Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Night Rock Show

Crooks and Liars stole my thunder a bit by posting a vid from their new album; go check it out from last night's C&L Late Nite.

OK, so Rush isn't the best band in the world. Or the most talented. But they are very, very good, and I would put their musicianship and songwriting and arranging skills up against any band out there today and they would come off pretty well. Thirty-plus years have not dimmed the fire or toned down their ability to put out really, really good music and put on a great four-hour show (I saw them last at the United Center in Chicago in the fall of 2002). I have many candidates for my favorite Rush song - "La Villa Strangiato", "Entre Nous", "Witchhunt", "The Camera Eye", "Losing It", "Xanadu", "Hemispheres". All good, even great Rush songs. My favorite, however, is this one from Signals, "The Analog Kid":

Hint for Music Monday - What's the Worst Cover Song you have ever heard?

UPDATE: Just got my ticket for the September 8th show at First State Bank Amphitheater in Tinley Park. Nosebleed seats are better than none.

A Truly Not-Very-Modest Proposal With No Hope of Implementation

Note: Every time I write about the state of Israel, I get in some sort of trouble, or some anti-Semite or conspiracy-monger anonymously sends me all sorts of crap. That is the reason I hesitate to write more on the subject. After hearing a report on NPR this morning, however, I started thinking (as tired as I was, this may come as a surprise).

The NPR report was simple, but hidden within it was the tragedy of fear and mistrust that continues to hamper real progress and understanding between Israel and Palestine. The story detailed one company's struggle to survive the complexities of Israeli security. A small Palestinian metal manufacturing company has had to reduce shipments of its product due to the many checkpoints - there was even a mention of a "flying checkpoint"; good God - and the way the various Israeli highways and byways divide Palestinian lands. From four shipments a day, the company is down to one. Clearly, this creates a problem for any business that wishes to survive.

Now, there might be some who claim that this is Israel's plan, to impoverish the Palestinians, forcing them in to a position where real autonomy and sovereignty is untenable. More evidence for this includes the fact that for close on thirty years, Israel has monopolized access to water sources in and around the Jordan Valley as well as annexed the best arable land on the west bank. These are both inconvenient facts and necessary to understand the root of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. For too many in the US see this as part of some religious struggle, of good Jews versus evil Muslims. It is actually a tad more prosaic, being an old-fashioned land-and-resources dispute. The story of the Palestinian firm being edged closer towards shuttering its doors is just one of many pieces of evidence that the Palestinians are being placed in an untenable position, economically as well as geographically. Divide and conquer has many components.

Were it easy enough to get angry at Israel for the kind of Rube Goldberg security apparatus (as well as highway network to which only Israelis have unfettered access, and which block transport from one Palestinian enclave to another), a solution would be simple. It is not easy, however, because, as one security expert noted, the checkpoints tend to work to reduce the amount of violence perpetrated by Palenstinian terrorists in Israel-proper. Take the checkpoints away, and they'll be back up in forty-eight hours. This fact, necessary for understanding the whole situation, cannot be ignored. While behaving atrociously in its pseudopedal spread across the occupied West Bank, Israel is acting as any state would in its own interests, and the various security measures it has taken are both understandable and well within the limits of reason. Yet, they are destroying the social and economic infrastructure of the Palestinians, a group that cannot be absorbed in to Israel proper even if they wished to be, yet are prevented from exercising independent control over their collective lives because of the actions of a minority among their population, a minority bent on death and destruction.

For decades, Israel has refused to allow UN Peace keepers to operate on their soil, or in fact on soil they occupy (such as in their losing war with Hizbollah last summer). Yet, if ever there were a situation ripe and ready for the UN to intervene, creating a social and military buffer between two populations who, while not liking one another, must live together, this is it. Unlike traditional occupations (read the US in Iraq), UN peace keeping efforts such as the on-going Cypriot and Timorese missions have been both successful and long-term because the UN has a legitimacy and cachet in most of the rest of the world that it does not have here in the US (or, apparently, in Israel). It shouldn't be difficult to convince Israel that there are multiple benefits to turning over certain parts of its very real and legitimate security concerns along its borders to the UN - just in terms of the money it would save and the reduction in corruption (Israel has been scandal-plagued for close to a decade), as well as the possibility of beginning to soften the ill-will it is engendering among the Palestinians. The UN could even begin its work under the current rules Israel practices, modifying them as it sees fit due to changes in circumstances. By giving physical space for the two populations, such a peace keeping mission would allow for political and psychological space as well.

I realize, of course, that such a commonsense solution to a seemingly intractable problem will never come to pass. There are too many in the US who have invested too much emotional and (alas!) religious energy in the status quo, believing it not only necessary, but somehow sanctioned by God, to change it in a way that might actually do some good. Israel, as well, has legitimate concerns over global anti-Semitism and the possible make-up of an international force (how could Pakistan, for example, or Indonesia, the latter the largest Muslim nation in the world, be objective and even-handed in their dealings between Israelis and Palestinians?). This is also not a small matter and should be addressed as well.

Until and unless there is some kind of step taken in this direction, I doubt that any "Peace Process" worthy of the name will succeed, because there are just too many grievances, too many opportunities for one side or the other to commit outrages because there is no space between them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More On Mainstream Disdain for Liberal Bloggers (This Horse Isn't Dead, but It's Close)

I had thought I had said all that needed to be said yesterday on the increasing, and increasingly vocalized, disdain and frustration many mainstream pundits and journalists express towards bloggers. I could have let it go and moved on, but I ran across the following pieces, which I offer for your perusal (actually, all of them need to be read to give context and depth to what follows):
- The inestimable Glenn Greenwald with a rundown and analysis of mainstream comments on the blogs.

- The equally inestimable Digby with a note on the glaring elitism and mindless paternalism of our Beltway pundit betters.

- Jonathan Alter gets a lesson in real journalistic ethics, when he declares an encounter he cannot remember is different from the way it actually appears on tape.

- Bradrocket at Sadly!No goes all Hulk over a forum offered to serial liar and psychopathic warmonger Richard Perle in the Washington Post.

The last is offered by way of an example of why we are so frustrated with the press; this man should be locked away, preferably on heavy Thorazine. Instead, he is treated as a serious commentator, given a forum to defend his horrid reputation, and lies over and over again in the process. Ugh!

All of these together offer a serious rebuttal to so much of the frothing of the establishment press, and provide the best evidence I can amass that the main problem the press has with blogs is this - we do not play by the rules.

Of course, this begs the all important question: Whose rules? Indeed, even if there are supposed to be rules, why should we follow them? Holy God in Heaven Most High, it isn't like the fate of our country isn't at stake, and we are concerned with pulling our collective selves back from the brink (if it isn't already too late). Let us, by all means, allow liars and fantasy-mongers like Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle, Joe Lieberman, William Bennett - indeed all those in Tim Russert's rolodex at work - talk all they want without rebuttal. Let's treat them as if they have a shred of credibility or intellectual integrity. Why? Because those are the rules. That's the way the game is played. To call David Broder a tired old man who is so detached from reality he wouldn't recognize it if it came up and bit him on his shriveled ass isn't nice. It isn't decorous.


Other than making sure we get our facts right (something not even our pundit class manages to do consistently), as far as I am concerned the stakes are far too high, the issues much too serious, and we are far too impassioned to allow ourselves to be suckered in to playing by the journalistic equivalent of the Marquis of Queensbury Rules. First of all, we're not journalists, but citizens speaking out, making our voices heard, attempting to move the beast of state in an alternate direction. Sometimes that takes shock therapy. To those pundits who wish we would all go away, or play nice, or observe some sort of artificial rule concerning propriety and the etiquette of public discourse, all I can say is that we citizens are tired of being told how to behave in public. It is our country at stake, and our voices are every bit as important, and seemingly more informed and intellectually honest, than most of what passes for political commentary. We are, to echo digby here, Real Americans (hell, I come from suburban Illinois; you don't get more Reagan Democratic Country than that), and our voices are the voices of real Americans mad as hell, scared as hell, and tired as hell.

We do not need spokespersons. We do not need a tired old man long past his prime to be our voice, because we have found our voice. If you don't like it, if you can't take the heat of a little criticism, my suggestion is you find another line of work, because we aren't going away, we aren't going to stop holding your feet to the fire, we aren't going to demand more and better of you, of our elected officials, of our public discourse in general. If the Kleins, Chaits, Alters, Friedmans, and the rest of the pundit class (and this is important to note; these aren't journalists in the sense of reporting news, but rather commentators upon the news, as "parasitic" [to use Joe Klein's infelicitous phrase] as we liberal bloggers) are unhappy, and wish we would all just imitate them, I think the reason we don't is quite simple.

You all, for the most part, suck.

You are intellectually dishonest. You want to appear fair to those who have long ago wasted any chance for deserved fairness. You want us to engage those who lack even a passing acquaintance with facts, with notions of fairness. This is not a question of being better than our adversaries; rather, it is an issue of intellectual integrity. As those on the other side of the political aisle are, to a person, dishonest, why should we take them seriously at all? Much better to call them liars and be done with it. Better yet, it's better to make fun of them for whining about being called out as liars, and lying about it in the process, rather than to take them seriously.

We are at a crossroads in the development of our public discourse here in America. We no longer take our cues from officially sanctioned sources, but have found a wealth of citizens who are intelligent, whose opinions are strong, nuanced, and based in fact. We push back against all the mainstream nonsense not because we are some nutty fringe folks who like to be aggressively contrary, but because it is nonsense. Our integrity grows with each attack upon it by those who would besmirch it (and drain their own integrity in the process), which is always a wonderful thing to behold.

This is a good discussion to be having, but we must be clear that behind this discussion lies something so serious, so all-encompassing, as to dwarf all of our concerns - our country is still led by a combination of barely-sane moral dwarves, and the acceptable level of debate is still far to narrow. Rescuing America from this particular group of thugs, congenital liars, criminals, and idiots is the most important thing. Whether we do it by being nice or by using dirty words, the most important thing is that we do it, and do it before we have passed the point of no return.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jonathan Chait Tries to Defend Himself (UPDATE: Greenwald Takes on Joe Klein)

Last week, I wrote here about Jonathan Chait's piece in The New Republic on the liberal blogosphere. Today, with a hat-tip to atrios comes this piece (free registration required) which includes responses to the original from Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers from MyDD, Rick Perlstein, and Ezra ("The Good") Klein, with a rebuttal from Chait. Klein rebuts the rebuttal here, but for now, I just want to concentrate on a couple points in Chait's attempt to respond to his critics:
[Ezra] Klein wants to turn the whole discussion into an argument about which side was "right." Of course, there's no such thing. I am not arguing that there is some single Truth and that honest journalists convey it while netroots activists and their allies do not. Being "right" about Social Security privatization or the Iraq war is a matter of opinion. [emphasis added - GKS] What I'm arguing is that there's such a thing as the truth as an individual sees it. [emphasis in original - GKS] The netroots method is to severely discourage any truths that undercut the liberal message. [emphasis added - GKS] I concede that this is politically effective, even necessary in the face of a right-wing message machine. What I continue to dispute is that this is the only appropriate ethos for conducting political discourse.

The Internet has become a place where true believers go for affirmation of their beliefs. Conservatives and liberals may debate philosophy or tactics, or excoriate politicians for compromising, but when it comes to disputes between Republicans and Democrats they brook no dissent and refuse to acknowledge inconvenient truths. Conservatives won't talk about Paul Wolfowitz because it will help the liberal agenda, while liberals won't talk about Sandy Berger because it will help the conservative agenda.

This may be better than the old world, where conservatives all toed the line while liberals demonstrated independence, but it isn't good. Liberal discourse is increasingly becoming a mirror image of conservative discourse--a Petri dish where the outrages of the other side are endlessly recycled and malfeasance by your own side ignored. Those who "repeat conservative frames" are either dismissed because they're conservatives ("wingnuts") or, if they're not, they're dismissed as "concern trolls" or "wankers."

The netroots consider this state of affairs not just a necessary evil but something to be celebrated. As Atrios wrote earlier this year, "the wingnutosphere [i.e., conservative blogosphere] was always populated by lunatic morons, but back in the old days we actually felt obliged to engage them. Now we just mock them. Much better."

I'm not saying the traditional media ethos is perfect. In fact, I've spent years criticizing fake even-handedness. When you're a priori committed to locating the blame for any problem halfway between the two parties, you've corrupted your ability to describe the world fairly. But when you're a priori committed to always advancing the interests of one side, you're doing the same. The difference is that the problems with the mainstream media are correctable--indeed, they are being corrected, as I'd say coverage has dramatically improved in recent years--because mainstream journalists believe in the goal of objectivity or intellectual fair play.[emphasis added]

In the first highlighted section, I think it is important to note that Chait repeatedly uses the word "truth". My problem with this is that the frustration liberals and left-wing bloggers have with the right is not some philosophical disagreement over "truth". It is a much simpler frustration with a lack of adherence to facts. There is a difference. We can argue back and forth over the whole question of "truth" and not get anywhere, and that is hardly a substantive concern of most of those on the left (in that way, Chait is constructing a straw argument here, claiming that lefty bloggers are upset over something that does not bother them in the least). Our concern, and here is where we must focus ourselves, is factual. To claim, as Chait does, that disagreements over policy matters are matters of opinion, not truth is wrong because that has never been the left-blogistan position. For most of those on the left side of the internet, the arguments, for example, advanced by those who were pushing Pres. Bush's plan for the partial privatization of Social Security were factually inaccurate through and through. That they were easily disproved was ignored, not just by supporters of the President's plan but by the media that covered the issue. The entires structure of argumentation upon which the right relies is soaked in easily disproved falsehoods. Not errors of "truth", but simple matters of fact. Whether it's aluminum tubes or uranium yellow cake bound for Iraq, a Social Security crisis, or whatever the excuse de jour for firing eight (or perhaps nine) sitting US Attorneys, the right is wrong on simple matters of fact. Their arguments are fallacious because they do not have the facts that support it. Thus, when atrios says it is easier to mock the right than to engage them, he is taking the position that is intellectually sincere; how in the world do we engage those whose entire world-view relies upon a series of factually inaccurate premises?

As to his second claim, concerning the left-wing political internet and the press, we are presented with a false choice (the liberal bloggers should be journalists, not bloggers) and a grossly overstated, and unsubstantiated by evidence, claim (the press is getting better and better). As to the first, I for one have no interest in being a journalist. That may not be true for all, or most, or even some liberal bloggers, but I do see the difference, understand and accept it, and would much prefer to be a blogger. Chait's problem with liberal bloggers, apparently, is that we aren't journalists. He wants us to like him and other mildly non-right-wing journalists, and argues that if we just held to journalists' high standards, we would appreciate what he and others do. He also claims that our complaints about the press discount the fact that journalists as a whole have improved markedly "in recent years". How, exactly? By reporting on John Edwards haircut, incessantly? By featuring a racist, hate-filled hack on a formerly respectable news channel? By featuring another Hillary-obsessed non-journalist on another program, a man who just oozes man-love on Republicans time and time again? This is not to say that some, or even a majority of journalists are not hard-working, tough-and-fair minded individuals whose goal is to get the story, and get it right. The problem with noting this is that the most visible, the most highly paid, and the most celebrated journalists today are mindless hacks, or in the case of FOXNews, partisan hacks with no integrity whatsoever. This is on display day after day after day. Chait's blindness to it, and his claim of "improvement" only shows that he doesn't understand the basic difference between what journalists do and what bloggers do.

Chait's reply to his critics is instructive, because at heart, I believe he wants to be liked by liberal bloggers. I honestly feel his feelings are hurt because he is often chastised by some whom he might actually esteem. Chait's problem, however, as exposed by his reply, is similar to Joe Klein's - he is an elitist who insist that the polloi follow rather than lead, listen rather than speak, and conduct political debate in a civil and constructive manner, rather than get all down and dirty. We should advocate, but never yell. We should concede our own limitations, while always acknowledging that our opponents are persons of good faith, too. In short, we should wimp out rather than fight. We should temper our anger out of a sense of propriety that has no place in a struggle for the direction of our country, a struggle that includes ending a war that continues to kill our young men and women. As Ezra Klein notes in his "last word" (as it were), Chait's reply is off the mark and weak because, in the end, he knows his position is insupportable.

UPDATE: Over here Glenn Greenwald responds to a criticism Joe Klein has made. It is a lengthy riposte, and deserves ones full attention, but I would like to pull out one part in particular that says better what I tried to say here:
The blog-media dividing line is not about ideology or temperament, at least not principally. The dividing line, more than anything else, is one's view of the Beltway political and media culture -- is it (a) basically a healthy and constructive system filled with good, capable and decent people which just needs some reform here and there, or is it (b) fundamentally broken, corrupt, barren, devoid of any vibrancy and integrity and real purpose?

National journalists, because they and their lives and careers are so integrally woven into that system, instinctively believe the former. And that, more than anything else, renders them incapable of fulfilling the core journalistic function, which is to report on our government adversarially and to view it as a target of scepticism. They are far too integrated into it and dependent upon it to do anything other than view it as intrinsically good and therefore reflexively defend it. And that is true no matter how many foreign outside-of-the-Beltway excursions David Broder courageously undertakes. They are spokespeople for the royal court of which they (and typically their spouses and friends and close associates) are such a critical part.

Bloggers, by stark and vital contrast, are (along with blog readers) almost uniformly people who function outside the Beltway system, i.e. they are the "ordinary Americans" whom people like Broder and Klein claim to represent. And they are largely motivated by animosity towards that system, by a belief that it has become broken and corrupt. For that reason, they are uniquely positioned to perform the adversarial and watchdog functions which our political press is intended to perform but which -- due to its becoming far too integral a component of the Betlway system -- it has now almost completely abdicated.

There is nothing wrong with Klein coming to the defense of his profession and its practitioners. The problem, alas, is that his defense is so moribund, distorting Greenwald's criticism (trying to make Glenn Greenwald look inconsistent and stupid is like trying to make George Bush look informed and congenial) to the point of caricature (truly, Klein cannot believe that Greenwald would make the argument Klein claims he makes; thus, he is dishonest as well as having all his other faults). Greenwald used Broder's forays to the polloi as an example of sneering Beltway elitism, not a topic for discussion. The central point was the brokenness of the entire Beltway pundit class. Klein never addresses that point because, like Chait in a different context, he cannot. Neither one addresses the central issue - bloggers succeed because they aren't Beltway pundits. Apparently, Klein and others feel we are all wannabe pundits who need coaching. Alas and alack, it isn't true. I for one would prefer to remain where and what I am (although getting a paycheck for all the time away from my family would be nice, George Soros if you're listening . . .)

A Note on the Opening Statements of the House Judiciary Committee

Christy at Fire Dog Lake will be live-blogging the whole thing today, but I just wanted to note two things I heard during the opening statement of the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith of Texas. First, he was channeling Elliot Abrams when he spouted off about "the criminalization of political disagreements"; second, he waved the bloody shirts of terrorist victims to minimize the damage done to the federal judiciary.

Elliot Abrams, who was convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal on multiple counts of lying to Congress, and was pardoned I believe by the first President Bush just before he left office, was infamous for stating his objection to the entire Iran-Contra oversight process as political manouvering on the part of Democrats. Alas and alack, he still went to prison because he broke the law; apparently he forgot that we are a nation of laws, even if he doesn't like some of them. This particular bit of Republican idiocy has become so farcical, so obscene, and now we are hearing it again. Please.

As for the bloody shirt . . . You know, why don't we just set aside all laws, all serious matters, and hunker down in fear of some coming apocalyptic showdown with The Terrorists. Let's all just let the Bush Administration do whatever they want because, as we all know, they are protecting us by letting The Terrorists kill us Over There rather than Over Here (except in New Jersey, here in Illinois, and who knows where else). This is so tired, so played, so . . . just downright stupid. Sighing in resignation in the face of such farcical nonsense is all we have left. That and pointing it out how stupid it is. Can we get on with the serious business of doing oversight now that the Republican talking-points are out of the way?

Again, consult FDL for various fun-filled moments throughout the day.

On The Limits of the Enlightenment View of Religious Belief

Since the 18th century, the dominant public view of religious belief has been that it is a matter of private concern between the individual and his or her Deity, mediated by a body and clergy person. The Founders view, despite a generation of right-wing rhetoric to the contrary, was always perfectly in line with this particular notion; thus the refusal, built in to the Constitution over protests from certain Protestant groups (due to anti-Catholic bigotry), of any religious test for national public office (there were various such tests in most state constitutions into the late 19th century). Jefferson's oft-quoted line concerning his apathy towards the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of others is the sine qua non summation of this particular point of view - what it means to be an American, in terms of matters of public concern, is limited to certain questions and brackets out others.

Standing behind this attitude is the idea that religious belief is principally a cognitive activity. To be a faithful Christian or a faithful Jew is to assent to certain statements as "true" and others as "false". These statements, usually referred to in the Christian tradition as doctrine, are the core identifiers of what it means to be a believer. How each individual translates this assent in to action is up to his or her own conscience. We are, for better or worse, free agents, and there is not, nor should there be, any public decisions regarding what is or is not correct belief and practice.

This idea, put in to practice in the United States, has been remarkably fruitful for the burgeoning of religious belief. We are a religion-soaked, even besotted, nation. Freed from the strictures and limitations of a legally-imposed system of belief, our churches divide and multiply like amoeba, splitting off and branching out, based on everything from racial and regional differences to disputes over the most arcane doctrinal disputes. The result is that, for one example, my little hometown of Waverly, NY has more churches than bars (although attendance at the latter is, I think, more steady than at the former) - from your traditional Catholic, Baptist, and United Methodist to Christian Missionary Alliance (a break-away from the UM Church during the on-going discussion over union with the EUB church in the early- to mid-1960's; they feared a watering down of the traditional Methodist concern over mission) and Church of the Nazarene (another Methodist step-child, born in the Holiness movement of the mid-19th century).

What are we to do, however, when our consciences conflict with the law? How are we to live our lives if, in living with integrity our adherence to certain principles, we come in to conflict with the larger society? Since the mid-20th century, there has been a recognition that what are known as the "Peace Churches" (principally the Mennonites and Quakers) are, and should have, exceptions allowed for them when it comes to matters of national defense. Thus, during the years of legally enforced indenture in the military (the draft), members of these groups were allowed to serve in non-combat roles, or even offered alternative service in accordance with their religious beliefs. What of those, however, who so believe but are not members of these groups?

At the United Methodist Church's website is a story, found here of a retired United Methodist minister who is an active and on-going tax protester, refusing to pay a portion or all of his taxes because of his conscientious objection to the dominance of the military in our national life. The IRS, not recognizing such activity by United Methodists as legal, has been garnisheeing his pension to collect on back taxes and fees. The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits has stepped in, sending a check for the full amount along with a letter of protest to the IRS. The story from the United Methodist News Service says in part:
Because the denomination’s Social Principles support conscientious objection, the levy "has, in essence, coerced the General Board into violating one of the church’s deeply held principles of faith," the letter declared. "It has put the General Board in a position of punishing Rev. Schwiebert’s conscience, as opposed to supporting it, as the church so clearly teaches."

I am not writing this to defend or criticize Schweibert's actions vis-a-vis the tax protest; I am writing to ask what we should do in regards to such a claim. What is the demarcation line between serious, legitimate tax protest and simple refusal to pay taxes? There are whole groups of people (some of whom hold elective office) who believe that the income tax is, at heart, confiscatory and immoral. Should they be allowed to not pay taxes because they assent to certain (non-religious) beliefs regarding the efficacy and morality of the tax code? Or should exceptions be made only for those adhering to certain religious beliefs? Wouldn't doing this, however, violate the First Amendment, or at the very least, expose a certain fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Enlightenment idea of private assent?

I do not have any answers to these questions, and as I am a practical person at heart, I think it important to note that I believe quite firmly that societies draw all sorts of lines between what is and is not acceptable public behavior all the time. This particular question provides an opportunity for clarifying such a line, and refining it through case law and IRS regulation. My larger point, however, is to raise the question of what is driving this particular issue right now - has not the privatizing of religious belief been exposed as insufficient for wending our way through the straights and narrows of public life? Do we not now need, perhaps, to re-examine the role of religious practice rather than just religious belief in our public life? I ask these questions without offering an answer, because I think this is the beginning, rather than the end, of a debate that could be very healthy for us as a society.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Desire for Ideological Purity and Its Discontents

I know that Democracy Lover will disagree with me on several points, but I want to start off this discussion by highlighting what happens when an activist core begins to demand a certain conformity of thought from those who seek its blessing. From here at Crooks and Liars:
It seems a woman and her body are protected by these pols until they have to face the fundie base of the GOP party.

Manny on the Democratic side of the divide are laughing at the intellectual and political dishonesty of Mitt Romney as he desperately seeks the approval of the Christian conservatives, the only base left, really, in the Republican Party (that in itself should cause shudders throughout the Republican establishment). While hardly a flaming lefty, Romney was a pretty moderate guy when he ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate back in 1994, as well as during his tenure as governor. The contortions and distortions he is currently undertaking in order to get the Republican nod are evidence that, when it comes to demanding purity, there are fewer harsher task-masters than hard-core believers (especially those who believe in the concept of born-again virginity, something that is entirely relevant here).

Not only is Romney under fire for his sudden embrace of positions he has never held before. On the Democratic side, it is conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton has not repudiated her vote authorizing American military action in Iraq. That is simply not true, and is easily disproved. What Bob Somerby over at The Daily Howler calls "The Clinton Rules", however, have an extended warranty, and can now be used against the former President's wife; those rules mean that you can keep spouting off disproved lies and no one will call you on them, as long as they apply to the Clinton's. Whitewater. Rose Law Firm Records. Aides trashing the West Wing before leaving. On and on and on and on . . .

Of course, should it suddenly pierce the stupidity of those who continue to crow about it that Sen. Clinton has indeed repudiated her vote, in fact gone so far as to co-sponsor a bill that would specifically revoke the AUMF from 2002, she will then be accused, like former Gov. Romney, of . . . flip-flopping. The difference between the two cases is, of course, important as well as instructive. In Romney's case, he is merely showing that it is necessary to prostitute your core principles to the ideological demands of those whose blessing is, in all likelihood a curse. In Senator Clinton's case, it is the realization that she made a mistake, has repudiated that mistake, and is seeking to make amends for it. We can go back and forth praising all those who id not vote for AUMF, but that is neither here nor there at the moment. What is important is that Sen. Clinton's integrity and consistency are always on trial by her critics, left and right, and no amount of evidence, no action on her part, will ever convince either end of the political spectrum that she is acting on the up and up. Again, the Clinton Rules mean that critics never have to say their sorry.

Romney is a victim of the demands for ideological purity, the same kind of thing some further to the left are demanding Democrats should do as well. I agree it is important that candidates who have the imprimatur of the Democratic Party should stand behind at least most of what the Democratic Party holds important. The problem is one of degree, and a certain acceptance of a whole new set of circumstances in which the Democratic Party can how offer itself too a whole range of political beliefs and people that might not have considered it before. The political map is in flux right now, and signs are pointing the way back to the Party of the Good Roosevelt, Truman, LBJ (the non-Vietnam War, pro-civil rights LBJ), and George McGovern, but in order to consolidate those gains we must not allow ourselves to demand ideological purity. Pro-choice allows for people to believe that abortion can be a bad choice for individuals. Pro-gun control can mean that one hunts on a regular basis (like Al Gore and John Kerry, the latter of whom is a life-long member of the NRA), and unlike Romney. One can see minor tinkering with the tax code, or with the health care financing system as more conducive to long-term effectiveness than sweeping changes a la Bush's Social Security Plan. In other words, we can have good intra-party debates that allow for differences, and allow for both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards to call themselves Democrats without either one tossing the other out, or without supporters cringing at one or the other.

This is a long way of saying that we need to be very careful of how we treat the woman who is most likely to be the Democratic nominee and most likely our next President. Should she get the nomination, I will support, defend, and vote for her. It will also be a moment of schadenfreude as all those Hillary-haters out there screech in pain as our 44th President, our first woman Chief Executive, is the one they revile the most. Hell, I might even go to her inauguration.

A European Take on Nicolas Sarkozy's Election to the French Presidency

My Portuguese friend Cristina has a post in which she discusses Sarkozy's election, and in the comments she says the following(the original is in Portuguese and this is copied from the Babelfish translation, giving you an idea of how well it works, and its limitations):
France harvests what semeou.e what sowed was hatred, disdain and altivez on who comes of is.
ja said it here and repeats: the Frenchmen are xen├│fobos elitist and one have camouflaged complex one of superiority under the flag of the freedom, fraternity and of the equality they are not nothing of this, ja not even is the country of bluff... ok assume the things, of fact, the democracy seems to be claustrof├│bica.

The political distance between Sarkozy and Jean Marie LePen is small indeed; he is the National Front with a nod and a wink to respectability. Cris's main point here, however, is clear. France's resentment towards its immigrant community is rooted in resentment, not economic, but social, cultural, and political. When there were riots two years ago, showing the world that the French hid their racism behind a banner of official colorblindness, waving the tattered banner of the First Republic's cry of "freedom, equality, and brotherhood", the (white) French public was enraged that they were called out for being what they are - xenophobic racists who claim adherence to a higher moral principle to excuse the destructive social policies that resulted in race riots. In that respect, Sarkozy's win is not surprising; he is merely the spokesperson now for the average (white) French person who hates the Africans among them not only because they are black, but because these thankless immigrants have dared question France's social practices. Cristina is quite right when she points out that the French are xenophobic elitists; this election proves that for all the world to see. I said it at Cris's site, and I will say it here - this was a sad day for the Fifth Republic.

Left, Right, Center - What Does It All Mean?

I have said many times here in this blog, and believed for years, that the old identifiers - liberal, conservative, moderate, centrist, left, right - are meaningless ciphers to be filled in by the person using them. Since Spiro Agnew's attacks on the liberal media, those "nattering nabobs of negativism" (William Safire's last claim to erudition and alliterate grandeur), the far-right claim that liberalism=socialism/communism has become part of our conventional wisdom, no matter how hard we might try to unstick that particular needle from that particular groove. I have experienced it here; some right-wing commenters have simply said "You are a socialist". While part of me protests, another part of me wants to say, "Fine. Whatever." Yet, my own views have never been spelled out very clearly, so with some help from a discussion I had years ago with a British acquaintance of mine, I will try to lay out what I mean when I say that our currently available tags for political geography don't work.

Years ago, in a discussion, my British acquaintance overheard someone calling Ted Kennedy a "socialist"; he snorted, turned to me, and said, "You know, in Britain, Kennedy would be considered on the right of the Labour Party." It was at that point that I knew our political categories were broken. The 1994 Republican take-over of Congress confirmed this for me; to talk of a "conservative revolution" is a bit like talking about "military music" or "Bush Administration integrity" - it's an oxymoron. What the bulk of those Republicans elected to the 104th Congress were, were reactionaries. What were they reacting to? Why, we all know the answer to that one, because we have heard it paraded around ever since - the evil 1960's! From the Peace Corps to Selma, through teach-ins, long hair, dope smoking, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, pretty much everything from the election of John Kennedy through Altamont (December, 1969) was just wrong. The culture warriors take their cues from an abhorrence of all things eminating from that decade.

Of course, the money bags behind these kulturkampfers are even more reactionary, looking to a status quo ante 1933. We see the results of that particular readjustment all around us, and we should be proud of the accomplishments of the Coolidge/Hoover wing of the Republican Party. They have reminded us, as if we needed reminding, why all the laws regulating businesses, corporations, financial markets, banks, and general economic, financial, and business activity were put in place initially - left to their own devices, in pursuit of that ever-desired larger bottom line, there is nothing these folks won't do. The destruction of our civil and social infrastructure is a small price to pay for a larger dividend at the end of the quarter. One would think that Congress would pursue, among its many other pressing needs, a revised Glass-Steagall act, once again separating various branches of the financial world, to prevent all sorts of book-cooking, interest-conflicts, and general malfeasance. If it isn't on the agenda, it should be.

Our present predicament is frustrated by the lack of relevance, leaving aside the utter vacuousness, of political labels. Bush, et al. are not "conservative", and those that are most vocal in support of them are not either. Indeed, a classic conservative a la Edmund Burke would be horrified at what these folks have wrought upon the body politic. Concern for the social fabric was the highest priority for Burke. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, Rice have pretty much shredded it. Indeed, much of the work ahead of us is reconstituting some semblance of the various social and civil institutions and networks and infrastructure that have been left to die or torn asunder by the multiple abuses of this and previous Administrations and their Congressional counterparts.

The animus directed against the Bush folks, and Republicans in general, stems not from a swing to the left, but from a recognition that Republican governance is destructive of the social fabric of the country. There is nothing particularly "liberal" about this idea; it is simply a result of looking at the evidence presented to us. Those on the traditional left are as distrustful of our current Democratic Party as they are of the Republicans, viewing them as "Republican lite" - less filling, but taste just as bad. The problem with this "pox upon their houses" attitude is that it ignores the real differences between the parties. As someone who used to accept this particular line of nonsense, I confess that I no longer understand the desire to tear down, in the pursuit of never-attainable policies and ideological purity, what is attainable. Politics is the art of the possible, and we who are, for lack of a better word are on the left, should not shrug off possible alliances with those with whom we might hold ideological or policy differences out of a concern for political purity. Politics makes strange bedfellows (to use another metaphor), and we should not be concerned with our political virginity that we ignore the opportunities facing us with the collapse of the Republican Party under George W. Bush. That smacks of political naivete of the worst sort.

Right now, our polity is in flux, and labels simply do not serve the purpose they once did, giving us a shorthand way of navigating the various streams and rivers of our political wilderness. I think a better way of understanding our current situation is this - which party, basically in charge since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, has done more damage to our country, has loosed the chains upon industry to rape and pillage, has created an atmosphere of permissiveness in our social and political discourse whereby racist, homo-hating, woman-hating rhetoric is mainstreamed and acceptable, and officially claims and acts as if it above the law? Which of our two major parties has a longer list of officials who have departed office to Federal Prison, or at least (as this is important as well) under a cloud of serious questions concerning their ethical conduct?

At heart, these are the questions those who have been labeled conservative, liberal, left, right, etc., have been asking themselves in the wake of the multiple outrages of our current government. The answer is pretty clear from the poll numbers; depending upon which you consult, Bush's approval ratings stand between 28% and 33%, and a majority want the Administration to end. Now. That's not liberal or conservative. That's just good ol' American know-how.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Not Much Today . . . Except My Wedding Anniversary (UPDATE A Day Later)

I was hopeful when I started to read the John DiIullio article, posted about below, but was disappointed by its general confusion. I have searched and thought and pondered and there is just more of the same out there today, isn't there? More stupid lies from Tony Snow. More dodging responsibility on the part of the Administration vis-a-vis the Kansas National Guard units and help for tornado victims. More lying by Alberto Gonzalez exposed. More. More. More. The press is ridiculously intellectually dishonest, but we bloggers are worse because we don't mimic them by not printing bad words. The Democrats have no chance against the Republicans in next year's presidential race, except, of course, in poll after poll that shows not a single Republican within shouting distance of one of the leading Democratic contenders (so much for the intellectual honesty of the mainstream press).

I guess I am just saddened that we seem to beat our heads against the wall of all the insanity out there, and nothing seems to come of it. The press is still stupid and dishonest. Bush and Cheney, still, are not only in office, but not pushed by the press to defend what is clearly indefensible. Alberto Gonzalez is still in office and still not under indictment. Elliot Abrams still occupies an office of responsibility somewhere in the government (kept hidden; apparently for the press out of sight is out of mind).

Today is our fourteenth wedding anniversary. Saturday, May 8, 1993 was beautiful. My mother still raves about the azaleas in bloom in the yards in our neighborhood. We were married in Oxnam Chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary. The chapel is named for Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, who moved Westminster Theological Seminary from the wilds of north-central Maryland to Washington, DC, and whose ashes are encased in a stone beneath the altar. The Rev. Kyung-Lim Shin Lee officiated. Family and friends from all over congregated at one-thirty, and we retired to Emabassy Suites for a night away. I felt like such a VIP; the waiter at the hotel restaurant found out it was our wedding night, and we didn't have to pay for dinner.

We have made it fourteen years for one simple reason - we work at it. Marriage isn't a relationship. It's a job that takes effort, compromise, the occasional eruption of anger and frustration, and the always-wonderful discovery that, even after fourteen years, your partner can still surprise. I am the luckiest person I know because I have spent a third of my life with my best friend, and together we have managed to agree that we are better together than we ever might have been apart or separate. Unlike my frustrations with the news of the day, and the continual nonsense parade, I find solace in the fact that today Lisa and I celebrate, and I mean celebrate, the first fourteen years of the rest of our lives.

To us.

This was almost our wedding song, but I couldn't remember the name of the damn group. because I am, at heart, a sentimental, romantic idiot (all three adjectives being important to remember), I love this no matter how cheesy, predictable, and thick with sap it is. Also, I can't remember the song we did pick, and this one is so much better.

UPDATE: OK, our wedding song was "Forever and a Day" by Gene Cotton. Another candidate for our wedding song was "True Companion" by Marc Cohn, but Lisa didn't like the reference to "With wild abandon/I'll make love to you/Like a true companion". Her grandmother, widow of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor was present, and Lisa wondered about her reaction to that particular line. Why her, of all our guests might have been a focus of concern is a bit beyond me still, but there you have it.

I Need Help Here Figuring Out John DiIullio

I read this piece by John DiIullio over at Faith in Public, and I need help. Seriously. There is no argument here. There is no through-line, as they say. There is a jumble of unconnected facts, disorganized ramblings, discussions of "soft" versus "hard" power, a swipe at academic myopia vis-a-vis religion (although never noting that Europe has been quite successful in a number of ways in its post-Christian ways; as the Euro is the new currency of choice rather than the dollar, we might hesitate before we start criticizing those silly Europeans).

In any event, could someone please click the link, read the article, and explain to me what might have been DiIullio's point? I see none. Honestly. I looked and looked. Nothing. It wasn't even a good typing exercise.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Chris Matthews on Fire

Via The Horses Mouth at Talking Points Memo comes the following video of Chris Matthews (hardly my favorite journalist). You just gotta love this, regardless of your political persuasion. "You got a problem with politicians setting policy?" Hello, calling stupid right-winger!

Music Monday

Last winter, I did something I always wanted to do. I taught a music appreciation course at our church. My goals were two-fold - to introduce new ways of thinking about the role of music in the worship experience, and to show the variety of ways music offers up praise, even when it is unintended. In the course of that class, I mentioned something about "contemporary psychedelic music", and a class member asked, "Who listens to acid rock anymore?" I responded, "I do."

First up on the bill is the Japanese band Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.. Imagine a Shinto priest and a member of Blue Cheer having a love child.

It is probably unfair to call this next band "psychedelic" because, in truth, they are unclassifiable. There are elements of heavy metal here. There are elements of prog. There is more than a little flavor of free jazz. Yes, indeed, The Mars Volta are sui generis. Run, do not walk, and get their CD Deloused at the Crematorium and their live CD Scabdates. I repeat. Run.

Finally, a band I have highlighted before, Ozric Tentacles. I really, really, REALLY like this band. If you can find Eternal Wheel (especially in the special hemp-paper sleeve), buy it, turn the lights off, and turn your stereo up as loud as it will go.

For those who might want to know, either to find me doing something naughty, or who are just nosy, I am not an imbiber of psychedelics of any kind (although I have no problem with marijuana, as I told my wife once, having a husband with a drug bust would not be good for her career as a minister). I appreciate this music for what it does to me without altering the chemical make-up of my brain. I suppose I am missing out on something, but we all draw our lines somewhere.

Following Newt's Advice

I saw this over at Think yesterday, where Newt Gingrich offers advice for Republican Presidential candidates, and I wondered what a possible response would be. Of course, an initial reaction is horror and disbelief. How can they not speak of these fundamental flaws in Bush governance?

Then, it struck me. By all means, follow Newt's advice. Indeed, it would seem the Republican candidates are doing so anyway, as Bush was almost completely absent from comments at the debate last week among the ten little white men. Follow that advice, however. Don't mention four years of failure in Iraq. Don't mention Katrina, New Orleans, the politicization of the federal bureaucracy, Karl Rove, the outing of a covert CIA agent. In fact, take Newt's advice and look to the future! The bright and glorious future as only Republicans can bring it to us! After all, Newt is a devotee of Alvin Toffler who Future Shock is the blueprint for pretty much every stupid thing ever to escape from the man's mouth, and we all know how accurate, how knowledgeable, and how deeply immersed in historical analysis Toffler is (I hope you realize I am being facetious here; Toffler, like his protege, is about as wrong as wrong could be, and even more ignorant). Let them spin all sorts of fantasies of the future while the Democrats continue to talk about what is actually troubling Americans here and now, and how to fix them. Let the Republicans ignore the crimes and follies of Bush, et al., so the Democrats can have a monopoly on them. By all means, whoever is nominated by the Republicans, I insist you pretend that Republicans haven't been in control of the country for most of the past generation, and play the minority/victim card yet again. Insist that you be given a chance to govern, as you have not been given a chance to govern since 1968, 1980, 1994, 2000, 2004. Please Republicans, fall further into delusion-land so that your loss will be even greater.

Run, Newt, run!

Getting it Right and Wrong on Taking a Stand

Over at Faith in Public, there is a reprint of a Christianity Today piece by Ted Olsen (no, I don't know if it's that Ted Olsen) that is interesting, provocative, ends extremely well, and offers up an opportunity for thoughtful, and constructive, criticism. In other words, it is exactly what we look for, but too often do not find, in our world today - we can both agree, disagree, criticize and applaud, and move on together. Too rare, and too welcome to pass up.

Like the whole "good news, bad news" thing, I think I will begin by highlighting the end of the piece, on what Olsen calls "Christian Tribalism", because it is important, correct in all the right ways, and brings up points that, had he concentrated upon them, Olsen might have used to change both the tone and content of his article:
When we think of checking our national citizenship against our kingdom citizenship, we often think of some possible day when imperial storm troopers will tell us to renounce Christ or die. We tell ourselves that at that moment, we'll answer with Peter and the apostles: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

But it rarely comes down to that.
Being people of the kingdom of God is not a whatif question about choosing sides some day. It's something we do every day. And when we denigrate the image of God by bearing false witness or making ad hominem attacks—or by saying to other members of Christ's body, "I have no need of you"—we renounce and deny our true citizenship. We side with the wrong kingdom.(emphasis added)

The article begins with a discussion, wonderfully balanced (as these things should be), of the departure of the Southern Baptist Convention from the World Baptist Alliance due to a rise in anti-Americansim, and of protests among American Episcopalians against the, um, slightly imperialistic tendencies of the World Anglican Communion, in the guise of British bishops, trying to tell their American cousins what to do in regards, specifically, to the ordination and consecration of gay and lesbian prelates and bishops.

After showing the problem is not one limited to ideology, Olsen writes:
Churches, in fact, can breed far more jingoism than the place you might most expect it: Christian political organizations lobbying Washington. Despite the nearly universal stars-and-stripes motif on these groups' websites, a Republican-led amendment to ban flag "desecration" (that is, violating or removing the flag's holy character) got at best tepid support from Religious Right groups. While you'll find a fair number of references to "American values" on both the Right and the Left (it's actually the name of Gary Bauer's organization), most Christian organizations see these values as lost relics to be reclaimed. Jim Wallis sounds like Jim Dobson: "American morality has been destroyed. … " Tony Campolo sounds like Tony Perkins: "I don't know about America any longer. I see us going down the tubes." Evangelical Left and Right organizations are in perennial jeremiad mode, railing against American leaders, policies, and excesses.

While their views of international diplomacy differ strongly, these organizations share a common desire to be globally minded. Unfortunately, they can be tribal and insular when critiquing each other. "People on Christian radio … describe gay people as fungus on society that must be exterminated," one evangelical leader told The New York Times. When I later pressed him to name these people, he admitted that while he had heard gays described as promiscuous, pedophilic, and abominations in the eyes of God, "What I was actually referring to … was what a sensitive Christian gay guy [I know] believed and felt the evangelical community regarded him."

Another prominent Christian leader responded to Wallis's December speech on the Democrats' weekly radio address by saying, "Wallis loves to call himself an evangelical. But don't be misled. Wallis is a leftleaning socialist. … " The same leader at the 2004 Republican convention handed out fortune cookies with the message: "Number 1 Reason to Ban Human Cloning: Hillary Clinton."(emphasis added)

To deal with the highlighted sections in the second section first, I want us to notice a couple things. First, Olsen is trying to be fair and balanced, showing how both left and right Christians are equally at fault for their "tribalism", yet the differences are striking. From the left (as it were) is an anonymous tale of someone somewhere getting their feelings hurt (how is that possible?) by the rampant homo-hatred among the Christian right. The other is the smearing, hate-filled tactics of a prominent leader (never named) against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. While in some universe where context doesn't matter there might be some sort of equity between these two stories, in fact, one (never sourced, third hand, and so about as reliable as a Michelle Malkin column) is an anecdote without any reference except to the rabid eliminationism among the Christian right towards gays and lesbians (why should queer folks fear these people? One wonders . . .) The other is the kind of sneering, snide attack, where the hatred is just below the surface, by a prominent, and most likely powerful person against a woman. There is not equality here; in fact, both are indicative less of an equal affliction among those on the left and right and more indicative of a strain of fear and loathing among those on the right, and the reactions it brings among the rest of us. As a side note, neither Jim Wallis nor Tony Campolo are particularly liberal. I am a fan of neither, and I find Wallis particularly tiresome. His only real concern is Jim Wallis being the leader of a movement. He may be a Christian, but he is a Christian hack for all that.

What Olsen misses, by trying to be "fair and balanced" is that the kind of tribalism he is describing is due less to a loss of focus on the Kingdom of God and more on disputes over theology and authority. Indeed, had he paid closer attention to what he wrote at the end, which I have highlighted , he might have recognized that. His point - about Christians facing a choice of renunciation or death, choosing death - is one that needs to be emphasized over and over again. These are the fantasies of too many on the Christian Right. I have yet to hear a serious mainstream Christian speak or write about the threat of secularism, liberalism, or any other supposed demonic influence as the sign of the coming of the anti-Christ. These are the fears of those on the right, fears that spawn all sorts of heroic fantasies, not the least of which is the horrid Left Behind series, where dispensationalist Christians can vicariously make it through the tribulation, taking all sorts of hell-spawn with them as they go (they can even buy the video game to go along with it, where bullets are blessed by God to kill all sorts of Christ-haters).

His larger point at the end of the article, however, is right on. Rather than being Peter in Acts, we are too often Peter at the end of the Gospels, denying Christ not just three times, but three times thirty times, to serve some end not of God, but of ourselves. There is something more than occasionally inconvenient about the Christian faith, and we are faced, not with demons threatening us with death, but the small-time decisions every day that whittle away at our faith bit by bit. It isn't tribalism that's the problem. It's a combination of fear, boredom, and blindness. Also, the problem he describes is far more prevalent, far more dangerous, and far more sinister among those on the right than on the left, precisely because, while their influence is dwindling (except among Republican primary voters), the Christian Right is still powerful, and a power not for good, in our society.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

David Broder's Mumblings

When lost for a topic on Sundays, I know all I have to do is read David Broder's latest missive for an example of everything that is wrong with contemporary punditry. I was surprised, then, to read the opening lines of this column which read:
The gap between public opinion and Washington reality has rarely been wider than on the issue of the Iraq war. A clear national mandate is being blocked -- for now -- by constraints that make sense only in the short-term calculus of politics in this capital city.

Perhaps all us dirty-mouthed liberal bloggers were actually penetrating that balding pate after all! Broder at least manages to recognize the reality that is clear to the rest of us - the war, and the architects of that war, are about as popular as bullet ants at a family picnic. Broder goes on to wonder, as if this question has not been discussed ad nauseum by liberal bloggers, why it is that the war has yet to end, if in fact that is the public's express desire.

His answer?
Part of the answer lies in the Constitution. It makes the president commander in chief of the armed forces, the only elected official whose orders every general and every private must obey.

Congress shares war-making power under the Constitution but can exercise it only through its control of the money the president needs to finance any military operation.

In this moment, the commander in chief has a clear plan -- to apply more military force in and around Baghdad in hopes of suppressing the sectarian violence and creating space for the Iraqi politicians to assemble a functioning government.

It is a high-risk policy with no guarantee of success. But it is a clear strategy.

The Democratic-controlled Congress, on the other hand, lacks agreement on any such plan. Most Democrats are unwilling to exercise their right to cut off funds for the war in Iraq, lest they be accused of abandoning the troops in the middle of the fight.

Lacking the will to do that, they are forced to an uncomfortable alternative. They are proposing to continue financing a war that most of them oppose, while placing conditions on the conduct of the war that the president says will reduce the chances of his strategy succeeding.

That claim, whatever its merits, places the Democrats on the defensive. It is not a comfortable position, but it is where they find themselves -- for now.

So, Washington politics is in the way of performing the one overarching task the Democrats were elected to perform - getting the United States out of Iraq as soon as possible, if not sooner. Part of that political calculus (I didn't highlight it because I wanted it to be a surprise) is that the Democrats in Congress fear "be[ing] accused of abandoning the troops in the middle of the fight." And who might accuse them of that? Maybe the Washington-based pundits who repeat that particular line of Bush Administration bullshit every chance they get?

This is the kind of nonsense that drives me absolutely nuts. What Broder gives with one hand, he takes away with the other, but he does so in a way the eschews responsibility for any role he or others in his particular profession might play. Indeed, one would think that Broder, of all people, "concerned" as he seems to constantly be with "gridlock" and "partisan bickering", would compose a column in which he might actually take an unpopular President to task for blocking the express will of the people through his intransigence. That would be to place blame, and blame is not the name of the game. Broder is offering passionless analysis here, not seeking to fix responsibility for a political impasse.

Broder is correct, actually, when he states that the Republican position vis-a-vis the Presidency in 2008 is untenable should we still have a significant presence in Iraq. Actually, I would go further and state unequivocally that no matter what President Bush does between now and November, 2008, the Republicans will lose the White House, fall even further behind in Congress, governorships, state legislature control, and become a minority party for a significant portion of the future. That Broder cannot see that far ahead, or refuses to acknowledge that particular reality, shows that he, as much as the Washington insiders who butter his bread, are more concerned with short term political calculus rather than serious policy change. In the end, he is as wrong as he is right, and the two do not cancel each other out, but show him to be, alas, still lost in Washington.

No Magical Thinking

If you are so inclined, you can visit the website for my wife's church and listen to her sermon today on the challenge of believing in God in the face of tragic illness, particularly the illness of a child. The entire service centered on facing this challenge head-on, with realism, our own sense of frustration and our own questions, but a refusal to accept easy answers. I have never been as proud or as moved as I was today when she quoted Paul Claudel:
Christ did not come to end suffering. He did not come to answer the question of suffering. Christ came to fill suffering with His presence.

A common criticism of Christianity is that it tells believers that they will not suffer if they have faith. Indeed, I have often heard such nonsense preached and taught, and my own frustration comes in knowing that such talk is not only un-Biblical, but theologically unsound as well. It persists, however, because too many people want an out, a lifeline, a way to be yanked out of the messy world in which we live, thereby proving our own superiority over other run-of-the-mill human beings, and our own access to something higher and greater.

Such thinking is, sadly, also a remnant of a certain tendency to view religion as magical in some way, as some mysterious we-know-not-what that can relieve us of the burdens of life. Some of those burdens are horrific; today, 30-some people were killed in a car bombing in Baghdad. Two weeks ago, a small child was killed when her mother pulled out of a blind intersection and was t-boned by a car coming up the road onto which she was turning. Dr. Josef Mengele used to perform live vivisections on Jewish children in order to determine how their physiology was different from "Aryan" physiology. These horrors are real, they are a part of what it means to be human, and we cannot do away with them through some process of abstraction or through the hope that God will send us an invisible rope and yank us out and away from these horrors. The popularity a few years ago of the TV program Touched by an Angel, and part of the premise of the silly movie City of Angels is a symptom of this same magical thinking, using vaguely Christian ideas and symbols as a way of showing us just how there might just be this magical, invisible world with magical, invisible creatures whose sole purpose is our protection.

The answer that Lisa gave, the answer that the Christian faith gives, to the horrible conundrum of illness seemingly undeserved, draining us financially, emotionally, and psychologically, is not satisfying to many, because, it seems to me, too many critics of Christianity also suffer from the delusion that somehow, somewhere, God promises us a magical lifeline out of suffering. It just isn't true, and no amount of searching, no amount of praying, no amount of sermonizing claiming it is true will make it any less false. When critics site such nonsense as part of the reason for leaving faith aside, all I can say is that they may have many reasons not to like Christianity, but this isn't one of them.

The end of Lisa's sermon is a recapitulation of the Claudel quote. It isn't about answering unanswerable questions ("Why does God allow little children to suffer and die from horrible diseases?") but about being present in the midst of the situation and offering peace and hope and love that is stronger than the reality of suffering. I know that many find such an answer unsatisfying, but that is all there really is. To look for more, to desire more, is to search for that which will never be. It is to suffer from the delusion that God is David Copperfield, and the disease is the Statue of Liberty, which he can make disappear through some sort of strange and wonderful sleight-of-hand. God isn't David Copperfield, however, and while I have no problem with anger, even devout rage, at God in the midst of such situations (having been there myself on a few occasions), to try and construct an argument against Christianity based upon this reality fails in the end from the very thing rationalist critics accuse it of - a desire to believe in magic.

David Frum Misses the Point, And Gets Some Things Wrong, Too

First, I must say that I am honored by David Frum's Diary entry, as he includes a (partial) quote from me in his run-down of blog criticism of Jonathan Chait's article on left-wing blogs. Along with Digby, Atrios, and MyDD, he not only links to me, but quotes me. That's quite a feeling, to be in such esteemed company.

After citing several of us (to which I shall return), he makes the following analysis of the current situation:
Even now, Chait dislikes the rah-rah team spirit of the blogging left and its rage at writers who do not accept movement discipline. Chait, though a fierce pugilist, is also a civilized writer. The stupid obscenities, the casual abusiveness, and the sinister underlying obsession with AIPAC, Israel, and "neocons" that pervade the left blogosphere must set his teeth on edge. Plus, he can count. Even today, with all the troubles besetting the Bush administration, still twice as many Americans describe themselves as "conservatives" as describe themselves as "liberals." Running hard to the left remains a formula for suicide for any national Democratic candidate.

Yet despite all this - despite all this - Chait and his editors have presented an 8,000 word tribute to the usefulness, value, and ultimate hopefulness (from their point of view) of a phenomenon that 4 years ago they would have regarded as utterly pernicious. That's quite a concession, and the New Republic is quite a place to run it.

Despite all Chait's many and well-founded criticisms of the blogging left - despite all his magazine's no doubt abiding unhappiness with the blogging left's uglier aspects - the piece represents a peace offering from the Lieberman wing of the Democratic party to the Lamont wing. More than a peace offering: a raising of the white flag.

If "even the New Republic" finds more to praise than to blame in the left blogosphere, then the brakes are truly off the Democratic machine. For the first time since 1972, the party left will be allowed to drive the jalopey as far and as fast as it wishes to go.(emphasis added)

First of all, Frum has not read Chait's piece carefully if he believes as he writes here that Chait's damning with faint praise is somehow "waving the white flag". Chait's accusation of intellectual dishonesty, of partisan myopia, and his refusal to understand the reason for our anger at the pernicious influence of "the Lieberman wing" of the Democratic Party (in Frum's infelicitous phrase) are not the result of some grand lefty conspiracy, but out of frustration at the many years of sly dishonesty, out-and-out fantasy-mongering, and disastrous results of listening to people whose judgment has proved, again and again, to be flawed.

Two further points in the highlighted section of Frum's analysis need to be made. First, and again I must stress I can only speak for myself, I do not have any particular animus toward AIPAC. I honestly feel that there are elements of the left that view it as sinister; me, I just view it as an extremely powerful lobby, no more, no less. Does its influence skew domestic debate on Israel? I do not know for sure. I do know that the range of debate that seems acceptable in mainstream organs of the press is much narrower than in Israel itself, as any serious discussion of the flaws of Israeli politics bring out the howls of "anti-Semitism". Having said all that, I do not think we should lay this all at the feet of AIPAC. There are many reasons for our own lack of serious debate on Israel, and our continued support for its disastrous approach to Palestine.

Second, what Frum calls "all the troubles besetting the Bush Administration" (such a nice way of putting it, no?) are not some kind of weird anomaly that arise out of thin air, but the direct result of the way Bush and his pals have run the country for the past six years. His current poll ratings, as atrios, for one, highlights, are at 28% approval. It is constantly amazing to me that Bush apologists do not see the obvious in this, instead spinning all sorts of yarns about how Bush is on the verge of a rebound (Broder), or Democrats should fear taking on Bush (Leon Panetta). Every time the Democrats in Congress challenge the Bush Administration, their poll numbers rise. Every time Bush challenges the Democrats in Congress, his poll numbers fall. This formula, consistent since the opening of the 110th Congress, should tell us more about who actually holds the whip hand. Alas, as the conventional wisdom for a generation has been that Democrats are weak, cowardly, and outside the American mainstream, it is difficult to see what should be obvious to all - not only is Bush down, he is, for all intents and purposes, out. I do not know where Frum finds the information he claims shows that more Americans call themselves conservative than liberal, and as he provides no link, it is difficult to verify, so I will just let it stand as an irrelevancy in the larger context of our current political situation.

Finally, I have to say that Frum does not quote me completely, and by so doing misses a point I was trying to make. First is the quote Frum pulled out of my post:
* Chait, Klein, Broder, Friedman - the whole lot of those who sniff disapprovingly at those of us who are righteously and rightfully enraged by our current empty-headed public discourse - don't get it

Below is the full sentence, from this post:
Chait, Klein, Broder, Friedman - the whole lot of those who sniff disapprovingly at those of us who are righteously and rightfully enraged by our current empty-headed public discourse - don't get it because at some basic level, they don't believe that politics is about anything else than winning an election or an argument.(emphasis added to show what was left out)

By leaving out the part of the sentence highlighted, Frum takes a portion of an argument on the intellectual dishonesty of mainstream critics of blogs and turns it into a snide ad hominem attack on mainstream journalists. In so doing, he manages to change the whole tenor of my words, misrepresenting them, and by implication, my entire criticism of Chait's piece. In so doing, he of course proves part of my point, stressed repeatedly in my own post, that the right is consistently intellectually dishonest.

Again, I am honored to be included in a list with such luminaries of lefty blogs as digby and MyDD, but I am not surprised that Frum not only misrepresents me (and, by implication them), but seems hung up on "obscenity" (apparently, Frum is still in grade school and can't handle four-letter words) and wants us all to believe that the Democrats should fear a President whose approval ratings are hovering, and have been so hovering for close to a year now, at near-Nixonian levels, the result of a combination of official incompetence and near-ubiquitous corruption. Rather than deal with this reality, a reality lefty bloggers not only highlight, but push as the context in which we demand greater courage and action on the part of Democrats, Frum wants us to believe that we need a white flag from "the Lieberman wing" of the Democratic Party in order to move forward. Sorry. We have enough going for us already.

Virtual Tin Cup

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