Forging the Middle Path while taking Friendly Fire

I’ve seen several articles in Business Week recently bemoaning the loss of moderation in the Republican Party. I wonder where these folks were when hordes of evangelicals were overtaking county parties with orders written on recipe cards back in the 1980s?  I had a front row seat to the insanity.  I couldn’t get any one to listen back then.  However, now it’s a major topic in the press. The first article showed up in May. I got a pretty good laugh out of this quote by Dwight Eisenhower who was thought to be a Communist infiltrator by Daddy Koch and his John Birch Society.  They were marginalized back then and now are front and center at the leadership table.

“Their number is negligible and they are stupid,” Dwight Eisenhower once said of conservatives, according to another panelist, Geoffrey Kabaservice, the author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. Alas, moderates have all but disappeared. “They might even be forced into breeding programs to keep them alive,” Kabaservice said, citing a recent Onion article. (Worth a click for the picture alone.)

The article discussed a panel that was wondering where all the moderate Republicans went.  I have a pretty good answer for that.  There’s been an ongoing purge since the 1980s.  Most of the state parties have a litmus test on several issues.  You’re made to suffer if you don’t goose step along to the evangelicals and voodoo economics true believers.  Any one not capable of lies or magical thinking is decidedly unwelcome and hounded out.

The second article of interest interviews some senators that are exiting because they can’t take the atmosphere any more. Here’s a few choice comments from retiring pro-choice Republican Olympia Snow. I used to write a lot of good sized checks to her campaigns in the 1980s.

BBW: Senator Snowe, you’ve deviated from your party more than just about anyone. What is it really like when you go against the leadership?

SNOWE: People within your party used to understand that it is essential. People have to represent either their district or their state on the issues that matter and take those positions accordingly. But today there is no reward for that. In fact, there is this party adherence, and as a result if we don’t get past the party platforms that are offered by either side of the political aisle, then we can’t solve the problem. And we are not transcending those differences. That is a huge departure from the past.

Here’s another interesting comment on the role of money and the Citizens United ruling by SCOTUS.  The other senators interviewed include Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), and Congressmen Gary Ackerman (D-New York) and Geoff Davis (R-Kentucky).

BBW: What harms the process more, the media or money?

CONRAD: Money is a huge problem. There are really two reasons I decided not to run again. One is I really wanted to come here to do big things, and we haven’t been doing big things. The second was I saw super PACs coming and I knew as a centrist who was not particularly supported very strongly by any group, I could have [a super PAC] roll in and just dump a load of money on me and I’m not going to be able to answer.

DAVIS: I don’t believe we should check speech by any measure or merit, but left unchecked, you could end up with the 21st century version of Tammany Hall, where you have a small number of political bosses who control the flow of money around the country, limiting the discourse and debate for personal advantage, whether left, right, or center.

SNOWE: I regret that the Supreme Court rolled back 100 years of case law and precedence. It was my initial provision in the McCain-Feingold bill that was struck down a second time in the court. But then obviously they went quantum leaps further, unfortunately, and unraveled all the case law, allowing corporations and unions to dump unlimited money into these campaigns.

What Kent says is true. Because we are trying to build what I describe as a sensible center, you don’t have a base in terms of raising money. You are almost always confined to the MSNBC or the Fox News prism. That’s the way I describe it because it’s true. People see you in one channel or another and nothing in between.

ACKERMAN: We are probably the only ones who watch both Fox and MSNBC. The public watches either one or the other, and they watch one or the other hoping that the guys on my side will kill the guys on the other side. You can accuse any and every one of us, at least at times, of going for the ratings and doing and saying things that are popular or to try to raise more money so that we can get reelected. The media does that in spades. They really do.

These seem to be the same topics we spend a lot of time on here.  The media has taken sides in order to attract audiences and returns to stockholders.  The more partisan hoopla they can drum up, the better it is for them.  Fox News is nothing more than a propaganda channel and MSNBC is trying to find a niche offering up an alternative. Papers are so dumb downed and watered down these days that it’s hard to find much use for them.  Corporate money and profit seeking has completely gummed up the process and it uses the anger of specific interest groups like the fetus and gun obsessed to further its power and money grab.The Tea Party is totally orchestrated, yet, its members are so angry they can’t see the strings that pull them.

Reading basic obituaries of whatever was left of commonsense in the party of Lincoln is a saddening experience.  I say this as we watch Ron Paul’s delegates play the same game on the radical right that they played 30 years ago on the Rockefeller Republicans. Can you imagine the Republican party’s soul is up for grabs by Ayn Rand groupies now?  Basically, Republicans adhere to works of fiction and drive off any attempt to ground them in reality.

Paul has stopped actively campaigning and has conceded that Romney will be the GOP nominee. It’s unclear whether Paul’s name will be submitted for nomination; mathematically, he does not have the numbers to derail Romney. But his supporters can have an effect on the party in other ways.

“We want to have a real big voice on the platform; we want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, a Paul supporter who was pleased after the Saturday vote.

He was Paul’s state director in Iowa until Paul suspended his presidential bid in May, and he said that although he would love to see Paul awarded a prime speaking spot at the convention, his followers’ efforts are about more than one man.

“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party. That’s where my hopes are at and that’s my hope for this convention more than seeing Ron Paul do X, Y and Z,” Kurtinitis said.

What exactly happens to a republic built on a two party system when one of those parties becomes captured by purists? Perhaps, the Republican christofacist army is about to have its tables turned. I still have the feeling, however, that the corporate money will rule no matter what the platform says.

By working arcane rules at district, county and state gatherings around the country, his supporters have amassed an army of delegates who will try to ensure that his libertarian message about the economy, states’ rights and a noninterventionist foreign policy is loudly proclaimed.

Paul’s backers will also try to shape the party platform as they dare Republicans to take them for granted – much as social conservatives did years ago before they ascended in importance.

“We want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, who was Paul’s state director in Iowa until the congressman effectively ended his presidential bid in May. He said efforts by followers of Paul, a 76-year-old who will retire when his current term ends, are about more than him or his son Rand, a senator from Kentucky.

“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party,” Kurtinitis said.

But others say the move by the Iowa GOP is a black eye for the state’s first-in-the-nation voting status and for Romney.

“Embarrassment is the word that comes to my mind,” said Jamie Johnson, who served as Santorum’s state coalitions director in Iowa. The former Pennsylvania senator, who endorsed Romney after ending his presidential bid in April, appears to have a solitary Iowa delegate heading into the convention.

There are far fewer of these insurgents than there were die-hard Hillary supporters last presidential election cycle.  Yet, they seem to be much more fanatical and organized.  Will they up end the dominance of the party by the Guns, God, and No-Gays fanatics that have ruled the party with Torquemada  like fanaticism since the Reagan years?
How do we survive this craziness? Seriously, I’ve gotten to the point where I think voting Republican is basically voting for the end of the country as we know it.  What needs to change?  I’m going to give the last word to the last word to the departing senators.

BBW: I’m going to give you one magic power. As you leave here, you can change one thing about the legislative process, about the federal government, anything you want. What would you do?

CONRAD: I would do away with super PACs. I think it’s a cancer.

DAVIS: It is critical that those who are being regulated in various constituencies—be it the business community, the job creators, or other institutions—need to be an active part of that dialogue. Great Britain revolutionized parts of their regulatory process by actually bringing the people who were going to be regulated to the table and suddenly found that they could solve the problems at a lot lower cost by, again, going back to the thing that tends to be most uninteresting, particularly in cable news, and looking at the actual process. Solve the problem or prevent the problem from happening.

SNOWE: We are not doing our jobs, frankly. If I was in charge, I would be canceling recess and getting everybody here and start focusing on the issues that matter to this country because we are at a tipping point.

Legislating isn’t easy on these complex matters. You can’t just instantaneously come up with solutions to problems. Somehow we have dumbed down the process. Somehow we think, “Oh gosh, are you for or against?” Well, geez, it just came up. Can I give it some thought? Can I think about it? Can I read about it? Maybe I should learn more about the facts on the issue. But there is no time, no deference paid to thoughtfulness in the legislative process today. We have got to get back to spending some time here to get the job done for the American people. That’s what it’s all about. The American people understand it. They see it because they see on TV on C-SPAN and they recognize, “Well, where are they?”

ACKERMAN: Inasmuch as it’s a magical power that you are bestowing I would do away with hypocrisy. [Laughter] Looking at it a little bit more realistically, we have to try to find some practical approaches. I came here so many years ago as a rather liberal kid from New York City. I’m still pretty liberal. I changed a little bit on foreign policy and worldview, but I came here as a pacifist. I disagreed with Ronald Reagan, who was the first president that I served with, but I didn’t want him to fail. This pacifist wound up voting for war under the guidance of two Republican presidents because we only have one president at a time, and if he fails, my country fails. That is not acceptable. The Congress, both houses, both parties have to act like grown-ups and say that this is about policy. If it is about the presidency or if it’s about the majority in my House or your House, then it is never going to be about policy. Somebody is going to have to—not the four of us, but somebody is going to have to walk that back a few steps.


Monday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

Yes, it’s that time of year when Republicans try to convince us that everything old, disproved, and thrown out is shiny, patriotic and new again. Angry sky gods, debunked scientific hypotheses, and myth trump rule of law, science, and reason.  Here’s a few things on their most choice delusions.

We’re not only fighting the war for abortion access and rights, we’re fighting for legal access to birth control.  There’s a group of religious radicals in our country that just won’t take a supreme court case at face value. I was appalled by Romney’s insistence in this weekend’s debate that this really wasn’t a problem and wouldn’t be one. Once again, some pharmacists think they are above the law and know more than doctors because some high priest of ignorance said make it so.  Men trying to buy Plan B are having trouble doing so .

Defenders of Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to overrule the FDA’s decison to make Plan B emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age restrictions floated the specter of 11-year-old girls having sex to justify the decision. (Though, of course, the sex has already happened when the Plan B is purchased, so really, people who float this argument are just arguing that it’s better for the 11-year-old in question to be pregnant than not, which seems really cruel.) The reality is that fewer than 1 percent of 11-year-olds are sexually active, so the real people hurt by these restrictions are the 15- and 16-year-olds having sex with age-appropriate partners and those 17 and older who have a legal right to the pill but find that having to ask for a pharmacist to fetch it  is too much of an obstacle, because either the pharmacy counter is closed or because the pharmacy staff won’t hand it over, either out of ignorance or malice.
For those who would scoff at the chance that these are serious concerns, I give you the story of a Jason Melbourne of Mesquite, Texas  went to the Mesquite CVS to buy Plan B for his wife, who had to stay home to look after their two small children. The reward he got for being a good husband who goes to the drugstore to buy lady things for his wife was resistance from the pharmacy staff, who refused to sell him the drug because they claimed to believe that men don’t have a legal right to buy it. Well, the problem is there are no gender restrictions on access to Plan B, something that Melbourne demonstrated to the staff by use of Google on a smartphone. They continued to refuse to sell to him, making outrageous claims about men supplying the drug to rape victims, even though he got his wife on the phone to explain the situation. Melbourne is the second man who has reported being denied Plan B at a CVS to the ACLU. Considering how many people don’t contact the ACLU after having their rights violated—or who would believe the pharmacy staff’s claims—that suggests this could be a widespread problem.

 The Economist is suggesting that Americans are entering an age where they should lock their doors lest the morality police get inside. There are folks like Rick Santorum that want to control our sex acts, our reproductive processes, and our basic civil rights based on personal bigotry and religious hysteria. They warn us that “Now is the time for consenting adults to lock their bedroom doors”.  Who needs to be concerned about creeping sharia law when we’ve got this set actively pushing their equally creepy religious cult practices?

Last September the former senator was one of nine Republican hopefuls participating in a televised debate in Orlando, Florida. A question was posed over video by a soldier in Iraq who said he had hidden the fact that he was gay because he did not want to lose his job. Did any of the candidates intend to repeal the measure Barack Obama signed into law last year that had at last given gay soldiers the right to serve their country openly? Mr Santorum’s unblinking answer was Yes. Allowing gays to serve in the military was giving one group of people “a special privilege”; it was “social policy” that ought to have no place in the armed forces.

This became a notorious exchange, not least because some members of the ultra-conservative audience in Orlando booed the soldier. But the episode hardly does justice to the depth of the former senator’s feelings about the things gays get up to. The propinquity of the wicked plainly has an unsettling impact on the peace of mind of the virtuous Mr Santorum.

Gays should not only be disqualified from serving their country, says Mr Santorum. They should also be prohibited from marrying one another. Even if unmarried, they would be ill-advised to have sex. To Mr Santorum the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2003 that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional was a bad mistake: this was a slippery slope that would establish a right to bigamy, polygamy, incest, adultery—“anything”.

It is not quite clear what Mr Santorum thinks about heterosexuals who have sex for fun—or at least who have it only for fun. The special status of marriage, he told the New York Time, does not exist “because people like to hang out together and have fun”; it is there to provide “a stable environment for the raising of children”. As president, he said more recently, he would at last address “the dangers of contraception in this country”, because contraception is a “licence to do things in a sexual realm that are counter to how things are supposed to be”.
If Mr Santorum has doubts about contraception, he has none about abortion. It is wrong, even in cases of rape or incest, because life is sacred and begins at conception (he does, however, support the death penalty, as it is not the innocent who die). Any doctor who performs an abortion should face criminal charges.

The Economist must feel that we are so confused about the role of religion in the founding of our  country, that they must to show us and the rest of the world that our founding fathers weren’t fundamentalist crusaders. They have a special Religion in America section up about how the founders were trying to avoid having Rick Santorum moments.  Here’s an apt and correct description of the religious philosophy of then Presbyterian Thomas Jefferson.

But Jefferson, like most of the top figures in the American Revolution, was far more of a sceptic in religious matters. He was fascinated by metaphysics but he had no time for the mystical. In contrast with today’s vituperative exchanges, these differences did not stop the two gentlemen maintaining a warm correspondence. But Jefferson’s approach to redacting the Bible involved something more radical than translation. He literally snipped out everything supernatural: miracles, the Virgin birth, the resurrection. The result was his own, non-mystical account of the life of Jesus. He told his old comrade: “I too have made a wee little book from the same materials which I call the ‘Philosophy of Jesus.’ It is a paradigma [sic] of his doctrines, made by cutting the pages out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book…A more beautiful or precious morsel…I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists who call me infidel and themselves Christians.”

If Jefferson was a Christian of any kind, he was an idiosyncratic one. He admired Jesus as a moral teacher but like many of America’s revolutionaries, he had a visceral loathing for priestcraft. Jefferson blamed Saint Paul, the early Church, and even the Gospel writers for distorting the mission of Jesus, which, as he saw it, had been to reverse the decadence of the Jewish religion. Starting from the (correct) proposition that mystical ideas originating from Plato were influential when Christian theology was being developed, he castigated followers of the Greek philosopher for corrupting what he saw as the original Christian message.

Did Jefferson believe in God? Certainly not the Christian idea of a God in three Persons; he saw that notion as incomprehensible and therefore impossible for a rational person to accept. One view is that like many of America’s founders, he was a Deist, believing in a Creator who set the universe and its laws in motion but did not intervene thereafter. (The Deist God has been described as rather like a rich aunt in Australia—benevolent, a long way off, and mostly leaving the world to its own devices.)

Modern fundamentalists are rewriting history in the same way they like rewriting science.  They place dinosaurs and modern people in their garden of Eden panoramas.  Some now argue that the founders didn’t like “Darwinism” which wasn’t even around at that time  Of course, that doesn’t stop Texas putting that kind’ve nonsense in textbooks. This also explains Michelle Bachmann’s odd notion that the founding fathers fought against slavery.

Believers in the idea that America was established as a Christian state scored a hit last year when the Texas school board, a politicised body in which evangelicals control crucial votes, ordered up textbooks laying out this view. Given the size of the Texan market, school-book publishers across the country often follow its lead. The best-known advocate of the “Christian nation” theory is a Texan, an author and evangelist called David Barton, who has been writing on the subject since the 1980s.

Among his recent claims are that the founding fathers rejected Darwinism (although they pre-dated Charles Darwin), and that they broke away from Britain in order to abolish slavery. In fact the southern states only joined the Revolution on the understanding that slavery would not be questioned. Strange as his views may sound to most scholars, Mr Barton’s philosophy is taken seriously in Republican circles. When Rick Perry, the Texas governor and presidential candidate, held a day of prayer for the nation in August, Mr Barton was an acknowledged endorser. One of Mr Barton’s admirers is Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who argues that American history has been distorted by secular historians to play down the role of faith. “I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things,” Mr Gingrich has said.

Here’s another bit of founder philosophy.  This time it’s George Washington.

Virtually absent from Washington’s pronouncements was any reference to Jesus. He did not take communion—for most Christians, the most important rite of their faith—and he did not summon a Christian minister to his death bed. Was Jefferson right, then, to claim that “[Washington] thinks it right to keep up appearances but is an unbeliever”? Washington was certainly a diplomat. Although he remained formally Anglican, as president he wrote friendly letters to many Christian and Jewish communities and attended their services. And when he needed a job done on the estate, he was firm, for his time, about the irrelevance of religion: “If they are good workmen,” he said, “they may be Mahometans, Jews or Christian of any sect, or they may be atheists.”

As every American youngster has been taught, one thing that Washington, Jefferson and all the founders did believe in was religious freedom. They were appalled by the fusion of religious and political power, epitomised by the divine right of kings.

Another example of reheated nonsense popping up in the current Republican primaries is Ron Paul’s obsession This is a completely debunked set of economic philosophies and musings roughly associated with Fredich Hayek who had a few good ideas about the pricing mechanisms of the market that were completely contorted by some fascists.  If you ever hear any one say anything about Mises, cover your ears.  It’s basically akin to learning  astrophysics from a flat earther who denies the theory of gravity.  No amount of historical data deters these people.  This description is from Matt Yglesias.

But “Austrians” in Paul’s sense refers to something narrower, specifically the thought of Ludwig Von Mises and his student Murray Rothbard. It is a form of capitalism that is even more libertarian and anarchic than that espoused by many libertarians. Rothbard‘s followers, most prominently longtime Paul associate and founder of the Mises Institute Lew Rockwell, have been waging a decades-long war against the Koch brothers and the more mainstream form of libertarianism the Kochs represent.

“Austrian economics,” in this sense, goes beyond standard-issue free market thinking in a number of ways. Most notably, it seeks to build a strong ethical case for strict libertarianism without admitting that this would lead to any practical problems whatsoever. Therefore, along with rejecting the legitimacy of any intervention to protect the poor or regulate anything (a position much more extreme than even the Hayek of Road to Serfdom), Austrians reject the idea that there is anything at all the government can do to stabilize macroeconomic fluctuations. This, to be clear, is different from the mainstream Republican view that the stimulus bill enacted by Congress in 2009 and signed into law by President Obama was wasteful or ineffective. Austrians also believe that cutting taxes to boost economic activity doesn’t work either. And they disagree with Milton Friedman that appropriate monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve could have prevented the Great Depression. Indeed, they disagree with even the least controversial of all stabilization measures, the ordinary tweaking of short-term interest rates that all modern central banks use to try to prevent either inflation or deflation. In the view of the Austrians, practically every economic policy pursued by the federal government and Federal Reserve is a mistake that distorts markets. Rather than curing recessions, claim Austrians, stimulative policies cause them by producing unsustainable bubbles.

Not only did the analysis of the Great Depression thoroughly debunk this school of thought’s ridiculous hypotheses, the only places in the later part of the century that tried to implement the weirdness were countries like  Pinochet’s Chile.  Most of the Austrian Schools founders admired Mussolini so this as really not as big a leap as one would think for these guys.  I know I always associate liberty with fascist dictators and authoritarian regimes, don’t you?  It worked so well that the entire financial system there collapsed in 1982.   In fact, when Pinochet disappeared, one of his cabinet members showed up at the Cato Institute and even helped Dubya Bush with his efforts to privatize social security  His name is José Piñera .  I guess just crashing the economy and safety nets of the Chilean people just wasn’t enough.

You may wonder why I associate Ron Paul with the idea of a neoconfederacy.  Believe me, I’m not stretching on this either.

When it comes to American history, libertarians tend retrospectively to side with the Confederacy against the Union. Yes, yes, the South had slavery — but it also had low tariffs, while Abraham Lincoln’s free labor North was protectionist. Surely the tariff was a greater evil than slavery.

The posthumous induction of Jefferson Davis into the libertarian hall of fame was too much for David Boaz, a vice president of Cato. In a 2010 essay in Reason magazine titled “Up From Slavery: There’s No Such Thing as a Golden Age of Lost Liberty,” Boaz observed that even whites in the antebellum North “did not actually live in a free society … Liberalism seeks not just to liberate this or that person, but to create a rule of law exemplifying equal freedom. By that standard, even the plantation owners did not live in a free society, nor even did people in the free states.”

Boaz asked his fellow libertarians, “If you had to choose, would you rather live in a country with a department of labor and even an income tax or a Dred Scott decision and a Fugitive Slave Act?” It says something that in 2009 this question stirred up a controversy on the libertarian right.

Libertarians and conservatives, to be sure, can point to many examples of naive liberals in the last century who embarrassed themselves by praising this or that squalid, tyrannical communist regime, from the Soviet Union and communist China to petty police states like North Korea, communist Vietnam and Castro’s Cuba. But the apologists for tyranny on the left were always opposed by anti-communist liberals and anti-communist democratic socialists. Where were the anti-authoritarian libertarians, denouncing libertarian fellow travelers of Pinochet like von Hayek and Milton Friedman?

For that matter, where was the libertarian right during the great struggles for individual liberty in America in the last half-century? The libertarian movement has been conspicuously absent from the campaigns for civil rights for nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians. Most, if not all, libertarians support sexual and reproductive freedom (though Rand Paul has expressed doubts about federal civil rights legislation). But civil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion — issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.

So, I’ve obviously gone a bit over my usual acceptable word count, but believe me, in all my years of education, I would never believe that so much debunked tripe would form the central arguments of so many people running for president.  They will not be happy until everything is returned to the days of Dixie or pyramid building.   I’m having a hard time figuring out how far back in time they would throw us. It’s enough to make me run for the hills.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?