Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brownback for President

Sen. Brownback has announced that he will no longer resort to divisive social issues to win the hearts and minds of voters. This much, I am all for.

Kansas senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback said Tuesday that he would focus his campaign on issues that have a bipartisan consensus, a break from his trademark social conservatism.

"The political discourse automatically goes to the most difficult issues, and then we can't talk about them," said Brownback, in Iowa for the first time since announcing his bid on Jan. 20.

"I'd rather work on a core set of issues that we can agree on."
This is a fascinating move for a guy who has made a name for himself with his advocacy for socially divisive issues. Remember this gem?

Stem cell research is not a divisive issue, especially if more than 60% of the country is in favor of expanding stem cell research (scroll down for numbers). It is surprising that Sen. Brownback did not get the memo from his neighbor, former Missour Senator Jim Talent, who lost his seat (and therefore, arguably the Republicans lost the Senate) in large part because of his opposition to state funding of stem cell research, which Missourians approved. Sen. Brownback is only hoping to get a sound bite or two that attemp to make him palatable to non-extremist voters. But his true positions are easy to find, and any support he initially garners for supporting efforts to combat climate change, human trafficking and poverty will evaporate when voters remember his bread and butter.

On his website and in his platform, he still repeatedly supports a variety of divisive issues, from banning abortion to "defining" marriage to the completely arbitrary "activist" judiciary. Is he positioning himself as an attractive VP candidate to moderates like Romney, Giuliani or McCain (not that he is a moderate, he's just palatable to the voters), a la the West Wing?

The point is, 24 hour cable news and more importantly the internet, will not allow candidates to pander to all corners of the political spectrum for much longer. Candidates will be eliminated from contention much more quickly during this cycle strictly because of YouTube. Need proof? Look at what is happening right now in Virginia. I'm sick of politicians, particularly Republicans, harping on and on about accountability for everyone but themselves. When the pefect medium for providing accountability comes along, why are Republicans the first to be against it?

Just because Brownback put out a carefully scripted press release doesn't erase his viciously partisan, divisive behavior. I'm sure he's just triangulating based on the results of the midterms, finally realizing that the Christian Right is not a majority in this country even if Christianity is the largest religion. In either case, I'm glad he's running because he will only divide the Republicans even further and the resulting furor from the losing side will probably produce a split ticket and it will be 1992 all over again.

We need statesmen who talk about poverty and health care and education and human rights and foreign relations and have little time to waste on the "debates" over abortion and gay marriage and torture. Politicians who waste their time obsessing on those issues don't care to tackle important, pressing problems.

A Careless President

The first three paragraphs were (slightly edited) published in the Lawrence Journal World yesterday.

Is this President the most careless President in recent memory? President Bush regularly declares that the war in Iraq will set the course for peace and prosperity in the Middle East, that a democratic Iraq will be a beacon of hope throughout the region and that a progressive democratic government in Iraq will be a blueprint for change for its neighbors. Yet in a 50 minute State of the Union address, the President spent hardly more than five minutes discussing the war. Even worse, in those minutes, he did nothing more than recycle failed policies and broken promises.

The United States is at war. If sending troops to war is the most difficult decision a President can make, then we owe it to the troops to hear from the Commander-In-Chief about the danger they endure day in and day out, especially if the situation is so bad that it requires more troops. It is so disappointing to see the President openly admit that even he is not happy with his own handling of the war but stubbornly refuse to consider the advice of even many members of his own party, not to mention the majority Democrats, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, many retired generals and nearly 70% of the country.

If Iraq is the central front to the war on terror, and the battle against Islamist extremism is the decisive ideological struggle of our time” and the “fight for our way of life,” then why commit only 150,000 troops to the war? Why refuse the counsel of the Iraq Study Group? Why ignore the midterm election results? Either the President is not being forward about the true nature of the war, or he not equipped to properly fight it.

What is the point in rejecting any constructive criticism? Is it purely for the potential benefit to his legacy that would come from any potential success in Iraq? Should democracy ever take hold in Iraq, President Bush would be able to claim nearly sole credit for the success. But the damage caused today because of his Iraq policy may be so devastating to our relationships around the world, to our need to educate our children and to our ability to research cures and fight disease and to prevent their spread that the question has to be asked “is Iraqi democracy more important than anything else we hope to achieve?” The Republican Congress passed very little meaningful legislation and spent nearly half trillion dollars fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no question that a democratic Iraq would be beneficial to the Middle East, the United States and the world. But is it more important than making college education available and affordable to all U.S. citizens who want it? Or ensuring all Americans have health insurance? Or providing water sanitation to the more than one billion people around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water? Or making a substantial contribution to the quest to cure HIV/AIDS (maybe even enough to find a cure)?

These questions and those like it are the questions we will all wrestle with as the war progresses and eventually ends. Forget the political question of whether or not someone who questions the war supports the troops. Very few people don’t actually support the troops. The important questions are the moral questions of our priorities. In a capitalist society, the way we measure our values is in how we spend our dollars. A half trillion dollars is a major demonstration of our values. The world spent the second half of the 20th century trying to emulate the American way of life. Even as our military budget eventually exceeded that of the rest of the world combined, the world followed our lead in advancing contributions to medicine, science and industry. Under this President we have quickly diverted funding from areas that benefit the greater good in favor of funding endeavors that tear us apart. We have withdrawn from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Test Band Treaty and are now pursuing new nuclear weapons. Wasn’t nuclear annihilation the grave danger of the Cold War? Apparently we won the war but lost the lesson.

There are undoubtedly people who would like to see the downfall of the United States. Very few are fighting in Iraq. How long will we be considered a “city on a hall,” a beacon to people around the world? The United States was founded on a belief that there was a better way of living and of interacting with one another. Our behavior today indicates otherwise. My fear is not that the world will stop striving to become a partner in the search for a better world. It is that they will continue to emulate us.


To those who seek a better world.