26 January 2013

A Note to Political Parties: I Will Not Kiss Your F*ing Flags

I am a flag waver.

Last Father’s Day, my family got me a real flag pole for the front yard. Every morning, I enjoy walking out to the American flag waving in the wind from the top of the pole on the top of this ridge.

I love the flag on fire trucks. When I see apparatus on a call, there’s something stately about a national flag flying from the basket of a ladder truck or the grab rails of an engine or squad. In September 2001 in Berkeley California, some few citizens objected to the fire department flying flags from their apparatus, and the firemen told them to go to hell. That is America.

In my desk, I keep a few dozen flag pins. Most lawyers keep around tchotchkes such as advertising pens or refrigerator magnets. Me? Flag pins. I don’t pollute them with any advertising. Maybe people will remember where they got them, maybe not – that’s not the point.

The American flag is a symbol, an idea. When someone burns a flag, they have a right to do that.  They are assholes, but they still have the right to do it. That’s part of what the flag represents, and they can’t burn an idea.

Loyalty to our national banner, loyalty to America, includes a willingness to identify faults, propose better ways and have the patience and persistence and intelligence to engage in an actual discussion about it.

All that breaks down when people are waving other flags.

It’s not a new observation that the United States is less united and more discordant than ever before. There is less compromise, less toleration of ideas even a little bit different from our own favorite notions. One of the many indicators of that is this “red state/blue state” phenomenon.

It started, I think, with the way the television networks coded electoral college maps for presidential elections. Somehow, red got identified with the Republicans and blue with the Democrats. And the parties went along with it and in essence adopted new flags. And so to be qualified in the puny minds of party bosses to salute the red, white and blue, we are first supposed to salute the red… Or the blue. 


I will not kiss their fucking flags.

(Apologies to e. e. cummings)

And when I wear a Gadsden flag – the yellow “don’t tread on me” design – and I do – I’m not honoring a bunch of tea party nitwits trying to hijack that symbol. I’m honoring the idea of the original American patriots who saw the vision of a union and who made real sacrifices and ran real risks. So many of the so-called patriots of today just have real big mouths and real dumb ideas.

This is going to be a ramble tonight. I’ve tried to keep my series of gun posts (not yet completed) fairly tight. This ain’t part of them.

Currently, I am registered as an adherent of the Democratic Party. That represents my best choice for this time and place. That was not always so.

And before you ask, I will repeat what I’ve said before – this last election like every election that has gone before, I split my ticket. I always split my ticket.

Until the late 1980s, I was registered a Republican. In fact, in 1980 I ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate as a Republican.

Not so fast there – not “unsuccessfully” – the other guy did get a lot more votes than I did. But I got a heaping helping of an early education in politics. A good bit of that came from my friend the late Judge J. Harper Meredith, the undisputed political and governmental boss of Marion County.  Judge Meredith told me I was going to get beat but to go ahead and run any way, that I would never regret it.

Another key teacher was a real political science professor, Dr. James B. “Doc” Whisker of West Virginia University.  He ran the Frashure Internships in Charleston when I was in college.  It is a rare privilege to consider oneself a “Whisker grad.”

As I was growing up, there was not a stark difference between the major political parties. Some of the broad brush strokes varied but lots and lots of decent and reasonable people predominated in both parties. They would posture and then find generally accepted solutions. My friend and brother (and one of my political “professors”), Oce Smith, knew both Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, respectively the great Democratic and Republican Senate leaders of the 1950s and 60s. Oce has told me a lot about their fiery rhetoric and bombast and also of their willingness to compromise or at least live with the result of a vote without bitching and whining about it.

There were a lot of people I admired in the Republican Party. I always liked George Romney although he’s mostly forgotten today. And I always liked Arch Moore. I consider it a tragedy of the first order that he carried on so corruptly at the end. He was an effective governor. At the time of the November 1985 floods, the statewide emergency services system dropped the ball in the first 12 hours. Arch took personal charge and created a replacement system on-the-fly which handled the crisis.

At the same time. I also developed the greatest admiration for Democrats like Sen. Byrd. He and Sen. Randolph were two of the least financially successful senators of the 20th century. They were too busy serving others to serve themselves. I liked Congressman Robert Mollohan, who was to play a key role in developing the national emergency medical services system. And then, I became friends with his son, Congressman Alan Mollohan, who served with honor and distinction for 28 years.

The change which appeared to me to start with the Republican Party was both ideological and personal. It started with the misnamed “Reagan Revolution.” I think that’s misnamed because Ronald Reagan was a genuinely decent human being. He embraced a lot of domestic policy schemes with which I still disagree and which didn’t work out very well. But he carried on as a gentleman, and that was worth a lot.

And yet in his name, the Republican Party steadily became more exclusionary and more shrill.

And so, I had been walking with a group I thought were reasonable and reasoning people. Then, the national leadership called a halt, ordered right face and forward march into some strange political wilderness.

I couldn’t abide the title anymore, so I switched parties.

I stayed as active in politics as I had before, because I always had been much more active in local and regional affairs. And as always, I continued my political “studies.”

By far, the most influential professor of politics I’ve had has been my friend, brother and second father, Jim Moon. He’s been a political fixture in West Virginia for 40 years.   I’ve learned more from him than from anyone else.

The Democratic Party in West Virginia has been  more conservative than the national party at least since the 1960s. It is still a “working persons' party,” and I found a reasonably comfortable fit there for a while.

It also helped that as I grew older, I steadily cared less and less about mindlessly following any particular platform and even less about what people thought of my opinions.

As the national Republican Party became more radicalized, that “trickled down.” Both ideologically and practically, decent people in the West Virginia Republican Party started doing politically stupid shit. They would make a gain, get cocky, and then commit seppuku with just a little nudge. As the radicals took over, a Gresham’s Law of Politics emerged, driving out people who talked policy rather than shouting slogans. One of the Republicans smartest and most effective leaders, Betty Ireland, was positively mugged by the radicals of her own party in the governor’s primary of 2010.

I can’t say when the Democratic Party became as radicalized nationally. It’s possible it happened contemporaneously and I just didn’t notice it from here in West Virginia. Insofar as governing a Republic was concerned, the Democratic Party got to a pretty effective level with Bill Clinton. In fact, it’s still fine with me to be considered a “Clinton Democrat.” 

Yeah, I know, intern, blue dress, stain. 

But how about the balanced budget, the end of welfare as we knew it, and no widespread foreign wars?

The Clinton years ended badly. The bad decisions were political ones, aided generously by the shrieks of salivating radicals on both sides. 

But even if the national Democratic leadership started becoming radicalized later, they worked awfully hard to catch up. And now, we have matching Democratic and Republican national leadership teams that are shrill, paranoid, closed-minded, emotionally retarded and elitist.

One sad thing is that the Democratic and Republican leaders think that they are really different from one another.

It’s also sad to me that some Democrats West Virginia are pulling toward the national radical model. The absolutely politically most inept decisions in the last general election came from that crowd. Still, the fact that there remained a solid state office Democratic majority even though Mitt Romney absolutely plowed Obama is a lesson that the Mountaineers like our populist Democratic principles unleavened by wacky socialist bullshit.

And so I continue to fly the American flag. I wonder if the time is coming for some kind of "radical centrism." I know that’s a bit of an oxymoron, but if reasonable people keep putting up with intolerant, gun grabbing, 50 round magazine hugging, lazy, undisciplined, economically elite, vote buying, lying weasels, there won’t be enough reasonable people left to keep that flag flying.

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