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Questions linger as leaders disavow Trump

October 11, 2016

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It’s only Tuesday, yet this week already ranks among the creepiest in US political history. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump did not hide in shame after the revelation of his vulgar comments in an Access Hollywood video. Instead, he stalked his Democratic opponent in a live television debate and threatened to send her to jail […]

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How Democrats Snatch Defeat From The Jaws of Victory

July 14, 2014

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Let’s ask the real election-year question: Why isn’t the Democratic Party poised with forks and knives, ready for November’s sizzling elephant steak? Republican popularity spirals amid denials of verified science, yet there’s genuine fear of a GOP Senate takeover. We should be dreaming of 1964, when Democrats held two-thirds majorities in both houses after routing Goldwater.

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When the past strangles us

February 22, 2013

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Gaze through civil religion’s in-creeping fog: Halos blink on over sweltering men with wigs. They’re now immaculate secular apostles; they kneel on a mountain top beside their polished spittoons while awaiting their Constitution’s arrival. They never haggled, never referred to their honored but maddening mother country, and never debated behind closed doors in a muggy city in defiance of their original commission. So dare not think the heretical thought: “Maybe the Second Amendment has outlived its usefulness.”

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De-mangling political religion, Part One

November 25, 2012

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We’re beyond the mere need for civil discourse. Our minds are askew. We actually believe our own rhetoric as an article of faith. We no longer know how to talk because we no longer know how to think. We’re thrusting religious categories onto politics, and that’s true of both pious and secular fundamentalists. Classical politicians are pragmatists in their heart of hearts. They’ve wended their way through local and state governments, where the grand debates center around zoning regulations, potholes, sewer lines, schools and budgets. Old school city pols made sure Mrs. O’Leary got her groceries and medicine. It was practical vs. impractical and useful vs. unworkable, all under the umbrella of the law and agreed-upon values. We’ll compromise with our opposing “friends” because the people elected them as well. Sure we have ideals, and we’ll salute Old Glory with relish, but that’s because Old Glory symbolizes our practical approach. Political ideals serve people, not vice versa.

No longer. We’ve forgotten something subtle and yet crucial, articulated well by Dutch theologian/statesman Abraham Kuyper: Politics and religion occupy two distinct, although sometimes overlapping, spheres. Our religion can and should inform our political beliefs (remember Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi and Martin Luther King: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”), but the two categories cannot be confused. They’re linked but not enmeshed. Otherwise, we view fundamentally practical questions (should we repair that bridge?) through a spiritual grid. Everything is moral vs. immoral and evil vs. good. We demand Messiahs, not effective representatives and administrators. We insist our presidents become pastors.

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Can the past point us to the future?

October 24, 2012

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Swartz guides us down the baby boomer’s memory lane, evoking images of flames in Watts, Newark, and Detroit – and black arm bands and student marches and tear gas and police riots and F-4’s and B-52’s and U.S. marines dodging Hue’s snipers in the Tet Offensive. Through it all, I couldn’t help but mourn over the what-if’s: What if the Evangelical Left saw nuances and shades? What if some of its youthful, bulldog leaders possessed the politician’s wisdom and forged alliances with enlightened conservatives? What if the American Old Left, grounded in pro-religious New Deal liberalism and often embraced by evangelicals, had survived the assault of the fervently secular New Left, which scared off many Americans and tainted the “liberal” label?

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FDR’s frustration with business associations

October 12, 2012

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Some background: Poor business practices plunged the United States into the Great Depression during the 1930’s – much like poor business practices ignited the recent Great Recession. Then, as now, businesses were rescued by the federal government. Then, as now, many business associations turned on the government.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt penned this letter to Thomas J. Watson of IBM, who regretted the sweeping criticisms of the US Chamber of Commerce (quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger’s The Politics of Upheaval) …

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Paul Ryan: The intelligence-wisdom gap

August 19, 2012

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The all-American picture of the All-American family struck our Facebook walls hours after the announcement: A trim dad, donned with a baseball cap and a sweatshirt, sits on the porchswing beside his beautiful wife. Three children smile on their laps. The headline pleads above: “Please say a prayer for the Ryan Family.” The caption explains below: “They are about to face a terrible and merciless onslaught of lies, rumors, and smears from the progressive/Democrat propaganda machine known as the, ‘Impartial and Objective Main Stream Media.”

So the culture-war detonates with a prayer, sealing Mitt Romney’s vice presidential designate from criticism because he’s a pity-worthy victim. Political discourse – always filled with passion and never for the faint-hearted – is no longer about reasonable verses unreasonable or practical verses impractical. It’s good verses evil, the wholesome verses the malicious, the decent verses the vile. Think of that harmless family. Think of the children.

I actually sympathize as they face the potential onslaught. I have no reason to doubt Paul Ryan’s sincerity or his religious devotion. I honestly wish him no harm. He might be a great guy. Perhaps we’d be friends. Maybe he’s one of those give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back libertarians, individualy charitable but suspicious of candy-doling but power-hungry governments. I should listen – especially if he’s the admired GOP intellect and policy wonk. At the same time, my American citizenship obliges me to gauge a candidate’s intellectual coherence, what previous generations called wisdom – and, since he’s a self-advertised Christian, his representation of Christ and his teaching. Romney opened that door when he played the religious card, apparently forgetting how the deck was once loaded against him. He hailed Ryan’s Catholicism and, in a Virginia campaign ad, accused the president of waging a war on religion. Many are leaving churches of all stripes because the faithful are seen as Bible-heaving, take-no-prisoners zealots, so I need to see what we’ve been dealt.

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A Relativistic World = A Con Artist’s Dream

March 24, 2012

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Cue the off-key organ grinder monkey music. The postmodern circus has come to town, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich enrolled as the unlikely ring leaders. Step right up and watch them assert “traditional values” while twisting and bending the truth until it snaps. The political Left tries to join the circus but is no good at it, and journalists, truth’s supposed watch dogs, sleep at the door.

Postmodernism is a vague, multi-layered worldview born in the rubble of World War 2 and nurtured in the iconoclasm of the 1960’s. Many of its adherents shun labels – including “postmodernism” – before arguing that our cultural and personal biases so cloud our vision that we cannot see reality. Our concept of “logic” is tethered to a Western-centered saga, or “meta-narrative,” and is really an excuse for our quest for world domination. Objective truth, if it exists at all, is unknowable. We grope with psychological and cultural cataracts. We’re like Clint Eastwood wandering through Alice’s Wonderland while reading the script for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We can’t even interpret our interpretations – so please, let’s do away with religion’s moral absolutes. As Stanley Fish once said, “The trouble with principle is, first, it does not exist, and second, that nowadays many bad things are done in its name.”

Apparently, principled leaders like Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Desmond Tutu don’t count.

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New Evangelicals free a hijacked movement

February 19, 2012

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A telling statistic: In 2009, 35 percent of evangelicals identified themselves as Democrats and 34 percent as Republicans. The rest were independents. In other words, most evangelicals aren’t even voting in this year’s GOP primaries. Another: 64 percent of all white evangelicals don’t believe church officials should endorse political candidates.

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Occupiers: Some have been at this for 2,000 years. They sympathize.

November 8, 2011

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The supposedly “unpredictable” was really predictable – and it now unfolds to our surprise: Religious authorities applaud the world-wide “Occupy” movement while others quake.

While not mentioning the protest, The Vatican dropped the greatest non-bombshell on October 24th when it denounced “the inequalities and distortions of capitalistic development.” As usual, headline writers exclaimed irony. An example: “Occupy Wall Street’s Most Unlikely Ally: The Pope,” written above an article which said essentially, that this is no big surprise. The 17-page message, “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority,” is one more drumroll for The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. You’d swear they’ve been millennial kids veiled in old man masks. Sample the Occupy-like phrases: “The inequalities and distortions of capitalist development” … “the economy needs ethics” … “selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a mammoth scale” … “no one can be content with seeing man live like a wolf to his fellow man” … “We should not be afraid to propose new ideas, even if they might destabilize pre-existing balances of power that prevail over the weakest.” The clerics quoted Pope John Paul II’s 1991 warning against “an idolatry of the market.”

Their solution: An intentionally vague “global political authority” that would ensure an economy imbued with ethics.

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