Mr. Paul Goes to Howard

A few days ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave a speech at Howard University that has since been panned by pretty much everyone with a pulse. Former Congressman Artur Davis (R-AL) hit the nail on the head regarding the speech’s problems:

[I]t would have been much  more relevant for Paul to push his audience on why poverty and  inadequately funded black school districts stayed so persistent during  the decades of Democratic legislative rule in the South, a run that in  the states many of Howard’s students return home to every summer, just  ended in the last six years…. On the subject of federal assistance, Paul rightly held his ground  that more is not always better. But his mantra that ‘I want a government that leaves you alone’ had no chance of resonating with students who  view government as a source of student loans and Pell Grants, and to  whom being left alone might well mean being uninsured during a health  crisis. Paul avoided making the case that a conservative agenda might  actually outperform liberal goals in the area of poverty or education.  And in a university setting that teaches the value of offering evidence  for one’s propositions, Paul mentioned no specific policies that would  address the interests of people about to enter an uncertain job market  while straining to pay down the debt of financing a degree.

The problem with Republican politicians like Rand Paul is that they have not risen to power due to any single act of their own, but rather by being opposed to a party and a president who are deeply unpopular in their given constituencies. As such, these so-called conservatives have forgotten how to push for policies in which they believe, choosing instead to make opposition and obstruction goals A and B of their policy agendas. And that works for a while, because when a given area (like the general electorate of the State of Kentucky) doesn’t much like the president and isn’t particularly high on any Democrat anyways, you’ve got a natural constituency in which the winner of the Republican primary can be pretty reliably counted on to win the general election, so long as s/he can link several coherent sentences together in a speech (this is, of course, true in solid Democrat constituencies like Chicago, as well). So the problem with Sen. Paul, then, isn’t that he refuses to articulate his own policy goals or why the conservative agenda would be a better means of advancing impoverished minorities; it is that he has no interest in advancing any reliable policy because his entire raison d’etre in the Congress is to be an opposing force.

The other issue that Sen. Paul has is that in his political calculation to speak at Howard to begin with (and conservative columnist David Frum makes a pretty convincing argument that that’s what was going on here), he inadvertently showed his, and his party’s tone-deafness to issues of race overall. He is, of course, correct in saying that being white should not be an impediment to talk about race issues. But it is an impediment when people attempt to talk about race issues as they existed more than a century ago. To hear Sen. Paul tell it, the Republican Party freed the slaves under Lincoln, and because blacks tended to vote Republican following that, they should always tend to vote Republican. On the first part, the senator is absolutely correct; historically, blacks did tend to vote Republican. But by the same token, many things have changed since, say, the 1890s. In that decade, the Republican Party was stalwart against the flimsy Democratic Party notion that tariffs were bad for business. Would Sen. Paul like to revisit his position on tariffs to make his views better align with the historical Republican Party?

What has happened since that time is as important as what happened then, if not moreso. FDR happened. Lyndon Johnson happened. I mean, if Woodrow Wilson were the Democratic nominee in 2016, his views on racial integration would be slightly to the right of David Duke. Now, whatever else they might say, not even the most “conservative” Republican would cop to feeling sympathetic to the KKK, much less Wilson’s stunning indifference to racial inequalities that existed, persisted, and worsened during his tenure in the White House. For Sen. Paul not to note that the Democratic Party changed dramatically between 1916 and 1976 is simply ludicrous. But what is even more ludicrous is the insistence that the Democratic Party is the party of the Dixiecrats, a link Mr. Paul attempts to make. Again, historically speaking, he’s right: the Dixiecrats were primarily race-motivated white southern Democrats. But then the 1950s and 1960s happened, and many of them left the party in disgust (thanks, President Johnson!). To form a coalition that would give him the presidency he thought was his right, it was Republican Richard Nixon who helped subsume the Dixiecrats into the Republican Party, thus creating the southern branch of the GOP that persists to this day. I mean, if Sen. Paul’s idea of history held up, wouldn’t it follow that the South should be voting for Democrats, not Republicans?

Republicans aren’t going to win by going on the lecture circuit. They’re not going to win by being blind to history. And they’re definitely not going to win by trying to score points just for showing up. That’s not how politics works. And until a Republican steps up and says, “Hey, you know what? We’ve fucked up in the past. But we can do better in the future. And here’s why we’re speaking to you…” they’re going to face a dwindling share of an electorate increasingly hostile to their backwardness and tokenism. Such feelings will inevitably lead to hostility even to the party’s more noble goals, paving the way for Democratic domination. And I don’t think anyone wants that — not even Democrats.

Where Gun Legislation Opponents Lose the Argument

I was listening to Sen. James Risch (R-ID) on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday talking about his pledge to oppose any semblance of gun control legislation. The thing is, he (I believe inadvertently) showed about the weakest argument I’ve ever heard in opposition to gun control legislation:

If you expand [current gun laws] beyond [licensed dealers] to people who are required to be dealers – and you can sell a handful of firearms every year and not be a dealer – if you expand it to those people, they’re going to have to deal with the federal bureaucracy, which is very, very difficult to deal with.

So let’s be clear here: Sen. Risch is saying that people who are not authorized gun dealers should be allowed to sell any guns they choose and not have to deal with the “federal bureaucracy.” I cannot fathom how a man who is in the business of legislating can hold such obtuse views about legislation.

First of all, I am awaiting Sen. Risch’s sponsorship of a bill that would make printing “Not for individual resale” on those mini bulk bags of Cheetos illegal, since selling just a few of them out of my house would not make me a grocer. I mean, really, what the hell is he talking about?

But let’s get to the real issue — and despite some liberal protestations to the contrary, there is a commerce issue here. What the senator is probably talking about is the ability folks now have to take, say, a Smith & Wesson Model 3 from 1877 and sell it to a collector without having to deal with the bureaucracy inherent in being a gun dealer. The thing isthey can do that anyway. Anyone who’s ever watched Pawn Stars knows that collectible guns are of a different class than, say, a Kahr P45.

Based solely on those comments, it would appear that Sen. Risch is confused about what legislation has the ability to do — which itself is confusing because he not only holds a J.D. but was President of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association. However, this is not the end of the senator’s silly comments. Immediately after the comments above, Sen. Risch continues,

And, really, if you have the right to keep and bear arms, you should have the rights – you – it connotes a right to purchase one, to sell one, to trade in one, and you really have to have a robust market if indeed you’re going to have a constitutional right.

Let’s take this assertion to its logical conclusion. If you have a certain right to ownership, it connotes the right to sell and trade what you own and creates its own market. Okay. So let’s look directly at another amendment, the 17th:

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This, as any eighth grader should be able to tell you (emphasis on should), is the amendment that provides for the direct election of senators. Senators, in other words, are to be elected by a direct vote of the people in that state, in accordance with all Constitutional local voting regulations. The thing is, this is a direct infringement on what could be a booming industry. I mean, between candidates, corporations, billionaires, millionaires, and just your average folks, not to mention the government putting the show on, not to mention the political parties that do these massive conventions every year… how much money is already spent on elections? So wouldn’t it allow your average voter — particularly the ones who don’t vote — the chance to make some spending money, thus stimulating the economy? Hell, if it’s a big, important election, the free market would dictate just how much votes would go for — and they’d probably be a lot more valuable in depressed areas like the swaths of Ohio that are constantly canvassed by presidential candidates in hopes of attaining the state’s electoral votes.

I am being facetious here. I do not believe it should be legal to sell one’s vote. But I also don’t believe that an amendment codifying my right to directly elect senators using a vote that belongs solely to me connotes that I have the right to sell or barter that vote. And it is patently ludicrous for a United States Senator to use such an argument about any amendment.

More importantly, this gets to the hypocrisy of so-called “Constitutional Textualists” like Sen. Risch pretends to be. These folks supposedly believe that the Constitution is textual, that no rights exist that aren’t directly put into the document itself. For example, the textual argument says that there is no right to privacy found in the Constitution. Okay, fine, I’ll go with that. But coming back after that and saying that an amendment about keeping and bearing arms connotes the right to sell said arms privately flies directly in the face of of the textualist argument.

Not all gun advocates are like this. Indeed, not all gun advocates are opposed to any semblance of gun legislation. And certainly, not all gun advocates and gun legislation opponents make arguments as logically void and, well, dumb as Sen. Risch. But I do believe that Sen. Risch represents the thinking of a lot of gun legislation opponents — those who have not thought through the whole thing logically and are instead making knee-jerk arguments based on the warm, fuzzy feelings firearms give them. And that’s fine and well, if that’s your cup of tea. But all I ask is for gun legislation opponents to be more logical and consistent in their stances.

The Confessions of Cosmofurthur

I met a friend for drinks on my birthday a few weeks ago, and we got to talking about faith. This friend was raised in a multi-faith household, the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother (which means he’s got guilt-trip issues to spare). Having been raised rather devoutly Catholic myself, I’ve long had my own issues with faith — the inherent contradictions in scripture, the scientific impossibilities of things not thought of as articles of faith but indeed facts, the anti-gay streak that doesn’t sound like any of the Christ-y love I grew up hearing about… and that’s not to mention the rape scandals that have plagued the Church for the last fifteen years (but were, quite obviously, issues long, long before then). So anyways, our conversation drifted to the idea of church-going, and I admitted that, well, yes, for the last month or so, I’d been attending church. His response was one of surprise: he said, “I’ve always thought of you as a ‘free-thinker.’ Did that change?” I sort of flippantly responded that no, that hadn’t changed, but that I had used my power of free-thought to come to a different conclusion than many so-called “free-thinkers.” His response didn’t, I don’t think, indicate so much a hostility to religion or faith as his bafflement that someone who had been denying the existence of God for quite a while (and who has always wanted to meet St. Augustine just so he could punch him square in the jaw for being such a dick) would just suddenly lay on the whole church thing. The thing is… it wasn’t sudden, and it wasn’t an accident, and it isn’t an affliction. It’s… something else entirely.

I should back up a bit here. When I was a kid, I went to church more out of habit than anything else. But around puberty, something clicked within me, and I started taking church and religion very, very seriously. I was pious as hell: church every Sunday, prayers at night, journal entries praising God — I was an evangelical in Catholic clothing (no, literally; I went to a Catholic school). And I absolutely loved the Church and the Mass. The ritual all meant something; all that standing and sitting and kneeling and bowing and genuflecting all had meaning. It gave me the feeling of being a part of something greater than myself — this ancient church, still adhering to (essentially) the same precepts as it did 2,000 years ago, preaching about God’s love and the fact that despite our sinful ways, we could still be redeemed and lead good lives. There’s something to that.

Now, this isn’t to say that I was ever conservative about it. I was a teenage boy; I don’t think more than three seconds passed, even whilst in church, without my thinking about sex. I’ve always believed in equality for gays, that it wasn’t a disorder but rather the way God made them, and that discrimination in any way was absolutely against God’s plan. I believed even then (as I do now) that, as a practical matter, abortion an euthanasia ought to be legal, even if they weren’t things I’d personally choose. There was never a moment where I thought women should cover up more, and indeed, it made no sense to me that women couldn’t be priests or that priests couldn’t be married. In fact, that was what kept me from pursuing the priesthood instead of English — I wanted to fuck, and I wanted to fuck a lot. When asked by a dear friend in high school if I was a “wait until marriage” type, I believe my response was, “Abso-fucking-lutely not.” She reprimanded me for that… and then she got laid before I did. Of course.

Then the rape scandals began to drop — first as a trickle, then as an apparently unceasing flood. The thing is, I always felt a smidgen of sympathy for the guys that actually performed the rapes: not that they shouldn’t have gone to jail or anything like that, but because they were obviously disordered. They were, for all intents and purposes, insane. The real criminals, I felt, were the ones who knew and understood that raping children was a terrible, terrible idea but did nothing to stop it and in fact encouraged it to happen by simply reassigning these poor bastards, still allowing them around children.

Simultaneously, I began to feel a strong pull towards nature. I didn’t like the simple way we Catholics viewed God, either — this old man in the sky who delighted in meddling in our everyday lives. And don’t even get me started on the Book of Job, which I finally read, and which made me rather pissy with God for a good long while.

Image

Just like Willow!

So, I stopped going to church. But that didn’t quite make me an unbeliever yet. I still felt the presence of God, or of gods, or of something. Thanks mainly to my own research but owing a deep debt to a girl I was seeing at the time, I began to dabble in a solitary earth-based religion that bore elements of Wicca and reconstructionist paganism, but which I refined to be my own thing. And what really got me going, honestly, was the duality of everything: it was ritualistic and much like the Catholic mass; the “gods” were essentially doubles of the saints I’d been praying to my whole life; the “spells” over which some Christian
denominations get themselves into quite the tizzy were really just meditative prayers. And, of course, I was at my most devout when I found myself in a most unfamiliar situation, that of being in Spain, not knowing the language, and not really knowing anybody, added to having been dumped from a two-year relationship a few weeks prior to leaving for said trip. It was a rather stressful time, and I took solace in the ritual that was my personal religion.

When I returned from Spain, however, the rituals slowly began to go away, as did my little talks with God, or the Goddess, or the gods, or whatever. Soon enough, I was pretty much over the whole religious thing altogether, a brief attempt at attending a Unitarian Universalist church notwithstanding. But yet it never really left me: I still felt the strong sting of every unfolding Church scandal; I still tracked the sabbats on the Wheel of the Year; and, as Lafayette Reynolds once put it perfectly succinctly on True Blood, “Just because Jesus an’ me agreed to see other people don’t mean we don’t still talk from time to time.”  Actually, I think that’s wholly accurate: I didn’t still have my churchgoing faith, but there was an inkling of something that simply didn’t go away. In my darkest times, I’d still find myself saying a prayer, having a little talk with God, as Stevie Wonder might put it.

Fast-forward a few years. Since then, I’ve started my first postcollegiate job, hated my first postcollegiate job, run away from my first postcollegiate job (so far, in fact, that it took me to Aberystwyth, Wales, also known as my favorite place on Earth), returned home, started up the most important relationship I’ve ever had, moved in with said partner, and gotten engaged (we’ll be married in September). Through all of this joy and wonder, I fell deeper and deeper into a negative mental state that I’m not going to get into on this blog, because that’s not really the point. Except to say this: about six months ago, I was in an incredibly dark place, and there were only two ways out; I chose the one that wasn’t dying.

Here’s where I’m supposed to say, “God saved me,” but that simply wouldn’t be true. God didn’t save me, at least not directly. It’s not like His hand touched me or He healed my wounds or He came down from heaven and took all my problems away. Because that’s just not how this works, see. But thanks to a good amount of positivity, the help of a perfectly-matched head-shrinker, an extremely patient fiancee, and shit-tons of Polyphonic Spree music blaring through my headphones, I made it through that dark time. So no, it wasn’t God that saved me.

What happened, though, was that God did kind of, well, find me.

One of the things my shrink recommended I explore to get out of the thick grey bubble I was in was stuff that made me happy when I was at my happiest. The first and most obvious choice was music; I’ve been an avid musician since I was old enough to sing a few notes. Then, of course, there was reading, and read I did, on a tear — I’m currently on my eighth book of the year thus far. Yet still, something was missing. So in February, quite out of the blue, and after about a month of saying, “I want to go; let’s go” and then chickening out, I walked from work over to a Catholic church for Ash Wednesday. Going to church felt good, but not great; something was still missing.

The following Sunday, I skipped church, but a week later, my fiancee and I attended another Catholic mass. And it. Was. Awful. The priest’s rambling sermon had more to do with penance and guilt than it did with the loving sacrifice we were supposed to be commemorating — “For God so loved the world that He sent His only son,” etc. Where was that? I was really confused.

But I still had this void in me; I still wanted to go to church. Even though I wasn’t sure that I believed even in God, much less the divinity of Christ, I felt a– a– calling (yeah, that’s a cliche way of putting it. Sue me.). So we started looking into churches that might balance what we both wanted — me, the tradition and ritual; she, a casual and younger-skewing congregation. What neither of us wanted, however, was a place that was too, shall we say, Jesus-y. Not that Jesus was bad–far from it! But we wanted a place that lived like Jesus, not a place that talked about him.

So, I was looking up churches in our area, and I came across one that piqued my interest. Mainly, it was that it was just cheesy enough without being lame, and just goofy enough without seeming impious (example: the church’s staff includes an Assistant Sexton and Shepherd, both of whom, well, see for yourself). It had the added virtue of being Episcopalian, which was good for me because it wouldn’t seem quite so alien as other denominations (Episcopalians are very much within the Catholic tradition and refer to their “rival” denomination not as the “Catholic” church, since they, too, consider themselves lowercase-c catholic, but as the “Roman church,” which I personally think is more accurate).  There are a few minor differences between the churches (most notably that Episcopalians don’t adhere as strictly to any idea of transubstantiation), but mostly, the tradition was something with which I’d be mostly familiar.

Image

All Saints’ Church

So we went in one Sunday morning in early March, and I was immediately skeptical: they started the mass off with a reading of the Ten Commandments, a tradition during Lent. Already, this new place was doing alien things. And I was honestly a little scared. Then things simmered down, and the readings began. By the time we got to the Gospel, which was an obscure parable about a fig tree, I was back in the swing of stuff I remembered (though I didn’t recall the parable). But I was thinking all through the readings, the songs (which were sung and played beautifully by a very able and wonderful choir), and the rest of it, Well, I mean, this is fine and all, but I don’t feel it. I’m still not moved. Am I maybe just trying to force this church thing? Maybe I need something else to fill my time. Maybe it wasn’t so much church calling to me as–

I was cut off in my own thinking by the sermon. It kind of came out like a bolt of lightning. It wasn’t shocking or particularly vibrant (though the preacher did have an excellent bit about nobody knowing what the hell the “Parable of the Barren Fig Tree” was). But it related precisely how this obscure little parable might actually apply to life. And then came the shocker (though I shouldn’t have been shocked, it was flabbergasting for this now thrice-lapsed Catholic to hear from the pulpit): the preacher thanked God that marriage equality would hopefully soon be coming to Illinois. By this point, I couldn’t suppress my smile. By the way, if you’re at all curious, you can hear the sermon in its entirety here.

The Communion was a bit different, too: kids of all ages were allowed to take it, and they lined up one by one to do so. But what really sold me on the church came right after Communion. Rev. Bonnie Perry, the church’s rector (a woman, which was yet another piece to the awesomesauce puzzle that is All Saints) did the church announcements in a very casual, almost improvised manner that I found charming — this after she had smiled nearly the entire way through her own blessing of the bread and wine before Communion. She called for birthdays of the month, and I was forced by my fiancee to stand and give mine — Rev. Perry recognized me two weeks later and remembered that that day was indeed my birthday. But the thing that sold me the most was a very, very simple, very human moment that came after all the announcements were done: Bonnie dismissed the youngest children to head to their Sunday school, and as they trampled out the way kids do, she called out, “You can all go back now – walking!” almost the way a teacher would do — but she did so with this big, wide smile. I left the church that day thinking, Well, THAT was a thing

So here we are, over a month later, and I’m still as enthusiastic about it as ever. I took Holy Week pretty seriously this year, going to church almost every day. However, on Easter Sunday, we were out of town, and we attempted another Episcopalian Church… and it was so undeniably different that I was actually taken aback. So formal, so rigid, so… Protestant… It just wasn’t for me. And that’s when I realized it: I’d truly found a church home, one that made me feel whole.

…which brings me back to my dear friend’s point about being a “free thinker.” I’m still a free thinker. And I’m not going to go to church just for the sake of going to church, not now, not ever. That’s just not me. But sitting in All Saints every Sunday, listening to Rev. Perry or Rev. Holliday explain what in the hell all that Gospel stuff really means (and how it’s applicable to the present, and why it’s okay to think things like, Man, I GET why the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son was so pissed off!) — I get Christ. I mean, I get it. The smells and bells don’t actually help me understand it any better. Neither do the exclusionist denominations that, however well-intentioned, just serve to be dicks to good people. And while I do still hold that ritual stuff dear, I’ve found that the ritual itself isn’t as important as the people with whom I’m sharing it. I’ve never been to a church quite like the one I’m at now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find one again. But I do know that, in the here and now, I’m a Christian again, and it’s all because of the incredible and loving community that makes up All Saints.

That’s why I’m going to write this last paragraph very, very carefully. Having been down the atheist (or, perhaps more accurately, agnostic) road, I like to think I understand atheism pretty well. It really, really pisses me off when religious folk not only dismiss atheism but demean it. I tend to agree with C.S. Lewis’s assessment that atheism is a little too simple, but it’s also a little too simple to believe that everything that happens was just because of God (which is essentially the religious answer to, “Wizard did it!”). However, atheists come at the world differently, and they’re entitled to it. If there is a God, I’m relatively certain that if He cares about one damn thing we do, it’s whether or not we’re good people, not whether or not we believe in Him (and Jesus backs me up on this, by the way, hence the Parable of the Good Samaritan).

That said, neither, I think, should atheists get on their high horses and make fun of all religious folk. Painting in broad brushes is a bad thing, and pretending all religious people are the same is at best unnecessary, and at worst a creation of a religion in and of itself. One thing that’s always pissed me off about Bill Maher, for example, is emphatically not the fact that he’s an atheist (I actually like that, because it makes his arguments with Andrew Sullivan all the more fun); it’s that when confronted by the fact that he evangelizes his own beliefs, he backs away and says, “No, atheism by definition isn’t a religion.” That’s a cop-out. People should believe what they want to believe (or not believe), but to me, there’s something to be said for doubt in all phases. I talked about this in my last post: you can’t just go around never questioning what you believe, because it turns you into a zealot. Devout believers need to go through periods of doubt and humility, because it is by design impossible to know with 100% certainty that all this religious stuff is true; but so, too, do atheists need the same kind of doubt and humility, because they don’t know anything any better than the rest of us. I mean, sure, the Scientologists believe some wacky shit, but what happens if it turns out they were right, and Xenu will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead? I don’t so much expect that to happen, but because I can neither see the future nor see beyond the veil of this life, I can’t know for certain. Ever. And that’s okay.

See? I’m still a free-thinker. Christians can be free-thinkers too.

When the “Rational Defense” Fails Us

I just read the horrifying story of Steven Smith, an Ohio man who, according to pretty much everyone involved with the story (including Smith himself) committed maybe the most heinous crime of which I’ve ever heard. Essentially, Smith was rocked-off-his-socks drunk and tried to get it on with his girlfriend; when she wouldn’t budge, he raped her six-month-old daughter, who subsequently died as a result of the assault. Smith is now facing the death penalty for murder, but defense attorneys are appealing — it seems that Ohio state law has a provision that says to be put to death, one must show intent to murder, and it is at best unclear whether Smith’s rape of the baby was with intent to kill her.

At the bottom of the article to which I’ve linked above, the Huffington Post has a poll question: “Should Steven Smith Be Put to Death?” I have always been against the death penalty, dating back even to my good ol’ Catholic schoolboy days. But you read something like that — not just that Smith raped a baby, but that he did so in retribution for his girlfriend not having sex with him — and, well, I want to see the sumbitch put to death. And not just this lethal injection bullshit — I want this guy to suffer. The electric chair wouldn’t be painful enough; hell, crucifixion wouldn’t be painful enough. I want some Spanish Inquisition torture, followed by a slow hacking away at his limbs, followed by castration, followed by feeding him his genitals, followed by that one torture method where he’s placed like a quarter-inch above a bamboo tree and made to sit there whilst the bamboo literally grows through him — and even that might not be enough. I mean, he raped a baby to death.

And this is exactly why the death penalty needs to be eliminated: I can’t imagine many people disagreeing with that.

There is no one who could read the story of Steven Smith and be rational. It’s just not possible. The sick nature of the crime — and Smith’s unconscionable rationale for committing it — have made him an absolute monster, someone undeserving of mercy from the people. But the thing is, while it is absolutely the place of the people to remove such a monster from society, it is impossible to pass rational judgment on such a man to the extent that it would take to snuff out his life. If we can’t be rational even reading a story about Smith due to the heinous nature of his crimes, how could any person possibly be expected to be rational enough to judge whether or not he intended to kill the baby? I mean, just read over those words again: he raped a baby to death. It sounds like something out of Firefly or a really, really awful serial killer movie. Can you even read that phrase without feeling your blood boil? I sure can’t. And so, we cannot be rational about such a crime.

The retort to this that I’ve often heard is that we should do what the families want. If a family doesn’t want to pursue the death penalty, the state shouldn’t do it; but if they do, the state should. That’s ludicrous. That baby’s mother is the last person I would ever want making those kinds of decisions. Hell, I’d rather she kill this bastard herself than to pursue the death penalty (and for the record, I’d probably vote to acquit her of such a crime on grounds of temporary insanity). This isn’t a matter of whether or not the family of a murder victim wants the death penalty; it’s a matter of what powers the state should or should not have. If it’s hard enough for you or me to be rational about a crime, especially a crime so unreal as this one, imagine what it must be for a mother or a father or a sister or a brother.

Which brings me back to the HuffPost poll. I must first say, shame on the Huffington Post for acting so callous about this. The death penalty is an important topic to discuss, but it is emphatically NOT one that should be boiled down to a poll on the matter (see my last post). But beyond that, it’s counterproductive to ask the question, because the only answer that I can possibly come up with is, YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES! And that’s the problem with capital punishment: it asks us to make a decision that is truly not ours to make. I don’t think the world would be losing anything but one of the biggest scumbags on the planet if Smith were to die tomorrow. Honestly, I don’t even think it would be a shame if he were put to death; he surely doesn’t deserve to live, and it’s unlikely he could ever make up for such a crime. But if the question before us is, Should anyone ever be put to death by the government… well, that’s simply not as clear to me. I still don’t think anyone ever should be sentenced to die, partly because jail is a worse punishment, and partly because it is impossible to take back if evidence to the contrary comes up later.

But let’s not kid ourselves here. This kind of crime has to make someone so staunchly against the death penalty rethink his or her stance. I’m not saying it has to make one change his or her mind, necessarily; it doesn’t, ultimately, change mine. Yet surely, if there ever were an instance where capital punishment were justified, this is one.

Boiled-down Arguments Aren’t Arguments

From Facebook group Go Left, a community that proudly declares, “Elect Democrats and get rid of the Tea Stains in government!”

I am, occasionally proudly, occasionally not-so-proudly, generally considered to be a leftist. I have no issue whatsoever with taxation (albeit a proper type of taxation, but that’s for a different post entirely), and while I am generally sympathetic to the idea that government shouldn’t mess with our lives more than it needs to in order to make sure society isn’t spinning entirely out of control (esoteric arguments for the anarchist/libertarian utopia notwithstanding), I generally believe in a (devolved local) government that redistributes from those who need it the least to those who need it the most, on a sliding scale and within a certain amount of reason (and science! Let’s not forget science!). There is undoubtedly something to be said for certain conservative arguments to the contrary, particularly with respect to the federal government, but again, these ideas of mine (always open to change and always in a constant process of review) tend to skew to the left. Liberalism, from my understanding, is supposed to be the ideology that is reflexively intuitive about change: it is willing to change with the times and not rely on tradition as the sole arbiter of what works. Because, I mean, let’s face it: if you think the Founding Fathers would’ve come up with the same Constitution had they been face-timing on their iPads rather than talking in the rather more stuffy forum in which the document was ultimately drafted, you’re an idiot. Back then, not getting killed by a Native American tribesman was of the utmost priority (as opposed to now, when we’re just worried about losing our money to them in their all-too-addictive casinos). Back then, it took about three minutes to reload your pistol. Hell, we are almost as far removed from the Founding Fathers’ meetings as they were from the invention of the printing press! The point, of course, is that this is what made me a liberal. I strongly believe in being open to logical arguments, in changing with the times, in listening to tradition but not being defined by it.

Unfortunately, if this post I stole off a Facebook friend is to be taken at face-value, liberals don’t agree with me.

Look, I am sympathetic to the argument that George W. Bush is the worst president ever. At the very least, he is likely the worst two-term president in history, blowing Woodrow Wilson and Harry S Truman out of the water by a pretty wide margin. And yes, for what it’s worth, it turns out the Heritage Foundation’s assumptions about the 2001 Tax Cuts were absolutely wrong. But let’s get a few things straight here, shall we?

  1. The Heritage Foundation’s math wasn’t wrong. I know this is hard for my fellow liberals to hear, but it’s true, if you read the math a certain way (and if you think that math is always the same no matter where you go, you’ve obviously never been to Washington, or this place just outside the Wisconsin Dells called the Weird Spot, which I think, unfortunately, has closed, but man was that thing cool!). Now, it’s totally legit to criticize the Heritage Foundation for being both unconscionably naive and unbelievably overly optimistic, because both were absolutely true. The idea was that the tax cuts would go to two main segments: small businesses (though defining what makes a “small business” is somehow even more nebulous than defining what an assault weapon is) and a group called “high-middle-income earners” (which is an absurdly misleading way of saying “rich people”). The logic was pretty simple, too: high earners get their taxes cut, so they spend more; small businesses get their taxes cut, so they can spend more, too; both sides spend more, pay more in sales and luxury taxes, revenues go up, social programs are solvent, and everything is hunky-dory. Now, obviously, that’s not what happened. But that isn’t solely because the rich used the money to pay down previously incurred debt (which they did) or that small businesses suddenly included nationwide franchises with thousands of employees (which it, for some reason that passes all my understanding, still does). No, something more insidious happened.
  2. We went to war. TwiceThe debt exploded under President Bush in a way that it hasn’t even under President Obama (yes, despite math saying the contrary) because the two wars were not put on the books. Putting the wars on the books has made the current president pretty easy to pillory for conservatives, but what actually happened was that the debt was going up and up and up under President Bush, while stewards in the Bush Administration were essentially George Bluth-ing the books in an effort to make it look like the country was more solvent than it was. But you know what? We weren’t at war in 2001. That’s just a fact. And while the Heritage Foundation’s math ultimately didn’t add up for several reasons that are absolutely attributable to the Foundation’s members simply being naive about spending, it isn’t their fault that two wars flared up to really screw with their original numbers. What should have happened is that the Bush Administration should have revised the numbers. Of course, they didn’t, and that’s why George W. Bush is looked upon about as fondly as that curried lentil dish that’s currently rotting away your lower intestine. Which brings me to my third, and perhaps most important, point.
  3. The Ryan Budget is, emphatically (and I can’t stress this enough) NOT THE BUSH BUDGET. It isn’t okay? It’s just not. In 2001, George W. Bush, elected without a plurality of the popular vote, wanted to push through a piece of legislation that, funny enough, was wildly popular, since Reaganomics (which Bush’s father had quite correctly called “voodoo economics”) had yet to be wholly discredited (and yes, dear conservative readers, it pretty much has been, especially because what truly needed to happen was the course correction that happened under President George H.W. Bush, the result of which was a conservative depression that, thanks to you whiny little trolls, brought us not one but two Clinton Administrations. You’re welcome.). George W. Bush wanted to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, grab hold of it like a cock, and wail on it a while. And he had the full backing of a conservative movement so full of piss, vinegar, and undeniable hubris that it really thought the full fruition of trickle-down economics would finally bring about peace and prosperity in our time. They were wrong. However, in fairness to them, a full-on conservative economic agenda like that one had the virtue of never having truly been implemented before. This photo talks about something that takes place ten years later, in the wake of a near-double-dip recession, in the wake of two wars that probably caused said recession, in the wake of European austerity failing miserably in Britain and causing places like Greece to become near-failed states with the kind of nonsense going on. This means – and this is important, so pay attention, liberals – this isn’t the same time period as 2001. We have gone through, and, to a large extent, come out the other end of an economic downturn that rivals only the Great Depression in our recent history. That means that whatever Paul Ryan and his cronies on the Hill are proposing, it isn’t the same as the Bush Economic Doctrine.

But wait! you say. That can’t be right, because both of them call for tax cuts! Well, yes, they do. But name me someone who doesn’t like the idea of his taxes getting cut. Seriously. Just one. Warren Buffet? Bullshit. He doesn’t want to pay taxes any more than I do or you do or Paul Ryan or Ron Paul or Rand Paul or the ghost of Ayn Rand’s genitalia does. No one likes paying taxes, not even liberals. So it’s pretty easy, then, for people to propose tax cuts. Look at the last presidential election — did you hear President Obama say, “Hey, working class stiffs! You know what? We’re S.O.L. on our debt. We’re so screwed, we’re considering getting corporate sponsorship for the White House (brought to you by Jiffy Lube®!) So, to make sure we can pay them Chinamen all that we owe ‘em, we’re gonna raise YOUR taxes! Who’s with me? YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!”

No, President Obama didn’t say these words. He had no interest in telling people he was raising their taxes. Sure, it’s easy to tell a few thousand multibillionaires that he’s going to jack up their tax rates by a few tenths of a percent – ooh, big sacrifice — but he’s not going to call for middle class tax increases because he can’t sell it any more than any conservative can sell it. So if all you can come at me with is, “Paul Ryan and George W. Bush both called for tax cuts,” well, yeah, so does every politician not named Bernie Sanders.

Look, the biggest issue of all, after all this, is that it’s both hypocritical and smug of liberals to accuse the Heritage Foundation of fuzzy math when A) there’s a whole lot more to the argument than that, and B) their standard-bearer has used his own fuzzy math an awful lot. It’s patently unnecessary, moreover, to create smug little comics like the one above, because all it does is cause the other side to retrench. Oh, you think these are the same? Well, you’re an asshole, and “your” president is a Marxofascist Muslim-lovin’ Black Panther! It’s no way to win the argument; it’s just masturbatory fantasy to make liberals feel self-satisfied about being liberals. It’s not even propaganda; it’s pretty much just porn. And while even porn has its place, it’s not necessary in the realm of public policy. Because this shit affects real people’s lives. It’s time to stop being so smug with these boiled-down arguments and actually argue these cases on their merits, maybe, possibly, coming to something that actually resembles a real public policy in this country. And it’s gonna have to be us, because it’s not gonna be anyone else.