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The Right’s Rules For Politicizing Prayer

Remember how right-wing leaders were outraged –OUTRAGED! – when President Obama supposedly politicized the National Prayer breakfast by talking about how his Christian faith influenced his approach to issues like progressive taxation? Such complaints from the likes of Ralph Reed – whose career has been devoted to politicizing faith – were clearly pushing the hypocrisy meter to its limits. As Kyle noted yesterday, Religious Right folks have been celebrating the prayer breakfast speech by Eric Metaxas, a biographer of the Hitler-resisting pastor Dietrich Bonhoffer, because Mataxas made a comparison between the Holocaust and legal abortion, suggesting that supporters of reproductive choice were modern-day Nazis – and certainly not Christians.

This morning a “special bulletin” from the dominionist Oak Initiative republished a National Review column from a few weeks ago that we hadn’t noticed at the time. The column by conservative author and producer Mark Joseph is one long extended gloat about just how political – and how anti-Obama – Metaxas’s keynote was. Joseph delights in Metaxas using the prayer breakfast to send “a series of heat-seeking missiles” in the president’s direction:

If the organizers of the national prayer breakfast ever want a sitting president to attend their event again, they need to expect that any leader in his right mind is going to ask — no, demand — that he be allowed to see a copy of the keynote address that is traditionally given immediately before the president’s.

That’s how devastating was the speech given by a little known historical biographer named Eric Metaxas, whose clever wit and punchy humor barely disguised a series of heat-seeking missiles that were sent, intentionally or not, in the commander-in-chief’s direction….

Joseph belittles Obama’s speaking of his faith, and giddily cites Metaxas, suggesting that Obama’s references to scripture were actually demonic.

Standing no more than five feet from Obama whose binder had a speech chock full of quotes from the Good Book, Metaxas said of Jesus:

“When he was tempted in the desert, who was the one throwing Bible verses at him? Satan. That is a perfect picture of dead religion. Using the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It’s grotesque when you think about it. It’s demonic.”

“Keep in mind that when someone says ‘I am a Christian’ it may mean absolutely nothing,” Metaxas added for good measure, in case anybody missed his point.

Joseph also mocks Obama for discussing how other religions share with Christians the values contained in the Golden Rule: “Translation: Christianity is great and so are the other major religions, which essentially teach the same stuff.” In contrast, Joseph celebrates Metaxas for insisting on the uniqueness and centrality of Jesus and suggesting that those who support women’s access to abortion live apart from God and Jesus.

So, to recap the ground rules for the National Prayer Breakfast: President Obama talking about the values he as a Christian shares with those of other faiths, and how he understands Christian teaching about the responsibilities of those who have had good fortune = bad. Religious Right speaker insisting on the superiority of Christianity, and calling those who disagree with him demonic Nazis = good.

Something to keep in mind next year.


By: Peter Montgomery, People For The American Way, Right Wing Watch, March 2, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Opus Dei”: Rick Santorum’s Old-Time Religion

Rick Santorum, a proudly letter-of-the-canon-law kind of Catholic, was once a good bit more relaxed in the practice of his natal faith, according to a profile of the Republican presidential hopeful’s religious journey that appears in today’s New York Times.

Reporters Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Laurie Goodstein attribute the hardening of Santorum’s religious beliefs to his relationship with his father-in-law, Dr. Kenneth L. Garver, a physician and father of 11. Garver’s daughter, Karen, who went on to marry Santorum, apparently went through something of a rebellious period: as a young woman, she was romantically involved with a doctor who performed abortions who was many years her senior. But when she married the man who would go on to become a congressman and then a U.S. senator, her rebellious days came to a close.

From Stolberg and Goodstein’s article:

The Santorums’ beliefs are reflected in a succession of lifestyle decisions, including eschewing birth control, home schooling their younger children and sending the older boys to a private academy affiliated with Opus Dei, an influential Catholic movement that emphasizes spiritual holiness.

That description of Opus Dei kind of snapped my head back for a minute. Opus Dei is essentially a secret society of laypeople whose members generally hail from among society’s higher ranks, affording the organization a degree of temporal power not typical of your everyday prayer circle. Stark distinctions are made regarding the roles played by the sexes.

There are various strata of membership in Opus Dei. For instance, married people, known as supernumeraries, play a different role from the single people, called numeraries, who live in Opus Dei housing. Here’s a bit from an article about Opus Dei that appeared in the Jesuit magazine, America, in 1995:

According to two former numeraries, women numeraries are required to clean the men’s centers and cook for them. When the women arrive to clean, they explained, the men vacate so as not to come in contact with the women. I asked [Opus Dei spokesperson] Bill Schmitt if women had a problem with this. “No. Not at all.” It is a paid work of the “family” of Opus Dei and is seen as an apostolate. The women more often than not hire others to do the cooking and cleaning. “They like doing it. It’s not forced on them. It’s one thing that’s open to them if they want to do it. They don’t have to do it.”

“That’s totally wrong,” said Ann Schweninger when she heard that last statement. “I had no choice. When in Opus Dei you’re asked, you’re being told.” According to Ms. Schweninger [a former Opus Dei member], it is “bad spirit” to refuse. Women are told that it is important to have a love for things of the home and domestic duties. “And since that’s part of the spirit of Opus Dei, to refuse to do that when you’re asked is bad spirit. So nobody refuses.”

In other words, no home ec classes for the Santorum boys.

The Santorums, of course, are entitled to practice their religion as they see fit — an entitlement, if you will, that is one of those things that truly does make America great. The problem is, Rick Santorum thinks you should live by his religious beliefs, too. In a chilling Washington Post Outlook piece, Sarah Posner imagines what Santorum’s America would look like.


By: Adel Stan, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 4, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Enormous Power” Used Badly: Olympia Snowe’s Strange Martyrdom

The retirement of Olympia Snowe, at the young (by senatorial standards) age of 65, has again dramatized the perilous condition of the Senate moderates. They have been scorned, marginalized, and hunted close to extinction. Yet the striking fact about Snowe’s career is that, far from being shunted to the sidelines, she has wielded, or been given the opportunity to wield, enormous power. She has used it, on the whole, quite badly.

When George W. Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day. If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100- foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.

The characteristic Snowe episode came during the health care fight. The Obama administration, desperate to win her vote, wooed her with endless meetings and pleas, affording her a once-in-a-generation chance to not only help pass health care reform but make it smarter, more efficient, and more compassionate. Instead, Snowe tormented the administration by dangling an elusive and ever-changing criteria before their noses. She at first centered her objections around the inclusion of a public option. Democrats removed it, and she voted for the bill in the Finance Committee, only to turn against it when it reached the decisive vote on the Senate floor. Snowe complained that the process was happening too fast, and that it was too partisan, which seemed to be her way of saying she wouldn’t vote for it unless other Republicans joined her.

This may sound sensible, even admirable, if you subscribe to the notion that securing bipartisan support for major bills is inherently valuable. But it’s worth noting that moderates like Snowe and their fans worship bipartisanship for reasons that have nothing to do with good government. A Republican representing a blue state, or a Democrat representing a red state, faces an inherently precarious situation. Often she will find the demands of her party’s national base pitted against those of her home state electorate. Olympia Snowe’s worst nightmare is to have to choose between infuriating Republicans in Washington and moderate voters in Maine. Creating legislation that passes by wide margins is not done out of a desire to bring bills closer into alignment with any abstract standard of good government, but to ensure her vote sits comfortably in the middle of a wide swath of support from both sides. In a farewell op-ed in the Washington Post, Snowe complains that centrism offers no electoral rewards. For her, though, such careful positioning was a matter of political self-preservation.

The New York Times report on her departure cast the central tension of her career as pitting “her own views as a Republican centrist against pressure from fellow Republicans to support the party position.” This is a common way people think about it – there are two poles, one representing the moderate’s principled convictions, and the other representing party loyalty. The negation of one implies the presence of the other. Snowe’s career proved that it’s entirely possible to steer clear of the party line without upholding any particular notion of the public good.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, March 2, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Sen Olympia Snowe, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Poo Fighter”: A History Of Mitt Romney And Diapers

Most people do not look forward to changing their baby’s diapers. Not everyone. But most people. Which is understandable — it’s not a pleasant experience. You never know what kind of noxious, exotic things you’re going to find in there.

But Mitt Romney, in particular, really despises diapers.

We were reminded of this yesterday when Romney, at a town hall in Ohio, went off on a tangent about his family:

“Grandkids are fabulous!” he said. “You don’t have to change their diapers and, and they love you.”

This is telling. When describing the benefits of grandchildren, Romney places the absence of diaper-changing responsibilities — a seemingly minor factor — on par with unconditional love. It’s like saying, “Being president is incredible: There’s a bowling alley right in your basement, and also, you get to shape the future of the world.” It’s also unclear whether Romney would still find grandkids fabulous if they offered him love and required diaper-changing. Grandkids, under that scenario, might be “just okay.”

The funny thing is, Ann Romney has praised her husband for teaching her how to change diapers when they first had a baby. According to a December 2007 AP report:

Ann Romney traveled with her husband Saturday, testifying to the little-known qualities she believes make him the preferred Republican presidential contender.

She said … that her husband taught her how to both change a diaper and feed a baby, experience she lacked when she had the first of their five boys.

It turns out that before he had children of his own, Romney was wiping and powdering on a regular basis, as Ann testified:

“I did not grow up in these big Mormon families and all these kids and everything; I really grew up in the country in Michigan, and I never held a baby until I had my own.”

Romney had experience in holding, feeding and cleaning babies from taking care of his nieces and nephews.

“So, he comes in handy,” his wife said.

Well, not that handy, actually. After teaching his wife how to change a diaper, Romney — apparently scarred by years of changing diapers for his entire extended Mormon family — stopped doing it himself, save for the most tolerable cases:

I was willing to change the urine-soaked diapers, but the messier types gave me dry heaves,” he told GQ magazine in 2007. “So my wife allowed me to escape that.”

Dry heaves? A bit dramatic, no? The man who promises to get tough on China and do whatever it takes to stop Iran from going nuclear also cowers in the face of baby poo?


By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, March 1, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Great Moral Decline: “Two Distinct Monologues”

Asked to explain his support for Rick Santorum in Michigan’s primary, voter Sandy Munro said, “Now what we need is a strong political leader to do something to get us out of the moral slump that we’re in.”

Mr Santorum would agree, having noted that “Satan has his sights on the United States of America.” As would Mitt Romney, who has attacked the decay caused by Barack Obama’s “secular agenda”. Newt Gingrich has gone the furthest, stating, “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have.”

But what are these problems? When considering America’s moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he’s probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down. Even those pesky kids are committing less crime. There are some caveats to these statistics, as my colleague points out, but I think we can conclude that crime is not the cause of America’s moral decline.

So let’s look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate declined by 8% between 2000 and 2008. Increases in divorce and infidelity could be considered indicators of our moral decay. There’s just one problem: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1970s. This is in part due to the recession, but infidelity is down too.

Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, “the nation’s graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades.” So where is the evidence of this moral decline?

Here’s one for the declinists: the number of Americans not affiliated with any religion has increased, while the number of those attending worship services has declined. And here’s another: out-of-wedlock births have increased in America so that now at least four in ten children are born to unmarried women. This is something Mr Santorum has focused on during the campaign, and he is right in pointing out that the children of unwed mothers in America tend to do worse in terms of health, schooling and income later in life.

But here’s where the real debate over America’s moral position comes into focus. As the New York Times notes, out-of-wedlock births are increasing in much of the developed world—for example, over half of babies in Iceland and Sweden are born to unwed mothers. But according to Wendy Manning, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, “In Sweden, you see very little variation in the outcome of children based on marital status. Everybody does fairly well… In the US, there’s much more disparity.”

So out-of-wedlock birth need not correspond to worse outcomes for children. And if it didn’t in America, should we still consider out-of-wedlock births a moral problem? One could ask a similar question about religion. While rates of religious participation may be declining in America, young people today have similar moral beliefs as their parents and grandparents. So is the decline in religious observance a moral problem?

When it comes to out-of-wedlock births, the issue is complicated because discouraging these types of the births may be a more efficient way of securing children than the type of nanny-state intervention that can be found in a country like Sweden. But in general, I think the debate over America’s moral position comes down to this: Republicans want the best outcomes based on solutions that fit into preconceived notions of what society should look like. So even if there are few tangible harms that point to our moral decay, any move away from their vision of society is evidence of declining virtue. Democrats, on the other hand, are more concerned with outcomes, even if that means upending the way things were (or accepting that they have been upended and cannot be restored).

So in the case of out-of-wedlock births, Republicans would probably see the increase as a moral problem regardless of the outcome. Whereas Democrats might feel more comfortable with, say, promoting a corresponding increase in stable familial relationships outside of marriage. It is a dynamic we’ve seen elsewhere recently, in regard to issues like gay marriage and contraception. And it leads to a debate over what “moral” really means. If “immoral” means “causing avoidable harm to other people” then gay marriage, pornography, sex, reality TV, soft-drug use and euthanasia are hardly immoral, even if distasteful to some.

But as we grind through the Republican primary process, it seems like the debate over morality in America has less to do with moral outcomes and more to do with a vision of how society should look based on idealistic remembrances of how things were. So people like Mr Munro and the Republican candidates believe America is in a moral slump. The odd thing is, people on the left might actually agree, though for very different reasons. They are upset by the perceived greed of the 1%, and the broad acceptance of torture and war as foreign-policy tools. In the end, the debate over morality more closely resembles two distinct monologues.

By: Democracy in America Blog, The Economist, March 2, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Democrats, Ideology, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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