Monday, July 16, 2012

Mitt Romney is expected to choose a running mate this week.

Oof. I'm not ready to predict. I think I'll wait to predict once the Romney campaign announces a running mate. Then I'll feel comfortable doing so.

However, let's see who's a possibility, and who's probably not, and in no particular order:

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte - Not stupid, but not the best TV presence. Plus she'd put too much New England on the ticket. Probably not.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - Too abrasive, too Northeast, and too pro-choice. He's a hit with the basest of the base, but that's not enough to get him on the ticket.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell - He'd get the base excited, but he might be too far right to appeal to moderate voters. However, I'd still class McDonnell as a possibility. This will be a base election, and McDonnell would get more of the base out than a lot of choices. So... maybe.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum - It's dubious how much of a boost Santorum would bring to the Romney ticket. It's also moot: Romney won't pick him, and Santorum wouldn't accept if Romney did.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley - She's got the right political leanings, and she does okay in front of the cameras. That sex scandal (or was it?) that she had last year probably won't dog her. So she's a possibility.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush - A definite possibility, except for his being Catholic and being named Bush, which means he won't be chosen.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio - Rubio has plenty of chatter, but I think the only reason there's been so much chatter is to reach out to Hispanics, where the GOP has been doing progressively worse over the past decade. I don't see Romney choosing him. Romney's going to need a Protestant on his ticket to smooth the feathers of the religious right, who are uneasy with a Mormon at the top of the ticket, and who wouldn't like a Mormon/Catholic ticket any better.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul - Though there's plenty of love for the Paul family among a certain segment of the Republican Party, there's no love for the Pauls coming from Romney. He won't pick Rand Paul.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman - It seems that Romney would want someone with economic gravitas, so on the surface, choosing a former Budget Director would make sense. However, since Portman was George W. Bush's former Budget Director, the value of picking him drops. Does Romney really want to remind people of the Bush administration and its economic fallout? Romney's having enough trouble convincing people his ideas would be different. Oddly enough, I think Portman's still a possibility.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan - Okay, this could actually happen. Ryan is young, telegenic, and has a reputation for coming up with ideas that Republicans like. He won't appeal to Democrats, but he'll thrill Republicans, which is what the Romney campaign no doubt wants. Plus Ryan's one of those rare running mates whose presence on the ticket could actually tip his own state into his party's column. Ryan is a strong possibility.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann - She's got her following, and she'd drive both Democrats and Republicans to the polls. Of course, she'd drive too many Republicans to the polls to vote for Barack Obama, so no, Bachmann won't be chosen.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty - Pawlenty wouldn't outshine Romney, so that's a plus. And Republicans seem to like him. He'd also do some good in reëstablishing the Republican brand in the Midwest, where it's flagging. He probably wouldn't put Minnesota in the Republican column, but he's inoffensive enough. Romney might choose him.

Louisiana Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal - Romney might well consider Jindal, but I'm inclined to think that Jindal won't want the job. He's young enough and is probably considering a run in 2016, so I'll bet he doesn't want to gamble getting on a losing ticket this year. Not that Romney is guaranteed to lose this year. Even if Romney doesn't lose, Jindal would do all right to wait until 2020. He'd have two terms as governor under his belt by then, and he'd have time to build up a national profile. I don't think Jindal will be picked—or that he'll accept the job if he is.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry - Probably not. Some talk has emerged about Perry appearing on the ticket, but... no. Romney would not want this particular loose cannon on his ticket.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin - She's smart, she's conservative, she's Protestant, and she's a woman. A bit obscure nationally, so she'd initially invite comparisons to Sarah Palin—but those would fade once she does a few interviews. The Republican base will like her, the Democrats won't, but she's no idiot. She'd be an asset to Romney. I haven't heard anything about him vetting her, but... who knows? Maybe he is. She'd be a good choice.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune - He's conservative and Midwestern, sure, and will appeal to the GOP base, especially with his reputation for having knocked Tom Daschle out of the Senate back in 2004. A drawback is that Thune, who explored a presidential bid last year, traveled in Iowa, where locals frequently confused him with Mitt Romney. Romney might not want to have his clone on the ticket.

New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez - A smart woman, and a Hispanic, Martinez is a logical choice. However, she snuffed out any speculation about her being chosen months ago, explicitly stating that she didn't want to leave New Mexico because she has to take care of her special-needs sister and her father, who's in a nursing home in not-so-nearby El Paso, Texas. Further, Republican voters might not react well to a Mormon/Catholic ticket. Her being fluent in Spanish could alienate the GOP base, too.

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers - She's a conservative who could also serve as a game-changer. She's rather young, age 43, but could breathe some life into the Romney campaign. She might even have some appeal to independents who have more interest in personalities than policy. She could well be the surprise pick this week.

Former Alaska Half-Gov. Sarah Palin - Heh... There are some Republicans who adore her, but there are too many people out there who don't. She's never been under serious consideration for Romney, though some conservatives have had some fun speculating that she'll get chosen. Of course, many more Democrats have had some fun speculating that she'll get chosen, which is one of the many big reasons that she won't be chosen, not ever, not no way, not no how.

New York financier and celebrity huckster Donald Trump - No. Just... no.

Of course, it's always possible that the VP pick will be someone who's not currently on the radar. But that doesn't seem to be the way Romney works. I'd expect his running mate will be someone who's gotten some attention already, rather than a complete surprise. But you never know for sure.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Where's that "Party of Ideas"?

I remember that "party of ideas" business from when I really started paying attention to politics, as a teenager in the mid-'80s. It always seemed like bullshit to me back then, the kind of thing that any political party would want to say about itself. Looking back, I guess I can see where that came from, since the Reagan revolution was all about different ideas, and people had been excited about them. I maintain that those different ideas were terrible, but it's fair to say that they were new and different.

But the "party of ideas" label continued to be used into the 1990s, though I recall hearing it less and less. The last time I heard someone actually use it to describe the Republican Party was early in the second Bush administration. I can't remember who used the term or why, but it struck me at the time as partisan and out of touch.

I don't know when the "party of ideas" label came out. I can see it possibly getting used as early as the 1950s, in the twilight of the Truman administration, when Republicans were trying to paint Democrats as the defenders of tired, old social programs, suggesting that the GOP had something new. (Granted, if you look at politicians like Bob Taft and Joseph McCarthy, that new thing was not desirable in the least.)

Today, the Republicans would be horrified to call themselves the "party of ideas". It doesn't fit their modern narrative, which is that they're somehow the defenders of the Constitution, which is for some reason supposed to remain pure and untouched and in the same form it was in 1787. Or 1791. Or 1804. Or... well, you get the idea.

The 20th century was a time when progress was an ideal, and everyone wanted to claim its mantle. Early signs of change came in 1960, when Barry Goldwater groused in his book "The Conscience of a Conservative" about conservatives who referred to themselves as "progressive conservatives". Progress just seemed like something desirable back then. Nowadays if you turn on FoxNews or any of the hate media, you're going to hear progress used as a derisive term. Will Republicans manage to quash Americans' long-running tendency to favor progress? Time will tell. Don't expect them to give up trying any time soon, at any rate.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Clear choices in the New Hampshire GOP primary

Okay, Republicans in New Hampshire. Today's your primary for the 2012 presidential election, and here are your choices:

1. Bad ideas that only work for the wealthy (Romney).
2. Bad ideas that don't work for anyone (Santorum).
3. Crazy ideas that don't make any sense (Paul).
4. Spite (Gingrich).
5. False moderate who makes you feel like you're rising above your party's partisanship (Huntsman).
6. Choice likely to be made by crazy drunk people (Perry).

Good luck!

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Health care and religion: what dogs Romney the most?

Much hay has been made over Governor Romney and how his history with supporting health care and his affiliation with a non-evangelical Christian faith will trouble him in his bid for the Republican nomination this year. With the Republican field shaking out the way it has been, just how much of a problem will these traits that Republicans find so offensive be?

As to health care, Romney has been doing all he can to distance himself from his celebrated Romneycare, which we enjoy here in Massachusetts. He's trying to suggest that health care can only work if it's treated as a states' rights issue, and not as a national plan. This is not logical, but "states' rights" rings the right bells with Republican partisans, so that might work. Once Romney has the nomination locked up, Republicans will stop trying to hang health care around his neck. That's when Barack Obama will start expressing public gratitude to Romney for the great health care plan he inspired.

Romney's religion is probably going to matter, but exactly how, who knows? In the North and much of the Midwest, voters largely don't care; and in the West, his Mormon roots would probably serve as a net positive. Evangelical voters in the South and the southern Midwest, however, do have a problem with it. However, that problem might be neutralized by the fact that Romney's two main rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, are Catholics--another group that evangelical Christians aren't too high on. (Many evangelicals don't even consider Catholics to be actual Christians, which is the same take they have on Mormons.) Rick Perry is the only Protestant conservative with a notable following, but his numbers aren't notable to wind up putting him in office.

In the end, the religion problem is bigger in the primaries than it will be in the general. The Romney campaign (well, its surrogates, anyway,) is more likely to go extremely negative, aiming to depress Obama support everywhere. If it can depress enough Obama support in the South, then the dampened enthusiasm on the part of evangelical conservatives won't matter. A guy like Mitt Romney doesn't excite anyone, which is why, overall, negativity is they way his campaign is going to have to operate. He has no other way to overcome the diffidence that even Republicans feel about him. It's going to get ugly.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

Should Ron Paul have to disavow this ad?

Here's a video made by some group that seems to support Ron Paul:

I guess this is the issue. A group that supports Ron Paul's presidential bid made this incredibly offensive commercial attacking Jon Huntsman, basing its attacks on Huntsman's ability to speak fluent Mandarin, and his long-running relationship with China, which is one of the reasons President Obama appointed Huntsman ambassador to China. However, since the Paul campaign didn't make the ad, does the Ron Paul campaign have a responsibility to comment on it in one way or another?

It's a legitimate question. Until recently, our election laws banned such attack ads, not allowing shadowy groups with God-knows-how-much money to make them. More importantly, it used to be that if a presidential candidate had an affiliation with one of these groups, he or she had to say so. In the wake of the Citizens United decision, in which the Roberts Court decided that money is speech, that's no longer the case. The group who made this ad could very well be affiliated with the Paul campaign—or with the campaign of any other candidate, including Barack Obama. Or maybe I made that ad. There's no way to know, and no one has to come forward about it.

The ad was made by someone saying they're in favor of Ron Paul. Even that might be kind of dubious. That ad makes me hate Ron Paul even more, which makes me wonder if it couldn't have been done by someone trying to embarrass Paul. I know that a lot of xenophobes are drawn to Ron Paul, but this seems to be a bit beyond the pale, even for them. Maybe I just think too highly of people in general, so I wind up giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I think Ron Paul should say something and move right past this. It's not a great solution, but I can't think of anything better. The bigger issue is that we're likely to see more ads like this in 2012 and beyond, which will make this election one of the ugliest ever. Unlimited funds to make anonymous attacks on candidates—how in the hell could even the partisan, activist judges aligned with Justice Roberts fail to see the danger here?

Fasten your seatbelts. We're in for one nasty ride.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

2012 Republican cattle call

So: who are the Republicans going to run for president against Barack Obama in 2012? Do they have a candidate? Oh, they’ve got plenty of candidates, former candidates, and potential candidates. I’ve got a list of 23 here, including potentials and also-rans. It paints a particularly dismal picture for the Republicans, one not seen since the Democrats’ 1972 field, or the Republicans’ in 1964. Still, since you’re going to be hearing most of these names tossed around until at least next March, and some possibly after that, you might want to know more about them. So I’ll do what I can to shed some light on these losers… er, I mean, candidates.

The 2012 Republican field, including dropouts and those who haven’t declared yet, is, in alphabetical order:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN) – She’s a darling of the social conservatives, and has been for a long time. She’s a stronger candidate than I gave her credit for earlier, but I remain doubtful that she could win in the general election. She could win the nomination, though, which will make for an interesting dilemma for the Republicans. She’s expected to announce her candidacy soon. She’s scored Reagan and Huckabee campaign veteran Ed Rollins, who apparently sees something in her. This is significant.

Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) – Here’s an example of how all politicians wind up believing their own hubris, to some extent. Barbour is probably one of the best-connected Republicans alive today. Yes, he’s the governor of Mississippi, but he’s also the former head of the Republican National Committee and a longtime lobbyist in Washington. While lobbying for more money is an essential skill in running for president these days, Barbour isn’t served with the “lobbyist” title. He already dropped out of the presidential race last month, though he was a favorite among Republican insiders, for what that’s worth.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) – Speaking of Republican insiders, what’s all this talk about Jeb Bush maybe getting into the race? He won’t, but it says a lot about the dire straits the Republicans are in when they start talking about pinning their hopes on a Republican governor named Bush. I don’t know what this guy’s going to do with the rest of his life, but he sure isn’t going to spend the next year and a half of it running for president. Maybe in 2016, but I doubt even that. America still has Bush fatigue; even Republicans have to acknowledge that. Even Republicans named Bush.

Herman Cain (MI) – The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and opinion columnist is running for president, and has something of a following already. Granted, he’s already demonstrated that he’s not terribly interested in or informed about foreign affairs, and can’t tell the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In other words: he’s got a pretty good following among Republicans. Can he win? Hard to say. Not to be too blunt, but I don’t see a black man getting the Republican nod for president.

Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) – Here’s another guy who’s not running. Many Republicans are pushing him to, and I’m sure he’s relishing the attention, but I’m also sure he’s just using that attention to shore up his candidacy in what will probably be a tough reëlection campaign in 2013. He’s brash and obnoxious and, well, fat, so he won’t play well on the national stage (say whatever you will, but this country hasn’t elected a fat president since William Howard Taft in 1908. Don’t expect the TV age to allow it to happen again.) Christie is not actually going to run. He’s also a Catholic, which Republican evangelical voters don’t like. It plays well in New Jersey, but how do you think a Catholic would do in the South Carolina primary? Think about it.

Gov. Mitch Daniels (IN) – Daniels is probably one of the most level-headed, moderate Republicans out there. Which is why it’s no surprise he pulled his name from consideration. It also wouldn’t help his potential campaign to have to explain that his wife left him for another man, married that man, then came back to him and married him again. I have no problem with this, but I think many socially conservative voters would have a problem voting for a man whom they see as a cuckold.

Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) – With Barbour out of the race, there’s room for a Southerner, since, unless you count the longshot candidacy of Newt Gingrich, which is melting down as I write this, there are no Southerners in the race. That said, I think DeMint will decide against a run in the end, and that Rick Perry will wind up filling that slot.

Former Sen. John Ensign (NV) – I only mention Ensign because he had long been considered a top contender for the opportunity to run against Barack Obama in 2012. His sex scandal, in which he coerced a friend’s wife into a sexual relationship with him and paid her hush money, effectively killed Ensign’s political future on the national and on the Nevada stage.

Former Rep. Newt Gingrich (GA) – No one really thought of Newt Gingrich as a likely winner of the Republican nomination, and that was before he started getting plagued with character issues (like blowing wads of cash at high-end luxury broker Tiffany’s) and referring to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare as “right-wing social engineering.” Speaking truth about right-wing social engineering upset a lot of right wingers, and Gingrich has been on the defensive so much that… so much that he and his wife took two weeks off to take a cruise around the Greek islands. And now, just this afternoon, Gingrich’s main campaign staff, his Iowa staff, and his South Carolina staff all walked out on him. Gingrich is promising to “reinvent the campaign” in Los Angeles on Monday. Um… we’ll see. Why the guy just doesn’t drop out already is hard to wrap my head around.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (NY) – Giuliani has long wanted to be president, but many (including me) thought that after his abortive 2008 campaign, he was done forever with presidential politics. Apparently he’s rethinking that. It’s still not clear what his campaign would be about, though.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) – Huckabee was never running for president in the first place. He’s got a contract with FoxNews, and he renewed it back in March of this year. That means he’s out, and will continue doing his TV show. I wouldn’t rule out a Huckabee run in 2016 or later, but not this year. Pay no attention to the occasional chatter that he might get back in. There’s nothing to it.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (UT) – Huntsman is trying to run a very civil campaign, not bashing the president he hopes to replace. This is strange. Also, John Kerry tried the same tactic in 2004 and didn’t win. He almost won, but he didn’t. Huntsman is in a difficult spot, since he served as President Obama’s ambassador to China—how can he go on the offensive against his former boss? Honestly, I think Huntsman isn’t running for president, but is just trying to raise his own profile. Watch for him to run again in 2016. The question remains: will evangelical Republicans allow a Mormon to be nominated? Time will tell. My guess is: probably not.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) – This young, Indian-American governor is not running this year, though his name keeps getting mentioned for some reason. I’m sure he’ll run some time in the future, but not now. He’s got time to wait. He also has a reëlection campaign to wage in November 2011. Watch for him again in 2016.

Former Gov. Gary Johnson (NM) – Johnson is popular among New Mexico Republicans, but that’s about it. He’s running on a very libertarian platform, opposing taxes and free trade. But he’s also openly supporting marijuana legalization—not the kind of position that gets you elected, exactly.

Political consultant Fred Karger (CA) – Karger has worked for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. He’s never run for office in his entire life, though. He was also the first to declare as the Republican candidate for president. Oh, and he’s openly gay. Which will keep Republican voters away from him in droves. Still, it’s kind of nice that he’s trying, isn’t it?

Former Half-Governor Sarah Palin (AK) – She’s not running. She just isn’t. She’s out there on her magic bus, touring all the primary states, but she’s not running, so don’t be fooled. Her goal is celebrity, to get her name out there, to build up her own political clout. She wants to be the white Oprah for stupid people. And, to that effect, she’s drawing off a lot of media attention—but she’s just not running. Ignore her if you can, though. The Republican candidate of your choice will probably appreciate it.

Rep. Ron Paul (TX) – He’s running again. There’s something uncanny about Ron Paul: he’s not a serious candidate, but he’s got a serious movement. His entire goal is to pull the Republican Party toward some 1920s-style politics that have long since been written off by most American voters. There’s no denying Paul’s supporters’ enthusiasm—but their enthusiasm runs deep, not narrow.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) – Some fuss has been made about Pawlenty, a two-term governor from what some refer to as a “blue state.” Indeed, Minnesota hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, but is Pawlenty the remedy? Eh… maybe. On one hand, he’s apparently scandal-free. On the other hand, he’s as exciting as lutefisk. Still, he could make it all the way to the nomination, maybe—depending on the dynamics of the other candidates. Pawlenty will probably try to position himself as the anti-Romney. If that works out, he could be the nominee. Pawlenty’s problem is that he’s such a blank slate that he might appear to be many things to voters that he actually isn’t.

Gov. Rick Perry (TX) – Following Newt Gingrich’s implosion today, several of the refugee staffers met with their old boss: Rick Perry. Perry had been dropping hints about running for president for well over a month now, and with so much quality staff suddenly available, and with no Southern candidate currently in the race, he just might do it. The questions the Republicans might want to ask themselves is: does America really want another conservative governor of Texas as its president? Maybe that doesn’t follow, logically, but it’s going to be problematic when the media and the voters start making that tenuous connection to George W. Bush.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (MA, UT, MI) – Mitt Romney was only governor of Massachusetts, but he seems to hold an active claim on residence in Utah and Michigan, as well—Utah where he worked on the 1998 Winter Olympics and almost ran for governor, and Michigan, where he was born, and where his father actually was governor. Romney has problems. He’s a Mormon, for one, which doesn’t sit well with conservative Evangelicals, who don’t see Mormons (or even Catholics) as actual Christians, and believe that their president ought to be a Christian in their own sect’s mold. Worse for Romney is that as governor of Massachusetts, he created a health care plan that resembles the one that President Obama signed into law last year, which Republican opponents of health care don’t care for. Romney also governed as a pro-choice governor—a position which, unlike his health care plan, he’s trying to run away from. Romney’s problem is that the socially conservative candidates and voters alike are gunning to take him out. If he can get past them, he’s the Republicans’ best chance to win over independents. Of course, Romney still supports starving the government of enough revenue to render it nearly non-functional, but that’s about the only policy position he’s got that social conservatives can get behind. Right now, Romney’s trying to navigate the primaries by appearing to be above the fray, dodging the conservative-dominated Iowa straw poll, for example. I have to say this is probably his best option. It’s hard to say if it’ll work. If it does, Obama will be facing what is probably the strongest Republican challenger possible.

Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) – Ryan isn’t running, though there’s plenty of talk flitting about, suggesting that he might. Ryan’s profile has risen considerably, thanks to his anti-Medicare plan, which would replace payments with vouchers to cover some of your medical expenses. It’s a wildly unpopular plan, which Republicans who aren’t on Medicare love, so the 2016 buzz for Ryan makes no sense right now—though maybe a little more sense than the loony 2012 Ryan buzz.

Former Rep. Rick Santorum (PA) – Santorum doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance, and he’s making things worse for his nascent campaign by sticking to socially conservative positions like how homosexuality is unnatural, homosexuals are bad people, abortion is evil, etc. It’s hard to imagine a less relevant presidential campaign at a time when jobs and the economy are on everyone’s minds. Considering the tone of his campaign, Santorum is probably running just to raise his own profile and perhaps become a significant media personality. Because as far as politics are concerned, he’s over and done and has been since he got crushed for reëlection in 2006.

TV impresario Donald Trump (NY) – Trump folded his campaign not long ago. Now he’s dropping hints that he might get back in. Here’s a simple thing to remember whenever you find yourself wondering if Donald Trump is running for president: Donald Trump is not running for president. Trump is running for more publicity for his TV show. He’s not running—period. Never was, just like during the first time he faked a run for the presidency. And the second time he faked a run for the presidency. Anyone who was fooled when he faked a third run really needs to start following their country’s politics better.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords was shot with a gun

A question I frequently find myself asking these days is, “Have we lost our minds?” I always feel a little silly asking it, though. If you look at any age throughout history, you can always find someone wondering why it is that civilization is finally running off the rails and careening toward collapse, yet somehow, civilization hasn’t collapsed yet.

That’s not to say there’s nothing worth worrying about. Consider the Nazis, who weren’t an example of civilization collapsing, but sure were an example of decency evaporating in the face of a government that Kurt Vonnegut described as truly obscene. Had the Nazis succeeded, and I’m sure it was possible, we’d be living in some vile parody of the flawed world that we all know and despair about.

The shooting in Arizona last Saturday has been on my mind almost constantly since it happened. As an avid political junkie, I’ve been following Gabrielle Giffords since she was first elected in 2006. I remember feeling optimistic about what she would bring to Congress, then feeling disappointed in what she was actually doing in Congress, then feeling relieved at her positions as they evolved away from the Blue Dogs’, and leftward toward the political center. It’s not like I was ready to start campaigning for her or anything, but I was pleased to see the evolution. She seemed to honestly reflect on how she felt, revising her opinions from time to time, as needed. This is an all too rare quality in anyone, much less an elected official. So while I would be disturbed by the shooting of any member of Congress, the fact that it was someone like Giffords only made the situation worse for me.

I doubt many, if any, people reading this is happy about the shooting. People seldom are, once shootings happen. Over my years of following politics and talking politics with people, I’ve encountered plenty of inappropriate talk and pictures. I remember someone who had a picture of Bill Clinton on the door of his college dorm with a gun sight drawn over his head. I remember people telling me that we’d all be better off if someone would just shoot George W. Bush. Obviously we all feel exasperation, but it’s never acceptable to speak so cavalierly about assassination. I doubt these people I’ve known actually would shoot a politician or anyone else. Assassins are almost always crazy. Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield because he believed the man, whom he’d never met, owed him a job in the administration. Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley because he wanted to demonstrate that American anarchists are just as serious as European anarchists. John Hinckley shot President Reagan because he wanted to impress actress Jody Foster. And Squeaky Fromme shot at President Ford because, well, she was with the Manson Family—what further explanation do you need?

And now we see the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by Jared Loughner whose motives are not clear yet. The best I’ve heard in the way of explanation is that he’d written Representative Giffords some years ago, asking her, “What is government if words have no meaning?” This question resembles the several incoherent videos he posted on YouTube, which also make as much sense. The assassin Loughner has also left us a hard-to-read trail of personal information, his YouTube site citing as his favorites books that are as disparate as “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He also likes “The Wizard of Oz.” What does it mean? How can we connect any of those books? It’s a fool’s errand.

That said, there are fools willing to take up that errand. Already we’ve been hearing from people who are convinced that this is somehow indicative of Loughner’s political philosophy and thus his motivation. Some are also bringing up his marijuana use, suggesting a modern version of “Reefer Madness” might explain what this is all about.

Naturally, no one wants to place Loughner on their side of the political argument. And really, I don’t think he belongs on anyone’s side. North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, no stranger to inappropriate hyperbole, has called Loughner “The liberal of liberals,” in a desperate attempt to place the assassin in what she views as the opposing political camp. Where does she even get this? Could it be his reading list? “To Kill a Mockingbird” has a definite liberal message—but “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf” certainly do not.

Though there has been no official diagnosis yet, most of us, myself included, are concluding that Loughner is insane. For me, the answer to, “Why did this guy shoot these people?” is “He’s insane,” and that’s as good an explanation as we’re going to get. Loughner is not my political enemy; I don’t even think of him as having political motives. So don’t worry, conservatives: I’m not going to try to give him to you. He’s no more one of yours than he is one of mine.

The harder-to-answer question that’s been coming up in the wake of the Arizona shootings is: what, if anything, has our political climate to do with this? Much has been made about Sarah Palin’s again-famous map showing “targeted” congressional districts in the 2010 elections, marked with gun sights. Since Representative Giffords is one of two members of Congress who were on that map and survived reëlection, some are pointing fingers at Sarah Palin. I pointed a finger at Sarah Palin for this very reason. “Sarah Palin has blood on her hands,” I said. I meant it, too.

After a little bit of reflection, I’m not sure that’s quite accurate. Not directly accurate, anyway. Loughner was not operating on real or imagined marching orders from Sarah Palin, as far as we know. It’s more accurate to say that Sarah Palin is more responsible for the killing of rational, level-headed political dialogue (though there’s plenty of blame to go around for that.) I’m not sure if a more civil dialogue between all of us would stop massacres like this. We’d be better off as a country if we learned to be more civil and decent for us, since I believe that the lack of decency in civic discourse is threatening our country, our government, and our society itself. The smart thing to do would be to calm down and stop shouting. But as Jon Stewart said the other day, “You can’t outsmart crazy.”

Our reaction has been to pin this on violent imagery, on metaphors of guns and killing. Words can spur people to act in dangerous way, sure, but I get the feeling we’re all doing some serious contortions in order to avoid talking about the elephant in the living room. Jared Lee Loughner shot eighteen people, and he did it with a gun. A semi-automatic handgun with thirty bullets in it, to be specific, and the gun was purchased legally. Such guns have been legal in the United States since 2004, when the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire by the Republican Congress and President Bush, who didn’t even want to bring it up for a vote. And here I’m pointing fingers again, this time at Bush and those Congressional Republicans who saw political advantage in kowtowing to the National Rifle Association by making it easier for anyone to get these dangerous guns.

Massacres like Saturday’s massacre in Arizona are done with guns. Not arrows, not knives, not swords—guns. And after more than thirty years of relentless lobbying, the NRA has succeeded in making every single one of our politicians flinch at the mere mention of controlling any kind of weapons. “Our right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed!” they wail, citing the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But they’re missing a significant point: our right to keep and bear arms has already been infringed. The government won’t allow private citizens to own hand grenades. Or machine guns. Or anti-aircraft guns. Or nuclear weapons. Sure, most people wouldn’t bother with these things, even if they were legal, but the fact is that they’re not, and there’s no reason for them to be.

Likewise with assault weapons. The idea that anyone would need a machine that can kill as quickly and as efficiently as Loughner was able to last Saturday is absurd. We need to return to the assault weapons ban. The mere mention of banning any kind of gun sends many Americans into a tizzy, and you start to hear all kinds of irrational justifications repeated, like, “They want to ban ALL our guns!” “We need to be armed to the teeth in case we have to overthrow a tyrannical government,” etc. To drive this home, gun fanciers will carry guns conspicuously to political rallies, offering no more justification for the menacing display than, “It’s my right to carry one, so I’m carrying one.”

Apparently not all conservatives think it’s rational to carry guns to political rallies. Republican Representative Peter King of New York plans to introduce a bill that bans the carrying of guns within 100 feet of any member of Congress. Because, he says, how can politicians do their jobs while worrying about their own physical safety? Yes, how indeed? However, Mr. King would do well to recall that there’s already a law against shooting people in the head and otherwise murdering. Odds are that people like Jared Loughner aren’t going to consider the law when getting within 100 feet of anyone, politician or not.

Guns are the problem. They’re too easy to get, and too easy to distribute. Jared Loughner did not break the law when purchasing his gun or his ammunition. Even though he’d been dismissed from college for apparent mental problems, his name didn’t show up on any database that red-flagged him as a possible threat. And even if it had, he could still purchase guns at gun shows, where such background checks aren’t even required. It should be harder to get a gun than it is, and that’s what the mess in Arizona has shown us all too clearly.

The NRA has successfully conflated gun control with outright gun bans. They’re two different concepts, but to hear the NRA and its disciples say it, there’s no difference. No one is seriously talking about banning all guns, but too few of us are talking about controlling access to guns. We need to renew the assault weapons ban. We need to perform background checks on everyone who tries to buy a gun. And we need to end the gun show loophole. Guns are machines designed for one purpose: killing. For that reason, it only makes sense that we hold them to a higher standard, and make it harder to get them. Our politicians are too willing to cave to NRA pressure and thus make guns far more available to everyone.

A less toxic political atmosphere would help with our national debate, but only improving our gun laws will improve our gun laws. As easy as it is for politicians to stand up for the NRA, do they also find it that easy to stand up for the next Jared Lee Loughner? It’s not enough to condemn violence. We're well overdue to do something about it.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Rethinking Christopher Columbus



Europeans' descendants have been living in the Americas for over 500 years now. Columbus was used in the past as a sort of mythic forefather of the modern Western hemisphere, a sort of Romulus or King Arthur or George Washington or Vercingetorix. Creating such myths is an understandable impulse for new countries, but we're all getting long in the tooth on this side of the Atlantic, so we no longer need the myth of the bold, intrepid Christopher Columbus.

He needs to be deëmphasized in history teaching. He didn't really have a vision, except that he felt the world was smaller than most people did, and that if you sailed across the Ocean Sea, you wouldn't starve to death before you got to the other side. He was wrong about that, and would've starved to death before he reached the other side, along with his crew, and would've been forgotten about in the annals of history.

He was a merchant mariner; that's all. If he didn't bump into these continents, someone else would have before too long. His contact with the Americas brought Western disease, which the Americans didn't have any kind of resistance to, which wound up killing most of the people he came into contact with. If not for those diseases, Westerners wouldn't have had such an easy time conquering the civilizations here, and likely wouldn't have managed to do so.

In sum, Columbus should be taught as a minor figure, as the guy who happened to be commanding the boats that started it all. But a hero? Nah. A villain? No more or less than anyone else who showed up here around that time. Teach that we made contact, and what resulted from that contact, but really, as far as Mr. Columbus goes, that's quite enough.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Cotton-polyester blends are a sin against God.

Here's an interesting point from Biblical scholar Michael Coogan. According to the Bible, those very popular cotton-polyester blends are sinful, but there are plenty of Biblical adherents who choose to ignore this point. Do you selectively cite the Bible? According to this guy, we all do. Which makes sense—there's too much to it to allow us to throw out all the inconsistencies. There are simply too many inconsistencies.

Also note the bit about where he compares following the Bible rigidly with following the U.S. Constitution rigidly. Neither are perfect documents; neither can be followed rigidly.

And what did Jesus ever say about homosexuality? Once more, with feeling: "Not a word."

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Friday, August 27, 2010

What's so bad about Sharia law?

There's a lot of talk about Sharia law in the media these days. It might leave you wondering what that is, and what's so bad about it. Well, it's not actually a bad thing at all. All that "Sharia law" means is "Islamic law." And that, of course, is broadly open to interpretation. It's like saying "Christian law." What is the law that all Christians must follow? Well, it depends on the Christian sect. Christians have lively debates over how their religion should operate--just like Muslims. All Muslims are not the same, just like all Christians are not the same. Every Muslim does not celebrate the crashing of planes into buildings just like every Christian does not celebrate shooting doctors dead in front of clinics.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The so-called "Ground Zero Mosque"

There's been quite a lot of talk lately about an Islamic center to be built a few blocks away from where the World Trade Center stood, once upon a time. Many voices have been raised in opposition to this, suggesting that it's in poor taste that an Islamic center be built near where some people who called themselves Muslims committed the worst terrorist attack in American history. The feeling is that Muslims in the neighborhood are trouble, and any member of that religion is not welcome in what some believe should be a Muslim-free zone.

Does anyone remember how there used to be such discussions about whether it was appropriate to erect Catholic churches or synagogues in the United States, since these faiths gave offense to true Christianity (namely Protestants?) Probably not, since these debates were over before any of us were born. But there have been laws in the past banning Catholic churches and synagogues in particular cities. In fact, there was even a proposed state to be called Hazard, which would have run from roughly between Erie, Pennsylvania and Chicago, Illinois, where Catholics were to be barred from entry. This plan fell apart not on constitutional grounds, but because its would-be founder died before he was done pushing the idea on Congress.

Those of you who hate Islam: you have that right. You can hate Judaism, too; you can hate Catholicism, you can hate any other branch of Christianity, if you want. But you owe common decency to recognize that al Qaeda is as representative of Islam as Rev. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps is of Christianity. This is not an al Qaeda monument--this is a mosque, and nothing more.

And you know what the hell of this whole thing is? The imam who's behind this new Islamic center has been declared an apostate by al Qaeda because of his attitude of tolerance toward Christians and Jews, and his opposition to militant Islam. You opponents to this project might want to think about that. Opponents to this project have more in common with al Qaeda than the imam who's driving it. I'd much rather have people like this imam in my neighborhood than the bigots who think that everything vaguely related to Islam and the Arab world, from algebra to al Qaeda, must all be part of one big terrorist conspiracy.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cross-country road trip

Okay, so my wife and I are leaving in a couple hours for a cross-country road trip, one that we've been dreaming about since we were both kids. We will leave Boston for Seattle, then Los Angeles, then Atlanta, and then home, seeing lots of stuff in between. I'll try to post from the road, but no promises. We'll be gone for about a month.

If you see a gray Oldsmobile with a black mark on the front bumper and with Massachusetts plates, it's probably us, so wave.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Our next two presidential elections: a preview

Of course everyone wants to know what the next presidential election's going to look like. That's not a hard thing to figure out; all you have to do is read this blog. Specifically, you have to read this post. Then you'll be prepared to talk intelligently about everything there is to know about the 2012 and 2016 elections. You're welcome.

2012 primary season

Iowa caucuses: Sarah Palin wins. Everyone is surprised; Palin is our next president!
New Hampshire primary: Mitt Romney wins. No one is surprised; he's from the state next door (Massachusetts).
Michigan primary: Mitt Romney wins. No one is surprised; he's from Michigan.
Florida primary: Mitt Romney wins. Everyone is surprised, since Sarah Palin came in so close. She's our next president!
Nevada caucuses: Mitt Romney wins. No one is surprised; he's from the state next door (Utah). Plus, you know, all those Mormons.
South Carolina primary: Sarah Palin wins. Everyone is surprised! She's our next president!
Super Tuesday, 2012: Mitt Romney clobbers Sarah Palin everywhere except in the South, where she wins. Talk turns to the deep, irreversible divisions in the Republican Party.
Mitt Romney wins the nomination. Everyone is surprised. Sarah Palin was robbed!
Mitt Romney chooses a conservative Southerner for a running mate. Maybe Haley Barbour. Bobby Jindal doesn't want the job. Go figure.
Election Day, 2012: Mitt Romney loses to Barack Obama in a landslide. No one is surprised.
Speculation begins: is 2016 Sarah's turn? Our first woman president!
Election Day 2016: Sarah Palin has secured the Republican nomination for president. Will we finally have a woman president? It's Sarah's turn! She and running mate Scott Brown are poised to make history!
January 20, 2017: Jeanne Shaheen sworn in as our 45th president. SarahPAC gears up for 2020.
Epilogue: The torture never stops.

Now you are prepared to speak intelligently about American politics for the next six years. Go forth and dazzle. Amen.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why 2010 doesn't look so hot for the Republicans

All things being equal, 2010 ought to be a fantastic year for the Republicans. The reason for this is that the Democrats just had two fantastic election years in a row, and we're in the middle of a Democratic president's first term. Plus the economy sucks. This should spell great news for Republicans.

But it won't. The Republican Party is either leaderless or has too many leaders, depending on how you look at it. The Tea Partiers are revving up voters, sure, but they also risk scaring off moderates from voting Republican--even moderate Republicans.

Much attention has been paid to the special elections in New York's 23rd district, Pennsylvania's 12th district, and Massachusetts' Senate race. But I don't think any of these really set the narrative the way a lot of people would like to think. It's more like we don't want to have to wait until this November before we can talk about which way the country is definitely heading. So I could be just as wrong as anyone, but my takeaway is that the Tea Party is a weird populist movement, in that it opposes government but doesn't actually stand for anything. (Sure, it claims to be in favor of the Constitution, but seriously--who runs for office while taking a stand against the Constitution?)

In the end, I think the Republicans will come out with a few more seats in the House and Senate than they did before, but that's about it. It'll hurt them, too, because of all this talk we've been hearing about how Obama was spelling certain doom for the Democrats, for America, for Western civilization, for Christendom, etc. When the doom fizzles, what are the Republicans going to have left to freak out about? Not that they'll stop freaking out or anything, but unless they take at least one of the houses of Congress, they're going to look pretty impotent.

If Rand Paul loses his election, the Republican Party is going to want to have a lot less to do with the Tea Party. However, there's not a whole lot they can do to get rid of them. The Republicans are going to be in a bad way until someone inside the Republican Party stands up and actively tries to rip the Tea Party out of their party, because no one can clean the Republicans' house for them. Until that happens, the Republicans are going to remain a very vocal minority, and very likely shrinking in influence.

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