The Mormon, the serial adulterer, the zealot and the crackpot

The Thinker by Rodin

Get out the popcorn! Thanks to Newt Gingrich’s surprising win in the South Carolina Republican primary yesterday, it looks like those of us who enjoy political theater have many more weeks or months of it to revel in. One thing is clear: Republican primary voters are having a hard time choosing from their crop of candidates. You get the feeling Bob Forehead would win if he were on the ballot. (Mitt Romney does remind me a lot of Bob Forehead. It must be coincidence.)

At least it is now down to four: the Mormon, the serial adulterer, the zealot and the crackpot. A number of other crackpots have already exited stage right, including Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Jon Huntsman posed as the moderate candidate in the race, although his tax policies were anything but moderate. Anyhow, they are gone and I for one will miss Bachmann, Cain and Perry for their circus sideshow qualities. It’s hard to lampoon candidates who are already crazy parodies of candidates but simply do not know it.

We are learning some things as these primaries drag on. First, it’s a bad idea to entrust vote counting to the Iowa Republican Party. They must not have excelled in math in school, and they lost votes altogether for some precincts. Mitt Romney won Iowa by eight votes, then some weeks later he lost it, but no one can really say for sure because they also lost precinct votes. Doing all that vote counting at an undisclosed location is hardly a way to instill confidence in the process either. Call it a tie, maybe, between the Mormon and the zealot.

Second, Republicans simply refuse to nominate a moderate. In today’s Republican Party, Ronald Reagan would be castigated as a flaming liberal. Even Jon Huntsman tilted much further to the right than Ronald Reagan ever did. Being angry is considered an asset; being statesman-like means you are a pussy. At least anecdotally, South Carolina Republicans picked serial philanderer Newt Gingrich not because of his family values, but because he was the best of the four of them at articulating their rage. It takes balls to tell an African American to their face their problem is they don’t work hard enough.

Third, for a party supposedly centered on liberty and freedom, they sure don’t want to hand much of it out. In fact, they want to take away a lot of freedoms. One freedom they can all agree on: the right to own lots and lots of increasingly lethal weapons, with no pesky laws to get in the way of you and your paranoia. But on many other freedoms, they would gladly rescind them. The freedom to have an abortion? Perish the thought. The freedom to marry someone you love who happens to be of the same sex? It’s immoral and hence must be outlawed. The freedom of a 17-year old girl to buy a Plan B “after the fact” contraceptive over the counter, which is clinically proven both safe and effective? Not for you, you little harlot. The freedom to vote without having an officially blessed form of state-issued identification? Sorry, no, at least in many of these Republican states which recently passed onerous voter ID laws.

Freedom, as Republicans like to tell us, is not free, which is another way of saying freedom has to be purchased, i.e. it’s sort of like buying emancipation. If you cannot afford to buy it, well that’s just tough. If you want the freedom to vote, then trek down to your local DMV and get an official ID and pay for it with your own money, and do it on your own time. (This is not, they tell us, a poll tax. Go figure.) You have the freedom to eat as much food as you can afford to buy, and if you cannot afford any you are free to starve. The same goes with your health, your employment and your choice of abode. You have the freedom to call a cardboard box home rather than pay rent. Freedom means never getting a handout. Freedom essentially means that those with the means get to have a whole lot more freedom than you do. Also it is an essential part of the government’s mission to remove any possibility that society might help the poor climb the social ladder. As Herman Cain informed us, if you are poor it’s your own damn fault. You just aren’t trying hard enough.

You can see why it would be confusing to Republican primary voters to choose a nominee, although right now anger seems to be a vote getter. In conservative family-values South Carolina of all places you would think that a serial philanderer would have a hard time getting votes. But voters seem more interested in a candidate who can express their anger than one who is consistent with family values. So they cheered Gingrich on in a recent debate when moderator John King asked Gingrich to comment on his ex-wife Marianne’s allegation that he petitioned her for an open marriage. Gingrich turned the inevitable question into a personal attack and the audience roared approval. Perhaps all this family value talk is just talk, as red states have higher divorce rates than blue states anyhow.

Then there is the question: can a true Christian pull the lever for a Mormon? New Hampshire Republicans had no problem, but they are suspiciously secular up there. In God-fearing South Carolina, if your candidate is not a real Christian, he doesn’t share your values, so you cannot vote for him. Instead, pick Gingrich, the faux-Christian instead. You would think his Catholicism would be a stroke against him in a deeply Protestant state, but it’s Christian enough apparently. Besides, Gingrich is about as Christian in temperament as Attila the Hun was a humanitarian, which in fact resembles most so-called Christians that I know.

Which leaves the zealot and the crackpot. The zealot, a.k.a. as Rick Santorum, is so incredibly monogamous he won’t even sit on a sofa with another woman not his wife. He was a huge failure as a U.S. senator but apparently did not get the message, even when he lost his reelection bid by seventeen points. Santorum says he is the only true conservative in the race. Maybe so, but he is conservative in a nasty Fred Rogers sort of way, although he looks great in a sweater vest. This is a guy who is so far to the right that even obvious right-wingers avoid him. His proposal to limit the National Weather Service to issuing severe long-range weather forecasts only was so bizarre and unworldly that not a single other senator signed on as a cosponsor. Santorum is a true conservative indeed. Even I have to give him credit for this.

Then there is the crackpot. Doubtless I risk the ire of legions of Ron Paul fans out there by calling him a crackpot, but he is one. Anyone who refuses to ever make an exception to move outside his or her ideology is a crackpot. One way I can tell a true crackpot is I tend to agree with some of their positions. I agree with Paul that we should be out of Afghanistan, for example. It’s all that other weird stuff he believes in where it’s hard to stifle derisive laughter. He wants to eliminate much of the government including essential agencies like the EPA, kill the Federal Reserve Board, go on the gold standard, and withdraw from the UN and WTO. And for a pro-freedom kind of guy, freedom apparently doesn’t extend to a woman’s right to have an abortion, or the right to have consensual sodomy, since granted to us by a conservative Supreme Court. Calling Ron Paul a crackpot is actually to diminish him with faint praise. Nonetheless, a significant portion of the Republican electorate apparently agrees with this guy. Fortunately, his anti-foreign-policy stand makes it impossible for him to win the nomination. His candidacy does beg the question: who is freakier: the fetishly clean Rick Santorum or the obsessively and ideologically weird Ron Paul? This is the kind of question I could debate with friends all night, and we could never agree on, but it would still be a fun debate.

I plan to stock up on popcorn and hope this nominating process goes all the way to a brokered convention.

Kindling in search of a spark

The Thinker by Rodin

About a month ago, I expressed my alarm with certain members of The Tea Party movement. Since I wrote, my alarm has grown. The FBI conducted a well-publicized raid of the Hutaree Militia in southern Michigan toward the end of March, arresting nine members who seemed dangerously close to attempting armed insurrection.

In fact, militias are popping up all over the place. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports an increase of 363 new “patriot groups” in 2009, an increase of 244 percent from 2008. You can bet these patriot movements are more about locking and loading guns than planting flags in veterans’ cemeteries. Randy Brogdon, a candidate for governor of Oklahoma is calling for the formation of a state militia to presumably protect Oklahomans from some sort of unnatural act, like the U.S. Army occupying the state and instituting martial law. (News to Brogdon: the state already has an armed militia. It’s called The National Guard.)

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin seems to be endorsing the idea of some sort of theocratic, or at least Christian-Judea state, when she actually said:

Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our founding fathers, they were believers.

Ms. Palin clearly has not read her constitution, which explicitly separates church from state and specifically disallows any religious test as a condition of holding office. In fact, separation of church and state was a crucial aspect to our formation as a country, as centuries of witnessing what happened by merging church and state in Europe showed what a bad idea it was.

Just yesterday across the Potomac River, about 75 mostly white men brandishing semiautomatic weapons demonstrated their new right to bear arms in a national park. Who signed this bill into law? Why, the president of the United States. No, it was not the last conservative one, but the new liberal Democratic one named Barack Obama. Strangely, because they apparently inhabit a different world than the rest of us, they are convinced that Obama is trying to take away their right to bear arms. If words were bullets though, the words uttered at this rally would cause PTSD in any survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing who tuned in. Mike Vanderbough, leader of the “Three Percent” movement, had previously called upon followers to break the windows of thousands of Democratic Party offices in response to the passage of health care reform. He enlivened the group by smashing a brick on the stage at Fort Hunt Park. According to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post:

“I was trying to get the attention of people who are pushing this country toward civil war, that they should stop before somebody gets hurt,” Vanderboegh said of his brick-throwing campaign. He then read the philosopher John Locke’s words that there comes a time when people are “absolved from any further obedience” to their government.

The armed citizenry cheered. “This is what the other side doesn’t understand!” Vanderboegh shouted. “We are done backing up! Done! Not one more inch!”

One thing is clear. Democrats will not be starting any new civil war. With these sorts of remarks, the Hutaree Militia example and the increase in so-called patriot movements it is clear that a small minority of Americans is dangerously close to open insurrection. The kindling seems to be stacked. All that is needed is a match. It won’t take much to set these groups off.

They have made it abundantly clear that they feel America is drifting toward socialism, but they seem to be slowly absolving themselves of the need to enact reform through our constitutional system of government. So-called patriot Sarah Palin seems to be encouraging them. When pressed she will doubtless say that she was meant to be taken metaphorically, but it is abundantly clear that some critical mass of these militia members are not playing with a full deck. What are they to think when Sarah Palin says, as she did on April 9th to Southern Republicans to not retreat, but reload. Armed insurrection must be okay, because Representative Michele Bachmann (MN) at a rally also attended by Sarah Palin referred to the federal government as a “gangster government”. I guess the 2008 elections must have been rigged or something but it’s clear if anyone is openly brandishing arms, it’s these “patriot groups” not the Obama Administration.

It sure sounds like many loose-hinged people are piling up reasons for the ends justifying their ready means. Those who do or have held public office, like Palin and Bachman, are being irresponsible and possibly seditious by alluding to unlawful means to change government. No one who calls him or herself a patriot would ever start an insurrection against their own constitutional government. A true patriot values our republican government, in good times and bad. They know that however extreme things might appear at any one time, natural forces will tend to counterbalance other forces in time. That’s why we have elections and three separate but equal branches of government. Republicans will doubtless pick up seats in elections this fall. The only question is how many. If political power is what you yearn for, then insurrection is the worst way to go about it. The vast majority of us are not wingnuts. We value our democracy and the rule of law. While Democrats gaining seats this fall seems unlikely, there is no surer way to make this a reality than by engaging in some serious armed insurrection. Nothing makes property values and portfolios drop faster than a civil war.

President Obama is not a moron, and he realizes these so called patriots are a real threat. He is trying to reduce the threat in two ways. First, he has the FBI working closely with state and local law enforcement officials to figure out which of these groups are truly dangerous by defanging them before they cause loss of life. With so many groups, it is probably impossible to keep up with all of them. Second, he is keeping a low profile and not publicly talking about the obvious threat of domestic terrorism. Perhaps with a bit of luck none of these sparks will catch on this very dry kindling.

The sad reality is that the socialism these groups see is largely a figment of their fevered imaginations, and shows how out of touch they are with reality. Obama has not tightened gun laws. He has loosened them. Health care reform is not socialism, unless doing the same thing nationally that states like Massachusetts did is socialism. If so, Mitt Romney is a socialist. Requiring people to purchase health insurance is no more socialist than the vast majority of states requiring people who drive to buy auto insurance. If anything, health insurance reform enhances personal responsibility. It means that people have to take responsibility for the cost of their health, rather than foisting it off on the rest of us who are insured. It costs each of us insured about $1200 a year to pay in additional premiums to cover these irresponsible people. Why would any of these rugged individuals object to making people carry their own freight?

The truth is that if John McCain had won the presidency, proposed these same things, and enacted these same laws, the opposition would have been largely muted because these laws are actually quite mainstream and look very close to what Republicans were calling for back in the 1990s. What is the difference? Well, Obama is clearly a Democrat and McCain in a Republican. Most of us are not fooled, even if these wingnuts cannot admit it to themselves. The real issue is that Obama is a black man with power. That is the animus driving these people. If something ignites this kindling, it will be the flame of racism, which, sadly, is not yet extinguished in our country.