A Place for Cafe Refugees and Others Like Them


If the ten days which have just ended had a message for this Jew, it was in the Hebrew word Hineni: “here I am.” This space will not dwell on the spiritual meaning of the word or its significance in a religious sense. This is not the place for such essays. Here is such a place, if you are interested, and, indeed, it is that sermon (including some comments with which I do not agree and not simply the ones about a horrible baseball game from 1978) is one of the reasons the word has particular resonance at this moment.

In the world of the less mystical, though, hineni means that punditry and hand wringing aside, we remain dedicated to the causes that have brought us together here and elsewhere, that elected Franklin Roosevelt to alter government’s mission in 1932, that elected Harry Truman to tell Republicans that the immediate postwar period was not a time to turn back, but to move forward into the greatest period of prosperity the nation has ever known, that elected Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to carry that mission to its next logical place, and, finally to elect President Obama to restore our country as the place of hope and dreams and progress and the example to the world of what can be done when people work together.

Over the past weeks, the President has (belatedly, yes) made that point as forcefully and as clearly as it can ever be made, and his comments this week were the most direct we have heard in a long time.


You have every right to keep the heat on me and keep the heat on the Democrats, and I hope you do. That’s how our political process works. (Applause.)

But don’t forget who is standing with you, and who is standing against you. (Applause.) Don’t ever believe that this election coming up doesn’t matter. Don’t forget who secured health care for 4 million children, including the children of legal immigrants. Don’t forget who won new Pell Grants… Don’t forget who fought for credit card reform, a new agency to protect consumers from predatory lending, and protections for folks who send remittances back home. Don’t forget who cut taxes for working families. Don’t forget who your friends are.

and then:

This is a tough election season. People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. And a lot of them are scared. And a lot of them are anxious. And that means that even when people don’t have ideas, if they’ve got enough money behind them, they may be able to convince some folks that, you know what, just cast a protest vote, throw the bums out. That’s a mentality that has an appeal. And you can’t blame folks for feeling that way sometime. But that’s not a future for our country, a country that’s more divided, that’s more unequal, that’s less dynamic, where we’re falling behind in everything from investment in infrastructure to investment in R&D. That’s not a vision for the future.

And if that’s not a future you accept for this nation, if that’s not the future you want for your kids and for your grandkids, then we are asking you for help in this election.

Because if you don’t think the stakes are large — and I want you to consider this — right now, all across the country, special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates. Because last year, there was a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. They’re allowed to spend as much as they want without ever revealing who’s paying for the ads. That’s exactly what they’re doing. Millions of dollars. And the groups are benign-sounding: Americans for Prosperity. Who’s against that? Or Committee for Truth in Politics. Or Americans for Apple Pie. Moms for Motherhood. I made those last two up.

None of them will disclose who’s paying for these ads. You don’t know if it’s a Wall Street bank. You don’t know if it’s a big oil company. You don’t know if it’s an insurance company. You don’t even know if it’s a foreign-controlled entity.

In some races, they are spending more money than the candidates…. They’re spending more money than the parties. They want to take Congress back and return to the days where lobbyists wrote the laws. It is the most insidious power grab since the monopolies of the Gilded Age. That’s happening right now. So there’s a lot of talk about populist anger and grassroots. But that’s not what’s driving a lot of these elections.

We tried to fix this, but the leaders of the other party wouldn’t even allow it to come up for a vote. They want to keep the public in the dark. They want to serve the special interests that served them so well over the last 19 months.

We will not let them. We are not about to allow a corporate takeover of our democracy. We’re not about to go back to the days when special interests took advantage of Main Street families. We’re not going to go back to the days when insurance companies wrote the rules that let you languish without health care because you had a preexisting condition. We’re not going to go back to the exact same agenda we had before I took office.

A lot has changed since that last election, but what hasn’t changed is the choice facing this country. It is still fear versus hope. It is still the past versus the future. It is still a choice between sliding backwards and moving forward. That is what this election is about. That’s the choice you will face in November


He is, as so often he is, very right. The election is not about whether Muslims should be allowed to build on property they own, even if it is close to a place where other Muslims attacked our country and killed innocent people who were just trying to go to work. It is not about whether government should enforce what some people call “family values” (and, by the way, it is hard to ignore that they hold their family values forum on a day when Jews are otherwise occupied).

The election is not about whether the President’s strategy in dealing with Congress was right or wrong or whether he was naive in trying to find a way to gain the support of Republicans. It is not about whether Vice President Cheney belongs in prison or not, whether you agree with every position the Justice Department takes in litigation against the United States, or with the conduct of the wars your fellow countrymen and women wholeheartedly supported when they begun, though some of that support was obtained through lies and fear.

It is, though, partly about what has happened to the Republican Party. There have been bumpy times before, but today, where one of two major political parties shows no interest in governing, and is solely interested in scoring political points, is a real low point in American history and, very possibly it is a dangerous one.

Yes, the rhetoric against the New Deal was as incendiary, if not more so, than what we hear today, nobody seriously considering filibusters to stop it, though the votes were there at least in the Senate elected with President Roosevelt in 1932. Even the well more than two-thirds Democratic controlled Senate elected in 1934 because the majority was built on he pre-Civil Rights Act “solid south” whose members were hostile to the New Deal which provoked the President to, unwisely as it turned out, to try to run alternative candidates to unseat them.

The limitations on what a president can do alone, even a President Roosevelt, even in the midst of a Depression, underscore what our current president is up against. It is a country which disdains facts and science, for hokum and posturing, so that off the wall claims that global warming is no threat, despite scientific evidence that it is, make it impossible to respond in a meaningful way. More immediately significantly, the Congress we have now, and certainly the one we will have in January, has, we are told has “no appetite” for new government spending, despite the overwhelming unemployment we continue to endure with no end, and no alternative plan, in sight.

The New Deal was born of an American altruism, a desire to do right by our citizens, but also, and perhaps more importantly, by a fear that a continuation of our decline could lead to the same revolutions which brought fascism and communism to Europe in the aftermath of the first world war. The movers and shakers, at least those not obsessed with trying to make as much as quickly as possible, knew the need for radical changes in the relationship of the federal government to the states and to the people and even if they nominally opposed the New Deal, were unwilling to get in the way. (The more insulated Supreme Court did not quite follow along, until the President’s threats caused some retirements and reconsideration.)

As Paul Krugman has explained, by the time World War II ended, the changes wrought by the New Deal were accepted by both parties, and the prosperity ushered in during that period is the one we so miss today. The Great Reagan and his evil acolyte, Newt Gingrich led the way to dismantling this consensus, aided by timid and weak faux (non-New Deal, and southern born) Democratic presidents.

So, today, there are no wise heads in the Republican Party, or at least none with any influence. They have either given in (Sen McCain), tried to fade into the woodwork (Lugar, Collins, Snowe), left office (Whitman of New Jersey, Hagel, Chaffee) or flat out switched parties (Spector). What’s left is just more noise.

If none of this moves you enough to vote and urge others to do so, you are a lost cause. You have, for the moment, a constitutional right to complain about what follows, but I have a constitutional right to simply sneer right back at you.

This is a time to show that we are still here and that we will not let our country slide into becoming another backward state. To again borrow from Murrow’s warnings about another crisis at another time, and to paraphrase his message:

This is no time for [those who do not like the direction of our politics] to keep silent…. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.


One final note: In a fairly simple sense for the blogging world hineni also means this. I am here. If the beloved TPM Cafe has closed to those of us who do not pontificate for a living, or who have otherwise attracted the attention of TPM’s overseers, Barth and his alter ego will live on: at the obviously difficult Daily Kos, and Barth’s homebase, The Public Servant in the same way as for the past few years.

These ravings of a lunatic will, at least for the time being, also appear at three places either discovered or recently discovered the wake of the demise of the TPM Cafe: Once Upon a TPM, TPMAholics and Dagblog. All three are quite worthwhile places to graze upon wisdom and to feed upon great and insightful writing, and are worth visiting even without the stuff thrown about under this name.


Comments on: "Hineni" (14)

  1. This post is sorely needed. Thank you for being “here” and writing it and reminding us of what we have accomplished, and what we need to do next.

  2. another trope said:

    Thanks. I agree with Lis that is sorely needed. Sometimes we can, in all the hoopla, lose perspective.

    I would add that is indeed a place to dwell on the spiritual meaning of the word or its significance in a religious sense. The people here understand that our journey down the spiritual path, the political path, the poetic path, etc are all tied together. I would welcome your thoughts on the spiritual meaning of Hineni.

    • Agreed, as would I. It’s no coincidence that, if you break down the categories of posts here at Once Upon, “politics” of course is the most used category, but “life” and “spirituality” are looking to catch up quite quickly. I, for one, think that’s a good thing.

      • My only reservation about “going spiritual” is that while I want to convince others of my political views, proselytizing or suggesting that the things I believe on faith should be accepted by others as, ummm, gospel, is not something I can do. I urge, indeed, that those whose faith tells them something about stem cell research, to follow what they believe, but not insist that the rest of us are also required to do so.

        I will not try to convince anybody that Moses actually encountered a burning bush which was not being consumed by the fire. It is, to my mind, a fable, anyway. What it says, though, about Moses’ announcement to God that he was present—hineni—and prepared to do what was required, well, that is what this post was intended to convey: the need to be present and to do what needs to be done.

        Were I to address what the week meant in a spiritual sense I would point actually to the Ashamnu during the Kol Nidre service on Friday night. A congregational confession of our own sins certainly could apply to many, many others who, too,

        “abuse…betray…are cruel…destroy…embitter…falsify…gossip…hate…insult…jeer…lie…mock…neglect…oppress [and]pervert [and who are] violent…wicked [and] extremists”

        We recited al cheit to ask for forgiveness. I suspect there are quite a few outside Reform Judaism who might consider doing the same thing.

        In any event, I really can’t improve much on many parts of Rabbi Saith’s sermon to which I linked though I believe that the new technology—aside from allowing me to “attend” high holy day services— is, far and away, on balance, one of the few things that suggest we can survive as a democratic republic.

        • another trope said:

          I understand what you say. But I would just add that I think some of us find value in hearing others discuss their own path of translating their spiritual ideals into the own life. It is not about saying you have to believe this way. Just this is my path. In a way, here I am, if i be so bold as to talk this phrase for my own purposes.

          I think one of the challenges in our society today (that Park51 shows us if nothing else) is how do we live in a truly “multicultural” society in a way we just don’t tolerate one another (because as one character said in Angels in America – taken out of the movie version which irked me to no end – when the shit hits the fan tolerance turns to nothing) but actually embrace the other without trepidation.

          And we can only achieve this by talking about our spiritual life from a personal level. Not that you have to go down this path. But it’s just I would love to hear your personal take on these things, in part because you’re such a great writer.

          • Yes, what trope said. I’d like to add, Barth, that I’ve recently been starting my own home study of comparative religions and have found your links, as well as Thera’s, to be very beneficial. I may be an agnostic but I definitely have a spiritual bent. I think many of us here do, no matter what our personal religious beliefs are.

            • First of all, this is why I used to go to the Cafe and why I am so—beyond comprehension—pleased to see all of this continue here. Wow and, then again, wow.

              One of the benefits—one of the teachings—of Reform Judaism is its emphasis on what works; what has meaning.

              Many non-Reform Jews enter our temples or synagogues and are aghast at seeing or hearing what they equate with Christianity. (I even heard those mumbles from members of my extended family at my own bar mitzvah a century and a half ago.)

              But what they did not like, I crave. English—so that I can understand the messages and Hebrew—for its beauty and to deepen the meaning. The music, some of it stolen from Protestant liturgy I guess, but sung to concepts that had meaning to me once and does so, again, today.

              So, yes, I believe in God in the sense of something bigger than humanity and beyond science. And as I have written before, many times but starting here, that the fact that a young woman who was educated in Orthodox schools has given force to my own view of this stuff is both incredible and uplifting.

              This week brought me even closer to the Reform Judaism of my childhood when I heard Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, as eloquent a speaker as I have ever heard (imagine if President Kennedy had been a New York Jew—a bit of a stretch, I know, but….). On Rosh hashanah he talked about his own youth growing up Reform amidst the Orthodox in the Bronx. Those days were only slightly before my own, and well before Regina Spektor showed up the Bronx, but I will bet all three of us, and many people, Jewish or otherwise who post here, would share Rabbi Rubinstein’s affection for teachings about

              the equality, dignity and rights of all races and religions in this country, a principle which we would do well to reconfirm today. We believed in the commanding principles of ethical monotheism as majestically presented by the Biblical prophets and didn’t care at all about the restrictions of Jewish law about which we knew nothing.

  3. another trope said:

    I can’t help connect “here I am” to TheraP’s blog regarding being “nailed to the present moment.” In both there is a implied responsibility to act, morally, ethically. But also to be open to what is the actuality of landscape. I am here, but the here is what it is, not what I want it to be or was persuaded it to be.

  4. Very well put.

    Only if there is a chorus of ‘Hineni’ – or Here WE are – will we prevail. Thank you for this

  5. another trope said:

    I can only imagine how painful it was to read the beginning of Rabbi Maurice Salth’s sermon. 😉 But I think what he has to say is so right on. And at the same time there is a community here and elsewhere that goes beyond someone texting a customer while their kid plays at the park. How we align our relationships and spirituality with this exploding technology around us is one of the challenges facing us in the modern world. His sermon is a must read.

    • Yes. I especially like this bit:

      “Every week we read stories about technology making someone’s life miserable. But technology is value-neutral. Technologies are tools. It is humans that build them and use them; we are the heart of this issue.”

  6. Yes. You put it well, as I think the rabbi did, too. Pretending that we have not benefited from this new world is asinine, really. Using it to spread some canard about the President being the reincarnation of his father, is another. It is not the technology at fault. It is the fact that we live with a ton of evil

  7. Many of the Jewish prophet answered God’s call in exactly those words: Here I am. Another one said: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

    And I add my voice to the chorus interested in your personal faith journey. I’m saying: “Speak Barthe. Your servant is listening.”

    We are all prophets, in a sense, for one another. I’ve always been interested in people’s faith or even unfaith. For example, Lis’s agnosticism is a wonderfully authentic position to take. If you don’t know, it takes courage to admit that. And the truth is, even for those of us who follow a path, often we “don’t know” – even if we’re still “here”.

    A famous American psychiatrist, Harry Stack Sullivan, said: “We are all more simply human than otherwise.” And part of being human, I think, is to seek meaning, even to endow meaning.


  8. P.S. Sometimes I push the “like” button for the comments. I did that for that very long comment thread where we talked about the demise (or not) of reader blogs at TPM.

    In a moment, I’m going to push the LIKE button above – especially FOR THE COMMENTS!

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