Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Flag Fetishization Fails

Shame on the United States Senate! On Tuesday, the world's greatest deliberative body came within one vote of amending the U.S. Constitution to permit Congress to ban flag burning and other forms of flag desecration.

Thanks to the votes of two principled conservatives -- Republican Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- the amendment failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to be forwarded to the states for ratification

Still, with 66 votes in favor, that means that 14 Democrats and 52 Republicans have so little respect for the Bill of Rights that they are willing to amend it for rancidly demagogic, election-year gain.

The "conservative" case for flag-burning bans -- laws that would put the United States in the rarefied company of Communist China, Castro's Cuba, theocratic Iran, and Iraq before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein -- rests on the thin reed that flag desecration is disrespectful to U.S. armed forces who fought for freedom in foreign wars.

Balderdash! The most effective and poignant arguments against the amendment come from battle-scarred veterans. For instance, notes Charles Babington in today's Washington Post:

Flag burning "is obscene, painful and unpatriotic," Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who lost an arm in World War II, said in a floor speech yesterday. "But I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves -- even those who harbor hateful thoughts."
After noting the opposition to the amendment of his own father, who flew 33 combat missions over Nazi Germany, Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek of two other prominent veterans:
Our understandable outrage at flag burning shouldn’t turn our brains to mush. “I feel the same sense of outrage, but I would not amend that great shield of democracy [the Constitution] to hammer a few miscreants,” Colin Powell said when the issue last came up (his position has not changed). “The flag will be flying proudly long after they have slunk away.” Powell argues that a constitutional ban on flag burning is a sign of weakness and fear. Note: The other countries that have banned flag burning include Cuba, China, Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

John Glenn, another of the thousands of combat veterans against the amendment (they have banded together in a group called Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights), notes that “those 10 amendments we call the Bill of Rights have never been changed or altered by one iota, not by one word, not a single time in all of American history. There was not a single change during any of our foreign wars, and not during recessions or depressions or panics. Not a single change when we were going through times of great emotion and anger like the Vietnam era, when flag after flag was burned or desecrated. There is only one way to weaken our nation. The way to weaken our nation would be to erode the freedom that we all share.”
I have written about this issue before, most recently last month, when I cited stories (by Nat Hentoff and libertarian Republican Tom Walls) about veterans who oppose the flag-burning amendment. In that post, I linked the proposed amendment to other attempts by Congress and the Bush administration to circumscribe our First Amendment right to free speech.

In a blogpost last year (when the amendment was being considered by the House of Representatives), John Scalzi described how an anti-flag-burning law could be circumvented, noting:
"Protecting" the flag with a Constitutional Amendment won't solve the not-at-all pressing problem of people burning flags for political protest. They'll still do it. They'll simply do it in ways that will now additionally mock the stupidity of those who love the symbol of American freedoms more than they love actual American freedoms. And no matter how expansively Congress defines "the American Flag" there will always be something that is not the flag, but is close enough in its shape and structure to feel just like the flag. And there will be the people who will use that not-quite-flag-like object to protest.
In an article originally written for the libertarian publication, The Freeman, blogger Doug Mataconis of Below the Beltway cut to the logical core of the flag-burning "debate":

In adopting the position of the opponents of the Supreme Court decision, one would have to accept the seemingly contradictory idea that in order to protect the symbol of a nation founded on individual liberty, one must restrict individual liberty. Taking this position also leads one into dangerous territory in relation to other areas of action or thought and the effect that they might have on the rest of society. After all, if flag burning can be banned because a majority of the public are offended by an attack on what they believe to be a sacred symbol, then why not extend the ban into other areas where an individual’s actions might be offensive to others? If we ban flag burning, then why not ban movies or books that depict in an offensive way religious figures or other subjects considered to be sacred? Why not ban magazines, films, or groups that offend the sensibilities of women, blacks, Jews, or any other minority group?

A person who opposes flag burning may argue that he would not extend his logic as far as that in the above examples. But the reasoning behind these examples and that behind flag burning are of the same majoritarian parentage: the belief that if a sufficiently large number of people find an activity offensive then they can use the coercive power of the state to regulate or, preferably, to ban that activity.

The problem, then, with taking the position that the flag should be protected even at the expense of individual liberty is not that flag burning or any other activity deemed to be offensive has some sort of redeeming value, or that symbols such as the flag are unimportant, but that in banning these activities, one is accepting a principle that is ultimately destructive of a free society. By accepting this principle, we are allowing for the creation of a society wherein appropriate expressions of patriotism, appropriate forms of artistic expression, and appropriate activities are decided by a process of majority rule that, rather than minimizing conflict in society, heightens it to a dangerous degree.

Mitch McConnell has proven to be a real hero to those who value the First Amendment, even while so many of his Senate colleagues regard it with contempt. McConnell spearheaded the drive to defeat the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which places limits on political speech. (Oddly, Senator John McCain voted for the speech limitations of the flag burning amendment, while Senator Russ Feingold voted against it. No one has accused politicians of consistency in their lack of principle.)

I am glad that I am writing about the amendment's defeat today. That is one less bit of political pandering we have to worry about in the future. That is, until the next federal election year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Twin Carnivals

Jason Kenney hosts this week's Virginia Blog Carnival, presenting it in a carnival-barker style that compels you to look behind the side-show curtain to take a peak at the freaks.

A couple of excerpts:

That guy who isn't that chef Emeril (but still makes a kick ass chicken and veggie dish from what I hear) has some thoughts on the Gay Marriage Amendment. If those don't tickle your fancy, consider this: If you take the tile of his post "My Thoughts On The Gay Marriage Amendment" and translate it to French using AltaVista's BabelFish and then translate it back into English, it becomes "My Thoughts On The Merry Amendment Of Marriage". So just by using the title and translations, we can all assume that he and everyone else who speaks of this "Gay Marriage Amendment" think it's a merry thing to do. Or so the French would have us believe. On a side note (because I've been staying on topic up to now), I'm Not Emeril's favorite Beatle is the recently late Billy Preston....

Kilo ventures into the great unknown and pulls back the curtain on the bearded lady we all know and love as Zogby Interactive.

Ghana knocked the US out of the World Cup tourney on Thursday and nobody in Virginia really cared....

Gasp in shock and horror as Rick Sincere recounts his lunchtime escapade with the one and only Dick Cheney!
Eerily and chillingly, Jason reveals the secret identity of well-known pseudonymous blogger The Jaded JD but mentions that next week's Virginia Blog Carnival host is so secret that not even a pseudonym is known. (Details about how the VBC works are posted at Commonwealth Conservative.)

Jason also notes that there is a special-edition carnival rounding up all of the postings about this month's Virginia bloggers' summit in Charlottesville. This is hosted by Semi-Truths, and it turns out that there were more reports on the conference posted than I thought. (I count 23 or 24 separate entries -- maybe more.) That Sorensen Institute: it motivates people!

While we're on the subject of writing on the Internet, let me close with a bit of doggerel I found in Ernest Lefever's new book, Liberating the Limerick. This is attributed to Maynard Kaplan:
A third grader who lives in Bucyrus
Has unleashed a computerized virus
That endangers us all
In large countries and small,
Excepting those still using papyrus.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Karen Hospital Revisited

To my surprise, one of the more popular posts on this blog has been my collection of photographs of Karen Hospital near Nairobi, which I took a couple of weeks before the hospital opened.

In the Congressional Record this week, Representative Edolphus Towns (D-New York) pays tribute to the Karen Hospital, which he asserts should be receiving more attention from the MSM. (It certainly seems that the first new hospital built in Kenya in some 50 years would be newsworthy, especially since the project was completed largely using private funds and donations of equipment.)

Here is Congressman Towns' speech, as it appears in the Congressional Record of June 20:

KAREN HOSPITAL -- (Extensions of Remarks - June 20, 2006)

TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2006

Mr. TOWNS. Mr. Speaker, a few months ago, there was an historic moment that was, sadly, underreported by the news media in this county and in much of the rest of the world. It is only recently that I came to learn of it and I wish to bring it to the attention of this House.

On March 31, outside of Nairobi, Kenya, there was a dedication ceremony for the Karen Hospital, which is the first full-service hospital opened in Kenya since the colonial era, before that country became an independent state within the community of nations.

Karen Hospital is located in the Nairobi suburb of Karen, which many will recognize as the setting for the movie, ``Out of Africa,'' which told the story of author Isak Dinesen, who used the pen name Karen Blixen, and who lived and worked in Kenya and wrote about that country and her love for it.

The opening of Karen Hospital has important implications for health care in Kenya and throughout East Africa. This state-of-the-art facility will provide opportunities for teaching health-care professionals--not just doctors, but nurses, administrators, orderlies, and others--who will bring their knowledge and skills into cities and villages across the region.

When Karen Hospital was opened formally, its chief executive officer, Dr. Betty Gikonyo--who received her medical education in the United States--made a speech, in the presence of President Mwai Kibaki, that reflected the pride and hard work of bringing this hospital from a mere conception to a full-fledged operating unit serving the people of Kenya.

Mr. Speaker, if there is no objection, I would like to place excerpts of the address by Dr. Gikonyo in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD. Such a historic occasion deserves to be paid much more attention than it has so far received.


We have gathered here to celebrate a special day, which will form a milestone in the history of The Karen Hospital. 21 years ago a dream was born, nurtured over the years and now realized. Over the last 10 years we have gone through a process of feasibility studies, consultation, intense planning resulting in a business plan for the Karen Hospital. The search for a financier was not an easy one and it took us over 5 years to convince financial institutions that a medical business is a viable option. We kept on knocking at their doors. Nevertheless some doors were open. We received some offers from both regional and local banks. In consultation with our financial advisers opted for a loan in Kenya Shillings that could finance the two major components of the project which are including building and acquisition of medical equipment. Your Excellency Sir, please, allow us to thank the Kenya Commercial Bank, for believing in our vision and trusting the business plan of a local investor. Kenya Commercial Bank took the risk and proudly partnered with us in undertaking a project of this magnitude. To the KCB Board of Directors and Management Asanteni Sana. You have worked closely with in the formation of this project to see it conclude successfully.

Medical equipment are an expensive undertaking and we wish to recognize Philips Medical Systems Netherlands and Frescenius Renal Supplies of Germany who entered into equipment financing credit plans to enable us to equip the hospital with ultra modem state of the art equipment in all departments as Your Excellency has had an opportunity to see.

This has been achieved through hardwork, commitment and consistency of purpose by a team of financial consultants, medical consultants, hospital engineers and building and civil engineers and a dedicated contractor and sub-contractors. By following the clearly laid out rules we were able to import clear all equipment in good time for installation.

The hospital building comprises of 4 floors each with four wings thoughtfully planned to ensure all services are accessed with minimum effort and maximum convenience to our patients and staff.......

The Karen Hospital is a world class ultra modern health facility bringing quality healthcare not only to Kenyans but also to Eastern and Central Africa but beyond.

The 102 bed hospital serves patients with general ailments alongside specialized medical and surgical interventions. It has the newest ultra modern state-of-the art equipment, cardiac diagnosis, interventions and surgery, intensive care, kidney dialysis, Laparoscopic surgery, video Endoscopy and physiotherapy.......

[A] Hospital is however not made of building and equipment. Our most important resource is the highly trained and experienced personnel in all departments. Through competitive selection of the best qualified personnel Karen Hospital has been manned by the best Kenya can offer in all our departments both medical and non-medical. This includes our permanent staff as well highly experienced team of medical consultants who form the large panel of over 100 admitting doctors of different areas of specialization.

Your Excellency Sir, I am happy to inform you that we have been able to attend to 634 patients in our Accident and Emergency department. Some with major injuries including bullet assault cases and road traffic accidents. Additionally we have performed a number of surgeries, endoscopies and cardiac catheterizations and as you have seen a full wing of inpatients with varying ailments ranging from major surgeries to medical conditions are recuperating in our Sagana Ward. This confirms that Kenyans have already come to know, trust and use this facility in the last one month. We look forward to a full house in 6 months time. The performance so far has been very impressive and we are encouraged and grateful for the support Kenyans have given this facility at its inception.......

The City of Nairobi has been the hub of specialized medical services for the entire country as well as for the Eastern and Central Africa region. Indeed this has been realized in the month of March, as we have admitted referred patients from Tanzania (Daresalam), DRC Congo, Sudan (Khartoum), and Burundi (Bujumbura).

Referrals from the region not only is testimony to the high standard medical services available in Kenya but also affords us an opportunity to boost our inflow of foreign currency to enhance our economic growth. This is an area that can be expanded further by the establishment of highly specialized medical services in the private sector that would see greater number of referral from this population of over 100 million that forms the Eastern Africa community. We at The Karen Hospital has addressed this very specifically by incorporating in our hospital a cardiology program that spans from diagnosis to interventional non-evasive procedures and to heart surgery. We believe that more patients will be diverted from the exodus that sees patient travel to India, South Africa and Europe to seek some of these specialized services. As a new centre of medical excellence, we plan to market our services effervescently to the region and make Kenya a preferred destination for medical services.......

This will provide a forum for many to channel their energies, experiences, resources and to harness these positively towards our mission statement. I believe that many of us are cognizant of the benefits that come along with the integrated teaching and referral facility globally.

We at The Karen Hospital wish to compliment and be active participants in the implementation of the government policy of providing promotive, preventive and curative services. We believe there is room for the private sector to provide specialist tertiary medical institutions to compliment those existing in the government and indeed these are not in competition but rather in partnership. More facilities like Karen Hospital are needed in our countries especially in cities Like Mombasa Kisumu and Eldoret and also in the East African cities.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Management, Staff of The Karen Hospital, may once again, thank you for joining us during this auspicious occasion.

In closing, allow me to quote Our Mentor and Teacher Dr. Sam Mwinzi, a renowned neurologist who is with us today and had this immortalized in our visitors book when he visited Karen Hospital, "May the portals of this magnificent edifice forever remain open and overflowing with those that seek better health as well as those that have the gift of giving it."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Yet Another Carnival of Liberty Is Up

So many carnivals, so little time.

The 50th installment of the Carnival of Liberty is now available to read at TuCents, which has quite an extensive selection of articles from around the freedom-loving portion of the blogosphere. Topics include free speech, personal responsibility, global warming, anarchy and natural rights, and airport security, among other issues of the day. My own piece on Dick Cheney at the National Press Club also made the cut.

Dave of TuCents notes:

Next week, the 51st Carnival of Liberty will be at Below The Beltway.
We'll be watching for it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Breaking News from the Gay Games

Somehow I got put on a press list for Gay Games VII, which are taking place this year in Chicago. I just opened up my email box and found a news release that the games organizers felt was important enough to embargo until 6:00 p.m. CDT. Since it's nearly that time now, I figured I'd help them out by releasing it to my readers at the stroke of 7:00 p.m. EDT.

Unfortunately, I won't be attending the Gay Games -- which is the gay equivalent of the Olympics, though a Supreme Court case involving the Olympic trademark prevents the Gay Games from making that claim -- but I have lots of friends in Chicago who will probably join in the festivities.

Here is the news release as I received it (with the contact information removed):



CHICAGO - The City of Chicago announced today that British pop superstar Andy Bell of Erasure would perform at the July 15 Opening Ceremony for the 2006 Gay Games and that two of the world's most recognized brands - Gatorade and ESPN - had joined as major sponsors which now number more than 300 corporations and agencies signing to support the international event.

The announcement was made at the Mayor's annual Pride Reception, before more than 500 representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) community at the Chicago Cultural Center.

* Chicago-based QTG (Quaker/Tropicana/Gatorade) joins as a Global Gay Games Sponsor. Gatorade will be the Official Sports Drink of the 2006 Gay Games and will provide sideline hydration at all Gay Games sports. Tropicana and Quaker will be feeding the athletes and volunteers nutritious and wholesome breakfasts and snacks throughout the week.

* Erasure's Andy Bell will perform at the July 15 Opening Ceremony at Chicago's historic Soldier Field. Bell is just the latest star in the incredible lineup for the Gay Games VII Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Chicago organizers have previously announced performers include Cyndi Lauper, Margaret Cho, Megan Mullally, Jody Watley, Greg Louganis, M People's Heather Small, Kristine W, Star Trek's George Takei, Holly Near, Tony Award-winning Avenue Q, and dozens more talented performers and legends. Tickets are available online at

* ESPN, the leading international multimedia sports entertainment company, also joins in support of the Opening Ceremony, becoming the official sponsor of the Opening Ceremony Fireworks. The spectacular display will be visible throughout the Chicagoland area and will be videotaped by cameras aboard the MetLife blimp that will fly overhead. "ESPN respects the values that are intrinsic to athletic competition, and we are pleased to be a sponsor of this year's Gay Games," said John Skipper, ESPN Executive Vice President, Content.

About QTG (Quaker-Tropicana-Gatorade)
QTG (Quaker Tropicana Gatorade) is a division of PepsiCo, one of the world's largest consumer beverage and packaged goods companies. QTG brands rank among some of the most highly regarded and recognizable consumer products including: Quaker Oatmeal, Tropicana Pure Premium not-from-concentrate juices; Gatorade Thirst Quencher and Propel Fitness Water; Cap'n Crunch and Life ready-to-eat cereals; Rice-A-Roni and Near East side dishes; and Aunt Jemima pancake mixes and syrups.

About Gatorade®
Gatorade® Thirst Quencher, the nation's leading sports drink, is backed by 40 years of research. Gatorade is scientifically formulated and athletically proven to quench thirst, replace fluids and electrolytes and provide carbohydrate energy to enhance athletic performance. Gatorade is the official sports drink of the NFL, NBA, WNBA, AVP, NHL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and numerous professional, collegiate and amateur teams and events throughout the world. For more information, please visit

About Andy Bell
Legendary U.K. synth pop pioneers Erasure, comprised of vocalist Andy Bell and keyboard wizard Vince Clarke, is among the most successful pop duos ever, selling more than 20 million albums and charting some of the most memorable hits of the last twenty years. The group got its start when Bell responded to a 1985 blind ad in a British music weekly seeking a singer that had been placed by Clarke, a founding member of the influential electronic groups Depeche Mode and Yaz. One of the first openly gay stars in pop, Bell's gender-bending performances, brilliant theatricality and soaring falsetto vocals have earned Erasure a special place in the heart and soul of its devoted fans. Bell recently released his first-ever solo CD, Electric Blue, which was soon followed by the release of Erasure's critically-acclaimed Union Street, its first-ever entirely acoustic album. Erasure has just completed a sold out tour of the U.K. and U.S. and plans to release and tour a new album next spring.

About ESPN®
ESPN, Inc. is the world's leading multinational, multimedia sports entertainment company featuring a portfolio of over 50 multimedia sports assets. The company is comprised of seven domestic television networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, ESPN Today), ESPN and ESPN2 HD simulcast services, ESPN Regional Television, ESPN International (networks, syndication, radio, web sites), ESPN Radio,, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Enterprises, ESPN Zones (sports-themed restaurants), and other growing new businesses including ESPN360 (Broadband), Mobile ESPN, ESPN on Demand, ESPN Interactive and ESPN PPV. Based in Bristol, Ct., ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, Inc., which is an indirect subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. The Hearst Corporation holds a 20 percent interest in ESPN.

About Gay Games VII
Gay Games VII Sports and Cultural Festival will take place 15-22 July 2006. Over 12,000 athletes from more than 70 countries will compete in 30 sports ranging from softball to dancesport, swimming to tennis. The weeklong event will include band, cheerleading and color guard performances, chorus, an ancillary arts festival, and a series of community-organized social events and parties. The opening ceremony is scheduled for 15 July at Soldier Field, the lakefront home stadium of American-style football's Chicago Bears. Closing ceremony will be 22 July at Wrigley Field, the home of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs, located in the heart of Chicago's largest LGBT neighborhood. Tickets are available at

Global sponsors of Gay Games VII include Lexiva; Logo; PlanetOut/; Walgreens; Centaur Entertainment; Fleishman Hillard International Communications; Orbitz; McKnight Kurland Baccelli; The New York Times; Olivia Cruises & Resorts; Windy City Media Group; Absolut Vodka; American Airlines; Athletico; Chicago Free Press; Chicago Sun-Times; Ernst & Young; GLAAD; Genre; Human Rights Campaign; Lambda Legal Defense; QTG-Quaker/Tropicana/Gatorade; Sydney New Mardi Gras; Mate Magazine; Pink Magazine; RCN; Roosevelt University; and more than 270 additional business sponsors.

About The Gay Games
The Gay Games was conceived by Dr. Tom Waddell, an Olympic decathlete, and was first held in San Francisco in 1982 with 1,350 participants. Subsequent Gay Games have been held in San Francisco (1986; 3,500 participants), Vancouver (1990; 7,300 participants), New York (1994; 12,500 participants), Amsterdam (1998; 13,000 participants), and Sydney (2002; 11,000 participants).

The Federation of Gay Games is the international governing body that perpetuates the quadrennial Gay Games and promotes the event's founding principles of Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best(tm). For more information, visit

Chicago Games, Inc. is the host of Gay Games VII and is led by experienced civic leaders from Chicago's business, sports and non-profit sectors. For information about how to sponsor or participate in Gay Games VII in Chicago, visit, e-mail, or phone (773) 907-2006.
Unsolicited news releases: The lazy blogger's path to more content.

Monday, June 19, 2006

My Lunch with Dick Cheney

Through a confluence of happy accidents, I ended up spending a couple of hours today at the National Press Club, where Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at a luncheon honoring the recipients of the annual Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prizes. Cheney, you'll recall, served as Ford's White House Chief of Staff before serving in Congress and both Bush administrations.

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I am an admirer of President Ford, who I rank with Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge as among the most liberty-minded presidents of the 20th century, as all three aimed at restraining and shrinking the size and scope of government.

After lunch, I ran into Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University, who was one of the judges for the journalism prizes. I used to be a guest lecturer for Rozell when he taught at American University. While we were chatting near the elevators, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger walked up to us. I extended my hand and said, "Dr. Kissinger, you probably don't remember me, but I was in your class at Georgetown 25 years ago." He seemed pleased to see me -- what teacher isn't glad to see a former student -- but the gentleman with him one-upped me. "I took his class 40 years ago!," he said, with a wink.

My table at the lunch was no more than 20 or 25 feet from the Vice President, so I got a few good photos. I was sitting between Senator Jon Kyl's press secretary and two gentlemen from the Red Chinese embassy, who were scribbling rapidly to take down as many of Cheney's words as possible.

I scribbled a few notes myself, which I turned into an article for this week's Metro Herald. To wit:

Cheney Speaks Out on War on Terror, Iraq, Government Secrecy
Rick Sincere
Special to the Metro Herald

(WASHINGTON) --- Vice President Dick Cheney was the featured speaker on Monday, June 19, at a National Press Club awards ceremony. In response to questions from the audience, Cheney spoke out on the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and government secrecy.

Cheney spoke at the annual luncheon ceremony, sponsored by the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, for the presentation of two journalism prizes named for the former president. The award recipients were Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News, for his reporting on the presidency, and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, for his reporting on national defense issues while working for the Los Angeles Times.

National Press Club president Jonathan Salant introduced Cheney as “pinch-hitting for Gerald Ford,” since Ford, who will turn 93 on July 14, was unable to attend the luncheon.

Cheney began his remarks by noting that his own history with President Ford goes back to 1974, when Donald Rumsfeld became Ford’s chief of staff and Cheney was Rumsfeld’s deputy. Later, when Rumsfeld became Ford’s Secretary of Defense, Cheney was promoted to White House Chief of Staff – later serving 10 years in Congress, a term as Secretary of Defense, as CEO of Halliburton, and today as vice president.

The Vice President noted that Ford served a short term – only 29 months – but because of the turbulent times, the “pace of activity was enough to fill an eight-year presidency.”

Paying tribute to Ford, Cheney said that “through all of this, America was extremely fortunate to have a steady hand at the wheel.”

“In every respect,” he said, “Gerald Ford labored hard at his job and he was good at it,” adding: “Gerald Ford is the kind of person whose good qualities appear on first impression and are only confirmed when you spend time with him.”

Joking with the audience, which consisted largely of members of the Washington press corps, Cheney continued: “President Ford is a patient and forgiving man, so naturally he has a high regard for the news media.” (This reference may not be so tongue-in-cheek. In his 2005 book, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s, Dowling College historian Yanek Mieczkowski reports that Ford had unusually good relations with the press in comparison to other presidents of the late 20th century.)

Following his remarks about the former President, who was as much honored at the luncheon as the reporters who received crystal figurines in his name, Cheney answered questions from the audience, filtered through moderator Salant.

Asked “Are we winning the war on terror?,” Cheney said, “I believe we are.”

Explaining that after 9/11 that the United States developed an “aggressive strategy,” Cheney said that the biggest threat we now face is an al-Qaeda cell armed with a nuclear weapon or some other weapon of mass destruction. Still, he continued, “a look at the broad sweep of events” shows that “several things stand out.” One of these is that the United States “cannot all by itself succeed in every place unless we have friends and allies,” pointing to the cooperation we have received in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq in rounding up and killing terrorists connected to al-Qaeda.

The biggest sign of success, Cheney said, is that “it’s been nearly five years now and we haven’t been hit again,” though he qualified this by noting that “nobody can promise that we won’t be hit again” by al-Qaeda or “al-Qaeda wannabes.”

Cheney asserted that two of the reasons for success were the USA PATRIOT Act and the terrorist surveillance program – both of which, he acknowledged, have been controversial. He insisted, in regard to the surveillance program, that “it clearly is legal and consistent with the Constitution.” The program, he said, is “reviewed by the President every 45 days and he is assured by the Attorney General that it complies with the laws of the land.”

“The fact of the matter,” Cheney said, “is we’ve been safe and secure at home and that is no accident.”

Another questioner asked if Cheney had underestimated the strength of the insurgency in Iraq. Cheney replied that “nobody anticipated the level of violence we encountered.” He attributed this misjudgment to how the Bush administration “underestimated the effect of 30 years of Saddam’s rule.” There was a huge transition to make from dictatorship to democracy, he said, and he personally “underestimated the extent to which Iraqi society had been damaged by the Saddam regime.”

Asked if there will be a return to military conscription, Cheney flatly answered no. “I’m a big believer in the all-volunteer force,” he said, and although the structures for a military draft are maintained for the eventuality that certain extreme conditions might require it, “I don’t foresee the development of those conditions.”

As one might expect from a gathering of working journalists, there was a question about how the Bush administration is reacting to leaks, particularly leaks of national security information. Cheney said that he believes “there need to be secrets. There are things the federal government does in the national security arena that need to be kept secret.”

“One of the frustrations of this debate,” Cheney added, “is that you can’t talk about current operations to explain why” certain information has to be kept classified. He gave as an example of how reports of communications interception technology tipped off al-Qaeda that they should change their means of communicating with each other. He also noted that when U.S. secrets are compromised, “other intelligence services find it difficult to work with us.”

Just before he had to leave, Cheney was offered a light-hearted question: With the President celebrating his 60th birthday on July 6, what gift does Cheney plan to give to him?

Cheney pondered his answer for a moment, noting that the two of them do not usually exchange birthday presents, but only Christmas presents. Pausing to think, he smiled and said, “This is one of those things that need to be secret.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rick Sincere covers political and cultural events for the Metro Herald.

For more information about the Gerald R. Ford journalism prizes, visit the Gerald R. Ford Foundation. A transcript of today's event can be obtained through the National Press Club, and C-SPAN recorded the luncheon speeches for broadcast. The Associated Press also has a report on the lunch.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More on the Virginia Bloggers' Summit

You didn't think I would limit my discussion of the second annual Summit on Blogging and Democracy in the Commonwealth with just a few comments and a few more photos, did you?

After reviewing my notes -- mostly from the plenary sessions -- I realized I had enough material for an article that I could submit to the Metro Herald in Alexandria. So I drafted it and, a few minutes ago, I emailed it to the publisher along with some of the photos I took. (Don't worry, James, yours was not among them -- but I'll have them print it in the newspaper if you ask.)

So here is what I wrote. Comments are always welcome.

Political Bloggers Convene in Charlottesville
Rick Sincere
Special to the Metro Herald

(CHARLOTTESVILLE) – Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb gained “a movement of volunteers and benefited from national attention that was blog-driven,”Jerome Armstrong, an Alexandria-based blogger ( and political consultant, told the second annual Sorensen Institute Summit on Blogging and Democracy in the Commonwealth.

Armstrong, co-author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, was pointing to Topic A of the informal discussion among the nearly 100 bloggers, consultants, and political activists who gathered at the University of Virginia during the weekend of June 16-17. Was Jim Webb's primary victory on June 13 due to the influence of Virginia's extensive political blogosphere?

Robert Holsworth, a political scientist from Virginia Commonwealth University, echoed the question when he opened his own remarks about the 2006 Senate race by noting that “bloggers are taking credit for the Webb nomination.”

If attendance by leading political figures is any indication, the influence of bloggers on politics is being taken quite seriously. Three members of the House of Delegates – Kris Amundson of Fairfax County, Bob Brink of Arlington County, and Brian Moran of Alexandria – attended the conference, as did two statewide officeholders.

Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell (who won a close race in November 2005 against state Senator Creigh Deeds, with results known only after a recount), gave the opening speech at the conference.

McDonnell, who admitted his own unfamiliarity with the medium by saying he was “just figuring out how to use a PC and email,” seemed far more comfortable addressing legal issues like defamation and copyright protection than he did in discussing the technology of blogging. His discomfort showed itself when, while reading from a prepared script he mispronounced the name of Waldo Jaquith, one of the most prominent Virginia bloggers, and the word “netroots” as “neat roots.”

Still, McDonnell – or his speechwriters – acknowledged the growing importance of blogging as a form of information technology, telling the conferees: “You are at the cutting edge of a new medium” and “an important part of the political equation.”

McDonnell singled out liberal blogger Kenton Ngo – a 15-year-old high school student from Fairfax County – as an example of how “blogging is a great way to empower youth.” As McDonnell put it: “He can't vote, he can't drink, but he can blog.” He then made a special effort to take a photograph of himself with Kenton (whose blog is called “750 Volts”), who had recently reported that he had just taken a picture of himself with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, McDonnell's chief rival for the 2009 Republican nomination for governor, spoke to the conference on its second day. Tongue-in-cheek, Bolling offered some praise: “Bob McDonnell is doing a great job as Attorney General – so much so that I hope the people demand that he serve at least eight years!”

For his part, Bolling seemed much more familiar and comfortable with the subject of blogging and using internet technology as a political tool. He admitted that “a year ago, I didn’t even know what a blog was, and now I’m looking at blogs and reading blogs and I’m worrying about whether you are saying nice things or nasty things about me on blogs,” adding that he is now doing blog interviews.

Bolling said that while blogging is “a great tool to communicate with voters and citizens,” it also can be used to “hold elected officials responsible for doing the things we say we're going to do” during the course of a campaign. Blogging, he said, “can be used to keep campaigns honest.”

In his own remarks, VCU professor Bob Holsworth offered analysis of the state budget crisis, the 2006 Senate campaign, and the prospect of two former governors (Mark Warner and George Allen) running for president in 2008.

On the 2006 budget crisis, Holsworth said it differed from the situation in 2004 (when Warner was still governor and 17 Republicans in the House of Delegates crossed party lines to support his budget proposals) because the issues are different.

In 2004, he said, the budget priority was education, something that brought apparent benefits to all localities, so all Delegates and Senators could go home and justify to their votes to raise taxes to their constituents.

In 2006, the top priority is transportation, which has limited regional benefits for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Legislators in other parts of the state have difficulty explaining to their voters that they are raising their taxes so that other people, elsewhere, can benefit from them.

Moreover, he said, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia have different economic situations, with Northern Virginia having a higher-than-average household income while Hampton Roads' is just below average. Northern Virginians, therefore, have both the means and, to a certain extent, the will to pay higher taxes to get better roads. Taxpayers in Hampton Roads do not share that affluence, even though their transportation challenges are similar.

Finally, even though Governor Tim Kaine won by a greater margin than his predecessor, even winning more votes in what used to be largely Republican parts of the state, he did not campaign on transportation so much as he did on education issues, for which he has a passion. Thus Kaine does not have a mandate from the voters to act on transportation, leading to a dearth of leadership and a protracted budget negotiation.

In regard to the 2006 Senate race, Holsworth said that Democratic candidate Webb faces “an uphill challenge” while incumbent George Allen is a “first-rate campaigner.” Allen, he said, “loves” to campaign; “he enjoys it.”

The Democrats, Holsworth explained, made a strategic choice in voting for a candidate whom they felt best stood a chance to beat the incumbent. They nominated someone, he said, “who looks great as a concept, but can he translate that concept into an actual candidacy?” Put another way, “Can he translate a virtual candidacy into a practical candidacy?”

Predicting the course of the campaign, Holsworth said that Webb will run a “national campaign” on issues like the war in Iraq, while Allen will “localize” his campaign, running “on what he has done for the Commonwealth and portraying Webb as an outsider who happens to live in Virginia.” He made a comparison to 1994, when Oliver North was a candidate known nationally who happened to live in Virginia, running against an incumbent with deep Virginia roots, Chuck Robb.

George Allen's name came up again in Holsworth's discussion of the 2008 presidential race, in which he and former Governor Mark Warner are both considered potential candidates for their respective parties.

The leading candidate for the Democratic nomination now is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, because she has a strong base of support within her party, would like to see a lot of challengers who will split the vote during the primary and caucus season.

Warner, said Holsworth, has to “fine-tune his message to get beyond the strategic orientation” (of who can win the general election against a Republican candidate), since much of the appeal of Warner's potential candidacy is in his background as a Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning Southern state, with a reputation for moderation and pragmatism. Democratic primary voters, on the other hand, may be looking for a liberal standard-bearer, such as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who is challenging Clinton from the left.

Holsworth explained that, to win the nomination over someone like Senator Clinton, Warner has to “appeal to the Democratic heart as well as the Democratic head.”

Allen does not face that sort of challenge with Republican voters. Holsworth said that George Allen's message already appeals to the Republican base, but the GOP primary voters will still be looking for a candidate who can win in November, which is why Arizona Senator John McCain is still touted as a frontrunner. The major question for Allen now is whether he can overcome the name recognition of McCain, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and others who may join the field.

Democratic activist and author Jerome Armstrong argues that there will be a strong anti-McCain movement among conservative bloggers. He believes, he said, that George Allen and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are the two potential Republican presidential candidates who can best “tap into the evangelicals on the 'Net,” who already have a strong, well-organized presence.

Armstrong predicted that, during the 2008 campaign, we will see “local bloggers covering the campaigns,” particularly in key states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which will result in those states famous “retail politics” gaining a national focus. These bloggers, Armstrong predicted, “will be ahead of reporters” and little will occur locally in the primary states without acquiring national interaction among bloggers and other commentators.

Other speakers at the conference included Washington Post correspondent Michael Shear, editorial writer Gordon Morse of the Newport News Daily Press, Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, campaign finance experts Chris Piper of the State Board of Elections and Claire Guthrie GastaƱaga of the Commonwealth Coalition, and Daniel Glover of Technology Daily.

The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership sponsored the bloggers’ summit, which was partially underwritten by Verizon. For more information, visit

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Rick Sincere, a frequent contributor to The Metro Herald, blogs about politics, arts, and culture at


For more on the bloggers' summit, Bob Gibson, who attended the conference start-to-finish, has a report in the Sunday Daily Progress, as does Philip Stewart on WCAV-TV Channel 19.

Blog Summit Photoblog

Nearly 100 Virginia political bloggers and wannabe bloggers gathered this weekend in Charlottesville for the second annual blog summit, sponsored by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia (and underwritten in part by Verizon).

Among Friday's speakers were Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, VCU political scientist Robert Holsworth, and "the blogfather," Jerome Armstrong of, who spoke at dinner about his book, Crashing the Gate. There were also workshops on "Blogging 101" and promoting and enhancing one's blog.

Saturday saw breakout sessions for workshops on ethics and blogging, campaign finance laws, building a community, and blogging and journalism, with luncheon speeches by Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (in full campaign mode) and Washington Post correspondent Michael Shear.

Norm and Romeocat have already posted their thoughts about the conference. ImNotEmeril has a tongue-in-cheek report on Friday's after-hours activities. Waldo has separate posts on Day One and Day Two. Others will surely follow.

Below you will find a few photos from the weekend. I thought I took a lot more pictures, but when I got home the number was smaller than I remembered, and the usable shots were even fewer. I know that Coy Barefoot was photographing the event for the Sorensen Institute blog, so visit there if you want to see more of the many people from around the Commonwealth who attended. (The Sorensen blog also includes some audio recordings of the major speeches at the conference.)

I may write more later. (Last year I didn't get around to reporting about the blog summit until more than a week later.)

By the way, if Chad wants to use any of these photos for the famous caption contest, they are all fair game.

The Sorensen Institute's Sean O'Brien opens the conference on Friday afternoon

Virginia Attorney General Bob "Landslide" McDonnell

Robert Holsworth, a speed-dial entry on every Virginia political reporter's cell phone

James Martin of Virginia Progressive at Saturday's lunch

Mike Shear of the Washington Post, the summit's closing speaker

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Bolling addresses the bloggers

A little help, please: Who is that on the left with Norfolk blogger Vivian Paige and Delegate Brian Moran?

Bill Bolling works the room

Waldo Jaquith and Kenton Ngo, the two bloggers most frequently cited by summit speakers

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Carnival of Liberty Numero 49

Liberty Corner is hosting this week's Carnival of Liberty (the 49th in a series), noting

"Carnivals (of the real kind) attract a motley cross-section of humanity. Carnivals of Liberty similarly attract a varied cross-section of blogdom. This 49th Carnival of Liberty offers as many views of life, liberty, and property as there are entries -- 35 of them, by my count. Instead of simply giving you the basics (blogger's name and links to his or her blog and Carnival entry), I am including brief excerpts of most entries, to entice you to read further.

"The good news is that you'll find much that conforms to and confirms your own views. The better news is that you're sure to find much that challenges you and makes you think more deeply about liberty: what it is and whence it comes, how best to defend it, the role of government in defending it (or suppressing it), who its friends and enemies are, how it fares abroad, and how the blogosphere fosters it."

The next Carnival of Liberty -- the big Five-O -- will be hosted by TuCents.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Republican Potluck

The Charlottesville and Albemarle County Republican committees met jointly in a McIntire Park pavilion for food and camaraderie last evening, with a few minutes set aside for party business.

The Charlottesville GOP Committee elected attorney Charles "Buddy" Weber as its new chair, succeeding Bob Hodous, who stepped down after six years in the job. Buddy is currently serving as a member of the task force, appointed by Mayor David Brown, looking into how best to elect the city School Board (at-large, mixed wards and at-large, all wards, something else?).

Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling visited from Richmond. Other elected officials at the meeting were Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling and Delegate Rob Bell (R-58th). Fifth Congressional District GOP Chairman Tucker Watkins also visited and stayed well past the time most people had left. (A small group of us stuck around to chat until after 9:00 p.m.)

In Bolling's brief remarks, he told the crowd that there were three important things we had to do on Election Day in November: (1) vote to approve the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and private contracts between same-sex couples; (2) vote to re-elect George Allen to the U.S. Senate; and (3) vote to re-elect Virgil Goode to the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the three, only voting for George Allen was met with enthusiastic applause; the amendment was met with utter silence, while Goode's name received polite murmurings of approval.

The audience greeted Tucker Watkins with a hearty laugh when he presented the new party chairman, Buddy Weber, with a baseball cap from the 2004 election, emblazoned with the phrase, "Goode Smokes Weed," referring to Virgil Goode's overwhelming victory over Al Weed that year. (Weed is also Goode's opponent this year.)

The Albemarle County GOP Committee took care of a few routine business matters, but the bulk of the evening was dedicated to celebration and socializing.

Here are a few pictures I took before the sun went down:

Delegate Rob Bell confers with newly elected Charlottesville GOP Chairman Charles "Buddy" Weber

Lieutenant Governor (and 2009 gubernatorial candidate) Bill Bolling speaks to a welcoming crowd

Albemarle County GOP Vice-Chairman Bernie Greer, 5th Congressional District GOP Chairman Tucker Watkins, and outgoing Charlottesville City GOP Chairman Bob Hodous

WINA Radio has a short report on the Republican gathering here; WCAV-TV covers it here; and Bob Gibson talks about the "white smoke over Richmond" (i.e., news of a long-awaited General Assembly budget deal, Topic A at the GOP picnic) at this morning's Daily Progress.

Monday, June 12, 2006

'Liberating the Limerick'

Not long ago, I received an invitation for a book party to take place later this week, celebrating the launch of Ernest W. Lefever's latest publication, Liberating the Limerick: 230 Irresistible Classics.

I have not yet read the book, but I knew months ago that it was coming and am looking forward not only to reading it, but reading an autographed copy. (As you can see from the photo at left, Dr. Lefever and I go back a ways -- I think that picture was taken almost 20 years ago, on the night that Robert Bork received the Shelby Cullom Davis Award for Integrity and Courage in Public Life.)

To my surprise, Sunday's Washington Times featured Liberating the Limerick in a review by books editor Carol Herman, who writes of it:

Let's face it. For many people the limerick signifies a naughty little construct. Often salted with dirty words and an attitude to match ("There once was a man from Nantucket . . ."), the limerick lives in most imaginations as the drunken uncle of polite word play.

With the publication of Ernest W. Lefever's insightful and entertaining collection "Liberating the Limerick," all that, as they say, is about to change. As Mr. Lefever writes in the book's introduction, "This collection of 230 verses by fifty authors, past and present, demonstrates that limericks can be wise, hilarious, and often sexy without being obscene."
Herman wonders how Lefever, author of such serious-sounding (and, indeed, serious) books about public policy as Ethics and World Politics; Scholars, Dollars, and Public Policy: New Frontiers in Corporate Giving; Uncertain Mandate: The Politics of the UN Congo Operation; and Nuclear Arms in the Third World: U.S. Policy Dilemma, could come to edit a collection of light verse.
Throughout the book, Mr. Lefever shows that tackling even the most prickly issues need not be a dry or joyless endeavor. The inclusion of New Yorker cartoons throughout the book is lagniappe.

The question that will likely occur to readers first approaching this book is: How did Mr. Lefever, the founding president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the author of a dozen books on ethics and politics, and the holder of a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Yale University, come to compile a book of limericks? Mr. Lefever writes: "Frankly, I don't regard this collection as a descent. Many, perhaps most, of these verses reflect facets of truth and virtue wrapped in irony and caricature."
Dr. Lefever told me that he has been savoring and collecting limericks since he was a teenager. He culled the 230 in Liberating the Limerick from about 9,000 that he has found and saved over the past seven decades.

The book has already gained praise from other authors who know something about humor. Actor/writer/game-show host Ben Stein calls it "startlingly wholesome" and "full of fun." Christopher Buckley, whose novel Thank You for Smoking has been turned into a successful movie (still in theatres) wrote his own limerick in tribute:
A tireless man named Lefever
With limericks did beaver and beaver
Producing a tome
You'll want in your home
It's delicious and deucedly cleever.
Liberating the Limerick is being released at just the right moment: Immediately available for summer beach reading and in plenty of time to become a Christmas stocking-stuffer.

Charlottesville Rainbow

Don't worry, folks ... this isn't an ode to Charlottesville's psycho-social-political diversity (emphasis on psycho-social). It's just a photoblog of a surprising rainbow (a colored light in the sky divided through the prism of water droplets) that appeared in the sky this past Thursday evening.

I stepped out of the Best Buy store facing east toward Route 29 when I saw it. I whipped out my phone and snapped a few shots:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Republicans Oppose Anti-Marriage Amendment

Republicans, like gay men and lesbians, do not all think alike. Neither group marches in lockstep with its leaders, nor do they agree monolithically on all major public policy issues. This is true with issues like gay marriage as much as it with taxes, transportation, education, the war on drugs, the war in Iraq, and how best to restore constitutional limits to an unbridled government.

According to Fred Barbash, writing in the Washington Post, the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have the effect of banning gay marriage failed again in the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 49-48. (Sixty-seven votes were needed to advance the amendment to the next stage of the ratification process.) The failed effort actually ended on a cloture vote, which requires 60 votes, but this procedural vote is a good indication of the amendment's actual support.

The Post reports that:

Seven Republican senators voted, in effect, to kill the amendment, according to an Associated Press tally. They were Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.
No doubt these senators were inspired by Republicans across the country (including both conservatives and libertarians) who opposed the amendment and urged the Senate to reject it.

For instance, when the amendment was first coming up for a vote in 2004, the Republican Liberty Caucus passed a resolution opposing it, a resolution that is still the official position of the caucus:
"The Republican Liberty Caucus applauds those prominent Republican leaders who have courageously opposed the pending Federal Marriage Amendment. We oppose the adoption of this Amendment as a clear violation of the RLC's fundamental principles. The news release announcing our position is approved." - Adopted on July 8th, 2004.
The "news release" mentioned in the resolution more fully explains the position of the Republican Liberty Caucus; there are also several quotations in opposition to the amendment from prominent Republican leaders appended to it.

The news release states:
The Republican Liberty Caucus, a national activist organization, has “applauded prominent Republican leaders who have courageously opposed” the pending Federal Marriage Amendment. "The RLC is proud to join hands with Republican legislators and party leaders who recognize that the proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, not restrict liberty," said RLC Chairman William Westmiller. The proposed constitutional amendment [S.J. Res. 30] has been scheduled for a U.S. Senate vote on July 15th.

The proposal would ban states from granting any civil union privileges to gay couples. "Marriage and divorce laws have always been crafted by states,” said RLC Advisor and Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, “The federalgovernment has no role whatsoever."

Although proponents claim that their amendment merely restrains judicial activism, the text prohibits every state from adopting laws that grant any of the "legal incidents" of marriage, even through civil unions. Former Congressman Bob Barr, who has received high ratings in the RLC’s Liberty Index, testified to the Senate Judicial Committee last week, saying "A constitutional amendment is both unnecessary and needlessly intrusive and punitive." Barr, who serves as an ACLU consultant, says states should be allowed "wiggle room to decide on their own definitions for marriages or similar social compacts, free of federal meddling."

The RLC supports a strict construction of the Bill of Rights as a defense against tyranny, the expansion of those rights to all voluntary consensual conduct under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and the requirements of equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The RLC resolution, adopted unanimously by the Board of Directors, opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment as clear violation of these principles.

"Marriage is a religious, social and personal matter,” says RLC Advisory Board Director Douglas Lorenz, "that should not be dictated, endorsed, subsidized or restricted by any government. The right to pursue individual happiness is a fundamental liberty that should be free of all state intervention. True love and genuine personal commitment do not need legal support or sanction."

RLC Advisory Board member Lyn Nofziger, a former Reagan Press Secretary, says he opposes any amendment that would “give the federal government more authority, usually at the expense of the states, and broaden its intrusion into the lives of citizens. Even though I do not favor same sex marriages, I oppose a constitutional amendment that would ban them."

The Republican Liberty Caucus has members in all 50 states and 10 chartered state organizations dedicated to promoting the ideals of individual rights, limited government and free enterprise within the Republican Party.
A couple of historical notes, since this press release is two years old and some people may not be familiar with the names or the context: (1) former Congressman Bob Barr was the principal author of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996; the primary effect of DOMA is to say that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, nor does the federal government have to provide benefits to same-sex couples (such as Social Security or veterans' survivor benefits); (2) Lyn Nofziger recently passed away.

The Liberty Committee, another largely Republican congressional organization, also issued a statement against amending the Constitution for purposes of banning same-sex marriage. It cites former or current Members of Congress Bob Barr, Ron Paul, Christopher Cox, and Senator John McCain; Wyoming State Senate Judiciary Committee John Hanes; and law professor Dale Carpenter as arguing that an amendment is unnecessary. It quotes Barr on the quintessentially libertarian core of what the constitution means:
Mr. Bob Barr and Dr. Ron Paul encourage people who believe in our constitutional republic and who believe in the traditional definition of marriage to apply their time and energy in their home states.

As Mr. Barr recently stated, "As conservatives, we should be committed to the idea
that people should, apart from collective needs such as national defense, be free to govern themselves as they see fit. State and local governments provide the easiest and most representative avenue to this ideal. Additionally, by diffusing power across the federal and state governments, we provide impersonal checks and balances that mitigate against the abuse of power.

"To be clear, I oppose any marriage save that between one man and one woman.
And, I would do all in my power to ensure that such a formulation is the only one operative in my home state of Georgia. However, do I think that I can tell Alaska how to govern itself on this issue? Or California? No, I cannot. Those states are free to make their own decisions, even if they are decisions I would characterize as bad."
During this week's floor debate, a few Republicans indicated their opposition to the amendment (now known as S.J. Res. 1) According to BP News, a publication of the Southern Baptist Convention:
Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., said he could not "at this time" support the amendment.

Sen. John Warner, R.-Va., said he has concerns with the amendment in its present form. Specifically, Warner said he objects to the amendment's second sentence, which states, "Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman." The first sentence of the amendment simply says marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman."

"I am concerned that the second sentence of this proposed constitutional amendment is unnecessarily vague and could well trample on the rights [of the states]," he said, adding that the second sentence lacks "clarity."
The Washington Post notes that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania)
spoke against the amendment, calling it "a solution in search of a problem." Like Reid and some other senators, Specter said he opposes same-sex marriage but feels states can handle the issue.
Getting back to the Republican Liberty Caucus resolution and press release, the collection of quotations the RLC gathered are informative and enlightening:
“I don’t think the Constitution was ever written and set up for these kind of amendments. I think those issues are better left to the states.” - Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska

“Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, I don’t know that it’s a good idea to put it in the Constitution.” - Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada

“Current law giving states the authority to set marriage laws is enough. I am not persuaded that amending the Constitution is necessary.” - Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee

“Amending the Constitution should not be taken lightly. Consequentially, I will not support a constitutional amendment until I am convinced that no legislative alternatives exist, that federal action is appropriate and that an amendment is warranted.” - Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah

“I believe that the decision to ban gay marriages should be left up to the individual states and I am reluctant to tinker with the Constitution. - Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado

“I don’t think [the FMA] is appropriate. I think it minimizes the Constitution.” - Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming

“I do not believe that amending the U.S. Constitution to invalidate all legal protections for unmarried couples, gay or straight, is a way to strengthen the American family. In fact, I believe that establishing such an amendment only harms our American families. I will not support an amendment that discriminates against American citizens and preempts state’s rights.” - Republican Congressman Rob Simmons of Connecticut

“I don’t believe we should be tinkering with the Constitution. Gay marriage should be left to the states. I think gay couples should have civil union rights.” - Republican Congressman James Greenwood of Pennsylvania

“I will say that I’m not supportive of amending the Constitution on this issue. I believe that this should go through the courts and I think that we’re at a point where it is not necessary.” - Republican Congressman David Dreier of California

“I have always revered the U.S. Constitution and am very cautious of any efforts to amend this precious document, including the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. I do not support a constitutional amendment that seeks to define marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.” - Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono of California

“I believe [marital laws] are up to the states, not the federal government. The President seems to call for [it, but] I don’t think we need a constitutional amendment.” - Republican NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg

“I think that different states are likely to come to the different conclusions [on gay marriage]. I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.” - Republican Vice President Dick Cheney [2000 Debate]

The Constitution does not “empower the federal government to regulate marriage, littering or cruelty to animals throughout the 50 states. Our Constitution quite properly leaves such matters to the individual states.” – [Bush] Appointee Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (U.S. v. Lopez)
The failure of the amendment in the Senate does not end the debate. House Majority Leader John Boehner has said the House will consider the amendment next month. It will fail there, too, but not before a lot of rhetoric fills the airy dome of the U.S. Capitol.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mounting Mame at the Kennedy Center

Even on top of a full weekend of Georgetown University reunion activities, I saw two musicals on Sunday: a matinee performance of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins at Signature Theatre in Arlington, and an evening performance of Jerry Herman's Mame at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Both are new productions of familiar works.

Here is my review of Mame, as prepared for this week's edition of The Metro Herald:

Aggiornamento: The Kennedy Center’s New Production of Mame
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

You would think that when an adventuresome director like Eric Schaeffer chooses to do a Jerry Herman musical, he would pick something flawed (like Dear World) or obscure (like Milk & Honey) and then re-imagine it for contemporary audiences.

This is what he has done for more than a decade at Signature Theatre in Arlington with shows like Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro and nearly every available Sondheim musical.

Instead, Schaeffer chose to direct a new production of Jerry Herman’s Mame at the Kennedy Center in a conventional – yet energetic and colorful – fashion.

Well, they say that Picasso could draw realistically, too, and better than most artists of his day.

Despite bursting the bubble of our expectations, Eric Schaeffer’s production of Mame is unquestionably a joy to see, with the exception of one element.

Let’s start with the look of the show. Set designer Walt Spangler has created a delightful retro foundation that gives us the sense of being in the high-rent district of Manhattan in the 1920s (just before the big Crash) and the early days of the Depression. His frequent second-act reinventions of Mame’s two-storey apartment (with its sweeping staircase, puckish murals, and hanging objets d’art) tell almost as much of the story as do the songs and script.

Similarly, costume designer Gregg Barnes provides us with character-based couture that immediately clues us in as to who we are watching, even before a single line of dialogue is spoken. This is, after all, a play in which a boy’s first pair of long pants is a significant plot device. We know who the WASPs are, and who are the bohemians, and our eyes bug out at the palette of colors that swirls around the stage.

This set-and-costume color is brought together by Broadway veteran Ken Billingsley’s lighting design, which takes its cue from Morton da Costa’s stagy but startlingly appropriate vision in his film version of Auntie Mame.

All of this is of a piece with Jerry Herman’s bold, brassy music. (Actually, Jerry Herman only writes bold and brassy, which in a lesser composer would be a serious defect. For him, it’s a lovable asset.) The iconic bugle in the original artwork for the 1966 production is no accident: What other musical’s score calls for both banjo and bugle in the pit orchestra?

The music is what makes Mame memorable above all else. Come to think of it, Mame was probably the last big Broadway musical to deliver a load of Top 40 hits. (This is as much due to the changing nature of radio playlists as it is to the transmogrification of Broadway showtunes and their contextualization on stage.) They’re easy to list: the title song, “We Need a Little Christmas,” It’s Today,” “Open a New Window,” and “If He Walked Into My Life.”

All of this leads to a simple conclusion: Mame is a big, happy show that will get huge amounts of applause.

Except for one thing: Christine Baranski in the title role is the show’s weakest link. If this production of Mame depended solely on her star power, it would be a dismal failure.

Baranski simply does not grasp her character. She never demonstrates an understanding of who Mame Dennis (later Mrs. Mame Dennis Burnside) really is.

And who is Mame Dennis? Mame is a woman of strong character and convictions masquerading as a flighty, eccentric dame. Yogis refer to the “kundalini” – a snake at the base of one’s spine that is all coiled energy, which through intensive study of yoga becomes uncoiled and in the control of the student. (If you know the end of the Jerome Lawrence-Robert E. Lee play, Auntie Mame, you’ll understand the relevance of this reference.)

Mame has a strong, uncoiled kundalini, which manifests itself through compassion, social tolerance, persistence, and confidence. Christine Baranski, however, fails to discover Mame’s core, and her kundalini remains flaccid.

The odd thing is, Baranski has all the gestures and vocal inflections we would expect from Mame’s character, but they are ad hoc and misdirected. This produces an eerie sensation that we are watching an acting teacher demonstrate for her students the proper facial expressions for “sad,” “happy,” “surprised,” and “indignant.” Baranski never seems to feel comfortable in the skin of Mame Dennis.

Baranski’s interpretation of her character falls short, but we are fortunate that there is balance in the form of Harrison Chad as Young Patrick, her nephew and ward. Although he is only 12 years old, Chad is an actor of obvious depth and understanding. His bright blue eyes successfully telegraph a range of discrete emotions.

This comes through particularly in the final scene of Act I, when just through his body language, we know that he is crestfallen at the news of his Auntie Mame’s engagement to be married. (The fact that we expect him to be joyful makes this moment particularly poignant.) Act I is a largely a two-character play and Chad’s presence makes Baranski look so much better; when he is replaced in Act II by Max von Essen as the older Patrick, and when more of the focus is on Mame herself rather than the dyad, Baranski’s shortcomings become much more apparent.

What’s even more unfortunate is that Tony Award-winner Baranski – who showed her talents quite fully as Mrs. Lovett in the Kennedy Center’s Sweeney Todd in 2002 – really can’t sing this role. This becomes sadly – almost painfully – clear in her big torch song of Act II, “If He Walked Into My Life,” which comes off almost like a female impersonator’s quirky version of Eydie Gorme’s hit single of 40 years ago.

If one has to do a production of Mame starring Christine Baranski, wouldn’t it make more sense for her to play Vera Charles? (At the Kennedy Center, Harriet Harris is hilarious and genuine as the drunken Broadway star and Mame’s best friend, the role originated by Bea Arthur.) Of course, Baranski has years of experience in precisely this role, when she played Ethel to Cybill Shepherd’s Lucy on the TV show Cybill (winning an Emmy in the process). That may be precisely the reason that Baranski would refuse to play Vera, but still ...

Despite these misgivings about the name above the title, it is impossible not to recommend the Kennedy Center’s new mounting of Mame. The cast includes familiar faces from Washington theatre (Michael L. Forrest and Harry A. Winter), Broadway (Emily Skinner and Ruth Gottschall, as well as Harris), and even Charlottesville’s Heritage Repertory Theatre (Kiira Schmidt in her KenCen debut). Audiences will find a tremendous collection of talent on the Eisenhower Theatre stage, integrated by Schaeffer’s direction and Warren Carlyle’s vibrant choreography.

Mame continues through July 2 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre. Ticket prices range from $25 to $90. Tickets may be charged by phone through Instant-Charge at (202) 467-4600 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The toll-free number is (800) 444-1324. Tickets may also be ordered on line at