Thursday, January 26, 2012

presidential disrespect

President Obama arrived in Phoenix at 3:15 pm local time, finding the chilly weather of Iowa giving way to sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s.

He stepped off Air Force One at 3:28 pm and was greeted by Gov. Jan Brewer. She handed him a handwritten letter in an envelope and they spoke intensely for a few minutes. At one point, she pointed her finger at him.

Afterwards, your pooler spoke with the governor.

"He was a little disturbed about my book, Scorpions for Breakfast. I said to him that I have all the respect in the world for the office of the president. The book is what the book is. I asked him if he read the book. He said he read the excerpt. So."

Let's all be clear about one thing: when the words "I respect the office of the president" come out of your mouth, it's usually because you just said (or did, in this case) something you know crossed the line, something that proves, in fact, that you don't accord any respect whatsoever to the current president.

Not that I'm a big "respect the office!" guy, mind you. The president may be head of state, but s/he's also a public figure, and voluntarily so. People gonna say what they gonna say.

Nonetheless, this now makes two (out of only three total!) State of the Union addresses where "the office of the president" was pretty egregiously disrespected by having some Republican politician treat the POTUS as if he were of lesser station than them. Two things I cannot imagine having ever happened to any previous president, of either party.

We've talked about this before in the context of black resentment, but one thing we missed about this unprecedented abuse endured by President Obama is why these politicians engage in it. Surely people are turned off by this kind of thing, right?

Except "the right people" aren't turned off. In fact, they've been dying to have someone put this guy "in his place" and "give us our country back" for 3 years now. They just love it when one of their boys shouts "You lie!" during the State of the Union, or their house speaker refuses to return the president's calls and skips out on state dinners, or when their highest ranking party members refuse to admit that he's an American citizen.

This is, of course, why Gingrich has been enjoying such high support in the primaries at times despite being an otherwise loathed man in other years. Gingrich appeals to that teabagger desire to see this president treated with as much disrespect as possible. Finger wagging? That goes without saying! Calling him names to his face? He deserves it. Treating him like a child and talking down to him? Hey, Gingrich has a Ph.D.; that gives him the right, right? Throwing in a few personal jabs at Michelle and the kids? She started it, the fat cow getting the government to tell our kids what they can and can't eat.

But I respect the office of the president.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dr. King

I've noticed on this anniversary that I've never taken any time to say anything about Martin Luther King, Jr. on this little soapbox. I guess I'll start with a huge cliche:

Martin Luther King, Jr. is a personal hero of mine.

I became a fan of his in grad school for a lot of reasons. For the sake of limiting my cliches in this post, I'll limit my discussion to this one point that I don't hear so many people make about him.

I always knew of King as a voice against inequality, against war, and against prejudice and hatred, but it wasn't until graduate school that I had the opportunity to read any of his words aside from the few speeches everyone quotes. What I discovered was that people talk a lot about King's heart (and rightly so), but his mind was almost as extraordinary. His letter from a Birmingham jail was on the reading list of my theology class on Grace, alongside such names as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Rahner and Martin Luther. That should tell you something about the quality of the man's thought. Among those names and those works, however, the clarity of King's thought and the strength of his voice was notable.

Notice, for instance:
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Not bad for a guy writing from jail without access to his library, eh?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

bloated federal bureaucracy not bloated at all

Kevin Drum points to a very interesting graph from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and then makes a particularly interesting point.

First, the graph:

Notice that administrative costs generally range from minimal to non-existent in all of these very large government programs. More interestingly, in the ones with higher admin costs, those costs are higher because of things conservatives insist on:
Programs like SNAP and Section 8 housing have fairly stringent means testing rules in order to root out folks trying to game the system, and the result of that is higher admin costs. It's pretty unavoidable. We could probably cut the overhead costs of housing vouchers by simply giving money to anyone under a certain income line and then calling it a day, but we don't. We make sure you really truly qualify, we make sure the vouchers are really spent on housing, and we make sure that landlords aren't scamming either tenants or the taxpayers. This is exactly the kind of thing conservatives are always urging us to do, and it costs money. There's no way around it.

The moralistic, heavy-handed nonsense that conservatives like to force upon agencies ends up increasing their administrative costs, and then conservatives turn around and accuse them of inefficiency. Now, it is possible that the money saved from scammers or whatever offsets the higher admin costs, and it is possible that some regulations are "worth it" even if they cost more than they save, but that doesn't change the fact that accusations of inefficiency are both inaccurate and deeply unfair.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

the Teabaggers make their last stand

I hate to be a Debbie Downer for all of us rooting for chaos in the Republican primary, but I think this baby's over. Santorum managed a great, come-from-behind victory (or near victory, not sure yet) in Iowa, but this was little more than the last gasp of opposition before Romney overwhelms the rest of the field.

Why is that?

The problem with Santorum -- electorally speaking, I mean -- is that he has no stamina for a prolonged fight. Sure, he managed to make something of himself in Iowa, but he could only manage it by focusing pretty much all of his very meager resources there. He has almost no presence in the other 49 states, and a statewide campaign apparatus is not the kind of thing you can just whip up overnight, not even if you get a massive windfall after the initial victory. It's possible that Perry could have waged a longer campaign, or perhaps even Ron Paul, but none of the other guys ever really got their fundraising off the ground back when it really mattered.

Santorum's only real shot here is if this anti-Romney Tea-Party-cum-Christian-Right thingamajig that presumably carried him in Iowa coalesces into a full-blown opposition faction within, I dunno, the next two weeks or so and decides on its own to mobilize for him. Frankly, I just don't see it.

The far more likely outcome is that the Republican establishment gets just spooked enough to jump off the fence and line up behind Romney so as to put the kibosh on all this friendly fire. It appears it's already happening, in fact, as news broke this evening that John McCain plans to travel to New Hampshire tomorrow to endorse Mittens. I expect an avalanche of those over the next week or two as Mitt easily carries NH, brushes off South Carolina as an outlier and uses Super Tuesday as a giant victory lap.