Saturday, January 28, 2012


I hope you all have been watching the Republican debates. Lord knows I have. I’ve watched them week after week, month after month, despite the incredible redundancy, for the same reason I’ve watched the Godfather movies and various Kubrick movies a zillion times. It’s called developing a taste for twisted humor. There’s no other way to explain how I can spend so much time watching Mitt Romney strut his stuff like the proudest of peacocks without losing my lunch.

In South Carolina, Mitt lost his way because he was afraid – the prospect of releasing his tax returns chilled him to the bone. It was as if he knew he had something to hide. But why? When his returns were released this past Tuesday, it became clear that Mitt was doing everything the system asked of him. And sure enough, his Republican rivals have been rather muted in criticizing Mitt’s tax returns. For a Republican, those returns are practically holy objects. They are the fruits of living the American dream.

Sure, Mitt paid only a 14% tax rate, or well under that paid by workers who make as much in a year as Mitt makes in a one-hour speech. So what? He paid what is required of him under our system, which taxes those who make big bucks through financial speculation at a much lower rate than it taxes the middle class. According to the Republican talking points, there is nothing inappropriate about taking advantage of a low capital gains rate, and every reason to lower that rate so as to encourage investing. They would add that a low capital gains rate is only fair, because the money that is being invested has already been taxed once. How can we justify taxing it twice – especially when this would lower our national investment rate? In the long run, is that really going to help the middle class or the poor?

Or so goes the Republican argument. By the time Barack Obama gets through with him, Mitt Romney will have given that argument a face. And the more that I think about it, his is just the perfect face for the job.

In a twisted sort of way, Mitt is a moral exemplar. His is the classic American success story. Here we have a wonderful family man, deeply committed to his faith, hugely successful in one business venture after another, and highly productive as the Governor of a populous state. Mitt exudes, if not an aura of comfort around other people, at least a high degree of self-adulation. And what’s not to adulate? Mitt is a winner. He knows it, you know it, and if you don’t like him or what he stands for, it must be because of your “envy.” Or so he says.

Deep down, I don’t really have anything against the guy. I remember knowing people like him when I went to Harvard Law School, one of Mitt’s own alma maters. I didn’t generally dislike them – not even the ones who were as aloof as Mitt. They were, after all, upstanding members of the community, people of their word, and altogether sane and rational. (I never had them pegged for being the type who would strap a dog to the roof of their car.) I knew back then that they’d end up making a large multiple of the income that I made when we got out of school, and I never begrudged them their choice of career any more than they’d begrudge me my GS 15. They were making their choice; I was making mine. Envy had nothing to do with the equation. We both could easily have taken the other path. It was totally a matter of choice.

Mitt must understand that liberals don’t support progressive tax policies based on envy but rather because they simply have a different ideology than he does. Not only was he schooled at Harvard – a bastion of progressivism – but he went on to govern the state of Massachusetts, or “Taxachusetts” as it is also known. You can accuse Mitt of many things, but being unfamiliar with progressives is not one of them.

So why, then, would Mitt shrug off his critics by accusing them of envy? Because it was his way of brushing off the discussion about taxes and economic equity. Until recently, he hasn’t been comfortable debating those issues at any length. Rather than engaging his opponents on such a third-rail topic, he wanted to win the nomination in what is known in sports as a “walk over.” Clearly, he was hoping that his superior endorsements and war chest would allow him to simply show up, smile awkwardly at the camera, boast about how damned moral and successful he has been from the minute he has taken his first step on this earth, and watch his opponents simply dry up as soon as their money did the same. Then came a feisty critter known, non-anthropomorphically, as “Newt.” And the next thing you know, Mitt was in a real fight.

Unfortunately, that fight seems poised to end soon. Like many bullies, Newt has a glass jaw. So once Mitt arose from his nightmare in South Carolina and started throwing haymakers to every part of Newt’s head and body, the former Speaker has been asking for a “truce,” rather than throwing anything back. What Newt and Mitt both understand, you see, is that this election will ultimately be about taxes and the Republican Party has no choice but to own our non-progressive system of taxation. And nobody owns it more smugly than Mitt Romney. So given that fact, the GOP might as well select Mitt to be the guy to trade blows with Barack about the roles and responsibilities of the wealthy. Next to such a poster child as Mitt, Newt is as poor and “unsuccessful” as the lowly government workers, whose pay Mitt has announced his desire to slash as soon as he is elected.

I don’t remember in my lifetime a candidate for President who better represented the modern plutocrat than Mitt Romney. He doesn’t exude even a shred of respect for the argument that rich people need to pay more in taxes not only because they are the ones who can best afford to pay, but also because they owe much of their wealth to the working-class or middle-class employees who form the backbone of most businesses. Those principles, for me, are a basic element of fairness. To the modern Republican, however, they are viewed instead as justifications for socialism. The Grand Old Party would give us Americans a choice: virtually unbridled capitalism with a non-progressive tax structure, or Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. In the Republican mind, there is no middle ground – no opportunity to combine private-sector competition with progressive taxation. Romney is holding himself out as the businessman whose noblesse oblige led him to politics but without stripping him of his devotion to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. He will be proud to show that Barack Obama is clueless about the value of the market and all too ready to place trillions of dollars in the uninspired hands of unelected bureaucrats. That’s the Republican game plan.

I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of psyched to see it all play out in the fall. It is high time we had a referendum on whether America should be an unabashed plutocracy. Barack Obama would like to turn this election into such a referendum. And Mitt just might be cocky enough to oblige him.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Today is supposed to be all about South Carolina. And South Carolina is supposed to be all about Newt Gingrich. With one boffo debate performance after another, Newt has taken the Palmetto State by storm. He showed up like a prize fighter, boasting that this primary would be “Armageddon.” And wouldn’t you know it -- throughout the past 10 days, he has retained the kind of fire in the belly that would have made John C. Calhoun proud. Calhoun, you may recall, was the in-your-face South Carolinian Senator who wasn’t satisfied simply by talking about slavery as a necessary evil; he hailed it as a “positive good,” one that resulted in treating working class blacks far more humanely than the “free” working class of Europe. Newt, unfortunately, hasn’t shown Calhoun’s skill in staking out the truly courageous and groundbreaking positions. Instead, he has confined his passion to such issues as whether the mainstream media should begin debate telecasts by talking about infidelity. It seemed a relatively small point to me. Yet somehow, it was important enough to garner TWO standing ovations at the candidates’ final debate. The Palmetto wind is now at Newt’s sail. What a country! What a state.

As a liberal political observer, I could be expected to spend today reflecting on the road kill that is the Republican Party and the fact that its open sores are being exposed in precisely the same state that is most associated with right-wing extremism. This isn’t just the state of Calhoun. It’s the home of Fort Sumter. And more recently, it gave us Strom Thurmond, the refusal until 1969 to ratify the 19th Amendment (enabling women to vote), and the longest tenure for displaying the Stars and Bars at the State House. What Massachusetts has been to the North, South Carolina has been to the South. It’s hardly surprising, then, that this state could be the Waterloo of that smug shape-shifter from Bean Town, Mitt Romney.

The truth is, though, that today, at least until the polls close, I’d rather not think about South Carolina … or any of its “peculiar institutions,” including the one rhapsodized by Calhoun. My thoughts have focused instead on a very different institution, one that is associated not with politics but with religion.

These days, anything identified with religion is mocked. The institution I have in mind is no exception. For many, it is linked primarily with hypocrisy and such values as rampant materialism and narcissism. Then again, we live in a time where it is trendy to expect religious institutions to live up to their ideals, and then blast them to smithereens when they fail to do so. The truth, of course, is that there no institutions – religious or otherwise – that live up to those ideals. But that isn’t an argument against the ideals; it’s merely a reminder that human beings are animals whose greatness consists largely in the fact that we are able to posit grand ideals and at least strive to live up to them. For my money, it is preferable to strive sincerely to live a religious life, even if this means you will largely fail, rather than blowing off the project altogether and mocking religion for its inevitable hypocrisy. That latter attitude is like the curmudgeon who decries romantic love and prefers remaining lonely, bitter and cynical … all the while feeling proud that he will never makes a fool of himself chasing the wrong skirt.

I’ve been thinking largely about a certain religious institution because I have two godchildren who have finally reached “that age.” They are Jewish, you see, and “that age” is 10. That’s around the time that Jewish kids first start focusing in earnest on a rite of passage that will swallow up much of their spare time until they turn 13.

In a society where kids live at home until they are at least 18, and commonly stay in school well into their 20s, it’s peculiar to think of them as “adults” as soon as they become teenagers. But the idea of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is that a 13-year old boy or girl is supposed to be a “Jewish adult.” (Traditionally, a girl could become a Bat Mitzvah at 12, but most modern Bat Mitzvahs involve 13 year old girls.) S/he is then viewed as responsible in ways that younger children are not – obliged, for example, to honor certain commandments, such as the need to fast on Yom Kippur. As is so often the case in Judaism, what it means to be honored is expressed largely in terms of accumulating more duties. It’s no wonder that we’re not exactly competing for the title of the world’s most populous religion.

If you live in communities with lots of Jews, you’ve probably noticed one oddity of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah process: the biggest and best parties in middle school are all thrown for Jewish kids. Gentiles might get their sweet 16s, but we all know that the middle school years are truly the most formative ones. That’s when kids develop their propensity to work hard, show ambition, and channel their energies … or, by contrast, get disaffected, disgruntled, or disinclined to fight to “do their best.”

Similarly, if you live in communities with lots of Jews, you’ve probably noticed that the B’nei Mitzvah party is often a lavish affair. Indeed, stories abound about how some of these functions are ostentatious to the point of absurdity. Five-figured affairs are becoming the norm, and six- figured affairs are not out of the question for those who have money to burn. Needless to say, the cynics among us have no shortage of material here. According to their narrative, the B’nei Mitzvah process is primarily an opportunity to teach Jewish children that what matters most in life is grabbing attention, making money, and spending money. As for the religious trappings of the event, we can just consider that an “accessory” that goes with the ensemble.

While I have no doubt that such mockery is valid for certain families, and perhaps even for certain zip codes, I’m not buying into it as a general rule. My godchildren, for example, live in an upper middle-class neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland. Their parents “do OK,” as the saying goes, but they’re not one-percenters, and neither are most American Jews. When we throw a B’nei Mitzvah party, we do it in much the same way that gentile families throw a wedding. Sure it costs a bucket of money, but the idea is not to sell our souls in the process. Quite the contrary – B’nei Mitzvah ceremonies, like weddings, are only successful when they reflect the best of our values.

When I think about the opportunity that my godchildren are about to have, I can’t help but smile. Just at the time of life that is most central to their development as adults, they will engage in one wholesome activity after another. In addition to their regular school and their weekend Jewish school, they will now attend a separate class to learn the Hebrew language. They will be expected at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah not only to read Hebrew prayers but, if possible, to chant sections of Hebrew Scripture with a particular trope. And they will have to chant this foreign tongue in front of many scores of their classmates, friends, family, and clergy. It can be a scary prospect, particularly if you are not gifted at memorizing trope or singing in front of large groups. And how many of us are?

What’s more, these middle-schoolers will be expected to deliver one or more mini-sermons, as if they were a rabbi. These kids will take the weekly Torah portion (in the Jewish calendar, each week is devoted to a different portion of the Torah), focus on certain verses or themes from that portion, and then apply those verses or themes to the thing in life that mean the most to them. Typical B’nei Mitzvah talks focus on economic justice, world peace, environmental protection … the same kinds of themes that are regularly trashed or at best ignored by the politicians in South Carolina. In fact, not only are these kids expected to write and deliver orations concerning these issues, but they usually take on a “B’nei Mitzvah Project” in which they attempt to repair the world through action, and not merely words or prayers. Many of the kids ask for cash, as opposed to other presents, and then give away much or all of this cash to a charity that they’ve selected in connection with their B’nei Mitzvah Project.

In short, far from selling their souls, kids who experience this process the way it’s intended to be experienced are actually developing their characters in wonderful respects. They grow in many ways, including courage, wisdom, dependability, spirituality and generosity. Plus, they are developing these qualities in the context of what is ostensibly an “extra-curricular activity,” which means that they are learning the importance of going above and beyond the call of duty. Indeed, when it comes to what a Bar or Bat Mitzvah can accomplish during the course of this process, the sky is the limit.

As for my own kids, their Bat Mitzvahs were among their most transformative and fulfilling experiences. My younger daughter, Rebecca, went through that whole process with the dream of being a rabbi. Now that she is at college, she is regularly attending Jewish services and planning to devote her life to one of the so-called “helping professions.” As for my older daughter, Hannah, who is graduating college this June, she will begin a five-year program in September in the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. I can’t tell you how proud that makes me.

So, my fellow political junkies, tonight after the polls close in South Carolina, you will probably be compelled to turn on the television and tune in Newt, Mitt, Rick, Ron and all the talking heads whose lives consist of “idolizing” the political process (that’s the term MSNBC’s Chuck Todd used to refer to his own attitude, when he claimed to be “offended” that Steven Colbert dared to make fun of our political process and the Republican party). Don’t apologize for tuning in tonight, for politics is important and political campaigns are great theatre. But please know that there are far more profound things in life than politics. In other words, we must not let our cynicism about political institutions form our attitudes about institutions in other domains of life. Sometimes, we can come across traditions that are truly inspiring. Even then, a brilliant satirist like Colbert can mock them. And unlike Chuck Todd, we should be able to put up with it, assured as we are that these traditions are beautiful.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


“There are two questions concerning Mitt Romney’s service at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The narrower question is: Did Bain help ailing companies and add value to the economy or did it plunder dying firms? The larger question is: Does Romney’s success in business tell us anything about whether he would be a successful president?”

David Brooks, from his 1/13/12 New York Times column, “The C.E.O. in Politics”

Brooks has indeed put his finger around two issues that many of us have been asking lately. In my opinion, however, he has placed the importance of these issues in reverse order.

Let’s examine the trivial issue first: Does Romney’s success in business tell us anything about whether he would be a successful president? Do you know why this issue is trivial? Because barring some sort of September or October surprise – such as a war with Iran into which Obama is reluctantly dragged – Romney is going down hard, whether we like his business record or not. And why is he going down? Because he fails in the critical test of what it now takes to be elected President of the United States.

I’ve pointed this test out before, and I’ll do it again: when it comes down to the general election, the man or woman we elect as President is almost invariably the candidate whom we’d rather see as the color commentator for a National Football Conference Championship game. Why the NFC Championship game? Because it is typically held on a cold and/or windy day and it is marked by hard hits, guts, strategy and heart. The analyst for this game has to be informed, honest (i.e., willing not only to point out the future hall of famers but also the posers and chokers), and able to relate to the common person in TV land. These games have a lot on the line – a Super Bowl appearance, to be precise – and those of us in the audience don’t have the patience to listen to blowhards, bull-shitters or wimps spew clichés. Not when it’s 20 degrees on the field and some of our favorite players are limping off with injuries, and even those who aren’t limping are hiding the fact that their bodies have taken so many shots over the past few months that the next morning, they’ll have trouble getting out of bed, win or lose.

Say what you want about Tricky Dick, but he knew his football and he knew how to “make it real” when he spoke. Most of us would have rather had him than McGovern do the commentary when the Redskins hosted the Cowboys in the ’72 season.

Now the situation in ’76 was an anomaly. Gerald Ford was once a heck of a football player and yet he lost the election. Still, Ford was the epitome of a dullard when it comes to speaking – so when the Vikings hosted the Rams in the ’76 season, we’d probably turn down the sound rather than listen to the ever-sanctimonious Carter or the bumbling Ford announce the game.

The situation returned to form in the 80s. We’d definitely prefer listening to Reagan (a former sportscaster!) to Carter when the Eagles hosted the Cowboys in ’80, or to Mondale when the 49ers hosted the Bears in ’84. In ’88, when the Bears hosted the 49ers, we sure would have preferred listening to George H.W. Bush, a huge fan of both football and golf, to Michael Dukakis, who was such a geek that he couldn’t even summon some genuine passion when he was asked how he would feel if his wife was brutally assaulted.

In ’92 and ’96, all but the most partisan Republicans would have loved to listen to William Jefferson Clinton display his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of sports – and maybe throw in a few comments about the cute cheerleaders – when the Cowboys were hosted by the 49ers or the Packers hosted the Panthers. Then, in ’00 and ’04, W would have been our choice to talk about the Giants hosting the Vikings or the Eagles hosting the Falcons. W might not have been as informed as Gore or Kerry when it comes to domestic or foreign policy, but he did once own the Texas Rangers baseball team, and it’s difficult to imagine anything he enjoyed more than sports.

Finally, in ’08, when the Cardinals hosted the Eagles, we would have much rather watched Barack Obama do the game than John McCain. Obama is extremely articulate, likeable, and enamored with sports, whereas McCain comes across as a crusty jerk. We don’t need our announcers to be crusty jerks. The game itself is hard-hitting enough.

I went through all those elections so that you can truly see for yourselves how infallible this test is. Perhaps it didn’t work in 1976. Then again, Ford was essentially given the nomination on a silver platter, and all Carter had to do was show up and say “I wasn’t hand-picked by an impeached President.” (Besides, would you really want to listen to Gerald Ford announce a football game?) In other words, that election was unique, and not representative of much of anything. In all the other cases, the guy who wins the “regular guy” and “sports fan” award went on to win the election. Always.

This year, the Republicans are giving us the second coming of John Kerry. Mittens comes across as smug and out of touch, which is not what anyone is looking for in a color commentator. Obama should win. Hands down.

Now that we’ve dispensed with Brooks’ political question, let’s look at his second question, the one he refers to as narrow: “Did Bain help ailing companies and add value to the economy or did it plunder dying firms?” I suppose that if you frame the question precisely like that, it is of limited interest. So allow me to rephrase it a bit: What can we as a society learn from Bain Capital to better inform us about the industry of venture capitalism?

Once that question is asked, others immediately come to mind. Many of these are being asked by critics on the left (and a few opportunists on the right): Do we believe that venture capitalists often behave like vulture capitalists? Do we want to see additional regulations introduced in this industry? Do we believe that venture capitalists have moral obligations to take care of the communities and employees served by the business that they acquire such that even when they are engaging in legal profit taking, they may still be behaving immorally? Hasn’t the media demonstrated a tragic bias by closely scrutinizing even the slightest misstep by federal government officials, while allowing venture capitalists to plunder corporations with hardly any public attention?

Other legitimate questions can be asked by observers on the right: Does our society owe much of its long-term economic success over the decades to the unheralded role played by venture capitalists? Isn’t the overall track record of venture capitalists one of massive job creation, not job loss? Has our society been poorly served by the constant vilification of venture capitalists by Hollywood, which inevitably dwells on the failures of the industry rather than the successes? Is the current attack on venture capitalists simply a thinly veiled attack on capitalism generally?

Normally, when I post a blog, I don’t raise questions without at least trying to answer them. This time is different, though. I need to raise these questions both because they fascinate me, and because they ought to fascinate anyone who is concerned about our economy. But I raise them as open questions because up until now, our society has made such a minimal effort to shed light in this area that those of us outside of the business world have little ability to answer them. Regardless of the industry, when it comes to the conduct of our big corporations, our media has seemed disinterested. It is only when something disastrous happens that anyone even begins to pay attention, and only then for a short time. The big companies pay for the advertisements that fuel the media, and that fact appears to give these companies Teflon. Sure, you’ll see a few companies vilified on shows like 60 Minutes, but an occasional exposé is hardly going to give rise to a national debate, like the debates we have whenever a politician or a political party acts in a questionable manner. In a democracy, it is essential that our society engages in such national debates in order to give “the people” a voice, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t have a voice in the world of business just like we have one in the world of politics.

There are those in Hollywood who may think that they have been encouraging such a debate by portraying the leaders of big corporations as soulless pigs. That is almost invariably the way Hollywood treats the folks who run companies like Bain Capital. Even when a movie or TV show is not centered around a “greed is good” theme, you can bet that the men and women in the boardroom, whenever they are shown, will be depicted as amoral at best. As a result, those of our “best and brightest” children who are influenced primarily by Hollywood may avoid the world of business like the plague, and concentrate instead on more movie-friendly occupations like law, medicine, law enforcement or vigilante justice.

Something tells me that whereas Hollywood hasn’t been giving these venture capitalists enough credit, the media has been giving them too much of a free ride. Now, hopefully, thanks to the candidacy of Mitt Romney – and the counter-attacks of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry – we might get a more serious and balanced vision of the venture capital industry. At least that is my hope. I want to learn more about this industry myself. I’ve watched the 28-minute attack ad against Bain Capital by googling “When Mitt Romney Comes to Town” – and while it seemed overly negative, it did whet my appetite for more.

Throughout my adult life, I personally have (a) trumpeted capitalism philosophically as a preferable mode of production to the available alternatives, and (b) preferred to work as a public servant rather than a businessman for moral reasons. And yes, I’ve often wondered if that combination of choices reflects a fundamental inconsistency and unwillingness to come to terms with uncomfortable beliefs. Have I overrated capitalism in the abstract by refusing to recognize that its intolerable excesses are a necessary part of the model? Have I sold short the contribution to our society made by the typical successful venture capitalist or banker? Or is it possible that I have concluded that bankers and venture capitalists may harden their hearts and corrode their souls as individuals, but end up playing a tremendous progressive role in society?

I won’t attempt to answer those questions today. But I hope to be able to answer them better in the upcoming weeks and months. Here’s wishing that the media will NOT drop the ball when it comes to examining Bain Capital. Oh sure, you know they’ll attack these issues to the extent they see them as relevant to the “horse race” of Presidential politics. But I want them to evaluate Bain’s conduct as an exemplar of the large modern venture capital firm. And I want them to use Bain as a window on which we as a society can better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the capitalist system as a whole.

I still have a bias in favor of capitalism, having seen all too well the problems with government as a producer of services. But that is not to say that our approach to capitalism can’t be improved. If the lessons from Bain Capital can enlighten the public enough to demand such improvements, we will all be thrilled that the Republican electorate ignored that Mitt Romney comes across neither as knowledgeable about football, particularly honest, or able to relate to the common person. In other words, though the Republicans are poised to set themselves up for failure in November, at least, as we sports fans would say, they seem to be “taking one for the team.”

Saturday, January 07, 2012


I sincerely hope that each of you had a great holiday season. Lots of presents. Lots of rest. Lots of family. Lots of football. Lots of hope that you will honor your New Year’s resolutions, and that the new year will be one we can all look back on with a smile.

Me? I’m just glad the holiday season is over.

When I reflect on the past few weeks, mostly what comes to mind is getting sick. First it was an ear infection. Then it was a sore throat. Then it was bronchitis – and the return of the ear infection. Then it was back spasms. And most of this was going on when I was away from home. As fun as it is to be on the road when you’re healthy, that’s how miserable it is to be on the road when you’re sick. In my case, the more I coughed and sneezed, the more I threw out my back. As the great philosopher Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another thing.” Or in my case, it seemed to be EVERY thing piling up at the same time. Some vacation.

Fortunately, there were some bright spots – and I’m not just referring to the old adage that “A bad day wincing, coughing and sneezing is better than a good day working at the office.” My trip, you see, was to a place that Sarah Palin might refer to as “real America.” Central Indiana, to be specific. I was visiting my in-laws, most of whom I have always thought of as Republicans. But this time, when the subject of politics came up, I was pleased that they are as fed up with the Republican Party as I am. One of my most conservative in-laws even said that the only thing more disgusting than the Democratic Party is the Republican Party. My thoughts exactly.

Just look at what’s been happening during the past week. John Huntsman, the sanest of this year’s crop of GOP candidates, is the only one who seems destined never to experience any surge whatsoever. By contrast, the two newest names to get their 15 minutes of fame include Ron Paul (who could probably care less if all the residents of the Eastern and Southern Hemispheres blew themselves to smithereens as long as they didn’t take the U.S. with them) and Rick Santorum. That’s right: Rick Santorum. I get that he’s the punch line. And I understand that the joke is on us. What I don’t quite get is the joke.

Santorum-mania is all the rage among Christian fundamentalists. They realize that they blew it four years ago when they failed to rally quickly enough behind their ideologue of choice, Mike Huckabee. So in an effort not to make the same mistake twice, some prominent fundamentalists are now requesting that the other remaining suitors for their vote – Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry – back out of the race and throw their support for Santorum. If that happens, then the fundamentalists and other representatives of the hard right may indeed be able to mount at least a semi-serious threat to the man affectionately known as “Mittens.” Otherwise, we’ll soon be done with this primary season and ready to begin the competition between Obama and Romney for the title of “Chameleon in Chief.” I think we all know how that will turn out: Obama will win, the country will stagnate for another four years, and Mittens will remain every bit as smug as when he and his briefcase used to be dropped off at school in a limousine.

But I digress. This blog post isn’t about Mittens, nor Obama. It’s about the Man of the Moment – Rick Santorum. I still can’t get over the fact that the guy is poised to collect millions of votes. Sure, he’ll eventually lose. This is, after all, the 21st century, and we have made considerable progress on social issues since the time Santorum’s views were formed. Still, the fact is that he is likely to finish “in the money” in delegates for the Republican Nomination. Not since George Wallace captured five states in the 1968 Presidential race has an unabashed bigot waged such a formidable campaign for President. Doesn’t it just warm the cockles of your heart?

Santorum, for his part, doesn’t see himself as a bigot. He’s the first one to tell you that he blames the sin, not the sinner. In other words, he has no problems with homosexuals. It’s just “sodomy” that bothers him. And, after all, shouldn’t all of God-fearing, heterosexual Americans be concerned with it? As the Great Santorum pointed out, “[I have] a problem with homosexual acts, as I would with what I would consider to be acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships . . . If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery,, you have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. ... That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing."

Poor Rick. He was on such a roll at the beginning of that statement. He was only pointing out what every small-minded bigot thinks about when the word “homosexuality” comes to mind. Why did he then have to bring man-on-dog sex into the equation? And for that matter, what is man-on-dog sex? Does it actually happen? Is it like man-on-knothole sex? Personally, I’ve never heard of a man trying to have intercourse with a tree before, but then again, I’ve never heard of a man trying to hump a dog either.

I don’t mean to make light of the situation. Homophobia is every bit as serious to me as racism. Every bit. It’s not homophobia that I take lightly, it’s Rick Santorum. I could have marshaled a number of other myopic Santorum quotations about such topics as contraception, welfare, the Middle East … you name it. But I just can’t get past his homophobia. It’s so out-in-the-open that I almost want him to win the nomination so that we can have a national debate about homophobia. Then, unfortunately, I realize that he would be having the debate with a President who is too sheepish and phony to announce his support for gay marriage … at least not until he no longer faces re-election.

Gay people have little to fear from Rick Santorum or his supporters. It’s just a matter of time before homosexual activities are accepted in our society, much like interracial love is now accepted. Santorum knows the trends. He knows that the halcyon days, where gays were closeted and every family was led by a man (and supported by a woman), are coming to an end. He’s legitimately concerned about this trend.

Come to think of it, I’ll say this for the troglodyte: at least we know that there is something he truly cares about enough to lead him to take a courageous stand. I’m not sure I’d say the same for the other politicians we’ll be hearing from this summer and fall.