A Brazilian Waxing

Donald Trump’s fairly comprehensive victory in South Carolina yesterday of course has a lot of Republicans worried. And by “a lot of Republicans” I mean those who don’t want their party to be represented by a bigoted xenophobic billionaire, a sexist buffoon who thinks our current African-American president is too much African and not enough American, who believes that Mexican immigrants tend to be rapists and killers, and, well, you know the long list of embarrassing and dangerous nonsense he has uttered.

Just how many of those Republicans who worry about the appearance of the party are actually left in the party remains to be seen. But what doesn’t remain to be seen is perhaps the most significant result of yesterday’s Republican primary. The party, for good or for ill, has now deliberately de-Bushed. The party’s pubes have been waxed. And who knew that jeb waxingamong Donald Trump’s increasing talents as a Republican front-runner was a talent for stripping clean the party’s privvies, a talent for ridding the GOP of unwanted Bush? Trump’s devastating attacks on Jeb effectively branded him as an unsightly growth, something that, as much as it might hurt, had to go. “Enough is Enough- no more Bushes!” exclaimed The Donald.

Wikipedia tells us that Brazilian waxing “can be a physically painful experience during and after.” We have all seen the agony as the campaign has progressed and we saw it last night as Jeb, without the exclamation mark, surrendered his campaign. You could hear the moans and groans of a party in pain, as the last strip of Bush was hurtfully stripped away. Wikipedia also reminds us of an important fact about Brazilian waxing:

There is also a health risk involved if it is not done properly, as well as a risk of infection if done on a person with a weakened immune system.

Trump’s rise and his latest success proves that the Republican Party has a weakened immune system. There’s no doubt about it. And that weakened establishment system is working overtime to fight the pathogens in the party. What we don’t yet know, however, is whether that system will prevail, or, after the waxing of Jeb Bush, whether a devastating infection is to follow, that is, the nomination of Donald J. Trump.

 

Bernie And The Nukes

During a press conference on Tuesday, President Obama made some critical remarks about Donald Trump and the entire field of GOP presidential candidates. As usual, he spoke the truth, saying essentially that the contenders are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-science, and he made the obvious point that such rhetoric is a problem for “foreign observers,” especially the denial of climate change:

I think that’s troubling to the international community, since the science is unequivocal. And the other countries around the world, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense, because they know that if the United States does not act on big problems in smart ways, nobody will.

It is that last part, that part about the United States acting on big problems in smart ways, that should have led Mr. Obama to also honestly show his hand regarding the current race on the Democratic side and tell his Democratic supporters where he stands on the Bernie-Hillary contest. If you have followed the matter closely, it isn’t hard to figure out that he believes Hillary Clinton gives Democrats the best chance to win in November. He just doesn’t want to say so this early, instead saying silly things like this on Tuesday:

…the great thing about primaries, is everybody is trying to differentiate themselves, when, in fact, Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff and disagree pretty much across the board with everything the Republicans stand for. So my hope is, is that we can let the primary voters and caucus-goers have their say for a while, and let’s see how this thing plays itself out.

Hooey. He should, before things get out of hand, just call out Bernie’s electability problem and tell Democrats, most of whom still love and respect Mr. Obama, the truth, before too many people start to believe that he actually has a chance to win in November—as some meaningless national polls seem to show right now.

It may be correct for the President to say that “Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff,” but it is certainly not true that they agree on things that will matter in a general election against Republicans. And I’m not just talking about that whole democratic socialist thing. For sure Republicans will exploit that glaring weakness, using the public’s ignorance or misunderstanding of what democratic socialism is. That is a given. But what hasn’t been talked about much at all is another issue that will even trump the Bernie-is-a-Marxist meme that he will face. It is his problem with national security and our military, two subjects Bernie doesn’t talk about that often. And there are good reasons he doesn’t.

Michael Crowley, former senior writer for The New Republic and now a senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, has done Democrats a favor with his latest article (“Bernie Sanders versus the Pentagon“) detailing Bernie’s past positions on military spending and by implication giving us his overall view of what Obama said should be America’s crucial world role in acting “on big problem in smart ways” because if we don’t, “nobody will.” The very first sentence of Crowley’s piece is this stunner about Bernie’s record:

In 1995, he introduced a bill to terminate America’s nuclear weapons program.

What? Huh? You have to be kidding, right? Nope, he’s not kidding. You can go here and see for yourself: H.R.1511, introduced by Congressman Sanders, a bill with exactly zero co-sponsors. Needless to say because we still have nukes, Bernie’s bill was not successful. And needless to say, that bill will come back to haunt a general election Bernie in ways that will make his democratic socialism look like an asset.

And before you shout out, “But that was in 1995! It was so long ago,” let me introduce you to a woman named Judy Elliott, who in May of last year, after Bernie announced his intent to run for president, had this exchange with him at a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:

JUDY ELLLIOTT: “Senator Sanders, I’m Judy from Canterbury NH. The United States already has thousands of nuclear weapons in its active military stockpiles, many of them on hair-trigger alert. And yet there is a plan, which the Administration apparently buys into, for a massive rebuilding of our nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. A new fleet of submarines, heavy bombers, cruise missiles. It’ll cost a trillion dollars. Big profits for the corporations, but what do you think of this plan?”

BERNIE SANDERS: “Well, I’ll tell you what I think of it. It takes us right back to Carol’s question [previous question about a disabled child]. How does it happen that we have a trillion dollars available to expand our nuclear arsenal, but we don’t have the money to take care of the children in this country? What that’s about … What all of this is about is our national priorities. Who are we as a people? Does Congress listen to the military-industrial complex who has never seen a war that they didn’t like? Or do we listen to the people of this country who are hurting? And that’s what, in a sense, this campaign is about.”

Is that what his campaign is about? Really? Because I don’t hear him talk about it in those terms anymore. Oh, I hear him talking about a lot of good and necessary things that we ought to do with our national money, but I haven’t lately—since people have begun to take him seriously as a candidate—heard him talk about dismantling, or allowing to fall into disrepair, our nuclear defenses. Have you? But I can guarantee you that you will, should he become the Democratic nominee. If you don’t think Republicans will grossly exploit Bernie’s stand on not just our nuclear arsenal but on our military and its use in general, then you don’t know how politics works and how effective such attacks can be under the right circumstances.

It is true that we have a lot of nuclear weapons, and it might be true that we have more than enough to do the job, should that sad day ever come. And it is certainly true those weapons cost a lot of money to maintain and modernize, since our nuclear arsenal is aging. And there is no doubt, as Bernie has said, there is plenty of waste in the Pentagon’s budget and that we could and should spend some of that wasted money on people-helping policies. But like his revolutionary rhetoric regarding economic justice, it should be obvious that his radical proposals on our nuclear deterrent, as well as his past attacks on the Pentagon, are perfect targets for Republicans to exploit and to paint him as not only a radical socialist, but a dangerous radical socialist who will not keep the country safe.

Yes, you might say, that’s what Republicans always try to do to Democrats. Just ask John Kerry, a war hero who in 2004 was made out to be a lying coward who would coddle terrorists were he to become president. They always paint us as weak and dangerous. But in Bernie’s case, they won’t have to make up stuff. It’s right there in his record.

I will leave you with this paragraph from Michael Crowley’s excellent article:

The last Democrat to propose deep cuts in Pentagon spending was the party’s 1972 nominee, George McGovern, who campaigned on a nearly 10 percent reduction to its budget. McGovern’s defeat in a historic landslide prompted deep soul-searching within the Democratic Party and kindled a new movement of pro-defense Democrats.

mcgovern disaster of 1972There’s that George McGovern shellacking again coming up in the context of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It keeps coming up for a reason. It keeps coming up because it is relevant for Democrats to think about, when they are thinking about who their nominee should be. And more than anyone else, President Obama has the pulpit from which he can make Democrats think about it long and hard. He should do so soon and not wait and “see how this thing plays itself out,” because this thing might not play itself out in the way he thinks.

If You Bernie-ites Don’t Believe Me, Try Barney Frank

Thanks to a commenter on this blog, I was reminded of a segment from MSNBC’s Hardball that featured Barney Frank—last summer—who made many of the points about the Sanders-Clinton race that I have been trying to make lately. I would ask—no beg—all sincere progressives who don’t like Hillary Clinton and are enamored of Bernie Sanders to watch the six-minute segment below and read Frank’s essay (“Why Progressives Shouldn’t Support Bernie“) and then think about what is at risk if Republicans win this fall:

Another Plea To Bernie Supporters

Okay. I have been having a debate in the comment section with Tige Gibson, a Bernie Sanders supporter who thinks I am making a mistake in judgment by supporting Hillary Clinton. You can see Tige’s latest response here, but let me sort of summarize from Tige’s remarks what I see as the biggest objection to my support of Mrs. Clinton and the present Democratic establishment, an objection that I find a lot of people on the left share:

This weakness of the Democratic Party leads people to support someone like Clinton who is to the right enough to appeal to people in the middle…. Supporting Clinton is just dragging out the conservative era for another term as she has always been comfortably center-right.

Because I am worried about what is happening among Democrats, I responded this way:

Tige,

Let’s try to get something cleared up. Did the Democratic Party, after losing to Richard Nixon in 1968 and getting trounced in 1972 (with an extremely liberal Democrat on the top of the ticket), turn a bit to the right with Jimmy Carter? Yep. And guess what? They won an election.

Then, Carter lost for a host of reasons and the unimaginable presidency of Ronald Reagan suddenly was upon us. Then came the 1984 whoopin’ of a fairly liberal Mondale and then the 1988 defeat of a northeastern liberal named Michael Dukakis. Thus it came to pass that a group of Democrats, tired of losing the presidency, sought to figure out a middle way to victory. Alas! Enter Bill Clinton from Arkansas, which was heavily Democratic at the time, even if those Democrats were quite conservative and would later become, like the rest of the conservative Democrats in the South, Republicans.

The results of the effort to move toward the middle in 1992 was two presidential victories that had some important consequences, not only for the economy (millions of jobs and budget surpluses) but for the courts (some horrific shit has been stopped by Clinton-appointed judges, and let’s don’t forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who are still on the Supreme Court and are fairly solid liberal votes). If you don’t think any of that matters, if you don’t think it is important to figure out a way to win the White House, then I don’t know what more I can say that would convince you.

Now, I can understand why some lefties didn’t and still don’t like the Clinton years, in some important ways. Take the crime bill for instance. That turned out to be a big mistake, as Bill Clinton has now admitted. But Bernie voted for it and used it as a campaign issue. So, was Bernie a squish? A tool of the establishment? Did he stray away from leftist orthodoxy and is now unfit for office?

Finally, in some ways Hillary Clinton is more conservative than my tastes prefer. But I much prefer winning with Hillary over losing with Bernie because, as I have tried desperately to point out, losing not only has negative consequences for a lot of people we Democrats have pledged to help, it deprives Democrats of the ability to appoint judges to the bench who can help in the future fight for economic justice, for voting rights, for immigration reform, and for any number of causes that you and I would certainly join together to support.

Just being mad at the Democratic Party for its past “concessions” or for its lack of a “strong leftist position”—and therefore voting for a likely lost cause named Bernie Sanders—isn’t enough to win in a country as divided as our is. I hate to keep pointing this out, but about half of the country doesn’t share our vision of the future or see things the way you and I want them to. We have to figure out a way to win and make at least some progress. In this current political environment, only the Republicans are in a position to have control of the entire government. We aren’t in that position. Bernie, as I have pointed out, even if he was miraculously victorious, will still not bring with him a solid left-wing majority of Democrats in the House or Senate. He will face the same phalanx of obstructionism that has bedeviled Mr. Obama. So, it’s just not worth the risk of nominating someone so self-admittedly outside of the mainstream of our current politics. Again, there is just too damn much at stake to take that chance.

Duane

 

Remarks And Asides, 2/16/16

And I thought it was God who killed Justice Scalia in his sleep. Nope:

world nut daily scalia conspiracy

Just for the helluvit, here is the first paragraph from that WND article, written by a gal named, uh, Cheryl Chumley:

A couple of photographs of President Obama shaking hands with a wealthy Democrat Party donor named John Poindexter, who also owns the ranch resort where he found Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dead, has fueled the whispers that radio host Michael Savage just gave wings to with the blunt broadcast question: “Was [he] murdered?

And just for fun, here is a comment on the article from a person called “brimp”:

Note to Trump, don’t take vacations with Obama cronies.

Note to brimp: There’s no way Obama would have Trumped killed. He is too valuable an asset for the Democratic Party.

___________________________

Speaking of Trump, I kid you not that I heard him asked yesterday, during that strange presser he did, how he deals with pressure. And, I kid you not, his answer, which was lost in all the talk of lies, lawsuits, and Bush II’s 9/11 liability, was the following:

I think I deal with pressure well. I mean, I’ve won many club championships—you have to deal with pressure—you know I deal with pressure, that’s what I do…

Yes. I can see how whacking a crucial drive in a club championship prepares you for the presidency. ISIS golfers must be trembling in fear, as they contemplate the sight of a driver-toting Donald walking up to the tee box. Thwack!

 

___________________________

Speaking of heavy-set golfers, Rush Limbaugh just said that,

Ted Cruz is the closest living thing to Ronald Reagan we’re ever going to have in our lifetimes. I don’t know what more I can say about Ted Cruz.

Maybe Rush, a former Trump cheerleader, doesn’t know what more he can say about Ted Cruz, but Trump does. He has now, cumulatively, called Ted Cruz an unstable lying Canadian pussy. If that’s the closest thing to Ronald Reagan we are ever going to have in our lifetimes, maybe there is a God.

____________________________

More Trump: Not only has he defined Cruz as an unstable lying Canadian pussy and threatened to sue him, he has attacked Bush II for not keeping the country safe and for starting a war that destabilized the Middle East. Of the low energy and sleepy Bush III he has said that “the last thing our jesus  trumpcountry needs is another BUSH! Dumb as a rock!” He compared Ben Carson to a child molester and said there’s no cure for his pathological disease. He has pointed out that Marco Rubio sweats like “he just came out of a swimming pool” and “when we get in with Putin we need people that don’t sweat.” He has connected John Kasich to the “crashed” Lehman Brothers and called him “a complete and total dud!” and a “total failure.”

The more I think about it, the more I am starting to realize that maybe there is a higher power after all and Trump was sent to us by a loving, all-knowing Democratic God.

______________________________

Speaking of Democrats, our president received some sage advice from the loving, all-knowing Newt Gingrich today about what Mr. Obama should do regarding the new Supreme Court vacancy:

If he really wants to get somebody approved, sit down with Mitch McConnell and with conservative senators like Mike Lee, ask them who they would approve and nominate somebody who is in the Scalia tradition.

Dammit! I bet Obama never even thought of that!  That’s exactly what he should do! Thanks, Newt!

_______________________________

And now, finally, back to that conspiracy in which talk radio nut Michael Savage suggests that Scalia may have been murdered. According to Media Matters, Donald Trump was
gop pillowactually a guest on the radio nut’s show and the radio nut asked Trump if he would support a Warren Commission-type investigation into Scalia’s death. Trump said he had just heard about the conspiracy talk and that he couldn’t give an answer, but:

They found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.

Well, I can tell you one thing. If I were a Republican these days, placing a pillow, a very heavy pillow, over my face would be exactly what I’d do.

 

What Hath God Wrought?

Whether you think God killed Justice Antonin Scalia in his sleep in order to reward him for his work here on earth or whether to save the country from further damage done by his judicial philosophy or whether to simply inject some seriousness into this year’s presidential campaign, you have to admit God has a thing for timing.

As Democrats, let us first stop to recognize the public service the 79-year-old Scalia rendered to his country. It is proper we do so because we belong to the party of government. We believe government is a force for good and we should therefore honor all those who sincerely believe they are serving the interests of the people. And whatever you thought of Antonin Scalia, he certainly was sincere in his belief that he was serving the interests of the people—even if it was the people of the 18th century, who were mostly white, male, Christian, and gun-toters.

Even though these last few days he has been given a lot of deserved credit for his unusually colorful written opinions and for his obvious first-rate intellect, Scalia’s judicial philosophy was really a bleak, third-rate heretical hermeneutic that, oddly, viewed the Constitution as a static document—“the good, old dead Constitution,” he said—with nothing to say to an evolving America except: if you don’t like it, change it. If that stale version of constitutional interpretation had prevailed throughout our nation’s history, America would look very different today, especially if you are not a privileged white person with dibs on the front seats of every cultural bus.

Scalia’s passing gives us even further insight into the Republican mind, admittedly a very scary place into which one’s inner peepers shouldn’t peep too long. We find today that Republicans everywhere have decided that a black man, in this case the African-American President of the United States named Barack Hussein Obama, has, in the words of another Supreme Court justice with a Scalia-like view of the Constitution, “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” In other words, Republicans have decided that Barack Obama is sort of an Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 president: three-fifths of an executive who should just sit out his last year in office and keep his uppity hands off the Supreme Court.

Really, though, Republicans, beginning around noon on January 20, 2009, have always treated Mr. Obama as three-fifths of a president, if not as three-fifths of a man. He has never quite been worthy of full respect. His legitimacy as our president has been under assault from the beginning, and today the front-runner—repeat: front-runner— in the GOP primary was and remains a leading proponent of the idea that President Obama isn’t even entitled to a three-fifths benefit of the doubt, since he wasn’t born in America. So, really, it should be no surprise to anyone that Republicans, who say they, like Antonin Scalia, treasure the integrity of the Constitution, are so willing to ignore its provision that demands the president should nominate a replacement for an open seat on the Court, whether it be in his first year in office or his last.

And it should be no surprise that it was Mitch McConnell, who, before Scalia’s lifeless body had cooled down, came out and said the new vacancy “should not be filled until we have a new president.” Mr. McConnell has led the charge to make sure President Obama was a three-fifths president, and that fraction is a generous interpretation of Republican congressional obstruction during his two terms in office.

But let us now pass on to the politics of the passing of Justice Scalia. It is clear that Mr. Obama will not get to name his replacement. For an excuse, Republicans, on and off the debate stage, on and off television, have offered up the notion that it would be virtually unprecedented for a president to fill such vacancies during election years. But that is, like so many claims on the lips of Republicans, obviously false. As Vox helpfully points out, there have been 14, the last one being Anthony Kennedy in 1988, who still sits on the bench. Maybe President Obama could make a deal with McConnell: “You get Kennedy to retire, since under your current theory he was confirmed illegitimately, and I won’t nominate anyone to replace either one of them.”

Given that such a scenario is about as likely as a Scalia resurrection, the focus for the rest of this campaign on the Republican side will be how Scalia’s replacement will radically alter the country, if Democrats should win. Here is Ted Cruz:

“I don’t think the American people want a court that will strip our religious liberties. I don’t think the American people want a court that will mandate unlimited abortions on demand, partial-birth abortion with taxpayer funding and no parental notification, and I don’t think the American people want a court that will write the Second Amendment out of the Constitution.”

Many of us know that Ted Cruz will never be the nominee of his party and it is easy to dismiss this talk as utter extremist nonsense. But let’s look at someone who I think does have a chance to become the nominee and who, unfortunately, gets journalistically lazy credit for being a “moderate” in the GOP presidential field. Let’s look at what Jeb!—now lately Jeb Bush!—said this morning. After being pressed by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on the issue, Bush III said it was all up to Mitch McConnell whether to allow a vote on a replacement, and then added:

bush on scalia.jpg“There shouldn’t be deference to the executive, is my point…If there is an up or down vote it should be rejected, based on the history of how President Obama selects judges. If there’s no vote, that’s fine, too. What I’m saying is there shouldn’t be—an Obama justice should not be appointed in an election year. Let this be an important part of the election process. Because there’s a lot riding on this. The Second Amendment, religious freedom, and many other causes that are important for this country will be determined by this pick….there should not be an appointment based on the record of President Obama’s selection of judges. They are way out of the mainstream and this should be an important point that we have in the election. I’m more than happy to litigate that.”

Again we see the three-fifths dynamic at work here, as it applies to President Obama. “There shouldn’t be deference to the executive,” Bush III said, which is an odd thing coming from a man running to be that executive and whose brother enjoyed such bipartisan deference that we ran ourselves into a war in Iraq that has turned the world upside down. But leaving that aside, there is the idea that Mr. Obama’s “history” of selecting judges disqualifies him from, well, selecting judges. Just what that disqualifying history is Jeb didn’t bother to say, mainly because, for Jeb’s audience, it is enough to insinuate that President Obama doesn’t have any rights that a white Senate Republican majority is bound to respect. But it seems to be for Jeb that Obama’s appointments “are way out of the mainstream,” a strange thing to say in the context of Scalia’s death, since the departed justice had been, if anything, fishing in a judicial stream far from the 21st century. But I suppose compared to many of the strange things that have been said by Republicans this election season, Jeb’s critique of Obama is only mildly outrageous, even if wildly ridiculous.

In any case, the Democrats can now, hopefully, stop arguing about pie-in-the-sky single-payer promises and free-tuition-in-every-pot politics. And Bernie can maybe stop insinuating that Clinton is a dishonest, money-grabbing shill for big banks. The party faithful can now clearly see what is at stake here. A loss of the presidency, which would carry with it a certain loss of the House and a likely loss of the Senate, would mean a right-wing ideologue would appoint another Justice Scalia to the bench, and then complete control of the entire government—they’d have it all, people!—would be in the hands of the reactionaries.

That possibility should be enough to scare the Bern out of any Democrat.

 

Don’t Panic, Bernie-Lites

This is how establishment politics works: As the Bernie-lites went down to a rather decisive electoral defeat in independent-voter rich New Hampshire last night, they actually likely won more delegates than the Bernie-ites. So, it’s not time to freak out just yet, Hillary fans.

mcgovern disaster of 1972As Hillary Clinton learned all too well in 2008, it is the delegate count at the end that matters. Bernie racked up a lot of New Hampshire votes, but because of the super-delegate safeguard built into the Democratic primary process, he didn’t last night, and hasn’t so far, racked up a lot of delegates. Superdelegates, as we have come to know, are mostly current or former party pooh-bahs who don’t have to follow the voters’ wishes. The Democratic Party’s decision to create superdelegates was the result of the disastrous nomination of George McGovern in 1972, who was nominated via an open voting process at the convention and who was subsequently destroyed by Richard Nixon.

Many of the superdelegates have already committed to Mrs. Clinton. Here is the Associated Press’s count as of today:

democratic delegate count

People forget that in that 2008 Democratic primary race, Hillary Clinton actually got 48% of the total vote and Obama got 47%. But Obama won the delegate count 2,285 to 1,973. In that race, the Clinton campaign was out-foxed by the Obama team, the latter virtually ceding to Clinton the big prizes that she was sure to win and focusing elsewhere, as an excellent Washington Post article from June of 2008 (“Strategy Was Based On Winning Delegates, Not Battlegrounds”) explains:

“It’s the story that hasn’t been written yet, how Obama did everything right, targeting caucuses, targeting small states, avoiding the showdowns in the big states where he could,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, who watched the strategy play out in microcosm in his own state, “and how in the end Clinton did so much so wrong.”

What Clinton did wrong in 2008 will not be repeated this time. She is competing for every vote in every state. Additionally, she has the backing of the party faithful, including, again, those faithful superdelegates. And as of right now, she can count on strong support in the African-American community, and relatively strong support among Hispanics.

But she will eventually have to start winning to validate her commanding lead in delegates and to assure nervous voters that she can actually overcome the barrage of attacks, including attacks on her honesty, that she has experienced for a generation now.

It is those assaults on her honesty and trustworthiness that I want to focus on, as I end this call for Clinton supporters not to panic. For as long as the Clintons have been national figures (and even before that), Republicans have essentially slandered them both with every kind of nasty deed imaginable—including the infamous “Clinton Body Bags” and the charge that former Clinton lawyer Vince Foster was murdered to cover up, among other things, an affair with Hillary. Now, to be sure, Bill gave us all reasons to question his integrity, especially as it related to his sexual escapades. And Hillary hasn’t exactly been a Mother Teresa in defense of her husband’s political career or her own.

But a lot of what the public perceives about the Clintons is tied to how they have enriched themselves since leaving politics, whether personally or via their foundation. People generally and rightly believe that politicians shouldn’t cash in on their public service, and it makes even the most ardent Hillary Clinton supporters uncomfortable when they consider all the money she has made from giving speeches to powerful bankers and others. But making money, in the way the Clintons have made it, isn’t illegal. Maybe it should be. Or maybe politicians should have to at least enter a plea of post-presidency poverty before people vote for them for that high office.

Until then, though, what Bernie Sanders and his campaign are actually doing to Hillary Clinton, who is still the likely Democratic nominee, is feeding into—and piggybacking on—the narrative that Republicans have used against her and Bill for many years now. Bernie and some of his surrogates clearly want voters to draw the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is bought and paid for by big donors, that she is fundamentally dishonest when she vehemently denies turning tricks for bankster pimps, and that she is not to be trusted to fight for the interests of ordinary folks.

ralph nader bushJust look at the exit polls for New Hampshire: a whopping 50% of voters in the Democratic primary believed “only Sanders” was “honest and trustworthy,” at least a partial testament to his constant insinuations about her ties to donors. And if he continues this not-so-subtle attack, he will not only solidify the Republican-crafted image of Hillary Clinton as essentially a crooked, money-grabbing liar, he will, like the infamous Ralph Nader candidacy that helped elect George W. Bush president in 2000, make it easier for a right-wing zealot to win in November and destroy the Obama legacy.

 

Remarks And Asides: The New Hampshire Primary Edition

♦ I have watched Hillary on the campaign trail, during debates, and on television interview programs. She is almost always on her game. Superbly talented, in command of the issues, and quite likeable. Her biggest problem during this campaign (other than the dumb decision to set up her own server and the even dumber decision to cash in on her pre-presidency celebrity), has been her surrogates or supporters. For instance, Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright should stop doing Hillary favors. Now. Before it’s too late.

♦ Speaking of favors, Bill Clinton, who was in charge of explainin’ stuff for Obama in 2012, should do Hillary a favor, too. Stop explainin’ why he wishes he wasn’t married to her. It makes voters think of people like Kathleen Willey, a former volunteer aid in the Clinton administration who accused Bill of sexually assaulting her, and who is now going to campaign against Hillary on behalf of a right-wing PAC.

♦ If you think about it, there is a little bit of a contradiction in Bernie’s criticism of Hillary raking in all that big dough from bankers. He says, correctly, that our campaign financing system is broken and corrosive. But he refuses to say, and only insinuates, that Hillary Clinton has been bought like a prostitute, even if a pretty expensive one. Like Hillary says, if Bernie has somethin’ to say, he should just say it. If he doesn’t, maybe he should save his the-system-is-corrupt message for the Republicans, who generally love the system and who generally are, without a doubt, corrupted by it. If Bernie were to win, how can he accuse, say, Bush! of being corrupted by donors, if he wasn’t willing to say it about his Democratic opponent? Just stop it, Bernie, for now, and explain your tax plan, which is what will sink you in the end if you don’t begin to make people understand how it will work and how it will make the country a better place.

♦ Speaking of Bush! He will surprise. Okay, okay. You may, with good reason, think I’m nuts. But I think Bush! still has a good chance of being the GOP nominee. Yep. Call me crazy, call me insane, call me Ted Cruz. But I think Bush! can still win. Not many of the self-proclaimed revolutionaries, in either party, ever win. When I was a mind-numbed conservative, I was once a Patrick J. Buchanan supporter back in 1992 and 1996. Naively, I thought he had a chance against the Republican establishment. He didn’t. You have to have the professionals with you, no matter how many people populate your rallies or root for you from the cheap seats. Buchanan had many enthusiastic followers, but that was about it.

♦ Speaking of enthusiastic followers, neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz, no matter what happens in New Hampshire, will ever be president. Period. Let’s don’t even discuss it.

♦ Which leads me to this young woman who was interviewed on MSNBC the other day:

“There’s something very “politics” about the way she talks. And Bernie has a refreshing way of speaking,” said the earnest and engaged young lady. That’s the way a lot of young folks feel about the race between two old Democratic politicians. One gets labeled merely as a politician and the other—just as much a politician who has been around forever—gets to set himself up as an outsider whose speech is refreshing.

And it is. Bernie’s speech is refreshing. I have to admit I agree with this sincere young woman. Bernie sounds fresh and new because he is talking about a revolution. Young people tend to like that sort of talk. And there is something very politics in the way Hillary talks. Why? Because she’s a professional politician who understands that having a vision of where the country should go is important, but that it is at least as important to also have a vision of how to realistically get it there. That’s professionalism. That’s politics. That’s not all pie-in-the-sky optimism, but some stick-in-the-mud realism. And, admittedly, muddy realism doesn’t much appeal to young folks who are much more optimistic about what can get accomplished in the American political arena than is good for them. Just like I was when I was a nutty Pat Buchanan supporter in the 1990s, too many, especially too many young folks, don’t appreciate the skills of professionals who can talk “very politics” while also being very good at their jobs.

Any sober survey of the political landscape would lead one to conclude that progress from here to where we Democrats want to go will require a lot of zigging and zagging, a lot of one-and-a-half-steps forward and one-step back compromises that make regular folks cringe. And I understand the resistance to that approach. It would be nice if we could just all march up, pitch forks in hand, and take the highest hill. Unfortunately, though, there are other folks sitting on the hill, who won’t just surrender to our demands. They will fight. And they will fight with as much, or more, fervor as any left-leaning 20-year-old can marshal. That’s how they got to be “the establishment,” by the way.

Thus, Hillary’s biggest job this primary season will be in conveying a sober but still optimistic message, with as much combination of enthusiasm and realism as possible, to those young folks who need to hear it, to those who think we can afford to take a chance on a revolution-minded candidate and a revolution-ready electorate. Because, after all, more than any age group, they have the most to lose if we gamble and Republicans take it all.

 

Democracy Can Be A Scary Thing

I apologize for the quality of the audio in the two-minute clip below, but I think you can make out how scary it is that Bill Yorkell, from Hudson, New Hampshire, likely represents the “thought” processes of a lot of Republican voters:

Let’s Dispel With This Fiction That Marco Rubio Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing

Chris Christie, whose San Andreas-size faults should scare away any trembling voter, has nevertheless done the country, as well as his party, a big favor. He has exposed Marco Rubio as a shallow opportunist, something those of us who have followed his Tea Party career have always known.

marcobotBut as some critics have noted, Christie’s gift wasn’t just in the way he got Rubio to repeat the same phrase time after time (“Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing“) on the debate stage a few days ago. It was getting him to repeat an idea that is so utterly stupid and anti-American that it will be difficult for any Republican nominee to utter it again, at least in the form Rubio did. They’ll have to be more creative when they want to claim that Obama, and by extension the eventual Democratic nominee, purposely want to destroy the country. And for that, the Republican Party itself owes Chris Christie, who will never be president, some props.

Now, you gotta hand it to Rubio. He ain’t backing down. He and most Republican Party primary voters actually believe this dookey, even if many of them will reject Rubio’s robotics in saying so. This morning, on CNN’s New Day, Rubio’s Communications Director—I repeat: this guy is the director of communications for Marco Rubio—said this stuff “Is what Marco believes,” then bizarrely but quite accurately cited a number of talk radio nuts as support. CNN’s Chris Cuomo cleared up exactly what the message is, when he asked the communications director, “So, the senator really believes that President Obama is intentionally trying to destroy the country?” And the communications director said, “Absolutely. And all the evidence confirms that.”

Below is part of the segment, and as you watch it, keep in mind that as dumb as Marco Rubio sounded repeating it during the last debate, and as dumb as his communications guy sounded defending it and expanding on it this morning, the accusation that Democrats want to destroy their own country will most definitely exit the lips of some future Republican nominee, in some form or another:

Our Criminal “Justice” System

Democrats of all persuasions, Bernie-ites and Bernie-lites, should be grateful for Saint, I mean, Senator Elizabeth Warren. Everyone should spend nine minutes watching her “two legal systems” speech below:

 

Here’s a link to the report she mentions in the video (“Rigged Justice: 2016: How Weak Enforcement Let’s Corporate Offenders Off Easy”). The report, which Warren’s office released,

highlights 20 of the most egregious civil and criminal cases during the past year in which federal settlements failed to require meaningful accountability to deter future wrongdoing and to protect taxpayers and families. […]

The 20 cases highlighted in Rigged Justice illustrate problematic enforcement patterns by federal agencies across a range of areas, from financial crimes to student loan rip-offs to auto safety violations to environmental disasters. In many of the cases described in the report, corporations reached settlements with the federal government that required no admission of guilt and held no individual executives accountable.

 

Islam And Our Founding

If you missed the entire speech President Obama gave in a mosque yesterday, you missed yet another example of why we have been so fortunate to have had him in the White’s House these past seven years.

Speaking before the Islamic Society of Baltimore, he did something he shouldn’t have had to do: assure Muslim Americans that they are, well, Americans. And he wanted them to know that the weirdly popular Republicans who scapegoat them, who are partly responsible for the surge in “threats and harassment of Muslim Americans,” who can take some credit for bullied Muslim children and vandalized mosques, those Republicans are the anti-Americans. At least that was my takeaway from the speech.

The president mentioned a forgotten fact:

Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.

He then referenced Jefferson:

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans.  And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.”

That would later lead to a humorous part of his speech. He talked about staying “true to our core values,” including “freedom of religion for all faiths.” Which led to this:

Now, we have to acknowledge that there have been times where we have fallen short of our ideals.  By the way, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim — so I was not the first — (applause.)  No, it’s true, it’s true.  Look it up.  (Laughter.)  I’m in good company. (Laughter.)

Turns out you can look it up in The New Republic (“Thomas Jefferson Was a Muslim”), among other places. Back in the 1790s, Christians, much as they do today, “viewed all Muslims as agents of religious error and a foreign threat.” The issue then was a form of terrorism, piracy around Muslim North Africa. And sounding like many evangelical scaremongers and fear merchants today, Christian zealots then were worried about losing culture-controlling power. But despite being called a Muslim, a gross slander in those days, Thomas Jefferson was no Barack Obama. As Denise Spellberg, a scholar of Islamic history, makes clear:

Suffice it to say, Jefferson did subscribe to the anti-Islamic views of most of his contemporaries, and in politics he made effective use of the rhetoric they inspired.

Despite cynically using his fellow Americans’ anti-Islamic views, Jefferson at least understood, in the words of Abbas Milani, the author of The New Republic piece,

that Muslims should enjoy the full rights of citizenship. Indeed, some of the critical elements of [John] Locke’s views of toleration were developed precisely in his attempt to defend the rights of Muslims—not because he believed in the righteousness of their cause or their religion, but because he believed in the right of liberty and the toleration of others.

Liberty and tolerance together form the essence of the American experiment, and who could have guessed that defending the rights of Muslims was crucial to its beginning?

I want to be clear. I despise many of the views of both conservative Christians and conservative Muslims. I don’t want either group to have any influence on American politics whatsoever. But both groups remain free to exert as much influence as citizens will accept at the ballot box. And both groups, as long as they believe “in the right of liberty and the toleration of others,” can and should proudly call themselves Americans. And let us all hope, with President Obama, “that ultimately, our best voices will win out.”

 

The Androcentric Universe

You no doubt remember Wendy Davis, former member of the Texas legislature who, before she unsuccessfully ran for governor, conducted a well-publicized filibuster over anti-choice legislation Republicans were pushing in her state. For her efforts, she was labeled “Abortion Barbie,” among other derogatory things. So, clearly she understands something about how female politicians are treated in the political workplace.

Davis recently discussed Megyn Kelly’s famous questioning, in that first Fox debate, of Donald Trump about the terrible things he has said about women throughout his career. Davis said she wasn’t surprised by how Trump responded or how the men, both on the debate stage and in the audience, reacted. But she was surprised by something else:

So when Megyn Kelly pointed out his derogatory statements, he doubled down on them. And when he did, he got great laughter and applause. And if you remember, the camera panned the audience, and what was so disappointing was to see the number of women who were applauding and laughing at those comments.

I remember that, too. The audience seemed to turn on Megyn Kelly for daring to suggest that it wasn’t okay to call women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” It was really a remarkable moment in what it said about the Republicans, both men and women, in that room, if not in the country at large.

This morning, I witnessed something similar on MSNBC’s version of Fox and Friends, a program called Morning Joe. For those of you not condemned to watching the program, let me give you an idea of how the show works. The host, right-winger Joe Scarborough, praises Donald Trump every other segment, bashes Hillary Clinton every other segment, and generally bullies every panelist until they just stop talking. All the while, Scarborough’s co-host, Mika Brzezinski, mostly sits beside him and either nods or otherwise affirms Joe’s point of view. Mika, who is supposed to represent a Democratic point of view, isn’t exactly a feminist icon, if you know what I mean.

During a segment this morning, the panel was discussing, as they often do, Hillary Clinton. And as they often do, they were trashing her. Three women and two men sitting around the table trashing the winner—I repeat: winner—of the recent Iowa contest, as if she hadn’t won and as if she wasn’t capable of winning any election. One of the panelists was the much-overrated Bob Woodward, whose quality of analysis is shriveling up faster than a wiener in a hot tub. At one point he said,

I think a lot of it with Hillary Clinton has to do with style and delivery, oddly enough. She shouts. There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating, and I think that just jumps off the television screen. […]  I’m sorry to dwell on the tone issue, but there is something here where Hillary Clinton suggests that she’s almost not comfortable with herself…

He then later said, she needed to “lower the temperature” and “kind of get off this screaming stuff.”

christy in new hampshire and bubble boyNow, I must point out that just before this discussion, Morning Joe played a long portion of Chris Christie rather forcefully telling reporters in New Hampshire that Marco Rubio was a “boy in the bubble” and those reporters had better force him to answer some tough questions. And we all know how Christie has talked in the past. He isn’t much for lowering the temperature or getting off the screaming stuff. Funny thing, though. No one on the panel said a word about his style and delivery. No one accused him of being unrelaxed or that his tone indicated he wan’t comfortable with himself.

When Howard Dean, a third man on the panel who is a Clinton supporter, dared to defend her against what was clearly sexist criticism, he was almost laughed off the set. And he was almost laughed off the set not just by the men, but by the three women.

From Wendy Davis’s “Abortion Barbie” experience, to the Megyn Kelly debate episode, to the double-standard that Hillary Clinton constantly has to endure on the campaign trail— the fascination with her hairstyle and clothing and her “tone”—clearly our politics and some of the punditry that surrounds it is still an androcentric universe. And, sadly, there are still too many women willingly orbiting around male dominance.

 

Wrapping Up Iowa

1. Aren’t we all glad that caucus nonsense is over for a while? That has to be the dumbest way to conduct democracy that could ever be conceived. Geeze.

2. Despite what you are hearing from silly pundits on TV and from Bernie Sanders backers, Clinton’s win in Iowa (yep, she won, although you wouldn’t know it from the coverage), as narrow as it was, represents a pretty eye-opening defeat for Sanders (for those whose eyes will open). Iowa was the perfect state for him to win, given that the Democratic electorate in Iowa is, next to maybe Vermont, the most liberal in the country (one survey found that 43% identified as socialists, compared to only 38% who identified as capitalists).

Plus, let’s not forget, Sanders himself said that if the turnout was high, he would win. It was and he didn’t. After New Hampshire, where all Clinton has to do is narrow Bernie’s lead a little bit, she has a distinct advantage.

By the way, this is how Fox presented Sanders this morning:

bernie the socialist on fox.jpg

It’s only the beginning. If Sanders were to win the nomination, he would be a sought-after-Stalinist.

3. It’s no real surprise that Cruz won in a state dominated by Bible-thumping reactionaries, since he is a Bible-thumping reactionary himself. He began his victory speech with,

God bless the great state of Iowa. Let me first of all say — to God be the glory.

Let me first of all say—to God be the glory when Cruz and his faithful followers figure out that he will nevva evva be president of the United States.

4. Donald Trump’s lack of essential on-the-ground organization in Iowa and his pretending he knew what evangelical Christianity was hurt him. Those vulnerabilities won’t matter as much going forward, if he is willing to spend his own money to do some real campaigning, instead of relying on big rallies and counting on cable outlets to give him free air time. And, yes, I am hoping he stays in the race until the bitter end.

5. Now on to Marco Rubio’s third-place finish, which he celebrated like he had just won a gold medal in a hot dog slam fest. Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director at HuffPo and an MSNBC talking head, wrote some things so remarkably inaccurate about Iowa Republicans and Rubio that I need to make a few remarkably accurate comments about his claims. He said:

…the plain-spoken and sensible voters of the state also plucked a new star out of the crowd: the comparatively moderate and photogenic young senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Cruz showed in Iowa that he could take a punch from Donald Trump. And Rubio showed that he could sneak up on the other two with charisma, charm and a sense of optimism.

Let me start with the easy part. Republican voters in Iowa might be plain-spoken, but they ain’t sensible. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Pat Robertson have won the Iowa Republican caucuses. So, please. Look in the dictionary for the definition of sensible.

But perhaps it is Fineman’s description of Rubio as “comparatively moderate” that offends the most. Moderate compared to whom? Rubio himself rejected a similar description on television this morning. He said he is as conservative as anyone in the race. And he’s sort of right about that in the sense that he is at least as conservative as anyone in the race. But in some important ways he is much more conservative. Just because Beltway insiders have somehow placed him into the moderate lane this primary season (you hear that a lot on cable news) doesn’t make it so. He is as radical a Republican as you are ever to meet.

Two examples among many (I omit his weird and harmful economic and tax ideas): Rubio turned his back on his own immigration reform bill after getting criticized by the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of the world. He not only turned his back on humane reforms necessary to help his party’s national chances, but he turned his back on himself! That ain’t easy, people. But that’s not all. As Republican Lindsay Graham pointed out this morning, not only does radically right-wing Ted Cruz’s position on abortion outlaw any and all of them, but Rubio is just like him:

“Marco has no exception for rape and incest. I think it’s going to be very hard to grow the party among women if you’re gonna tell young women, ‘If you get raped, you’re gotta carry the child of the rapist.’”

If Marco Rubio’s anti-immigrant stance and his have-your-rapist’s-baby government mandate qualifies him as a “comparatively moderate” Republican these days, then the party is, as I suspect, irredeemable. And maybe contemporary journalism is too, if someone like the respected Howard Fineman can be so wrong about something so easy.

rubio shineFinally, about Rubio’s incessant godspeak. During his weird non-victory speech last night, he said, “I want to thank an all powerful and mighty God for the chance that he has given us to be a part of this endeavor here in Iowa.” And then later, “I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ and I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to come this far with each of you.” Apparently after hoisting Ted Cruz into first place last night, the “all powerful and mighty” God’s arms were too tired to lift Marco higher than third.

Or, maybe the Almighty had nothing to do with any of it.

[photo credit: screenshot from TV using TEC’s special God-detecting filter]

 

“He’s Got A Full Head Of Hair”

Now that the damned Iowa caucuses are—finally!—here, let’s take a moment to reflect on the quality of the electorate to whom politicians on both sides have to plead or pander.

Those of us who follow this democracy stuff closely—or who spend some time talking to our family, friends, or neighbors—understand one thing about the electorate. It’s a messy mix of folks, some very familiar with the political landscape, some vaguely familiar, and many fooled by their favorite guides who lead them into bias-confirming cul-de-sacs. And there are still others, perhaps a majority, who are lost in a wilderness of ignorance and superstition and, well, bigotry.

It’s that last group of voters I want to highlight today by giving a couple of examples. First, we have this article from The Huffington Post:

A Democrat Explains Why She’s Voting For Donald Trump

This Iowan, Rebecca Thoeni, says she “was all for women’s power” and caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2008. But now she is disillusioned with Democrats for, as HuffPo summarized it, “failing to adequately turn things around.” I suppose it matters what you mean by adequately. Going from losing 800,000 jobs every month to gaining 200,000 jobs every month seems like a pretty good turnaround, but then facts have some rudimentary value to me, if not to Ms. Thoeni.

These days this proud and enthusiastic Iowan proudly and enthusiastically supports Donald J. Trump because, as we all know, “He’s down to earth and seems to have a lot of common sense.” Yes, from the minute he opened his presidential campaign by riding down that escalator in Midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower, adorned by his newest young and glamorous wife, we could all see how down to earth he is.  In fact, one might look at that grand entrance as really The Donald signaling to the rabble that he is descending fdonald downrom on high to become one of them, just like that Jesus guy did in the New Testament. And common sense? Why, the man is full of it. His opening campaign speech that day, what Trump-supporting Ann Coulter called “That Mexican Rapist Speech,” was as commonsensical as anything the other Republicans had been saying before or have been saying since.

In any case, this working-class white woman who once loved Hillary but now fawns over Donald said,

I like how he wants to take back our country. That’s the main thing; it’s our country. And the respect. We’re getting screwed over.

“Our country,” of course, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I’ll leave you to imagine what it means to a white gal from Dubuque who thinks Trump is a down-to-earth purveyor of common sense. As she excitedly watched 69-year-old Donald Trump’s plane land and then taxi toward her, our Iowan lady said the following, which helps me to understand, at least partly, why democracy is so frustrating at times:

He seems like such a young man. He seems my age. He’s got a full head of hair.

Down to earth. Head full of hair and common sense. How do you even begin to reach out to someone that far into the wilderness?

I’ll end with another example of someone in the political wilderness, one that requires little commentary. New York magazine recently did a piece featuring “Conversations with 100 Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire.” You can go through it yourself and pick your favorite conversation. They talked to insurance brokers, IT people, doctors, students, business people, politicians, and even a taxidermist. But they also talked to an unemployed guy named Earle Kolb, who is from Salem, New Hampshire, and who is a Ted Cruz supporter. I will share with you Earle’s entire response, mainly because it illustrates so vividly just how scary democracy can be at times:

Ted Cruz is the most conservative guy in the bunch and he’s frankly the smartest guy in the bunch. I was leaning toward Rand Paul until Rand started to give me the impression that he was a little soft. Largely, the reason why I’m a conservative is because I’ve been on public assistance my whole life, and I have always felt ashamed of it. I have two major health conditions — cerebral palsy and an injury to my left hemidiaphragm. The whole idea of welfare and entitlements is to create a permanent underclass. They’ll give you plenty of handouts, but they won’t give you any hand-ups.

If anyone out there can explain Earle Kolb to me, I would greatly appreciate it. Because as much as I love and trust democracy; as much as I believe that self-government is the only legitimate political system; as much as I want to believe that people generally use their noggins for something other than hat-holders, I have to confess that, in terms of our experiment with democracy, Earle Kolb—the kind of person the Democratic Party has been trying to rescue from Tea Party conservatism—scares me.

[Photo credit: Igor Bobic/HuffPo (of Rebecca Thoeni on right in photo); Benedict Evans (of Earle Kolb)]

Donald Trump Is God!

We may be given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here.
—Joe Biden, January 28, 2016

for a while, I admit it, he had me fooled. I thought he was just a vulgar rich guy with a big mouth and and even bigger ego who wanted to be the CEO of America. But nope. He’s more than that. He’s God.

Come on, I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. God, in an attempt to save the world, once allegedly hid himself in the body of a Jewish builder in a Galilean village who hung out with hookers, right? Is it so hard to believe that he would hide himself today in the body of a Presbyterian builder from Queens who has owned casinos with strip clubs and been married three times? Huh? Think about it. It would be the perfect disguise these days, especially if your message is that you are the savior with superhuman powers to set the world right—but you require an enormous amount of faith to believe the otherwise unbelievable.

Consider this famous scripture from Hebrews:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

That pretty much describes the miraculous power that props up the Trump campaign. His central message is embarrassingly non-specific: “I will do all of these great things, if you will only trust me. Just believe in me and you will see.”

trump bibleOr consider that in The Art of the Deal, Trump said, “Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.” During this campaign he has spent a lot of time doing that, especially the candidates on his own side. But guess who else was good at denigrating his competition, including those ostensibly on his own side? Yep. Jesus didn’t have much good to say about his competition either, calling his fellow Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” who were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Then he topped it off with this: “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” The art of the deal, indeed. All that is missing from that New Testament scene are the American flags behind the podiums on the Republican debate stage.

Or think about that time when God said to his followers in the book of Exodus: “I am making a covenant [deal!] with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.” Doesn’t that sound like Donald Trump to you? Come on, admit it.

What about the time when Trump said he didn’t bother with asking forgiveness from God? Of course not! God doesn’t have to forgive himself, does he?

How about when Trump once wrote: “When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.” Have you ever read the Old Testament? God did that kind of stuff all the time. Just ask the unfortunate Midianites from the book of Numbers. God commanded Moses to slaughter them all, enslaving only the young virgin girls, all for the supposed sin of enticing “the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord.” Sounds like a Trumpian response to me. And don’t even get me started on the Book of Revelation, where most of the folks will die horrific deaths and end up in hell in eternal torment. Donald Trump’s denigration and exclusion of Mexicans and Muslims from America fits right in with the biblical idea that most people aren’t welcome in Heaven.

And then there is the idea that I encounter when I talk to hard-core believers in God. I bring up things like the slaughter of the Midianites, and other atrocities committed either by God or with his permission, as recorded in the Bible. Or I’ll bring up God’s creation of hell, with its unquenchable fire and unending torture. The faithful almost always say something like this: “Who are you to question the ways of God? He must have had his reasons for doing those things because he is, well, God.” That response is what I thought of when I heard Donald Trump say the following recently:

They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.

A misguided Christian woman thanks Jesus for ‘President’ Trump (Found here; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmares.tumblr.com/post/127240146436/trumphole-donald-trumps-shit-talking-mouth)It is incredible—for a normal human being. But apparently not for God. Because no matter what the God of the Bible does, he never seems to lose any voters. He can slaughter thousands of innocents, commit unspeakable atrocities, create an everlasting pit of torment for most of the people who have ever lived, and his poll and pew numbers stay strong. So, is it beyond possibility that he has incarnated himself into a Republican who says horrible things about other people and thinks he could murder someone in the middle of the street and not “lose any voters”?

You tell me.

 

 

Dear Iowa Democrats

Please don’t do it!

Don’t make Bernie Sanders a winner! You will only further the fantasy that he can win the general election and start a democratic socialist revolution. Okay? So, please, stop it while there is still time! We expect Bernie to win his neighborhood state of New Hampshire. But Iowa? Say it ain’t so!

Oh, it’s not that I don’t like Bernie. I do. I like him a lot. He’s the real deal. And I would much rather live in a world run by Bernie Sanders than one run by any of the other candidates, including Hillary Clinton. The problem is that it is a fantasy world at this point in our history. It’s just not possible that the things Bernie Sanders wants to do will happen anytime soon, let alone after the next election. Just not possible. America has never worked that way. Things change slowly, often very slowly.

Vermont SenateIn any case, all this talk about a revolution means there has to be some revolutionaries. And those revolutionaries have to hold power in the government. And they have to hold power not just in the White’s House, but in Congress, too. And until Bernie Sanders, who just recently became a Democrat, explains to me how he will have 218 solid revolutionary votes in the House of Representatives, as well as 60 revolutionary votes in the United States Senate, there will be no revolution—even if he were to get 55% of the popular vote.

I do give Bernie credit. He has talked about the need for voters to give him a new Congress. He’s emphasized that he can’t do it alone. But that’s the problem. The need is there but there’s no plausible strategy to turn the need into reality. The best Democrats can hope for, even if they win the presidency, is to take over the Senate, but it won’t be with a necessary 60-seat majority of revolutionaries, even if all 60 of them have a (D) by their names (do you think Sen. Joe Manchin will support him? Huh?).

We Democrats might even dream more elaborate dreams and see ourselves recapturing the House, but it borders on delusion to think recapturing the House will provide Bernie with 218 unwavering votes for a Medicare-for-all health system or for free college tuition for all, or for any of the other things Bernie supports that many of us believe would make us a better country. Even if he got 248 Democrats, they won’t all be itching for votes on socialism, democratic or otherwise.

And remember that all of the hope behind Bernie is based on a very shaky assumption: that it is actually possible for Sanders to win the general election. Oh, it’s possible that if Republicans are foolish enough to put Donald Trump at the top of their ticket, Bernie has some small chance of winning the election. But even as crazy as President Donald Trump sounds, even as frightening as it is to contemplate that a majority of the country would put a clownish, egomaniacal billionaire in the White’s House, I still don’t think there’s much of a chance that Bernie, an aging democratic socialist, can win.

That’s mostly because before it’s all over, Republicans will turn him into a dangerous Stalinist dictator. He will become a Marxist. A dreaded communist to be feared. The distinction between what he actually believes—his brand of socialism is shared by anyone who uses Medicare or accepts Social Security or Medicaid—and what Republicans will claim he believes will be lost on enough independents and confused Democrats to hand the election to, yes, even Donald J. Trump.

So, what we’re left with is pragmatism. What we’re left with is a relatively centrist candidate like Hillary Clinton. She has flaws, no doubt. But she understands that the unmistakable move toward people-friendly policies in this country has always been fairly incremental. Our present social safety net evolved slowly and was not available to everyone from the start. It has taken time. Change is hard in America because change-is-hard is built into our political system. Not much happens overnight.

Think back about the battle over the stimulus bill at the beginning of Obama’s presidency. Think about how impossible it was to convince the other side that money was needed to help stimulate and rescue the economy, to help rescue it from the devastation of GOP-sponsored economic and regulatory policies. Don’t forget those times. And don’t forget the Affordable Care Act. Don’t forget how hard that was and how hard it still is today to get people to understand that it’s better than the old system, even if it’s not where we ultimately want to end up. It was a baby step. But it was a step. And we need to follow up with another step. And then another. If we nominate someone who will practically guarantee a Republican president, there will be no baby steps. Because there will be no baby.

Make no mistake about it, the surest way to elect a Donald Trump or a Marco Rubio or any other reactionary crusader that Republicans might put up, i#weneedliberty #weneedsmallergovt  #communist #wakeupamerica #socialist s to offer Bernie Sanders to a fact-challenged electorate, many of whom these days get their information from bias-
confirming social media and many of whom will fall for the Bernie-is-a-Marxist line of attack. Remember, even with a collapsing economy in 2008, even when we were sliding into Republican-caused financial chaos, 60 million Americans—46% of the electorate—still voted for a Republican to become president. Remember that.

So, I beg you, my Iowan friends. As much as you feel the Bern, as much as we all wish his ideas would become reality, don’t succumb to the temptation. Don’t give him hope of winning the nomination. Don’t give others hope of him winning the nomination. Don’t hand the presidency back to the Republicans.

TEC

Donald’s Diner

It’s all about anxiety.

The rise of Donald Trump. The reaction against him. The fear that he will bring down the Republican Party and poison “true” conservatism. It’s all about a slow, methodical unraveling of white Christian privilege in America and the fear and uncertainty that comes with that dawning reality.

Let me start with Anus Mouth. Donald Trump’s success, so far, has been based on crassly and confidently, if not coherently and consistently, addressing the cultural angst that many white conservative Christians feel. I have written about this angst for many years now. It is palpable. It is real. Even if it is un-Christianly.

So, a rather un-Christianly Donald Trump comes along—Mr. “Two Corinthians”—and figures out a way to feed the beast of collective white conservative Christian anger and resentment that has now become the dominant force in Republican politics. It matters not that he feeds the hungry beast a smorgasbord of megalomania and mistruths or that he offers the beast a feast of bewildering bigotry and baptized balderdash or that he serves all-you-can eat dishes of toxic demagoguery and dissonance to this famished and unfortunate creature.

What matters is that the beast has been starving for attention, hungering for a conservative cuisine that satisfies its most basic, and basest, instinct: fear of the Other. Fear that the Other is winning. Whites are getting dirtied by malicious brown people from Mexico and the Middle East. Christianity is under attack from within—Obama is a Muslim! The War on Christmas!—and from without—ISIS is just steps away from pulverizing American churches just like they did that 1400-year old Christian monastery in Iraq!

Donald can fix it all. Make America White Again.

Now, there are those on the “true” right starting to figure out that Donald’s Diner, affectionately known as the Buffoon’s Buffet, perhaps needs some health inspectors to come in and shut the place down before too many conservatives are poisoned and the movement dies. The most recent conservative health experts joined forces in a lengthy critique of Trump’s conservatism that was published by National Review, a magazine founded by William F. Buckley and that was, once upon a time, a place where thoughtful and interesting conservatives could make intellectual war on liberalism. These days National Review is publishing pieces by trolls like Glenn Beck and Erick Erickson. Talk about cultural decline.

In any case, reading some of these critiques oddly reveals just why there is a beast hungry for the kind of junk food that Trump cynically serves. Sure, one writer criticized Trump’s “nativism and his promise of one-man rule” and his “racial and religious scapegoating.”  Another isn’t sure if he is a “boor” or a “creep” or a “louse,” but is sure that he is a “con man” and “has demonstrated an emotional immaturity bordering on personality disorder, and it ought to disqualify him from being a mayor, to say nothing of a commander-in-chief.”

But when you dig a little deeper into these latest critiques of Trump, you find that at the heart of many of them is a validation of the anxiety and fears that Trump is exploiting. One writer said that Trump is embracing “Barack Obama’s authoritarianism.” Another wrote of Obama’s “withering assault” on “religious freedom.” You see? The subtext is validation: The Scary Negro is a tyrant tearing down the scaffolding that supports white Christian privilege. He’s letting into the country brown immigrants from Mexico. He’s welcoming Muslim refugees from Syria.20160120_151250

Another writer, again published by the once-reputable National Review, did manage to call Trump a “know-nothing demagogue.” But in the same paragraph he called Bernie Sanders a “Marxist,” Hillary Clinton a “leftist crook,” and said, “all are competing to see who can be even more like Mussolini than is Obama.” Mussolini? Really? And you wonder why there is an appetite for the kind of ignorance and hate that Donald Trump piles on his buffet table and sells the Republican electorate?

An old Reaganite, Ed Meese, criticized Trump for his vigorous and vitriolic attacks against fellow Republicans in the race. Then he ended by calling President Obama “one of the most divisive and incompetent presidents in history.” Again, we see the validation of one of Trump’s central messages: our leaders are incompetent and ruining the country and The Donald is so much smarter and much more cunning—he loves that word—that he will make great deals and build great walls and win great wars. Thus it is that even when the conservative health inspectors are trying to claim the food Trump is serving is bad for conservatives, they are authenticating the recipe.

But it’s not only such authentication that serves to undermine the conservative case against Donald Trump, a case prosecuted not only by the writers at National Review, but writers and pundits and politicians elsewhere in the right-wing world. Perhaps what really undermines the seriousness of their arguments against him is best illustrated by what Eric Erickson wrote to begin his anti-Trump essay:

I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

That sentence pretty much explains why it is that so many people, empty buffet plates in hand, stand in long lines and fill large arenas to hear a hateful demagogue repeat stupid and hurtful things on the campaign trail and why those same people don’t pay much attention to National Review writers or others trying buffetto take down Trump. In the end, right-wing criticism of Donald Trump is hollow, unless it is followed by, “Donald Trump is dangerous and I will not vote for him—and neither should you.”

Until we hear more of that kind of talk from conservative Republicans, there is every reason to believe that fearful and anxious white Christians will continue to flock to the Buffoon’s Buffet and feed on the poisonous pottage that Chef Anus Mouth serves them.

Western Jihadists: Let Them Go

We’ve all seen or heard stories about the thousands of ISIS sympathizers who are leaving their home countries and sneaking into ISIS-controlled territory to join up with the fundamentalist-Islamist killers and psychopaths on the battlefield.

This morning I saw Mary Anne Weaver on MSNBC discussing her latest article for The New York Times Magazine, provocatively titled “Her Majesty’s Jihadists” and subtitled:

More British Muslims have joined Islamist militant groups than serve in the country’s armed forces. How to understand the pull of jihad.

Ms. Weaver had bewildered the panelists on MSNBC’s Morning Joe by writing this:

Many of the fighters from Britain — as well as those from Finland, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands — came from comfortable middle-class homes. Many were university students or graduates; a surprising number were women, too.

In her article, Weaver also cited Shiraz Maher, a former Islamic militant and now a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London:

I asked Maher if, based on the center’s research, he could draw a typical jihadist profile. “The average British fighter is male, in his early 20s and of South Asian ethnic origin,” he began. “He usually has some university education and some association with activist groups. Over and over again, we have seen that radicalization is not necessarily driven by social deprivation or poverty.” He paused for a moment, and then went on. “Other than those who go for humanitarian reasons, some of the foreign fighters are students of martyrdom; they want to die as soon as possible and go directly to paradise. We’ve seen four British suicide bombers thus far among the 38 Britons who have been killed. Then there are the adventure seekers — those who think this will enhance their masculinity, the gang members and the petty criminals too; and then, of course, the die-hard radicals, who began by burning the American flag and who then advanced to wanting to kill Americans — or their partners — under any circumstance.”

That sobering reality being understood, the discussion this morning on MSNBC seemed to focus on just what could be done in countries like the United Kingdom to help assimilate Muslims and keep them from wanting to british jihadistswage militant jihad against Westerners, including Americans. And, after giving the problem a lot of thought, I think that is the wrong question.

I have come to the conclusion that rather than try to bend over frontwards and backwards, or rather than try to lean sideways in order to make militant-minded religious radicals of all stripes comfortable in our liberal, secular societies, we should instead make it easier, not harder, for them to join ISIS on the battlefield. If there are those among us who would rather link up with murderous, Allah-praising jihadists—those who behead and slaughter innocents and throw homosexuals off buildings and stone women to death and not only execute Christians and other non-Muslims but kill fellow Muslims—if there are a few among us who want to live that way, then we should not only allow them to do so, but we should make it easier for them. No barriers. Just let them go.

That is an easy way to rid ourselves of people who have no intention of peacefully living in a secular, freedom-loving society. In that weird sense, ISIS is doing all Western societies a favor. Their creepy jihadist magnetism, their strange and strangely appealing dreams of establishing a Caliphate, are actually performing a social good for us.

And if those ISIS-loving, Western-hating Westerners so choose, they can die for Allah—or for their own pathetic adventurism or misplaced radicalism—on the battlefield, as we pursue their psychopathically fundamentalist mentors.

A Disturbing Conclusion

Walter Scott had been a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.Last Saturday morning, Walter Scott, an African-American who was fifty years old and a father of four, was driving his Mercedes-Benz in North Charleston, South Carolina. The car had a busted taillight. He got pulled over by a white cop. Now he’s dead.

News outlets have jumped all over the story of the officially alleged murder and supplied us with plenty of details, the most salient of which is that a fleeing Scott was shot in the back several times by Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager, who had initially claimed, as The New York Times phrased it, that “he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle.”

Yeah, well. If it had not been for a fortuitous video of the event, which apparently Officer Slager didn’t know existed, news outlets would have reported a much different story, one that would have focused on the “official” version of events and that, as usual, would have given the police a generous benefit of the doubt. And Ryan Grim and Nick Wing, of HuffPo, wrote the story we would most likely have read, absent the video evidence. Given what we now know, it is a fascinating read and absolutely plausible. Here is its lede:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

Two years ago, Slager had been exonerated by his bosses for an incident in which excessive force was involved. You can read about that disturbing incident via the Associated Press. But the thing to focus on in this case, other than the sad and unnecessary killing by police of yet another unarmed African-American citizen, is that nearly everything of importance that Officer Slager, and another officer who arrived first on the shooting scene, said happened that morning has been discredited. And the thing that discredited their official version, a cell phone video, hasn’t been around that long. So, we are left to wonder—no, we are left to conclude—that there are any number of past incidents, involving the questionable killing of citizens by the police, in which the officers involved literally got away with some form of murder.

If that conclusion doesn’t bother you, if it doesn’t scare you, then you’re not black.

President Obama Understands Morally Justifiable Power

I’ve said it a number of times: We are lucky to have President Obama in the White’s House.

Especially during these times, when part of the world is on fire, it is important that someone is in charge who doesn’t want to bring a large can of U.S.A gasoline to put out the flames.

obama and new york times iran interviewI can do no better than point you to Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times to understand why it is that we are so lucky. I suggest, strongly, that you read the entire piece or listen to the interview on which the column is based, most of it having to do with the recent framework agreement with Iran and the rather hostile reaction to it by right-wingers here, there, and everywhere.

I will only quote for now one stunningly important line from the beginning of the interview—that defines the real point of having morally justifiable power—and then the last paragraph:

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk…at this point, the U.S.’s core interests in the region are not oil, are not territorial. … Our core interests are that everybody is living in peace, that it is orderly, that our allies are not being attacked, that children are not having barrel bombs dropped on them, that massive displacements aren’t taking place. Our interests in this sense are really just making sure that the region is working. And if it’s working well, then we’ll do fine. And that’s going to be a big project, given what’s taken place, but I think this [Iran framework deal] is at least one place to start.”

Amen. And thank God, Allah, and/or the American people for Barack Obama.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback: The Wizard Of Ahs

Playing off its role in The Wizard of Oz and pretending that there is much to see and do there, Kansas bills itself as “the land of ahs.” But take it from someone who was born and raised in southeast Kansas: besides the University of Kansas Jayhawks basketball program, there aren’t many things in the state that make you go ah.

Except when it comes to following its race-to-the-bottom politics, where you can experience a lot of take-your-breath-away moments.

I’ve written a lot about what Governor Sam Brownback and a hellish host of reactionary legislators have done to Kansas, so I won’t go over all that again. I just want to catch you up on the latest.

Beginning on July 1 of this year, if you live in Kansas and want to carry a concealed weapon, you don’t need a permit. Heck, you don’t even need any training. Just pass a background check and you are good to go. Surrounded by NRA hacks, Brownback signed the bill into law on Thursday. It allows those 21 and older to pack hidden heat all over the state. And one genius, who happens to be president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, can’t wait until she can get the law changed again:

“I believe we can lower the age to 18 at some point in the future. I think after everybody sees that there are not going to be any of the dire predictions coming true, and they relax a little bit, then we can talk about that.”

Yes. And when we all relax over allowing 18-year-olds to carry guns in their jeans in high school, then we can move on to middle school kids. Then grade school. Little Tommy can pack his little pistol in his little lunch box and have a little Second Amendment fun at recess. The land of ahs, indeed.

On the budget deficit problems in Kansas, which Brownback and the extremists in his party created by passing drastic cuts in income taxes that went mostly to wealthy people, the governor has decided how he is going to fund government:

Brownback advocates consumption tax as income tax alternative in Kansas

In case you don’t know what that means, it means that the burden of funding Kansas government will fall on the working poor and middle class, who have to spend all or most of their income on goods and services. What Republicans have done and are doing in Kansas regarding taxes should be a national scandal. It should be as controversial as anything Republicans did in Indiana or Arkansas regarding their attempt to take away civil rights from non-heterosexuals. But it isn’t. I guess people are used to it by now. The rich control the Republican Party. The Republican Party controls the Kansas legislature and the governor’s mansion. And, of course, it is those without money who suffer. No big deal.

Oh, here’s another ah for you:

Kansas Bans Poor People From Spending Welfare On Cruise Ships

Yes. It is true. But there is more. In Kansas, if you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—and Christian Sam Brownback and his godly legislature have already made it tougher to get and keep: only 15,000 families received such benefits last year—you get your assistance via state-issued debit cards. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of states do it. But no other state does what Kansas want to do:

Kansas welfare recipients will be unable to get more than $25 per day in benefits under a new law sent this week to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk by the state legislature…Under the new rule, a three-person family receiving the maximum benefit would have to go to the ATM more than a dozen times to get the full benefit, which would be whittled away by an 85 cent fee for each withdrawal after the first one. And the local cruise liner ATM will no longer be an option.

Liz Schott, associated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, emailed HuffPo and said:

“This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent. Moreover, it actually takes money from the pockets of poor families since they will need to pay 85 cents for each additional withdrawal after the first one in a month, and often more with ATM transaction fees.”

So, Kansas Republicans cut taxes on the rich, are considering raising taxes on goods and services that working people spend most of their money on, and are penalizing the few poor people able to qualify for stingy government benefits by making them go to an ATM and pay a fee a dozen times a month. That is truly breathtaking stuff.

But there is one more political ah worth noting. The Associated Press reported on Thursday:

Two school districts plan to end the academic year early to save money, citing financial pressures caused by reduced state aid for this academic year.

Ah, shit.

Top Of The Ninth: Secularism 2, Religious Fanaticism 0

It’s getting late in the game. As same-sex marriage bans fall, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, the religious reactionaries are swinging for the fences and, as the governor of Indiana is now discovering, whiffing.

When it is all over, even the most zealous Religious Right Republicans will finally have to admit that this is not a Christian nation. America is becoming, day by day, ruling by ruling, boycott by boycott, a secular country, at least when it comes to our laws regarding discrimination.

Mike Pence Surrounded By Bigots When He Signed SB101 Into LawDemocratic strategist Richard Socarides said last night on MSNBC that Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s problem is that “he was lying through his teeth” when he denied that the now infamous Indiana law, disguised as an effort to protect religious liberty, was really about allowing what I call Bible-based bigotry to have its way. The law most certainly was designed to allow discrimination against gays or quasi-gays or anyone who doesn’t have sex the way, presumably, Governor Pence and his evangelical friends do.

Richard Socarides finally said out loud the truth about what the evangelical-influenced legislature and governor in Indiana were trying to pull off. That they weren’t able to pull it off, that they weren’t able to lie their way to a victory for discrimination based on an ancient set of manuscripts, is wonderful news.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, where trees on the Ozark Mountains cover a multitude of reactionary sins, conservative lawmakers passed a similar “religious freedom” bill that even the CEO of Wal-Mart—who could only manage to express himself in a tweet—found so offensive that he urged the Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, to veto the attempt to put gays in their rightful, hell-bound, place.

No matter what one thinks of Wal-Mart, that is progress.

Last October I wrote about “The Slow Triumph Of Secularism.” That was just after the Supreme Court had then decided not to decide the issue of gay marriage and let stand a lower-court ruling that entitled gay citizens to the same matrimonial bliss, or non-bliss, as those who have sex in the Religious Right sense. Things look even better now, what with a groundswell of negative reaction to what happened in Indiana and what is happening in Arkansas.

So, the game is almost over and the forces of secularism, which demand that the rights of LGBT folks are respected as much as anyone else’s—as much as any pew-renting patron of literalistic religion—are, with success, ridiculing the forces of reactionary politics, with the help of Wal-Mart and, uh, believe it or not, NASCAR.

There may be a setback before it is over—the governor of Arkansas may ignore Wal-Mart and NASCAR and every other objector and sign the discriminatory law passed by his legislature—but I can confidently say that secularism will win this important game.

And, as I said back in October, that means the American experiment is working.

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[photo credit @seamonkey237]

An Easter Message From Joplin: Jesus Rose From The Dead To Lower Your Taxes

Yesterday I received in my mailbox a solicitation from a “Gospel Rescue Mission” here in Joplin called Watered Gardens. The appeal said “Easter is all about…new. New life, New hope and New direction.” The enclosed response card said:

Yes! I want to provide new hope this Easter. Yes! I want to help break the cycle of dependency and poverty.

watered gardens appealI get it that a local ministry would want to use the theme surrounding Easter as a way of, uh, raising funds to help the poor. That’s fine with me. But there is something disturbing about the Watered Gardens appeal that has nothing to do with Easter. It has to do with the anti-government ideology that underlies it.

The founder and director of Watered Gardens, James Whitford, allegedly discovered that “the growing welfare state is hurting more than it’s helping.” He discovered this, he says, by first discovering that those working “in the name of mercy and for God’s justice” were using “misdirected” compassion that resulted “in blind charity that fosters oppressive dependency in the very people for which we give our lives to love and empower.” He wrote:

We reached a point within the first few years of ministry when we realized our good intentions may actually be part of perpetuating a problem rather than yielding the fruit of poverty resolution.We recognized the need for the development of on-line tools so charities and help organizations could connect and work together as seamlessly as possible.

That sounds good. That sounds like the heart is in the right place. Trying to “resolve” the problem of poverty and coordinating with other charities to do so sounds like a great idea. But then came this:

As the use of those tools began to grow, “double dipping” became less frequent by the poor who were used to abusing charity or for those who were simply stuck in a dependent cycle. The tools were empowering our community to love people through accountability and personal challenge instead of the common hand-out!

Now we get to the nitty gritty. The poor were guilty of “double dipping” and “abusing charity” because they were either dishonest or “stuck in a dependent cycle.” And the way to correct their ungodly behavior was “through accountability and personal challenge.” In the name of Jesus, no more hand-outs! No extra soup for you! If this sounds familiar to your ears, it should. It is the Mitt Romney 47% nonsense. It is the Paul Ryan “makers and takers” libertarian fantasy. In 2012, Ryan said:

“Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that. They’ll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves.”

As you can see, what Joplin’s James Whitford allegedly discovered isn’t really anything new. What he supposedly figured out from his experiences with the poor and homeless in Joplin has been right-wing dogma about the less fortunate and government dependence since at least the New Deal.

In any case, Whitford explained how his new-found “tools” to “to love people through accountability and personal challenge instead of the common hand-out!” didn’t work so well with government:

Our progress in this vein met a hurdle when it came to state welfare. Even though a welfare office was in our local community and helping the same people we were helping through our established, connected and growing network, state officials said they were unable to release information about those receiving help such as SNAP, TANF, and LIHEAP (food, cash and utility) assistance.

Why would Watered Gardens and its network of private charity agencies want to know about what government help local poor people were receiving? Obviously so they could hold accountable a poor person coming to them for help by possibly asking: “Hey, what did you do with your $125 worth of food stamps this month?” Without that government-provided information, poor people might take advantage of the Christian do-gooders and get more than they deserve because, as we all know, the destitute will, when given a chance, “abuse” the help they are offered.

That is the rationale behind so much right-wing public policy directed toward the poor. And in case there is any doubt in your mind that James Whitford, leader of a local “Gospel Rescue Mission,” subscribes to that right-wing rationale and thus has his sights set on curtailing government programs for the disadvantaged, read this:

It became clearer that the presence of welfare was hurting the poor more than helping them. It’s been said that dependency is merely slavery with a smiling mask. Today, that mask is the continued distribution of resource in the way of food stamps, housing assistance, and even private forms of charity lacking insight to outcomes. The oppression I see so frequently in the welfare dependent poor compelled me to consider that more was necessary than just community connection, but education and policy reform, as well. The True Charity Initiative formed in the Fall of 2012.

From the looming deficit in Washington to the poor who remain dependent on Washington, the growing welfare state is hurting more than it’s helping. Now is the time for a grassroots movement of community leaders to join in an initiative that calls communities to effective charity and freedom from welfare. There has never been so important a moment in our history for the Church to be both a voice and a force for reform, to provide just and effective alternatives to state welfare, to empower and ennoble the poor, and to take up again the mantle of true and effective charity.

I want you to take note of a couple of things he said besides expressing his hostility toward government assistance. He wants something called “effective charity and freedom from welfare.” Well, who doesn’t? A decent-paying job, perhaps a union job, would take care of the problem. But—and this is crucial—Whitford wants “the Church to be both a voice and a force for reform.” That should scare the devil out of all of us. The Church, he suggests, should be involved in shaping public policy and, of course, it will be the Church that becomes one, if not the only one, of those “effective alternatives to state welfare.” That way, if you need help, you will have to come to the Church to get it and, along with a meal and a cot, you will also get an if you don’t work, you don’t eat” sermon and an invitation to meet Jesus (Whitford: “It’s been our joy to be a part of a growing work that expands its reach every year to help those in need and share Christ’s transforming message”).

If you go to the website of “The True Charity Initiative” that Whitford started, you will find libertarian think-tank articles like “The Rising Cost of Social Security Disability Insurance” or “Less Welfare, More Charity,” both from the CATO Institute and both full of the same maker-taker dogma that Republicans find attractive these days.  But you will also find a 2012 article by Whitford himself in which he complains about a government program that distributes cell phones to the poor and claims such programs are not “true charity.” Here he exposes not so much his fondness for Christianity as his fondness for an “I’ve got mine” libertarian philosophy that has come to dominate Republican politics:

Justice is prerequisite to true charity. How can charity be true if it’s accomplished by taking from one what is rightfully his? We have seen a great deal of funding flow into Joplin in the last year, both private and public. Did some of those public tax dollars do any good? Of course. Should we be happy for the people who are helped by public funding? I am. I simply suggest we recognize that this is not true charity and that rather than celebrate accomplishments achieved at the expense of working, taxpaying Americans, we should instead wince, drop our heads a bit and find a new resolve to stand for what is just, a place where liberty is preserved and true charity abounds.

People like James Whitford and all those who work for and support his Watered Gardens ministry in Joplin are obviously free to marry a brand of libertarian selfishness with a brand of evangelical Christianity, if they think that makes sense to them. They can also claim that they want to take away the power of the government to help people and give it to the Church because that would constitute “true charity” and it would allow the church to hold those charity-abusing poor people accountable. But we should not allow their weird mix of Ayn Rand philosophy and Christianity—which Rand would find appalling, by the way—to dictate public policy.

Unfortunately, though, it is.

Here’s how Kevin Horrigan, writing for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, began an editorial on the latest efforts by our GOP-dominated Missouri legislature to “reform” the Welfare State via Senate Bill 24:

Among many, if not most, Republican lawmakers in Missouri, it is an article of faith that people on “welfare” are lazy good-for-nothings who prefer to sit on the sofa watching TV, eating steak, gawking at pornography and soaking up fabulous government benefits instead of hauling their able bodies to work.

The facts behind poverty in Missouri belie this notion, but never mind! Why let facts get in the way when stereotypes are so much easier?

SB 24, as Horrigan points out, is designed to make an already stingy welfare system in Missouri even worse:

It “reforms” the TANF program, which pays families an average of $230 a month. About 76,000 people receive benefits, 52,000 of them children. Of the 24,000 adults on the program, the majority are single mothers of those children. The Legislature wants them to get to work, though what they will do for child care while working at their $7.50 an hour jobs is their problem.

Horrigan points out other attempts by Republicans in this state (and Democrat Jay Nixon has not exactly been a bleeding-heart liberal governor, by the way) to make war on the poor, particularly poor kids and their moms. But it is not only in Missouri where Christian Republican legislators are trying to get government out of the welfare business. The effort is nationwide, as this headline demonstrates:

House GOP approves budget to hike defense, slash safety-net programs

That Los Angeles Times article notes:

The ambitious but largely symbolic spending proposals adhere to Republican ideas for slashing social safety-net programs and lowering tax rates.

That is exactly the kind of “reform” that a local Joplin man running an allegedly Christian charity is asking “the Church” to get behind. Because, as he told us, “Easter is all about…New life, New hope and New direction” and, apparently, it’s about crucifying welfare programs and raising tax cuts from the dead.

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[Image of James Whitford from KODE TV]

Good Luck, Ted!

“There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you, in my family there’s not a second of doubt…”

—Ted Cruz, speaking today at Liberty University.

Just after midnight, Ted Cruz of Texas released a video announcing he is running for the presidency of the United States, also known, among evangelicals, as the the Theocrat-in-Chief.

I wish him a limited amount of luck, hoping against hope that he can pull off a Moses-like miracle, one that would have the Almighty part a Red Sea of sanity long enough to allow Cruz and his zealots to get to the promised land of the GOP nomination.

If ever there were someone perfectly equipped to lead a Christian jihad, a Holy War against Islam abroad and against secularism here at home, it would be Ted Cruz. And to prove it, he kicked off his campaign today by giving a speech at Liberty University, which was founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell and boasts that it is “the largest Christian university in the world.” Its mission is “to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow’s world.” And then there is this:

With a unique heritage and an ever-expanding influence, Liberty remains steadfast in its commitment of Training Champions for Christ.

No doubt, Cruz will enlist a lot of those champions for service in his crusade campaign (he had a weird moment where he asked the students to text “Constitution” to a campaign number). At one point in his speech in Lynchburg, Virginia, this morning he said:

Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.

Yes. Just imagine.

Putting President Ted Cruz in charge of a the U.S. military would mean that Allah-fearing Americans could prove, once and for all, that our God is bigger than their God, something, apparently, that God has had trouble proving on his own. And as president, with an evangelical-fueled Congress and five willing souls on the Supreme Court, Cruz could turn America back into the theocratic state that our Founders meant it to be.

Cruz explained our divine birth as a nation:

What is the promise of America? The idea that—the revolutionary idea—that this country was founded upon, which is that our rights don’t come from man. They come from God Almighty.

Admittedly, there are lots of Americans who believe that, even people who would never vote for Ted Cruz. But it means something intensely personal to evangelicals. It means America is right and everyone else is on the wrong side of God. Cruz mused:

Imagine a president who says, “We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism.” And “We will call it by its name. We will defend the United States of America.”

Needless to say, that enlivened the young Christian crowd. As did dropping Ronald Reagan’s name in a dubious accounting of recent history:

Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan. And he was telling us that we would cut the top marginal tax rates from 70% all the way down to 28%. That we would go from crushing stagnation to booming economic growth to millions being lifted out of poverty and into prosperity and abundance. That the very day he was sworn in our hostages who were languishing in Iran would be released. And that within a decade we would win the Cold War and tear the Berlin Wall to the ground. That would have seemed unimaginable. And yet, with the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened.

It’s important for those of you who don’t understand the evangelical mind to know that that phrase, “with the grace of God,” is not just some rhetorical flavoring of a speech meant for a receptive audience. Cruz literally means to say that God had a hand in the election of Ronald Reagan and the lowering of marginal tax rates and the freedom for those Muslim-held hostages and the end of the Soviet Union. He means it because he knows who is watching over us:

From the dawn of this country, at every stage America has enjoyed God’s providential blessing.

I am hoping that at least one person in the audience, in the “university” audience, stopped to wonder: “If America has always enjoyed God’s providential blessing, shouldn’t we thank him for giving us Barack Obama, who has helped get us out of a very deep and dark Republican-engineered recession and who killed Osama bin Laden and who is at this very moment dropping bombs on the enemies of Christianity?”

In any case, Cruz continued:

God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation. And I believe God isn’t done with America yet. I believe in you, I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for President of the United States. It is a time for Truth. It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States. 

cruz at liberty universityAgain, one has to wonder if there was anyone in the crowd who scratched his or her head and asked: “If God has been so protective over America, how did things get so messed up that we lost the Truth and our liberty and, uh, our Constitution?”

None of it makes any sense, of course. And the Canadian-born Ted Cruz will not get to lead his American revival. But if there is a God who does watch over this country, then he will engineer victory after victory for Cruz in the Republican primaries and help him get the nomination. That way, we are guaranteed that a Democrat will once again win the White House and capture the Senate and, if God is really, really good to us, win back the House of Representatives.

Thus, God bless Ted Cruz!

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