Santa for Seniors, Driver Days, and my Periodic Republican Attitude Adjustment

Every now and then I get to thinking that Republicans are just a bunch of mean, stupid lowlifes and I get ready to write a nasty post saying just that. Several weeks of dishonest smears by phone and by mail, along with a few stories about stolen or vandalized yard signs, canvassers getting an earful of racist and jingoistic nonsense, and a weekend in the Organizing for America tent at Driver Days in Suffolk, Virginia, can do that to a Democrat. Fortunately, before I finish such a post, I usually meet someone who reminds me that there are truly good people who don’t agree with me about important issues. This weekend, during Driver Days, that person was Deneen Evans, a representative of Home Instead Senior Care, and a good, compassionate person who will probably vote for Romney.

Deneen Evans speaking with visitors at Home Instead tent at fair.
Deneen Evans with Visitors, and Staff Coordinator Kathie Czerwinski

Driver Days is a street festival in the Driver neighborhood of Suffolk. It’s a nice festival, and I don’t want to scare anybody away from having fun in the good city of Suffolk, but the festival can be a little disheartening when looking at it from behind a table covered with Obama, Kaine, and Ella Ward literature. A big part of Driver days is a celebration of the confederacy, and not all of the confederates there are the “heritage not hate” types, unless you can convince me that the bumper sticker about picking cotton is actually some kind of an apology. Most of the people who passed by our booth this year were carrying Romney signs and wearing confederate flags.

Confederate Bikers walking near Confederate Memorabilia Tent at Fair

There were a good number of Democrats who stopped by, including a couple of bikers and guy with a big confederate patch on the front of his straw hat, but the Driver festival is, by far, Republican territory and the dirty looks and occasional rude comments from the Romney supporters can really lower someone’s opinion about Republicans.

It was nice to have a friendly native nearby. Home Instead had the spot next to ours, and Deneen and I had a lot of time to chat about politics, Suffolk, and the kind of care, or lack of it, that many seniors are receiving today. One of the things we discussed were the bleak conditions of a local assisted living facility which used to be called Nub Jones, but recently changed it’s name to Oakwood. Deneen not only works for a Senior Care company, she is a volunteer and an advocate for her company’s Be a Santa to a Senior drive, for which Home Instead collects gifts and distributes to them to seniors living in nursing homes such as Oakwood.

This year, as last, the Walmart on Main Street will have a gift giving tree for collecting donated gifts from customers. Here’s how it works (shortened, from the website).

  • Remove an ornament from the tree
  • Purchase the gift
  • Bring ornament and gift back to store and give to a store employee

Deneen and I won’t agree on the best way, as a nation, to ease the suffering of seniors who can’t afford an appropriate level of companionship and medical attention in the last years of their lives, but we do agree that something has to be done.

There is an article about the Be a Santa to a Senior program in the Suffolk News-Herald.

You’ve probably passed by one of those trees. It’s one of those things most of us ignore while filling our carts with corn-syrupy food products and Chinese made plastic trinkets. This year, take a little time to look at the tree and do something to help out. A small gift can make a big difference in the life of a lonely senior.

Why the Bishops are Wrong

Mark Mellman, in the Hill, explains the thin legal footing behind demands for religious exceptions to the requirement to provide full health care coverage for employees.

Does the contraception compromise violate the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment? The right says yes, but every iota of this nation’s constitutional jurisprudence says nonsense.

As the Supreme Court majority wrote in 1990, “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law … On the contrary, the record of more than a century of free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

Generally, the government goes about its business making laws without worrying about whether certain laws violate certain religious practices. Thus, we outlaw polygamy, despite the fact that some religions call for concurrent marriages. We outlaw peyote without concern that certain practices require it. If it weren’t for a religious objection to contraception coverage, it would be easy.

But there are laws that have religious exceptions, such as the conscientious objector clause for military service. And even before the fuss raised by the Catholic bishops, the health care mandate had such accommodations by allowing exceptions for churches.

Despite the health care law already having exemptions, the right wing and the Catholic leadership were not satisfied. They wanted more institutions to be exempted. So the Obama administration called for another accommodation: Insurance companies shall provide contraception coverage, but religious institutions in a more broadly defined group could be exempted from paying for it. Still not good enough. The bishops argue that since money is fungible, they are still, indirectly, funding contraception coverage.

Allowing exemptions to free people from indirectly supporting practices which violate their beliefs would be a dangerous decision. Imagine people arguing that they should be except from paying taxes because the government uses tax dollars for farm subsidies which aid in raising of hogs, in violation of Jewish, Muslim, and other beliefs. Or imagine conscientious objectors arguing that they shouldn’t have to pay for a war. Indirectly, we all pay for things that we find objectionable.

28 states already have requirements for contraception coverage, including Massachusetts, and this battle for exemptions has already been fought. Michelle Goldberg writes about New York:

Nevertheless, the law passed—it was signed by Republican Gov. George Pataki—with exactly the same sort of exemptions we’re now seeing at the federal level. There’s a conscience clause that applies to Catholic churches, grade schools, and parishes, but not institutions that serve the broader community, such as universities and hospitals. The church sued, but New York’s State Court of Appeals ruled against it; in 2007, the Supreme Court let the ruling stand. Likewise, California’s Supreme Court upheld that state’s version of the mandate.

Precedent has already been set, in some cases by Republicans like Mitt Romney who now try to distance themselves from their own philosophy. If that wasn’t the case, the battles over health care might seem more like legitimate constitutional debates, and less like partisan attempts to create a loss for the Obama administration at any cost.

Not the Party of Racists

After G pointed out a mistake I made in a previous post, I followed his blog and was surprised to see a pretty strong argument against the commonly accepted fact that Dixiecrats became Republicans in response to the Democratic party’s support of civil rights. In his post he discusses the long history of the Democratic party’s obstruction of civil rights progress and makes the case that the Republican party should not be branded as the party of racists. I agree with the second point, but I still take issue with linking the Democratic party of today with the Dixiecrats of the past.

G points out, correctly, that only one of the Democrats who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Stom Thurmand, ever became a Republican and states, “One man switching parties can not undo over 150 years of historical fact that Republicans have always been the party of freedom.”

But I think the voters are more telling. Most of the regions which historically kept racist Democrats in congress started electing Republics in the mid and late sixties. I find it easier to accept that a core of Dixiecrats in congress stayed loyal to their party even as they disapproved of the new direction in which the party was going, than to accept that voters who always elected racists switched parties because they embraced the civil rights movement.

Another flaw in equating present Democrats with old Dixiecrats is ignoring the stark contrast between Dixiecrats and the rest of the party. While it’s correct that Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while many Democrats tried to block it, it’s also true that Northern Democrats supported the act more strongly than Republicans did as a whole. Dixiecrats and Northern Democrats may have been in the same party, but they were not the same people. Today, the Dixiecrats are gone and the Democratic party reflects the history of those Northern Democrats who supported civil rights in a far greater percentage than either Northern or Southern Republicans did.

I find it offensive that some right wing websites equate modern Democrats with old Dixiecrats by rehashing the sins of the Democratic party in the past. It’s especially bizarre since other right wing websites equate Democrats with black racists, as if a single political party could appeal to old Dixiecrats as well as the Nation of Islam. But to give G and his peers their due, the Republican party has a long history of supporting civil rights, and it’s to that history that most Republicans are attracted.

Uncertainty

So let me get this straight: The payroll tax deal which was passed with bipartisan support in the Senate and would guarantee that the payroll tax cut will be in place for two months until a more permanent deal can be secured, will probably be scuttled. But, according to Boehner, it might be saved by a conference that will secure the deal for a year. But we don’t know what Republicans will demand in exchange for that deal or how Democrats will react to those demands.

All this to protect us from “Uncertainty”.