Friday, December 19, 2008

Memo to Liberals: Cool it!

We have gotten so sensitive in this country that every group across the ideological spectrum dares anyone to offend them. So my message is: cool it, calm down, take it easy, get a sense of perspective.

The latest example is the liberal furor over the Obama choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation. It would not have been my choice, and I am on record as an advocate of gay marriage and have performed one for my son. Granted, some of Warren's acts and comments have been despicable. But he has also broadened the evangelical agenda and has devoted enormous energy to fighting poverty, AIDS, and global warming.

The liberal criticism magnifies the significance of this prayer all out of proportion. Did liberals not hear what Obama said repeatedly throughout his campaign -- that he intends to cross ideological and political boundaries?

Anyway, the bigger story is that Rick Warren has agreed to pray at the inauguration of a pro-choice, pro-gay rights president.

Ignored is the fact that Joseph Lowery-- a civil rights hero and an advocate of civil unions -- is giving the benediction.

No one could get elected who ran on my agenda regarding cultural, political, and social values. But Obama's aim is to govern effectively not to be doctrinally pure. After eight years of government cronies who were ideologically correct but sometimes incompetent, we should welcome Obama's more ecumenical approach.

My main concern would have been that Warren and Lowery not give a sectarian prayer in the name of Jesus and would have made that a condition of appointment.

So, Americans, calm down, develop some tolerance for others while vigorously pursuing causes dear to you.

Would I have made the same argument if the appointee had been a vicious racist? Probably not, unless he or she had overwhelming countervailing values on other vital issues backed up by deeds -- an ulikely possibility. Lines must be drawn between the tolerable and the intolerable. Knowing when and where to draw them is the challenge to social wisdom.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Common Good: Difficult to Define

Everybody believes politicians should seek the common good not some particular private or selfish good. But seldom does anyone define what the term means. It turns out to be a complex notion, as slippery as a live, wet catfish.

A beginning can be made by saying a good is common if all participate in it. Two dimensions can be specified:

A. it refers to the general structures and processes necessary to there being a community at all worth living in -- a well-functioning democracy, a system of law and law enforcement, a peaceful social order, and the like with all the conditions that undergird them.

B. Closely connected but distinct are particular goods from which everyone benefits. Roads, bridges, a postal system, an electrical grid, and the like benefit us all or nearly everybody and certainly are essential for a functioning society. Other things benefit many or most but not necessarily all -- airports, e. g., except in some diluted or secondary form. If we don't fly, we may get UPS packages that came most of the way by air.

After that it get more difficult. Take the trio all, some, or none. Some things benefit all or almost so. Few, if any, things generated politically help absolutely no one. "It's an ill wind that blows no good."

I suspect that most goods benefit some and not others and may harm others. This is what we fight about most of the time. Who is helped and who is hurt and who is not affected at all? Politics, we say, determines who get what.

We all like to identify the good we seek with the common good. "What is good for General Motors is good for the country." (former GM CEO Charlie Wilson) We were told that Main Street had to to help bail out Wall Street, or we would all go down together. Enough people in power believed it to make it happen.

What about the auto bailout? Agricultural subsidies, NAFTA, state subsidies to foreign car makers versus a federal bailout for the American Big Three, etc., etc., etc.

Too much of our discourse is conducted in a Manichean framework in which a sharp dualism of good and evil reigns -- a policy is either good or bad, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, common or private. Is it safe to fly in an airplane? Meaningless unless you define safe. Then we can state facts and don't need personal opinions, unless we are just asking whether someone is afraid to get on an airplane, i. e., feels safe. Are we safer now than before 9/11? What does that mean?

Approve or disapprove? Ask me if I approve of Barack Obama, and I will ask you whether you mean in all respects, in some particular respects, or in no respect.

Social reality is complex and ambiguous -- a mixture of good and bad, costs and benefits. But we cheapen and trivialize discourse by framing it in terms of of a shallow dualism.

The press, including print and electronic media, could serve a valuable service by helping us sort all this out instead of simplifying most everything to sound bites and offering us banalities, pablum. Thank goodness for PBS and C-Span -- a small oasis in the "vast wasteland" of TV (Newton Minnow).

We cannot do without reference to the common good, but it would serve us all if we defined what we mean by it and insist that all everyone else do the same.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Buzzards and Journalists: How They Are Alike

  • The cartoon pictured two gaunt buzzards, obviously very hungry, sitting on a bare limb on a leafless tree in a barren wilderness. One says to the other, "Patience, hell! I'm gonna kill something."
  • The election excitement is over. Obama's moves have been flawless and his appointments impressive. We are in the holiday season when much else clamors for time and focus. What are the poor political journalists to do to grab attention?
  • You would think the bleepin Blagojevich scandal would be bleepin juicy enough for them. But Obama is the center of the political world right now, so they are straining every nerve, looking under every rock, parsing every word he or his staff utter or write, following every lead large or small and otherwise turning the universe upside down to find something that stinks linking Obama to the Governor. Leading the pack, of course, are the slobbering Republican operatives who have been dispirited since November 4. Right alongside is Fox news drooling at even the prospect of some hint of scandal. But even the more sober journalists can't resist the hunt.
  • Meanwhile, out in the real world many struggle to pay the mortgage, keep or find a job, and otherwise stay afloat in these perilous times. The rest are too busy with Christmas, Hanukkah, or the non-offensive generic "holidays" to care about the trivial pursuit the hungry birds are undertaking.
  • So leave Obama alone unless you find something worth reporting and go spend some money shopping. That would at least help the economy, while all this furor over trivialities merely annoys.
  • Be patient, you buzzards, until something dies, and you can follow the bad odor to relieve your post-election hunger for some Obama excitement. Meanwhile, I can understand your feeling that you may be forced to kill something.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Biblical Exegesis Will Not Solve Gay Issues

Anyone who thinks that finding out what the Bible really teaches about same-sex love will resolve the issues for churches and individual believers misunderstands how things work in the real world. What the Bible really teaches is a function of somebody's interpretation. As my country relatives in Georgia used to say, "You can prove anything by the Bible."

A more humane view of gay marriage and its attendant issues will come like the resolution of African slavery, the right of women to vote, segregation, and the role of women in the church. It will come as a result of a change of consciousness in the secular culture and in the minds of Christians.

Slavery, the denial of women's rights, and segregation were all once defended on biblical grounds by wide segments of the Christan world, including biblical scholars, theologians, and lay people. They are not any more because the Christian community came to recognize that what they had been defending and supporting was wrong, and accordingly exegesis now easily produces a different result aided by hermeneutical miracles that are always available when needed.

Christians never let the Bible when it is speaking as the Word of God support or condone what is known or strongly believed to be either untrue or immoral. Check it out in church history.

The same pattern will repeat itself with regard to same-sex love. Southern Baptists apologized some years ago for defending segregation. Bob Jones University has decided its ban on interracial dating was a matter of culture and not a scriptural mandate. Nobody today thinks the Bible supports slavery.

With regard to homosexuality we are now where we were with slavery in 1850 and segregation in 1950. Biblical scholars at the moment divide sharply on the question of whether the Bible forbids and condemns same-sex love as immoral. In a half-century, I predict the exegetical, ecclesiastical, and theological worlds will sing a different tune. The Roman Catholic hierarchy moves at its own pace, but eventually will come around as it did on Galileo, evolution, democracy, separation of church and state, and other things.

Meanwhile, in the secular and political world change is coming slowly, and it is coming generationally, geographically, racially, ethnically and in terms of social and cultural location. New New England led the way, and California and New York are moving along. The upper Midwest could be next. The South, Midwest, Plains and Mountain States will follow in time.

Many highly-educated whites in the knowledge and professional classes are further along than many African Americans and Hispanics, especially the more religious ones, although education, culture, and class matter here too.

In the meantime, it you wish to gauge the opinion of Christians ask first not about their church membership but about their zip code.

When all the nuances, qualifications, and caveats are added, I will stand by the claims herein.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Signs of the Times

News headline:

Cell Phone in Man's Chest Pocket Stops Bullet
Associated Press, Nov. 20, 2008

It used to be that pocket New Testaments did that. My how times have changed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh No, Barack, Not That!

Most of the time I agree with Barama on issues and have defended him even when he is a pure politician, i. e., have recognized pragmatically that idealistic purists win only moral victories and never get elected. But now he has gone too far. He has endorsed a playoff system for college football and says he will throw his weight around to bring it about. Terrible, terrible!

A playoff system to be fair must include more than eight teams. Basketball starts with sixty-four. It would extend the football season even further into the New Year. Who says we have to determine a number one anyway? Better to have something to argue about over the winter. Besides one game does not necessarily decide which is the better team. Too many things can happen to determine who wins on a given day.

I will throw my weight around to return to the good old days when the major bowl games were on January 1, and we were done with it after such a major overdose on one day. Today's money-driven system is crazy, beyond redemption.

College football is thoroughly corrupt anyway. Consider the salaries and perks of the big-time coaches compared to that of the best professors and presidents of those schools. Utterly absurd. It is a sport driven by money and fat TV contracts, an abomination for educational institutions.

So Barama, get real. If you really want to do something worthy of your office, denounce it for the corrupt system it has become.

OK, OK, I know supporting a playoff system will get you lots of plaudits with thousands of fans who are beset with the same delusions you apparently share. So much for new politics.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post-Election Reflection

1. Some of us remember a song from World War II -- When the Lights Go on Again all Over the World. Well, they went on about 11 PM, November 4, 2008. when the TV announcers said that Barack Obama had been elected President of the United States.

2. I cried twice on election night, once when I first knew that Barack Obama had won and thought how wonderful and again when I first knew that Barack Obama had won and thought how awful it was to have the job given the mess we're in. As The Onion put it in a headline, Black Man Given the Worst Job in the World.

Monday, November 10, 2008

White House Tour: Toilet in Lincoln Bedroom

When Laura was showing Michelle around the WH, I hope she warned her that you have to jiggle the handle in the toilet in the Lincoln Bedroom after every use to keep the water from overflowing. That always annoyed me when I was there.

And I thought that handwritten note that Rosalyn Carter had taped on it in 1979 reminding everyone to jiggle after flushing was a little tacky.

Maybe with all the books Barack is selling since his election, he could afford to bring in a plumber to fix it. Actually, I would do it free if they wanted, just to save taxpayers a little money, what with the deficit and the economic crisis and all.

Famous But Fatuous Political Statement

Some of the most famous statements in recent political history are bull biscuits.

In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Nonsense. People had a lot to fear, during the Great Depression, things like unemployment, poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the like. Just ask my Dad, who lived through it.

In his campaign for VP with Michael Dukakis in 1988 against George the Elder Bush, Lloyd Bentsen said to Dan Quayle, the Republican candidate, "I know Jack Kennedy . . . and, Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy." That statement was mean, gratuitous, insulting, vacuous, obvious, just to get started.

In 1961, John Kennedy said, "Ask not your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Nice rhetoric, has a nice sound to it, clever to use the reverse images, etc. But the statement is empty without some specifics to give it content.

And not universally applicable, e. g., those who were sent to Iraq to fight this senseless war have every right to ask what their country can do for them when they return -- if they do.

Kennedy's speech to the Baptist preachers in Houston in 1960 is lauded as a clear-headed statement on church and state, but it is actually shallow and confused regarding the difference between church and state and between religiion and politics.

Maria Cumo and Obama have a much better and more profound grasp of the issues.

See my article:

Why, then, are they so famous and so often repeated? Beats the heck out of me.

Trust Obama, Oh Ye of Little Faith

Some are already criticizing Obama for designating Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff -- one of his very first choices -- because of his close Israeli ties.

Here is my theory about Rahm Emanuel. First, it is a gesture to the Jewish community that will help him to get tougher on Israel later on. Second, he knows that to get stuff done, he has to pass legislation through Congress. RE is just the kind of tough SOB who can help with that.

Whether my theory is right, you can be sure that Obama had clear purposes in mind that had been thoroughly thought through when he chose RE. I trust him. He succeeded in the primaries and in the election by ignoring the advice I gave him.

BO will certainly make choices that will make those of us on the idealistic left squirm. We should not hesitate to criticize him when we think he is wrong. He plays a tough political game. He obviously catered (pandered?) to farmers in Iowa and Illinois in supporting ethanol subsidies. He broke his promise on public campaign finance. He has been quiet on Israel's sins, etc., etc. Jack Kennedy's father bought West Virginia for him in the primaries by paying off the country sheriffs in 1960, as I understand it.

He could not survive politically if he tried to satisfy my tendency toward democratic socialism, even if he shared my views. The question is how does Obama balance realism and idealism, pragmatism and principle, in the long run, especially on the big issues.

For the moment, I trust BO more than I do the people so eager to criticize him so early. I think we should give him a break and allow him some time, but when appropriate we need to be critical as necessary, and I think he would want that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Cloning Extinct Species

I read in the paper this morning that scientists hope to clone extinct species. My understanding is that their first effort will focus on the Republican Party.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ten Reasons Why John McCain Could Still Win the Election

Watch the video:

10. Sarah Palin climbs on a big rock in her back yard to get a better view of Russia, and when it rolls over discovers a new oil field that has more oil than Saudi Arabia.

9. Michelle confesses that her secret wish is to start a madrassa in the White House and teach Wahhabism to black kids from the D. C. ghetto.

8. Barack acknowledges that a spell has been cast on him such that if he even glances at a full moon, he will turn into Dick Cheney and look like Alan Greenspan.

7. The Pope puts Sarah on the fast track to become a saint.

6. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet agree to pay off the national debt if Sarah Palin with go with them on a 10 day moose hunt in Alaska with only a very small tent to sleep in while Todd stays home with the kids.

5. Michelle admits that she slept with Bill Clinton to get him to campaign for Barack.

4. Obama admits that McCain has found him out and confesses to being a terrorist, a socialist, and a Muslim cousin of Saddam Hussein, from whom he got his middle name.

3. An angel appears on Mt. Sinai with irrefutable proof that McCain was born of a virgin.

2. Osama bin Laden helicopters into the middle of a rally in Ohio and personally surrenders to McCain.

1. President George W. Bush endorses Obama.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain-Palin -- a Poetic Reflection

See the video:

Have no fear. All is well.
McCain's chances have gone to hell.

He chose to go with a beauty-queen hottie.
Now his hopes are in the potty.

A bridge to nowhere: Sarah Palin.
M's gimmick -- deservedly failin'.

Let them throw their dirty dirt.
It will not Obama hurt.

Will be seen for what it is:
A final, desperate, worthless fizz.

Socialist, terrorist -- it didn't work.
Just showed M to be a jerk

Have no fear. All is well.
McCain's chances have gone to hell.

Still we wait, dreading the worst.
Surely our bubble yet will burst.

Yet on we go trembling with hope.
Please ruthless fate don't say NOPE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nader Revisited and Obama Praised

My first blog was about Ralph Nader (April 19, 2004). The main point of it was Nader is a secular prophet and saint, a political idiot, and a massive ego burdened by self-righteousness.

I was reminded of this last night when I heard him on the NPR News Hour. He is right on all the issues from my point of view.

He pointed out, for example, that both candidates speak always of the middle class, never of the poor. That simply indicates that a presidential candidacy based on Nader's ideas has a zero chance of success in the prevailing political and cultural climate. This morning on NPR Kevin Phillips repeated some of Nader's themes.

I fervently hope that Barack Obama is elected president. That for me will be a day of great rejoicing. I think he will be as good a president a political reality will allow to be.

The problem is that both parties are ruled, or at least constrained, by the wealthy and the corporate class. They provide the money without which political success is impossible, but it is a corrupt system. Obama is the victim and perpetrator of it. He received in 2008 693 thousand dollars from Goldman Sachs alone and hundreds of thousands more from similar institutions.

The cultural reactionaries, among whom are many Protestants, and the plutocracy have far too much influence.

White Protestants have helped elect Republicans for decades since the era of FDR and the southern embrace of Republicans since the Civil Rights era. White Protestants gave us Nixon, Regan, and two Bushes.

Obama will be less bad, even much better than McCain, but from the perspective of this democratic socialist, he cannot be a good president because the system will not allow him to be even if he wanted to be, and I am not sure of the latter.

Until we have a radical social, political, and cultural transformation, improvements in justice for the poor, the working class, and the middle class will be at the margins. However, as Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out decades ago, even minimal advances toward justice can make a great deal of positive difference in the lives of large numbers of people.

That is why I fervently hope that Obama will be elected president.

Friday, October 03, 2008

What Do You Mean, Who Won?

After every debate the great question is, Who Won? But nobody ever defines what winning means. Therefore, any answer is meaningless. I can think of several possibilities:

1. X was the better debater -- better informed, all factual claims were accurate, more articulate, logically compelling arguments, and the like.

2. X had the sharp zingers that will dominate the news the next day.

3. X won more voters for his/her candidate than the other.

4. X was more personally engaging, made better contact with the audience.

5. I preferred candidate X for my own reasons.

6. A combination of some or all of the above.

7. None of the above.

Next question: Are we safer now than before 9-11? Adapt the above argument to this one, i. e., meaningless without definition.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

In Praise of Sarah Palin and all the Unqualified

I'll tell you, I am just sick and tired of hearing people say that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be Vice President. Of course, she is not, but so what?

There are millions and millions of people in this country, including myself, who are not qualified to be Vice President. The unqualified deserve to be represented just like everybody else. She is one of the unqualified, so who better to represent the unqualified than she?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Getting Sick Enough to Vomit: The Discipline of a Good Depression

We all know that you feel better after you vomit, but nobody wants to get that sick.

It is horrible to think about it, and I feel guilty for even letting the idea surface. But I will proceed anyway. Would a serious economic depression be good for us in the long run? It might.

Could a good depression revive the prudence, discipline, and caution that the Great Depression reinforced in the generation represented by my parents and grandparents.? If so, America might be the better for it.

In recent decades we have developed some toxic cultural habits -- runaway consumerism, an unrestrained self-indulgent hedonism promoted by corporate advertising, disdain for delayed gratification, greed for bigger houses, cars, and the latest gadgets, a pattern of living beyond our means, a careless attitude toward debt aided and abetted by the easy availability of credit and credit cards, failure to consider the consequences of our reckless extravagance, and the like.

To revive an old phrase, the "Protestant ethic" has died. Even many of the churches that are growing rapidly are preaching a gospel of prosperity that a shocked Calvin would have abhorred. Paradoxically, it was the disciplined style of life that valued work and thrift as a divinely-approved virtues that helped generate the widespread prosperity subsequent generations enjoyed. In capitalism individual self-interest was supposed to produce universal welfare. Sadly we find in the current generation a bastardized form of culture that lacks the self-restraint and prudence of the stringent ethic of the past and retains only the desire and expectation of the unlimited possession of material goods in a life of self-indulgent gratification.

No, I don't wish another Great Depression on myself, my children, and grandchildren along with the whole lot of us. I just wish that we could recover the ethic strengthened by it for a generation badly in need of repentance and newness of life. But sometimes we need to get very sick before we can vomit and feel better.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Damnation by Designation: the "Bailout"

What's in a name? A heck of a lot.

The rescue plan that was defeated today was damned from the start once it became known as a "bailout of Wall Street by taxpayers." Of course, we all hate that.

But that's about all that got through apparently. The dire consequences of not rescuing the financial industry was only a echo of the original ear-splitting blast.

Once the idea of a bailout of Wall Street became the way most people thought about it, proponents failed to make the point that the "bailout" was the means. The end was to save us all -- Wall Street and Main Street. In the glare of a"bailout" of the very financial geniuses of Wall Street who caused it (forgetting about all the greedy people who foolishly bought houses and cars, etc., etc. etc., and got themselves into unsustainable debt) the little glimmer of light that failure to do so would sink us all never got into the public mind, despite all the warnings from all sides.

My understanding from the economists I trust is that while the rescue plan was badly constructed and probably not the best way to accomplish the objective -- saving the financial system -- it was better than doing nothing and was the bill before us.

Once the serious consequences of a failure to get credit flowing again begins to hurt masses of people, maybe some constructive action will follow.

Now if only the politicians would stop trying to exploit the issue for partisan purposes, but, uh oh, I am dreaming again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quasi-Acerbic Oddities for the Day

I am now convinced that Bill Clinton wants Obama to lose, so Hillary can run in 2012. He is oozing with enthusiastic praise for McCain and Palin and damning Obama with "Oh, he's nice too" remarks. I take back the nice things I said about him after his Convention speech.

Sarah Palin is self-destructing. She has been knocked off her lofty perch, has lost confidence, and is giving 10th grade answers to simple questions, and looking like a simpleton. Can she recover? Maybe.

Sinister Scheme to Make McCain the Economic Savior

I smell a rat. I suspect that the mother of all Rovian plots is about to appear that will make McCain the brave hero who saves the nation from economic disaster just in time for him to make the debate tonight on foreign policy on which he already has an advantage.

It can take several paths. He scares the daylights out of House Republicans, convincing them that if that don't come to his aid right now, Obama will become president and appoint liberal judges to the Supreme Court, bring in a reign of government control, spend great sums on social programs, and so on. They agree to hold their nose and support a bi-partisan Rescue Package enabling the revised Paulson plan to pass.

McCain gets Democrats to accept enough of the House Republican modifications to persuade everybody to go along. Democrats will either have to accept the changes to get a deal, or they will have to refuse and take blame for the failure. Or Democrats can pass it on their own and risk ruin if the plan fails.

Combinations and variations of all the above or some new possibilities emerge -- all designed to make McCain the hero who rode into town and took charge.

It could be worked so that failure still looms until Obama leaves for Oxford. Then the McCain-engineered plan could be worked out and announced just as Obama begins his town hall meeting before the nation, thus stealing the spotlight from him.

I tell you that some nefarious scheme is underfoot to make McCain look good as the Great Leader and Obama to look weak and ineffectual in times of crisis -- more willing to hold a silly old debate than to save the nation from disaster. We have reports already that McCain was working the phones all night.

Can the Democrats spoil the conspiracy and save Obama's hide? Maybe. Am I paranoid? Maybe, but just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not after you.

If I am wrong, I will repent and confess my lack of faith. If I am right, I will not enjoy my prescient vision of Democrats once again blowing the presidency by being outsmarted by the forces of darkness.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Deep Thinker Palin or I Can't Believe She Really Said That

With thanks to Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post.

In a recent interview Sean Hannity of Fox News tossed Sarah Palin the following softball (slow pitch):

Hannity: What is our role as a country as it relates to national security?

Palin: Yes. That's a great question, and being an optimist I see our role in the world as one of being a force for good, and one of being the leader of the world when it comes to the values that -- it seems that just human kind embraces the values that -- encompass life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that's just -- not just in America, that is in our world.

And America is in a position because we care for so many people to be able to lead and to be able to have a strong diplomacy and a strong military also at the same time to defend not only our freedoms, but to help these rising smaller democratic countries that are just -- you know, they're putting themselves on the map right now, and they're going to be looking to America as that leader.

We being used as a force for good is how I see our country.

Gee, Sarah, I bet you made an A in that 6th grade civics class.
You what? You want to be a heartbeat away from being President of the United States.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Geography is Everything, Well Almost

I did the interactive electoral map at RealClear Politics and chose the states (blue) I thought Obama could put in his column and thus win the election.

The geographical elements were so strong that it reminded me of a previous blog in which I set forth a geographical theory of politics. It is so prescient and so brilliant (ha ha) that I dare to repeat it here.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A Geographical Theory of Winning in 2008

Look at the electoral maps of 2000 and 2004. The geographical pattern is striking, allowing for minor exceptions. The blue Democratic states are the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the states bordering the Pacific. The red Republican states are the Southeast, Southwest, lower Midwest, mountain and plains states. A pre-Civil War map showing free (blue) and slave (red) states and territories almost exactly matches the electoral map of 2004.

While electoral maps of many other years would not be this striking, a geographical factor is present, except in blowout years like 1936, 1972, and 1984. Look at it another way. Democrats won the large cities, while Republicans won the small towns and rural areas, with the suburbs split. Divisions are also noticeable with regard to income, education,, religion, race and ethnicity, age, marital status, and gender, but geography is relevant to many of these as well. Zip code is an important clue all by itself.

Since this is a blog and not a book, what can we learn from this? Geography is a useful clue to many other things -- history, economics, religion, and culture. The geography of the South, e. g., was conducive to cotton growing and therefore slavery, which has deeply affected its entire history. Geographical factors account in part for immigration patterns and the Protestant domination of the South.

Geography is a component of, if not clue to, how things worked out in other areas with regard to economics, culture, and religion. So what does this mean for 2008? Assuming that the situation will remain much like it is now in terms of red and blues states as is probable, ask how the blue states can be preserved for the Democrats while reaching out to enough other states that can be likely won to win the election. Some decisions are easy. Massachusetts is probably a safe bet if the Democrats don't do something crazy, but forget Utah for a while. Either Florida or Ohio is probably a must, remembering that a shift of only 70,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have given the victory to Kerry.

Looking toward 2008, Democrats live in tension between holding true to their values and getting elected. How to win without losing your soul -- that is the question. With Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, we risk losing our soul. With Sen. Hillary Clinton, we risk losing the election. My sentimental favorites at the moment are John Edwards and Barack Obama, but time may question the wisdom of one or both. But to begin with candidates, issues, and values is to get the cart before the horse. We need to start with geographical, historical-cultural factors and make a structural analysis of where enough more votes can come from next time to enlarge the number of blue states. Then we can match messenger and message to that purpose.

Semi-Acerbic Oddities on a Night of Upset Tummy

Will somebody please explain to me the difference between "moral" and "ethical" when used together to speak of issues or problems. Thesis: one or the other should be dropped.

Time to retire the following terms: campaign trail, populist, Wall Street and Main Street, bailout

I would suggest the two words most needing retirement -- well and you know -- but, well, I am aware that, you know, that is impossible since it would paralyze most speakers.

Time to quit having the following on TV news shows: political strategists of all denomination -- Democratic, Republican, or whatever. They offer nothing valuable and are boring time fillers, a waste of time.

Politicians should be allowed to speak only when attached to a polygraph machine and after a shot of truth serum. Any lie detected should generate an electric shock in the _________ (fill in the blank).

Medical wonders occur every day. But remember, doctors don't do it alone. They do it with nurses.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

No More Sexism Please

I think the sexism expressed in regard to Gov. Sarah Palin is terrible. Those who are guilty of it should be ashamed. An apology is owed to the Governor by those delegates at the Republican Convention who wore badges that said, "Hoosiers for the hot chick."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reforming Washington: A Fact Check on Obama and McCain

Our presidential candidates have informed us that there is greed on Wall Stree. (GASP) and a need to reform financial markets in the light of recent events. Not to worry, they both promise to ride into town like Hopalong Cassidy in the old Westerns and clean the place up. Boy, are they gonna get those "malefactors of great wealth" (T. Roosevelt).

Flip-flopping McCain has even had a near deathbed conversion and is now in favor of regulation. A Republican advocating more regulation of big business (GASP)! Contrary to Reagan, whom he and the whole GOP adore, government, he admits, is not always the problem, sometimes it is the answer (GASP).

I think it is wonderful that help is on the way, no matter who wins. But in the interests of transparency (we all love that), I propose that they both publish lists of their largest contributors. Hint: some of them are Wall Stree financial giants (GASP). Obama's largest 2008 contributor is Goldman Sachs: $691+ thousand.

Check it out with The Center for Responsive Politics:




What? A Jail in Wasilla?

I was shocked to learn that there is a jail in Wasilla, Alaska, hometown of Sarah Palin. I knew other small towns had jails but Wasilla? Sure other small towns have people who gossip, commit crimes, use illegal drugs, have prejudices against various groups different from them, even teen age pregnancies without benefit of clergy. But Wasilla?

I was pastor of a church in a small town, went to school in another small town, lived in a another small town. But mostly I grew up in the country among farmers. I love small towns and rural areas. We all are sentimental and nostalgic about them. We know and appreciate their virtues. But they are made up of people who have faults just like people who live in cities.

But after hearing Sister Sarah, I thought Wasilla was different, not like that awful den of iniquity San Francisco.

You mean I need to check out stuff the Governor says? Can't anybody be trusted any more? After all, she comes from a small town, was even Mayor of one.

OK, this is another one for the choir, but heck we all like to gossip, even in small towns.

Friday, September 12, 2008

McCain-Palin: Hypocrites, Liars

If McCain were really a maverick reformer, bringer of change, he could start right now, today, by denouncing the dirty, despicable campaign the Republicans are running and have run since Nixon under the tutelage of the Lee Atwater-Karl Rove School of Slime.

He has surrendered any claim to integrity and honor by showing his willingness to engage in or approve the same kind of demagoguery and misrepresentation of facts the Republicans have used for decades, while smiling piously when Palin tells her lies and sarcastically demeans Obama.

He damned Obama's lack of experience and chose Palin who has even less experience than Obama and then is complicit in the outrageous, baseless, laughable claim that she has more and better, showing that all his raging was a sham, insincere, a put-on.

Now he has become the great maverick hero because the experience tactic didn't work, and he belatedly saw that change and reform.are the magic words this year.

Palin's righteous claims about refusing the Bridge to Nowhere and her frugal disdain for earmarks are belied by her former actual previous practice, but McCain raises no question.

McCain has not condemned the lie about Obama's use of the "lipstick on a pig" notion, which was clearly not a reference to Palin.

He has not rejected his campaign's lying claims that Obama voted for age inappropriate sex education for kindergarten kids.

There is no tactic of opposition to Palin that is not made out to be either condescendingly deferential or a male brute bullying the nice lady candidate. All negative comments or attacks whatsoever, no matter what, are sexist and not respectful. Has he decried this scurrilous defense of her? Of course not.

When I was a boy in Georgia, the demagogues were still around, and I know demagoguery when I see it, and it is flourishing in this campaign in the Republican slimy tactics against Obama. Republicans are geniuses at finding the emotional hot buttons in people -- their fears, suspicions, hatreds -- and exploiting them in ways both subtle and blatant with clever pictures, slogans, and cliches that arouse the worst possible passions in voters, including xenophobia and racism.

Until McCain denounces the contemptible campaign tactics of his own party that are present here and now, I view his promise to shake Washington to the foundations as fraudulent and him as a charlatan and a phony.

PS: Obama is not without fault on this score, e. g., the 100 years in Iraq comment was not the whole truth. Maybe they could make a pact to refrain from misleading criticisms of each other and to condemn anything in their campaigns that was not accurate or fair.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Palin the Prophet, Discerner of the Will of God

It turns out  Sarah Palin is also a prophet.

The Interfaith Alliance reports that Governor Palin addressed ministry students at her former church, Wasilla Assembly of God, this June. In her remarks she asserted that  our troops in Iraq are on a "task that is from God," and it is "God's will" to build a natural gas pipeline across Alaska. 

Sex and the Single Girl

My how times have changed. In my day a teenage girl who got pregnant without benefit of clergy was disgraced, sent away to a Crittenden Home or relatives to live until the illegitimus arrived to be cruelly known by all as a bastardus. Thankfully, we think more kindly today about the matter. Indeed, celebrities who have babies begotten in fornicatio are routine occurrences provoking no shame, just more fame. It happens all around us in all segments of society and scarcely raises an eyebrow anymore.

We know we live in a different age from that of my youth when the pre-maritally inseminated daughter of the vice-presidential candidate and her inseminater are enthusiastically greeted by the smiling Republican presidential candidate onstage before a cheering audience and millions of TV viewers.

It seems also that fornicatio, though not approved, is regarded lightly these days by evangelical Christians, even if the fruit of concupiscence results in a surprise pre-nuptial pregnancy, as long as the fetus is not aborted and the couple who had enjoyed pre-conjugal bliss avail themselves of appropriate legalizing rituals. Or so one would conclude from the ecstatic reception of the Governor of Alaska as McCain's running mate among conservatives and evangelical Christians.

I prefer these contemporary norms and habits to the stigmatizing practices of the past. Non-marital teenage pregnancy can happen in any family anywhere, and the Palins are dealing with it admirably.

But my how times have changed.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin Gives a Clue to Republican Strategy

My guess that the speeches of two days ago, especially Palin's, give us revealing clues about what we should expect from now on. This was confirmed by McCain's own address last night and by what their strategists are saying.

Smiling Sister Sarah is going to be the pit-bull hockey mom with lipstick, sometimes known as the attack dog -- the traditional role of the VP candidate. If Democrats fight back against her in the same pit bull tones, they will be accused of sexism and bullying the nice lady. If the Democrats point to her sarcasm and distortion of facts, they will be accused of making personal attacks, while at the same time impugning Obama of loving hismelf more than he loves the country. If the public criticism gets loud, it will be blamed on the media -- a standard Republican defense when they feel vulnerable and run out of sensible arguments.

There was no mention by Palin of W, not one. FDR and Truman were praised but not George Bush -- current Republican President of the United States. No mention either of Dick Cheney, the Vice-President she wants to succeed.

We will be hearing a lot about change and reform and little or nothing of continuing the great accomplishments of the current administration, e. g., prosperity at home, fiscal restraint, victory in Iraq, peace, and universal love for America abroad. We will not be hearing about her extremist views of abortion and some other issues.

We will hear much about a set of contrasts:

Rural, small-town virtue versus big city decadence

Wasilla versus San Francisco

Authentic Americans versus the elite

Decent ordinary Americans versus Washington

Average hockey mom versus intellectual Professor

They will deflect criticism of her inexperience by pointing to Obama's alleged lack of same in relation to McCain's, devalue what experience Obama has had -- community organizer versus small-town mayor -- and when she is compared to Biden will deride the Washington establishment in favor of a fresh, uncorrupted voice from the outside who can reform the wicked place. No matter that the Republican tactics are brimming full of logical fallacies, meanness, evasion, denial, and distortion of facts. The barrage will come so fast that before the truth squad can deconstruct them, there will be more in the ads and speeches. They will accuse Democrats of despicable tactics while playing the game by the Lee Atwater-Karl Rove slime book.

We will hear repeatedly of the condescending elitism of Obama about bitter small-town and working-class Americans who cling to guns and religion and develop xenophobic prejudices -- words spoken to an affluent crowd in California in private, he thought. (Obama's most stupid mistake, admittedly.)

We will hear much of change and reform, about McCain the maverick, and Palin the fresh voice from the uncorrupted frontier who will shake the foundations of Washington but little or nothing about continuity with the Bush-Cheney reign.

Apparently, they intend to play down issues and make the election about character. The means means that the Republican mean machine will be on a mission of character assasination to present Obama is an upatriotic American with devious aims of vainglory as well as an uppity elitist who demeans small town, working-class peoples and their values.

Will it work? I wish I were more confident that it won't. Obama, Biden, and the Clintons have to do all they can to make sure it doesn't.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Obama and the Palin Pregnancy

Obama said exactly the right thing. The candidate's personal life is off-limits. The family of the candidate is off-limits. This is also a warning to the McCain campaign to leave Michelle out of it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How to Handle the Palin Candicacy

The choice of Palin as VP put the right-wing evangelicals into a state of ecstasy and reinvigorated the conservative base. Republicans are offering the most logic-defying, stupefying mental gymnastics, in producing the lamest defenses of her lack of experience, especially on foreign affairs, I have ever seen. It is breathtaking -- has more experience than Obama, Obama has less than McCain -- all totally avoiding the question about her own paper-thin resume. Is the only harm to Obama is that it may get more of them enthusiastically to the polls? Maybe, but I am a little nervous.

The Dems have to be careful how they respond to her. Biden cannot appear to be patronizing or condescending to this foreign policy novice.. If he treats her like a lady, that will prompt some women to criticize him for not considering her as an equal.

Neither can he be overly aggressive in going after her full force. If he treats her like an equal and attacks her like he would a man, he will be criticised for being a bully against this winsome, wholesome hockey mom -- thus provoking women to defend her and men to protect her. Sexism works both ways. Remember Hillary's complaints and those of her supporters.

Women will sympathize with her problems in being a working mom, and working-class moms will feel a kinship to this down to earth woman and want to identity with her.

Many men, especially the manly men of a type, may be swept into fantasizing about a beauty-queen wife who will go hunting, fishing, and riding into the wilderness with his and her guns in the pickup rack and say to hell with the fact that she has never read an article in Foreign Affairs or been in the same room with Sarkozy. She will just stand on the border of Alaska in her combat boots with her AK47 and yell over to Putin, "Don't make me come over there and show you why you better get your butt out of Georgia, and you better not burn Atlanta down." I can hear them saying, "By damn, she is the kind of real American we need to send to Washington to straighten things out."

Many of these men and women are in demographic groups in which Obama has not done well-- small town and rural America and in the blue-collar, old industrial regions -- land of the Reagan Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Bill did do well, and they must help out in these areas, along with Biden.

Women will need to take the lead in demolishing her on all fronts. Dangerous for a man if not done just right -- remember the Hillary women's complaint against Obama, the press, and the world. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida has set the example. She sliced the lady from Alaska into small pieces with a few well-chosen words.

At first I thought the best line of attack was to expose her as the right-wing extremist that she is -- out of the main stream.  But I have reconsidered. I think both campaigns will rightly play  down the culture wars because that is not where it's at this year. People -- with Democratic help if necessary-- will learn her social and cultural views and react accordingly, but this is not decisive this time around.

The question is whether her visceral, emotional appeal to a certain class of voters can be overcome by making people aware of what the McCain-Palin team will -- mostly won't -- do to help struggling Americans find jobs with decent wages and benefits, keep their houses, afford health care, secure child care when both parents work, and the like.

Is it possible to break through the spontaneous affection of those who have fallen in love with  this seductively charming woman to confront people with hard reality? Will image and a sense of identification with her trump competence on issues of national policy about which Republicans have little or nothing to offer ordinary hard-working, struggling Americans?

She is Annie Oakley who looks good in combat boots and June Allyson or Julie Andrews in high heels. She is fresh, charming, has a good story to tell, and represents a kind of wholesome, unassuming American type that many ordinary people in small towns and rural areas will find compelling -- the kind of real American we office.

She may self-destruct, other revelations may doom her, her early enthusiasts may become disillusioned. Reluctant Hillary supporters may be driven toward Obama. Moderates and independents may turn against her. Who knows?

McCain may come out looking like a political genius or an idiot. As my son-in-law says, "We live in interesting times."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

McCain's Adultery, Trophy Wife Problem

In his personal life John (Keating Five) McCain in his first marriage committed adultery, abandoned a badly-injured wife, and married a gorgeous, young filthy-rich blond.

Now he is doing the same thing politically. His first political marriage was to Dowdy Experience Maturity. Now he has abandoned this badly injured spouse, committed political adultery and hastily eloped in a shot-gun marriage of convenience with Purity Inexperience Reformer, a fresh, charming, young, church-going, gun-totin,' moose-huntin,' right-wing extremist. She supported a constitutional amendment in Alaska in 1998 banning same-sex marriage.

Implications for the campaign's future self-definition:
Goodbye George Bush, hello Annie Oakley.
Goodbye, experience, hello change.
Goodbye 90% Republican loyalist, hello maverick.
Goodbye moderates, hello far-right evangelicals.

Indisputably female, she is posing as a look alike to Hillary Clinton and giving her supporters a seductive come hither smile, promising to break the political ceiling that HRC only dented, although admittedly 18,000,000 times. Those mean old reactionary Democrats didn't want a woman on the ticket, but we barrier-breaking, diversity loving Republicans, always on the frontiers of liberation for oppressed minorities, first always to toot the horn of social justice for everybody so that people can be judged by the content of their character and not by the shape of their reproductive equipment -- yes we social pioneers welcome the opportunity to open the doors of opportunity to all who have been shut out (with the exception of homosexuals, of course, who are perverts). So join us in celebrating this historic breakthrough. The Democrats could only manage to nominate the first African American for president -- what slow-moving wimps.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain's Machinations: His Palin Problem

Every presidential nominee, including McCain, believes that an essential criterion for picking a VP is that the candidate must be ready, if necessary, to assume the presidency from day one on, thus ruling out on the job training. McCain has also argued that Obama is not ready to be president because of his lack of experience, especially on foreign policy.

But he apparently thinks that Palin is ready, despite her lack of experience, especially in matters of foreign policy, which is essentially zilch, non-existent, zero minus one. What is wrong with this thinking?

As Michael Kinsley said today in Slate, it raises a fundamental question about McCain's honesty, since apparently when he was making such a ruckus over Obama's lack of experience, he did not mean a word of it.

If Palin is qualified on foreign affairs, then Obama must be stupendously overqualified for the job, since he has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has recently been in Iraq and the Middle East, and has met numerous heads of state and other high-ranking officials.

But protest the defenders, Palin has been involved in small business, mayor of a town of 9,000, and governor of a thinly-populated state for about 20 months.

Recently she said she needs to know "what it is exactly that the VP does every day," has never been to Iraq, or thought much about it, what with being so busy with state government and all, and allegedly does not know what "the plan" is (McCain's, Bush's, anybody's?) to exit from Iraq. In the light of this, defenders conclude that she is more qualified by experience to be president than is Obama.

She herself said that having little experience may be an advantage enabling you to take a fresh look at things. Thus she turns the experience argument upside down and suggests that inexperience is a qualification.

The next move is for Republicans to change the subject in the face of this transparent farce and say that McCain has the experience and thus the Republicans win the experience argument! Heaven help us if this tortured logic and these desperate maneuvers convince anyone to vote for her on the basis that she is qualified by her lack of experience and by McCain's being full of it.

It is becoming more apparent every day that Palin is an extreme right-winger on many subjects.
For Palin's views, see:

Hillary supporters are then invited by Palin to vote for Palin. She apparently thinks as a woman she can be a stand in for other women for Hillary Clinton, tempting Biden to say to her (but I hope he will resist though I wish he could):

"Look, I know Hillary Clinton. She is a friend of mine. and Governor, you are no Hillary Clinton."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Way to Go, Barack!

The great big, bold lead headline in my morning paper said:


The speech was excellent in content and tone, had some fire and brimstone, annihilated the major Republican charges against him, and was full of specific content. He positioned himself for the campaign ahead by setting an agenda and a fighting spirit.

Wow, he must have been reading my blogs.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama and the Common Touch

Bill's Clinton's intellect is no less imposing than Barack Obama's, and his resume is equally impressive -- Yale and Oxford. But Bill has the common touch. He can identify with ordinary people so that his elite intellectual status does not raise a barrier. Now being from Arkansas and named Bill Clinton does not hurt. But his manner and approach and way of speaking help even more. Y'all understand that, don't you?

So far Barack has not been so successful. An exotic name like Barack Hussein Obama is already a question mark. When he is not making a speech but communing with the folks and answering questions, he sounds too much like the professor he was. Carefully chosen words uttered slowly and the inability to simplify things without your getting the idea he is all too aware of the complexities, ambiguities, and nuances give the impression that he is so cool, controlled, and in charge of his thought that he cannot utter the simple simplicities with passion.

He needs a little more of the warm-hearted preacher and less of the deep-thinking professor -- a little more fire and brimstone, outrage, and feeling that convey sincerity without appearing that he is acting and calmly calculating and not speaking from the heart.

Can he do it? I hope he can. It probably is not something Bill can teach him. You sort of have to have it as part of your real self. If he cannot connect with the folks on the streets, in the factories, in the bars, at prayer meetings, those who do the hard work and get sweaty, he may have to sit with Dukakis and Kerry at a sidewalk cafe drinking fine wine and reflect on why the working-class white folks didn't believe that they--these sophisticates -- really felt their pain.

Reflections on Obama, King, the Clintons, and More

1. The symbolism of Obama's acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of Kings "Dream" speech is inescapable and self-explanatory.

2. For the first time in a good while, I like the Clintons. The actions of Hillary and Bill at the Convention are remarkable, commendatory, and done despite great pain and disappointment. Hillary's nomination would have been an equally great occasion for rejoicing.

3. I am so disgusted at the TV journalists, pundits, commentators, political advisers, and the like I can hardly stand to watch any more, and I keep the remote and the mute handy to shut them off. If the news was 99% joy, peace, harmony, and universal happiness, and 1% was about conflict, controversy, and trouble, what would get headline coverage on the 24 hour news cycle? Except where they have inside information, they have no better insight than any of the rest of us who read at least two good newspapers a day and some serious books and journal. Only a few are worth listening to, are a waste of time, and one of my favorites -- Time Russert -- is not with us.

4. The last few days, like many Democrats, I have felt gloomy doubtful, and scared that Obama would join Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry as defeated disappointments. Obam's magic had deserted him. McCain was making gains, and except for Michelle and Ted Kennedy, the first day of the Convention offered little relief. Since then, Hillary, Bill, Joe Biden, and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer have revived me a bit. Tonight I hope the old magic comes back, and new sense of optimism will return.

5. Most of the time I and everyone else forgets that Obama is half-white. The fact that the Democratic nominee is the product of a black-white marriage, literally an African and an American, is no less remarkable than our noting that he is an African American -- meaning that he is black.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mr. McCain, Put Away these Childish Things

Thank God, the Brett Favre situation has been resolved. All America has been nervous, tense, and preoccupied with this day and night. Now that this momentous matter has been taken care of, we can all go back to the silliness and triviality of the McCain campaign.

Obama should say the following:

If 71 year old Senator McCain wants to keep on playing childish games like he has been doing for the last week or more, let him do so, but I intend to be the adult in this campaign and deal with serious issues. But, just for the record, keeping tires properly inflated will save gas. But to say that this is my total energy plan is dishonest and deceitful, and you know that it is, Senator.

On the importance of proper tire inflation to fuel efficiency, check out the NASCAR website:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

McCain Scandal: Adultery, Trophy Wife, and More

It would be mean, low-down, despicable -- and loads of fun, not to mention justified in the light of the dirty, slimy ads the Republicans are running. I refer to the Obama ad I'd like to see. It would feature JM as the philandering husband who divorced his first wife, who had been badly injured and disfigured in an automobile accident, to marry a good-looking, wealthy woman 24 years his junior -- all true. Think of the images -- adultery, abandoned wife, gorgeous trophy wife, a filthy rich blond. Did I mention that McCain was one of the "Keating Five" involved in the Savings and Loan Scandal?

Friday, August 01, 2008

You Hit Me First, Did Not

First Little Boy: You hit me first.
Second Little Boy: Did not. You hit me first.

Obama Campaign: You played the race card first.
McCain Campaign: Did not. You played the race card first.

American Voter: Sigh............... It's gonna be a long summer.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Republican Mean Machine

Contrary to earlier hints otherwise, McCain has succumbed to the temptation of taking the low road against Obama. The Republican mean machine is already unleashing a barrage of nasty ads and accusations on the dirty low end of campaign tactics in the spirit of Lee Atwater, hoping that something will stick.

The aim is to challenge Obama's worthiness for high office, i. e., a mere celebrity with no experience or wisdom, all glitz and glamor but no gravitas, all hat no cattle, an unscrupulous politician who would risk losing a war to gain election, etc. -- the same old demagogic character assassination routines used successfully on Dukakis, Gore and Kerry, so gullible are large numbers of voters.

Apparently McCain has a personal dislike of Obama that approaches contempt, perhaps underlined by jealousy of the new kid on the block who is getting all the attention. The more time goes on the less respect I have for the war hero.

The news stations, with more time than substance to offer, aid and abet all this by playing the silly clips and talking about them ad nauseam, then further compounding the shallowness by an annoying parade of political strategists who mouth the party talking points and shed no light on anything important. To his credit, Barney Frank on Hardball nailed them to the wall for all this irrelevance and tried to shame them into discussing matters pertinent to future of the country.

But, heck, the TV media are not out to serve the public good but to make money for corporations, and they will do what they think gains viewers and thus ad revenue. Let's face it, how many people would want to listen to 40 minutes of serious discussion by knowledgeable analysts on the health proposals of the candidates when they can tune in to what is today's hot flash, controversial, emotional, visual, attention-grabbing, no matter how superficial or irrelevant to serious concerns. PBS has to beg for money for their more substantial coverage.

Ah, democracy in our time, but, alas, so it has always been. In fact, some attacks were even more scurrilous. Yet, knowing this, I am not comforted but all the more dismayed. Please pass the Alka-Seltzer.

Oh Lord, how I devoutly hope Obama wins this election.

Can Obama Walk on Water?

Obama should go down to the banks of the Potomac and see if he can walk across unaided. If he can, then let us anoint him now as Messiah and forego the election. If he cannot, he needs to be reminded that pride (to think of oneself more highly than one ought to think) goeth before a fall and tone down the hubris.

Obama and a Dog Walking on its Hind Legs

I just figured out why the Obama speech in Berlin to adoring throngs was such a puzzle: It was like a dog walking on its hind legs. As Samuel Johnson said, "It is never done well, but you are surprised that it can be done at all."

No speech would be satisfactory because of the singular circumstances pertaining to its being done at all. No criteria exist for judging what was called for. But it's fun to watch a dog walking on its hind legs.

Monday, July 28, 2008

With Apologies to Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline sings a beautiful song entitled "If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child." An impish little devil compelled me to write alternative lyrics.

If I could see the world through the eyes of a child,
A lot of knee caps I would see.
My first thought upon seeing another knee --
Most people are taller than me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Principled McCain and Pragmatic Obama?

I have heretofore put Obama's policies and shifts in policies in the best possible light, believing him to be idealistic and principled. But at the moment he appears to be primarily a tough-minded, realistic Chicago-style pragmatic politician, while McCain is sometimes the more principled. Latest point of reference:

John McCain opposes the heavy 54 cents a gallon U.S. tariffs on Brazilian ethanol imports, saying that the Brazilian product made from sugarcane "is much more efficient than ethanol from corn." He also wants to end subsidies for U.S. ethanol production, which he blames for "destroying the market" and "causing a serious problem with inflation."

Barack Obama opposes removing the tariff on Brazilian ethanol and supports the substantial ethanol subsidies which benefit corn farmers, especially huge agribusiness corporations like Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. Obama has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry. Next to Iowa, Illinois is the largest producer of corn in the United States. Ethanol subsidies cause a rise in food prices and hurt the poor around the world.

Nevertheless, I will continue to support
Obama because his policies are much more in line with mine than McCain's will ever be, and I believe he wants to be as idealistic and principled as he can be within the limits of what getting elected requires.

The New York Times, June 23, 2006

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Who Is Obama, Really?

Some leftward Democrats see Obama as betraying the progressive principles they thought he held. Republicans label him as far too liberal then and now. The media like to talk (the all-news channels ad nauseam) about his flip-flopping. Some think that he is pure pragmatist who wants to win, principles be damned.

Here is my tentative hypothesis: Barack Obama is most comfortable toward the left. His core principles are liberal. But he has promised a new politics that rises above crippling partisanship. This involves making compromises, accepting the better when you cannot get the best. He realizes that politics is the art of the possible. He recognizes the futility of being a martyr for lost causes. In all of this there are elements of of pragmatism and realism -- you cannot exercise power for the good unless you achieve it.

Viewed in this way Obama has been consistent in the deepest sense, although his approach involves adjustments in policy over time that give the surface appearance of flip-flopping. This approach puts him in the best light rather than in the worst as his progressive supporters and his avowed opponents are wont to do.

So far he is doing a good job of finding a proper balance between idealism and realism and between principles and pragmatism. Until compelling evidence renders this judgment null and void, I am sticking to it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Unpleasant Truths the Next President Won't Tell Us

I earnestly hope Barack Obama is elected president, but neither he or John McCain is likely to tell it like it is, at least not in the form of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Here is a sample of what we probably or surely won't hear from either in 2009:

1. A major reason why so many Muslims in the Middle East are hostile or hateful toward us is not because of our democracy or our values but because of our policies and practices -- invasion of their countries, the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, where the holiest places in Islam are located, support of repressive governments, and the like. The origins of our present troubles go back as least as far as the complicity of the US and Britain in the 1953 overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. Other factors, some of them, internal to Muslim nations and people themselves doubtless are involved, but our actions in and toward them are central.

2. An important factor in this constellation is our one-sided support of Israel. The founding of Israel may have been a mistake. Nevertheless, the nation is there, and their citizens have a right to exist in a secure environment under conditions of justice. Israel is guilty of many past injustices against the Palestinians and continue to oppress them grievously.

3. Oil is not the whole reason behind our actions and errors in Muslim countries, but it it looms large. Because we did not take measures, although President Carter urged us to, decades ago to free ourselves from our dependence on Middle East oil, our national well-being depends on keeping it flowing until we can at last free ourselves from this bondage. As some wag put it, if the main export of Kuwait were broccoli (despised by the then President Bush), would we have intervened to repel Iraq in 1991?

No president will fully acknowledge these truths because it would be politically disastrous to do so, and a proper response would require national repentance and new policies. Nevertheless, they constitute a hard knot of tangled predicaments that took a long to create and will be difficult to resolve even if the our leaders had to courage to do what is needed and if the American people would permit them to do so.

Is there much more to it than this? Of course, there is, but we won't be able to get to the much more unless we at least deal with these three fundamental elements.

The best we can hope for is that Obama, if elected, will be a little better, while if McCain wins, expect a continuation of the same policies that have contributed to the mess we are in.

We have a tiger by the tail in the Middle East. Does anyone know how to get us loose without serious injury to us or the tiger?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Obama and Faith-Based Human Services

Obama spoke favorably the other day about the value of faith-based human services. It reminded me that an article I posted on my web side in 2004 had become newly relevant. You can find it at this address:

Monday, June 30, 2008

Stop Wasting Time Debating What the Bible Really Teaches

1. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong.
2. I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong.

The first statement is normative, purports to state an objective truth, and is highly debatable. It is
somebody's interpretation, and it can be disputed.

The second statement is descriptive, states a subjective conviction, and is indisputably true. I believe what I believe, and that's a fact.

Form 2 statements have the same implications for action as form 1 statements.

Most essentialist (Form 1) disputes about what the Bible really teaches in an authoritative fashion accomplish little. I could convene a conference on what the Bible teaches
normatively about homosexuality with the best biblical scholars and theologians in the world on the subject. It would produce a set of conflicting conclusions that I could predict in advance if I knew the general theological outlook of the participants.

As a rule liberal biblical scholars will conclude that the Bible condemns abusive sexual relationships of all kinds but not faithful, monogamous same-sex love. Conservative scholars will nearly always say that the Bible condemns all homosexual acts and relationships. Numerous conferences and debates in journals and books show this over and over. So I need not convene my conference. Seldom does anyone have a change of mind as a result of such debates. So, of what use are they?

Given all this I propose we abandon unhelpful essentialist or normative notions of what a given religion IS or TEACHES or REQUIRES. This approach states what is claimed to be definitive truth, so that anyone who disagrees is wrong. The result is a multitude of contradictory claims.

What finally matters is what people BELIEVE Islam or Christianity is, or what the Koran or the Bible teaches and what they do about in daily life and practice.

Does the Koran permit or require
jihad? Muslim scholars and theologians are not in agreement about what it is and when it is required, permitted, or prohibited? But what I want to know is: What do particular Muslims around the world actually believe it teaches about jihad and what they do about it? This is operationally useful.

In daily life we confront people who hold a variety of views about moral and religious subjects, many of which contract others. I can only decide for myself what the right interpretation is. I cannot decide for others. The important question, then, is how I am going to relate to them -- agree and form coalitions to promote our common beliefs or oppose them in every appropriate manner.

The text of the Bible and the Koran say many things, but none of it means much until it is interpreted by someone. It is the various interpretations that finally matter in a practical sense. So let every believer and every group try to discern in their own ways what the Bible or the Koran requires today in the way of belief and practice. Let them all confess their beliefs and be loyal to them. Let them all seek agreement with others where possible by joint inquiry.

Debates about the objective truth of the matter are mostly fruitless and largely a waste of time. Have we not learned this by now?