Paul Ryan – Atlas Shrugged or the Sermon on the Mount?

March 27, 2017

Paul Ryan went to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Janesville, Wisconsin. As a fellow Wisconsin Catholic who attended St. John de Nepomuc School in Milwaukee, I remember the nuns telling me about Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus kicking out the money-changers from the temple and Jesus often associating with the poorest of the poor. I am proud to say that those lessons about Jesus have stuck with me even today.

Somewhere along the line Paul Ryan forgot the lessons of the Gospels that I learned in Catholic school. It appears that while a college student at Miami of Ohio University Ryan became interested in the darlings of ultra-right capitalism – Freidrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and the novelist Ayn Rand. It was Rand, a Russian-American atheist who wrote Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, that apparently Ryan read and re-read until her ideas, grounded in cynical selfishness, condemnation for those who are poor, and a fanatical desire to rid government from redistributing wealth to those who are on the dole, filled his soul.

In his public image Ryan appears to be a nice guy – earnest, family-oriented, honest and a practicing Catholic. So how does someone who grew up Catholic embrace an atheist who is as far away from the teaching of Jesus as earth is from the moon? Maybe the nuns and priests at St. Mary’s didn’t teach about the Jesus that I know; maybe Ryan came under the influence of one of those sinister professors who brainwash students; or just maybe he has convinced himself that it is impossible for people to be poor through no fault of their own.

As a US member of Congress and now the Speaker of the House Ryan must have come in contact with the sick, the unemployed, the aged, the homeless, the hungry, in short those people Ayn Rand hated because they were on the dole. But rather than leading with compassion Ryan carved together a health bill that would strip the poor (that indelible number, 24 million), of an opportunity to live a better life, a healthy life.

In the wake of the Republican health care bill debacle more and more people are asking what Ryan has against the poor and why he was in such a hurry to redistribute tax benefits from the poor to the wealthy though the legislation? I can’t answer that question, other than say that Ryan should sit down soon and read the Gospels, especially Mathew 5-7 where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”  Ryan might benefit also from Jesus saying, ” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I’ll take Jesus over Ayn Rand any day.


A Few Not So Modest Proposals for Liberal Democrats

December 21, 2016

The election is over, Donal Trump won, and liberal Democrats will just have to deal with it. Whining, street demonstrations,complaints about James Comey and Vladimir Putin and second-guessing about what should have been done in Michigan just won’t cut it anymore; it’s time to look to the future and develop some strategies to deal with the 45th President of the United States.

So let’s get serious about what liberal democrats must do as the loyal opposition, if the term loyal has any meaning anymore in the new American political culture. Here are a few strategies that may be necessary if liberal democrats are to survive as an alternative to the new Trump-defined Republican majority.

1. Liberal Democrats must adopt the Republican playbook. Hope is good, but in this post-truth, anti-ethical American political environment fear is better. Republicans have become the masters of using fear to gain votes and power- fear of minorities, fear of terrorists, fear of economic collapse, fear of change. Hope no longer works as a key word for attracting the support of the American people. If liberal democrats are to rebound they must know how to use fear as a strategic tool- fear of job loss, fear of income inequality, fear of corporate indifference, fear of tax injustice. Liberal Democrats don’t like to use fear as a strategy, but let’s face it, fear works.

2.  Liberal Democrats are known to be political weenies who want to be viewed as honorable and non-partisan, but if they are to get back in the game they must follow the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and embrace legislative obstructionism, a refusal to compromise, a willingness to delay, and an unyielding and annoying pain in the butt of the presidential administration. So far the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are already talking about working with President Trump rather than following the McConnell strategy and making his life as President miserable.

3.  Then there is always the best opposition tool-sue the bastards. Taking the President and his cabinet to court is an all-American tradition of the opposition. Fortunately, for the Democrats they have the Stock Act, which makes it a felony for a President, Vice-President and high governmental officials to use their office for insider trading and making a profit off of their connections while in office. America is a litigious society where lawyers feed off of challenges to the law, so liberal democrats must take that tactic and use the courts to make the President follow the law and respect the constitution.

4. Challenging the President is no easy task but it is made more difficult because of the weakness of those who deliver the liberal message. There has to be an way to offset the influence of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, and it is not Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Michael Moore or Lawrence O’Donnell. My suggestion is get Joe Biden on for an hour on CNN and have him take on the conservative right. Sure it will be biased but everyone knows the media is biased anyway, so what does it matter if Joe talks to white America in their language. Maybe he can even wear those aviator sunglasses while he is on camera.

5. Finally, liberal democrats must begin to think about winning rather than making a point or raising up a social group. The Republican have shown that they will do just about anything to win and it has worked. Republicans aren’t ashamed of their tactics against the liberal democrats, in fact they glory in their victories, while liberal democrats complain and wonder how their message just doesn’t work.

Now all this praise for the Republican way of winning and working government to their advantage may blow up in the coming months as President Trump and his conservative minions drive the economy and the country into the abyss. But for now liberal democrats need to rethink how they operate and how they oppose the new political reality. In short, no more whining, no more excuses, no more playing nice, no more needless cooperation, no more being weenies.

 

 

 


The Political Wisdom of Rod Stewart

October 3, 2016

One of my favorite Rod Stewart songs from yesteryear is “Reason to Believe”. No one would describe the Scottish/British rocker as a political pundit or philosopher but the words to ” Reason to Believe” in many ways hit at the heart of today’s electoral and democratic malaise. As Rod says in “Reason to Believe”:

” If I listened long enough to you, I’d find a way to believe it’s all true.Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried, still I look to find a reason to believe.”

In this terrible 2016 election cycle Americans are desperately looking for a reason to believe, but know that the candidates, mostly Trump, but Hillary too, lie straight-faced and bring decent voters and patriotic citizens to tears.

Politics is supposed to be an honorable profession where the best and the brightest make Americans feel confident about the future knowing that the national interest, the common good will prevail. They want to have a reason to believe, but instead face lies, half-truths, money-grubbing excesses, shady deals, secrecy, false promises, careless actions and hurtful tirades.

So how did we get into this mess, where the choices for leader of the free world make people cry? There are a laundry list of reasons from middle class anger, to money-driven politics, to influence-peddling interest groups, to a ratings-obsessed media, to congressional incompetence. And don’t forget that we as a people are culpable as we pay scant attention to matters of state and then get mad when things go wrong.

What may save this country and our democracy from falling deeper into political distress is that the American people continue to seek a reason to believe; they want their leaders to be straight with them, to care about their safety and security, to work to improve their lives, and to end the petty disputes that paralyze the governing process.

You could say that there is always hope, but over the last eight years hope didn’t work out so well. What this nation needs now is the truth, straight talk, and positive steps that instill confidence, in other words a reason to believe.

 

 

 


Not That Great of a Year

December 28, 2015

In the waning days of 2015 there will be much written about the 365 days that made up this latest year of the 21st century. It is safe to say that 2015 had more downs than ups and the glass can best be described  as being half empty.

There were some encouraging economic signs in terms of job expansion and modest but consistent growth. The stock market had its moments of  excitement, but in the end the year was mostly flat. The national debt marched forward now approaching 19 trillion dollars, although the deficit began to recede a bit in large part due to budget cuts and more taxes paid by those returning to work.

Violence and personal safety took a big hit as terrorist attacks tested the resolve of the American people, mass killings became commonplace and the relationship between the police and the black community imploded. Race relations deteriorated as blacks marched in the streets to protest the killings of young men, too many unarmed or with severe mental illness.

Politics and electoral campaigning became the big story as Donald Trump tapped into the anger of white America with his no holds barred rhetoric and his authoritarian bluster, and Bernie Sanders tested the popularity and inevitability of Hillary Clinton, despite his socialist agenda. Both the Republican and Democratic establishment paid the price of do nothing government and its failure to address the economic plight of those whites at the low end of the economic ladder. President Obama did little to help the turn to the right by his annoying penchant for remaining”too cool” and failing to keep his promises.

Needless to say the mood of America is depression-filled. A huge majority say the country is on the wrong path, support for Congress is at an all time low and Obama’s popularity hasn’t been above 50% in ages. Clearly the American people want someone different at the helm, but who? Trump has no answers just outrageous statements, Hillary is viewed with extreme suspicion, Congress is likely to remain dysfunctional and Obama is playing out the string. 2016 looks like another bad year marked by tension, disappointment, division, death and a whole lot of craziness. Hope your year will be better.

 

 


A Glimmer of Hope

July 13, 2010

If you are a liberal Democrat and fear the worst come November, don’t get all crazy over the prospect of a Republican majority in the Congress. Not a day goes by without some Republican in the House or Senate saying something that must make sane people scratch their heads in disbelief.

The Republicans are now the complete captives of the radical right and have renounced all moderate positions and solutions to America’s policy challenges. Minnesota’s Michelle Bachman is charging that Obama is making us slaves; Louisiana’s David Vitter is encouraging the birther movement to go to court; Rand Paul is forced to deny that he is a lunatic. And I haven’t even gotten to Sarah Palin yet, who says just about anything that has only a small kernel of truth lodged somewhere in her ” you betcha” monologues.

Even the alleged grown-ups in the party are still defending BP, supporting the Bush tax cuts in a time of huge deficits, and voting against unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. It is now clear that these guys and gals from the right have no plan, no heart and no soul.

The Republicans put themselves in this condition by refusing early on to tell the talk show blowhards to tone down the rhetoric and stop calling the President a new Hitler, a hater of all things American and of course not even a citizen.

Not surprisingly some Americans are buying all this hate and untruths, but there still are millions of moderate, independent voters out there who the Democrats can work on by pointing out a Republican victory in November means putting a whole bunch of rich, extreme nut jobs in charge.

There is no doubt that the Democrats will lose seats; it almost always happens in mid-term elections- to say any different is an illusion. But the more extreme and ridiculous the Republican message becomes, the light at the end of the election tunnel gets brighter for the Democrats. If you are a liberal Democrat keep praying for the nut jobs in the Republican Party to keep on talking trash.


Senator Curt Schilling?

September 7, 2009

There were loads of chuckles when Red Sox pitching legend Curt Schilling made the passing comment on his blog that he had some interest in running for the Senate seat of Ted Kennedy. Most of the critics quickly pointed out that Schilling was a baseball player, in fact an ex-baseball player trying to start a video game company, who had little political experience, except those trips to New Hampshire where he introduced John McCain at election rallies.

Now I take no position on Schilling as a candidate for public office in Massachusetts, but his lack of political experience is one of those traditional roadblocks for holding high office that are often dragged out when someone who doesn’t fit the mold tries to win elective office.

As a result of this ” real people need not apply” rule  what we have now in this state and in this country is government run by lawyers, with a few other professions thrown in just to make it look like our leaders represent the face of Massachusetts or America.

The argument made by supporters of lawyer run government is that what those in the legislature and the executive branch do is write laws and then see that they are faithfully executed. Well let me clue you into a secret- your state representative or US Congressman rarely writes laws and on too many occasions only has a vague idea what the details of the laws are.

Most of these lawyers turned government official rely on their staff and the bevy of legal counselors who are hired to do all the nitty gritty legal work. The lawyer turned government official comes in at the end of this tedious process and either promotes the law or works to kill it.

Now back to Curt Schilling. This state and country could benefit from having people in positions of political leadership that don’t come out of the legal profession. We need more farmers, teachers, social workers, accountants, scientists, architects, and yes more professional athletes representing us in the centers of power.

In short we need a true cross section of our state and country; men and women who don’t necessarily possess a J.D. but rather have intelligence, good judgment, integrity, common sense and most of all a keen ability to compromise.  Now lawyers certainly may possess all these qualities, but they are certainly not alone. Including men and women with far different life experiences and backgrounds at the centers of governmental power just might bring some fresh ideas and different perspectives to a policy process that begs for change.


What I Learned from Ted Kennedy

August 31, 2009

The passing of Senator Ted Kennedy was not just the death of one of the great legislators in the history of this country, it was a celebration of his humanity. From the time of his death until he was laid to rest next to his two brothers, Americans heard story after story of how the Senator made phone calls to the families of 9/11 victims, interceded on behalf of those who needed the help of government but had no voice, and quietly did good deed after good deed without the television cameras rolling.

As I listened to the tributes to Senator Kennedy from celebrities and average Americans, I began to think about what I should take away from the death of this man. What could I learn from Ted Kennedy that I can bring to my everyday life?

First and foremost I was struck by the generosity and selflessness of the Senator, not just in monetary terms, but in his sense of giving. For Ted Kennedy, scion of a wealthy family and always in the limelight, life was not about him, it was about others; it was about being there for those needed a helping hand or a emotional lift. To often ours is a society of selfishness and ego. But Ted Kennedy reminded Americans that life is about taking care of your neighbor first and foremost.

I also learned that it is vitally important to hold to your principles, to fight for what you believe in, and to never be afraid to challenge those who would demean or attack you. Ted Kennedy was a fighter, a champion of the liberal tradition and in many ways someone who put into practice the Christian message of love, tolerance and social justice.  Sure he was a politician who practiced the art of compromise, but rarely did Ted Kennedy abandon his liberal principles out of partisan expediency.

Finally, Ted Kennedy taught me the value of hard work, a hearty laugh, a pleasant day on the ocean, a good song, and the importance of not taking yourself too seriously. Ted Kennedy was someone who most people would want to be friends with and enjoy a good, lively conversation.  Ted Kennedy was quite simply a regular guy who just happened to be rich, powerful and important. He never forgot those Americans who were poor, neglected, sick or in need of support.

To spend forty seven years of your life in the U.S. Senate giving to others, speaking on behalf of others, and being there for others is quite a legacy. There is much that can be learned from Ted Kennedy. Hopefully Americans will remember those lessons.