Republicans may be insane and vindictive but they are also hilarious

The Thinker by Rodin

Thanks to all of you visitors who keep coming to read my 2010 post, Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane. I still find it weird when a post so many years old retains popularity, as this one sure seems to be.

For better or worse, Republicans speak their minds, no matter how loopy it sounds afterward. Strangely, most seem to enjoy foaming at the mouth, so much so that it goes to prove my thesis that they are insane. DailyKos.com is of course the “Orange Satan” progressive liberal website. It is also the site to go to if you decide that rather than just getting mad at Republicans, you also want to laugh along at their daily rants and lunacies. More and more, I go to Daily Kos simply to get my humor for the day. Republicans seem to provide an inexhaustible supply.

Whatever happened to sane Republicans anyhow? You know, the Nelson Rockefellers of the world? They tended to be from money, but were buttoned down and business-like. They were conservative in the sense that they moved cautiously.

They are apparently gone with the wind, and now only lunatics inhabit Tara. The new residents are hanging from the rooftops and foaming from the mouths. If you look carefully, you can see them with their loaded semi-automatic rifles peeking out the windows. I feel kind of sorry for them but they simply won’t take their Prozac. So I might as well laugh at them. What’s so funny, you may ask?

  • Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. No amount of facts that show that plain old bad judgment by our late Ambassador who flew some of his staff to an under-guarded consulate in Benghazi, Libya (effectively a war zone) has dissuaded Republicans from their unshakable belief that there were much more sinister motives at work by the Obama Administration and of course by President Obama and Hillary Clinton specifically. No less than three committees in the House are looking into the matter again. Among those they want to subpoena include Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a sitting senator when the incident happened. They believe there simply has to be an Obama conspiracy at work somewhere in this regrettable mistake. Republicans are also convinced that with enough hearings that they will find something that will validate their paranoid delusions about Obama and his evil administration. Even if they don’t find anything, they are certain that all these hearings will help them win more control of Congress in the next election. Most Americans, if they tune into this at all, are simply snickering. If reasonably up on this stuff, like me, they are laughing deliriously at each new paranoid claim.
  • Ping-ponging on the Bergdahl release. Before the rescue the mantra was: the Taliban is holding Bowe Bergdahl so we must get him home and Obama is not trying hard enough! It’s been five years already! Every effort must be expended to free this captive soldier. He may be hurt, tortured, or injured or something! And we must leave no soldier behind on the battlefield! After the deal: exchanging five Taliban detainees, who were never charged with a crime against the United States but held in Gitmo anyhow, is negotiating with terrorists. Before Bergdahl was just a patriotic soldier, but now that they are tuned into the details that he deserted his post (even though he did it before and returned), he’s a traitor that deserved capture. Of course the only thing that really mattered to them was they saw a new potential attack angle against President Obama, which was obviously much more important than securing Bergdahl’s release. In today’s news is news that Bergdahl claims that he was tortured by the Taliban. It will be interesting to see how the GOP spins this now. My bet: “He’s just trying to cop a plea so he is not tried for aiding and abetting the enemy.”
  • Craziness on the minimum wage. Republicans overall are hostile to increasing the minimum wage, which even Republicans agree is far below a living wage. For many the real solution is to repeal the minimum wage. Why would this be good? Because it would incentivize employers to create more jobs, lowering the unemployment rate! Of course, those taking these jobs would mean making less, meaning they would do menial work and digging themselves into even more dire poverty at the same time. Meanwhile, with no wage rate floor, those employers already providing the minimum wage would have incentive to cut their wages, further impoverishing a whole lot more people. All this new poverty would make more people eligible for food stamps. Their obstinacy is quite sad but that they can say these things while maintaining a straight face is hilarious!
  • Fox News. The network pretends to be “fair and balanced” and not at all racist or discriminatory when their female talent consists exclusively of pretty and white conservative blondes. Got to keep those 60-something conservative white guys with plenty of eye candy!
  • Sarah Palin. Nuff said.
  • Donald Trump and his jaw dropping mouth. He doesn’t believe that Obama’s short and long form birth certificates are real, despite both having been produced many times and that an ad announcing his birth was published in a Honolulu newspaper in 1961. He’s in good company as long as he stays in the Republican Party.
  • Regular and blatant lies that global warming is not real, in spite of the statistics that show global temperatures rising pretty much every year and that most years are on average warmer than the ones that preceded it. How can I not laugh at a party full of people so dogmatic that actual facts have no bearing at all?
  • They are the anti-free pro-freedom party! That they are the pro-freedom party while doing their best to deny freedoms to anyone who doesn’t share their values including gays who desire to get married, women seeking abortions, Hispanics who want to become citizens and pay taxes, blacks who want proportional representation in their states and the poor who want to be able to vote without the hassle and expense of getting photo identification. Yes, course it’s appalling but at the same time their cognitive dissonance on the issue is downright hilarious!
  • Our world’s best health care system. They claim that our health care is tops in the world when we actually rank #16. Only I guess we’re not #1 anymore because of Obamacare. Because of Obamacare, poor people are getting treatment. Logically, if they weren’t getting treatment, we’d have better health care. It’s hilarious!
  • Rick Santorum and the many Pat Boone wannabees in the party. Rick is so fetishly sober and faithful to his wife that he won’t sit on a sofa with any woman other than his wife. Most Republicans are glassy-eyed in admiration over Rick’s heartfelt demonstration of fidelity, not to mention the cool sweater vest.
  • We love the poor and want to help them by making them poorer! It’s hilarious that they keep denying they hate the poor while systematically doing everything possible to make their lives more miserable and move what little income they have left into their pockets instead. It’s “the beatings will continue until the morale improves” way of making people happy! It’s tough love, but it is love. Feel the love, poor people!
  • Their gun fetish. They see nothing at all peculiar or alarming about paranoid schizophrenics having easy access to all the guns and ammunition they want. They cheer “open carry” losers who like to go into Targets with loaded semi-automatic weapons. Nothing to see here but some honest exercising of constitutional rights! What could possibly go wrong with a group of white redneck young adults strung out on testosterone and loaded assault weapons running around our retails stores?
  • The NRA in general. Any statement from the organization is good for a few laughs. You wonder how any organization could possibly be so clueless about cause and effect. Then you realize it’s not cluelessness; it’s just dogma. Dogma means never having to think through your illogical positions.
  • The Tea Party. It’s a party so principle driven that it is incapable of any compromise whatsoever, so it’s incapable of governing until the unlikely time when there is no one in Congress other than Tea Partiers. Dr. Seuss could not have created a more perfect north or south going Zak.

So, thanks Republicans! You are so completely surreal and out of touch that for those of us with one foot still in reality, laughter is inevitable. And laughter is good medicine, both for the body and soul. You are the gift that keeps on giving.

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.

News to Glenn Beck: Honor was restored in 2008

The Thinker by Rodin

It must be just me, but I really don’t understand what Glenn Beck’s rally on the National Mall today was all about. Okay, it’s quite clear to Glenn Beck that the rally was about “restoring honor.” Presumably, honor is something we had not yet restored. Presumably the problem has gotten much worse, otherwise such an urgent national rally would not be needed.

As a noun, “honor” has a number of definitions, most prominently “honesty, fairness or integrity in one’s actions and beliefs.” One of them is also “high respect, as for worth, merit or rank.” Why we must urgently “restore” honor is unclear to me, and news reports of the well-attended rally hardly clarified the matter. Service members were praised for their service to country. I don’t know any American who has a problem with that. To honor our servicemen and women, Democrats, despite Republican objections, have succeeded in dramatically increasing funding for the Veterans Administration, including more coverage for post traumatic stress disorder, which the Bush Administration tried to sweep under the carpet. That was an important way to honor our veterans, not with words and flag waving, but with tangible actions for their enormous sacrifice for our country.

Beck also wants us to get in touch with our religious side again, which seems curious because I see no sign that American is less religious than it has been in the past. The diversity of religions in America has increased in recent years, not lessened. Tea Partiers as a class, who presumably formed the bulk of today’s overwhelmingly white rally, are much less religious than African Americans, whose passion for religion and social justice helped reduce their civil and economic disparities. According to a recent New York Times poll, just 38% of Tea Partiers attend church weekly. Yet according to a 2008 Newsweek poll, 85% of African Americans say religion is very important in their lives, and more than half attend church at least weekly. Presumably, Tea Partiers agree it was they, not others who need to become more religious? It’s so unclear.

So what was this “nonpolitical” rally all about? As best I can tell, it’s a show of force of white, conservative America yet minus most of the negative signs and angry rhetoric that have characterized past Tea Party rallies. It should help with Tea Party television ads for the midterm elections. While allegedly not a Tea Party rally, the overwhelmingly white crowd sure looked all Tea Party-ish. Both Beck and “lock and load” Sarah Palin are two of the movement’s key organizers, so it’s really hard not to characterize the rally as a gathering of the clan.

President Obama was not formally on the agenda, but it is abundantly clear from numerous past speeches by both Palin and Beck that he is their target of all they see as “dishonorable” about America. I find this curious, as you would think getting us into an illegal and immoral war as President Bush did would be a very dishonorable deed, so getting us out would be very honorable, or at least a first step to restoring the honor of our country. Curiously, this week, by Obama’s order, the last combatant troops were withdrawn from Iraq, leaving 50,000 American troops on bases, all of which will be gone by the end of 2011.

If it is honorable to fight terrorists and actually win, arguably Obama is doing a better job than Bush ever did. I think adding troops to Afghanistan is a fool’s errand, but the intelligence is clear that expanded and better targeted drone missile strikes in northwestern Pakistan have seriously undermined both al Qaeda and the Taliban in that area.

Presumably, it is neither honorable nor religious to let your fellow countrymen unnecessarily suffer during a terrible recession, which is why Obama and the Democrats pushed for the economic stimulus. Obama has already created more jobs than President Bush created in eight years. Granted, the unemployment rate is still unacceptably high at 9.5%. However, it was the Republicans (aided by Blue Dog Democrats) who resisted further stimulus to the economy, otherwise the rate might now be still dropping and the economy still expanding robustly.

Also, last I checked, GM was getting ready to pay back its taxpayer bailout funds with interest and issue stock again. Many jobs were lost in the American auto industry because of the recession, but it is already clear that the bailout saved tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs in auto and related industries alone and kept the American auto industry from shrinking from three car companies to one. Both Ford and GM are reporting profits, despite the weak economy. Obama and the Democrats are honoring the hard work of the American people through productive stimulus spending and (when Republicans don’t block it) stop gap unemployment insurance. It all sounds quite honorable to me, almost, you know, religious, as in a policy of government to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s like we give a crap about our own citizens. The same could not be said for the Bush Administration, which five years ago this week in New Orleans proved bereft of compassion and concern when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

As a political lever to perhaps show a kinder, gentler side of the Tea Party, as well as the nasty Beck himself, perhaps Beck’s rally was a success. As a means to highlight the “honor” problem within the United States, it strikes me as an abject failure.

Based on international polls, Americans electing Barack Obama was the biggest boost to America’s honor in at least a decade. It strikes me that Beck should have invited President Obama to the rally, and honored him for his single-minded pursuit of raising America’s honorable standing in the world. But, of course, that could not be, because in Beck and Palin’s tiny little mind, Obama is the major cause of all this dishonor, not they and the people they want to put back into power that cause all the dishonor.

None of that past stuff could have possibly dishonored America, could it? Could it?

The wages of sin: up to $30,000 per speech

The Thinker by Rodin

The wages of sin used to be death. Now it can pay $15,000 to $30,000 per speaking engagement. At least that’s the news from Single Source Speakers, when a couple weeks ago it confirmed the news that it had lined up former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol for the speakers’ circuit. Single Source Speakers won’t confirm how much Bristol will be paid per speech, but according to Palin family attorney Thomas Van Flein, it will be between $15,000 to $30,000.

In case you have been living in a cave somewhere, Bristol was Palin’s seventeen year old daughter when during her mother’s campaign she was shown to be inconveniently pregnant and unmarried. Bristol gave birth to Tripp about a month after her mother lost the election and quickly became estranged from Tripp’s father, Levi Johnston.

Most teenage mothers with out of wedlock babies are lucky if Mom and Dad give them shelter and help with their basic expenses. The good news for both Bristol and Tripp is that if she can make a success of herself on the lecture circuit, she won’t need to go on welfare or food stamps to support Tripp. With her mother commanding much larger speakers fees, it also looks like should the need arise little Tripp can also depend on his grandmother for financial support.

Most religions would declare that getting pregnant out of wedlock (or just having sex out of wedlock) is a sin. Sarah Palin belongs to a non-denominational Christian church that seems to have a fundamentalist bent. It is unclear what church Bristol belongs to now, if any, or if she is even a Christian. Based on her public regrets about getting pregnant out of wedlock, it sure sounds like she knows that she has sinned. This raises the question: why would some speaker’s bureau become an accomplice to her sin?

The answer, of course, is money. Sin is just between you and your conscience. Money you can take to the bank or use it to buy life’s many necessities (or perhaps in this case indulgences). Still, Bristol is an exception. The only reason she is newsworthy at all is that the media is enamored with her mother. Because it is, anything tangentially related to the Palin family is of great interest to the press, including Levi Johnston’s soon to be published buff shots in Playgirl Magazine, the proceeds of which will hopefully go to support little Tripp. Even a writer working on a book about Sarah Palin commands media attention when he manages to rent a house near her home in Wasilla, Alaska.

It’s hard to know exactly who will want to pay Bristol these speaking fees. I would think that any organization trying to promote abstinence and chastity before marriage would have a hard time giving her any money to speak, lest they be seen as tacitly endorsing her sin. According to the family’s attorney, Bristol may be hired to give her thoughts about parenting and her outlook on life.

I too am available to give my thoughts on parenting and my outlook on life, particularly if I can be get her speaker’s fee. Alas, my mother was no Barbie and my father no Ken, and neither even bothered to run for PTA president, let alone governor or vice president. However, they did raise eight of us rug rats. Amazingly, not one of us managed to become pregnant or impregnate anyone before marriage.

To recognize my virtuousness officially, I am hoping Bristol will rebate at least some of her speaking fees to me. If she did, then maybe people would realize that living a virtuous life, in addition leaving you full of virtue, actually pays. I was dissuaded from impregnating women not just because of my high moral standards but also because of the extremely costly financial consequences of knocking up a woman. It appears that Levi Johnston and Bristol did not have that conversation before Bristol opened her thighs for Levi.

Bristol’s tacit message seems to be that it’s okay to get knocked up out of wedlock, provided you have famous parents who are always in the glare of the media and have no problem selling your soul for some quick cash. Bristol is discovering her good fortune for mistakes made within a celebrity family. In her case, she helps vindicate those of us who believe Sarah Palin’s sterling parenting skills to be largely for show. It is unclear had John McCain gotten his first choice of a running mate (reputedly Joe Lieberman) and her family never gotten attention in the national media, whether her family would be as supportive of her unwed mother status. Given the rugged individualism the Palins claim to believe in, had fortune not smiled on Bristol’s mother, Bristol might now be on food stamps and getting TANF assistance.

Bristol must be doing the right thing though, because in the Republican Party, one thing triumphs both religion and ideology, and that’s hauling in cash. It’s their real religion: unfettered, glorious capitalism. Bristol may be an adult, but she is smart enough to watch her mother command six figure speaking fees and conclude, “I deserve some of that dough too.”

Let’s hope that despite her tender years Bristol is smart enough to use the money wisely. If I were living in another den of sin, Las Vegas, I wouldn’t put odds on it.

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.

Message to Sarah Palin: please, please fade away!

The Thinker by Rodin

Like many electoral weary Americans, I have this urgent post-electoral request of Governor Sarah Palin: is it too much to, like, just fade away? It’s the patriotic thing to do.

John McCain knows his job as loser is to fade away. The press is helping. The other day he spoke at a campaign rally for incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who is in a runoff election for the Georgia Senate seat against Democrat challenger Jim Martin. You probably didn’t know this. That is because the press largely ignored the event. CNN showed some live pictures from the rally, but was far more interested talking to Ted Turner, who was also at the rally, than reporting McCain’s endorsement speech.

But Sarah “I can field dress a moose” Palin, McCain’s stunningly bad choice for a running mate, simply refuses to fade away. She had her sixty days of national fame. She liked being recognized by sight by most of us in the lower forty-eight. Between her welcome home rally, an interview in her home with NBC’s Matt Lauer (where she made some moose meat chili in her gosh darn real kitchen), another interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, and trying to steal the show at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida, Mrs. Palin is working hard to make sure we will not forget her.

I know I sure would like to forget her. I would like to forget the $150,000 her campaign wasted on her clothes and a hairdresser. I would like to forget her annoying “you betcha’s”, her Canuck accent, her high heels and her pregnant daughter Bristol. I want to forget about Trig having Downs Syndrome, and her being for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. I would like to purge forever from my brain her claims about being a tax cutter when she raised taxes on oil companies. I would like to forget about the bloated sports complex she built in Wasilla as mayor. In fact, I would like to forget even the name of Wasilla. I would love to forget her crude campaign to remove her ex-brother in law from the state police. I would love to forget that condescending wink she gave during the vice presidential debate. If she would just fade away, maybe in time these memories would vanish!

In short, I would be happy to go back spending as much time hearing about the governor of Alaska as I do about the governor of Delaware. Unfortunately, the media will not let me. They remain intrigued by all things Sarah Palin and she is happy to take every opportunity to make sure she stays in the national spotlight. Is she trying to succeed in her comeback by never leaving our national consciousness? You betcha! Since we are pretty much sick of Paris Hilton, she is glad to assume the role of our new national feminine distraction. The first rule of politics is that negative attention is better than no attention at all.

It might help if our president elect spent more time in the public spotlight. Instead, Barack Obama seems determined to hide behind the scenes until President Bush leaves office. It is already clear what an Obama Adminstration will look like: it will be unsexy, low key and pragmatic, lead by a serenely unruffled president. Our new president may have a magnetic personality to many, but if he likes being vainglorious, he is keeping it well hidden. In the years ahead, when there are political successes from an Obama Administration, do not expect them to break out the champagne that often.

So perhaps instead the media fixates on Palin. Palin knows that she has an image problem. The whole point of inviting Matt Lauer to Wasilla was to begin an image makeover. Maybe Mrs. Palin does know that Africa is a continent after all (it was an urban legend that she did not, but it sure sounded like something she would not know), but she might be able to soften her image a bit by showing that while being governor she too is a domestic goddess like millions of other wives and mothers. Obviously there is little point in softening up her image if she imagined governor of Alaska being the zenith of her career. No, quite clearly being a party’s vice presidential nominee and speaking to all those adoring crowds whetted her appetite for grander ambitions. Her next stepping-stone may be to serve in the U.S. Senate. Her real ambition, after having a thorough image makeover, might well be to be the nation’s first female president. If I were Palin, I would begin with a large number of flashcards. Maybe she can borrow some from Bristol.

Given that the Republican brand is in tatters and a plurality of Americans thought she was unfit for the vice presidency, let alone the presidency, she might not be the ideal candidate in 2012. In fact, if the Republican Party wants to control Congress and the White House again, some reinvention of the party will be necessary. Clearly, what they are selling no longer holds much appeal with swing voters. It is unlikely that this can be done in the short term. Sticking to principles no matter how unworkable they have proven in the past, is something most Republicans view as an asset. Arguably though, John McCain did relatively well in this election in part because his role as the Republican maverick did help with some independent voters. In a disastrous electoral year, he only lost by seven points. A repackaged and more mainstream Sarah Palin could appeal to independent voters. To do so, she will have to help persuade Republicans to be less insular and headstrong party. This could be a big challenge as she exhibited both these characteristics during the campaign. Palin shows some accommodation toward reality. She is more tolerant of gays than many Republicans, perhaps due to a pervasive libertarian streak out West.

While I desperately want Sarah Palin to go away, some other part of me hopes she stays in the public spotlight because her presence is likely to be counterproductive. Now that her brand has been established, changing her image is going to be quite challenging. Memories of Republican rule may fade in time. However, if she is there as a constant reminder of why Americans threw Republicans out of power, this could actually help broaden the Democratic Party as well as harden the still wet cement of its electoral footings.

My suspicion though is that the Republican Party of 2012 is going to try to look at lot more like the pragmatic, intelligent and bipartisan Mitt Romney than the eccentric Sarah Palin. In the short term, it will probably not succeed in this marketing, given its long history. However, if Americans need a constant reminder of why they threw the Republicans out of power, having Sarah Palin regularly in the media could be the gift that keeps on giving to the Democratic Party. Since Palin insists on being in the media spotlight anyhow, perhaps I just need to cover my ears instead.

Unsolicited advice for Senator Obama

The Thinker by Rodin

I have to hand it with Republicans. When it comes to a campaign playbook, they stick with what works. An election won is an election won, whether won fairly or through foul tactics. The last leg of the 2008 presidential campaign is shaping up to look a lot like the 2004 campaign, which is heavy on the negative advertising (generally because it works). This time the McCain campaign is running ads that are outright lies. They do not just stretch the truth; they actually lie. Perhaps the most egregious ad was this one where they claim Obama was in favor of sex education for kindergarteners, a lie debunked by many reporters and documented on FactCheck.org.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have proven that scruples only matter to losers. McCain has this one last chance to be president. With Bush and Cheney blazing the way, he can feel comfortable tossing his alleged principles aside and just do what it takes to win. All is fair in love, war and politics, apparently, including lying these days.

Fortunately, the Obama campaign is doing better than the Kerry campaign did and generally is swift in responding to attack ads. The problem is that the Obama campaign is responding. It is reacting. This is a poor way to win a campaign because the campaign is always on the defensive, which makes it hard to get its message out. The School of Karl Rove has validated some crucial lessons: elections are often won by whichever side stays on the offense. Rarely is a football game won through an interception.

The McCain campaign is playing the campaign game like a dirty game of rugby where you repeatedly kick the legs out from under your opponent. It is hard to grab the ball when your opponent keeps making you land on your ass.

Unlike the pathetically desperate McCain campaign, the Obama campaign does not need to resort to lies to go on the offensive. Joe Biden understands what to do, as did Harry S Truman. Tell the voters the truth and the opposition will think it’s hell. It becomes a matter of knowing which truth-telling shells to lob, when to lob them and where to lob them. It is time to lob some artillery shells and fortunately I know when and where to lob them, and which ones to lob.

For the moment, Sarah Palin is the wind in the Republicans’ sail. McCain’s pick has been surprisingly effective in picking off more disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters than expected. It is likely that these voters have a good gut feeling about Sarah Palin, but do not know some unseemly facts about her limited record. If many voters like her because they have a good feeling about her, those feelings need to be replaced by reasonable doubts.

These swing voters need to know that she has a history of vindictiveness. Voters need to be educated about her repeated efforts to use her influence as governor to twist the arms of the Alaskan State Police to fire her former brother in law. They need to know of her repeated attempts while she was mayor to fire the Wasilla town librarian for stocking books she did not like, as well as to ban books from their library. They also need to know that while mayor the town had a policy of charging rape victims the cost of rape kits used after they were sexual assaulted, as she did nothing to change the policy. The campaign should create ads like this and play them repeatedly in swing states where Hillary voters predominate, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri.

After a week or so, they should air ads demonstrating not only that she has a cruel and vindictive side, but also promotes policies anathema to many Clinton supporters. She is obviously no supporter of abortion rights, not even in the case of rape or incest. She does not support national health insurance, a cause dear to many Clinton supporters. She does not believe global warming is real. These ads should enforce a meme that she is inconsistent and her positions are outside the mainstream. Talking Points Memo, for example, put together this video that clearly shows that Palin repeatedly supported the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska before being against it. There is no arguing with video.

Palin is hardly someone who opposed to taking federal money. In fact, she proved especially competent acquiring it. She gave money to DC lobbyists to make sure that Wasilla got far more than their share of the federal dole. As it is, Alaskans already receive more federal dollars per capita than any other state. While mayor of Wasilla, she pulled in more federal dollars per capita than any other town or city in the state. The ads should end with her image positioned next to President Bush’s. “Stubborn. Says one thing but does another. If Sarah Palin becomes president, will she too just be more of the same?”

Doubtless, there is much more in Palin’s record that could be brought out, but a couple weeks of clever and focused advertising using my strategy would remove any luster she currently enjoys.

The Obama campaign should then run videos that emphasize his correct judgment vs. McCain’s incorrect judgment. Show him courageously speaking out against the Iraq War when it was considered anti-American to do so. Relentlessly hammer in the point that McCain voted with President Bush 90% of the time. Show that Obama’s tax plan would reduce taxes for 95% of Americans while making the rich pay more. Hammer in that McCain’s plan would actually give more tax relief to the richest 1% than they currently enjoy. There should be two major closing themes. The first: voting for McCain and Palin is like giving George W. Bush a third term. The second: judgment matters and Obama has demonstrated the wiser judgment needed to be president.

Yo! Obama campaign! Anyone there listening?

Lipstick on a pig

The Thinker by Rodin

What do you do when your party seems to be going down like the S.S. Titanic? Desperate times call for desperate measures. For the Republican Party apparently desperate times does not mean something pragmatic like actually changing the party’s orthodoxy into something that might look mainstream. John McCain’s hope for winning this election thus depends on a few gambles:

  • That a disciplined Obama campaign makes some fatal mistake between now and the election
  • That the racist factor in American politics is much higher than what is being communicated to pollsters
  • That some vague and largely unsubstantiated image of John McCain as a maverick will give independents a reason to vote for him. (Never mind that in real life, most of us want nothing to do with mavericks.)
  • That some fresh face on the ticket will distract voters from the disastrous policies that he is advocating

Following the Democratic convention, the Obama-Biden ticket picked up a predictable bounce in the polls. Most likely, much of this bounce will recede after the conclusion of the Republican convention. However, overall the polls will likely continue to show Obama ahead in the popular vote by a worst a couple percentage points. These national polls though overlook the far more important calculation: electoral votes. What matters is not so much the margin of his victory in the popular vote but the margin in the Electoral College.

Pollster.com provides a reality check. Based on an average of recent state polls, if the election were held today, Obama would have 260 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. McCain would have 179. That leaves 99 electoral votes in the toss up category. What is the likelihood that McCain could claim 91 of those 99 electoral votes? The answer is clear: without changing the dynamics of the race, almost no chance.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is working hard to pick up the remainder of the swing states. It is not just Obama’s message and personality that are working this magic. It is also lots of advertising and many people walking door to door to sign up and persuade voters. Even red states like Virginia and North Carolina are potential Democratic pickups this year. This has been unheard of for at least a generation.

McCain’s surprise pick of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate is a clever parry to try to change these dynamics, particularly in the swing states where independent voters are increasingly drawn to Obama’s message of change and bipartisanship. Ms. Palin certainly gives us political types plenty to talk about. Those of us who spend our free time doing things like actually checking her record have plenty of concerns. Ms. Palin can perhaps bring a message of change, but she brings few bipartisan credentials. Thankfully for McCain, at least initially most Americans are more tuned in toward personality rather than issues. Palin comes across as fresh and spunky change agent. McCain’s hope is that these factors will persuade many voters to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket on the assumption that it will offer change.

John McCain also realizes that he is no Ronald Reagan. Obama is the Democratic equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and in my opinion the most eloquent and articulate political speaker of his generation. Sarah Palin is not naturally eloquent but she does radiate feistiness. She is McCain’s attempt to respond in an area where he is hopelessly outclassed. In that sense, her pick was perhaps not too surprising.

Palin also serves another important purpose: rallying dispirited Republican voters in a year when many are inclined to sit out the election. In particular, she energizes the socially conservative wing of the party with her no-compromise and some would say extreme stands on issues like abortion.

The dangers in a Palin vice presidency though are real. Yet, like The Wizard of Oz, her smokescreen is easy to penetrate, something I expect Joe Biden will do amply well in their vice presidential debate. Palin may have lots of personality, but her stands on many issues would make most mainstream Americans recoil. Her feistiness though is in reality hubris. Those who can perceive past her former cheerleader and sportscaster image realize that hubris is what got the Republican Party into its current predicament. In that sense while she is a new and younger face, in many ways she represents more of the same stupidity.

Neither McCain nor Palin can credibly offer a steady hand at the nation’s wheel. The problem with being a maverick is that by definition you are inclined toward unpredictable or obstinate behavior. Many may not like Obama’s positions, but it is hard to find issues on which he was for something before he was against it. (Campaign finance reform is one of the few that come to mind.) Generally, he is consistent and thoughtful, but he is not beyond changing a position if the situation changes. On the other hand, McCain’s record is rife with waffling and inconsistency. John Kerry never flip flopped the way John McCain has.

I suspect I am like most voters in that I want a clear understanding of where a candidate will lead us before I will vote for him or her. In his acceptance speech last week Obama clearly articulated that vision. You may not like it, but at least you know what it is. All we know about McCain and Palin’s vision is that they are likely to be abrasive if not abusive people in office. If the country is likely to tack in any direction under them, it will not be toward the middle. Their tendency toward being mavericks is no substitute for leadership and judgment. Instead, it is a red flag that indicates their lack of these virtues. I am far more concerned about McCain’s tendency toward impulsiveness and anger than I am about Palin’s, but knowing that she also has petty and vindictive tendencies is hardly reassuring. It suggests that if McCain could not fulfill his term she would be more of the same, of him. This is a very scary thought.

I doubt Palin’s elevation to vice presidential candidate will markedly change the dynamics of this race. Americans know what they do not want, and that is more of what we endured these last eight years. Neither McCain nor Palin can make a plausible case that the next four years would look that much different from the last eight, except possibly it would be done in a shriller manner than the generally taciturn Bush. Thus, Palin becomes yet the latest attempt by the GOP to put lipstick on its pig.

Look behind the Palin façade.