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As I have written about here many times, I consider myself a left-leaning centrist. I believe open-mindedness, moderation, and pragmatism are the keys to successful governing, and my views on many of the social issues I care about – separation of church and state being probably the biggest one – tend to skew left. In recent years, however, the failures of the current Democratic administration to live up to many of its important promises has caused me to take a serious look at the ideals of conservatism, and truth be told in many instances I like what I see. I’m in favor of individualism, of individual rights over group rights, I believe that citizens should be responsible for themselves, and should solve their own problems rather than expecting something from the government. I believe each citizen of appropriate age should be considered a rational, responsible adult, and treated as such, until there is evidence to the contrary. We should be given the benefit of the doubt by our government. Innocent until proven guilty. So why can’t I vote Republican for a high public office? Well, there are the social issues…

And then there’s this (and, as a bit of supplemental material I happened to find today, this): an article by John Avlon, writing for the Daily Beast, titled “False Flags, Sharia Law, and Gun Grabs: GOP Lawmakers Embrace The Crazy.”

It begins:

A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.

“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”

She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing is Staged Terror Attack

Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.

Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”

Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of – conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.

Of course, craziness is a bipartisan issue, with Republicans frequently pointing to former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Democratic example – but the right has been particularly prone to paranoia since Bush Derangement Syndrome on the leftt gave way to an epic case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from the other side.

Derangement on the right has reached a peak as the proliferation and influence of gangrenous conspiracy theories creep into core beliefs and take hold, as Avlon puts it, as “civic rot,” causing the rational brain to have to be (at risk of over-extending the metaphor) amputated.

What is unprecedented is not so much the zaniness of the beliefs, but the fact that the people promoting them are often those in power. Fringe belief used to be called that for a reason; it was relegated to the fringes of society. But now fringe belief has entered the mainstream of political discourse in a disturbing and damaging way, one which those receptive to such belief find destructively compelling. From the same article:

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The one thing missing from the Senate yesterday during the series of votes on various gun control proposals – seven in all – that was most important and crucial to the proceedings, the lack of which can be faulted for each bill’s defeat, and that which has indeed been largely missing from the entire gun control debate overall, is this: respect.

From Trevor Burrus, writing yesterday (before the vote) for the Opinion section at FoxNews.com:

This week the Senate is debating gun control, and we’ll see whether calmer heads can prevail. As I said in Fox News Opinion once before, the gun control debate is fundamentally a culture debate, dominated by extreme voices on both sides.

Very true. And both sides are guilty of, to put it politely, conduct unbecoming of, well, anyone:

Gawker illustrated this when it published a list of “all the a**holes who own guns in New York City.” Later, the upstate New York newspaper The Journal News printed a similar list.

The dramatic behavior of Gawker and The Journal News hurts the gun-control cause. Shaming gun owners will bolster resistance to all proposals, reasonable or not. As the culture debate rages on, Democrats and their supporters cannot continue to demonize and misunderstand gun owners.

The problem is predictably exacerbated by celebrities and those in the spotlight:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg laughably tried to bridge the culture gap with ads featuring a stereotyped gun enthusiast – identified by his rural setting, pickup truck, and Cabela’s-inspired wardrobe – whose finger is wrapped around the shotgun’s trigger, violating one of the fundamental tenets of gun safety.

Gun owners also feel exasperated when elected officials show their ignorance of guns. Recently, Diane DeGette (D-Co.) seemed not to know that gun magazines are reusable, echoing the famous description by Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) of a barrel shroud as the “shoulder thing that goes up.”

A few weeks ago, actor Jim Carrey released a satirical video called “Cold Dead Hand” on the website Funny or Die. Carrey places himself on the set of “Hee Haw,” resorting once again to the tired cliché that gun-rights supporters are ignorant yokels. He goes on to attack the size of gun-owners’ manhoods, and close the video with a one-finger salute.

Carrey previously established the communication baseline of this debate by taking to Twitter to call gun-rights supporters “heartless” and saying that those who purchased an “assault rifle” after Newtown have “very little left in their body and soul worth protecting.”

Carrey’s stereotyping of gun-rights supporters, and his rage at those who resist suggested reforms are perfect examples of “gun disgust,” the term I used in my previous piece to describe those who give guns the same emotional response as a dirty public restroom. Under this view, guns contaminate society, and thus deaths by guns are somehow worse than deaths by other instruments.

The message here also applies to the larger, more general divisions of the greater political scene – the very first step in getting anything accomplished, through any means, is coming to some level of mutual respect and understanding. We must be willing to believe that the other side may actually have good intentions, and maybe even common ground with us. This is the most important concept in bringing about an agreement.

In the case of guns, the gap is indeed largely cultural, as in rural versus urban, more so than it is rich/poor, black/white, liberal/conservative, or Republican/Democrat.

We cannot bridge the cultural divide until a respectful tone is adopted. That goes for both sides.

Gun-rights supporters need to stop characterizing all gun-control advocates as ultimately wanting to “ban guns.” Most do not. For gun control advocates, it would help to disavow the rhetoric of people like Jim Carrey and to treat gun-rights supporters with respect rather than elitist disdain.

If both sides can do this, some common ground might be possible. Expanding background checks and allowing for better mental health record-keeping could keep guns out of the hands of some dangerous people.

Though most of it is posted here, I recommend going back and reading this post through in its entirety. I, for one, was both glad and relieved to hear a like-minded voice and rational sentiment similar to my own coming from what I would normally perceive to be the “other side.”

Who-We-AreI’ve recently decided to take up the cause of the No Labels movement – or, more accurately, I have in some ways always supported this cause, but have now decided to identify it as such. No Labels has no specific policy agenda, just a desire to promote moderate, pragmatic, reasonable, and most importantly bipartisan solutions to the country’s current problems, and to remove power and influence from the hands of extremists. This is something I can totally get behind, and I’m letting you know in case you would like to get behind it too.

From “Who We Are” on the No Labels website:

No Labels is a growing citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and everything in between dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving. 

 We are unlike any organization in America. The most powerful interest groups in our nation’s capital work to push our leaders and our political parties apart. No Labels is working to bring them together to forge solutions to our nation’s problems. We welcome people left, right and everything in between as long as they are willing to collaborate with one another to seek a shared success for America. This new attitude is what No Labels is all about. 

No Labels promotes its politics of problem solving in three ways: by organizing citizens across America, providing a space for legislators who want to solve problems to convene and by pushing for common-sense reforms to make our government work.

Since our launch in December 2010, No Labels has consistently grown in size and in influence, with hundreds of thousands of supporters across the country. We entered 2013 with two new national leaders, former Republican Governor Jon Huntsman and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. 

Within Congress, No Labels has already recruited 59 members to become Problem Solvers and agree to meet regularly in 2013 to build trust across the aisle. 

One of those 59 members is Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), a conservative Democrat who boasts a perfect approval from the NRA, and who, along with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey, reached an agreement on background checks for gun buyers this week, which is to be attached as an amendment to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s gun control bill. Reid’s bill is the one that will now be brought to a vote after the 68-31 vote in favor of allowing it to move forward on Friday. Despite the threat of a Republican filibuster, sixteen Republicans joined all but two Democrats to allow the bill to be voted on.

And that’s exactly what we’re trying to make happen.

Again from No Labels:

Finally, we have a third action plan, Make America Work!, which argues that achieving a new politics of problem solving will require our elected leaders to embrace No Labels’ five key principles of political leadership: 1) Tell the full truth, 2) Govern for the future, 3) Put the country first, 4) Be responsible, and 5) Work together.

No Labels does not expect anyone to shed their identity when they join our movement. We are a community of proud liberals, proud conservatives and everything in between who are united by the conviction that people with different beliefs really can set aside the labels and come together to solve problems.

One of their most interesting cheer-worthy proposals is No Budget, No Pay, which is exactly what it sounds like:

If Congress can’t make spending and budget decisions on time, they shouldn’t get paid on time either. Every government fiscal year begins October 1. If the congressional appropriations (spending) process is not completed by that date, congressional pay ceases as of October 1, and isn’t restored until appropriations are completed. This is the only No Labels solution that requires a new law, which could be passed in 2012, and would take effect when the new Congress is seated in 2013.

Encouragingly, I leave you with this:

UPDATE: On February 4, 2013, President Obama signed a debt ceiling extension bill that included a modified No Budget, No Pay provision that would withhold member pay in escrow if their respective chambers fail to pass a budget by April 15. No Labels supported this legislation as a critical step towards more accountable government. However, we will continue to push for implementation of our stronger No Budget, No Pay proposal, which would require timely passage of both a budget and annual spending bills and would also not allow lost member pay to be recovered once it was withheld.

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My political blogging inspiration and idol Charlie Pierce has never been especially idealistic about the workings of government, but this post today is a particular extreme of unvarnished realism, even for him. And what’s worse, he seems to be right. Read on, and find yourself becoming depressed…or validated.

Watching the administration’s momentum fade on this issue is to see a president presented with the final, practical refutation of the speech that made him famous. It turns out there is a red America and a blue America. It turns out that there is a conservative America and a liberal America. It turns out that the things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us. Or, at least, that the things that divide us are more politically salient than the things that unite us. The failure on guns is the last, final refutation of what Barack Obama said he believed about the people of this county.

It always depended on the notion that we were all together in the creative process of self-government. The fact is, most of us aren’t. Most of us have checked out. At the encouragement of two generations of ambitious politicians, we have accepted the notion that “government” is something alien, and therefore that it is something we cannot influence. You tell me that 91 percent of Americans support background checks. Wonderful. Put them on the ballot. They’ll pass, but only 40 percent of the eligible voters will bother to go to the polls, so where’s the danger to anyone in acting contrary to the expressed public will? Who does Mitch McConnell really fear in this particular controversy? He knows that there is a solid, active core of support behind the work he’s doing frustrating the expressed public will.

Read it here.

This weekend, people who love liberty and semiautomatic weapons, which are the same thing, actually, gathered in cities across U.S. America for a “Day Of Resistance,” organized on 2/23 to commemorate the heroic freedom-loving service of .223 caliber rounds fired by AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. These innocent bullets have recently had their love of freedom unfairly maligned, simply because a few hundred of them were propelled at high velocity — without their consent, although it should be noted that they performed according to their design specifications — through the flesh and bones of twenty small children and six of their teachers in December. Organizers of the event considered the choice of date “clever.”

Depending on location, the rallies were either a Huge Success or a Total Failure. Numbers are hard when a gun-related event doesn’t leave any corpses behind, so let’s say that overall turnout nationwide was somewhere between a few thousand and a million. Your Doktor Zoom attended the rally at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, and can confirm that there were a few hundred people inside, the vast majority of them armed. No one was shot, not even the guy wearing a “Wonkette” sticker on his windbreaker, so that proves guns are not a problem and liberals are irrationally afraid of freedom.

– The pseudonymous Doktor Zoom, writing for the aggressively liberal and consistently entertaining blog Wonkette, regarding a contrived, somewhat insensitive, and utterly pointless gun-appreciation event held in Idaho on the 23rd.

For some grade-A political commentary, witticism, and satire, look no farther than Wonkette.

The most valuable function performed by the federal government is entertainment.

– Dave Barry

I know it doesn’t quite work with this, since the NRA isn’t a part of the federal government – yet/officially – but seeing as how it exists as a corollary of and in symbiotic opposition to the federal government, I felt the quote was apropos.

What I’m referring to is this. This, as has been widely reported, is too good to be true. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning. This is a steal at twice the price, and so good, it must be fattening. As reported by MSNBC:

The powerful gun lobby has posted what amounts to an enemies list on its website, and the neverending lineup includes scores upon scores of individual and groups that the NRA sees as hostile to gun rights. The list has more than 500 names, including women’s groups, law enforcement organizations, former presidents and A–list celebs.

As they say ’round the Bluth household, this is ripe for parody – this is ripe! Such entertainment should really cost more money – if you’re good at something, never do it for free. But there it is, right on their website – for free. Here’s what Daily Kos had to say, in one of the best characterizations of this tasty morsel of news:

The actual list is broken into multiple parts: There are political organizations the NRA hates, specific people (mostly celebrities and journalists) the NRA hates, and companies the NRA hates. Continue reading below the fold for a very, very small sampler from among the hundreds of entries.

AARP
American Civil Liberties Union
American Medical Association
American Bar Association
American Jewish Committee
B’nai B’rith
College Democrats of America
League of Women Voters
NAACP
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Education Association
National Organization for Women
National Spinal Cord Injury Association

That’s just the tiniest sampler—by the time you’ve run through the whole thing, I think you’ve probably covered almost everyone in America. All right, what about specific named individuals?

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First, see my initial take on the Obama skeet-gate photo from earlier today.

It turns out, Daily Kos beat be to the analysis by a few hours, and threw in the inception of a juicy conspiracy theory to boot.

The White House has now released the photo above, showing the president shooting a gun at Camp David in August, months before the Sandy Hook killings made guns a major political issue. But wait! Kessler also suggested that a reader’s demand for more than one such photo was reasonable. Will this be enough for him?

Also, too, no sooner had the White House released the photo than the right began saying it was suspicious; a Washington Times editor tweeted:

This Obama skeet shooting photo looks odd to me because the clays come high or low, not straight.  http://t.co/…

— @EmilyMiller via Safari on iOS

And knowing Republicans and the media, there’s a very good chance that kind of thing gains real traction. And while we’re talking about whether the president has shot a gun enough times to be able to even breathe the word gun, actual people will keep getting actually shot. So, yeah. Our political discourse, ladies and gentlemen.

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