Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Problem With Authenticity

In the end it shouldn't have surprised anyone that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders scored convincing wins in New Hampshire. In the year of the outsider, both men have galvanized their respective party's bases like no other in recent memory. They say what's on their mind and apologize to no one for it. More than anything else, it's their authenticity that attracts voters to them.

But it's their very authenticity that could prove to be their undoing should either of them win the presidency. Let's face it, no one actually believes Donald Trump is going to build a wall on the U.S. -Mexican border and he certainly isn't going to round up eleven million people and deport them. Bernie Sanders, likewise, will never get his Medicare for all program through Congress, not to mention raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. I don't care how many people he gets to stand outside Mitch McConnell's office. It'll never happen. I'd have a better chance at landing a photo shoot for G.Q.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading quite a few posts from progressives on Facebook and quite frankly some of them have been so over the top I'm starting to get a little concerned about November. I realize Hillary Clinton isn't the ideal candidate. To be honest, I was kinda hoping Elizabeth Warren would've jumped into the race. But she didn't, so the choice is between Hillary and Bernie.

For the record, I don't dislike Sanders. In fact, philosophically, I'm more in tune with his proposals than Clinton's. And I'll give him this much: if he isn't in the race, there's no way Hillary moves as far to the left as she has. She's like her husband and, let's not mince words here, Bill was no progressive. He still isn't, no matter what the wingnuts on the Right say about him.

But history doesn't lie. Before Bill, the Democrats were getting their butts kicked in every presidential election, save one, since 1968. And let's face it: if not for Watergate, there's no way Jimmy Carter would've won in '76. The Clintons, like it or not, saved the Party from electoral ruin. Now the tide has turned. After their resounding defeat in '88, the Democrats have won the popular vote in every presidential election since '92, with the exception of 2004. That is no accident. While it may be a tough pill for progressives to swallow, their candidates don't tend to do well at the ballot box. In fact, the last successful true progressive president was FDR. And Bernie is NO FDR, despite his supporters assertions. Lyndon Johnson might've gone down as a great progressive had he not escalated the Vietnam War.

The fact is when I look at Trump and Sanders, what strikes me most is that both men owe their success to a failed and bankrupt political system that has been slowly rotting for decades. As voter disgust grew, the establishment candidates were seen as part of the problem. There was a strong yearning for a fresh face that wasn't corrupted and, more importantly, couldn't be bought. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

I've written at great length about the upheaval that occurred within the GOP which led to the Tea Party wave of 2010, but simmering underneath and in the background was the growing unrest within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders has tapped into that unrest brilliantly. Not since the days of Bobby Kennedy have we seen anything like this. Barack Obama was supposed to be the transformational president the Left had been waiting for. He turned out to be more like Bobby's brother, John: practical, pragmatic, left of center, but hardly a true believer. Small wonder many progressives feel betrayed by him.

Not only is Sanders their darling, he's redefining how campaigns should be run. With no Super PAC and most of his donations under $100, Sanders has managed to out raise Hillary Clinton over the last few months. Indeed, in just the first 48 hours following Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, his campaign raised over $7 million. While Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, her once formidable lead is dwindling fast.

As for Trump, well, he's his own Super PAC. The man could fund the entire U.S. defense budget without blinking an eye. His message is simple: they can't buy me, I don't need their money. This has given him permission to pretty much do and say anything he wants. The more outlandish his comments, the more his popularity soars. He's vulgar, vain, xenophobic, racist, sexist, you name it. He's also ahead in all of the polls. As it stands now, the Republican nomination is his to lose.

But getting back to this authenticity issue. If we take Sanders and Trump at their word that both will not succumb to the politics as usual mentality that has gripped Washington, we are indeed in deep shit. Because a President Donald Trump or a President Bernie Sanders is the last thing this country needs.

Contrary to what both political flanks believe, the major problem with this country has very little to do with a lack of principles. It does have everything to do with a failure to reach consensus and work together. For most of the last seven years Washington has been stuck in neutral. The paralysis that has gripped the federal government is unprecedented in the nation's history. Electing a president like Sanders or Trump would only exacerbate an already volatile situation.

Trump boasts that he is a deal maker and he knows how to negotiate. Good luck with this bunch, Donald. This is a government that was minutes away from defaulting on the debt. What's more likely is that his abrasive personality will only inflame his critics and alienate even his allies. Unlike reality TV shows where he gets to fire people he doesn't like, Trump will find Congress to be his biggest challenge and most adversarial nemesis. Unless he is willing to check his ego at the door - very unlikely - I suspect that his administration would be a disaster for the country.

Sanders has an altogether different problem. Many within the Democratic Party don't trust him, and some flat out don't like him. They view his refusal to aline himself with the Party as a slap in the face. It's one thing to caucus with a Party; it's quite another to join it. Sanders will have to do some heavy lifting to make amends to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if he expects to get their support. And then there are the Republicans in both chambers. At best, Sanders will have 51 or 52 seats in the Senate to work with, and that's assuming he has a coattail effect, which many doubt he will. And barring a miracle this November, Paul Ryan will still be Speaker of the House in 2017, which means the gridlock that has come to define this government will continue for at least another four years under his administration.

See the problem here? Neither Trump nor Sanders is best suited to roll up their sleeves and compromise to get things done. Both see it as a betrayal of what they stand for and what they have promised their supporters they would not do. I submit that of the two, Sanders might have the more difficult time, since just about every one of his proposals would be DOA. Really, can you see Bernie in a room with Ryan and McConnell negotiating a budget deal? Sanders wants to start a revolution; he's going to need one if he expects to get anything done.

I don't mind principles. Frankly we could use all we can get. But principles only get you so far. If we've learned anything from the Tea Party, it's that a single-minded fixation on a core set of principles can blind people to reality. The truth is no one gets everything they want. Life demands we give a little to get a little. Whether in business or in politics, our ability to grasp this simple truth determines whether we succeed or fail.

The two best nominees to lead their respective parties are Hillary Clinton and John Kasich. As I mentioned earlier, Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite to win the nod for the Democrats. Kasich is a long shot at best. I can't speak to their authenticity, nor do I care to. But both would be worthy opponents and make, I suspect, better presidential material than either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Who's A Hungry Kitty?

To tell you the truth, I was never much of a cat person. I grew up with two dogs - both Shetland Sheepdogs - and always found cats to be way too aloof and independent for my tastes. I much preferred a pet that would come when I called it, not look at me like I had two heads.

So you can imagine my surprise when my wife announced the weekend before Thanksgiving 2000 that she wanted to get a cat. Reluctantly, I went along with it. We went down to the local shelter on Black Friday and it didn't take long before my wife found this black kitten with a white spot on one side of his mouth and white paws. There was an instant chemistry between the two of them. He had a great personality and didn't act like any cat I had ever heard of. When he jumped up on my wife's shoulders, she was sold. This was the one. His name was Puffin and the next day I went down to pick him up and bring him back home with me.

Puffin had a very unique personality. He brought new meaning to the term alpha and it didn't take him long to put his stamp on our home. Maria and I fell in love with him almost from day one. Whether we were sitting down on the couch or sitting down to eat at the dinner table, Puffin would jump up and let us know he was there. He would head-but you in the face as a sign of affection, but also to let you know he was in charge. He would then curl up in your lap and put his paw on you expecting you to pet him. You just couldn't resist his "charm."

Puffin's first few years with us were exciting to say the least. He managed to escape from us and was presumed lost in his first year. Miraculously, he found his way back after one night. The following year, he suffered the first of three medical problems. After several days of not eating his food, I took him down to the Vet where he was diagnosed with a blockage in his intestine. An emergency surgery to remove it saved his life. The surgeon called me up afterwards to let me know that I not only made the right decision but if I had waited even a few hours, Puffin's intestine would've shut down and he would've died.

Yes, he dodged quite a bullet that time, but it was only three years later that he had a similar problem eating his food. He exhibited the same symptoms, but this time the Vet, after taking a close look at some X-rays, opted not to operate. It wasn't a blockage, in his opinion, it was pancreatitis. After a couple of days of taking some medication, Puffin was good as new. Once more he had dodged a bullet. Once more lady luck had shined her light on him.

Only one year later, however, Puffin once again went under the knife. A blockage in the same general area threatened his life. Just like he done the last two times, he made a quick recovery. The Vet strongly recommended that, owing to his susceptibility to blockages and pancreatitis, we change his diet to a no-grain food. Though it cost more, we gladly complied. It worked. For the balance of his life, Puffin never again had any issues with his intestine or suffered any more bouts of pancreatitis.

I should point out that by now Puffin was one of three pets my wife and I had. Skye, a female cat that I picked up along with Puffin that same November day in 2000 and Henry, a dog that we adopted from my wife's friend in 2004, completed the trio. Together they were quite a bunch. My wife and I often had our hands full keeping Puffin and Henry from tearing each other apart. They were like Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple.

When Henry succumbed to cancer in 2013, Puffin regained his status as numero uno. He became even more affectionate and more needy. If I was typing away on my laptop, Puffin would jump up and sit down on my chest, forcing me to close the laptop and pay attention to him. If I was eating in the den, he would jump up on the hassock next to me and put his paw on my plate. Like Henry before him, my food was his food. Virtually every morning Puffin would sit on my wife waiting for her to get up and feed him. When my wife didn't move fast enough, I would suffice. When it came to eating, Puffin didn't much care who the chef was. A meal was a meal.

When he turned 15 this past May, my wife and I both assumed he would live to be a grumpy old man. After all, he had survived three near-death episodes that certainly would've felled a lesser cat. With a new addition to the family, a black kitten my wife rescued from our backyard, we once more had a trio of pets. Lily helped lessen the pain of losing Henry and kept Puffin on his toes. After a painful and tearful 2013, the last two years were shaping up as pretty good.

Then after returning from a December trip to Florida to visit my father, I noticed Puffin was hiding under the Christmas tree with drool coming out of his mouth. My wife told me he had just started doing that and that it was probably due to an abscessed tooth. Christmas week my wife brought him down to the Vet to have him checked out. Later that day we got the bad news. Puffin didn't just have an abscessed tooth, he had a mass in his jaw that was later diagnosed as cancerous. Worse yet, the tumor was so big that operating on him was not a viable option. They would've had to remove 85 percent of his jaw. The prognosis was bleak. Puffin had weeks to live.

My wife and I were devastated. For the second time in just over two years we were faced with the loss of a pet to cancer. Our beloved Puffin was terminally ill and this time there would be no last minute miracle. We resigned ourselves to make what little time he had left as comfortable as possible.

Over the next five weeks, my wife did her best to make his food as edible as possible. She would mix it in the blender and I would call out "who's a hungry kitty?" and bring it upstairs to the guest bedroom so he could eat undisturbed. As his tumor grew, though, his ability to eat became diminished.  Last Saturday he ate what would be his last full meal. No matter what my wife did, no matter how thoroughly she mixed his food, it didn't work. Puffin simply couldn't eat anymore, not because he was sick, but because the tumor prevented him from using his tongue to lick up his food.

As each day passed, he grew more and more frail. My wife and I knew it was only a matter of time. We originally thought Thursday night, but opted to wait till Saturday afternoon to take him down to the Vet. That day was the longest day of our lives. We each said our goodbyes to him before we left for the Vet. Even in his weakened condition he still managed to head-but me while I held him in my arms.

I never thought I would grieve the loss of another pet like I had done with Henry, but I wept like a baby that afternoon. Puffin had meant so much to me, and to my wife as well. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that we would not be coming home with him. After seeing him slowly deteriorate over the last six and a half weeks we were torn on the inside. On the one hand, we didn't want him to suffer anymore; on the other hand, we didn't want to lose him. In the end it was our love for him that guided our actions.

I have many fond memories of Puffin that I will always treasure. Like the way he would drink from the faucet in the sink or bathtub. It was uncanny. Or the way he would greet you at the front door when you came home by jumping onto your shoulders and riding all the way with you to the kitchen. Talk about needy; my wife was often the recipient of this since she was the first to come home from work. Or the way he could open the drawer in the living room table to get one of his toys out. We still have the scratch marks to show for it.

But my fondest memory of all was the time he was recovering from his second operation. I visited him in the recovery room and kept him company for a couple of hours. As he curled up in my arms, I could hear him purring and occasionally he would reach up and head-but me. He felt safe in my arms and I was grateful that I was there for him that night. You could say we bonded in a way few pets bond with their owners.

Before Puffin came along, I was convinced that cats were cold and uncaring. Thanks to him, I now know how wrong I was. Henry and Puffin were two peas in a pod. Full of personality and full of love. It is fitting that they are now both waiting for us at the Rainbow bridge. One day we will all cross over that bridge and be together forever in Paradise.

Until then, sleep tight, my Puffin, and rest in peace. Your daddy and mommy love you very much.

P.S., be a good boy and play with Henry. He finally has his buddy back now.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How To Tell Which Candidate Each Party Doesn't Want To Run Against

Now that The New York Times has stolen my thunder by endorsing Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich as presidential candidates, I thought I would try to answer that age-old question which has gnawed at me for quite some time. How do you tell which candidate each party doesn't want to run against?

For the GOP, the answer is obvious. They want no part of Hillary Clinton. How do I know that? Because they're going out of their way to heap all kinds of praise on Bernie Sanders. All you keep hearing from conservatives is how genuine Bernie is. He has integrity, he's a likable guy with a populist message, he'd be a tough opponent in a general. And so on and so forth.

Of course they don't really believe that. Deep down they loathe what he stands for (a self-described socialist who would end private insurance and redistribute wealth from their cronies to the huddled masses) and they would love nothing more than to run against him in a general. Read Michael Tomasky's piece in The Daily Beast regarding Bernie's prospects in a general and you know why Republicans are praying he beats Hillary.

Another reason you know they don't want to run against Clinton is the mountain of cash they are storing up in anticipation of facing her this November. They've been relentless in their attacks on her over the last three years. Seriously, how many Benghazi hearings do you think we would've had if Hillary had announced when she left the State Department that she wasn't running for president? If you answered more than one, you obviously believe in the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. The amount of attention Republicans have paid to the deaths of four Americans is perverse given how many lives were lost during the Bush years under similar situations.

They're also obsessed with her private email server and are convinced - nay, praying - that the FBI indicts her. The prospect of her being led away in handcuffs makes them practically giddy. Of course the fact that she isn't under any criminal investigation or that all of the emails that were classified as top secret were marked that way after they were sent, doesn't seem to matter much to the bubble people. As Buffalo Springfield once sang, paranoia runs deep.

But while the minions who hang on every word printed in Breitbart and the Daily Caller believe she is the second coming of Richard Nixon, the more pragmatic among them know deep down she will survive this and that by November it will be a non issue to the majority of voters. Hence, the rush to puff up the Senator from Vermont. If he wins Iowa AND New Hampshire, you never know.

Except they know full well that even if Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton has huge leads and a considerable following in a majority of the states that follow. Bernie may be popular among many progressives, but he ain't no Barack Obama. Take away the largely white libs that flock to Sanders' rallies and Hillary is ahead in virtually every other demographic.

Now onto the Dems. I must confess, it's a lot harder trying to figure out which GOP candidate they would prefer not to run against. If you believe the Times, John Kasich would give them fits in a general. He's not nuts like the majority of Republican candidates. He's a popular governor from a swing state who actually has experience dealing with the Clintons. He was in Washington when Bill was in the Oval office. And he could take some of the center away from Hillary, something conservatives have a hard time understanding is essential to winning a presidential election. But the simple truth is Kasich has a snow ball's chance in hell of winning the nomination.

So that leaves Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as the frontrunners. For my money, it's Trump. Why? Because all the talk has been about how Rubio is peeking at the right time and wouldn't that be great for the establishment candidates. If Rubio has a strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, he could win Florida and maybe a good chunk of the South. He could beat the Donald and save the Republican Party from an embarrassing defeat in November.

Except Rubio has way too much baggage so far as his party's base is concerned. His finger prints are all over the Senate immigration bill he co-authored and the wingnuts have never forgiven him for that. He's more than just damaged goods, he's yet another freshman senator who thinks he can rescue Washington from itself. After spending the last seven years blasting Obama for not having the experience and wherewithal to be president, Republicans are going to have one helluva time trying to convince the electorate that Rubio is different. Clinton will wipe the floor with him in the debates.

Cruz? Don't make me laugh. If old Ted were to win the nomination, it would be a landslide for the Dems. Think 1984, only in reverse. Cruz might be the only Republican candidate who's despised as much by his own party as the opposition. He'd be the ultimate wet dream for Hillary.

No, the guy that keeps Democrats up nights is none other than Donald J. Trump. I've been saying this for several months now, but Trump could win a general election. Yes, it's true a lot of his followers are racist, xenophobes, but not all of them are. Many are just frustrated people who feel they've been screwed by the system. They're fed up with Washington politics and the cronyism that has paralyzed it. Trump appeals to a yearning that these people have to return to a time when America was great and the world trembled at our feet. Yes, the majority of them are white, but in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and Colorado, that's not exactly a bad thing. So he looses Florida, Michigan and New Mexico. So what? He could pick up the rest and win a very close election.

So there you have it. The two candidates that neither party wants to run against and why. Both seem destined for a collision course this November. One of them will prevail. Only time will tell which party was correct in its assessment and which one overreacted.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Michael Bloomberg Is Flirting With Disaster

Maybe in the end, all this becomes nothing more than yet another one of Michael Bloomberg's restless yearnings for a job he knows he's qualified for, but for which he also knows he could never win.

Make no mistake about it, despite what his detractors say, Bloomberg is actually qualified to be president. On social issues he's as liberal as Bernie Sanders; however, when it comes to the economy, while he doesn't subscribe to the Republican fairytale of supply economics, he's a one eighty from Sanders. Overall, he's just to the right of Hillary Clinton. He's what Democrats used to call a centrist and Republicans used to call a moderate, only in reverse: a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. If George Soros and Warren Buffet had a baby, it would be Michael Bloomberg.

And that's the problem, at least for the Democrats. A Bloomberg candidacy, if it comes to that, would ostensibly split the Democratic vote in half, thus ensuring a Republican win in November. Now I know what you're thinking: That's only if Clinton wins the nomination. What if Bernie Sanders wins? What if he does? Same outcome. Sanders will take the left, Bloomberg the middle and Trump the right.

But aren't there more progressives than conservatives? Perhaps, but there aren't enough to overcome the electoral nightmare Bloomberg would create. As it stands now, Democrats hold a distinct advantage in the presidential election. They have more electoral votes in their blue states than Republicans have in their red ones. What that means is that the GOP has to win three quarters of the swing states just to have a chance at victory. Not very reassuring.

Bloomberg doesn't just put those swing states in jeopardy, he puts some of the blue states at risk, as well. States like New York and New Jersey, where he is very popular, could end up in his column. Not to get stereotypical, but Bloomberg's religion doesn't exactly hurt him in Florida. And then there are states like Virginia and North Carolina, where there are an awful lot of, shall we say, transplanted New Yorkers. Even if he doesn't win them, he keeps Hillary or Bernie from winning them. You see where I'm going with this. Hillary and Mikey duke it out, while the Donald crosses the finish line.

Wait, it gets worse. In the event that no one gets 270 electoral votes, guess who picks the winner? You got it, the Republican-controlled House. Republicans may not like Donald Trump, but they loathe Hillary and regard Bloomberg as the consummate RINO. They'd vote for a slice of moldy bread before letting either of those two anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You think Paul Ryan is still sore at what happened in 2012? You ain't seen nothing yet.

And all this happens because, for all his qualities and traits, Bloomberg is every bit the ego maniac Trump is, albeit far more polished and refined. He doesn't trust Hillary and he can't stand Bernie. From his perspective, he probably thinks if Donald Trump can run for and possibly win the presidency, why not him? What he doesn't get is that the reason Trump is leading the polls in his party is because of a racist, xenophobic element within the GOP and, sadly, in a good chunk of the country. Trump has tapped into the rage these people have for immigrants, government and just about everything that rubs them the wrong way.

Bloomberg has no such constituency, nor is he likely to build one anytime soon. What he would be is a spoiler, a Ralph Nader on steroids. And if he doesn't knock it off and come to his senses, his flirtation with disaster could end up wrecking the very Republic he thinks he can save.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Republicans, Big Tents and Poverty

Listening to Paul Ryan on Face the Nation, two things caught my attention. First, Ryan believes his party has a big tent; Two, he apparently thinks the answer to solving poverty is to get people out of what he referred to as "dead-end" jobs.

I'll address the latter point first. Let me just say up front, it's comforting to hear someone - anyone - in the Republican Party talk about poverty. These days, the word is akin to mass murderer among the base, which is astounding when you consider many of them are barely making ends meet. But the problem with Ryan's concern about poverty is that, like many Republicans, he still holds on to the notion that dead-end jobs are the cause of poverty. All we need is to provide people with the skills so they can leave those jobs and get the higher paying jobs and careers they need and are out there.

What Ryan and his party don't quite understand is that the economy of today isn't the economy of yesterday. Back in 1960, there were a lot more manufacturing jobs. G.M. led the way with 595,000 employees. Today's economy is dominated by service-oriented jobs, which pay considerably less. Walmart employs over 2.1 million people, many of whom make the minimum wage or just over. These so-called dead-end jobs have become the primary source of income for them and their families. The higher paying jobs that Ryan claims are out there don't grow on trees in any economy, especially this one.

It may be a hard pill for some conservatives to swallow, but not everyone's elevator goes up to the penthouse or even the third of fourth floors. Sometimes the highest that elevator goes is the first floor. Like it or not, these people aren't trapped in these jobs by choice; there simply isn't any other place for them to go. In fact, many of them need to take additional jobs just to make ends meet. Fifty years ago, a person making minimum wage could still afford to live; today that wage comes to $15,000 a year, $4 thousand below the poverty line for a family of four. Increasing it to $15 an hour would double the yearly income, allowing many families to get out of poverty and off government assistance. The American taxpayer is subsidizing companies like Walmart for underpaying their employees.

Of course when you mention raising the minimum wage to Republicans, their comeback is that higher wages lead to less jobs not more. The facts, however, don't support their concerns. Minnesota increased its minimum wage, and with it taxes on the wealthy, and their unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, half a point lower than Kansas and Wisconsin, which slashed taxes and did not raise their minimum wage. And California, which increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour as of January 1 of this year, has seen the largest job gains of any state in the country. So much for GOP talking points.

Now onto Ryan's big tent. While it might be true that Republicans have a big tent, a big tent doesn't necessarily mean a diverse tent. One of the reasons Ryan and the GOP have been talking about poverty of late is that they realize that their core demographic is shrinking as a percentage of the electorate. Just as any business would look to increase its marketshare, the Republican Party knows full well that if they don't start reaching out to other constituencies, their long-term prospects as a viable party are bleak.

Of course it would help if their presidential candidates didn't alienate just about every demographic in the country except their core one. Donald Trump may be thrilling his base with his outlandish comments and positions, but he is driving his party up the wall. No matter how many times he gets called out by his fellow Republicans, nothing seems to hurt him.  He has become the teflon candidate, much to the chagrin of the RNC.

So, the moral of the story is this: talk is cheap. Until and unless the Republican Party changes its tune and gives up the fairytale of supply-side economics, they can reach out all they want to the impoverished. Their efforts will amount to nothing. The working poor don't need lectures on work ethic and pulling themselves up by their own boot straps; they need hope. And right now, that's something Paul Ryan can't offer, no matter how hard he tries.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Charlie Daniels' One-Sided Argument About Disagreements

I recently had the opportunity to read an Op-Ed piece by, of all people, Charlie Daniels, a country/pop artist who had a couple of hit singles in the '70s.  The title of the piece was "Why Can Americans No Longer Agree to Disagree?"

I'll admit that the first three paragraphs were well written and I found myself agreeing with him.

In all my years, living through good times and bad, war, recession, periods of great advancement, social upheaval, the eradication of catastrophic diseases and the myriad of forward leaps and backward slides in this United States of America, I have never seen a time when our population was on such adversarial footing. 
The problem is not just disagreement, that always has and always will exist, but it seems that in the past we were always able to find some common ground, with reasonable people on each side of an issue. Through civil discourse, and give and take, negotiations found a path both sides could live with. 
I think our forefathers designed our government to make it possible for both sides of an issue to be heard, but look how far that concept has fallen, with congressional leaders not even allowing legislation they disagree with to even get to the floor for debate.

Again, total agreement; you'll get no argument from me on any of these points. We do live in a very polarized nation where "reasonable" people are hard to come by. Unfortunately for Mr. Daniels his "opinion" piece goes off the rails after that. It deteriorates into a one-sided diatribe and, by now, you can surmise where it ends up. Right where most of these arguments go. One by one Charlie Daniels chronicles his list of the ills without acknowledging where the ill originated or that it takes two to tango.

Take global warming, which is Daniels' first pet peeve. It wasn't the liberal side of the spectrum that made this a political firestorm. We simply chose to accept the findings of 97 percent of climate scientists who insist that the science is real and the threat imminent. That doesn't make us anyone's intellectual superior; it just means we defer to those who know better. That is, after all, what so many Republicans keep saying, right? That they're not scientists!

Oh, and just because a senator brings a snowball onto the floor of the Senate in an attempt to prove that it still snows in the winter - which last time I checked no one in the scientific community was disputing - doesn't make his argument valid. It just makes him look silly. We didn't coin the term flat earther, but if the phrase fits...

Next up on Daniels' list is Barack Obama. He insinuates that anyone who criticizes him is described as a racist. That is simply factually untrue. Obama has had many critics on the Left as well as on the Right. Many of them have had valid points to make and the majority of them were cogent and thoughtful without a tinge of racism. But let's face it, there have been racist comments made about this president. To infer otherwise is to be in complete denial. A close look at some of the placards that many Tea Party members bring to their rallies and the plethora of comments on social media and AM radio reveal a disturbing trend in this country that only a blind or deaf person could fail to notice. While I would never suggest that a majority of Republicans are racists, it is quite clear that a majority of racists have found a home in the GOP. The ascendency of Donald Trump proves this.

Regarding the point about all lives matter, I would be amenable to it if all lives were treated fairly under the law. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Blacks make up the majority of inmates in our prisons, they are far more likely to be the victims of police brutality, their income is roughly two thirds of what whites earn, and the unemployment rate for them is more than double the national average. While it may ruffle the feathers of people like Mr. Daniels to hear this, the simple and undeniable truth is that white people in this country have a clear and distinct advantage in every measurable metric you care to discuss. And they have had that advantage since our founding. To insist otherwise is the height of absurdity.

Daniels moves on next to one of the hot topics of conservatives: abortion. I'll admit that this issue is very difficult for me. I have a profound respect for human life and believe it is precious. But it gets a little tiresome to hear the same argument from conservatives that women who are "pro-choice" are by default "pro-abortion." I know of no woman who flippantly decides to end her pregnancy. I can only imagine the anguish that many of them go through. And then to be subjected to the name calling that comes from Mr. Daniels' side of the aisle. Baby killer, slut, whore. Shameful.

To add insult to injury, the very clinics that millions of these women depend on for their birth control, which would stem the tide of unwanted pregnancies and, yes, abortions, are shut down in states by the very men Mr. Daniels believes should have a say in "natal matters." Here's a thought for these men: next time you're having sex with a woman, use a condom. Aside from that, shut the fuck up. The lunatic who shot up a Planned Parenthood was no liberal. He was a far-right conservative who was inspired by a video that was debunked as fraudulent, yet still promoted by the likes of Carly Fiorina. Take that and put it in your pipe.

And then there are the Republican debates, which Mr. Daniels believes have been "incendiary." To quote him, "The moderators have plumbed the ignition points and tried to pit candidate against candidate, resulting in petty arguments about who did what, when and to whom, each candidate trying to one up the other in exposing past mistakes and present failures. Meanwhile, the audience is left wondering if either one is worth voting for."

With all due respect to Mr. Daniels, the moderators of these debates, with the exception of the CNBC one, didn't need to do much plumbing with any of these candidates. They came pre-plumbed and loaded for bear. From Donald Trump's affinity for the internment camps of World War II to Ted Cruz calling for carpet bombing an entire country into the stone age to Chris Christie saying he would be prepared to start World War III, each of the GOP candidates has done their damnedest to one up each other without anyone's help. Even the first Fox News debate was little more than a dress rehearsal for the remake of Animal House. Face it, these candidates know who their target audience is and where their bread is buttered, and that is no one else's fault but the Republican Party's for allowing itself to be dragged so far over to the right that it has to look left just to find the right margin.

Daniels says that "preconditioned ideas, without reason, are a dangerous thing." Point taken. But so are one-sided arguments masquerading as a call for reasonableness. If we are ever to climb out of the enormous hole we've dug for ourselves, we must first realize that, yes, people have a right to agree to disagree, but then we must stop kidding ourselves about the systemic causes of how we got so royally screwed up in the first place.

When that happens, the common ground and civil discourse that Charlie Daniels says is missing will return.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Behind the Trump Surge

For months, pundits have been adamant that Donald Trump's poll numbers were an aberration; that sooner or later he would come down to Earth as other, more mainstream Republicans made their case to the base. However, six months in and not only are Trump's numbers still holding, it is now looking very much like the nomination is his to lose. Only Ted Cruz appears to be a credible threat to him.

So why is Donald Trump so popular among the Republican base? How is it that someone so myopic, insular, xenophobic and misogynistic has such a commanding lead in what was supposed to be a wide field? In my opinion it comes down to four factors.

One, the electorate has had it up to here with Washington. The prevailing sentiment is that the political system is broken and the establishment leaders are useless and corrupt. This didn't just happen overnight; it took decades for us to get here and, contrary to many, the contempt isn't just coming from the Right. The Left's love affair with Bernie Sanders underscores progressives distrust with their own party. Some of the comments on social media regarding Hillary Clinton mirror almost to a T what many conservatives are saying about Jeb Bush.

Two, the Great Recession of 2008 created a groundswell of unrest within the country as millions of people were hit hard, while the culprits who caused the crisis got away with golden parachutes. In my opinion, it was a tragic mistake for Democrats and the Obama Administration to turn a deaf ear to the chorus of disenfranchised voters; voters who later found solace in, of all things, the Republican Party. While the GOP never fully understood this movement, it nonetheless coopted it and rode it all the way to a 2010 midterm wave victory. The Tea Party, as it became known, is now the most dominant political movement in the country and thoroughly dominates the Republican Party.

Three, the country is at a crossroads. As society becomes more and more diverse and pluralistic, some people feel threatened. The world as they know it is rapidly coming to an end and that has lead to a great deal of resentment among them. While the election of Barack Obama was an historic event to many, to them it was a nightmare come true. The row over immigration reform has little to do with Mexicans breaking the law; rather it stems from the perceived treat a growing Hispanic community poses to a predominantly white country. Trumps campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is code for turning back the clock and restoring the hegemony his supporters crave most.

Four, let's face it, like him or despise him, Donald Trump is a master manipulator who has tapped into a vein like a skilled surgeon; a filthy-rich skilled surgeon. As Stephen Colbert said in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation, "I have a respect for Trump for knowing who the real audience is, that if you really want to win you got to get the people. There's a populism to Trump that I find very appealing. And it's only this: that the party elders would like him to go away but the people have decided that he is not going to." No one who has followed his career should be remotely surprised at the success he is having. He is putting on a clinic. Win or lose the general election, he has forever changed the rules for how future campaigns will be run.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure anyone can stop this freight train that Donald Trump is riding. It isn't just dyed in the wool conservatives who are infatuated with him. His appeal cuts across several demographics. While Hillary Clinton would have the advantage in a head to head match up against him, it wouldn't be a huge advantage. In football parlance, she'd be a three point favorite, nothing more.  Ask any football oddsmaker and they'll tell you, three points is nothing.

If progressives carry out their threat and stay home rather than vote for Hillary, Donald Trump could well be sitting in the Oval Office come 2017.