Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fiery or Milquetoast?

There’s no fire in Romney’s belly, but Gingrich has it. It’s in his eyes too. People see it. They like it, and they don’t sense it in the other candidates either. That’s the biggest reason Gingrich won South Carolina. Conservatives wanted someone who will take it to Obama and his media lapdogs and they know Gingrich will.
Conservatives believe media went after Gingrich because he’s conservative. They loved watching him give it back. They believe Obama gets a pass - and he’s our president only because media have worshiped him since he spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention. They believe media look for dirt on conservative candidates but turn a blind eye when it comes to liberal Democrats. When they’re forced to report it because new media like blogs and AM radio have been on a story for days or weeks, they’ll grudgingly put it on page 16. Gingrich gave voice to conservative anger and the base affirmed him with an overwhelming victory.
CNN's John King being lambasted by Gingrich in South Carolina

As I moved across the political spectrum from left to right over the past 25 years, I’ve become much more aware of how pronounced liberal media bias is. It seemed like brilliant insight when I was a liberal, but when I matured into middle age and life experience opened my mind to alternative viewpoints and I realized that, as Margaret Thatcher said, “The facts of life are conservative,” liberal bias became more and more obvious. Gingrich gets it and so do Republican primary voters.
Audience in South Carolina responding to Gingrich

But will a majority of the American electorate get it in November? That’s the question that haunts. Should conservative voters ignore their gut and vote for the candidate that they think most Americans will support? Or do they look for a leader who will be able to shape voter opinion between now and then? The late Bill Buckley, founder of modern conservatism, established the rule that Republicans should vote for the most conservative candidate with the best chance of being elected. So who should it be? The fiery one or the milquetoast one?

I’ve been present for Romney speeches at least five times. Once I questioned him personally. He’s an intelligent, articulate and good-looking candidate. But he’s like a “Ken” doll. It’s as if there were a string in the back of his neck that someone pulls and he goes out and talks until it coils back in. He’s bland. He’s boring. I was in the Washington, DC audience when Romney pulled out of the 2008 race in favor of McCain. He’d been introduced by Laura Ingraham at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) and she was far more interesting than Romney was. She had fire but he didn’t.

I’ve been present for about five of Gingrich’s speeches too. I’ve questioned him publicly and had a couple of short conversations with him. He’s intelligent, articulate and rather ordinary-looking, a little pudgy too. He’s also spontaneous and quick, sarcastic and insightful. He shoots from the hip and from the lip, and he’s never boring.
Romney at CPAC 2010

My encounters were all at large conservative conferences. Other speakers would be introduced and then enter stage-left to polite applause. Not Gingrich. He’d be introduced in the usual way, but then the sound system would start blaring “Eye of the Tiger” while he entered from the back of the hall with an entourage as if he were the heavyweight champion of the world. He’d be smiling and shaking hands with people in the aisles as he approached the podium - the way presidents do when entering the House chamber to deliver State of the Union speeches. By the time Gingrich got up to the dais, the crowd was his. Even after such a build-up, he never disappointed when he spoke. This guy can rally the troops. South Carolina wasn’t a fluke.
"Rocky" Gingrich approaching the dais at CPAC 2009

But can he do that with independents? I think he can. He’s a history teacher. He can educate people about what Obama, Congressional Democrats, and their media lackeys have done to this country and that’s exactly what he must do with independents. He’ll have to go after Obama with gloves off, and go after the media too because they’re just as much the enemy as Obama is. We know they’re both going to go after him. The media already have. Obama will do his dirty work vicariously and he’ll have a billion dollars. That buys a lot of hatchetmen.
Gingrich as professor

All that’s going to happen no matter who the Republicans put up because Obama cannot run on his record. We’re in the mess we’re in because of him. It’s obvious after three years that he doesn’t know how to be president, but he was good at running for it. Blaming Bush for everything won’t work so well this time, so he’s blaming “the rich” now and conservative Republicans in the House. He’s going to escalate attacks like that with his billion-dollar war chest and it’s going to be an ugly race. Republican voters must consider who is most capable of winning that kind of fight.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Borrowing, Abortion, Obama

Americans aren’t happy with the government they elected. Why? If a man’s had multiple marriages and hates his ex-wives, what do his choices say about him? Unless he’s willing to take a long and deep look at himself, he’s likely to hook up with another woman he'll come to dislike. In the same way, Americans are likely to choose a government they disdain again and again.

Our government reflects us. Government doesn’t face reality because a majority of voting Americans doesn’t want to look at it. Fifty-two percent voted for Barack Hussein Obama in 2008. An honest look at him tells us much about ourselves.

Two facts about President Obama: He’s the most pro-abortion president we’ve ever had by far, and he’s borrowed far more money than any previous president. Last week he asked Congress to borrow another $1.2 trillion. At this pace, he’s set to borrow $6.2 trillion in one term - more than all our presidents from George Washington to Bill Clinton - and twice as much as George W. Bush. While campaigning in 2008, Obama called Bush “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic” for raising our nation’s debt. Now he's borrowing at twice the rate Bush did and blaming him for it.

We cannot go on like this. We’re headed off a cliff and we’re going to smash on the rocks below, but we just keep on going. Why? Our leaders lack the courage to tell Americans what they know already but don’t want to look at. We don’t want to wean ourselves from our dependence on government. We pretend we can continue to put off dealing with mounting debt but we cannot. The point we’ve come to is equivalent to that of a family whose credit cards are maxed out, whose bank is about to foreclose, whose electricity is about to be shut off, and whose oil tank is almost empty. If we’re put out on the street, we can’t look to government to feed us, clothe us and give us shelter because we are the government. We’ll be bankrupt and at the world’s mercy. We couldn’t look to Europe because they’re in the same mess we are, so who does that leave? China, Russia, and the Muslim world, that's who. How much mercy are we going to get from them?

Thirty-nine years ago next Sunday, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe Vs Wade that women have a constitutional right to abortion. The father of our Constitution, James Madison, rolled over in his grave. Those who champion Jane Roe’s case in Texas claim to oppose abortion personally, insist that an unborn baby isn’t a human being, and seek moral cover behind “pro-choice” rhetorical legerdemain. That cover thinned considerably when the Texas Legislature passed a law encouraging women to see a sonogram before going through with their abortions. Feminists don’t want a woman to see what would be sucked out of her and thrown away. They insist it’s “unconstitutional” to show her what abortion really is and they got a federal district judge to agree with them.

Feminists insist it's a lump of tissue, but a sonogram pierces the lie for tens of millions of American women who’ve had over 40 million abortions since Roe Vs Wade. Feminists stifled the Texas law, but not for long. Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district judge’s ruling and further ruled that the sonogram requirement could be implemented immediately. This is highly threatening to Democrats - the Party of Abortion - the principal guardian of the lie that abortion is the moral equivalent of removing a tumor or a wart.

The Party's leader, Barack Hussein Obama, argued against the “Infant Born Alive Act” when he was in the Illinois legislature - the only legislator in the state with the temerity to do so. Obama argued that if an infant was born alive after a failed abortion, the state of Illinois should not force doctors to treat it, that it should be left alone to die. Obama’s habit was to vote “present” on controversial issues, but he spoke up on this one.

Abortion isn’t mentioned in our Constitution, but our Declaration of Independence states that: “We are endowed by our Creator with . . . the right to life.” Despite American Psychological Association claims, abortion traumatizes not only babies but women and many fathers as well. How much collective trauma exists in a country populated with tens of millions who live the continuing denial that abortion doesn’t kill a human life? That’s the critical mass of voters who gave us Barack Hussein Obama. This is a guy who, when asked in a debate about when human life begins, said: “That’s beyond my pay grade.” This is a guy who said about his daughters: “When they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” This is a guy who again and again omits the essential words “by our Creator” above when quoting the Declaration of Independence in silky-voiced speeches.

There's a critical mass of Americans that won’t take responsibility for the human life it conceives and it loves Barack Obama. It’s made up of men whose view of sex is “Slam, bam, thank you m’am. Oh, you're pregnant? Here’s $500 for an abortion.” It’s made up of women who would sacrifice their own children in the name of “liberation.” These are the Americans who would continue borrowing indiscriminately from the future to keep their unsustainable benefits flowing as long as possible. Obama helps them all feel good about themselves. They voted him into the White House and they will again unless an opponent emerges who can persuade them to take a long, honest look at themselves.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Die For

On the first day of school students would wander into my homeroom and sit, some in front and some in back. They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. Some greeted me. Others didn’t. I’d look at each one and if I got eye contact I’d say, “Good morning,” and he or she would respond in kind. By eight o’clock all the busses would had arrived. Announcements would come over the intercom. When the Pledge of Allegiance was over they all sat down I’d walk to the front of the class, fold my arms over my chest and look them over. Every one would be staring back at me wide-eyed and expectant. I’d scratch my chin, knit my brow, then slowly shake my head saying, “Why? Why do they always give me the ugly ones?”

In shock, their eyes would grow wider. Girls would turn to each other with hands over their open mouths. After a few seconds a boy would laugh - and it was always a boy. Then other boys would laugh. After a few more seconds, they all knew I wasn’t serious. I’d keep my poker face on for another second or two before smiling.

One year, a girl asked, “Why did you do that?”

“When I stand in front of you at the beginning of each class,” I said, “I want you to be quiet and pay attention. You’re more likely to do that now. I also want you to get into the habit of thinking critically about everything you hear. I want you to ask yourself: ‘Is this opinion? Is this fact? What evidence exists? Is there enough evidence to constitute proof?’ Stuff like that.”

After a week went by I’d begin each of my four or five history classes saying: “I have good news and bad news. What do you want first?” Inevitably, they’d want the bad first, so I’d say, “You’re all going to die.”

Some would look surprised. Some had no discernible reaction and others would just smile. Then a student would say, “We know that.”

“Okay, good,” I’d say. “I don’t mean today or tomorrow, but some day.”

“We know.”
“Right. Good. So then it’s only a matter of when and how.”

“What’s the point?”

“Some of us will live a long time and some of us won’t.”

“We know that.”

“It’s one of the very few things we can be certain of,” I’d explain. “It’s good to keep in mind that we’re here for a limited time, not forever, and what we do every day matters.”
“You’re going to die too, Mr. McLaughlin.”

“Yes, and probably before you do,” I’d respond. “So I probably think about it more and give it closer attention than you do. That’s the nature of things. On average, someone my age can expect about twenty more years, more or less, and each day gets more precious with that awareness. Not a bad thing.”
“The good news is that - if the past is any guide - most of you will live longer than your parents, your grandparents, and your great-grandparents,” I’d tell them. Then I’d go on to explain average life expectancies for Americans today, compare them with what they were at other times in history, and with those of people in other places. That would work into how long a generation was and so forth. Teaching 20th century US History, I could say, “This would have been going on when your grandparents were children,” or “around when your great-grandparents were born,” etc. That helped put what might otherwise just be obscure events into perspective.

That’s the way I began my last several years in the classroom. When Veterans’ Day came in November, I’d point out that veterans were willing to give their lives for things they believed more important than themselves - usually the things students said every morning in the Pledge of Allegiance. When Martin Luther King Day came in January, I’d quote King, saying: “If a man has nothing he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.” I’d then ask if there were anything they would die for. Some indicated they would be willing to risk their lives for their families. Upon further questioning, I’d be dismayed to learn that others could think of nothing worth dying for. When Memorial Day weekend loomed, I’d inform them of the meaning of this holiday - honoring those who not only risked their lives, but gave them.

The theme of our limited lifespans presented many opportunities for lessons throughout the school year, including Ben Franklin’s quote about death and taxes, our radical Muslim enemies willing to die in their efforts to kill us, as well as different ideas about the meaning of human life, including the nihilist view - widespread in the late 20th century - that it had no meaning at all. It was a rich mine, and I drew from it often.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Paul Appeal

There’s a curious blindness evident when political pundits talk about Ron Paul. Though he’s been a major candidate for the Republican presidential nomination since the early days of the race, he’s been virtually ignored. When they do mention him, they preface their remarks by saying something like: “Although he’ll never be the nominee . . .”

Here’s a guy who has polled high since the beginning of the nominating process. Romney has been on top in most opinion polls since the beginning. Other candidates took turns as the “anti-Romney” candidate: Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, now Santorum. Romney has consistently polled in the low to mid twenties and is seen as the likely nominee by most. Paul has been just as consistent as a major candidate, but pundits treat him like he’s not there. Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa straw poll last August with 28.55%, but Paul was so close with 27.65% that less than 1% of the vote separated them. Who got all the publicity however? Bachmann. Paul was virtually ignored.

So why does he get so much consistent support from Republican voters this year? Three reasons:

First, he proposed $1 trillion in specific cuts to government back in October. No other candidate did that. Gone would be the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Interior, as well as Housing and Urban Development in a Ron Paul Administration. That appeals strongly to people who know America will cease to be America if we don’t drastically cut the federal government. The out-of-control deficit is killing us all. Voters know it, but the other candidates lack the political courage to say it explicitly the way Ron Paul does.
Second, he believes people should solve problems for themselves rather than look to government. During his appearance on Fox News Sunday this week, for example, Chris Wallace quoted from Ron Paul’s 1987 book “Freedom Under Siege” in which he wrote: “The individual suffering from AIDS certainly is a victim – frequently a victim of his own lifestyle – but this same individual victimizes innocent citizens by forcing them to pay for his care.” Wallace then asked if he still felt that way.

Paul answered: “I don’t know how you can change science. Sexually transmitted diseases are caused by sexual activity. That’s been known for some 400 or 500 years, how these diseases are spread. If a fault comes with people because of their personal behavior, and in a free society people do dumb things, but it isn’t to be placed as a burden on other people, innocent people. Why should they have to pay for the consequences? That’s a sort of a nationalistic or socialistic attitude.”

Wallace then baited Paul saying: “Do you think someone with AIDS should not be entitled to health insurance as opposed to someone who has a heterosexually transmitted disease?” Paul responded patiently - explaining how the insurance market would handle it and offered the example that one doesn’t seek insurance after getting pregnant, but before.
Third, he has consistently spoken against fighting prolonged wars in the Middle East. Paul supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 but not the protracted conflict there. He opposed the Iraq War and the US effort in Libya. Many conservatives would agree that fighting a conventional war against unconventional enemies is foolish, but Paul wouldn’t act against Radical Islam at all unless Congress declared war. Therein is the Achilles’s Heel of Ron Paul’s foreign policy. There’s no nation-state against which to declare war, so how would he propose that we deal with Radical Islam - which is not a nation-state, but a movement across the Muslim world on five continents?
Last August, a man asked him that at a campaign stop in Winterset, Iowa. According to the Des Moines Register, Paul said: "I don’t see Islam as our enemy. I see that motivation is occupation and those who hate us and would like to kill us, they are motivated by our invasion of their land [and] the support of their dictators that they hate."

In the same exchange, Paul reiterated his belief that the September 11th attacks were motivated by American actions. While conservatives agree with Paul about strict adherence to Congress’s exclusive constitutional authority to declare war, they’re appalled (no pun intended) that Paul would blame America for September 11th. It’s a deal-breaker for conservatives including this writer, but it’s a plus with Paul’s legions of young supporters raised to believe America is imperialist. That Ron Paul’s Libertarian beliefs would include repealing marijuana laws is also a plus with them - and they comprise the bulk of his powerful, enthusiastic, boots-on-the-ground, campaign organization.
Results of the Iowa caucus just came in as I’m filing this. Paul came in a close third behind Romney and Santorum. Sarah Palin advises the GOP to be careful not to marginalize Paul and his supporters. Good advice. The GOP establishment has been foolish to ignore the appeal Ron Paul’s consistent, strict-constructionist view that federal government be cut back drastically. Ron Paul is not a fringe candidate. His consistently-large voter support makes him viable no matter what the pundits claim.

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