Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The End of Moderate Republicanism

The news is still developing that Senator Specter (R-Pa) has decided to switch parties and become a Democrat, thereby giving the Democrats a filibuster proof majority in the Senate of 60 (assuming Al Franken wins in Minnesota, which is highly probable), but my first reaction when I saw the headline was to go outside and listen for church bells tolling the official end of moderate Republicanism.

To put Senator Specter's decision in some context: Specter's switch is first and foremost a shrewd politicial calculation, cutting off a primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Tomney, who has been outflanking Specter on the right, and dramatically improving Specter's prospects for reelection in the State. Specter's decision also earns him the title of kingmaker since he just became the Most Important Voter in the Senate.

I'm thrilled at what this could mean for the Democrats' ability to pursue a progressive reform agenda. Nevertheless, a part of me can't help but feel sad at the passing of an era when moderate Republicans helped to shape their party's agenda. With Specter's decision, conservative Republicans have officially solidified their grip controlling the GOP's destiny. Their rise to dominance was enabled in part by moderates, like Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn), losing elections to Democrats as the American public became disillusioned with the Republican party. And, prior to today, signs of moderate Republicans' diminishing role have become increasingly evident. In Virginia, for example, conservative Jim Gilmore was selected to make an exercise-in-futility run for the Senate against Mark Warner instead of moderate Tom Davis, even though Davis had a much greater chance of turning the election competitive. Michael Steele's tenure as the national chairman of the GOP has also been defined by him cowing to the party's conservative base, instead of a pursuit of his more moderate instincts to expand the GOP's ideology and membership base.

I grew up benefiting from one moderate Republican in particular. Congresswoman Connie Morella was my Congresswoman from the time I was in 5th grade until she lost to Chris Van Hollen when I was in college, and I volunteered on her campaigns and interned in her office through high school. Though I joined the Democratic party when I registered to vote, and continue to actively support the Democratic party's platform, Connie's focus on superb constituency services, her championing of women's rights and other progressive social issues, and her determination - against the odds of both her Democratic constituency and the members of her own party - to stick to her principles, reflected the trademark positions of moderate Republicans like her, and were the reasons she won election after election.

Senator Specter represented perhaps the last standard bearer of the once impressive and influential group of moderate Republican legislators and policy makers. His decision today, and its impact on the Democratic majority, will hopefully result in the passage of major health care reform and a regulatory overhaul to our ailing financial system. But it still bears mention that today, an era has passed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gray (Hair) Anatomy

So, I saw a picture the other day of Duke basketball coaching legend, Coach K, and thought to myself how is it possible that his hair is still jet black? I'm not a personal friend of his or anything, but I'm pretty sure this guy is in his 60s. (I then checked and it turned out I was right. Coach Krzyzewski is 62 years old).

My reaction to Coach K's picture may (just maybe), have something to do with my approaching birthday (though no gray hairs yet as near as I can tell without growing a beard out), but, it also led me to think beyond the mere snapshot and to consider the bigger picture, the "whole mop" so to speak. Our society openly embraces the idea that women should color their hair until they're elevated, at the very least, to grandmother status, but we don't really have a uniform view on men dying their hair, and we haven't expressly accepted or rejected the practice. (Granted, most people may just not care whether men or women dye their hair, and if you're one of those people you can just stop reading here.) Some men are viewed through a lens of distinction and sophistication because of their mane of gray hair, and others, like George Clooney are only considered more physically attractive (if that's possible) once they have salt'n'pepper locks.

In Coach K's case, I would venture to say that people think of him as younger, more energetic and perhaps even more authoritative as a coach because he keeps his hair black, instead of allowing a few gray hairs to enter the locker room. Though his public persona may be enhanced by his hair color, Coach K's hair isn't winning any style points, nor does it merit much media attention if any (heck, I had to think awhile before I decided that it was worth this blog post). And for men in the public arena in general, the color and particular styling of their hair doesn't usually get a lot of talk time in the media unless you're a fantastically shameless governor of Illinois, your name is Donald Trump, or you choose to pay $400 for a haircut while running a populist political campaign. Women who live in the public eye, however, are routinely scrutinized for both their hairdo and their hair color, and changing either the former or the latter often generates significant discussion and publicity.

Maybe this double standard is ok. I'm not here to split hairs after all. But if anybody is asking, I vote for Coach K to let a few gray hairs make a stand and see how it affects his performance on the court. Worse comes to worse, if his team goes on a losing streak, his hair can always go back to black.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reading of the Names

The last few weeks I've suffered from that all-too-common affliction known as writer's block. After being swamped at work upon my return from Cairo, it kind of popped up on me unawares, and before I knew it I couldn't think of anything to write about. With spring in the air however, I'm looking forward to getting my groove back.

This post is a repeat from previous years, but an important one for me nonetheless. Today marks Yom Hashoah - the day of commemoration for those people killed in the Holocaust.

For the first time in a few years, I was unable to attend a reading of names this year of some of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, though they are particularly in my thoughts today. My brother was able to attend one fortunately and read the names of the following family members. I hope that they'll be remembered so that this horrific event will never be repeated.

On my maternal grandmother's side:
-Artur Fischl, my namesake and my grandmother's father
-Tilly Fischl, my sister's namesake and my grandmother's sister
-Maria Fischl, my grandmother's mother
My grandmother's uncles: Otto, Paul and Hugo
Hugo's children: Hans, Otto and Hugo's daughter (name unknown)

On my maternal grandfather's side:
-Telsha and Volushu Baum, my grandfather's cousins
-Joseph Gerstmann, my grandfather's grandfather