Lots to give thanks for on this Thanksgiving

Doug Thompson:  Earlier this year after his release from the hospital.
Doug Thompson: Earlier this year after his release from the hospital.

A year ago, as Thanksgiving approached, I lay in  a coma in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Roanoke, Virginia.

At the time, my wife did not know if I would live and, if I did live, if I ever be able again to walk, talk or think beyond the capabilities of a two-year-old.

Two weeks earlier, I was heading back home from Staunton, Virginia, after photographing a high school football state championship football game when my Harley-Davidson encountered a black cow on a dark road and he crash left me with multiple broken bones in a mangled right leg, a disfigured right side of my face with a dislocated eye and massive brain trauma.

Doctors repeatedly prepared my wife for the worst:  If I lived,, I could lose my right leg and my right eye and the odds were strong that if I ever woke up it would be with the mind of a two-year-old with no idea who I was, who she was or any memory of life past.

Last week, we talked over dinner at a restaurant in nearby Christiansburg.  One of the discussions was what to do for Thanksgiving.  Since I had no memory of Thanksgiving a year earlier I promised her that this year’s Thanksgiving “would certainly be better than last year.”

Then my wife caught me completely flat-footed by saying “there is no way you can make this year’s Thanksgiving better than the last.”

Thanksgiving morning a year ago, she said, was the day I opened my eyes, looked at her, squeezed her hand, knew her name and talked for about five minutes before lapsing back into unconsciousness.

“I knew then that you were going to make it,” she said.  “It was the happiest Thanksgiving Day of my life and one that I will never forget.”

Sadly, I cannot remember that day.  The first day I remember was the morning of Dec. 4, 2012, when I woke up in the rehab unit, saw a nurse taking my blood pressure and asked where I was and what had happened.

Since that time, I have been through months of rehab, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, evaluations and re-evaluations by neuro-psychlogists and more in a recovery that continues.  I can walk on the leg that orthopedists had to rebuild, see through the right-eye that sits in a socket fashioned from materials other than bone and see the world with a face that looks pretty much like the one I had before crashing it into asphalt late at night.

My memory comes and go and balance is still a problem but one of the doctors at the hospital called me “a walking miracle” when I checked out and left under my own power on Christmas Eve of last year.

So my wife and I head into Thanksgiving on Thursday with much to be thankful for.  I am thankful to be alive, to have survived the odds and overcome the pessimism of those who told my wife that I would be dead or disabled or a vegetable.

Most of all, however, I am thankful for the love and support of Amy, my wife of 33 years and one who never left my side during those days and weeks in intensive care and the trauma unit.  We will celebrate 34 years of marriage next month, a union that many predicted wouldn’t last when we tied the knot in Alton, Illinois, in 1979.

The last year has not been easy.  I have tried more than once to continue writing a column for this web site but have had to pull back because of complications that come from the long and continuing recovery of what doctors call “TBI” (traumatic brain injury).  My right leg — held together by braces, rods, pin and screws — is not fully up to speed and still bothers me.  The right side of my face remains numb from the surgery to rebuild it.

But I am here and thankful to be so.  Thanks to everyone here for the support and patience as I continue to struggle to get back up to speed..

But thanks most of all to that woman who was at my bedside on Thanksgiving morning a year ago, whose face I saw when I woke up and whose name I thankfully knew.  I don’t remember what I said that morning but she said I told her I loved her.

I did, I do and I will continue to do so for the rest of a life that could have ended a year ago.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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In the world of shifting political fortunes, little is permanent

President Barack Obama: 'Yes, it was my fault." (AP/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama: ‘Yes, it was my fault.”
(AP/Charles Dharapak)

A month ago, in the aftermath of the government shutdown debacle, President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats rode high in the polls and the Republicans looked like a party sinking into its own morass of political mistakes.

That, as the often-used stereotype goes, was then and this is now.

Just 30 days later, Obama is sinking under the worst public disapproval of his Presidency, his so-called “signature” health care plan needs life support and Republicans are lighting cigars and slapping each other on the back while claiming “we’re back.”

Such is the nature of politics.  Little if permanent in that world and fortunes rise and fall on single issues and slight shifts in public opinions.

Polls and public opinion ride more on whims than reality.  The issue of the day drives both fortune and misfortune.

Obama’s headlong slide into the pit of public disapproval rides, primarily, on the failures of a web site.  Last month, the doom and gloom at the Republican National Committee stemmed from an ill-fated decision to put Obamacare front and center of a plan that relied on obstruction.

In politics, timing was everything.  Had the debate over the government budget began a few weeks later during the massive failures of the HealthCare.Gov web site, the outcome could have been far different.  We could see a repeat of the same issues and rhetoric when deadlines on a budget and another debt limit extension hit center stage early next year and the outcome this time could go other way.

Add Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid‘s decision to nuke that body’s longstanding filibuster rule and, as Mr. Spock once observed in Star Trek:  “the defecation will almost certainly strike the rotary oscillator.”

A question often asked in all of this is something along the lines of “is this any way to run a government?”

Of course not, but — at the moment — it is what we’ve got.  Legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once called “democracy the worst form of government imaginable…except for all other forms.”

In America, our government is supposed to be a bastardized form of democracy called “a democratic republic.”  What we have today is a far cry from what the nation’s founders perceived as a democratic republic but, again, it’s what we’ve got and our challenge is to make what we’ve got work.

Perhaps the first step towards making all this madness work for our benefit is to realize that we are all in this together — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents, conservatives, liberals, radicals, right and left — and the only way to accomplish all of this is to find some way to work together without resorting to insults, name-calling, threats or stubborn hardheadedness.

If the past has shown us anything, it is that America works best when this nation of diverse peoples come together to face a common problem.

We’ve done it before and will — in a couple of weeks — remember the horrific events on December 7, 1941 — a day that brought us together to fight a common enemy for a common goal.

It is our nature to shine best when times are bleak and dark.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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The day someone killed the President of the United States

President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in Dallas.
President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in Dallas.

On November 22, 1963, I worked on a story in a high school journalism class in Floyd, Virginia, when assistant principal William Davis came on the intercom to announce President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

At first, we didn’t know if the President survived the shooting.  We sat there in shock for a few minutes before my journalism teacher, Ruth Hallman, encouraged some us to fan out around the school to gather reaction from students and faculty.

I grabbed my camera — a 4×5 “Crown Graphic” press camera that the local newspaper editor, and Mrs. Hallman’s husband, had donated to the school and visited classrooms to capture photos of stunned students and teachers listening to the radio newscasts that were piped through the school’s intercom system.

At 15, I was a writer, columnist and photographer for the school paper and the school’s student photographer.  While shooting a photo in one classroom, a reporter on the radio broadcast announced the President was dead.  A few minutes later, the school day was cut short and students boarded buses for the trip home.

I didn’t go home.  Instead I headed to the town’s local newspaper for my after school job as a reporter and photographer.  For the rest of the day, I visited local restaurants and businesses, interviewed locals and photographed the reaction of the community.

Like most Americans, the day President Kennedy was assassinated is burned into my memory.  A serious head and brain injury from last year has left gaps in my memories but I have written about the day often over the past half-century and have those articles to review.

If I had any doubts before that day that I wanted to be newspaperman, they disappeared in the days and weeks that followed.  It was the day that defined what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

While it was a defining day for my life, it was — much more importantly — a defining time for America.  A President has not been assassinated in this nation for a long time.  The last publicized event was an attempt on the life of President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 which left him unharmed but killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.

To say Kennedy’s assassination changed America is an understatement.  Today, 50 years later, many people still question the “official” story of his death from the Warren Commission.  Some say questions about his death sparked the birth of “conspiracy theories” that continue question many things that happen in America, from the killing of JFK to the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001.

Two years later, I would graduate from high school in that Blue Ridge mountain town and — with help from weekly newspaper editor Pete Hallman — land a job with the daily Roanoke Times.

It was a time of racial turmoil in the city and strong emotions that defined the news.  In 1968, I would witness the shock of local residents reacting to more public assassinations:  The killing of Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King and the death of Robert Kennedy at the hands of an assassin in Los Angeles while he was running for President.

Violent deaths of public people, sadly, became more common in American society.

America wasn’t the same after Nov. 22, 1963.  Neither were we.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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Political parties? We don’t need no stinkin’ political parties

You got that right.
You got that right.

Always happens.  I write something that raises the question of misdeeds or dishonesty of an elected official I get accused of being a member of the “other party.”

Recent pieces about the many problems and failures of Obamacare brought several sharply worded replies that claimed I was a “right winger” or “part of the Republican conspiracy to destroy America.”

Some  of those replies never appeared because our spam filter flagged them for the use of obscenities or threats of violence.  That often happens.  Both sides have extremists who can’t express themselves without the use of four-letter words or a promise to beat the hell out of someone they disagree with.

A recent column about Obamacare sparked intense debate on our ReaderRant bulletin board.

Such is the nature of politics today.  When one writes or says something that questions the actions of a public official who belongs to a political party, the mass assumption out there is that the criticism comes at the behest of the opposite party.

Which, sadly, showcases the shallowness of too many of the discussions that surround political activity these days.  Too often, they focus too much on the hyperbole that controls political agendas and are, sadly, a regurgitation of “talking points” and “spin” of one political party or the other.

Political parties?  We don’t need no stinkin’ political parties.

At least I don;t.  I share equal disdain for all political parties and/or groups of organizations: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Liberal, Conservative, Right-Wing or Left.

For the record, I am not a Democrat or a Republican a liberal or a conservative, or a right winger or a leftie.  I don’t belong to any political group or any organization that makes political endorsements or backs candidates for any office.

The only label I subscribe to is the one that says “American.”  I firmly believe that no political party puts America above its own self-interests.  No political party accepts the concept of individualism.

No political party gives a damn about “the people,” because doing so runs afoul of the narrow, often single-interest agendas of the cash-laden special interest groups that dominate all parties.

Whenever anyone starts a conversation with “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a Democrat” or “I’m a (insert party here),” I stop listening because the verbal diarrhea  that follows is too often taken directly from talking points of some party or ideological group.

Whenever possible, I prefer to have conversations with people who think for themselves and that is getting harder and harder to do in today overtly-partisan, narrow-focus agenda-driven society.

We once were a nation of individuals.  We were a nation that embraced freedom.

No longer.  We are a nation of political followers, led by parties or organizations that seek absolute control through restrictive rules and dogma.

America, in my opinion, cannot and will not survive as a partisan political nation.

It cannot, and will not, overcome its many problems until its citizens — by and large — rid themselves of the shackles of party affiliation and start putting ht needs of America ahead of the partisan agendas of political parties.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Obama’s humble act was just that…an act

President Barack Obama: 'Yes, it was my fault." (AP/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama: ‘Well, damn, I got caught in yet another lie.” He didn’t say that, of course, but his body language did. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

Barack Obama strode to the podium of the White House press room Thursday wearing a carefully-prepared face of humility as he told the nation that he realized he needed to “win back the confidence of the American people” and admitted, for a change, that when it came to the fire he’s been under for failures in his health care “reform” package, “this one’s deserved.”

But the President’s show of humility was, at best, orchestrated by handlers who managed to convince him to bury, on the surface at least, his super sized ego and act like he’s genuinely sorry to have misled Americans.

“If you like your plan, you can keep it,” he told Americans over and over — right up to the day the flood of cancellations began arriving to millions of Americans who found they couldn’t keep their insurance because the new law gave companies a reason to cancel under the claim that the existing plan didn’t meet minimum qualifications set by the law.

“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans,” Obama said with a well-rehearsed contrite look on his face.  “Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to enroll in the same kind of plan.”

“Same kind of plan” does not mean Americans will be able to keep their existing health insurance or that they will not have to pay more for something that resembles the plan they are losing.

Obama is not requiring the insurance companies to rescind their cancellations because the lobbyists from those companies tell the President they don’t want to do that and Obama, in another broken promises, listens to the lobbyists that he promised as a candidate would have no role in his presidency.

Another day, another broken promise by a president who lies repeatedly to the American people.

Obama’s plan, discussed of course in vague terms, only gives insurance companies “the option” of taking back customers if they want to do so and — even then — the extension is only for a year so those who get to keep their plans will only be able to do so for another 12 months.

This is a “fix” by a humble President?  Hell, no.  It’s another lie by a manipulating con artist who got into office by pretending to be something he is not and won re-election because Republicans put up a candidate who, astoundingly, was even worse.

Obama is not “humbled” by what has happened on Obamacare.  He got caught lying, again, to the American public and he is trying to squirm his way out of it with a carefully manufactured “fix” that won’t work.

At the podium, Obama said he believes “the Affordable Care Act will work.”  He’s lying. He knows it can’t work because he allowed the health insurance industry to create a plan that can’t work because it serves their needs and not the needs of millions of uninsured Americans.

Obamacare is a sham act from a sham President who conned the American people into buying a fake message of change and hope.


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Time to scrap Obamacare and find something that works

An idea that more and more Americans are agreeing with.
An idea that more and more Americans are agreeing with.

The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare and once considered the President’s signature accomplishment, is now the latest example of inept administration, flawed policy and glaring failure.

With increasing problems and security threats, the troubled HealthCare.gov web site now stands as the poster child for a President who, more and more, just can’t seem to do anything right.

And while former President Bill Clinton leads a growing list of Democrats who want at least a delay in implementation of the flawed program, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, other members of the party of the donkey talk privately among themselves and express the once never-considered thought within their ranks that Obamacare may need to be scrapped so the party and the nation can move on.

“Yes, there in talk within the walls that the Affordable Care Act is not ready for prime time and may never be what we thought it could be,” a senior White House aide told me privately this week.

More and more, it appears he could be right.  Obamacare is not what the President promised when he mesmerized a nation looking for bright new leadership.  It is a law written by health care lobbyists — the same kind of lobbyists that Obama promised would never be part of his administration.

It became more and more impossible to implement as a viable improvement because the White House allowed crippling compromises to get it passed and those changes turned the law into a mystifying piece of legislation that defied logic  — as demonstrated every day by the mounting list of problems surrounding HealthCare.gov and the broken Obama promise that Americans could keep their existing health insurance if they desired.

Former President Clinton is urging Obama to back changes in the law that would stop tens of millions of Americans from losing their existing health plans.  Obama is stubbornly refusing.

Other Democrats want, as the very least, a delay in the requirement that Americans be on board with Obamacare or have some other form of health insurance by March 1 or face a penalty.  Obama is resisting that as well.

The few who have managed to work their way through the flawed Obamacare system often find themselves suffering “sticker shock,” with premium prices are far more than they can afford to pay along with castigating restrictions that will keep them from qualifying for the subsidies necessary to pay for the insurance.

Republicans came under fire for demanding delays or complete defunding of the Affordable Care Act as a condition for avoiding the 16-day government shutdown in October.  Now, public sentiment appears to be growing to taking another look at Obamacare and, perhaps, accepting the fact that it is a failed law that should be scrapped.

As more and more problems emerge from the law that never deserved the term “reform,” it is more and more obvious that Obamacare is a law that can not work.

More importantly, it is a law that should be recognized as a mistake and scrapped before it does even more damage to an already-hobbled American health care system.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue


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The election that Democrats lost big time a week ago

Voting down education (ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Voting down education (ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Which is the most important result of Tuesday’s election?

A. A Republican governor won a landslide election in a blue state.

B. A Democrat was elected governor in a purple state during intense criticism of a new federal government program.

C. An outspoken liberal Democrat was elected mayor in a big city — where opposition parties had been in power for 20 years.

D. An education funding amendment lost in a mountain state.

If you said D, you’re correct.

On Tuesday, Amendment 66 was defeated in Colorado, with preliminary results suggesting a drubbing of two-to-one opposed. It would have improved education funding with slight tax increases and changed Colorado’s flat tax to a two-tiered, progressive structure.

The goal was a major overhaul of education finance, with reduced disparities at the local level and increased spending — including funding for early childhood programs, rural education and at-risk youth programs

Millions of dollars poured into the state to support the amendment. High-profile backing came from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Melinda Gates. But the more than $10 million spent in support of the amendment wasn’t enough to convince skeptical voters.

The defeat of Amendment 66 should worry Democrats. This is about as close as you can get to the main thrust of the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda: raise taxes on wealthier people to fund investments in the future.

Even in liberal Boulder County, however, the measure barely eked out a majority. Outside of Boulder and Denver, the measure failed miserably, including in largely Latino counties, like Adams (35 percent in support to 65 percent opposed), Arapahoe (35 percent to 65 percent), and Pueblo. Pueblo, you may recall, is part of state Senate District 3 — where Democratic state Senator Angela Giron was recalled in September over her vote to ban high-capacity magazine clips.

After President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election and recent Democratic victories in New York City and Virginia, many on the left suggested that the country is becoming overwhelmingly liberal. But the Colorado elections are a cautionary tale.

The big, bold education investments requested — a key pillar of the progressive agenda — were rejected by two-thirds of Colorado’s voters, and quashed in key Hispanic counties.

It’s tempting to blame these results on an off-year electorate. But the truth is likely more complex. Coloradoans have passed a great deal of progressive change in a short time — universal background checks for gun purchases, civil unions, marijuana legalization, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and mail-in ballots statewide. Perhaps voters felt a proposed major restructure of education financing funded by increasing taxes was, finally, too much change.

The federal government shutdown and these recent recalls of state legislatures who had support stricter gun laws may have created an environment conducive to the status quo in the wake of partisan struggles. Or maybe the problems with the Affordable Care Act website made voters leery of big government programs or major restructuring of government services.

Whatever the motivation of Colorado voters, two things are clear. First, they weren’t ready to raise taxes to fund widely popular education investments. Second, between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 51 percent support from Latinos in his re-election victory and tepid support in Colorado for education investments in heavily Hispanic counties, it would be unwise for Democrats to assume Latinos are overwhelmingly liberal — or will be reliable Democratic partisans in future elections.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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A Veterans Day that was important to cover

Sunday's Veterans Day parade in Floyd, Virginia (Photo by Doug Thompson)
Sunday’s Veterans Day parade in Floyd, Virginia (Photo by Doug Thompson)

As a newspaper photographer, I normally spend Veterans Day photographing parades and other events surrounding the special day.

Last year, I missed Veterans Day because I was lying in a coma in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Roanoke, Virginia after a motorcycle crash two days earlier that left me with severe brain damage, a badly-disfigured face, a dislocated eye and multiple broken bones in my right leg.

Doctors weren’t optimistic.  At the emergency room on the night of the crash, they told my wife that I probably would die before morning and urged her to summon a priest.

When I sent into surgery after surviving the night they predicted I would lose my badly mangled leg.  When they saved the leg, the prediction was that I would never be able to walk on it.

Same dire predictions on reconstruction of my face and rebuilding of a socket to hold my eye.  I would lose the eye, they said.  When they save the eye they doubted I would be able to see out of it.  She was warned that to not expect too much when the bandages were removed from extensive plastic surgery.

In addition, the brain damage, they said, could leave me with the mind of a two-year-old and I probably would not know who I was, remember anything about my life, and certainly would not recognize her.

I left that hospital complex 46 days later, using a walker, seeing where I was going, and knowing my wife.  Two weeks later, I walked without the aid of the walker and removed the cast three weeks after that.  An eye test with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles revealed strong vision in both eyes and no need for glasses or contact lenses.

Six months later, I completed most of my physical therapy and was allowed to return to work on a limited basis.

This past Sunday, I photographed an annual Veterans Day parade, moving quickly from location to location to capture dozens of images for publication in newspapers for the media chain I work with.

One of the doctors who filled the final report for my discharge late last year summed up my recovery in a non-medical way:  “The patient,” she wrote, “is a walking miracle.”

No, I’m not.  I’m simply the product of excellent medical care at a good trauma hospital and an excellent physical rehab unit.  I was the extremely lucky recipient of quick thinking by a man who stopped first at the scene of my accident and — with his nurse wife on his cell phone — cleared by airway and restored my breathing, which had stopped.  His actions saved my life.

Over the last year, the support from friends and a lot of people I have never met or don’t even know, helped my wife and I get through what has clearly been a life-changing experience.

On Sunday, it was important for me to photograph that Veterans Day parade and it will be important to spend today performing normal duties as a photo journalist.

It’s what I do and — for months late last year and extending into this year — there was concern that I might not be able to do it again — even if I survived.

Today, none of that matters, because today we honor the men and women who served their country as veterans.  What I went through is nothing compared to that they have endured or the sacrifices they have made.

Today, we honor those who deserve our thanks and eternal gratitude.  Those who marched in the parade I was, thankfully, able to photograph Sunday are the real “walking miracles” of our nation.

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Washington: Homophobes, bigots and broken promises

Veteran in Washington during debate on repealing ban on gays in military service.
Veteran in Washington during debate on repealing ban on gays in military service.

The Senate Thursday accomplished something that rarely happens in Washington nowadays — it passed bipartisan legislation to help end discrimination against gays and trans-gender Americans in the workplace.

Amazingly, 10 Republicans joined Senate Democrats to pass the bill.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the bill now heads for the House of Representatives where homophobes and bigots rule and head gay basher John Boehner, Speaker of the House, claims he won’t even bring the legislation up to a vote.

Such is life in America’s flawed — and failed — system of government.  In a week when voters told the rabid right-wing of the GOP and the tea party that controls it to, effectively, “go to hell,” the bigotry and regressive leadership of the House of Representatives reasserts itself to stop progressive moves to better the society we live in.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, better known as the ENDA, is a simple piece of legislation that tells employers of 15 or more workers that they cannot use sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis for firing employees or denying them raises or other considerations.

Here at Capitol Hill Blue, some of our writers and editors are gay.  Their sexual orientation is not an issue for being here.  Never has been. Never will.

Religious groups and the military are exempted from the bill.  The Pentagon is barred from banning gays from military service already from Congressional action three years ago, which leaves religion and churches free to continue to pound the Bible and claim homosexuality is a sin.

That’s not enough, however, for the bigots who control the Republican party that also controls the House of Representatives.  They claim the ENDA is “anti-family” and would leave to “frivolous lawsuits” against businesses that continue to follow GOP-endorsed homophobia.

Boehner needs to sober up and realize it is his job to serve the people and not the homomphobes and bigots of the Republican Party.  He did so earlier this year when he allowed a vote on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, even though House Republicans opposed it because of new protections for gays and lesbians.

If the House doesn’t act, gay activist groups want President Barack Obama to to sign an executive order forcing compliance with the ENDA on federal agencies and employers with federal contracts — an action that would affect about 20 percent of the nation’s workforce.

“We call on President Obama to send a clear message in support of workplace fairness by signing this executive order,” says Chad Griffen, President of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group.

Signing such an order, however, would require Obama to do something he seldom does — actually keep a promise he made while running for President back in 2008.  He claimed to support such an executive order as a candidate but has failed to actually sign one as President.  It’s not the first campaign promise he broke and probably won’t be the last.

“It is imperative for President Obama to lead by example,” say a statement by the gay rights group GetEQUAL.

Lead by example.  That’s a tall order in Washington and something we seldom see from the President or Congress.’

We saw a hint of it from the Senate this week.

It would be sad if that brief moment of sanity dies from a lack of action in either the House or Representatives or the White House.


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Voters to tea party: ‘Go to hell. Go straight to hell’

Virginia governor-elect Terry McAuliffe (Photo by Doug Thompson)
Virginia governor-elect Terry McAuliffe (Photo by Doug Thompson)

On Tuesday across America, voters had a strong message for tea party extremists who have hijacked the once-proud and formidable Republican Party.

“Go to hell,” they told the tea party. “Go straight to hell.”

That message was delivered strongly in Alabama where in a GOP Congressional primary runoff, business-backed Republican moderate Bradley Byrne convincingly defeated tea party candidate Dean Young, a hardcore right-wing ideologue.

The same message came in Virginia where tea party firebrands Ken Cuccinelli narrowly lost his bid for governor against Democrat Terry McAuliffe and an even more right-wing preacher E.W. Jackson lost by a bigger margin to Democrat Ralph Northam in the lt. governor’s contest.

In both states, the tea party did everything it could to put its latest crop of right-wing extremists into office. They praised the government shutdown.  They railed against Obamacare.

They lost.

In New Jersey, moderate and centrist Republican Chris Christie — hated by the tea party –won by the largest margin of all.  Polls among Republicans show they think Christie — and not tea party right-wingers like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul — should be the party’s Presidential candidate in 2016.

In Alabama, the federal government shutdown was a big issue with Byrne saying it was “not good for the country” and Young it was “not the end of the world.”

The shutdown also played big in the Virginia governor’s election and Cuccinelli, whose extreme views were often driven by his compliance to tea party dogma, faced the wrath of anger over the shutdown in the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia and the military-dependent Tidewater area where McAuliffe won by large margins.

Writes Julie Hirschfield Davis for Bloomberg:

In the closing days of his losing campaign for Virginia’s governorship, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli called the contest a referendum on Obamacare. Virginia voter Lee Killen saw it instead as a referendum on the Tea Party — and he voted no.

Killen, a Republican-turned-independent from Fairfax, cast his ballot for Terry McAuliffe less to endorse the Democrat than to lodge a protest against the small-government movement he said has hijacked his former party.

“I don’t particularly like McAuliffe, but I went with him basically because I disagree with the Tea Party approach to life — no compromise, no middle ground,” Killen, 70, a retired software engineer, said in an interview just after casting his vote yesterday. “Cuccinelli has been a Tea Party leader from the very beginning, and those values are not my values.”

“More and more rank and file Republicans have had it with tea party extremism,” GOP strategist Monica Lansing tells Capitol Hill Blue.  “They want them to get the hell out of the party and stay out.”

In Facebook postings on Wednesday, many tea party partisans saw the handwriting on the wall and declared they were leaving the Republican Party.

“Good,” says long-time Republican activist John Stallings. “We need the party to get back to its real core values and away from the fanatics.”

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