Monday, December 13, 2010

Here or There?

I've blogged here for about nearly five years. I started blogging there less when I was asked by Travis Johnson to help him run what was then Progressive Republicans and then Republicans United. Republicans United has morphed into Big Tent Revue and I had hoped it would become an active group blog. That hasn't happened. I'm not a good a salesman when it comes to plugging a blog, much less asking folks to join as co-bloggers.

So, I'm wondering if I should just make Big Tent Revue my primary blog or it down and go back to regular blogging at NeoMugwump. I'd love to get your opinion on this. Let me know.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Myth of John McCain

There was a time in my life when I loved John McCain.

I saw him as the bulwark against the rise of the far right in the Republican Party. I cheered his every move. His stand against the Bush Tax Cuts. His participation in the so called "Gang of 14." His strong environmental record. He seemingly strong stand on gay rights.

And then, little by little, I started falling out of love with McCain. As 2008 drew near, he started changing his positions on issues. By 2008 he started to look like someone that had sold out for the GOP nomination.

I don't really know how many times, I've heard people talk about how John McCain has changed and how they have grown to hate the Senator from Arizona. The media, which really fell hard for McCain in 2000, has turned against him and can't wait for a moment to report the latest infraction. In the eyes of many, John McCain sold his soul and many of his former followers are saying "good riddance."

But did we really know who John McCain was? Did we see a few actions and imagined that he had to be "just like us" only find out that he wasn't? Did John McCain really change?

I'm offering a counter-argument to the one posed by many liberals and moderates (like myself). I think in a way what many people who claimed love of McCain were really in love with a myth, maybe partly stoked by McCain himself. I think we saw what we wanted to see in McCain. Like how many saw President Obama when he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, we made the John McCain into something bigger than life and were shocked when at the end of the day he was a politician.

We tend to forget that politicians are people-pleasers. They try hard to appeal to the electorate. Sarah Palin took advantage of the growing Tea Party movement and fashioned herself as its leader. Barack Obama spoke at times as a post-partisan moderate and at others an old-fashioned liberal during the 2008 campaign. They do what they can to win.

But in our modern political environment, where we view politics as a religion, we tend to view mere pols as gods that can do no wrong.

Writing in 2008 Edward McClelland notes that McCain was and is a politician that wants to win. He isn't God, or Ghandi or Martin Luther King, but a candidate that wanted to win. McClelland writes:
McCain has run for the presidency twice, as two completely different candidates. His campaigns and his image have been shaped by the nasty partisanship of the late 20th and early 21st century, an era that may be remembered as the Late Culture Wars. McCain has never seemed comfortable with that style of politics. Despite his identification as a conservative, he's been willing to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats who shared his concept of reform. In 2000, McCain tried to be a liberal's conservative, holding stream-of-consciousness press conferences on his bus, bashing right-wing preachers as "agents of intolerance" and opposing repeal of Roe v. Wade. Republicans were unimpressed, so when McCain finally won their nomination, he picked as his running mate a woman who had less than two years' experience as a governor -- a woman young enough to be his daughter, or his third wife, even -- but who belongs to a Pentecostal church, baits the Washington media and wouldn't allow any woman to have an abortion...

McCain and his journalistic entourage also had a common enemy: the Republican Establishment, personified by George W. Bush. It felt ennobling to travel with a candidate who whaled on Jerry Falwell, and whose underfunded campaign checked in every night at the Marriott. A lot has changed in eight years: By 2008, McCain had given a speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, had promised not to repeal Bush's tax cuts, had declared his opposition to Roe v. Wade, and was staunchly defending the war in Iraq. The anti-politician had learned that stiffing the Republican base was no way to win the party's nomination.

In his first run, McCain campaigned as a reformer who could win over independents. That was before anyone had heard the terms "red state" and "blue state." In 2008, there is no middle ground. There is a liberal America and a conservative America, each unable to acknowledge that the other side is intelligent, honorable or possessed of a reasonable opinion. To win his party's nomination, McCain had to campaign under the team colors. The man who had sworn he would never compromise his principles to win an election, had become ... a politician. That transformation helped McCain with Republican voters, but not reporters. Wait a minute, they seemed to say, we thought you were one of us. But you're nothing more than a, a ... conservative!
The thing is, McCain was and always has been a conservative. Yes, he strayed from the path from time to time, but he has been pretty consistently conservative. Don't believe me? Well, in a 2008 blog post, Jim Geraghty notes that McCain's lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union was... 82.1. That might not be perfect, but it's still pretty good to be considered on the right side of the political spectrum.

But what about all his flip-flopping on things like immigration reform or Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

McClelland notes that the electorate had changed mightily in the eight years between McCain's presidential runs. In 2000, he could fashion himself as a moderate because there still seemed to be a middle ground. That middle ground was eroded over the Bush years, and by 2008 McCain realized that to win the Republican nomination, he had to run as a loyal Republican. This meant changing his stance on immigration, somewhat slightly in 2008 and even moreso in his 2010 primary run.

I know there are some who think that McCain should have "stood his principles" and been willing to lose rather than sell out. But again, we forget these are politicians who have sacrificed a lot to win office. They are not going to give all up just for the good of the nation or what have you.

Which leads to another point. McCain's support from 2000 was a mile wide and an inch deep. Yes, there were a lot of people who said they liked him, but you never really heard these people going out and knocking doors for McCain. He said things we liked to hear, but we weren't going to much other nod our heads in agreement.

McCain, who wanted to win, knew he needed to get conservatives on board. They were the ones that were organized and would support him even if they really didn't think he was a "true conservative."

I'm not saying all this because I like what John McCain has done recently. I don't. But that said, I do understand why McCain does what he does. And I now see that McCain was and is a politician, not some kind of Moses leading us all to the promiseland.

There is a lesson for moderates and even liberals here. We need to stop falling in love with politicians and see them as they are: our represenatives that can work with us, or not. But that means getting away from our computers and getting organized in ways not unlike the Tea Party has.

In the end, I'm not mad with John McCain. He never was in love with me in the first place.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Israel, the TSA and "Touching My Junk"

In light of all the chat about the new TSA policies, I've been thinking about my parents.

Next week, they are going to get on a plane in Michigan and fly to Minneapolis. I have this uneasy feeling that they are going have to get searched rather agressively by some TSA person. The thought of some guy trying to do a full-body pat-down of my elderly parents make me feel uncomfortable.

The other side of that is that last year, the so-called Christmas bomber was trying to detonate a bomb on a plane as it readied to land in Detroit. Metro Airport is only about an hour north by car to where my parents live in Flint, so I tend to wonder if planes make a big circle over Flint as the prepare to land at Metro, and if so, what would have happened had this plane actually blew up raining fragments down at people below.

In this day and age we live with twin fears: one of terrorists who might seize a plane, again and use it as a weapon, and the second fear is that in light of fear number one the government might over-reach in trying to protect people. Most people either support side one wholly or side two wholly; few are concerned with how we balance both concerns.

I tend to fall in the middle here. I really, really don't want the government feeling me up, even if it is in the name of safety. And yet, even though it might not be a great possibility, I want to make sure that airplane can be secure from terrorism. My frustration at times is that some are so concerned about terror that they think anything goes, and there are some so concerned about civil liberties that they tend to not care about security.

The problem here is that we really have not thought about how to best meet both objectives and frankly very few seem to care about meeting those objectives.

Kevin Drum shares what Israel does when it comes to airport security and I think it could be done here with some modifications. It's better than relying on invasive technology or touching my nether regions.

We can talk about government crossing the line when it comes to civil liberties, but we can't do nothing or pretend the problem doesn't exist. We have to find ways to make sure that terrorists don't use plane as weapons and make sure we uphold our rights as a democratic society. That requires some actual thinking on the issue, not just snarky blog posts.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Minnesota, the Outlier

After living here for nearly 15 years, I have concluded that Minnesota is truly an odd state.

In this "red tide" tonight we have seen several states in the Midwest elect Republican governors tonight. Minnesota is a different story. After 8 years of a Republican governor in Tim Pawlenty, it looks very likely that Democrat Mark Dayton will win, running on an old-time "tax the rich" strategy. Republican Tom Emmer ran on a very hard right agenda, that scared away moderates (who broke for Tom Horner of the Independence Party).

The lesson I can see in all of this is that if the GOP wants to have a lasting majority nationally, they have to run campaigns that are more welcoming to moderates and independents. If they choose to run to the hard right, they will find themselves in the same spots Democrats are facing tonight.

Update: I spoke way too soon.

The Real Tea Party

John Judis and Timothy Dalrymple have some of the best takes on the Tea Party movement that I've seen so far, in this case on the left and right respectively.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Loneliness of a Minority Conservative

D.R. Tucker has a fascinating blog post about Glen Loury, a black conservative who left the conservative movement a decade ago over the movement's lack of interest in Urban America. What was telling in the blog post was learning of Loury's isolationism from African Americans and conservatives. Tucker shares a story:
A 1995 New Yorker profile of Loury noted that in 1988, “…while Loury was in New York for a Public Interest board meeting, he had a revelation. Touring the Metropolitan Museum with Lisa Schiffren (who later wrote Dan Quayle's ‘Murphy Brown’ speech), he lamented the fact that, despite his prominence, he was completely isolated from his colleagues-that, in short, he had no friends. ‘But, Glenn, we're your friends,” she reassured him. ‘You're a member of a historically liberal ethnic minority, who through your own intellectual evolution have come to dissent from its convictions pretty much down the line. You voted for Reagan, you're pro-life, for family values--you're one of us.’’

Evidently, Schriffen failed to grasp the extent to which Loury felt isolated because he was a member of a “historically liberal ethnic minority.” Loury was, in short, an outcast among his own kind—and in his mind, the right wasn’t doing enough to alleviate his isolation.
Tucker gets at the heart of the matter: that conservatives of historically liberal groups, be it African American or gay, tend to feel isolated. They are viewed as suspect by their own kind, as well as by conservatives. It leads to minority conservatives to have to choose between their community and their ideology. After a while the strain is way too great and they are more likely to go with their community.

It's not that white conservatives , contrary to liberal beliefs, are inherently racist, but it's that they don't feel the need to be hospitable to minority groups. When I say, hospitable, I mean that they don't try to come up with ideas that will attract and retain African Americans.

Part of that lack of interest in trying to attract those voters lies in modern conservative belief. The way that liberals have attracted those groups is through government programs and government jobs or through laws like Civil Rights and those regarding hate crimes. Conservatives offer...what? Because of a belief in not rely on government, conservatives don't have much to offer African Americans.

That's why idea of volunteerism as a conservative program won't work. This is not a knock against those efforts, but the fact is, most inner city folk see these kind of programs already and alone they won't do much.

Which is why conservatives have to work on ideas concerning Urban America. There has to ways to use government to help spur growth and entrepeneurship instead of just giving folks a check.

When conservatives actually start thinking and bringing ideas to the table, then maybe black conservatives won't feel so isolated.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The NPR Brand

What is the word that comes to mind when one thinks of National Public Radio?

One word: liberal.

Now, I don't think that's a bad thing; it just is. No journalistic outfit is free of bias. They are made up of humans who have certain viewpoints and that means that news organizations tend to have a certain view of the world.

In what could be the best piece of writing on the NPR/Juan Williams affair, Conor Freidersdorf calls a New York Times reporter, and by extension, NPR for not admiting that they have a certain view of the world:
NPR and Fox News are actually similar in some of the ways that Mr. Stetler says they’re different. Both media organizations broadcast a mix of coverage, some of which is labeled news and other coverage it labels opinion. At both places, the line between these two styles of broadcast are a lot muddier than management likes to acknowledge. The business models of both organizations depend on catering to the sensibilities of people with a certain world view. And I am not just talking about ideology when I say that.

Despite identifying as a right-leaning independent with conservative and libertarian sympathies, NPR is much more my style than is Fox News. Sometimes when I listen to the radio network, I’m attune to the ideologically liberal assumptions that inform its coverage. But more than a political ideology, I’d say NPR’s sensibility is informed by a sort of urban cosmopolitanism and a commitment to airing a diversity of viewpoints — a commitment that is certainly executed imperfectly at times, but that is nevertheless noticeable in the coverage that is presented. I also think there are people doing reporting at NPR who try their best to give facts without bias, and believe that’s what their superiors want them to do. There are times when I think NPR coverage doesn’t do justice to conservative insights, but there are other times when I think they’ve done their best to present strong arguments with which a majority of their audience will disagree.
Like Conor, I tend to have some conservative and libertarian leanings, so there are times I notice that NPR doesn't do justice to a story about conservatives. That said, I think they try. But for me, it's pretty obvious that there is NPR has a certain cosmopolitian liberal view of the world. Now, being someone who lives in a cosmo city like Minneapolis, I'm okay with it. I don't always agree, but I'm probably not their general audience.

But one of the reasons that I like NPR is that even though they want to pretend that they have no opinion on matters, they do strive to be inclusive as best they can. That has gotten the network in trouble, with liberal listeners getting steamed, as they did a year ago, when NPR did a story on a speech given by former Vice President Dick Cheney criticizing the President.

On the other side, Fox News doesn't pretend that it's above the fray. They cater to Red America with what many consider an alternative to the "liberal media." In some ways, I like that Fox doesn't try to live in the fantasy land of objectivity, but because it is trying to placate conservatives with red meat, it doesn't do a good job at all at presenting the other side. Liberals are carictures, not real people. Fox basically acts like a very partisan blog that affirms one's views.

At the end of the day, NPR is as much a brand as it is a new source. It has a specific audience that it caters to as much as Fox caters to a specific audience.

What happened this week is that NPR had to own up to its brand after trying to pretend it didn't exist.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Answering a 21st Century Question with a 20th Century Answer

Walter Russell Mead doesn't buy that the Democrats are going to lose in the midterms because of the economy or just because its the midterms:
Forget the excuses: bad economy, midterm blahs. Franklin Roosevelt inherited a bad economy from his GOP predecessor. And the Depression wasn’t over by the 1934 midterms. Far from it. Unemployment still stood at 21.7%. The Depression still had six years to run...

In 1934 Democrats gained 13 seats in the House and an impressive 9 in the Senate. Today, they are heading for what George W. Bush would call a ‘thumpin.’

Why? Basically, because voters believed that the Democrats had the answers to the country’s problems. Deficit spending, government intervention, support for the labor movement, heavy infrastructure investment: people believed that the only way forward was to have more of these things.
Mead notes that when the Democrats came back into total power in 2009, the tended to think that the answer was simply a repeat of what they did some 70 years earlier: lots of deficit spending. But this time, instead of helping the Democrats, it has lead to their undoing:
What is killing the Democrats this fall isn’t the midterm blues. It isn’t the bad economy. It is something much deeper, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. The national economy is changing in ways that make traditional Democratic solutions less useful even as change makes traditional Democratic concerns more important. Yes, inequality is rising. Yes, the standard of living of many Americans is no longer rising. Yes, access to vital services — especially, but not only, health care and higher education — is increasingly difficult for many Americans to secure. Yes, the financial system went haywire in the last twenty years, generating enormous amounts of wealth for some without creating lasting value for society as a whole.

All this is very real, and for many Democrats and die-hard liberals it makes the call of the New Deal impossible to resist. That the history of the 1930s was repeating itself was the core conviction of many Democrats as President Obama took the oath of office. The economic crisis was a liberal opportunity not to be missed. Just as the Depression allowed FDR to transform American society and grow the government, so the Great Recession would allow President Obama to reconfigure the role of government in America today.
What Mead is talking about is the "Blue Social Model" something he discussed earlier this year. The Democrats thought that the advent of Obama meant the advent of a new liberal age...which would look like the old liberal age.

But the thing is, the Blue Social Model has been unraveling since the 70s. What once worked, is not working so well now.

Mead thinks that the way forward is a kind of governing libertarianism ( my words); a government that would free the economy to encourage small businesses to flourish, using the marketplace to provide social services like health care and providing an affordable plan to rebuild America's infrastructure.

The problem is that most of these suggestions are an anathema to Democrats because it would mean going against vested interests.

One would think that the Republicans would be the ones that could step into this breach and create a new social model (the Red Social Model?) that would be the blueprint for the 21st century. The problem is at this point the GOP is not interested in coming up with new ideas. Like the Democrats, they are stuck in a past history- in this case the 1980s- thinking that tax cuts all the time should be the answer to all our nation's ills.

While the GOP is on the path to winning back Congress, they will do so without a viable idea on how to tackle our economy. If the public rejected the Dems for wanting a 1930s style solution, they will oust the GOP for their 1980s-style solution. It's time both parties look to the present and come up with ideas for the present, not some glorious past.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Liberaltarians, Safety Nets and the GOP

While E.D. Kain and I no longer share the same ideological family (though I still think he is one of the best thinkers out there and will continue to read him), we do agree on one thing: the necessity of social safety nets.

I can already hear a few people screaming that this somehow disqualifies me as a true conservative. After all, humans were born to live free away from the grabby hands of government.

Snicker all you want, I do think we need to have a less dominating government, but I also see the importance of safety nets, like Medicaid or unemployment benefits.

I don't say these things because I'm so lover of all things government. I say this because I've experienced times when I've needed these programs. In 1996, I caught the flu which then went to pnuemonia and then to a bad bacterial infection. At the time, I didn't have health care; couldn't afford the insurance offered at the coffee chain I worked for. I ended up in the hospital and because of the efforts of a savvy nurse practitioner, Medicaid was able to pay most of the bill.

In 2005, I was let go from a job. I applied for unemployment insurance. It wasn't a lot, but it sure helped in the weeks I looked for work.

No doubt there are a lot of folks who are conservatives who see these programs as wasteful. And sometimes, they are correct that these programs can be run rather inefficiently. But that said, I've usually called for reform, not for their abolishment.

Which gets me to liberaltarianism. While I have some big problems with it, I do think it at least wants cares about "the least of these" and how best to take care of them. But like I said, I have my doubts about liberaltarianism. Maybe it's still nascent, but it's hard to see where it contrasts with American liberalism. I'm not that interested in making the return trip to liberalism.

That said, I am interested in a more generous conservatism, and I think that can be found in the old tradition of liberal conservatism.

The problem with modern conservatism (and modern libertarianism as well) is this love of a laizze faire past, a place and time free of government meddling. In a recent post, Dave Hart has this to say about that past and about safety nets :

Quite simply, that period's approach to laissez faire capitalism was unsustainable. It was precisely this model that millions of people revolted against, turning to communism or fascism as an escape. Modern day capitalism is softer (although the degree to which it is softer varies across Europe, North America, and Asia). By offsetting the harsh realities of capitalism with a stronger safety net and progressive redistribution, contemporary capitalism has succeeded in neutering many of the harshest criticisms against it.

To a certain extent, bigger governments are the product of greater wealth. Rich societies inevitably demand greater government involvement since, as wealth increases, so do expectations regarding standards of living. For examples, one need only look to capitalist Hong Kong, where welfare benefits far surpass those in communist mainland China. There is absolutely no good reason why wealthy countries should tolerate the levels of depravity suffered by those living in the glory days of laissez-faire.

But this is not a one-sided dynamic. The success of the social safety net is itself contingent upon the success of the capitalist model. It is not possible to continue to raise living standards without economic growth, and economic growth requires a free market. If government growth outpaces the economy, a painful re-adjustment will inevitably follow (viz. modern day United Kingdom).

I think that many of my side of the fence forget that the reason that communism became such a potent force around the world was because of laizze faire. We also forget that the lack of government intervention made life worse for people, not better.

Is this all a suggestion that we should all go and support the president's plan for more and more government? Or that we should leave Social Security alone? No. I think "Obamacare" should be look at again and not made so cumbersome. I think we need to consider some benefit cuts to Social Secruity. But I don't think getting rid of such programs will allow us to enter a libertarian paradise. If we didn't have Social Security, we would have a lot of old people without any resources dying miserable deaths. No food stamps, and we would see a lot of hunger issues. It's one thing to argue for womb to tomb are ala many European societies. It's another to say that we should get rid of basic programs that protect people from the ravages of poverty.

What saddens me these days is that the GOP has lost the drive to support a liberal conservatism that backs reform of government programs, not their abolition. Yes, there are people who still believe in this in the GOP, but their voices are barely heard above the dim of the Tea Party movement.

What is needed is an American version of liberal conservatism, something akin to David Cameron's Conservative party. As Niall Ferguson said in a 2006 article, it's time for the GOP to follow it's brothers and sisters accross the Atlantic towards a more pragmatic ideology.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

From Two to Four?

Via Solomon Kleinsmith, the Washington Post's Charles Lane thinks that there is going to be a crack-up within both major parties between their activist and pragmatic wings:
Insurgent Republicans keep winning: Rick Scott defeated Bill McCollum yesterday in the Florida gubernatorial primary, James Lankford came out on top in Oklahoma's congressional runoff, and Joe Miller is edging out Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Clearly, the Tea Party is as much a revolt against the allegedly insufficiently conservative Republican establishment as it is a revolt against Obama.

If the GOP takes the Senate -- admittedly still a big if, but increasingly thinkable -- I wonder how Mitch McConnell plans to control the likes of Miller, Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey. Wouldn't be at all surprised if they fuel a run for majority leader by Jim DeMint.

As the split between right and center-right accelerates within the Republicans, I expect an internal Democratic bloodletting if that party loses Congress, between the left and the center-left. How much longer can these two aging party structures contain the contradictory forces within them?
This post builds off an earlier post where Lane says there has always been four parties patterened after our forebearers from the British Isles:
You might even say that the four parties I'm talking about correspond roughly to the four political cultures first identified by historian David Hackett Fischer in his classic book Albion's Seed. That book traced the main currents in American political ideology to the folkways and notions of liberty imported from four British regions that provided the population of early America.

East Anglia gave us the Puritans of New England, with their emphasis -- "liberal," in today's terms -- on community virtue. The Quakers who settled the Delaware Valley established a society and politics built on problem-solving and compromise. Southern England gave us the Virginia cavaliers, founders of a conservative, aristocratic tradition. And the Scotch-Irish who settled the Appalachian backcountry produced a populist, anti-government, "don't tread on me" mentality.

Now, however, under the Internet-intensified pressure of recession, terrorism and global uncertainty, the four parties are breaking out of the two-party mold that had previously contained them. On the Democratic side, President Obama finds himself torn between progressives demanding an ideologically pure health-care program, among other agenda items, and a pragmatic wing desperately attempting to hold together 60 Senate votes by whatever means necessary. On the Republican side, it's unclear whether the party's right wing is angrier at Obama or at its own leadership. Certainly the fury of the Tea Party and similar groups threatens here and there to overwhelm more conventional conservatives (just ask Charlie Crist in Florida).
So is there going to be a crack up? On the one hand, I'm a little wary of a so-called "centrist caucus" forming, partly because...well, most talk of all things centrist tends to be just

But I also think that in this age of the internet, where we tend to associate around like causes and beliefs, mass groups like our two large parties may no longer be relevant in today's world. I think one of the reasons people are looking at the GOP again after booting them out of power in 2006 and 2008 is that the Dems went a bit too far to the left in regards to the stimulus and health care reform. If the GOP makes big gains or even takes Congress in this fall, expect that they will feel the wrath of voters if they focus on investigations of the Obama Adminstration instead of the economy.

I think there is a big group of people in the middle that would like to see things done. Where I tend to disagree with the "centrist caucus" folks is that the center doesn't agree on everything or even how to get things done. While both parties have pragmatists, they are still tied to some ideology.

That said, it would be nice to see both the Dems and the GOP split up. That way we could have a more pragmatic conservative party ala the Conservatives in the UK and a pragmatic liberal party maybe more like the Liberal Democrats in the UK or the Free Democrats in Germany.

I'm all for more competition in the American political spehere.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Introducing Big Tent Revue

I forget to tell folks that I've started a new group blog called Big Tent Revue. It kinda rises from the ashes of Republicans United, and the goal is not as much to try to change the center-right as much as present an alternative vision and start a discussion on ways the center-right can be reformed.

Notice, I didn't say this was a Republican blog. This is a center-right blog because I want to open up the conversation to folks who might want to be conservative but are put off by the current movement. I also hope to interview some folks and basically have fun blogging.

I will still be blogging here, but please check out BTR to see some other viewpoints. Also if you are interested in co-blogging, please let me know.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Missing (and Proving) the Point

David Brooks column today is a good one, but it has already stirred a bit of ire from some libertarians who in some way prove his point. The column is about how we are not as hardy thinkers as we used to be, not allowing for any thought that just might upset our mental applecarts. Here's a taste

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.

There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.

It's a worthwhile read because what Brooks is getting at is that we are less willing these days to really use our brains and think about the beliefs we hold in a critical light. Instead, we want our beliefs to be confrimed, we want to have the feeling that we are always right and that we never have to change a thing.

As if on cue, Matt Welch replies with a snarky post calling Brooks a lover of big government. He takes Brooks quote on the issue of taxes and the size of government, and makes it sound like Brooks is saying that any talk about free markets is bad and any talk of government (as well as higher spending and higher taxes) is good:

So after a decade of hysterical growth of government at all levels, which has left us with a crappy and unimproving economy, unprecedented debt and deficits, and a long-term fiscal outlook too horrifying to contemplate, it is a demonstration of confirmation bias, herd thinking, and inflexible tribal purity to question the continued growth of the state. I sure do hope that David Brooks is good enough to let us know when it's okay to come outside and criticize big government again. Though judging by his track record–whether 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, or 2010–it may be a long time coming.
I think this is a rather unfair assessment.  Brooks isn't saying that we should never question government spending.  Anyone that has read Brooks over the years know that he tends to favor smaller government.  But he is saying to both those that favor smaller government and those that favor larger government that they need to step out of their ideological cocoons sometime.

And that is the problem with our political discourse these days.  On the conservative-libertarian side, there seems to be only one answer for everything: Government is always too big, it needs to be smaller.  Okay, I get that and tend to favor that.  But the problem is that it becomes the answer to things people aren't asking.  When it comes to things like the economy or housing or economic development, sometimes saying "let the market handle it" is not always sufficient.  So how can the government have a role that doesn't make it expand greatly or raise taxes?  Now that would mean using your grey matter.  But too many people don't actually want to think, lest they be branded as a traitor by their compatriots.

The same goes for liberals who think the government can solve everything and should regulate everything.  As E.D. Kain noted a while back, regulation can at times, lead to oligarchies that keep out smaller businesses.  Because of government regulation, niche breweries were shut out of the American market for years until President Carter deregulated the industry in the late 70s.  But again, we don't want to think outside of the box at times; we don't want to be accused being capitalists.

What Brooks has long advocated, and what I have agreed with, is that government has to be both small and active.  It has to be willing to provide some leadership to society issues, even if it is not the one that provides the answer.  Small government is great, but it is of no use if it is inefficient and not able to help when people do need it. 

It doesn't take much a brain to advocate for ever bigger government or to whack all government programs.  It does take thought in how to provide the government services needed and not expand government.

When America is able to get out its ideological cul-de-sacs, the we will become a more functional society again.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Great American Melting Pot

I'm a child of the 70s.

One of my faves from that time was watching "Schoolhouse Rock" on Saturday mornings. Maybe the one I like the best was the following one about immigrants. It's strange how important this little video is nearly 40 years later.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Yes, Virginia There Are Muslim Republicans

..and they are taking their fellow Republicans to task for their opposition to the building of the Cordoba House project also known as the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

Hip-Hop Republican shares a note from a number of Islamic Republicans speaking out against the opposition to the building near Ground Zero. Here is a snippet:

While some in our party have recently conceded the constitutional argument, they are now arguing that it is insensitive, intolerant and unacceptable to locate the center at the present location: “Just because they have the right to do so - does not make it the right thing to do” they say. Many of these individuals are objecting to the location as being too close to the Ground Zero site and voicing the understandable pain and anguish of the 9-11 families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy. In expressing compassion and understanding for these families, we are asking ourselves the following: if two blocks is too close, is four blocks acceptable? or six blocks? or eight blocks? Does our party believe that one can only practice his/her religion in certain places within defined boundaries and away from the disapproving glances of some citizens? Should our party not be standing up and taking a leadership role- just like President Bush did after 9-11 - by making a clear distinction between Islam, one of the great three monotheistic faiths along with Judaism and Christianity, versus the terrorists who committed the atrocities on 9-11 and who are not only the true enemies of America but of Islam as well? President Bush struck the right balance in expressing sympathy for the families of the 9-11 victims while making it absolutely clear that the acts committed on 9-11 were not in the name of Islam. We are hoping that our party leaders can do the same now - especially at a time when it is greatly needed.

Republican Muhammed Ali Hasan, the founder of Muslims for Bush, is even more to the point, calling those against the project bigots:

I am deeply proud to be an American, with a proud, personal history of denouncing terrorism, including my founding of Muslims For Bush. However, what truly reeks within this debate is not the shadow of bigotry, but rather, the cloak of dishonesty. In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where I was born and raised, it is believed that your word -- your honesty -- is everything that makes you a man.

My fellow conservative leaders, please quit lying. If you are against the mosque, then call yourself a bigot and give us the gift of an honest dialogue, the kind we carry on so proudly here in America.

Yes, you will be a bigot -- but at least you will be a man.

Read both articles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have not said much about the Target controversy. For those not in the know, the discount-store chain Target, decided to give $150,000 to an indpendent political committee that supports Republican Tom Emmer for Governor. Emmer tends to be not-so-friendly when it comes to gay issues. Target, which is based in Minneapolis, made the donation because they view Emmer as pro-business, while Mark Dayton the Democratic candidate is not viewed in the same way.

(Irony alert: Dayton's family started the Target chain.)

This has set off a storm of protest from many in the GLBT community who were shocked that Target would do something like this. Target has a reputation of being one of the better employers for gays and has been viewed as incredibly gay-friendly. Many gay folks were shocked that Target would ever dream of doing something like this.

While I was dissapointed, I wasn't surprised. I know that Target executives had supported Republicans at the local and national level for a while and I also know that Target was making a business decision; not a moral one. Emmer's pitch is about trying to shrink government and lower taxes while Dayton is all about taxing the rich. If you are a large business, I can tell pretty much tell you that they are going to go for door number one. Do I think it was a good decision? No. But I also understand why Target did it.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it all; on the one hand, in this post- Citizens United world, where companies can give directly to campaigns, those businesses that give to campaigns are now free to give openly. That said, having the freedom of speech to give to a campaign now means that you are opened up to criticism, which is also a freedom our nation celebrates. If Acme Widgets decides to give money to a campaign that supports clubbing baby seals, Acme should prepare for anger from their customers.

But I also have take some issue with how the gay community is dealing with this issue. As I've said, Target has had a history of being a good friend to the gay community. I think that has to be taken into account in light of this donation. The problem is , many in the gay community have not looked at its past actions and weigh that against the current issue. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign have tended come out against the company with both guns blazing-demanding that Target either give back the donation or give an equal amount to a cause or campaign that supports gay equality. Now, this might have been a worthy request to make. The problem is that it should have been done behind the scenes. Why? Because for the most part, Target has been an ally. It makes sense to handle some of this away from the public and not try to purposely embarrass Target. But many wanted to make an example of Target. I guess in my view, I would have hoped that they would have quietly worked for an apology and maybe a donation to a gay rights group without trying to rake Target over the coals.

The other problem that I have here is that there seems to be a hint of partisanship here. As Stephen Miller notes, I doubt that there would be so much kerfluffle is Emmer was a Democrat:

Of course, if Emmer were a Democrat who opposed gay marriage it's doubtful that HRC would be targeting Target, given that HRC has itself supported the campaigns of candidates such as Virginia's Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who favors keeping "don't ask, don't tell," as well as a great many Democrats who oppose gay marriage to varying degrees. Maybe HRC should target itself?

At the end of the day, I think that Target will learn a lesson: not to never give to anti-gay candidates, but to be far more discreet about the donation.

America, the (Kinda) Beautiful

Indian-born Shikha Dalmia notes that even in the wake of the protests against the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" America is still a beacon of religious tolerance compared to other nations.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Race, Our Selves

John McWhorter writes what might be the most honest and yet most depressing critique of the state of the black community , like ever.

In a review of a book by Amy Wax, he basically says that African Americans have spent too much time focusing on government programs and the legacy of racism than in trying to solve the problems that are plauging the community, such as poverty.

There is a belief among many African Americans as well as not a few liberals, that it is racism that hold us back. The belief continues that if only America spent more money on the black community through increased government spending, then the problems facing African Americans would be solved. McWhorter provides a living example of how simply more money won't work:
In 1987, a rich philanthropist in Philadelphia “adopted” 112 inner-city sixth-graders, most of them from broken homes. He guaranteed them a fully-funded education through college if the kids would refrain from drugs, unwed parenthood, and crime. He even provided tutors, workshops, after-school programs, summer programs, and counselors when trouble arose. Forty-five of the kids never made it through high school. Thirteen years later, of the sixty-seven boys, nineteen were felons; the forty-five girls had sixty-three total children, and more than half had their babies before the age of eighteen. Crucially, this was not surprising: The reason was culture. These children had been nurtured in communities with different norms than those that reign in Scarsdale.

Of course, no one wants to talk about culture. It's far easier to talk about race than it is about the cultural patterns that keep African Americans down. McWhorter gets right to the point that the best way for blacks to not be poor is not have babies before marriage:

One of the most sobering observations made by Wax comes in the form of a disarmingly simple calculus presented first by Isabel Sawhill and Christopher Jencks. If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it.

So, why are African Americans so afraid to talk about culture? Why are we more enamoured with the radical ala Jeremiah Wright?

I think the answers are many, but here are two points.

First, talk of culture seems like blaming the victim and ignoring racial prejudice, which does still occur. Second, culture tends to be associated with conservatives and most African Americans tend think that conservatives either are indifferent or hostile to the interests of blacks. White conservatives have not helped when they talk about culture and family in relation to African Americans, but then don't seem to do anything to help change the situation. The common refrain of conservatives is to talk about the evils of big government, but then do nothing to help with civil society.

So what can change the situation? Well, African Americans are going to have to talk culture more seriously and realize that government can do somethings, but it can't change people's hearts. As Wax notes:

The government cannot make people watch less television, talk to their children, or read more books. It cannot ordain domestic order, harmony, tranquility, stability, or other conditions conducive to academic success and the development of sound character. Nor can it determine how families structure their interactions and routines or how family resources—including time and money—are expended. Large-scale programs are especially ineffective in changing attitudes and values toward learning, work, and marriage.

I can remember my mother making poster boards of numbers and letters so that I would learn both before I entered kindergarten. That's the type of parenting that will help a kid succeed.

Government has to play some role in helping lift people out of poverty. I know some will chafe at that notion, but we do need to have some safety nets to protect people from the ravages of poverty. But to help someone thrive, we need more. Conservativism has always believed that society is made up of institutions: businesses, government, the church, the family. I think what is needed is a revival of black civic culture. Churches and other civic groups need step up and help shape and form individuals to learn how to respect each other and not be making babies when they are no more than babies themselves. Many black churches are already doing this, but there needs to be more. If White conservatives really believe in civil society, then they will put their money where their mouth is
and fund initiatives that will help the black family. If you want to see an example of conservatives trying to use a conservative approach to solve social issues, one might want to at the Big Society initiative from the Conservative Party in the UK.

At the end of the day, though, it is up to African Americans to do deal with our own issues. We have to be willing to want to reduce out-of-wedlock births, and the crushing poverty rate and not dilly-dally. It's time for us to heal ourselves.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Islam-bashing is Cool!

Andrew Sullivan links to an old article about some of the early signs of Isalmaphobia among conservatives that helps to frame why it's become so fashionable among conservative pols these days to not simply bash Muslim extremists, but the entire faith of a billion people as well.

It wasn't that long ago that then-President Bush tried to separate the extremists within Islam from the rest of its adherents.  Bush had his faults, but he did try to present a more tolerant version of conservatism at least when it came to religion.  How times have changed. A recent Politico post shows that many of the potential 2012 GOP presidential nominees are already showing their anti-Muslim credentials in speaking out against the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."

The thing about this, is that when you basically decide to play the game that Muslim extremists want- which is a war of between civilizations, there is basically only one way to settle things: through war.  I'm not a pacifist and I'm not anti-military, but I tend to think that you don't want to use the military all the time.  Americans are willing to fight for what they believe in, but they aren't willing to engage in endless war.

In someways, what Sullivan says in another post makes some sense:

I think it's time to acknowledge what we are increasingly learning: the base of the GOP - aided and abetted by what's left of their elites - want a religious war abroad and at home not on Jihadism, but on Islam itself. And a vote for the GOP is a vote for this agenda. It is a vote for global warfare and domestic division.

Now, I think that Sullivan is, as usual, being a bit too sweeping in his statement. I don't think all Republicans support this bigoted agenda. But I do think that what is called the base of the GOP is declaring war on Islam and that's bad news for all of us.

That said, it is up to those who are conservative and/or libertarian to speak up against such hatred and denounce politicians who play along. It's the only way to save conservatism and the Republican Party from itself.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Big Love

It was all Daniel's idea.

My now husband, Daniel was talking about having a wedding from an early point of us dating. For Daniel, a wedding was important. He even said shortly after moving in together that he didn't want to "live in sin." For me, not so much. I supported same sex marriage, but actually having a wedding? Well, I didn't see the need.

Daniel is not the type that one says no to, so I agreed to a wedding. Saying yes, changed a lot of things. For one, it forced me to come out to my dad. I had been out to my mother for years, but not to my Dad. Since I wanted to have them at the wedding, I had to tell him. Dad was somewhat put off by it, but in time learned to accept the fact that his son was getting a guy.

To make a long story short, the wedding was important because it signified something big was happening. For better or for worse, I was stuck with this big Norwegian. And for better or for worse, he was stuck with this odd African American. I know saying "stuck" sounds bad, but I think you know what I mean. On that September day, we made a committment to each other and we basically said that this relationship was not just a passing thing, this was the real deal.

Ross Douthat
makes an interesting argument both for and against same sex marriage. While he knocks down several of the arguments against gay marriage, he also tries to argue why gay marriage opponents want to uphold the "traditional" view of marriage. He shows monogamous hetrosexual marriage as the "ideal," something that has been of value to Western culture:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Now, I would agree that in the heterosexual world, having a two parent family- with mother and father both present, is the ideal. One can look at the breakdown of the family in among African Americans and the results of that breakdown to see the need to find ways to shore up American families.

Douthat rightly sees that a new ethic has arisen in the last few decades- one that supplants the older view that Douthat treasures. He notes:

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

This is kinda where I lose Douthat. I don't think my wedding was just an "optional celebration of romantic love." We patterened the wedding off of what we found in the Book of Common Prayer. We saw this not as an event, but- being two church geeks and committed Christians- as a worship service giving glory and honor to God and also publicly acknowledging our love and care for each other. The rings were not just shiny trikets, but symbols of our covenant to each other and to God.

The second thing that bothers me is this insistence on procreation. Now yes, children are usually the result of a heterosexual marriage. But it seems to me that Douthat is making the case that procreation is the over-riding concern of a marriage with love being a byproduct. The emphasis is to create society instead of a covenant between two persons.

The final problem is the supposed superiority of heterosexual marriage. While I don't think Douthat is intentionally saying this, it feels as if gay people are being told that our committments are only second-best to hetero-relationships.

Andrew Sullivan responds to Douthat with a very passionate defense of same sex marriage. Sullivam begins by saying what I have already said earlier: that marriage between same sex partners is a way of destroying the closet:

And - this is my main point - Ross' argument simply ignores the existence and dignity and lives and testimony of gay people. This is strange because the only reason this question has arisen at all is because the visibility of gay family members has become now so unmissable that it cannot be ignored. Yes, marriage equality was an idea some of us innovated. But it was not an idea plucked out of the sky. It was an attempt AA16 to adapt to an already big social change: the end of the homosexual stigma, the emergence of gay communities of great size and influence and diversity, and collapse of the closet. It came from a pressing need as a society to do something about this, rather than consign gay people to oblivion or marginalization or invisibility. More to the point, it emerged after we saw what can happen when human beings are provided no structure, no ideal, and no support for responsibility and fidelity and love.

And what happens when there are no structures for gays? Well, lets go back in time 30 years to a little thing called AIDS:

If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life - however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people - helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic's indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil.

What, in other words, would Ross have gay people do? What incentives would he, a social conservative, put in place to encourage gay couples and support them in their commitments and parenting and love? Notice the massive silence. He is not a homophobe as I can personally attest. But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a "microcosm of civilization", then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand. It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma - not a contribution to the actual political and social debate we are now having.

We gays are here, Ross, as you well know. We are human beings. We love one another. We are part of countless families in this country, pay taxes, work hard, serve the country in the armed services, and look after our own biological children (and also those abandoned by their biological parents). Our sex drives are not going away, nor our need to be included in our own families, to find healing and growth and integration that alone will get us beyond the gay-straight divide into a more humane world and society.

Douthat is correct that sexual mores are changing. But he is wrong in trying to make gay people pay for the "sins" of those changing mores. Those mores have been changing since the introduction of the pill, the feminist movement and changes in divorce laws and other things. We can mourn those changes (though some won't), but we can't blame gay people for those changes or lash out at them because we could not do anything else. Gay people don't want to enter into marriage on a whim- I sure didn't. We want to be full members of our society. We don't want to destroy marriage, we just want to do what straight people have done for so long because we think it's important. We want to be part of the same institution that you straights have been a part of because we agree that its important.

So, could you stop viewing us gays as scapegoats? Please?

*Daniel and I taking our engagement photos in 2007.

The Decline of the "McCain-Lieberman" Party

Blogger Tyler Craft revists a 4 year old article by David Brooks about the rise of a "third party" that existed between the two traditional parties. Craft notes that the party really no longer exists:
Earlier today I found myself rereading a column by David Brooks from August 10, 2006 entitled "Party No. 3." In the column, Brooks described the difference between the rising influence of the Democrats, the struggling influence of the Republicans, and how a group in the middle, which he called the McCain-Lieberman Party, was being marginalized. While I believe the roles of the two dominant groups have possibly reversed since that time, what pains me is that the third group seems to have fallen away. No longer is there a significant voice in Washington that does not seem to value party politics above all else. Arguably there are whispers here and there, mostly coming from the two Republican Senators from Maine, occasionally from Sen. Lindsey Graham, but rarely from others.

Read the whole post. It's interesting that since Brooks wrote that piece in 2006, John McCain has steered farther to the right to stay in office, while Liberman has become somewhat of a gadfly that exists soley to bother more liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sacred Ground

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here."
-Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York

Christian tradition tells us that one day, Jesus went into the region of Samaria with his disciples and stopped at a well. His disciples went into a nearby town to get something to eat, but Jesus stayed at the well. Now, Samaria was a region that most Jews liked to avoid. They didn't much care for Samaritans because of their mixed heritage and because they worshipped God a bit differently. But Jesus didn't seem to mind, and so here he was at this well.

After a while around noontime, a woman comes up to the well to draw some water. It was a bit odd for this woman to come to get water in the heat of the day, but here she was. Then, Jesus did something strange: he asked the woman a question. He asked her if she had any water.

The woman was shocked because this man was talking to her. And Jesus kept talking to her and because of this her life was forever changed.

This story, sometimes called the Woman at the Well is one of my favorites stories in all of Scripture. It's a wonderful example of Jesus reaching across the many boundaries of that time to treat this woman with respect. It was nothing short of a miracle for a Jewish man to be talking to a Samaritan woman. Two people, from two different faiths were able to cross what had become a great divide.

The recent controversy surrounding the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" has me wondering if my fellow conservatives are able to reach across a modern religious divide. So far, the results are not encouraging. Leading conservatives such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani have come out against building this place of worship because it is two blocks from Ground Zero, where thousands died on September 11, 2001.

Yes, we know that it was Muslim extremists who somehow thought God would be pleased if they rammed planes into buildings. That said 19 people who had a warped sense of their faith should not be considered the standard bearers for a faith of a billion adherents.

This issue has confirmed something that I have suspected for a long time: that there is a growing problem with religious bigotry within conservatism. I hear many conservatives talk about dealing with "radical Islam" and I tend to think that when those words are uttered it means that all of Islam is radical, not just a small portion.

As conservatives, we love to talk about how we tend to adhere to the Constitution and yet this issue has shown our love for that document to be a lie. If we can't respect the very first amendment which guarantees freedom of religion, then I doubt we will respect the rest.

There has been a lot of talk about sacred ground recently. Ground Zero is definitely such a place. The mosque inside of the Cordoba Initiative is also a sacred space for people to commune with their God. As Christians, we see our churches as sacred spaces as well. But sacred ground can occur whenever we learn to see our sisters and brothers of differing faiths as...well, sisters and brothers. It happens when we learn to live with each other and try to respect our differences.

September 11 happened because there were some that didn't want to live with others different from themselves. I think to not allow this mosque to be built would have basically supported their beliefs to divide people, to disrespect others and treat them as less than humans.

It's time for conservatives to not take the bait. We must be willing to say no to those who want to spread death and division. We must be willing to say yes to creating sacred ground in our communities, to welcome those who might not even worship the same god or worship no god at all.

It's time for us to go into our own Samarias, come to the well and meet whoever is there. We might realize we are standing on sacred ground.

"One Tough Nerd" Wins the GOP nod in Michigan

In a year when it seems like the Republican party has been taken over by nutjobs that have no interest in reaching out to independents, moderates and Democrats (prime example is the GOP candidate in my adopted state of Minnesota) it is wonderful to see a sensible moderate conservative win the Republican primary for governor in my home state of Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press is report that Rick Snyder, a former Gateway executive has won the primary with 37 percent of the vote. He was able to win against more conservative candidates and was able to appeal to those not firmly in the GOP column:

Snyder, who’s never run for elected office before and has spent nearly $6 million of his own money on his campaign, was banking on Democrats and independent voters to cross over to his side in an effort to upset the GOP establishment, which is largely behind Cox and Hoekstra. Free Press interviews with voters suggest some and perhaps many are doing so...

At Ferndale High School, voter Joan Taylor, 49, of Ferndale said she voted for Democrats most of her life, but this time she went for Republican Snyder. She said she is tired of partisan politics.

“If we are going to be moving forward, I think we need to move forward together,” Taylor said.

Of course, not everyone like Synder because he tends to stray off the path of what some consider "true Republicanism." You can read a post on RedState to see that, as usual, condemns the Republican that can win and lionizes the people that have no chance of winning in the general election.

Synder's win gives me hope that a moderate can still win in the GOP. Congrats, Rick!

What Political Party in the UK Would I Belong To?

Professor Steven Bainbridge decided to take a survey to find out what political party he would belong to in the United Kingdom. I decided to take the test myself and here's my result:

Which UK Political Party Am I?
Your Result: Conservative

Conservatives key priorities at this next election include: begin spending cuts in 2010 to eliminate most of the UK’s structural deficit within five years; real terms increases in health spending; allow charities, trusts, voluntary groups and co-operatives to set up new Academy schools, independent of local authority control, and to run other public services; scrap identity card scheme; "recognise" marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system.

Liberal Democrat
Green Party
United Kingdom Independence Party
British National Party
Which UK Political Party Am I?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Monday, August 02, 2010

Anne Rice and Christianity

Below is a post I wrote for my other blog on Anne Rice's recent break with Christianity.Anne Rice and Christianity

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Where There Is No Vision...

Reading former Reagan Budget Director David Stockman's takedown of the last 40 years of GOP fiscal policy left me with two thoughts: the first one being that he is for the most part, correct in his analysis.  The second thought was if Stockman had a better idea. 

If you want to get lots of attention these days, all you have to do is be a disgruntled Republican and write a scathing op-ed or blog post about how your party has gone off the rails.  Stockman is the latest, but Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bartlett also do it all the time, write pieces that talk about how stupid the GOP has become and how angry they are at what was once their political home.

There is a lot to be said about calling a spade a spade.  There truly is a lot wrong with the GOP and with conservatism in America in general.  I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any talk of what is wrong with conservatism; I would just like to hear more of what can be an alternative vision.

I agree with Stockman, Bartlett and Sullivan that current conservative fiscal policy is a joke.  But what is an acutal conservative alternative?  What are alternative conservative solutions to health care reform, or  climate change, or the war in Afghanistan or how to deal with entitlements?  It's easy to complain about what's wrong, but not so easy to say how to set it right.

What I long for are people who are willing to provide solutions and not simply sink into cynicism.  I'd like to hear the Stockmans of the world come up with an alternate vision that might even challenge the prevailing wisdom. 

What I'd love to hear at the end of the day is hope, not sunny optimism, but hope- a hope that conservatives can and should provide real solutions to our nation's problems and not simply wallow in despair.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thoughts from A Freeway Lover

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated with transportation. Airports, train stations, subway platforms, you name it, I've had a fascination with it.

(This is probably in keeping with my having Aspergers: a lot of people with high-functioning autism tend to be really interested in transport.)

Of all the modes of transportation, the one that held my interest the most was the freeway. Maybe it was growing up the son of autoworkers, but I've always had an interest in the Interstate Highway System. I remember sitting with a Rand McNally map of the United States and just spending time looking at all the routes of the various interstates throughout the country. I would even draw imaginary places that had freeways criss-crossing the area and going to other cities nearby.

I still go to websites to find out things about a certain roadway (such as, Interstate 94 is the longest highway whose number doesn't end in 5 or 0).

I know that many people prefer the classic two lane highway, but they never held the same appeal that that a freeway held for me.

Over time, I've learned that most people don't share the same interest I have in freeways. Where I see order, symmetry and efficiency, others see blight and devastation.

Blogger Tim Lee wrote a post last week about his belief that freeways killed St. Louis. Erik Kain chimed in with a related post sharing his visceral dislike of freeways.

I have mixed feelings on both essays. Freeways have done great harm to many urban areas. For example, when Interstate 94 was being built through St. Paul,MN it was went right through the Rondo neighborhood, which was predominantly African American. It pushed these people out of their homes and left deep wounds in the St. Paul's black community. So, yes, freeways can be detrimental to cities.

But I do they lead to the decline of great cities as both Lee and Kain suggest? I'm not so certain. I could look at my home state of Michigan and look at a city like Detroit. Did Interstate 75 destroy the city? Maybe, but so did the fortunes of the auto industry.

I don't think St. Louis declined simply because they decided to build I-70 through the city. Did a changing economy also have a role as well?

Let's look again at the Twin Cities. Even though we have freeways that go into both urban cores, both cities are rather vital places. While the building of interstates did do damage in specific neighborhoods, they didn't necessarily destroy St. Paul or Minneapolis.

I do think that it would have been better if Interstates had been designed to go around cities instead of through them, but what is done has been done. Yes, there are efforts to remove freeways from some cities and maybe that's a good idea. But I don't know if that alone is going to be the answer to help declining cities. Getting rid of Interstate 475 in my hometown is not going to restore Flint to its former glory.

On the other side, there are costs to not having freeways in the urban core. Washington, DC stopped efforts to have the nation's capital laced with freeways. I think that was probably a good idea, but the result was putting all the traffic on surface streets which, at least when I lived there in the early-90s, was clogged with traffic.

Erik Kain also make a quip about how Phoenix would never be a "great city" because of its freeways. But what makes a great city? Does every city have to be like New York to be come great? If Phoenix isn't a great city, then why have so many people moved there? What if someone has their own idea of what makes a great city?

I will still love freeways, even with their problems. I also admit they have problems and believe there should be some solutions. But Cities live and die for a lot of reasons, not just because someone decided to ram a freeway through.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Palin Effect

I've been saying while Sarah Palin might play well in Republican circles, when it comes to the general public, there isn't much love for her and that will show up come November.

Well, it seems we have one example of how toxic Palin is to GOP candidates. The leading GOP candidate for a Senate seat in New Hampshire is Kelly Ayotte, who had a good following with moderates. She recieved and endorsement from Palin and saw her standing among moderates evaporate:

Kelly Ayotte's seen her appeal to moderate voters crumble in the wake of her endorsement by Sarah Palin and her lead over Paul Hodes has shrunk to its lowest level of any public polling in 2010- she has a 45-42 advantage over him, down from 47-40 in an April PPP poll.

There's not much doubt that the shift in the race is all about Ayotte. Hodes' favorability numbers have seen little change over the last three months. Where 32% of voters saw him positively and 39% negatively in April, now 35% have a favorable opinion of him to 40% with an unfavorable one. But Ayotte's seen a dramatic decline. Her favorability spread of 34/24 in April was the best we've measured for any Republican Senate candidate so far this year but her negatives have risen 15 points since that time while her positives have increased only 2 and she now stands at 36/39...

The Palin endorsement may well be playing a role in this. 51% of voters in the state say they're less likely to back a Palin endorsed candidate to only 26% who say that support would make them more inclined to vote for someone. Among moderates that widens to 65% who say a Palin endorsement would turn them off to 14% who it would make more supportive.

It will be interesting to see what will happen in the coming weeks and months when Palin-endorsed candidates will have to face the wider public and not simply the adoring fans of the GOP base. Something tells me my hunches about how Palin will shrink the party instead of grow it will turn out to be correct.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Can Conservatism Be Reformed, Continued

A Reader responds:

I have faith in our political system that eventually the GOP or some other conservative party will be that reformed conservatism that you and I are looking for.

I always felt that 2008 wasn't enough to get rid of all the bad influences and extreme talking points on the right. I had hoped that it would reform but didn't think it would.

No(w) I feel that politics is cyclical, it will take a couple Mondale like thrashing(s) and wandering into the wilderness for sane conservatism to come back. Maybe like liberals will we come out with a new name, maybe ironically classical liberals (or just plain libertarians).

But whatever it is, I just can't see this country staying as it is, demographics and even ideologically the data says it won't. And no I don't believe in a permanent majority of any party. Eventually things change.

But that change might not be for decades and frankly that sucks for you and I.

All you can do is try to speak your views and vote for whoever you feel best represents them.

I think he has a point. At this point, the GOP losses in 2006 and 2008 were only seen as mere bumps in the road, instead of signs for reform. With the economy the way it is and with Obama presently in the doldrums, it seems like a chance for the Republicans and conservatism to strike back with no changes in their agenda.

In some way, I think the GOP is repeating the some of the same mistakes the Democrats made 30 years ago. After losing big time in 1980, the Democrats gained some seats in 1982- a year when the economy was still in the dumps and President Reagan was losing some of his popularity. These signs made them think that nothing had to be changed and former Vice President Mondale became the Democratic nominee in 1984. Mondale went on to be crushed by Reagan in November of that year, winning only 10 electoral votes.

In someways, it feels like history is repeating itself. I can see the Republicans gaining seats in November and feeling overconfident. Believe that nothing need be changed, I can see the GOP nominating someone like Sarah Palin and then going down to a devasting defeat.

Of course, history doesn't repeat as much as it rhymes. Things might change between now and 2012. But I do know that American Conservatism won't change until it enters the wilderness and ends the denial that it is currently in.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Republican Agenda: Subpoena Everybody

For those of us that crave a real Republican agenda, one that deals with issues like, you know the economy, expect to be sadly dissapointed if the GOP takes the House come November. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman said recently that a Republican house would basically issue subpoenas and hold endless hearings:

“Oh, I think that’s all we should do,” Bachmann said. “I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another. And expose all the nonsense that is going on. And it’s very important when we come back that we have constitutional conservative leadership because the American people’s patience is about this big.”

On the one hand, I can't believe she is saying this. On the other hand, I've observed her long enough to know that she would say something this stupid.

Listen, I'm not a big fan of Obama, and I have some issues with the health care plan and some other legislation. But I really don't think it's necessary or wanted to hold basically hold a witch hunt at the people's expense while the economy is still perilously weak.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can American Conservatism Be Reformed?

I've been reading the ongoing debate about where Libertarians belong with some interest. Folks like Brink Lindsey are aruging that the conservative-libertarian alliance must end, and that libertarians must make their own way. Bloggers like Tim Lee and Mark Thompson go even further, arguing for a left-libertarian alliance (the liberaltarian arugment that Lindsey was a part of until recently). The argument for leaving conservatives behind is the same in both camps: conservatism in America is made up of those who might talk a good game about freedom, but in reality are not interested in freedom when it comes to civil liberties or acceptance of various minorities. This is what Tim Lee says:

Conservatives care about “protecting individual liberty” for some people, but the conservative movement includes many people who are indifferent, if not hostile, to the liberty of foreigners, immigrants, drug users, gays and lesbians, women who want abortions, broadcasters, sex workers, criminal defendants, Muslims, publishers of pornography, atheists, and so forth. It’s true, of course, that you can compile a similar list (gun owners, business owners, etc) on the progressive side. But I see no reason to think the progressive list is longer, or that the people on that list are somehow more important, than the people on the conservative list.

This belief is shared not just by some libertarians, but conservatives and Republicans as well. More than once I've seen people come to the fore with the sunny hopes of presenting a more inclusive vision of conservatism and the GOP, only to give up months later when they encouter some of the darker sides of the American right.

This all leads me to wonder: can American conservatism every be reformed?

There really isn't a strong movement in the United States that is committed to a more moderate version of conservatism. There are a few groups, but there is not strong reformist presence within what makes up the American Right in the same way that there is in the United Kingdom. Across the pond, the Tory Reform Group has been around for 35 years representing a more moderate brand of conservatism and they can be credited for helping get the Conservative Party back in power.

But the impulse here in the States among those on the Right who are disatisfied with the state of things, is to simply walk away. Whether its Brink Lindsey now touting a "libertarian centrism" or Tim Lee flirting with the Left, the usual result of frustrated folks on the right is not to change things, but to leave and look for greener pastures.

Why is that? Why is there no impulse to change the Right?

I think I have a few reasons.

The first is the word "conservative." When someone uses that word it is almost always about the more negative aspects of human nature. If a community or person has issues with same-sex marriage we tend to say that they are "conservative." Conversely, the word "liberal" tends to have more positive connotations. All the philosphical meanings of conservatism that came from people like Edmund Burke or Russel Kirk are never thought of in common parlance. If being a conservative means being anti-gay or suspicious of immigrants, well, who would want to be a part of that, let alone try to reform it?

Related to that, is how we see conservatism. If conservatism is made up of bigots, whom we believe can't change, then why bother trying to reform anything?

Finally, I think there has been so little impulse for a renewed conservatism, because there has not been a keen vision of what a renewed conservatism would look like. While there has been some attempt to start this project,
for the most part there really has not been any strong desire to frame a new conservatism for the 21st century. There's a lot of talk about what conservatism was like in the 1980s under Reagan, or about the moderate Republicanism of the 1950s through 70s, but very few have said this is what conservatism should look like today.

If you are someone under say, 40 years old who believes in limited goverment, but sees a conservatism that is filled with bigots and with no one really crafting a more positive vision, then you would probably want to ignore the conservatives and leave them to their fate.

For me, the question is not can American conservatism reform, but should it reform and I believe wholeheartedly that it should. The reason I believe it has to reform has to do with the fact that unless something radical happens, we live in a two-party system. While many folks have left the conservative movement, there are still a fair number that remain and they are more radical than ever. It is less thoughtful and deeply suspicious of anyone that doesn't think or see things in the way they do. It is a movement that is built more on resentment than on the sunny conservatism that Ronald Reagan once espoused. On paper, a party like this should be on the margins, but because of our two party system, they are the alternative to Obama and the liberals. As the alternative, it means they have a greater shot at winning. As Jeffrey Goldberg has noted in his blog posts on Sarah Palin and the New York mosque controversy, a simple-minded conservatism is dangerous to the health of our democracy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

From the Better Late Than Never Dept.

In March of this year, anti-gay state Senator Roy Ashburn got caught driving drunk after leaving a gay bar in Sacremento. Since then, it appears he has finally come out of the closet and offers a mea culpa:

I should begin with an apology. I am sincerely sorry for the votes I cast and the actions I took that harmed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Just as important to me, I am sorry for not stepping forward and speaking up as an elected official on behalf of equal treatment for all people. For nearly 26 years, the voters in my area of California trusted me as their elected representative. I look back now knowing there is so much more I could have done to inform the public about LGBT people and to fight for equal rights under the law. Regrettably and selfishly, I took another path in my life and political career—I chose to conceal who I truly am and to then actually vote against the best interests of people like me. All this was done because I was afraid–terrified, really–that somehow I would be revealed as gay...

Gay people being treated with respect and having the same opportunities for a good life regardless of sexual orientation should not be topics of political debate. How can it possibly be that there is a partisan political divide over equal rights in America? At a time when our country is deeply divided over the proper size and scope of government, when people are hurting in a bad economy and when we face real threats from terrorists determined to end our way of life, shouldn’t we be united on at least one principal–that equality for all Americans is fundamental to who we are as a nation of freedom-loving people?

Now, I am somewhat of a novelty in politics. I am a gay Republican. I have always been a Republican, even as an eight-year-old boy with an intense interest in campaigning, elections and government. To me, Republican principles hold that each individual is special and unique; each individual should have the maximum freedom and opportunity under our Constitution; that government has no business in the private lives of our citizens.

It would have been nice had never took part in ways to hurt the gay community, but at least he is admiting his wrong and trying to start anew. It's good to have another strong Republican advocate for equality.