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January 2014

Oklahoma Senate Race

So, it appears that the GOP primary race for Tom Coburn's seat is now set.  And no Democrat has yet announced.  

What surprises me is the list of who are not in this race.  Oklahoma has prominent leaders and politicians who are taking a pass.  

On the GOP side there is the former Governor Frank Keating who was once on the short-list for Vice President.  And there are former Congressmen such as J. C. Watts, Steve Largent, and Mickey Edwards who held more prominent state and national profiles.  Even Earnest Istook, whose electoral success I never understood, would make some sense.  And of the sitting Congressmen, Tom Cole would be the more obvious choice, and was the name floated when Coburn first announced.

The obvious Democrat candidate is popular former Governor Brad Henry.  That he is sitting out the race is quite the sign of the times.  I was never a fan of former Congressman Dan Boren, but there is a time when someone with his record would have been a potential candidate.  I've always said that in the Oklahoma I grew up, Robert Henry would be a long-serving Senator (one can dream).  There are so many skilled Oklahoma politicians who have no current hopes of moving up the ladder of public service, though they would have once -- Susan Savage, Drew Edmondson, Kathy Taylor, Jim Roth -- not that all of them would be potential Senate candidates of course.

Normally these are the sorts of folk who would run.  That they aren't is a sign of how very different politics in Oklahoma now is from what it was in living memory.

My State of the Union Response

Barack Obama can deliver powerful and inspiring oratory.  He is also generally a very cool and detached personality.  Last night was different, and I really enjoyed it.

The President appeared as a man who has been through defeats -- more modest, more realistic, and, as a result, more relaxed.  I enjoyed his humour.  He seemed at ease in his own skin, non-anxious.  I felt personally drawn to him in a way I have never before.  Throughout the speech I smiled and felt warmth and regard toward him.

I was glad that this speech was not the long litany of policy proposals that States of the Union can be and last year's was.  I was glad we heard more about the duties of citizenship and creating opportunities.  I liked the focus on average Americans and the private sector.  Calling on private businesses to give Americans a raise was a good, conservative approach.  That is not traditional liberalism and admits that American society and citizenship is to something larger than the federal government.

I spent most of yesterday listening to Pete Seeger songs, reading about him, and listening to television and radio reports about him and his influence on American music and our larger society.  It made me wistful of a better America, the kind represented in his songs.  

Watching the news coverage of the speech last night and this morning, I was sad that the country isn't better than it is.  And disappointed in the state of news coverage.  The truth is, I don't want to hear partisan political analysis of the State of the Union address.  Even the responses of some of my favourite commentators, like PBS' David Brooks and Mark Shields, fell flat.

How much better if journalism presented us a panel of the leading lights responding by giving their appraisals of the actual state of the Union rather than political analysis of a speech?  Imagine hearing from business leaders like Jeff Bezos, Marissa Mayer, and Warren Buffett, philanthropists like Bill & Melinda Gates, poets like Wendell Berry and Ted Kooser, novelists like Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison, intellectuals like Martha Nussbaum and Steven Pinker, artists, songwriters, theologians, farmers, scientists, doctors, nuns, labor organizers, etc.  

I'd much rather hear those sorts of discussions about the actual state of our Union than more vapid political analysis of a speech.  Why aren't we drawing on our best and brightest in all fields to contribute more visibly and audibly to the discussion of who we are and where were are going and should go?

American Hustle & the best films of 2013

An article in the Daily Beast talks about American Hustle not being as good as the buzz surrounding it and that it should not be a leading candidate for Best Picture.  I agree.

I enjoyed seeing the film, but was myself surprised when it won so many awards, got so many nominations, and then was talked about as a challenger to 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture.  I think that most of the comments and criticisms in the article are accurate.

I have a couple more films I want to see before I release my Best Of 2013 list.  I've missed most of the foreign films this year and may not get a chance to see them before I make my list.  That's not so unusual, though some years in the past, particularly when I was single and living in Dallas, I was better about that.

Kansas pro-discrimination bill

In Kansas a legislator who clearly misunderstand the entire history of US Civil Rights law and what religious liberty and freedom of conscience really protect has proposed a bill making it legal for folks to discriminate against gays, even if another law or court says they can't.

Let's go over this again.  One of the justifications for Jim Crow laws was that the discriminators had a right to act on their prejudicial beliefs, often deeply held and sometimes religiously held.  So, a restaurant owner, for instance, could deny service to black people because making him serve black people violated his freedom of conscience.  

The United States of America rejected that line of argument.  The entire point of non-discrimination laws is to create a public sphere were everyone is treated farily and equitably and accomodated by his or her fellow citizens.  That is what it means to live in a pluralistic democracy.

Where the law is headed is to the same place that all religions teach.  Even if a person believes that homosexuality is a sin, as a business owner, employer, etc. they must treat all gay people with kindness and fairness and the same way they treat all other customers or employees.  Just because you do business with someone, provide a service to someone, employ someone, does not mean that you are endorsing all aspects of their identity, belief, and behaviour.

Now, if these sorts of laws catch on for a while (they will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional), they in effect create something like a new Jim Crow -- a part of the country where a group of minority citizens is denied full equality before the law and equal treatment by society at large.

Is the US a Racial Democracy?

 JASON STANLEY and VESLA WEAVER  discuss “the liberty of the ancients,” which "consists in having a voice into the policies and representatives that govern us."  And how that liberty is denied to African-American men through our current criminal justice system in a way that perpetuates America's racial democracy previously embodied in slavery and Jim Crow.

They write:

“Man is by nature a political animal,” declares Aristotle in the first book of his “Politics.” “Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech … the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and the inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust.” Aristotle here means that humans fully realize their nature in political participation, in the form of discussions and decision making with their fellow citizens about the affairs of state. To be barred from political participation is, for Aristotle, the most grievous possible affront to human dignity.

In the United States, blacks are by far the most likely to experience punishment and surveillance and thus are most likely to be prevented from realizing human dignity.