Have Gun, Will Drink

NoFirearmsNow that the Supreme Court has decided to review the Chicago gun-ban case, there’s little question that the Court will soon make all of America’s cities safe for gun-toting tea partiers. After all, conservatives had to get something out of eight years of Bushism, and a fairly solid voting block of fellow believers on the highest court in the land isn’t bad.

Speaking of guns, Arizona, where one can carry a gun to a political gathering, now permits its gun-toters to carry their pieces into a bar or restaurant, unless the owner posts a menacing sign prohibiting them.

The National Rifle Association, whose power to influence American government is second only to those imaginary conspirators who are driving Glenn Beck crazy, claims that 41 states have such laws, and J.P. Nelson, director of the NRA’s western region, believes people have an inherent right to carry their guns just about anywhere they please.

An AP story relates the wisdom of Mr. Nelson:

“Bad things happen in bars and restaurants,” Nelson said. “People want to carry a gun and if the facility owner doesn’t have a problem with it, there shouldn’t be a problem. If a person starts drinking and gets in a shootout and kills someone, of course they’re subject to criminal prosecution.”

There you have it. Typical but laughable libertarian logic. Except it isn’t really all that funny.

Nelson is right, of course. A killer would be subject to criminal prosecution, if he or she decided to back up tough beer talk with bullets. But doesn’t that miss the point, Mr. Nelson? You know, it goes something like this: The other guy is still dead!

It reminds me of another libertarian argument in which it is claimed there is no need for government meat inspectors because any company that would sell meat that kills people would soon go out of business. Which, of course, is unassailable free-market logic.

But again, there is that nasty little detail about those unfortunate and dead burger-lovers, who would have sacrificed their lives in order for meat processors and distributors to yell, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank Ron Paul Almighty, we’re free at last!”

Forget the Surge, Remember Vietnam

The editorial in today’s Joplin Globe, “No room for equivocation,” argued not only that President Obama should take action, one way or the other, in Afghanistan, it implied strongly what that action should be. If there were any doubt about the position of the Globe, the last few sentences should clear it up:

The president has the best military team possible in place and it is ready, with needed support, to do all it can to achieve his goals. He can either give it the requested support or back down from his goals. It is that simple.

The choice is now yours, Mr. President. Put up or back down. There is no room for equivocation.

This “let’s don’t wait another minute” approach seems to be typical of conservative and Republican thinking on the subject of the protracted war in Afghanistan.

This past weekend, Senator Kyle was on television urging the president to move quickly in implementing the recommendations of General McChrystal.

And in yesterday’s Globe, Paul Greenberg, a staple of the paper’s editorial page, wrote:

And while this president dithers, support for the war ebbs.

Dithers? Does Pulitzer Paul know what that word means? Of course he does. He means to suggest that President Obama is behaving in a nervous and indecisive way. afghanistansoldier_large_imageGreenberg, like most other conservatives, is a hawk on the war, and according to the hawks, Obama must act now or “support for this war will dribble away.”

In other words, it is the reverse of the conservative and Republican position on health care reform. Reforming the health care system, they tell us, must be a slow, deliberative process. But the war in Afghanistan? Full speed ahead, boys! No time to waste, or the natives will get restless and make us stop!

Greenberg also had this interesting sentence in his column:

If this commander-in-chief is looking for excuses to lose the war in Afghanistan…

Does it really matter what comes after that subjunctive phrase? Again, does Pulitzer Paul mean to suggest that maybe, just maybe, President Obama wouldn’t mind it a bit if we “lost” the war in Afghanistan? Of course he does. It fits well with his “wet behind the ears” narrative of Obama.

As usual, conservatives compare what General McChrystal is recommending to the famous “surge” in Iraq, which the courageous George W. Bush undertook against the wishes of the American people because he “refused to accept defeat,” according to Greenberg. Get it? If Obama doesn’t buy into the whole Afghanistan surge thing, he is willingly accepting “defeat.”

The problem is, Greenberg, Senator Kyle, the Globe editorial writer, or any other advocates for action, including President Obama, cannot tell us definitely just what “victory” would mean in the war in Afghanistan. How will we know when we have won? After eight long years of war there, are we any closer to “victory”? What about eight years from now? John McCain famously said we should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes. Does that apply to Afghanistan?

Those who favor escalating the war should “put up or back down” when it comes to defining exactly how we will know when we have won the war. If they can’t do that, then maybe they need to take some more time and think about it.

Johnson

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson expressed frustration to Sen. Richard Russell, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time, about what to do in Vietnam. He knew the effort was not likely to succeed, yet, Johnson could not marshal the courage to pull the plug on the action. It would have been too “costly,” in his mind, both domestically and internationally.

So, 55,000 more lives were lost. That’s right. After President Johnson knew the war was essentially useless, 55,000 more lives were needlessly lost.

Maybe a little more deliberation and a little more courage to “back down” would have led Johnson to do the right thing. We will never know. But we do know that President Obama is rethinking his initial plans to continue prosecuting the war. That is a good thing. And it is not equivocation or dithering to want to get things right.

If you want to hear a sad part of our history, given what happened in the Vietnam war, listen to the lengthy and chilling conversation between Johnson and Sen. Russell that occurred on May 27, 1964. And remember, while listening to it, that while there was discussion on “excuses” to get out and “saving face,” approximately 55,000 soldiers died afterwards.

At one point at 20:54, Russell brings up Defense Secretary McNamara, and Johnson mentions something that McNamara does to “buy time” before mounting an offensive in North Vietnam from the south. But the interesting thing is what Johnson says about Republicans being in a hurry:

“…all the senators, Nixon and Rockefeller and Goldwater, all saying, ‘Let’s move, let’s go in the North…'”

Another sad exchange is at about 26:00:

Johnson: I’ve got a little old sergeant that works for me over at the house and he’s got six children, and I just put him up as the United States Army and Air Force and Navy every time I think about making this decision and think about sending that father of those six kids in there. And what the hell are we going to get out of his doing it? And it just makes the chills run up my back.
[...]
Russell: I wish I could help you. God knows I do, because it’s a terrific quandary that we’re in over there. We’re just in the quick sands up to our very necks. And I just don’t know how, what the hell is the best way to do about it.

Rather than listen to those who are telling him to move quickly, President Obama should listen to this pathetic conversation over and over again.

A transcript of the conversation can be found here.

Lonesome Bob Inglis

bob-inglisR-SCI frequently bash Republican politicians who lack courage to relegate the Glenn Becks of the world to the fringe of their party, or to put them out of their party altogether, so it’s only fair to point out one who has the guts to be both a good Republican and a good citizen.

Rep. Bob Inglis, oddly enough from South Carolina, is a fairly conservative guy from a very conservative district, one in which the infamous and Neolithic Bob Jones university sits. Because of his willingness to vote his conscience and speak his mind, Inglis already has at least four primary opponents to contest his congressional seat next year.

One of his major sins was suggesting to his constituents that they turn off Glenn Beck, who is “trading on fear,” he said. He told reporter Jason Spencer this:

“I don’t listen often to Glenn Beck, but when I have, I’ve come away just so disappointed with the negativity… the ‘We’ve just gone to pot as a country,’ and ‘All is lost’ and ‘There is no hope.’ It’s not consistent with the America that I know. The America I know was founded by people who took tiny boats across a big ocean, and pushed west in tiny wagons, and landed on the moon. That’s the America I heard on the streets of Boiling Springs.”

He continued: “The America that Glenn Beck seems to see is a place where we all should be fearful, thinking that our best days are behind us. It sure does sell soap, but it sure does a disservice to America.”

After a particularly tumultuous town hall recently in which he was booed by fellow Republicans, Congressman Inglis told the reporter:

“What you saw tonight was people who had been convinced of this negativism, and are detaching from the communities and institutions that hold us together,” Inglis told me. “And I believe in the importance of strong institutions. I’m not an anarchist. And I’m not a Libertarian. I believe in a strong, smart federal government that is able to meet challenges like 9/11, and figure out how to correct its mistakes from Katrina…”

Congressman Inglis also said something important about cable news, by which he meant Fox “News”:

“If Walter Cronkite said something like Glenn Beck said recently on the air, about the president being a racist, Cronkite would’ve been fired on the spot,” Inglis said. “But I guess the executives of these cable news shows are more enamored with the profits that come from selling this negative message than they are with undermining the faith of people in this wonderful constitutional republic.”

Finally, and perhaps futilely, Inglis says:

“I hope to convince people that there’s every reason to be optimistic, and there is a way forward. And I hope to help position the Republican Party as the party that presents a message that America can fall in love with, rather than a message that would drive fear in order to win votes.”

inglis_h_prize_6_6_07Now, that kind of thinking, if it were typical of Republican leadership, would put fear in any ambitious Democratic politician.

Unfortunately, Bob Inglis is virtually standing alone, and by this time next year, he will likely have lost his seat—and his voice—in Congress.

Your Money Or Your Life

Polls have consistently shown that a strong majority of Americans supports the so-called “public option” component of health care reform.  The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll is no different:
Public Option graph

The simple fact is that without a public option, people understand that insurance companies will not go gentle into the good night of decency, when it comes to managing access to health care for a profit.

And speaking of profits, one often hears the Republican argument that our health care system needs “market-based” solutions to solve its problems, which comports with their general principle that all problems are caused by government and can be fixed by private enterprise. 

But when one stops and considers what is almost universally conceded in the current debate, the hypocrisy of the Republican position becomes apparent. 

I haven’t heard one person running wild on the ideological landscape,  including people residing in the furthest extremes of Beckenstein and DeMintiaville, ever argue that the three main outrages of our current system should not be changed: 

1. Denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

2. Rescission: Dropping coverage while people are sick.

3. Capping lifetime benefits.

Now, since there is very little disagreement that these insurance company practices are wrong and need to be changed tomorrow, it is important to understand just why insurance companies act in such seemingly unjust and cruel ways: profitability.   And for Republicans to advocate free-market solutions, while simultaneously promoting an end to such profit-induced practices as denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, is completely dishonest. 

dollar sign 2Companies deny coverage to sick people because sick people cost them more money than healthy people. Period. And that, friends, is the essence of free market capitalism when applied to health care, and left to its own devices, nothing will change because it is totally rational—within an unfettered free-market system—for companies to continue such practices.  

The problem is not with the companies, the problem is with some of us.  Many people are afraid to admit that the government can do something better than the private sector, thinking that capitalism is always good and that our health care needs should be in the hands of profit-minded bureaucrats rather than public-spirited government ones.  

redcross0206 But more and more people are realizing that at the very least, the government—through a public insurance option—should help keep the insurance companies honest, because if legislation passes that outlaws the above three offensive insurance practices, insurance companies will have no choice but to raise premiums to maintain profitability, even with a flood of new customers forced to purchase insurance.  Without a public option, the pressure to keep those premiums within affordable range, or to keep benefits from drastically decreasing, will simply not be there.  And we will quite likely be worse off than we are now.

The truth of all this is that health care, as I have lately concluded, should not be a commodity bought and sold like cars and trucks, and insurance companies offer nothing of value in our health care system.  They are simply unnecessary middlemen, who stand in between patients and doctors and in between doctors and treatment.  Perhaps that is why about 75% of doctors and nurses favor either a single payer system or a public option.  They know the reality of our health care system.

And the reason Medicare exists today is because when it comes to older Americans, we as a people decided 45 years ago that caring for Grandma and Grandpa should not be subject to the hard realities of the insurance industry’s bottom line.

But the obvious political reality is that many Americans are not yet ready to take health care completely away from capitalists, who make a lot of money through complicating the lives of sick people. Right now, the public option is the best way to insure that the profit motive will not completely control our health care decisions.

I Can See Hong Kong From My Bank

Sarah_in_Hong_KongSarah Palin’s speech in Hong Kong today likely netted her a few hundred thousand bucks, which is more than she made as Governor of Alaska, and which, of course, is why she quit that dead-end job.

And quite likely the speech was written by someone who actually had a natural curiosity about the world we live in, because it is hard to imagine the words “nebulous” and “utopian,” words Palin reportedly used to criticize Obama’s campaign promises, emanating from her uninquisitive noggin.

But the real stunner was her reported criticism of her own government on foreign soil, something conservatives used to abhor with fanatical passion. From AFP:

According to delegates, she said US President Barack Obama’s administration worsened an already difficult situation when earlier this month he slapped duties on Chinese tire imports blamed for costing American jobs. They said she praised the economic policies of former US President Ronald Reagan and criticised the current administration for intervening too much during the recent financial crisis.

Notwithstanding her Obama-bashing in front of financial bigwigs in Hong Kong, like a good conservative, Sarah did manage to utter the usual boilerplate about liberalism:

Liberalism holds that there is no human problem that government can’t fix if only the right people are put in charge.

That sentiment, of course, also applies to conservatism, which is why plenty of right-wingers can’t wait to crash the gates of the White House on some sad January day in the future. But such pap passes the taste test for Palinistas because it sounds Limbaughesque, a necessary requirement these days to advance in Republican politics.

But Palin’s real ignorance of reality was revealed by this statement:

There is no justice in taking from one person and giving to another. History shows it simply does not work.

Now, leaving aside the fact that we have Sarah Palin—Sarah Palin!—instructing us about what “history shows,” the statement is so obviously false and so obviously designed to pander to historically ignorant and ideologically poisoned people, it is breathtaking.

Of course there is “justice” in taking from one person and giving to another. Taxes are not only necessary for any government, including our own, to survive, they are “just” because they are authorized by our Constitution and its amendments. And our own history demonstrates unequivocally that taxation—taking from some and giving to others—works.

We are currently able to prosecute two quasi-wars because we are taking money from non-combatants and giving it to our soldiers in the form of sustenance and equipment.

Our senior citizens enjoy a higher standard of living and security because we are taking money from current workers and subsidizing them.

Children who would otherwise go without food are given modest nourishment because we are taking money from some folks and giving it to others.

Education. Highways. Airports. Police. Food inspection. You name it.

Everywhere we look we can see the justice and effectiveness of “taking from one person and giving to another.”

Despite such nonsense, Sarah Palin’s speech no doubt solidified her standing among her fans on the right.

And that, plus a few hundred thousand other reasons, is why she gave it.

Darwin’s Wasp

In a year in which many of us celebrate both Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th birthday of the “Origin of Species,” it is apropos to use what some have called “Darwin’s wasp”—the Ichneumonidae—to make a point about the state of the Republican Party.

The parasitic wasp, which lays its eggs inside a caterpillar so that its larvae can feed on it, carefully guides its sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system, not to kill it, but to paralyze it, so that its offspring will have fresh meat to eat. The victim is literally devoured alive from the inside out.

Darwin found this situation incompatible with his religious beliefs. He wrote,

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.

The Republican Party, like the unfortunate caterpillar, is being devoured from the inside out.

Caustic conservative chatterers, from Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck, along with some extremist politicians like Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Joe Wilson, have attached themselves to the party and are, issue by issue, rant by rant, consuming its electoral life. They have effectively banished from the party moderates and patriots like Colin Powell, reasonable, moderately conservative writers like David Brooks or Sam Tanenhaus, and virtually anyone who dares to croon slightly off key in what has become a choir of fear, singing a menacing mantra: We hate Barack Hussein Obama.

Thus, the party of Lincoln is fast becoming a parochial, nationally irrelevant party.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan—in an electoral landslide—received 55% of the white vote. In 2008 John McCain—who lost by nearly 10 million votes—also received 55% of the white vote. What was the difference? The percentage of the overall electorate for white voters dropped from 88% in 1980 to 74% in 2008. So, while Republicans maintained their hold on white voters, the political clout of those voters had declined.

Understandably, Barack Obama had overwhelming support among African-Americans (95%) in 2008, but Republicans have otherwise struggled to attract more than 10% of black voters since Reagan’s 14% showing in 1980. Since then the percentage of black voters among the overall electorate has increased from 10% to 13%.

But the real tale is told by the Hispanic vote.

In 1980 Hispanics comprised only 2% of the electorate, and Jimmy Carter received 54% of their votes compared with 36% for Reagan. In 2008, Hispanics had grown to 9% of the electorate (a 450% increase), and John McCain—having forsaken his moderate position on immigration reform in favor of the hard-line conservative stance—received only 31%. Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote.

Add to this that Asian-Americans are now 2% of the electorate (the same as Hispanics in 1980) and that Obama managed to garner 62% of their votes, and the picture becomes very clear.

No matter what Republicans may think about these trends, they cannot be ignored with impunity. It may be that conservatives these days are incapable of embracing a philosophy adjusted to fit the reality of changing demographics. Certainly, a staunch adherence to purist conservative doctrine plays well in places like Jasper and Newton counties in Southwest Missouri, or in the Old South, but it is a doomed strategy for long-term national Republican success, even if the party manages to make modest inroads in 2010.

Rather than acknowledge this reality and adjust their positions on the various issues accordingly, most Republican “leaders” are content to prostrate themselves before Rush Limbaugh’s Attila the Hun chair, and in one sycophantic spasm after another confirm that they are content with a regional appeal.

Joe Scarborough, the popular conservative host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has written a book urging conservative Republicans to heed the advice of the founder of conservatism, Edmund Burke, who “had contempt for rigid ideologues of all stripes.” So far, such advice goes unheeded.

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal—the scourge of contemporary conservatism—came to pass largely because of the alignment of otherwise disparate groups that ignored important, but comparatively marginal, differences in favor of gaining political power sufficient to win elections. From 1932 through 1964, this coalition of “big city” political machines, labor unions, minorities, progressives, and Southern whites, won seven of nine presidential elections, losing only to WW II hero, Dwight Eisenhower.

If Republicans hope to continue as a national party, they have to shout down the strident voices of conservative ideologues and submit to demographic reality. It is difficult to understand why there isn’t one leader in the party who will take on the obviously unhinged Glenn Beck, just to name one glaring example. But so far, none has assumed the mantle of leadership necessary to save the party from irrelevance.

In the early days of the 20th century conservative movement, William F. Buckley, a conservative and a Republican, gave the left foot of fellowship to the John Birch Society, who, he surmised, would ultimately prove lethal to the conservative cause. He did the same thing to the Objectivists, most especially Ayn Rand. Mr. Buckley much later had to call out conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, when they expressed opinions that appeared to embrace an anti-Semitic philosophy. In that regard, Buckley acted like a true father of the movement, an adult who had to call out phony or wayward conservatives in the name of preserving the conservative family and by extension the Republican Party.

There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed (before he embraced late in life and inexplicably, Rush Limbaugh), and there certainly appears to be no adults in the Republican Party, but perhaps there is someone out there with sufficient courage who is willing to take on the conservative bullies. We can only hope.

Darwin lost at least part of his faith because he could not imagine that God could create the Ichneumonidae and its seemingly cruel method of survival. For him, such cruelty seemed incompatible with decency.

Today, the parasitic wasps in the Republican Party—those who are using the party only to advance their extremist ideological causes with little regard for the party’s survival—may not cause many to lose faith in God, but the tolerance of such people by party leaders causes many of us to doubt their decency.

And sadly, while there are many caterpillars in which Darwin’s wasp can lay its eggs, there is only one Grand Old Party.

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COMMENTS:

juan don writes:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 06:10 PM

RDG,

Excellent post. The desert clime agrees with you.

___________________________________________________________

 anson Burlingame writes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:14 PM

Duane,

You wrote, “There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed …” I agree. Perhaps George Will comes close to Buckley’s intellect as to some degree does Thomas Sowell (knowing you don’t like the lader one bit).

I am also not at all aware of any left commentator today who meets the standards set by Buckley, or Will and Thomas for that matter. If there is one I would be the first to ask for his publication on a regular basis in the Globe.

As we all correctly ponder the issue of media bias, I look for thoughtful alternatives on the left but have difficulty doing so.

Any suggestions?

Anson

____________________________________________________________

Duane writes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:29 PM

Anson,

First, Thomas Sowell, who used to be semi-respectable as a columnist, has lost all credibility since Obama has come on the scene. He has repeatedly made oblique and sometimes not so oblique references to Obama and murdering dictators. Unacceptable.

You asked for a “couple” of suggestions on liberal columnists. Here is my “short” list:

Paul Krugman (Pulitzer economist and generalist) would offset George Will nicely.

Eugene Robinson (Pulitzer and wonderful writer)

Michael Kinsley (he used to appear regularly on Bill Buckley’s program).

Jonathan Alter

Frank Rich

E.J. Dionne, Jr

David Corn (from the Nation, a REAL liberal)

Eleanor Clift (who used to appear in the Globe, and whom I used to loathe)

Arianna Huffington (who with her popular online site would appeal to net surfers)

All of these names I sent to Carol back in July in hopes that one or two might regular appear in our paper.

Duane

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