Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't ask, Don't tell ... don't be discriminatory and give in to hatred!

I was not what most would refer to as a “regular” child. I was born with a lazy eye and had a pretty horrifying case of ADHD in addition to what could charitably be called loquaciousness. I was the type of child that most people want to strangle. When adults ask a child of eight or nine what they’d like to be when they grow up, they do not ever expect the answer I gave for all of my childhood: “I would like to be a U.S. Senator.” Most kids grow up with athletes and celebrities as their heroes. As a child, my idol was Ted Kennedy (yes, really!)

When I was a child, “the world’s greatest deliberative body”(1) was composed of many worthwhile heroes. I counted Kennedy, Bill Bradley, George Mitchell, Bobby Byrd, Bill Proxmire, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, Joe Biden, John Glenn, Tim Wirth, Barbara Mikulski, Chuck Robb, Pat Leahy, Paul Simon, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Warren Rudman, Howard Baker, John Chafee, and Al Gore, Jr. all as people I greatly admired. (See footnotes 2 - 20.)

Fast forward twenty years to me as a not-so-young adult and it’s easy to see why I never followed my dream of going into politics. As I grew up, I found out that many of my heroes were not that heroic. Biden was once caught plagiarizing a British politician’s speech in the middle of the 1988 Presidential campaign. Robb was caught cheating on his wife (the daughter of one of my favorite former Presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson.) John Glenn, the former Marine Corps officer and NASA Astronaut, was eventually somewhat tarred by the “Keating Five” scandal of the early 1990s.

In the Senate’s most recent incarnation, the list of admirable people is much shorter and grows more so by the week. The list became even shorter on Monday of this week when the Senate rejected a piece of legislation known as the DREAM Act. Although actually a Defense Appropriation bill, the bill would have repealed the Clinton era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule that effectively prohibited “un-closeted” homosexuals soldiers from serving in the U.S. military. Both Democratic Senators from Arkansas (Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln,) joined the entire GOP caucus in the abominable act of blocking the matter from coming to a vote.

As an educated, astute observer of politics, I knew this bill was in trouble. We Democrats lost our filibuster-proof majority earlier then year when we (somehow) lost my late hero’s Senate seat to the GOP. Even so, I expected some defections from so-called Blue Dog Democrats. Sen. Lincoln’s defection was no surprise (she’s up for reelection and down twenty points to GOP nominee Fay Boozman in the latest set of polls,) but an act of cowardice nevertheless. It begs the question: does a two-term member of the Senate really think that such a move will save her hide in six weeks? Perhaps Lincoln should talk to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum about what desperate moves yield in statewide campaigns.

The Republican Party talks ad nauseum about freedom. What they mean is the freedom to be just like them. As long as a person is heterosexual, they’ll be just fine! True freedom is only achieved when all members of a society are free and not before. How can we have true freedom and be the envy of the world when we oppress ten percent of our citizenry? We can’t, which is part of the reason why the rest of the world views us as self-righteous hypocrites.

Why do we, as a nation, continue to oppress homosexuals? Why is it okay to hate them? Homosexuals still lack basic civil rights that straight people enjoy, specifically the right to marry the person they love or defend the country they love. Why would most of our states prefer to see children in the custody of the state versus with loving families in which the parents happen to be of the same sex? This is a daily occurrence in the freest nation on Earth while most of its population acquiesces.

Ask a Republican to recycle or not to pollute, they’ll say that you are impinging on their freedom! By that token, what exactly is forcing gays to serve their country while repressing themselves? What is telling them that they do not deserve the same economic benefits that we straight people enjoy? It is hypocritical, prejudiced, closed-minded, and Un-American! In the 1950s and 60s, many of our parents and grandparents (regardless of race or color) came together to fight the injustice and legalized racism known as segregation. They thought they ended it then. It turns out they simply forced conservatives to find another group to oppress.

The rules of America, and the freedoms inherent in being an American, are supposed to be quite simple. A person is born, grows up, acquires an education or skill, and goes out into the world to contribute to our society by being a decent person and paying their taxes. After we’re established, we’re usually expected to have offspring and teach them well so that the cycle can perpetuate itself. Well, my Senatorial friends, what did you teach your kids this past Monday? Whatever it was, the lesson they will learn is that your caprice knows no bounds.

As I’ve said, I once aspired to be a United States Senator. When you’re a child, you know not of the things you aspire to, which is why you aspire to them. As an adult, you learn that forty-three of the most pre-eminent citizens of the greatest nation God has ever created are prejudiced, cowardly, cynical beings incapable of eradicating legalized hatred of other human beings.

- Americus Paulytics

(1)Bradley, Bill Time Present, Time Past: A Memoir (Diane Pub Co, 1996) ISBN 0-7881-5778-7

(2) Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (D - MA) served in the Senate from November 1962 - August 2009. He was the youngest brother of President John and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Ted was a hero because, like myself, he achieved despite low expectations and proved that a man can always redeem himself no matter how badly they err.

(3) William "Bill" Bradley, a member of the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame, served in the Senate from 1979 - 1997. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for President in 2000 and has since retired from public life.

(4) George J. Mitchell served in the Senate from 1980, when he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Edmund S. Muskie, until 1995. Mitchell was elected as the body's Majority Leader by his colleagues in 1989 and served in that capacity until his retirement. A former Federal District Court judge and U.S. Attorney, Mitchell was nearly appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 upon the retirement of Justice Byron White. Since leaving the Senate, Mitchell has served as a special envoy to the Middle East, non-executive chairman of the Walt Disney Corporation, and conducted a special investigation into the use of steroids in Major League Baseball.

(5) Robert C. "Bobby" Byrd served in U.S. Senate from 1957 - 2010. He died June 28, 2010 at age 92, having served in Congress and the Senate longer than anyone in history. During his career, Byrd served in all of the Senate's top leadership posts including Majority Leader (1977 - 1981, 1987 - 1989,) Minority Leader (1981 - 1987,) Majority Whip (1971 - 1977,) Chairman of the Appropriations Committee (1989 - 1995, 2001 - 2003, and 2007 - 2009,) and President Pro Tempore (1989 - 1995, 2001 - 2003, and 2007 - 2010.)

(6) William "Bill" Proxmire, who was appointed to succeed the infamous Joseph McCarthy after the latter's 1957 death, served in the Senate until 1989. Proxmire was known for stopping the funding of dubious "pork-barrel" scientific projects and for his refusal to take campaign donations in his last two races. He died in 1995 at age 90.

(7) D. Robert "Bob" Graham served as Governor of Florida from 1979 - 1987 and in the Senate from 1987 - 2005. A scion of the wealthy family that owns the Washington Post, Graham made a name for himself as Governor with "work days," where he would perform blue-collar jobs while working alongside "regular folks." A popular Governor, Graham was able to easily defeat Republican incumbent Paula Hawkins in 1986. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for President in 2004 and has since been largely out of the public eye.

(8) Lawton Mainor Chiles, a moderate Democrat, was a U.S. Senator from Florida from 1971 - 1989 and served as Governor from 1991 until his death in December 1998 at age 68. While in politics, Chiles was known to many as "Walkin' Lawton" for his long walks across the state.

(9) Joseph R. "Joe" Biden, Jr. was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 at the tender age of 29, turning 30 before being sworn in the following January. Biden served six terms in the Senate before being elected Vice President in November 2008. He served several years as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was instrumental in the 1987 defeat of then Federal Judge Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court. Biden unsuccessfully sought the Presidency in 1988 and 2008.

(10) John H. Glenn, Jr. was a Marine Corps Colonel and a member of NASA's first astronaut training class (1959.) In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard the space capsule "Friendship 7." Due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash, Glenn retired from NASA in 1964 and ran successfully for the Senate in 1974. Glenn served there from 1975 - 1999.

(11) Tim Wirth served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 - 1987 and was elected to succeed the later infamous Gary Hart in the Senate in 1987. Wirth retired after just one term and was subsequently appointed Under Secretary of State by President Bill Clinton, serving from 1993 - 1997.

(12) Barbara A. Mikulski was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 after serving five terms (10 years) in the House. A liberal Democrat, Ms. Mikulski is currently the second-longest serving female in U.S. Congressional history behind Margaret Chase Smith. She will hold this distinction herself as of March 2012.

(13) Charles S. "Chuck" Robb served in the U.S. Senate from 1989 - 2001 after a successful term as Governor of Virginia (1982 - 1986.) Robb, a former Marine Corps officer, was a son-in-law to late President Lyndon B. Johnson, having married his daughter Lynda Bird in a 1966 White House ceremony. A moderate Democrat, Robb was defeated for reelection in 2000 by another former Virginia Governor, George F. Allen.

(14) Patrick J. "Pat" Leahy is the senior U.S. Senator from Vermont and current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy, the first Democrat to represent Vermont in the Senate, has served in the body since 1975.

(15) Paul Simon (1928 - 2003) served in the U.S. House from 1975 - 1985 and in the Senate from 1985 - 1997. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1988.

(16) Nancy Landon Kassebaum is the daughter of late Kansas Governor and 1936 GOP Presidential nominee Alfred M. Landon, Jr. Elected to the Senate in 1978, Kassebaum served three terms before retiring after the 1996 elections. Just before retiring, Kassebaum, a widow, married former Sen. Howard Baker, Jr. of Tennessee. A moderate to liberal Republican, she was perhaps best known for co-sponsoring the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

(17) Warren Rudman served in the U.S. Senate (R - N.H.) from 1980 - 1993. Although best remembered for his co-sponsorship of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, Rudman's most lasting contribution to the nation was his role in the 1990 appointment of personal friend David Souter to the Supreme Court. A moderate, Rudman's machination had the practical effect of ensuring that the landmark Roe v. Wade would not be over-turned as conservatives have sought since its 1973 inception.

(18) Howard H. Baker, Jr. served in the U.S. Senate (R - TN) from 1967 - 1985 where an uncanny ability to broker bi-partisan compromise earned him the moniker "The Great Conciliator." Despite having come out against President Nixon during the Watergate years, Baker was elected as Senate Republican leader by his colleagues in 1977, serving until retirement (the last four years as Majority Leader.) He unsuccessfully sought the GOP Presidential nomination in 1980. After retiring from the Senate, Baker served as White House Chief of Staff (1987 - 1988,) and U.S. Ambassador to Japan (2001 - 2005.)

(19) Moderate Republican John Chafee served as Governor of Rhode Island (1963 - 1969.) After a surprising defeat for reelection in 1968, President Nixon appointed him U.S. Secretary of the Navy, where he served from 1969 - 1972. After losing a race against Democratic incumbent Claiborne Pell in 1974, Chafee was elected to the Senate in 1976 and served until his sudden death in 1999 at age 77.

(20) Albert M. "Al" Gore, Jr., the son of a late Tennessee Senator of the same name, is a former President of the United States (Obviously, I'm just kidding!) The real winner of the 2000 Presidential Election served in the U.S. House from 1975 - 1985 and in the Senate from 1985 - 1993, resigning upon being elected Vice President. Since his 2001 "loss," Gore has remained active working with environmental causes and shared the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on Global Warming.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jimmy vs. Teddy

   It has long been common knowledge that former President Jimmy Carter and late Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy were not friends. After all, Kennedy made his only bid for the Presidency against then incumbent President Carter in 1980. Already badly weakened by the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 - 1980 and a moribund economy, Carter went on to be shown the door by former California Gov. Ronald Reagan in that year's general election. Carter ultimately slid into ignominy after Reagan's electoral landslide(1) while Kennedy returned to the Senate, of which the Democrats had lost control for the first time since 1954. Although he did win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his work with Habitat for Humanity, Carter has largely stayed out of the public eye and politics since his defeat. Kennedy, of course, remained in the Senate until his death of brain cancer in August 2009.

   Ted Kennedy was hardly the only member of the Congress to have experienced strained relations with Carter. Many other pols of the day, especially then House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil, Jr., (2) were known to be critical of Carter's approach to relationship-building. In his 1987 autobiography, O'Neil assailed Carter for his lack of skill in dealing with members of either house and even claimed that, early in his term, Carter threatened to bypass Congress by taking his appeal directly to the people. Such a philosophy had served Carter well during his only term as Governor of Georgia (1971 - 1975,) but is foolhardy, at best, on a national scale.

   Thanks to his own lack of grace, Carter's relationship with the members of his own party in Congress was, at best, tenuous. Carter, a former Naval officer and peanut farmer, regarded the members of Congress as subordinates that should simply follow his lead. As any student of government could have told him, it doesn't work that way. The President of the United States is not a dictator. Regardless of what party controls the Congress, any outsider President needs to quickly build a team capable of building a rapport with them. Although a brilliant man, Carter never grasped this lesson ... to his own detriment!

   Although a self-proclaimed Born-Again Christian, Carter hardly exhibited the "Turn the Other Cheek" mentality taught to us Christians in the Holy Bible. Instead of ever attempting any public or private reconciliation with Kennedy, Carter instead chose to wait until after his nemesis had died to attack him. Just yesterday, I found myself yelling at my television set during a "60 Minutes" interview with the former President as he assailed Ted Kennedy, saying that the late Senator was the sole reason health care reform legislation was not passed in the late seventies during his term. Kennedy, of course, had championed such legislation for decades, yet was allegedly not content to see Carter walk away with the credit.

   I posit a different theory: Carter does not like how many now refer to his Presidency as the touchstone of political ineffectiveness and stupidity. As President Obama struggles with an unpopular war, a jobless recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s, and low approval ratings, many are comparing him to the hapless Carter. Is it really only now that Carter, at age 85, feels the need to defend himself? Now the thirty-ninth President becomes vain about his place in history? Sadly, his best defense is to take a shot at a dead man that lost three brothers in service to America - it turns my stomach!

   As a lifelong student of history and politics, I always knew Jimmy Carter got would could be called a "bum rap." Until yesterday, I was always the first one to defend him when the subject came up. After watching his cowardly attack upon my late idol yesterday, I can safely say: those days are gone! Jimmy Carter, you are hereby noticed that I, for one, shall no longer be your defender. Just like the failures of your Presidency, Sir, you have no one to blame but yourself. Not Tip O'Neil, not Ted Kennedy, not Americus Paulytics ... yourself!

(1) Carter lost by 9.7% (50.7% - 41%) to Reagan, while a landslide is technically defined as a race in one candidate out-polls the other by ten percent or more. In the Electoral College, however, Reagan out-ran Carter by the mind-numbing margin of 489 - 49.
(2) O'Neil was a friend of the Kennedy family. In fact, it was O'Neil who succeeded Jack Kennedy in the House of Representatives when the latter was elected to the Senate in 1952.