The Lowe Down

Chan Lowe: Do corporations have religious beliefs?


Who can forget Mitt Romney’s fateful campaign line, “Corporations are people too, my friend?” It was just the kind of rhetorical faux pas that reinforced the developing narrative of Romney as a soulless plutocrat.

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Chan Lowe: Newtown anniversary


On the first anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, the most important thing we have learned about American politics is that cynics know best.

After Newtown, the idealists were energized. Horrific as it was, the gun control people had a wedge — an event so shocking that Congress might finally be persuaded to stand tall and break the gun lobby’s stranglehold. After all, if the massacre of 20 innocent children and seven adults didn’t spur politicians to put public safety first, nothing would.

It didn’t, and the cynics knew it wouldn’t. The NRA has weathered enough massacres to know that the best strategy is to lie low and make no comment while the wave of revulsion washes across the land. This being America, gun and ammunition sales actually spiked as gun owners worried that their rights might be curtailed. Since arms manufacturers are the lifeblood of the gun lobby, even the brief period when the opposition appeared to seize the momentum worked to their advantage.

There was talk about spending more money to treat mental illness, which is a commendable goal — but it was a distraction. The core problem remained the willful misinterpretation by vested parties of a constitutional amendment originally designed to protect Americans from an overweening government in a well-regulated context.

The gun lobby patiently worked in the shadows. As expected, Congress quailed, because the cold reality is simple: Gun rights advocates tend to be single-issue voters. They often don’t get involved in politics at all, unless they think government is coming after their weapons. They are supremely susceptible to scare tactics, and there are plenty of highly paid shills whose job it is to keep them perpetually terrified.

Those who favor reasonable gun control measures not only lack the sustained fervor of their opponents, they have other political concerns. A pro-gun stance by an otherwise progressive candidate in a hunting state is not necessarily a deal-breaker for moderates and lefties; an anti-gun position certainly is for the other side. In a purple state or a closely fought election, it can make all the difference.

In politics, it’s easy to incite aggrieved parties to attack a threatening initiative. Inaction, on the other hand, doesn’t create committed enemies.

Accordingly, Congress has seen fit to duck and cover after Newtown. Surely, there will be other Newtowns, along with more transient waves of revulsion. And, as though caught in some twisted, repetitive Kabuki play, America will follow its scripted path back to the way things have always been.

The cynics, as usual, know best.

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Chan Lowe: Food stamp cuts


Back in the 1980s, the Republican Party courted and won over religious conservatives, forming an alliance that served both groups well through many election cycles. A lot was said about the lurch to the right in a party that had been traditionally laissez-faire on social topics. Less discussed was how the principle of the Golden Rule became corrupted by too much contact with the practitioners of amoral economic theory.

Somewhere along the line, the doctrine of individual generosity as the path to moral goodness was co-opted by the seductive notion that the best way to benefit the poor was for the state to do everything it could to help the rich get richer. The largesse of the wealthy would, in theory, trickle down to the needy. While we’ve learned through experience that “trickle down” never worked as advertised, we may have forgotten that coddling the haves to alleviate the suffering of the have-nots wasn’t preached in the Gospels.

Europeans view the quirky morality of American politics with befuddlement. Their centrist Christian democratic parties, for example, share with socially conservative Americans a reverence for the sanctity of human life, but for them that sanctity applies across the board to include an abhorrence of the death penalty, which they view as inhuman punishment.

They also generally believe that the state — as the collective extension of the will of people — has a moral responsibility to guarantee sustenance and dignity to everyone. Their fundamental self-view in relation to society is different from ours: they too see themselves as individuals, but also as members of a larger family, and to them, their responsibility to one another is strong enough that they are willing to tax themselves to make sure their convictions are expressed in practice.

Europeans are puzzled when they see a faction of Americans view the plight of the poor not as a social problem, but as a moral failing outside government’s purview.

Maybe our mindset comes from America’s unusual demographic makeup as a nation; we comprise various tribes, ethnicities and religious traditions. It’s only human to look out for one’s own identity group, and to view the idea of collective welfare as a resource grab by someone else’s.

We should remember that America was founded on greater principles than being “only human.” Sometimes, it’s wise to return to basics.

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Chan Lowe: War with Syria


Thank you, Cheney, Rummy, Condi, Wolfie and the rest of the hubristic cabal that felt they alone held the solution to the geopolitical puzzle. Thank you, George W. Bush — who couldn’t find the Middle East on a map before September of 2001 — for giving them the keys to the car.

The Iraq debacle looms over any discussion about what to do in Syria, since we’re still recovering from the burns received from the last time we placed our hand on the hot Middle East stove.

Iraq, according to the neoconservative strategists of the Bush administration, was the key to stability in the region. If we toppled Saddam, a grateful Iraqi people would allow us to establish a model Jeffersonian democracy, creating a thirst for freedom among their neighbors. They in turn would overthrow their dictatorships, establish U.S.-friendly governments, and our source of oil would be secure for generations to come. Win-win.

They made a couple of mistakes. First, there is no such thing as an Iraqi people. “Iraq” is a construct whose borders were imposed by Europeans with little concern for the ethnicity, creed or compatibility of the enclosed peoples.

Second, in a “nation” with no democratic traditions, what the locals prize most isn’t freedom, but stability. The former concept is strange and abstract, the latter is very real and concerns daily life in the streets. Saddam Hussein, for all his sins, provided a healthy dose of social order. The daily mayhem in Iraq is taking a back seat to the news about Syria, but there are many Iraqis who believe life was a lot better for them before the Americans came.

It’s no surprise that our leaders are reluctant to involve us in Syria. We hate to stand back while a dictator gases his own people, but we’ve learned the meaning of “mission creep” the hard way. Besides, if we did get rid of Assad, a hostile Islamist faction could well replace him.

The American people would like to be the good guys, but thanks to the misadventures of the past, intervention — even for the most humanitarian of reasons — has become a political third rail.

As British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said in 1938 during the Czechoslovakia crisis:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

For post-Iraq America, that utterance doesn’t sound as craven as it once did.

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Chan Lowe: The push to legalize gay marriage


Soon I’ll be attending my first same-sex wedding. The two women who are tying the knot have waited decades to solemnize their relationship, and they wanted to get married in the state where they make their home — a state that recently embraced marriage equality.

Formerly, state law did allow for “domestic partnership” status, for which they duly registered years ago. They carry around laminated cards to prove it. They bought a house together, taking care to make sure the language in the document protected survivor’s rights. They drew up legal documents delineating health directives and powers of attorney. When traveling, they always carried a copy of these documents with them and left one behind with a friend — just in case, God forbid, they were in an accident and they needed to prove what they meant to each other.

Soon, they will no longer have to occupy a nether world of quasi-legality that grudgingly grants them some, but not all of the legitimacy other couples possess just because they happened to be born with differing biological equipment.

The fiancées are doing everything you’d expect of a couple anticipating the greatest moment of their lives. They’re worrying about what they’ll wear, and they’re preparing to receive friends and loved ones who are flying in from all over the country. Parents who, years ago, rejected their own daughter when she first came out as a lesbian, will be front-and-center — ready to embrace their new daughter-in-law and officially welcome her into their family.

The other day, my wife and I were pondering the quiet enslavement caused by tradition-bound thinking. It’s sad enough that, until now, the “norms” of society have prevented two loving people from claiming their rightful place in the community. But I also feel sorry for those who can’t accept their commitment, for they are denying themselves the joy of participating in one of the most sublime achievements of which mankind is capable.

I have searched my soul, and cannot find a scintilla of feeling that my marriage has been cheapened, sullied or denigrated because these two women can now enjoy the same rights we do.

To those who say, “Marriage is for procreation,” I say that my wife and I married too late to have children. Yet, nobody protested at our wedding.

To those who speak of the “sanctity” of marriage, I say that my better half and I were legally allowed to marry — no questions asked — despite several past divorces between us.

So I have to ask: Why shouldn't the union of these two women be as valid as mine?

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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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