Bullies (an Episode of The Newsroom)

I’ve been watching the first season of The Newsroom.  It is on HBO, and it was created and is largely written by Aaron Sorkin, who gave us The West WingThe Newsroom is about a news program, which is anchored by Will McAvoy, who (along with his producer, an ex-flame) has decided to shift his program from its less-than-serious nature to one that gives the “facts” and asks guests the hard questions.

I like the program because it is inspirational and funny, and McAvoy, while he is clearly an arrogant jerk, is still somehow loveable (as were all of the jerks on The West Wing).  My problem with the show has been that it has presented conservatives as mindless dunces.  When McAvoy has had conservative guests on his show, they usually had this deer-in-the-headlights look.  In my opinion, that is not only unrealistic, but it also does not make for good entertainment.  You may think that conservatives are not particularly bright and that their policies are damaging to the country, but I’ve seen and read plenty of conservatives who are well-read, who are able to convey an argument, and who do not have that deer-in-the-headlights look whenever they’re challenged.  Moreover, it would be more entertaining to me to see McAvoy actually have to engage in rhetorical combat with formidable opponents rather than mowing his guests down on a regular basis.

I saw an exception to the rule in an episode that I watched last night, entitled “Bullies.”  McAvoy has on his program an African-American homosexual professor who (surprise!) is an adviser to Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.  In the style of Lawrence O’Donnell, McAvoy ties to mow the professor down with the same questions over and over: How can the professor defend Rick Santorum’s comments regarding homosexuality?  The professor meekly replies that Santorum has treated him with the utmost respect over the years, and that he does not agree with everything Santorum has said.  As the professor is continually harangued by McAvoy, however, the professor eventually loses his cool.  The professor fights back, saying that he is not defined by his race, his sexual orientation, or even by McAvoy, who in his narrow-mindedness presumes to know what someone like the professor should believe and do.  The professor says that he does not need McAvoy’s help, and that he is supporting Rick Santorum because he believes that Santorum is the best candidate in the race when it comes to protecting the lives of the unborn.

To his credit, McAvoy is silent as he is taken to the woodshed by the professor, but, as is often the case in Sorkin’s political dramas, the left gets the last word.  McAvoy then asks the professor if Santorum believes that the professor is fit to teach, and the professor quietly and solemnly responds, “no.”

When McAvoy is seeing a therapist, McAvoy eventually acknowledges that he was being a bully in that interview.  McAvoy also remarks that he managed to upset the religious right, African-Americans, and gays in one interview, and I got a laugh out of that!  In any case, I hope that there are more episodes of The Newsroom in which intelligent conservatives fight back—-and both sides (if we can truly reduce people to “sides,” which is doubtful) end up learning something in the process.

To watch the scene, see here.

Non-Partisanship, Military Stimulus, and Kennedy’s Religion

I have three items for my write-up today on W.A. Swanberg’s biography of six-time Socialist candidate for President, Norman Thomas.  The biography is entitled Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist.

1.  Swanberg narrates that Thomas’ newspaper column eventually came to lose its popularity, for Thomas criticized both Republicans and Democrats, which was a turn-off to newspapers and many of their readers.  Thomas did, however, praise politicians when they acted according to his principles of peace.  Thomas, for example, praised President Dwight Eisenhower’s final speech as President, in which Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex.

Do I like partisan articles, or articles that criticize and praise both sides?  It depends.  One reason that I like partisan articles, particularly when they’re partisan in accordance with my own political orientation, is that I would like to believe that simply voting for a political party will solve our nation’s problems.  But life is more complex than that, for virtually every “solution” that politicians propose will have its strengths and weaknesses.  I feel that my role as a voter is to determine if the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, and to vote accordingly.  What really rocks my world is when I have a firm pro-Obama ideology set in my mind, along with my justifications for that ideology, and then I take the risk of reading conservative Townhall columns and encounter arguments that President Obama’s policies are grossly problematic.  Are these conservatives correct?  I doubt that they are entirely.  But I don’t think that simply dismissing their arguments as “lies” is the way to go.

Like Thomas, I do like to praise politicians who do what I consider to be the right thing, whatever political party they may be in.  When I read an article about Republican Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to expand Medicaid, for example, I clicked “like”.

2.  One reason that Thomas’ message of disarmament was so unpopular, according to Swanberg, was that there were many people in the United States who made a decent living within the military-industrial complex.  I usually don’t read this in liberal writings that glorify the 1950′s-1960′s as a time when the middle-class was strong and widespread.  They talk about unions, progressive tax rates, and government funding of highways, but they usually don’t mention the role of the military-industrial complex in the existence of the middle-class.

In 2012, I occasionally wondered if voting for Mitt Romney would be better for the economy than voting for Barack Obama would be.  It wasn’t because I believed that tax cuts for the rich would magically trickle down to the rest of us and stimulate economic growth.  Rather, it was because I thought that Mitt Romney’s program of increasing government spending on the military would serve as stimulus.  Granted, it would probably also run up the deficit and the national debt, but at least it would give people jobs.  It does seem to me that government spending on defense has created more jobs than has government spending on infrastructure.  I’ve not seen statistics on this, so I’m open to correction, but I’m just stating my impression.  I wish, though, that the government could create more jobs by spending money on peaceful projects rather than weapons that we don’t need.  I’m not saying that we don’t need any weapons, but, in 2012, Obama said that even prominent people in the military were saying that they did not need all of the money that Mitt Romney wanted to spend on defense.

3.  John F. Kennedy’s Catholic religion was controversial in the 1960 Presidential election, as a number of people feared that Kennedy as President would obey the pope.  Thomas himself shared that concern, for he wondered if Kennedy’s Catholic religion would influence his policies on, say, birth control, an issue that was important to Thomas (though, as Thomas noted, he himself had lots of children and grandchildren!).  Thomas discussed the issue with Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and she wrote to Kennedy to express her concern, only to receive no response.  But Thomas came to be satisfied with Kennedy’s public statements about the religion issue, finding them to be honest and forthright.

Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1

I started Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962.  This is the first volume of Ambrose’s trilogy about Richard Nixon.  I have two items for today’s post.

1.  Richard Nixon’s father, Frank, was quite opinionated.  In my first post about Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, I said that Frank was a Republican, and yet his Sunday School class inspired author Jessamyn West to lean towards socialism.  I got that part about socialism from wikipedia, which was basing it on something that West wrote in Double Discovery: A Journey.  In my latest reading of Ambrose, I saw what West said.  On page 18 of Ambrose, we read:

“Frank would express his strong political convictions in his teaching; he was, West declared, ‘the first person to make me understand that there was a great lack of practicing Christianity in civic affairs.’ He may have voted Republican, but ‘what Frank had to say about probity in politics pointed…straight to Norman Thomas,’ at least as far as West was concerned.”  Norman Thomas was a six-time socialist candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

I got a taste of Frank’s political beliefs in Gellman’s book.  On page 11 of The Contender, Gellman states: “Frank also believed in the ‘little man’ and opposed the ‘robber barons’ who controlled a large portion of America’s wealth at the turn of the twentieth century.  Despite the connection between big business and the Republican Party, he remained a staunch defender of the GOP.”

Ambrose himself says that Frank could be quite staunch when it came to defending the Republican Party, for Frank alienated customers at his grocery store by debating the Democrats who came in to shop!  According to Ambrose, Frank grew up as a Democrat, but he became a Republican when he was seventeen.  Frank made the switch for at least three reasons.  First, Frank blamed an economic depression on Democratic President Grover Cleveland.  Second, as a hard worker, Frank came to appreciate the value of a dollar, so he supported the Republicans’ policy of sound money.  And third, Frank met Republican candidate for President William McKinley, who was impressed with Frank’s colt!

But that was not the last time that Frank switched his political affiliation, Ambrose narrates on pages 28-29.  Frank’s wife Hannah had a Republican background, but she voted for Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and Frank “chided” her for that (Ambrose’s word).  In 1924, however, Frank voted for the Progressive Party after his disenchantment with the Republicans.  In 1928, he returned to the Republicans by voting for Herbert Hoover.  But he voted for Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.  Ambrose states that “whoever his candidate, Frank was ardent about him, and politics in general” (page 29).

I identified with a lot of this.  I was once a Republican, but I ended up voting for Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012.  I had my reasons for being a Republican back when I was one, and they were legitimate reasons, in my opinion, but I got to the point where I was disenchanted with the G.O.P. and thus switched.  I’m probably not as opinionated as Frank was, but I used to be.  Like Frank, who confronted and debated Democrats when he was a staunch Republican, I would start political debates with the liberals and Democrats I knew.  If someone made a harmless, innocent comment about how Bill Clinton was a good leader, I’d be right there, ready to argue!  Come to think of it, I sometimes behaved that way after I became a Democrat!  Nowadays, I don’t feel as inclined to get into debates.

2.  Frank’s son, Richard, liked to debate as well.  While Frank raised his voice, Richard focused on facts and logic.  And Richard would take a contrary position on an issue simply to have an opportunity to debate.  Richard did not like girls in his younger years, but as one female acquaintance remarked as she thought back, Richard was eager to debate them!

At Whittier College, Richard was awkward around women, yet he went steady with the most popular girl in school.  Why did she like him?  She said it was because she admired Richard’s mind, and they’d get into political debates.  She liked Roosevelt, but Richard did not.  Conventional wisdom dictates that we should never bring up politics on a date, and there’s probably a lot of wisdom in that: it’s better to inquire about your date’s family, movies he or she likes, etc.  But, in my opinion, it would be cool if I could have a relationship in which my date and I would discuss substantive issues.  That’s part of getting to know what matters to a person.

Take It Back 8: The Media

In my latest reading of Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006), James Carville and Paul Begala talk about media bias.

They dispute that the media have a liberal bias, for they note that the media were particularly hard on Bill Clinton during the 1992 election and also during Clinton’s Presidency, and on Al Gore during the 2000 election.  Meanwhile, the media failed to cover some of George W. Bush’s indiscretions: for example, Governor George W. Bush denied under oath that he had “discussed a funeral home investigation…with the head of the state agency charged with investigating funeral homes or with representatives of the funeral home corporation under investigation”, and yet his appointee to the agency and the funeral home company’s CEO and lobbyist contradicted his testimony.

What are the media’s motivations?  Carville and Begala highlight a few.  They believe that, although the mainstream media consist of a large number of people who voted for Clinton, the media still relish the prospect of taking down a President, in this case, Bill Clinton.  Moreover, Carville and Begala cite a study by Professor David Croteau that shows that, while many in the media are socially liberal (i.e., pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights), they are economically conservative.  Plus, there’s the personal factor: there were many in the media who personally liked George W. Bush, but they did not particularly care for Vice-President Gore.

Carville and Begala argue that the Right exploits the charge of liberal media bias to get the sort of coverage that it desires, as journalists bend over backwards to avoid accusations of unfairness and seek out conservative voices.  Carville and Begala also note an example of how, in this Internet age, one can distort the truth and the distortion spreads throughout the media like wildfire.  Essentially, it was alleged that John Kerry initially supported President Bush’s outsourcing of the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden to Afghan warlords, based on something that Kerry said to Larry King about a whole other issue: whether or not we should smoke Osama Bin-Laden out of his cave.  But the distortion was picked up by Chris Wallace, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer, who presented it as truth.  And Carville and Begala discuss how George W. Bush’s campaign and Administration played hardball with the media by punishing those who didn’t report things as Bush wished, by denying them exposure to Bush and the Administration, by giving a story to a competitor, etc.  (Newt Gingrich made a similar point about President Barack Obama—-see my post here.)

Carville and Begala offer ideas on how Democrats can cope with the media.  One way is to be aggressive in attacking Republican indiscretions and policy-proposals, which will get the media’s attention because the media love to cover a fight.  Another way is to make use of local media outlets.  According to Carville and Begala, a number of Democrats seek the favor of the New York Times while ignoring local media outlets, but Bill Clinton in 1992 did not go that route, for Clinton appeared on a number of local stations.

What is my stance on the media?  I used to think that the media were liberal, and, to be honest, as I look back, I believe that this viewpoint on my part made me aware that there is such a thing as bias and that I can’t necessarily accept everything that I read and hear at face value.  At the same time, this viewpoint allowed me to dismiss anything inconvenient to my Republican worldview as something made up by the “liberal” media, and so my view that the media are liberal made me critical and un-critical, at the same time. 

Nowadays, I don’t dismiss that the mainstream media at times convey liberal views.  But I can’t accept that as the full story because the media did attack Bill Clinton, and leftists would argue that the media pulled their punches during the George W. Bush Administration.  The media are often after acclaim and a story and are not always pursuing an ideological agenda.  Or maybe, as Carville and Begala contend, there are a variety of factors: perhaps the media only went so far in attacking Bush because they still wanted exposure to the Bush White House.

One thing that I thought about in my latest reading of Carville and Begala was my perception of George W. Bush.  Why did I like him and vote for him in 2004?  One reason was that I was a conservative, and I also was being a contrarian against the liberal environment where I was, which disdained and despised Bush.  But I also thought that Bush came across as a meek, humble, and friendly man, one who, like Ronald Reagan, did not have to be President in order to be happy.  Perhaps there was something to that narrative, but that has to be balanced out with the times that people say that Bush has played serious hardball in order to advance his interests.  Such stories don’t make Bush look particularly meek, humble, friendly, or apathetic about having power!

Take It Back 5: The War on Terror

I was a little disappointed in the chapter on “National Security” in James Carville and Paul Begala’s Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006).  The chapter had strengths: its argument (based on the concerns and actions of Al Gore and the Clinton Administration) that a President Al Gore would have prevented 9/11; its argument that the Bush Administration did not address certain vulnerabilities even after 9/11; its critique of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq War; and its explanation of how the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent put people’s lives at risk and damaged certain U.S. intelligence projects throughout the world (i.e., if Valerie Plame is pretending to represent a company, and that company is revealed to be fake through her outing, what happens to the other agents who are pretending to represent that company, or the foreigners who act as if they are working with it?).  My problem with this chapter was that it did not adequately detail what should be done instead.

On some level, this is understandable.  If a number of Democrats were not too crazy about the Iraq War, then expecting them to come up with a solution to win it may be too much to ask.  As Bush asked about John Kerry in 2004, how would Kerry convince other nations to help the U.S. in Iraq, if Kerry publicly believes that the Iraq War was the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time?  Or, as Carville and Begala say on pages 118-119: “Democrats should set the bar for Bush in Iraq: victory.  They should support any request for funding for our troops in the field.  But they need not be shamed into silence merely because they don’t have a silver bullet for a problem that has no obvious solution.”

The thing is, Carville and Begala (at least in this book) don’t seem to have a silver bullet for the War on Terror, period.  They offer good insights, but (as far as I can see) they provide no proposals as to how to utilize those insights to meet a coherent goal.  They mock Bush’s simplistic view that radical Islamic terrorists hate us because they abhor the American way of life (which, in my opinion, is part of the reason that they hate us, but not the whole reason), and they refer to Michael Scheuer’s statement that the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia steals a lot of oil revenues from its citizens.  But what do Carville and Begala want us to do with Scheuer’s analysis?  How would they use that analysis in a coherent plan of action?

On pages 124-126, Carville and Begala advance good reasons for multilateralism: that our allies (even France) have helped us in catching terrorists, and that we need other countries in order to defeat Al-Qaeda, which is a global network.  But then Carville and Begala go on to say that “Democrats cannot be the party of the permission slip”, that is, asking the rest of the world for permission to defend our country’s security.  But what if we want to undertake a project to defend our security and other countries won’t back us up?  Should we go it alone, or abandon the project altogether?  Carville and Begala probably don’t believe that the Iraq War was necessary for the United States’ security, but do they think that unilateralism would ever be justified?  They don’t adequately address this.  They say that Bush lacks clear thinking on the War on Terror, but I wish that their thinking had been clearer in this chapter.

Overall, though, I’d say that the Democrats have recovered from any perception that they are inept on the War on Terror.  President Barack Obama was part of the capture of Osama Bin-Laden, he has authorized drones to take out Al-Qaeda members, and he has continued some of President Bush’s surveillance policies, even while pursuing a policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan.  President Obama has also rebuilt relationships with other countries, such as Russia.  Detractors can argue that there are weaknesses to Obama’s foreign policy, such as the disappointment that the Arab Spring has wrought, as well as the disaster in Benghazi.  And many leftists are concerned that drones have taken the lives of innocent people.  But, overall, Obama has had a strategy of fighting the War on Terror, something that Democrats seemed to lack for many years (or such is my impression).

Take It Back 4: The Iraq War

My latest reading of Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future, by James Carville and Paul Begala, was about national security.  Essentially, Carville and Begala criticized how George W. Bush’s handled 9/11—-both the events leading up to it and also its aftermath—-and also how Republicans who never served in the military have smeared Democrats who have stellar war-records.

In this post, I’ll talk about my evolving view on the Iraq War.  There was a time when I would defend George W. Bush against his detractors and haters.  See this post as an example of that.  Do I regret doing that?  Not at all.  There are two (and often more) sides to every story.  Why should I assume that a left-wing narrative is the only one that’s legitimate?

Just looking at the claims that Carville and Begala made in my latest reading, I could find articles that said something different from what Carville and Begala were saying.

—-On page 93, Carville and Begala say that Cheney repeated the claim that a senior Iraqi intelligence official met with 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta in Prague, even though Czech authorities said that was false, and CIA and FBI officials investigated and found no indication that Atta left the U.S. during the time in question.  For Carville and Begala, the implication of this was that Cheney was lying to get us into a war.  Here, however, is Cheney’s account of why he initially believed that Atta met with the Iraqi official in Prague, only later to repudiate that view.

—-On page 95, Carville and Begala say that George W. Bush out-sourced the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden to local warlords in Afghanistan, which allowed Bin-Laden to escape.  According to this article, however, information after Bin Laden’s death has shown us a different story.

—-On page 114, Carville and Begala say that “It was Democrats who stood and fought when the Bush administration tried to eliminate imminent-danger pay and family-separation pay for the 148,000 troops in Iraq.”  According to this, however, the Department of Defense had “an alternative proposal to maintain total compensation for those serving in a combat zone, or in direct support of a combat zone, through increased use of Hardship Duty Pay (HDP).”

Who’s right, and who’s wrong?  What’s fact, and what’s propaganda?  What is a legitimate claim, and what is an unfair attack, or spin in defense of a certain position or party?  I’m sure that people could go more deeply into these issues than I have done here, and than has been done in a number of discussion forums.

In my right-wing days, while I was skeptical about left-wing narratives about Bush and the Iraq War, there were seeds that were planted that led me to have second thoughts about my “yay rah Bush” attitude.  I was learning about the horrors of war, as I watched TV and read stories and heard about people who had lost life and limb, and my conservative friends’ dismissal of those horrors with the platitude of “War is hell” did not cut it with me after a certain point.  In 2008, I was gravitating towards John McCain and Sarah Palin, and one thing that attracted me to them was that they either served in war (in the case of McCain) or had family that was serving in war (in the case of both McCain and Palin), and that differentiated them in my mind from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who, as far as I know, did not have family in the wars (but I’m open to correction on this).

There were other factors as well: my enthusiasm about Ron Paul; my reading about anti-war conservatism; Bill Clinton’s discussion of the waste of money that was occurring in Iraq; the fact that politicians with stellar military records were speaking out against the Iraq War, and efforts to smear them were becoming old, if not tacky (which is an understatement, I know); how Halliburton was costing taxpayers a lot of money; the Iraqi woman in Fahrenheit 9/11 who lost a loved one as a result of our bombing and pleaded to Allah for justice; etc.  I still believe that there is more to the story than the “Bush lied, people died” mantra that leftists used to repeat.  But I concluded that there was more to reality than what I was hearing from the Bush Administration and right-wing media, too.

Take It Back 3: Bush and Kerry on Faith

In my latest reading of Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006), James Carville and Paul Begala criticize how John Kerry talked about his faith during the 2004 Presidential Election.  Essentially, according to Carville and Begala, Kerry “usually repeated a variation of JFK’s line that the church would not control him” (page 65).  Carville and Begala found Kerry’s approach to be outdated, especially in a time when the Republicans were resonating with a number of voters by talking about faith, whereas the Democrats were widely believed to have a problem with religion.  According to Carville and Begala, the Democrats should not be afraid to talk boldly about their faith and how that shapes their commitment to social justice.

Carville and Begala most likely have more expertise than I do on what is politically savvy, but, speaking for myself, I actually liked what John Kerry had to say about his faith—-actually more than what George W. Bush said about it.  And this was a time when I was a conservative and an avid George W. Bush fan—-one who actually admired Bush because of his commitment to evangelical Christianity.  What follows are quotations from the third Presidential debate in 2004, as John Kerry and George W. Bush discuss the role of faith in their lives and their decision-making:

Kerry was asked about the Catholic archbishops who said that it was a sin to vote for a pro-choice candidate, and he replied:

” I respect their views. I completely respect their views. I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views. But I disagree with them, as do many.  I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith.  I believe that choice is a woman’s choice. It’s between a woman, God and her doctor. And that’s why I support that.  Now, I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade…Now, with respect to religion, you know, as I said, I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life this has made a difference to me.  And as President Kennedy said when he ran for president, he said, ‘I’m not running to be a Catholic president. I’m running to be a president who happens to be Catholic.’ My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There’s a great passage of the Bible that says, ‘What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.’ And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That’s why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.  But I know this, that President Kennedy in his inaugural address told all of us that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own. And that’s what we have to—-I think that’s the test of public service.”

That was the JFK answer that Carville and Begala were criticizing.

Later, George W. Bush was asked about the role of faith in his policy-decisions, and Bush replied:

“First, my faith plays a lot—-a big part in my life. And that’s, when I answering that question, what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot. And I do. And my faith is a very—-it’s very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm’s way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls. But I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.  If you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you’re equally an American. That’s the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.  Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency.  I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, ‘Well, how do you know?’ I said, ‘I just feel it.’ Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we’ve unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe.  And that’s been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.  And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me, and religion is a part of me.”

And Kerry responded:

“Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it’s important and I share it. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty. Everything is a gift from the Almighty. And as I measure the words of the Bible—-and we all do; different people measure different things—-the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being. And people all find their ways to express it. I was taught—-I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.  We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There’s one for the people who have, and there’s one for the people who don’t have. And we’re struggling with that today.  And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith. I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead. I think we’ve got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody’s right to practice religion as they choose—-or not to practice—-because that’s part of America.”

So why did I prefer what John Kerry said about faith?  As I reread their comments, I don’t think that John Kerry is being particularly fair if he’s implying that Bush does not believe that faith without works is dead, for Bush talked about how his faith influences him to pursue policies that enhance the healing and freedom of others.  And yet, I like the low-key, matter-of-fact, succinct, and practical way that Kerry talked about his faith.  When I first heard Bush, I thought that he focused too much on how his faith comforted him.  Kerry, by contrast, talked about what the Bible taught, and how he tried to follow that (while not imposing his Catholic beliefs about abortion on people).  I (like Bush) am one who finds comfort in my faith, but I thought that Kerry’s answer had more theological content and was more orderly than what Bush said.  That probably resonated with the religion student part of me, not to mention the Aspie part!

Take It Back 2

In my latest reading of Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006), James Carville and Paul Begala talk about how the post-2004 Democratic Party should address abortion, guns, and gay marriage.

Regarding abortion, Carville and Begala maintain that Democrats should stop trying to inhibit every single restriction on abortion, for polls indicate that many Americans would like at least some restrictions.  For example, Carville and Begala say that the Democratic Party should not attempt to stop the ban on partial-birth abortion.  Carville and Begala are also proponents of most abortions being safe, legal, and rare.  They laud a pro-life initiative by the Democrats for Life that seeks to reduce the number of abortions and includes the following proposals: “making the adoption tax credit permanent”, “giving women with unplanned pregnancies counseling information on adoption”, expanding the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program “which gives nutritional support to new moms and their babies”, requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives, and age-appropriate pregnancy-prevention programs in school (Carville and Begala’s words on page 45).

Regarding guns, Carville and Begala acknowledge that guns are a tradition passed down from fathers to sons in many areas of the country.  They think that the Democratic Party should find common ground with the National Rifle Association, which has said that it supports enforcing the laws that are already on the books (though, as Carville and Begala point out, the NRA opposed many of those laws before they were on the books!).  Carville and Begala are also critical of a proposal that would require background checks at gun shows, for that would inflame pro-gun voters, plus a “study by the Clinton Justice Department showed that just 1.7 percent of criminals who used guns in the commission of a crime obtained their guns from a gun show” (page 49).  Moreover, Carville and Begala refer favorably to Howard Dean’s critique of new federal gun-control legislation, as Dean argued that it should be a state-by-state thing.  For Dean, Montana and Vermont should not have the same stringent gun laws that are in New York and California, for “gun crime is not a big problem” in Montana and Vermont (Carville and Begala’s words on page 49).

I did not finish Carville and Begala’s discussion of gay marriage, but, in what I did read, they said that the Democrats should focus on an area where many Americans are in agreement with them: that employment-discrimination against homosexuals (i.e., people being fired for being gay) is wrong.  They also said that Democrats should personalize the issue by referring to family members who are gay.

Carville and Begala denied earlier in the book that they want for the Democratic Party to become more centrist, but it does seem to me that, at least on abortion and gun control, they were advising the Democrats to become a little more centrist.  Carville and Begala wrote this book after 2004, when John Kerry and other Democrats had lost, and one reason for that was that many voters believed that the Democrats were out-of-touch with their values.  Would Carville and Begala’s analysis be relevant today, in 2012?  In 2012, a number of Democrats (including President Barack Obama) won, not by running away from the abortion issue, but by boldly championing choice.  In essence, many of the Democrats appealed to their base.  I seriously wonder if the Democrats today even need to pursue a moderate position on abortion or guns in order to win, for they have their base and a growing number of minority voters who vote Democrat, even as the base of the Republicans appears to shrink.

I wouldn’t say that their analysis after 2004 is utterly irrelevant to 2012, however.  The argument that abortion should be reduced through contraception, sex education, and a supportive social-safety net is still around.  It’s ironic that the Democrats for Life advocated requiring insurance companies to cover contraception around the time that Carville and Begala’s book was written, for a number of pro-lifers today are critical of Obamacare for doing precisely that, and they note that there are birth control pills that can easily function as abortifacients, meaning that the line is sometimes pretty thin between contraception and abortion.  I hope, though, that Obamacare can reduce the number of abortions, and that the Obama Administration would support adoption reform.  There are some pro-life Democrats in Congress, and perhaps efforts can be made to reduce the number of abortions.

On guns, I have to admit that I’m not really part of the culture in which guns are passed down from fathers and sons, although there are people in my family who are a part of that culture.  Moreover, I have a hard time sympathizing with people who vote Republican because they want to preserve their gun collection, for I tend to regard, say, health care as a more important issue than helping someone to keep up a hobby.  I’ll also say that I’m a little bit leery about Howard Dean’s view that gun control (in certain areas) should be a state-by-state thing, for there have been shootings that have occurred in red states, such as the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.  But I’m not sure what the best gun policy should be.  I know I’m not for people carrying AK-47s!

Would Carville and Begala’s analysis be different in 2012?  Perhaps it would, in areas.  But my impression from my latest reading is that they weren’t just saying what they said to help the Democrats to win.  Rather, they were expressing who they really were as people.  They supported tolerance of different perspectives on abortion because they were Catholics and knew and loved their pro-life family and friends.  They desired pragmatism on the gun issue because they themselves owned guns (plus they noted that John Kerry actually was a hunter, meaning that wasn’t something Kerry just did for a photo-op!).  I think that understanding where people are coming from and respecting their culture and values is still good advice for 2012, even if the Democrats may not politically need certain white voters in the red states.

Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance 12: Ideological Flexibility

For my write-up today on Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, I’ll use as my starting point something that Al Gore says on pages 348-349:

“To most of us, the principle sounds unassailable: let the polluter pay.  But what about when it applies to each of us instead of to a nameless, faceless corporation?  For example, rather than require homeowners to pay higher property taxes to cover the cost of garbage collection, why not lower property taxes and then charge for garbage collection directly—-by the pound?  Those responsible for creating more garbage would pay more; those who found ways to cut down would pay less.  The interest in recycling might rise dramatically.  And when choosing between products at the store, people might even start avoiding unnecessary and bulky packaging if they knew it was going to end up in their garbage.  There is an economic rule of thumb: whatever we tax, we tend to get less of; whatever we subsidize, we tend to get more of.  Currently, we tax work and we subsidize the depletion of natural resources—-and both policies have contributed to high unemployment and the waste of natural resources.  What if we lowered the tax on work and simultaneously raised it on the burning of fossil fuels?  It is entirely possible to change the tax code in a way that keeps the total amount of taxes at the same level, avoids unfairness and ‘regressivity,’ but discourages the constant creation of massive amounts of pollution.”

In the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate, Dan Quayle said to Al Gore about Gore’s book: “In the book you also suggest taxes on gasoline, taxes on utilities, taxes on carbon, taxes on timber. There’s a whole host of taxes. And I don’t just — I don’t believe raising taxes is the way to solve our environmental problems.  And you talk about the bad situation in the auto industry. You seem to say that the answer is, well, I’ll just make it that much worse by increasing the CAFE standards. Yes, the auto industry is hurting, it’s been hurting for a long time, and increasing the CAFE standards to 45 miles per gallon, like you and Bill Clinton are suggesting, will put, as I said, 300,000 people out of work.”

As far as I could tell from the transcript, Gore didn’t get a chance to respond to Quayle on this.  But what Gore probably would have said was that Quayle’s reading of Gore’s book was rather one-sided, for Gore in the book endorses certain tax cuts, plus Gore believes that environmental technology can save companies money and entail the creation of jobs.  While Quayle portrayed Gore as a hard-core leftist, Gore in the passage that I quoted from his book actually appears to be quite flexible and open to a variety of approaches, some of which can be characterized as conservative: privatization of garbage collection (if I’m understanding Gore correctly), reduction in property taxes, and lower taxes on work.  Whether that matches Gore’s voting record and the record of the Clinton Administration, I don’t know.  But one thing that I have admired about Gore in terms of his book is his openness to different ideas.

Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance 11

In my latest reading of Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, Al Gore talked about a Global Marshall Plan for the environment.  This came up in the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate, as Dan Quayle referred to page 304 of Gore’s book to say that Gore supports the federal government spending $100 billion “for environmental projects in foreign countries” (Quayle’s words).  I checked page 304 (assuming my edition of the book has the same pagination as the one that Quayle read), and the only reference that I saw to $100 billion was when Gore said that the U.S. spent 2 percent of its GNP between 1948-1951 on the Marshall Plan, and today that percentage would amount to $100 billion.  I could not tell if Gore believes that we should spend that much, however, for Gore talks about why the U.S. would be reluctant nowadays to launch something like a Marshall Plan (i.e., the budget deficit, post-Vietnam discouragement in assuming global leadership).

In terms of how Gore defined his proposal in the debate, he said: “What I have called upon is a cooperative effort by the US and Europe and Asia to work together in opening up new markets throughout the world for the new technologies that are necessary in order to reconcile the imperatives of economic progress with the imperatives of environmental protection.”  Indeed, Gore did talk about technology in my latest reading of his book.  For example, he proposed something like the Strategic Defense Initiative for the environment, which he calls the Strategic Environment Initiative (SEI); while Gore was a critic of SDI, he recognized that it resulted in technological and scientific innovations, and he wonders if something similar could be done in a systematic pursuit of environmental-friendly technology. 

Gore also discussed encouraging literacy and contraception in the Third World, to help the environment and to control over-population.  This discussion was interesting.  Gore talked about George H.W. Bush’s record of support for contraception as a solution to over-population before he became President, yet Gore maintains that Bush became resistant to promoting contraception in the Third World as President out of a desire to appease his anti-abortion constituency, specifically the part that is opposed to birth control.  Gore does not believe that opposition to abortion has to entail opposition to contraception, for there are many opponents of abortion who are fine with contraception, and the use of contraception can lead to fewer abortions.  Gore also appears to believe that common ground can be found with the Catholic church, for “Spokesmen for the Holy See have repeatedly signaled that although the Church’s formal view is not likely to change, it will not block others who wish to promote contraception, and it is anxious to play a vigorous role in addressing the other factors that help to hasten the demographic transition” (page 316).

I said in an earlier post that I would discuss Gore’s view on world government.  Gore touched on that in my latest reading.  Essentially, Gore regards world government as unfeasible, and he states that “The administrative problems would be gargantuan, not least because the inefficiency of governance often seems to increase geometrically with the distance between the seat of power and the individuals affected by it” (page 301; conservatives have long made this point in arguing that state and local governments are more suitable to handle a number of domestic concerns than is the federal government).  Instead of world government, Gore supports “international agreements that establish global restraints on acceptable behavior but are entered into voluntarily—-albeit with the understanding that they will contain both incentives and legally valid penalties for noncompliance” (page 302).  How is this different from world government?  Perhaps it’s different in the sense that individual nations get to implement the global restraints, rather than for those restraints to be implemented by an international authority.

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