Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Punching the Tar Baby

Last week I suggested that the Republican party was at a crossroads of sorts. They could continue down the road of hatespeech, fear, anger, and thinly-veiled racism or they could take a cue from Conservatives like David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Colin Powell, David Frum, and many others and engage in dignified, constructive, fact-based criticism of policies and statements with which they disagreed.

Now, just a few days later, the "dignity" option seems to have been taken off the table. The Republican chosen and designated leaders just can't seem to help themselves. They just keep flailing away at the tar baby (a term I use deliberately) so vigorously that they don't realize that they are caught in a trap of their own making that is leading to both their unmasking and their undoing.

A few days ago, the national Young Republicans elected 38-year old Audra Shay as their new chair. As I wrote last week, Ms. Shay is an Arkansas native who now lives in Louisiana and was endorsed for the position by her governor, Bobby Jindal.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, she gained some unwelcome notoriety during the week prior to her election for cheering on a participant in a conversation on her Facebook page who referred to President Obama as "a commie and a coon." Participants in the conversation who criticized her response were immediately defriended and blocked from the website. Eric, the commie and coon guy, was not.

This and other arguably racist comments she has made caused a number of Young Republicans, including John McCain's daughter Meghan, to encourage her to drop out of the race. Instead she won election by a comfortable margin after scrubbing her Facebook page in an effort to destroy the evidence of her past remarks.

The next day marked the beginning of the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a 17-year Federal court veteran who has been nominated by Obama for the Supreme Court.

From the moment Judge Sotomayor was nominated to the court, the Right wing made it clear that they were going to play the only card left in the Republican deck--the race card. The water carriers of the Right immediately launched into racist attacks against her on the radio with Limbaugh, Levin, and others branding her a "bigot" and Glenn Beck calling her "Hispanic Chick Lady" in their dignified and nuanced commentaries on her qualifications.

Despite the fact that Sotomayor's confirmation should be a formality--she has extensive experience on the bench and has been given the highest rating for her qualifications by the American and New York Bar Association--the focus on her race and ethnicity continued.

Ranking Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama--who himself was rejected for a Federal judgeship by a GOP controlled Senate committee years ago based on his numerous apparently racist comments--humiliated himself with his line of questioning expressing his surprise and disappointment that Sotamayor didn't vote along with her fellow Puerto Rican in the Ricci case. His clear implication was that it is surprising that all judges of Puerto Rican descent don't think and vote alike.

Can you imagine a Senator expressing surprise that Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Breyer don't vote alike because they are both white males? Can you imagine repeatedly citing a line about "wise Latina women" that Sotomayor used in speeches eight years ago as a reason to repeatedly express concerns that she would be biased in favor of minorities who claim they have been victims of discrimination?

Maybe. If it weren't for the FACT that in the 90 cases Sotomayor has heard from people alleging discrimination, she has ruled AGAINST the plaintiffs in 80 of them. And in all but one of the cases where she determined discrimination took place, she was part of a unanimous decision.

The next day, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma)--who you may remember as Senator John Ensign's spiritual advisor and marriage counselor--did his best Ricky Ricardo imitation in a response to a Sotomayor answer telling her that "she had a lot of 'splainin' to do."

After three days of hearings, the Republicans on the committee have revealed themselves to be so obsessed with race and bias that their efforts to transfer their own bigotry and "concerns" to Sotomayor has come across as childish, transparent, dishonest, and scary.

But the way things are playing out with the entire party and its chosen leaders and spokesmen, that puts them right in sync with the program. The only question remaining is where independents like me will find the next legitimate and credible alternative to the weak and frightening Democratic leadership in Congress in the future.

The Republicans are a decade late and a trillion dollars short. There just aren't enough racists and bigots still around to give them a base on which to build. Instead of opting for facts, reason, and dignity they continue to flail away at those pesky Black and Hispanic tar babies. The harder they punch, the more ensnared they become in the sticky, unyielding mess.

That may play well in the former Confederate states that voted against Obama and with a smattering of proud and closet racists here and there.

But we all heard those Uncle Remus stories growing up.

And we all know how they end.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hatespeech or Dignity--Republicans at the Crossroads

I want to make something perfectly clear. I have supported many Republicans in recent years including my current senators John Kyl and John McCain. I have held fundraisers in my home for Tommy Thompson when he was the Republican governor of Wisconsin. I have supported Democrats as well. I am a true independent.

Many of my good Republican friends have come away with a much different impression based on recent articles I have written that are critical of the thinly-veiled racism and vicious attacks that seem to be emanating more and more from the very top circles of the GOP.

Several of those friends complain that I am applying a double standard here citing the numerous criticisms of President Bush and, more recently Sarah Palin that have filled the blogosphere and the mainstream media for some time.

In fact we are talking about an apples to oranges comparison on a number of levels. Many people, myself included, were outraged by the arrogance, incompetence, and deception that became the hallmark of the Bush administration over a number of years. I am truly sad that he turned out to be such a terrible president but that is not hatespeech.

Sarah Palin is much more of a victim than a villain. I was strongly critical of John McCain for selecting her to be his running mate because she was completely unqualified for the job. That lapse in judgement more than anything caused an election that would have been a narrow victory for Obama to become a landslide.

She is Eliza Doolittle saying yes to Henry Higgins. For whatever reason, he made her an offer she couldn't refuse. She is what she is. Just as Palin was unable to resist the opportunity to run for national office, the media has been unable to resist the temptation of ridiculing her. It is a sad for everyone involved.

She has been called greedy, ignorant, overly ambitious, unethical, self-centered and a lot of other nasty things. She is now in a death spiral of self-destruction where she goes out of her way to put herself and her family in the public eye and then gets whiny when the coverage doesn't go her way. She is the subject of predictable ridicule from a media that can't seem to help itself either. But none of that is hatespeech.

Hatespeech is different. It's when you accuse the President of the United States of being a socialist, a terrorist, a Muslim, an anti-Semite, or a traitor based on lies and distortions. And it becomes particularly meaningful when the venom comes not from the radical fringe--as it often does from the Left--but from the heart of the party leadership--as it often does from the Right.

This weekend, the Young Republicans will meet to elect their national chair. Audra Shay, a 38 year old military veteran and mother from Louisiana is considered one of the front-runners for the job. A few days ago, she moderated a session on her Facebook page where a participant called Obama "a commie and a mad coon." Shay's response to the young man was to urge him on. "You tell em Eric" she said.

When a number of participants criticized her for not condemning the racist statement, Shay responded by "defriending" all of those who were critical which blocked them from further participation in the conversation. That is hatespeech being endorsed from the highest levels of the party.

It is eerily reminiscent of Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman sending a CD including the cute song "Barack the Magic Negro" as a Christmas gift to the members of the Republican National Committee last year. That clever song had been played repeatedly by Rush Limbaugh for much of the prior year. Limbaugh was picked in a recent Gallup Poll of Republicans as the person who best represents the party--a title he also claims for himself.

At the time, Saltsman was a front-runner in the race for Chairman of the Republican National Committee--grownup version. He was edged out by Michael Steele at the end but this is another example of stupidity, racism and hatespeech coming from the top.

Just today, I heard my Senator John Kyl tell Bill Bennett that Obama is more interested in cutting an arms reduction deal with the Russians that he is in protecting the country. That is accusing the President of the United States of being a traitor with no facts at all to back it up. That is hatespeech.

Some of my favorite people are Republicans. I got to spend some time with New York Times columnist David Brooks here in Aspen last week. He is a great writer and a solid Republican who is critical of several of the decisions that the president has made and is supportive of others. But, at the end of the day, he seems to be more worried about what is happening to the dignity of his party. Be sure to check this column written by a solid dignified Republican.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing people in power. It is essential in a democracy and our ability to do so has helped make our country great. But there are ways to do it hatefully and ways to do it with dignity. It is the hatred and anger that seem to ooze so effortlessly from the leaders of the Republican Party that are so disconcerting.

It is up to all of us who believe that our country needs a dignified and credible Conservative voice to seize control back from the slimers. If we can't, then the Libertarians should be viewed as the credible alternative to Liberal Democrats. They actually believe in small government and fiscal responsibility.

Republican keaders used to carry that banner before they got so caught up in issues surrounding gender, reproductive choice, and race that they lost their way. Hopefully they can regain the high ground and again become a productive part of the political dialogue.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In Dependence Day 2009

For the last several years I have spent the Fourth of July here at the Aspen Ideas Festival which has always ushered me into the holiday with a new perspective on democracy and the freedoms that have always been unique to our great country.

Last year, a session on "Patriotism" prompted one of my first posts since it made me realize how Geroge W, Bush's most toxic legacy was the way he completely eliminated the notion of shared sacrifice from that noble concept.

This year, it became increasingly clear that the damage was far more severe. (As an aside, the former president--who shamelessly announced last year that he hoped to parley his status into "a little coin" from high paying speaking engagements when he left office--spoke at the newly-renovated Woodward, OK rodeo grounds as part of a Fourth of July celebration featuring Tanya Tucker, Asleep at the Wheel, and Sawyer Brown. Bush was paid for his appearance but I'm sure it wasn't the major coin he had in mind. It was apparently the only offer he got.

This year's Aspen Ideas Festival had no sessions on patriotism. In one way or another, it was mainly about the economy and how in eight short years we went from being the only super power in the world to a bankrupt nation that now is forced to go hopelessly in debt to keep our banks and the world financial system from total collapse.

We have gone from being the most independent country in the world to one that is now largely dependent on foreign lenders and government bailouts and stimulus using trillions of dollars that we don't have.

The irony, of course, is the the Republican Party that controlled everything for six of those years campaigned on its commitment to family values and fiscal responsibility.

We've all seen the true story on the family values part. Enough said there. And we've all seen the true story on the financial responsibility part. Enough said there as well.

The many economists and and financial historians I heard during the last week fell into two camps: Those who believe that we are now forced to take on unconscionable amounts of debt right now to keep the world financial system from collapsing but there are still places to make money in the world--like China--and those who agree with the first part and believe that there is no place to hide anywhere.

They all dismissed the notion that President Obama had anything to do with the underlying problem. They disagreed about the wisdom of what Obama is doing to deal with the economic crisis but they all praised him for putting together the best, smartest team we have seen in Washington in quite a while. When confronted with a situation in which there are no good options, it is easy to find fault with whatever course of action is taken. Some choose to be critical and others don't.

But at the end of the day, most experts seemed to agree that any recovery that is on the way will be slow in coming and very shallow. Americans are deleveraging out of both choice and necessity and that means we will be saving more and spending less.
That is a formula for slow growth and a long painful period during which we continue to define what the new normal will look like.

But none of the presenters seemed to address the bigger issue that I wrote about last year--the terrible toll that the last eight years have taken on our national character. As I said then, under Bush and Cheney we went through the biggest redistribution of wealth in at least a century--all of it moving from the bottom and middle to to top.

We engaged in a war of choice in which none of us was required (or even encouraged) to fight. Instead our military offered six-figure signing bonuses to new recruits and the promise of fast-track citizenship to others. Just as we are now dependent on foreign lenders to keep us afloat financially we have become overly dependent on poor, rural, foreign-born soldiers who have no other economic prospects for our national defense.

Don't get me wrong. These are brave people and we should all be grateful for their sacrifice. It is a commentary on the rest of us who have been told for eight years that we can be true patriots by simply never questioning the president and putting an "I Support the Troops" decal on our cars. No other sacrifice or payment has been required. Those Americans who have come to believe this can be heard daily on Fox News and Right wing radio--talking very tough while their kids are sitting safely at home and not paying a penny to the wars they so vocally support.

For years I have been checking the the names and hometowns of those killed in action. They seem to be disproportionately Hispanic and most of them come from cities and towns I have never heard of. Very few are from major metropolitan areas. When was the last time you heard a young man or woman say they had just been accepted to college or had a great job offer but they had decided to first serve their country by enlisting in the military?

While we increasingly complain about the quality of our representatives in Washington, we continue to elect and re-elect people who treat us like children that just can't handle the news that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy don't exist. Tens of millions of Americans have come to feel entitled to and dependent upon an ever-growing list of programs like Social Security and Medicare--programs we can't afford at today's tax rates and which will become increasingly untenable as more and more of us live longer and longer.

Republicans in and out of Congress have no solutions. All they do is continuously criticize President Obama and say we should lower taxes which would, of course, make the problem ever worse. Democrats have not been much better and lately they have just been so happy to watch the parade of Republican "leaders" who are quitting their jobs or acknowledging sexual indiscretions that they aren't doing much either.

One thing seems certain. Until further notice, the Fourth of July should be renamed "In Dependence Day" because we have never been more reliant on the generosity of others and less able to act like grown-ups and fend for ourselves than any time since the Revolution. It won't be as much fun, but it would be a far more useful reminder of what we need to do going forward.

It's heart warming but a little hollow to celebrate the independence we won from the British more than 225 years ago at a time when we have so abused the responsibilities of democracy that we now face a seemingly endless period of dependence on foreign money and unfunded government programs to sustain us financially and the patriotism and financial desperation of a relative handful of our poorest citizens to protect us.

Maybe it's time for a little less bravado and triumphalism and a little more focus on personal responsibility. Then and only then will we able to truly celebrate Independence Day in a meaningful way again.