J. KARL MILLER: Throwing stones in a glass-walled political arena

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Politics is distinctly similar to that of Vince Lombardi's description of football: "Football is not a contact sport, it is a collision sport — dancing is a contact sport." Politics is not for the faint of heart, the squeamish nor the thin of skin.

Politics, as well as football and other competitive activities, is all about winning; however, there is no "Marquis of Queensbury" rules to call fouls or to exact penalties. Political aspirants and participants are generally restricted to whatever their collective consciences will bear in debasing their respective opponents. Fortunately, there is a cadre on either side of the aisle that is inclined to play fair and observe the rules of common courtesy.

Over the years, the charges hurled by the two major parties against one another have become so antiquated and predictable that they have little effect on the final outcome. Most of the criticisms by Democrats of Republicans and vice versa are of the repetitive "knee jerk" variety and largely effective only at the lower echelons of each party's faithful.

For example, the Democrats have long been painted by Republicans as soft on crime, ambivalent about military preparedness, the party of taxing and spending, social engineering and big government. The GOP points to Democrats as never having seen a tax they didn't like and for limiting individual freedoms with government-knows-best policies.

Conversely, the Party of Jefferson/Jackson sees the GOP as the party of big business, the super rich, low taxes, anti-science, free markets and pro-military to the point of being too disposed to go to war. These perceived differences, accurate or not, provide the electorate with a real choice come Election Day. Pocketbook issues usually — but not always — trump emotions on that November Tuesday set aside for voting.

To be sure, a lunatic fringe can be found at each of the party's extreme. For the Republicans, it is the "birthers" — those who are adamant that President Barack Obama was born not in Hawaii but on a foreign soil and, accordingly, is not eligible to be president. This notion ignores the fact that he was born to an American mother which is prima facie evidence that he is entitled to U.S. citizenship. Consequently, the place of birth is irrelevant.

For the Democrats, there are the "truthers" — that vocal band of intransigents who steadfastly ignore the eyewitness accounts of millions of viewers and scientific testimony of engineers from MIT and elsewhere, claiming instead that the 9/11 Twin Towers collapse was an inside job. The "doubters" disclaimers range from denial of the presence of aircraft to denying that steel beams could be melted by the jet fuel generated heat, to accusing President George W. Bush of culpability. At one time, they were fairly numerous, but by now they are largely relegated to the relevance of Holocaust deniers and NASA moon landing non-believers.

Nevertheless, there a few characterizations that should be considered in the same vein as "hitting below the belt." These transgressions have recently originated in the halls of the Democratic Party and are all too quickly pounced upon and aired by pro-administration columnists, publications and television personalities.

The first two involve matters of race and sexual orientation. There is a cadre of elected officials and influential media personalities who think nothing of labeling Republicans as racist for opposing this President's programs and as homophobic for opposing gay marriage. This disgraceful ploy, aimed at inflaming minority voters, is without an element of truth and falls beneath the dignity of either political party.

However, the worst and most recent example of specious conduct of media sycophants, members of the Senate and the president has been the demonizing of the 46 senators (including four Democrats) who voted no on expanded background checks for gun purchases. They have been called cowards for failing to stand up to the evil NRA and accused of turning their backs on their constituents who reportedly supported the legislation by margins of 90 percent.

Sadly, this is utter grandstanding, an overreach to emotion with little regard to the consequences. This hasty attempt at regulating background checks at gun shows, on the Internet and between private individuals was bad law from the beginning.

Public denigration of members of Congress purely for going against the wishes of any president is beneath the dignity of the presidency and of the press. Members of Congress took the same oath to the Constitution as did many of us and are expected to represent their constituents accordingly. Those 46 senators voting in the negative should be given the benefit of the doubt in that they voted their conscience and observed some holes in the "90 percent polling data" — they are of necessity attuned to their voters.

Finally, if being influenced by the NRA is so terrible, why does not being beholden to the AFL-CIO and the public sector unions apply equally to the Blue State Members of Congress? Geoffrey Chaucer's proverb which begins "People who live in glass houses" comes to mind.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Ellis Smith May 1, 2013 | 7:21 a.m.

Actually, Karl. the steel beams were not "melted" by the heat from the burning jet fuel and other combustibles (those already present within the building). Steel, like most metals and ceramics, loses rigdity - and thus ability to bear static load - well below its melting point.

If you remove the shock and horror of 9/11, what happened was fascinating and predictable from the standpoint of materials behavior. Crashing the planes into the towers below their top stories created a sufficient static load bearing on the affected floors (where the fire was) to guarantee collapse.

The real question for materials engineers is this: were those who planned and executed the deed well versed technically, or were they just lucky? (Some of us believe it was the former.)

As noted above, most metals and ceramics undergo loss of rigidity well below their actual melting points, but a few ceramics maintain rigdity almost to their melting points; those refractory ceramics are highly valuable for use in industrial high temperature applications.

But there IS a problem with such materials: when they DO fail, they fail with NO WARNING (no tendency to first subside). That's one hell of an "oops," Karl. :)

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote May 1, 2013 | 9:40 a.m.

In response to this:
"Finally, if being influenced by the NRA is so terrible, why does not being beholden to the AFL-CIO and the public sector unions apply equally to the Blue State Members of Congress?"
At the end of the day, one wants to put a larger pay check in the working man's hand, the other wants to put a gun in it (preferably without a criminal background check)!

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 1, 2013 | 11:20 a.m.

"the other wants to put a gun in it"

Sometimes unions benefit what that happens. Case in point: the teacher's unions in California and other states whose pension funds own part of Bushmaster.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller May 1, 2013 | 7:46 p.m.

Mr Foote, your understanding of the NRA is woefully shallow. The National Rifle Association does NOT advocate putting a weapon in the hands of anyone; rather, the NRA guards the right of any citizen to keep and bear arms. The NRA also advocates long jail sentences for anyone who commits a gun crime. As to the background check, the NRA understands something the anti gun crowd refuses to accept-- that criminals, terrorists and inner city gangsta wannabes will not line up for background checks.

I notice you failed to mention that along with wanting to put a larger paycheck in the working man's/woman's hands, (it is not politically correct to omit women),unions also donate a large part of the worker's union dues to elect Democrats without regard to the employees wishes.

(Report Comment)
Ben Nadler May 1, 2013 | 10:54 p.m.

Mr. Miller,

Your assertion that "The National Rifle Association does NOT advocate putting a weapon in the hands of anyone," is comical. It was only a matter of weeks after the Newtown CT shootings before the NRA came out with a recommendation that armed personnel be placed in every school across the country.

Ben Nadler

(Report Comment)

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