“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”

What are you?  Are you a Republican because you are conservative?  Are you aligned with liberal causes because you are a Democrat?

bigstock-A-green-two-way-street-sign-po-20683979Which came first?  Your party affiliation or your conservative ideology?  Are you a liberal, by nature, and, therefore a Democrat?

Where did your socio-political philosophy come from in the first place?  Was it inherited from your parents or your life experience?

Are you more of a liberal than you are a Democrat?  Are you more of a conservative than a Republican?

Is it even possible to separate liberalism from being a Democrat or conservatism from being a Republican?  Could you be a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican?

These questions have been on my mind for a long time.  I ask them because public policy debates have confused different philosophies into an amalgam of political agendas, and that is leading us down the road toward ideological meaninglessness.

The differences are crucial, however.  Conservatism and the Republican Party are separate concepts.  The same is true of liberalism and Democrats.  While, today, each party holds those principles close to their heart and clearly we predominately consider them to be exclusive to each, the historical journey is very different and must be examined if we are to ever find common ground.

In the beginning of our country we had the Federalists that included Washington and Adams, and the party of Jefferson who were Democrat-Republicans.  Federalism, it should be noted, wasn’t really a political party, but a philosophy that believed in strong central government along with the promotion of commerce and industry.

washington-adams-and-jeffersonThe Federalists became Whigs who evolved into the Republican Party.  The Democrat-Republicans, who today would be considered Libertarians, became strictly Democrats.  The original Democrats, formed by Andrew Jackson, coerced the US into using its power in foreign affairs when American interests were threatened, but in economic and social policy they stressed the responsibility of federal government to act cautiously, if at all.

It was Democrats in the early 19th century who argued that the national government should do nothing the states could do for themselves, and that drilled down into localities believing local government better served its people than state government.

And in the cracks of our party histories we’ve seen the National Republicans who became the Free Soil Party which rose to vehemently oppose the spread of slavery.  In time they gave way to the People’s Party which eventually became the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party of Republican Teddy Roosevelt who fought for social reforms and was opposed to excessive corporate power.

bull_moose_party

Woven into the fabric of Republican history is progressivism and part and parcel with Democratic history, from the Revolution until the New Deal, were conservative, small government ideals

Political parties and socio-political philosophies do not share continuous and consistent histories and one need only to go back 150 years to the creation of the modern Republican Party to realize that Republicans embraced progressivism in their purpose to end slavery, while, in fact, it was Democrats holding on to the conservative status quo.

So today when one party holds the philosophical guidance of conservatism or liberalism over its head to declare a consistent connection throughout history, it is sheer folly.  While our political affiliations may appear to be extensions of our political-philosophical beliefs, there is no core set of principles that exist within any of our political “disciplines.”

I offer this with the hope that, perhaps, some of the vitriol in our disagreements could be eliminated.  One side rarely speaks of the other, be it Republicans concerning Democrats or Liberals with regard to Conservatives, without an angry tone or sarcastic dismissal of all they have brought to the policy table.

Difficult as it may be to accept, or even comprehend….Republicans are responsible for much of our country’s progressive movements that many Republicans hold in contempt today.

And Democrats have in our history fought against some of the social reforms that they now embrace.

So…let’s get over ourselves.  Our ideological history isn’t a straight line from the cause of the Revolution to the cause of our Revulsion today.

“Coo coo ca-choo!”

The Preamble Scramble

Avoid-Paying-Taxes-on-Your-Social-SecuritySomeone came into my office the other day and said, “I’m becoming a Libertarian.  I’m tired of big government in my life and I’m tired of government in my paycheck!”

I understood where he was coming from; I don’t enjoy writing the tax check to Uncle Sam, either.  But, I also don’t enjoy paying the cable bill; it’s just a reality I must accept for getting the service.

I wonder, though, how much money I could keep in my paycheck if there wasn’t so much being allocated for…well…defense spending.

piechartI knew that my visitor was implying government spending on everything else, but nearly $700,000,000,000 a year must seem at least a little excessive to anyone.  We talked for a while and what he didn’t like were things like the Department of Education, the FDA, the EPA, welfare programs, and Social Security.

When I do a little math, though, I see that aside from Social Security, I don’t lose that much from my check to welfare, and except for the proportion that is spent on defense, I think I’m taxed moderately to run a nation with the services and benefits we have.

I asked my visitor, “Will you be making personal contributions to national defense to make up for less taxes?”

ace1He replied, “That’s what I’m happy to pay.  Government should take care of national defense and the infrastructure of the United States and nothing more.”

I agreed.  But, the question arises:  What is the infrastructure of the United States?

The preamble to the Constitution states:

“We the People of the United States, in order the-preamble-to-the-united-states-constitution,75366to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”

From this we can probably agree on the services necessary to protect Americans and our economic health:  National defense, highways, waterways, railways, sewers, utilities, and communication networks.

But what else is contained within promoting “the general welfare” and the “domestic tranquility” of the people?

Most people (including me) don’t hesitate to include schools and hospitals, but where do we draw the line?  The quality of education provided in those schools?  And what about the entire health system?  What is a hospital without the best care possible?

What is “domestic tranquility”?  Does that include social services?

And where is the line drawn for “common defense”?  Who defines the parameters of necessary defense before it becomes aggressive offense?

My office visitor left right after I said, “Government is what we’ve made it.  It is naïve to suggest that all we have to do is cut spending and cut programs and government will automatically get smaller.”

He left, but I silently continued my reasoning.

Government has grown as our country has grown.  We, the People, have demanded that our government protect our interests in areas that far exceed our Framer’s original understanding of Common Defense and General Welfare.

I would’ve asked my visitor:  “When a passenger jet crashes, would you be satisfied with an explanation from Boeing that it will never happen again, or do you prefer that there is an FAA that investigates the crash without bias and has the authority to instigate changes to prevent that mistake from happening again?”

“When toxic waste is poured into a river and the neighboring town gets sick, would it be enough for the townspeople to ask that the company please refrain from doing that?  Or do we need the aggregate voice of all the people (government) to demand new practices?

“When the lunchmeat is bad at school, what will protect our children from the choice a provider made to hold better margins?

The answer?  Government of, by, and for the People.

300px-YeomanThe Libertarian ideal, the one that includes Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of agrarian government, can no longer exist because the conflicting interests and demands of 315 million people (and counting) ensures that simplicity will never again be the operating system of America.

There is a reason government has not shrunk even when we’ve had Republican presidents with a Republican Congress.  It’s like changing a tire on a moving car; most of the programs and services contained within government were created by our own demands upon that system.  In many cases, spending (welfare spending, as well) has increased under the watch of the party that stands most firmly against it.

We can, and should, talk about defining government responsibilities.  We can, and should, talk about controlling spending, and we should talk about redundancies and unnecessary government programs. But, those directives do not necessarily create smaller government or keep “government out of our paychecks.”  They can, however, aim our conversations toward creating “better” government.

Government is the foundation of representation and the realization of our Founder’s vision.  It is improved by cooperating within the system designed by our Constitution, by researching the issues, by participating with our votes, and even with our protests.

put-money-back-in-your-pocketThe argument about the size of government has derailed and sidetracked the solutions that actually could put more money back into our own pockets.

Let’s leave talking about size to fishermen and insecure guys in bars.

 

It’s A Wonderful Life!


I make a big deal out of Christmas.  It was a big deal growing up and as a parent I’ve made it a big deal for my kids.  I can’t honestly say that the traditions mean as much to them as they always have to me, but I put blinders on and go through my annual routines, regardless of what anyone thinks.

We WILL drive around town to look at Christmas lights.  There WILL be eggnog (spikedthCABFWJW3 with rum for the adults) and there WILL be Bing Crosby Christmas music playing.

There WILL be the same Christmas prayer at Christmas dinner that I’ve been reciting for 40 years.

milk-cookies-santa-11259883Presents ARE delivered by Santa Claus and so cookies and milk WILL be left out and I WILL get up in the middle of the night to take a bite from a cookie and to pour the milk down the sink.

My boys have come to accept this.

This year presented a challenge for Mr. Christmas, though.  A sinister robbery took place where all of their presents were stolen from my car.  Before, your heart sinks, let me tell you that there is good news!  It was the nicest Christmas I can remember having in a long time.

My boys were to spend Christmas Eve in Florida with their mother, but my eldest, Chris, who is 15, decided to stay in Iowa so that he could be with Dad.  He is a young man now and we were able to talk in ways that we can’t when his 10 year old brother is about.  We both fell asleep one afternoon on the couch watching a bowl game and I woke up to find his head on my shoulder.  I don’t know how long it’s been since that has happened.

*Sigh*

Because of my traditions, I keep all but a couple of presents hidden until Christmas.  Most are at my mother’s house, where my brothers send gifts, as well.  I also pick up the bigger presents that day so that no searches of my house can uncover them.  On this particular Christmas Eve, I stopped by the store to get a special gift and gathered the rest of the presents into the back of my car to take to my house.

First, though, I wanted to check in at work and I parked in our company parking lot, door locked, for all of about 10 minutes.  When I came back out, my rear window was brokenth and all of the presents were gone.

What a horrible feeling.  Surreal, actually.  Could this be a joke?  How could this happen in the middle of the day in a company parking lot?

Where you work is almost like where you live; it is private; secure; a place you trust.  And who would do this on Christmas Eve?

All of those questions transpired in a millisecond, however, because the overwhelming thought that went through my head was:  “Oh, no!  My boys!”

The police came, pictures were taken, a report was filed, arrangements were made to get my window fixed…and I drove home.

Chris was watching television when I got there and I told him straight up.

“Son, our Christmas presents were stolen.”

He knew immediately that I wasn’t joking.  I took him outside to see the car and he said, “It’s okay, Dad.  We’re going to be fine.”

Hang on!  Isn’t that how I’m supposed to be comforting HIM?

Not one to be defeated by life’s misfortunes, I decided to post this experience on Facebook.  I wasn’t looking for attention; I wanted the vast potential of social media to possibly corner the thieves.  Maybe someone, I thought, would notice their neighbor coming home with a car load of suspicious gifts.  What did I have to lose?

My post was seen by local news and I got a call asking if they could come over to do a story.  I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” because I thought the more coverage, the greater the possibility that someone could be discovered.  The one-man band from KWWL, named Olivia, was at our doorstep in minutes.

The camera was set when Olivia turned to me and said, “I think Chris is the story here.  I’ll ask you, Gary, what happened, but Chris’ feelings are the real story.”

She was right.   Chris hesitated at first because attention was not what he got up for on that particular day, but he soon acquiesced.   A microphone was attached and the camera rolled.

“How did you feel when your Dad told you your Christmas presents had been stolen?” asked Olivia.

“My first thought was, ‘Is my Dad going to be alright?’  He tries to make everything perfect for us on Christmas and I worried if he was going to be okay.”

Off camera, Dad is starting to cry.

“I don’t need anything,” he continued, “I’m loved by two families and that’s my Christmas gift.  I hope wherever our presents are that they are being enjoyed by kids who need them.”

Oh….my….God.

He wasn’t “playing” for the camera or for some pseudo-gratification from saying exactly the most perfect thing; he was completely sincere.  I knew it.  Olivia knew it.  Everyone who saw the broadcast knew it.

Chris reminded me, and a lot of others, of the meaning of Christmas.  My tears were now tears of joy.  I felt like George Bailey as friends called, sent messages, and even offered gifts for my boys.

My younger brother’s family came up from Des Moines and, along with my mother, Chris and I had a joyful celebration.  And then, in the early afternoon on Christmas Day, we were joined by my youngest son, Alex, back from Florida.

I read the Christmas prayer as I always do and we dined, toasting the love that is so often taken for granted, but is the foundation of our lives.  We didn’t need a thing because we had everything.

In the span of 24 hours the darker side of the human experience was revealed but eclipsed by the brightness of the human spirit.

There are people who have fallen into desperation and the rules of civility are meaningless to them, but we must, as my son’s generous nature proclaimed, open our hearts to them, as well.

And there are people who will lend a hand and offer their coat whenever a friend, or even a stranger, is in need.

My boys and I have been blessed.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAHappy New Year!

Snark Monkey Live!

200px-The_Golden_Jubilee_(1982)This isn’t a political post, but I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Larry Morgan, the Snark Monkey, on his podcast.  The pleasure stems from the fact that someone actually wanted to talk about my career in show business.  The result is a fun hour long conversation, but Larry and I stumbled upon a little wisdom regarding surviving the “business we call show.”

http://www.snarkmonkey.net/podcast/2014/10/28/snarkmonkey-6-gary-kroeger

Losing My Religion

I made a statement to some friends while having drinks that “Conservatism is kind of like religion and requires blind acceptance of its dogma without being self-critical.”

Actually, there is a name for this, it’s called the “Asymmetry Thesis” and it contends that individuals who subscribe to a conservative viewpoint are more likely to resist evidence that challenges their existing beliefs.

I contrasted this to Liberalism which emerged from the Age of Enlightenment as a repudiation of the status quo.  I added that there was no clear set of principles from which conservatives operated; their belief system was rooted in a repudiation of change.

One person immediately asked, “What is unclear about lower taxes and smaller government?”

“Everything” I replied. I compared those political platitudes to a “clear” commandment from Christianity:

Thou Shalt Not Kill.

“What is clear about that?” I asked. “It may be a definitive Biblical statement but we kill all the time. We wage war, killing millions and even justify collateral civilian casualties.  We execute, and we apply subjective criteria for killing in self-defense.”

If we were honest, we should amend the Commandment to: “Thou Shalt Not Kill…Unless We Feel We Have A Really Good Reason To.”

My flippancy is not far off; that is more consistent to what our society has determined, yet, many consider all of the Commandments as immutable and literally written in stone.

“What is clear about lower taxes?” I asked. “Lower taxes to reduce military spending? Lower taxes to reduce what is available for disease control, transportation safety, education, highway maintenance or unemployment for those who cannot find work? Should we lower taxes so there’s less pay for teachers, police or firefighters? How about lowering taxes to reduce research to create better medicine or to help disabled Americans?”

“No! I’m all for the things that improve the quality of life and help others,” one of my friends insisted. “I’m tired of politicians giving themselves raises, I’m tired of handouts and government waste.”

“Okay,” I answered (amidst the cheers his statement inspired). “Give me the list then and be specific. Then let’s do the math. What are we going to cut and what are the realistic repercussions?”

“The Stimulus was a trillion dollars!” came the first volley. “That was a total waste.”

“We can debate the Recovery Act until the sacred Keynsian cows come home, but in the world of business, which many of you believe should become the operating model for government, it is an ‘expense’ on our P&L statement. The relevant equation is the Debt to GNP ratio and our argument should be about production and jobs.”

I made that too easy and I deserved the roundhouse punch that followed:  “Thou Shalt Cut Taxes– that’s how you stimulate growth!”

“But, tell me,” I asked, “why didn’t that work 12 years ago? We even had a surplus and were just trying to correct a minor recession, but businesses contracted anyway and jobs were lost. In fact, it set the table for the catastrophe that followed.”

Maybe…taxes are not the direct answer. Or maybe…they can help but only if they are lowered in the right way at the right time- as Kennedy did in 1963 (the bill passed after his assassination in ’64); closing loopholes at the top, and better breaks at the bottom.”

I have yet to hear a precise answer to that.

Another “clear” Conservative Commandment is:

Thou Shalt Make Smaller Government.

Okay. I’m all for containing the spread of anything that is not useful, but what, specifically, needs to be trimmed?  Financial reform commissions, safety boards, criminal investigation, food and drug supervision?

I’ve heard some people say that we should do away with the Department of Education, but I’m not sure, that will resonate with most Americans who are concerned about education standards.

Can we all agree that the Military Industrial Complex needs the red pencil?

No? Well, just try to get rid of Social Security and Medicare and see how far you get.

I’m not disagreeing with anyone who believes that government has redundancies that need to be cut or trimmed or that taxes need reform, it is a self serving drum beat from conservatives, however, that perpetuates the idea that liberals think that government can’t get big enough or that taxes are never high enough; it simply isn’t true or historically accurate (at all).

The Zimmerman trial illustrated the liberal/conservative divide. The parameters of the case and the resultant verdict fell along ideological lines between the left and the right, with the right supporting Zimmerman’s defense of “self-defense” and his acquittal, and the left finding the circumstance of Martin’s killing fundamentally suspect and the aftermath to be a miscarriage of justice.

On a social media site a conservative defended the American court system as “still being the best in the world.”  Another conservative defended America’s non-racist values by pointing out that this country elected a black President “twice.”  Another accused Liberals of “hating America” because of the liberal contention that our socio-political system is flawed.

On one hand, this evidence supports the Asymmetrical Thesis because these conservatives will not question their storybook nationalism, but at the same time, many Liberals will not allow for anything that doesn’t support their existing belief that those flaws are more accurately defining us.

So I calibrate my own thinking by coming back to what my Liberal Doctrine demands and that is to consistently challenge the status quo and to fight for the principles that should come before any action; the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; egalitarianism and justice for all. The ideological clarification I’m looking for from my conservative friends is specifically what they believe in beyond those giant, fairytale platitudes…like, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.“

I want clarity from those who claim they are clear and I want ideas accompanied with facts and historical evidence. I want objective, self-critical analysis.

You know…kind of like what liberals do.

Every Dollar You Ernst

Okay….Republicans swept into Washington in one of the biggest political polarityuntitled shifts in history.  I worked for Democrats to keep that from happening, but ultimately it came as no surprise.  Mistakes were made, Democratic blocks didn’t vote, historically this happens anyway, and an unpopular President was reflected onto his party.

My focus has shifted away from making cases for Democrats and toward how we make all of this work.  My concerns, however, have not changed.  One of several things that concerned me about Joni Ernst, for example, were her statements about welfare; sentiments that she shares nationally with a majority of Republican lawmakers.

Senator Ersnt campaigned saying:  “We have fostered a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.  It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that.”

Painful for whom?  The people without the means to endure that pain?Mitt+Romney+Campaigns+Iowa+Senate+Candidate+JL3vy1uKyDjx

And what evidence supports that statement that drew cheers from every conservative crowd?

There isn’t any.  But it is repeated so often that it has become truth to many.

What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” according to Mitt Romney).  The deduction they are making is that this represents the failure of welfare programs, and that if people don’t have to work, they won’t.  It has become a cornerstone of modern Republican rhetoric; Republicans who are now in control of Capitol Hill and who will create (or remove) policy.

A more relevant deduction from 47% is the fact that too many people don’t make enough to pay taxes or they are unemployed.  What it isn’t is a statistic showing lack of desire to work, or laziness.  What it shows is that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.

Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check, and most Americans who receive welfare will go back into the work force.  Welfare (only 2% of the federal budget, excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), is not “wasted” tax money, either.  Beyond the ethical fact that sustenance is being provided, every dollar goes back into the economy as cash exchanged for products; it is liquidity in the market.

In the micro-view:  Among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t.  In other words, welfare does not discourage work; it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.

Furthermore, according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.

Here’s a macro-view:  According to UNICEF, nations with stronger social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty.   Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%.

In the United States it is 22%.  Social programs keep us relatively low when compared to world standards, but it still translates into more than 1 in 5 Americans living in poverty.  In the richest, most powerful nation on earth, how is that possible?

I’ll tell you.  It’s possible because 40% of everything is owned by only 1%.

And that is why welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class.  While we prefer to look away from our own socio-political inequities and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, poverty is a bi-product of an economic engine that creates exhaust.

What we cannot ignore is that our “exhaust” is a human life with a family.

Senator Ernst, when you look at real numbers and not rhetoric, we are paying a small price to help those who have fallen through thehungry cracks.  And when you oppose living wages, how are you not exacerbating the problem and only increasing the pain that you believe they must endure?

Welfare should fall on our ledger as our privilege to provide, and not as our burden.

Are you kidding?

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re having an argument with someone when they accuse you of a certain behavior, and you respond, “Are you kidding? I was just going to say the same thing about you!”

thCAL7F73JApparently, the criterion by which we judge others is not always applied to ourselves.  This happens to me a lot when I discuss politics with people who are firmly entrenched conservatives.

They consistently accuse liberals of:  1) Lying, 2) Being afraid of facts, 3) Putting blame elsewhere.

Are you kidding?  I was just….

My study here is anecdotal, but I observe this often enough to have drawn some conclusions that I stand behind.  I suggest this:  Conservatives are brilliant in a debate.  Their polished and refined strategy is:  If you take away your opponents strength by calling it your own, they have nowhere to go.

A Republican friend who likes to periodically goad me into a debate, came up to me the other day and said, “Liberals can’t stand facts!”

He went on to give me some “Facts.”WIN-Daily_Supplement-Facts

“Did you know,” he asked, “that the average unemployment rate under Bush was 5.3?  Obama’s is over 8.”

He went on:  “Bush increased the debt over two terms by 5 trillion while Obama increased the debt by more in less than half the time.”

I read Republican and conservative websites, and will tune into Fox News periodically to calibrate my perspective and so I’ve heard these numbers before.  I responded:  “Those are real numbers and I guess you could call them ‘facts,’ but they thdo not tell the truth.  Truth requires analysis and your conclusions from those numbers are as relevant as saying, ‘When I’m in a room with Bill Gates we have over 70 billion dollars between us.’  It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the true story.”

Laughter follows, but I argue enough that I’m more or less prepared.

“Bush inherited a robust economy with unemployment at 4 and handed off 8 with a bottomless recession right at the tail end of his presidency.  This month it is at 5.8.  Most of President Obama’s debt is from continued policies. President Bush decreased revenue and then borrowed to pay for two wars and a prescription drug program.  Plus war costs rise as they continue.”

Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo and so I transitioned into my rote rant:  “President Reagan still retains his crown as the Great Tax Emancipator, but the bill came due for his policies when George Bush, Sr. became president and tanked that presidency.  Same thing happened here, except that it wasn’t a minor recession; it was the worst in 80 years.”

My friend’s eyes are now rolling because he’s heard this before and he knows that he’s going to pull out the trump card soon.

I continued:  “Recessions don’t immediately reverse when new presidents take office and the quagmire of continuing job loss, increased unemployment benefits, necessary stimulus to stop the bleeding, resulted in trillions in new debt. That’s the truth beyond your easy to sell ‘facts’.”

And, right on cue, he pulled out the card:  “All you Democrats can do is blame the past and Bush.”

“I didn’t know that there was a statute of limitations on truth.” I fired back.  “Maybe we lincolnshould get over blaming Booth for assassinating Lincoln.  The truth is what it is.  A recession was caused by predatory lending in an unsupervised market with unscrupulous toxic assets and rising economic inequality.  We can argue all day about who is complicit, but we can be sure that it all happened before January of 2009.”

“I love you Kroeger,” was his sincere, but nevertheless dismissive, response.  We are good friends and we enjoy poking each other with argumentative sticks, but I felt that I’d “won” this little strategy debate and so did he.

My conclusion was, as it has been before, that “facts” are meaningless without analysis that goes deeper than simply offering evidence to support an already drawn conclusion.  And, my conclusion was, as it has been before….one side is less likely to go that deep than the other.

Were you just about to say that about me?

Make ’em squeal! Vote Braley!

joni-ernstI don’t dislike Joni Ernst as a person.   She appears to be very nice and it is with sincere admiration that I thank her for her military service.  I believe that she is sincere, as well, in her commitment to improving Washington and to change the course of America in a better direction.  But that doesn’t make her the right person for the job.

c8d34a066f68aac8f8f552efbab6cec1Not by a country mile.

An article the day before an election may seem like too little too late to influence a race; many absentee ballots are already cast and most people know with certainty which little box they’re going to fill in tomorrow, but a vote not yet cast is still a vote not yet cast.  The Braley/Ernst race will be close and a few people reconsidering their decision could make a difference.

The most aggravating aspect of this race has been the erroneous rhetoric that has attacked the candidates.  Bruce Braley’s record has suffered the most in this regard due to dark and unlimited soft money that have given attack ads the lion share of airtime.

He has been portrayed as uninterested in our veterans “just when they needed him most”- yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Braley has made Veteran’s benefits the signature of his terms in the House.  Braley introduced and passed a law to give tax breaks to companies that hire veterans returning from duty, unemployed veterans, and wounded warriors.  He took on the Pentagon to secure overdue combat pay for 800 Iowa National Guard troops  and helped secure full GI Bill education benefits.

Committee attendance records are a weak issue.  Ernst, in particular, has a low attendance record in Des Moines, but that doesn’t mean that she’s been uninterested in the job, it simply means that she (like Braley) was serving her office in other ways.  I don’t hold her low attendance record against her.thCA2CH61F

In one of the more ironic twists of any campaign, Braley missed a committee meeting because he was literally welcoming Iowa veterans in Washington from the Honor Flight.

Several Republican PAC commercials have cited Braley as a regulations creating, tax and spend Democrat.  Each of these points are simply political rhetoric.  The Bush Administration left America with an economy in a death spiral and spending was the inevitable result.  Detroit was buoyed by both Bush and Obama stimulus.  Wall Street, as well.  New regulations were put in place to curtail devious practices that led to toxic assets that crippled the stock market.

To now pin spending on Braley and Democrats is as disingenuous as politics can get.  In fact, deficit spending is now less as we move toward balancing the budget that Ernst says would be her priority.

George Bush had a Republican Congress for 4 years (Democrats only had a majority in both the House and the Senate for 2 of Bush’s 8 years) and the brick and mortar were laid that resulted in economic collapse.  Why, America, would we think that the same formula would lead to different results?

We may not have a Republican President today, but if Republicans sweep into Washington in these midterm elections, we will be one step away from the trifecta that opened the financial faucet for the wealthiest Americans to amass greater fortunes and choked the Middle Class to where they could no longer spend and sustain the 1411952863007-desm0928DebteErnstBraley0022economy.

6 months ago, Bruce Braley led this race by a wide margin.  Since then Joni Ernst has mounted a very strong and clever campaign.  She is a nice Iowa farmgirl and a self sacrificing patriot and that translates very well in the midst of a contentious political climate.

Braley meanwhile pulled a gaff in Texas that was exploited by the Ernst campaign.  I can say with certainty that he wishes he could take a remark back where he appeared to belittle Senator Chuck Grassley by categorizing him as a farmer, but the comment has to be put in context.  He was speaking privately to lawyers suggesting that someone with a law degree and not a “farmer who never went to law school” should head the Judiciary Committee.  That, in itself, is not an outrageous statement.

Would he rephrase that if he could?  Absolutely.  Does it mean he doesn’t care about farmers?  Absolutely not.  Braley has fought tirelessly to re-new the Farm Bill to provide our farmers and ranchers the tools they need to produce abundant and affordable food.

Your vote is important.  Have you taken the time to look at his REAL position on farming?  http://braley.house.gov/issue/agriculture

It comes down to this.  Bruce Braley has been a Congressman who has reached across the aisle to get things done.  He cares about Iowa, he cares about America, and he fights for better benefits for veterans and subsidies for farmers.  He is a passionate advocate for renewable energy to bolster Iowa’s economy as well as provide better environmental standards.  Yes, he is a lawyer, and thereby knows a thing or two about the system our Founding Fathers created.  We are a nation of laws; that is how we keep order, justice, service, fairness, opportunity and advance our interests.

Joni Ernst has gained a lot of attention for her position to “bring Iowa values to Washington.”  Great statement and it has worked because we are tired of the hostility in Washington.  But it’s hostility created by a 100% obstructionist agenda by Republicans since January of 2009.  It is hostility created by superficial memes and news agencies with nothing but a financial agenda.  It is hostility created by billions of dollars that serve only the special interests of those spending it.

A vote for Joni Ernst continues the gridlock that defines today’s politics.  A vote for Ernst supports the special interests of corporations.  It is a vote toward undervaluing women in the workplace and away from the freedom to have dominion over their own bodies.  A vote for Ernst is a vote against affordable student loans, a living wage and a healthier environment.  A vote for Ernst moves us toward the privatization that steers America toward plutocracy.  A vote for Ernst leads us toward policy that threatens the civil rights guaranteed by our constitution to all Americans.

A vote for Bruce Braley is a vote for the kind of politician we all say we’re looking for.14776993581_e36e55437b_o  Intelligent, willing and able to listen and respond, who reaches across the aisle, who is passionate about his state, his country, and those who serve, from our agricultural roots to the service men and women who defend us.

A vote for the Democrat in this race helps to secure balance on Capitol Hill to ensure that we do not, once again, begin a slide into economic and cultural catastrophe.

Unnecessary Roughness!

I had a revelation while attending a college football game.  Perhaps, it wasn’t so much of a revelation as it was a connecting of the dots between human nature and politics, and it triggered a realization.

9049097463_018d1e170bI am an Iowa boy, born and raised, once again living in the “Fields of Opportunities” and I have always rooted for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

In LA, where I lived for 20 years, I attended every Iowa Rose Bowl appearance and cheered along with other Iowa expatriots in bars any time Iowa was televised.  Yet, I am a Northwestern University graduate and so, I must admit that I root against Iowa once a year.

Where we go to college usually becomes thCAGZHRATthe focal point for the rest of our lives in terms of who we cheer for and what colors will decorate the rec room.

As I cheered for the Wildcats, alone in a sea of black and gold, with the exception of my teenage son who wants to go to Northwestern law school someday, I noted a behavior concerning how we take sides.

A ballcarrier from Iowa was racing toward the sidelines and right at the point of being at the sideline he was hit hard415-6Eoxz_SlMa_55 by a Northwestern linebacker.  A flag was thrown and the crowd cheered for the inevitable “unnecessary roughness” call.

The officials convened and two refs were quite adamant about something.  The flag was then picked up and the official announced, “There is no flag on the play!”

The crowd was furious.  The Hawkeye fans surrounding me screamed, “You’re blind!  That was a personal foul!!”

The JumboTron then showed the play, all the way through the alleged crime.  It wasn’t a foul.  The runner’s body was leaning over the line, but his feet were still in bounds when he was hit.  The Iowa crowd was still not convinced and the woman next to me and the man behind her were dumbfounded.

So…I leaned over and said, “It was a clean hit.”

“B@!!$#!t!” bellowed the woman, with Hawkeye logos under both eyes and wearing black and gold striped overalls,  “It wasn’t even close!  That was flagrant!”

There wasn’t the slightest doubt in her mind that she was correct and the man behind her concurred as he said to me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

But….it was a clean hit.

And that doesn’t matter.  They were convinced, along with 60,000 other Hawkeye fans that they’d been cheated and betrayed by the officials.

As fate would have it, soon after that play, Northwestern had the ball and the sequence of events were nearly untitledidentical.  The Northwestern quarterback was hit by the sideline and flew well into the Iowa bench.  No flag.  And the Iowa crowd was perfectly satisfied that it was the correct No-call.

The woman turned turned to me and said sarcastically, “I suppose you think that was a foul.”

“Nope,” I replied.  “He was in bounds just like the Iowa guy.”

“B^!s#!t,” she grumbled again, “those refs were %@#ed on the other call!”

That’s how we are.  The home team never gets enough calls to fall their way and the officials are always blind when things go the other way.  That home turf behavior is no different when we apply our feelings to politics; when our side wins it is because it was the correct course of action, when the other finds success it’s because they were given unfair breaks.

(Let’s replace “officials” with “government” or…could that be where I was going with this in the first place?)

I’m having a very hard time defending our President these days, not because I am having doubts about his integrity or his record, but because the other side has been complaining so loudly about bad officiating that the game is constantly under review.

It appears to many people that everything is falling apart; the health care debate rages on, the NSA ramps up survelliance, ISIS emerges from the sands of Syria, a couple of stock market fumbles, and the right wing media machine has a field day.

“We told you so!”

“This is the worst President in history!”

They’ve coined “Obama-pologists” to describe those of us who continue to defend the administration.

But, the truth is not apparent to the angry crowd.  The truth is, ACA is essentially working, and with cooperative improvements, it could work even better.  The highest percentage of Americans are now insured than any time in history.  Worries of bankruptcy due to medical costs are fading.

The truth is, the NSA is simply continuing the same out of control agenda outlined since the Patriot Act.

The truth is, a government shutdown, engineered by Republicans, came with a 24 billion dollar price tag, and slowed our growth.

And the truth is, emerging militant caliphates are a result of a fractured balance largely caused by the invasion of Iraq.  Saddam Hussein was a bad man, there is no doubt, but he kept any threat to his authority, even extremists, in check.

The pack mentality of whichever side you’re on, and the behemoth of media that will fan whichever flame brings the best revenue, willcrowd continue to grow.  We’ve created a mythical concept of what Presidents can do and the crowd has done this without reading the rule book.

And we hate the officials who are bound by those rules when they aren’t applied in our favor.  Human nature, it seems, just might be the enemy of reason.

The role of the media (the press) in the design of our Republic was to keep the conversation honest and to report the facts so that we (the people) can make informed, rather than inflamed, opinions.  But, perhaps, there is a glimmer of hope, if we could apply the media to politics the way it still operates in sports—

images_display_imageI watched the replay on television of the game I attended, and lo and behold, when the “flagrant foul” was committed, the play by play announcers said, “That was a good call by the officials to pick up the flag; it was a clean hit.”

They told the truth.

Elephant’s Memory

1406317582000-braleycvatvadI’m watching television and a commercial from a Republican PAC slams Bruce Braley for supporting Democratic initiatives 93% of the time.  It states how Braley even supported Obamacare.  It also insinuates that Braley is a snob, dislikes farmers and doesn’t care about our veterans.

I yell at the TV a lot, and this moment really had my dander up.  “Of COURSE he voted with the Democrats!  He’s a Democrat supporting the reasons he’s a DEMOCRAT!”

And even still it wasn’t lockstep (which was the implication) unlike Republicans who haven’t broken rank in 6 years!  Braley championed the Farm Bill.  He has been a leader for veteran’s benefits.  As for the Grassley dig, I, too, would like to see someone who’s studied law head the Judiciary Committee!

Attack ads, bending reality, however, are not the sole domain of Republicans.  Not at all.  But I yell at the Republican lies most often and I don’t fact check the Democrats with the same enthusiasm.  Just as Republicans yell at the TV when commercials supporting Democrats tear down Republicans.

It’s a matter of perspective.  And it’s why we can’t get past our current loggerheads infighters Washington, or in any of 50 state houses.

I read a conservative blog yesterday about how the Obama Administration has been the most extreme realization in history of “government overreach.”  It cited the Affordable Care Act as the preeminent example.

“Government is now controlling the most fundamental right of individual freedom,” it stated, “our right to care for our very own bodies.”

Actually what the blogger is establishing is their right to NOT care for their own body.  Hypocrisy always illuminates like a sailor’s beacon in my occipital lobe and I yelled lighthouse(again with the yelling!) “Yeah, just like conservatives want to control a woman’s most fundamental right:  the right to determine her own pregnancy!”

But, that was not the double standard that actually gnawed at me at this particular moment.  The one that stuck in my craw and gave me a rash resembling shingles was a casuistry that is shared by both sides.  It is how we program ourselves to believe-in-what-those-we-believe-in-tell-us-about-those-we-don’t-believe-in (how’s that for bastardizing a preposition?).

Take the assertion from above that Obamacare (ACA) is “government overreach.”  Well…25 years ago, Republicans were calling a similar health insurance mandate a proper use of government to serve the people.  15 years before that President Nixon felt the same way.  And about 20 years before that, President Eisenhower asked Congress to fund what he called health “reinsurance.”

Under Eisenhower’s plan, private insurance companies who extended benefits to uninsured Americans would be reimbursed by the federal government.

So…a health insurance mandate didn’t become “government overreach” until it was a Democrat who was doing the reaching.

To gain some perspective (without a liberal bias) let’s say that President George W Bush had decided to act on what the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, had proposed in 1989 (which Romney later tailored) and passed, with a Republican Congress, a health insurance mandate.  What would Democrats have done?

a)  Embraced it as needed health insurance reform.

b)  Rejected it because it didn’t go far enough toward a single payer platform.

c)  b, plus attacked the Act because it commoditized health care to the continued advantage of the insurance industry.

I’m pretty confident the answer would be “c”  because that actually was how they kept it off the table.

Now to be fair to my Democratic brothers and sisters, I sincerely believe that we push for alternatives (single payer in this example), while my friends from the Party Formerly Known As Grand Old, feel no such obligation (health care, again being the perfect example) in order to oppose Democrat’s proposals.

The partisan paradigm extends to foreign policy, budgets, debt ceilings, and the national debt.  Not one of those categories has seen a singular, historical consistency from either party.  In fact…you might be surprised which party has raised the debt ceiling and the national debt the most.

Since 1944 the Debt Ceiling has been raised 94 times.  54 of those were by Republican Presidents.

Here’s some fun with numbers:  President Obama has raised the National Debt 52% since taking office.  President George W Bush, 101%.   President Clinton, 32%, President GHW Bush, 54%….and the Great Tax Emancipator Himself, President Reagan, raised the National Debt a whopping 186%.

Each of those Republican presidents didn’t reform or curtail welfare spending either.  Only a Democrat, President Clinton (but, yes, with Republican cooperation) passed TANF that created new limits.

Democrats were not always the Party Against Neoliberal Economics, either.  President ClintonGreenspan oops, in particular, favored the Greenspan inspired “Hands off!  Markets police themselves” approach.  President Clinton continued the de-regulation policies, largely put in place during the Reagan years, that ultimately led to the toxicity that crippled the market in 2007-08.

So, here were are.  Democrats and Republicans have been opposing what we once supported and supporting many ideas that we once opposed.  The deciding factor has been “Who’s in office?  Whatever they’re having- I’ll have none of that!”

gridlockThat is the reason for the gridlock.  Now…for the solution….