Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Things that make you say...

I stayed up late last Sunday to watch the health care reform “debate” in the United States House of Representatives as it streamed over my computer. I was on single-father duty and my daughter had finally fallen asleep, leaving me alone with my thoughts and my MacBook. At first, I watched in my daughter’s room, sitting on the floor, earbuds firmly planted in each ear, as she fell asleep. But as speaker after speaker came to the microphone to bring up a point of order, parliamentary inquiry, or argument for or against the pending bill, I found myself getting more and more angry.

I am not one with an explosive temper, but I soon found myself muttering foul words under my breath and flashing the bird at the computer screen. I grew worried that I was going to wake my daughter with a string of curses she usually only hears when we watch football at our friend Joe’s house, so I got up off the floor and walked down to the living room—away from my blissfully ignorant girl asleep in her bed.

Once I got to the couch, the earbuds came out and I my sense of propriety all but disappeared. The screen on my computer is now a little blistered by the venom spewing from my mouth.

The year-long debate over health care made it all too obvious that the Republicans have lost their way. In retrospect, it has become clear that one of the two major parties that make our laws and control our national priorities (through government spending) cares far more about politics than about the national good.

During the eight years of the George W. Bush Presidency, exactly ZERO health care reform proposals came from the White House. The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan did pass in 2003, but many of the Republicans protesting the “backroom deals” that put today’s health care reform bill together seem to forget how that particular plan passed just seven short years ago.*

Once Barack Obama came to office and started to seriously push health care reform, it was stunning how quickly so many Republicans suddenly experienced a dual change of heart—they became deficit hawks and they began to care about making changes to our health care system. Where were they for years as a Republican President and Republican Congresses ran up enormous debts? Where were they for years as our health care system bled our nation dry AND left us with the 37th ranked system in the world and tens of millions of uninsured? Once Barack Obama came to town they sure did find religion FAST.

The most telling statements in the health care reform saga come like bookends from Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Back in July Jim DeMint said the Republican goal should be to stop Barack Obama on health care. He said, “If we are able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.” His goal was to fight the agenda of a Democratic President, not to correct any of the many flaws on the current delivery of health insurance and care to citizens of the United States. He was saying, “Let’s not give an inch—let’s say ‘no’ to whatever he proposes.” It wasn’t about what is best for America but instead about what is worst for Barack Obama.

Senator DeMint certainly did not have the best interests of the people at heart. He was thinking about what was best for the Republican Party’s electoral interests.

Newt Gingrich, made it even more clear when he said of the Democrats in an interview with the Washington Post: "They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. To Gingrich it isn’t about making the system better—it is about who’s up and who’s down, who accrues advantage and who loses seats. When John McCain was running for President in 2008 his slogan was “Country First.” The Republicans have pissed me off so much in this health care debate, (and in their reaction to Barack Obama’s Presidency in general), because it is clear that their unspoken motto and guiding principal has become “F*** the Country--Party First.”

It is now clear to me why I was so mad and so full of vinegar and foul language as I watched Republican after Republican come to the microphone and spread their lies about the bill. They have sunk to the self-destructive depths of the kindergartener at the party who would rather pop the balloon he wants than share it with anyone.

Vice President Joe Biden was right when a live mic caught him whispering to Barack Obama as he was about to sign the health care bill into law, “This is a f****** big deal.” Yes, Joe. Indeed it is. The Republicans have gone all in in their efforts to bring down Barack Obama and they have failed. Their obstructionism and self-centeredness have been made clear to all and that is enough to make even a kind-hearted liberal like me say f***. Only, I am not saying it AT the Republicans in Congress who are so stuck on NO.

As I tell my students when we study grammar and parts of speech, you can’t really tell what part of speech a particular word is until you see how it is used. It can be an adjective, (as in the case of Joe Biden’s f-bomb), or a verb, (as in the case of Dick Cheney on the Senate floor a few years ago), or it can be an exclamation, as in the current case.

When I see what Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the most of the Congressional Democrats have done, I can only exclaim “f***!”, shake my head, and thank the Lord John McCain lost back in November of 2008.

(*That particular bill came to a vote at three in the morning. The bill was losing 219-215 when Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert began to take Republican members off the floor to try to get them to change their votes. The House Republican leadership decided to break their own rules and hold the vote open for hours as they tried to arm-twist a few, mind-changes. Representative Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said he was offered campaign funds for his son’s election effort in exchange for his “yea” vote. He later changed his story, but not his vote. At almost six in the morning, the bill finally passed 220-215.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yes We Did!

Health Care Reform passed!!

I never thought I would see it in my lifetime, but gosh darn it if Obama and Pelosi didn’t get ‘er done.

Sometimes, good things happen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Violent Lurch to the Right

Just under a year ago the Department of Homeland Security sent a 9-page document to police and sheriff’s departments throughout the United States. The document was titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." The document warned that, among the many threats facing the United States, homegrown terrorism at the hands of both organized and “lone wolf” actors was a growing concern.

The report catalogued the many similarities to the 1990s and its rise in homegrown right-wing extremism. To the economic downturn, threats from other countries and foreign terrorist groups, and perceived threats to freedom from our own government, current times add the election of our first African American President.

Michelle Malkin, John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage all criticized the report as attacking veterans and the right wing in general. They often claimed the Obama DHS was being used to attack the right—conveniently forgetting that the Obama DHS had released a report three months before this one warning about left-wing extremists. Another thing they all ignore is the fact that both reports were initiated by the Bush Administration and largely prepared under HIS DHS.

The furor in the rightwing blogosphere about the April report told me that the people who were offended and complaining had either 1) not understood what they were reading, or 2) intentionally misread the report so as to have an excuse to take offense. It is not a long document. If you read it, it becomes instantly clear that the DHS analysts were not saying ALL right-wingers are capable of violence and need to be watched. They were saying an extreme fringe exists and the last time conditions were such as they are today, people died in shootings and bombings perpetrated by anti-government extremists from the right.

The reason I am writing about these nearly-year-old reports is one of them has turned out to be prescient. There has in fact been an increase in domestic terrorism perpetrated by citizens of the United States. And the perpetrators have indeed been of the right-wing variety. I will mention the killing of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas and the murder by a white supremacist of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. as two examples. The articles linked to here and here list many more instances.

I am not writing to say that right-wingers are more prone to violence than left-wingers. Clearly, those on the fringe of any movement are out there because of their willingness to engage in behaviors others deem out-of-bounds. What I am saying is that those in the mainstream of the Republican Party are playing a very dangerous game when they stoke mistrust and hatred of government in general, (and Barack Obama in particular), in a cynical attempt to pick up the votes of the disaffected angry citizens on the right. It is easy to lob metaphorical grenades at Government. It is much harder to actually govern. The Republican leadership has made it clear that they are much more interested in throwing bombs than in being partners in running the country.

Once that genie of hatred is released, it can’t be put back in the bottle. People like Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin are flirting with forces out of their control. When people take seriously their message that the government is the enemy and that true Americans will arm themselves and take matters into their own hands, it is only far too clear that more violence will come of this. (Sarah Palin, especially, should be aware of the danger in pallin' around with extremists.)

There is an old joke that Republicans claim government is the problem and then every once in a while they get elected just to prove it. Well, I am hoping the Republican Party will find its soul after this mid-term election and realize before much more blood is spilled that extremism isn’t where the answers lie. Government is not the problem right now—the real problem is the Republicans’ refusal to share in the responsibility of governance. Compromise, competence, and commitment to actual governance will put this country back on track far sooner and with far less agony than a violent lurch to the right.

Monday, March 1, 2010

An Open Letter to Kentucky *


Dear Kentucky,

Jim Bunning was a good, and sometimes excellent, pitcher back in the day. He threw a couple of no-hitters, (one in each league), and tossed a perfect game on Fathers’ Day in 1964. When the Tigers brought him to the Bigs in 1955 they said he had “an excellent curve ball, a confusing delivery, and a sneaky fast ball.” He was elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1996.

I remember Jim Bunning from my days in Delaware. My father was a big Phillies fan and I heard for years about Bunning’s Fathers’ Day perfect game. It meant a lot to my dad because he had just become a father for the first time three days before Bunning’s feat and he posited some sort of connection between Bunning and the birth of my older brother, Jerry.
I wish Jim Bunning lived in my mind as a childhood memory that could make my dad smile.

Sadly, life went on for Mr. Bunning and shortly after retiring from professional baseball he went back to Kentucky and parlayed his fame into a career in politics. His career in politics has taken him to the United States Senate, where he has done…nothing. Time magazine has called him one of America’s “Five Worst Senators.” He skipped 21 floor votes in December 2009 alone, including the Senate’s Christmas Eve vote on Health Care reform. (Just as a point of reference, the 92-year old, sickly Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, missed fewer votes that month.)

In his 2004 bid for re-election to the Senate Bunning’s behavior was erratic and led the National Republican Party to withdraw support for a run in 2010. Bill Clinton once described Jim Bunning as “so mean-spirited that he repulsed even his fellow know-nothings.”

Ticking off the people whose support he needs seems to be a pattern for Senator Bunning. According to Clay Dalrymple, Phillies catcher through the 1960s, Bunning would routinely shake off catchers' pitch signs that he knew to be signaled into the game from the dugout by Manager Gene Mauch. As you might surmise, this did not sit well with the manager.

Now, without the support of his own party and having already decided not to run for re-election in 2010, Jim Bunning has nothing to lose. Apparently, he has decided to just let it all hang out and be who he really is. Against his party leadership’s wishes, Bunning has decided to block a bill that would extend eligibility for enhanced unemployment benefits and subsidized health insurance for laid-off workers by 30 days. He is also holding up a stop-gap 30 day extension for several other expiring laws, including funding for highway projects that employed 2000 people until Monday, improved Medicare reimbursement rates (known as "doc fix"), flood insurance, and licensing that allows satellite TV providers to carry local channels in rural areas where they are unavailable with an antenna.

I know that you, the people of Kentucky, have chosen Jim Bunning to be one of your two Senators and part of me believes that you deserve the representative you choose, but now that we are all stuck dealing with the tantrums and venom of this bitter old man I can’t help but wish he had gotten into the broadcast booth or the coach’s box instead of the Senate. Do you think maybe you can talk him down and find something to keep Senator Bunning off the floor while the rest of the Senators try to take care of business? We would all appreciate that.

Oh, and Kentucky, please try a little harder next time. Thanks


The Rest of Us

*Much of the information in this letter was obtained from the “Jim Bunning” entry on Wikipedia.