Misleading or Incompetent?

Last night during the debate, at 10:15, when the President was doing his indignant act saying it was “offensive” to suggest he or anyone in his administration would deliberately mislead the American people about the attack in Benghazi, I tweeted:  “If you didn’t mislead you were ignorant #debate.”

Alana Goodman asks the right questions:

>Obama and the “T” Word « Commentary Magazine

Why, if the president immediately knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack, did he fly to Las Vegas for a fundraiser the very next day? Why didn’t he inform UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on the Sunday shows and blamed the attack on the anti-Islam film? Why didn’t he tell his own spokesperson, who insisted days later that “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack…And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy”? Why did the president himself go on “The View” nearly two weeks later, and — when asked point-blank whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack — say that “well, we’re still doing an investigation” and “it wasn’t just a mob action”?

Citizens or Fans

The political climate is such that no one who wants broad-based national appeal can possibly be forthright and specific.  As soon as one does, he or she looses too much appeal from too many. This is not a criticism of one side or the other, except to the extent that, as Yeats wrote: “The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.” 

We currently have a serious structural problem, the cracks of which are illuminated by the reality that both conservatives and progressives have basically reached an ideological impasse. Both sides believe they are right, and it has become an either/or situation.  This is not a situation the Founders foresaw.  It’s been getting worse for decades, but useful coalitions used to be built within the two-party framework.  I do not believe that is possible any more.  The only real hope is a multi-party system in which coalitions have to be built between multiple parties.

National politics is not about the base.  Neither party’s base is going anywhere, though they may just stay home.  National politics is about independents who want issue by issue policy solutions. So, if you have 4-5 viable parties actually in office, and parties A, B, and C agree about policy on issue X then they can put together something even if parties A, B and C disagree about issues Y and Z.

If just A & B agree on issue X and don’t have the numbers, then they work out deals with C, D and E about issue Y, giving parts of Y support in order to gain support for X.  Competition works better than monopolies in politics as well as business. It’s ugly business, but you can not govern a democracy without compromise between factions.

In Federalist 10, Madison makes the argument that liberty can not exist without giving rise to factions: ”Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

The only way to prevent this is to remove liberty by stamping out dissenting opinions; that is, until everyone shares the same opinion. Madison rightly knew this to be totalitarianism, well before the term was coined, and he considered it contrary to human nature.  ”As long as the reason of man continues to be fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

Faction is healthy!  What isn’t healthy to democracy, according to Madison, is the “violence of faction.”  We don’t have a lot of that anymore, despite the inflammatory rhetoric.  What has happened, instead, is that factions have condensed into two basic Factions: Us and Them.  For all practical intents and purposes, factions have been co-opted into Faction on pragmatic grounds.  “There are more people in Faction A,” we reason, “who support my opinion about policy X than in Faction B, so, if I want policy X I will have to join them.”

So then Faction A and Faction B become like two armies justifying their constant fight for power on the basis of broad ideological Good v. Evil worldviews in which pandering, demonizing and demagoguery are merely the weapons of warfare.  And, what’s worse, the battles are usually between skirmishers fighting over peanuts in the media Colosseum.

Witness the Republican debate the other night. There was not one single question on the European debt crisis, Medicare reform, how to fix Social Security so each of my kids isn’t working to pay for 50 retirees each, or restoring our triple-A rating.  There were questions on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” HPV Vaccinations, Border Fences, which department of the government would you eliminate, and who would you pick a VP.  I do not diminish any of these issues, but they are motes, not logs.  Just as in the 2008 Democratic Presidential primaries, all the questions boil down to just one: “Prove that you have the bona fides to be quarterback for Us.”

Madison wrote that “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities that where no substantial occasion presents itself the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their infriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

Like with football, it doesn’t matter that the “issue” is a pigskin; what matters is that the audience cheers for your side to move that pigskin as far as possible to an extreme end. In American politics today there are only 2 teams and the arena of the 24 hour news cycle has turned us all into fanboys watching “Last Man Standing/Running Man/Rollerball” as they seek to demolish one another over pigskin issues.

Who loses?  The fans of course, but then we made ourselves fans instead of citizens and we let them commodify our dissent.

Citizens or Fans

The political climate is such that no one who wants broad-based national appeal can possibly be forthright and specific.  As soon as s/he does, s/he looses too much appeal from too many. This is not a criticism of one side or the other, except to the extent that, as Yeats wrote: “The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

We currently have a serious structural problem, the cracks of which are illuminated by the reality that both conservatives and progressives have basically reached an ideological impasse.  Both sides believe they are right, and it has become an either/or situation.  This is not a situation the Founders foresaw.  It’s been getting worse for decades, but useful coalitions used to be built within the two-party framework.  I do not believe that is possible any more.  The only real hope is a multi-party system in which coalitions have to be built between multiple parties.

National politics is not about the base.  Neither party’s base is going anywhere, though they may just stay home.  National politics is about independents who want issue by issue policy solutions. So, if you have 4-5 viable parties actually in office, and parties A, B, and C agree about policy on issue X then they can put together something even if parties A, B and C disagree about issues Y and Z.

If just A & B agree on issue X and don’t have the numbers, then they work out deals with C, D and E about issue Y, giving parts of Y support in order to gain support for X.  Competition works better than monopolies in politics as well as business. It’s ugly business, but you can not govern a democracy without compromise between factions.

In Federalist 10, Madison makes the argument that liberty can not exist without giving rise to factions: ”Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

The only way to prevent this is to remove liberty by stamping out dissenting opinions; that is, until everyone shares the same opinion. Madison rightly knew this to be totalitarianism, well before the term was coined, and he considered it contrary to human nature.  ”As long as the reason of man continues to be fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

Faction is healthy!  What isn’t healthy to democracy, according to Madison, is the “violence of faction.”  We don’t have a lot of that anymore, despite the inflammatory rhetoric.  What has happened, instead, is that factions have condensed into two basic Factions: Us and Them.  For all practical intents and purposes, factions have been co-opted into Faction on pragmatic grounds.  “There are more people in Faction A,” we reason, “who support my opinion about policy X than in Faction B, so, if I want policy X I will have to join them.”

So then Faction A and Faction B become like two armies justifying their constant fight for power on the basis of broad ideological Good v. Evil worldviews in which pandering, demonizing and demogogary are merely the weapons of warfare.  And, what’s worse, the battles are usually between skirmishers fighting over peanuts in the media Collesium.

Witness the Republican debate the other night. There was not one single question on the European debt crisis, Medicare reform, how to fix Social Security so each of my kids isn’t working to pay for 50 retirees each, or restoring our triple-A rating.  There were questions on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” HPV Vaccinations, Border Fences, which department of the government would you eliminate, and who would you pick a VP.  I do not diminish any of these issues, but they are motes, not logs.  Just as in the 2008 Democratic Presidential primaries, all the questions boil down to just one: “Prove that you have the bona fides to be quarterback for Us.”

Madison wrote that “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities that where no substantial occasion presents itself the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their infriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

Like with football, it doesn’t matter that the “issue” is a pigskin; what matters is that the audience cheers for your side to move that pigskin as far as possible to an extreme end. In American politics today there are only 2 teams and the arena of the 24 hour news cycle has turned us all into fanboys watching “Last Man Standing/Running Man/Rollerball” as they seek to demolish one another over pigskin issues.

Who loses?  The fans of course, but then we made ourselves fans instead of citizens and we let them commodify our dissent.

Not a Christian Nation

I support the National Day of Prayer.  It’s not unconstitutional; there is no imposition; one can pray to Whomever, whomever (only my God gets the capital–that’s how it works on my blog), or whatever they want, or to no one or nothing.  The recent court decision declaring that it violates the Constitution is nonsense, and it will be overturned.  The text of U.S. Public Law 324 clearly states that this is optional: ”The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”

However, I do not agree with all the rhetoric in support of it based on the notion that “America is a Christian nation.”  Without a doubt, Judeo-Christian values, history and philosophy have informed, shaped and influenced this nation’s founding, laws and history, profoundly.   Yet, the definition of Christian is grounded in what one believes about the person of Jesus Christ, His death, and His resurrection.

Christianity is not a philosophy, ideology, political theory or worldview.  It can and does guide and shape those things; those things can and do arise and grow naturally out of  Scripture and tradition, of necessity as we strive to honor God with our lives.

Christianity itself, though, is about “Who do you say that [Jesus is]”, and what, precisely are you going to do with that answer? If you believe he is the Messiah, the God-man, the Christ who died for your sins and rose from the dead, and you surrender yourself to His grace and submit yourself to His Lordship in all things, then you can claim the name of Christian.  If you place your country above Him, you have, in fact, made an idol of your nation and violated the First and Second Commandments.

No where in our founding documents is the divinity of Christ, His atoning work on the cross for our sins, or His resurrection from the dead even implied.  They are political documents strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics and values, but they are not Christian in the sense that “The Epistle To Hebrews” is Christian, or even “The Augsburg Confession,” or “The Catechism of the Catholic Church.”  All are written affirmations of who Jesus Christ was, His purpose and mission, His call and our response.

If you do not believe what Scripture proclaims and the Spirit confirms about Jesus Christ and answer His call to come to Him, grow in Him and go for Him, then nothing you write, say or do can rightly be characterized as Christian.

Greeks R Us

Over the last several days there have been violent protest in Greece, including several deaths, over the spending cuts the government is proposing.   From “The Wall Street Journal:”

The Greeks are giving the world a good taste of their modern politics. Periclean democracy, meet Athenian mob rule: Tens of thousands are rampaging through the capital and other large cities this week in protest against €30 billion in austerity measures needed to secure the €110 million bailout for the bankrupt country.

The nationwide strike—led by government-employee unions, which threaten further disruptions after parliament yesterday approved the rescue package—was a timely show for Greece’s prospective rescuers in Germany and at the International Monetary Fund. The medicine for Greece’s deficit and debt woes (at 13% and 124.9% of GDP, respectively.

I used to have a lot of affinity with the Democratic Party, but, besides moral relativism, this is the main reason why they are moving us in the wrong direction, fast.  In order to stay in power, their main tactic is to created dependent constituencies with an ideology of entitlement.  If you make people dependent upon cradle-to-grave government  programs and services, and fill them with the sense that they are entitled to it, that they have a right to expect it, then they will demand more and refuse to accept any limits.

Notice there are no protests in the streets of Germany over paying for the bail-out.  No, instead, in Greece, where despite the fact that other nations will be forced to finance their dependence in order to keep the contagion from spreading, they are  refusing, with violence and murder, to accept any cuts in in their entitlements.  Just like the NJ teachers’ union, which refuses to take a salary freeze so that programs don’t have to be cut.  From an op-ed at NorthJersey.com:

The much reported “death curse” on Governor Christie and the teachers union’s response to it seem to prove the point that the leadership of the New Jersey Education Association is not thinking clearly. Christie’s demand that teachers forgo their wage increases is reasonable, based on the state’s tenuous fiscal situation.

No, no.  Endless spending is an entitlement.  Give us 10 years, Greece; we’ll catch up.

Who Would Jesus Deport

Today, the first of May, there were protest all over the country against Arizona’s new immigration law.  One protestor was carrying a sign  “Who Would Jesus Deport?” What if it said “Who Would Jesus Marry?”  (I mean by this not get married to but whose marriage would he preside over.)  Can you image the outrage?

The Left welcome Christian principles and arguments when they support, or they think they can be used to support, the things they agree with like homosexuality, immigration, the environment, and care of the poor.  They don’t seem to have any problem at all suggesting that governments should encode such principles into law.

At a blog I recently stumbled across and really like, the author, Wes Ellis, posted a prayer for humility regarding immigrants.  I liked it, and have no problem praying it in agreement with the him.  However, it implied to me that he thought Christian charity on this point should be the rule of law, so I posted a comment:

Amen, by which I literally mean, I agree and beseech God with you. I do, however, believe there is a distinction between the Church Universal and national policy.

As Christians, the true Jews, the command in Leviticus 19:34 is also commanded of us: “The alien who resides among you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Likewise Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

This is how the Church should act, and pray.

That does not mean God’s left hand, the State, does not have an obligation to protect its citizens or enforce the laws, nor does it mean Biblical commands given to God’s people should be encoded into immigration policy.

To which he replied: “I don’t think God’s left hand would work in opposition to his right…”

This is loaded with all kinds of implications for Church/State relations, most of which the Left would condemn if used to support a conservative viewpoint.  It almost sounds like he supports a theocracy, like Israel was when God gave them the command in Leviticus.  Besides, nothing I wrote even implied that I thought God works at cross-purposes with Himself.

I think that we should be Christ to immigrants, and we should call on our government to create just policies. But those just policies have to take into account justice for the citizen. Forget popular sovereignty; only God is sovereign, and He established the US government (whether they know it or not) to govern US citizens.

Concerning the roles of the State in the Two Kingdoms, Luther argues that government is “First, established [by God] to provide order and maintain the peace. Second, it must wield the sword with justice and according to the statues and laws of the nation.” ((http://www.servetus.org/en/news-events/articulos/ensayo240206.htm“)) No government has ever been the source for God’s redemptive, social transformative work. That’s not its function. That is the task of His Church.

In an interview in 2004, N. T. Wright addressed this kind of thinking:

“I’ve sometimes hypothesized, what if someone were to say to Paul: ‘Well, according to your principle of love, all God’s people should share their possessions with one another. Therefore, some of us in the church think that we should help this process on the way by going into our neighbors’ houses and helping ourselves to whatever we fancy, thus liberating these objects from the spurious idea of possession.’ You can imagine someone might say, ‘Well, some of us believe in theft and others don’t, so let’s not judge one another.'”

As long as we have legitimate laws, the State has to enforce them. As a Christian I will minister to a resident alien, but I will not hire him or help him get here.  I simply do not see how my ministering to anyone obligates me to support a particular governmental policy.  Are we to just open the borders then?

Besides which, Chrisian principles of love and hospitality apply to all Christians in all places at all times.  So, should Christians in Japan, say, try to make the government relax its strict immigration policy?  Are all governments everywhere supposed to encode our beliefs into law?  Even in Iran, say?  Did Jesus intend His commands to His Church to be imposed on all people through the State?  Sure sounds like exactly what the Left is always accusing the Right of wanting.

When I protested his characterization of my comments, Mr Ellis clarified: “If God is in solidarity with the poor and with immigrants, and the government passes a law that is unjust toward immigrants, then God would be ‘cross-purposing’ himself.”

First, God does not stand with the poor and with immigrants, per se, in and of themselves.  He makes it sound as if just by virtue of stepping aross a border, even if done so illegally, even if done so with the intent to commit crimes, that somehow God stands with and for them, collectively, as a group, automatically.

Nor does it follow that because God clearly does have a heart for the outcast, the poor, the sick, the broken, the marginalized and oppressed that anytime a government passes a law that may not be equitable and just He is either working at cross-purposes with Himself or He is not really sovereign over the State.

It’s a flawed conclusion from an equally flawed premise.

Bonhoeffer and Obama

Eric Metaxas has just published the first biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in forty years: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This review at Fox News has an illuminating quote from Metaxas that should sound alarm bells in the age of Obama:

But the legacy that Bonhoeffer leaves future generations is of the untold dangers of idolizing politicians as messianic figures. Not just in the 1930s and ’40s, but today as well.

“It’s a deep temptation within us,” says Metaxas. “We need to guard against it and we need to know that it can lead to our ruin. Germany was led over the cliff, and there were many good people who were totally deluded.”

Bonhoeffer, says Metaxas, was a prophet. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. He was God’s voice at a time when almost no one was speaking out against the evil of the Nazis.

For further reading on Bonhoeffer:

Here is the International Bonhoeffer Society’s English language page, and here is a good article by a member of that society.  Here is a general biographical article from the Wikipedia.  Here is a list of his books, many of which have a limited preview available.  Here is a short selection from his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship.  And here is the poem, “Who Am I?”

Creationless Creation

Over at Salvo, Jennifer Fulwiler has a great article, “Mad About Babies:  What’s Sex Got to Do With It?”

Until a couple of years ago, I was militantly pro-choice. When I heard people make anti-abortion statements, it filled me with a white-hot anger that I could barely contain. Behind my views was a buried but unspoken sense that there was something inherently unfair about being a woman, and abortion was a key to maintaining any semblance of a level playing field in the world.

My peers and I were taught not that sex creates babies, but that unprotected sex creates babies. We absorbed through cultural osmosis the idea that every normal person will have sex at some point in his or her life, and that the sexual act, by default, has no significance outside the relationship between the two people involved. In this worldview, when an unexpected pregnancy came up, it was seen as a sort of betrayal by the woman’s body.

Later, after her conversion, she “started to see the catastrophic mistake our society had made when we started believing that the life-giving potential of the sexual act could be safely forgotten about as long as people used contraception. It would be like saying that guns could be used as toys as long as there were blanks in the chamber. Teaching people to use something with tremendous power nonchalantly, as a casual plaything, had set women up for disaster.”

Our society, she argues, as disconnected the once shared conditions for consideration of two questions:  When it it acceptable to have sex and when is it acceptable to have a baby.  She makes this comparison:

Conditions under which it is acceptable to have sex:
  • -If you’re in a stable relationship
  • -If you feel emotionally ready
  • -If you’re free of sexually transmitted diseases
  • -If you have access to contraception

Conditions under which it is acceptable to have a baby:

  • -If you can afford it
  • -If you’ve finished your education
  • -If you feel emotionally ready to parent a child
  • -If your partner would make a good parent
  • -If you’re ready for all the lifestyle changes that would be involved with parenthood

As long as those two lists do not match, we will live in a culture where abortion is common and where women are at war with their own bodies.

This is just another example, to me, of the Church as captive to the culture.  Most American modes of Christianity no longer speaks out against socially acceptable sexual sin (like “responsible” pre-marital sex, living together) and as homosexuality becomes more and more socially acceptable, they will gradually accept that, as the ELCA has most recently.  As long as it’s committed and monogamous, it will fulfill the conditions under which it is OK to have sex.  And, babies have nothing to do with it.

Capture or Kill, War or Crime

In a “Washington Post” story today it was reported that under President Obama there are more targeted killings than captures in counter-terrorism efforts.  Senator Bond (R, Mo) says: “Over a year after taking office, the administration has still failed to answer the hard questions about what to do if we have the opportunity to capture and detain a terrorist overseas, which has made our terror-fighters reluctant to capture and left our allies confused.”

I’m confused too.  If terrorism is going to be treated by this administration as a crime rather than an act of war, and if those captured are going to be treated as criminals rather than enemy combatants, then isn’t it a crime, the crime of murder, to just kill them without a trial?  Let me get this straight.  We kill them so that we don’t have to worry about Mirandizing them and finding a place to hold a trial if we capture them?

How long can we maintain this kind of cognitive dissonance?  If the Left wants to try G.W. Bush for war crimes, does that mean we would try President Obama for murder?

Red Pew, Blue Pulpit

There’s an interesting article today in “The Courier-Journal” about a new survey done by the Research Services of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  “Donkeys are often preaching to elephants in Presbyterian churches, a denominational survey says. Specifically, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin among Presbyterian pastors. In contrast, Republicans far outnumber Democrats among Presbyterian members and elders (lay leaders).”

The article goes on the say “Another survey of 10 denominations (five mainline, five evangelical) affirmed those results. Democrats in the pulpit far outnumber Republicans in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”  Big surprise.  As the ELCA’s vote last summer on the rostering of gays showed at the time, the leadership is often out of step with the members, just as in politics.

The article poses an interesting follow-up:  “How often do these pastors preach their politics?”  Not often in my church, but Republicans have been the object of some derisive comments by my pastor in the pulpit.