Friday, April 30, 2010

What happened to the right to privacy?

I thought it was bad when Congress passed, for the first time ever, a law that required Americans to purchase a particular good or service and the president signed it. I thought it was ridiculous when a lawmaker in California tried to ban toys in fast food kids' meals as a way to fight obesity. I was deeply troubled when I learned the president was in favor of a national database of DNA for arrested (whether they were guilty or innocent) individuals, as well as a national ID card. Can anyone see the irony in a president who thinks American citizens should have their "papers" on them, but that those who wouldn't even have them (i.e., illegal immigrants) shouldn't even be questioned about it?

Now, though, an assemblyman in New York wants to make the default answer to the question of whether you are an organ donor "yes". Forgive the expression, but this guy wants to take our very guts out of our bodies once we die unless we specifically opt out beforehand. I'm not squeamish, but it took even me a while to check the "yes" box next to the organ donor question on my driver's license. Why? Because it's my body, and I have every right to keep what I want. It is not the property of anyone but me, and least of all the state. I eventually marked yes, as I do believe in helping those who need it. On the other hand, I firmly believe the default position should be "no".

What two things do all these lawmakers and executives have in common? One, they've all come out in firm and vocal support of measures that violate at least some aspect of a fundamental right to privacy. After all, how we take care of our bodies, our children, and our finances are all extremely personal decisions. Two, they're all Democrats. I came a bit late to the party, so to speak, and I got my early political education on "The American President" and "The West Wing". Both featured Democrats as heroes fighting for the little guy, upholding personal liberty and the Constitution as well as the nebulous "right to privacy" that nobody could really define, but they all knew exactly what they were talking about when they mentioned it. Well, I guess they must have "known" that a right to privacy didn't include matters of personal health, raising our children without government interference, walking down the street without needing "papers", or a right to keep our organs inside our bodies without having to apply for it beforehand.

Support Shad Olson

An Emmy Award-winning news anchor, whose reporting has been so objective that his viewers never even suspected his personal political views, was suspended recently for giving a speech at a Tea Party rally. He never implied his appearance was endorsed by his TV station or his employers; he merely spoke his mind.

In an age where free speech is attacked by the same people who a few years ago claimed that dissent was the highest form of patriotism, we all need to support Shad Olson and people like him whose jobs are threatened whenever they exercise their rights to have and convey their opinions.

Click here to join the Facebook group Support Shad Olson.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Final (Media) Frontier

When was the last time you curled up with a good book? I hear Glenn Beck, Dick Morris, Mitt Romney, and Karl Rove are all on the New York Times bestseller's list. Put the book down; let's talk newspapers, instead. Wall Street Journal does better than the NYT and the Washington Post. Eh, print is dead, right? What about radio? Air America officially went out of business months ago, while Rush Limbaugh just keeps growing more popular. But, who really listens to talk radio anymore? Television's where it's at, right? The top cable news shows are all on Fox News, where Bill O'Reilly has been the king of ratings for over eight years straight. Oh, forget it; there's nothing but garbage on the tube.

These are all "dinosaur media", anyway. The Internet is the most "reliable" news source, and it's the future of all media. And we all know who dominates the web, don't we? That's right; the Left. Howard Dean "pioneered" the online campaign when he ran for president in 2004, albeit unsuccessfully. His technique was improved upon, though, by the Obama team in 2008. Liberal blogs and websites like the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos have been around practically forever, in terms of Internet presence. Heck, Al Gore invented the Internet.

On the other hand, while it may take conservatives a while to catch up, we're never content with simply tying; pulling ahead is always the aim. Take Governor McDonnell's recent election victory in Virginia. Learning from President Obama's election, McDonnell spent a higher than normal percentage of his campaign funds garnering online support and purchasing online advertising. Senator Scott Brown spent even more in his own successful campaign in Massachusetts. The Tea Party movement has found the Internet to be invaluable for organizational purposes.

Technology, of course, is expanding in almost quantum leaps, these days; whoever can best utilize it will undoubtedly find greater success. Twitter, for example, is used by most as nothing more than a way to blather whatever they happen to think or do at any given moment. Some find more important uses for it. Members of Congress and their aides send out dozens of tweets a day. Republicans in Congress have more followers than their Democratic colleagues, though. Senator John McCain has the most followers by far, at around 106,000; and this was a man who, just a couple of years ago, admitted to having only a very limited understanding of computers. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Another example of a conservative politician making good use of technology is Governor Rick Perry. His home state of Texas is practically a haven of the tech industry, with its business-friendly environment drawing hubs for Facebook, the Austin-based Gowalla, and the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW). As conservative blogger Mary Katherine Ham writes in The Weekly Standard, "If you believe the conventional wisdom about Republicans and technology ... Perry should have no clue why Gowalla matters to Texas. But here he is, using a touch-screen smartphone to tell the community of Gowalla users he's 'checking in' at the Texas State Capitol."

Perhaps it's a lack of innovation, as the Left seems to argue, that has kept the Right from "pioneering" in information technology. Perhaps the paradigm shift of treating this new technology as just another form of the old was a slow adjustment for some of the "establishment" campaign chiefs, and it took a new generation of leaders on the Right before they could adapt. Personally, I think it has to do with the nature of conservatism itself. We like things how they are. We're realistic enough to accept that the world changes, for both good and ill; but all things considered, I know I for one am comfortable reading cloth-bound books with actual paper and ink, as opposed to e-readers. I didn't even start an official blog until just over a year ago.

But, with all entities, whether individuals, businesses, or political campaigns, success depends on adapting to new technology, new techniques and strategies. I believe that, just as with print, radio, and television, conservatives will prove to be formidable users of the Internet.

Update 30 April 2010:

Another example of a conservative making good use of online resources is Marco Rubio, now the de facto GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in Florida. Without the support of rightwing bloggers, online fundraising, and of course the Tea Party, the Cuban former Speaker of Florida's legislature would have long ago been forced to abandon his bid, and "establishment candidate" Governor Charlie Crist would be the undisputed leader in the race. Now, in a Cinderella story the envy of any politician, Rubio is virtually on his way to Washington.

Update 30 July 2010:

It's official (for now, anyway). Conservatives are dominating the web., which tracks blogs and ranks them by popularity, now shows Hot Air and The Corner (both of them conservative blogs) as the top two political blogs, with three more conservative blogs in the top ten. The Huffington Post, which used to hold the number one spot, has dropped to number five. Now, this is the Internet, and you can't really expect these numbers (or anything else) to remain constant; but with fewer than a hundred days left before the midterm elections, the influence of conservatives on the blogosphere is potentially more "game changing" than ever. And with the recent dual online ideological conventions of Netroots Nation and RightOnline, you can expect the Internet to become a fierce political battleground once again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea Party Anniversary

I'm not going to the trouble of scouring news archives to find all the negative press the Tea Party movement received at its inception. First, because some of it is too crass to repeat; and second, because there wasn't much coverage at first. There were protests in every state of the union. Over 800 cities and towns held rallies in what was the largest nonviolent protest of our generation, and yet only one network gave it any real news coverage (you guessed it: Fox News). Personally, I think the other networks were just hoping that if they ignored the protesters, then it would all just vanish.

It didn't, though; in fact, the movement proved to be quite the magnetic force. It's drawn from a broad range of demographics in the last year. Recently, CNN even reported that disaffected Democrats were also joining the Party (as if that had never happened before). While some myopically claim that the Tea Party is comprised entirely of white people, I've yet to attend a Tea Party protest that didn't have black people present and participating.

Take this most recent round of protesting. I attended a gathering in Town Point Park in Norfolk, VA. One of the most popular speakers present was Rhonda Kundrat, a conservative black woman, whose response to the "all white" claim was, "Hey, I'm right here!" Another black speaker at the event was Bishop E. W. Jackson of Exodus Faith Ministries. Like Mrs. Kundrat, he's faced a "different" type of hatred for joining the Tea Party movement than white people have. Though he left it implied, it's not hard to figure what "different word" his critics have for him. For everyone who says Tea Partiers are all (or mostly) racist, Bishop Jackson replies, "Mr. President, it's not that you're black; it's that you don't respect the red, white, and blue!"

Both speakers gave lists of personal intrusions liberal politicians have made in the last year, some of which I've blogged about already. Various local, state, and federal officials have tried to dictate how much salt we can use, what kinds of food we can eat, and most recently what doctors we can see and what kind of care we can receive. Steve Elliot of Grassfire Nation points out the list also includes control over what kind of cars and light bulbs and health insurance we can buy, and even, in some cases, how much money we can earn. These are the kind of issues Tea Partiers have sought to address (and correct).

Many personal freedom groups were in attendance. Both Chesapeake and Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliances had speakers present. The Foundation for American Christian Education, Tidewater Libertarian Party, Virginia Campaign for Liberty, The 912 Project of Virginia, and Hampton Roads Tea Party also had booths and volunteers. Various candidates for city councils across Hampton Roads and for Virginia's Second Congressional District came to meet and mingle with the other Tea Partiers.

Beyond that, the crowd itself was rather large. Town Point Park is used for outdoor concerts, among other things, and it was practically full for the event. This wasn't a crowd of "typical" protesters, either. At one point, a speaker asked for a show of hands of who was at their first protest ever; far more hands were raised than not. Most were white, but there were plenty of blacks there, as well. They carried the usual signs: "Stop Big Government"; "Taxed Enough Already"; "FairTax, not VAT Tax"; and, "It's Not About Color; It's About Radical Policies". As you might expect, there weren't any signs in support of the president's or Congress' agendas.

Congressman Glenn Nye certainly didn't have many friends in the crowd. I had the opportunity to speak with a few of the candidates seeking to replace him in Congress. I asked Republicans Bert Mizusawa and Kenny Golden and representatives of other candidates how they would have voted differently than Nye, given that he's voted against several initiatives considered vital to the Democratic agenda. Both pointed out that Nye's committee votes allowed those initiatives to come to a floor vote, and therefore, passage. One area on which everyone I spoke to agreed was that Nye is the only candidate in November who might vote to keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. (The Republican primary will be held on June 8th, for those who intend to vote. Mr. Golden is running independently, while Mr. Mizusawa will face Ben Loyola, Ed Maulbeck, Scott Rigell, Jessica Sandlin, and Scott Taylor for the GOP nomination.)

These are the important issues for Tea Partiers, you see. We don't want a government that passes legislation against the will of the people. We don't want our hard-earned tax dollars funding initiatives that we don't support. And we don't want leaders who are dismissive of us, like Speaker Pelosi and even the president himself. While writing this blog, I came across an article that said President Obama was "amused" by all the protests. That is exactly the wrong attitude for a man who claims to speak for America to have, especially when that movement is growing to be more popular than he is. He's entitled to his own personal opinion, of course, but at the very least, this is an opinion that he should have kept to himself. As president, whether it's millions or even one American voicing a concern, he should at least react with respect. It's bad enough that ordinary citizens are trying to "demolish" free speech.

To be perfectly honest, I think some of them are still hoping we'll all just vanish. Even though it's been a year since the first round of Tea Parties, and even though so-called Tea Party candidates have outpaced their "establishment" competitors in many races, I think a great deal on the Left are hoping to wake up on Election Day to find it was all just a bad dream. That's why they feel they can be so dismissive of the movement. It's hard to blame them for this; after all, a liberal agenda has prevailed, so far, despite all the opposition. It may just be that it will take shifting the balance of power in Washington back to the Right before the rest of the country will take the Tea Party seriously.

In the meantime, though, we need to do far more than just vote. Congress is facing a record budget deficit this year, due in part to spending hundreds of billions of dollars at a time on stimulus bills, jobs and unemployment bills, and of course, health insurance reform; and that's assuming they even pass a budget this year. What can we do between now and November? A good start would be to contact every single representative we have in Washington, including the president himself, and reemphasize fiscal responsibility. Advocacy for sane and responsible stewardship is a year-round task. Fortunately, the Tea Party has shown that it can keep going for at least a year at a time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Was their cause just? That depends on who you mean by "they."

Governor Bob McDonnell has revived a practice that some of his predecessors had discontinued: he has declared April to be Confederate History Month in Virginia. As you might expect, the move has sparked an explosion of negative reactions.

Civil rights leaders were quick to decry the proclamation as "offensive". L. Douglas Wilder, a former governor of Virginia and the first black governor in U.S. history, said it was “very troubling to me and to many others, because it only presents one side of the story.” Kenneth C. Alexander, Chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, went so far as to suggest that Governor McDonnell may favor slavery, saying he seemed "nostalgic" for that which "Virginia has worked hard to move beyond".

The governor defended his proclamation, reminding people that not every aspect of the Civil War was about slavery. His goal was to highlight those other issues that had been eclipsed by the main issue. With the 150th anniversary of the conflict next year, the move was also designed to promote tourism in Virginia. Wilder took exception, saying the governor's original proclamation made no mention of slavery at all, and that he hoped the governor would "see fit to revise what he has written". Governor McDonnell did, and now his proclamation includes a reminder of the evils of slavery, saying we "should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history."

I agree it was a mistake to not include this language from the beginning; but to say that we have nothing from those four years of history to celebrate is an almost equal mistake. Who truly understands the motivations of those who fought in what is called in the South "the War Between the States"? Did everyone in the South own slaves? Was every soldier in the Confederate Army fighting simply to keep their slaves? Did they all hate the North and Abraham Lincoln and liberty and justice for all?

Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America, the only president in Confederate history. Before the secession, he was a member of the United States Army, fighting in the Mexican-American War. He was a Cabinet Secretary for President Franklin Pierce, and represented Mississippi in the United States Senate. Did he want to secede from the Union? No. He gave several speeches urging the preservation of the United States; but he also believed that States had the fundamental right to secede, so when Mississippi declared its intent to do so, he resigned from the U.S. Senate and returned to his home.

General Robert E. Lee is probably the most famous Confederate in history, but even he didn't want to see his country divided against itself. His popularity in the North led President Lincoln to offer him command of the entire Union Army. However, his home was in Virginia, his father having been Governor at one point. After the war, he aided in Reconstruction efforts, ensuring ex-Confederates wouldn't lose their right to vote.

To be sure, for many in the South, the war was over slavery; but that conflict cloaked a host of other issues, including one that is still very important to Southerners, the issue of States' rights. Southerners don't usually refer to it as the "Civil War". A civil war is a war fought by two factions within the same country, but Southerners don't consider the Confederacy to have been part of the same country. For many, "the War Between the States" was at least as much about the sovereignty of the individual states versus the power of the federal government as it was about slavery.

None of this is really the point, though. Governor McDonnell's proclamation originally called for an understanding of "the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the Civil War". What were those sacrifices, exactly? When the leaders of the Southern States seceded, their citizens must have been torn, as Lee and Lincoln were torn, by their love for their brothers and sisters across the Mason-Dixon line. The North saw this not as secession, but as rebellion and moved to stem the tide. Once shots were fired on the Union Army at Fort Sumter, the course was set and America was at war.

Did people want to fight? I'm sure many of them did; but certainly, most would rather have lived in peace. The soldiers of the Confederate Army left their homes and families to risk their lives in battle against a numerically and technologically superior foe; a foe composed, in some small measure, of their former friends and families. In just one year, soldiers from Virginia, the Carolinas, and other locations across the South were fighting against soldiers they had once called their countrymen. Can you imagine how it would feel to turn your guns on men and boys who had once been your fellow Americans? Can you imagine how it would feel to have their guns turned on you?

Whether you call it the Civil War, the War Between the States, or some other name, it must be said that this was one of the worst periods in our country's history. The cause was certainly not just; but the soldiers on both sides no doubt fought with courage, and even honor. Not everyone in the South owned slaves, just as not everyone in the North was praiseworthy. For what it took from those men and boys and their families, I think it deserves a special recognition.

I think of the fight in South Carolina a few years back over whether to fly the Confederate Battle Flag over the statehouse and the debate it stirred on what it meant to be "Southern". To some, it means racism, but to most, it means hospitality, sipping sweet tea on a porch in the late afternoon, common courtesy and chivalry, honoring family history, religious adherence, and beautiful women with charming accents. I'd encourage everyone to read Tony Horwitz's "Confederates in the Attic", a sometimes quirky but always insightful review of what a Southern heritage truly means; and I'd encourage everyone to find it in their hearts to look back on this dark moment in our past with a forgiving eye for those who did the best they could on both sides.