Memo to the Moderate Voter

First, an understanding: The moderate conservative is not the same as the moderate liberal is not the same as the independent. Please know that I’m not taking a side here. This essay isn’t about me. It’s about you.

You must be exhausted.

This presidential election has been a shining study in how to alienate the middle ground. It doesn’t seem to make sense: shoving aside what was long revered as the most significant voting portion of the American population. The middle class is verifiably vanishing, and it feels for all the world like the moderate voter is, too.

It’s no surprise, then, that moderates would feel like a dying breed. Where is your candidate? Are you no longer a vote to be prized, a favor to be curried? As the population’s income seems pushed to the low and high margins, so too are we to be governed by extremes?

To me, that’s the most telling—and most disconcerting—sign to emerge from this election cycle.

When you have no one to vote for, you either don’t vote or you have to choose an extreme you don’t like, thereby contributing to its growth. Either choice makes you a fang in the mouth of a snake that’s eating itself.

The false dichotomy of the election constructs an equally false narrative of the country and forces it in one of two directions that I’m still pretty sure most voters don’t want to go in—a choice that seems, for moderates, to be the ultimate devil vs. deep blue sea. As someone who lived in his Congressional district years ago, and who has close friends in Ohio, trust me: when John Kasich appears moderate, you know it’s trouble. Meanwhile, a former first lady and a Jewish, self-proclaimed socialist are vying for the White House with no other competition from their party. No matter what you think of either of them, that should be holy-Christ quality stuff on any number of levels. Instead, the circus of the GOP makes the Democrats seem dull.

That’s a problem. It’s terminal velocity, the phenomenon in which, no matter how far above the speed limit you’re going, at some point, you get so used to the recklessness and so confident in your ability to handle it that it doesn’t seem like too big a deal to push the needle a little farther, until you lose control.

I’m not saying the candidates on either side are reckless—though I think some of them are. I’m saying that while both sides have found candidates who ignite and engage a part of the electorate that has never felt so well-represented before, that galvanizing force, played out over and over again in media, makes everyone who isn’t that extreme feel like they’re either unrecognized or missing the boat. It’s a recipe for disenfranchisement, and disenfranchisement is why you stop voting, and that’s how you get ignored. The fascination at the political process has been replaced by a frenzy over the maddest parts of it—so much so that the nation seems to have forgotten completely that these people will have to actually govern if we put them in the White House.

The presidency has become a cult of personality  and a receptacle for derision that has reduced it, effectively, to nothing more than a figurehead position. Technically, this can be “blamed” on CBS News and the Washington Post with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal… but who could blame Walter Cronkite for telling the nation what he saw, and who could blame Woodward & Berntsein for exposing what their dogged reporting uncovered? Still, those two significantly historic moments in a time of an increasingly global mass media were the beginning of the end for president-worship. Scholars, historians, and journalists generally agree that this was when the presidency was demystified, when the people came to see the humanity of the office and the fallibility of the office-holder.

In the American political system, Congress is where the true power is. When Congress is the only place where things can get done, and the president is a person who a large percentage of Congress will not abide, intractability is sure to follow. Regardless of the positions of the presidential candidates I’m about to name, If you think the last seven years have been bad, you don’t want to see four under Trump, Cruz, Rubio or Sanders. If you think the rest represent the status quo, you almost can’t bear to see the next four under anyone but one of those four, because it seems like the only way anything will change at all is if the highest elected official in the country forces it to happen.

But here’s the thing: The last seven years have shown us that, no matter what we think of what he tried to force, the highest elected official in the country could not make it happen. If we liked him, we believed he was trying to do what was right for the country and was thwarted at every turn. If we didn’t like him, we believed he was creating a national nightmare like nothing we had ever seen, and we were relieved it didn’t go any farther than it had managed to go, which was still too far for us.

Think about the candidates right now and whether there’s a single one of them who won’t match that same description in four years.

Here’s part of what’s doing moderates wrong: “Moderate” has been conflated with “establishment,” creating another false narrative. What does “moderate” mean? Middle. Not extreme. Relatively reasonable, but generally dispassionate. What does “establishment” mean? Old Guard, right? The same people doing the same things, not taking us anywhere. It’s assigned without regard to reason or passion. It’s just normative. Well, Sanders has been a senator for 16 years. He’s more establishment than literally anybody in the GOP field except Kasich. He’s more establishment than Obama. By some definitions, he’s more establishment than Clinton. It’s not necessarily that the majority of American citizens don’t want reasonable individuals in government. It’s that they’re tired of us getting nowhere because the definition of insanity keeps playing itself out in Washington. So, from a purely academic perspective, Trump, Cruz, Carson and Rubio are legitimate anti-establishment and un-moderate candidates. Sanders is just un-moderate. Jeb! is anti-establishment from a federal government perspective (despite being related to the establishment). Clinton is probably more moderate than we think, and her establishmentism is harder to parse.

You might be able to tell at this point that I believe that if there’s a presidential candidate who truly represents what you want to see happening in the country, what’s required for you to see the change you want is to see it represented in a significant percentage in Congress. Right now, that doesn’t exist for most of the candidates we’re considering.

But there is good news for you, Moderate Voter. You’re still at an advantage. Most of Congress—the quiet section—is still moderate. The intractability of the last seven years was because both parties were houses divided, and the Tea Party took everyone hostage (including John Boehner). They were loud and organized, and they sucked voters in. But there aren’t that many of them. There are about 63, or 11 percent of Congress. The reason someone like Bernie Sanders wouldn’t get his plans through Congress isn’t because the Tea Party will shout him down, although they will. Rather, it’s because there aren’t enough people in Congress who are as far left as his ideas are. But if Sanders supporters get organized at a more local level and find candidates that can generate support, Congress will shift, just like the Tea Party made it do.

It’s easy to blame media for this. To some extent, it’s their fault; entertainment value is part of what they need and go after. But they go after it for you, because you consume it. Being a moderate has always seemed to mean appearing not just reasonable, but rather ho-hum… not reality TV, not opera. You don’t like candidates you find to be insipid panderers and you don’t those you find to be elitists. There’s nothing wrong, inherently, with the in-between. It’s just that the passions are higher on the margins, and people who are passionate and who feel like they’re gaining ground are a powerful audience—for media and for candidates. Both are there only because there’s an active, engaged, demonstrable audience for them. We know the newly long-suffered complaint that the mainstream media tell us what to think, but they show what they show because it’s what you watch. No matter how low the score is, there’s still a high score in the face-off. Sure, there are fewer and fewer people watching television as it happens. More people are nixing it altogether or going with Hulu, Roku, Netflix, Apple TV. But there’s still a No. 1 station. It’s the same way with voting, or worse, uninformed voting. Sure, there may be fewer votes, or fewer votes from less-educated people. But there’s still a winner.

In an era in which all the information you can want is literally at your fingertips, it comes down to three things: your ability to access it (a significant disadvantage for the poor), your tendency to critically analyze it (lower in apathetic and less-informed people), and your willingness to take more of what you feel is crap. The Tea Party came up in 2010 and grew in the Congressional elections that followed because the people who align with them were not willing to take any more of what they felt was crap. They kept track, they held grudges, and they organized around it. They got mad, and then they set about getting even.

You, moderates, aren’t mad enough yet.  Maybe it’s because you’re… well… moderate. Not willing to make a scene. Not interested in a fight. Tired of the mayhem to which you’d feel you were contributing if you stood up and shouted.

I guess that’s sort of par for the course.

Still, moderates are so bad at actively finding candidates these days.

It’s probably too late for 2016, but here’s what has to happen in the next elections, both in 2018 and in 2020, if moderates want to reclaim ground:

Speak up.  Demand someone else. Organize. Find candidates and actively support them from the beginning of their campaigns, beyond social media—but for the love of God, splatter them all over social media. Give them money. Give them time. Volunteer for them. Generate momentum.

And find a conflict to put moderate candidates in.

It seems antithetical for moderates to find conflict, but it’s the only way to get attention. Conflict is what media of all platforms cover. I swear to God, they don’t care who wins the conflict. There’s always going to be more conflict, no matter who wins, because the winner will go on to conflict with someone else. The only thing that’s interesting is the conflict itself. It’s why Jeb Bush has been poking Marco Rubio with a stick since the beginning of the race. He was betting Rubio would emerge as a better option when the Trump/Cruz Show started to fray at the seams. He was trying to create conflict to get attention. (He’s just dull and bad at conflict, bless him.)

Think of it this way: Why do you watch sports? Sure, you want your team to win, but isn’t a runaway victory kind of a bore? Who wants to watch that, really? It’s so much more exciting when there’s something at stake. So find something that’s at stake for your moderate candidate, stick them to it, and yell about it.

The middle class is vanishing. Don’t let moderates disappear, too. Be loud about being quiet. Don’t be milquetoast on issues; it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consider the issues brought up by the extremes. What does it tell us about where we are as a nation? What’s the moderate’s position on that place and where we should be as a nation? Find it. Be passionate. Defend your ground.

Get mad.

And then get even.

 

 

Word for Word: Trump on Health Care. Supposedly.

I think I’m starting a series right now. You know how sometimes a political candidate gets a question and you listen to their answer and you’re like, “…Wait, what?” Like, even without considering whether you agree with the candidate or not, just… “What the hell kind of expression of thought was that?”

I just did that listening to Donald Trump talk to Anderson Cooper. Now, I’ve long felt that the basic formula for the way Trump talks is:

superlative adjective + noun + adverb
+ adverb + verb + helping verb + adjective
+ hyperbole + lie + superlative adjective + noun
(all over)
flailing arms

To borrow from his tendency to use an adjective twice, there’s very, very little substance to what he’s saying. But the other element of his speech is that all those superlative adjectives and adverbs and nouns don’t actually go together. It’s word salad all the time. So I decided to rewind the DVR and, in lieu of attempting to diagram that mess, at least transcribe everything he’d said.

Will I do this for every candidate? Well, I’m not going to obligate myself to obsess over it, and a lot of candidates manage to stay on task and not wander off into the wilderness of speech and thought without aid of compass or flashlight, scratching their asses and wearing propeller beanies and mismatched socks. The one and only rule for Word for Word is that the person I quote has to sound to me like s/he went to the zoo. Maybe I’ll do it for non-politicians, too. Hard to say. I’m wildly unpredictable. But consider this paragraph my disclaimer. I tend to pay attention to politics and political speech because, well, I’m a dork and a pseudo-wonk. Trump is by far the most frequent gone-to-the-zoo speaker I’ve ever heard who didn’t have a verifiable mental illness (that I know of). But Word for Word is far less about politics than it is about valuing cogent expression, so fair and equal treatment isn’t really the purpose. The purpose is pretty much just sheer mockery of people who couldn’t form a coherent thought. I’m a writer. That bugs me.

With that, I give you…
Word for Word: Trump on Health Care. Supposedly.

The scene:
A voter in New Hampshire, during a CNN town hall kind of thing, asked Trump how he would repeal and replace Obamacare (or, as it’s actually named, the Affordable Care Act). What follows is a transcript of the answer, punctuated a couple of times by clarifying questions or comments from Anderson Cooper.

First of all, I have been so against Obamacare from the beginning, as you know. Repeal and replace. I was totally opposed to it. They did the five billion dollar website, five billion dollar website that didn’t work. I have websites all over the place that cost me 15 cents if you have the right person doing them, right? We’re going to have great health insurance. We’re going to bring the private sector in, we’re going to get rid of the borders. You know, I’m the only self-funder in this whole race, on Democrat or Republican. The only self-funder. I’m putting up my own money. When I come up here, it’s costing me. It’s not costing the public. It’s not costing—worse than the public, it’s the insurance companies putting up money for all of these people, the oil companies are putting up money, the drug companies are putting up money. And I’ll tell you one quick story about that in a second. But we’re going to take down the borders because what happens is, the health care companies, the insurance companies, they put up tremendous money for Obama and other people that are running for office. They have total control. When I bid out for my insurance- I have big businesses in many different states, in Florida, in New York, all over the place, California. When I bid out myself, I don’t get any bids, because if I want to have somebody from, let’s say New Hampshire, bid—a company, good insurance company—bid for my New York business, they can’t do it. They just can’t do it because we have these artificial, I call them borders. Our southern border should be as strong as our borders for—what that does is it gives monopolies to these insurance companies inside of various states. When you take that down you will have so much competition, you’ll have phenomenal health care. And the reason they have the borders is because an insurance company would rather have, essentially, a monopoly in one state than have bidders all over the place. (AC: So would he be able to save money?) Oh, he would save a lot of money and he’d be able to tailor it and you’d get exactly what you want. I mean there are things in health care that you’re never going to use and they make you buy. So Obamacare’s a disaster. You know, premiums have gone up on Obamacare 25, 35, and 45 percent. Some even over 50 percent. And just like you, people have been forced—they’ve lost everything because of health care. Obamacare is a disaster, and we’re going to repeal it and we’re going to replace it with something great. And we have lots of alternatives. The problem that this country’s had, until me, is that the presidents and all of the people who are doing this are all taken care of by the insurance companies. Me? I don’t care. I’m a free agent. They didn’t give me ten cents. And by the way, they would. I will say this: I am self-funding. I don’t know that it’s appreciated that I’m self-funding. (AC: Well I was going to ask you that, because you’ve been saying in the last couple of days, you don’t think you’re getting credit for that.) Only for the last couple of days. I’ve put up a tremendous amount of money, I’m spending a lot of money on the campaign, and I said, “I don’t think it’s appreciated.” People have to understand: the reason Obamacare is so bad is because the insurance companies have taken care of the politicians. These politicians are the worst. All talk, no action. I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m putting up my money. (AC: You said you keep doing that but it’s not worth it.) Well, what I’m saying is I don’t think the voters give me any credit for it. Now, I may be wrong, but I think when people—even people in this room, and we have great people in this room—when they go to vote, I don’t think they’re saying, “You know, Trump is the only one out of—now it started off 21 if you add both together. I’m the only one that’s putting up my own money. And it’s a lot of money. Now, I’m an efficient person, so I’ve spent a tiny fraction of what a guy like Bush spent. (AC: You’re getting a lot of free media coverage.) I’m getting a lot free. I was supposed to have spent 45 million dollars as of today or tomorrow. That was my budget. I’ve spent a small fraction of that. Now, that’s also good management. That’s all we need in the country. So I’m no. 1 in the polls, Bush is almost down at the bottom. He’s spent over $100 million and I’ve spent peanuts. Now with that being said, I’m going to spend a lot of money. You know why? Number one, I don’t want to take a chance, so we’re taking commercials and good commercials. And number two, I feel guilty not spending a little money. I actually feel a little bit guilty about it, if you want to know the truth. But isn’t it nice, and wouldn’t it be nice if—So I’ve spent just about the least money and I’m number one in the polls whereas other people have spent tremendous amounts of money and they’re nowhere. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that for our country?

~Donald Trump
New Hampshire
Live, CNN
Feb. 4, 2016

Legacy

I wonder why I’ve never been assigned to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons and speeches and letters.

I’ve spent some time today reading a few of them, and I’m embarrassed at never having done so before.

I was reading King’s now-historically titled “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” because I went looking for some quotes from Dr. King that are lesser-known to the masses. (I do this every year because I shamefully do little else in recognition of his influence and the sacrifice of his life, and I feel like I can at least take some time to reflect, since that’s much of what he was asking us to do all those years ago.) I had found one such quote, and sought its source for context. In part, the reason I went looking for the source was because the quote, in juxtaposition with present-day electoral politics, seemed to have gained new life.

This is where I stop to think of whether it is fair to apply more universally a sentiment about the struggle to end the oppression of black people. In doing so, do I diminish the call that is unique to that people? Do I, essentially, usurp “black lives matter” in favor of “all lives matter”? Do I, as one does when espousing all lives, blunt the power of the voices raised for the 400th year against oppression of one people that still has not seen justice fully realized? Do I imply that the injustices their people have suffered are equal to injustices done to me?

I’m going to risk it with the clear implication that it is not my intention to detract, but to recognize that Dr. King, I think, would have raised his voice a lot in the last year or two to support others who are struggling for freedom and understanding.

“…The question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
~Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail

One of the greatest things about this country is that we’re free to say whatever we want about its government and its people, but there is now an abuse of that freedom that makes some of us think it’s right to stand in our insistence and shout that dissenters are more than wrong, that they’re idiots, devils, communists, socialists, lunatics and trolls. This nation’s freedoms of speech and expression have been twisted into a compulsion to berate without conscience, and to spread it in unprecedentedly broad swaths with a keystroke. We’ve been fostered in our misguided belief that freedom of speech equates with encouragement to spout opinion at every opportunity. In the old rally cry that warns, “Don’t tread on me,” we have become the snake that eats itself.

There are no saints in a culture that champions schadenfreude.

Nowhere has this seemed more obvious than in the presidential race we are currently enduring. I am struck by how tired the spectators have been made by the marathon. We have a field of Republican candidates so pushed to extremes by its perception of a shifting base that those who were dismissed from some circles years ago for their own extremism now seem perfectly reasonable and measured. We have a field of Democratic candidates who bore us in debate because there is a less belabored circus, even while no opportunity is missed to fling bile on absent dissenters.

It is tempting, and has always been, to hate politicians for the way they spar, for the way they turn what we profess to love as a governing system into an intractable mess of complexly woven and codependent governance by spite. It is, at worst, a spiral into hell that destroys democracies. At best, it is a horror show. It’s a show of extremism and rancor directed at all who are “other.”

But what has dawned on me more and more as we watch it all unfold is that the actors take the stage for us. We have settled into the certainty that we deserve to stand firm in our thoughts with ears closed to disagreement rather than open to understanding, and hands clenched into fists rather than clasped in handshakes. We have acquired some misguided sense of having been persecuted for our perspectives, when we have suffered no indignity approaching what we inflict on others in our intransigence.

This is where I believe Dr. King’s voice would have been raised. Whether it’s those who disagree with sentiment or those who seek asylum on our shores, those who haven’t followed whatever path we presume to prescribe or those who don’t fit a 200-year-old perception of the Judeo-Christian mold, those who are criminalized for believing in a different creed or those who are hated in general for the most tangential association with the evil deeds of a most specific group, we have once again proven ourselves a nation consumed by refusal to hear and understand, so that we may preserve a status quo because to do otherwise would force us to question our self-assurance.

Politicians, after all, seek the votes of those who agree.

This election is not about politicians or politics. It is about Americans. It is about for what this nation truly stands.

And isn’t that the most terrifying thing of all?

 

 

 

Congress. I Don’t Even.

It’s been a while since I posted anything about politics. You can thank Congress for this one.

It’s kind of stupid that I even feel the need to write this, isn’t it? I mean, not that I feel the need, but that I am compelled to feel the need. It’s stupid that parts of the federal government are shut down because someone is throwing a temper tantrum on Capitol Hill.

In case you’ve (perhaps understandably) willfully ignored what’s been going on but are kind enough not to willfully ignore this post, here’s the deal: parts of the government are shut down right now because a faction of Republicans in the House wanted to force through a bill that would fund the government with riders attached that would require changes to the Affordable Care Act. Or, as people trying to malign it started calling it a while back, Obamacare.

Because Obama is obviously synonymous with everything terrible in the world, in their rhetoric. And maybe you agree. And you have that right.

See, I’m not saying the Affordable Care Act is perfect. I’m not even saying you have to like it in order to read this post. Rather, what I’m saying is… how the FUCK do we get to a point in government where one faction of one part of Congress can hold up FUNDING THE GOVERNMENT because they don’t like ONE law?

Here’s what: The Affordable Care Act was passed by a majority vote in both the House and the Senate in 2010. A lot of people didn’t like how that went down, and I get that. But it went down nonetheless. Majority vote. Bicameral legislature. Passed. Then signed into law by the President of the United States. (Not President Of People Who Like Him But Not People Who Don’t. We don’t have that office.) When there was shouting about constitutionality, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, by a 5-4 vote, with the deciding vote cast by typically conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

In other words: done deal by democratic due process celebrated by Americans since 1776.

Since its passage, Republicans (probably not all of them, I know) have tried literally 42 times to defund the Affordable Care Act. And last night, they tried for the 43rd time, by attaching caveats on the ACA to the bill that would determine federal funding of the government.

That’s not representative democracy. That’s hostage-taking for ransom.

And then today I see Michele Bachmann, who didn’t make much sense in 2011/12 and still doesn’t, hugging on a veteran who was just trying to visit the World War II Memorial in DC (which was technically closed, but fortunately some people decided not to be ass-hats and let these men in), and claiming that she and her colleagues were “just trying to protect the lives and health care of these wonderful (smooch on the cheek) men.”

I don’t know why, but I draw a line at condescending to an entire nation while literally hanging on an elderly man who helped save the entire fucking planet from tyrannical government, and then 70 years later managed to get himself together for a flight from his home to DC to visit a memorial that honors the service members who fell alongside him, only to find that the asshole government has said, “Sorry, park’s closed,” and then suffer the bullshit camera-mugging nonsensical antics of a politician who couldn’t be moved to say, “I’m so sorry that my wing of my party is standing in your way.”

My grandfathers fought in that war. Every time I see that memorial, or the stories of the men visiting it, I miss them. There’s  no way in hell I’d let Michele Bachmann or any other self-serving politician of any party anywhere near them at that sacred place.

Alright, I’m done with the Michele Bachmann part of this.

The larger point, you probably have figured out, is that I can’t believe we’re willing to allow a faction of our government to shut down the operation because they don’t like a law they already passed. There are procedures in place for repealing laws, or parts of laws. Attaching riders to critical unrelated bills are not part of those procedures.

And before you tell me we aren’t willing to allow it, tell me whether you’re willing to find out who voted to shut down the government and what their motives were, and whether you’re willing to vote them out next November.

Those service members who visit the WWII Memorial arrive on what are called Honor Flights, by the way. Maybe Congress should take a few.

Stop! In the Name of Love

I have gone back and forth about doing this post because I mean really, does this need to be belabored?

Oh, wait. Yeah. It kinda does.

The Supremes have spent the last two days hearing oral arguments (which sounds dirty, but isn’t) about California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996, defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. The issue, as it almost always is with the Supremes because they’re obsessed, is the laws’ constitutionality.

The thing is, this is one of those issues for which it seems a lot of Americans don’t care at all about the constitutionality. Which is what makes it pretty unusual, since we’re always harping on that particular document, and usually with good reason.

I’m interested to see how this comes out (haha, I said “comes out.” Like gay people.) because this is a situation in which personally find that a strict originalist view of the Constitution will bear out the fact that the document says… um… nothing about who can get married and who can’t.

Ruh-roh Rustice Scalia.

I mean, it does say that black people are only 3/5 human… but I don’t think the strict originalists are really keeping to that definition. The 13th Amendment took care of that. And then the 14th Amendment says:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And Article IV, Section 1 says:

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

Which means if I, a straight person, were to get married in New York, it would have to be recognized as a valid marriage everywhere else. But Congress can establish whether the marriage was legit in the first state.

Now, I’m not a Constitutional scholar. I’m not even a lawyer. Not one single credit hour of law in college. I worked at a law firm part time for a little while and I dated a guy with his JD, but I don’t think that qualifies. But I am a citizen… considered unequal until 1920 and sometimes even now, since I’m a woman, but we’ll forego that particular argument at the moment, I’ll stick my thumbs in my ears and wiggle my fingers because I own property, and we’ll just settle on I’m a citizen. So the Constitution is important to me. And I don’t see an argument against same-sex marriage in it. So I guess it’s good that the Supremes have been contracted to figure it out.

I find that almost every argument against same-sex marriage is based on religion. As I have said many, many times in this blog, I fully respect a person’s faith, regardless of what it is, because I expect the same respect for my faith. I certainly don’t expect to change anyone’s minds. Instead, what I’d like to do is to point out something I think is a simple but pivotal aspect of this discussion:

The law is not about religion.

A friend of mine on Facebook unwittingly started a conversation about this the other day. One of his friends, who appears to be a fundamentalist Christian, pointed out three passages in the Bible that he felt supported his belief that same-sex marriage should not be allowed. I read the passages, one of which was in Leviticus (the third book of the Old Testament/Torah) and reflects a pre-Christ view of a harsh and punishing God… and two more, which were from Romans, a book in the New Testament attributed to Paul. My friend’s friend was gentle and respectful in his points, but based his entire argument against same-sex marriage on religion and these passages.

A minimally scholarly understanding of the Bible demonstrates the difference between the Old and New Testament tones in Christian belief, as well as the fact that Paul was not an apostle of Jesus and never knew Jesus when He was teaching, but came to his conversion after Jesus’s ascension. So technically, his writings were inspired by his faith, but not directly taken from Jesus’s words.

It’s easy to get caught up in the understandings of faith and forget the fundamental truth of this same-sex marriage question: that it is about whether same-sex couples should be afforded equal rights and protections under the law. And, more broadly, but no less significantly, it’s about whether the federal government should control marriage in any way… a question that, to some degree, is answered by the federal benefits extended to married heterosexual couples.

It’s not about religion. No matter how much someone believes that same-sex relationships are against God’s laws, or will, or word, or design, the questions of Prop 8 and DOMA are not about religion. They are about law, and the Constutition, and citizenship.

There are varied interpretations of those, too, of course. That’s why we have the Supremes. But on Tuesday, I found a passage I had forgotten existed despite the fact that it’s inscribed on a wall.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Those words are inscribed on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial. Because he wrote them.

He also was one of nine men who wrote the Constitution.

I think, understanding that religion does not govern the rule of law and the outrage of some does not mitigate the rights of others, Thomas Jefferson would agree…

…It’s time.

 

 

 

Common Sense

My friend Bud at Older Eyes posted today the second part of his thoughts on gun rights and gun violence. I started to respond to his post and then realized I was basically writing a blog post in his comments section. Rather than hog that space, I’m posting my response to him here, as a broadened topic. Please read his posts, In the Crossfire and In the Crossfire, Too, so that you understand to what I am responding here. 

I work in a business where statistics are used to prove success and justify rates and fees. (A lot of businesses work that way, of course.) I have often been able to easily explain away a competitor’s statistic about being more successful than my company because I know how they manipulate the data. Of course, I know how we manipulate it, too.

One of the key things about understanding that, though, is understanding that there’s more than one way to be misleading, but there’s also more than one way to be right, and nobody is lying. In my business, in the end, all that matters is which element of the stats matters most to the buyer.

That’s what’s frustrating about statistics that really matter, like those counting up deaths and injury from guns. And that’s why neither side is lying, both sides are right, and both sides are manipulating the argument.

Bud at Older Eyes uses the term “In the Crossfire” in two recent posts to convey his feelings on gun ownership: moderate. In the middle of a fight. You may think I’m not “in the crossfire” on this, given my previous posts. You may have found my post, Newtown, to be more about the heart than the head. But if we step away from the extremes of soulful emotion and cold analysis, we can find one thing that governs most of life pretty successfully: common sense.

Part of the reason the NRA pushes for zero restriction on the right to bear arms is that the founding fathers established that right in part to guard against the tyranny of government. We hear references to Hitler and other cruel government leaders who disarmed the masses before systematically executing them. While I have faith in my country and don’t believe its leaders would ever do such a thing, I understand why the right to defend against it matters so much to so many people. 

As I have previously mentioned, I also understand that some people hunt for food, others hunt for sport, some feel that guns are necessary to protect themselves in their homes and others feel that no right guaranteed by the founding fathers should be taken away, and once we start limiting one, we’ll be on the road to limiting more… or taking them away completely.

Bud makes the point that we’re hearing extreme arguments on either side of the topic, and I agree with him completely. I don’t think that NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre is really doing anyone any favors in his speeches since Newtown (or ever, actually). There are a lot of gun owners and gun rights advocates who do not believe he represents them well. I understand his points, but I think he could make them with much more sensitivity and much less bombastic rhetoric.

As could those who oppose guns with equal vehemence.

These, frankly, are not the people to whom we need to listen. They are simply the people to whom we are given the most access. As has so often been the case in this country, we are exposed only to the extremes and left to feel alone in the middle. The middle is not exciting. The middle is not good television.

There is the argument that mental health is the real issue. The trouble with that is that it’s not. It is an issue, surely, and it deserves attention. But (at the risk of engaging in statistical analysis) the mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators thereof. Not everyone who has committed a violent crime with a gun – be it a mass shooting or a smaller scale murder – is mentally ill. There is a specific definition for mental illness, and though most of us believe one has to be “off” in some way in order to commit murder, especially on a grand scale, that doesn’t mean those people would medically qualify as mentally ill.

And there is the argument that guns are not the only issue, but seem to be the only issue on the table for a vote. That’s true. While it is not accurate or fair to say no one is proposing improvements to mental health care, access and screening before a gun purchase, it is true that guns are by far the more – dare I say targeted? – aspect of the discussion. Gun rights advocates  insist that it brings into specific relief the “left-wing agenda” to take people’s guns away. That’s really not the reason. It requires only slightly deeper thought to understand the reason: we can’t legislate mental illness. We can’t legislate what people find entertaining. We can’t legislate how families do or do not function, the moral fabric of society, the lack of pride or opportunity. We have seen these problems unfold for decades and we have not been able to stop them. Knowing the numbers has not helped.

What we can do is moderate them. Work to improve access to mental health care, break down the stigma associated with mental illness. Continue to rate and enforce ratings on movies and video games. Give people an understanding of why a healthy family life is important, give communities the tools to flourish, give individuals a vision of what they could be or do or achieve if they have the right skills, opportunities and faith in themselves.

If we look at some of the fairly rational, balanced proposals on gun policy before us, we can see them as moderation, rather than aberration. They cannot accomplish any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But they can help bring down the number of gun-related injuries and deaths in this country.

Common sense would dictate that the existence of armor-piercing or exploding bullets is fundamentally unnecessary and does great disservice to those who advocate for gun rights. Common sense would dictate that the people’s right to bear arms is not infringed by disallowing certain types; after all, completely unrestricted rights to bear arms could lead to the purchase of flame-throwers and rocket-propelled grenades, but we don’t allow that. Common sense would dictate that doing absolutely nothing would be a total failure of the government to listen to the people, and a total failure of the people to do anything but shake their heads.

Common sense would also dictate that banning assault weapons and cop-killer bullets, and requiring universal background checks, and seriously cracking down on illegal guns, won’t end all crimes and killings with guns.

But, if I may be frank, we’re not really trying to end them all. We’re trying to make them harder to accomplish, and these measures are a start. And we need to start, instead of tsking our tongues and shrugging our shoulders. We can argue down emotion. We can qualify and manipulate statistics. We can make things difficult that don’t need to be difficult, as we do with the political side of this issue.

But it is hard to refute common sense.

 

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union

Listening to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sing Battle Hymn, could not help but well up. It is an indescribable emotion: some parts pride, some parts humility, some parts inspiration, some parts trepidation… all the things that, after all, established this country in 1776.

This is not a day about American dominance. It is not a day about might making right. This is a day on which Americans remember with reverence and soul-stirring honor that we have so many more blessings than so many others, and that we had a hand in their benediction. That it is our privilege, our birthright, our hallmark and our obligation to carry forth those blessings to the generations who come after us in this land, and that we spread their promise to those who have not yet lived them.

So many thoughts flooded my mind… my grandparents – the first Americans of my family, who not long after their birth into citizenry joined the worldwide fight to preserve all of humanity from tyranny. My great-grandparents, who believed in the promise of the country enough to come here from their homelands and never go back. Of those who fought not because they liked war but because they loved peace, and who killed not because they held up death but because they believed so fervently in life.

I miss my grandparents today.

What I felt when I looked at that expansive sea of people who had gathered in the nation’s capital to witness a quadrennial history overcame me. In this nation where there is so much anger and spite, there were hundreds of thousands united not in violence and uproar, but in peace and hope. We are a people who remember always the strength of a union that so many presidents and citizens who came before us refused to allow to founder. It is not the hubris of living in the best of lands that fills me with such raw emotion. As tears rolled down my cheeks I knew, it is the blessing of having been born in a place that allows me to believe in something better because we have so many times seen something better dawn.

I was not raised to shout my patriotism from rooftops, though there is no one in my family who is not a patriot. I came from a long line of military servicemen and I have cousins who serve today, but we are not boisterous or staunch in military oaths. I believe there is danger in not only resting on, but shouting about the laurels of being an American, that we must ever be mindful of the need for striving toward a more perfect union. I do not know from where comes the feelings that swell within me today. I only know that I hope it never, ever fades.

In an age when we seem continually inspired more by horror than by hope, when fear seems to push us toward action more than understanding, today is a day when we are reminded that there is nothing so powerful as the promise of a free life in a free land, and that our task is not yet done, that our efforts are perpetual, that our delcaration was made in order to form a more perfect union, that those words invoke the unending walk with  steady hands on the plow.That as much as we honor those forefathers who established this country and struggled privately to keep it, those years and that union was, by definition, by the compulsion set forth on parchment, less perfect than now. That the truest way to honor them is not as omiscient gods but as great beginners.

That, with malice toward none and charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, we must strive together to finish the work we are in.

That that work is never finished.

That our truth is marching on.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas, Congress surprised absolutely no one and managed to still work a win-win.

It was late afternoon when word came that the House would not vote on any deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The Senate went ahead with a vote in the wee hours of 2013. I don’t remember the movie well enough to know whether that makes the House Thelma or Louise, but what I do know is this: that move (or lack thereof) was totally expected. And not really because they wanted to stand their supposed high-ground. It was more because of posturing.

I know. It’s shocking.

Here’s the thing: by waiting to vote, the Republicans in the House, and particularly those who signed some sort of (tax-free!) soul-selling deal to Grover Norquist (who says it’s to the American people, but whatever), can remain avowed not to vote in favor of a tax increase. If the deal the Senate reached late last night contains tax increases, the House Republicans can vote on a re-jiggered deal that reduces the percentage by which those taxes are raised… thereby…

wait for it…

voting to…

… are you ready?

…”cut” taxes.

Semantics, really, but important ones to politicians. In the end, the Democrats will still get some of the new revenues they want, but the Republicans can still say they never voted to hike taxes. Even though essentially they will be voting to do so… but less. They can get away with the distinction because they would not have voted to avert the fiscal cliff by the deadline, thereby “officially” hiking taxes before they voted to retroactively reduce them.

Irritating, right? When there was so much at stake? But I think everyone used the term “fiscal cliff” exactly the way I just did: with quotation marks around it. These kinds of deadlines are always fungible, and almost never as dire as they’re built up to be. Congress made the law that the across-the-board spending cuts would trigger automatically to try to force themselves to do something. But anyone who’s been on a diet knows what that means. Nothing, in the end. You can tell yourself that if you eat a piece of chocolate, you have to work out for an extra half-hour, but will it really make a difference if you don’t? Probably not. Congress knew that all along. And even if they did make a deal well before the deadline, it was never fated to be anything so substantial that it would solve the problems we face financially.

Why is that? Because they’re awfully hard to solve. Back to the diet analogy: if you weigh 1,000 pounds, trying to get down to 200 seems pretty well impossible, doesn’t it? So you lose 20 and see how it goes.

Welcome to 2013.

The debate isn’t going to go away.  You’re going to keep hearing about the spending problems, the debt ceiling, the deficit and more. And it’s only partly because Congress isn’t willing to do the hard things required to get things seriously back on track. The other part is that getting seriously back on track is going to hurt. Everyone. A lot. And until we as the American people are willing to make some serious sacrifice – in Social Security, in Medicare, and in a lot of other areas – yes, including the incredibly bloated defense budget that has been a sacred cow for far too long – we’re going to keep peering over that cliff.

Happy New Year. Same as the Old Year. At least as far as federal funds are concerned.

american flag

A Note Before You Vote

You didn’t think you were going to get to Tuesday without another political post from me, did you?

Just a few things to think about before you head to the polls… provided you didn’t vote early.

Who Do You Really Dislike?
Not as in hate. As in, if you have a problem in the political sense, with whom does that problem truly sit? Here’s why I ask: we do a great job making a big deal out of the presidential election. And we should. It’s hugely important. But it’s not the only important thing. There’s also Congress.

Food for thought: Since January 2009 when President Obama was inaugurated, his lowest approval rating was 41% (March 2012). His highest was 57% (May 2011 – right after Osama bin Laden was killed).

Since January 2009, Congress’s lowest approval rating was 10% (August 2012). Its highest was 39% (March 2009).

That means that President Obama’s very lowest approval rating was better than Congress’s very highest. And when the nation was least happy with him, he had still satisfied four times as many people as Congress had.

My point is, a shocking number of people don’t know who represents them in Congress. Given that, they can’t possibly know what that person stands for, how they vote, what positions they take in politically touchy situations, from whom they take money, to whom they’re beholden. So why are we all so angry when they don’t do what we think they should?

The country’s problems are not all about its presidents, and we should pay much more attention to our representatives and senators. If you want to see who your congressperson is, go to www.house.gov/representatives/find/  and you can plug in your zip code to find out. If you want to know how they’ve voted on issues and bills, go to www.opencongress.org. Do it before Tuesday, because they’re all up for re-election. Congressional representatives are elected every two years. If you discover too late that you don’t like what you see, you have two years to keep track of them and get it right next time.

What’s Really A Distraction?
One of the most common refrains this campaign season has been that insert Issue That’s Hurting Party A — here — is a “distraction” put up by Party B. But not everyone finds the same things distracting. In fact, some of us find some of those so-called “distractions” pretty important. There is more than one issue facing this country. It’s not just about the economy. It’s not just about jobs. It’s not just about regulation or deregulation. Or taxes. Or education. Or immigration. Or women’s health. Or abortion. Or federal funding for programs. It’s about all of those things, and to say otherwise is insulting. Don’t dismiss an issue out-of-hand simply because you didn’t feel like listening to the discussion. And don’t allow your leaders to do it, either.

And Speaking Of Self-Interest…
One of the things that disappoints me most about people in general and about American politics specifically is that everything happens because of money. I don’t just mean campaign fundraising or Congressional budgets. Money pushes policy we would otherwise think objectionable on more than one level. I think it’s compromising our (dare I say) moral standard as a union. This is particularly true of political decisions that hurt the communities they affect, rather than helping them. For example: the casino built on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. The west side is poor. The casino is there because the people were powerless to stop it, unlike residents in other parts of the city. And the area around it has only declined. Similar example: Atlantic City. Been there? It’s a hole. The flash of the lights keeps your attention away from the crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated homes. (No jokes about Sandy, please – I have a deep connection to the Jersey Shore, despite my opinion of AC.)

And more and more, we as individuals seem to think only of ourselves. It’s natural to vote one’s interests, but there seems to be a growing insistence that one’s own interests be the only interests one must consider. “Give me everything, or give me death.” Sometimes I find myself wondering whatever happened to the inspiration that came from President Kennedy’s simple call: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Let’s not forget that this is a nation forged in the interest of the greater good, and for everyone’s rights equally. Not just yours.

Yes, Your Vote Does Count
It’s easy to get discouraged when your political leanings are opposite those of your fellow state residents. It’s easy to feel like no one will miss your opinion at the polls. But in a population of 1,000, twenty such opinions can change a race entirely. Yep, just two percent. In 2004, President George W. Bush only got 3,000,176 more votes than John Kerry. Two percent.

But about 21,000,000 registered voters stayed home.

So this is it. I’ve smacked you around with political posts for more than 16 months. I’ve gotten myself worked up. I’ve chased my tail and shaken my head. I’ve done my best (through absolutely no mandate at all from any of you) to share what I hoped were informative and at least mildly entertaining breakdowns. And now we have arrived at the doorstep of yet another moment in American history.

Be part of it.

Vote.

Early Voting: My First Experience

I suppose the second cup of coffee was ill-advised.

I still haven’t closed on the house. To recap: it was set for Tuesday. Then the Atlantic Ocean got all pissed off and the lending banks were like, “Whoa.” Then it was going to be Wednesday. Then it was going to be Thursday. Then it was “looking like” Friday. Then  they said, “it’ll almost definitely be Monday.” Now I’ve just gotten a call saying it’ll probably be Wednesday, because the appraiser insisted on a second look after the storm. Which doesn’t make sense, because shouldn’t that be the inspector?

Fine. Whatever. I just need to lie down.

I had a therapy session with Ali Velshi today, appropriately. I have realized in the last two visits with him that one of the tells of my anxious highs is that I talk a freaking mile a minute. I already talk fast, but whew. My previous therapist (Ali Velshi is my second) used to point it out to me when I was “zooming.” Ali Velshi hasn’t really taken that tack yet, though I did catch him eyeing my foot as I twirled it around and around and around while I talked to him. Unfortunately, what I do for a living and the people I work for are very unforgiving, and that is actually the greater part of the stress. Everyone gets stressed buying a house, and plenty of people have had far worse setbacks than I have. Hell, I could have closed on a house at the Jersey Shore on Friday. It’s work that compounds the problem for me.

Yesterday, after I ran out of boxes and bubble wrap, I turned around in circles in my living room a couple of times before I told myself aloud that I could go vote. And so I did.

What an entertaining hour that was.

It bears noting that this is my first time voting in my particular area, where I’ve only lived for two years. Sadly, this means I have nothing with which to compare the amusement of yesterday’s outing. Usually, I walk in on election day around 9am and it takes all of 15 minutes. Early voting isn’t really my thing – I prefer the patriotic, Sorkinesque rush of the shared First Tuesday In November experience to the wah-wah that it becomes after people have already done their civic duty days or weeks in advance. But alas, since the bank, work, Mother Nature and the universe are conspiring to kill me on or before November 6th, off I went.

If the signage can’t properly direct me to the where I should park for early voting, we’re off to a bad start. Just sayin’.

Eventually, though, I found the appropriate lot, and entered what used to be a school building and is now used for police and fire training to find an environment not unlike what I imagine Soviet Russia to be. Which, you have to grant, is ironic.

Don’t get me wrong. It actually went very smoothly. But first, we were corralled into a former gymnasium full of rows of chairs. Everything was painted cinderblock. Colors were drab. The chairs were Machiavellian. (I’m mixing metaphors. Deal with it.) We all had to sit next to each other – no empty chairs between voters, for the sake of the republic. And I’m fine with that, but not everyone else was. The election officials kept asking, “Is this an empty seat?” as if it were some sort of outrage.

Every so often, they’d take the first row of congregants. The rest of us didn’t know where those people went. It was kind of scary. But when they’d take the first row, then everybody had to get up and move exactly one row up from their previous seated position.

Can I tell you something? It’s troubling that not everyone can handle this kind of “upset.”

The woman next to me was one of those people.

“What?! Oh, hell naw. No. Why it have to be like this?” she wanted to know.

Lady, just effing move up one seat. This is not hard. Do it.

While a small child wailed behind me and her mother continued a conversation on her cell phone, we played the musical chairs game. Sans music. I will admit that my eyes were directed almost entirely upon my phone during this wait, but only because I forgot to bring a book. Then I heard someone saying, “Take care, now,” while the click-clack of her heels reverberated through the room. I looked up.

It was the mayor.

Meh. Back to my phone. Interestingly, though she’s popular and has done a very good job (and is not up for re-election this year), no one jumped up to talk to her or shake her hand. She just walked on through.

She looks good, though. Lost a lot of weight. G’ahead, girl.

Some couple who might have come from an Eastern Bloc country kept trying to jump the line. This nearly caused bedlam. I don’t know if they genuinely didn’t understand the process or what, but I found myself mildly irritated with the people who were unhappy about it. We still all get to vote. Who the hell cares if they vote before you? 

It’s interesting to see the passions ignited at a polling place. Apparently, not only is it essential that we are given our right to vote; it is also essential that we are given our right to vote in the precise order of which we entered the building.

Settle down, y’all. Russia ain’t near closed yet.

Eventually, I was in the front row. When it was time to move me and my compatriots, we went to another holding cell, where a few people got upset about the order in which we were lined up and I remembered that I should probably just sit quietly and not try to fix anything. This is the part where random people started trying to tell the election officials how to do their jobs.

Hold up. You couldn’t handle moving up ah row. You think you can tell an election official how to keep an orderly line? You still get to vote. Even though I’m pretty sure at this point that you probably shouldn’t.

After another waiting period, we got to move into the actual voting area. There: more line issues. Apparently it’s difficult to form a line. This is the part where I started worrying about the entire voting process and wondering if dictatorship wasn’t really the best way to go. But the election official easily found me in the list of city residents and handed me my electronic card. Then I joined another line (all lines were marked by – of course- gray tape) and waited for a Trapper-Keepered voting machine to become available.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve done my homework, so actually voting didn’t take long. There were no glitches with technology. All went well. I handed in my electronic card and left the building.

Some people in the parking lot tried to drive out the wrong way. I briefly pondered whether the police directing traffic should find out their names, go back inside, find their voting cards and pull them due to a total lack of intelligence.

But no. That’s not how this country works. Never has. It does not matter whether you are smart or not. Frankly, not everyone is blessed with the same degree of sense, common or otherwise. But everyone is granted the right to vote.

God bless America.

And I mean that.

******
PS. Know what I did while I waited to vote? Joined Twitter. Grudgingly. Follow me over on the right where you see the little birdie.