Category Archives: Random Blogging

Suing the Anti-Christ

Most lawyers I know–Republican and Democrat alike–are incredulous at the decision of GOP House members to bring a lawsuit against the President.  There is simply no legal or factual basis for such a suit, and it is highly unlikely to survive even minimal judicial scrutiny. Even if the allegations against President Obama were all true, the remedy would be political, not judicial.

(There is, of course, the added irony of the GOP’s requested remedy–immediate implementation of a provision of the Affordable Care Act that they tried repeatedly to eliminate. Say what?)

Most commentators have looked at the incoherence and the bluster, and have concluded–reasonably enough–that the whole thing is simply an effort to placate and motivate an increasingly rabid base. And while I’m sure that’s true, it begs the question: why the intense hatred of this President? Why the insistence that he’s a gay Muslim born in Kenya who is intent on destroying the “real” America?

Even Bush and Clinton haters didn’t engage in these levels of fantasy and invective. Of course, Bush and Clinton were white, and the racist component of Obama hatred is hard to miss, but it doesn’t explain everything. I think a recent article from the Daily Beast, by Jack Schwartz, sheds a good deal of light on the phenomenon with which we are dealing.

The mark of a national political party in a democracy is its pluralistic quality, i.e. the ability to be inclusive enough to appeal to the broadest number of voters who may have differing interests on a variety of issues. While it may stand for certain basic principles, a party is often flexible in applying them, as are its representatives in fulfilling them. Despite the heated rhetoric of elections and the bombast of elected representatives, they generally seek consensus with the minority in order to achieve their legislative goals.

But when religion is thrown into the mix, all that is lost. Religion here doesn’t mean theology but a distinct belief system which, in totality, provides basic answers regarding how to live one’s life, how society should function, how to deal with social and political issues, what is right and wrong, who should lead us, and who should not. It does so in ways that fulfill deep-seated emotional needs that, at their profoundest level, are devotional. Given the confusions of a secular world being rapidly transformed by technology, demography, and globalization, this movement has assumed a spiritual aspect whose adepts have undergone a religious experience which, if not in name, then in virtually every other aspect, can be considered a faith.

Religions have doctrines, to which the faithful must subscribe. Nonbelievers aren’t just folks with whom you disagree, they’re heretics. (As Schwartz notes, heretics are primaried only because they can’t be burned at the stake.) And Obama? He’s the Anti-Christ. The Devil.

Allowing Obama to win anything–a court case, a legislative victory, an election–is blasphemy. In the minds of the faithful (if “minds” is the right word), Obama’s continued presence in the White House is the continued triumph of evil.

This is all quite insane, of course. Unfortunately, it’s an accurate description of what the “base” of today’s GOP believes–a description of the beast that party leadership must continually feed in order to stay in power.

Only a massive political loss will lance this boil. If Democrats and sane Republicans don’t turn out in November, the crazy–and the attendant dysfunction– will just continue.

Inequality–a Rumination

Over at Political Animal, David Atkins has reported on another recent, depressing study of the economic status of American families; as he notes,

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

Atkins discussed the dimensions and effects of the steady escalation of this division between rich and poor Americans, and his analysis is definitely worth a read. But I had just completed a 15-hour drive back from the beach when I read his post, and it made me think about a companion question, one I often ponder when–as on this drive through back roads, trying to avoid congestion–the landscape shows me a kind of American life that I can’t imagine living.

That certainly isn’t a moral judgment; it isn’t even an aesthetic one. It’s simply recognition that the lives of folks who inhabit the very small towns, or who live in the middle of broad fields miles from a grocery store or corner bar, live a life unfathomably different from my downtown urban neighborhood existence. I can’t help wondering how my opinions on matters of politics and policy would differ if I lived in a small house or converted double-wide on a lightly-traveled county road. Who would I talk to? Would we even discuss political issues beyond the most local concerns? Where would I get my civic information? Would I think of myself as a “have not,” or would I be satisfied with my situation? Would isolation bother me? What would I read, and why would I choose to read it?

Surely so incredibly different a life would have created an incredibly different me.

Us “city folks” who have trouble understanding why people don’t see things that seem so glaringly obvious to us need to take a drive across the back roads of rural America from time to time. Despite the country’s increasing urbanization, a lot of our fellow-citizens still live there.

I don’t really know where their “there” is. But then, I imagine they don’t relate very well to my life experience, either. There’s no right or wrong here–just difference.

The mutual incomprehension probably explains a lot, but it makes communication pretty tough.

Reason–for Hope

After yesterday’s post went up on Facebook, a colleague sent me a link to an absolutely fascinating dialogue between the author of Plato at the Googleplex, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and her husband, Steven Pinker. It was originally a Ted Talk, and it has been rendered as a very clever cartoon.

I rarely watch videos that are longer than a few minutes, and this one is 15 minutes, but it is a brilliant defense of reason–something we in this unreasonable age need rather badly–and the role reason has played in civilizing and improving human society.

Watch it!

A Totally Honest Political Ad

This is just too accurate not to share…..

And because it is so spot-on, it may explain this, at least partially:

The non-profit, non-partisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University’s School of Public Affairs reported only 14.8 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the first 25 state primaries, down from 18.3 percent in the 2010 midterm elections.

That’s about 18.2 million ballots from a pool of some 122.8 million eligible voters.

I wonder which came first, the dysfunctional political system or the apathetic electorate?

 

I Think I See a Theme Emerging…

The Indianapolis Business Journal sends out a chatty, daily “Eight at 8″ for subscribers. A couple of days ago, the transmittal included the following “Soapbox Moment.”

Our city and state leaders knock themselves out offering financial incentives to support local business expansions and to attract firms to central Indiana (see No. 1). As well they should. Excellent work. However, Eight@8 wishes they would throw more weight behind arts organizations and find more ways to bring more artists here. As in business, the benefit could be modest. Or the benefit could be incalculable. One or two artists can change the way the entire country thinks of Indy. I give you two examples. First, author John Green. He came to Indy because his wife found a job here in the arts. So this is where he based his juggernaut novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” filled with specific references to local places. This is why the tens of millions of people who have read the book and/or seen the movie know that Indianapolis 1) exists; and 2) could be an awesome place to live. He continues to happily associate himself with Indy, occasionally in his ambitious multimedia projects (200 million video views and counting). You can’t CONCEIVE of the value of that kind of warm-puppy publicity…Second example: Asthmatic Kitty. It’s not an artist, per se, but a record label which came to be based in Indy because its manager happened to move here in 2005. It has since become one of the most influential small labels in the country and a national calling card for our music community. And its leaders have turned their energies to the city’s urban fabric. We’ve run out of room, so check out The Atlantic’s CityLab feature on Asthmatic Kitty’s influence on our city.

Good try, Eight @ 8, but–agree or not about the merits of those “financial incentives” generally– official Indianapolis has never given much indication that we appreciate or value the contributions made by the arts to the culture and economic health of central Indiana.

Eight referenced a recent, lengthy post from Aaron Renn at the Urbanophile, in which Renn discussed the roots of–and differences between–the cultures of Indianapolis and Louisville. Louisville remains largely a product of southern tradition, a tradition that valued aristocracy and respected “the finer things.” (Although that culture has a considerable downside–which Renn acknowledges–it also tends to produce better restaurants, among other things.) 

Indiana, he notes, grows out of a very different tradition. After pointing to Columbus as a deviation from the Hoosier norm, he writes

But in a state replete with struggling communities, has anyplace ever looked to imitate Columbus? Has it been held up as a model? No. Why not? It’s because Indiana as a whole rejects the values that made Columbus successful. J. Irwin Miller famously said that “a mediocrity is expensive.” True, but that misses the point re: Indiana. Mediocrity isn’t an economic value in the state. It’s a moral value. People aren’t choosing mediocrity in the mistaken belief that it’s cheap. They think aspiring to better is a character defect. That sacralization of average is why many of its communities are willing to martyr themselves in its honor. And if a place tries to aspire to better, don’t worry. The General Assembly will soon be introducing legislation to make sure that doesn’t spread.

Ouch. That hurts because it rings so true–especially the line about our benighted General Assembly. And it reminded me of a recent conversation with Drew Klacik, researcher extraordinaire at IUPUI’s Public Policy Institute. Commenting on the persistent disdain of so many of Indiana’s legislators for Indianapolis, and their disinclination to consider measures that would benefit or strengthen the core of Indiana’s largest city, he offered an analogy:

Why do Marion county and downtown matter? Well, think about a solar system; why does the sun matter? It matters because it provides the energy that drives us forward and provides the gravity that holds us together. That is exactly what downtown Indianapolis does for the region and the state.

The problem, as Renn aptly notes, is that our General Assembly is broadly representative of Indiana’s culture, where excellence is “uppity,” the arts are “elitist” and education (as opposed to good old job training) is suspect. No wonder there is so little legislative regard for Indianapolis’ aspirations to “world class” status.

Honest to goodness, Indiana.