Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Republicans should spare us 2012

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I am what many folks would consider conservative. I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and was more or less pleased with the results of the 2010 midterm elections. It is from this perspective that I offer a plea of sanity to the Republican party.

The current Republican field of known or talked about presidential candidates is perhaps the weakest I've ever seen from either party since Walter Mondale in 1984. There are the usual entertaining but afterthought candidates like Cain and Paul who command an enthusiastic 5% of the electorate. And then there are establishment candidates like Gingrich, Romney, and Pawlenty, all of whom have problems and none of whom have demonstrated an ability to unify the party or build momentum for a serious challenge to Obama. Others like Huckabee have wisely stayed out, knowing they can't win. Palin and Bachmann, if they have any sense at all, will do the same.

Even all the recent pep talk surrounding Daniels is illustrative of how uncompetitive the Republicans are. Daniels only attracted decent interest because the present field is so abysmal. If Republicans had a good electable candidate who was generating any enthusiasm at all, Daniels would be an afterthought. The fact that he was recently anointed as a potential savior in certain Republican circles prior to staying out speaks volumes about how terrible the field is.

Put simply, the Republicans have virtually no chance of winning in 2012. None of the current candidates can beat Obama or even seriously threaten him. And this is despite the fact that Obama has weaknesses and vulnerabilities that the press and Hollywood won't be able to completely disguise despite what is certain to be their best efforts to do so. Romney and Pawlenty have both been unofficially running for president for 2 years now. To be at it this long and have so little voter enthusiasm to show for it really oughta tell them something. I suppose both Giuliani and Christie could provide needed gravitas and enthusiasm, but both have significant problems as well, and Christie has repeatedly said 'no way' to getting in. Many Republicans have been pining away for Paul Ryan to get in. But Ryan, as a true believer-type, is absolutely right in saying that his ability to make the most impact is right where he is, in a safe congressional district that won't punish him for sincerely trying to address titanic problems that most politicians are too scared to touch. He'd be a fool to get into the presidential game right now, and my bet is he's smart enough to know it.

The 2012 math simply doesn't work for the Republicans. Obama isn't riding high, but he's in better shape than he was a year ago, which means the ground that was so fertile for Republicans last year is a bit less hospitable now. The ground is likely to be even less hospitable next year as a result of Republicans in Congress embracing (needed) spending cuts that voters often like in theory, but dislike in real life. The Republican presidential candidate will likely be facing an electorate that is far less enthusiastic about the budget slashing message in 2012 than they were in 2010, and facing a big enthusiasm gap at the base level. Not saying this is right or wrong; just saying it is. When we throw in the "fact" that the Republican candidate will be a lightweight in comparison to the battle-scarred but press-propped-up Obama, I leave it to somebody who's either a whole lot smarter or a whole lot more delusional than me to figure out how a Republican is giving a presidential victory speech on election night.

If such calculus is correct, the best thing Republicans can do is spare the country (and themselves) a costly and mostly meaningless campaign season. They're not going to win. Their victory was in 2010. The 'Republican wave' has come and mostly gone. Forget about 2012.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Obama's Right

The bin Laden photos shouldn't be released. No matter how gruesome or not gruesome the photos are, images of a dead bin Laden would offend not only committed radicals, but would also likely inflame the passions of some who are not currently radicalized. This would not only be a threat to American troops, it could also unintentionally provide a resurgence of energy and new blood into a terrorist movement that has been rendered increasingly ineffective over the last 10 years. This is in nobody's interest.

The idea that the photos should be released as a way of providing proof of death is also a pretty faulty argument. I understand the view of folks like Krauthammer that conspiracy theories and hair-brained intrigue are not the sole property of the idiot fringe like the birthers on the Right or the truthers on the Left, but are in fact an integral part of mainstream thought and discourse on 'the Arab street'. Therefore, so the theory goes, releasing the photos would provide the kind of evidence that would dampen a potential conspiracy frenzy in the Arab world. I politely dissent.

Government policy, both foreign and domestic, has to accommodate and even at times 'condescend' to the level of the masses. But such accommodation needs to have reasonable limits. Government policy that accommodates and is even dictated by mass stupidity is dangerous, because it jeopardizes national interests, does nothing to elevate the discourse or national conversation, and in fact, concedes ground to the point where the inmates can start running the asylum.

Look, doubts about bin Laden's death aren't fueled by a lack of proof; they're fueled by a lack of thinking. When the United States openly tells the entire world that bin Laden is dead, that claim instantly becomes the easiest claim in the world to debunk if it isn't true. All bin Laden would have to do is record a video or audio that says, "Hey, I know the United States is telling the world that I was killed in a raid on April 30/May 1 2011 at a compound in Abbottabad Pakistan by Navy Seals. Well, this claim is obviously a lie, since I'm still here." This kind of verifiable statement is what Hitler gave in the aftermath of the Stauffenberg plot to assassinate him in 1944, and it's what any high profile person would do to set the record straight, 'reassure' his loyalists, and not allow a lie to demoralize his movement/forces. When the US makes a claim like this, the burden of proof is just as much on bin Laden to disprove the claim as it is on the US to provide reasonable evidence of the claim's veracity. If anyone doubts this, they might want to consult the religious leaders in Palestine in the 1st century, since all they had to do to stamp out Christianity forever was produce the corpse of Christ. As Jack Nicholson said in The Departed, "If you coulda, you woulda."

The bottom line is that we don't need potentially inflammatory photos to be evidentially satisfied that bin Laden is dead. bin Laden's silence since the episode is the most compelling proof of all. There's no accounting for stupidity, and US policy shouldn't be writing a blank check to such stupidity, particularly when lives could be lost and evil movements rejuvenated by doing so.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Death of bin Laden

Kudos are warranted for Mr Obama and the complex nexus of defense and intelligence teams for punctuating the finality of a 10 year odyssey to hold the first major mass murderer of the 21st century to account for his crimes. Mr Obama in particular deserves credit. 10 years is a long time to be hunting after someone. Memories fade, priorities change, and even important things can be overcome by other events, making them less important. Mr Obama should be commended for staying the course and seeing this mission all the way through, and by all accounts so far, doing it in a determined responsible way. Obama has invited legitimate criticism of his foreign policy during his first 2 years with what many (including me at times) have seen as unsteady, unsure, compromised and even ineffective diplomacy. Many have legitimately wondered if Obama has the stomach for a serious foreign policy that takes the negative realities of the world seriously, while also seriously capitalizing on generational opportunities such as the Arab Spring phenomenon. Obama's willingness to head an effort to dispose of bin Laden tells us (or me at least) that Obama can indeed temporarily abandon an almost obsessively paralytic search for gray when something really is black or white. Bravo.

Amidst the celebrations in DC and NYC, one should be reminded that certain things do indeed overcome human fickleness. Newscasters across the board seemed genuinely surprised by the outpouring of joy bin Laden's death evoked. People do indeed still remember how terrible bin Laden's crimes were. And even though I personally find it a bit paradoxical to 'celebrate' someone being shot dead and literally thrown over the side of a ship, my conscience is soothed by the almost certain reality that bin Laden never would have allowed himself to be captured alive, making his death the only way for justice and reasonable closure to be realized in this life. His death is a reminder that no matter how idealistically positive some of us may want to view the world, the stain of sin is still with us and must be reckoned with for any responsible view of the world to win the day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


This past Maundy Thursday, I had the privilege of assisting the senior pastor of my church in serving communion to the flock. While most of the time communion is served in the more usual fashion of taking serving trays up the aisles so that the people can partake from their seats, in our church, we generally do the 'intinction' method each Maundy Thursday. In this method, people get out of their seats and form a line to come to the front to receive the elements from one person who holds the bread loaf, and another person who holds the cup for the people to dip their bread in. I held the cup.

While I don't have any problem, theologically or otherwise, in bringing the table to the people (in effect) by having the elements passed pew to pew, I do think there's something to be said for having the people come to the table as well. I know this is commonplace in the Roman Catholic tradition, but it is a more seldom occurrence in the Protestant services I have attended over the years. Perhaps because it is not the common way of doing it, the intinction approach is something I find quite moving for a number of reasons.

In my role of serving the elements, the privilege of serving the people actually becomes a bit more real for me in the intinction method. I'm physically closer to them, I converse individually with each of them, and some of them converse with me. It seems far more intimate, personal, relational, and (for me at least) meaningful than the practice of passing the elements down the pew.

I also think that it's often more meaningful for the flock too. The intimate relational aspect of having the pastor quietly say something affirming and hopeful directly to you, and often referring to you by name, seems to make what we're doing more real and understandable. It seems to give more gravitas to the moment, where deep seriousness, deep joy, and deep thanks all come together and are internalized by the one who partakes. By making communion feel less like an assembly line operation and more like a real relational celebration seems to personalize its significance for people. There were a number of folks quietly weeping for joy as they took communion on Maundy Thursday, and I rarely see that when we do communion the usual way. True, some of that was likely the result of the whole service and Holy Week. But clearly, communion was a critical part that a number of folks clearly found quite moving to them.

I also must confess that from my vantage point as server, it is a very moving sight to me to see people voluntarily get up out of their seats and form a processional line to come to the front to partake in the elements. No doubt, people have any number of motivations for doing this. But I have always seen it as a powerful visual of people publicly expressing their need for God's grace, without saying a thing. As I assisted in serving the people, I was overcome with this feeling that all of us were collectively bonded together expressing a deep need for grace and were so thankful that we had found it in Christ. It felt very much like a 'family' meal.

I certainly understand that for many churches, including ours, the intinction method isn't very practical as the normal mode of serving communion. And I also realize that if it were to become the normal mode, it might well become rote and lose the significance it currently seems to conjure in our fellowship. But in the Christian life, we say a lot of things and do a lot of things, without having such things be impactful either on the world or within ourselves. So when those brief moments come along when there appears to be a genuine collective movement of faith towards the One who deserves complete, total, and absolute allegiance, I find myself wanting to see so much more of it in myself and in the flock I associate with. During communion last Thursday, I felt the kind of transformative power that made me believe that this flock really can change the world when the Spirit is moving in our midst. That's a feeling that's tough to top.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Anti-Semitism on the Left

The following is the text of a post I made on Politico regarding an interview CNN's Rick Sanchez gave on Pete Dominick's radio show. In this interview, responding to criticism of his work by Jewish political comedian Jon Stewart, Sanchez said the following:

I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah.

Two things here are disturbing and unfortunate. First, I'm not sure to whom Sanchez refers when he says there's a cultural meme out there which implies that American Jews are an oppressed minority. While some people may indeed hold to this view, I hardly think it's a view that's in the main bloodstream of America. The concern is that he's making up a meme that doesn't really exist as a strawman against which to vent. Dangerous stuff. Second, he makes a wildly presumptuous leap in saying that 'everybody' who runs CNN is like Stewart (meaning they are Jewish), and for good measure, so are most folks at other media outlets. How exactly does he know this? It's true that Larry King, Jon Klein, Campbell Brown, John King, Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer among others currently or formerly at CNN are Jewish either by birth or conversion. But Anderson Cooper is not Jewish, nor is Jack Cafferty, Sanjay Gupta, Soledad O'Brien, Jim Walton, and who knows how many others. Sanchez's statement is both inaccurate as a factual matter, and feeds into a classic anti-semitic stereotype that Jews control the media.

In response to Sanchez's outburst, I posted the following at Politico:

Look, I dissent from my conservative brethren who think CNN offers no value to the media discussion. I watch CNN, and I take most of their on-air people seriously, with discernment and with a few notable exceptions. I don't have it in for CNN. It's from that perspective that I too have had great difficulty understanding the catapulting of Rick Sanchez. He's just not that good of a reporter, analyst, and host. But this latest unhinging is revealing and once again tells us something very important that is seriously ignored or overlooked. The latent anti-Jewish sentiment to which Sanchez seems to ascribe is all too fearfully common among elements of the political, cultural, and religious left. I mentioned to Gwen Ifill over 10 years ago that anti-semitism on the left is far and away the most underreported political story of our time. Ifill didn't seem to believe that anti-semitism existed to any systemic degree on the left. Such continued the ignoring of the phenomenon. Since then, a formidable body of evidence has accrued from the statements and declarations of politicians (McKinney, Moran, etc), media people (Sanchez, Thomas, etc), liberal religious denominations (PCUSA, etc), and academics (Mearsheimer, Walt, etc) that make it harder and harder to dismiss the growing concern that anti-semitic sentiment is gaining ground among the left. If this phenomenon was far and away the most underreported political story 10 years ago, it's continued non-reporting today borders on an outright scandal.

The examples I cite above are just a sampling. And in the case of the PCUSA, the anti-semitic sentiment of sectors of that denomination, and especially its leadership, has been expressed many times, through many proclamations and statements, and have been well documented by Christian and Jewish groups alike. I am quite distressed that too much of the media dismisses the concern of a systematic rise of anti-semitism on the left by saying it's not real, or downplays it by saying the various (but increasing) instances of anti-semitic utterances on the left are the isolated and unrelated thoughts of a few. I wish that were true. But the evidence demonstrably suggests otherwise. None of this is to say that anti-semitism doesn't exist on the Right as well. It does. It's repulsive and potentially lethal regardless of where it comes from. But the continued willful ignorance of the press corps to soberly investigate this phenomenon on the left in terms of who subscribes to it, what views prop it up, and how pervasive it is (or isn't) is an unacceptable omission that speaks to the media's own biases and/or blind spots.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Did we 'Recover' this Summer?

Someone really needs to be fired over at the White House. Back in June, the White House confidently announced that the summer of 2010 would be the 'Summer of Economic Recovery'. Posts on the White House blog back in June said this summer was 'sure' to be a season of recovery. VP Joe Biden, citing an anticipated spike in work projects spurred by last year's stimulus, confidently declared that the recovery act is working and that a positive ripple effect would extend throughout the economy during the summer months.

As we now approach Labor Day weekend and the end of summer, will anyone look back at the summer of 2010 and describe it as the sure-thing 'Summer of Recovery' it was billed as? In June, the unemployment rate stood at 9.5%. Today, it is 9.6%. The most recent GDP measure is at a near flat 1.6%. At a time when college graduates were entering the workforce in droves, private sector job creation between June-August totaled a meager 235,000. Overall job numbers actually dropped in total by 200K during the summer.

None of this is to discount the fact that the economy is thankfully no longer in freefall the way it was back in 2008/2009. But anything beyond that is speculation. Yes, things could've been worse had there been no change in political philosophy and policy, but they also could've been better (would corporate reticence to hire be nearly as high had the healthcare law not been passed?). In my view, the down-home reality is that the stimulus barely pulled the economy out of official recession, and doesn't have much staying power upon which a bonafide recovery can be built. Economic growth estimates based upon stimulus-incited activity were and are irresponsibly too rosy, which is why the federal budget deficit data, as bad as it is, may actually understate just how underwater the country is. And it's why the declaration that summer 2010 would be a 'Summer of Recovery' should be cause for the person at the White House who thought it up to be canned, so that they can see firsthand just how ridiculous the slogan turned out to be.

I did not vote for Barack Obama. I was never under any illusion that I would agree with most of what he intended to do. I never bought into the 'Change we can Believe in' stuff. But I also never thought Obama would be in danger of being just as clueless as his predecessor when it came to reading the pulse of the nation and tailoring his message accordingly.

One of the great failures of the Bush presidency was that he didn't realize how irrelevant he had become while he was still in office. For at least the last 3+ years of his presidency, Mr Bush talked as if he believed people were listening. What he didn't seem to realize was that the country, by and large, had turned away from him because they were angry at his policies and incensed by messaging that seemed completely out of step with reality. Mr Bush was talking to an empty room, believing it was full. This greatly contributed to his considerable ineffectiveness during most of his 2nd term. Put simply, he was no longer regarded as an in-tune trustworthy and competent leader who people looked to for reassurance and inspiration in unsteady times. His lips were moving, but he had lost his voice.

It is hard to believe that someone as supposedly savvy and 'in touch' as Obama wouldn't learn from the very mistakes of his predecessor that helped create the tsunami that swept him into office. Like Bush's messaging about Iraq, then Katrina, and eventually about the economy, Obama's 'summer of recovery' messaging has become a punch line, rather than a euphoric chorus line. The slogan bears virtually no resemblance to the current on the ground experience of the nation. The nation doesn't feel it's in recovery. Anxiety about long-term economic malaise remains high. Concerns that things could get worse before they get better are increasing. To the extent they can, individuals, families, and companies are saving/hording rather than spending, indicating deep fear that firewall nest eggs are more needed than goods and services. And yet, in the midst of all this, the White House spent 3 months telling us that we were in a 'summer of recovery'.

If the White House really believes this, it indicates a deep disconnect with and even denial of present circumstances and attitudes. If the White House trotted out this slogan in an effort to get people to believe it and feel better, it indicates a deep disconnect with the toll the recession has taken on the national psyche. Most of all, it indicates that like Mr Bush, Mr Obama wrongly believes that soothing words from politicians will magically overcome deep fear and skepticism brought about by real life hardships that diverge considerably from elevated but very distant oratory. And this indicates that like Mr Bush, Mr Obama does not yet possess the eyesight to see that more and more seats in the auditorium are empty when he begins speaking. If Mr Obama doesn't get his vision checked soon, he risks falling into a trap that has ensnared so many - not properly understanding the practical limits of idealistic rhetoric (1J 3.18).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Repaired Link

It appears that IIIM recently did a redesign on its website, with the result that the 'My Published Papers so Far' link to their site had gone bad. I've now updated the link to get back to the database of papers that have been published in RPM. Interested readers might be interested to note that during the redesign, a new paper of mine was published, titled "The Gospel of John and the Issue of Canon". In this paper, I address the issue of the 'nature' of canon and interact with the views of Kysar.