Monthly Archives: September 2012

did i hear that correctly…?

About a week ago, the political commentariat was all in a tizzy over the fabulously candid remarks Mitt Romney made at a Florida fundraiser earlier this year.  In case you have no idea what I’m referring to, you can visit Mother Jones (which first broke the story) for the full video.

What has gotten the most attention over the last seven days is Romney’s “47%” figure, referring to the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes.  Most commentators have gone to great length to analyze just who makes up this “47%” — ie, the elderly, the poor, and veterans.

These same commentators have also pointed out the numerous logical inconsistencies in Romney’s use of the number.  Pointing out, for instance, that not every Obama voter is collecting some form of government support.  Or, that not every tax unit without tax liability votes for Obama.

Or, even better, that not every person who is collecting government assistance sees themselves as “victims” who can’t be convinced to “take responsibility and care for their lives.”

So while the “47%” gets parsed over and over, another part of Romney’s remarks seems to have gotten overlooked.  By which I mean the part where he claims, with an amazing degree of incredulity, that these people consider themselves “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Personally, I find it disturbing just how much Gov Romney finds it disturbing that people feel entitled to basic needs.  But I’m glad he said it.  First, because it accomplishes what the Romney campaign has so far failed to do:  show us what the candidate actually thinks.  But second, and more important, without realizing it, Gov Romney may have actually managed to shift the conversation of the presidential race to what it needed to be all along — the proper role of government in the lives of individual Americans.

See, Americans do feel they are entitled to healthcare, food, housing, and all those other things that make life, well, livable.  As well they should.  In spite of our economic difficulties, we remain the largest, strongest, and most robust economy on the planet, and there is simply no excuse for any American to go without having their basic needs met.

Now, I don’t think that Gov Romney necessarily disagrees with that.  I’m sure he does believe that every American should have these things.  In addition to which, he also believes that every American should be willing to work in order to provide these things for themselves.  That, in itself, is not unreasonable.  What is lacking in Romney’s perspective, however, is the recognition that there are circumstances beyond an individual’s control.  His remarks suggest he believes each and every American collecting government assistance chose to do so, wants to do so, would rather be doing so than earning a paycheck.

Perhaps Romney can’t comprehend not choosing to take advantage of government assistance, since he chooses (we must assume) every year to take full advantage of the tax code to reduce his tax bill to its absolute minimum.  And he chooses to utilize the special status of the Cayman Islands in order to avoid taxation even further.  And he certainly chose to virtually blackmail the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation into writing down his firm’s debt in what amounted to a ten-million dollar bailout for Bain Capital.

But I’m getting off topic.

The point is that, at several points in our nation’s history, we have decided, collectively, as a nation, that it is simply unacceptable that anyone in this country — with its wealth, with its resources, with its alleged espousal of Judeo-Christian values — would be allowed to go without food, medicine, or shelter simply because they are unable to find or perform a paying job.  And furthermore, we have decided that the only way to ensure that these provisions are made to everyone who needs them is to provide them through the one institution that is accessible to every American citizen — the federal government.

I have said this more times than I can count, and I will continue to say it until I die — the government is not separate from us, it is us.  It is the organ through which we act, as one.  We may not always approve of what we do, but that does not change the fact that government, at its best and worst, is nothing more, or less, than a representation of us.  So when the poor are given food stamps and Medicaid, the elderly given Social Security and Medicare, the unemployed given financial support while they find new work — it’s not some foreign entity called “the government” that’s doing these things.  It’s us.  We, the people, using government to act on our common sense that no one should go without.

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in response to the embassy attacks…

To the members of the Muslim community who saw fit to attack the U.S. embassies in Cairo and Benghazi, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya —

This is what you were protesting:

This god-awful, piss-poor, wretched excuse for film-making.  That is what compelled you to protest.  Granted, I think it warrants protest as well, but in my case it’s because, as a struggling artist, I consider it a crime against nature that any money, time, or energy was actually expended creating such a pathetic and worthless pile of cinematic horse-shit.  Speaking only for myself, if I’m going to bother protesting a film, I’m going to at least make sure it’s well-made.

Now, I realize that the quality of the material is irrelevant to you.  What matters is that your prophet was depicted (and pretty pejoratively, fair enough), which is against your religion.  Fine.  But here’s the thing — your reaction is wholly, in every way possible, without justification.  Because whether you like it or not, you are now a part of the modern world.  And there are consequences, as you’ve probably noticed, to being a part of the modern world:

1.)  Your religious beliefs are fair game.  Any beliefs, for that matter.  Fair game.  For anyone.  The president and secretary of state have made nice statements about how we “reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” but the fact of the matter is we do it all the time.  And again, it’s not just religious beliefs.  We reserve the right to mock, belittle, impugn, and just plain laugh at anyone’s opinions, beliefs, and worldviews that may or may not agree with our own.  It’s called freedom of speech.  While you may still try to infringe upon that right in your neck of the woods, we in the United States will treasure, defend, and exercise it to the very end, so you should probably get used to that.  Religion has its own protections, of course.  We are equally (if not more) devoted to our freedom of religion.  And that leads me to my second point.

2.)  Freedom of religion means freedom of belief, as well as the free exercise thereof.  Your exercise.  Not anyone else’s.  You do not get to force individuals of other faith communities (or no faith community at all) to abide by your religious precepts, and you certainly don’t get to exact punishment on them if they don’t.  Don’t worry, I get what’s going on.  We have religious zealots here in the United States who don’t understand that distinction either.  And, every now and then, they engage in their own violence and blow up an abortion clinic or two.  But would you like to guess how much additional respect they earn for their religious beliefs by engaging in the violence?  Absolutely zero.  In fact, they become that much more marginalized, ridiculed, and dismissed as being unfit for society (in addition to being criminals, of course).  Because we recognize in a liberal, democratic society that no amount of moral offense is a justification for violence.  Furthermore, we acknowledge that we have our own individual responsibility to avoid and shield ourselves from things likely to offend us.  My mother does not visit seancody.com.  I do not read Focus on the Family newsletters.

There’s a popular meme that surfaces every now and then on Facebook that follows the general rhetorical setup of “Against gay marriage?  Don’t get one… Against abortion?  Don’t have one…” and so on and so forth.  Perhaps we should add to the list “Against crappy movies that portray a religious figure in a negative way?  DON’T WATCH THE GOD-DAMN MOVIE”

As a final thought, please consider this:  even as derogatory as the portrayal of Mohammed is in that film, I can pretty much guarantee you that not a single American’s view of Islam was going to be influenced by it.  Why?  Because the film sucks.  And if any American was influenced by that film, my guess is that their own worldview is so warped they probably watched it while preparing a homemade bomb for their neighborhood abortion clinic (see how I brought it full circle there?).

But do you know what does have a very real, immediate, and lasting impact on the world’s perception of your religion and those who practice it?  Your decision to react to every perceived threat to the holiness of your faith with violence.  Every time you react in this way, you justify the prejudices of everyone in this world who views your culture as immature, volatile, downright medieval, and not worthy of being treated as an equal partner on the world stage.

And while you may not care much now about how esteemed you are in the non-Islamic world, you might stop and think of what that will mean for you the next time an American president decides he needs to invade your country for oil.

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