Democrats and Moral Values--They Still Don't Get It
It's my last day as liberal-blogger-of-the-week, and, as usual, I've managed to postpone writing about some of the really big issues out there because I wanted to give them sufficient space and attention. It's even worse this time, because I've been storing up some thoughts and analyses of the huge Democrats and Moral Values question for a good four or five months now, and it's possible that if I don't get them out of my head and into the ether, I may spontaneously combust. So a big thank you and bear hug to Beliefnet for giving me this perfect forum, and to you the readers for your patience.
[Deep breath.] So. A few weeks ago, while everyone was still in a tizzy about his "Republicans are all a bunch of white Christians" comments, Howard Dean went and said something that I found more interesting and that naturally went unnoticed by basically everyone. Here's the Washington Post's article on it:
Democratic Chairman Howard Dean told party leaders yesterday that casting traditionally liberal issues in moral terms is a key to breaking Republican's eight-year hold on the White House.... "We have not spoken about moral values in this party for a long time," Dean said. "The truth is, we're Democrats because of our moral values. It's a moral value to make sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night.... It is a moral value not to go out on golf trips paid for by lobbyists..... People don't know where we stand on a lot of issues.What you have there is a mixture of George Lakoff and Thomas Frank with a little Mark Mellman thrown in for good measure. And a pretty good indication that Democrats--or at least their party leader--still don't get it. Now, don't get me wrong. Democratic policies reflect my moral principles much better than nearly anything Republicans do. If you take seriously admonitions to care for the most vulnerable in society, to care for the sick, the imprisoned, the young and the old, at the end of the day, you'll find more to support in a Democratic platform than a Republican one. But, and this is important, Democrats have a credibility problem. For far too long, they've talked about these issues in very abstract, utilitarian terms, taking care to stay as far as possible from terms like "morals" or "values" or "faith" and ceding those concepts to the Republican Party. As one writer recently put it: "Democrats tell voters, 'We know what you need.' Republicans tell voters, 'We know who you are.'"
That's critical. Just calling Democratic priorities "moral values" will not make them so in the minds of voters (even though, as we know, promoting peace and protecting the environment and ending poverty are every bit moral values). Nor will helpfully informing voters that they really need to start caring more about their economic interests do much for the Democrats. Why? Because it's paternalistic, it's saying, We know better than you what's good for you.
Those voters in Ohio last year were not unaware that they were voting against their economic self-interest. They were pretty darn familiar with the fact that they'd just lost their jobs or their healthcare or their retirement. What they said with their votes--and what Democrats have apparently not yet heard--is that something else is more important to them. They couldn't have made it any clearer than they did.
That something else isn't necessarily gay marriage or abortion. Sure, there are some voters who go home at night and truly worry about those issues. But most don't. They're concerned, instead, about the kind of cultural environment in which their kids are growing up, about the fact that they work so many hours that parents barely see kids and spouses barely see each other. These anxieties have a moral tinge to them. And while the Republican solutions that are proffered--banning gay marriage and abortion--don't resonate deeply with these voters, they do resonate. They're fake solutions, but they're better than no solutions.
But don't take my word for it. Let me quote for a moment from an interview with Democratic consultant Steve Jarding, a guy who spends a lot of time with red state voters:
[He's talking about "recent Democratic behavior toward rural and southern voters."] "If you say to them, 'You're voting against your own economic interest,' is that true? Damn right, it's true. But it sounds belittling. It sounds like you're saying, 'You're an idiot.' No, Democrats, you're the idiots. They're voting on their values. They're voting on something out there, because the other side gave them something to vote on. You've given them nothing.... You've got the economic issues where you can go get 'em, but you've got to get through the culture and through to their values. Don't act like they don't exist. Democrats miss that point, and if they get that point, they're going to win a helluva lot of races."I can't tell you how much I agree with this, how I want to make copies of this in 48 point font and tape it on the wall of every leading Democrat's office. There's such an opportunity here. Republicans don't have economic solutions to people's problems and they only have fake solutions for their cultural concerns. If Democrats could rouse themselves out of their cultural libertarian stupors and acknowledge that a lot of American parents are freaked out, they would be golden.
It's my firm belief, although I can't yet prove it, that many Americans have been voting Republican by default, because they've been choosing something--however inadequate that something is--over nothing. Whenever I say something along these lines, liberals go on the attack, demanding that I lay out policies that would appease these supposed cultural concerns. But that's the point, I say. This isn't a matter of ticking off some items on a policy list.
Republicans don't win over faith voters with legislative items; they win them over by constructing a party ethos that says, we're on your side. Democrats can do that, too; but not by simply repackaging items as "moral," not by talking louder so that Americans "know were we stand," and not by lecturing voters on what they really should be caring about.
Casey versus Santorum
The first place Democrats can start is by moderating their rhetoric--not substance--on abortion. Now, some people say this is pandering, just saying different words to make people happy. In this case, I say that's fine. The substance of what Democrats are doing, pushing to prevent unwanted pregnancies--and, by extension, lower abortion rates--is admirable. But the fact that most Americans don't associate Democrats with this good work says that they're having a hard time getting past all of the "Keep your laws off my body!" chants and signs.
As I've written here before, Hillary Clinton is one of the few Democratic leaders who really understands the heart of this problem, who gets the fact that plenty of pro-life Americans would be voting with Democrats but for the fact that they don't feel welcome in the party. And why might they not feel welcome? Well, just witness the reaction of many women's groups to the fact that a pro-life Democrat, Bob Casey, is running for the Senate seat in Pennsylvania in 2006.
Casey is trying to unseat Rick Santorum, the Republican who has, perhaps more than any other, done more to set back abortion rights in this country over the past ten years. You would think that defeating him would be priority number one. In a heavily Catholic state like Pennsylvania, the best way to defeat Santorum might be to run a pro-life Dem. But that has not stopped women's groups from howling and attacking the party's leaders for letting this happen. At a conference in early June, NOW president Kim Gandy went after John Kerry and Howard Dean by name for suggesting that Democrats might consider running pro-life candidates in tough races. NARAL has already expressed its disgust by coming out with an early endorsement of Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island because he is pro-choice, even if his party virulently is not.
This is foolish.
What Can I Do?
A few nights ago, I gave a talk to some young liberal women in town and was asked a very basic question: What can I do? What can we do to fight the ridiculousness of Justice Sunday, the massive misordering of our nation's priorities, the ongoing conservative effort to claim sole ownership of faith and morality and values?
My answer was, I fear, a bit Baptist-y. What you can do, I said, is stand up and witness. Not witness, as in proselytize, but by coming out of the closet as a person of faith. Three factors have contributed to the conventional wisdom that conservative are religious and liberals are not: 1) Conservatives repeat this talking point ad nauseum; 2) Journalists repeat it, too, because they're not aware the religious liberals exist; and 3) Too many liberals repeat it, as well, because they associate religion with intolerance and narrow-mindedness.
Just in the last year, this has started to change. During the summer of 2004, I fielded phone calls every week from reporters and producers who wanted to know whether there was a spokesman for the "religious left." Now I don't have to give them Jim Wallis' name anymore, because he's permanently in their Rolodex. Just switching the debate to focus on different religious perspectives has thrown conservatives off their game. They find it harder to argue that liberals aren't religious at all, and now are lashing out with, well, you're just not the right kind of religious. That's a much harder argument to win.
The most vocal religious folks out there are the James Dobsons and Rick Santorums of the world. They're ruining the name of religion for everyone. But we can talk it back. We just have to be willing to stick our necks out and identify ourselves.
What Can I Do? Part Two
Finally, a quick blatant plug for my magazine, The Washington Monthly. We're one of the voices out there, trying to take on the sacred cows of the left and the right, and to give voice to people with new ideas that just might change things for the better. But, unlike many of our conservative counterparts, we're a struggling non-profit and we rely on a combination of subscriptions and donations to survive.
If you've enjoyed my writing (and I hope I've at least entertained you from time to time), head on over to our site and check out some of our articles. If you really like us, you could get yourself a subscription. And if you really, really like us, and you're looking for a good cause to support, we're always here. And with that, a happy weekend to everyone. (Five months until basketball season starts up again...)
At Least You Can Wrap Yourself in the Flag When You're Sick and on the Street
First up in the news today is the Bush administration's apparent belief that veterans are complete morons. Republicans have been puffing their chests out this week over the passage of a constitutional amendment banning flag burning (the House approved it on Wednesday; the Senate is not expected to pass the bill). But while veterans can get awfully exercised about that most critical issue facing our country, I'm guessing it's not going to distract them from the news out this morning.
Because while everyone was looking the other way and cheering the flag burning amendment, the Bush administration managed to lose $1 billion in funds that had already been allocated for veterans health care this year. That's on top of the inadequate funds in the proposed Republican budget for next year. And they've been, let us say, less than forthright about the whole situation. "The $1 billion shortfall emerged during an administration midyear budget review," reports the Washington Post, referring to a review that took place months ago, "and was acknowledged only during lengthy questioning of Jonathon Perlin, VA undersecretary for health, by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) at a hearing yesterday."
Oh, for crying out loud--these guys shortchange veterans, keep a lid on that fact for months, and then don't even fess up until grilled by fellow Republicans about it?? What is perhaps most galling (although, really, it's hard to choose a favorite here), is the fact that Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray, have pushed the Senate to pass an emergency supplemental bill to fully fund veterans health costs. Not only have Republicans refused to play along, but Jim Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, told Murray in a letter after he already knew the department was dangerously short of funds, "I can assure you that VA does not need emergency supplemental funds in FY2005 to continue to provide timely, quality service."
I know a few veterans who might disagree.
The administration, understandably, is not really trumpeting the fact that it has completely failed to provide for the health needs of our veterans (who will be joined shortly, need we remind everyone, by the men and women currently fighting in Iraq). This story appeared on page A29 of today's Post and has so far not been covered by The New York Times. The Democrats are doing their best--I found out about this in an email I received from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office--but that can only go so far.
So it's up to veterans to get really angry and let the Bushies know. One of the times I was most proud of Tom Daschle when I worked for him was when we both sat through a meeting with South Dakota veterans who spent a good half an hour dressing him down for his opposition to the flag burning amendment. After taking it for that long, Daschle got his turn, and he went off on them. He ticked off every other item on the veterans' list of policy goals--increased health care funding, PTSD treatment, support for the Veterans Benefits Administration--and reminded them that he had been out on front on every one of those issues, and the Republicans had opposed every single one of them. The only area on which they differed was flag burning. If that's your priority, he essentially told them, then your priorities are wrong. When he was finished, they sat for a moment and then gave him a standing ovation.
Cadets for Christ
The Air Force's internal report on religion at the Academy was released Wednesday and concluded that some faculty members did inappropriately use their positions to promote Christianity and that the Academy sometimes proved a harsh environment for non-Christian cadets. According to the report, the religious climate at the taxpayer-funded school has improved in the last few years, which--if true--is encouraging.
I was somewhat surprised, however, by Laurie Goodstein's article on the report in The New York Times. Goodstein is normally an excellent religion writer, but her characterization of some of the investigation's conclusions seemed a bit off. In one portion of the piece, she wrote, "The group found that several incidents widely covered by news organizations were overblown. The report said a chaplain who reportedly exhorted cadets in a worship service to tell their classmates to accept Christ or 'burn in hell' was merely using language 'not uncommon' for his Pentecostal denomination." (Emphasis mine.)
"Overblown" to me means "made out to be more than they were." But just because the group--and perhaps Goodstein--believes that it's okay for a chaplain to urge cadets to convert or suffer eternal torment doesn't mean that it didn't happen or that it wasn't incredibly upsetting to non-Christian cadets.
But what really got me was this statement at the end of the article from Focus on the Family: "We fervently hope that this ridiculous bias of a few against the religion of a majority--Christianity--will now cease." Okay, a) it's not bias. And, b) HAVE THESE PEOPLE COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN THEIR AMERICAN HISTORY? Pilgrims. Fleeing persecution. The tyranny of the majority. Any of this ring a bell? Just because your religion is a majority does not mean it gets to ride roughshod over everyone else. The majority today could be the minority tomorrow; everyone gets protected for that very reason. They would be screaming from the rafters if a bunch of Muslim cadets were trying to recruit converts at the Academy.
A little over a month ago, Alan Wolfe had a fantastic essay in The New Republic (actually, three-fifths of a fantastic essay; I disagree with him in a few sections) that provides perhaps the best explanation I have ever read for why conservatives should support a free society that protects the freedom of all faiths and no faith. It's really worth your time. But here's the part that I thought of today when I read that ridiculous Focus on the Family quote:
Liberals worry that the religious right, by failing to respect the proper boundary between church and state, will move the United States in a theocratic direction insufficiently appreciative of the blessings of human freedom. That may well be true, but among the first to suffer would be religious conservatives. If it could, the religious right would create a society in which Christianity's place of privilege would be supported by special access to public funds, police powers charged with enforcing its conception of morality, restrictions on the free speech of atheists and non-Christians, and a foreign policy designed to spread its word. Yet by sucking up the air of human liberty, such a society would leave a vacuum in which new religious movements--tomorrow's evangelical establishment--would find no place of nourishment.Short-sightedness is in abundant supply in many corners of the conservative evangelical community. They would do well to take the "walk humbly" admonition a little more seriously.
Kinder, Gentler Evangelicals
Speaking of conservative evangelicals, a new strategy is afoot to present America with the kinder, gentler face of evangelicals--as opposed to the scare-the-living-daylights-out-of-you face. If you listen to Rick Warren, Rich Cizik, and even Chuck Colson these days, all they want to talk about is poverty and the environment and how they are really, truly compassionate.
My first, un-Christian reaction to all of this is, how stupid do you think we are? Just because you start talking about "creation care" and hold hands with Jim Wallis, we're supposed to not notice that you're still spending the majority of your resources whipping folks into a frenzy about abortion and gay marriage? It doesn't help that this has been covered in the press as, "Hey, look--religious people care about the environment; they want to help the poor!" That only makes sense if you define "religious people" as white conservative evangelicals--which, sadly, too many journalists do--but even then, it's not true.
So, my second and third reactions are somewhat more measured. I think it's great that some conservatives are finally paying attention to the issues religious progressives have always been involved with, and if it shines a brighter spotlight on those causes, then hallelujah. But the religious left does not want to find itself in the position of yelling, Me, too! They should respond instead by saying, "We welcome you to the table. Where we've been for thirty years. These are indeed important causes. We know a lot about them and look forward to lending you our support and expertise on these issues."
Finally, even if this new burst of civic-minded involvement by conservative evangelicals is totally calculated, the end result is a net benefit for the left. The more moral legitimacy that can be lent to environmental and economic justice issues, the better. At the end of the day, voters can look pretty clearly and see which party is actually walking the walk when it comes to both of those areas. And if those are now seen as moral issues, too, it's advantage liberals.
Shouldn't It Be Higher?
A recently released study finds that more than three-quarters of doctors in the U.S. believe in God, which is surprisingly low given that many people think doctors believe they are God. Oh, I kid. One of the researchers on the study said that the study may surprise many Americans because "there's...a deep-seated cultural idea that science and religion are at odds." I can't imagine, given the attitude this administration has about science, where anyone is getting that idea.
I'm going to use my blogger's prerogative to cheer on my Detroit Pistons to victory tonight in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It would be difficult to describe the immense joy I derive from basketball, and never so much as when I have a childhood team to cheer for. Now, remember guys: Box out to get those rebounds, no throwing the ball away on a fast break, and Rasheed, I'm telling you now, if you leave your man when he's behind the three-point line with under a minute left, you will hear me yelling all the way from here. With that out of the way, you'll have to excuse me...I have a game to watch.
This Is the Day, This Is the Day
Okay. I'm feeling much better now. It has something to do with the fact that the NBA and its players' union reached an agreement to bring basketball back for sure next year, which is fantastic news, what with my Detroit Pistons down by just one at the half as I type this and my adopted home team, the Washington Wizards emerging as the most exciting young team in the league.
Tuesday also provided an entertaining comedy routine starring Bill Frist and the Bush White House, which played out roughly like this: Frist says the Senate will hold no further votes on John Bolton, Frist receives a phone call from the White House, Frist hoofs his summoned self down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, Frist emerges an hour later to stand before microphones assembled in the White House driveway and announce that, in fact, the Senate will be holding a vote on the Bolton nomination. No word as to how many days Frist will be serving after-school detention.
Mostly, though, I am thrilled and relieved because it appears I have found a new apartment in Washington. While the housing market here is not quite as tight and expensive as New York, it's pretty darn bad. Add to that the fact that this is my eleventh move in ten years and the whole apartment hunt becomes a bit stressful. Still, I've felt somewhat conflicted when I tell friends and family about the process or about the super-cute but out-of-my-price-range apartment I've found online and they respond by telling me they'll pray about it. When dealing with big decisions or changes--like taking a job or moving to another city--I'm usually much calmer after I pray and turn it over to God, if for no other reason than at least then I feel like I've done something and can stop agonizing. But this time, I just couldn't do it. I just couldn't get the words--Dear God, please help me find the right apartment--out of my mouth. It just seems so, well, trivial. Surely God has better things to worry about than finding me a spacious apartment within my budget in a trendy part of town.
That may strike most people as patently obvious. But growing up in the Baptist Church, the answer to nearly everything was: "Take it to the Lord in prayer." It's been an awkward negotiation in adulthood (and in a mainline denomination) to determine what's pray-able and what's not. Asking for discernment about decisions? Yep. Praying for peace and comfort for those who have lost a loved one? Good use of prayer. Asking for strength to get through tough times? Sure. Praying for successful surgery? Yeah, although I don't like the implication that God tallies up the number of prayers He's gotten for each individual and then decides whom to heal. But praying for an apartment? Mmm...kind of needy.
My prayer for yesterday, though, shifted my thoughts from worry about housing and boiling indignation at mean Republicans and concern about my possibly-about-to-lose-the-NBA-Finals Pistons. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. It always works--rain or shine, fabulous apartment or no fabulous apartment. Life is good. We are blessed. Let us rejoice.
Whither Liberal Christians?
We've all heard the observation that the more often a voter attends church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The implication is that good people of faith have left the Democratic party and that Democrats themselves, if they do still attend church, are spiritual slackers. It's clearly more complicated than that. For one thing, as religion and politics have become more closely entwined on the right, individual churches have become more explicitly political and conservative. In other words, it may not be that liberal Christians left churches but that a number of their churches left them.
But it's also true that it can be tough for a liberal Christian to find a serious religious home. A friend of mine who is church-shopping recently lamented that his choices seem to be between dwindling congregations that pray for Bill Frist's soul or conservative churches in which he's told it's not possible to be a good Christian and a Democrat. "I just want to pray and sing hymns and take communion and hear a sermon," he complained. "Is that too much to ask?"
I reviewed two books for the July issue of The American Prospect that may shed some light on the question of why liberal churches have been losing members over the past few decades. Only the first part of the review is available online at the moment, so maybe I'll return to the topic in greater depth later this week, but here's a taste of the dilemma for liberal Christians:
The real trouble starts when liberal Christians try to find a church to attend. Their options are not good, as those of us who have church-shopped know. Non-evangelical churches have been shrinking over the past few decades--each of the five mainline Protestant denominations lost between 6 and 12 percent of its membership between 1990 and 2000--and for good reason. Far too often, these churches offer lackluster worship. Or, in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to differentiate themselves from fundamentalist Christianity, they strip away religious mystery, lessen the demands of faith, and sprinkle services with interpretative dance, drumming circles, or gender-neutral hymns that avoid "God the Father." If such churches fail to meet their spiritual needs, liberal Christians can take their chances with more conservative churches. But they risk hearing--as the pastor at my childhood Baptist church declared last summer--that it is impossible to be both a good Christian and a Democrat.May I Make a Suggestion?
The good news: Democrats aren't going to sit quietly by and let John Hostettler and the other House Republicans demonize them as Christian-haters. The bad news: They're holding a press conference about it with Barry Lynn, of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Now, I respect what Lynn does. It's worth holding a very hard line to protect the separation principle and somebody needs to do it. But, frankly, if you stand up next to Barry Lynn, conservatives will say--See? They don't want religion anywhere. What you want are religious folks to the left of Hostettler (in other words, nearly everyone) saying, we don't think this is okay, either.
I'm Getting Tired of This
"Like a moth to a flame, Democrats just can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians." So said Republican congressman John Hostettler on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday. Also: "The long war on Christianity today continues on the floor of the House of Representatives."
Forgive me, Lord. But I really hate these guys.
What exactly what the grave sin that Democrats committed that "denigrat[ed] and demoniz[ed] Christians?" They simply asked for an investigation into charges that cadets and faculty at the Air Force Academy--an institution run on tax-payer funds, incidentally--have harassed non-Christian students and aggressively proselytized. A Jewish friend of mine who attended the Academy in the 1990s relayed similar charges to me before the story broke earlier this year and told stories of surprising, and unacceptable, religious intimidation.
If true, it's something that should be stopped. Congress is right to exercise its oversight function in this case. But Rep. Hostettler couldn't pass up a good opportunity to knock Democrats for being anti-Christian and anti-religion, just in case the good people at home weren't paying close enough attention to know that it's simply not true.
What's most disturbing, however, is that Hostettler defended the aggressive proselytizing, and in a way that sets a dangerous precedent. "If you tell Christians they can't tell others about their faith, then they can't exercise their Christian religion," Hostettler argued. Don't think that use of "exercise" is unintentional. Conservative evangelicals are gearing up to argue that the constitutional protection of an individual's right to exercise their religion protects evangelizing--whether in the public square, at the workplace, or in school; whether on your own dime (or time) or the government's.
Poppycock. And it's dangerous because it puts in jeopardy exercises of religious expression and belief that actually are threatened and do deserve protection. Right-wing extremists are ruining things for everyone, and in the process, by setting proselytizing as the standard of religious expression, they're baiting liberals into believing that religious expression should never be protected. To their credit, Democrats reacted to Hostettler's outrageous remarks with a mini-riot on the House floor that lasted nearly half an hour. Exactly right. Don't let them get away with it.
As Long As I'm in a Bad Mood...
I spent a lot of time yesterday surfing around right-wing websites (it was for work...and, no, I don't get paid enough to make up for it). Among the lovely things I discovered is the fact that conservatives have come up with a nifty new nickname for Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin: Turban Durbin.
In case you haven't been near a television tuned to a cable shoutfest in the past four or five days, Durbin made some remarks last week in which he compared abuses at Guantanamo prison to the crimes of Nazi Germany or the Soviet gulags. Even if it was an apt comparison, I think political history has shown that no one ever benefits from a Hitler or Nazi analogy. At some point, maybe politicians on all sides will figure that out. But in the meantime, Durbin is public enemy number one for conservatives, who are attaching him 'round the clock.
Disagreeing with a political opponent is one thing. But name-calling is unnecessary. I assume that "Turban Durbin" is supposed to imply that he's a traitor and in cahoots with al-Qaeda, although it's a thoughtless, artless, and racist phrase that reflects far worse on those who use it than on Durbin himself. Unsurprisingly, the nickname was coined by radio host Michael Savage, who has made a career out of not thinking before he speaks.
A few years ago, I wrote about the very real consequences such political name-calling can cause. It's worth remembering again that this vitriol doesn't vanish into the ether. It may begin on a blog or a radio show, but it's lapped up by people who have little impulse control and send threats (or worse) to the politicians who are the targets of these rhetorical attacks.
Today's Episode Was Sponsored by the Letter 'B'. 'B' is for 'Blackmail.'
One, two, three things to make me angry and I haven't even had my Rice Krispies yet. Some days are like that. Even in Australia. (Three cheers to readers who recognize that.)
The New York Times reports today that the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting secretly hired a longtime conservative operative to "study" the political leanings of PBS. It will come as a shock to no one that the stooge--oh, I'm sorry, the researcher--concluded that "Now", the program hosted by Bill Moyers, was liberal. Although when you consider that he categorized Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as "liberal" because his comments on the program were critical of the administration, any value that conclusion might have had kind of falls apart.
Also of interest is the fact that this same chairman of the CPB, Ken Tomlinson, is pushing a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee for the position of the corporation's president, saying that Republicans are eager to slash the corporation's funding and a Republican appointee might assuage them. There's a word for that kind of reasoning. And that word is "blackmail." You may remember it from the 2000 campaign when Republicans went around the country saying, You really need to elect George W. Bush so that the era of scandal investigations can come to an end. Not as in, Bush will never get himself into trouble. But as in, we can't help ourselves, and we'll tie a Gore administration into knots with scandal investigations just like we did the Clinton administration. Like I said, blackmail.
God Bless "The Daily Show"
Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, make me laugh, Jon. Ahhh...that's better.
Return of the Blog
We meet again, dear readers. I had so much fun during my first stint as resident liberal blogger-for-a-week that I've decided to stop by for another 'go-round. Think of me as a substitute teacher. But not the mean one who turned out the lights and made you put your heads down on the desk because no one would help her thread the film strip projector correctly. I aspire, instead, to be the cool sub who didn't mind if you ate your Twinkie for fruit break and who spent the whole afternoon reading from Sideways Stories from Wayside School instead of making you sit through a lesson on fractions.
Just a reminder for those of you who like to know where your blogger is coming from: I'm a recovering-Baptist-turned Episcopalian; former Democratic Senate staffer; and current editor of the neo-liberal political magazine The Washington Monthly. I find common cause with those who think the religious right doesn't speak for them, but the political left doesn't let them speak.
Oh, and one last thing. Let's try to cut down on the food fights this time, shall we?
A Sane Voice in the Wilderness
If you missed it last week, I highly recommend reading former Senator John Danforth's op-ed in the Friday New York Times. Here are his opening two paragraphs:
It would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.
It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state. I can't say enough times how critical it is that moderate and liberal religious folks stand up and demand to be noticed when conservatives try to pretend that the only legitimate people of faith are on the far right side of the political spectrum. Read the entire piece--it's an eminently enjoyable rebuke to the religious right.
Can it Be? Twice in the Same Week?
In what is surely a sign of a swiftly approaching apocalypse, Senator Danforth is joined by the conservative organization World Vision, which sent out an email appeal last week, asking Americans to contact President Bush and ask him "for an overall commitment for America to do its fair share and to be a leader in tackling the terrible poverty that devastates more than ONE billion people living in the poorest nations." In a reference to Deuteronomy 15, the email points out that "God calls us to be generous toward the poor and the needy and to cancel the debts of those who cannot afford to pay."
"Our country has the know-how and the money to help solve this problem," is the pointed conclusion of the message. "Now all that we need is the moral and political will to do the right thing."
The appeal comes at a time when Britain and the U.S. are said to be working on an economic plan that would cancel the debt of African nations that are, according to Bush, "on the path to reform." Bush opposed key elements of the original British plan, which would have committed $25 billion over a span of ten years. Poverty isn't a partisan issue. Let's see what sort of pressure can be brought to bear on the administration on behalf of debt relief.
Finally, on a lighter--although somewhat frightening--note, I recommend this highly entertaining article by Adam Reilly in the Boston Phoenix on Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan and his plans to build a conservative Catholic utopian town in the middle of Florida. Yep, you read that correctly. As a Michigan native, I'm pretty familiar with the world according to Monaghan and I'll be back later in the week to comment fully on his plans for Ave Maria, the not-so-little Catholic oasis. In the meantime, here's a taste:
Ave Maria won't be just a university, [Monaghan] continues. It will also be a new town, built from scratch, in which the wickedness of the world will be kept at bay. "We've already had about 3500 people inquire on our Web site about buying a home there--you know, they're all Catholic," Monaghan says excitedly. "We're going to control all the commercial real estate, so there's not going to be any pornography sold in this town. We're controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives." A private chapel will be located within walking distance of each home. At the stunning church in the center of town, Mass will be said hourly, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. on....
The Ave Maria Tom Monaghan envisions-a Catholic hub in which opportunities for sin will be strictly circumscribed, and from which the truths of orthodox Catholicism will emanate throughout America and the wider world-may be illegal, and will certainly be controversial. If Monaghan's dream comes true, Ave Maria will, in effect, become America's first gated Catholic community. The decades-old efforts of American Catholics to assimilate will be reversed, and American religious pluralism will face a serious challenge....