Tales from Leftland

David Gelernter makes a unique case against Obama: he disparages an entire generation (!) as tending "to have a fuzzy view of history, an unconditional belief in tolerance and diplomacy, and contempt for the military and war-making" and, moreover, as believing "that losing wars is character-building and that serious Americans find their own history embarrassing (and the less you know about it, the better)." Gelernter calls this generation gen-CR, the generation shaped after the Cultural Revolution of the 1960's and 70's, and he insinuates that Obama is a characteristic member. Palin, he assures us, is not, because "she hasn't said the sort of crazy things Obama has." True, her sort of crazy statements are on a whole other level.

Neither Obama nor most of the members of gen-CR have much in common with Gelernter's description. Those who feel embarrassed by American history, such as avid readers of Howard Zinn or the editors of The Nation, really think it's better that we all know more of our history. "Losing wars is character-building" sounds like something Calvin's dad would say after his son got beat up by Moe. And dude, Obama is no peacenik! He doesn't even pretend to be one. The people calling Obama a dove are mostly those who need to create a greater distance between McCain and Obama on foreign policy. As Daniel Larison notes, "McCain supporters need to believe that Obama is the next coming of McGovern, because McCain doesn’t have a chance in this election if that isn’t true."

Against Sanctions

Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama speak favorably of sanctions against Iran. Neither of them showed any concern during Friday's debate for how such sanctions would hurt the Iranian people. They can be more devastating to life than acts of war: the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War led to the deaths of half a million people, women and children included. A friend of mine justified the invasion of Iraq in part on the grounds that it would be more humane than the years of sanctions. I didn't agree with his justification, but I took his point about the potential effects of sanctions. We all should.

Dangerous Precedent

Obama's implied claim that we have the right to kill people in another country without that country's permission shows disrespect for the sovereignty of other countries and doesn't further his plan to restore our government's image around the globe. Furthermore, his claim, when acted upon, adds a dangerous precedent in international policy. I can't imagine we'd be very understanding if Pakistan decided to take out its stated enemies on US soil without our permission.

How I Would Host A Presidential Debate

If I were to host a presidential debate, the following are among the cornerstone questions I would ask the presidential candidates:

1. What is the most important responsibility of the President of the United States – the responsibility for which you would sacrifice all others if circumstances required a choice?

2. According to the Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted among men to secure the alienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At what stage of development – for example conception, viability, or birth – should the government begin to secure the human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? On what basis do you choose this stage?

3. What is the meaning of peace? How do we foster peace in our homes, within our neighborhoods, around the country, and among nations? What specific measures would you implement for the advancement of peace? What role does solidarity have in establishing peace among peoples in the world?

4. In your view, is it ever morally permissible to commit an act of injustice or evil so that good may come of it? Why or why not?

5. Do you believe that power can corrupt those who wield it? Is it possible that you could be corrupted by the power of the presidency? If so, what measures would you take to protect yourself from being corrupted? If not, what makes you immune to power’s corruptive influences? Or do you not believe that power corrupts? Why not?

6. Does truth matter in politics? If so, how do you respond to charges that you have repeatedly misrepresented your opponent’s positions?

7. When it comes time to deliver the State of the Union, will you be talking about the actual state of the union, or mostly giving yourself and your party a pat on the back? If the former, would you be willing to give a shout out to Postmodern Papist, as an example of the exemplary state of blogging in the union?

The Risk

I’m curious to know what pro-life supporters of McCain’s presidential campaign think of his sudden decision to suspend his campaign, particularly in terms of the enormous risk it carries. McCain is gambling that his decision plays favorably towards his campaign. He may also have tied the fate of his campaign to his success in addressing the financial crisis. The suddenness of the move, combined with the uncertainty of how it will play and how Obama will narrative it to his advantage, makes it very risky.

Now I ask about pro-life supporters in particular because McCain is risking not only his shot at the White House, but also the particular policies of his for which his pro-life supporters back him. Prominent pro-lifers point out that life issues such as abortion outweigh other issues such as economic policies, yet for the sake of America’s financial stability, McCain risks an Obama presidency, one that will strengthen the legality of abortion rights.

Thoughts?

Anthill Escapades

My two-year-old son is very smart, but not too bright. He’s also immensely strong, which gives me hope that he’ll become a linebacker and make his church bureaucrat daddy who’s trained in philosophy immensely wealthy. His intelligence I gather from his polysyllabic vocabulary. I’m a proud parent when he, unprompted, yelps HER-MEN-EU-TICS or O-BAR-RA-CU-DA in crowded places like the swimming pool or our parish narthex.

He displayed his stupidity last Friday when he and I were gallivanting in the back yard and he came upon an anthill. Now he knows full well what anthills are. He knows that the official policy of the Cupp household toward anthills is one of prudence, containment, and definitely non-engagement. What does he do? Deliberately and smiling, he exercises his two-year-old reason and steps on it with both feet.

Screams ensued. When I picked him up I couldn’t see his feet for all the ants. I got thirteen bites just from those ants that landed on me as I quickly brushed them off of him. My wife, having heard the screams from inside, came running up as I was carrying him towards our door. She was frantic, worried, and compassionate. I had been scolding the little guy with G-Rated versions of “WTF” and “This is why you don’t step on anthills.”

Once inside we went to the bathtub and ran a bath. These ants had been gathering dog poop for the evening meal, so the rubbing alcohol was applied to us both immediately, followed by doses of Benadryl, aloe vera, and beer. Swelling came and went. Whiteheads formed and popped. It was all very icky and itchy.

I’m pleased to note that the little guy learned his lesson. He was out playing that same afternoon, and as he neared the offending anthill, he proclaimed to his mommy, “I’m walking around the anthill,” his feet at least half an inch from ant’s abode.

Staneski's Fiction


The news forum website Lucianne.com lists this article in the American Thinker as "probably the most important piece you will read this weekend." The article, which repliers on Lucianne called "a must read," "brilliant," and "profound," is by William Staneski and is titled "The Drumbeat." What is the drumbeat? Staneski explains:
It's the drumbeat of the left. It is political, philosophical, theological, and social. It pervades every activity. It is post-structural, post-modern, post-everything in the parlance of the day. It is tolerant, diverse, non-judgmental, non-discriminatory, egalitarian, politically correct, multicultural, globalist, and collectivist. It insists that there are no rights and wrongs, no moral absolutes. It turns everything upside down in its looking glass world. It denies the correctness of all that produced what our culture revered before the deconstruction of the world in accordance with the tenets of cultural Marxism.

It denies God, human exceptionalism, and the soul. We are reduced to Darwinian animals floundering in an amoral sea of meaninglessness. It is a product of the nihilistic, existentialist philosophical movement, which went hand in hand with modern art, atonal music, scientific materialism and modern physics, and the generally discordant nature of the twentieth century.
Drums, drums in the deep. They are coming. We cannot get out. Like Tolkien's orcs in the Mines of Moria, Staneski's villains are fictional. There are of course Leftists, atheists, post-structuralists, postmodernists, materialists, existentialists, nihilists, relativists, and cultural Marxists, and critics of American Exceptionalism. They are not, as Stanesky describes, beating the same drum or even drumming the same beat. Many of Staneski's drummers espouse mutually exclusive philosophies, yet at points he seems to place each of them in the "culural Marxist" category. Deconstruction and Marxism don't mix. Chomsky severely criticized Derrida. Habermas opposed postmodernism. Lyotard and Foucault were not marching members of the Frankfurt School.

Staneski doesn't bother to show exactly how his drummers have perverted American culture. He substitutes continuous metaphor and clever, concise phrasing for evidence and argumentation. He presents his drummers, also like Tolkien's orcs, as villainous to the core, with nothing worthwhile to offer the the freedom-loving, human-nature-respecting good guys. Except a catchy beat. No acknowledgement of Adorno's critique of the consumeristic culture industry. No recognition given to Marcuse's insight that freedom isn't found in a wide range of crappy choices and the meeting of manufactured false needs. Not a word used to actually name anyone.

Hey, since I subscribe to several of his feared drummers, can I be the Balrog? Doom-boom, doom-boom.

Channelling Edmund Burke

Glenn Greenwald inquires:
Can anyone point to any discussion of what the implications are for having the Federal Government seize control of the largest and most powerful insurance company in the country, as well as virtually the entire mortgage industry and other key swaths of financial services? Haven't we heard all these years that national health care was an extremely risky and dangerous undertaking because of what happens when the Federal Government gets too involved in an industry? What happened in the last month dwarfs all of that by many magnitudes.

The Treasury Secretary is dictating to these companies how they should be run and who should run them. The Federal Government now controls what were -- up until last month -- vast private assets. These are extreme -- truly radical -- changes to how our society functions. Does anyone have any disagreement with any of it or is anyone alarmed by what the consequences are -- not the economic consequences but the consequences of so radically changing how things function so fundamentally and so quickly?

Interreligious Openness

Francis X. Clooney, S.J. asks at the America magazine blog whether or not interreligious openness should be a criterion for the Catholic voter. He concludes:
So I at least will be looking for candidates, local and national, who show interreligious sensitivity, who have bothered to learn about other religions, and who do not use their faith as an excuse for ignorance of or disrespect for the faith of others. If I could host a debate, I would love to ask candidates who make an public issue of their religious identities what they think of the Pope’s assertion that our “globalized, multicultural and multireligious society” is “a God-given opportunity to proclaim Truth and practice Love so as to reach out to every human being without distinction, even beyond the limits of the visible Church.”
I agree that interreligious hospitality is an important criterion for selecting a candidate for public service, particularly in cases where the candidate will interact on the international level. Religion plays a foundational role in shaping how people across the world perceive and understand their world and one another. If our “foreign policies” are to have practical basis in the world, then those deciding such policies need to have studied the religions of those who are affected by their policies, thought through how their religions have shaped their world, and reasonably speculated how our policies will interact in those religiously-formed worlds.

Our public servants will better prepared to work for peace and justice if they anticipate the consequences of placing troops on the streets of what a religious tradition considers to be its holy land, if they understand the ramifications of removing a power center keeping in check competing religious interpretations, and if they appreciate the significance of foreign worldviews developed by centuries of religious tradition and conflict.

Moreover, the Church’s call for international solidarity calls our public servants to seek to understand others on the international sphere as those others understand themselves. That understanding requires that our public servants approach people of other religions with an eagerness to listen to them and enter into dialogue with them, with the humble awareness that other religions are more than what they know them to be.

In Defense of Truth

The modus operandi of many campaigning politicians seems to be deception in the pursuit of power. They lie repeatedly, ask us to trust them, and, amazingly, we do. Those who support repeat liars or excuse the deception as just the way politics goes should ask themselves if truth matters.

A Jester's Poetry

"Love is a full-length mirror."

- Stephen Colbert

A Market Approach to Planned Parenthood

DFW Catholic reports that today "leaders from more than 20 pro-life organizations will come together in Rosemont, Ill., to draft a joint resolution, expected to outline a plan to de-fund and shut down Planned Parenthood."

I think what may be the best response to Planned Parenthood is good old fashioned competition in the marketplace. The Pro-Life Action league and other organizations can publish detractions against Planned Parenthood all they want, but they shouldn’t expect it to disappear unless the needed services it provides are more effectively provided by others. The case against Planned Parenthood will carry much more weight if the pro-life movement can offer viable alternatives.

Pro-lifers have instituted and supported centers that offer services to mothers, but these centers don’t receive funding to match what goes to Planned Parenthood, making competition difficult. Planned Parenthood also receives millions in government aid each year, the amount of which has risen each year since at least the mid 90's. In 2005 government funding accounted for about 33% of its income, about 34% in 2006. Cut that funding and, yes, Planned Parenthood would have to cut back on its clinics and its services, but it would still survive. It thrives not just because of government funding, but because it has effectively sold the idea that pregnant women have certain needs (some real, some false) and has positioned itself as the best place where those needs can be met.

With good organization and effective capital campaigning, competition is possible even if our pregnancy centers don't get the government funding that Planned Parenthood gets. For one thing, we would not be looking to provide abortions and contraceptives, but rather healthcare services for women wanting to keep and raise their babies. We wouldn't need to raise the full amount of money on which Planned Parenthood operates, but enough to do better what it does some of the time: prenatal care, breast exams, testing, etc, and enough to offer additional services it doesn't provide but would give women with "crisis pregnancies" a choice. I'd like to see our pregnancy centers employ full time OB/GYNs and pediatricians who could offer free support to women who believe they have no other choice but to go to Planned Parenthood.

Don't Panic

Does the victory for the pro-life cause really hinge on the outcome of this election?

If so, I’d place a good part of the blame on pro-lifers for putting most of their hopes in politicians, which is a good way to get screwed. Thankfully, pro-lifers needn’t panic even if adamant abortion rights advocate Barack Obama becomes president. Make no mistake: Obama isn’t intent on preserving the status quo on legalized abortion; he’s very intent on strengthening its legality. It’s not for nothing that many pro-lifers now place their trust in a campaign that has shown itself deceitful and untrustworthy these past couple weeks. Nevertheless, Obama’s election doesn’t call for panic, and as panic leads to rash behavior, it wouldn’t do much good anyway.

I say we shouldn’t panic, not because the things are going well for the pro-life cause and could suddenly go very badly, but because, despite some victories, things a pretty bad. A key objective of the pro-life movement – the permanent outlawing of abortion – will not be reached in the near future, perhaps for generations, regardless of who wins or whether Roe is overturned.

As long as an effective pro-choice movement operates in our society, any and all pro-life victories will be fleeting and embolden those who insist on abortions legality. Any pro-life legislation is at death's door as long as an effective number of Americans think or feel that abortion should be legal. McCain and Palin may be able to help prop up laws outlawing abortion, but they cannot keep them from crashing down in the fury of the pro-choice movement's reaction to those laws, especially if the movement’s numbers swell. You think the advocate for abortion rights play hardball now, wait until they’re on the offensive fighting in a post Roe v. Wade society. Returning decision-making on abortion to the States doesn’t prevent it from quickly being returned to the federal level.

The hopes of pro-lifers depend on their success at dispelling the pro-choice movement. That’s a long-term goal and one that will require a loving and persuasive outreach to those who defend abortion as a right, and a willingness to listen and learn from them as well. It is also a prerequisite for any lasting legal success. If we’re serious about erecting legal protections of the unborn, we have to be serious about responding to the pro-choice movement. They won’t go away just because we outlaw abortion. They cannot be defeated politically. We cannot win through politics alone, but there are alternatives to fighting.

So maybe instead of picketing Planned Parenthood, which has the ill effect of erecting obstacles to outreach, we should open an ear to their concerns and initiate discussions in which the mutual aim is to understand and persuade. Maybe instead of calling abortion rights advocates monsters, baby-killers, and cannibals, we should make an effort to understand our opponents as they understand themselves. Maybe instead of working tirelessly to defeat the pro-choice movement in endless political battles, we should also focus our energies on personal conversion and formation.

Whatever we do, we cannot place most of our hopes in any one place, not in making abortion illegal, not in fashioning an economically just society, not in the sorts of outreach I advocate here. The occurrence of abortion results from a variety of causes and conditions, and each has to be addressed. None can be forgotten or ignored, especially those that we have to address as prerequisite to others.

Thanks, But No Thanks

I wanted to like Sarah Palin. Her ascension to the nation stage gave hope for a believable pro-life official high in the McCain administration. Many of my Facebook friends have become avid Sarah Palin fans. My family excitedly supports the McCain/Palin ticket. The pro-life blogosphere continues to celebrate. After hearing of her personal story, I hoped that I would learn more about her that would give me cause to cheer for her as an executive, even if I couldn’t support the McCain ticket. She’s now given a number of theatrical speeches and one major theatrical interview – not a lot to go on when assessing the readiness of someone for the Vice Presidency, but it’s about all I’ve got, and what I’ve seen so far has not endeared me to this rising star.

Yes, I still believe Palin would fight fiercely to help outlaw abortion. She stated to Gibson that Roe should be overturned and that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest—she would keep it legal in cases where the life of the mother is in jeopardy. She used the term “personal opinion” in speaking of her stance on abortion, but I sense that she would “impose” her personal opinion on the country. She also, to my liking, expressed the need to understand and work with those who see the abortion issue differently. I suspect her rhetoric of “personal opinion” and “understanding” was meant to calm the fears of pro-choice voters. We’ll see, but for now, I think she’s as anti-abortion as she says she is.

What I find so objectionable (aside from the repeated dishonesty of the McCain/Palin campaign) is her foreign policy views—or what she is presenting as her foreign policy views. From what I’ve read, I gather that prior to her selection as McCain’s VP candidate, Palin hadn’t given much thought to matters of war and foreign policy. Now she’s receiving on-the-job training from McCain advisors. While I’d expect her to follow McCain’s lead on policy, we the voters should nevertheless know her thought on foreign policy. Given that her foreign policy views are largely unknown, Palin has an obligation to air those views, however basic or advanced they are. Otherwise, we voters have an insufficient basis on which to evaluate her competency for the office. She could become president, after all. What she’s presented as her views may be hers or they may be statements McCain advisors told her to say. I will assume they are hers, at least in so far as they are the views she would espouse as the Vice President. If they are not really her views, well then I think in this she’s so far failed in her responsibility to the voters.

In her interview with Gibson, we’ve learned that Palin would perhaps go to war with Russia over NATO members, that she’ll unquestionably support whatever Israel does in the name of its defense, that she thinks Russia was unprovoked in its invasion of Georgia, that we can ignore the boundaries and sovereignty of other nations because, in her words, “in order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.”

We’ve learned that Palin believes the top priority of the president is to defend the United States of America, whatever it takes and without blinking, meaning that for Palin safety is a higher priority than justice—meaning that Palin, if she follows her priorities, will sacrifice justice for safety. We’ve learned that Palin buys into the Bush policy of ridding “the world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation,” only she implies that McCain will do a better job of it. McCain shares this policy view as well, and has spoken of it in terms of defeating evil itself. Does Palin realize that ridding the world of terrorists is impossible? A war to do that fails a key criteria for a just war. McCain says he hates war, but his and Palin’s response to terrorism is predicated on perpetual war. Palin also seems to think that the terrorists hate us because of our freedom. You don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to know that our meddling in the Middle East, right or wrong, provokes hatred and violence. Bin Laden broadcast his motives for the 9/11 attacks; has Palin bothered to understand the mind of our enemy? Doesn’t sound like it. She couldn’t say what the Bush doctrine was either.

I anticipate that someone will point out to me that far more innocent lives have been lost these past years from abortion than from the War on Terror, including the Iraq War, and that therefore, even if McCain and Palin have a war problem, that problem pales in comparison to Obama’s ardent stance on abortion. Abortion has killed millions, whereas our recent wars have killed, so far as we know, thousands. Comparing Obama and McCain on this presents a false dichotomy. Even if he overturns Roe, McCain isn’t going to save a million lives. The conflict over abortion will return to the States for a time until the pro-choice movement succeeds in remaking it a federal issue. Some lives may be saved in that interim period, and that’s good, but abortions will continue in most States during that time. We don’t know how many unborn lives will be saved by a McCain/Palin presidency, nor do we know how many deaths will result from its wars. Nevertheless, it is nowhere near inconceivable that a war with Iran or Russia or whomever could result in millions of deaths. What McCain and Palin do in foreign policy could turn out to be more powerful than what they do to promote a culture of life. In any case, I’m not willing to give her a free pass just because she’s against abortion.

At this point, knowing what little information we’ve been given about this candidate, I have to say thanks, but no thanks to the Palin candidacy.

In Defense of Second-Guessing

I’m one to second-guess a lot of things – whether I left the stove on, locked the front door, was wise to post that blog – and perhaps for that reason this section of Governor Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson stuck out:
GIBSON: What if Israel decided it felt threatened and needed to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?
PALIN: Well, first, we are friends with Israel and I don't think that we should second guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security.
GIBSON: So if we wouldn't second guess it and they decided they needed to do it because Iran was an existential threat, we would cooperative or agree with that.
PALIN: I don't think we can second guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation.
GIBSON: So if it felt necessary, if it felt the need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be all right.
PALIN: We cannot second guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself.
Why can we not second-guess what Israel does to defend itself? Because we’re friends? What if something our friend does is wrong? As a sovereign nation, Israel has the right and duty to defend itself, but that doesn’t mean that its defensive measures are beyond critique or “second-guessing.’ I don’t like this no-second-guessing posture one bit.

I find this 2007 statement by Senator Obama troubling along the same lines:
…we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza. And when Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself.
Total commitment? To their ends and means if Israel is attacked?

Alliances are tricky relationships: they can provide nations with needed determent, support and protection, but they can also morally compromise a nation by compelling it to act against its own interests or the common good. One way of keeping relationships among nations moral and healthy is mutual willingness to criticize, or in the words of Governor Palin, second-guess. Yes, even in the worse of times and most dire of circumstances. Our total commitment should be to the good, not to what is willed by our friends and allies.

I Have Found My Calling

Political choices confound me and leave my paralyzed, but of this I am certain. Of this I have no doubt. The way is clear. The truth is pure. My vocation:

Two is Company

At the start of September, my wife began her new afternoon job teaching kids art , so we've been using my work's daycare. This means that the little guy now rides home with me four days per week. It also means I'm now riding my wife's bicycle, which has the kid seat attached. And, yes, that means I'm now riding a woman's bike to and from work. But hey, when have I shown concern for my cycling appearance?

Cautionary Note

You keep making up "truth" like this, Senator McCain, and some people might think you're a postmodernist!

Face to Face

Connie's Daughter offers firsthand impressions from the McCain/Palin rally in Lebanon, Ohio.

Boarding the Pequod

Last time I checked, the Democrats looked the sure bet for which party will control Congress in 2009. If Senator Obama wins the election, his party will control the executive and legislative branches, and he'll have the opportunity to reshape the judicial branch as well. With fewer hindrances to the enactment of his will, Obama will likely get much of what he wants. This makes the consequences of his presidency somewhat predicable. Of course, with all the conflicting narratives about him by which we're bombarded, who really knows him? Moreover, some cataclysm could erupt throwing the country into disarray and the Democratic Party platform into irrelevancy. It's also possible that Obama has not been honest about what he wants. I say somewhat for a reason.

I think a McCain presidency would be even less predicable, less knowable in its consequences. McCain may prove a maverick as a chief narrative about him implies, but then again he'll be working with an oppositional party and within a party that has historically betrayed its promises of defending conservative principles, so, under these situations, what does being a maverick even mean? The Palin pick has energized culture warriors and others skeptical of McCain's dedication to social causes and traditional conservatism, but McCain may have chosen Palin as a sign of his dedication to building a culture of life and to conservative principles, or as a ruse meant to trick his skeptics into supporting him. Personally, I don't find McCain any more or less believable because of his choosing Governor Palin.

While supporters of both candidates choose without recourse certain knowledge or certain narratives, I think McCain supporters, generally speaking, more strongly experience this condition of uncertainty. Fellow Catholic blogger Jay Anderson has endorsed the McCain/Palin ticket, but he does so aware that McCain might very well betray the pro-life cause. Jeff Miller, commenting, welcomes Jay to the "nervously for McCain caucus."

Nervous is a good way to be when choosing the next president. McCain supporters should be nervous. Obama supporters should be nervous. Douglas Kmiec should be shaking in his shoes when he calls Obama a natural for the Catholic vote. Supporters of a third-party candidate should be nervous. Those opting not to vote should be nervous. We're talking about empowering a man to the most powerful office in the world, a man we don't really know, but a man we at least know wants to be the most powerful person in the world. I'd say a little fear and trembling is in order.

Given that we have to vote (or not) - an ethical choice - without certain knowledge of what these candidates will do and exactly what's coming up next, it is overreaching for supporters of either candidate to raise support for their preferred candidate to the level of an imperative or obligation. Feddie's view that "faithful" Christians are unjustified in not supporting McCain/Palin assumes a totality of knowledge nobody really has. We should recognize voting as an act of prudential judgment, at best. Often it's a judgment based on half-blind speculation and guesswork, like bobbing for the rotten apple in a bucket of slime. That there are non-negotiable issues does not mean that there is a non-negotiable choice for President of the United States or any other office. Because we do not really know what we vote for when we vote for our chosen candidate.

Impediments

From Mark Helprin's Memoir from Antproof Case:

I have found that large concentrations of capital either make their owners into monsters of vanity and petulance or sadden them beyond redemption. Constance was saddened, which is what happens when you have everything you want.

She wanted me to be president. "Of what?" I inquired.

"The United States."

"Me?" I asked silently, my lips moving and my thum pointing at my solar plexus.

"Yes," she said, and went on in one of her semirhythmic fusillades. "You're a good speaker. You're totally honest. You're an experienced analyst of international politics. You have a fairly good knowledge of economics. You're a war hero. You're handsome. You were born in the United States, and now you count your dollars by the billion. Why not?"

"But Constance..."

"You went to harvard, like the Roosevelts and the Adamses, and Wall Street would back you, even though you would be a hypnotic populist."

"But Constance..."

"You could start with the Senate. I'll buy a few strategic newspapers and back you editorially. You have such a will to fight! What a marvelous idea! I hadn't thought of it!"

"Constance."

"What?"

"I could never be president, even if I wanted to be."

"Of course you can, if you want to be."

"No."

"Why?"

"Because I'm a convicted murderer who grew up in an insane asylum, that's why."

As she thought about this, I could see that she was sifting through encyclopedias of history. "I don't think it would be an impediment, dear, do you?"

Despite her historical analysis, I did. Besides, deep in my heart I really did not want to be president of the United States. If you pay a certain amount that varies according to his political fortunes, you get to stand next to the president and have your picture taken, and he has to smile. The only other being that I have known who is paid to stand next to you as your picture is taken was a chimpanzee on the Boardwalk at Coney Island. His name was Tony, and he smiled only if he like you. Unfortunately, he liked me. I was twelve years old, and he must have thought I was a girl, because he kissed me on the lips. It was my first kiss....
H/T: So Quoted

O Me of Little Faith

While reflecting upon the current election following the party conventions, my thoughts turned to a scene in Woody Allen’s film Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen’s character has just learned that he doesn’t have the brain tumor that he thought he had. He knows he’s going to live, and he rejoices. Then comes his inevitable Woody Allen existential crisis. Why does he celebrate if life is ultimately meaningless? The next scenes show Allen’s encounters with a few religions. His encounter with Catholicism begins with him standing outside a bookstore where a poster of Jesus is positioned in the shop window. When Allen sways left, Jesus’ eyes open, when Allen sways right, the eyes close. Next we see Allen come home with a grocery bag, which he puts on the counter and empties. First he pulls out a crucifix, then a picture of St. Jude, and finally a loaf Wonderbread.

Suffice it to say that Allen doesn’t get deep into the mysteries of the Catholic faith. We can blame Allen for not going deeper, and perhaps we should, but we should also understand that his encounter with Catholicism was partially shaped by Catholics. Allen experiences Catholicism as a well-marketed brand-name label, like Wonderbread. The Catholicism he experiences is a well-advertised commodity, a fiction sold to the people to make them buy and believe the fiction.

I feel a bit like the Allen character while I watch this election unfold. Whereas Allen was sold a story about eternal salvation that he wanted to believe but ultimately didn’t, I’m being sold stories about earthly salvation that I want to believe but as of yet haven’t.

Obama, I hear, will save us from the affluent top five percent, from the anti-choicers who would take us back to a horrid time of dangerous illegal abortions, from the lawlessness of the current administration. As the perception of his saving power didn’t strongly include our salvation from the tyrants and terrorists of the world, Obama added the formidable character of Biden to his narrative identity, his marketed story, in hopes that we would believe in him to save us from them as well.

McCain, I hear, will save us from the socialist policies of the Democrats, from the tyrants and terrorists of the world, from the lawlessness of the current administration. As the perception of his saving power didn’t strongly include salvation of the unborn from abortionists and scientists, McCain added the surprise pro-life character of Palin to his narrative identity, his advertised tale, in hope that we believe in him to save the babies.

This election isn’t so much about educating voters to make rational, informed, and prudential decisions. This election is more about selling a story to win the faith of voters. It’s about using narratives to create needs with the impression that only Obama or McCain can meet those needs. Obama and McCain each want our votes and aim to get those votes by telling us a tale. Each of them means to sell a story about the other to break our faith in the opposing candidate. The theater of this election, the drama of identity politics that now performs upon the stage, creates narrative identities about who these candidates are in the hope that voters will choose one to believe.

Here’s one of my problems with these political salvation narratives: whereas I have encountered and come to know God through the liturgy, the sacraments, the Sacred Scriptures, and the community of believers, I don’t sense that I have really encountered and come to know these candidates through the conventions, their proposed policies, their speeches, or their supporters. I’m not sure anyone outside their friends and families really know these candidates. I sure don’t. What I know are fictions, narratives, stories crafted by their friends and foes. These stories may be true, they may be false, but they are stories that I largely cannot verify, but must rather trust or not trust.

What will make all the difference for the world, though, is not the narrative, but the reality of who these people are, what actual decisions they make and do not make. I cannot get to that reality but through the projected narratives, and these projected narratives are crafted very deliberately to hide the real identity of these people and present an identity that voters will buy into. Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin are in a sense fictions, yet it is not fictions that will matter in the end, so the question arises and presses upon us: can we really know these candidates well enough to justify placing faith in one of them? Can we get beyond the narrative to the real, beyond the fiction to the fact?

As the postmodernist would say, there are no facts, only interpretations, by which he means that every fact arises within the context of an interpretive framework and exists, in so far as we experience it, only with an interpretative structure. What this means is that the fact, as an object of our knowledge, is inseparable from the interpretative projects through which we come to the fact. What does this mean for our questions?

The real identity of these candidates is unknowable outside the artificial, mediating, narrative boundaries constructed by our acts of knowing. Even if we look at the facts of what they have done in their lives, we approach those facts and ultimately know them through an interpretive framework, through a structure of narratives, what philosophers would call a hermeneutic. Political candidates play on the limits of our knowledge through games of narrative identity. They know that we cannot really know them, that we know them through narratives, and so to win the game they need to craft appealing narratives about themselves and unappealing narratives about their opponents. So in the case of knowing politicians, our knowledge functions in what could be called hermeneutics of belligerency and bullshit.

When we vote, we choose without recourse to a certain, unmediated knowledge of who these characters (excuse me, candidates) are and where their stories will go. This is what it means to vote in the postmodern condition. We vote without complete knowledge, but with rather knowledge of facts inseparable from fictions. We place our faith in these candidates believing, hoping perhaps, but not knowing that they will do as they say. To the extent that we know them we know them through windows muddy with excrement. Obama and McCain ask us to put our faith in them; they try to convince us by telling their respective narratives of salvation. They add candidates like Biden and Palin to their stories to make them more believable, or at least to captivate the unbelievers and those wavering in their faith. Political narratives are often meant to lead us away from reality, and yet we have to make our choices based on these narratives. What matters in the end, paradoxically, is the reality that we cannot know as such, the real identities of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Of course, how much Obama or McCain will really matter is anyone’s guess. Each wants us to believe that earthly salvation comes from one of them and not the other, that, for example, safety from terrorists, economic justice, or the lives of the unborn depend on one of them being elected.

Call me a man of little faith.

Superficial Happy Thoughts

I've been rather negative lately when discussing politicians, due perhaps to my dislike of both major candidates and intent not to support either of them. So, for a change - that seems to be the theme - I'll refrain in this post from criticism of McCain's speech - I surprised myself by watching it - and highlight what statements of his I thought particularly good.
"I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do."
I suspect (and hope) that last clause referred to torture, but regardless it's good to hear McCain acknowledge the limits of military might.
"Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That's how I will govern as President. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again."
This I like. Hospitality.
"Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn't think of them first, let's use the best ideas from both sides. Instead of fighting over who gets the credit, let's try sharing it. This amazing country can do anything we put our minds to. I will ask Democrats and Independents to serve with me. And my administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability."
A subtle critique of the last eight years? In any case, I hope he can live up to it. To do so, in my opinion, McCain would have to lead discourse and action away from the belligerent hermeneutic of the culture wars towards a hermeneutic of hospitality.

Hey, I said I'd avoid criticizing McCain; I never said I wouldn't use his speech as a platform to proclaim my pet issue!

The Governor's Remarks [Updated]

I appreciated these sentences a lot:
Politics isn't just a game of clashing parties and competing interests. The right reason is to challenge the status quo, to serve the common good, and to leave this nation better than we found it. No one expects us to agree on everything. But we are expected to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and ... a servant's heart.
The Speech's writing played on her strengths, and she came across as very cheerful and likable. That said, I found Governor Palin's speech somewhat disappointing. She rehashed a lot of old Republican attacks, talking points, and buzzwords, clouding her personal and unique story. Her criticisms of Obama were superficial and demeaning, and they missed hitting Obama on issues where he really is horrid. And I can't say I cared at all for this line:
Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?
The concern is for respecting human rights, Governor, even those of our enemies. The concern is that fear not drive us to commit the grave injustices perpetrated by the current administration. The concern is for the common good.

Update: Other Interpretations

If Southern Appeal's Feddie is any indication, I'd say Palin's speech was very effective at rousing support for McCain. He opines:
In sum, I honestly do not see how a faithful Christian, Catholic or Protestant, can–given the addition of Palin to the ticket–justify voting for a man like Barack Obama, a third party, or sitting this election out. The stakes are simply too high. It is time for Christians of all stripes to get on board and help elect Senator John S. McCain as the next president of these United States.
The Great Deception's Jenny contrasts the convention speeches of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton:
I believe Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton are opposite sides of the same coin, and the juxtaposition of these ladies is what I'd like to think of as a wonderful "teachable moment" on the dignity and beauty of authentic femininity.
Jay Anderson responds to those inquiring about Palin's not mentioning abortion. He argues:
I'm sure some are asking the question legitimately. To them, I answer that when she mentioned her "perfect" baby Trig - who was born 4 months ago with Down Syndrome, Gov. Palin gave the most powerful statement in favor of life ever delivered by a candidate at a Republican National Convention.Walking the walk is more powerful than talking the talk.
Darwin Catholic reviews:
One can quibble with a thing or two. I personally would have preferred to get a bit more policy talk -- though her discussion on energy policy (clearly her strong point given her management of Alaska's oil and natural gas resources -- which the state owns, according to its constitution, and leases extractions rights to) was solid. I wished she had included a few lines on social issues, conservative principles, and abortion. However, she's the VP candidate, the policy properly belongs to the president. I thought Palin did what she needed to do as far as emphasizing her own toughness, poise and readiness; the general conservative worldview; and McCain's personal strengths.

But overall, this was a brilliant performance. She is at least as good a natural political talent and speaker as Obama. And she came out tough and feisty after several days of unimaginably vicious media attacks, and did so with humor and grace rather than anger. A political star was born last night. I would be glad to see her as president in 4-8 years -- and the Obama camp has good reason to be scared as she gets down to barnstorming Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Liveblogging by the Anchoress.

Narrating Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin's life is a marvelous tale, not the least because she lives a dedication to life, literally giving it flesh and blood, rather than, as so many politicians do, merely checking the pro-life box on a spreadsheet. The frenzy of criticism and celebration that has erupted following her selection as McCain's running mate has produced and continues to produce narratives claiming to depict who Sarah Palin is. Some are accurate, some are outright lies. The McCain campaign has responded with its own narratives, and the Governor will compose an important one this evening. I hope that in the mess of competing stories and facts and fictions, who Sarah Palin really is will shine through. I hope that her critics and supporters endeavor to discover who she is and welcome the person beyond our narrations. As Father Phillips notes, hers is one heck of a great tale. We would do her and ourselves a disservice if we lost her story in the mud.

See also: "Truth Telling" by Josephson.

Palin on Prayer, Power, and Knowing the Will of God [Updated]

I'm very suspicious of claims to know God's will for actions or policies where room exists for reasonable disagreement or oppositional prudential judgments. It's one thing to claim to know God's will for matters where revelation clearly indicates the right way, or where the right way can be validly deduced from the premises of revelation. It's quite another to say one knows the will of God when the right way remains unclear and where the principles of revelation do not lead to a definitive answer. My suspicions grow when the claim to know the will of God comes from someone with or with potential for great power, so my eyebrows raised a bit while I watched a video of Governor Sarah Palin addressing a graduating class at her former church, Wasilla Assembly of God.

Her most explicit claim to know the will of God came when she said this:
"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."
Governor Palin claimed to know that God wills that a gas pipeline gets built, or more specifically, that people become united so as to build the pipeline. Perhaps, believing that building the pipeline was the right thing to do, she therefore believed that God willed it. Understandable. This conclusion, however, absolutizes her stance on the pipeline project. It leaves no room for debate, for to debate the pipeline is to debate that which God wills. Perhaps Palin merely hoped God willed the building of the gas pipeline. Her words, however, implied not hope, but certainty.

She also offered this prayer request concerning our foreign affairs:
"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."
Contrary to the Huffington Post, I don't see this prayer request as necessarily painting the Iraq War as a "messianic affair." Palin didn't go so far as to say that our soldiers are being sent on a task that is from God; she prayed hopefully here that our military actions do match the will of God. In other words, what the will of God is for our military tasks remains, in this prayer request at least, ambiguous.

The real eye-opener for me came at the end of her presentation, when her former pastor came on stage. Speaking of her former pastor's advocacy for her gubernatorial candidacy, Palin reminisced:
"He was praying over me…He's praying, 'Lord make a way, Lord make a way...' And I'm thinking, this guy's really bold, he doesn't even know what I'm gonna do, he doesn't know what my plans are, and he's praying not, 'Oh Lord, if it be your will may she become governor,' or whatever. No, he just prayed for it. He said, 'Lord, make a way, and let her do this next step.' And that's exactly what happened. So, again, very very powerful coming from this church."
I got the impression from hearing this story that Palin thought it was good - bold, but good - that her pastor didn't pray for God's will, whatever it is, but rather prayed that God wills her election as governor. His prayer functioned not as a request, but as an imperative: "Lord, make a way." He assumed in his prayer that God wills her becoming governor, and Palin thought that his prayer was powerful. And, she noted, what he prayed for came to pass.

As someone who thinks that the language we use shapes our knowledge of the world, I'm inclined to take seriously statements such as these. They may be unremarkable, as Larison believes, and amount to basically nothing. But then Palin is paired with a man who thinks it a role of the U.S. government to defeat evil. So color me troubled.

The danger here is that those who claim to know the will of God on matters outside revelation may thereby mistake their will for God's will, think of their positions as beyond critique, and absolutize their positions as the only legitimate positions to take.

UPDATE

The AP is now running a false story that Palin called the Iraq War "a task that is from God." They deliberately misquote Governor Palin (see the actual quote above) and so attribute to her a statement she didn't say. Her statements at the Wasilla Assembly of God give some cause for concern, but let's deal with the significance of what she actually said.

Over At Culture 11

You will find a mini-symposium on Sarah Palin as vice presidential nominee with James Kirchick, Daniel Larison, and Peter Augustine Lawler commenting.

You will also find a FAQ on the delighful Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

An Orthodoxy That May Be

Never one to give a definitive answer, Derrida answered the question of his religion with the coy statement that he quite rightly past for an atheist, an answer that kept the question open and hinted at the insufficiency of categories of religion such as theist/atheist. Derrida's deconstruction aimed to make us aware of the functions of exclusion inherent in the categories of language. Derrida's answer to the religion question suggests that he thought the theist/atheist binary excluded, at the very least, him. The label "agnostic" didn’t fit him either. His “religious” views eluded our classifications and categorizations.

Echoing Derrida, Jon Stanley argues in The Other Journal that every Christian should quite rightly pass for an atheist, but the atheism he has in mind is not the rejection of God, but a rejection of the "idols of our time" such as nationalism, technologism, and economism: the pursuit of national interest, technology, and wealth all at any cost. The sense of atheist he thinks Christians should don is that of the term as applied to the early Christians by the Roman Empire.

Taking his argument a step further, Stanley offers a “subtle and suggestive Christian credo” of his own:
Am I an atheist? Well, if that means one who no longer desires God and testifies to the reality of God in my life, and one who has given up on the hope of the name of God and the naming of God being significant for human life, then, “No, I am not an atheist.” But if that means one who is suspicious of the gods of our age (as the idols of our time), and sensitive to the way in which our submission to them leads to injustice and makes life on earth a "living hell" for many, then, “Yes, I quite rightly pass for an atheist.”

And am I a theist? Well, if that means feeling the need to subscribe to the theological doctrines and moral conventions that go by the name “orthodoxy,” and if historically any "theism" (particularly "classical theism") has always been some form of "deism" (the belief in a distant, dispassionate, and authoritarian supreme being), then, “No, I am not a theist.” But if it refers to the wholehearted allegiance to God and God’s good creation, and if this translates into a desire for God that is simultaneously a desire for justice, and a love of God that is simultaneously a love of neighbor, then, “Yes, I quite rightly pass for a theist.”
Stanley rejects a type of theism marked by a subscription to the theological doctrines and moral conventions that go by the name “orthodoxy,” but he doesn’t articulate why or explain whether he sees this subscription as idolatry akin to nationalism, technologism, and economism. He condemned those idolatries to the extent that they pursue their valued object “at any cost.” Does subscription to orthodoxy imply a belief at any cost? I don’t see why that would be.

I suspect rather that Stanley’s rejection stems from the deconstructionist policy of keeping us open to what our formulas exclude. Orthodoxy obviously excludes the heterodox. A right way of thinking excludes what it holds as wrong ways of thinking. Deconstruction would seem to be anti-orthodoxy in that claims to orthodoxy exclude a great deal and often with much passion, and sometimes with much violence. Besides, claims to speak for God, especially by the powerful, probably should raise red flags. The propositions of orthodoxy may exclude what they have no right to exclude, and those who claim their religion as the one, true, orthodox religion may violate more than the right to freedom of religion in their defense of the official creed.

John D. Caputo, to whom Stanley is much indebted, also rejected the idea of there being one, true, orthodox religion. “We may and need to have many religions, and many ‘sacred scriptures,’ to long as all of them are true,” Caputo wrote in his book On Religion.[i] I wouldn’t call this relativism in religion, as Caputo has a standard by which to judge religious practices and claims of religious truth – the love of God – but I think Caputo himself, in his interest in including what “orthodoxy” excludes, excludes a possible religious truth. He claims that religious truth “does not have to do with approved propositions,”[ii] but offers no evidence against the possibility of there being human propositions approved by God, or that these approved propositions might help guide the love of God towards God and away from idols and other false deities.

According to Caputo, religions are artifacts or historical constructions that articulate the love of God.[iii] They are “instituted by God” only in the sense that “the various religious forms of life arise in response to something that has swept us away…” He sees God as a question and not as an answer, but is it impossible that God may be both?

By excluding orthodoxy from the “theism” or “religious truth” they defend, Stanley and Caputo exclude the possibility that God has instituted a particular religious response to his revelation and has given his guidance to that religion in its formulas. Excluding such a possibility would seem to run counter to the spirit of deconstruction. Deconstructionists should, in the name of justice, open claims of orthodoxy to what they exclude, but, in being consistent deconstructionists, they should also remain open to an orthodoxy that may be.

H/T: The Church and Postmodern Culture

_________________________

[i] John Caputo, On Religion (New York, NY: Routledge, 2001), 110.
[ii] Caputo, 112.
[iii] Caputo, 112.

_________________________

Cross Posted.

Thought for a Labor Day


"Leisure is a form of that stillness that is necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. Such stillness as this is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul's power, as real, of responding to the real - a co-respondence, eternally established in nature - has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion - in the real."


- Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Translated by Gerald Malsbary