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We know the ultra-conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, came up with the idea.

We know that GOP frontrunner employed it in RomneyCare and declared it a “fundamentally conservative” idea.

We know Newt Gingrich also advocated for it.

And now. . . Rick Santorum. Per a 1994 Pennsylvania news article:

Santorum and Watkins would require individuals to buy health insurance rather than forcing employers to pay for employee benefits. Both oppose abortion services and support limits on malpractice awards. Santorum says non-economic damages should not exceed $250,000, adjusted annually for inflation, and lawyers’ contingency fees should be capped at 25 percent.

I still ask how Alabama GOPers support these guys after their rhetoric through the years:

So how do Mike Hubbard and Mike Rogers overlook this “push toward a socialistic-leaning government in this country” with RomneyCare and its “socialist” mandates which “will dampen too many employers’ ability to hire and expand” and “threaten job creation and stability across East Alabama” and “which force citizens to purchase something they do not wish to purchase, a mandate which has never been previously demanded of the populace.

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Last Thursday, Alabama State Sen. Cam Ward announced his support for Mitt Romney. Speaker Mike Hubbard had already announced his support while Congressman Mike Rogers and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey share the chair of the Alabama for Romney campaign.

Considering the rhetoric of this crowd, how can they jump on the Romney wagon so enthusiastically? Over the past couple of years now, they have consistently beat the drum against President Obama’s “liberal” policies. Most prominently, they have fought his “socialized healthcare programs” even making opposition to any healthcare mandates a key plank of the now infamous ALGOP “Handshake with Alabama

So how do Hubbard and Rogers overlook “push toward a socialistic-leaning government in this country” with RomneyCare and its “socialist” mandates which “will dampen too many employers’ ability to hire and expand” and “threaten job creation and stability across East Alabama” and “which force citizens to purchase something they do not wish to purchase, a mandate which has never been previously demanded of the populace.

Perhaps a healthcare mandate is a “conservative” policy position if a Republican says it:

or if the very conservative Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich actually created the idea.

Ask your average white-person-on-the-street in Alabama what is the political philosophy of President Obama and I expect the likely responses would be “liberal” or “socialist” or worse. While it does not work into the GOP’s playbook, there is a growing chorus of voices expressing that President Obama has governed like a moderate Republican from the 1990’s.

For instance, Bruce Bartlett, a top adviser to President Reagan and George H.W. Bush , stingingly contends that Obama is actually a covert conservative:

The truth is that Obama has always been moderately conservative – a fact that has been obvious to liberals dating back to the beginning of the 2008 campaign. It would be clear to conservatives as well if they weren’t so blinded by their partisanship and occasionally got their news from an unbiased source.

On what does he base this opinion?

. . .Obama took office under roughly the same political and economic circumstances that Nixon did in 1968 except in a mirror opposite way. Instead of being forced to manage a slew of new liberal spending programs, as Nixon did, Obama had to cope with a revenue structure that had been decimated by Republicans.

Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.

Here are a few examples of Obama’s effective conservatism:

  • His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
  • He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
  • He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
  • He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
  • And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

. . . Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican. It may take 20 years before Obama’s basic conservatism is widely accepted as well, but it’s a fact.

To bolster his argument, in separate article,  Bartlett recounts the numerous attacks on President Obama from the left. As an example, he cites:

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the widely-read Daily Kos web site, penned a bitter attack on Obama for betraying liberals, taking swipes at left-wing groups and other offenses. “There is a line between ‘moving to the center’ and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized,” Moulitsas said. “And, of late, he’s been doing a lot of unnecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician.”

Bruce Bartlett is not the only commentator concluding such. Almost on cue recently, liberal Paul Krugman noted Obama’s position on the budget cuts “puts him slightly to the right of the average Republican voter.

But what about “Obamacare” and its individual mandate, you say? That proves he is a flaming liberal, right? As Ezra Klein notes:

Take health-care reform. The individual mandate was developed by a group of conservative economists in the early ’90s. Mark Pauly, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was one of them. “We were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance,” he told me recently. The conservative Heritage Foundation soon had an individual-mandate plan of its own, and when President Bill Clinton endorsed an employer mandate in his health-care proposal, both major Republican alternatives centered on an individual mandate. By 1995, more than 20 Senate Republicans — including Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar and a few others still in office — had signed one individual mandate bill or another.

Well what about the other one of President Obama’s tactics to “destroy” America: Cap-and-Trade. It appears this was a Bush I idea, too.

The story on cap and trade — which conservatives now like to call “cap and tax” — is much the same. Back then, the concern was sulfur dioxide, the culprit behind acid rain. President George H.W. Bush wanted a solution that relied on the market rather than on government regulation. So in the Clean Air Act of 1990, he proposed a plan that would cap sulfur-dioxide emissions but let the market decide how to allocate the permits. That was “more compatible with economic growth than using only the command and control approaches of the past,” he said. The plan passed easily, with “aye” votes from Sen. Mitch McConnell and then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, among others. In fact, as recently as 2007, Gingrich said that “if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur . . . it’s something I would strongly support.”

Of course there is President Obama’s “liberal” immigration policies of open borders and amnesty. Remember when President Obama said he wants a:

free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico.

Oops, that wasn’t President Obama’s line; “uber-conservative” GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry spoke those words.  President Obama, on the other hand, has been incredibly “conservative;” in fact, deportations have almost tripled under President Obama from Pres. Bush. The number of deportations has hit an all-time record high: over one million have been deported.

Klein concludes with some final points of similarity between the President and Republicans of a few years ago:

Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals. As Gingrich’s quote suggests, cap and trade didn’t just have Republican support in the 1990s. John McCain included a cap-and-trade plan in his 2008 platform. The same goes for an individual mandate, which Grassley endorsed in June 2009 — mere months before he began calling the policy “unconstitutional.”

This White House has shown a strong preference for policies with demonstrated Republican support, but that’s been obscured by the Republican Party adopting a stance of unified, and occasionally hysterical, opposition (remember “death panels”?) — not to mention a flood of paranoia about the president’s “true” agenda and background. But as entertaining as the reality-TV version of politics might be, it can’t be permitted to, ahem, trump reality itself. If you want to obsess over origins in American politics, look at the president’s policies, not his birth certificate.

Along this same vein of thought, the most stinging indictment of Obama’s actual governance came from Columbia Economics professor:

The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity. Obama’s campaign promise to “change Washington” looks like pure bait and switch. There has been no change, but rather more of the same: the Wall-Street-owned Democratic Party as we have come to know it.
The idea that the Republicans are for the billionaires and the Democrats are for the common man is quaint but outdated. It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.

Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.

Obama could have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that has been wasted on America’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, but here too it’s been all bait and switch. Obama is either afraid to stand up to the Pentagon or is part of the same neoconservative outlook as his predecessor. The real cause hardly matters since the outcome is the same: America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.

I think all this shows the meaninglessness of partisan labeling. What we call “liberal” today was Republican a few years ago. What conservative John McCain included in his platform just three years ago is now a sign of President Obama’s commitment to communism. What the current Republican front-runner and other conservative 1990’s Republicans developed as a market-friendly counter to HillaryCare is now proof-positive of a socialist coup.

Recently, a closed-borders friend of mine responded with glowing accolades of Rick Perry in response to a post of mine about Perry’s “open-borders” stance. I asked if she had actually read my piece because his position was contrary to my knowledge of her immigration stancen. She had not but thought he must believe as she because “liberals” were attacking him. It showed how intellectually lazy we all have become by relying upon political labels and partisan categorizations to decide how we believe.

Labels are unhelpful and, as shown hereinabove, are increasingly meaningless.  Let’s end the habit of political labeling. Our republic would be much more healthy if we actually engaged in policy debate rather than relying upon partisan ad hominem attacks.

So, the next time someone derisively labels something or someone as “conservative” or “liberal,” don’t let them get by with it. Make them detail what makes the policy or the candidate “right” or “wrong.”

I commented yesterday on the current Republican Party visceral (and ideological) opposition to any supervision of environmental contamination from big business and corporation. I stated expressly:

We very well may need to remove overly burdensome regulation that stifles economic growth. As evidenced by their all out assault on all environmental regulation, this is not the Republican’s desire. According to their ideology, ADEM and EPA are illegitimate period. They are opposed to even intelligent regulation that protects consumers and citizens.

My congressman, Republican Mike Rogers, now makes his radical and ideological commitments explicit. In an interview, he comments:

For example, we didn’t have an EPA under Jimmy Carter. Who says the federal government has to have an EPA. Every state has their own environmental protection agency. Why does the federal government need to be doing that? Department of Education: I’m a big believer that education is a state and local matter, why do we need a federal department of education? I think we’ll have to look at a lot of things that we’re doing at the federal level and ask ourselves, ‘is this really what the federal role?’ And if not, discontinue it.

There you go: the EPA is illegitimate. (As well as the Department of Education)

Let’s dissect his statement.

First, as I pointed out yesterday:

Republican doctrine wasn’t always so hostile to environmental protection. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act of the 1970s had strong support from both parties. Republican President Richard Nixon created the EPA and told Congress in 1973 that America’s “irreplaceable heritage” had to be protected, arguing that “the price of economic growth need not and will not be deterioration in the quality of our lives and our surroundings.”

Jimmy Carter came after Richard Nixon; so we did have the EPA under Jimmy Carter.

Second, “is this really what the federal role.?”

At least as early as 1882, the constitutional legitimacy of federal oversight of pollution and enforcement of environmental protection was recognized and approved. Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1882 which criminalized polluting rivers and navigable water ways. Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 created federal water quality programs. Then there was the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act (1954), Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, 1956 and 1958 Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Amendments, Clean Air Act of 1963, Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965, and it goes on.

I recognize that the constitutional limitation on Congress of just “regulating interstate commerce” has been stretched almost to meaninglessness; however, regulating environmental pollution is certainly within the province of federal power. Even the most strict originalist would agree. Air and water pollution do not stop at state boundary lines, it travels interstate.

There is certainly a federal role.

8000 square mile dead-zone in Gulf resulting from chemical run-off and poor supervision.

According to a article this weekend,

Alabama’s lax water protection laws leave the state’s rivers vulnerable to industrial pollution, sewage and muddy construction runoff, say several environmental groups pushing for updated water pollution rules more in keeping with those in other states. . .

The groups have drafted the Alabama Water Agenda, which promotes updates to water protection laws, increased water pollution inspections and tougher penalties for polluters.

“The key systemic problem in the state is the lack of a comprehensive water policy,” said Mitch Reid, program director for the Birmingham-based alliance. “We don’t have that one concrete law that says the rivers and waters of the state are part of the public trust and need to be protected for future generations.”

Reid said an important element in the new water agenda is a push to change the way Alabama approaches water regulation. Not enough attention is paid, he said, to how farmers and industries use both groundwater and surface water.

As evidence of adequate supervision,

One of the primary contentions in the petition was that the state was not providing ADEM with adequate funding to supervise the thousands of water pollution permits issued each year. . .

Alabama has not increased the budget for ADEM since the 1990s, and the responsibilities of the water division in ADEM have gone up exponentially,” Reid said. “The state is moving in the wrong direction.”

Any hope for better supervision of our water system went out the window November 2, 2010. As has been evidenced by the last six months, the Republican Party viscerally opposes any environmental protection.

For example, earlier this year in February, a major Republican presidential candidate called on Congress to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, calling it the “tool of ideologues.” In March, the House Republican’s budget proposal sought to slash the EPA’s budget by an unprecedented $30 billion—one third of the EPA’s budget, and the biggest cut to any other federal agency. In a recent CNN debate,Republican Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) dubbed the EPA  the greatest threat to American jobs. GOP presidential campaign and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised  significant cuts to the federal environmental watchdog. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby co-sponsored legislation to eliminate the EPA.

And just last week, as reported here in the Miami Herald:

Republicans in the House of Representatives are waging an all-out war to block federal regulations that protect the environment.

They loaded up a pending 2012 spending bill with terms that would eliminate a broad array of environmental protections, everything from stopping new plants and animals from being placed on the endangered species list to ending federal limits on water pollution in Florida,

The terms also include a rollback of pollution regulations for mountaintop mining and a red light on federal plans to prevent new uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon.

Another Republican-sponsored bill that’s before Congress would weaken the nation’s 1972 Clean Water Act, taking away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to step in when it finds state water-pollution rules too loose.

Please note:

Republican doctrine wasn’t always so hostile to environmental protection. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act of the 1970s had strong support from both parties. Republican President Richard Nixon created the EPA and told Congress in 1973 that America’s “irreplaceable heritage” had to be protected, arguing that “the price of economic growth need not and will not be deterioration in the quality of our lives and our surroundings.”)

It is not that the public supports these current position, either:

According to Hueber, 67 percent of Americans reject Gringich’s demand to abolish the EPA. This includes 61 percent of Republicans. Sixty-three percent want the EPA to do more to protect air and water from polluters. Less than three in 10 Americans think it already does too much. And even fewer Americans, about 18 percent, want Congress to do what Republicans are threatening to do: block the EPA’s active role in updating pollution regulations.

“Americans prefer to protect the health of their families over allowing more pollution from corporations,” said Altman, climate campaign director for the NRDC, the organization that sponsored the survey.

“The bottom line is clear: Democrats, Republicans and Independents want politicians to protect the health of America’s children rather than the profit-driven agenda of big polluters,” he explained. “People get that the EPA is dedicated to protecting public health and want Congress to let the agency do its job.”

Alabama Republicans politicians have drank from the same stream of libertarian/corporatism. The movers and shakers in the Alabama Republican Party only see in civil government a danger of totalitarianism; however, they fail to see that same danger can arise when the government becomes an extension of private commercial corporations and interests. Their dogmatic philosophy has one standard by which most policies are judged: what is the impact on corporate profit margins.

This dogma disregards the older Christian principles and norms for civil government and business enterprises. Christian moral teaching has always judged business actions according to standards of stewardship. (In fact, the word “economy” is derived from the Greek word for “steward.” On the other hand, civil government is held to a different standard: public justice. When other institutions fail in their God-responsibilities, the civil government has been called upon direct them back when those acts deprive their neighbors and communities of the public honor and treatment due them.

Accordingly, when businesses fail to act as good stewards and consequently impact families and communities unjustly, the civil government is called to remedy that injustice and prescribe such immoral actions.

Economists call pollution an “externality.” It is a business “externalizing” a cost of their activities. Such externalizing occurs when, whether by haste or greed, it forces its costs on third parties not part of their activity or transaction; it is a form of theft and trespass. The obvious example is when a a company treats our waterways and air as a free dumping ground for the negative byproducts of their business activities. The community and its people pay for it though by devastated water systems, contaminated soil, and unbreathable air.

In addition to setting standards and limiting damage, ADEM merely police attempts to externalize costs and re-internalizes these costs by fines. This is not a radical idea. These public standards merely ensure businesses act in terms of care-taking, neighborliness, and peace as well as legitimate profit motives. (UPDATE: We very well may need to remove overly burdensome regulation that stifles economic growth. As evidenced by their all out assault on all environmental regulation, this is not the Republican’s desire. According to their ideology, ADEM and EPA are illegitimate period. They are opposed to even intelligent regulation that protects consumers and citizens.)

Christians have always seen that free markets must be based upon justice and operate within a moral framework. Adam Smith was a moral philosopher after all. What my Republican friends have forgotten is that if our land, soil, water, and air are not healthy and prosperous, then no economic growth in industry or trade or wealth will survive. There are no “rights” to plunder, waste, destroy, and corrupt our communities.

“But the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope” – Wendell Berry

In a stinging indictment of both political parties, Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia economics professor, called for the rise of a third party because of the failure of the Democratic and Republican parties. While I agree with most of his criticisms, I differ on his conclusion; we do not need a third party, we just need the Democratic Party to be true to its historic role. As I argued here,

In recent decades, however,  instead of working out this  mission for modern times,  the Alabama Democratic Party rested on past accomplishments and entrenched power-sharing arrangements. It surrendered the intellectual and moral high ground and thereby failed to inspire this generation to claim the banner of the Democratic Party.

Sachs hones in on the Republican Party first:

Consider the Republican Party’s double-mantra that the deficit results from “runaway spending” and that more tax cuts are the key to economic growth. Republicans claim that the budget deficit, around 10 percent of GDP, has been caused only by a rise in outlays. This is blatantly untrue. The deficit results roughly equally from a fall of tax revenues as a share of GDP and a rise of spending as a share of GDP.

Spending, for example, is higher in part because of unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other federal spending to help the downtrodden in a weak economy. That’s the “cyclical” component. Part of the higher spending reflects long-term patterns, such as rising health care costs and an aging population, as well as America’s chronic addiction to wrongheaded wars and military occupations in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Taxation is lower also because of short-term factors and long-term factors. The short-term factors involve reduced federal revenues in an economy with high unemployment. The long-term factors involve repeated tax cuts for companies and high-income individuals that have systematically eroded the tax base, giving unjust and unaffordable benefits for America’s millionaires, billionaires, and multinational corporations.

The Republicans also misrepresent the costs and benefits of closing the deficit through higher taxes on the rich. Americans wants the rich to pay more, and for good reason. Super-rich Americans have walked away with the prize in America. Our country is run by millionaires and billionaires, and for millionaires and billionaires, the rest of the country be damned. Yet the Republicans and their propaganda mouthpieces like Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, claim with sheer audacity that taxing the rich would kill economic growth. This trickle-down, voodoo, supply-side economics is the fig leaf of uncontrolled greed among the right-wing rich.

He next goes after the Democrats for their malfeasence:

The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity. Obama’s campaign promise to “change Washington” looks like pure bait and switch. There has been no change, but rather more of the same: the Wall-Street-owned Democratic Party as we have come to know it. The idea that the Republicans are for the billionaires and the Democrats are for the common man is quaint but outdated. It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.

Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.

Obama could have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that has been wasted on America’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, but here too it’s been all bait and switch. Obama is either afraid to stand up to the Pentagon or is part of the same neoconservative outlook as his predecessor. The real cause hardly matters since the outcome is the same: America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.

The stimulus legislation, pushed by Obama at the start of his term on the basis of antiquated economic theories, wasted the public’s money and also did something much worse. It discredited the vital role of public spending in solving real and long-term problems. Rather than thinking ahead and planning for long-term solutions, he simply spent money on short-term schemes.

Obama’s embrace of “shovel-ready” infrastructure, for example, left America with an economy based on shovels while China’s long-term strategy has given that country an economy based on 21st-century Maglev trains. Now that the resort to mega-deficits has run its course, Obama is on the verge of abandoning the poor and middle class, by agreeing with the plutocrats in Congress to cut spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and discretionary civilian spending, while protecting the military and the low tax rates on the rich (if not lowering those top tax rates further according to the secret machinations of the Gang of Six, now endorsed by the president!)

Sachs proposes the rise of a third party to these conditions:

The American people, who have said repeatedly that they want a budget that sharply cuts the military, ends the wars, raises taxes on the rich, protects the poor and the middle class, and invests in America’s future not just in Obama’s speeches but in fact.

America needs a third-party movement to break the hammerlock of the financial elites. Until that happens, the political class and the media conglomerates will continue to spew lies, American militarism will continue to destabilize a growing swath of the world, and the country will continue its economic decline.

A third party is not necessary if the Democratic Party would return to the ancient paths for the 21st century.

The Alabama Democratic Party must offer the people a distinct vision and agenda of reform. To be successful, it will need be an enlivening third-way: an alternative to the stupefying labels of right/left, conservative/liberal. The people of Alabama yearn for something that is not on the table currently. Generally today, Alabamians do not fit well within either party or the stated platforms. Our people demand something unique and different.

This alternative path cannot be some triangulation strategy nor a Republican-lite gimmick.  Neither does it include an ideology of “completing the the New Deal.”  Only 21st century solutions which appeal to Alabamia’s deepest convictions,  morals, and spiritual heritage will suffice to satisfy this desire.

Consistent with the Democratic principles, by embracing policies which relocalize our economy, reject crony capitalism, rebuild wealth to the poor and working people, and rehumanize our markets, the Democratic Party itself would “break the hammerlock of the financial elites.”

In April (see here), I blamed the Democrats for failing to act on Constitutional Reform and losing any voice in the revision of the Alabama Constitution.  I wrote:

After years of having majorities sufficient to pass authentic constitutional reform in Alabama, but failing to address the issue at all, Alabama Democrats are to blame thank for whatever emerges as our new constitution. According to this article, the Alabama Republicans, seeing the strategic importance of constitutional reform, are quickly moving to seize control this issue.

The prospects for rational and deeply-considered revisions looked bleak back then.

Representatives and Senators from Prattville, Mobile, Auburn, Daphne, Homewood, and St.Clair County: now that is diversity of Alabama for you? Where is the black belt’s voice? Where is urban Alabama’s representative? For that matter: where is rural Alabama’s influence? These representatives will produce a constitution ideal for their respective constituents: affluent, white suburbia.

We can only hope that the internal backbiting, purity-tests, and power-jockeying within the Republican Party will cause some opening for reason.  Maybe Gov. Bentley, his puny three appointees, and Rep. DeMarco can, at least, be a temporary roadblock against he juggernaut of the super-majority, 11 appointees from the Riley/Hubbard/Marsh/ Bradley Byrne faction of the Party.

Robert Bentley has now made his appointments. These appointments do not exactly bring balance to the Commission for which I  had hoped. While former Governor Albert Brewer has been a long-time champion for constitutional reform, the other two appointments certainly counter-balance the wisdom he might bring to the commission. The remaining two:

  • “Becky Gerritson of Wetumpka . . . is currently President of the Wetumpka Tea Party.”
  • “Vicki Drummond, of Jasper, is an active member of the Alabama Policy Institute and the Heritage Foundation.”

Bentley said in a statement. “Vicki Drummond and Becky Gerritson have a dedicated passion and vision for exploring the need to reform the Alabama constitution.”

Governor, when have these ladies shown this “dedicated passion and vision” for constitutional reform? In what forum? Usually constitutional reform has not been a high priority of many Tea Party groups.

(UPDATE: according to Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Bentley, this Tea Party President and the API/Heritage Foundation activist have “an appreciation for what government should and should not do in the daily life of everyday Alabamians.”)

But it gets better.

Senator March named his appointees as well.  He named

  • Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963;
  • Matthew Lembke, an attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. A appellate attorney with impressive credentials yet a member of the Federalist Society and typically represents major corporations. For instance, he “defended textile manufacturer in an environmental action alleging tresspass and nuisance claims relating to discharge of textile wastewater into a public lake.  On appeal from a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and rendered judgment in favor of the defendant textile manufacturer.”
  • Jim Pratt, a Birmingham attorney, president of the Alabama State Bar and past president of the Alabama Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers.

Speaker Hubbard appointed:

A registered lobbyist? In the words of Keyshawn Johnson: “C’mon Man!”

Does this list look “inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, economic and geographic diversity of Alabama” and the Senate resolution demands?

Members from Rural Alabama? Zero. (Okay: one if you count Governor Albert Brewer being Morgan County.)

African-Americans Members? One out of 16 or (6.25%) while African-American represent 26% of the population in Alabama.

Female Members? Four (25%) while the lady folk represent 51% of the population generally.

White suburbia and corporations? I will let you count.

If this Commission reflects the “diversity” of Alabama, then Alabama is one big white, suburban enclave with as many registered lobbyists as there are African-Americans.

Thanks again, Democratic Majorities of years past.

 

Since election night last November, many have suggested that I should have run on the Republican ticket. While I would do some things differently, running as a Democrat is not one of them. The course of my campaign only confirmed my decision that the Alabama Democratic Party is the right place for me, my family, and the people of Alabama.

Even now as many elected-Democrats expediently switch parties and others declare the death of the Democratic Party in Alabama,  I foresee just the opposite. November 2, 2010 can represent the hurtful, but necessary, opening salvo of the renaissance of the Alabama Democratic Party.  My hope rests, first, in the fact that the people of Alabama, themselves, harbor an independence of spirit and a vitality of moral conviction capable of transcending today’s stifling political environment and empty sloganeering. Secondly, the heritage of the Democratic Party includes the historic mission necessary to sustain and lead such an endeavor.

In recent decades, however,  instead of working out this  mission for modern times,  the Alabama Democratic Party rested on past accomplishments and entrenched power-sharing arrangements. It surrendered the intellectual and moral high ground and thereby failed to inspire this generation to claim the banner of the Democratic Party. Having “always been a Democrat” or, as some even bragged, being “born a Democrat” are unacceptable as a raison d’être.  My generation’s parents are now Republicans and the next generation has now been “conceived” as Republicans.

So where do we, as Alabama Democrats, go from here?  If we were honest, none of us have all the explanations.  Our current situation is well expressed by Wendell Berry’s poem, The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

We have a lot of real work to do: a lot of rebuilding and rediscovery.

The Alabama Democratic Party must offer the people a distinct vision and agenda of reform. To be successful, it will need be an enlivening third-way: an alternative to the stupefying labels of right/left, conservative/liberal. The people of Alabama yearn for something that is not on the table currently. Generally today, Alabamians do not fit well within either party or the stated platforms. Our people demand something unique and different.

This alternative path cannot be some triangulation strategy nor a Republican-lite gimmick.  Neither does it include an ideology of “completing the the New Deal.”  Only 21st century solutions which appeal to Alabamia’s deepest convictions,  morals, and spiritual heritage will suffice to satisfy this desire.

As I stated earlier, I have hope and not despair. Despite the biggest partisan wave in Alabama history, my campaign only lost by 357 votes out of 37,029 cast. So, I took great encouragement that my platform and ideas resonated with the people of District 13: mostly  rural, white voters. A clear, principled, and responsible platform, in deed, can create political impact.

Because of the political trade winds, Kelly and I sensed from the beginning that we had to provide the voters of District 13 a reason to vote Democrat.  Unfortunately today, when Alabamians think Democrat, they think “Gambling.” Or “Pro-Abortion.” Or “Homosexual Marriage.” Or ‘Socialist.” Along these same lines,  I was surprised at the number who questioned how one could be a Democrat and a Christian. These brands and perceptions cannot continue; if they do, Democrats will indeed cease to exist as a viable option for decades.

Alabama Democrats must work again to reclaim our historic role and re-identify our party with Alabamian’s deepest beliefs. Because Alabama is a religiously grounded society,  in my campaign, I always sought to frame, interpret, and  explain my platform and policies within a moral and even Christian context. I appealed to an older religiousness, rooted in piety, rather than political dogma. I refused to allow the other side to claim the exclusive mantle of morality.  I would often explain that although I am pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, I believe that our Christian principles have a much broader application than a few narrow social issues. For instance, as Christians we are called to advocate for the human dignity of workers in the workplace, environmental stewardship, restorative justice within the courtrooms, continued racial reconciliation, and a just immigration policy, to name a few. Even at “Republican” house-meetings, rarely would someone expressly disagree with these statements; instead, it was usually received with head-nodding approval.

For the future, I suggest the solutions that the Alabama Democratic Party offer for the current illnesses within our state and economy pass several criteria.  First, our issues must be expressly and overtly family- and community-centered.  Second, all efforts must be authentically a pursuit of the Christian concept of public justice and the common good. And, lastly, these efforts must be accompanied by an express commitment to Thomas Jefferson’s desire to break unhealthy concentrations of power: both political and economic.

When people think of the Alabama Democratic Party, they must begin to think family, community, civic responsibility, and the Christian notion of the God-given dignity of all people. In the coming weeks, I hope to detail some specifics here, but broadly our platform might include the following:

  • Relocalizing the Economy. From agriculture to manufacturing to energy-production to banking, we need to empower locally-owned businesses to meet our local needs, locally.
  • Rejecting Crony Corporatism. In a day when those who are positioned to “work the system” abuse the public coffers as a source of loot and use the arm of the government as a instrument of plunder, we need to return to Andrew Jackson’s slogan: “Opportunity for All, Special Privilege for None.”
  • Rebuilding Wealth-Producing Assets in the Poor and Working Classes.  Working people are far less economically secure than ever before in US history yet the upper-classes live in a Second Gilded Age.  We must intentionally return economic power to the working people by developing sustainable and wide private-ownership of assets and capital; build, to steal a phrase, “An Ownership Society.”
  • Re-humanizing the Economy: Alabama Democrats should purge our minds of the current idolatry of the market and develop policies which treat economics as if families, communities, and our posterity mattered. There are “weightier matters” and considerations than merely ballooning corporate profits-sheets.  There are ideals and institutions worthy of protection from modern inhumane market-forces.  The economic war which was unleashed against our families and communities over the past several decades must be turned back.
  • Revitalizing our Democracy. The greatest existential danger America faces is not al Quida but our own loss of trust in our government and accompanying failure of moral legitimacy of our democratic institutions. While Republicans will try to close the system against broad-based participation, Alabama Democrats need to lead the charge to enhance the legitimacy of elections,  encourage civic participation,  and invigorate every person’s vote to really mean something.
  • Republicanizing (little-r) the Democratic Party. On many of the hot-button issues, without compromising our individual principles, we need to demonstrate a vigorous fellowship (or in old times, civic republicanism). Engaging these deeply personal issues in a civil dialogue on the merits of  arguments without engaging in mortal combat will prove quite attractive to the electorate. It will go a long way towards eliminating the untrue perceptions which have been advertised so well by Republicans. Being a Democrat does not require unanimity nor uniformity nor union but neighborly-cooperation in our mission. An internal unity of togetherness can become a positive credibility factor in our campaigns and outreach.

Again, we have only ourselves to blame for our present position but, in the words of T.S.Eliot,

Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

I wholeheartedly believe that our Christian principles, applied to politics, have a broad application. However, sometimes it seems people only employ their Christian consciences on narrow social issues like  abortion and homosexual marriage.  However, I see application of our beliefs in a host of other areas in the public arena. Our morals and Christian heritage demand dignity for workers in the workplace, environmental stewardship, racial reconciliation, restorative justice in the courtrooms, and of course a just immigration.

I have stoked many heated responses with my critique of the new Alabama GOP’s anti-immigrant bill. (Note: I only commented on the unwise consequences of the bill and did not present my philosophy of immigration. You can be the most zealous advocate against  immigration and still find the current bill troubling and irresponsible. In fact, it was the Alabama Association of County Commissions’ objections, not exactly your local La Raza affiliate, which I highlighted.)

In that vein, I found this short address by Micheal Gerson well expressed.

The immigration debate is a good example of how Christians can disagree on large, emotional issues, but it also reveals some moral lines that can’t be crossed.

Like on tax policy or health care reform, there is no single, Christian position on immigration reform.  Nations have every right to control their borders and to set standards for entry and citizenship.  People naturally differ on how these goals are best achieved.  In a democracy, we resolve these disagreements through civil debate and elections.

But there is something about this issue that brings out the worst in some people.  There are politicians who feed the suspicion of strangers for their own gain, or encourage disdain for whole cultures.  There are voices on the radio and the Internet that are overtly racist, calling immigrants, in recent instances, “leeches” or the “world’s lowest primitives.”  This is not policy disagreement, it is nativism.  And it is not a Christian option.

Many people of good will take a strong stand against illegal immigration based, among other reasons, on the rule of law.  But that is not the only principle that Christians honor.  There is also the imago dei—the shared image of God—that does not permit individual worth and dignity to be determined by national origin.

This commitment does not translate simplistically into open borders.  It does mean, however, that immigrants should not be used as objects of organized anger or singled out for prejudice.  This belief in universal dignity does not dictate certain policies in a bill.  But it does forbid rage and national chauvinism.

When God views his children, he does not check their passports.  The Christian faith teaches us to welcome the stranger, not to demonize him.  It teaches that our common humanity is more important than our nationality.  It teaches that all of us, ultimately, are strangers in this world and brothers to the bone—and all in need of God’s amnesty.