Truth and Democracy

Inviting those who live in the right-wing alternate universe to join the rest of us out here in reality.

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Location: Hackensack, New Jersey, United States

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Deal With It

“The Republican party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry”. With these twelve words yesterday, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) created what could be considered, at least for C-SPAN viewers, an action packed couple of minutes. The GOP leadership insisted that his words were too offensive or, more likely, too true not to be stricken from the record immediately. After revising his remarks only slightly, Weiner closed with the following well-chosen phrase, “deal with it”. His opening statement may not have fostered many bipartisan feelings in advance of today’s White House Healthcare Summit but his closing words will come to define the outcome.

The Democratic majority IS going to use reconciliation in order to pass healthcare reform legislation which combines the bill the Senate has already passed and some adjustments the White House recently put forward. It will be a done deal in a matter of weeks. Republicans are already wailing that this would be an “unprecedented” violation of Senate rules. The right has even adapted the moniker “Nuclear Option” to describe this plan, alluding to what was originally a GOP idea to amend Senate rules and eliminate use of the filibuster in certain circumstances. They proposed this because Democrats, in the minority at the time (2005), had the raw nerve to filibuster a few of George W. Bush’s most extreme judicial nominees. The kinds who believe it’s in their job description to enforce biblical law, rather than apply the US Constitution to modern legal disputes.

Passing this reform package through reconciliation may be “unprecedented” in terms of size and scope but it leaves Senate rules intact and allows the body to determine whether or not to amend or even eliminate the filibuster separately. It is most definitely not the Nuclear Option. If the Republican minority were not using the filibuster in such an “unprecedented” fashion, attempting to kill nearly every piece of work in the Senate at a time of national crisis, perhaps the Democrats would not be so likely to buck tradition, without truly going nuclear. Until their best chance at revenge, the mid-term elections this fall, the GOP will have no choice but to “deal with it”.

Ask yourself why the Democrats should consider any other alternative, given the GOP track record since Obama’s inauguration. Why should the majority believe it can scrap all of the previous year’s work, start over from scratch with the minority, during an election year, and expect a different outcome? In less than one year, the GOP disinformation machine turned end of life counseling with trained medical professionals into “death panels”. A clear provision forbidding federal funds from being used to cover illegal aliens became “You Lie!” followed by false assertions that taxpayers would indeed cover such aliens. When a proposal originally championed by Republicans, a private health insurance exchange, replaced the public option, the GOP immediately turned against their own idea and it replaced the option as the dreaded “government takeover of healthcare”. Bipartisanship? Perish the thought.

Every time, during today’s meeting, that a Republican representative cited polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose the current plan, I found myself yelling at the screen, “Of course they do, look at what you’ve been telling them all year”! The above were just a few examples. There are many more. It’s a wonder that anyone is still for it. The weakness of the GOP’s propaganda is only revealed when you poll the public on individual parts of the plan. Then you find that Americans overwhelmingly support the nuts and bolts of this package. It’s just the wrapping they’ve been poisoned against. Bipartisanship is, by definition, a two way street. If Republicans aren’t going to meet Democrats halfway, and it is crystal clear that they will not, then why should Democrats ever consider “starting over”? I have heard insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The White House and congressional Democrats have repeatedly adopted GOP amendments and proposals along this long and winding road. Each time they reached out they have had their political hands bitten off. Now we should all start over? Utter insanity!

Republicans went to great lengths today to try and paint themselves as being concerned for “ordinary Americans” and “working for the people”. A variation of an age old saying, one which a friend recently taught me, is an appropriate response to their hollow words, “Your actions are speaking so loud that I can’t hear what you’re saying”. The two chief health reform ideas Republicans have remaining, caps on lawsuits and interstate purchasing (their version), put the lie to their pretty posturing. The former would cap ALL lawsuits and not just “frivolous” ones, thus denying the rights of legitimate victims (this from the same folks who refuse to CAP the dumping of poisons in our air, water and land). The latter idea has potential in theory, provided that you have minimum federal insurance standards in place (as the Democrats’ version proposes). Why? To burden the states with a bunch of new regulations just for kicks? No. Because, without them, insurance companies would simply relocate in states which impose the least minimum insurance practices, firing the starting pistol for the “race to the bottom” in terms of industry business ethics which the president alluded to this afternoon. So much for “ordinary Americans”, unless those Americans happen to own an insurance company.

So, here we stand. It is February 26, 2010. America has been talking, and yelling, about health care reform for almost a year. Our politicians have been trying, and failing, to enact comprehensive reform for more than a half-century. For the first time in all those years, both houses of congress have passed this kind of reform. But for one up or down vote (remember that winning slogan?), a president sits in the oval office who will sign it. Meanwhile, Republicans sit on a throne made of double standards. “We did it but you just can’t” (16 times GOP majorities used reconciliation to avoid filibuster, Democrats just 6). “But this is different, health care represents 1/6 of our economy, it’s too big”. Yes, it is different. But so is using the filibuster more often than Simon Cowell gets booed on American Idol. Watching seven GOP Senators who co-sponsored a bill authorizing a bipartisan debt reduction panel turn 180 degrees and vote to filibuster the bill they helped write, simply because President Obama said he would enact it, now that’s different.

One standard must apply to all. If the Republicans can use the filibuster more than four times as frequently as any previous Senate minority, thus damaging the very institution they represent, then Democrats can circumvent their obstructionism in an equally unprecedented manner. And if you acknowledge that Republicans are doing all of this with an eye toward shoring up their political base on the far right, in hopes of massive election gains come November, then you must allow Democrats to do the one thing most likely to motivate their own base. Pass comprehensive healthcare reform through the reconciliation process. Do it now. Get it over with so that we, as a country, can finally move on, pun intended, and deal with the many other issues we still face in the aftermath of one of the most difficult decades in American history.

Paul Roth, Jr.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Can We Even Agree On This?

I received an email from a local grassroots organization today. While their political roots are more liberal, they focus mainly on the effort to clean up government corruption here in New Jersey. Today's email centered on a NJ political activist and former congressional candidate (NJ-4) named Carol Gay. It seems she is proposing an idea which, it struck me, might unite both liberals and conservatives who are sick and tired of a legislative branch which operates above and beyond the very laws which it creates. While couched in the format of an ammendment to the US Constitution, a formidable undertaking to say the least, I can't help thinking that the principle behind it would be one way to promote real "bi-partisanship". The kind that takes place outside of Washington, DC. Here, then, is the idea, lifted from today's email. Perhaps not entirely new but valuable nonetheless:

"For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that Congress members could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they didn't pay into Social Security, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws. The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being all of its' forms. Somehow, that doesn't seem logical. We do not have an elite that is above the law. I truly don't care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. The self-serving must stop. This is a good way to do that. It is an idea whose time has come."

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States ".

The letter then goes on to request that readers each send to 20 new recipients (and so on...) as a means of spreading this about the country. A simple question then to those on the right and those on the left, in light of the current state of political war throughout our great land, can we even agree on this?

*** Special note to John Galt of RobbingAmerica, who proposed us sharing each others' blogs via comment to me recently. If you read this, and agree with it in principle, post this idea to your blog and see how your readers react. If you do so, I will be glad to be the strangest of political bedfellows, as they say. And thanks for the compliment. ***

Paul Roth, Jr.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Liberal's Questions For The Tea Party Movement

These are traumatic times in America. Unemployment tops 10%. Homes aren't worth what we paid for them. Personal debt (and public debt) are at record levels. Many Americans' personal savings took a dramatic hit in the last year and a half. We are still engaged in two wars and live amidst the continuing threat of terrorist attacks. The overall standard of living for the average American is not rising, as it once did, and has not risen for many years. The American dream of raising children who, if they work hard and educate themselves, will likely live a better life than we did, is dying out. Our political system, originally designed to respond to our individual voices, has instead become hijacked by special interest groups from all sides of the political equation, which use their monetary advantages to drown out our voices. All of this and much more has created an environment in this country of tremendous fear and anxiety which can sometimes border on outright panic.

In this atmosphere of dread and uncertainty, there has emerged an activist political movement which seems, for some, to offer an outlet of self-determination amidst all of the current turmoil. They call themselves "Tea Party Patriots". It is a decidedly right-wing movement. However, liberals may be wise not to simply dismiss such activists as uneducated, illiterate, racist and xenophobic conspiracy theorists. We know that nothing is ever that simple. Conversely, if Tea Partiers want to avoid being stigmatized as nothing more than "proud right-wing extremists" (as their own t-shirts signify) and get past the perception that they are nothing more than a tool of the cannibalistic conservative wing of the republican party, they are going to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and satisfactorily answer a few tough questions.

Why now?

Government has been growing for many decades. The responsiveness of government to the average American has been declining for just as long. Debt has been piling up for even longer. More recently, the Bush administration accelerated all three of these core Tea Party complaints dramatically, turning inherited surpluses into deficits, revving up government intrusion into our private lives and creating many new bureaucracies. Yet, the Tea Party movement was not born until just weeks after a black Democrat took office as president. Why? Doesn't the timing seem more than a little suspicious? Especially when coupled with all of the aid which right-wing corporations, policy groups, talking heads and other activists funneled into the movement in it's inception. There are a lot of "grassroots" members now but the movement's origin was hardly one of spontaneous populism. Why now?

Why all of the Conspiracy Theories?

Most mature Americans realize that internet blogs are hardly a source of solid information. I, myself, don't pretend to report news here as much as express my opinions. When some extremist liberals advanced the notion that the Bush administration cooperated in the events of 9/11, all of right-wingdom derided the notion as paranoid ravings. Yet, just a few years later, many of those same people and media outlets are all too willing to promote such disprovable theories as Barack Obama not being born in this country, his being a "closet" muslim extremist and that he is preparing to enslave America to communism (even to the point of possibly setting up internment camps for the unwilling). I've even seen a discussion on an anti-Obama Facebook page about the government using the H1N1 vaccine nasal spray to implant a chip in the heads of unsuspecting Americans. This reversal of incredulousness is remarkable.

Begging the "Why Now" question again, where were the outraged right-wing cries of fascism when Bush supporters were telling us that "if you don't support the president, you're against the troops"? When government agents were infiltrating anti-war activist groups? When Sinclair Media, which owns over 20% of the nation's TV stations, forced it's on-air news personalities to inject statements supporting Bush into their broadcasts? Or when former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay crowed that he had rigged the political scales so as to guarantee Republican majorities as far as the eye could see? Yet, let one overzealous schoolteacher in New Jersey teach her pupils a song commemorating Obama's election and the entire right-wing is gearing up for civil war while images of the new president morphing into Adolf Hitler seem to pop up wherever you look. That fact-starved internet is once again fueling much of the anti-Obama, anti-Democrat paranoia. Why do so many in the Tea Party crowd seem to rely almost solely on such an untrustworthy information source?

Why no minorities?

In a recent special comment, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann noted the glaring lack of diversity among Tea Partiers. He asked if there weren't African-Americans who feel over-taxed or hispanics and asians who fear that government is too big. Olbermann's comments shed light on a larger question. Why is it even more of a challenge to find a minority face in a Tea Party crowd than it is at the Republican National Convention? I suspect that the knee-jerk defense of the movement would be that they don't discriminate or turn away anyone who supports their causes. I also suspect that this would be technically correct. The larger questions, then, become; Why do minorities not feel welcome to attend Tea Party events? Why is it such a predominantly white movement?

An opening night speech at the Tea Party National Convention in Nashville, Tn. reveals an answer to both questions. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo used the Tea Party platform to call for the return of so-called literacy tests before Americans can register to vote. Worse, he put forth the theory that such tests would have prevented the election of Barack Obama. Since anyone who pays attention to voter demographics is aware that better educated voters sway Democratic more often, one can only conclude that Mr. Tancredo is calling for such "literacy" tests to be used again as they were in the south prior to 1964's Voting Rights Act, when they were expressly manipulated to prevent blacks from becoming enfranchised.

Given that Tancredo's remarks were enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd that night, the reason why an African-American, of any political persuasion, might feel uneasy among the Tea Party crowd becomes crystal clear. It is the movement itself, with it's virulent hatred of President Obama, militant anti-immigrant language, it's over the top stance against "multiculturalism" and it's warm embrace of a very thinly veiled racism, like that of Mr. Tancredo, which will ultimately result in a reputation for being nothing more than a haven for closeted white supremacists. Tea Partiers have no one to blame but themselves if this happens.

What is the true nature of the movement's relationship with the Republican party?

You don't have to be smarter than a 5th grader to understand that the national GOP intends to ride a wave of Tea Party activism to take over congress this November and possibly into the White House in 2012. However, you need look no further than a special congressional election in NY's 23rd district last year to identify the potential pitfalls in this strategy, both for republicans and Tea Partiers. When local republicans chose a somewhat moderate candidate in the district, the right-wing and Tea Party activists, revolted and backed the Conservative party candidate instead. When the national GOP joined in supporting the conservative, the local republican choice withdrew, frustrated, from the race and endorsed the Democrat. The result is that the 23rd district of NY is now represented by a Democrat for the first time in over a century.

The question of "who's going to use who and to what ends?" remains unanswered in this sometimes tenuous relationship. In fact, some local Tea Party chapters have already distanced themselves from their local republican establishment. Tea Partiers themselves frown upon the idea of a "from the top down" centralized movement. This will make it harder for the GOP to design the kind of national gameplan necessary to take over congress in the mid-terms. Will the Tea Party movement pull enough republican candidates so much further to the right as to open the door for more Democratic wins? Thus negating much of the GOP's expected gains? With most Tea Partiers fervently opposing the Senate re-election bid of 2008's republican presidential candidate, John McCain, the chances for a harmonious relationship seem very poor.

There are more questions which I could pose here, like, "Why so much talk about violence?", but this is a good start. Right-wing activists would undoubtedly respond to this column by insisting they don't have to answer such questions for a liberal. Fair enough. But they will have to answer them for themselves and for the future of the movement. Most political uprisings in this country ultimately fan themselves out. Angrier uprisings, like the Tea Parties, usually turn off more people than they turn on. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans who have a preference, view the Tea Party movement unfavorably. This will enable Democrats to use extremist speech, signs and incidents from Tea Party events against republican candidates this fall in much the same way that televangelists use seemingly shocking clips from Gay Pride parades to frighten and motivate their audiences against a "radical homosexual agenda". The question of the Tea Party role in politics, now and future, will not truly be answered until I can no longer reasonably pose the above questions. Only time will tell.