The RP’s Weekly Web Gems: The Politics of Love

The Politics of Love




This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.  On the docket are cases involving the controversial California gay marriage ban known as Proposition 8.  The justices will also hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was signed into law by President Clinton.

Though many Senators and House members have come out in recent weeks to express their support for marriage equality, Kentucky’s own Rand Paul took a slightly different view of the problem while appearing on “Fox News Sunday.”  The Senator suggested that same-sex couples might be satisfied if marriage were removed from the tax code all together, thus there would be no  benefits for traditional marriage.  Paul also stated that he feels marriage equality is a matter for states to decide rather than the federal government.

Alex Pareene takes a novel view of the anti-gay marriage argument in Salon.  Pareene suggests that if those arguing against the legalization of gay marriage are to suggest that child rearing is the primary reason for marriage, the more effective response is to ban divorce.

Hemp and the Legacy of The Last Free Man in America

We tend to mythologize the dead; and perhaps that’s fair with politicians who’ve passed, since we use them for rhetorical target practice when they are stumping the earth.

But regardless of the intended spirit, today is a very special day for the memory of my friendly acquaintance and sometimes political rival, Gatewood Galbraith.

On the surface, the two of us could not have looked any more different — my buttoned-down, over-dressed-to-try-to-look-my-age appearance was a stark contrast to his rugged and ragged hippie/cowboy mien.  And the communitarian ethos of my attempt at being an auteur, The Compassionate Community, was a diametric challenge to the in-your-face libertarianism of his autobiographical The Last Free Man in America.

But as we campaigned against each other in the 2007 Kentucky gubernatorial primary, Gatewood and I learned we shared a very deep bond: a mutual frustration with politics-as-usual, especially with the hyper-partisan, broken-down political system within which both of us had given much of our lives.

So when he died suddenly last year, I decided to honor his memory by taking another look at his pet cause — the issue that drove him the most passionately — the campaign for which he endured decades of public ridicule — the stance that probably ensured that he would never hold public office:  The legalization of marijuana, and of its distant cousin, industrial hemp.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Gatewood was right: Legalizing pot not only made strong economic sense for our poor state, I believed that it was a moral imperative.  I shared my views in my hometown paper and The Huffington Post; and upon publication, learned that most of my friends had agreed with Gatewood, and just had been too embarrassed to admit it.

While a few states have marched quickly down the legalization path in recent years, I realize that my conservative old Kentucky home will probably lag the national trend by several years, if not the full twenty as per Mark Twain’s famous description of  the Bluegrass State.

But I had hope for hemp.  It was a matter of clear and convincing logic that the non-narcotic crop that was grown by Henry Clay — Kentucky’s second most famous 19th Century native — could ultimately boost a farm economy struggling due to the incredibly shrinking global demand for tobacco.  So I used my digital platform to advocate for hemp legalization.

I soon learned of a whole new group of unlikely allies.  Hemp was not simply the pet cause of many of my tree-hugging, peace-seeking friends on the left, I learned that it was also a special focus of many libertarian, liberty-loving Tea Party activists on the right.

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer grabbed hold of this motley coalition, and asked me to join him on his newly-invigorated Industrial Hemp Commission.  Together, a group that would likely find strong disagreement on any number of hot-button issues, drafted a bill that would establish an administrative and law enforcement structure for hemp growers should the crop be legalized at the federal level.  Critically, it would empower Kentucky to jump to the front of the line and establish itself as the national leader on the crop once expected federal approval was granted.

I have to admit, I didn’t expect Senate Bill 50 to pass early on.  Another unlikely coalition, composed of law enforcement officials and members of both the Democratic and Republican establishments, joined their voices in strong opposition.  When Comer and I debated law enforcement on statewide television, I knew in my mind that our positions were persuasive, but my heart warned me that the political opposition was too strong to surmount this quickly.

I had recognized that Comer was a comer — and as a conservative Republican bucking law enforcement, I realized that he had the courage and chutzpah that define my personal definition of leadership. But I had underestimated Comer’s political shepherding skills. 

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Hemp and the Legacy of The Last Free Man in America

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Bank is in Trouble

Is my bank in trouble and trying to tell me something

I just made a deposit at my bank and noticed the sign above the teller

“We were here for you yesterday
We are here for you today
We will be here for you tomorrow”

jyb_musingsOk. Ok. That’s great and all. But what about the day after tomorrow? Or early or mid next week? Does this mean next Friday I am on my own and without a bank?

Or am I just reading too much into this?

Regardless, there seems to be an opening in the Louisville market that will be here “The day after tomorrow…and all of next week.” Granted, not a great sounding tag line but the opening seems to be there.

Ronald J. Granieri: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Power of Individuals & the Unpredictability of History

German unification was one of the most dramatic developments in contemporary history, as well as one of the most unexpected. After decades during which the press and public measured political wisdom according to how well leaders managed the apparently permanent realities of German and European division, leaders in 1989 had to improvise responses to the literal collapse of the most concrete of those realities in Berlin. As much as German politicians had claimed for years to be hoping for this day, none had actual plans ready. Into this potentially dangerous vacuum stepped a most unlikely improviser. Helmut Kohl was a reasonably successful party leader of enormous bulk and moderate political gifts, generally underestimated even by his political allies and known neither for creativity nor dynamism. To the surprise of all, he proved remarkably adept at managing the international and domestic complications of 1989. Within thirteen months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he rode successful reunification negotiations to a landslide victory in the first all-German democratic elections since 1932. Even if many of his decisions during those months can be (and have been) questioned, his place in history is assured.

Kohl’s story provides but one of many crucial insights into how the story of German reunification displays both the limits of realism and the unpredictability of history. That unpredictability reminds us of the role that individuals can still play in the modern world, even in the face of enormous complexity. For it was the combined actions of individuals, neither beginning nor ending with Kohl, who changed the world in 1989, and all students of international affairs can profit from reexamining that dramatic story.

granieri_color-1To appreciate just how important those individual actions could be, one has to remember the state of the world (and of most thinking about the world) in the 1980s. After decades of Cold War, the US-Soviet rivalry still shaped most global conceptions, on issues ranging from economic development to the world chess championships, not to mention the Olympics. Even as progressives decried the focus on East-West rivalry and advocated more attention to North-South issues of economic development, conventional wisdom dictated that intelligent people assume the existence of Eastern and Western blocs for as far as the eye could see. The sense that this rivalry was permanent, and required careful management rather than bold transformations, was pervasive. Indeed, that attitude was so widespread that when commentators spoke of the End of the Cold War at all, they imagined a world in which the United States and the Soviet Union, with their associated allies, still coexisted, though at a reduced level of tension, allowing the allegedly inevitable process of convergence to make their systems look as much like each other as possible. No one imagined one side would disappear. That would have been dangerously unrealistic.Nowhere were these assumptions more obvious than in Berlin. Although actual defenders of the “anti-Fascist protection barrier” were few outside of the upper leadership of East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), the world had come to accept the presence of the Berlin Wall as the price to be paid for stability and security in Central Europe. President Ronald Reagan had declared “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” when he spoke before the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, but his words were greeted at the time as the tired echo of anachronistic sentiments. No one really expected it to happen—perhaps not even Reagan himself, who by that time was committed to negotiating arms control treaties with the Soviets based on his positive assessment of his new partner, Mikhail Gorbachev. If anything, informed observers assumed that Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika would stabilize the Soviet Union, making the situation even more permanent. That was, after all, why Reagan felt he had to ask Gorbachev to tear down the wall; no one else had the power to do it.

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Ronald J. Granieri: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Power of Individuals & the Unpredictability of History

John Y. Brown, III on “House of Cards”

If Nicolo Machiavelli had been born several hundred years later and written a TV series, he would have written House of Cards

If you are a political junkie and worry that you may fall into the political abyss and want to know how to survive (at least according to Hollywood’s version), you can’t do much better than the new Netflix series House of Cards.

Is it a true reflection of the rough-and-tumble, all too human, sausage-making political and policy process in DC? The answer I would offer up is, Not as much as the series would have you believe. But more than DC’s real players would want you to believe.

It isn’t art reflecting reality as much as an artful presentation of the high drama of DC’s inner workings. And as dramatic TV goes, it’s about as good as it gets.

JYB3_homeThe morale of the series? I’m only a few episodes in but would say that it’s a play on the idea of a House of Cards. Sure, it means an unstable structure that could collapse at any moment. But according to the series, it’s not the structural problems that are of primary interest. But how one plays the hand of the cards they hold. In hopes of surviving regardless of what happens to the house itself.

It’s not a drama that captures politics as it is– but captures the caricature of politics shrewdly and subtly.

It’s a drama that, if you aren’t politically inclined, is hard to watch and impossible to look away from. And if you are politically inclined, easy to watch and you won’t want to look away.

Lauren Mayer: Passover and the Supreme Court

Hag sameach, happy Pesach, and how appropriate that the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage will begin on the first day of Passover!  Sure, most of us think of Passover in terms of biblical history, the one time a year we open the Manischewitz, or trying to find appetizing uses for matzoh (there are some great recipes online for chocolate-toffee-covered versions . . . ).  However, Passover is also a celebration of a pivotal moment in history (the Jews escaping from persecution in Egypt), just as the Supreme Court case is a pivotal moment in the history of gay rights, and of the freedom of gay couples to have the same legal recognition as heterosexual couples.

I see some personal links between the events, as well. As a card-carrying Jewish mother, I like to joke that I’m secretly longing for a gay son (so he’ll go shopping with me, and he’ll never replace me with another woman).  Plus Jews have lots in common with gay people, in that we’re often reduced to stereotypes and have experienced group discrimination – it makes sense that so many of us support marriage equality.  (In fact, our synagogue performed same-sex ceremonies before they even considered interfaith marriages!)

Plus the connection between gay rights and being Jewish is what got me to The Recovering Politician in the first place.  Last summer, I was researching ways to publicize my album of Chanukah comedy songs, and I came across an article about Chanukah music by Jonathan Miller.   I wrote to him out of the blue, never expecting to get a response, but not only did he reply, he invited me to contribute to the site’s discussion of last year’s Chick-Fil-A controversy.  I wrote about some of the same reasons, why Jewish mothers support gay rights, including a song about being a liberal Jewish mother, and joked that I should do a weekly song.  Jonathan said Sure, I thought, Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?, and 8 months and 40 songs later, I’m still finding plenty of inspiration in current events.

So since a big part of the Passover Seder is to express gratitude, I’d like to officially thank you, Jonathan and The Recovering Politician, for launching a whole new creative venture and for providing a sane, civil community for discussion and sharing opinions.

Toda raba!

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Car Washes and Awkward Shyness

About once or twice a year I go through a full service car wash

The first time I knew they existed I was a small boy with my mom and she explained what was going on as I watched on with wonder from the lobby area.

I much prefer the self-service car washes because you don’t have to get out of your car and wait 10–15 min in a wait area.
Which can be awkward

I am in the waiting area now and have watched two grown men (one about 60 and the other mid 40s) stand with their back to the rest of us pretending to watch the car wash process with the wonder of a small boy

jyb_musingsI have to assume they aren’t really entranced by this process which –though still remarkable in many ways—losses much of its mystery by ones teen years

I suspect instead it is a defense mechanism to the awkward waiting room. What do you talk about to fellow customers?
“So, have a dirty car today, do ya?
Me too”

So instead we pretend to watch the washing process like we did as children

But I am different. I don’t have the need to pretend to be busy so I don’t have to make conversation. Oh, wait a minute. A new customer just sat down next to me. I need to walk outside and pretend like I am making a phone call.

Happy Passover: Let My People Marry!

It is fitting that on the first day of Passover — a holiday on which Jews all over the world celebrate freedom — the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on this generation’s most critical and high-profile civil rights issue: marriage equality.  While the fate of this particular decision is in doubt, demographic surveys clearly demonstrate that it is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legally sanctioned across the nation.

(Here’s my endorsement of marriage equality — two years old, but still very timely.)

Today, we are also reminded by the continued staying power of Mark Twain’s famous statement that Kentucky is always twenty years behind the rest of the country.  It was a close call, but it appears that the Kentucky General Assembly will ignore popular sentiment and override Governor Steve Beshear’s courageous veto of legislation that threatens anti-discrimination laws passed by several Kentucky cities to protect the civil rights of the LGBT community.  We can only pray that the bill — regretfully styled as a “religious freedom” effort — simply represents the last throes of an anti-freedom insurgency that will be thoroughly quashed when our younger generations take power, wielding their commitment to tolerance, compassion and the universal value of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

And so I remind my freedom-loving, equal rights-embracing friends, be they Democrats, Republicans or Independents — that time is on our side.  The Pharoah-ic force that continues to push against, in King’s words, “the arc of the moral universe… [that] bends toward justice,” will some day be forced to let our people go.

Artur Davis: CPAC 2013 Speech

You know, something kept occurring to me as I saw some of the, shall we say, unpleasant commentary about this conference and about this movement.

Isn’t it interesting that the same establishment that claims so piously that it wants more civility and tolerance in our politics has no problem degrading and demonizing Americans who just happen to be conservative?

They want desperately to put this cause in some graveyard; I’m told the president’s inaugural speech had the working title “the country I would build if half of America would just disappear”. They try so hard to paint the beliefs in this room as some quaint, outmoded brand of ignorance.

So this needs to be said: there are about 43 million of us who answer to the name “conservative”; we don’t own any Hollywood studios, the mainstream media may think we are out of fashion, but this is the single biggest voting bloc, this is our America too and we are not going anywhere.

Deriding conservatives may be the last acceptable prejudice, but sneers can’t erase the truth: first, you don’t lift up people at the bottom by pulling other people down, and every place that has tried that path has turned out its own moral lights and gone down into the darkness.

davis_artur-11We cannot own our future when we live off the credit of countries who want to dominate us; and freedom is neither tired nor exhausted: it is just tired of not being defended.

So, can we bring to a close this season of pundits who don’t want Republicans to win telling Republicans how to fix this party?

Now that does not mean that we don’t need to be frank with each other. So, I want to be blunt about what we did and did not do in this last race: first, for voters who look at the world the way we do, we made an impeccable argument.

For most people who have had the blessing of building a business from nothing, or who have found a way to punch through Washington’s obstacles to make their companies work, we made an effective case that no government in the modern era has ever fought harder to put a penalty on success.

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Artur Davis: CPAC 2013 Speech

Nancy Slotnick: A Suess Seder

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”— Dr. Seuss

My sister invited me to her first annual Dr. Seuss-themed Passover Seder.  “I hope you’re serving Green Eggs, no Ham,” I quipped.  But I was so excited for her!  The idea is so fun and original and so antithetical to the Passover seders of our youth, that it is a demonstration of freedom in her life.  Which seems fitting for the theme of the holiday.  Freedom from slavery, escaping to a new world, doing stuff that makes us feel like we’re going to get in trouble, but getting away with it.  I feel like Thing One and Thing Two.

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.  Two can be as bad as one.  It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” -–Three Dog Night

In my role as a dating coach, I’m helping single clients shoot for two.  I have to convince them that two is better than one when most of them have experienced the above.  I say in my marketing materials that I will help you to find “the One.”  I should stop saying that, because it’s a misnomer.  To say that you are looking to find “the One” makes the other person too important.  I should say; “I will help you to find your Two.”  You are your own Number One.

Nancy SlotnickThe song repeats though—“One is the loneliest number, one is the loneliest number, one is the loneliest number” just to make sure we remember.  As bad as two can be, it’s better than one.   I’ve been married for 11 years and my personal goal for freedom this Passover is to find the One within the Two.  What does that mean to me?  It means finding your own voice even in the face of someone you love, who disagrees with you.  And in-so-doing, you make your relationship work better.  It’s ironic.  It sometimes feels like you have to get rid of the other person, like Moses with Pharoah.   We want to get someone else’s permission to “Let my people go.”  But all we need to do really is get out of our own way.

“No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know,” Three Dog’s song continues.  It’s so true.  I stopped saying No to myself.  My husband and I saw the film “No” last week.  It’s a true story about when an advertising campaign in Chile in the ‘80s had the opportunity to overthrow the prevailing dictatorship.  They just had to get a majority to vote “No.”  Which might not be hard if they could get a majority to vote at all.  No one was going to bother to vote because they could not even imagine the life that could be possible with freedom.  One of the most brilliant part of the campaign was that they added a + to the No and made it No+ or No Mas.  No Mas Pinochet.  No Mas Pharoah.  No Mas oppression.  Let our People Go.

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Nancy Slotnick: A Suess Seder

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