July 2005 Archives

The 23rd qualm

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Gene Stone posted The 23rd Qualm at HuffPo earlier this morning:

The 23rd Qualm Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want. He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests. He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness. He restoreth my fears. He leadeth me in the paths of international disgrace for his ego's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution and war, I will find no exit, for thou art in office. Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control, they discomfort me. Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the presence of thy religion. Thou anointest my head with foreign oil. My health insurance runneth out. Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me all the days of thy term, And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

Priceless!

Jonathan Turley writes in "The Faith of John Roberts" about a surprising admission from the Supreme Court nominee:

Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. […] Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.

Jeffrey Dubner points out in “Recuses, Recuses” at The American Prospect the implications of this seemingly trivial admission:

Oh, I don't see how that could be a problem. He'd only have to recuse himself from abortion and gay-rights cases ... and maybe the death penalty ... and perhaps pornography cases ... and possibly questions of church-state separation ... and, I suppose, poverty and social justice issues ... and then there's the moral acceptability of war ...

If Roberts isn’t willing to fulfill the SCOTUS job requirements, he should take the honorable route and simply decline the nomination. If Roberts accepts the nomination knowing that he cannot do the job, he’s perpetuating a fraud against our legal system. Turley summarized the problem this way:

In taking office, a justice takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. A judge's personal religious views should have no role in the interpretation of the laws.

If only Roberts would take a stance like JFK did during the 1960 campaign, when he was en route to becoming the first Catholic president:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

[…]

I do not speak for my church on public matters--and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come--and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible--when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

(12 September 1960, address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association)

Note that JFK was unable to provide a single example – however “remotely possible” – of his faith conflicting with his responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Roberts, however, sees potential conflicts across entire subjects of Constitutional law. Catholicism is clearly not the problem here – after all, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas are all Catholic – but rather Roberts’ determination to be appointed to a position for which he has already decided he is unsuited.


UPDATE (2 AUG 2005 2:29PM): Christopher Hitchens, with whom I have disagreed more frequently as he slouches further toward conservatism, defuses the fanciful "anti-Catholic bias" charges in his Slate article "Catholic Justice:"

It is already being insinuated, by those who want this thorny question de-thorned, that there is an element of discrimination involved. Why should this question be asked only of Catholics? Well, that's easy. The Roman Catholic Church claims the right to legislate on morals for all its members and to excommunicate them if they don't conform. The church is also a foreign state, which has diplomatic relations with Washington.

[...]

Thus, quite apart from the scandalous obstruction of American justice in which the church took part in the matter of Cardinal Law, we have increasingly firm papal dogmas on two issues that are bound to come before the court: abortion and the teaching of Darwin in schools. So, please do not accuse me of suggesting a "dual loyalty" among American Catholics. It is their own church, and its conduct and its teachings, that raise this question.

I’ve seen ads from the American Humanist Association in several left-wing/progressive magazines, such as The American Prospect and The Progressive. The two ads I’ve seen to date are very well done: positive, articulate, and succinct. Here are some excerpts:

The religious right like to talk about family values, but their so-called values are a threat to our families. We don’t want our children to grow up in a society where intolerance, greed, and anti-intellectualism are considered virtues. It’s time to stand up for progressive family values – values such as tolerance, compassion, and education

(“Children are our future: Are we pointing them in the right direction?”)


Despite all the rhetoric from the religious right, we all know that Progressives have values. Our commitment to human rights, civil liberties, religious freedom, and a society centered on reason and compassion are principles on which we should never compromise.

(“Values for today. Values for life.”)

I’ve never been eager to see the next ad in a campaign before, but I am now.

Keep up the good work!

out of the closet

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A group of unjustly reviled Americans is coming out of the closet:

We are not so different than they are. We seek meaning in our lives too. We strive to be perceived as morally sound and ethically correct. They speak of our unnatural practices but we know they have scores of their own. They have tortured us throughout history because they believed our ideals and passions differed from theirs. We have constantly been branded as abominations and they have always supposed that we are against regularity and normalcy; defiant of the natural order intended for the world.

It isn't who you might expect, though:

Because of the misperceptions we're saddled with, it is extremely important that we fight this immense and repressive ignorance with honesty and pride. Life isn't as easy as it should be when you're an atheist, but you're a better person for admitting it.

Stupid Evil Bastard's guest writer Brock penned these words in "Thanks for Coming Out of the Closet" on Sunday. His piece reminded me of a previous use of the atheist/closet trope from Dave Silverman's "Coming Out - Atheism: The Other Closet" at atheists.org:

We are writers and poets, philosophers and scientists, teachers and businesspeople, brain surgeons and truck drivers, architects and construction workers. We are men and women, black and white, republican and democrat, gay and straight, shy and outspoken. Since we are bound only by our disbelief, there are atheists with differing views on every political, economic, and social issue. I view this as a benefit which should serve as a model from which the rest of the world could learn. Atheists are united in diversity.

We are moral, we are ethical, and we're tired of being defamed and maligned for our disbelief. Sound familiar?

Yes, as a matter of fact it does.

George McClure’s article in the Denver Post a few weeks ago, “Another liberal column. Right?” was mentioned on Democratic Underground today. McClure briefly refutes the “liberal media” canard this way:

The mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals.

I was informed of this fact by Rush Limbaugh. And Thomas Sowell. And Ann Coulter. And Rich Lowry. And Bill O'Reilly. And William Safire. And Robert Novak. And William F. Buckley, Jr. And George Will.

And John Gibson. And Michelle Malkin. And David Brooks. And Tony Snow. And Tony Blankely. And Fred Barnes. And Britt Hume. And Larry Kudlow. And Sean Hannity. And David Horowitz. And William Kristol. And Hugh Hewitt.

And Oliver North. And Joe Scarborough. And Pat Buchanan. And John McLaughlin. And Cal Thomas. And Joe Klein. And James Kilpatrick. And Tucker Carlson. And Deroy Murdock. And Michael Savage. And Charles Krauthammer. And Stephen Moore. And Alan Keyes.

And Gary Bauer. And Mort Kondracke. And Andrew Sullivan. And Nicholas von Hoffman. And Neil Cavuto. And Matt Drudge. And Mike Rosen. And Dave Kopel. And John Caldara.

It’s an impressive list, but he forgot Michael Barone, Arnoud deBorchgrave, Neal Boortz, L. Brent Bozell, Mona Charen, Lynne Cheney, Chuck Colson, Jerry Falwell, Thomas Friedman, Maggie Gallagher, Bernard Goldberg, Jonah Goldberg, Jack Kemp, John Leo, G. Gordon Liddy, David Limbaugh, Mary Matalin, Michael Medved, Peggy Noonan, Marvin Olasky, Michael Reagan, Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, Ben Shapiro, John Stossel, Emmett Tyrrell, and Armstrong Williams. Conservatives cannot come up with a comparable list of liberal commentators with such an overwhelming media presence - due to conservative domination of the very same media - yet the "liberal media" myth persists.

Eric Alterman examined the SCLM (so-called liberal media) in his 2003 book What Liberal Media? and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting publishes some excellent media criticism (both on their website and in their magazine Extra!), but those people continually shouting "liberal media bias" (think talk radio and Fox “News”) seem impervious to the facts.


UPDATE: These fellow conservatives should be added to the previous lists: Andrew Bacevich, Harold Bloom, David Boaz, Stephen Carter, John Derbyshire, Dinesh D’Souza, Newt Gingrich, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Christopher Hitchens, Mark Hyman, Tim LaHaye, John Lukacs, Chris Matthews, Charles Murray, Richard John Neuhaus, David Noebel, Fred Phelps, Norman Podhoretz, Ralph Reed and Jay Sekulow.

Many more names could be added, but I think the point has been made quite adequately.

Some of you may already know about Zach, the 16-year-old gay youth who came out to his Christian fundamentalist parents a few months ago. Zach is currently incarcerated at “Refuge,” an anti-gay “conversion” camp run by a fundie group called, ironically enough, Love in Action. John Smid, the director of Love in Action, previously said this to another gay youth who resisted his programming:

"I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle.”

Gene Stone, in “The Right Is Killing Us,” laments the conservative campaign of misinformation about homosexuality. He notes that:

The right wing’s relentless propaganda machine has a pernicious effect throughout society. Not only does it remind gays how much they’re hated by a segment of the population, it helps convince parents who don’t know much about homosexuality that it’s evil, a perversion, something that no family could possible want in its midst. When people are exposed only to the hateful bigotry of the right, what’s the result? When taken to the extreme, infanticide -- as the Tampa case reveals.

The “Tampa case” he mentions is that of a Florida man who was so afraid that his three-year-old son might be gay that he killed him. Details of how the father repeatedly slapped his son and slammed him against the wall are also here:

Even though the boy would shake and wet himself, his father, Ronnie Paris Jr., would box with the 3-year-old, slapping him in the head until he cried because he didn't want his son to grow up to be “a sissy,” the boy's mother testified Monday.

Others corroborated Nysheerah Paris' testimony as the prosecution built its case during the first day of the capital murder trial of Ronnie Paris Jr., 21, accused of abusing 3-year- old Ronnie Paris until the boy slipped into a coma Jan. 22.

He died six days later with swelling on both sides of his brain.

“He was trying to teach him how to fight,” said Shanita Powell, Nysheerah Paris' sister. “He was concerned that the child might be gay.”

The people who want gays and lesbians dead are not mere hyperbole, or figments of liberal imaginations; they are reality. They may speak words of love in public, but their actions reveal the hatred simmering underneath. They often call their militantly bigoted mentality “tough love,” after the resolve used by the families of substance abusers.

It may be tough, but it isn’t love.


UPDATE (18 JUL 2005 3:55PM): Mark Benjamin of Slate started a four-part series today titled “Turning off Gays” that examines the “ex-gay” movement. I’m eagerly awaiting the remaining three parts.

Two generations ago, many Democrats were so incensed at the events of the 1960s that they joined the GOP. With today’s Republican excesses steadily worsening, sentient voters are beginning to reject GOP groupthink. Cenk Uygur at Huffington Post just posted a column entitled “Put Your Country Above Your Party” that explains the reasoning of conservatives who are fleeing the GOP:

The party went from being dominated by practical moderates, like the first Bush, to ideological and fundamentalist zealots, like the second Bush. In the interim, President Clinton gave us balanced budgets, welfare reform and a war in Kosovo so brilliantly conducted we did not lose a single soldier and completely achieved our objective.

In the face of the evidence that Bill Clinton had accomplished everything I had wanted out of government and that the second Bush was headed in a disastrous direction in foreign and fiscal policy, I could have stayed the course and kept arguing for my party. But I decided to do the rational thing, to do the patriotic thing instead – change course.

The unprincipled hypocrisy of the current Republican leadership has long been a favorite target of mine, so it is especially nice to see conservatives joining the reality-based community.

The obnoxious ignorance of a recent Economist article, “Slippery Slope to Bestiality,” indicates that the wary reader shouldn’t expect a reasoned discussion of same-sex marriage from this usually reliable publication.

The author’s selective use of quotations makes his bias quite clear, as when one married man reinforces sex-role stereotypes and “rhapsodizes about domesticity” with his husband. (The author puts the word "husband" in scare quotes, as if same-sex marriages are somehow not real.) When the author discusses conservative outrage over marriage equality, he writes:

“More generally, religious traditionalists complain that allowing homosexuals to marry will degrade the most important institution of a civilised society. Some even claim that it could open the door to legalised unions with horses.”

The unfounded fears of “religious traditionalists” are left unquestioned, and the phrase “some even claim” in reference to bestiality is a rhetorical device inserted solely to smuggle in the author’s preconceptions without the necessity of a single supporting fact.

The article concludes with this quote from a bartender: "But the majority of gays will never get married. We want to have as much sex as we possibly can." This may illustrate the sentiment of an individual, but – if the many joyous same-sex weddings over the past year are any indication – it is not representative of the larger community.

The Economist is ordinarily full of well-considered writing, but this article is a pathetic excuse for journalism.

Bush's birthday

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The Democratic Party wants you to “Send President Bush a Birthday Message” on his 59th birthday.

Today is President Bush's 59th birthday, and the Republican National Committee recently celebrated by asking GOP activists to sign a birthday card to the president. But there was a catch: you could only sign it if you gave a donation to the RNC.

We think that's un-American -- everyone should be able to send a message to our leader. So we've set up a birthday card that you can sign -- free of charge.

Their birthday card to President Bush reads as follows:

On the occasion of your 59th birthday, we hope you're taking the time to reflect on your legacy: record new debt for future generations, dismantling Social Security, replacing science with right-wing ideology, giving our natural resources over to polluters, failing to catch Osama bin Laden, and lying about the reasons you took America into war.

Thinking of you,

The American People

A bag of pretzels would be an excellent birthday gift.

Jonathan Chait’s excellent cover article in The New Republic, “The Case Against New Ideas,” dissects the “Democrats lost because they have no new ideas,” but takes a far less confrontational approach than Joshua Holland did. Chait examines the GOP’s aggressive posturing as a party of ideas, while using its media mouthpieces to denigrate the Democrats as uninspired obstructionists. After a section about media complicity in ignoring minority party ideas, he notes:

There's a perfectly good reason for ignoring these ideas: They have no chance of being enacted as long as Republicans control the White House and Congress. The truth is that liberal ideas aren't getting any circulation because Democrats are out of power, not vice versa. […] Take this passage from a column last month by Newsweek's Robert Samuelson:
In floor debate, the Democrats never offered a realistic balanced budget. The closest they came was in the House, where they promised balance by 2012.

Samuelson is, in a certain sense, correct. Any plan that differs substantially from the Republican agenda is unrealistic, because the Republicans would never even consider it. But to mistake this lack of power for a lack of alternate ideas confuses cause and effect.

Chait addresses the common – and misleading - charge of “obstructionism” this way:

Today, Democrats generally oppose change because "change" means doing things Bush's way. This puts Democrats in the dilemma of either supporting new policies that are almost invariably bad--certainly from a liberal perspective--or appearing wedded to the status quo. […] Emphasizing the downside of bad change rather than the upside of positive change reflects political necessity, not intellectual failure.

The GOP program of slogans and soundbites has been quite successful – at least in the propaganda realm – as Chait laments:

Bush and his supporters have described their policies with simple aphorisms--smaller government, for example, or promoting democracy abroad--that have eluded Democrats. But Republicans often fail to abide by their own ideas. While Karl Rove recently asserted, "We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government," government has in fact grown significantly under Bush after shrinking under his Democratic predecessor. In this case, the conservative superiority in "ideas" simply reflects a greater capacity for hypocrisy.

The entire history of the current administration has amply demonstrated the difference between message and meaning; the rhetoric and reality of American politics have perhaps never been quite so far apart. Bush’s desire to “reform” Social Security illustrates this very well, as Chait elaborates:

In reality, Democrats have explicitly stated their willingness to address Social Security's future deficit as long as privatization is off the table. So, when conservatives decry Democrats' lack of ideas, they mean a refusal to adopt conservative ideas.

As with the post-election blizzard of conservatives’ “advice” to liberals, much right-wing talk about “ideas” is essentially a demand that Democrats continue moving to the right. Given the choice between a real conservative and a faux one, however, the electorate will choose the GOP candidate every time; the last two presidential elections have certainly proven that.

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