Category Archives: Civic virtue

Congratulations to Samuel Tenenbaum (on a milestone I’ll never achieve)!

Samuel

Last week, my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum shared the above photo with me.

I’m proud to share it with y’all. And proud to know Samuel. He’s been giving platelets at the Red Cross for more than a decade, and on the day this was taken (eight days ago) he had officially given 250 units! He gets up and does it sometimes at the crack of dawn, and has been known to bring donuts for the Red Cross workers. So they love the guy. On the day he passed his milestone, he brought pizza.

Of course, to Samuel the milestone is already a thing of the past. That day, he reached 251. This past weekend, he gave two more units to reach 253. (They generally take two units at a time, and sometimes three.)

He’s the one who inspired me to start giving platelets on a regular basis myself. I had hesitated. Although I’d been giving blood for years, overcoming a lifelong horror of such things in order to do so (something I bragged about a lot), I had balked at this.

Why? Because of the inconvenience factor. Once you get good at it, you can give whole blood in little over 5 minutes, from the moment the needle goes in. Giving red cells only, which I did for awhile, takes a little longer — maybe 40 minutes or so — since they have to separate the red cells from your blood and pump what’s left back into you.

Whereas giving a couple of units of platelets can take as much as three hours from the time you walk into the place until you walk out, stiff from lying there so long. Not only that, but while you have to wait 8 weeks to give whole blood again and 16 weeks to give red cells, you can give platelets weekly! And as soon as that week is up, you’ll start hearing from the Red Cross again. Not because they’re greedy, but because they’re desperate: There are few platelet donors, and many urgent needs for platelets.

But, inspired by Samuel, I gave in and started giving platelets. And I compromised on the weekly thing, setting up a standing appointment every two weeks (I found I felt really tired for a couple of days after each donation, and figured I needed the recovery time).

So I built that standing appointment into my gmail calendar… which tells me I’m supposed to be there right now, as I type this! But I’m not.

That’s because I’ve been banned from giving, for good. It happened several months back — at the end of last summer, in fact. I just haven’t had the heart to take it off my calendar. I miss giving. It was my thing, you know. I can’t afford to give money, and my stupid asthma and allergies kept me from military service, but at least I could do this for my community!

But no more.

Here’s what happened: I got a call from the Red Cross one day. Thinking it was someone reminding me of my appointment, I was about to say, “I know; I know!” when I was told something unexpected. Someone, somewhere, had had a problematic reaction to my platelets. They wanted me to come in for a special blood test, just in an abundance of caution.

So I went in, and had the test done, and figured I’d be going to my next appointment as usual, and then… I got another call. I was told that because I had some unusual antibody in my blood, they could no longer accept my donations, according to FDA guidelines.

I was told I was perfectly healthy — that this condition was no threat to me. But the existence of that factor in my blood could be harmful, under certain rare conditions, to someone else. Again, the abundance-of-caution thing.

I got a letter in the mail with a couple of charts from my test with mysterious notations about a1 cells and a2 cells and b cells, and it made no sense to me.

All I know is, I can’t give any more. Ever, apparently. I just made the list, buddy.

Which means some of y’all need to do so. Samuel can’t do it all. And the need is constant: Platelets are only good for five days.

Why does he do it? For a number of reasons, starting with the selfish: It tells him he’s healthy, and each time you give, you get a mini-physical — blood pressure, iron levels, pulse, and so forth. But ultimately, as usual with Samuel, it’s because somebody needs to do it. “Each time I walk out of there, I know that I have changed the world,” if only a little bit.

More briefly: “It’s called, ‘Love thy neighbor.'”

Where do nice guys finish? Watch James Smith to find out

James greet

James Smith greets supporters in Lancaster on the day of the announcement that Mandy Powers Norrell would be his running mate.

I appreciate my friend E.J. Dionne, who is also a nice guy, bringing this to my attention:

It’s the tale of how a little old lady who served as food critic for a newspaper in flyover land was lampooned by the “sophisticates” on the coasts because she unabashedly gave a rave review to an Olive Garden… then was defended by the late Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain wrote of the then–88-year-old Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks:

“She is never mean — even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark,” he wrote. “In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun. She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first — and entertainer second.”

Bourdain added that the book “kills snark dead.”

“This is a straightforward account of what people have been eating — still ARE eating — in much of America,” he wrote. “As related by a kind, good-hearted reporter looking to pass along as much useful information as she can — while hurting no one.”

So you can see how the “snarkologists” would give her unmitigated hell. How dare she be a genuinely nice person?

Which brings me to James Smith.

This past week, the three candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor or South Carolina had their final “debate” — an occasion for Phil Noble and Marguerite Willis to snarl, slash and attack James Smith in their desperation (which continues to puzzle me) to tear down the only member of their party who has the slightest prayer of winning the election in the fall.

A number of people — some of them the sort who were just then starting to focus on the race (which is ominous) — thought Smith didn’t come out of the debate well — his opponents kept scoring hits on him, and he failed to deflect the hits and didn’t fight back. (Doug hates that kind of thing. Possibly others do as well.)

It didn’t strike me that way, but then I know James, and I knew that his opponents were making innocent things out to be scandalous. For instance, he has been friends with Rick Quinn, and he was Alan Wilson’s attorney at one point. These are both things that I’ve written about approvingly here in the past, because it shows the kind of guy James is — someone who doesn’t dismiss people because they belong to another political party. You know, exactly the quality you need in a Democrat who wants to get anything done as governor, seeing as how the GOP dominates the Legislature.

His opponents were doing this because with the kind of blind partisans who might (if misled sufficiently) choose them over Smith, it is a prima facie sin to be friends with Republicans. At this point, the snarlers would protest that the sin was the taint of scandal attaching to Quinn and Wilson — but the evidence of his association is from a time years before even the slightest hint of scandal wafted in their direction.

So what’s he going to say? Protest that he was friendly with them then, but not now? An opportunist would leap at the chance to do so. But that’s not James Smith.

James Smith is the kind of guy who offers nothing but positive reasons why he wants to be governor and would make a good one. He’s not interested in slashing out at anyone, or tossing anyone to the wolves.

He could, if he possessed a different sort of character. There are plenty of things he could say about the two spoilers (who will never be anything more) attacking him. I’m picturing, for instance, a pretty devastating ad with one Democrat after another stating clearly precisely what they think of Phil Noble, based on their dealings with him.

As for Marguerite Willis, I can think of a number of ways he could undermine her, but this one would do: He could, for instance, ask her to explain why she said, in their first debate back in the winter, that workers should not have the right to organize into unions. While running for the Democratic nomination, mind. It stunned me at the time (I’m no great fan of unions, but surely people have the right to join them), but the amazing thing is that no one has asked this corporate lawyer to explain that answer — not then, not now.

Unless I’ve missed it. If this has happened, I’d appreciate a link.

Can you imagine what Ms. Willis or Noble, who attack him without letup because the NRA doesn’t hate him, would be doing with such an advantage?

But Smith does not. Because he’s just not interested in doing that.

I imagine that in the fall, James will have some critical things to say about his Republican opponent — because then, there will be substantive differences on policy to discuss. But he’s not interested in playing a gotcha game to get his party’s nomination.

Which raises the question — do nice guys finish last, or does a guy who’s only interested in presenting the positives about himself, and not looking for ways to attack his opponents, have a chance in today’s poisonous political atmosphere?

To find out, watch James Smith on Tuesday.

I refuse to be an ‘idiot.’ I’m joining the ranks of the involved

signs

This is my front yard. As of Monday night, for the first time in my life, my yard features a campaign sign for a political candidate. In fact, it boasts two.

I’ve decided not to be an idiot any more — in the ancient Greek sense, which meant someone who was not involved in public life. As I noted the other day, Bobby Kennedy once summarized the ancient meaning as “One who is not involved in politics.”

Well, with these two signs, I’m stepping out of the ranks of idiots (which my career as a journalist forced me to be, at least in a sense), and joining the polites — the involved public citizens.

James Smith is the best candidate for governor by far, and Micah Caskey is easily the best candidate for his House seat, if not the best running for any House seat this year. They are the two people I most hope to see elected this year, for reasons I’ve gone into in the past and will elaborate upon again, I assure you.

By erecting these two signs, I also take a stab at resolving a dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, Micah Caskey, standing on the State House steps, asked me to vote for him on June 12. Specifically, he nodded toward James Smith — whom he knows I like for governor — a few feet away and said he hoped I wouldn’t be voting in the Democratic primary, because he needs my vote in the Republican.

The fact that I have to choose, and can only vote for one of the two people I want most to elect on primary day, is a gross injustice. But it’s one I have to confront.

Normally, I take a Republican ballot. Not because I’m a Republican, any more than a Democrat, but simply because of where I live. If I don’t vote in the Republican primary, I get no say in who represents me in most offices. If I lived in Richland County, I’d probably vote mostly in Democratic primaries — especially this year, with that solicitor’s race. We have to choose carefully: Our primary vote is critical because far too often, it’s the only time we get a real choice.

That we have to choose one ballot and miss having a say in the other races that are contested in the primary (but not in the fall) is wrong, a denial of our rights as citizens. It thoroughly disenfranchises us. But those who make the rules refuse to see that.

At least this way, whichever primary I vote in, I’ll have done something for both of these fine candidates. I just wish I could vote for both of them…

What does it say about me that I didn’t know what ‘idiot’ meant?

idiot word cloud

I love discovering things about words. I love it the way… well, probably the way some of y’all like football. I get a rush out of it, and I can’t stop talking about it.

The discovery I made this morning is a big one, full of meaning, a discovery that sends tentacles of understanding into a lot of things that matter to me. It ranks up there among my most exciting word finds ever, right alongside when I learned the word “esoteric” in high school. (For years I had wanted a word for that concept, and I finally had one. I confess I overused it for some time after that.)

This morning, I learned what “idiot” means. Or rather, what it meant originally, which for me tends to be the same thing.

I can’t believe I didn’t know this before. I feel like such an… well, you know….

I learned it from TV, of all places. At the very end of the fourth and last installment of the documentary mini-series “Bobby Kennedy for President,” which I was watching while working out on the elliptical this morning. At the very end, Kennedy aide William J. Arnone says:

One thing that Robert Kennedy taught me, Robert Kennedy would say, ‘The word, “idiot” in Greek, you know what it means? “One who is not involved in politics.”‘ But he instilled in me that you must be involved in politics. Must, must, must. You cannot be on the sidelines.

I thought, wow — that’s just too good to be true. But it isn’t. That’s what it meant to the ancient Athenians. A person who wrapped himself in the personal, the private, and turned his back on politics and the community was called an “idiot.” Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτηςidiōtēs (“person lacking professional skill”, “a private citizen”, “individual”), from ἴδιοςidios (“private”, “one’s own”).[1] In ancient Greece, people who were not capable of engaging in the public sphere were considered “idiotes”, in contrast to the public citizen, or “polites”[2]. In Latin the word idiota (“ordinary person, layman”) preceded the Late Latin meaning “uneducated or ignorant person”.[3] Its modern meaning and form dates back to Middle English around the year 1300, from the Old French idiote (“uneducated or ignorant person”). The related word idiocy dates to 1487 and may have been analogously modeled on the words prophet[4] and prophecy.[5][6] The word has cognates in many other languages.

An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.[7] Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.[7] In Athenian democracy, idiots were born and citizens were made through education (although citizenship was also largely hereditary). “Idiot” originally referred to a “layman, person lacking professional skill”. Declining to take part in public life, such as democratic government of the polis (city state), was considered dishonorable. “Idiots” were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters. Over time, the term “idiot” shifted away from its original connotation of selfishness and came to refer to individuals with overall bad judgment–individuals who are “stupid“. According to the Bauer-Danker Lexicon, the noun ίδιωτής in ancient Greek meant “civilian” (ref Josephus Bell 2 178), “private citizen” (ref sb 3924 9 25), “private soldier as opposed to officer,” (Polybius 1.69), “relatively unskilled, not clever,” (Herodotus 2,81 and 7 199).[8] The military connotation in Bauer’s definition stems from the fact that ancient Greek armies in the time of total war mobilized all male citizens (to the age of 50) to fight, and many of these citizens tended to fight poorly and ignorantly.

Wow. My whole life, I have tried to learn and become one of the polites, and to urge others to do the same — with mixed success on both counts. Often I’ve done so overtly, such as when I set out my dichotomy about the contrast between people who see themselves as consumers and those who see themselves as citizens. Sometimes it’s less overt, but I’m always arguing that one of the first things a person must learn as a member of a community is how we are all inescapably connected. (Not that we should be, but that we are. And politics is what we do in light of that fact.) To me, becoming a fully realized, worthwhile human being is to a great extent about understanding and embracing that connection, becoming a fully mature member of a community and seeking ways to make community interactions more positively effective.

All this time, all these words, and I didn’t know until today that a person who pursued the opposite of that was, from the dawn of Western civilization, called an “idiot.” Right up until the late 19th century, when it started to mean a person of very low intelligence.

By the way, in researching this, I found this piece, which led this way:

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place, “president.” Superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable descriptives came further down on the list. But let us focus on the first.

Contemporary uses of the word “idiot” usually highlight a subject’s lack of intelligence, ignorance, foolishness or buffoonery. The word’s etymological roots, however, going back to ancient Greece, suggest that, in the case of the president, it may be even more apropos than it might first seem….

And of course, the original sense of the word speaks to the objection I have to Trump. He is a man who spent the first 70 years of his life pursuing his own private interests and satisfying his own appetites. Almost everything about the ways he violates presidential, political and moral norms arises from that utter inexperience in, and disdain for, civic life. He has shown a sort of idiot savant (to use the word a different way) flair for a certain kind of politics, but it arises from a lifetime of avid self-promotion, and therefore arises from his pursuit of private rather than public benefit. (In Star Wars terms, you might say the Dark Side of politics is strong with this one.)

This is fascinating. So much more can be said about it, but I’ll stop now and share this much with you…

Me, too, Mandy. We need more such pictures…

Mandy and Nathan

In the spirit of the UnParty

Mandy Powers Norrell, a Democrat I see as a positive force in the S.C. House, tweeted this a few minutes ago:

Yep, me, too, Mandy. We need more such pictures…

Senator, how about giving the #FakeNews thing a rest?

Certainly Lindsey Graham didn’t start this, but this Tweet of his was a sort of straw, with my patience being the camel:

I had to respond to him thusly:

Senator, it would be great if you wouldn’t add to overuse of that term, which seems to mean whatever Trumpistas want it to mean. It is not “fake news” that the Russian military made that absurd claim. They did. And the AP is truthfully and accurately reporting that they did….

Yeah, I know what he meant: That the Russians were saying something untrue. Which of course should be obvious even to a child.

A responsible news source...

A responsible news source…

But things that should be obvious to children are not always obvious to Trump supporters, and when you attach that #FakeNews label to a link to an actual story from a responsible news outlet, you are adding to their delusion that actual news, from trustworthy sources, is what is “fake.”

And I think the senator was willing for them to take it that way, because he was in his “try to look like a friend of Trump” mode when he sent that out.

And that is unhelpful.

More than ever, responsible people should be helping their neighbors, and themselves, distinguish fact from fiction. And Lindsey Graham knows better…

Bottom line, Ralph Norman’s just not cool

Norman during the meeting with constituents...

Norman during the meeting with constituents…

If you’ve seen “In the Line of Fire” as many times as I have, you’ll remember this part. Clint Eastwood and his partner are trying to track down would-be assassin John Malkovich, and are following a lead that takes them into the subculture of plastic modelers.

They’re talking to a friend of Mitch, the Malkovich character, who says see my expensive wheelchair? Mitch bought it for me. Then suddenly, he pulls out a semi-automatic handgun and says this is in case Mitch ever comes back — because he had credibly threatened his “friend’s” life.

The Secret Service agents sort of go “Whoa!” at the appearance of the gun. They do this not because they’re sissies who are afraid of firearms and other mean things. (Remember, one of them is Clint Eastwood.) They do it because there are times when it is uncool to whip out a loaded firearm, and one of those times is when you’re being interviewed by a couple of worried Secret Service agents.

Another such time is when you’re a member of Congress chatting with your constituents.

What I’m saying is that basically, Ralph Norman did a really, really uncool thing when he took out his piece and put it on the table during a meeting with voters.

He didn’t do a criminal thing — at least, not to my knowledge. And I don’t think anyone needs to have a cow over it the way Democratic Party Chair Trav Robertson is doing.

But it seems to me quite obvious that it fell way short on the cool-o-meter.

Your thoughts?

SCNormanGunREVISEDAriailx

McMaster knows all about ‘shameful political statements’

McMaster Twitter

Well, this was kind of disgusting:

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster wasn’t a supporter of National Walkout Day.

The Republican criticized the event, which involved schools across the Palmetto State and several in Columbia as well as the Midlands. He called it “shameful,” and something that was orchestrated by a “left-wing group.”

“It appears that these school children, innocent school children, are being used as a tool by left-wing group to further their own agenda,” McMaster told ETV….

“This is a tricky move, I believe, by a left-wing group, from the information I’ve seen, to use these children as a tool to further their own means,” McMaster said. “It sounds like a protest to me. It’s not a memorial, it’s certainly not a prayer service, it’s a political statement by a left-wing group and it’s shameful.”…

Really? What’s “shameful” about it? Mind you, I’m not a big believer in walkouts and other kinds of protests. I prefer for people to use their words rather than their feet (because, you know, I’m a word guy). And this is not the place to come to if you want to hear about how much wisdom we can learn from the children if only we’ll listen. You know me; I’m an “Alla you kids get offa my lawn” kind of guy, a believer in experience and the perspective that comes with it, the founder of the Grownup Party. I was born a crotchety old man, and thank goodness, I’m finally getting to the age where it doesn’t seem out of place.

But I certainly don’t doubt the sincerity of these kids. There’s a purity in it that experience tends to dilute, or at least temper. They may think and speak as children, but they really mean it.

And yeah, I know Henry means the — shall we use the phrase “outside agitators?” — who he claims put the kids up to it are the “shameful” ones rather than the kids themselves. But I see little indication that the kids have been manipulated. And if they had been, what’s “shameful” about persuading kids to stand up and say, “protect us?”

But Henry says that it is shameful, and sure, he’s a guy who knows all about doing and saying shameful things. Consider:

  • This is the guy who was the first statewide elected official in the country to endorse Donald Trump for president, giving him a huge leap forward in viability. And he continues to stay attached at the hip, even as Trump daily demonstrates the madness of that endorsement.
  • This is the guy who vetoed the gas tax increase, without setting forth any viable alternative for fixing our roads — a contemptible act of political cowardice and opportunism that the lawmakers of his own party had no qualms about rising up and overriding.
  • This is the guy who’s going after sanctuary cities in South Carolina, even though there are no sanctuary cities in South Carolina. Given that inconvenience, which prevents him from going out and pummeling said cities, he’s demanded that they prove they’re not sanctuary cities.

All pretty shameful, right?

And now, he’s the guy impugning the integrity of the student movement against school shootings, calling it “shameful.”

Well, he should know…

I miss our two former party chairmen, Matt & Jaime

In reaction to disclosures regarding Rick Quinn’s case, former state GOP Chairman Matt Moore Tweeted this:

I retweeted it, and former state Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison responded:

Always a class act!

Yes, Jaime, and so are you.

I normally don’t care much for parties, as y’all know, but I often approve of some of their members. And Matt and Jaime were unusual party chairs. They were friends rather than enemies, and worked together when they could for the betterment of South Carolina. For instance, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

Later, they both came out for reforming two of the greatest scourges of partisanship: gerrymandering and straight-ticket voting.

Our politics needs more guys like these two…

Matt, Yours Truly and Jaime celebrating the removal of the flag.

Matt, Yours Truly and Jaime celebrating the removal of the flag.

Yep, that’s exactly how a republic is supposed to work

The Caskey boys, spotted together at an event in 2017. No, I don't know exactly how they're related...

The Caskey boys, spotted together at an event in 2017. No, I don’t know exactly how they’re related…

Bryan posted this about his kinsman and my representative, Micah Caskey:

Yep, that’s exactly the way our representative democracy is supposed to work. Elected representatives are not your agents whom you send to do your bidding. They’re people you delegate to go do what, in a complex modern economy, most people don’t have time to do: Go to the capital and study and debate complex issues until they understand them better than they otherwise would — and then act accordingly.

A lot of Americans, maybe most of them, don’t understand that. They expect the following from elected officials:

  1. That they make very specific promises when running for office.
  2. That those promises appeal directly to what they, the voters, want to hear.
  3. That, once elected, the representatives do exactly what they promised, without amendment or deviation.

I don’t expect those things at all. With me, it’s more like:

  1. I don’t care to hear specific campaign promises, because I don’t want that person, once elected, to have his or her hands tied.
  2. To the extent that such promises are made, it’s not necessary that they align with what I think should be done. Sure, if the candidate is promising a lot of stupid stuff I’m dead-set against, I’ll oppose him or her (in part for the simple fact of making pandering promises, whatever their content). But I don’t expect agreement across the board. Since I don’t buy the prepackaged sets of values the left and right sell, there’s never been a candidate with whom I agreed on everything.
  3. Once elected, I expect the representative to buckle down and study, and debate matters with people with different views, and learn, and become wiser about the issues than he or she was during the campaign. And if that means breaking a stupid promise that was made when the candidate was less wise, then I hope my representative has the courage and integrity to do so — like George H.W. Bush ditching the “read my lips” thing.

But as I said, too many people have the first set of expectations, and that misunderstanding has led to many of the ills our country is suffering today. The Tea Party and Trumpism were both outgrowths of the frustration of people who were mad because the people they had elected had not followed through on stupid promises they had made.

The danger in that, of course, is that you can arrive at a point at which people who will actually follow through on stupid promises get elected.

Which is where we are today…

Which is why a fine representative like Micah is good to find. Which in turn is why, once I met him and saw how bright, serious and thoughtful he was, I gave up my crazy thoughts of running for the office myself. I didn’t see how I would do a better job than he would. I don’t remember any of his positions in particular; I just remember that the way he approached issues made me trust him to address them wisely in the future.

And that, boys and girls, is how our system is supposed to work. And yes, this will all be on the final exam…

Enough with Trump’s call to the widow, please!

KIAs

Today, NPR raises the question, “After Controversy Over Condolence Calls, Can Trump And The White House Refocus?

The answer to that, we’ve all learned, is probably “no.” Even if the White House does everything it should, and resolves to move forward and concentrate on other things, Trump will get up at 6 the next morning, if not earlier, and blow it all with a Tweet. We know this.

But yeah, it would be nice not to have to hear about any of this any more, at all.

For the widow, Myeshia Johnson, the pain must go on. I pray that God send his healing grace upon her and help her through this nightmare, but we know the loss will always be with her. She has received the call that my family dreaded the full year of my Dad’s tour in Vietnam, and her loss is real and profound and permanent.

The best we can do for her right now is honor her fallen husband, and stop intruding on her grief, and stop dragging it into politics.

This whole thing has been SO unseemly from the start.

And how did it start? With Donald Trump trying to do something that has rightly or wrongly become part of the job of president, something he is particularly ill-equipped to do. But at least he was trying.

And, because he is so ill-equipped on so many levels, it went badly. The widow says he made things worse.

It’s not necessarily that the words he said were so awful. In defending him, Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the friend and fellow general officer who consoled him when his son was killed used similar words, telling him that that the young man was doing exactly what he wanted to do, that he knew what he was getting into by joining the military in wartime and that he was surrounded when he died by the “best men on Earth.”

(Kelly having to tell this story is another of the awful things about this controversy. Up until then, he had extremely careful to keep his grief private and out of the political sphere.)

Of course, that plays one way when one Marine says it to another Marine, his good friend, who himself has sent men in harm’s way. That’s a conversation within the brotherhood. It plays differently when Mr. Bone-Spur Deferment says it to a grieving widow.

Then we had the whole business of the Democratic congresswoman (who surprisingly is not from Texas) having been with the widow during the phone call and backing the story that the president had said the wrong things, then Trump lashing out childishly with lies about Obama not having made condolence calls. (This is standard with Trump and his supporters — when criticized, they yell, “Hillary! Obama!” It matters not at all to them that it’s almost always a non sequitur.)

You had Trump stating he had called all families of those killed in action, and the press checking it out and finding he’d called about half of the ones reporters could reach.

And then, at one point, we had the sideshow — leading The Washington Post‘s website for a time — about a grieving father whom Trump called. This father griped to Trump about not receiving survivor’s benefits — they were going to his ex-wife, the mother — and Trump promised to write him a personal check for $25,000, but the Dad says he didn’t. (The White House later said the check is in the mail.) I just don’t even know how to count up how many ways that story is tawdry and cringe-inducing…

Before the week was out, there was also the business of John Kelly helping Trump lash out at the congresswoman, and saying something untrue and unfair to her in the process. Then there was the funeral over the weekend, and just this morning the widow appearing on “Good Morning America” to share what she thought of Trump…

It’s just all so awful, so disheartening. Whether you care about respecting the sacrifice of a soldier, or the dignity of the presidency, or just normal, everyday human decency, it’s been an unpleasant spectacle.

And even though I know whatever this president moves onto next will probably be just as unseemly, I for one am ready for the moving-on part…

Rep. Caskey in May on the governor’s lack of leadership

With next year’s race for governor beginning to take shape in recent days, I got to thinking back to the moment when Henry McMaster lost me.

Speaker Jay Lucas and the rest of the GOP leadership in the House, eventually joined by the GOP-led Senate, had shown courage in stepping up to pass a bill that reformed our Highway department and, for the first time in 30 years, raised the tax on gasoline in order to pay for road repairs.

Lawmakers had hoped, after two governors in a row who were more about anti-government posturing than governing, that they would have a pragmatic partner in McMaster, someone who was serious about South Carolina’s needs and how to address them.

They were wrong. And they were bitterly disappointed.

I remembered reading at the time that that disappointment was eloquently expressed in a floor speech by an unlikely spokesman — my own rookie representative, Republican Micah Caskey. I missed his speech at the time. But I went back and watched it this week. Here it is. If you watch it, you can see why one observer responded this way, according to a reporter with The State:

Freshmen just don’t say things like this to their own party’s governor. But Micah did.

The relevant part of the speech — after Micah pays his respects to his new colleagues and notes this is his first time to take the podium — starts at 5:50.

His one prop, and the object of his scorn, was a copy of McMaster’s veto message, delivered the night before. Some excerpts:

“What this is,” he says of the letter, “is not leadership.”

“Its intellectual dishonesty is only outweighed by its intellectual bankruptcy.”

“The governor surely had an opportunity to lead on this issue. He knew there was a problem. He could have done it…. He didn’t do it.”

“He chose to remain silent. He chose not to act. He chose not to lead.”

“Had he put forth an idea, we could have gone from there…”

“I don’t like raising taxes… I didn’t want to have to vote ‘yes’ for this bill… but I did, because that’s what leadership requires: Admitting reality and stepping forward and addressing it.”

“What it is not is cowering below, hiding behind political pablum, waiting on somebody else to fix it because you were worried about your own career.”

Waving the letter aloft, he said “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a serious message. This is not a serious proposal. This is not a serious alternative to what it is that ails South Carolina today. It is not. It is not.”

“What this is… this… is politics. South Carolina doesn’t need more politics. South Carolina needs serious answers to serious problems.”

Of the alternative the governor suggested, Caskey said: “We’re gonna bond out road paving over 20 years for something that’ll depreciate in 10. That’s his idea.”

“That’s not a serious answer.”

“What I am saying in my vote to override the veto is that this (holds up the letter), this is not good enough. We need more leadership.”

He tells his colleagues that however they vote, “I know you’ve been engaged. You led.” Unlike the governor.

He concluded by saying that a vote to override would say, “We deserve better. We deserve leadership. And you can take this message…”

(He crumples it and tosses it aside.)

… and keep it.”

After Micah’s speech, the House voted 95-18 to override the veto. The Senate followed suit, 32-12.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m proud to have Mr. Caskey as my representative. This video helps illustrate why.

tossRep. Micah Caskey throwing away the governor’s letter at the end of his speech.

 

About this kneeling thing…

kneel

As reluctant as I am to write about anything that happens on football fields, here goes…

Obviously, we have a different situation than we did when Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem.

Actually, to be technical, we had a different situation when Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling, way back when he still had a job. Obviously, kneeling is by definition less disrespectful.

And of course now, it’s no longer about the anthem or the flag, but about Donald Trump making a fool of himself yet again, as he is wont to do. Which is why serious essays on the subject have headlines such as “What Will Taking the Knee Mean Now?

My problem with Kaepernick’s original action — the sitting — was first, that it was so upsetting to my friend Jack Van Loan. Secondarily, it arose from the problem I tend to have with nonverbal forms of protest. My attitude is, if you have a problem with something, use your words.

Words allow us to be very precise about what upsets us and why it does. They allow us to clearly advocate remedies for the problems to which we object.

But what does refusing to stand for the flag, or the National Anthem, say? Since the flag, and the anthem, represent the entire nation, it means your beef is with everything about the country. Your protest is entirely lacking in specificity. You’re saying you’re objecting to the entire country because some white cops committed acts of violence against some black citizens — or whatever legitimate locus of concern you started with.

You’re saying the whole country is as bad as the North Charleston cop who shot Walter Scott. Every bit of it, starting with the Founders and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’re dissing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass along with Robert E. Lee (despite the fact Douglass has been doing such a terrific job lately). You’re lumping in Martin Luther King with George Wallace. They’re all part of America, so you blame them all.

This is not helpful, to your cause or to anything else.

You have a complaint — express it clearly and specifically. Use your words — preferably, quire a few more of them than you could fit on a bumper sticker.

Words aren’t perfect — I can certainly testify to that. Someone will always misunderstand. If you write “up,” you will surely be loudly castigated for saying “down.” But at least with words, there’s a chance of clear communication, and perhaps even agreement– perhaps even changing someone’s mind! (See what a Pollyanna I am?)

Anyway, all that is sort of beside the point now, since obviously the kneeling of the last few days has been about Donald J. Trump. He saw to that. He has managed to focus something that previous lacked focus.

Now, it’s about whether people have the right to kneel — and obviously, they do — and whether the president of the United States is empowered to order them not to. Which, of course, he isn’t.

He’s not too good with words himself, but Trump certainly has a talent for clarifying things…

The way to bring Americans together is fairly obvious

Young_men_registering_for_military_conscription,_New_York_City,_June_5,_1917

As soon as I saw this headline this morning:

Americans are stuck in bubbles. Here’s a way to pop them.

I thought, “The answer is obvious: National service.”

Y’all have heard my theory before, I’m sure: That American politics starting being nasty, with Democrats and Republicans thinking of each other as “the enemy” rather than as fellow Americans, when men who had not served together in the military started rising to top leadership positions in both parties.

Civil deliberation, a process upon which our republic relies in order to work, went off a cliff about the time Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich rose to lead their respective parties. What did they have in common? Neither had had the melting-pot experience of military service. Before them, political leaders who had not served in uniform were rare. After them, that was the norm.

And from then on, the partisanship got worse and worse. Guys who had served together had had an early formative experienced that forced them to realize that they had something fundamental in common with other Americans, regardless of race, religion, social class, regional origin or political views. As different as they might have been going into the Army, basic training taught them they were all just dogfaces. (Those who went into the Navy, Marines and Air Force had similar leveling experiences.)

But never mind me and my theory. Richard Cohen’s column this morning makes the same point, as you can tell he’s going to do from the first graf:

I once had a very close friend named Charlie. We spent every day together, and much of the night, too. I got to learn about his family and old neighborhood, and he got to learn about mine, and then one day I saw him no more. I went my way, and he went his, and it has been many years, but I remember him still. We had been in the Army together….

I was 23, an erstwhile claims guy for an insurance company who had been plodding through college at night, six credits a semester. At Fort Dix and later Fort Leonard Wood, I got thrown in with country boys who had never had a toothbrush (the Army gave them false teeth) and tough city kids who strutted the barracks by day but cried for their mothers in their sleep at night.

I learned about their lives, even their sex lives (I will spare you), and I got to like them, and some of them liked me as well. We all had the same goal, which was to get through training. We all dressed alike, ate the same food, showered together and, over time, became a single unit. I mostly hated the Army, but I mostly loved those guys.

Now the Army is for volunteers only. Now affluent kids go to schools and colleges with similar people and, afterward, work is usually not much different. They don’t know anyone who never used a toothbrush or cries in the night for his mother or speaks in a Southern accent so thick in molasses it might as well be a foreign language. These folks do not, in short, know America….

OK, I’ll stop there lest I get in trouble with the Post for exceeding Fair Use. But you get the idea.

You should read the whole thing, and when you do you’ll find that Cohen is not advocating a reinstatement of the draft.

Nor am I, at least at this moment in our history. Reinstating the draft would be problematic today. To cite but one problem, it would be politically difficult to institute a draft of males only. I’m not going to get into why I’d oppose drafting women and girls today; I’ll just say that I (and a lot of other people, including many, I suspect, who wouldn’t admit that was why they opposed the draft) don’t hold with it. Besides, the generals don’t really want draftees anyway — they much prefer to command patriotic and motivated volunteers, and it’s hard to blame them.

So it’s hard to make the argument right now that it’s a national security necessity.

Another problem I have is that as great a unifier as the draft was in its time, it was far from perfect. For instance, it left out guys like me. I’ve always sort of resented that — I’m a fairly healthy guy who could have made a contribution. At the same time, I can understand not wanting a soldier who, separated from his medications, could have an asthma attack in the middle of a battle and let the unit down.

But surely I could have been useful. That’s why I join Cohen in calling for a broader sort of national service that includes everybody, as they have in such places as Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Norway.

It would be good for those involved, and good for the country.

And it would send my libertarian friends ’round the bend, so there’s that cherry on top as well… :)

Jeff Flake’s critique of the GOP under Trump

Approved CFF

 

Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona that you don’t hear so much about, is getting a lot of buzz now for his new book calling out fellow Republicans for failing to stand up to Donald Trump.

Flake likens this action to that of his hero Barry Goldwater acting to keep the John Birch Society out of his conservative movement.

The Washington Post reported on the book this morning at some length. That piece is worth reading. An excerpt:

Just how bad have things gotten in his view? The Republican fears that the term Orwellian “seems quaint now” and “inadequate to our moment.” He muses about the need to devise a new word for the new age “to describe the previously indescribable.”

“Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign,” writes Flake, who has never been known for hyperbole. “And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything — or maybe nothing at all. Following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying problems, if not for solving them, we lurched like a tranquilized elephant from a broad consensus on economic philosophy and free trade that had held for generations to an incoherent and often untrue mash of back-of-the-envelope populist slogans.”

As Flake sees it, “We were party to a very big lie.” “Seemingly overnight, we became willing to roll back the ideas on the global economy that have given America the highest standard of living in history,” he writes. “We became willing to jettison the strategic alliances that have spared us global conflict since World War II. … We gave in to powerful nativist impulses that have arisen in the face of fear and insecurity. … We stopped speaking the language of freedom and started speaking the language of power. … Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior was excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it was actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

“Rather than fighting the populist wave that threatened to engulf us, rather than defending the enduring principles that were consonant with everything that we knew and had believed in, we pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” he adds. “Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended that the emperor was making sense. … It is a testament to just how far we fell in 2016 that to resist the fever and to stand up for conservatism seemed a radical act.”…

Meanwhile, Graham steps up with Dream Act

graham dreamers

Even as I was saying that with his particular friend John McCain out of action, the country really needed Lindsey Graham to step up… he was doing so.

Today, he and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin announced they were introducing the Dream Act. Here’s a release about it:

GRAHAM, DURBIN INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN DREAM ACT TO GIVE IMMIGRANT STUDENTS A PATH TO CITIZENSHIP

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced the Dream Act, which would allow immigrant students who grew up in the United States to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship.  These young people, known as Dreamers, have lived in America since they were children, built their lives here, and are American in every way except for their immigration status.  However, under current law they live in fear of deportation and have no chance to ever become citizens and fulfill their potential.

“These young people have lived in America since they were children and built their lives here,” said Graham.  “There is support across the country for allowing Dreamers — who have records of achievement — to stay, work, and reach their full potential.  We should not squander these young people’s talents and penalize our own nation.  Our legislation would allow these young people – who grew up in the United States – to contribute more fully to the country they love.  They have a powerful story to tell and this may be an area where both parties can come together.”

“Hundreds of thousands of talented young people who have grown up in our country are at risk of deportation to countries they barely remember.  I’ll do everything in my power as a United States Senator to protect these Dreamers and give them the chance to become American citizens so they can contribute to a brighter future for all Americans,” said Durbin.  “I first introduced the Dream Act 16 years ago and I’ll continue fighting until it becomes the law of the land. I thank Senator Graham for partnering with me in this bipartisan effort.”

The Dream Act would allow these young people to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship if they:

  • Are longtime residents who came to the U.S. as children;
  • Graduate from high school or obtain a GED;
  • Pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years, or serve in the military;
  • Pass security and law enforcement background checks and pay a reasonable application fee;
  • Demonstrate proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of United States history; and
  • Have not committed a felony or other serious crimes and do not pose a threat to our country.

A one-pager of the Dream Act is available here.  A section-by-section of the Dream Act is available here.

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We’ve needed both Graham and McCain’s leadership on immigration, which had waned somewhat in recent years. Because if they don’t step up, who among the majority will?

Here’s video of Graham’s and Durbin’s announcement (It doesn’t actually start until 23 minutes in.):

This may be the most hateful thing I’ve ever seen in politics

Forget what I said about people hating on David Brooks. That was nothing next to this:

FYI, John McCain is the only guy in Washington calling on the parties to drop the partisan posturing and try to draft healthcare legislation that will benefit the whole country:

“One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure. The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.”

So of course he’s hated. That’s how it works.

Of course, the stupid woman who did this is trying to walk it back. But there is no explaining away something that hateful. It just is what it is…

Why CAN’T I be a conservative-liberal, or liberal-conservative?

Lincoln was as radical a change agent as this nation has seen -- but his chief goal at every step was to conserve the union.

Lincoln was a conservative liberal. He was as radical a change agent as this nation has seen — but his chief goal at every step was to conserve the union.

The answer is, there’s no reason I can’t. In fact that’s what I am. But dang, it’s hard to explain to people, even though it seems natural to me.

Harry Harris and I were having a good discussion about political labels — ones that people apply to their opponents, and ones they apply to themselves (which can be just as irritating sometimes) — on a previous post. The thread started here.

The last thing Harry said about it was this:

My experience with self-labeled persons has been colored by encountering the very aspect of labeling that you parody. A frequent irritant is the conversion of an adjective (conservative, liberal) into a noun – “a conservative” or a whatever. What is it you want to conserve, Mr Conservative? What liberty do you want to unleash, Mr. Liberal? The assumption of a label, other than as a general description, often leads to a forced skewing of one’s understanding of many important ideas or issues. It often then promotes group-think and seeking-out only opinion or fact that would reinforce the prevailing attitude associated with that label. Many of us are overly binary in our thinking, and I believe the prevalence of self-adopted labels promotes such thinking as we basically throw ourselves in with that group. Then starts the name-calling. Now we feel almost compelled to label “those people” as leftists, liberals, commies, gringos, flat-earthers, knuckle-dragging reactionaries, or tree-huggers. I’m a liberal, Southern Baptist, Jesus-follower. The first few parts of my label are just adjectives. I’m probably more conservative on matters of church polity than my “conservative” Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. I’m more conservative on child-rearing related to behavior and decorum than most – but more liberal on allowing children to question and reject my theology and values. I ran a strict classroom with clear and strongly-enforced limits – but those limits allowed as much discretion and freedom as my students could handle – tailored to the situation. Was I liberal or conservative? I changed my mind and my practices on issues as experience dictated. Was I liberal or conservative? Or did I not let labels get in the way.
Labels can increase polarization, and self-adopting those labels equates to giving in to that polarization in my opinion.

Lots of good points there. My response ran along these lines…

The thing is, despite how irritating it has become to hear them, “conservative” and “liberal” are perfectly good words, implying perfectly good things. If only the people in and around our political system hadn’t dragged them through the mire over the past 50 years.

It’s a good thing to be conservative. It means, more than anything else, that you respect tradition — which is a value I cherish. It means respecting those who went before you, instead of assuming that “progress” means you’re better and wiser than those old dead dudes (which you’re not, especially if you have that attitude). It implies caution and responsibility. It means you don’t go off half-cocked. It means you respect the fundamental institutions of society — the family, the church, and yep, the government and its component institutions, such as the police, the military and the public schools.

“Liberal” also means good things. It means you favor liberty. It means you believe in pluralism, and freedom of conscience — including the views of people who don’t share yours. It means openness to new ideas. It means a willingness to change things if they aren’t as good as they should be. It means being generous. ALL Americans should be liberal, including conservatives, because conservatives believe in our institutions and underlying principles, and the essence of our system is that it is a liberal democracy.

The ideal public servant, in light of all that, would be both liberal and conservative, and I see no contradiction in that. For instance, you can have a deep respect for, and deference to, existing institutions while at the same time wanting to improve them. It means you can be a change agent while being cautious and responsible in your approach to change.

But folks who’ve been brainwashed by our parties, and by media that cover politics like is HAS to be a competition between two mutually exclusive teams (the sports model of coverage, which I despise), aren’t able to conceive of the two concepts going together. Language that should bring us together builds walls between us.

This leads to a great deal of misunderstanding. A lot of folks thought I was nuts, back in 2008, when I said I was happy either way the presidential election came out. The two parties had nominated the two people who I thought were the best candidates — John McCain and Barack Obama. It was the greatest win-win situation I’d seen in my adult life — the choice in November was between the two people we had endorsed in their respective primaries. Force to choose, I chose McCain over Obama — but I was pleased with Obama’s victory. Of course neither man was perfect — no one is. But they were both awfully good.

That made some people think I’d lost it, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I am conservative, and I am liberal, or I try to be. We should all strive to be both, as I defined them above. We should use these fine qualities to unite us, not as a means of separating us — which is what I’ve seen, unfortunately, for most of my adult life.

John Adams was a conservative liberal. He was a revolutionary, but a conservative one, who cherished the rule of law.

John Adams was a conservative liberal. He was a revolutionary, but a conservative one, who cherished the rule of law.

A family more like the Corleones than the Waltons

How the GOP leadership probably sees itself.

How the GOP leadership probably sees itself.

The thing that really jumped out at me from The Washington Post‘s revelation that Kevin McCarthy told fellow GOP leaders last year (when there was time left to head off the disaster) he thought Vladimir Putin was paying Donald J. Trump was Speaker Paul Ryan’s reaction:

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year….

Family? Really? If that’s what it is, then this family is a lot more like the Corleones than the Waltons — complete with omertà.

Wait, wait: I take it back. This is more like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

How Paul Ryan made it sound in that meeting last year.

How Paul Ryan made it sound in that meeting last year.

This is what I mean about the degradation of the presidency

This was my initial reaction to the news about Donald Trump’s dinner party at the White House:

But then I thought, that’s not really fair to the Joker, et al. In their universe, they were the crème de la crème of Gotham criminal society, tops in their field, the elite.

These folks are anything but that. It’s more like Trump assembled this group in an attempt to look classy by comparison. And it almost worked.

The Batman analogy having failed, I’m at a loss. And I’m not going to let myself go down this road, no matter the temptation:

But folks, I will say that, for those of you who still don’t understand, this is the problem with Donald Trump being president — his desecration of the office. All other problems — the cluelessness, the lying, the utter disregard for ethics, the open hostility to wisdom and experience, the stunning carelessness with policy — spring from that source. It’s the shameful American love affair with anti-intellectualism made flesh.

A dinner table at the White House should have the wit of the Algonquin Round Table, tempered by the nobility of purpose of the original King Arthur version.

Instead, look what we’ve got. This is the level the presidency has sunk to.

Evenings at the White House should look like this:

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Not like this:

21visitors-master768