Point of View Columns

The Great American Circus

Thanks to the great political cartoonist Thomas Nast the elephant has been the symbol of the Republican Party for over a century. Now that it has morphed into the G.O.Tea Party it should come as no surprise that there is a circus-like feel to the presidential nomination sweepstakes that is inflicted upon us on a daily basis. The only problem is that there are too many clowns and not enough elephants.

It seems that every few days another Republican decides that they are prepared to be the Leader of the Free World even as we either gasp in horror or smother gales of laughter at the thought. We would, however, be wise not to be too ready to laugh – even clowns, especially clowns, can be dangerous.

Like a circus car from which emerges an endless parade of clowns, the G.O.Tea Party circus is providing us with mirthless images that would be laughable but for the danger that they represent. In no particular order, consider some of the members of the current lineup:

-George Pataki – The three time governor of New York State is known for having defeated Mario Cuomo and using a ramshackle collection of budgetary quirks and tricks that resulted in near financial disaster for the state. A disaster, it should be noted, that is (and will be) affecting millions of New Yorkers for decades. Wonder what he might do as President of the United States?

-Sarah Palin – If you subtract the time that she spent running an unsuccessful campaign for Vice President, she spent less than two years as governor of Alaska before resigning to make some money. Well known for knowing very little, she has not let ignorance get in the way of her grand ambition to be somebody. She can be laughable when referring to being able to see Russia from her kitchen window as being part of her foreign policy qualifications and kind of sad when she cannot recall a book that she has read or a newspaper that she reads regularly. But she has a darker side – such as when she tells followers to “lock and load” and then puts a bull’s eye on the offices of political opponents. Ask Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

-Ron Paul – If you ask Ron Paul nicely, he will be glad to tell you that the United States doesn’t need a Department of Education or a Department of Energy even though the quality of education and access to energy are keys to the progress of this country for the balance of this century. Actually, you don’t even need to ask Mr. Paul; at the drop of a dime (or a penny) he will tell you that government is the problem and that its elimination will cure what ails us as a nation. He doesn’t bother to explain how the health, education and welfare of this nation will be maintained without the presence of a strong national government. But that’s what makes him such a loveable clown.

-Rick Perry – Rodeo Rick Perry has galloped onto the national stage with his six guns blazing. In one week he has suggested that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board may be contemplating treason and has expressed his doubt as to whether President Obama loves America. That’s pretty hilarious stuff from a clown who has suggested that Texas secede from the United States. And the really funny thing about Rodeo Rick is that he’s just getting started.

-Michele Bachmann – Where does one start when writing about the Queen of Clowns? She mixes up John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, and celebrates Elvis Presley’s birthday on the day that he died. What a hoot! The fact that she takes herself so seriously should be a warning that there she is actually a zealot who has misplaced her big nose. But the fact that she has proclaimed that she is on a mission to make this country a Christian nation that is governed by Christian ideals has a Taliban-like ring to it that is not funny at all.

-Herman Cain – Mr. Cain’s idea of a powerful campaign slogan is that he has no experience in government at all. Close your eyes and imagine your brain surgeon telling you that his/her major qualification is that he/she never went to medical school. Being the chief executive of a successful chain of pizza parlors that mock Italians is a qualification of sorts although I think that if Mr. Cain was the head of “Yo Mama’s Chicken” instead of “Godfather’s Pizza” he wouldn’t be getting a pass.

-Mitt Romney – Mr. Romney is the magical clown who wants us to believe that the universal healthcare program that he advanced as governor of Massachusetts has nothing to do with the universal healthcare plan advanced by President Obama. Mitt, the Magic Clown would also have us believe that in his career as a businessman he “created jobs” when the business model of his company was to acquire businesses, sell off the assets and fire the employees. Of course the fact that Mr. Romney can be a magician and a clown shows a real skill at multi-tasking.

There are other candidates and would-be candidates running around the G.O.Tea Party circus tent. Someone played “Send in the Clowns” and the right wing of the right wing adopted it as their anthem.

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Point of View Columns

Silence of the Lambs and the Donkeys and the Elephants

I thought that a mildly interesting research project might entail finding the origins of using animals as the symbols for political parties in the United States. It turns out that the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant as party symbols can be traced to the work of the 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

There were no focus groups, no branding sessions, and no strategic plan. Nast thought it was amusing to cast the Democrats and Republicans in this anthropomorphic light and the labels stuck.

These days we refer to “Red” states and “Blue” states and the right wing of the right wing conservatives and liberals. But sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the zoo and the barnyard, and this just may be one of those times.

Sound bites and megabytes have been consumed by the billions in the commentary over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. It is not a mosque even though CNN, the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets refer to it in such an erroneous fashion. Which begs the question, so what if it were a mosque? But I digress.

Although this center has been in the planning for over a year, during the past month the attacks against its construction have gone from nattering and chattering to white hot incendiary rhetoric. Battle lines have been drawn although it is not clear who is the enemy.

To listen to Newt Gingrich, The Man Who Would Be President proclaiming that the Islamic center being built near the site of the World Trade Center is akin to building a Nazi memorial near a Jewish concentration camp. It should be noted that such foul and hateful language by the pseudo-intellectual Gingrich is permitted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, the same First Amendment that grants freedom of religion.

However, although one can freely speak, the First Amendment does not confer immunity from criticism. So I wonder at the relative silence of the Republican elephants as they listen to one of their leaders invoke such hateful imagery, stoking the already smoldering fires of prejudice and discrimination with barely disguised glowing embers of rage already in every corner and every precinct of this country.

Where are the Republican elephants with a voice of reason? Where are the Republicans with a sense of decency and respect for this country who are willing to tell Newt Gingrich to stop surfing in the sewers of indecent and disgusting public discourse?

And rather than demonstrating the leadership that ostensibly is a part of the job description of Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid proclaimed that he would prefer that the “mosque” be built somewhere other than in such proximity to the World Trade Center because its presence offends the sensibilities of some.

Aside from the fact that there are already two mosques near the World Trade Center site, mosques that have been in continuous operation since 9/11, one has to wonder about these mysterious “sensibilities” that must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of denying Constitutional rights to some American citizens.

After all, the screeching, braying and caterwauling crowds that cursed and spat at the black school children who integrated a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas were clearly expressing their offended “sensibilities” to the nearness of black people. While the black students had a “right” to attend that school, one can imagine that it certainly would have been more convenient to observe and respect those “sensibilities”.

And so, rather than demonstrate leadership, the Democratic donkeys have largely been silent or have brayed in favor of the perceived majority. We have heard too many shameful statements affirming the right of Muslims to build the center but questioning the “wisdom” of building the Islamic center at the lawfully selected location of their choice.

Of course, if rights are to be doled out based upon the will of the majority, there will be few of us with many rights at the end of the day. The right of an arrested person to remain silent would never pass a national majority vote today. I don’t think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would either. One wonders what the Democratic donkeys might bray if these items came to a vote this very day.

Today it is the construction of an Islamic cultural center that is the target of hate and senseless prejudice. Tomorrow it might be gay men and women who wish to marry. And next week it might be you or me. It is axiomatic that hate is insatiable and the more that it consumes the more it will consume.

These days it is not only the lambs that are silent.

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