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Archives for 2008 Election

Somebody’s Watching Me


The rear license plate on my car has a frame that says, “Jesus: Don’t Leave Home Without Him.”

Whenever someone does something on the road that aggravates me, I try to remember that I’ve got that statement back there for the world to see. Often (though not always) I will temper my urge to react to a tailgater or some other clown driving as if he or she owns the road. I want to make sure my actions are consistent with the message I carry on the back of my car.

This is because it has been my experience that when you choose to identify with a particular group, people will pay attention to see if what you do matches their expectations. In such situations words are meaningless, but deeds will leave an impression. This seems especially true of those who call themselves Christians.

Lately, scrutiny of evangelical Christians has been most intense. That’s not a complaint; true Christians should welcome the attention and use the opportunity to examine ourselves in the process. Today, evangelical voters are the focus of a fervent campaign battle, political candidates are chosen (or not) because of their evangelical credentials, and stewardship of the planet has become high-profile pulpit material. More damning, however, may be our reaction to criticism.

My friend Pete Cernoia recently delivered a sermon making that statement abundantly clear to anyone who was listening. I got his notes afterward because the message was very much a complement to a recent column of mine. Here are some thoughts from his opening:

I Corinthians 11:1 says “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”

He’s saying I didn’t live this way before, but now I’m an imitator of Jesus Christ, who lived a life guided by the law of love.

We all know that great passage from The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church which says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

Paul was a follower of Jesus Christ, and took his cues from Jesus’ example. And so it should be with you and me. Whether we like it or not, we’re being watched and the gospel of Jesus Christ is being judged by our actions, our speech, our attitudes.

Because we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, someone is looking at us and saying, “So that’s what a Christian is? That’s what a Christian father, mother, friend, employee, employer, or teenager is?” And if there is duplicity – if we’re one way in church and another at home, one way when there are people around and another when we think no one is watching – people will notice.

Our friends, family, co-workers, children, and the world, are watching. People are watching how you live when the choices get hard, and to the degree that we adhere to Christ and His teachings is how they will judge if what you believe is real to you or not.

Unfortunately today the people who have been watching think that being a Christian means that you are a Republican; but Jesus is bigger than that. It’s my heart’s desire that church of Jesus Christ should be known for more than being a political force. To imitate Christ doesn’t mean voting a certain way, but working to see Fitchburg’s Mary Magdalenes changed.

I don’t know where that journey would bring any of us, but it would probably look different from how we’re living now.

Indeed, for most of us life would look a lot different.

This is why I take aim at those who seek to use their status as prominent Christian leaders to influence the political process. God doesn’t need our help on election day, he wants our service every day.

I’m trying hard to recall a single time when Christ petitioned the Roman government to recognize His rights, or to require that some element of His teaching be enacted by decree. It didn’t happen.

Instead, He focused on living as an example for others to follow, demonstrating what it means to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

That approach changed the lives of a handful of individuals who, by imitating Christ, changed even more lives. In spite of a hostile government and religious establishment, those changed lives changed their communities and, eventually, transformed the world.

If all that politically-minded Christians want is to influence Washington, D.C., I guess they should keep doing what they are doing. But why settle for one city? The world is watching, and if we imitate Christ, we can once again change the world.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:00 AM | Permalink

Ten Questions on the Economy


I’m not an economist. I have trouble keeping my checkbook balanced, and I struggle mightily with the notion of a budget, so I tend to lose interest in stories that focus on stocks, bonds, and other bits of economic arcana. My philosophy is, leave that stuff to the experts to discuss amongst themselves. If I have any questions I’ll ask my brother-in-law, the financial advisor.

I guess I’m among that vast majority of Americans who believe that, as long as the employment rate in my household is 100 percent and there are groceries in the fridge, the outlook is good. But when the news is dominated by economics, and everyone seems to believe we’re teetering on the brink of a new Great Depression, I start to pay a little more attention.

This week has been one of those times.

Financial services industry giants Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG found themselves in dire straits. Lehman declared bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch got snapped up by Bank of America at bargain basement prices, and I woke up Wednesday morning to learn that, by my reckoning, I now own a .03 percent stake in AIG thanks to a generous investment by my rich Uncle Sam (you do too, by the way).

All this on the heels of the government’s takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and if you don’t understand the quasi-public structure of those two mortgage giants, join the club.

As I said, I’m not an economist, so if you are reading this hoping to gain a better understanding of high finance, stop now and get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. But if you have questions, as I have questions about the country’s economic policy, let’s ask a few and see what kind of response we get from our public servants who were sent to Washington to manage our affairs and who, apparently, were asleep at the switch while the nation’s economic train was rolling down the wrong track.

1. The federal government now owns a 79.9% stake in AIG and reserves the right to remove senior management, and it looks like CEO Robert Willumstad will get the heave-ho. But will he be rewarded with a typical Wall Street severance package the likes of which would allow a slob like me to retire – and support a Central American nation as well?

2. Will other executives be similarly ousted? Will the board of directors, which apparently approved (or, at the very least, didn’t object to) the moves that allowed this debacle to take shape, also get the axe?

3. Will anyone be paraded before Congress, à la Enron, and go to jail for what is almost certainly a case of criminal mismanagement and violation of stockholder trust?

4. Will Congress or federal regulators admit any responsibility for setting – or failing to enforce – rules that allowed these companies to put themselves, their shareholders, and the American taxpayer in this situation?

5. Would a Congressional hearing and criminal proceeding risk exposing the federal government’s role in this situation, thus ensuring that such an event never takes place?

6. AIG has said it will pay off the loan by selling assets, but who is left with the resources to acquire any remaining assets? And are potential buyers U.S.-based companies, or overseas entities? And what does that mean for the U.S. ability to lead the worldwide economy?

7. Will AIG repay the American taxpayer? With interest? How long do they have to repay the loan?

8. How many more shoes are there left on Wall Street, and which will be the next to drop?

9. If my business takes a hit as a result of the foundering economy, can I expect that the federal government will rush in to help keep me from economic ruin?

10. Whatever happened to the free market notion of accepting risk and reaping the requisite reward?

If you have more questions, comments, or answers to any of the above, write me and maybe we can figure this thing out together.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Who Puts a King on the Throne?


I wonder what position politically active evangelical leaders like Tony Perkins and Dr. James Dobson would have taken on a candidate for governor a while back who, by all accounts, was a calculating, insensitive man who cared more for his own ambitions than for his constituents.

This otherwise unspectacular individual, whose time in office was marked with civil unrest, is credited with overseeing a few public works projects, even as he dealt harshly with the malcontents of his day. The record tells us that he was especially intolerant of people of faith, and that the devout who stepped out of line would almost certainly endure some manner of punishment meted out by his hand.

Would the Family Research Council or Focus on the Family have used their influence to support or oppose this governor? Would they have used the scriptures to motivate congregations to action? Would they have called for his removal on faith-based grounds?

The man to which I refer was Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea for a brief time during the first century AD. And while he is given credit for building an aqueduct and for brutally quelling a handful of religious demonstrations, he is best known for presiding over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

He might not have been very popular with the religious people of that day, but for all his faults, Pontius Pilate was the man God wanted on the throne at that particular time in history in order to ensure His will was carried out.

God’s ways are inscrutable to mankind. We cannot fathom His mind, but are instead commanded to live by faith, believing that He is in control.

So I am disturbed when religious leaders purport to be doing the Lord’s work when they endorse political candidates. Upon what special revelation do they believe they act? Has God somehow shown them that either Barack Obama or John McCain is the one whose hand should be on the tiller guiding America’s ship-of-state?

Among the major voter groups up for grabs is the one made up of evangelical Christians, usually stalwart supporters of the Republican Party, but this year expressing discontent over Senator John McCain’s nomination. McCain, it seems for some evangelicals, is not socially conservative enough; for others, Senator Barack Obama’s oratorical skills appear attractively sermonesque as to elicit sufficient comfort and put significant numbers of us in play come November.

Both men are working feverishly to prove to us that they are deserving of the evangelical vote, and many believe that McCain’s choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was, among other reasons, designed to sway us back to the GOP.

In the weeks following the conclusion of the primary season John McCain made strong overtures to Tony Perkins as well as beloved evangelist Billy Graham and his son, Franklin.

Not to be outdone, Barack Obama has also been hard at work trying to curry favor with Christian voters, wooing so-called left wing evangelicals on issues of social justice and environmental stewardship, while also pledging $500 million in new funding for the faith-based initiative program enacted under President Bush (a program I’ve railed against in the past).

The campaign to capture the evangelical vote has not been without its hiccups for both McCain and Obama. McCain’s clear lack of comfort with religiosity will never satisfy many of the evangelical ilk. Obama, on the other hand, speaks the language, but espouses policies that influential Christian leaders find objectionable. His recent halting performance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback church over the question of when life begins was damning, and earlier references to “confused theology” riled Dobson.

I don’t mind when candidates target evangelicals with promises and rhetoric – it’s part of the game. But I do mind when evangelical leaders try to influence the process.

Jesus reminded Pilate that it was God who had put him in his throne, and the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Rome that “the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”

By engaging in political power brokering, we’re telling God that He needs our help to pick our leaders. That’s not acting on faith.

If evangelicals want to change the country we should do it the way Christ and the apostles did it – one soul at a time – by simply teaching the scriptures, showing people the way to God, and equipping them to make sound choices in all aspects of life.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Looking West With Envy


California, you are often maligned by those of us on the East Coast for your oddball politics. We laugh at the idea of a Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and cringe at the citizen petition process that seems to wreak such havoc with your public policy, but secretly we are envious.
We are watching with great interest to see how you will deal with the issue of same-sex marriage. If only the Massachusetts Legislature felt such a level of obligation to its residents. When we struggled with the issue of legalized gay marriage just a few years ago, the brave solons of Beacon Hill chose to slough off the responsibility for tough issues onto the state Supreme Court rather than go on record one way or the other.
In a democratic society, the people have the privilege of determining the principles by which society members ought to conduct themselves, and it is the duty of legislatures to codify those as laws. They are the framework under which we live and work, and we rely on them to live safe, happy lives.
There was no doubt where the people of Massachusetts stood on the idea of same-sex marriages. When Bay State citizens submitted petitions to amend the state’s constitution, the number of certified signatures (nearly 170,000, mine among them) set a record. One Boston Globe poll at the time also showed support for a constitutionally established traditional definition of marriage at nearly two-thirds. Clearly, the people of the Commonwealth were most comfortable with the status quo: marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
But poll numbers and certified petitions mean little to those with an emotional stake in the issue. As an evangelical Christian, I am well acquainted with the point of view that says society should hold government responsible for codifying morality. I believe that God is more concerned with how I follow His law than those of men. That is why, as a Libertarian, I cannot find the faith to put such responsibility in the hands of government. Instead, I believe each of us is accountable for conducting ourselves according to our own moral code.
The difficulty with establishing minimum standards of conduct is that there will be some who believe that the standard excludes their particular behavior. When this happens to a group with political clout, pressure is exerted on lawmakers to change the traditional standard. In California, this has meant amendments to the state Constitution – as in the case of same-sex marriage. The debate around such an amendment is a healthy – even necessary – process that forces a society to examine its collective moral ethic. This is precisely why such decisions should fall to society at large, and why legislatures should hew to the will of the people as they will in California.
Beyond the issue of same-sex marriage, there is a growing discontentment among Americans that so-called public servants have legislated themselves into an elite class and that regular folks have been marginalized. While we struggle to make ends meet amid higher gas prices, higher health care costs, and a recessionary economy, they busy themselves with creating costly new public programs, immune to the same pressures thanks to generous self-granted benefits, all the while hob-nobbing with moneyed special interest groups.
In California, as in Massachusetts, the courts have ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry and, as in Massachusetts, those opposed to the idea are taking the issue to the people. That’s where the comparison ends as in the Golden State, unlike Massachusetts, the measure will actually be on the ballot in November.
No matter the outcome, once the will of the people has been tabulated and certified, those of us on the East Coast will have one more reason to envy our California brethren.
Editor’s note:This article appeared June 13, 2008, on page B – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Posted by Mike Spinney at 7:12 PM | Permalink

The Man in the Mirror


The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities so beset by immorality that God saw fit to raze them with fire from Heaven, has been used by many Christians to justify their outrage and actions against gays. God’s intolerance of homosexuality was demonstrated on the fertile Jordan plain when He reduced those infamous bergs to cinders – the God-fearing should take the hint.

In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s ruling in Goodrich vs. Department of Public Health paved the way for the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriage. The ruling was decried by the Christian community in Massachusetts and across the country as a symptom of America’s moral decay.

The image of a smoldering Sodom and Gomorrah was evoked as many prominent evangelicals predicted a domino effect, calling the faithful to action. Legalized gay marriage would, they said, lead to increasingly depraved definitions of marriage, eventually resulting in bestial unions. Less hysterical were predictions that other states would follow suit, and that Massachusetts would be the first ripple in a hedonistic tidal wave that would eventually sweep the nation.

Recent policy decisions in California and New York suggest that the pro-gay marriage movement is indeed gaining momentum, but while many evangelicals will look to my home state with disdain and blame liberalism here for tainting the rest of the country, I suggest we look no further than the closest mirror when assigning culpability.

After all, what many in the religious community conveniently forget (or more likely don’t even know) is that buggery was not the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The prophet Ezekiel tells us it was pride.

Pride is insidious, manifesting itself in, among other things, the presence of overbearing religiosity within the church. Evangelicalism has enjoyed a privileged position in America since the earliest days of colonization and that privilege has bred complacency within the church which, as a whole, has lost its fire. There have been occasional, genuine revivals, and pockets of fervent belief have always existed, but for the most part the church has taken on an air of false piety that has poisoned our witness – our ability to speak about our faith in a way that brings others to share in God’s love.

Rather than looking to Christ as our exemplar and modeling our lives after His, we instead spend most of our time browbeating those we feel don’t measure up to our standards. Too many Christians follow the lead of individuals they perceive as somehow more worthy, those who occupy televised pulpits, wrapped in crisp suits and surrounded by impressive accoutrements, delivering slick motivational speeches punctuated with clever turns of phrase that tickle the ear, but are theologically empty.

One example, overused in the Church’s crusade against the homosexual community, is “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a phrase filled with good intent, but rarely followed in practice. If we truly “loved the sinner,” we’d be doing more than holding rallies on Beacon Hill showing the world that, while other sins (say, cheating on taxes, coveting our neighbor’s stuff, fibbing, or even heterosexual promiscuity) get a relative pass, homosexuality is deserving of our most zealous attention.

No other sin captures our attention to such a degree, but while the church today saves its harshest words for homosexuals, we should note that Christ saved His for the falsely pious.

When the adulterous woman was dragged into the street and brought before Jesus for judgment, he admonished her accusers by saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s actions, but he knew the wicked hearts of her accusers and wanted them to look inward at their own lives. We’re told that Jesus wrote in the sand while the scene unfolded; the Bible doesn’t record the words he wrote, but it is speculated that it may have been the sins the Pharisees themselves had committed in secret.

When the church looks back, it may identify Goodrich as the point at which the battle for the heart and soul of America was lost. But I’ll argue that the battle was lost long before. When religious pride eclipsed Christ-like humility as the church’s prevailing emotion, the rest of the world lost any reason to believe that there was a meaningful difference between it and Christianity.

The church should not change its view of sexual immorality, but it should re-evaluate its performance as a conduit for the truth of the Gospel. Living lives of faith and humility, demonstrating true love for our neighbors, and daily working to improve our own spiritual walk – instead of making suggestions to others – is the way to bring about real change in society.

Lost in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the example of Lot, Abraham’s nephew and the one righteous citizen of those doomed communities. So weak was the witness of Lot that no one took him seriously when he warned them of the coming judgment. His life’s witness was, apparently, void of any authenticity.

That same lack of authenticity – an ability to call people to our beliefs by our actions – is why evangelicalism is failing as a cultural force in America today.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:15 AM | Permalink

Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before


Can someone please explain why we are still talking about Florida and Michigan?

Don’t bother with the justifications being floated by the Clinton campaign about disenfranchisement; it’s hollow rhetoric that, as has been pointed out ad nauseam, was not a consideration last year when the rules were being written. At that time Hillary assumed she’d have the nomination secured as a Valentine’s Day gift from Democrat voters, and Barack Obama was barely a blip on the presidential radar.

Today, of course, everyone’s changed their tune: It’s unthinkable that the important voices of Michigan and Florida won’t be heard, and the Democratic National Committee will meet on Saturday to solve the problem and figure out a way to make everyone happy. (Good luck.)

What I find interesting in all this is the lurking sense of partisan entitlement that spelled doom for the two previous Democrat Party nominees.

In 2000 the Democrats took it as a given that Vice President Al Gore would ride the halcyon wave of the Clinton Administration to the White House. Prince Albert was the smart, smug heir apparent who would outpace the dopey Bush scion without so much as breaking a sweat. But things didn’t turn out as they were supposed to.

Again in 2004 it seemed that the Democrats were poised to reclaim the White House. Anti-Bush sentiment was building as missteps in Iraq began to mount and, once more a smart, smug candidate was chosen; John Kerry would flex his intellectual muscle and show George W. Bush to be an inarticulate fool. But things didn’t turn out as they were supposed to.

Now it’s 2008, and while the Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to (er…) kick around again, they are demonstrating the same kind of entitled bravado that alienated them from enough voters in the last two presidential elections to lose what they believed to be their due. That sense of entitlement has already cost Hillary Clinton the nomination, and for all of his populist chops, it may well prove to be Obama’s undoing should the Democrat Party exert too much influence on his post-nomination campaign.

You see, the persistent debate over seating Florida and Michigan delegates is exposing the Democrats as having a very poor opinion of actual voters. Judging by their actions and statements it is clear that the party bigwigs believe they alone know what’s best, and the people are merely pawns in an elaborate chess game.

By establishing rules in 2007 that, in effect, told the people of Michigan and Florida that they weren’t important, the party leadership had already disenfranchised significant numbers of those Democrats and unaffiliated voters who might have enthusiastically gone to the polls during their primaries. Instead, those who wanted to play a meaningful role in the selection of a party’s nominee had only one choice left: register to participate as a Republican.

So for the Democrats to argue that they should now pretend the rules they adopted last year didn’t really matter is to proclaim that voters of an independent mind don’t really matter. But those are the very voters that any candidate must win if he or she is to carry the election in November.

The self-centered attitude of the Demcorats shows through here because they act as if it’s all about them, ignorant of the fact that the implications of a June rules change could have repercussions back to January.

For Mitt Romney, the rules the Democrats now think are so insignificant may have played a role in my failure to build momentum on the way to the GOP nomination. A plausible argument can be made that Romney’s win in Michigan might have been by a significantly wider margin than the nine points that separated him from John McCain on January 15 if Romney hadn’t been up against right-leaning Democrats and independents in addition to party regulars.

The Romney brand was well-known in Michigan, but it is unlikely that any middle-of-the-road voters who registered as Republicans – voters who might have otherwise participated in the Democrat primary – ended up voting for Romney. Instead, those folks would have been more likely to vote for McCain, Rudy Giuliani, or even Ron Paul. Change Romney’s margin of victory in Michigan to double-digits at McCain’s expense and it’s possible that Romney could have taken a little more impetus into Florida.

And if you buy the notion that independent voters, frozen out of the Democrat primary in Florida, may have registered as Republicans in significant numbers, consider that McCain’s thin margin of victory over Romney (36 percent to 31 percent) in the winner-take-all Sunshine State contest might have instead been an thin Romney win, and we’re talking about a much different situation today than we have now. Florida, after all, was the win that iced it for McCain and that drove a coffin nail in the hopes of a number of Republican hopefuls, including Romney.

But since the Democrats believe that the GOP doesn’t have a prayer in November, and since leftist hubris believes the moderate middle is insignificant, the broader implications of their dunderheaded rules-making aren’t important to them right now.

Come November, however, the Democrats may be singing a different tune, and the election’s denouement will determine if this is, indeed, a song we’ve heard before.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 1:31 PM | Permalink

Wright’s Wrong Turn


[T]hus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment.

These words were first uttered from an Enfield, Mass. pulpit more than 265 years ago by the famed Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, in whose wake entire communities repented. The now famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, was a catalyst for America’s First Great Awakening, and played a role in establishing an independent spirit among New England colonists that helped lay the groundwork for the American Revolution.

In the next century a new generation of preachers looked out at the moral condition of America and once again told its citizens they needed to examine their souls. Charles Finney, Asahel Nettleton, and James Finley, among others, boldly called upon the nation to repent of its wickedness. The result was a cleansing of the country’s great sin: slavery.

One hundred years later another minister, seeing iniquity in the land, preached a new message that would bring about the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from the jailhouse to the Capitol, and his words carried a message that could not be ignored.

In short, we have a long history of being called to task by clerics. The desire for religious freedom that drove pilgrims to our once savage shores and that was codified in our Constitution, made such a phenomenon possible. Emboldened by revelation and not beholden to the pleasure of government, preachers have been at liberty to speak their minds to congregations large and small.

Today we find ourselves being taken to task by another man of God – Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Like the spiritual firebrands before him, Rev. Wright knows his craft, and he plies it well. Alliteration, clever turns of phrase, theatric enunciation, high rhetoric, dramatic gesticulation, and a penchant for vivid verbal illustration are all tools in the evangelist’s belt. Wright is skilled with the entire set – maybe too skilled.

Wright sees injustice, the brunt of which his people have traditionally borne the greatest burden, and he seeks to call attention to it while calling his flock to action. He wants change and repentance and he’s using his pulpit to bring it about.

And he’s right, to a certain degree.

Inequality remains a problem in America in 2008, and bigotry is far from absent. One could even argue that the cause is endemic to our society. At certain levels, white establishment remains cool to opening the door to anyone markedly different in appearance. Take a look in boardrooms and legislatures across the country and you’ll find mostly white, male faces.

Any reasonable person with a concern for others might be compelled to ask, “Why?” Why have we not come further since 1968? Why are minorities still disproportionately among the poor, incarcerated, and prematurely dead?

And outrage and anger – or its vivid demonstration – is a legitimate rhetorical tool. But Rev. Wright has a problem. In the age of YouTube, talk radio, and a lazy media, an outrageous statement meant to call a congregant to action can be blown out of proportion. His infamous cry of “God damn America,” taken in context, is a legitimate theological position and a call for national self-examination. Can we expect God to continue to bless our nation in the face of increasing immorality? That message is not so much different than what Edwards preached when he warned New Englanders of their fiery eternal prospects centuries ago.

Wright’s bigger problem, however, is when his hyperbole becomes fiction and most of America – especially white America – tunes the message out.

Tell me I’m a sinner and make your case with reasoned argument and, even if I resist, if I examine my heart I’m likely to admit that you’re right. Truth is a powerful force. But call the country the US of KKKA and you won’t win many political converts.

Say that more blacks have a difficult time accessing quality healthcare and back it up with statistics, and you might find an audience that is willing to open its mind and work toward a solution to the problem. It doesn’t take much to convince a reasonable person that life can be difficult for blacks in America. Truth is a powerful force. But say that the federal government manufactured AIDS to eradicate non-whites and nothing else you say matters. Lies are a powerful force as well.

Thanks to his association with Sen. Barack Obama, the first black man to seriously vie for the U.S. presidency, Rev. Wright has been in the national spotlight for a number of weeks. No timid soul, he’s embraced the attention and, sadly, he’s used it to continue his assault on America – and on rationality.

Productive dialog on race is sorely needed in this country, and that dialog requires a voice that can speak with the authority of moral conviction. Rev. Wright may have had grounds to rail against the establishment, but it’s no longer the high ground from which he began speaking.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:43 AM | Permalink

For Everything There is A Season


Former New York Attorney General and now-former Governor Eliot Spitzer is getting a delicious comeuppance. If there’s any real justice, the anti-corruption crusader Gotham’s tabloids once dubbed “Eliot Ness” will learn what it’s like to be at the receiving end of a pitiless prosecutor, maybe even one with lofty political ambition and an ego to match.

I know I should feel some sense of Christian compassion for the Spitzer whose political career – he was once touted as the nation’s first Jewish president – is over. But the only Biblical reference that comes to mind has to do with reaping and sowing. I admit it: I’m enjoying knowing that, at this very moment, Spitzer’s twisting in the wind.

You see, I’ve got a dog in this fight. This isn’t about political schadenfreude – I’ll see your evangelical preacher and red state senator and raise you a hot-shot governor – it’s about payback. Eliot Spitzer’s just a plain-old hypocrite who used the law and his position to bully people into holding to standards he felt he was above. And now, everybody knows it.

A few years ago, when he was New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer turned his sights on a client of mine. That company, Direct Revenue, was an aggressive innovator in the interactive marketing industry and, with all the zeal of a politician who could taste both headline and higher office, Spitzer saw an opportunity and charged them with deceiving consumers and peddling “spyware.”

It was one of many opportunities he saw – and took – on the road to Albany. Spitzer campaigned on the public dime by (ab)using the authority and resources of his office and he was regarded as a hero because of it.

What galled me about my client’s case in particular was that Attorney General Eliot Spitzer entered into the record death threats that were emailed to my client by irate customers as evidence that Direct Revenue was an evil organization that preyed on innocent consumers online. It takes real seeds to ignore a blatant felony – that’s what a death threat is – that potentially endangers the lives of innocent people in order to make a point in a legal argument.

Spitzer, with deliberate calculus, crafted a public filing that made liberal use of inflammatory language that a judge eventually disallowed. And you know what’s really rich about the governor’s current position? That same trick is being played on Spitzer by the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who wrote – and leaked – the indictments and testimony of various call girls with whom Spitzer may have done business. This started as a tax case but the court papers have lots of talk about room numbers and the safety of various sexual preferences.

I’m not naïve; I know ambitious politicians will always use their position and authority to get to the next level — and sometimes the public interest is served. And because Spitzer hit close to home with his suit against Direct Revenue, I researched a few years of public communications — press releases and statements to the media — coming out of Spitzer’s office. I’m a recovering political hack. I know these things don’t happen by accident. But this was pretty obvious: Sometime in 2003, Spitzer decided to begin his campaign for governor in earnest and started using the power of the state attorney general’s office to get there.

Direct Revenue was but one example of a company eviscerated by Eliot Spitzer. In the financial services industry, his pursuit of companies like Marsh & McLennan and Merrill Lynch, and individuals like the New York Stock Exchange’s Dick Grasso and Bank of America’s Theodore Sihpol were no less dastardly. Spitzer’s zealous attack on the financial services industry for practices he didn’t like, but admitted were not illegal, wreaked havoc with the industry, put companies out of business, and cost many people their jobs. His harangue of AIG in 2005 prompted the Wall Street Journal to call for Spitzer’s resignation.

A cheer went up on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange when the Spitzer prostitution story broke on Monday. The vitriol that has begun to pour out of Wall Street will flood the streets of Albany any day now.

Meanwhile, Eliot Spitzer’s self-righteous crusade has claimed four more victims: his wife and three daughters. And while no one would wish the sort of embarrassment, shame and pain they must be feeling because of Spitzer’s actions on anyone, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the man himself. Because, in the end hubris – not love – conquers all it infects.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:45 PM | Permalink

Super Duper Tuesday Plus One


Whew… glad that’s over.

As a political observer, the whipped-up fun of the primaries can be dampened considerably when it is your own state that is part of the mix. Before the dust from South Carolina settled, the lead-in to Super Duper Tuesday had things pretty noisy here in Massachusetts.

We aren’t a huge delegate prize, but when John McCain started feeling his oats and decided to challenge Mitt Romney on his home turf, voters got caught in the middle.

Phone call after annoying phone call started ringing at Chez Spinney in the waning days of January, reaching an absolute crescendo by February 4. It made me nostalgic for telemarketing – Pre-National Do Not Call Registry.

I suppose it could have been worse. There’s only one registered Republican under my roof. Were I aligned with one of America’s two real political parties I might have opted to unplug the phone.

At least today, without the constant ringing, I can think a little more clearly about the nomination process as it stands at SDT Plus One, so here are my thoughts.

For the Democrats, I think Obama’s going to win. The enthusiasm he’s generating will eventually overtake and put real distance between he and Hillary Clinton. I know Democrats who have done nothing overtly political their whole lives that are now volunteering for Obama; white guys who went door-to-door in places like Trenton, New Jersey to try and mobilize voters. I mean, is anyone writing songs about Hillary? Obama’s showing yesterday was surprisingly strong, and while Clinton took the big prizes, the apportionment of the delegates actually tipped slightly in Obama’s favor. As a result, the delegate count today is a tossup, but from here on out Hillary’s bailing against the tide.

Everything I hear and see, both through the media’s lens and with my own eyes and ears, tells me that many Democrats are growing tired of Clinton’s campaign undercurrent, and that may become even clearer with the California win. The country’s “first black president,” Bill Clinton, has been using bigoted tactics to try and gain the upper hand on behalf of his wife, especially where there are large numbers of Hispanic voters. Analyses of SDT voting showed that Obama’s numbers are strong among white voters and overwhelming among black voters – a danger sign for Clinton – thus the effort to rile traditional anti-black racial animosity among Hispanics.

Look for Obama to line up some big name Hispanic endorsements and proxies in the near future. Don’t know who, but when it happens, I think you’ll see the polls spike for Obama. Clinton’s days are numbered. It may take a fist-fight at the convention, but the party will see that Obama is their best hope for victory in November.

The picture is clearer for the GOP, but no less interesting.

I laugh at the fight to don the Reagan mantle, and the convenient loss of memory the candidates have with regard to amnesty. Today, Romney’s doing everything he can to hang amnesty around McCain’s neck and drape Reagan over his own shoulders, but it wasn’t that long ago – a mere 22 years – that President Reagan, with a majority in Congress, signed the first amnesty bill.

In attempting to make his case as the campaign’s only “true conservative,” and draw a contrast between he and McCain, Romney has erred strategically in making his attacks on McCain seem personal, rather than an Outsider vs. Establishment issue. People like McCain, and I think Romney’s demeanor solidified in voters’ minds the notion that he will say whatever it takes to win.

Finally, the GOP mouthpieces, especially the radio pundits, are fooling themselves if they think a right winger can win in November. In 2008 there’s no way Romney will convert the equivalent of centrist Reagan Democrats. Ain’t gonna happen. Nor will Mike Huckabee.

McCain is the only chance the Republicans have to win the centrist/independent vote. It’s looking more and more likely that McCain will capture the nomination and, when he does, the right wing of the party will fall in line. They’ll have to, either because of their loathing of Hillary, or because, even through they may find him admirable, they are fearful of a lefty like Obama in the White House.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 3:13 PM | Permalink

Not Enough Doctors!


When in the midst of a high-energy presidential primary season, conversations inevitably migrate toward the often-taboo subject of politics. While talking with one of my clients recently, the presidential campaign came up; specifically, the issue of federalized health insurance. My client operates a physician recruiting firm, TimeLine Recruiting, so I asked him if he’d thought about how government insurance would affect his business.

The resulting conversation got me thinking: just how badly do we need Uncle Sam to pay our national insurance bill? Is the system really broken? How do we address the issue of health insurance in the U.S.?

After conducting a little research and applying some common sense, I came to the conclusion that, while there is a health care crisis in America, it’s not from a lack of insurance. As Spot-On’s cranky Libertarian-in-residence, you might have anticipated that decision, but hear me out on this one.

The crisis we face is because we’ve got a rapidly shrinking supply of doctors and a rapidly growing supply of patients. What good is universal health care when patients can’t find doctors to treat them?

The dwindling supply of doctors is already being felt in America’s poor rural and urban communities. TimeLine does a lot of business finding good doctors for places that have gone years without the kind of specialists seriously sick people need. Without the right doctor nearby, patients may need to drive an hour or more to get treatment – or go without. Even with the right doctor nearby, wait times to see the doctor may be weeks.

Here’s a shocking statistic: the medical education system produces about 8,000 new doctors per year, but 35,000 become eligible for retirement. The math doesn’t work. Worse, low job satisfaction levels have many younger doctors considering leaving their careers.

Why? Few doctors these days fit the wealthy golf-bag toting stereotype. It’s a high-stress profession that fewer people find attractive. It costs a great deal of money to become a doctor and also to practice medicine. Capital equipment and medical supplies are hugely expensive. Staff salaries add to the burden, but steadily rising liability insurance premiums are what can be a deal-breaker for the doctor trying to make it in a small practice in a poor community. After all, physicians have bills to pay and mouths to feed just like the rest of us.

Doing some research for an opinion essay written by TimeLine’s CEO and carried by Hearst, I learned that, according to the Massachusetts Medical Association, 37% of physicians in my home state are considering leaving medicine because of the rising cost of liability insurance, the constant threat of being sued, and increasing administrative burdens, among other factors. Adding 50 million more patients to the system and increasing the red tape that always comes with government programs will certainly accelerate the exodus of doctors from the profession.

I won’t bother to speculate about what federalized healthcare in the U.S. might look like; we have examples already. Just read about conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Washington Post’s Dana Priest and Anne Hull provide a pretty good illustration of the scandalous conditions there as well as at the country’s network of Veterans Administration hospitals.

So what do we do to fix the problem? The best approach is to reform our economy to promote the creation of quality jobs right here at home – jobs that will rebuild the middle class and allow people to obtain private insurance through their employers. Social engineering and economic experimentation via the tax code, or a massive tax spend on a national insurance program will not work. Creating good jobs here on American soil will.

A fundamentally sound economy will naturally create more and better incentives for those considering a career in medicine. It will also stanch the flow of doctors exiting the field.

But instead of a frank discussion about real problems and real solutions in health care, we’re being sold a bill of goods made up of magical fixes from inefficient, unreliable government. “This time we’ll get it right, Mr. and Mrs. Voter,” they say. “We give you our word.”

Don’t believe it. Politicians are terrific snake oil salesmen but when the wagon leaves town, the only thing that’s changed is the guy peddling elixir has your money. You’re still ailing, and there’s no doctor in sight.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 12:00 PM | Permalink

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