Pick a Party, Already

During a press conference today, Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to the stalemate in Washington today as the “tea party shutdown.”   Schumer may be doing some political calculation in order to allow the GOP as a whole to save face.  After all, he’s got to work alongside of these people. However, it is completely disingenuous for him to characterize bringing the government to a halt as solely the work of the tea party.

We’ve watched over the last several years as the so-called tea party candidates have inserted themselves into the Republican party.  And the Republican party has done little or nothing to discourage them or their attendant extremism.  In fact, many in the Republican party used the ascent of the tea party as an excuse to espouse their own extreme right-wing views more openly and shamelessly.

Consequently, it’s virtually impossible to delineate where the GOP ends and the tea party begins.  They have become one and the same.  While there are certainly more extreme members with more extreme views, they blend in all too inconspicuously with the GOP at large.

With the current government shutdown, certain more centrist members of Congress have attempted to distance themselves from the tea party extremists within their ranks.  But the party as a whole has not yet come up with a strategy to restrict tea party influence within the GOP in a way that is commensurate with their actual numbers.  Consequently, the GOP owns this shutdown.

The basic questions that we were asking when the tea party first formed still haven’t been answered.  Which is it?  Are you upper or lower case?  Are you a faction of the Republican Party, and therefore the “tea party” or “tea party caucus”?  Or do you consider yourself an actual legitimate third party, or Tea Party?

If it’s the former, then the GOP needs to take your views into consideration but make its collective decisions based on the majority within the party.  (This especially means you, Mr. Speaker.)   That also means that the GOP owns all of the insanity within its ranks, in those cases in which the extremists convince the more mainstream members of Congress to vote with them.

If it’s the latter, then the tea party earns its upper case status, along with all of the responsibilities and obligations that a political party has.  So far, the tea party has reaped all the rewards of both positions and has borne none of the responsibilities of either.

So make up your minds.

To paraphrase Jesse Pinkman, “let’s Party, bitches.”

At Liberty

Mitt Romney today made one more stride at fusing church and state, with his speech at Liberty University. His pandering seems to know no boundaries.

In one fell swoop, Romney sucked up to the “religious” right and fumblingly grabbed at the youth vote, a demographic for which he desperately needs to gain traction.  (I hope, for his sake, that he doesn’t consider the students at Liberty University as being representative of the youth vote.)

The line in his speech that made the 30,000 or so lemmings in the stadium leap to their feet and applaud was:

“I believe that Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”

This, of course, is the same person who claimed in 1994 that he was going to be to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights.  This is the also same person who signed the nation’s first marriage equality law into effect.

Does anyone else find it somewhat ironic that a speech advocating significantly restricting liberty is being delivered at Liberty University?

View the Mitt’s entire speech at Liberty University (if you can stomach it) in the video above.

Holding a Losing Hand

The headlines today concerning the Republican politicians’ response to President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality either refer to a tepid, tiptoe response or make note of the general lack of response altogether.

While a few foolhardy mouthpieces tried to frame Obama’s statements as some kind of a flip-flop on gay issues, most GOP politicians were uncharacteristically quiet or guarded about their response.  (The usual suspects in the “religious” right wasted no time in mouthing off, but that’s par for the course.)

I’m sure there are a number of theories circulating as to why this has happened.  But my guess is that the Republican politicians are relatively certain that they cannot win by focusing on this issue.  I suspect that many of the Republicans have LGBT staffers, know LGBT people, perhaps even have gay family member (except for the occasional member of Congress who boasts overconfidently that they don’t).  I’d like to believe that there is sufficient conscience remaining in at least some of the GOP not to continue the tradition of claiming that their personal beliefs are one thing and their policy decisions are completely detached from those personal beliefs.  That “some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay” line will not work in this day and age.

The only outcome for Republicans if they raise a stink about this issue is that they will make themselves look even more extreme than they already have.  There may still be some Republicans who have a concern for their respective political legacy.  As many others have said, they’re clearly on the wrong side of history.

Pundits today have been talking about the risk that Obama took today, and there may indeed be some.  But the Republicans need to attract moderate voters in the upcoming election, as well; the risk may be even greater for them than for the President.  They’ve already done their best to drive away women, Latinos, and the LGBT community.  If they veer much farther to the right, they may go over a cliff.

Read more on Politico about the GOP’s silence:

Tampa, the GOP, and the Subprime Mess

There’s a stunning irony in the choice of venues for the GOP convention that is likely lost on most Republicans.  Tampa, Florida, was home to an entire division of Countrywide — the mortgage lender that played an enormous part in the nation’s economic downturn by saturating the market with subprime mortgages and then bundling them together into securities that could be sold by equally unscrupulous bankers on the open market to unsuspecting purchasers.

At the peak of subprime frenzy, Countrywide built out an entire facility in Tampa devoted to the sales and servicing of subprime mortgages.  The company could barely hire people fast enough to keep up with the demand that they themselves had generated by making loans available — on the worst terms possible for the borrower — to tens of thousands of borrowers who simply were not qualified to carry those loans.

At one point, Countrywide boasted of a record of $28 billion of mortgages written in a single month of lending, with many of those loans underwritten using the shoddiest of underwriting standards.

Consider these unemployment numbers for Florida:  In 2005-2006, unemployment bottomed out at 3.3%, right when all that subprime lending was going on.  With the subsequent tanking of the economy, due in large part to the collapse of the subprime market because of the fraudulent lending practices of Countrywide and others, unemployment in Florida skyrocketed to 11.4% in mid-2009, and remains to this day at or above 9%.

Florida also boasts one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, particularly on condominiums which were built (or overbuilt) in response to the new demand that all that subprime lending had created.  When the bubble burst, construction on half-finished developments came to a halt. Buyers who had bought into these developments were stuck with properties that were worth pennies on the dollar compared to what they now owed.  These early owners also took on the obligations of the condominium associations, the expense of which was to have been spread across dozens or hundreds of owners and now consequently was legally required to be borne by those unlucky few.

So, when the GOP opted to hold its convention in Tampa, organizers apparently were completely unaware of the optics of this choice.  Add to the bad optics of this backdrop the fact that the presumptive GOP candidate is touting a return to (or a doubling down on) the same economic policies that created this financial disaster, and it becomes hard to think that there won’t be some pretty significant negative repercussions for the Republicans.

The Democrats would be fools not to make hay out of this hypocrisy.  My guess is that the haymaking is already underway.

 

 

Shopping for Groceries at the Hardware Store

When it’s really clear that one is looking for the right thing in the wrong place, I often use the metaphor of shopping for groceries at the hardware store.  Your intentions might be good, but no matter how hard you look, you’re not going to find ketchup in the plumbing aisle (except, perhaps, as a stain on the shirt of the hardware store clerk).

The most recent example of this disconnect is documented in today’s New York Times.  The gist of the article is that a considerable number of influential Conservative Republicans are boycotting the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) because the unfortunately-named GOProud political action committee was co-sponsoring the event.  Although I’m sure including gay people chafed, this breach of Republican tenets was somehow able to be overlooked by the other more conservative participants of that conference for GOProud to participate in the conference.  After all, there are all those supposed gay dollars to be raised.  But, for venerable institutions like Concerned Women for America, the Heritage Foundation, and all those other rabid right leaning groups whose names sound like they were created by some Internet conservative organization name generator, the fact that GOProud participated in the planning of the conference was too much for their weak little hearts to take and, thus, the boycott.

If you truly want pay to listen for three non-stop days to the vitriol of the likes of Ann Coulter, Jim Demint, Michelle “Vacant Stare” Bachmann, Wayne Lapierre, Liz Cheney, and a whole host of others, I fully defend your right to waste your money.  Go ahead.  Knock yourselves out.

But what I can’t get my brain around is that, somehow, certain gay people still believe that the Republican Party has carved out a viable little niche for them.  They seem to believe that there’s actually seat at the table for them.  But clearly, as evidenced by these recent reports, the best that the Republicans can come up with is a seat at the children’s table.  The GOProud folks don’t seem to understand that, unless there’s a tectonic shift in the underlying philosophy of the Republican party, they will always be shopping for groceries at the hardware store if they choose to align themselves with this socially conservative crowd.

In some way, I suppose it should be no surprise that GOProud finds this arrangement acceptable; the group has already fully embraced second-class citizenship.  Their platform wants no federal involvement in gay marriage, although it has been proven time and again that there is no way to achieve true parity without a federal standard.

For those of us unwilling to settle for the crumbs, perhaps it would be helpful for these conservatives to agree upon and publish the hierarchy so that we know just how much or how little citizenship they think we deserve.  But they can’t even seem to agree among themselves.  But it’s really clear that even so-called moderate Republicans don’t want gay people to be full citizens.  And, perhaps, that’s because there is no good answer, except for full equality.

But this kind of clarification of their narrow-mindedness – a concrete definition of just what the Republicans expect of gay people – would be good for all of us.  It would help Republicans define their platform.  It would help the GOProud folks see exactly who they were in bed with.  Most of all, it would save all of us so many trips to the wrong aisle of wrong store.

Desperation Politics in New York

It’s probably risky making a judgment about something that’s going on 3,000 miles away. But that’s never stopped me before.
I’m referring to the governor’s race in the state of New York. What it looks like from the other coast is a multi-faceted story of desperation.

On the one hand, it looks like the Republican candidate — Carl Paladino — is engaging in some pathetically desperate moves to garner a few votes and possibly inch forward in the polls. His event yesterday during which he rubbed homophobic elbows with Orthodox Jews is only one such shameless attempt to align himself with people with whom he seems to have nothing else in common but their mutual distaste for gay people. I’m sure his anti-gay invective appealed to that particular audience. But I’m guessing that these so-called religious leaders were not recipients of his racist emails. Did they get to see the horse/human sexual interaction?

Then there’s the desperation of the Republican party. They’re clearly attempting to balance their undying desire to reclaim political power against the very real truth that the candidate that voters chose in the primary is extreme even for them. That part is kind of predictable, but it’s still fun to watch.

The part that’s not so much fun is the poll numbers. Cuomo still has a pretty commanding lead, according to just about every poll out there. But somewhere in the vicinity of 37% of New York voters are still supportive of Paladino. What kind of desperation leads voters to support someone as hateful and out of control as this candidate? And what does that say about the voters of New York? Do 37% of them truly share his extremist views? Or is that 37% of voters simply are willing to overlook the kind of bigotry and insanity that this man presents to us? Either way, it’s pretty scary.

We always hear politicians say how much they “trust the intelligence of the American people.” (It’s kind of a standard answer when a candidate is behind in the polls and they can’t think of anything else to hang their hopes on.) This election clearly brings that trust into question.

Republican Soul Searching: A 9-Point Plan

In the wake of the drubbing they took in the election last week, the Republican Party is now in the process of doing some long overdue self-examination. The media have been trying to determine the whereabouts of the soul of the Republican party. So I thought I’d offer my unsolicited 9-point plan for Republican soul searching:

  1. Get one. In order to search one’s soul, one actually has to have a soul.
  2. Stop lying. This is the 21st century. We have technology. We will find out that you’re lying. The only ones left to believe your lies will be stupid people. And you don’t want stupid people in your party. (I know this is an unfamiliar concept to Republicans, because you’ve benefited for a couple of decades from the stupid people who you’ve drawn to the party and who have believed the lies that you’ve told them.)
  3. Have principles, and follow them. Strategy and tactics are the necessary evil of a political campaign, but they’re not what people vote for. We’re drawn to noble, clear ideas. We’re looking for leaders who inspire us to make our nation and our world a better place.
  4. Get smart. That’s not to suggest that you should be more tactical, but rather that you should actually value education more. That also means valuing the educated more. You’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of “no child left behind,” but you continue to run people (like Michele Bachmann) who seem like the children who were left behind. The nation and the world are facing unbelievably difficult issues, and it will take intelligent, educated people to come up with solutions.
  5. Ostracize the corrupt. Especially when they’re in your own party. The fact that Tom DeLay is still somehow perceived as someone who can go on national television and represent the positions of the party is laughable. Marginalize persons of his ilk or the nation will marginalize the entire party.
  6. Stop elevating and rewarding wackos. Believe it or not, people are looking to you for leadership. When you put subnormal or even just mediocre people on the ballot and expect that the public is going to go along with it just because you have previously enjoyed unquestioning party unity, you do your party and the nation a grave disservice.
  7. Separate church from state. You can have still your religion. Knock yourselves out. But why not put your faith into action by doing good works, instead of blurring the boundaries between pulpit and politics in an attempt to force the rest of the world to believe the same dogma that you choose to believe?
  8. Distance yourself from the ditto-heads. Admit it. You’ve spent the last 25 or so years building and fostering the multi-billion dollar right-wing media empire — of the Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity/Bill O’Reilly variety. But now you may be realizing that you’ve created a monster that is incapable of moderating itself. Cut ’em off before they eat you alive.
  9. Quit blaming the media. How can you be focusing on what you need to be doing when you’re whining about how badly you’re being treated? Besides, you don’t win votes with shame and blame.

One more thing you might want to take into account. I’m sure there are Republican campaign professionals who are right now dissecting examining every aspect of Barack Obama’s campaign, searching for clues as to what was done to win an election and how they might replicate those things. What those strategists seem to be failing to take into account is that, while some of the campaign strategy might be replicatable, the candidate cannot. Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate with transformative ideas and, by all accounts, an uncanny ability to inspire and bring people together.

Some Prop H8te Afterthoughts

It’s been remarkable to see the outcry over the last several days about the passage in California of Proposition 8. For gays and lesbians (and those who love them), the elation that we ought to be feeling wholeheartedly along with our fellow Americans is tempered with the knowledge that the same election that ushered in a new era in politics and government also stripped us of rights that other citizens have.

For me, it’s like deja vu all over again. In 1992, I had just moved to Colorado about a month prior to the November election. The relief we felt knowing that Bill Clinton would soon be in the White House was overshadowed by the understanding that Amendment 2 had also passed in Colorado. Amendment 2 was put on the Colorado ballot and funded by the same hyper-religious zealots that got Prop 8 on the ballot in Colorado. (The California initiative has the dubious distinction of having buckets of money poured into it by the Mormons, who apparently left behind the concept of separation of church and state in Missouri somewhere. And based on election returns this year, we’d be hard pressed to find the concept alive in Missouri today.) Amendment 2 stated that non-discrimination laws that included sexual orientation previously passed by several Colorado municipalities would be deemed illegal.

In the wake of Amendment 2’s passage, the GLBT community in Colorado was stung, taken almost completely off guard by the amendment’s passage. There had previously been a belief, because gays and lesbians were largely able to create pleasant lives for themselves in Colorado, that the work of liberation was complete. It was a giant wake-up call to know that 54% of one’s fellow citizens thought it was alright to be fired or to lose one’s home simply because one was gay or lesbian.

The community took to the streets, held candlelight vigils, organized weekend workshops, bickered about whether a boycott would be helpful or harmful, and did everything in our power to undo the injustice that was done by the election.

Sound familiar?

The lesson to be learned, I think, is that the legal fight to overthrow Amendment 2 wound its way through various courts up to the United States Supreme Court and was finally overturned. But that was nearly four years after its original passage.

I completely support the Prop 8 protest marches and I’m grateful that such marches are popping up all over the country, particularly those aimed at the Mormons and the other churches who completely violated the separation of church and state, and who give new meaning to the term ‘bully pulpit.’ I’m glad people are coming up with creative ways to respond to the inherent injustice of Prop 8.

But I’m also realistic enough to believe that legal remedies are our best option. And while the pace may seem glacial, especially to the instant gratification set, we have to remind ourselves that the struggle for equality has gone on for decades already. The struggle will go on while Prop 8 is being fought, and it will go on long after Prop 8 ultimately goes down in flames.

So, what good has come of this? Well, I can name at least one thing.

In his Special Comment tonight, Keith Olbermann spoke out against the people responsible for the passage in California of Proposition 8. (The complete text of that comment can be found here.) The fact that a straight former sportscaster is going to bat in a big way on behalf of gays and lesbians is an indicator of remarkable progress.

The CNN Effect

The election is getting down to the wire, and the 24-hour news channels, the blogs, the newspapers all seem to have fallen into the same pattern. Almost as soon as the polls started to reveal a commanding lead for Obama, the media all seem to be providing strategic advice to the fumbling McCain campaign. We keep seeing headlines and hearing teases along the lines of “How McCain Could Turn the Tables.”

It’s clear that the news media have a distinct interest in keeping their viewers and readers engaged by making the race seem much closer than it actually is. A race in which a horse wins by a nose is much more exciting. So the media keep harping on the idea that the 9 or 10 or 14 point lead that Obama has in the popular vote, along with the 100+ lead in electoral votes, can be closed up if only McCain can magically come up with the right formula. Never mind that nothing even close to a formula of any kind has emerged thus far from the McCain campaign.

Perhaps as close as we come to a formula is an extension of the vile tactics used in 2000 and 2004 to suppress the (Democratic) vote, as described last night on Rachel Maddow’s show by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nna4_7k7UoM

Considering the gravity of the issues that Kennedy raises, it’s somewhat shocking that the media (with Rachel Maddow and Rolling Stone being two notable exceptions) have given virtually no play to this story.

I want to believe that the effect of this most recent round of media apathy will be offset by the foolishness of dim bulbs like Michelle Bachman, whose neo-McCarthy-esque proclamations about a litmus test in Congress to determine whether our elected officials are pro-America or anti-America have had the unintended consequence of filling the campaign coffers of her Democratic opponent. The almost universal rejection of her statements and of other similarly extremist positions seems to indicate that America just isn’t willing to buy this load of crap any more.