Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

An End-Run Around Legislative Paralysis: EPA Will Control CO2 if Congress Won’t

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Today’s news that the EPA has found greenhouse gases to be a public health danger (i.e., hazardous to both human beings and the environment) gives the Obama Administration leverage it didn’t have yesterday. If Congress won’t get behind laws to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases, the EPA can simply regulate the stuff. Legally sound? Probably. Good policy? Probably not. But it might be the only way to get anything done.

Once upon a time, a President with solid majorities in both chambers was considered to have a mandate to actually get laws passed. But that was before the U.S. Senate, already designed to be obstructionist, transformed the “filibuster” from a rarely invoked, desperate, and rear-guard action into an inviolate requirement that nothing can happen without the super-majority of 60 that’s needed to invoke cloture and stop the debate. No one needs to bother filibustering; the threat of it is sufficient. (Of course, there is something to be worried about: Endless debate by U.S. Senators is a prospect you should  keep from small children.)

Things have now reached such a ridiculous pass that, on health care reform, even members of the majority party threaten to vote against cloture, thereby threatening to defeat their own party’s initiatives without even letting them come to a “regular” vote that would require a bare majority. (Maybe this isn’t so bad, though. Who wants to see these people bare?)

One way out of this frustrating logjam is to go the regulatory route. By declaring what most sane people know (despite the distracting email kerfuffle), the EPA has given itself — and the Administration for which it works — an  insanely powerful, practical, and political too.  It reminds me of Tweetybird, hiding that huge mallet behind his head and then slamming the hapless Sylvester. Businesses won’t know what hit them.

But it’s hardly the best way to proceed. The EPA can limit the emissions, but can’t impose a tax or develop a cap-and-trade approach (to name two competing legislative proposals). There’s a notice and comment requirement to regulations, but these can’t stop agencies from doing whatever their statutory authority allows.  Given the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, the threat of a command decision by an agency accountable only to the Executive branch might be needed to get legislation passed. But the situation should be yet another reminder that something needs to be done about the Senate, before it becomes unable to function at all.

Boiled in Oil

November 29th, 2009 No comments

A few years ago, Martina Navratilova was asked about how her openness about being a lesbian had affected her tennis career. In characteristically honest and amusing fashion, she had this assessment (and here I paraphrase): Well, it wasn’t great. It cost me some fans, I took some heat for it, and I lost almost all of my endorsements. But it could have been worse. In the Middle Ages, I would have been boiled in oil.

A great line from a terrific and warm champion. (I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at yet another event where she was being honored, and she was both humble and funny in accepting.) But, with all respect: Worse things are happening to gays today.

Jamaica’s horrendous treatment of gays — by both officials and the public — has been well-documented, and is (again) sometimes justified by religion. In addition to the legion of under-noticed stories on the brutal murders and beatings of gay men goings on there, there is this “gem” from Wayne Besen at Huff Post, which chillingly attests to the extent of the homophobia:

[T]he Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.

This also means that doctors are complicit in some way, which is worse – but not surprising. Both straight and gay men who undergo a prostate exam in the U.S. often hear snarky comments about the exam from their docs, an artifact of the fear of gay sex.

In Iraq, an unintended consequence of our “liberation” the people has been the coordinated — and militia-supported — murder of many gay men. Things were better for gays under Saddam Hussein. Again, the fear of gay sex is the driver: The linked story relates stories of gay men having their anuses glued shut, and then force-fed laxatives; a painful death ensues.

These heartbreaking stories find expression in the U.S. as well, where a collision of religious belief and homophobia lead to actions that are equally repugnant, yet little noticed.

The creepy, secretive  cabal known as “The Family” is supporting the Ugandan government’s push to make homosexuality punishable by death. This story is a good primer on this corrupt, politically powerful, organization, which uses religious belief chiefly to gain tax advantages and to support the opulent lifestyles of its members. Jeff Sharlot’s exhaustive account of the group, The Family, would be expected to drive these nuts out of business — but this is a nation where torture is redefined and no one who authorized blatantly illegal practices gets prosecuted for it, so I’m not optimistic.

You’ll notice that the stories, and the actions of these anti-gay groups, focus on gay men, not lesbians. While there’s plenty of anti-lesbian sentiment to go around (and well-documented economic costs to being lesbian), sex between males remains particularly transgressive. A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to a list serve for Constitutional Law professors (after about two days of endless, theoretical postings, I got out of there), and I was astonished to see a comment from one anti-gay law professor joking that he, himself, didn’t understand male sex (the comment was much worse than that; I’m sanitizing for your protection).  And this is a supposedly respectable law professor.

Of course, Obama would never make such a comment. But he would — and has — ignored the 720 murders of gays in Iraq, despite clear and persuasive reporting on the topic. As far as I can tell, he’s said nothing about Jamaica, either (and has not responded to this suggestion, either).

I’m not naive enough to think that the Administration can get involved in every controversy, or that it should put issues of concern to the gay community ahead of other diplomatic goals. But we’re not talking about small stuff here. People are being killed, with something at least close to official approval, and…silence. With no other group would this be considered business as usual.

There’s something else. It’s hard to say much about what’s going on in other countries when your own domestic record is less than exemplary. Here’s where all of this ties back to marriage equality, if only in theoretical political terms. By not committing himself to that goal, Obama is stating, in effect, that he doesn’t favor full citizenship for gay and lesbians. So even though Obama is leagues away from dangerous right-wing nuts like the members of “The Family,” his credibility on gay issues is compromised. Perhaps that explains his otherwise puzzling silence.

What Obama (Really) Thinks About Maine Question 1

October 28th, 2009 No comments

Where does Obama stand on Maine’s ballot Question 1, which, if  passed, would reject the state’s marriage equality law before it ever takes effect? As we used to be told in high school social studies class, compare and contrast:

1. In response to a question from the Advocate about his view on the referenda in Maine and Oregon:

“The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and as he said at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, he believes ‘strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away.’ Also at the dinner, he said he supports, ‘ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.’”

2. Attorney General Eric Holder, replying to essentially the same question from a reporter after an event at the University of Maine:

“[The president and I] are of the view it is for states to make these decisions. That federal law [DOMA] is not necessarily a good piece of legislation, and we are going to work to repeal it….”

What th–?

When I read the first (and earlier) quote above, I did notice that the question had been answered with the circumspection and avoidance that too often characterizes (and results in caricature of) the legal profession:  Read carefully, the statement doesn’t take a position on Question 1, because it’s not clear that a right is being “taken away.” One might argue that this case is different from California, where marriage equality was in effect — gay and lesbian couples by the thousands had married — and then taken away. Under Maine law, same-sex couples’ right to marry wasn’t, in a sense, “complete” until the date for challenging the the new statute through the referendum process had expired. So is a “right” being taken away by a Yes on 1 vote? Yes and no.

Given Holder’s more recent statement, though, it’s clear that Obama’s avoidance reflects a willfully agnostic position on Question 1. In short:  he’s not with us on this, at least not in any way that’s useful. Is anyone surprised? If we lose by a point or two, I’ll know exactly where to place the blame.

That hate crimes uplift disappeared quickly, didn’t it?

What to do About DADT Before It’s Repealed

October 14th, 2009 No comments

There’s some reason to be optimistic about DADT’s long-overdue repeal; maybe Obama wasn’t just talking last Saturday night, after all. This story about legislative stirring is a good sign. So is the newly “out”spoken military brass; this devastatingly effective essay against the policy by Air Force colonel Om Prakash appeared in Joint Forces Quarterly, and thus constitutes a clear (if not universal) military endorsement of the repeal. (Here‘s a more homely, yet effective brief against these inane discharges.)  Where Clinton failed to get buy-in for his “gays in the military” plan — and thereby impaled into legislation what had only been policy — Obama apparently has been doing the heavy background work needed to bring the military on board.

But no one thinks the policy will be repealed this year, and there is virtually no chance that Obama will issue an Executive Order halting the discharges in the meantime. He could, but he won’t: So let’s move on. Right now, we have the untenable situation that should remind one of, say, being the last to die in a war that’s been declared useless.

For the record, I don’t mind if actual gays use the policy to get out while they still can– come out and get out! They didn’t create this policy, and they shouldn’t hesitate to leave if military life under DADT becomes unbearable.

Most men and women in the military, though, don’t want to get out. Straight or gay, they define themselves as soldiers. (This is what’s most struck me in getting to know a few of those discharged under DADT, especially Alex Nicholson.) And it’s plain unconscionable for people to continue to be shown the door now that the policy looks dead.

My solution? Obama should let it be known, in whatever subtle or more directive ways are at his disposal, that discharges from now on should be limited to clear cases where someone “tells” –otherwise, the policy’s original intent that service members’ sexuality not be pursued should be revivified. This way, Obama avoids issuing an Executive Order, but stops the bleeding. I don’t care whether we know about this or not. (We’ll surely learn at some point, when the discharge numbers for 2009 and beyond are released.) Is there any reason not to do this?

DADT’s Disproportionate Effect on Women

October 10th, 2009 1 comment

You can hardly watch a cable news show or read a blog without running into yet another story of the intensifying drumbeat for repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”  policy (among other signature issues for the LGBT community). Congress has finally woken up to the issue, with local war hero, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), and Clinton-replacement Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)  leading the charge. Now if Mr. Nobel Peace Prize will pledge some concrete steps to get rid of the policy when he speaks at tomorrow night’s (Saturday’s) Human Rights Campaign fund-raiser, maybe DADTwill be history within the next year or so.

I bring this up (again — see earlier posts on a particularly outrageous case and my interview with the delightful Alex Nicholson) to highlight a new — but hardly surprising — finding that women are being kicked out under this daft policy at much higher rates than men. In some cases, the raw numbers of women expelled are higher, which is eye-opening when one considers that women account for a small percentage of all military.

Part of it, Nathaniel Frank suggests, may simply be due to a higher percentage of lesbians than gay men in the military. But I’d guess that it also has a great deal to do with the male-drenched military culture, and its prerogatives. Women who resist the advances of male soldiers are in peril of being deemed lesbians. For too many male soldiers even today, the idea of a powerful, resistant woman may be more threatening than a sufficiently macho gay man (as long as no one talks about it).

Or maybe gay men are just better at inauthenticity than lesbians. In today’s military, that’s a job requirement for some soldiers. Now it’s  up to Obama to repeal the thing, or lose what credibility he still has with the LGBT community. Today’s NY Times analysis of the Peace Prize makes a point one hears more and more these days:

“[T]he award…was a reminder of the gap between the ambitious promise of his words and his accomplishments. It drew attention to the fact that while much of the world was celebrating him as the anti-Bush, he had not broken as fully as he had once implied he would from the previous administration…And it set off another round of mocking criticism from opponents….”

Perhaps the Prize will embolden Obama to take bolder steps, rather than to bask in the light that, so far, is generated at least partly by illusion.

“Abortion is an”

August 28th, 2009 2 comments

The quote that forms the title for this post was plastered on a truck driven by a member of Operation Rescue. The vehicle also sports a poster of a fetal hand on a coin. They’re not going for subtlety.

The vitriolic protests against abortion providers continue, this time with Dr. LeRoy Carhart filling the late Dr. George Tiller‘s role as the focal point for the anger. Carhart, you may recall, led an unsuccessful challenge to the so-called “partial birth abortion law; the sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that Congress could constitutionally rule out one form of late-term abortion as long as it permitted another means of accomplishing the same task. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority misunderstands both medical practice and public health principles, and, as Justice Ginsburg noted in dissent, won’t actually save the life of a single fetus. (At most it will put doctors at risk of liability for making on-the-spot decisions on how best to perform the procedure.)

Carhart’s public stance, courage, and notoriety explain may why he’s now been targeted. And yes, he does some (but very few)  late-term abortions; as evidenced by the back-and-forth I had with Andrew Sullivan a couple of months ago (see here, here, here, and here), as well as the many testimonials he published on the issue, these abortions are the ones that get people the most worked up. (Maybe they shouldn’t, though, because most of these abortions are to terminate the life of the most seriously deformed fetuses, many of whom wouldn’t even be born alive. But this post isn’t going to revisit the issue.) Given what happened to Tiller, and the willingness of Operation Rescue to refortify the ramparts so soon after his murder, Carhart understandably fears for his life. If anything does happen to him, the principals of that group will express ritual disapproval, but not remorse.

Also of interest here is the use of the now-familiar “ObamaNation” (read: abomination) slogan and its purported connection to everything that’s thought to be wrong: taxes; health care reform; now, abortion. But what has Obama to do with abortion? The practice has been legal continuously since 1973, yet the anti-abortion forces feel,  with some justification, that they have a kindred spirit in office during Republican administrations. Democrats allow this, well, abomination to continue, and don’t even have the decency to mount a rhetorical struggle against it. So violence and the threats of it escalate, dramatically, during Democratic presidencies.

I still haven’t accounted for the “.com” at the end of the slogan.  Now we’ve got something concrete: is the url for a group that is dedicated to stopping what it sees as an Obama-led black genocide; black fetuses are aborted in disproportionately high numbers. (Here’s the organization’s page with data supporting that point; I haven’t checked out the underlying reports.) But in a larger sense it “Obamanation” stands for everything that’s wrong, and for the poor sap who happens to be at the epicenter of it all.

Maggie Gallagher Weighs In (on DOMA Brief)

August 21st, 2009 No comments

In my post lauding the Obama Administration for plainly stating, in its latest filing in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA”) case, that “the United States does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing,” I predicted “eruption of the right-wing volcanos.”

And so has it come to pass, with Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (creators of the unintentionally hilarous “Gathering Storm” video) leading the charge. In this column, she unleashes a scattershot attack. Like many such unfocused fusillades, though, she misses every mark.

First, she quotes from DOMA’s statement of purposes, apparently in contradiction to the Department of Justice’s abandonment of the procreation and child-rearing arguments: “[C]ivil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing .”

But Congress passed DOMA, in large part, because of “a deep and abiding” homophobia. Here’s a sample of statements made during Congressional “debate” over DOMA.

North Carolina Senator Lauch Faircloth: “Same-sex unions do not make strong families.”

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia: “[O]ut of same-sex relationships…emotional bonding oftentimes does not take place….”

Representative Smith of Texas: “[S]ame sex ‘marriages’ demean the fundamental institution of marriage. They legitimize unnatural and immoral behavior.” (Note the single quote around ‘marriage,’ a grammatical move made to suggest that calling same-sex unions marriages is oxymoronic.)

I think that’s enough of that, don’t you?

Even to the extent that Congress wanted to encourage “responsible procreation and child-rearing,” it doesn’t follow that excluding same-sex couples from marriage in any way furthers that goal. Gallagher cites several state supreme court cases (but  not the most recent ones, which she conveniently ignores) that mention “responsible procreation,” and then says that the cases recognize procreation as a — not the — purpose of marriage. A wise (if sneaky) concession, because many couples who can’t or won’t procreate,1 are nonetheless allowed to marry. Think of the elderly, as Scalia did in his surely-by-now-regretted dissent in Lawrence v. Texas.

And even to the extent that supporting procreation is a purpose of marriage, why doesn’t that apply to both straight and gay couples who need the assistance of modern reproductive techniques to do so?

Then, after some further boilerplate blather about “the unions of husbands  and wives” being unique and entitled to special legal rights, Gallagher unleashes her final round of artillery:

Surely there are other ways for those who advocate gay parenting to promote their views without attacking the very idea of the natural family, of the duties of natural parents, or the stubbornly retrograde longing of children to know and be known by, to love and be loved by the mother and father who made them, when possible.

No one is “attacking” anything, unless it’s the opponents of same-sex marriages. All the Obama Administration is saying is that, at last, science, psychology, and the reality of human lives have overrun the assumptions that only one possible setting can lead to good outcomes for children.

And where is she getting her “stubbornly retrograde” (indeed!) notion that kids need to know their biological parents? Sometimes, that’s not such a good idea. And, as she concedes (but doesn’t follow through on), it’s not even always possible for kids to know who their bio parents are. And why does that matter? And what message are we sending to “non-traditional” (including adopted) kids by continuing to defend a marriage regime that pushes them and their families to the perimeter?

I weary of this argument, based on nothing but definition, assumption, and faith in the familiar.

  1. “Procreate! I command you!” “You can’t make me!”

DOJ Files Reply Brief in DOMA Case — Evidence of the Power of Outrage

August 17th, 2009 No comments

Today, the Obama Administration filed its reply brief in the California Smelt case, where gay couples have challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Let me start by giving away the punch line: It contains powerful statements on gay parenting and the weakness of the procreation argument that are likely to cause apoplexy in opponents of equality. This brief goes a long way towards undoing the legal and political damage that an earlier filing caused.

As you may recall, the Department of Justice’s first brief was in support of its motion to dismiss the couples’ claim, and generated disbelieving outrage (from me and many others, whom you can find referenced on my earlier post). The DOJ brief in that case made absurd and offensive arguments that, I wrote then, “seem to have been intended to set the course of judicial progress on gay rights back many years.”

Today’s brief, which you can find here, represents a significant step forward, and bears testimony to the power of strong but justified criticism.

First, what’s a reply brief? (Skip this paragraph if you don’t care.) It’s the last “salvo” in the flurry of briefs that a court sees before deciding a motion. In the case of a motion to dismiss, this means that the party seeking dismissal (here, the U.S.) first makes that motion, accompanied by a brief setting for its arguments that the case is without merit. The plaintiff then replies, attempting to refute these arguments, and urging the court to  allow the case to proceed. Then, typically (but not invariably), the moving party (again, the U.S.), then files a much shorter brief that responds, in a targeted way, to new arguments and to alleged misstatements by the other side — or just to have the last word on the contested legal issues. That’s the reply brief.

Here, short of withdrawing the motion to dismiss (which was almost certainly not going to happen), the Obama Administration essentially had three courses of action open to it: (1) Reiterate, defend, and refortify the initial arguments; (2) Decline to file a brief; or (3) File a brief that “walks back” from some of the rhetoric or arguments of the earlier brief, and rejects new arguments offered in support of dismissal. As you might expect, (3) is the best option — and that is what the Obama Administration did here.

In the short (seven page) brief,  DOJ starts by strongly urging dismissal on procedural grounds, stating that’s its wholly unnecessary for the court to reach the merits of the claim. This point was made, but with less conviction, in the earlier filing. Procedural dismissal would of course be best, as it would create no precedent potentially destructive to the cause of marriage equality.

The rest of the brief offers three very hopeful signals. First, there’s an unenthusiastic repeat of some (but not all) of the original arguments. Second, there is a direct statement that the Obama Administration believes DOMA is “discriminatory,” does not support it and urges its repeal. These are important statements, even though DOJ then states that it must defend validly enacted laws.

But it’s the third signal that’s the most encouraging, and potentially powerful. The DOJ takes on certain “intervenors” (interested third-parties who are given court leave to join the case so that otherwise unrepresented arguments will be made), who argued that DOMA’s support of opposite-sex only marriage is justified by the need to encourage procreation and the best setting for child-rearing. The Administration’s response is enough to reinstill a sense of hope, and warrants quoting in full:

Unlike the intervenors here, the government does not contend that there are legitimate government interests “in creating a legal structure that promotes the raising of children by both of their biological parents” or that the government’s interest in “responsible procreation” justifies Congress’ decision to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Since DOMA was enacted, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, and the Child  Welfare League of America have issued policies imposing restrictions on gay and lesbian parenting because they concluded, based on numerous studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.  Moreover, in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Scalia acknowledged in his dissent that encouraging procreation would not be a rational basis for limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples under the reasoning of the Lawrence majority opinion — which, of course, is the prevailing law — because “the sterile and the elderly are permitted to marry.” For these reasons, the United States does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing, and is therefore not relying upon any such interests to defend DOMA’s constitutionality.

Prepare for eruption of the right-wing volcanos.

Town Halls, Tea Parties, and My Further Adventures in the ER

August 15th, 2009 3 comments

Apparently, my kidneys are manufacturing stones like cheap Chinese toys. Last night, I found myself back in the ER with another stabbing pain. This is now what I look for in home sale ads: “Charming Victorian house in diverse neighborhood. Walking distance to emergency room. Must see!”

This time, I thought that a CT scan did make sense, but that wasn’t going to happen for several hours, because all of the CT staff was out sick. So, doped up on morphine, I walked home in the sticky dawn. I then took advantage of my pain-free state to sleep for several hours, but now I’m awake and uncomfortable. Hence, this post.

I’m now in favor of some kind of “cap and trade” program for kidney stones. I’m also in favor of major changes to the health care system. Today’s lesson is that the pieces don’t move especially well together. ER docs, my doc on call, the urologist I’m supposed to see next week — my experience suggests that they won’t check each other’s notes thoroughly enough (if at all), and that there are lost efficiencies all over the place.

But don’t take  my word for it: Here’s what some academic physicians had to say about the cost issue in a recent op-ed piece in the NY Times. Their many useful suggestions include reconsidering the “fee for service” model, which encourages overutilization of procedures. In a given year, for example, the number of CT scans done exceeds .2 per capita (62 million for 300 million people).

In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Lisa Sanders, who writes the fascinating (to me and other worry warts) “Diagnosis” column for the Times, picked up on related point with her pithy insight that doctors are reimbursed for “doing” — not for “thinking.” One morning, she explained, she had some twelve patients, who represented the mine run of what internists encounter on a typical day: colds; bronchitis; flu symptoms; pain. Her final patient needed an ingrown toenail removed. Doing that brought Dr. Sanders more reimbursement from the insurance companies than everything else she’d done all morning, combined. Fee for service combined with heavy compensation for procedures, rather than diagnosis, may explain a good part of our current mess.

You may have heard that the evident need for some kind of health care reform hasn’t exactly resulted in universal acclaim for President Obama’s initiative. To an extent, the responsibility rests with the White House for failing to engage and to make clear exactly what’s being proposed, what would happen as a result, and so on.

Obama’s Town Hall Meetings have been a belated corrective to the more vitriolic incarnations of the format that have caught many people, including me, by surprise. Listen in and you’ll hear comments that are only sometimes about health care itself. In this story, one woman complains broadly and emotionally about the death of American exceptionalism. It seems to me that Kai Wright, senior  writer for the Root who was interviewed for the story, is exactly right in saying that health care has provided a convenient flash point for broader anger and anxiety: “What is my place in a vastly changing culture and a vastly changing economy?” is the question he suggests underlies whatever is actually spoken.

Wright also blames right-wing flame-fanners — especially Glenn Beck — for provoking this anger. In the chain of distribution, Beck is the wholesaler, and people like John Stahl, President of the Berks County, PA Tea Party Patriots, are the distributors who work on the local level. Reading about Stahl’s criticisms of “Obamacare” at Arlen Specter’s noisy town hall meeting, I did the only sensible thing: I called the guy. (His phone number is on his organization’s website.)

Stahl, who’s about to turn 65, doesn’t plan to turn down Medicare. This would be an easy but unfair ground for calling him on hypocrisy; as he pointed out, Medicare is a contract on which people (presumably including “John Stahl”) have relied upon. But it’s broke, he says, and so is the whole system. He doesn’t exempt insurance companies from blame for what he acknowledges is a problem with our health care system but puts the lion’s share of blame on lawyers and med mal suits, illegal aliens (and legal ones, too!) using the system, and the insufficient number of doc being graduated  from medical school.

A staunch libertarian (but one who critizes Obama and his staff for being “ideologues”), Stahl favors the free market solution (which I’m convinced won’t work in the case of health care insurance), opposes any kind of “counseling” of people about their legal options regarding end of life care (not the role of government, he says), and even put on a retro, Steve Forbes wig to call for the “flat tax, ” an idea that no one will ever be able to drive a stake through. The flat tax should fix the problem, he says, along with an unspecified dose of tort and immigration “reform.”

Stahl’s positions aren’t radical, and he stressed the need for civility in debate. But his idea of civility is broad enough to include even Claire McCaskill’s notorious Town Hall Meeting, which he defended. See what you think:

At the risk of engaging in amateur social psychology, Stahl seems to me very much to fit within Wright’s questioning classes. Laid off from his job in his mid-sixties, a conservative Christian seeing his world changing at a vertiginous pace, Wright has seized on an issue in which he’d seem to have little personal stake, using it as a prism through which his deeper concerns can be reflected. Obama is “not a good person.”  He’s “not to be trusted,” based on his “background.” He and his ideologues are using the public option as a kind of Trojan horse, to get to their ultimate goal of complete government takeover of health care.

Is this code for a kind of racism? That’s much too simple, because Obama’s race may itself be a surrogate, for some, for what’s making them uncomfortable with change, more broadly. The world is caving in on John Stahl, and it’s not fair.

The Birth Certificate Story that Won’t Die

July 25th, 2009 1 comment

If you live anywhere but on the extreme right-wing fringe, you may not have heard of the will-not-die story that Obama isn’t an American citizen. (OK, political junkies know the story too.) I’ve been avoiding it, but lately I’ve found the reasons for the story (not the ridiculous story itself) oddly compelling.

But it continues to have consequences; here’s a story from HuffPost about a solider who refused to deploy because he believes Obama is not a citizen. And, as the Creative Steps/Valley Swim Club debacle again proved, it’s easy enough to find a lawyer to take any case that promises good P.R. No less true in this case, even if the quality of legal representation may be…well, read the linked article.

Here’s a video claiming that President Obama is a Muslim and not a United States citizen. links to a blogger who explains the elaborate steps taken by the Obama campaign to forge his birth certificate. (Follow the link and be reminded of the true depths of obsessive conspiracy theorists. Not a pretty place to live.)

But all you need is a few minutes to discover that the allegation is baseless. The non-partisan did a comprehensive investigation almost a year ago and concluded, convincingly, that Obama’s birth certificate and records were authentic. Ditto gives an in-depth explanation of the processes used to verify that the President is a citizen.  They found that the birth certificate was “three-dimensional and resides at the Obama headquarters in Chicago” and they “assure readers that the certificate does bear a raised seal, and that it’s stamped on the back by Hawaii state registrar Alvin T. Onaka (who uses a signature stamp rather than signing individual birth certificates).”  The researchers at FactCheck also found a birth announcement for President Obama in a Honolulu paper.

They conclude that the birth certificate “has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport: “your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records.”

So the interesting question is: Why is this happening? Harry Shearer thinks it’s because the experience of the last two presidents has taught that questioning the opposition’s legitimacy is a much more effective way of rallying the true believers than arguing policy. Thus, Clinton-haters pointed to the fact that he’d been elected with less than a majority vote (because of third-party candidate Ross Perot), while the Anti-Bushies never forgot that he’d lost the popular vote and then been handed the election by a deeply divided Supreme Court. 1 With Obama having glided into office with thundering majorities in both the popular and electoral votes, this crazy birth certificate thing is all they’ve got.

On some level, it works. A shameless California congressman, one John Campbell, has recently been seen and heard trying the ol’ play-to-the-base-while-trying-to- seem-rational feint, defending his co-sponsorship of a bill that would require future presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship. Here’s an excerpt (via Politico) from an interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball:

“What is going on that so many Americans doubt the obvious, that Barack Obama is a citizen, to the point that you felt it necessary to co-sponsor this crazy proposal?” host Chris Matthews asked Campbell.

Campbell didn’t respond directly, saying that his proposal was “only looking forward.”

“It`s 2012 and beyond,” he said.

That wasn’t enough for Matthews, who pressed on — and accused Campbell of trying to appease “the nutcases” while holding up a copy of Obama’s birth certificate.

But Campbell only gave another non-answer, saying, “Don`t you think anybody that who runs for president should — wouldn`t you want to know that, that they meet those requirements before they run? What`s wrong with that?”

Determined, Matthews responded: “Do you have any doubts, Congressman, about the authentic native birth in this country of our president? Do you have any doubts?”

Campbell: “Chris, my — it doesn`t matter whether I have doubts or not.”

Matthews: “Do you have any doubts?”

Campbell: “It doesn`t matter at all.”

After Matthews accused Campbell’s bill of “feeding the wacko wing of your party,” the Californian budged — if only slightly.

Asked if he thought Obama was “a legitimate native-born American or not,” Campbell responded: “As far as I know, yes, OK?”

In fairness, many on the right dismiss this garbarge. This article is an example of a  commentator, who, while making no secret of his disgust for Obama, provides three reasons to drop the myth. But that won’t work for the John Campbell and Liz Cheneys of the world, who are determined to hold onto the what’s left of their party’s faithful by playing to every nutty theory out there. Too bad they don’t realize that their future can’t start to improve until they distance themselves from this crazy rhetoric.

Consider this, from Delaware (where my school is located). Rep. Mike Castle, a reasonable, moderate Republican, has his health care town hall hijacked. And note the short step from the “questioner’s” screeching about the birth certificate to the shallow patriotism that follows. Here’s a crowd in search of something, and looking for a scapegoat. Tag: Obama’s it:

For Campbell, Cheney, et al., giving them what they want is easier than trying to fix a party that’s come unglued, or, for that matter, doing the hard work that’s needed to revive the middle class.

  1. For the record, these two cases are nothing alike. Winning a plurality vote is indisputably legal; what happened in 2000 is less so (unless one takes the purely legal positivist position that it was legal becauses the Supreme Court so decreed).