Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Quoted in The Indianapolis Star

For those who missed it, I was quoted in a story on the front page of today’s The Indianapolis Star. I was interviewed by reporter Chris Sikich for his story Allisonville Road bridge project in Indianapolis to begin Wednesday. Any my big quote?

I’m expecting it to be a mess.

Eloquent, no?

But it was on the front page.


Bookmark and Share

Mitt Romney: A Man Without the Instincts or Moral Fiber to Do What’s Right

In several posts over the last few months, I’ve taken Mitt Romney to task for his tepid responses to over-the-top rhetoric from Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” and “prostitute” accusations (and lies) to Ted Nugent’s violent fantasies to the attacks against Romney’s chosen spokesperson who just happened to be gay to his failure to really accept responsibility for or demonstrate that he learned anything from being a high school bully (see Insults, Apologies, and the False Equivalency in the War of Words, Mitt Romney, Ted Nugent, Dana Loesch, the Politics of Hate, and the Fear of the Voting Base, Bullying and the Lessons Learned (Mitt Romney Edition)). The genie that Sarah Palin let out of the bottle in the 2008 campaign and which John McCain tried unsuccessfully to tamp down is now in full swing. And Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he has either no interest in preventing hate-filled or racist rhetoric or that he simply doesn’t have the spine to do so. In either case, that is neither a winning formula for a presidential candidate nor the hallmark of a man who would be a successful occupant of the Oval Office.

Several new incidents have occurred that offered Romney further chances to demonstrate that he understands the importance of using the bully pulpit to call out that which is wrong … but following each of those incidents he has settled for the role of the coward, willing to allow others to engage in hate speech while he simply looks around as if to say, “Who, me?” while washing his hands of any sort of responsibility or need to call intolerable behavior just that.

The most well-known of these recent incidents is Donald Trump’s return to spouting birther nonsense and claiming that President Obama is a liar (on the basis of … well … nothing, really). And all of this came just a few days before Romney shared a stage with Trump for a major fundraiser. So what did Romney say in response to Trump’s birther comments?

You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.

Now let me be clear about one thing: I don’t hold a candidate responsible for everything that every supporter of that candidate has to say. That’s foolish. But

You see, there are supporters and then there are supporters. There is a difference between someone who believes in the candidate’s position and maybe even offers a few dollars of support and a billionaire that the campaign actively sought an endorsement from. There is a difference between someone who attends a campaign rally and someone who hosts a high dollar campaign fundraiser. There is a difference between an “average Joe” and a egotistical television personality with a name and hairdo recognizable to virtually everyone. It isn’t a case of “guilt by association” to ask Romney about the statements of someone that Romney has gone out of his way to work with and from whom Romney expects aid in raising millions of dollars because that association is one of Romney’s own choosing and one that he could set aside if it was the right thing to do and if he had the moral fiber to recognize and act upon that.

Romney hasn’t rejected Trump’s endorsement (or money) any more than he’s rejected Ted Nugent’s endorsement. Compare that to the actions of Sen. McCain in 2008 when he rejected Rev. John Hagee’s endorsement because of things that Hagee had said about the Catholic Church and the Holocaust. Sen. McCain understood that doing what’s right was more important than an endorsement and that integrity was more important than winning. Romney, who has already proven that he will do or say (or even “believe”) anything to get the nomination, is also proving that there is nothing too low for him allow his supporters or surrogates to say or do.

Moreover, Trump isn’t the only Romney supporter who has been engaging in birtherism in recent weeks. You’ve probably heard about the efforts of Arizona’s Secretary of State Ken Bennett to get Hawaii to certify President Obama’s birth certificate. Bennett went so far as to tell an Arizona radio station that he might keep President Obama off of the November ballot. While Hawaii has now certified the birth certificate and Bennett has “apologized” saying “if I embarrassed the state, I apologize” (emphasis added, and note that the apology is for embarrassing the state, not for the harm to the political process or President Obama), Romney has said nothing about the matter. And why should he, you ask? Again, Romney isn’t responsible for the idiotic statements or actions of other Republican office holders. However, in addition to being the Arizona Secretary of State … Bennett is the co-chair of Romney’s campaign in Arizona. So, while Romney may not be responsible for the statements of just anyone, he certainly should be held accountable for the statements of his surrogates and his chosen campaign officials.

And it’s not just how Romney has responded (or not…) to Trump and birtherism. For example, consider the following exchanges between Sen. McCain and voters back in 2008.

Now compare Sen. McCain’s reaction above to how Mitt Romney responds when a woman suggests that President Obama should be tried for treason.

Quite a striking difference, no? To be fair, when asked by reporters after the event, Romney did say that he did not agree with the woman’s comments that President Obama should be tried for treason. But he didn’t have the spine or moral instincts to tell her (and the audience who cheered her) that she was wrong. And he didn’t volunteer that opinion until asked by reporters. Hard to get that 50.1% if you tell people something that they don’t want to hear I guess.

There is yet one more recent example that I want to touch on, one that has gotten very little attention. A few weeks ago, Romney held a “secret” meeting with a group of conservative (right-wing?) online writers and bloggers. Included in that meeting was blogger Dan Riehl of RiehlWorldView (I’m not going to provide a link because … well, because I don’t want to give him any traffic and some of the views that he offers are just … well, keep reading). Without going into too many specifics, I can safely say that Riehl doesn’t seem to have any sort of internal filter on the things that come out of his mouth (or, fingers, I suppose). I’ve had my own run-in with him on Twitter and seen how he responds to those with whom he disagrees. Riehl is the sort of character who, rather than discussing facts or issues, throws ad hominem attacks and seems to have a fixation on using sexual references and innuendo as his favorite form of attack. So a few days ago, following an appearance on MSNBC by Joan Walsh (the editor-at-large of Salon.com), Riehl went on the (sexual) offensive again, with, among other things, the following tweets:

I don’t mind Joan Walsh getting low, but if she’s going to open her mouth, wish she’d do something I might actually enjoy for once!


I think I may have just discovered the most polite way of telling Joan Walsh to suck on this. lol


&, please, no indignant protestations of any alleged sexist attack. The woman is a pox, not a woman as ive evr considered sum1 2 B 1

Nice guy, huh?

Moreover, as Mediate notes, Riehl has a history of this sort of incendiary, sexually charged attack:

The Romney campaign could not have known that Dan Riehl was going to make this particular attack on Joan Walsh, but Riehl’s history includes sexist attacks on Meghan McCain, publishing photos of a rival blogger’s 4 year-old niece under the headline “Is Jeff Poor A Pedophile?,” and publishing another article wondering, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s wife lay in the hospital after a serious car accident, “Isn’t It Time To Euthanize Reid’s Wife?”

This isn’t even his first foray into speculative oral sex fiction. Riehl previously targeted The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson with his fellatio fantasies, publishing an article entitled “Breaking: Tucker Carlson To Give Head On Pennsylvania Avenue.”

This is the sort of person that Romney is inviting to secret meetings to help him win the White House. Again, Romney isn’t responsible for what every blogger has to say any more than President Obama is responsible for what I have to say; Romney isn’t even responsible for what every blogger who supports him has to say. But when one of his chosen bloggers engages in hyper-sexualized attacks of the sort that Riehl has a history of making and when he makes such an attack after being invited into Romney’s secret cabal of bloggers, then doesn’t Romney have an obligation to stand up and say “this is wrong” or “I appreciate Dan Riehl’s help but his attack on Joan Walsh was over-the-top and unacceptable”?

Recall, of course, that when Hillary Rosen, a pundit not affiliated with the Obama campaign made far less offensive statements, leading members of the Obama campaign called out those statements literally within hours and President Obama did so the following day. And none of those statements minced words; they tackled her comments head on with strong rejections.

But when prominent Romney supporters dabble in birtherism (well, in the case of Trump, “dabble” is probably a total understatement), when supporters accuse President Obama of treason, when hand-picked bloggers engage in sexual verbal attacks, what we hear from the Romney campaign is barely a hint of criticism which serves only to register his implicit support for those statements.

Based on his conduct in incident after incident, Romney has demonstrated over and over and over that he has neither the spine nor moral fiber to be President.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Respond to “Facts” That Aren’t?

Several times over the last few weeks, I’ve heard someone tell me a “fact” about President Obama’s policies that I know to be false. For example, I was reminded that President Obama signed a UN treaty that will eliminate the Second Amendment. False. Another person complained to me about how much their taxes had gone up because President Obama raised their taxes. False. Someone else said that they didn’t think it was right that President Obama wanted to force churches to recognize gay marriages. False. Those are just some highlights.

So here’s the question: What is the best way to respond to these people? I can explain that UN treaty has to do with arms trafficking and has nothing to do with domestic US gun laws (or that a treaty cannot trump the Constitution). I can talk about tax policy and how taxes have been lowered and are at their lowest rates in 50 years (give or take). And I can talk about same-sex marriage until I’m literally blue in the face.

But the people who cite these “facts” don’t appear to be willing to listen. They head it on Faux News or read it in a chain email that they received from a “trusted” source or even in a mailer from their legislator (and a politician would never lie, right?). And so when these people go into the polls, they are making their choices on policy decisions based on lies. As I’ve said over and over, if that person has a different view than I do, that’s fine (though I’d like to convince them and bring them around to the side of light and good). But if that person’s honest viewpoint is based on dishonest, fraudulent, false information, then of what value is that viewpoint? People don’t want to believe that they’ve been lied to or manipulated, but they often seem unwilling to trust contrary information. The chain email is more reliable than The New York Times because “the mainstream media is biased in favor of liberals” or something similar. And if they heard it on Faux News, then it must be true!

Thus, I’m curious to know how others confront this sort of situation. And please don’t say that you just ignore it or walk away. Allowing a lie to stand just helps make it true to those who repeat it over and over again. But what strategies work to get people to take a realistic look at the false information that they’ve been fed? Which sources of information are deemed reliable enough to justify a reconsideration of “facts”? What styles of argument or explanation work to help debunk the lies that people have latched onto and taken as truth?

Maybe I’m being a bit overdramatic, but I think that the solution to this problem is central to the stability of our political process because we cannot make good decisions on complicated issues if our reasoning is based on fraud and lies.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Objections to Marriage Equality Just Don’t Make Sense

In the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, the response that I keep hearing from opponents of marriage equality is that allowing gays to marry will somehow damage the institution of marriage. And, though I’ve written about this before (over and over, it seems; see for example Can Somebody Help Me Understand…?), I still don’t understand how the actions of one couple in formalizing their loving relationship will have any impact whatsoever on other couples. What is the fear or concern that opponents of same-sex marriage are really expressing? Is there really something beyond homophobia or the “ick factor” of a gay sex?

If you are an opponent of marriage equality, will you decide not to get married because gay couples can get married? Will you divorce your spouse because gay couples can marry? Will you suddenly decide not to adopt? I didn’t think so. Thus, I’m really having a hard time understanding how a gay marriage will impact heterosexual marriages or heterosexual individuals. How will someone else’s happiness harm you?

One line of explanation is that allowing gay couples to marry would be “changing the definition of marriage”. OK. I’m not sure that I agree. But let’s work with that for a moment. Why is changing the definition of marriage a problem? Again, if the definition is changed to become more inclusive will that cause you to not get married or force you to get divorced? Of course not. So what’s the problem? Not terribly long ago, the definition of marriage in many states also exclude interracial marriages. Did changing that definition have some sort of societal-wide adverse consequences upon single-race marriages?

Even as the law stands right now (and without even focusing on the fact that some states allow same-sex marriage), the definition of marriage already varies from state to state. In most states, individuals must be 18 to get married, but in Nebraska they need to be 19 and in Mississippi they need to be 21 (and does that seem odd to anyone else?). But even those rules aren’t hard and fast as most (all?) states allow individuals to marry when they are young, sometimes even younger than the age of majority when certain conditions are met. Thus, we cannot even reliably say that a marriage is the union of an adult man and an adult woman (as some kids can marry and some adults cannot); nor can we even say it is the union of a man and woman as those under majority age (as low as 14 in some states, I think I read) certainly aren’t “men” and “women” so far as common understanding goes.

Similarly, some states allow people to marry a first cousin, while others do not.

We don’t have to look back too far to see how definitions of marriage have changed, either. Mitt Romney may claim that the definition of marriage is 3,000 years old … but to do so he has to ignore the fact that his great-grandparents were not only polygamists, but that they fled to Mexico when Utah was changing its law defining marriage to outlaw polygamy.

And think back to your European history classes. Sure marriages may have been between one prince and one princess, but were those sorts of arranged political marriages what we think of when we think of the definition of marriage? We don’t seem to mind the idea of Orthodox Jews or Gypsies arranging marriages for their children, often to people in other states whom those to be wed have never met. Yet that sort of “marriage” falls within the commonly understood definition of marriage while a union based on love does not?

For that matter, there is some argument to be made that same-sex relationships were not only recognized in medieval Europe, but even the subject of religious rites within both the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Obviously, there remains some debate on this subject, but history and tradition aren’t quite as clear-cut as opponents of marriage equality would like you to believe.

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but don’t Catholic nuns consider themselves to be “married” to Jesus? Wouldn’t that expand the definition of marriage to include a woman and her deity or a woman and ancient (though dead) prophet (depending of course of your view of Catholic theology)?

One of the things that really burns me about this whole discussion is the way so many marriage equality opponents fall back upon religious understanding of marriage. Remind me again what Jesus said about homosexuality? Oh, wait. He didn’t. More importantly, equality opponents seize upon a few lines from the Bible to brand homosexuality as an abomination and thus infer that something that is an abomination cannot be natural (i.e., G-d could not have created gay people because G-d made man in G-d’s image and wouldn’t create an abomination; thus homosexuals must have chosen that “lifestyle” and decided to become abominations). Therefore, the reasoning seems to go, if homosexuality is unnatural, then certainly we shouldn’t condone it or give it recognition in law. Do I have that right?

But the problems with this line of reasoning should be obvious. First, is the question of “pick & choose” theology. In other words, why are some things that G-d said were abominations still considered to be abominations while others now have entire restaurant chains devoted to them (I’m looking at you Red Lobster)? And if G-d didn’t make gay humans, why did G-d apparently make gay animals … or shrimp? If animals without a cloven hoof are unclean, why didn’t G-d cleave the hooves of those animals? If animals that don’t chew their cud are unclean, why didn’t G-d make all animals chew their cud? And so and and so on and so on… I keep failing to find the sermon where Jesus says, “Keep stoning the gays, but go ahead and have a cheeseburger and a shrimp cocktail; stop believing that a woman’s life comes before that of her fetus, but go ahead and cut your hair and wear cotton-polyester blends; keep owning slaves but don’t stone your daughters.” I guess I missed that chapter. Oh, and why is it that the Bible seems to prohibit gay male sex but not lesbian sex? Maybe G-d had a subscription to Showtime?

Second, it’s important to remember that biblical references have been used to justify all sorts of things over the centuries, whether it be slavery, laws against inter-racial marriage, laws against women’s suffrage, and who knows what else. How many Jews have been killed in the name of G-d or Jesus or the Bible? When we hear about a thief in Saudi Arabia having his hand cut off we recoil in horror; yet the Bible does call for a hand for a hand, doesn’t it? And when was the last time you saw a new groom demand that his non-virgin bride be stoned following their wedding?

We also need to recall that atheists are allowed to marry. How does a religious understanding of the definition of marriage address that? And what of Buddhists or Jains or African animists? How do the words of one (or two or three) faith traditions define the traditions or understandings of those people? If you’re an opponent of marriage equality, you really don’t want to learn about Native American cultures and the Two-Spirit or berdache. But of course, that religious tradition doesn’t matter here in “Christian” America, does it?

Then again, if a religious definition of marriage was truly central to our understanding of marriage, then shouldn’t we ban inter-religious marriages (especially, say, among a Christian and non-Christian)? Shouldn’t we ban atheists from marriage entirely?

Oh, and before I conclude the discussion of the definition of marriage in the context of religion, it may be worth going back to the Bible and examining the “marriages” of Abraham and Solomon (for example). Just how many wives did they have? What exactly was the relationship between David and Jonathan and why were they kissing? Also, if you would, remind me again who Jesus married? Many religions seem to hold a place of honor for practitioners  who live a life of celibacy and faith; yet how is it that we view men and women deciding to live a celibate life without procreating as perfectly normal (or even a choice to be honored) but two people sharing their love with one another as unnatural if they are of the same sex?

Though this particular horse was long ago beaten on this blog, I continue to note that one of the objections to marriage equality is that it doesn’t produce children. But, as I’ve said here in the past, a marriage where one of the partners is infertile doesn’t produce children either. Nor does a marriage where the couple elects not to have children. And yet we don’t prohibit infertile couples from marrying, we don’t require men to divorce post-menopausal women, and we don’t require that marriage licenses include a promise to bear offspring. So what exactly does have procreation have to do with prohibiting same-sex marriage? Don’t forget that a same-sex marriage may  produce children through one of the partners or via adoption.

Which, of course, leads to yet another commonly heard refrain, that children do better with a mother and a father. That may be true (though I’m not convinced that is what the scientific evidence actually says; it may be more accurate to say that children do better in a two-parent household than in a single-parent household). But the end result (oft-heard) of that reasoning is that we would rather have children remain in foster care than be adopted by two loving parents if one of those parents is gay. Perhaps children do better with both a mother and father. Perhaps. But they probably also do better if the parents are rich. And smart. And don’t live in Mississippi. Or smoke. But we don’t use those criteria to determine who can adopt. I mean think about it. Are we really so scared of “the gays” that we’d prefer children to grow up without any parental involvement or as wards of the state in a foster care environment than allow them to be raised by people who may desperately want a child just because the prospective parents are gay? Perhaps we should ban all non-Christians from adopting, too. After all, we wouldn’t want adopted children to be exposed to … gasp … Islam or Judaism or atheism, would we. No, that would be bad for the children, right?.

Another point that I can’t let slide is the suggestion that marriage equality means that churches, synagogues, or mosques would be required to solemnize or recognize same-sex marriages. That is completely false. No religious affiliation is presently required to recognize any marriage that it doesn’t want to recognize. A rabbi cannot be compelled to officiate at the marriage of a Jew to a Methodist; a priest cannot be compelled to say mass at the marriage of a Catholic to a Muslim, and no member of the clergy would be obligated to sanction the marriage of a man to another man. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or just painfully stupid. Don’t forget, we also allow judges and certain other public officials to conduct marriages that have absolutely nothing to do with religion. Similarly, the Catholic church doesn’t allow divorces (usually) and a Jewish divorce (a get) is difficult to obtain; yet the government has no problem allowing a couple to obtain a divorce whether or not their religion recognizes that divorce.

And that’s really the whole point, isn’t it? Marriage may be a religious doctrine (at least to some religions). But it is also a civil contract between two people that the state recognizes and helps to enforce. As I’ve also mentioned previously, the state does not recognize consecration or bar mitzvah or communion or any of a host of other religious observances. Just marriage. So ask this question: If a civil union was completely and totally the same as marriage in all but the name, then would you support civil unions? And if a civil union was completely and totally the same as marriage in all but the name … then what would be wrong with just calling it a marriage and erasing the fiction that the two were somehow something different?

Thus, when I reflect on all of this, I can really only draw one conclusion: Virtually all of the objections that people raise to marriage equality are mere excuses for the true problem. Religion is an easy out; tradition sounds good. But none of these objections, when really analyzed and mulled over, hold much water. Nope. It seems to me that the real objection isn’t religion and it isn’t tradition and it certainly isn’t procreation. Nope. The real objection is a simple objection to homosexuality and homosexuals. Many people find it “icky” and the idea of sanctioning it feels wrong because of that “ick factor”. And, so, what better way to avoid something that feels “wrong” to you than to try to sweep that which makes you feel uncomfortable under the proverbial rug. Sure there will be gays around, but if they can’t get married then maybe you won’t have to be exposed to them and all that icky gay sex. And then your world will be just that much happier and safer of a place, right? In the end, it seems to me that many in our society are willing to discriminate against people solely on the basis of who they are and simply because who they are makes some people uncomfortable. I don’t think that most marriage equality opponents are evil or even, really, bigoted; rather, they are uncomfortable by homosexuality and would prefer to keep it at a distance.

Or could it be that deep down, those people might be questioning their own sexuality? Ooh. Best not go there…

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bullying and the Lessons Learned (Mitt Romney Edition)

Do you remember that time in your senior year of high school when you gathered a group of your friends, led them through school in search of a kid who was unpopular because he was different (or maybe even homosexual!), had your friends tackle and hold down that unpopular kid, and then, while this kid was being held down, kicking and screaming for help, you cut his hair so that he would better conform to your idea of what a student at your school should look like?

Do you remember that?

But I bet you would remember that if you’d done it, wouldn’t you?

I suspect that each of us have a handful of memories of actions in which we engaged, especially as kids, and of which we are now ashamed. I bet each of us has done things that hurt someone, whether intentionally or not, that we we bear as painful reminders of our own failings.

Depending on the severity of those incidents, on the harm caused, and on our own ages at the time, those actions may be better left in the past and may not reflect on the character of a person today. But in other cases, again, depending on things like severity, harm, and age, those actions may, in fact, properly reflect on the character of a person, even years later. And, perhaps more importantly, how we responded to those actions may offer further insight upon our character.

For example, I certainly recall with shame the fact that my friends and I (and, in fact, most of my 3rd-grade class) teased a boy in our class who occasionally soiled his underwear. I think that at the time we knew that we were in the wrong. But we were 8 or 9 years old. Now, nearly 40 years later, I still remember that. I wince when I think about those words and deeds. And I think back upon those moments when I see others being teased today. Have I always done all I could to stop teasing or to help those who might be the target of the “popular crowd”? Of course not. But I have tried, as often as possible, to stand up when I see bullying or other forms of targeted injustice and say, “No. Stop. Wrong.”

Events in my past, events in my childhood, created memories and taught me lessons of right and wrong upon which I can and have based my adult behavior.

So what can we learn about Mitt Romney’s character when we learn not only that he led a pack of high school seniors to tackle and hold down a gay kid so that Romney could cut that kid’s hair as the kid kicked and screamed for help, but that he doesn’t even remember the incident? There is a part of me that is (almost) willing to forgive Romney for the bullying incident itself. He was a high school student at the time, not an adult (or was he already 18…?). But… But given the severity of the incident (it would be one thing if the kid hadn’t been kicking and screaming for help…), Romney’s age (he was either 17 or even an 18 year old adult at the time), I don’t think that I can give him that free pass. And I factor into that the fact that Romney was not just “any other kid” but rather a class leader at a tony private school and the son of the state’s sitting governor. But, by the same token, I’m not sure that the bullying incident, in and of itself, tells us much about Romney’s character that can be extrapolated 47 years into the future.

After all, are you the same person now that you were as an 18-year-old? I know that I’m not (hell, I was even kinda Republican-leaning back then). People grow and learn and change.

But what I can’t reconcile, what forces me to keep coming back to this incident from Romney’s past, is the fact that he doesn’t even remember the incident? And note that he doesn’t deny that the incident happened. That would be one thing. Then we’d be facing a he said/she said sort of situation where it is the credibility of the various players that is in question. But Romney doesn’t deny the incident. Rather, he doesn’t remember it. How can anybody not remember an incident like that?

Well, I suppose one could forget an incident like that if it wasn’t isolated. If you had a habit of bullying those around you then you’d probably be far less likely to remember any particular incident. Or, if you didn’t draw any lessons from that incident, if you didn’t recognize in the days and weeks that followed (when, presumably, you would still recall it) that your conduct was wrong, if you felt no guilt or remorse for the pain that you’d caused in another… In that case, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t recall the incident because operating with that sort of mindset, that kind of incident simply wouldn’t have been memorable. If causing extreme emotional grief to another is not internalized and processed and recognized as wrong, then why should it be any more memorable than what color shirt you wore on June 17, 1982, or what you had to eat on the last day of 3rd grade?

And so I think that the lesson to be learned about Mitt Romney’s character is that the sociopathic bullying of a presumably gay student as high school senior didn’t make a mark upon Romney’s development into the person that he is today. That, I believe, is the frightening aspect of this whole story. Thus, whether it was Romney’s oft-repeated line that he “likes to fire people”, his suggestion that we allow the Detroit to go bankrupt or the housing market to hit bottom, or his actions as a Mormon bishop when he tried to force a parishioner from having a necessary, life-saving abortion, it seems that the failure to internalize and grow from the lessons by an extreme bullying incident have had continuing ramifications on who the adult Mitt Romney really is today. Perhaps Romney’s failure to learn from that bullying episode, his seemingly jovial desire for underwater homeowners or auto workers to experience hardship, his disregard for a woman’s health, are mere examples demonstrating that Romney is, in fact, a cold-hearted, callous individual without real concern for others to whom he doesn’t share some sort of close relationship. Is that the kind of personality we want in the White House?

In 2008, much was made of the word “empathy” when it came to selection of political leaders. But when one of the major factors facing our country is the plight of those who are either facing continued unemployment or a weak economy or even bullying, then isn’t some degree of empathy important? One of the criticisms leveled against Romney is that he is out of touch with the experience of working class Americans. If he is out of touch and lacks the empathy to try to understand that experience, then can we really expect a President Romney to act in the best interests of those who are suffering?

Furthermore, just think of this: Romney could have used this incident as an opportunity to take a strong stand against bullying. He could have called out those who still want to target kids who are different (especially gay). He could have said, “Gee, I still oppose gay marriage, but we as a country really need to be sure that gay teens aren’t being bullied to the point of suicide.” But he didn’t do that. You see, that’s another of Romney’s massive character flaws. He won’t stand up, use a bully (pun intended) pulpit and call out wrong behavior. When his new foreign policy spokesman was was hounded out of the job because he was openly gay, did Romney stand up and so, “I won’t accept homophobic bigotry; I only want to judge people on the basis of their skills and merit”? No. He didn’t. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, Romney could only say (through a spokesperson) that Limbaugh’s comments weren’t the “language he would have used”. Again, Romney could have called out Limbaugh’s language, could have made his deceitful and over-the-top allegations and insults a learning opportunity. He could have taken the proverbial high road. But he didn’t.

It seems to me that whenever Mitt Romney has a chance to show his character by standing up for the victim … he fails; rather, he demonstrates his total lack of empathy as he offers weak non-apology statements out of a seeming fear of criticizing the bullies. Is that the kind of personality we want in the White House?

There is one other element peripherally related to this incident that I want to address. After the initial story about Romney’s bulling incident, those on the right (e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) began a “he did it too” defense, pointing to a passage from President Obama’s book Dreams From My Father in which Obama related a bullying incident from his own youth. They point to this passage, describing events shortly after Obama returned to Hawaii from Indonesia (5th grade, I believe):

There was one other child in my class, though, who reminded me of a different sort of pain. Her name was Coretta, and before my arrival she had been the only black person in our grade. She was plump and dark and didn’t seem to have many friends. From the first day, we avoided each other but watched from a distance, as if direct contact would only remind us more keenly of our isolation.

Finally, during recess one hot, cloudless day, we found ourselves occupying the same corner of the playground. I don’t remember what we said to each other, but I remember that suddenly she was chasing me around the jungle gym and swings. She was laughing brightly, and I teased her and dodged this way and that, until she finally caught me and we fell to the ground breathless. When I looked up, I saw a group of children, faceless before the glare of the sun, pointing down at us.

“Coretta has a boyfriend! Coretta has a boyfriend!”

The chants grew louder as a few more kids circled us.

“She’s not my g-girlfriend,” I stammered. I looked to Coretta for some assistance, but she just stood there looking down at the ground. “Coretta’s got a boyfriend! Why don’t you kiss her, mister boyfriend?”

“I’m not her boyfriend!” I shouted. I ran up to Coretta and gave her a slight shove; she staggered back and looked up at me, but still said nothing. “Leave me alone!” I shouted again. And suddenly Coretta was running, faster and faster, until she disappeared from sight. Appreciative laughs rose around me. Then the bell rang, and the teachers appeared to round us back into class.

But there are several important distinctions that I want to draw. First, I think that there is an enormous difference between a 5th-grader and a senior in high school. Second, young Obama’s actions, though wrong, were in the context of being the victim of teasing himself. Third, Obama wrote about his past conduct and did so years before he was a candidate for Senate, let alone President. He wasn’t forced to discuss this part of his childhood; he did so voluntarily. But most importantly, and directly related to the points that I’ve tried to make above with regard to Romney’s failure to learn from his bullying incident, is the passage from Obama’s book following the portion quoted repeatedly by those on the right, which those pushing the “Obama is a bully” narrative have completely omitted (go ahead, Google “Obama bully girl” and see how many of the links that turn up include the previous quote but not the following):

For the rest of the afternoon, I was haunted by the look on Coretta’s face just before she had started to run: her disappointment, and the accusation. I wanted to explain to her somehow that it had been nothing personal; I’d just never had a girlfriend before and saw no particular need to have one now. But I didn’t even know if that was true. I knew only that it was too late for explanations, that somehow I’d been tested and found wanting; and whenever I snuck a glance at Coretta’s desk, I would see her with her head bent over her work, appearing as if nothing had happened, pulled into herself and asking no favors.

My act of betrayal bought me some room from the other children, and like Coretta, I was mostly left alone.

In other words, some 24 or so years after the incident, Obama apparently still had a fairly fresh recollection of his actions and his emotional response and failure to do what was right. A much lesser act of bullying by a much younger boy created memorable remorse for Obama; a much harsher act of bullying by a much older boy (or even a man), left no memory at all for Romney.

And there, in a proverbial nutshell, is an important distinction between these two men.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Richard Mourdock: Wrong, Not “Right”, for Indiana

So Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock has defeated six-term Senator Richard Lugar in Indiana’s Republican primary. Wow. Lugar had been one of our senators since 1976 and he’d been widely respected as one of the best senators in Washington during that time. Speaking just for myself, I’ve had several excellent experiences with Sen. Lugar over the years, though I must admit that I’ve lost respect for him in recent years as I felt that he lost his independence and moved right (for more on this see I’m Losing Respect for Sen. Lugar posted September 2010 and I’m Losing Respect for Sen. Lugar (update) posted May 2011). But apparently times change and now the Tea Party rage and desire to return to 1950 (or is it 1850?) has claimed the scalp of one of the true remaining “statesmen” in Washington.

Over the next six months you’re going to hear a lot about Richard Mourdock. I’m sure that I’ll write about him at some length because the idea of him being my senator is, frankly, terrifying. But today, in the wake of his victory yesterday, I wanted to take a brief moment and just highlight a few of the things about Mourdock that you may not know and which should (I hope) begin to give readers pause at the idea of this man being your senator (let alone voting for him).

  • As Indiana Treasurer, he invested Indiana pension funds into automotive stocks and funds that were, at the time the investments were made, essentially junk bonds.
  • When Chrysler finally went into bankruptcy and the creditors reached an agreement that was approved by the bankruptcy Court, Mourdock, acting as Indiana Treasurer, went to court to try to stop the settlement. He took his claim to the Supreme Court and lost. A few things about this whole fiasco are worth noting specifically:
    • Mourdock, paid millions in state funds to lawyers (mostly in New York, not here in Indiana);
    • One of the Court’s findings in its ruling against Mourdock was that even if Mourdock and Indiana prevailed in the litigation, there was no scenario in which Indiana would get more money than under the approved settlement (go ahead and read that again); and
    • Had Mourdock’s lawsuit succeeded, not only would Indiana have received less money than under the settlement, but Chrysler would have been liquidated and the auto industry would likely have been thrown into a massive collapse, likely at the cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs in Indiana.
  • Mourdock believes that the 17th Amendment to the Constitution (calling for the direct election of senators by the people) should be repealed so that state legislatures would once again elect senators. The 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913.
  • Mourdock also apparently believes that both Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional.
  • Mourdock claims that one of the principal problems in Washington these days is that there is too much bipartisanship. He’s also said that if elected to a minority caucus in the Senate, his principal focus would be, not on legislating or working with Democrats, but on campaigning to elect more Republicans.
  • I can’t forget this: During the 2010 race for Treasurer, Mourdock’s opponent, Pete Buttigieg repeatedly challenged Mourdock to debate the issues (in particular the Chrysler bankruptcy litigation and bad investments). Mourdock didn’t just refuse; he refused to even respond to Buttigieg’s requests. However, that didn’t stop Mourdock and his entourage from showing up in front of Buttigieg’s house one evening for a little publicity stunt speech while Buttigieg was touring the state to meet voters.

Finally (and yes, I realize that this is largely repetitive of one of the points made above), I think some of what Mourdock had to say just this morning during an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd is worth listening to and reflecting upon:

Transcript (emphasis added):

CHUCK TODD: You have said that there needs to be more partisanship in Washington. How do you square that with being a legislator?

RICHARD MOURDOCK: Well, what I've said is that I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view. [...] Bipartisanship means they have to come our way [...] To me, the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else with a microphone or in front of a camera. [...] Even those Republicans who more often than not vote the right way aren't coming back into their states or their districts and getting in front of the unfriendly crowds and unfriendly microphones to make the point as to why our point of view is good. [...] I feel I can defend the purpose of conservatism, and more Republicans should be doing it just as I want to.

Seriously. I don’t know about you, but he sounds less like someone who wants to be a Senator and more like a spoiled 4-year-old who says, “play by my rules or I’m taking my ball and bat and going home.” And, though it was perhaps an inadvertent word choice, I think the fact that Mourdock believes the the highlight of politics is to “inflict” his opinion on others is … um … just wow.

If you want to be sure that Mourdock never gets anywhere close to the United States Senate, then please show a little love to his Democratic opponent Joe Donnelly.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stand Your Ground: Stun Gun at School

Today’s edition of The Indianapolis Star included a story about an Indianapolis teenager who was mercilessly teased at school because he is gay (flamboyantly so, apparently). Eventually, when the school administration was either helpless or unwilling to really help this young man (they blamed him for the bullying that he was subjected to noting that his manner of dress and the accessories he wore essentially invited torment) his mother sent him to school with a stun gun. When confronted by a group of bullies, the young man shot the stun gun into the air and the bullies backed off.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going, right?

Yep. The boy is now subject to a disciplinary hearing and may be expelled for bringing a weapon to school. He may also be subject to prosecution because it is illegal to have a stun gun if you’re under 18. He didn’t hurt anyone and he did manage to defend himself from the bullies. But he may be expelled from school and subject to prosecution while those who made is life intolerable — not to mention school officials who did little or nothing to help — may suffer no adverse consequences.

But here’s the really, really sad thing. Had this boy taken with him, not a stun gun, but an actual handgun, and had he not shot into the air, but rather, into the body of a bully threatening violence, then Indiana’s “stand your ground” law might have protected him from any sort of legal consequences. In fact, this was almost precisely the scenario that I outlined in my post Stand Your Ground: A Further Analysis, published just over a month ago. To repeat what I noted then, Indiana’s “stand your ground” states:

[A] person:

(1) is justified in using deadly force; and

(2) does not have a duty to retreat;

if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary.

And I said this:

Once again, I’m not advocating violence. I don’t want the [gay teens] of the world to take guns to school or to resort to violence to respond to the epidemic of bullying that adults and schools seem impotent (or unwilling) to check. But when we think about the stories we hear over and over again about gay teens (and other teens, not just gays) who have been bullied to the point that they feel that they have no option other than suicide, shouldn’t we worry?

One other thing that I wanted to mention. According to the article:

[The mother] said she called the school about students following [her son] home from the bus stop, but school officials said they could not do anything since the students were not on school property.

Hmm. Interesting. Because unless I’m mistaken, we’ve seen schools all across Indiana and the country taking action against students for conduct on social media even when not on school property. See my discussion in Schools, Free Speech, and Social Media. But when a child is physically bullied, suddenly the fact that the bullying is “not on school property” becomes relevant and a defense for the school not to act? If anything, I’d think it would be the opposite. That is, a school shouldn’t be involved in conduct unrelated to school (such as social media done from home) but should be involved in conduct closely tied to school (such as walking to and from the school bus).

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

David McIntosh’s Political Flyer That Omits Parts of the Constitution

This past weekend, our household (well, my wife actually…) received a direct mailing from David McIntosh for Indiana. The mailer is two-sided, one devoted to McIntosh’s anti-abortion credentials, the other to his pro-gun stance. Both sides of the mailer are worthy of examination … and scorn.

First, let’s take a look at the pro-gun side of the mailing (as it is what first caught my eye):

new_02_of_02(Note that I’ve redacted my address…). So take a moment and read the mailer (and in case it’s difficult to read, I’ve reprinted the text below). Oh, and notice the neat picture of McIntosh with a gun!

“… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

My 2nd Amendment platform begins and ends with that statement. This Amendment deserves a much more honest treatment than most candidates afford it. For too long, politicians have done a great disservice to the Bill of Rights by relegating the 2nd Amendment to a quaint privilege for sportsmen, conjuring images of hunters wearing blaze orange. The reality is that it is a fundamental right so highly revered that the Founding Fathers purposefully placed it in the Bill of Rights following our right to free speech, press, assembly, and the petitioning of government. It represents the Constitutional guarantee of our liberties, as well as our right to protect our families and our homes. As your congressman, I will be a staunch guarding of our right to bear arms.

Now let’s break this statement down into a few interesting pieces. First, go back and re-read the introductory quotation and first sentence:

“… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

My 2nd Amendment platform begins and ends with that statement.

Notice anything odd there? Like perhaps the fact that McIntosh’s “2nd Amendment platform begins and ends” with only a portion of the 2nd Amendment? As a refresher, here is the actual text of the 2nd Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Interesting, isn’t it, that in a mailer complaining that the 2nd Amendment deserves an “honest treatment” and noting its fundamental character, McIntosh can’t be bothered to, you known, actually recite the entirety of the 2nd Amendment. Which of course raises the question: Why does his platform on the 2nd Amendment omit the phrase “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”? Might it be that McIntosh, like many pro-gun, strict constructionists, need to read the Militia clause out of the Constitution in order to advance their view of what the 2nd Amendment really means? Then again, reading something out of the Constitution isn’t very strict constructionist, is it? Or, ask the question this way: If we are to place such importance on the precise placement of the 2nd Amendment within the Bill of Rights, then shouldn’t we also, you known, place similar importance on all of the words in the Amendment? If it was so important that it came second, then must not the Militia clause be similarly important. I’d go a step further even and suggest that the fact that the Militia clause comes before the right granted and rather than after it, the Founding Fathers must have thought that explanatory introduction was very important. And that, of course, leads to the inevitable question of what the Founding Fathers meant when they talked about a Militia and why they felt the need to include that prefatory phrase in the 2nd Amendment. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices have also essentially redacted the Militia clause from the 2nd Amendment. So much for vaunted conservative strict constructionism. Remind me again about “activist judges”…

Moreover, don’t you find it interesting that McIntosh tries to boil opposition to unfettered gun rights into a discussion of “a quaint privilege for sportsmen, conjuring images of hunters wearing blaze orange”? No mention of automatic weapons, armor piercing bullets, and an unfathomable number of deaths by gunshot in our homes and on our streets? For that matter, while McIntosh forgets about the Militia clause he also seems to forget about the types of arms the Founding Fathers were talking about. I had a little fun with this notion in my post Should Justice Alito’s Views on Evolving Technology in the First Amendment Context Also Be Applied to Second Amendment Jurisprudence?

Another thing worth mentioning about McIntosh’s views on guns: At a recent forum for the candidates seeking the GOP nomination in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District, McIntosh and the other candidates were ask to answer “yes” or “no” as to whether they would support a federal “stand your ground” law.


McIntosh is the 3rd candidate from the left (the others are, from the left, Susan Brooks, John McGoff, David McIntosh, Bill Salin, Wayne Sebold, and Jack Lugar; sorry about the shaky camera…). Note that former federal prosecutor Susan Brooks, former Marion County Coroner and National Guard Brigadier General John McGoff, and Marion Mayor Wayne Sebold all respond “no” to this question. I examined the problems with Indiana’s “stand your ground” law in my posts Stand Your Ground: An Analysis and Stand Your Ground: A Further Analysis.

And there’s one more aspect to the pro-gun side of the mailer that I want to take a brief look at. As I noted, McIntosh finds the placement of the 2nd Amendment important, noting “that the Founding Fathers purposefully placed it in the Bill of Rights following our right to free speech, press, assembly, and the petitioning of government.” Read that again. Notice anything missing? Maybe it’s just me, but I find a reference to the 1st Amendment that omits religion particularly noteworthy. I suspect that most people, when asked what the 1st Amendment says, wouldn’t remember the part about assembly and petitioning the government; but I also suspect that they do remember the freedoms of speech, press, and religion (not to mention the establishment clause). So why is the mention of religion in the 1st Amendment conspicuously absent from the McIntosh mailing?

Which brings me to McIntosh’s anti-abortion position.

new_01_of_02 Once again, in case the text is hard to read:

I have always supported bills that say abortion is wrong, because my faith and upbringing taught me all people deserve the same rights of life and liberty. It is our duty to protect these rights for the vulnerable; from the unborn to the most elderly among us. It is a responsibility I take seriously.

I have several comments. First, I appreciate that McIntosh’s views are an expression of his faith and upbringing. That’s fine. But how, then, does he square that with my faith and upbringing that tells me that abortion is permissible (at least under some circumstances)? For a more detailed discussion of this, please see my post Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State’s Laws (posted in the first month of this blog’s existence). Scroll down to the section “Beginning of human physical life”. And for those who don’t want take the time to read that old post, let me at least offer a portion of the testimony from Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso to the Indiana General Assembly in 2006:

Writing into state law what is essentially the doctrinal view of a particular segment of the faith community would impair the freedom of religion of Hoosier citizens whose religious traditions and ethical stances call them to a different understanding of when does human personhood begin. It is regrettable use of political and religious ideology to trump science, threaten pluralism, assault tolerance and encroach on the privacy of citizens.

The issue is not "When does life begin?" Life exists even before conception. The sperm is life. The ovum is life. Every cell and organism is a living entity. Adherents of the Eastern faith, Jainism, gently sweep the path in front of them as they walk in order to avoid stepping on living creatures.

The issue is not "when does life begin", but when is human personhood, that intangible moral and legal category upon which hinge so many privileges and responsibilities of identity and citizenship, established. And on this issue, science offers no answers and theologians and ethicists have and will continue to differ.

While some people of faith may choose to affirm that human personhood begins at conception, at the moment when the ovum and sperm meet, Judaism affirms that personhood begins at birth. In a contest between the fetus and the mother, the Jewish moral tradition will not only permit, but require, that preference be given to the mother.

Until birth, while the fetus is certainly to be cherished and protected, it is not considered an independent legal entity. Judaism honors and protects the fetus. Ours is a tradition that celebrates parenthood and family, but in a contest between the embryo or the fetus and the mother, Judaism preeminently protects the rights of the mother as a viable human person. Both her physiological and psychological needs are to be given preferential status over the rights of the developing fetus.

Do McIntosh’s faith and upbringing trump mine? I also want to address one other aspect of McIntosh’s statement:

It is our duty to protect these rights for the vulnerable; from the unborn to the most elderly among us. It is a responsibility I take seriously.

Really? He takes seriously the duty to protect the rights for the vulnerable? You see, from my perspective, McIntosh and those who share his views seem only to care about protecting the unborn; once a fetus emerges from the womb, that child, should Republican policies prevail, will be essentially on its own (or, in the words of the protest sign shown in my post Proof of the Hypocrisy or That Sign Was True: If you want a Republican to care about you Remain a Fetus). If the family is too poor to afford food or shelter or adequate medical care? Tough luck. And when that child becomes elderly and infirm and needs Medicare? Well, McIntosh supports privatizing Medicare into a voucher system (go back and watch the rest of the video that I posted above).

It’s easy for politicians like McIntosh to claim that they want to protect the vulnerable … but when given the opportunity, they rarely rise to the challenge, instead choosing to side with those who are anything but vulnerable.

Nothing quite like omitting parts of the Constitution while proclaiming how much you love it; nothing like proclaiming the importance of protecting the vulnerable as a crass way to make your possession against reproductive rights clear. And there, folks, is the campaign of David McIntosh.

Oh, and did I mention that he doesn’t even live in Indiana?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Newer›  ‹Older