So, here’s the problem…

So, I’m trying something new these days. It’s called stability. Spurred on by a good friend who has seen me at both my best and rock bottom, I’m trying for consistency. I know- sounds like the antithesis of my life, right? I guess it’s just time to leave Neverland… even if growing up doesn’t completely eliminate my bouts of feeling/acting like a 14 year old girl. Not sure I’ll ever really grow out of that periodic madness.

Anyway, as part of all this nonsense, I’ve started frequenting the gym. Health, I figure, might help with that whole stability thing. At least, that’s how it started. Now it’s kind of morphed into anger/stress management. WordPress giving me an ulcer? The state of the American regulatory system getting under my skin? Men in my life competing fiercely for the “Douchebag of the Year” award? There’s nothing a little sweat and eardrum-damaging-loud music can’t solve.

At first, I thought my 5am bitching-via-self-induced-physical-exhaustion would have another benefit- I could catch up on the day’s morning headlines while I worked out. But because I live in Wheaton- the money-saturated, Bible-thumping capital of the world that allowed high school students during my senior year to opt out of reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple for “religious” reasons (I’ll pause here so you can vomit… Done? Yes? Ok.)- the news selection at your friendly local Cardinal Fitness is pretty limited.

By which I mean, I hope you like Fox News.

After about a week of painful viewership, I decided I was going to have to balance out the toxic sludge Fox attempts to pass off as news with something else. Since then, I come home and turn on MSNBC while getting ready.

Don’t get me wrong- I know they are incredibly biased as well- but at that time of day, Morning Joe is on, featuring Joe Scarborough. Joe is a former elected Republican. He still identifies with that party. He is also, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated journalists of our time.

The reason I like Joe is that, unlike others on his network, Fox and beyond, he doesn’t bend over backwards to justify the actions, beliefs or behaviors of his party or anyone else’s. Today, in particular, he was slamming Obama for being meek and failing to deliver change, and blasting the Republican candidates for some very stupid campaign moves. He’s not perfect, but he’s pretty reasonable, and he and the rest of the morning crew- including Mika Brzezinkski and Willie Geist- are constantly, on air, challenging each other to be more balanced. Does it always work out that way? No, but they do a better job than most. And they still have a sense of humor.

This morning, after a particularly rage-fueled round of self-flagellation (I am going to be so sore tomorrow….), I come home, pour some coffee, make some toast, and turn on Morning Joe. The gang’s all there, and they’ve got Michael Steele and Thomas Friedman on to boot. They’re talking about the Republican primary field, and the game of musical chairs that has been “Who’s in the lead now?”

Time for straight talk. Realistically, none of these candidates are good. Ignore ideology- it comes down to electability. The ones who had a chance at star power are imploding before our eyes (Cain, Perry, Bachmann), the newest front runner has more baggage with him than a fleet of air freighters (Gingrich), and the ones with a brain are being ignored (Huntsman, Paul). That leaves us with Romney, who has his own issues, but is still the most electable of the bunch… and no one really likes him either.

Joe started asking why none of the Republican shining stars- like Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or Jed Bush or Mitch Daniels- making a run of it? I’m not saying I like any of them, but they’d have the star power and the backing to shoot past the schlock they’ve got running right now. Yet, each and every one of these guys took a pass.

As the Morning Joe folks (in my opinion, correctly) concluded, it has to do with the gauntlet any Presidential candidate has to go through on the public stage. It’s the annihilation of your character in front of a global audience. It’s the elimination of any and all forms of privacy- not only for you, but for your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends… I may think Sarah Palin is one of the scariest and most idiotic politicians in recent history (though Bachmann gives her a run for her money), but she had someone buy the house next to hers for the sole purpose of spying on her 24-7. No one deserves that.  No one. 

But it goes beyond that. Not only does this candidate have to put themselves and their loved ones from hell, but they as a candidate are not, and cannot be, defined by their policy proposals and solutions and so on in the primaries. They’re defined by a checklist. Are you conservative enough? Are you liberal enough? Can you toe the party line? We ask for their positions and track record on things like abortion and gun control and taxes, and measure it relative to the extremes we associate with the R or D at the end of a politician’s name. This only matters if you’re a single-issue voter, and many are.

I have pretty close to zero respect to single-issue voters (I include those who, without exception, vote down party lines and never consider the opposition’s opinions), because I think it’s making a mockery of what the civic duty of voting is supposed to represent (you know, selecting people that can effectively lead us to a better tomorrow- not just people who agree with you on one thing- especially one thing they probably won’t influence. See below). But it’s not just the voters, either. Candidates willingly and joyfully participate in the 3 ring circus, gleefully declaring that their opponents within the party are not “conservative enough” and that they are “true” conservatives based on this ridiculous checklist. Don’t get too excited, Democrats; you do the same damn thing.

When it comes to a race for the Presidency, realistically, this checklist should be largely irrelevant, especially in times like these. The President does not pass legislation- Congress does. I hear you already- but what about veto power, right? These stock issues matter when you think about that, yes? That may be the case, but with all the crap we’ve got going on right now- with the world melting down around us- why in the hell is Congress even touching these issues with a ten foot pole? Here’s a quick recap of what’s going on, just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock or watching too much of Fox News:

  • U.S. unemployment is listed at 8.6%. It’s probably, in reality, much higher than that.
  • Europe is facing a debt crisis of colossal proportions. Their solution is to create more debt (genius, right?), but they’re even having a hard time agreeing on that one (wonder why…), so the world’s solution has been to increase liquidity (read: money flow) in a global economy already struggling to keep pace with the tide. It was a temporary solution, and the markets still soared yesterday, as if Ben Bernanke had personally saved us all from disaster. But that debt is still there. And Europe is still a mess. And if they don’t get their act together (and I’m not holding my breath), you’re looking at a disintegration of the Euro, Eurozone, and demand for U.S. exports during a time when our economy already sucks.
  • Everyone points to China as a potential savior in all of this. Take a long, hard look at China. The numbers coming out don’t jive well with the actions they’re taking behind the scenes, and the major companies that stock investors were once so excited about are being decimated by corruption revelations, one by one. Oh, and we won’t be the only ones to have our exports impacted if Europe goes under. China gets the double whammy- decreased demand in Europe AND decreased demand in the U.S. as things spiral.
  • Don’t count on emerging nations to help us out either. If the developed world can’t supply demand, it doesn’t matter what these nations can supply- their growth will not be enough to save things in the end.
  • Let’s look at Egypt. And Iran. And Pakistan. And Syria. And Yemen. Hell, let’s look at the massive strike in London, and their riots earlier this year. And while you’re at it- look outside your window. There’s this little thing called the Occupy movement going on here in the U.S. People are angry. Very, very, very angry.

So someone please explain this to me:


Let’s look at some of the significant work of our Do-Nothing 112th Congress in November, shall we? A few of the voting gems for your consideration:

  • December 1st- Designating room HVC 215 of the Capitol Visitor Center as the “Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room.”
  • November 16th- Amendments to a law regarding reciprocity of “right-to-carry” laws across state borders.
  • November 14th- Naming 3 separate postal offices after military service people (all requiring separate votes).
  • November 4th- Issues pertaining to America’s Cup, which for those of you who don’t actively watch sailing competitions, is a boat race.
  • November 2nd- A bill authorizing presentation of a U.S. flag on behalf of Federal civilian employees who die of injuries connected to their employment.

Oh, and apparently we need to take time out of legislating to comment on a Twitter war between McCain and Schumer over a stupid, stupid joke. Oh, and don’t forget that little stump vote up there on gun control. Has absolutely nothing to do with solving a major economic meltdown, but damn, will it ever give folks something to harp on in front of their constituents next November.

To clarify- I’m not saying that any of these issues are explicitly unimportant (except maybe the boat racing thing). I support the troops and believe they deserve the utmost respect and reverence. But I also feel like many of the members of the armed forces that I know would agree with me when I say that we need to take care of the things that could knock us on our ass before we dedicate time to the issues above.

But even in a world where we weren’t wasting time on votes that have no impact on issues that are sort of a little more pressing and important (can we have Todd Graham, Glenn Prince, Nick Dudley, Josh Anderson, and Kevin Garner- just to name a few- go teach these clowns about impact calculus, please?), it wouldn’t really matter, because all anyone seems to care about is making the other party look bad. When the Speaker of the House admits that his party’s behavior is motivated by the goal of defeating President Obama, the system is broken. When Democrats reinforce this us-versus-them mentality with their own rhetoric, the system is broken. When party politics, campaign checkbooks and re-election become more important than the welfare of the nation, the system is broken.

It has become all about the campaign for our representatives on the Hill- a campaign where we choose nominees based on an arbitrary checklist and blast their skeletons (real and imagined) out of the closet and into the limelight.

But enough about politicians, because as angry as I am with them, I’m even angrier with us. When I say us, I mean We the People. I mean the voters, the citizens, Americans.

Because we’re to  blame, too. In 2008, it was only just over half of eligible voters that turned out at the polls. In the midterms, it was under 40%. That’s a problem.

Single-issue and party line voters who remain uninformed on the bigger picture and how their issues interact with it continue to vote in candidates that fail to represent the public and fail to protect our best interests. That’s a problem.

People continue to say that their vote doesn’t matter. Or they don’t say it but they still don’t care. And that apathy allows politicians to use and abuse the system, and encourages them to engage is shallow and divisive politics. That’s a problem.

Perhaps the bigger problem is this: we, as a population, have become selfish. We are demanding monumental solutions and enduring change, but none of us really want to change, because change requires sacrifice. We don’t want to raise taxes because there’s not enough money to go around, but we don’t want to cut whatever programs directly impact us, because then we still lose. Even if our politicians weren’t more dysfunctional than a Kardashian family reunion, they’re not magicians. They can’t waive a wand and wash away all of our problems.

Newsflash: the profits you saw before 2008? The boom you saw in the 90’s? They aren’t coming back. The levels we’re at right now? They’re not the low. Those people freaking out that corporate profits aren’t growing as fast as they want them to? Those growth levels you saw before were not only unsustainable- they were entirely artificial. You want to know why banks started batting around Debit Card fees? Suddenly they’re not allowed to make money the way they did before- which was essentially lying to investors and themselves while selling hot air- and they’re desperate to keep their profits up in a world where those tactics are no longer available.

There is no magic solution. The only way this situation gets any better is sacrifice, and sacrifice on every level. Yes, tax the millionaires. But yes, we may need to cut some of the Medicare, Social Security, Military, and Arts budgets, as well. And it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to suck. Both companies and their employees are going to be making less than they did before.

But it’s the only way this ever gets better.

We can keep squabbling in this world where we pick winners and losers, but no one actually comes out on top, or we can own up to the responsibility that we all had in this situation and step up to the plate.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

One of the most over-quoted sound bites ever? Probably, but it’s never been more applicable than it is today. You want to fix this country? It starts with us.

Start voting.

Start calling out politicians who appeal to party affiliation and empty rhetoric. Refuse to vote for someone who doesn’t answer questions with explicit answers.

Start writing. Blog, submit editorials, email your Congressional representatives. Send them a letter. Send them a fax. Spread the information as widely as you can. I don’t care how you do it, but-

Start talking. Politics can no longer be considered taboo. Talk to everyone in your life about these issues and make it clear that this has nothing to do with what party you belong to- this is about the good of the country and fixing what’s broken. A friend of mine commented not too long ago on Facebook about how he wishes people would leave politics out of social media. No risk- and don’t you dare do it either. This matters too much.

Start looking at the big picture. We all have things we care desperately about. Think about those issues in context. Think about how cuts to your interest would impact out- how severe would the consequences be? How many people would they impact? In what timeframe would we see those impacts? Stop the us versus them, my way or the highway rhetoric and start thinking about the long run.

Would I like to participate in a world where these things come to fruition? Absolutely, but that’s not the point of this post. More than anything, I want to see these changes for the sake of my daughter.

Ava, for those of you who don’t know her, is a precocious little monkey. Watching her grow and play and learn gives me so much hope. She certainly saved my life. I guess, at this point, I’m hoping to return the favor. Let me explain.

See, she takes so much pleasure in the smallest things. The cliche about children being entertained by cardboard boxes? That is so my kid. I’ve literally watched her laugh and squeal while crawling in and out of a box and being moved around in it for hours on end.

If there’s something she wants that she can’t get to, she looks for a solution. Sometimes that means she pushes a plastic tub up to the counter so she can reach the cookies. Sometimes that means she asks for help.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t throw fits- because she does. When she’s angry, she lets you know it. Screaming, tears, and more. But she also moves on to more productive pursuits eventually.

She’s constantly learning. Man, that kid is better on the iPad than me or her grandparents. She’s three years old, but she can count to ten, sing the alphabet, identify letters on sight, and repeat back lines of movies and books on command. In fact, put on one of her favorite Disney films, and she’ll act it out along with the characters on the screen. She’s just so, so smart.

She loves unconditionally. Her first instinct is to love, actually. Her first instinct is to smile. Maybe Nana put her in time-out 5 minutes ago, but she’ll be more than willing to give her a big ole bear hug now.

I don’t want her to inherit a world this complacent, shallow and self-destructive. Maybe if we took a few lessons from her, we’d be better off. Maybe if we could stop expecting the sun and the moon, complaining without acting, closing off our minds to anything that creates cognitive dissonance, embracing passive aggression as a good idea, and making life about conflict instead of camraderie, we’d laugh like Ava does. Maybe if we could appreciate the little things, be constructive and honest with one another, pursue knowledge the way we pursue success, and showed some universal compassion, we’d get that kind of unadulterated joy back. Maybe then, we’d succeed in achieving the ever elusive and appealing stability we crave.

Anyway, thanks, Mr. Scarborough, for getting me all riled up again. I need to head back to the gym…


Constitutional Conservatism, The “Return” to Christian Values, and Mutual Exclusivity

I’m hoping someone can explain this to me, because I’m a little bit confused.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on the confounding nature of the Tea Party. It emerged from a collective discontent, was usurped by socially conservative idealogues, and scares the living daylights out of me.

Here’s where my confusion stems from- they claim to want to return to basics and the ideas of the Founding Fathers when it comes to how the government functions. Let’s take a look at some of the quotables, shall we?

Michele Bachmann:  “We have to recapture the founders’ vision of a constitutionally conservative government, if we are to secure the promise for the future. […] As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the founding fathers’ vision of a limited government that trusts in and perceives the unlimited potential of you, the American people. I don’t believe that the solutions of our problems are Washington-centric. I believe they are with every-American-centric.”

Newt Gingrich: “Congress Has the Power to Protect the Constitution. It Should Use It.”

Rick Perry: “I am reminded of James Madison’s perspective from Federalist number 45. He said that the powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few, and they are defined. Those which are to remain in the state government are numerous and indefinite. I like that. I am a Madisonian.”

Herman Cain: “I define a Tea Party candidate as anyone who believes in fiscal responsibility, the free market system, and enforcing the constitution. That’s the mantra of the Tea Party movement. I have been a believer in that mantra from the beginning.”

Sarah Palin: “I want to tell ’em, ‘Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion—and you can keep the change.'”

They seem to have a lot of respect for the U.S. Constitution, and, not trusting my own expertise, I decided to revisit the cornerstone of our government. The First Amendment reads, and I quote:

” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But let’s be real- the language here is vague. So I went to case law for further clarification. The landmark case of Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971 contains this nugget in the court’s decision:

” Under our system the choice has been made that government is to be entirely excluded from the area of religious instruction and church excluded from the affairs of government.”

Ok, so I know this case has withstood the test of time- we’re still abiding by it 40 years later- but these candidates think the courts are participating in “judicial activism.” Instead, they say we should rely on the interpretations formed by the Founding Fathers. So I started researching their opinions on separation of Church and State. Let’s ignore the fact that the whole point of our “forefathers” coming across the Atlantic was to escape religious persecution and that their “Christian” affiliation was loose in most cases and completely absent in some, and instead look at what they said (because words speak louder than actions, clearly):

“We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” (Thomas Jefferson, Draft for a Bill to Establish Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1779)

“The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.” (James Madison, Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821)

“…the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.” (George Washington, 1789, responding to clergy complaints that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ)

“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.” (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1771)

” “The [president] has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction. . . .” (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper LXIX, 1788)

So, in summary, the Founding Fathers, Supreme Court and Constitution seem to mandate that religion and politics not intermix. So explain to me why these Tea Party leaders, so devout in their adherence to the Constitution, have the following words to their name:

Michele Bachmann: “We need more biblical world view to let people know what is it that the principles of God stand for. If people understand the principles of ours, it won’t be difficult to understand who would best represent those values in the White House and in Congress. And as I encourage people, go to my website. I am happy to have people know exactly where I stand.”

Newt Gingrich: “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Rick Perry: “America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is going go to be: Whose values? And David Lane and I, and I would suggest most of the people in this audience, believe it’s those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

Herman Cain: “Our Founding Fathers recognized a higher power in the formation of this nation when they said in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and that they are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” It was no accident that in some of our earlier years as a free and independent nation that our leaders added “In God We Trust” to all of our currency. And to send a message to the rest of the world when Communism was on the rise in the 1950s, Congress added the words “under God” to our pledge of allegiance. They were not just words. It was a collective reaffirmation that we know the ultimate source of our greatness as a nation.” America’s moral foundation does not need to be rewritten. It needs to be respected and taught to our children and grandchildren.

Sarah Palin: “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant– they’re quite clear– that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandents, it’s quite simple.”

Can you see why I’m confused? All these self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, who have made their absolute faith in the Constitution very public, are the same people who advocate its violation in spirit- if not in policy and day-to-day governance- above and in a vast array of other instances.

Look, I’m not knocking Christianity. I classify myself as a Christian, though my beliefs are very personal in nature and not affiliated with a specific denomination. Christians are awesome. But I do not believe in a national religion, or a country being run as though there is one. The only way to protect the nation from mob rule is to protect the rights of the minorities. To borrow heavily from someone far wiser than me, I may not hold the same beliefs as you, but I will defend to the death your right to hold them.

And before you start talking about your rights being infringed upon, I don’t want to hear it. Just because the government does not govern from a pulpit does not mean your ability to practice your faith is inhibited; it only means that your ability to institutionalize your faith is limited. The same applies for the “radical Islamists” referenced by Newt above, and Athiests, and Buddhists, and Wiccans…. the list goes on.


Even in a world where I didn’t believe in the separation of Church and State (or its mandate wasn’t spelled out in black and white), there’s another big problem here- staunchly conflicted agendas. If you can provide me a logical explanation as to why the concepts of “constitutional conservatism” and the statements of the candidates above are not mutually exclusive, I’m all ears.

Until then, I’m still scared. And you should be too.