Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Many Faces of “Libertarianism”

In the past few years, it has become very common to define oneself as a libertarian. With Gary Johnson having fully bucked social conservatism and become the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, many libertarian-leaning individuals are hoping to break the Democratic-Republican lock on American politics and establish their party as a major electoral player. In light of this development, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss what exactly libertarianism entails, how libertarian I consider myself to be, and how certain individuals and entities have libertarian leanings but are not fully libertarian. On one end of the spectrum, we have Jeffersonian conservatives. At the other end, we have the ACLU-style left. Both of these groups have libertarian elements, but neither are completely libertarian. They are united pretty much only by a feeling that the federal government is too powerful, though both groups often object to much of the War on Terror and government support for big business. The Jeffersonian conservatives tend to be racist, homophobic, and traditionally religious. They also tend to be sympathetic to big government social policies at the state level, favor sealing the borders, and identify with the Confederacy. (Read my post, “Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Neo-Whigs, and the Jeffersonian Conservative Menace” back in June.) Of the political parties in America, the Constitution Party most closely represents their views. The ACLU leftists tend to take liberal or socialist stands on the economy and support some federal role in promoting equality for women, racial minorities, and gays, as well as protecting the environment. The Green Party most closely represents their views. Full libertarians, by contrast, see all of these policies as excessive government. Libertarianism calls for the absolute minimum amount of government possible, across the board. Libertarians, for instance, are pro-gay marriage and anti-gun control. They are for legalizing drugs and against national health care. They favor Brown v. Board of Education but oppose the workplace provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The divergence between different libertarian-leaning individuals can be underscored by looking at Ron Paul and Barney Frank. Ron Paul is, of course, a folk hero to many libertarians for his opposition to the War in Iraq, the War on Drugs, and the Patriot Act. He also supports the big government Defense of Marriage Act, the distinctly authoritarian Confederacy, and allowing states to ban sodomy. And his position on immigration is arguably more pro-government than George Bush or John McCain, both of whom are only slightly more libertarian than Fidel Castro. Barney Frank has pretty much the same stances as Ron Paul on Iraq, the Patriot Act, and pot legalization. He has also gotten grudging respect from libertarians for his efforts to repeal the law against online gambling. Taking a stand for individual rights that would make the Clintons cringe, Frank said, “In a number of areas, I am a libertarian,” Frank said. “I think that John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ is a great statement, and I was just rereading it . . . I believe that people should be allowed to read and gamble and ride motorcycles and do a lot of things that other people might not want to let them do.” Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, David Boaz, wrote that when he gave members of Congress libertarian rankings, Barney Frank outperformed seven of the eleven members of the Republican Liberty Council’s advisory board. And the Republican Liberty Council is supposed to be a libertarian group! Yet Frank is also a proponent of workplace protection laws, affirmative action, and hate crimes legislation. As a young man, he was involved in Freedom Summer in Mississippi, a campaign that helped lead to the Voting Rights Act, which Ron Paul opposes. His economic policy has more in common with FDR, LBJ, and Hubert Humphrey than with Ayn Rand, Albert Jay Nock, and Milton Friedman. Both Congressmen have some libertarian views, but neither can be described as “libertarians.” I am reluctant to be pigeonholed, but my beliefs can best be described as a mix of liberal and libertarian. Reflecting this, I am very leery of the Tea Party and am a member of the ACLU. I actually tend to call myself a “liberaltarian.” Hardcore libertarianism has major aspects that I cannot identify with. My biggest disagreement with hardcore libertarianism is that I believe that discrimination in areas such as housing and the workplace is a significant enough injustice that government should have a strong role in combatting it. I also believe that, after several centuries of government discrimination against women, gays, blacks, and Native Americans, affirmative action is needed. And I think the libertarian movement would do well to cease praising the Founding Fathers, since enslavement of human beings is far from libertarian. Because my priority is civil rights, I staunchly support Obama, despite the fact that my economic, foreign policy, and civil liberties views are much more libertarian than those of the president. And indeed, who a libertarian-leaning individual lionizes can tell you a lot about where they fall on the spectrum. Let us look at the case of Roger Nash Baldwin. At first glance, Baldwin might seem similar to Ayn Rand. Baldwin was active in protesting World War I, while Rand opposed U.S. participation in World War II. Both strongly opposed conscription. Neither one was a follower of traditional religion—Baldwin was a Unitarian, Rand was an Atheist. In fact, both condemned racism. Yet while Rand was a radical laissez-faire capitalist, Baldwin was an Anarcho-Communist. He once said, “I am for socialism, disarmament, and ultimately for abolishing the State itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion.” He at first supported the Soviet Union. He later opposed it, but his opposition came from the government’s human rights and civil liberties violations, not its economic policies. You will not find many Tea Partiers lionizing Baldwin. I live in Atlanta, so I am very familiar with Neal Boortz, a talk radio host who is libertarian except when it comes to a handful of issues like capital punishment, racial profiling, immigration, and foreign policy. I was quite shocked when, back in 2010, he endorsed the socially conservative Nathan Deal for governor, even though the Libertarian Party was running a serious candidate, John Monds. Boortz’ statement of endorsement made it apparent that he was endorsing Deal pretty much solely because of his anti-teachers union stance. Of course, I cannot be too hard on Boortz. After all, I want to get my picture taken with President Obama, and I wish I could have had the chance to vote for Hubert Humphrey and Nelson Rockefeller, neither of whom were exactly flaming libertarians. At any rate, when someone identifies as a libertarian, it is a good idea to ask them for clarification, since the term can mean quite different things to different people.

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Texas-Sized Controversy Sheds Light on a Barbarous Practice

Springtown High School, a school near Fort Worth, Texas has recently wandered into a major controversy. Sophomore Taylor Santos was accused of allowing a fellow student to copy her work. Rather than take in-school suspension, Santos agreed to be paddled. According to her mother, when Taylor returned home, her rear end looked as if it had been “burned and blistered.” Now, it was downright stupid for Taylor’s parents to sign off on her being paddled, even though they apparently thought a woman would be doling out the punishment, as opposed to the male vice principal who ended up being the one to do it. And while at least the policy allows students the choice of taking a non-violent punishment, the practice of incentivizing children to submit to physical violence is deplorable. For those who are unaware, 19 states do not have a law prohibiting teachers from performing corporal punishment on students. Last year, Representative Carolyn McCarthy proposed a bill that would allow the secretary of education to withhold federal funds from school districts that use corporal punishment. The bill included a clause stipulating that if a student’s behavior posed a serious, immediate risk of physical injury to themselves or others, school officials have the right to use physical restraint. Arguably the most prominent cosponsor of McCarthy’s bill was Barney Frank, one of my favorite Congressmen. One thing I noticed about the cosponsors of this bill is that most of them came from states in the North and West. This is no surprise, as corporal punishment has long been a more common form of discipline in the South with both teachers and parents. Perhaps more disconcerting was that not a single Republican cosponsored the proposed bill. Historically, some of the major milestones made against teacher-imposed school violence have been made with the help of Republicans. New Jersey and Massachusetts were the first states to pass bill banning corporal punishment in public schools, and both of these bills were signed by Republican governors. At that time, however, the Religious Right had not cinched in the death grip on the GOP that it has today.  What does the Religious Right have to do with spanking? While the issue takes a back seat to other debates such as school prayer and gay rights, the Religious Right is solidly in favor of corporal punishment. Mike Huckabee, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson are all on record as supporting corporal punishment. A list of quotes from conservative Christians supporting the practice would probably fill more than one blog. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family,[1] is as far as I can tell one of the only psychologists who actually favor corporal punishment of children. He once wrote, “It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely.” I kind of think that making a child cry legitimate tears of pain constitutes beating them into submission. He also suggests that if the crying lasts too long, it may become necessary to threaten to hit the child again! Of course, this is the guy who thought Dungeons and Dragonswas satanic, that homosexuality is caused by a poor relationship with one’s father and can be cured, and that pornography caused Ted Bundy to become a serial killer, so what do you expect? Advocates of corporal punishment are on their strongest ground (though still, I would submit, incorrect) when they claim that the government should not interfere with the way a parent disciplines their child. However, allowing public schools to spank students is actually giving more power to the government, something that conservatives claim to hate but often seem to love. On another note, a frightening statistic I read stated that students with disabilities are considerably more likely to receive corporal punishment, illustrating the brutality of the system. Since I realize that many of my readers probably favor corporal punishment, perhaps in school as well as in the home, I would like to tackle some common arguments:

1. “Nothing else works!”

It is ironic that many of the people using this argument are conservative Christians, because it seems to deny absolute morality. If an action constitutes abuse (which I will get to later), then the moral absolutist would say that it is always wrong. Apparently moral relativism isn’t just displayed by liberals. Furthermore, the slope that this statement sets up is dangerously slippery. Let us say that, after deciding that all other methods of discipline have failed, a teacher decides to paddle a student on the buttocks. What if that fails to stop the misbehaving? Will the teacher then be justified in delivering a blow to the skull?

2. “Kids were better behaved in the days when schools could spank them!”

This is a widespread argument in favor of stricter discipline in general. Let us not forget that children raised in the “tough love” environment of the 1950s rebelled by forming the hippie movement. If the discipline style of that era was so great, why did so many people brought up with it end up smoking pot and collecting food stamps? Furthermore, corporal punishment cannot be empirically linked to better behavior. While I often disagree with conservative, homophobic parenting columnist John Rosemond, he did make an intelligent point when he criticized physical discipline in schools by stating, “I was schooled in the suburbs of Chicago, where even in the 1950s paddling was not allowed. Nonetheless, the schools I attended were not brimming with discipline problems,” Back in 2001,Time did an article lamenting that in the view of the writer, Nancy Gibbs, the present generation of children and teenagers was spoiled rotten. However, Gibbs almost grudgingly conceded that, “Today’s teenagers are twice as likely to do volunteer work as teens 20 years ago [30 years ago as of now], they are drinking less, driving drunk less, having far fewer babies and fewer abortions, and committing considerably less violence.” This demonstrates a flaw in the “Ending Corporal Punishment Creates More Brats” narrative. In order for people like James Dobson to be correct, corporal punishment would have had to have been more common in the early 1980s than it was in the early 2000s, something I find very unlikely.

3. “The Bible Says It’s Okay!”

Perhaps the most well known Bible verse used by supporters of corporal punishment is Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” The phrase “Spare the rod, and spoil the child” is not in the Bible but instead comes from a Samuel Butler poem about sexual intercourse. One thing that is important to recognize is that the Bible was written in a time when children were often regarded simply as farm hands and evidence of successful breeding rather than as human beings to be loved and cherished. For instance, Exodus 21:22 stipulates that if two men are fighting and injure a pregnant woman, causing the baby to born early (which would almost certainly kill the fetus, given the limited medical technology of the era), the men must pay a fine. If, however, the woman is seriously injured or killed, “an eye for an eye” would come into play. Those looking to find a biblical basis for any legal restrictions whatsoever on child abuse are on shaky ground. Consider that while Old Testament law provided for the execution of children who cursed, disobeyed, or struck their parents, there were no punishments in place for severely beating children. It should also be remembered that it was a much more violent time period. “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money [property].” Of all of the arguments for corporal punishment, Bible verses are probably the worst.


[1] The name pretty much guarantees that it is homophobic. Almost every organization that has the word “family” in its name has a beef with gays.

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Why I Joined Historians Against Slavery

(Note: The following is a repost of an article I wrote last year.)

I deeply admire 19th century American abolitionists. Wendell Phillips is my favorite, but I also deeply admire individuals like Lydia Maria Child, Frederick Douglass, Samuel Joseph May, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Sojourner Truth, and William Lloyd Garrison. I even have a deep respect for John Brown. I believe that I would have been a radical, Garrisonian abolitionist if I had been alive in the 1800s. That is why I am so interested in the history of American slavery, despite the fact that this interest sometimes leads people to accuse me of being race-obsessed. Yet because it is 2011 and not 1850, I cannot work side by side with Wendell Phillips fighting plantation slavery in the South. What I can do, however, is join the modern day antislavery movement. While slavery is illegal in most countries and the percentage of people enslaved is far lower than it once was, at least in the United States, millions of people are still kept as slaves and subjected to human trafficking. Now, let me be clear: when I refer to “human trafficking,” I am not talking about a business in Nevada where people sign up to be employed as prostitutes. I am speaking of a system in which people are forced to perform services, sometimes sexual, against their will. I was slow to get involved in the 21st century antislavery movement, because unlike in antebellum America, modern day slavery is not present in the public eye. It lurks in the shadows. I first really thought about joining the cause when I attended the Wendell Phillips Bicentennial in June. While there, I met and established a correspondence with the keynote speaker, retired professor James Brewer Stewart. In addition to being the author ofWendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero, which I own an autographed copy of, Stewart is a founder of Historians Against Slavery. In addition to liking Stewart personally, I believe that he and the members of his organization have the outlook best suited for taking on 21st century slavery. On their website, they state, “We’re convinced that historical knowledge and perspective are essential to understanding modern slavery and for combatting it effectively. This knowledge and perspective is grounded in the history of the enslavement of Africans and indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere and in the many other systems of slavery once prominent throughout the world.” Unfortunately, this historical perspective in which the struggle against current enslavement is placed in the framework of a centuries long struggle that includes the black freedom movement in America, is sadly missing from some modern day antislavery and “Save Africa” groups. These groups tend to be divided into two wings. The first wing includes men like Barney Frank, John Lewis, Elie Wiesel, Jim Stewart, and Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group, who are the spiritual descendants of nineteenth century abolitionists, consistently oppose racism against blacks, and in some cases got their start in the Civil Rights Movement. The second wing resembles the racist American Colonization Society and is composed of evangelical and fundamentalist Southern Christians who are often sympathetic to slavery in the Old South, hostile to African Americans, or have records of defending Jim Crow/apartheid. Rather than acting out of a belief in the equality of all races before God, these individuals fight against slavery and Sudanese genocide out of a desire to assauge their guilt over their own racism or out of a viewpoint that even inferiors deserve some form of Christian charity. In the case of Darfur, we see some Bible thumpers who had no problem with atrocities committed by white Christians against black Christians in the United States but recoil in horror when they see Muslims persecuting black Christians. Jesse Helms was a segregationist who opposed admitting blacks into his church. Pat Robertson is a bit better on racial issues in America, as he did spend time living in a ghetto in New York City and racially integrated houses of worship. Still, he is a soft core white supremacist who showed sympathy with the apartheid government in South Africa, criticized the notion that black South Africans could receive equal rights immediately, and has indicated opposition to Brown v. Board of Education. Yet they both were involved in trying to improve the plight of black Sudanese slaves. Back in the days when I would still occasionally set foot in a Southern Baptist church, I happened to walk into one and see an advertisement urging congregation members to aid suffering blacks in Sudan. Now, it would have not been at all ironic if I had seen this advertisement in an American Baptist church, or a UCC church, or a Unitarian church. But the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in part out of a belief that enslaving blacks was condoned by God. And according to religious historian Andrew M. Manis, “the majority of Southern Baptists upheld racial segregation and rejected claims of Christian brotherhood and the civil rights movement.” Jesse Helms would have no concept of the way in which people like Wendell Phillips and John Lewis were the forerunners of 21st century abolitionism. Historians Against Slavery is free from these contradictions. Furthermore, I believe that members will be more likely than Helms, Robertson, and their ilk to understand my desire to link abolitionism and gay rights as part of a struggle for equality regardless of immutable traits. Indeed, when I told him about using Wendell Phillips as an influence in my gay rights work, Stewart stated, “As you know, the abolitionists’ approach to inducing social and political change is what informs Historians Against Slavery and so why not for gay rights as well?”

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What Did the Emancipation Proclamation Do?

Perhaps no document in American history is more well known and more misunderstood than the Emancipation Proclamation. Tomorrow will be the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. New Year’s Day will mark the 150th anniversary of it becoming finalized. The 100-day gap between the proclamation being issued and taking effect demonstrates the fact that it was intended largely as a military measure, not as a step for human rights. It was set up in such a way that the seceded states had 100 days to reenter the Union before their slaves were freed. This served to put pressure on the Confederate leaders to end the war and come out of it with their human property intact, with the threat that if they continued rebelling they would lose the very thing that they had been fighting for. This did not happen. Fearing that they could not trust the North to allow slavery long term, the South continued to fight, and the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. It is widely believed that the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery in the United States. This is, in fact, one of the biggest misconceptions about history. In order to understand the truth, we must realized that, while millions of slaves lived in the Confederacy, approximately 430,000 lived in the border states that had remained in the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation stipulated that, “on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” The proclamation, therefore, applied only to areas under Confederate jurisdiction. Of course, having formed a separate country to perpetuate slavery, the Confederate states were hardly going to obey a proclamation freeing their slaves. The Confederacy had its own constitution, and that constitution made slavery a federally protected institution. In order to be emancipated, a slave in the Confederacy had to make it across Union lines, which many of them did. But it would take the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in order for slavery to be banned everywhere in the United States. So why did Lincoln issue the proclamation? Another popular misconception about the Civil War revolves around the North’s reasons for fighting it. The truth of the matter is that while the South’s reason for seceding was to preserve slavery, the North’s reasons for not letting the South secede was quite different. Abolitionists like Wendell Phillips wanted to pursue the war to abolish slavery, but the vast majority of white Northerners were not abolitionists and had less noble reasons for supporting the war effort. In the first place, they wished to preserve the Union. In the second place, they were economically linked with the South and feared the financial consequences of a divided America. In a letter to antislavery newspaper editor and fellow Republican, Horace Greeley, Lincoln said that while he would personally prefer that slavery be ended everywhere, his top priority was preserving the union. (The letter can be found here: http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/greeley.htm) The Emancipation Proclamation had the potential to help the North win the war. Confederate diplomats had been clamoring for recognition from European powers, such as Britain and France. The more clear it became that the war was about slavery, the less likely it was that Britain and France, where slavery had been illegal for years, would support the Confederacy. Furthermore, as referenced earlier, the proclamation allowed many runaway slaves to join the Union Army. On the other hand, white Unionists in Confederate states, border state residents, and Northern “War Democrats” who favored slavery but sided with the North to preserve the Union might be inclined to stop supporting the war effort. This could be exacerbated by the fear of Northern whites that their states would see an influx of freed slaves. With the knowledge that the North would now never recognize their ownership of their slaves, Confederate leaders might be persuaded to fight even harder. The fear of the proclamation’s military consequences was illustrated by the reaction of Lincoln’s Cabinet when the president discussed the document with them in July 1862. Out of all of Lincoln’s Cabinet, only Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, ironically virtually the only prominent antislavery Democrat not to have left the party in the 1850s, voiced support for issuing the proclamation immediately. Most of the other Cabinet members urged delay. William Seward, Secretary of State, was so determined to delay it that he made the absurd argument that antislavery action might antagonize Britain and France. Lincoln, himself apparently looking for a reason not to issue the Emancipation Proclamation immediately, seems to have convinced himself that this was a legitimate possibility. Among the group, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase was certainly the most antislavery and the most supportive of increased rights for freed blacks. Yet he had ambitions to challenge Lincoln for the Republican Party nomination in the 1864 presidential election and hoped to make the president look unappealing to abolitionists, so he slyly cautioned against the Emancipation Proclamation. Chase also felt that the presidential order was weak and resented Lincoln for not taking a stronger stand against slavery and in favor of black civil rights. As a side note, one wonders if Lincoln appointed him to the position of Secretary of the Treasury, because it was a Cabinet position that would gave Chase very little opportunity to agitate against slavery in a way that might upset Southerners and Northern Democrats. So, in order to avoid making the Emancipation Proclamation look like an act of desperation, Lincoln decided to wait for a major victory by the Union Army. On September 17, Union and Confederate forces clashed at Antietam in a battle that was considered a strategic victory for the North, and five days later, the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued. It is certainly true that Lincoln did not do as much as he should have as fast as he should have to end slavery. It is also true that Lincoln was morally opposed to slavery and undoubtedly took some satisfaction that in pursuing his goal of keeping the country together, he had struck a blow against the “peculiar institution.” Furthermore, the proclamation did, somewhat by accident, make emancipation an additional Northern war aim. And it must not be forgotten that in his 1864 election bid, Lincoln largely repudiated his former lukewarm antislavery position and called for a constitutional amendment to ban slavery everywhere in the United States. This amendment passed after his death, and while no one person deserves all the credit for ending slavery, Lincoln must be given some. Finally, the Emancipation Proclamation helped spark a debate, first among abolitionists and later among neo-abolitionist historians, about whether or not Lincoln was a friend of racial justice. Some neo-abolitionist historians, like Lerone Bennett, Jr., see Lincoln as completely undeserving of any accolades and as a rabid white supremacist who had no moral objection to slavery. Others, like James McPherson, believe Lincoln still stands out as a freedom fighter in his own right. I think nuance is important here. Again, Lincoln was no Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, or John Brown. When measured against the many abolitionists who stood up for complete racial equality, he falls quite short. Yet it cannot be denied that Lincoln blew every president before him out of the water in terms of the actions he took against slavery and that, as mentioned earlier, he came to publicly endorse the Thirteenth Amendment even though doing so could have cost him the election.

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There Is No Such Thing as Off the Record

I want to begin this blog by expressing my sorrow for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Libya, as well as their families. My thoughts and prayers go out to them. Regarding my main topic for today, I want to start off by saying that September has not been Mitt Romney’s month. First, he blundered into a controversy by using the violence in Libya as a vehicle to attack President Obama for allegedly promoting appeasement. He quickly found out that the facts contradicted his claim and that the public generally thought that he was acting opportunistic and sleazy. Now, Mitt Romney has stepped into something again. At a fundraiser where, unbeknownst to him, he was being videotaped, the former governor stated, “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Oops. Abraham Lincoln once told a joke about a farmer’s son who ran to tell his father that “sis and the hired man” were in the hayloft of the barn, and she was lifting up her skirts while he was dropping his pants. The panicked boy went on to say that his older sister and the hired hand were “gettin’ ready to pee all over our hay.” The farmer quipped, “Son, you’ve got your facts absolutely right, but you’ve drawn a completely wrong conclusion.” The same could be said for Mitt Romney. Many of the 47% that Romney referred to pay other taxes, such as payroll taxes. To imply, as Romney did, that these 47% all pay no taxes of any kind is misleading. Look, I am a fiscal conservative. More often than not, Neal Boortz and I are in agreement on issues. I believe in government providing a basic safety net, but I am against handouts. I also believe that conservative politicians must come to grips with the disconnect between their rhetoric of laissez faire, up-by-your bootstraps capitalism and the fact that so many of them support corporate subsidies and pork barrel spending. At any rate, I do not think it is at all appropriate to trash the people who essentially make up the less wealthy half of our population. Furthermore, even if you take the matter of decency off of the table, Mitt’s statement was an asinine political move. And it made me think about a problem that a lot of politicians and political candidates have. They frequently think that they can speak “off the record” in mixed company and say offensive things without being them being revealed to the public. Perhaps one of the first of such cases was in the autumn of 1976, shortly after the Republican Convention. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz was on a commercial flight to California with Sonny Bono, Pat Boone, and Richard Nixon’s old White House counsel, John Wesley Dean, who was working on an article about the convention for Rolling Stone. Boone wondered out loud why most black voted Democrat. Instead of pointing out the activities of the GOP over the past twelve years, Butz decided to tell an extremely racist joke about the three things that he believed black people wanted. Dean unsurprisingly decided to reveal the quote to the public, and no ifs, ands, or butz!—the secretary of agriculture was rightly fired. Timothy Noah over at Slate describes the incident as a turning point in that it demonstrated to white political figures that white reporters would not cover for them if they made racist remarks. In the 1980s, Jesse Jackson would learn that he could not expect black reporters to cover for him if he made anti-Semitic remarks. Given the fact that many Jews from New York had been heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and in the case of Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were killed in Mississippi standing up for racial equality, it is somewhat surprising that Jesse Jackson would feel bigoted towards Jewish New Yorkers. Yet indeed he did. Thinking that he was speaking off the record in a conversation with Washington Post reporter, Milton Coleman, Jackson referred to Jews as “hymies” and New York City as “Hymietown.” Coleman revealed the slurs to a fellow Post writer, who exposed them to the public, and Jackson’s campaign ground to a halt. Apparently having not learned his lesson, Jackson made a comment in 2008, expressing a wish to deprive Barack Obama of his testicles, and found out too late that he was sitting next to a live microphone. Butz and Jackson are far from the only public figures to have learned the hard way that nothing is off the record. In 2003, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott seemed poised for a promising political career on Capitol Hill. He had tried to stop his fraternity from integrating back in college, lambasted the Voting Rights Act as a youthful politician, lionized Jefferson Davis, and palled around with the racist Sons of Confederate Veterans and the equally racist Council of Conservative Citizens. But the majority of Mississippi voters, as well as the Republican Party leadership, seemed to have no significant problem with all of this, and Trent Lott’s habit of serving up pork for his constituents made it seem as if blue skies were ahead for the white supremacist Senator. That is, until he was at a birthday party for 100 year old Dixiecrat-turned-Republican Strom Thurmond. At the party, Lott boasted of the fact that Mississippi had voted for Thurmond during his 1948 presidential run and said that, “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” Probably, Lott thought comments at a birthday party would be private. However, he was soon facing calls from liberals, moderates, and even conservatives to resign. Within fifteen days, Thurmond was feeling very flattered, and Lott was back to being an ordinary senator. It couldn’t have happened to a nastier guy. All of these stories must demonstrate that nobody involved in politics should ever say anything that they would be uncomfortable with the public hearing. Mitt Romney had apparently not learned this before his recent flap, but he may have time to reflect on it after November while accepting a job teaching business classes at Liberty University.

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Thoughts on the Democratic National Convention, Part 2

  1. If Tammy Baldwin’s speech seemed dull, it was probably because it was not aimed at the country in general. The heavy focus she gave to Wisconsin shows that the purpose of her speech was to make sure that Paul Ryan’s presence on the Republican ticket does not cause the Democrats to lose Wisconsin for the first time since 1984.
  2. Michelle Obama did a better job than Ann Romney, because she gave a heartfelt and articulate speech without any nonsense about how she was not there to talk about politics. My favorite line was when she said, “if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.” Brilliant and courageous. After this convention, people really need to stop accusing the Democratic Party of being unpatriotic. Michelle Obama said point blank that America was the greatest country in the world, people chanted “U.S.A.” constantly, and we heard the Pledge of Allegiance.
  3. I know that chronologically, this portion should be at the end of my blog post, but I did not want to end it on a negative. I was disappointed that the Democratic Party felt the need to bring in homophobic Archbishop Timothy Dolan to deliver a prayer at the end of the convention. Still, the Democratic Party of 2012 is extremely supportive of civil rights. I understand that no political party will ever be perfect on this issue, so while I believe the Democrats were wrong to bring in Dolan, I am not going to spend too much time stewing about it.
  4. Ah, Bill Clinton. In addition to being probably the longest speech at the convention, Clinton’s speech was also probably the toughest for me to evaluate objectively. I have never been a big Bill Clinton fan. It’s hard for me to look at a guy who helped give us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act and have a lot of admiration, especially when he was talking about “one man, one woman” while getting frisky with an intern. As a side note, if I wanted to get a reference for Bill Clinton’s hypocrisy on other “family values” issues, all I would have to do would be dial Joycelyn Elders. I understand that Clinton has been involved in pro-gay marriage activism post-presidency, but he could have been a lot more effective achieving equal rights if he had pushed the matter while serving as president. Plus, if Bill Clinton told me that the Sun was out, I would have to go check. All of that said, Slick Willie brought the house down. He was articulate but not professorial. It was clear that he had either researched the facts very well or done a great job making things up. Because Bill Clinton has a degree of popularity that crosses political lines, his support for President Obama may well be a good way of attracting moderate, undecided voters. And because Clinton gets a lot of credit for overhauling welfare, he was in a good position to defend President Obama against charges that he is turning the program back into an entitlement. Now for my critiques. Last week, I predicted that we would be forced to endure tripe at both conventions about how great the Founding Fathers supposedly were, and sadly, I was correct. Bill Clinton praised both the founders in general and George Washington specifically. As I mentioned in my last post, this whole habit of conveniently overlooking the fact that American slavery from 1787 to 1865 was brought to us in part by the Founding Fathers is really quite insulting to slaves, abolitionists, and anyone else who has ever been denied equal rights or stood up for equal rights. I get that Clinton probably did not mean it that way, but that’s how it inevitably comes across. I also find it interesting that, at a convention where Mitt Romney was lambasted for outsourcing, Bill Clinton delivered one of the main speeches. Remind me again, who was it that signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that encouraged companies to fire American workers and relocate to Canada and Mexico? Oh yes, that was Bill Clinton.
  5. John Lewis is an older guy, but unlike Ted Strickland and Bill Clinton, he represents the new Democratic Party. (Yes, I am aware that Bill Clinton was called a “New Democrat,” but that label does not work unless you think the Democratic Party started in 1964.) The Georgia Congressman did a great job reminding us that neither electing a black president nor achieving equal rights for gay people at some time in the future would be possible were it not for the efforts of people like him. Honestly, I think Lewis should have given the main event speech Wednesday instead of Bill Clinton, but we can’t get everything we want, I suppose.
  6. I give Zach Wahls two thumbs up for his speech. Hearing him talk about how his two mothers deserve all the same rights as everyone else is incredibly moving, and if it were up to me, would be shown in every classroom. Republicans should take note of Wahls’ story about being disgusted when, as a 12 year old, he watched the 2004 Republican Convention and saw the candidates engaging in gay bashing. I don’t know how many other political parties are so bigoted that even a 12 year old knows enough to find them rancid. My one criticism of the speech relates to when he said, “Now, supporting a view of marriage as between a man and woman isn’t radical. For many people, it’s a matter of faith. We respect that.” We shouldn’t respect that, like we shouldn’t respect people who see supporting slavery, racial segregation, or the Holocaust as a matter of faith. Acting like the people who believe that marriage should be restricted to heterosexual couples have a valid point undermines the moral high ground of the Gay Rights Movement and the fact that there really is no good argument for the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Overall, though, Wahls’ speech was superb. He really helped personalize gay rights issues and laid out the importance of this election to the cause. Plus, it was fun seeing a fellow Unitarian Universalist speak.
  7. And finally, the main event of the last night. A lot of people were not very impressed with President Obama’s speech, but I thought he did a great job. I remember watching his acceptance speech four years ago, when he opposed gay marriage, and, while supporting him over McCain, feeling fairly unenthusiastic towards the possibility of him being president. I can assure you that I do not feel this way anymore. I am proud to have him as my president. I was reminded of this when he explicitly referenced his support for gay marriage and his pride in helping end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I am going to be voting for the first time in a presidential election this November, and I am thrilled that the first presidential candidate I get to vote for will be Barack Obama.

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Thoughts on the Democratic National Convention, Part 1

Before I start off, I wanted to bid farewell to the late Michael Clarke Duncan. Many times, he entertained me on the big screen, he always struck me as a nice guy, and he will be missed. Now, for the topic at hand. I have so much to say about the latest Democratic National Convention that I will be covering it in two articles.

  1. Jared Polis’ speech was great. He did a good job demonstrating what it meant for him, as a gay American and one of a very small number of openly gay people elected to Congress, to see Barack Obama help end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and be the first sitting U.S. president to support full equality for gays and lesbians. By mentioning that he is a father, he reminded those viewers who like to think of gay people as strange, alien creatures, that many gays and lesbians have started loving families of their own. And I was thrilled that he included a shout out to Native Americans, who have so often been marginalized.
  2. I was really thrilled, in general, with the emphasis placed on gay rights. A slew of speakers brought up the importance of equal rights for gay Americans, and some explicitly referenced equal marriage rights. This, combined with the 2012 Democratic Party platform supporting same sex marriage has made me decide that I will probably register Democrat as soon as possible. I have always remained an independent, because, as much as I detest the post-1960s Republican Party, I was turned off by the Democratic Party’s pre-2012 waffling on gay rights and historic support for slavery and segregation. Now, however, I believe that the Democratic Party has turned over a new leaf and earned my support.
  3. I was really interested to see Lincoln Chafee’s speech, because I have been a longtime fan of him for his vote against the War in Iraq and the proposed anti-flag desecration amendment, support for gay equality, and racial equality, and abolition of the death penalty. Let’s face it, Chafee is virtually the only governor who can sign a voter I.D. law, say he’s motivated solely by a desire to prevent voter fraud rather than a desire to prevent blacks from voting, and have me believe him. I’ve noticed that it has become customary for conventions to bring in someone with a background in the opposite party to give a speech endorsing the convention’s pick. The logic seems to be, “This guy must really be hot s@#% if even people from the other party are endorsing him!” In 2004, the Republicans trotted out Democratic Senator Zell Miller. In 2008, the Democrats brought out former Republican Congressman Jim Leach. This year, the Republicans had Jane Edmonds, a liberal Democrat from Romney’s old Massachusetts Cabinet, while the Democrats had Lincoln Chafee and former Florida governor Charlie Crist. Chafee did a great job laying out his disagreements with the current Republican Party and pointed out how his support for personal freedom causes him to support same sex marriage. Watching his speech made me realize that moderate and liberal Republicans, when talking about their party’s history and criticizing the modern day Hard Right, always seem to praise Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. And rightly they should. To my mind, Lincoln was the best president ever, and both Teddy and Ike make it in the top five. I would also like to see more of these moderate and liberal Republicans reference Grant, Harding, and Coolidge, but I can’t complain too much.
  4. Representing the old Democratic Party, we had socially moderate populist Ted Strickland’s speech, which was very much designed to convince working class Americans that Mitt Romney is a money grubbing, elitist slime ball. His line, “If Mitt was Santa Claus, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves” actually had me cracking up. But it does raise an interesting issue. We have been hearing a lot about Mitt outsourcing jobs. And indeed, outsourcing is a real problem. I myself have always tended to be pretty anti-free trade, and it seems like the Democratic Party is finally shifting in that direction. However, it is somewhat strange that Strickland criticized Mitt Romney for outsourcing, when one of the Democratic convention’s main event speakers is basically the king of outsourcing. But we’ll get to that later on.
  5. Deval Patrick’s speech was probably the best of the convention. Like Chafee, he criticized the hypocrisy of Republicans claiming to believe in individual rights, yet being against same sex marriage. Overall, everything from his speaking style to his wording was excellent. I had to give him four stars instead of five, because it seems that at certain points he stretched the truth. Still, this issue did not detract from the overall quality of the speech, and expecting politicians not to lie is like expecting dogs not to lick their . . . well, you get the idea. It was easy to see why Deval Patrick has started speaking at every convention, and he and Andrew Cuomo are among the people that first come to mind when I think about who should succeed Obama in 2016.
  6. I was really excited for Cory Booker’s speech. I believe that he would be a great vice presidential pick for whichever Democrat runs in 2016, and I would love to see him run for president in 2024. He’s a superb mayor, a stalwart gay rights supporter, and an all around cool guy. However, he really needs to stop shouting so much in his speeches. I did not have a problem with it, but I fear it will turn a lot of people off. Speaking of the platform, I cannot say that I am too fond of the Democratic Party’s fiscal policy. I tend to agree with the late Paul Tsongas that, “If anyone thinks the words government and efficiency belong in the same sentence, we have counseling available.” But while I am a fiscal conservative, and my top priority is gay rights, the Democratic Party is doing the right thing politically by making the economy a big issue in the campaign. I am just glad they have made gay rights a big issue as well.
  7. While I get the Democrats’ decision to talk a lot about the economy, it was probably not the best use of Barney Frank’s time. Frank is a guy that I like because of his civil rights and civil liberties policies and the anti-gay barriers that he has broken down. On economics, he sometimes gets it rights, but he is too closely identified with the reckless government policies that encouraged banks to give out loans to people who could not pay them back. The fact that George W. Bush also took similarly dangerous economic stances does not exonerate Frank in this area. So I really would have rather Frank talked about the struggles he has faced as a gay American and one of the few openly gay members of Congress, how Mitt Romney tried to derail gay marriage in Frank’s state, and the negative effect a Romney presidency would have on gay rights. Instead, he talked about the economy, where he has less credibility. However, reminding us why he’s way funnier than Mike Huckabee, Frank saved what could have been a failed speech by christening the Republican nominee “Myth Romney” and accusing him of lying about his ability to create jobs.

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