don’t doubt that in your personal life, you attempt to do many good, gracious, and noble things that might reflect his spirit as well as the Spirit of his Master.
But politically and socially, you ended up supporting ideas that I don’t think St. Francis would have supported. And lest we forget, N. T. Wright (a great Anglican theologian) reminds us that Jesus Christ wasn't just a feel-good guru. No one would have killed him for that. Jesus’gospel was (and is) political at its heart, and Christ died for political reasons at the hands of both religious and secular authorities. How have we ended up, as Christians, supporting the powers-that-be over against the poor and dispossessed? None of us are innocent, James. I do indeed, as you suggest, try to plumb my own conscience before the God of Love and Justice.
A few philosophical threads to tie off, and I’m done. Not because I really have given an adequate response – even though it is as long as a Helen Shiller response (joke!) – but because I think these issues are the hear of what makes us human, or our political end results humane or non-humane…
You mention the end justifying the means and seemingly direct that comment toward me. Without a referent to something I said or wrote, I'm baffled by it. It was a strange sentiment, seemingly reflecting the very thing you are accusing me of doing.
You write: “I also embrace a spirituality that sees an element of God’s truth in all religions, including yours.” Um, my religion is Christianity. If yours is also Christianity – defined normally by one’s belief in the historic life, death, and resurrection of Christ as portrayed in the gospels, and its personal application to us individually and corporately as human beings, then you and I are both of the same faith. We may (and likely do) disagree on other issues, sub-sets if you will of the gospel’s core, but that doesn’t necessarily make either of us an unbeliever. As the Apostle James said, in words that burn whenever I ponder them, "faith without works is dead."
But back to the "elements of truth in all religions" sentence of yours. There is a very superficial way this expression can be read -- as a sort of fluffy Hallmark card sentimentalist sound-bite. Scrape at it with a fingernail and the meaning vanishes away, leaving only a thin sugary crust.
But on a deeper level I agree, depending on what we mean by “elements,” I suppose. Every religion that exists points to the yearning in each individual heart for meaning, for hope beyond death, for love (both as lover and for a Beloved). All the great religions have at their heart an idea of mutuality, or as Martin Buber calls it, an “I – Thou” relationship between human beings as well as between human beings and God.
And all great monotheistic religions have at their heart the idea that God, at heart, cares for us and is concerned for us each personally, that he reveals himself to us through general and specific revelation. C. S. Lewis deals with some of this on the popular level with his Mere Christianity.
The problem with that sentiment, however, is when it is taken too far. For instance, neither you nor I would agree with much that many religions have to offer. The law of non-contradiction indicates that if I say God is a Sentient, Personal, Perfect Being, and that what he created materially is “good,” I cannot also believe that God is an impersonal “it,” or “stuff” that creation is made of, and that creation in its material form is actually an imperfection or even evil. These two ideas, from western monotheistic and eastern Hindu-based religious traditions respectively, come into logical conflict. They may both be wrong, but they can’t both be right.
There are a number of other core issues of faith which likewise demand intellectually that we choose between them. That does not, however, necessitate a dehumanization of others who do not see reality as we do. All human beings -- not just Christians -- are made in the Image of God. Christ died not for some, but for all men. The fact some humans reject that sacrifice is one of those terrible mysteries I don't pretend to understand.
Finally, you say "I won't sink to your level." Well, knowing me as well as I do, I’m glad for you! All of us are pretty low on the morality scale. God didn’t really become human to make us into good moral, decent citizens. Most of us already think we are good people, not really in desperate and needy straights. He came to rescue those of us realizing our predicament, and to make us into His disciples. The very first step of that process is to discover that we are sinful, selfish, lustful, and unloving, even in the midst of our most altruistic, "good" by human standards acts and words.
In short, any politician really wanting to be a "good" politician must begin with the self-project, what AA calls a "fearless self-inventory."
Redemption of a world begins with the smallest world, my own.
Or, as St. Francis put it, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”
So, as one sinner to another, can we get started?
* The "whatthehelen" blog site was pulled down within hours of the election ending. Another site has since taken the URL, but is missing most of the content the first site had.
** NIMBY = "Not In My Own Backyard" and refers to political liberals who suddenly become conservative when faced with the implications of progressive liberalism in their own neighborhoods.