The answer to that question you keep asking

When the talk turns political with friends and family, the question "how did the [Republicans] do this?" inevitably comes up. iThe answer, at least in my opinion, is complicated if you're not a regular blog reader, if only because it takes so much continual reading about the situation, the background, the repeated abuses of power, etc. etc. to explain that I don't even know where to start.

Thankfully, the respected Jim Vanderhai has boiled it down succintly and cuts right to the gist of the problem. This is a must read, folks:

GOP Tilting Balance Of Power to the Right

(thanks to Ezra for the tip)


Is your God so weak He needs the support of the government?

My response to the following question asked by a Canadian regarding the current fad for injecting Christianity into our governmental life (question and response originally posted in the forum where the topic first came up):

"Was not the US founded on the belief of the separation of Church and State? More and more it seems as if certain people want to reverse this."

There's no "seems" about it. Certain people are working actively to reverse it.

These certain people point to the fact that the phrase "separation of church and state" never actually appears in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. For that matter, however, neither does the word "God".

What does appear in the Constitution is the phrase "no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" and the phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is in the First Amendment.

The phrase "separation of church and state" is a term coined by Jefferson in his letter to a Baptist congregation that expressed concern over a rumor that another denomination (Congregationalists) was going to be established as the national church. His letter affirmed the fundamental right expressly given in the First Amendment.

What the fundies fail to grasp when they make their arguments about this being a Christian nation and all that other nonsensical claptrap is that freedom OF religion also means freedom FROM religion. But unfortunately, they seem to be as well acquainted with what the Consitution actually says as they are with what the Bible actually says, which is to say not at all.


Social Security and Generation X

So the Democrats are winning on the Social Security issue, which is good news. It's a non-starter for Republicans, Bush's dogged persistence in campaigning about it notwithstanding. So perhaps these thoughts aren't very timely, maybe even moot at this point. But they're on my mind so here goes.

I've been thinking a lot lately about a conversation I had a few months ago with a good friend. She's a progressive, but I think she'd agree she's financially conservative. Which is to say that although she supports and understands the need for social programs, she admits there's an inner struggle everytime she notes the withholding on her paycheck.

This is, I think, understandable and could be the Democrats' possible undoing on the issue of Social Security. I admit I also have that moment of despair when I mentally calculate the percentage the withholding takes from my paycheck and think about that brake job the Subaru needs and the huge repair job we need done on the back of the house to address the carpenter ant damage. I lay awake at night wondering how we're going to get this thing taken care of or pay for that much-needed thing, nevermind the debt that we're trying desperately to get out from under before the whole economy comes crashing down 'round our heads.

It's not that either my friend or I begrudge people the help they get through social programs -- we don't. We both know from experience what it was like when our parents couldn't make ends meet. We believe in the importance of these programs. We both manage okay and want for little, but that doesn't mean it was always that way. We might grumble a few choice words about the freeloaders gaming the system who always seem to make the news, we're intelligent and logical and know that these bad apples are hardly representative of the vast majority of people who are helped by social programs.

So why the concern? Because Republicans are targetting young professionals like us when they talk about private personal whatever retirement accounts. The fact is, it is painful. Neither of us can afford the money that's taken out of our paychecks, and I'm not talking about "afford" as in "because I need that 42 in. plasma screen". Perhaps I feel the pinch moreso than she does, if only because my husband and I are renovating an old house, but neither of us are jetting off to Europe anytime soon. From this perspective it's hard to see Social Security as the social insurance it actually is instead of the social welfare the Republicans make it out to be.

Thanks to the wealth of information about Social Security that can be found online*, I'm happy to say that I get why the Republicans are wrong, wrong, wrong on this issue. I get why Social Security is one of the most revolutionary and remarkable programs ever created and why there is no crisis. But I didn't always get it. And my good friend, progressive and intelligent and logical as she is, is as susceptible to the arguments the Republicans are making as I was.

So, while we may be winning this argument in the here and now, I'm not convinced the Republicans haven't succeeded in planting that seed of doubt in my generation's collective mind. I'm hopeful that as they learn more about it, as they see how Social Security benefits their grandparents and parents, and as they see that the big doom and gloom that's forecast by Bush et. al. can only come about if we let Bush et. al. continue to do as they have been, that the only thing wrong with the system are the people currently in charge. But now's the time for the Democrats to counteract that seed of doubt because if they don't, we're going to be having this argument again and we may not win it next time.

* Kevin Drum, over at Political Animal, was the most helpful to me in this regard, thanks to his informative posts about Social Security that took various aspects of the anti-Social Security argument and showed what's wrong with that argument in easily digestible portions. I can't recommend his posts on the subject highly enough; the following are just some he posted during the early stage of this battle:

Social Security Doom Mongering
Social Security Privatization in Pictures
Social Security: A Conversation
Two Percent of GDP
Private Accounts...A Case History


Karl, this is what happens when you deal with the devil

[Looooong overdue response to a commenter's request in the previous post for my take on the whole DeLay sitch.]

To sum up: I am gleeful. And not in a gracious way, either. Watching the self-immolation of one of the nastiest, most corrupt politicians in modern times is immensely satisfying. It certainly hasn't come soon enough, considering the damage he's done, but at least the time finally has come and his days of destruction to this nation's legislative and judicial process are finally coming to an end.

My main concern at this point is how quickly he goes down. Were it my choice, I'd like to see him circling the bowl for a good long time, well into the 2006 mid-terms, if possible. As it stands now, he's effectively quarantined -- his congressional toadies and lobbying cronies can't distance themselves fast enough and his corporate donors have all but disappeared -- so he's not wielding nearly the power through fear he did when the vast majority of the country didn't know who the hell he was. Plus, Jack Abramoff is clearly pissed that DeLay's betrayed him and is out to shiv the ol' Hammer in the back and that, coupled with the still ongoing criminal investigation by Ronnie Earle, it must be getting a little cramped on both sides over in Tommy's world.

That's not to say he still doesn't wield a considerable amount of power. The vast majority of the Republican Congress lives in fear of finding a horse head in their bed from Mr. DeLay, and though they would like nothing more than to get him off their backs so they can get on with their corrupting and/or meddling business, he's got too many of them by the nads for them to turn on him outright. He knows where too many of the bodies are buried at this point, so it's all a kind of psychotic Mexican standoff, which can be highly entertaining as long as you're not caught in the crossfire.

Which means that the longer he's still around and still in charge, the longer he hangs around their necks like lead anchors and sucks them further down to political oblivion. Some of them will remain taint free, but there are a lot that're mired almost as deep as he is. And that, my friends, is a recipe for a majority switch in the Congress.

Overly optimistic? Probably. For one thing, the Democrats need to get a whole lot better at using DeLay as a paintbrush for the entire Republican Party, to make him the face of the GOP, so that when people thing Republican Congress, they're put in mind of a slimy ex-exterminator from Texas who couldn't take a breath without doing something criminal. In other words, they need to make sure the American electorate understands that DeLay isn't an exception, but that he's representative of everything that's wrong with today's Republican Party.

At this point, I'm doubtful the Democrats are savvy enough to make the most of this opportunity. Reid's certainly been running circles around them politically over in the Senate, but Pelosi's wins haven't been as obvious (though I must say, she's been making some smart decisions of late). And anyway, Pelosi's got her hands full with the Blue Dog Democrats at the moment, so until she starts planting horse heads in a few beds, the job of painting the Republican Party with the color of DeLay is going to have to fall to other people.

I'm also intrigued how this power struggle will shake out between DeLay and Rove. Karl must surely have himself tied into a nasty snarl of a knot over this thing, because he knows DeLay is hurting them and will continue to hurt them. DeLay may be forgetting his history -- specifically, what happened to the Democrats in '94 -- but Rove got where he is by not forgetting his. Trouble is, he can't just get rid of the guy like he would anyone else, because DeLay wields as much power in the Party as Rove. The Administration may owe their political victories and survival to Rove, but the Congressional members owe their careers and fortunes (and their souls) to DeLay. And since DeLay isn't going quietly into that sweet goodnight, this thing could shape up into a right proper power struggle with lots of carnage and loud explosions. Heh. Looks like it's time to break out the popcorn.

Time will tell, of course. Anything that happens with DeLay at this point is a win for the Democrats, but whether he's gone in a month or a year, it's up to them to capitalize on it.