Ducks and Cattle

I got to thinking about what Cliven Bundy has said on the issue of “the Negro” over the last couple of days. And “bam”, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame came rushing back into my political head.

the Negro? Cotton Picking? Slavery?

the Negro? Cotton Picking? Slavery?

The similarities between these two asshats are amazing. Both seem to be focused on picking cotton and slavery. Someone in the GOP should tell Bundy and Robertson black people stopped doing that for free back in 1867. Maybe RNC Chairman Reince Priebus can tell them it’s time to get with the program. After all, he’s the one who issued this autopsy report back in December after President Obama beat Mitt Romney by 5,000,000 votes. Both love the scripture (who knew the Old Testament was so popular these days!).

But to be completely honest, I’m more fascinated in how the GOP has treated Mr. Bundy vs Mr. Robertson.

What did the Republican National Committee say about Phil Robertson? Nothing. Silence as a defense is amazing.

What did Senator Rand Paul say about Robertson? Not much.

Oh and my favorite is Senator Ted Cruz. He defended Robertson to no end. On Bundy, he said his “comments are completely unacceptable.”

I’ll just have to lump in Sarah Pahlin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, both huge defenders of Mr. Robertson. This piece from the Wire kind of sums it all up perfectly.

 But let’s go back to the cotton picking and the slavery because that’s what was said. There’s virtually no difference between Robertson’s and Bundy’s words. Yet, the GOP is now stumbling over themselves for distance from Bundy. This horrid cockroach behavior is sad, scattering around, stumbling over each other when the lights come on. A better analogy is when you’re in a gay bar and it’s closing time. The lights come on and you realize all of a sudden that the dude you’ve been hitting on the last hour is actually butt ugly. But ya know, you gotta just own that right? If he looked good in low light, you gotta own your really really bad judgement.

That’s what the GOP needs to do frankly. They really should just own their people, even the ugly ones. I mean, which bigots do they love, which homophobes do they support, which misogynists do they embrace? Otherwise, Americans are just going to remain confused about a political party that sometimes supports the bygone days of cotton picking.

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Allen West: America’s GOP Stooge

You know how I like to start columns with the word “so?”

So, former GOP Congressman Allen West (FL) has written a new book and he’s out peddling it to the masses. Actually, he didn’t write any of it. He used a ghost writer. Nonetheless, he’s “on tour” trying to sell his tome. allenwest

There’s just one small problem with West’s book. It’s basically full of misquotes, made up quotes, and lies. George Bennett from the Palm Beach Post did some really thorough research into West’s book and came up with this review that’s just scathing. Now remember, this is the same moron who claimed with great authority that there were 78-81 House Democrats who were members of the Communist party.

He’s also the same guy who lost his re-election after one term in Florida’s 22nd District, this coming after a stellar Army career ending in a forced retirement (well, it was that or be court martialed for beating an Iraqi policeman). What a great American patriot this guy is.

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Today’s GOP: Modern-Day Pharisees

So this is the definition of a pharisee: a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. Another more, say modern-day definition of a pharisee would be someone who is “a sanctimonius, self-righteous, or hypocritical person” (dictionary.com).

I’ve met people like this throughout my life. I am in the business of politics after all.mcallister

The latest political pharisee comes to us via the Fifth District of Louisiana. This complete douchebag, Congressman Vance McAllister (R-LA), takes douchebaggery to a whole new level. First reported by the The Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper based in W. Monroe, Louisiana, it seems like the first term Congressman has stepped out on his sixteen year marriage. Here’s the video from  security cameras.

To be clear, I don’t care if McAllister is a Republican or a Democrat. My problem with him is that he’s a complete hypocrite. This guy ran as a Christian conservative on “family values” and is adamantly opposed to marriage equality. But here’s just how sick McAllister really is: he states right here on his website “As a father, Vance is worried about the type of future President Obama and career politicians are leaving for the next generation.” Is this guy serious? He’s a father and he’s worried about the next generation? Yeh McAllister, you’re a real role model for your five kids.

So who’s that young woman McAllister was caught kissing on camera with his shirt tail untucked? Well that would be one of his young Congressional staffers. Yep, that’s right. Louisiana’s 5th District Congressman is literally and physically screwing the next generation alright. And it’s all on the taxpayers’ dime to boot.

There are countless other examples of elected officials who run on “family values” but literally screw over their own families. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) had the same problem. Sadly, he had to pay money to a hooker to get “happy.” I hope all that money was put to good use since he’s now running for governor of the great State of Louisiana. What a role model! Clearly there’s something weird running in those swamps and bayous down there in the Pelican state, something that makes these men habitual hypocrites. davidvitter

So Congressman McAllister, do me and everyone else a huge favor. Don’t run on “family values” when you’re screwing someone other than your spouse. Don’t tell me as a gay man that my relationship isn’t as good as yours since you Congressman McAllister apparently don’t give a damn about your own marriage. You want to tell me I’m not worthy when you’re dipping your oil stick into the wrong car engine? I’d suggest you might want to take a long hard look at yourself and have an honest (honest being the operative word) look at just how stupid you look now.

I think what saddens me the most isn’t that McAllister cheated on his wife. It’s that he got caught by security cameras. It’s one thing to be a philanderer. It’s another thing to be just plain stupid.

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Religious Liberty Disguised as Jim Crow

So I’ve been following this whole “religious discrimination” movement going on across the country. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) famously vetoed S.B. 1062, which would’ve allowed any business in Arizona to turn away customers if those customers weren’t up to religious snuff per se. I’ll give Republics (if they insist on calling us the “Democrat party” then fair’s fair right?)  their due when they do the right thing. Brewer did that this time and she deserves full credit for it. So do Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake for opposing the bill.

Seventeen other states however most likely won’t do the right thing. The latest example is the great State of Mississippi which just passed its own version of “religious freedom.” Governor Phil Bryant will most likely sign the bill. Who knew Mississippi would resurrect Jim Crow laws in 2014? I wrote about this a few months back but for some strange reason, I’m still shocked that this keeps happening.

My biggest problem with this sort of thing boils down to this: no one should be able to profit from bigotry. You want to be a private club or school, go for it. Please, I beg you, start yet another all-white school so your children don’t have to go to school with anyone who doesn’t look exactly like them. Raising little Mini-me bigots doesn’t well position your children for the 21st century folks.

But when you’re out there on Main Street peddling your “Made in the Land of Forced Abortions (China)” crosses, then you actually don’t have the right to determine your customers. You’re in the business of commerce not Jesus. You’re in the business of money not churches. If you want to be a mega-church and earn billions, that’s easily doable. Just look at these morons from my home state of South Carolina who peddled Jesus for millions. But in the public arena, you don’t get that luxury. I don’t care how you worship and you shouldn’t care who I marry. My late Aunt Susan once asked me how I reconciled my religious faith with my sexuality. It was a fair question. I calmly replied “Well, when I’m in church, I’m not thinking about screwing and when I’m screwing, I’m most certainly not thinking about church.”

I think we’d be a whole lot better off if corporate America kept its religiosity out of my bedroom. After all, I and millions of others don’t have to spend our progressive gay dollars in your Jim Crow shops. And see, that’s when paying the tuition to that all-white Christian “school” gets a lot tougher to pay.

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Yes, Even Good Progressives Should Retire From Congress

Back in January, I wrote a piece in usnews.com basically laying out the case that a slew of really really old Members of Congress were probably going to just bag it and retire. Their fundraising was pitiful, they hadn’t paid their party dues and what’s worse, they’re hanging onto every stinking campaign dime in their coffers like a bunch of Egyptian mummies. Many of these old bulls have since announced they’ll be leaving after this fall’s elections. Some are great progressives, some just plain suck.

Let’s be honest. You’ve got men and women who’ve been in Congress since before I was born, who are sitting on hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars, and aren’t doing a damn thing to help their less fortunate colleagues get re-elected. I actually don’t believe in term limits; that’s what voters are supposed to do. But many of these folks are greedy bastards who have no lives other than marble hallways and leather chairs.

Rep. John Conyers (MI)

Rep. John Conyers (MI)

Now in my column, I only focused on Democrats since I was only able to get my greedy little hands on the fundraising chart for the House Democratic Caucus. I asked the Republicans if I could see their list and they didn’t respond. Shocker.

Since then many of these guys have announced their retirements, guys like Rep. John Dingell (MI) and Rep. George Miller (CA). These two guys are great progressives and have been in the forefront of fighting the good fight. But they’re basically out and let’s pray like hell young progressives replace them. 10 Democrats and 13 Republicans to date will be gone in the next Congress.

There are others retiring from Congress as well who don’t really have any seniority. Perhaps the biggest asshat in all of Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN), is leaving. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass Michele. I’ll actually miss her since literally every word that comes out of her mouth is a Saturday Night Live mini-skit. Soooo much to play with, to write about, to talk about. And all that will go away come November. But I digress.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN)

Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN)

One old bull still standing whose time has sadly passed is Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY). Rangel has represented parts of Harlem since 1971. He’s debonair, a Korean War veteran, and has had a hand in nearly every piece of progressive legislation since the dawn of time. But then there are his seemingly endless ethics violations. Rangel has been the ongoing subject of investigation by the House “Ethics” Committee since 2008. No that’s not a joke. Finally, on December 2, 2010 Rangel was censured by the full House of Representatives. He stands as only the 23rd Member of the House to be censured in its entire history.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY)

Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY)

While I’m appreciative of Rangel’s service to our country, his time is up. It’s time for some fresh blood in Congress. Last cycle, Rangel barely survived a primary fight from state Senator Adriano Espaillat by just over 1,000 votes. Espaillat is challenging him again and this time, he just may win in late June. He’s gotten the endorsements of the New York City Council chairwoman and the Bronx Borough president.  Now Espaillat is no spring chicken at 59 but he doesn’t have an ethics track record a mile deep.

Bottom line: many of these old bulls need to be thrown out. It’s one thing to be old, wise, and the master player in the game. It’s another to be one of 23 censured Members of Congress and still earning a taxpayer check. So yes, even progressives should know when their time is up and I would welcome a slew of new progressives to the halls of Congress to shake things up.

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Gay Rights or Civil Rights, the Struggle is American

This column originally ran in thegrio.com on June 28, 2013.

Like many Americans, I wake up everyday and turn on my favorite morning television program (Morning Joe, of course!) to make sure I didn’t “miss anything” while I slept.

Luckily, the world didn’t change much Wednesday but I did arise yesterday morning to that ever-familiar voice of former Rep. Barney Frank (MA) throwing out pearls of wisdom.

Talk about a redefinition of  the wake-up call.

The black civil rights struggle went national

When asked to compare gay civil rights and African-American civil rights, Frank said “No black child has to come out to his parents when he’s born.” This struck me in a big way, especially before having any coffee, and this got me to thinking about the comparisons between different civil rights movements.

The struggle over civil rights in “black” America has held a very public place in our history since the beginning of the republic. The plight of our black brethren has been both a uniting and dividing thread in our national fabric. Some of the great historic Senate debates dealt directly with this issue. We fought an internal civil war over this. We as a nation watched on television as the “Bull Connors” of the world reared their ugly heads with fire hoses, German shepherds, white sheets and long ropes.

This was a turning point in our history and the catalyst which gave rise to Congress and the courts to begin walking down the road of righting the wrongs of our past. It wasn’t until the visual horrors of Americans beating, enslaving, and killing other Americans that we “changed.” And yes, that struggle still continues despite the progress we’ve made.

Just this week the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 despite widespread, modern-day Jim Crow-type voting restrictions popping up all over the country. I wonder day in and out if we’ve actually reached the mountain top Dr. King spoke about and I sometimes have my doubts.

Gay rights battle is eerily similar

The same type of struggle can’t be said of the gay civil rights movement. Gays weren’t enslaved by the millions or enshrined into our Constitution as three-fifths of a human being or as personal property. Nor were gay Americans lynched by the hundreds in public squares across the south (and elsewhere) just for being gay.

Indeed, to Congressman Franks’ point: gay Americans could hide their identities whereas black Americans simply couldn’t.

It’s more than ironic that the “closet” so many of us have come out of, sheltered and saved the earliest gay Americans from many of the horrors we watched America’s blacks live and die through. I never thought I’d say it but thank God for the early closet in gay society.

Not that gay America hasn’t seen horror. San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk was brutally murdered in cold blood. Matthew Shepard was tied up to a spit rail fence, beaten, tortured, and left to die alone. He was discovered the following day by a passing cyclist who recounted he thought his body was that of a scarecrow instead of a human’s.When that cyclist found Shepard, he didn’t know he was gay. He just knew he was a fellow human, struggling to live. Even on the brink of death, Shepard’s skin color was a kind of closet.

I could list numerous examples of hate crimes against gay Americans or discrimination against my community from housing to employment to marriage equality. All of that is documented and well-established. But in the eyes of many African Americans, my community will never match, can never match their struggle for the mountaintop.

Indeed many in the African-American community have recoiled at comparisons to the gay civil rights struggle, including Bernice King, Dr. King’s youngest daughter.

A big win — for a select few

This narrow-minded approach doesn’t help either group. To move Rep. Frank’s position further along, no one chooses to be black and let me be clear, no one chooses to be gay (ask Exodus International and similar groups how that’s working out for them). Being gay isn’t the same as being black or vice versa. But being discriminated against should be a singular unifier, a common denominator.

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that “separate but equal” wasn’t a remedy for black America. Brown v. Board of Education was a broad ruling that applied to all of America. This week, the Court told gay Americans they have the right to equal protection yet it left out a core group of gay Americans who don’t live in marriage equality states.

While that’s a big win for gay America, it’s only good for a select few.

Imagine if the Court had ruled in Brown that separate but equal was OK in 30 states but not in the states where black and white children already sat next to each other in classes. I don’t think black America would’ve been pleased with the outcome.

Glass half empty or half full

But a glass half full is better than a glass half empty and both cases are progress (that’s the root word for “progressive” by the way) for an America that rejects a three-fifths human being or a skin color or who you fall in love with and want to marry.  It’s that common link, that discrimination that binds us together, gay and black, white and straight and any and all in between. It’s that struggle for the mountain top that makes us all climb together. Indeed, it’s that progress that makes us simply American right?

Last year I ran across this ad from the Anti-Defamation League. This is really powerful stuff. The only thing all of these people have in common today is that they’re all dead. But when they were alive, they were all just living their lives. They were just being black or gay but they were all “being” American.

It’s easy to daydream but  I suppose if I could have one wish, it would be for Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk to have known each other. Maybe Matthew Shepard could have known James Byrd Jr., could have sat at a bar in Laramie, WY and had a beer or two together. Maybe I’m just a daydreamer but that’s just the modern-day struggle I see as the American civil rights struggle of my time.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll wake up tomorrow morning or the next morning, turn on my television and see yet another chunk of discrimination being chipped out of that wall. That’s a lonely dream if I can’t dream it with my fellow Americans who just so happen to be black.  I’d rather dream that dream with them.

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The School of Political Destruction

dems v gop cartoonSometimes I wonder if Washington, DC has reached a point where it has lost all its humanity.

This town, where even the most mundane legislation rarely passes because of an indeterminate level of partisanship, seems to be on life support. Just last week, the U.S. House failed to pass a “Farm Bill,” traditionally the most bipartisan, bicameral bill the Hill produces. From Tea Partiers spitting on Democrats walking to vote on “Obamacare” to Pres. Bill Clinton’s impeachment for lying about sex, I’ve wondered if the partisanship of the last few decades was only coming from Republicans. Indeed I was convinced it was a one-sided affair.

Then Edward Snowden showed up via the Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald and it hit me like a ton of bricks: oh God, even fellow liberals have enrolled in the “School of Political Destruction.”Greenwald

Conservatives and progressives have existed in this country since her inception. Indeed, it was the struggle between these groups that formed our current system of balance between state and federal governments. Modern-day liberalism was a reaction to the laissez-fare economic theories which led in large part to the Great Depression. Conservatism, as we knew it, was its mirror to what was largely perceived as over reach by Roosevelt’s liberals and his New Deal plan. And while spirited debate has always been the uniting thread of our political fabric, it wasn’t until Watergate and the subsequent Clinton impeachment that Washington turned sour and vile. These are demarkations, points in our nation’s history, where we can look back and see a sea-change moment.

Sadly, it seems we’re in a death spiral.

I came to Washington, DC in 1992 to work on the Bush-Quayle re-election. I was a closeted, conservative 25-year old gay southerner in desperate need of a fresh start. I believed deep in my heart that President Ronald Reagan had done no wrong, that all Democrats were completely evil, and that the GOP platform (which I had no clue what it consisted of) was God’s word. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, Democrats reigned supreme (for two years), and I came out of the closet with a clear realization that perhaps my father’s conservative indoctrination was inherently flawed. Fast forward to 1997 and I went to work for freshman Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as an unpaid intern and began the best education of my life in that elite school of the U.S. Senate.

I got great advice from an old school staffer at the time, a quiet man who worked for Senator Robert Byrd (WV) . He told men in his quiet, West Virginia drawl “Sit on the Floor, watch and learn what’s going on, and remember that the key to this place is the art of the deal.” What I picked up early on was you can work for a liberal or a conservative, but in the Senate you must find common ground. So I buckled down, learned everything I could about anything, and then spent a majority of my time working with staffers from both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that was good for our country and my boss’s constituents. That’s Congress’ job after all isn’t it? Poll after poll tells us a majority of the American people want results, not complaints or excuses.

So when did it become so bad, so evil for liberals and conservatives to compromise? When did it become commonplace for conservatives to hate anything liberals proffered up and vice versa? When did it become ok to force 139 filibusters in a single Congress!

That’s why was I so struck by Greenwald’s “breaking” story about Snowden. I’ve long followed Glenn and his work, admiring his tenacity and pure passion for the truth. I went back and read much of his reporting for salon.com. And while I agree with many things Glenn has espoused over the years, what troubles me most now is his extremism against the art of compromise. He wrote on December 14, 2010: “What’s most striking about all of this, as usual, is how the worst and most tyrannical government actions in Washington are equally supported on a fully bipartisan basis.” Those 28 words are simply anathema to everything I learned in the Senate.

Now I want you to take a small test with me.

Take away Greenwald’s voice in the above quote and substitute Senator Ted Cruz (TX) or that of Michelle Malkin or maybe even Rush Limbaugh. Is there any difference? Isn’t his extremism the same as theirs? In the end, both sides know in their hearts they’re always right. Greenwald once said “I think the only means of true political change will come from people working outside of that [two-party electoral] system to undermine it, and subvert it, and weaken it, and destroy it; not try to work within it to change it.” (International Socialist July 7, 2011). Key words here: undermine, subvert, weaken, and destroy.

Last time I checked, those aren’t very liberal-sounding words. In fact, those aren’t actually very American words are they?TedCruz

I know I’ll catch a basket of hell from lefties out there who think I’m comparing apples and oranges. Democrats think Republicans are evil and vice versa. The problem with that is neither is inherently true. Are there bad Republicans? You can bet your ass there are and frankly there are bad Democrats. But it seems it’s just way too easy to demonize political or religious types, to cookie cut them and put them in labeled boxes like they’re some sort of weekend project for OCD types.

Our political system is in bad shape and it needs more than a tune up. In fact, I’d suggest it needs more than just new tires and a polish. America’s politics needs it’s engine rebuilt.

There isn’t a single silver bullet to fix our current political environment. I’ve advocated in the past that we should ban money in politics and remove cameras from the House and Senate Chambers (sorry C-Span!) and I stand by that. Members too often play to the cameras and then sell their souls at fundraisers while we stand around and scratch our heads at their disfunction.  Maybe if we forced politicians from both sides of the aisle to not just work together but to live, eat, sleep, and play together we’d see more results.  You know, kind of like, children. Fifty years ago, we had conservatives and liberals and they all lived in Washington, DC with their families and they went to cocktail and dinner parties together. They fought it out during the day and at night, they got to know each other and made deals. And Congress’ approval rating never hit 10% approval.

It’s not lost on me I’ll be attacked for being a “former lobbyist,” for favoring back room deals, for harking for a time past. I have very thick skin and thankfully, the First Amendment is remarkably clear about the role of redressing our government aka lobbying. That’s a diversion though. Attacking the attacker isn’t an answer to the charge. But pointing out what’s wrong with extremist voices on both sides of the political aisle seems rational if not underrated.

The late David Foster Wallace once noted that writing’s first obligation is to address what it is to be a human. It’s that ability to understand your fellow human beings, to understand their point of view that would lead to human solutions for human problems. Applied to Washington, DC, the ability to compromise, of giving and getting, is what’s lost in Washington today.

Sadly, there’s little tactical difference between a Ted Cruz or a Glenn Greenwald. And if we as a society accept and allow this kind of governing, then let’s take Greenwald and Cruz’s advice and destroy our two-party political government. You know, it’s the one we’ve had since 1789 and it’s worked remarkably well…until now.

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What Went Wrong in South Carolina?

Just imagine a lovely spring day, it’s 72 degrees, zero humidity, and a warm sun is shining down on you in Charleston, S.C. Instead of tooling around in the golf cart with the dogs in tow, I’m covering what I’m calling the “southern clown show,” a.k.a a special Congressional election down here in the Palmetto state, filled with scandal, comedy, and marital infidelity.

Since Republican Governor Nikki Haley appointed Republican Rep. Tim Scott to fill former Senator Jim DeMint’s open Senate seat, we’ve been abuzz down here on who was going to replace Scott. Enter the clown on stage right: former Republican Governor Mark Sanford. As if that’s not enough, enter stage left the older sister of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert: Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. These two candidates have thrown it all at each other these last few months. And the press, well we’ve been simply transfixed.

NOTE: This column was originally posted at msnbc.com on May 8, 2013.

So what happened Tuesday in this race where Rep.-Elect Sanford won with 54% of the vote?

I have said over and over again that women rule the world. Women decide every election, including this one, and the First District down here in the low country of South Carolina is filled with women of every size, shape, stripe, and color known to man. These are women who empathize with Mark Sanford’s ex-wife Jenny. She’s strong, has great business and political instincts, and is hyper-protective of her family.

But here’s the rub: I said on Tuesday’s The Cycle that South Carolina is “a state filled with sinners that love redemption,” which explains how Sanford won with such a margin.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch in theory could have won this race. But the reason Sanford prevailed is due to a couple of factors. First and foremost, the First District is overwhelmingly Republican. It’s so GOP that even 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney won this district by 18 points. Any Republican, every Republican, should win this place in a cakewalk. And last night, Sanford clearly convinced enough of his base that he was sorry for what he did to his family and his constituents to be returned to office.

I’ll be honest in that I thought enough women would defect to Colbert Busch to win. But then reality hit at dinner last night with friends. An elegant Charleston woman stopped by our table to say hi and asked in her Southern drawl “Anybody know who won?” When we told her Sanford had, she said “Oh thank Gawd! I just can’t imagine a Democrat representing me with that evil Nancy Pelosi.”

That’s when the Tea Party element of our fine meal showed up and reared its ugly head. While most people under thirty voted with Colbert Busch, the older generations have such a deep hatred for all things Washington, D.C.  that they held their noses and voted for a deadbeat-dad, philandering, womanizing, lying cheat. This Tea Party fringe element of the Republican party is as pervasive as ever before.

So here’s the key: Charleston and the South Carolina Low Country are hotbeds for rebels. The Civil War literally started right here in our harbor. So we have a long and storied history of rebelling against government intrusion and overreach. What was deemed as a close race all day came out to be a big win for Sanford, an act of redemption. In the end, though, this race doesn’t signify much. Yes, the “comeback kid” won in a Republican district but he is number 435 in the House of Representatives, literally in the back of the House. He was a thorn in the side of his party back when he represented much of the First District in the 1990′s and he has pledged to be just as prickly up in Washington. And they own Mark Sanford now, bruised, battered and victorious.

As for Colbert Busch, she raised a ton of money and proved she can run a race in a GOP district competitively. The million dollar question now is, can Elizabeth Colbert Busch run statewide in a state that is beginning to show certain shades of purple and light blue? That remains to be seen but hey, I’ve always been drawn to strong Southern women and South Carolina has a very famous one now.

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Racial Entitlements & the Supreme Court

NOTE: this column was originally published at MSNBC.COM on March 2, 2013.

Back on November 8, 2012 I wrote this column about President Obama’s legacy after securing a second term. It seems I grossly underestimated myself, especially in light of this week’s oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder.

341-10-WH65Shelby is the latest case the court will use to determine the viability of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. The VRA was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson after the nation saw the ugliness of the Southern states during one of our nation’s worst periods of social unrest. The law erased discriminatory barriers to voting, specifically for black Americans, and forced many Southern states to pre-clear any changes to the way they administered elections and the ability to vote. Since 1975, the Congress has expanded the reach of the VRA to other minority groups, including Hispanic Americans. In 2006, the Senate unanimously voted to reauthorize the VRA and the House voted overwhelmingly the same. In recent years, various conservative Justices have questioned the constitutionality of the VRA but have never gone so far as to strike the law of the land down in part or in whole.

The life of the Voting Rights Act may be short, for all of that changed this past week when the far-right’s favorite Justice, Antonin Scalia, uttered something remarkable from the bench when he called the Voting Rights Act “a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Yep, he went there. He went there in a very Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh kind of way. He went where no Justice in my lifetime has gone. He went where I expect political conservatives to play, to the sandbox of the Rand Pauls and Steve Kings of our political world. He went where I’ve never heard a Supreme Court Justice blatantly go: into the politics of race.

I am a son of the South, grew up in South Carolina, a state where my family has lived since the 17th century. I’m proud of “my people” but I’m not proud of our past or current racism whether it be overt or blatant. I was graduated from the Citadel, a military college in Charleston, SC, in 1989, the same college that was founded to “put down” a slave rebellion in 1842 and the same college that fired the first shots of our nation’s Civil War in January 1861. I firmly believe my home state has come a long way from 1861, from 1961 but even today, the Confederate flag flies prominently in front of the state capitol in Columbia. Racism, my friends, isn’t gone. There’s simply less of it but the immoral cancer still lives in the body of our nation.

Justice Scalia’s comments from the bench of “racial entitlement” were code to white Americans. Let’s be clear: he sent a strong message to the entire nation that the Voting Rights Act isn’t constitutional because it gave black America an entitlement that’s found no where in his view of our Constitution. This interpretation of our Constitution should scare every American regardless of political party. Scalia Image

The court has had a long history of oxygen masks, walking canes, and hearing aids. Justice William O. Douglas served on the court for nearly 37 years, retiring in 1975 after suffering a debilitating stroke nearly a year prior which left him both wheelchair bound and mostly incapable of participating in the Court’s proceedings. It wasn’t until his close friend, former Justice Abe Fortas, stepped in that he retired and even then he tried to remain active within the court, much to his former colleagues’ collective chagrin. There are myriad other examples of this but you get the point: these Justices will stick around, even after disease and mortality have rendered their minds and bodies weak. Justice Scalia might be 76 years old, but he’s is one tough bird.

To date, President Obama has appointed two to the high court: Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan. The court currently has four Justices over the age of 70: Justice Scalia is 76, Justice Kennedy is also 76, Justice Breyer is 74, and Justice Ginsburg is 79. The latter has indicated she won’t step down until she matches former Justice Brandeis’ tenure, putting her retirement in 2015. A little known fact: the last 10 justices to retire had an average age of 80. So yeah, the above are all knock-knock-knockin’ on the court’s door.

It’s possible President Obama could appoint up to four new justices before he leaves office in January 2017. While the court is tilted slightly to the right at this point, a Scalia retirement coupled with a Kennedy retirement could turn the court solidly left, leaving Justices Thomas, Alito, and Roberts as the sole conservatives left. Of all the legislation to be passed in the coming four years, nothing and I repeat nothing is more important than Obama’s future appointments to the Supreme Court. Elections matter–they have consequences. In the coming months, the Supreme Court may destroy the Voting Rights Act and with it, a barrier to racial discrimination this country still needs.

And if that happens, his future appointments to the high court will matter to every American: black, white, male, female, gay, straight, Latino, etc. If you don’t believe me, just listen to Justice Scalia’s words again and again and again: “racial entitlement.” This jurist thinks the right to vote is racial entitlement and I’ve never looked so dimly on the future of our country than I did when he uttered those words in 2013.

Posted on by jimmy in Equal Rights, Presidential Comments Off on Racial Entitlements & the Supreme Court

Obama’s Judicial Legacy

NOTE: this column was originally published at MSNBC.COM on 11/08/12.

President Barack Obama handily won reelection Tuesday and will now have to tackle a number of legislative issues over the next four years. While any president’s legislative record is certainly a centerpiece of his legacy, I’d make the case his appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court matter more than anything else.

In the modern era (post-1900), few presidents have been able to make their judicial mark on the country via court appointments more than President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He appointed nine justices, several of whom stand even today as pantheons of the judiciary branch. Take for example Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas. Black sat on the bench from 1937-1971 while Douglas outlasted his friend by several more years until his death in 1975. It’s safe to say no two justices had more influence on America’s collective civil liberties than these two men.

Douglas wrote the prevailing opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut while Black wrote the dissent.Griswold established the oft-debated right to “privacy” that still touches nearly every aspect of our lives today, even in the 21st Century.

President Eisenhower appointed California’s Republican Gov. Earl Warren, who turned out to be the greatest advocate of liberal opinions in the court’s long history. President Lyndon Johnson nominated the nation’s first black justice, Thurgood Marshall, while President Richard Nixon appointed two polar opposites: the conservative Warren Burger and progressive Harry Blackmun. This list goes on and on but the point is clear: long after a president leaves office his Supreme Court justices influence and dictate how we live as a society, and more importantly, keep in check the legislative branch.

In President Obama’s first term, he appointed two women to the high court: Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan. In a second term he may now have the opportunity to sit back and wait for the retirement of 76-year-old Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative. Most court watchers also expect the cagey Justice Anthony Kennedy, also 76, to retire in the next four years. If so, Obama will have the opportunity to turn a 5-4 conservative majority into a 5-4 liberal to moderate majority.

Not since the 1960s has the high court had before it as many civil liberty cases as it does today. The court will rule by June 2013 on gay marriage equality, affirmative action, voting rights, and personhood/abortion. These decisions impact millions of Americans’ everyday lives, their privacy, and their right to be “left alone.”

Under the current court, it’s quite possible for further state restrictions on Roe v. Wade to be handed down and for race to be inadmissible for college qualification. Just this week, four states passed ballot measures affirming marriage equality for gays and lesbians, all of which could be overturned by one opinion coming from the Roberts Court. This is troubling on many levels but even more so now that President Obama and his agenda has been narrowly approved by his re-election.

His winning of a second term provides African-Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and women a collective, and badly-needed, sigh of relief from what would otherwise be a hostile court filled with aging conservatives chomping at the bit to overturn seminal cases like Roe v. Wade, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Lawrence v. Texas. While we have no way of knowing how the court will rule on these important social issues, a retiring justice would make that relief palpable in the very near term.

Obviously elections have consequences. Yet, not in my lifetime have I seen our society’s ability to live privately and without prejudice so endangered by the court than today. This isn’t something a majority of voters would likely stand for so watch for intense battles in the U.S. Senate over any possible court nominees. It will be a fight worth watching.

Posted on by jimmy in Presidential Comments Off on Obama’s Judicial Legacy