Saturday, March 31, 2012


I recently completed reading Christian America (edited by Dr. Daryl C. Cornett), a collection of four papers, each with comments by the other three authors. The approach of the papers is historical, and their emphases are the events and influences from the settlement of the colonies through the Constitution to the Civil War. The papers did relatively little to trace the modern political consequences of any finding whether and in what ways America is or is not a “Christian nation.”

David Barton assumes that the past, an undifferentiated Christianity, is prologue—that what was it still is—but his politics distorts his analysis. The other authors admit diversity from the start and increasing diversity since. They agree that almost all early settlers were Christians, but Christians whose views ranged across the broad spectrum of Christian professions of faith, who were occasionally quarrelsome among themselves and contentious with others, and who differed on perspectives on church-state relationships. Like them, the Founding Fathers shared no undifferentiated Christian faith. In creating a government, defined and empowered by the Constitution, they relied on Enlightenment thinking and language, without recourse to Christian doctrine of any kind.

America is overwhelmingly Christian in numbers of those who identify themselves as Christians. The rubric covers Christians belonging to a great diversity of denominations, mostly Protestant, and having varying degrees of commitment; it also covers a growing number of Christians without sectarian affiliation. (I note a growing number of those born, but not identifying themselves as, Christians.) In recent decades, the numbers of the church-affiliated have shifted from mainstream denominations—Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, northern Baptists, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ—to evangelical and fundamentalist ones, mainly southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and numerous other, small sects. The shift reflects a movement from traditional, multi-dimensional approaches to scripture and doctrine toward non-traditional, literal readings of scripture, and simpler statements of doctrine. Both shifts parallel a third: increasing political and social liberalism in mainstream denominations and increasing political and social conservatism in evangelical and fundamentalist denominations.

The two notable non-Protestant Christian faiths reflect similar developments, but in different ways. The numbers of Catholics have declined; more liberal Catholics have stayed by dispensing with its teachings or have strayed by becoming Episcopalians or Lutherans, and more conservative Catholics have remained. As a result, the Church has become more conservative in political and social areas, if not in doctrine or liturgy. The numbers of Mormons have increased because of missionary work, the appeal of a strict moral code, and conservative tendencies of textual literalism and doctrinal simplicity.

I shall speak of liberal and conservative churches to reflect the dichotomy between mainstream churches, and evangelical, fundamentalist, Catholic, and Mormon churches.

Notwithstanding numbers and diversity, some conservative Christians complain that Christianity is under attack. The critical question is, what is an attack on Christianity? I have not seen an answer to this question which does not reflect differences of opinion about political and social issues or the balance of powers between church and state.

The polemical question is, who is attacking Christianity? The first answer is non-Christians: atheists, Jews, and Muslims. But these small groups of non-Christians, even if they were attacking Christianity, would have the effect of mice attacking elephants. From time to time, they prevail with local changes responding to local complaints, and sometimes win lawsuits about, for example, crèches in public places and Christian prayers in public schools or at other school functions. If conservative Christians think that limits on the use of public spaces and occasions for Christian images or messages are attacks on Christianity, they either adhere to idolatry or are insecure in their faith.

Another answer is the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-denominational organization which promotes rights enumerated in the Constitution and often takes cases on behalf of the aforesaid religious minorities. Agree or disagree with its views about, say, crèches or prayers, it is not attacking Christianity, but advocating First Amendment rights as it sees them and as, in many cases, courts have also seen them.

A third and more likely answer is other Christians. This answer means that any attack against Christianity is really yet another in the long history of intra-faith conflicts within Christianity. Old wars between Catholics and Protestants have become new wars between liberals and conservatives. Indeed, Christian conservatives accuse Christian liberals of attacking the True Faith, presume to be defending it, and are counter-attacking. Such is the excuse offered by religious conservatives who are assaulting or subverting religious liberals. (I note that the liberal denominations are strong in the Northeast and Upper Midwest and that the conservative denominations are strong in the South, the Central Plains, and the Mountain West.)

But the conflict is not religious—that is, doctrinal at all—for the nuances of belief and practice are not contested issues. No one argues about, among many others, free will or pre-destination, trans- versus con-substantiation, the nuances of the Trinity, the relationship between faith and works, and birth versus believer baptism. Given the quantities of blood spilt in conflict over such doctrinal issues, mainly to claim victory in controversy and to increase temporal power, a departure from such internecine religious warfare must be for the best.

Of late, the issues have shifted to social and moral ones in the secular domain, with a tenuous religious connection. Even so, they threaten to embroil everyone in political turmoil and social disorder. With religious or religious-like fervor, everyone argues about school prayer, evolution, global warming, and social issues, mainly sex-related ones: the definition of life—really, of its beginning—abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and gays and lesbians in the military. At the same time, everyone agrees to avoid discussing nearly universal, and nearly universally (and hypocritically) deplored, sexual pastimes: adultery and pornography probably because denominational differences do not exist! Race has probably had its day for debate, though it prompts or energizes a lot of discussion of other topics. The Christianity of white Protestant conservatives, a demographic cliché of the South, has come to reflect one side of the “culture wars,” not a religion, but a lifestyle with a brand name. Wearing a necklace or charm bracelet crucifix is not much different from wearing Calvin Klein jeans.

On this matter of lifestyle—that is, the assortment of social issues—the underlying difference between liberal and conservative denominations is their different views of the relationship between church and state, more accurately, between religion and politics. Liberals, in accord with the Enlightenment outlook of America’s Founding Fathers, accept the pre-eminence of the state as guarantor of the religious freedom of each and all faiths, their followers, and even disbelievers. Conservatives, in accord with the main theological impulses of the early Puritan and Separatist settlers in New England, wish to subordinate civil government to religious rule, with the state the enforcer of its moral and social as well as its religious prescriptions and prohibitions.

The battle, with each side invoking the Bible, becomes one of books: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution versus the Mayflower Compact and Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Religious conservatives, who are, or are allied with, political conservatives—that is, Republicans and Tea Partiers—talk the founding documents but walk the “city on the hill.” They advocate a Christian theocracy, not a constitutional republic. They advance moral and social positions on the sectarian authority of a clergy acting in accordance with dogma, not on the secular approach of a Congress elected and legislating under democratic laws.

I once taught American literature from the colonial period through the Civil War. My students read the Puritan, the Federalist, and the Romantic writers. The development of the American spirit, from the pinched view of the earlier writers to the expansive view of the later writers I found neatly summarized in a famous phrase from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” That phrase, redolent with the ethic of Christian sentiment, takes the measure of those who seek to divide and dictate doctrinally, and those who seek to unite, deliberate, and decide democratically.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Almost all teachers think that they are good to great teachers. When I designed and directed a teacher fellow training program in The University of Michigan’s Department of English nearly 40 years ago, most TF’s had exalted opinions of their teaching, though few of them had prior experience. I never thought that I taught particularly well until my wife finally got mad at me for doubting myself and reminded me of the praise which I had received from students, colleagues, and administrators in high school, prep school, community college, and college classes in more than half a dozen states. Only then, after years of doubt, did I let myself take pride in being in the first group of ten out of 1500 TF’s to receive a UM award for distinguished teaching.

My modesty or lack thereof is not the issue. The real issue is evaluating teachers—why and how. The fact of the matter—at least, the traditional fact of the matter—is really a simple one: opinions about teachers have a lot to do with parent or student choices of teachers. Opinions about teachers—good, bad, or indifferent—vary widely, even in a single class. I have never had uniformly high scores from all students, for what to some is an asset is to others a liability. Some thought me close-minded, unfair, unfeeling, and disorganized; most thought me open-minded, fair, compassionate, and organized; all thought me expert in my subject.

Opinions by teachers also vary. When one teacher enters a class to observe and evaluate another teacher, what guides the evaluator—personal responses, prior convictions, a pre-determined checklist? What circumstances influence the evaluation? When I was a TF, a supervising professor coming unannounced to my class, as I had requested, watched and listened to the discussion of a Shakespeare play, and debriefed me afterwards. He said that he was stunned. He thought that my questions were excellent and prompted good responses, admired that I got every student involved, but admitted that, until the last two minutes, he had no idea where the discussion was going because it seemed to meander. Then my wrap-up showed him that I had known exactly where I was going and had got there, and, most important, the students had got there too. But his evaluation would have been very different if he had left two minutes before class ended.

I asked questions; challenged answers, whether I thought them right or wrong, or asked other students to respond to them; and added a few points along the way. I had a few notes but no detailed lesson plan to guide me. I made some use of the blackboard, none of audio-visual aids; did not divide the students into discussion groups; did not require journal writing—did none of the things important in teacher evaluations today. I taught well in my way, but I know that others teach well in their ways—or poorly or indifferently.

Teacher evaluations are not, and should be made, a big deal. First, students, parents, colleagues, and administrators know who are the good, bad, or indifferent teachers. Even support staff know; some high-school janitors know as much about the teachers as anyone else. Of course, there is no unanimity, but the consensus is almost never wrong. Many people over many years do not misjudge teachers.

Second, the bases of judgments vary, and they should. Teachers are not robots, but people (nor schools, production lines); teaching is not a science, but an art. Interactions of personality, competence, subject matter, grade level—all enter into the “equation,” one which cannot fully account for a teacher’s quality. Depending on the mix of these conditions, student demographics, and classroom or school circumstances, one teacher’s “effectiveness” may be very different from another’s, and different among students—also people, not robots—in the same class. One teacher may be valued by one restless, unhappy student for giving sympathetic guidance for a year; for teaching English, math, science, or history, not so much; by another, differently. Taken together, teachers can provide for students needs, including subject knowledge and skills. Students need to learn to deal with teachers just as they have to deal with other adults, and learn from their human differences. However, what always comes first is teacher mastery of, and commitment to, the subject matter taught to and for students.

The ignoramuses of New Mexico public education in the executive and legislative branches—Martinez and Skandera have now had nearly two years to demonstrate their bliss; solons like John Arthur Smith many years more—model themselves on accountants and inspectors, not educators or even friends of education, when they advocate test data on student performance or checklists of teaching techniques as fair and objective measures of teacher performance. They disclose their ignorance, their fear of decisions exposing it, and their indifference to remedying it, by seeking refuge in numerical or tabulated data. Such measures cannot be fair because they are incomplete or objective because they have inherent biases. These pretenders have never learned that not everything which can be counted counts, and that not everything which counts can be counted.

If you must evaluate teachers, do so, not to abuse, but to better, them. But start with yourselves; you are responsible for New Mexico’s consistent educational rating as 49th out of 50.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Many politicians, whether candidates or incumbents, when they set pen to paper or put pixels on a computer screen, unwittingly reveal their unfitness for the office which they seek. They document their ignorance, prejudices, hypocrisy, and lack of respect for others. They cannot know much about all important issues of the day. But they can try to be honest and decent despite their political ambitions and not let arrogance fill in for ignorance, or ideology shut out information and ideas.

In her column “New mandate undermines religious liberty” (LCSN, 11 Feb), Heather Wilson identifies herself as “a candidate for the United States Senate” but omits her affiliation as a Republican—sham or shame? Her column is another anti-Obama screed: distortions, fabrications, lies, illogicalities, and emotional appeals. If this candidate bearing false witness is your idea of what you want in a representative, then realize what she represents about you.

Last month, the Obama administration mandated that all employers, religiously affiliated or secular, provide insurance coverage for female contraception. The mandate did not apply to exclusively religious institutions—churches, temples, mosques, seminaries, etc.—whose function is entirely religious or charitable. It did apply to religiously affiliated institutions like colleges and hospitals serving the public and receiving public funds. The federal mandate reflects similar mandates in 28 states.

The Obama administration responded to the Catholic Church’s opposition to these institutions’ paying for coverage of contraceptive medicines, devices, and other services doctrinally objectionable. It revised the mandate to ensure that no religiously affiliated as well as no religious institution pay for such coverage, and to require that their insurance companies absorb the costs of coverage. For most people, this arrangement settled the matter without infringing on religious freedom.

But for some disgruntled Catholic leaders, many opportunistic politicians, and their dupes, making something else out of nothing is good politics—here, old news bypassed by events but recycled for campaign purposes. So they have raised a hue-and-cry that the Obama administration attempted an assault on “religious liberty”—another attempt to demonize Obama as unchristian (Muslim? Anti-Christ?). They were indifferent yesterday; they are indignant today. The Catholic Church and many representatives and senators from those 28 states saw no threat to “religious liberty” then. Now they do.

Heather Wilson is one of those hypocrites. As a federal representative, she saw no threat to “religious liberty” in similar New Mexico laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures summarizes them. Two laws “require each individual and group health insurance policy, health care plan and certificate of health insurance that provides a prescription drug benefit to provide coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices. A religious entity [e.g., church] purchasing health insurance coverage can elect to exclude prescription contraceptive drugs or devices from health coverage.” One law “requires specified insurance plans to offer coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices, which may be subject to deductibles and coinsurance.”

Now Wilson seeks to sustain a religious war to support her senatorial campaign. Her fraudulent concerns appear in carefully crafted distortions, fabrications, or deceptions.

Obama did not mandate anything for “Catholic universities and hospitals” “despite their moral opposition.” The mandate did not target any religion or religion in general. Few, if any, religiously affiliated institutions, Catholic or not, objected to the mandate. The mandate did not disregard objections; it could not because none existed before it was issued! Methodist Wilson is pandering for Catholic votes.

The federal government does not “force people [i.e., employers] to violate their religious and moral beliefs by making them provide abortion drugs and sterilization procedures for free to their employees.” It does not impose requirements on anyone to provide “abortion drugs” or “sterilization” for free or for fee. Wilson uses these emotional words without reference to reality or truth to arouse and mislead New Mexicans.

Wilson no more believes in “religious liberty” for all than a pig believes in Sunday. She does not know or care that her “pro-life” stance clashes with “religious liberty” and encourages conservative Christian coercion. Her “pro-life” definition of human life as the moment of conception is exclusively Christian. It is blind or indifferent to non–Christian definitions of human life and related religious principles and medical practices. Her support for “pro-life” legislation threatens to attacks the religious conscience and convictions of non-Christian constituents here and citizens elsewhere, invade their religiously affiliated medical institutions, and intimidate their medical personnel. Her “pro-life” stance “undermines religious liberty” for Americans who are not Christians.

Heather Wilson uses a degraded and reprehensible rhetoric to advance her political ambitions. Despite her past military and Congressional oaths to defend the Constitution, she scorns its guarantees of religious freedom for all Americans and advocates non-compliance with political laws not to her religious liking. How much hypocrisy, religious imperialism, demagoguery, and defiance of the law do we want in this candidate, who does not represent New Mexicans and respect all faiths?

Monday, March 12, 2012



The first lesson about recent events in Afghanistan—Koran burning and civilian killings—is that, after over 10 years, the U.S. Army has failed to train its personnel properly and lacks command and control over its troops.

I take no joy in making such a flat, unvarnished statement about military incompetence—I am a Vietnam veteran—and I respect the sacrifice that our uniformed personnel make to serve the country as they are directed and led to serve it. But their leadership, political and military, has failed over and over again. Worse, they have the bluster to get us into wars but have not the background to get us out when our efforts fail.

I recall the mantra in Vietnam: win hearts and minds. I remember the behavior of ordinary troops, not in battle, but along boulevards in Saigon. It was rude, crude, and social unacceptable anywhere, but even more so in a country which we purportedly wanted to protect and a people whom we purportedly wanted to support.

But our representations were bogus. We were there for ideological and political reasons. One, we opposed communism and pretended that the South Vietnamese opposed it (or, in our arrogance, presumed that they would want to oppose it if they understood its evils, etc.), too. Two, so we assumed that the Vietnamese would take over the fight from us as their own; but it was always ours, never theirs, and they never supported or fought it. Three, we could not back out without loss of political face. From the start, lip-service about hearts and minds substituted for an appreciation of, and respect for, the Vietnamese, who they were, what they wanted, how they liked to live.

Afghanistan is déjà vu all over again. Our goal number one was to hunt down and kill (or capture) Osama bin Laden. We imagined that Afghanistan troops shared this goal and would like the lead in doing our work. So, in the pretense that all agreed on this goal, we let them engage (or not) bin Laden at Tora Bora, with the predictable result: he escaped. We learned nothing from that crucial event. Our goal number two was to drive the Taliban, which had allowed and abetted Al Qaeda in the country, out of the country. We thought that we could drive Afghanis from their families and fields, and leave, and that the Taliban would not return. Are we crazy, or what?

Then, once we had driven the Taliban out of Afghanistan, we tried the same kind of failed cross-border attacks into Pakistan which proved so spectacularly unsuccessful in Laos and Cambodia 40 years ago. Did today’s generals sleep through their classes at West Point? And, of course, since Americans think that American lives are worth much more than the lives of the people whom we are there to save from their fellows, we use military weapons which prove to be wonderfully potent in killing civilians mistakenly targeted by poor intelligence—over and over again. But we do apologize. I imagine that West Point offers a 1-credit class in apologies and a 1-credit sequel in restitution.

Since most of the country—Kabul, a beautiful city, excepted—consists of feuding warlords and people who grow poppies as the main cash crop and who hate foreigners more than they love/hate each other, what in the name of h-e-double-hockey sticks do we think that we are doing in trying to make it into a different kind of country? If we do not want to live under Sharia law, why do they think that they want to live under English Common Law, revised? Can we learn enough respect for others to let them live as they want to live, not as we wish them to live?

Are we fighting these wars because we still think of ourselves as shouldering a “white man’s burden,” only now renamed as America’s burden shouldered by integrated troops? Our military adventurism makes no sense. But the middle class is to blame. It did not want to send its sons to Vietnam. So politicians, instead of ensuring the American people supported a war, ended the draft and developed the all-volunteer army of the poor, the unlucky, the criminal, and the careerists from traditionally military families. So the all-volunteer army is America’s cop-out from well-considered decisions about peace and war—a troops-as-play-toys for Washington elites and the military-industrial complex.

So let me conclude with two suggestions. One, end the all-volunteer army, return to a draft for all men and women, with two years of military service or national service for all high school dropouts or graduates. Two, require that, in any hostilities other than counter-terrorist operations, all service-age children or grandchildren of elected federal officials must serve during those hostilities, in combat branches, and in combat zones. They commit as leaders; then we commit as followers.

In short, no more free-ride, let-George-do-it military engagements—no more Vietnams and Afghanistans—without a national consensus, a national commitment, and a national sacrifice, first and foremost by the nation’s leaders who vote for war or its budgets and second by us by paying war taxes. And no more pretending that our wars are doing our friends a favor. We must resolve never again to fight in a war with indigenous allies who do not want to fight it at least as much as we do.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


In recent years, Paul Gessing, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), and I have exchanged views on a variety of issues. I believe that we have always been polite and respectful, but we have sometimes expressed ourselves with the pungency of people who care about the issues. I do not think that we have ever agreed, and I doubt that we ever shall. So what? Neither of us benefits from shouting into an echo chamber.

I only partly share the view of many that RGF is a mouthpiece for conservative causes and parties, and the oil and gas industry. I mostly take it at its website word that it is “a research institute dedicated to increasing liberty and prosperity for all of New Mexico's citizens. We do this by informing New Mexicans of the importance of individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity.” However, I have some doubt about its claim to do “research” because its published writings are mostly digests of others’ work—and all on one and always the same side of the issues. Its forums are similarly one-sided.

In my most recent blogs and columns, I have taken the Republican Party, aided and abetted by the Tea Party, to task not only on various issues, but also on its intellectual incoherence and moral confusion. I am not party to the belief that those on the Left are more intelligent than those on the Right. Intelligence is pretty much even distributed across the spectrum. But I think that the intellectual dispositions of the two sides differ. The Left is more theoretical and strategic; the Right, more empirical and tactical. My only qualification of this rule, to which there are many exceptions, is that the Right currently seems more inclined to factoids and fabrications than to facts. I think that the realities of the modern world, including globalism and high technology, no longer fit the economic and political views of an earlier time of this one nation and little technology.

On the narrow subjects of state-mandated, pre-abortion, trans-vaginal sonograms and the availability of contraceptive medication or devices, I have scored Republican leaders for abandoning their first principles of individual freedom and small government, the latter reflected in lower taxes (always) with fewer regulations (regardless). My covering letter to a blog on my father’s political reorientation, from Republican to Democrat, prompted Gessing to respond. I shall let our 5 March exchange speak in support of my views that intellectual incoherence and moral confusion reign on the Right today, and that Gessing’s inability to give responsive answers is typical of the Right’s political muddle in this election year. You will note that it is a long way from the bill payer for birth control to federal tyranny, by way of the First Amendment and the Holocaust.


At 10:03 AM, Gessing wrote: Limbaugh is an ass, but that doesn’t mean that paying for birth control should be paid for by the federal taxpayer.

At 11:56 AM, Hays wrote: Any [And] why not? Some medications are more or less gender-specific. Do you have a problem with women having specific health problems requiring specific medications?

And if the “consent of the governed” means anything, then a majority wanting contraceptive medications and devices—some provide birth control, which many men want women to ensure; some provide birth control for medical reasons; and some provide health assistance--says that it should be paid for by the federal taxpayer. Do you have a problem with the “consent of the governed”?

At 12:14 PM, Gessing wrote: Majority rule is tyranny. That’s why we have a first amendment and we abhor the Holocaust. That’s majority rule. The federal government should not be in the business of buying drugs for anyone, regardless of who or what the drugs are used for. This does not prohibit individual states from doing this, just the feds.

At 12:46 PM, Hays wrote: This statement, “majority is tyranny,” is about as anti-democratic as any which I have seen. Astonishing.

With respect to the present, limited topic, how is either the First Amendment or the Holocaust involved in questions of contraceptive devices or medications? Are you equating federal provisions for buying health care services with conducting the Holocaust? Is this some kind of “Jew card,” to make critics of your position appear to put themselves in the position of seeming to be anti-Semitic?

The First Amendment, by the way, does not undermine the Constitution, as you would have it, or erect a barrier to federal legislation in most areas of public interest. It and the other amendments enumerated specific rights of individuals and states. The Tenth Amendment specifies exactly nothing which cannot reasonably be understood to be encompassed by the language of purpose in the Preamble to the Constitution.

More generally, why is the state better at avoiding tyrannical behavior than the federal government? The federal government does not mandate unnecessary and unwanted medical procedures like trans-vaginal ultrasounds. Virginia and some seven or eight other states do. Your silence on the subject, given my 25 February blog,” does not impress me with your commitment to RGF’s professed standards of “individual freedom” and “limited government.”

At 1:16 PM, Gessing wrote: The first amendment protects the rights of the minority against the majority. Majorities have violated the interests of the minority in ways big and small for eons. That is my point.

At 2:09 PM, Hays wrote: Wait just a minute. That was not your point; your point was a general principle, not a historical fact. Accordingly to your principle, majority rule in the states is also tyrannical. According to American history, instances of state tyranny are far more common than any instances of federal tyranny (I am at a loss to think of acts of federal tyranny other than the Palmer Raids and the Japanese internment[.]

Jefferson said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, but he did not say that the tyranny of the majority is constant or inevitable. Indeed, the entire system of Constitutional checks-and-balances, not to mention the Electoral College and the first ten amendments, were efforts to prevent unrestrained majoritarianism. In short, majority rule can be tyrannical, but the design of the Constitution, though intended to provide for a strong federal government, built in protection to prevent overreaching tyranny, and it has done a very good job. What he ware [we are] seeing in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, which are in the control of one party determined to do as it wishes, is state tyranny. Your dyspepsia is about democracy at the federal level has little in the way of historical evidence to justify it.

You have tried to tie federal government, but not state, purchases of drugs to tyranny, the First Amendment, and the Holocaust. I am waiting for you to explain what the connections are, and why what is permissible for the state governments to do is not permissible for the federal government to do? And given your concern with “tyranny” and your convictions about “individual freedom” and “limited government,” I questioned how the concern and convictions fit into the greater or even exclusive fitness of the state to involve itself in medical matters. Replies which do not explain these points I shall take as proof that you cannot explain them.

At 2:19 PM, Gessing wrote: The federal Constitution provides a base line for our freedoms. The states, if the people within their borders so choose, can choose regulations and other economic policies that don’t directly infringe upon the rights explicitly granted in the Constitution. The beauty of having such a program or regulation at the state level is my ability to leave if I don’t like them. That’s federalism.


A final note. I did not respond to Gessing’s last comment. Most of the argument having come full circle, I declined to continue recycling restatements only to return to the place where we began. I did not challenge his unstated assumption that the federal Constitution is self-enforcing; it is, after all, the expressed will of the supermajority required to adopt or amend it and, by his logic, tyrannical.

Nor did I challenge his love-it-or-leave-it answer to state tyranny. First, I fail to see that state tyranny is any better or worse than federal tyranny, and he does not assert, much less argue, any significant operational or even theoretical difference. Second, I am baffled that a professed proponent of individual freedom would suggest that flight from state tyranny is the preferred option. The same might be said with equal logic of federal tyranny.

The oddity of this exchange is that what began with Gessing’s statement about taxpayer funding of contraception escalated into his statements about federal tyranny. I miss the steps from the one to the other. In their absence, Gessing, though ideologically driven, cannot connect his professed commitment to individual freedom or limited government to specific issues. When does he?

Saturday, March 3, 2012


My father never thought that the Republican Party was a source of entertainment, but in the person of Rush Limbaugh, it certainly is. As its Court Jester of note, Limbaugh has the uncanny knack in making humor out of his lies and insults—a sort of Don Rickles of politics on the Right.

In his latest funny routine, he substitutes his fabrications for the testimony which a Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student, offered to a House panel. In case you did not get it, the laugh riot is twisting her remarks about the medical purposes of contraceptive pills into her request for government-funding of pills for her excessive sexual activities. The encore is his suggestion that she film and post films of her sexual exploits so that he as well as other Americans get at least some benefit for the cost, namely, the opportunity to watch them. You know what a great kidder Rush is when he calls the young woman a “sl*t” and a “prostit*te,” and questions the pride which her parents must take in her. (Asterisks used to get through filters.)

One joke is Limbaugh himself. The man has had four marriages and no children, so it appears that his wives had no need for contraception and thereby preserved their virtue. He reveals a refined taste in voyeurism in his penchant for adult sex films—the habit of a jolly old man getting his jollies. However, some of his humor is inadvertent because of his ignorance. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, Limbaugh believes that a contraceptive pill, like a condom, is needed for each sexual act—such an amusing idea.

Another joke is the bully-boys of the Republican leadership. House Speaker John Boehner found the Limbaugh’s remarks “inappropriate”—a courageous and crushing put down. Front-runner Mitt Romney forthrightly declared that he would not have used such language; I suppose that he would have been more dignified and termed Ms. Fluke a “lady of the night” or a “woman with round heels,” unless, in a play for what he thinks is middle-class authenticity, he resorted to “wh*re” or “c*nt.” The man in the rear, the pillar of religious rectitude and moral zeal Rick Santorum, smilingly dismissed the terms as “absurd,” just too silly to be hilarious, certainly not to be taken seriously.

The silence from all other Republican leaders makes clear that Democratic leaders are kill-joys. (Steve Pearce cannot go out into the wilderness—he hates it—to cry out in it.) But Republican leaders have no reason to speak up. No one in their families uses contraceptives and thereby runs the risk of moral degradation and public defamation. Americans, take heed: Republicans have an abundance of good morals, and Democrats have lots of good sex. So we have to understand that jokes by Republican men about sex by Democratic women, especially when they are revolting, are vicarious compensation.

I am afraid that those who laugh last or not at all just do not get it. They have to get back a sense of toilet-stall humor if they are going to enjoy the humor of the Republican Party. Otherwise, this election year is going to be even longer and duller than usual.


My father often warned me that a person is known by the company he keeps. Keeping company means associating with others by choice, not compulsion. In a political context, it means voluntarily identifying with one or another party.

While the media focuses on the Republican Party’s move to the extreme right, it forgets mainstream, Main Street Republicans facing some of the same issues which my father faced decades ago. So I offer his political transition and its likely trajectory as an example to those uncomfortable with the company they have been keeping.

My father was raised and remained a Republican for his first 60 years. He was a moderate on economic and military issues, a liberal on social and political issues. However, in his last 20 years, though he never changed his registration, he became ashamed of the GOP and voted Democratic. Today, he would change his registration to avoid keeping company with a party advocating beliefs and acting in ways which he would find morally and politically repugnant.

My father voted Democratic for the first time in 1964, when Goldwater proposed to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam and, many thought, risk World War III, and opposed civil rights legislation. He voted Democratic in 1968, when Nixon developed a “Southern strategy” to exploit the racism of Southern Baptists and Northern Catholics. Until then, he had approved liberal New England and moderate Midwestern Republicans who helped non-Southern Democrats pass Civil Rights legislation over the objections of racist Southern Democrats.

“White flight” to state Republican parties in the South metastasized throughout the national Republican Party and polarized the parties on matters of race. The virulent Republican antipathy to Obama is rooted in and prompted by racism glossed over by non-racial pejorative epithets: un-American, Muslim, socialist, fascist, communist, etc. Today, Republican racism would disgust my father, who would vote for Obama and most Democrats.

My father lost respect for Republican positions on taxes and the economy. He never complained about taxes because we lived well even when his tax rate neared 90 percent. He would have approved means tests for Social Security benefits. He never complained about regulations while he was owner-president of the family’s manufacturing company. However, after he sold it and became an investment banker, he began to echo his colleagues’ opinions and to grumble about the evils of federal regulations on his industry.

The infamous salad-oil scandal in 1963 changed his mind; he realized that laws and regulations prevent damage to people and businesses or permit compensation for it. Today, he would condemn Republican across-the-board opposition to regulation because it allows corporations to dodge responsibility for damage to others. He would scorn Republican claims that regulations kill jobs as economically false and criminally indifferent to polluted air and water, and contaminated food, which do kill people.

My father had a then-educated person’s respect for reasonableness, reason, and reasons in discussion and decision-making. So he would be appalled by the current Republican contempt for everything which education means for civic and civilized life. He would be disgusted by Republicans who routinely and repetitively assert fabrications and falsehoods. He would be disgusted by Republican officials who think than insulting any president is ever acceptable, much less justified; he would know that, in the case of this president, it is racist. He would disdain Republican leaders who think that portraying themselves as authentically middle class means being rude, crude, and stupid, and proud of it.

As his response to racism suggests, my father approved the end of other forms of discrimination on the basis of age, gender, or sexual orientation. Like many traditional moderate Republicans, he approved of birth control and elective abortion. Today, he would approve of same-sex marriage. He would challenge today’s latter-day Republicans who profess “personal responsibility” but—always a “but”—oppose women’s freedom to exercise personal responsibility for their reproductive choices. Their intrusive laws would strike him as the antithesis of “small government” and “less regulation.”

My father would be most upset by the Republican attack on fundamental principles of democracy reflected in Constitutional provisions fostering it. In a decades-old effort accelerating since Obama’s election—his mixed race signifies a more diverse demography of “We the People”—Republicans have been reviling, rejecting, and revising these principles. Transforming themselves into reactionaries, they are revolting against democracy. In forty states, they are enacting modern-day Jim Crow laws to restrict the franchise—all steps toward Republican tyrannical rule. If Republicans prevail in the 2012 election, the results may not express “the consent of the governed.” My father would express himself in no uncertain, but certainly unprintable, terms.

But he would also want to get beyond execrations. He would want an alternative. He would not believe that the Democratic Party has failed or gone too far; he would believe that its present monopoly on good sense by the default of the Republican Party is not healthy. America needs reasoned differences of opinion so that informed debate on the issues can lead to better decisions on the challenges confronting the country in the twenty-first century.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party, under pressure from Tea Party reactionaries and religious zealots, has adopted positions so extreme—and, in 2012, candidates for their party’s nomination so ignorant, ideological, or irresponsible—that it has allowed the Democratic Party to pre-empt most of the reasonable positions on both domestic and foreign policy issues. He would be appalled that the Republican Party represents the government of America’s Constitutional democracy, because of major social programs developed by both parties for three-quarters of a century, as the enemy of, and threat to, the people. We would be dismayed that the Republican Party has nothing constructive—nothing conservative about strengthening and saving such programs—for government to do for the good of the people or their country. He would think that having it get out of the way and get smaller in the name of free markets and low taxes offers a political vacuum, not a viable polity for going forward.