Saturday, November 18, 2006

Markets and Morality: The Legacy of Milton Friedman

The grand high poobah of free-market capitalism died this past week. While there are many who would heap glory, laud, and honor upon him, and there is no doubt he made fundamental changes to the way we discuss the role of government in the economy, my own feeling is that, taken on balance, the prophet of the new libertarianism has been a horrid influence not just on economic practice, but on how we understand what an "economy" is.

One thing Friedman did, and it is a good thing on the whole, was reintroduce the idea that there is a moral dimension to economic decision making. The choices we make on how we spend our money create, over time, a picture of what we as a soceity value. The Keynsians were enraptured with managing the economy simply as a function of balancing monetary and fiscal policy in order to prevent major economic disruptions. They were the great macro-economists. Friedman was much more concerned with the micro-economic realities human beings face when they shop, pay the phone bill, property taxes, and buy braces for their kids. For that reason, monetary policy - controlling the amount of money flowing through the economy - was key to preventing major shifts. Fiscal policy may provide the framework, but monetary policy was the nuts and bolts, because it was here the rubber hit the road. For that alone, Friedman was important because he reminded us that economics was not about curves, graphs, and charts, but about the everyday living and choices people make.

On the other hand, the undying insistence that the market is always a better arbiter for deciding what is and is not preferrable simply ignores another reality - there are limits to how capable markets are of rationing marginal resources and decision-making; and there are situations where markets simply don't function, and that is why government is a necessary supplement. Of course, this creates a whole area of debate and decision-making, but that is part of the point - human beings sometimes need to be deliberate rather than trusting to random forces. A perfect example is dog food. There are six or seven major brands of dog food, and probably a dozen or so other smaller brands, and of course there are store and local and regional brands as well. Friedmanites would claim that this shows the power of the market - human beings are not only free to spend their money on a variety of brands of dog food, but by creating an environment in which there is enough money available, it creates incentives for others to enter the market as well. Yet, does this not beg a question concerning the rationing of our resources? In a world where millions die every year of prevetable diseases because there is no profit margin for providing prevention; in a nation where fifty million people live without adequate access to necessary health care for economic reasons, what possible moral reasoning sees the borgeoning of dog food brands as a good for society as a whole.

Am I suggesting the limiting of dog food brands to one, or perhaps two? Of course not. What I am suggesting is that, the marketplace does one thing - provide a multitude of dog food brands - but it does not do everything necessary for the healthy operation of a society. The notion that economic and social questions be limited to discussions of "the market" and nothing else misses the fact that there are a multitude of things we do together as human beings that require concerted action, deliberate action, and we need to break out of a model that limits debates to false choices and dichotomies when human ingenuity and possibility might create opportunities not available within a certain limited framework.

Friedman's legacy is large, and his influence will be long, perhaps even longer than Keynes. He forced us to see the economy as one way of understanding human social moral decision making. We need to use that tool to question much of the rest of his legacy.

Short Take

Crooks & Liars has this example of Pat Robertson's outreach to those of other faiths.

Can we think of demonic power in this world? Living in Virginia Beach? Running an unaccredited "university"? Calling for the execution of foreign leaders?

Health Care and the Church: Starting to Think it Through

I was listening to the radio this morning - Air America, WCPT out of Chicago - and there was discussion concerning Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and the current state of the American health care system. I got to thinking that this is an issue about which I have given almost no thought - despite gall bladder surgery, watching my wife deliver two beautiful baby girls, and the inevitable medical exams that accompany reaching "a certain age" - but feel should be given serious thought from a theological perspective. I use the terminology "theological prespective" because I find it more terminologically exact than the bland, and meaningless, "Christian perspective". Theology is what the church does - it thinks through the experience of God, God's revelation to humanity, and our response to it. "Christianity" is a generic description of a religious group that may, or may not, have certain things in common.

That digression aside, because I believe whole-heartedly that it is time to set aside the politics of the Mayberry Machiavellis (h/t to Jon DiIullio) and deal substantively with serious policy questions, I think it is time I wrestled in some detail with questions surrounding health care. I think these are questions about which the various Christian Churches should care deeply. Catholic hospitals, Presbyterian hospitals, United Methodist hospitals, and of course Adventist Hospitals are among the finest in the nation. The history of the church providing care to those ill and injured is as old as the church itself. That the economics and politics has become infinitely more compllicated should not distract us from the real concern Christians of a variety of persuasions should have over how medical care is delivered, and more importantly, how it is delivered.

Before we enter that arcana, however, I feel it necessary to deal with something that has become, for better or worse, part of the conversation. The claim by many that access to health care is a "right" has created much confusion and heightened the stakes in the debate. While "rights talk" is far different today than it was first coneived during the heyday of the English and Scottish Enlightenment, it is easy enough to say that most Americans envision a right as something to which they have a claim regardless of the exigencies of society. Most Americans are correct in their understanding that a right is something that exists prior to the creation of the state, and therefore is something over which the state has no power of interference. They are wrong, however, to see health care as a right. Rights exist not in individuals as individuals, but only so far as individuals are part of a society. They are a part of the social understanding of humanity. They are pre-social, but they express the limit of social interference. They do not concern individuals in the everyday experience of their life; rights are about the practice of social and political life.

As such, it is hard to see health care as a "right". It might be an essential duty, in line with the Hippocratic Oath, to provide medical assistance to others without regard to how those others can pay; this is not the same as a right, and to claim it as such is to do violence to the heritage of natural rights that Americans, more than any other people, cherish. To think of health care as a right creates confusion, clouding an already difficult debate with the baggage of rights talk and all it seems to entail in our self-obsessed time. It would be better to discard it before we begin so the debate can move forward in a more positive and fruitful manner.

To say that health care is not a right in no way means that I do not believe Americans should not have access to the finest possible health care. To say that health care is not a right in no way means that I believe our current system of health care delivery is fine. It only states that, as it does not pertain to our political and social existence per se and en se, it is not a right.

Short Take

Think Progress has a picture of John Ashcroft at the unveiling ceremony for his portrait at the Department of Justice.

I hope a future Attorney General will see fit to be so scandalized by it that he or she spends public funds to move the curtains sheilding the public from the naked breasts of the statue of justice to cover the portrait of our only Confederate Attorney General.

Short Take

Media Matters for America has this from seriously deranged radio lip-flapper Michael Savage, which includes the line: "With God;s help and your listenership we shall nuke Iran." This is a great example of taking the LORD's name in vain.

Unlike this - Shut the Fuck Up You Crazy Asshole.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Musical Interlude and Promo (With a Boring but not Irrelevant Autobiographical Moment)

It is difficult to reminisce about the music one grew up with when the number one song from the year one graduated from high school was "Down Under" by Men at Work (winner of the career-killing Best New Artist award at the Grammys for that year). I am always grateful for the fact that I preferred music others did not, because it has stayed with me; "Africa" by Toto has not aged as well.

The 1970's have fared even less well than the 1980's in the hearts and minds of music critics, even those who look back. A number of bands, many spectacularly popular at the time but now long-forgotten, are still plying their wares. Others were especial targets of critics wrath; Styx is one I often think of in this context. One album of theirs was compared to a "parking lot of whale vomit". Of course, this same critic paid them a great compliment by saying that no one lliked them, but their fans, who were buying albums by the millions and selling out concerts.

One band from the 1970's often lumped with Styx, but far different, is Kansas. I first discovered them in 1980. My older sister was off to Cameroon in the Peace Corps, and left behind a fantastic record collection. Among the many gems was the complete collection (available up to that time) of albums by Kansas. I sat and listened and have been a committed fan ever since. Even in the dark days of the late-'80s and early-'90s, I still listened, even though I would never argue with anyone that the loss of Kerry Livgren was one the band never recovered from. If you thought "Dust in the Wind" was a good song, listen to "Cheyenne Anthem". If "Point of Know Return" or "Carry On My Wayward Son" were rocking enough, "Miracles Out of Nowhere" and "Lightning's Hand" will blow you away. A great collection, beyond their double Ultimate collection, is the CD/DVD Device, Voice, Drum.

Another Loser in the Elections: Dumb, Shallow Insider Political Commentary

We shall begin by assuming as true that the mainstream media (MSM) is neither liberal nor conservative. Much of the erroneousness of its analysis, especially among the worst offenders, comes not from any bias but rather from a lack of understanding, either of the core issues involved, any possible nuance that exists outside its own closed, solipsistic understanding of Washington. I do not wish to get into any debates about "the liberal media" because there is enough data and evidence to disprove it. If we are to consider the failings of the media, we need a new paradigm, which I am shamelessly stealing from Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?.

Washington-based journalists are part of the governing class, whether we wish it or not. From the lowliest stringer to Wolf Blitzer and Tim Russert, all constitute part of the vehicle of governance because it is through them that the three branches of government send out information, set possible policy directions (the infamous "trial baloons"), and wage the vindictive war of anonymous sourcing. There is nothing wrong with any of this; government would not function without the flow of information. The problem is that, rather than fostering an adversarial relationship between the press and those it covers - not in any personal sense, but professionally - over time journalists see themselves as players, part of the inner workings, and as such able to make comments and even suggestions concerning policy and politics that they might otherwise keep silent on.

This is nothing new. Since the early 20th century, through their heyday after the Second World War, journalists like Walter Lippmann, the Alsop brothers, and William Allen White (who lived in Kansas but was as much a Roosevelt booster as any insider) were seen by many, and understood themselves to be, part of the governing class. Lippmann, especially, with his aloof manners, his crisp, concise writing style, and his ready access to a variety of powerful, important people became a model for many to follow. Indeed, I have often felt that George Will has always wanted to be, and seen hismelf as the natural heir to Lippmann's thoughtful, conservative commentary.

That these men - and a few others - were exceptional, and in crossing the line between journalist and (at least in Lippmann's case, I think the term is appropriate) public intellectual and policy advocate, has not lessened the desire from hundreds of wannabes to someday be heralded as the next Great American Commentator. Thus we have the specter of Cokie Roberts, Mara Laiasson, Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Judith Miller, Tom Friedman, Joe Klein, among the worst offenders, too often trying to sound wise and all-knowing but usually sounding condescending, haughty, and (when pushed or proven wrong) petulant. All of these people, and many besides, were wrong before the election, continued to be wrong on election night, and since the election was such a public display of their erroneousness, have decided to continue to be wrong over and over and over . . . One often reads or listens to what these and other members of the MSM say and wonders if they even pay attention to what they are saying. I believe that, with the elections proving them all spectacularly wrong, and the post-election continuing their string of losing, rather than adjust their understanding of what has been and is going on, they feel that if they just continue to repeat the same tried-and-true nonsense enough they might actually create the reality they claim is happening.

Except, of course, there is this wonderful check on all that It is called us. The people. Not only have we rejected their obstinant refusal to cover the world as it really is; not only have we acted, not like uninformed rubes, but as thoughtful citizens; not only do we consistently refuse to accept their advice as to what we should think and why - we have a wonderful technological outlet for making sure that the Fourth Estate does not get too out of control. You're reading it. Whether left-wing or right, populist, libertarian, communitarian, even if you refuse to subscribe to a label - the Internet is a great place to make sure the national conversation takes place the way it was envisioned by our founders: with no limits, no unacceptable political positions, no dominant narrative or conventional wisdom.

The most surprising thing about much of the political commentary on the Internet, regardless of political ideology (or lack thereof) is its depth, its understanding of the stakes involved, and its dismissal of cant and sloganeering for thoughtful analysis. Whether you live on K Street or Kansas City, Pennsylvania Avenue or Athens, PA (my father's home town), the discussions on the Internet are consistently better than anything on television or in the major print outlets. This proves another little shibboleth of the MSM wrong, that in-depth, thoughtful, probing discussion is beyond the average American.

With the victory of last week's elections very much that of the people, and expressed partly through the liberal end of the Internet, I believe we shall see that rise even further in esteem. Rather than Walter Lippmann, I am looking for the next Atrios.

Inhofe is the Hoax

That James Inhofe sits in the United States Senate should be a source of embarassment, not only to Oklahomans, but to all Americans. Years ago, when he was a House member, he went to the floor to protest NBC's planned broadcast of Schindler's List because the netweork planned to run it unedited for content and uninterrupted. Inhofe was not upset over the scenes of brutality, the murder of innocents, the depiction of Jewish slavery, or the destruction of the moral universe at the hands of Nazi thugs. No, he was in high dudgeon over nudity and sexuality contained in the movie. Being in Washington, I went to the House Office Building (I do not remember which one) where his office was located and, being informed by his secretary, who was overwhelmed by phone calls, that he was on the floor, I wrote a long note, signed and printed my name and address and telephone number. I was rewarded with mailings from his office, so I had to call and get my name taken of his mailing list, because the cost of fumigating my post office box was too high.

Think Progress has the latest from an interview this morning on Fox & Friends (one can tell a lot about someone by one's friends, or so I've been told . . .) in which he claimed that we had nothing to worry about from global warming (which comes "from the sun"; of course it does, but it is due to human activity that solar warming is held in at a greater rate than it otherwise would) because "God is still there". Using this ridiculous non-logic, no one need do anything about anything - not abortion, not gay marriage, not war, not poverty, not AIDS, not unnecessary death from preventable disease - because, well, you-know-Who is always there.

It is because of cretins like Inhofe (and Sam Brownback, and Pat Roberts - a two-fer from Kansas) that I withheld publicly acknowledging my Christian faith for the longest time. I in no way wanted to be associated with a doofus like him. It was only when I realized that he in no way represented anything I understood as "Christian" and that the persistence of the public equating him with what Christianity is all about would only last until someone stood up and said "No!" that I decided, since I didn't really see a whole lot of that going on, I had better do something about it. I don't know how important my contribution has been; my guess is it is negligible, but that is a topic for another day.

For those of you who might not be familiar with Christian doctrine, or the developing environmental awareness among evangelicals and others, there is this teaching of the Church called the doctrine of creation (and no, it has nothing to do with creationism, another rape of Christian teaching for idiotic ends). It states that all that is came about because of God, and that the act of creation tells us something about who this god is - God is a being overflowing with so much love that God does not desire to exist alone, but to be with others in a loving, free relationship. Over all the creatures, God created human beings as caretakers of this creation. The most basic divine calling is that of stewardship - we human beings are to be those who ensure the creation remains as God created it, good and worthy of divine love. Human disobedience, while introducing a rift between God and creation, has not dissolved this most basic mandate. We are to ensure the integrity of creation through respect and wise use.

Rather than sit back and let God take care of everything (I can't believe this is a subject of conversation; please remove the idiot from public view as soon as possible), we are enjoined to work, and work hard to keep creation as it was first declared - "Very good." The destruction of the earth through human activity is a violation of the trust a good God has placed in our apparently incapable hands. While prayer and confession and a certain trust in divine providence is always warranted, the first thing called for is, at it always hass been, to act. The mess is not God's. The mess is ours. Not only do we need to return to a right relationship to the world - one of loving care and stewardship of this most precious gift - but we need to correct all that our sinfulness - greed, disdain for creation, a forgetfulness of our most primary responsibility before both the world and the world's Creator - has wrought. There is, then, a Christian mandate for care for the earth. Environmentalism has a faith component, and churches are waking up to that fact and acting upon it.

For this numbskull to get on national television and say what he said goes beyond stupid. He has just shown his ignorance of the very God he claims is "still there". That the Republicans trusted him with the chairmanship of a committee having to do with the environment is reason #477 to be thankful for a Democratic victory last week.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nothing but Nets, Nothing But Life

The United Methodist Church, in partnership with the NBA and the UN, is part of the Nothing But Nets campaign. $10 US will buy one insecticide bed net for someone in Africa. These nets help protect against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. I have a link to the right, but the site is still under construction, so click on the link to the United Methodist Home Page, or the Poplar Grove United Methodist Church Homepage, and click the link the the UMC, and there is more information there.

Think about it. $10. A human life is worth $10, at least.

Chris Dodd, My New Hero

Both Crooks & Liars and atrios are carrying the news that Sen. Christopher Dodd has announced he will introduce legislation tomorrow to repeal the worst provisions of the Torture . . . uh, I mean Military Commissions Act.

Rather than waste time on John Bolton and judges the judiciary committee already passed over, this is how the lame-duck Congress should be spending its time. The beauty of it is, if it doesn't pass, there's less than two months until the new Congress! Dodd has fired a shot across the administration's bow, letting them know exactly where he stands and what he intends to do about it.

This is real politics. This is real policy. The grown-ups are now in charge.

Rethinking Faith and Politics: Thomas and Kuo on "Whence Christian Conservatives?"

More than any election in my adult life, last Tuesday's elections are shaping up to be among the most important. While many conservatives continue to bellow either (a) they lost because they weren't conservative enough, or (b) they didn't really lose because the Democrats are conservative, or some wierd combination of the two, among more thoughtful, serious-minded people, the realization that the wedding of a certain brand of Christian conservatism and partisan politics may no longer be tenable is dawning. I say "serious-minded", because I wish to exclude anything said by the poster boys for the Christian right, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson. Over at Faith in Public are two are two articles, one by Cal Thomas and another by David Kuo that are as stunning in their honesty and self-examination as they are intriguing for their implication for any future political activity by thoughtful evangelicals.

Thomas, syndicated by Tribune, has long been a mouthpiece for conservative Christians. I was first exposed to him when he was a substitute for Pat Buchanan on the original Crossfire back in the mid-1980's on CNN. Thomas' column begins with a question rooted in the fallacious, simplistic logic favored by fundamentalists (among the most "rationalistic" faiths there are because of their insistence on syllogisms for proving their points):
If God was on the side of conservative Christians and conservative Christians are on the side of the Republican Party, shouldn't Republicans have done better in the recent election?

While not heartening, Thomas faces the implications of the question (although not, alas, the correctness of the question or its formulation):
[D]efeat offers conservative Christians a good opportunity to take stock. They should ask themselves whether their short list of moral issues and family values has any hope of being imposed on Washington . . . .

After noting the corrupting influence of politics on religion, citing the example of Don Sherwood of PA who received high marks from Focus on the Family even after it was known he had a mistress whom he had choked, Thomas asks a question that, considering the source, should cause any reader to at least pause for a moment:
Wouldn't it do more for the family to strengthen heterosexual marriage before telling others how to live their lives? Why have we seen so many politicians and some clery who talk about family values turn out to be the worst practitioners of them?(italics added)

Thomas then considers a question that has been posed often and loudly to the Christian Right for over 20 years. That it should suddenly become a matter of urgent consideration shows just how corrupted by proximity to power the Christian Right became:
Isn't [God's way] helping the poor. . . ? Isn't it feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison and caring for widows and orphans? Would such behavior, rather than partisan politics, recommend their faith more highly . . .?

This stunning - and, seemingly, stunned - discovery that the message of Jesus might entail more than holding up posters with pictures of aborted fetuses and demonizing same-sex couples, while late in coming, shows that, in fact, many conservative Christians might be awakening from their slumber.

From Thomas to David Kuo, whose article is less a reflection than a plea for conservative Christians to move away from partisan politics to one, perhaps, of issue advocacy. In the midst of this article, Kuo writes:
John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute . . . .wrote this after the elections: "Modern Christianity [by which I believe he means conservative Christianity], having lost sight of Christ's teachings, has been co-opted by legalism, materialism, and politics. Simply put, it has lost its spirituality."
He went on: "Whereas Christianity was once synonymous with charity, compassion, and love for one's neighbor, today it is more often equated with partisan politics, anti-homosexual rhetoric and affluent mega-churches."

I wrote the other day of Kuo, and my sympathy for him. I believe his insistence that conservative Christians take a hiatus from politics is misguided, partly due to his own experience at the hands of the nihilists in the White House. I also think he is correct that liberals and progressives not be too self-congratulatory (a la Jim Wallis), as issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and the general question of the public expression of faith are still highly motivating issues among faithful conservatives. We on the left, especially those of us who are people of faith, have much work to do to show our more conservative brothers and sisters that we, too, share a commitment to the coming kingdom of God, to living out the faith in service to the world, and pray fervently for our nation and world to one day be free of all the horrors in which it now sits. That two such public persons should air openly their doubts about the marriage, first of opportunity, then of convenience, between the Republican Party and Christian conservatives can only bode well for all of us, and for the future of the country as a whole.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pluralism and Social Conflict: A Hopeful Alternative to Imposed Tolerance

If I had to point to a single book that fundamentally changed my views, I would has to say it was The Croooked Timber of Humanity: Essays in the History of Ideas by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin. Taken together, these essays are one long exposition of an alternative to the deadly (quite literally) weight of ideologies brought to us from the 19th and 20th centuries - whether they be communism, fascism, naziism, in fact any totalitarian ideology (understood as an all-encompassing set of beliefs and practices that are determinate for all of a society for all time) that seeks to grind down real human life in the name of some artificial way of living. His essays on Giambatistta Vico and J. G. Herder prompted me to explore what these little-read and little-regarded thinkers has said, and I found a certain child-like joy at discovery, an enthusiasm for the infinite possibilties for organizing human social life, combined with a very realistic understanding of the weaknesses and limitations inherent in any and all such practices. Herder, especially, has received a bum rap, because of his genetic theory of culture and society; his introduction of the idea of volk into German social and cultural studies was tortured by the Nazis, and alas for Herder he has received a certain share of the blame. Yet, his explanation - that social and cultural existence flows from the life of a society in a natural way, and can only be understood as such a natural extension, is little different from that of contemporary cultural anthropolgists who follow Clifford Geertz.

Berlin's most important point, repeated throughout the essays in this work, was that it is necessary to combat the stranglehold of ideology, the imposition of the idea that there is only one true way, only one correct way, to organize society. this is done, first and foremost - in a move in stark opposition to recent practical experience here in the United States - by recognizing that those who social and cultural existence are different from, even anti-thetical to ours, are nonetheless real human alternatives; that those whose lives are profoundly different from ours are nonetheless expressing possibilities inherent in human existence; and that social and cultural life is not a zero sum game, but rather a remarkable opportunity for both learning and conflict. I cannot stress this point emphatically enough, because it is central to my own view of life, and how I try (and more than occassionally fail) to live - even those whose way of living, and those whose way of organizing their way of living are abhorrent, are expressing an acceptable, human alternative. Through the simple use of human imagination, it is entirely possible for me to envision myself making decisions based upon an entirely different set of assumptions - be it about work, the world, god (or the gods), the status of women and minorities - and still live a fully human life.

There are two correlates to this way of envisioning life that are as empowering as they are liberating. First, in recognizing the plurality of choices available to human beings for living a fully human life, my own choices are not diminished, but are in fact strengthened. In recognizing the full humanity of those whose lives are different from mine, they are now placed on an equal footing with me and my own choices - fully human, full of possibility and peril, and certainly never above reproach. If we surrender the silly, and most assuredly false, conceit that we have the only correct answers, but rather see our decisions as necessarily constituting who we are, both as individuals and as a social unit, we cannot but accord to ourselves and others the seriousness, the depth and breadth, and the profundity that entails. Such choices are our choices - not conscious, but necessarily unconscious either - and others belong to others. All are part and parcel of the experiment of human life.

The other correlate is that such a formula does not rid us of the specter of human social conflict. Indeed, in recognizing the differences, sometimes even incompatibility, of different ways of organizing social life, we must also recognize that conflict is bound to occur. The challenge is not the impossible task of ridding ourselves of social conflict, but rather of managing such conflict, of anticipating it, of being mature enough as a society to accept it and be honest about it. Conflict is always threatening, but it need not be destructive. It can, in fact, be creative, if handled with honesty and openness. The challenge, of course, is to be confident enough as a society to stand, yet never stealing from others what is theirs by birthright, their humanity.

What I found most attractive about such a view, beyond its intellectual coherence and honesty, was an openness to difference that, alas, I too often find missing among two different types of American liberals. The first are the classical, 19th century liberal, now mostly confined to the Economics Departments of our universities; those priests of the church of the market, in other words, who insist that their "laws" are both immutable and cross all boundaries of time, place, and culture. The other type of liberal, for want of a better description, are what I think of as Henry Goldbloom liberals, after the character on Hill Street Blues. Not confident enough to simply declare themselves superior, yet secretly believing it to be so, they passive-aggresively work to insist that "others'" sensitivities not be damaged or hurt in any way. In truth, they are too weak and fearful to face a challenge to their fundamental beliefs because they fear that, at heart, they hold none.

The best part of this view, for me, is the hope it engenders. This is a vision that sees possibility in human existence, the ability to encounter others and see people living human lives rather than threats to one's own sacred verities. This is why I am no booster for tolerance; a tolerant individual believes he or she already has all the answers. I do not believe there are any answers, just lives to be lived, as best as we can, with all the promise and threat that entails.

I Can't Tolerate Tolerance!

If you look below, especially at the comments section, and if you go to my turtle loving friends to the north you will find the word "tolerance" quite a bit. I try not to use that word (although I believe I have; mea culpa) because, in truth, I am not a tolerant person. Tolerance is to me an elitist notion, implying a certain noblesse oblige that I find distasteful.

As a person who is both passionate and firm in my political and religious beliefs, I would much prefer that, rather than tolerate one another - implying that we simply accept the fact that others hold views different from our own, but we refuse to countenance those views as holding any worth - we actually talk to and listen to one another. I have been enriched by my encounters with people whose religious, political, and social views are different from my own. I have learned from people with whom I might also have had an argument.

The American view of tolerance assumes the superiority of one set of views over another. That is a view I cannot accept. Unless I was asleep and missed the meeting, I haven't heard that we finally found the only way to truth, truly human living, and the final answer to life's persistent questions. I live as if my Christian beliefs were so; I do not and would never claim for them ultimate truth for anyone else, not out of tolerance, but because I believe that as finite human beings living in a finite, open universe, there is no such thing as an ultimate answer. The idea that truth, one way of living, one way of being human is correct and all others are incorrect (a correlate of tje Aristotelean idea we just can't seem to shake that truth is singular) is simply ridiculous, an assertion rather than something proven, or even provable.

Having said all that, I must admit that there is more than a bit of justice to some of the claims my right-wing turtle loving neighbors to the north make below. Truth be told, liberal tolerance in America does end where their own secular beliefs begin. I find that a fascinating, tacit admission of fear; is it possible that there really are more things in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in their philosophies? As someone who is not tolerant, but rather open to new ideas (and equally intolerant and dismissive of views I find either ridiculous or abhorrent; I admit little tolerance here) I just wonder what would happen if push came to shove . . .

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Musical Interlude and Promo

I am not a fan of Contemporary Christian Music. Growing up in the late '70's-early'80's, what I was exposed to was either really bad countrified music, or even worse pop-pabulum that had neither musical nor lyrical substance. Little to which I have been exposed since has changed my mind.

Except for Casting Crowns.

In the winter of 2004, I was driving a truck. I was sitting in Davenport, IA, waiting interminably to be unloaded. I was flipping the radio stations and came across this song, the power of which caught me almost immediately. As I sat and listened, I knew I had found something different. I wept as I listened to the words.
The song, "The Voice of Truth", relates the stories of Peter called upon the sea and David before Goliath - both of whom are facing situations that should paralyze us with fear. Hearing the voice of truth - God whispering in our ear, telling us it will be OK, take that step, challenge that giant - gives us what we need to face not just that which brings fear, but all the other jeering voices reminding us of our previous failures. That little, whispered voice is greater than all the raucous laughter and taunts - because that little whisper is from the voice of the One who has made us, and in making us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and in knowing us, loves us more than we could ever comprehend.

For those who think that all CCM is "Praise Jesus & George Bush", listen to the song "The American Dream" for a searing indictment of consumerism and the rat race that sounds, to my ears, like a cross between the Harry Chapin song "Cats in the Cradle" and the classic folk song "Tiny Boxes".

I still don't listen to CCM that much. There is passion here, though. More than passion, though, there is a gift. More than passion, and a gift, there is the Spirit that breathes and gives life. Check 'em out. Be prepared to wipe a tear or two, though.

On the Use and Abuse of Evangelicals

Over at Faith In Public is this story from Jane Lampman at The Christian Science Monitor, essentially a review of David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith. What struck me most about the profile of Kuo, at least as framed by Lampman, was the utter naivete and enthusiasm to which Kuo confesses. There is something so tranparent about his confession that George W. Bush "was the embodiment of the Christian political statesman I had dreamed of finding." Now, Kuo was no political naif, some Christian version of Frank Capra's Mr. Smith, newly arrived in Washington. He had worked on Sen. Edward Kennedy's staff before moving to the right to become a speech writer for the Christian Coalition.

All that time in and around politicians, however, had not blunted a faith that longed for a political transformation in America.
Kuo is a devoted Christian, who believed, as do many, that putting evangelicals in office was the answer to fulfilling God's purpose for America. Instead he concludes that focusing on a political agenda tends to distort the Christian message and perhaps even make a god of politics.
"I longed for the day the right political leaders would arrive, govern morally, eloquently profess their Christian faith, and return America to greatness," he writes. "Now I know better. I have seen what happens when well-meaning Christians are seduced into thinking deliverance can come from the Oval Office, a Supreme Court chamber, or the floor of the United States Congress. . . ."(italics added)

The sad truth is, and I have said it before and I shall say it again, perhaps ad infinitum, politics is about power, and the Christian faith is about the abandonment of power in service to others. As long as people from any and/or all branches of the Christian faith cling to some misguided belief that their faith, their purity, and their intentions are more pure and honest than those who have fallen before them, we shall end up with the sad spectacle of David Kuo, confessing to America that he was duped. There is little one can say about the utter honesty, the simplistic, almost touching confession Kuo makes concerning George W. Bush, summed up: "I loved him," except perhaps to mourn for the lost innocence, the almost-inevitable crash that was to follow such pure and total sacrifice. There are few things more painful than a broken heart.

Kuo is now telling Christian conservatives to abandon politics, even if only temporariliy. I hope they do not. I do not agree with them on most issues, yet they should be a voice in our society. Losing one's illusory, simplisitic idealism in the face of the most venal, shallow, and corrupt administration in American history is no excuse to urge one's fellow travelers to abandon politics. Conservative Christians are a part of America and need to be heard. I hope, in fact, that a more chastened, but no less fervently Christian David Kuo would lead them.

Will some journalist ask Pres. Bush what Jesus would do about this?

In one of the most calculated, shallow, transparent, and all too successful acts of political pandering I have witnessed, George Bush famously declared his favorite political philosopher to be "Jesus Christ", when asked the question during a debate back in 2000. Of course, he less-famously backpedaled on that declaration during an interview with Tom Brockaw just prior to the invasion of Iraq, and has since said little about how Jesus' teachings affected his beliefs in tax cuts for the wealthy, his administration's advocacy of the use of low-yield nuclear weapons (so-called "Bunker busters"), andits insistent support for torture. These, of course, are all obvious questions, and as the Washington Press Corps (a) knows Bush was lying; and (b) wouldn't know or care what Jesus said about these things, or much else, the wait would be long indeed for a serious challenge during a press conference.

Glenn Greenwald offers this story concerning just one victim to cross the path of our Jesus-following President. To sum up, a graduate student has been held incommunicado for three years - and there is no reason for it, and thanks to the Military Commissions Act (MCA), the government needs to provide no justification for it. A man is stripped of his rights, hidden away, cannot confront his accusers, his family is not notified of where he is, or if he is even alive. This is the essence of tyranny, and must be stopped. More than the ruin that has come upon Iraq and the United States as a result of the past six years of this Administration - hollowing out our infrastructure, destroying the revenue-collection system, gutting the military, the utter lack of concern over serious policy - the case of this one man should be enough to force an end to all the "War on Terror" nonsense we have endured since September 11, 2001. If the 110th Congress has not moved to close Guantanamo Bay prison; if they have not moved for the release of all incommunicado prisoners in South Carolina and Norfolk, VA; if rendition is not ended on January 2 (it would be easy enough to do; as Congress hold the purse strings, it could simply say, "Not a dime for any more of this nonsense") - perhaps the press is correct, and conservatives really have won.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Christians in Secular America . . . Again

I have written about this before, somewhere here (I don't have the exact trackback, and I don't have time to search right now, but it's somewhere in there), but since that is inactive and, to an extent superceded by the present blog, I feel OK not so much repeating myself, but refining what I have said previously.

First, let me say that I am glad my turtle-loving neighbors to the north are insistent, because I am being forced to defend myself and my positions - always a good thing. I would never want to take myself so seriously that I felt above criticism. At the same time, there are points where we can find agreement that other, secular lefties might not be so comfortable with. This is a perennial problem, and one I thought I had settled for good earlier this summer. Apparently, I was wrong, as a discussion concerning the persecution of Christians - both real and imagined - has led to some interesting comments. I wish to state my position forthrightly and clearly, and then move on to something else.

I accept that the Christian churches have been less than congenial to those of other faiths; sometimes they are hostile to those of other denominations! I also accept that, as the religious foundation for a European Empire that spanned the globe and gave spiritual comfort to the oppression and cultural genocide over millions fo my fellow human beings, it has much for which to answer, although it is answering today in ways that are hard to hear because so many people are yelling at the Church. Finally, I recognize that some of my fellow-Christians hold political and social views that I find abhorrent. For these, however, I cannot answer, and will not. I am not responsible for what other people do.

Having said all that, in a pluralistic society, the Christian churches are under no compunction to soft-pedal their beliefs to fit the anti-religious prejudices of others. The struggle in the public sphere necessitates that all parties own up to the limitations of their views, secular and sectarian. To insist that Christians not "shove their religion down their throats" ignores the fact that we Christians have every right to our views, and to insist upon them, as do others. That is what public discourse is about. Your choice is to silence faithful Christians so as not to offend, or listen with an open mind, and perhaps even learn something.

I find it so interesting that, whenever these discussions come up, the Holocaust is mentioned. Somehow, the fact that Naziism was a pagan, occult ideology that was as hostile to Christian faith as it was to any other expression of faith (the list of Christian martyrs is long, indeed). More to the point, as Os Guiness reminds us in his recent book Unspeakable, the vast majority of the massacres of the previous century have been in the name of secular, even "scientific", political ideologies. Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, and the winner of the 20th century slaughter sweepstakes Mao Tse-tung, were hardly paragons of Christian virtue. Those are just three of the names I could mention.

This is not to negate the crimes of the Christian churches. It is only to say that, as human beings, we tend to kill those who disagree with us politically, and in a variety of other arenas as well. To insist that Christians remain silent while secular ideologies hold some place of honor, above the warp and woof of history, is just ignorant. We all have blood on our hands. As long as we can accept that and move on, things will be OK.

Finally, in reference to the whole question of the remembrance of victims of anti-Christian persecution, to insist that victims of other persecution be remembered as well - as if somehow the only way we justify remembering the violence against people who hold one set of beliefs is to remember that other faiths are victims as well - is intellectually dishonest. The church is under no obligation to generalize; as the litany quoted below clearly states, even as we remember our own victimization we are to remember the violence done to all those who believe - Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness, Mormon. Yet, and I shall say this again, we Christians must remember that there are brothers and sisters of the faith who are suffering and dying simply because they profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To deny this, again out of some misguided sense of concern for the feelings of others, is just wrong.

No one said living together is or would be easy. No one said the compromises, and the limits of compromise, would always be clear-cut. It is part of the struggle of social existence that there is never one answer once and for all to these questions. We have to figure it out on our own as we go.

Short Take

Courtesy of new link Talking Points Memo, comes a headline that should send Republicans into frothing fits, but warms the cockles of this lefty's heart (you can read the whole story here):


Martyr or Mental Patient? You Decide

The Rockford Register-Star carried a story this morning, from AP reporter Brian Murphy, that a pastor in Erfurt, Germany committed suicide - apparently thinking he was a Buddhist monk in Vietnam, he poured gasoline over himself and set himself ablaze - not long after preaching a sermon that was "focused on his fear that Christian Europe would be overwhelmed by Islam."

I do not wish to make light of the horror of what the Rev. Roland Weisselberg has done. However, I cannot but wonder how he thought self-immolation was a proper response to the growing Muslim population in Germany and the rest of Europe. I recognize that, to the historically homogeneous states of Europe (although this is more by way of myth than historical fact; if you look at the history east of the Rhine and north of the Danube, various ethnic groups mixed quite freely, if not always peacefully) the influx of ethnically and religiously diverse peoples must seem like a threat to national integrity. The trick, of course, is making sure it does not become so by integrating them - legally, perhaps linguistically, politically, and socially - into the society. We are always enriched by bringing more and more diverse ways of living together.

The world is changing; I doubt if the world my grandchildren will live in will even be recognizable to me. That's OK, though, as long as we are still working together on this whole project of living as human beings on this earth. If we succumb to the temptation to hostility, violence, the "clash of civilizations", and religious warfare, there may be no world for my grandchildren to inherit. If we struggle together, however - I do not doubt conflict will occur; it is a question of how to manage it creatively and constructively - all of us can benefit, being enriched by the possibilities open to us.

I do not see suicide as a viable option for dealing creatively and constructively with our changing world. I see it even less so for a member of the clergy who is supposed to have faith that God is in control of events, even if we don't always perceive it to be so. Finally, I am saddened that a member of the clergy would hate and fear non-Christians and non-westerners so much that he would rather die than seek to live together with them, working with them to make a better society. I fear that Rev. Weisselberg will become a martyr to a variety of right-wing groups in Germany and elsewhere. I hope he becomes a symbol of what not to do as the world changes around us.

The Church and Official Hostility (If It Exists) UPDATED

Apparently, my turtle-loving neighbors to the north would like to convince me of a variety of things. First, it was that the ACLU was some nutty, far-left group because it defended the Klan and Nazis. Next, it was that there were only two alternatives in Iraq and the Democratic Party (and by extention and implication, the majority of Americans who voted last Tuesday) are chicken-hearts. Now, they wish to convince me that the American government is actively hostile to the religious freedoms of Christians in America. I am not being egotistical; they addressed this issue to me directly, as you can see here.

Rather than deal with the whole thing, I want to say that I approach the issue of official hostility to the Church from two different angles, somewhat complementary, but from another perspective it could also be seen as contradictory. As an American who loves the Constitution, I am a vigorous supporter of the separation of church and state. I do not want the state - in whatever form - meddling in church business, whether it's prayers before school begins or before official school functions; using taxpayer funds to put up a creche at Christmas time on public property; giving official sanction to any form of religious activity, practice or belief, no matter how tacit. Prayer, the teachings of the faith, exposition of scripture - these are the precious possession of the Church, not pearls to be tossed before the swine of officialdom simply because too many conservative Christian are, in the wonderful word of German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, "pusillanimous" to actually struggle with the faith and would prefer the props of the state rather than face the possibility that faith is as much earned through struggle as it is a gift from above.

As a Christian, if there is official hostility against the Church and expressions of the Christian faith (and there is simply no evidence for it), I would be glad if representatives of the state were actively hostile towards me because of my faith. That would convince me that my faith was, at least in some instances, genuine. Since the beginnings of the faith, it has been recognized that expressions of true piety are antithetical to getting along with worldly power. It was the Constantinian Era that changed that; how can the official religion of an Empire be at odds with the Empire? We have ended that age of religious and political accomodation.

In a comment, the folks over there claim I want people to, in essence, hide their faith-light under a bushel. Actually, I want people to live their lives. Period. If my children come home from school and say that a teacher or principal has said something to them concerning some aspect of them practicing their faith - saying grace before a meal, praying before a test, whatever it might be - I would not run for the phone to call a lawyer. I would not publish it here in this blog or anywhere else. I would tell my children, quietly, to continue to do what they have been doing, and pray. What else should I do?

Because they have been devoting such attention to me recently, I have decided to link to them. A discussion partner is a good thing.

UPDATE: Apropos of this thread, I found out here that yesterday was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. If you click here there is an order of worship, by Daniel Benedict, that includes the following:
As part of the Invitation:
In our prayer for persecuted Christians,
let us not narrow our compassion for all who suffer,
whatever their profession or creed,
let no hatred or prejudice enter our hearts for anyone.

And the responsive prayer (the darker text is the response of the congregation):
God of the suffering
and all who stagger under the weight of the cross of Christ,
hear us as we seek to stand with those persecuted for being Christians.
Your cross bearers in other lands are living reminders to us of the cost of discipleship.
While we are at ease in Zion,
they are in an exile of pain and isolation.
While we are feasting on thge good things around us,
they keep an involuntary fast.
While we assume a future of well-being,
they don't know if they will be alive tomorrow.
While we wear the cross as a piece of jewelry,
they bear it as an invitation to abuse, exclusion, imprisonment - even death.

Turn our hearts to them in prayer in acts of compassion and justice.
Thank you for breathing in tehm and in us the yearning for sharing one another's burdens. Loose their shackles and our complacency.
Bind the forces of abuse & violence at work in their persecutors.
In the silence, pray your mercy in us.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Political Discourse in Changing Times

As we move from an era of Republican dominance in politics, and Republican fawning in the media, we need to consider how our political discourse will change. We are only in the very, very early stages right now, but I do believe that the age of the punditocracy (a wonderful word, I believe coined by Eric Alterman) is close to being over. Part of the reason is given by Glenn Greenwald here (once again, I find little if any with which to quibble). Rather than summarize, I shall quote from what I believe is the heart of this post:
It is hard to overstate how ignorant and wrong Bletway pundits are about everything, and how barren and corrupt inside-Washington conventional wisdom is.


The Beltway pundit class and the premises which generate conventional Washington wisdom are corrupt their core and always wrong. . . . They operate from a set of completely unexamined, empty premises that reflect their own character and belief system, but nobody else's.(emphasis in original)


[The punditocracy] believe[s] in nothing. . . .
Not only do they believe in nothing, but they think that a Belief in Nothing is a mark of sophistication and wisdom.

This indictment, which should be read by editors and TV executives around the country, if only to give them notice of their utter lack of relevance for the near future, includes examples that should keep any thinking person from reading or listening to anyone claiming to be knowledgeable about politics.

I believe, with all sincerity, that columnists, television commentators, all the flapping-lips, bloviating-bobble-headed gasbags who have wasted our time and our oxygen convincing us how stupid we all are only to be proven wrong again and again, and finally, like all the rest of the political class (to which they cling like remora), getting a good smack-down in Tuesday should take a cue from Bob Cesca and shut the fuck up. Because you have been wrong, not just consistently but spectacularly wrong, and because the times are changing now, and you belong to an age that, as of January 1, 2007, will be obsolete, please be silent, and allow grown-ups not only to run the country, but to talk about how they are doing it.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Fire Dog Lake, in an essay that covers much the same territory, although a bit more coherently, I came across this piece from Rolling Stone. Besides being hysterically funny, I would like to include some of Taibbi's observations on what Glenn Greenwald has called the inside-the-Beltway consensus:
All politics has to be contained within the parameters of that who's winning narrative.
What the Congress actually does, how it actually spends its money, what happens in its committees - it's all irrelevant, exdept insofar as that activity bears on the next presidential race.
Our national political press is narrowly focused, schooled in inch-deep analysis, and completely results-obsessed.

All of this not only has to change, but I believe will change as the depth and breadth of the public's dissatisfaction with our current political culture becomes clear. Of course, the blogs are helping, as is (of all things) The Daily Show. As real analysis replaces the garbage spewed by talk-radio, and the narcissism of self-important blow-hards like Broder and E. J. Dionne, we may actually see substantive analysis return to America.

We shall see.

UPDATE II: Part of envisioning and practicing a new discourse means eschewing the horse-race mentality that sees each election as only a precursor to the next election, with substantive policy questions secondary to the popularity contest of elections. To that end, while I value much of the advice in this piece over at, it still deals with the horse race. I am more interested in the way the incoming Congress will actually legislate, oversee the Executive, and conduct its business according to rules than I am in whether Hillary or Al or John is or will be out in front. There is much work to be done to prove that the responsibility vested in the Democratic Party is earned. While I understand the necessity of getting oneself going as the primary season gets closer, we also have a duty to make sure the Democrats actually in office are doing what they were elected to do; and this is all the more important as many of those who will be seeking the Presidency will be sitting in the 110th Congress. That is why the horserace must wait for the humdrum business of governing for a little while.

American Democracy, Real Choice, and Realistic Alternatives

Over at new link Democracy Lover is a discussion of the limits of political alternatives in the United States. In many ways, my feelings concerning these views echo my feelings concerning Arthur Silberg. There is much with which I agree, but I also disagree. There is no doubt that I have been given much food for thought, and will get more in the future.

One of DL's insistent points is that our current system is not designed to deal with what can be called issues of systemic injustice. That is, issues of the persistent inequality of economic resources and rewards; legal and social inequities that are part and parcel of society; and creating real choices that are not figments of economic reductionism. On the one hand, I could not agree more. The problem, however, is that our current political system was created to ensure the viability of the American nation-state and its political and social infrastructure (as are all political systems). Even ideally, the system cannot address these systemic problems because these same problems, like a genetic disorder, infect the political system as well. Politics is only as healthy as the society it reflects.

Something specific with which I must take issue, however, is whether or not real differences exist between the Republican and Democratic Party as they are currently constituted. Back in the 1990's, as a subscriber to The Nation, I was bombarded with a constant stream of criticism of Bill Clinton from the left. By the time the 2000 election came around, I was so disaffected I voted for Ralph Nader (living in Illinois, I felt it a "safe" vote, although I may have voted that way regardless of where I lived because I had come to believe much of the "there's not a dime's worth of difference" rhetoric). In the initial aftermath of the election, I was disappointed, but as the summer of 2001 limped along, I had a feeling George Bush was going to be a one-term President, so I didn't much care.

With the events of September 11 of that year and their aftermath (where is the person who sent all that anthrax, anyway, Alberto Gonzalez?) I realized what a horrible mistake I had made believing the hype. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that there were and are tremendous differences between the two major parties on a range of issues. Indeed, I doubt we would be where we are today - our polity in tatters, the Constitution on life-support, waving goodbye to perhaps the most corrupt and inept Congress in American history - had there been a different result in the 2000 election. In other words, as the system is designed and as it runs, there are tremendous differences, differences are real and substantive, between the parties. There is a tremendous range within the parties - Tom Tancredo and Lincoln Chafee are both Republicans; Robert Casey, Jr. and Henry Waxman are both Democrats - and sometimes that makes it difficult to see the differences with clarity. At the same time, the Democratic Party has been suffering from loser syndrome for a generation, hedging bets and playing it safe in order to survive. This past election showed, however, that is no longer necessary. There is a potential to create a sustainable liberal (if not exactly progressive) majority, if the Democratic Party plays it smart.

I may not agree with everything the Democratic Party does; I do not believe it will ever address issues of substantive social or economic justice, for example, but then again I would never ask it to. That's a bit like requesting a fish dance - it just isn't what it was designed for. I do see it as a vehicle for moderately progressive policies that can take the edge off the worst our economy and society have to offer. I believe that is the best we can ever ask of any political party, at least in the United States. I say that because I believe, for all its faults, for all its failings, for all its limits, for all the stupid ideas swirling around (American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny), the United States, even as it is currently constituted, is among the best and brightest hopes for humanity. I despise our current leaders, holding them, Congressional Republicans and Executive Branch Republicans alike beneath contempt; I love America, however, because I know that we as a people are much better than they are. It is because the American people are better that I believe real choice, and real alternatives, and real hope for a better future exists.

Yes, but . . .

This piece by Arthur Silber over at The Power of Narrative is a perfect example of all that I said about him yesterday. He is passionate, a wonderful writer, I sympathize yet cannot agree or endorse what he has to say. The title of this post sums up the way I feel when I read Arthur. I shall try to explain in what follows.

By way of general comments, I find Arthur's righteous rage inspiring, and his insistence on the necessity of basic justice almost unanswerable. I say almost because, in truth, we have to face some hard facts, regardless of our personal preferences. The same rage for moral order that underlies Arthur's argument also underlies those whom he finds abhorrent. As a source of political inspiration, anger only works if it morphs into something positive. Moral indignation, whether of the left or of the right, actually becomes tedious, even to those with whom one might share other political affinities. The absolute nature of the moral claims he makes, not just in this post but throughout his blog, are a mirror image of the religio-moral claims he insists are illusory. On what basis can he claim that his moral demands are real whereas those of conservatives are not? Reason? A slender read indeed to which to cling in the stormy world of political discourse.

As regards the question at issue - how to proceed in re the variety of potential scandals once the Democrats begin to actually do oversight - I shall begin by saying that, while I do not remember where I heard it, someone once said that "Politics is the are of the possible." As we move into the 110th Congress, we should remember that, no matter how necessary as a matter of law and moral preference, there are limits as to how far the Democrats can push an agenda of scandal against the Republicans. This is not to say that it should not be done, and that outright illegality should be ignored. Rather, I would say that the elections this past Tuesday were a mandate for action over inaction; the Democrats certainly have public support for legislating and oversight - it seems amazing that Congress would need an electoral mandate to do its job, but such are the times in which we live - and in doing these jobs, it seems likely that many nasty creatures shall scamper from underneath various rocks they overturn.

In other words, I am suggesting that, rather than jump in with both feet, proclaiming an agenda of reform, investigation, and rooting out corruption, the Democrats should go about doing what Congress does. As it does this, it should go about the task of building a case each time - with care and painstaking deliberateness. In other words, it should build a constituency, not against "corruption" in the abstract, but in each case as the allegations lead to facts which lead to legal action (either in court in Congress). This is no different than what prosecutors do across the country. They do not spend thousands of taxpayers dollars prosecuting street crime; assistants work on plea agreements. Even high-profile cases very often end in pleas bargain because, despite perceived guilt or innocence, legal procedure too often creates barriers to successful prosecution. The best cases, the biggest cases, have a constituency; it should be no different here.

Contrary to the subtitle of Arthur's post, I believe that it is in fact time for "politics as usual" because we have not had politics as usual for some time, for close to a decade (the growing hubris of Congressional Republicans really started when they held their majority even in the face of Clinton's popularity and re-election). We need to get back to Congressional hearings, discussion of boring, wonky, policy matters, the give and take of political bargaining, and real debate and discussion. We need to take our arguments away from the cable news shows and Sunday mornings and return them to where they belong - the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate (as a side note, while I believe some of it may be with us for a while, the co-ordination of the Republican message and its droning repetition by talk radio, Administration flacks, and Congressional Representative and Senators is, for the most part, a thing of the past). As some of the Democrats who will lead committees are among the most veteran and able legislators - Henry Waxman, Charles Rangel, John Conyers - I foresee substantive work being done over the next two years precisely because these are people who understand how to make laws, not just show up on television and talk.

As the Republican Party continues to implode, and as the Democratic Party seeks to more clearly define itself over the next two years going into the Presidential election, we shall be watching one of the greatest shows in American history. It will most likely include the prosecution of a variety of persons, both from Congress and the Executive, for high crimes and misdemeanors. Standing above it all in high moral dudgeon and insisting that things ought to be one way and not another because moral right demands it accomplishes nothing and sounds an awful lot like what the Republicans did throughout the 1990's.

Virtual Tin Cup

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