Democrats Getting My Goat

Grumpy2Grumpy: You know, Mouse, it is usually the Teapublicans that get my goat, but every now and then the Democrats get my grumpy old self going more than any Teapublican ever could. It seems to get worse just before the elections and this year is no different.

Mouse: I hear ya loud and clear, Grumpy. I haven’t been checking my e-mail as often as I should because of all the pleas for money. (BTW: sorry about not getting your e-mails for 3 days because of that… oops…)

Grumpy: The closer we get to this midterm (and very important) election, the more the Democrats seem to go a little bit insane. My e-mail inbox is getting flooded with fundraising pleas. The theme this year seems to be “The Sky is Falling!” We wonder why Democratic turnout is bad in these off-year elections but maybe the answer is in the mirror. Most of our mothers urged us that if we didn’t have anything nice to say then we should not say anything. Democrats should learn to put that rule into effect when talking about ourselves.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about from the doom and gloomers:

• “devastated…  (re: Michelle)”
• “6 points down”
• “utterly crushed”
• “devastating defeat”
• “most crushing failure in history:”
• “everything is falling apart, Friends”

These are just the subject lines. You should see what is in the e-mails themselves!

Mouse: I’ve heard these e-mails describe as sounding like desperate ransom notes. Ya know, the “bad guys” are raising tons of money and if you don’t send me some small bills (but large bills would be better) right f’ing now I’m gonna be a goner!

Hmmm… I wonder would that work for me if I sent out e-mails pleading for cheese?

Grumpy: I shouldn’t get too down on the Democrats’ e-mail campaigning, since I did manage to find some positive ones.

• “STUNNING loss for Mitch: Long-ignored red state race could destroy GOP Senate takeover”
• “S-U-P-E-R-W-O-M-A-N” (Referencing Michelle Obama)
• “We’re winning again!”

Sometimes the e-mails just sound pathetic and pleading:

• “Absolutely urgent”
• “Please, don’t click delete”
• “check, check … missing”

Sometimes they are just confusing:

• “counting on you {{CF:Digital-FirstNameSpecial,DefaultTo=}”

How about trying just a little honesty? We don’t need to be scared by predictions of doom. We don’t need rosy scenarios to pump us up. We shouldn’t ever do pathetic. We certainly don’t need to be confused. We’re Democrats for God’s sake! We do confused and disorganized naturally. Just be honest with us. Give us the facts and figures and tell us what you need done; we can take it from there. Continue reading Democrats Getting My Goat

Democrats: Speak Up!

DDSmall-time Republicans and big-time media money have been able to change the political messaging in this country by openly calling for an agenda of false rebellion in the name of freedom that actually exerts greater control and is more expensive. Many people hear the previous sentence as: “Republicans have changed the political agenda in the name of freedom.” One of the ways Republicans are successful is they offer a complicated subterfuge and dissemble pieces a few at a time. Democrats respond by talking among themselves (as this piece does!) instead of to the country.

Messages that dissemble or only speak to insiders create a disconnect, but only one of these disconnects has leverage with voters, and it is the Republican choice. Republicans confine truth to the background and focus on the places where logic has become disconnected—the places where things terribly wrong can be easily examined, using lies and blame.

In the global pop news of the moment, the Russia seizure of Crimea, a preposterous event in the modern world where respect for the sanctity of borders is the first principle of international relations, Republicans avoid this first principle and the details of Russia’s energy exports being controlled by a state-owned corporation (which means its revenues are paid to the state not the private sector). Republicans avoid the analysis of how important the massive spider-work of Ukraine’s pipelines is to Russia’s efficient transmission of gas and oil to Europe. They avoid the fears Russia has internally of becoming a country influenced by its Muslim population in its southern regions (14 percent of its population).

Instead, Republicans have created a public narrative which comes close to defending Putin’s actions by blaming Obama for not defending America’s imperialism. It is circulating as if Russia is ideologically free of imperialist tendencies. In essence, it seeks to elevate the false illusion of Russian “strength”—which is its criminality—over the policy of President Obama to allow each country to find its internal stability with a minimum of big power influence.

Imperialism is a big idea with a long history, and blame is short and sweet. Blame is the lemonade made from the political lemons handed your opponents—if you are Republican.

But no evidence supports the GOP recipe (except magical thinking!) that Putin or any Russian leaders have based moves or calculated Obama’s response into their positions and military actions.

Beginning with the Russian revolution itself, the partitioning of Germany after World War II, the 1950s invasions of several eastern European countries, the placement of missiles in Cuba, the support of insurgencies in Africa, the invasion of Afghanistan, and most recently Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia, there is no predictive proof that a country with a long history of using military force within its region, through a variety of governments, under a variety of leaders, is tempered by American or European reaction!

Blame doesn’t need proof, just popular sentiment; blame Obama.

History and facts show the contrary. Russia plays no zero sum, either/or game; it views its interests singularly. Weighing the importance of the pipelines through Ukraine to the West and the sudden toppling of its puppet, Viktor Yushchenko (who cut bait), had far more to do with Putin’s moves than any imagined review of Obama’s policies.

Putin would be insulted at the idea he contemplated or was influenced by Obama’s policies, rather than acting on his own. He would vehemently argue his view is what is best for Russia and Russians faced with a neighbor whose family income had dropped 25% in 20 years and was leaning heavily westward in search of opportunities missing in the 1930s state-owned Russian political economy.

Putin ignored Barack and did what Russians have always done. Republicans did what they have always done: ignore truth and blame Obama.

Even at home, in the face of one of the most magnificent political successes since the passage of social security, by a President whose failure was an avowed goal of the Republican Party and the House of the national legislature, even with seven million people enrolled in health care through the new marketplace, without demonstrations or riots in the streets, with no more upheaval than paid commercials and very long, calm lines of last minute enrollees, Republicans still plan to run against “Obamacare” in November. It will be an ultimate test of blame against truth, dissembling facts against critical thinking, of bias versus logic. Continue reading Democrats: Speak Up!

Try It Out!

DDI spent the week watering the well. Drinking coffee from five Ethiopian regions, feeling a link to the small family farms that depend on the income from the sales of beans, thankful to have a good relationship with a coffee seller in DC who provides me the 15 to 20 pounds my daughter sends me every two or three months.

But I can’t get my friends to try it! The corporate brands have them dialed in. So this morning’s Sumatra brings an old question: how do you get people to change? Why is change resisted?

In part the questions explain the Republican attraction: People don’t have to give up very much except government to be Republican. It’s a safe default for the risk-averse, even when in sight of something better.

I also spent the week anticipating the visit of friends I haven’t seen in 40 years. That energy was a celebration of passage; how vision grows out of change. Vision pushes away fear and brings hope. That why Sarah Palin sneered at “that hopey thing”—it give a freedom found on the inside, a freedom to grow; not just a freedom to fight government. Friends bring collective energy, a unique group experience that in politics is called the public good.

Republicans have abandoned that part of the public square, substituted profit for its focus, and measure of profit.

The maxim that people are willing to turn down collective advancement and fight against their own interests is proven both by the experimental and empirical. Why are we surprised?

What’s the strategy that will make the resistant change their minds?

On race? No way. On women? Lip service contradicted. On the public good? A rip-off! On income? Be glad for what you got.

This core is the Republican fortress. Impenetrable. But it’s placed to cause the maximum fright. As Barack begins to end his second term, race matters less; the coded challenges now go after his record and deliberately misconstrue his policies. The goal is to tear down his legacy. Listen, you can hear it from all sides. Continue reading Try It Out!

The Spoils of War: For One Side, Healthcare; For the Other, an Incurable Condition

DDWar is a series of battles, but is always about a bigger prize. The I Ching warns of this, and every hunter knows: watch with your eyes, listen with your ears. Know where you are and what’s ahead before you make your next step.

War has two goals: 1) win; take away, tie up or use up options to bring defeat to your enemies and put people, resources and authority under your control; 2) a new system; alter the methods and positions of power, both as a deterrent and control.

Without guns, America is witnessing a political civil war. It’s not loose talk or noise. It is advanced by legislative procedures that breach trust, crater resources, and weaken the entire Republic. It leaves opponents without a defense. It accumulates power for a well funded, fortressed minority. Its losses embolden its backers and voters.

Let’s look at the logic of the healthcare-government funding fight: why will Republicans not eliminate tax credits for Big Oil not tied to life or death, or cut defense? Why will they endanger the lives of citizens by denying healthcare in the name of freedom and jobs?

Because healthcare is only a flag; as in battles of old when the the object was to bring down the flag and the courageous flag holder—the battle within the battle—healthcare is one of the main dynamics of changes the GOP targeted in their march and attacks to restrict opportunity and install limits on personal liberty, especially for women.

Flag and flag holder: on the day that marked his greatest success, perhaps the greatest day of his presidency, Barack Obama was forced to watch the government he was elected to head shut down.

That government, while he has held its flag, tightened equal pay requirements, protected financial consumers, increased Wall Street oversight, enabled people with intra-gender sexual preferences to serve openly in the military, provided middle class tax cuts, cleaned up the Gulf, and developed a working agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

It’s closed.

America rejects the New Orleans idea of the spy boy; it doesn’t seem to want a President with forward vision. It’s too busy looking backward, or stuck in the present. The national character is one of passion, excited by the unexpected, without realizing these moments are often planned.

Like a magician’s act.

Republicans have leveraged this naive view of politics into skillful deceptions, with the assistance of media’s commitment to the doctrine of false equivalency. Media reports a world that lacks comparisons, outcomes and consequences, and in the name of fairness, only reports narratives of blame.

The media didn’t widely report some Republicans in the House ran on the intent of shutting government down. Republicans blitzed the flag and flag holder, the people’s government and its elected President. If they didn’t get the flag, they took up the siege.

A few spy boys took note: A New York Times commenter on Paul Krugman’s blog wrote:

 “None of this is about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare; It is about whose legacy this legislation stands to benefit: A black man.”

It’s also about how easily he has dismantled their most cherished myths and took power that was for so long in the grip of their hands. So, chagrined at losing their mojo, they confuse their decline with insolence. But they are impertinent about the basics we expect of national elected officials. As the Washington Post put in an editorial:

“Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world.”

Publicly and privately, these officials have named and targeted government the enemy. And before day one, these officials and their financiers questioned, at every level that involves rumor and error, Barack Obama’s constitutional right to be President.

Hardball MSNBC show host Chris Matthews had the following exchange with Rep. Steve King (R-NY) this week:

MATTHEWS: I’ve had members, they know who they are, they say — ‘I really can’t say with these lips that this man, Barack Obama, was elected President.’ They choke on that. How many are there in Congress on your side that represent that rejectionist front? [...]

KING: I would say there are probably 30 or 40 who are like that. As there were a number of Democrats who felt that way about George W. Bush, and going back to when you and I first met, Republicans who felt that way about Bill Clinton… This is a very dangerous aspect to our government… The fact that we have people who are willing to demonize the President of the United States because he’s from a different party… and now, obviously, with President Obama, it’s definitely there.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said implementing Obamacare is a felony.

So, in the riving throes of contempt, the GOP wants to show that America can do without government and nothing bad will happen. It is a near-sighted approach to power, because, in fact, government manages the long term. The drift of environmental poisons, food safety, federal land, highway safety, air traffic, weather reports, passports and a host of other invisible services dampen short-term shocks by effective long-range planning.

Government has a positive, sustaining impact on our lives. So nothing will happen today. Or likely, tomorrow.

But that’s not the point! The short term is safe not because we don’t need government, but because government has worked effectively to make it secure. Continue reading The Spoils of War: For One Side, Healthcare; For the Other, an Incurable Condition

Proclaim 9/11 As A Day For Truth

DDIf you are a politician, lying, whether deliberate, inadvertent, accidental, unintentionally, for effect or on purpose should be punishable as treason, with a minimum sentence of 50 years, spent translating Chinese press releases. Lies affect more than facts; lies affect the sequence of actions that politics follows, the causes and courses that the nation pursues, and the way resistance is formed. Important but often overlooked, lies create distraction and massive waste.

Not that anybody believes the lie, but lying gives others the power and approval to lie. That’s its political magic: lying enables itself, whether we believe or not!

When it comes to lies, Democrats focus on belief; Republicans focus on its social power. Refuting a lie doesn’t diminish its power; lying appeals to a false freedom that flaunts the rules.

Today, 9/11, a day that should be honored by a reverence for truth and its associated virtues of sacrifice and love, will be a signature day for lies held under the breath of those who recall the national grief.

Today, no Republicans will come forth to admit that he or she has attacked women by trying to weaken rape laws, falsely creating new definitions of rape, or denying women the option of abortion in the case of rape. They will not admit that their pseudo-science was an assault in itself. They will not acknowledge trying to exclude Native American women from the protections of the Violence Against Women Act in a false issue of sovereignty that granted white men impunity to rape Indian women on reservations—native land.

Today, no Republican will come forth to admit that he or she lied in their attacks on social security as bankrupt, insolvent, out-of-date, unsustainable or an entitlement. It is paid for by payroll taxes and solvent until 2037. Minor tweaks, rising its income cap, would easily keep it fully funded.

Today, no Republican will come forward to confess their errors on global warning.

Today, no Republicans will speak up to admit that their party’s small government philosophy has engaged in some large government grabs, including ongoing attempts to take over the airport in Charlotte, NC (owned by the city, with decades of positive revenues), and the water system in Asheville, NC.

In the face of non-existent fraud, today, no Republican will admit that the true purpose of restricting early voting, precinct locations and the use of provisional ballots is to restrict ballot access for minorities. Continue reading Proclaim 9/11 As a Day For Truth

Democrat Strategic Thinkers: Take Note!

DDThe Republican Party is mounting a four-front attack. Have Democratic strategic thinkers taken note? Is the Party coordinating a response? Does it have its own plan?

Part one of the Republican attack is distraction, intended to produce public disengagement. Its centerpiece is a national public relations campaign that government is inept and bad, bloated, and should be shut down. Republican affiliates spend a great deal of time crafting and spreading talking points out of context that justify and reinforce this idea. Examples (think Solyndra—but not defense contract overruns!) are presented as widespread proof of government’s failure, while successes (the internet, Medicaid’s low cost versus the private sector, Social Security’s low overhead) are ignored.

Part two is to redefine the purpose of the federal government. This includes dismantling federal regulatory authority, especially in finance and the environment, but also in food, drugs and taxes. It includes increasing the private sector take, from defense to health, with a strong eye on the gilded pot of social security, one of the world’s largest hoards of government wealth as a line item with dedicated taxes.

Part three is to seize control of states. Republicans now control 30 of 50 state governments. These have become single-party states, operating a political economy build on cronyism, lowering wages and educational standards, and tax breaks to corporations, not local businesses. States are becoming nation-states, recruiting and selling corporate opportunity, sometimes in virtually secrecy. Who knows Google is in Goose Creek, SC?

Part four is abrogating the rights of citizens. From personal liberty to political participation, these rights have been drastically modified. Certain groups are under direct attack: the poor, the elderly, children in public education, women, immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities. The GOP is openly advocating discrimination and unfair measures, using the red herring of threats and fear.

Building a mosque? Seeking an abortion? Registering to vote? Trying to have a meal? Flying out of the Charlotte airport? Drinking water in Asheville, NC? Any of these acts are in the center of epic political battles. In NC, the Republican-controlled legislature seeks to transfer control of the nation’s sixth busiest airport and US Air hub away from the Democratic city which has operated it for 70 years. The same NC legislature wants to transfer the billion-dollar Asheville water system out of local hands. Does this sound like small government?

Republican-controlled state legislatures are able to move in lockstep to grab power because they are legislating by outsourcing. Groups such as ALEC and others are preparing legislative boilerplate in which a state’s elected officials only have to fill in the blanks and tweak the language slightly to fit the state. Abortion bills come off the ancillary assembly line.

To date, Democrats seem to follow the traditional paradigm: find local candidates, tie together a loose network of experts and volunteers, reinvent the political apparatus each election, and place its activities on a short horizon without a long-term plan, or coordinating state and federal goals.

The worst-case example of the old paradigm is the candidacy of Anthony Wiener for New York City’s mayor. While drawing lots of attention, it has generated no new ideas or focus on New York’s critical issues of job growth, affordable housing, and livable wages.

But right across the river is a solidly Democratic city rising from its legacy of corruption, poised for a recovery. It has convenience, solid housing stock, and a rich arts tradition. Its executive is a national figure, running for the US Senate. What do we know about the three candidates running to replace the mayor? Continue reading Democratic Strategic Thinkers: Take Note!

More Race and Sex

DDThe humor in ancient wisdom and the folklore celebrated by hunters and gatherers who spent long-ago evenings and days together with family and friends found its source in paradoxthat place in life and history where nothing works as it should. At least, as we think it should.

Lucille Ball was its comedic master, taking simple sketches and adding her timing, eye-rolls and physical twitches until she embodied the madness that engulfed her. It was no longer the situation that was ridiculously funny: it was her!

And nothing fixed it, either. Paradoxes, like stones in a river, can be traversed, but not solved. No engineering or spin, no rule or bill, no lie or fear will change their nature. That’s why the ancients often pointed to them as the center of not only village humor but as communal religious teaching. They require heroic courage and thinking, both inside and outside, to get past them and mark the passage.

But paradoxes have a dark side, on full exhibit in the conversations about sex and race. 

Anthony Weiner offers a paradox—more pathetic than funny or religiousuntil you realize that his situation is not an “either/or” of guilt and penitence  of personality and politics, of bad judgment and stubbornness, but is a sequel, with parts one and two. His two-step process jointly connects to the biggest voyeuristic thrill in the history of American politics. Therein is his paradox; he is using politics to further the thrill!

What’s bigger and more dangerous to personal standing and the sanctity of the inner self than sending high-definition pictures of personal sex organs to unmet strangers over the internet?

Doubling down and knowingly running for one of the nation’s highest municipal offices, the high-profile mayor of a city that is a global beacon, and announcing at the announcement that more scandal is to come, then reveling in it when it does, dragging his family along, and refusing to step down, in order to draw the maximum public attention possible to what began as a private, prurient act and turning it into a daily outing, seen in the eyes of the hundreds he encounters without shame of his being a bad boy.

So with Weiner, rethink the prevailing view: switch the roles of the election and the exposure and see them as connected, evolving stages. The campaign’s main purpose is for flaunting his flaunting. Remember the announcement of his candidacy also included the announcement of “more incidents” to come. Note there is no platform, team, volunteers.

Now focus on the campaign as the second stage as a two-part event; the first being the private, digital exposure; the second being the public, personal exposurethe largest of its kind in history, within a public crucible that heightens the exposure, contact and exuberant feelingeven as the polls drop.

His running for mayor is a part of the earlier event, a vehicle for widening the data and getting the feedback so craved; a continuum of the risk-taking exposure morphed and zoomed to the biggest possible public stagethe ultimate danger, the non-repeatable, once-in-a-lifetime thrill, driven not by plan but impulse that laid out the order for it to fall into place.

It’s not for politics that he will not let go. It’s for the same reason he sent the pictures; for him it’s the same thrill/danger/defiant compulsion, larger, grander, a public naughty.

Notice it doesn’t bother him in the least.

Built on denial and blame, the GOP relies by intention and instinct on paradox. Theirs is a cultural strategy that relies on built-in paradoxes leveraged by misdirection, framed around denial, resolved by cognitive dissonance and the plausibility of blame.

Slavery is among the biggest of America’s historic paradoxes and is used to leverage racism and disenfranchisement today.

I see a neat match between our current place and the landed gentry who decided selling human beings from auction blocks was a capital ideaafter trading with corrupt leaders for their capture, and disposing of those who died en route by dumping the bodies into the sea as great whites tore the flesh off the falling bones. Nothing defined America’s political parties, inside and outside, the rich and poor, and the common collective consciousness, its “governance,” like weekly arriving barks and schooners of Africans. Law, will and make-believe turned them into a half-million enslaved. Continue reading More Race and Sex

Retrograde Anomalies

Students of astrology have long known about the retrograde function of planets, but we ignore its presence in politics. Increasingly, progress in America’s politics points to retrograde functions on both sides of the aisle.

For Republicans, it’s cuts, returns, and a retro-vision that becomes regressive, a serious intent to curtail the expansion of protections for women, restrictions on voting, increased hunger, decreased wages and jobs, and to place profit above all else, including competition, cooperation and quality of life.

When Apple is holding cash on hand, an unfettered sum greater than the GNP output of 140 nationsthat puts Apple in the top 50 countries in the worldprofit and its spun-off cash (not federal debt!) is crowding out economic growth and job creation, in the US and abroad.

For Democrats, it’s a series of fixes that hand out corporate welfare. It’s revisiting social programs with tweaks, patches and amended authority that offer a backdoor to special interests.

Recently the Senate, including the majority of Democrats, voted on budget guidance and recommended the removal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. The industry opposes the tax. Consumers will see no direct impact. But it matters to the industry; the multiplier in real numbers represents $30 billion over the next 10 years. It also matters to the budget, which would face a $30 billion hole.

Both sides of retrograde politics are being used in the attacks on the IRS. If a group is named Tea Party, associated with a historic act of civil disobedience to protest and refuse to play taxes, is it unreasonable or conspiratorial to review the applications of such groups as non-profits–especially when donations to these 501(c)(4) groups are not tax-deductiblebut allow donors to remain secret? Is it dark thinking to suggest that dark money might be behind the sudden profusion of these groups, numbered among the 1,751 applications the IRS received in 2010.

So in hindsight, the term “scandal” is being applied to a incident in retrograde. For Republicans, it’s the idea that any government review or regulation is intrusive, an abridgment of freedom, the loss of democracy, a death peal of the Founders’ intent. This reverse osmosis removes all of the benefits to the public good and social order and creates an imbalance of power and wealth to which the Founders (some!) would have been inextricably opposed. But dead men make no objections. Continue reading Retrograde Anomalies

Mark Sanford Is No Marion Barry. He's Worse!

In the televised debate Monday night for South Carolina’s US House seat in District 1, Mark Sanford compared himself to Bill Clinton. Huh? Yep. The House’s most conservative Republican former member found common ground with the former Democratic president. You already know it was not an act of statesmanship. Clinton and Sanford were fallen, pushed by demons and desires into sin. Clinton looked to God for redemption. Mark Sanford turned to Bill Clinton.

Since Sanford brought it up, their sins and failings warrant a comparison, especially when a Republican in a Republican district evokes Bill Clinton as his politician savior. Is this a new thesis of mercy or an invitation to temptation? Their crimes do share elements both wide and narrow.

Narrow, as both had hot scandals. Both lied and were caught, both were in the public eye. Both had affairs. After that, the connection breaks down.

Clinton remains married. His wife is our former Secretary of State. Sanford chose divorce. He is engaged (but not yet married!) to the Argentinian woman with whom he had the affair. Clinton never ran again for public office. Sanford, who fervently supported and then broke self-imposed term limits, wants another chance. Clinton was not fined for the private use of government property. He avoided successful impeachment as the first President for whom the bill of high crime (and misdemeanors!) involved oral sex (it really is sex!). His high crime was lying about his risk-taking; his DNA was saved on a dress!

Sanford instead poetically proclaimed his love at a press conference when he returned from a week’s absence on Father’s Day weekend and asked his wife for an open marriage. He repeatedly confuses and commingles his private and public selves. Voting no on every spending bill and twice on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), he slickly slashed through his own fiscal barriers to fund his impulses and lasciviousness. He flew on his public credit card, in state planes.

His hand in the public till, he jetted off on taxpayers’ money. Eventually, he paid it back. But strange behavior for a man who spent his time in Congress sleeping on a couch and once gave his wife a $25 used bicycle as a combined Christmas and birthday gift! The man who slept on an office cot and voted against every budget took a state plane to get a haircut!

A wide comparison creates more stark differences between Clinton and Sanford. Clinton created 21 million jobs in eight years in office; in four years, South Carolina, with Sanford as its executive, lost 98,000 jobs, with a Republican in the White House. His current priority? In a state in the bottom five of employment, cutting the federal budget.

His claim of attracting Boeing is debunked by a well verified story that state leaders convinced Boeing that legislative support was more important than the governor’s endorsement when they were spooked and on the verge of pulling out because of Sanford’s weird behavior.

Since Sanford initiated a comparison with a Democrat in order to claim the privilege of forgiveness and equal treatment, principles he voted against and failed to fund, another comparison might be effective with a scandal-driven Democratic politician, one who sought and successfully achieved a return to public office—Washington, DC’s former mayor, Marion Barry.

First, I have met Marion Barry and Mark Sanford, and lived in cities and districts where they were elected to govern and procure progress. I have looked closely at the policies of both men and seen them on the campaign stump. Through their period of travails, I have witnessed their efforts at political comebacks. I have seen them put themselves before voters to judge not only policies and promises, but their penalties and crimes.

Marion went to jail. Mark paid $74,000 in fines. Both lost wives. But both are confident, handsome and resilient. Both are polarizing figures, with detractors and supporters. But Mark Sanford is no Marion Barry. He’s worse!

Here’s why: Politics comes down to service, money, and rights.

Mark Sanford, in his service as governor, once walked into the South Carolina State House, carrying a pig under each arm; he named them Pork and Barrel. Termed “an ill thought-out display,” deemed by the Republican Speaker “beneath the dignity of the Governor’s office,” the legislature, controlled by his own party, then promptly overturned, with bipartisan support, 100 of the 106 items he vetoed in the budget. He got his way with six.

This describes Sanford’s duty of service: sleep in his office, sleep with his fiance, proudly turn down stimulus money. And he also touts charter school reforms, including a statewide district, a reorganization of the Department of Motor Vehicles, cutting wait times, restructuring the state’s Department of Transportation, and tort reform. Jobs, wages and health, environmental protection, higher education don’t appear anywhere in his Sanford Seven.

In Congress, he wanted to reform Social Security, a program with a $2.7 trillion surplus (it added $69 billion this year!) and the lowest overhead and administrative costs of any private or public program for income security. He called it “putting tax payers first.” Really?

So he’s known for a little theater, a big temptation to tinker with public money, shorter waits for driver’s licenses, and running around the district this election with new props: cut-outs of Nancy Pelosi and waving hundred dollar bills, claiming this election is being bought—after the Republican National Committee withdrew his funding when it emerged that after repeated warnings, he was charged with trespassing at his ex-wife’s house!

“I had to make the call,” he says in his second explanation of the incident. It was Super Bowl Sunday and his wife wasn’t back yet to receive their 14-year-old son. Enter Mark.

I’m divorced. My daughter always had a key to her mother’s house. But my ex-wife never found me inside. The way you handle custody exchanges is not to enter each other’s dwellings. If the exchange or pickup is missed, you leave a message. It’s simple. “I have the child. You weren’t home yet. Contact me on what you want to do.” You reset. You don’t “make the call” to enter with ease. And then try for the moral high ground in a political ad, under the cover of great parenting skills. (Remember when Sanford was missing on Father’s Day? A time zone away? Out of touch?)

What could have been handled with a phone call or text message (Sanford lived 20 minutes away!) instead led to a full-page campaign ad to spin a clear error in judgment that millions of divorced parents make daily about custody. It also blames the media. It’s arithmetic; his errors multiply.

But what sets Mark Sanford aside from Marion Barry is his unabashed opposition to the dredging of Charleston’s harbor. Charleston ranks three or four in the nation’s busiest harbors, higher than New Orleans, Galveston, Mobile and West Coast ports. Moreover, it has an efficient connecting infrastructure of roads, warehouses and personnel skilled at trade, whose long arms affect the nation. $13 trillion worth of goods are imported through Charleston; $12 trillion are exported. The jobs, income, and multipliers are enormous. Continue reading Mark Sanford Is No Marion Barry. He’s Worse!

A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

My first college course in anthropology instilled in me a profound appreciation for best practices. It’s been a personal mission to uncover the best ideas and chart how they work, identifying their structures and functions. One discovery has been that even bad ideas can work well. It sounds strange, but the success of an idea often has nothing to do with its truth or level of insight. Its power and influence has more to do with its context and how it functions with other assumptions and tasks.

We would all prefer strong ideas that work well. Alaska’s Iditarod grips my imagination most winters, more than the State of the Union. The long distance grit of lead dogs Andy, Larry, and Granite guiding teams through 50-50-50s—winds 50 miles an hour, temperatures 50 degrees below, with visibility less than 50 feet—across wilderness and glaciers is a test of endurance rarely seen in politics. And the Iditarod offers equal opportunity. Susan Butcher won three in a row and four out of five between 1986 and 1990, and once had two dogs killed mid-race by a pregnant moose.

Last night’s State of the Union had Speaker Boehner making pregnant moose faces; his uncomfortableness with the President’s proposals was obvious—but was it a bad idea that served, from Boehner’s view, a good intent? Did it function to keep the GOP brand alive, apart from the pockets of craziness where they are winning elections, winning not really based on their platform of budgets (most states have laws that require balanced budgets), but more on hot button issues like immigration and race, or winning in one-party states out west?

The President, often criticized as a poor team player, continued to prove he is an effective leader (Susan Butcher’s dog Granite suffered from the same criticism!) with good ideas.  He has also proven he can outrun the lumbering herds of opponents who have not adapted to the new environment and are using outmoded best practices.

The silent test of last night’s State of the Union was to outflank Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama has described Reagan as someone who reset the arc in America’s politics. Yet we forget the circumstances of that reset. Reagan created the meme that all of the problems of society were created by government excess. But what were the problems?

Women pushing for access to opportunity and self-determination, blacks refusing to be exploited, physically intimidated or discriminated against; massive resistance to corporate interests; food purchased from the bins of co-ops rather than on sale in plastic packages and cans stocked by chains. Reagan realized that the government protected those actions and had played a major part in expanding these rights. He coined the idea that government “created” these problems and caused the disturbing sight of school kids being bused and women deciding about pregnancy, and colleges graduating more critical thinkers who challenged the system and the status quo. The government didn’t reflect the will of the people, the people reflected the will of the now all-powerful government. But without the help of government, the gains of the people probably couldn’t be sustained.

In Reagan’s view, stop government, stop the advance of the people. He couldn’t sell an attack against the people—couldn’t demagogue blacks, women, youth as the problem (which for conservatives, they were!)—so he brilliantly assigned blame to government and used exaggerated stereotypes to knock it down. The welfare queen and other non-existent stories were repeated until the bad idea of government’s bad ideas became the Republican best practice for winning elections. Even Reagan’s ideology of cutting taxes to provide greater wealth to the rich didn’t happen during his administration, but the idea survived and is the basis of Republican policy today.

Despite widespread thinking that liberalism (again a code word for blacks, women and youth, packaged as “growing government”) was dead, Barack Obama somehow made it through and revived it in his first term. No matter; the new GOP plan was to blame his success and go after the old groups with a vengeance. If the stimulus succeeded, blame Obama for its size. If the economy recovered, blame entitlements, loudly arguing it could be even better without them. Turn obstruction into patriotism. Sprinkle the discussion with a little of the sour sickness of race—always heretofore cured by blaming the victim. Continue reading A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense