Submitted for your consideration

The Congressional election just two weeks away will lead us down one of only a few possible paths.  If the Republicans who control the House and the Senate maintain their majorities in both chambers, there’s no reason to think that they will then choose to start exerting more constitutional authority as a counterweight to President Trump’s apparent on-going violations of constitutionally-mandated behavior of a government official, or have any new political reason to begin to seriously challenge or even oppose their party’s leader.  If they lose control of both houses, the Democrats would take command of the constitutional machinery that could restrict the president’s future activities and investigate or prosecute some of his apparent past crimes.  If the GOP loses control of just one chamber, life will get more confusing…more confusing than it already is, and that’s saying something.  Despite polling which shows less than half of the country approves of the president’s performance in office, the outcome for November 6 is unclear.

It’s no great pronouncement to say that American politics is polarized today, which by the way is not the same as having two major political parties with different opinions about the means to achieve goals…or which have completely different goals.  As they say on the Internet, I’m old enough to remember when having opposing beliefs or values from other people did not mean that I was good and pure and true and a Real Loyal Patriotic American and that they were stupid and evil and dishonest and corrupt and traitorous.  How’d we get from there to here?

Submitted for your consideration: the October 25th edition of The Daily, the podcast of the New York Times, which explores the premise that the 1994 midterm elections—in which the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives to take control for the first time in 40 years—holds the seeds to the political divisiveness that rules the day today.  Give it a listen: host Michael Barbaro talks with opinion writer Jennifer Senior about the 1994 midterm elections, which she covered as a reporter, and she interviews former congressman Vin Weber, a Republican from Minnesota who left Congress in 1993 but whose friendship and political alliance with Newt Gingrich made him a behind-the-scenes force in the 1994 elections which resulted in Gingrich becoming speaker of the House.

Without question, Gingrich and the GOP played a clever political game to maximize the party’s gain of seats beyond what is usual for the party out of the White House.  They focused on wedge issues—they created the term “wedge issues,” I think—which were successful that day, and which have been driving wedges in our lives ever since.  Whether or not the politicians were sincere in their stated belief in the positions they advocated can be argued, but as a tactic it worked beyond their expectations.

Was it a good thing to have done?  Did Republicans of 1994 do the country a disservice in opening a rift in civil society that’s only gotten worse in the years since?  Good questions to consider, I think…

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The president better Hope he can Change this!

Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad To Obama

(I did not see this coming…)

Bravo, Mr. President

Let’s see now: I asked President Obama to take a stand…it was all the way back to, well, yesterday (see just below) that I asked if “anybody is ready to really show some leadership” on the issue of same-sex marriage by just having “the courage to publicly do the right thing.”  Today, the president publicly affirmed that he believes same-sex couples should be permitted to get married.  Thank you, sir.

To deny some Americans the right to marry under civil law due to their gender is discriminatory.  The fact that a majority of the states have constitutional or statutory prohibitions of same-sex marriage doesn’t change that fact, but even those barriers are likely to fade away as more people come around to the understanding that the prohibition is wrong.  Fact is, most Americans are live-and-let-live sorts who wish the anti-gay extremists would just shut the hell up and stop always trying to make everybody else live according to the rules of their religion.  Just yesterday the latest Gallup poll showed that half of all Americans believe same-sex marriages should be legal, and the numbers in favor have steadily grown over the years.

Was Obama’s announcement today politically brave?  Maybe.  Taking this stand isn’t going to change the minds of the religious extremists who make up so much of the conservative fringe that’s taking (taken?) control of the Republican Party: they hate him and are never going to vote for him no matter what he says, on this subject or any other.  From a political standpoint, those people are a lost cause.  This may hurt him among some less strident traditionalists who can’t go along with his stand on this issue, and now are lost from the group of independent voters who were still undecided; those numbers are pretty hard to calculate, though.

On the other hand, it has to help him among the gay rights supporters who voted for him four years ago and are disappointed that he hasn’t been stronger on the issue, despite his administration getting rid of don’t ask don’t tell and stopping any government support of the Defense of Marriage Act.  And it should help him among some independents who feel that taking a stand on a controversial issue deserves to be rewarded; the numbers there, too, are tough to add up.  Maybe his campaign numbers-crunchers have already done that, and maybe they think that this will be a net gain for Obama in November; we’ll see.

(One lesson here: despite the characterizations his enemies use, Barack Obama really is a very moderate and middle of the road politician. If he was the big liberal the conservatives claim he is he’d have started pushing gay marriage years ago.)

In either case, Obama has shown us that he can be a leader: he’s taken a stand that he knows is not universally popular and run the risk of political harm…time will show whether or not he can persuade America to the rightness of his position on this issue.  Now, he did take his sweet time about doing it—he was very cautious, and put his toe in the water with all that “evolving” crap to see what would happen.  He could have kept his mouth shut and waited for the issue to settle down and disappear again in a week or two, as it surely would have done.  But he didn’t.  Good for him.  Good for us.

OK, let’s make gay rights an issue in the presidential election—why not?!

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.

gay prom at westview

“You can’t blame the wreck on the train”

I only wish I had more time during the day to ponder all the developments in the “negotiation” in Washington, D.C. over raising the national debt ceiling, an issue that’s become wedded to an effort to cut government spending.  And that’s a fine issue…if only more Congresses had spent more time thinking about cutting, or at least holding the line.  Loren Steffy, one of the few bright spots at Houston’s Leading Information Source, observes that these are really two different issues and he makes a frightening case for the consequences we might all suffer if today’s Congress doesn’t pay the bills rung up in the past.

Since we last spoke on this matter, the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate has finally had something to say.  After letting the speaker of the House and the House majority leader carry the fight against President Obama, Sen. Mitch McConnell offered a surprise solution to the impasse: give all the responsibility for raising the debt ceiling to the president, so the country won’t face an actual default but Republicans won’t have to take a record vote for higher taxes or a higher debt ceiling.  Maybe he thinks he’s being clever, but he’s getting killed by “conservatives” who think he’s given up the sacred fight.

See, it’s really hard to trust labels.  The Tea Party people, at least those who really drank the kool-aid, they say they’re conservative.  But there are plenty of people who’ve been known as strong conservatives for quite a while (in just the past week I’ve cited David Brooks, Kathleen Parker and David Gergen, for example) who think the GOP in Congress may be going too far this time.  Today I’ll add Steve Bell, who believes there will be a deal and no default, but that Republicans are spending so much energy protecting tax cuts for the richest Americans that the voters are going to smack ’em up-side their heads in November 2012 (I paraphrase).  Gallup’s latest poll finds, not surprisingly, that Americans would prefer to fix the problem with only cuts in spending, although they weren’t asked to identify which cuts they supported, but most of the country favors a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes.  Perhaps because they’re smart enough to realize that the problem is too big to fix with just one or the other.

Now Moody’s is putting American government bonds on review for a possible downgrade, and even the Chinese—the Communist Chinese!—are urging the U.S. government to be responsible and think about protecting investors all over the world.

So I was thinking about all of that, and I remembered the words to a Terri Sharp song I heard performed by Don McLean:

When the gates are all down and the signals are flashing,

The whistle is screaming in vain,

And you stay on the tracks, ignoring the facts,

Well you can’t blame the wreck on the train