Letter from a Birmingham Jail

A cou­ple of years ago, I decid­ed to read Mar­tin Luther King Jr.‘s “Let­ter from a Birm­ing­ham Jail” on the MLK Day, as I have the day off from work. The fed­er­al hol­i­day was intend­ed to be a day or ser­vice, but per­haps we can at least start with learn­ing about the man and his beliefs through his most famous let­ter. I can’t imag­ine that any­one could read this let­ter and not come away changed. It is tru­ly one of the finest writ­ings I’ve ever read.

It is a rather long let­ter (as he even admits to near in its clos­ing). So, if you pre­fer to spare the hour with a read­ing, then this video has you cov­ered. The first four min­utes are a read­ing of the let­ter by a group of cler­gy­men that prompt­ed King’s response. This embed­ded video starts after that.

I felt com­pelled to share this as dur­ing our par­en­t’s Sun­day school class yes­ter­day, one per­son raised the ques­tion “Why does this per­son even have a hol­i­day? He was­n’t the only civ­il rights leader.” I choose to give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt that he was rais­ing the ques­tion in good faith (the talk imme­di­ate­ly changed to a slight­ly dif­fer­ent sub­ject, as these group con­ver­sa­tions often do). He stat­ed that his chil­dren and oth­ers had asked it, and I believe he was say­ing this so he could jus­ti­fy that the MLK Day hol­i­day was because Mar­tin Luther King Jr was a great Amer­i­can and civ­il rights leader.

That is true, and even in his brief life­time (I’m now two years old­er than he was when he was killed), he became a sym­bol for a move­ment much greater than him­self1. He was a bril­liant and coura­geous leader who believed in the best of the Chris­t­ian church and of Amer­i­ca. This let­ter is strong evi­dence of these things. So the hol­i­day isn’t just a memo­r­i­al to his ser­vice, but I believe to all of what he rep­re­sent­ed. Its to remind us of the abil­i­ty of peo­ple in this nation to be able to move moun­tains. Its to remind us that com­pla­cen­cy and the desire to main­tain order is not an Amer­i­can virtue, but the antithe­sis of what Amer­i­ca was found­ed on. Amer­i­ca can always be a bet­ter place for all and no one else is going to come do that hard work for us. Some of us will have to give up some priv­i­lege. Some of us will lose time and mon­ey to the work. Some peo­ple have giv­en so much more, as King risked and ulti­mate lost his life in doing his work.

So that’s why we have a hol­i­day. Not because of what Kind did, or at least not entire­ly because of it. Also, to remind us of what we have left to do. We have to do it not because we owe it to King’s mem­o­ry, but because we owe it to every last Amer­i­can. It’s pre­cise­ly what it means to be Amer­i­can.

  1. I’m bas­ing a great deal of this state­ment on Rep. John Lewis’ March graph­ic nov­els, which are an amaz­ing read, too. []

What I Told Our Kids

I’ve been inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics for most of my life and Angela is much the same. So we of course dis­cuss pol­i­tics quite a bit around the house. I do my best to fol­low my par­ents’ lead and 1) not get over­ly emo­tion­al­ly or upset about pol­i­tics and 2) not present my opin­ion as the only one that mat­ters. This is impor­tant so the kids can grow up form­ing their own opin­ions and also so they will be less like­ly to get in an unnec­es­sary argu­ment with oth­er kids. Kids at school should focus on learn­ing and being kids, not argu­ing with some­one else over who’s par­ents vot­ed for who. Though I’m adamant our chil­dren under­stand how our coun­try is gov­erned, it’s not real­ly impor­tant for them to have strong opin­ions in grade school on mat­ters of nation­al pol­i­cy.

But kids do talk about cur­rent events and even pol­i­tics, to a less­er extent, at school. So I was­n’t too shocked when my son told me last Tues­day night after I turned out his lights “I sure hope Trump does­n’t win or I’ll have to move to Cana­da! He wants to build a wall around the entire coun­try.”

I assured him that we would­n’t have to move no mat­ter who won and that there was­n’t going to be any wall1. The next morn­ing Angela and I dis­cussed the out­come of the elec­tion before the kids got up. But once they did wake up, it was a typ­i­cal week­day rush to get ready for school and work, so there was­n’t any time to talk about the results of the elec­tion. After school, though, while I was mak­ing din­ner, my daugh­ter called out “So did Trump real­ly win last night?”

“What!?” my son shout­ed with a look of gen­uine hor­ror on his face.

So I told them that, yes, Trump did win and that one of the great­est parts of being an Amer­i­can is that we have free elec­tions for our lead­ers. And even though mom­my and I may have both vot­ed for Sec. Clin­ton, we don’t have to leave or lose any­thing just because she lost. I explained that this is just how we pick a leader but it has noth­ing to do with who gets to be Amer­i­can.

Now, to a cer­tain point, that is true. How­ev­er, there are plen­ty of peo­ple who Trump has promised should­n’t get to enter or even stay in Amer­i­ca. And even if Trump has­n’t direct­ly expressed it, plen­ty of his sup­port­ers have some very strong and dis­gust­ing opin­ions about just who should or should not get to be an Amer­i­can at all. But I real­ly did­n’t want to have to bur­den a nine- and sev­en-year-old with that, so I fig­ured that would be the end of my two-minute reas­sur­ance talk with them.

Then my daugh­ter asked what the KKK was and why were some kids say­ing the KKK were hap­py Trump won? That’s right: my inno­cent lit­tle kid was ask­ing about the god­damn Klu Klux Klan2. I explained that they were a very racist group who felt that white peo­ple like me were some­how bet­ter than oth­er peo­ple but that I am most def­i­nite­ly not bet­ter than any­one else, no mat­ter what they look like, where they come from, or for any oth­er rea­son. That God loves every­one just the same and that, with­out ques­tion, any­one who con­tra­dicts that is wrong.

As hor­ri­fied as I was that I was hav­ing to hold this con­ver­sa­tion with my chil­dren as a direct result of a U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, I decid­ed now was the time to start right­ing the ship. I explained that even though we weren’t bet­ter than any­one, there are racist and prej­u­diced peo­ple in this coun­try who wrong­ly believe that. Fur­ther, that our fam­i­ly prob­a­bly already has it bet­ter than most peo­ple and are like­ly to expe­ri­ence far less dif­fi­cul­ties and prej­u­dices than oth­er peo­ple in our coun­try already do and will under Pres­i­dent Trump and many of his sup­port­ers. And that as a result of that, it was our duty to help speak up on the behalf of oth­ers. That if we ran away or even just looked the oth­er way, it would make the bul­lies stronger and their vic­tims’ pain even worse. I asked them both to promise me that if they ever heard or saw any­one else being mis­treat­ed because of how they look, the col­or of their skin, or what they believe, that they would tell the per­son doing so to stop. Tell them that they were wrong. And to tell a respon­si­ble adult imme­di­ate­ly.

They both glad­ly promised that they would. So if two kids are brave enough to make that promise, I know I will be, too. There was nev­er a time in this coun­try’s his­to­ry that we did­n’t need to look out for one anoth­er, but maybe it took some­thing like this elec­tion to remind us of that.

Please note that any hurt­ful or deroga­to­ry com­ments will be delet­ed with extreme prej­u­dice.

  1. I’m equal­ly con­fi­dent about both. Pres­i­dent-elect Trump has already stat­ed that the wall may just be a fence in some places. I doubt even that will get built, but feel free to re-check me on that state­ment over the next four years. []
  2. Let’s be very clear bout some­thing right here: If you feel the need to say some­thing in defense of the Klan, you need to leave this site and nev­er come back. If you are some­how offend­ed or upset that I despise the KKK, just as much as I do any white nation­al­ist, white suprema­cy, or oth­er racist group, you and I can call it quits right here. I may not think I’m supe­ri­or to you, but I know you are wrong and I have zero need to tol­er­ate you. Full stop. []

PAC Insanity

School boards and par­ent orga­ni­za­tions should be real­ly bor­ing stuff, but it’s been pret­ty heat­ed in Williamson Coun­ty, TN in the past year. A local par­ent orga­ni­za­tion called Williamson Strong was fined $5,000 dol­lars recent­ly when it was decid­ed that they were oper­at­ing as an unreg­is­tered Polit­i­cal Action Com­mit­tee (PAC). They are appeal­ing the deci­sion and, in fact have a fed­er­al case against Ten­nessee’s PAC laws. The fol­low­ing is a from a Ten­nessean arti­cle on the law­suit:

State law defines a “polit­i­cal cam­paign com­mit­tee,” com­mon­ly known as a PAC, as “a com­bi­na­tion of two (2) or more indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing any polit­i­cal par­ty gov­ern­ing body, whether state or local, mak­ing expen­di­tures, to sup­port or oppose any can­di­date for pub­lic office or mea­sure, but does not include a vot­er reg­is­tra­tion pro­gram.”

State law defines “expen­di­ture” in per­ti­nent part as a “pur­chase, pay­ment, dis­tri­b­u­tion, loan, advance, deposit or gift of mon­ey or any­thing of val­ue made for the pur­pose of influ­enc­ing a mea­sure or the nom­i­na­tion for elec­tion or elec­tion of any per­son to pub­lic office.”

In case the absur­di­ty of how much that lim­its free speech that isn’t imme­di­ate­ly ridicu­lous, let me ask this:

If my kid & I bor­row some poster board and paint to make a sign to sup­port our neigh­bor who wants to run for school board, should we first reg­is­ter as a PAC in Ten­nessee?

The Reg­istry of Elec­tion Finance, who issued the fine, indi­cat­ed that the amount of mon­ey spent was­n’t at issue. Basi­cal­ly, if any two peo­ple spend any amount of mon­ey, they could be fined thou­sands of dol­lars with no way to give their side of the issue? And school board mem­ber Susan Curlee1 has shown that she is noth­ing if not tena­cious and vin­dic­tive, so who would risk that sort of thing? It absolute­ly is the sort of thing to put a hold on polit­i­cal free speech.

I can­not believe it, but I’m actu­al­ly glad of the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed case rul­ing and hope this Williamson Strong case is over­turned and the law is found to be a vio­la­tion of the First Amend­ment. I believe in cam­paign finance reform and lim­it the insane amounts of mon­ey spent on influ­enc­ing elec­tions, but that’s no where near the sort of thing we’re dis­cussing here. Some e‑mail lists and a web­site domain reg­is­tra­tion aren’t like­ly any­one’s def­i­n­i­tion of large cam­paign expen­di­tures, even in a local school board race.

  1. But just to CMA, this site and its con­tents are com­plete­ly paid for by myself and I’m not yet cur­rent­ly mak­ing any pub­lic recomen­da­tions for school board mem­bers. []

On Marriage Equality

I haven’t writ­ten much on my blog in the past few years, let along any­thing about pol­i­tics. But this has been some week, has­n’t it? Today’s US Supreme Court 5–4 rul­ing strik­ing down anti-same-sex-mar­riage laws —such as those we have had! here in Ten­nessee— feels like a once-in-a-life­time kind of change. That so many Amer­i­cans are sud­den­ly free to mar­ry whom they choose is amaz­ing and I felt moved enough to remark on it.

Rethinking My Youth, Part II

I wrote about mar­riage laws over ten years ago on this site. That was inspired by Vir­gini­a’s (where my wife and I lived at the time) state Supreme Court struck down an old law that for­bid adults hav­ing sex out­side of mar­riage. It was crazy that it was still on the books in 2005, but as I not­ed, Vir­ginia also banned inter­ra­cial mar­riage up until the land­mark Lov­ing vs. Vir­ginia 48 years ago this month1. I con­clud­ed with the fol­low­ing para­graph:

This sounds like all the same ratio­nal for ban­ning homo­sex­u­al mar­riages: that because God obvi­ous­ly doesn’t want them, than nei­ther should we. I’m not so sure that there’s a whole lot of evi­dence that sug­gests God doesn’t want two lov­ing peo­ple to have a for­mal com­mit­ment. Fur­ther, I think that at some point in my life­time, we’ll look back at today’s anti-gay-mar­riage laws and feel the same way about ban­ning inter­ra­cial mar­riage and unmar­ried sex: why did we ever have laws insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing hate and crim­i­nal­iz­ing love?

Well, at that time I tru­ly did­n’t think it would hap­pen so fast. And in the con­text of such a huge change in both pub­lic opin­ion and dumb, anti-gay laws, a decade seems fast. How­ev­er, I am sure that a decade seemed far too long for those men and women in long-term rela­tion­ships who were for­bid from mar­ry­ing the man or woman they loved. To them, it must have seemed like for­ev­er and the strug­gles they faced were tremen­dous.

Angela and I have been hap­pi­ly mar­ried now for over thir­teen years. I love her more now than ever and it would be incon­ceiv­able that our mar­riage would have been con­sid­ered any­thing less than some­thing shout­ing for joy over, let alone like­ly ille­gal at one time in the state where we lived. Our mar­riage is as strong as we are able to make it. No one out­side of us —not straight or gay— can change that. The only two peo­ple who could make our mar­riage mean less are our­selves. Today’s SCOTUS rul­ing does­n’t change that at all. It just gives many more Amer­i­cans the chance to have that same oppor­tu­ni­ty and the legal ben­e­fits (of which there are many) that go along with it.

To My Fellow Christians…

To my fel­low Chris­tians —espe­cial­ly those of you who feel this rul­ing some­how hurts you— please emu­late the com­pas­sion and love of Christ. He nev­er once spoke on the sub­ject of same-sex rela­tion­ships or mar­riage. Those pas­sages many of you so often feel the need to throw around from the bible? Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing per­spec­tive from a Pres­by­ter­ian Church USA (my denom­i­na­tion) news arti­cle from March of this year, just after the PC(USA) allowed for same-sex mar­riages (empha­sis mine):

“Some will say that we have turned our back on the ‘clear teach­ing of Scrip­ture,’ ” says Todd Free­man, pas­tor of Col­lege Hill Pres­by­ter­ian Church in Tul­sa, Okla­homa. “It appears that many Pres­by­te­ri­ans now con­sid­er that this is not the case. We rec­og­nize that our cul­tur­al bias­es and prej­u­dices were woven through­out the bib­li­cal wit­ness. This recog­ni­tion has helped lead the Pres­by­ter­ian Church to change its tra­di­tion­al stance on a num­ber of issues, includ­ing slav­ery, racial equal­i­ty, and the right of women to be ordained into posi­tions of church lead­er­ship. Many of us also rec­og­nize that the bib­li­cal pas­sages that con­demn same-gen­der sex­u­al acts are not in ref­er­ence to cou­ples in a lov­ing mutu­al rela­tion­ship, but rather address rela­tion­ships that are con­trol­ling, abu­sive, and exploita­tive.

Please read here and here for some detailed expla­na­tions on that final sen­tence. And even if you do choose to inter­pret those very same pas­sages as con­demn­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in any form, what about all the oth­er bib­li­cal laws that you (and I) break dai­ly? The mix­ing of fab­rics (Deuteron­o­my 22:11 and Leviti­cus 19:19), the eat­ing of pork and shell­fish (Leviti­cus 11), or even shav­ing our beards (Leviti­cus 19:27)? There are count­less bib­li­cal laws that most of us Chris­tians break on a dai­ly basis with­out so much as a sec­ond thought2. I don’t say this to con­demn you or myself. And even though I hope it’s obvi­ous that those who so often claim we can’t just cher­ry-pick from the bible are like­ly doing just that them­selves, that’s also not the point I want to stress. As a Chris­t­ian, I want to focus on lov­ing oth­ers rather than for­bid­ding them from being who they feel they are and lov­ing who they choose to love (like­ly because it just real­ly makes you feel icky and you’d like to back that up with a bible verse or two). It’s beyond me how any­one would claim to be a Chris­t­ian (or any moral or eth­i­cal per­son, regard­less of faith or lack there­of) and think that’s OK.

Two People

None of this may con­vince you, of course. But be aware that there are many dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of scrip­ture and we, as a nation found­ed on reli­gious lib­er­ties, sim­ply can­not deny oth­ers basic rights such as the free­dom to mar­ry —and yes, Jus­tice Scalia, it’s a right!— based on a nar­row read­ing of scrip­ture. That is what today’s rul­ing is about. Not a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of mar­riage —as that was always so much messier than con­ser­v­a­tives have led us to believe— but rather an accep­tance that we each get to define our own mar­riages. The only require­ment is two peo­ple will­ing to make that com­mit­ment to one anoth­er.

Last­ly, to all the won­der­ful cou­ples who go mar­ried today, in places like Nashville or Franklin, TN, I hope that ten years from now I can write anoth­er post. One that will look back and place the shear ridicu­lous­ness of how you were treat­ed in the same frame as oth­er laws gov­ern­ing who and how we could love one anoth­er.

For now, con­grat­u­la­tions.

  1. This is a bit of a per­son­al aside: Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, like­ly to be the most con­ser­v­a­tive mem­ber of the cur­rent US Supreme Court, is African-Amer­i­can and is mar­ried to a cau­casian woman (coin­ci­den­tal­ly, named Vir­ginia). It took a US Supreme Court rul­ing to allow his mar­riage to be rec­og­nized in all states, includ­ing Vir­ginia. So I can­not help but find it par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious that he has some ridicu­lous­ly nar­row inter­pre­ta­tion as to the mean­ing of “lib­er­ty” in the due process clause. He seems to lim­it to basi­cal­ly our abil­i­ty to go about the coun­try as we choose and no more. As such, he argues that peti­tion­ers were not deprived of their lib­er­ty, nor was there dig­ni­ty dimin­ished. Giv­en that a law also had to be found uncon­sti­tu­tion­al for him to have the lib­er­ty to mar­ry his wife, I can’t begin to see how he rec­on­ciles this. The peti­tion­ers have not “been left alone to order their lives as they see fit” as he states. They have been denied vis­i­ta­tion, death ben­e­fits, shar­ing of health insur­ance, adop­tive rights, and so much more. []
  2. I can’t say what Mike Huck­abee had for break­fast or what his nice suit is made of, but he clear­ly shaves his beard with­out much remorse. []

Elections

It does­n’t amount to mak­ing any dif­fer­ence, but as a rule I nev­er vote for a can­di­date who is run­ning unop­posed. Sad­ly, this hap­pens a lot. Many of the races for Con­gress I’ve ever vot­ed in were this way.

There was one elec­tion in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia in which I lit­er­al­ly vot­ed for no one (though I think I did answer y/n on one of the ques­tion votes). Real­ly does­n’t do much to moti­vate one to vote at all when it real­ly does­n’t mat­ter, right?

So I’m very glad to see some com­pe­ti­tion —no mat­ter how ane­mic— on my bal­let this Novem­ber. I’m no fan of Rep. Black­burn or Sen. Cork­er. Though some of their com­pe­ti­tion are no-chance, fringe can­di­dates; folks like that have occa­sion­al­ly won races.

So if you haven’t already vot­ed, go vote this Tues­day. Even if you have to skip over some one-horse races, it always mat­ters.

Mike Rowe on Trade Labor

Mike Rowe of Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel’s Dirty Jobs tes­ti­fied before the U.S. Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion this past Wednes­day. The entire writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny is worth read­ing. I can guar­an­tee you that it con­tains the most heart-warm­ing sto­ry of plumb­ing repair you’ll read all day.

I com­plete­ly agree with every­thing he says. Even in a bleak econ­o­my with high unem­ploy­ment rates, our coun­try faces a short­age of skilled labor­ers (which actu­al­ly start­ed long before the econ­o­my tanked and cer­tain­ly did­n’t help pre­vent it). Rowe:

In gen­er­al, we’re sur­prised that high unem­ploy­ment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor short­age. We should­n’t be. We’ve pret­ty much guar­an­teed it.

In high schools, the voca­tion­al arts have all but van­ished. We’ve ele­vat­ed the impor­tance of “high­er edu­ca­tion” to such a lofty perch that all oth­er forms of knowl­edge are now labeled “alter­na­tive.” Mil­lions of par­ents and kids see appren­tice­ships and on-the-job-train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties as “voca­tion­al con­so­la­tion prizes,” best suit­ed for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about mil­lions of “shov­el ready” jobs for a soci­ety that does­n’t encour­age peo­ple to pick up a shov­el.

We real­ly need to re-ori­ent our notion of suc­cess away from how much we have, how much we make, or how lit­tle we have to work for it. The sub­text to the ques­tion So, what do you do? should be what do you do to help soci­ety?. Labor isn’t some­thing to be ashamed of as a soci­ety nor is some­thing we should con­sid­ered rel­e­gat­ed to those less wor­thy. The peo­ple who con­struct and repair our homes, our places of work, and our infra­struc­ture the inter­face between life and civ­i­liza­tion. It’s about time we start­ed tak­ing a lot more pride — as a soci­ety or coun­try — in the class of pro­fes­sions that make it hap­pen.

Per­haps this all sounds a bit hyp­o­crit­i­cal com­ing from a col­lege edu­cat­ed guy and that’s fair enough. How­ev­er, I do what I do because I love it. I’ve always been fas­ci­nat­ed by build­ing things and how things sim­ply go togeth­er. So, as a prod­uct of my envi­ron­ment, I became an engi­neer and now a writer (about engi­neer­ing soft­ware). But I still val­ue every moment that I get to use my hands and some tools to make or fix some­thing. As Rowe describes, those are some of the best mem­o­ries I have and I know that I learn a lot when doing those projects. I also have learned to have a great deal of respect for those who do it for a liv­ing.

An anal­o­gy of where we — as a soci­ety — seem to val­ue trade labor: the phrase chef to the stars seems like a rea­son­able (if not pre­ten­tious) thing to put on one’s busi­ness card or web site. How­ev­er, elec­tri­cian to the stars seems like a joke punch­line (or pos­si­bly a new real­i­ty series on TLC, which I’d argue is the same thing). But, hon­est­ly, what is the dif­fer­ence between the two pro­fes­sions in terms of body of knowl­edge or skill sets? Both require years of expe­ri­ence, appren­tice­ships, and even for­mal train­ing to mas­ter. But the idea of our kids becom­ing a chef seems to have more appeal than an elec­tri­cian because, why, exact­ly? We’ve just some­how decid­ed it’s not as worth and that needs to change.

I Miss Ned Ray

After his last term as gov­er­nor of Ten­nessee, the I Miss Ned Ray bumper stick­ers were a fair­ly com­mon site around the state1. He was cer­tain­ly a pop­u­lar gov­er­nor dur­ing his two terms in office.

Today, for­mer Gov. McWhert­er passed away in Nashville at the age of 80. He was a great leader and he will — again — be sore­ly missed by most Ten­nesseans who remem­ber him fond­ly.

I had the for­tune to meet then Gov. McWhert­er dur­ing his sec­ond term in office on a Polit­i­cal Sci­ence class trip to the state’s cap­i­tal. We (the class and our teacher, also the school’s foot­ball & soc­cer coach) had walked into his emp­ty office. I recall a smell of cig­ar about his desk and that my friend spot­ted his half-eat­en sand­wich. We were just being shooed out by the teacher — who no doubt thought he’d got­ten away with some­thing by get­ting us unin­vit­ed into to the gov­er­nor’s office2 — when the Gov­er­nor walked back into the room. He was an impos­ing man to most peo­ple, but to a 125 pound high school sopho­more, he seemed as for­mi­da­ble as most of the state’s moun­tains. How­ev­er, he was gra­cious and friend­ly and took a few min­utes to speak with us. It was lost on me at the time that he was in the process of expand­ing the states edu­ca­tion sys­tem by push­ing for land­mark improve­ments to the state’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem and man­age­ment.

Dur­ing the course of that class and as a result of meet­ing him, I grew more inter­est­ed in his pol­i­tics and came to respect him as won­der­ful gov­er­nor and politi­cian. I can trace much of the polit­i­cal val­ues I hold dear to grow­ing up dur­ing his time as gov­er­nor (I was just ten when he was first elect­ed).

  1. Despite my claim, I could­n’t find any images of one on Google []
  2. Yes, kids, there was a time in the nation’s great his­to­ry when you could just walk into your state’s gov­ern­ment build­ings and actu­al­ly speak with your elect­ed offi­cials. []

Tax and Spend Conservatives

USA Today’s Den­nis Cau­chon:

Fed­er­al, state and local tax­es — includ­ing income, prop­er­ty, sales and oth­er tax­es — con­sumed 9.2% of all per­son­al income in 2009, the low­est rate since 1950, the Bureau of Eco­nom­ic Analy­sis reports. That rate is far below the his­toric aver­age of 12% for the last half-cen­tu­ry. The over­all tax bur­den hit bot­tom in Decem­ber at 8.8.% of income before ris­ing slight­ly in the first three months of 2010.

“The idea that tax­es are high right now is pret­ty much nuts,” says Michael Ettlinger, head of eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy at the lib­er­al Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

Who was in charge when the coun­try had its last bud­get sur­plus? Bill Clin­ton (D). Who was in charge when it (quick­ly) end­ed and we reached the high­est deficit in his­to­ry? George W. Bush ®. Who is in charge now that we have the low­est tax­es in six decades? Barack Oba­ma (D).

Who near­ly bank­rupt the Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia with spend­ing? A long line of Repub­li­can gov­er­nors. Who slashed spend­ing and got the state back in the black? Mark Warn­er (D).

So do we all under­stand the notion of ‘tax and spend lib­er­al’ is a boogey­man? I sure hope so. (via Gru­ber)

Self Identification

This was the first year that I ever got to fill out a cen­sus as hus­band, father, home­own­er, and all around adult. The last cen­sus, both Angela and I were liv­ing in a dor­mi­to­ries (in two dif­fer­ent states, no less). It was such an small but sat­is­fac­to­ry sense of self-worth.

In the big­ger pic­ture, the U.S. Cen­sus is a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly-man­dat­ed check-up on who makes up our coun­try. But some­thing that real­ly struck me is that it is no longer about what labels can the gov­ern­ment assign to us so much as it is a ques­tion­naire of how we see our­selves. My wife was absolute­ly thrilled that she was able to check more than one box for race (you’d be sur­prised how many forms still only allow for one option). So, she able to describe to the gov­ern­ment how she sees her­self as well as how we see our chil­dren.

There is a short, cutesy video explain­ing to same-sex cou­ples that they are allowed to mark how they view them­selves and their rela­tion­ship. It’s short and stars George Takei and his hus­band, Brad Alt­man:

The same con­cept applies here: the cen­sus is about dis­cov­er­ing how we view our­selves and not what labels oth­ers want to use. Whether it be race or mar­i­tal sta­tus on the cen­sus, or reli­gion or even gen­der, I — and my coun­try — am real­iz­ing that self iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is far more impor­tant that exter­nal labels.

In a coun­try where indi­vid­u­al­ism is cel­e­brat­ed, this is the cen­sus we should use1. The gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple has to let the peo­ple define them­selves.

  1. Though, in 2020, it damn well bet­ter be elec­tron­ic! []

Liberals Who Pine for Conservatives

As a lib­er­al who grew up with, works with, and lives with great peo­ple who are con­ser­v­a­tives, this piece by the Wash­ing­ton Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. speaks vol­umes about how I feel about them. Which is that con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es are an impor­tant par­ty of a pro­gres­sive soci­ety. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as Dionne points out, we haven’t seen that kind of con­ser­v­a­tive in the past year when dis­cussing the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion or health care reform:

Many who call them­selves con­ser­v­a­tives pro­pose to cast aside even gov­ern­ment pro­grams that have stood the test of time. They seem to imag­ine a world in which gov­ern­ment with­ers away, a phrase that comes from Friedrich Engels, not Buck­ley. Or they tie them­selves up in unruly con­tra­dic­tions, declar­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly that they are dead-set against gov­ern­ment-run health care and pas­sion­ate defend­ers of Medicare.

And while mod­ern con­ser­vatism has usu­al­ly sup­port­ed the mar­ket against the state, its old­est and most durable brand under­stood that the mar­ket was an imper­fect instru­ment. True con­ser­v­a­tives may give “two cheers for cap­i­tal­ism,” as Irv­ing Kris­tol put it in the title of one of his books, but nev­er three.

The world and this coun­try des­per­ate­ly needs both lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives, but those who tru­ly cham­pi­on those val­ues and can peace­ful­ly and con­struc­tive­ly reach a com­pro­mise.