Tag Archives: Obama

Feeding the beast

This first week following the election has seen endless Republican hand-wringing.  What did the party do wrong and how will it be fixed going forward?  Morning Joe Scarborough and the the crew on MSNBC this morning suggested it was a problem of tone.  Too shrill.  Too demeaning.  Too scapegoating.  “What happened to the compassionate conservatism of President Bush?” Scarborough whined.  Immigrant bashing.  Gay bashing.  Forty-seven per cent bashing.  Louisiana Governor Jindal drew praise from the morning crew for criticizing Romney’s latest attempt to blame his defeat on those who would benefit from benevolent government policies (student loan relief, healthcare, etc.).

Talk nice and the party will be restored.  Really, Joe Scarborough?  That’s all that’s wrong with the once-proud party of Lincoln?

Since the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon, this has been a party that has fed the beast plenty of red meat, and now the monster is threatening to devour the party.  Has the beast master lost control?

For those too young to remember, George Wallace was a race-baiting segregationist governor of Georgia in the early sixties who had great success as a third-party presidential candidate by stoking the fears of angry white southerners.  Nixon and his cronies learned from Wallace.  Lee Atwater was Richard Nixon’s Karl Rove, and his 1981 explanation of the southern strategy, long rumored, has now been confirmed on video (dug up by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, no less).

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

town hallWillie Horton.  Welfare queens.  Food stamp president.  Takers vs. makers.  47%.  Code language that supported the unstated narrative.  Only now, when there aren’t enough angry white men to offset the coalition of the young, the women, the Hispanics, and the blacks that has become the Democratic base of the twenty-first century, are Republicans having second thoughts.

How will they put the beast back in the cage?  Tea party insurgents have defeated moderate Republican Senatorial candidates in the last two elections only to see the red seats turn blue in the general election.  Senate majority leader McConnell will likely face a primary challenge next go-round unless he continues to throw plenty of red meat.  The same is true of House Speaker Boehner and his own caucus that may oust him if he seeks moderation in negotiations with the White House.

Talk nice, if you will, Joe Scarborough.  That may placate the party moderates and some independents, but how will the party tame the beast that has gorged on culture wars, nativist and racist code-words, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of more than a generation?  Pardon me if I don’t feel sorry when the beast you have loosed turns on you.

Before the election, President Obama predicted a Republican civil war.  We can only hope for minimal collateral damage.

Catholic hierarchy out of touch

While watching the Republican primary season play out, one exit poll item caught my eye.  Rick Santorum, the self-avowed Roman Catholic traditionalist, repeatedly lost the Catholic vote … to a Mormon!  Similarly, during the flap over contraception coverage in the Affordable Health Care Act that riled up the Catholic Bishops, public polls showed 60% of Roman Catholics supported the provision.  Clearly, there appears to be a disconnect between the hard-line conservatism of the bishops/hierarchy and the folks in the pews.

Recently a gay man who served on the board of Catholic Charities quit in a highly-public rebuke of Cardinal Dolan of the archdiocese of New York.

A day before Easter, the head of New York’s Roman Catholic archdiocese faced a challenge to his stance on gay rights: the resignation of a church charity board member who says he’s “had enough” of the cardinal’s attitude.

Joseph Amodeo told The Associated Press on Saturday that he quit the junior board of the city’s Catholic Charities after Cardinal Timothy Dolan failed to respond to a “call for help” for homeless youths who are not heterosexual.

Today, Amodeo, the gay man, speaks out in a Huff Post blog entitled “The Pulpit vs. the Pews”.  He basically makes the case that there is strong and widespread support for gays within the Catholic laity and the hierarchy is simply out of touch.  His post begins with a personal story from a few years ago; his role as a Christian educator was questioned and resulted in a public hearing in the church.

The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people’s humanity and identity without exception.

Amodeo also blames the press for assuming that bishops speak for the people.

It further saddens me to think that the voices of some bishops are seen as representative of all Catholic people when in reality the vast majority of Catholics support their LGBT brothers and sisters, as evidenced by a growing number of studies. A recent study released by GLAAD showed more than 50 percent of Catholic voices presented in the media offer a negative view on LGBT issues when in reality a majority of American Catholics support LGBT equality.

How is it that the Catholic hierarchy has lost touch?  Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of graduate studies with the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey and University School of Theology.  Over lunch or coffee, I heard a recurring lament from the Catholic grad students … that the current pope was appointing reactionary bishops and the progressive spirit of Vatican II was being reversed.  That process has continued under the current pope.  Thus, since 1978, there has been a remaking of the entire episcopate under two conservative popes.

Conservative Lutheran denominations such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Synod (WELS) have stridently anti-Catholic histories.  During her failed campaign, Republican Michelle Bachman resigned from her Wisconsin Synod congregation over the embarrassment that it remained WELS official policy that the papacy was the anti-Christ.  Thus, it is a fascinating sign of the times that a group of Missouri Synod pastors, congregations, the LCMS district superintendent, and a seminary professor will march to the steps of the Fort Wayne Cathedral to show support for the local Catholic bishop and diocese in their opposition to the contraceptive portions of Obamacare.

Right wing politics makes strange bedfellows.

Critique of Paul Ryan

Here are a few political stories and opinions that appeared this weekend, and I’ll conclude with a video of Ronald Reagan … arguing for the Buffett principle, believe it or not.

National columnist EJ Dionne and New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman have similar opinions about the Paul Ryan budget.

Here’s a sample of Dionne op-ed piece from the Washington Post.

Obama specifically listed the programs the Ryan-Romney budget would cut back, including student loans, medical and scientific research grants, Head Start, feeding programs for the poor, and possibly even the weather service.

Romney pronounced himself appalled, accusing Obama of having “railed against arguments no one is making” and “criticized policies no one is proposing.” Yet Romney could neither defend the cuts nor deny the president’s list of particulars, based as they were on reasonable assumptions. When it came to the Ryan budget, Romney wanted to fuzz things up. But, as Obama likes to point out, math is math.

And, from Krugman’s NY Times’ piece:

The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a “Trojan horse” — that is, it is essentially a fraud. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”

The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.



Sweet Home Alabama

Have you seen the British Petroleum (BP) produced ads extolling tourism in the Gulf?  They’re actually done quite well and make the region from the Florida panhandle, across Alabama and Mississippi, and ending in Louisiana look pretty appealing.  After despoiling the gulf with their oil spill, I assume the ads are part of BP’s payback.

Many years ago, I spent a little time in Louisiana, home to an aunt and cousins, but the rest of the region could as well be a foreign country, as far as I know.  I hear they play really good college football down there, and the ads make the beaches appear attractive and the cuisine sounds delicious.  However, the politics and the religion down there scare the beejeebers out of me.

For a century, this was the “solid south” for the Democratic Party, the days of segregation and Jim Crow, and the Republicans were remembered as the party of Lincoln, the Union Army, and carpetbaggers.  That began to change at the 1948 Democratic Convention when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey offered a stirring speech promoting civil rights, and the “Dixiecrats” led by Strom Thurmond stalked out, determined to protect what they portrayed as the southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government while proclaiming “segregation forever.”


Hubert Humphrey’s famous civil rights speech–1948


The circle was completed in 1968 when Richard Nixon recognized that he could turn the south into the Republican promised land by exploiting racism.  This “Southern Strategy” has defined the last forty plus years of American politics.

Tonight, the Republicans of Alabama and Mississippi hold their primaries, and the eyes of the nation are again focused on the politics of the region.  The pollsters tell us that not much has changed.

  • Interracial marriage ought to be illegal according to roughly a quarter of the Republican voters.
  • Three to four times as many think President Obama is a Muslim compared to those who think he’s Christian.
  • Two to three times as many do not believe in evolution compared to those that do.
  • Twice as many in ‘Bama prefer the Crimson Tide football team to the Auburn Tigers.  Ok, I guess that’s irrelevant.

Despite those appealing ads, I don’t think I’ll be heading southeast anytime soon.  I admit it, I’ve got prejudices of my own.

Stimulus not austerity

Hey, I know, this is “a blog of progressive, religious themes.”  My last post was pure economics, and now I’m going to say the same thing again, only different.  There is religion here too, but it’s implicit–economic justice, care for the widow and the orphan, blessed are the poor, and more–but I’m not explicitly talking about that.  Our national and world economies are about to pushed over a cliff, and we need to shout that as loud as we can.

My last post featured Economist Robert Reich who called for President Obama to “go big”, and I also mentioned Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.  Today, it is Krugman’s turn to debunk austerity in favor of stimulus in a New York Times article entitled “Misguided Deficit Worries make Unemployment Worse”.  Krugman writes,

And by obsessing over a nonexistent threat, Washington has been making the real problem — mass unemployment, which is eating away at the foundations of our nation — much worse.

Although you’d never know it listening to the ranters, the past year has actually been a pretty good test of the theory that slashing government spending actually creates jobs.

The deficit obsession has blocked a much-needed second round of federal stimulus, and with stimulus spending, such as it was, fading out, we’re experiencing de facto fiscal austerity.

State and local governments, in particular, faced with the loss of federal aid, have been sharply cutting many programs, and have been laying off a lot of workers, mostly schoolteachers.

And somehow the private sector hasn’t responded to these layoffs by rejoicing at the sight of a shrinking government and embarking on a hiring spree.

OK, I know what the usual suspects will say — namely, that fears of regulation and higher taxes are holding businesses back. But this is just a right-wing fantasy.

Multiple surveys have shown that lack of demand — a lack that is being exacerbated by government cutbacks — is the overwhelming problem businesses face, with regulation and taxes barely even in the picture.

Are Reich and Krugman merely lonely voices crying in the wilderness?  Consider this from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):

The pursuit of austerity measures and deficit cuts is pushing the world economy toward disaster in a misguided attempt to please global financial markets, the annual report of the United Nations economic think tank UNCTAD said on Tuesday.

The report, entitled “Post-crisis policy challenges in the world economy,” savaged U.S. and European economic policies and called for wage increases, stricter regulation of financial markets, including a return to a system of managed exchange rates, and a conscious break with market-led thinking.

“The message here is very pragmatic: we need to reverse our course quickly,” said UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi. [former head of the World Trade Organization]

And this from The Atlantic, in an article subtitled How a stubborn misreading of classical economists — combined with a hyper-partisan Republican Party — haunts the U.S. economy [emphasis added]:

The intellectual actions of these extreme free marketeers do not take place in a vacuum. They interact with a political structure comprised of lobbies and pseudo think-tanks to promote policies that, while wrapped in the cloak of promoting free markets, ultimately serve to redistribute growth to the top of the wealth scale. “Efficient market hypotheses” and “rational expectations”–the idea that absent government interference, market participants will make optimally efficient decisions–leads directly to supply-side tax cuts, deregulation of financial markets, the formation of financial bubbles, the acceptance of income stagnation, and disinvestment in public goods. And these measures, in turn, have delivered levels of income and wealth inequality not seen since the late 1920s, along with policy handcuffs that today have us arguing about how to reduce, rather than strengthen, regulations.

And here’s where I get around to religion.

brown-skinned socialist

Going big

In the fall of 1966, this small-town boy from central Minnesota arrived on the campus of Dartmouth College as a “pea-green freshman”.  I was the twenty-third string quarterback on the freshman football team.  Professor Jeffrey Hart spent each hour of freshman English lighting and re-relighting his pipe as he strolled in front of the class, eliciting discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Despite Hart’s political conservatism in an otherwise liberal environment(he was a close associate of Wm. F. Buckley), he was the perfect icon for my introduction to an Ivy League education.  To be sure, I was more than a little overwhelmed.

It was then that I first heard the name of Robert Reich.  Though small in stature, upperclassman Reich was the biggest man on campus.  If my memory serves, Reich was a leading commentator on WDCR, the college radio station, and founder of an unofficial experimental college.  Reich’s taped speech on the three slain civil rights workers in Mississippi was used by subsequent speech classes as the model, par excellence.  It was clear then that big things were in store for Robert Reich.

Robert Reich at DartmouthOf course, I am speaking of the man who would later serve in the Clinton cabinet and who is currently a frequent commentator on television and in print media.  Reich and Nobel-prize-winning Paul Krugman are the two leading economists who advocate for the positive and necessary role of the federal government to stimulate a stagnant economy.

Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley.  Today he posts an op-ed piece, which challenges President Obama to “Give ‘em hell” in his speech to Congress next week.  He hopes the President “goes big” and advocates:

rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, creating a new WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps, and lending money to cash-starved states and cities.

Republicans will oppose it, of course. They’ll say the stimulus didn’t work the first time (they’re wrong — it saved 3 million jobs but it was way too small given the drop in consumer spending as well as budget cuts by states and cities), and we can’t afford it (wrong again — the yield on 10-year Treasury bills is now 2 percent, meaning this is the best time to borrow. And if growth isn’t restored soon, the debt/GDP ratio will balloon beyond belief). But their real hope is to keep the economy anemic through Election Day 2012 so voters will send Obama home. [emphasis added]

The coming year that will culminate in the 2012 election will be fascinating and frightening.  For eighty years, America has functioned on the basis of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—a controlled capitalist economy with social safety nets—that reversed the laissez-faire, “hands-off”, environment that preceded it.

Herbert_HooverBy all accounts, President Herbert Hoover was a brilliant man with an exemplary record of government service prior to the collapse of an unregulated stock market in the fall of ‘29, his first year as President.  As history tells us, Hoover’s laissez-faire ideology failed him and the country, and the economy continued to spiral downward into the Great Depression.  The election of FDR in ‘32 and his huge, landslide reelection in ‘36 spelled the end of laissez-faire, replaced by the interventionist fiscal policies of economist John Maynard Keynes who provided the intellectual warrant for New Deal macroeconomics.  The primary poster child of the New Deal was the Social Security Act,  which the current poll-leading Republican presidential candidate refers to as a “Ponzi Scheme”.

For eighty years, this has been the American way, even when the federal government was in the hands of the GOP.  Remember the “me-too” Republicans of the Eisenhower years, Nixon’s famous dictum, “I am now a Keynesian in economics”, and the willingness of the icon of conservative Republicanism, Ronald Reagan, to enact economic stimulus when needed.

Will all that change in 2012?  For failing to pay attention to history, will we be doomed to repeat it?  Will the Tea Party return America to the laissez-faire policies of Herbert Hoover?  When leading Republicans flub minor details of American history, it is laughable, but when they forget the “going big” lessons of American macroeconomics, it is downright scary.

For generations, pundits joked that Democrats continued to run against Herbert Hoover though he was long retired at the will of the electorate.  Perhaps it’s time to run against Hoover again.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

A Good Man is Hard to Find is the title of a short story by the renowned “southern gothic” fiction writer of a generation ago, Flannery O’Connor.  O’Connor was a devout Catholic, and her stories were tinged with religious symbolism that some would find macabre and nearly all would find barely translucent.  To put it another way, her writings take some getting used to and also require some help at deciphering her meaning.  But, her writings are typically ranked among the very best 20th century literature.

In this short story, the “Misfit” is an escaped criminal who ultimately murders the entire family of the protagonist, a grandmother.  In the last lines of the story, she too is felled by the assassin’s bullet, and he exclaims:

“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

According to the prevailing interpretation of this bizarre story, this was O’Connor’s way of saying that in the moment of darkest despair, there is God.  In death, God’s grace was most present.  In a perverse way, the Misfit murderer was an instrument of God’s grace.

This short story occurred to me this morning as I processed the Tucson Memorial Service that I watched last evening, and especially the speech of President Obama.   He spoke to the soul of America last night, with words of comfort and consolation but also soaring with hope.  Last night, he was America’s preacher, and his words were a stirring sermon in the very best sense.  He consoled the nation’s grief but also dared to speak to our anger with words of forgiveness and encouragement to heal and not to wound. 

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized … it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” Obama said. He later added, “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate — as it should — let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.”

Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman who hosts “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, this morning called it a transformative moment in American political discourse.

And this brings me back to O’Connor and the Misfit.  Will good come from the tragedy of Tucson?  Will new life and hope arise from death and destruction?  Will a deranged shooter ultimately be the occasion for transformation?

Tucson speechThere is a secondary application of this title also.  As I watched the President speak, I couldn’t help but think that America doesn’t appreciate how fortunate we are to have this grace-filled man of eloquence as our leader. 

A good man is hard to find.

Obama at mid term

Here’s a Winston Churchill quote:

Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

And another:

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

It should be remembered that following Churchill’s historic and inspired leadership during WWII, the British voters turned him out in the first election after war’s end.

In the recent midterm elections, it would seem that the voters rejected President Obama.  Six fewer Democratic Senators will serve in the new Congress.  Speaker-to-be John Boehner and the Republicans wrenched control of the House from the Democrats.  According to the voters, it would appear that Obama’s first two years have been an abysmal failure.

Did the voters choose wisely?  Was their judgment sound?

Of course, the party in power always loses Congressional seats in midterm elections.  Of course, the party in power always loses seats when the economy is bad, and this economy has been very bad.  Yet, the recent election is more ironic than historic.

It is ironic that voters blame the Democrats for the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, but it is clear that the economy collapsed in the late months of the Bush administration.

It is ironic that the voters blame the Democrats for a bleak employment/jobs situation when the independent Congressional Budget Office reports that Obama’s stimulus saved 3.6 million jobs.

It is ironic that the voters blame the Democrats for government gridlock, but it is clear that it was the Republicans, the “party of no”, that went went all-in and resisted at every turn, choosing politics over policy.  With cries of “socialism” and “government takeover of the health care system” (chosen the “biggest lie” of the year by a Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking organization), the traditional notion of the “loyal opposition” seems rather hollow.

Finally, the biggest irony of all, that sums up all the rest, is the perception that President Obama and the current Congress have failed, and that their performance should be judged by the results of the recent election.  In a posting in the popular First Read political website/blog of MSNBC, Mark Murray called this the “do-something” Congress, and makes this observation:

Smiling President[L]ost in the poll numbers and the voters’ message in November is this one unmistakable fact: This Congress, which likely will come to a close this week, accomplished more, legislatively, than any other Congress since the 1960s (the Great Society) or the 1930s (the New Deal).

In the past two years, it has:

— expanded the safety net with the health-care law;

— invested billions in the nation’s roadways, airports, schools, and green technologies with the stimulus;

— reformed the nation’s financial system with financial reform;

— passed billions in tax cuts for Americans with the stimulus and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts

— expanded civil rights with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

And in its final piece of business, the Senate is currently working on one of the White House’s top foreign-policy goals: ratification of the New START treaty with Russia. Then throw in all of the other legislation enacted this Congress, like credit-card reform and the Lilly Ledbetter anti-pay-discrimination act.

Murray then quotes Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein:

“I would probably rank the New Deal [Congress] first,” congressional scholar Norm Ornstein told First Read. “I think this one edges the Great Society. It is at least on par with the Great Society.”

“For all the dysfunction, it was just astonishing what they were able to get done,” Ornstein added.

One thinks that history will judge President Obama and the 111th Congress more favorably than did the electorate.

A Lutheran response to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell

If you haven ‘t heard, the Senate voted 65-31 on Saturday to end the discriminatory policy known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  After President Obama signs the bill into law this week, the Pentagon will evaluate and then certify that the military is ready for this change, which is not expected for a couple of months.  Then, gays and lesbians will be free to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of official recrimination from the military.

Here is the response from Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA):

The United States Senate voted on Saturday, 65-31, to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation that has discriminated against our lesbian and gay service members for over a decade. The historic vote follows the US House passage of the same bill earlier in the week. President Obama plans to sign the legislation before Christmas. Lutherans Concerned/ North America, serving at the intersection of oppressions, is proud to be a part of the movement to repeal this legislation and celebrates the vote with all of our members, especially those who have served or are serving in the military.

Those serving in the US Armed Forces face unparalleled challenges everyday as they fight to protect our freedoms here and abroad. Now, with this repeal nearly finalized, they will be able to concentrate on their vocation of service rather than worrying about the disclosure of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. LC/NA shares relationships with various other faith based and secular LGBT organizations to bring freedom and equality to all of God’s children, both in the church and in society. The work that LC/NA has done has been a combined effort with the entire LGBT community contributing to the change in understanding of how LGBT people have always served their country with skill, honor, and integrity.

Deputy Director, Ross Murray, commented on the repeal, saying, “It is truly awe inspiring to see people living out their calling from God. Just as Lutherans Concerned works for the full participation of those called to serve the church, we celebrate those who are can live out their call to serve their country without barriers. This is one more step toward full participation in society.”

Our vocation is a calling from God that is realized through a variety of paths, including military service. With the recent historic decisions made at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2009, and now with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” avenues once blocked by discrimination are being cleared for all people to live out their calling. As Lutherans we are called to be a public voice, crying in the wilderness, and LC/NA is proud to be living out that calling daily. It is truly evident that the Holy Spirit is moving through our society and our church with a renewed fervor for change and we thank God for this advocate sent on our behalf.

Starring John Boehner

With violent and threatening placards bobbing amidst the tea party protesters, the “N” word shouted at civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, the “F” word shouted at Congressman Barney Frank, news that the FBI is investigating vandalism against the families of Democratic members of Congress–and the list goes on—the question must be asked: is the Republican leadership part of the problem or part of the solution?

Is Sarah Palin’s website graphic that puts gunsights on the districts of certain Democratic Congressfolk evidence of clear-headed, responsible leadership?  Is Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s recently repeated rant that our President is un-American the rational voice of the loyal opposition?  And what about that angry, defiant speech of House Minority leader, John Boehner, just before the passage of health reform legislation?

Here is a Youtube video that is going viral starring the esteemed minority leader, the voice of the party of No, cheering Americans to a higher calling.