Monthly Archives: January 2005

Howell’s Brain

One might argue that House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) needs a think tank more than most, but don’t you think the Dems could use one, too. But no, the Dems would rather be against whatever the GOP is for and think that’s enough. They need to articulate a moral foundation and a vision if they’re going to compete. Maybe the Dems have a think thank. Let me know if you know where it is.

The Death Campaign

I know those in the radical right are baffled by this, but to me, a campaign based on how much you like the death penalty is morbid and morally bankrupt. And note, too, that the right thinks we disrespect the evangelical’s religious fervor, yet they have no problem campaigning against the Catholic faith when it suits their purpose.

Democratic candidate Tim Kaine says he is personally against the death penalty because of his Roman Catholic faith, but that if elected he would support the laws of the commonwealth.

That’s nuanced enough to give Kilgore an opening, and he’s been taking it–Kilgore has criticized Kaine’s position several times in recent weeks, in a joint appearance before reporters in December and in press releases.

A Kilgore campaign release two weeks ago called Kaine’s position “deliberately deceptive and a transparent attempt to hide his record.” It went on to list quotes from Kaine, going back more than 15 years, about his distaste for capital punishment.

Tolerance Is a Dirty Word

Dont_think_of_elephantReading George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant the last two days (OK, crack your jokes about taking days to read what is essentially a long magazine article), I’m struck by this column about conservative activist’s James Dobson’s crusade against SpongeBob, the cartoon character. I’ve never seen the show, though I know it’s not about how people named Bob seem so intellectually alive because of all the knowledge they’ve soaked up. But it doesn’t matter. The point of this column by Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times is just the point Lakoff makes: Conservatives are sophisticated linguists who know to use “tax relief” instead of “tax cuts.” That’s well understood. But what’s frightening is how they successfully demonize words like “tolerance.”

Though [Barbara McGraw, an associate professor at Saint Mary’s College of California and author of the book Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America] says her own political views are quite liberal, McGraw has devoted significant time to exploring the friction between the religious right and secular left, declaring, “somewhere in the middle, you find the basic values of the nation.” And she sees a significant message in Dobson’s criticisms.

“Dobson says words such as tolerance and diversity are code words for a kind of progay agenda some parents don’t agree with,” said McGraw, noting carefully that she doesn’t agree with the minister’s assertions.

“You’re not going to have millions of people following something that is completely stupid . . . and there is a legitimate point about parents raising their children according to the values they have,” she added. “One of (Dobson’s) key points is that liberals are using buzz words to promote an agenda that goes beyond race and religion. The mainstream media need to be sensitive to that.”

My hunch is that McGraw is right. And other conservatives have taken similar stances; most recently with Education Secretary Margaret Spelling’s stand against an episode of Postcards From Buster in which the cartoon character visits lesbian mothers.

But the PBS series Frontline exposed another agenda conservative politicians and activists often have during such crusades: demonizing key buzzwords among their faithful followers.

Frontline’s recent documentary The Persuaders followed consultant Frank Luntz, the man credited with turning the public against estate taxes by call them a “death tax.” In his hands, “tax cuts” become “tax relief,” and the “war on Iraq” becomes the “war on terror.”

“Eighty percent of our life is emotion and only 20 percent is intellect,” Luntz told Frontline. “I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think.” Asked if such terms don’t just confuse the issue, Luntz had more wordplay ready: “Some people call it global warming, some people call it climate change,” he rationalized. “What’s the difference?”

Using the Luntz model, if Dobson can convince enough Americans that “tolerance” and “diversity” are simply code for “gay rights,” then he’s won a war on the language battlefield – the same way Rush Limbaugh helped demonize “liberal” and “feminist.”

The challenge for progressives is to reclaim those words, to reinvigorate them, even if it means invoking God. In fact, those who can do so honestly, (yes, even progressives can be religious) can succeed politically. Too many progressives, unfortunately, feel to invoke God, or more specifically Jesus Christ, or their religious beliefs sends the wrong message to potential supporters not of the same religion, agnostics and atheists. I don’t buy that. By focusing on the moral imperative, not the God that dictates politics, progressives reclaim the moral high ground. Through two thirds of Lakoff’s book, I’m not sure he has a detailed map, but that may be found, dare I say, only in one’s soul.


There have been a couple of skeptical comments to my post about whether Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine can use the recently announced sexual discrimination lawsuit against AG Jerry Kilgore.

Kaine has been forced on the defensive by the death penalty. That, and the fact that Kaine once handled a few cases for the American Civil Liberties Union, are all the Republicans think they need to polish him off. “That’s the whole campaign,” a chortling GOP strategist told me, unable to contain his delight. “You watch, that’s how the campaign will unfold.”

In most other states, it would be a stretch to call Kaine a liberal. He opposes gay marriages as well as civil unions. The ACLU cases Kaine handled are hardly off-the-wall; one was on behalf of a black couple denied housing in a white neighborhood.

No matter. In Republican hands the letters alone — A-C-L-U — will serve as a mark of Kaine, branding him as a political untouchable.

If Republicans take offense at such tactics as painting Kilgore with the broad brush of sexism, I hope they keep in mind that if such should be the case, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Medicaid Fraud

“Medicaid is . . . growing out of control,” said Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (R-Lynchburg). “You are seeing well-off folks literally impoverish themselves in order to qualify. That removes available Medicaid funds for those whom Medicaid is truly aimed for.”

Is this true? Does anyone know anything more than an anecdote or two to prove this assertion. Certainly, the rules the House wants to invoke would be impossible for many people to comply with. Six years of immaculate records would be tough for a lot folks — poor and otherwise — to come up with.

I know when my family sought long-term care for our dad, putting my mother in the poorhouse so he could get Medicaid to pay for it wasn’t an option. Not only did we obviously not want my mother to do without, but clearly Medicaid nursing homes were not of the caliber my parents could afford. I wonder how many children are willing to allow their surviving parent to take less than the best care they can give them just so the kids can get their hands on their inheritance a little earlier.

Update: Interestingly, when you type “Medicaid fraud” and Virginia into Google, the first hit is Kilgore’s AG web site.

Gun Show Loophole Left Open

The Senate failed to pass a bill that would have required private parties selling guns at shows to require the same background check that licensed dealers perform.

Here’s the vote on SB 807:

Barely reported out of committee:

YEAS–Saslaw, Marsh, Quayle, Norment, Howell, Lucas, Mims, Puller–8.

NAYS–Stolle, Edwards, Reynolds, Rerras, Blevins, Cuccinelli, Obenshain–7.

Narrowly failed on the Senate floor.

UPDATE: Va. Progressive has info. on why Saslaw didn’t vote for the bill on the floor: He was sick.

YEAS–Chichester, Colgan, Devolites Davis, Howell, Lambert, Locke, Lucas, Marsh, Miller, Mims, Norment, Puller, Quayle, Stosch, Ticer, Watkins, Whipple–17.

NAYS–Bell, Blevins, Bolling, Cuccinelli, Deeds, Edwards, Hanger, Hawkins, Houck, Martin, Obenshain, O’Brien, Puckett, Rerras, Reynolds, Ruff, Stolle, Wagner, Wampler, Williams–20.
NOT VOTING–Newman, Potts, Saslaw–3.

Pilot, Roanoke Times Blast Car-Tax Gambit

The Virginian Pilot editorial page criticized the House GOP call for complete phase-out of the car tax.

Where’s the Grand Old Party of yore?

Not in the Republican House of Delegates. It’s been possessed by the zealotry of Grover Norquist’s American Tax Foundation.

Five years after GOP lawmakers seized power, promising to govern on conservative principles, the pledge lies bankrupted by an addiction to tax cuts at any cost.

The pattern continued Tuesday as House Speaker Bill Howell and other key Republicans pledged to re-ignite the phase out of the property tax on cars.

Here’s the reckless part:

“We have not worked out the details, but I think perhaps over the next six years” the pledge could be fulfilled, said House Appropriations Chair Vince Callahan.

Callahan knows better.

“We have not worked out the details” may suffice for voters satisfied with “No Car Tax” on a bumper sticker.

But a governing majority has a responsibility to weigh the details of far-reaching policy. And a conservative governing majority, an ideal for which the GOP used to stand, has a particular duty to explain consequences and tradeoffs.

… True conservatives would explain how they intend to fix a transportation program headed toward maintenance-only while also eliminating the car tax. House leaders didn’t.

Before Tuesday, House Republicans had begun sounding as if they cared about something other than tax cuts. They trotted out a modest plan for transportation and proposals on gangs and veteran’s benefits that address several state needs. Now the obsession has returned with a wild tax promise.

The Times calls the GOP ploy another “folly.”

In 1998, in starting to phase in a costly car tax relief program, then-newly elected Gov. Jim Gilmore and the Virginia General Assembly made two remarkably errant assumptions and, by implication anyway, two remarkably cynical misrepresentations.

In 2005, Republican leaders of the House of Delegates seem intent on repeating the folly.

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