Saturday, November 24, 2012


Hatred for Obama and the progressive policies he would like to pursue grew so intense during the election campaign that his die-hard detractors just can't give it up.

They have started a petition campaign for secession from the union.  So far, more than 600,000 people from all 50 states have signed on.   The most fervent supporters of secession are in Texas, where there is a strong movement for Texas to become it's own sovereign nation.    One petition drive there has 116,000 signers.

On a comic note, however, is a counter-petition drive.   Someone from the city of Austin has started a petition to the U. S. government asking that, if Texas does secede, Austin be allowed to secede from Texas and remain part of the U.S.   More than 8,000 people have signed this one.

It all seems sort of comic -- until you think about it in parallel to the divided nation that Lincoln faced, and was able to hold together.   No secession movement is going to succeed in 2013.  Instead we have gridlock.

President Obama could well-use Spielberg's "Lincoln" as his model in dealing with this gridlockexpressing a vision of great ideas but also mastering the art of politics in legislating those ideas.   It will take all the wisdom and courage of a Lincoln to overcome our gridlock and move us forward, united rather than divided.


Lincoln the politician

David Brooks, in his New York Times column yesterday, reflected on the lessons about politics in Steven Spielberg's new movie, "Lincoln."   It portrays the period of Lincoln's presidency from his Gettysburg Address to his Second Inaugural, the time when he was trying to get the 13th amendment passed to end slavery.

The lesson Brooks highlights is the idea that politics is a noble profession when it finds compromises to achieve great ends, like ending slavery or fighting poverty.   Expressing great ideas is the easy part;  legislating them into action is the art of politics.  As he puts it:
"Spielberg's 'Lincoln' gets this point.  The hero has a high moral vision, but he also has the courage to take morally hazardous action in order to make that vision a reality. . . .

"The challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning. . . .  Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good. . . . 

"To lead his country through the war, to finagle his ideas through Congress, Lincoln feels compelled to ignore court decisions, dole out patronage, play legalistic games, deceive his supporters and accept the fact that every time he addresses one problem he ends up creating others down the road."
And this ends up with the dilemma:
"[H]ow low can you stoop to conquer without destroying yourself?"
The movie is about Lincoln's pushing the 13th amendment through Congress.
"Lincoln plays each potential convert like a musical instrument, appealing to one man's sense of idealism, another's fraternal loyalty.  His toughest job is to get the true believers on his own side to suppress themselves, to say things they don't believe in order not to offend the waverers who are needed to get the amendment passed. . . .

"Toward the end of the civil war, Lincoln had to choose between two rival goods, immediate peace and the definitive end of slavery.  He had to scuttle a peace process that would have saved thousands of live in order to achieve a larger objective. . . . 

"Politicians who can navigate such challenges really do emerge with the sort of impressive weight expressed in Lincoln's Second Inaugural.  It's a speech that acknowledges that there is moral ambiguity on both sides.   It's a speech in which Lincoln, in the midst of the fray, is able to take a vantage point above it, embodying a tragic and biblical perspective on human affairs."
It all makes our current political squabbles seem so paltry and purile.   I think Barack Obama is capable of the kind of wisdom and balance that Lincoln embodied, but I cannot think of anyone on the Republican side that comes anywhere close to that capacity for greatness as a leader.

It sounds like a must-see movie.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A tradition and an innovation

Thanksgiving Day certainly has its traditions, and we tend to resist changing them.   There was even an online poll for people to choose their favorite side dishes for the Thanksgiving meal.   They constructed it like a basketball playoff grid: choices are paired off, the winner of each pair then moves to the next tier of choice until an overall favorite is chosen.

At the time I looked, sweet potato souffle had beaten mashed potatoes, green bean casserole had beaten mac and cheese, and dressing had beaten . . .  something.  I forget what.  I can't even think of anything that could rival dressing.   Some people call it stuffing, because they cook it inside the turkey.    Southern dressing has to be cooked in its own pan.

So I will follow tradition and say some things I'm thankful for:   That the Supreme Court is safe from Republican hands for another four years.  That Obama will have the chance to become the great president he is capable of being.  That the American people have chosen sanity, reason, and compassion over fantasy, lies, and stinginess.  That the billionaires couldn't buy the election.   That trying to keep people from voting backfired and brought them out in bigger droves.

I am also eternally grateful to the geniuses who masterminded the Obama campaign:   David Axelrod, David Plouffe, and Jim Messina.   And to Hillary Clinton, who graciously joined the Obama team and has far surpassed my expectations as Secretary of State.   The presidency in 2016 is hers if she wants it.  Dream ticket for 2016:   Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren -- foreign policy expert and scourge of Wall Street.  What a team.

And I am especially thankful for the Obama family, who have occupied the White House as First Family with dignity, grace, and openness.  And for my own family and friends who add support and richness to my life.

The innovation?   Borrowing a tradition from New Year's Day, I herewith make a Thanksgiving resolution.   I will make an honest effort to wean ShrinkRap off of the subject of how bad the Republicans are.  Not going cold turkey, mind you, and there will probably be a good story or two that must have a comment.  But it's time to start letting that one go.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good day.   May you ingest just enough tryptophane to give you a lazy afternoon, then an invigorating walk through fallen leaves and crisp air.

And good luck to son-in-law Alan, who is running the half-marathon as I write this.


More proof of how out of touch the Republicans are

Chris Christie used superlatives like "outstanding" and "excellent" for President Obama and FEMA and said they "deserve great credit" in their help with Superstorm Sandy.

For praising the opposition during a political campaign, Republicans turned against Christie -- even hinting that it will hurt his chances of the nomination in 2016.

But Christic has just registered a 19 point surge in his approval rating.   Does that give you Republicans second thoughts?

You didn't do so well in this election.  The people don't like it when you put politics ahead of them, especially in a time of tragedy.   Just a thought you might want to consider.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This is funny

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal mostly sat out the 2012 election but is obviously already running for 2016.  He didn't miss a beat jumping before microphones the day after with all the answers to what the Republican party should do -- "Stop being the stupid party," being the most colorful.

That's pretty funny, coming from a guy who endorsed Rick Perry.


Justice Alito explains his rationale for Citizens United

I had not understood what the conservative justices' reasoning was for their terrible decision on Citizens United, except that it was supposed to affirm the idea that "corporations have the same right to free speech as do persons."

Was there some rationale beyond giving more power to corporations who donate big bucks to politicians?  And isn't the Supreme Court supposed to be above politics and payoffs?   (HA!!  Not since the 2000 decision that gave the presidency to George W. Bush, at least).

Justice Samuel Alito spoke to the Federalist Society (a group of conservative lawyers and legal scholars) and explained his vote.

As summarized in a New York Times editorial yesterday, Alito turned the question on its head and said that, without such affirmation that corporations have free speech rights, newspapers (which are corporations) would not have had the legal right to publish the Pentagon Papers and would have a harder time defending themselves against libel suits.

The rationale there is that both publishing the Pentagon Papers and defending against libel suits depend on the newspaper's freedom of the press.   Alito is equating that to freedom of speech for an individual and, by Supreme Court precedent, he says, to corporations.

The editorial took apart his argument, saying that he mistakes the corporate structure of media companies that publish newspapers for the newspapers' function in a democracy, which is to ensure an informed citizenry, through freedom of the press, so they can cast informed votes.

This distinction makes sense to me.   It is strengthened by the fact that reputable newspapers separate the function of the editorial board from the governing corporation, giving editorial writers complete freedom of content.   In addition, reputable newspapers (tv not so much) take pride in their presenting facts and challenging political distortions of fact to publish truth.

What the editors are saying, I believe, is that Alito's argument is faultily reasoned.  Newspaper corporations do not have to be declared to have free speech rights in order publish a paper that speaks freely in print, because that is in the nature of serious journalism.  That is a different order of freedom than being able to give anonymously unlimited millions of dollars to poltical groups to influence elections.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The ugly truth will out

I'm waiting for evidence that there is some moral value left in the Republican party. --

But, sadly -- and I really mean that -- the ugly truth will out:  The Republican party of the 2012 campaign was all, and only, about winning.   They left morality, sanity, and truth out of it.   Their good people kept quiet.

From the lies heaped upon lies told by the candidates, none more than by Mitt Romney, to the brazen attempts at preventing legal voters from casting their ballots for Democrats, to this footnote that is coming out now -- where is their moral compass?

Bloviating about preserving the "sanctity of marriage" doesn't count.

The latest concerns Chris Christie's response to Superstorm Sandy.   Once the darling that they were begging to be their standard bearer in the presidential race, who was, in fact, their keynote speaker at the convention, Christie committed the cardinal sin of touring his storm-devastated New Jersey with President Obama and praising him effusively for his effective response.   Because he put people above politics in a time of crisis.

Here's how the New York Times put it:
"In New Jersey, Mr. Christie’s politics-be-damned approach to the storm seemed to represent a moment of high-minded crisis management for a governor frequently defined by his public diatribes and tantrums. Mr. Christie locked arms with Mr. Obama, flew with him on Marine One, talked with him daily and went out of his way to praise him publicly as “outstanding,” “incredibly supportive” and worthy of “great credit."
But Republicans are now blaming him for the loss of the election, saying he should not have flown in the presidential helicopter, should not have stood so close to the president when they gave a joint news conference, should not have heaped so much praise on him.

They're even saying that it has hurt his future chances for the presidential nomination.

And that, my friends, is the picture of the Republican party in the shambles it is following this devastating and, to them, surprising defeat.    Instead of a politics-be-damned approach to the storm, theirs is a people-be-damned approach to politics.

Here we have it:   The Republican presidential candidate did not even bother to call Gov. Christie as the governor of the worst hit state by this storm, while President Obama left the campaign and devoted himself to overseeing the federal response to the storm, talking with Christie and others many times a day, as late as midnight.

Where is the morality?   Where is the competency?   Where is the caring?   Certainly not in Romney and the Republicans.   They don't want a mensch in the White House.   They want a loyal toadie who will do their bidding and shrink the federal government, never mind the needs of the people.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Summing it up

Columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. today wrote about what's ahead for each of the two parties, following this decisive victory for the Democrats.

Saying that the Democrats will have to use skill and subtlety to hold together its winning coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, white working class groups in labor union states, women, and better educated young people.

But, Dionne says, "These are happy problems to have compared with what the GOP and the conservative movement confront.   They need to rethink their approach all the way down."

Saying that their attempts to demonize President Obama and undercut him by obstructing his agenda didn't work.  "The tea party was less the wave of the future than a remnant of the past."   And he concluded with this pithy statement:
"A party that wants to govern has to do more than run against government."
The more all the implications of November 6th sink in, the larger the message from the voters grows.   I don't think it can be called anything less than decisive.   The voters rejected, first of all, the obstructionism and the hyper-partisanism of the past four years.   They were not swayed by the old "social values" rants, nor were they frightened by talk of financial Armageddon, Socialism, or the implicit racism of the hate-Obama campaign.

It's good.   Very, very good.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Romney should go quietly

Romney is said to have been genuinely and completely shocked by his loss of the election (which raises the question of why were they so clueless, when the most reliable polls clearly predicted the exact states he would fail to carry).

He naturally, I suppose, wants to blame the loss on something other than his own failure.

But, really, someone should tell him that giving phoney excuses only makes him look like a clueless sore loser.   Maybe that's what he is.

I'm referring specifically to his telling a group of his fund-raisers that Obama won by all the federal "gifts" that he bestowed on African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people to ensure their votes.   The 47% syndrome all over again.

Now party leaders are rushing to distance themselves from these remarks and to disagree with his analysis of the election loss.   Gov. Bobby Jindal did it last week.   Now the Romney campaign's own Director of Hispanic Outreach, Carlos Gutierrez, has said: 
“I was shocked. And frankly I don’t think that’s why Republicans lost the election.  I think we lost the election because the far right of this party has taken the party to a place that it doesn’t belong."
Gutierrez added: 
"I don’t know if [Romney] understood that he was saying something that was insulting, [but] the language, the attitude, the body language, that’s what Latinos watch."
I'd wager that Romney didn't have a clue that Latinos would feel insulted -- just as he had no clue that his "47%" remark would create such a backlash.

Sen. Lindsay Graham said about Romney's latest:  “We’re in a big hole. . . .We’re not getting out of it by comments like that. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging."

It just reinforces what has been true throughout the campaign.   Mitt Romney may be a very compassionate man -- for those who are in his social world or within his purview of moral and social standards.   But outside his narrow world, he either does now understand or his self-righteous priggishness just takes over.

He should do himself a favor.  Take a long vacation, away from any reporters or recording devices.   Just shut up.