Saturday, January 05, 2008

Yesterday's Battles

I find it fascinating that, as the Republican Party disintegrates under the centripetal forces of its various factions spinning around looking for a Reagan or Gingrich to lead them, many liberals and progressives are sounding the "they're still dangerous" horn. The most coherent piece is this one by tristero at Hullabaloo. There have been many, many others - Alternet is rife with articles warning of theocratic Reconstructionists who want to (gasp!) end abortion, put mandated Christian prayers in public schools, and define the United States as a Christian nation.

The problem with all these articles, essays, and blog posts is simple - they were all written twenty-five and more years ago, in different forums, saying the same things, sounding the same alarms, and everyone shook their head and insisted that "it can't happen here". Now that their moment in the sun has come and gone, we are warned that the most virulent strain of American conservatism may still toss a spanner in the works and destroy the last vestiges of American democracy. "Florida!", "Ohio!", "Voting Machines!" are all recalled as if these were not each unique moments in American history, or processes that are already overcome by new technologies. While the right is howling madly on the national stage, the truth should be pretty clear - we are witnessing the final death convulsions of the dominance of American conservatism.

The election will not be canceled. There will be no post-election shenanigans, or even election-day shenanigans, a la Florida or Ohio in '04. I'm surprised some conspiracy mongers aren't warning of the turnout numbers for the Democratic candidates in the Iowa caucuses; the top three Democratic contenders all received more votes than Mike Huckabee; apparently, this is a sign that Republicans, guided by evil spirits and Washington insiders, planted themselves in Democratic precinct caucuses around Iowa to support the potentially most electable Democratic candidate in 34 years. Sounds good right up until the end.

The reason they aren't spouting this kind of stuff is simple - American politics, except in rare, extreme circumstances (Connecticut in '06, when Republicans flocked to Joe Lieberman), doesn't work that way.

Furthermore, all the nonsense about authoritarian personalities misses the point that most Americans are not so much scared as disdainful of the kind of authoritarianism represented by the Bush Administration. The American people have turned away from the President, his Administration, and his lack of any policy center. They want not so much change, but a government that actually responds to their needs - kind of like what we had before Bill Clinton was elected, and the Republicans decided that they'd rather exercise power than govern. It may be true that there are people in the United States willing to submit to authority; for the most part, though, we thumb our noses at authority, and sneer at people who grovel at the feet of power.

There is far too much of this kind of thing out there. I think we need to take a clear look our our current historical moment; we are living in what is perhaps the most exciting, indeed revolutionary, moment, certainly in my lifetime. The entire shape of the American electorate is changing before our eyes. This is no time to warn of the imminent threat of Christian Reconstructionists. This is the time to realize the old rules, old labels, old rhetoric, don't apply anymore.

I have been saying this kind of thing for a while. In the summer of '06, I was saying the Christian Right should toss the Republicans overboard because they haven't delivered. Last summer, I said that I thought we might be moving towards realignment. It seems that only now, as the Huckabee/Obama wins start to sink in, is it becoming clear that I was right on both counts - but even I had no idea how shocking things would appear once the clarity of events took hold.

A year from now, as the Democratic President-elect finalizes his/her cabinet, and the new Congress starts to elect its leaders, and the press blathers on about the lack of a role for Republicans in a Democratic Administration, and the exclusion from leadership of "Democrat" Joe Lieberman, I wonder - will it have sunk in, to the fear mongers on the right and the conspiracy-mongers on the left, that the American people might actually know what they are about, and that elections really can be about change?

We shall see.

Saturday Rock Show

I am relenting. A few months back I was going to put up a Uriah Heep song, but after an initial perusal, I turned thumbs down. Giving their vintage stuff (their nostalgia circuit stuff just isn't the same) another look, I decided I would put up one of my favorite tunes of theirs. Incidentally, the opening, even the arrangement and song structure, is very reminiscent of Joe Cocker's cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends" - the rolling Hammond organ chords, the guitar soloing, the change in dynamics as the vocals begin, with the slow build as instruments are added. This is "July Morning".

Incidentally, keyboardist Ken Hensley wrote the best liner notes. Ever.

The Huckabee Phenomenon

On the Republican side, there are two worlds, or perhaps three, colliding, and when worlds collide, destruction ensues. Washington media types still have their man-crush on Sen. John McCain, who coddles the horrendous Joe Lieberman. The establishment wants Romney uber alles. The voters, at least in Iowa, voted for Huckabee. The result - which should have been predicted - is the kind of frothing howls of rage that one usually sees reserved for Bill Clinton. Perhaps the fact that Huckabee is kind of the anti-Clinton is part of it, but I think most of the lefty blogs commenting on the phenomenon of all the Hucka-hatred get it right. He is the perfect distillation of the past quarter century of Republican politics, but outside the control of the money folks and Washington-based party establishment. Therefore, he is a threat.

Huckabee's rhetoric is often described as "populist". Actually, it is the kind of thing one often heard from McCarthy-supporters back in the fifties. These are the petit bourgeoisie, never completely secure in their socio-economic status, threatened by government over-regulation on the one hand, and a society that seems to dismiss their contributions on the other. They are, to use an over-used term in our current political climate, proto-fascists. They are the same class that supported Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and, make them ultra-montane Catholics rather than fundamentalist Protestants, Franco in Spain. Populism is a left-wing phenomenon; the kind of economic and social policy supported by Huckabee is based in resentment and fear, rather than a desire for social improvement.

If Huckabee does well in New Hampshire (it is a sign of Republican fear that there are indications McCain might get support from establishment types, should Romney seriously falter and Huckabee seriously surge there), I think the Republican slow-motion train wreck only speeds up.

It's popcorn time, folks.

Friday, January 04, 2008


I have had some more thoughts on Obama. OK, I'm still not happy with him saying that the health care industry will have a seat at the table for reform. Not a great idea to tell these people they can write themselves checks from the Treasury. On the other hand, I have been thinking about his talk about transcending partisan divisions, and could it be . . .

First of all, I am pretty much in lock-step with Duncan, digby, and the rest who are down on Washington establishment blathering about "bipartisanship" as code for "Democrats bend over and take it from Republicans every time". Any talk about transcending current partisan divisions too often boils down to lying down and taking it like a man, perhaps while thinking of England, to mix metaphors.

Listening to Obama from last night, however, and I wonder if he isn't talking about the "R" word - realignment. If so, then this is a whole other kettle of fish (God, I'm just tossing around the cliches; so sorry). I think my statement that Edwards' populism is more in touch with current moods might miss the simple fact that Obama's partisan-transcending message may just include Edwards-style populism, progressive politics, and more centrist (Matt Yglesias-style, not David Broder-style centrism) policy positions, rather than the Hobson's choice of Right-Wing Republicanism or nothing that we are currently stuck with. If this is so, this could truly be a return to big-tent Democratic politics, a la the New Deal coalition that included southern segregationists and urban African-Americans; urban ethnics and rural populists who had until fairly recently supported the nativism of the KKK. By stressing the centrality of the economic crisis as transcending demographic divisions, Roosevelt transformed American politics for a generation. First Nixon, then Reagan did the same thing by uniting tax-cutters, social and cultural conservatives, and foreign policy uberhawks. Theirs was a much less stable coalition, in many ways, than the Democratic one, as their election numbers over the past thirty or so years clearly shows. Yet, it has managed to govern, consistently if not always well.

It is now in tatters. I think that Obama, of all the candidates, recognizes this fundamental reality. This, more than anything, might just explain his appeal among younger voters. Frustrated that their concerns are not represented in our current political debates, Obama gives them a voice. More than a voice, perhaps.

Things are pretty shaken up right now, unless you're an establishment media type, in which case McCain won last night by taking fourth. The Democrats just don't seem to be anywhere in any consideration. I think this is a fundamental error. The Republicans are destroying themselves, and this spiral will continue, getting nothing but worse, I think, until the convention this summer, at which time I think their implosion will be on display for the whole country to see, in primetime. If they were smart, they might deny coverage of the proceedings to the networks, but I doubt they will even have the gumption to do something like that.

Anyway, if what I am starting to suspect about Obama - his talk about "hope" is something real, something transformative - even if still pretty void of anything substantive, then I think Edwards might have a seat at the table. And Hillary. And Dodd. I think Obama might be on to something.

More than any candidate since Reagan, Bill Clinton talked a positive message, and the country rewarded him for it. I think Obama understands this, and is adding the possibility that a victory for his campaign will transform American politics in a way that hasn't happened since 1932-1936. We may be living in very interesting times, indeed.

A Note On The Youth Vote For Obama

It seems that Obama not only appeals to younger voters, but actually gets them to turn out. I am reminded of events between 1968 and 1972. In '68, Sen. Eugene McCarthy managed to get a whole bunch of long-haired hippies to go Clean For Gene, cutting their hair and going door to door in New Hampshire in suits. This same phenomenon carried over to Bobby Kennedy's campaign as well. It was the death of the latter that really spelled the end of youth support for any Democratic ticket that year.

Yet, the phenomenon was noted by party leaders, who saw a possible opportunity at gaining a whole new cohort - college kids disaffected by the draft and the war in Vietnam. They managed to push through a Constitutional Amendment lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, the theory being that they were seriously effected by national policies, yet disenfranchised. The results weren't quite what were intended. Not used to voting, more concerned with the drudgery of discovering the trials and tribulations of living on one's own, the sudden increase in the electorate had two effects - lowering the turn-out percentage, and discovering that there were youth who might support Republicans. 1972 was the first year 18 year olds could vote, and while certainly noisy in the McGovern campaign, nationally (like all other age cohorts that year) they supported Nixon. In the years since, this age group has the lowest turn-out rate of any, and they tend to split fairly evenly between the parties.

Obama, however, seems poised, possibly, to change that dynamic. Of course, like with all things, we shall have to wait and see, but if this trend holds, this could be the biggest political story of the 2008 election cycle - the Year of the Youth Vote.

It's All Over, Except For The Janitors Who Have To Pop The Balloons And Sweep Up The Confetti (ADDENDUM)

So, the Iowa caucuses are over, and in five days the entire political universe will be holding its collective breath for results from . . . New Hampshire. Of course, in the run up, we will hear how unrepresentative NH is, how the results there won't mean anything, because South Carolina is the REAL, real deal, blah, blah, blah. . . .

I was only wrong in one sense in my attempt at predicting. I think that CW is correct that Sen. Clinton's third place, even though a statistical dead-heat with former Sen. Edwards, is bad news for her campaign. Of course, it also means New Yorkers probably won't have to replace a Senator next year.

I still think Obama just doesn't have what it takes. His blather is very Kennedyesque, all about changing generations, yadda, yadda, but there just doesn't seem to be much "there" there. If it comes down to a two-person race, Obama-Edwards, I think Edwards pulls it out in the long run, because his message is both more substantive, and more in tune with the realities Democratic voters at least experience. I could still be wrong, but I think an Obama candidacy, and Presidency, for all its historical significance, is not what the country wants right now. Of course, FDR campaigned to balance the budget and repeal Prohibition and that's about it, so we could be surprised, but as he's telegraphed that he will essentially allow Big Pharma and the rest of the health care industry write health care reform legislation, I just don't think he's who we need right now.

On the other side of the aisle, we have the strange scenes of a Party destroying itself. The Republicans remind me so much of the Democrats in 1972 it's shocking. Huckabee's win isn't surprising - Pat Robertson came in second there in 1988 - but I do think, again, CW blather is correct in that the real test will be NH. Of course, it might just postpone the inevitable until South Carolina, because a McCain victory in the Granite State, as seems possible if not likely, will only confuse matters, except for the fact that Mitt Romney will have pissed away a whole lot of money only to limp back to Utah with his tail between his legs. Maybe the Republicans will make him National Party Chairman after the election in November . . . Anyway, If McCain wins NH, it will be a two-way race, really, with neither candidate having the endorsement or support of the Party establishment. Heads up and down the lovely neighborhoods of Capitol Hill NE and SE will be popping like balloons as it becomes clear either the feared Huckabee or the loathed McCain are the choices. Being rats, they shall desert their sinking ship, only to drown when they realize their isn't another coming along to save them. . . .

While the Democrats prospects look good - Edwards could push Obama to the left and to be more specific - the Republicans are looking more and more like some poor guy trying to win back the girl who dumped him because he's such a loser; while still a loser, he insists he might change some day if only she'll give him another chance, help him change. As usually happens in these scenarios, the ex calls the cops and throws things at the guy until the police arrive, dragging him away while he screams, "But I LOVE YOU!!!" Very embarrassing for everyone involved. Except for the Democrats. . . .

ADDENDUM: Upon further thought with reference to the Republican primaries, I had not considered, when I wrote the above, the possibility of the evil spirit of Lee Atwater, kind of the anti-Marley, visiting Romney, and pulling out the kind of nasty tricks Karl Rove pulled on McCain in South Carolina in 2000. We should never forget that McCain's victory in New Hampshire scared the bejesus out of the Republican Establishment, and so the whispering campaign, and push-poll phone calls went out questioning McCain's mental health, reminding southern voters that McCain had an adopted daughter who wasn't, well, white. Nasty stuff, but it worked, even as Bush shook his head in feigned disgust. Should McCain pull another victory, or even come in second behind Romney in New Hampshire, look for this kind of stuff in South Carolina and Florida. It might just get ugly, as we well as funny, in the ensuing weeks.

UPDATE: I think that this is the first real speech of the next President of the United States. Still mighty thin gruel - hope is a wonderful thing, a thing with wings, but it has to be hope for something, and he just won't say what he is hoping for - but you can't deny its rhetorical power.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Not To Be Forgotten . . .

This is Dreyfus, our St. Bernard. So far, we have one photo of the dog, and a few of the kids. Neither my wife nor I think of ourselves as photogenic, although she really is. Maybe if we get a good shot of me, I'll put it somewhere, hard to find.

By the way, how Christmasy is this photo, with a fire, a nutcracker soldier, and a lit Christmas tree? All we need is James Stewart, Burl Ives, and Daisy Red Rider Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle With A Compass In The Stock and The Sling That Tells Time, and we ARE Christmas.

Courtesy Of Our New Camera . . .

It Worked!!

Here are the girls, Moriah (10) on the left, Miriam (6) on the right.

I No Longer Will Say Bad Things About Country Music

I am sitting and listening to the Classic Country Station I programmed over at Pandora. So far, I have heard Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, George Jones, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Verne Gosdin, and Johnny Horton. I have to say that I have loved every note, every twang - this is great stuff. I have missed out far too long with my silly prejudice against country music. Of course, I still don't like Toby Keith, and I think Twila Paris is a pop singer. This stuff, however, is the real deal.

Many mea's culpa to those fans of country music I have dissed over the years. I was wrong.

Embarrassing Ignorance

I read Eboo Patel's blog entry on the Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith Forum, a beautiful piece in which he both shows the power of poetry to capture even the most "jaded" adolescent desire to watch Spider Man 3 again. He also shows the power of poetry to remind adults of what is important - there is nothing nostalgic about the desire to shine more and bleed less; it is more an indication of our fondest desire to be open to the world and all its possibilities, rather than settle for the bland reality of skinned knees. After all, there is something . . . luminescent . . . about them, as well.

The comment thread, however, is a sink of anti-Islamic bigotry, ignorance, and almost total irrelevance. Here is the first one:
is boo boy just so upset that no one but die hard islamic terrorists beleives his garbage that he has to shut down the comments?
anything to shut off comment is ok in islam, if the comment is not what is desired.

Here's another, sounding less vitriolic, yet no less ignorant and bigoted for all that:

Mr Patel, your parents are Indian; you were born and raised in the US. Your practise of Islam is greatly influenced by the culture and political freedoms of the country you were raised in and live in. Countries in which Shariah Law prevails tells a different story about the social impact of Islam. Islam would seem to support the restriction of the freedom of expression of all non-Muslims no matter where they live. It takes only a few fanatic Muslims, who are reading their Quran faithfully and following in the steps of Mohammad, to keep the rest of the world in terror.

Your comments?

The gutter, replaced by the sewer, soon becomes an underground cesspool, filled with the most vile offal imaginable.
mohommad was a child rapist not a prophet. only a child rapist marries a 6 year old - has intercourse with her at 9, and only god know what that little girl went through between 6 and 9.
he was into profit not a prophet.
only moho talked about god talking to him, while jews christians and others had many people telling them the word of their god. no third parties were involved. what ever gave moho an edge is what he alleged his fake god said to him.
moho knew about israel but only after his death did islamics pretend he rode a white horse to heaven from there, he never said it.
there is no proof that this thief and murderer was a decendent from abraham except his saying it, 3,000 years after abrahams death. and he only said it when he tried to get the jews to say he was the missiah. when they refused he killed them,
according to islam, which is no religion at all, the god of islam, who is supposed to be the god of christians and jews told this child rapist to go out and murder the only two groups in the world that believed in him. yea right.
islam is the same asw being a nazi, a low life murdering form of quasi human that needs to be put out of its pain.

My question, first to the monitors of this particular blog, is this - what in the world are you doing? I respect freedom of speech, but what possible relevance does any of this have to do with Mr. Patel's entry? Other than reveal the hatred that eats away at the souls of the fearful, these comments only make one feel dirty reading them.

Second, to Mr. Patel, I have to ask if this kind of thing happens to all his posts. If so, I do so admire his perseverance. And I want to apologize to him for the kinds of things put in the comments.

Of course, such things are routine out here in blog land; it is a sad commentary that this is the level to which some, at least, descend when given an opportunity to listen to someone different from them.

I'm glad I'm going to shower now. I just feel icky.

Waiting, But Not Exactly With Baited Breath (UPDATE; UPDATE II)

It's caucus day in the neighboring state of Iowa. Had I the gumption, or time, I could have made a trip to Dubuque, or Cedar Falls, or even Davenport and seen one or two in action. Yet, I didn't. I shall refuse the temptation to make any prediction other than we will know no more about the status of the various races tomorrow than we do now. All we will have are the considered opinions of Iowans who brave the very chilly Midwestern winter temperatures to attend their various caucuses.

I will say this. Every four years we go through this ritual, and part of the ritual is an argument over the pros and cons of having Iowa and New Hampshire vote first. We hear the same arguments - the lack of racial and religious and other heterogeneity that mark the rest of the country; the lack of any urban presence (Des Moines isn't New York; Manchester is no Chicago); the small populations; the availability of candidates at what is termed the "retail" level, i.e., "just plain folks" get to sit and have coffee with Mitt Romney or chat up Hillary Clinton at the Dollar General; the states are small so expenditures are low (although that isn't actually true, considering the way ads blanket the states, and have done so since last summer) - and yet we seem stuck with them. The parties, I suppose could effect some modicum of discipline and insist on a sea-change in the Presidential nominating process, but we hear the same arguments about those, too, and here we are, not two weeks out from Christmas and the run for the nomination begins in real earnest, to be over most likely in six weeks or so.

So, expect the same rigmarole, the same articles, the same complaints, and the same circus, starting some time in the summer of 2010.

UPDATE: This bit from Think Progress contains a quote from Mike Huckabee claiming he doesn't know something. I think one thing we can be sure about after tonight is that whole libraries could be filled with what Huckabee doesn't know.

UPDATE II: The best summary of the Republican nomination race comes from Pastor Dan:
This race isn't about values; it's about who can show themselves to be the biggest sociopath.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Embracing A World Full Of Sin And Death

I suppose some of the ideas for this post have been floating around the vast empty space of my skull for a while, needing only to find one another in the void to coalesce in to something useful, perhaps even meaningful. There are three sources of attraction, as it were, that pulled these disparate ideas together. First is this reflection on Matthew 2 by Pastor Dan at Street Prophets. Historically referred to as The Slaughter of the Innocents, we have here the most remarkable incident in the Christmas narratives, far too often glossed over as we get all sentimental about a baby lying in a feeding trough, being visited by dirty, smelly shepherds. PD does not spend a lot of time reflecting on the uses of Exodus Matthew's author was relying upon, the parallelism of Joseph's flight to Egypt with another Joseph's flight, or the slaughter of Nazarene baby boys paralleling the Passover. That kind of theological insight in important to understanding the overall thrust of Matthew's Gospel account, and considered in more detail, but in another post. For our purposes, the point is, as PD says:
So you have rulers, repression, asylum seekers, and politically motivated violence - all in 23 verses - all right in the middle of the infancy narrative. Following that, Matthew goes into a depiction of John the Baptist, who his readers would have surely known was executed by Herod Antipas, Herod the Great's son and Archelaus' brother.


Do you think Matthew might have been trying to send us a message? Do you think he might have been excruciatingly aware of the backdrop against which Jesus' life, death and ongoing ministry played out?

Yes, yes he was.

We tend to want to escape from the brutal realities of the world at Christmas; what else are holidays for, but escape? Yet, a careful examination of the traditional Feast Day calendar has the feast of St. Stephen the Martyr (as depicted in the Book of Acts) on December 26, followed by the Feast of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Keeping a close eye on this calendar shows that, even if for all practical purposes the church has been negligent in keeping its members aware of the hazards of faith and life in a world full of sin, we are still reminded that such exist, if we but pay attention.

The second force of attraction pulling together my scattered thoughts was the comment thread on this post over at ER's place. Further down, specifically here and here is a discussion of the faith-arc of Bart Dehrman, someone of whom I have not heard, who has gone from "Christian Agnostic" to atheist over the course of his life. In a passage quoted here, we have Dehrman speaking of his own decision to reject belief in God:
"For Ehrman, the dark sparkling bubbles cascaded out of him while teaching a class at Rutgers University on "The Problem of Suffering in Biblical Traditions." It was the mid-1980s, the Ethiopian famine was in full swing. Starving infants, mass death. Ehrman came to believe that not only was there no evidence of Jesus being divine, but neither was there a God paying attention.

"I just began to lose it," Ehrman says now, in a conversation that stretches from late afternoon into the evening. "It wasn't for lack of trying. But I just couldn't believe there was a God in charge of this mess . . . It was so emotionally charged. This whole business of 'the Bible is your life, and anyone who doesn't believe it is going to roast in hell.' "

He kept teaching, moving to Chapel Hill, kept hanging on to the shreds of belief, but the dark bubbles fled upward. He was a successful author, voted one of the most popular professors on campus, but he awoke one morning seven years ago and found the remnants of faith gone. No bubbles at all. He was soon to marry for the second time and his kids were grown. He stopped going to church.

"I would love for him to be there with me, and sometimes wish it was something we share," says Ehrman's wife, Sarah Beckwith, a professor of medieval literature at Duke University, and an Episcopalian. "But I respect the integrity of decisions he's made, even if I reject the logic by which he reached them."

"Bart was, like a lot of people who were converted to fundamental evangelicalism, converted to the certainty of it all, of having all the answers," says Dale Martin, Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, and a friend of three decades. "When he found out they were lying to him, he just didn't want anything to do with it.

While it seems clear that a gifted, intelligent, and wise man was earnest in his desire to hold together the various strands of faith in the face of facts that put it all in to question, he ended up surrendering, in what seems to me to be a decision based as much in compassion for his fellow human beings as it is in an intellectual refusal to countenance bad ideas that deny the facts of a suffering world around us.

So, we have the first two strands. Finally, there are the words to this song:
Here's to the babies in a brand new world
Here's to the beauty of the stars
Here's to the travellers on the open road
Here's to the dreamers in the bars

Here's to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here's to the workers in the fields
Here's to the preachers of the sacred words
Here's to the drivers at the wheel

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin, let the day begin

Here's to the winners of the human race
Here's to the losers in the game
Here's to the soldiers of the bitter war
Here's to the wall that bears their names

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin, let the day begin, let the day start

Here's to the doctors and their healing work
Here's to the loved ones in their care
Here's to the strangers on the streets tonight
Here's to the lonely everywhere

Here's to the wisdom from the mouths of babes
Here's to the lions in the cage
Here's to the struggles of the silent war
Here's to the closing of the age.

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin, let the day begin, let the day start

The biggest challenges to my own faith were always the negating force of the world in which we live. How can one accept the goodness of God, the existence of such a being, when parents willingly dispose of their children? How can one quote this or that verse from the Bible about God protecting us, even wanting us to thrive and prosper, when whole populations disappear under the guns and knives and gas chambers of those bent on forming the world in their own image? It just seems easier to surrender to the world, to say that such belief is nothing but childish nonsense, the province of those so psychologically weak they would prefer the fantasy of some Divine guiding principle than the burden and dignity of freedom.

I have come close several times in my life to embracing this position. It would seem almost inhumane of me not to do so. Yet, it is the words of this song, "Let The Day Begin" by The Call (which I highlighted last week), that encapsulate why I cannot. It is also the gritty realism of the Scriptures, the refusal to create rosy pictures of butterflies and rainbows and the power of positive thinking, that, when considered in and for itself, remind me that the kind of shallow certitude promoted by some branches of Christianity isn't the sum total of the faith. Indeed, the words to this song, with their wide-open embrace of the world, from preachers of the sacred word to dreamers in bars, from Vietnam Vets to the winners of the human race, are the epitome of what the Christian story is really about.

When people mindlessly spout "John 3:16!", they forget that God loved this world full of sin and death, murder, genocide, bigotry, and mindless slaughter so much. It isn't some ideal world. It isn't the comfy world of the fading bourgeoisie of the North Atlantic nations that God loved or loves. Indeed, Jesus was born, lived, and died a member of an occupied people, despised then and now for their seeming diffidence, their difference from others, their refusal to be like other people, to get with the program, to play the game. Jesus life was surrounded by a level of violence not necessarily tolerated today, but certainly familiar nonetheless. The horrors of the modern age have certainly added efficiency to our penchant for intra-species slaughter, but the basis for it, and its reality, is a constant not just in human history, but in the sacred narratives of Christian Scripture.

If God so loved the world which would send the final prophet of Jesus' arrival and ministry to the ignominy of having his head literally on a platter for the wife of the reigning Quisling monarch of Judea; sit back in seeming silence as parents mourned the deaths of their young sons; disappear completely from the scene as the one who declared himself the bearer of the message of God's Immanent Kingdom hung in agony on a Roman cross - if, indeed, this final image is the embodiment of God's love, embracing even death and the godforsakeness far too many human beings experience, then maybe, just maybe, there is more to the story than a cursory examination based upon certain assertions would indicate.

There is no answer, finally, to the conundrum of evil. That it is should be clear. Why it is, if God exists, is a God of love and justice (notice I didn't say omniscience and omnipotence), is the open question, the bleeding wound that no faith can ultimately answer. The embrace of this world by God, taking the wounded world as an object of deep love, something for which we are called to work, perhaps even to heal a bit - it seems to me that such a God is worthy of praise. Much more so than any other God of whom I can think.

I no longer wrestle with ultimate questions for which there are no answers. I much prefer considering that God's love, as mysterious as it is, is enough for me to respond in kind. No, it might not make any sense. Few things that are worthwhile do, however.

I Don't Care If The President Is Nice

Ted Haggard's replacement as President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Rev. Leith Anderson, has a piece in the Post/Newsweek On Faith forum today in which he writes:
Presidents of the United States are much more than the leaders of the Executive Branch of government. They should be the moral spokespersons and examples of the best of America to our nation and to the world. Yes, we want a president who does a good job, but we also want a president who is a good person.

For the past seven years, we have put up with a President who has put forward nominees for various offices always with the proviso that so-and-so is "a good man/woman". Usually, that person turns out to be either incompetence, corrupt, or both (yes, you, Alberto Gonzalez). I have often wondered about this particular point as one that sells a nominee to office, and it must be some kind of code for someone who goes around gabbing about how they don't drink/smoke/get blowjobs in bathrooms from female interns (receiving the same in a public restroom from a strange man might be another story).

I would much prefer a President who didn't announce his or her personal qualities as part of what makes for a good candidate/potential office-holder. We have had Presidents who were hardly what one would call personable - George Washington comes to mind, as do Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge - and some who were among the most affable men ever - Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Carter among this latter category. For most of our history, the quality of "goodness" to which Anderson refers, was simply not considered important. Some of our greatest candidates were, at best, morally deficient (Harding was an alcoholic, breaking the Volstead Act in a series of wild parties in the White House; FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton all had a weakness for the ladies, the first two having long-time mistresses, the latter two being serially adulterers). Some were criminals (Nixon, the aforementioned Harding). Of course, being morally deficient in some are does not make one either a bad person, nor a potentially good person. It seems unrelated to what it takes to be a good President. Harry Truman and Richard Nixon were both faithful husbands and doting fathers (Nixon almost obsessively so), and while Truman's reputation has been retrieved from the dustbin of history, contemporaneously, he was always weak, and his administration dogged by scandal and various political missteps. Eisenhower and Ford had wives who were closet alcoholics. Grover Cleveland had a child out of wedlock whom he supported financially but did not become involved with personally.

All this is to say that I would much rather not think about whether the President was a "good person", because the definition of that particular two-word phrase is open to interpretation. It could refer to compassion, or moral stringency, or any number of things. I would much rather have a President who acted in the interests of the United States, and for the benefit of the people of the United States, than wonder whether or not he or she had a roving eye, tippled on off hours, or yelled at the kids and kicked the dog. We have suffered with a President who is a nice guy for far too long. I might actually prefer a rake.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

One More Prediction - The Media Will Declare The Democratic President A Loser In Winning (A Scenario)

I have been thinking of my semi-serious prediction here that Newt Gingrich, called out of retirement to salvage Republican hopes, will be the nominee for the Presidency and lose 49 states. I have decided to change that prediction to 48 states - he wins his home state of Georgia and North Carolina.

Having read Roger Ailes' fantasies of media types sitting around a bar in Iowa complaining about the weather and the lack of seriousness of the Democratic candidates, I thought I would offer a scenario in which these same media types offer the suggestion that my now-preferred candidate, John Edwards, is a loser, hobbled even in victory. In this scenario, major media types, brains hemorrhaging from a huge Democratic election victory, will latch on to Edwards' loss of his home state as a sign that, regardless of his electoral victory, he is still a weakened President, unable to carry his home state even as he basically swept the rest of the country. They will begin to discuss how unpopular he is in Asheville, Duck, and Charlotte. They will interview a former staff member of Jesse Helms' who says that Edwards is a danger to all that is truly American, thus proving that no one likes him. From November 5, 2008 until January 20, 2009, media narratives will be dominated by the question of the basic weakness of Edwards' mandate in the face of his loss of his home state.

More suffering, dead ahead.

But Is The Anger Justified?

Under normal circumstances, I enjoy Eugene Robinson's columns. Today's, however, was one of those maddening exercises in the dissection of style that leaves this reader frustrated and asking the question posed in the title. The opening paragraphs set the tone, albeit a bit deceptively:
If you had seen John Edwards perform Saturday at the public library in the pretty little town of Washington about 45 minutes south of here, you'd understand how he made all that money as a trial lawyer. The man knows how to deliver a closing argument.

He projected confidence. He made eye contact. He skillfully used rhetorical strategies -- repetition, illustration, simplification, more repetition -- to imprint the minds of the jury, I mean the audience, with his narrative of ordinary Americans in an "epic fight" against "special interests" and "corporate greed." He lingered to shake hands in the overflow crowd that filled the hallway and stretched down the stairs. He flashed his halogen-bright smile.

I say "deceptively", because the column is not just about Edwards, but includes more than a glance at the Obama and Clinton campaigns. Part of the reason for this look, however, is Robinson's insistence, repeated in the column several times, that there is little substantive difference among the three top candidates for the Democratic nomination. Buried at the end of the column, rather than put near the top to justify this content-free gander at the candidates, is the following:
[Edwards'] policy proposals aren't that different from those of his opponents. What really sets the three candidates apart is tone.

If that is the case, then it is easy enough to actually skip the policy proposals, which Robinson is not alone in doing. Why discuss that about which there is no disagreement? Far more interesting to describe Edwards as a good trial lawyer, filled with "rage"; far better to talk about what a good rhetorician Edwards is, using the various tools of the trade to make his speeches resonate.

Two problems emerge here. First, we don't actually get to hear what Edwards' policy proposals are; only that they are indistinct from either Clinton or Obama. Yet, since we don't hear what theirs are, either, we are left befuddled. If the issue comes down to one of style only, is there any "there" there for voters to consider? Robinson leaves us empty.

Second, Robinson seems to frame Edwards' entire style as rhetorical, a political ploy that "resonates" with Iowa voters. Is this a rhetorical strategy that he has adopted, a pose that is inauthentic, a political trump card he can use? Or is his rage based on the substance of our current social and political malaise? Is it even anger at all, or could Edwards actually be telling his listeners what they have said privately among themselves? Is it less anger than it is the realization that someone is validating and vindicating their own frustrations, their own anger? In so doing, is not Edwards taking this anger and turning it to something more?

Perhaps these are questions beyond the scope of a humble scribbler like Robinson. Yet, they are questions that seem to be raised by the whole issue of "style"; unrelated to content and context, any analysis of "style" becomes a kind of veiled ad hominem attack, saying far more about the person (or perhaps persona) than it does anything substantive. Of course, Robinson would never engage in ad hominem attacks, so we have to consider that he is just analyzing "style" here, and the questions raised, and begged, by his column, are just beyond his abilities, or perhaps his purview, to consider.

Or, he could be a wanker. I guess I can't decide if it's his style, or his content that leads me to that decision.

America's First Shinto Priest

I thought I would start 2008 with a quick glance at the ever-expanding horizon of American religious experience, and was happy to find, in today's Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith Forum, an introduction to a Shinto shrine northeast of Seattle, WA. It was built and is headed by the first American to be named a Shinto priest, Koichi Barrish.
[H]ere, about an hour northeast of Seattle, the Rev. Koichi Barrish -- a former California surfer turned aikido teacher and Shinto priest -- prays, performs purification ceremonies, and teaches aikido, a Japanese martial art. The shrine itself consists mainly of a large open and airy hall with wooden floors, Japanese style doors, and windows that open out onto a statue garden. Beyond that is the Pilchuck River, which borders the 25-acre property.

I will submit that I know next to nothing about Shinto, other than it is the official religion of Japan. Tied to Japanese identity, it was Shinto that provided the impetus to anti-Christian violence in the 17th and 18th centuries, when missionaries were tortured and killed. Shinto provided the Japanese with a sense of uniqueness as they modernized in the face of western gunships forcing it to open to the world in the late-19th century; they adopted western industry and certain parts of western political structures, but did so in a way that made them uniquely Japanese. Shinto provided comfort and strength as Japan decided to enter the Imperial race of the 19th century, defeating first long-time rival China, then Russia in two wars (it should be noted the Japanese always felt a bit chagrined at the interference of US President Theodore Roosevelt, who intervened in the Russo-Japanese War, calling a Peace Conference at the White House. The Portsmouth Treaty was the reason Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize; it is also the reason militant nationalists resented American interference in Japanese Imperial policy until the end of WWII).

At the same time that Shinto is uniquely Japanese, its spirituality is one of peace with nature. There is none of the western "disenchantment" that is easily and historically identified with Christian ideas of stewardship. The harmony of human beings with their surroundings is evident in the style of Shinto temples. There is a peacefulness about them, a sense of sacred space that is similar to the feeling I have had in certain gothic and neo-gothic style churches (St. Anne's church on Nebraska Ave, NW; the National Cathedral; the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception). This sense of being apart, of a place that is both human, and yet dedicated to something more than human, is refreshing.

While I doubt Shinto will set the world on fire, it is refreshing to note that it does have a presence here in the United States. Our panoply of religious life can only be richer for it.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Music Monday

Unrelated to what follows, I just have to mention one the best band-names I have heard in the long time, courtesy of Pandora Radio - King Black Acid and the Womb Star Orchestra. As far as I'm concerned, a band with a name like that just has to be good.

Anyway, I thought I'd just post some not-quite-random videos, with nothing linking them other than me liking them.

First, I have been remiss in noting the passing of the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. All the recordings I have of Peterson are as accompanist to Billie Holliday. Peterson was a good foil for Lady Day - he disapproved of her dissipation, her over-indulgence, her lack of a disciplined personal life; he loved her musical style, her dedication, in the face of all that seemed to try to destroy it, to her art. He was a steady hand on the roiling seas of her life. And the results were glorious. He continued long after he surrendered to the inevitable and left her in the capable hands of Jimmy Rowland. Here he is from way back in 1977 (thirty years before his death!).

This is the Choir of Clare College Cambridge performing "Hear My Prayer" by Henry Purcell:

Finally, from the DVD my loving wife got me for Christmas, this is Joe Satriani with the amazing, colossal "Flying in a Blue Dream" (which CD I still have yet to find; I used to have it, but like several others over the years, have lost in various moves hither and yon across our fair land):

100 Verses For Jesus

This post over at Erudite Redneck's blog sparked some good old-fashioned fun, even bringing Neil, from 4simpson's blog, over, to add his ha'penny. For the sake of full disclosure, I should add that ER links to me (I blush), and offers some initial thought to spark discussion, and then Neil pipes up.
"We confess that we have stepped away from Christ’s Path whenever we . . . have claimed Christianity is the only way"

I would run, not walk, away from any group that teaches such an ignorant and foolish thing. The Bible notes least 100 times that Jesus is the only way.

That isn't what makes it true, of course. But it does mean that it is a view that all Christians should hold. To say otherwise is to mock the cross.

The ones who claim Christianity isn't the only way are the ones who have stepped away from the path (if they were ever on it). They are either too ignorant or too timid to defend Christianity.

If you want a list of many of the the verses that point to Jesus' exclusivity go to and search for "100 verses" at their Store page. Or you can just read the Bible. :-) It is hard to miss the theme.

First of all, if "it doesn't make it true" that the Bible has 100 verses saying Jesus is the only way (to what, I'm not quite sure), then why mention it? If it doesn't make it true, why should all Christians believe it? If it doesn't make it true, how does it mock the cross? Indeed, the entire comment becomes irrelevant.

The Bible says many things, in many verses. Some of these things are contradictions of things said in other places. There are hundreds of verses, especially in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, in which it is quite clearly and unambiguously stated that the LORD isn't interested in either the proper recitation of formulaic prayers or the enacting of rituals, but in how the people are to live together. I do believe that when the prophet says that the smell of the sacrifices is a stink in God's nostrils in the face of rampant injustice, then it might just be the injustice God is worried about.

More to the point of this particular post, part of my problem with the way Neil is attempting to "argue" here is that bean counting Bible verses on any particular subject means little. It is how one lives with these verses, how one incorporates them in to one's life, that matters. Of course, Bible study is important. But it is study that is key here - reading commentaries, reading histories, struggling with the meaning of any particular verse, including how one may have understood a particular verse or passage at one time, and how that meaning has changed.

This seems such a basic tenet of being faithful, I find it hard to believe it is unclear. A fancy name for it is "the hermeneutic circle" - the interaction of action and reflection in light of Scripture, in which Scripture informs us, and is in-formed in us, and how this interaction changes, and how the meanings change in changing circumstances - but it is really nothing more than wrestling with the Bible in the full knowledge that any interpretation will change over time.

I suppose I'm some kind of weird non-Christian because I just don't take the Bible at its word. Or Word. Oh, well.

The Candidate Of The Iraq Study Group (UPDATE)

In comments here, frequent visitor, commenter, and overall good egg Democracy Lover asks my opinion of the possible independent candidacy of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. As if my opinion were important, I offered that his candidacy will be the Iraq Study Group Report of 2008. We all remember how breathless the Washington Establishment was, waiting for the report of the ISG in the wake of the Republican defeat in the 2006 mid-term elections. I hope we also remember that it was almost immediately irrelevant; not worth the reams of paper it was printed on, the counsel of the Village Elders to their errant son was not only ignored but spat upon, with Bush pulling a George Costanza, and doing the exact opposite, with the results we are currently trying to live with (and many have died with).

A good take (as always) is Glenn Greenwald's, with the best, most succinct description of those who have suddenly discovered how nasty and messy democracy is, and that they really don't like it - "a handful of retired, mediocre politicians with no following are issuing self-absorbed, thug-like demands, complete with deadlines". This is the heart of the problem here; this is, in essence, a King's Party, at a time when the political tide is running (small "d") democratic, we have a bunch of royalists demanding obeisance to the status quo.
Former Senator David L. Boren of Oklahoma, who organized the session with former Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat of Georgia, suggested in an interview that if the prospective major party nominees failed within two months to formally embrace bipartisanship and address the fundamental challenges facing the nation, "I would be among those who would urge Mr. Bloomberg to very seriously consider running for president as an independent.(emphasis added)

I especially like the part I highlighted, because it perfectly encapsulates the "thinking" of the Washington establishment - do what we say or we'll pout, stamp our feet, and cause a ruckus in the press.

I think digby's worry about a potential Bloomberg candidacy is wrong. Unlike Perot's 1992 run, Bloomberg will not articulate a frustration the country feels, gaining supporters around the country at the expense of either major party candidate. In Perot's case, it was the spiraling federal deficits; Clinton heard the message loud and clear, and thus his first term was dominated by measures to rein in federal spending and reset the tax code to a slightly more progressive basis, making it both just and prudent. The results we lived with, quite well, from 1995 through 2000.

Bloomberg will not articulate anything the Republicans won't. He won't give voters a voice that is not heard elsewhere. His only support will be well-regarded pols who have either retired or been turned out of office by voters in their former constituencies, as well as a few Establishment pundits. Like the ISG report, it will have absolutely no real support in the country, because there is just no support for a post-partisan politics. We continue to live with the politics of non-partisan compromise, to the detriment of us all.

This is the kind of thing Washington insiders love, and the rest of us can ignore quite freely.

UPDATE: I didn't read Eschaton before I wrote the above, but it seems that Duncan says something similar:
Nah, Bloomberg isn't Perot. Just the opposite. Bloomberg is for self-styled Washington insiders who think politics exists to validate their importance and for the Washington Elite Consensus folks who lack a constituency and imagine they need to save the country from the whims of pesky voters and evil communists like John Edwards. It's the permanent floating class of Washington who are sure that "Washington is broken," and who know precisely who to blame - voters. Or maybe bloggers.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I've Been Tagged By The GOM

I just discovered that I have been meme-tagged by none other than William Gladstone, the great nineteenth century British statesman who continues to live and prosper and offer his vision for his upcoming (in 2009) 200th birthday. Eight "aspirations" (predictions) for the coming year (I have to say that I am only doing this because I have been tagged by a personage of Gladstone's greatness; otherwise, I would not do so):

- I predict that a brokered Republican convention will settle on Newt Gingrich as the nominee; he will lose 49 states and the District of Columbia;

- I predict that, after Clinton and Obama destroy one another in the early primaries, John Edwards emerges as the Democratic front-runner, especially after winning several southern primaries, including Florida and South Carolina;

- I predict that David Broder will die of a brain aneurysm when it becomes clear that Edwards will be the Democratic nominee;

- I predict that George Will will quote everyone from Ignatius of Antioch to Wittgenstein to prove that Edwards is outside the mainstream of western thought;

- I predict that Edwards' running mate will be Dennis Kucinich;

- I predict that most of the music played on commercial radio will suck;

- I predict that Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears will both go in to rehab, and fall off the wagon (OK, so that was an easy one);

- I predict that Focus on the Family will proclaim the end of Christianity in America when Edwards/Kucinich are elected, even as Edwards celebrates his election in his home church in North Carolina, thus providing the final nail in the coffin to the sanity of Focus on the Family.

Some of the predictions are serious. Some are not. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which is which.

Who Jesus Might Be

Back in August I wrote this post in which I set out my position on the whole question of "TRUTH", and got pummeled for my troubles. I find it more than ironic, then, that my wife's worship series for the season of Epiphany concerns discovering who this Jesus is whose birth we just celebrated with all sorts of pomp and circumstance. I say "ironic" because behind the series is the idea that we need to encounter Jesus today, right now, in the face of all the realities we face, most of which would deny to him significance or meaning for our lives. In other words, meeting Jesus is not a matter of asserting various doctrinal statements, but of encounter, of experience, and of making sense of what so much of our world insists is senseless.

We find ourselves, as Christians, in a situation similar in many respects to that of the early church. Ours is a world of many faiths, many religions, many demands upon our ultimate concern and for our consideration as answers to questions of ultimate significance. Christianity is not the single voice of the West; indeed, the only description of the west is a spiritual and cultural fragmentation encouraging either the intransigence of fundamentalism or the openness of pluralism. My own preference should be obvious, but there is no reason to believe that, in the end, we who live in what was once known as Christendom will settle for the pluralist alternative, especially as it offers few existential comforts in a world of competing loyalties.

Part of getting from where we are to where we might like to be includes learning, perhaps for the first time, perhaps just yet again, who Jesus is, or can be, and what he might have to say about our current situation. Part of this process will be to leave ourselves open to the very real, very live option that he might not have anything to say. We might find that a first century Jewish Messiah offers little or nothing for ordering our lives in the chaos of our (post)modern world. Encountering Jesus, whether again or for the first time, in real openness includes facing the reality that we might just need to bid him adieu.

Struggling with issues of faith in a post-Christian age include always keeping in front of one the possibility of true post-Christianity. We should face this squarely, and not shrink from it either in fear or denial. We live without the net of certainty that always existed underneath even our parents and grandparents, and we should face the fact that, walking as we do upon the blade of a sword over the bottomless pit of meaninglessness is where we are now. With all due respect to those of the fundamentalist persuasion, the constant assertion of various doctrinal positions and statements as eternally true might comfort one in the face of the realities we face, but should a slip occur, and one find oneself plummeting, the comfort one thought was a sturdy line will crumble to ashes and dust. We need to move beyond the platitudes of historic doctrine and discover what, if anything Jesus has to say to us today. And we need to accept that is the answer is "nothing", it might be best to set him aside and move on to that which satisfies.

Thus it is without fear, but with trepidation that we take this Epiphany venture, discovering who this Jesus might be for us, here and now. It is often repeated that God does not so much force us to meet on Divine terms, but comes to us as we are. This cliche had better be right if we are to discover in Jesus something worth guiding our steps in these days of multiple religions, of no religion, of easier, more accessible answers to questions that vex and confront us. If not, we might discover, deep in the heart of the Church, that we no longer have need of its soothing words that now are empty of any real meaning for us.

Are we up to the challenge? Do you want to really meet Jesus as he is, not as we wish him to be? The discovery might just be unsettling.

Historical Comparisons Are For Ninnies And Journalists . . . But I Repeat Myself

Joel Achenbach has a piece in the Washington Post today that is one of the oddest things I have read in a while. Purporting to be a comparison between the landmark year of 1968 and the coming election year, in essence the article is a paste-together of factoids, reminiscences of Achenbach's colleagues, and a repeat of the nonsensical notion that Democratic Presidential candidate is talking 1960's revolutionary rhetoric. There is no through-line to the piece, no way to be sure what Achenbach's point was other than to show he has friends who were connected to Bobby Kennedy. With the single exception that this might just be the first glimmer from an establishment reporter that the coming election is important, just as '68's was important, this jumble of sentences really does not quite become an article in the traditional sense, because it isn't really about anything.

The opening paragraph tries to set the tone:
Forty years ago, this country entered what would turn out to be the most politically charged, disorienting, violent and tragic year in modern American history. The year we're now heading into has some surface similarities to 1968: a protracted and wrenching war in Asia, an unpopular president, a wide-open presidential campaign and raw-nerve controversies over civil rights (with gays and immigrants this time) and geopolitics (featuring jihadists instead of communists). The murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is another awful reminder of 1968, when two American heroes, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, lost their lives to assassins.

The first sentence is wrong, because 1970 was much more volatile, especially after the Kent State murder of four young students by National Guardsmen. Campuses all over the country quite literally exploded in rage. Even my little alma mater, Alfred University in western New York State, faced the grim reality of students taking over buildings, tossing bottles and rocks at State Police the Administration called in to settle things down, and even the occasional Molotov cocktail tossed out a window. The biggest marches and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam occurred in 1970, including the national moratorium, which was a nationwide event including a 750,000 person march to the Pentagon, where young people shouting slogans faced troops with bared bayonets and live ammunition. So, right from the start, Achenbach gets it wrong.

Comparing the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the murders of King and Kennedy is historically ignorant on several levels, not the least of which is she isn't an American. She was neither a crusader for peace and justice, nor a politician who had gone through a life-changing event (in Kennedy's case, the assassination of his brother in 1963) and saw his role and his candidacy in quasi-messianic terms. Bhutto was a twice-elected Prime Minister surrounded by corruption, if not actually the beneficiary of corruption herself, who was instrumental in beginning Pakistan's long march towards nuclear weapons. She returned to Pakistan recently after exile only because of a deal brokered between the Musharraf government and her party by the United States. Otherwise, she might have ended up in a Pakistani prison.

Anyway, so much for setting the stage.

On Edwards, Achenbach seems to have a tin ear for political rhetoric that isn't part of our normal political discourse.
Where is the spirit of that Kennedy campaign? Certainly with Obama, who's so often described as Kennedyesque. But you can also find it in the candidacy of John Edwards.

A week before Christmas, Edwards stopped in Keene, a small city in a valley in the southwest corner of New Hampshire -- prime turf for liberals, leftists, artists, organic farmers, college professors. Edwards brought Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne as his warm-up act. They sounded terrific, the lyrics saturated in idealism.

Things like hunger, greed and hatred[.]

One way or another, gonna be eradicated

Out came Edwards, and he was on fire. The former senator talked about ending the war in Iraq and taking power away from big corporations. He said 35 million Americans last year went hungry. He talked about the uninsured Americans who must take their sick kids to the emergency room in the middle of the night and beg for treatment. He talked about a man who spent 50 years with a cleft palate, unable to talk, without money or insurance to pay for an operation that would finally let him speak. "In America," he said. His rhetoric could easily have come from Kennedy or King in early 1968. He predicted that he will ride a wave of popular sentiment that will shock the mainstream. He was, in essence, describing what in the '60s would have been known as The Movement.

"The Movement"? Edwards is describing the realities millions of Americans face. The fact that Achenbach stresses Edwards' mention of hunger in America, as if it were some strange anomaly, shows that this isn't "Movement" rhetoric, and Edwards isn't some hippie who got "Clean for Gene" with a $400 haircut. He is a populist politician who is describing what 40 years of Republican political hegemony has wrought, and that it is possible for the American people to do something about it. We have before, and we can again.

This, more than any other part of Achenbach's piece, is the most disturbing. Like Republican politicians who continue to fight the battles of the '60's, Achenbach is stuck in some kind of time loop, unable to describe political events outside some weird kind of framework that sees anyone not bowing to corporate power as a "revolutionary". That Edwards is actually speaking of the disenfranchisement of Americans to those disenfranchised Americans, and in so doing offering them hope, is lost on someone who would rather recount how one of his colleagues has a legal pad with 40-year-old handwriting on it. All in the awe-filled tones of someone holding the Magna Carta.

2008 and 1968 will only be alike in this way - this will be a year when one political party that has dominated our public life for over a generation will get a boot (large or small depending, but the boot nonetheless) - and the other party spends years trying to figure out what happened and why, and trying to reinvent itself. Pretty much everything else Achenbach writes about is bunk.

Virtual Tin Cup

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