Saturday, June 20, 2015

When the political elite come calling

By Richard Barry

I have always enjoyed watching presidential candidates try to sell themselves as ordinary Jills or Joes who just happen to be in a position to run for the top political job in the country. They spend time in diners, maybe sneak a photo-op in a grocery store, stop by a gas station for a group selfie with that family driving through from Omaha because, you know, that will make them seem just like us. In most cases they are senators, governors, wealthy business people, members of prominent families, even brain surgeons. They are not like us, even if a few of them can claim humble origins.

It's a silly game they play, and that we seem to demand they play. Pity the poor bastard who doesn't know the cost of a gallon of milk or a loaf a bread, because I am quite certain both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush spend most Saturday afternoons comparison shopping down at the neighbourhood Piggly Wiggly.

I mention this only because of a National Journal piece this week with the headline: "Bush Fights Elitist Image One Gas Station Selfie at a Time."

What's the best way to make voters forget that you're part of a political dynasty? For Jeb Bush, the formula is coming into focus: selfies, handshakes, unhurried conversations, and an all-you-can-ask buffet of questions from voters and reporters alike.

The former Florida governor launched his campaign Monday in Miami by downplaying the advantage of being a Bush. He described the 2016 Republican primaries as "wide open" and said "it's nobody's turn" to become the nominee. In the 48 hours since, Bush has been hustling and highly accessible, showing a sudden energy on the trail that often seemed lacking during his exploratory phase.


He did the same Wednesday morning in Washington, Iowa, mingling for some time with voters at a house party after a lengthy speech and question-and-answer question. After he'd shaken his last hand, Bush held a press availability with a crowd of reporters, answering every question and in some cases requesting follow-ups. When his spokesperson announced the last question, Bush allowed for and answered at least four more, then proceeded to roll down the passenger window of his van and rib the "photo dogs" snapping shots of his entourage climbing into the car.

In fact, I don't think voters are asking candidates to prove they are just like the rest of us because it's not possible. I would argue that voters want and expect the people they vote for to be special, to have very impressive resumes, but not see themselves as too good to ask for a vote, especially in those places where the vast majority spend their time.

Americans don't hate the elite, they want to be the elite. And it is so rare that the rich, famous, or otherwise highly accomplished ever have cause to ask the great unwashed for anything, at least directly, that when they do, how they do it matters.

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The Confederate flag is racist. Full stop

By Richard Barry

Too often politics is about avoiding, at great cost to a candidate's personal integrity, saying anything that could alienate voters in a perceived universe of support. We have seen evidence of this all week as GOP presidential hopefuls twist themselves in knots to avoid unambiguously calling what happened in Charleston racism.

Sometimes it's funny, in a sad sort of way, to hear candidates say things they clearly don't believe because they know to say what they really think would be unhelpful to their electoral prospects.

I get that sense as I read South Carolina senator and Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham's response to a question about whether it might be "time to stop flying the Confederate flag.”
Graham said that it would be “fine” by him if South Carolinians wanted to “revisit that decision,” but insisted that “this is part of who we are. The flag represents — to some people — the Civil War, and that was the symbol of one side.”

He acknowledged, though, that “to others, it’s a racist symbol, and it’s been used by people in a racist way.” But, he added, “the problems we’re having in South Carolina and around the world aren’t because of a symbol, but because of what’s in people’s hearts.”

It should be clear to Senator Graham, and I suspect it is, that those who embrace the Confederate flag primarily as a symbol of their allegiance to the South, or state's rights, or whatever, while denying that it implies support for a racist past, are simply poorly informed. 

That's the kindest thing anyone ought to say about the matter and Graham, in his own politically sensitive way, seems to be halfway to admitting it.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Pity the poor Christians in America

Okay. Let's see a show of hands. Who agrees with me that of all the clueless remarks made about the Charleston, S.C. shooting, Rick Santorum's was the most absurd. I can't see you, but I know more than a few arms are going up.

And for those who missed it, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said on Thursday that, yes, this was a “crime of hate," but instead of drawing the obvious conclusion, the one the shooter intended us to understand, Santorum tied the event to a broader “assault on our religious liberty.”
"You just can’t think that things like this can happen in America. It’s obviously a crime of hate. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be? You’re sort of lost that somebody could walk into a Bible study in a church and indiscriminately kill people,” Santorum told radio host Joe Piscopo Thursday on AM 970, a New York radio station. “It’s something that, again, you think we’re beyond that in America and it’s sad to see.”

The former Pennsylvania senator pointed to what he described as anti-religious sentiment.

“All you can do is pray for those and pray for our country,” Santorum said. “This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.”

The white supremacist gunman, before shooting his black victims said, "You rape our women and are taking over our country." And yet not only is Santorum unable to glean this monster's rationale for his actions, but the only one he can come up with is that it had to be about an attack on religious liberty.

Rick Santorum will not be his party's nominee for president, which means that everything he says is intended to appeal to a base that will keep his speaking fees high once he drops out. Whatever he says, whether he believes it not, has to be filtered through that lens. But to imagine that there is a significant constituency in America that believes religious persecution of Christians, which is clearly what Santorum means, is a more significant problem than racism is to make one weep.

Or maybe the more incredible part of this story is that Joe Piscopo is still working. 

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Pastor Steven Anderson and Christian hate

By Frank Moraes

Graham Greene’s excellent Monsignor Quixote is mostly one big excuse to discuss the overlap between religious and political faith. A one point, Quixote relates a story about a saint from La Mancha who was being raped by a Moor in her kitchen. She had a knife, and the man had nothing. Yet she allowed him to rape her. Sancho responded sarcastically, “She wanted to be raped, I suppose.” And Quixote counters, “No, no, her thought was quite logical. Her virginity was less important than the salvation of the Moor. By killing him at that moment she was robbing him of any chance of salvation. An absurd and yet, when one thinks of it, a beautiful story.”

The point of the story is about God’s love and redemption and all that Christian stuff. I don’t find it compelling, but then I’m not a Christian. Just the same, I find it impressive. And it certainly has theology to back it up. But most Christians in America would have the same reaction to it that the atheist Sancho has, but without the sarcasm, “She wanted to be raped…” But she didn’t. She just took her religion really seriously. It would be asking too much to expect Christians to live by this. But it isn’t asking too much to expect them to understand and appreciate this.

But far too many, I’m afraid, are like Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church. When faced with Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, his reaction was that he was looking at a “filthy sodomite.” Okay. I guess that opinion is consistent with the Bible. It’s not exactly clear because I don’t remember anything about dress codes in the Bible. But being against transgenderism has got to be more supported by that Iron Age dogma than being against abortion. And being supremely judgmental is fully within the Christian tradition.

But Anderson went much further than “hating the sin.” He said, “This person is just the evangelist of sodomy and filth to the world, and people are like, ‘Oh, we need to pray for him so that he finds Jesus.’ I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to Hell.” This is exactly the opposite response as we saw from the saint from La Mancha. He also said, “I hate him with a perfect hatred.” According to Raw Story, he said this “as congregants murmured amen.” Truly vile preaching like this does not exist in a vacuum. It exists because it sells.

Anderson and his church have quite a colorful history. In 2009, Anderson announced that he was praying for the death of Barack Obama. And not surprisingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the church as a hate group. But I haven’t been able to get much of an idea about how big the congregation is. The church’s website has very few picture of the members. But their Facebook page has almost 4,000 likes. And the place where Anderson rants looks like it holds a few hundred people. It sounds like there are as many as a couple hundred people at his most recent sermon. I know that doesn’t sound like that much, but go to a Baptist church in your town next Sunday and I doubt you will see any more than that — and you are likely to see a lot less.

Anderson’s argument in this case is that “turning the other cheek” can only be taken so far. He mentions serial killers. But isn’t the idea that anyone can be saved through God’s love? Looking at the guy, I have a feeling that he isn’t so big on turning the other cheek when it comes to more minor sins. Regardless, I also wonder if he doesn’t have homosexual thoughts. It’s always hard to escape that conclusion when people lose all composure regarding the sex lives of the LGBT community. Of course, Anderson seems to have a more general hatred, so who can say?

One thing is for sure: God’s love does not seem to be flowing out of the Faithful Word Baptist Church. It seems to be one big excuse to justify whatever its pastor hates. If I were a Christian, I would pray that they all find God’s love. But I’m not, so I’ll just write them off as another hate group that uses the Bible to justify themselves.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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