Congress

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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Is Gov. Romney Responsible for a Woman’s Death?

We’re clearly only a few months away from a presidential election, the latest indicator being the onslaught of negative advertisements coming from each presidential camp. By most accounts, it’s just getting nastier and nastier by the hour. Both sides of the aisle have dirt under their fingernails and the latest ad comes from my friends on the Democratic side of the aisle.

While this ad isn’t surprising, it troubles me.  The message here is that Mitt Romney’s actions at Bain Capital were responsible for a woman’s death from cancer. Nothing is farther from the truth and even the White House/Obama campaign have distanced themselves from it. David Axelrod on Morning Joe was clear: “no one should or could blame Governor Romney for the death of that guy’s wife.” To be clear, this ad ran only on Youtube and aired once I believe on TV before it was pulled down.

Both campaigns and/or their surrogates are spewing false ads on TV, radio, in print, etc. False ads aren’t some sort of new political invention. It just seems to me that the brazenness employed by both sides of the aisle is getting out of hand this cycle. Take for example the TV ad the Romney campaign is running, claiming President Obama cut $716 Billion from Medicare. While it is true he used part of those cuts to pay for “Obamacare,” he also uses part of those savings taken directly from medical providers, NOT Medicare recipients, to pay for preventative care. At no point does Obama cut Medicare benefits. What’s worse is  the Romney campaign leaves out that the Ryan budget did EXACTLY THE SAME THING. The hypocrisy is beyond belief.

Bottom line: both ads are pure unadulterated lies. I suppose it might be a tad bit naive to think that you just can’t lie on tv like that. But yes, that would take naivety to a whole new level, something I’m not prepared to do. Nor should I, for that matter, since I’m a part of the media now.

I’ve said time and time again on tv that what the American people crave right now, what they’re thirsty for, is authenticity, for someone to just tell them the truth. One of the reasons the Obama campaign from 2008 inspired so many people was because of his positive message of hope and change. I supported  President Obama then and support him now but he and his staff were naive to think they could “change” Washington, DC in four short years. I’m reminded of President Carter’s same promise. He, too, failed miserably. And so the GOP talking point, or better yet laughing point, today is “keep the change.”

What I don’t want nor do I expect for the President’s campaign or its surrogates is to engage in the same dirty tricks as the other side of the aisle. Do I expect them to fight back, to counterattack? Of course! Sen. John Kerry’s people will tell you to this day that taking the high road in 2004 instead of attacking the Swift Boat ads was a mistake and probably cost them the election.

It’s one thing to counterattack. It’s another thing to smear the other side with lies. Burton and companies advertisement is dirty and it’s wrong. It is, in a word, a lie. I for one don’t believe there’s nothing the Obama campaign can do to stop these types of things. And I suppose there’s a difference between a campaign lying (like Romney is doing) versus a Super Pac lying (like Burton’s group is doing). In the end though, both stink to high heaven. It’s no wonder tv-watching America can find their “Mute” button without even batting an eye.

 

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Washington Makes a Deal: a Bad Deal

Yesterday, House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid announced that they had reached a six-month, short term agreement that would avert a government shutdown on October 1, 2012.  At first glance, it seems we finally have some good news coming from Washington, DC.  But if you look at this deal more closely, Congress has done nothing more than kick the can down the road.

Congress’ job is to pass legislation for the good of the country and keep the government open at spending levels the nation can afford.  Sadly, they have failed to do both.  Blame can be attributed to both political parties but the so-called “Tea Party” and the recession have made this normal routine of passing spending bills almost impossible.  Partisanship has reached unprecedented levels in the last three and a half years and for proof look no farther than the record number of filibusters by the Senate’s GOP in this Congress.  Never before in American history have we seen more legislation filibustered than we see today.

So while we may think the agreement reached by the leaders of both Chambers is a good thing, the reality is Congress is shirking its responsibilities at a time when the American people and American businesses both want and expect them do their jobs.  These spending bills touch almost every aspect of American society: our defense, our diplomacy abroad, our healthcare system, our schools and our hospitals.  That’s what is in these spending bills and that’s where our tax payer dollars go.

 You may recall last summer House Republicans took the nation to the brink of disaster by demanding draconian cuts and a possible default on our national debt. This disaster was averted at the very last minute when both houses of Congress and President Obama agreed to reduce the national debt by putting in place what is known as sequestration.  Those cuts will take effect at the beginning of 2013.  In addition, the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 will all expire on December 31, 2012.  So while most Americans don’t have a clue what their tax rates will be in five months, Congress has decided to put itself on autopilot for the next six months. No profiles in courage here.

While this is a smart political bill, the only people that this agreement helps are those who work under the Capitol dome.  I suppose getting any kind of agreement is good news these days but it seems as if we have to swallow yet another bitter pill coming from Washington, DC.

Note: this column was originally published on MSNBC’s Lean Forward blog.

Posted on by jimmy in Congress, House, Senate Comments Off on Washington Makes a Deal: a Bad Deal

Spending vs. Taxes: Can We Have a Real Debate?

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore put forth an interesting yet one-sided argument about federal spending under former President George W. Bush and the current White House occupant: “Obama’s Real Spending Record.” Their op-ed comes on the same day Bruce Bartlett penned a piece for the New York Times entitled: “The Fiscal Legacy of George W. Bush.” The Laffer/Moore supposition is that both Bush and Obama “resulted in an orgy of spending” and that “tea party Republicans who took office after the 2010 elections have completely altered” the spending landscape. Mr. Bartlett agrees with Messrs. Laffer and Moore that responsibility for ballooning deficit spending must clawback to the Bush 41 administration as well.

Laffer, Moore, and Bartlett are all Republicans. And while they all give blame to the last two administrations, their similarities dissolve when we turn to the issue of taxes instead of spending.

Time and time again in the Laffer/Moore op-ed, the authors insist that raising taxes now would imperil our already-weakened economy and send us into a deeper recession (despite having had 27 straight months of growth). They use as examples the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill and former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tax increases in 1936 as reasons the Great Depression lasted longer than it should have. Perhaps but I’d prefer to look at a more time-relevant economic model that may shed some light on how today’s economy functions instead of an economy of almost 100 years ago.

What Laffer and Moore leave out is that former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton ALL raised taxes and put our economy on three separate tracks that merged into a single track of prosperity. Yes, Reagan signed into law several major tax reductions but he also signed into law tax increases eleven times! By many accounts, Bush Sr. lost his re-election bid in 1992 because he went back on his promise to never raise taxes yet that single act helped set the stage for Clinton’s economic prosperity!

It’s normal within the Beltway that surrounds Washington, DC to only get half the story. And that’s why it was so important for Bartlett’s piece to go to press the same day as the Laffer/Moore piece. So let’s compare Laffer/Moore to Mr. Bartlett, a conservative who worked for both Reagan and Bush Sr. One could call him a “reformed” supply-sider economist. As he states in his column, the 1990 and 1993 budget votes that increased taxes and put “Paygo” spending rules into effect are responsible for the proceeding years’ balanced federal budgets. Couple those tax increases with a slower rate of government growth (than the Bush Jr. years) and what did we get? Massive job creation, balanced federal budgets, and an electorate that liked that type of economic prosperity.

Fast forward to the period between 2001 and 2008 (Bush Jr. presidency) where we had the slowest job growth in this country in almost 50 years. This in light of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts? This in light of spending by a GOP-controlled House (until 2007), a GOP-controlled Senate (until 2007), and a GOP-controlled White House? IF tax cuts always create jobs, then I’m forced to ask this very simple question: WHERE THE HELL DID THOSE JOBS GO DURING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION? When Bush left office, we were hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs a month. I’m sorry but that is not an economic policy that works.

These are facts. They cannot be disputed. They CAN be left out of columns by conservatives but they won’t be left out of columns I write.

We cannot just cut our way back to economic prosperity. Likewise, we cannot just tax our way back to an economic surplus. It must be BOTH targeted tax increases and spending decreases to put us back in the driver’s seat of the world economy. I would argue forcefully that we should take the best parts of the Laffer/Moore/Bartlett models and use the smart parts to get us to a place where GDP grows, where consumers spend wisely, where federal and state governments grow smartly, and where we can see the light coming from an economic horizon again.

I’ve never forgotten that oft-forgotten quote from then-Speaker Newt Gingrich when he spoke of out of control government spending and specifically Medicare:

OK, what do you think the Health Care Financing Administration is? It’s a centralized command bureaucracy. It’s everything we’re telling Boris Yeltsin to get rid of. Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart, and we don’t think that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it—voluntarily.

Don’t be fooled. What the Arthur Laffer’s and Stephen Moore’s of the world want is to starve government, to watch the entire federal system wither on the vine. They’ve made their views on a radically smaller federal government well-known over the years, Mr. Moore more so when he was the founder and president of the conservative Club for Growth. Before that stint, Moore was the chief architect of the highly-regressive “flat tax” when he worked for then-Rep. Dick Armey (TX). Armey is now known for being the money man behind the tea party movement and was a Gingrich lieutenant after the 1994 GOP takeover of the House of Representatives.

Partisans on both the left and the right will decry this column and I’m not offended by that. But as a student of Washington, DC with a penchant for history, I am of the mindset that we take the good parts of the past, recreate them to fit today’s economy, all the while innovating and thinking outside the box.

After all, that’s how this neat little country was founded 236 years ago and maybe it’s not such a bad thing to remind ourselves of that more often than not.

Posted on by jimmy in House, Presidential, Senate 2 Comments

What the Hell is Wrong with the Republican Party?

I love when someone criticizes a group of people or a segment of the population but then adds that caveat “Oh, and I have a lot of  (                    )  friends.” This brings me to something I’ve been debating in my head for a while: what the hell is wrong with the Republican party? And let me be clear, I have a lot of Republican friends!

Now that’s a sort of generically-boring statement because you can just take out “Republican” and insert any other group: black, gay, jewish, christian, democrats, whatever. Having been an english major in undergrad, I’m hot for adjectives. Adjectives, by their very nature, help us. They help us see something, smell it, taste it. They help us understand better. Being a son of the south, I come from a long line of habitual adjective junkies and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Republican” as an adjective seems to be in transformation. Understanding what it means to be a Republican in today’s America has gotten tricky. In fact, I don’t know of a single Republican today who will tell me their party isn’t in crisis.

Back in November 2011, former Bush White House speechwriter David Frum wrote a very interesting piece in New York magazine that was one hell of an eye-opener. He’s of the opinion that his party is heading in the wrong direction, that his party is re-defining the meaning of real conservatism.

Frum is no “RINO” aka “republican in name only.” This is the guy who came up with the term “axis of evil.” He considers himself a “conservative Republican” and has written more than a few books about his political party, many to great acclaim and some to great scorn.

So what’s Frum’s problem with his own party? By his own admission, he helped “make the mess.” It seems fair to me for his fellow conservatives to ask him where and why he’s gone astray but I also think that’s a two-way street. If questions from within can’t be asked, questions from the outside are the only voices shouting in an echo chamber. Martin Luther’s affection for hammer, nail, parchment and the subsequent questioning of his own church began the Protestant Reformation. So questioning our very own isn’t radical. Instead it’s the questioning in real time that seems to be the problem.

From Frum’s perspective, what’s wrong with his party is “the drying up of the conservative creativity.” He posits that Republicans have to show a better way, an alternative way to that of President Barack Obama and frankly of his former boss President George W. Bush.

Being “against” instead of “for” the other side is largely an apt description for both political parties today. Whether this is a perception issue or reality issue doesn’t matter. What matters is what the public thinks. What matter is what they see and how they feel about the political parties. Gone are the days of getting our news from the late Walter Cronkite and, most importantly, trusting the news. The country has always had a healthy dose of political skepticism. Today’s 24-hour new cycle (of which I’m admittedly a part) in many ways is responsible for this chasm between what’s reality and what’s perceived to be reality. We are inundated with so much from so many places, it’s hard to cut through the bullshit of it all.

Frum devotes a major portion of his November reflection on the GOP to Fox News and talk radio. He states “The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a ferver of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel).” Mind you this is a thoughtful conservative accusing Fox News and the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world of brainwashing the masses. While Frum doesn’t accuse the Democrats of such brainwashing, I readily admit my side of the aisle engages here as well.

Frum, who advocated for his party to reach a deal with the Obama White House and the Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, was fired from the American Enterprise Institute and castigated by the far right for suggesting something heretical: compromise. I’m reminded of the 60 Minutes interview with the incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH) who refused to even utter that dirtiest of dirty words “compromise” when asked by Leslie Stahl over and over again. In fact, he even went so far as to say “I reject the word.”

Speaker Boehner is a good man in my opinion. He’s “old school;” he gets the art of the deal. He worked hand-in-hand with the late liberal stalwart Senator Ted Kennedy (MA) to pass the No Child Left Behind legislation. Today, he’s the top Republican in the country but he’s being held hostage by the far right wing of his party. It’s no wonder he and his party refuse to simply “compromise?” And it’s no wonder David Frum is an outsider in his own political party.

I wonder what late Senator Barry Goldwater if he were alive would think of his political party today. By all accounts, Goldwater led a nascent conservative movement into the modern era and set up the mantle for the likes of Ronald Reagan and others to carry forward into a conservative’s virtual Glory Days. This was the Republican candidate for President who said “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Sounds to me like a current Tea Party movement soundbite doesn’t it?

In his latter years though, Goldwater castigated his party for their stance on issues ranging from equal rights for gays to the separation of church and state. In his final term in the Senate, he took to the Floor on September 15, 1981 to discuss the issues of religion, conservatism, and the Republican party (Congressional Record, 127.15, 1981, pp.20589f). I’m intrigued by something Senator Goldwater said:

I, too, believe that we Americans should return to our traditional values concerning morality, family closeness, self-reliance, and a day’s work for a day’s pay. These are the values our forebears clung to as they built this Nation into the citadel of freedom it is today. And I, too, have been pleased with the swing of the pendulum for in recent years to the conservative, moral end of the spectrum. But I object to certain groups on that pendulum and then claiming that they caused it t0 swing in the first place. And I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D…” And I’m more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-given right to control my vote on every rollcall in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.

In his later years, Goldwater famously took the substance of his Floor speech a step further and became a surprising advocate of equal rights for the LGBT community and even went so far as to say abortion shouldn’t be a political football. This leads me back to Mr. Frum.

To close his article, Frum notes “…a great political party is worth fighting for.” He’s right, literally. Goldwater felt the same way by continuing to speak out  after he left the Senate from retirement back in Arizona. Of late we’ve heard former Senator Alan Simpson (WY), who wasn’t considered a moderate in when he was the Republican Whip, on the overreach by the right-wing of the his party. Former Senator John Danforth (MO) has chimed in as well. 

But the juncture at which Frum and Goldwater’s paths cross is the point they begin walking together in search for something bigger. It’s this issue of allowing their party to be hijacked by extremists that unites the living and the dead. My friends on the American right can learn something from their counterparts across the “pond:” British conservatives. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has been quoted favoring equal gay marriage rights.  The Prime Minister eloquently said “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.” This is groundbreaking. The idea of supporting stable marriages between two consenting adults versus being told as a group your assimilation isn’t wanted is stark.

One of the major reasons I switched from being a Republican to a Democrat in 1992 was the issue of equal rights for gays. Since then my politics have obviously evolved into a much larger vision about which political party aligns with me. I’ve spent nearly 20 years in Washington, DC with 15 of those years working directly in politics. My nearly seven years as a Senate staffer were filled with low pay, immense power, and an insatiable soaking-up of policy. After another seven plus years as a lobbyist for just about every industry under the sun, I got the other side of the DC equation: politics.  With education comes knowledge right? And much to the chagrin of my friends on the Left, the Democratic Party has lost its way in many ways too (that’s another column for another day).

I’ve said before and I continue to believe the best kind of government is the one that leaves us alone when we need to be left alone and lifts us up when we need a helping hand. Like the tall case clock that sits in my living room, that government pendulum swings back and forth between the leaving alone and the helping hand. Unlike my clock, sometimes the pendulum of government gets out of whack by over reaching or under reaching and that’s why we have elections.

This November, voters will walk into the polls, pull that curtain, and take a gut check. For some, they will go through the same gut check I went through 20 years ago when I reluctantly switched from the Republican to the Democratic party. If the polls are any indication for the fall, the Republican party could be in for a massive wakeup call. If you don’t believe me, just ask Republicans like Frum, Danforth, and Simpson. I bet you’d hear the ghostly echo of Goldwater from the Senate Chamber of yesteryear when the GOP was the most popular political party in America.

Posted on by jimmy in Congress, Equal Rights, Presidential, Senate 1 Comment

Religious Freedom For All?

I have said on MSNBC, Twitter, and Facebook numerous times that we seem to be in a political environment where men have a surging desire to tell women what to do (or not to do) with their bodies. Many of my friends on the GOP side of the aisle  and frankly some on the left have pushed back, claiming this current debate to be about religious freedom only.

I have an inherent faith in people, including people of faith, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, or none-of-the-above. When someone tells me something, I start from a place where they’re telling me the truth unless I have a reason to believe otherwise. Perhaps this faith in “man” stems from my undergraduate days at The Citadel where we were bound by an honor code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal,  nor tolerate those who do.”

Over the course of my weekend reading and researching for this column, I ran across a piece by The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein concerning the number of legislative actions restricting a woman’s right to choose currently pending in those neat little laboratories called the 50 state legislatures. This led me to the Guttmacher Institute’s website, where I found a ton of information on the proliferation of “religious freedom”  legislation pending all across America, including in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

You might imagine how surprised I was to learn that there are currently pending 430 bills in our state legislatures restricting abortion. According to the staff at Guttmacher, roughly 83 of these kinds of bills were signed into law in 2011. Now compare that number to November 2010, prior to the GOP taking over a majority of the state legislatures when only 23 bills were signed into law. This is troubling not because I have strong opinions about abortion but because I’m being lied to and that, my friends, really hacks me off.

If these debates in the states are supposed to be about religious freedom, exactly whose religious freedom are we protecting?

America is by and large a Judeo-Christian nation. We are made up of believers in a higher power and of non-believers as well. I happen to be a believer, an Episcopalian, and my religion is perhaps the most private aspect of my personal life. I, like many other Americans, am a member of a church that is in the mainstream of our culture on the issue of abortion and choice. And while we’re at it, I don’t know what pro-life is vs. pro-death but I think if I had my druthers I’d rather just be pro-woman. That’s another column for another day though.

The Episcopal Churchthe Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church all play this issue right down the middle, where most Americans actually find themselves. Combined, these churches account for over 13,000,000 communicants. Obviously there are millions more Protestants than these three churches but I single them out because these are mainstream faiths which have existed since the founding of our country. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, maintains a population of around 65,000,000. Without a doubt, there are more Catholics in the USA than any other religion.

This begs the following questions: A) Should the majority church determine religious legislation? B) Should the minority’s stance on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, interracial marriage or any other social issue be ignored under the guise of “religious freedom?” and C) Should any government big or small be involved with our bodies (remember Terry Schiavo)?

What about America’s Jewish population? I don’t seem to recall anyone in the 50 state legislatures standing up for the religious freedom of their Jewish constituents. According to halacha (Jewish law), as a general rule abortion should only be allowed if the life of the mother is in danger. Once the baby’s head has exited the womb and has taken its first breath, only then does the child have the same rights as the mother. Again, I must ask the question: which if any of these state legislatures are taking their Jewish constituents’ religious freedoms into account when they pass these laws?

If our governments (either state and federal) want to protect religious freedom, shouldn’t they be protecting that right and privilege for ALL Americans by staying out of our homes and our doctors’ offices? Many of us are familiar with the tyranny of the majority. My fellow South Carolinian, former Vice President and Senator John C. Calhoun, spoke repeatedly about what is known as the “concurrent majority” i.e. the states passing laws when they feel their rights have been infringed upon by the Federal government. I believe strongly in states’ rights but not at the expense of civil rights. Jim Crow laws and bans on interracial marriage stemmed from this theory and I’d love to hear someone defend those types of laws today.

I have developed what I like to call the “pajama test.” If you’re in a room where PJ’s are required or worn, the big hand of government should rarely be your guest. We have the right to be left alone in our homes and in our doctors’ offices. Justice, my friends, is blind. She wears the blindfold for a reason and I don’t think she wants to see our pajamas.

Legislation being passed across this country isn’t about religious freedom for everyone. It’s about religious freedom for some. Once again we as a nation find ourselves at the same crossroad of personal liberty and equal rights and once again, it’s an election year. And I really wish our politicians would stop lying to us about their intent and stop hiding behind a governmental pulpit. It just seems so, well, dishonorable.

Posted on by jimmy in Congress, Equal Rights, House, Presidential, Senate 3 Comments