Wednesday, November 27, 2013

One Jew's Take on the "War on Christmas"

There's a "War on Christmas" being waged. At least that's what Republicans would like us to believe. There's even a new book about it, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas, written by that great arbiter of social injustice, Sarah Palin.

Palin writes: “Amidst the fragility of this politically correct era it is imperative that we stand up for our beliefs before the element of faith in a glorious and traditional holiday like Christmas is marginalized and ignored.”

She continues: "The war on Christmas is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture, and make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past. The logical result of atheism, a result we have seen right in front of our eyes in one of the world’s oldest and proudest nations, is severe moral decay.”

Of course, Palin is widely known for her intellectual curiosity, her objectivity, her distaste for inflammatory rhetoric and her adherence to facts. So we must ask, is The Wasilla Wonder onto something here?

On this eve of 'Thanksgivukkah,' a rare Hallmark phenomenon that won't occur again for another 70,000 years, I thought I'd give my personal perspective of what it's like being a Jew, surrounded by millions of allegedly battle-scarred Christians, during the mythical war-torn month of December.

If there's a war on Christmas it's certainly news to me. I live in New York, a city with more Jews per square inch than anywhere in the world except Israel. Yet this time of year it might as well be Vatican City given the sheer volume of Christmas zeal and excess. There are Christmas tree stands everywhere. Wreaths. Tinsel. Bells. Christmas music. We're inundated with red and green. With people beaming "Merry Christmas!" Asking "what are you doing for Christmas?" And, "what did you get your kids for Christmas?"

It's rare to find blue and white, the colors of Hannukah. Strain the eyes and you might find a small menorah somewhere. No one wanders the streets, the office, retail shops wishing strangers a "Happy Hannukah!" Strangers don't ask me what I'm doing for Hannukah, or what I'm getting the kids for Hannukah. What's even worse than the relative obscurity of Hannukah is the almost non-existence of Kwanzaa-related paraphernalia. It's all Christmas, all the time. If there's a "war on Christmas" taking place, it's the most lame war in the history of wars.

I dread this time of year. I dread it because I'm a Jew floating in a sea of religious insensitivity. I live in a country where many fight for school prayer, provided it's their religion's scripture. Where people fight to allow religious symbols in public spaces, provided the symbols belong to their chosen faith.  Where people ask "what's wrong with retailers posting 'Merry Christmas' signs in their windows?" But can they imagine how Jews feel then? If Christians are uncomfortable with the generic "Happy Holidays," guess how Jews feel seeing the very non-secular "Merry Christmas" everywhere we turn. And this is New York I'm referring to. Imagine how Jews feel this time of year in remote places like Laurel, Mississippi. Or Bute, Montana. Or Amarillo, Texas. 
To be perfectly honest, I love Christmas. Always have. Ever since I was a 10-year-old racing to my pal Phil's building to open his presents with him and his family. I do not hate or resent this beautiful holiday. What I resent is being told that, unless I want it incessantly crammed down my Jewish throat for 30+ days each year, that I'm waging a war against it. That because I want Christians to respect me and my beliefs it is somehow disrespectful, confrontational and offensive to pious folks like Palin.
To be sure, there are millions of Jews who secretly wish they could celebrate Christmas, and perhaps millions more who've actually crossed the line of assimilation to buy trees, "do their Christmas shopping" for their Jewish friends and family, and pretend for a few days that they're no different than the 99% of the rest of the world. They want to "belong."

And the truth is, Christmas is a much sexier holiday than Hanukkah. Gentiles have Santa Claus, Rudolph, trimmed trees and apple pie. We have a menorah, a dreidel and latkes. They have "White Christmas," "Miracle on 34th Street" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas." We have "Shalom Sesame: Chanukah Special," "Chanukah on Planet Matzah Ball" and Adam Sandler's "Eight Crazy Nights." They have the most celebrated holiday in the world, where an estimated $3-trillion is spent on gifts, and we have, well, our little Hanukkah.

So to my Christian friends, and especially to the war-weary Mama Grizzly up in Alaska, I assure you that no one wants to take away Christmas. And no one certainly is waging a war against it. Those of us who happen to be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist simply want you to enjoy your holiday merriment while accepting and respecting our chosen faith (or lack thereof) and realize that celebration this time of year comes in many colors....or perhaps no color at all.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Chris Christie Will Never Be President

The notion that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a virtual shoe-in for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 is largely based on the belief that the GOP, heretofore hijacked by the radical Tea Party fringe, has swung so dangerously to the right, resulting in humiliating defeat in election after election, that the party and its voters have finally learned their lessons. That they’re ready for the Big Guy now after years of chasing the intoxicating Guns, Gays and God loons.

The problem with that contention is that, with Republicans, ideology typically trumps logic, rational thinking and pragmatism. They start off intending to discuss the issues that concern most Americans—the economy, jobs, education—but almost immediately get sucked into a hyper-emotional vortex of abortion, gay-marriage, gun control and religion. They simply can’t help themselves.

But yes, in the very blue state of New Jersey Christie won a resounding re-election victory. He scooped into his big tent not just conservatives but independents, women, Hispanics, blacks and more than a few Democrats I suspect. So impressive was his win, for example, that he captured 12% more women than his female Democratic opponent.

But before we start imagining the Christies measuring the White House curtains, let’s get real here. New Jersey is not Iowa or New Hampshire. It’s not the Bible Belt, the Rust Belt or the Great Plains. Like Vegas, what happens in Jersey is more than likely to stay in Jersey. Christie is a larger-than-life Northeastern politician of Irish, Scottish and Sicilian decent. And while he’s working on losing weight, he’s still obese, and Americans really don’t vote for grossly overweight presidents. Nor do they want angry presidents. Christie has a reputation not just for being a “straight-shooter,” but for his often brash, insulting, combative behavior with reporters and anyone else who tends to question or disagree with him. There's simply too much footage available of him calling people "stupid" or an "idiot" and acting like a petulant 14-year old.

And while Christie indeed went through a private vetting process as a top vice-presidential pick for Mitt Romney in 2012, he’s yet to face the sort of microscopic public scrutiny he’d surely face if he declares his candidacy for the presidency. His mythical budgetary successes, as well as his overall record as governor, would face incessant dissection and analysis in the 24/7 news cycle. Additionally, who knows what kind of skeletons lay dormant in his closet. There have been suspicions of marital infidelity, cronyism and abuse of power. The sort of allegations that usually derail once-promising campaigns.

To be sure, Christie’s the GOP’s golden boy right now. The “Elephant in the Room,” as Time Magazine’s recent headline blared. He’s the omnipresent non-candidate, appearing on the talk shows, talking to CEO groups, taking the reins of the Republican Governors Association and acting as coy as a coyote when asked his future White House plans. But with renewed talk of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush considering a run, the Christie euphoria could end quickly. Many Republican insiders believe that the nano-second Bush declares, Christie’s history.   

Couple that with the fact that Christie's likely to face another crop of radical primary hopefuls like Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and this so-called "moderate" may either get trounced by their Tea Party rhetoric or begin sounding like them, as Romney did, making his chances in the general election even more remote. 

“I’m going be me and if I ever decide to run for anything again and being me isn’t good enough then fine I’ll go home,” Christie told the Wall Street Journal last week.

And that’s just the problem for the Garden State’s Big Guy: being him likely won’t play North, South and West of the Jersey Turnpike. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Cheneys Eat Their Own

A public feud between sisters Liz and Mary Cheney which began last Summer took a new confrontational turn over the weekend as Liz appeared on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace and restated her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Liz, who's moved from Virginia to Wyoming to run for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Michael B. Enzi, 69, in a campaign marred by controversy, divisiveness and accusations of carpet-bagging, while costing the Cheneys old-time friendships like that of former Sen. Alan Simpson, has not spoken with her sister, an avowed lesbian, in several months.

After viewing the Fox interview, both Mary and wife Heather Poe responded through social media to Liz's statement that same-sex marriage is "just an area where we disagree."

On Facebook Mary wrote: "Liz, this isn't just an issue on which we're just wrong...and on the wrong side of history."

And then Poe posted: "I can't help but wonder how Liz would feel if as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protecting one but not the other. Yes Liz, in 15 states and the District of Columbia you on my sister-in-law."

Liz responded in an email to reporters: "I love my sister and her family and always try to be compassionate towards that. I believe that is the Christian way to behave."

That is of course if by "Christian way" she's referring to denying someone the freedom of choice and the right to love and marry whomever they wish.

Liz is reportedly angry that Mary's publicly aired their dirty laundry, charging her with hypocrisy because she had supported the re-election campaign of George W. Bush, who opposed gay marriage and supported a constitutional amendment banning it.    

Bu Mary Cheney is smart. She's taking a heated, emotional family rift which her sister wishes would remain private and thrusting it squarely into the nation's consciousness. She's casting a critical light on the narrow-mindedness, ignorance and intolerance that fuels that fight against same-sex marriage, forcing Liz to slam her homophobic stake into the ground, telling her 'You've made your bed now sleep in it.' And at the risk of derailing Liz's already-contentious Senate campaign, she's forcing her sister to woman-up to her public Tea Party pandering while suggesting her private views are much more liberal.

One can't help feel some measure of satisfaction in watching the Cheneys eat their own. To paraphrase Mary, this is a staunchly conservative family that many believe has been on the "wrong side of history" more than once. It is a family whose positions, for the most part, at their core deny Americans the kind of personal freedoms that Mary now fights for.

But Mary is in some way complicit in this war against gay rights and must take some responsibility for the homophobia that persists among conservatives. Mary's past support of people like Bush, who seek to legislate against her personal and sexual freedom, is indeed hypocritical. She did not have to help the anti-gay crowd gain even more power and influence. Other political scions like Ron Reagan Jr. have broken ranks with their conservative families rather than engage in such moral dishonesty. 

To be sure, the Cheneys are now experiencing what millions of average American families continue to experience in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Maybe "The Real Cheney's of Wyoming" reality show is a lesson to be learned not just for them, but for the millions of Republicans who wish to keep America stuck in the 1950's. What goes around comes around...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Obama's ACA Problem in a Nutshell

Imagine you're sitting at New York’s JFK airport waiting for a flight. An announcement comes over the PA system that the local air-traffic control system is down and will be shut for days. Your flight has been canceled, as have thousands of flights in and out of New York. This system failure causes tremendous anger, frustration and inconvenience. As such, there’s an immediate campaign by special interest groups (Amtrak, for example) to indefinitely delay U.S. air travel or even stop flying altogether. They claim that flying is no longer safe. That it’s destroying America’s transportation system, and perhaps even America itself. Well, this irrational scenario is exactly what’s playing out with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

A colossal glitch in the website has undermined the the October 1 roll-out, causing major embarrassment for the president over his signature health care law. Couple that with a provision in the law itself that's likely to result in millions of individually insured Americans (approximately 5% of total insureds) receiving cancellation notices from their providers--despite Obama's repeated, unequivocal promise that "if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance, period, no matter what,"--along with microscopic enrollment to-date, and you have the humiliating debacle of the past six weeks.

To be sure, the launch of ACA has been an utter public relations nightmare for Obama, who valiantly fought for years for its passage through Congress, its Supreme Court ratification, and its re-affirmation in the 2012 election. But make no mistake, there's no one to blame for ACA's current problems but Obama. From the start he failed miserably to successfully sell it to the American public, which is why a majority say they disapprove of it despite the overwhelming benefits they'll receive. He's allowed Republicans to frame the debate, portraying the law in the most negative light imaginable with incendiary partisan rhetoric. While Americans, the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the problems, it took weeks for Obama to issue an apology, but it was too little too late. The genie was already out of the bottle and it's hard to imagine how he can get it back in given that a majority of Americans now question his honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama's disapproval rating at 54%, matching the highs of former President George Bush.

And now six weeks after the roll-out several leading Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Bill Clinton, are calling for a fix. Clinton this week urged Obama to "honor his commitment" by amending ACA to allow people to keep their health plans. The chorus of disenchantment is growing bigger and louder with each passing day. 

But before we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water we must keep perspective and not let these relatively minor, fixable flaws overshadow the overall value of ACA, a law that's designed to benefit and protect 95% of Americans. In no way should we mitigate or lessen the short-term challenges and hardships faced by millions of Americans who have received insurance cancellations. But understanding ACA in its greater context is critical in the long-term. Like Social Security, Medicare and Bush's prescription drug plan, ACA will surely experience some birthing problems and growing pains, but over time Republicans will be proven dead wrong about its ability to provide expanded, improved and affordable health care for tens of millions of people currently without coverage, as well as enhance the coverage of those presently insured. It's just a shame that Obama has allowed and enabled right-wing obstructionists, whose only goal is to kill their hated "Obamacare" and replace it with nothing, to create the narrative of total failure.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The 'Obamacare Referendumb'

The Affordable Care Act: it's been legislated into law by both houses of Congress, adjudicated by the Supreme Court, reaffirmed in the 2012 presidential election, and once again in Tuesday's election results. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who's taken federal Medicaid expansion money, won big. Terry McAuliffe, an ACA supporter, won in mostly red Virginia over Tea Party extremist Ken Cuccinelli. Down in Alabama, mainstream conservative Bradley Byrne defeated the Tea Party's Dean Young.

So what do these results say to the "repeal" crowd of right-wing loons who claimed, as Cuccinelli had boldly declared, that Tuesday's contests would be a referendum on the health care law they derisively refer to as Obamacare? The message is clear: they are without question not only out of step with a majority of Americans but, to more critical consequence, losing the battle within the Republican Party itself. Conservatives are committing political suicide, and these narrow-minded, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-science, anti-education, anti-health care, anti-women, race-baiting, religious zealots are the Kevorkians, injecting a lethal dose of insanity into the establishment.

To be sure, the Republican brand has taken a beating these past few years, and risks dying altogether if the party's leaders cannot wrest back the reins from the irrational, out-of-control extremists within its ranks who've hijacked the GOP bus and recklessly driven it off a cliff. If not, Irrelevance and Obsolescence will become the party's new bumper-sticker.

As for the Obama-hugging Christie, who continues to thumb his nose at the crazies in his purview, I can hardly wait to see him at the 2016 debates squaring off against what is sure to be a crop of deranged opponents.