Friday March 22, 2013

Alden Graves

It was probably just a coincidence that the Conservative Political Action Committee held its annual meeting in Washington around the same time that "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" opened in movie theaters. Both featured magicians who had seen better days trying to pull off stunts that everyone wearied of a long time ago. In the movie’s favor, at least Jim Carrey and Steve Carell actually consider themselves comedians. Donald Trump would certainly never make that concession.

CPAC’s roster of speakers included a virtual Who’s Who of the purveyors of outmoded, discredited, and divisive policies all slickly presented as a cure-all that will transform a nation still recovering from damages inflicted the last time they were in power (referred to frequently in this column simply as Dark Ages II). The ultimate goal is to transform a country that was founded to welcome people of divergent tastes and cultures into the conservative notion of acceptable tastes and culture, a place that soccer moms and CEOs can call home.

Of course, for one of the GOP’s shining stars, missing the opportunity to twinkle at CPAC would be as unthinkable as a Trekkie skipping a sci-fi convention. Listening to the tired palaver broadcast to a nation that soundly rejected it only a few short months ago might even cause you to wonder where these people were beamed up from.

Paul Ryan, the Tea Party’s financial sleight-of-hand man and the political dynamo who failed to bring his home state into the Romney/Ryan camp last November, was there drawing the latest version of his budget proposal out of a hat.

Little matter that, at this point, Ryan, with his unnamed loophole closing and unspecified discretionary spending flimflam, projects all the financial credibility of the guy in the shiny suit with the cigar who tells you that the painting is a real Rembrandt. He was looked upon with adoring eyes from the faithful gathered before him.

Among the multitude of other casualties of Ryan’s latest assault on the middle class and the poor in the United States are provisions for guaranteeing Medicare for senior citizens, the further implementation of health care reform, Pell Grants that give more of our young people access to higher education, investments in clean energy, a strict enforcement of the Dodd-Frank bill for keeping the predatory denizens of Wall Street at bay, and increased funding for the Violence Against Women programs.

The enormous strain on the besieged rich, however, will be significantly reduced (from a top tax rate of 39 percent down to 25 percent). The American people should call this one Paul Ryan’s How-Dumb-Does-He-Think-We-Are budget.

The news item that caused attendees some nervous shifting on their padded seats was the startling about face (read abject betrayal) of Ohio senator Rob Portman on the contentious matter of gay marriage.

You are probably aware that the same political party that constantly harangues the government for interfering into peoples’ private lives doesn’t mind the idea of passing laws that restrict who those people may spend their lives with. Sen. Portman has let himself in for some harsh words from major conservative voices, very likely including Bill O’Reilly’s. Mr. O’Reilly is currently embroiled in particularly nasty divorce proceedings.

Portman towed the Family Values Party line on the issue until his son announced that he was gay. It forced the senator to do some reassessing and realigning. I guess we are all supposed to admire his gutsy anti-establishment stance, but a more cynical interpretation might conclude that Portman’s action perfectly illustrates everything that is hypocritical about the conservative movement in general and the Republican Party in particular.

It didn’t bother Sen. Portman to consign tens of thousands of gay men and women to second-class status in this country until the prospect that someone he cared about could be directly affected by the ignorance and bigotry that is always at its foundation. Then, like a sudden shaft of light through a mass of dark clouds, he was forced to reconsider the damage he and his party had perpetuated so self-righteously for so long. 

"Me" is of paramount importance to the cheerleaders of the conservative movement. They are against social programs intended to help the poor and underprivileged because "me" simply isn’t involved in the equation. And Dick Cheney and Lindsay Graham are big war boosters as long as their own butts remain out of harm’s way.

No one wants to pay taxes to the government that could be spent on things that might make our own personal lives easier or more enjoyable. But we live in a society and that entails responsibilities and sacrifices from all of us. By the same token, in any society there are those who choose not to follow cookie-cutter lives of "traditional" behavior that the Republicans seem to find so endearing. They deserve unqualified respect, especially from our legislators. What Portman was really offering was a resigned acceptance all dressed up to look like something noble.

Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.