Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Andy Schmookler


Jesus or Ayn Rand: You Can’t Follow Both

If Jesus' view of the good is basically valid, then Ayn Rand's view pretty much has to be the viewpoint of evil, because it is pretty much the opposite.



And incidentally, the ethics of Jesus' Golden Rule seem to be not just a Christian insight, but a rather universally recognized as moral truth.

My Talk at JMU: Canceled for Tonight, to be Rescheduled

I just got a call from the JMU folks who have been setting up my talk scheduled for tonight. (This is the talk announced here earlier.) They've prevailed upon me to let them cancel and reschedule. So, though I am a "the show must go on" kind of a guy, I have deferred to them on this.

I'll announce when there's a new time and place. It's expected we'll have the event in the next several weeks.

In the meanwhile, I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you or anyone you may have informed of this talk.


Launching a New Campaign– Not for Elective Office, But to Light a Fire in...

For more than a year, since the 2012 election, I have been working to devise a new strategy to help turn America's dangerous political dynamic around. Now I've come up with a plan.

With the talk described below, I'm launching a new "campaign." This one is not for elective office, but it is at least as ambitious.

It's a campaign to have an impact on our national public discourse. More specifically, it is a campaign to bring to the center of our national conversation what I believe to be the central political reality of our times: the rise on the political right of an unprecedentedly destructive and dishonest force, and the weakness of Liberal America in calling out this force for what it is.

America desperately needs an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment, and I believe this new campaign has a chance of helping to bring it about.

With the talk described below in Harrisonburg this coming Wednesday (February 12), and a similar public event I gave in Berkeley on January 29, and another talk to come in Washington, D.C. on March 24, I am launching this new campaign.

I invite you to come to Harrisonburg, if it is within your reach. And I would welcome the opportunity to speak in other venues.

Here is the flyer for the talk, with all the pertinent information about the time and date and nature of the event.

Divided We Fall: Stop the Corporate Takeover of Our Democracy

This piece ran as an op/ed in almost all the major newspapers of Virginia's 6th congressional district.

Oh how I wish the people of America - liberal and conservative - could join together to protect our common interests and shared values. While focusing on issues that divide us, we are in danger of losing our birthright.

Power in America has shifted from the citizenry to the corporate system. The role of money in American politics - always a problem - has greatly expanded.  At the same time, wealth has been drained from the middle class and increasingly concentrated in the hands of giant corporations and the relatively few individuals who run them.  

As our democratic government becomes ever more an instrument of the corporate system, our nation's constitutional doctrine is being pried open ever wider to allow corporations the political rights of actual "persons."

We Americans should be asking, "What kind of 'persons' are these corporate giants whose rights and powers in our political system are expanding so dramatically?"

The answer is not comforting.

Are the Misdeeds of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie Connected with Their Republicanness?

First, it is of course true that misconduct by elected leaders happens among Democrats as well as Republicans. One can recall Dan Rostenkowski, then Speaker of the House, with his Post Office problems that put him behind bars. And Senator John Edwards, one-time Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, fathering a child with another woman while his wife struggled with the cancer that soon killed her.

So politicians, and people generally, of all stripes have been known to behave badly. But perhaps there is something more specifically Republican about the bad conduct (and perhaps crimes) of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie.

Bob McDonnell -- or, to be more accurate, the McDonnells -- went wrong, it seems, because of a felt necessity to partake in the trappings of great wealth. The infatuation with wealth as a source of self worth has deep roots in American culture. But clearly in America today, it is the Republican Party that seems particularly prone to worshiping at the altar of Mammon.

So perhaps it is not just by chance that the gubernatorial couple that's run afoul of the law over Rolex watches and expensive dresses, fancy vacation homes, and the like, was a Republican gubernatorial couple?

As for Chris Christie, we are of course still learning about the apparently petty and corrupt strong-arm tactics involved in the developing scandals in New Jersey-- the lane closings at Fort Lee, and the Hurricane Sandy funds being funneled in some directions and not others, etc.

But what emerges from what's known so far is a picture of government by bullying. Chris Christie, that is, appears to throw his weight around -- so to speak -- in the manner of bullies everywhere.

And what could be more Republican, in our times, than bullying?

The Republicans-- the party of George W. Bush and his 2002 bullying of Congress to get an authorization for the use of force; the party of congressional extortion over the debt ceiling; the party of across-the-board power-plays to obstruct; the party of a Fox interviewer who disrespectfully interrupts the President dozens of times in a matter of minutes; the party that's intimidated the press into being balanced between the truth and the lie; the party for which threat and attack are the two main modes of political interaction.

So I think the answer is yes, these two scandal-laden governors are not just politicians who behaved badly, but politicians who have behaved badly in specifically Republican ways.

Not Liberalism’s Weakness, But Its Strength

On my website, a long-time reader who is a conservative Christian (but one who no longer has any regard for the Republicans and who sticks with my website, and even contributed to my campaign, though his disdain for liberals is frequently expressed) conjectured earlier today about"some weakness in the spirit make-up that creates the 'liberals' seeming need for a more than natural protective society."

To him I replied:

"More than natural protective society." "Weakness." What rubbish?  

It's Liberalism doing what every actor should do: work to make America the best society it can be.  Is it not clear that the ideal America is a society and nation that creates certain degrees of community feeling, and a certain commitment to the well-being of all, and not some hostile rejection of things being done to help the LOSERS. It is not just the Ayn Rand part of the right that seems to place no value on a sense of community in our approach to national problems.

Lacking, too, is a respect for those things that can't be accomplished separately - and also for purposes that go beyond selfishness - but can be achieved only through the system we created to enable us to act together:  i.e, the government.

The problem isn't any liberal "weakness":  The liberals at their best at least are working creatively to create a society that serves the good as best it can, with wise trade-offs one hopes, and with an inevitable mixture of success and failure.

But we sure are a whole lot better a society than we would have been without Social Security, and Medicare and Medicate, and environmental regulation, and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

All of those are expressions of the liberal spirit, and the net result of them is that this country is a far better place in a great many ways because these were accomplished.

It is very good for America and for all of us that this spirit had so much sway in the shaping of America's destiny that it did in the most critical years of 1933 up until maybe 1981.  

I see the problem as being more on the right, as with every other issue we face in America today that I can think of.  

Where Obama Has Failed, and Why It Is Not Too Late for Him to...

This piece appeared in Thursday's edition of the Roanoke Times. While the piece is framed, for strategic reasons, as a critique of President Obama -- a valid critique in my view -- the true main points of the argument are 1) the abominable conduct of the Republicans (which I continue to believe is, and has been over the past decade and more, one of the major stories in all of American history), and 2) the opportunity their conduct presents -- to President Obama and to all Democrats -- to attack and, it is hoped, to defeat them.

Five years into his presidency, we can say that in many respects Barack Obama has been a good president.  He has addressed genuine national problems. The solutions he has proposed have been constructive. And his communications to the American people have mostly been sensible and honest.

But President Obama has failed in one important area (and it is not in the highly embarrassing, but essentially temporary, botch of the roll-out of the Obamacare website). Where Obama has failed is in not fighting harder against an opposition party whose obstructiveness - and destructiveness - have been extraordinary by the standards of the American political tradition.

It's easy to demonstrate Obama's failure. He wanted the politics of his era to be, "The Republicans and I together can get good things done." The Republicans have striven for a politics of, "We're going to keep you from accomplishing anything." Which side would you say has prevailed?

Some say that no one can force cooperation from politicians. I say, "Nonsense." Only the president has the bully pulpit, and great presidents have used it to dominate the politics of their times.  President Obama has been in a position, all along, to compel the Republicans to clean up their act or be driven into oblivion.

All it takes is focusing the public's attention on the ugly things the Republicans have been up to. Take the one time President Obama took a strong position and stood his ground -- the crisis in late September and early October over the government shutdown and the GOP threat to push the nation into default.  The Republicans sunk so low in public esteem during that destructive display that they were compelled to give in.

Would You Want to Know? A Question for Republican Supporters

The following op/ed by me has appeared in newspapers in my part of Virginia.

I want to speak to the conservatives in this area.

I know from experience that you are good neighbors, and that you make a local society in many ways is admirable. But I am concerned about what's happened with you in the larger political world.

It's not about your conservative values, which on the whole I think are valuable to America. It's about what's happened over the past generation regarding the things you think to be factually true. I ask you this question: If a lot of what you believe to be true were actually false, would you want to know?

At this point, I imagine many of you angrily dismissing my question. After all, am I not the guy who ran for Congress as a Democrat, and aren't Democrats the enemy and not worth listening to?

Setting aside this demonization of the "other side," I hope you will recognize that I speak to you not as a Democrat but as a person with a lifelong passion for truth.  

I’m Betting on Obenshain Acting Honorably

The following piece has run in several Virginia newspapers, including today in the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Earlier this month, an alarm about Virginia's razor-close Attorney General's race sounded in some Democratic circles. Adam Swerver, in an article posted on the MSNBC website, declared that even if the defeat of Republican candidate Mark Obenshain is confirmed in a recount, he might still be able to have himself declared the winner by the Virginia state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans.

Swerver's article quoted University of Kentucky law Professor Joshua Douglas describing the plausibility of such a move. Swerver concluded that "the only thing stopping Republicans from ordering a new election or declaring him (Obershain) the winner would be fear of a political backlash or their own self-restraint."

When reported on the Democratic website Blue Virginia, this article generated many responses. Opinions differed about the chances of Republicans succeeding with such a gambit, but there was little faith that scruples would hold them back from stealing the election. One response: "The va GOP will do ANYTHING to win cheat or steal an election."

I don't know whether state Senator Obenshain can gain the office through such a power-grab. But I bet he won't.

A Half Century Ago Today: Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

November 22, 1963 was bound to be an important day for me. On that day, as a college freshman, I was to travel down to New Haven, Connecticut, for Harvard-Yale weekend. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have gone to an away game, but I was the quarterback of an undefeated intramural touch football team that was scheduled to play Yale's undefeated intramural champions.

When we got to the playing field at Yale, people were strangely clumped around cars with their radios on, and the doors open. We asked what was going on, and we were told, "The president has been shot in Dallas." It was of course unbelievable.

I had felt especially connected with JFK, having seen him only a few weeks before, when he unexpectedly showed up at the Columbia game. Sitting there in the stadium, surrounded by his Secret Service retinue, even at a distance the beauty of the man was visible, his auburn hair radiating life in the sun. How could someone look so extraordinary even across a whole football field?

And now he'd been shot.

Was he OK, we wanted to know? Would he live? Nobody knew. Only that he'd been rushed to the hospital in Dallas.

We were supposed to start our game, and no one was there to tell us differently. So we played the game. We won, using a trick play I still like to remember. But the whole game happened under a cloud of uncertainty and gloom.

When the game was over, it was known. President Kennedy was dead. The president had been assassinated.

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