Saturday, March 31, 2012

America the Angry – Not America the Beautiful.

In Abraham Lincoln’s time America was known as “the last best hope of mankind”.  Ronald Reagan resurrected the old Puritan mantra and referred to our country as “that shining city upon a hill’.  But what are we today.  Our politics is uncivil and negative, featuring the politics of personal destruction.  Sick individuals shoot indiscriminately at students in schools and parishioners at church.  We see the renewal of race based violence.  Even our newest popular video game is called “Angry Birds”.  America has become the world’s Angry Nation.

Why is the greatest economic and military power on the planet the Angry Nation.  We have had other economic downturns and we recovered often by pulling together.  Is this economic slump different because today’s Americans simply expect that the federal government will fix things easily and quickly?   Are we an Angry Nation because the unemployment won’t go away?   As in the 30's the government’s programs are opposed by conservative laissez-faire non-interventionist Republicans.  But the language is meaner; the refusal to accept the validity of any portion of whatever the President proposes is to say the least irrational.  During the New Deal era Republicans would have jumped at the chance to support an old proposal of theirs if embraced by FDR; now they attack their proposals as soon as Obama endorses them.

We are bogged down in the war in Afghanistan after finally getting extricated from Iraq.  Surely there is anger about that.  The Vietnam War was fought by draftees not volunteers and affected most families in America.  The anger and demonstrations was understandable.  Today very few are personally impacted by these wars; yet are they the reason for the Angry Nation?

We are the world’s leading nation - perhaps the only superpower (China isn’t there yet - soon).  But, we can’t get others to do what we want them to do.  Castro holds out in Cuba; Assad in Syria.  Ben Laden is dead and Qadaffi deposed yet Iran and North Korea still pursue their peace threatening polities.  Are we angry because we are not calling the shots in the world or are we angry because we don’t have a clear enemy?  In the twentieth century we fought the ‘isms - monarchism, Nazism, fascism, militarism and communism -- and we won.   Now we fight terrorism.  But what is that and do we fight it everywhere?  The nation seems to rally only against radical Islamism and on that point the population of the country is divided.  America has never been comfortable fighting a foe with religious differences - perhaps because we are a composite of so many religions.    Are we an angry nation because we are frustrated by this lack of a clear geographical and personal foreign enemy?  (Personalism is important to Americans we fought the Kaiser, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo and later Stalin and Brezhnev - couldn’t fight communism when it was personified by Gorbachev.)

Are we an Angry Nation because so many of the cultural changes in our society in the past fifty years were sharply contested and now the consensuses that ended those battles seem to be reopening with new clashes?.  Americans don’t like to revisit settled political matters.  They did with prohibition but that was within a dozen years.   The matter of voting rights and racial equality was settled fifty years ago; women’s equality was settled almost forty years ago; Griswold v. Conn. (right to access to contraception) was a 1960's Supreme Court decision and Roe v. Wade was decided in the early 1970's.  As the 21st century opened it seemed the only cultural matter still being battled was the right of gay individuals to live their lifestyle without government or other interference and with an equality with heterosexuals.  And ironically this Angry Nation finds a majority of its population now accepting gay marriage.

There can be no denial that Americans are Angry.  What I believe constitutes a minority of our population, represented by the Tea Party movement, is Angry at the liberal and progressive policies of the past one hundred years.  They oppose the President vehemently, distort and oppose his foreign policy and want to reverse the equality decisions of the past half century and impose a conservative evangelical morality code upon Americans.   I believe the majority of Americans are Angry that all this is being revisited again and that this minority is trying to impose their will on all.  Whether the two groups are reversed in strength is not relevant because both remain Angry.

So how do we get past this?  How does it become “morning in American again”?  How do we regain our faith in the future and move progressively forward?  When the British crown tired to impose its will by bayonet on the citizens of Boston, Americans became Angry.  We fought and won a great war for independence.  But it was not the Anger we became known for it was the principle of freedom for which men fought and died that became the symbol of America to the world.   We should once again become a civil nation where everyone agrees to let others live their lives without interference as long as they do no harm to others.  We should again practice a politics of consensus and compromise. We should lead the nations of the world not as a great military or economic power but as the great moral arbiter we were viewed as when we entered the two World Wars of the last century. 

If our nation as a whole were to “chill” we could lead the world into a twenty -first century that unlike the last could be one of peace and prosperity.  

31 March 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012


In 2010 the radical right wing tea party Republicans won elections throughout the nation for state legislative seats with a well financed and structured attack on the Obama administration and as a result of  the terrible state of the economy due to the Bush-Cheney depression.  But these radical right wing tea party Republicans didn’t proceed to do anything about the economy because they couldn’t. Their philosophy on economic matters is to let the market place solve things by waiting - that’s what Hoover did in 1929; he waited until the nation threw him out in 1932.  So the radical right wing tea party Republicans turned their attention to social issues and an attempt to re-fight and this time win the culture wars of the 1960's/1970's.

First, to make sure they would be able to stay in power they got as many states as they controlled to pass measures to restrict people’s ability to vote.  That’s the reason for the phony Photo ID laws to prevent people from doing what no one was doing, i.e. impersonate someone else when they went to vote.  These laws are designed to prevent those without id’s mostly young people, the elderly and African Americans and many urban dwellers from voting.  Fact that most of those demographics vote Democrat was an incentive to the radical right wing tea party Republicans  to pass the bills. Hopefully the past will hold in the future and those still allowed easy access to the franchise will vote for candidates who will repeal these laws and continue the two hundred year American march to universal adult suffrage.

Finally this year the radical right wing tea party Republicans decided to declare war on women.  They couldn’t be sure that the Supreme Court, even though packed with conservatives now, would repeal Roe v. Wade so they first went after Griswold v. Connecticut.  That earlier case had struck down a state law against contraception and first enunciated the idea that the 9th Amendment (one of the original Bill of Rights) provided our citizenry with a right to privacy. The right to privacy became the underpinning to Roe v Wade which guaranteed women the right to make their decisions regarding carrying to term or terminating a pregnancy.  The radical right wing tea party Republicans have now begun to pass any kind of bill they can think of that will interfere with and restrict access to women’s reproductive health care.  They use state budgets to cut funding to the worthwhile programs of Planned Parenthood.  In one state they have ordered all doctors to advise women that there is a link between having an abortion and getting breast cancer.  Despite the fact that every organization of physicians and medical experts in America have insisted there is no such linkage.  Now the radical right wing tea party Republicans will substitute the opinion of legislators for that of doctors (that’s what they incorrectly accused Obamacare of doing.)  And most infamously they are passing forced intra-vaginal sonograms for all women contemplating a pregnancy termination.  Legislators should not be mandating such invasive procedures which are available if a woman and her doctor see the necessity or choose to do.

The radical right wing tea party Republicans have decided that among their goals for this year will be winning the war against women and turning back the clock in regard to gender equality.  “Let women remain in the kitchens” as far as these yahoos are concerned - keep them “barefoot and pregnant”.  It is of course frustrating to those of us who lived through the 1960's and the
1970's to witness society undergo again these cultural battles that we thought were resolved by the body politic in our era. 

In the 1960's the issue of racial equality was faced head on and the national consensus by the end of that decade was that all persons regardless of race would be treated equally and would be entitled to exercise their right to vote. In the 1970's the battle of gender equality was waged and, while we failed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, the society accepted and embraced gender equality as women began to be elected to public office in record numbers and as the Supreme Court recognized that the right to privacy from the Ninth Amendment gave women control over decisions about their reproduction, e.g. use of contraception and termination of pregnancies.  This past decade has seen a great battle by those in our society who choose an alternative lifestyle to heterosexuality to be free from discriminatory practices and all indications are that LGBT folks are winning that battle.

Political decisions and legislation can always be revisited - but when a society goes back and tries to undo major societal consensuses on cultural matters it risks tearing the society to shreds.  Liberty, Equality, Fraternity are not just the slogans of the French revolution. They are the very things that Americans have fought for, that Americans have died for and that Americans today live for. In the 1960's we overcame, in the 1970's we moved forward and now in 2012 we must remember the words of that old spiritual and  “like a tree standing in the water -- we shall not be moved”.

18 March2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Contest -- Super Tuesday Isn’t Super Anymore.

Super Tuesday, the day that more state primaries/caucuses are held than any other date on the calendar is usually the end point to the presidential primary process.  In most cases it has determined the ultimate nominees and in a few it has narrowed the field down to two remaining competitions for the party’s nod.

2012 has been unique, not in that there is an incumbent in one party thus leaving the primary contest to the other - 1996 and 2004 are recent example s of that.  Nor is it unique in the large number of candidates initially seeking the non-incumbent President’s party’s nomination there were large groups of initial contenders in the 1988 and 2008  Democratic field and the 1996 Republican lists.

What is unique in 2012 is that Super Tuesday turned out not so Super.  Now remember this is a Republican Presidential battle and as always that party is behind the Democratic Party in reforms that open up the system.  So the Republican having embraced caucuses (a poor way to gauge the opinion of all the voters not just activists) and proportional allotment of delegates have failed to recognize that some states using primaries and some states using caucuses with some winner take all and some proportional result in an ultimate decision that does not necessarily reflect the majority of the party’s voters.

This year has become a four way battle which doesn’t seem able to get itself down to two candidates (three if you assume Ron Paul stays no matter what happens). And so with the combination of proportionality and winner take all Romney will ultimately prevail since the remaining votes are invariably split.  But he will also prevail because of Citizens United the Supreme Court decision that handed our nation’s Democracy to the Oligarchs and Billionaires. If a candidate emerges who the media decides can defeat the choice of the Billionaire they spend money to destroy him - in the recent Ohio primary Romney is reported to have spent twelve million dollars in the last week of the campaign - a figure that shocks even hardened politicos.

I am a liberal Democrat -- a New Deal Liberal Democrat.  I agree with the former Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, on almost nothing.  But I do agree as Andrew Jackson said “One man with Courage Makes a Majority”.  Santorum’s success in a general election would be a disaster for the future of America.  But every time he defeats or comes close to defeating Romney he strikes a blow against the corporate billionaire takeover of our democracy. Like William Jennings Bryan he preaches a gospel of return to an earlier day, appeals to what is misperceived as a rural simpler America, and wears his patriotism on one sleeve and his religion on the other.  But he is when it comes to campaign money David against Goliath.  He is when it comes to handlers and consultants his own man against “the candidate”.

The 2012 Presidential election may become just another in the long line of contests beginning in 1796 (no one considers the two Washington elections contests).  It may end up being just another re-election of an incumbent President helped along by the mistakes and hubris of the opposition and its candidates (e.g. 2004 and 1996) or it could become perhaps not transformative like 2008 but a “game changer”.  Were Romney to be defeated due to the campaigning of Santorum it could be the beginning of the end of Citizens United.  If the billionaires find out their money won’t buy them the White House they may in their classic way decide to save their money and spend in on better jets or yachts.  I go so far as to say that if Romney were defeated due to the campaigning of Santorum it might restore confidence in the ability of the system to elect the choice of votes not the choice of money. Such a restoration of confidence would be of great help to the liberal Democrats who will face in 2016 the necessity of nominating a candidate to run after two terms of President Obama.  Since Jackson in 1836 only Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 and Reagan in 1988 were successful in having themselves succeeded by members of their own party (with no death causing succession intervening - 1868 and 1948 or outright stealing of the election- 1876.)

Two hundred years ago President James Madison, with the War of 1812 having begun faced his re-elected. He was challenged by a young former Mayor New York City, DeWitt Clinton in the only truly contested Presidential election between 1800 and 1824. Madison won a basically sectional election and went on to watch the White House and most of Washington D.C. burned to the ground by British soldiers. Are we now all to watch as the White House and most of Washington D.C. is bought by the Billionaires?  Some historians contend that the Roman Empire was destroyed by the hordes of barbarians who invaded and sacked the cities and villas; others say that Rome fell when Senate seats were sold and the Senators in turn sold the imperial crown to the highest bidder.     

7 March 2012