Two stories this week struck me as cases of asking the wrong questions and therefore getting the wrong answers. The first was Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces in New York City. According to Bloomberg, the question is why are Americans so fat and the answer is soda. The second was the John Edwards case and the framing of it as one of sin and whether or not the sinner can be redeemed. Or as Katia Hetter at CNN put it, “Can Cheaters Change?”
But what if we asked different questions about both of these issues?
Instead of asking “Why are Americans so fat?” Bloomberg might have asked other questions like “Why are advertisers of non-food products, like soda, allowed to target children when tobacco no longer is?” or “Why are obesity- related illnesses like diabetes not randomly distributed throughout the population, but instead inversely related to…
Those were impressive accomplishments, for sure. But let me say that no one, but no one, can demonize, Talibanize, or Stalinize Secularism like Rick Santorum. On occasion he has done so, I would admit, with a fair degree of intellectual seriousness, as in this 2010 speech. Though for the most part his pronouncements on the subject amount to rank and preposterous name-calling.
Back in 2003 he lamented: “I want to remind people of the societies that have been secular in nature. Starting with the French Revolution, moving onto the fascists, and the Nazis and the communists and…
For years, everything I believed about American politics could be summed up in the following Gore Vidal bon mot:
America’s not the only one party system, but it’s the only one party system with two right wings.”
That more or less held true till the Dubbya years, when one of the wings went so far right it was no longer accurately described as a political party as much as a social movement fueled by Christian conservatism and funded by corporate interests.
Fortunately, another political aphorism arrived just in time for the 2008 presidential election, this one by humorist David Sedaris, who described people not committed to voting for Barack Obama thusly:
I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of s#$t…
Most of the sparks were generated by a few solid Romney v. Gingrich scrums. The former, reeling from recent lackluster debate performances, came out kickboxing and tarred the latter as a Freddie Mac lobbyist, an “influence peddler,” a Washington Insider and a pretty damn embarrassing failure as Speaker of the House.
Gingrich, for his part, repulsed the assaults, never losing his cool. Though at one point, he did something unusual and expounded on Romney’s debate strategy: “I understand your technique, which you used on McCain, you used on Huckabee . . . ” I can’t recall the last time I saw a candidate engage in an analysis of another’s rhetorical craft. Odd. But effective. Gingrich is becoming formidable-r with each passing debate.
A friend joked about Rick Santorum’s belated victory in Iowa: “Who cares that six more white people in Iowa voted for Santorum.” Of course, Iowa is pretty darn white. Its population is 91-percent white.
South Carolina is not. In fact its population is 66-percent white and 29-percent black.
Mitt Romney was thumped in the South Carolina primary tonight. This capped off a week of jittery debate performances, PR disasters (how many scholars reading this column are taxed at a rate of 15%?), and the puzzling inability to share his thoughts on Newt Gingrich’s desire to be shared by the women in his life.
Throughout this campaign I keep returning to (and abusing) the term “double down” and after tonight I understand why. As the South Carolina tally indicates, a significant portion of the GOP base is in full-fledged double-down mode.
They don’t want a boxer, they want a brawler–a wish predicated on a seething hatred of the policies of Barack Obama (and Barack Obama himself) that verges on the absurd.
I noticed, incidentally, a very similar animus on campuses emanating from the radical Left during the George W. Bush years. Yet it was a decidedly fringe phenomenon–sorry…
According to the most recent polls in South Carolina, Newt has weathered the storm of his second wife’s bombshell that he asked her for an open marriage. And once again the importance of marriage in American political life has been brought into focus by the hypocrisy of those telling us about the importance of marriage in political life.
Let us start at the beginning. First, all national politicians at this point in American history project the ideal family and the ideal marriage in order to win office. This is because many Americans believe that marriage is a sign of a highly disciplined and hard-working individual who can control their bodily impulses. This is why Bill Clinton was impeached—he was chubby and unfaithful. This is why George W. Bush seemed like such a good idea—he controlled his eating and kept his sexual impulses confined to the conjugal bed. It is paradoxical…
Tonight’s South Carolina presidential debate was a pretty rowdy affair. The crackle in the air was provided by: 1) Fox and Wall Street Journal moderators (Bret Baier, Kelly Evans, Juan Williams, and Gerald Seib) who asked intelligent, tough questions, 2) candidates who sought to ignore those questions and strafe their opponents in the process, and, 3) a boisterous crowd that seems to have time-traveled to Myrtle Beach straight from the infamous 2004 Clemson v. South Carolina football brawl (which, in order to provide CHE readers with substantive analytical resources, I have posted above).
The storylines as I see them:
Gingrich Strikes Back: Aside from an assault on Mitt Romney’s Bain record which the latter parried well, the former Speaker was beastin’ (as the football players like to say). Gingrich brought down the house by quipping that 99 weeks of unemployment benefits was “…
Today’s theme along the meme is “S#@t Straight Politicians Say… to Gay People.” And this has been an excellent week in the homophobic s#@t category.
Let’s start with our favorite homophobe, Rick Santorum, whose very name conjures up a cultural fear of anal sex and its aftermath. This week Santorum hit a high note of homophobia by once again confusing gay relationships with orgies. When asked about his opposition to gay marriage at a New Hampshire College Convention, Santorum replied
What about three men? If you think it’s okay for two, you have to differentiate for me why you’re not okay with three….
ABC NEWS hosted a halting debate last night at St. Anselm College. It was followed by a far better Meet The Press event this morning at 10:30. Neither gathering, however, provided much to roil the normally tranquil weekend news cycle.
Still there were a few noteworthy developments and one likely scenario is coming into focus for those who follow religious politicking:
Romney, Hard to Floor: In this campaign the former governor of Massachusetts has shown himself to be a superb defensive debater, a virtuoso of the rope-a-dope technique.
Consider the counterattack he executed this morning. In the late rounds, he found himself isolated, one-on-one, with the former Speaker of the House. This encounter with Newt Gingrich was frightening and this is because Newt Gingrich is frightening. And he is furious.
The former Speaker had just been asked to reflect on Romney’s negative…
Courtesy of Mrs. Berlinerblau, I was afflicted on Tuesday night–the night of the GOP Iowa Caucus–by the most debilitating, vomit-positive, 36-hour stomach virus known to medical science.
The illness rendered me not merely nauseous, but delusional. One of my delusions was of a boxer speedbag-punching my stomach as his trainer (named “Mack” in my reverie) exhorted him with the words: “F&^& him up, Jake. F%^% him up good.”
Assaulted as such, I was not able to post about the spectacular goings-on in Iowa. I console myself with the hope that my hyper-contagious virus has made its way to the Hawkeye state by now (and, in defiance of basic principles of immunology, right back to Mrs. Berlinerblau as well). The niceness of Iowans notwithstanding, I am quite frankly tired of hearing about them: their county fairs, their beef jerky prowess, their godforsaken food-on-a-stick culinary hoe do…
We were assessing presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s many references to youthful Bible study and Sunday School taught by her mom. As for that junior senator, Barack Obama, we marveled at the newcomer’s God-talk skills. He was too green, obviously; maybe 2016 would be his time.
Nor were we really focused on those who would soon become faith-and-values Persons of Interest in 2008. Mike Huckabee only flitted across the radar late in 2007. Outside of the initiated, no one knew who the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was. And few, if any, on the religion beat had ever heard of Sarah Palin.
Tonight’s at-points-intriguing Fox GOP debate featured a few exchanges of interest to those of us who study Faith and Values politicking.
Rick Perry Tebows Himself: The Governor of Texas paralleled himself to the Denver Broncos’ Conservative Christian quarterback and fourth-quarter messiah, Tim Tebow: “There were a lot of folks who said Tim Tebow wasn’t going to be a very good NFL quarterback . . I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa Caucus.”
Perry, who looked positively ebullient all night long–he kept reminding me of beloved Hollywood Square Paul Lynde for some reason–was so pleased with the comparison that he seemed ready to ask Michele Bachmann to strap on a helmet and go run an out pattern.
Depicting himself as the Evangelical Comeback Kid–a pretty canny bit of re-branding that was.
Gingrich Assails the Judiciary: Radical Atheists Help Him Make That Point: Many of…
We all have our nightmare scenarios, the ones that make us consider moving out of the country (e.g. President Newt). But my nightmare scenario goes a bit like this:
Our political discourse becomes so dominated by conservative points of view that we lose our ability as a people to imagine anything that is really and truly different. The best we can imagine is things more or less the way they are with just a select few gaining access to economic and legal rights.
Still, I continue to wonder if these “secular” debates are appropriate, logical, or informative with GOP candidates whose tendency is to shoot through all of their policy positions with references to God and faith (not to mention a Republican electorate that is similarly locked and loaded in this regard). Why so many media outlets want to treat the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls as if they were the 1988 Democratic aspirants for the White House is above my pay grade….
Tonight’s MSNBC/Politico debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library was a major disappointment. Do not blame the candidates who came ready to scrum. Blame the journos. For reasons I still can’t fathom the two news organizations configured the debate to intentionally avoid all social issues.
This may be sour grapes from a person whose expertise is in Faith and Values politicking and is now deprived of source material. But permit me to adduce at least four reasons why permitting Brian Williams and John Harris to not pose a single question about abortion, gays, the role of religion in public life, and so forth, was a journalistic misstep.
First, GOP voters in Iowa and South Carolina are, I think it is safe to say, interested in those very issues. Second, newcomer Rick Perry has–as he often does with everything–doubled down on Faith and Values themes with his…
When did America go wrong? The crackpot right has been backdating the origins of the country’s original sins from the 60s.
Heady with triumph in 1995, Newt Gingrich, the pseudo-intellectual’s Eric Cantor of the ’90s, offered the standard post-Reagan cram course version of American history from 1607 to—wait for it—1965:
There is a core pattern to American history. Here’s how we did it until the Great Society messed everything up: don’t work, don’t eat; your salvation is spiritual; the government by definition can’t save you; governments are into maintenance and all good reforms are into transformation….From 1965 to 1994, we did strange and weird things as a country. Now we’re done with that and we have to recover.
Dick Armey, erstwhile House Majority Leader, now éminence grise of the Tea Party, declared then: ”To me all the problems began in the 60s.” He meant the likes…
The eight candidates at tonight’s GOP debate were willing to get into one another’s grills or, failing that, into the grills of the four journalists who subjected them to fair, hard-hitting and well-organized questions (this was some of the best moderator work I can recall in a recent presidential debate).
Oddly, things were much more lively before and after the dirge-like “social issues” segment. Those issues were relegated to a brief 10-minute interlude. For whatever reasons, the air seemed to have been sucked out of the room as the candidates were put through their paces on gay marriage, abortion, and Islam. Here are some bleary-eyed observations.
Disaffected Democrats and Independents—Is Jon Huntsman Your Man?: A very solid performance by the former governor of Utah. True, he raised his hand in lock step with his seven colleagues agreeing to not accept a budget deal in…
Tonight’s Republican debate on the campus of St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. yielded little in the way of surprises (though Mike Huckabee rising from the electoral dead in a commercial and urging citizens who want to repeal “Obamacare” to sign petitions twice was a bit out of the ordinary).
In these early encounters candidates tend to refrain from enfilading one another, preferring to establish market share by pulverizing the incumbent. Therefore, we saw little in the way of sharp disagreement and internecine strife. Only Ron Paul was distinct, but distinct in precisely the isolationist, libertarian way that he is always distinct.
Tim Pawlenty who had recently mocked “Obamney care” did not seize a gift-wrapped opportunity from the moderator, John King, to pound frontrunner Mitt Romney. The resemblances between Romney’s health plan as governor of Massachusetts and that of…
I’m late to the Weinerfest, but perhaps for the reason that I’ve been distracted by Egypt, Germany, and Serbia in recent months, there’s an element to the story that I think deserves a bit more attention. Anthony Weiner is a Congressman. A member (sorry) of Congress. One of 435 of the people’s representatives, 535 if you count the more powerful ones, and what has he been doing with himself? How does he spend his most precious and scarce resource, his time? Well, by now you know.
Yes, there’s a point to private life. Yes, even a Member of Congress is entitled to one. But even a citizen is entitled to come to a judgment about such a person. And people, the world’s in an uproar. The unemployed need attention—not just a vote, not just a speech. There’s a mad party in control of Congress. Glaciers are melting and they think that’s, well, cool. There are nations near bankruptcy and…