Ed Kilgore remembers his father, who passed away Monday.
At New York yesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote a meditation on the persistence of racism after watching the acclaimed movie 12 Years a Slave. His main point is that the system of white supremacy that began with slavery relied as much on the dehumanization of African-Americans as on chains, and that the many conservatives today who deny white racism exists are largely blind to the more subtle but deadly ways in which black folk have been subjugated long after liberation from slavery.
I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet, but did recently during a long night at the hospital re-read portions of The Bloody Shirt, Stephen Budiansky’s 2008 book about the post-Civil War white terror in the former Confederacy that not only thwarted Reconstruction but ensured the former slave population would gain nothing from Emancipation other than the most ephemeral freedom.
The passage in the book that haunted me most was a 1865 letter from Edmund Rhett, a prominent South Carolina journalist, proposing a series of laws designed to keep the ex-slave “as near to the condition of slavery as possible, and as far from the condition of the white man as is practicable.” His template was an early version of the “Black Codes” enacted in nearly all the former Confederate States, and focused on banning real estate ownership, enforcing unilateral agricultural “labor contracts,” punishing “vagrancy” (defined as being anywhere other than at work for a white overseer), and enforcing “discipline” (including not only penal servitude for “status” offenses but private administration of corporal punishment). These laws were intermittently enforced with occasional disruption by military authorities and Reconstruction state governments, but portions (especially the vagrancy laws) were reimposed across the region late in the nineteenth century. Needless to say, efforts to prevent public education for and voting by African-Americans accompanied the measures to keep them in economic and physical servitude.
Anyone with even a vague sense of history can see the echoes of the “Black Codes” in and beyond the South today. Some have continued more or less since the nineteenth century, such as a judicial and penal system that comes down hardest on the crimes and status offenses of the poor, and a savage opposition to labor rights and collective bargaining. Others are actually experiencing a renaissance, such as a renewed hostility to the kind of credit arrangements that briefly made widespread real property ownership possible, and a resegregation of education via white withdrawal from “government schools.” And then, of course, there are the periodic fights to reduce minority voting and representation. Some of the language we still hear today about those people seeking political power to seize the property of decent white folk are right out of the lexicon of the terrorists resisting Reconstruction and insisting “Black Rule” was inherently ruinous and corrupt.
Chait mentions other contemporary echoes of ancient white racist habits:
Conservatives have made endless jokes based on the strange premise that Obama is unable to express coherent thoughts unless reading from a teleprompter, defined health-care reform as “reparations,” imagined a Reagan-era program to subsidize telephone use for the indigent is actually “Obamaphones,” or complained when black entertainers or athletes socialize with the First Family. The accusations of racism that follow merely confirm to conservatives that black-on-white racism is a canard, that the balance of oppression has turned against them.
Progressives sometimes view this last phenomenon, the denial that white racism even exists, and the claim that white people are the real victims, as something new and strange and based on a flawed but understandable belief that the Civil Rights Act and the dismantling of Jim Crow should close the whole topic to discussion. But this, too, is an ancient meme. The subtext of Budiansky’s book is the extent to which white southerners convinced themselves and white people outside the South that they were the victims of Reconstruction, not the active and passive perpetrators of a strategy of organized terror designed to make the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution a dead letter.
So even if you believe conservatives who talk about white racism as an anachronism or deny their political agenda and messages are racially inflected are acting in good faith, it’s simply undeniable that we’ve heard all this before. The non-racial motivations of individual conservatives cannot blot out the heritage they continue consciously or unconsciously, and minority folk specifically and progressives generally don’t need to apologize for hearing the endlessly devious tactics and rationalizations of the neo-Confederacy when they are offered once again.
Being here in Georgia for a while has made me more acutely aware than before of the particularly exotic and uninhibited brand of Republican officeholders this state now breeds. Sure, it’s hard to miss the antics of a Paul Broun, Jr., even out there in California. But today we learn that longtime pol Ralph Hudgens, who is currently serving as State Insurance Commissioner, is capable of a howler himself, as reflected by this speech to a Republican women’s group last month (h/t Jim Galloway and Daniel Malloy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
The robust laughs of Hudgen’s audience when he compared pre-existing condition coverage to an ex post facto request for auto insurance collision coverage after a motorist causes a wreck is about as disgusting as the stupid analogy itself.
Since he’s an insurance regulator and all, you’d think Hudgens might be aware that the issue here is not some fresh request for coverage after a condition is incurred, but withdrawals of existing coverage by insurers when the insured gets sick, or the refusal to issue a policy when someone is forced into the individual market by, say, the loss of a job or an employer cancelling employee health benefits. Beyond that, of course, comparing getting sick to causing a car wreck is unfathomably dumb and immoral.
Most Republicans dance around the pre-existing condition issue, either pretending to favor non-discrimination even as they oppose the ACA provision outlawing it and favor “interstate sales” that would negate state regulations restricting discrimination. Often they rely on the ragged expedient of state-run “high-risk pools” that create a ghetto of crappy and expensive policies for those denied insurance in the market-place. But leave it to a Georgia Republican to come right out and label sick people denied health insurance as malefactors seeking to defraud poor innocent insurance companies.
A brief passage at the end of a piece by Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner about the budget negotiations going on between Patty Murray and Paul Ryan got to the underlying political dynamics that I’m not sure a lot of folks quite get right now:
Though both Murray and Ryan have been praised for their efforts, it’s unclear how many House Republican votes Ryan could secure for an omnibus spending package at the higher [above the sequester] spending level. Those who would support such a deal — such as appropriators and moderates — would have been there for Rogers and leaders no matter what. The GOP force behind the shutdown was not the establishment, but rather tea-party-inspired members who feel beholden to their conservative base. So the key question over the next few weeks is whether the shutdown changed the political dynamics for the party based on a temporary dip in the polls.
That last phrase—temporary dip in the polls—is what’s significant. After the shutdown ended, there were about five minutes when Republicans paid attention to the damage the whole incident inflicted on the GOP’s approval ratings, before attention shifted to HealthCare.gov’s problems and the numbers all seemed to reverse.
Progressives and the MSM seem to generally believe Republicans “learned their lesson” during and after the shutdown. But what lesson was it? Don’t shut down the government when your opponent’s administration is in the midst of a “scandal” from which you and benefit? Don’t punch when you can counter-punch?
The point here is that Republicans have not had some sort of epiphany that guarantees reasonableness on fiscal issues going forward. Some may for strategic or tactical purposes prefer to make other issues the focus between now and next November, and that could even become the party line. But the idea that GOPers will never again shut down the government or threaten a debt default because of the terrible consequences of what happened in October is off-base. In their minds, the consequences were minor and ephemeral, and now long gone.
As alluded to in the last post, and as pretty much everyone knows who’s being honest about it, a crucial factor in the success or failure of conservative backlash against efforts to extend the social safety net is whether they can be depicted as morally offensive to people who really have little or nothing in common with the wealthy and powerful Americans being asked to pay the freight. And that’s why racial appeals are so important in mobilizing downscale white folks to view themselves as victims or rivals of those people benefiting from our barebones version of the European welfare state.
So the “white working class” is one occasionally lost constituency for efforts to fight inequality. At MSNBC, Tim Noah, who knows whereof he speaks, discusses another:
A century ago the country’s plutocrats, plagued by violent protest from socialists and anarchists, feared that if economic inequality got too far out of hand the angry masses might overthrow capitalism. That obliged them to at least pay lip service to some vague notion of equality. And 50, 40, even 30 years ago, the country’s elites understood that too much inequality would harm the U.S.’s global competition with Soviet Russia for hearts and minds.
Today, the Cold War is over and there’s no chance that capitalism will be overthrown. With the dangers of income inequality no longer self-evident, many Americans wonder why it’s still an issue. President Obama’s speech took a stab at answering that question. Given income inequality’s continuing rise, it probably won’t be the last time he’s called upon to do so.
There are some conservatives, mostly those of a religious bent, who worry to varying degrees about a society of ever-growing inequality. But for most, the save-your-own-skin rationale Noah is talking about is entirely lacking. This could be an additional and virtually unnoticed reason for the rise of radical conservatism of late: it’s no longer considered dangerously self-destructive for representatives of our economic ruling classes to talk about getting rid of the New Deal and Great Society programs and making America an experiment in unregulated capitalism.
Here’s a passage from the president’s speech at CAP yesterday, which was a bit of a watershed, consolidating his varying perspectives on inequality and government’s role in the economy:
[W]e need to set aside the belief that government cannot do anything about reducing inequality. It’s true that government cannot prevent all the downsides of the technological change and global competition that are out there right now — and some of those forces are also some of the things that are helping us grow. And it’s also true that some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work, but we’ve also seen how government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class. Investments in education, laws establishing collective bargaining and a minimum wage — (applause) — these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans.
Likewise, when previous generations declared that every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security, a floor through which they could not fall, we helped millions of Americans live in dignity and gave millions more the confidence to aspire to something better by taking a risk on a great idea. Without Social Security nearly half of seniors would be living in poverty — half. Today fewer than 1 in 10 do. Before Medicare, only half of all seniors had some form of health insurance. Today virtually all do. And because we’ve strengthened that safety net and expanded pro-work and pro- family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s.
What he’s doing here is challenging the idea that you can defend the “good” government interventions in the economy that are now part of the national landscape while opposing contemporary efforts to expand opportunity and reduce inequality. This strikes directly at the politics of selfishness and self-righteousness that is at the emotional heart of conservative politics at present.
The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race. And that gap is growing. So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts.
This can’t be said too often.
This song has been occasionally popping into my head the last couple of weeks: Queen, before they became pop monsters, performing “Father to Son” in 1974, about the same time I saw them at the long-lost Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.
I’m writing this post in one of those massive Atlanta rush hour traffic jams I escaped by moving away nearly two decades ago (only to fall prey to Washington’s equally insane traffic for a good while), so forgive any typos I might commit.
Here are some remains of the day:
* At Religion Dispatches my friend Sarah Posner offers a much less positive take than I did on Mark Pryor’s new “Bible” ad.
* House Democrats looking amazingly united in opposition to an appropriations deal that accomodates sequestration levels.
* Martin Bashir resigns from MSNBC after going over the top in criticizing some remarks by Sarah Palin. It’s so, so unnecessary.
* At Ten Miles Square, Seth Masket evaluates House members affiliated with the No Labels group, and concludes the affiliation is less risky than defying one’s party in actual votes.
* Also at Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Bernstein challenges the CW that Poppy Bush was undone by his breaking of a no-tax-increase pledge.
And in non-political news:
* Uh-oh: new evidence of health risks associated with drinking bottled water. I prefer the tap, personally.
As we close the day, one more selection from Mozart’s Requiem, as I continue to mourn my father:
Salon’s Brian Beutler, who has been covering the war on the Affordable Care Act with great skill, offers some perspective today on parallels between the Right’s Obamacare obsession and earlier culture war crusades:
[T]he hostility has become so deeply rooted that it now stands on its own, detached from the ideological and partisan antipathies that gave rise to it.
It has forced conservatives to blind themselves to the law’s positive, unobjectionable qualities, and police those within their ranks who dare to acknowledge them….
[O]n the battlefields of partisan warfare, this sort of post-principled contempt, combined with the inception of benefits, has turned the fight over Obamacare from a dispute over first principles, into a culture war, in which signaling matters more than tactical victories.
The repeal campaign — once marked by earnest and sustained efforts to wipe the law off the books — has all but burned itself out. But the law remains a potent political organizing force — a rallying cry Republicans believe they can use to channel the right’s Obamacare obsession into voter turnout.
An astute friend remarked to me on Tuesday that the GOP’s position on Obamacare is coming to resemble its position on abortion in one key way: loudly, consistently, uniformly opposed, but ultimately not really driven to eliminate it. The backlash they’d face would be brutal, but they might stand to gain by fighting it on the margins and keeping the issue alive.
I understand the parallels Brian is drawing, but have never agreed with the argument that conservatives are just toying with the anti-choicers in pretending to want to ban abortion. The reason the Right and the Republican Party haven’t gone full-bore for an actual abortion ban is very simple: it’s patently unconstitutional under the existing Supreme Court precedents. So they’ve sought to erode abortion rights indirectly, and may have actually found an effective formula (we’ll find out in the next Supreme Court term, more likely than not) via the current “supply-side” strategy of sidelining abortion providers through bogus “health and safety” regulations. But without judicial resistance, there’s no doubt in my mind that the GOP has committed itself beyond any hope of reversal to a return to the days of coat hangers, at least in states where they control the machinery of government.
With Obamacare, there’s no judicial resistance to a complete repeal, and it’s true Republicans are not entirely united on—and understand the political shortcomings of—the “replace” part of the “repeal-and-replace” agenda. But if the GOP wins back the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, the ACA will almost certainly be repealed (as it would have been, in large part, had Republicans won the Senate and the White House last year). Beutler and others who have made the same argument are right: as Obamacare is implemented, its popularity is likely to increase, and some conservatives could shift to a “Plan B” strategy of using the structure of Obamacare as a model for the privatization of Medicare and Medicaid. But in the near term, it will remain the Great White Whale, and the obsession with bringing it down will continue even if it hurts the Republicans hoisting the harpoon.
A lot of Members of Congress who are complaining about the Iran nuclear “first step” agreement, or about alleged “appeasement” of Tehran generally, get all euphemistic about their alternative strategy, aside from the usual Green Lantern thinking about the magic of being “resolute” or “tough.” But as TPM’s Caitlan MacNeal reports, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) isn’t afraid to come right out and talk about using nukes to “deter” nukes:
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said Wednesday that if the U.S. needs to use the military option against Iran, America should deploy its “tactical nuclear devices.”
“I think if you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground. You do it with tactical nuclear devices, and you set them back a decade or two or three,” Hunter said in an interview with C-SPAN. “I think that’s the way to do it — with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.”
To those of us of a certain vintage, Hunter’s nuke-talk is reminiscent of a famous 1968 press conference by former SAC commander Gen. Curtis LeMay, who was being introduced as George Wallace’s American Independent Party running-mate, and who really wanted Americans to get over their silly taboos about using nuclear weapons. Here’s a contemporary account from the L.A. Times:
LeMay, joining Wallace’s campaign in Pittsburgh, said the world had a “phobia about nuclear weapons” destroying the world. To support his statement minimizing the effects of nuclear contamination, he talked extensively about a film made in Bikini [a U.S. nuclear testing site before the Test Ban Treaty] in 1964 by a University of Washington expedition.
LeMay said the film showed that except for land crabs which were “still a little bit hot” and rats that were “bigger, fatter and healthier than before,” conditions had returned to “about the same” on the ring of coral islands that were battered by 23 nuclear test explosions during the late 1940s and 1950s.
Even Wallace was horrified and kept trying to interrupt LeMay, but the general wouldn’t be denied his chance to thump the tubs for tactical nukes.
Hunter’s not quite that impolitic, but he did offer his own lumbering geopolitical thinking about Iran:
“I think America now knows its limitations in that area and what we can do,” he said. “Do we want to spend 20 years there after we tear it down to build it back up again so that it isn’t run by a crazy tyrannical leader like has happened in, let’s say Iraq and Afghanistan again. You’ve got some crazy guys running the governments there.”
So nuke ‘em til they glow, eh? Maybe the Iranians will be “a little hot” for a while, but the rats will be bigger, fatter and healthier than ever.
As regular readers know, we here at PA don’t pretend to be on the cutting edge of any technique to maximize readership, other than frequent and reasonably cogent content. We’re using a prehistoric publishing platform (which we hope to upgrade soon) that makes it very difficult to achieve a cool look; Ryan’s much better at using it to display images, but I’m pretty much limited to YouTube videos, on which I rely on far too much. And there are all sorts of issues with formatting, particularly for mobile device users, that we continue to work on within the restraints of an extremely limited budget.
But that doesn’t mean we are unaware of the things, some legitimate, some shady, that are going on elsewhere that make some sites immensely profitable if not necessarily very enlightening. TAP’s Paul Waldman suggests many of today’s click-friendly techniques are in the perpetual process of wearing themselves out:
Buzzfeed (now buzzing: “The 23 Most Important Selfies of 2013”) just announced that it had a stunning 130 million unique visitors in the month of November. The latest hot properties in the clickbait wars are Upworthy and Viral Nova, which unlike sites like Gawker and Buzzfeed, exist solely for the purpose of promoting viral content. They’ve hit on a particular headline formula, one that offers a bit of mystery with the promise of intense emotion if you click. “This 9-year old looked in his grandma’s closet. What he found there will make you cry.” (I made that one up, by the way.)….
Despite variations along the continuum from shock to wonder to tears, the message is essentially, “Oh my god look at this right now oh my god now now now!” If someone in real life, like a co-worker or member of your family, burst into the room and shouted that at you, of course you’d stop what you were doing and look. Even on the web, it takes an act of will to resist when you see a headline like that. The danger is that the formula only works for so long. Once you’ve clicked on a few posts that promised to make you cry or change your view of the world forever but didn’t deliver, your default assumption will become that when you see something like that , it means somebody’s trying to get you to be a part of something artificial. It’s one thing to send something truly inspiring or outrageous to your friends or Twitter followers and brighten their day for a moment, but nobody wants to be a tool of someone else’s phony marketing campaign or mean-spirited hoax.
And I think that’s the danger for these ventures. The more conscious people become that by passing something along they’re not so much participants in a beautiful collective celebration of our shared humanity, but are instead part of an intentionally constructed attempt at content viralization, the less they’ll want to be a part of it.
Paul’s reasonably sure listicles are with us to stay, but it’s possible that a virally spreading antipathy to manipulation of readers by viral content could produce a backlash against all sorts of click-maximizing techniques, even lists. Or maybe I’m just an old goat with dreams of hitting the zeitgeist one last time before I’m hauled off to the dustbin.
Plum Line’s Greg Sargent put it all better than I could:
The speech on inequality that President Obama delivered just now will mostly pass unnoticed by the political world, with Republicans dismissing it as “class warfare” and an effort to distract from Obamacare, and pundits describing it more judiciously as an effort to “pivot” away from the law.
But experts who see inequality as one of the most urgent moral, political and economic long term challenges facing the country will see it as one of the most important speeches of the Obama presidency - more ambitious than his similar 2011 speech in Kansas.
“This is a major speech on a topic that American presidents normally stay away from,” Tim Smeeding, an expert on inequality at the University of Wisconsin, tells me, adding that it compares in some ways to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s addresses. “The fact that a sitting president faced with a crowded agenda had the courage to discuss this overarching problem is historic.”
It’s a symptom of all sorts of political and media dysfunction that a major presidential speech on one of the overriding topics of the day is being treated as a “distraction” or an effort to “change the subject” from obsession over the president’s polling numbers or the likely-to-be-forgotten travails of HealthCare.gov. Inequality and the general decoupling of productivity and GDP growth from income gains and full employment aren’t new, but they have reached crisis levels, and any day’s the right day for the president of the United States to address this tangle of problems. Indeed, you can argue that talking about much of anything else is a bit of a “distraction” from what Obama today called “the defining issue of our time.”
Blogging may continue to be a bit erratic today and tomorrow due to the usual chores associated with a memorial service (which will be Friday; Ryan and company will again be subbing for me then), but we’ll try to keep PA in the road.
Here are some midday news/views items:
* Obama talks about inequality in forceful push for minimum wage increase. More about this later.
* Ryan and Murray allegedly close to bipartisan budget agreement. I’ll believe it when I see it.
* Daily enrollment numbers for Healthcare.gov beginning to become impressive.
* GOPers try to talk about impeaching the president without using the term.
* TNR’s Isaac Chotiner pans the latest empty “big foreign policy speech” by Marco Rubio.
And in non-political news:
* Bama fan allegedly shoots another Bama fan to death because the victim insufficiently upset over Iron Bowl finish. Totally unsurprising to SEC fans.
As we break for lunch and another round of phone calls to friends and relatives, here’s some more from Mozart’s Requiem:
It’s been apparent for a good while (certainly after he decided not to run for another term as governor) that Rick Perry’s planning another presidential run. At the Daily Beast today, David Catanese confirms this bad news, and discusses why it may not be the best idea.
But Catanese and the political hands he quotes seem to have a bit of amnesia about why Perry’s 2012 originally formidable campaign ran aground, emphasizing his debate gaffes—particularly the “oops moment” (when he couldn’t remember the list of federal agencies he was promising to shut down)—to the exclusion of all other factors.
Actually, Perry’s original “oops moment” was ideological, not stylistic, when he defended his advocacy of a state version of the Dream Act and suggested his critics were lacking in compassion. Mitt Romney ruthlessly exploited this ideological heresy, and partially burst Perry’s balloon before the Texan deflated it entirely with his debate problems. And even the better known “oops moment” was partially ideological: authentic anti-government zealots don’t have any trouble remembering the agencies and programs they want to kill.
So I can see how Perry might think another run might be successful if he strictly avoids straying from the “true conservative” line this time around. Yes, his own state’s Ted Cruz is an immediate and potentially fatal obstacle, but I can see how he might size up the junior senator as the kind of guy who might self-destruct along the way. And Perry probably figures the intense anti-Washington sentiment in the party and the country will give him a thumb on the scale if the primary-within-the-primary—-the competition for True Conservative Champion—comes down to him versus Cruz and Rand Paul. For that matter, his eagerness to sell out his state to “job creators” might make him preferable even to the union-busting Scott Walker among the ranks of those most focused on destroying regulatory and tax barriers to untrammeled cowboy capitalism.
Perry’s real ace in the hole is his intense relationship with the Christian Right and its various Texas-based strongholds. So I wouldn’t write him off just yet.
An occupational hazard of sometimes having to write 10-12 blog posts in one day, on short notice, is that sometimes I miss the mark. (Try it sometime, at the end you feel like you’ve been trepanned. One of the most impressive things about Ed is that he can do this, day after day, without setting so much as a toe wrong.)
Such a thing happened yesterday with this post about the DC height limit. As numerous commenters and correspondents convincingly pointed out, what seemed like a simple and easy point is muddled, and what seemed like edgy wit is nothing more than a cheap shot at old people. I sincerely apologize both for a lame post and being pointlessly offensive.
But let me explain more clearly what I meant, and perhaps it will be possible to see where I’m coming from. I believe shelter is, roughly, subject to the basic action of supply and demand. Therefore, statutes decreeing that one can only build buildings so high increase the price of shelter, by restricting the supply of additional housing and office space. What’s more, the DC limit ties height to the width of the adjoining street, so additional tallness can only come at the expense of more space dedicated to roadway.
This is how I explain both the yawning gap between the shelter prices of DC and Houston, and the fact that DC is extremely sparsely populated by high-rent city standards, less than one-third as dense as Brooklyn, and only a fifth as dense as Paris.
Additionally, there are environmental, technological, and long-term growth reasons to favor more density, but I’ll leave those aside. (See here for an in-depth discussion.)
Now, things are much more complicated than that; arguably a tangled regulatory framework and other restrictions like setbacks and parking minimums are the bigger culprit in terms of restricting density overall. But height limit reform seems like the place to start building a new pro-density coalition. Downtown DC, which would be most affected, has the biggest potential for new tax revenue, and it’s where most people work. Cheaper rents and lower taxes means a salary increase for everyone!
What frustrates me about this debate is how defenders of the status quo typically don’t even address this point, and instead focus almost entirely on character or aesthetics. To the extent that economic arguments are addressed at all, people typically claim that since new buildings now tend to be luxury apartments, if restrictions are relaxed all new building will be luxury apartments. I think this gets things backward.
Anyway, to my eye, outside of the Mall-Capitol-White House area, DC is a fairly dull city architecturally, full of quaint but crumbling rowhouses and whole lot of boxy 70s office buildings. Maybe I’m just a blinkered philistine, but in my view removing the height limit (and similar restrictions across the country) would provide substantial economic benefit to a great many people while doing little harm to the city’s overall aesthetic merit.
Image credit: Shutterstock
The highly endangered Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has a new holiday-timed ad up that’s raising eyebrows in Arkansas.
Note the key line:
The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.
Now to some progressive folk, particularly those outside the South, this probably sounds like some sort of pandering effort by Pryor to disassociate himself from his own party. But he’s actually saying something a lot deeper and a lot more controversial: God’s not a Republican, and the Bible is not a Republican campaign document.
The standard Christian Right take on the Bible’s relevance to politics is that it removes all doubt and ambiguity about what the believer should do. As Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), a Senate candidate himself, put it in a 2012 speech, the Bible is “manufacturer’s handbook for how to run all of public policy and everything in society.” Now this attitude defies many centuries of scriptural interpretation, and is about as spiritual in nature as a medieval crusader killing a heretic or “heathen,” but it’s a pervasive if self-consciously hammer-headed approach among Culture Warriors these days.
Pryor’s basically saying the Bible teaches some humility and reserves wisdom and final judgment to God Almighty, not to his self-appointed representatives on earth, clerical or especially political. It’s a message that would have been instantly understood by God-fearing southerners in the not-too-distant past, but unfortunately, it’s a risky gambit today, much like the president’s own speech at Notre Dame in 2009 touting humility and even doubt about God’s specific purposes as holy virtues.
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