“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”

What are you?  Are you a Republican because you are conservative?  Are you aligned with liberal causes because you are a Democrat?

bigstock-A-green-two-way-street-sign-po-20683979Which came first?  Your party affiliation or your conservative ideology?  Are you a liberal, by nature, and, therefore a Democrat?

Where did your socio-political philosophy come from in the first place?  Was it inherited from your parents or your life experience?

Are you more of a liberal than you are a Democrat?  Are you more of a conservative than a Republican?

Is it even possible to separate liberalism from being a Democrat or conservatism from being a Republican?  Could you be a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican?

These questions have been on my mind for a long time.  I ask them because public policy debates have confused different philosophies into an amalgam of political agendas, and that is leading us down the road toward ideological meaninglessness.

The differences are crucial, however.  Conservatism and the Republican Party are separate concepts.  The same is true of liberalism and Democrats.  While, today, each party holds those principles close to their heart and clearly we predominately consider them to be exclusive to each, the historical journey is very different and must be examined if we are to ever find common ground.

In the beginning of our country we had the Federalists that included Washington and Adams, and the party of Jefferson who were Democrat-Republicans.  Federalism, it should be noted, wasn’t really a political party, but a philosophy that believed in strong central government along with the promotion of commerce and industry.

washington-adams-and-jeffersonThe Federalists became Whigs who evolved into the Republican Party.  The Democrat-Republicans, who today would be considered Libertarians, became strictly Democrats.  The original Democrats, formed by Andrew Jackson, coerced the US into using its power in foreign affairs when American interests were threatened, but in economic and social policy they stressed the responsibility of federal government to act cautiously, if at all.

It was Democrats in the early 19th century who argued that the national government should do nothing the states could do for themselves, and that drilled down into localities believing local government better served its people than state government.

And in the cracks of our party histories we’ve seen the National Republicans who became the Free Soil Party which rose to vehemently oppose the spread of slavery and in time that gave way to the People’s Party which eventually became the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party of Republican Teddy Roosevelt who fought for social reforms and was opposed to excessive corporate power.bull_moose_party

Woven into the fabric of Republican history is progressivism and part and parcel with Democratic history, from the Revolution until the New Deal, was conservative, small government, philosophy.  Political parties and socio-political philosophies do not share continuous and consistent histories and one need only to go back 150 years to the creation of the modern Republican Party to realize that Republicans embraced progressivism in their purpose to end slavery, while, in fact, it was Democrats who opposed Emancipation and held on to conservative values with regard to state rights.

So today when one party holds the philosophical guidance of conservatism or liberalism over its head to declare a consistent connection throughout history, it is sheer folly.  While our political affiliations may appear to be extensions of our political-philosophical beliefs, there is no core set of principles that exist within any of our political “disciplines.”

CONSERVEI offer this with the hope that, perhaps, some of the vitriol in our disagreements could be eliminated.  One side rarely speaks of the other, be it Republicans concerning Democrats or Liberals with regard to Conservatives, without an angry tone or sarcastic dismissal of all they have brought to the policy table.liberals

Difficult as it may be to accept, or even comprehend….Republicans are responsible for much of our country’s progressive movements that many Republicans hold in contempt today.

And Democrats have in our history fought against some of the social reforms that they now embrace.

So…let’s get over ourselves.  Our ideological history isn’t a straight line from the cause of the Revolution to the cause of our Revulsion today.

“Coo coo ca-choo!”

When in the Course of Human Events…

I make no secret of the fact that one day I would like to run for public office.  It’s been on my mind for a few years.  Last year I wrote down some of my positions to create a chart by which to navigate the inevitably dangerous waters of conflict, should that day ever come.  These are not specific policies on issues, but broadstrokes to serve as an ideological guide.

The collapse of 2008 was the result of legislation from neoliberal economic theory (not to be confused with social liberalism) and those policies have controlled the argument for over 30 years.  It favors the well-to-do by creating tax loopholes along with too much de-regulation, and that allowed for toxic assets in a volatile subprime market.

I support regulations to control ( and make transparent) the massive, risky bets with borrowed money (an unscrupulous practice of AIG, for example) that brought down the financial system. I also support “No more tax payer funded bailouts” of financial institutions.

I recognize that Small Business needs to be incentivized and supported (tax breaks). I’ve been an employer myself and too often the regulations designed to reign in corporate malfeasance have choked Main Street and we need to separate the two.

The Middle Class has been squeezed to near non-existence and yet they are the fuel of our Capitalist/Mixed Market system.  I will always lend my voice to their needs first.  While I support and contribute to Corporate America because it is the engine of that system, my active concerns are not about those who are already well off.  Rather, I am concerned about the Working Class and ensuring them the best wages and working environments possible, as well as the necessary support they require if they’ve fallen on hard times.

Education is part of the critical infrastructure for which government is responsible, and should be, in fact, the brightest patch on the American quilt if our future is to be strong and prosperous.

I support the Public School System and while school vouchers might seem a like a solution to rescue poor students from failing schools, vouchers threaten our free educational system as well as the constitutional principle of separation of church and state as taxes would be funneled to parochial schools.

We must prioritize higher teacher salaries, better facilities and educational funding programs.  Everyone, regardless of party, says they support education, but when push comes to shove, educational initiatives move down the priority ladder.  We need to consistently move it into the highest priority when we create our budgets.

We can hold schools and teachers accountable for results, but only if we have given them the best tools and viable incentives by which to teach.

Civil Rights

images We cannot rightfully claim to be the “land of the free” if we do not look critically at our justice system and assess when there is racism in its application.  Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are only the most recently debated examples concerning systemic racism that has existed from our inception and continues to the present day.  While we can see progress toward racial equality, we cannot fully experience the celebration of our constitutional promise of freedom until the complete excision of racism from the body politic.

The oppressive specter of discrimination weighs so heavily on those who are outside circles drawn by prejudice, that policy must be considered, along with vigilant examination of justice, to counter where oppression does still exist; until such a time when the evolution of inclusion transcends intolerance.

Gay Rights

 I believe that to recognize the civil rights of all citizens regardless of race, creed, gender, color or sexual orientation is the advancement of civilization and not a symptom of moral decay. I support Human Rights to the fullest degree and that extends to the rights of Gay Americans to fully participate in the civil rights we are all guaranteed.

I support the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court to allow gay marriage. They ruled that the Constitution cannot alienate any group of its citizens from that right and that includes those who are gay.  That was a correct constitutional decision regardless of anyone’s personal or religious view of homosexuality.

We may all believe and live as we choose, but we cannot allow a personal belief system to become the doctrine of constitutional justice. You can preach and live by your moral doctrines, but that is a compass of your own choosing and not a place for government to dictate, except to guarantee the protection of that freedom.

Religious Freedom
The Constitution is not a moralizing document and government is not the administrator of religious moral doctrine. The rights of non-believers to appreciate the freedom protected by our Constitution are as great as those who believe that our morality is founded on Christian principles.

Hard as this is for some to grasp, we can never allow our country to be determined a Christian nation.  The freedom protected, therein, is not the private domain of only those who believe a certain way.

With this realization of freedom in mind, I support a Woman’s Right to Choose.  While abortion is a terrible thing, it can be necessary, such as in the case of rape or when a mother’s life is at risk.  A woman, not government, must have control of reproductive rights.

No one is “pro-abortion,” and no one, who is thinking rationally, supports the idea of abortion as a birth control option and that’s why it must be kept out of back alleys.  The decision must be left to a woman with the counsel of her doctors and others whom she trusts (family, church).

The Arizona immigration law of 2010 was a dangerous precedent that can lead to unlawful enforcement, civil rights infringement, illegal profiling and reinforce trends toward racism.  Illegal immigration is illegal, but our focus should be on strengthening our borders and re-evaluating immigration as a whole.

Having been a small businessman in California I know firsthand that most illegal immigrants are not here to break the law but are here to work so that they can provide for their families. The action they have taken has broken the law but before we judge them as criminals we should consider that they are also courageously trying to create a better life at great risk.  There is a difference between a criminal and someone who has broken the law and our immigration policies and enforcement must reflect that distinction.

Immigrants must follow, and we must enforce, legal standards to become Americans but we have created a system by which illegal immigration is often more viable; we have created jobs that many businesses have knowingly hired illegal immigrants to occupy and so culpability for the problem is shared.

Except for Native Americans we are all descendants of immigrants and we need to include wisdom and compassion in our application of justice.

Health Care

doctor-and-patient-cartoon  I support the Affordable Care Act insofar as being a good start.   I believe that with more cooperative leadership, willing to admit that similar concepts have been proposed for decades by both sides of the political fence, that it can improve.  I would like to discuss tax credits for purchasing health insurance, and allowing plans to compete over state lines.  I would also like to investigate creating Risk Pools to provide more choices for those with serious illness, without raising costs for others.

Along with education, I believe that the health of Americans falls under our infrastructure; it is the evolved realization of ”General Welfare” for which many of our Founding Fathers prognosticated.  How can we be anything but proud as a nation if we are able to give all Americans access to medicine?

Unions (Collective Bargaining)
In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice . . . Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers, and . . . a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.”

I am a card carrying union man and I vigorously support Unions and Collective Bargaining to protect the best interests and prosperity of the American worker.  Unions need to be held as accountable for practices as we demand of management, but they continue to serve a necessary purpose in a free society and help to maintain economic stability.

Climate Change
I believe that we have reached a critical juncture that will compromise, even destroy, the quality of life for future generations and we must embrace Green Initiatives, Renewable Energy and Bio-fuels with urgency. Climate Change is real and environmental protection is necessary in more stringent ways.

If future science proves me (and over 80% of all Climatologists) wrong, I will gladly submit to a reprimand, but a clean energy future, non-dependence on foreign resources, is the correct direction for America, no matter where a person stands on the issue of greenhouse gasses today.

Gun Control
This is not really a 2nd Amendment issue; rather it is an argument of common sense.  We can debate the intention of the Framer’s with regard to a citizen’s right to bear arms, but I posit that it has to be considered in the context of its time.  I do not take a position that civilians should not realize their 2nd Amendment rights today, but with the advancement of weaponry and the evolution of how our sovereignty is protected, guidelines are necessary, as they are with any exercise of freedom.

Anyone who is not proficient in the use of firearms or who has a criminal history must be denied access to deadly force as realistically as society can enforce such control.

The Role of Government and Welfare
I believe in good governance; organized, effective and strong. When in the hands of informed and responsible legislators, chosen by an electorate that shares the same responsibility, it becomes the impartial equalizer to ensure that all Americans have access to our resources and benefits.

Too often this is misinterpreted as a trend toward “socialism” and it is not.  While everyone will experience success, affluence or struggle in different ways and to different degrees, the goal of our constitutional Republic should be to create an America where every citizen can participate and pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness to the best of their ability.

We should be judged, and judge ourselves, not by the affluence we produce and enjoy, but by the actions of our nation, and our willingness as individuals, to help those in need.

The Preamble Scramble

Avoid-Paying-Taxes-on-Your-Social-SecuritySomeone came into my office the other day and said, “I’m becoming a Libertarian.  I’m tired of big government in my life and I’m tired of government in my paycheck!”

I understood where he was coming from.  I’m working on my taxes right now and, ouch!  I don’t enjoy paying taxes, either, but I also don’t enjoy paying the cable bill; I realize that it’s just a reality I must accept for getting the service.

I do wonder, though, how much money I could keep in my paycheck if there wasn’t so much being allocated for…well…defense spending.

piechartI knew that my visitor was implying government spending on everything else, but nearly $700,000,000,000 a year must seem at least a little excessive to anyone.  We talked for a while and what he didn’t like were things like the Department of Education, the FDA, the EPA, welfare programs, and Social Security.

When I do a little math, though, I see that aside from Social Security, I don’t lose that much from my check to welfare, and except for the proportion that is spent on defense, I think I’m taxed moderately to run a nation with the services and benefits we have.

I asked my visitor, “Will you be making personal contributions to national defense to make up for less taxes?”

ace1He replied, “That’s what I’m happy to pay.  Government should take care of national defense and the infrastructure of the United States and nothing more.”

I agreed.  But, the question arises:  What is the infrastructure of the United States?

The preamble to the Constitution states:

“We the People of the United States, in order the-preamble-to-the-united-states-constitution,75366to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”

From this we can probably agree on the services necessary to protect Americans and our economic health:  National defense, highways, waterways, railways, sewers, utilities, and communication networks.

But what else is contained within promoting “the general welfare” and the “domestic tranquility” of the people?

Most people (including me) don’t hesitate to include schools and hospitals, but where do we draw the line?  The quality of education provided in those schools?  And what about the entire health system?  What is a hospital without the best care possible?

What is “domestic tranquility”?  Does that include social services?

And where is the line drawn for “common defense”?  Who defines the parameters of necessary defense before it becomes aggressive offense?

My office visitor left right after I said, “Government is what we’ve made it.  It is naïve to suggest that all we have to do is cut spending and cut programs and government will automatically get smaller.”

He left, but I silently continued my reasoning.

Government has grown as our country has grown.  We, the People, have demanded that our government protect our interests in areas that far exceed our Framer’s original understanding of Common Defense and General Welfare.

I would’ve asked my visitor:  “When a passenger jet crashes, would you be satisfied with an explanation from Boeing that it will never happen again, or do you prefer that there is an FAA that investigates the crash without bias and has the authority to instigate changes to prevent that mistake from happening again?”

“When toxic waste is poured into a river and the neighboring town gets sick, would it be enough for the townspeople to ask that the company please refrain from doing that?  Or do we need the aggregate voice of all the people (government) to demand new practices?

“When the lunchmeat is bad at school, what will protect our children from the choice a provider made to hold better margins?

The answer?  Government of, by, and for the People.

300px-YeomanThe Libertarian ideal, the one that includes Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of agrarian government, can no longer exist because the conflicting interests and demands of 315 million people (and counting) ensures that simplicity will never again be the operating system of America.

There is a reason government has not shrunk even when we’ve had Republican presidents with a Republican Congress.  It’s like changing a tire on a moving car; most of the programs and services contained within government were created by our own demands upon that system.  In many cases spending (welfare spending, as well) has increased under the watch of the party who stands most firmly against it.

We can, and should, talk about defining government responsibilities.  We can, and should, talk about controlling spending, and we should talk about redundancies and unnecessary government programs. But, those directives do not necessarily create smaller government or keep “government out of our paychecks.”  They can, however, aim our conversations toward creating “better” government.

Government is the foundation of representation and the realization of our Founder’s vision.  It is improved by cooperating within the system designed by our Constitution, by researching the issues, by participating with our votes, and even with our protests.

put-money-back-in-your-pocketThe argument about the size of government has derailed and sidetracked the solutions that actually could put more money back into our own pockets.

Let’s leave talking about size to fishermen and insecure guys in bars.


“…and to all a good night!”

What an interesting holiday this has been.

I make a big deal out of Christmas.  I’m not saying this time of year belongs exclusively to Christians, but “Christmas” is the holiday I’ve always celebrated.  It was a big deal growing up and as a parent I’ve made it a big deal for my kids.  I can’t honestly say that the traditions mean as much to them as they always have to me, but I put blinders on and go through my annual routines, regardless of what anyone thinks.

We WILL drive around town to look at Christmas lights.  There WILL be eggnog (spikedthCABFWJW3 with rum for the adults) and there WILL be Bing Crosby Christmas music playing.

There WILL be the same Christmas prayer at Christmas dinner that I’ve been reciting for 40 years.

Presents ARE delivered by Santa Claus and so cookies and milk WILL be left out and I WILL get up in the middle of the night to take a bite from a cookie and to pour the milk down the sink.

milk-cookies-santa-11259883My boys have come to accept this.

This year presented some challenges for Mr. Christmas, though.  It started with a disagreement with my ex-wife who wanted the boys with her family in Florida on Christmas Eve and continued through a sinister robbery where their presents were taken from my car.

But, there is good news.  It was the nicest Christmas I can remember having in a long time.  Let me explain….

My eldest son, Chris, who is 15, decided to stay in Iowa so that he could be with his Dad.  He is a young man now and we were able to talk in ways that we can’t with a 10 year old about.  We both fell asleep one afternoon on the couch watching a bowl game and I woke up to find his head on my shoulder.  I don’t know how long it’s been since that has happened.

Don’t tell him if you see him…I don’t want to embarrass him :).

Because of my traditions, I keep all but a couple of presents hidden until Christmas.  Most are at my mother’s house, where my brothers send gifts, as well.  I also pick up the bigger presents that day so that no searches of my house can uncover them.  On this particular Christmas Eve, I stopped by the store to get a special gift and gathered the rest of the presents into the back of my car to take to my house.

First, though, I wanted to check in at work and I parked in our company parking lot, door locked, for all of about 10 minutes.  When I came back out, my rear window was broken and all of the presents were gone.

What a horrible feeling.  Surreal, actually.  Could this be a joke?  How could this happen in the middle of the day in a company parking lot?

Where you work is almost like where you live; it is private; secure; a place you trust.  And who would do this on Christmas Eve?

All of those questions transpired in a millisecond, however, because the overwhelming thought that went through my head was:  “Oh, no!  My boys!”

The police came, pictures were taken, a report was filed, arrangements were made to get my window fixed…and I drove home.

Chris was watching television when I got there and I told him straight up.

“Son, our Christmas presents were stolen.”

He knew immediately that I wasn’t joking.  I took him outside to see the car and he said, “It’s okay, Dad.  We’re going to be fine.”

Hang on!  Isn’t that how I’m supposed to be comforting HIM?

Not one to be defeated by life’s misfortunes, I decided to post this experience on Facebook.  I wasn’t looking for attention; I wanted the vast potential of social media to possibly corner the thieves.  Maybe someone, I thought, would notice their neighbor coming home with a car load of suspicious gifts.  What did I have to lose?

My post was seen by local news and I got a call asking if they could come over to do a story.  I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” because I thought the more coverage, the greater the possibility that someone could be discovered, and I also realized that in the world of local news, this was a slam-dunk story on an otherwise slow day.

The one-man band from KWWL, named Olivia, was at our doorstep in minutes.  The camera was set when Olivia turned to me and said, “I think Chris is the story here.  I’ll ask you, Gary, what happened, but Chris’ feelings are the real story.”

She was right.   Chris hesitated at first because attention was not what he got up for on that particular day, but he soon acquiesced.   A microphone was attached and the camera rolled.

“How did you feel when your Dad told you your Christmas presents had been stolen?” asked Olivia.

“My first thought was, ‘Is my Dad going to be alright?’  He tries to make everything perfect for us on Christmas and I worried if he was going to be okay.”

Off camera, Dad is starting to cry.

“I don’t need anything,” he continued, “I’m loved by two families and that’s my Christmas gift.  I hope wherever our presents are that they are being enjoyed by kids who need them.”


He wasn’t “playing” for the camera or for some pseudo-gratification from saying exactly the most perfect thing; he was completely sincere.  I knew it.  Olivia knew it.  Everyone who saw the broadcast knew it.

Chris reminded me, and a lot of others, of the meaning of Christmas.  My tears were now tears of joy.  I felt like George Bailey as friends called, sent messages, and even offered gifts for my boys.

My younger brother’s family came up from Des Moines and, along with my mother, Chris and I had a joyful celebration.  And then, in the early afternoon on Christmas Day, we were joined by Alex.  I read the Christmas prayer as I always do and we dined, toasting the love that is so often taken for granted, but is the foundation of our lives.  We didn’t need a thing because we had everything.

In the span of 24 hours the darker side of the human experience was revealed but overshadowed by the brightness of the human spirit.

There are people who have fallen into desperation and the rules of civility are meaningless to them, but we must, as my son’s generous nature proclaimed, open our hearts to them, as well.

And there are people who will lend a hand and offer their coat whenever a friend is in need.

My boys and I have been blessed.

Happy New Year!

“Silly, flat, dishwatery, utterances”

politicsI spend a lot of time thinking about how our government does business.  I also think about the way the public debates the issues and how we are informed (or become uninformed).  And I think a lot about how bad things have gotten and how they are getting worse.

Several times I’ve said or written:  “This is the most contentious time in history.”

Never has anyone disagreed with that statement no matter which side of the political fence they stand.

Sit down for this.

What if I said….things are not getting worse?  The political climate that we are living in today is not only better than it was, but we are going in the right direction to make things even better.

What on earth am I talking about?

I enjoy reading history, but find myself having to look a little farther than the conventional history books that have, for over two centuries, woven fairytales around the creation of America.  From what we’ve been taught in school and from the traditions and ceremonies we’ve brought into American life, we’ve come to believe that stories and the men who created them were beyond reproach and that their vision was clearly defined.  But as I dig deeper into autobiographies and historical records, a more interesting perspective begins to develop.

No less than Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret for the growing animosity and “false accusations” that Americans have toward each other, toward their government Benjamin_Franklin_Portraitand even toward “our best national allies.”

While we have myriad resources today to retrieve or disseminate information and ideas, the central theme of our most contentious debates is the same.  Franklin wrote 250 years ago:  “In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

At the founding of our country and for nearly the century that followed, states bargained with other countries, and fought over where state borders should be.  Not with rhetoric and loquacious debate, but with muskets, swords and pistols.

Much has been written about the contempt that our present Congress appears to hold for members from the other party, but they seem to draw the line at verbosity.  150thCA381G1T years ago as Congress debated the Kansas Territory’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, a Pennsylvania Republican and South Carolina Democrat exchanged insults, which soon turned into a brawl.  More than 30 Congressmen from both sides joined the melee until the combatants were arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Contempt was so high in the 19th century between states that actual border wars broke out.  Do you know why Michiganders are called “Wolverines”?  Because people from Ohio found them to be no different from the angriest, most foul tempered creature of the forest.

wolverine5As they argued violently over a ribbon of land at their border called the Toledo Strip, blood was eventually shed and state militias were called to quell the dispute.  A simple border between Americans, living no more than a few miles apart, led them to view each other as fundamentally different human beings.

Things were no different west of the Mississippi when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.  The Missouri Compromise created verbal and physical warring in territories where a line divided the north from the south, allowing slavery to be legal in new states below the line, and illegal above.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a compromise of that compromise and stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory (known as popular sovereignty).  After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to have been the greatest President in our history was reviled by both sides of this dispute.

lincolnPosters calling him a “tyrannical dictator” and a “traitor” were not exclusive to the South.  One Chicago Times writer even reviewed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address thusly: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

I have no delusions that we have solved our dialectic dysfunctions and that gentle decorum is the order of the day, but, as we argue, yell, accuse, castigate, belittle, and protest each other, at work, at home, at the barbeque and on Capitol Hill, perhaps, it would behoove us to consider220px-PreliminaryTreatyOfParisPainting what we don’t do any more in the practice of our political debates.

We don’t fire across our state borders at each other over land disputes.  Our states no longer act as sovereign entities, negotiating with foreign powers, to bolster their own interests against other states.

lincoln_gettysburgaddressAnd while it is true that many of us, along with pundits and politicians have said nasty things about speeches our President, the Speaker of the House, or any number of representatives have made, have any been called worse than “silly flat dishwatery utterances”?

Maybe things aren’t as bad as we thought.

“What so proudly we hail”

flag Our flag has been getting a lot of press lately.  It seems to be a flashpoint for people who feel betrayed by it, people who are inspired by it, people who are afraid of it, and people who stand by it.

The flag was burned in Ferguson by people whoflag-burn feel America does not provide equal protection of freedom and justice.  It appears to them as a betrayal of that promise.

A flag was taken down by a university where a student displayed it on his campus porch because to foreign students passing by it represented a form of nationalist patriotism that doesn’t welcome them.  It scared them and the university agreed.

untitledWhen it is either waved or desecrated, people rally to one side or the other to defend what it means, what it doesn’t mean, what it stands for, or what it stood for.

The only common thread of that upon which we do not tread is that “Our flag represents America’s freedom.”

So the question is:  What is American freedom?

That’s not easy to answer.  American freedom, even as it’s outlined in our Constitution, is a vague construct.  Freedom to do what, exactly?  Live free?

What if my free imposes on your free?

Freedom to worship?  What if your beliefs deny my beliefs?

Freedom of speech?  What if our speech promotes the restriction of freedom for others?

Freedom from government tyranny?  Sure…but, government was also created to keep us free from…government tyranny.

I’m not trying to be pedantic here, but there are conundrums inherent to the very concept of the freedoms we defend.  All we can actually believe in is an idea of freedom and ideas are not always clearly defined and have amorphous edges.

What we are actually believing in is not a concrete set of principles, but the feeling we get when we consider our own personal identification with that idea.  Good or bad.

Which brings me back to the flag…

A national flag is a symbol of that nation.  It is visual statement to identify the temperament, history, ideology and people comprising that nation.  The US flag signifies, as stars, the 50 united-states, and has 13 stripes representing the original colonies that revolted against Britain.  The history of that revolution, democratic representation, our sovereignty, along with the constitution binding those states with unalienable rights is woven into that fabric.

But, therein lies the problem.  A symbol is as perfect as it is benign; its realization is not.

In the 1960’s a phrase entered our lexicon in answer to the protests against the Vietnam War:  “America, Love It Or Leave It.”

It was conservative shorthand to define American patriotism and it meant that if you don’t like the way America handles its business, you should go (or stay) elsewhere.  It was $(KGrHqZHJEEFDN6t2SSZBQ6TmcfJZw~~60_3draped around our symbol; the flag.

It was meaningless upon even rudimentary scrutiny because those saying it usually hated any government representation that wasn’t from their own party, but it was embraced by many because it made them feel good about their personal connection with the idea of America.

They proudly waved their flag.  And a lot of people became frightened by this exclusionary concept of America.

During that time, however, conservatism was in the shadow of emerging liberalism that began after World War II and reached its zenith during the Machiavellian, law-defying presidency of Richard Nixon.  In the 60′s and 70′s it became (and remains) more culturally relevant to be a liberal.

“America, Love It Or Leave It” endured, but it was a bumper sticker confined to the more extreme right wing.  That is until a new revolution; an ideological revolution from 30 years of pent up, conservative, nationalism, took hold:  the Reagan Revolution.

President Reagan, more than any other president (or at least as much as any) galvanized a decaying nationalist spirit and he turned a disenfranchised form of patriotism into something positive.  He made a lot of Americans feel good again about being an American.

reagan2_largeEven though many of us did not believe in Reagan’s jingoistic interpretation of American exceptionalism and we bristled at the wealth-pandering, class-separation he created, it was undeniable that a new conservative-patriotism was sweeping America.

Being a “liberal” was now being labeled less patriotic.

The neo-cons cornered the market on such brilliant, shorthand messaging to diminish liberalism and to rally the spirit of their base.  During the George W Bush administration they found a new cry, again in support of a war, and this one no one could take exception to:  “We Support Our Troops.”

What it meant, initially, was that they supported the military action in Iraq taken by that President,support_our_troops1 but it soon transcended that limitation as it was folded into the centerpiece of the sentiment; the bravery of the men and women in uniform.

The flag was part and parcel again with every representation of that statement.

But, again, we have to ask, “What does that mean?”

It doesn’t necessarily mean support of the government (of which our military is part).  Or support of the president who is their Commander in Chief, as many of the people using it today, don’t.

It no longer means support of the foreign policy directives those troops have been called to defend.

It doesn’t even mean domestic support of our troops with better health, job or education benefits.

It succeeds as socio-political panacea because there is no greater rapture of true patriotism than from the acknowledgment of those who are willing to stand in harm’s way to protect us, and that cannot be argued.

Which, again, brings me back to the flag…

a2929d6d1742f22c640f6a70670009a2Anyone standing next to me at a football game will know that I sing our National Anthem (loudly), and will see that my hat is in my left hand and my right hand is on my heart.  They will also see me making sure that my sons do the same.  I do this to show respect, humility and sincerity.

I do this to support our troops, and our citizens, and our fight for freedom.  I look at our flag as I sing, and every word of “The Star Spangled Banner” has relevance for me.  When I sing “The land of the free and the home of the brave” it is with the belief that we really can stand as a nation in support of that ideal.

And I also realize that to some people that ideal has been lost or has never been realized.  They are saying that we cannot be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if only for a few.  They remind us that a flag is only cloth flapping in the wind unless the nation that flies it is true to its purpose.

We can argue either way, but the bottom line is that our flag no longer symbolizes only the idealism of a Republic and the spirit of freedom that carried our nation to sovereignty, it now also contains the divisiveness, the separation and fear that results from exclusionary nationalism.

And so…what is that freedom it represents?

It is all of the above.  It has contradictions, vagueries, truths, triumphs, defeats, promises, shortcomings, and inspirations.  The sum of all of these gradations is the freedom to protest, even to burn a flag, and the freedom to be repulsed by that action.

Our flag is powerful because we have the freedom to interpret its symbolism in whatever way our experience compels us.

The flag belongs to all of us to wave proudly or to protest.tea party anger1

And that makes some people really angry.  One way or another.

My Thanksgiving Prayer

Someone once said to me, “Gary, I don’t see any evidence of American pride in your positions.  All you do is criticize our great country.”

I was startled.  I honestly feel that my perspective is a tribute to America, even when I am critical of politicians, policies and political parties.  I never take for granted what this country provides, and I consistently give thanks for all that I have.  I’ve been educated, I have a great job, I have healthy sons and I am free to speak my mind in the public square.

To bring some harmony to this dissonant chord I decided to form my political views, realized and hopeful, into thoughts of thankfulness.

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to protest, to peaceably assemble to empower the voice of the people.  A country where such a right is recognized as essential to securing our freedom from tyranny.

I am eternally grateful to our military men and women who have bravely sacrificed so that we may have that freedom.

I am thankful that I live in a country that has recognized that clean air and clean water are vital to the health of our nation.

I am hopeful that health care reform will continue, and improve, so that more Americans can live healthier lives and reduce the fear of illness and financial ruin.

I am thankful that I live in a country where the rights of citizens are protected by ethical laws regardless of race, gender. sexual orientation, or religion; and that these laws are vigorously examined to suppress the tendencies of prejudice and fear.

I am thankful to live in a country that offers support and help to those who have fallen on hard times or who are challenged by obstacles of ill health, physical or mental, or who have been raised in an environment without advantages.

I am thankful to live in a country where education is acknowledged as the engine of prosperity and freedom, and public education is offered to every child.

I am thankful to live in a country where more reasonable voices can subject an imperfect system to better governance and demand accountability from those who have taken advantage of its flaws.

I am fearful, however, that the national debate has turned into demagoguery that could compromise much of what I am thankful for.

I am fearful that many politicians are working to eliminate or marginalize many of those great things that Americans have fought for; things like civil rights for all Americans, environmental protections, equality of opportunity, public education, religious freedom and valuable social programs.

I have two young sons, and on Sunday nights we have a traditional, good old American meal of burgers and sweet corn.  Sometimes I share my thoughts with them.  My 15 year old is, well, 15, and can wear boredom as a badge of honor, but he gets a little memory chip from Dad’s passion for public service, and lately he’s been coming to the table to play his own hand.

My youngest just turned 10 and little of this resonates, but this won’t be the last time ol’ Dad talks to his sons about how much he cares about America.

And for now, I am thankful just to have them at dinner.

Every Dollar You Ernst

Okay….Republicans swept into Washington in one of the biggest political polarityuntitled shifts in history.  I worked for Democrats to keep that from happening, but ultimately it came as no surprise.  Mistakes were made, Democratic blocks didn’t vote, historically this happens anyway, and an unpopular President was reflected onto his party.

My focus has shifted away from making cases for Democrats and toward how we make all of this work.  My concerns, however, have not changed.  One of several things that concerned me about Joni Ernst, for example, were her statements about welfare; sentiments that she shares nationally with a majority of Republican lawmakers.

Senator Ersnt campaigned saying:  “We have fostered a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.  It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that.”

Painful for whom?  The people without the means to endure that pain?Mitt+Romney+Campaigns+Iowa+Senate+Candidate+JL3vy1uKyDjx

And what evidence supports that statement that drew cheers from every conservative crowd?

There isn’t any.  But it is repeated so often that it has become truth to many.

What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” according to Mitt Romney).  The deduction they are making is that this represents the failure of welfare programs, and that if people don’t have to work, they won’t.  It has become a cornerstone of modern Republican rhetoric; Republicans who are now in control of Capitol Hill and who will create (or remove) policy.

A more relevant deduction from 47% is the fact that too many people don’t make enough to pay taxes or they are unemployed.  What it isn’t is a statistic showing lack of desire to work, or laziness.  What it shows is that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.

Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check, and most Americans who receive welfare will go back into the work force.  Welfare (only 1% of the federal budget, excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), is not “wasted” tax money, either.  Beyond the ethical fact that sustenance is being provided, every dollar goes back into the economy as cash exchanged for products; it is liquidity in the market.

In the micro-view:  Among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t.  In other words, welfare does not discourage work; it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.

Furthermore, according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.

Here’s a macro-view:  According to UNICEF, nations with stronger social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty.   Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%.

In the United States it is 22%.  Social programs keep us relatively low when compared to world standards, but it still translates into more than 1 in 5 Americans living in poverty.  In the richest, most powerful nation on earth, how is that possible?

I’ll tell you.  It’s possible because 40% of everything is owned by only 1%.

And that is why welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class.  While we prefer to look away from our own socio-political inequities and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, poverty is a bi-product of an economic engine that creates exhaust.

What we cannot ignore is that our “exhaust” is a human life with a family.

Senator Ernst, when you look at real numbers and not rhetoric, we are paying a small price to help those who have fallen through thehungry cracks.  And when you oppose raising the minimum wage to a living wage, how are you not exacerbating the problem and only increasing the pain that you believe they must endure?

Welfare should fall on our ledger as our privilege to provide, and not as our burden.

Are you kidding?

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re having an argument with someone when they accuse you of a certain behavior, and you respond, “Are you kidding? I was just going to say the same thing about you!”

thCAL7F73JApparently, the criterion by which we judge others is not always applied to ourselves.  This happens to me a lot when I discuss politics with people who are firmly entrenched conservatives.

They consistently accuse liberals of:  1) Lying, 2) Being afraid of facts, 3) Putting blame elsewhere.

Are you kidding?  I was just….

My study here is anecdotal, but I observe this often enough to have drawn some conclusions that I stand behind.  I suggest this:  Conservatives are brilliant in a debate.  Their polished and refined strategy is:  If you take away your opponents strength by calling it your own, they have nowhere to go.

A Republican friend who likes to periodically goad me into a debate, came up to me the other day and said, “Liberals can’t stand facts!”

He went on to give me some “Facts.”WIN-Daily_Supplement-Facts

“Did you know,” he asked, “that the average unemployment rate under Bush was 5.3?  Obama’s is over 8.”

He went on:  “Bush increased the debt over two terms by 5 trillion while Obama increased the debt by more in less than half the time.”

I read Republican and conservative websites, and will tune into Fox News periodically to calibrate my perspective (and to picture the anchors naked, wearing funny hats) and so I’ve heard these numbers before.

I responded:  “Those are real numbers and I guess you could call them ‘facts,’ but they thdo not tell the truth.  Truth requires analysis and your conclusions from those numbers are as relevant as saying, ‘When I’m in a room with Bill Gates we have over 70 billion dollars between us.’  It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the true story.”

Laughter follows, but I argue so often that I’m more or less prepared.

“Bush inherited a robust economy with unemployment at 4 and handed off 8 with a bottomless recession right at the tail end of his presidency.  This month it is at 5.8.  Most of President Obama’s debt is from continued policies. President Bush decreased revenue and then borrowed to pay for two wars and a prescription drug program.  Plus war costs rise as they continue.”

Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo and so I transitioned into my rote rant:  “President Reagan still retains his crown as the Great Tax Emancipator, but the bill came due for his policies when George Bush, Sr. became president and tanked that presidency.  Same thing happened here, except that it wasn’t a minor recession; it was the worst in 80 years.”

My friend’s eyes are now rolling because he’s heard this before and he knows that he’s going to pull out the trump card soon.

I continued:  “Recessions don’t immediately reverse when new presidents take office and the quagmire of continuing job loss, increased unemployment benefits, necessary stimulus to stop the bleeding, resulted in trillions in new debt. That’s the truth beyond your easy to sell ‘facts’.”

And, right on cue, he pulled out the card:  “All you Democrats can do is blame the past and Bush.”

“I didn’t know that there was a statute of limitations on truth.” I fired back.  “Maybe we lincolnshould get over blaming Booth for assassinating Lincoln.  The truth is what it is.  A recession was caused by predatory lending in an unsupervised market with unscrupulous toxic assets and rising economic inequality.  We can argue all day about who is complicit, but we can be sure that it all happened before January of 2009.”

“I love you Kroeger,” was his sincere, but nevertheless dismissive, response.  We are good friends and we enjoy poking each other with argumentative sticks, but I felt that I’d “won” this little strategy debate and so did he.

My conclusion was, as it has been before, that “facts” are meaningless without analysis that goes deeper than simply offering evidence to support an already drawn conclusion.  And, my conclusion was, as it has been before….one side is less likely to go that deep than the other.

Were you just about to say that about me?

Crazy on you!

I was reading an MSN article on why people voted the way they did in this past election.  Most of the people who voted Republican were pretty consistent as to what two issues defined the races for them.  The issues that concerned them the most were expanding government, and economic progress (or the perceived lack of).

Woman-at-Dulles-Airport-Wearing-Hazmat-Suit-for-Ebola-e1413537522167Other relevant, but less pressing issues were immigration reform, gun control and even Ebola containment.  The article, comprised of polls, drilled down into the commonly shared beliefs among conservatives that climate change is fake, regulations on business are too restrictive, and that taxes are too high.

Believe it or not, Obamacare, while still something they opposed across the board, was not the most serious to conservative voters.  It isn’t difficult, however, to put the Affordable Care Act into the category of “government expansion” which was an overriding concern, and so, in reality it probably was more on the docket than the poll suggested.

I stepped into the fray on social media when admittedly I was not thrilled with the Red Sweep and my posts were of concern / disbelief / frustration / sarcasm / resignation.  Some were conciliatory.  CrazyTrainAll of them were met with criticism from my right wing friends, and varying degrees of support from the left.  Nothing, however, was accomplished.

Three different people called me either a “crazy liberal” or a “far left lunatic” and that is what really got me to thinking.   Not in a defensive way, because I’ve been categorized that way before, but I have yet to understand what they mean.

What is so far-out, crazy, left-wing about…..

Gun Control?  Guns are lethal force and 2nd Amendment interpretations aside, I certainly don’t think it’s insane to believe that not everyone who wants one should be carrying one.   We may disagree on what restrictions are necessary, but is it really far-granny20with20gunout to think that the proliferation of guns might not be the best way to contain gun violence?

When there are studies that conclude that gun violence increases by a factor of 3 in homes that have firearms, is it a liberal interpretation only that is sobered by that information?

Equal Rights?  This may be the historical domain of liberal ideology, but is it CRAZY to think it’s unfair that women earn over 20% less than a man for the same work?

Is it a dramatic swing to the left to interpret the civil rights defended in our Constitution to include…everybody?

How is it exclusively a liberal cause to be sure that our immigration laws serve impartial justice?

Environmental Protection?  Don’t we all live on the same planet, breathe the same air, and drink from the same rivers?  Again, we may disagree on what the parameters are, but is restricting the CO2 pumped into our atmosphere, or pollutants into our lakes and streams or limiting pipelines that deface our Amber Waves of Grain, a liberal concept alone?

Maybe it is, but is it so FAR to the left to consider warnings from a majority of environmentalists and climatologists?

Keynsian Economics?  This is the subject that divides us the most critically, and one which will likely never reach a consensus, but is it a screaming liberal position to look at the historical record of economics?  I don’t make up the statistics about economic growth and recessions.

Liberals didn’t create Keynsian Economic theory, they just used it, and from its most profound application during the Great Depression, there is evidence that there just might be some validity to it.

Disagree it you’d like.  Offer counter evidence!  But what it isn’t, is crazy

Health Care?  This one is a real head scratcher for me.  Eisenhower proposed government subsidies to businesses that offered coverage.  Nixon proposed employer mandates.  The conservative Heritage Foundation proposed the individual mandates to create a health market.  Mitt Romney ran with it!

Call the Affordable Health Act what you want, but what it isn’t, is Universal Health Care.  Call it government expansion, but to call it a purely left wing idea is, well….wrong.

Many liberals, myself included, have started to call our ideology “Progressivism.”  That angers some true liberals and some conservatives see it as a cop out, but I believe it is AR-701089997a more accurate description of what liberals stand for.  At least in this modern age where liberalism has been effectively re-defined by the right as “loose standards of behavior” and “socialism.”

Progressivism, the first born child of liberalism from the Age of Enlightenment, didn’t find its voice in America until President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a Republican, coined the term to carve out his agenda.

That agenda was social justice; safety and health standards, labor laws, a living wage and protection against the hazards of sickness and irregular employment.

It was to regulate corporate America insofar as to protect the prosperity of the working class and to navigate us away from the inevitable trend toward corporate oligarchy.

And it fought for the protection and enhancement of America’s natural resources.

Roosevelt’s progressive agenda was not embraced by the party he called his own, but the truth of the matter is that Roosevelt and the Progressives were seeking a greater realization of “freedom.”

-Freedom to prosper without being exploited by industrial barons.

-Freedom to live in a clean environment and to share access to America’s resources.

-Freedom to live and work safely with protection from unforeseeable health hazards.

Today, liberal “progressives” have added to that journey toward freedom, tenets of racial, sexual and cultural equality.  They have added the advocation of common sense policy to contain misuse of lethal force (300,000,000 guns exist in American homes).

The movement that calls itself the Tea Party has centered its platform on Libertarian ideals of personal freedom, but ironically they have only championed a distilled concept of such, and one that is far shy of what Roosevelt’s progressives had imagined.

The Tea Party has focused freedom into a defense of the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms; to shrink government, specifically to lower taxes; and to pander to corporate interests, obstensibly to encourage wealth to have the freedom to accumulate without restrictions.

My perspective differs from the new right.  I drove to work today and did not feel encumbered by the FDA, the FBI, CDC, EPA, FAA or the Department of Education for that matter.  In fact, I probably felt a little better knowing that there are environmental, law enforcement, and health programs out there working for my welfare.

I don’t feel less free for paying about 25 cents out of every dollar toward running this country I get to enjoy.  (Don’t bother me with taxromney-taxes tables.  If you are paying more, even if in the highest bracket, get a new accountant.  Breaks and shelters allow a guy like Mitt Romney to pay closer to 14%).

I have two brothers and both have worked in government and I can say first hand that there are redundancies, inflated salaries and obsolete programs that are wasteful.  I don’t think even a crazy liberal believes otherwise or that government can’t get too big.  But no coherent, analyzed, comprehensive, logical, plan has ever been presented by the Tea Party, or Republicans for that matter, to honestly change that paradigm.

Except to implement draconian austerity measures and to toss around platitudes to ignite their base:  Government is too big!  Cut taxes!  Cut welfare!  We don’t need the EPA or a Department of Education!

There is a paradoxical swing in society that is both inevitable and confusing.  While human beingsthCAUSBW39 naturally evolve toward progress (polls show that even though people voted Republican, many support liberal ideas), there is also a natural counter-balance toward conservative values to protect ourselves from too much at once.

Our evolution, while trending toward social justice, also moves a faction farther to the right, pulling the center along.  Today, Republicans once considered moderate are being called “RINO’s” (Republicans In Name Only) by the new right.  Imagine how they categorize any liberal.

I offer an old post of mine to clarify some historical positions of American conservatives. http://garyhasissues.com/archives/6407

nugentSo allow me to conclude by going back to where this began.  We can disagree.  We will surely use different sources for information.  We may always be diametrically opposed on several things.  But if you think we’re crazy, commies over here…then you are so crazy to the right, that we’re not going to get anywhere….