Archive for June, 2009

Remember the Whigs

June 29, 2009

The Republicans are in the wilderness right now.

There are two seminal events of the last 50 years that shaped the party as it exists today. The first was the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson. Folklore has it that Johnson put down his pen and remarked to an aide “We have lost the South for a generation.” The racism that pervaded that culture then and lingers today was no longer the property of the Democrats. Those who turned away from the Southern Democrats not just moved to the Republican party, they became an influential constituency.

That influence shows in the policy positions of the conservative Republicans when it comes to immigration policy. That influence shows in the comments by Newt Gingrich on May 2009 that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was racist. That influence shows in the writing of Mark Krikorian, author for the conservative publication “The National Review”[1], that stated that Sotomayor was pronouncing her name wrong. To quote: “Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English … and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to.” He ends the article with “And there are basically two options — the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there’s a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.”

In recently released tapes, Richard Nixon comments on the Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade[2]. His comment was “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white, or a rape.”

The second event that shaped the Republican Party was Ronald Reagan’s embrace of evangelical Christians in his bid for the White House in 1980. Ronald Reagan was not particularly evangelical in his own beliefs, but he realized the electoral power of reaching out to those who wanted to interject their theological ideas into the political process. Evangelicals had been energized behind the anti-abortion debate and became politically active in an attempt to change the laws surrounding a women’s right to choose.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, John McCain specifically called out Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance”. Unfortunately, in the 2008 campaign, he tacitly acknowledged the political power of those who are indeed intolerant of those different from themselves by embracing them.

The demographics of America have changed in these two areas in the last quarter century. There is an increasing percentage of non-white people in America. Trending data suggests that less than half of American will be white within the next few years. Based on my personal experience with my kids and their friends, it seems that young people tend to view skin color as a quantitative attribute, not a qualitative one.

In a Washington Post article published March 9, 2009 [3], fewer Americans are calling themselves Christian and people are increasingly non-specific about their religious beliefs. This makes it less likely that people will be willing to accept the dogma of any particular religion and more likely that they will customize their spiritual beliefs to be consistent with their personal beliefs and cultural norms.

While I would not characterize the majority of Republicans I know this way, I think those who determine the core planks in the Republican platform have made it the party of Bible-Thumpers and Bigots.

The Republicans have a choice. They can become a more tolerant and inclusive party or they can hold true to the “Bible Thumpers and Bigots” platform. Perhaps more Republicans should take a look at the history of the Whig Party in America to get a glimpse into what could happen.






Proof By Intimidation

June 27, 2009

When I was in college, a very dry math professor of mine was discussing deductive proofs vs. inductive proofs. He blandly commented that if we didn’t do things exactly the way he said to do them, he would flunk us… and that, he said, was proof by intimidation.

Proof-by-intimidation seems to be the favored technique in political discourse these days. I don’t spend a lot of time listening to the “entertainment as political opinion” from either the left or the right, since there is rarely anything of value. The modus operandi of opinion commentators like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage is to offer calm, deliberate opinion when solo, but when placed in a situation where they have to engage with an opposing opinion, the approach looks a lot different.  When there is a challenge to those ideas and for which there is no rational counterpoint, they resort to proof-by-intimidation. The volume and the insults ramp up and the most common reaction of the opposing opinion is to be quieted or ratchet up the rhetoric. At that point, there is no discourse, just Jerry Springer-like “entertainment”. It’s sad.

Michael Savage appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation on May 5, 2009 to discuss his being placed on a terrorist watch list in Britain which banned him from entering the UK. A caller from Iowa called in.  Let’s look at the transcript:

CONAN: Let’s see if we get a caller in on the line. 800-989-8255, email: Our guest is Michael Savage, the host of “Savage Nation,” learned earlier today that he’d been banned from entering the United Kingdom.

Jeffrey(ph) is on the air. Jeffrey calling from Des Moines, Iowa.

JEFFREY (Caller): If you listen to Michael Savage – if every time he says Islam or Muslim, you insert either Jew or Christian, he would be off the air in one day. I’ve had…

Mr. SAVAGE: Wait, I don’t want to listen to this foaming lunatic. I came on the air to give you my opinion, not to listen to someone in pajamas in a mental asylum in Iowa. So if…

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFFREY: You know…

Mr. SAVAGE: No, no, you listen to me. You’re a nobody.

JEFFREY: (Unintelligible)

CONAN: Michael Savage?

Mr. SAVAGE: You’re nobody and I’m not going to talk to you. Now, Neal, if you’d like to continue the discussion, I’ll do so. Otherwise, I have more important things to do than talk to someone in pajamas in an institution in Iowa.

CONAN: Then go do them, please.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you.

CONAN: Michael Savage, hanging up on us from his office in San Francisco.

We clearly have someone in Michael Savage who is uninterested in anyone’s opinion other than his own. In my experience, people who exhibit that sort of behavior intrinsically understand that their point-of-view is difficult to support intellectually.  I’ve seen Bill O’Reilly use the same technique many times, one of the most memorable on the Oprah Winfrey show years ago.

Policy matters. Words matter. We can’t get to good, moderate public policy until we start to engage in intelligent discourse with intelligent people. We have to start with a genuine desire to understand and appreciate – but not necessarily agree with – people on the other side of the political divide. We need people like William F. Buckley. Some of the conservative points-of-view have merit. At the very least, it helps to moderate an over-reach by the left. That is particularly important given that the Democrats have control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Our national policies will be suboptimal until commentators like Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh no longer have an audience because we have less of an appetite for this garbage and start to have an appetite for resolving the challenges that this country faces.

Policy vs. Posturing

June 21, 2009

Governing should be about determining the best policies for a given situation and using influence to get those policies enacted. The policies themselves should be effective at handling the situation. The job of our elected officials is to govern. These seem axiomatic, but as simple as these concepts are, we seem to have a lot of elected officials who don’t realize what their job is.

The Iranian electoral crisis revealed another side of Washington politics that is all too common – posturing. Senate Republicans, including John McCain, suggested that Obama should “… speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election.” It is likely true that the elections were a sham, but McCain’s position is simply politics without policy. The question that reporters did not ask of John McCain is “Then what?” If the Americans become of the focus of what is essentially an internal struggle within Iran, then we detract from the dissenters. If we have learned anything about Middle East culture, we know that Arabs will close ranks against a foreign enemy. The Supreme Leader of Iran tried to bait the West into becoming the issue, but Obama didn’t take the bait. I must say, it’s nice to have an adult in the White House.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress did take the bait. They passed a resolution 405 to 1 in support of the demonstrators. Obviously, that number means both Democrats and Republicans. The resolution was passed in the Senate later in the day.

Other than looking like tough guys, what conceivable positive policy outcome would result from American taking a strong stand against Iran’s electoral fraud? I don’t think any except the whackiest of neo-cons think this is reason enough for the United States to take military action against Iran.  I am not sure economic sanctions make sense. If this is just the use of rhetoric against Iran, then we need to look at recent history.

On February 15, 1991, President George H.W. Bush encouraged the Shia of Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein. They responded with an intifadha, but the U.S. government did not back them up militarily. They were quickly overpowered by the Iraqi Republican Guard with significant loss of Iraqi life.

Words do matter. Rhetoric for the sake of posturing is irresponsible when it applied to situations as hot as the electoral uprising in Iran.

I Thought I was a Democrat…

June 19, 2009

I decided to start intermittently blogging about politics again.  The first time around, it was to blow off steam about the abuses of the Bush Administration.   Most of the posts, however, were about trying to discuss political policy without hyperbole.   I guess that makes me rare in the blog-o-sphere.

Everyone describes themselves as middle of the road.  Apparently,  it depends on the road.   I thought maybe I was a Republican before Reagan ran for election and then I realized I wasn’t.   I thought I was a Democrat until I started hanging out with a few of them at political organizational meetings and I realized that I wasn’t.   It turns out that I don’t really have a political party at all.

I am socially liberal, fiscally conservative and have a strong leaning toward Libertarianism.  That’s not the modern Ron Paul-style Liberatarian, which strikes me as whacky, but more of the old-school Goldwater Republican notion that a large part of what we do as citizens isn’t the business of government and shouldn’t be regulated by it — you know, the whole “smaller government” thing.

Thanks for listening.