Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The Republicans have gotten their message. The question is, when will my fellow Democrats?

What messages you ask? In the GOP’s case, the message to their politicians is loud and clear: no more public spending on mishegas! Republican talking points on the last few elections are remarkably consistent no matter whom you ask: The Iraq War wasn’t what drove the Party from power, otherwise we’d be starting the second term of President Kerry; what destroyed the GOP’s soul was W’s and his Congress’ willingness to “spend, baby, spend.” In other words, the grandest symbol of the Republican implosion wasn’t Abu Ghraib, but the Bridge to Nowhere. That and other “pork” spending drove up the National Debt, while giving back virtually nothing useful in return to taxpayers. Truly, that is spending on mishegas (i.e., for you gentiles, that’s a Yiddish term meaning “craziness” or “nonsense”).

The Republican unanimity on this point makes a lot of sense. Now that they’ve gotten their asses kicked, conservatives are going back to their roots to seek redemption. At bottom, this is a group that hates to see the Government spend big bucks on anything except a so-called “war of necessity.” We’re talking about a Party founded on principles of low taxes and fiscal conservatism. Those two principles and “big spending” just don’t add up. Finally, decades after Reagan’s “voodoo economics” swept the heartland, the Republicans are doing the math.

So tip your hat to the GOP for at least figuring out who they are … or were. Maybe this isn’t the right time to tighten the purse springs. If you believe Paul Krugman, the Government should be borrowing $50 quadrillion dollars for every man, woman and child in America … and even that might not be enough to adequately stimulate the economy. (OK, OK, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.) Still, there is something satisfying about seeing a group of people deal with their inconsistencies and hypocrisies, regardless of whether their decision-making is sound. So I’ll applaud the GOP just the same. There’s always something to be said for being true to your roots.

So how about the Democrats? Are they getting their message? Do they even know what their message is? I’d say no. That’s what being in power does for you: it makes you complacent, stubborn, oblivious. It makes you forget what you had to do to seize power, and trash any messenger who tries to hold your feet to the fire.

In truth, I could be talking about a few different messages here. It would appear that after the inauguration/coronation of Barack, Democrats don’t feel the need to listen to ANY. But I have in mind something very specific. And once we take stock in why we love our President so much, we’ll begin to hear that message as loudly as the Republicans hear theirs.

Go back to the number one nickname that is used for Barack: No Drama Obama. The guy is as cool as the back of the pillow. He’s unflappable. He’s hip. But most importantly, he comes across as MORAL. You can insult his former pastor (Wright), you can insult his former fundraiser (Rezco), you can insult his former colleague (Ayers). But you’re hard pressed to insult Barack himself. He plays by the rules. He treats people courteously. And he comes across as genuine. Nowhere is that latter characteristic more on display than in the way he appears to adore his wife and children. It’s simply not possible to imagine the guy getting a BJ from an intern in the Oval Office.

So, you ask, what’s the message for Democrats? No more acting like mamzers! Literally, that word means “bastard.” But the figurative meaning is the same in Yiddish as in English – someone who acts like an amoral jerk. Over the years, politicians from both Parties have frequently crossed the line, but it seems to me that the Democrats can least afford their shenanigans. As Republicans talk a lot about family values and religion, when they screw up they can always fall back on such religious values as “redemption” and “the Lord’s forgiveness.” By contrast, Democrats concentrate their public discourse on claims to competence. That works well enough when they’re staying scandal free. Yet once they get caught with a bimbo on a yacht called Monkey Business or get embroiled in a paternity scandal while their wife was home battling cancer, they lose all claims to virtue and credibility, and the Republicans can successfully pound their Party as a group of godless moral relativists.

Just look at Bill Clinton. From the minute that his affair with Lewinsky became public knowledge, he effectively became a lame duck. As a result, we were all blessed with two years of impeachment and lame pardons, followed by eight never-ending years of George W. Bush.

It’s a steep price for a nation to pay for a few blow jobs, but damned if we didn’t pay it.

Some might say that Barack’s election is proof positive that Democrats HAVE heard the message. Why else would we have nominated him if we didn’t appreciate his character? Isn’t that answer obvious by now: this guy is a natural, and there were about 100 good reasons to support him in the primaries. The real sign of how well Democrats have heard the message is how they react when one of their own gets caught being … well … a mamzer. We now have been given a nice little test case. And so far, so bad.

I am referring to the scandal that has engulfed the City of Roses, better known as Portland, Oregon. At the heart of this scandal is one Sam Adams. His friends call him the “Mayor,” but more recently, he’s been known by different names. Here’s my favorite: Patriot, Brewer, Pedophile.

The “Pedophile” moniker was well earned. A few years ago, when the then 42 year old Adams was still a City Commissioner, he was supposedly mentoring a 17 year old intern named – and I’m not making this up – Beau Breedlove. Adams, an openly gay politician, and a Democrat, shamed both gays and Democrats by beginning a clandestine romantic affair with Breedlove, including making out with him in a bathroom at the City Hall. According to Adams, he waited until his Beau was 18 before the two had sex – and therefore broke no law. But this is not to say he thought the public could stomach the truth. Adams admits that, during his successful run for mayor, he lied to the public about his relationship with Breedlove and counseled Breedlove to lie as well. The truth didn’t come out until recently, shortly after Adams took office, and long after the election was over. What also came out is that one of the local reporters who had been investigating the scandal, Amy Ruiz, was hired by Adams to be a planning and sustainability policy advisor, a job for which Adams had originally said that he strongly preferred someone with a background in “urban planning” or a related field; needless to say, Ruiz had no such background.

I mention the Adams situation not just because I love saying the name “Beau Breedlove” any more than “Dirk Diggler” (that’s a reference to “Boogie Nights” for those of you who are scoring at home, and I do mean scoring), but because it is a litmus test of how well the Democrats are listening to their message. As of now, the smart money is on Adams serving out his term. Oh sure, there have been calls for his resignation – including from the state’s leading newspapers, and the majority of Portlanders polled – but he’s rejected these calls, and he’s done so buoyed by substantial support among his fellow progressives. For example, the editor of the popular progressive blog, “Blue Oregon,” poo-poo’d the Adams-Breedlove relationship as the actions of “two consenting adults.” And that became the rallying cry for the extended Adams Family: sex is nobody’s business, lies about sex are perfectly acceptable under the circumstances (the questions shouldn’t be asked in the first place), and anyone who thinks Adams should resign is an effete “Puritan.”

Two consenting adults. No matter that one was 17 when the romance began. No matter that one was an intern and the other a City Commissioner. Frankly, if the Oregon legal age were 16, and Adams started smooching with Breedlove at 15 but waited until Beau was 16 before they “got busy,” many progressives would still rally around Adams. You know it and I know it. Of course, if the shoe were on the other foot and Adams was a Republican, these same progressives would be talking about him like he’s a piece of filth.

Personally, I don’t know Adams, and I’m not here to judge the man’s moral worth. What I am here to say is that Democrats can no longer afford to condone conduct like Adams’ simply because it’s sexual in nature. This has nothing to do with two consenting adults. This is about a predator and a misguided kid. As a father of two teenage daughters, I have trouble looking at this mess in any other way, and surely I’m not alone. Adams, when he attempts to run his City, will run into a number of fathers and mothers who’ll have trouble looking past the sex or the lies. They’ll wonder why Adams hasn’t stepped down and let someone else with credibility take over. And they’ll wonder what Adams was thinking when he picked a public place to engage in heavy petting with an underage boy. As a Democrat, Adams can apologize all he wants, but he’s not going to play the “born again” card. He’s not going to say that he’s a “new man.” He’s only going to be able to say, “I’m REALLY sorry.” And we all know how it will come across: “I’m really sorry I got caught.”

Enough. This is not a gossip column. It’s a blog about Empathic Rationalism. Empathic Rationalism is about principles. And there’s an important principle at stake. Will the Democratic Party fight to reclaim the mantle of the nation’s moral exemplars? Will the Democratic Party elect leaders who are honest with the public about who they are and how they will serve their constituents? And when it comes out that a politician acted like a mamzer and then lied about it in order to get elected – as well as directed others to lie on his behalf – will the Democratic Party rally to his defense?

So far, apparently, the answer is yes. No wonder political power is so cyclical.


Mary Lois said...

Lot of information here. Dan. Thanks for enlightening me (us). By the way, having lived in NYC for some 14 years, and working on a garment-trade newspaper some of that time, I learned a lot of Yiddish and made some wonderful Jewish friends--but never once did I hear the word "mamzer." (Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention.) Is it pronounced mam-zer or mom-zer?

Daniel Spiro said...

Mamzer/Momzer is pronounced like "Mom" (i.e., mother). It's not a nice thing to be called. And if I were Beau Breedlove's father, I'd probably use words that were even worse to describe "The Honorable Sam Adams."

amlh2000 said...

I would be interested in your thoughts on articles on my blog.

See you there.

Keep up the good work.

Anne Marie

Daniel Spiro said...

Anne Marie,

I enjoyed looking at your blog. It is always interesting to see Muslims who champion the notion of diversity.

Some would argue that the claim for ANY prophet of God to be the "final" prophet is antithetical to diversity, in that it ultimately rests on the idea that the religion established by that final prophet is more full of truth than the other religions, and based on the one uncorrupted text. How would you respond to that argument?