Friday, April 29, 2011

Important Stuff

I’m so glad that there are people who are focusing on the real problems. Some folks try to distract us by talking about stuff like infrastructure investment, education reform, or the suppression of democratic movements in the Middle East. I’ve even heard that some politicians try to explain issue to voters. I certainly hope that’s not for real, but we’ve already had socialist medicine forced on us. And we have a fascist/Marxist President. Luckily, there are folks who know that the real issue is whether or not our President deserved to go to Harvard. If there were more people who were focused on the real issues, people who aren’t satisfied with just any old official proof of citizenship, then maybe we wouldn’t have had a black man elected President … er … I mean maybe we wouldn’t have had a President trying to kill old people and make the rest of us gay. Thank God for Donald Trump and others like him. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be speaking Chinese and worshiping Allah. I hope they keep up the important work!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ignorance, Birthers, and Trump: What can we do?

Today a man in was in my house doing some work. He was friendly, and we struck up a conversation. When he learned that I had lived in California, he mentioned that he had been to the San Francisco Bay for vacation almost exactly a year earlier. After being vaguely and overly politely positive about his experience, he related disappointment regarding the high cost of parking at his hotel. This admission seemed to free him up to make others. First he talked about the weather. Then he mentioned he was bored. Finally, he told me that there were simply too many homeless people and Asians. I nodded my head, and immediately began to debate with myself. Should I have just nodded? Should I have asked him why he was disturbed by being near a lot of Asian? Should I have lied and said my sister was adopted from Vietnam and launched into a lecture dripping with annoyed condescension? Am I just completely out of touch with real Americans? I can’t help thinking that regardless of the answers to these questions, something needs to be done. It seems pretty clear that allowing ignorance like this to remain unchallenged allows opportunists of all stripes to prey upon it to further their own agendas and careers. Donald Trump and the Birther controversy is just the latest example. The problem is clear, but it’s not clear what should be done about it. You don’t change opinions with lectures from on high. You don’t change them by calling the people who hold them ignorant. You also can’t throw everyone who appeals to ignorance and fear in jail, although it is tempting. You have to, somehow, enable people to discover on their own how much they don’t know. I’m not sure how you do this, but I do know it has to be done … and not just to help more people appreciate the charms of Northern California.

"We've got better stuff to do."

President Barack Obama said yesterday, upon releasing the long form of his birth certificate (he had already released a legal copy of the short form), “we do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do.” He is right, but I’m afraid this is not the end of it. Donald Trump proved that people’s hatred/fear of Obama can be used to fuel political or other ambitions. That hatred hasn’t gone anywhere. The people that were questioning his citizenship, with not a single shred of evidence other than the color of his skin, are already at it again. They’re questioning the use of his grandparent’s address on the birth certificate and his social security number. They’ll always be questioning something. They’ll always be taking our attention off of the real problems facing this country, if we let them. We, the American people, need to put an end to this nonsense. We need to demand proof when these accusations are made in the future, and if none is provided we need to ignore them. We need to view such accusations with great skepticism from the start. Whenever our leaders take the focus off of the real problems facing the country to attack one another, we need to make it clear we aren’t interested. We need to tell reporters and news providers that we aren’t interested in this stuff. We need to say no to these shenanigans, and say it loudly and consistently. If we do, it will go away. If we don’t, it won’t. Neither, unfortunately, will the “better stuff” that we have to do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Constitution: A flawed but useful document

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

This is Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States of America. It was the result of a compromise between states in the south and states in the north. It has since been superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment. It’s only purpose now is to remind us of the imperfect nature of the document in which it is found, the people which wrote that document, and the circumstances within which it was written.

The Constitution is many things, but a perfect document fit to decide all questions for all time it is not. It is a framework. It was meant to be a framework. It was meant to be interpreted. It was meant to be supplemented. It was not meant to be preserved intact. It was not meant to be worshiped. It was not meant to encapsulate an eighteenth century ideal that we were to hew closely to for all eternity. It was the foundation on which an extensive and changeable legal reality was to be built.

Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 is all the evidence we need that the Constitution is only a starting point; that the Constitution is just a document written by men (and just white men at that) a long time ago in a very different country. It is an important document, but it is just a document. It doesn’t tell us what to do, it just illuminates the choices.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Right of Way?

Today I witnessed an interaction that speaks volumes about what is wrong with this country. The driver of a white car was planning on turning left. She was not in much of a hurry, however, and waited while there was no traffic. Eventually a few cars entered the intersection turning left in the direction she was planning on turning right, and she actually did have to wait. By this point in time, the person driving the pickup behind her was already on honk number three. He couldn’t wait for her to wait for this traffic, even though she now had to wait, so he drove over the curb and around her. He gritted his teeth and glared in her direction, leaving the honor of giving her the finger to his young son. This disturbing scene epitomized everything that is wrong with our approach to the problems facing this country. First of all, we have no patience. Why are so many of us (me included) always in so much of a hurry that a ten second delay sends us spiraling into madness. Sometimes, things like common decency or a desire to really solve a problem should slow us down and help motivate us to do things in a logical and measured way. Second, we are much too nasty. Taking someone’s failure to turn right immediately as a personal insult is as silly as the same reaction to someone’s decision to disagree with you on whether taxes should go up or spending should be massively cut. Third, we let the past influence our decisions in the present, when maybe it shouldn’t. In this case the woman should have moved originally, but once the cars turning left seize the right of way she, and those behind her, just have to wait. Our invasion of Iraq was built upon lies and poorly handled from day one. That, however, doesn’t mean that action in Libya is unwarranted or unplanned. Fourth, we see ourselves more as combatants in some kind of street fight than collaborators trying to do what is best for all of us. Finally, we are passing all of this on to our children. From the Capitol to the intersection of Route 1 with Maple Avenue, we need to start changing our ways.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Republicans and Birthers: A story of weakness, cowardice, and opportunism.

Republicans have mishandled the issue of President Obama’s place of birth. Prominent Republicans should have said something like this: “Obama might not be an effective President, but was clearly born in the United States. The issue isn’t whether he was born in this country, because he was, the issue is what is he is doing to this country, and the answer to that question is nothing good.” This should have been the response from the very beginning, and it certainly should be the response now. For some unfathomable reason it’s not. Donald Trump is just attempting to turn the Presidential race into a reality show, so we can skip over him. But even the supposedly serious politicians are still messing this one up. Michele Bachman said this week "I take the president at his word ... I guess it's over." She added that the birther question "is not the main issue facing the United States right now." She could easily say: “the President was born in this country.” Instead she says she takes him “at his word.” This is gamesmanship. This can easily be interpreted as: “I don’t really believe that he is a natural born citizen, but I’m not going to make an issue of it.” It is an obvious nod to the more radical elements of the Republican Party that actually believe Obama was born in Kenya, despite nary a shred of evidence. Even if I agreed with Bachman’s solutions to the problems facing this country, I would find this lack of honesty and courage quite unsettling. I don’t mind if politicians are wrong, they are human after all. I do mind when they don’t clearly state what they think and believe because it is not politically expedient. Many Republicans have mishandled this issue, and it should cast serious doubt on their readiness to represent and to lead.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Glen Beck and un-healthy Nazis

Mike Huckabee agrees with Michelle Obama regarding obesity, so Glen Beck has labeled him a “progressive.” That doesn’t sound like such a bad label … except for the fact that Beck considers the progressives to be like Nazis. Glen Beck’s consistent comparisons of people with different political viewpoints as Nazis are obviously ridiculous, insulting, wildly inappropriate, and an impediment to real problem solving. Not as obvious, but still as damaging in all of the same ways, is the position that any agreement with the other political party on any issue is an act of treason, not just to your political party but maybe to your country as well. Glen Beck apparently believes that Republicans must stick together on every issue, even if it is an issue of great importance to them and one in which they happen to agree with people across the aisle (which is the case here for the formerly obese Huckabee). This is clearly artificial. No two people can agree on every issue, so good luck getting millions to agree. It is an attempt to coerce republicans into agreeing with Beck. It is also a prioritizing of the good of the party over the good of the country and a labeling of honest debate and disagreement as almost treasonous. It is an insulting approach, and one that is guaranteed to impede the efforts of those who want to work together to solve problems.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Please ... take away some of my rights

Sometimes we need government to step in and legislate behavior. That’s just the truth. It isn’t socialism or fascism or any other ism besides realism. Individuals can’t possibly make intelligent decisions that take into account long term implication on everything they have to make decisions about. They just don’t have the time or information or money or, in my case, patience to do so. If I’m thirsty, and the only option is a plastic water bottle, I’m going to buy it and use it. I’m not going to think of the poor albatross that will someday eat part of it and die. I’m not thinking of my own exposure to chemicals. I’m thirsty. I don’t have ready access to information on what chemicals are in the bottle, or how much oil is used in its production and shipment. I don’t have enough money to buy the safest grain fed whole wheat free range water bottles. I don’t have enough time to hunt for products that are safer for me and the environment. I don’t always look past my immediate need, or my own personal needs. When many of us fail to be similarly enlightened, this doesn’t guarantee that all will work out. Acting out of uneducated and uninformed self interest isn’t going to make things better. It would be nice if someone could step in and fix some of these problems, especially since it would mean that I live longer in a more beautiful planet inhabited by more interesting animals. We have governments because they can look after our interests when it is hard for us to do so. If they don’t, Exxon and Haliburton aren’t going to. I’m really tired of this idea that it is un-American for government to use regulation to protect the environment and all us people who live in it. We have ample evidence that it doesn’t work any other way. I don’t need to be legally able to have polluted drinking water or endangered sea turtles. I’m OK if big government takes those rights away.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Religion and Understanding

Richard Dawkins once said: "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” Many religious folks are satisfied with not understanding the world, or at least not the world as constructed by observation and experimentation. All religious folks, however, aren’t. All religious folks aren’t the same. All major religions have within their traditions mechanisms for adapting to the expansion of human knowledge. A notion like Ijtihad, the Islamic equivalent of legal reasoning, is an example. Ijtihad is the process of making a legal decision that is not based just on what has already been laid out. Ijtihad, whether officially or not, has continued to be used right up to today and has been present since the foundation of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad seems to have believed that God spoke through him to the people of the seventh century with a message they could understand and were ready to accept, but not one that was to stay that way for all time. Many Muslims today contend that men were allowed to have four wives because the custom was to have far more than four. It was a limitation that could be accepted at the time, not a limitation for all time. The United Church of Christ’s God is still speaking campaign is an example of an attempt by Christians to adapt their religion. It was inspired by Gracie Allen’s comment, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” What this means, essentially, is that God’s word is interpreted in light of our knowledge of the world right now. The bottom line is that religion is not a monolith and can’t teach any one thing, including satisfaction with a lack of understanding. Religion also isn’t an unchanging thing, and for that matter neither is the world. Religion has impacted the world, and not just negatively. Religious people seek to understand the world and have the world understand their beliefs, and in the process both are changed. To dismiss religion as ignorance is as ignorant as dismissing evolution as an unsupported theory. To dismiss religion is to assume that it is only about God. To dismiss religion as ignorance is to be satisfied with not understanding it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Attention Deficit Disorder

Most of us want attention, even if we claim otherwise. We want to believe that we are worthy of attention. So, when someone rants and raves about an oppressive government or the prying eyes of big brother, maybe it’s because if government is oppressing them it means they are worthy of attention. You only oppress someone that would otherwise amount to something. Maybe they secretly hope that big government is prying into their affairs, because it would mean that there was at least a chance that their affairs were interesting. When someone goes on about how we are the greatest country in the world, maybe they recognize that their lives are completely average, at best, and are seeking to identify themselves as part of a group that is worth paying attention to. Maybe people say silly things (like saying the President was born in Kenya) because they think that makes them worthy of attention. Maybe people are nasty to one another because they feel that there is interest in conflict. The Tea Party seems a little more understandable if you think about it as the result of a national attention deficit disorder epidemic. Then maybe we could just pay some more attention to these folks, or hand out lots of Ritalin.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Obama was born in Hawaii? Is that in Indonesia?

I finally figured it out. I figured out why some people don’t think that President Obama was born in the United States. Back prior to 2010, someone read that if Obama were to be elected he would become the first President not to be born in the contiguous United States. This person didn’t know what “contiguous” meant, so in keeping with the manner in which many proud Americans deal with things they don’t understand, this person ignored it. Then he went and told all of his friends that if Obama was elected he would become the first President not to be born in the United States. Someone put this information in their blog, and then, in keeping with another fine American tradition, the knowledge was repeated without any worry about where it came from or whether it might have a shred of truth to it. This makes sense to me, or at least it makes more sense than believing that a man was elected president without having been born in this country … or that the fact that Obama is black has nothing to do with this nonsense … or that the refusal by Republicans to denounce this nonsense isn’t politically calculated.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mr. McConnell, we have plenty of problems

Mitch McConnell said: "from my point of view, taxes are not on the table because we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” This has become the official Republican mantra, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. First of all, just from a common sense standpoint, if you have more revenue you have less of a spending problem. Obviously you can’t raise taxes whenever you want, at least not if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the negative implications, but admitting that is not the same as conceding that taxes can never be raised. Second, even if you think that the deficit should be the center of our attention, you don’t attack a deficit with budget cuts alone. Third, assuming that cutting spending is the only answer assumes that the consequences of cutting spending don’t outweigh the consequences of the budget deficit. I think people forget that budget cuts aren’t just on paper; that when you cut spending real programs are cut. Fundamentally, we need to consider the use of every possible tool, including taxes. We need to remove our ideological blinders, and focus on solving problems ... we certainly have plenty of problems to solve.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ignorant People Get to Vote Too

It is an interesting article, and I understand where he is coming from. People who vote without an understanding of the issues do a lot of damage in this country. That being said, I don’t think a test is the right way to address the problem.

The first difficulty with having an eligibility test for voting, is that it is unlikely to work. The test Granderson is talking would gauge knowledge about the basics of American Democracy. People might be asked about the branches of Government or the Constitution. This sort of knowledge is a great thing for people to have, but it doesn’t guarantee informed voting decisions. I know plenty of people who could pass such a test, but still aren’t informed on the big political issues. I know folks who are quite knowledgeable about American history, but are completely taken in by the appeals to fear and hatred that seem to dominate American politics now. Having people know that there are nine justices on the Supreme Court would be great, but it won’t help people navigate claims of death panels and deficits.

The other problem is that this is the easy way out. It shifts responsibility to the ignorant voters and away from the politicians, or the not so ignorant voters. Putting the blame, and thus the responsibility for fixing the problem, on voters is not the answer. It allows us to avoid having to put the effort into helping people understand the political issues facing the country. It allows us to avoid having to organize in order to keep politicians honest, calling them out every time they appeal to anger and fear, call each other names, attack the messenger rather than the message, or otherwise avoid making a clear argument and supporting it with logical premises.

There is no doubt that ignorant voters are a big problem in America. Their ignorance, however, is not just their problem. It is something we all have to take responsibility for. It is something we all have to work to rectify.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who not to vote for

If your elected representative treats the opposing side on an issue as the enemy, maybe even somehow less than a responsible and patriotic American, don’t vote for them in the next election. If the person taking this approach is running for office, don’t vote for them in the first place. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. First of all, an elected representative is supposed to represent all of their constituents. Since there is no issue on which an elected representatives has only constituents that agree with them, then they shouldn’t be casting the other side as the enemy. The other side consists of folks they are supposed to be representing, and to whom they owe, at least, a logical and polite explanation for their decisions. Second, the name calling and generalized nastiness doesn’t pave the way to cooperation or compromise, both of which are usually necessary if one wants to actually solve a problem. We all should actually want to solve problems. Third, this treatment of someone on the other side of an issue is only even half way understandable if you expect to disagree with that person on every single issue. If that is the expectation, then something has gone terribly wrong. No one should agree on every issue. People have different combinations of experiences and interests. A Muslim American born in India might be expected to have a stance very different from what we think of as the typical Republican position on terrorism, but a very similar one on homosexuality or abortion. Of course all Muslims, or Latinos or any minority, don’t have the same opinion on every issue either. Why should we expect all Republicans or all Democrats to agree on every issue? Finally, the world just isn’t that simple. If you can distill an issue into black and white, you are lying to yourself and others. There is nuance in the world, and if you don’t accept it you may be more at ease, but you are still living a lie. The bottom line is that, regardless of their opinion, someone who treats the other side of a debate as an enemy does not deserve your vote. If anything is un-American, it is closed minded and aggressive intolerance.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Republican victory

The Republicans won this latest budget standoff. They won, because they have framed this as all about budget cuts. Budget cuts have taken center stage, but they shouldn’t. The focus certainly shouldn’t be only on the amount of spending cuts. We should actually be hearing a lot more about spending without the cuts. In a recession, when the deficit is large, it is very important to spend wisely and carefully. Spending in the right places can help turn things around. Not spending can delay a recovery, or worse. Infrastructure spending (bridges, roads, trains, electrical power grids, etc.) is an example. People should also be talking intelligently about taxes and the possibility that some of them may have to increase. Also we should be talking about how we got here and how we might avoid coming back. Specifically, we need to bring reform of the financial sector back on the table. Somehow the Republicans have been able to turn a failure of regulation into a call for less government. The President’s unwillingness to, when push really came to shove, reform the financial sector is a big reason why. So is his reluctance to lead a more vocal opposition to the demonization of public employees and government regulation. The bottom line is that there is a much fuller conversation that should be going on. The Republicans appear to believe that it is to their benefit to truncate this conversation; to turn it into a debate about spending cuts … and they have succeeded. If you need any more evidence, just take a look at what the Democrats are trumpeting as their big victory: keeping funding for NPR and Planned Parenthood intact. It makes you wonder what the next ‘victory’ will be.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Smothered in Red, White, and Blue

Is it the flag on your porch or
The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
That keep you from seeing
Is it Phillipians 4:13
In a curly maple frame
Hanging in the front hallway
Is it the gun you keep under your pillow
Is it the Constitution or
The Fourth of July
Is it Ferrari or Lamborghini
Is it visions of little brown and black people
With swollen bellies living in
Houses made of corrugated metal
Is it John Wayne
Hank Williams and
Tom Monaghan
Is it being able to press 0 for Spanish
Is it the color of our President’s skin or
Do you figure that you are as comfortable
Smothered in red white and blue
As you can ever hope to be

Losing sight of what got us here

We’ve lost sight of the problem. In our zeal to trim budgets and slash public retirement benefits, we have forgotten about what got us here. It was not Government spending that caused this economic crisis. It certainly wasn’t school teachers’ pensions or Planned Parenthood. It was greed on Wall Street. It was the weakening of financial regulations and regulatory bodies. What have we done about out of control executive compensation and, more importantly, loose or non-existent regulation and oversight? Well … Obama appointed people like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers to advise him, people at the center of the financial meltdown. He kept Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The financial sector has successfully fought off any real reform. Maybe everything will be OK if we can strip away bargaining rights from teachers, close down Planned Parenthood, and stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Freedom isn't free

A man alone in the middle of the Ocean
Clinging to a piece of flotsam
Is terribly restricted
But when he loses his grip
He is free

Friday, April 8, 2011

Palin and poor leadership

Palin criticizes Obama for not agreeing to another temporary measure that would have funded the military for the rest of the year, but slashed funding for NPR among other things. She believes this shows poor leadership, choosing to protect Car Talk and leaving our troops vulnerable … choosing a non-constitutional duty over a constitutional duty. Ok, but if that is poor leadership, what is it to play politics with military funding in the first place by bundling military funding with cuts that wouldn’t pass on their own through the senate? And since when does the Government only fund what it is constitutionally required to? Since when did non-constitutionally required mean not important? She’s not all wrong though … she is presenting us with evidence of what is wrong with the budget showdown.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

We'll shut down the government if you don't let us pollute and deny access to family planning to those who most need it

The Government is about to be shut down over Planned Parenthood and environmental protection. It was bad enough to fight over the amount of cuts without much reference to what was being cut, and be faced with the presumption that indiscriminate spending cuts would solve all of our economic problems. To refuse to make an agreement that will keep government open unless all federal funding is taken away from Planned Parenthood and the EPA is prevented from regulating greenhouse gasses … that is disgusting. It is almost in Scott Walker territory.

First of all, last time I checked abortion is legal. That always seems to get lost in these debates.

Second, Planned Parenthood does not use federal funds for abortions.

Third, Planned Parenthood is a lot more than an abortion provider.

Fourth, this is about a budget and not abortion or Planned Parenthood. If Republicans want to take aim at either one, they should do it in separate legislation. The only reason to try and hide it in budget legislation is that you don’t think you have a chance of garnering enough support for it if it is presented out in the open and everyone knows what you are trying to do and you don’t have a looming government shutdown to hold over people’s heads. In other words, Republicans should not try to avoid real debate on issues out of a fear that their positions would crumble in the light of logic and reason.

Fifth, all of the above also goes for trying to strip the EPA of authority over the regulation of greenhouse gasses. This is eerily reminiscent of the exemption of natural gas drilling from many EPA regulations that Cheney snuck through several years ago.

The bottom line is that if the Republicans want to foist their social agenda on us, they should have to do it the hard way … by convincing us it is the right thing to do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We the People

In the United States of America, government is not a foreign entity seeking to take our money and impose its will upon us. From the rhetoric floating about you would think it was, but it’s not. In the United States of America the government is us. When our government spends money, it is really us spending money on us. When government gets it wrong, it is really ourselves we have to blame. Now, you don’t make all of the decisions. None of us do. You probably don’t draw a federal paycheck either. You do, however, vote … or at least it’s highly likely that you could. You could also write a letter to your representative, sign a petition, write in a blog, march on Washington, or attend a school board meeting. You could bring attention to the failures of government and try to fix it. You might let your representative know you’d like them to work on real tariff reform or explain the benefits of our obsession with ethanol. You might even let your representative know that rather than shrinking government, ultimately taking power out of your hands and giving it to a minority of individuals and corporations masquerading as the free market, you’d like them to try and work together with their fellow representatives to fix it. If you don’t, you will only have yourself to blame.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Free Market: A True Superman (You do remember Superman isn't real ... right?)

The free market is back as a savior for all sorts of things, from schools to health care. It's the kind of renaissance that can only happen in America. It was only a few years ago that ineffective regulation played a key role in a major financial collapse and a disastrous oil spill. Within the lifetime of many Americans, we have seen government step in to guarantee safety in the workplace, the growth of infrastructure needed for economic development, the provision of food and health care to the most vulnerable Americans, and the protection of our natural environment. Government stepped into these arenas to avoid what happened in the financial crisis and the gulf oil spill; to avoid the fallout that happens when corporations or other private interests make decisions that may or may not be in their own short and long term interests, but are clearly not in the long term interests of the country as a whole. This fallout must not be as much of a concern, because there is a great clamor for things like closing down the Department of Education, destroying public unions, and allowing natural gas drilling to be free of both environmental regulation and taxation. Big government has become part of the axis of evil, and self interest the white knight riding in to save the day. There isn't a shred of evidence to show that anything fundamental has change in eighty or fifty or five years. There is a lot of money being spent to make it look like there has, or like none of those reforms were necessary in the first place. A lot of money but no evidence ... that kind of sums up politics in 2011. It is the temporary triumph of dollars over sense. It is a temporary triumph because in reality the free market is no hero. It is a myth. It is a figment of our historical imagination. It won't even save us from ourselves ... only we can do that when we work together to achieve the common good, a task that I'm sorry to say is kind of impossible without a government.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I'll only elect you if you promise to make mistakes

My daughter had her first soccer game on Sunday. The coach gathered all the girls and boys around, introduced herself, and took attendance. I was surprised that Seren's name didn't come right away. She was first on my copy of the team list. The coach made it all the way through the list without calling Seren's name, and then asked if everyone had heard their name. I said that she hadn't, and then came over to look at the list. Seren's name was right there on the top where it was supposed to be. The coach had simply skipped it ... most likely because she didn't know how to pronounce it. I can completely understand the fear of messing someone's name up. I have taught a number of college courses, and I always examined the class list as soon as I got it to see what names I would have trouble with. I won't lie, one of the reasons I often had students introduce themselves on the first day of class is that I didn't want to stumble over someone's name. All that being said … I never purposely skipped someone's name. I wasn't that afraid of making a mistake.

Now, all of us are afraid of making mistakes ... but we all make mistakes. It really shouldn't be a big deal, even for a politician. I don't have a problem voting for someone who makes a mistake in their personal life or in their professional life. It also doesn't bother me when people change their minds. These are things we all do. If someone says they don't, they are lying. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we rake our politicians over the coals when they change their minds, say the wrong thing, or make a personal mistake. This has impacted the quality of people we have to choose from at election time, and the quality of solutions to the problems facing the country. The problems facing our leaders aren't easy. The situation in Libya is a perfect example. Do we charge on our own in like we did in Iraq? Do we work with others and restrict our ability to control what happens? Do we stay out and let a democratic movement get violently stamped out? By acting, what are we committing to? It isn't hard to make a mistake in these situations. It isn't hard to do everything right, and not have anything close to a satisfactory result. The problems facing our leaders also change over time, sometimes quite quickly, and may necessitate a change of policy. If Congress makes it next to impossible to try terrorists in Federal court, you might have to use a military tribunal. I want my leader to be able to change their approach as the situati0n changes. Call me crazy, but I want a leader that makes mistakes and changes his mind. I also want my daughter to have a soccer coach who is willing to at least try to pronounce her name. I'm a dreamer.

Friday, April 1, 2011

President Bin Laden

Newt Gingrich recently said, "I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." This makes perfect sense. In over two hundred years we have elected one person who wasn’t a Protestant (he was almost an atheist, he was a Catholic), but in fifty years we will be run by Muslims and atheists. Logically … and naturally, a secular atheist country would be run by radical Islamists. Clearly, too, secular and atheism mean the same thing. I’m really left with only one question … what does it mean to be an American now? Do you have to proclaim utter nonsense to qualify? Does it help to seem angry? Is excluding others a prerequisite? Maybe not understanding what it means to be an American is pretty understandable … maybe it’s a good thing … maybe our country needs to be dominated by people like that.

Tea Party and Compromise

Tea party leaders and followers are upset that the leadership of the Republican Party is … compromising. Now that is pretty disappointing, I mean who would want their elected leaders to work together towards solutions to the problems facing the country. If they compromise, it might even mean that they realize they represent the interests of all of their constituents, not just the ones that scream loudly about the evils of big government and taxation. Some of these disappointed folks gathered at the Capital and chanted things like “Cut it or shut it!” They want massive spending cuts, and if enough Democrats won’t go along to make that a reality they want the Republican leadership to force a government shutdown. One tea party follower called the Republican leadership “cowards.” Obviously, people who want to work with their colleagues are cowards.

I’ll step away from the sarcasm for a second to pinpoint the problem here. The tea party movement was based on anger and platitudes and not real positions. Their goals were also fundamentally unconnected to real problems. If you are arguing for small government and lower taxes, it is easy to never be satisfied. What is small government? How do you know when government is small enough? What does the size of government really have to do with anything? Doesn’t it make more sense to demand efficient government, maybe even through specific changes like making the tariff system more uniform and logical? When you’re movement is all about being angry and nasty, it is hard to fathom why you would want to work with others. When you lead a major political party and want to be re-elected in a country where not everyone is in the tea party, it’s not hard at all to fathom why you might want to work with others.

The bottom line here is that the tea party movement is bad for America. Tea partiers are driven by anger, fear, and hate. They have vague and undefined goals that are divorced from mainstream American opinion and tend to be unconnected from real problems, solutions, or reality generally. They aren’t interested in working with people who have different views. When it comes down to it, this unwillingness to compromise is the big problem. Logic and reason dictate compromise. Solutions to real world problems require it. Compromise is not a sign of weakness or cowardice, but rather a sign of strength. In this case, the reluctance of tea party leaders and followers to do it is a sign of their weakness.