It's not an easy thing for campaign volunteers when their candidate loses an election. In 2004, many of us who had worked hard for General Wesley Clark were more than a little disappointed at his lack of progress as a Democratic presidential candidate. We manned phone banks on a regular basis. When we ran out of telephones, we used our cell phones. We telephoned people in other states. As one gimmick, so voters would remember his name, aides would hand out candy at his events, Clark Bars. Later, one person, interviewed on television, lamented the loss. Maybe it would have been better if he was named Wesley Snickers.
Hard as it is for volunteers, it has to be even harder for a losing candidate. In 1964 Dick Tuck ran for the California Assembly, losing spectacularly. His reaction became famous, "The people have spoken . . . the bastards!" Senator Arlen Specter was a class act, as he lost to Joe Sestack in Pennsylvania. It became easier when Sestack turned out to be a classy winner: Specter had a "legacy to be proud of."
Winning primary candidates sometimes remain caught in the heat of battle. When Republican Dede Scozzafava fell way behind conservative Doug Hoffman in a special election campaign last November, she finally left the race. It was assumed she would endorse Hoffman. But, instead of conciliation, Hoffman acted as if she was still the enemy. He publicly gloated. "This morning’s events prove what we have said for the last week," he began. He ended with the same attack lines he had used against Scozzafava with "we’re sick and tired of big-spending, high-taxing, career politicians." The next day he tried to make it up in a written statement. "We would like to acknowledge the class and dignity with which Mrs. Scozzafava conducted her campaign." But Dede endorsed the Democrat, who became the first of his party to win since the days of Abraham Lincoln.
Rand Paul, the Republican who ousted conservative Trey Grayson in Kentucky's Republican primary attacked his opponent during the campaign as being way too liberal. From his anti-government perspective it was true. Paul would have voted against the Civil Rights act of 1964, not because he favors discrimination, but because he opposes government restricting the freedom of restaurant owners to refuse to allow black people at their counters. He became angry at President Obama during the early stages of the oil spill for criticizing BP. He said the criticism of the oil company was "un-American." But he did win the primary campaign. As the losing candidate called to concede, Paul reportedly refused to talk with him. Paul denied that, but the other fellow's staff insists it really happened.
A few kind words salve a lot of wounds. But a few candidates take their own campaign attacks pretty seriously. When they forget the possibility that the opponents they defeat may not be monsters after all, they may say something they later regret. Occasionally they can regret it a lot.
Did he say that? That's pretty good.
- - President Bill Clinton, post election press event, November 8, 1996
On being told a top Republican had dismissed his Ireland peace efforts as
In a political chat room, I was debating a snide, supercilious brother-in-Christ who absolutely prided himself on his Christian piety, and looked down his nose at his spiritual inferiors. His evident self-regard increased as he told of his amazing intellect. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I have great faith in your mental ability, I posted. "And I define faith in the biblical sense: the evidence of things not seen."
I was reminded of that exchange as I reviewed correspondence with occasional guest J. My major complaint against this fellow is that he does not grace us with his arguments often enough. I should be satisfied, I suppose, because what he does provide is frequently golden.
In one comment, J quoted the apostle Paul to a somewhat more accurate degree than did I, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." But what really reminded me of my earlier encounter were J's argumentative jibes. In our first encounter this time around, he congratulated me on my intellect. "...it is usually difficult for one who practices critical thinking to also embrace religion, a feat that requires a greater degree of excellence, [than] rejecting it." He was complimenting me on managing the difficult mental gymnastics any glimmer of intelligence would require in accepting something so silly as Christianity. Wow.
Patton loved war, "God help me, I do love it so." I confess I love snark, when it is done well. Puncturing an argument, or some pretentiousness, or simply poking fun, is common enough. When it is done with an unexpected twist, it is ... well ... enjoyable to me, even when I am the target.
Not all snark occurs on line. Years ago, I was cruising through a retail outlet on a day when small free samples were being offered by smiling hosts in many of the aisles. I accepted one small bit of something and I offered the same lame joke that has served me well over the decades. "Is this guaranteed to make me good looking?" My follow up is usually "Nothing else has worked." In this case, I never got to the follow up. The young lady behind the counter regarded me briefly, then answered "You'd better take two."
Snark can target arguments as well as individuals. In our religious debate, I sought to explain why pure materialism, even if technically correct, loses a transcendent quality of human experience. I tried putting it in personal terms. I do not see my wife as a mass of swirling atoms and electrical impulses, I said. "There is, in her being, a consciousness that goes beyond matter."
My friendly critic was ready. "I am one step closer to embracing the concept of the validity of a relationship with God," said J, "and to seeing my relationship with my wife as a personal illusion."
There is no way to know, of course. And that is J's essential point. But my imagination tells me Jesus has prepared a special mansion for this beloved infidel. You gotta love this guy. It is simply impossible not to.
I’ve had a wonderful evening – but this wasn’t it.
- - Groucho Marx
Public Policy Polling has come out with the state of state politics in that giant morality play called South Carolina (pdf). That is where two political operatives have appeared with locker room boasts about how they had bedded the candidate in past years. As if that wasn't icky enough, this remark about her and her family, immigrants from India, was made by a well known state senator: "We already got one raghead in the White House; we don't need a raghead in the governor's mansion." He was speaking on a radio program originating in a bar. He later said it was all "intended in jest".
He apologized for the hilarious witticism, then got serious, expanding his remarks to include her religion. Her parents are Sikhs. She became a follower of Jesus decades ago. It is obvious to the barroom talker that she is not a real Christian. He asked why she tries to disguise her real beliefs.
But his real objection was her ethnicity. Do we really want to elect a foreigner from a country with which we are at war? When it was pointed out that India is an ally, he clarified. We are not specifically at war with India. We are more generally at war with “foreign countries.”
It turns out that conservative Republicans are not a simple minded group of religious and ethnic bigots. They are not easily taken in by misogynistic kiss-and-tell stories:
Nikki Haley had a 20 point lead in her bid for the Republican Gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina two weeks ago before allegations of an extramarital affair surfaced. Only 13% of likely primary voters believe the charges that have been lobbed against her and she continues to hold that 20 point lead heading into the final couple days of the campaign.
There is not much on which I can agree with Nikki Haley. Except for this: it would be astonishing if these third grade taunts, along with pre-adolescent sexual bragging, combined to defeat her. If I could vote in Tuesday's Republican primary, it would be hard not to vote for her on that basis alone. She is way ahead, and there is nothing to learn from that except that South Carolina is not the primitive entity that some politicians imagine.
Lessons can be drawn from Tuesday's primary, however. In the 4th Congressional District, six term Congressman Bob Inglis is about as extreme a conservative as can be imagined. He is running behind a fellow whose entire campaign is that Inglis is way, way too liberal. They will end up in a run-off, with the other guy favored to win.
Nikki Haley's contest has become a soap opera with an American Cinderella against evil manipulators. The 4th district has become a crystal ball in which we can see the extreme future of the GOP.
We need a good Christian to be our governor. She’s hiding her religion. She ought to be proud of it. I’m proud of my god.
- - Jake Knotts (R-SC), state senator, June 3, 2010
Attacking the religion and ethnicity of a Republican candidate for
Governor of South Carolina
When Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), candidate for the Senate, was caught ...um... misrepresenting his military history, it was clear his false claims of having served in Vietnam would obliterate his political career. Except it didn't.
The New York Times, it turned out, had edited a tape showing Blumenthal making one of his claims. They portrayed him pretty clearly claiming to have "served in Vietnam." But they cut out an earlier statement that was true, although still misleading. He described himself as "someone who served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps."
The ham handed editing changed the local narrative. Everyone was talking about the local guy who was smeared by the big city paper with a falsified tape. Then Republicans rejected as their candidate a genuine war hero, and nominated a woman whose claim to fame is participation in the family business, televised wrestling entertainment. She publicly doubted whether steroids are harmful, thus providing inspiration to young athletes everywhere. And Blumenthal was way, way ahead again. It was clear that the story would fade forever, forgotten in the endless flow of political events. Except it didn't.
Along came Mark Kirk of Illinois, another Senate candidate. This one was a Republican, so he came with the opportunity to bash both sides. Journalists love equivalencies so much they often make them up. This one was low hanging fruit. Kirk was a Navy Reserve intelligence officer for 21 years. He had claimed to have gotten awards he hadn't gotten. He said he was shot at, admitting much later that he hadn't been. He claimed to have served where he didn't actually serve. He claimed his staff had dug out those untruths but it turned out the US Navy had notified him.
Then came the bigger story. It seems Kirk, who also represents himself as a foreign policy expert, regularly exaggerates when reciting facts to support Republicans. China drills for oil off the coast of Cuba, except China doesn't. President Sarkozy gave France "some backbone" when pirates attacked, ordering French Forces who "killed everybody." Except Kirk made up pretty much all of it. The US should forge ahead with offshore drilling so we can stop importing oil from Iran. Except the US imports no oil from Iran. Zero.
American news outlets have developed the ethic of taking what could have been easily checked factual disagreements and reporting them instead as he-said-she-said stories. Most networks have explicitly rejected proposals involving fact-checking. Comparing political claims to actual facts might be construed as bias. The most blatant untruths are presented as one side then the other side. We might now have a narrative that supports a new practice.
The butterfly effect comes from chaos theory, involving a disproportionate ripple effect. The flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas. If the long trail beginning with Blumenthal's misstatements, now forgiven, leads finally to a journalistic standard that insists on verification of claims, he may well have generated a cleansing breeze.
J irritates. Not because he is antagonistic, he isn't. Not even because he disagrees with me, since I am sympathetic to his observations. Besides, a politically and religiously oriented blog will attract and greet disagreement.
But he makes me work, forcing me to think introspectively. We published his thoughts about my own beliefs three days ago, and it falls to me to respond. His challenge is as age old as Pilate's "What is truth?" I think the essence of his objection to my beliefs comes toward the end of his comments: "However, for me God is not the answer. God is another question."
I cannot do him justice in summarizing. His comment is here. His capable dialogue with Manifesto Joe is here. I can tell some of what I like about his friendly critique. He starts off in style. Rather than going bare knuckle, attacking at the outset, he congratulates me on managing the difficult mental gymnastics any glimmer of intelligence would require in accepting something so silly as Christianity. He suggests a better approach, which is for me to admit I do not have the answer. "It is foolish to say you have the answer to a puzzle when you do not have enough pieces to work it out."
He suggests a dropping off of weekly worship attendance is explainable. As people become more educated, they are likely to be "less indoctrinated with fables presented as fact." (I being one exception). A modern thinker will reject faith because faith is a false claim of certainty. Admitting we don’t know may be uncomfortable, but belief in God should not transcend reason. Belief should come, not because something seems like it ought to be that way, but rather because it is actually true. Religion can be a positive personal force but, still, belief in a Supreme Being is an absurdity.
I suspect Jesus might be okay with at least one of J's observations. The Apostle Paul devoted much of the first chapter of his letter to the Romans suggesting that much that we see as sinful is really affliction caused by the human habit of building a construct and claiming it to be God. Idolatry is as old as humanity. Claiming we have God in a box, measuring it's dimensions, defining God, is more than absurdity. It leads to tragedy. Paul seems to join in objecting to "filling in the details" as J puts it. But J objects to faith itself. The "evidence of things unseen" is, to my critic, no evidence at all.
Any relationship is transcendent, providing its own inner evidence. I love my wife. I do not see her as a mass of swirling atoms and electrical impulses. There is, in her being, a consciousness that goes beyond matter. I could be wrong in the details of what composes human existence. I could even be wrong about whether, as the psychology professor of my younger days insisted, consciousness is an illusion. But personal experience leads me to a relationship that, I think, would be difficult if I could not accept a transcendence of being.
J is right in that faith is not empirical evidence. I do not expect others to accept personal experience as proof. But might he not surrender to me the right to accept for myself my own internal evidence? It is, after all, God given.
The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.
- - Georgia Harkness, Methodist Theologian, 1968
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster brings word on voting independence in party primaries which the GOP would ban in SC and Prop 14 would enforce in CA.
Chuck Thinks Right finds a Democrat in California who thinks there are racists who back the Arizona law. So, naturally, a line being the shortest distance, Chuck concludes she is calling all voters who support that law racists. Distinctions are not Chuck's greatest strength. Brings to mind how John Stuart Mill defended himself after saying Conservatives made up the stupidest party: "I did not mean to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative."
James Wigderson mourns another loss of freedom as Wisconsin joins the rest of the known universe in requiring motor vehicles carry liability insurance.
Slant Right's John Houk finds support from World Net Daily (oh stop rolling your eyes) in his theory that the flotilla tragedy involving Israel is part of the end of the world as predicted by the Book of Ezekiel. John's close friends, Gog and Magog, agree. Wormwood is undecided. And, yeah, you can resume the eye rolling.
- David Everitt-Carlson of The Wild Wild East Dailies is reminded of a lost relationship. Beware automatic music on your PC speakers.
Economic recovery looks like a distinct possibility. Let's hope for progress on behalf of good people who are hurting. For good measure, let's include a prayer for the environment.
It was 1988 when yet another seamy scandal hit a White House administration that had not been around for 14 years. President Richard Nixon had been out of office since August of 1974. It is possible that other Presidents conspired to a matching degree in subverting basic freedoms, but nobody had come up with any indication of it.
The Alien and Sedition Laws under John Adams made "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about officeholders a criminal act, punishable by imprisonment. But that was done in the open, with an expiration date of 32 months. Horrible, but not permanently damaging to the Republic.
Abraham Lincoln's administration had repealed the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which mandates due process before anyone can be sentenced to jail. But this was during insurrection and was pretty plainly allowed by the Constitution. Still, it was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Andrew Johnson's racist rants inspired lynchings of black people. FDR put Americans into camps because they or their ancestors were from Japan.
But President Nixon was something special. In effect, he secretly chose his own opponent in 1972. That comes pretty close to canceling an election. The plots against political opponents, the break-ins, the cover-ups, all were part of a larger picture. You would think that, after a decade and a half out of office, it couldn't get any worse. Then tapes began their slow release.
Fred Malek, floating around the Nixon administration in a number of deputy positions, accepted a special assignment. He targeted suspects in the Bureau of Labor Statistics for firing. Their offense was that they were Jewish, and Jews were not to be trusted. In 1988, Nixon tapes brought the anti-Jewish campaign to light. Malek denied having had any suspicion his research would be used to fire Jews. He finally resigned as deputy chair of the GOP. He was allowed into campaigns, but Republican consensus was that such people should be kept from positions of public trust forever.
Well, not quite forever. In the Bush/Cheney years, Bradley Schlozman was assigned to force black female attorneys from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. At the time, he told friends that the women were to be replaced with "right-thinking Americans" which he specified would be white Christian males. He was later sent here to Missouri to invent ID laws making it harder for elderly and poor people, mostly Democrats, to vote. In 2009, he narrowly avoided federal indictment for lying under oath about his actions.
Memos are still surfacing on Fred Malek, this time documenting his actions against Jews during the Nixon era. Turns out he is lying about how unwitting his participation was. In May, he was appointed by the new Republican Governor of Virgina to head a commission on improving state government.
Meet the new GOP.
We need to purge the Republicans of the weaklings, and we’re on a...RINO hunt. And we’re going to drive them to extinction.
- - Mark Williams, Tea Party Express 3 Chairman, April 12, 2010
RINO: A derisive term meaning "Republican in Name Only"
A comment from a reader whose comments are usually provocative and always, always, well thought out:
I agree with your last statement: No one needs to walk alone, especially if you live in a more seedy neighborhood, like Earth.
However, walking with God is a bit tricky, as He is diaphanous to the blessed and invisible to benighted sinners like me.
I think many very intelligent, very intellectual folk like Mr. Deming, embrace religion, and back it up with an intellectual approach. Very intelligent people end up on opposite sides of the belief spectrum all the time. Anyone who judges another’s intelligence by his position on any specific matter, has a very shallow view of what intelligence is. However, it is usually difficult for one who practices critical thinking to also embrace religion, a feat that requires a greater degree of excellence, then rejecting it. Religions are universally based on faith. It is usually more logical to say: "I don't have the answer," than it is to say: "Here is the answer to this complex question on which people do not agree." The idea that one must provide an answer to any important question laid before him is flawed. It is foolish to say you have the answer to a puzzle when you do not have enough pieces to work it out.
I think this is why more people are becoming less religious. They are becoming more educated and aware, more critical, and less indoctrinated with fables presented as fact. People are backing away from claiming to have the answer (that is not atheism and in some cases is also not agnosticism. It is critical thinking-ism). Many people who claim to not have the answer, also claim to believe there is probably a higher power. The difference is that they do not claim that there is a higher power, but only that they suspect there is, and they do not start assigning attributes to their theoretical God. They do not say He is all-good or all-loving or all-purple or omniscient or omniscient. If He were any of these things, those “facts” would not be discoverable by us, as we have no actual comprehension of what it means to be “All” any of these things.
Saying “I don't know” brings with it a certain discomfort, a cognitive dissonance that must be justified: I am an intelligent person. Others have the answer, or will tell you they do. Why don't I know? However, saying, I know because I have faith is becoming its own source of dissonance, as it can make one feel intellectually childish. To accuse someone of arguing a position on faith without a logical supporting argument is a common source of attack on one's position in any secular discourse. It is only forgiven in religious circles, because it is accepted as OK that a belief in God transcends reason. The problem is: It does not. Believing controversial things because it seems that way to you is not logical. To call that belief truth, because you feel it is true, may not be as logical as it sounds.
To believe that we could have been created or monitored by a Supreme Being seems logically absurd. To believe that it is possible that someone with abilities greater than that of mankind may exist makes perfect sense, so long as you do not readily accept the first fairy tale that comes along. It is when we start saying it is so, and then filling in the details, that many people find it off-putting. Religion is a wonderful tool to guide your life in a positive direction. I can see embracing the wonder as very valuable. However, for me God is not the answer. God is another question.
Mr. Deming, I suspect, will not respond, as he wishes not to offend his fans with direct confrontation. I respect this annoying little policy of his, and wish to circumvent it.
If anyone can tell me how to provoke him, please do.
My aim is to argue that the universe can come into existence without intervention, and that there is no need to invoke the idea of a Supreme Being in one of its numerous manifestations.
- - Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, September 9, 2005
Prolific Author, noted Scientist, Atheist, Winner of Royal Society of
Chemistry's prestigious Meldola Medal
Your kids become deathly ill and you discover the smelting plant down the street has been secretly dumping waste. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for treatment as your children struggle to live. You have a pretty good case against environmental recklessness. So you sue.
The judge glares at you, glances at apprehensive looking corporate lawyers, and announces that, for today, we're going to put aside all man-made regulations, and look to the Lord for a higher law. There might be a relevant passage in Leviticus. Here is Steve Benen's report at the Atlantic Monthly:
New reports out of Afghanistan point to a province where Taliban followers hope to become judges, so they can apply their religious beliefs to court rulings, rather than the secular tenets of the law.
Wait, did I say the Taliban in Afghanistan? I meant Christian conservatives in California.
The temptation to impose belief is the flip side of the spiritual enrichment that comes from faith. It is a common threat to the spiritual wholeness of pretty much every persuasion. Certainly there are differences in degree, differences which are very real. Those who live in relatively primitive conditions, oppressed by economic circumstance, will sometimes be tempted by more primitive religious outlooks, sometimes to the abandonment of any respect for the inner voice that might be heard by others. But the correlation between prosperity and openmindedness is not a straight line, is it? Terrorists are sometimes recruited from universities, and those who would impose religion on those who have the temerity to resist are not always unschooled.
One element extremists hold in common, no matter their education or openness to violence, is an antagonism to critical thought. The law, in a religiously neutral society, bends toward those who think and consider. The law is evil, not only because it is neutral toward God, but because it is biased toward thought. Partaking of the tree of knowledge is a repetition of the sin that expelled us from Eden.
Fundamentalists who use the democratic process are different in kind from those who speak with weapons. The Aryan Christian brotherhood, the Irish Republican Army of a few years ago, and last month's midwest Christian militia (now, thankfully behind bars) have more in common with al Qaeda than do traditional Sunnis and Shiites.
What brings a profound spiritual experience around a fatal corner into the darkness of religious bigotry is the leadership of the most dangerous beings on the face of the earth: those who would impose the will of the Lord in the certain knowledge that His will is reflected in their own.
It’s important that we unify our votes so we ensure that solid men and women of high morals, who will not legislate from the bench, are elected to office.
- - Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, March 12, 2010
On a video arguing for judges willing to apply Christian values
It is a taunt. The clear intention is rebuke, and some will find it offensive.
This is taunting. This is an absolute insult, especially to those 9/11 families who are going to be able to go down there shortly, in a couple of years we hope, anyway, and give tribute to their loved ones– that’ll be, essentially, their cemetery, a place to go and learn about that day. And across the street you’re going to have an Islamic learning center?
The words do not approach the rage carried in the tone. The speaker was Brian Kilmeade of Fox News. A Manhattan community board approved plans to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center.
It is more than 8 years since the attacks on buildings filled with workers, executives, secretaries, and janitors of all races and a multitude of nationalities. But the images, imprinted forever in our brains, still provokes.
Violence and fear will do that. The old adage defines a conservative as a liberal who has been mugged. An adult friend whom I idolized as a kid, watched from the northern suburbs of Detroit, as distant flames from rioting lit the night in the summer of 1967. In that one night, she went from a mildly open minded sympathizer of civil rights to a Wallace supporter.
My daughter called me from Washington, DC on the day of the 9/11 attacks. Friends working in the Pentagon were, mercifully, spared. Friends of friends were not. She wept with fellow college students over the loss of loved ones. Some of those grieving also went into hiding for a few days, not wanting to be caught by random violence that might be aimed at Muslims.
In the aftermath, one of the few things I admired in my President was his insistence that our war was against the attackers, not against the world of Islam. It was a message mocked by bin Laden and his supporters in a series of video tapes. Of course the United States was at war with the Muslim world. The terrorist message has, at least in part, unraveled since then. Mosques are attacked as Shiites worship. The Sunni dominated al Qaeda seeks to exterminate Muslims who worship in the wrong way, much as Catholics and Protestants did in Ireland not so long ago. President Obama carries the same message as did President Bush.
The Bush-Obama message is beginning to get traction. The US enemy is composed of terrorists. We are not against the Muslim world. Terrorists are killed or captured in increasing numbers as indigenous populations quietly disclose whereabouts. The idea that true Muslims must conduct war against innocent non-adherents is mocked by religious leaders.
Yes, a Muslim center so near the center of bloodshed is a taunt. The targets are supporters of terrorism.