The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLII)

On the morning of Wednesday, January 4th, Andy Schmookler and I had our 42nd political radio hour on 550 AM WSVA.  Although I never time it, the show seemed a bit shorter than usual, perhaps starting later and/or with more commercial breaks.

The main topics of the day included: the end of the Obama presidency, his legacy, and the start of the Trump presidency.  We also briefly considered whether and to what extent the Russians may have played in the recent elections.  We planned to discuss Representative Bob Goodlatte’s attempt to dismantle of the independent House ethics committee and the resulting blowback from the public and President-elect Trump but unfortunately didn’t have sufficient time.

As usual, if you missed today’s show, you can find it here.

 

The Dangerous Republican Game

For many of us who support the idea of a constitutionally limited government, the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a great loss.  Now, that’s not to say he was perfect by any stretch, after all, none of us are and I disagreed with a few of his rulings, but generally his opinions were quite good.  Now that he is no longer with us, the president has the duty to appoint a replacement.

1923690_886161108167069_6937576282551871910_nHowever, some congressional Republicans have announced that they will not consider any appointment by President Barack Obama.  For example, here is a quote shared by one staffer for my representative, Bob Goodlatte (VA-6).  “The voice of the American people should be heard over the opinion of a progressive, lame-duck President.  I continue to oppose the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice under President Obama.”

Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that I’ve disagreed with a lot of the opinions of President Obama’s previous two picks, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  In all cases the Supreme Court ought to determine the constitutionality of a law based upon what the Constitution actually says rather than what the Supreme Court would prefer the Constitution to say.  The Supreme Court is not and should not be in the business of making new laws for the nation.  That was never the intent of the body and no justice should be allowed to do so, regardless of ideology.

Yes, chances are good that President Obama will nominate another candidate who will legislate from the bench and thus ought not be confirmed by the Senate.  Nevertheless, when Republican leaders, like Bob Goodlatte, make blanket statements opposing any and all nominees that this president will offer, irrespective of who they are and what they stand for, it conveys a dangerous message of blind partisanship.  Yes, President Obama is a “lame-duck president”, but so too were George W. Bush from 2004-2009, Bill Clinton from 1996-2001, and Ronald Reagan from 1984-1989.  Does being a lame-duck mean that a president no longer has constitutional duties?  Weren’t each elected to hold the powers and office of the president by “the voice of the American people”?  Didn’t each win a majority of the votes in the Electoral College as prescribed by our Constitution?  Are these powers surrendered once a president can no longer seek re-election?  If so, please point to the article and section in the Constitution where it says as much.

If Mitt Romney had won the presidency in 2012 or if John McCain had been re-elected that year would the congressional Republicans adamantly refuse to consider a Supreme Court nominee of either of these two men?  Or would they happily consider these nominees simply because they happen to be of the same political party?

Now that’s not to say that some Democrats wouldn’t do the exact same thing if they found themselves in this position.  In all honesty, if the roles were reversed and the Democrats controlled Congress and a Republican were in the White House, they would likely use the exact same language and tactics to thwart this hypothetical nominee too.  Although we all know it won’t happen, what would Representative Goodlatte say if President Obama nominated Goodlatte as a Supreme Court justice?  If he chose any path other than demanding an outright rejection from the Senate, he would prove himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite.

Unfortunately, this increasingly blind partisanship is destroying our nation.  Unlike some people, I don’t want to see President Obama or the Congress succeed or fail simply as a ploy to aid or hinder one political party’s election chances.  Looking at it objectively, it doesn’t matter which party controls a specific branch of the government.  What does matter is will they follow the rule of law and the Constitution or not?  Will they work to expand our debt or shrink it?  Do they advocate liberty or statism?  Will they return the power of the bloated federal government to the states, localities, and people or will they continue to concentrate influence inside the beltway?

Let President Obama make his Supreme Court pick and then the Senate should do its job in judging that candidate based upon his or her ideas, merits, and fidelity to the Constitution.  Any politician who has even the slightest desire of following the Constitution should reject the idea of a blanket refusal or acceptance swayed solely by one’s feelings about our president and his political party.  To do otherwise is a dangerous game and an abandonment of the duties of his or her office.

Ben Carson’s Religion

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Some polls have indicated that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has opened up a lead in Iowa.  In related news, recently Donald Trump decided to attack Carson over his faith, highlighting that he is a Seventh Day Adventist and thus questioning if Seventh Day Adventists are actually Christians.

It is true that some people consider Seventh Day Adventists to be a cult and thus not “true” Christianity.  Part of this opinion stems from the early days of the church when William Miller incorrectly predicted the end of the world in 1844.  In addition, they have several doctrines, such as the keeping of the traditional Jewish Sabbath, that set them apart from other groups.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, declares that he is a Presbyterian.  However, church records indicate that his involvement with that group is limited.

These attacks are nothing new.  For example, in 2012, some people attacked Barack Obama for being a secret Muslim.  Others derided Mitt Romney for being a Mormon.  Given their unique theological beliefs, there are many who don’t consider the Latter Days Saints to be Christian.  One of my friends declared that it is “better to vote for a Mormon than a Muslim.”  However, that issue is a topic for another day.

Back in 1960, the same fears were voiced against Jack Kennedy, with worries that given he was a Catholic, he would be an agent of the Pope.  Switching to more local politicians, given the religious makeup of the 6th district of Virginia, I’m surprised that no one has made a campaign issue of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s faith, given that he is a Christian Scientist, which again some people think isn’t real Christianity.  Even Ben Carson recently weighed in on the subject of religion declaring that a Muslim should not be president.

Personally, I think these kind of attacks miss the point.  Last I checked, we are looking to elect a president, not a pastor or priest.  We are looking for someone to save our nation, not save our souls.  The government and the church aren’t directly tied together and I think it would be very problematic for our faith if the government decided to get any more involved in religious matters.  They have done enough damage already!  The simple truth is that we have a wide variety of religious beliefs in this country and if we all decided to elect politicians who shared our theological viewpoints it would be impossible.  And yet some people (typically those on the right side of the political spectrum) try to make this matter a central issue.

Yes, religious faith is an important part of a person’s character, but what church, synagogue, mosque, or temple he or she chooses to be a part of, if any, does not necessarily indicate the depth or quality of his or her faith.  After all, there are plenty of so-called Christians who don’t practice what they supposedly believe.  As the book of James says:

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.  James 2:20-26 NLT

So, don’t simply judge anyone, whether he is a candidate for political office or not, based upon stated religious affiliation.  Remember that some practice what they believe while others don’t.  After all, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16 NLT.  A rosebush may look nice, but it is full of thorns and doesn’t provide much for useful consumption.

Therefore, instead of picking politicians based upon church membership, it is far better to ask yourself which of these candidates share my political views and which do I trust to honor his or her word.  Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist.  Good for him.  But where does he stand on the issues that matter most to you and me?

Immigration on WHSV

Image from WHSV

On Friday, February 27th, I appeared live on WHSV TV-3 along with fellow local activist Rick Castaneda and anchor Bob Corso to discuss President Obama’s recent executive actions regarding immigration.

Although neither of us were certain of the questions we would be asked beforehand and I wish we would have had a bit more time to hash out our differences, I thought it was an important and interesting discussion.  You can find the clip from Friday’s show here.

Enjoy!

Double Standards

Recently, there has been a lot of resentment surfacing regarding President Obama’s salute of several marines.  In it, he salutes while holding a coffee cup.  In case you somehow missed it, you can watch the video for yourself.

Quite a few of my friends and the right-wing media have been making an issue of video, declaring that the president showed a significant lack of respect.  10408929_10152733200218454_6450720806641680647_n

However, as my friend Carl shared on Facebook today, President Obama isn’t the only leader to salute while holding something in his hands.

Let me ask you this question; If someone gets upset by President Obama’s actions in the video above, shouldn’t they also bear resentment against President George W. Bush for doing, more or less, the same action?

Unfortunately, we live in a politicized and polarized society where we often rush to condemn the other side of the political spectrum while at the same time ignoring or downplaying the very same actions when done by a member of our own political party.  I want to know how something can be considered “acceptable” when “our guy” does it, but “unacceptable” when “their guy” acts likewise.

Now, before you say I’m being unfair, please know that this isn’t a problem exclusive to Republicans; I witnessed Democrats attack President Bush when he mimicked his Democratic predecessor as well.

There are a lot of reasons to be troubled by Barack Obama.  His most likely unconstitutional actions in Syria ought to raise red flags among activists on both the left and the right.  But, don’t get swept up in petty and trivial details.  And remember…don’t hold double standards.

Update:  Based upon the above video, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has created a new website, SemperLatte.com

Distorting President Obama

Earlier today, a political activist shared the following video of President Obama’s speech in Brussels:

This segment certainly sounds troubling, doesn’t it?  However, rather than presenting the gist of what Barack Obama says, the creator of this video intentionally distorts the president’s words through editing to make him sound like a tyrannical despot, adding fuel to fear.

Now, some people hold to the view that lying or misleading the public in order to achieve a political goal is an acceptable tactic.  It seems increasingly common, an unsavory action used on both the left and the right.

It is true that President Obama has employed a variety of policies that step over the bounds imposed by the constitution, that erode our liberties, and expand the power in Washington.  For these things he should be rightly criticized.  However, crafting videos like the one offered above is not acceptable.  After all, although it may achieve some small short term goal, when truth becomes a casualty, over time all suffer; the political divide grows wider.

In case you are wondering in what context President Obama offered the earlier lines, you can find his full speech below.  Not surprisingly, he speaks against many of the ideas the above video makes you think he supports.

If something sounds to terrible or too fantastic to be true, chances are it isn’t.

In Defense of Barbara Comstock

Barbara Comstock (Photo from Comstock's Facebook page)
Barbara Comstock (Photo from Comstock’s Facebook page)

A few moments ago, I received an email from the Wasinger campaign regarding Barbara Comstock.  For those unfamiliar with these names, Wasinger, Comstock, and a whole host of others are seeking the Republican nomination to the 10th congressional district of Virginia.  This email includes the line, “Barbara Comstock voted for President Barack Obama in 2008.”  As you might image, I found that idea curious.  Why would a Republican openly admit to voting for a Democrat, especially one like Barack Obama.

Therefore, I did a little digging and discovered that Barbara Comstock did say that she voted for Barack Obama.  However, it wasn’t in the general election, but rather the 2008 Democratic primary.

To offer you some perspective, Virginia has open primaries and so in any given election a voter can choose to vote in a Republican or a Democratic primary, but not both.  I don’t know if you remember, but back in 2008 Rush Limbaugh encouraged his listeners to vote in the Democratic primaries in order to stir up trouble and prolong the process.

Now I am no stranger to voting in Democratic primaries.  For example, in 2013 I voted for Ralph Northam.  It wasn’t the general election, but rather the Democratic contest.  I thought Northam would be better than Chopra in much the same way Comstock preferred Obama to Hillary Clinton.

However, the Republican Party of Virginia recently decided that if a Republican votes in a Democratic primary, he or she would be prohibited from participating in Republican activities.  I believe such a move  to be anathema to the principles of a free and open democratic republic like ours.  In addition, if this rule had been in place in 2008, Barbara Comstock would have probably been expelled from the party, not won as seat in the House of Delegates in 2009 as a Republican, and thus it would be exceedingly unlikely that she would be seeking the Republican nomination in the 10th today.

If I lived in the 10th district, would Barbara Comstock be my choice?  No.  She and I disagree on a few important issues and the names on her list of endorsers raises more than a few red flags.  However, to attack her for exercising what I believe is her civil right to vote for Barack Obama in an open Democratic primary, which her tax dollars helped fund, is absolutely ludicrous.  Unfortunately, an increasing number of Republicans in Virginia have been swept up in such partisan madness.

I encourage you to take the time to educate yourself and don’t assume that everything you read is completely accurate or not skewed for political gain.

Differentiating the Parties

10171024_10152772632113868_2118986644_nThis morning, the group Free & Equal shared this image on Facebook.

The sentiment offered in the picture seems to be increasingly held by more and more Americans…and it isn’t too difficult to understand why.

Many politicians say that the ballooning national debt is a serious problem…unless their party happens to be the one spending the money.

Many politicians say they oppose military conflict and nation building…unless the president happens to be of their party.

Many politicians say they are troubled by the erosion of our civil liberties through the NSA and TSA…unless, of course, they are the very ones advocating legislation or executive action chipping away at our freedoms.

For far too many activists and legislators, the only principle that they seem to follow with any consistency is that an action ought to be opposed when the other party does it, but praised when your own party does the exact same thing.  For these individuals, party has trumped both principle and logic.

Please don’t pretend you haven’t seen and heard it.  It is not difficult to comprehend that many of the policies Barack Obama ran on in 2008 have been cast aside in the same way President Bush did before him.

I doubt you remember it, but Mitt Romney crafted this ad back in 2008.

The line “when Republicans act like Democrats America loses” has resonated in my mind these last six years.  However, I also remember Romney’s 2012 foreign policy debate with Barack Obama when they both offered the exact same solutions to expand U.S. involvement overseas and fully embrace America serving as the world’s policeman.  It was like each was speaking in front of a mirror.

The simple fact is that when either the Republicans or the Democrats expand the size and scope of the government beyond the allowable limits of the Constitution, America loses.  These days, it seems like far too many politicians from both parties are recklessly charging in the same direction.

Is there a difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties?  Of course there is.  But this rank hypocrisy only seems to be getting worse in Washington D.C. and Richmond.

I know some voters have already reached this point, but what happens when a majority of us look at our Republican and Democratic options and shout, like Hilary Clinton exploring the causes of Benghazi, “what difference does it make?”

Messing With The Electoral College

Recently, some Republican leaders and pundits in Virginia have been floating the idea of changing the way the state awards its electoral votes in presidential elections.  Currently, Virginia gives all 13 of its votes to the candidate who receives a plurality of the statewide popular vote.  In both 2008 and 2012, Democrat Barack Obama claimed Virginia, the first Democratic candidate to do so since Lyndon Johnson did in 1964.  This new plan, sponsored by State Senator Charles Carrico Sr. of Grayson County, gives the winner of each of the state’s 11 congressional districts one vote, with the remaining two votes going to the candidate who wins the most districts.

From nationalatlas.gov
From nationalatlas.gov

There is no doubt that this proposed change would radically modify the outcome in Virginia.  Taking 2012 as an example, Barack Obama only won 4 of the 11 of the congressional districts, with the remaining 7 going to Republican Mitt Romney.  If Carrico’s plan had been in place, Romney would have ended up with 9 of Virginia’s electoral votes has opposed to the zero he actually received.  The fact that Obama won 50.8% of the statewide vote would have been completely irrelevant.

Although there is some argument to be made that both the interest and will of Virginia’s voters would be better served under some other plan than winner-take-all, the Carrico solution is a particularly terrible suggestion.

The fundamental reason why this plan is poor deals with the ugly issue of gerrymandering.  According to the Constitution, each congressional district must be roughly equal in population.  Based upon the population of the Commonwealth, Virginia has 11 districts.  However, the question becomes, how should the state be divided into these 11 pieces?

Given that the Virginia legislature draws these districts, they are often created, not based upon regional hegemony, but for political gain.  For example, we know that, in general, the most heavily Democratic areas of the state are areas of fairly close population density, such as most of northern Virginia, and cities like Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Norfolk.  Creating a district that included a majority of Arlington or Alexandria would almost certainly result in a Democratic heavy district, while crafted a district using the counties of Augusta and Rockingham in the Shenandoah Valley, or Powhatan and Hanover in central Virginia would have the opposite effect.

With these thoughts, and previous voting history in mind, one can combine like-minded areas to generate safe districts, much like the 3rd & 8th congressional are for the Democrats, or 9th & 6th are for the Republicans.  It is also possible to dilute the vote, such as splitting the heavily Democratic city of Richmond between the 3rd and the 7th or to enhance the effects of a voting population as is done in the Virginia House of Delegates where four different Republican members of that body benefit from representing a portion of the Republican voting strength of Rockingham County.  Simply add a city or subtract a county, and one can often safely assume a result long before voters head to the polls. Offer any politically savvy consultant a pen, a map, and a few statistics; with these tools he or she can draw lines that can easily serve the interests of either the Republican or Democratic Parties.

Now some people might say that given the fact that the Republican Party controls the state government, rank and file Republicans should not speak ill against this proposal, given that if it passes it will likely benefit the party.  However, such a view is shortsighted and ignores the political health of the nation.  Sure, Republicans are in charge today and this move could bolster the Republican presidential candidate’s chances in 2016, but what happens when the Democratic Party regains control?  Would it be just for the GOP to speak out against a plan that they created when it no longer serves their political interests in the future?

Another factor to consider is the issue of political relevancy.  For example, in 2008, Barack Obama gave a speech in Harrisonburg in order to gain support among the residents of the city and the student body of James Madison University.  This move proved successful as he ended up winning this city.  However, if the 6th district voted as a solid block, then he would have had no incentive to go to Harrisonburg, for it would have been impossible for him to make any difference.  Even if every citizen in Harrisonburg voted for Obama, those totals would have been insufficient to overcome the Republican heavy 6th district.

The same logic would hold true for Republican candidates as well.  If the 6th were seen as a solid block, it would be foolish to waste time and resources in an area where victory was a certainty.  Thus, under the Carrico system, no presidential candidate would set foot in the 6th district ever again, all parties would largely ignore the region, and it is almost certain that political apathy and/or intolerance would become the norm throughout both the conservative and liberal segments of the Shenandoah Valley.

Therefore, for the twin concerns of gerrymandering and maintaining political relevancy, legislators, activists, and ordinary citizens throughout Virginia ought to oppose Senator’s Carrico’s plan to award the state’s electoral votes based upon the winners of each congressional district.  Yes, it sounds quite tempting to many Republicans today, but the lasting consequences of this change will certainly offset any temporary benefits.