We are living in Future Shock

The Thinker by Rodin

Americans lived through a frightening week last week. Bombs were sent to prominent Democratic politicians and supporters. Thankfully, none of these exploded. The FBI apprehended a suspect, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc. Yesterday something far worse happened: eleven people were killed and six injured in an obvious hate crime at a synagogue near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Robert Bowers was quickly arrested for these crimes.

Both Sayoc and Bowers fit the usual pattern for these criminals today: right wing domestic terrorists and big Trump supporters, although Bowers had some criticisms of Trump. Sayoc’s van was famously festooned with right wing invectives and pictures on almost every window (which restricted visibility so much it was probably illegal). Both Sayoc and Bowers used social media, in Bowers case to basically announce his attack on Jews was imminent. Bowers’ crime might have been prevented if someone had bothered to notice it or if we did not allow people like him to have guns in the first place.

It’s not surprising that most of these incidents are by right-wing domestic terrorists. Statistically these people cause 71% of these domestic terrorism incidents, with just 25% domestically by actual Muslim terrorists. This Anti-Defamation League (ADL) heat map makes abundantly clear who’s most likely to trigger these incidents and they tend to be male, white, Republican, conservative and loners. With yesterday’s latest incident in Pittsburgh, the right wing can now claim 74% of the victims of these incidents. From their social media postings, it’s clear that Trump inspired both Sayoc and Bowers. Trump of course with his advanced case of malignant narcissism disclaims any association with these perpetrators. With a case as bad as his, of course you are going to praise a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who body slammed a reporter as “my kind of guy” and feel no remorse. His narcissism would not be malignant if he felt remorse.

What’s harder for most people to see is that horrendous incidents like these are entirely predictable. What’s new is that we have Donald Trump as a prominent catalyst; no president has ever incited people to violence before. This gives these incidents explicit sanction. To an extent we are all players of this game because we are awash in a world undergoing great change. Certain personality types though are more likely to “go postal” than others: those groups who feel the most threatened. Conservatives at least in theory like things the way they were (and in most cases they weren’t actually the way they were) so are more likely to engage in these crimes, as borne out by the ADL’s heat map.

Trump of course is a master bully. My own personal theory is that he is empowering other former bullies to be bullies again. Curiously, many of these actions actually amount to cowardice of some form. Sayoc’s alleged actions mailing pipe bombs allow him to hurt other people without necessarily being discovered. (He was a particularly inept criminal, leaving fingerprints on his explosives. His crazy van was certainly a red flag and doubtless helped authorities track him down.) Bowers showed up in person with a number of armaments including an assault rifle. When Trump tells people at his rallies that it’s okay to beat up reporters at the rally and he’ll pay their legal expenses, he’s obviously giving explicit sanction to others to act as his proxies. A legal case could be made that Trump is guilty of inciting terrorism.

Change is an inevitable consequence of living. We’ve been plunging headlong into the future at rates that obviously make a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with it too. Ironically, conservatives are causing much of the change they are fighting against. For example, if you say that businesses should be able to create any product they want because they are innovators and capitalism is great but not consider the consequences, you end up with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter that show us only content that meets our own biases. To deal with their cognitive dissonance, Trump has labeled anything he doesn’t agree with as “fake news” and it’s clear that the supporters at his rallies largely agree.

They are obviously wrong. My mother-in-law, a lifelong smoker, never agreed that smoking causes lung cancer, even though the research was overwhelming and she died a painful and somewhat premature death from lung cancer. Climate deniers, principally right-wingers, are doing the same thing. It’s like the lobster getting out of the pot and turning up the heat then jumping back into the pot. It’s counterproductive and makes no sense. And we know it’s only a matter of time, should we live so long, when they will be proven wrong. Our species might die off as a result, but to them this is just more fake news.

Liberals are not entirely blame free either. How much freedom can we promote when many of the consequences of freedom also contribute to these problems? For example, if we want a higher standard of living for everyone without figuring out a way to do it in a sustainable way, we contribute to the destruction of our planet. We can’t always be sure our proposals will actually solve the problem, or fit the circumstances.

I believe that there are larger forces at work. Most of us will carry the values we learn from our parents and pass them on to our children, so it takes generations to change most of these values if they change at all. We also unconsciously carry many of our parents’ issues and anxieties. Unfortunately, we don’t have generations to get it right. Anxiety is actually a rational reaction to a rapidly changing world, but paralysis is not. Unfortunately for conservatives, we can’t go back to the way things were. And unfortunately for liberals, we don’t have the luxury of trying many approaches until we find the right combination. We have only the fierce urgency of now that none of us can escape, with many of us lacking the wisdom for making an informed choice. I hope November 6 proves me wrong.

(For those of you wondering, this blog is not completely dead. I’m feeling the need to continue at least through post 2000, as it seems a good closure point. Ideally I’ll get there on our before December 12, 2018, the end of sixteen years of blogging.)

The DACA reaction: push comes to shove

The Thinker by Rodin

Hawkeye: How do you feel?
Private Peterson: All ready to go out and kill me some more “gooks”, sir.
Hawkeye: Wendell, another word for “gooks” is “people.”

M*A*S*H, Season 1, Episode 15

Conservatives are having a call to conscience. For more than a decade Congress has kicked the immigration can down the road, unable to figure out what to do about the millions of undocumented immigrants in our country with a set of immigration laws that clearly weren’t working.

Less obvious, at least to conservatives, is just how much these immigrants contributed to their standard of living. They kept much of our economy alive by doing backbreaking and mundane things like picking our crops, mowing our lawns and cleaning our houses. These “illegal immigrants” have been a boon to our economy, keeping our cost of living low and allowing the same people who are complaining about their presence to live way beyond their means through low inflation and cheap goods and labor. In addition they contributed payroll, Social Security and Medicare taxes, helping to keep these systems solvent although it’s unlikely they will ever collect from them. In short much of their true wealth was siphoned off to the very people most upset by their presence. Many of these people though were happy to look the other way if it meant their crops would get picked or their lawns mowed at bargain rates.

This unofficial system was actually a good deal for America, but not such a good deal for those who crossed the border illegally. In most cases it was a scary deal but a better deal than not crossing the border. Included among those crossing with Mom and Dad were their children, who were too young to give consent to their relocation. Born in another country they have become trapped in something of a no man’s land. Knowing little or nothing of the country where they were born they became in effect Americans. Now they face the very real risk of deportation.

Trying to act where Congress chose not to, the Obama administration created DACA: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It was a pragmatic way to deal with the problem on an interim basis, given that Congress never gives enough money to fully enforce its laws and wasn’t interested in tackling immigration reform legislatively. While each of the 800,000 DACA recipients have no path to citizenship under DACA they at least have had some certainty of not being deported for some period of time. In addition they could get jobs legally and attend college.

Now of course Trump wants to end DACA, or did. That at least is his threat if Congress does not figure out what to do with these “dreamers” in six months time. Trump being Trump, he’s been all over the map on the issue, sometimes expressing sympathy for DACA recipients and sometimes lumping them into the “rapists and thieves” category he used to win election. A couple of days ago he met House and Senate minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for dinner. Nancy and Chuck were of the impression that they had struck a deal on DACA that Trump would support.

That lasted until the next morning when Trump discovered the blowback from conservatives. Suddenly it became no deal, or rather maybe a deal if there could be massive funding for his border wall. In any event, any DACA fix was completely anathema to his conservative base. Sensing that he could not further shrink his dwindling base of support, Trump quickly back-peddled.

Just fifteen percent of Americans support deporting these “dreamers.” In fact most Americans would welcome immigration reform, but it seems to be politically impossible. There is some hope that Congress might at least legislate a DACA fix. It’s unlikely though that such a fix would lead to permanent residency or citizenship for DACA recipients. Most likely it would simply allow the current policy to continue, allowing legal work status but with little possibility of full enfranchisement.

To these conservatives though none of inhumane aspects of ending DACA matters. They don’t care how distraught these DACA recipients are. Laws were broken and they cannot be excused even when those who pay the price are innocent by not having given consent. Trapped in their ideological prison, these conservatives appear beyond conscience. They would have 800,000 innocent people deported to countries they do not know (and where in many cases they cannot even speak the language) for crimes of their parents. In the process they reveal the soulless and inhumane people they actually are. Like Private Wendell Peterson (played by Ron Howard) they see only “illegals”, not humans. For them when the law is broken the prison of ideology requires them to put compassion aside, even if these DACA recipients had no say in their situation.

It’s crazy, it’s inhumane and it speaks to the worst of Americans. It’s like that scene from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup. Who are you going to believe, conservatives: your ideology or your own eyes? For conservatives, their answer is horrendously cruel and sadly obvious.

The LGBT recoil

The Thinker by Rodin

It looks like North Carolina is the latest state to discover the pitfalls of trying to govern from the extreme. HB2, passed in a special one-day session, specifically overwrote a Charlotte, North Carolina ordinance that allowed people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity. The hastily signed law by now-chagrinned Governor Pat McCrory requires North Carolina citizens to use the restroom aligned with the sex assigned to them by birth on their birth certificate or face the penalty of law.

The ink was hardly dry before the ACLU was filing a suit. And then the real recoil began. PayPal canceled plans to build offices in the state, at a cost of some four hundred jobs. The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) canceled plans for a concert in the state. North Carolinians can perhaps take some comfort in knowing that they are not the only state dumb enough to pass laws like these. Georgia’s governor vetoed a bill with similar intentions. Mississippi looks primed to follow North Carolina’s example with a “religious liberty” bill that gives permission to businesses to discriminate against people they don’t like because of God or something. It’s not even law and it’s promoting a backlash, causing Sharon Stone to move the location of her new film out of the state and the governor of Oregon to move the christening of the USS Oregon’s sister ship to his state. Of course Indiana got bitch slapped on similar issues last year, and even Arizona saw that light when convention bookings slowed down.

Why do these states do this? It’s like they have a death wish. In most cases there is no groundswell of constituents demanding these laws, but there are often fundamentalist groups who have the ears of legislators instead. The answer in part is because legislators in these states have their ears keenly tuned to hear messages from these groups who sustain their hold on power. But the only reason they have so much power is because states like North Carolina are gerrymandered to provide extremely disproportionate representation for conservatives. The nature of gerrymandering is that it is an artificial construct that cannot survive for long because it is unfair. A backlash was inevitable. Worse, these laws were entirely preventable and there were plenty examples of states who had already suffered the consequences. That would have at least suggested some caution, perhaps the governor shelving the bill for a few weeks to let tempers cool.

So much stupidity but perhaps the stupidest thing is that these laws try to solve problems that don’t even exist. Let me ask you what would be more disruptive: a trans man using a ladies restroom because his birth certificate says he is a woman, or a trans woman using a men’s restroom for a similar reason. The latter sounds the more dangerous to me; if I were a trans woman I’d literally prefer to pee in my pants before going into a men’s room. Of course that’s part of the problem. It’s hugely challenging when your gender misaligns with your sex and particularly during and after the transition process. It’s only now after a couple of decades that the trans community is starting to get some sympathy from the general public, mainly because most of us haven’t tuned into it. It’s a complex issue as I discovered some years back.

But the religious freedom arguments really sound shallow. Religious freedom in this case is basically government-approved bigotry. Doubtless there are passages in the Bible that suggest black people are evil (curious as most Jews are Semites and if not quite black have dark-hued skins.) Under the guise of religious freedom then anyone can assert they have a right to run a business that caters only to non-blacks. If it’s not in the Bible, it’s still no big deal. Create your own religion where only white people are holy and there you go. You can assert it’s your sincere religious belief and who can doubt you? These laws protect not the richest 1% but allow the most bigoted 1% to selectively shame people they don’t like with impunity.

The good news for bigots is that they have every right to be a bigot in their private lives. However, a business cannot be called public if it does not accept all comers. If I own a bakery and don’t want to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, I can get out of the bakery business. Or I can decide that I understand that being public means everyone can ask for my services and baking one doesn’t mean I support gay marriage but it does mean I have sanction to profit from anyone who walks in my shop door.

There is some concern that these laws will require ministers to marry gay couples or face the penalty of law. I’m not sure where this comes from but it’s a specious concern. You might as well worry that a Catholic priest will be required to perform a Jewish wedding. Religious marriage ceremonies require parties to agree to the marriage rules of the religion. I suppose it is possible that a state law might require any legal “celebrant” to perform a civil marriage, and that celebrant could also be a minister. In this case though the ceremony would be purely civil, does not have to be performed in their church and would have no religious connotation.

One thing that is clear is that these laws are toxic. Generations X and Y have made it clear that everyone must be treated equally under the law, so at best these laws will prove to be short-lived. Perhaps it’s possible these legislators don’t understand how hurtful and shaming these laws are, but more likely they do understand and that’s part of their animus in voting them in. They will get their comeuppance in time. In North Carolina, a recent poll puts Governor McCrory four points behind his LGBT-friendlier challenger.

When you make it your business to shame others, you will inevitably find that it will shame you instead. Give it a few months as more businesses leave the state and I think North Carolina legislators will find a reason to quietly repeal HB 2. Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and other states in this boat will too in time but sadly are likely to look for less overt ways to discriminate instead. There are always those Voter ID laws.

Running scared

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

Hurricane Sandy reminds us why we need government

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

We are not rocks, we are human beings

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

Little conservative about most conservatives

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

 

Unless

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

A sudden Rush to judgment

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

Philanderers for president!

The Thinker by Rodin

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!”