Monday, March 31, 2014

Idiot's Delight

Usually, I have several worthy candidates for this "prestigious" award. Not this time. No, this month, only one honoree has made the grade. And, when you hear who it is, I think you'll agree that he deserved sole dibs.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure if I put the effort in, I could find a couple more nincompoops to share the spotlight. But, while that might make the piece a little more beefy, my gut tells me it would be wrong to deprive this particular idiot of his rightful place.

So, without further ado, the envelope please.

Don Lemon of CNN for bringing up conspiracy theories on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.  I've made no secret of my disdain for the lame-stream media in this country.  Over the last decade or so, it has deteriorated almost to the point of irrelevance. But, while it has been inept and derelict, it's never been crazy. Until now.
During an interview with several experts, one of them Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, Don Lemon went where no supposedly sane journalist has dared go.  He read aloud some of the tweets CNN had received on "theories" of what happened to the flight. One of them involved the possibility of a black hole.

"I know it's preposterous, but is it preposterous, Mary?" Lemon asked.

Okay, let me take this one, Mary. Yes, Don, it is preposterous. In fact, it's insane. Not only is it insane for any supposed sentient being to think it, it's doubly insane for a journalist to give it credence by repeating it on the air in front of millions (well, it's CNN, so we'll say thousands) of viewers.

The job of a journalist is to report the news, not give a forum to people who are psychotic and obviously have way too much time on their hands. The way with which CNN has covered this tragedy has been shameful enough, but turning it into some supernatural spectacle is beyond scandalous.

There is a perfectly rational explanation for what happened to Flight 370 and, in time, it will be revealed. Until then, let's dispense with the adventures into Fantasy Land, shall we.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hey Dems, Nate Silver's Not Your Problem

"What's Next?"

Jed Bartlett, the fictional President in the series The West Wing, would always pose this question to his staff. It really wasn't so much a question as it was a statement of fact; the fact being we're done with this issue and we're moving on to the next.

Now that Nate Silver has made his dire prediction about this year's midterms - a prediction that, with all due respect to Nate, could've been ascertained by simply looking objectively at the numbers - what's next for Democrats? Moaning about it or calling Silver a traitor - a ridiculous charge considering he was never in the Dems' pocket to begin with - isn't going to change the facts. And digging up some old predictions he made back in 2011 that didn't pan out when the election was still a year away, is futile and equally as pointless.

The problem Democrats have isn't Nate Silver; it's their poll numbers, which, since December, have been heading south. Let's get it out of the way and identify the 800 pound gorilla in the room.


There, I said it. Guess what? The Republicans are going to be saying it. A LOT! Democrats had better get used to hearing the word, along with, "If you like your insurance, you can keep it." In fact, I got first dibs on the GOP candidate who coins the phrase, "If you like your senator, you can keep him/her."

Let's get one thing straight: the variable in this year's midterms is most certainly not going to be the GOP playbook, which, in case you haven't seen it, has been fairly consistent for the past five years. Let me sum it up for you: "Obamacare, bad; we'll repeal it." In 2010, it was a winner; in 2012, it was barely a factor. The GOP is hoping for two out of three. And if Democrats play into their hands, they can kiss the Senate goodbye.

That's why the only variable in this year's midterms - and, I might add, the best chance at staving off certain defeat - is the collective response that Democrats craft to Republican attack ads on the Affordable Care Act.  Run from the law and it's over; defend it and they can successfully turn the tables on the Republicans.

Michael Tomasky has written about this at great length. He is of the opinion that Democrats should not fear talking about the good things that are in the ACA, of which there are a lot. I agree.

"If Republicans can keep discussion around the Affordable Care Act vague, they’ll win in the midterms. The party of health care should collect stories of success and confront the party of no."

Support for the law's provisions has remained consistently high, even during the Republican wave of 2010. Despite the unpopularity of the individual mandate, only 31 percent favor outright repeal. A majority of those polled want the law fixed. In fact, according to a recent Kaiser poll, 53 percent say they're "tired of the debate" altogether.  This, along with a growing litany of success stories, is the Democrats' best weapon to use against the GOP with swing voters.

The fact that millions of Americans - many of whom vote - now have access to affordable healthcare or that parents can keep their kids on their insurance plans until they turn 26 or that pre-existing conditions are a thing of the past or that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage just because you have the audacity to get sick is no small potatoes. Properly explained, Democrats can effectively corner their Republicans opponents, whose answer to all of the above is and has been ... wait for it ... nothing.

That's right, the party of no has voted 54 times to repeal a law that benefits millions of people while failing to come to the table with anything to replace it. Repeal and replace has been the running canard of the GOP. Truth is, they have no replacement for Obamacare; they never did and they never will. Their base won't allow it.

The Democrats must go all out on the offensive and make sure every single potential voter knows this. They can ill afford to play it safe. The Republicans are masters at messaging. Words like socialized medicine and death panels, like it or not, have become part of the political nomenclature, despite zero evidence to support either.

By comparison, Democrats can't even spell messaging. They're so inept, they can turn a sentence into a novel if given half the chance. Anyone who saw the 2004 debates between George Bush and John Kerry got a bird's eye view of the differences between the two parties. Kerry, for all intents and purposes, won on substance, but Bush scored a TKO on style. Guess which one mattered most to voters. Bush was the guy everyone wanted to have a beer with, while Kerry was the cure for insomnia.

Democrats, throughout their illustrious past, have had a difficult time with the concept of keeping it simple. Their desire to be the party of ideas has often led them to miss the forest for the trees. They have seven months to correct this flaw. If they do, they will hold serve in the Senate; if they don't, they will all but ensure that their president is a lame duck for the remaining two years of his second term.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nate Silver's Shot Across the Democrats' Bow

Nate Silver, the man who nailed the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections, has just made his admittedly still early prediction for the 2014 midterms and you can just imagine Democrats are not too happy with him. Seems old reliable Nate has had the gumption to say that the GOP has a pretty good chance of taking the Senate. Rubbing salt in the wound, he even hints that there is a slight chance Republicans might end up with as many as 56 seats. That would mean an eleven seat swing. But the more likely scenario, he thinks, is six seats. That would give the GOP a 51 - 49 majority.

Silver arrives at his conclusions by basically calling four races - West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota and Arkansas - as GOP pickups and then gives Republicans wins in two of the four tossup races - North Carolina, Louisiana, Michigan and Alaska.

To be perfectly frank, it's hard to argue with Silver's math. In fact, it's damn near impossible. Assuming that the four aforementioned GOP pickups are a given - and let's face it, they're in red states - it's hard imagining Republicans not winning in Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu is in big trouble in the polls. That would mean a 50 - 50 tie with VP Joe Biden sleeping on Harry Reid's couch for the next two years. Does any reasonable person think for a moment that the GOP can't pick up at least one more seat?

Really, anyone?

Now, all should not be doom and gloom in Democrat land. For one thing, it's still fairly early. March is not September, or October for that matter. If past elections have taught us anything, it's that polls have a way of changing. As I recall, two years ago, Claire McCaskill was trailing, and rather badly, in her senate race when her Republican opponent decided to do an interview in which he expressed some rather, shall we say, strange views on rape. Within days of that interview the polls did a complete 180 and McCaskill ended up winning reelection.

Which leads me to my second point and one which should give Democrats some reason for hope. Twice before Republicans have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2010, Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell cost the GOP wins in Nevada and Delaware respectively; in 2012, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did the same in Missouri and Indiana. Going into this year's midterms, by all accounts Democrats should only have a two seat majority. That's what stupidity does to you. It costs you wins. If it is reasonable to expect Democrats to lose six seats, is it not also reasonable to expect Republicans to give back at least two of their own? If history is any indicator, the answer is yes.

In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes is going to give Mitch McConnell the fight of his life. At present the race is a tossup. In Georgia, Saxby Chambliss's decision not to seek reelection means the GOP must find another candidate who can hold his seat. The Tea Party will no doubt will try to nominate someone more conservative than Chambliss. Just to be clear, Chambliss was the one, you'll recall, who ran an ad against his then Democratic opponent, Max Cleland, that was so despicable, even Republicans called him out on it. It would not surprise me one bit if both these seats flipped in November.

I realize it's asking a lot for lightning to strike three times. So does Nate Silver, which is why he's "bullish" on the GOP's chances in November. He feels they are "poised to nominate equal or superior candidates" in those states they need to win the majority.

He may be right. Only time will tell. Sooner or later even the most inept person learns not to shoot himself in the foot.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why Hatred Cannot Go Unchallenged

Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, has died at the age of 84. Over the last few days, the responses have ranged from contempt to compassion. I want to address the latter.

We've all heard of the phrase "hate the sin, but not the sinner." Its origins date back to St. Augustine, but it is more commonly and accurately associated with Gandhi. The meaning should be self-explanatory. It is the sin which must be condemned; it is God's place to judge the sinner. To Christians, it is a stern warning. Since we are all sinners, in that we fall short of the standards set by Jesus, who among us is fit to judge another's sin?

In the marvelously redemptive song, "Down There By the Train," Tom Waits writes, "There's no eye for an eye, there's no tooth for a tooth, I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth." Imagine a scenario in which two people with such sorted and despicable histories could still find forgiveness and peace. To many, it seems impossible. And yet the reality is we really don't know. All we can proceed on is what is at hand.

The Westboro Baptist Church is a church in name only. What it really is is a den of hate-filled mongers posing as Christians. As such, what it represents should be despised and detested by anyone with a shred of decency, regardless of religious persuasion. As its founder, Phelps played an integral role in spreading its poison over the populace. That he left the church several decades ago does not excuse his conduct, nor erase the damage it caused. Hence, his legacy in this world will forever be tarnished.

I confess that I am in a bit of a conundrum here. My faith tells me that Tom Waits is right; that everyone has a chance at redemption. But the part of me that is appalled at the "sins" of some people often has its way with me. I applauded the killing of Osama bin Laden when many of my Christian brethren abhorred it. To me it was a fitting end for a mass murderer and I felt completely justified in my belief. I still do.

When Andrew Breitbart and Bob Grant died, I wrote scathing pieces tearing them to shreds.  I believed then and still do that both men were responsible for deeply dividing an already divisive nation.  In essence, they were no better than an arsonist who pours gasoline on a raging inferno. Fred Phelps was no different, except in his case it wasn't merely a country he was attempting to burn down, but an entire faith.

That is why I fervently believe that hatred in all its forms must be exposed and confronted head on. It cannot go unchallenged. I'm not suggesting we should return evil for evil (an eye for an eye); that is the playbook Phelps and his disciples embrace. But we shouldn't be timid either. Jesus certainly wasn't timid when he entered the Temple and threw out the money changers. While it was true that Christ was a loving and compassionate man, who instructed us to forgive our enemies, his outward displays of anger and contempt are often overlooked, even by some of his most devout followers. Witness the exchanges he had with the Pharisees. He called them as he saw them.

Too often Christians are loathe to call out the behavior of people whose conduct is egregious. There is a tendency among them to go from A to C, without the obligatory stopover at B. Like it or not, B comes before C. Glossing over human frailty is not a virtue, but an excuse. Yes, Jesus said to the mob that was about to stone an adulterous woman, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." But, later, he also said to that very same woman, "Go and sin no more."

What is the purpose of redemption if there is nothing to be redeemed? I honestly don't know whether Fred Phelps made his peace with God before he died, but I know this much: what we do on Earth survives us when we leave it. Maybe Iscariot and Booth really did make it into paradise, but before they did, the former betrayed his Lord and Savior and the latter put a bullet into the head of a president. And there is absolutely nothing in this world that can undo that.

God may forgive, but history never forgets. Nor should we.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leading With My Chin

I don't know, maybe it IS me. I've never been one to run with the pack. I know that Sgt. Peppers and Pretzel Logic are "better" albums, but, when I want to listen to the Beatles and Steely Dan, I throw on Abbey Road and Katy Lied. I much prefer the simplicity of Wish You Were Here to the overwrought Dark Side of the Moon. And, I might as well get this out of the way now, the White Album and Physical Graffiti are overrated.

I'll take Buddy Holly over Elvis, Little Richard over Chuck Berry, Skynyrd over the Allmans and the Who over Zeppelin any day; I think Tom Waits is the most underrated artist of the last 40 years and I'm still pissed that Warren Zevon isn't in the Hall of Fame. Don't get me started on the Stones. Suffice to say, if you don't think Exile on Main Street is the best fucking rock album of all time, there's something seriously wrong with you.

With the exception of the Beatles, no other band had more of an impact on rock than the Clash, who, along with the Replacements, virtually reinvented the genre. I really, really can't stand Yes. They're the worst thing to ever happen to music, period. Best singer-songwriters: Dylan, Neil Young and Springsteen, in that order. Most overrated: Clapton. Seriously, take away Layla and 461 Ocean Blvd. and what you're left with wouldn't even pass for the filler on a Cheap Trick album. Most under-appreciated musician: Ringo Starr; most over-hyped: Jeff Beck.

When it comes to country, save for Johnny and Rosanne Cash, some Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, the whole damn genre should be shit-canned. Alt-country artists like Lucinda Williams and John Prine are where it's at, anyway. I like Jazz, but confess I don't know enough about it to be authoritative. Miles Davis, James Carter and John Coltrane comprise about 50% of my collection. And I might be the only man alive who thinks Al Green had more to say about '70s R&B than Stevie Wonder. And, finally, I have a soft spot for bubble gum music. I was a kid in the late '60s and early '70s and I still listen to Edison Lighthouse, the Archies and the Partridge Family. In fact, I had a huge crush on Susan Dey - who didn't? - when I was 10.

If you think me overly opinionated when it comes to music, then you obviously have never read this blog. Let's just cut to the chase; I'm not shy about calling them as I sees them. Ask anyone who's ever been within earshot of me. The word ambivalent is NOT in my dictionary.

But, as Arlo Guthrie might say, I didn't come to talk about music. I came to talk about something far more near and dear to my heart. Permit me, if I may, to bend your ear a bit as I get a few things off my chest.

Look, I get the concept of back and forth and believe in keeping an open mind. I might've been the only teenager in America who got the joke when Dan Aykroyd called Jane Curtain an "ignorant slut." I used to love the Point-Counterpoint segments on 60 Minutes between Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick. In fact, I ate it up. Two divergent points of view going at each other. It was passionate and it was honest, the way debates are supposed to be. It would prove to be a harbinger of things to come for me.

Over the years that followed, I watched many programs like it: Agronsky & Co., Firing Line and the McLaughlin Group (still on the air after 30 years). I cut my political teeth on these shows and owe each of them a debt of gratitude. As a progressive, I made it a point of reading all points of view, even those as conservative as William F. Buckley.  David Frum, as some of you may know, has been my "Tip of the Hat" winner many times on this blog.

I have been critical of this president and progressives when I have felt it was appropriate and will continue to do so. This has earned me a number of "scoldings" on progressive forums from the "rank and file," who see me as a turncoat. My retort? Screw you. I may be a progressive, but I don't drink the Kool-Aid. Never have, never will. I steadfastly maintain that a vibrant and healthy democracy needs divergent points of view in order to function properly. We aren't supposed to sing Kumbaya. In fact the Founders meant for us to disagree.

But I seriously doubt the Founders would condone what is happening in America today. In fact, I'm fairly certain they would condemn it. The polarization and political paralysis that has gripped the nation isn't the by-product of open and honest debate. It is a deliberate attempt by some to capitalize on the fears and prejudices of certain demographic groups and seize power.

This cancerous movement has masqueraded itself as conservatism, but it bears little resemblance to the traditional conservatism of Eisenhower, Nixon or even Reagan. It is so far to the right, it has to look to the left just to see the right margin of the page. It has openly embraced elements of racism, homophobia and nationalism, along with a rather strange interpretation of the Constitution that would make the Founders squirm and cringe.

This movement didn't just spring up overnight. To a certain extent, it has always been there. You could say it's been one of the ugly truths about our history; the skeleton nobody wanted to remove from the closet. But it began to coalesce right around the time Barack Obama was sworn into office. This was not a coincidence. His mere presence has been the catalyst for some of the most vile and disgusting attacks ever perpetrated upon a sitting president.

The Republican Party, the benefactor of this movement, began a campaign of opposing everything he wanted to do, from healthcare reform to new banking regulations. Anybody who didn't toe the line was labeled a RINO (Republican in name only), primaried and defeated. The intent was clear: to purify the GOP and eliminate any and all opposition.

It was a brilliant strategy. Over the last five years, the Republican Party has been transformed from a center-right party to a far-right party. It is now virtually impossible to find any moderates in the GOP. Those few that do exist keep a very low profile for fear of retribution. The government shutdown last year came about because Tea Party elements in both the House and Senate would not allow Republican leadership to hold a vote to keep it open. Only when a debt-ceiling default was at hand did some sanity finally prevail, and only at the eleventh hour.

But my biggest concern, strangely, is not the Tea Party; rather it is the attitude of many "moderates." Over the last few years, as the far Right has ascended to power, there has been this temptation by many so-called "reasonable" people to argue that what is happening to the Republican Party is no different than what happened to the Democrats in the '70s and '80s, and that eventually, the GOP will realize this and clean house, so to speak. They insist that there is a Bill Clinton somewhere in the Republican Party's future. If not 2016, then certainly 2020.

There are two inherent flaws with such thinking and the first is obvious: while it is true that the Democratic Party was out of touch with mainstream America in the '70s and '80s, at no time was it ever a threat to the nation. Its progressive elements certainly dominated the national party but they never exerted the kind of reach that the Tea Party-led Republicans do at present. Nationally, the Democrats were about as menacing as a roach at a church picnic. They were also never crazy enough to risk the good faith and credit of the United States to prove a point.

The second flaw, however, is far more complex and problematic. If you've ever watched a Republican debate, it is all too clear that the more extreme your positions are, the more likely you are to prevail. If you want proof of this just take a look at what Mitt Romney had to do to win the nomination. He was forced so far to the right he was never able to pivot back to the center. Fact is the entire GOP primary process virtually precludes the possibility of a Clinton-like candidate emerging victorious.

Witness what happened to former Florida governor Charlie Crist. The moment Crist embraced Obama he was ostensibly finished as a Republican. The same thing happened to New Jersey governor Chris Christie when he welcomed Obama during the Sandy relief efforts. Forget the fact that Christie was only trying to get as much federal money as he could for his constituents, as far as the GOP was concerned, he was Benedict Arnold. It should be noted that before the whole bridge-gate scandal broke, Christie was seen by some pundits as having the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. That dream appears to be out the window.

This whole "both sides are equally to blame" mindset has bugged me from the start. It defies common sense. Yes, there are Democrats and progressives who are out to lunch, but they pale in comparison to their Republican counterparts not only in numbers but in intensity. Show me the Democratic equivalent of Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz or Mike Lee. You may agree or disagree with Rachel Maddow, but in no way, shape or form is she the left-wing Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. And MSNBC, on its best day, couldn't hold a candle to Fox News either in ratings or influence.

The right-wing charge that the main-stream media is liberally biased is comical. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes watching what passes for main-stream news in this country already knows that at best, it is lame; at worst, negligent. Fact is all of the major networks are owned by powerful and anything but liberal corporations, whose sole interest is making as much money as possible. It is primarily because of and not in spite of them that journalism in America has been dumbed down almost to the level of a five year old. The sad truth is if you want informed and thought-provoking news, you're better off watching PBS or the BBC than any of the major networks.

It is high time for the supposed "reasonable" people in the room to wake up and stop being "fair" and "balanced." This isn't like choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream, or Italian and Chinese food. There is a clear right and wrong choice here. One needn't be liberal to see the cause of the malignancy. The idea that both sides throw an equal amount of mud simply isn't supported by the facts.

Now I know that some of you resist this, not because you don't agree with me, but because you don't want to rock the boat. A rather interesting, if self-defeating position, given that the other side has no such qualms. Perhaps you sincerely believe that by playing neutral you might persuade a few of the more volatile to join you in the middle. To paraphrase Sarah Palin, how's that moderation workin' for ya?

A good friend of mine has recently been pummeled in some of his postings for poking his big toe in the deep water of the political cesspool. I have watched with both a curious detachment and profound sense of sympathy as he has gotten a rude awakening. I suspect that he is starting to realize what a good many people have already figured out: that some people simply can't be reasoned with. The debate, for them, ended a long time ago. Now all they have left is their bubble and Heaven help anyone who tries to burst it.

Look, as Gregg Allman once said, I'm no angel. I have certainly thrown my fair share of mud and been guilty on a few occasions of entering into a bubble of my own. The difference is I know I'm full of shit. I've never fallen in love with my mantra. In fact, I have no mantra. The fact that some of my fellow progressives can get under my skin proves I am no ideologue. In fact, the older I get, the more I admire Teddy Roosevelt than Franklin Roosevelt. I loved the fact that he took on the powerful monied interests of his day, while at the same time making it perfectly clear to the world that if they fucked with us, he'd have no problem smacking the shit out of them.

Despite what libertarians and some progressives might feel, America doesn't have the option of hoping everyone loves us. I have an aversion to seeing planes hitting skyscrapers and killing thousands of people. The recent disappearance of flight 370 should give pause to isolationists who would have the U.S. retreat from its global responsibilities. That doesn't mean we have to be the cop on the beat, but it does mean we should continue to monitor closely what is going on around us. One can walk and chew gum at the same time. Those on the right that squawk at the alleged NSA abuses by the Obama Administration should answer the following: where was your outrage when your guy was doing it?

Okay, that's enough outta me. I've bent your ear quite enough. Just think about what I've said and try to take it to heart, because it came from the bottom of mine. I'll leave you with this last morsel to chew on. Pacifism is never an effective tool to combat ignorance. People who know the truth, yet say nothing, aren't being nice; they're being complicit.

Till next time, as Spock would say, live long and prosper.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Of Mandates and Bellwethers

Of all the words that are often used in politics, perhaps the two most overrated are mandate and bellwether. Pundits are constantly invoking both whenever a candidate wins what they deem is a pivotal election.

Last year, you'll recall, I wrote about the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. Democrats were absolutely beaming over their win in a red state and Republicans were beside themselves over their win in a blue state. Both sides were convinced they had made some kind of statement.

Of course, both sides were completely wrong. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe was simply a slightly less flawed candidate than his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, who was never able to shake his Tea Party roots. In New Jersey, Chris Christie had the good fortune of being one of the few sane Republicans left running against, well, nobody. An establishment Republican and a centrist Democrat winning. Newsworthy? Hardly. If anything, what both elections proved was that the electorate, if anything, is far less ideological than either party's bases would care to admit.

Want proof? Witness Bill de Blasio's fall from grace in New York. His huge win last November had progressives practically drooling. Visions of George McGovern and Walter Mondale, like sugarplums, danced in their heads. Less than three months into his administration, his poll numbers are hovering somewhere between George Bush and David Berkowitz. Okay, that's a little unfair. I'm sure Berkowitz would poll better today. It's amazing what 35 years can do for an image.

The point is that de Blasio and his supporters thought they had a mandate. Turns out they didn't. The new mayor is finding out the hard way that governing is a lot more difficult than campaigning. From the way he handled the school closings during the snow storm - in which he got into a pissing contest with, of all people, Al Roker - to the Charter School controversy, de Blasio's popularity is sinking faster than the Titanic. Truth be told, he's been a bit of a dick. And that's saying something, given that Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey. This is what you get when you start believing your own hype.

And speaking of hype, let's talk about the Florida 13th special election for a moment. This was the election that pundits predicted would be a bellwether for the midterms. With Republican David Jolly narrowly defeating Democrat Alex Sink, once again both parties are clamoring to spin the results to suit their agendas. For Republicans, this was a referendum on Obamacare. For Democrats, outside money proved the difference.

And, as you might surmise having carefully read the above, once again both sides are dead wrong. Like the gubernatorial race in Virginia last year, what we had here were two lousy and deeply flawed candidates, with Sink having the slight edge in flawdom. Hell, she didn't even live in the damn district.  And though the district had gone for Obama both in '08 and '12, it had been reliably red for years. If anything, the fact that Sink only lost by two points is the silver lining for Democrats.

On the two main talking points - Obamacare and outside money - that dog is also not hunting. For one thing the Jolly campaign barely mentioned it in their ads. In fact, when it got mentioned at all, the concern was about supposed cuts to Medicare, which was absurd because the law has no bearing on Medicare. Insofar as outside money stealing the election from Sink, that doesn't seem to have been the case. If anything, according to Slate magazine, Sink's campaign had a slight edge here.

I'm not saying that Obamacare won't play a crucial role in November. It might. Then again, it might not. Michael Tomasky has some good insights on this issue that are worth reading. And outside money will continue to be a problem so long as the Citizens United decision stands. It's just that premature conclusions based on singular events almost never pan out.

We all remember the 2010 Tea Party-led mandate, just like we remember the 2006 and 2008 progressive mandates. Turns out neither amounted to much, primarily because there was never any mandate to speak of. It existed only in the minds of those who created it. The fact is that the electorate was simply taking out its frustration on the powers that be. In '06 and '08 it was the Republicans; in 2010 it was the Democrats. Anyone with the title incumbent next to his or her name was fair game.

Mandates, like bellwethers, usually end up in the dust heap of history just waiting for the next sucker to pick them up and run them up the flagpole. The real mystery is why anyone still salutes.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ted Cruz's Most Excellent Adventure To Fantasy Land

Normally I don't pay much attention to what goes on at CPAC. Seriously, if I wanted to hang out with a bunch of strange people trapped in a make-believe world, I'd attend Comic Con. But I just had to comment on something Ted Cruz said.

Cruz, who is on the glide path to be his party's next Jesse Helms, got on his soap box once again in his plea for political purity by taking some swipes at former GOP presidential nominees - the failed ones, naturally.

"All of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney — now look, those are good men, they’re decent men, but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate."

I can't imagine what it must be like to live in such a bubble where up is down and down is up, but Cruz's take on history, like his principles, has some serious flaws. Yes, each and every one of the above mentioned candidates lost to their Democratic opponents, but not because of a lack of principles, but because of external forces that had almost nothing to do with them.

For those who remember the 1996 election, Bob Dole, the presumptive GOP winner, had been closing the gap between himself and Bill Clinton. At one point, Clinton's lead was down to single digits. What happened? Newt Gingrich, that's what. Gingrich forced two government shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996.  That stunt badly damaged the Republican brand, which, up to that point, had been very popular with the electorate. Dole could not extricate himself from the political fallout that ensued. In the end, Clinton routed him in the general.

John McCain had two huge problems to overcome in 2008. The first was the current occupant of the White House, who, by that point, had all but reduced the GOP to the political equivalent of a punch line. So tarnished was George Bush's reputation, he didn't even make a personal appearance at his own party's convention. He had to deliver his speech via video tape.

But it was McCain's decision to tap Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate that all but sealed his fate. Few remember, but prior to the Republican convention, McCain, who still had some sympathy among moderates over the way he was mugged in the 2000 primaries by Bush and Karl Rove, was within striking distance of Barack Obama. Some polls even had the race a dead heat. Then Captain Maverick chose Palin and the roof fell in. Yes, Palin solidified the party's base, but she put off a good many moderates who saw her not only as polarizing but thoroughly unqualified for the job of Veep. The result was Obama comfortably won the election.

And now we come to Mitt Romney, aka Thurston Howell, III. Those who followed Romney's career closely, especially his tenure as Massachusetts governor, knew him as a center-right Republican who was a pragmatic and heady politician, willing to work with his Democratic opponents. His healthcare law became the boiler plate for Obama and centrist Democrats who were weary of a single-payer delivery system. The smart money in 2011 not only had him winning the GOP nomination, but posing a serious challenge to Obama.

So what happened? In short, the GOP's own primary process pulled Romney so far to the right he was never able to successfully pivot back to the center every presidential candidate needs to win a national election. Despite his admittedly impressive performance in that Denver debate against Obama, which prompted many viewers to ask, "Who is this guy and what has he done with Mitt Romney?", the simple fact was that the dye had been cast. Romney was shackled with his party's image: an image that might've been effective locally, but when exposed to the spotlight of national scrutiny, looked more like a diseased horse needing to be put down. Like Clinton before him, Obama easily won reelection.

So you see, it wasn't a lack of principles that caused Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney to lose. If anything, the argument can be made that it was their party's obsession with adhering to principles, regardless of the cost, that was the primary culprit.

For the better part of the past three decades, the GOP has been desperately trying to exhume the ghost of Ronald Reagan and bring him back to life. But in their pursuit of that goal, they have been guilty of missing the forest for the trees. Yes, Reagan was a staunch conservative whose principles and positions were well established. Those who attempt to paint him as some pragmatic realist who sought middle ground, either were not alive during his two terms as president or were simply not paying attention. As Bill Maher correctly pointed out, he was the first "tea bagger."

But, contrary to what the far Right says, that was not the reason for his political success. Reagan knew how to play a room. He was a master at crafting words and delivering them in such a manner that even his critics begrudgingly tipped their hats to him. In fact, Reagan was so adept at this, he earned the title "Great Communicator." Among his contemporaries, only Bill Clinton and FDR equaled or surpassed him.

Reagan was pro-life, to be sure, but could you imagine him saying anything as stupid as "legitimate rape" or "vaginal probe" in a sentence? He was about as anti-government as any Republican of his time, yet he defended Social Security and Medicare and resisted any attempts at privatizing either. And, while he vehemently fought Democrats on just about every issue imaginable, from defense spending to taxes, he thought the idea of the government defaulting on its obligations "irresponsible."

"The full consequences of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result."

And, speaking of taxes, Reagan did the unthinkable. He raised them a total of eleven times in eight years. Can you conceive of a Republican today who would even contemplate such a thing, yet alone say it publicly? Vampires have an easier time greeting the sunrise.

It took the Democratic Party a good many years before it finally woke up. From 1968 through 1988, Republicans won all but one presidential election. And one could argue that, had it not been for Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon, the GOP might well have swept them all. That's how far the Democratic Party had drifted from the mainstream. Then, in 1992, the Party got smart and nominated a centrist by the name of Bill Clinton and, surprise surprise, it won. In fact, since that election, the political fortunes have reversed for the respective parties. The GOP has lost the popular vote in every presidential election save for 2004. It is now the Republican Party that is outside the mainstream.

Whether or not the Republican Party will find it within itself to wake up and do the smart thing remains to be seen. Based on what took place at this year's CPAC, I'd say the odds don't look good. The only glimmer of hope was offered by beleaguered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said, "We don't get to govern if we don't win."

That's the sort of horse sense the Gipper would be proud of.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Inherent Dangers of Oversimplification

I rarely devote an entire piece to another writer's op-ed, but after reading a post on The Matt Walsh Blog, I just couldn't resist. The piece is titled, unbelievably, "Problem solved: let private businesses refuse service to anyone, anytime for any reason."

It begins with the words, "Alright, let’s make this simple." If there's one thing I've learned in my fifty plus years on this planet it is that very few things in life are as simple as we think they are. And Walsh's "simple" take on this very complicated issue is a case in point.

Basically, Walsh, who supported Arizona SB 1062, which would've allowed businesses to deny services to gay people based on "deeply-held religious beliefs," has a very "simple" solution to the problem.  Forget religious freedom and gay rights, just broaden to scope to include everyone in the same large pot.

"Business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason."

A white restaurant owner wants to prevent a black family from sitting down to eat, that's his call. A Catholic wants to deny a Jew his services, go for it. An employer decides not to hire women because he feels they aren't as qualified as men, oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Of course, Walsh justifies his "simple" and convoluted logic by insisting that businesses which choose to operate in this manner will be "punished" by the marketplace. It's not the government's job to regulate their conduct.

We've heard this tripe before. It's the new wave of libertarianism that appears to be sweeping the country.  To sum up the libertarian view, the Civil Rights Act was an overreach by the federal government. It needlessly put onerous regulations on otherwise law-abiding business owners. What the government should've been doing, if anything, was prohibiting "government mandated discrimination and segregation." Walsh cites the Jim Crow laws in the South that were institutionalized as an example.

Walsh, however, forgets to mention that the Jim Crow laws only came to an end AFTER the Civil Rights Act was passed. Much of the transformation that took place in the South over the last four decades would never have happened were it not for those "onerous" regulations being imposed. The idea that the marketplace would sort it all out without government intervention is the stuff of fairy tales. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was absolutely no desire on the part of white business owners to integrate their establishments. There were separate areas for the races and they hardly ever mixed. Blacks who forgot this were severely dealt with; some even lost their lives. That any supposedly sane individual would want to revisit those dreadful times is not only naive; it's stupendously stupid.

Walsh isn't the only simpleton spouting this kind of make-believe history. The recent assault on environmental regulations is another form of naiveté that seems to be running rampant through certain ideological circles. Once more we hear how businesses are unfairly burdened by excessive regulation. We are told that the private sector has come a long way since the days when the Cuyahoga River burned. Just a couple of months ago, the people of West Virginia learned the hard way just how dangerous such thinking can be. As we speak the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people is still tainted by a chemical spill. It may well take several more months before the toxins are completely removed from the water supply. Imagine if something like that had happened to the water supply of New York City.

If history has taught us nothing, it is that people are completely incapable of self regulation. Left to their own devices, more often than not, they will do what is in their own narrow self interests, sometimes to the detriment of others. Christians, above all, should know this. One reading of the letter from Paul to the Romans should dispense with the foolish notion of man's ability to discern right from wrong.

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."

Look, nobody likes regulations. No one enjoys being told what to do, whether to drive at the speed limit, pay taxes, refrain from polluting the air and ground water, admitting blacks to restaurants or serving gays. And since we are clearly incapable of regulating ourselves, it is therefore left to the only agency capable of carrying out such tasks: the government.

Over the last few years the government - particularly the federal - has taken a lot of criticism, some of it deserved. It is bloated and mired in corruption. As Mark Twain so adroitly put it many years ago, "We have the best government money can buy." Sadly, things are even worse now than they were back then.

And yet, even with all its glaring problems, it remains the best arbiter of justice - social and political - for its citizens. If you think an "overreaching" government too much to bare, try the alternative, which, as far as I can tell, would reduce most of the U.S. to a notch above an anarchist convention on steroids. One hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong. The solutions for what ails the government can be found without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

But finding those solutions requires out of the box thinking and, above all, an abandonment of the obtuse idea that simplicity alone can cure all our ills.