By turns, this video is remarkable, unbelievable, inspiring, comical, and by the end very very sad, as the object of our attention first comes face to face with its new home, something that looks for all the world like a gigantic aluminum garden shed. From the Los Angeles Times, click the pic for an outstanding time-lapse view of space shuttle Endeavour being moved from Los Angeles International Airport through the city streets to the California Science Center, where it goes on permanent display.
From time to time I find something I think is worth recommending that other people check out; I found such a thing last week.
This is about politics; this is about the people I’ve accused of hijacking the Republican Party and turning it into a secular curtain that they hide behind in their fight to impose their religious beliefs on all Americans through civil law, despite what the First Amendment says about that in this country (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”); this is about us all getting a clear look at what’s going on back there behind that curtain.
Political parties are not mentioned in the United States Constitution; they don’t exist as a part of government to promote the common good, they exist as private organizations to promote themselves and those who support them. In the last generation, the Republican Party of Lincoln and Reagan has been take over by people who played the political game according to the rules, who participated and organized and worked their asses off, until they were in a position to control the outcomes of party primaries. Today, anyone who wants to be the Republican candidate for anything has to please a small group of religious extremists, even when doing so means abandoning their own political heritage.
Some Republican candidates these days are true believers; others sell a bit of their soul in hopes of winning an election so they can do some good, and maybe someday move beyond the control of the extremists. But make no mistake, the radicals are in charge of the GOP. And they are now passing “voter ID” laws in most of the country to prevent voting fraud, laws that, arguably, have the real world effect of limiting voter participation by people in groups that have historically been reliable voters for Democratic Party candidates. Pretty smart, and sneaky: no one can be in favor of voter fraud…but what they don’t like you to realize is that the incidence of actual voter fraud is on the order of 4/100,000ths of one-percent, or just 86 cases out of 196,000,000 votes cast over a five-year period of the early 2000s. Thirty-three states have passed voter ID laws; in 32 of those states, the laws were proposed by Republican lawmakers and passed by Republican-controlled legislatures and signed by Republican governors. If there’s no significant voter fraud to stop, then what are they after?
The people who control today’s Republican Party have been as successful as they have because (1) some Americans agree with their goals, (2) most Americans aren’t paying attention, and (3) the news media is too occupied with what David Shaw in the Los Angeles Times called “the four horsemen of the journalistic apocalypse: superficiality, sensationalism, preoccupation with celebrity, and obsession with the bottom line.” So, we have to rely on fictional journalists to do the heavy lifting:
“American Taliban.” Yep; that’s perfect. Spread the word. And thanks to Upworthy.com for the tip.
You hold your breath…you make a wish…and you’re disappointed when it doesn’t come true. And then you remember that things don’t happen just because you wish them to. Such is the case, not very surprisingly, with the level of discussion this week in the race for president.
Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan (no relation) as his running mate last Saturday was greeted as good news by some people positioned all along the political spectrum, from those tea party members and fiscal conservatives who love his budget plans to those more liberal folks who believed his serious interest in issues would spark a real debate. How long did that last?
If we can all agree that Joe Biden is to oratory what Spam is to steak, we can agree that his inelegant comment to a mixed-race audience in Virginia was not meant to invoke the specter of slavery. Yet that was all Romney and Ryan had to say—that the Democrats were running a campaign of hate—even before that evening’s newscasts hit the air. (I do give them credit, though, for how well they can operate with the threshold set so low on such a finely-tuned sense of outrage.)
Tuesday also featured some well-prepared interviewers catching Romney surrogates on their indefensible claim about Medicare cuts under Obamacare. This piece on Mediate has all the links to both occasions: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien with John Sununu, and Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume with Ryan himself, as each of them tried to pass off the latest Republican mischaracterization (to be kind) of the impact to Medicare funding under the Affordable Care Act. Just nailed them, which was amusing; watch the clips. The partisan noisemakers can’t really slough this off with the standard allegation of liberal media bias—we’re talking BRIT HUME here! If FOX NEWS was schooling your VP, you got to make allowances that just maybe CNN was playing it down the middle, too.
But the best thing I saw on Tuesday, from the perspective of trying to keep the facts straight, was an interview on Slate with the author of The New New Deal. Journalist Michael Grunwald went looking for the truth about the impact of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress in early 2009, designed to help get the country’s economy rolling again. His conclusion: the stimulus bill worked.
Not that everything in it worked, or worked perfectly, not that there weren’t problems or some waste and fraud. But mostly, the stimulus bill did what it was designed to do; it can be argued that the economy hasn’t done better because the stimulus was too small, although Obama could never have gotten Congress to go for more.
…the stimulus was supposed to create jobs at a time when jobs were vanishing at a terrifying rate. Nonpartisan economists agree that it helped stop the free fall; job losses peaked the month before it passed, and the economy dramatically improved once it kicked into gear. But even after the dramatic improvements, the unemployment rate was still sky-high and rising; an economy can do a lot better than losing 800,000 jobs a month without doing well. Ultimately, the stimulus was a 2.5 million-job solution to an 8 million-job problem.
To the extent that Obama’s opponents will argue that Grunwald’s story is biased, he replies:
I don’t think my book portrays the Republicans as “vicious,” but I do show—thanks to a lot of in-depth interviews with GOP sources—how they plotted to obstruct Obama before he even took office. I show how the stimulus was chock full of stuff they claimed to support until Jan. 20, 2009—not just things like health IT and the smart grid and energy efficiency and scientific research, but the very idea of Keynesian stimulus. Every presidential candidate in 2008 proposed a stimulus package, and Mitt Romney’s was the largest. So I do spend a fair amount of time chronicling Republican stimulus hypocrisies. (Readers might enjoy the backstory of Sen. Judd Gregg’s short-lived nomination to be Obama’s commerce secretary.) In general, I’d have to say my reporting backs up the Norm Ornstein-Thomas Mann thesis that the Republicans have gone off the policy deep end—denying global warming, denying Keynesian economics (except when it comes to business tax cuts and defense spending!), trashing Obama’s government takeover of health care and also his Medicare cuts, drumming stimulus supporters like Crist and Specter out of the party.
Read the interview; the book is just coming out this week. I want to hear this story—we should all want to hear this story, and other stories—from someone who hasn’t already sold out to one party or one candidate.
We’ve debated a bizarro-world stimulus that does not exist. And I think that’s true about Obama, too. I don’t think he comes across as “brilliant.” I think he comes across as a pragmatic left-of-center technocrat who wasn’t interested in pursuing lost causes, but basically tried to do what he said he would do during the campaign. He wasn’t a policy entrepreneur with new policy ideas, but he did his best to get 60 votes for old policy ideas that made sense, and then pushed his administration to put them into action as cleanly and competently as possible. And I did a lot of reporting in the bowels of the bureaucracy and around the country to show how change has been playing out.
I tried to tell the story as fairly and honestly as I could. But I didn’t try to be balanced for the sake of balance. When politicians were full of shit, I tried to point that out.
That’s what we need more of from reporters. Dutifully transcribing the opinion of the spokeshuman from one party and then the opinion of the spokeshuman from a second party doesn’t get us the truth; what the political parties have to say is designed to benefit the parties, not to promote truth.
I mean, it’s not like there’s already a bunch of issues in this year’s election on which the candidates (and presumptive candidates) have staked out well-reasoned and philosophically-consistent positions as they make a rational case to the people of America asking for the responsibility of managing one of the major branches of our national government, right? So I’d like to see if anybody is ready to really show some leadership, and gay rights and gay marriage are perfect issues: all that’s required is the courage to publicly do the right thing.
The latest engagement was in North Carolina where the voters took to the polls Tuesday to say no to gay marriage, in great big, red letters. In Slate William Saletan summarized the vote-no-’cause-God-says-so arguments, and other scare tactics, those people heard in the campaign: Gay marriage will destroy religious freedom, and weaken the economy, and be treason against God, and we’ll lose God’s protection from racial disasters, and it will lead to man-on-dog marriage. (Seriously.)
(Interesting perspective, though, from the speaker of the North Carolina state house, who is convinced that any ban on gay marriage in his state will only be temporary. “State House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from a Charlotte suburb, said even if the amendment is passed, it will be reversed as today’s young adults age. ‘It’s a generational issue,’ Mr. Tillis told a student group at North Carolina State University in March about the amendment he supports. ‘If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years.’”)
This comes just a week after a Mitt Romney campaign foreign policy spokesman resigned after anti-gay conservatives “made an issue” out of his support for gay marriage. Yes, it was Richard Grenell’s “unhinged” support for gay marriage that upset these folks, surely; the religious extremists wouldn’t have used that to cover their opposition to Grenell because the man himself is gay…no no, surely not. Romney didn’t cover himself in glory, caving to the intolerance from the religious rightand sacrificing Grenell on the altar of getting elected.
Joe Biden’s got something to say here—what a surprise! But I’m inclined to agree with those who think that putting the loose-lipped vice president on “Meet the Press” and having him say he is comfortable with gay marriage as a civil right is part of a political plan by the Obama campaign, which wants to reassure gay and lesbian voters, and other voters who support gay rights, that the president really is on their side but doesn’t want to take the chance of reigniting this culture wars issue and inflaming anti-gay voters into supporting Romney. Adding the secretary of education to the mix was a nice touch. From the standpoint of election politics, I understand that reasoning. (There are Democratic spin doctors who insist there’s no subterfuge involved, that the campaign wishes this issue had stayed down in the weeds.)
But I also agree with J. Bryan Lowder in Slate, and probably many others in other places, when they argue that there has to come a time when the political calculations take a back seat to doing the right thing.
However, at some point this kind of political prevarication is going to have to give way to principle. Though the cultural mood in this country regarding homosexuality has been morphing in the right direction for a number of years now, waiting for the zeitgeist or generational turn-over to solve everything isn’t going to help those citizens affected in the meantime by dangerously reactionary legislation.
(They’re talking about you, Mr. President, if you’re up to it.)
Lowder goes on to explain, and links to a FiveThirtyEight blog post in the New York Times that further explains, that the North Carolina constitutional amendment doesn’t just prohibit same sex marriage, it outlaws all civil unions and domestic partnerships in the state regardless of gender. Now, God’s position on heterosexual civil unions is not entirely clear, but there is a new Gallup poll showing half of Americans today believe same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid by lawwith the same rights as heterosexual marriages. That’s a dramatic change from 15 years ago when it was only 27% favoring and 68% opposing.
The tide is turning: last week Funky Winkerbean started a new series, and I have a feeling the good people of Westview, Ohio will end up on the side of the angels.
Yep, another great day: sunny skies and highs in the low 80s in southeast Texas, got a ticket for my first game of the new baseball season tonight, made some good progress with a new swing thought out on the driving range yesterday, and I’m about a week away from trading in a serviceable but boxy and uninspiring VW for a very low mileage Honda two-seater—just the kind I’ve always loved and used to drive—while lowering my costs in the process! With Rick Santorum’s exit from the GOP presidential primary, I’m hoping we can all enjoy a period of relative campaign quiet, too, but here’s something to roll around in your head before Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and the permanent political class, use up all the oxygen.
It has looked like, from the vantage point of today, that come November we voters would face a choice between the radicalism that defines today’s Republican Party or another four years of divided government and damn little constructive effort on crucial economic issues. Even the most moderate-seeming Republican candidate, Romney, was disavowing anything in own past that smelled of reasonableness and compromise, to appeal to the extremists who make up most of the GOP primary voters. But the need for that should be over now, absent a mind-boggling resurgence from Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or a last gasp charge to the convention from Sarah Palin or someone of that ilk to rally the “true conservatives.”
But even as Romney starts to redefine himself to appeal to the less ideological among us, Republicans will have a quite a slog in front of them if they wish to broaden their appeal beyond those who’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid. Former White House speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson says it’s not just a matter of trying to counter the Democrats’ “war on women” meme: “The GOP’s main problem is not the contraceptive issue; it is the perception that it has become too ideological on many issues.”
Women and independent voters have seen a party enthusiastically confirming its most damaging stereotypes. The composite Republican candidate—reflecting the party’s ideological mean—has been harsh on immigration, confrontational on social issues, simplistic in condemning government and silent on the struggles of the poor. How many women would find this profile appealing on eHarmony?
This is the hidden curse of the Republican congressional triumph of 2010. Republican activists came to believe that purity is all that is necessary for victory. But a presidential candidate, it turns out, requires a broader ideological attraction than your average tea party House freshman.
From an academic standpoint it will be interesting to see if and how Romney and the more traditional Republican elements work to sand the scary edges off of their primary campaign messages, to widen their appeal and entice the plurality of American voters who don’t ritualistically identify with the Republican or Democratic parties; those are the people who will decide this election. (The Obama campaign isn’t going to make it easy, already working to reinforce Romney’s “severe” conservatism and other primary campaign highlights.) Gerson argues that “Mainly, women and independents want some reassurance that Republicans give a damn about someone other than Republican primary voters. It is not a high bar. But Romney needs to start somewhere…”. I’ll check back in after Memorial Day to see how he’s doing.