Starting Again

Fifteen years ago (in 2007), I started a blog that followed and became part of the "Ron Paul Revolution" in the GOP from 2007 to 2012.

In 2014, I was elected to the Nebraska legislature, and the increasingly rare blog posts faded into oblivion, with "RedStateEclectic" going the way of the dinosaur.

I've been working (slowly) on a book over the last four years. I hope that by forcing myself to write a little bit on the blog about current affairs and random thoughts, that I'll also spur myself to write more in the book (or at least have a place where I can go to see what I was thinking about different topics for later use). 


Be Excellent

I refuse to believe that Nebraska (or the country) is as divided as the political class would have us believe. 

By political class, I refer not only to those actually in elected office but those who take up so much bandwidth on social media talking about nothing but what's going on in the halls of government. Also included in the political class (my definition) are the political parties and their adjacent groups who depend on promoting the perception of a war of good vs. evil in all things to stay relevant. 

I know (KNOW, because I saw their voter registration records in two successive campaigns for the legislature) that many of my friends and neighbors have never been registered with the same political party as I am (or was). And I don't care. They're my friends. We have things in common like church, kids, and how our friend down the street is doing after his surgery. We talk about whether it's going to stay warm enough to go ahead and start planting our gardens and when the theater renovation is going to be done (and sometimes we talk about our kids and grandkids). 

There are SO MANY things more important than any of the decisions that are being defined as "critical" in Lincoln, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. Culture war issues are getting us all stirred up as if any of them affect a majority of the population. 

For instance, the transgender issues we see are the focus of so much discussion in Nebraska today. A Williams Institute study (UCLA), estimates that the percentage of youth and adults that identify as transgender is lower than in the rest of the country, and about the same as they are in the rest of the Midwest. While it is true that youth ages 13-17 represent the largest share, I don't know if we know this is because of more common gender confusion at that stage of life or if it represents a population of people who are now able to identify themselves more openly. 

Regardless, I understand the desire of some politicians to "protect the children." That assumes, however, that the medical community--bound by a code of ethics and review boards that politicians and interest groups are not--would move directly from a child saying, "I feel like I'm something else" to performing permanent gender-altering surgeries. Could it happen in some cases? Maybe. But I have a tough time believing that it does. If we think so little of the medical profession, then why are we so concerned about their views on other legislation, like that related to licensing regulations or insurance reimbursements?

I meet with folks in my community with some frequency. I don't go out of my way to talk about political issues, but as a recovering politician, it's not uncommon for questions to be asked. "What do you think about what's going on in Lincoln?"  "Are those people really that awful to each other all the time?" "Do you think they'll ever get past (x issue)?" "Would you think about running again?"

My answers to those questions: "It makes me sad that an institution with so much richness and a history of pragmatic collegiality has become so lousy." "It seems like it." "Not if they don't start talking to each other like neighbors instead of enemies." And finally, "I miss the legislature of my first two years ('15-16) before it turned so incredibly partisan (along with the rest of the country). I couldn't serve today and would never get elected because I liked to talk to the people I disagreed with as much as those I agreed with."

Some in my "new" party have suggested "going local." By that, they seem to be referring to something of a "national divorce" or "secession." I wouldn't go that far. There are still some things that the state needs to do. Infrastructure. A basic system of laws and law enforcement. Public education to ensure that all of our children have at least a basic chance of success. Nationally, I think that in a country of 350 million people an 50 states, you have to have something that ties us together--including a (scaled down?) national defense, coordination of some of those infrastructure things, universality of rights enshrined in the Constitution. 

And as the country has grown, it makes reducing the size of government even tougher, because the needs and interdependence are greater.

But I still don't think we're all that divided. 

I think that once we get off social media and outside the halls of government, most of us aren't fighting with our neighbors. Most of us recognize the good in the folks we talk to regularly, even if we might not see political priorities similarly. And we value the relationship more than we do fighting a battle that can't be won in our town anyway, so we shrug off our differences over that cup of coffee and move on to the next thing. We recognize that whoever our elected officials are, they'll probably do the best job that they can and represent us the best that they can, and if a critical mass of us is mad for their votes,  we'll vote them out. That, after all, is how we've been doing things throughout the country for over two centuries. 

I've been talking about this a lot to friends and family lately. We're not impressed with what's going on at either the state or the national level. We think that ALL people ought to be treated with kindness and respect by virtue of their humanity. Will some do bad things? Yes. Will some live in a way that we neither approve of or understand? Yes. But that doesn't excuse our decision to do or say bad things to them. Indeed, it seems to me that this just ensures that things will get worse, as bad feelings on both sides accelerate. 

For most of us who generally try to be decent and considerate to others, the direct impact on our daily lives of government is considerably less than the credit we give it when we allow ourselves to get whipped up into a frenzy over some issue. 

I believe in active citizens who think through the issues and inform their public officials of their views personally. That's the ideal. 

The ideal is corrupted, though, when a minority (or even a majority) becomes crude and ugly when expressing their opinions via social media. NONE of us likes to be beat up publicly. No matter what side you're on, we're still human. As the one who went to the mailbox to collect the political mailings attacking me in 2018, and who had to inform my mother and mother-in-law that yes, I was alright and that it wasn't a "big deal" because they'd gotten those mailings, I can tell you that they hurt. Sometimes a lot. Even when there was a sliver of truth, the deliberate hurt that seemed to motivate the distortions was tough. Publicly hurting anyone seems contrary to my practice of Christianity (Matthew 7:2; Luke 6:31), and contrary to just being a decent person. 

Ultimately, I'd like to see us all set a better example for the next generation. If we think that a "win" on a particularly hot-button issue will fix things and that then we'll be able to go back to being decent to one another, I think we've got something else ahead of us.  It's tough to unwind the clock, and we won't be able to go back if we don't stop what we're doing. We will, I'm afraid, eventually revert to the life Thomas Hobbes described:

No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Start by talking with your neighbor about their flower bed, or ask them about the renovations on their house. Say "hi" to the person in front of you at the grocery store, no matter what the bumper sticker on their car says. I think you'll find that they're not really so awful.

I love to fight policy battles--I like the gamesmanship and the strategizing. But in all my time on the school board and in the Legislature, I don't think I ever let a policy battle get more than temporarily personal. It was a difference in opinion about how we could get to a better school, state, or country--not whether my "opponent" had nefarious intent (because I could talk to him/her, and try to understand, and not just assume). 

So fight those policy battles, but be more like Bill and Ted in the end. 




Culture Wars Have No Winners

{EDIT: Following some Twitter comments, I feel compelled to add that my views here are based on policymaking practicalities, not on the essence of the argument. Unlike with defining where stop signs should be placed or what speed limits are for everyone, culture war-related legislation doesn't typically "fix" the problems because they're so inextricably linked with human nature and a desire for self-determination. In the end, people ought to be treated with kindness and respect and be loved and valued for who they are. Laws don't get us there, although I suppose that the fight for--or against--them has the potential to change attitudes.}


I live a conservative and conventional life. Married my high school sweetheart in 1981 at age 19, raised three kids with him, have a 6-year-old granddaughter, and look forward to growing old(er) and retiring together one day. 

My husband is the local Boy Scout Scoutmaster (even though our son received his Eagle Scout almost 3 years ago and is now in college). I'm a Lifetime Girl Scout, and was the leader of troops when my girls were involved. 

We go to church on (most) Sundays, I serve on the Church Council (I'm preparing for my 5th term over 20 years as church moderator), and we volunteer with grocery distribution at the church once a month. 

We have a few firearms but don't get a chance to practice as much as we would like. 

We don't socialize much; we tend to our own lives and don't worry too much about others, unless there's something we can do to help folks.

My idea of fun is a quiet day reading a book, or when it gets warm, working out in the garden a bit. 

I'm boring and probably personally more traditional than many people who claim to be for "traditional values" these days.

But, I'm a big believer in "you do you, I'll do me." I have no desire to force my way of life on others (and I don't want others to tell me what to do). If you're not harming me, I'll leave you alone. If you're offending my sensibilities, I'll probably turn away. But in any instance, I'll try not to be unkind, and if I am unintentionally so, I'll feel bad for a long time. 

The culture wars in our country and my state seem to me to be tearing us apart. If you don't believe what I do, you're evil. Both "sides" (to the extent that one can identify discrete sides) in the culture war engage in this. 

Take for example, the recent debate in Nebraska regarding gender-affirming care for transsexual youth (LB574). 

Proponents say that they're trying to protect kids (and that the opponents want to mutilate them). 

Opponents say that they're trying to protect kids (and that the proponents are engaged in genocide 0f the trans community). 

I get it. Everyone is protecting the kids (in their own eyes), and has to use the most extreme language possible as they seek to win the argument. 

But maybe--just maybe--there's a way to protect the kids--without denying that some have very real issues that may need to be addressed, and also minimizing the chance that permanent damage is done. That way will never show itself and be considered as long as we demonize one another, though. 

An idea, instead of the current absolute prohibition idea (thanks to a friend for starting me down this path with the transplant analogy):

1) Require hospitals where any gender reassignment surgery is done to create an internal review board (of sorts), consisting of at least 5 members across multiple healthcare specialties (including mental health) to meet with and assess the appropriateness for any gender reassignment surgery for a minor. Include an assessment of not only the child, but the parental support. Require a report from each member, with a signature, to be put into the file. They can recommend that the surgeries proceed, that they be delayed, that further treatment take place (hormones, counseling, etc.), and the question is reassessed. We don't arrest doctors, but we put barriers up to ensure that a TEAM takes on the accountability for consequences. And yes, I'm pretty sure that's already the case, but we could formalize it a little more.

2) For puberty blockers and hormonal treatments (pre-surgical actions), there could be a modified review--maybe not as extensive, but one which requires recommendations and assent to treatment be in the record of minors. 

These suggestions won't make either side happy, but they would mark a step in the right direction for the current bill proponents, without leaving the opponents feeling like they've lost everything. They also--I suspect--would cause medical professionals to give it a little more thought before they start moving in that direction with their patients, without taking away all hope.

Parents can still help their kids make choices, but with additional layers of caution thrown in to help assure that hasty ( or faddish ) decisions aren't being made that can't be reversed. 

While I was in the Legislature, my colleagues and I tried to pass legislation that would guarantee that juveniles would have an attorney assigned to them upon arrest. Objections (mostly from senators no longer there) took on something of an "if you do the crime, you do the time" attitude. A recent Judiciary Committee hearing I attended (LB135, which would assure that police officers not lie to juveniles) found one of the senators suggesting that if they weren't guilty, there was nothing to worry about. 

And yet, the same conservative proponents argue that minors' brains aren't mature enough to make these life-altering decisions (gender change). Is there some sort of scale for when a minor can make a life-altering decision? At 15, you can't begin gender-affirming care, but you can confess to a crime because of police deceiving you? Those things are different, but the principle is sort of the same. If they're kids, then they're kids. If they're teenagers needing parental guidance (or state protection), then don't they need it all of the time? 

Can we all agree that these young people need support and guidance? Can we agree that no matter how strongly they feel about something today, they might change their minds tomorrow? Most of us who have raised children know that some of our kids are mature far beyond their years, even in their early teens, and likewise, that some still have a lot of growing to do, even into their twenties. 

We think that parents should be involved in education, picking curriculum, choosing the schools their kids attend, and so on (and as a former school board member, former member of the legislature's education committee, parent, and grandparent, I agree). But if parents are to be the final deciders in those things, then shouldn't they at least have a say--in consultation with many healthcare professionals (and realistically, probably their insurance)--in allowing their children to enter a treatment path that some of us may not be comfortable with? After all, they know their kids best, right? I've heard that many times in connection with school choice. Is this a different universe of parents?

This issue, like so many of the so-called culture war issues, is full of nuance. In lots of cases, the correct answer is "it depends." 

Government entities are terrible at putting these things in the law because the government assumes that everyone is the same and should follow the same rules all the time on matters regarding their own lives. It assumes that there is only one right answer, but in these broad questions of individual liberties and culture, there may be as many right answers as there are people.

Likewise, what is (or should be) the role of government? The public good--whatever that is? Protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public? As we saw with Covid requirements, interpretation of what protection should look like varied greatly. 

Setting up a framework for decision-making--without an outright ban--may be a legitimate function for public policy. But prohibition doesn't seem to work with much of anything. Alcohol? Drugs? And even though alcohol is a legal substance for adults (like gender-affirming care would be once one reached 19), consumption of it for those over 16, in a parent's home, in the presence of parents, is an exception to the rule of minors and alcohol in Nebraska (Nebraska Revised Statutes ยง53-180.02).

Good policy is hard work. It requires thinking through who it hurts as well as who it helps. It requires being willing to negotiate, and not just getting the "win." And it requires being willing to put yourself in your opponents' shoes, and trying to look at things the way they might. Not necessarily agreeing, but at least attempting to understand and empathize a little.