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

Feb 182011

The political situation in Wisconsin has come to a head following the proposal of a budget bill by newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker which would for all intents and purposes strip public employees with the exception of police, firefighters, and state troopers of the right to collectively bargain. Governor Walker has claimed this radical measure is necessary to avert a deficit crisis for the state of Wisconsin. The situation has rapidly escalated with Walker threatening to call out the National Guard shortly after introducing the bill. Demonstrations broke out almost immediately with Wisconsin State Senate Democrats leaving the state to prevent a vote on the bill. The conservative media has advanced in full force unconditionally supporting the Governor’s union-busting measure claiming the state is on the edge of total chaos. Glenn Beck has taken to the airwaves claiming the city of Madison is rioting as has the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Voices like Rush Limbaugh and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan have repeated this assertion of chaos in the street. Above all they have consistently advanced the argument that gutting the rights of workers is necessary to balance Wisconsin’s budget.

All of these arguments and claims by the conservative movement are bald-faced lies.

This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. These claims of civil disorder in the streets and a deficit crisis are completely at odds with the facts. Contrary to the fear-mongering claims of Glenn Beck the demonstrators in Madison have remained orderly and peaceful. The Madison Police Department released a statement today saying they are proud of the way the protestors have conducted themselves. The only advisory from the Madison Police to the public is a notice to motorists of greater congestion in the vicinity of the Capitol. If you don’t believe the police there are the photos submitted by people in Madison showing large, energetic, and perfectly peaceful crowds. Hardly what one could seriously call a riot.

The next falsehood being circulated is the claims of a deficit crisis. The line of reasoning goes that it is only possible to balance the budget by completely destroying the right of public workers to collectively bargain. It skips straight past negotiations, furloughs, and other austerity measures to one of the most extreme solutions possible. 44 states are currently facing serious budget problems and yet the only other state considering such a radical tactic is Ohio. With such an extraordinary measure being advanced and the National Guard being readied in case of strikes it sounds like the deficit in Wisconsin must be insurmountable. This again is wrong. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau issued a report on January 31st asserting the bulk of the budget shortfall of $202 million was caused by a series bills supported by Governor Walker. Quite contrary to his claims of union benefits and salaries being the cause it was his own deficit spending that created the alleged crisis.

Governor Scott Walker has created a crisis and rapidly escalated it in a bid to crush the public employee unions of the state of Wisconsin. There wouldn’t be a budget crisis of Walker genuinely practiced what he preached on the campaign trail. There are no facts supporting any of the claims of civil disorder or a deficit crisis. Walker’s attempt to ramrod a rollback of the rights of workers by a century has nothing to do with fiscal conservatism and everything to do with political opportunism. His readying of the National Guard over budget negotiations is extraordinary overkill. If Governor Walker was genuinely interested in serving the people and balancing the state budget he should sit down with the state workers and negotiate not threaten them with an unnecessary and malicious attack on their most basic rights.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Jan 062011

Today, at 10:30 am (Eastern), the Constitution of the United States, excluding those portions that have been superseded such as the the 18th amendment, will be read aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives.  As far as historians can tell, this will be the first time in our history that this will occur.  This is in preface to a new House rule that  requires every Bill to cite its basis in the Constitution.

Like all things our elected officials do, this is being dissected by pundits, political science academia, folks around the water coolers, and by the politicians themselves.  Is reading the constitution aloud “long overdue” as Rep. Robert Goodlatte, who originally proposed this idea, proclaims?  Is it “a presumptuous and self-righteous act” by the new GOP majority as the New York Times contends?  I don’t see why it couldn’t be both.  This is Washington we are talking about, after all.

More interesting than the usual polarizing viewpoints – us good, them bad – is the discussion taking place about how we, as a nation, feel about the Constitution.  Take a look at these comments:  (Bold emphasis is mine)

“They are reading it like a sacred text,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and characterized the reading as ritualistic.”   “You read the Torah, you read the Bible, you build a worship service around it.  You are not supposed to worship your constitution,” said Nadler, who went on to say that the Founders were not “demigods” and the document’s additional amendments to abolish slavery and other injustices showed it was “highly imperfect.”

On MSNBC, Dahlia Lithwick said:  “The way some people rub Buddha and they think the magic will come off, I think there’s a longstanding tradition in this country. We’re awfully religious about the Constitution,” she said. “I think there is this sort of fetishization that is of a piece with the sort of need for a religious document that’s immutable and perfect in every way.”

Both of these statements posit that the Constitution of the United States is not a sacred document, that in order for a text to be sacred it must be unchangeable in nature, and that we grant it an irrational reverence that should be reserved for texts like the Bible and the Torah.

I find myself in total disagreement with Representative Nadler and Ms. Lithwick.

The idea that sacred texts must be unchangeable to be perfect is a uniquely Christian view.  Even Christians who are not bible literalists, see the most well known of Christian sacred texts, the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, as something that is unchangeable and therefor perfect.  Even though there are different versions of the Commandments in the bible, the ones God wrote and the ones Moses re-scribed.  The very word of God handed down to man and you don’t screw with that, right?

Other religions, like Buddhism, Judaism and Paganism, look at sacred texts in a different light.  They are words of wisdom that can change and be added to because they are alive.  Some come directly from the divine, some divinely inspired, and others are wise saying of learned humans.  The texts are used as a learning tool, are open to interpretation, and are studied.  Students of sacred texts look not only to connect to the divine, they ‘divine’ a blueprint for how to live their life in harmony with a higher power or consciousness.

Columbia Eleutheria, which formerly graced the niche behind the Speaker in the House of Representatives.

That’s how I see the Constitution.  It is a sacred text inspired by the Patron Goddess of this country, Columbia Eleutheria. I’m not alone in the belief that a divine hand, whether you call Her Columbia or Providence or God, assisted in the creation of our Constitution. Those where were there when the Constitution was created, whom some Pagans offer (or are considering offering) cultus to as a Hero, had this to say:

“I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”  Benjamin Franklin

“When the great work was done and published, I was … struck with amazement. Nothing less than that superintending hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war, … could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole .”  Charles Pinckney

“For my part, I sincerely esteem [The Constitution] a system which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”  Alexander Hamilton

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”  George Washington

Although the mainstream sees the Constitution as a product of a Christian nation and attempt to whitewash the Founding Fathers as firmly Christian in their faith, the Constitution is purely Pagan.  Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington were all men of the Enlightenment -  a time when the ‘lost’ knowledge of the classical world resurfaced in art, literature, and philosophy.  They consciously and deliberately set out to use the best of Pagan Athenian and Roman law, philosophy, and political science as the foundation of a new nation, not the Christian bible.  The Framers made Rome our body and Athens our soul.  Republican Rome offered the example of a Tripartite government consisting of three branches:  the executive which was run by  two consuls , the legislative which was run by the Roman senate , and the judicial which was run by the assembly.  But it was Athenian Democracy, as exercised by the Demos (the People), that became the American ideal of liberty.

French philosopher André Glucksmann, offers an insight into the concept of liberty that the United States adopted from Greece.  The same freedom that Columbia Eleutheria breathed into the hearts and minds of our Founding Fathers as they deliberated over the birth of our nation.

Glucksmann writes:  “It is liberty understood in doubt and anxiety about the fate of man.  Tragic freedom works in uncertainty, sailing toward no glorious destiny. Man is free, yes—free to learn from his mistakes. Or not.”

Our Constitution is a document containing sacred wisdom gained from our Goddess, a blueprint of how the USA can live in harmony if we devote ourselves to its study and gain the wisdom to interpret it. That the constitution can be amended demonstrates its perfection.  We have the freedom to learn from our mistakes and correct them.  Or not.

Oh – Representative Nadler, I do not see a “ritualistic” reading of the Constitution as meaningless or wrong.  Ritual is a positive and effective way to ask for Divine guidance and aid.  So I close with this prayer:  May Columbia Eleutheria guide our Representatives – especially our newly elected House Speaker John Boehner – and grant Her blessing to our country.