President Jesus Christ

Having grown up as a Republican in a blue state, I can honestly say that the only thing I share in common with Republicans in red states is contiguous land because our idea of what constitutes democratic principles couldn’t be further apart.

Tim Pawlenty must be ready to hang himself. With Rick Santoruminejad defying the polls and pundits at every turn and stymieing Super PAC’s and Romneybots, surely this field would have been accepting of another milquetoast social conservative candidate like Pawlenty. Alas, this is now the Romney/Santorum show as the GOP accepts that its fate is linked to the enthusiasm of the evangelical Christian voter.

When then-Sen. Barack Obama proclaimed that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America” at the 2004 Democratic Convention, he couldn’t have been more wrong. But it sure sounded great. The 2012 GOP primary season has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are indeed two very distinct Americas. Having grown up as a Republican in a blue state, I can honestly say that the only thing I share in common with Republicans in red states is contiguous land because our idea of what constitutes democratic principles couldn’t be further apart.

The New Millennium has ushered in a resounding victory for democracy and with it the greatest placebo ever absorbed into the global body politic. Citizens of the world have bought into the hype that the American Dream is now available anywhere on the globe and is as attainable as a fake diamond necklace on a late-night infomercial.

For my money, it is the inimitable H.L. Mencken who best captured the folly of American democracy as the means to prosperity nearly a century ago saying, “Of all those ancient promises there is none more comforting than the one to the effect that the lowly shall inherit the earth. It is at the bottom of the dominant religious system of the modern world, and it is at the bottom of the dominant political system. Democracy gives it a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth.”

Even Mencken would be impressed by the effectiveness of today’s political hucksters who peddle faux versions of democracy. Modern-day snake oil salesmen dressed in suits adorned with flag pins on their lapels preach the gospel of the American Dream with the zeal of born-again evangelists. Their wide-eyed followers devour their every word believing that they too might someday reach the Promised Land.

Gone are the days of dreaming of white picket fences and a pension; this is the era of winning lottery tickets and gaining salvation through instant affluence. The most troubling phenomenon is the gospel of Jesus Christ as capitalist that has somehow tethered itself to our new collective interpretation of democracy. This mixing of religious and ideological metaphors has seeped into the consciousness of American politics and given life to a bizarre fundamentalist ideology that has inculcated the public with the notion that financial success is the product of divine right. According to this newly adopted testament of faith, Jesus Christ is a champion of corporate rights and free markets who offers his disciples unfettered VIP access to the pearly gates of the hereafter.

“All these forms of happiness, of course, are illusory. They don’t last,” warned Mencken. “The Democrat, leaping into the air to flap his wings and praise God, is forever coming down with a thump. The seeds of his disaster lie in his own stupidity; he can never get rid of the naïve delusion — so beautifully Christian! — that happiness is something to be got by taking it away from the other fellow.”  It is the idea that only the uncompromising person in the self-righteous pursuit of wealth emerges triumphant in a life that has separated humans from their humanity. Community, environment and the welfare of others have been subjugated by a new dogma that places faith over reason, prosperity over compassion.

Capitalism and Christianity, mutually exclusive by design, are no longer distinct from one another under the all-encompassing umbrella of democracy. And who could argue? We credit democracy with ushering in the most technologically innovative century in recorded history. There have also been real victories along the way. America as it was originally conceived was a place where inalienable rights were intended exclusively for white, male property owners. But the system was intuitive and flexible enough to allow its citizens to battle one another and hammer out universal suffrage and civil rights. It is also our right to freely and openly criticize the government and protest perceived injustices. No system works perfectly for all of its inhabitants but liberties such as these that we often take for granted are glorious enough to make America’s democratic system enviable by most standards.

I am an insider, an avowed critic of the hand that feeds me. I’m not writing in exile or from behind a prison wall, but that is not to say we aren’t metaphorically imprisoned by the image we project of ourselves. Much of what we believe to be true about democracy is belied by our very real actions and circumstances.

Americans are trapped by the conviction that we live in a free society despite having the highest incarceration rate per capita of any nation in the world. We see ourselves as the purveyors of peace and democracy, having defeated the Communist menace and dethroned dictators, yet no other nation in modern times has initiated unprovoked foreign wars more than we have or dropped a nuclear bomb (twice) on its enemies. We believe in the theory of fair competition and the ability to achieve success through hard work and discipline but we exist within a system that discourages competitiveness and has consolidated 40 percent of the nation’s wealth into the hands of 1 percent of the population.

Our state of denial has caused us to drift far from the nation we believe ourselves to be while holding tightly to an image of the nation we wish to be. And whoever prevails on the GOP ticket will have no choice but to continue touting the conservative agenda and wooing the evangelical vote. I am a Republican living in a blue state; an American capitalist who was born in socialist Canada. I have Mohawk and Dutch roots. In short, I’m a walking contradiction. But I’m far from confused because this I know: Jesus Christ isn’t on the ballot and fundamentalism is the opposite of freedom.

 

Top Photo: Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum
Bottom Photo: H.L. Mencken

 

Not So Fast, 2012

While the national debate rages on through 2012 here at home there are local issues playing out that will have a significant impact on shaping Long Island. Including the lighthouse project, an island based casino, legacy village in Yaphank and Wolkoff’s mini-city in Brentwood to name a few.

Gearing up for 2012, Long Island let’s not forget about 2011.
Gop Candidate FieldThe heroic mission of the U.S Navy Seals to rid the world of the face of terrorism has created a new paradigm for the 2012 elections. Before this global event consumed the national political headlines the term “birther” was rekindled by Donald Trump’s potential bid for the Country’s CEO job which monopolized weeks of national broadcasts, only to have POTUS Obama hold a live news conference to finally provide his birth certificate after two years of countless debate, articles and even books on the topic. The seriousness of the global threats facing our nation weighed against such previous headlines certainly re-shifts the current debate played out in the news cycle.

Over the last several weeks we’ve had former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announce their exploratory committees and GOP power broker Haley Barbour surprisingly bow out of running. Shortly we’ll see if former Utah Governor John Huntsman, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman officially declare their intentions to run for President.

On the Hill there was a fierce budget debate with clocks ticking down on cable news of a looming government shut down. Next up on the docket the debt ceiling vote. Get ready.

Now Democrat operatives are staging protests at Republican House Members town hall meetings across the Country using Congressman Paul Ryan’s forward looking budget as a wedge issue for 2012. A recent Rasmussen Poll shows those aware of the plan 51% of Republicans favor Ryan’s budget plan and 52% of Democrats oppose it. But a plurality of voters not affiliated with either party have no opinion. Again a classic example of party line support with the battleground being the independent voter’s support.

Without a doubt there are substantial issues that must be addressed in order for our Country to prosper. Sustaining isn’t good enough, growth should be our objective. Social Security, Medicare, cutting the deficit, sound job creation and pension reform are of all hallmark concerns.

While the national debate rages on through 2012 here at home there are local issues playing out that will have a significant impact on shaping Long Island. Including the lighthouse project, an island based casino, legacy village in Yaphank and Wolkoff’s mini-city in Brentwood to name a few. Oh, and while it is not significant to the “shaping of Long Island” I do predict very localized, heated debate on the zoning of Sonic fast food joints springing up on the Island. We’ll have to see if resident’s craving for burgers and roller skates will outweigh the traffic jams that may snarl local roads.

When you look at voter participation of national elections to local elections here on the Island the numbers are quite far apart. Let’s turn to Suffolk County as an illustration. The 2008 Presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain had 75.18% of registered voters come to the polls. That’s substantially higher than the 61% national average from that year. The last off year election in Suffolk County was in 2009 where a mere 20.81% turned out county wide. Go back to 2003 with the race for Suffolk County Executive between Ed Romaine and Steve Levy to see a somewhat respectable 32.38% turnout.

Political strategists have spent campaign dollars trying to drive out presidential year voters in off years with limited success.

There are many root causes of voter apathy at the local level. One reason is that there is substantially less television coverage of local races with Long Island’s news market dominated by New York City based and national cable news. Secondly there is not enough public awareness demonstrating the importance of local elected offices. An extreme few can actually describe the job function of a County Comptroller, but yet they’re asked to vote for that office in an election. Don’t dare to ask your average registered voter to name both their Assemblyman AND County Legislator. Yikes. (No offense to all my friends in those offices).

Some thought needs to go into New York’s stiffer voting rules compared to other states. Many states in the Union have more convenient absentee voting rules and gives the electorate the ability before election day to cast their ballots through early voting. Giving people more flexibility to vote with today’s more demanding work and home environments should be studied further outlining its pro’s and con’s for such a reform.

What out of the box ideas can “electrify” the electorate to fill in a circle on their paper ballots for County Executive, Town Supervisor and local Legislator this year?

All the snazzy mail put out by these candidates won’t do the trick. Long Island’s media; Newsday, News12, TV55, the Long Island Press, the Patch and weeklies do an admirable job touting local elections, but we need a wider net to cast in more voter interest.

One idea in the true spirit of bi-partisanship is to have all the Presidential, U.S Senate and House candidates who are running in 2012 join together, along with the main stream media to promote a “vote local” initiative this fall urging everyone to vote in their local elections. At least then we’d have a new, high profile delivery method to bring more voters to the polls this year. Well call that idea very unlikely.

We then need to consider a wide-spread “calling of the guard” for Long Island based stake holders and media to join together to create our own non partisan “vote local in 2011” initiative. We have many groups with substantial monetary and human capital where through the use of PSA type outreach can connect with every Long Islander multiple times with an important, yet simple, education campaign on why it is important to vote in your local elections. If groups like the Long Island Association, HIA, Execuleaders, Melville Chamber, Hispanic Chamber, ABLI, Long Island Angels, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, our higher educational institutions such as Hofstra and Dowling along with our many trade unions pooled resources for a “vote Long Island” campaign, the message would certainly drive voter participation higher in local election years, including 2011.

Unfortunately the Sonic debates, the chants to keep the Islanders here and the potential for winning the slots at a local casino won’t be enough to drive out presidential year voters en masse this November. But hopefully Long Island pulling together can far eclipse recent off year voter turnout by educating the public on why 2011 is just as important as 2012.