The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Good riddance!

One of the things I have felt is hurting the cause of conservatism has been that a group of people styling themselves "social conservatives" have tried to use the conservative movement and the Republican Party to showcase their bigoted view of humanity. So it is good news to me to see that "social conservatives" are leaving the rest of the conservative movement — the Conservative Political Action Conference is holding a meeting in February and because a gay group was invited to attend, the "social conservatives" will not. I am certain that Barry Goldwater, who approved of gay rights, would be on the side of CPAC. Good riddance to the "social conservatives"!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I guess it took a judge!

It seems that Joe Miller would not withdraw his challenge to Lisa Murkowski's certification. So it finally came down to a Federal District Judge, Ralph Beistline, who ruled yesterday that Miller's challenge was to be rejected. Read about it here. This means that Alaska will be represented by its proper two Senators in the new Congress. And one hopes that Joe Miller will realize that Alaska's citizens gave their decision, and he lost.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Separation of church and state

I find it hard, this time of the year, to figure out what to respond to people who wish me "Merry Christmas." Since this isn't Nazi Germany, we Jews don't go around wearing badges that say "Jew," so many of them are simply innocently making an assumption that everyone they meet celebrates Christmas, and I don't really want to start an argument with such people, so I'm stumped for a reply. Sometimes I simply say "Happy New Year"; my wife says "Happy holiday"; but neither seems quite the right response. (Often I just nod to acknowledge it. But even that does not seem the right response.) And also there are people who do it quite deliberately: I saw a column recently by someone who said she always wishes people "Merry Christmas" and was happy to note that others wish her "Merry Christmas" in reply; she takes that as approval. People like that I would happily start an argument with, but I can't tell the two apart, so I'm stuck.

We find people arguing that "separation of church and state" is not proclaimed in our Constitution. Truly, those specific words do not appear. But neither do the words "air force." Yet nobody would say that the Constitution only provides for an army and navy, and the other branches of the Defense Department were unconstitutionally established. Not even Justice Antonin Scalia would hold to that literal an interpretation of the Constitution. So we really have to go to the intent of the people who wrote the Constitution. The Constitution itself says that "no religious test shall be required" for any office. And the First Amendment, which many of us (myself included) consider to be one of the most important parts of the Constitution, forbids an "establishment of religion." Now, many "religious conservatives" maintain that the First Amendment simply forbids raising one form of Christianity above another; I think that George Washington, who wrote the famous "to bigotry no sanction" letter, would put that idea to rest.

I think the biggest expert on the meaning of the Constitution in this regard has to be James Madison. He is widely believed to have written much of the Constitution itself; he certainly did write many of the papers called "The Federalist" which explained the Constitution to the people. And he was also the author of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, including that First Amendment which we are discussing here. And if you read my earlier post on reading fhe Constitution, you will see that Madison, at least, believed in a very strict separation of church and state. So I think we are on strong ground in defending that separation.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Joe Miller and Alaska's Senate seat

Joe Miller, for some reason, has tried to frustrate the wishes of Alasks's people, who re-elected Lisa Murkowski to the Senate. He certainly knows that he lost the election last month; he could only postpone the inevitable. But Alaska's Supreme Court has delivered a ringing opinion in favor of common sense. Miller can still appeal to Federal court, but that would be a really nasty and stupid thing to do. Why Miller fought this long I don't know, but I hope it's finally over.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Scott Brown and the Tea Party

I recently saw a posting on another blog (The FrumForum, a very nice blog which often has posts with which I agree) entitled: "Scott Brown Frustrates Tea Party." (This post apparenmtly comes from another source, "The Boston Globe" blog.) And it points out that Senator Brown, in his moderation, is frustrating Tea Party extremists, who may put up a primary opponent in two years when he has to run for a full six-year term. Apparently the Tea Partiers haven't learned their lesson. Harry Reid and Chris Coons are going to be sitting in the Senate at next month's swearing-in because Tea Partiers defeated Sue Lowden and Mike Castle with Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell in the primaries. If only they would understand that "Half a loaf is better than none."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Politics that works, and politics that doesn't

One of the blogs I like to read is Dennis Sanders' "Big Tent Revue." And recently I saw a post on there in which he directed readers to another interesting article, by Walter Russell Mead, who writes a blog called "The American Interest." I find this post very interesting, and would like to refer my own readers to this post, though it is not to my taste in the way that it treats both of the two major political forces today as species of liberalism.

But what I would like to ask Mead is: "OK, so you've identified a problem: two groups of political thinkers each of which, you feel, is grounded in the past, trying to apply outmoded solutions to 21st century problems. Now what do you think is the proper 21st century solution to those problems?"

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Anti-Christmas Scrooges miss the real reason for the season"? Really!

I had intended pretty much to ignore the impending Christmas holiday, treating it as a non-event on this blog. However, there's a column by Bill O'Reilly in the Examiner, which seems to have been quoted by a number of other sites, entitled "Anti-Christmas Scrooges miss the real reason for the season." To this, I feel a need to reply.

I think I understand "the real reason for the season" very well. It commemorates the birth, approximately two millennia ago, of a man in whose name more people have been killed than in the name of anyone else in world history. Whether it is Christians of one stripe fighting Christians of another stripe (various religious wars in Europe over the past two millennia) or Christians killing Jews and Muslims (the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition), the fact is that Christians' celebration of the birth of the founder of their religion is not a reason for anyone else to celebrate. I do not begrudge private celebration of Christmas in the homes and churches of my Christian neighbors. Just do it privately. I would not be happy with a celebration of Adolf Hitler's birthday; why should I take part in a celebration of Jesus of Nazareth's? But Christian zealots do not understand that. O'Reilly asks, "Why would any rational person get testy about a federal holiday that brings joy to the majority of their countrymen and helps the economy, to boot?" My answer is, "Suppose we had a Federal holiday celebrating the birth of a man whose followers murdered your ancestors. How would you feel about that?"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission has just issued some regulations intended to further the cause of net neutrality, the idea that the people who control the flow of traffic on the Internet must do so in a nondiscriminatory manner. And they did so by a partisan vote: three Democrats favoring net neutrality, two Republicans opposing it. This is one case where I think the Democrats are in the right.

The problem is that there are two conflicting ideas here. The Republicans are upholding the idea that Government should keep its hands off the free market, a concept that I find generally agreeable. But in the absence of net neutrality regulations, we find ourselves in a situation analogous to what we would have if, say, Ford Motor Company owned the Interstate Highway system, and refused to allow General Motors cars on it (or allowed it, but only at a much higher toll rate than Ford owners paid). I don't think we would put up with that.

Unless we have some system to prevent vertical integration, so that providers of content and providers of the connections would be divorced from each other, net neutrality regulations are the only way to ensure fairness. And net neutrality is a less intrusive way to do it than forcing that prevention of vertical integration. So I favor it.

Some people say the FCC is trying to solve a problem that does not exist; this may be so, but it's a problem that could exist in the future; Internet carriers have threatened to do such things, and it is better to head this off at the pass, before it becomes a problem.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Consequences of divided government

Some people have cheered the result of the election last month in producing a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate, which means that, together with the continuing Democratic hold on the Presidency, we will have divided government. They believe that this will require both parties to work together, which will lead to a moderate policy, in line with the wishes of most Americans, rather that the extremist policies that result when one party dominates both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

To some extent, this will probably happen. President Obama has already begun moving in a more moderate direction (though he does not have to face a Republican House until next month) in his willingness to compromise on the bill that extended the Bush administration tax cuts, as the Republicans wanted, while also extending the unemployment benefits, as the Democrats wanted. However, divided government is particularly bad in one area: the deficit.

Republicans tend to help solve deficits by lowering both taxes and spending, in accordance with a desire to make government smaller. By lowering taxes, they give the people control of more of their money, while also discouraging the start of new government programs since there is less money to pay for them. By contrast, Democrats tend to help solve deficits by raising both taxes and spending, since they want to start a lot of new government programs of various kinds, so they need the new taxes to pay for them.

When government is divided, we see what happened during the latter part of Ronald Reagan's Presidency: the Republicans succeeded in lowering taxes (which people like), while the Democrats succeeded in starting their new government programs (which also appeals to a lot of people; at least to those who are the beneficiaries of those programs). The deficit ballooned. The same, of course, happened in the latter years of the George W. Bush Presidency, only more so because of the effects of recession. So I'm afraid that controlling the deficit will be a hopeless task.

When Richard Nixon was President, he found a solution: the Democratic Congress appropriated a lot of funds which President Nixon simply "embargoed": he didn't spend the money on the basis that he was simply authorized to spend it, not required to. This got such a bad reputation among Democrats that later Presidents did not do things like that. And anyway, it would not be very likely that this solution would work in the current situation, where the Democrats control the Presidency: it is the President who wants both higher taxes and spending, and he obviously cannot spend money that the Congress does not give him. So what will happen is anybody's guess.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The latest on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

It is unfortunate that "social conservatives" still are such a big force in the Republican Party. In yesterday's vote to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule in the military, there were 31 votes against, all of them Republicans. A shame. But the good news is that eight Republicans were courageous enough to vote "yes," and they included not just the four who have been the GOP's sources of moderation (Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), and the newly elected Mark Kirk of Illinois, who had been described as a moderate in some articles I've read, but three more. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio has been considered as a moderate by some people, and his support was, therefore, the least surprising of the three unexpected ones. Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and Richard Burr of North Carolina are not usually considered moderates, however. So they are particularly to be commended. Now all that remains is a signature in the White House, and presumably Pres. Obama, who has claimed to be for repeal, will sign it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The "individual mandate" decision

Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Federal District Court judge in Virginia, has issued an opinion that the individual mandate in the health care bill is unconstitutional, an opinion with which I heartily concur. There are, however, two other judges in other courts (one also in Virginia) who have ruled the opposite way. So it still will depend on the Supreme Court's decision for a final ruling.

While Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Attorney General who brought this suit before the court, is further to the right than I would like, in this case, I think he is on the right side, and I'm glad to see that, so far, he has prevailed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Judging people on one issue?

Dennis Sanders is a blogger who usually posts things with whom I agree. But about a week ago he posted a piece in which he accused John McCain of becoming Jesse Helms. And I have to say I think this is unfair. The thing is that Dennis Sanders is gay, makes no secret about this, and, I think, has made the mistake of judging McCain on his stand on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal. But McCain is a military man. He was a high-ranking Naval officer, and bears the name of his father and grandfather, both of whom were even higher-ranking Naval officers, and I think he views this issue from the vantage point of Naval tradition. Perhaps, considering that McCain's predecessor as an Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater, took a more enlightened view of gay rights, McCain's position is unfortunate, but I think that it is understandable, though it would be a good thing if he could change it. But to make McCain into another Helms is totally unfair.

There is probably nobody among the 535 individuals who serve in the United States Congress with whom I agree on every issue (or, for that matter, with whom I disagree on every issue!) but there are issues that matter more to me than DADT. It's like the group of GOP senators (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Scott Brown, and Lisa Murkowski) who want DADT repealed, but have had problems with the specific bill Harry Reid is pushing through the Senate. They want the right to get amendments considered, and Reid is barring the way. They should not be considered "anti-gay." McCain may be hostile to gay rights, but there is enough he is right on that I'm not going to condemn him in total just because I don't like what he is doing here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My own rating of Presidents

Although the recent poll which I cited in yesterday's post covered the ten most recent Presidents, my own preference is to rate the last twelve. My reason is that these are the ones whose terms have been within my lifetime. (Oh, FDR lived for a couple of years after I was born, but I can't say I remember his Presidency, as he died before my third birthday. So Truman is the first President whose service was really within my lifetime, I would say.)

Harry Truman is one President I think better of than I did when he was in office. His management of the quarrel with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, when I was yet a child, is one factor: as a child I thought Truman was wrong, but as I said in another post, by now I've come to a different conclusion: insubordination is not to be tolerated. Truman did some bad things, like trying to nationalize the steel industry, but considering his handling the issue of the atomic bomb (it's hard to believe that, in those days, vice-presidents were so out-of-the-loop that when he succeeded to the Presidency he knew nothing about it!) and the aforementioned MacArthur incident, Truman showed more competence than I gave him credit for at the time. I'd not call him a great President, but actually he was better than average.

Dwight Eisenhower became president when I was ten. By the time his term ended, I was eighteen. So he was really the President I came to political maturity under. (In those days, you had to be twenty-one to vote. But I think I really reached political maturity at about age fourteen. I have changed a little since then, but not much.) I think he was by far a better President than many historian-types make him out to be, because rather than a flashy Kennedy-type he preferred to work in more subtle ways. It is partly because of Eisenhower's Presidency that I am a Republican; the Governorship of New York State by Nelson A. Rockefeller was the only other important influence that made me what I am politically. So need I say that my opinion of Eisenhower as President is extremely high?

On the other hand, everyone else seems to give a high rating to John Kennedy. Yet I can't see why. As I said in yesterday's post, he botched the Bay of Pigs invasion, and he couldn't get a thing through Congress that he wanted to, though his Democratic Party controlled that Congress. The fact that, like the current President, he had a glamorous wife and was himself photogenic seems to have meant a lot, and his assassination made him a martyr, I suppose. But objectively, what did he accomplish as President?

Lyndon B. Johnson was a powerful President. Because of him, many of Kennedy's ideas did get passed, including his civil rights proposals. So LBJ gets high marks in the department of getting things done. He was, however, one President with no integrity. As a Senator from Texas, he was a typical Southern segregationist; as a President, he did more for civil rights than just about any other President. Obviously, civil rights was an issue he'd take either side on, based on how it would affect his election prospects. In my first Presidential election vote, in 1964, I abstained: Goldwater was someone too extreme, I thought (though later I found that his ideas weren't nearly as bizarre as the newspaper I read made them out to be!) and Johnson was too unscrupulous. If I could do it over again, my vote would have been given to Goldwater (though, of course, it wouldn't have done much good!)

Then came Richard M. Nixon. Just about the most hated President, yet I believe in fact the best in my lifetime. (No, I'm not putting him in the category of a Lincoln. Note the "in my lifetime" qualification.) I could spend so much time on Nixon, but I will keep this paragraph short. I may post some more on him. But as far as I can see, he had only one flaw, as I said in yesterday's post: he was too loyal to underlings who violated the law to help re-elect him. But is loyalty to one's political supporters really that bad? One thing I dislike about Barack Obama is his stabbing Alice Palmer in the back. I think perhaps Nixon's loyalty was not entirely a bad thing.

When Nixon was forced to resign, the Presidency fell upon Gerald Ford, a genuinely nice person who never wanted more than the Speakership of the House. I cannot say much about him; he didn't serve long enough to accomplish much, but he didn't discredit the office.

Ford was succeeded by Jimmy Carter, the most incompetent President of my lifetime. He actually appointed a man in charge of his drug program that had been censured for improperly prescribing drugs, and his attempts to get our hostages out of the Middle East were laughable. He also turned Nixon's accomplishments in getting honorably out of Vietnam and establishing contact with China into defeats. (We no longer have an embassy in Taipei, because of Carter!)

After Carter, anyone would have been an improvement, and obviously Ronald Reagan was. I might have preferred someone a bit more moderate, but, again as I said in yeaterday's post, he recognized the need for moderates in the GOP to have some of their goals as well. I don't rank Reagan as high as Nixon or Eisenhower, but not far below them.

Reagan had offered his Vice-Presidency to one of his moderate opponents, George H. W. Bush. And on reaching the end of the two terms that the Twenty-Second Amendment permitted Reagan, Bush moved into the Presidency. Though Bush and Reagan had come from different factions of the GOP, there was a lot of continuity, but unfortunately, a Democratic Congress got in his way. He had promised "no new taxes," but he couldn't get the budget he wanted through Congress, and taxes did go up. I don't blame him for going back on his promise. It was politically necessary. But it cost him re-election, and set the stage for Bill Clinton.

Carter may have been the most incompetent President of my lifetime, but Clinton was, except for the current occupant of the office, the most unscrupulous. It seems he wanted to emulate JFK, and at least emulated one of JFK's worse traits, a skirt-chasing proclivity that Kennedy could keep more secret than Clinton could. But between Whitewater and his trying to cover up the sexual harassment of his subordinates, I consider him the worst, bar none, of the Presidents. He should have been removed from office by impeachment, but politics in the Congress saved his neck.

George W. Bush, the next President, got the country behind him in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But he let anti-war sentiment undermine his Iraq policy. I preferred his father's moderation to his more right-wing orientation, but I consider that again he is one who I rate higher than many other people. I'd have voted for him again if there hadn't been a Twenty-Second Amendment.

This takes us to the current President, Barack Obama. Our worst? No, that title I reserve for Bill Clinton. But only because his Presidency hasn't been corrupt. He's gone against the wishes of the people on health care, and tried to do so on other things, and generally violated the idea that this is a government by the consent of the governed.

That's all for now. But I may expand on some of these at a later date.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Presidential popularity ratings

It is apparent, in the way President Obama had Bill Clinton carry the burden of his pressing for the passage of his tax compromise, that he's relying on Clinton's current popularity. And in a recent poll rating the most recent presidents, Clinton ranked very high — after only JFK and Reagan. Which set me to thinking: Why do bad Presidents get good popularity ratings, and good ones get bad ratings?

The most popular President of all was John F. Kennedy, and what did he do to get such a high rating except be shot and killed by an assassin? He was responsible for the disaster of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and could not push a single bill he considered important through a Congress controlled by his own party. (After the assassination, Lyndon Johnson adopted Kennedy's program as his own, and succeeded in pushing much of it through. But this was a success for LBJ, not JFK.)

Second on the list was Ronald Reagan, who probably does qualify as a successful President. I had feared that his Presidency would be too right-wing, and had favored others for the nomination, but perhaps I should have noted that both in the year he failed to gain the nomination (when he picked Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania), and four years later, when he did win the nimination and selected George H. W. Bush, he was willing to give moderates a role and showed a tendency to be a lot more inclusive than many "Tea Party" Republicans are in 2010. His Presidency was generally constructive.

The number 3 slot in the poll went to Clinton. I can't find words to describe the negative feelings I have about Bill Clinton, who I consider the worst President to serve in my lifetime. (Full disclosure: I had a job that was funded out of the Strategic Defense Initiative "Star Wars" program, which Clinton said in his campaign he would kill, and he kept that promise. I ended up unemployed for four years, and never again had a really good job. So I was personally affected negatively by Clinton, which makes me hate him in a more visceral way than most Presidents. But on an objective basis: What other President was called before a grand jury and lied to it? Not to mention all the other acts of misconduct which were found by Kenneth Starr.) Only politics in the U. S. Senate saved him from removal by impeachment.

On the other side of the coin was Richard Nixon, the most underrated President we have had. Because he was too loyal to underlings who violated the law to help re-elect him, he has been stigmatized. In opening the way to contact with China, producing the basis of a settlement of Vietnam, and such, he did an amazingly good job (which was sabotaged in both cases by Jimmy Carter's ineptness, of course). He deserves to be rated much higher than he has been.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Obama/GOP deal on taxes

President Barack Obama has apparently made a deal with GOP Congressional leaders on taxes. The tax cuts from the Bush administration will all be extended for two years. (The GOP wanted them made permanent, but in 2012 we will have a chance to elect a new President, so a two-year extension is good enough for now.) Anf the Republican leaders agreed to an extension of unemployment benefits, which (despite some Republicans' belief that this encourages people to sit back and collect benefits rather than looking for work) is probably a good thing in an economy with a scarcity of jobs. (Who will collect a benefit that's only a couple of hundred dollars a week, when there are jobs that pay twice as much or more? If the jobs were there, people would take them.)

I said that when Pres. Obama does the right thing, I'd acknowledge it. And he has. He's forsaken his class-struggle leftism long enough to agree to an extension of the tax cuts. Now the ball is in Nancy Pelosi's court. For the next month, she is still Speaker and the Democrats still control the House. Will she and the Dems keep their part of the bargain? We shall see.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Problems with the DREAM Act

There has been a proposal (titled the DREAM Act) which would legalize some of the illegal immigrants in this country. It specifically would apply to people who had been brought to this country as young children and would require military service or a certain amount of education to legalize them. At first glance, this seems reasonable: the children are not the ones who made the decision to violate this country's laws, and by either getting an education or actually serving this country in the military, they would be making a useful contribution in exchange for legalization. But I'm not very happy with some aspects of this proposed law, and I recently saw another blog post, by a certain David Arredondo of Ohio, with similar objections to my own. Arredondo's ideas are not identical to my own, and I'd like to compare the two, so this post will not merely present my ideas, but also compare his with mine.

The most important problem with the DREAM Act in my eyes, and one which Arredondo also agrees is a serious problem, is that under our laws, once the affected young people have qualified for citizenship, their parents (who are the ones who made the decision to violate this country's laws) would get preferred status toward obtaining citizenship. This would be rewarding an illegal act. Arredondo suggests modifying the DREAM Act to "[s]uspend current immigration law that allows their parents who brought them here illegally from qualifying for Permanent Residency." I would favor that same change, and with this part of his post I fully agree.

Where I part company with Arredondo is that he would eliminate the educational route to legalization, making military service the only path. Now Arredondo is quite correct in stating that "[t]hose of us in the higher ed industry know that 2 years of studies doesn’t qualify a student for much." But the solution to that problem is to require four years, including the earning of at least a bachelor's degree. Arredondo would have, as I said, all these illegals only able to qualify by military service, so that if they wanted an education, they would first have to spend 4 years in the armed forces and then use GI Bill benefits to get that education. I can't go with that. Going into the military entails a willingness to get shot at. I think that is asking too much. (Full disclosure: I succeeded in getting an exclusion from the draft when I was of draftable age. I fully admit that I am enough of a coward that I pulled every string that was available to me to get that exclusion. Now, with the draft no longer in force, requiring military service of any group of people seems to me to be too much of a price to ask them to pay. If they are willing to serve, fine and dandy. But there are more ways to serve the needs of this nation that putting oneself in the line of fire.)

So, like Arredondo, I could only accept the DREAM Act with modifications, but of his two modifications, only the one he gives second would be my choice. His first, eliminating the educational path, is not one I would favor, but rather the educational path should be made more selective, requiring a useful level of education rather than the too-trivial two years currently proposed.

There is also another post on David Frum's FrumForum blog, dealing with changes that he would like to see made to the DREAM Act. Some of these make sense as well; perhaps all would be improvements, though I am not totally certain, but I'd like to point my readers there to consider them.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

On reading the Constitution

There are two conflicting philosophies on reading the Constitution, or so it seems: "original intent" and "the living Constitution." But there is no reasonable way of following either of these in a consistent manner.

Justice Antonin Scalia is a great disciple of the concept of "original intent." In other words, provisions of the Constitution need to be understood in the way that was understood by the Founders of this country at the time they were writing those words. The problem with this "original intent" philosophy is that it doesn't address the question of whose intent. For example, the First Amendment (as well as all nine others in what we call the "Bill of Rights") was drafted by James Madison. There are arguments currently as to what the Establishment Clause means, but it is clear that Madison, specifically, meant the kind of aggressive separationism that I myself advocate (thugh, as we will see below, only on a Federal level). We have examples of correspondence that prove this. (The "wall of separation between Church and State" often cited by separationists is, it is true, not in the text of the First Amendment, but in a letter sent by President Thomas Jefferson to some people in Connecticut asking for assistance. But Jefferson and Madison were close allies, and there is correspondence between the two of them that establishes that on the issue of separation between Church and State, the two thought alike. And it is not only to Jefferson that Madison wrote in such terms. On July 10, 1822 he wrote to Edward Livingston as follows:
Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
It is quite clear what his position was.) But when the First Amendment was approved by Congress and the States, it is also true that not everyone held Madison's view. So whose interpretation of the First Amendment applies?

And in 1791, when it was approved, of course, the First Amendment did not apply to the States. The Thomas Jefferson letter that was cited regarding the "wall of separation between Church and State" in fact was in response, as I said earlier, to some Connecticut residents asking for relief from the provisions of Connecticut law establishing the Congregationalist Church (which continued until 1833!) and in it he also stated that he, as President, could not do anything about a State law.

So "original intent" has its problems. On the other hand, treating the Constitution as a living document runs into its own problems. Every citizen, not to mention every Supreme Court Justice, has his own idea as to what a term in the Constitution means. So if one Justice feels that the death penalty is now "cruel and unusual," while another feels the opposite, who is right? I don't really know the answer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is bad about professionalism?

From time to time I see editorials, columns, or postings which bemoan the professional politicians who populate our State and Federal governments and want to go back to the idea of part-time politicians who serve a few years and quit politics (often, in fact, they advocate term limits to make politicians quit after serving a few years). Frankly, I see no sense in such proposals.

For one thing, anyone who is a full-time public servant is going to understand how to do things better than someone who comes in for a few hours, and then goes home to running a used-car business or a clothing store. I can only assume that people making proposals like this figure that because they want more limited government (a concept with which I agree), they believe that amateur politicians with only a few hours a week of political duty are going to want to do less. But one can easily find people who have never spent a day in a political office who still want an all-powerful government. A person's political philosophy will count for much more in this matter than whether they are full-time or part-time.

And I think that no matter what task you want to assign to someone, you'll get a better job done if you have someone do it who understands the job. I would rather have a professional legislator write a bill, for example, so he knows what his words will mean in practice, than an amateur who might put in some vague phrase that a court subsequently will interpret in a totally unexpected manner. So I would prefer a person who thinks of his job as a full-time one, who has taken the time to study the rules of the legislative body in which serves, and who knows what the existing laws are and how the courts have interpreted them, rather than an amateur who, for most of the year, is running his own business and just came over to the State Capital or to Washington, D. C. long enough to file a couple of bills, vote on them, and go home. In fact, in States that allow initiatives, written by non-elected amateurs, sometimes some crippling rules get put on the books because the people who wrote the initiative don't understand the consequences of their words.

The worst idea of all is term limits. Preventing a person who has shown that he recognizes the interests of his constituents and is willing to represent those interests from doing so, the only result of term limits, seems to me to be the stupidest, craziest idea. An elected official who is not representing hius constituents' interests can simply be denied re-election, or in some jurisdictions even recalled. And an elected official who knows that whatever he does, no matter how good or bad his constituents think it is, cannot affect his future because he will not be re-electable even if they like him, as more likely to do crazy stuff than someone who wants to be re-elected and so will try to please his constituents.

In short, what do these people who wish a part-time, amateur legislature, hope to accomplish? I can't see it as anything I would desire.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some other posts I would like to echo

A few days ago I recommended a post on another blog, and asked you to consider it as posted here. I also would like you to read the post entitled "Repeal Amendment" on "The Voice of Reason" blog, but note that I made a comment on this post to indicate my slight disagreement; the owner of that blog, however, seems to understand that our agreement is more than our disagreement.

And just yesterday, there was another post that I spotted and would like to recommend. Please also read this post. I heartily approve of what he says.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We need them all!

Let's face it. With only two parties that have any chance of getting a share of power in the U. S. Government, the Republicans need all of the people who want to fit under the "big tent." We need our Sarah Palins, as well as our Lisa Murkowskis. And I hope that somehow this personal vendetta can be buried in the cause of a greater need — the need for the United States to have sanity restored, by the Republicans' working together to undo some of the damage which President Barack Obama has done to this nation. To prevent funds from going to implementation of the damages caused by the health care legislation that was forced in even after Massachusetts voters chose Scott Brown (which should have been a signal to Congress that they were going too far, too fast!), to fight all Obama initiatives that are not in the Nation's best interest, and ultimately, to get the White House back in 2012.

I hope that Lisa Murkowski will choose to join the Republican caucus in January (I believe she has already indicated this intent). I hope that Mitch McConnell will welcome her, as the Democrats accepted Joe Lieberman after he made a similar (but easier, since he had a ballot line!) effort a few years ago. And I hope that somehow a way can be made to keep such diverse Senators as Jim DeMint, Murkowski, Rand Paul, and Scott Brown all happy. As the title says, we need them all in a single party!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lisa Murkowski, The Republican Party’s Moderate Savior? (from "Death and Taxes" e-magazine)

Please read the article entitled "Lisa Murkowski, The Republican Party’s Moderate Savior?" which was posted in "Death and Taxes" magazine. Except that its title doesn't give enough credit to such other moderate voices in the U. S. Senate as Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown, it comes close to my own point of view. So read it, and consider it as posted here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On religious differences vs. political ones

When I started this blog, I expected to post on religious subjects more than I have; this blog, in fact, has turned out to be almost entirely on political subjects, and just about the only posts that could be considered "religion-related" have been about religious topics that affect our political differences (especially abortion). Somehow it seems less useful to post about religious topics, though, as you will read, this post is in that category.

There are people who consider it their purpose in life to proselytize for their view of Jesus, and these people are (in my mind) the worst of my enemies. In fact, anyone whose business is to convert me to their religion — whether that is Christianity, Islam, or Richard Dawkins-style atheism, is (in my mind) among the worst of my enemies. Because I think that religion is something that each person needs to figure out for himself/herself.

The only thing anyone can do in the "religious enlightenment" sweepstakes that makes any sense is to present the arguments that make sense to you and stand back, seeing how much they seem convincing. And unlike, say, science, in religion there is no such thing as an absolutely convincing argument. Experiments in the late 18th century made it clear that phlogiston did not exist. (Though, in fact, I recall seeing, in the 1960s or 1970s, a paper in the Journal of Chemical Education that showed how much chemistry could be explained by phlogiston theory, obviously an interesting intellectual exercise!) But I challenge anyone to devise an experiment that could prove, in the same way, that God exists (or, for that matter, that He does not)!

So I live my life with certain religious beliefs — but how I interact with other people does not really depend upon them. On the other hand, not only do my political beliefs impact on my votes every couple of years (more often, when I lived in New York!) but I have hope that I might be able to convince others of their correctness, and if I can, they could improve things. (Convincing people to vote for McCain two years ago might have made my life in recent years better. Convincing them to vote for whoever will be Barack Obama's opponent two years from now would certainly do so for the next four years. [At least, if I could convince enough of them!]) And this, I guess, is why I discuss politics more than religion on this blog.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sarah Palin (again!)

I recently saw a poll which seems to show Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee in almost a three-way tie. Now keep in mind that the Presidential election is nearly two years away, and four years ago the front-runners for the major parties' nominations were Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton, neither of whom made it. So I can't really put a lot of credence in this poll. But others seem to, so we are seeing a lot of negative comments about Palin's suitability. Now, I cannot really be surprised about Lisa Murkowski's comments: Palin just spent the last few months trying to derail what should have been an easy re-election bid by Murkowski. So anything Murkowski says about Palin like the comment to Katie Couric that she "lacks the 'intellectual curiosity' to be president" can simply be laid on the feud of the last few months (as well as political infighting, over the past few years, between Palin and both Frank and Lisa Murkowski). I imagine that if it comes to Palin vs. Barack Obama in 2012, Murkowski is certainly not going to endorse Obama.

What really did surprise me is the comment by Barbara Bush. She recently said (on Larry King's show):
"I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful. And I think she's very happy in Alaska -- and I hope she'll stay there."
Now Barbara Bush is the wife of a former President and the mother of another one — but as First Ladies go, she's never been thought to be the political type, such as Nancy Reagan or Hillary Clinton. So a comment like this was totally unexpected. Now it is clear that George H. W. Bush feels that Mitt Romney is the best of the candidates (an opinion with which I have concurred recently). And Barbara presumably agrees. But I've never seen her get as political as this before.

Let me state this unequivocally. The only Republican who is being discussed currently who would not get my endorsement against Pres. Obama is Mike Huckabee. (And if he were nominated, I would not endorse Obama either: my support would go to some third-party candidate.) Sarah Palin is emphatically not my choice — I think the GOP can do far better. (And, as I just said, I concur with former President Bush that Mitt Romney seems the best of the choices.) But I'm not about to pile the invective on former Gov. Palin. I don't think she's as bad as Lisa Murkowski would like to have us believe.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I could NEVER vote for Mike Huckabee

I have never much liked Mike Huckabee. First I found out that when he was Governor of Arkansas, he was liberal on all the things I'm conservative on, and conservative on all the things I'm liberal on. Then there was his comment, nearly three years ago, that "what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards." This is so contrary to what I believe, that the Constitution must be religiously absolutely neutral, that this one quote alone would make me unalterably opposed to Mike Huckabee and all he stands for.

But he's now added one more quote to the picture. Recently, Iowa voters voted to remove three judges who had issued a pro-gay-marriage opinion. Now, it is clear that a lot of "social conservatives" disliked that opinion. And it should not surprise me that there's a lot of gnashing of teeth on this judicial decision, though I for one applaud Iowa's judges for having the courage to do thr right thing. But Huckabee's defense of the removal vote goes beyond disgusting. To me it is the victory of bigotry at the polls, worthy of condemnation by all. But to Huckabee,
"The significance and historic nature of the judicial elections here in Iowa were far bigger than the borders of Iowa. It was a very important statement that voters made, a statement that resonated across the country and one that I think will give legs to a larger movement over the next few years."

Obviously, Huckabee's bigotry knows no bounds. And that is why I could never vote for him for any position in government.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lisa Murkowski, write-in winner

It seems that Alaska has elected Lisa Murkowski to another term in the Senate, even though it was required of Alaska voters to write in her name. A tremendous victory for common sense, since her opponent, Joe Miller, seems to have been a very light candidate, intellectually. And a major defeat for Sarah Palin, coming in her home state.

I congratulate Sen. Murkowski, who certainly was the candidate I hoped would win Alaska's Senatorial election. But I hope that the personal animosity between Palin and Murkowski can be toned down. I think everyone understands that both of Alaska's highest-profile political women despise each other. But for the good of the Republican Party, for the good of the State of Alaska, and for the good of American political progress, I hope they can bury this hatchet.

The Republican Party, I believe, is the only hope for any short term improvement in American political fortune. So anything like this Palin-Murkowski feud hurts America, not just the GOP. It also hurts Alaska particularly; however, not being an Alaskan, I don't have as much to concern myself with there. But I would think that both Murkowski and Palin, as important Alaskan politicians, would be concerned.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Health care reform

Now that Republicans who have vowed to "repeal and replace" Obama's health care bill control the House of Representatives, it will be interesting to see what they can do. They can't override a veto by the President, and they certainly face, even before it gets to the President, a Senate that still has a Democratic majority (though very closely divided, especially since one of the Democrats is Joe Manchin, who was elected as an anti-Obamacare candidate).

There are some parts of the health care bill I like — like barring denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions — but one provision that I feel must be gutted, whether by the Courts or by Congress: the individual mandate.

If they make no other change, the new Congress must find a way to derail that single provision. And if that is all they can do, I'll be satisfied. Now, if they can do things like allowing purchase of plans across state lines, or meaningful tort reform, I'll be happier, but the individual mandate is the one thing I consider the worst part of the bill as it ended up. (They thankfully scrubbed the "public option," which would have been even worse.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Joe Miller, sore loser

It seems that in the Alaska Senatorial race, the Republican candidate, Joe Miller, is trying very hard to have all ballots rejected where the name of his write-in opponent, Lisa Murkowski, is misspelled. And according to at least one other blogger, he has Alaska law on his side. I'll get to whether Alaska law says that Miller is right in a bit. But even if it does, Miller is a sore loser, who has about as much of a conscience as Barack Obama does. (Remember how Obama used the nuances of Illinois law to rule three opponents off the ballot so he could run unopposed for the State Senate?) If I were Joe Miller, sitting in the Senate because a few people misspelled "Murkowski," (and it's pretty telling that I bet nobody has ever misspelled Joe Miller's name!) when they actually meant to vote for her, I think my conscience would haunt me all six years of my term. But Joe Miller, I guess, has no conscience.

Now what does Alaska law say? "(11) A vote for a write-in candidate, other than a write-in vote for governor and lieutenant governor, shall be counted if the oval is filled in for that candidate and if the name, as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy, of the candidate or the last name of the candidate is written in the space provided." Note that, as written, the phrase "as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy" in that statute seems to modify the first occurrence of the word "name." So the way I read this statute is that "last name" is not qualified by the phrase "as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy." The blog post I cited disagrees. But I think English grammar is on my side.

It is to be hoped that enough people spell Murkowski's name correctly that her win is clear even to those who insist that the law must be construed as that blogger believes it should be. But if not, we may end up having a court case to determine what the law means!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Working toward 2012 endorsements

Now that this year's election is over, it's time to start looking at 2012. I had hoped that Meg Whitman might have been elected Governor of California, and had she been, she would have been — as I said more than once — my first choice for the 2012 nomination. But I think that one of the qualifications that would have a major bearing on acceptability would be having run a State Government. (Running a big corporation, which Whitman certainly has done, is helpful, but I don't think enough.) So she's out of there for now. Being a Senator is about the only other qualification that I might accept as even close to a Governorship of a State, and if Carly Fiorina had won and Whitman had not, she might be my first choice. But she didn't win, either. So the two people I really might have endorsed enthusiastically under different circumstances are out. So who might I favor?

Two years ago, I was somewhat negative about Mitt Romney, in part because of some ambiguity in where he stood on a lot of issues. But in the current situation, the importance of economic issues makes Romney look pretty good to me. He is currently my #1.

I don't know as much about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, but whatever I've seen about him I like. I am particularly impressed by something he's said which infuriates a lot of "social conservatives" — as I've said in the past, I think that they harm the party more than helping it, so what infuriates them pleases me. And Daniels has said that he felt that social issues should be de-emphasized, even though he is socially conservative. I strongly support his stand there and for that reason alone, he ranks high in my opinion. And his performance as Governor of Indiana is creditable. Daniels, then, is currently #2 on my list, and I would not be surprised if, on learning more about him, he moves up to #1.

Finally, recently I saw a story to the effect that former Governor of New York George Pataki might run. He is also someone I could easily support. Call him #3 for now; again, as time goes by, he might move up on the list, depending on what happens regarding Romney's or Daniels' actions.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The season I hate

Tuesday I was shopping and I noticed that the background music had shifted to Christmas music. Actually, I should probably be thankful this was the first time I'd heard any — usually it starts in October or even September, and it was already nine days into November this time — but I wish there were some way to just get away from it all! Oh, some of the music was innocuous stuff like Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" (not a mention of Christmas in the whole song, thank goodness!) but most of it was the usual carols, heavy with the spirit of Christian dogma.

It's the one time of the year I really feel I'm a minority. Now, at least this isn't an actual Government-sponsored commemoration. But as some people don't like mosques near Ground Zero, which are just as privately organized, I would love to see Christians keep their observation of a holiday I find distasteful in their homes and churches.

Let us be factual. Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of the man who created a split in my religion, whose followers over the centuries have persecuted my co-religionists, and who continue to try to proselytize to win converts. They have the right, under our great First Amendment, to freely exercise their religion; but I wish they would realize that drawing other people into their celebration is offensive to some of us.

Hopefully, I will not have any more reason to mention Christmas this year. Just understand that, as far as I'm concerned, I wish to ignore it as totally as I can — though I can't totally, because I'll have to contend with such matters as the fact that even places that are normally open seven days a week will be closed on December 25th.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Political Compass and similar measures

A bit more than a month ago I posted a comparison of my scores on the Political Compass and other similar measurement schemes. The one thing I have always noted about these is that, while they work better than simple "left/right" scales, two-dimensional schemes like these never get it quite right. I wonder if yet more dimensions are necessary. (But then, I need someone else to devise the test; I'm not a psychologist and I don't think I can do it!)

There is a common psychological analysis test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It has engendered a number of clones, but all use the same four-dimensional system for classifying people. And I note that every time I've taken one, I always come out the same way, an unambiguous ISTJ. (My wife comes out almost the exact opposite; she is usually an ENFP, which is truly the exact opposite, but on the "thinking-feeling" axis she is so close to the zero point tat she sometimes comes out as an ENTP, and thus is often categorized as an ENxP. But the important thing is, all these personality measures seem to be consistent, while the political ones sre not.) I really think there needs to be more teased out. Perhaps not a four-dimensional scheme, but certainly more than two.

One thing I note is that there is a distinct urban character to my libertarianism. While I want to be left alone to my own way of thinking, I'm not eager to be left on my own. The idea of providing for my own self-defense rather than relying on the police appalls me, as does the idea of driving everywhere rather than using public transportation. This, of course, comes from growing up in a big city, but it separates me from many libertarian types. And it probably explains why I part company with them on Second Amendment-related questions.

I wish people would look at this more closely. There needs to be a better way of gauging political similarity.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Postmortems - Part 3 (Pennsylvania/Maine/Rhode Island)

Of all the States, the one about which my feelings are the most complicated is Pennsylvania. I had followed the career of Arlen Specter for many years, beginning in the 1960s when I had a job in Philadelphia and Specter was a young DA uncovering corruption in that city. Over the years Specter developed into the Senator I had my greatest agreement with. So the ideal result for me would have been for Specter to stay a Republican and serve six more years in the Senate. But six years ago Specter was challenged for the nomination by Pat Toomey, a "Tea Party" type before they ever called it that. Given the rightward drift of the GOP, Specter apparently figured he could not beat Toomey in a primary this year, so he went over to the Democrats, which saddened me, though I could understand why he did it. This didn't work, because as far as the GOP primary voters were to his right, so were the Democratic primary voters to his left, and Specter lost that primary to Joe Sestak, so Specter was out of the pictue completely. If Specter had won the Democratic primary, and I had been a Pennsylvanian, I would have been faced with a terrible decision: Support someone who agreed with me on most issues, but whose first vote would be for Harry Reid to lead the Senate? or someone far ro my right, but who at least would help keep the Senate Republican? Sestak's winning the primary made the choice pretty straightforward. And so I wanted to see Toomey win, and was glad to see it happen, even though this was one of the closest races in the 2010 election. Pennsylvania, unlike both of its neighbors New York State and Maryland, was good territory for the GOP this year. Not only was Toomey elected, but a Republican Governor and State Legislature. All I can say is I wish Maryland had done so well.

Both Maine and Rhode Island had independent candidates running for Governor. Maine has in the past actually elected an independent to the office, so there was really a chance, but the Republican, Paul LePage, pulled it out. Maine seems to be the one State in New England which the GOP still can win frequently — it has two very competent Republican women as its Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who, with Specter gone, are probably the best representatives of the kind of Republicanism I prefer. LePage is considered a Tea Partier, so we'll have to see what sort of job he does as Governor of Maine. But I congratulate him and wish him well.

It was Rhode Island, however, that actually elected an independent this year. And Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island's next Governor, is an enigma. He used to be a Republican, but supported Barack Obama's candidacy for the Presidency in 2008. And Obama recognized this and refused to endorse Chafee's Democratic opponent, Frank Caprio. (This led Caprio to say Obama could "take his endorsement and shove it," certainly one of the most impolite things a politician has said about a President of his own party!) Obviously, Chafee got elected mainly by Democratic votes, so it will be interesting to see whether he governs as a Democrat or a Republican. He looks like another Lowell Weicker to me, becoming a Democrat in all but name as Weicker did in neighboring Connecticut.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Postmortems - Part 2 (Maryland/California/New York)

A local weekly newspaper in this area printed a headline, following the election, saying "GOP Wave misses Maryland." Yes, it certainly did. As I said in yesterday's post, the most important observation to take from Tuesday's election is that every State is different. Maryland is sandwiched between Pennsylvania and Virginia, both of which were great states for the GOP this year. (Virginia was already so red that there was not much to go redder, but the GOP took 3, or possibly 4, House seats away from the Democrats there. I'll say more about Pennsylvania in a subsequent post.) But in Maryland, as I said in my October 12, 2010 post, the GOP made hardly a dent in the blueness of the State. One House seat, which should have been Republican anyway, but which went to Democrat Frank Kratovil in 2008 because of an internecine split in the local GOP, came back home. A few more seats in the lower house of the State's legislature went red, but in the upper house, a couple went the other way. And a good former Governor, Bob Ehrlich, certainly not a bizarre "Tea Party" type, lost by 10 percentage points to the sitting Governor, Martin O'Malley. In the Senate, one of the most liberal members of the chamber, Barbara Mikulski, had no trouble winning by a much larger margin, over a pretty uninspiring Eric Wargotz, who was pretty much unknown outside his home county. As I said in that post on Oct. 12, it seemed strange to see the GOP winning all over the place, while seeing nothing but blue here at home. It may be because so many Marylanders are Federal Government employees, and thus unsympathetic to a "smaller Government" GOP, and rather sympathetic to a President Barack Obama who the rest of the country was rejecting. As I said earlier, O'Malley even invited Obama into the State to campaign for him, something most Democrats were certainly not doing. Pretty dispiriting, though I'm happy for the rest of the country.

New York didn't look much better. As a native of that State, I tried to follow it; the GOP didn't help their cause very much by nominating a lame excuse for a gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino. They elected a Democratic Governor and two Democratic Senators; most of the time you don't see two Senate seats filled in the same election in a State, but here there was one term expiring and the other seat vacant because Hillary Clinton had left to become Secretary of State, with Kirsten Gillebrand only appointed to an interim position. Both Gillebrand and Chuck Schumer easily won re-election, and Andrew Cuomo, son of a previous Governor, won the gubernatorial office.

While New York State elected the son of a governor from the 1980s and 1990s, California was restoring a governor who had served even earlier, in the 1970s and 1980s, Jerry Brown. Like New York and Maryland, California seemed to be bypassed by the GOP wave. And this one was even stranger, because in California, the GOP had some excellent candidates. Meg Whitman, running for Governor, and Carly Fiorina, running for the Senate, were well qualified, very desirable candidates, and both put millions of dollars of their own money into their campaigns. But Jerry Brown beat Whitman, and Barbara Boxer gained reelection to the Senate over Fiorina. I guess California voters just couldn't see what was best for them, but that's how democracy works sometimes.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Postmortems - Part 1 (Florida/Alaska/Delaware/Nevada)

Last Tuesday's elections showed a lot of different things. But the most important is that every State is different.

In Florida, the "Tea Party" candidate, Marco Rubio, succeeded in gaining the support of the entire Republican electorate. While I might have liked to see a better showing by Charlie Crist, he made a serious mistake. He let himself be painted "blue" (i. e. a secret Democrat). First, when some people were saying he might join the Democratic caucus if he were elected to the Senate, he refused to come out and say he was a Republican who would never support the Democratic leadership (i. e. Harry Reid et al), which lost him voters who wanted to express their hatred for the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda. Second, when such as Bill Clinton worked to get Kendrick Meek to withdraw so that the Democrats could unite to defeat Rubio, Crist accepted this role without saying anything that might have inspired Republicans to stay with him. This made Crist seem to be a Democrat while Rubio managed to unite all the Republicans, even those who had originally supported Crist. So Crist and Meek split the Democratic vote, instead of Crist taking both the moderates among the Republicans and those among the Democrats, which would have been the way to win. Too bad. But at least the winner in this scenario was a Republican, though further to the right than I'd like. Better this result than what happened in Delaware and Nevada, about which I will say more later in this post.

Alaska was a bit like Florida, but here the "Tea Party" candidate, Joe Miller, did not reach out to mainstream Republicans, who rallied behind Lisa Murkowski. So even though Alaskans had a harder job — Murkowski's name had to be written in — they seem to have done so. The write-in votes have to be examined to see how many of them are for Murkowski, but most people think she will become the second person in United States history to win a Senate seat on a write-in vote. If she does so, I congratulate her. It was a hard job, but it looks as though she did it!

The other two States I'm discussing in this post had much more unfortunate results. In both Delaware and Nevada, the "Tea Party" candidates were relatively unqualified people who made outrageous statements that drove even anti-Obama voters into the camps of their Democratic opponents. As disliked as Harry Reid was in Nevada, people voted for him over Sharron Angle, and in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell was so ridiculous in some of her statements that even Chris Coons' admission of having been a "bearded Marxist" did not prevent his beating O'Donnell. (And more to the point, Mike Castle, who was the loser in the GOP primary to O'Donnell, probably could have beaten Coons, according to all polls.) Obviously, if a "Tea Party" candidate like Marco Rubio (or Pat Toomey, to be discussed in another post) could run a sufficiently mainstream campaign to win, it is pretty clear that one cannot paint all the "Tea Party" candidates the same color. Some were plausible candidates, but others, like Angle and O'Donnell, were not. Too bad. Imagine if Sue Lowden had won in Nevada and Mike Castle in Delaware. The GOP would have been closer to tying the Senate. I just wish...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Jeff Vanke

It appears that Jeff Vanke's candidacy as a Modern Whig got about 13% of the vote in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia. Is that a good number? It's pretty far from winning — the winning Republican candidate got six times as many votes — but for a candidate whose party is unknown to most people, it is probably a decent start. But it looks as though there's a long way to go.

Friday, November 05, 2010

An interesting development

In the Civil War, a political alignment was established that lasted for many years. Since the party of Abraham Lincoln was the Republican Party, white Southerners universally became Democrats, even as the party became rather liberal elsewhere in the country and they stayed conservative. For the same reason, African Americans became Republicans, to the extent they were able to vote at all. (In the South, after Reconstruction, they generally were not, because of major obstacles placed by the white population, which led to the South being firmly Democratic.) This alignment remained the case until the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he put into place a number of economic changes that most people considered beneficial to the poor, and as most African Americans were poor, they moved into the Democratic Party. (White Southerners remained Democrats, so there was the odd phenomenon that the African Americans and their greatest opponents were both in the Democratic Party.) But even then, the African Americans were not solidly Democratic; Republicans received perhaps 1/3 of the vote of those who were able to cast ballots.

The big change took place in 1964, because Barry M. Goldwater voted against a civil rights bill. Goldwater was not a racist, but simply believed in limited government and felt this was too much of an incursion of Government into people's lives. (To me that was a misguided attitude, but I'm only stating Goldwater's feelings here, not agreeing with them.) As a result, almost all African Americans moved into the Democratic Party, and white Southerners became Republicans, though more gradually; they continued voting for local Southern Democrats for a couple of decades, though supporting Republicans nationally. A few African American leaders were Republicans, such as Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, and more recently Justice Clarence Thomas, General Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice, but the African American voters generally split approximately 90-10 Democratic, and almost all of their politicians were Democrats as well.

But this week, two African American Republicans were elected to Congress. There were a few others in the past, but both of these were from the old South, and it's the first time in more than a decade that two African American Republicans will be serving at the same time. This will be an interesting development. Will the Black Congressional Caucus treat them as traitors to their race? It's going to be interesting to see.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mixed emotions

The results of Tuesday's elections leave me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, Nancy Pelosi gets to hand her gavel over to John Boehner, which is absolutely great, and the Republicans gained a significant number of seats in the Senate (though not a majority, but nobody really expected that) and a bunch of Governorships as well. These are the positives. But it seems that none of the specific elections I really cared about went right, except perhaps in Alaska where the results are not too clear yet.

In the State I live in, Maryland, it seems that Martin O'Malley won by a rather big margin over Bob Ehrlich. Certainly this was not a big surprise, but Ehrlich seemed to have a real chance, and so this result was a major disappointment. In California, there was an even bigger disappointment: both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina seemed to have good chances to win, but neither one could pull it off. And in my original home state of New York, only one of the third party candidates got the 50,000 votes needed to keep his party on the ballot, and that was the Green Party candidate, the one I liked least. (The Libertarian, Warren Redlich, came very close: nearly 45,000, but close is not enough to do it. And the other third party candidates got no more that 20,000-30,000 each.)

Florida is another state I was looking at. That one was not too bad — I was very pleased to see the Democrat, Kendrick Meek, finish third! And while I would have preferred Charlie Crist to the actual winner, Marco Rubio, I think Rubio would be a reasonably good choice from what I've seen.

The worst of the results this Tuesday was in Nevada. I really thought that Harry Reid could be defeated. But this was not to be. Apparently, by nominating Sharron Angle, just like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, The Tea Partiers threw away a good chance to help throw the Democratic rascals out!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Perils of plurality voting

One of the perils of plurality voting, the system we use here in the US for most elections, is that the candidates most similar to each other are the ones who will attack each other the most viciously. There are two candidates for Governor of New York in yesterday's election who could be described as "libertarian": Warren Redlich, who actually had the Libertarian Party's nomination, and Kristin Davis, who ran under the banner of the Anti-Prohibition Party (apparently favoring legalizing prostitution). Davis had tried to gain the Libertarian nomination, and before Redlich had secured it, he called her a "whore." (She had actually run an "escort service," though apparently she was not a prostitute herself.) Later on, just before the election, campaign flyers were distributed, it would appear by members of Davis' campaign staff, though with the actual connection obscured by using a fake sponsor's name, calling Redlich a child molester. Obviously, these two candidates, who were seeking to get the same voters' support, felt it necessary to attack each other rather than their more remote opponents.

And this is only one such example. I remember one election, many years ago, also in New York when I still lived there, when the Socialist Workers' Party and the Socialist Labor Party candidates found themselves on adjacent lines of the ballot. Now it is granted that these two parties differed more than their names would imply, but they were the most left-wing of the parties on the ballot and were obviously competing for the votes of those who favored some sort of socialism. So again, they felt it necessary to attack each other rather than their more remote opponents.

It's one of the plurality system's biggest flaws. Candidates who should be boosting each other as second-best end up fighting tooth and nail. If we had score voting, or approval voting, or even instant runoff voting (though supporters of SV and IRV mostly oppose each other's ideas almost as strongly as supporters of rival, but similar, candidates in plurality do!) you would not see this. Candidates who were rather similar would be more likely to boost each other since it would not hurt themselves to do so.

That alone is a good reason to change our voting system.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Carl S. Milsted, Jr. and his "Holistic Politics"

Carl S. Milsted, Jr. runs a website named "Holistic Politics." Normally, a name like this would send me running for the hills. Usually anyone who uses the wod "holistic" is the mystical kind of person, definitely antithetical to my rationalistic mode of thought. And Milsted's site uses psychedelic colors and lettering which might go along with that perception. So why am I writing this post, which, as you will see, is strongly in favor of some of the things he says?

Well, if you actually look at his site, his politics is not too far from mine. He started as a Libertarian but has grown away from its more extreme ideas — my first, and still current, political beliefs are really those of a "Rockefeller Republican," but this includes a lot of at least "small-l" libertarianism, and even some sympathy for the Libertarian Party's ideas, though I feel they are in need of watering down. He uses the Nolan Chart to plot political philosophy, which is the same as the "World's Smallest Political Quiz," which I mentioned in an earlier post. And on the basis of the chart, he argues that the political group most poorly served by our present two-party system is a big area in the upper-left portion of the chart, exactly where I find myself.

Actually, it looks as if Milsted was the author of the quiz that called me a "social liberal" which I referenced in my earlier post.

I'm getting rather interested in Milsted's ideas, though obviously I don't totally agree with them. And I will be commenting more on them in the future.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Tomorrow is Election Day

Tomorrow is Election Day. And it is customary to urge everyone to vote. But I differ with that sentiment. I believe that not voting, if you have a good reason, is a perfectly good option. But if you don't vote, let it be because you really mean your vote to be an abstention.

There are specific contests on the ballot for me tomorrow that I will consciously abstain in. For example, I have already given my reasons for abstaining in elections for the Board of Education. There is a question on the ballot tomorrow about amending the State Constitution to change the qualifications for judges in one court in the City of Baltimore. Because it's a State Constitutionsl requirement, everybody in the whole State is entitled to vote on this. I would favor taking things like this out of the State Constitution entirely. But since they haven't put that question on the ballot, all I can see myself doing is abstaining. In all these, though, my abstention is deliberate. If you don't vote because you deliberately mean to abstain, that is reasonable. Otherwise, if you don't vote, you are failing your civic obligation.

So, instead of telling people to vote tomorrow, I am saying in this post, "Vote, unless you really mean to abstain!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Unintended consequences? Or the greatest good for the smallest number?

At some point, some wise guy decided that, in order to accommodate the few people who are wheelchair-bound, every transit bus needs to be equipped with wheelchair lifts — complex mechanical contraptions that frequently break down. This morning I had an experience that bore this out. I got on a bus, and a few stops down the route there was an intending passenger in a wheelchair; the lift broke down as the driver was lowering the lift to take her on. So the bus was stuck, with its wheelchair lift mechanism stuck in a middle-of-the-track position, and about thirty passengers had to wait half an hour until the next bus came along.

Why could the powers-that-be not have decided that wheelchair passengers could be accommodated by alternative transportation — such as specially equipped vans — and allowed the buses to be left alone? It seems that, for the benefits of a very small number of wheelchair-bound passengers, requiring such breakdown-prone equipment is really perverse. Is it a case of "unintended consequences"? (The people mandating the wheelchair accessibility not realizing that it's just one more device that can break down?) Or is it "the greatest good for the smallest number"? (The people mandating the wheelchair accessibility simply deciding they don't care about the majority of the bus-riding public — we can all go to hell, so a few wheelchair-bound people don't feel discriminated against? And is it really discrimination, if they can't use a regular bus and need to call for a special vehicle to take them somewhere? After all, they'd probably have the whole van to themselves!)

I find myself daily, every time I get on a bus, hoping there will not be anyone in a wheelchair wanting to get on it, or if there is already one on the bus, that he will not want to get off before I do. And if I'm waiting for a bus and there is someone in a wheelchair waiting at the same stop, just praying that he doesn't want the same bus I do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The homestretch

We are now in the last week before the elections. And clearly there are important races to be decided. (Some people have already taken advantage of "early voting" provisions in their States' election laws to vote earlier than the standard election day. So they just have to wait till the results come in.) At this point I want to review what I've already advocated for the voters of the country.

In one district, the 6th District of Virginia, voters can put a new face in the House of Representatives, Jeff Vanke, who stands for a kind of moderation sadly lacking in today's politics. The Modern Whig Party, which he represents, deserves the vote of thoughtful residents of that district. Unfortunately, some of the remaining 434 districts do not have good choices available to them; there are some where candidates, usually incumbents, are running unopposed. But in most of the districts, voters do have a choice (of varying degrees of viability). It is imperative that the voters choose as many Republicans as possible to retire Nancy Pelosi from the Speakership. If you have a Democrat as a representative, even if he (or she) seems reasonable and moderate, remember that the first vote that Congressman will take in January, if re-elected, is for Pelosi as Speaker. And that is good enough reason to vote for the Republican opponent. (In districts like mine, of course, it won't do much good: Chris Van Hollen will win, even though Mike Phillips would be a far better choice.) But even if it's only going to be symbolic, cast your vote for the Republican.

In the Senate, it's a mostly similar story. It looks to be unlikely that the Senate will actually go Republican, so Harry Reid (or Chuck Schumer, if Sharron Angle can win Reid's Nevada seat) will be the Majority Leader. But in the Senate, the minority has more power than in the House. So again, it's necessary to elect Republicans. However, just as there is one House district where the Republican is not the preferred candidate, there are two States whose Senate seats need to be given to someone other than the "official" Republican candidate. These are at opposite corners of the country, Florida and Alaska. In both States, there are moderate Republicans running independent candidacies, who have real chances to win, running against extremist right-wing Republicans who won the "official" nomination. So Charlie Crist, in Florida, and Lisa Murkowski, in Alaska, deserve people's votes. And in neither case will splitting the Republican vote elect a liberal Democrat. In both States, the Democrat is running a distant third.

Governorships are slightly different. It's not like the Senate, where a vote for any Democrat helps elect Reid or Schumer to a position of power, or the House, where a vote for any Democrat helps elect Pelosi to a position of even more power. Governorship votes stand and fall on themselves. It's still a good thing to elect the Republican in most states — though not in New York State, with the primitive Carl Paladino as candidate. (But he has little chance of winning, so you can vote in clear conscience for one of the numerous third party candidates in that State. And this is exactly what I think you should do.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Running against whom?

There are a lot of campaign signs in my neighborhood for Mike Phillips, the Republican candidate for Congress in my district. and all of them seem to couple his name and the office he's seeking with one other thing: Replace Pepco. Now, Pepco, for those who do not live near here, is the local electric company, and they have proved rather incompetent in handling some of the power outages resulting from recent storms, so a lot of people might be swayed to vote for anyone running against Pepco like this, but what on earth does a U. S. Congressman have to do with Pepco's franchise to provide electric power in this area? I might see "Replace Pepco" as a vaild campaign point for a candidate for County Council or County Executive, or possibly even for the State legislature, but it seems Phillips is running against the wrong opponent. Certainly, I'm sure that he realizes that Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic incumbent Congressman, is still so popular that he'll be hard to beat. But I cannot see how he can tie Van Hollen to Pepco's shortcomings. He could run against Nancy Pelosi's leadership, which Van Hollen certainly abets (in fact, he's a trusted member of her team, as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). Or he could point to things that Van Hollen has actually done to hurt the district. But this seems a strange campaign tactic.

Now, Phillips will get my vote in November. He was not my choice in the primary, but once the primary is over, we need to get behind the winner — especially to try (though I'm afraid it's an impossible task) to defeat someone as important to the Pelosi/Reid/Obama team as Chris Van Hollen. But I think it's a crazy way to run a campaign.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Campaign finance reform and term limits: two cures worse than the disease?

Some people (including John McCain, a man with whom I agree on a lot of things, and was willing to give the Presidency to, though this does not mean I think he's always right!) have thought it desirable to put various limits on campaign funding — on who can contribute, or how much, for example. This is, to me, an interference with freedom of speech, and I prize the First Amendment enough that I think it's not a good idea. It seems to be based on the premise that if you have enough money, you can buy an office. But when was Ross Perot our President? Or Steve Forbes? I think we can handle the influx of money without limiting it. There are better approaches.

Another proposal that has been made is term limits. I really dislike this, because it means that the most qualified people for an office, the people who have actually held it, are barred from the job. I know of no field outside politics where a person with no experience is preferred to an experienced one in seeking any job. And we have a perfect mechanism for ending the term of office of someone who is doing an unsatisfactory job: the next election.

In fact, when the 22nd Amendment was put into the Constitution, it was by Republicans who resented Franklin Delano Roosevelt's flouting of the two-term limit tradition, and it immediately came back to haunt them — the first President who was barred from running for a third term was Dwight Eisenhower, who just might have won a third term if he had been allowed to run!

I don't see any good case for either of these reforms; in fact term limits are an extremely bad idea, because I believe that experienced professionals are usually better than amateurs at almost anything, so I cn only see negatives to that idea.