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I Read the Headlines Today

posted by Scot McKnight

I like to read the headlines of major newspapers from all sides of the political spectrum, and that means I poke my nob into such notables as the NYTimes, WaPo, National Review, Christian Science Monitor, Slate, and of course the Chicago Tribune.

I didn’t leave my nob in the hole long enough to get it burned, but my nose did get tweaked the other day when I perused The National Review. One would think the world was falling apart, that Mr. and Mrs. Socialist were already surrounding the Statue of Liberty, and that before the week ends we may well end up on some kibbutz plowing fields with forks and spoons and planting organic legumes.
Here’s what I saw. Which Islam will prevail? Well, I thought, that’s a good question. Maybe a good article. Obama, the next one says, is more like Carter than Reagan. Wow, I had to ask myself why in the world someone needs to say such a thing. I can’t remember the last time someone suggested Obama was like Reagan. Then came Thomas Sowell: we’re at the point of no return, folks, as our freedoms are about to disappear. 
Then a piece on China doing well and how their success in free enterprising is good for all of us. Now comes a piece on how DC resembles Versailles of 1789, and I was thinking that there were lots of us who knew exactly what that meant. Since the article was about “clueless DC Democrats,” I surmise being like Versailles would be bad. Next something comparing our engagements in the Middle East give Obama a South Vietnam. (For someone my age that’s really bad news.)
Stealth Obama and his neon-green friends who are now fixed on the ocean. Followed up by how Obama’s policies are swiping things from the Cornhuskers. Well, I got a bit bored and skipped down to one on how we need a U-Turn on our road to serfdom.
Well, the headlines got me down. So I…

Opened by Prayerbook and observed that God is in charge, was in charge and always will be. No matter who is President or which Party has the louder voice. I ground some beans and made a nice up of latte, and pondered some e-mails and FB — and noticed that the news was entirely good with my friends. Everyone still has their home; no one lost a job. My kids are doing fine. 

We’ve got a chipper, young, skilled craftsman at the house, named TK, and he’s hardly able to keep up with all the demands on his skills. My neighbors went back to school — one to teaching grade schoolers and the other to begin his practice teaching. My other neighbor got a job after some unemployment and is now about to return from his family vacation. Another neighbor gave up a pretty lucrative career in Sweden in physics so he could chase his passion: doing geneaologies. 
The stimulus package is in front of us. Yes, that’s right. We got a new coating on our street. It’s been a bit of a mess all summer, but they delayed beginning to wait for school to get out, then the construction workers took aim at higher wages and struck — and they got what they wanted — so they resumed work. Just in time for school to begin, but they got it done. Only problem: our street didn’t really need a new coating. It was only a few years old. I contacted someone official about it and said, “Did we need this on our street?” He said, “Nope, but the Feds wanted this one to be on a busy street so citizens could see their tax dollars at work.” Then he added, “We had a number of streets that needed it more.”
I’ve come a ways since those headlines but I feel better, not because I read their stories but because realities told a different story. The best thing about headlines is that one group of them, the pro-President newspapers, tell more good stories until the other side wins. 
Nothing like some apocalyptic warnings to make a Christian go out and test realities.

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted August 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Only problem: our street didn’t really need a new coating. It was only a few years old. I contacted someone official about it and said, “Did we need this on our street?” He said, “Nope, but the Feds wanted this one to be on a busy street so citizens could see their tax dollars at work.” Then he added, “We had a number of streets that needed it more.”
*sigh* I really want to give our leaders (at all levels) the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve been concerned about this same thing re: the construction I’ve seen in Southern California, as well.

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posted August 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

On the other hand the freeway near our house desperately needed repair – we saw signs on the reinvestment act – stimulus work – while traveling and commented that it should be used where needed (on the freeway with “trenches” where the lane lines should have been).
When we came home we found they had begun work on our stretch – and now a year later the road is great.
Bottom line – we need to know the facts before passing judgment, local anecdotes don’t cut it (even mine).

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted August 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Please don’t accuse me of passing judgment. I’ve been consciously withholding it (per my first sentence). However, Scot’s experience echoes mine, and I do find this disturbing.

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Tim Gombis

posted August 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Two quick thoughts: First, I think it’s sad how far National Review has gone since WFB’s days. I always appreciated his wit and his charitable posture toward those with whom he disagreed. In a sense, he was so non-political while commenting on politics.
Second, a simple walk in the park or in the woods does wonders for de-stressing from alarmist headlines.

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posted August 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Ok. I will confess my sin and immaturity upfront. However, I could not pass up this opportunity as both a reader of your blog and knowing others in my age group who read your posts.
As you might know from the Beloit College Mindset List, your students play a different language game then you do at times. As an FYI, they won’t define “nob” like Merriam-Webster. I am fairly confident that they follow UrbanDictionary on that one.
In the words of my generation “TMI:)”

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posted August 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm

The same thing happened in our town re the stimulus money and road repairs. A road was repaired that was not in disrepair. Our tax dollars at work. Yikes.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted August 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I am continually amazed at the lack of perspective so many people have on current affairs. It is as if the world began when we were born and our experience of personal and social challenges is the first time anyone has experienced anything remotely like them. George Will once called this the parochialism of the present.
History moves in ebbs and flows. Each movement one direction tends to create a counterbalancing move in another direction. Freaking out with each little shift in some direction we dislike is senseless.
As I’ve noted before, life expectancy is lengthening almost everywhere. The number of people living on less than $2 a day is shrinking. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, global inequality is shrinking. A smaller percentage of people are dying of violence and war than in many generations. There is so much to celebrate. I just don’t get the relentless gloom and doom. It is almost as if our lives have become so safe we have to create fear in order to feel alive and purposeful.

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posted August 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I will just add a thing about the street work. Here in Springfield, MO as well as back in Mobile, AL roads that were busy and had desperately needed work for as long as I can remember (potholes being an indicator) have finally gotten work. So in those two mid-sized cities the infrastructure stimulus is being put to good use.

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posted August 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm

interesting what we focus on as a country. we took a long driving vacation to the Black hills–we heard a lot a talk that disparaged the president–not for anything that he actually did or didn’t do. One woman said she wanted her children to know about how their rights were all being taken away. several people at Mt. Rushmore were overheard saying things like “I hope they don’t follow up on putting Obama’s head up there”
my friends are selling their houses, buying new ones, getting jobs in far away places like Italy, sending their children to college, welcoming new grandchildren, etc. etc. Hard to tell that life is getting worse.

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kevin s.

posted August 23, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Re: Reagan and Carter
The piece was in response to the meme that Obama’s approval ratings are similar to those of Reagan, not that his politics are similar. CBS News, MSNBC, WashPo and USA Today have run with this story in the last few days.
“Two quick thoughts: First, I think it’s sad how far National Review has gone since WFB’s days.”
Do you read the National Review? What’s on the website mostly refers to content on the blog, which is updated every 15 minutes or so. The online articles pop up about 2-3 times per day.
I’ve been reading the National Review since I became a Republican at the ripe old age of 15. I don’t think the quality has diminished. It has dispensed with a couple of the more esoteric regular columns, has not dispensed with their terrible cartoons and caricatures, but overall is still among the most literate political journals out there.
The online edition used to employ Ann Coulter, and Jonah Goldberg’s columns were horrendous. Coulter hasn’t been there in a decade, and Goldberg’s humor is much less shrill.
It seems like a common theme for non-conservatives to lament the present state of conservatism. When I was in high school, liberals pined for the days when Buchanan-style isolationism defined conservatism (it didn’t hurt that Buchanan ran against George H.W. Bush).
After 9/11, liberals lamented the fact that conservatives had strayed from the libertarian principles of Barry Goldwater. Once Buckley came out against the Iraq war, it turns out the liberals missed him too. Kerry ran as a leader in the style of Reagan. I guess he wasn’t so bad after all.
As a polemicist, Buckley was without equal. There just aren’t writers of his caliber around. But the notion that he would stride in on his horse to tsk-tsk the tea party, as seems to be the conventional wisdom, is misguided. He would almost certainly give his full-throated support, re-earning the ire from the left he so frivolously squandered in his waning years.
I fully expect that, 10-15 years from now, liberals will be complaining that the Republican party doesn’t look like the party of George W. Bush anymore.

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posted August 23, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Scot, give politics a rest. It will do your soul good. Hyperbole and breathless “reporting” is a reality of modern politics. You can’t read widely and find everyone speaking well of your guy. Sometimes we are disappointed when a political or political party cannot do what they promised or implied. When the other side hits them we often circle the wagons and defend our “hero.” Who do you think Jeremiah defended? How about David? God is still on the throne and prayer changes things.

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posted August 23, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Well, must say I happy for you Scot and others who are getting streets repaired that don’t need it and your friends have jobs and are buying and selling.
We have one brother in-law that hasn’t been able to find work in two years. Another who is about to lose everything because his businesses are failing and he cannot get funding to keep people working and the doors open. Here….my wife got laid off a couple weeks ago and is now on unemployment for the first time in her working life. Somehow the company she worked for could not tap into those billions of bank dollar bailouts even though they had customers to buy their product and over the past couple of years the owner had drained his savings trying to keep the company going.
I guess our hope is that Obama will continue to follow through with his redistribution of wealth – not his of course – and we’ll be able to share in your good fortune.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted August 23, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Norm, it makes no difference if the unemployment rate is 9%. If you are the one unemployed it is 100%. I was unemployed for months back in the ’80s. I have are friend who lost his job in previous recession and it took he 2.5 years to back on his feet again. It is miserable.
But I think the larger point is that life has ALWAYS had these ups and downs. Some of us have had to radically downsize our lifestyles and yet what we downsize to is still more luxurious than most economically stable folks had in the Great Depression. It’s one thing to acknowledge that a large number of people are going through a difficult time. It is quite another to act as though society has collapsed or is about to. That was the sense I got for the post.

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kevin s.

posted August 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Whether or not our society collapses has a lot to do with how our elected officials behave. While it is true that OUR lives have had ups and downs, this does not necessarily hold true for the future.
The notion that double-digit unemployment isn’t cause for alarm is absurd. The question is whether the problem can be remedied politically. Conservatives believe that it can, and who can blame them for sounding alarm bells?
Also, the degree to which stimulus dollars have gone to Chicago area road construction is ridiculous and disgusting. My tax money is being used to make my trek to visit my family in Michigan unnavigable, for no other reason than to appease a special interest.
Can I be forgiven for being less than thrilled?

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posted August 24, 2010 at 12:00 am

“Now Thomas Sowell is many things, but curmudgeonly??”
Eh, I would use the phrase “intellectually dishonest”, as I’ve read his works and find his “facts” to omit salient parts and selectively frame others.
Much silliness that totally evades the reality that economic crisis was engineered by Republican policies that have dominated for ~30 years.
Detail nitpicking aside, and as a former card carrying Republican conservative, it strikes me (and a whole lot others), that the Republican party has gone off the deep end ? with significant totals (some polls say more than half, others put at 1/3) believing that President Obama is a Muslim, that he was born in Kenya, death panels, socialism, etc.?
?then throw in the eruptions of hatred and bigotry as evidenced by the anti Burlington Coat Factory Muslim Community Center protests and signs boldly waved by protesters proclaiming that Obama is the Anti-Christ? Yes, I know that there are some unsavory hateful elements on the left, but the difference is on that side, those voices are shunned by party officials whereas on the Republican side, prominent leaders like Palin, Gingrich, etc.? (and the cable news and radio talkers) are some of the ugliest voices leading this abominable parade.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 7:55 am

Michael. Your notion that life always has ups and downs doesn’t work here. That is true globally. But nations do not last forever. Rome fell. Russia succumbed to a revolution. Germany was overtaken by Nazi ideology. Rawanda went through a genocidal nightmare. Nations rise and fall.
The questions being asked are whether the debt is unsustainable, whether the dollar will collapse, whether the balance of government control of the private sector is leading to something that cannot be reversed, or as someone once put it, democracy failing because the politicians have figured out that they can bribe the people with their own money. The checks and balances of separation of powers being eroded by backroom deals and bills passed in the dead of night by politicians who did not read the bills. Add to that the threat of terrorism and now a nuclear Iran, I could go on and on. Yes, some things are cyclical. But nations do fall. I am not optimistic.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 8:25 am

@ 16 “But nations do fall. I am not optimistic.”
Which would fit into Kruse’s take that ups and downs happen as a part of this life. Isn’t the point of the OP (and I would include Kruse from what I know of is previous comments on here) that nations, unemployment, Moral Majoritys, Palins, Obamas, etc rise and fall but the Kingdom grows like a mustard seed and like yeast throughout dough?

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posted August 24, 2010 at 8:45 am

For perspective on Sowell, it might be helpful to read the Power Line blog post from today:
To say that Sowell’s material is short on facts is simply disingenuous. He has got to be one of the more lucid writers of our time.

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Scot McKnight

posted August 24, 2010 at 8:55 am

OK, let me step in here to say a few things:
1. This post’s intent, which seems clear to me, is that God is sovereign and political rhetoric and political concerns need to be seen within that perspective.
2. Political rhetoric is often overblown.
3. I have no desire here to carry on a conversation about the articles on NtlRev — I clearly said I read the headlines.
4. On Thomas Sowell, if you remember, I posted about his memoir quite favorably; I think he can get cranky. Please avoid talking about his politics or economics on this post. That’s not the point.
The point, again, is that headlines can get us down but our faith takes to different places than politics.

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Darren King

posted August 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Scot, I, for one, understand where you’re coming from with this post. And I agree that its important to remember God’s sovereignty in all we read/experience – anecdotal or not.
I also understand that, from Scot’s perspective, it can get awfully tedious when people assume Scot is either fully supporting, or fully attacking, everything he makes note of in links or mention. This speaks to people’s culture-war mentality. People are on edge, ready to defend or attack at a moment’s notice.
Speaking of this kind of thing, yesterday I was perusing through the TV channels and I was equally frustrated with the tone (notice I’m focusing on TONE here) on both Fox and MSNBC. Both sounded angry, defensive, dismissive, and derisive of those of the opposite political persuasion. Come on. It gets old. Lets deal with reality, not a stage play.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Thank you Scot, as Christians, we need to hear this.
Almost didn’t chime in after reading through some of the strong reactions based on politics and not, what seemed clear to me, was your original intent.
But I preached on exactly this topic a few Sundays ago… I hear and see many people, regardless of political ideology, who are basing their lives on fear rather than faith in the God who truly reigns!
We listen to those (on either side- R or D) who have a political interest in creating fear… fear requires an immediate response, a reaction… which usually means ‘vote for us!’ or ‘give us money!’ etc.
But when you read through Hebrews 11 & 12, the heroes of faith, these were people who didn’t just react to an immediate crisis with fear… they had a vision for God’s Kingdom over the long haul. Many never saw ‘immediate results,’ but they pressed on, trusting that God is sovereign and there is a bigger story of which we are a part.
Yes the economy has been struggling… has been for a while folks, in fact the recession started under Pres Bush. I’ve seen people loose jobs, be out of work for long periods of time, etc.
I also see many of those people now finding jobs, some of them really good ones! And I’ve seen how churches and non-profits have had to adjust to a new reality; re-focusing, trimming the fat and getting back to ‘the main thing.’ All of that is good in the long run.
Though conservative brother and sisters often say progressives have made ‘the government/government programs’ an idol, I wonder… have conservative folks (especially over the last 10 years) made the economy an idol?!
The American economy might be in some sort of transition, in fact America as a nation may not always be ‘in power.’ But that’s not what we put faith in… God is still on the throne!

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posted August 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Scot, why the reaction to Obama being compared to Reagan? There are some similarities in the times we live in, plus Obama himself has commented positively on Reagan often. In fact, it was a sticky point with the Clintons when he cited Reagan as a good leader and didn’t cite not Bill Clinton. Just because they’re in different parties doesn’t mean there aren’t similarities. Or what am I missing in your comment?

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posted August 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Scot, just for a little balance . . . it’s not just the National Review comparing Obama to Reagan, it’s also the Washington Post. This article ran this weekend, and indicates that Obama’s own advisers look to Reagan as a measuring stick.
Here’s the link. Good article. Worth the read.

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Scot McKnight

posted August 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

First, remember this post was lighthearted … leading toward an anabaptist understanding of politics. I have written a number of times about the “eschatology of politics” and I simply don’t see the apocalyptic tone so many do see.
Second, the two are miles apart politically and that is why I said what I did. Not an in-depth analysis, that’s for sure.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm

P.S. In other words, the fact that the conservative Nat’l Review had such an article isn’t that different than the more liberal Washington Post doing the same. For those who study history, there are parallels between our times and the early years of Reagan’s presidency. It indeed can be worthy of note.
Hope you’ll do a similar headline review of the NY Times, Washington Post, or LA Times.
The beauty, to me, comes in reading lots of articles from various perspectives. I’m not sure if when you scan the headlines, you also delve into the articles themselves? As we all know, the headline writers are different than the authors of the actual writers so the headlines don’t always accurately reflect the content.
As for me, I get discouraged by the reality of our economy which is not getting better. Banks not lending. Employers afraid to hire due to the economy. People afraid to buy because they might not have a job. All this fear is continuing to keep the economy down. And I’m not any different – trying to squirrel away every penny due to fear of jobs being cut.

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