Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Candidate uses head as battering ram

   "I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance." — Socrates

    At his next U.S. Senate debate, should Craig James pledge to Socrates' humble oath, I'll change my opinion of him. 

    At the expectation that, should James read this and rush to his Bible, I've beaten him to it, and to 1 Peter: 

    "Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance."

    At a debate of Republican challengers to represent Texas in Kay Bailey Hutchison's soon-to-be-vacated seat, James, former SMU and NFL ball carrier, longtime ESPN talking head, denounced fellow Republican candidate and former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert for participating in a gay rights parade.

     You'll see no such display from Craig James. At the debate, he called homosexuality "a choice," and said that gays and lesbians "are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions."

    Say this for James: While too many of his peers suffer now from too many head injuries, his calculating political brain has not calcified. He is absolutely certain to get votes for this — from absolutely certain voters who'd never be swayed by anything approximating evidence of what they speak.

    This is not a discourse about what makes a gay person gay.

    I don't know what does that. Nor does James.

    This is what Socrates was talking about: admitting you know nothing, yea though you talk a good game. Understandably, the Greek empire knew best to nip that kind of talk.

    My take on gay people, I acknowledge, is pretty simplistic and unresearched — unlike the caverns of data-collated certitude James clearly has tapped.

    Results of my unscientific study: Basically, all the gay people I've known have been just like all the other people I've known with the exception of sexual orientation.

    That means a whole lot of them are the best people I've known, and I do so hope to know many more, because the results of my research thus far have been encouraging.

     Gay marriage? In these days of splintered homes and general alienation, it's odd that anyone would have to make the case for monogamy and commitment on any basis, even if, as Rick Santorum worries, it involves a dude and a boa constrictor. May they live happily entwined, I say.

    As actress Anne Hathaway ruminates on the increasingly successful state-by-state push for same-sex marriage: "Love is an emotional experience, not a political statement."

    Of course, politics is an emotional experience as well, and that means playing to one group's passions to marginalize other groups, whether they be the poor, the dark-skinned, the Mexican, the Muslim, the single woman making an excruciating decision, the fill-in-the-blank.

    Agreeing with Socrates about what it is that we can't know, most of what's contained in Craig James' Bible would imply hardship before one's maker if one sought to make whole swaths of humanity feel horrible for what they are.

     It's remarkable to think that one could benefit politically from saying things of which one has no knowledge, particularly if they are fiction. Then again, I don't know. James could be right. Most people who gain their bearings between the tackles are right on most things.

    As a football hero and a talking head, James knows he has a leg up on many opponents who would suffer from their lack of field vision.

    Ex-Mayor Leppert, for instance, was trapped in his office making buses run and trying to keep police and minorities happy. Similarly, in appearing at a gay rights parade, he was trying to represent a city of diversity in ways he thought wise.

     What a strategic error. Was he not using his head?

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More godly? Two can play that game

    Rick Santorum has laid down the challenge. It's time someone took on that challenge.

    About godliness, that is.

    About who's more godly.

    That would be Rick Santorum, he says, in contrast to Barack Obama, who has no coin in said fountain.

     Before discussing the most recent outrageous statement from the sainted ex-senator, a word about tea party adherents, to whom he spoke it. If you recall, the group used to be about the vagaries of spending and governance. Now the tea party is becoming all hymns and communion wafers. It's the "700 Club" with less interesting guests.

     To such a gathering last week, Santorum said Obama is about some "phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology." We're now told that Santorum wasn't challenging the president's faith, except to say maybe that Obama trusts the EPA  before the Lord. Still, the notion of even bringing up in a theology in political campaign, with implications of and what's legitimate and what's not: Wow.

     I'm trying to picture a President Santorum standing at a White House rostrum declaring who it is among his constituency — people who like Obama profess their Christianity — might harbor "phony theology." Surely one who knows can detect this, and surely President Santorum would have his advisers.

     Back before the turn of the century, the Ku Klux Klan had its ideas of pure, authentic Christianity. Americans who were faking it, said the KKK, were those into mixing races and tolerating Jews.

     Back around the same time you could see a theological disagreement between a Catholic and a Baptist settled with gunfire on a dusty western street. Good old days, they were.

    You might like the idea of a president who calls 'em as he sees 'em, theologywise. It's either called leading by example or dividing by divinity.

    Well, just who is the phony?

    Commentator Juan Cole goes beyond wondering if Santorum is a cardboard Christian. He wonders if Santorum is even Catholic.

   The post, "Top Ten Catholic Teachings Santorum Rejects while Obsessing about Birth Control," on juancole.com, asks as much.

    For starters, the pope opposed the war of preference against Iraq. Santorum? It was roll tanks and pass the ammunition.

     Cole points out the church's opposition to the death penalty, American bishops' support for hiking the minimum wage, and their embrace of the vital nature of labor unions. Don't bring up any of that, Rick, at our next tea party parley.

      Immigration? You'd better just ignore the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, because it has denounced hard-core initiatives like Arizona's SB 1070 and the criminalization of undocumented workers.

     And there's that biblical thing about helping the poor, which we realize carries little scriptural weight when juxtaposed next to the birth control pill and the diaphragm. Regardless, the U.S. bishops seem a little adamant about the government helping needy families. Oh, and they embrace universal health care.

     Santorum calls the painstaking political compromise that was "Obamacare" raving socialism. What exactly would he call what the U.S. bishops would have in mind? Best not say.

      Friday Santorum was giving some sweet, serene lip service to the notion of helping the poor, but expressing the notion that as government gets smaller, Americans must "get bigger" in helping them, and so must churches.

     The Catholic Church has done an enormous amount, here and abroad, to help the poor. To ask that churches pick up that function served by government since the days of the Great Society is to, in sporting parlance, punt away one's Christian responsibility. Don't attribute that assertion to me. That's the bishops talking.

      This cavalcade of inconsistencies on behalf of a typically brazen politician is just another way of saying to candidate Santorum what Christ said to everyone and no one in particular:

     "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them."

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.      

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tea party's poisoned punch

   In sitcoms, it's called "Jumping the Shark." In politics, I'm introducing a term for a political party that loses contact with its essence and forgets its audience.

   It's called "passing the ladle."

   Ladle — as in bearer of a beverage with arsenic sweetener.

   Suddenly, in the presidential nominating process, it appears the Republican Party thirsts for what a certain purple joy juice delivers, and not, say, what getting someone elected does.

     Rick Santorum, this is your moment.

     Polls say your moment could be extended, as increasing numbers of Republicans are having Romney remorse. And Newt Gingrich's bombast is going for naught, and Ron Paul is — not really in the party's discussion.

    This is good for two people: (1) Santorum. (2) The person the Republicans want more than anything to beat.

    For this, the Grand Old Party can give credit for its new life force, the tea party. We call this a new thing, but the tea party really is just proving to be the same old Jerry Falwell-Father Coughlin pulpit-pounding right that has always offered itself as the nation's savior.

   Electable? Pass the purple passion.

   It was fitting that Santorum made his biggest breakthrough on his super Tuesday in the Colorado caucuses, where Romney was presumed to be safest. The fact is, Colorado tea partisans have proved to be quite the pacemakers in telling Republicans with a chance at winning to go take a hike, or enter a monastery, or whatever.

    The GOP had a major opportunity to take Colorado's U.S. Senate seat in 2010, only to give the nomination to tea party favorite Ken Buck instead of established commodity Jane Norton, the former lieutenant governor. Buck, in his bombast and hard-right social stances, scared away many centrists. Democrat Michael Bennet won.

     Now, Santorum is knighted by these same people, the ones with the Kool-Aid mustaches.

     This is the man who wants women to step back from such matters as serving the country in combat, or, well, any function outside of the home. Just read his his denunciations of "radical feminists" — you know, the ones working.

     This is the man who doesn't think insurance should cover contraception, no way, no how. For one thing, he says, it is "only a minor expense." That's true if a woman happens to have $850 a year rattling around, based on estimates more reliable than anything Santorum will acknowledge.

    This is the man who said the right of privacy "does not exist," and that fighting gay marriage is tantamount to the war on terror.

     These are just samples of what Santorum brings to the table. It's not what wins general elections. Caucuses? Yes. Straw polls? Yes. Internet polls? Yes. Fox News analyst roles? Oh, yes.

     Several analysts have observed that the Roger Ailes-Rupert Murdoch spin machine at Fox has been hostile to Romney and has been hoping to have one of its own — Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin — as the one it would build up against Obama. Santorum was one, too, a paid Fox talking head, after getting ousted from the Senate.

     If it's true that Fox was picking horses (perish that thought, as it is strictly "fair and balanced"), it probably hadn't wagered much on Santorum. But now — miracles of miracles — he's the man who isn't Mitt.

     This shows us nothing more about Santorum than it did about Pat Robertson, boosted by the pious right to success at select GOP caucuses in 1988, and Pat Buchanan eight years later. It's also what took Huckabee so far in 2008 and gives Palin her enduring Republican cachet.

    Some people really do thirst for a theocracy, the "Christian nation" America never was. These people have shown they will show up for party meetings and get their way.

    Some observers were thinking the tea party was a new breed, mostly focused on fiscal discipline, rather than, say, on Deuteronomy. Wrong.

    Repackaged of the cloth that brought us the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, it is bound and determined to nominate people who don't represent a nation of diversity that was built on tolerance. These people want a leader who sees said features as America's downfall.

    Which is good for the man they want to beat more than anything.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.             




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mother of all backlashes — from mothers

    Where have they been?

    Where will they be tomorrow?

    Let's hope they are in the political discussion for the long haul, countering the incessant propaganda that has placed their health — mothers' health — under the rolling pin of anti-abortion politics.

     Women who understand the stakes of reproductive health and who support reproductive rights have been quiet far too long.

     But when the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure cut off partner-in-prevention Planned Parenthood, these women spoke.

     At long last.

     They should never let anyone else seize the debate, for it's about them.

     The forces that cheered the funding cutoff, including Mitt Romney, want to believe that this is about abortion. No, it's not, except, oddly, tragically and logically, for the fact that no entity does more to prevent the need for abortion among indigent women than does Planned Parenthood. That's right: prevent abortion, through sound choices.

     And, of course, prevent cancer.

     Jumping on the steed of demagoguery on the Komen matter, the better to be seen by religious-right voters, Republican presidential pretender Rick Santorum parroted right-wing assertions that abortion contributes to breast cancer. Rest assured, his intended audience members weren't experts on the disease. Every major entity involved in the fight against cancer rejects the claim. No matter.

     The fact is, the cyclops force that would  deny women choice has shown at every opportunity that women's health is less than secondary to its concerns.

     Back to the key question. Where have they been —  "they" whose collective rage forced Komen's governing board to reverse its decision?

      In state after state, politicos on the authoritarian right have sought to do the same thing to Planned Parenthood, defund it, regardless of how that would undermine health care for low-income women — ranging from cancer screenings, to birth control, to fertility counseling — yes, women needing help becoming mothers.

     Romney said he supports defunding Planned Parenthood, which is odd. In 2002 he appeared at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser seeking its support, and in a Planned Parenthood questionnaire then he said he supported state-funded abortions.

     But enough about these men talking about matters they cannot ever fully appreciate or understand — like Pap smears and breast lumps. What about the women who do?

     I speak of those who have allowed Republican-controlled legislatures to undermine women's health care on the altar of anti-abortion politics.

      I speak of the women who have watched in general silence (acquiescence?) what The New York Times Magazine called a "war on contraception."

      A Harris Poll found that 90 percent support contraception.

     Hold that. It found that 90 percent of Catholics support contraception.

     Yet Santorum can campaign for president saying that states should have the power to ban it.

     And when asked at a debate on this outrageous notion, Romney can slink away by simply dodging it.

     Today's Republicans apparently are satisfied with doing whatever they can to undermine that function of these women's clinics: birth control.

      Where have the women been? Ah, here they come.

     Bemoaning the pressure brought to bear on Komen, James Taranto writes in the Wall Street Journal online of the "totalitarian feminism" that forced the charity's about-face.

     Sorry, but we've seen nothing of the sort for years. Instead, we've seen red state after red state carve away at women's rights, including their health care, in single-minded — totalitarian? — focus on taking away their reproductive rights.

    We've seen states like Texas impose costly and pointless restrictions — including "informed consent" laws for women seeking abortions, based on specious claims about breast cancer and abortion.

    Face it, Mr. Taranto. For quite some time, politically, it's been no contest.

     Blessedly, the Komen decision has brought concerned women out. We need them long and loud, just like the forces pushing policies that see right through them.

    We need to hear women roar the next time gray-flanneled lawmakers try to do what a pink-hued charity thought was a good idea, for a moment.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.