Barack Obama

Fear and change

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Starting with the secret Muslim socialist Kenyan Birtherism, conservatives have gotten so terrified and so paranoid that I’m afraid they will respond in the most human way imaginable. That they will inevitably resort to hysterical violence. Each of their conspiracies are more crazy than the one before.  At this moment, we have such a huge swath of Texas believing they’re about to be invaded by our own military for some obscure reason. So many believe this so strongly, they’ve convinced their governor and a leading presidential contender/actual senator to treat them seriously. This is after Michelle Bachmann said with a straight face and in all seriousness that Barack Obama will bring about the apocalypse.  These are the same people who pointed weapons at federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch. (Thank god the government stood down.  The Bundy Ranch Massacre would not have made a good headline.) and shortly after those same nutters shot several cops. Somehow I don’t see the Tea Party taking themselves out like Jones Town. I see them needing to exercise their demons using high caliber weapons. If you listen to gun rights advocates, the number one reason they will tell that they need all these guns is to protect themselves from an overreaching government. This is a uniquely American phenomena. No other government on the planet would allow people to stockpile weapons for the express purpose of destroying or resisting the government. But in these uncertain times, this is what is necessary for them to feel safe. And there in lies the key. 

If you look at history we’re in the middle of a transition. For thousands of years men have invented myths and religions to help explain the world and provide a sense of order and direction. And religion is really good at coming up with feel good bullshit about how the world was made and how it works. 

Eventually, sometime around the late Iron Age-early medieval period, government began to compete with religion in what it can tell people to do, and how it made sense of the world.  The clash was long and horribly bloody with no clear winner.  Religion and government more or less agreed to a compromise and thus began The Enlightenment. Since then there have been successive industrial and scientific revolutions that have gradually displaced religion and government from people’s lives. People have more freedom now than ever before. People are healthier and wealthier than at any point in human history and the twin institutions that we’re used to relying on, have proven themselves completely inadequate –if not thoroughly corrupt.  

The problem is science is, by definition, uncertain. In fact, it’s uncertain with a very high degree of precision. The government certainly can’t provide a comforting narrative. I think people beginning to realize there’s no quick fix, no handy ideology for the economy. Terrorism can’t be fixed with a strong military or shadowy police state. Environmental problems now have a global reach and global problems aren’t as simple as locking delegates in the same room in New York’s most architecturally boring building. It means talking to the “bad guys” because ignoring them or blowing them up simply won’t work. Even long standing traditions are under assault because they’re terribly oppressive and that’s no longer acceptable. If you chart the progress of freedom during the last 100 years here has been tremendous growth. But it hasn’t been easy And there are no guarantees. Obama isn’t the first President to promise change. They all do that. But he embodies that change by virtue of his skin color, his personal narrative, and his view of the world.  It’s this combination of racism and generalized anxiety that is causing such an extreme reaction to his relatively banal politics. 

Humanity has yet to embrace this new found power. It’s still looking towards institutions for meaning and direction.  It’s still rejecting that meaning, freedom, and liberty because they don’t have the strength to resurrect them as internal constructs. So many are afraid. This latest conspiracy theory is just a focused outpouring of fear and uncertainty.  Change is hard and we have the duty and obligation of ensuring that change comes to all.  The more we resist change the harder it goes for us. The less control we have. It’s time to seize control of our own emotions, our will, and abandon the need religion and governments to provide meaning and direction.  I don’t expect this to happen.  I fully expect that people will grow old and die clinging to their outdated beliefs.  But where there are children, there is hope.

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The many many mistakes of the Tea Party

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With popularity hovering at around 20% one wonders, what happened to the Tea Party? They stand for smaller government, lower taxes, greater freedom, so how could that be unpopular? Because, in the last four years, the Tea Party has made so many mistakes that if they ever recover as a movement, it will depend on how quickly they can fix them.

The first mistake should have been obvious but I’m constantly amazed how many TPs out there still make this one: Leadership. The TP coalesced around mind numbingly facile characters. These leaders were either, idiotic, insane, or both.  And to be fair, the TP doesn’t really have “leadership” in a hierarchical sense, but they do have a raft of politicians that they tend to send money to, support, vote for, and agitate on behalf of.  And any number of popular TP aligned individuals speaking on conservative friendly news networks.   I’m talking about the litany of borderline crazy TP leaders like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ryan, Cruz, and those are the successful ones. You have the ones that crashed and burned like Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell, Todd “legitimate rape” and “Biology fail” Akin. Not only did some of these people fail, they bumped experienced legislators that could have advanced a TP agenda assuming the TP had one.  If the TP ever wants to be taken seriously as a movement, especially a nonpartisan one, disavow the crazies in the party.  In a fight between two people, pick the noncrazy one.  Even if that person doesn’t necessarily agree with your economic and political goals.

The second mistake is not having a political agenda. This both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength because it allows them to broaden their appeal to everyone.  Without specifics to disagree with, everyone, by default agrees with the TP.  This means you have TPs going around genuinely confused. “How could anyone NOT be for freedom? That’s what we’re all about!” Well, because “freedom” is a rather nebulous concept. To my father, freedom means traveling down the freeway at 120 or faster in a car that can actually do that. For the record, I’m against it and he, thanks to rigorous traffic enforcement (and a governor  on the car), is a generally safe driver.

Part of the problem is that TPs often have no idea what an actual agenda really is and so they spout party platitudes and political slogans such as Smaller Government, more jobs, lower taxes, less spending, and so on and whine about how no one is listening and blaming the media.  This means, for all of the TP agitation, they get nothing done and have sabotaged their own efforts on multiple occasions.  Consider Obamacare.  They’ve spent a year and 40+ symbolic votes trying to kill it.  The country needs to see a single vote on  how TP would replace Obamacare in order to take the TP seriously.  Pick a plan, put into legal language, pass it through committees, vet it through the media, and vote on it, but the Tea Party’s got nothing. Let’s look at a particular Tea Party sentiment.  You want lower taxes? Great! Me too. Which taxes, for whom, and how much lower? Who will benefit and who will lose? What will this cost everyone and what programs are going to be cut to pay for it?  What combination of spending and tax priorities are you willing to compromise in your negotiate with others in order to achieve anything substantive? When you have an answer to those questions, then you’ll have a party platform.  And here’s the thing, the mainstream parties, they actually have that.   

Mistake #3.  This one is a result of not having an agenda.  They’re picking all the wrong battles.  For a populist movement that considers it’s priority to be largely economic issues, they’ve either focused on social issues, or have chosen the most anti-economic stances in the history of the country.  They’re against any kind of immigration reform that doesn’t involve mass deportation.  They shut down the government.  They nearly caused a credit default once and threatened it twice.  They’ve killed numerous budget negotiations.  They launched a year long quixotic campaign against Obamacare without the political support to overturn it.  And they’ve been vocally supporting social issues such as, anti-abortion laws, anti-gay laws, anti-science mandates, and so on.

Mistake 4.  Being Whiny.  The Tea Party blames the GOP, they blame the DEMs, they especially blame “The Liberal Lamestream Media”.  You know what? Take responsibility for yourself.  ‘The media’ really is picking on you, but only because you’re being stupid.  The media will vilify anyone it sees as being weak.  The solution is to get some professionalism, disavow crazy people, and run a clear coherent message.  When a mainstream politician has a bad media day, they reassess their message and work at presenting their argument better.  The Dems have the same problems as the TP when it comes to the media.  Someone gives a bad interview, that becomes the news cycle for weeks.  Bad news for the president, that’s the main story.  Remember the Anthony Weiner thing? Of course you do, because the media wouldn’t let a relatively trivial incident go.  Weiner couldn’t let go of the media not letting it go, and began to implode, which the media loved and created a catastrophic cycle that ended the career of a popular politician TWICE.  Not only that but the biggest media outlets are conservative in nature.  So go back and fix mistake number 2, get some professionals who can handle a hostile media environment, realize you have your own networks to spout whatever platform you like, and get over it.

One final note.  Dear Libertarians.  I know you Libs often get lumped in with the Tea Party when you often have a very different political philosophy and goals.  I know you hate it.  You guys are awesome.  Some of you crazy, but generally in a good way.  Keep standing up for your principles.