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Restraining Your Inner Fourth Grader! (by Elizabeth Burke) March 19, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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I am a grown woman, but I have to admit that as soon as I read an article last week on Politico.com about the website,  ImSorryRush.com,  I could not on it click fast enough. It was as if my inner Fourth Grader was busting to get out and poke fun of the perceived “loser” in the class. The website is set up like the old Mad Lib game where you fill in a silly word or phrase for each Mad Lib indicated – and the topic is the recent rush (pardon the pun) of Republicans apologizing to Limbaugh for negative comments made about him in other arenas.  Now you too can crawl on your knees to the Altar of Rush.  

It seems that in the past few weeks, the most astonishing thing has been happening. The otherwise calm, cool and collected GOP seems to be eating themselves alive. First there is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s disastrous response to President Obama’s speech and the collective impulse to shove him under the bus. Then there is the daily iteration from the far Right in the visage of Rush Limbaugh, repeating his desire to see this Administration fail; the multiple verbal Michael Steele gaffes; Senator David Vitter (R-LA) (of the caught-with-a-prostitute fame) once again caught acting out, this time at an airport berating the airline staff for not letting him thru a security door to board a plane about to take off. Up North, the continuing morality play of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston just went pfft and turned into a trash-talking “he-said-she-said” cat fight straight out of People magazine! 

And of course, drug-addicted, obese, thrice-divorced, arrested-for-prescription-drug-fraud, currently-living-in-sin, malcontent conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, (yes 2 mentions!) being anointed the titular head of the Republican Party. There is more, but I think you get my point.

Common sense says that the Democrats should Leave Well Enough Alone. We have the White House, most of Congress and sadly soon, one more seat on the Supreme Court. We should be gracious and thoughtful.  We should QUIETLY – with focus – take the high road.

Quite frankly, the GOP is doing an excellent job of self-immolation. All the Dems need to do is pull up a log and toast some marshmallows over their fire. The latest attempts by the Left, to smugly point fingers and laugh through cupped palms at the auto-cannibalism of the GOP, needs to be stopped. It reeks of pettiness and bad sportsmanship and undermines the actual progress the Democrats have made in uniting the country in a time of economic crisis. 

But as a barely restrained Fourth Grader at heart, I know how easy it is to poke fun at the weak!  Let’s take the case of the brand new Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. Just one day after he publicly decried Rush as ‘incendiary” and “ugly” he had to get on his knees and grovel for the big guy’s forgiveness.  He then made, what I believe to be truthful, comments on his belief in a women’s right to choose, and his assertion that homosexuality is how one is born and not a choice (comparing it to being born Black, imagine that!) And before you can say “Please Rush don’t hurt me” Steele is backpedaling so fast, I got whiplash just reading about it! In just over 2 months, the GOP knives are sharpened and there is already infighting about his possible impeachment. Impeachment!! Even Conservative David Frum said he was sickened by the attacks on Michael Steele for saying abortion was an ‘individual’ choice. The Right eating the Right is wrong.

Indeed, there are rumblings within the GOP to have Wisconsin’s Norm Coleman replace Steele. But, well, it seems Coleman is currently under FBI investigation. Word leaked only a few months ago that the FBI was looking into allegations that the former Senator’s family received $75,000 in secret payments from a longtime friend and benefactor. Those payments went unreported on Coleman’s financial disclosure form, leading some congressional ethicist to draw parallels to the corruption case that ultimately took down former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Oh for God’s sake.

Now for an example of a GOP rising star totally missing the point, let’s talk about Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC.) Just last week in response to a comment by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Sanford warned that the recently-signed stimulus bill could spur a Zimbabwe-style economic collapse:

“What you’re doing is buying into the notion that if we just print some more money that we don’t have, send it to different states – we’ll create jobs… If that’s the case why isn’t Zimbabwe a rich place?”…”why isn’t Zimbabwe just an incredibly prosperous place?” 

Sanford has said that he will reject a portion of the stimulus money that would expand unemployment benefits, which now hovers at about 10.4% in SC. He has also promised to turn down $700 million meant in large part for education programs if he is not granted a waiver to instead use the money to pay down his state’s debts. If your house is burning, do you take the buckets of water, put them aside and save them in case this happens again, or do you take the water and PUT THE DAMN FIRE OUT?! 

A conservative South Carolina newspaper, The State, penned an editorial on Sunday blasting, (ripping to shreds) Gov. Mark Sanford for his political grandstanding. The best part? Republicans in the South Carolina State Senate are currently laying the groundwork to accept the stimulus funds Gov. Mark Sanford is promising to reject. Defying their own on their own! “Without the stimulus funds, teachers would lose jobs, prisons would be closed, and inmates released early,” Dan Cooper, a Republican state representative, told the Associated Press. 

Even totally inconsequential Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-GA) went to the Altar to seek His forgiveness for daring to criticize His Holy Loud Mouthed One. All he said was this: “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.”  Of course within days he was tripping over himself to say “As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values. I have actively opposed every bailout, every rebate check, every so-called ‘stimulus.’ And on so many of these things, I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh.”  So sad. I assume his constituency all have jobs, homes, health care and didn’t need any of that money.

And of course, amidst all the outrage (!) this week focused at the AIG psychopaths, a pitchfork wielding Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggested that these hookers-without-a-heart-of-gold commit suicide in the honorable old tradition of Japanese Hari Kari. Of course barely minutes later, scrambling to explain his comments, he inadvertently had a verbal malfunction “From my standpoint, it’s irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses at this time when they’re sucking the tit of the taxpayer,” Grassley explained.  Look, when they make it this easy, what’s a girl to do?

That said, as a self-described Lefty McLiberal, lover of all things green, pursuer of clean energy, hugger of those less fortunate and crier at State sponsored torture, I find it embarrassing that there are some in the White House that are actively working to tie the GOP to Limbaugh and his ilk.

What works in a guest blog post does not necessarily fly as party policy. 

Formalizing these behind-the-hand whisperings and deep-in-the-tubal-interweb musings is really adolescent and amateurish, a “distraction” as the President was so fond of saying in the days of his campaign, when he spoke of a new kind of politics that would transcend partisan pettiness.  And while it appeals to everyone’s inner 4th grader, I’m still an idealist who believes that Obama’s promise to be better than this is something we all can and must strive towards.

I don’t believe the Democratic National Committee should be spending one dime to hold a contest to find a new theme in their ongoing campaign to portray Rush Limbaugh as the true leader of the Republican Party. The slogan, “Americans didn’t vote for a Rush to failure,” will be splashed across a billboard in Limbaugh’s hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida, and printed on T-shirts, a Democratic National Committee official told CNN. My Fourth Grade self inwardly laughed and clapped her hands with glee while my rational adult side sighed deeply and shook her head. 

It’s easy to attack the GOP while is at it’s weakest in over 40 years, as they struggle to fight its way out of political inconsequence, searching for a message that doesn’t encompass the ugliness that we have seen through festering mouthpieces like Ann Coulter, Hannity, Rush and the entire Fox news channel.  


It makes for a stronger statement for us, the Democratic, to show restraint. Both parties have made huge errors recently, most notably taking out the legislation requiring Executive pay limits from the stimulus bill.  

This image of high ranking Dems hunched over, rubbing their hands in glee, jumping on the bash-wagon like rats jumping on a well-stocked-ship needs to stop. We need to let the Republicans find their own way, make their own mistakes, fall all over themselves trying to out-conservative each other, threaten each other, and destroy their party all by themselves.

These are scary and uncertain times for the rest of us. I want a rational hand steering the ship, and we have that, and the crew better stop acting like 4th Graders and focus on getting the country back on it’s feet or they will be out on their asses in less than 4 years, with little left to crow about.


Is The Gun Lobby Stronger Than American Democracy? March 6, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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The Constitution of the United States, in Article I, Section 2 states, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states…. Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union.” In the country’s early days, there were several states, and each state’s male citizens of some means were permitted to vote, and there were territories – not yet states, to whom the right to vote was not extended. And today we still have territories, Peurto Rico and Guam. They, like D.C. residents are entitled to an at-large member in the House, but that member cannot vote. The difference is that D.C. is neither a state nor a territory, and while residents of Puerto Rico and Guam are not subjected to Federal Taxes, D.C. residents pay all U.S. Federal Taxes, which in 2007 totaled $20.4 billion, the highest per capita taxes in the country. So, while the Constitution does limit the right to vote to state residents, it also requires that only those with representation pay taxes to the Federal Government. Thus, D.C.’s unofficial motto, ‘taxation without representation,’ a concept that, at the time, was held to be of the utmost importance. Remember the Boston Tea Party? The Stamp Act of 1765? American Colonialists rebelled because the British Government sought, in violation of it’s Constitution to tax them without the tax being approved by their legislators, which was not possible as they had no representation in Parliament. This denial of the the franchise was an important factor leading to the American Revolution and to the founding of our nation.

The withholdnig of the franchise has long reflected a hesitancy on the part of those in power to expand democracy’s reach – our founding fathers denied the right to vote to white mean without means, to women, to Native Americans, to African Americans. Our government has long denied an entire city the right of self rule of any form, rather subjecting them to the rule of a Congress in which they had no representation whatsoever. Some vision of restoring to D.C. residents their right to vote in federal elections was evidenced in 1801 when the Federal Government formally took land from VA and MD to form the Dictrict of Columbia, for they allowed residents of the newly formed Capitol to continue to vote in their former states for 11 years. This course of action suggests that it was a stop gap measure until some other solution that would reinstate these citizens’ voting rights. Proposals were made, though many failed, to give VA and MD back their land, and D.C. residents have protested their loss of representation ever since, though the government did, in the mid 1840s, return much of the land previously belonging to VA amidst concerns over the slave trade in the Capitol, thus restoring the voting rights of those who lived in this part of the District. Over time, as the city’s residents lobbied for the vote, while the overall population hovered around 150,000 residents, the African American population grew such that, by the 1860s, free blacks made up 88% of D.C.’s residents. Given our Country’s history in this era, it is no surprise that the right to vote was denied to D.C. citizens.

Residents were given some governmental representation when, in 1873, President Grant appointed a Governor to oversee Washington, but he did away with his office just one year later after the Governor bankrupted the city.

For nearly the next 100 years, until the passage of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1961, did D.C. residents have a hand in electing a single governmental official; they had no say even in the election of our President and Vice President. And the number of those denied the franchise grew substantially as D.C.’s population exploded to around 850,000 during World War II. The amendment granted to them the right to electors on a scale on par with those of the states. These electors would be considered ‘to be electors appointed by a State’ though no State appointed them. A nice fiction by Congress to overcome Constitutional concerns.

A dozen years later, in 1973 Congress passed the Home Rule Act, allowing D.C. residents to elect a Mayor and a City Council, though, amid evidence of poor management, Congress retook control of the District’s purse. No further extension of voting rights have been granted since that time, making ours the only democracy that denies resitdents of its Capitol city the right to federal representation. This was the state of affairs this week, as Congress again debated whether D.C. residents will, in 2009, receive the right of representation in their government. The time for change has come. But there was a glitch.

That our country is so divided around all the issues surrounding gun ownership is terribly unfortunate. We are so much stronger when we are united, and we should not be divided by this issue. The concern among gun owners that the left wants to take away the guns of law abiding citizens seems to me a myth created and fostered up by the NRA. I’m sure there are some who would like to see all guns banned in the US. I’ve heard the arguments, but I have never met a single person who holds that view.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitutional guarantees a right to bear arms, and that right should be respected. The First Amendment, which by virtue of being first suggests its relative importance, guarantees the freedom of speech, assembly and religion. Yet, despite the fact that the right to free speech and a free press are vital to our form of government, those rights are not absolute. Rather we must abide by, among other things, time, place and manner restrictions on our speech. Likewise, I would argue, the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment may be Constitutionally regulated.

I do not want to take guns away from hunters and sportsmen. Some of my fondest memories of are my Grandfather teaching me to shoot a rifle. As a young girl, I was shooting tin cans off the top of fence posts. My grandparents regularly welcomed hunters onto their land. It’s a part of the culture of many Americans, and they should be allowed to choose their way of life so long they abide by sensible regulation. We must be trained to drive and we must register our cars; we should require appropriate firing and safety training, and should register our guns. We should lock them safely away from children. The aim here is not to place an undue burden on gun owners, but to recognize that a right can be limited to protect the safety of others, and guns, like cars, can harm unintended victims. As for guns in urban areas, I wish they weren’t there, but I realize that many people believe that they are safer with a gun in their home. And they should be able to make that decision for themselves. They need only be responsible in their ownership.

It is most likely that the real sticking points center around the issue of what guns, if any, should be banned. We call weapons capable of killing many people weapons of mass destruction. Our foreign policy centers around trying to keep the most dangerous of these weapons out of the hands of many. I think we, too, should aim to keep automatic weapons out of public circulation. Some criminals will still get them, this we know. But others will have a harder time of it, and that could save lives. This restriction, though, requires that the police in urban areas are vigilant about keeping unregistered guns off the streets and regularly patrolling dangerous neighborhoods. I think reasonable people can disagree here. But I also think that this limited disagreement has too much of an impact on our politics because the NRA and its supporters paint an exaggerated picture of our differences. We are not at polar opposite points on this issue, though to hear Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and far too many others to name tell it, gun owners are in serious danger from we communists who want to take their guns. And this week, the the NRA, through Senator John Ensign (R-NV), fanned these flames when the Senator attached an amendment that would overturn gun control laws in the District AND would strip D.C. of the right to enact gun control legislation of any kind. The amendment remove gun registration requirements and would not even allow D.C. to set an age requirement for gun ownership. Sixty-one Senators voted for this amendment, including 22 Democrats.

One NRA representative actually said that he would prefer to see D.C. residents freed from gun control laws than to see them get the vote. He thinks that unfettered right to own guns is more important than a democratic form of government. Does he really want to live in a dictatorship where everybody’s packing? This is the rhetoric that divides, and this week, as before, its affects were far more serious. While it looked that D.C.’s residents would finally get the right to elect one member to the House of Representatives, the legislation is now stalled because of the gun control amendment.

The larger point, in this instance, is that this was all beside the point. This amendment had absolutely nothing to do with the legislation to which it was attached and should never have been part of the discussion. This is the politics we’re all tired of. Each issue that is important enough to the American people to come before Congress should be voted on with votes based solely on the merits of that bill. We’ve had enough of politicians placing considerations of their political futures before the concerns of the country, and here of democracy itself. The NRA ostensibly threatened to make this vote one that it would use as a gauge in its annual candidate ratings, which are based on the number of times the legislator supports their organization’s interests. And Democrats, too, voted for the bill with the amendment attached. Again, we read that it would likely removed in the House. But, just like the tax cuts that were added to the stimulus bill that every one said would be limited in conference, the lets give guns at christenings amendment wasn’t removed and a clean bill passed. Rather, it sits, amendment still intact, stalled in the House.

President Obama should take a stand. This is not a spending bill, it is not ‘last year’s business.’ This is important legislation that would, setting Constitutional concerns asides for now (suffice it to say there is a vibrant debate), finally enfranchise all American citizens. It is about time. Dedicated and serious minded Americans have worked since the beginning to fully expand the franchise, and politics as usual is again getting in the way. President Obama’s promise was to bring a new kind of politics. So let it be. We are beyond ready. Americans should call, write, email their representatives in Congress and their President to demand a clean bill granting the right to vote to our citizens who live in our nation’s Capitol.

Our leaders in Congress need to be called out, as the president would say, on their weak support for the expansion of democracy. Not only did they allow the insertion of the gun amendment, Senators bickered over the fact that giving D.C. the vote would be a gain for the Democratic Party, and thus Republicans demanded that another Republican State be given a new Representative to bring ‘balance.’ Truly democratic leaders do not let an advantage to the opposition party, particularly one so small, stand in the way of the spread of democracy itself. This country’s leaders have always been stingy with the vote. Every advancement has come through great struggle. Neither blacks nor women gained the franchise through the spontaneous passage of legislation by enlightened leaders seeking to expand democracy at home. Rather, we have paid dearly to enfranchise (almost) all of our people. Thus, the hailing of ours as the world’s finest democracy (as our leaders love to do) by leaders who prefer that only those who agree with them (and who are, in their minds, their equal) be able to vote is a sad smudge of hypocrisy worn by far too many American leaders throughout our history.