Friday, December 28, 2007

What is a Liberal?

“Liberal” has become a dirty word in American politics, for two primary reasons. Liberalism has allowed its leftmost wing to set its public agenda, while allowing conservatives to frame the discussion. In this quote from a 2002 interview with Reese Fuller, author James Lee Burke lays out the most accurate, and eloquent, definition of what a liberal is. If only more liberals would read it. (Read the entire interview; it’s well worth the time.)

Do you consider yourself a liberal?

I consider myself pretty traditional, really. People of my generation, who were born in the Depression, tend to be traditionalists. If I had to call myself a name I'd say I was a Jeffersonian liberal. But, see, something has become askew in American thinking. Liberals now are tarred in every way by people who want to associate in the popular mind liberalism with some kind of fanatical movement.

Traditional liberalism has involved certain kinds of movements that gave us Social Security, minimum wage, public healthcare, environmental and consumer protection, the civil rights acts of the 1960s, the fair hiring act, the equal employment act, public education. What is it that is so objectionable about Medicare for God's sake?

I remember on many occasions when liberals, or people who were supposed to be liberals, were called liberals and they shrink. It's beyond me, absolutely beyond me. I mean, do people think that the right wing gave us Social Security, collective bargaining, clean water? I don't know. I think it's one of those deals where you say it enough times, people began to believe it.

Now, there are people, to my mind, who are libertine, who have taken on the guise of being liberals and they are not liberals. They are involved in something else. I'm not knocking them, but this stuff about correctness in language, this hyper-sensitivity about ethnicity and the notion that people are not accountable for what they do, this is not liberalism.

Liberalism is founded on the Jeffersonian notion that ultimately the individual deserves the protection of his government, that the government has to give power to and protect those who have no voice, who are disenfranchised. The government is there to make the society work in an equitable and just way. That's the spirit of and the tradition of the liberal movement in this country. This other stuff has nothing to do with it.

Empowering an adult bookstore to open up shop in a neighborhood filled with elderly people who lack political power, whose finances are immediately compromised and their property values plummet, that is not, in my mind, enforcement of the First Amendment. It has nothing to do with the First Amendment. This is a misinterpretation of the constitutional views of people like Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and all these other early guys. They weren't there to protect pornographers who create victims out of defenseless people.

The libertine view of life has much more to do with fashion than it does politics. There's nothing liberal about Hollywood. That's just nonsense. The Disney Company violated minimum wage laws in Haiti. I mean, you've got to really work to violate sweatshop laws.

Thanks to Reese Fuller for graciously allowing this partial reprint.

Fertility Meds for the Goose

Never has the concept of selling sizzle over steak been as obvious as in the ludicrous display of greed and pettifoggery known as the NFL Network.

The NFL has become the sports behemoth of America through careful management of what is, essentially, saturation coverage of its games over free, or basic cable (ESPN), television. Every NFL game is televised. Every fan sees all of the local team’s away games, and any home games that are sold out 72 hours before kickoff. ESPN games must be made available to the local markets of the participating teams via free, over-the-air television. The Golden Goose cranked out eggs at an unprecedented rate for an industry that doesn’t really make anything.

The NFL, not content with billions of dollars a year from the television networks, decided last year to cut out the middle man, and started showing games on their house organ, the NFL Network. That was okay, as far as it went; NFL Network was on most basic cable systems.

Then the league held a gun to the goose’s head, and started demanding cable providers pay more for NFL Network than for such staples of basic cable as CNN. Cable companies responded by making the NFL Network either a subscription service (like HBO or Showtime), or by including it in a “tier” of sports channels, available for an additional fee. The uproar was great across the land, peaking when Dallas and Green Bay played a critical game in November; neither city had the NFL Network available in its local cable system. The league relented, cried crocodile tears, and started selling the rights to local stations. Channel 20 here in Washington paid upwards of $700,000 to air the Redskins-Chicago Bears game a few weeks ago.

Now the New England Patriots, led by Bill “Dr. Strangelove” Belichick, are gunning to be the only team in history to win all sixteen regular season games. (“History,” in this case, means thirty years, as the sixteen-game season has only been in place since 1978. Hardly a time span of Biblical proportions, even if you go with that “the world is six thousand years old” thing they’d have you believe.) Stations in the New York and Boston areas paid through the nose for the rights; the rest of the country was still held hostage by the cable/NFL standoff.

This is America. Health care and a proper education are negotiable, but watching a football game on free television is a God-given right. Senators became involved; Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) staff continued negotiations even on Christmas day. (Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has apparently resolved all the civil liberties, unwarranted searches and wiretaps, and Justice Department scandals to his satisfaction.)

On Wednesday, the NFL announced both CBS and NBC would simulcast NFL Network’s coverage. This gives viewers across the country at least two channels to pick from; those in the metropolitan New York and Boston areas get four! (NBC, CBS, whatever local channel bought the rights originally, and NFL Network, for those who get it.) And it’s the same coverage! Literally. You’ll have the chance to flip from channel to channel and see the same thing, described by the same announcers. Bryant Gumbel available on four New York outlets at once! (He’ll probably wank his elbow out of its socket reading the newspaper articles.)

Here’s the best part: the game doesn’t mean dick. Both teams have clinched their playoff spots. The Pats’ opponent, the New York Giants, get the fifth seed whether they win or lose. Their goal is for no one to get hurt. The Pats can be expected to play pedal-to-the-metal; they’ve done it all year in meaningless situations. (Such as being up 40+ points.) Giants’ coach Tom “Rat Face” Coughlin has said he’ll play his starters; how much is questionable, with a playoff game to follow in a week.

I’m skipping this one. I missed the Steelers against St. Louis last week, and survived with no obvious psychic scars. (I live out of market for Steelers games and won’t pay for NFL Network.) I hope the Pats win, complete their 16-0 season, then lose in the playoffs, making it meaningless. Maybe a key player’s injury in this meaningless game could render him unavailable. Nothing career-threatening; a sprain or a pulled hammy will do.

Don’t get me wrong: I like football, and watch a fair amount of it. The NFL would do well to remember their success grew from providing free access to their fans, and not jerking them around any more than necessary. Golden geese are not immortal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve, and Craze and I are driving to Germantown, Maryland to visit her niece’s family. Niece, hubby, and adorable daughter moved from Germantown to Houston last spring so hubby could get an advanced degree from Baylor University. (Note to grammarians: “Advanced Degree” and “Houston” may properly appear in the same sentence when accompanied by “Baylor University.”) They’re staying at hubby’s parents’ home, where we are to visit them.

Craze and I drive along the Beltway, north on 270, exit at Father Hurley Boulevard, stop for ice, and make the turn onto Wynnfield. About this time, it occurs to me to ask the immortal question: “I know we’re close, but where’s the turn for [names redacted]’s house? I only know how to get to [niece’s name redacted]’s house.”


Fortunately, it was close, and we’d already passed it when I asked; since I’d also been there before, I’m not blameless. (I try to accept as much blame as possible for everything, so as not to give Craze a complex.) Thank God for cell phones.

As a special bonus, I learned what might be the single greatest thing for a father with a teenaged daughter to know. When explaining the curfew to a boyfriend, end your politely worded and helpful comment with, “I’m not afraid to go back to prison.” Works every time.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Better to Remain Silent and be Thought a Fool

I had budgeted time to write a thoughtful piece on Shrub’s mortgage rate freeze. Then I watched my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers get torched by the still undefeated New England Patriots, 34–13 this afternoon, after Steelers safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a victory earlier this week.

It is my sincere hope that Mr. Smith has learned his lesson. If not, I’ll lay it out for him.

Anthony, you are not the best player on the team. You are not even the best player at your position, and wouldn’t be playing if Ryan Clark wasn’t out for the season. Shut the fuck up.

Anthony, if you’re going to shoot your mouth off, be ready for them to come at you. Biting on run fakes to let Randy Moss get fifteen yards behind you and getting suckered on a trick play are not options for a free safety who runs his mouth the way you did. Shut the fuck up.

Let’s hope young Anthony has learned not to let his whale mouth overwhelm his hummingbird ass again. At least not until we have a chance to trade him.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Huckabee By Any Other Name

Looks like Mitt Romney’s not as open-minded about religious choice he’d like you to think. "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom," to use a direct quote, is not the blanket call for tolerance the Mittster would like to claim it is. Recent polls show 18% of Americans define themselves as either agnostic or atheist. The number is probably higher if you include those who may believe in some greater power, but not in what passes for organized religion. Deists, for example. (For those might say Deists don’t qualify, let me cite one who is clearly germane to the discussion of religion versus politics in America: Thomas Jefferson.)

Freedom is supposed to be for everyone, regardless or what they believe. Or don’t. There’s no litmus test for it. It’s supposed to be an inalienable right, whether you believe in God, don’t believe in God, believe God “set the clock and got out of the way” (to quote Chris Matthews), believe in reincarnation, or pagan rituals.

Freedom in the United States is not handed down from God; it’s guaranteed in the increasingly fragile parchment of the Constitution. The framers may have thought they were divinely inspired – and they may well have been – but God does not actively dedicate Himself to the rights and liberty of every American. Want proof? The greatest assault on our allegedly guaranteed liberties in the 220 years since they were handed down from Philadelphia has taken place under the watch of, and with the encouragement of, the only President in history who considers himself to be God’s messenger on earth.

You can think your liberty comes from God, but you’d better be prepared to defend it yourself. Mitt Romney isn’t going to.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holier Than Thou

Mitt Romney officially declared himself a Christian today, thus observing the unwritten third qualification to be president. (The Constitution puts forth the other two: at least thirty-five years old, and born in the USA. Sorry, Arnold.)

Romney's guilelessness can be debated elsewhere. It may be unseemly to question someone’s sincerity on a matter of faith, but Romney’s earned it, since he’s as sincere as a whore’s orgasm the rest of the time. As political theater, the speech was unmatched since Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Of course, Bentsen went on to lose the 1988 election behind Michael “Helmet Head” Dukakis, so that might not be the image Romney hoped to convey.

On the surface, Romney’s move is brilliant politics. No one doubts his real audience today was Mike Huckabee, who’s hot right now, and misses no opportunity to coyly diss Romney as a Morman. Romney’s speech leaves Huckabee with a Hobson’s choice: welcome Mitt into the Christian tent, or risk becoming the candidate of exclusion. Tom Tancredo would seem to have that gig pretty well wrapped up, but there’s always room outside today’s Republican tent.

The real loser in this Romney vs. Huckabee jihad is Rudy Giuliani. He’s dropped off the media radar faster than anyone since Philip Michael Thomas when Miami Vice was cancelled. This might not be a wholly bad thing for Rudy, as most of his recent coverage had been of the Judith Regan-Bernie Kerik “can my associations be any sleazier” variety.

I almost feel bad for the Republicans. Romney believes in whatever he thinks will get him elected at the time you ask what he believes. (Sort of the Republican Hillary Clinton, with better hair.) Giuliani has more skeletons in his closet than Alfred Hitchcock. Huckabee may be the nicest guy in the world, but he runs the risk of being the Republicans’ potentially most divisive candidate in the general election. John McCain seems to have just enough support to do what he did in 2000; win a surprise primary, excite people for a few weeks, then pull a Howard Dean. Paul, Tancredo, and Hunter? Come on, that sounds more like a firm of ambulance chasers advertising on TV at 3:00 AM than three potential presidents.

The big implosion could be on the way. “Faith” has become such a litmus test for Republican politicians that the radical right could provoke a discussion it can’t win by waking up the sixty per cent of the population who don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other. The possibility exists that the Republicans, having opened the Pandora’s box of religion, could nominate a candidate to walk into the biggest defeat since Reagan clipped Mondale in 1984. Not saying it will happen; if it does, you heard it here first.