Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Politics Online

The Democratic Party has always been the "younger" party; quicker, faster, more tech-savvy. Al Gore "invented" the Internet, after all. *winks* It didn't really take that long for Republicans to learn their lesson, though. If John McCain had been ... well, more appealing, then the conservative online community may have mobilized for him the way liberal bloggers and such did for Barack Obama.

The fact is, as anyone who has ever visited an online political forum knows, there are just as many conservatives online as there are liberals. Now, they have a candidate around whom they can rally. He's just not running for president; not right now, anyway.

The Washington Post reported today on the massive online campaigns of all the major candidates in the Virginia governor's race. Terry McAuliffe YouTubes, Creigh Deeds Twitters, and Brian Moran is rounding up bloggers. The three Democrats meet tonight in a debate co-sponsored by Huffington Post and Collegiate Times, two major online media outlets.

Bob McDonnell is not exactly lagging behind. His Facebook page, the Post reports, boasts more fans than both Deeds and Moran combined. While the liberal bloggers have their choice for the moment, conservative bloggers in the Commonwealth can choose between either supporting the Republican cadidate or not. Many, it seems, would choose him even if it weren't by default. He's certainly done a good job of representing conservative principles, and his record speaks for itself.

As I said earlier, the blogosphere has balanced itself out in recent years to reflect the actual political landscape of the country; and, like the country itself, bloggers need a reason to be excited about a candidate. There will always be partisans who are more against the other candidate than they are for their own candidate. When you run a campaign, your job is to get others to agree with you; to inspire them to support you and your cause. Online, your supporters would already be touting your message. The only obstacle is how to organize them; how to channel their talents and enthusiasm to make it work for you.

As the article points out, the candidates have all hired people to run their online campaigns, including veterans from past presidential campaigns. The number of Democrats familiar with organizing online support for candidates is not surprising, considering the number of Democratic campaigns waged lately, and the fact that there are only a handful of Democrats currently running for office. The same goes for the Republican campaign. It's a buyer's market, as they say.

I'm happy that the Internet is now being fully employed by both sides. Conservatives may have had to wait, but they've found a candidate to support, and they're now going to work. In a democracy, the only way to have a fair contest is for everyone to know all the issues involved. It's one of the reasons I started this blog: to ensure that both sides of the debate would be articulated fairly. I've had this blog for a little over two months, now. I want to get my word out as much as I want to get anyone else's out. There are things I believe, and I want to share them with other people. Like the Republican Party, I'll just have to become more adept at using the Internet.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Energy and Virginia politics

Does anyone else get the sense that Brian Moran will be the Democratic candidate for governor?

Yes, Terry McAuliffe has the money and the endorsement of Bill Clinton, but Brian Moran has the experience. More importantly, I feel, he's the exact ideological opposite of Bob McDonnell.

Consider the 2008 presidential election. The Democrats won by presenting a candidate who was the polar opposite of President Bush. Of course, John McCain is hardly Bush III, but the DNC spent hundreds of millions of dollars convincing the country that he was. Once Barack Obama had sealed the nomination, all he had to do was run left while McCain ran right.

Politics has become polarization, due to the DNC's recent strategy of anti-Bushism. McAuliffe, as former DNC head, may be an anti-Bush, but Moran is the anti-McDonnell. The energy debate makes that point about as clear as any other issue.

The Washington Post reported yesterday some of the energy policies espoused by the candidates for governor. Bob McDonnell, the article reports, wishes to drill for oil and natural gas 50 miles off the coastline, which would make Virginia the first state to drill on the eastern seaboard. Virginia would also be the first state to build a nuclear power plant in over a decade under a McDonnell administration (Lake Anna is the proposed site). The Democratic party will almost certainly cry foul over environmental issues, but you can expect the campaign to have experts lined up to testify to the advances made in safety precautions, for both the environment and for human beings. Certainly, no one wants a meltdown in the Commonwealth.

The Democratic candidates are divided on the energy issue, the Post reports. McAuliffe wants to explore for natural gas off the coast, but not oil. Both he and Creigh Deeds want to leave coal on the table, as long as it can be "cleanly" mined, as does McDonnell. Other alternatives, such as wind power (and even chicken manure) are "embraced" by all candidates.

Moran, though, opposes drilling of any kind off the coast, and even exploration. He opposes the coal plant in Surrey, and along with Deeds has not even taken contributions from oil- and natural gas-interested parties. The obvious comparison is McDonnell supports nuclear, oil, natural gas, clean coal, and wind, while Moran only supports wind.

There's a question, of course, as to how much the energy debate will shape the gubernatorial race. Once again, Virginia finds itself in a position to lead the nation in this area. The prospect of the Commonwealth becoming a main energy producer for the country, and possibly the world, is an attractive one, but many still oppose drilling as an outdated and environmentally unsound method of energy production. Nuclear, of course, is a daunting power source that not as many are so willing to promote.

This debate also directly affects the economy of Virginia. In the long run, obviously, energy production may potentially draw thousands of jobs. In the short run, it will create thousands more. The lessening of dependence on foreign energy will certainly benefit the entire nation; but again, the risks associated with these methods cannot be overlooked. They can, however, be overstated.

The two sides of the debate are sure to be well-articulated in the coming months by the candidates themselves: Bob McDonnell for the Republicans, and (I believe) Brian Moran for the Democrats.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Got Credit?

I just wrote this letter to my Congressman. Please, whether you have a credit card or not, feel free to tell me how far off the mark I am.

Dear Congressman,

I just read a report online about the president seeking to pass new laws regulating the credit card industry.

Congressman, I appreciate the need to protect consumers, but honestly, this is an unnecessary expansion of government powers. Credit card companies are private industries, privately-owned and privately-operated. Apart from the precedent of government interference, even when the issue of unfair business practices arises, I simply don't think the government should intervene now.

Everyone knows that credit cards are a serious risk, especially in today's climate. I know that some people get themselves into serious trouble, but most of it is of their own making. The very idea of a credit card is to spend more money than you have. That attitude alone leads to bad spending decisions. You can't blame the companies for that.

Some of the issues the president wants to address include "tricky fine print, sudden rate increases, and late fees". I don't mean to suggest that anyone who gets a credit card without checking each of those issues themselves deserves what they get, but how are these issues different from someone buying a home, a car, life insurance, or any other transaction that includes a contract? Everyone takes the same risks every time they spend money or sign their name. How are the credit card companies so far out of the norm that they warrant intervention from Washington? Before you sign any new legislation regulating the credit card industry, I would appreciate an explanation.


Stephen Monteith

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We're all "entitled"

I think the most difficult obstacle to honest, earnest political debate is that everyone knows where people stand on certain issues, but not why.

This is particularly damaging to the entitlement reform debate. On one hand, there are many in this country who simply don't have other options. They don't earn enough money, some don't earn money at all, and our compassion tells us that we need to help. On the other hand, though, they foster a sense (in some people's minds) that they don't need to take care of themselves because the government will take care of them if they're ever in real trouble. People who oppose entitlements, welfare, government subsidies, and especially bailouts generally feel that everyone should be on an equal playing field.

Say you have two boys. The first one was raised by parents who at times had to work as many as two or three jobs apiece just to keep their family in a nice home with food on the table and enough money saved to pay for their child's education. The second boy's parents spent all their extra money on tickets to the Super Bowl and the latest-model sports cars (and of course, the insurance for those cars). Neither one's families had enough money leftover for health insurance.

After they turn eighteen, both boys get into accidents and need lifesaving surgeries. The parents of the first son have to dip into his college fund and even take out a mortgage on their home to pay for the surgery. The second family gets a hypothetical handout from the government (paid for, in part, by the taxes collected from the first family). Obviously, you don't want the second son to die, but how do you justify taking from hard-working families to make up for the fact that some families just don't do what's necessary to prepare for emergencies? I suppose you could make the case that the first family could simply apply for their own "handout", but the more the government hands out, the more it needs to take in. And where do you think they'll find the money that they take?

I don't want to sound like I have no compassion; I do have it. I care what happens to the boy of the second couple. I care what happens to the couple. I also care what they do from this point onward. Will they trade their flashy cars for sensible ones so they can save money on maintenance and insurance? Will they skip a few more summer blockbusters and sporting events? Eat at home more than they eat in restaurants? I'm all for creature comforts, but not at the expense of what truly matters.

Of course, there are families and individuals who have nowhere else to turn but the government. We've all seen the man or the woman or even the child at the side of the road, dirty clothes, oily hair, sign in hand, just waiting for someone to help them. Maybe we stop and hand them a few dollars, maybe we pass by and rationalize not stopping to help, or maybe we just don't care. How often do we do more? How often do we even know what more we can do?

People don't need handouts; they need jobs. The problem is, even when times are good, there are hardly enough jobs to go around. Even when there are, most employers generally want some kind of address on the application. I told a friend once that the hundreds of billions spent bailing out banks and mortgage lenders could be better spent transitioning laid off workers into other jobs. Instead of funneling money into businesses that seem likely to go bankrupt anyway, the government simply could have taken that money and given it directly to the people who were losing their jobs. While the companies went through bankruptcy proceedings, we could have spent a few months protecting the hurt families and then helped them find new jobs as they became available.

I may be naive, and even if I'm not, it may be too late; but this is the basis for the conservative argument, I feel. I like the slogan that's been making its way around the country: "Spread my work ethic, not my wealth". If it seems to lack compassion, then that's a shame; because the sentiment echoes one that has been around for much longer. The old adage goes: "Give a man a fish, and you've fed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you've fed him for the rest of his life". Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have helped millions; but they're still cases of giving people fish. When it comes time for entitlement reform, we need long-term solutions, not more government taxing and spending. Giving to the poor is something that we all should do, even if it's not a solution; but having someone take from you and then give to the poor is even less of a solution.

I'll close with a copy of the letter I wrote to my Congressman today.

Dear Congressman,

I passed a woman on the street today who held a sign for drivers to read. It said "Will Work for Food". It occured to me that the most the woman could hope for was that some people might stop and offer her a few bucks. No one, I felt, would offer her a job.

Congressman, it was hard enough for me to get a job when the economy wasn't in its current straits. Something that every application requires, among other things, is an address. I doubt this woman even has one. Her only hope right now is the cardboard sign she carries.

I had a conversation with a friend one time in which I mentioned that I'd like to open a business one day, any kind of business, and then just round up all the homeless and the sign carriers and put them to work. I told my friend that was the only way most of these people would ever work again.

The bailout rationale, Congressman, to my view, was to keep banks and lenders from failing so that businesses could continue to receive loans and keep their doors open. The stimulus bill was meant to directly benefit citizens and working Americans by cutting their taxes and giving them a little extra in their returns.

None of this benefits the homeless, Congressman. Many homeless, I'm sure, aren't being helped because they can't be found. They're still out there, though. I'd very much like to hear your proposal for how the government intends to find jobs for these people; not for how much they'll receive in welfare benefits or other entitlements, but how the government will help them work again. The old adage remains true: Give a man a fish and you've fed him for a day; teach him to fish, though, and you've fed him for the rest of his life.


Stephen Monteith

Monday, April 20, 2009

Eyes of the nation turn ...

Virginia has captured the nation's attention in recent years as it has moved slowly but steadily into the Democratic Party's territory. Both of our members in the United States Senate are Democrats; our current governor is a Democrat; prominent Virginia Democrats are given the national spotlight at every opportunity; and for the first time in decades, the Commonwealth sided with the Democratic Party's candidate for president over the Republican candidate. Many would argue that Virginia has made a full transition from Red State to Blue State.

Now, in a year when no national elections are taking place except for a handful of special elections, Virginia will elect a new governor. As I noted in an earlier blog, there are three Democrats running for governor: former Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe; State Senator R. Creigh Deeds; and Brian Moran, former Chairman of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. The presumptive GOP candidate, former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, currently holds at least a ten-point lead over each of the Democratic candidates in head-to-head matchups in the polls; however, I believe we can safely expect that lead to shrink once the Virginia Democratic Party unites behind one candidate at the primary on the ninth of June.

I've never joined a political party in my life. I've always believed that ideology should define our political choices, not loyalty to any one party, or even any one candidate. If your "party" or candidate disappoints you, then you should always feel free to choose another one. So, when people talk about a state leaning "Left" or "Right", I tend to define it by the issues that state supports, and not so much by its elected officials.

Virginia has an opportunity to take a national lead in defining ideology. Pundits across the country will speculate on what our choice for governor will say about our beliefs and values. At the moment, there is a certain amount of uncertainty about which way we lean. Virginia supported Barack Obama for president, but so did many self-professed conservatives. It was more of an indictment on the Republican party, I felt, than on conservatism itself. People who say that conservatism has "failed" should reexamine the accuracy of that statement.

Conservativism isn't "evil", as some people think. Historically, conservatives were more likely to stand up for the environment, states' rights, human rights, and free market capitalism. They believe the government should interfere as little as possible, that competition is good, and that the United States is the greatest nation on earth. They tend to be set in their ways and allow themselves to be guided by religion in most social issues, but true conservatives act in what they feel to be the best interests of their country and its people.

That's not to say it has all the answers, of course. Liberalism fueled the Civil Rights movement, after all. Personal freedom is a signature issue of both ideologies, though what is "right" is certainly up for debate. In the coming months, candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general will take up that debate across the Commonwealth. Virginians will have a unique opportunity to show the country where it stands on the issues.

I had the idea a while ago to do profiles on the candidates; but as this blog is not solely aimed at Virginians, I have decided to blog on the issues themselves, with mention made of where each candidate stands on each issue. Though I consider myself to be conservative, I hope to present a fair appraisal of the pros and cons of each position on issues important to every American: health care, and other entitlements; energy and the environment; education; and, of course, the economy. Though there are certainly other issues of importance, these are the four that I have chosen to profile here. As always, please feel free to leave any earnest comments that you may have.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The After-party

I was so pleased to watch and hear about the results of the tea parties last night. Hundreds of thousands gathered in every state of the union, including crowds in Atlanta, D.C., outside of the Alamo, and in Boston, the home of the original Tea Party stood ready to demonstrate their frustration with runaway government spending. This displeasure was not limited to Republicans, nor was it specific to President Obama's policies. Voices and signs carried the message that both administrations, not to mention the United States Congress, have ignored the public's wishes by spending hundreds of billions of dollars on bailouts that, for a large part, haven't even worked the way that they were supposed to work. No matter who was heading the protests, or even how they started or grew to the size they did, I'm proud to see so many Americans standing united in what they believe.

The only question left is ... what now? I started this blog because I was tired of sitting on the sidelines, as it were, while this country lurched in whatever direction Washington pulled it. Though I voted every time an election was held, I didn't feel, and don't feel, that simply voting is enough. Frankly, neither is holding rallies. We all love to gather and feel the support of like-minded individuals. We get fired up because we have an opportunity to show people how strong we are, and how strong our opinions are, and that we're not alone. Once the rally is over, though, what do we do? How do we show those who are still skeptical that we didn't just show up for the free food and T-shirts?

One way, of course, is to keep spreading the word. The rally will draw attention to the cause, but rarely will it explain it to those who don't show up for it. We need to educate people, especially in the days immediately following, about why we did it. In this case, we need to make sure people understand that the tea parties are protests against multi-billion-dollar spending bills passed one after another; against budgets that will produce trillion-dollar deficits in the years to come; against reports that label anyone opposed to the administration's economic agenda and social stances as "extremists"; and against anyone who would dismiss us and our stances on the issues as "out of touch" (or even "out of our minds").

Another way is for a call to action. The elections may have just ended, but as I asked in my very first post, "When is it not an election year?" We have officials being elected to lead us all the time, at every level and in every branch of government. Make sure that those leaders are ones that represent your values. Know who they are. Know when the elections are. Show up at their rallies and demand a commitment to represent you before you'll vote for them. If none of the candidates represent you, then find one who does; or, if you're up for it, run for office yourself. As for those leaders and officials who have already been elected, keep your eyes on them. Let them know that you're watching to see what they do. Never forget, and never let them forget, that democracy means we're in charge.

And finally, more than just calling people to action, you must act yourself. Work beyond the political arena. These are hard times, and everyone can use a hand. Look around you, find the people who are struggling, and help them if you can. We protest because we feel our leaders have forgotten their responsibilities, about what it means to live in this country and this world. Have we forgotten it, though? Do we live the principles that we call on our leaders to live? Do we "practice what we preach"? Don't wait for your elected and appointed leaders to find solutions, especially if you doubt their abilities to do so. Go and find solutions to these problems yourselves. One of the protesters yesterday echoed a slogan that I've always found to be very significant: "Don't spread my wealth; spread my work ethic". There are good people out there who need our help who can't afford to wait until the government gets around to helping them.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are the first rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. We exercised those rights last night in hundreds of cities, from before the sun rose to long after it had set. Some have called it a revolution. That remains to be seen. For now, it was just one day. Let's see what happens today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let's have a party!

Across the nation, in about 800 cities and towns, Americans are starting a new grassroots revolution. Like "tea partiers" of old, these Americans are trying to raise awareness about issues that affect them, and all of us, both directly and profoundly.

I first heard about the tea parties a few weeks ago, and didn't think much of them. They didn't seem to get much press, and I didn't feel that I should exert too much effort learning about them and their issues. As time passed, though, I realized that their issues are mine, as well. Now, as "the day" has come, I couldn't be happier to learn that their movement has grown so large and spread so far.

The tea partiers are working to remind Washington of the anger and outrage over the government's use of our tax dollars. While the original Boston Tea Party was a protest against taxation without representation, these tea parties are protests against government bailouts, massive spending under both recent administrations, and the president's proposed budget for the coming years.

While most of the protesters are Republicans and they are led by conservative "stars" such as Fox Business Network's Neil Cavuto and conservative radio and television host Sean Hannity, there are plenty of non-Republican participants as well. One protester in an interview said "We're not Republicans or Democrats here; we're Americans".

I, for one, have opposed the very idea of bailouts from almost before the economy started to decline. For the United States government to inject hundreds of billions of tax dollars in failing companies, some of which seem on the verge of failure all the same, has been an enormous mistake in my opinion. On top of that, the new Congress and the new president have rushed multiple multi-billion-dollar spending bills in the few short months since the Inauguration. Now, the president's proposed budget has the potential to create trillion-dollar deficits for decades to come. Behind all that is the expansion of government powers under the justification that it is "necessary" to rescue the ailing economy.

Detractors of the tea parties claim that the anger is baseless, or that it isn't true "grassroots", or that the protesters have no idea what they're talking about. I say, for everyone who has wished that the government would finally listen to what they have to say, these tea parties are a genuine, legitimate expression of outrage and opposition. Too long have we all felt like we didn't have a voice and that no one paid attention to us. I say, this is exactly the time for all Americans who oppose government interference in the free market system and the use of our tax dollars for programs to which we fundamentally object. Nothing could be more democratic, I feel, or indeed more patriotic.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Facebook Quiz

I took a quiz on Facebook that was supposed to clarify just how conservative or liberal you are. I didn't much care for the answers, so I created my own.

Let me know what you think of the quiz, or if you have any trouble accessing it.

Since when is opposition to the president's agenda a matter for Homeland Security?

According to a new DHS report, opposing the president's stance on issues is suddenly a symptom of "rightwing extremism". You can be labeled an extremist now for simply opposing abortion or handgun restrictions. You can be labeled an extremist for voicing concerns about the president's economic agenda, because doing so could be "harmful to the economy".

Isn't this exactly what angered Democrats whenever they spoke out against the Iraq War and were labeled "un-American"? Didn't they take up Edward R. Murrow's warning about not confusing dissent with disloyalty?

So why are the people who disagree with the president's agenda now eligible for the title of "threat to Homeland Security"?

I sent a letter to my Congressman and Senators denouncing this report, and I believe all of you should, too.

Dear Congressman,

The Department of Homeland Security recently published an assessment report on so-called rightwing extremists. While spokespeople for the department insist that it is non-partisan, the language used is very troubling for a self-professed conservative such as myself.

According to the report, rightwing extremism includes "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." Such language is not only inflammatory, it's insulting as well.

The report goes on to say antagonism to the administration's stances on issues is a symptom of extremism as well. Congressman, as a man who campaigned against the former administration's stances on issues, I'm sure you will agree that we should never confuse dissent with disloyalty.

This is a troubling report indeed, and I plan on making my anger over it known. I would appreciate your support, Congressman, in taking a stance against growing partisanism in government at all levels and in every branch.


Stephen Monteith

This is a copy of the letter that I wrote to the president:

Dear Mr. President,

I never took the time to congratulate you on your victory last November, sir. I want you to know that, even though I didn't vote for you, I will support you in your efforts to lead and restore our great nation.

I have been watching, Mr. President, as you've taken great steps in this time of uncertainty. While I don't agree with every step you've taken, and while I hope I can always say so freely when I do, I do applaud your efforts to work with all sides in finding solutions. Many are of the opinion that the Democrats won, so the Democrats should move ahead without even acknowledging the opposition. Such a course, though, disenfranchises fully half the country. And, I'm sure you would agree, even if there were only one Republican remaining in America, that Republican would still be entitled to representation in government.

That's why I'm troubled, Mr. President, by the recent report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security on so-called rightwing extremists. While spokespeople for DHS insist that it is non-partisan, the language used is very troubling for a self-professed conservative such as myself.

According to the report, rightwing extremism includes "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion." Such language is not only inflammatory, it's insulting as well. Opposition to abortion is not based on hatred or bigotry, as the report suggests, but a sincere desire to protect life. Though some groups may employ extreme and even violent measures, the language of the report simply does not make that distinction clear.

The report goes on to say antagonism to the administration's stances on issues is a symptom of extremism as well. Since your entire campaign was founded on opposing the former administration's stances on certain issues, I'm sure you will agree that we should never confuse dissent with disloyalty.

This is a troubling report indeed, and I plan on making my anger over it known. I've written to my Congressman and Senators, asking them to take a stance against growing partisanism in government at all levels and in every branch.

Mr. President, you campaigned on an ideal of post-partisanism. I'm grateful for that, but your actions must match your words. This report doesn't seriously impact that effort, perhaps, but it does reflect a growing tendency in your administration to generalize the "opposition". When a member of your staff characterizes Rush Limbaugh as the leader of the GOP, that's merely childish. Reports such as the DHS' most recent one, however, can be symptomatic.

I'll be watching, Mr. President, as always, to see how my leaders are acting and reacting in these troubling times. Please, live up to your promise of post-partisanism.