When A Neighbor Assaults A Senator

On Friday, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky who was one of the many candidates who sought the Republican presidential nomination last year, was assaulted by his next-door neighbor.

11113635_10152962902206107_6867868766752394040_n1According to reports, Paul, who lives in a gated community near Bowling Green, Kentucky, had just stepped off his riding lawn mower when Rene Boucher, a retired anesthesiologist, tackled Paul, who was wearing ear guards and didn’t hear Boucher coming.  The assault was so violent that it broke five of Paul’s ribs, bruised his lungs, and left him with cuts on his face.  It’s not clear when Paul will be able to return to his job in the Senate.  Boucher has been charged with misdemeanor assault, and could be charged with a felony given Paul’s injuries.

Putting aside my revulsion at an unfair sneak attack and physical assault — regardless of our political views, I think we can all agree that tackling somebody from behind and breaking their ribs is not appropriate and must be punished — I at first was intrigued by the news that Paul mows his lawn himself.  I’m not in agreement with many of Paul’s positions on the issues, but it’s nice to know that there is still a Senator out there who still willingly experiences some of the basics of life, like cutting the grass.  Sometimes you wonder whether our members of Congress, rich, staffed to the gills, and surrounded by people sucking up to them at all times, have any concept of what it is like to live a normal life in America.  Cutting your own grass is a good start, so I applaud Senator Paul for that.

But the story of this dispute between neighbors seems to now be going deeper.  What would motivate a retired anesthesiologist, who has lived next to Paul for 17 years and once worked in the same hospital with him, to tackle a United States Senator?  Boucher’s lawyer said politics had nothing to do with it, and described the circumstances as a “very regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial.”  Some people in the area say that Senator Paul — who not only cuts his own grass, but also composts and grows pumpkins on his property — doesn’t pay much attention to property regulations in the area and has different views on property rights than his neighbors.  The story linked above cites some anonymous sources as saying that the dispute finally escalated into violence because of things like “stray yard clippings, newly planted saplings and unraked leaves.”  Could something minor like blowing yard debris really have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, propelling one neighbor in a fancy community to assault another?

It just goes to show you that, when it comes to neighbors, the baseline requirements are pretty low.  Living next door to somebody who won’t become enraged and assault you over a leaves, grass, and a compost pile is one of them.

The Republican Hair Club For Men

Say what you will about the Republican candidates for President, but you have to concede one thing:  they are displaying a fantastically diverse set of hairstyles.  With 16 men ranging from 40s to nearly 70 in the field and not a chrome domer in the bunch, the GOP guys have beaten the odds.  In fact, it’s so statistically improbable that you have to wonder if it isn’t random chance and instead was the a plan of a shadowy, secret organization . . . .

Chairman TRUMP:  OK, I’m calling this meeting of the Republican Hair Club for Men to order.  Gentlemen, congratulations on a good first debate.  Governor Bush, do you have a report for us?

Gov. BUSH:  Yes, Mr. Chairman.  As you all know, our plan was to subconsciously appeal to the deep-seated hair fantasies and vanities of the American male by presenting candidates who cover the broadest possible range of different coiffures short of outright baldness  And I’m pleased to say it has worked beyond our wildest dreams.  Our studies show that not only did that first Fox debate achieve record ratings, but the vast majority of men who tuned in really were just checking out our different stylings.

Sen. CRUZ:  And I’m betting a number of those viewers saw the benefits of Brylcreem, didn’t they?  The success of Mad Men made American men recognize that “a little dab’ll do ya” is a darn good look.  In fact, you might even say it’s slick.  Get it?

Chairman TRUMP (sighing):  Senator — we get it, we just don’t want it.  I’m from the “wet head is dead” school myself.  And I know Governor Bush prefers his distracted professor look, Governor Walker has the “boyish front, bald spot in back” ‘do covered, Dr. Carson’s strongly representing the short hair contingent, Senator Rubio and Governor Huckabee are displaying the benefits of a razor cut at both ends of the age spectrum . . . .

Sen. PAUL (interrupting):  And don’t forget us Kentuckians who want a haircut that reminds everyone of Davy Crockett and his coonskin cap!

Chairman TRUMP:  Still having a bad day, eh?  Yes, Governor Kasich?

Gov. KASICH:  To add to Governor Bush’s report, I wanted to note that the polling data is showing that my little surge in New Hampshire is almost entirely attributable to my coiffure.  I was going for a rumpled, devil-may-care look, but in the North Country where they hibernate for most of the winter, it’s been interpreted as “bed head.”  It just shows the political value of an ambiguous, multi-purpose styling that covers a number of bases.

Sen. RUBIO:  That’s an excellent point, Governor.  And it reminds me:  the barbers, hair stylists, and product manufacturers that have been of our strongest supporters have identified a gaping hole in our coverage of the spectrum of men’s hairstyles.

Dr. CARSON:  It’s the mullet, isn’t it?

Sen. RUBIO:  Precisely.  How about it, Governor Christie?  As the representative of the Garden State, you’re the logical choice, aren’t you?  Of course, you’d have to get a tattoo and maybe a piercing, too.

Gov. CHRISTIE:  I think you’re confused there, Senator.  I could see it if you were asking me to adopt a greasy or spiky Jersey Shore-type cut, but a mullet really is more of an Appalachian look, so I’ll have to defer to Senator Paul to take his tousled ‘do to the obvious next level.

Gov. WALKER:  Speaking of the next level, Mr. Chairman, when are you going to share with us your secret about how you hold that extravagant mane of yours — whatever it is — in place?  Is it a gel or cream?  Is it some kind of top-secret spray?  Lacquer?

Chairman TRUMP:  Sorry, boys — but that information is more classified than the email found on Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Gov. HUCKABEE:  It’s about time that someone talked about the opposition!  I suggest that each of you stop this orgy of self-congratulation and think for a minute about the Democratic front-runner.  Let’s face it:  Secretary Clinton, alone, has covered more hairdos than our entire group.  She’s had short cuts, long looks, hair flipped up at the end, hair curled under — I’m sure if I did enough internet research I could find an ’80s big hair coiff and maybe even a beehive in her past, too.  It’s incredibly impressive.  She’s just one woman, yet she’s managed to span virtually the entire spectrum of women’s hairstyles!

Chairman TRUMP (suddenly somber):  He’s right, men — we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.  This meeting is now adjourned.  Senator Cruz, could you clean off the back of your chair before you go?

Debate Download

God help me, but I watched the Republican debate tonight.  UJ — who for some mysterious reason lacks a functioning TV — decided he wanted to come over and watch the debate, and Kish and  I watched it with him.

My thoughts?  The Trump balloon popped tonight.  The forever-frowning Donald looked like a self-mocking SNL skit up there.  He’s a pompous blowhard who obviously doesn’t know much about the issues at a granular level, and it shows.  When he talks about how his businesses are taking “advantage of the federal laws” he’s not exactly speaking to the lives of normal Americans.  I think we’ve seen the scowling, high water mark of the populist uncandidate.

As for the rest of the field, I thought Ben Carson was a clear loser until the last few questions, when he recovered somewhat.  I was surprised by how well John Kasich fared.  I thought Chris Christie and Marco Rubio did well, and I have to believe that the evangelical element poses clear upper limits for Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.  Jeb Bush seemed to flounder a bit, Scott Walker is Everyman, and Rand Paul looks likes he’s wears a wild animal pelt on his scalp.  Let’s see . . . have I forgotten anyone?

I’ll say this for the Republican debate tonight:  I’m not sure you’re getting much nuance and sophistication in answers that are limited to 1 minute — or in some cases 30 seconds — but it was fast-moving.  What does it mean?  I think nothing.

Rand Paul At Berkeley

Last week Senator Rand Paul, a Republican Senator from Kentucky, gave a speech at the University of California at Berkeley. Paul spoke about the abuses of the U.S. intelligence community, and his remarks apparently were well-received by his youthful audience.

Some people were struck by the fact that Paul, a conservative whose political inclinations have a distinct Libertarian flavor, would give a speech on a campus that has long been regarded as one of the nation’s most liberal, Democratic enclaves. In this case, he was addressing a topic — personal privacy, and domestic surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities that often seem to be unsupervised and uncontrolled — on which he was likely to find sympathetic ears. On some issues, the American political spectrum seems to be less a straight line than a circle, where the interests of the left and the right can meet. The concern about the growing intrusions of our spy agencies seem to be one of those issues.

Paul said that he also thought it would be useful to speak at places where Republicans don’t often go. I disagree with a huge array of his political positions, but I agree with him on that basic concept. One of the polarizing influences in modern America is the fact that people tend to speak to, listen to, read, and follow only opinions that they already agree with, and often those opinions are strident and demonize people who hold opposing viewpoints. It takes an effort to try to understand what those opposing viewpoints are and why others have adopted them — but often if you make that effort, you come away with a better appreciation of competing views and ideas about potential points of agreement. And, when a speaker is talking to an audience of skeptics, he or she is more likely to skip the cheap, home audience applause lines and instead try to really explain the rationale for their position. Both sides to the communication are likely to benefit as a result.

I wish more of our politicians would seek opportunities to talk to those who hold opposing views, and I wish more people were willing to listen to different perspectives. Free speech can only have an impact if people listen to it. I commend Senator Paul and the Berkeley students who came to hear him.

Not Ready For 2016

When I opened a news website this morning I saw a story about Joe Biden making a campaign trip to Iowa.  When I saw a picture of him flashing a Cheshire cat grin as he posed with a child for a picture and read about his “2016 themes,” I groaned and briefly contemplated hurling myself off the nearest overpass.

I’m not ready for 2016.  I’m really not — and I don’t think the country is, either.  But political reporters can’t resist this stuff.  We’re still more than three years from the next election, and already you can find the campaign speculation stories out there, lurking out there like a blobfish, ready to surface at any time and cause us all to emit howls of rage and disgust.  Don’t count out Rand PaulHillary Clinton’s got a big decision to make as she weighs whether to throw her hat in the ringWhat’s Chris Christie going to do?

All of this inside-the-Beltway speculation may be loads of fun for the pundits and politicos, but it’s depressing for those of us out in the heartland.  Why?  There are several reasons.  First, we know that, when elections are on the horizon and the political posturing begins in earnest, nothing gets done.  And right now, we don’t need politicians who are focused on the next election, we need politicians who are focused on trying to figure out how to fix the economy so that people can get back to work.  It’s astonishing that the grim economic record of the past few years don’t get more meaningful attention, but our political leaders are adept at manufacturing distractions from the difficult problems at hand — and ridiculously premature election speculation is just another distraction.

Second, we already have a President.  When the next election becomes a focus, the existing President automatically becomes a lame duck.  We don’t need a lame duck, we need a President.  I’m no huge fan of President Obama, but I think three years of lame duck drift would be disastrous for our country.

Finally, the 2016 stories are disturbing because they expose the unfortunate lack of mature, capable leadership in our country.  Are people seriously considering Joe Biden for President?  Or Rand Paul?  Or Ted Cruz?  How many governors and senators command your confidence these days?  Look out at the presumed fields in the Republican and Democratic primaries and see if you can avoid an involuntary shudder.

So please, do me a favor.  Shut up about 2016 for a few years, will you?

Droning On

Yesterday Kentucky Senator Rand Paul staged an old-fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor.  Paul held the floor for almost 13 hours until the urgent call of nature caused him to yield the floor at about 1 a.m. this morning.

The target of Senator Paul’s filibuster was the nomination of John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency — but the broader target was the Obama Administration’s drone program.  Attorney General Eric Holder has refused to rule out the possibility that the President could lawfully order drone strikes on American citizens on American soil under extraordinary circumstances, such as a terrorist attack akin to September 11.  Paul considers that position frightening and an affront to due process rights of American citizens, and that’s why he took to the Senate floor.

I don’t agree with Senator Paul on many issues, but I applaud his use of the filibuster to draw attention to the drone issue, which I think has largely flown under the radar of the American public.  We need to have a national discussion about our use of drones, both in America and in foreign countries.  We should fully consider the costs and benefits of the use of drones overseas, and whether we think it is prudent for the President to have the unilateral authority to authorize drones to kill suspected terrorists in other, sovereign nations with which we are not at war.  There is no doubt that the drones have been effective weapons in the fight against al Qaeda, but are they being used too frequently and too indiscriminately?  The strikes have injured and killed apparently innocent civilians and deeply damaged the United States’ reputation in several countries.  Is it worth it?  That’s not a question that the President, alone, should be answering.

Domestically, do we really want to give the President the power to order the killing of American citizens in the United States — without a judge or jury or a finding of guilt by any other entity or branch of government?  Reserving for the President the right to do so in “extraordinary circumstances” seems like an ill-defined limit on presidential power.  Supporters of President Obama might trust him to make wise decisions with such power, but what about the next President, and the President after that?  Presidential power runs with the office, not with its occupant.  Gradual accretions of presidential power never seem to get reversed, they just continue to accumulate and accumulate until the president seems less like a chief executive of a three-branch government and more like a tyrant.

I’m not ready to yield the power to the President to order drone strikes on American citizens on American soil just yet.  I hope Senator Paul’s old-fashioned, bladder-busting filibuster causes Congress, and the American public, to pay more attention to this important issue that addresses broad questions of individual liberty, due process, and how our government should work.

Goodbye, Incumbents

More evidence that the nation’s voters are not happy with our elected representatives:  five-term Senator Arlen Specter, who casually switched parties at the start of the Obama Administration, was defeated in yesterday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Blanche Lincoln, the Democratic Senator from Arkansas, was forced into a run-off election, and Rand Paul, the “tea party” favorite who was seeking the nomination for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, crushed the endorsed establishment candidate in the Republican primary.

We’ll learn more about how deep and wide this voter unhappiness is in the coming months, but so far it seems pretty clear that voters want to change direction, and in a significant way.