Apr 062011

In the fall of 2010 the Tea Party was swept into power on a wave of voter discontent promising to turn the country around by reigning in out of control government spending.  They were riding high on populist anger pushing a hard ideological line as the solution to our nation’s problems.  Five months later the Tea Party’s approval ratings have plummeted, Republican governors riding the wave have seen their support evaporate, and the oncoming government shutdown has put the ascendant Republicans in a serious bind.  Regardless of the cause of the Tea Party and GOP’s woes can be summed up in one word.


No one can deny the Tea Party-fueled gains of the Congressional Republicans in the 2010 elections.  They trumpeted their victory as a mandate by the voters to pursue a ultraconservative antigovernment agenda.  Yet for all the claims of strong support what the mandate they received was less clear.  A large part of their victory in 2010 was thanks to highly depressed voter turnout especially among groups that Obama depended on for his 2008 victory.  With only 41% of voters bothering to come to the polls as opposed to the low 70s that we saw in 2008 probably the clearest thing the voters did say was they had enough with government as usual.  With the certainty of victory the hard-right Tea Party candidates in Congress and state government moved forward to make the perceived mandate a reality.  Ironically enough it was putting their agenda into action that has led to a serious case of buyer’s remorse across the board.

In Congress the Tea Party, ignoring polls showing Americans’ first priority was job creation as opposed to cutting the deficit, went all ahead full with their agenda starting with the infamous forcible rape bill.  They followed up with attacks on NPR and Planned Parenthood threatening to cut off the flow of government assistance for both.  While the Culture Warriors fought personal battles at the expense of the American public the House leadership continued to thunder on high of the dangers of the growing deficit.  They demanded immediate cuts across the board regardless of their economic impact.  When questioned on the economic impact of mass federal layoffs Speaker John Boehner responded to these concerns with a blunt “So be it”.  When the Democratic-held Senate refused to play ball and roll over to the House Boehner and the House GOP doubled down on their stance of cuts, cuts, and more cuts leading to a string of stopgap continuing resolutions to keep the lights on.  In spite of following their agenda to the letter the Tea Party, far from seeing their political stock rise, has recently taken hard blows to their support.  From previous highs of 50% support the Tea Party has fallen to a new low of 32% and Americans now seeing the Tea Party as being as much a part of the problem as the Democrats and Republicans.  The hard-line calls by the Tea Party for government shutdown, a course Boehner himself fears will benefit the Democrats, coupled with the refusal by ultraconservative Republicans to compromise with the Senate have largely run afoul of American popular opinion.  With strong majorities holding out for a compromise and tiny slivers supporting the white-knuckle showdown that now seems all but inevitable the Tea Party has charted a truly dangerous course for the GOP.

The recent disasters for the Tea Party are hardly confined to the Beltway.  A recent string of anti-union measures and rhetoric pushed in MichiganOhioWisconsin, and Maine have far from rallying public opinion have sparked ferocious backlash.  In Florida Governor Rick Scott’s unilateral actions and disregard for the state legislature have turned his own party against him.  In Wisconsin where the labor fight has most strongly come to a head the expected easy re-election of incumbent Republican David Prosser to the state Supreme Court has come down to a narrow margin with the challenger, virtual unknown Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg, just barely ahead flipping 19 counties that went for Scott Walker in 2010.  With a storm of recalls gathering the troubles for the Wisconsin GOP, riding high on the Tea Party’s wave, have only just begun with labor increasingly agitated and energized into action across the Rust Belt.
Each of these skirmishes have helped build up what will be a game-changing showdown in Washington.  Both sides in Washington are spoiling for a political fight with each citing dearly-held principles.  Yet in spite diffuse opinion forming on impending shutdown the Tea Party is taking very serious risks.  In every one of their previous attempts to advance their cause they have been met with popular backlash and buyer’s remorse.  Their insistence during the 2010 campaign that government shutdown should not only be an option but actively sought by lawmakers has left the recentprotests to the contrary hollow and has enraged Tea Party activists calling for a firm stand in a fight where the stakes couldn’t be higher.  Far from being an effective cure for our woes some economists fear a prolonged shutdown spiraling back into a deep recession.  Beyond the economic impact is the direct effects of shutting down our federal government.  In the event of a shutdown over 800,000 federal workers would be furlough and stop receiving a paycheck, 30% of all tax refunds will remain unsent, states would face serious cuts in funding for programs like unemployment pay, and soldiers fighting overseas would continue their dangerous work without pay just to name a few.  If a last-minute budget deal cannot be reached then the Tea Party, thanks to their sound and fury, run the risk of being stuck with the blame.  They may soon discover that ideological purity doesn’t matter when the public doesn’t like what your ideology does to them.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.  The United States cannot afford courting economic disaster because the most radical faction of one political party cannot put aside ideology for the sake of the public good.

Also posted at Ryan’s Desk

Oct 282010

Paganism is starting to gain acceptance in mainstream society.  As a measure of acceptance we are seeing milestones hit such as Patrick McCollum speaking at the World Forum of Spiritual Culture in Astana, Kazakhstan last week.  Another such milestone is the election of openly Pagan candidates to political office.   In the past few years the Pagan community has seen the election of two openly Pagan candidates.  One of them is Dan Halloran.

Councilman Dan Halloran

One year ago, Halloran, running as an Independent Republican with Tea Party backing, was in a bare knuckle fight for a seat on the New York City Council against Democrat Kevin Kim.  The race turned even uglier when Kim’s spokesman sent a press release to journalists all across the city in an attempt to use Halloran’s faith against him.  The Queen’s Tribune, heavily linked to the Democratic candidate, was particularly sensationalist in their approach.   Despite raising less money and devoting critical time to address this attack on his religion, Halloran won the election. In part two of our series, Pagans in Politics, Halloran agreed to talk with Pagan+politics about his freshman year in office.

It’s almost one year ago that you were elected into office.  Is it what you expected? Yes and No. Of course, there is always going to be certain level of expectation that once in office you will be able to immediately set about fixing things… the reality is that the system is slow to respond, difficult to master, and often times set up to discourage change.

On the flip side of the coin, there have been tremendous things that have opened up doors and opportunities that I had hoped would materialize once I entered office, and I have been able to use the power of my office to make a real difference in a lot of ways.

So on the whole, it is what I expected but I am actively at work changing things.

I understand most days are not typical, but could you give us an example of what you do during the day?

7AM up- walk dogs, shower, dress

8AM start at District office in Queens, get itinerary for meeting and hearings, review mail, sign constituent service letters, review notes, call logs and office budget items

9AM meet with Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief to set up instructions for staff for day and long term policy and legislative work

945 leave district office to drive into Manhattan.

10AM begin committee hearings at City Hall -I serve on the most committees of any freshman councilman, and second in the entire council: 1) Public Safety, 2) Fire &Criminal Justice, 3) Land Use, Public Siting, 4) Landmarks, and Maritime Uses, 5) Mental Health and Retardation Drug & Alcohol Abuse and Disability Services, and 6) Public Housing

1 PM lunch and noontime appointments with City Agencies, Lobbyists, and Constituents in City Hall offices, review legislative issues and City Council Agendas

3PM head back to district office

330 afternoon appointments with Constituents, local other elected -assembly (my district spans 4 assembly districts), state senate (2 senate districts), congressmen (2 congressional districts) and police & community boards (2 Community Boards and 3 police precincts)

5PM review calendar for next day and appointments with scheduler

6PM attend local civic and community events (my council district is composed of 7 towns, over 161,000 constituents, 24 square miles of land and 4 marinas and 14 miles of coastline).

10PM home, walk and feed the hounds, eat, start emails, review committee notes and research for next days appointments and hearings

11PM evening bedes at my home Stalli, followed by watching news and sleep

The Committees meet between two and three times a month each, the Council has stated meetings twice a month.

You appear to be having a successful and productive first year in office.  What are you most proud of accomplishing in office? Two things:

a) Raising the funding provided in my district to the highest levels in 10 years for both discretionary spending (community programs) and capital allotments (infrastructure, schools and parks).

b) Making the City more responsive to the realities of my district- we were able to stop the Paid Sick Leave and Living Wage bills which would have crippled small business, attacked property tax increases and pushed legislation to reform government transparency and funding policy…

Our council office has had such an impact that I was named one of the top 40 under 40 year old in New York State politics named by City Hall News – the political insider news service of the State of New York. We have received more network coverage than any other elected official in new York except the Mayor and the Speaker… not bad for a freshman republican in the political minority.

You still have three years left in your term.  What do you still hope to accomplish while in office? Governmental reform and transparency is my largest goal. I have introduced 5 pieces of legislation aimed at reform this legislative session and have another 14 bills pending.

Does being a part of a minority religion impact how you serve minorities in your area? Not really; I was always aware of the need to maintain balance between the public at large and the protection of minority positions… as a criminal defense attorney I had a unique insight to the problems facing our economically challenged communities and had a history of fighting for them.

Furthermore, as Flushing is the birthplace of religious freedom in America (the remonstrance of Dutch Flushing), it has always been a great source of diversity. In my council office, I have funded Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, mainstream Jewish, Lutheran, Protestant, Buddhist, and Hindu organizations and been invited and attended a broad variety of religious events. I was also able to help out many cultural groups, ranging from the Korean American Group of Greater New York, Chinese Flushing Business Association, Sacco Society (Italian American), Russian & Greek Orthodox Societies and Irish and German American groups.

During the election, your opponent attempted to use your religion as a wedge issue and it got pretty down and dirty, what has been the response towards your religion by your constituents since then? Its not an issue….Almost everyone sees what was done as a terrible campaign hit-piece. My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.

What do your co-religionists (Theodish) think about your new position? Are you able to fulfill your religious obligations to them? Do they feel your new status brings them increased good fortune? The problem with change, is that it always disturbs the status quo. Many in the Theodish community (and in the Asatru community) still harbor issues about how my campaign handled issues related to my faith and the idea that one could serve openly in public without compromising elements of our traditions and beliefs. But they weren’t the ones running for office, and certainly, without great risk, there is no great reward.

So some do, some don’t approve of my position… the simple reality is, that we now have an elected official who represents our faith, a milestone to be sure. And that is no small feat- more so because New York City is the largest City in the country, the position I hold is nearly comparable to some state senate and congressional seats in size and scope.

In fact, one of the fundamental theological truths that our faith is centered on is that we make our own Luck and that outward manifestations of success in life and accomplishment are the only true measure of it.

You are a favorite of the local Tea Party groups, so much so they wanted to draft you into running for Congress. That they would support a Pagan/Heathen candidate runs counter to how some see Tea Party groups, as Socially Conservative Christians. How do you account for their support of you and Erin Lale [a Heathen Candidate in Nevada]? Because the media has intentionally misrepresented and distorted what the Tea Party is about and who is in it and unfortunately people believe the nonsense that the mainstream media has spouted about on the issue. There has never been any animus towards me or my faith by the Tea Party. In fact, when the attacks began it was my Tea Party supporters who were the first to jump in and fight back citing the First Amendment and freedom of religion. The reality is, that LIBERAL DEMOCRATS were the ones who shamelessly exploiting religion. Their fake claims of tolerance and diversity are belied by their actions. The DEMOCRATS faked mailers from the Catholic Church attacking my faith, they instituted media sensationalism claiming I was anti-Semitic and in a racist religion… all the while the mainstream media was their more than willing accomplices. The reality is that the Tea Party stood up for freedom while the Democratic Liberals proved that they only have room for their agenda, not for ideals.

Some Tea Party supported candidates are Socially Conservative, not just Fiscally Conservative, and wear their Christian religion on their sleeves. If Tea Party Pagans assist more Social Conservatives to get elected, and they turn out to be very anti-Pagan, how do you feel about the possibility of inadvertently supporting and electing folks who might work against our own social interests? This is a straw-man argument.

N.B. hyperbole coming…..Some Liberal Democrats are actually elitist racists who wear their contempt for God (in any form) on their sleeve and look down at the great unwashed masses as not able to think for themselves because they don’t know whats best for them and have delusions that there is a higher power that motivates them… so instead the elites will dictate how the masses live their lives and ensure that mankind is beyond its superstitious need for God(s), tax all the producers to raise up the poor…. Blah blah blah…..

You support candidates who understand that the Bill of Rights is to be respected as the supreme law of the land, that the Founders called for LIMITED government, and that each person has an obligation to work for themselves and their families and that they should not be dependent on the government (through welfare programs) nor overly indebted to the government (through taxes) either … those, are mostly, traditional Republicans (not neo-cons), Libertarians, Constitutional Conservatives, and yes, Tea Party types….

Erin Lale and yourself are Heathens. Jessica Orsini, who was re-elected as an Alderman in Missouri, is a Hellenion. Why do you think that Pagans in reconstructionist religions have been more successful in breaking into politics and seen a serious candidates than Wiccans and other Contemporary Pagans? Because the intellectual rigors of reconstruction faiths provide the discipline and education needed to be taken seriously in academic circles… which usually means mainstream higher education, in turn upper income, and more mainstream appearances and social involvement.

What advice do you have for Pagans who are considering running for political office? Be well educated, involved in your community, and desire to have your faith as ONE component of your life and not your entire identity.

Do you think the USA is ready for Pagans in higher office, say Congress? Yes- as with ANY faith, the RIGHT candidates…..ones who know what their community’s needs are, who can advocate and build coalitions…. A person’s religion isn’t the litmus test for public office it’s a component in understanding who they are and their point of view.

Hopefully in four years New York will be ready for a Heathen Congressman….

Feb 192010

Just a quick update: Since signing up for a local Tea Party group I’ve been looking through their (and other Tea Party groups) blogs, forums, and reading the Twitter feeds. There are two main topics that are being discussed quite passionately: To Third Party or Not to Third Party and growing resentment over the GOP, in the guise of the Tea Party Nation, trying to control the Tea Party.

I don’t normally read Newsmax, but this story is being linked to talked about more than any other.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s statement that tea party activists need to start “picking a party” is part of a “coordinated assault” against the conservative grass-roots movement by the Republican establishment, tea party leaders tell Newsmax.

A series of events this week have pushed some tea party leaders to the brink of firing back at GOP officials they see as potentially compromising their organizations’ independent status.

“Anybody who expects tea party members to vote based on party lines fundamentally misunderstands the movement,” says Mark Meckler, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots and one of its national coordinators. “The tea party movement is made up of people who value principle above party.”

This week’s meeting between RNC Chairman Michael Steele and “tea party leaders” appeared to aggravate the growing divide. Most of the major tea party groups steered clear of the four-hour sessions, and some even suggested Steele was trying to “hijack” the movement for his own purposes.

Tea party insiders say that whenever the tea parties are portrayed as aligned with the GOP, the independents and disenchanted Democrats within the grass-roots movement feel alienated.

Publicly, Republican leaders insist they respect the movement’s independence. But tea party leaders see indications their true intentions are otherwise.

“I think we are facing a coordinated assault by the GOP to a bend the tea parties toward them,” Everett Wilkinson of the Tea Party Patriots tells Newsmax.

The entire article is worth reading and is, based on a short time reading Tea Party blogs and tweets, representative of the frustration people within the movement are feeling at GOP encroachment and strong arm tactics.