Some shocking news for Republicans: Ronald Reagan wasn’t a racist on immigration

By Robert Mann

There was once a prominent liberal Democrat — he would one day become president — who embraced a big, broad belief in the American dream that too many of today’s political leaders reject.

This future president said in a 1952 commencement address: “I, in my own mind, have thought of America has a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. … [T]he means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated: Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up the roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel half across the world, was welcome here.

“And they have brought with them to the bloodstream that has become America that precious courage … to strive for something better for themselves and for their children and their children’s children. I believe that God in shedding his grace on this country has always in this divine scheme of things kept an eye on our land and guided it as a promised land for these people.”

The liberal was Ronald Reagan, speaking at Williams Woods College in Fulton, Mo. But, you say, that was long before Reagan, the actor, became Reagan, the conservative political leader. He wouldn’t talk like that today, would he?

Think again.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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My resolutions for 2017 (or, How I plan to survive another year of Donald Trump)

By Robert Mann

Although I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, 2018 feels different: I’ll turn 60 this year. Our son and daughter will graduate high school in May and head off to college in the fall. We’ll vacate our house, which has been decaying for years, while it undergoes renovations. By year’s end, I hope to finish a new book.

It will be a year of change, promise and uncertainty. That might describe every year, but this could be one of particular and bittersweet transition. That’s why I’m making the following resolutions:

I will work to savor every moment with my children. I love a full, bustling house, so I dread the calm that awaits after they leave. Lately, I lie awake contemplating my unpreparedness for a new life in which they are not sleeping in their bedrooms across the hall. But they’re ready for the next chapter. It’s time they flew from the nest, and I resolve — after only a few tears — to celebrate this exciting next step with them.

I will strive to better emulate my wife’s capacity for caring and friendship. For more than 25 years, I’ve marveled at her remarkable capacity for empathy and friendship. Hers is not a superficial camaraderie, but deep, caring relationships with a far-flung collection of childhood pals and newer friends. As a spiritual director in the United Methodist Church, she’s well trained in listening and counseling people on their spiritual journeys. She is also wise beyond words. She has much to teach me, and I resolve to spend more time observing her, talking with her about what matters most and walking in her compassionate footsteps.

I will spend less time thinking about politics. In December 2016, I took up woodworking again as a way to focus my thoughts, apply my hands to creative pursuits and — most important — to get my mind off politics and Donald Trump for a few hours. (It’s funny how little you’ll think about current events when you’re trying not to sever your fingers with a table saw.)

After making a few pieces for myself, I began crafting simple tables for flood victims. Next, I made furniture for a refugee family and have recently finished tables I will donate to a non-profit that rehabilitates homes for elderly people. It’s sacred, prayerful work. Bending over a workbench for hours isn’t great therapy for a sore back, but making sawdust is a salve for mind and soul.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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The Good, Bad and Ugly in Louisiana Politics, 2017

By Robert Mann

“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”  — Jonathan Swift

It was a year that shame forgot. Sure, that might describe most years in Louisiana politics, but events of 2017 seem particularly shameless and worthy of disdain. Maybe it’s the Trump Affect, a malady which afflicts some politicians and causes the sudden disappearance of self-respect and integrity. That meant the possibilities for distinction in unprincipled political behavior were bottomless — and opportunities for valor plentiful.

Here are the 2017 winners of my annual competition: “The Good, Bad and Ugly in Louisiana Politics.”

Most Courage: State Reps. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, and Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, two members of the House who tried to stave off the state’s looming “fiscal cliff” — when $1 billion in temporary taxes expire next summer — by proposing a series of modest, practical tax reform measures.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and other leaders ignored many sensible recommendations by the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy. Meanwhile, Stokes and Ivy waged a valiant-but-unsuccessful fight to instill a modicum of fiscal sanity, something out of vogue in Baton Rouge for a decade.

Most Cowardice: The House GOP Caucus, which resisted all efforts to address fiscal reform, stubbornly and dishonestly insisting that, after many years of deep budget reductions, the state’s budget woes can be solved by cuts alone.

“It’s hard to watch Louisiana fall on its face, which is what I do believe we are seeing at the moment,” Stokes observed last June. “Instead of solving our crisis and finding that opportunity, this Legislature has persisted — through three years and six sessions — to simply prolong the crisis.”

Shameless Ambition: U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who sought to burnish his conservative bona fides with a cynical attack on poor working families surviving on meager allotments of food stamps. Graves’ legislation would impose work requirements on those receiving food assistance, although most of them are, in fact, working.

Most Embarrassing Statement: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, for imploring President Donald Trump to intervene to prevent the removal of Confederate memorials in New Orleans. “I wrote him a letter and I asked him to look out your window, look at the statute of Jackson there at the White House because Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square is next in New Orleans if we don’t do something,” Nungesser said. This was a suggestion too ridiculous and reckless for even Trump.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Christianity’s poverty of Christ

By Robert Mann

Let the historians explain how evangelical Christians lost their way, but it’s a sad fact that a large, influential segment of a major faith is unmoored from its foundational, scriptural teachings. I’m talking about those evangelicals who have religiously ignored what the scriptures say — shout — about God’s favor for the poor and his compassion for the powerless.

Too many evangelical Christians evince only passing interest in such matters, having abandoned economic and social justice in favor of political power and luxuriating in the smug satisfaction of a personal relationship with Jesus, who guarantees an afterlife without Jews, Muslims and others who don’t look or pray like them.

It’s not only evangelicals. If you want a sense of how divorced some Christian leaders are from their faith, I recommend a fascinating conversation between two prominent Christian thinkers — David French and John Zmirak — in the New York Times. The reason for the discussion, moderated by conservative columnist Ross Douthat, was to explore why Evangelicals overwhelmingly support one of history’s most unChristian presidents.

What fascinated me most was not their disagreement over whether Donald Trump deserves praise from evangelicals; it was, rather, the cursory mention of the biblical mandate to champion and care for the poor and powerless.

The discussion revolved, instead, around Trump’s personal morality and his support for the political rights of conservative Christians and their preeminent issues, including abortion and appointing conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even when more sensible evangelical leaders bemoan what’s become of their corrupted movement, they characterize the damage as abandonment, not of the poor, but of piety.Do you know how hard a Christian must work to devote that much effort talking about his faith and only mention, in passing, the poor?

It’s not that so many forget to talk about how their faith demands they treat the poor; it’s that they never seem to consider it.

Cases in point: Why are there not loud, massive protests of Christians over the obscene fact that Congress passed legislation that gives — at the expense of the poor and middle class — large tax cuts to corporations and wealthy individuals? Why are most Christians not enraged that, while it celebrates its unholy gift to the rich, Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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The Mother of All ‘Conspiracy Theories’

By Cyril Vetter

Since around the late 1990s, a Russian “academic,” Igor Panarin has been forecasting the breakup of the United States. His thesis is that mass immigration, economic decline and “moral degradation” will trigger a second Civil War.

The American West Coast, according to Panarin, will become what he calls “the Californian Republic” under Chinese hegemony. Texas will be the nucleus of a cluster of states under Mexican hegemony. The Boston-to-D.C. megalopolis will become “Atlantic America” and join the European Union. Canada will control a group of Rust Belt states, Russia will lay claim to Alaska and well, you get the idea.

Panarin’s career with the KGB began in 1976 and he first presented his “breakup” idea at a conference in Austria in 1998 on the topic of information warfare.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has repeatedly been quoted as saying, “The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” and I’m convinced there’s nothing he’d like more than a similar breakup of the United States.

Putin’s career with the KGB saw him stationed in East Germany with the infamous East German intelligence service, the Stasi. He learned gas lighting, mind control and information warfare under the tutelage of the Stasi — the best.

Panarin and Putin share their KGB roots proudly. And the successor agency, the FSB, pushes the diminution of American presence and power in Europe and the rest of the world wherever and by whatever means possible, including weaponizing American technologies like social media. Continue reading

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Louisiana never had a governor who cared for children more than Kathleen Blanco

By Robert Mann

You can tell a lot about people — especially public officials — by how they behave around children. I’m thinking about the baby-kissing politicians who pretend to care but lose all concern for the kids when the TV lights go dark. There are those, however, who know tenderly cradling a baby or kneeling down to look a 5-year-old in the eyes for a quiet conversation is how you establish a true connection with a young person.SLU_Blanco

If you’re a parent, it’s easy to perceive who cares about young people. If you’re a close watcher of politicians, it’s also easy. And that is one reason I will always love former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. She didn’t snatch babies from their mothers, toss them in the air and make a show of kissing them. Her concern for children was deeper, lasting and sincere.

As most readers know, Blanco is struggling with cancer and has asked for our prayers. I’ve prayed for her, as I know many of you have, too.

History will judge her more kindly than did some journalists and her political opponents in the months and years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She kept fighting for Louisiana to her last day in office, and the recovery money the state received from Washington was partly a result of her fierce determination to fight for the state she loves.

When I think about my time on her staff, what stands out most is how much she cared for children and all that she did for them.

First, a personal story: One day in November 2004, my 5-year-old son was mildly sick. My wife was out of town. We had a press conference that morning, and I had several meetings with the governor. In too many workplaces, children are unwelcome, especially if they are not well. But I worked for Kathleen Blanco, so I brought my son to work.

I will never forget lugging this sniffly kid into the governor’s office for an hour-long meeting with her and other members of our senior staff. When the governor saw my son, she welcomed him warmly and hurried off to find a coloring book and crayons. She set him up at her conference table and made certain he was comfortable. And then we began our meeting.

Not for a second did she make me feel uneasy about having brought my son to work. It seemed like the most natural thing for a staff member of hers to do because, of course, it was.

That loving care for a sick child was and is typical of Kathleen Blanco. This mother, grandmother and former school teacher did not mouth concern for Louisiana’s children; she made it her policy priority.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Judge James Brady: A Man Apart

By Robert Mann

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ―Shannon L. Alder

U.S. District Judge James Brady, who died on Saturday after a brief illness, was the rarest of persons in politics and the law. I knew him for more than 30 years and I cannot recall him speaking a harsh or uncharitable word about another person.

Ever.

Imagine going through life without indulging in such talk. I can’t do it for a week or, sometimes, more than a day.Brady

Now, imagine spending decades working in the law and politics — leading a state political party, no less — and conducting yourself like that.

Imagine devoting yourself to public affairs and being devoid of personal animus toward other people.  

Think about how few people in your life you could describe as such. I know a few, but not many. I know even fewer in politics, in which the coin of the realm is, too often, personal insults, denigrating statements and the airing of petty grievances.

Jim Brady was a man apart. I almost asserted “he was among the best of a bygone era during which politics was not governed by such dark impulses.” Then, I remembered, there never was such an era in American or Louisiana politics.

It was not some golden era that has passed.

Rather, it is Jim Brady — a rare individual, exceedingly modest and compassionate and generous to a fault — who has passed.

Everyone who knew Jim has a story — or many stories — about his kind and thoughtful ways. Jim treated everyone with dignity and respect.

He was one of the most thoughtful and considerate people I knew. Hardly six weeks went by Jim didn’t call to compliment me about something — a column, a radio appearance, some minor distinction that few in my life, but Jim, took note of.

He not only noticed; he also called. And after each phone call from Jim, I thought: I wish I were more like that — thoughtful, caring and taking the time to make a call.

And here’s the thing: I know I was only one among dozens of friends who received phone calls like that.

Jim Brady gave his friendship — and did not request anything in return.

I know many generous people. I know many thoughtful people. I know many compassionate people. I know many people who are ethical to a fault and faithful to their families and friends. Jim Brady was that person in my life who represented the best balance of those fine qualities and more.

He was simply, as one of his good friends told me this morning, “the best.”

Rest in peace, friend.

Posted in Life, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged | 13 Comments