Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Body Politic

I am a Democrat but I’m not anti-Republican. I am a Liberal but I am not anti-Conservative. What I believe is that liberalism is necessary to move our conservative nature in the direction of progress.

Believe me, I have as many friends on the right side of the aisle as on the left and they are all people I respect and whose company I enjoy.  I spend a great deal of time trying to understand our differences for the purpose of finding common ground to resolve conflict. My goal has always been to create a more civil dialogue that could lead to positive changes in our lives.

One of the mistakes that we make is in believing that either side (right or left) is consistent and that the modern labels of “Republican” or “Democrat” carry historical accuracy.

Thomas Jefferson was a Democrat-Republican. He and Madison formed the party to oppose the Federalists whose policies were in the interests of wealth, to form trade agreements with Britain and to create a National Bank. By today’s definition, Jefferson more closely resembles a Democrat but the Democrat-Republicans favored states’ rights and strict adherence to the Constitution and eventually became known as Republicans.

From this fragmentation, a new party focusing on individual freedom, led by Andrew Jackson, emerged.  Known only as Democrats, it must be noted that the “freedom” Jackson believed in only extended to white males, but this was the “majority” opinion of the day.  Disenfranchised Democrats along with the dwindling Federalists, joined what would become the Republican Party and swayed the party toward many Federalist values.

The line is already blurred and we’re only up to 1828…..

Once upon a time, in fact, it was not unheard of to be a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican.

While Lincoln was a Republican, his socio-political positions were “liberal” while his devout nationalism might label him “conservative.”

Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was a champion in many areas that are now considered the domain of the left (the environment, labor rights, regulations on big business). The Republicans, in fact, turned their back on him and he formed the Progressive Party to run again.

So why is it today that we believe there is historical consistency with our party values and why do we define each other with contrary terms rather than look for common threads to build new alliances?

Because, it’s easier to believe that we each naturally follow the beacon of unalienable rights that extend back to the eternal spark of creation.  It’s easier to follow than it is to lead….

Why, then, do people affiliate with one party over another and why are the differences between us so contentious?

I believe that every human being carries within them a conflicted polarity; a duality where we struggle between light and dark; a fight in our souls between fear and faith. We choose to, or we are conditioned to, conform our guiding principles to follow one direction over the other so that we can give that conflict rest.

I believe that at the core of modern conservatism is wisely measured caution, but also fear.  Fear of losing that which has protected us; that which has given life and sustained us (the status quo). It is perfectly rational to have that fear, we all do, but fear can also make us selfish.

Liberals are scared too, but at the core of liberalism is a critical evaluation of our frailty; it is a position to counter the natural forces that will nurture our fears (which can lead to selfishness…and from selfishness the soil becomes more fertile for intolerance, bigotry and greed to grow).

Liberals view our country’s greatness, not by the great system of accumulation that has been created, but by the compassion that we demand from that system.

At the risk of betraying my own premise by reducing ideologies to easy sound bites: Modern Republicans believe that what is good for them as individuals is best for the whole, while Democrats believe that what is good for the whole will create the best opportunities for the individual.

Would it be too pedestrian of me to suggest that both sides are right?

What’s really funny is that the genesis of each party came from almost reversed positions. Jefferson was a secular humanist whose own political philosophy started from an agrarian influence, and he was the original Republican…or Democrat depending on which party’s website you’re on.

Could there be a synergy of common goals that could become the answer for better government?  Could we develop a more civil dialogue so that the experience of our disagreements would be more….agreeable.

The Die Hard Constitution

Bruce Willis has a message for advocates of stricter gun control legislation:             “Don’t infringe on my rights!”

attends 'Die Hard - Ein Guter Tag Zum Sterben' Germany Premiere at Cinestar Potsdamer Platz on February 4, 2013 in Berlin, Germany.“I think that you can’t start to pick apart anything out of the Bill of Rights without thinking that it’s all going to become undone,” said Willis.  “If you take one out or change one law, then why wouldn’t they take all your rights away from you?”

Not an illogical concern, but also not rooted in a full understanding of representative democracy.  Hold onto your Beretta, but our Charters of Freedom are not perfect, nor did the Founding Fathers delude themselves into thinking they were.

When the Constitution was written, it was written by, and for, white, male land owners (probably less than 15% of the population); not exactly the perfect document to express freedom and inalienable rights.  The Bill of Rights and the ratification process of amendments were created to give evolving relevance to the charter and to inform citizens of constitutional protections so that laws could be written to enforce those rights and to govern fairly as we grew.

That is where their collective vision came into play.

ca. 1980-2001

The truth is, the Constitution was written to define only two purposes:  1) to establish a federal government and 2) to delegate to that federal government limited (and enumerated) powers.  The Constitution does not give us rights, but is designed to protect our rights.

The intent of the Bill of Rights was to prevent misconstruction of governmental powers and to ensure public confidence as a unified proclamation defining issues, deliberated upon to a point of agreement.

For example, voting within the system of government originally set forth, did not include women, but as our social consciousness progressed we came to realize, through our process of representative democracy, that the right must be clarified to include women, and the 19th amendment was ratified.

The rights of citizenship did not include former slaves even after emancipation and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were written and ratified to clarify the purpose and extent of freedom protected by our government.bor

The 1st Amendment was written to give the promise of freedom a strong foundation, but it also continues to be clarified in courts as slander and defamation issues will always nugentsurface.

When 2nd Amendment rights are bandied about by everyone from Bruce Willis to Ted Nugent who profess that, “We cannot meddle with what our Founding Fathers put forth,” it is without the understanding of what they actually “put forth.”

The 2nd Amendment must also be examined and interpreted as society itself changes.

Even 100 years after the Constitution was written it remained inconceivable that Americans would use firearms inappropriately.  It was, in fact, considered un-American that the President of the United States would ever require security- even after Lincoln was assassinated!  The American people remained steadfast that assassination was contrary to our national psyche.

It was only after the third assassination of amckinley-assassination2 president, the murder of President McKinley, that we started to think differently.

Today, as we examine the words “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” we absolutely must put them in the context of their time.

We can, indeed, rightfully “bear arms” but as our societal norms have changed, as our weaponry has changed, parameters must be created and continually re-examined to accommodate or contain new realities.

That is not an affront to the Constitution as Mr. Willis has implied, rather, it is the realization of its true intent; to create a society of fair and just laws to protect our liberties in a changing world.

The Measure of Our Purpose

The Iowa Legislature finally adjourned at 6pm on Friday, April 29th.  Issues that remained unresolved capiltoainclude Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, water quality, and medical marijuana.  While we must consider any agreement to be a positive result and Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement on a $7.35 billion budget that will now go to Governor Branstad for approval, I am, personally, disappointed.

Democrats and Republicans have come to compromise agreements before regarding school funding that the Governor vetoed. And what he vetoed was such a watered down version of what Democrats originally proposed based on what Iowa schools really needed, that I saw little reason to be optimistic about that accord.

With all due respect to Democrats who have tried hard to correct these issues, what we are seeing as school funding falls woefully short, while clean water initiatives are not passed, while medical cannabis continues to be restricted from Iowans who can benefit from its medicinal application, is that Quality of Life has taken a back seat to corporate-pandering special interests.  We are seeing crony-politics take root and grow.

Since 2011, Branstad has gotten his way to give away $400,000,000 in new tax breaks to Iowa corporations.   What suffers, as a result, is our middle class, schools and infrastructure; all of the reasons that attract corporations to Iowa in the first place.


Policy falling short appears epidemic as just the other day I was in a conversation with a candidate for office who said that medical marijuana needs to be tested more fully by the FDA, and as a Schedule 1 drug it warrants such careful and patient study.

I replied, “Without even getting into the absurd Schedule 1 classification, which was far more political than scientific, we aren’t even talking about recreational use here; we are talking about patients with epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other afflictions, who have found groundbreaking relief from cannabis oil.”

“More study is needed,” he continued, “I haven’t seen enough documentation.”

“I’ve seen plenty,” I said. “Even one little girl, who has had two brain surgeries for her epilepsy, whose parents told me that medical cannabis was the only treatment that gave her rest from seizures, is enough evidence!  But there are thousands like her. th Who are we?  If not a state that does everything it can to allow our citizens to live healthy lives?  This isn’t about anything other than improving the quality of life for Iowans who are suffering.  I don’t want to hear about years of testing to find out what we already know.”

I wasn’t finished.

“I’ve heard state legislators who have opposed expanding the availability of medical cannabis in Iowa say that people should ‘go out of state to get what they need.’ I was told that one such legislator when confronted with the issue of an epileptic sufferer said:  “I’ll pray for her.”

“My daughter doesn’t need his prayers,” the parent told me, “She needs medicine that is being denied to her!”

And Medical Cannabis and School Funding aren’t the only issues that stand as evidence of misplaced priorities:  No Senate Water Quality Plan.

House Democrats put up a proposal that stirred discussion with Republicans, who had a proposal of their own. The Republican plan raided state funds; a classic rob Peter (education) to pay Paul (whatever they are willing to compromise on) and progress was halted.

Planned Parenthood also resulted in a stall. That stall works in favor of continuing current funding through Medicaid, but the fact that it’s even on the table is confounding.

My support of Planned Parenthood and continuing its Medicaid funding is three fold:

  1. The mission of Planned Parenthood is to provide women with reproductive health care.  In fact, it is the preeminent provider of health care to women as 1 in 5 American women have, at one time or another, used PP services.  The majority of their programs are preventive, primary care, to prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment, and screen for cervical and other cancers.  PP in Iowa is a vital part of our health network, providing high-quality and affordable care to nearly 38,000 women (and men) each year.
  2. If abortion is the issue which Planned Parenthood critics have taken hold, then it cannot be overlooked that as a contraception provider it reduces unwanted pregnancies.
  3. And finally, abortion-related services are only a fraction (3%) of what Planned Parenthood provides, and government subsidies do not go toward those services.  Furthermore, in Iowa, Planned Parenthood receives no direct legislative funding, it is only through providers like Medicaid.

Defunding Planned Parenthood does nothing but compromise needed health services. There is no rational justification for its defunding especially if the primary reason is to stop abortions.

And since abortion is the issue by which the Planned Parenthood antagonists stake a very passionate claim, let me say this- NO one likes abortion. Where I stand is that I don’t want government dictating, moralizing or determining a choice that belongs to a woman.  A woman must have dominion over her own body, and it is with the counsel of her choosing; her doctor, clergy, and family; to decide in early term what course to take.  To say otherwise is, in my opinion, to demean the rights and equality of a woman.

We may disagree, but let’s do so without malice and use logic and reason whenever we can to make determinations regarding a very emotionally dividing issue.

In conclusion, whether we are talking about Education, Women’s Rights, Health Care, or the quality of our Water and Land, we are talking about the Quality of Life and the fundamental purpose of legislation: To provide a governing framework from which the citizens collectively “…establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

I believe that a legislator must evaluate every issue through the lens of understanding and AR-140509959compassion and consider the improvements to the quality of life that any legislation before them can provide. That should always be the measure of our purpose and our success.