Thinking About Ellen DeGeneres and Her Friendship With George Bush

I recently saw a news item about Ellen DeGeneres’s friendship with George W. Bush and it had to make me smile. I admire Ellen for having a generosity of spirit that I strive for but don’t always have. I posted an article recently about former black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s friendship with arch-segregationist George Wallace. Wallace eventually turned away from his racist past and tried to make amends. Liberal George McGovern was close friends with conservative Barry Goldwater. Liberal Ted Kennedy was best friends with conservative Orrin Hatch.

I’m a liberal who still has some conservative friends. What kind of conservatives can I have healthy friendships with and what kind of conservatives would make toxic friendships? I would be open to friendships with a George Bush, a John McCain, a George Will (not that I’d ever meet them) because I sense in them a healthy respect for differences of opinion. Bush, after all, is friends with both the Clintons and the Obamas. But I wouldn’t be friends with a Donald Trump or an Alt Right figure like Richard Spencer because of their intolerance of differing opinions and their extreme bigotry. I’ve had to end former friendships with conservative Christians because of their constant attempts to impose their views on me to the point where I felt like I was trapped in a cultish relationship.

My criteria for a friendship doesn’t depend on political affiliation, but on whether it is a healthy friendship or whether it is a toxic relationship. Is there a respect of differences of opinion, trust, honesty, and mutual care in that friendship? Or am I constantly being looked down on and personally attacked for having my own tastes and point of view, do I constantly feel manipulated and harassed, and does that person constantly try to impose their beliefs on me? Do I laugh and have fun and enjoy this person’s company? Or do I constantly feel put down and have to walk on egg shells when I’m around this person?

In my own experience, I’ve learned that some conservatives are really nice people and some conservatives are jerks. Some progressives are nice people and some progressives are jerks. Try to get past stereotypes and just get to know each person on an individual basis and judge them on how they treat me and others around us.

Liberal Democrat George McGovern and conservative Republican Barry Goldwater were close friends in spite of their sharply divergent political views. They formed their friendship when then began working out together in the gym, and they maintained their friendship though they had very different views on the role of the federal government and on social programs to help the poor. The Vietnam War was the defining issue of their generation, and Goldwater was a strong supporter of the war while McGovern was one of the Senate’s fiercest critics of the war.

In this Oct. 13, 1988 video, former Senators George McGovern and Barry Goldwater dropped by the MacNeil/Lehrer Report to discuss the 1988 presidential race, the divisive politics of their parties and the legacy of conservatism and liberalism.

In this video conservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch speaks at the memorial service for his friend, the liberal Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy were close friends in spite of their political differences and they collaborated on many bills, including the Ryan White AIDS Act, the American With Disabilities Act, the The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Serve America Act.

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Groupthink and Hyperpartisanship

With the rise in authoritarian governments around the world, I’ve become very interested in the qualities that make for a healthy and functioning democracy. Our democratic republic functions best when the Left, the Middle and the Right have a constructive debate on the issues facing the nation. And when the debate reaches an impasse, all sides should be willing to find areas of common ground and compromise for some progress. Each side of the political spectrum has been right about some things, wrong some things. Liberals have been right about some things, wrong about others; conservatives have been right about some things and wrong about other things; and the same can be said about democratic socialists, libertarians, moderates, radicals. No one has a monopoly on truth.

Right now many Republicans are caught up in a groupthink mentality right now, with a fervent cult of personality surrounding President Trump and a rigid ideological purity test that tries to denigrate or silence anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with them. But that sort of groupthink is just a dark side of human nature, something that we’re all vulnerable to, whether one is to the Left or the Right of the political spectrum, if we are not careful to guard against it.

That is one of the reasons why I admire independent minded leftists, individuals to the Left of the political spectrum but who are willing to go against the Left if they think the Left is wrong on a particular issue. Leftists like George Orwell, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr, Muriel Rukeyser. These leftists were often criticized by their own side for being insufficiently left wing or for not towing some sort of party line. They were leftists who valued their right to their own independent point of view.

In the late 1960s, there was a growing rift in the Left between two groups over tactics. One group of leftists, including Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Day, and Pete Seeger, held fast to their belief in nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of increasing opposition from leftists like Stokely Carmichael, Bernardine Dohrn, Huey Newton, Mark Rudd, who believed that peaceful protests were ineffective and that violence was the only means of achieving lasting social change. Several years ago, I watched the documentary “The Weather Underground” about a group of radicals who began bombing federal buildings in a desperate attempt to highlight their political concerns. The documentary interviewed former Weathermen Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd and David Gilbert, who maintained their leftist beliefs but voiced deep regret about adopting terrorist tactics to try to achieve their goals.

I think many in the Right today are caught up in the same sort of extreme mentality that the Weathermen were caught up in during the 1970s. The Alt Right and white nationalist elements of the Right are trying to take over the conservative movement, using the Republican Party to advance an agenda of scapegoating vulnerable minority groups for problems they aren’t responsible for, denigrating people who disagree with them as unAmerican, and rolling back the gains in civil rights that women, minorities and LGBTQ people gained these past few decades.

I think it’s important for principled conservatives to fight to regain control of the conservative movement from the Alt Right, the Trumpists, and the white nationalist elements. Conservatives like Jeff Flake, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Liz Mair, David Brooks and others have been fighting for a conservative movement without the racism, religious intolerance and anti-immigrant bias of the Alt Right. Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said in a speech to the National Press Club last year:

“…never has a party abandoned, fled its principles and deeply held beliefs so quickly as my party did in the face of the nativist juggernaut…

…If my party is going to try to pass off the degradation of the United States and her values from the White House as normal, if we’re going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we are going to refuse to live in the world that everyone else lives in and reckon with the daily reality that they face, including their very real and understandable anxiety that they feel, then my party might not deserve to lead…

…To restore leadership that is aware of and cherishes our constitutional framework, which by design is meant to force compromise. It shouldn’t be hard because it is basic. But it will be hard.

To once again have a leader that assumes that Democrats and Republicans are not intractable enemies, but competing friends, leadership that recognizes the once seminal American notion of the common good. It shouldn’t be hard because it is basic. But it will be hard.

To swing the pendulum away from the toxicity of our current moment, we must recognize the good in our opponents.”

Here is the trailer to the documentary “The Weather Underground”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke to the National Press Club audience on March 15, 2018 about his criticisms of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s acquiescence to Trump

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Thinking About Rodrido Duterte and How to Oppose Authoritarian Leaders

I’ve been increasingly horrified at the rise of authoritarian governments in the Philippines and around the world, as authoritarian leaders have attacked democratic institutions and chipped away at civil liberties. Because of this, I’ve been reading books about how authoritarian governments consolidate power and how artists and other individuals can resist authoritarian governments. Right now I’m finishing reading Carolyn Forche’s book “What You Have Heard Is True”, a memoir about her experience as a poet traveling in El Salvador learning about the rise of death squads in 1979 just before the country’s civil war. I just reread a few months ago Erik Larson’s book “In The Guardian of Beasts”, about the experiences of William Dodd, American ambassador to Germany, and the Dodd family in the early 1930s as they witness Adolf Hitler consolidate power in Germany and escalate the Nazi persecution of the Jewish population.

If you look at history, authoritarian leaders, whether from the Left or the Right, have the same playbook when it comes to consolidating power: they attack the free press and any institution that can act as a check to their power; they scapegoat vulnerable minority groups for the problems of the society; they demonize opposition parties or anyone who disagrees with the authoritarian leader; they promise prosperity and security for those who follow an exclusive nationalist ideology; they glorify militarism and the empowerment of the police to use extrajudicial means to control rampant crime. I look at Duterte and see him use a lot of those tactics: he’s tried to close down or intimidate news sites like the Catholic radio, Rapper, the Philippines Daily Inquirer; he has jailed opposition Senator Leila de Lima and had judicial supporters vote out Supreme Court justice Maria Lourdes Sereno after she made some rulings against Duterte’s policies; he’s attacked lawyers, activists and clergy who have spoken out against the Duterte policy of extrajudicial killings.

Two years ago, I had to leave a few Filipino American facebook pages when I got into arguments with some Filipino leftists who were trying to defend Duterte’s extrajudicial killings. While most authoritarian leaders around the world appeal to the political Right in their countries, Duterte is different in that he initially tried to co-opt the Philippines Left. Some of his policies, like controlling mining companies that have been the source of much human rights abuses against the indigenous people, and the increase in social services to the poor, have been good. Two years later, I’m glad to see that more and more leftists are speaking out against Duterte as they see the devastating affects of his drug wars are having against the poor and as leftists activists are starting to get targeted for killings and intimidation. This is a pattern in history: before authoritarian leaders have consolidated power, they form temporary alliances with groups who see the authoritarian leader as a means to achieving some of their goals. Once the authoritarian leaders consolidates power, however, the leaders turns on those groups because of their potential to challenging the leader’s power.

When I read that 80 percent of Filipinos support Duterte, I see them making the same mistake that many Republicans are making in this country in supporting Donald Trump. In exchange for the tax cuts, business deregulation, and Supreme Court nominees, too many Republicans are willing to ignore Trump’s scapegoating of vulnerable minority groups and his attacks on democratic norms. They are ignoring Benjamin Franklin’s warning that if you trade your freedom for security, in the end you will eventually lose both.

I’m glad that leftists in the Philippines are speaking out against Duterte’s drug war. Any opposition needs the support of the Left if it is to succeed in checking Duterte’s power.. Looking at history, the first groups to usually oppose authoritarian governments are leftists, the Church, students, human rights activists, civil libertarians, and journalists. The opposition starts out in the fringes, and only gain in strength when they can persuade the middle class to join in opposing the government.

I don’t think the Philippines opposition has gained enough strength yet to effectively challenge Duterte’s more anti-democratic policies. But if the Duterte government tries to enact more anti-democratic measures to consolidate power, I think the opposition movement will grow.

In this video poet Carolyn Forché talked about her latest novel, “What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance”

In this video Erik Larson spoke about his book “In the Garden of Beasts,” which chronicles the experiences of William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Nazis Germany in 1933

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Philip Dray and Capitol Men, the First Black Congressmen

On February 24, 2009, Philip Dray spoke at Boston University as part of the African American Studies Program’s Spring 2009 Lecture Series, presenting research from his book, “Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen.”

Dray’s book chronicles the sixteen black Southerners who were elected to the U.S. Congress during the Reconstruction era of the 1860s and 1870s. These black legislators collaborate with their white Radical Republican counterparts to pass legislation to protect the rights of the newly freed African American slave population, advocating reforms such as public education, equal rights, land distribution, and the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan. From the 1860s to the mid 1870s, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1875, were passed to try to insure equal rights for African Americans.

After the Reconstruction era was over and Union troops left the Southern states, however, Southerners began to harass their African American communities and roll back the legal protections that insured black equality. As Jim Crow laws were enacted across the South, black citizens lost the rights that they had gained in the Reconstruction era and the black legislators were gradually voted out of office.

This holds important lessons for today. As Republicans have enacted voter suppression laws in the Rust Belt and the South, as the Trump administration has tried to roll back laws protecting the rights of women, Muslims and LGBTQ people, and as President Trump has scapegoated immigrants and Muslims, it’s important to remember that the rights that we have achieved can always be reversed unless we stay vigilant and defend those rights.

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The Sunnyvale Public Library at the Silicon Valley Pride Parade- August 2019

On Sunday, August 25, 2019, I went to downtown San Jose to join the Sunnyvale Public Library staff to support LGBTQ rights at Silicon Valley Pride. Everyone seemed very enthusiastic and many people told various stories about their participation in past LGBTQ events.

I walked around and saw a lot of cool things. There was a church group with a giant Jesus who was accepting of all people. The San Francisco LGBTQ Freedom Band gave a loud and raucous musical number. And there were many companies, from Twitter to Starbucks to Google who marched.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a contingent of Pete Buttigieg supporters march. I didn’t realize he had that much support. A Bernie supporter went up to me to ask if I could hold a Bernie pride sign. When I told her I support Warren, she gave me an annoyed looked then walked away.

I couldn’t stay for the actual march. I was told to meet at 8:30 a.m. and the march would start at 10 a.m. But at around 11:15 a.m., the march still hadn’t started, so I had to leave to meet with my wife to go to the De Young Museum in San Francisco to meet a friend.

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A Presentation On My Editorial Cartoons at the Sunnyvale Rotary Club – August 2019

On Tuesday August 13, 2019, I did a presentation of my editorial cartoons to the Sunnyvale Rotary Club. They are a nice group of people who do a lot of good work for the community. As I was doing my presentation, I began to realize just how somber many of my editorial cartoons are. Because many of my cartoons deal with extrajudicial killings and the exploitation of vulnerable people, they tend to be very grim. Next time I do a presentation of my cartoons, I will mix in some lighter illustrations to vary the mood of the presentation.

After my presentation, several people came up to me to thank me. One Filipina woman thanked me for using my cartoons to highlight the issues that the Philippines are facing. She told me that her uncle was once shot at several times while he was in his car. Only the car’s metal prevented him from being shot. Her uncle had been an outspoken critic of government corruption and he believes that some government officials were sending him payback. The woman thanked me for using my cartoons to let the world know of the killings going on in the Philippines.

The Sunnyvale Rotary Club sponsors high school students in leadership and speech programs, provides books for elementary school youth, provides school and clothing to Sunnyvale Community Services, provides backpacks for school kids, participates in the March To End Polio, serves lunch for the Special Olympics, funds programs that promote peace and alleviate poverty, and delivers wheel chairs to indigents around the world.

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Why Ted Kennedy Is My Hero

Over the past few decades, many of my conservative friends (and even some of my feminist friends) have asked me why I consider Ted Kennedy a personal hero. They point out the tragedy of Chappaquidick and his years of womanizing and overindulging in alcohol. These are legitimate criticisms. I’ve never made any excuses for the flaws in Ted Kennedy. I think many liberals in the 1970s and 1980s struggled to reconcile Kennedy’s exemplary record as a legislator with his often wild private life.

Ted Kennedy is my hero because of his struggle to redeem himself from the mistakes of his life. I compare him to Theon Greyjoy, a character in Game of Thrones who worked to redeem himself from the terrible things he did early in his life. Kennedy met privately with Mary Jo Kopechne’s parents to apologize for his inexcusable actions. After Kennedy started dating and eventually married Vicki Reggie 1992, he cleaned up his private life. Kennedy worked to pass legislation that helped the poor, the working class, minority groups and anyone who was marginalized in society.

Kennedy was especially a great advocate for the rights of those who are disabled or mentally ill. In 1975 Kennedy sponsored the 1975 Education for All Handicapped People Act, and in 1980 he introduced the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act, which protected the constitutional rights of the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled, and the incarcerated. In 1990, Kennedy cosponsored with his close friend, conservative Republican Orrin Hatch, the Ryan White CARE Act, which provided funds for cities most hit by the AIDs epidemic. In 1990 Kennedy again collaborated with Hatch in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibiting disability discrimination.

Last month was the 29th anniversary of the American With Disabilities Act. Joe BIden has called for returning to a time of bipartisanship that produced important positive legislation like the American With Disabilities Act. With Mitch McConnell, the Freedom Caucus and Donald Trump leading the Republicans, I think moderate Republicans and principled conservatives need to fight to regain the Republican Party before a spirit of bipartisanship will return. For the health of our democratic republic, I share Biden’s hope that we could eventually return to a time when Democrats and Republicans can work together to find common ground to help our country..

Here is a video of Ted Kennedy talking about the work to pass the American With Disabilities Act.

Here is a Boston Globe video describing how Ted Kennedy turned his life around after his personal flaws threatened to overwhelm his political achievements

The scene in season 7 of Game of Thrones where Theon Greyjoy apologizes to Jon Snow for what Theon did to the Stark family, and Jon Snow forgiving him

The scene in season 8 of Game of Thrones where Theon Greyjoy feels he achieved redemption, when he defends Bran

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