Friday, August 28, 2015

Conversation with a Neo-Confederate

We spent the first week of July 2015 in South Carolina (Hilton Head Island, to be precise), just as we’ve done each of the last nine years or so. This year, however, was unique in that during our visit, South Carolina was, in some sense, the center of the American socio-political universe as discussions on the appropriateness of flying the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol and, more generally, the meaning of the Confederate battle flag, became major issues and touch points for larger discussions of race relations, hate crimes, heritage, and history. In fact, on our drive home from Hilton Head, we passed Columbia (the state capitol) at almost the exact time that the Confederate battle flag was being lowered; alas, I could not convince my family that it was a historical event for which a brief detour was warranted.

But it was a discussion at the beginning of our stay in South Carolina about which I want to write, though, as you’ll see, that discussion was tied up in just the sorts of issues and topics that I’ve described above.

On the evening of July 3, I posted several semi-snarky, semi-serious tweets (hey, you know me, right?):

The handle (@hiltonheadsc) in my second tweet is the Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau. Anyway, shortly after I posted the second tweet, I received a response from Kenny Anderson (@KennyECU). I’m not sure how he came across my tweet; he doesn’t follow me and I didn’t use a hashtag (so I suppose he was looking for terms like “Confederate” and “flag”, but who knows…). Before I share Anderson’s response, let me first share with you his profile description and avatar:

bf0b6fc1c81ccadf0f221f74229b2717_400x400Christian, Family Man, Patriot, Outdoorsman, Sports Fan, Member Sons of Confederate Veterans

I suspect that most of you are, as I was, unfamiliar with either the badge Anderson uses for his Avatar or the organization that it represents: The Sons of Confederate Veterans. If you were to read the organization’s mission statement, it would tell you that:

The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution. The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These attributes are the underpinning of our democratic society and represent the foundation on which this nation was built.

Today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is preserving the history and legacy of these heroes so that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.

Notice anything odd about that mission statement? Like the lack of any reference to slavery? Or the notion that they were fighting to “preserve” freedom (i.e., the “freedom” to own slaves…)? Or maybe the whole notion of fighting for rights guaranteed by the Constitution; after all, nothing says “fighting for rights guaranteed by the Constitution” like seceding from the country governed by that Constitution, right?

And, while the Sons of Confederate Veterans does not necessarily appear to be a racist or hate-based organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the crossover between the leaders of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and membership in more traditional hate groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens and League of the South (which advocates secession, among other positions).* Moreover, as the Southern Poverty Law Center noted in a 2006 article, much of the leadership of the Sons of Confederate Voters had been replaced with those who supported a more racist approach for the organization.

But I knew none of this as I started my dialogue with Anderson.

Here was his response to my tweet about refusing to patronize businesses that flew a Confederate flag (to make reading this easier, I’ve omitted Twitter handles, including the occasional inclusion of the handle for the Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau except where important to the context):

Anderson (7:25pm): If they fly the Confederate Flag and you don't like it, they don't want your business and won't miss it.

I was in the mood for a little Twitter fun, so I decided to engage (yeah, I know, I know…). My daughter, with whom I was playing a board game at the time, became a bit of a participant, wanting to read each response from Anderson and often helping me think out my reply. The snark runs strong in her. It was the first time that I’ve engaged in one of these sorts of Twitter discussions relating to serious subjects that one of my kids was both interested in and at least somewhat knowledgeable about. So that made things fun. Anyway, on with the discussion:

Me (7:32pm): Your profile says you're a patriot. Of which country? The one that fought to keep slavery … and lost?

Anderson (7:39pm): Your profile says you should understand the danger of persecuting a group of any kind for any reason. Patriots understand that.

If you’re wondering, my profile says: “Married. 2 kids. Lawyer. Past-president Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. Past chair Indiana Equality. Zionist. Tweets reflect personal opinions.”

Me (8:33pm): Persecuting a group? Really? Sorry, but criticizing those who support symbols of racism & treason is hardly persecution.

Me (8:34pm): Unlike those symbols, I don't advocate violence. I advocate for changed minds that are respectful of diversity.

Anderson (8:37pm): Your bigotry is showing. Perhaps I hit a nerve? Again, you should know better, clearly you don't.

Me (8:49pm): My bigotry? Do you do stand up comedy? Fine. I'll admit that I'm opposed to racists who support slavery & treason. Feel better?

Me (8:56pm): You see, I take stands against noxious ideas, especially ones that involve violence & racism, not against people based on traits.

Me (8:58pm): [posted broadly, not just to Anderson] Troll on Twitter arguing my stand against Confederate treason & racism is a form of bigotry. He played the "Jews should know better" card.

Anderson (8:59pm): I always find it amusing when Liberals can't see their own bigotry and hypocrisy. What other stereotypes do you support?

Hmm. I wonder how he deduced that I’m a liberal? Could it be because I’m Jewish? Or maybe he researched Indiana Equality to discover that it is a gay rights advocacy group. But last I checked, neither being Jewish nor in favor of gay rights are reserved exclusively for liberals. I decided not to respond directly to either the implicit “Jews know better” or “liberals are bigots” claims and, instead, decided to poke him a bit more.

Me (9:07pm): So which comedy club are you at this weekend? You seem like a funny guy. Delusional, but funny.

Anderson (9:11pm): You can't get out of the way of your own hypocrisy. Sad really and nothing funny about it. Spend your vacation $ elsewhere.

Me (9:12pm): So are you a fan of the Confederacy? Which part? The treason or the slavery?

Me (9:16pm): [Tweet directed to Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau] You should know that “patriot” @KennyECU says I should take my money elsewhere because I oppose Confederate treason and racism.

Me (9:17pm): [Tweet directed to Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau] Do you support Confederate treason & racism? Should we take our money to places that value diversity & oppose racism?**

Anderson (9:24pm): Wow, you keep reinforcing your own bigotry, racism and stereotyping of Southerners! Been drinking tonight?

Me (9:32pm): Drinking some Southern sweet tea. Interesting you see bigotry against South; I’m talking about fans of Confederacy.

It seems as if I’m missing a tweet from Anderson at this point in the conversation. I’m not sure if I simply can’t find it in my timeline or archive or if the tweet might have been deleted.

Me (9:38pm): Aha. Now we’re getting somewhere. The Confederate flag is a symbol of treason & racism, not some mythical grand “South”.

Me (9:40pm): Confederate battle flag is a sign of war, not the flag of the treasonous CSA. And it’s [sic] use has been to support racism.

Me (9:42pm): And which part of the Confederacy are you proud of? Slavery or treason. You forgot to answer that earlier.

Anderson (9:43pm): If pointing out your bigotry is getting somewhere, then yes. You think so little of the South, take your vacation $ elsewhere.

Me (9:46pm): I love the South. It’s why I vacation here. But I don’t like symbols of racism & treason no matter where they’re used.

Anderson (9:46pm): I’m most proud of the South that bigots like you don’t live here.

That one really, really confounded my daughter. She was practically spluttering with confused indignation.

Me (9:48pm): What does the flag of treason & racism have to do with the South that you’re proud of?

Anderson (9:51pm): Our Confederate Flag represents neither of those to Southerners. You say you love the South. You know nothing about the South.

Me (9:54pm): So what does your Battle Flag represent if not the Army of the Confederacy’s fight to keep slavery? Why a treason flag for pride?

Anderson (9:59pm): I bet you think the North went to war to end slavery. You must be bored. Leave now, maybe you’ll be home by sunrise.

Me (10:01pm): You forgot to tell me which comedy club you perform at. And I note you won’t answer my queries about treason & racism.

Anderson (10:12pm): The Confederate Flag does not stand for Treason and Racism to Southerners. You can’t get away from your bigotry?

Me (10:15pm): So the Confederate vets your avatar refers to didn’t commit treason and weren’t fighting to keep people in chains like animals?

Anderson (10:17pm) Name on Confederate that was tried for treason?

Anderson (10:18pm): Read about Lincoln’s real views on race and slavery.

Me (10:22pm): Have you heard of Reconstruction? The idea was to put America back together.

Me (10:23pm): Lincoln’s views were all over the place. Arguments can be made both ways about his views. But Lincoln isn’t the point. Racism is.

Anderson (10:26pm): After so many died and Lincoln’s assassination, if Treason was committed then at least one would have been tried, but none were.

Anderson (10:28pm): Lincoln’s White Supremacist views were held by all of his contemporaries. Even the abolitionists were racist.

Me (10:30pm): So seceding in order to keep slaves & waging war on USA wasn’t treasonous? You might read Art. III Sec. 3 of the Constitution.

Anderson (10:35pm): They Seceded from the Union following the Democratic process. Nothing in the Constitution precluded secession. Not Treason.

Me (10:37pm): You really are a comedian aren’t you? OK. I’m bored. Gonna go play a game with the kids. Have fun with your Lost Cause revisionism.

The next morning…

Anderson (5:40am): Keep being a typical Yankee. Visiting our Southland while criticizing our people. Go home! Deo Vindice


Me (10:00am): [posted broadly, not just to Anderson] My Twitter troll signed out on July 4 by posting the Confederate treason flag & motto. Told me to go home. Fine example of “Southern pride”?

For those who are curious, the Confederate motto Deo Vindice roughly translates to “Under God, Our Vindicator”. I wonder whether Anderson still believes that G-d will “vindicate” the Southern position in favor of secession and war in order to protect the institution of slavery.

Except as indicated, I think that I’ve included all of the tweets in the conversation, though if there were others that I either missed or were deleted (I didn’t delete any of mine), I wouldn’t be too surprised.

So what do you think of the way this discussion went? Do you think I’m a bigot for taking a stand against those who use the Confederate battle flag as their symbol? Here is the definition for “bigot” from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

Does that definition fit my disdain for those who fly the Confederate battle flag or refuse to acknowledge that the Civil War was about slavery? If I advocate for respect for diversity and against intolerance and hate does that make me a bigot toward those who espouse racist ideology? Or is advocacy against a particular ideology not bigotry at all?

Perhaps more importantly, what do you think of Anderson’s claim that the Confederate battle flag doesn’t represent treason or racism to southerners? Notice that he never really answers my question about what the flag does stand for, if not for treason and racism. And note further the way he excuses the treason of those who seceded and then waged war against the United States solely on the basis of the fact that members of the Confederacy were not tried for treason. Note too his efforts to deflect blame or criticism directed at the Confederacy by arguing that Lincoln and abolitionists were racists, too. Does that matter to you?

Look, I’ll acknowledge that the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction are complicated, difficult subjects for which a massive amount of literature has been and continues to be written. In fact, when I go on my (too infrequent) long walks, I’ve been listening to Prof. David W. Blight’s excellent course The Civil War and Reconstruction Era 1845-1877 made available through Yale Open Courses (which I highly recommend). One thing that I believe I can say with complete certainty: The South chose to secede and waged war against the United States to preserve the institution of slavery. Arguing otherwise is counterfactual, but in this day and age, who needs facts?

Furthermore, while some southerners may view the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of history and pride that are completely divorced from slavery and secession, I think that it is also clear that the Confederate battle flag has long been used as a sign of racism and white supremacy. I’m not sure if the refusal to acknowledge that fact is a sort of willful ignorance or cognitive dissonance or if it is indicative of a larger problem (such as refusing to recognize either the continued existence of racism or the negative effects racism can have). But the reliance on Lost Cause ideology, attempts to revise history to erase the real causes of war, and the continued use of a symbol that was used by those who continued to try to subjugate African-Americans (if not kill them) long after the Civil War had ended suggests that there remains a deep cancer in our society tied to the issue of racism and race relations.

Our children need to be taught what happened and why. We can’t allow history to be rewritten so that our children don’t understand the root causes of slavery or the incredibly horrific institution that slavery really was. We Jews are watching Holocaust denial and revisionism come into vogue in some circles; only recently have I become aware of the some sort of revisionism that has been applied to the Civil War and slavery for even longer. The problem is that Holocaust denial is not being taught in our schools (well, not often) the way that Civil War revisionism is. Holocaust denial isn’t celebrated with banners flying across huge swaths of land, but Civil War revisionism seems to have been embraced by many. We need to reclaim the truth of history so that our children and future generations can continue to learn from history’s mistakes and not repeat them.

Whew. I might have gone a bit off topic there. Oh, well.

One final point. As I was proofing this post and checking the links I used, I glanced briefly at Anderson’s Twitter timeline. Imagine my totally lack of surprise to find that he retweeted this image, just a few days ago:


Then there was this tweet from Anderson on August 22:

Yes we should have been cheering for the South. The Founding Fathers country died when Lincoln invaded the South

And Anderson retweeted this delightful thought (which includes numerous photos of Confederate flags):

The best way to honor our Confederate ancestors is to finish the job they started and #secede, forever this time.

I’ve chosen not to reprint some of the overtly racist tweets from Anderson’s timeline.

So, no, apparently the Confederate battle flag doesn’t represent slavery or treason, but it is stridently defended by those who continue to advocate for secession and rebellion with the Confederate battle flag as one of their principal symbols. Clear as mud.


*While driving through Georgia in early June, I saw this billboard posted by the League of the South:


**Note that the Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau never responded to any of these tweets.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Movie Theater Checking Bags for “Security” of Patrons Looks More Like a Cheap Ploy to Sell More Overpriced Candy

When our family went to see “Fantastic Four” last week (don’t bother…), the teenage girl taking tickets asked to search my wife’s purse. When we asked her why, she explained that it was for “security”. Oddly, while she searched my wife’s purse, the rent-a-cop (actually, an off duty police officer from a small town nearby) stood nearby and looked on, but didn’t offer the teenage employee any assistance in her search of the purse.

Subsequent to this episode, we learned that Regal Entertainment Group (owner of Regal Cinemas) had enacted a security policy:


Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America. Regal Entertainment Group wants our customers and staff to feel comfortable and safe when visiting or working in our theatres. To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, backpacks and bags of any kind are subject to inspection prior to admission. We acknowledge that this procedure can cause some inconvenience and that it is not without flaws, but hope these are minor in comparison to increased safety.

Now, I have no problem with reasonable enhanced security. In part as a result of the massive quantity of guns in our society, we now live in a country where any place can become a scene of mass carnage at virtually any time. So if a brief check of bags and backpacks will help keep me and my family safe, then I’m all for it.

However, when it comes to this new policy enacted by Regal Entertainment Group (hereafter referred to just as “Regal”), I have only one response: Bullshit.

This policy has nothing to do with real security. Rather, it is either a cynical way to exploit fears of violence in theaters (“Look, we’re doing something about it!”) or, more likely, a subterfuge for enforcing a different policy altogether:

Outside Food or Drink:

No outside food or drink is permitted in the theatre.

What leads me to these conclusions? Let’s consider the policy and its implementation. I think that it’s fairly safe to presume that the “[s]ecurity issues” that “have become a daily part of our lives” is a reference to the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting and the two theater shootings (or attempted shootings) this year in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Nashville, Tennessee.

So, my first question is whether a search of patrons’ bags and backpacks would have stopped any of these incidents? In the case of the shooting in Aurora, the shooter left the theater via an emergency exit which he propped open in order to retrieve his guns from his car. So obviously, a bag search would not have turned up anything, would it? In the Lafayette shooting, the shooter was armed with a handgun. I have been unable to determine whether it was in a bag or just in his pocket, a holster, or otherwise concealed on his body. In the case of the Nashville attempted shooting, the shooter did have two bags. One had an Airsoft BB gun and a hatchet; the other bag had what appeared to be an explosive device. And that leads inevitably to the next question: What would have happened had a teenage employee (especially a very slight girl, like the one who searched my wife’s purse) asked to open one of those bags?

Thus, consider the efficacy of a bag search by a teenager (or any employee not given appropriate training). Will that deter someone intent on committing mass violence? And ask what sort of training that teenage employee has taken. What are they told to do if a patron refuses a bag search or gets belligerent? What are they told to do if the patron claims that they are being discriminated against? What are they to do with a backpack that appears to contain jackets or sweatshirts? Are they expected to pull those out to be sure that no weapons are hidden in or below them? What are they told to do if they find a gun or knife, let alone an explosive device? Run screaming? Calmly tell the patron that they can’t bring the gun into the theater?* Go ahead, roll that scenario through your mind and tell me how it ends. Oh, and ask yourself why Regal is entrusting this sort of “security” to its teenage employees instead of to (hopefully trained) security guards or off-duty police officers?

*By the way, I read through Regal’s Admittance Procedures (so you don’t have to). There is the aforementioned prohibition on outside food and drink. And there are prohibitions on smoking and on the use of recording devices.There is even a request for patrons to avoid using their cellphones. But guess what? There is no prohibition on bringing firearms, knives, or any other sort of weapon into a Regal theater. So even if that employee finds a gun in a woman’s purse, the woman can argue that she should be entitled to admission to the theater because there is no prohibition against bringing a gun.

But that isn’t the end of the problems with the security policy; far from it.

Consider this: Who is most likely to carry a bag into a theater? The answer to that would seem to be women with their purses. How many men carry a bag, even a backpack, into a theater? Not many, I’d wager. Yet the one factor that all of the theater shootings (and most of the mass shootings, no matter where committed) have in common is that they were committed by men. Thus, by limiting searches to backpacks and bags, Regal is selectively targeting for inspection those who seem least likely to constitute security threats. Will men with bulky jackets be searched to see if they have a gun secreted on their person? Will men with cargo pants be asked to empty their pockets to be sure that they don’t have a gun or knife? Will men be asked to raise their shirts to allow the theater employee to see if they are wearing a holster or have a gun stuffed into the waistband of their pants? Of course not.

And think about this: There is no attempt to profile the type of person who might be likely to commit an act of mass violence. I’m not talking about racial profiling; rather, how about profiling people who come into the theater by themselves, especially if they look … oh, I don’t know … crazy? Or maybe single people who come into the theater after the movie has begun. Perhaps groups of young people who appear to be part of a gang or anyone who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Compare that sort of profiling to the search conducted of my wife’s purse; is there really a suspicion that a family of four, including two children, intends to commit an act of violence or threaten the safety and security of other patrons?

Oh, and one Indiana-specific side note: As a result of some of the NRA-inspired idiocy from our General Assembly, Regal is allowed to prohibit patrons from bringing guns into the theater (even if they don’t appear to have adopted such a policy) but cannot prohibit employees from having guns in their cars in the parking lot. In fact, Regal cannot even ask employees about possession of a gun. I wonder whether Regal is searching its employees when they come to work to be sure that they left their guns in their cars. And if not, why not? That’s a good question to ask a manager at Regal.

If a bag search isn’t likely to deter someone intent on mass violence and isn’t aimed at those most likely to commit mass violence, then what is its real purpose?

Perhaps Regal just wants people to think that Regal takes security seriously. Perhaps the thinking in the Regal boardroom went like this: “Hey, if people think that they are safer in our theaters, then maybe they’ll come to our theaters instead of those owned by our competitors where they don’t check bags. Who cares if our safety is bullshit, so long as it helps us sell more tickets!” Yeah, I know that sounds unfair. But if that isn’t the explanation, and if Regal really cared about safety, then wouldn’t the security policy be designed so as to be effective and be implemented in a way that might work without putting teenage employees at risk? For that matter, wouldn’t Regal have also enacted a “no weapons” policy?

Which brings me to what I believe is the real intent of the security policy: Regal wants to make more money by selling more candy and drinks and the best way to do that is to search bags and backpacks to be sure that people aren’t bringing contraband food and beverages into the theater. It’s hard to hide an AR-15 in a backpack or purse, but it’s easy to hide a box of Sno-Caps and a bottle of Coke; similarly, it’s easy to hide a handgun in a pocket or the waistband of a pair of pants, but it’s not as easy to conceal that same bottle of Coke.

I don’t think the security policy is really designed to keep anyone safe; if that is the intent of the policy, then someone really didn’t think it through very well (I wonder if Regal purchased extra insurance for the employees tasked with searching bags). Instead, I think that the intent is to be sure that patrons don’t try to sneak candy or drinks into the theater in hopes that Regal can sell a few more boxes of horribly overpriced goodies.

Incidentally, I’m not the only one to reach these conclusions. I came across the following after I’d written the bulk of this post (while I was checking some of the information related to the prior theater shootings):

Jeff Bock, box office analyst for theater-industry research firm Exhibitor Relations, predicted the policy will lower the anxiety of theatergoers but could pose other problems.

“Implementing this is probably a good idea,” he said. “But it seems undercooked. How is this going to work? The protocol needs to be defined. Exactly what are they doing and what kind of training are you giving to employees?

“It’s a pretty big thing to ask for 16-year-old employees to search through bags for possible firearms. This kind of changes the duties of a theater employee from making popcorn and sweeping floors to basically being a low-rent security guard. Maybe this falls to the manager of the theater to search … We now have to deal with the consequences of what if they find something in the bag.

“Obviously, all the people who sneak in Subway sandwiches are going to be mortified,” Bock added. “Maybe that’s the Regal ulterior motive. Stopping illegal Milk Duds from getting into theaters.”

One more quick point: If you are a woman going to a movie at a Regal theater and an employee asks to search your purse, I’d ask for the manager and then ask why only women (seemingly, at least) are being subjected to the policy. Ask why your husband or boyfriend isn’t being frisked or made to empty his pockets. Put the onus on Regal to explain why they’ve implemented a policy which, in effect, discriminates against women (especially women with children!) and subjects them to a heightened degree of scrutiny and an invasion of privacy to which men are not subject. Yes, Regal may claim that it wants to keep its patrons safe, but I doubt very much that it will relish a backlash from angry women who have had their purses ransacked by teenagers.

I can’t end this post without disclosing and noting my own prior history with Regal Entertainment Group: Regal Cinema's Disregard for Patrons and Films (June 30, 2008) and Regal Cinema's Disregard for Patrons and Films (update) a/k/a When Disney Talks, Regal Listens (July 2, 2008).

Updated August 25, 2015 to correct a typo.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Editorial Against Carmel Non-Discrimination Ordinance Makes No Sense

I wrote this at lunch on Monday, August 17. I really wanted to post it before the Carmel City Council meeting Monday night. But I never got a chance to proofread it so I refrained from posting. I decided to go ahead and finish, even if it is a bit late now. I’ve chosen not to add to the post on the basis of the hearing (which I sat through for hour after painful hour), other than to correct a misunderstanding.

Later today, the Carmel City Council will begin discussing a broad anti-discrimination ordinance (often referred to as a “human rights ordinance” or “HRO”). The Indianapolis Star has already taken an editorial position in support of that ordinance and I applaud the paper for doing so. However, it struck me as more than a bit odd, that on the day that the ordinance will be discussed (if not voted upon), The Indianapolis Star chose to print a lengthy op-ed from conservative radio personality Peter Heck who, it seems, has become one of The Star’s “go to” people to express the views from the (far) right of the political spectrum.

I want to take a look at a few of Heck’s statements in his op-ed, but first I want to offer a brief look at some of Heck’s prior statements so that you can see just where on the political spectrum his views can be placed. It’s not surprising that he would be opposed to Carmel’s proposed HRO given that he has previously claimed that opposition to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) “is the reincarnation of a neo-fascist view” and “a frightening appeal to a 21st century reincarnation of fascism”. Or there was the time that Heck said that liberals:

have decided their political agenda is going to be all about the advancement of sexual anarchy, the sexual anarchy crusade. That is what they have made their political movement about. So whatever the other consequences are, whatever else has to be trampled in the process, even if it means the health of people, it doesn’t matter, the most important thing to Hillary is not stopping AIDS, it’s not stopping HIV, no, no the most important thing is a political agenda.

And there was his reminiscence about the days when homosexuality was illegal:

When you step back, and you look at what has been achieved by this anti-family, pro-sexual anarchy movement and crowd and the left in just the last just ten years alone it’s remarkable. I don’t know if remarkable is the right descriptor for it but it’s unbelievable. How does that happen? Let’s zero in on homosexuality, specifically the practice of homosexuality, how does something go from being a forbidden vice, which is what it was, something that was against the law, to the point where it is now being publicly embraced and endorsed by sitting governors and even presidents of the United States? How does that happen?

Note, too, his claim that those who advocate for same-sex marriage are “anti-family”.

OK. I think you get the idea and thus shouldn’t be surprised that Heck is opposed to the proposed Carmel HRO. (For those interested, at the end of this post I’ve compiled a few more of Heck’s greatest hits, just from columns in The Indianapolis Star in 2015.)

So let’s look at some of Heck’s complaints:

So why enact such a controversial measure to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Because, Brainard pontificates, it is simply the “right thing to do.”

Pardon my cynicism, but this move isn’t about “doing the right thing.” If it were, why arbitrarily pick out this one issue and act, instead of a host of other things we could equally say would be “the right thing?” The answer is obvious: this is about placating an aggressively loud and intimidating LGBT lobby. It’s about garnering the accolades of a complicit media. It’s shameless pandering by politicians desperate to be allowed to sit at the cultural cool kids’ table, regardless of the damage it will inflict on their fellow citizens.

You see, in Heck’s world, people don’t act from altruism. They don’t act because they want to protect others. They don’t act out of a sense of shared humanity or discomfort at seeing others treated unequally. Nope. They don’t even act because businesses have argued that potential employees or clients might want a governmental structure that advocates and supports equality in treatment. Nope. The only reason that Heck can see to pass a law that requires that people be treated fairly is to “placate” an “aggressively loud and intimidating” lobby and to “garner” accolades from the media.

Oh, and what “damage” will be inflicted on citizens who must treat others fairly? Heck worries about the fines that will be leveled against businesses but seems to jump over the whole point that if the business doesn’t discriminate, it won’t need to worry about fines. I’d be curious to know if Heck takes issue with civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or religion, too. (Note that the proposed Carmel HRO is not directed solely at sexual orientation and gender identity; it also applies to race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, family or marital status, ancestry, age, and status as a veteran.)

Heck also seems to make fun of the different types of gender expressions that people may have by pointing to some of the expression choices offered by Facebook. Apparently, in Heck’s world, it is still acceptable to make fun of people on the basis of who they are or who their expressions of self-identity. Of particular interest in the list of gender expressions that Heck cites, seemingly as a joke, is that of “two-spirit”. Too bad Heck didn’t bother to research that one a bit; after all, the two-spirit was the Native American understanding of transgender identity. Two-spirits were welcomed in most Native American cultures and were often married to those of the same physical gender but treated as a part of the gender group with which the two-spirit identified. Traditional marriage, anyone?

Heck also quotes some social scientists (I haven’t had time to research their work or reputations in detail, though I did find this quotation from one of the authors discussing post-operative transgender  patients: “The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women”) who claim: “Social science research continues to show that sexual orientation, unlike race, color, and ethnicity, is neither a clearly defined concept nor an immutable characteristic of human beings.” (Emphasis added.) Note anything odd about that statement that Heck seems to ignore? How about religion. Is religion a “clearly defined concept”? Seems hard to believe it is, given the wars that we’ve had over religious belief, the creation of new religions to justify political or social views (Church of England, anyone?) and the difficulty we have determining which religions are “real” (is Scientology a religion? Santeria? Wicca? Pastafarianism?; we know that some on the right don’t believe that Islam is a “true” religion). Furthermore, the last time I checked, religion was certainly not immutable. So if we are concerned about basing employment issues on immutable characteristics, then I suppose we better take religion out of the list of protected classes.

Heck then tells us what he really thinks that this is all about: “[L]et’s not forget the real targets of this dangerous ordinance: men and women of faith.” Yeah, that must be it. A group of six Republican, Christian city counselors and a Republican Christian mayor have decided to target people of faith. Do people like Heck even think before they start pontificating or leveling accusations? [At the hearing, the Council made it clear that co-sponsoring the ordinance did not necessarily indicate support for its passage, but only support to have the ordinance on the Council’s agenda for discussion.]

Heck then tries to advance his argument by quoting Mayor Brainard … but cutting the quotation short:

But don’t take my word for it. In a moment of ill-advised transparency, Brainard actually admitted his decidedly anti-American views on faith in the workplace, writing, “there is a distinct difference between how we worship our God in our churches, our homes and our hearts versus how we live.” Perhaps for you, mayor. But for many of the rest of us, our faith is who we are, not something we simply do on Sunday mornings. And we are no more willing to treat our beliefs as an on/off switch than we are to bow the knee to a city administration abusing its power to tell us we must.

First, consider Mayor Brainard’s actual statement and note the context that Heck chose to omit:

I feel it is important that we recognize there is a distinct difference between how we worship our God in our churches, our homes and our hearts versus how we live, play and conduct business in the melting pot of mixed faiths and passions that we call America.

Many of the world’s traditional faiths teach and believe the following: Men and women from all walks of life must be treated with respect, compassion and kindness and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. It is time that we stop trying to define each other by the variety of labels society has created. It is far past the time that we look past the colors of our skin, the appearance of our bodies and the choices we make in the privacy of our own lives. It is time we see each other as human beings first and foremost.

The ‘free exercise of religion’ guaranteed to U.S. citizens in the First Amendment to the Constitution does not give one the right to discriminate. If one were to claim that their religion allows discrimination in treatment of certain groups does it not follow that one can then be exempt from being charged with murder, robbery, theft and other crimes so long as it is done under the auspices of some ‘religion?’

I hope that this ordinance will make clear to everyone that Carmel continues to be a welcoming place for anyone to pursue life, liberty and happiness with a common respect for each other's dignity.

Hmm. I wonder why Heck decided not omit the rest of Mayor Brainard’s comment and focus, instead, just on a portion of once sentence. Could it be that, had Heck quoted Mayor Brainard in toto, he would not have been able to claim that Mayor Brainard’s views are “decidedly anti-American”? Moreover, I find it interesting that Heck talks about religion being something that people can’t switch on or off. I’m not sure that anyone suggested that. Nor, do I believe, that Mayor Brainard suggested that religion belongs only in churches or is only practiced on Sunday (hey, Mr. Heck: Not everyone worships on Sunday…). Rather, what I think a fair reading of Mayor Brainard’s statement shows is that we, as citizens — as Americans — must find ways to work together while in the sphere of public life and business. America hasn’t prospered because we’ve relegated “the other” to the sideline of public life; rather, unlike so much of the world, we’ve prospered because we’ve found ways around our bigotries so that we can all be treated as equals. If you want to discriminate in your home or your church, go right ahead; the law will allow it. But leave those views out of how we deal with each other in public.

Remember: This law is about preventing discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in businesses open to the public. So tell me what kind of religious faith demands or expects its adherents to demonstrate fidelity to their faith by discriminating against others? Is that really the hallmark of belief in any deity? Is that what Jesus wanted or would understand?

Finally, Heck can’t possibly end his diatribe without an insult directed at Mayor Brainard and the City Council when he refers to “dull-witted and morally obtuse leadership”. Remind me again the percentage by which Mayor Brainard won in May’s primary? Moreover, several of the City Council members who are co-sponsoring this ordinance lost in the primary to allies of Mayor Brainard (and City Council President Rick Sharp lost to Mayor Brainard). In other words, we have several City Council members who have already been voted out of office and who will be replaced by new City Council members who included a human rights ordinance as a part of their campaign platforms, still co-sponsoring this legislation. [Again, recall my previous comment regarding the meaning of co-sponsorship; apparently, this was misunderstood by everyone, including The Indianapolis Star.] Obviously, it can’t be for political expediency or to keep their offices, can it?

Heck also asks “why enact such a controversial measure to solve a problem that doesn’t exist”. First, just because the Mayor hasn’t heard of acts of discrimination, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist; after all, a person who is discriminated against but who has no recourse isn’t likely to take action, are they? Moreover, I don’t recall Republicans voting down either RFRA or voter ID laws because they problems that those laws sought to address didn’t exist. And if there is one thing that we do know, it’s that discrimination does still exist.

I hope that people aren’t swayed by the specious arguments that Heck and those with similar views express. I hope that people will support Mayor Brainard and the members of the Carmel City Council who believe that a non-discrimination ordinance is in the best interests of the residents of Carmel. I hope that Carmel will continue to act in ways that make it a model for the other communities in the state and demonstrating a commitment to tolerance and against discrimination would be another step in that direction.

For those who are curious, I found a few more interesting comments from Peter Heck’s other columns in The Indianapolis Star just during 2015.

In an essay about “science” (The Indianapolis Star, July 30, 2015), Heck rails against science and efforts to ban “gay conversion therapy” (which most scientists view as “pseudo-science” and potentially harmful) and the very notion that sexual orientation and gender identity are innate characteristics while claiming that homosexuality is just an “urge” to be resisted:

Having abandoned belief in any Moral Authority to the universe, liberal revolutionaries have been claiming the mantle of science as justification for their agenda for far longer than I can remember. And their hijacking of the word has resulted in great success for them politically and culturally. My only question: How long will our society be stupid enough to keep buying it?

After all, this is a movement that goes so far in their insistence that sexual attraction is inborn and unchangeable that they seek to enact laws actually forbidding someone experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction from seeking psychiatric help to overcome their urges. Apparently “respecting the sexual preferences of the individual” counts only when that sexual preference is to act on an urge rather than to resist it.

Yet these same folks who claim that sexual attraction is unalterable also insist that men like Bruce Jenner, undeniably born with genetic maleness (DNA, chromosomes, bone structure, and functioning reproductive organs of a male) can somehow “become” a woman. Yes, the “party of science” would have you believe that your attractions are unchangeably genetic in nature, but your genetic biology is a matter of personal opinion.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood, Heck said (The Indianapolis Star, July 18, 2015): “Truth be told, we don’t need investigations for these people. We need paddy wagons and iron bars.” Of course, the bad acts of which Heck complains are legal (and don’t forget that Indiana did investigate Planned Parenthood and found that it was not doing anything illegal).

And here is what Heck had to say about the Indiana Pride parade (The Indianapolis Star, June 18, 2015):

No one else seems willing to say it, so I will. It’s gross. And it in no way represents all people with same-sex attraction any more than a parade of pornographers would represent all with opposite-sex attraction. This isn’t about homosexuality, although that is the over-arching theme of the parade and larger festival.

I know several individuals who experience same-sex attraction. Some deal with it the way Scripture teaches, taking captive every sinful thought and urge (including the temptation toward homosexuality) and making them obedient to the will of Christ. Others choose to act on their same-sex attraction and live a gay lifestyle. But what I’ve seen in all these individuals tells me that they are most likely appalled by the debauchery on display at pride parades.

Note that he can’t quite bring himself to call homosexuality anything other than “same-sex attraction” as if it’s simply a choice that people make, you know, like which god to pray to.

While I’m certainly not an expert on the state of Christianity and Christian churches in the United States, this statement from Heck (The Indianapolis Star, May 29, 2015) seems … um … odd:

After all, speaking the exclusivity of Christ — that whole “no man comes to the Father except by me” thing — or preaching repentance will not make anyone feel affirmed. Everyone can see how painfully un-hip such a message is in contemporary American society.

In fact, churches committed to that outdated way of thinking might be accused of acting like some prudish carpenter of antiquity whose obsessive devotion to unpopular notions of right and wrong, good and evil, consigned him to the outskirts of society rather than the mainstream, to preaching from hillsides rather than from behind gold-crusted lecterns.

It’s curious, isn’t it? Somehow American Christians convinced themselves that becoming more like Jesus of Nazareth would make them more attractive to the world; but the exact opposite is true. After all, why would they treat us any different than they treated him? Confusing that reality has the American church all kinds of backwards. If the world adores us for the words we speak, it is not because those words are loving and good. It is because they are cowardly and compromising. And that’s the real problem we face in our churches.

Does anyone else get the feeling that only Christians — and the right kind of Christians at that — are welcome in Heck’s version of Indiana or the United States? No thank you.

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A Mouse in the House or I Didn’t Know My Son Had a Bloodthirsty Streak

Allow me first to set the stage. It is early morning, just after 5:00am (5:12, if you must know). The household won’t start moving for a little while. Everything is quiet. For the moment. Now, for those who don’t know, our household consists of me, my wife, and our 15-year-old twins (boy and girl) plus the little dog (Zooey, a 6-year old Mini Australian Shepherd) and the big dog (Jedi, a 9-month old Sith Lord German Shepherd) and, unbeknownst to us … a guest.

When Jedi woke me at 5:12, I presumed he just needed to go outside. Groggily I made my way to the patio door and he trotted out, did whatever dogs do, and trotted back in. So far, a normal, if slightly early, morning. But on the way back to our ground floor bedroom, Jedi stopped just outside the bedroom door in front of our hall closet. And he started to sniff. And sniff. And sniff. The gap beneath the door to the closet is a bit small for an 82 pound Sith Lord German Shepherd, but he tried. Then he walked into the bedroom and sniffed around the door. Back to the hall. Sniff. Sniff. Then over to a chair and a dog bed and more sniffing. I watched, thinking that maybe there was a treat that had been lost and, frankly, too tired to care (or, perhaps, think clearly). After a minute or so, he finally plopped himself down on the dog bed to go back to sleep. But that only lasted another minute or two before he started sniffing around again.

I got a flashlight and shined it under the chair but didn’t see anything. But for the next handful of minutes he would sniff and relax, sniff and relax, and so on and so forth. Finally, he and I both went into the kitchen for a little while. But then it was back to the living room and more sniffing and wandering. This continued until, I don’t know, close to 6:00? At some point, my son came downstairs to get breakfast before I took him to marching band practice. And my wife came out of the bedroom followed by the little dog.

That’s when the excitement began.

I’m not sure if Zooey could smell something or if she just wanted to know what Jedi was doing, but she went over to that chair to join in the sniff fest. And that’s when the little black mouse (well, it was about 3 inches long; does that qualify as “little” in mouse terms?) scampered out from under the chair and took off on a mad dash around the living room. I don’t know if little dog had no interest or if she was just wisely getting out of big dog’s way (he’s kind of a reckless clod), but she left the initial mouse chase to a great big inquisitive puppy. He caught the mouse quickly enough, but thought it was just a cool toy to paw at. The giant Jaws of Doom™ never came into play and the tail never stopped wagging.

Did I mention that as the action commenced, I shouted “Mouse!” to which my wife replied “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKKK” (or something approximating that sound).

Things got a bit confused at that point. Wife demanded that I “get rid of the mouse”. I told her to take the dogs in the other room (as they were not likely to be particularly helpful in the upcoming mouse hunt). And I asked my son to find something we could use to trap the mouse (hoping that we could then scoop him up and put him outside). Well, there was a period of running and yelling and screaming and running and … Well, my wife found us a box from the kitchen, but it was a big box with a floppy lid and holes in it so I knew that this wasn’t going to work particularly well. But we had to make do with our given implements.

As the mad chase continued, the mouse found his (her?) way under the basement door and onto the steps. Our basement is finished with carpeted steps, so just smashing it on a wooden step wasn’t in the playbook. When my son and I opened the door to the basement (the wife was still in the kitchen with the dogs, the “EEEEEEEEEEEE” part of “EEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKK” still coming out at a defining pitch [though nearly drowned out, in part, by crazy dogs]), we saw the mouse cowering behind a small cooler that was sitting on the top step, awaiting its turn to be carried to the basement (it had been awaiting that turn for weeks…). I reached down and was able to toss the cooler down the stairs, thus depriving the mouse of his protective concealment. Victory was almost ours.

“Not so fast,” said our rodent guest. Well, he didn’t say anything. After all he’s a mouse. But he thought it. Well, maybe he did. I don’t know. I don’t know what  mice think. After all, they’re mice. But if he was a mouse in a cartoon, I’m sure he would have said, “Not so fast.”

He jumped down to the next stair and took refuge behind a book (The Dummies Guide to Cooking, I believe; I wonder if it contains recipes for black field mouse soufflé). I, being the brave soul that I am, decided that I didn’t want to reach down and grab the book, especially after seeing how fast the critter could move. So I decided to move to a stair below the mouse in order to be able to force it into the open so our Capture Box™ could be lowered into place. As I began to step down the stairs, I thought I saw the mouse run out from cover, right to the place where my foot was about to land. Have I mentioned that I was barefoot? So, as I recoiled (not in horror, mind you, just out of a concern that I’d have to wash my foot too thoroughly…), I lost my balance (hey, I’m almost 50, give me a break) and sort of fell into the wall of the basement staircase. I rebounded and tried to regain my balance by grabbing the bannister on the opposite wall … but apparently the bannister gods were against me as the bracket holding the bannister on the wall snapped in two sending both me and the bannister crashing to the ground at the bottom of the stairs.

Thankfully, only my pride was actually hurt by this sequence of events.

My son laughed. So I killed him.

OK. I didn’t kill him. But you would have forgiven me if I had, right?


From below, I was able to see the mouse hiding behind the book. Maybe he was hoping it would provide escape plans rather than detailed sauté guidelines. Anyway, I was able to reach up and push the book, hoping to get the mouse to leave concealment. My son, however, suggested that I should just crush the mouse with the book. Also, while I was oh so gracefully descending the stairs and then picking myself up and dusting off my pride, my son had retrieved the spray bottle that we use to squirt water at the dogs from time to time (well, really just the giant Demon Beast from Hell and not the little dog). As I tried to move the mouse with gentle pressure on the book, my son started squirting the mouse with an intensity that made me wonder if he was trying to drown the rodent. That’s when the mouse sort of stood up on its hind legs and started … hissing? screaming? How does one describe the sound that a tiny, frightened, pissed off, wet mouse makes while cowering behind a Dummies book?

Sadly our plan to trap the mouse under a box on the stairs was proving unworkable. And it became more so as the mouse climbed back up first one step and then the other and back into the living room (sending my son reeling backward, though I’m sure he would describe it as a graceful strategic withdrawal from contact with the enemy). But teenage reflexes being what they are, my son was able to quickly grab the box and … drumroll please … trap the mouse!

Now, if you’ll recall, the box that my wife had given us was not really designed for Mouse Trappage™ (pronounced with a French accent, please). Thankfully, I recalled seeing a shoebox in the laundry room. I quickly grabbed that and returned to the scene of our victory. The time had come to swap boxes so that we could move the rodent to greener pastures.

Unfortunately, in our effort to swap boxes, the little monster escaped. I blame my son. He, of course, blames me. But I’m older. And the parent. So I’m right. It was his fault.

As the mouse scampered away (damn those things are fast!) both my son and I tried to race after it. I, ever the graceful one, managed to step onto a dog bed which then slid across the wood floor taking one of my feet with it. Let’s just say that when I hit the ground, I did so with a booming thud, probably heard by many of my neighbors. I think my wife screamed, but that could have been the original  “EEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKK” still in progress.

As I once again worked to right myself, I got my turn to laugh watching my son chase the mouse around the outer walls of the living room. It was comedy. Mouse 3, Human 0 as my son would corner or otherwise trap the critter only to have it narrowly escape the descending Capture Box™. Around and around they went. And no, I didn’t make any snide remarks as my son missed, chance after chance, to catch the evil little beast. OK. That’s a lie. My snark was operating at full throttle by that point.

Anyway, as this continued for another moment or three, the mouse eventually found his way back to that hall closet where the sniff fest had begun. Now it was trapped. Right? We hoped. We opened the door to find a pair of shoes and two plastic trash bags which, I think, were full of old toys my wife planned to give to our nephews. We saw the mouse scamper from one corner to another, but we had no way to get the box on to it or to smash it.

Did I say smash it? OK. Fine. By this point the notion of more violence was becoming somewhat more appealing to me. To my son, I think this had become Call of Duty Part III: Morning of the Menacing Mouse and he was going to take that thing down. Thankfully, neither rocket launcher nor assault rifle was readily at hand. But…

As we moved the trash bags about, trying to get our shot at the mouse, a toy fell out of one of the bags. Remember those toy bow and arrow sets with arrows topped, not by a point, but by a suction cup? Well, one of those fell out of the bag, minus the suction cup. My son quickly grabbed the arrow and announced his attention to stab the mouse.

Stab the mouse? What kind of bloodthirsty little monster did I raise? And why was I so proud of his initiative?

Though he tried a few (very tentative) pokes at the mouse, no stabbing occurred. But as this was happening the mouse tried yet another escape. In the process the trash bags were dragged out of the closet … and the mouse climbed up on my son’s foot (thankfully protected by a shoe). My son was still poking at the trash bag when I calmly (well, as calm as one can be given the circumstances, which, in other words, means not calmly at all) informed him that “the mouse is on your foot!” Now it was his turn to jump and recoil (though I’m sure he will tell you that he calmly stepped away, with grace and dignity, even if that would be an outright lie). My wife continued to say, “EEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKK!”

And suddenly the mouse was gone.

But not for long.

I’m not sure how he noticed, but my son saw that the mouse had managed, intentionally or otherwise, to crawl into one of the trash bags and was now in the bottom corner. Though I’m not sure it’s how I would have handled things, my son immediately stomped on the bag. And then stomped on it again. And again. I think that there was a fourth stomp too. There was definitely … um … visual evidence after the second or third stomp that we no longer had a mouse in our house.

I could tell you about the aftermath, about my wife deciding that she can never live in our house again, about my daughter coming downstairs and wondering what the commotion was all about, about the dogs racing around the house, maybe looking for more mice, about that bag of old toys going straight into the trash and not to our nephews, etc., etc. But you don’t care about that. I know. You’re just happy to know that our household, dogs and all, is once again mouse free without too much damage.

I stopped at Lowe’s before work to buy a new mounting bracket for the bannister. Hopefully no mice will be waiting for me when I get home.

A great way to start the day.

Oh, and anything that my wife says to the contrary with regard to these events or my macho performance as a mouse hunter, is a lie. Balderdash and hogwash. Ignore her.

Updated June 21, 2017: Typos corrected.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Marching Bands Deserve Better Hoosier Support

A few days ago, The Indianapolis Star had front page story about the high school marching band competition at the State Fair. The Star website actually has several articles about the 2015 State Fair band competition (including a gallery of photos of bands performing). And that’s great.

But here’s the problem: If you search the Star website for “marching band” you will find a tiny handful of articles from the past few years. There are two articles about the 2014 and 2013 state championships; there are two articles about Carmel High School’s band playing in the Rose Parade in 2014, there are a smattering of other articles about the Bands of America competitions and about local band projects and directors, and there are bunch of articles which, on their face, don’t seem to have anything to do with marching band. By comparison, a search for “Warren Central football” (just by way of example) yields literally dozens of articles, including many about individual players. That is on top of the massive amount of pre- and post-game coverage devoted to high school football (not to mention basketball and the other sports) each week.

Now, I’m not suggesting that high school football or basketball merit less coverage than they’re getting. I really enjoy high school football games (I even sat through some in the rain and snow last fall). So let me frame things a bit differently. If you go to most American cities and pick up the sports page, how much coverage does auto racing get? With the exception of a handful of cities right around the time of a local race, I suspect that the racing coverage would be minimal. But here in Indianapolis, we get extensive race coverage much of the year. Why? Could it be because we like to consider ourselves the capitol of motorsports? Could it be because we understand and recognize the important of motorsports to our local communities, economy, and psyche? Could it be because many auto racing teams are based in Indianapolis?

Guess what? Central Indiana is also one of the capitols of the world of competitive marching bands. And yet, I suppose few Hoosiers have any awareness whatsoever of just how strong the region is when it comes to marching bands. The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest single day sporting event. But how many of you knew that Indianapolis is also host to the biggest, most important marching band competition each year (the Bands of America Grand Nationals, at which 94 bands from about 20 states competed in November 2014)? That competition has been won by Carmel (2005, 2012), Avon (2008-2010), Lawrence Central (2001, 2004), and Center Grove (1995). So of the last twenty Bands of America Grand Nationals champions, eight (40%) have been from Central Indiana! Of the twelve bands to make it to the Bands of America Grand Nationals finals in 2014, four (Avon, Carmel, Homestead, and Lawrence Township) were from Indiana, with Avon finishing third and Carmel fourth; of the 35 bands to make the 2014 semi-finals, eight were from Indiana (including Castle, Lake Central, Center Grove, and Ben Davis). And I learned, from speaking to parents of kids in bands from across the rest of the country who were in Indianapolis for the competition, that Indiana’s marching band programs are both well-known and well-respected throughout the nation-wide marching band community. Say the names “Avon” or “Carmel” to parents from Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and elsewhere, and they are very familiar with the schools you’re talking about.

Now I can hear some of you saying, “Yeah, but it’s just band and besides, how many people really care?” Well, I might have been one of the people with that attitude until my son became a member of the Carmel High School Marching Greyhounds and I saw how hard he and the rest of the band really worked. Or how seriously they take their performances and the competitions. Or just how much they cared. Really cared. These kids put in extremely long days (from 10am to 9pm during the late summer “band camp”). They practice for an hour before school four days each week, after school for three hours four days each week, and all day on Saturday. They don’t even take off for Fall Break. They stay at school and practice and practice and practice. And rarely do they talk about anything other than marching band.

This isn’t the marching band that some of us may remember from our own high school days many years ago. This isn’t a few dozen kids marching in pretty lines or forming a big square while they play some John Philip Sousa march. Nope. First, many of these bands are huge. Most of the top bands in last year’s Bands of America Grand Nationals had well over 200 members. Unless I’m mistaken, that is bigger than most big school’s football, basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, track, cross country, and swimming teams … combined.

They march amidst props that parents spend seemingly endless hours designing, building, and painting. They battle inclement weather (have you ever seen what happens when you throw a flag in a 20 mile per hour wind?) and both extreme heat and extreme cold. Just imagine the degree of fatigue that you get from blowing into your brass instrument over and over or carrying drums weighing over forty pounds, hour after hour, day after day.

Moreover, these kids are playing intricate arrangements of often complicated music while marching and dancing in extremely complex patterns all to help tell a story or engender a particular emotional response from the audience. And trust me: They get an emotional response.

Unfortunately, at too many of the competitions leading up to the major finals, there are too few people in the stands. Oh, sure, most kids are represented by parents and siblings, but not enough of the communities at large come out to cheer on the kids. Given the effort and hard work they put into it, these kids and these bands deserve much, much better support from their friends and neighbors, from their communities at large, and especially from the cities and state that they represent on a national (or even international) stage.

And though you may not believe it, the marching bands have rivalries just as intense as those you’ll find on a football field or basketball court. Don’t believe me? Ask a member of the Avon marching band about Carmel. Ask a Lawrence Central parent if beating Avon in a competition is a big deal. Ask any of those bands about The Woodlands (Texas), Broken Arrow (Oklahoma), Marian Catholic (Illinois), or Tarpon Springs (Florida).

Yet most Hoosiers are oblivious to all of this. We have a reputation for packing the stands for basketball games all winter long. Many of our schools have built enormous football stadiums to support loud, raucous crowds that come out each Friday night to cheer on their football team. Our local television stations have special programs to cover the games and even send helicopters to the games! We know the names of the star quarterbacks and point guards, know which college is recruiting the speedy running back or the 7-foot tall center, and seemingly every coaching change is a major news story.

And the marching bands perform, week after week, all in virtual anonymity and obscurity.

So here is my challenge to our local newspapers and other media outlets: Please recognize the effort that these kids put into their performances. Please recognize the importance that the arts play in our communities and the lives of these kids. Please recognize that marching band is a major activity for literally thousands (tens of thousands?) of Hoosier students. Please recognize the high regard in which Indiana’s marching bands, and Central Indiana bands in particular, are held on the national stage. How? By giving these marching bands (and the kids and staff that direct them) some recognition. Don’t just wait for the state finals or Bands of America Grand Nationals to write a few hundred words. Cover these bands throughout their competition season this fall. Tell your readers about their programs, from the music to the visual designs. Give a few seconds of your newscast to show viewers a snippet of a top performance (a “play of the week” if you will…).

And if your local high school has a marching band, take some time and go watch them perform at a local competition (halftime routines are often vastly different or simply abbreviated versions of the real competition routines). And watch all of the bands that compete, not just the band from your school. The artistry that you’ll see will likely be a very pleasant surprise. Who knows, you might just become a fan.

Bring these marching bands into Hoosier homes and Hoosier hearts.

They deserve it.

Carmel High School Marching Band’s 2014 show “In the Cards” from the Bands of America Grand Nationals Finals

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Friday, August 7, 2015

An Early Look at the 2016 Republican Candidates (or The Republican Clown Car Pulls Up to the Podium) – Post Debate Update

Yesterday, I posted my initial look at the Republican candidates for President. I decided to do a quick update following yesterday’s debates. Please note that while I watched all of the “main” debate, I was only able to listen to a portion of the earlier debate (though I did read the entire transcript of that debate). As I did back in 2011, I’ve kept my original comments and added brief, additional post-debate thoughts in red under following my initial comments.

Jeb-Bush_thumbJeb Bush

It feels like Bush should be the frontrunner going into the debates. He has high name recognition and he has served as governor of a populous and important (i.e, swing state). Yet each of those “positives” are also among his biggest negatives. High name recognition comes with the unavoidable association with both his father and his brother. Bush will have to walk a fine line to distance himself from the economic policies of both prior Bush administrations and with the disastrous war in Iraq commenced by his brother. Moreover, hailing from Florida, it will be difficult for him to avoid running, at least in part, on the policies that he oversaw while Governor, some of which I understand were and remain deeply unpopular. In a state as populous and divided as Florida, there will be no shortage of voices speaking out against Bush’s policies. Similarly, as he tacks right for the primaries and abandons some of the more centrist positions that he’s held in the past, it will be difficult for him to sweep under the rug those former positions that may be unpalatable to the right. Add to that the fact that Bush would likely need to be not just a flip-flopper but a flip-flap-flopper to win the Presidency, needing to tack right to win the primary (abandoning centrist positions) and then flip back to those centrist positions for the general election. Doing so will likely make him look like a unprincipled mercenary who doesn’t really have any position other than a desire to win.

I don’t think that Bush particularly helped himself during the debate, though he didn’t cause any self-inflicted damage, either. He certainly comes across as one of the more serious and competent candidates, though — and maybe it was just me — he seemed nervous (more so than the others). Bush seemed more knowledge, and with more depth of knowledge, on the issues that he discussed. But I think that he missed a chance to really hit some of his opponents a bit harder (on education and immigration, in particular) and I think he should have done so to help differentiate himself and his policies from them. One of these days he is going to have to come up with a better way to either distance or distinguish himself from his father and brother; his answer last night just didn’t do it. And note that the moderators didn’t push Bush to address his gaffe earlier this week that $500 million is too much to spend on women’s health insurance or his previous claim that we should expect Americans to work longer hours.

Ben-Carson_thumbDr. Ben Carson

I’m going to begin my analysis of Carson by quoting my 2011 analysis of Herman Cain because, sadly, I think that much of that analysis remains precisely true today, even though the candidate is different (I’ve changed “Cain” to “Carson” for readability):

The following statement is going to sound a bit racist, so let me complete the thought before you draw any conclusions. I think that [Carson]’s support is largely based upon the fact that he’s black …. What do I mean by that? I think that a lot of Republicans are, knowingly or otherwise, trying hard to show that both they and other Republicans are not racists and that opposition to President Obama is not based on racism. How best to show that you’re not a racist? Simple: Support a black candidate! Maybe, I’m wrong. Maybe Republicans really like [Carson], even though most had never heard of him before very recently and many more are highly unlikely to have heard much of what he has to say. Yet even with his relative obscurity, he continues to poll quite well. Hmm.

Finally, I think that there is a large portion of the Republican electorate that will reject [Carson] because he’s black.

I presume that Dr. Carson is fine neurosurgeon. But as a politician, I think that he will turn out to be a total failure. His ideas seem to consist of not much more than far right mumbo jumbo with a dash of populism and theism thrown in. I think that there are too many other candidates trying to occupy the same portion of the political spectrum for Carson to really get much of a foothold, though if he does well in the early debates he might be able to carve out a spot for himself. However, should he make it through the primaries to become the candidate, I think that he’ll have an extremely hard time convincing voters (other than those on the far right) to vote for him, in light of statements like these:

  • “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
  • “I mean, [our society is] very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you're not supposed to say ‘Nazi Germany,’ but I don't care about political correctness. You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”
  • “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don't realize it.”
  • “I think most people, when they finish [AP history], they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”
  • “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way—it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
  • “They've [ISIS] got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we’re busily giving away every value and every belief for the sake of political correctness.”
  • Carson said he couldn't be sure “there will even be an election in 2016” if Republicans didn't go on to win [in 2014]. (His wife also said they were keeping their son’s Australian passport handy if the election didn’t go their way.)

I was pleasantly surprised by Carson, having never really heard him speak at length before. I think that his demeanor may have helped him in that he came across as serious, but not humorless, and as someone who thinks that thinking about issues is a good idea. But… Other than suggesting that our tax system be a flat 10% based on tithing (really? tithing?), did he really offer any concrete proposals or answers at all? I don’t think so. And while I liked the idea that he wants to think, the question that demonstrated just how little he knew about many of the common issues should really make one wonder what, if anything, he knows about some of the more esoteric and complicated issues. Some on the job learning is to be expected, but I’d like my candidates, let alone nominee or President, to be well-versed in many of the issues that he or she may confront.

I think his answer about people being the same inside was a good one; but I think he missed a chance to differentiate himself by noting that doctors like him were having to operate on too many unarmed black kids who have been the targets of aggressive policing. Similarly, Carson missed a chance to hit Huckabee a bit following Huckabee’s claim that the military is not a place for social experimentation. Carson could have reminded Huckabee that the military desegregated long before society in a massive social experiment.

All in all, I think Carson demonstrated that he is a serious and at least somewhat viable candidate, but I don’t think that he did enough to separate himself from the very crowded field or to capture support away from other candidates.

Chris-Christie_thumbChris Christie

Christie seems like one of the more moderate candidates in the field. Thus, the first question becomes the degree to which he feels a need to veer to the right for the primaries. I think that he may have an even more difficult time doing so and then moving back to the center-right than would Jeb Bush.

I also wonder whether one of Christie’s seeming strengths — his big, brash personality — is as much of a weakness as it is a strength. His bold, “in your face” approach may work well in New Jersey, but how well will that play in Iowa, New Hampshire, or southern states? There are numerous videos of Christie getting into arguments with voters in New Jersey. Will he be able to control himself if pushed on a campaign stop in Iowa or or New Hampshire? And will that brashness make him seem un-Presidential? In this regard, Christie can be compared to Trump, but unlike Trump, whose brashness comes off as somewhat polished, Christie comes off as nothing more than a schoolyard bully.

Oh, and don’t forget the Republicans who still don’t forgive Christie for acting responsibly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy by cooperating with President Obama.

Then of course are the scandals. One on top of another. And even if Christie can persuasively argue that Bridgegate was the fault of his aides, won’t that feed into a narrative that suggests that he doesn’t take responsibility for things done by those working for him or that he is a poor manager who doesn’t know what is being done by his aides? Moreover, the investigations into the scandals remain ongoing. Who knows if (or when) an indictment or further bad news will come out.

I hate to say it, but I also think that Christie’s weight will present him with several problems. First, the national campaign trail is absolutely brutal. I don’t know if Christie has health problems or if he’s just a big guy. But if he does have any health problems, campaigning could exacerbate those problems. Furthermore, one of the potential attacks for Republicans to levy against Hillary Clinton in the general age will focus on her age. If Christie is the nominee, the strength of those attacks against Clinton will likely be blunted by concerns about Christie’s health.

For the most part, I was impressed with Christie. He was strong and combative without seeming to be a bully. His answers had a bit more substance than most of the other candidates (he at least claims to have a detailed plan that voters can go and read). Now, while I understand the reasoning for doing so, the repeated references to his being appointed as prosecutor the day before 9/11 (a bit of a fib as I understand he was told he was going to be nominated on 9/10), the repeated claim and linkage to his anti-terror stand and foreign policy statute felt a bit hollow. That being said, I thought he was very strong in his little spat with Rand Paul, especially his query about how we know just who the terrorists are. If I had to score that fracas, I’d give it to Christie on points. Anyway, I think that Christie probably made some headway by showing that he could be strong and leaving the obnoxiousness and bullying to another candidate (guess who…). Oh, one more thing: Someone, anyone, needs to stage an intervention and get Christie a better haircut before the next debate.

Ted-Cruz_thumbTed Cruz

Cruz strikes me as a very stupid smart person. By that I mean he may be smart enough to have gone to good schools (but then so did George W. Bush), but he doesn’t seem able to actually apply any of that intelligence. He seems to make bad decision after bad decision without ever being able to either take responsibility for those decisions or to recognize negative ramifications associated with those decisions. For example, he still seems to think both that the government shutdown was a good idea and President Obama’s fault.

I also keep reading that Cruz is despised by his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Not disliked, mind you, but despised. That may not matter (at least not too much) to primary voters, but it will matter in terms of building campaign infrastructure, endorsements and, potentially, campaign contributions. Questions will be raised and it may be difficult for Cruz to explain away his differences with colleagues.

Furthermore, Cruz has a major albatross around his neck in the form of his father, a really far-right pastor who has said some colorful things in the past. Things that a candidate’s father or pastor say shouldn’t define the candidate, but then look how well that worked for President Obama with his pastor. Moreover, Cruz doesn’t seem to have made any effort to distance himself from some of his father’s more offbeat or offensive views. Should Cruz advance far into the primaries (or into the general election), I think that the Dominion Theology movement from which he comes will become the subject to a spotlight

Cruz also has a whole catalog of prior statements and positions that he is likely to be pushed on, probably much harder than he’s been pushed previously. He’s made outrageous statements and claims (Harvard Law School is full of communists!) that he’s never had to back up or explain. In the course of a primary campaign, it seems highly likely that he’ll be asked about those statements, whether by a small town newspaper (you know, where they still do real journalism) or by another candidate seeking to weaken Cruz or carve out a place of his/her own.

Finally, have you ever actually stopped and listened to Cruz speak? It’s excruciating. He has a voice that … well … you wouldn’t want to listen to him give regular speeches, let alone inaugural addresses or State of the Union speeches. I don’t think that people pay conscious attention to things like that when choosing a candidate, but I do think that traits like that play into the general favorable or unfavorable opinion that people draw about the candidates.

I’ve only written one prior post specifically about Cruz: Abolish the IRS? Seriously? Do These People Even Think Before Speaking? (Jun. 4, 2014).

I disliked Cruz before the debate and I like him even less now. I’m not sure how, but he has surely mastered the art of being a pompous know-it-all who knows nothing. More importantly, it just seems like the vision that he is laying out, his vision for the America, is so narrow that it will be truly appealing to very few. Perhaps luckily for Cruz, with so many of the candidates tacking so hard to the right, his own brand of right wing crazy sort of fades into the background. I was actually a bit surprised at how forcefully Cruz talked about how much he seems to distrust … well, everyone, but especially the leadership of the Republican party in Congress. How to win friends…? And for the record, I saw several people online comment on how grating and annoying his voice is. So I guess it isn’t just me who feels that way.

Carly-Fiorina_thumbCarly Fiorina

Like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina comes from the world of business, not politics. That may be her biggest strength, but it is also her glaring weakness. For one thing, what, if anything, does she know about foreign policy or any of the host of other issues that will be important both in the upcoming debates and for the next President? Will she be able to articulate policies and be able to demonstrate a reasonable knowledge of the issues? More problematic for Fiorina is that as she touts her business experience (running Hewlett Packard), but when she does so, she must also explain laying off more than 30,000 American employees, engineering an unsuccessful merger with Compaq, and leading HP to lose more than half of its value. She was forced to resign by HP’s board of directors. Read those two sentences again. And now she wants to put that business experience to work for America! No thanks.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Fiorina won the undercard debate. And based on the transcript that I read, I’d certainly agree that she did well. But then look who she was up against. The problem is that “doing well” meant saying “I know business!” and “Hillary Clinton is a liar!” Now, those points may sound good on a debate stage but they tell us nothing about what she would do if elected. And I think that the moderators did viewers a grave disservice by not pushing her to explain the ugly side of her record with Hewlett Packard. It is odd how the moderators pushed some candidates very hard on certain issues (e.g., Trump), but didn’t press weaknesses of others. Fiorina may be able to move into the top 10 on the basis of her performance (and the poor performance by a few in the top 10), but I still don’t see a way for her to get to the nomination. I wonder if she is really running to be the nominee for Vice President.

Jim-Gilmore_thumbJim Gilmore

Who? Exactly. Gilmore is the former governor of … oh, who cares. He doesn’t stand a chance. (But it was Virginia from 1998-2002.) I’ve listed him here because he has the credentials (i.e., former governor) but a complete lack of name recognition or recent notable accomplishments most likely renders his candidacy dead in the water. Perhaps in a year with fewer candidates he might be able to gain traction by showing that he is a substantive candidate, but when there are thousands dozens so many candidates, I just don’t see how he can carve out any space to gain traction.

Gov. Gilmore was at the debate. He said some words. They formed sentences. He told the audience he was a conservative. Nobody cared.

Lindsey-Graham_thumbLindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham is an interesting candidate. He is clearly one of the more knowledgeable candidates with very strong credentials and an exceptional policy background. But Graham is hard to pin down on the ideological scale; for every moderate position he takes, he seems to have another position fairly far to the right. For every reasonable statement attributable to him, there seems to be another that is more off-the-wall. So it will be interesting to listen to him in the debates. If he makes it into the debates.

While Graham may be a foreign policy expert, he is clearly a hawk. With regard to certain foreign policy matters, that hawkishness may play well (how to deal with ISIS, for example). But in a country that has been at war, in one form or another, since 2001, an overly hawkish worldview might alienate a lot of voters, especially in states with large military populations that, by this point, are exhausted and probably not interested in more boots on the ground fighting yet more conflicts.

The biggest problem that Graham may face if he gets beyond the initial days of the campaign is the whisper and rumor campaign that will likely follow him: Is he gay? Graham is a confirmed bachelor. He has joked that, if elected President, he would have a “rotating first lady”. While Graham has denied being gay, the rumors and allegations have followed him in his political career. Now, any reader of this blog likely knows that whether he is gay or not has no bearing on my view of Graham’s character or fitness for office (and I can understand why a South Carolina politician might want to remain closeted [and I’m not suggesting that he is] given the views in that state). But in 2000, the whisper campaign against John McCain (allegedly spearheaded by George W. Bush’s campaign and Karl Rove in particular) about McCain’s adopted Vietnamese daughter (suggesting that she was actually McCain’s illegitimate black daughter) effectively ended his candidacy. I hate to say it, but I suspect a similar sort of whisper campaign regarding Graham’s sexuality, especially in the conservative states that are prevalent in the early primary season, could be devastating to his campaign. Wrong and unfair, but this is politics.

Just from reading the transcript, Graham came across as almost … whining? pleading? … but not stating a particularly forceful case for much of anything. And the small bit of the debate that I heard included one bit from Graham that made me wonder if he was either taking some kind of drug or if he was crying. The man sounded absolutely defeated and devastated. Did anyone else get that from listening to him? I actually feel a bit bad for Graham because I do think he has a lot to offer and knows a lot (not that I agree with him on much), but he just can’t seem to find a way to get his message to voters. And his debate performance probably means that he never will.

Mike-Huckabee_thumbMike Huckabee

Where to start? I mean, really, where to start? Perhaps this quote from Mike Huckabee while campaigning for President back in 2008 (emphasis in original):

I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

Let’s just take that as a starting point. If you search around online or even spend a little time listening to Huckabee you’ll quickly discover both that the foregoing quotation was neither taken out of context nor particularly unusual. Moreover, a review of the sorts of statements that Huckabee is prone to make should lead one to realize, quickly, that Huckabee doesn’t really want to be President of the United States of America; rather he wants to be the Head Pastor of a theocracy (one which is based upon his understanding of “truth”, of course).

I could write pages and pages analyzing quotations from Huckabee (such as comparing the US debt “crisis” to the Holocaust, offensive comments about transgendered individuals, claiming that women who wanted access to birth control “can’t control their libidos”, his release of a sexual predator from prison because the prisoner had supposedly had a religious awakening [and who subsequently committed murder], his defense of the Duggar clan in the wake of the child molestation covered up by the family, or his implicit comparison of President Obama to Hitler regarding the proposed nuclear deal with Iran), but I don’t think it’s worth my effort.

Perhaps more than any other candidate, I get the sense that Huckabee wants to be President for only a segment of the population; if you don’t share his narrow and religious-based worldview, he doesn’t want to be your President; rather, he wants to use the office of the Presidency to convert change your views — and rights — to match the theocracy he wants to lead.

Huckabee’s shtick — and his “folksiness” — may play well in rural Iowa and across the South, but I don’t see him able to gain much traction in urban areas or states with more diverse populations (whether religious or racial). And if he does gain any traction, I think that he will be hit hard, whether by the media or by another candidate, on some of his prior statements or his seeming theocratic leanings. I suspect that for every voter who finds his message appealing, several more will be turned off.

And while I get that he is very pro-Israel (and opposed to Obama on virtually everything), I’m not sure that comparing the proposed nuclear deal with Iran to ushering the Jews to gas chambers is really a way to garner support, even among the most conservative elements of the Jewish community.

I’m actually surprised how infrequently I’ve written about Huckabee given some of the unbelievable things that he’s said over the years. This is the only previous post that I’ve published that focused on Huckabee: Mike Huckabee Is Full of … Doggie Pooh! And He’s Playing Dangerous Politics (Mar. 7, 2011).

Oh. My. G-d.  (Pun intended…) See up above when I said that Huckabee wanted to be Head Pastor of a Theocracy? Yep. That. I think that those who like Huckabee will think that his debate performance was excellent, but then they are the choir to whom he is preaching. I think Huckabee’s incredibly shrill tone and the vehemence and language with which he attacked the issues will be a big turn off. At least I hope it will.

I recognize that abortion remains a complicated and contentious issue, but the anger that he brings to the discussion and seeming refusal to recognize other views or middle grounds, may alienate many voters who, while uncomfortable with abortion, nevertheless don’t want outright bans.

I also want to take a brief moment to discuss one of Huckabee’s ideas, namely that he would apply the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to a fetus. In other words, he is either claiming that the government is enforcing the death penalty against fetuses or that a fetus is entitled to life, liberty, and due process (I presume the latter). And to reach his conclusion, he is presuming that a fetus is a person. Unfortunately, for Gov. Huckabee, not all religions agree with that viewpoint. This is a prime example of what I mean when I talk about a Huckabee theocracy. Please see my previous posts “Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws” (scroll down about halfway to the section entitled “Beginning of human physical life”) and “A Closer Look at Personhood Legislation”. Furthermore, a competent group of moderators (i.e., a group that really wanted to get answers and who weren’t employed by the same company that used to employ Huckabee) might have asked a forceful follow up question to his proposal, such as asking if a woman who smokes, drinks, eats an unhealthy diet, or lives in poverty, is violating the personhood rights of the fetus. Or, perhaps, they could have asked him if that fetus is entitled to government funded prenatal healthcare.

Huckabee will stick around for a while. He has a core group that loves him. But I think that his brand of vitriol and rhetoric will wear on people who want reasoned debate and actual solutions to problems, especially those who don’t plan to rely on a deity to offer those solutions or solve those problems.

Bobby-Jindal_thumbBobby Jindal

There is part of me that almost thinks that Bobby Jindal is some kind of a joke, as if Democrats invented and propped up the perfect opponent for a Democratic candidate to destroy. So let’s look at Bobby Jindal a bit more carefully. First, it’s probably worth noting that his name isn’t Bobby; it’s Piyush. Now I wonder why he goes by the name “Bobby”? Hmm. Interesting comparison: Barack Hussein Obama ran for office under his given name, rather than using the nickname “Barry”. His foes, especially the conspiracy-minded among them, tend to call him Barry or Barry Soetero or to remind us that his middle name is Hussein. But Jindal apparently gets a pass for using his American nickname rather than his given name. Debate and discuss. I’ll wait.

I also think that voters will get tired of being talked to as if Jindal was Mr. Rogers and the voters are a bunch of children in his neighborhood. But maybe that’s just me.

[I really wanted to spend a bit more time talking about some of Jindal’s policy views, but given that he didn’t make the cut for the first debate, and given that I want to publish this before that debate, additional thoughts on Jindal will have to wait.]

I’ve only really written about Jindal once (as a segment of a long post entitled More Stupid & Hate from the Right [Sep. 24, 2013]; scroll down about half way).

I didn’t hear any of Jindal’s responses; I only read them in the transcript. And, frankly, they made absolutely no impact. Much like Jindal’s candidacy so far.

John-Kasich_thumbJohn Kasich

Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, is one of the more interesting candidates in this group. From what I can glean of him, he is actually quite credible on the issues, much more of a “substantive guy” than some of the other candidates. And, on occasion, he has adopted positions that weren’t necessarily in line with the standard party platform. However, he doesn’t seem to have the oversize personality that so many of the other candidates possess and so it may be very difficult for him to get out of their shade and find any space in which to engage with voters on a substantive discussion of real issues. Furthermore, he is one of the last candidates to enter the race, so he hasn’t had the chance to build up his name recognition. On the other hand, given the way that some of the candidates have made themselves look like idiots or assholes, that might be a good thing.

Kasich, if he can find a way to separate himself from some of the other candidates, especially if he can find a way to turn the discussion substantive, may be a strong choice for voters interested in policy and substance over flash and rhetoric; unfortunately, flash and rhetoric are a lot easier to compress into a 30 second advertisement or a debate with ten people on the stage.

On my scorecard, Kasich was one of the two winners of the debate. He proved to be moderate in tone, knowledgeable on the issues (if a bit repetitive), and came across as … well, as a good guy, somebody you could disagree with and not get into a shouting match. And I thought that his answer to the same-sex marriage approach was very deftly handled, though I wonder whether he further alienated voters on the far right of the political spectrum. I disagree with Kasich on many issues, but I hope that he continues to get the opportunity to present his ideas on those issues to voters because I do think that he has substantive ideas to address complicated issues and could be a viable candidate … but only if people take the time to listen to him.

George-Pataki_thumb1George Pataki

George Pataki was Governor of New York from 1995-2006. He was Governor during 9/11. While he may have more name recognition and accomplishments that Jim Gilmore, Pataki must be considered a real long shot. I just don’t know what he’s got going for him that is going to make anyone jump to get on the Pataki bandwagon. He may be able to fundraise on Wall Street, but I don’t see him gaining traction outside the Northeast (and I’m not sure he has much support there, either). I’m sure he is a competent and substantive guy, but there doesn’t appear to be room for him in this crowded field.

Did you know that Pataki was Governor on 9/11? Well, if you listened to the debate, you know that now, though I’m not sure that you know much else about Pataki or his ideas. And did anyone else find the question posed to him about being pro-choice at all odd: “Has [the Planned Parenthood] story changed your heart when it comes to abortion?” Were other candidates asked if police killing unarmed African American kids changed their hearts about policing or if toddlers being killed by guns changed their hearts about the gun control? Of course not.

Rand-Paul_thumbRand Paul

Paul is an interesting case. He is much more aligned with the Libertarian movement than with the Republican party and those libertarian leanings have endeared him to some on the left of the political spectrum, especially on issues like surveillance. But some of that libertarian spirit will alienate many core Republican voters.

Paul also has some massive problems that he’ll need to overcome if his candidacy continues for any substantial period of time. Most obvious of these is his father, long-time Congressman Ron Paul. Whether it be the elder Paul’s hostility toward Israel, long-standing dog-whistle racism, or penchant for conspiracy theories, the younger Paul may find himself forced to distance himself from or even argue against his father’s positions (they are already adverse on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran). Paul is also still trying to find a way to walk back his claims to Rachel Maddow that the Civil Rights Act was bad law. That position may help him secure the Confederate flag flying demographic but it won’t play well with minority communities. And trust me, if he gets deep into the debates and primaries, that video will will become fodder for many commercials and interview questions. Similarly, support for Israel is strong among the Republican base and his previous statement (which he has also tried to walk back) that he would eliminate aid to Israel may immediately disqualify him for some voters. And while many Republicans may still oppose Obamacare, Paul’s claim that a right to healthcare is comparable to … wait for it … slavery! … may be a proverbial bridge too far.

Paul also has some … weird … problems to deal with. For example, there was the whole “Aqua Buddha” thing that forced Paul to have to say: “No, I never was involved with kidnapping. No, I never was involved with forcibly drugging people.” Not exactly something you want your presidential candidate to have to address. More importantly, Paul claims (or at least used to claim) that he is/was a board-certified ophthalmologist. But guess what? The “board” that certified him … was a board that he founded in opposition to the main ophthalmologic licensing board. Doctor heal license thyself? And when questioned about the bizarre conspiracy theory that the military exercise known as Jade Helm was actually a plan by the Obama administration to … um … take away guns or enslave Texas with tunnels under Walmart, Paul, rather than acting responsibly and saying, “that’s just a stupid conspiracy theory and you’re an idiot of giving it any credence” instead said that he was going to “look into” the issue.

Look, let me be serious for a minute. Paul terrifies me. Perhaps more than any candidate other than Mike Huckabee, Paul would seek fundamental changes to our country and, perhaps, the world. And I do worry that were he to get the Republican nomination, he would be able to do very well, especially as he would mobilize Libertarians who might otherwise sit out the election and con(vince) some on the left to vote for him. That can’t be allowed to happen.

Look, I know that I’m a vocal opponent of Paul, so maybe it was just me, but boy did he look … um … slightly deranged? He had a sort of weird smirk and look in his eye that made me wonder if he might pull out a hatchet and start swinging it around the stage. Paul continued his attempt to try to capture two distinct groups of voters; the problem is that I’m not sure that the two (libertarians and religious conservatives) are necessarily complementary or compatible. And in his skirmish with Christie, I think that Paul came out the loser, not by a knockout, but at least with a black eye and a fat lip. It also seems that the moderators went much easier on Paul than they did some of the other candidates, only seeming to really push him on his previous claims that he would end aid to Israel. But I think in terms of both his demeanor and his responses, Paul showed that his candidacy he really doesn’t have much to offer.

Rick-Perry_thumbRick Perry

Oops. That is the most important hurdle that Perry must overcome. His 2011 debate debacle memorialized with his infamous “Oops”. The upside to Perry’s candidacy is that he has tremendous charisma and tends to be (when not on painkillers) an engaging speaker with a good story to tell (as long as you don’t force him to get into details). But, as they say, the devil is in the details. Yes, Texas created a lot of jobs. A lot of low-paying jobs. Yes, the finances of Texas are good, so long as you don’t mind having the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country and as long as oil profit margins remain high. And so on and so forth.

Perry also has some close relationships with some of the more extreme elements of the Evangelical Christian community. I previously wrote about those relationships: Rick Perry’s Relationship With the Most Extreme Elements of Evangelical Christianity (Aug. 9, 2011). I also think that Perry would be bad for the Jews: Not Really Fair, But… (Aug. 15, 2011). I also wrote about Perry’s “pro-life” views which oppose abortion but which don’t mind executing convicted felons even if that convicted felon just might be innocent: Yeah, Rah, Death Penalty! (September 8, 2011).

I’ll also repeat some of what I wrote about Perry back in my 2011 candidate review:

Perry does, however, have some serious baggage of his own. First, and this is just my own two cents, will voters be uncomfortable with yet another Texas cowboy in the White House? I think that even a lot of Republican voters don’t look back on the Bush presidency with great fondness. Thus, one has to wonder whether Perry’s ties to Bush (if I’m not mistaken, he was Bush’s Lieutenant Governor) and other eerie similarities (he even seems to like to talk like Bush, droppin’ his Gs and bein’ all folksy) will be too much. And the macho cowboy image he likes to portray (he jogs with a gun and kills wild animals while jogging?) maybe a bit much for a lot of Americans.

There are also persistent rumors that Perry is … drum roll please … gay. Enough so, that his “even though I’m not running” team is apparently working to counter those rumors. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire? And even if there isn’t a fire, how will Republican voters react? Recall the drubbing that McCain took in South Carolina in 2000 when Bush supporters painted McCain as the father of a “black” child (his adopted Asian daughter). If Perry has to spend face time telling people that he’s not gay, it will just be less time that he has to talk to them about why they should support him.

Finally, there is the giant elephant in the room that I suspect every other Republican candidate will remind voters of time and time again and that is Perry’s flirtation with the early Tea Party movement and suggestions that Texas should secede if it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington. It will be hard to argue that he should be elected President of a country that he suggested, however obliquely, that Texas secede from. After all, it’s hard to play the role of the patriot when your opponents have red meat that they can display to suggest that you are anything but patriotic. My question is why the national media, in story after story on Perry and whether he may run, never remembers to mention that particular episode.

OK. So Perry didn’t really suggest secession. But he did seem to flirt with the idea. And even though he didn’t really suggest secession, I think that is an issue that he will continue to be challenged on in the primaries and in the general election. Since writing my original analysis on Perry, he’s hosted his prayer rally (see my post Rick Perry’s Relationship With the Most Extreme Elements of Evangelical Christianity), has called Ben Bernanke (head of the Federal Reserve) “treasonous”, made clear that he doesn’t believe in evolution, and suggested that climate scientists are engaging in fraud to line their own pockets. And yet Perry is also currently polling as the top candidate. So either Republicans still don’t really know Perry and are just desperate for someone other than Romney (or Bachmann or any of the other candidates) or they actually like a candidate with views as extreme as Perry.

Oh, and about those views. I had no idea that Perry wrote a book, just 10 months ago (!), in which he claims that virtually every federal program and many federal laws (including, but not limited to, Social Security, Medicare, child labor laws, environmental protection…) are unconstitutional. How will his claim that Social Security is an unconstitutional Ponzi scheme play in Florida?

It will be interesting to hear Perry explain some of these views in the debates (presuming that the moderators chosen by the Republican Party and/or Fox see fit to, you know, ask real questions).

I was really interested to read Perry’s responses in the debate transcript. However, absolutely nothing about any of his answers stood out in any way. I think Perry’s candidacy fizzled in 2012 and it never really got resurrected.

Marco-Rubio_thumbMarco Rubio

I’m really not sure what to make of Rubio. When he first appeared on the scene, he seemed both polished and substantive and somewhat willing to stake out his own ground and positions. But then when criticized (especially on immigration), he appeared to cave and revert to standard GOP positions mostly indistinguishable from any of the other candidates. He backstory (Cuban-American) is compelling … except for the fact that he apparently felt the need to lie about his parents’ history and then had to walk back and try to explain those lies. And then there was that infamous dry mouth and bottle of water in his response to the State of the Union speech a few years ago. Not terribly Presidential (but it will make for many a fun campaign ad…).

I really thought, at least for a while, that Rubio was going to be a strong candidate that would be able to stake out a position on the ideological spectrum. But as time has gone on, he seems to be fading into the woodwork with nothing unique to recommend him.

Along with Kasich, Rubio was the other clear winner in last night’s debate. He was extremely well-spoken, seemed knowledgeable about the issues, and had a demeanor that just makes you want to like the guy. Oh, and he didn’t make any awkward lunges for a bottle of water. Again, while I disagree with him on many issues, he does seem to bring a sense of substance to the proceedings and a willingness to advance his candidacy on the basis of discussing the issues that are important to him rather than just tossing off red meat to his (hopeful) base. I think that his best moment in the debate may also be the one that comes back to haunt him (and the others):

I would add to that that this election cannot be a resume competition. It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton’s gonna be the next president, because she’s been in office and in government longer than anybody else running here tonight.

Here’s what this election better be about: This election better be about the future, not the past. It better be about the issues our nation and the world is facing today, not simply the issues we once faced.

This country is facing an economy that has been radically transformed. You know, the largest retailer in the country and the world today, Amazon, doesn’t even own a single store? And these changes have been disruptive. They have changed people’s lives. The jobs that once sustained our middle class, they either don’t pay enough or they are gone, and we need someone that understands that as our nominee.

I suspect that Rubio’s unintended praise for Hillary Clinton will become a staple of political advertisements. In any event, I think that Rubio, who has been sort of lackluster in recent months, did a lot to revive his fortunes.

Rick-Santorum_thumbRick Santorum

Let me start by reposting most of what I wrote about Rick Santorum’s candidacy back in 2011 (with slight updates for 2015):

Santorum scares me, though thankfully, I don’t think that he has a chance of getting the nomination. He is a man that his so tone deaf to the world around him that I would be truly frightened of what an America under the leadership of Santorum might look like. He’s also one of those holier-than-thou sort of people. I just read an article last week about how the extremely anti-abortion candidate, a candidate who doesn’t believe in any exceptions, permitted doctors to induce an abortion in his wife to save her life. In other words, abortion is evil and nobody should ever have the right to an abortion … except for Santorum’s family. The saving grace, so to speak, is that I think Santorum’s social values stances are so far to the right, that he will be very unappealing to all but the furthest right portion of the Republican party. While the primaries tend to drive candidates toward the extremes, I think that candidates like [Cruz] and [Walker] (or maybe Rick Perry) can position themselves to the far right without going as far right as Santorum.

I forgot to mention one other weakness that Santorum has. In response to repeated highly offensive homophobic statements, several gay rights activists decided to go on the offensive against Santorum. They decided to coin a word invoking his last name. Go ahead: Google the name Santorum (though please don’t do so if your kids are reading this). Should more and more Americans decide to try learn a bit more about Santorum (the candidate, not the frothy mix), they will probably be learning things that they didn’t want to know. And once you have that name association in your head, good luck getting rid of it. Can you imagine if Santorum was the actual candidate? Would schools and libraries put a filter on searches of his name?

Well, as time has passed, Google searches on the word “santorum” are now more likely to return at least some hits related to the candidate, but that frothy mix still rates pretty highly in search results.

More importantly, in the four years since I wrote that prior piece, Santorum hasn’t changed much (though I will credit him for his unexpected response to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition).

Over the years, I’ve written several other posts about Rick Santorum:

Even the moderators seemed to recognize that Santorum’s campaign was stuck in the social wars of the past. And the notion that he is stupid enough to compare the same-sex marriage decision to Dred Scott shows that he is wholly unqualified to be President (or dog catcher or anything other than a homophobic preacher).

Donald-Trump_thumbDonald Trump

Do I talk about Trump’s racism and nativism? Do I talk about his being a “birther”? Do I talk about his serial bankruptcies? Do I talk about his favoring a single-payer health insurance system? Do I talk about his need for self-aggrandizement? I could. But we’d be here all day (not that I’m unwilling to take however long is necessary to help remove this dumb, evil fuck from our national conscience).

I suspect that over the coming months, I’ll have much more to write about Trump. So in the meantime (and in the interest of finishing this post so it can be published before the debate), let me just say that I think that Trump is just about the worst possible person to be a candidate for President. I think that he is a racist blowhard who isn’t half as a smart (or rich) as he thinks or claims he is. I think, if elected, he would do real damage to the United States, both domestically and internationally. And I think that he is a fundamentally unserious candidate who has no real interest in being President of the United States; rather he wants one more trophy in his gold-plated case.

My quick analysis: I think Trump will continue to do well … until he is forced to begin detailed substantive discussions on difficult issues. Just claiming that he’ll make Mexico pay to build a wall or that he beats the Chinese all the time are not answers or policies. They’re politicized bullshit. (If and) When he has to stop saying “I can do ___ better, because I built a tall building!” and has to start discussing the wonky policy details of how he would handle real problems, I think the shine will fade. And as soon as it stops being fun for Trump (or as soon as it stops being all about Trump), then I suspect he’ll get bored (or get bored of spending too much of his own money) and move on to his next self-aggrandizing project.

Oh, Donald. Being on top was fun for a while, wasn’t it? I think that he really hurt himself by refusing to agree not to run as an independent and to support the eventual nominee. His response was that of a spoiled child who will take his ball and go home if he doesn’t get his way. And then he decided that the best way to respond to allegations of his misogyny was first to make a joke of it, then to suggest he hadn’t said the things he’s said, then to attack the moderator, and then to attack the political correctness of society, as if any of that explains why he would be rude to someone. Not calling someone a “fat pig” has nothing to do with being politically correct; it has everything to do with being human and even if we want a President who is tough on the bad guys, I think that we would also agree that our President should at least be able to demonstrate that he (or she) is a decent human being. And Trump totally fails by that measure.

Similarly, while I understood his answer about using the system as an answer for his serial bankruptcies, I just don’t see that answer as being one that hard working Americans will feel good about. After all, it won’t take much to explain to them that the protections afforded to a corporate mogul like Trump in a bankruptcy are vastly different that the treatment that a homeowner can expect when medical bills or a lost job lead to bankruptcy. People use bankruptcy to survive; Trump uses it to profit.

The debate was a chance to look Presidential. I don’t think he did that. I think he came off as a petulant bully who didn’t really know much about the issues and, when pushed, simply got defensive and nasty. I’m sure that there is a constituency for that, but I don’t think that it is a constituency that will bring enough votes. My hope is that Trump will soon get bored with this particular reality show and move on to something else.

Scott-Walker_thumb2Scott Walker

Gov. Walker (from Wisconsin) is one of the three “serious” candidates (with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz) that I would go so far as to put into a separate category that I’ll label “Bad Guys”. Most politicians are, I think, generally decent people (well, as decent as you can be when you have to spend so much time making promises and trying to convince people to give you money) who simply have different views of what they think our country and society should look like. I can disagree with you but that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad guy. Scott Walker is one of the candidates that I think really has neither concern nor care for anyone other than his group of supporters (or the moneyed interests that support him). I really think that he would be pleased to destroy much of the social safety net and workforce protections if it meant more money to line the pockets of those he favors.

Walker may do well in the primaries. He is a tested candidate who does seem to understand the issues. However, as time goes on, I think that his brand of conservatism will remain popular to only a small segment of the electorate. It seems that Walker’s best path to the nomination is to simply remain viable and in the upper tier of 5 or so candidates, hoping that the others flame out. And that strategy just might work.

Walker didn’t come off as the fire-brand asshole that I had him pegged for. I guess that’s a good thing, right? But I don’t really feel like he made much of an impact one way or the other. He didn’t distinguish himself but he didn’t shoot himself in the foot either. Of course, that is precisely what I thought his strategy need to be: Remain viable while others flame out. To that end, he had a successful, if quiet, debate.

* * *

I also want to take another brief moment to criticize the moderators for that absolutely idiotic, completely inappropriate final question. I mean, really. With all of the issues facing our country and our society, do we really need to hear whether the candidates are engaged in an internal dialogue with their particular deity? I’m voting for a candidate that offers good ideas to solve difficult problems, not one who hears voices in his or her head, especially if those voices tell them to follow the words of a book written by men thousands of years ago.

Personally, I would have loved to hear a follow up question asking why the candidates think that G-d has chosen them and not their opponents. Maybe a question asking the candidates to square their support for the Ten Commandments with the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion or hear them explain why only about half of the Ten Commandments are laws. I would have liked to hear them explain whether they believe in the Biblical commandment to put gay men to death or the prohibitions on shrimp and pork. I would have liked to hear them explain why abortion and same-sex marriage are so important to them given that Jesus was silent on those issues, but they seem to say nothing about feeding the poor or housing the stranger. Then we could have seen some real squirming.

Look, I’ll accept that faith is important to many of these candidates and to the voters who will choose one. That’s fine. But faith should largely be a private matter, not a determining factor of whether a candidate is worthy of a vote. I’m curious: Did anyone ever ask George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or even Ronald Reagan about their discussions with G-d? So why, in 2015, has that become important?

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