Archive for the ‘democracy’ Category

The Republican who could actually be president

First published Sept. 5, 2016

Billionaire David Koch, who bankrolls far-right candidates and causes, got a standing ovation in Columbus, Ohio, last month during Americans for Prosperity’s two-day tea party summit.

Jeb Bush was there, along with other Republican presidential hopefuls, Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. All wanted to prove their conservative credentials by railing against the Affordable Care Act and, except for Bush, Common Core education standards.

Noticeably absent was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose office is less than a mile from the convention center. Kasich wasn’t invited because he isn’t one of them. Their mindset was reflected in the words of an activist who was heard to grumble, “If they’re a RINO, they may as well be on the other side.”

But it isn’t traditional conservatives like Kasich who are “Republicans in name only,” it’s the libertarian ideologues with their heads in the clouds and their hearts on ice who have strayed from the rich heritage of the party of Lincoln.

Kasich probably isn’t bothered by the snub. It will help him in the pivotal state of Ohio, where he won 86 of 88 counties in his last election.

Of the 27 or so candidates seeking the GOP nomination so far, Kasich is the one who could garner enough support from independents, centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans to win the White House.

The tougher challenge will be convincing voters in the primaries and caucuses that he’s their best hope, because the party activists and talk radio types who play an outsized role early in the process will try to persuade them to nominate somebody like Perry or Cruz, who will then lose swing voters in the general election.

That’s because they can’t do the math.

Republicans control the House because of gerrymandering, and they have more Senate seats because there are more red than blue states. But, except for Texas, the red states don’t have as many voters. If you can’t win some blue states like California and New York, and more importantly, purple toss-up states like Ohio and Florida, then you can’t win the White House. It’s simple, but then the early nominating process has been taken over by simpletons.

Republicans used to win because they chose candidates who were principled pragmatists like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan who could work in a bipartisan way to accomplish goals.

A few years after the Barry Goldwater catastrophe of 1964, the Republican Party made a comeback by moving back toward the middle, and dominated American politics for the next 40 years. But in five of the last six presidential races, they’ve lost the popular vote, and came close to losing it in 2004.

Moderate candidates like George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney pivoted to the right to prove they were “severely conservative” — which is what Jeb was doing in Columbus — then alienate many who would have been for them.

How many of us want a leader who is severe?

Does anyone really think the country is going to elect someone as extreme as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson?

Bloomberg reporter Margaret Carlson, in a recent column, outlined Kasich’s accomplishments as governor. In his two terms, Ohio has gone from 48th to eighth in job creation, income has grown by 9.8 percent and unemployment has fallen to 5.2. He inherited a nearly bankrupt state, which now has a budget surplus and higher debt rating. The poverty rate in Ohio has plummeted, thanks to a vibrant economy, the governor’s earned income tax credit and Medicaid expansion.

In Congress, Kasich was the House budget chairman when we had our last balanced federal budget. He understands defense and foreign affairs. He has more government experience than most of the other candidates combined.

Although he is a social conservative who is personally against abortion and gay marriage, he isn’t strident about it, and accepts the Supreme Court’s decisions as the law of the land.

He is also a devout Christian but doesn’t use religion as a cudgel, and his faith is the kinder, gentler sort. In the first debate, he said that of course he would love his children unconditionally if they were gay, and when a woman challenged him on increasing Medicaid eligibility, his response was, “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” He won’t have to answer for what he’s done for David Koch and his kind.

Kasich is no plaster saint, and he knows it. He’s tough, sometimes ill-tempered and doesn’t suffer fools easily — which could make him the answer to Trump in this summer of our discontent and the strongest adversary for the Democratic candidate next November.

Why I am no longer a Republican

First published April 9, 2016

When Ronald Reagan became a Republican in 1962, he explained his decision like this: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

I felt something similar when, several days ago, I went to the Nelson County Clerk’s Office and changed my voter registration from Republican to independent.

The party I joined when I turned 50 is not the same Republican Party we have today — although the transformation was already beginning with the birth of the tea party movement.

The Grand Old Party that attracted me as I became more conservative in my prime was one that balanced a belief in personal responsibility with a commitment to opportunity. It respected individual liberties, but also cherished community and traditional virtues. It practiced fiscal sobriety, but offered a hand to the disabled and disadvantaged. It had a rich heritage of racial equality going back to the time of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, when the Democrats were the party that elevated states’ rights above human rights.

The party’s compassionate conservatism was rooted in Judeo-Christian principles of justice. It can be summed up in these words from President George W. Bush’s first inaugural address: “Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities, and all of us are diminished when they are hopeless. … I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.”

That perspective has been evident in policies such as charter schools in inner cities to give poor children a chance at a better life, federal funding for faith-based initiatives that work because they address the root causes of poverty and addiction rather than money for big bureaucratic programs that don’t, enterprise zones that give businesses incentives to locate in depressed areas, and humanitarian and military aid to victims of brutality in other countries. It is based on the biblical belief that were are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

In the past seven years, this compassionate conservatism has been supplanted by radical libertarianism, which holds that our brothers and sisters are on their own and that selfishness is a virtue not a vice. It is rooted in the nihilistic philosophy of Ayn Rand rather than the traditional philosophy of her contemporary, Russell Kirk, the father of modern conservatism.

In the current election, though, we have seen something uglier than libertarianism at work. It is a populism that hearkens back to the Know-Nothing movement of the mid-19th century and the John Birch movement of the mid-20th. It stokes the fires of bigotry against anyone whose religion, skin color or country of origin is different than the majority’s, and it has an authoritarian attitude.

What other way is there to describe the faction of the party that wants a caudillo (strong man) like Donald Trump? He is someone who quotes the founding father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, who initially refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, who incites his followers to acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and has said that if he becomes president, he will undermine the First Amendment freedom of the press.

The likeliest alternative to Trump in this year’s presidential race is Ted Cruz, a tea party ideologue whose idea of governing is to repudiate efforts at bipartisan compromise — even compromise with the mainstream of his own party — and shut down the government if he doesn’t get his way. He wants to eliminate the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education and Commerce, as well as the IRS, and he favors a flat tax that would reduce the responsibility of the rich and increase the burden of the poor. He would deport Hispanic immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children. He would dismantle the law that prohibits insurance companies from refusing to sell policies to people with cancer and has added tens of millions of people to the rolls of the insured for the first time.

Health insurance has long been one of my concerns, and six years after the Affordable Care Act, I’m still waiting to see what “repeal and replace” means. The only specifics congressional Republicans offer would allow companies to sell policies across state lines — which sounds like a good idea, but means the policies won’t be regulated because the regulating is done by the states — and would replace guaranteed insurance with tax-free health savings accounts.

Really? That’s all they’ve got after six years?

The great irony is that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a warmed-over Republican idea from the early 1990s that Republicans rejected en masse as soon as President Barack Obama accepted it.

I’m also embarrassed by Republicans’ embrace of absurd conspiracy theories, such as the notion that President Obama is not a natural-born American citizen or that he “hates America,” or that his wife ridiculed Old Glory — based on lip (mis)reading, or that fossil-fueled global warming is a hoax cooked up by the world’s climate scientists to keep government research money rolling in to pay their salaries. As one of my curmudgeonly college professors sometimes asked her students: How can you be so damned dumb?

I cannot return to the Democratic Party of my youth, because it now insists on a “right” to abort babies up until the moment of birth. It equates religious liberty with bigotry, and believes Christianity is something best practiced in private by consenting adults. It supports public sector unions that make it almost impossible to get rid of inept teachers. It seeks to confiscate the wealth of the nation’s wealth creators. But I can’t go back to the Republican Party — until it comes to its senses.

First freedom isn’t a secondary human right

First published July 11, 2015

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, there has been a growing chorus calling for the resignation or removal of county officials in Kentucky who cannot, for reasons of faith, support same-sex marriage.

On Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear joined those voices, telling Casey County Clerk Casey Davis that he should issue marriage licenses to all who may now marry or step aside — in which case the governor would appoint someone to fill his position until there is another election.

While Davis’ grandstanding approach has gotten the most attention, 57 county clerks last week signed a letter asking the governor to call a special session to address the problem of how to protect their religious liberty while also complying with the court’s ruling, which made gay marriage legal in every state. This was after Beshear had already turned down such a request by Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, a leader of the governor’s own party.

Beshear said the issue can wait until 2016. Meanwhile, nearly half the county clerks in the state, who have until now faithfully executed their responsibilities as public officials, are faced with the choice of either participating in something that violates their consciences or giving up their careers and turning their backs on those who elected them, in most cases knowing they were people of faith.

It is a conundrum the justices created when they decided by a 5-4 margin to create a new civil right by changing the definition of marriage that has existed since the beginning of civilization. It comes as no surprise, yet it comes with questions that must be addressed regarding the place of faith in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and religious freedom as well as on Enlightenment ideas about the nature of humanity and liberty.

Although our nation’s founders were men of diverse views — from Thomas Paine, a Deist who despised Christianity, to Patrick Henry, who was a devout Christian — they were able to agree that all of us are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights …”

In other words, all rights come from God, and so does all political authority, according to the Bible in Romans 13:1. Those who oppose same-sex marriage make the case that God cannot grant a right that is contrary to his perfect order. And in Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus — who was the Word of God incarnated (John 1:1) — teaches that God was the author of marriage from the beginning. Quoting the ancient Jewish scriptures (Genesis 2:24), Christ said that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The Bible is also unambiguous in describing homoerotic relationships as sinful, although I believe we are guilty of the ultimate sin of pride if we believe those relationships are worse than other sins or that any of us is without sin.

Conservatives conveniently forget that the sin of Sodom, according to the prophet Ezekiel, was that the city’s people had become “overfed and unconcerned” and “did not help the poor and needy.”

That’s something we might want to keep in mind when we’re stuffing ourselves full of fried chicken and potato salad at a church social and grousing about our taxes paying for food for the children of the working poor.

As the United States becomes an increasingly secular society, more Americans conflate Thomas Jefferson’s limited idea of the idea of separation of church and state with the broader postmodern notion that religious beliefs have no place in the public sphere. Not only is that not possible, but if it were, it would be discriminatory.

“Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider the most vital,” said Stephen L. Carter of Yale, a prominent constitutional scholar.

And John Adams, who played an eminent role when this nation was conceived in liberty, wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

At the heart of Christianity is the commandment that we must “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and there is no caveat that excepts our LGBT neighbors. And at the core of American democracy is the principle that all of us “are created equal” and endowed by the Creator with human rights.

In balancing LGBT rights with religious liberty, though, we should not forget that the First Amendment right of religious freedom is first for a reason.

Hyperbole and hysteria in Indiana

First published Saturday, April 4, 2015

ABC 57 in South Bend, Ind., reported April 1 that a high school coach was suspended after she tweeted that she was going to burn down Memories Pizza in nearby Walkerton for refusing to cater gay weddings.

Walkerton’s police chief said his department had investigated the threat and informed prosecutors, and he asked that folks follow the law — no fooling.

Tuesday, the TV station aired an interview with Memories manager Crystal O’ Connor and her father, Kevin, about Gov. Mike Pence’s signing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Crystal said that if the family were asked to provide pizza for a gay wedding, they would have to refuse based on their Christian beliefs.

Kevin O’ Connor said sexuality is a choice and that he chooses to be heterosexual.

To its credit, ABC 57 tacked on a footnote at the end of the story saying the family would not refuse a gay couple that came inside the restaurant to eat.

That’s a distinction most who are outraged about the law don’t make — between refusing to serve persons because of who they are and refusing to service events.

Some Christians believe that catering a same-sex wedding amounts to approval of, and participation in, something they consider sinful based on what the Bible says about homosexual acts.

Discrimination against persons is unconscionable and should be illegal. However, if the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion means anything, refusal to participate in events that violate one’s conscience should be lawful.

According to Pence, Indiana’s new law doesn’t give anyone a license to discriminate, and he wants the legislature to amend the law to make that clear.

Indiana’s law, which takes effect July1, is almost identical to those in 20 other states, including Kentucky, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It differs from the U.S. law by defining persons to include churches and corporations, and providing a defense in civil actions involving private parties.

Basically, Indiana’s states that “a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in furthering “a compelling governmental interest,” and if it must impose a burden, it must use “the least restrictive means.”

Secularists are outraged over the refusal of a religious minority to accept their redefinition of the sacrament of marriage and are willing to discriminate against anyone who does not adopt their view.

One state legislator in Oklahoma offered a bill to brand Christian businesses that want to opt out of promoting same-sex relationships so that others might shun them and destroy their livelihood.

It seems the only acceptable bigotry today is against traditional Christians.

One reason is that most don’t know what traditional Christianity is. Many think the free exercise of religion means only that people are free to worship inside their churches or synagogues on their own time, but should keep their religious beliefs to themselves. They want to force Christians into the closet.

Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative, wrote that orthodox Christians should retreat to a redoubt they can defend.

“If by ‘Christianity’ we mean the philosophical and cultural framework setting the broad terms for engagement in American public life, Christianity is dead, and we Christians have killed it,” he wrote. “We have allowed our children to be catechized by the culture and have produced an anesthetizing religion suited for little more than being a chaplaincy to the liberal individualistic order.”

I strongly disagree. Being a Christian is personal, but not private. It is a 24/7 thing, not something reserved for an hour on Sunday mornings. And if you believe in Christ’s Great Commission, as I do, then it isn’t something one keeps to oneself.

I also believe in the Great Commandment, which is that we should love God foremost and love our neighbors no less than ourselves. There is no caveat exempting gay or agnostic neighbors.

I wouldn’t discriminate against anyone, but I wouldn’t tell others they must participate in things they don’t feel right about.

In a pluralistic society, religious liberty must not only be tolerated but respected.

Heritage of hate and the changing South

One of oddest mental images I have from my days as a weekly newspaper editor in Nicholasville is of a little black girl waving a Confederate battle flag from atop a parade float.

The Chamber of Commerce had prohibited displays of the rebel flag in the Jessamine Jamboree, and I had written a commentary supporting their decision.

The editorial had resulted in angry letters to the editor from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who vowed to fly their flag in defiance of the order.

The Stars and Bars, they said, was a symbol of “heritage, not hate.” I argued that it belonged in a museum, not at an event intended to bring people together.

On the south end of Main Street, most African-American residents stood in stony silence while watching the display go by, and a few hurled epithets. On the north end, someone joked as I was taking pictures that I shouldn’t get too close to the float. I laughed, but a rangy figure who overheard leaned close and told me I’d be safer with the heritage group than surrounded by his friends.


Members of the National Socialists Movement and the White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan salute to start a rally Saturday April 21, 2012, at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. At least 70 law enforcement officers were present to control a crowd of 150 to 200 demonstrators when a group of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members rallied against illegal immigration on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

“The past is never dead. It is not even past,” William Faulkner wrote.  That has been true of race relations in the South, but reactions last week to the racially motivated murders of nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., were astounding.

Since Gov. Nikki Haley and other leaders called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in Charleston, a chorus of voices across the country has demanded the removal of the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy, including the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol.

Even more encouraging is that Walmart, eBay and other retailers have said they will no longer sell the flags.

Once again, we’re hearing from resisters that the flag represents “heritage, not hate.” That may be true for some, but there is also a heritage of hate associated with the flag that is seared into our national consciousness and with which we must reckon.

I have referred to the Stars and Bars as the Confederate battle flag because it is not the official flag of the Confederacy that flew over capitols during the Civil War. It is the flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was revived 100 years after the Civil War as a symbol of white supremacy and defiance of civil rights. That is its legacy in the minds of many Americans.

Based on I know of Lee’s desire for reconciliation, if he were alive today, I think he would agree it’s time to retire it.


In Montgomery, Ala., the birthplace of the Confederate States of America, demonstrators Saturday protested a decision by Gov. Robert Bentley to remove the battle flag from a war memorial.

“Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover,” one protestor told the Associated Press. He added that “there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

It’s outrageous that he would compare those who want to remove a stain from our past with Nazi Germany’s racist regime because America’s apartheid movement has included many who identify with that evil episode in the world’s history.

Here’s an example. Three years ago, when I worked for the AP in Frankfort, I covered a rally on the Capitol steps by neo-Nazis who were joined by a Ku Klux Klan group. The swastika and the Stars and Bars flew side by side.

About 200 counter-demonstrators heard white supremacists say they were not a hate group, but a civil rights group, yet the rhetoric was hateful.

While Nazis and Klansmen shouted, “God hates homosexuals,” Victoria King of Lawrenceburg held aloft a message of Christian love — a sign with words of a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”


The light of liberty cannot be forever hidden under a dark shroud.

Fifty years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., led another rally on the steps of Alabama’s Capitol steps, not far from where another Montgomery memorial today celebrates a better legacy — that of the civil rights movement.

“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.

It is well that we remember those words as we celebrate the birth of our republic this weekend. America has not always been the shining City on a Hill that our forebears envisioned, but it was and is the right vision, and we should expect nothing less.

Will Bevin, state GOP be ‘Happy Together’?

If you think Matt Bevin is a dour revolutionary, watch the video. It’s the funniest thing in Kentucky politics since Mitch McConnell’s hound dogs treed Dee Huddleston.

As the Turtles song “Happy Together” plays in the background, Bevin wakes up in a Team Mitch T-shirt, goes to work in an SUV with a Team Mitch license plate and gets a Team Mitch tattoo.

“Yeah, it stings a little bit, but it’s so worth it,” he says.

In one scene, he phones McConnell to warn him: “The word on the street is that Rand is going down to the Senate floor right now. He’s got his pockets filled with energy bars … .They say he’s going to be out there until at least Tuesday.” Then he adds: “Hey, that’s what friends are for, sir.”

It ends with Bevin talking to McConnell like a love-struck teenager.

“No, you hang up. No, really, you hang up,” he says.

Bevin, who won the GOP nomination by 83 votes in a four-way race, probably wasn’t McConnell’s first choice for governor. A year ago, Bevin challenged the Godfather for his seat and reportedly was ungracious after McConnell rolled over him and his Democratic opponent.

Then there was the bitter gubernatorial contest. I figured Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer would win the primary and beat Democrat Jack Conway in the general. Louisville businessman Hal Heiner might have had a chance, but I wouldn’t have placed a $2 bet on Bevin or retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, whose shoe-leather campaign never gained traction.

That was before the rumors about Comer’s woman problem.

Less than an hour before Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal broke the story based on an interview with Comer’s college girlfriend, a Heiner supporter called to tell me it was coming. When I read the story, I knew it was over for Comer — and probably for Heiner too, because his people were likely behind it.

That left Bevin, who had taken the high road, as the obvious beneficiary.

But Bevin?

Like Rand Paul, who ran against the party establishment and had to accommodate it once elected, Bevin must do the same. The video was a clever way of admitting it.

On June 10, I interviewed Bevin and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, on PLG-TV, and he told me he didn’t like labels.

“A tea party favorite? I’m not sure what that means,” he said.

He said he had never belonged to a tea party group, but was of “like mind” with them on constitutional government, lower taxes and individual responsibility.

He also said the bad blood between McConnell and himself was fiction, and he had “voted for the guy every time” except when he ran against him.

Make no mistake, Matt Bevin is the most far-right conservative who has ever run a race for governor in Kentucky. He has said he would like to reduce or eliminate taxes except for “consumption” (sales) taxes and reduce spending. He wants to make Kentucky a state where those who work in places that have won the right of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to pay for union representation. He is against raising the minimum wage and would end the prevailing wage. He would take away teachers’ defined-benefits pensions and enroll them in something like a 401(k).

His first executive order would be to abolish Kynect, the state’s popular health insurance exchange, and he would reverse Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid. He opposes Common Core and supports charter schools.

How this agenda will play out in a purple state where Republicans historically have been more like John Sherman Cooper than Ted Cruz remains to be seen. But if Bevin can take a page from McConnell’s playbook on how to pivot, he could succeed.

Sanders, last socialist, runs for the roses

If you ask the odds makers, they’ll tell you the Democratic presidential nomination contest is still a one-horse race, with Hillary Clinton sure to get the garland of roses.

But Bernie Sanders, who announced Thursday he’s in the running, reminds me of Mine That Bird, the 50-1 upstart that crashed the blue bloods’ party and made Bob Baffert choke on his mint julep by winning the Kentucky Derby in 2009.

Sanders certainly isn’t the candidate of the elite. Right out of the starting gate, he told the billionaires he didn’t want their filthy lucre. One of his main issues will be to change the rules so the Koch brothers and their ilk can’t buy elections and legislators anymore.

He wants to level the field to benefit the people who make two-dollar bets on long shots.

This recent post on his Facebook page is classic Sanders: “During the last two years, the wealthiest 14 Americans saw their wealth increase by $157 billion. This … is more wealth than is owned, collectively, by 130 million Americans. This country does not survive morally, economically or politically when so few have so much and so many have so little.”

Leave it to Bernie to bring up the topics one isn’t supposed to talk about in polite conversation.

Two things about the senator from Vermont make him an intriguing choice for the Democrats’ standard bearer. One is that he isn’t a Democrat. In fact, he’s the longest-serving independent (meaning a person who belongs to no political party) in the history of Congress. The other is that he’s a democratic socialist — the last of a dying breed. The only other socialist I know of who has served on Capitol Hill in my lifetime (I’m 54) was Ronald Dellums, the radical congressman from Berkeley who served 13 terms until 1998.

Democratic socialists believe in the ownership and control of the economy by the working class — not necessarily through the federal government, but by democratic means such as employee ownership of businesses, worker representation in corporate boardrooms, utility and farm cooperatives, although in some cases, such as single-payer health insurance, it is through government.

I’ve been fascinated by Sanders since the early 1980s, when he was the mayor of Burlington and Rolling Stone did an article on him called “Red Mayor in the Green Mountains.” In Professor Allen Singleton’s urban government and politics class at Eastern Kentucky University, I wrote a paper on how Sanders was able to become mayor of the biggest city in what was once a rock-ribbed Republican state by representing the poor and elderly and public servants such as police, firefighters and sanitation workers.

While working on the class project, I wrote to Sanders and he wrote back, answering my question about why he chose not to be a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington’s organization formed to work within the Democratic Party to move it to the left on labor and economic issues.

Full disclosure: In college I was briefly a member of the DSA and a disciple of Harrington, whose book “The Other America” was credited with inspiring the War on Poverty and the Great Society in the 1960s. But I’ve evolved over the past 30-some years so that I am today a Burkean conservative and a distributist (one who likes the free market and property ownership so much he thinks the healthiest society is one in which they are as widely distributed as possible). I’m also a registered Republican, although for most of the last decade I’ve been an independent.

But enough about me; this is about Bernie.

Sanders served as mayor of Burlington for a decade, successfully revitalizing its downtown and making the city the first in the country to have publicly funded community trust housing. In 1990, he was elected as Vermont’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and was re-elected seven times until going to the Senate in 2006.

With his unruly white hair, rumpled suit, wide glasses and acerbic manner, the senator, whom Vermonters affectionately call by his first name, has been enormously popular, though he lacks the charisma of a Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.

He rages against colleagues who would privatize Social Security and cut funds for public education yet advocate more tax breaks for billionaires. Have they no shame?

His is a real-life “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” story. But can he make it all the way to the top?

The reason he’s running for the first time as a Democrat is that he doesn’t want to be a spoiler like Ralph Nader in 2000, when he ran as a third-party candidate and cost Al Gore the election.

Clinton and Jeb Bush are the favorites, but it enlivens the debate to have candidates like the militant socialist Sanders and hard-right libertarian Rand Paul in it.

And as Mine That Bird, Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul have proven, in horse races, anything can happen.


Has Paul become a raging moderate?

April 11, 2015

His first day on the campaign trail, Rand Paul got off on the wrong foot with reporters. He had a meltdown when NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked him about his changing positions on whether he thinks Iran is a threat to the U.S. and whether he still wants to end foreign aid to Israel.

“No, no, no, you’ve editorialized it,” Paul said. “No, no, no, listen.”

We are listening, but we aren’t getting answers.

The same day, the junior senator from Kentucky, who announced Tuesday in Louisville that he is a candidate for president, got testy with an AP reporter who asked him to clarify his position on abortion.

The candidate never said.

While Rand Paul the presidential candidate may be more attractive to traditional conservatives than the libertarian firebrand who was elected to the Senate during the tea party revolt of 2010, I kind of miss the candor of the old Rand Paul.

During that race, I interviewed Paul after he had suggested the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shouldn’t apply to private businesses and called coal a dirty energy source.

I asked him about those issues, and we talked about Medicare, which accounted for a large share of his income as an ophthalmologist. He said he thought people would be better off with the old fee-for-service system of paying for health care.

Later, Paul grabbed headlines for advocating draconian cuts to the federal budget, pulling back from military commitments around the globe and ending foreign aid, including assistance to Israel and Egypt, our closest Middle East allies.

In one speech, Paul dissed Henry Clay and identified with the Great Compromiser’s cousin, the cantankerous Cassius Marcellus Clay.

When asked whether the tea party would be co-opted by Washington, Paul said it would co-opt the establishment.

“We’re coming. We’re proud. We’re strong. We’re loud,” he said. “I think we’re already shaping the debate.”

I believe he has been proven right. George Washington’s description of the Senate as the saucer that cools the tea is no longer apt in a time when radical demagogues like Ted Cruz threaten to shut down the federal government and neophytes like Tom Cotton undermine the president by parlaying with the theocratic tyrant of the terrorist nation Iran.

Paul, however, seems to have moderated somewhat. He now favors increasing the Pentagon’s budget and taking a hard line against the Islamic State. He has appealed to evangelicals by making it clear he’s against gay marriage, abortion and legalization of marijuana. He’s reached out to African Americans and young voters to try and broaden the base of the Republican Party, and has campaigned for establishment candidates and against libertarian insurgents in elections around the country.

Guthrie asked Paul in her interview if he had “mellowed.”

Or is he only taking these positions to make his candidacy more palatable to old-line Republicans?

Who is Rand Paul, really?

It’s a legitimate question, and rather than rant when reporters ask it, he should answer it frankly.

Kentucky a model for bipartisan progress

Published Jan. 9, 2015

In his last State of the Commonwealth message to a joint session of the Kentucky House and Senate, Gov. Steve Beshear on Wednesday night was exuberant in describing the progress Kentucky has made under his leadership since he took office at the beginning of a devastating global recession.

The unemployment rate, he said, has fallen from 10.7 percent to 6 percent and is still dropping. Last year alone, manufacturing, service and technology companies announced 350 new location and expansion projects — nearly one a day. In 2013, the state had the highest percentage of business growth in the nation. The state shattered international trade records for the past two years.

Under the state’s health exchange for the federal Affordable Care Act, Kynect, and his expansion of Medicaid, Kentucky had the second biggest decrease in the nation in the percentage of uninsured, from 20 to 12 percent in one year.

The state raised its mandatory high school graduation rate and its percentage of graduates, greatly improved college and career readiness and established rigorous education performance standards.

By almost every measure, Kentucky is better off than it was when Beshear became governor, and compares favorably to most other states. But the governor was careful to give credit not only to his administration, but also to the state legislators — Republicans and Democrats — and he described how a change in attitude and atmosphere had contributed to those successes and the “sense of optimism and energy” they have fostered.

In 2007, state government was “poisoned by rivalries and partisanship,” and an atmosphere of “derision and division.”

State leaders, “distracted by partisan gamesmanship,” forgot why they were elected, and the results were dire.

“Kentucky was broke and broken,” he said.

That has changed dramatically under the leadership of Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, both of Eastern Kentucky, who earned special mention by the governor.

Left unsaid, but implied, was that Stivers’ more collaborative leadership, which is a stark contrast to the Machiavellian approach of his predecessor, David Williams, has made a huge difference. Stivers is a partisan and a redoubtable adversary, but he also knows how to get things done by working with his friends across the aisle and on the other end of the Capitol without compromising principles.

Bipartisan government is something the extremists of the right and left just can’t comprehend or choose to ignore.

Beshear decried the “inflammatory rhetoric” that substitutes for meaningful public discourse outside the mainstream media.

“Places like talk radio and social media thrive on disrespect, insults, intolerance and downright hatefulness,” the governor said. “It’s easy to get caught up in this negative dialogue, to believe that such rancor is mandatory, and to conclude that consensus and collaboration are cardinal sins. But that’s not what being a leader is about, and it’s not what we’ve seen here in Frankfort in the last seven years. Instead, we have fostered a respectful relationship that reaches across political lines, geographic areas and branches of government. And we’ve done so because we have recognized the distinction between campaigning and governing.”

There is a place for partisan politics, said Beshear, who is strongly partisan when it comes to waging campaigns. But it is not after the elections, when lawmakers and administrators are responsible for putting aside their differences and doing the people’s business.

There’s a lesson that can be learned from Kentucky’s example, from City Hall to Congress. Let’s hope that 2015 will be a year when we see more compromise, civility and mutual respect in local and national, as well as state, government.

June 2017
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