Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Setting Some Ground Rules

There are some things that have gone on of late in the world of politics and media that really irks the hell out of me. They're not necessarily things that require their own post, but I figured I'd lump each item into one column and establish what I'd like to see as some ground rules going forward.

So without further ado ...

If You Quit Political Office Without a Damn Good Reason, You Forfeit Your Relevance: I find myself constantly perplexed and annoyed with the mainstream media's continuing fascination with Sarah Palin. Everything she says or does, no matter how asinine or irrelevant, gets seemingly endless play -- and I just don't get it.

As much as I vehemently disagree with Palin's political views -- and as much as I detest her tendency to make every single thing that happens about her -- both of those are her right as an American citizen, and they make her no different than other prominent conservative figures in today's media and political landscape. But the other figures have one thing going for them Palin doesn't:

They didn't quit on their people.

Need I remind everyone that Palin was once the governor of Alaska, before she decided to bail on her constituents with two years left in her term? And for what? A gig on Fox News? Traveling the country to make speeches for outrageous appearance fees? An eight-episode reality show on The Learning Channel?

Palin didn't quit for personal reasons; she quit to make herself money. She can run for president if she wants in 2012, but her chances of actually winning office are the same as mine. No one, liberal, moderate or conservative, is going to put someone who walked away from her state in the White House.

I can deal with the fact that Palin's politics differ so radically from mine; I cannot, however, accept the fact that she's a quitter. She forfeited her relevance when she walked out on Alaskans, and it's about time everyone ignored her.

You Cannot Call Yourself the Pro-Life Party if You Introduce Legislation That Would Kill People: Elected Republicans today like to call themselves pro-life, champions of unborn fetuses everywhere. In one breath, these elected officials scream about the virtues of small government and keeping government out of people's lives. But the second a woman gets pregnant, they want that small government to become quite large.

As if that weren't hypocritical enough, Republicans in Congress -- having failed to redefine "rape" -- have introduced a bill that would allow expectant mothers to die rather than perform a potentially life-saving abortion. The bill, ironically called the "Protect Life Act," would allow hospitals that receive federal funding and oppose abortions to deny a woman the procedure -- even if that procedure would save her life.

The GOP will claim the bill is only designed to ensure that federal funds won't go toward abortions -- which is already the case. But it goes much further than that; am I the only one who sees the intellectual dishonesty in calling yourself "pro-life" and then proposing legislation that would effectively give hospitals permission to let women die?

Yeah, pro-life ... until you're born, then I guess you're on your own.

If You Call Yourself a Champion of Small Government, You Have to Vote as Such: I disagree vehemently with almost everything the Tea Party stands for, and in a lot of ways, I cringe at the thought of them in Congress. But several Congressmen who associate with the Tea Party helped defeat an extension of three Patriot Act provisions on Tuesday, joining the Democrats in opposition.

The bill, which needed a two-thirds majority under special rules to pass, fell 277-148. Democrats have long argued against the Patriot Act by calling it an unconstitutional assault on civil liberties, so for them to vote against extension was little surprise. But For 26 Republicans -- including several Tea Party identifiers -- to join in the opposition is worth note.

The Tea Party identifies itself as a group of small-government conservatives. How small that government's supposed to be really depends on which Tea Party group you're discussing, but the umbrella notion is that of small government.

The Patriot Act, in a lot of ways, is the antithesis of small government.

The Tea Party Republicans who voted against this extension deserve credit, not just because I agree with their vote, but because they stuck to their small-government principles and let their votes match their rhetoric. The issue's not dead -- the Senate has until the end of the month to take up the issue -- but on Tuesday, at least, act reflected word.

We need more of that in Washington.

If You Championed an Idea, You Can't Call it Unconstitutional When the Other Side Endorses It: Remember when President Clinton tried to pass health care reform back in 1994? One of the ideas that Republicans floated out there, and managed to get included in the bill, was an individual health insurance mandate -- requiring every American to buy health insurance.

Fast-forward to 2009; President Obama and the Democrats were again trying to pass health care reform, and one of the centerpieces of that package was ... an individual mandate. The argument went that by requiring everyone to buy insurance, people wouldn't wait until they got sick to buy coverage and insurance companies would reduce premiums.

It's an argument that makes sense, even if you don't agree with it.

But out come the Republicans -- Congressmen, state Attorneys General and judges alike -- calling the individual mandate (and health care reform at large) unconstitutional. States sued to exempt themselves from the law, arguing the Constitution did not allow the federal government to require citizens to purchase a product.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who championed the individual mandate in 1994, also called the idea unconstitutional. Did he really have a change of heart in the last 15 years? Somehow, I doubt it; to me, this is more a case of the GOP trying to placate its base once President Obama accepted the individual mandate and began arguing in its favor.

You can argue whether or not the individual mandate is a good idea -- I don't think it is -- but if you're on record, as a person or a political party, in favor of the measure, then you forfeit the right to call it unconstitutional later -- especially when you're the party who's always waving the Constitution in everyone's face.

Which brings me to the last one ...

You Cannot Claim to Worship the Constitution, then Pick and Choose the Parts You Like: Today's Republican Party -- both establishment GOP and Tea Party members -- love to flaunt the Constitution, using it as the basis for nearly every position. They cite the Constitution in fighting gun control, opposing health care reform ... even going so far as to invoke states' rights.

Which is fine; the GOP is well within its rights to paint itself as the party that protects the Constitution. But if you do, you have to protect the entire document, not just the parts you like. You cannot scream about how Democrats are assaulting the Constitution, then turn around and talk of getting rid of the 14th Amendment.

Or the 17th Amendment -- you know, the one that lets the people directly elect their Senators.

The Constitution is not something you can pick and choose from ... you either defend the entire document you claim to champion, or you don't. It's intellectually dishonest -- at best -- to wrap your arms around the document and profess your undying love for it ... only to turn around and ask for part of it to be removed.

That would be like talking about how perfect your girlfriend is ... only to tell her you want the birthmark on her cheek removed. Or asking her to get breast implants. If she's so perfect, why ask her to change?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Olbermann Gets Current

Recently ousted MSNBC host Keith Olbermann announced on Tuesday that he will joining Current TV in the late spring. Olbermann will host and executive-produce a one-hour, five-night-a-week primetime show on the network.

He will also become Current's "chief news officer."

The move is quite a get for Current TV, a station co-founded and chaired by former Vice President Al Gore. Sadly, there's the issue of Current's reach; as of this writing, my cable provider (Cox) does not offer the station.

To find out if you have Current TV, visit the network's website.

The move comes on the heels of Monday's announced deal in which AOL purchased The Huffington Post for $315 million and named founder Arianna Huffington president and editor-in-chief of the newly-created Huffington Post Media Group -- in which she will take control of all of AOL's editorial content.

I'm not sure how I feel about the AOL-HuffPost merger, since the consolidation of the mainstream media today is actually a pretty big problem (right, Comcast-NBC Universal?), but I'm willing to give Huffington and her website the benefit of the doubt.

But Olbermann's move to Current TV could be huge -- not so much for Olbermann (who is still being paid the balance of his four-year, $30 million contract with MSNBC), but for Current. Olbermann has become one of the most reliable and trustworthy voices on the left -- not that being on the left got Olbermann this gig -- and it's nice to see that he'll be back.

Particulars will likely be worked out over the next month or so -- namely, whether or not Olbermann's new show will be available online, much like Countdown was. Given Current's limited reach as far as cable and satellite providers are concerned, that would probably be a great way to expand Olbermann's audience.

Particularly us Countdown fans who don't get Current TV. But who knows? Maybe the inclusion of Olbermann will give Current the interest level necessary to get other providers to pick up the network.

Olbermann will be the same as he always has been -- bombastic, witty, sarcastic, hard-hitting -- and he might just have the clout to bring Current to another level ... and make the 24-hour cable stations even more irrelevant than they've already become.

One can only hope.