October 30, 2006

Republican Sex Attacks

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:08 pm

I’m still resentful about the 2004 campaign’s Swiftboat Veterans attacks on John Kerry’s military service. They were built out of lies and innuendo, but managed to smear Kerry’s record as a war hero. Totally shameless.

Come to think of it, I’m still pissed about the smears attacking Gore for saying he invented the internet — all he actually said was that he was there at the beginning of the internet, and any history of the internet will tell you that Gore played a key role by authoring the legislation to fund the internet’s development. More shameless smears.

So it will come as no small surprise that I’m pretty disgusted with this campaign season. And once again, it’s the Republicans pushing the disgusting smears. Whether it’s the Harold Ford/Playboy, Rush Limbaugh vs. Michael J. Fox, Jim Webb-as-pornographer, or Arcuri/sex line charges, they all have several things in common:

  • They are pro-Republican
  • They are dishonest
  • They are about sex

(Billmon and Glenn Greenwald have more on the Republican sleaze.)

It’s ironic that the Party of Family Values™ is the party resorting to these tactics. It is eerily reminiscent of Ken Starr’s actions as the nation’s pornographer-in-chief when he published all the lurid details of Cliinton’s sex acts with Monica Lewinsky. There is this odd dynamic — conservative Republicans can talk about sexual topics they would never allow on television, all under the pretense they are unmasking someone else’s immorality, and hence unsuitability to serve in public office. For example:

The “pays for sex” ad against Kind in Wisconsin — along with a similar one aired against Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) — may be the most extreme. It says Kind spent tax dollars to study “the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes” and “the masturbation habits of old men” and “to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia.” Cue the punch line: “Ron Kind pays for sex, but not for soldiers.”

All this because Kind voted against an effort to stop the NIH from funding peer-reviewed sex research.

But it’s not just that it’s about sex, although they are (even Limbaugh’s attacks against MJ Fox are indirectly related to sex by way of embyonic stem cell research.) It’s that these attacks are so clearly dishonest, whether deliberate distortions, building up issues out of irrelevancies, or outright lies. It reflects an attitude that the ends justify the means, so they can slander and libel without ever being held to account because it’s all for the cause of God. But of course God’s purposes can’t be furthered by spreading dishonest smears.

But where are the protests from conserevative Christians? Of course they are rooting for the Republicans, but even if they weren’t, they can’t be seen as being on the side of immorality, however minor, so they are happy to pile on to the slander. This is the genius of the Republican sex smears — no matter how baseless, the conservative Christians will always respond where sex is involved.

The Christian right should instead pay attention to a different piece of moral advice: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

ONE.org: Please Vote

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 5:22 pm

October 29, 2006

Iowa Electronic Markets: Dems Take the House, Not the Senate

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:11 pm

One of the frustrating things during an election season, and especially a hotly-contested midterm, is keeping up with the horse race. Every day there are new polls, many showing a margin between the candidates smaller than the margin of error, and many of which contradict each other. Every pundit (and blogger) has their own spin, with predictions that (surprise!) precisely match their political views. How do you get a quick answer to the question “if the election were held today…” without having to wade through this morass of conflicting information?

Enter the Iowa Electronic Markets, where individuals can trade futures contracts on the outcomes of political and economic events, including the outcomes of elections. Traders are putting their own money on the line, so the over-riding objective is to be right, not to push a particular agenda. This isn’t to say that traders don’t have their own biases, but the Iowa Electronic Markets, like any free and open market, does a good job of cancelling individual biases to arrive at a market price, which in this case predicts the election outcome. This chart shows the market trends as of today.

The various lines represent the value of the 2006 congressional election contracts, which pay off in the event of different results:

RH_RS06 $1 if Republican House, Republican Senate in 2006 election
RH_NS06 $1 if Republican House, Non-Republican Senate in 2006 election
NH_RS06 $1 if Non-Republican House, Republican Senate in 2006 election
NH_NS06 $1 if Non-Republican House, Non-Republican Senate in 2006 election

The most valuable contract today (the black line), and therefore the most likely outcome, is the one that pays if the Democrats take the House but not the Senate. The red line shows the probability of Republicans holding both houses, and the blue line the probability of Democrats taking both houses.

The chart shows that, for a day or so, the Foley Scandal put both houses within reach of the Democrats (the high point for the blue line), but since then the scandal seems to have fizzled, and the Republicans have recovered a bit. The bottom line: unless something changes between now and election day, the Democrats take over the House but not the Senate. I’ll say more on this outcome in another post.

Update: Click here for the latest market chart from the Iowa Electronic Market

October 23, 2006

A Theology of Doubt

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:54 pm

Andrew Sullivan, in response to a review of Sullivan’s just-published book by David Brooks, describes his “conservatism of doubt.”

The entire mechanism of American government was designed to ensure that as little as possible is ever done by government, that doubt is welded into the core system, that certainty is always checked by other powers, and that the great Certainty of Divine Truth is always, always, always kept at bay.

It’s easy to see why a conservative like Sullivan and a progressive like me both agree on the gross incompetence of the Bush administration: a lack of doubt. The insecurity of doubt forces politicians (and us mere mortals) to constantly question whether we’re really on target, whether we’ve looked at all the angles, considered all the data, done everything we can to achieve the best outcome. It’s always seemed to me that the best leaders are driven to succeed by a few neurotic doubts rattling around in their souls.

The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It BackBut doubt is more than a beneficial leadership quality. Doubt is a vital and central aspect of Christianity. God, for reasons we can’t possibly understand, has built doubt into the very fabric of God’s relationship with humanity. Does this sound somehow heretical? But just think — without doubt, there is no room for faith. Faith is only possible in the face of doubt and uncertainty — remove the doubt, and faith becomes mere knowledge. I don’t need faith to believe the sun will rise again tomorrow, but I do need faith to believe that if I don’t live to see it rise, I will instead see God face-to-face. Faith is very important to God. “Oh ye of little faith.” “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…” “Your faith has healed you.” Without doubt, there would be no faith. As Jesus said to Doubting Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

We can have two reactions to doubt — we can fear it, deny it, and try to erase it by claiming certainty where none exists. The Christianists (to use Sullivan’s term) certainly do this. The belief that the Bible is inerrant is a noble but doomed effort at banishing uncertainty. The desire for ideological (and political) purity among the SBC leadership seems to be an attempt to remove any source for nagging doubts to arise. The certainty of so many Christians that their understanding of God’s will is the correct one, and that any who hold different conceptions are substituting their own will for God’s, might erase doubt, but it also erases the need for faith.

So while Andrew Sullivan believes in a conservatism of doubt, perhaps I’d call my progressivism a progressivism of doubt. All the opinions I’ve expressed on this blog are provisional, ready to be changed in the face of further enlightenment. Even Martin Luther held out the possibility of changing his mind: “unless convinced by scripture and by reason that I am in error…here I stand.”

But I’d also call my Christianity a Christianity of doubt. Instead of fearing doubt and attempting to banish it, I embrace it. I take out my doubts, examine them, let them speak, run around a little bit. And when I do, I always end up coming back to faith, not by virtue of my own faithfulness, but by virtue of God’s grace.

Thanks be to God.

October 20, 2006

I Like David Kuo

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 1:44 am

I like David Kuo.

There, I’ve said it.

I like David Kuo. I haven’t read his book, yet, and have only seen his interviews on 60 Minutes and CNN’s morning show and read his interview on Salon, so I don’t really know him. I’m sure there are many theological and political points upon which we differ. But still…

I like David Kuo. Apparently, that puts me on Amy Sullivan’s side in her big dust-up with Pastor Dan. The short version is that Pastor Dan made some pretty pointed critiques of Kuo and his book, which Amy took as further evidence that liberals are allergic to evangelicals, which Pastor Dan refutes. However, I am adamantly not entering this fray, except to say that I like The New Republic inspite of Marty Peretz, that I think everyone has gotten way too worked up over Lieberman-as-litmus-test, and that Amy Sullivan isn’t the only one with a schtick.

Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction

The reason I like Kuo is that, first, he seems truly sincere, unlike Towey, the Bush Administration’s designated hit man. Kuo seems sincere in a truly refreshing, entirely transparent, way that is seldom seen in the age of 24 hour cable news. The man seems incapable of artifice, which I’m sure is why the “naive” charge has legs, but it is also why I’m thinking I like naive in this political season.

Of course George Bush sounds sincere when he says that we are winning the war in Iraq or any of the other inanities he is wont to say. But if Bush is sincere, he isn’t serious. Bush may have believed what he said about compassionate conservatism during the 2000 election, but if he were also serious about compassionate conservatism, he wouldn’t have had to ask “have we done compassion?” He would have already known.

It seems to me that Kuo is both sincere and serious about helping the poor and sick. Given that, he is a natural ally for Christian progressives. After all, I am not a Christian Democrat, but a Christian progressive, and I’m happy to support anyone willing to work to alleviate suffering in the world. It’s only if we begin to identify more with the Democratic party or a specific policy agenda than with our Christian calling that Kuo becomes suspect.

Pastor Dan, along with E.J. Dionne, doesn’t like Kuo’s call for a season of political fasting for evangelicals. But if I’m reading Kuo right, I think he’s got a valid point. I don’t hear him saying that evangelicals should isolate themselves from society and shun their civic duties. After all, he says evangelicals should vote. I think he’s calling on evangelicals to give up their quest for political power. Dobson, Perkins and the rest aren’t just after civic engagement, they’re after raw, unadulterated political power, and that has led them to compromise their Christianity. Kuo is right to call on the Christian right to refocus away from power and back on ministry.

But there is one more aspect to Kuo that I like — his humility. In his book Faith and Politics, Senator (and Episcopalian priest) Danforth spends an entire chapter extolling the virtue of a Christian humility that reflects our profound lack of certainty regarding God’s will. We see through a glass darkly, and to pretend otherwise is to usurp God’s role. A lack of humility is perhaps the defining characteristic of much of the Christian right, as well as the Bush Administration. Kuo seems to wear his humility on his sleeve, and I like that.

There are lessons here for us on the embryonic Christian left. We need to speak truth to power, Republican or Democrat, instead of trying to accumulate power ourselves. Of course the Democrats currently represent our best hope for achieving our goals, but that may not always be so, and we risk losing our way if we forget that. We need to keep hold of not only the sincerity of our beliefs, but also our humility. And we need to be open to working with those, like Kuo, Danforth, Cizik and others, that don’t share all of our theological or political beliefs. This isn’t about being victorious on the political battlefield, but responding to Jesus’ call to “follow me”.

Update: Kuo appeared on the Colbert Report, and comes off very Wallis-like (which is a good thing, imo.)

October 16, 2006

The Onion: Christian Rock Band Cleans Up Hotel Room

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:33 am

I’ve been a bit under the weather lately while trying to hold things together at work and at home, so blogging has had to wait inspite of the target-rich environment I find myself in these days. Just so you know I’m still around, here’s a shocking news item from The Onion.

WAYCROSS, GA—Hotel staff at the Highway 82 Best Western found the suite occupied over the weekend by members of the Christian rock band Ruggid Krøss swept, dusted, scrubbed, and readied for immediate occupancy…Hotel staff are attempting to contact Ruggid Krøss’ manager to return the six extra Gideon’s Bibles they left in the suite’s nightstands.

October 5, 2006

Foleygate: Shifting Blame, Missing the Point

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:19 pm

In a frenzy of finger-pointing, everyone is blaming the Foley scandal on their favorite enemy. First there’s Hastert, Gingrich and Limbaugh, who blame it all on the “liberal” media and Democrats. Then there’s Matt Drudge, who is blaming it on the pages themselves. As despicable as I find these attempts to shift blame, they pale in comparison to the effort by some to blame it all on…wait for it…diversity and tolerance!

From an editorial in the Wall Street Journal:

But in today’s politically correct culture, it’s easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt Mr. Foley merely because he was gay and a little too friendly in emails. Some of those liberals now shouting the loudest for Mr. Hastert’s head are the same voices who tell us that the larger society must be tolerant of private lifestyle choices, and certainly must never leap to conclusions about gay men and young boys.

Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council:

This is the end result of a society that rejects sexual restraints in the name of diversity. When a 16-year-old boy is not safe from sexual solicitation from an elected representative of the people, we should question the moral direction of our nation. If our children aren’t safe in the halls of Congress, where are they safe? Maybe it’s time to question: when is tolerance just an excuse for permissiveness?

And lastly, from something called the Arlington Group:

We are very concerned that the early warnings of Mr. Foley’s odd behavior toward young male pages may have been overlooked or treated with deference, fearing a backlash from the radical gay rights movement because of Mr. Foley’s sexual orientation.

These comments are wrong in so many ways, I don’t know where to start. Fortunately, Andrew Sullivan explains it in an article at The New Republic:

There is something deeply sick about a Republican elite that is comfortable around gay people, dependent on gay people, staffed by gay people–and yet also rests on brutal exploitation of homophobia to win elections at the base. These public homophobes, just like the ones in the Vatican, may even tolerate gay misbehavior more readily than adjusted gay people do. If you treat gay sex in any form as a shameful secret to keep concealed, the line between adult, consensual contact and the sexual exploitation of the young may not seem so stark. That’s how someone like Speaker Dennis Hastert could have chosen not to know: He was already choosing not to know Foley was gay. In this way, Hastert is a milquetoast, secular version of Cardinal Bernard Law.

I think he’s exactly right. Forced to accept the presence of gays as “normalized”, Congressional Republicans may have lost the ability to make moral distinctions. Why not then accept a sexual predator as “normalized” as well?

But the problem isn’t too much tolerance, it’s not enough tolerance. It’s clear that the Republicans haven’t really accepted the gays in their midst, they’ve just learned that they can’t express their bigotry in public. They haven’t internalized an empathetic view of gays, just learned to make nice. If they had been able to truly accept gays as moral human beings, the bright line between moral and immoral behavior would have been clear to them.

So here it is. Same-sex attraction: moral. Adults hitting on 16 year-olds, male or female, and regardless of the legal age of consent (it’s 16 in D.C.): immoral. Engaging in gay sex as part of a life-long committed relationship: moral. Pursuing sexual relationships, homosexual or heterosexual, face-to-face or online, for your own gratification while knowing full well that the relationship is harmful to the other party: immoral.

I think this is why the Right finds it so easy to lump gay marriage and “man-boy love” advocates together. They judge the morality on the act itself instead of it’s impact on those involved. Pedophilia, like any abusive relationship, always has a victim. A child, even a post-pubescent teen, is not able to give their fully-informed consent to any sexual relationship with an adult. There can be no mutuality. Rick Santorum famously compared homosexuality to polygamy, pedophilia, bestiality, and incest. Rick – it’s not too hard. These other acts have a victim, while homosexuality does not, at least, not any more often than heterosexuality.

Ultimately I suppose it goes back to the Euthyphro Dilemma. If we judge morality by what the Bible says (or what we interpret it to say), then morality loses any meaning for our lives other than trying to follow the rules. On the other hand, if we judge morality based upon our understanding of God’s perfect love for us, and respond with our own love for God and each other, then morality has a much richer meaning. Our actions are based on what is best for others, and by this measure, it’s not hard to differentiate between a loving gay relationship and child abuse.

So the lesson to be learned from the Foley debacle is simple: adults should protect children and teens from real threats, not manufacture false ones to rail about while ignoring the wolf among us.

October 3, 2006

A Few Items of Interest

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 3:11 pm

I’ve run across a few items worthy of posting, but I don’t have much to add to them, so here they be:

Via Amy Sullivan blogging on God’s Politics, an NPR commentary by theologically orthodox (and Orthodox), politically progressive Caroline Langston, who began as a conservative but has evolved into a left-of-center Democrat. Another compelling testimony propagating the “I am a Christian too” meme. Langston is pro-life, and while she no longer identifies with the right, she is not sure she is welcome on the left: “Is there a place for me at the [progressive] table, exactly as I am?” I hope so.

Also from NPR (where would we be without non-commercial radio?), a This I Believe segment by Susan Cosio on prayer as silent listening, not as speaking. “I am most at peace when I tune out the voices of the world long enough to hear the still, small voice of God directing me. ‘Be still,’ Psalm 46 reminds me, ‘and know that I am God.'”

His Abysmal Sublimity Undersecretary Screwtape (first introduced to us in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters) is still writing letters to Wormwood. This letter has been obtained by Cary McMullen at theledger.com, and it appears Screwtape was rather encouraged by the Values Voters Summit.

October 1, 2006

In Favor of HR235, the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:28 pm

The L.A. Times has a front-page, above the fold, right-hand column article headlined “Pastors Guiding Voters to GOP.” A quote:

At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson told a crowd of 3,000 that it would be “downright frightening” if Republicans lost control of Congress. If there’s a good Christian on the ballot, he said, failing to vote “would be a sin.”

This statement is unremarkable for Dobson et al. The recent Values Voters Summit had much more of the same on display. Of course, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton are good Christians, but Dobson’s audience understands that “good Christian” is code for “our kind of Christian”, a fundamentalist, conservative Republican Christian. Dobson’s Family Research Council, along with the rest of the organizations represented at the Values Voter Conference, has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party for years.

The implication here that failing to vote for a Republican is a sin is not only untrue, but an obstacle to Christian witness. Because of course there’s Mark Foley. And Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and “aggressive interrogation” techniques. Bob Ney. Ken Lay. And then there’s Katrina and Michael Brown.

My point isn’t that Democrats are somehow holier than Republicans, although Republicans have been far out-scandaling Democrats of late. My point is that both Republicans and Democrats are condemned by their membership in the human race to scandal. We are all sinners. This describes not our actions, but our condition, and applies to members of both political parties.

Which puts any religious leader in a pretty awkward situation when they get in bed with a political party. Dobson, Perkins et al may feel they are now power players, getting access to top administration figures, having the administration trot out to speak at every event they host. But in return, they have lost their independent prophetic voice. Of course they will condemn Mark Foley’s actions, but I am sure they won’t criticize Dennis Hastert for knowing of Foley’s behavior for months without taking action. They can’t, because to do so would put at risk their position of power in the Republican party, and they have spent years acquiring that power. They will rationalize away their silence, telling themselves that fighting abortion and gay marriage is too important to get sidetracked over Hastert’s inaction regarding a House pedophile.

Dobson’s decision to become a politician instead of a prophet can only hurt his own moral authority. The more he acts like just another special interest group lobbyist trading favors with politicians, the less he is seen as a Christian voice calling the nation to follow Christ. Which is why I have slowly come around to favoring the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (HR 235).

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena has made public the investigation by the IRS into whether All Saints violated restrictions on partisan activity by churches. Some, like Mark D. Roberts, have argued that All Saints did in fact violate IRS regulations because the sermon in question, criticizing the Iraq War, did not criticize John Kerry and George Bush equally. But how could it? If Rev. Regas was to preach about war and peace, it would have been an amazing act of contortionism to criticize John Kerry to the same extent as the Bush administration. Granted, the sermon was given a few days before the election, but when else would a liberal “peace and justice” church speak out about peace and justice? To muzzle this kind of outspokenness would hamper the ability of the church to be prophetic just as much as their sell-out to the Republicans has done for the conservatives.

But isn’t All Saints just getting in bed with the Democrats in the same way the Values Voters crowd is in bed with the Republicans? My limited acquaintance with members and clergy at All Saints leads me to believe they are not, and that if the Democrats deserved criticism it would be forthcoming just as quickly as it was directed towards the Republicans. This is the crucial difference — maintaining loyalty to the Gospel regardless of where it leads. After all, we are to be in the world, but not of it. It appears to me that All Saints is truly in, but not of, while the Family Research Council is not only in, but of as well.

Allowing churches to endorse political candidates will do far more harm to churches that take advantage of that freedom than it will to our democracy. The consequences for conservative churches that allow themselves to be co-opted by the Republican party will be the eventual loss of their prophetic voice and their moral authority. That wll be bad for them, but I don’t see why we need to pass laws to protect churches from themselves. There is a free market for religion, and I have faith that the silent majority of Christians will look for authentic spirituality and spurn overtly political churches. And it’s not as if the current IRS regulations have prevented the growth of the Republican Christian Church in the US, as demonstrated by the Values Voters Conference. It could even be that allowing churches to endorse candidates will reverse this trend as the true partisan nature of many conservative churches becomes apparent and alienates their parishoners.

If this Act does pass, liberal churches need to be very careful not to give in to the temptation to be co-opted by the Democratic Party. But the down-side is far greater, so the Values Voters Conference would suggest, on the right. So let the Republicans and their Christian Right supporters pass the Act. Why should we save them from themselves?

Powered by WordPress