Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Politics 2012

That’s the promise that is currently trumpeted on, among other places, a Route 9 billboard on the north side of Catskill.   Sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage ( and pointing to the web site, the message is aimed at a State Senator who on June 24 voted Yes on the Marriage Equality bill, legalizing marriage between same-sex partners.  The “You’re Next” threat refers to the fate of the Democrat who in September lost a by-election contest in a heavily Democratic district in New York City. N.O.M. chieftain Brian Brown claims that the upset was due largely to his organization’s success in mobilizing anti-same-sex voters to back the Republican candidate, Bob Turner. (That interpretation has not appeared in any regular news outlet).
Stephen Saland is one of four Republican State Senators who, along with all the Democrats in the upper house, passed the Marriage Equality act.  All four are targets of N.O.M. retaliation, along with one Democrat (Sen. Shirley Huntley of New York City, who voted Yes this time after voting No, along with all Republican senators, in 2009). 
The threat is hollow.  Although Mr Brown talks about spending $2 million to defeat those candidates, his cash intake so far has been small as compared with campaign funds already raised by active, organized, affluent supporters of the Marriage Equality Act.  Anyhow, if the Brown forces did recruit strong challengers to the targeted incumbents, they would produce a split that puts more pro-marriage equality Democrats in office.
What is more, the retaliation campaign evidently would be waged clumsily.  The “You’re Next” billboard on Route 9W, erected in October 2011, refers to a senator whose re-election date is  November 2012.  The billboard also is misplaced:  here in Greene County, which is not part of  Senator Saland’s district.  Greene County’s senator is James Seward.  He voted against the Marriage Equality bill. That fact is not acknowledged, much less explained, on his web site.
As for the “Let the People Vote” part of the N.O.M. campaign, it is a call for a popular referendum on the marriage equality question.   And it is wrong-headed call.  Its exponents tout a call "to let the people decide on the definition of marriage."  But legislation, whether enacted by popular vote or by elected representatives, is not an exercise in definition.  The Marriage Equality Bill (A8354-2011) does not define, re-define, or mis-define marriage.  It provides that
A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same sex or different sex.  No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy or common law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties being or having been of the same sex or different sex.  When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner is all such sources of law.

Among contenders for the Republican nomination for President at the November 2012 national election, in sample surveys and straw polls, first or second place has generally gone to Mitt Romney.   In a field of seven or eight contestants, Mr Romney seems to be the preferred candidate of between 20 and 30 per cent of survey respondents.  Those respondents are self-styled Republicans or Republican activists.  Other contenders—Michelle Bachman, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain—have soared in popularity within that special population, and then lost ground.  So why has Mr Romney not picked up what those candidates left behind?  Why hasn’t he gained momentum?  Observers—some of them impartial—ascribe the problem to a feeling of distrust.  The feeling is related vaguely to Mr Romney’s Mormon faith, or his flip-flopping on hot-button issues, or positions and evasions that could betoken a slippery, impure sort of conservatism. (“His whole campaign has centered around tapioca,” says crypto-conservative blogger Erick Erickson).
That feeling can be fortified by a due appreciation of rhetorical tricks to which Mr Romney is disposed to resort.  Thus:
*Back in 2008, in a speech on the floor of the Republican national convention, Mr Romney undertook to identify key differences between “liberal” (bad; Democratic) and “conservative” (good; Republican). And his first item was this: 
…what do you think Washington is right now, liberal or conservative? Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? It’s liberal!
Mr Romney was alluding to (and damning) recent action by the Supreme Court. He also was falsifying that action.  He did so by mischaracterizing the inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Those inmates were being detained indefinitely, without the usual business of being charged, being arraigned, and in due course being brought to trial. They were detained as terrorist SUSPECTS.  It was prisoners SUSPECTED by U.S. authorities of perpetrating terrorist acts who, the Supreme Court held, are entitled to “constitutional rights.”  Mr Romney put the “liberal” stigma on a Supreme Court ruling that had not taken place.  He did so in a way that could be construed as disdain for commonly accepted principles of due process of law. (The distinction between terrorist and terrorist suspect was expressed during the Republican “debate” in Nevada on October 18.  It was voiced by Ron Paul). 
*Mr Romney followed his “Guantanamo terrorists” item with another purported contrast between liberal and conservative:
Is a government liberal or conservative that puts the interests of the teachers union ahead of the needs of our children? It’s liberal!
The context of that utterance conveys the suggestion that Mr Romney was alluding (as he did with regard to the Supreme Court) to a recent, substantive event.  But there’s the trick.  Instead of citing a specific event (a proposal, a governmental action), he conjured up a predisposition (a bias).  He delivered an arbitrary INTERPRETATION of the thrust of an unnamed measure and of the motivations of its sponsor.
*At the Republican “debate” in Orlando FL on September 21, Rick Perry defended his decision, as governor of Texas, to allow young illegal immigrants who gain admission to public Texas colleges to pay tuition at the in-State rather than the much higher out-of-State rate.   “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason…than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own,” said Mr Perry, “I don’t think you have a heart.”
At the next day’s resumption of that “debate,” Mr Romney picked up on Mr Perry’s “have a heart” expression.  He responded in these words:
My friend Governor Perry said that if you don't agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegals, then you don't have a heart. I think if you're opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn't mean that you don't have a heart; it means that you have a heart and a brain.
Noteworthy about that statement, for connoisseurs of sophistry, is avoidance of the point at issue.  Mr Romney picked up on Perry’s “have a heart” expression but did not voice a position on the matter addressed by Mr Perry: the propriety of in-State tuition rates for resident illegal immigrants.  Rhetorically speaking, he pretended that the immediate issue was opposition (or not) to illegal immigration. 

U.S. Representative Chris Gibson apparently will be challenged for re-election next year in this (the 20th) district.  Joel Tyner, a Dutchess County legislator, has announced a bid to win the Democratic nomination for the seat that Mr Gibson won in November 2010.  (He out-polled the incumbent, Scott Murphy, who had won the seat in a March 2009 special election contest to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been elevated to the U.S. Senate by gubernatorial appointment). In launching his campaign, Mr Tyner declared (as reported in The Daily Freeman, 8/13) that “People are sick and tired of politicians that are all about Wall Street and not Main Street,” and that Mr Gibson favors corporations over individuals and the wealthy over the middle class.  On his web site he voices opposition to hydrofracking and to cuts in Medicaid and Social Security, and he classifies himself as a “progressive.”  His background includes stints as a teacher in mid-Hudson schools and campaigns for elective offices since the 1990’s.  After winning election to the Dutchess County legislature in 2003, from a heavily Republican and affluent district, Mr Tyner won successive two-year terms and now, for the impending (November 8) election, is unchallenged.  Last year he attracted news media attention with an effort to force Andrew Cuomo into a primary election for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  That effort failed for lack of sufficient petition signatures.
Mr Tyner must be just right for the 20th congressional district’s urbane, hip, cosmopolitan, progressive inhabitants.
But seriously, the Democrat-dominated re-districting process could make the 10-county, 20th congressional district a bit less safe for Mr Gibson.  It might even prompt him to
back his professed concern for the job shortage with a bit more thought than the vapid, vacuous formula ( “get the government out of the way.”

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