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.

Overreach.

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

Jan 142011
 

I’m not ready to comment, yet, directly on the horrific shooting in Arizona. I have a very different perspective on contributing causes that are drawn from my religious beliefs and have nothing to do with politics. I’m waiting for more time to go by so this isn’t quite so raw.

I do have some helpful hints for my (Pagan) friends after listening to them and reading their words about the shooting.  Since this advice is 100% unsolicited, I’m sure it will be well received.  I know I always enjoy it when I’m on the receiving end.

1. Please learn the difference between the Gold Standard and buying gold as a hedge against inflation.
I’ve seen Pagans attempting to tie Loughner to Glenn Beck by saying they both talk about a return to the Gold Standard. They then deride this as laughingly ‘ignorant’ of Glenn Beck and how this is a ‘staple’ of the Right. It’s generally not a good idea to deride someone as ignorant if you demonstrate your own ignorance on the topic in question. What Glenn Beck advocates is buying gold as a hedge against inflation and currency devaluation. It’s an investment strategy. If you had followed this ignorant advice, you could have tripled your money in the past 2 years.

Advocating a return to the Gold Standard (which Loughner seems to be talking about, but rather incoherently) is an entirely different thing. It is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed weight of gold or some other finite and non-perishable commodity. Likewise, if you can’t articulate the pros and the cons of a gold standard perhaps you shouldn’t laugh about how stupid an idea this is. There are many topics I don’t weigh in about because I don’t know jack about it.  The Gold Standard is advocated by a minority of Libertarians and that’s about it.

This is kind of a tangent, but it’s been bugging me.

2.  Stress doesn’t build character.  It reveals it.
That’s actually a paraphrase of Heywood Broun’s famous quote, “Sports do not build character.  They reveal it.”  When we are confronted with horrifying situations, even if we are not involved, we are placed under stress.  I don’t think that people do things they normally wouldn’t do when they are placed under stress, they do what is most true to them.   What did your response to the shooting reveal to those around you?

I don’t find it unreasonable that many jumped to the conclusion that the shooting had a political motive and was most probably done by someone from the political Right.  Not because the Right is more violent, but because the politician who was the target is on the Left.  I can also understand anger as an initial reaction.  That’ s not all that happened, though.  The extreme venting of hatred by some that I know on the Left was eye opening, shocking, ugly and continued for days.  This was done by people I respected and have conversed with for years.  As it quickly appeared increasingly unlikely that the shooter was from the Right, was influenced by Palin, talk Radio, had never been part of the Tea Party, and appears he has profound mental health issues and been fixated on Giffords starting in 2007 – there was no acknowledgment by them that the depth and heat of their words was excessive.  Instead, I watched them try to force the shooting to fit into their world view.  One person went so far as to say that although it was clear to them the shooter wasn’t part of the Left or the Right, this is an opportunity to push Palin and the Tea Party off the political stage.  Under stress they revealed who they are and what they actually think.  The polite social masks were removed.  Despite what they have said previously, they demonstrated a lack of respect towards ‘people like me’ and they feel contempt and hatred for those who have different views.  It was the same feeling you get when you realize a friend who has previously said they respect your Pagan religion slips up and lets you know that they think you are involved in something evil and they think you are a joke.   Perhaps you had a similar experience from people you knew on the Right or the Left?

However, most people revealed that they are wonderful, caring, respectful people – just as advertised.  What an incredible gift to have people like that in your life.  I treasure them all the more for the beauty that shown through during such a sad time.  When they make nuanced arguments that although Loughner didn’t appear to be motivated by political tone, pushing for a more civil discourse is still a worthy aspiration in and of itself – they have the moral credibility to make this argument.  They press for compassion for the mentally ill and wish that Loughner could have been treated by mental health professionals.  They prayed for those injured and the families of those killed.  They celebrated as the injured showed signs of recovery.  Hopefully you know people like this, too.

What did I reveal?  That I’m a persistent pain in the butt.  This should not be a surprise.

3.  If you want to promote civility and peace, sending me emails that you wish that I had “been the one shot” because, as part of the political Right, I’m “responsible for the hate and violence” is a bit counterproductive and hypocritical.
Calling me a “fascist teabagger bitch” in the same email where you complain about “toxic rhetoric” is pretty humorous.   Saying that “people like you” should die/disappear/be put in jail because we are “eliminationists” is projection – seeing in others that which you hate about yourself.  It stops being funny when you wish that someone would kill me or that if we are ever in the same room I will get what’s coming to me.  The same goes for comments about Palin, the Tea Party, Soros, Pelosi, or whatever person or group drives you to Pavlovian frothing at the mouth.

I read a comment from one Pagan, “Many Pagans believe that language carries magick – - words have meaning and consequences. In that framework, it is at best sloppy and at worst grossly negligent to call for violence as leaders on the Right – - but not the Left – - have been doing of late.” I would agree that words have power so the three Pagans (I’m assuming Pagans since they referenced Pagan+politics and wanted me to “shut the fuck up” and that I’m not a Pagan, blah, blah, blah)  who sent me an email wishing I would die or sad that it wasn’t me that was shot meant their words to have real and negative consequences in my life.  Since I’ve given these emails to the police, as I said I would do in a previous post on P+p, I hope there are legal consequences that come back to them for their words.

I disagree with the commenter that calls for violence are unique to the Right.  As a sign that the Gods have a sense of humor, I read his comment after coming back from the police station to turn over the threatening emails I mentioned.  It’s not words like ‘targeting’ that can be dangerous or the province of just pundits and politicians on the Right or the Left.  It’s the othering that we, regular folks like you and me, do.  When we define and secure our own positive identity through stigmatizing the “other” we open the door to hatred and violence.    When we otherize a group of people, we see them as inferior to us.  Extreme othering, where we no longer see those others as even human can result in killing homosexuals, or genocides such as WWII, Rwanda, or Darfur.  That’s the conversation Pagan+politics was created to have – to lessen this othering within our religious community.

I know – I know – that we have more in common than we have differences.  I know that you can be intelligent, informed, sincere, and ethical and have a political view that completely different than mine.

As for what is a danger to the average American – I would say our concern is better directed on our economy and the rising costs of fuel and food.

Nov 012010
 

A proud conservative, it goes without saying that the Presidential election of November 2, 2008 was for me a particularly sad day. During the months that led up to the election of our first “post-racial” President (far from an apt descriptor in hindsight), truth be known, I never seriously considered B. Obama a serious challenger. My money was on a Clinton-McCain battle, in which I gave odds to our current Secretary of State and her command of the superior resources provided by the Clinton political machine.

I don’t think I could have ever foreseen such a swell of support for a peculiarly unaccomplished candidate, all premised on little more than the vague promise of “change” and an otherwise unarticulated agenda. This was the year that, to my astonishment, we as a nation displayed our clear preference for style over substance.  This is my chief complaint against the ascension of President Obama, that we as a people were foolish enough to gamble away the farm on a charismatic unknown, so given to our idolatry that we not only refused to investigate or question any substantive details, but we stubbornly ignored the ample warning signs (Ayers, Wright, etc.). As unattractive a candidate as I may have personally found him, Sen. John McCain was to me clearly the lesser of evils. Alas, we appear to have been destined for change all right, and a more clearly articulated agenda.

Be that as it may, this article, if I might call it that, is not about the historic Obama campaign, nor even particularly about his Presidency and the deeply troubling consequences thereof. Likewise, it is not even about this cultural anomaly of the blind and unquestioning devotion of the masses to an attractive but nebulous political figure. Rather, it is about perhaps the single greatest, although unintended achievement provided by the reign of Obama and the 111th Congress…that of the Tea Party movement.

It is interesting to note the reactions of opponents toward this growing body of active political participants. Much effort has been made to portray them as radicals or extremists. In fairness, it cannot be denied that there are some fringe elements who inevitably gravitate towards the nexus that is the Tea Party. But really now, what sizable group does not have these? They are certainly not representative of the Party any more than Bill Ayers can be said to represent the entirety of the Democrat Party. Furthermore, it has become a defining characteristic of Tea Party members to roundly rebuke extremists amongst them, as can be seen with repeated confrontations with liberal poseurs, amongst others, who often attempt to infiltrate their ranks with the purposes of creating deceptively unflattering publicity for them.

Beyond these, there are also those within the ranks who would like to see some social issues addressed. Perhaps of primary interest are those who oppose “gay marriage” or insist on the enforcement of immigration policies. While they may have legitimate points to offer, these unfortunately give their more disreputable opponents an opportunity to seize upon these issues and craft distorted portrayals of Tea Partiers as being “racist” or “homophobic”. As transparent as this is to the bulk of Americans, honest dialogue seemingly cannot progress for those whose stock in trade is propaganda and libelous name-calling. Regardless, while the body of the Tea Party as a whole is a big-tent concept comprised of many views (some might call this genuine diversity), it is nonetheless defined by the ideas expressed in the Contract From America. Thus far lacking any social prescriptions, current attempts by critics to define this movement in terms expressed by the far left stretch what credibility they might have theoretically had.

To listen to the detractors, it is preferred we believe that the Tea Party is comprised of uneducated bigots…backwards and unenlightened souls who take their marching orders strictly from Fox News. This is the mantra of the delusional left, sung by the liberal choir exclusively and verbatim. For instance, while President Obama was at least decent and honest enough (or politically savvy enough not to blatantly over-indulge himself in partisan rhetoric, as he is known to do) to deny detecting racism as a motivator for Partiers, he nonetheless attempted to dismiss them as simply people who are “watching certain news channels”, the insinuation being that they are not thinkers but followers, mindless drones, as it were. O’ we simple rubes.

Of course any reasonable investigation of the matter reveals that the truth is in this case Is in the largest part precisely the opposite. Statistically, Tea Partiers in fact tend to be more educated than most (particularly with regards to non-revisionist history and the political sciences), and are in large part comprised of a particularly intelligent and accomplished professional class disposed towards individual responsibility rather than class entitlement.

Insinuations of ignorance aside, we also have the accusation by Speaker Pelosi that the Tea Party is not at all a grass roots movement, but “Astroturf”. More clever than humorous, the implication was and is a complete denial of the organic nature of the movement, with the resulting inference that it was instead an engineered peculiarity unworthy of being taken seriously. We shall see, Madame Speaker, we shall see. But a mere day prior to the elections, I have a sense that you and your legions will soon be having something of a reckoning with this “Astroturf”.

And then who can forget the less clever and patently crude reference to these folks as “Tea-Baggers”? This juvenile quip refers to an explicitly sexual act more appropriate for conversation in a porno parlor rather than the halls of Congress. Gratified with their disparaging wit, many have since become quick to realize the ramifications of such a gutter-level lack of common civility. These proceeded to either feign ignorance of this term or to transform it into a more benign reference to the practice of some Tea Party members to mail representatives tea bags as a sign of displeasure. Many who “got the joke” and were the targets thereof thought this an offense which clearly defined the character of modern liberal politics (it should be noted that the first instances of using this term were by a small number of Partiers themselves, although it has since then become a degrading term exclusively preferred by uncouth elements of the left) leaving little doubt that this was an overt act intended to degrade and further marginalize Tea Partiers. They were not amused.

This is the point; that each instance wherein the out-of-touch political class not only selected to ignore this body of the people, but to attack them instead, the larger the group has become. This is a serious and growing segment of people that Gallup polls report as being demographically similar to the population as a whole. The question must be asked, is this really the sort of group that you want to ignore or dismiss so cavalierly? Had the current leadership the earlier wisdom to at the very least adopt some Clintonesque form of triangulation, the Tea Party would likely now be much smaller and quieter, if in existence at all. I think that they would still be there, at the edge of demanding that “enough is enough”, angered by how far we have strayed from the principles of liberty and equality as the indoctrinated class lead us over the precipice. But, were it not for the hubris of the left, I do not think this body would have nearly the size or impact that it currently enjoys.

It is precisely this sort of deaf arrogance and absolute dishonesty that created the Tea Party. Both the “stimulus” and the health care bills were enacted in defiance of the will of the majority of Americans (with Obamacare recently earning a 70% disapproval rate amongst Americans, well before it has even been implemented), and these are seen by many as merely the most blatant in a stream of expressions of contempt towards the people by a class who are meant to represent them rather than rule them. One would think that a person whose ascendancy relied so heavily on an appeal to the masses would also calculate that maintenance of such position requires legislative mass appeal as well, rather than exclusive capitulation to the fringe minority that is endlessly needy, never concerning themselves with those who must bear the costs of their new entitlements.

A long overdue and much needed populist expression of absolute frustration with an increasingly detached, power-hungry, and indulgent political class, it is commonly thought that the Tea Party is both a rejection of liberal proclivities for governing towards socialism and a direct response to the current Presidents neglect of the will of the people and the constitutional limitations placed on federal government scope and authority. Where we have seen that opponents are routinely far less charitable in their descriptions, this is essentially accurate. However, the seeds for this movement actually pre-date the Obama Presidency, finding their origins with the Bush White House and the Democrat-led 110th Congress.

The first notable expression of unrest came as a result of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Originally proposed by Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson but later amended and approved by Congress, this was the first in a series of controversial bailouts that sowed the seeds of unrest amongst many informed and irritated citizens who correctly saw the federal government as increasingly exceeding its mandate. Moreover, the bills inclusion of an additional 150 billion dollars of unrelated spending was perceived as continued abuse of taxpayer dollars. Nonetheless, despite objections President George W. Bush signed H.R. 1424 into law on October 3, 2008.

However, it cannot be said that without Bush the Tea Party would never had been. The increasing frustration and growing impatience amongst conservatives, constitutionalists, and traditionalists of varying stripes has been brewing for some time. Regardless of Bush and H.R. 1424, the actions and attitudes of the current administration and Congress would surely have propelled this body into action, and in fact, the Democrats in particular have very much served to “fuel the fire” inasmuch as they have not only been utterly neglectful of the concerns commonly expressed, they have been hostile towards them.

The latest Gallup poll tracking overall American political sensibilities maintains what most have clearly known all along: America is for better or worse a center-right country. With self-identified conservatives leading the way with a commanding 42%, moderates following with 35%, and liberals trailing with a dismal 20%, this fantastic display of myopic political calculations failed completely to heed the obvious dangers of such lustful power grabs as those witnessed over the past two years. Serving only the ideological fancies of a self indulgent minority, it was inevitable that such narcissism would provoke not only the predictable responses from conservatives who outnumber them two to one, but that of many moderates who took a chance on an unchecked Democrat majority. As a result, we are now seeing numbers approaching a three to one rejection of both these trophy policies and the scorched earth methods though which they were obtained. Thus, while Bush and the Democrat-led Congress may have technically caused the original spark of this small scale revolution, it was the policies and attitudes of utter disrespect by the Obama administration and the 111th Congress which fanned that spark into a roaring fire.

The adoption of the “Tea Party” theme came from Libertarian Ron Paul supporters who emphasized fiscal conservatism. Drawing analogies between the 1773 Boston Tea Party and current trends of politicians in power, primarily the ability of detached bodies to forcefully extract unfair, unconstitutional, and non-representative taxes, the Tea Party is a manifestation of traditional patriotism that tends to be far more well steeped in the historical dangers of expanded governmental powers than are their liberal counterparts who prefer an expanded role for centralized government, usually as a means to achieve some form of utopian goals.

Comprised of conservatives, independents (many suffering a deep sense of buyers remorse), and even liberals, although admittedly a relative minority, it cannot be honestly said that this is a far-right or “extreme” group, as much as opponents fight to portray them that way. If there is any overall defining characteristic, it is that they tend to see government as having long overstepped its boundaries. This is illustrated clearly in its anti-incumbent preferences. While they overwhelmingly support fiscally conservative candidates over liberal ones, the firm imprint of a libertarian philosophy, on several occasions incumbent and establishment Republicans such as Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski, amongst a growing list of others, have been shown the door as a clear repudiation of “politics as usual”. Without any centralized organization or authority, it is a genuine grass-roots movement seeking real “change”, led from the bottom up rather than dictated from the top down.

An illustration of some general goals of the Tea Party might be found in what has come to be known as the “Contract From America”. Taking cue from the 1994 Contract With America, this list took its form from over 1000 ideas offered and voted on by hundreds of thousands of people, reflecting the concerns of every day Americans. Reduced to 21 possible planks, each was voted on by the public online, with the top 10 comprising the resulting “contract”. If these results can represent the primary concerns and animus of the Tea Party, and I believe they can, they are far from nefarious. For the sake of brevity I will not address all of them (feel free to Google…), but they include:

Identify constitutionality of every new law. The current administration and Congress constitute the historical pinnacle of willingness to bend, circumvent or ignore existing constitutional limitations on their legislative and executive powers, particularly where it might advance ideological ends. It is now necessary to hold politicians on both sides of the isle firmly in check, and within the boundaries of the powers that the Constitution and we the people grant them. Obamacare is simply one of many constitutional breaches that make clear the need to reform or replace our current class of political “servants”.

Demand a balanced federal budget. Given the inability of both Republicans and Democrats to restrain their desire to spend taxpayers dollars like drunken sailors (largely intoxicated by their own power), the adults (we the people) must insist that the children (politicians) live within the means of the allowances we grant them.

Simplify the tax system. The current tax code is a monolithic monstrosity that conceals its propensity for abuse and unfair application, all of which is backed by the weight of legal authority to prosecute “offenders”. There is no excuse for the mess of our tax system. Simplify it and we not only have no use for the resource guzzling farce that is the IRS, but the class warfare commandos will finally be faced with a clear picture of who is actually paying what in our entitlement minded society.

Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality. The real beauty of this plank is that we finally do what should have been done long ago, namely to identify and abolish or modify agencies or programs that are found to be redundant, ineffective or wasteful, or are more appropriately left at the level of State or local government. The billions of dollars that are wasted yearly on government bureaucracy alone is mind numbingly offensive, particularly to those of us in the upper fifty percent of wage earners who actually pick up the tab for such blatant abuse (note that the bottom fifty percent effectively pay no taxes while enjoying the bulk of the benefits…talk about unfair).

Repeal of Obamacare. A “holy grail” of the socialistas, There is no disagreement that our healthcare system is in need of repair, but to ram through a potentially devastating law without concern for the overwhelming majority who vociferously opposed it, or without so much as the common courtesy of actually reading the thing (so that politicians could “know what was in it” before they passed it, rather than vice-versa). Such monumental dereliction of duty is blatantly disrespectful and even hostile towards the public who must suffer the consequences. The longer that the laws and their anticipated ramifications are considered, the longer the list becomes of adverse effects it will certainly have on the health care costs and options available to all Americans, to say nothing of the heavy economic damages inflicted. Destroying quality health care for all Americans to provide it to a minority of Americans is a reprehensible solution that only an unscrupulous political class could have embraced. We needn’t even ponder long the fact that legislators ensured that they would not have to suffer the effects of Obamacare. They were quick to protect their own taxpayer purchased Cadillac health coverage plans. Talk about adding insult to injury. And then there was the slick little move to trigger the enactment of Obamacare after his re-election. This way the effects would not start to be fully realized until after he had secured a second term on the throne. We could go on and on and on, but I digress. Unsurprisingly, very few if any liberal candidates are now campaigning on the “legislative accomplishment” of Obamacare, and in fact many are now flailing about trying to distance themselves from it. Why is that? Could it be that the opponents (and the majority of Americans) were right all along?

The remaining items on the list include an all inclusive energy policy, the rejection of emissions trading, limiting annual growth in federal spending, and reducing both earmarks and taxes. Now I ask you, which of these is “extreme”? In fact, which of these is not just plain common sense? More importantly, if these are the goals of the Tea Party consensus, where are the nefarious racial undertones (or overtones, according to some) that the mainstream media and the politically correct culture queens constantly remind us are the true driving force behind this band of non-conformist misfits?

Note the lack of social policy in this list. There is nothing here that serves “radical” Christians as a group, a particular phobia of the pagan mainstream, or any other religious group for that matter. Likewise, there is nothing here that is designed to serve one group over another along the lines of race, gender, or sexual orientation. This is a movement concerned with the responsibilities of government, reacquainting these bodies with the notion that their power is limited, and the insistence that the will of the people be respected.

With the dominance of a far-left President and Congress leading against a center-right country, tone-deaf and irresponsible actions such as the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (“Stimulus”) and the Health Care debacle have served to antagonize increasing numbers of people across all social and economic lines. The former is widely perceived as a massive government slush fund full of waste and abuse that substantially contributes to existing sums of crippling debt while failing to address the ailments it was proclaimed to remedy. The latter is seen as a clear incremental effort to socialize health care nationally, one of the holy grails of the socialist left in a larger effort to transform America into something very un-American.

Seen by a decreasing number of particular ideologues as great achievements of the current administration, and in truth they are, if you subscribe to that line of political thought, they are also viewed as abuses of authority, dangers to opportunities in a free society, and as the epitome of fiscal irresponsibility to a larger and more broad group of citizens who are simply tired of government run amok. As noted by a far superior President, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

We have seen the impact of the Tea Party as it continues to overthrow comfortable politicians in both parties, and this is a good thing. Indeed, it is a very healthy thing. Where I may have initially had a few concerns, based on its platforms and track record, I have them no longer. To me, the continued growth of the Tea Party is a marvelous historic occurrence, and with any luck their impact will reach far into the future of American politics. And if the saying “by their enemies you shall know them” is any indicator of quality, then sign me up.

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….

Oct 262010
 

One of the signs that a minority group in the USA is starting to gain acceptance in mainstream society is when members are elected to political office.  Elected officials need to persuade a majority of voters that they are appropriately qualified and can responsibly carry out the job.  Voters need to be able to identify with the politician, and more importantly, be convinced that politician understands them and and has similar values.  Although poorly executed, Christine O’Donnell’s ad “I am you” is a good example of a candidate trying to create that vital sense of compatibility between candidate and voter.  In the past few years the Pagan community has seen the re-election of a Hellenion Alderwoman in Missouri, the election of a Theodish New York City Councilman, and a few other Pagans who have run for office with varying degrees of success.

Candidate Erin Lale, photo credit: www.myspace.com/erinlale

This interview, the first of a three part series, is with Nevada State Assemble District 29 candidate Erin Lale. Ms Lale, known in the Pagan community as a cinematographer and author, is running on the Libertarian ticket.  She has picked up several prominent endorsements such as the Fraternal Order of Police, Las Vegas Lodge and the local Tea Party group.  Pagan+politics spoke with Lale about politics, religion, and the challenges inherent in running as a third Party candidate.

Why did you decide to run for office? I originally got into the Assembly 29 race to help out my Party. The Libertarian Party has to poll a certain percentage of the vote every year or they’ll lose ballot access. And I also wanted to attract a new demographic to the Party. I didn’t realize the race was winnable until right after the official filing last spring, when my Republican opponent met with me to try to get me to drop out. I realized I was being perceived as a credible threat. So of course I stepped up my campaign and started trying to actually win. I’ve gotten a lot of positive attention and a lot of good press and media coverage, and I was actually ahead in the polls right before the election spending season started in October; since I’m not being funded by corporations I can’t match my opponents’ advertising budgets. There are two weeks left, so we’ll see what happens.

Did concern over how your religion would be received, as evidenced by the rough treatment Dan Halloran was subjected to during his campaign last year, cause you to hesitate before throwing your hat into the ring? No, I never thought religion would be an issue, and it hasn’t been. The only people who care that I’m heathen are other heathens and pagans.

What has been the reaction to your religion during the campaign? The Tea Party group that endorsed me, Action is Brewing, formerly known as Anger is Brewing, has actually read the Pagan Politics blog entry about me where they are mentioned, and they have assured me that what religion someone is has never mattered to any Tea Party group they know of. The only time my religion is ever mentioned in the media in relation to my political campaign is on heathen and pagan websites. Although of course, it’s all over the net other places in relation to my book, Asatru For Beginners, since I was on a book tour for it this summer. I was interviewed by Rolling Stone at a Tea Party event April 15, and I mentioned my religion in passing in introducing myself as “An openly bi heathen part Native American differently abled woman of size Libertarian”. They were interested in my pro-legalization of marijuana stance, but the article never ran.

You have been endorsed by a Tea Party group in Nevada. Many Pagans believe Tea Party groups are hostile towards Pagans and that the Tea Partys’ goals are counter to that of Pagans. What has been your experience, as an openly Pagan candidate, with Tea Party groups? The Tea Party movement is a protest group that wants small government and low taxes. Period. Various individual members, of course, have a wide range of other opinions and desires. You’ll find everyone from fundamentalist Christians to tie dye peace sign wearing pro-marijuana activists at a Tea Party event. They all come together to work toward a common goal of shrinking the size of government and having more freedom. That’s why the Tea Party movement is a good place for Libertarian candidates to look for voters. I was endorsed by Action is Brewing, formerly called Anger is Brewing, because I’m a fiscal conservative who wants to balance the state budget without raising taxes. The only two new taxes I am in favor of are a tax on legalized marijuana and a tax on legal brothels. The Tea Party movement doesn’t care how I worship, or what color my skin is, as long as I am for low taxes.

In previous coverage of your candidacy in Pagan media, some Pagans inferred that because you are both Heathen and endorsed by a Tea Party group you hold racist, homophobic, anti-minority views. Is it difficult to hear comments like that from within our religious community? All I can say is “Don’t judge me by the words on my label but by the content of my character.” Yes, that’s a paraphrase of the famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote. I have fought against racism and sexism, and that’s actually the reason I don’t have a job right now. I stood up for equal pay. I ended up having to file a complaint with the EEOC for retaliation for complaining that white men with the same job title made more money than us, and ended up being unable to keep working in the technical position I had been working in. I don’t get unemployment, and I’ve been living off savings, which are now running out. But I’d do it again because it was the right thing to do, and because of me 200 other people got a pay raise and got to have fair pay. I won, despite losing my job, and that experience showed me that I can stand up for what’s right and win, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve had the confidence to run for office.

What are some of the main stances in your platform?

Slogan: Get government’s eyeball out of your window and its hand out of your pocket.

Policy positions:
NO new state income tax
NO new VAT tax
NO new grocery food tax
NO higher incorporation fees
NO higher construction permit fees
NO taking locally generated fee revenues (like sewage hookup fees) for the state general fund
NO weakening protections against eminent domain abuse
NO requiring internet based yard sales such as individual eBay sellers to buy expensive state sales tax permits
NO Miles Traveled tax
NO higher fuel taxes
YES to school choice and making every public school an empowerment school (which eliminates wasteful red tape)
YES full adult rights for all adults 18 and over (including drinking and gambling)
YES to extending Nevada’s legal brothel industry into the Las Vegas casino-resort corridor
YES to adding legal gay marriage to Nevada’s wedding industry
YES to ending marijuana prohibition
YES to legalizing microbusiness (a model proven to allow people to lift themselves out of poverty through entrepreneurship)
YES to privately operated toll roads instead of higher fuel taxes for new public highways
YES to removing artificial government barriers to good, affordable healthcare by allowing purchase of insurance across state lines and having independent practice for Nurse Practitioners
YES to open carry of arms and to recognizing other states’ concealed carry permits
YES to a total tax holiday for all new startup businesses in their first year

What is a “normal” day in the life of a candidate? Here’s an example of one of my days: 7:30am Green Alliance breakfast around 10am putting up door hangers or handing out flyers at the DMV or in front of the library noon lunch afternoon campaigning on the internet– announcing latest news on facebook, linkedin, myspace, twitter, press releases, writing blog entries, reading email, uploading photos and videos, doing a google search on my name to see what people are saying about me and if I’ve picked up any new endorsements 5pm Nurses Association candidate event (make a speech) 7pm League of Women Voters candidate event (make a speech and eat snacks) 10pm go home and curl up with Beni-Wan Cat-Obi. Next day do it all over again. Except on the weekend when there are usually 4 or 5 candidate events to go to, so I skip the internet.

You are running as third party candidate, do you feel the deck is stacked against 3rd party candidates? Yes, the deck is stacked against third party and independent candidates, in several ways: district boundary lines are drawn to protect incumbents; campaign finance laws favor incumbents (the winner of the election gets to keep unused campaign funds for next time and keep building up their war chest between elections, but losers by law in Nevada must close their campaign bank account and give away any unused campaign funds to charity or to other campaigns); corporate and union donors usually only give to Democrats and Republicans (my individual donations are running about even with what the incumbent did in the last election, but I only have individual donations, while she also gets corporate and union donations, so while I raise about $500 she raised $150,000 in the last election; we’ll have to wait til the election is over to see how much she raised this time. And that doesn’t even count the advertising bought for her by her party and by corporate, union, and special interest groups) so I can’t afford to do a big ad campaign; the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.

Three quarters of Pagans voted Democrat in the last Presidential election, which shows a strong tilt left within our religion. Yet many Pagans also say they have libertarian leanings, which can be seen as on the political Right. You are running as a Libertarian. Do you see yourself as politically Left or Right? As a Libertarian, I see myself as neither left nor right, but on a different axis entirely, the liberty versus statism axis. You can see a visual representation of that on the World’s Smallest Political Quiz on the Libertarian Party website. In fact, a recent poll showed about half of registered voters lean libertarian, so if we could overcome all problems with getting our message across that I talked about in the last question, we could win all over the country. And I think that the traditional media and traditional advertising are increasingly irrelevant in the age of the internet. The net is a game-changer. In the future, social networking, interest group forums, and search engines will be more powerful than snail mail ads and even more powerful than TV ads.

If people wished to assist you in your campaign, how could they do so? There are two ways to help my campaign, donate and spread the word. You know how to spread the word! To donate, please send donations via paypal to elale@cox.net or visit my fundraising page at http://www.stores.ebay.com/magicalrealistgallery

What advice do you have for other Pagans who are considering running for office? Advice for pagans running for office is the same advice I’d give anybody else running for office: This is a lot of work! I can’t imagine how people who have jobs have time to do all this. I guess candidates who have lots of money don’t have to work this hard, they use advertising instead of shoe leather.

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Part two of this series, running this Thursday, features an interview with New York City Councilman Dan Halloran.

Sep 282010
 

Question:   At what point do you question what you know about Tea Party groups?

The first time they endorse and then stand by an openly Heathen candidate while the media (and, it is alleged, the opposing candidate) mocks his religion as they did with Dan Halloran?  After you read interviews with openly Pagan members of the Tea Party who have risen to leadership positions within their group?  Perhaps after you get a resounding “makes no difference to us” from the Delaware Tea Party groups while the rest of the country makes it plain with their response to O’Donnell that practicing witchcraft makes you political poison?  Or maybe now when an Nevada Tea Party group endorses another Heathen candidate, Erin Lale, author of the book Asatru For Beginners,  for State Assembly?

Candidate Erin Lale, photo credit: www.myspace.com/erinlale

May 31, 2010 – Erin Lale, candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 29, was endorsed by local Tea Party organization Anger is Brewing. Lale has also been endorsed by the LPN Vote Caucus, Liberty-Candidates.org, Gun Owners of Nevada, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back to the taxpayers. Her plan to balance the state budget without a general tax increase is to end marijuana prohibition so the state can tax marijuana, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in the local economy.

Lale is running against incumbent April Mastroluca, a Democrat. There is no primary in the District 29 race; no names will appear on the ballot for District 29 until the general election in November.

I’m not asking anyone to support the basic political aims of the Tea Party, but if you have held the view that the Tea Party is a rabidly Christian fundamentalist group hostile towards minority religions like Paganism, at what point do you re-evaluate that belief?  What does it say about Tea Party groups that they are embracing openly Pagan candidates and members, and doing so with so little drama?

Sep 202010
 

C is a registered Democrat and lives in a suburb of a large city. C requested I not use her name as her employer does not know she is a Wiccan and her Pagan friends do not know she is involved with the Tea Party Patriots.
D is a former GOP member and lives in a small town in Delaware. He describes himself as a Forge Witch. D also requested I not use his name.

_________________________________________________

P+p: How did you become involved with the Tea Party?
C: I was vehemently against the Tea Party, but after reading the interviews on Pagan + Politics, I decided to look into it for myself.  I promised myself I would read the messages and attend at least one meeting so that I could say I took the time to understand what the Tea Party is all about.  I expected to find right-wing drivel and lots of praising Jesus that we aren’t all queer, and I found it. I found the right-wing drivel and praising Jesus, not anything anti-homosexual.  What I noticed is religious comments are ignored and if they move past a surface statement and go into condemning or proselytizing, people tell them to take it elsewhere. “Take it outside” is how they say it. The same is true when people try to bring up social issues. Take it outside. They are very focused on economic issues, a bit on some civil liberty issues.

The next thing that I noticed is the level of disgust and anger directed at the GOP. I thought I hated the GOP, but this group is really angry at the GOP Party leadership. They call them the ruling class. It was surreal, reading many of the same critiques of the GOP there as what I read on the Daily Kos or Democratic Underground. That’s what got my attention and caused me to take a second look at the Tea Party and what they are doing.

What they are doing is what I wish we were doing in the Democratic party. Cleaning out the Party elite. Focusing on our weak economy. Talking about jobs. Most importantly, soliciting ideas from the rank and file and pushing those ideas upwards instead of having these platforms imposed on us from on high. It’s a very collaborative process, very consensus based. I enjoy that greatly. I’m part of the Tea Party now, in part to learn how to effect change like this within the Democratic Party and in part because the people are so very earnest and open. I’ve told them I’m a spy and only there to learn their tricks and they think it’s funny and welcome me anyway.

D: I left the GOP in disgust during the last half of Bush’s term. Anyone who thinks Bush was a conservative should have their head examined. I had held my nose and voted for him, considering him the lesser of two evils. Turns out there was no difference between him and Gore and Kerry. By voting for him, we helped push the GOP further to the left economically. It was like the Democrats and Republicans were in a race to see who could be more corrupt, who could spend more, who could take a bigger shit on the Constitution. After that, I had decided to withdraw. No donations, no votes.

When the Tea party started up, I jumped on board. At first I was hopeful it would become a third Party. I almost left during the in-fighting that shook out what our goal was. I’m glad I stayed in. We are standing together to support the most fiscally conservative candidate for each office and we don’t care about any other issue. The GOP has taken the conservative vote for granted for a long time and that is ending. The ruling class thinks they can choose the candidates and we will just have to vote for them no matter what. We don’t and we won’t. Party does not come first and control of Congress is not our main concern. The sooner the GOP understands that, the better. Right now the GOP is learning some painful lessons and they aren’t real happy with us. That’s good. I haven’t been happy with them for a long time.

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P+p: Christine O’Donnell, what happened there?

C: Deep pockets were taken out the equation. She wasn’t supposed to win, shouldn’t have had the money to win, and if the strategy is to elect as many GOP candidates as possible to take back Congress, the Tea Party didn’t get the memo. That’s not quite right. The Tea Party got the memo and threw it in the trash. It’s amazing to me how they kick possible candidates around, argue over who will fit their economic policy ideas the best, and then there is a moment of consensus. The decision crystallizes and they all pitch in to support the chosen candidate. Her social policy ideas were embraced by some and were repugnant to others, but people were reminded again and again that the Tea Party is neutral on issues like abortion. There is a group of conservative Christians who are trying to push more of their religious agenda on the Tea Party, but so far they haven’t been successful. I’ve heard about other Tea Party groups who have been taken over by social conservatives.

D: She’s flat out bat-shit insane and I’m going to vote for her. I’m ok with a candidate who is a bit screwy on things as the mainstream would consider me a bit screwy in some of my views. It’s better than the white-washed lying politicians who keep everything vague rainbows. I’ll take someone with real-life baggage that I can see. It’s making me do a double-take when I hear Pagans talk about how weird her ideas are and then start talking about how their aura feels off today. Don’t you think some of our ideas sound daft to those outside our group?

I’ve made my decision that the number one problem facing our country is our economy and I’ll support the candidate who will rein in the deficit and not take pay-offs to screw me over. O’Donnell looks to fit that bill.

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P+p: Some of O’Donnell’s views are being mocked, by both the Left and the Right. What do you think of Masturbationgate?

C: Everything that we are facing and the main topic in the news is if she enjoys masturbating? You’ve got to be kidding me. As long as she isn’t saying she will introduce legislation to ban self-pleasuring I don’t care what her personal religious beliefs are. My religious beliefs are that masturbation is a great way to raise fertility energy for my seedlings. I’m sure the same people who are mocking O’Donnell for not masturbating for religious reasons would mock me for masturbating for religious reasons. I thought it would bother the Tea Party. Some of them find it funny, some of them approve of her views on masturbation, but over all, they don’t appear to care.

D: I don’t care if she hasn’t ever jacked off or does it every day before eating her Wheaties.

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P+p: A video has come to light talking about how O’Donnell “dabbled” in witchcraft. What are your thoughts on that? Will this hurt her chances for election?

C: What chance for election? I don’t think she will be elected.

I don’t like how she calls it “dabbling.” That’s my religion you are talking about. What I have enjoyed even less is the Left going after her for this. Should being a witch or “dabbling” in witchcraft make you unelectable? Is it a sign that you are mentally unstable? A joke? Progressive friends and co-workers, not knowing that I’m a witch, have had the most appalling things to say about O’Donnell and witches. It’s very hurtful to hear. The GOP Party leaders are also attacking her over this. Within the Tea Party, the response what I should be seeing from the Left. Some are questioning her fitness, but the consensus response is now, “Religious attacks are not allowed here and her religious beliefs are none of our business. Take it outside.” I’m curious how other Tea Party groups are responding to this. Are they laughing at her? Condemning her for devil worshiping? If any of your readers knows this, I would like to know.

D: I think she will surprise the ruling classes when she wins. She is behind in the polls, but we are energized to vote and we will show up to vote. I don’t think the Democrats will come out in heavy numbers.

If this witchcraft admission affects her or not depends on how she handles it. I would like her to come out and explain what happened, not denigrate witchcraft, and then move on. If it was some guy who wanted to get into her pants, that’s what I think happened, she should say so. Ideally she would talk about the difference between Paganism and 1980′s and 90′s style Plagans. I doubt that will happen. A mage can dream, right?

I haven’t seen anyone in the Tea Party throw a fit like they have in the media. When people make fun of her for dabbling in witchcraft they are making fun of us. I’m seeing Pagans do that, too. They are so interested in making a Republican candidate look bad that they are willing to hurt our own path. But no, I’m not seeing the Tea Party get too upset over this. They are saying that it doesn’t matter and is an attempted distraction, don’t fall for it.

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P+p: Thank you for answering my questions. I have a final one – will you be voting for O’Donnell?

C: No. I don’t think I will be voting for the Democratic candidate, either. He is not a Democrat. I may be sitting this vote out.
D: Barring something earth shattering, I will vote for O’Donnell.

(edited for formatting)

Sep 022010
 

Having returned from my trip to Northern Ireland positively overwhelmed with thoughts on activism, religious dialogue and the peace process, I find myself still working to organize and articulate my reflections into an interesting, half-way coherent post. But bear with me — a post is on its way!

In the meantime, however, I thought I would direct folks’ attention to an insightful article by Will Wilkinson, a liberal libertarian, who explores the concept of American identity along lines very similar to those I discussed back in July (although he tackles the issue far more concisely and adeptly than I did!):

Americans certainly aren’t “a people” in the sense that the Japanese, the Kurds, or the Jews are a people. There is no American ethnicity; the U.S. is a resolutely multicultural (and multilingual) country. The usual idea is that American identity is creedal, or organized around a distinctively American set of ideas and values.

The trouble is that even when there is widespread agreement on nominally common values, conceptions of those values vary wildly.

Wilkinson goes on to examine specific examples of just how certain values — for instance, “individual freedom” — have widely variant conceptions among modern politicians and political theorists, and how often these modern conceptions do not accurately reflect the intentions of the Founders, who themselves were often in disagreement.

Some of them took the ideal of individual freedom to be consistent with chattel slavery while others correctly found human bondage obviously at odds with liberty. Some defended a robust conception of freedom of conscience while others wished to ban the practice of certain religions for freedom’s sake. And so on.

These reflections echo my own thoughts on the matter. Even when we can agree on what to call these “common values,” our ideas about what exactly such values mean in detail or what they might look like in practice are often so different and diverse, it would be difficult to argue for a set of “American values” as in any way distinct from human or universal values more generally.

This issue comes up powerfully in Cara’s recent post on Glenn Beck’s promotion of “honor” at his rally last week. Few of us are willing to argue against “honor” as a valuable character trait. However, I do think many Americans, myself included, find such talk of honor couched in overtly religio-conservative-militaristic terms to be disconcerting to say the least. The “affirmation of middle-class, white Christians” as exemplars of honor as Beck conceives it gives us some indication of precisely how we might expect such a value to be upheld and put into practice.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that so much of U.S. politics these days revolves around issues of identity and cultural values, much more than around particular policy decisions and matters of governance. What we are experiencing in the United States right now is quite explicitly a kind of “culture war” in which the American identity itself is up for grabs. Personally, I suspect this focus on values and identity is a deliberate attempt to obscure or distract from the particulars of policy-making. Matters of governance are rarely evaluated in practical terms of merit or consequence, but are immediately placed into the context of competing cultural values. Political leaders make policy decisions based on how it will effect their “image” in the public eye and whether it will help or hinder their chances in future elections, not on a realistic analysis of the pros and cons of putting given policies into practice. As Wilkinson explains,

That’s why movements to glorify, elevate, and honor a particular conception of American identity based on a particular conception of the American creed necessarily  marginalize equally or more historically plausible conceptions and therefore tend to suggest that citizens who favor those conceptions are less or even un-American.

It is hard to imagine a common ground or process of compromise in such a situation, in part because it is often hard to pin down precisely what the similarities and differences in governance actually are. As long as the debate remains focused on whether honor or compassion, self-reliance or social justice rest at the heart of “real American identity,” we will continue to find ourselves stuck in a war of values that demeans or dismisses our political opponents, instead of seeking ways to compromise and work with them.

My suggestion? Let’s set aside this talk of “American identity” and accept instead that such an identity, if it exists at all, is far too diverse and complex to give effective guidance to the specifics of political process. Let us return to discussions of the policies themselves, and allow each citizen to determine for her- or himself how best to embody “honor” or “justice” or “self-reliance” in their political and personal lives. Let’s expect more from our political leaders (and, dare I say it?, talk-show hosts) than the non-stop pandering to group-identity conflict and the inevitable fear-mongering that results. When Glenn Beck and the Tea Party can promote practical suggestions for effective governance, instead of populist unrest and self-congratulation — even if I don’t agree with those suggestions when they come, I’ll be more than ready to engage them in debate.

Apr 212010
 

Although any mention of the Tea Party causes considerable resentment from some Pagans, it’s an important topic to cover.   From what I have seen, more Pagans are joining the Tea Party or groups that affiliate with the Tea Party in the past 6 months or so.  Within the Tea Party, Pagans are starting to be noticed as powerful voices adept at working with non-hierarchical groups such as the Tea Party Patriots.  I now know at least 37 Pagans who are part of the Tea Party movement with more starting to take a closer look at joining in.  There are 6 Pagans who are in leadership positions (although they would define it as organizing, assisting, or facilitating) within the movement.  Most have said they feel they can make an impact within these groups and are “out of the broom closet” with no problems.

I asked all 37 if they were attending the Tax Day Rally held on April 15th and if they were, if they would be willing to give a brief write-up of their experience.   I also put out a call for counter-demonstrators and infiltrators. Many Tea Party Pagans I talked to said they were either unable to attend the rally or didn’t want to be public about their involvement with the Tea Party.  Even with using an alias they were concerned that fellow Pagans would be able to find out who they were and give them a hard time.

They have said they are willing to answer questions that are asked in the comments section, either directly or by emailing me the answer.

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Catherine lives in Washington and has attended several Tea Party rallies.

Oak lives in Illinois and is a facilitator in his local Tea Party Patriot group.

Allison lives in Georgia and is part of Kick Them All Out, a group that works with Tea Party and Tea Party affiliated groups.

GreenWitch lives in Kansas with her partner.

HarkenTheGods lives in New York and agreed to attend a rally just to see what it was about.

Rob lives in California and attended his first Tea Party rally as a protester.

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Catherine – I ended up at two rallies on Tax Day. The first was in Olympia, and the second, Seattle, WA.

My eldest son (age 12) was with me all through the rallies. Both of us were in the crowd, carrying a US and Gadsden flags. The crowds were very peaceful, as they’ve been at every rally we’ve attended. People are polite, laughing, talking, getting in touch with others who share a like mind and networking for future activities. I’ve yet to see any racist/sexist/or homophobic signs or attitudes among TeaPartiers, and every rally I’ve been to I’ve seen minorities welcomed with open arms. It’s also worth noting that the cultural mix at the TeaParties is pretty much the same as what I encounter in my day to day activities.

I encountered one counter-protester in Olympia, who yelled at me for being a pro-war conservative. I responded that I was a Libertarian and I’d opposed Bush’s war-mongering as loudly as I now opposed Obama continuing these same policies. When I asked her if she opposed Obama’s war policies she walked away and refused to answer. I know there were 2 or 3 other counter-protesters there, but I didn’t have any interaction with them.

There were approximately 30 counter-protesters in Seattle, and one infiltrator that I saw who tried to enter the crowd with a sign referring to himself as a TeaBagger, and with quotes on his sign from a man recently arrested for some rather vile threats against Patty Murray. He was surrounded pretty rapidly by TeaParty members who let him know, politely, that he was not welcome and that the sentiments on his sign were not those expressed by Teaparty members. At one point he was surrounded by five or six signs pointing to him saying Infiltrator, and Agent Provocateur.

I didn’t have any Pagan friends attending, but again, the mix of people I knew is pretty consistent with my everyday life.

I would be willing to answer questions that people have regarding the TeaParties and my experience as long as the choose to be polite and are actually interested in debate. I see no sense in pointless name-calling and don’t waste my time with people whose only interest is spreading hate.

Oak – It was a very busy time trying to make sure everything went well for the rally. I was so busy before, during, and after that I didn’t see much.

We had a good turn-out, several hundred people. A high number since we were out in the suburbs and not one of the big rallies. We were careful in policing people. There are always wackos that show up at any political event and we are sick of them being displayed as prime examples of who and what we are. That is such bullshit. We heard reports that people would try to infiltrate the rallies and pose as Tea Partiers and hold up racist signs but I didn’t see anything like that. Perhaps at the big rally in Chicago that was a problem, but not where I was. We had one joker with a sign that was just wrong, so we told him to throw the sign away or leave. He was pissed, but I didn’t care.

I was busy enough that I didn’t get to hear much of what the speakers were saying. The speakers like to think they matter for the rally, but they don’t. They are a prop. What really matters is creating a good ritual experience.   It’s a community building ritual so the focus needs to be on the ritual elements. Grouping together to establish a connection to one another and sharing energy. Building the energy up and then guiding it to a positive release so it can work our Will in the world. I understand this. This is just another way that being Pagan gives me a leg up on working within any political group, but the Tea Party in particular. I’ve begun talking to other Tea Party facilitators about this and they’ve been extremely interested. They are going to try to replicate what our rally did in other cities.

Allison – This rally gave me hope! I’m so pumped! In past rallies we have been pushed to the side a bit since our message is, “No matter who they are or what Party they belong to – VOTE THEM OUT!” I’m not sure what has changed, but many more people wanted to talk to us and get information from us.

At the rally, each group got to have a small table off to the side where you could put your information and have a staffer there to answer questions. In the past, we would only have one person staff the table and they would be bored stiff. I was planning on walking around the rally and listening to the speakers when our table staffer called me on my cell. She needed me to return to the table because so many people were there to talk to us! I spent the rest of the rally at the table. For the most part, people were receptive to our message or at least willing to be open to it.

So many people signed up to be on the mailing list that we more than doubled our database. What a day!

GreenWitch – What was the rally like? Let me tell you a story.

When I and my partner arrived at the demonstration we got out our signs (Libertarian Lesbians) and began our long walk to where the rally was held. We were talking about the upcoming Pagan festivals that we would be attending this summer. They are the highlight of our summer, but we need to find a better way to beat the heat. My partner squeezed my hand and said, “Isn’t that Pagan X walking over there? With that small group?” I looked and waved and called out a greeting. I was surprised she was attending a Tea Party rally, but we had been to many anti-war/civil rights protests together so perhaps she was here to protest President Obama’s continuation of Bush’s appalling policies. We walked towards each other and then looked at each others signs.

I won’t say what was on her sign, but it was incredibly offensive. It was opposite of everything she and I believe. She was shocked that I was there to be part of the Tea Party demonstration. She thought I was there, like her, to infiltrate or oppose the Tea Party. Shock turned to anger when I refused to leave the rally and said that I would let the officials at the rally know that her group was planning to be deceptive with their signs.

She got back in her car and left. After telling me that I am a traitor to Paganism and that we are no longer friends. Our tent would no longer be welcome in her group at the summer festivals.  I felt the same way as when I came out to some of my straight friends after college.  Cut off, dirty, worthless.

My partner and I attended the rally and nothing really stood out to me and I couldn’t pay attention. My heart was too heavy.

What I do remember is that the rally was rather bland compared to the emotionally charged anti-war protests I have attended for years. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, it wasn’t angry, or even impassioned.

I support the main message of the Tea Party. I think our political Parties have grown arrogant and don’t listen to us. I feel that frustration. I don’t support the Healthcare Bill. I’m worried that it will take money, time, and attention away from fixing Medicare. I want a single payer system for everybody and feel the Bill was giant step back in entrenching the insurance industry more firmly in power. I believe our government, no matter who is in power, is seeking to control more and more of our lives. That’s what power does. I am totally opposed to the government giving money to businesses to bail them out. What about all the people who need help? I used to be a firm supporter of the Democratic Party. Not anymore. They are just as in bed with Big Business as the Republicans. I just wish the Tea Party would ROAR and exude a fiery passion instead of the mild and scattered response they display.

HarkenTheGods – I wasn’t too excited about attending this Tea Party shit. I’ve been laughing at them and poking fun at them. Face it, they are easy targets. But, I do have some integrity, so I checked them out for myself.

They are still funny. Still easy targets.

But they aren’t racists and most of them aren’t nutcases. What they are is a mishmash. You got anti-tax people. People who want all the bums thrown out. Fair tax, flat tax, and no tax. People who are ok with the amount of taxes, but think the government spends it on the wrong stuff. Don’t like the bail-outs. Don’t like the Healthcare bill. Want more spending on education. Less corruption. Legalize pot.

What I got, is the groups that are in this thing, don’t really agree on much. They agree that the government is fucking things up, incompetent, corrupt, and doesn’t give a shit what any of us think. The two things that everyone I talked to agreed on was that the national debt was out of control and that the bail-outs under Bush and Obama were wrong.

The people were friendly. New York gets a bad rap for being assholes, but that isn’t true. Families were at the rally and there were a few minorities in the crowd and stage. No one was angry or violent or any more of a freak then you see on the street. I didn’t see or hear anything extreme or threatening. You hear these same conversations at the bar and at the diner. After going to their little party, I can’t see how people get so upset about them. Like most protesters, they are ignorant and a joke, but not boogieman dangerous.

Rob – I went to protest the Tea Party Tax Day Rally because I think the group is foolish and dangerous. We all know that fiscally conservative is code for throwing those in need to the wolves of Big Business.

I’d say there were over a hundred counter-protesters there. We chanted so loud that the people in the back of their rally couldn’t hear their speakers. Good. No one should hear that lying, hateful garbage. People who go to these rallies are either unbalance or deceived. The only reason they are protesting is because there is a black man in office. The. Only. Reason. Everything else is an excuse. Every Pagan out there should be shouting these racist fuckers down. You can’t be a Pagan and be a part of this group. Anyone who says differently is messed up in the head or is a closet Christian ready to don the white hood.

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As always, if you are a Pagan and are part of the Tea Party movement, let me know.  Many of you are finding me on FaceBook and Twitter.

I would like to extend a sincere “thank you” to everyone who agreed to do a small write-up of their experience at the Tax Day rally.  Likewise, I would like to thank all of you who read this blog.  Your willingness to listen to other perspectives and points of view, and engage in civil discourse, are what I consider one of the Pagan community’s greatest virtues.

Apr 142010
 

Watching the various Tea Party groups ramp up their rhetoric in preparation for their April 15th rallies (subtitled “Help Us Build a New Revolution”) reminds me of my own youthful protesting against the war in Southeast Asia. It got me wondering how this year’s protesters were so different from those I remember joining with.

Protesting has been part of the American political scene since the Boston Tea Party (or even before). We were founded by dissenters, and populated by men and women of courage who would rather leave their homelands than abandon their faith and beliefs, serve in the military, or face starvation.

So if political protest is something I agree with, something I have done personally with commitment and enthusiasm, why does the Tea Party movement feel “wrong” to me? This needed some research and considered thought, which I will share.

First, every attempt at dialog I have made with folks involved in the movement has failed. When I was outside the Expo Center in Portland, I tried talking to the protesters. I asked them what cuts in federal and state spending they felt should be made to lower taxes (no suggestions), whether they would like to cut spending by withdrawing our military from foreign wars as Ron Paul suggested (no takers), and what alternative to federal health care legislation they would have preferred (no suggestion, just repeal, but nobody happy with the status quo either).

The folks I talked to (and I’ll admit I didn’t talk to each and every one, just about a dozen at random) felt just as strongly about their position as I did about mine. What I felt was missing was a way to move forward.

If you’re protesting a war, explaining your solution is easy: negotiation leading to a peace agreement. When it comes to legislation, things get knottier, I guess. But the other thing, the thing that really set my teeth on edge, was the anger at government itself, the feeling that absolutely nothing emanating from a central authority would be acceptable, the threatening, confrontational manner (getting closer and closer to those waiting to see the president, until they were mere inches away).

When I protested war, even to the point of civil disobedience, it was non-confrontational. We took a stand against the taking of life, but there was no sense of impending doom, no hate-filled signs. What I saw in the protesters in Portland was quite the opposite. The tea party supporters, by their own words, believe that this nation is under attack and that they need to defend it. They believe that:

Many are in fear of the demise of our Great nation. The fear is legitimate. There is only one entity that will turn things around and save our constitution and our country as we once knew it. “We the People”.

They believe that:

The Tea Party dream includes all who possess a strong belief in the foundational Judaic/Christian values embedded in our great founding documents.

Please judge for yourself. I would never dream of telling you what to believe or how you should define your political beliefs or actions, and I completely respect your right to believe and act as you think you should After all, we are a faith that believes in personal responsibility. Thing is, I don’t understand how a movement that claims to defend the Constitution can violate its First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Maybe that’s nit-picking (I don’t believe it is), but it goes deeper than that.

I can’t understand the failure to believe that we, as a people, are resilient, have been through challenging times and been strengthened by them; have the will to join together as Americans, whatever our beliefs; have the common sense to elect leaders we believe in, and to elect someone else if we don’t like the result. We don’t need anger; we need dialog, and I just don’t see that in the Tea Party.