Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who You Calling "Liberal"?

I laugh a pinko laugh. The most liberal U.S. Senator ratings are just out and Barack Obama heads the list. As regular readers know, I don't find him left enough. In fact, if he is the most liberal in the Senate, we need even more serious replacements than I feared.

The ratings come from the National Journal, which pegs itself as a non-partisan source. Its readers include Washington insiders like politicians and policy wonks.

The gotcha-minded Republicans love this stuff. You can be positive that if Obama is the eventual nominee, we'll hear tons about his relative Marxism. At least the Dems know what kind of lunacy to expect and be prepared for it.

Amusingly enough, some on the list are also snorting. According to CNN, John Kerry is fairly hooting at being ranked more liberal than fellow Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

They have been doing this since 1981. They base it on key votes on crucial issues — 99 votes on economic and social issues in the current list.

This time, Obama came out with an 88.0 liberal score for first place. Hillary Clinton was 16th most liberal with 79.4%.


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What a Bad Day Mad Dad Had

Alas for the Lexington kvetchers, there's no joy in Fundy Town tonight. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit went for common sense. They told the Mad Dad and his cohorts they had nothing the federal courts wanted to hear. They said try your luck at the state or town level.

We can see by the 44-page decision took a while. Under Circuit Judge Sandra L. Lynch, Senior Circuit Judge Normal H. Stahl, and Circuit Judge Jeffrey R. Howard, it leaves no wiggle room for slithering upstream to the U.S. Supreme Court. They discussed and ruled on every key case presented by both plaintiffs and defense, and then they stretched to cover possibly related precedent in other cases. The intent seems to be to stop this insanity as far as heavy hitting courts go.

They lost in U.S. District Court 11 months ago and argued the appeal two months ago. Check links there or read today's decision for the gruesome and tedious details.

Today's Highlights

The three-judge panel was amazingly kind to the plaintiffs and provided a wide latitude for the arguments. It's as though the judges all has seen their own kids through the terrible twos and testy adolescent years. The ruling shows a great deal of patience.

Punch Line

The panel rejected the plaintiff's appeals in part and sum. They affirmed the previous decision, as in (page 43):
We affirm the district court's dismissal with prejudice of plaintiffs' federal claims and its dismissal without prejudice of the state claims so that they may be reinstated, should plaintiffs choose, in state court.
In legal terms, with prejudice means don't bother us again on this. Previously, Mad Dad David Parker had been full of bluster on this, as on the way-out-there Pundit Review talk show with Gregg Jackson. He didn't lower his sights to commonwealth courts, but expressed his fantasy that the U.S. Supreme Court would accept an appeal on it. (I snort.)

The Boston Globe got a similar mumble from their attorney, Jeffrey Denner, about a maybe appeal to the nation's highest court. I think he'd better take a good look at the ruling.

No Smelling Salts

In their oral and written arguments, the plaintiffs asserted that books offered or read in the Lexington schools to their elementary children were horrifying and highly sexual. The panel didn't buy this for a moment.

Instead, they concluded (page 40):
(T)hese books do not endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, or even address these topics exlicitly, but merely describe how other children might come from families that look different from one's own."
Moreover:
It is a fair inference that the reading of King and King is precisely intended to influence the listening children toward tolerance of gay marriage. That was the point of why that book was chosen and used. Even assuming there there is a continuum along which an intent to influence could become an attempt to indoctrinate, however this case is firmly on the influence-toward-tolerance end. There is no evidence of systemic indoctrination.
The melodramatic presentation that these two books were overtly sexual or that they interfered with these two sets of parents' rights to educate their children in their chosen religion and morals did not sway the panel. Instead, they held that there was no legal basis for such claims.

No Religious Trump Card

The crux of the plaintiff's appeal into a federal court was the assertion that the school's unwillingness to change what they taught or to opt the children out of any discussion the parents specified. They claimed violation of their First Amendment Rights to a free exercise of their religion.

The panel noted that this "is not a general protection of religion or religious belief. It has a more limited reach of protecting the free exercise of religion. page 33)" In short, as the defendants have contended, the parents can teach what they like and that is by society's reckoning their duty. They just may end up telling their kids that they disagree with some of what they hear in school.

Also, the plaintiff's arguments repeat that the books and diversity lessons were indoctrination that required the kids to endorse same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The panel had none of this either. They noted that the nation's high court had no indoctrination test for religious exercise (page 38). Moreover, they added that "Plaintiffs' pleadings do not establish a viable case of indoctrination, "even assuming that extreme indoctrination can be a form of coercion (page 39)."

The panel in effect told the plaintiffs to get with the program, as in (page 39):
First, as to the parents' free exercise rights, the mere fact that a child is exposed on occasion in public school to a concept offensive to a parent's religious belief does not inhibit the parent from instructing the child differently.
They went on in what surely will hearten educators to write (page 41), "Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them."

Likewise, for the diversity book bag (optional), they ruled that this was a form of notification and the parent could choose to read them with the kids or not at all. In contrast (page 42), "...the plaintiffs' children were not forced to read the books on pain of suspension. Nor were they subject to a constant stream of like materials. There is no allegation here of a formalized curriculum requiring students to read many books affirming gay marriage."

Even for the son to whom the second-grade teacher read the King & King, the panel noted that this was no big legal deal. As they wrote (page 42), "Because plaintiffs do not allege facts that give rise to claims of constitutional magnitude, the district court did not err in granting defendants' motion to dismiss the claims under the U.S. Constitution." That would be a legal checkmate as far as advancing in federal courts.

No to Control Types

The plaintiffs have also contended repeatedly what we hear from many self-proclaimed parents' rights advocates. As the ruling put it (page 28), "Plaintiffs' opening premise is that their rights of parental control are fundamental rights." That's heavy stuff in such suits, but not convincing here.

The suit and appeal assert (page 30) that "their request for notice and exempti0n is simply a logical extension of their parental rights" under cases they cited. Instead, the panel used more common sense and case law based judgments that:
  • "The schooling cases cited...'evince the principle that the state cannot prevent parents from choosing a specific educational program. (page 29)"
  • "We have found no federal case under the Due Process Clause which has permitted parents to demand as exemption for their children from exposure to certain books used in public schools. (page32)"
Nothing in the plaintiffs' arguments originally or on appeal convinced the judges they were due the level of control they demanded (page 32).

Diversity Mandates

As well as bringing in other case law to exclude upward appeal, the panel recapped the educational options and requirements of the schools. They noted:
  • "By statute, the actual selection of books is the responsibility of a school's principal, with the approval of the superintendent of schools. (page 7)"
  • Commonwealth law, Chapter 69, Section 1D, "...mandates that the standards 'be designed to inculcate respect for the cultural, ethnic and racial diversity of the commonwealth.'" "Further, '(a)cademic standards shall be designed to avoid perpetuating gender, cultural, ethnic or racial stereotypes. (page 5)"
  • "(T)he learning Standards provide that by grade 5, students should be able to '(d)efine sexual orientation using the correct terminology (such as heterosexual, and gay and lesbian). (page 6)"

Thanks for Playing

We can certainly see why an educational system so slanted to reality and compassion would be a problem for those with very narrow views of their world. It may be scant comfort, but the panel's ruling made a passing acknowledgment of this (page 43) — "We do not suggest that the school's choice of books for young students has not deeply offended the plaintiffs' sincerely held beliefs."

However, the solution was to take their act elsewhere, as in "...seek recourse in the normal political process for change in the town and state."

February Fool's Day Update: Please forgive me if you hear my chuckling. According to the dark and dim over at MassResistance, plantiffs' attorney Denner does claim there's this windmill (with billable hours) he has to attack. "(T)hey are immediately preparing to go before the US Supreme Court on this case. 'We are fully committed to go forward,' he said today. 'We will continue to fight on all the fronts that we need to.'"
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Mad Dad Likely Madder

The quarrelsome quartet from Lexington, led by the Mad Dad, can hold another L to their collective foreheads. They lost, lost, lost their unappealing appeal in the First Circuit U.S. Court on the effort to force the Lexington schools to roll over, sit up and beg for the right to teach what they want.

Tip of the toupee to Universal Hub, where Adam had already tipped his cap to Decisionism.

I'll look over the 44-page rejection and get back with an update shortly.


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LEDs! Everybody Panic!

Has it only been a year since we showed our provincialism at its worst? Yes, today is the Mooninite scare anniversary!

Even now, our sometimes sensible mayor and assorted police and politicians hold to their binky of comfort and denial on this. From Fark to blogs to MSM to acquaintances beyond 128, we have yet to atone for, much less justify, our indignation, incompetence, and overreaction.

Other cities handled the identical situation with grace and ease. We'll have to content ourselves with bringing a small joy as a recurring punchline to the rest of the nation.

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Obama Notions

Well, political kiddies, it's time to come out of hiding. We've been so spoiled for so many months, reaching into our candidate bags and pulling out one prize after another. Tuesday is shut-up-and-choose time.

With Johnny Edwards relinquishing his race — striding, not slinking, away, Democrats, progressives and tepid allies can no longer hide. Just in time to play counterpoint to the Super Bowl clichés, the next phase of the campaign will be brought to you by the word electability.

Picky Picky

Message One: We (on the side of reason, angels or however you define leftist virtue) must absolutely avoid the biggest right-wing boner. We can't toss a candidate on a single issue or even two.

If I did that, Obama, Edwards and Clinton would be off my list. None favors marriage equality and all are jive on GLBT rights. Talk. Talk. Talk. No guts.

On the GOP and other self-identified conservative sides, many voters tell pollsters that they scratch McCain for his immigration stance. Others with even a shred of humanity won't tolerate someone who votes for torture or spying on citizens. I hope they keep that attitude and stay home on November 4th.

We can't do that on our side.

Neither Obama nor Clinton is left enough for me. Neither advances sufficient policy and plans for my agenda. Neither is going to get there in the next nine months. Still, I'll actively support whichever gets the nomination.

Off the Starting Block!

Message Two: Take your fingers out of your ears. You have less than a week to settle on Clinton or Obama for the short-term goal.

Even if you can't tolerate Clinton's pro-war voting and divisive politicking, read and listen to enough to pick one of these candidates. I recommend:
  • Holy Coast's Electable Card post to make you consider how you come down on Clinton's chances
  • Slam on Obama for having the weakest solution to the mortgage crisis
  • Sharp stab at Clinton, making her the 1860 election's William Seward to Obama's Abraham Lincoln
  • Tom Hayden's (oo, flashback) endorsement of Obama, comparing the two candidates and concluding, "It is better to fail at the quest for greatness than to accept our planet's future as only a reliving of the past."
  • Bob Cesca challenges progressive bloggers to stop quibbling and choose. He ends up leaning toward Obama and calling this "a choice between a once-in-a-generation, transformational candidate who's running parallel to our collective desire to remake the party, and, on the other side, a candidate who represents a species of Democrat that we've traditionally rejected." See if you agree with his analysis.
Moreover, check out Ryan's last several takes on the race. On our Left Ahead! weekly podcasts, he has repeatedly come down on Obama for calling for bipartisanship in contrast to the successful GOP modus operandi of scorched earth politics. At the least, try is post-Edwards lament.

In that same vein, Gary Younge wants to go for Obama, but fears accommodation. He writes:
The terrible truth about the past seven years is not that the country has been divided but that the wrong side has been winning. The right has fought for its agenda and has never been in doubt about who its enemy is...Candidates can talk about "transcending" race, gender, region and party all they like. But before we can talk sensibly about transcending difference, we must first transform the conditions that give these differences meaning.
He'll have his final struggle this week too. Make your choice now.

Hill Yes/Hill No

Maybe it's my nature or perhaps it's the decade I lived in Manhattan, but I don't find Clinton's persona grating or threatening. I have lots of problems with various of her positions. I don't understand the large percentage of voters of various demographics who say they could never, would never go for her.

Of course, that's one consideration and one that Obama finally addressed yesterday. He said she was divisive, with the subtext that she might lose in November.

His larger criticism is that she represents the old Democratic Party way of doing business. That has often failed in Presidential and Congressional elections, and always failed in advancing large progressive issues.

Whether it is McCain or Romney, for us, we have to decide which Dem can beat that clown.

Personally, it looks like Clinton would have a much harder time headed toward November. She's an easier target, with many more vulnerabilities (including her husband's record and behavior) than Obama. She might be able to pull it off.

If she were able to win, what would we have? There's nothing she's advancing and promising that Obama doesn't do better.

His huge issue is what Ryan and Younge stick on — would he be so gentle, would he try so hard to compromise that we are left stagnating? Would his idealistic call for bipartisanship lead the GOP piranhas chomp his proposals?

We surely in a President who will demand the righting of our ship of state. This is not a time for let's just get along. The Republicans have largely destroyed our economy and caused the deaths of thousands of us while neglecting the very human needs at home.

Each of us needs to decide which of the two would be most effective in reversing that.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Century of Student Rants


Rip 'em up. Tear 'em up. Cocks give 'em hell!

That was the favorite cheer from the (red) Carolina stadium in the mid-1960s. The university's fascination with the nasty little birds included naming the student newspaper The Gamecock.

I note this because:
  • The paper is 100 years old this year (same as the FBI)
  • I reported and wrote columns and editorials for it waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back
  • A current editor tracked me down and interviewed me on a scandalous article for the recap
Pic Note: The logo above does not have my cupcake art. I adapted it from the paper's site.

Up here in Yankeeland, the assumption is that all meaningful history occurred in Boston and Cambridge. Locals don't even seem to recognize Florida, New Mexico, Virginia and New York settlements, much less that anything of moment could happen below Milton.

Truth be told, the Harvard Crimson is older by three decades. Yet other colleges had student journalists and journalism schools too. In this particular instance, you can go to the only repository of all of The Gamecock — the oldest separate college library building in the nation, South Caroliniana. Before this USC was a party school, it was one of two where the smart Southerners went, the other being Virginia.

As you might surmise, when I was on the paper at the height of the Vietnam War, I was the thumbtack on the chairs of the university president and numerous politicians. Although it is a state school, it has a lot of alumni funding (and interference) and virtually anyone of import got an undergrad or law degree from it. The Gamecock has a huge alumni readership.

Locals also have no shame over the newspaper name/mascot. The same t-shirt that would get raised eyebrows, invitations or worse here is classic there.

Now, any right winger or redneck is likely to have long hair and at least one earring. Back then (when I had hair), those were up-yours-conservatives symbols. My inflammatory columns and articles were surely worse. Even if you were not in the same room, you could get offended by reading. I loved it.

I don't know how you spent your college years, but I can tell you tales. The various editors-in-chief can likewise recount the letters, calls and visits from students, faculty, alumni and lawmakers complaining about me. I loved it.

The recap touches on the f-word article. It doesn't mention:
  • Interviews with hookers and drug dealers
  • Ridiculing the athletic director
  • Calling the frats on their self-satisfied once-a-year visit to orphanages
  • A view of an acid trip
  • A fake article about me as a filmmaker and director
  • Slamming Black students for wanting to imitate the white Greek life
  • Calls for coverage of and accepting ads from women's reproductive clinics
  • Going head to head with a rabid legislator wanting to fingerprint all students in the state
  • Publishing pix of undercover Army cops and their unmarked vehicles out to find soldiers fraternizing with anti-war coffee house folk
I swear that an intense and passionate life is much superior to a calm and cautious one. I have to thank Paul Bowers at The Gamecock for tracking me down and triggering those cheap thrills. (Swallow your coffee if you intend to click the link.)

If you're still holding back on your strong opinions, consider letting fly today. The reactions won't be nearly as bad as you project, you'll feel much better, and you just may get more of both respect and meaningful conversation.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Unthinkables

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

The pundits are punting. The MSM and the net have a plethora of primary prognostications — with the exception of the dour realist Clive Crook over at the Financial Times who notes the long-term and continued right-wing economic fantasies.

With no fast-forward button, we'll have to join the braying experts (I can write that when I don't handicap the pending primaries; so there) in waiting for Florida and Super-Tuesday results. Meanwhile, we have our monkey's paw moment. Most of us wanted contested races in both parties rather than the rolling boredom of a known nominee early.

The weak have stumbled or fallen, but it's still two dogs after the rabbit for Dems, and the GOP wolf pack snarling and snapping on the other side. After the racially charged South Carolina Dem vote, let us pause to consider the unlikely, the unpleasant and the unthinkable.

  • Unlikely. Everything will be settled or at least known by February 6th. In both parties, gracious losers will accept the trends of the big day, and rally behind the leader to heal any wounds before November and give us voters clear reasons to believe their nominee will lead American from our Bushy swamp.
  • Unpleasant. Americans unwilling and unable to vote for either the black man or the white woman. Following the Obama sandlapper success, Florida won't really be a test. Voters there have proven for many decades that they are so raw and self-righteous that they often check their brains at the polling place door. Voters in America's dangling state are about 81% white and have never shown a proclivity to prove their open-mindedness to anyone. Instead, votes and exit polls on the following Tuesday will let us know whom voters are willing to go for, how much they hate one or both Clintons, and maybe more than we want to know.
  • Unthinkable. Voters so terrified of change that they elect another Republican. Far more extreme that a victory of hope over experience, this would be a nationally failed IQ test. The U.S. and world rubble of the right-wing economic policies should be more than enough to prevent this. Add the piles of nearly 4,000 American soldiers and even more of our contractors. Then the GOP filibuster rule in the Senate has prevented even the most obvious legislative corrections for seven years. You'd think American could never be so irrational and emotionally needy as to consider sending a McCain or Romney to complete the destruction.
In truth, we are likely to have a bitter campaign all around. The overly competitive and relentlessly pragmatic Clintons seem devious and amoral. The squishy Obama fully satisfies no one with his vagueness.

Our real hopes for Democratic reform come January 2009 lie in the befuddled Republican voters. Their candidates differ much more than the Dems, who share the me-too traits of toothpaste or other commodities. Of course, the Dems have the luxury of huge, obvious failing of right-wing policy and implementation to unite their views.

In contrast, the GOP candidates remaining are deliciously divisive. From the Giuliani who actually is pretty much a liberal Democrat to the not-Christian-nor-conservative-enough McCain to the laughably mercurial Romney, none satisfies enough wingers to rally them for November. The Republicans can only hope that enough independent and right-leaning Dems panic at the idea of the huge changes necessary that they vote emotion over thought.

After we so foolishly re-elected George the Lesser, my pessimism scampers like a rat in the basement. I thought the unthinkable today when we heard from an elderly family friend. She asked us to find and send her the clip from the Globe that included a question and answer from her 12-year-old grandson to Obama at a restaurant in South Carolina.

Supposedly, a certain Jesus was also 12 when his mom found him discoursing with the scholars in the temple in Jerusalem. In contrast to such an illustration of precocity and wisdom, our chum's grandchild may portend his parents' and their peers' votes. He asked, "Hey, Obama, what are going to do about foreign policy?" After hearing the intention to get us out of Iraq, the boy later said he wasn't satisfied. "'I don't want another Democrat,' he said, professing admiration for Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. 'We have enough of them.'"

We can likely forgive a 12-year-old for being a bit ignorant and parroting what he hears at home. In fact, I'm familiar with the poverty of information in this hometown paper, the Florence Morning News. Unfortunately, we don't yet know how many adults will be unable bring themselves to vote for the change they say they want.

HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST?


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Deval's Second Chance

Those of us still looking for a path out of the Massachusetts political and economic swamp should take heart from Gov. Deval Patrick's state-of-the-commonwealth address tonight. He appears to have regrouped and to be ready to live up to his biggest campaign promise — that he'd get the necessary cooperation for big changes as he did in his business career.

Many of us who met and spoke with him during his campaign and early weeks saw that. He is charming to the point of charismatic. He has a long history of that other kind of persuasion that can work.

I confess that a good part of me likes the President Lyndon Johnson persona instead. In the U.S. Senate, then as VP and prez, he was a fearsome and sometimes brutal politician. From the 1964 Civil Rights Act to dozens of other major laws and hundreds of minor ones, Johnson used everything from jokes over drinks to threats to get his way, for the benefit of the nation.

Patrick, on the other hand, has a long record of the soft touch in convincing people to do the right thing. It's slower, less sure and takes more work. Yet, those who arrive at the right choice without coercion are happier about it and tend to be repeat cooperators. To top it all, Patrick is perfectly content to let others take credit for the results.

His address will soon be available as a podcast and file on his section of the commonwealth website. MSM and blogs alike will have lots of analysis tomorrow and beyond.

Meanwhile, I'd note:
  • There's not a single threat to the sometimes recalcitrant legislature in the whole eight pages. Long term legislators have been party with previous administrations in deferring the necessary until we got into the muck we are now.
  • He praises actions already taken as he can. For example, "Last year, this Legislature created a commission to recommend a practical strategy to end homelessness. The Commission has delivered, and my budget funds their recommendations in full. Join us and let’s set ourselves on a course to end homelessness in Massachusetts once and for all. " That's praise with a cooperative call to finish the job.
  • He epitomizes the baby-boomer attitude of fixing problems no matter who caused them. He said, "We must do our part as elected officials by managing government responsibly. That includes being willing to curb spending in other areas. Last year I cut some $500 million from state spending, and held spending increases to the lowest level in three years. This year my budget offers another $475 million in cuts. And later this year, through a concept we call MassTrans, I will ask for your support in streamlining our transportation bureaucracy, which will yield further significant savings. "
To that last point, he revisited it several times. The call is steadyI know that the willingness to serve and to sacrifice is out there...Everyone must do his or her part -- because everyone has a stake.

Some messages in the address are obvious. He says these are the issues, these are their solutions, and I am providing the funding mechanisms. Some are more subtle. We face huge problems, but we need to take responsibility to fix them. We must sacrifice as needed to do so. We have to do what's necessary for long-term success.

That last set is very, very different from what the past several governors and sets of lawmakers have done. Of course, that's how we ended up in this mess and were so unable to combat issues of the economy as well as infrastructure.

Patrick has simply, and oh so sweetly, upped the ante. Obstructionist legislative leaders have sat on these problems for a year, but he hasn't left them much cover.

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Incredible Shrinking John Edwards


Y'all know I think John Edwards is real nice and well brought up. It's no surprise to those who follow our weekly Left Ahead! podcast that one of our number loves him and the other likes him politically.

So, how is it that this guy whose positions and record are at least as strong as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's dwells increasingly on the margins of this Presidential race? How it it that he has almost disappeared from the polls (15% to 45%/31% Obama/Clinton) in his native South Carolina's primary in two days?

I can't count the number of people I know, read about or hear of who say they like him. Yet most add that he's probably unelectable...now.

Here, he doesn't seem a factor at all. It seems Clinton is losing a bit to Obama, but looks headed to win our delegates. Over at the Phoenix, David Bernstein hedges this with the possibility that saturation campaigning by Obama might, maybe, perhaps win Massachusetts.

Our state though has a poor record of electing non-whites and non-men to big offices. Much like our citizens were the colonial, then national, chief slave traders into the Civil War, our actions often don't coincide with the perception of us. We have to look hard to find the few Black, female or ethnic minorities we elect. We can kick the can of how racist and sexist we may be up and down Beacon Street without answering any of those questions.

Down in South Carolina, it seems easier and more direct. Even former President Bill Clinton said there that Black voters will go for Obama and women for his wife. Race and gender voting "is understandable because people are proud when someone who they identify with emerges for the first time."

Of course, in the simplest numeric terms, South Carolina should belong to the Black voters and the whole nation to women. Traditionally, the votes have gone to white men, which we may notice fits Edwards here and now.

Yet, to take women voters as examples, they have not been ready and willing over the centuries. (This may be history that Bill hasn't studied.) They did not advance women candidates and weren't even ready in 1984 for Geraldine Ferraro.

I find the Edwards' shrinking far more fascinating than straight gender/race voting. In some ways, he is spot on for an America sick of war and of economic failures from the new version of supply side economics. He is liberal LITE on many issues, precisely where massive Pew and other studies place the majority of Americans.

At least one smart guy has analyzed this dwindling. Head over to The Black Commentator for a piece by Executive Editor Bill Fletcher, who is a senior scholar at the social-action oriented Institute for Policy Studies.

In Edwards' Strategic Mistake, Fletcher bemoans that Edwards was the only candidate "discussing the plight of the working class and the non-working class poor." The true reformer, in Fletcher's view, fell afoul of that race or gender identification in some ways, but doomed his candidacy with his own big mistake.

It is the white populist error repeating yet again. He writes, "Simply put, it is the idea that unity will magically appear by building a campaign that attacks poverty and corporate abuse, supports unions and focuses on the challenges facing the working class, BUT IGNORES RACE AND GENDER."

He figures Edwards had a good shot at a campaign "based upon th enotion of social/economic justice and inclusion, rather than restricting himself to economic justice and 'change.'" That would have required more than diversity — instead conscious and real inclusion and a broad tent.

To attract more than Danny Glover as high-profile supporters he would have needed to wade right into how current problems and injustices affect people by race and color. Fletcher writes, "we needed Edwards to be an advocate for racial justice and gender justice. He should not have assumed that he could use issues of class to subsume other forms of injustice."

Another related failing was not following through on positioning. He started his campaign where Katrina's effects illustrated his points, but did not continue to show up where the poor and disadvantaged are.

Finally, he seems to have called for fighting for his causes, but never tried to create a movement to do so. As Fletcher put it, "But to fight, one must have organization. It cannot be that the candidate is the only one or the main one doing the fighting."

Perhaps we shall end up saying that Edwards suffered from a passive naïveté. He seemed to believe that if he built it, they would come.

Maybe he didn't build enough. Regardless, he's still waiting for the voters to come.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Phonic Phun with Phelps

Guaranteed to offend, and to drive many of us to scatter ph everywhere, the call is for Phags for Phelps. The concept is that he is such an absurd bigot that he becomes a GLBT activist.

Check Out Magazine's column by Josh Kilmer-Purcell Donate to the Partridge Family of Hate. He notes that the government and most Americans only became upset with Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church when they shifted from protesting at funerals of those who died from AIDS to those of soldiers who died in Iraq. The column reads:
Which is why I felt betrayed when my Freddie shifted his picketing focus from AIDS victims’ funerals to the funerals of U.S. soldiers returning in body bags from Iraq. He seemed to be going off message. Sure, he still preached that the soldiers had died because they were fighting for a country that allowed stick figures to have anal sex, but it’s a bit of a meandering chain of logic. Not like the old Fred, who’d spit directly in my face.
He continues that Fred is "an honest homophobe" in contrast to some alleged liberals.
I would much rather have Fred spewing undiluted hatred on CNN than listen to all of the front-running Democratic presidential candidates tap-dancing around gay marriage like Larry Craig on a layover. Unlike them, the only “middle of the road” position Fred takes is the one blocking the hearse.
The drive was to raise some money for the church and Fred, who recently lost a $10.9 million lawsuit. That was, if you pardon the expression, queered when the church returned a check with a letter saying they didn't take outside donations.

So now Phags for Phelps will stick to their stated purpose — "As a result, this site is simply to show GBLT support for the Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church and to help them spread their message of hate in order that it may be ridiculed and despised by the widest audience possible."


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No-No Sal on the Edge

It's time for the speaker of the house to cut the crap. Salvatore F. DiMasi has been the prince of negativity to the point that Massachusetts in rotting on his watch.

His puerile tirade targeting Gov. Deval Patrick and Presidential candidate Barack Obama doesn't hurt them or even us in Massachusetts. However, it does draw attention to Li'l Sal's unwillingness to act. For the past year, he has rejected every request and proposal to help us financially and attack our several long-term serious problems.
  • Taxing businesses at the rates other states do? No, says Sal.
  • Casinos as another revenue source? No, says Sal.
  • Infusion to boost biotech industry? I'll sit on it, says Sal.
  • Unite transit agencies and fund expansions? I'll let you have a train and trolley line expansion...only, says Sal.
  • Public safety initiatives with more cops? You can just wait, says Sal.
  • Local property-tax relief? No way, says Sal.
I think we can see the pattern here. No-no Sal shoots down any proposals for improvements and any funding mechanisms. Then, he offers nothing in response.

He either has no ideas or his own or is terrified of advancing any, perhaps fearing that some short-sighted jerk would sit on the funding or make sure it didn't pass. Oh, he's been that jerk.

The oddment here is that this is not his own ugly, limping horse he's riding to battle. The previous speakers and governors failed us. They deferred bridge and road maintenance until it becomes a crisis with a stunning price tag. They did not act as one company and industry after another dwindled or left the commonwealth. They neglected education and health and on and on.

Li'l Sal has the great opportunity to solve the problems created by those who came before. As his name portends, he can be a savior, if only he cuts the control-freak routine and acts.

How did the Terry Malloy character in On the Waterfront put it?
I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.
Unlike the failed pug, Sal still has a shot at greatness. He still has time, but not much.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Edwards Shows his Upbringing

I reveled in the snatch of Southernism from the well-mannered Johnny Reid Edwards during the South Carolina debate Monday. While those two Yankee kids from Chicago, Hillary and Barack, ran on like people with no upbringing, he waited his turn and made strong points.

Those were strong in content and judging by the audience reaction, in emotional resonance. His call for civility and attention to discourse got cheers.

His comportment differed so radically from that of the other two candidates, it illustrates two key points:
  • The cultures are very different; Yankees in the main don't have manners.
  • His atavistic niceness reinforces his looming defeat; he's too nice to play on the national level.
Specifically, check just less than two minutes of the transcript with moderator Wolf Blitzer addressing him after Obama and Clinton ranted on way off topic for a long time slandering each other:
BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on.
Senator Edwards -- Senator Edwards has been remarkably patient during this exchange. And I want him -- I don't know if you want to get involved in this, Senator Edwards.
EDWARDS: What I want to say first is, are there three people in this debate, not two?
(APPLAUSE)
EDWARDS: And I also want to know -- I also want to know on behalf of voters here in South Carolina, this kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? How many kids are going to be able to go to college because of this?
EDWARDS: We have got to understand -- you know, and I respect both of my fellow candidates -- but we have got to understand this is not about us personally. It is about...
(APPLAUSE)
... what we are trying to do for this country and what we believe in.
Of course, he was right and in many ways superior to the other two. However, Southern manners make daily life more enjoyable but are not likely to cut it in a Presidential run.

So, what were his Southern differences? (Look at Johnny Reid above. Doesn't he just look nice? Well, he is.))

Southerners are taught, usually by Mama, to be respectful in discourse. Even if they disagree with what you're saying and even if they dislike you, they listen. The well-bred Southerner will not talk over you or interrupt you.

In contrast, the prep school and Ivy types learn to jump right in to make their points. Shouting down someone and repeating their arguments many times are a style. Silence someone to win.

In Myrtle Beach, the other two also got all the coverage by insulting each other. They took small details, like a single Senate vote, and made broad generalization. Then they mischaracterized the other's statements. That doesn't make you right. It makes you loud and repetitive...and just plain rude.

That's not the Southern way. That just isn't polite. It reflects badly on those who raised you.

All of that written, Hillary and Barack surely scored many more points with voters. Johnny would be much more pleasant to live around, but he won't be living in the White House.

Comic/pundit/pseudo-VP candidate/Doritos eater Stephen Colbert parried with such points in interviews with GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. As a South Carolina native, Colbert admits to understanding Southern habits and behaviors much better than Yankees do.

As far as I know, he hasn't told Johnny to stop being so nice if he wants to stay in the race.

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Courts Podcast Comes Heavy

What, you say:
  • You're suspicious about the motives of our Supreme Judicial Court?
  • You can't figure out how the legislature won't act on cleaning up bad laws?
  • You wonder if there'll be yet another challenge to same-sex marriage here?
Fret not, beyond our usual bluster and pontification over at Left Ahead!, we had a guest who really knows his stuff...and is not afraid to offer opinions based on it. David Yas, VP, publisher and editor in chief of Massachusetts Lawyer's Weekly joined us today.

We went on about such matters as:
  • How accurate is the concept of our SJC as an activist court legislating from the bench?
  • From another angle, is the SJC gun shy after all the grief it got from the Goodridge decision legalizing SSM?
  • What's the prospect of overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) with a new President?
  • When can we expect action on our 1913 laws preventing out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying here?
Grab the MP3 of this here or use our player here. The download is 12MB and it runs 50 minutes.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Supply (Lie) Side...Again?


A more venal Blanche DuBois mindset recurs in American economics. As I write, and since that Reagan President, far too many in the government and public delude ourselves.

If only we would give the very wealthy more money and related resources, surely they will use their superior wisdom and skills to our benefit. Surely.

The current prez and the far too many plutocrats in Congress want to extend and expand tax breaks for the already obscenely wealthy. It's not enough that they have committed us all to trillions of debt and driven our economy from world leadership. They would like to lead us on yet another fantasy quest.

Like the addled Blanche, too many of us are willing to depend on the kindness of strangers, in this case, those who share the outlook of petty criminals and drug dealers — those who first and foremost understand self-interest.

What, you say, that sounds like the Randists and libertarians. Indeed, the unrepentant supply siders do often disguise themselves amongst such. Let's not confuse bagels and doughnuts here.

Except among those campaigning for the top GOP nomination this year — and those desperate to believe them — finding those who try to rationally defend supply-side economics or its Reaganomics flavor is increasingly difficult. There are second-tier professors who do. The more balanced and the critical assessments far outweigh their arguments and with far more convincing analysis.

To the current race and its related economics debate, a seminal piece appeared in yesterday's NY Times. Chicago economics professor and Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee gets specific in Is the New Supply Side Better Than the Old?

Just Trust Them

The fundamental and well disproved fallacy is that if the very wealthy only have more money, good things will happen. The column is well worth the read and make sure to catch the David G. Klein illustration.

Most important, as Goolsbee notes, supply siders, including politicians "espousing these views have missed three important points that have come out of the continuing academic debate":
  1. "The impact of high-income tax cuts depends on how much additional income a person can keep." President J.F. Kennedy's cuts for the rich tripled their take-home, while George the Lesser's produced a 60.4% to 65% change, "hardly...the stuff of tax revolution."
  2. Contrasted to 30 years ago, we have seen " the dramatic, disproportionate rise in the compensation of high-income people. The new supply-siders have confused this shift with the impact of tax cuts." In fact, regardless of tax rate changes up or down, the rich's compensation has grown at high rates.
  3. "(M)uch of what the new supply-side economics attributed to tax cuts was really just the relabeling of income." The top tier plays with personal and corporate income, understandably moving and timing to minimize taxation. "Shifts like these have nothing to do with supply-side economics."

Goolsbee concludes that "...it would be great if we could cut taxes and raise revenue at one stroke. Alas, the research suggests that we will have to pay for high-income tax cuts the old-fashioned way — by actually cutting spending or just busting the budget." Get a grip, Blanche!

Trickle on Whom?

Most unfortunately, as so many researchers, economists, journalists and even cartoonists have noted, trickle-down economics would be better described as piss-on economics. The allegedly wise investors have shown short-term and narrow self-interest. They have not increased jobs or expanded the economy. For the larger national economy and population, giving them more money has produced the same effects as not doing so. In the current administration, the tax cuts for the plutocrats have helped produce a slower, poorer economy.

It brings to mind the typical source I knew when I wrote for Inc. magazine years ago. That maggy of course is for and about people who run growing companies, typically entrepreneurial types. They too have their shared fantasies.

First, if you slice and rearrange statistics in the right way, you can say that such small businesses produce far more net job growth than big business or government employment. Second, while we writers chuckled back in the office how these companies, their industries, and the CEOs were nearly as similar as LEGO blocks, each business boss would invariably go on and on about how difficult it would be to write about him and his company. They are unique (of course you are). Third, they share that paternal patina. They only want what's best for their employees. Trust them.

Both the supply-side arguments and the CEOs' claims are akin to the robber baron era lie that unregulated factory owners had an enlightened self-interest in providing reasonable wages and working conditions to their workers. After all, they wanted profit and it only made sense that healthy and content workers would be loyal and productive. QED.

We know how well that worked out, eh?

Government regulation of manufacturing and the existence of labor unions resulted not from any plot to cruelly stifle the initiative of factory owners. Instead, brutal abuses in pursuit of profit at the expense of all fostered such throttles.

Yet, the Blanche-style fantasies are alluring. It is very comforting to us adults to think that parental figures will take care of us. The masters and mistresses of the estate only want what's best for those who live by their grace.

We tried lords and serfs, aristocracy and deferential society, masters and slavery, robber barons and child labor, and bowing our heads while holding out our hands for the largess of big business. The lessons from each are few but obvious.

Creating additional wealth is a worthy ideal. Depending on plutocrats to open their purses to disperse it is another matter entirely.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Calling, Crawling Shots in S.C.


Way downtown, even below Dorchester, John McCain has boosters that Mitt Romney does not — the editorial board of South Carolina's largest newspaper. Over at The State, the endorsement for the GOP primary certainly doesn't decide the election, but doesn't hurt.

As amusing background, be aware that this paper:
  • has a reputation as liberal, much as the Boston Globe does here
  • has reporters and editors who use the nickname I PS'ed into the logo above
  • is only moderately influential in directing voters
Not only have newspapers withered from the colossal opinion-makers they once were, what with cable TV, that Internet thing, and Lord knows how much more to do, but this particular one is taking a broom to the tide. While its editorial writers may be one sliver left of center sometimes, there's plenty of Limbaugh lovers out there. Plus, the number two S.C. paper, the Charleston Post and Courier, more typifies S.C. voters.

In this case, it also endorsed McCain. This agreement is not surprising, as no one was making them choose between a Dem and a Republican nominee. To the Post, McCain is still that straight talker, he listens to fellow Americans, and he can even make jokes about himself (with the example of the foot-stomping hilarity of his pretending to nap when the subject was aging). Moreover, the Lowcountry paper reminds us that they endorsed him eight years ago and have waited for the rest of the world to catch up.

The State, on the hand, mentions other GOP'ers, to slice 'em:

First Rudy Giuliani, then Mitt Romney looked at political realities and fled the Palmetto State, deciding their priorities lay elsewhere. Fred Thompson seems to be running in this first-in-the-South primary just to say he did. Ron Paul keeps on being Ron Paul, former nominee of the Libertarian Party.

The two remaining contenders here happen to be the two strongest candidates — Mike Huckabee and John McCain. Gov. Huckabee is an exciting newcomer who shows a wonderful ability to connect with voters’ concerns, and Republicans could do far worse than to choose him. But his utter lack of knowledge of foreign affairs is unsettling.

Its board concludes that their guy is candid, honorable, and hey, he was a brave POW.

It's looking good for McCain in polls as well as in papers. Of course, for the latter, the bifurcation and perhaps quixotic endorsements will come when it's time to pick a party for November.

I recall in the last century hearing from just such contrasting editors in J-school at the University of South Carolina. Way back then, journalism classes were still on the old horseshoe of the original 1801 campus and classes were 25 or fewer. In an introductory course, Prof. George Crutchfield brought in two relative celebrities, editors-in-chief — Bill Workman of The State and Harry Ashmore of the Arkansas Gazette.

This was 1967, when much of the South had not conceded that the '64 Civil Rights Act would change everything for them. Workman and Ashmore seemed like they couldn't have been more opposite. In fact, Ashmore had won a Pulitzer a decade earlier for articles on integration. He wrote numerous books on civil rights and went head to head with Gov. Orvel Faubus who so bitterly fought school integration in Little Rock.

Workman was an extreme right winger and state-rights advocate. Yet he and Ashmore sang harmony of separation of editorial and business, and of the freedom of reporters to write the truth.

What I recall was not how differently they spoke of their terribly divergent politics. Rather, they had been great friends for many decades. They were both from South Carolina and had worked papers in the area. They often visited, stayed with each other and had a generally great time together.

It was more than the effects of the great Southern leveler and lubricant, bourbon. They admired each other's intellect and reveled in their differently thinking friend's passions.

There were a step above my mother and me in this. She raised me as a liberal sort, but she aged into change. Toward the end of her life, it got to the point that we differed pointedly on politics, economics, and all the -ics. One day, she said, "Let's just not talk about this."

As far as I know, Bill and Harry continued to talk about such differences, likely until Bill died in 1990.

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How 'bout Those Activist Judges?


Legal decisions can seem like medical-journal studies. In the latter, doctors flog this month's results as now-we-know-the-truth — and MSM from daily papers to CNN to Parade spread the pseudo-news. Court decisions can be the same. In our desire for authority, we say, "After (insert ruling), everything changed!"

In both cases, it's usually just one more wrinkle in the great prune of life. Medical studies are often ephemeral truth, as the next ones contradict them. Court rulings can creep laboriously for years until they reach often vague resolution.

Fortunately, some observers are not so faddish. At Left Ahead!, we'll bring one such for our podcast on Tuesday, January 22nd. The multi-titled (VP, editor-in-chief and publisher) of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly joins us.

David Yas will give us his views on big issues like separation of powers and the role of the courts, and narrower ones like whether our Supreme Judicial Court overreached on Goodridge.

Here, I delighted in a column of his two years ago, the message to anti-same-sex marriage types that they lost. Get over it.

He doesn't seem to have any tolerance for bluster in lieu of substance.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mitt Headed Down in S.C.



A big pinch of salt here, please. Straight up, I admit that I did not see W.M. Romney winning Michigan. In our Left Ahead! podcast, I figured John McCain would edge him.

My defining moment was that running debate over the long-gone auto-industry jobs. In a sun-rises-East comment, McCain said that the depressed state's future was in retraining for new, better jobs. He told folks repeatedly "Some of these jobs aren't coming back."

As the movie characters (and many teens) say, "Well, duh!"

Much to my surprise, Romney's pathetic lies won the day there. They must be that desperate to believe in the sweetest song regardless of what they know and see. He said he'd fight for every job, McCain was a pessimist and perhaps a (big government? socialist-style?) bailout would do the trick.

Perhaps we can pause to consider what H.L. Hencken maybe said — No one every went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

I don't know Michiganders that well, not nearly so well as I know South Carolinians. I do believe that any carpetbagger who shows up with such obvious lies down South won't find such gullible voters. They send their own fabulists to the legislature; they don't need to import liars.

South Carolina too needs jobs, not so badly as Michigan, but employment is a big issue there too. Spreading the bovine feces about how they should trust him to get them jobs is less likely to fertilize support as smother it.

Neither state seems to examine Romney's résumé closely. His Massachusetts record should look awful to voters in either place. A little examination shows such "accomplishments" as taxing in new fees while saying those aren't taxes, and delaying infrastructure maintenance to where that is an exorbitantly priced crisis.

In addition, on jobs the hidden message in his venture-capitalist past is that he was successful measured by making large profits for the top rung of the companies' ladders, as well as Bain (his former company). There was never a spare job or high pay and benefits for workers and middle management. Mitt put big bags of money out for only his own class. Pip. Pip. Underlings were cogs in the money machine.

Trust that carpetbagger to take care of the ordinary worker? In a pig's eye!

I'm betting South Carolina is not as delusional and emotionally needy as Michigan. I call it McCain/Huckabee/Romney.

Down there, interlopers like Romney are likely to hear, "If y'all don't like it here, go back where you come from."

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Podcast Bandage


Pray a little cyber-supplication for Left Ahead! Our shared podcast site is sick today, but should be up by tomorrow.

Meanwhile:
  • We have a fun guest scheduled for next week
  • Ryan Adams and I covered a lot of political ground in a rambling show today
First, today's show is on the BlogTalkRadio site as usual. You can go there for access to the show stream. You can get it in MP3 form here. Those used to getting it from Left Ahead!'s player or the archive there will have to wait.

We ranted on about the Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina primaries, with emphasis on the GOP side. We touched on Cape Cod Wind and wind turbines, and looked with hope to the three big developments in Massachusetts Education this month. Those would be a proposed Secretary of Education, a new Commissioner of Education, and Gov. Deval Patrick's budget including an extra $368 to improve schools from kindergarten through university.

Next week, listen in at 2:30 Tuesday, January 22nd, or catch the archive. We'll bring on David Yas, vice president, editor in chief and publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. He is an insightful and gutsy commentator. We'll cover key issues on the SJC and beyond.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Slate Slugs Mitt -- Twice

Vintage Brylcreem ad= Out in the land of wolverines, post-infancy native Willard (a.k.a. Weepard) Mitt Romney skips blithely down the icy streets. In his elbow crook is the tiny basket brimming with his hopes and dreams and ambitions. The salesman who would be President aspires.

Ridiculing him from the windows are two separate Slate columnists.
The former is far less fun, but lists our let's-play-governor's itty-bitty issues there.
He's an unabashed free-trader in one of the few states where industrial unions (the most implacable foes of free trade this side of John Edwards) still have a significant presence. He's selling himself as a Reagan-esque optimist in a state where pessimism reigns (and frequently with good reason). His economic policies—extending the Bush tax cuts, running away from his own successful efforts to expand the social safety net in Massachusetts, essentially ignoring the housing mess—may resonate with the dwindling core of wealthy Michiganders. But they may do little to attract the state's shrinking ranks of Reagan Democrats.
The great snark though comes in Reed's description of Willard's campaign as "the greatest fake reality show ever. " Moreover, he wonders how we can survive the stumble to the election without this terrible theater.

He alludes to the phony Christmas with the family scenes and the boneheaded sons' commentary featuring Tagg. While we in Massachusetts know what a patronizing total fraud our Cap'n Brylcreem is, Reed contends that the rest of the nation has gotten to enjoy the clichés and ham-fisted dialog.

"The Romneys was designed to be the most manipulative, invasive, manufactured reality show in political history," Reed writes. He continues, "Yet now that we're all hooked, the suits want to pull the plug, just when it was getting good...The great irony of Romney '08 is that much of what he wants us to believe – from family values to leadership skills – might well have proved to be real, if he weren't running such a transparently phony campaign that makes everything ring false."

So, there it is. Michigan voters have piddled away from the pretender who is somehow linked to a popular former governor there. Both Huckabee and McCain have a good shot at beating him there, which would surely end his slither toward the White House. For the nation then, Michigan's primary asks the vaguely itching if not burning question of how much bad theater can we take?

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bush, the Un-Statesman

We should all note George Bush the Lesser's greatest pretense. I have been stunned that he supposes he can click his Lama booted heels three times and — Poof! — Peace in the Middle East.

That's where his pampered life and incredible intellectual and professional laziness exhibit themselves more obviously. It is far, far too little preparation, far, far too little diplomacy, far, far too little earned respect for him to even fantasize that he can broker a peace before he stumbles home in a year.

He at 61 remains the dullard gossiping in the back of the class while more curious and attentive students advance. He at 61 remains the legacy preppy/ivy who blows off the semester, counting on a single overnight cram session to get a passing grade.

Those in the related governments and indeed those of us in the larger world who do our work should not withhold the disdain. We can fairly snort at his daydream of a Nobel Peace Prize and a legacy of accomplishment.

It's too late, Little Georgie. There are too many failed tests and you neither know enough nor have the ability to pass this time. Neither Daddy nor Babs can finesse your way out of this.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Marriage? Not Worth Mentioning!

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. Candidates forgot to slander same-sex marriage...or they mumbled their aspersions.

Americans are busy. There's the staggering economy, two-front, unwinnable wars with extreme costs of life and debt, and a seven-year reversal from world mensch and macher to international schlemiel.

Plus, the anti-gay force have already marked their territory. All but a few states have anti-SSM laws or amendments, leaving one state with SSM, three with civil union, and four with some form of domestic partnership. Later as they undo their restrictions, they'll ask why they implemented them, but meanwhile they can sit like old men in front of the fire patting their ample bellies. Ah, safe and warm.

Like 2004, this election is more about emotions than reason. Yet unlike it, "them queers getting 'our' rights" is not the big pull. Instead, all candidates claim they'll start repairing the crippling damage the current prez with a cowardly, short-sighted and complicit Congress has done to us. Also unfortunately for the GOP candidates, they have to be different from but the same as Bush — they try to share underlying ideas but claim their implementation will not be so stupid and destructive.

Non-Issue Issue

This is not to say that candidates and the MSM have ignored SSM and related equality concerns. There are intermittent whispers.

In light of the role SSM played in 2004, the lack of bluster and elaboration itself is fascinating. We can also note:
  • Only the outlying, marginalized candidates have strong positions they highlight.
  • The main Dem candidates are as un-American as the GOP ones is distancing themselves from marriage equality.
  • The undercurrent of states' rights continues to undercut any federal amendment defining marriage.

Life on the Fringe

You can check the candidates' SSM position on their sites. Virtually all have some spongy statement and Mike Huckabee has a strong one against anything even resembling equality. Alternately, you can click to CNN's handy-dandy dummies recap.

Look to those who have dropped out or are likely to do so. On the Dem side, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich are the only ones favoring SSM. All the others claim to oppose SSM, though most would oppose a federal amendment and most support civil unions.

Republicans other than Huckabee seem befuddled by the whole issue. They all oppose SSM and most like defining marriage as between a man and a woman. They split on whether the states should have the right to create civil unions and on a federal amendment. A couple (Rudy Giuliani and John McCain) would be okay with some partnership benefits to gay couples.

Hot Button, Not

We might pretend SSM is a LITE issue this contest because there is near unanimity among candidates against it. Instead, Occam's razor applies here.

On the Dem side, consider that candidates really don't want to be seen as Kucinich-style fringe, even if he is intellectually and morally right on this one. For the Republicans, go no farther than the polls on what's important to self-identified moral-issues voters this time.

No Smoke, No Mirrors

There are others, but let's look at the Harris poll released this week. The main conclusion is that self-identified moral-values voters don't want to hear about narrow issues. They want candidates to convince them of their honesty and integrity.

Consider the universe of over 2,000 adults surveyed last month. When asked How important are moral values to you in deciding which candidate to vote for?, 92% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats, and 93% of Conservatives and 85% of Liberals said those were either very or somewhat important.

Last election cycle's logic would have their hearts as easy to pluck on issues such as SSM — not so. Consider at what they listed in response to Looking at the list of issues, which two or three are most important to you in deciding which presidential candidate you would vote for?":


Total

Moral Values Are

Very

Important

Not Very/

Not At All

%

%

%

Health care

42

42

47

Social Security

32

33

28

Economic Issues

30

24

32

Taxes

27

29

22

War in Iraq

25

26

24

War on terror

25

31

12

Immigration

24

29

17

Education

18

16

17

The environment

15

10

22

Foreign Policy

15

12

20

Abortion

8

13

5

Gay rights

6

6

6

None of these

1

1

4

Not sure

5

4

7

Likewise, when asked a free-form question about What do you mean when you say that moral values are very important to you?, the Very Important moral-values voters defied stereotype. Only the abortion stance had double digits (14%). Dribbling off the list were gay rights (3%), marriage as a man and a woman (3%) and gay marriage (3%). There was no peg to hang a campaign poster on, even for the hard-core group.

As the Harris folk conclude:

These findings show that pollsters, journalists and commentators must be very careful not to assume that voters who feel strongly about "moral values" are primarily concerned with issues such as abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, stem cell research, gun control or any of the other issues often associated with the Christian Right or the Conservative base of the Republican party.

That comes back to the problem of conflating what people mean as morality with the stated values of the Christian Right. There was a small time slice four years ago when that worked for Republicans. As Harris notes now, "Overall, however, it is very clear that when most people talk about the importance of moral values they are not referring to the agenda of the Christian Right."

Where Next?

That is certainly better for us all when we want to disengage ourselves from two wars and look at how to fix a broken nation.

The most optimistic view of what this means for equality politics appears in this week's Bay Windows, where Laura Kiristy reports on positive shifts the Human Rights Campaign has seen in this election cycle. She writes, "With the political skill demonstrated by the LGBT community over the past couple years and willingness of more candidates to openly embrace LGBT issues and court LGBT support, (National Field Director Marty) Rouse said he’s feeling confident that the tide is turning in the gay community’s favor."

How true that is or how quickly it happens will evolve. Meanwhile, the relative neutrality this year is positive. Even candidates who are pretty anti-SSM aren't flogging the issue. The public doesn't want to hear about it either.

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