It Never Should Have Come to This

Remains of Berlin wall, detail of old concrete wall, Germany

My family, on both parental lines of ancestry, have been in the United States for generations, and some of them for centuries. Still, the current immigration tension hits home with me. All my family were immigrants (unless I have some Native American blood in my ancestral lines, though I am not aware of any).

We live in a nation described as a “Melting Pot”. Various streams of immigration have occurred over the relatively short history of colonization that characterizes our past. The English, the Spanish, the French were the first streams of immigrants. At various times the Irish, the Chinese, the Italian, the German, the Puerto, the Vietnamese, the Mexican and many other people groups have added to that stream.

I am neither a blind patriot nor a self-loathing radical when it comes to this nation’s history. This is no time for naked idealism. Our past indiscretions in the way we treated Native Americans shouldn’t be brushed under the rug, but the great Democratic experiment that has been a shining city on a hill to the world should not be discounted either.

The truth is nuanced. The truth is messy. Idealists doesn’t necessarily create falsehoods (though sometimes they do), but they emphasize the truth that serves them. We should not be blind to any portion of the truth. As a wise man once said, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” (or something like that).

But, the aspects of that experiment that shine a light in the world include the bedrock value of freedom and a welcoming attitude toward the streams of foreigners who have all come here to make a better life. This has been a land of opportunity, if not always perfectly available to all, that is still exemplary in the world despite its warts…. until recently.

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A Religious Litmus Test for Public Office?

Despositphotos Image ID: 2240287 Copyright: eddiephotograph

Should there be a religious litmus test for public office?

That question has arisen in regard to Russell Vought, an appointee to the office of deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. As a Wheaton College graduate, he defended the College’s decision to terminate the professor who wore a hijab in solidarity with Muslims and said that Muslims worship the same God as the Christians. His statements made in that defense became the subject of his confirmation hearing.[1]

In his statement, Russell Vought, stated what most orthodox Christians and Muslims believe: that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians obviously believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and Muslims believe that Allah, alone, is God, and Muhammad is his messenger. Those beliefs are held by millions of people and are not controversial, in that sense.

An increasingly large segment of western society views religious beliefs negatively and takes the position that religious beliefs of this kind do not belong in the public square. They go further, implying that people who hold such religious beliefs are not qualified for public office. Thus, the question: should there be a religious litmus test?

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Political Labels & Common Ends

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / radiantskies

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / radiantskies

I recently read an article on equality and fairness titled, surprisingly, People Don’t Actually Want Equality, by Paul Bloom published October 22, 2015, in the Atlantic. That article triggered a number of thoughts for me. I wrote about some of them in Equality, Fairness and Me.

In this piece, I want to go in a different direction. I have friends on who span the spectrum of political ideology. I tend to fit somewhere on the conservative side of things, but, as I suspect with most people, you might find my views on either side of the spectrum, depending on the issue. I am not sure how some things came to be labelled “conservative” and other things “liberal”. As for economic issues, I would probably be labeled conservative.

I don’t like the label. All labels are self-limiting. They stand in the way of true understanding. They polarize people and reduce issues to platforms. They inhibit resolution and progress toward commons ends.

We do have common ends! When we get right down to the core of what people want, we pretty much want the same things. We want fairness. We want equal opportunity. We want to be left alone. We want everyone to get along and be happy.

Some people feel that private enterprise, left to itself, will do the right thing and everything will balance out, while government intervention just messes everything up. Other people feel we need government intervention to balance everything out because private enterprise creates inequality. People run the government and people run private enterprise. (Maybe people are the problem!)

I suppose the solution is obvious: some combination of private enterprise and government is the ideal solution. That is also obviously easier said than done. How we get to the ideal solution and what it looks like is a matter of great disagreement.

I do not just speculate that we all want basically the same things. It is not just my opinion. That premise is the exact conclusion of people who have studied these things:

“[W]hen asked about what distribution would be ideal, Americans, regardless of political party, want a far more equal society than they actually live in or believe that they live in. In an article published in The Atlantic, Ariely writes, ‘the vast majority of Americans prefer a distribution of wealth more equal than what exists in Sweden, which is often placed rhetorically at the extreme far left in terms of political ideology—embraced by liberals as an ideal society and disparaged by conservatives as an overreaching socialist nanny state.’”

Ironic, isn’t it? Maybe all of our fighting based on labels of “conservative” and “liberal” are just getting in the way of getting to the resolutions that we all want.

Looking Beyond the Indiana RFRA

protesterThe collective response to the recent adoption of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a marker of the shift in popular culture in my opinion. The swell and direction of popular opinion is unmistakable. The overwhelming will of the people favors the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and religious freedom has never been more disfavored in the Western world. The groundswell threatens to unhinge governments and people who stand against the tide. Continue reading

Gruber Exposes What is Wrong with Politics

Uncle Sam Sick in BedJonathan Gruber, a previously little known MIT professor, has stumbled into the national limelight with statements about “stupid voters” and the intentional use of non-transparency in drafting and promoting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so that voters would not realize what was in it.

Gruber candidly admitted the promoters of the law determined it would not have passed but for the non-transparency, quickly adding that it was important to keep the truth from the voters because the law was too important to risk not passing it.

Regardless of one’s view of “Obamacare”, our nation should be up in arms over the revelation that non-transparency was employed by design in the drafting of the law and in getting it passed. We should be outraged and offended at the notion that we are too stupid to understand and not to be entrusted with the a clear explanation. American citizens should be taking action to ensure that our nation’s law, which require transparency in government, are enforced at the highest levels.

One MSNBC blogger, however, called the “Jonathan Gruber mess” much to do about nothing. (MSNBC)

Champions of the ACA are scrambling to minimize the damage and downplay Jonathan Gruber’s role in writing the law and getting it passed.  Nancy Pelosi says she does not know who Jonathan Gruber is. (Washington Post) Nancy Pelosi responded soon after his remarks leaked out to the public that Jonathan Gruber was not involved in the drafting of the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately for Pelosi, the Washington Post found a 2009 video in which she specifically cites Gruber’s work associated with the Act. (Washington Post) Sarah Kliff of left-leaning Vox.com, now says Gruber was “merely a number-cruncher”, though she previously said Jonathan Gruber “pretty much wrote Obamacare.” (the redstate.com)

Unsurprisingly, the real politicians are not as apt to be candid, as Jonathan Gruber was, about the facts.

Ironically, Nancy Pelosi’s 2009 comment cites Jonathan Gruber for the point that the ACA bill (then) will bring down the spiraling costs of health care. (Washington Post) Jonathan Gruber, himself, however, says that the ACA was never intended to bring the costs of health care down. In fact, he pointedly said it would not bring the costs of health care down; they just had to spin it that way because that is what the voters wanted to hear. (See the video of Gruber’s statement in the Washington Examiner) This is another variation on the “stupid voters” statement that has put Gruber in the public and Congressional cross-hairs.

The post remarks spin on Gruber is disingenuous and underscores the lack of honesty and transparency in our government at the highest level. Nothing is more disheartening to me than this utter lack of forthrightness in our federal government that appears to be fueled and justified by an elitist notion that “they know what is best for us” (so it does not matter how oblique they are with the American voters).

An article at reason.com shows just how disingenuous the backpedaling is. “These reactions from Obama and others were, for the most part, technically true—but nonetheless misleading about Gruber’s influence on the law. At a minimum, they were not fully transparent about his role.” This article lays out how intimately and completely Gruber was involved in both the drafting of the law and in selling it to the public.

The elitist idea that politicians know best and, therefore, are justified in obfuscating the facts in order to pass a law is dangerous thinking! It is fundamentally un-American. It is the primary reason that people are so skeptical and do not trust politicians; indeed, “politics” is a dirty word for reasons like the Gruber remarks.

It is not the remarks, per se, but what they reveal. The Gruber remarks epitomize all that is wrong with politics. He said in one of the videos that has been circulating around, “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” The remark reveals an attitude that anything goes as long as we succeed. Succeeding in politics means advancing the party’s platform and (most importantly) staying in office at all costs. Transparency should be the unequivocal benchmark that is protected with non-partisan diligence, but it turns out it is merely a partisan tool to be discarded for a more expedient device.

In the congressional hearings, Gruber seems to be using “the stupid defense” to explain the statements that he made. (townhall.com) (He says they were glib and inappropriate; he says he was trying to make himself look smart on subjects (politics) about which he is ignorant.) I am disposed to believe he is just being dumb like a fox. It seems completely disingenuous.

On the other hand, maybe there is something different about Gruber (from professional politicians). Maybe there is some semblance of sincerity in his obsequious explanation for the “glib” and “inappropriate” remarks when he says, that he was not as smart as he thought he was and should not have tried to wade into the politics of the Act. Politicians would not be so glib (think candid). They are more practiced in the art of making appropriate remarks (think spin and cover up). Gruber’s forthright (albeit arrogant) admissions of the game plan for Obamacare would not come out of a practiced politician’s mouth.

In the same congressional hearing, Jonathan Gruber stated under oath that he was not the “architect” of Obamacare. (Fox News) Calling him the “architect” may or may not be an accurate description, but he was most certainly involved. Gruber may not have been “the” architect of Obamacare, but he spoke at length on the “detail we considered when we wrote the Law” at a presentation in 2012. (January 18, 2012 Speech) During the recent congressional hearing, Gruber refused to disclose how much money he made from his work on Obamacare. (thefiscaltimes.org (unofficial estimates are between $2 million and $5.9 million))

It appears that Gruber has learned a thing or two about politics since he made the candid remarks that got him trouble, and that is not a good thing.

I am afraid that the real problem with politics in this country will be lost in the partisan scramble to make hay out of the Gruber debacle. People will forget the exposure of the ugly underbelly of politics for all of the furor over health care issues. They will miss the forest for the trees. Health care is an important issue in this country, as Gruber even pointed out. We need to fix health care, but Gruber exposes a more fundamental, farther-reaching and indemic problem, and that is politics itself!

I am afraid that problem will be swept under the rug, by both sides. Gruber’s forthright statements about non-transparency are fodder for Republican opportunists, but they may only be useful for partisan purposes. They will be used to advance the conservative cause, but they are much too dangerous to be used for any other purpose. If Congress took the time to focus on the what is wrong with politics, they would all have to play dumb.