Is Obama really 'reaching out' to nonbelievers?

[This is a cross-post from my column at Examiner.com]

The potential political ascendancy of atheists is continuing to catch the attention of the mainstream media. Yesterday's Wall Street Journalfeatures a report on that very subject, noting the rise in the numbers of the American nonreligious, the stigma that atheists continue to face, and Obama's inclusion of nonbelievers in the inaugural address. But of course such inclusiveness involves a gamble. Writes WSJ's Laura Meckler:

The outreach toward both ends of the religious spectrum makes for a complicated balancing act, one that runs the risk of alienating one group, the other, or possibly both.
Note the choice of the word "outreach." There is no doubt that Obama has been doing considerable outreach to the conservative religious community. But can his actions regarding the nonreligious truly be considered "outreach"?

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POTUS and TOTUS: What's So Funny about the Teleprompter?

[This is a cross-post from my column at Examiner.com]

I had to have someone explain the joke to me. A Republican former classmate of mine had posted a link on his Facebook page to a humorous blog purported to be written by President Obama's teleprompter, in which the anthroposcribic (yes, I just made that word up) device talks about his fun adventures with the Big Guy. Very cute.

But of course, it's assumes the reader already thinks it's funny how often Obama uses a teleprompter. I've heard plenty of Republicans knock the president for his alleged over-reliance on the device, but it always seemed to me to be mainly a lame way to bring a really great orator down a few notches. "Oh yeah? Bet he couldn't deliver that speech without a teleprompter! HA!" Good one.

If it was genuinely funny for some reason, though, I just didn't get it. But I wanted to! I know, I'm the "Liberal Examiner" and all that, but I really do prefer to find the funny and ridiculous in all politicians, even those with whom I agree most of the time (and I have not held back from expressing my concernsabout the president here either). If there was a good, quality comic meme to be had here, I wanted in on it.

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John Ensign's Psychic Powers

[This is a cross-post from my column at Examiner.com]


I take it back. Despite my initial impressions, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) has obviously thought long and hard about withholding congressional representation from the District's 600,000 residents. You see, Ensign concocted an amendment that would dismantle the city's gun control laws, and stapled it onto the DC vote bill (using a staple gun I can only assume). The bill, NRA kiss-up amendment included, passed the Senate. Now it and the gunless House version must somehow be reconciled.

Ensign had muttered to Politico that he "hadn't given it much thought," but now we see he was just jerking our chain, because yesterday we found he had written an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining his ironclad reasoning for keeping the District voiceless. The semi-citizens of DC don't want a House representative, Ensign tells us, we want more guns.

In the piece, Ensign really feels DC's pain, lamenting that we have been having our "right to self-defense" violated, that the restrictions on firearms imposed by the city government were "burdensome," and that they "frustrate and discourage DC residents." The raw, sincere empathy is quite moving.

John Ensign sees into our souls so clearly that I wonder if he isn't really TV fake-psychic John Edward. I can just see him now, at a community meeting in the District, wandering the stage and connecting with voters. . .

(Cue wavy lines indicating transition to imaginary scene.)

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Gore on the Hill: Distinguished Friends and Colleagues (Satire)

This is how the joint House committees got started today with Al Gore (at least, as best as I can remember it)...

Rep. Dingell: The chair recognizes the distinguished ranking member Mr. Barton.

Rep. Barton: Parliamentary inquiry.

Rep. Dingell: The chair will hear the inquiry.

Rep. Barton: It seems to me that our distinguished guest and speaker has not followed, to the letter, the long standing rules of this committee stating that before entering the building, said guest must turn around three times, recite a passage from The Principia, hop on one leg and spit. Why has our guest not been held to the same standard as...

Rep. Dingell: The chair thanks his distinguished friend and colleague and informs him, kindly, that the chair has prerogative to fudge things here and there, and the chair has chosen to implement that fudging privilege.

Rep. Barton: Parliamentary inquiry.

Rep. Dingell: The chair recognizes my distinguished and handsome friend and colleague.

Rep. Barton: I am certain that our distinguished and only slightly pudgy guest has neglected to allow us to shave his eyebrows while the distinguished guest sleeps, to be followed by dipping our former colleague's hand in a glass of water, causing our guest to relieve himself while still in a state of slumber, causing great joviality for the committee, as well as much pointing.

Rep. Dingell: The chair responds thusly.

Silence

Rep. Barton: Sir?

Rep. Dingell: Chairs can't talk.

Rep. Barton: Ah.

Rep. Dingell: But seriously, the chair responds my saying that he is the chair and can muck about with the rules any way he wants to and in addition la la la la chairs can't hear you.

Rep. Barton:
So noted.

Rep. Dingell: And now I would like to introduce, for the purpose of introducing our distinguished guest, an introduction of my distinguished friend and colleague, the co-chairman of the sub-committee's joint select committee on the chairing of committees in joint operation with the congressional commission on committee chairs and their jointure-ship with other distinguished chairs of oversight on committee chairmanships' ways and means and ways of meaning of life, the universe, and my distinguished friend and colleague's committee.

Rep. Gordon: I'm sorry, what?

Rep. Dingell: Bring on Mr. Enviro-guy

Rep. Gordon: Right.

Pause

Rep. Gordon: Former Vice-President-Senator-Congressman-Quasi -President-Mahatma Albert Gore, Jr. is my constituent now, and he gave me his old congressional seat, in a box, with a bow.  My daughter's having a birthday today, and I'm going to give her this congressional seat for a present, thereby "re-gifting" Mr. Gore's gift to me, continuing in the proud tradition of democracy.  I hope our distinguished uber-guest does not mind. Mr. Gore?

Gore: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank...

Rep. Barton: Parliamentary inquiry.

Rep. Dingell: The chair recognizes my abortive colleague with the stupid grin.

Rep. Barton: Move to recess for lunch and bribe-taking.

Rep. Dingell: Without objection?

Gore: Well, I...

Rep. Dingell: The motion is passed. Load up, suckers.

END

**

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Mitt Romney: The Imaginary Frontrunner

Whether based in reality or not, the media has imposed a set of "tiers" on the presidential primaries, and in their quest for aesthetic symmetry they have decided that the number of candidates in the top tier has to be three. While this makes at least a modicum of sense in the Democratic contest (Edwards could, conceivably, prevail over Obama and Clinton), the logic breaks down for the Republican hopefuls. McCain and Giuliani are deservedly considered "top tier" in the GOP contest (for now), but the inclusion of Mitt Romney is, at best, premature, and at worst, laughable.

In almost all cases (save, notably, in New Hampshire to which he is a friendly neighbor with much higher name recognition) Romney's poll numbers weak, peaking nationally at 10%. Considering that ever-mischievous devil, good ol' Margin O'Error, it's hard to say that Romney's support warrants even serious acknowledgment, let alone coronation to frontrunner status (Edwards, I realize, has comparable national numbers, but he leads in many Iowa polls, which, as you know, is The Most Important State in the Country).

I believe that Mitt Romney's position as a top contender for the presidency is an invention of the press, and will prove ethereal as soon as any votes are cast. As I mentioned, there is a narrative being written by the media-at-large of a "three and three" battle in each party's nomination contest. While a supporting cast of Bidens, Richardsons, and Tancredos help make things colorful, the reality show we're watching is about two houses, both alike in dignity, with a triad of statespersons vying for leadership of their respective families. There truly are three frontrunners for the Democratic nomination, but there are only two Republicans who (for now!) have any serious shot to win. It is early, and the tectonics have many drifts yet to make, but the current numbers don't lie. Barring unforeseen upheavals, Romney is not going to be the nominee, and we should stop behaving as though he might.*

Why include Romney? In short, he looks good on television. While the other conservative alternatives to McCain and Giuliani like Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee are respectable and charismatic, neither have the Ken doll good looks of Romney, the prominent chin, or the low-baritone voice. Add to that with an easy-going manner (when he's not fudging another position -- more on that later) and his status as a GOP governor of a very blue state, you have someone that, one would think, ought to be a frontrunner!

But it must be clear, by now, that he is no such thing. The justification for the Romney candidacy is that he is the electable, conservative alternative to McCain and Giuliani, but with every interview and article that justification erodes. A quick scan of Romney's press will tell you a few important things...

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Harriet Miers is Not My Grandmother

I'm back!

As my internship and my graduate work keep me very busy, I imagine I will continue to post less frequently than I'd like, but I at least hope to find a little time here and there to make this site worth checking out again.

So here are some thoughts on the recent (though admittedly non-electoral) stink over the firing of U.S. Attorneys: I find this notable not because we're finding out that work within the Gonzales Justice Department is politically motivated (no! You're KIDDING!), but for what it reveals about Harriet Miers.

When she was nominated by Bush for the Supreme Court, we heard a lot of complaints about her, but we rarely heard from the woman herself. The result, for me anyway, was to give the impression of a well meaning, grandmotherly, semi-competent old lady ("I've been nominated for the Supreme Court? Oooh, goodness gracious me, I should bake some cookies for the nice Senators!"). How nice, but why would Bush nominate her to the nation's highest court? We all kind of cocked our heads at that. Now we find out that she was the one who came up with the idea to clean house in the DOJ, firing all US Attorneys in order to stack the department with attorneys friendly to the administration.

   This is not something my grandmother would do!

Suddenly, it looks like Miers is a cutthroat political hatchet woman, at whose site even low-level bureaucrats should quake.

Of course, now it's no mystery why Bush nominated her for the Court. Yes, Bush likes appointing buddies and people with whom he's comfortable to lofty positions in government, but in Miers Bush not only had a friend, but a loyal minion, a henchwoman eager to clear him a path of least resistance. Did we luck out?

Digg this article, and then come and argue with me some more at FifteenNineteen!

The Same Conversation

Update soon -- small problem!

Rudy Expands His Aura

Things are crazy over here as I wind up my show and prepare to move to DC, but I noticed this little news item and I wanted to talk about it a bit.

According to the New York Post, Rudy Giuliani has started recruiting relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks for his presidential campaign.  Now, a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece where I warned that Giuliani would not be the instantly un-nominatable candidate as many pundits are dismissing him.  Rather, I posited, the aura of being a (perceived) hero of 9/11 would inoculate him from various attacks on his social stances, unpopular with the GOP rank-and-file.  What I didn't write about, because I didn't know the answer, was how he would use that aura himself.  I assumed it would be a built-in part of his arsenal.  All he would have to do is show up, and the glow of his 9/11 image would bathe him in a halo of heroism.  He would hint at it himself, but be very Obama-like in his public modesty, while his underlings went out to the talk shows to discuss nothing but Rudy and that terrible day.

But of course, that wouldn't be enough in and of itself.  By actively recruiting 9/11 victims' relatives to officially get on board his campaign, Giuliani can extend the scope of his untouchability by surrounding himself with other even-more-untouchables.   Before now, attacking Giuliani would require stepping on eggshells because of what he represents to many people.  With this strategy, an attack on Rudy could be perceived/spun as an attack on the victims of 9/11 themselves (much as an attack on Bush is often played as an attack on the troops, which is of course absurd).  Rather than step on eggshells, Giuliani's adversaries will have to navigate land mines.  It just might work.

Obviously, I am fascinated by the presence of Rudy Giuliani in this presidential race.  He is such an anomaly in so many ways, that his emergence as a serious contender throws so many things usually taken for granted right up in the air.  In any other time, his stances on social issues truly would make his candidacy for the GOP nomination a joke.  Now more than ever I feel that he has to be taken seriously by anybody else planning on running against him, both in the primaries and, if he gets his way, in the general election.  It is this kind of unexpected twist that makes following elections so much fun. His hero image is one advantage.   The more McCain fights with Romney and minor-leaguers like Brownback and Hunter for the title of "most conservative candidate," the more breathing room it leaves for Giuliani to claim the "electable" mantle. From an analytical perspective, both parties' primaries are going to be very exciting to watch.

Oh, and welcome to the race, John Edwards (I know, we were all shocked), and rest in peace, President Ford.

Digg this article, and then come and argue with me some more at FifteenNineteen!

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A Look Back at the Passing of Carl Sagan - Why Paul Was Sad That Day

To my loyal readers and first-time visitors:

What follows is a little off-topic.  It is my contribution to a celebration of the life of Carl Sagan on the tenth anniversary of his passing.  The idea for what is called the Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon was spawned by Joel Schlosberg, and there is another blog commemorating Sagan called Celebrating Sagan, which I also recommend.

I am posting this piece on both of my blogs; my political blog FifteenNineteen, and Paul is Making Me Nervous, relating to my work in music and theatre.  I hope you like what you read, and will go and find out more about this amazing human being we lost a decade ago.  

I don't remember where I was when I first heard that Carl Sagan had passed away, but I do remember where I was later that night.  I was in college, hanging out at my friend's apartment.  A few close friends were there, and I brought up the news item of Dr. Sagan's death.

"Carl Sagan died today," I said, sadly.

"Who's Carl Sagan?" was the reply.

I was totally surprised, because I assumed everyone knew who he was. I didn't expect that most people had read a bunch of his books, or had seen Cosmos (recently, anyway), but surely he was famous enough to warrant recognition by my friends at least.  I mean, Johnny Carson had imitated him!  "Billions and billions!" Come on people!

I tried to convey to them why it was so bad that we had lost this important man, and while my friends played along and humored me, I really couldn't get my message across.  I would have to grieve a little more privately.  It was too lonely to be openly morose about the death of a man who, to everyone I was with, was no more than some guy that nerds worship for space or something.  Maybe now, ten years later, I can have another go at it.  Read on.

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The Kucinich Niche

The year 2006 hasn't even ended yet, and we're already surrounded by politicians announcing their candidacies for president.  I couldn't be happier.  Sure, there's plenty of stuff going on in the world, subtle and exhaustive minutiae for the press and blogosphere to pore over, but it's the clash of the pseudo-titans that makes for sexy blog entries!  In this posting, I want to address a little-discussed candidacy that I postulate may have a bigger impact than expected.

A few days ago, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich surprised me by announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He had run in 2004, and while he was spirited and passionate, he failed to make a major splash in the campaign.  He was an interesting and inspiring side show, running a campaign he couldn't win, but giving us all something to believe in, and even if you didn't vote for him, you probably wished him well, and cheered his few double-digit showings in the primaries.  He was a positive influence who had the effect of keeping the leading candidates (as well as debate moderators) honest.  I'll never forget when he tore into Ted Koppel at one early debate for asking too many questions about process and the horse race (that's my job, now), and not enough about policy and the war in Iraq.

I thought that would be it for Dennis.  He had made his point, and with a new Democratic majority in the House, I assumed he would ease into the role of progressive elder statesman, making reasoned cases for controversial positions, from a place of greater influence.  When the news broke that he was back for more, I was surprised.  And then, I started thinking...read on!

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Diaries

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