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!”

The Great Regression

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

Why Republicans are duty bound to cancel their insurance

The Thinker by Rodin

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?

Glenn Beck and the unbearable whiteness of being

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

We can never go back to before … nor should we try

The Thinker by Rodin

A recent Washington Post – ABC poll identified about twenty six percent of the country as “angry” about the newly enacted health care legislation. Presumably, good portions of these citizens are members of (or sympathetic with) the Tea Party movement. The poll found ninety four percent of these people are white and 73 percent identify themselves as conservative.

Today the Post published some follow up interviews with these self-identified angry Americans. It turns out that health care reform is just the tip of their iceberg of complaints. Typical is this interview with a man from California:

“I grew up in the ’50s,” said Hugh Pearson, 63, a retired builder from Bakersfield, Calif. “That was a wonderful time. Nobody was getting rich, nobody was doing everything big. But it was ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ days, ‘Leave It to Beaver’-type stuff. Now we have all this MTV, expose-yourself stuff, and we have no morality left, not even by the legislators.”

Said a man from suburban Kansas:

“The tea party activists represent Middle America. They are the hardworking Americans who see their country eroding in front of their eyes,” said Chris Domsch of suburban Kansas City, Mo. He said he is an independent but has never backed a Democratic presidential candidate.

Now they are discovering that America is no longer “Leave it to Beaver”? Now they are seeing fundamental changes in America? Just where have these people been living since the 1950s? I suspect they were living in places like the Shenandoah Valley, or just Appalachia in general, where the populace is 95% or more white. Segregated into their nice, white suburban enclaves they must not have ventured out much into the rest of America. However, even in Appalachia and in the deep south, you must be obsessively myopic not to see the wrenching social, demographic and economic changes of these last decades.

Our manufacturing industry has largely vanished and most of our economy is now service jobs. Much of the higher wages that came with manufacturing jobs have disappeared as well. Few things epitomize America more today than Wal-Mart, where you celebrate your patriotism and American entrepreneurialism by buying foreign goods at discount prices from clerks who Wal-Mart will not even pay a living wage.

As for the social changes, did they sleep through the last fifty years? Blacks no longer stay at the back of the bus or drink from separate water fountains. The stay at home mother is almost extinct. In fact, women are close to overtaking men as a majority of the workforce (47.5%). As for all those immigrants, we’ve always been a nation of immigrants, it’s just that now their skin tends to have a darker hue. Aside from the color of their skin, their story is much like the poor white Irish and Polish immigrants from which I came. If you want to give a Tea Partier a heart attack, tell him about this prediction released today: in 2010, more babies in America will be born from minorities than from whites.

America has never been a static place. To the extent we lived in Pleasantville, it was because we kept the rabble out with strict zoning laws. However, that does not mean that our laws have kept up with the pace of social change. At some point, the need to accommodate different conditions and demographics demands actual change. Sometimes it happens in a relatively seismic fashion, like with health care reform. Ideally, the process would be nice and smooth. An informed and educated Congress would periodically look at these changing demographics and align new laws to accommodate them. Unfortunately, for the most part those who represent us have had their campaign coffers filled by the moneyed people who like the status quo.

Of course, this is America, so most of the legislative change that has occurred has been to help those who already wield a disproportionate amount of power. Seniors got prescription drug benefits. Wealthy people got huge tax cuts. Defense contractors got huge, open-ended contracts. Moreover, while giving out all these new benefits (largely during Republican administrations) hardly anyone’s taxes were raised. Then in 2008, it all came tumbling down in a credit collapse, which created double-digit unemployment. Six million Americans are so discouraged they do not even bother looking for work, and so are not counted as unemployed.

My strong suspicion is that had the economy not collapsed, these Tea Partiers and “angry” citizens would not be holding rallies, but would be happily remaining in blissful ignorance. It is only now that change became big enough that government could actually trying to address the needs of those who have actually been hurt by our policies of the last decades that some raise the socialism banner.

The fact is that America will not be a majority white country much longer. Hoot, holler, cry about socialism, tell us we must go back to a Leave it to Beaver country, but you cannot change these demographics. However, the United States has always been about disenfranchised or oppressed people making a better life for themselves. Through that unique American alchemy, they usually end up freer, more educated and with more money than where they came from. Throughout the years, this process has often been tumultuous. The fears expressed by Tea Partiers have expressed many times before in our history.

It should not be this way. America is a country of change. It is built into our DNA so unsurprisingly it results in MTV, Internet chat rooms and new ways to screw up your life. It has also resulted in amazing innovations, like the very same Internet many now fear but which was invented here in America and now drives a huge part of our economy. The approximately 26% of Americans who describe themselves as “angry” haven’t accepted this change, and cling tenaciously to a largely fictional notion of the way things were. Yet, if we could somehow turn back the clock, we would simply fall further behind the rest of the world, because they are not going back.

Would these same people who cling to the 1950s also want the racism, the homophobia, the paranoia, the plasticity and the pollution that came with it? Would they want to take their chances without modern antibiotics or a polio vaccine? Do they really think no one was fooling around back in the 1950s? That people weren’t suffering from the same vices back then as well? They may have deadened themselves with more prosaic addictions like alcohol, but America was just as unhappy then. Moreover, people like James Dean were showing their generation how to be rebellious. Back then, the politicians were just as crooked and unscrupulous. The infamous red baiting Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin was an alcoholic. The 1950s also saw the rise of Richard M. Nixon, arguably our worst and most corrupted president.

America is morphing as it has many times in its more than two centuries as a country. By 2050, whites will no longer be in the majority. We are destined to be more multi-hued and integrated as a nation. That doesn’t mean America’s nature will change that much. We will certainly be larger in 2050 than we were in 1950, by a factor of two or three. America is haltingly and rather badly trying to figure out what social compact is needed for modern times since the old one clearly no longer fits. We expect that after all the hand wringing is done that we will emerge a more civilized and tolerant country.

Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane

The Thinker by Rodin

A year ago, I wrote that Republicans were putting the “bye” in bipartisanship. A commenter told me I was being premature because President Obama had only been in office a month. A year later, I bet the same commenter would now agree with me. You cannot have bipartisanship unless both parties can come together on a preponderance of disparate issues. When one side refuses to play ball, well that is clearly not bipartisanship.

Watching the “bipartisan” health care reform meeting on Thursday at Blair House was an exercise in mental torture. Even the Supreme Court would have to agree that no Gitmo inmate should be forced to listen to all eight hours or so of this “dialogue”. Watching it was kind of like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall. Not that President Obama did not try to lead out Republicans or ask them pragmatic and civil follow up questions. It’s just that Republicans did not have a whole lot of viable suggestions. The script was very shopworn even before the first Republican opened his mouth: start from scratch on a new health care reform bill. The only aspects of health care reform they seem willing to agree to are malpractice reform (which would affect less than one percent of health care spending) and allowing citizens in one state to get health insurance from other states. Everything else: forget about it! Cover the uninsured? Not interested. Seriously reduce the number of uninsured Americans? Not interested. As business reporter Steven Pearlstein pointed out recently in The Washington Post, based on the “discussion” at the Blair House, Republicans don’t give a crap about those too poor to have health insurance and certainly don’t want one dime of taxpayer money spent on the uninsured. In their ideal world, the uninsured would not get into the emergency room until they first brought a statement from their bank that they are credit worthy.

One of the definitions of insanity is to not learn from the same mistake. By this measure, Republicans (and this includes Conservatives and Tea Baggers) are insane. We usually deal with the insane by getting them psychotherapy or, if a menace to others or themselves, putting them in a rubber room. A clinical case could be made that the vast majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill should be in a rubber room. Because although we have tried massive tax cuts for the wealthy not once but twice and the result has been to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, Republicans are still convinced that all we need are yet more tax cuts affecting primarily the wealthy to change the situation around. In short, they are insane.

Republicans are insane on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. Most of them deny that climate change is happening and many of them also want to abolish the EPA. This could revert the United States back to the 1960s when we had no environmental laws and polluters could pollute without restraint. They want to reduce fuel efficiency standards for cars. They actually think we can solve our dependence on foreign oil by drilling off our coastlines. The effect will of course make us more dependent on foreign oil, which will come principally from overseas and at higher and higher prices by not weaning ourselves off oil. It is just insane!

Perhaps most insane of all is that Republicans have this dichotomy about wanting to take a meat cleaver to reduce the size of government then, when asked, find it hard to find something to cut. Take a look at this 2008 American National Election Survey where self identified conservatives try to find things they would cut in federal spending. The number one thing that conservatives would like to cut is foreign aid, which accounts for less than 1 percent of our budget. Even there conservatives could not muster a majority (only 49%). Well, that certainly won’t solve the budget deficit! The next thing they most want to abolish are welfare programs. This is essentially Medicaid and food stamps, but even here, only 35% of conservatives want to do this. Presumably, 65% do not. About twenty percent want to cut funding for the war on terrorism. I assume this is the Ron Paul wing. It is clear from the chart that while tax cuts are always in season, if they were back in charge cutting the size of government would be mostly lip service, as it was under Reagan and two Bush presidencies.

But of course now these same people are in a froth because we are doing all this deficit spending. Moreover, they are deeply upset at President Obama for deficit spending money on tangible goods that we need like new bridges and road surfaces which also help to get us out of a bad recession. They prefer tax cuts and fairy dust instead. (Actually, Obama accommodated Republicans and added plenty of tax cuts in his stimulus package, including tax cuts for small business, and they are still upset.) They are telling us the government should live within its means, even during a severe economic recession. Yet, it is clear that if they were back in charge, the first thing they would do is cut taxes some more, and thereby exacerbate the budget deficit!

So why do Americans keep putting these bozos back in power? It must be because the majority of us are even dumber than Republicans, or as a nation, we suffer from ADD and cannot even remember all the debt we piled up under the last administration. Actually though the polls do not give as much comfort to Republicans as they might hope for. Americans are pissed off that divided government means that things like health care reform are not being accomplished. (By the way, Americans still strongly support health care reform, including a public option.) What is driving voters insane is the inability of politicians to find common ground at a time when it is essential. They are paying the price in house foreclosures, rising health care costs and unemployment. As much as they dislike the way Democrats are using their majorities, they like Republicans even less. Voters have a lot of visceral anger but little way to express it. Moreover, who could blame them? Obama promised change you can believe in, but a progressive president cannot necessarily turn around a deeply partisan and recalcitrant Congress. This was borne out on Thursday at the Blair House.

One thing is clear: you won’t get bipartisanship by electing Republicans. If voters want to end gridlock by voting for Republicans, they might end up breaking the gridlock but it is unlikely they will get real solutions to the problems they care about. Put Republicans back in power and for sure, you can count on more tax cuts for the privileged. You can also count on deficits that will make today’s look small. Voters would be insane to do so. Unfortunately, when you are really, really angry you are not usually thinking clearly in the first place. You are letting your emotions take control of your faculties, instead of using your brain.

If voters want bipartisanship then they have to vote for people who are running on the platform of being bipartisan. These candidates should have a track record of moderation and crossing the aisle. You certainly won’t find that in a tea bagger! Unfortunately, you are unlikely to find any such a creature nominated by the Republican Party this time around, and the odds are not much better for the Democratic Party either. With the exception of the lunatic left wing though, you can at least rest assured that the Democrats running will at least be sane. At least we have one foot firmly in reality.

Republicans are a party of sadists

The Thinker by Rodin

If Democrats are a bunch of bleeding heart, do-good tree huggers (which sadly, we are not), it is clear that modern Republicans are pretty much the opposite. They may put on great smiles, but underneath that plastic veneer are a whole lot of seriously hurting and angry people who basically are sadists.

In case you are not familiar with the term, sadists take pleasure in the infliction of mental and physical pain on others. Being sadistic is not considered a virtue; it is considered a mental illness. Strangely, particularly in our bizarre modern times, Republicans do consider sadism virtuous. It is witnessed by the preponderance of Republicans and conservatives who were all for waterboarding and other forms of torture in our War on Terror.

In fact, some of the leading sadists come out of the conservative Christian community. Have you noticed? Yeah, it puzzles me too. I always thought Christians were for the poor and oppressed and wanted to relieve misery. Just a few of the Christian dominated conservative organizations that are opposed to health care reform include the Southern Baptist Convention, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Freedom Federation and American Values. The consequences of no health care reform are inescapable: health care will become more and more unaffordable, putting more people into misery, poverty and early death, and principally those near the bottom of the income scale. When you advocate policies that hurt and make miserable people you do not know or like, you are being sadistic.

The thing is most sadists enjoy inflicting pain and misery only on people they know personally. Republicans are taking it national, to people they don’t really know and in many cases just imagine. Take ultra-conservative TV show host Glenn Beck. Before he joined Fox “News” he worked for a radio station, B104 in Baltimore. What is more, Beck admits he was a sadist.

Today, when Beck wants to illustrate the jerk he used to be, he tells the story of the time he fired an employee for bringing him the wrong pen during a promotional event. According to former colleagues in Baltimore, Beck didn’t just fire people in fits of rage — he fired them slowly and publicly. “He used to take people to a bar and sit them down and just humiliate them in public. He was a sadist, the kind of guy who rips wings off of flies,” remembers a colleague.

Now that his audience is national, he appears to be in remission. In case you missed it, among Beck’s latest sadistic antics was this one where at first he appeared to boil a live frog.

As I noted back in 2007, Fox “News” commentator Bill O’Reilly is a bully with sadistic tendencies. He also has an explosive temper, both on and off the air. Yet in conservative circles, sadistic tendencies are now a virtue which might get you into their Hall of Fame. Sadistic tendencies show you are serious, just like Hitler was dead serious about ridding the world of the Jews. Indeed, Beck is rising in the public spotlight based on his sadistic notoriety. It’s like conservatives on TV and radio are holding a contest to see who can be the most sadistic and outrageous.

Fueling the sadism of course is anger, anger that must be expressed. When it is expressed in creative ways, such as pretending to boil a live frog, it gets publicity and weird interviews with Katie Couric. Even people who are not sadistic by nature might be drawn to watch Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck just to see what crazy sadistic antics they try on a particular day. (I am betting most of these people also watch TV reality shows.) While they are watching, of course, they will get plenty of propaganda. Their hope is that these viewers will make a regular habit watching them and, perhaps in time, enter the black and white world of the Dittoheads.

Perhaps it was Ronald Reagan who most recently started the whole mess, although clearly the underpinnings of this movement go back well before the rise of the John Birch Society. When Reagan first ran for president in 1976, he railed against welfare queens who he was sure were living the high life on the public dole. There was virtually no basis in fact for these allegations, but it made for an easy piñata that conservatives could bash. Given how miserable the economy was doing at the time, alleged welfare queens also made an easy target to advance a larger power agenda.

What was really needed in 1976, and is needed today in our sour economy, was some perspective. In 1976, anger against welfare queens was not the real issue; it was our rampant inflation instead. Our country was rapidly changing for the worse in a new global economy that we were not ready for. Today, the welfare queen may have been replaced with illegal immigrants clogging our emergency rooms, or illusory death panels of government bureaucrats, but their anger is real enough. When you feel angry inside, at some point you have to express the anger, at least you do if you have a short fuse. Naturally, the last place you will look for the source are some defects inside yourself. I am sure this anger has nothing to do with the way their Dads were so liberal with the use of the belt on their backsides.

So just why are conservatives so angry with Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular? Is it just racist feelings that explain their hatred of all things Obama? That is certainly part of the unstated animus, but only a small part of it. What really gets conservatives riled up is the unacknowledged fear that we have an administration and Congress that just might actually solve a couple of these chronic problems that people really care about. (As I pointed out in my last post, I am not particularly hopeful that Democrats will succeed.) After all, should Americans choose a government run plan over private insurance, and should it be fashioned like Medicare, they might like minor conveniences like not having to hassle with paperwork and knowing that they might be able to afford to be sick. Moreover, that might mean they would want more policies like these, and more Democrats voted into office. Eventually Republicans might devolve into a wholly inchoate bunch.

The truth is, Republicans today pretty much are an inchoate bunch but they are making a hell of a lot of noise. Hurricanes are very loud too and leave a lot of devastation in their wake. When you go from welfare queens, who just might possibly exist in some weird and exceptional case, to government sanctioned death panels trying to kill grandma, it is clear that people like Sarah Palin are not playing with a full deck. The best you can say for them is that their sense of rage has temporarily overtaken their ability to reason based on the known facts. The worst you can say is that they are loose cannons. The last thing you want to do is put one of these impulsive people on the deck of the ship of state. The next thing you know they will be worrying their next-door neighbors are Martians because their next-door neighbor looks like Uncle Martin Martin from My Favorite Martian. This would mean, of course, given their tortured logic, that America is covertly up to its armpits in Martians, and, by the way, Martians look upon us the same way we look upon a juicy steak.

Seriously, if anyone needs health care reform, Republicans need it, and make sure it includes mental health benefits. Many of these folks can no longer discern reality from fantasy. Their world is apparently one full of endless subterfuge where someone is always out to get them or some member of their clan. Perhaps if there is some intelligence behind their hatred of health care reform, it is their hope that by maintaining the status quo we will end up with a nation of paranoid village idiots, just like them. When everyone is pointlessly paranoid, just like them, then perhaps they can relax a bit. Somehow, I doubt that will calm their restless souls.

I know that if I were Glenn Beck’s physician, I would be writing him a prescription for Valium and when he is calm enough send him to a good head shrinker. Chances are he will in there a long time.

Demographics happen

The Thinker by Rodin

There are few things more American than the right to make an ass of yourself. Perhaps it is the swine flu but lately it seems like the Republican Party is being gripped by a form of insanity. It must be a fever because what else could explain such delusional thinking of late? Substantial numbers of Republicans actually believe that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, but was born in Kenya. Then there are these orchestrated protests at town halls being given by our congressional representatives and senators that seem to be attracting large numbers of orchestrated lunatics. It is one thing to be opposed to health care reform and to speak up in a civil manner. It is quite another thing to show up at these events, recite inanities if not outright falsehoods about health care reform and basically try to prohibit even a discussion on the topic from taking place. The National Republican Committee seems to be behind these protests, but they are also being whipped up by prominent conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck too.

What is really going on here? What is happening is that America’s demographics are changing to the point where their impact is being acutely felt. What is really very scary to these protestors is that white privilege is losing its grip on America. For years the demographics of America have been trending less white and more multicultural. America witnessed a watershed moment with the election of Barack Obama. In the minds of most of these protestors, having an African American as president was insulting enough. It was just as insulting that Barack Obama would also try to rapidly enact the exact reforms on which he campaigned.

The opposition, as it always does, tries to push back. What is unique this time is the extraordinary lengths this group is going to in order to get attention. Obviously these people have been seething since the election. When a balloon pops, it pops at its weakest point. Today we see that when these feelings become overwhelming, they are articulated by their loosest cannons on the GOP ship of state.

Do not assume though that these loose cannons are rolling around the deck because their pins rusted out. The crew (in this case the National Republican Committee and prominent conservative commentators) has been actively working to pull out their pins. They do so deliberately because they know that talk has its limits and to effect change it must be followed by actions. These tactics seem to be working to some extent. People whose support for Obama was tentative to begin with might be persuaded to believe the incredible about him if sufficient numbers of their neighbors say so, particularly in a bad economy. Similarly, much of the disinformation about national health care reform feeds into general American paranoia about Washington and its surreptitious motives.

The general thrust of all these actions is arguably quite conservative. Conservatives by their nature do not welcome change. They resist change. Conservatives are used to a power structure where white men hold most of the political power. It is as American in their minds as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. However, when you run out of convincing arguments and when the American people are generally not behind you, then in their mind some extreme tactics are required. Playing by the rules simply means they will become further marginalized. Go on the offensive using bizarre and unworldly tactics and at least you have attention and can attempt to direct the conversation. Trying to do so in gentlemanly conversations in Congress does not change the dynamics.

The attempt will likely prove futile. At best it may prove effective in the short term, but it will not prove effective in the long term. While there is an excitable minority that believes in conspiracy theories, most of us have brains that are more firmly attached to reality. For those of us who inhabit the real world, the silly belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and is thus a “false” president, is laughable and ludicrous. It amazes us that anyone other than the tiniest fraction of the weirdoes could possibly believe something proven so demonstrably false.

Similarly, we wonder what these people are smoking when they worry about socialized medicine. We already have Medicare and Medicaid. Many of the people squawking the loudest are already receiving Medicare and would be unable to pay for their own medical care if it disappeared. Many of these same people choose to remain blissfully mindless that health insurance companies already effectively decide who lives and dies by deciding which treatments they will or will not cover. The only way to make sure that insurance companies will not deny necessary coverage is to have the law require universal coverage. In any event, America is a democracy. Who would you rather make this crucial decision, a representative democracy where at least you could petition for changes or an unelected insurance company accountable only to their stockholders?

America’s changing demographics is a trend that cannot be changed. America is already very multiracial. The biggest change is that changing is that the era of white male privilege is going away, and it is being noticed in the form of “scary” things like Hispanic Supreme Court justices, African American presidents and new policies that include audacious notions like health insurance companies shouldn’t be able to pick and choose who they cover. This is a privilege, by the way, that has been enjoyed by members of Congress and federal employees for decades with no complaints. No member of Congress, even the conservative Republican ones, is anxious to change their Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan so they could be excluded from coverage because of their preexisting conditions. Regardless of what happens to other Americans, they will give up their FEHBP coverage shortly after their cold dead fingers are pried off their guns.

The sad reality is that protestors trying to crash town hall meetings on health care or who push crazy ideas like Obama was not born in the United States are being manipulated by people who really do not have their best interest at heart. Except for the self made millionaires attending these rallies, attempts to avoid health insurance reform simply mean these very people are likely to be excluded for their own preconditions, if they have not been already. Moreover, they will likely soon be priced out of the health insurance market altogether as premiums continue to rise beyond their ability to pay for them.

The Rudest Man on Television

The Thinker by Rodin

If the political right is wondering why Americans are abandoning it in droves, it is not just because of our catastrophically bad president. It is also because of the number of extremely annoying people that populate that side of the political spectrum. I have seen and heard enough to make one judgment: Fox News Commentator Bill O’Reilly is without a doubt the rudest person on television.

Image of Bill O'Reilly

It is unlikely that Bill O’Reilly will call me on the phone and invite me to be on his show. However, if he did I can tell you my answer in advance. I would attempt to politely decline the offer but perhaps because my brain has been tainted by watching him, more likely I would utter something extremely rude into the receiver. Something like (you fill in the blank, I know you can), “No way. No ____ing way. Absolutely NO ____ING WAY would I be caught DEAD being on your CRAPPY, MEAN and HURTFUL show!” I do not care how many people I might have a chance to influence by being on his “show”. I do not even care even they offered me a million dollars to debate him. Money cannot buy some things, like my integrity. I would rather spend a day in a vat full of poisonous snakes wearing nothing but my skivvies than spend even thirty seconds on his show. It is not because I am afraid of Bill, it is because I know I would never be heard in the first place. Instead, I would be slimed. So Bill, don’t call me. I will not take your call and even if you did, I would have to hang up on you. I certainly would not let my daughter within a mile of you; some of your vitriolic toxic personality might rub off on her.

Naturally, I do not bother to watch his show The O’Reilly Factor on the Fox so-called “News” Channel. At this point when I am channel surfing, if I even see his ugly mug, an autonomic finger jab moves me to the next channel even before his face registers in my brain. Before I knew better though I did watch his show, each time with my mouth hanging open in shock and disbelief. When he invites someone he does not agree with the format is always the same: they “debate”. Debating, according to Bill O’Reilly means being mean, smearing and constantly interrupting guests. Except for the first thirty seconds or so and in the last five seconds when he makes a slight feint of politeness, he goes for the jugular the same singular way your dog goes for the dish of Alpo when you put it down.

Perhaps he would almost be tolerable if most of his arguments were not non-sequiturs. For example, he will pull some quote by his guest from five years ago, which has no relevance to the topic at hand, and try to use it to prove he is a slime ball. It may be one sentence or phrase from a couple paragraphs. It is likely the sentence must be understood in the context of the entire argument. That does not matter. Anything is fair game for him. All he really cares about is sliming those he does not agree with. If you once shook Jane Fonda’s hand, he will use it to insinuate you were burning American flags.

In front of a “debater”, he does not know how to shut up. In fact, he does not even know how to debate. To debate you must discuss an argument on its merits. Debate is supposed to consist of point and counterpoint, not to be entirely one sided. O’Reilly’s idea of debating is to invite you into his sandbox, immediately start throwing sand in your face, then kick you and beat you over the head until you leave or cry uncle or until the first commercial hits. O’Reilly is not a debater. O’Reilly is simply an emotionally abusive bully who is paid top dollar by his employer, Fox News so the sick voyeuristic tendencies of his audience can satiated. If he pulled this kind of crap in public school, he would have been expelled for the semester.

I read today that Michael Moore is planning to go on The O’Reilly Factor to promote his new movie about health care, Sicko. Perhaps “interviews” like this come with the territory when you have to promote a documentary. I would urge Michael to cancel his appearance. Michael, your “interview” may generate some heat, but do not expect it to generate any light. It is not as if the viewers of The O’Reilly Factor are going to be going to see your movie. Instead, you will just be more red meat for this crowd who, let’s face it, already hate you because (a) you are liberal, (b) you are fat, (c) you hate President Bush and (d) you believe in gun control.

The same goes with anyone else who shows up on Bill’s show from the left side of the political fence. The odds are not just stacked against you, you are guaranteed to be verbally abused and bullied. You would probably divorce your spouse if he did this to you. Why put up with it in public? Except for the first thirty seconds or so, you will be unlikely to get out a coherent sentence. Whatever the alleged reason for your appearance on the show was, Bill will quickly steer it in a completely different direction that will be designed to make you look foolish. The alleged topic for discussion is merely a means to promote his ideology, which seems to be that the right is always right, and the left is universally wrong.

Are you tired of Bill O’Reilly? Do you want a civilized alternative from the other side of the political spectrum? Why not listen to The Diane Rehm Show instead? If it is not syndicated on your public radio station, you can listen to it live online from 10 AM to Noon Eastern Time on wamu.org, or download the latest podcasts of her show. Here is an interviewer with manners who asks thoughtful and probing questions. Here is someone who even if she does not agree with you will give you the opportunity to get your point across in a coherent manner. She will never denigrate you for your beliefs. In short, Diane has been house trained. Guests do not leave the studio feeling slimed; they leave the studio feeling like they had a chance to be heard. What an idea!

I would have thought that O’Reilly would have crossed the line a decade ago, but like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going. There does not appear to be anything he can say on the Fox “News” Channel that will get him kicked off the air. As a cable network, Fox knows the FCC will not be coming after them, so I guess anything goes. In addition, there must be quite a market for his bilge. Two millennium ago, his viewers were the kind filling Roman coliseums to cheer on the gladiators.

So unfortunately, unless his ratings go through the toilet, or the right wing totally implodes (not impossible given our current president) Bill will continue to be haunting the Fox “News” Channel. However, I suggest that even if you agree with him, you have better things to do with your time. If you have children, keep them away from the TV when Bill O’Reilly is on. If you ask me, his “show” should be rated at least TV-MA (Mature Audiences Only). The only problem is that if you were truly mature, you would not touch his show with a ten-foot anaconda.

Instead, I will channel Nancy Reagan and “just say no” to Bill, just as I have said no to Wal-Mart and Circuit City. I have taken the “No more Bill O’Reilly ever” pledge. I pledge not just to not watch his show any more, but also to do my utmost to avoid even the possibility of seeing or hearing him. Even if my favorite blog suggests watching a guest tussle with him on YouTube, I will wisely decline.

Like a Buddhist, I envision a more peaceful and gentle planet. Ideally, Bill O’Reilly would not be on it. If he has to be on it, people should be smart enough not to give him a microphone, because when someone like him gets a microphone it adds a couple centuries to our quest.

In any event, I do not need any more of his bad karma leeching onto me. Bye bye Bill.

The Delusional 34%

The Thinker by Rodin

How low can he go? A recent CBS News poll shows President Bush’s approval ratings have sunk to 34%. Some question the sampling method: were too many Democrats sampled, thus making it biased? As other polls results come in, we will soon know. However, after today’s news you have to wonder whether Bush will soon feel nostalgic about this week. Perhaps he will look back on the good old days when there were still 34% of Americans who approved of his job as president.

That Bush has 34% approval is largely due to his delusional Republican flock. However, even there, there are signs of weakness. 22% of Republicans disapprove of Bush, along with 86% of Democrats and 61% of independents. Now, with the clear video evidence that Bush was given explicit warnings about the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina before its landfall, and his subsequent proclamation four days later that no one could have predicted the magnitude of the storm, it is reasonable to ask: is this the final incident that will sink his ship of state?

What more evidence do Americans need that we have a disaster for a president? Bush has a reverse Midas touch: whatever he interferes with, he makes worse. If this were not enough, when he needs to become engaged, he cannot summon the energy. Iraq, Katrina, failing to capture bin Laden, the spiraling deficit, global warming, pissing off our allies, record gas prices, faith-based initiatives, No Child Left Behind – I could go on for pages on things he has bungled.

My brother sent me an email when this latest poll came out. He asked the question: how could the 34% of Americans still be so stupid? It is a good question. Has the rest of the country been living in a cave the last five years? Are the 34% Evangelical Christians hoping that Bush will trigger Armageddon so they can be saved? Have Republicans become so stuck in their opinions that they have simply lost any shred of objectivity? In view of his colossal mistakes, how could anyone support him unless they were delusional or had a frontal lobotomy?

Yet there are still plenty of them out them. Heck, I see them on my block, still sporting their Bush/Cheney stickers on their SUV bumpers. I cannot fathom why they did not surreptitiously peel them off. Do they want to be like Captain Edward J. Smith and go down with the Titanic? Do they want to be derided, laughed at or even worse pitied by their neighbors? Maybe their support is just another faith-based initiative. Click your heels three times Dorothy and you will end up in Kansas. Maybe they forgot that Dorothy just got a bad knock on the head.

Bush may not be the worst president of all time, but he is coming very close. As bad as the Iraq debacle is, he has not yet hit President Buchanan’s peculiar milestone. Buchanan largely stood aside and allowed our Civil War to start. Nevertheless, hold on. Bush has three years left in his term. Give him time. Who knows what it will be. Perhaps it will be another oil shock. Perhaps a thermonuclear bomb will slip through one of our ports (where only 5% of cargo are inspected) and destroy a major city. I am praying though that the gods have decided we have suffered enough. Seeing how the good people of Iraq are suffering for our foolishness though, I am not too hopeful.

After the 2004 election, I wrote that Bush’s chickens would come home to roost. Like the Iraq de facto civil war now underway, those chickens were not at all hard to spot even then. Check off the Iraq debacle. Energy prices up. Check. Deficit keeps going up. Check. International lenders getting wary of lending us money. Check. Health care costs dramatically outpacing inflation. Check. Net loss of earning power. Check. Bin Laden still at large four and a half years after 9/11. Check. If this were a chess match Bush would be down to a king and a couple pawns. We had wrapped up World War II within four and a half years of Pearl Harbor. Yet here is our foolish president in Afghanistan saying today that bin Laden “will be brought to justice”. It is unlikely to happen on your watch, fool.

As the polls clearly show, Americans are fed up with Bush and even more fed up with Congress (28% approval). Since Republicans have a lock on all three branches of government, I believe that voters will take out their wrath on them during elections this autumn. If you asked me six months ago, I would have said that Democrats had a 50% chance of retaking the House and forget about retaking the Senate. I now think the odds for retaking the house are at least 75%, and there is a 50/50 chance in the Senate. As I pointed out in this blog entry, in the elections after Watergate, Democrats increased their majority in the House by 47 seats and 4 seats in the Senate. Americans now disapprove of our Republican congress to a higher degree than they disapproved of the Democratic congress before the 1994 “Gingrich Revolution”. In 1994, Republicans picked up 55 seats in the House. Democrats need just six seats to take control of the House. With so many retirements and the current mood in the country, barring some massive election fraud, I think it is a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, I do not put massive election fraud past the current crew. They have demonstrated repeatedly they do not care about the law.

If Democrats win, is impeachment out of the question? I certainly hope not, although the idea of Cheney having his hand on the nuclear trigger is even less appealing that having Bush’s finger on it. However, perhaps they will go down in flames together. With Democrats in charge, it would not be difficult in the least to find charges that amount to probable cause for high crimes and misdemeanors. Bush’s egregious violation of the FISA statutes is the simplest and fastest way to throw the bum out. However taking us into war in Iraq based on scattershot and faulty evidence is even more egregious. Convicting him in the Senate would be tougher, but perhaps even Republicans would be glad to cut their losses. Most do not see it yet, but Bush is an albatross around their necks. Whoever replaced him and Cheney, even if it were a Democratic Speaker of the House, would be better for their party then allowing the current set of fools to stay in office.

If because of this latest revelation Bush’s poll numbers do not drop into the 20s, then perhaps Republicanism just needs to be banned. Apparently, it is more addictive than crack, and wholly messes up the heads of otherwise reasonable people. Fortunately, a few conservatives like William F. Buckley have finally seen the light. They will not be mistaken for a fool any longer. They are wisely jumping into the lifeboats while there is still room.