only a matter of time

Rick Santorum deserves to win the Republican primary and represent his party in the contest for the presidency of the United States. He is the quintessence of the modern Republican party — a candidate who is the purest, most concentrated extract of a philosophy grounded in fear, scapegoating, finger-pointing and resentment.

It wasn’t that long ago, really, when the Republican party was what it still claims to be — a political party dedicated to the idea of a small government that interfered as little as possible in regulating the workings of the nation and its citizens. It was a philosophy grounded in an idealized and romanticized past, in the belief that life was better before. Before there was so much immigration, before laws and regulations were reformed, before workers became so dissatisfied, before.

There’s something almost innocent about that notion. They didn’t blame individual immigrants; they blamed the phenomenon of immigration. They didn’t vilify specific workers; they vilified the movements that encouraged workers to be discontented with their situation. They accepted there was some need to reform laws and regulation, but they resented the reform process. And they accepted the fact that somebody could disagree with their approach and still have the best interests of the nation at heart. The concept of ‘the loyal opposition’ wasn’t foreign to them. The Republican party espoused a positive conservative approach. It’s one I disagree with, but they had actual ideas they believed would improve things.

Then came Newt Gingrich, who discovered you could win elections not just by suggesting that your opponent’s policies were ineffective and possibly harmful, but by claiming your opponent was actively and intentionally trying to destroy everything that is and was good about this nation. I’m not convinced Gingrich actually believed that; I suspect it was just a cynical strategy to win elections. But in the span of just a couple of election cycles, the Republican party turned away from the notion that Democrats were just wrong-headed and toward the notion that Democrats were an actual threat that needed to be stopped in order to save the nation. There was no more ‘loyal opposition.’ There were only enemies to be defeated.

Elections became less about how to improve the nation and more about who to blame for the current shitty state of affairs. And the Gingrich approach worked; the Republicans started winning elections.

Rick Santorum is Newt Gingrich without the beard of cynicism. He’s not just saying stuff to win an election; he appears to actually believe what he’s saying. Sadly, he’s steeped in the same toxic brew of blame. The United States would be a better place if only the wicked elements could be expunged and we could return to the way things were before. Before there was contraception, before gay folks were visible, before there was all this fuss about the climate, before that evolution nonsense.

But the natural result of turning people who hold different beliefs and opinions into enemies is that you can’t contain it. You can’t restrict it just to the opposing political party. It necessarily morphs into an increasingly more paranoid purity test. If you fail to meet the narrowing standards of your own party, you join the ranks of the enemy. The organic result is a Republican party whose base actually believes Mitt Romney is a liberal — a party whose base believes Rick Perry, who casually talks about secession from the Union, has liberal tendencies because he doesn’t blame immigrants quite enough.

Right now Rick Santorum is the perfect distillate of what has become the modern Republican party — self-righteous, judgmental, angry, fearful, moralistic, scolding. It won’t be long, though, before he’ll be seen as another liberal. It’s only a matter of time.

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it’s okay, be a sap

Okay, it’s Valentine’s Day. A lot of folks really hate this day. Hate it. Hate it with a disturbing amount of passion. Maybe they hate it for good reasons, because it’s clearly the most emotionally-laden faux holiday ever driven by commerce. It’s a lot of pressure to drop on this one day out of the whole long year. Tens of billions of dollars are spent to compel men to be romantic on this one day, to compel women to be romanced.

It’s a sad thing, isn’t it, that we have to set aside a day for romance. For that reason, it’s a good thing that we do it—even if we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Even if it’s driven by the makers of chocolates and by florists and by jewelers and by the manufacturers of greeting cards. Even if the engine of Valentine’s Day is almost completely commercial, it’s a good thing we do it.

Because romance is important. Romance lifts us out of the mundane. It elevates us. It sweeps aside the boundaries of our ordinary workaday lives. Romance, really, is the willingness to let yourself be carried away by something larger than you are.

That doesn’t necessarily mean romantic love. You can be happily single and without a partner and still be caught up in romance. You can find it in novels and movies, to be sure, but it’s also out there in the real world. It’s the delight you take in a foggy day, and it’s that moment of undiluted pleasure you get when you see a Canada Goose scull its wings before landing, and it’s that smile you get from a stranger you see through a shop window, and the smile you give back. And yes yes yes, that’s all incredibly sappy. But it’s true all the same. A large chunk of romance grows out of the willingness to be sappy.

So yes, it’s a stupid, commercial holiday destined to disappoint more folks than it pleases. But it’s not the day that matters, or the chocolates or the jewelry or the flowers or the dinner at a nice restaurant—although those are all very nice. Valentine’s Day is good because romance is good, and anything that reminds of that is worthwhile.

So just give into it. Be a sap. Be an unapologetic sap. And then go out and do it again tomorrow.

not quite as clever as mickey

Finally…some real voter fraud.

For a long time Republican lawmakers have been making it more difficult for people to vote, citing the possibility of voter fraud. They often cite the case of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), an affiliation of community organizing groups, as a prime example of ‘massive voter fraud.’ This is based on voter registration forms ACORN volunteers and paid staffers turned in as a result of a voter registration drive.

A small percentage of those forms included clearly false information. For instance, some individuals might have filled out the form claiming to be Mickey Mouse or Thor, God of Thunder. By turning those forms over to local election officials, Republicans accused ACORN of attempting to commit voter fraud. That, of course, ignores a couple of inconvenient facts.

First, the people who engage in voter registration drives don’t get to pick and choose which forms they turn in. Otherwise partisans for one political party could simply throw away the registration forms filled out by citizens who identified as belonging to a different party, leaving those prospective voters with the impression they were registered to vote. So it’s legally required for groups to turn in ALL voter registration forms—even if they’re signed by Thor.

Second, there are NO records of anybody who filled out a voter registration form as Thor, God of Thunder actually attempting to cast a vote. Nobody claiming to be Mickey Mouse has shown up at a polling place, expecting to pull the lever or check the box for anybody running for office. That shit just don’t happen.

The fact is, voter suppression—a strategy at which Republicans excel—is far more likely to shape an election result than voter fraud. Individual voters attempting to cast more than one ballot or a fraudulent ballot is a wildly ineffective and inefficient strategy for stealing an election.

BUT…there are very, very rare instances of individual people who actually do cast an illegal vote. And we just had somebody convicted for actual, honest-to-Jeebus, no-shit voter fraud. Charlie White of Hamilton County, Indiana. A Republican.

And not just any Republican, but the Indiana Secretary of State—the top elections official in the state. Mr. White campaigned for the office by promising to “protect and defend Indiana’s Voter ID law to ensure our elections are fair and protect the most basic and precious right and responsibility of our democracy—voting.”

He might have gotten away with it if he’d registered as Mickey Mouse.

By the way, if you want to know the truth about voter fraud, you can read a report issued by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.