Stop sating the Democrats are “the party of slavery”

By Michael d’Oliveira

Dinesh D’Souza is back with a new movie, “Death of A Nation.”

But D’Souza, a conservative commentator and filmmaker, has been trotting out possibly his favorite old hat: “the Democrats are the party of slavery.”

What he’s doing is weaponizing the historical fact that the Democratic Party supported the institution of slavery before and during the Civil War. He weaponizes it against the Democrats of today as a way of trying to associate them with slavery in Antebellum.

He touts it as an historical fact. And it is. The Democrats are the ones who supported slavery and tried to secede from the Union.

But here’s an important thing he leaves out: all those Democrats died 100 years ago or more.

The Democrats of 1860 were the party of slavery. The Democrats of today are not. None of them own slaves. None of their parents or grandparents or great grandparents owned slaves. This is not the same group of people.

During the Democratic presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the late 1930s, many Republicans championed isolationism and were against Roosevelt’s steps to bring America into World War II.

And just like the Democrats of 1860, the Republicans of 1940 are all dead. Trying to paint today’s GOP as the party of pre-World War II isolationism would not be fair. It’s a completely different group of people. Just as it wouldn’t be fair to associate today’s Democrats with pro-slavery elements in 1860.

In the trailer for his movie, D’Souza gets a basic fact wrong: “Lincoln was elected to unite a country and stop slavery.”

No, Lincoln wasn’t elected to stop slavery. Lincoln never said he would stop slavery when he ran for president in 1860. He merely promised to leave it alone where it already existed. That’s definitely not a pledge to end slavery.

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that,” wrote Lincoln in 1862.
Lincoln only truly decided to work to end slavery after he realized it was the cause of the Civil War and that it needed to be abolished in order to prevent another war in the future.

No one elected Lincoln in 1860 with any notions he would end slavery. 1864, yes. 1860, no.

Ending slavery only became possible after his election when the South seceded.

Why would anyone take “Death of A Nation” or D’Souza seriously if he can’t get that basic fact correct?

Like some foods, some votes should not be combined.

By Michael d’Oliveira

Like some foods, some votes should not be combined.

This November, Florida voters will have the chance to vote against offshore oil drilling and against indoor workplace vaping. But they will have to say “yes” or “no” to both. That’s because both questions have been rolled into one take it or leave it ballot question.

The amendment reads, “Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.” 

For some reason, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which decides the makeup of the ballot, has given voters a healthy serving of spaghetti tacos. Some of us like tacos. Some of us like spaghetti. (Okay, most of us like both of those things). But no one wants to eat them together. No one sane anyways.

Many of us don’t want our voting mixed up either. We want to vote for or against amendments that are only about one thing. Combing two completely unrelated votes muddies the waters and makes the true intent of voters hard to discern.

It also makes people even less trusting of the democratic process and, ultimately, perhaps less willing to trust the results.

One man in Florida wrote on Facebook, “OIL DRILLING AND VAPING (Amendment 9): It would prohibit drilling for gas and oil in state coastal waters and ban vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces. Prohibit oil drilling. Absolutely. But, including using E-cigarettes in this amendment? the whole vaping community will say, “I don’t want oil drilling, but I am still going to vape at work. Oil drilling and vaping have nothing in common. This stinks of Republican.”

I’m not here to say he’s right or wrong. I don’t know if this was a Republican trick to get vapers to vote against banning offshore oil drilling. I’m not even here to suggest it. Or to claim that it’s a Democratic trick to get people for a ban on offshore drilling to also support a ban on indoor workplace vaping. I have no evidence to make me think either one is true. What I do know is that these two issues should never have been combined.

This type of mixing is done in Congress and state legislatures all the time. It can be good, sometimes. But, most of the time, it allows things not many lawmakers support to coast through on something stronger – think bloated defense spending attached as a rider to a much-needed highway bill.

It corrupts the system because bills aren’t being voted “yea” because of their merits. They’re being passed purely because of political maneuvering. That’s a poor way to run a country.

Money only has power in elections if we let it

By Michael d’Oliveira

On Tuesday, a 20-year veteran of Congress lost to someone in his own party who had never run for political office. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district for the party’s nomination. In addition to having two decades more political and congressional experience, Crowley also outspent Ocasio-Cortez by 10 to 1, and she beat him by 15 points. 

We should take money as much out of politics and elections as we can, but this primary election is proof that money only determines elections if voters let it.

You often hear that money (in the form of political contributions) “buys elections.” That’s not true. The logic works like this: contributions buy advertising and pay for political commercials, and those influence voters. But no one ever asks why voters are influenced by those ads. In the show “Mad Men,” Don Draper says, “People want to be told what to do so badly they’ll listen to anyone.”

It works the same way in politics. Many people want a politician to tell them what they want to hear. They think they want the truth, but they really don’t. What they really want is their beliefs parroted back to them. That’s why cable news is so popular. People want a source of news where the anchor or pundits agree with them.

Political ads, especially ones with false information, work because people don’t do their own research or question what they’re being told. The internet contains a virtually limitless amount of information. There are also news organizations and fact-checking websites devoted to debunking false information. But, again, political ads are effective because people want to believe what they’re being told.

If we had a truly informed society, one where people were more skeptical of political advertising from all sides, the effectiveness of campaign contributions would go down. Money can only buy advertising space. It can’t force people to believe something.

Imagine if we all did our own research on a political ad after we saw it? Imagine if we didn’t take everything on face value? What if we all discovered the ad was false and it failed to convince us of the premise it was attempting to push? Wouldn’t that make the money spent on the ad basically meaningless? We, as citizens in a system that relies on individuals taking the responsibility to be informed, are the ones who give advertising its power.

Whenever mentally-stable adult gets ripped-off through one of those Nigerian email scams, do we blame email? Or, do we blame the adult for being gullible?

Ocasio-Cortez proved there are things in politics more important than money. She’s proof that you can beat an opponent with more money if you connect with voters. Crowley had more money, but the primary voters of his district didn’t want to buy what he was selling.

Politicians should never bring god into politics

By Michael d’Oliveira

God should become a third rail in American politics. For everyone. While conservatives and republicans are better known for invoking god to support their position, particularly on social issues, liberals and democrats occasionally do it as well.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions did so recently when talking about immigration. Sessions, according to NBC and other media outlets, quoted Romans 13: “Obey the laws of government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” 

It wasn’t the best defense to use. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ use of god wasn’t much better.

In a video where she calls upon people to confront members of President Donald Trump’s administration over its immigration policies, Waters says god is on the side of people against Trump and his policies. “While you try and quote the Bible, Jeff Sessions and others, you really don’t know the Bible. God is on our side,” she told the crowd around her.

While Sessions using the Bible to advocate for blind allegiance to the government is arguably worse than Waters using god to advocate we should stop caging children, both are wrong. God should always be kept out of discussions on government policy because no one can speak for god. No one is qualified to say god endorses their side and not the other.

It’s arrogant and presumptuous, but it also wastes time that should be spent on the merits and effectiveness of our ideas and policies. You can’t win or lose a “god is on our side” argument because the statement can be neither proven nor disproven.

It’s also important for us to show our work in matters of policy. Saying “god is on our side” skips past the important work of figuring out why we should do something. The why is important. Figuring out the why strengthens our resolve to support good ideas. I’ve been a supporter of gay marriage ever since I first heard about the issue because I worked out in my head all the justifications for why it should be legal.

I didn’t take the cheap and easy route of “well, it doesn’t impact me.” Instead, I thought about what I already knew to be true: same sex couples should be allowed the right to be married because they are human beings who deserve the same opportunities for happiness and success that everyone else does. Waters could have just as easily left god out of her speech on immigration. All she had to do was acknowledge the humanity of these immigrants and their children. “Children shouldn’t be locked up in cages” is an argument that practically wins itself in a debate.

The only time a politician should be worried about god is in the way that Abraham Lincoln did. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Why liberals shouldn’t complain about Trump’s salute too much

A new video shows President Donald Trump saluting a North Korean general. The video has already drawn a lot of criticism from liberals and other anti-Trump voices.

Trump’s salute is also being compared to President Barack Obama’s bowing to the Saudi king.

So much of political debate these days is about casting the other side as hypocritical and intellectually dishonest.

Right now, liberals are trying to paint conservatives as being hypocrites for making a huge deal out of Obama’s bowing to dictators and not Trump’s saluting a top member of a dictatorship.

Obama bowing

That’s where the criticism should end.

Liberals, who defended Obama’s bowing, should stick with just pointing out the hypocrisy. They shouldn’t make a big deal out of the salute itself.

While North Korea’s government is arguably the worst regime on the planet, the men who run Saudi Arabia have their own horrible human rights record. This shouldn’t be a matter of degrees.

There’s also the matter of liberals undercutting their own defense of Obama’s bowing. If you say Obama’s bowing wasn’t a big deal, and then you make a big deal out of the similar incident with Trump, than you’ve really retroactively burned your own previous defense of Obama. You come off as intellectually dishonest. Instead of you making it about what Obama did or didn’t do, you’ve made it about Obama. You’ve made him the interchangeable variable. Would you have defended another president who bowed? Do you only hold certain presidents to account for their behavior? Is political partisanship what you hold most dear?

The same can be said about conservatives. If you brush off Trump’s salute, you’re really saying that you only care when certain presidents act a certain way.

Intellectual honesty has to be consistent. It can’t be situational. Your opinion on something can’t be only based on who is involved. It has to always be about what they are doing.

This is one of the reasons why we have such a huge national debt. The people we elect to represent us in Washington only seem to care about overspending and adding to the debt if it’s the other party that has control of the purse. As soon as one party gets control again, the debt suddenly doesn’t matter anymore.

But it’s not just politicians who have to stop being hypocrites. If the country is going to become a better place the people who vote for politicians also have to stop being hypocrites.

Context matters, even when opposing Trump

By Michael d’Oliveira

Context matters. Being truthful about what people say matters. Both matter. All the time. Even when it comes to what President Donald Trump says. Even when you don’t like what he said.

Trump is being criticized on social media and by some Democratic lawmakers for calling immigrants “animals.”

“Immigrants are not ‘animals.’ The president’s statement was deeply offensive and racist. Immigrants are our family and friends and they make significant contributions to our country,” wrote Senator Dianne Feinstein on Twitter.

The Facebook group Vocal Progressives compared Trump to Hitler and falsely stated that he said, “Undocumented immigrants are not people; they are animals.”

 

Trump’s statement came during a meeting at the White House Wednesday with local law enforcement officials from California. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims asked Trump to work on getting rid of some of the information-sharing barriers between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

“There could be an MS-13 gang member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them,” she said.

In response, Trump said, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

At no point did Trump say “immigrants are animals” as Vocal Progressives and others have claimed. It’s possible to infer that Trump may have been speaking about all immigrants, but it’s impossible to factually claim that’s what he meant. Vocal Progressives claimed Trump specifically said “immigrants are animals.”

Trump, who has spoken about the violent nature of the MS-13 gang in the past, made his remarks immediately after Mims mentioned the gang by name. It’s very plausible Trump was specifically-referring to MS-13 and not all undocumented immigrants.

If you want to defend the humanity of a violent and vicious gang like MS-13, and that even they should not be called “animals,” you are certainly welcome to do so. That would be an intellectually honest way to discuss this situation. But, I doubt anyone wants to go to bat for a group of murderers and rapists.

Barring that avenue, even when speaking out against a man who lies as much a Trump, it’s important to stick to the truth. Liberals constantly criticize Trump for not being truthful. Every study and news article done about the number of times Trump has lied or said something out of context, is shared and re-shared a multitude of times.

Trump’s dishonest nature should be shared and discussed. But you can’t accuse Trump of lying one day and pump out your own version of dishonesty the next. That’s not how this is supposed to work.

Candidate accused of hate speech

By Michael d’Oliveira

Hate speech can be very dangerous. It can get people worked up and persuade them to physically attack the target of that hatred.

People who say truly racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic things should be called out and criticized by society. People who spew hate speech should be protected by the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court unanimously ruled. That means the answer to hate speech is not restriction, it’s better speech.

But we have to be careful in how we go about deciding what is hate speech. The phrase itself can be dangerous. Incendiary accusations can shut down the conversation. Instead of talking about the issue of what the person said, suddenly, we’re debating whether or not they’re a racist, homophobic, or whatever.

The best example is the State of Israel.

Some defenders of Israel often accuse critics of the Jewish state of being anti-Semitic over their critiques of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians. It’s important to point out that only some defenders of Israel play the anti-Semitism card automatically. Others are careful to make distinctions between simple criticism of the actions of Israel and anti-Semitism.

The most recent hate speech accusation, albeit a temporary one, was against Georgia gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams. Williams, a Republican state senator, posted a video announcing he had a “deportation bus” to take “illegals” out of his state.

According to Vice News, YouTube briefly took the video down and labeled it as hate speech. The video is now back up.

According to YouTube’s hate speech policy, “We encourage free speech and try to defend your right to express unpopular points of view, but we don’t permit hate speech. Hate speech refers to content that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes, such as: race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation/gender identity.”

Some will no doubt object to Williams’ use of the word “illegals.” But nowhere in the video does he call for violence. The whole point of the video is to lay out Williams’ desire to deport people who are here illegally. He doesn’t say anything negative or anything at all about Mexican-Americans as a whole. It’s very specifically aimed at Mexican immigrants who are here illegally.

All Williams has done, agree or disagree, is to call for the deportation of a certain group of people based on their legal status.

He gets even more specific through a sign on the back of his “deportation bus” which alludes to who would be deported by him: “MURDERERS, RAPISTS, KIDNAPPERS, CHILD MOLESTERS, AND OTHER CRIMINALS. FOLLOW ME TO MEXICO”

There’s enough there to say Williams might be guilty of dog whistling about all Mexican immigrants. But there should be a tougher threshold for a label as incendiary at hate speech.