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Twisted And Hateful

I often quote Ed Brayton, who follows crackpots and lunatics on the far fringes of the Religious Right and reports on their activities in his blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars.  (I honestly don’t know how he manages to keep both his sanity and his sense of humor after daily encounters with these deeply disturbed individuals, but  he has–I’ve met him and he’s very smart, very astute–and very funny.)

Just a few days ago, Ed revisited Randall Terry.

Anyone familiar with the effort to deny women our reproductive rights has encountered news of Terry at some point. He founded Operation Rescue, the group that blocked clinic entrances around the country and engaged in other semi-terrorist “pro life” activities. (Give him props for honesty, though–he admits what so many of his fellow “pro life” warriors pretend is untrue– he’s as opposed to birth control as he is to abortion. Keep those women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen like God intended!)

Not surprisingly, he’s also homophobic, and he’s recently fixated on Mayor Pete. As Ed writes,

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is polling well in Iowa and raising lots of money in the Democratic primary for president and now he’s going to be hounded by anti-choice crackpot Randall Terry. He’s headed to Iowa to confront Butegieg for being a babykiller who is locked in the sexual bondage of homosexuality. Or something.

Ed shared Randall Terry’s press release:

We are going to Iowa to confront the “new political sensation;” Pete Buttigieg.

We’ve sent a press release to every daily newspaper in the state of Iowa…telling them we are coming to welcome “Mayor Pete” AT ALL FIVE of his campaign stops next week!

As I read and read about this 37 year old, poor lost soul, I am filled with grief and rage.

I grieve for Pete Buttigieg – for his endangered soul, his sexual bondage – and I am enraged by what he is really doing.

He is a baby-killing politician, who is recruiting young people into homosexual bondage by his example, and trying to normalize what is an intrinsically evil behavior.

This rant reminds me of the greeting cards I got one Easter when I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU; there were a couple dozen of them, all with a praying Virgin Mary on the front. The inside of the cards was blank, and on each one, someone had written  “We are praying for your sinful soul.”

Unfortunately, I still have my old, sinful soul. And from all accounts, Mayor Pete is still gay and still running for President.

People like Terry would be funny if they weren’t dangerous. Most simply pose a threat to religious liberty and the Constitution, which is troubling enough, but others are violent. All of them are locked in to an alternate reality.

And speaking of alternate realities, Ed also had a post about crazy lady Michelle Bachmann.

Michele Bachmann, the “pastor to the United Nations,” told crackpot Jan Markell that she had never seen a more Biblical president than Donald Trump and that she prays that God will help destroy the “deep state” so that Trump can “expose the hidden deeds of darkness” done by that amorphous, universal bunch of baddies.

If only the “deep state” of rightwing fever dreams really did exist and could do something about Trump…

How detached from reality do you have to be to consider Donald Trump “Biblical”?

 

Mayor Pete And The Long Shot

My husband keeps telling me he’s not falling in love with any of the Democratic candidates for President until the field is narrowed. I know he’s right–and I also know that no matter who emerges at the top of the Democratic ticket, I’m going to work my you-know-what off to get that candidate elected.

I’d vote for my cat if it was running against Donald Trump–and I don’t have a cat.

That said, I’ve been blown away by Indiana’s own Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I was first impressed by him several years ago, when I attended a South Bend hearing on the addition of sexual orientation to the city’s human rights ordinance, and heard his eloquent, off-the-cuff testimony. I’ve been even more impressed by his recent performances on CNN and in various interviews.

And I just finished his book: Shortest Way Home. 

Most books by politically ambitious politicians are predictable “PR” efforts. Here’s why you should vote for me; here’s why I’m a good guy/gal. Here are my somewhat-fudged-in-order-not-to-piss-people-off policy positions. See my somewhat forced smile on the book’s cover?

Mayor Pete’s book isn’t like that. (For one thing, it’s readable and enjoyable–I finished it in less than two days.)

Not only is the book extremely well-written (wouldn’t it be nice to have a President who actually is familiar with the English language? the other seven languages Mayor Pete speaks are just icing on that cake), but it avoids both the typical “look at me” approach of such books, as well as the equally common phony modesty. It is basically the story of a learning curve, as he recounts lessons learned through his academic life, business and military experience, and personal tests.

Because I once was part of a city administration, I particularly liked the discussions of the challenges and rewards of his years as South Bend’s mayor, and the growth in his understanding of both the technical, data-driven aspects of the job and the  symbolic value of appearances that he had initially viewed as time-wasters. In large part, the book is the story of his success revitalizing a city that had been left behind by previous economic trends, with plenty of examples that other struggling urban areas might adopt. (Smart sewers, anyone?)

In fact, the book is a chronological story through which Mayor Pete shares life lessons–including forthright acknowledgments of what he learned from mistakes made and losses experienced.

If the book was written with his current Presidential campaign in mind, it doesn’t show.

I know that Mayor Pete is the longest of long shots for the nomination. But I’m so hungry for authenticity, for intellect, for someone who is smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, and human enough to demonstrate compassion and self-awareness. It helps that I agree with every forthright (non-fudged) policy position I’ve heard him take. It helps that he understands the issues of urban governance and the conservative Midwest. It helps that he so clearly understands the complexities of policy. It helps that his book reflects a thoughtfulness, emotional maturity and value structure that is so obviously missing, not just from Trump, but from most members of the current political class.

I know my husband is right–that it is too early to fall in love with a candidate. But I’ve certainly fallen in passionate like with this one….

This Isn’t Democracy…

Tim Wu recently had an interesting–albeit depressing–op ed in the New York Times.

Wu disagreed with the constant emphasis on American polarization and division, pointing out that there is really remarkable consensus among voters on a number of policy issues.

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxesfor the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rulesfor broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.

There is considerable research confirming this point. The opinions and desires of even large majorities of ordinary American citizens are far less likely to be the basis of policy than the desires and opinions of the wealthy and well-connected.

As Wu notes, this state of affairs is generally defended by arguing that “rank and file” of Americans aren’t experts on economic issues, and that economic policies should be developed by those who are.

It is true that policymaking requires expertise. But I don’t think members of the public are demonstrating ignorance when they claim that drug prices are too high, taxes could be fairer, privacy laws are too weak and monopolies are too coddled.

It is also true that majorities sometimes want things — “like bans on books, or crackdowns on minorities — that they should not be given.” But the issues under discussion do not implicate the restrictions imposed by the Bill of Rights. And many of these same policy preferences were legislated during the Progressive period.

In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification.

It is “the combined influence of industry groups and donors” that is the problem; those interests wield far more clout with lawmakers than We the People. They have effectively bought the federal government ‘s lawmaking apparatus–and the governments of the states have not been exempt.  (Thanks to gerrymandering and vote suppression, they have largely been able to ensure the electoral success of the candidates they’ve purchased.)

There is some hope that candidates who raise most of their funds from small-dollar donors will eventually “crowd out” the big-money interests, but it is unlikely that things will change much unless and until the Supreme Court overturns its previous decisions equating money with speech–or in the alternative, there is a constitutional amendment to that effect.

Meanwhile, we can argue about the proper terminology to apply to our governing system–plutocracy, oligarchy, kakistocracy–but we need to recognize that it is neither a republic or a democracy.

Liberty Or Favoritism?

As we wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide another religious liberty case–this time, concerning the constitutional propriety of a 40-foot cross in Maryland–it might be helpful to revisit the origins of the competing definitions of “liberty” that are at the heart of so many of these cases.

We are told that the colonists who originally settled in what is now the United States came to the new world for religious liberty. And that’s right; they did. But their view of religious liberty was that it was “freedom to do the right thing.” And that involved establishing colonies where the government would make sure that everyone did “the right thing.”

Around 150 years later, George Washington became the first President of a country founded upon a very different understanding of liberty. Liberty was conceived of as freedom to do your own thing, so long as you did not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as you were willing to accord an equal right to others.

What had changed the definition of liberty? The scientific and intellectual movement we call the Enlightenment, which had occurred in the interim between the original Puritans and the Revolutionary War.

The U.S. Constitution may have been based upon the definition that emerged from the Enlightenment, but America still is home to lots of Puritans. And their “sincere belief” is that liberty means the government should be able to impose–or at least, privilege– their religion.

An editorial in The New York Times explains the case currently pending before the Court:

This week’s hearing, in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, involved a 40-foot cross in Bladensburg, Md., that was erected 93 years ago to honor fallen World War I soldiers. The question before the court: Is Maryland in violation of the First Amendment because the memorial is on public property and maintained with public funds?

There would be no constitutional violation if the cross were on private property. The issue is government endorsement of religion, which is prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The editorial notes that there is considerable confusion about the application of the Establishment Clause to public monuments.

Lower court judges are confused about how to apply the Supreme Court’s dictates in this area of the law, so more clarity from the high court — if not a definitive, bright-line rule — is in order.

Alas, such clarity doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. After Wednesday’s hearing, the court seems poised to allow the cross — which otherwise bears no religious inscriptions — to stay. But the justices don’t appear to be any closer to consensus on this issue than they’ve ever been.

“I mean, it is the foremost symbol of Christianity, isn’t it?” Justice Elena Kagan asked at Wednesday’s session. “It invokes the central theological claim of Christianity, that Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross for humanity’s sins and that he rose from the dead. This is why Christians use crosses as a way to memorialize the dead.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, who in the past has wrestledwith the Constitution’s religion clauses, pondered whether “history counts” when assessing a monument’s legality. Maybe older displays, erected when the nation wasn’t nearly as religiously diverse, should be allowed, he suggested. “We’re a different country,” Justice Breyer said. “We are a different country now, and there are 50 more different religions.”

Not surprisingly, the Trump Administration–which wasn’t a party to the case and need not have offered an opinion–weighed in on the side of those who want the cross to remain.

The editorial concluded:

With its recent rulings, the Supreme Court has only muddied the separation between church and state by taking seriously religious objections to contraception, civil rights laws and the allocation of public funds. It is hard to fathom the justices being nearly as accommodating with a publicly funded monument to atheism or a Wiccan pentagram. And last month, the court couldn’t even agree that a Muslim death-row prisoner from Alabama deserved the same rights as Christians in his final moments.

However the justices resolve this the dispute, they would be wise to not sow more confusion in this area of the law and feed the perception that only certain religions and practices get a fair shake in public life.

When those “certain religions” are privileged, equality before the law takes a hit.