Archives for: March 2009
It is hard to adequately describe the joy of reading David Frum's recent article in Newsweek describing his frustration with Rush Limbaugh.
He demonstrates with each paragraph that clarity of thought is not so much a virtue as a gift, one which he has in abundance. Consider this:
... the outlook Rush Limbaugh has taught his fans and followers: we want to transform the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan into a party of unanimous dittoheads—and we don't care how much the party has to shrink to do it. That's not the language of politics. It's the language of a cult.
His ability to put what might seem obvious into memorable language overcomes a bit of predictability, for example this on young voters:
If they eat right, exercise and wear seat belts, they will be voting against George W. Bush well into the 2060s.
Good writing, and Frum's anger has been well earned by Rush and his self-indulgent followers. But his honest and clear minded analysis suffers from two misconceptions.
It isn't Rush Limbaugh's fault. It isn't the single gust of Rush generated wind that is tearing into Frum's soul. It is the tornado of which it is but a small part. The decline of the Republican party is, at least in part, a sociological phenomenon. Rush symbolizes it well, but Frum fails to distinguish cause from symptom. A myriad of sources, including Rush, have convinced a growing majority of the shrinking minority that composes the GOP that all is well. There is no need for the sort of self-examination that Frum urges. Fox News specifically, but cable itself generally, brings the same message to the eagar ears and miniscule minds of the non-intellectual part of the right. Moderates are leaving the GOP, as extremists rule. And extremists rule as moderates leave.
The old conservative truths were never actually ... well ... true. Frum sees that the old conservative truths must be recast in a modern message applying to today's problems. What Frum will not, cannot, acknowledge is what truly makes him the soul brother of his antagonist. Like Rush, Frum does not see what is clear to the rational majority of the American electorate.
Conservatism as a governing philosophy simply does not work.
When I was a kid, we got to know a family about two doors away. Their mom and ours became very close friends. The grandmother was a sweet and cantankerous old lady, Mrs. Armbruster. Grandma Armbruster would take some of the kids in the neighborhood for car rides. My little brother always looked forward to that. I never understood why until years later.
It seems Grandma Armbruster was kind of a little kid herself. She was fun to be with because she was wildly irresponsible. In our later teens, my brother regaled the family, including our horrified mother, with stories of the, by then departed, Grandma Armbruster.
When one of the kids wondered aloud whether the speedometer on the car reflected how fast the car could really be pushed. Grandma Armbruster conducted an experiment on a straight backwoods road to find out. The kids had a lot of fun.
On another drive, a police officer pulled the group over. Grandma Armbruster had ignored a stop sign. To the delight of the youthful passengers, Grandma Armbruster became indignant and began a demented argument. "Look at that windshield!" she demanded of the startled officer. "How do you expect me to see a little stop sign through that dirty glass?" The kids tried to stifle their giggles at the deranged logic.
I hadn't thought of Grandma Armbruster for many years, may she rest in peace. But a mantra from conservative commentators brings her to my mind.
At Least Bush Kept Us Safe, says Peggy Noonan. Give Bush credit for keeping us safe, repeats Judith Miller. "That a President of the United States protected us from deadly enemies may not seem like much of an accomplishment to some," sniffs Thomas Sowell. Letter writers, and bloggers keep the beat. President Bush kept us safe. Even a former President of the Boy Scouts of America, gets in on the act, If Nothing Else, We've Been Safe.
A series of governmental studies, from a 16 agency joint commission in 2006 to the Government Accounting Office last November, have all concluded that threats to the US have increased since 2001, while security has deteriorated.
But aside from the Anthrax attacks, only a few thousand US military personnel, some embassy employees, a few hostages, and hundreds of thousands of foreigners have died. If we restrict our vision to US soil itself, we can defend our former President just as we can defend Grandma Armbruster.
Say what you will, says Republican reasoning, she kept those kids safe.
From a chatroom exchange a few years back. A friend posed a challenge:
Well, let's suppose there are a billion intelligent species on other planets on a billion other planets. Maybe one per galaxy.
If so, then according to your religion, wouldn't each need a "savior"? Each would need a "jesus" Of course on one planet a jesus would look like a squid, on another planet a jesus would look like a dinosaur, on another planet it would look like a plant, according to each intelligent species.
Well, then, if each "savior/Jesus" is incarnated from the Holy Ghost, then doing the gig of being sacrificed is just a, well, just a routine job. It is no sacrifice.
And if it is no sacrifice, why make a big deal of Jesus dying?
I think you would have to make several assumptions. One is that every species would need a savior. Another is that Jesus needed to die. And that every one of your speculative saviors would also be required to die.
It is the same sort of speculation that provides much of the power of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It is a point of intellectual vulnerability of any historically based religion. How do we regard those who never heard of Jesus? Those born in remote areas or before the birth of Christ. And we are a religion based as much on a belief in history as in philosophy.
If a Buddhist became convinced that the Buddha had died ignominiously, begging for his life, the believer would continue to believe, perhaps regarding it as a matter of curiosity.
But if I became convinced that Jesus died running from Gethsemane with a Roman spear in his back, I would find it devastating. Christianity requires more than a philosophy.
I think Christ comes to everyone, though perhaps in forms not suspected by Christians, and that there comes to all some point of moral clarity in which choices must be made. That's as far as I can carry it.
As to your point of the passion of Christ, I have imagined that maybe God did choose to be truly human. For that, He would have to blind Himself to His own divinity. The trinity would then become especially pertinent. It's quite speculative and is not at the core of my beliefs, but it is interesting to me.
Nuggets of internet gold:
- RANDOM THOUGHTS pretty much rips up Rush Limbaugh, taking a view that happens to be in opposition to my own.
It was a dangerous time under a brutally oppressive regime. Saul of Tarsus was enthusiastic in his deadly pursuit of members of the new Jesus cult. He held the coats of those who had stoned Stephen to death. He had obtained permission of the authorities to take his persecution of followers of the Way, as they were sometimes called, to the city of Damascus.
It was on that journey that he was struck blind by a vision and a voice and became a leader of those he had been hunting. His name became Paul. Unlike most early Christians, Paul was both Jewish and a Roman citizen. So he had certain rights. When he was later arrested and tried by a Roman official, he appealed, as was his right, to be heard by the emperor.
Certain memos were released this week by the US Department of Justice. It seems reasonable that a law enforcement official, knowing of a weapon of mass destruction, might break down a door. After all, a police officer, hearing a scream for help, does not seek a search warrant before breaking in. And it seems reasonable that the government may prohibit the publication of certain state secrets. Loose lips sink ships.
But the legal opinions in the released memos were more than contingencies for extreme and unlikely circumstance. The Bush administration had held in public debate and court action that the President and his agents have the right to arrest anyone, anyone at all, and charge that person as an enemy combatant. No cause need be shown, no evidence need be presented, and no right to a hearing of any kind need be conducted.
At a word from the President, freedom of the press could be ended. "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," according to one policy memo. Habeas Corpus could be suspended, and the military could be used within the United States to round up persons of interest.
Mass arrests within our borders did not occur. Freedom of the press and the fourth amendment were not suspended through out the nation. But according to the legal guardians of our freedom in the Bush Department of Justice, it would have been completely acceptable for such things to have happened. We would not even have had the right of appeal that Paul enjoyed in ancient times under brutal Roman tyranny.
A friend remarked that the memos prove that "we were right to trust Bush." I don't mind having trusted President Bush. I'm a lot better with trusting President Obama. But we cannot pick and choose which Presidents can exercise executive power. I don't want to trust every future politician who might someday come to power.
I don't want to trust everyone.
The just concluded conservative conclave, CPAC, was a joy calculated to warm the hearts of those of us on the left.
When Cliff Kincaid, head of a conservative group Accuracy in Media, introduced Republican Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, he fired up the audience by suggesting that President Obama is a communist foreigner. The gathering went wild in unbridled enthusiasm.
United States Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina was milder in his criticism, charging only that Obama was a great salesman of socialism. But his solution really charged up the assemblage. He suggested that conservatives “take to the streets to stop America’s slide into socialism.” Senator DeMint has a perfect rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the very flower of contemporary conservative thought.
John Bolton, who was the choice of President Bush to represent the United States at the United Nations, delighted the crowd, provoking glee with the suggestion that terrorists might blow up Chicago.
The highlight was the award to Rush Limbaugh for his tireless efforts to defend the Constitution. "We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth," said Rush, "that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. Those of you watching at home may wonder why this is being applauded." Well three out of four is okay, although what we watching at home really wondered is when and how those words were transplanted from the Declaration of Independence to the U.S. Constitution.
The clarion moment came as Tucker Carlson attempted to promote the virtue of simple facts. He mentioned one of the strengths of the enemy (the enemy being the New York Times) as accuracy. Their liberal message, according to Carlson, is buttressed by research. Why can't conservatives adopt the same careful strength? He was vigorously booed.
The enemy, so clearly against the enlightened few, can expect to be shouted down. The unbelievers, the debunkers, the resisters of the true message, who believe that commie, socialist, foreigner Obama is on their side, who might oppose taking violent revolution into the streets, who do not contemplate with satisfaction the possibility of terrorist attacks on a major American city, are simply hiding the Truth.
His plea for accuracy was booed. The crowd knew reflexively the truth to which Carlson is blind. The biased New York Times is against conservatives. The hostile media are against conservatives. Accuracy is the enemy, for the facts are against conservatives.
The Congressman who had so harshly criticized Limbaugh now offered his apology with all the nervous chatter of a subject who has offended a ruthless emperor. The presentation came complete with apprehensive chuckle.
Rush, thank you so much. I thank you for the opportunity. Of course, it's not exactly the way I wanted to come on, but I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.
It was wonderfully pathetic, one of several indicators of the degree to which Republicans now fear their own volcanic base. It cast the conservative broadcaster front and center in the public eye as the GOP leader.
A most fortuitous alliance is developing between Rush Limbaugh and the Obama administration. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called Limbaugh “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party.” It has become a party line, and it has the ring of truth.
Rush wants ratings. That's how he makes his living, and it is a good living. Democratic leaders (or as Rush refers to them, "Democrat leaders"), want to assist him in any way they can. Why?
- The powerful conservative wing of the shrinking GOP loves Rush.
- Moderates and independents are repelled by him.
- Democrats loath him.
Michael Steele, official head of the Republican Party, competes bravely with Rush but he is hopelessly outmatched. He characterized Rush as “entertainer” whose show is “incendiary” and “ugly.” No chance he would apologize. Except that he ... well ... did apologize in a telephone call to Limbaugh. He explained later: “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh, ... I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
Steele groveled some more. "I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking ... It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not." It was glorious.
We earnestly pray for Limbaugh's health, for relief from his back pain, for a quick cure for OxyContin addiction, for his overcoming of any impediment to what we hope will be a long and continued career.
Michael Steele knows the Republican Party is fighting for more than the next election. They are battling for the loyalty of tomorrow's voters, the kids who will come to the ballot box a decade or more from now.
He is right about that. Events have forced a re-evaluation of many of the perceived failures of the administration of Jimmy Carter. He was a stronger and more prescient executive than was commonly seen by even most of us who voted for him as he lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980. But many of those who were coming to even the dimmest political awareness in the 1970s grew up to be reliable Republicans. They were taught early on to associate Democrats with economic flubbery and failure in international security.
Today's children, seeing parents recover from President Bush, are likely to grow up as Democrats. So Steele wants to recast the Republican image to achieve greater appeal in what he calls "urban-suburban hip-hop settings". His self-conscious use of terms unfamiliar to many older adults has provoked some comment. He is against "bling bling" in stimulus efforts. He offers "some slum love out to my buddy," Bobby Jindal, who he says "is doing a friggin' awesome job in his state."
I dimly recall a sitcom I saw in my nearly forgotten youth. The title and plot escape me, but the scene was one of a middle class suburban professional in a casual sweater arguing outside of his comfortable house with a couple of hipsters. This was in pre-hippie days. As they reject his uncool values, he verbally pushes back. "Hey, I'm with it," he protests. "I'm hep."
Michelle Bachman, hosting part of the recent CPAC conservative fest, got into the spirit of the effort to appeal to America's future voters. "Michael Steele, you be da man!" She then repeated, for emphasis, "You be da man!"
The GOP is rapidly becoming a regional party of racially resentful white men. A few Republican office holders seem to want to stop the downward spiral with actual rethinking of values and worldview. But they are becoming more afraid of their own volatile base than of the general electorate. If the message must stay the same, what is left?
Steele gambles that wrapping the grand old message in a hipper, cooler, younger language will do the trick. Sometimes a conservative associate becomes daring enough to join in with what fringe whites imagine black folks to be. A sort of minstrel show without, thankfully, blackface.
Will young kids grow up remembering a sincere effort to communicate in language they understand? Maybe. I suspect the image they carry will be an out of tune attempt to be cool, combined with intolerance and ignorance.
I'm hep. Hear me rap. Farm out! Right arm! Outta State! You be da man!
Your very cool turn.
They were too big to fail without pretty much devastating the nation.
"I had to destroy the economy in order to save it," said the outgoing President George W. Bush. Democrats reluctantly voted for the bailout. What else to do? Republicans voted against it before they voted for it.
Conservatives with no actual governmental responsibilities were livid. Michelle Malkin said "Stop me before I hurl a shoe." That would be the same Michelle Malkin whose claim to fame is publishing the addresses of small children she doesn't like along with detailed driving directions to their homes for the convenience of conservatives with a violent bent. Her threats always have an unhealthy potential. We should hope the Secret Service carefully checked her closets for a purported Imelda Marcos starter kit.
Among the recipients, $10 billion would go to Merrill Lynch. Bank of America was to receive $35 billion. The hope was that such institutions would use their restored solvency to begin making reasonable loans to businesses and individuals. Instead, taxpayers discovered that Bank of America would use its share to purchase Merrill Lynch which, just before being purchased, would pay bonuses to top executives totaling $3.6 billion. Wow.
Bush administration officials fluttered their hands in helpless dismay. They had no way to enforce responsible use of the funds, they explained.
Andrew Cuomo didn't see it that way. Cuomo is the son of famed former New York governor Mario Cuomo. More important, he is the state's Attorney General. So his opinion carries more weight than Michelle Malkin's shoes. He has the potential to do more than publish the home addresses of a few little kids. Cuomo subpoenaed, along with several others, John A. Thain, who had by then been fired as Merrill Lynch CEO.
Thain might provide compensation formulae that would demonstrate the bonused employees were essential to the operation and that the compensation was essential to their staying: Supply and demand. Or he might claim that he had nothing to do with bonuses, that Andrea Smith, a fellow executive at Merrill Lynch, determined compensation. But Thain's spokeman said this: "Bank of America directed Mr. Thain not to discuss specific bonus details."
So, Mr. Thain is invoking Executive Privilege. Like Karl Rove. As if a corporation can order a former employee to refuse evidence to law enforcement.
Mr. Cuomo doesn't like that answer. Neither does New York State Supreme Court Justice Bernard J. Fried, who ordered Thain to give it up.
Your turn. Thain's turn.
Our church enters a second full month of offering a contemporary service as an alternative to the earlier traditional service we also hold each Sunday. And we are in a second week of study and prayer designed to last 40 days. Several small group sessions are held, and most of our active members attend one each week.
The theme is evangelism, an informally forbidden word in most mainstream churches, but one making its way back into our vocabulary. It is early in our 6 week journey, but I think we are slowly heading toward the conclusion that reaching out comes most naturally to those of us learning to find in our hearts an honest concern for others. It takes many forms, and folks have differing comfort levels.
Our pastor is a young man. He is in his 40s. He is soft spoken and exudes a quiet sort of passion during his sermons. He often speaks of forgiveness and redemption. He is in a six week sermon series that corresponds with our 40 day study. He plays guitar and sings, providing, I suppose, a comfortable way of self-expression. His talent forms much of our new contemporary service.
I attend both services, more actively participating in contemporary. Our traditional service has a practice not unknown in many houses of worship. At one point in our prayers, we have a moment in which members of the congregation softly speak the names of those of special concern for them. We hear a hundred indistinct voices calling out in earnest prayer. It is a beautiful moment.
As I pray, I name a relative in constant mortal danger from illness, I speak for a cousin who has been in danger for years and who now recovers from heart surgery, I say the name of a young man killed on the streets of Carbondale, Illinois, and a friend I have not heard from for weeks who is stationed in Afghanistan.
Finally, I call for God's mercy and care for a friendly young man I knew from work some years back, a fellow I spoke with about worship from time to time, but whom I never invited to a service. I do not know that I feel responsible for his suicide one afternoon, but I do now try to be more sensitive to those who may be in crisis. As I speak his name aloud, my voice joins the many others with whom I worship. The names our voices carry blend into a gentle cacophony of common prayer.
And I look on evangelism a little more expansively than I once did.