Archive for March, 2010

Violence

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely”
Luke 3:14

In the run up to the passage of the Healthcare bill there were clear attempts to intimate lawmakers into changing their votes.

Since the passage of the bill, the threats of violent reprisals have only escalated.

Death threats have poured in to the offices of Louise Slaughter and Bart Stupak. A propane line at the home of Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello’s brother was slashed, and in a gesture with less-than-subtle symbolism, a coffin was placed on Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan’s lawn. More than 100 House Democrats met with representatives from the Capitol Police and FBI on Wednesday, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said at least 10 Democrats have been given enhanced protection.” Time

Speaker Pelosi had it right when she said that “words have power”.

We have already seen what happens when public figures label individual physicians as “baby killers”. Individuals take it on themselves to exact vigilante justice and people get killed.

The same thing is going on here.

Talk show hosts and political leaders are using inflammatory language to advance their cause with little regard to the consequences of their actions.

I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” Minority Leader Boehner said. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable.”

Rather than acknowledgment any responsibility for the unstable state of their supporters, Republicans are blaming Democrats, not only for the setting these wing nuts off, but then for going public with the death threats and vandalism to their homes and offices. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s defense was classic.  Blame the victim.  He said that it was “reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain.”

That may be so, but wasn’t it MORE reckless to encourage this behavior to begin with?

Didn’t he figure that some people were likely to act out when his party called the Healthcare bill tyrannical and totalitarian? Boehner called the vote on the bill “Armageddon” and predicted that Ohio Rep. Driehaus would be a “dead man” as a result because he represents a Republican district in Cincinnati.

How did they think that this contingent of radicalized conservatives was going to react?

This is the worst of the Republican “Big Lie” politics.

The “Big Lie” in this case was that the American people overwhelmingly opposed this legislation.

Prior to it’s passage, the Rassmussen Poll reported a fairly consistent 54% opposed to healthcare legislation . Gallup researchers said that number included at least 4% who felt the plan didn’t go far enough. The day after the bill was passed, the Gallup poll showed 49% approved the bill’s passage and only 41% disapproved.

This is not a picture of “overwhelming” opposition. It is the picture of a country deeply divided.

Other countries may have to resort to violence or mob role to resolve their differences. We have another peaceful option. It’s called the ballot box.

The Republicans used this Big Lie in an attempt to subvert the normal democratic process. They knew they didn’t have the votes in Congress. So they, and the right wing media, intentionally created an angry mob in an attempt to subvert the process. They portrayed it as a patriotic act, but it was very much the opposite.

Both they and the media ignored the fact that these same American people elected our current President based in part on his promise to do exactly what he did. Even though this was fulling a campaign promise, Republicans portrayed it as a tyrannical act.

The only tyranny here was the rule of the majority. Which is one of the basic tenants of our democracy.

 At the end of the day, the Republicans lost on a fair legal vote. They didn’t have the votes because they didn’t have the overwhelming support of American people that they claimed. The problem now is that they and their supporters have nowhere to go.

They have lit the fuse on this powder keg of discontent that they created in a two year effort to derail the Obama Presidency.

They can’t apologize for holding up the business of the people for the past two years. They have no choice but to continue with the same scorched earth tactics which weaken our democracy, sow the seeds of dissension, and undermine the public’s confidence in the institutions of government.

By condemning violence and blasting Democrats in the same breath, Republican leaders implicitly validate the anger spurring these incidents. Instead of defusing the situation, this sort of response only escalates it.

It is possible that some moderate Republicans may attempt to break this pattern and work with the Democrats on future issues, but there are so few moderate Republicans left in Congress that this will at best be a token effort.

Now Republicans at the state level are pilling on in an attempt to burnish their conservative bona fides. They are mounting challenges to this law that they know will fail. A constitutional law professor at Wayne State said, “any first year law student knows that states cannot defy the federal government”.

As President Obama said, “this is what change looks like”. Unfortunately, its not a very pretty sight and I’m concerned that someone may get hurt because of this cynical and reckless behavior.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Some thoughts from the last round of public political theater – a morality play in four acts played out in the early spring of 2010 in Washington DC.

Act 1 – Bring in the Clowns
The country finally had to confront the real character of the Tea Party. What started months ago under the guise of a populist response to concerns about intrusive government, quickly morphed into an angry unruly mob. What started out as a media sponsored stunt to disrupt public meetings has grown to a radical conservative ethic that leaves no room for opposing views. Joe Wilson raised a lot of money and became a media darling for disrupting a Presidential speech by calling him a liar. Congressional Democrats had to run a gauntlet of racial and homophobic slurs, physical threats, and virtually every other form of hate speech imaginable. During the debate, Congressional Republicans came off the floor to lead the mob in chants of “kill the bill”. It got to the point where local police were concerned for their safety. The culmination was Republican Randy Neugebauer flinging the “baby killer” epithet at the most pro-life Democrat on the planet, Bart Stupak.

Act 2 – In Pelosi we trust
This was a tour de force for the majority leader. What she lacks in public speaking, she more than made up for in political skill. She leveraged her majority to pass a very controversial bill in the face of the most organized and powerful forces every aligned against a bill’s passage. For months, the Republicans have been winning the public opinion battle by painting the Democrats as unable to govern and unresponsive to the American people. Polls plunged and the Republican victory in Massachusetts was hailed as the beginning of a new age of Republican ascendency.

Passage of this bill demonstrated that those claims were hollow and gave strength to the Democratic argument that it is the Republicans who have been preventing the government from doing the people’s business. In another swift turnabout, she positioned the Democrats as the real party of the people. That’s because the Democratic party embraces broader spectrum of opinions than the Republican party. It may take a while longer to reach consensus, she said, but Democratic proposals are a better reflection of the diversity of the American people as a result.

Act 3 – Stupak secure
The real winner was Bart Stupak. He went three for three. He wielded his small coalition of pro-life democrats to extract a commitment from a pro-choice President to rigorously enforce the Hyde Amendment. This satisfied his backers in the Catholic Church. He delivered the votes to pass the Healthcare Bill. This made him a hero to those Democrats who don’t share his views on abortion. Finally, he delivered the most dramatic moment of the evening after the bill passed. Republicans made an impassioned plea to send the bill back to committee to add back the anti-abortion language that Bart Stupak had originally authored. This was a long shot attempt to peal off some Democrats who may have been concerned about casting what the Republicans were certain to characterize as a “pro-choice” vote. Stupak was the only person in that chamber with the credibility to call this maneuver out for what it really was. When he rose to speak, he condemned the Republican motion as politically motivated and passionately characterized the Healthcare Reform bill as genuinely “pro-life”, thus giving cover for any that might have been wavering. Thus he not only gained immediate forgiveness for his threat to scuttle healthcare reform, but re-established himself as a Democrat in high standing with the rest of the party.

Act 4 – There’s no place like home
The Republican Party now knows the risks of playing the wicked witch. The Democratic Party found their Dorothy in Stupak. His water bucket was full and his aim was true. The public are now witnessing the spectacle of opposition to healthcare reform melting away and perhaps the Republican party with it.

The Republicans bet the farm on their ability to defeat President Obama on healthcare. They sold their soul in the process. They embraced Tea Party radicalism. They bent the truth past the breaking point. They nearly ground the government to a halt a year. They unleashed a great tornado of fear and hate that continues to churn. But in the end, they failed.

As a result, it isn’t clear at this point what they really stand for other than more fear and hate. Fortunately that’s not what most American’s want. You can be sure that Democrats in November will point that out. That’s because at the end of the day, what the American people voted for in 2008 was hope for a better world rather than fear of a worse one. While there are still a lot of things to be concerned about, my sense is that the voting public is tired of being frightened.

I believe that this hope for a better world and a brighter future is still alive. This bill is the first substantive evidence from this administration of their commitment to deliver on that promise. My bet is the American people will reward this effort because we care about our neighbors and know that there is no place like home.

Liberty

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” II Peter 2:19

Let’s look at the curious confluence of libertarianism and populism.  As the Bible says, you have to be careful about those who promise liberty, but are in fact in pursuit of something quite different.

First a couple of definitions.

Libertarianism can thrive at either end of the political spectrum. In this country, libertarianism is generally associated with conservative political movements. In other parts of the world, libertarians are also proudly socialists. That’s what makes this particular philosophy so difficult to pin down.

In this country libertarianism is generally closely aligned with the belief that the free market is the best delivery mechanism for all services but defense, government is generally the problem rather than the solution, and people (like markets) are best when they are most free to make their own decisions.

Populism is the belief that there is an inherent wisdom in the common man. It manifests itself in this current political climate as a deep distrust of science and academia. Populist movements in this country have popped up during times of economic or social disruption. William Jennings Bryan rode a wave of populism to three unsuccessful presidential bids around the turn of the past century. More recently Ross Perot also ran for President on a populist platform in the mid 90′s. The Luddite movement during the early days of the industrial revolution is a good example of a populist political reaction to social and economic changes.

So why now and what does all of it mean?

Why now is because we are at a time when the country is deeply divided, economically fragile, and people are afraid.

Evidence is the rise of libertarian figures like Ron Paul and populist figures like Sarah Palin.

There are two things that bother me about the process.

First, I have a problem with populism, particularly in today’s climate. At it’s core, it is an emotional response to the pressures brought on by economic and/or social change. Rather than embrace the change, populists look for people to blame for the fact that their world is changing. Rather than question why their world view appears out to be out of sync with the facts, they attack scientists and academics as the ones who have caused the changes that frighten them.

What the populists end up doing is slowing the process of change and prolonging the pain that radicalized them in the first place. They eventually die and their children resume the process of figuring out how to be successful members of society.

Second, I have a problem with libertarianism when combined with populism. I don’t have a problem with the philosophy of libertarianism. My problem that rather explore libertarianism as a philosophy, populists reject research and study. Instead they trust demagogues who inevitably rise to positions of leadership because they promise simple answers to complex questions. For example, the reason you can’t find a job is because the government is too big.

So that brings us to today.

We have an emerging populist movement, tea parties, that have adopted an abbreviated form of libertarianism because it allows them to distance themselves from established parties. As evidence of their influence, the CPAC conference in Washington selected Ron Paul as the front-running presidential candidate in a straw poll of delegates. 

Fox, who feels they can take some credit for this movement, is using their growth in viewers to legitimize their propaganda as news and touts Glen Beck as their leading self-proclaimed libertarian.

I think that few in tea party movement really understand what libertarianism means. Among other things, it means government out of all aspects of our personal lives. No drug laws, gay marriage, no public education, no prohibitions on child pornography, the end of social security, medicare, medicaid, the federal deposit insurance corporation, all regulations, all taxes (other than for defense), OSHA, EPA, Head Start, WIC, ADC, CDC, and more. There are libertarians who even object to mandatory immunization and traffic signals.

I heard a libertarian the other day supporting the supreme court’s defeat of election laws restricting campaign financing. His logic was that the only way libertarian candidates are going to get elected is to have the support of wealthy individuals or corporations. So he was all for it.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The bottom line is for this country to move forward, we have to get past ideology and get down to getting things done. No populist movement in this country has ever garnered more that 15% of the vote. This is not what people want. But there are a lot of people who have figured out how to make money off these frightened people, so they want to see this go as far and as fast as possible. 

These are the folks that the Bible warned us of.  From Savonarola to Beck, there always seem to be room at the head of a mob.