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Inside Politics: Thanksgiving and politics

On this cherished holiday we Idahoans gather with friends and families. We will over eat, fill our heads with family stories, watch football, play cards, assemble puzzles and maybe after an invigorating canyon-side walk we’ll warm ourselves at our fireplaces. It’s a day most of us try to put politics aside, or at least exercise extra tolerance for the divergent views inevitable at such gatherings.

Inching toward the close of my seventh decade, having lived and worked in six states and several countries, I’m thankful for many things. Family and the love of those close to me top the list. Devotion to my country, its freedoms and the wonderful life it has enabled runs a close second. These blessings overshadow everything else. They are like the leafy canopy of one of the great sprawling oaks I first encountered at Middleton Plantation while living in South Carolina.

The analogies I use to express my thoughts stem from being a retired scientist, a writer and a political junky. Maybe that trinity of preoccupations explains why the unseen structures, the roots that make tree-tops possible through their interconnection and interdependence, remind me of politics. The leaves use the sun’s energy to feed the branches, trunk and roots. The roots anchor the tree, pumping life-sustaining water and nutrients to the rest. Here’s where the metaphor turns political for me.

All we see and do in our daily lives, constitute the tree tops of our lives — the leaves are our people and all they represent — the loving things, the fun things, the gratifying things and even our careers and challenges. They are supported and enabled by, and in equal measure dependent upon, the underground portion — our beliefs, institutions and politics.

The accomplishments or failures of our institutions and our politics impact the growth, health and quality of our day to day lives. Mostly we are unaware of and take those functions for granted. We become a bit more aware when things go exceptionally well but we become especially aware when things go wrong. That’s when we think about, worry and ask our gardeners what’s wrong. Is the tree being properly fertilized, watered, pruned, etc.?

The gardeners, of course, are the politicians, and by extension their work crews, their fertilizer and implement stores, irrigation systems and gardening techniques. These represent their volunteers, the political parties, contributors, lobbyists, etc.

Are they organic gardeners? Do they prune heavily or lightly? Do they spray chemicals, etc.? These practices represent political philosophies.

On this Thanksgiving, the political junkie inside me wants to thank Democrat gardeners and their crews in Twin Falls for all they have done and continue to do.

During the recent campaign nearly a hundred Magic Valley volunteers donated thousands of hours of personal time. They knocked on doors, made phone calls, stuffed envelopes and organized events. Collectively our candidates personally knocked on over 10,000 doors and availed themselves to an impressive list of service clubs, public forums and household gatherings to connect directly with our citizens. Eye to eye. Hand to hand. Literally, not metaphorically.

In most cases residents told our candidates they were the first politicians that ever came personally to their homes. I can’t help bragging about that. It is one of the gardening techniques we believe in. Organic gardening. Personal contact. Asking not telling. Plunging our hands into the life sustaining earth of our community.

Fair disclosure — our campaign style is driven as much by financial reality as gardening philosophy. Magic Valley Democrats simply don’t get huge dollars from PACs, corporations, lobbyists or special-interest groups. We knock doors, press the flesh, make connections, and sustain ourselves from scores of personal contributions. That’s actually a blessing.

It puts us in closer touch with real people and real needs. We don’t run attack ads or send October-surprise negative mailings. We could, but we don’t. Our candidates emphasize the positive. Having individual citizens provide the vast majority of our funding is a blessing. Candidates aren’t beholden to future conflicts of interest when in office, charged constitutionally with acting in the best interest of all of our citizens.

So, we give thanks for the blessings of our magnificent volunteers, candidates and funding base of actual people this Thanksgiving. Next week I’ll have detailed comment about how our “organic” political gardening approach differs from other approaches. That will come after Black Friday and Cyber Monday have recalibrated everyone’s perspective back to the frost, hail and windstorms that blow through the canopies of our trees of life.

In closing, Idaho Democrats give thanks for our great nation, great state and each and every one of its great people. We look forward to listening to you and working to improve the function of our society’s root system. In that spirit I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Letter: Where were inspectors before fire?

I just read in your newspaper the story of the apartment fire in Jerome (Nov. 20). I was shocked to read about the unsafe conditions that the people was living in.

I am an owner of several businesses in Jerome, one a convenience store, cafe and a laundromat. One is an office complex. Every year the Jerome fire department comes by for their yearly inspection, and they always find something that is not up to their code. They give us a list to have fixed. We have a week to comply. If we are not in compliance they can shut us down.

I read in the paper about the danger the people were living in, electrical, no smoke detectors, no ventilation, no windows. I am glad that there were no casualties. I was just thinking: Where were the Jerome fire department inspectors?

Larry Tucker


Other View: Islamophobia is not a national security strategy

As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump famously promised not only to use the phrase but also to fight “radical Islamic terrorism.” Yet as his administration comes together, it’s getting harder to make the distinction between that fight and outright Islamophobia.

Religious prejudice should have no place in American life, a once-pat observation that now bears repeating. Moreover, claiming that “fear of Muslims is rational” — as has Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s selection as national security adviser — makes the fight against terrorism more difficult, and distracts from equally profound challenges facing the U.S.

Flynn’s comment is hardly unrepresentative. Trump himself has said “Islam hates us,” while he and several underlings have called for a registry for all Muslims in the U.S. (the fate of this proposal is now uncertain). His adviser Stephen Bannon compares the fight against terrorism to medieval Christendom’s fight against the Turks. Some of Trump’s closest campaign advisers have called for ideological tests for all Muslims and widespread surveillance of mosques.

Purely from a practical standpoint — again, leaving aside moral or constitutional qualms — these views are profoundly unhelpful. Islam is the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing faith, encompassing one-quarter of its population and divided among numerous sects. Overwhelming majorities of the world’s Muslims reject violence against civilians in the name of Islam.

These are exactly the people whose help is most necessary in fighting the threat of Islamic terrorism — and this is exactly the rhetoric most likely to alienate them. Such language also feeds Islamic State’s narrative that the West will never accept Muslims living in their midst and weakens the best line of defense against radicalization: the willingness of communities to police themselves and report suspicious activity.

And then there are the wider policy implications. The fight against radical Islamic terrorism is important, but it is only one of many geopolitical challenges — from Russian revanchism to the rise of China — facing the U.S. Elevating it to the level of a millennial struggle seems more likely to be a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy than a wise strategic decision.

Finally, the incoming administration’s stance is encouraging to autocrats such as Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who says he wants to reform Islam, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who praised Trump as a “natural ally.” But stiffer repression (in Egypt) or continued war crimes (in Syria) will not dim the allure of violent jihad.

The only thing that will do that is support for better governance, more economic opportunity, greater political freedom, and stronger, more open communities. These are values the U.S. has long stood for, admittedly sometimes more strongly than others, and they remain worth defending no matter who is president.