The Lowe Down | Political cartoonist Chan Lowe's take on current issues and the news of the day | Sun Sentinel blogs

The Lowe Down

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May 28, 2010

Chan Lowe: The Arizona law in Florida?

cuban.gifThere’s talk here in the Sunshine State about adopting a “show-me-your-papers” law like they have in Arizona.

So far, the loudest voice is coming from a Republican candidate for governor who is trying to squeeze out front-runner Bill McCollum by playing to the conservative peanut gallery of likely primary voters.

It is doubtful that Florida will embrace the idea of such a law with the same passion as Arizonans…or even the rest of the country, as polls seem to show.

Unlike Arizona, much of Florida’s population (particularly South Florida’s) is no longer trying to hang onto the myth of a “real America,” one where Anglos rule by divine right and folks speak English without accents. By weight of sheer numbers, Latin immigrants to Florida—both legal and illegal—have forged a culture with the indigenous Anglos that redefines what “Americanness” is.

Of course, there are some Anglos, particularly recent arrivals, whose comfort levels are lower than those of us who have been here a while and learned to appreciate the richness of the stew rather than fear its spicy bite.

These folks will always lend a willing ear to opportunistic politicians who would twist xenophobic urges to their own purposes.

The fact is that we should be pressuring Congress to tighten our borders, rather than passing constitutionally doubtful laws that treat our neighbors as though they were subhumans.

Besides, as a lot of Florida politicians—even those from North Florida--know, Florida Hispanics, once motivated, can be a fearsome voting bloc. And they detest this law.


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May 27, 2010

Chan Lowe: Invasion of the body scanners

Everybody knows someone who, when given a small amount of authority, wields it as though he were Ivan the Terrible taming the Russian serfs. The more petty the authority he carries, the more he flaunts it.

Keep this thought in your mind as you ponder what appears to be the default pastime of federal workers with unlimited and unsupervised access to the Internet.

How did the SEC drones pass their time while Wall Street melted down around them? What did the Minerals Management Service revolving-door petroleum jockeys do when they were supposed to be inspecting offshore wells? That’s right—they surfed porn sites on taxpayer time.

So here you have TSA workers, who—let’s face it—don’t have the most exciting jobs in the world, being handed what amounts to a free pass to view people in the buff.

And let’s add a final titillation factor: Porn is created by people who either get paid, or give their permission for, their bodies to be on display. What thrills Peeping Toms is that looking through a keyhole is a violation of their victims’ privacy. They are stealing something they would never otherwise be given. Do you trust these same people to properly dispose of the images they view with such disrespect?

Add up all these motivators, and you may want to ask for the optional pat-down. At least you’ll know who’s looking at you.


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May 26, 2010

Chan Lowe: The Great Drywall of China (II)

drywallx.gifI once went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland, CA, with a woman who hailed from Shanghai. It was way, way off the tourist track.

The mirrored walls were covered with Chinese characters. “What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s the menu for Chinese customers,” she said. “The printed menu is for gwylos (foreign devils).”

My dinner partner then entered into a lengthy, animated conversation in Shanghai dialect with the restaurant's owner. Eventually, he bowed and left us. “I was negotiating the price of the meal with him,” she said. “I know his family in China.”

In a little while, a multi-course feast arrived, replete with foods of doubtful origin. “What is this stuff?” I said to my companion, as I poked at what looked like an endocrine gland with my chopstick.

“Don’t ask. If you like the way it tastes, eat it.”

The experience taught me something important about the way Chinese approach business transactions. There is an understanding that the burden is on the purchaser to make sure he is not being taken. Certainly, the concept of a third party--a governmental entity, for example--that exists to ensure the quality of the merchandise is alien to the intimacy and mutual trust of a one-on-one transaction.

In the Chinese view, if you bought it, it’s yours. If you’re not happy afterwards with your purchase, you should have taken greater care up front to familiarize yourself with the reliability and reputation of its provenance. There are no guarantees in life.

It isn’t dishonest; just culturally different. "Caveat emptor," as they say in Shanghai.


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May 25, 2010

Chan Lowe: Oil and the government

boot.gifThis is a Manhattan Project moment, as was 9/11. And we’re squandering it the same way we did then.

Had George Bush surrounded himself with advisers of broad vision and foresight, he could have molded the world into an interdependent, terror-proof network. He could have laid the foundation for a crash program leading to energy independence for America. Instead, he started a couple of wars.

Now a nation that is just beginning to grasp the true scope of the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf cries out for leadership, as it did in 2001.

Rather than provide it, the Obama Administration has gone into bunker mode, uttering empty platitudes and hollow ultimatums in an attempt to divert blame and responsibility in an election year.

We are awakening to the reality that our government is powerless to deal with the mess. A victim of its own lack of political will in not requiring that adequate safety provisions be put in place before drilling even began, it now reaps the whirlwind of its corrupt impotence.

We as a nation are forced to entrust the rescue and restoration of our environment to the very same soulless private sector whose cutting of corners resulted in its rape.

We are angry at the oil industry, the way a debtor is angry at his loan shark. We know that the oil companies are exacting what amounts to a national indemnity by providing us what we cannot do without. We are in their thrall, and we look to our leaders to extricate us.

But we don’t elect leaders anymore; we elect people who tell us what we want to hear. They reflect us, with all our weaknesses and addictions. If we can’t do anything ourselves to stop the madness, why should we expect them to?


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May 24, 2010

Chan Lowe: The long finger of blame

blackhole.gifSmall government, in theory, is an intoxicating idea until you suddenly need the benefits of big government.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who turned down federal stimulus money for his state last year in a fit of partisan pique, is now screaming about how little the feds appear to be doing to save his coastline.

Sarah Palin is out there, too, condemning the Obama administration for its ineptitude.

These are Louisiana’s wetlands being ruined, though, so isn’t this technically a state issue? Why should the people of Montana have to help pay to clean it up?

I’m being facetious, of course. We all know that BP is going to pay for everything and make us all whole again…the same way Exxon did after the Alaskan spill.

As for blame⎯it’s a long bar, and there are plenty of us who ought to be bellying up to it. Every time we hop in the SUV to tootle down to the store when we could have walked or ridden a bike, every time we leave the engine running to keep the AC cool when we duck into the dry cleaners, we stoke the beast’s appetite.

It’s fine to vent our spleen at BP for plowing up the Gulf in search of riches without a disaster plan, and it’s fine to rail at the government for not regulating enough or not enforcing the few regulations we have.

But it’s a lot like the drug trade. There wouldn’t be the murders, the kidnappings and the cartels if there weren’t a market for the product. Prevention of future disasters must begin at home.


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May 21, 2010

Chan Lowe: Cleanup in the Gulf


There really isn’t much more to say, except that after more than two centuries, the British finally avenged Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown…with compound interest.

POSTED IN: Environment (46), Florida Issues (258), Local South Florida Issues (187)

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May 20, 2010

Chan Lowe: The Key West non-story

motel.gifSuddenly, everybody’s an environment reporter.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the first landfall for the Great Spill⎯other than Alabama and Louisiana, which are already covered by the media like beach tar⎯happens to be Key West.

If a tar ball had turned up on the shores of Duluth, MN, one has to wonder whether hordes of media would have materialized to interview it in the same way they descended upon the Conch Republic, showering the bars and restaurants on Duval Street with their per diems.

As it happens, the tar balls weren’t from the Gulf slick anyway, but that wasn’t enough to halt the stampede.

The Key West overkill is simply a manifestation of two cardinal rules of news coverage: First, if you see a pack of journalists gathering somewhere, you’d better join it or you might lose out on a story. Second, if there’s any possible way to justify a junket⎯particularly to a resort⎯then it’s the responsibility of any self-respecting reporter to make the case.

The real slick is due in Key West in about a week. No doubt there are a few courageous members of the fifth estate who are busy convincing their editors they need to remain on site--tough as that might be--and wait it out.

POSTED IN: Environment (46), Florida Issues (258), Local South Florida Issues (187)

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May 19, 2010

Chan Lowe: Bristol Palin takes it on the road

bristol.gifBack during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Sarah Palin and her family were introduced to America in all their homespun glory, I couldn’t help but imagine what the Republican spin machine would have done had Joe Biden’s daughter been the one to get pregnant out of wedlock as a teenager.

Because it was Sarah Palin’s daughter, however, the pregnancy became a celebration of life and an affirmation, somehow, of the emblematic American family.

Hypocrisy is a commodity that has never been in short supply in American politics. The latest, most titillating case is that of U.S. Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana, a fierce protector of traditional family values (with all the usual anti-gay riffs), who just resigned from office.

Not only did he have sex with a staffer, but he even sat for a video interview with her touting the virtues of abstinence. He probably feels that his guilt is mitigated because, unlike Rev. George Rekers, he sinned with a woman. After all, people have standards.

The Palins deserve credit that Bristol went ahead and gave birth to the child, which is now being raised as a member of the family. Regardless of what certain parties might allege, nobody is “pro-abortion.”

Fortunately for the Palins, and unlike many families with unwed teenage mothers, they have plenty of resources to give the kid every possible advantage. I’m sure Bristol will prove to be an exemplary mother.

It’s unseemly, though, that she now plans to hit the road as an exemplar of empowerment and teenage chastity. As far as living with the consequences of one’s youthful errors, hers is by far the exceptional case, and it would be tragic if easily influenced children took the wrong message from her life story.

It isn’t as though she needs the money.


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May 18, 2010

Chan Lowe: Why fear big government?

samx.gifWhat are you Tea Partiers worried about?

Crisis after crisis, the one common denominator that keeps popping up is that some government regulatory or enforcement body was incompetent, asleep at the switch, or incestuously intermingled with the industry it was meant to oversee.

When Washington displays this kind of ineptitude regarding the fat, easy targets, how can it possibly get its act together enough to intrude upon and control the lives of its individual citizens?

Congress can pass⎯and President Obama can sign⎯all the “socialistic” and “Nazi” laws they want to, but when the black helicopters land in your back yard and they beat down your door, it sounds like all you have to do is provide some booze, broads, and a few lines of coke, and they’ll be putty in your hands.

If it’s the SEC that concerns you, then simply tune your laptop to some hot Internet porn. That ought to keep ’em distracted for a while.

As for protecting our borders, local law enforcement in places like Arizona will be so busy mistakenly rounding up suspiciously ethnic-looking American citizens that the real illegals will slip through to Colorado, Kansas and Minnesota faster than a personal injury lawyer can file a false arrest lawsuit. If you aren’t brown and don’t have a Mexican accent, they won’t be interested in you.

So chill.


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May 17, 2010

Chan Lowe: The great slick cometh

flaslick.gifThis is beginning to look a lot like the Wall Street bailout all over again: the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk.

BP has been making a big sanctimonious stink about how it’s going to pay for the entire cleanup, as well it should.

But after that, the company is only liable for $75 million in compensation to mitigate the damage done to everyone from shrimp fishermen to mom-and-pop motels along the coast.

Considering all the tort lawyers who have swarmed the Gulf Coast to sign up clients, that $75 mil isn’t going to stretch very far. “Here’s your hundred bucks minus my commission, Ma’am. Have a good life.”

The U.S. Senate is talking about raising the cap for damages to $10 billion, but you know how that’s going to go. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will put a personal hold on it and it won’t go anywhere. She doesn’t even have to make it one of those infamous “secret holds,” since there will be no downside for her back in her home state.

I love her reasoning: A cap that high will squeeze all the little people out of the offshore drilling business. Only the huge mega-corporations will be able to afford it. Right. “Hey, Duane! Let’s take that money you got for sellin’ the Fairlane and go sink us a billion-dollar rig out there in the gulf. We’ll get rich quick.”

So, absent making BP and related villains pony up, who will that leave to make us all whole again?

Us, of course.


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May 14, 2010

Elena Kagan: Is she or isn't she?

kagangay.gifLong ago, when I was taking art in college, there was a movement sweeping the creative landscape called “Conceptual Art.”

It had nothing to do with technique, skill or talent with visual media. It was all theoretical, and probed the very essence of what “art” was.

An example: A very shapely, scantily clad woman walked through New York’s Greenwich Village and filmed the reactions of men who passed her.

The “art” lay in the behavior of the viewers. It was supposed to make people examine themselves and their world in a different way…to question their own concept of their environment. Blah, blah.

Anyway, I see this business over whether Elena Kagan is gay or not as a piece of conceptual art. I could care less whom she finds attractive; the only thing that matters to me is whether she can sling it back at Scalia as fast and as hard as he dishes it out.

But the reaction of the public is fascinating, particularly that of the White House. Everybody’s walking on eggshells, trying not to mention the Unmentionable. For if they do, they’re admitting it makes a difference.

Those to whom it matters don’t talk about it openly either, because they know that⎯if true⎯it’s much more damaging as a whispering campaign than as an established issue to be discussed in the public forum.

We have the whole summer to sit back and watch everyone cover themselves with glory or shame on this one.


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May 13, 2010

Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, Founding Father


Since Charlie Crist cut himself off from his fecund Republican funding sources, he’s been leveraging his governor’s pulpit to the hilt.

His latest move is to call a special session (costing taxpayers $40,000 per day) to pass a state constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling for all time. It’s a textbook example of how he can bend the power of his office to his own ends.

Aside from the fact that it may be as bad an idea to enshrine a drilling ban in the constitution as it was to protect pregnant pigs (yes, newcomers, that happened), Charlie is banking on us to forget that a short time ago⎯pre-slick⎯he was touting offshore drilling as a way to help deliver the state from its fiscal woes.

It's a gamble that will probably pay off, because the Pennsylvania transplant knows as well as anyone that in a transient state like Florida, name recognition pays off in a way that it doesn’t in places where pols and voters grew up knowing each other.

Those who are familiar with Charlie and his career are becoming more and more disappointed⎯in some cases, disgusted⎯with his spinelessness. But most voters don’t follow that closely. They’ve heard of him, more than they’ve heard of Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio. They neither know nor care that he’s a human weather vane.

Whatever direction the parade goes in, all that matters to Charlie is that he’s out front playing the drum major, and that everybody's keeping time to his beat.


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May 12, 2010

Chan Lowe: Another specialty car tag

tag.gifThe only bill that the Florida Legislature is required by law to pass every session is the state budget. That august body, however, never fails to produce a few self-generated doozies on the side.

Figuring that 114 specialty car tags were already enough, the legislature had actually placed a moratorium on future plates in a past session, but this one was special: It celebrated Hispanic heritage in an election year.

We’re talking about millions of potential voters here, so we might as well just toss the rules in the basura.

I have nothing against “Hispanic Achievers,” as the legend on the new tag reads. Lord knows Florida has plenty of them. But I fear it unintentionally creates a whole class of newly aggrieved minorities, to wit: Polish Achievers, Micronesian Achievers and Achievers from the Maldives, to cite but a few.

They did show enough sense to water down the original slogan from "Hispanics Discovered Florida," to "Since 1513 helping communities prosper.” The original wording implied that all the Indians living here before Ponce de Leon came along were just sitting around, waiting to be legitimized by white Europeans.

And then there’s the illustration of the sailing vessel, which looks suspiciously like the Santa Maria. Unless I’m mistaken, she was captained by an Italian Achiever.

At least they left the Maltese Cross emblems off the sails. Their inclusion would, no doubt, have engendered a round of lawsuits from the ACLU.

Knowing the leanings of this legislature, it was probably an oversight.

POSTED IN: Culture Wars (199), Florida Issues (258)

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May 11, 2010

Chan Lowe: Oil slick hearings

BP.gifIt’s return on investment time.

Well, it’s always return on investment time for the oil companies when it comes to making political contributions, but usually the payoff gets worked out behind closed doors, and appears in the form of favorable small print buried deep in a piece of legislation.

Now, thanks to the slick, we have a public with blood in its eye, and it expects bread and circuses out of its elected representatives in Washington.

Let’s all hunker down in front of C-SPAN and watch the kabuki play--or if we can’t handle the full performance, at least take in the juiciest sound bites on cable news. After all, we paid for it.

The BP execs will cower like little boys caught smoking in the boiler room, they’ll all blame the equipment manufacturers or anybody else who has a stake in this mess, and the proceeding will wind up with a sanctimonious tongue-lashing from the committee chairman. Maybe a few other pols facing reelection will chime in, too.

Then the photographers will pack up their equipment, the TV crews will cap their lenses, and the whole cast of characters will head off to The Palm or some other D.C. power eatery and toast one another over hand-cut steaks and Grey Goose martinis.

Just another day in Washington, doing the people’s business.


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May 10, 2010

Chan Lowe: Elena Kagan on the hot seat

kagan.gifIf the past is any indicator, we’re in for a poison-pen version of “This Is Your Life,” where every utterance ever made by Elena Kagan will be unearthed, deconstructed and evaluated for its damaging potential.

And that ain't all.

Just this morning, not twelve hours after the definitive leak that Ms. Kagan was to be President Obama’s nominee to fill the coming vacancy on the Supreme Court bench, the Internet honchos at my paper informed us that “Kagan and lesbian” was the No. 1 search term on Google.

The hunt for damning personal shortcomings will be especially thorough in this case, because Ms. Kagan has never been a judge. Her lack of a paper trail frustrates those who would destroy her candidacy in hopes of handing President Obama a defeat right before the midterm elections.

If Ms. Kagan is in fact a lesbian, one has to wonder why this matters any more than being a heterosexual when it comes to interpreting the Constitution and deciding matters of law.

There will, of course, be a whispering campaign larded with what Chicago’s original Mayor Daley used to call “insinuendo.” It will be ugly and stomach-turning, but I’m sure Ms. Kagan knows what’s in store for her. If she can weather this, Antonin Scalia will seem like a pussycat by comparison.


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May 7, 2010

Chan Lowe: Greek drama

urnx.gifI knew that if I just waited long enough, that art history degree would finally come in handy.

For most of us, myself included, macroeconomics is one of those subjects the experts natter on glibly about and win Nobel Prizes for, while their discipline inhabits some abstruse, ethereal level rarely gazed upon⎯and even more rarely comprehended⎯by us working stiffs.

You’d think, though, that the folks who managed to dream up derivatives and tranches de jambon or whatever would figure out some way to make the world markets more stable.

The fact that a third-rate economy and some trader with a fat finger can cause the world’s most sophisticated stock market to upchuck like a drunken high-school kid at a prom means something needs re-engineering.

I’m sorry for the Germans and the French (not really) for being stuck with weaklings like the “PIIG” nations (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece), but their unremitting arrogance about the mighty Euro and our fiscal irresponsibility was getting tiresome.

The downside (and in economics, there’s always a downside), is that as the Euro tanks, investors will rush to convert their wealth to dollars. Our newly-strong currency will make it harder to export what little stuff we still make, which is not what our economy needs right now.

Too bad most Americans can’t afford to go to Europe this summer. I hear you can snap up some real bargains, especially near the Acropolis.


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May 6, 2010

Chan Lowe: Cleaning up So Fla corruption


I'm amused by the anti-Obama types who cite the use of the word “czar” to describe administration appointees as proof that the President is a socialist of the Rooski persuasion (let’s forget for a moment that the Bolsheviks overthrew the czars, which makes the accusation spurious at several levels).

Of course, only the media and the rest of us--not the White House--use this word, and every administration since FDR’s has had the term applied to it, but we should never let facts get in the way of a good rant.

But I digress. Here in South Florida, changing the political culture and its cavalier view of ethics is like making a U-turn in an aircraft carrier. All the czars and czarinas in the world aren’t going to be able to accomplish a thing unless they have powerful backup: plenty of enforcement resources and laws with teeth.

This is a nice first step for Palm Beach County, but the lasting effectiveness of “reform” will depend on whether our civic leaders realize that strong enforcement is good for everybody, even them, and deserves nurturing for the long haul. It’s easy to lull ourselves into assuming the whole problem has been taken care of with Ms. Steckler's appointment. Quite the opposite: We've struck the match; now we need to hold her--and our politicians’--feet to the fire.

POSTED IN: Local South Florida Issues (187)

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May 5, 2010

Chan Lowe: The Times Square incident

tshirt.gifThere really are some things government can do better than the private sector.

When the t-shirt vendor told the authorities about the smoking SUV, it set into motion a chain of events and a meshing of resources and manpower that culminated in the apprehension of the perp before he could skip the country.

The passionate defenders of the Constitution, meanwhile, have had to content themselves with grousing that the would-be bomber⎯an American citizen⎯was read his Constitutional rights upon his arrest instead of just being thrown into a dungeon to rot.

Even that brazen so-called offense isn’t generating the usual ire, since he’s singing like a canary anyway.

He did make it all the way to the plane, which exposed a hole in a no-fly list that seems to be more efficient at preventing innocent people from flying than preventing terrorists from getting on board.

Thanks to the initiative of the vendor (from whom we could all learn something about vigilance) and the exemplary detective work of the authorities, nobody was hurt and we are now gaining valuable information in the war on terror from a live captive.

A result that's pretty hard to complain about, whatever your political bent.


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May 4, 2010

Chan Lowe: The slick giveth

tort.gifIn a mega-disaster, where some see the ruination of their homeland, livelihood and culture, others see opportunity, particularly those who are perpetually on the alert for such things.

If you’re a tort lawyer, for example, a class action suit is the holy grail of your profession. Once you have aggregated your client base⎯a “dividend-multiplier” if you will⎯then for the same amount of legal work as you would perform in a single case, you are entitled to a wedge of thousands of little pies.

The goal is to be the first on the scene with the most aggressive team, so you can get your finger in as many of those pies as possible before somebody else tries to muscle his way in.

This case is literally oozing with potential: “BP” might as well stand for “Bulging Pockets.” As the oil seeps around the Florida peninsula and on up to the Tidal Basin in Washington, it could be the gift that keeps on giving long after the gusher has finally been capped.

So the slick taketh away, but it also giveth. If you want to think of it in purely financial terms, it has become its own dynamic ecosystem.

Of course, it takes a special kind of person to think of it in purely financial terms.


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May 3, 2010

Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, fallen angel

pulse.gifThe way the Republican Party leadership was talking about poor old Charlie last weekend in the wake of his apostasy, you’d think he was the guy who left the SUV full of explosives in Times Square.

Some senator on Meet the Press huffed about how Charlie, by resolutely ignoring the Voice of the People, had been beaten fair and square by Marco Rubio, and instead of being man enough to bow out of the race had decided to become the skunk at the garden party.

What made the comments ugly and cynical was that, up until Thursday, the GOP establishment would have been perfectly happy to support Charlie’s candidacy with money, staff, and boots on the ground had he won the primary.

As I alluded to in a cartoon on Switcheroo Day, he was still the same old Charlie he’d been the previous week. Nothing about him had changed except his label.

For his part, Charlie⎯who was given his own Meet the Press segment⎯ allowed as how it wasn’t he who had changed, but rather his beloved Republican Party whose primary voters had moved so far to the right that ordinary Americans couldn’t compete anymore.

I tend to agree with him. If Charlie actually had principles, I’m guessing they’d be more along the lines of the fiscally conservative, yet socially laissez-faire Rockefeller Republicans who may still inhabit Tri-State Area country clubs. If there are any left alive, they can probably be found hunkering in the Men’s Grill over their Wild Turkey manhattans, wondering what the hell happened to their party.

It gives a whole new meaning to "mourning in America."


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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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