Buttigieg: Non-Objections (Addendum)

In my previous post, I addressed objections that are often brought up as barriers to supporting Buttigieg in the primary.  I am embarrassed to say that I forgot one of the most important ones. 

buttigiegButtigieg is not a person of color or a woman.

My own journey as a Feminist Buttigieg supporter

I can’t say that this is not a valid objection, because it is well past time in this country that we have a female President. I’ve struggled myself to come to terms with being a feminist and a Buttigieg supporter, with well-qualified women running in this race. 

For me, I had to really take a look at the things that were important to me in our next President – and make sure that the things that Buttigieg brings to the table are more than enough to outweigh the advantages of supporting a female candidate.  I had to know that even if I overcorrect and give female candidates an edge, Buttigieg would still come out on top in my evaluation.

What Buttigieg must do to earn my continued faith

It has also been vitally important to me that any male candidate that has my support is more than just “not a misogynist”.  A male candidate winning the Democratic primary damn well better be prepared to be a Feminist and an active advocate of the rights of women and an active partner in understanding and solving for the challenges facing women.  That includes all of the intersectional groups, such as women of color, trans women, trans women of color, single mothers, and more.

To this point, I do not think there is any male candidate that comes close to Buttigieg on these issues*.  It’s not just the issues that he focuses attention on – addressing the challenges of trans women of color, the maternal mortality rate of black mothers, and the absolute necessity of a woman’s right to control her own body and healthcare.  It is also the little things, like deliberately and consistently using the phrases “she or he”, “woman or man”, “hers or his” – putting women first in all of the simple, everyday ways that women have always been put second.

Buttigieg has also specifically acknowledged that if a male candidate – particularly a white male candidate – should win the Democratic nomination, he must be committed to an administration that is genuinely diverse, with women and persons of color in all levels of the administration.

It’s what he hasn’t done that has also earned my faith

In addition to the things that Buttigieg needs to keep doing, it is also what he hasn’t done that has earned my trust.  While being an openly gay man could be used as the diversity card to get out of tough conversations about privilege, he has refused to play that game.  He may acknowledge that being gay is still a challenge in the world we live in.  He talks about his ability to stand up to bullies, such as our current President, as a result of being used to homophobic attacks.  But he never uses the fact that he’s gay as “proof” that he understands the challenges of other marginalized groups.

Did I forget any other objections?  I can’t believe that I forgot this one in my original post.  Thankfully, Pete brought it up himself in his HRC speech tonight.

* Updated 5/19/19 – When I originally wrote this, I felt like Buttigieg was doing the most among male candidates to talk about issues facing women.  In fairness, I may have just been paying more attention to him – and certainly given the recent abortion bans in several states, more male candidates have been really explicit about their perspective.  I have been impressed, specifically, with Cory Booker on these issues – and again, I suspect that my original dismissal of him here was due to simply not paying enough attention.

Buttigieg: The Non-Objections

I have already talked about most of the core reasons why Mayor Pete Buttigieg has my vote in the Democratic Presidential primary.  If you haven’t read it, you may want to start there.

pete2Today I want to address the objections.  I am not aiming to defend the way that he stands on any specific issue; if you disagree on his positions on the issues, that’s entirely valid and you should examine other candidates to find the best fit.  (I would argue that some disagreement on issues is inevitable and you may also want to consider personality and leadership skills, but I am not planning to make that argument today.)  In this post, I want to address the following four objections that I believe are invalid:

  1. He lacks experience at a national level.
  2. Voters won’t elect a gay candidate.
  3. He can’t beat the sitting President.
  4. He doesn’t have specific policy ideas.

1. Buttigieg lacks experience at a national level.

I do not think that this is a totally invalid objection.  We must examine every candidate’s experience to determine if she or he is a good fit for the office of the President.  Simply due to age, Pete has less experience than many candidates in the race.  He also has a non-traditional background for the highest national office.  Those are valid considerations.

I am not going to give the campaign standard answer that “being a mayor of a city of any size” is the perfect experience for US President.  I do think it’s valuable experience, but that alone would still leave a candidate vulnerable to the objections around foreign policy or national legislative experience.  I think military service is also exceptionally valuable in a Presidential candidate, but that still does not fully address the lack of foreign policy experience.

What the campaign is not stressing – and there are likely some good political reasons for it that I just don’t understand – is that Buttigieg has been on a path to national politics since he was a teenager.  In high school, he won the JFK Profiles in Courage essay contest.  At Harvard, he was the president of the Harvard Institute of Politics.  Buttigieg was a summer intern for Senator Ted Kennedy.  He went Oxford and studied philosophy, politics, and economics, apparently debated convincingly (and some might say obnoxiously) about the future of the Democratic party.  He worked on John Kerry’s Presidential campaign.  His run for DNC Chair in 2017 was unsuccessful, but not improbable.

My point is that while Buttigieg may not have yet held an elected role in the federal government, he’s been studying it – and its impact on the country and the world – for the better part of his young life.  He may know Washington better than Washington knows itself.

2. Voters won’t elect a gay candidate.

Really well-meaning people, including my own mother whose political perspective I respect and admire, have said this out loud. And it drives me batshit freaking crazy.  Maybe it makes me crazy because I think there might be a kernel of truth to it that I just refuse to play into.

If Buttigieg is the best candidate to lead the country and the fact that he is gay is still a problem for voters, then I guess we don’t deserve the best candidate to lead the country.

3. Buttigieg can’t beat the sitting President

First, I will remind everyone that it is really early.  (I have to remind myself of this fact daily.)  There’s still almost a year before the first primary votes are cast.  There is plenty of time to build support for a win in the general election.  Buttigieg does have a few hurdles to overcome, including overall name recognition (rapidly being solved), gaining the support of black and Latinx voters, and overcoming the objections covered in this post.  But if you believe that Buttigieg is the best choice for President in 2020, you have a chance right now to get him there.

I also believe that Buttigieg is one of the few candidates who is going to be able to energize young voters.  (By “few” I mean that there are probably like … four or five others running who I think can appeal to young voters.  Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke.  Maybe Harris and Booker?)  If Buttigieg is the nominee, the general election campaign will focus on generational change, and I think Buttigieg’s campaign – particularly with the help of Chasten – has the ability to mobilize young voters.

4. Buttigieg does not have specific policy ideas.

This has to be the single most frustrating objection for the Buttigieg campaign, because it’s obvious that not coming out with detailed policies at this point in the campaign is a deliberate choice.  And if it isn’t obvious, you aren’t paying attention.

I’ve heard otherwise smart journalists opine that Buttigieg’s lack of specific policy plans is due to the fact that his campaign has grown faster than expected.  However, I think the one thing that the campaign has been really clear about – and the very reason that it has been so successful in capturing attention – is that Democrats need to talk about values.  The campaign is built on the idea that before you can convince someone that your policy idea is sound, you have to make sure they believe that your moral compass and values are aligned with their own.

Buttigieg also is right when he points out that when it comes to policy, the vast field of Democratic candidates is not going to differ that much.  Hell, when it comes to values the field isn’t going to differ that much.  What differs is how well a candidate can communicate those values and connect with voters.  I would say that Buttigieg has done a damn good job of that so far.

When it comes to policy, there are going to be good ideas coming from every candidate, and those ideas are rarely entirely original.  Candidates should be listening to the ideas of everyone in the field, and highlighting and lifting up the ideas that really stand out, whether they came up with them or not.

What Buttigieg is not afraid to do at this point in the campaign, however, is to fully and honestly articulate how he feels about a policy or an idea.  One thing that is regularly said of Buttigieg’s style is that he is not afraid to answer a question.  He isn’t evasive.  He doesn’t say what he thinks the audience wants to hear.  He’s consistent, he’s clear, and he’s thorough.  And sometimes that means saying, “I’ve not really thought about that before.”

Are there other objections that I should address?  Did I get it wrong?  Please feel free to engage in comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook if you have a differing (and reasoned) opinion.

UPDATED:  I absolutely forgot a big one–Pete Buttigieg is a white man. 

Pete Buttigieg: For so many reasons


Photo from Vogue, April 2019.

It’s no secret that Mayor Pete Buttigieg has my vote in the primary.  I could happily support most of the candidates currently running in the general election if he does not end up being the candidate, but I believe with every fiber of my being that Buttigieg is the person that we need in the Oval Office in 2021.

There’s no shortage of media coverage to try to explain why Buttigieg has captured people’s attention, but I still think it is worth explaining why he’s captured MY attention.

  • Demeanor and personality

The person who sits in the office of the US President leads the nation – and the world – by personal example.  It’s not entirely about what the individual does in terms of policies; it’s also about what that person does in terms of how they speak about other people, what they choose to focus attention on, and where they show up literally and figuratively.  Personality matters.  Personal integrity matters.

Buttigieg has a calm, thoughtful presence, with a humility and integrity that seems to be fully genuine.  He is also, however, incredibly confident and at ease with himself.  It’s the combination of those things that make him so compelling.

  • Allow and invite people to evolve

Of all of the things that Buttigieg has articulated that seem to have been pulled from my own brain, his understanding that “bad habits and bad instincts are not the same as people being bad people”.  (Time, May 2, 2019.)  This is a fundamental truth that guides the way that I personally try to engage with people, and while it might sound obvious, it is also very often misunderstood.

The pace of social change has been pretty swift over the past few decades.  Not everyone is able to keep pace with that change; people come around to important social changes at different speeds.  When Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency, he did not necessarily support full marriage equality.  However, through the engagement and advocacy of any number of LGBT leaders, he evolved in his understanding and we now give him the grace to consider him an LGBT ally.  Someone who, today, is still struggling to complete that same evolution is not likely to be engaged in compassionate dialogue about their view, rather they may be criticized and preached to about their wrong-headedness.  Shame and condemnation isn’t likely to bring about an evolution to the right side of history.  People need to be invited to evolve.

Buttigieg tells a story in his book and often on the campaign trail about an older, conservative woman in South Bend who met his then-boyfriend Chasten, and later told the Mayor that his “friend” was wonderful.  Rather than be critical of this woman coming up short on using the word “boyfriend”, he recognized her effort to move in the right direction and simply accepted the compliment.

  • Fairness versus Mercy

One of the other subtleties that Buttigieg seems to understand and articulate better than anyone I’ve ever heard before is the difference – and the battle – between what is fair and what is merciful.  (It’s similar, albeit from a different perspective, of the difference between equality and equity.)

There is already some concept of fairness versus mercy built into our system.  A woman who kills a violently abusive husband is likely to serve a lesser sentence than a woman who might kill her husband because she finds out he’s cheating.  (I recognize that our criminal justice system lacks both fairness and mercy in so many other ways.)

Governing means creating a system (criminal justice, immigration, foreign policy, etc) that is fair, but that allows for mercy when necessary.

  • Technical Problems versus Moral Problems

Similar to the challenges of fairness versus mercy, Buttigieg explains his understanding that governing requires the ability to solve both technical problems and moral problems.  The technical problems have a solution that can be defined and implemented.  Often, however, a technical problem can have more than one possible solution – none of which is without negative consequences.

It then becomes a moral problem.  Which solution provides the best positive result with the least negative impact?  Those are answers that cannot be quantified, but rather require a leader who is able to gather the right input, evaluate the options, and make and implement the best decision.  And, perhaps most importantly, takes personal responsibility for that decision whether it ultimately proves to be the right one or not.

If I can point to a single leadership trait that is most important to me, it is this – and the fact that Buttigieg not only displays this type of leadership, but is able to be self-aware enough to TALK about it… That says a lot to me.

  • Campaign versus Reality

Buttigieg is not entirely alone in his willingness to articulate that the policies that are laid out on the campaign are not always possible to translate into governing reality.  Most voters know this at some level, but we still look for candidates to tell us what they plan to do, because it highlights their priorities.  What I appreciate about Buttigieg’s approach to the campaign, though, is that he wants voters to understand his priorities in terms of values and moral compass before he creates the policy detail that often then becomes a distraction.  (I’m planning to talk about this a little bit more in another blog post.)

  • Reclamation of Faith, Freedom, Security and Democracy

This is at the bottom of my list, not because it is the least important to me, but because it is the most understood by those following the campaign.  Buttigieg ran for DNC chair in 2017 for much the same reason – he recognizes that conservatives have done a great job of continuous framing traditional American values in conservative terms.  Even the concepts of patriotism and the American flag have become more recognized in terms of conservative messaging than progressive messaging.

I believe – and there might be another blog post coming about this, too – that Buttigieg’s primary purpose in entering the Democratic primary was to get this message in front of the Democratic party and its leaders.  As Democrats, we believe in freedom, security and democracy.  Our party is made of many people of many faiths.  Our values align with these core ideas.  It’s time that we started helping a larger audience understand it.

This is the first of a planned six part series of blog posts on why Buttigieg is my candidate in the primary, so stay tuned for more.  Eventually.

Farewell, sweet boy.

JJ_2015I have been preparing myself for this moment for just about a year, when the tiny lump on JJ’s hip was diagnosed as cancer. The vet told me he might only have a few weeks, and he went on to spend another 53 weeks with me.  I have never been so acutely aware of my gratitude for the gift of time.

Our “meet cute”

In February of 2005, I was living outside of Minneapolis.  Eight months earlier, I had moved 1000 miles across the country to take a job that was now finally starting to let up in intensity.  I decided it was time to look at adopting a cat.  I drove up to Maple Grove – about 30 minutes north of where I lived – because I liked the Super Target up there and I knew there was a Pet Smart nearby.  I would just look.  I would take my time making a decision.  After all, this cat that I adopted at the age of 27 would be with me through much of my formative adulthood.

I walked into the cat adoption enclosure at PetSmart and I immediately heard a very loud, “MMMRRROOOWWW”.  (This was not a simple “Meow”.)  The big brown & grey tabby cat from which the sound emerged was just standing up in his cage looking me straight in the eyes.  His green eyes were amazing – and he didn’t seem angry or sad or excited.  He just demanded attention.  The name tag on the cage told me that the cat was named Jason.  (My closest friend at the time was also named Jason, and it felt like a little bit of fate intervening.)

The employee asked if I wanted to meet any of the cats, and I asked about Jason.  She told me that he was the last of four identical brothers, 10 months old, and ready for immediate adoption.  She opened the cage and before I could even reach in to pet him, he crawled up on my shoulder and made himself at home.  It was, I thought, definitely fate.  I renamed him JJ, because a cat named Jason was weird.  A few weeks later, my friend Joe stopped by my apartment to pick something up, and upon entering the apartment, JJ immediately crawled from the countertop to Joe’s shoulder.  Turns out that is just a thing he did.  I wasn’t exactly as special as I thought.

Two weeks after adopting JJ, I adopted a tiny 6 month old kitten named Dulcie, who became Ava.  Ava was – from the very first day – JJ’s cat.  She tolerated me – and sometimes even liked me – but she loved JJ.

A lot of miles, moves, and milestones

jj2016_2.jpgJJ and Ava have been with me through five moves, including the 1000 miles back home to PA less than a year after I adopted them.  They were with me when I bought my first house.  They adapted to a full house when my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and two dogs moved in with us for a few months.  Ava spent most of her life hiding, but JJ just held his ground with toddlers and dogs alike.

JJme2017For the past 14 years, JJ slept beside me virtually every night – most recently sleeping on my shoulder and up against my face until he thought I was asleep, and then getting down to sleep in his own bed in the corner of the room.  He was a terrible nursemaid when I was sick, because he thought that sleeping on my chest or face could fix whatever ailed me; but I almost always let him do it anyway.  In the 14 years that we had together, we both changed a lot.  We both settled down.  We both slowed down.  We both got a bit bigger.

He was my Instragram inspiration, my beloved pet, and my very best friend.

I have been preparing for this moment for a year, but I am not prepared.

jjme2019.pngAnd so I have been preparing to let him go for the past year.  Every time he started to get on my nerves by being too clingy, for meowing too loudly, or for waking me up in the middle of the night, I reminded myself that I didn’t have forever with him.  I genuinely cherished each moment in a way that I wished I had been able to do with people in my life over the years.

And so today I said goodbye to my sweet boy.  JJ.  Jay-gers.  Jayge.  I’ve had so many pets before him, and I will have many more come.  But no one will take his place.

Celebrating the love she leaves behind.

(Eulogy for my grandmother – delivered December 12, 2018.)

IMG_0573When we were kids, there was almost nothing that Mommom wouldn’t let us do.  Jump on the bed?  She’d lead us in a rousing game of “Chop Chop Timber”.  Play in the mud?  She’d draw a bath and make sure our clothes were clean before we went home.  Drink Pepsi for breakfast?  “Just don’t tell your mother.”  If we broke something, she’d just shrug and say, “No one got hurt.”  And if we did get hurt, she pull out the band-aids and assure us that we’d be better before we were married.  I didn’t even know that she knew how to be angry until that one time I used her sewing scissors to cut paper.  (One time.)

Her patience with us as children was indicative of her patience with everyone.  She accepted that people made mistakes, and she forgave easily.  Where others held grudges or distanced themselves from people in their lives, my grandmother would forgive and find the good.  She didn’t always understand the decisions other people made, but she didn’t have to understand someone to love them.  She accepted that everyone was flawed, and she loved them anyway.

She opened her home to anyone who needed a place to stay – for a night or for a year.  There was nothing that she had that couldn’t be borrowed, and nothing that she owned that was more important than the people in her life.  Mommom was embarrassed by nothing and allowed herself to enjoy life without worrying about what others might think.  She literally danced as if no one was watching and sang as if no one was listening.

If you didn’t know her well, you might begin to see the picture of a woman without flaws – but most of us know better.  And the things that I loved about her the most were those perfect imperfections that made her who she was.

She was stubborn.  She didn’t think that she was always right, but right or wrong, she was going to do things her way.  She was a selective hoarder – of buttons, scraps of fabric, jars of jelly far past their expiration date, and 10 year old poinsettias that looked like barren collections of twigs but still produced a flower every once in awhile.

While it was my Mommom Amond who had the vocabulary of a sailor, it was Mommom Burd who taught me to curse creatively – taking every day words and infusing them with the spirit of profanity.

IMG_0560 2She believed – above everything else – in living her life, rather than striving for perfection.  She appreciated what she had, and she never wanted anything more.

Her legacy will continue to impact the world for many generations to come.  She shaped and helped to raise four strong-willed and independent granddaughters, and two great-granddaughters coming up behind. My dad has her goofy sense of humor and her inability to be embarrassed by much of anything – and her ability to accept the imperfections of others.  And it is my aunt who has inherited her endless generosity and caring, her compassion, and her heart.

As you leave here today, we ask you to reflect on and celebrate the impact that she had on you.  Maybe it is as simple as a favorite recipe that she shared. Maybe she helped to care for your family when someone was sick.  Maybe she gave you a place to stay, a loan, or just the gift of her time.  Or maybe she taught you to forgive easily, forget quickly, laugh often, play without embarrassment, and love without conditions.

Live your truth. Tell your story.

I have been feeling a bit lost for the past few months, and I’ve struggled with the things that typically feed my soul.

I stepped away from political conversations for a little while. I couldn’t reconcile the commonly held belief that the time for civility and compromise had passed with my own need to engage, understand, and find the common ground we all know exists.

I felt like my footing in the social justice movements was shaky; I was uncertain how to speak from a place of privilege without drowning out the marginalized voices that deserve to be heard.

I came dangerously close to giving up on my dream. I became overwhelmed with the effort and sacrifice required to get there, and I forgot about the purpose and passion that made it all worth the climb.

Needing, Seeking, and Finding Inspiration

I had lost my way and many of my former sources of inspiration had become sources of confusion and stress.  It was time to find inspiration in unexpected places.

The “Comedy” Special that will bring you to tears

If you have not yet taken the time to watch Hannah Gadsby’s entire Netflix special, you need to make time.  Make time.  Don’t put it on the in background while you are doing something else.  Sit.  Listen.  Laugh. Really listen. Cry. Laugh again.  I dare you to come away uninspired.

The Six-Hour 12-Hour YouTube Black Hole that Hasn’t Actually Ended Yet

I fell into a YouTube hole that I have not quite emerged from after discovering a speech delivered by writer/producer/director Dustin Lance Black. If you aren’t familiar with him, Lance won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, and his recent TV mini-series When We Rise is definitely worth 8 hours of your time.

But beyond his work in Hollywood, he’s an activist and an advocate. Lance doesn’t just write scripts about the critical history of social justice movements, he makes history in those movements.

The common theme that resonated so strongly for me across both Hannah and Lance’s messages was the need to tell your story.  YOUR story.  YOUR truth.  From privilege, from oppression, with laughter, with tears… your story has value.

live your truth. tell your story. tattoo.Ironically, this message that I needed to hear is a message that I had tattooed on my arm earlier this year.  This is a message so important to me that I literally had it embedded into my skin.  I see it every day.  And yet I forgot the essential truth:

read. listen. engage. do good. do right. cry. laugh. dream. accept. love. live your truth.

tell your story.

But why did he run?

antwonroseOn Tuesday, June 19th, Antwon Rose was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh.  He was 17.  He was Black.  And he was unarmed.

Vox and the New York Times both have good summaries of the facts.  (If you are more of a Fox News person, their article is okay, but not quite complete.)

Here are the facts of this case:

  • Antwon Rose was running away from the police after the car in which he was a passenger was stopped, because it matched the description of a car that had been involved in a fatal shooting earlier that evening. (There is bystander video of Antwon fleeing the scene with his back to the officers when he was shot.  This fact is not currently being disputed by the Pittsburgh Police.)
  • Antwon was unarmed, but police did recover an unused clip of ammunition from his pocket.
  • Two firearms were recovered from the car in which Antwon was riding; however the driver of the car was released by police. (I personally conclude that this means the firearms were registered and that no other charges were pending, but I have also not independently verified that.)
  • The officer who shot Antwon was sworn onto the Pittsburgh Police force hours before the shooting, but he had previously worked in suburban police forces for several years prior.

The officers had no evidence that Antwon (or the others in the vehicle) were involved in any crime.  The question that I keep hearing over and over again is, “But why did he run?”

Why did he run?  Because he was a 17 year old Black teenager pulled over by police.

I can provide the researchI can tell you the facts.  I can even debate with you over alternative interpretations of the data.

What I can’t do is to make you understand the reality of living a life in a body that is instinctively seen as a threat.  I can’t possible understand that reality myself, but I know that it is true.  I know that it is true, because when I see a Black man approach me on a sidewalk, my instinct is fear – and every day I have to fight that instinct, knowing that I might not be personally to blame for the existence of that fear, but I am responsible for not acting on it.

Why did he run? 

Maybe Antwon ran because he knew that Philando Castile was shot while he sat in a car with his girlfriend and her daughter, for doing nothing more than reaching for his driver’s license.  Maybe Antwon ran because he knew that Kalief Browder was held in jail for 3 years awaiting trial for stealing a backpack (a crime for which there was no evidence and he was ultimately found not guilty), because the criminal justice system was never designed to provide justice for boys that look like him.  Maybe Antwon ran because there were firearms in the car, and if 12 year old Tamir Rice can be killed for a toy gun, it’s not a stretch to think that he might face the same fate.

And maybe Antwon ran because he was a scared, 17 year old kid who was just afraid of getting into trouble.  Maybe he was a teenager who made a mistake.  Maybe he was a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The maybes don’t matter.  What does matter is that regardless of why he ran, he did not deserve to die.

Justice Stevens forces me to eat my words. And I’m annoyed.

Last night, I finally had enough of the false narrative that pro-gun control liberals who support the March for Our Lives movement were out to repeal the Second Amendment.  It’s just not true, I insisted.  And I posted this:


12 hours later, I was eating my lunch and browsing the news sites – and I see this headline: John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment.


Let’s start by saying, I stand by my statement that the overwhelming majority of people do not support a repeal of the Second Amendment.  (Former Justice Stevens is, in fact, a Republican.  Not that this makes any difference whatsoever, but it feels like it is worth mentioning.)

I cannot, however, deny that I owe someone an apology.

Is there any validity to Justice Stevens’ recommendation?

There is value in reading Stevens’ op-ed in the Times, which outlines how he landed at his “repeal the Second Amendment” conclusion.  It’s interesting.  Interesting, but not valid.

Stevens argues that for the first 200 years of our country’s existence, it was generally understood that the Second Amendment did not preclude the government from passing gun control legislation.  (Curious about my take on the origins of the Second Amendment?  Of course you are.)  The NRA became a powerful lobbying force only within the past 20 years, at which point “gun control” became thought of as the antithesis of the Second Amendment.

Okay, Stevens – so far, so good.

He then points to the 2008 Supreme Court decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller as the turning point – a decision that enshrined the right for an individual to bear arms for any reason – as the moment that the NRA took over the narrative.  Stevens dissented on this ruling, and continues to believe that this ruling should be overturned.

But this is where the Stevens takes a weird turn.

If the 2008 ruling was incorrect, the solution – which Justice Stevens refers to as “simple” – is to repeal the Second Amendment.  It’s a bizarre conclusion in the best of times, but in our current political environment where the country is so divided – particularly on this issue – it’s just irresponsible.  You can have whatever personal opinions you want to about the Second Amendment, but to distort the current movement into one of a full repeal of the Second Amendment is counterproductive.  It’s either an effort to deliberately derail the movement, or a naive and idealistic understanding of politics.  Real political and cultural change comes in compromises.  It comes over time.  Positive change is never achieved by making the worst fears of a large chunk of citizens come true overnight.  (The irony of that statement given the last election is not lost on me, y’all.)

I know I have some liberal friends who are reading this and thinking that I’m a sellout and a centrist.  Maybe I am.  Maybe in another ten years, I’ll look back on this blog post with embarrassment.  But for now, I’m going to remain the pragmatist, striving to find the common ground and looking for the solutions in the space between.





33921116_sA couple of nights ago, I posted a link to an article on my Facebook feed about the SNAP (or “food stamps”) program.  The NY Times article, “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” (written by Anahad O’Connor), suggested – and was reinforced by the headline and photo used – that families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend their benefits on junk food and soda.

I had linked to another Facebook post by a gentleman named Joe Soss.  Mr. Soss provided a rebuttal of that NY Times article, suggesting that the original study was misused in the article.  Since then, Talk Poverty has also picked up the story and expands on Mr. Soss’ original post.  While the article seems to question whether families receiving SNAP should be able to purchase “junk food” with their benefits, the underlying USDA survey actually found very few differences from the spending habits families on SNAP and those who are not.

Passion and Productivity sometimes don’t mix

My post sparked the passion of several of my friends, and I have a huge amount of respect for the amazing women who shared their feelings.  They came into the conversation about SNAP benefits from very different backgrounds, and those experiences created the strong feelings that they have on the topic.  Unfortunately, sometimes that passion can cloud our ability to address each other with empathy and respect, and it was the first time that I felt compelled to delete a Facebook post.  

Having deleted the post, though, I still wanted to present their viewpoints (to the best of my ability) and provide my thoughts.  There were two big issues that became contentious:

  1. How much fraud happens within the SNAP benefits program – and how much does it matter?
  2. Should those who receive SNAP benefits be restricted in what they are allowed to purchase, limiting junk food and other non-essential food items?

Food Stamp Fraud?

There was a heated discussion about the prevalence of SNAP benefit fraud in the Facebook thread.  One individual has witnessed individuals who have sold their benefits (or food purchased with their benefits) for cash, and suspects that those individuals have used the money to support a drug habit.  For this reason, it is extremely hard for her to feel positively about the program, particularly as an unemployed mom who struggles to make ends meet for her own family and does not qualify for the benefits.

It’s really hard to argue with that experience.  The official statistics on food stamp fraud show that there is a 1.3% rate of “trafficking” in SNAP benefits, according to a 2013 USDA report.  (These appear to be the most current numbers.)  What is critical to understand is the definition of this fraud:  “Trafficking” is defined as users who trade their SNAP benefits to food retailers for cash, typically at a discount.  Individuals who may purchase and then sell the food for cash would not fall under this type of fraud, and these incidents are likely not captured in the total fraud statistics.

If there is unmeasured fraud within the system, is it enough to warrant major changes to the SNAP program?  It’s really difficult to tell taxpayers struggling to make ends meet that even though they see abuses, this program is far more valuable than it is wasteful.  However…

There will always be some individuals who seek to abuse the system; creating a 100% fraud-proof system is impossible, and we’ll spend far more taxpayer dollars trying to eliminate fraud than the cost of the fraud itself.  The SNAP program is one of the most efficient federal programs in terms of administrative overhead (~7% of total budget, with 93% going directly to beneficiaries) and in error rates in distribution.  And the benefit that it offers to our entire society by reducing extreme poverty and providing a safety net for families and individuals to get back onto their feet during difficult times is significant.

Limit the Grocery Items Available?

38611885 - detail of a person shopping in a supermarketThe second issue, and possibly the more contentious one, was an issue of whether or not SNAP recipients should be more restricted in the grocery items that they may purchase.  Should someone on SNAP be able to purchase junk food and soda?  What about steak and lobster?  How about exotic and expensive fruits and vegetables?  Organic items that are more costly?

There are rules established on SNAP benefits that  limit what can be purchased to food items, excluding things like prepared foods.  However, beyond that, the individual beneficiary makes the decisions about what foods to purchase.  Here is where things get complicated.

  • Are there some choices that would appear better than others?  Of course.  I will admit to having judgement if I see someone buying expensive food items using their SNAP benefits.
  • Can such a purchase be justified for special occasions, or if the individual has truly saved up for something?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  
  • Should I be allowed to have an opinion because I’m a taxpayer?  I understand why the answer feels like it should be yes, but no.  We all deserve the dignity of personal decision making, and even if you are receiving government assistance, you are an individual with the ability to make decisions for yourself.  

Setting limits becomes a slippery slope.  If we don’t allow the purchase of lobster, should we also take away expensive fresh vegetables?  If we start limiting items based on cost, then junk food is more attractive, because it’s cheap.  If we also limit food that does not provide high nutritional value (and that has been proposed in Tennessee), we start to narrow down the choices exponentially.   We end up with a program that provides almost no value, and has higher overhead costs to manage the regulations.

Accountability?  Of course.

Should the SNAP program – and all government benefit programs – be continuously monitored and held accountable for results?  YES.  So many people are opposed to “big government” because of the waste and inefficiencies in the programs, and they are not wrong.  Many government programs are poorly managed, with little oversight and no accountability.  We need to stand up as voters and demand that oversight – and insist that we fund programs that work – and change or remove programs that don’t.  We also have to admit that no program is without issues – cracks that folks can fall through, and loopholes that others can sneak through.  We do the best to patch those holes and keep moving forward.

SNAP works in a highly effective and efficient manner.  This is one of the good ones, and we really need to work to protect it.

A note on fostering the conversation

PLEASE keep talking to each other and sharing your point of view.  If something makes you angry, help the rest of us to understand why.  I know you don’t all agree with me – and I hope you will tell me why and help me to learn.  Comment, ask questions, provide links, or suggest further research!

The Electoral College is Not the Problem (…maybe it is)

vote[UPDATE: I’ve actually changed my perspective on this.  Interestingly, the deciding factor came from a Republican argument in Virginia after Democrats won enough seats to take over the state legislature.  One Republican official suggested that they needed an “electoral college” in the state of Virginia, because the votes were distributed differently by county.  It was an interesting argument that, when taken to its logical conclusion – from county to city to neighborhood to household, ends with a one vote / one person argument.

But I am leaving my original post below, because we’re allowed to grow and learn and synthesize information into new opinions.]

I have a controversial and unpopular opinion to share: I think the Electoral College is a valuable institution and should remain in place as a part of our republican government.

Democracy versus Republic

Most of us have probably been taught at some point that the United States is a republic and not actually a democracy, but it’s hard to keep that fact straight when we (myself included) use the word “democracy” with such reverence.

Democracy: A true democracy is ruled by popular vote. Everything is ruled by popular vote.

Republic: Representatives are elected by popular vote, and they go on to create laws and structure under which the masses agree to live.

A democracy is impractical for any organization with more than a few members, because it’s not reasonable to expect a popular vote to be taken on every decision that impacts the members. And so we create a republican framework within which to operate.

(The party names of “Democratic” and “Republican” have little to do with the meaning of the words. The parties have, in fact, essentially switched their key principles since the mid-19th century.)

The Electoral College

Of course, we could still be a republic without the intervening system of the Electoral College. Popular vote could elect a President, who is then the representative of the people. Instead, we vote for electors, who then go on to vote for the President. How the electors vote for the President is a matter that is up to the individual states within the union of the United States.

So why have the Electoral College?

The founders recognized that a popular vote for the Executive Branch of government posed a challenge. The areas of the country with the highest number of voters would control the office of the President. Voters, being white, landholding men, were not evenly dispersed – and the President would consistently not represent the disparate interests of the entire United States.

Yes, it is true that for many of the founders, this meant that slave holding states with fewer eligible voters would not be represented by the Executive Branch. And while that background is abhorrent, the concept continues to have value in our country today.

The Electoral College forces a candidate to listen to the entire country

43018293_sThe Electoral College concept forces a candidate to listen to the needs of the entire country. While gaining vast majorities of the popular vote in highly populated areas could win the popular vote, a candidate has to win the popular vote in more than just a few places within the larger country. A candidate can’t focus on the needs of coastal cities, for example, without considering the needs of the agricultural and industrial Midwest.

There are a lot of reasons to deny the legitimacy of a Trump presidency. The Electoral College should not be one of them.

Mrs. Clinton lost the election, because she failed to win the trust and address the concerns of voters across the country. That is not the fault of the Electoral College system, but rather illustrates why it exists.  She needed to better understand and address concerns in the rural and industrial areas.

The challenge, in this particular election year, is that Donald Trump did not win fairly. While he won the election, he did so by lying to the public, refusing to provide critical information, and through the interference of a foreign government. And his insistence that he won “by a landslide” is such a ridiculous notion that it makes it hard to argue in favor of his Electoral College victory.

The Electoral College is granted the power—at least in some states—to vote their conscience and refuse to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote in their state. Should they have done so in this election? That’s a matter of opinion at this point, because the investigations into the foreign influence, financial conflicts of interest and other issues were not completed when the vote was held. It could also be argued that voting against the popular vote in those states won by Donald Trump would have caused violence and conflict that might be more destructive than a Trump presidency.

There are a lot of reasons to deny the legitimacy of a Trump presidency. The Electoral College should not be one of them.