I support personal liberty and choice…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

Well, it looks like the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hand down a ruling this summer that will overturn 50+ years of “settled law” and precedent. On January 22, 1973, the court’s ruling in Row v. Wade found that the Constitution protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion and that right could not be broadly restricted by the government. Associate Justice Blackmun hung his argument on the idea that such restrictions violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Blackmun’s opinion in Roe was further exercised in a number of subsequent cases to enlarge a Constitutional protection of personal privacy rights. And before anyone says it, no, a specific right to privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the text of the Constitution. The right to privacy, however, is strongly implied by a plain text reading of the 4th, 5th, and the 14th Amendments. The whole intent of the Constitution was and is to restrain the actions and behavior of government. One might say there’s a compelling national interest in keeping the various levels of government as far out of people’s business as possible.

The people are, after all, the font of sovereignty in this country. And on this particular issue those people believe that Roe should be upheld by a 2-to-1 margin. 

My position on abortion is consistent with my position on most other things. Don’t want a gun? Don’t buy one. Don’t want a gay marriage? Don’t get married to someone of the same sex. Don’t want an abortion? Don’t have one. See what I’m getting at here? Personal liberty = good. Jamming your religio-political beliefs down everyone else’s throat = bad.

Yeah, if the thing you care so desperately about doesn’t actually impact you in any way, just mind your own goddamned business. I have no idea why that’s idea is so hard to glom onto for 25-30% of the people in this utterly beshitted country of ours.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pope Francis. In a report this week, the Pope has said NATO is responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’m sure His Holiness is a wise and intelligent churchman, but I have to encourage him to get the fuck directly out of here with that line of thinking. The person directly responsible for the invasion of and subsequent destruction in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin. Period. Full stop. John Paul II took a courageous stand against Soviet repression across Eastern Europe. It seems his successor would rather stand with tyrants… and that heaps nothing but shame on him. 

2. Page views. My page views fell off a damn cliff this week and I have absolutely no idea why. As of this evening, views are down 68% from this time last week. Mercifully I’m not trying to sell anything here, because that’s just abysmal. Is it something I said? Was there a tweak to the algorithm? I’ve got loads of metrics about this page, but not one of them is giving me any particularly helpful insight. I’ll keep plugging away, of course, because more than anything else, this blog exists as a platform to vent my spleen before I get a chance to bottle it up. Past that, the added views are just kind of nice to have. I’d still be doing it even if no on were reading. Which at the rate these views are dropping could be sometime early next week.

3. Politicians. I’ve been looking, among other things, at the varied responses to the draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion, the continued agitation for free money handouts to those who took out student loans, the thus-far lackluster efforts of the January 6th committee, and clear disconnect between what Republican “leaders” said about Trump in private versus what they say for public consumption. The conclusion at which I’ve arrived is that it doesn’t appear that there is one single national-level politician anywhere in the country that I have any interest in voting for… for anything. Except maybe for expulsion to a desolate island in the South Pacific. They’re collectively just about the most uninspiring bunch I can imagine. I’d be hard pressed to think of anything they’ve done that makes me more likely to vote for a single one of them than I am to just throw my damned vote in the sea. They are, to a man and woman, about as useless a bunch as we’ve ever had the misfortune to seat at the highest levels of government.

Pure partisan fuckery…

I was born and raised in the mountains of Western Maryland. There are certain inevitable assumptions made when someone describes himself like that, I suppose.  I might have spent my childhood ripping and running on Squirrel Neck Road, but that doesn’t mean I feel any need to present myself to the world as some kind of backwoods yokel Gomer. I didn’t then and I don’t now. 

Based on a lot of social and demographic factors, I should probably be expected to weigh in heavily against the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s an almost mortal lock that I won’t agree with how she interprets the law or the opinions she would write as a Justice. 

The thing is, none of that really matters. The simple fact is Judge Jackson is incredibly well qualified for the job. Whether her judicial philosophy conforms to the pleasure of Joe Biden, or Jeff Tharp, or Josh Hawley isn’t particularly relevant outside the spectacle of a confirmation fight in the halls of the U.S. Senate.

Barring the discovery of some truly monumental skeleton lurking in her closet, the Senate should confirm her nomination and put her on the Court. To claim otherwise is the kind of pure partisan fuckery of which we’ve already seen far too much.

Three word mantras…

If I’m honest, finding something relevant to drop here every day is getting to feel a bit like swimming against the tide. Sure, I’ve got opinions about damned near everything, but I’m not a foreign policy expert. I’m not an Eastern Europe expert. I’m not an economist. Even though I studied political science, most days I even struggle to get my arms around what American domestic politics has turned into in this stupid century of ours. The way I learned to understand the world is often enough no longer the case or impolite to say out loud.

The best I can manage is trying to take in information from people who are experts in a wide array of fields and try to filter those through my own philosophical and, yes, ethical, lens. I like to think I hit more right notes than not, but the only real way of telling will be looking back here in 20 or 30 years and seeing how it all turned out.

All I feel particularly competent to guarantee at this point is that I intend to keep grappling with events in a legitimate effort to understand the world around me. Here, if nowhere else, it will never devolve into grand over-simplifications like “Orange man bad,” or “Let’s go Brandon.” The world is entirely too complex to be distilled down into three word mantras. I’ll call the balls and strikes as I see them based on as much intelligent commentary and information as I can get my hands on at the time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Electricity. There are a lot of things I’m willing to jump into action and take care of around the house. Most things involving electricity don’t make the cut. I can replace an outlet or, if pressed, replace a ceiling fan, but beyond that in the universe of things that involve faults, the unusual, or things behaving badly, I’m a man who knows my limitations. That’s why I had a pair of electricians here at 7:30 this morning to diagnose a room full of oddly behaving outlets. Turns out, all those outlets were on a switch… located 30 feet away in a different room. Why it was designed like that is anyone’s guess. All is operating normally now, but gods, I could have fiddle around for weeks and never a connection between office outlets and living room switches.

2. The Republican Party. Does this even need going into? Paul Gosar, Maggie Green, Don Trump, Matt Gaetz, Lou Gohmert, and Jim Jordan are the contemporary standard barers for the party I’ve identified with since long before I was registered to vote. If that doesn’t scream that American conservatives have lost our way, and possibly our minds, I have no idea what would.

3. Court TV. If there’s anything worse than sitting in a courthouse watching a trial because you’re required to participate in it in some way, it would have to be voluntarily watching a trial on television. I don’t care what the latest “trial of the century” is, I just can’t see spending time hanging on every word. Like sausage, I don’t have any interest or need to know how it gets made. The only thing of even passing interest is how it turns out in the end. The breathless coverage across every media outlet in the country must be of interest to someone, but for my money it’s a waste of otherwise good airtime and electrons.  

Elections still have consequences…

There are a million talking heads and bloggers saying this, but it bears repeating: the results of the 2021 off year election would scare the hell out of me if I were a democrat expecting to be on the ballot in the 2022 midterm election.

Republicans won state wide office in what the experts a year ago would have called “reliably blue Virginia.” New Jersey, not exactly known as a hotbed of conservative politics, has a governor’s race decided by a razor thin margin. The “Defund the Police” referendum in Minneapolis went down to defeat.

Keystone pieces of President Biden’s agenda, even after being dramatically descoped, remain stalled in the Democratic controlled Congress. His approval rating is sinking towards 40%. If Democrats want to hold on to power in 364 days, they’re going to need better arguments than Trump Bad and a solidly left-wing agenda.

What the election yesterday tells me is that even though voters soundly rejected a second Trump term, they didn’t go off to embrace wild “progressive” policy positions. The American Moderate, labeled almost extinct by pundits, is apparently alive and well and making their presence felt at the polls.

There’s obviously still plenty of room for Democratic candidates to win, but that path gets harder if they collectively insist on just keeping on with what they’ve been doing for the last twelve months.

Not my election day…

It’s election day in America. Well, not technically my election day, but there are people out there voting. In the run up to every election day, I try to convince myself that I’m just going to turn it off. I can check in tomorrow and catch up in five minutes with whatever needs to be known. It would surely do my blood pressure a favor not to follow the minute-by-minute horserace. 

Every time, though, I find myself inevitable drifting to the wall-to-wall coverage offered by the talking heads on three cable “news” channels and a bevy of websites and twitter feeds run by even bigger political junkies than the networks employ.

I’ve kind of made my own peace with the idea that a youth spent overly interested in politics and four years studying it as an undergrad have probably left me deeply incapable of ever really turning it off. Even so, the political theory I learned those decades ago now almost feels antique. The old rules and norms no longer seem to apply. The institutional formulas from the 20th century no longer seem to work. 

The world is a strange and different place than it was when I learned the art and science of politics from the sages who were mostly old enough to have fully formed memories of administrations headed by Eisenhower and Kennedy. In spite of myself, though, I can’t help but want to get my arms around it. This pathological desire to at least try understanding the what, why, and how probably indicates some deep personal failing on my part… but here we are.  

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. We’re back to masks full time in the office. Yes, it’s annoying, but not debilitatingly so. The hardest part, as ever, is to remember to take the damned thing off before I try to drink my coffee. Anything that gets in the way of my hot bean water pretty rapidly climbs the list. Still, in the back of my mind I can’t help but think we’re stuck in these masks to “protect other people.” People who have had every chance in the world over the last six months to protect themselves but who have opted not to. At some point, I have to believe we’ve got to collectively just accept that people have made their own dumbass decisions and they’re going to have to accept whatever natural consequences follow.

2. Marjorie Taylor Greene. I’m utterly and completely embarrassed to be a member of the same political party that sees Marjorie Taylor Greene as a rising star. She’s the poster girl for everything that’s wrong with contemporary conservatism while lacking the dignity and seriousness of purpose embodied in her Republican forbearers. Twitter shouldn’t need to mute her. We Republicans should already be shouting her down.

3. Hella Mega. I’ve had tickets for the Hella Mega tour stop in Hershey since the day they went on sale two years ago. It was the perfect chance to see two bands I’d have given my eye teeth to see twenty years ago. Sitting here a day before the show, looking at a projected heat index of 105 with bonus evening rain and thunderstorms it feels decidedly less enticing. It’s safe to say that my days of wanting to do concerts in anything other than relative comfort seem to be well past. Throw in a healthy dose of my standard aggravation at being surrounded by people and top it with a healthy dollop of the Great Plague and my go/no go decision is a lot less clear than it was two years ago. All indications point towards making a snap call sometime tomorrow. 

With a song in my heart…

I remain, for now, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. How much longer that remains true depends largely on how Republicans respond in this moment. The decision now is simple, does the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan continue to follow a disgraced carnival barker ex-president down the path towards its eventual destruction and historical irrelevancy, or does what’s left of the sane center manage to haul in the reigns and rebuild a Republican brand that’s focused on rolling back creeping socialism, confronting growing international threats, and presenting a clear-eyed conservative vision for the future of America.

The Republican Party can’t and shouldn’t survive a transition to standing only for “Trump good, everyone else bad.” A modern political party should have a vision of America’s future beyond perpetually rehashing the 2020 election while excluding such inconveniences as science, evidence, and basic common sense. 

With razor thin margins in both the House and Senate, Republicans stand a fighting chance of retaking one or both houses of Congress in 2022. History says it’s fairly likely. If those seats are filled by slavering conspiracy theorists, the long-term fate of the party could likely be set. Retaining Representative Liz Cheney as chair of the Republican Conference presented Republicans with an opportunity to save ourselves from the ascendency of the small, but vocal batshit crazy wing of the party. It could well be the last viable exit ramp and we’ve now put it squarely in the rear view mirror.

I don’t expect many of our elected representatives to have the personal courage to take that kind of stand. Going along with the lie is far easier than speaking out, standing up, and making yourself a target of lunatic outrage. To quote Liz Cheney, though, “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” 

I’ve served the republic nearly all of my adult life. If the price I pay for continuing to support it now in opposition to a loud and determined cult of personality is dirty looks, angry comments, and “unfriendings,” it’s an easy cost to bear – and even if we reach a point, perhaps during the 2022 election cycle, where I can no longer in good conscience do so under the banner of the Republican Party, I’ll pay it with a song in my heart.

Everything old is new again…

I didn’t vote for Joe Biden (Don’t worry, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump either). Say what you want about the president, but I’m finding him a refreshing throwback to the era when I had a vague understanding about how politics worked in this country. For the last 60-ish days is been chasing the same basic policies that mainline Democrats went after from 1980-2000. I don’t support the lion’s share of those policy ambitions, but they’re predictable and after four years of the Trump administration, I’ve come to appreciate that kind of predictability in a politician.

The throwback goes even further than domestic policy, though. We’re back to antagonizing China and the USS… errrr…. Russia. I mean the Russians are so annoyed they recalled their ambassador. For a cold war kid, it’s the kind of international fidgeting that feels almost like home.

Over the last four years we managed to forget one of the few truisms of our political culture – that although we treat it as a life and death endeavor, a single presidential term is long enough only to tinker around the margins and the results will be nowhere near as good as we hoped or as bad as we feared. Sure, at some point the administration is going to start poking at something I’m personally interested in and I’m going to have to get my dander up. Just now, though, I’m happy to spend a few months being only tangentially interested in politics and appreciating the renewed interest in poking about in international affairs.