Religious Liberty and Republican Opportunity

church and stateThe recent battles over religious liberty in Indiana and Arkansas demonstrate an ironic truth: that we are actually debating whether or not you can be forced to violate your faith in a country originally settled by people looking for the freedom to practice their faith.

Let that soak in for a minute.

The hysteria was truly something to behold. Liberals descended on Indiana and its politicians like flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. Protesters stormed the state capital. Reporters ambushed flat-footed politicians and business owners. Corporations pontificated. Democrats huffed and puffed. Social media melted.

The source of all the fuss was passage of state-level versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, simply mandating that government must have a “compelling interest” to infringe on religion (a higher legal standard), and that it must use the “least restrictive” means possible whenever it does.

The federal version was probably the most bi-partisan, (nearly) unanimously passed law in modern American history (435-0 in the House and 97-3 in the Senate) and signed by Bill Clinton no less in 1993. Congress can’t generate that much bipartisan support for a resolution declaring water to be wet, but there it is, in all of its “hate mongering” glory.

The liberal claim is that such laws are just a tool to discriminate against gays, but the unavoidable fact is that allowing people of faith to decline to participate in something that violates their faith (like a gay wedding) in a country whose First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion is NOT discrimination. (And just how do you “discriminate” against an activity?)

As usual, the liberal hypocrisy was delicious. Democrat Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut jumped to criticize and join a “boycott Indiana” movement despite having the same law in his own state. Many of the corporations who jeered the loudest do business in countries that not only lack religious freedom, but where women and homosexuals have NO rights whatsoever.

The Forces of Intolerance

Of course the media knew this, but chose to ignore it. Scalps had to be taken. The forces of “tolerance” now demand that government enforce their views on everyone else, and they eagerly engage in the public-relations lynching of anyone who disagrees. They have no “tolerance” for unconformity.

As Pat Buchanan put it years ago, “If we’re going to have tolerance in this country, then there has to be tolerance for the views of the majority”. But it’s truly amazing how far and how quickly things have degenerated. On the issue of gay marriage, we have gone from “just civil unions”, to so-called “marriage equality”, to “you WILL celebrate and serve” and “You will NOT publicly object”

Christian businesses are being sought out for legal retribution. Employees and even CEOs have lost their jobs simply because they contributed to referendums calling for the traditional definition of marriage. Individual supporters have even had their home addresses posted online to make organized harassment even easier.

It’s all straight out of Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals” liberal play-book: “Rule 12 – Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.”

Sound familiar? They’re working to isolate religious conservatives – particularly evangelical Christians – and marginalize them and make them toxic to others in order to chill public advocacy and philanthropy on their behalf. To make it difficult for them to live their faith and openly operate in polite society or even earn a living.

Republican Opportunities

You really have to wonder when Democrat leaders will get a little worried about their minions taking this whole anti-religion thing too far, considering the fact that religious Americans have been leaving their party for years (most recently including white Catholics). But if the party whose national delegates booed having a reference to God in their platform in 2012 wants to officially become the anti-religion party, Republicans should help them by reminding pro-faith Americans every chance they get.

The point is that religious liberty is an incredible political opportunity for Republicans, if we will learn how to make the most of it. Lesson one is to know how to talk about the issue. And lesson two is to actually talk about it. Often.

We need to recognize that liberals have won their major political battles by turning someone into a victim and winning the sympathy of Americans in the political mushy-middle. The media pounces, businesses cringe and politicians cave. It’s a familiar pattern. But now we have the opportunity to turn the tables and use the same tactic to great effect by framing the debate around our own victims.

Republicans should remember that polls show a clear majority (over 70% in the latest Rasmussen poll) favoring the rights of Christian business people to live out their faith in the course of their business and not be made to choose between their faith and their livelihood.

They should remember that tens of thousands of Americans responded with over $840,000 in less than 48 hours for a small pizzeria when it was threatened by the liberal grievance machine. How many politicians who trip over themselves to chase donors are paying attention?

They should remember that religious conservatives are their most loyal supporters, and that the estimated forty to fifty million unregistered and/or nonvoting evangelicals on the sidelines are the largest untapped reservoir in American politics. But they have to be engaged on an emotional level.

The Republican platform should continue to stand for traditional values and liberty, and grassroots conservatives should organize to reject the certain coming attempts to water down its support for the traditional definition of marriage. If that happens, we lose. Which is precisely why the liberal media will beat the drum for it next year

Elections are about math. They’re about addition and the leverage (or multiplication) you get when your base is fully engaged and truly energized. In 2008 and 2012 that wasn’t the case. The opportunity for Republicans in 2016 is clear. If religious liberty isn’t a political hill for Republicans to fight and win on, then no such hill exists.

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Let’s be clear, for people of faith, “religious liberty” is quickly becoming the “OK, take the culture and the country and just leave me alone” position. It’s the last stand. There’s really nothing else to lose after that. It’s the terms of our surrender in the culture war. The place where we hope to make a stand and then grow and regroup for the future.

In a way, it’s kind of the same position that the original American pilgrims had. They gave up trying to live their faith at home, so they left home and came here. And several hundred years later, here we are, but with no “new world” to go to.

The other side will never accommodate. It’s time to fight or else.

Lessons from the Obama Backlash

nopeNow that Election Day is behind us (unless you live in Louisiana), a few lessons and observations from the Obama backlash…

Obama Was the Issue

At the risk of demonstrating a keen grasp of the obvious, Obama was THE issue in this campaign. Republican campaigns were like the gun store with the “Salesman of the Year” poster of Obama over the counter. And he was making the cash register ring.

Liberals tried to suggest that 2014 was an “election about nothing”, but that’s because it was all about their guy, his agenda and the big government that comes along with it. Obama was such an issue that many Democrat candidates wouldn’t admit to voting for him, or even that they supported him and his policies – to which Obama quickly reminded everyone that, yes they did.

Leave it to a narcissist to confirm that it was all about him.

The results speak for themselves. Democrats even lost in deep blue states like Maryland and Illinois…a few of the places where Obama actually dared to campaign. In a happy bit or irony, half of the Senate Democrats who voted for Obamacare are now gone.

If you accept (as Democrats suggested) that Obama had a mandate for “Hope and Change” after the 2008 election, you have to admit that it’s as gone as a goose in winter now.

Republicans Still Need to Define an Agenda

In 1994 Republicans successfully nationalized the off-year elections around an issues based agenda. It worked spectacularly. Then in 2010 and now they succeeded simply by “not being Obama”, which tells you something about how popular Obama is with voters.

But that won’t be enough in the next election. Democrats will continue to run away from Obama like scalded dogs because his ineptness has given the big government their agenda needs such a bad name that they will eventually need to throw him under the bus. That goes double for the next Democrat presidential nominee.

Remember, for liberals, government is never the problem. It is always that someone is just “not doing it right”, or it just needs a little more of your money. The success of their agenda always takes priority, even if that means violating politically correct “ethics” and blaming a guy who happens to be the first black president.

The best way to put forward a national governing vision is to start legislating now, not simply sit back and leave defining an agenda up to the next Republican presidential nominee.

2015 offers the GOP the perfect opportunity to use Obama as a foil to define what they are, and what Democrats are by way of their opposition. They need to demonstrate just who the problem is by piling bill after bill on Obama’s desk – including a repeal of Obamacare – and make him have to keep switching veto pens because they run out of ink.

Gridlockamageddon is Coming!

You think you’ve seen gridlock? You ain’t seen nothing yet baby. You can almost hear it now, the copious wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media and the DC political class about more gridlock and obstruction now that Republicans run both the US House and the Senate.

Even in defeat, Harry Reid set the table with his “congratulatory” statement, saying, “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together”. Really? If voters wanted a Congress that would “work with Obama”, they must need glasses or they would have voted to put Democrats in control. Instead they voted for Republicans who made it quite clear that they opposed Obama, Obamacare and Obamanomics, and would work to rein him in.

In other words, they voted for what the media will call obstruction and gridlock.

Have you ever noticed that “gridlock” or “obstruction” is usually defined as Republicans not giving Democrats what they want? But if it was gridlock for House Republicans not to work with Senate Democrats and a Democrat President, will it be gridlock for a Democrat President not to work with a Republican House and a Republican Senate? Don’t hold your breath.

The gridlock apocalypse is upon us!

Good Candidates Matter

Much has been made by political establishment types over suggesting that Republicans did well because they kept too many kooky conservatives from being nominated this year. They say the lesson is that when they pick the candidates, Republicans will prevail.

But the fact is that good candidates usually do well (or at least better) regardless of the political environment or what they believe. Being a good candidate who can effectively communicate is divorced from “what” is being communicated, (see: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton).

Republicans fielded high-quality candidates in most races this year, and it clearly made a difference. But don’t let anyone suggest that conservatives don’t make good candidates. Just look at Joanie Ernst in Iowa, and Ben Sasse in Nebraska, both supported by Tea Party conservatives. (See also: Scott Walker, Tim Scott, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, etc.)

It’s just a fact of life that there is large group of people in politics who just want to win, and they and their money gravitate towards quality candidates who look like they can. If conservatives start spending real time focusing on identifying the best candidates to run up and down the ballot in 2016 and start coalescing around them, odds are more of those fence sitters will come along for the ride.

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Enjoy the win…but start getting ready for the next fight.

The Thrill is Gone in the Cult of Obama

cult of obamaThings aren’t fairing so well with the Cult of Obama lately. In fact, if there could be a theme song to Obama’s second term as President, it would have to be B.B. King’s “The thrill is gone”.

All the polls are singing in harmony.

According to the latest AP poll, Obama has reached his lowest approval rating ever of 40% and his highest disapproval ever of 59%. More important, 57% now say that he can’t manage the government effectively.

It’s hard to keep a cult going if people think that you are a lousy leader.

On immigration, over 2/3’s of Americans disapprove of how he is handling the issue. In fact, for the first time in a long time more Americans have a favorable view of Republicans on immigration than Democrats, by 29-25% respectively, (a net flip of ten points since May).

Obamacare continues to eat at his political fortunes like a cancer. The latest poll from the Kaiser Foundation showed not only the highest level of disapproval for Obamacare, but the highest jump in disapproval in the history of that poll, with 53% now opposing the law, (an increase of eight points since June). It’s a good bet that personal experience and “word of mouth” advertising are killing it. Add this to the businesses that are now getting estimates on next year’s insurance costs, (and about to take action accordingly), and you get nothing but political headwinds for Obamacare (and its authors) as far as the eye can see.

Regarding foreign policy, (which has been Obama’s best measure with the public), the AP poll now shows outright majorities of between 57% and 60% disapproving of his handling of the major issues of the day; from Israel’s conflict with Hamas, to Afghanistan, to Russia and the Ukraine and Iraq.

Then there is Obama’s latest achievement of presiding over the addition of over seven trillion dollars to the national debt – more than all of our debt from George Washington to Bill Clinton combined, (for a total of over $153,000 per household). Little wonder that the latest NBC News poll shows 76% of Americans believing that their children’s generation will not have things better than they do, up from 60% just prior to the onset of “Hope and Change”.

When people are pessimistic about the future, they tend to lose interest in what you have to say.

The “Too little, too late” award goes to the respondents of the recent CNN/Gallup poll with 53% saying that they would now vote for Mitt Romney, and only 44% expressing support for Obama. This should leave Democrats a little sweaty over whether voters want to send them to DC to support a guy that most of them now wish that they hadn’t elected in the first place.

Most interesting is the flip in support among women, with 52% to 45% now supporting Romney over Obama – almost the inverse of how they voted in 2012, (44% vs. 55% for Obama). Now you know why Democrats keep spending so much time talking about an imaginary Republican “war on women”.

Obama has become so politically toxic that even the Obama-endorsed incumbent Democrat Governor of Hawaii (an Obama “home” state) lost his primary 67% to 31% to a challenger that he outspent by more than ten to one.

Of course all second term presidencies fall prey to diminished enthusiasm. They get mired in either events, politics, scandal or all of the above, and none ever really make much of a comeback once they take a nosedive. People tend to move on. As George Burns once put it, “you can re-light a cigar, but it’s never the same”.

But it’s even worse when your popularity was built on emotion regarding a man rather than ration or reason. When the man ultimately fails (and they always do), what’s left to keep people drinking the Kool-Aid? It’s like an over-inflated market bubble that finally pops.

The politics of emotion are always more prone to manipulation, and can climb quicker and easier than anything built on reason, simply because we are emotional creatures – which is exactly why so many politicians resort to it. It’s the political version of the “Dark Side” which, as Yoda pointed out, is “quicker, easier and more seductive”. But it ends in a bad place.

The Cult of Hope and Change was all about Obama when it waxed and it’s about him now as it wanes. It’s waning because Americans are now well beyond their “emperor has no clothes” moment. And that’s exactly how a cult collapses; people see the leader for what he really is.

“The thrill is gone; the thrill is gone away… You know you done me wrong, and you’ll be sorry someday.”

Someday is fast approaching.

Celebrating Independence and Separation of Powers

King ObamaAs Americans gather to celebrate Independence Day, it is a good time to take a moment and reflect on the importance of what that independence bought us – that being the freedom to create a government structure that separates power.

No matter what your side of the political divide, the fact is that the fortunes of politics will ebb and flow, but in the end it is in everyone’s best interests that political power be divided. More to the point, the very reason that our Constitution separates power is to prevent its arbitrary use. Specifically, executive power, since it resides in one individual.

It’s a pretty important thing. We fought a war over it.

But lately the news is regularly filled with the latest blustery statements from Obama about how “if Congress doesn’t act”, he will, along with edicts that fail to show any clear constitutional or congressional authority.

Obama repeatedly says that he only takes unilateral executive action because “Congress chooses to do nothing”. But choosing to “do nothing” is itself a choice. It means that a large enough group of people wanting to do “something” does not yet exist. In other words, the real problem is that they don’t want to do what Obama wants to do. Therein lies the problem.

If a president can re-interpret laws or apply them as he chooses, then what’s the purpose of having laws? What’s the purpose of a pretense of the separation of powers and having a legislative branch to make law? The reality is that lawmaking in a representative republic involves compromise and trade-offs among various factions of society to get a majority to eventually agree on a final product. Otherwise, people see the laws as lacking legitimacy because society has no “buy-in”.

Of course the boundaries between executive and legislative power are always in tension, but Obama has come to find the boundaries inconvenient, so he simply ignores them. He wants to take shortcuts. Someone should remind him that he resigned his “law-making” gig several years ago in order to run for his current “faithfully executing the laws” job.

The Supreme Court has sent him a few hints, thirteen unanimous ones since 2012 to be exact, the most recent regarding his abuse of presidential recess appointments and his claim that he gets to decide when the US Senate is actually in session. By the way, “unanimous” includes both of the Justices that were appointed by Obama.

But there are actually people among us not named Obama who believe that the presidency should be stronger.

Believe it or not, the New York Times’ ersatz conservative David Brooks actually suggested that we needed to “make the executive branch more powerful” in order to make the federal government more effective. He claimed that, because our political leaders can’t reach conclusions, we should give more power to the executive branch, since bureaucrats “are more sheltered from the interest groups than congressional officials”; have “more specialized knowledge”; are “removed from excessive partisanship” and would have more latitude to “respond to their own screw-ups”.

Oh, really? Anyone even remotely familiar with any news related to the IRS, Obamacare, Solyndra, the Veterans Administration, or any number of other executive branch scandals would know that this is just so much piffle.

The problem is not that the President doesn’t have enough power, but that Washington has far too much power – and covets even more.

Among the key elements of our political system are stability and predictability. People can have relative certainty about tomorrow being free from capricious radical changes because some bureaucrat woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or decided that he needed to do a favor for a political patron, or create some new political advantage for his president via-a-vi the opposition.

But that level of confidence is eroding. The more powerful the presidency becomes – no matter who is president – the higher the stakes will be in every election, along with matching levels of vitriol and odds of radical change and instability.

There’s a name for such places. They’re called “banana republics”.

Those who want to strengthen the presidency are really just people who are tired of not getting their way through the regular political process. But the fact is that, in order to protect liberty, our political system was intentionally designed to move slow and require broad support to get anything done. It’s a feature, not a bug.

Don’t like it? There are plenty of countries with an autocratic El Presidente who will be happy to accommodate.

We don’t need to become one of them.

Lessons from Single Payer Health Care Nirvana

VAThe last thing that people who want more government control of healthcare need is for people to see the bad things that can happen when the government controls healthcare. But that is precisely the problem that Democrats have now that the skeletons have tumbled out of the VA closet.

The scandal suggests that the “death panels” that Democrats said would never happen under Obamacare in fact already exist in government-run VA healthcare. They come in the form of the secret waiting lists that caused the deaths of dozens of veterans, and the bureaucrats who decide who goes on the lists and how long you have to wait.

Multiple reports have shown that Obama’s administration knew about the growing problem as far back as 2008, and a recent Washington Post report even documented that one VA Deputy Undersecretary went so far as to send a memo up the chain of command detailing seventeen different methods being used in the VA to cover up long wait times.

It will come as no surprise to learn that not one single person has been fired as a result.

For a president who finds time to pick up the phone to congratulate the 249th pick of the NFL draft, you would think that he would have found the time in over five years to make a few calls about this. Instead we get the usual rhetoric that Obama “just found out”, that he’s “mad as Hell” and that they are “investigating the problem”. This pattern is usually followed months later by “we’re still investigating”, then even later by, “that’s old news, what are you, a Fox News reporter?”.

They are turning on the fog machine because they have a fundamental political problem, given that this is exactly what they want the American health care system to look like, (that being big, government-run, and inescapable for the people who have to use it). Obama himself was quoted telling the labor unions that, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care program”. For those who don’t know better, “single payer” means government-run. You know, like the VA.

It is somewhat ironic that the liberals who have spent years pushing abortion “rights”, professing that “nothing should come between a woman and her doctor” are the same folks who dream of a health care system where nothing comes between you and your government, (i.e. your government hospital, your government nurse, your government doctor, your government bureaucracy and your government waiting list).

Considering that this scandal comes at a time when polls show that Americans are nearly split on which party they trust more on health care, it presents what is usually referred to as a “teachable moment”.

People who haven’t been paying attention to the health care debates in recent years need to see the VA held up as the bright, shining example of everything that liberals want health care to be: total government control, no consumer choice, all government employees, (and the unions and union dues that come with them), a secure, generous budget and no incentive to be efficient and please the customer.

Since the media is not going to do that job, it’s up to Republicans.

Here are a few tips for conservatives and candidates running for office this year:

  1. Hold every failure of the VA up as an example of what Democrats want health care to be
  2. Draw a parallel between the VA’s failures and every vote any Democrat has ever cast in favor of greater government control of health care
  3. Wrap it around their necks in everything you spend money on

Conservatives should make the most out of the opportunity to put Democrats and Obama on the spot to support (or oppose) real reforms that would actually help veterans get access to better care, and create a wedge that would make it easier to reform the rest of the system in the future.

Why not move to privatize the VA’s facilities and transform it into a veterans’ healthcare reimbursement agency? Or better yet, let it buy full private insurance coverage for veterans as a group and then let them shop for the best care? Win or lose, it’s an idea that offers something for the victims, and puts Democrats in a bad spot.

It’s messaging 101: find the victim, point them out, then tailor your proposals and rhetoric around helping the victim.

The ongoing messaging problem for Democrats is that, not only are they selling government, but they are selling the most unpopular kind of government, (i.e., the big, inefficient, one-size-fits-all variety), and the VA scandal reinforces the notions that Americans already have about the inadequacies of big government.

Republicans need to help voters get a really good look.