My Arlen Specter story

Sen. Arlen Specter

Sen. Arlen Specter (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

I wrote this some time ago and thought I had published it.  As the former Senator from Pennsylvania recently passed away and I never had published it, I am now.

Several lifetimes ago,  I worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).  One thing young staffers get to do is deal with constituents — in person, on the phone and through their always well thought out and researched correspondence.  I firmly believe if our founding fathers were to travel in time to now and judged us solely on the people who visit and call their Congressional representatives, we would have a vastly different form of government.

One evening, a very peculiar woman came in.   She was convinced that anyone born in California (or Hawaii) could vote in France.  She also thought I was 45 years old.  I am not even that old now — several lifetimes later — so you can appreciate how well that went over with me.  She wasn’t too scary but she liked mu boss and made that clear.  What she said on her way out was how much she hated Senator Specter and she was going to give him a piece of her mind (Is it snarky of me to note that this was more than she could afford to give?).

One idea that I cling to, even when I am not sure why, is that people who get involved in politics do so because they care about the country.  In that respect, Hill staffers have several things in common; a strong work ethic, long hours, low pay, a hatred of all things related to the Close Up foundation.  So, when this woman, made that comment, I called Senator Specter’s office immediately (he was a Republican then.)

Me: Hi this is Alyson from Senator Feinstein’s office.  A really freaky woman was just in here and she is headed your way.  Just wanted to let you know.

Specter staffer: You do know our senator is a Republican, right?

Me:  That doesn’t matter right now.  Crazy person, coming to your office any minute.

They took my advice seriously and locked their front door — it was around 6:00 pm so that made some sense.  The woman in question shook the glass doors so much that they called the Capitol police.

The next morning, I received 15 pounds of Hershey chocolate of several flavors.  The note read; Thanks for yesterday, we would not have done the same for you.  WTF?  You wouldn’t?  Really?  REALLY?  Guess not.

We need to treat each other better.


No, Senator Santorum, it’s not the media trying to “pigeonhole” you, it’s your own statements

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

At the risk of being a broken record, I enjoy watching Morning Joe.  I like it a lot.  I appreciated the exchange they had with Rick Santorum this morning enough to want to write about it.  Unfortunately that led me to have to read through and actually watch some of his statements.  After watching more clips of him than I would like, my soul hurts.  It hurts a lot.  I also think I may have sprained my neck from shaking my head so much.

Santorum’s hypocrisy is overwhelming.  To get a smaller point out of the way, can we stop blaming the media for reporting on things public figures say?  No, if unedited video is aired somewhere — on YouTube or a media outlet — you don’t get to claim the press did you wrong.  Say you misspoke.  Say you made a mistake.  I know that I would be impressed with either answer.  Although, if your misstatement or mistake reflects an opinion you have been expressing for decades, you don’t get to say that one time you used the wrong words.

And now we come to Santorum’s hypocrisy.  He sparred with Joe Scarborough over his position on contraception — something he thinks is destroying America is is “not how things should be.”  Sex, in his view, is only meant to be between a heterosexual, married couple and only when they are trying to have children.  I don’t know where that leaves people incapable of having children, I guess in a sexless life.  Or maybe in their hearts they could just hope they are going to get pregnant and therefore please the vengeful God who would otherwise smite them down for such a heretical act.

Problem one:  Santorum chastised Scarborough for giving into the media proclivity to “pigeonhole him” and to basically put words in his mouth.  According to him, he has done “thousands of rallies” where contraception never came up.  When he did mention his opposition to it — and he omitted how vociferous that opposition has been — it was merely in reference to the overwhelming threat posed by Obamacare.  It isn’t contraception that bothers him, per se, it’s the federal government’s overreaching into our private lives.  Except that’s not what he has said.  He didn’t frame his comments in 2011 or 2010 or the last few decades as concern over the federal government overstepping its bounds, he talked about contraception as being one of the evils that is destroying America, promoting “the wrong kind of sex” and leading, paradoxically, to “more unplanned pregnancies.”  Yeah, increased contraceptive use usually does lead to that (what am I missing here? Oh, right, I forgot about the YouTube clip I saw where Santorum calls scientists “amoral” — check it out, if you dare.).  So the mere idea that the fine former Senator from Pennsylvania’s comments on the issue have been taken out of context or blown out of proportion is absurd on every level possible.  No, Rick, the media didn’t force you to talk about this issue, you brought it up all on your own.

Problem two:  Santorum argues that his campaign isn’t about this issue but in several interviews he mentions things he would do as president to accomplish his goals.  To give him some credit, I agree with some of what he says.  The presidency comes along with a bully pulpit an if you are not prepared to use it, why bother? (Case in point, the role of First Lady comes with the same perk and one major issue I had with Howard Dean was that his family was clearly not on board with his presidential run.  Not only did his mother tell Vanity Fair that he ‘had no shot of winning’ — ouch! — but his wife declared she would not serve as First Lady. Truthfully, I would not trust anyone who would give that opportunity up with feeding my cat much less providing my health care but that’s my personal opinion.)  So by saying, he has been talking about these moral issues but didn’t mean them to have such an impact makes zero sense.  That kind of logic does not belong in the White House.

Problem three:  And this one, to me, applies to many members of the Republican party.  I am sorry, Mr. Scarborough, but this includes you sometimes (abortion, not contraception, I loved your idea about the quid pro quo in Virginia — if the vaginal probe ultrasound requirement for abortions passed so should an anal probe requirement for Viagra).  How can you claim to support less government in our business lives but more in our personal ones?  I know, I know, if you think abortion is murder… (I do not, I am just admitting I can see a flaw in my own criticism of your logic, which I still think is flawed).  But what about contraception?  Not to get all personal but I have used contraception for both the purposes of preventing pregnancy but on more than one occasion for other health issues.  And truthfully, that shouldn’t be germane to this discussion but as I see stats as high as putting the percentage of women who have used contraception at 99 percent, and given that would have to include lesbians, a bunch of us are using these medications for reasons that have nothing to do with sex — casual or otherwise.  (Oh, and if you are so “pro-marriage” as you claim, Mr. Santorum, why oppose gay marriage?  Maybe that’s a topic for another day.)

Problem four:   Why does  your religion trump mine?  When you described why you are making the sacrifice you are making to run for president — and I am one of the people who appreciates anyone willing to go through it, running for president is hard business so I agree with you on that — is that you want to live in a country where you can practice your faith.  I am cool with you practicing your faith.  Practice away.  Why does that give you the right to impose your faith on me?  My personal religion is physics but I don’t expect you to sit around pondering Einstein’s theory of relativity like I do (like a slippery bar of soap in the shower, every time I think I get it, I lose it again).  There is a reason our Founding Fathers wanted the separation of church and state (and no, when President Kennedy talked about religious tolerance, he was not suggesting faith has no place in the public square.  He was merely pointing out that all religions and faiths have a place in the country.)

Faith is often defined as the belief in something without any discernable proof and the argument could almost be made that I have faith that you are running for president because you do want to make the country better, though none of your positions give me any reason to believe that goal would be accomplished.  That’s harsh, the proof is you are running and I cling to the idea that most people in politics are in it for the right reasons.  The comparison I like to make is that Democrats and Republicans both want to get to the same place — a better, safer, more prosperous America — we just have different routes we think we need to take to get there.

My last point, for the people with my sized attention span: the nation should not be forced to practice or adhere to the religious beliefs of the president.  And that does not mean I don’t think faith has a place in our system.  I think one of the traps into which liberals fall — myself included — is to deny the role it can play in bringing us together.  I am all for religion that brings out the better angles of our nature, as it did during the Civil Rights movement, which began in churches.  It troubles me, however, when it is used as a weapon to divide us into different classes of people — like when we deny half our population the right to marry or use it to tell more than half the population what kind of medical treatment they can receive and who will decide that.

This video won’t be for everyone, I know I need a drink after watching it.

Not sad but not excited by the death of a terrorist

When something is thrown upwards, there is a point at which the object’s upward momentum and the force of gravity are equal. For some time period — even if it is incredibly small — when the object hangs suspended. That is the emotional space I have occupied since learning about Osama bin Laden’s death. Any relief/closure/positive emotion has been tempered by my normal instinct that death is bad and deaths, even of bad people, are not meant to be celebrated.

Now, I should confess a few things. I grew up on Long Island and live in Washington, DC. My emotional location vis-à-vis 9/11 had been a strange place. It remains one of the worst days of my life and few things would make me happier than seeing the towers built back exactly the way there were and despite knowing New York as well as I know any place on earth, I still get lost in lower Manhattan sometimes because I still look for the WTC when I get out of the subway. Growing up, that was my compass in the city. It may always be. These are the reasons, my liberal friends tell me my opinion of anything 9/11 related is less valid because I am too close to it.

At the same time, I will never think we should do to ourselves what the terrorists could not; destroy out way of life and take away our belief in the ideals that inspired our republic. Racial intolerance cannot be mistaken for vigilance against terrorism. We cannot convince anyone outside of the US  to believe that we believe in the importance of the rule of law if we do not apply it uniformly within the US. And the Bill of Rights is as important today as it was on 9/10/2001. These are the reasons my conservative friends tell me my opinions on this subject are less valid because I “do not understand the impact 9/11 had on America.”

You can see the paradox. One might think these opinions would give me more reason to hate Osama bin Laden but I don’t. I can’t. He doesn’t deserve that. The closest thing I have had to “joy” at seeing him be killed was when I laughed at a photo of President Obama that had the caption “I am sorry it took me so long to get you my birth certificate, I was busy killing Osama bin Laden.”

At the end of the day though, if I were to become the kind of person who celebrates any loss of life — even of someone as reprehensible as this mass killer — I just become more like them and I don’t want that.