Friday, May 25, 2012

I love Joe Biden. I mean it. I LOVE Joe Biden

At the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in Arlington, Virginia, Joe Biden stood in front of a room full of military families who had lost loved ones in the service of our country.  He stood with his wife, Jill, by his side and spoke from the heart in a voice thick with emotion, talking about his own losses--the deaths of his first wife and 18-month-old daughter in a horrific auto accident when he was but 29 years old and a new senator-elect--but he wasn't looking to one-up that group by telling his own sad story; nor was he asking for pity.

(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
 He was one of them and he knew how they felt.  At that moment, he dropped the role of Vice President and became just one among many survivor group participants.  He understood how the sudden death of someone you love can send you over the edge, thinking only of ways to relieve the raging, relentless gut pain you feel every time the finality hits:
"It was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out -- and I probably shouldn't say this with the press here, but no, but it's more important, you're more important. For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts; because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again."
He gave the talk of his life (although he may not know it yet), and out of it came another remarkable confession.  He said when his son Beau finished his tour of duty in the Middle East, he couldn't help but feel guilty.  His son, his beloved son--one of two sons who miraculously survived that horrible accident so many years before--had come home whole when so many other sons and husbands hadn't.  Guilt is not an uncommon feeling among families whose loved ones have survived in places where others have lost their lives, but here was the vice president of the United States, without guile or lofty sense of privilege, confessing feelings rarely spoken out loud by anybody.   (Rachel Maddow played an extended clip of his speech. You can watch it here.)

In his next speech, reported to be against Mitt Romney, it'll be political business as usual.  In the coming days there will be repeats of those moments when his struggle for the right words will fit into the goofy category--fine fodder for the foaming media lightweights.  But he proved his mettle today, in a way that few politicians ever do.

Joe Biden is a good man.  He may be one of our best when it comes to showing us how one can be a career politician and a caring, feeling human being at the same time.  I want him to be the vice president for the next four years, and if he wants the presidency after that, I'll work my heart out for him.

And let no one try to tell me he's not worthy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hatred in a Lovely Church

As I watched that hideous video showing Pastor Charles Worley's recent headline-grabbing rants about penning gays and lesbians inside miles-long electrified corrals until they die, I couldn't help but notice his surroundings. (Okay, go and watch it if you haven't seen it.  But then come back and we'll talk.)

He preaches his particular style of self-righteous, good ol' boy hate from the pulpit of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC.  This is not a store-front or a rustic, backwoods building, it's a beautiful traditional church, obviously designed and built with the prospect of honoring the Christian God.

If you could turn off the sound and watch this man Worley as he clutches his bible and moves around his pulpit, you might be lulled into thinking you were watching a man of God preaching in God's house.  No such thing exists in that building posing as a church.

Picture a wedding in that space (a wedding between straight white adults, of course--proof of intelligence apparently not required), a baptism (poor baby), a funeral (I'm not going there).  Many loving hands keep that interior pristine and lovely.  Deep pockets provide the heavy-duty funding necessary to keep the building maintained.  All so that their chosen pastor can step to the front on a Sunday morning and propose a final solution for lesbians and gays.

A group called the Catawba Valley Citizens against Hate is planning a peaceful protest at Providence Road Baptist on Sunday, May 27.  They're trying to organize the rally on Facebook and I'm trying to help them by posting the link here.  (Please pass it on.)

This is how those good people want it to go: 
Reminder: This event is a peaceful protest organized in the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi. All participants of this direct action must vow to remain peaceful and non-violent. We will not scream, shout or taunt Pastor Worley or his church's members. We will not vandalize, threaten or injury property or persons. We will allow law enforcement to handle harassment and disputes that may arise. Protest Peace Keepers will be in charge and will provide instructions. If you cannot vow to remain peaceful & non-violent, then this event may not be for you.
If you're going to be anywhere near that area in North Carolina, please help them out.  Huge crowds of peacekeeping activists would be great, but if you can't get there (as most of us can't) let's show our support by visiting their Facebook page to cheer them on. 

 (By the way, please don't confuse the Providence Road Church with the Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC.  They don't like that.  With good reason.)

(Also, if you Google Providence Road Church and click on the link to their website, it'll take you to a dead end.  They've flown the coop.  So much for pride in their accomplishments.)

(UPDATE 5/27:  Anderson Cooper interviews a Worley defender.  You have to see it to believe it. )

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fair Weather Dems will be the Death of Us Yet

When November 6 rolls around, American voters will have only three meaningful choices in the presidential election:  We can vote for Barack Obama, we can vote for Mitt Romney,  or we can opt out of voting for a president altogether.  There will be other presidential candidates on the ballot but there's not a snowball's chance they'll win.  If we choose to vote for anyone other than Obama or Romney,  it'll have the same effect as not voting at all.  That's the reality--that's the way it is.  

We can say we're voting our conscience by voting against the two top contenders, but that's the kind of satisfaction that's filling but fleeting.  It's here and then it's gone.  One of those two is going to win, and we will have to live with the voters' choice for the next four years.

 In a conversation the other day, someone--an admitted Democrat and progressive--said it had to be Romney, simply because Obama needed to learn a hard lesson.  He has failed us so completely he doesn't deserve another term.  (What wasn't said but could be seen hanging in the air were two words guaranteed to settle any argument of that measure:  "So there.") 

This person went on to ask, how much worse could it be with Romney as president, anyway?  And mightn't it be better for us in 2016 if the Dems aren't rewarded this time for their transgressions?  (Reminder: Democrat/progressive speaking.)

While the others involved in the conversation wouldn't necessarily go quite that far, they leaped on the bandwagon careening toward "Screw Obama and the Democrats."  Boy, were they mad!  They were so mad they completely forgot that screwing the Democrats meant essentially screwing themselves.  Pointing that out to them only added to their anger.  They were already screwed, and it was all Obama's fault.  And it was all the Democrats' fault.  And they will be made to pay.

 I'll skip the rest of the conversation, except to add that there was some talk of giving up being a Democrat until 2016, when the opportunity to elect real progressives might present itself.  (In other words, they'll be Democrats when and if being a Democrat is cool again, but don't expect them to do anything to make that happen.)

To this dedicated, lifetime Democrat (yes, I've talked about this before) that's like saying they'll give up being an American until America comes to its senses.  Being a member of a major political party--one with power and clout and the potential ability to make real societal change--is not a part-time, fair weather pastime; it's a privilege and an obligation.  It requires commitment and hard work.  It requires a studious analysis of past and present performance in order to understand our role in strengthening our platform and choosing our stable of potential leaders.

It requires that we honor the heroes of our party and work to keep the fruits of their hard labor relevant, sustained and not in vain.  It requires that we vet our candidates, draw out the very best, and support them to the hilt.

 As Democrats we've signed on to stand firm against our enemies--the enemies of the people--and form a coalition that can't be broken.  It's the only way we can fight against the privateers and build our country back again.  So we work to maintain our party and when our leaders disappoint us or go against what our party stands for (not unheard of, sorry to say), we're required to set them straight.  We never let up.  We make them act like Democrats.

What we don't do is pick up our toys and go home.  And we sure as hell don't work against our elected leaders and help the other guys win. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Women, Gays and Barack Obama's Ear

The big news yesterday -- no, the HUGE news -- was President Obama's interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, set up specifically so that he could air his own personal views about gay people being able to marry their same-sex partners:  After much soul-searching and a couple of decades of "evolving", he was finally ready to say out loud that he's all for it.

He did go on to say that it should be left to the states to decide their own policies concerning the legalities of such unions, but the die was cast;  the mold was formed:  A sitting president took a positive public stand, albeit a personal one, on the issue of gay marriage.

As might have been expected, the fundie leaders in the Right Wing Religiousphere took it hard.  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was all over the airwaves protesting the president's comments.   (Kudos to CNN's Soledad O'Brien, the product of mixed-race parents who married when most states outlawed such marriages, for turning an interview into a real debate, thus punching bloody holes in Perkins' many lame arguments.)

Small-government advocate and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came forward like the good soldier he is and said, no ifs, ands, or buts (for now) -- no, no, no to gay marriage, or even civil unions, or anything else that might require Big Government (that would be him if he wins) to step in and make more rules disregarding civil rights.

 Leaders of states that probably weren't going to go Obama's way in November anyway jumped in to remind him that he was committing political suicide over this.

Some Black church leaders voiced their opposition to Obama's views, sending a message that might possibly still resonate in November.

So, yes, even though his comments to Robin Roberts won't amount to a hill of beans in the legal world and won't change a thing in the states that are rabid about banning gay marriage (Two days ago, North Carolina became the 30th state to ban same-sex unions), Obama's admission of his own personal feelings is the stuff dreams are made of.   Both sides will see it as a world class political haymaker.

But what made the president's comments so memorable was the fact that, while he would have preferred to sidestep this particular bombshell of an issue forever if need be, it appears it was his wife and his daughters who ultimately convinced him that, while he might be president of these United States -- an all-powerful position requiring the wisdom of Solomon and the unbiased judgment of, say, the theoretical Supreme Court, his earlier published views on the subject were about as wrongheaded as it gets.

They talked to him about love and how it works in mysterious ways, and his daughters let him know how much it hurt them that, by his own admission, the best he could come up with was that he was still 'evolving' on that particular issue.

There were many juicy quote-bites one could pull out of that interview, but this one got me right where my heart beats loudest:
"You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And I-- you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sittin' around the dinner table. And we've been talkin' and-- about their friends and their parents. And Malia and Sasha would-- it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them. And-- and frankly-- that's the kind of thing that prompts-- a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated-- differently, when it comes to-- the eyes of the law." 
 Okay, I'm a sucker for a good dad, no matter what kind of house he lives in, so it's understandable why I might latch onto that one particular part of the conversation.  But I watched the entire interview; I watched the body language and listened to the tone of voice.  I saw an everyman wrestling with his ethos, not a politician striving to convince, and I rejoiced.

 But--I'll grant you--it didn't hurt that Joe Biden, our beloved, wacky veep, got to gushing about his own feelings on gay marriage on Sunday's "Meet the Press".  The next day the Washington Post's Dana Milbank called it a "gaffe" (a word that seems to cling to Biden as tightly as his own shadow) and the press took off running.  (Note to Joe:  It's far better to be gaffe-prone than to be mean-prone.  So far, you're okay, man.)
The vice president said he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, committing the classic Washington gaffe of accidentally speaking the truth. This bit of straight talk made Obama’s position — neither for nor against such unions but in an evolutionary state, not unlike the Galapagos finch — all the more untenable. On Monday, Biden took off for a campaign event in Tennessee, leaving Carney on cleanup duty. But the more Carney swabbed the mess, the more it spread. 
I frankly don't get it.  How exactly did Joe Biden's own personal views on gay marriage conflict with anything the president might have said about that same issue?  There is no actual blending of the pair, simply because they're Leaders One and Two.  They aren't contractually obligated to agree personally on all issues.  I didn't see it as "one-upping" the president, I saw it as Biden being Biden.  Especially when he got to the part about "Will and Grace".  (Debra Messing ("Grace") says it's right up there in the top five moments of her life, so you see, it's striking chords everywhere. )

Well, apparently even the president felt that Joe had overstepped "his skis" or some such.  But publicly he's okay with it, and I get the feeling that he, like me, loves old Joe, gaffes and all.  (And who wouldn't?)

Immediately after the Sunday news hours, it was out there, people were talking, and the entire White House had to grind to a halt and address the elephant in the room.  Does the president support gay marriage or doesn't he?  So on Wednesday, President Obama sat down with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and talked at length about the issue he had so studiously worked to avoid.

Yes, it was calculated and ultimately political, but the essence of it, the way the president chose to address it, was as much heaven to me as it had to be hellish for his political opponents, those so intent on ousting Barack Obama they have no problem casting him as evil incarnate--the devil himself

I saw a man who might finally understand that there are times when it's not only essential but soul-satisfying to separate the thoughts of the person from the decisions of the presidency.  And that "evolution" doesn't work as a handy substitute for equivocation.  And that sometimes political expedience isn't all it's cracked up to be.

My mother was Finnish-Lutheran and my father was Italian-Catholic.  They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary just nine months before my mom died, and they loved each other to the end.  What if the powers-that-be had arbitrarily decided that Finns and Italians couldn't marry?  Or that Lutherans and Catholics couldn't marry?  How different is that from deciding that blacks and whites couldn't marry or that same-sex partners couldn't marry?  They're all consenting adults with the capacity to love one another, and if marriage is the desired tie that binds, it's a sad and sorry law that seeks to outlaw fidelity instead of celebrating it.

I think the president always got that.  He only just now, thanks in part to the women in his life, found the cojones to say it out loud.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day! May Day! A little help here. . .

Today is May First, or May Day.  It's the day when workers around the world traditionally rally to show solidarity and support for one another.  It's the real Labor Day. While our own Labor Day has become a holiday, a day of picnics and celebration, May Day is and always will be an international day of protest--a reminder of worker rights and worker dignity in a world gone mad with greed.

Labor in America is under siege, like nothing we've seen in this country since the 1930s.  Whatever wage scales and rights and protections had been fought for and won over the years have slowly eroded away in this new, bizarre and reckless version of take-over capitalism. 

This year, here in America, planners have been at it for months, organizing what they're hoping will be a May Day to remember.  There is talk of a general strike, but whether the grass-roots activists are able to get it up and running is still to be seen.  Media for the 99 percent is planning to live-stream events across the country.  You can watch it here:  (No sign of James Dobson this year, by the way.  He will be missed.)

Two years ago, I wrote a piece that included the origins of May Day. In case you missed it, here it is again.  Note there is no mention of the Occupy movements.  That's because they barely existed then. Now Occupy Wall Street and the spin-offs are forces to be reckoned with, just the tonic to wake up the sleeping giant known as labor. We'll see what happens today.  The OWS website is going to livestream events around the world today.  I hope you're out there, and I hope it's big.

May Day: Workers of the World, Hang in There

In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:
•Workingmen to Arms!

•War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.

•The wage system is the only cause of the World's misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.

•One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!

•MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner. 
       IWW, The Brief Origins of May Day         

Okay, so that's the kind of thing that gave Socialists a bad name.  In the name of civility and good manners we've moved on to less violent (but probably less effective) ways of getting our message across.  The larger point here, though, is that since the 19th century, workers of the world have embraced May Day as the day to honor the sacrifices of the laboring classes.

In 1958, despite Joe McCarthy's earlier best efforts,  the Cold War Commies and Socialists were still purportedly climbing out from under every rock in every little burg in the US.  The VFW saw trouble in those May Day celebrations and foiled those plotters by renaming it "Loyalty Day".  Congress made it official and Ike actually signed it into law, but now, apart from a few VFW chapters and a few small towns, Loyalty Day is pretty much forgotten. (Not that loyalty isn't important, mind you. It is.  My loyalty to labor knows no bounds.)

But despite their best efforts, May Day demonstrations in America are still going strong.  Much of it centers on the controversial Arizona  "Show your Papers" law today, as hundreds of thousands in cities and towns all across the country are scheduled to march in solidarity against immigration and worker abuses. 

But even as I write this James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family, is leading  May Day, a Cry to God for a Nation in Distress on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Dobson and others, including Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association,  are calling it a "day of repentance and remembrance",  addressing "The greatest moral crisis since the Civil War", which seems to include abortion, Obamacare, Obama in general, and the scary notion that there are more "Socialists" than Republicans running Congress these days.

The Liberty Council will be there, as well.  They wouldn't want to pass up a chance to sell  their membership cards:

Oy. . .

So.  May our efforts this May Day and every day forward bring peace and equity to those who break their backs struggling to build this nation.  Solidarity until the sun ceases to shine or until worker equity is a reality.  Whichever comes first.