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Basic Civility: Who Will Teach Congress to Behave?

To make sense of the  vitriol, lack of cooperative spirit and just bad manners being displayed on  Capitol Hill, look no further than Massachusetts.

It’s not that the Bay State is unusually mean or even  rude. Visitors flocking to the Cape, the Berkshires or Boston’s North End will  surely find friendly people. But recent news in Massachusetts demonstrates just  how high our tolerance for—even celebration of—bad behavior has become.

The Boston Globe informs us  that the Boston School Committee is drafting rules for basic civility  at its  public meetings. This is not a response to shouting and  disruption by children,  who by definition are still learning how to  behave in public and how to  adjudicate disagreements with honor and  mutual respect. No, the school  committee’s actions are a sad response  to the heckling and all-around disrespect  shown by adults—parents and  teachers—who have been unhappy with school closings  and other matters  before the committee. Disruptive students have been at the  meetings,  too, which makes it worse, since the lesson they are learning at the   meetings is that it’s acceptable to shout and be rude to display one’s   unhappiness with a public policy. One protestor last December yelled  “liar”  at Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. Was this individual merely  parroting the  behavior of Rep. Joe Wilson, who yelled, “You lie!” at the President of the  United States during a live, nationally-televised speech in the House chamber?

Remarkably, some of the adult activists have not been  shamed at the  fact that they must be treated as recalcitrant children. The Globe  quotes the teacher’s union  president, Richard Stutman, jokingly  comparing the decorum rules to Stalinist  Russia. That’s not only an  insult to the people who lived in the brutal  dictatorial regime, but an  insult to public education. Surely, teachers do not  instruct their  students that self-control and civility are akin to  totalitarianism.

But if the school meetings aren’t distressing enough,  Massachusetts  can look to its professional football team, the New England  Patriots.  The team recently signed Albert Haynesworth, whose behavior, on and  off  the field, was so poor that the Washington Redskins couldn’t stomach  him  anymore. In sports, the bad boys are often given a pass if their  on-field  passes are complete. But Haynesworth—who was paid $35 million  to play in 20  games and didn’t always show up for practice because he  didn’t like the coach’s  defense strategy—became just too much for the  ‘Skins, who traded him to the  Patriots for a fifth-round draft pick. At  least Haynesworth won’t be a double burden to the Pats, since Randy  Moss, another behavior problem, left the team last year and announced  Tuesday he would retire from the sport. Defenders note that Patriots  coach Bill Belichick whipped Moss into shape. Haynesworth could be a  heavier list; at one point, he was juggling four different legal cases  against him even as he feuded publically with his coach.

We should expect more from members of Congress, who have  been  through campaigns and theoretically should know better. But the  public—even  as they deride the dysfunction and bad manners in the  Capitol—are enablers,  rewarding malcontented lawmakers with campaign  contributions. Republican Wilson  and former Democratic  Rep. Alan Grayson, who famously accused Republicans of  wanting people  to die as a way of saving on health costs, were two of the  biggest  fundraisers last election cycle, with much of the cash coming from out   of state. Grayson lost, but the message was clear: acting up is  profitable. And  both Democrats and Republicans are raising money off  the recent uproar over  Republican Rep. Allen West, a Tea Party movement favorite who sent an email to  a colleague, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz,  calling her “the most  vile” member of the House. Wasserman Schultz had  criticized West’s approach to  Medicare, although she did not name him  in the floor speech that led West to  accuse Wasserman-Schultz of not  acting like “a Lady.”

The Boston School Committee may be able to teach civility  to adults  who apparently never learned how to sit still and listen. And perhaps   Belichick can control Haynesworth. Who will do the same for members of   Congress?

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, August 2, 2011

August 2, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, GOP, Government, Lawmakers, Politics, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Fear Of Breaking “The Pledge”: Are Republicans And The Tea Party Serious?

This is not the Congress where I worked in the ’70s and  ’80s.  This is not the same caliber of  leader, especially on the Republican side, that our country has been accustomed  to over decades. In the past, people like Eric Cantor and Michele Bachmann were  marginalized. They were not respected by their own party, let alone rewarded;  they were relegated to the back bench.

It would have been a joke if someone predicted that a cable  queen like Bachmann could raise $14 million for a House race or that South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson could raise over $2 million in a matter of weeks as an  obscure member, after screaming at the president, “You lie!” at a State of the  Union address. The notion that someone such as Bachmann would be so popular in  polls and be in a position to win Iowa would have been unthinkable a few short  years ago.

But more important than these personalities and their extreme  positions is what they have done to the Republican party.

We have a unique opportunity to truly turn this nation  around.  President Obama, and it appears Speaker of the House John Boehner, were ready to truly change the direction of the country.  In the past, I believe we could have made it  work—with a Reagan, an O’Neill, a Mansfield, a Baker, a Dirksen.  It is a long list.

But, sadly, the absolutism of no revenues—every tax cut,  even temporary—is now permanent.  Taxes  can only go down… sort of like housing prices can only go up! Pledges to  Grover Norquist are absurd, shortsighted, and counterproductive.

I truly wonder whether the extreme wing of the Republican  Party wants to solve our problem or just play politics with it; is this just  beat Obama and the democrats at all costs, the country be damned? Or is it an  adherence to an ideology that is inflexible, a fear of breaking some “pledge?”

Regardless, the over $4 trillion budget fix is achievable—not popular—but achievable. It takes both parties to accept political  responsibility.  I wonder, though, if you  asked a Tea Party member or a liberal democrat, “Would you sacrifice your seat  in Congress to achieve real fiscal responsibility, to turn the nation around?”  would they say “yes?”  After all, why did  they run for office in the first place? To be serious, to accomplish big  things, I would hope.

A number of years ago a group of us were with Sen. Paul  Sarbanes.  He was retiring after a  long and distinguished career in the House and Senate. One person asked him  what was the biggest change he had seen in his 40 years.  Sarbanes said that people come into  office now with their minds made up; they are afraid to change or to listen to  the other side.  He pointed out that when  he first came to the Senate, there used to be real debate on the issues of our  time and that minds would be changed.   There was a different spirit of cooperation and compromise and true  listening. Relationships across the aisle were forged. There was give and take. There was an opportunity to come to an agreement without a total win-lose  mentality.

If there ever was a time in our nation’s history to return to  that spirit, it is now.

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, July 13, 2011

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Taxes, Tea Party, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mad Men and Mad Women: Republicans And Social Engineering

Republicans hate social engineering, unless they’re doing it.

Wishing they had the power to repeal the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and get back to the repressed “Mad Men” world they crave, some conservative lawmakers grumpily quizzed upbeat military brass on Friday.

“We’re starting to try to conform the military to a behavior, and I remember going through the military, we took behaviors and we formed it to the military,” said Representative Allen West of Florida, warning ominously (and weirdly) that “this could be the camel getting his nose under the tent.”

The House Armed Services subcommittee hearing was led by Joe Wilson, the oh-so-subtle Republican congressman from South Carolina famous for yelling “You lie!” at President Obama. Wilson started off the hearing by saying that the legislation to let gays stop lying while they risk dying was rushed through in an “undemocratic” lame-duck session.

Two top Pentagon officials testified that the transition was going swimmingly, yet Republicans scoffed. Representative Austin Scott of Georgia demanded the price tag. Clifford Stanley, an under secretary of defense, replied that the training materials cost only $10,000.

Scott harrumphed, “If something was done at D.O.D. for $10,000, I would like to know what it was.” He said that hundreds of thousands had been spent training a soldier in his district to disarm I.E.D.’s, but the soldier wouldn’t re-enlist because of the “social policy.”

The Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine jumped in to note that the cost of purging gays between 2004 and 2009 was $193.3 million: “It’s not only unconscionable … but the costs are horrendous.”

Scott persisted in looking for trouble, even after Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the joint staff, said the Pentagon had seen no problems so far.

The congressman asked the admiral if he had ever dismissed anyone. Gortney said he had dismissed a young sailor who acknowledged being gay after “don’t ask, don’t tell” first passed.

“Did you discharge him from the service because he was gay?” Scott asked. “Or because he violated the standard of conduct?”

“Because he was gay,” Gortney said.

“He did not violate the standard of conduct before he was dismissed?” Scott pressed.

“He did not,” Gortney said.

“Well,” Scott said, once more at a loss, “that’s not the answer I thought you would give, to be honest with you.”

Gortney assured him there were “very few cases” of gays’ being dismissed for violating the standard of conduct.

After the Republican rout in November, the story line took hold that because of the recession and Tea Partiers’ fervent focus on the debt as a moral matter, divisive social issues were going on the back burner. But lo and behold, social issues have roared back. Many in the Tea Party have joined that chain-smoking, cocktail-quaffing Mad Man John Boehner in the martini party to put a retro focus on wedge issues, from gays to abortion.

Like Boehner, who complained that Democratic leaders were “snuffing out the America that I grew up in,” some Tea Partiers are jumping in a time machine. They can’t stop themselves from linking social issues to the budget.

“This pulls the mask back a little bit on the Tea Party movement,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland. “Adding riders against Planned Parenthood and gutting the environmental laws indicate that the Tea Party is focused on imposing a right-wing ideological agenda on the country and using the budget as a vehicle.”

Whether it’s upholding the Defense of Marriage Act, trying to defund Planned Parenthood, or aiming cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and even AARP, House Republicans are in a lather that occludes their pledges to monomaniacally work on the economy.

When Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor and Republican presidential aspirant, dared to urge his party to “mute” social issues, he was smacked.

“We cannot repair the economy without addressing the deep cultural issues that are tearing apart the family and society,” said Andy Blom of the American Principles Project. The presidential hopeful Rick Santorum even posited last week that abortions might be breaking the bank on Social Security.

The snowball of social rage will speed up as we head toward 2012, given that the Iowa caucuses are dominated by social conservatives. Pawlenty, Barbour and Huckabee have already talked about vitiating the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Because independent voters considered President Obama too partisan in his debut, they shifted their loyalties — and swept in one of the most ideological and partisan Republican caucuses in history. Now Obama will get back some of the independents because he seems reasonable by comparison.

One thing independents like to be independent of is government meddling in their personal lives. 

By: Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 2, 2011 

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, GOP, Independents, Politics, Privacy, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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