Obstructionism Isn’t a Governing Style

ScaliaChair

On Saturday night, I was preparing to go to a basketball game when the news came down. It was reported out of Texas that Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more conservative Justices in the history of the Supreme Court of the United States, had passed away in his sleep at a hunting lodge in Texas. Justice Scalia reportedly was found dead on Saturday morning and the hunting lodge was so remote that news of his passing wasn’t announced until late Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised about this news. I didn’t take any particular glee in the announcement, however, although some did (and, for some of them who were directly affected by Scalia’s stance on several critical Supreme Court decisions such as gay rights and abortion, I can understand that). I decided to wait for a bit before making any sort of pronouncements or addressing any thoughts on the issue – 12 hours seemed about right in my opinion. If only some others would have taken the time to employ the same tactic.

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Virtually as soon as the word came from that ranch in Texas where Justice Scalia had been hunting, the Republican Party began to obstruct the thought of President Barack Obama putting someone in Scalia’s seat. The Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, literally said an hour after Scalia’s passing, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” when other people – including ideological opponents of Scalia’s including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and current Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid – were offering condolences to the family. Another Senator, Utah’s Mike Lee (another Republican), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, didn’t even have the guts to respond, instead sending a lackey, spokesman Conn Carroll, to say that the chances of President Obama putting someone in Justice Scalia’s seat was “less than zero.”

The odious remains of the clown car known as the GOP Presidential nominees (more on this later this week) sounded like a bunch of harp seals in responding about the subject on the Sunday morning talkers. On Twitter, Texas Senator Ted Cruz remarked that “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him and the nation for the Senate to ensure that the next President name his replacement.” There is plenty of evidence that negates Cruz’s statements as Presidents have, since the creation of our nation, nominated Justices up until they left office.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was especially ripped by the Sunday hosts for his incredibly stupid statements that he made on the subject. Apparently someone in the Rubio camp informed Super Mario that, when a sitting President is down to the final year of his Presidency, he just quits being President and lets shit fall where it may. On Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd directly said to Rubio, “Do presidential terms end after three years?” when Rubio said, “In the last year of a president’s term…there should not be Supreme Court nominees put into lifetime positions.”

Even on home turf with Fox News, host Chris Wallace drilled Rubio when he asked if any President should be able to make second term Supreme Court appointments. “I’m not saying it’s illegal,” Rubio said. “I think we should wait until after November before we move forward on confirming any justice to the Supreme Court.” Wallace then administered the smack down to Rubio – the last time that such a situation occurred was under President Ronald Reagan when he nominated – and the Senate confirmed – Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1988. “It doesn’t really matter what Reagan did back in ’87,” Rubio snottily – and incorrectly – said.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the obstructionism of the Republican Party in this particular circumstance.

Unfortunately, since the Republican “neocon” insurrection that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment over a blowjob at the tail end of the 1990s, the politics of obstructionism is all the people of the U. S. have received. Whether it is the Democrats in control of the Congress and a Republican in the White House or vice versa, it seems that no one wants to actually govern this country anymore. The politics of – well, actually being political – have been pushed aside for partisanship, “point scoring” and bullshit “line in the sand” positions rather than actually trying to lead the nation. As a result, not a damn thing is getting done.

We like to think of our nation as a great example of something that should be the target for other people and other nations to be. Instead, we’ve become a fucking joke in that we cannot even meet in a room to hear about a budget plan for the upcoming year, sit through a President’s State of the Union speech without yelling out bullshit or even give that President the common decency of allowing him his Constitutional right to nominate a person to the highest Court in the land.

President Barack Obama: Inauguration Day 2009

If you don’t like the President, that’s your prerogative. You can allow him to nominate his candidate for the Supreme Court without being derogatory towards the man and the office. Then you can demonstrate your obstructionism (and your disrespect to doing your job) to the citizens of the United States, either by not meeting with the candidate or not holding hearings for said candidate. Then it is on YOU to explain to the citizens of the country why someone who was OK as a judge when they were reviewed and approved a few years previously (because trust me, the Obama Administration isn’t going to pick someone that hasn’t already been approved by the Senate previously and probably by close to a unanimous vote) is suddenly not good enough to be a Supreme Court Justice.

This is the point where the obstructionism may fall apart. The GOP is staking their hill on this Supreme Court seat and it could very well lead to their downfall. With a third of the seats in the Senate up for grabs in November – including some in battleground states that the Republicans need to maintain their grasp on to hold the majority in the Senate – it is possible that a divisive issue could swing the vote one way or the other. Such a subject as naming a Supreme Court Justice – or the resulting blocking of said Justice – could motivate a sizeable bloc of voters to come out against a particular party (in this case, the GOP) and end their Senate majority.

The other question is why would the GOP try to stake this hill? If they are successful in delaying the selection of the Supreme Court Justice until after the November elections, they have to win said election to be able to put in someone they prefer; those odds do not look good at this time (odds makers have pretty much every combination of Democrat versus Republican with the Democrat winning). The next Democratic President could nominate Obama, which would be anathema to any Republican, worse than any nominee that Obama could come up with. There is also the chance that, should a Republican win, Obama could put through a Supreme Court replacement once the new Congress is seated and before the new President takes over (tricky, but extremely possible).

Now conservatives are going to cry that “Reid was obstructionist to Republicans when he was in charge,” and they’d be right. But what was he going to put forward from a Republican House…one of the 50-odd passages repealing the Affordable Care Act? Bills that stripped away through the riders on the side other rights that President Obama had fought to earn for women, gays and other groups that Republicans love to oppress? Repeals of Planned Parenthood funding? Tell you what…when both sides start passing bills straight up, without any riders that bastardize the original purpose of a bill, then you can talk about not having them considered by the other body in the legislative branch.

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Both sides need to realize that obstructionism is not a governing style. It is time that people actually look at who they are voting for and put people in the Congress (and get rid of these Tea Party nutbags who pretend to be “small government” but are basically religious zealots masquerading as small government practitioners) that will work together – rather than against each other – and put someone in the White House who will actually come down to Capitol Hill and sit in the office of the leader of the opposing party and find common ground to lead the nation. Furthermore, the Congress itself needs to get off its ass and move – and do its job rather than hiding behind “listening to the American people” as a reason to not do anything. It could start with doing something as simple as putting someone in the seat of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

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Why Does Pope Francis Have Such a Positive Effect on People?

If you’ve been here any length of time, you know by this point that I have, at best, an arm’s length relationship with religion. From the start, I have yet to find a religion that has a basis in fact. When I say fact, it has to have a scientific base to it. I refuse to have my intelligence insulted into thinking that the Earth is 10,000 years old, that man walked with the dinosaurs and has ruled the planet over the last 6000 years. There’s also that dichotomy between a Supreme Being that is supposed to “love you” but, if you don’t follow His laws to the letter, will cast into a fiery pit to roast for all eternity, but that’s a minor point. Let’s just leave it that religion and I have several areas we would need to work on if there was to be any contemplations.

This isn’t meant to imply that I don’t know my share about many of the major religions around the world and even some of the minor ones. Catholicism was one of those that has always interested me because there is so little effort made to change it from the pagan days of Roman mythology. Whereas Christianity brought about the birth of Jesus on December 25 to coincide with the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice (Bible scholars believe that Jesus Christ was either born in the spring or the fall, with fall much more likely – September 25 is a more accurate date to some), Catholicism doesn’t even try to hide their “patron saints,” basing them on the Roman gods and goddesses that populated the polytheistic religion that preceded them. As to the “God of gods,” ancient Romans looked to the deity Jupiter; to watch over the “patron saints,” there was, well…God.

Catholicism, with its roughly 1.13 billion followers (that’s the number the Vatican, the base for the Church of Rome and Catholicism, offers), is the second largest religious base in the world behind only Islam (I am separating Catholicism from Christianity because there are major differences between the two in my opinion; for the sake of argument, if you combine Catholicism and Christianity they are larger than Islam by number of followers). In the United States, 69.4 million citizens recognize themselves as Catholic, making them the largest denomination in the country. The Catholic faith has permeated U. S. society and government, with our current Vice President Joe Biden, the Speaker of the House John Boehner, six of the nine Supreme Court justices (including Chief Justice John Roberts) and a majority of the members of Congress and the state’s Governors worshipping as Catholics.

Therefore, it isn’t that surprising the attention that the papal visit of the current Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, to the United States has captured. Every major news network covered Pope Francis’ arrival in the U. S. on Wednesday (from Cuba, interestingly enough…a country that the U. S. just recently reestablished diplomatic ties with that was aided by this current Pope) with a fervor that is usually reserved for the British monarchy (that one I can’t even figure out). On Thursday, his address to Congress was “must see” television, as was his departure for New York City and more meetings. But what has been especially interesting – and I can honestly say that I am counted in this area – is the effect that Pope Francis’ visit has had on those of us with a skewed view of religion.

To say that Pope Francis isn’t a change from the past…oh, 2000 years?…of papal history would be the understatement of several millennia. Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the first Pope from the Western Hemisphere in the over 2000-year history of the Catholic Church, the first non-European pope since 741 A.D. and the first Jesuit pope in history…that’s quite a few firsts on the docket already. Where Pope Francis has been able to further separate himself, however, is in his words and actions, which are probably the things that make him appealing to non-religious people.

Because of his Jesuit background that has an emphasis on social justice, Pope Francis – perhaps the least gaudily clad Pope in my lifetime, eschewing any gold jewelry or other finery unlike past Popes – has put an emphasis on working with the poor and bringing their standard of living out of the sewer from where it exists in many parts of the world. Sometimes this has caused Pope Francis to rail against “greed” and the pursuit of money over anything else in life. The Pope wasn’t the one who came up with this…it is part of the teachings of the Bible, the book that many claim to follow but when asked to put into practice decide to forget the sections they don’t agree with.

Pope Francis also recently released an encyclical (a papal comment on Catholic doctrine) that discussed global warming. Saying that humans and their lifestyles are causing increased problems with the situation, Pope Francis directed people to take an appreciation of their planet as they are “stewards of the Earth.” Once again, this isn’t anything radical (unlike what some might say), this is something that is in the Bible and a challenge to humanity to not fuck up the only place that they can live.

For myself, the biggest thing that Pope Francis did was today. In Washington, D. C., following his speech to the U. S. Congress, the schedule had Pope Francis having a high powered lunch with the leaders of both parties of the House and Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as other Congressional staffers. Instead of noshing with these “power brokers,” Pope Francis did what a man of God would do:  turned them down and headed to lunch with 200 people at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, including some who were homeless or in need of the services of the organization.

The ability of Pope Francis to not only take the examples put into the Bible – love thy neighbor, reach out to those less fortunate, be a good caretaker of life and your surroundings (I could go on, but you get the idea) – but also to buck the trends of some in his own Church to politicize many of the beliefs of Catholicism (if there was ever a day to bring back the Papal food tester to make sure Pope Francis’ food wasn’t tainted, these days would be it). When some religious conservatives even have issues with what Pope Francis says, then he must be on the right track somewhere.

In my lifetime, this is only the second time that a religious figure has been able to impress me on any level. The first person was Billy Graham, who was able to look past religious beliefs and speak directly to whoever was listening about the word of God. Sure, Graham was a Christian but his sermons could be heard by, respected and learned from by anyone from any denomination or from no denomination at all (his son Franklin, on the other hand, has almost blasphemed the Graham name). Until Pope Francis came along (this Pope seems to have the same ability to get people to listen to what he’s saying), Graham was the only religious person whose viewpoint I actually respected.

This doesn’t give pass to the Catholic Church on some of their other subjects, however. The Vatican Bank is one of the largest in the world, with assets conservatively estimated at $5 billion, along with art treasures that the world has never seen. Property owned by the Catholic Church is worth well into the billions. The Vatican Library has documents that potentially could change history that few have ever seen. There is the denial of several atrocities that have occurred over the course of history, including the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the war against science in the Middle Ages (and the continued struggle between science and religion as a whole today), allowing the Nazi persecution of the Jews during World War II, the past and continued cover-up of child molestation by priests and several other issues. These are areas that have been woefully addressed by the Catholic Church and its leadership in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Even with Pope Francis at the helm, there are still issues that the Catholic Church is behind the times on (let’s not even get started there). But Pope Francis has shown that there is potentially a light that is leading the Catholic Church into the future instead of the darkness of dogma.

Will this light continue to shine? Pope Francis has already said he doesn’t envision his tenure with the papacy being a long one, but the hope does exist that the next man chosen to be the “right hand of God” will at least listen to what Francis has said and perhaps put his own futuristic mark on the direction of the Catholic Church. If the Church does decide to try to reverse what Pope Francis has started, then they might just push more people – of their own faith, other faiths and even those with no faith – away from the basis of believing.