Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives’

The Thinker

Running scared

What would you do if you knew that your life, as you have known it, was going to change fundamentally? Great traumatic events happen to us in our lives, but none of us welcome them. When they happen, we tend to seek out the comfort of the known rather than confront the discomfort of the unknown.

Many Japanese warriors at the end of World War II preferred what they saw as suicide with dignity – crashing their aircraft into enemy aircraft carriers or self-immolation – to defeat and living in a world that was ordered fundamentally differently than the way they were raised. Others will instead find ways to resist. They think that change can be stopped somehow, and they will simply resist it to the last fiber of their being. And so they turn their houses into fortresses, buy arsenals of guns and create a fallout shelter stocked with years of food, water, medicines and other perishables.

Something like this is happening right now across much of Red America. They smell the winds of change. For years they have ignored it by expressing the opinion that while things may be changing out there it won’t happen here. At some point though the smell becomes too pervasive. Up go defenses and the barricades. For many in power though it means that they feel compelled to use it to their utmost advantage. It means highly gerrymandered districts allowing ever more extreme people to get elected to Congress. It also means creating laws that are clearly unconstitutional (like Missouri granting its citizens exemption from certain federal gun laws) to intrusive for people you don’t like (unnecessary vaginal ultrasounds for women prior to an abortion). It means that their values must be promoted with no exceptions. So out go textbooks that say evolution is established science and in come textbooks that promote creationism instead. You tighten the screws even more on the poor by reducing food stamps and making it harder to get on Medicaid. You sign laws that do away with early voting on weekends because you don’t want that kind to vote anyhow. You are running scared.

It’s quite an ordeal. In fact, the late Eric Hoffer wrote a book about it, The Ordeal of Change, which is an interesting read if you have the time. If you looked at our changing demographics and have read Hoffer’s book, what’s happening today should not be a surprise. In fact, it is entirely predictable. What’s going on in Red America has happened lots of times before and will keep happening in the future. We are now in the “no compromises to encroaching reality” phase of this ordeal of change.

Civilized people of course recognize that change can mean that long established social systems can be reordered. When it appears inevitable, we will seek to make change as easy as possible, to minimize anger and hurt. It’s not always possible, however. The denial phase seems to be in Red America’s rear view mirror, but the anger phase certainly isn’t. They feel terribly hurt because their society is fundamentally changing, and fear it will leave them in a less privileged place when complete.

So the anger gets expressed in laws that even ten years ago they would not have considered, such as transvaginal ultrasounds for pregnant women who want an abortion. They feel they must dish out in pain at least as much as they perceive they are receiving in pain. Why do they do this? Part of it is reflexive meanness toward those not like them, but part of it is also because when anger is served out, its recipients tend to hurt too. Most people give wide berth to bullies. By acting like bullies, they are ultimately hoping we will leave them alone.

In this context, a lot of what is going on in Red America and by Republicans in Congress begins to make sense. If you accept that the Affordable Care Act is the institutionalized law of the land then you realize that you can really only amend it, not repeal it. However, if your lines are drawn and your barricades are in place then you are left with a no surrender mentality. At least so far, there is no sign of surrendering to the rule of law. Republicans will accept nothing less than the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. They cannot even come up with a coherent replacement for it, in part because they reject the premise that our old system was not perfect. If they reject what was, then in some way they must also agree that their values were either incorrect or unworkable in the modern context. That creates cognitive dissonance, so it is repressed through the mechanism that tells them, like it told Commander Taggert, to “Never give up, never surrender.”

It is increasingly clear that marriage will soon be available to anyone regardless of their sexual orientation. The Supreme Court has pretty much declared at the federal level that doing otherwise is unconstitutional, because it gives privileges to one sort of citizen unavailable to another. Moreover, because of the Supremacy Clause in the constitution, federal law trumps state law when the two conflict. Consequently, entirely reasonable federal judges are invalidating state marriage laws across the country, even in deeply red states like Oklahoma and Utah. While good for gays and lesbians, it is not so good for those whose values are invalidated through the process of law. To some extent, their anger is counterproductive, because it stokes more anger, and adds to feelings of oppression and righteousness.

It’s unclear how this will all end. Change driven by demographics and social trends can be temporarily stymied but is rarely thwarted. It would help if Red America could look at the larger picture and take comfort from it. Our worship of capitalism will likely keep a large and poor working class for them to look down on. Also, anti-abortion laws will ensure a large population of poor people. Their churches will still be around when this is over, but the demographics will probably mean fewer of us will be in church. The people around us will be more multihued, but they already are: Red America simply isn’t looking close enough. For the most part, people will continue to cloister by combinations of race and class, as they have always done. In short, a lot of the angst from Red America, while predictable, is perhaps too much ado about much less change than they thought.

This should be a source of some comfort. Ultimately though few will understand what all the fuss was about. Only cranks complain about mixed race marriages today. In twenty years the same will be true with those complaining about gay marriage. Getting to the tranquil future from the enraged present though is likely to continue to be trying.

 
The Thinker

Hurricane Sandy reminds us why we need government

With the arrival of Hurricane Sandy here on the east coast yesterday, you got a timely reminder of why we need government. Yesterday was a day when you wanted to batten down the hatches and if you lived in certain areas also pray like hell. Unless you own a boat or ship you probably didn’t have to literally batten down any hatches, although I have to wonder if failure to do so lead to the sinking of the HMS Bounty during the storm.

For most of us storm preparation meant cleaning out gutters, removing chairs from our decks, testing the sump pump, stocking up on batteries, toilet paper and bottled water, and finding places for our automobiles away from trees. It worked for us here in Oak Hill, Virginia. Sandy dumped more rain than wind on us. Nearby Washington Dulles International Airport reported 5.4 inches of rain during the event, with peak sustained winds of 39 miles an hour, with gusts to 54 miles an hour. We also had a day of record low pressure, something I attribute to climate change. As hurricanes go this was a bizarre one. No tropical air and foggy windows this time, but cold air fed by a cold front on the other side of the Appalachians, driving rain for more than a day, and blustery winds yesterday afternoon and evening. Our house, windows and floorboards rattled from time to time, but the power and heat stayed on and we never lost Internet.

News reports indicated that millions of others are still without power. Sandy left much of New Jersey and lower Manhattan destroyed and/or underwater. I am monitoring my hometown of Binghamton, which likely has not seen the worst of Sandy yet. The area suffered two devastating floods in 2005 and 2010. This may be yet another one for that suffering area to endure. But its impact will be softened, thanks to local, state and federal emergency managers. Thanks should also be given to President Obama, who declared areas disaster areas before the storm hit, to speed aid and supplies.

The list of people and organizations to thank are immense. There is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinates disaster relief and works intimately with the states to stage disaster relief supplies. There is the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, which effectively tracked the storm and issued the correct warnings. There is the Coast Guard, various governors, state and local emergency responders, power crews, ambulance drivers and cops on the beat.

Some of the best results were things that did not happen. My roof did not blow off or collapse. This did not happen by magic, but was the result of building codes and building inspections. In 1985 when my house was constructed, Fairfax County sent out inspectors to make sure my house was constructed to a code that would allow it to endure major storms like Sandy. In 1999 we replaced our deck and enclosed it. “Big government” building inspectors took a look at the roof of our new deck and told the contractors it was not up to code. They were forced to add additional beams to support the roof.

There is more evidence of big government across the street from my house. There a large dry pond sits awaiting events like Hurricane Sandy. It safely collects backwater then funnels it into the nearby creek in a measured manner, minimizing flood damage. Even in the event that it overfilled the dry pond, the codes required the road to be graded in a certain way to keep the water flowing gently downhill, never leaving a spot on the road for water to accumulate. Before the community was even constructed, an engineering study was ordered to make sure no part of our community was in a flood zone. Had these safeguards not been in place, it is likely that we would have experienced some storm damage last night. Possibly me and some of my neighbors would be dislocated, injured or dead. Big government could not eliminate these risks, but through a planning and an impartial inspection process it minimized these risks. One of the reasons our power never went out is because power lines are underground in our neighborhood, another outcome of big government. Doubtless it would have been cheaper to plant telephone polls instead.

Much of the wheels of government work this way. It’s the things that you don’t see and take for granted that minimize losses and deaths during these natural events. All these services cost money, but they cost less because their costs are borne generally through taxes. The cost per capita for the National Weather Service is a couple of dollars per year.

FEMA is an example of the services that Mitt Romney plans to drastically cut if he is elected president. And yet many of these services are already chronically underfunded and if anything need more funds. Moreover, the cost of funding these arguably essential areas of government are a pittance compared to the cost of entitlements and defense. At least now Romney claims says he won’t cut FEMA. But clearly you cannot balance a budget and not raise taxes if you don’t cut something. If you won’t do much to cut entitlements and keep bloating the Defense Department’s budget, these essential government services must be drastically cut.

You can say, as many conservatives do, it is better to leave it to the states to handle these things. But hurricanes do not respect state boundaries. It makes no sense for each state to have a redundant weather service when it can be done nationally. The whole point of having a United States is to ensure that if some states have to deal with disaster, we can pick up their slack by everyone contributing aid through federal taxes. We need these services because we are all in this together. These services are not nice to have; they are essential. We are bigger than the sum of our parts because we are united and federated.

Also essential is the infrastructure that makes all this possible. We need the National Science Foundation to stimulate research in national areas of interest. We need my agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, to do seismological research, biodiversity estimates and to monitor the nation’s streams and groundwater, so the National Weather Service can make flood and drought forecasts. We need the FDA to make sure our drugs are safe, agricultural inspectors to make sure our food is safe, ICE to handle illegal and legal immigrants, and the FBI to investigate intrastate crimes. Maybe if push came to shove we can do without funding Big Bird or sending probes to Mars. These costs are mere pocket change in the federal budget.

As I have noted before, taxes are the price of civilization. If this is not clear to you, then elect Republicans and watch as our highways and bridges deteriorate, our children become unable to afford college, watch our food become impure, our drugs become adulterated and see legions of poor and starving people living on the streets because no one will house them or feed them. Expect that when some future Hurricane Sandy arrives, the size of the problem will needlessly mushroom simply because we as a society have decided we have stopped caring for anyone but ourselves.

It’s your choice. I understand if your ideology tells you to vote Republican regardless, but the next Hurricane Sandy won’t care about your philosophy and you and your family may be needless victims. God gave us brains. Let’s use them.

 
The Thinker

We are not rocks, we are human beings

Psst! You are personally responsible for everything you do! Actually, in modern political discourse, this is not whispered so much as it is shouted. You hear it from Republicans and conservatives all the time. I can’t shout on a blog, but I can do something worse: use caps. So just in case you don’t get the message from the daily drumbeat of news, Republicans want you to know that YOU ARE PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING YOU DO.

And because you are personally responsible for everything you do, you can change your behaviors any time you want because you have this magic stuff called free will. You can do it, just like that! It’s easy! By taking personal responsibility for your health, for example, you could eat little but nuts and berries, plus run twenty miles a day. And if you made the personally responsible choice to marry and have children you are personally responsible for raising your kids, their behavior (at least until they turn eighteen), and eating little but nuts and berries, plus running twenty miles a day after work. You can do all this plus sleep eight hours a day, have a satisfying (missionary only position) sex life!

It turns out that if you practice personal responsibility, you can do everything right, manage everything perfectly and intuitively solve every personal problem. The inconvenient fact that trying to maintain perfect health and doing everything right for your spouse, family, parents, siblings and the community will prove humanly impossible is irrelevant. It’s far more important to know that you are personally responsible, and any deviation from the ideal of personal responsibility deserves nothing but contempt and scorn.

Yes, you are personally responsible even if you don’t have the means. You could have been abandoned by your parents as a child, forced to live in the streets (since Republicans don’t believe in a welfare state), end up selling your body to have food to eat, and you are still personally responsible for somehow getting an education on your own nickel, excelling in school, never breaking a law, living a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a roof over your head (a cardboard box will do in a pinch) and maintaining optimal health as well. When you are personally responsible you never, ever ask for a handout. The very idea! You are personally responsible and you are required to be completely self-sufficient. Got it?

Of course you do! You could not possibly miss the message these days, particularly since it is brought to you free of charge by overbearing, generally very well moneyed and often hypocritical Republicans, the vast majority of whom had parents who provided for all their needs, taught them they belonged to a privileged caste and now beneficently use some portion of their fortune to drum in the message continuously via the media. You know, like the Koch Brothers. You are contemptible if you fail to be one hundred percent personally responsible at all times. Actually, you are something close to toilet scum. We must all be the very model of a modern Major General, all the time. Just do it now and do it perfectly, for crying out loud!

There are all these additional temptations out there, just to truly test your mettle. Let’s not, for example, do what New York Mayor Bloomberg is doing, and try to limit the size of these supersized sodas sold in the city. After all, New Yorkers might actually get healthier without overt action. Rather, you must be personally responsible enough to understand that these empty calories will make you fat at very little expense, or at least you will if you spend your days obsessively plugged into various health oriented web sites, and of course being personally responsible, it’s something you must do. Armed with this knowledge that you will acquire from psychic vibrations coming through the ether if necessary, you will magically find the willpower to pass these endless temptations by. So don’t try to regulate these liquid empty calorie behemoths just because some mortals are weak. It’s anti-American. It’s too Big Brotherish. Worst of all, it’s anti-corporate.

However, the good part about personal responsibility is you also have freedom. So if you want, go ahead and indulge in a supersized Slurpee. And should you choose to get fat and develop Type II Diabetes, that’s okay too, providing not one cent of the costs of your choices are borne by anyone else. That’s the bottom line when it comes to personal responsibility. (Qualification: the above does not apply to the environment. Feel free to be personally reckless toward the environment. After all, God wants us to be.)

You would think though that with the ever-present mantra of personal responsibility many more of us would, well, actually behave in a personally responsible way. But for some reason most of us do not. In fact, consuming all those supersized Slurpees is evidence that most Americans, while they doubtless get the message, simply refuse to take it to heart. Because every year Americans on average gain more weight. At the same time, fewer of us have or can afford health insurance.

Naturally your environment has nothing to do with your problem. Even if it did, you can easily surmount it. You just aren’t bothering to try. The fact that you can hardly travel anywhere without seeing billboards for pizzas and junk food, or turn on the TV without seeing ads that promote an unhealthy lifestyle, is wholly irrelevant. Nor is the fact that your friends are also eating too much of the wrong stuff and for the most part not exercising relevant. Because if you are personally responsible, then by extension you must also believe that you are completely autonomous. You must also believe that all those connections and relationships don’t affect your behavior. Marines may have to go to Parris Island in order to get fit and learn to properly kill people. However, you can achieve personal responsibility all by yourself. Simply grab yourself by your bootstraps and pull. It’s that easy!

But for some reason Americans aren’t taking the message to heart! Every year we get fatter. Every year we exercise less. Every year we spend more time diddling with our smartphones rather than huffing on running the trails behind our house. Strangely, even most Republicans seem to be having problems with the personal responsibility thing. Or perhaps they are independently wealthy enough where they don’t care. Morbidly obese but excessively preachy Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey comes to mind. That’s the good thing about having wealth: you are exempt from the rules because you (probably) won’t be foisting off the costs of your unhealthy lifestyle on anyone else.

As always there is the ideal and then there is reality. It is true that we are personally responsible for the choices that we make. But that doesn’t mean we magically have happened to learn how to be personally responsible, or that they are innate skills inside us. Even if we do possess the skills, there is little likelihood that most of us, given the billions of possible choices available for any action, will always choose to behave at all times in a personally responsible way. Nor have most of us acquired the education and mentoring to learn how to make wise decisions. The skill has to come from somewhere. If we don’t possess it then we have to glean it from someone. A friend. A teacher. A minister. Someone. Except to acknowledge this, we also have to acknowledge that we depend on other people. We have to acknowledge that our world is relational, instead of each of us being beacons of individuality and self-sufficiency. We have to acknowledge that we are all connected. No, it is better to live in a fantasy world instead.

That won’t do, of course, so get with the program. A song will get you into the spirit. Find a guitar. And start belting out that 60’s song by Simon and Garfunkel:

I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

I’m betting while you are attempting to do so, you are suppressing a tear because you are just another human being with foibles like the rest of us and are grabbing another handful of Cheetos.

 
The Thinker

Little conservative about most conservatives

A couple of weeks ago I noted that many Christians are anything but Christian. In fact, it would be hard to find a group that looked more like the anti-Christ. So many modern Christians these days are obsessed with hating people. One of them was profiled on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday. Bryan Fischer is a rather obscure radio host associated with the American Family Association with about a million listeners. He was largely responsible for getting Richard Grenell fired from Mitt Romney’s team of advisors. Grenell was guilty of being gay, and that’s pretty much all that mattered to Fischer.

Grenell of course is hardly alone. Closer to (my) home was the recent case of Tracey Thorne-Begland, nominated by our conservative governor for a Richmond judgeship. The Virginia General Assembly rejected him on May 14th, because he was guilty of being gay. I mean it stands to reason that if someone is gay, they are by definition sinful and thus unqualified for public office, let alone judgeship. Duh! What was Governor McDonnell smoking? Yet despite this, the Richmond General District Court gave him a temporary appointment, and is hoping that when the general assembly meets next year it will have a change of heart. That seems unlikely. And this is a judgment from legislators who are overwhelmingly Christian who presumably would take to heart Jesus’s admonition not to judge others.

Today, I note something which should also not be too startling but which surprisingly gets little press. Most conservatives simply are not conservative. It’s hard to say exactly what they are, but I suspect a psychiatrist would suggest they suffer from multiple personality disorder.

Conservatives in general want to retain things they way things were. Many of these conservatives are conservative, if you don’t mind going back 500 years or so. The problem is that they frame themselves as constitutional conservatives. In doing so they assert that the original intent of those who wrote our constitution was quite a bit different than it actually was. Bryan Fischer, for example, can be fairly described as a Dominionist. Fischer asserts that what our founding fathers wanted was a Christian-only nation, and all our laws should have their basis in biblical law. The ultimate goal of Dominionists should look familiar to the religious conservatism also sweeping Islamic countries. The Muslim brotherhood hopes that this weekend Egyptians will elect their candidate as the new president. He is someone who wants to implement Sharia law in Egypt. Sharia law is religious law made secular law. It forces everyone to follow religious law. Dominionists want the United States to implement Christian law (whatever that is), and force everyone to abide by it as well, even if they are not Christian.

Never mind that “Christian law” is something of an oxymoron. Dominionists and many conservatives simply fail to recognize that this is the exact antithesis of the original intent of the constitution. It’s quite clear in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Our founders went out of their way to make it clear that someone’s religion was irrelevant to their public office: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

How much more original intent could possibly be required? As if the plain text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not enough, there are also the Federalist Papers, which make it clear this was the exact intent of our founding fathers. Nor did they intend to limit freedom of religions to Christians only. Writing to a Hebrew congregation in Rhode Island in 1790, George Washington wrote:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

This of course is but just one small example of where today’s conservatives are completely against the conservatism they claim to champion. Here are some others.

  • Environmentalism. Conservatives should treasure the environment. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, was very pro-environment and spent much of his presidency expanding our national parks and promoting the value and enjoyment of nature. Today’s conservatives think everyone has the right to trash the environment. Pretty soon the only use for guns will be to shoot your neighbor; there won’t be any animals left to shoot. Moreover, the glaciers will be gone, much of our shorelines will be underwater and our climate will be forever transformed specifically due to our controllable, human interactions with the environment. This is the “conserve” in conservatism?
  • Freedom. The original intent of our founding fathers was clearly to allow all citizens to enjoy the maximum amount of freedom and to tightly control how much of your freedom governments could take away. They were pro civil liberties, not anti civil liberties. The Declaration of Independence declares all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Specifically we were granted freedoms of religion (including tight controls on the regulation of religion by the government), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of petition. Citizens were specifically permitted Habeas Corpus, allowed trials by jury, could not be subjected to double jeopardy and were permitted not to incriminate themselves. All powers not specifically delegated to the federal or state governments were left to the people as a liberty by default.
  • Original intent. A true conservative who respects the constitution must also respect its amendment process, not assert that everything in it should be interpreted as it existed in 1790. Our founders specifically understood that circumstances change, but set a rather onerous bar for amending the constitution. The amendment process is clearly constitutional and because it is hard to do conservatives should respect it. They should be waiving flags of freedom that women and blacks got the right to vote, that eighteen year olds can vote and that citizens can now directly elect their senators.
  • Abortion. If personal freedom is the foundation of conservatism, why does a woman not have the freedom to choose what to do with her own pregnant body?
  • School vouchers. Public schools did not exist in 1790, with the possible exception of scattered public state universities. The government for the most part was not in the business of public education at all. Why should conservatives support giving government money to people so they can send their children to school? Why do the same with welfare, or health care? Isn’t this more redistribution of wealth?
  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide. If a good conservative believes in maximum freedom, why should a person not be allowed to die with dignity at a time of his or her own choosing?
  • Gun control. If a state and the federal government declare it has no need for a militia, why cannot a state regulate guns when the text of the Second Amendment specifically says that freedom to own guns is predicated on the need for the state to have a militia?
  • Same sex marriage. Why shouldn’t a citizen have the freedom to marry whoever they choose? Isn’t this in accord with conservative principles to maximize individual freedom?

I suspect that I, a progressive, am far more of a traditional conservative than the vast majority of conservatives who claim that label. I don’t know what these conservatives actually are, but they should stop soiling such a good term.

 

 
The Thinker

Unless

Winter never really arrived this year. Typically we don’t get much in the way of snowfall in a given winter, but the snowplows tend to come out at least a couple of times during the season. And they were out a couple of times this winter as well, but they were mostly sitting by the side of the road waiting for conditions to worsen, which they did not. Most of our snow this winter, to the extent we had it, was flurries. None of the snow that we received lasted a day or exceeded an inch. To the extent we saw snow, it was on the top of cars that had driven in from the Shenandoah Mountains or points further north and west.

Temperatures also were moderate. There was a cold day here and there. I only recall temperatures dipping into the teens once. I usually go through six to eight weeks of scraping the frost off my windshield most days. This year I performed the chore only a half dozen times. Technically it was winter, but in reality it was some new amorphous season for which we have no name. Neither fall nor spring but feeling not at all like winter, it was full of short days, with highs mostly in the fifties but sometimes in the seventies. March brought a couple of days with temperatures creeping into the low eighties. The grass in my yard started growing in early March. The wild onions were peaking up in January. The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin bloomed over the weekend: a surreally early start to spring that was (and still is) winter.

Thanks to climate change, we are likely to have to come up for a new name for winter because it no longer fits. On the plus side, our heating bill was manageable. No need to worry about frozen pipes, or being stuck in a snow bank. Only twice did I put on the heavy winter coat. A light jacket and some gloves were all I needed.

My wife wants to move further north to some place like Boston where winter is still cruel and still bites, and where you spend most mornings relocating snow off your driveway and digging a path to your mailbox. I’m pretty sure Bostonians did a whole lot less of that this year as well. Ski resorts spent much of the winter hunting for snow and customers. They created ski slopes loosely packed with artificial snow, which mostly vanished shortly after application. Out west, the usual mountain snowfalls largely never appeared. Westerners are already anxious about the probable drought they will be facing this summer.

One year does not a trend make, but one trend that is unmistakable is the rise in average global temperatures. There is about a one in three chance that this summer will be the hottest on record, again. It clearly won’t be much longer before the last of the Arctic sea ice melts during the summer. Much of it will reappear in the winter, but its gradual disappearance will lead to the extinction of many species that depend on the ice, like the polar bear. It is likely that extinction driven by climate change is already very much with us but we are simply not looking for it. Like a horse running a race with blinders, most of us simply choose to ignore the evidence all around us. The planet is fundamentally and rapidly changing, and not for the better.

You would think conservatives of all people would be alarmed. You cannot go back to those mythical good old days when the climate is so radically different. Instead, they are the ones aiding and abetting climate change. They do it through well-practiced and obnoxious denial of indisputable facts. Science is irrelevant because if you can acquire power you can legislate the science you want, such as they are doing in Texas where teaching “creationism” and a six thousand year old earth to public school students is considered on par with teaching evolution. Facts simply get in the way with the way you want things to be. Ignoring facts gives you the opportunity to not only keep climate change going, but to make it worse. Gas prices are approaching record levels and naturally it’s all Obama’s fault. It has nothing to do with demand worldwide by a wealthier and overpopulated planet that is taking off, as predicted, exceeding available capacity. $2.50 a gallon gas if you elect me, promises Newt Gingrich. Yet doing more to stimulate demand simply raises prices higher.

Acknowledging what is happening at least lets you ponder what can be done about it. Natural gas is not a long-term solution, but it can be a bridge that can move us to a carbon free energy future. It is plentiful and cheap as well as clean, but with the exception of some city buses, it’s hard to find any motor vehicles using it. No automaker that I am aware of is working to create cars powered by natural gas. Why should they when it’s so hard to get a fill up? Presumably Republicans think the free market will solve the problem but no one in the free market seems to be stepping up to the plate. Those few Republicans that acknowledge the problem know what is really required: government regulation and the (horror!) spending that comes with it. We need to require carmakers to build cars powered by natural gas. We need natural gas filling stations along all our major interstates. In populated neighborhoods, there should be a requirement that you should not have to drive more than five miles to fill up your tank with natural gas. Require it and Americans will start to drive cars powered by natural gas. Why wouldn’t they when natural gas will cost half as much, or less, than gasoline? Moreover, there are few things we cherish more than our mobility. If we can reliably fill up our cars with natural gas, we’ll take to it like a duck to water. But to do so requires the hand of government, and that must be socialism or something.

We are saying in effect that we are okay with our extinction, in spite of our so-called reverence for human life. I’d say in retrospect we’d have to say we saw our extinction coming. However, there won’t be any of us left to ponder these preventable mistakes. One thing is for sure: we cannot change the future until we acknowledge the present and let the facts instead of uninformed prejudices drive our policy.

The good news for the planet is that our extinction is likely to come sooner rather than later. Then maybe the planet can recover. We seem to be incapable of being stewards of our planet. Indeed, we believe it is our job to rape it. It’s in the Book of Genesis, and we must let nothing like inconvenient facts contravene our sacred scripts.

Our sacred scripts are also destined to disappear into the dust with our extinction and will thus ultimately mean nothing, except that our species was a foolish accident of nature whose extinction, fortunately, we hastened. We will have painfully destroyed ourselves as well as much of the species we depend on. That which we claimed to conserve and cherish, we will ultimately squander on the altar of reckless human selfishness.

Unless, very improbably, we take to heart the lesson of The Lorax now in theaters. Unless. The hour is very, very late.

 
The Thinker

A sudden Rush to judgment

Thank goodness at least some people you would think would not bother continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh. The conservative radio host says so many outrageous things that it is hard to keep from being inured by his latest rants. At least one person in the progressive blogosphere must tune in, because otherwise his outrageous comments on Sandra Fluke, a 30-year old Georgetown University student might have gone wholly unnoticed.

Ms. Fluke, as you doubtlessly heard, was called a “slut” and a “prostitute” by Rush on his radio show last week. Once was apparently not enough for Limbaugh, who double downed his assertions the following day on his show, suggesting her every sexual encounter should be filmed for the benefit of her sponsors, the American taxpayer. Over the weekend he had a sudden change of heart, likely because his advertisers starting withdrawing their sponsorship of his show en masse. Limbaugh sort of apologized without really apologizing, and like the whiny liberal stereotype he likes to lampoon, blamed much of his behavior on liberals. At least forty of his sponsors have pulled the plug so far and more are likely to join the parade.

It’s curious that these obviously false assertions should get him in trouble when so many others have gone, if not quite unnoticed, at least unchallenged. Limbaugh coined the term “Feminazi” to describe feminists. He’s been using the term for decades but like so much other slander and filth out of his mouth, we tuned it out. You would think equating the tens of millions of peaceful but assertive American feminists with a group of fascists that were responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, homosexuals, and other minorities might have triggered advertisers to bow out from supporting his show long ago. But almost all advertisers are glad to keep sponsoring a show to reach a target market unless it suddenly becomes politically expedient to drop them.

If only there were some tiny speck of truth in his allegations. Fluke “testified” before an unofficial panel of House Congressional Democrats, only because the six male members of the requisite House committee wouldn’t let her or any woman testify on the need to have birth control covered in employer-based health insurance contracts. Fluke wasn’t even talking about herself, but about a friend at Georgetown who needed birth control, not to sleep around, but to control PCOS. Lots of women need birth control for reasons other than to prevent pregnancy, such as for PCOS and to control periods that would be dangerously heavy or excessive. Even when women take birth control to prevent pregnancy, it doesn’t mean that the government is subsidizing birth control. The issue is whether employers should be required to offer birth control as part of their health care coverage, as is required in a majority of states already. That’s it. No government subsidies involved.

And clearly few of the 99% of women who use birth control at some point in their lives are sluts. Some have legitimate medical reasons why their periods need to be regulated. Others are happily or otherwise married women who just don’t particularly want a bun in their oven but want the freedom to have a sex life with their husband. I am not sure how you define a woman as a “slut” but I do know that since Rush cheated on his wives he was putting his dipstick into places where people like him would argue it should never be. However, Rush can avoid the “slut” label because he is a guy. Guys can’t be sluts. There’s not quite an equivalent word for a guy, because it’s okay for guys to sleep around. Granted I don’t hang around men’s locker rooms very often these days, but in my day those guys who bragged about their multiple exploits in locker rooms tended to be envied by the rest of us virgins, who would have been happy to get an opportunity to have sex with something other than our right hands. In any case, when Rush takes vacations alone in the Dominican Republic without his spouse, caught entering with illegal Viagra and is cited for the offense, this sounds like a guy who was aching to be a male slut.

Maybe it’s just me, but I hate the “slut” word. Plenty of women have high sex drives, and I’ve been fortunate to have known a few of them in the biblical sense. Having a high sex drive means you really enjoy sex, which is entirely fine and natural. Having many sex partners at the same time is probably not a wise choice if you are trying to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. It is possible to be sexually active with multiple partners and be reasonably safe at the same time. Undoubtedly some women do put out for reasons other than having a high sex drive, but the same is true with men. Whether a woman chooses to live a life of celibacy, refrains from intercourse until marriage, sleeps around before marriage or has multiple sexual partners at the same time is a choice she must live with. The same is true with men, but for some reason we don’t dwell on satyrs except possibly to envy them. It’s something about being a woman that makes being sexually active with multiple men (or women) at the same time especially morally reprehensible. Maybe its because Mary the mother of Jesus never slept around, or so we assume. Apparently Mary Magdalene did, and Jesus considered her a close friend.

Insurance companies of course are glad, even eager, to provide free contraceptives to its insured women. Entities like the Catholic Church don’t have to compromise any of their cash on principle, an accommodation that was recently granted by the Obama Administration. Fifty dollars a month in birth control pills and paying a couple of hundred dollars a year for the woman to see a gynecologist is infinitely cheaper than the costs of bringing up an unplanned child.

What really annoys the Limbaughs of the world is that many women won’t choose to live the stereotypes they would prefer they live. At the root of Limbaugh’s anger is a frustration that people like him cannot always control the intimate lives of women. They get angry when women choose to exercise their right to be free and liberated human beings. People like Limbaugh want to exert power over women, but really power over any person whose morals they object to. Democrats simply want to put freedom of choice into the individual’s hands, particularly women who otherwise could not afford $50 a month for pills and hundreds of dollars a year in doctor and lab fees to ensure their reproductive health. Let women decide whether they want to use birth control or not, since it is safe and effective. Because it is almost universally used by women, simply make it available as a health choice for them like any other treatable health condition. Because health insurance is all about maintaining personal health and by extension happiness, the same happiness our founders talked about in our constitution that we are all supposed to crave. It appears that the Limbaughs of the world very much want to take away such freedoms from anyone they don’t like while inconsistently and furtively giving themselves license to indulge.

 
The Thinker

Philanderers for president!

Are you a better person for being married only once? That’s what I was wondering today as I read this article in the Washington Post. Mitt Romney, currently polling second among Republicans in the run for the party’s presidential nomination, doesn’t have a string of broken marriages to point to. Gosh, he’s been married to the same woman for more than forty years! He likes to draw attention to the fact because it shows you just how much he believes in marriage. You might say he’s a marriage pro. First time up and he hits a home run. Thus, as your president, he’ll hit them all out of the park because his eye is keen and his stroke is true.

You can’t say the same thing about Newt Gingrich, currently the top choice in most polls of Republicans for the same nomination. Twice divorced, he is now on wife number three (Camilla), who he apparently bedded while still married to wife number two (Marianne). Marianne should have seen it coming though because Newt apparently bedded her while still married to wife number one (Jackie). All these are mistakes in Newt’s past that he candidly acknowledges and says he regrets. To show that he has had a change of heart, he has signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge that he will faithfully work for a constitutional amendment defining marriage nationally as the union between one man and one woman. Curiously, the pledge does not require him to be faithful to Camilla, which may be good for Newt given his track record. Not to worry, Newt has said pledged publicly that he will be faithful to her. If this were truly a concern of Camilla’s (and I have my doubts), I’d make him wear a chastity belt and keep the only key.

Anyhow, congratulations to Mitt and wife Ann and forty-two years of perfect fidelity! The great thing about Mitt is I can look at him and know he never cheated on Ann. This is in part because Mormons seem to have some sort of secret inoculation (I think it’s the Terminal Guilt Vaccine), but also because you can see it in Mitt’s eyes: he’s just not the philandering type. He’s just a simple and kind of goofy guy. If he were a horse, he’d insist he wear blinders. Mitt too has signed the NOM pledge, which suggests he wants the rest of us to wear blinders too. It’s just like those monkeys on Captain Kangaroo: hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil. It’s that simple folks, married folks. Except of course for the sinful and chronic philanderers like Newt Gingrich and countless other politicians who don’t measure up to his high moral stature.

Should you vote for Mitt because he is a faithful guy? That should be a strike in his favor if you are a conservative, because true conservatives want to go back as far as possible into the past and relive those glory days. And back in, say, the 18th century, divorce was simply unavailable in the United States. Back then you might as well have connected husband and wife together with a ball and chain. In any event, if found guilty of adultery it was likely a crime and, channeling Nathaniel Hawthorne, fallen women like Hester Prynne might be forced to go around with a big scarlet A on their bodices.

Even if you are a conservative, you might want to give the virtue of fidelity as a reason for voting for someone a second thought. Curiously, Newt did some of his best work as a conservative while cheating on Marianne. Working with Bill Clinton, another fellow philanderer (perhaps that’s why they got on so well), welfare benefits were fundamentally changed and the federal budget actually got balanced. Perhaps it was all that testosterone surging through him due to Camilla’s womanly charms, but he managed to affect change on a magnitude that even Saint Ronald Reagan could not pull off. Remember the episode “Mirror, Mirror” in the original Star Trek’s second season, where an alternate Captain Kirk keeps a convenient captain’s whore in his quarters? If I wanted to further conservative values and Newt became our next president, I’d be chipping in to get Newt a presidential concubine. She might do her best work underneath the desk in the Oval Office.

What amazing accomplishments can the faithful Mitt Romney claim as governor? Well, there was that Massachusetts health care plan, which Democrats modeled in the Affordable Care Act. Now, of course, conservatives revile the ACA for being allegedly socialist. More importantly, it’s reviled because Democrats passed it and that Black-Muslim-Kenyan-socialist-apostate President Obama signed it. In short, all that faithfulness was not only unhelpful to conservative causes; it actually was a detriment. It appears to have interfered with clear conservative thinking.

Curiously, chronic philanderers Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton rate among our most productive politicians. Nice faithful guys like Mitt Romney get one term as governor. Even slimeballs like Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois recently sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison, got two terms as governor. Americans were generally peeved that Clinton was brought up on impeachment charges, and figuratively cried when he left office, giving him approval ratings in the sixties.

Of course, if you are trying to throw sand into the gears of government, maybe a true conservative is what you want. Maybe you should vote for Ron Paul, another candidate whose faithfulness I cannot question. (This is due, in part, to suffering through this movie.) If Ron Paul had his way, our federal government would be largely a shell of what it is today. People like Newt Gingrich though tend to enlarge government because exercising power is not about diminishing power. Think about it: if you diminish your power, you can’t exercise it at some later time. Having power is about making your enemies pay and giving their horde to your friends. Only a die-hard idealist like Ron Paul might actually succeed in shrinking government. To do this, at your center, you have to be ideology centered rather than ego driven.

Unsurprisingly, this is not true of any of the other Republican candidates. They are all drooling from the corners of their mouths because they want to exercise power. If power is diminished, that means everyone has less of it. And where’s the fun in that? It might mean, for example, no constitutional amendment to declare marriage as between only one man and one woman, because you sure don’t want to spend tax money enforcing it. And that might mean deciding defining what a marriage is becomes a matter for each state and keeping the federal government’s hands off the whole issue. That’s not cool. You cannot enforce an ideology that way.

If I actually wanted a politician to get something done and have to pick between a faithful politician and a philandering one, I’ll pick the philandering one. After all, having an illicit affair is not a simple matter. It requires complex skills, surreptitious behavior and high stakes. That sounds kind of what we need in a pragmatic president.

So I say: philanderers for president! And, “Go Newt!”

 
The Thinker

The Great Regression

The Great Recession sure isn’t/wasn’t much fun. According to economists, we have been out of the recession for a while, but for most Americans, with 9.6% unemployment we feel still deeply mired in it. We probably won’t feel like we are out of it until unemployment is around six percent or so, and we have recovered at least most of the wealth we lost in the 2000s.

Republicans of course are saying they want to create jobs. Naturally, the best way to do it is to follow their economic theories, which are largely the same theories that got us into our current mess. This time however there is a new wrinkle. They say this time they will honestly and sincerely shrink the size of government and balance the budget too, all while ensuring that no taxes go up. Just like they said they were going to do the last few times and missed the mark by a few trillion dollars.

President Obama tried to head them off at the pass this week by proposing to freeze federal salaries for two years. Republicans of course have a much more aggressive idea. To start, they want to cut federal jobs by ten percent and reduce federal wages by ten percent. Surely, this is just the tonic we need to reduce unemployment: pink slip hundreds of thousands of federal employees and cut their wages to boot, by at least ten percent. Oh, and those federal pensions sure look like they can be cut too, even though federal employees have been faithfully contributing to their own pension plans all this time. It’s not stealing if the government passes a law saying it’s legal!

If history is any guide, this latest attempt to shrink the size of government will in fact grow it. There have been ceilings on the number of federal employees for much of my federal career. This made it hard to attract new talent, but it certainly opened the doors to contractors who rushed into federal agencies to do much of our work, albeit with a substantial markup, generally in the thirty to 50 percent range. This allowed contractors to give money to Republicans so they could pass laws allowing even more contractors to be hired. It was a profitable cycle for both sides. Republicans may succeed in cutting federal salaries by ten percent or more, but when those private sector bids come in don’t expect that they will match reduced federal salaries.

Republicans have all sorts of curious ideas. Some of them, for thirty seconds or so, almost sound plausible. Most of them though sound strange at best and horrifying at worse. Conservatives have apparently decided that the further you can roll back time, the better things will be. What is amazing is that they may have the votes to enact some of these wacky ideals into law.

Some years back when some Republicans opined that some part of social security money should go into private accounts, Americans rose up in arms. It was one of the reasons the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006. This time they want to make you wait until you are nearly seventy to collect benefits and when you collect them, to give you fewer dollars, all in the name of making social security solvent. Apparently, Americans haven’t bothered to educate themselves on the matter because a lot of them are now nodding their heads. Yes, they are saying, I need to retire later and get less of my own money back so that a system that is fully solvent for more than the next twenty years with no changes whatsoever can use its surpluses to pay for other costs of government. It makes sense that I should sacrifice my retirement!

Republicans also have their eyes on Medicare. Their solution to rising costs: give people vouchers to buy insurance. Of course, these same Republicans also want to repeal recent health care legislation, which is the first meaningful attempt to actually reign in health care costs by forcing efficiencies and fair play. Vouchers are a back door way to undo the alleged socialism of Medicare but won’t stop the spiraling health costs. This means, of course, that seniors who are not rich will be incrementally priced out of health care when they need it the most. What a satisfying way to stop “socialism”.

As weird and radical as these ideas are, these remain some of the tamer ideas. Republicans have much wackier ideas in their arsenal, all of which follow a general theme: let’s regress America back to the 19th century, no the 18th! How far can they go?

Well, there are plenty of Republicans who want to repeal the 14th amendment. This constitutional amendment says if you are born in America, you are a citizen. We have had the 14th amendment for 142 years, more than half as long as we have been a country, but these “conservative” Republicans now consider it wrong and radical. The animus of course is they are dreadfully concerned that there are too many people not like them living here now, you know, Hispanics and the like. If you can’t deport them, at least you can disenfranchise them. As you will see, other Republicans have much more aggressive ways to disenfranchise Americans.

Republicans are also forming a long line to repeal the 17th amendment. It used to be that state legislatures elected senators. They want to go back to those days, disenfranchising you from voting for the senator of your choice. Their argument: this is the way it was written when the constitution was set up, so it must be better than what we have now because original intent must be better than subsequent amendments. Never mind that it’s never a cakewalk to get any constitutional amendment enacted. It requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress plus three quarters of the states, a very high hurdle. They figure, if it was good enough in 1783, it’s got to be better than what we have in 2010.

When I first heard that some Republicans wanted to repeal the 17th amendment, I honestly thought it was a joke. Who in their right mind could possibly believe in something this nutty and antidemocratic? Much to my surprise, these people are serious. However, going back to the 19th century is not going back far enough some Republicans. To be faithful to our constitution, we have to go back to original intent. And in the very old days, states decided the criteria for who could vote and who could not. Generally, you could vote only if you were (a) white (b) male and (c) property owners. In short, you were not an “enfranchised” citizen unless you had enough capital to own property.

Just two days ago we learned that Tea Party Nation leader Judson Philips believes that denying the vote to those who do not have property is a good idea. “And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community,” Philips actually said. He did not call for only white men to have this privilege, so perhaps that means he is a secret progressive.

I am not a renter. Yet, it occurs to me that if Philips had his way I would still not be able to vote. I happen to be male and white, which is good as far as original intent is concerned, but I do not own my property. Rather, I have a mortgage. You only really own your property if you pay off your mortgage balance. I have about $80,000 to go. Instead, all I really own is the equity in my house, which is not actual property. Most likely, you could not vote either, which would mean mostly rich Republicans would constitute the voter pool, something that doesn’t seem to bother Philips, naturally. After all, they are vested in the country because they have property, much of which was purchased with unearned inheritances.

If there were any doubt who Republicans really care about, you can see it in their actions over extending the Bush era “temporary” tax cuts. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised Republicans would block any bill in the lame duck session of Congress unless tax cuts are first extended to the wealthy. Republicans have donned their Scrooge hat and are also blocking extended unemployment benefits for the chronically unemployed, a new START treaty with Russia and hosts of other things.

If all Republican fantasies came true and only property owners could vote, I suspect reverting to the 18th century would not be far enough. There is no limit to how far back conservatives can go. What they want is a Great Regression. Was feudalism really all that bad? And what’s wrong with a little polygamy? It was fine for many a Jewish leader, and the original Semite himself Abraham had plenty of wives.

Abraham probably didn’t pay anything in taxes either. I suspect this is their ultimate goal: to revert us way beyond the Dark Ages, into the pre-Biblical days where you lived by your wits, government did not exist and all were free to be savages preying on their fellow men. Justice was an eye for an eye; it was perfectly fair and natural. Their actions suggest this is precisely where they are going. Do not stop at Go and do not collect $200.

Yet we keep voting these clowns into office. It’s like the rest of us are abused wives. Yes, I must have done something wrong because he beat me, so beat me some more. I deserve it!

Let’s hope we all sober up by 2012.

 
The Thinker

Why Republicans are duty bound to cancel their insurance

Over the last couple of years, my family has been at fault for two automobile accidents. I got in a minor fender bender when a car clipped the side of my bumper as I was trying to pull into traffic. My daughter, being a relatively inexperienced driver, also had an accident. She learned it’s not a good idea to change a CD if your car is creeping forward.

No one was hurt in either accident, thank goodness. My daughter was in shock for a while, but after paying a $250 deductible for each accident and about a week of hassle, our cars were better than new. Our auto insurance rates did go up modestly. Clearly, we were not out of pocket the $5000 to $10,000 it would have cost to pay the full cost of these accidents.

Of course, the whole purpose of insurance is to protect you from major financial liabilities. Most of us would agree that insurance is perfectly reasonable, as most of us are not sitting on a pile of money to pay out a judgment against us if we were found at fault.

Still, isn’t there something more than a little socialistic about insurance? That’s what I am wondering after listening to conservatives, Tea Party and Republican activists talk about repealing “Obamacare”, assuming they get a majority in one or more houses of Congress. As best I can tell, they consider the legislation socialism, even though no public option survived in the legislation. A couple of things seem to be sticking in their claw. First, they really don’t want to pay for those who cannot afford insurance. Second, is their incessant mantra of “personal responsibility”. People should pay for their health insurance. If they cannot afford it, well, things are tough all over, Mac. Trust to luck, vitamins, five-dollar prescriptions from Wal-Mart and, most importantly, don’t get seriously ill. And if you do end up with some chronic condition, rather than send the bill to the government or those who are insured, host a fundraiser, get relatives to pay your bills, or just accept the fact that you must suffer more and die prematurely. After all, the dictate of personal responsibility is more important than anything, even if this means because of your inability to pay that you are subject to immense suffering and an early death. Your suffering simply makes us a stronger country!

Curiously, few conservatives, Republicans or Tea Partiers seem to object to uninsured motorists insurance that they pay as part of their auto insurance. Whether auto insurance is required or not, some drivers won’t buy it. Also, some people have such miserable driving records that no insurance company will sell them a policy. For you, the driver, the result is the same. If you are hit by an uninsured motorist, then unless the motorist is independently wealthy, you will pay the cost of someone else’s mistake. In other words, someone will have escaped personal responsibility!

Fortunately, the number of uninsured motorists is relatively small. The same cannot be said for the number of Americans without health insurance. At last count, some fifty one million Americans did not have or could not afford health insurance. That’s roughly one in six Americans. Many more have some insurance, but it is insufficient. Certainly some of the uninsured pay their medical expenses out of pocket, but more typically, uninsured Americans allow chronic conditions to develop because they cannot afford to treat them earlier. When driven by necessity, they run to our emergency rooms and receive essentially free care. As most of us know, the insured bear the cost of this care. It is added in indirectly to the cost of a health insurance premium. So if you have health insurance, you are paying for the uninsured whether you like it or not, albeit indirectly.

At least with auto insurance the cost of uninsured motorist coverage is usually itemized. This rarely happens with your health insurance premiums. The last statistic I read estimated that about eight hundred dollars of each annual health insurance premium went to reimburse hospitals for the uninsured. These costs contribute substantially to the cost of health insurance. Moreover, as the ranks of the uninsured grow, these costs escalate. In addition, both state and the federal government, principally through Medicaid, pay other health care costs for those too poor to afford health insurance.

A good Republican, Conservative or Tea Partier though should not have any insurance policies. Why? Because they believe that personal responsibility is a black and white issues; no shades of gray allowed. So you should not even drive a car, or see a doctor unless you know you can pay these costs out of pocket. Co-pays are socialistic in nature because they encourage you to take risks at someone else’s expense. So you need to first either inherit a pile of money or have to earn enough money on hand so that you can pay for all your costs out of pocket. (This also allows you to negotiate good deals with your doctors, who are inclined to give cash discounts.)

Republicans, think carefully because insurance defeats the whole notion of individual responsibility. It encourages you to get into auto accidents, to neglect your house maintenance and to hit the Country Buffet every day. If you knew you would have to pay a million dollar judgment or hospital bill out of pocket, of course you would be far more prudent. If you knew because of hitting the Jack in the Box twice a week you would not be able to afford your Lipitor, you would be eating salads instead.

So that’s my suggestions for everyone into personal responsibility. No more weaseling. Time to put your philosophy where your mouth is. Cancel all your insurance immediately and pay for everything out of pocket. Because surely if everyone did the same America would be a utopia, right?

 
The Thinker

Glenn Beck and the unbearable whiteness of being

Every generation brings us great leaders as well as mediocre ones. Every generation also brings us charlatans: people optimized to reinforce our prejudices and whip us up into a cyclonic frenzy. In this decade, there is quite a queue of people competing for this position, but arguably none are trying harder than Fox News commentator and telegenic crybaby Glenn Beck.

Beck’s rants and chalkboard “lessons” are a confusing muddle of selective history and bad analysis. However, they do serve the purpose of stirring up his base. Political change happens only by action, so in that sense Beck is a genius. Beck’s world is a weird, hyper-paranoid sort of world. As much as Beck rails against Nazis, in fact Beck and Adolph Hitler share much in common. Hitler may have been promoting the Aryans and Beck might be fighting for the poor and oppressed WASPs of America, but both are essentially racists. Beck would doubtless say he is not a racist, but based on his passion and vitriol he sure cares a whole lot more about white conservatives than other ethnicities. Both depend on bogeymen and straw men to peddle the false assertion that whites are being discriminated against and are blessed with some sort of enlightenment absent the rest of us mere mortals.

Jokesters like him would normally be laughed off the stage, except Beck has an exceptionally uncanny ability to connect deeply to the greatest fears of conservative white American then stoke them. He is the Father Coughlin of his generation. Beck and Coughlin are chips off the same block. Coughlin was a radio minister during the Great Depression. Beck has both a radio and television show. Coughlin’s fears were largely focused on Jews. Beck’s bogeymen are Muslims who because they are not Christian or Jews are therefore scaaaaary. In fact, his bogeymen are pretty much anyone who is not white or conservative. He just picks one of the shelf to fit the message of the day.

Nowhere is this clearer than in his abhorrence for all things Barack Obama. As much as he fears Islam, he fears his false projection of Barack Obama much more. Barack Obama is apparently every encapsulation of evil imaginable, a true Antichrist. Among Obama’s many sins is Beck’s conviction that Obama is a black racist with a deep-seated hatred of white people. Granted, there is no evidence to support this ludicrous claim. If it bore any semblance of truth, perhaps Obama would have started with his own white mother who he loved rather than abused or abandoned. His mother stood by him, nurtured him and helped him fit in the largely white world they inhabited. In fact, Obama grew up largely estranged from black culture. It was not until he finished college and moved to Chicago that he really connected to his African American side. Even today, many African Americans view him as not quite one of their own. These little details of course are lost on Beck because it does not fit his projected image of the nefarious and evil Obama that he wants to promote.

More recently, Beck counted as one of Obama’s defects the liberation theology he claims he believes in. Apparently this version of Christianity, in Beck’s (and others) minds, is wrapped around the notion that we are all oppressed and part of being a Christian is to free yourself and others from the yoke of oppression instead of just sin and the devil. At the same time that Beck rails against Obama’s brand of Christianity, he also asserts that Obama is a secret Muslim. Many others on the right (but not Beck) assert that Obama is not a native born citizen of the United States, hence an illegitimate president. At the same time (wait for it), Obama is neither a Christian nor a Muslim, but a secret secular atheist, as attested by the fact that he is not become a settled member of a congregation since he became president. Barack Obama: the amazing polymorphic president! It’s obviously past time to find a stake and a bulb of garlic. One cannot be too careful with these Antichrists.

At most only one of these can be true but of course, facts hardly matter. As Hitler and many before and after him have learned, what is true is irrelevant; what matters is what you can get people to believe. If you repeat a lie often enough and convincingly enough a certain number of us sheep apparently accept it as fact. The dishonest formula never changes: pick selective facts, distort other facts, openly lie about many other things and (most importantly) stoke what makes us anxious.

Plenty of us are anxious these days, just as our parents or grandparents were during the great uncertainty of the Great Depression. When you feel uncertain, you are much more likely to believe the implausible or the downright ludicrous. You need something tangible that you can grasp onto to make sense of the suffering and chaos, rather than the intangible reality where cause and effect are often murky. Beck has proven to be a master of feeding our fears and vanities. In his mind, white America is and has always been gifted, glorious, entrepreneurial, deeply Christian and intimately involved in a sacred quest for righteousness directed by God himself. Our actual history of course is replete with voluminous episodes to the contrary, such as our enslavement of African Americans (and others), subjugation of women, forced extraditions and massacres of Native Americans and, more recently, illegal and immoral wars in the deserts of the Middle East. I am not suggesting that the history of White America is entirely bad, just that we, like every other ethnic and racial group out there, have a checkered past. It is dishonest to pretend otherwise, but truth is apparently irrelevant when it does not suit a particular political end. The masses must be fooled into thinking they are nobler than they are.

What I find personally most grating about Beck (and the same is true with Sarah Palin and the many, many others generally lumped under the “Tea Party” umbrella) is he emulates the whiny, victimized people he is supposed to loath. Goodness, they are so oppressed; it’s amazing they can even get out of bed in the morning given the onerous taxes they are paying, even though federal taxes are the lowest in generations. They are innocent victims of sinister forces flagrantly out to oppress them at the enrichment of everyone else. These are the same sorts of ridiculous persecution arguments that Hitler made. What malarkey! We should naturally recoil against them.

In fact, large numbers of White Americans are suffering, particularly in largely white areas of America like the Appalachians. This is because of many factors, but principally is due to the Great Recession, which itself was primarily caused by the overleveraged society Republicans fostered in the 2000s. Whites have been hard hit in many areas, but in most cases were not as severely hit as other ethnic minorities. Whites as a class will probably never have to deal with the high unemployment rates of blacks, or teenagers in general. For those who fell off the economic cliff, it hurts badly, regardless of your ethnicity. However, despite the paranoid rants of people like Beck, no one is out to get whites in particular, which means Beck and those like him are either charlatans or delusional. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The bad economy falls into the vague category of “shit happens”.  Much of it was probably preventable. We could have lived more prudently over the last few decades. We could have balanced our budgets. We could have not rushed into wars of choice. Nevertheless, even if we had done all those things, there are still larger forces at work, such as the rise of China as an economic power, that would still have impacted our economy, perhaps even triggering our current recession. Suggesting that these problems are because Obama is a secret Muslim, a black racist, or is deliberately targeting whites for economic discrimination shows their incredibly shallow thinking. It also perpetuates a culture of victimhood, which, call me crazy, I thought conservatives were against. I thought conservatives were all about accepting your licks and standing on your own two feet. I thought more so than Democrats, conservatives realized that life was unfair so just get over it.

That’s the image, of course, but the reality is now the opposite. Beck is the poster child for white victimization, a role he is glad to accept as it makes him independently wealthy. So where does one look today for real manhood? Where do you find the attributes of great men: graciousness, civility, and someone who does not thrive on a culture of victimization and whine about the unfairness of life, but pragmatically deals with the mess life has thrown at him? There are millions of us out there, but for Beck, he could look at Barack Obama as he actually is. It is no wonder that Beck, Palin and so many others loathe the man. He is demonstrating the way they should behave if they had real character, if they had not grown up spoiled and whiny. Obama is the grown up. They (and Beck in particular) are playing the role of the whiny brats on the playground. It should be embarrassing to anyone to see this behavior in people who are adults.

Obama understands what Beck fails to grasp: you don’t deal with reality effectively through a policy of extreme adherence to orthodoxy. Heck, we just got over the ultimate test case with George W. Bush’s eight years of national folly. If you find yourself surrounded by shit, which was exactly where Barack Obama was on January 20, 2009, you grab a shovel and start shoveling. That has been what Obama has been doing since his first day in office. He is not naïve enough to think that he will make every decision correctly, but he is smart enough to realize that blind orthodoxy cannot change reality. Instead, you first accept reality in all its messiness and ugliness and find realistic ways to deal with it.

Beck, basically you are a whiny brat. It’s no wonder that you loathe Barack Obama so much, because real manhood scares the shit out of you. Obama demonstrates true manhood every day: you deal pragmatically with what is before you with civility and grace.

Beck, be a real man. I dare you. I double dare you.

 

Switch to our mobile site