Tag Archives: Culture War

Tiny Violins

Some of the responses to yesterday’s post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana.  I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians.  If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong.  They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared in a post yesterday where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds.  Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”

 

  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue.  At this point, we don’t know where that line is.  This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices?  Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion?  The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty.  They need to be discussed.  But such discussions need to have everyone at the table.  If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

Fear Factor

Like a lot of folk I’ve been interested in the goings on in Indiana. As you know, the state legislature passed and the Governor signed a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Depending on who you talk to, the law is no different from the federal version of the law passed in 1993 or will allow religious owners of businesses to refuse service to gays. I’m frankly a bit confused as to what the bill will actually do. Proponents see it as a bulwark against a radically changing culture. Opponents see it as the second coming of Jim Crow.

As I was discussing this with a Methodist minister, he used a word that seemed to describe the whole situation: fear. It’s not a surprise that I tend to think the proponents of the law are fearful of a changing culture, one where homosexuality is becoming accepted and where their views, which once ruled the culture are no longer in vogue. But I also think my side of the debate is also operating on fear and distrust. Like a lot of oppressed groups, it is hard to have any concern for your former oppressors. As I’ve read responses, the attitude seems to be “let the bigots hang.”

What is interesting about all of this is how much this seems to have become a zero-sum game. Religious conservatives seem intent on gumming up the works of progress on same-sex marriage. Gays and liberals seem to not want to give religious conservatives any inch on religious practice. Both sides seem to think that to win, one side must lose.

David Brooks wrote a couple of weeks ago that we live in a more uncertain age and that has changed the tone of politics. Gone are win-win situations where compromise was possible, and coming in its place is the quest for power. Here’s what Brooks says:

National elections take place within a specific global moment. In the 1990s, there was a presumption that we were living in an age of rapid progress. Democracy was spreading. Tyranny was receding. Asia was booming. The European Union was building. Conflict in the Middle East was lessening. The world was cumulatively heading toward greater pluralism, individualism, prosperity and freedom.

Today it’s harder to have faith in rapid progress. Democracy is receding. Autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia are marching. The European project is decaying. Economies are struggling. Reactionary forces like the Islamic State and Iran are winning. The Middle East is deteriorating.

In this climate, the tone and focus of politics change. Politics is less about win-win situations and more about zero-sum situations. It is less about reforms that will improve all lives and more about unadorned struggles for power. Who will control the ground in places like Ukraine and Syria? Will Iran get the bomb? Will the White House or Congress grab power over treaties and immigration policy?

It’s hard not to see the fight that is taking place in Indiana and many other places as tribal battles. Religious conservatives feel under fire as liberals go after bakers and wedding photographers.

This clash of rights, between the right to marry and the right to religious freedom has always been difficult for me. I have fought for the right to be able to marry my husband Daniel and to have that recognized by the state, which is what happened when we had our legal marriage in 2013. But as a Christian, I also think people should be able to follow the dictates of their faith without interference from the state. So on some level, I’ve never been as bothered by bakers not wanting to bake my wedding cake. I just thought I’d go to another baker. The baker had the right to refuse service, and I had the right to not go to that baker and tell others not to go either.

I know that it bothers some of my compatriots that I might sympathize with folks who don’t think I should get married to my partner. But two things have guided me on this issue: my belief in Jesus dictum to love our enemies and my libertarian belief in liberty; that I can do what I want and you can do what you want so long as my rights aren’t curtailed.

Loving my enemy means that I have to look at that person as human being. I have to at least try to understand their viewpoint and give them the space to do what they see as right, so long as I am not profoundly impacted.

Of course, my enemy should be able to look at me as a human being, a child of God and give me the space to do what I think is right. (Translation: If religious conservatives want to be treated with respect, treat those you disagree with the same respect.)

As the various RFRA laws come up in various states, both religious conservatives and LGBT communities have to find a way to make room for each other. Not because they like each other. Not because they agree. But because for a democratic society to flourish, we have to find ways to accomodate the Other. Because we must heed the call to love and respect our enemies.

Before all of the focus was on Indiana, some media attention was given to what was happening in Utah. Dubbed the “Utah Compromise,” gay rights groups and the Mormon Church came together to support legislation the protected LGBT persons and also offered exemptions on religious grounds. It is far from a perfect law (but what compromise is perfect). But this seemed to be a place where the culture wars made a truce. A Wall Street Journal column explains how the Mormon Church, who not that long ago was bankrolling the effort to ban same-sex marriage in California, reached out the LGBT community:

The Mormon leadership reached out to the LGBT community, which was willing to reciprocate despite initial doubts. Although there were roadblocks early on, trust gradually developed. Neither side allowed the best to become the enemy of the good. Both came to see that protections for LGBT individuals and for religious conscience needed to be enacted simultaneously, as a package.

There is a lesson here for both sides. For religious conservatives, it is to at least acknowledge LGBT persons. You don’t have to approve of what we do. But you do have to at least see us as persons created by God and deserving of respect.

For the LGBT community and our allies, it means respecting the faith of religious conservatives. Within reason, no one should have to compromise their faith to live in the wider society. We need to honor their consciences even if we think that their beliefs are wrong.

In late 2010, libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about how the tide was turning in the favor of those of us who support gay rights. Because we were no longer on the defensive, our tactics must change. He wrote:

…we—gay Americans and our straight allies—have won the central argument for gay rights. As a result, we must change. Much of what the gay rights movement has taken for granted until now, and much that has worked for us in the past, is now wrong and will hurt us. The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia in American society. We need to allow some discrimination and relinquish the “zero tolerance” mind-set. Paradoxical but true: We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win.

Not giving them that room to deal with the changed landscape has its consequences:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

Of course, this is exactly what religious conservatives are doing now. So maybe the best way to defeat this kind of thinking is by not trying to shut them up, but by acting differently. Maybe if we show that we will give them the respect they never gave us, maybe things could change for the better.

I don’t know what will happen in Indiana. I do know I can do something to hopefully lessen the fear and increase the peace.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

More: Journalist Issac Bailey has some questions about the Indiana law. Libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch explains the grand compromise on gay and religious rights in Utah. Finally, Stephen Miller of the Independent Gay Forum has this to say about the change in consensus in the LGBT communnity concerning religious liberties: “In the decades before 2013, exempting religious organizations from LGBT anti-discrimination statutes was a consensus position. Now, on the federal level, it’s anathema for many national LGBT rights advocates. ”

Is it?

Political Parties Versus Political Movements

So, is the GOP a normal political party?  David Brooks has his doubts, and to be honest at times, so do I.  In a normal world someone like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would have a chance a presidential candidate.  People would look at his record and see that at least when it comes to fiscal matters, the governor is a conservative.

But like Brooks said yesterday, I don’t the GOP or at least large swaths of it is a regular political party, but is instead a political movement.  Jonthan Tobin explains why he and his fellow writers at Commontary magazine are  not that crazy about Huntsman:

Utah’s economic record does speak well for Huntsman, but the problem with his candidacy does not stem from worries about that aspect of his record. Huntsman has entered the GOP race as a moderate dripping with contempt for conservatives and clearly attempting to position himself as the darling of media elites and country club Republicans. After serving two years as President Obama’s ambassador to China, he has been slow to understand the one thing that unites the GOP is anger about the president’s policies.

This comes after a Huntsman supporter gave reasons why the magazine should consider Huntman.  Among the arguments:

Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans rank “the economy” and “jobs” as the top political issue.  Huntsman’s past economic performance speaks of nothing but success.   As governor of Utah, Huntsman signed the largest tax cut ($225 million) in the conservative state’s history, winning him the 2008 Cato Institute tax award and the 2007 Taxpayer Advocate Award; he fought against regulations hampering commerce (including, controversially, some of Utah’s more stringent liquor limitations); and he brought new high-tech businesses to the states.  The result? The American Legislative Exchange Council called Utah the top state for expected economic recovery.

On paper, Huntman is a pretty competent conservative.  His fiscal policy should be a dream to most conservatives.  As far as I’ve known, Huntsman has never said a harsh thing about other Republicans.  And why is the conservative media so fixated on how much the mainstream media loves Huntsman?  I don’t think the love fest is as big as people think (a few articles does not make a love afair.)  And if we are going to talk about media love affairs with certain Republican candidates, can we talk about the conservative media elite’s love for Michelle Bachmann? (She’s on the cover of both National Review and the Weekly Standard.)

I think it doesn’t matter to many if a candidate has a conservative fiscal record.  If they don’t run around talking about the Democrats as the spawn of Satan, or see President Obama as a socialist, then they don’t matter among the conservative media.  It’s the telltale sign a political movement versus a political party.

When David Brooks Gets Angry…

One of the things that has attracted me to David Brooks over the years is his willingness to not get so heated in his writing.  In a time when it seems that what sells is trying to show everyone how outraged you are, Brooks quiet conservations about issues has always been a breath of fresh air.  Brooks has been criticial of folks accross the political spectrum, but it was never done in a withering attack style.  That’s just not David Brooks.

At least it wasn’t until today.

Brooks incredible tounge lashing of the GOP for it’s dance with default should be a sign to Republicans that they are in danger of losing any and all credibility.  When you get the man who has made a living on calls for civility angry, you’ve pretty much lost the independents and moderates that are needed to win.

The modern GOP is in a bit of a bind. My guess is that even within the halls of Congress there are a number of GOP members of Congress who agree with Brooks.  They want to make a deal with Democrats to avert any kind of fiscal disaster.  But I also think the GOP is trapped by its own ideology; faced with a base that doesn’t want any compromise and will punish any lawmaker that goes against their wishes. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, citing a recent New York Times piece, GOP lawmakers are kept in line using fear:

What matters here, however, isn’t what actually happens in these primaries (after all, virtually all incumbents will survive them), but what’s in the heads of Republican Members of Congress. And for that, it’s possible that the ambiguities and unclear interpretations in Steinhauer’s story reflect accurately a focus on primaries and Tea Party short leashes that dominate the thinking of those Republicans.

All of which means that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter how many establishment figures defect or how harshly they complain: as long as Republican politicians are convinced that their main vulnerability is primary challenges from the right, they’re going to get crazier and crazier. 

The thing is, it’s really not that crazy to worry about challenges from the right. Several Republican incumbents went down to defeat in primaries last year because they were not “pure” enough. It happened enough in 2010 to strike fear in the the hearts of GOP lawmakers. And as Bernstein notes as long as those politicos think this is their fate if they even make a deal, they will ride that crazy train no matter what a columist says about them.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Of course, GOP lawmakers should make deals, but the reality is they won’t because of what could be the reprocussions of compromising.  Brooks slap accross the face should be a wake-up call, but I doubt it will.  So far, there hasn’t been any consquences for going crazy.  There have been consquences for making deals.  Only when a price is paid for ideological rigidity will the GOP be able to change its course.  The question then will be if it’s too late.

One Small Gay Step for Republicankind

While some might think the GOP is hopelessly homophobic, there have been green shoots of greater acceptance of gays and lesbians.  Today, we see that Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director, R. Clarke Cooper was tapped by the Republican National Committee to serve on its Finance Committee.

Let me repeat that.  Openly gay man, who heads an organization of openly gay Republicans,  is asked to serve on the fundraising committee of the Republican Party.

Kinda amazing, don’t you think?

This didn’t please the folks at the Family Research Council.  The Advocate reports how they responded:

In a blog post this afternoon, the Christian conservative lobbying group denounced Cooper’s appointment — as well as his organization’s “homosexual-centered” aims — which include bringing a lawsuit against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (a federal judge ruled DADT unconstitutional last September).

In a subsequent fund-raising plea, the post’s author, FRC vice president for government affairs Tom McClusky, urged readers to donate to his organization’s own political action committee — or to the Senate Conservatives Fund, chaired by South Carolina senator Jim DeMint.

The blog post is accompanied by an image of the Disney character Dumbo, with an alt tag that reads “elephant gay.”

 

Stay classy, FRC. Below is a pic that Log Cabin was able to capture from the FRC website.

Log Cabin fired back with a fundraising email of its own:

Dear Family Research Council,

Log Cabin Republicans don’t mind that you called us“Dumbo,” because on Election Day, we want to see elephants fly – to the White House, Congress, and in statehouses nationwide.

 

Now, that’s class.

I think this is an important step for the GOP.  It wasn’t too long ago that we had the chair of the RNC who was in the closet and having to support an anti-gay agenda.  To have someone out and proud serving at such a high level in the GOP is nothing but good.

Republicans Stand Against Homophobia; Nobody Cares

Log Cabin Republicans reports the following:

Here at Log Cabin HQ, we’ve noticed a trend. Following the 2010 election, it seemed that every possible threat to marriage equality was front page news and fodder for endless fundraising blasts. The narrative was clear: with Republicans in charge, gay rights were in the crosshairs.  Yet when a threat is beaten back, particularly when Republicans are part of the defense, coverage by national gay media is remarkably thin. Take, for example, Wyoming, which just voted down a measure that would deny recognition to same-sex couples married in other states. Republican leadership was vital to this victory, and deserves to be recognized.

Freedom to Marry shares what went on in Wyoming and how Republicans stood up to bigotry:

The issue came up because last year, a state judge refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple who had gotten married in Canada. That case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. The two Republican Senators who doomed the bill by voting against it said they could not support the bill if it did not guarantee court access for married gay couples.

The bill did pass the House, but not before a passionate debate that included some Republicans in opposition. “This bill does nothing more than to strip away liberties that have been granted by other states,” said Rep. Ruth Petroff (R). “We go from being ‘The Equality State’ to ‘The Strip-Away-Liberty State.'”

Rep. Pat Childers (R), who has a lesbian daughter, said the bill violated both the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions.

“This isn’t right,” he said. He also rejected claims that gay people are somehow not as good at raising children, saying “Both of my sons would be more than happy to let any one of my grandchildren go to my daughter to be raised.”

 The Laramie Boomerang has some more great coverage of Republicans who said yes to equality.

Since Log Cabin linked to several articles from the Advocate anti-gay Republicans, I decided to check and see if they even mentioned the defeat of this measure.  As of this afternoon, what I found on their News page was talk about former GOP Representative Chris Lee being asked to do a nude shoot for Playgirl, an article about Mike Huckabee’s swipe at Natlie Portman, and Newt Gringrich courting the Religious Right.  You’d think the leading LGBT magazine in the nation would bother to cover this issue, especially when their were some Republicans who dared to speak up. 

It’s frustrating to be hectored in your own party for being gay or supporting gay rights, but it is downright insulting when Democrats and media don’t bother to salute or notice when a Republican tries to do right on LGBT issues.

Defining Conservatism

Linguist George Lakoff has a definition of conservatism:

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy — citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility — acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens.

The conservative worldview rejects all of that.

Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.

But where does that view of individual responsibility alone come from?

The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

I’ve never been a big fan of Lakoff and it’s not because he’s a liberal.  I always get the feeling that Lakoff sits in some office at some university reading all he can on the conservative movement without ever meeting an actual person that might be conservative.  To kind of use what he’s known for, he frames conservatives as something “other” something that is out to destroy all that is good and righteous about American society.

I will admit there are a lot of problems with conservatives which Lakoff touches on.  But the thing is, conservatives are more complex than the cartoon strawman he describes.

Of course, I know of conservatives that describe liberals in the same way that Lakoff describes conservatives and I find that just as appalling.

I think it’s sad: conservatives and liberals are more and more living in such secluded worlds away from each other that we no longer no how to see each other not as monsters, but as fellow human beings.

h/t: Scott McKnight

Stop Making Sense

The fallout from the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others on Saturday has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch. 

It’s been fascinating because the gun barrels had yet to grow cold when people starting pointing fingers and assigning blame.  It’s frustrating because we seem to be more interested in blame than in stopping for a moment and simply mourning the loss of life.

Since Saturday, everyone has been trying to offer some explaination about what happened.  The one issue that keeps coming up again and again is the tone of political rhetoric in our daily disc0urse.  The more nakedly partisan among us dig up maps used by Sarah Palin and point to the former governor and the larger conservative movement as the problem.  The less partisan bring up calls for more civility.  More than one fellow pastor has called for our political speech to be more charitable.

All of the folks in question swear up and down that such speech is not what killed six people and injured 13 others, but in reality, that is exactly what they are saying.  They are saying inflamed speech, such as the use of crosshairs on an ad by a certain former Alsakan governor, is what lead to the massacre in Tuscon.

But the reality is, we really don’t know why Jared Loughner decided to open fire at a Safeway.  We have a lot of odd writings that don’t seem to make sense.  On Saturday, James Fallows admitted that many an assasin has shot someone for motives that really had nothing to do with anything:

– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.
 
– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

And Ross Douthat’s  Monday column shows that the assisnation of John F. Kennedy was not due to the anti-Democratic climate in Dallas at the time:

When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.

I think part of the reason there has been all this talk about cooling our political speech is because we want to find some answer for this tragedy.  We want to make sense of the horror.  What better way to make sense of this all than to pin the blame on something or someone else?

But can we really blame it on inflammatory speech?  Crosshairs aside, was anybody really calling for the assasination of Representative Giffords?  And if the culprit is speech, then how in the world do you “cool down” down the rhetoric?  Is this simply a moral problem that can be solved by faith communities or is it something that requires the state to take part?

People are trying hard to find a way to pin a villian, usually a villian that people already don’t like.  It makes this horror easier to understand to our anxious hearts.  But I think the awesome reality is that we don’t understand what is going on.  We want to, but  we don’t.  There is no easy answer to this situation. 

And that scares us.  Because if there is no easy answer, then it means that life can be random, that sometimes things happen for no discernable reason.  We want there to be an easy reason for endangering the life of a public servant and for killing a nine-year-old whose only crime was going to this event to learn more about government.

There is no real way to make sense of this tragedy and I wish others would stop trying to do so. 

What I wish we would do is what Daniel Hernandez did.  Hernandez is an intern at Giffords’ office and after the Congresswoman was shot on Saturday, he stayed by her side and applied bandages to her wounds.  Many people think he might have saved her life.

Instead of pontificating and seeking easy answers, I think we need to simply stand by the side of the hurting.  As blogger Michael Kruse says, we need to be able to grieve and comfort those who mourn.   

The book of Job is a biblical account of a man who goes through immense suffering.  He loses everything- including his children and is visited by his three friends.  Later on, the three friends try to offer reasons for Job’s sufferings, which were never much helpful.  At the beginning, though, they met with Job and just sat with him. 

Sometimes, in times of tragedy, nothing needs to be said.  We just need to sit, mourn and pray for those lost.  We don’t have to make sense of everything.

More on Christine O’Donnell and the End of the Delware GOP

Doug Mataconis:

Delaware is a Blue State and it’s likely to be one for a long time, but there was a time when it did produce Republicans who were capable of winning statewide. Not just Mike Castle, but guys like William Roth and Pete duPont. Thanks to the damage that the party suffered in 2010, it’s going to be a long time before Delaware produces a candidate like that again.

The point here isn’t to kick Christine O’Donnell yet again, but to point out that there are consequences to nominating a candidate who has no realistic chance of winning a General Election. Not only do you lose the race itself, but you hurt your party in down ticket races.

The GOP could have taken the Senate had they ran more credible candidates in states like Delaware.  Indeed, the GOP establishment had supported a capable candidate in Mike Castle, but the Tea Party had other ideas and took a candidate that had a chance out of the running.

Which leads to this question: how does a party learn to control its more purist elements?  How can a party please its base and also reach beyond it?

Politics, War, Civility and No Labels

I’ve said before that I have my doubts with the new centrist group called No Labels.  There has been a lot of talk about the orgainzation in the blogosphere and most of it is predictably negative.  Conservatives tend to think this is nothing more than liberals in drag, while some liberals want to remind people that labels are important.  Christopher Beam’s article in Slate is able to mix my concerns about the groups with some of the same criticism about the name and the need for partisanship in American society.

I agree with a lot of what Beam said.  There have been lots of attempts by well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned according to some) people who want to foster a more gentler politics and most of those efforts have amounted to nothing.  Beam is also correct in stating partisanship, or at least having beliefs is important and he is spot on in stating that part of the reason liberals and conservatives can’t cooperate is because they have less and less in common:

No Labels sounds noble in theory. But the group misunderstands what bipartisanship is. It’s not two parties deciding to be nice to each other. It’s a moment when their self-interests happen to align—moments that are increasingly rare. Washington does not have a “civility problem.” It has a polarization problem. Politicians aren’t any meaner now than they were 30 years ago. It’s just that over the last few decades, the two parties have become more ideologically coherent. Back in the 1950s, some Southern Democrats opposed racial integration, and some Republicans in the North favored a robust social safety net. Opposition to abortion was a bipartisan affair. There was a Christian right, but there was a Christian left as well. (The first Catholic president was a Democrat, after all.)

All of that changed in the ’60s and ’70s. Small-government libertarians aligned themselves with social conservatives under the Republican umbrella. Social liberals and economic interventionists joined the Democrats. In the 1980s, there was still enough overlap between the parties to beget phrases like “Reagan Democrats.” But every year the parties drift further apart. In a conversation with NPR about “No Labels,” Charlie Crist trotted out the old saw about Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. Those men “probably didn’t agree on a whole lot of things … yet were able to get along and at the end of the day, go out and have a cold one and understand that it’s important for them to be civil.” Sure. But by today’s partisan standards, O’Neill and Reagan had a lot in common. What stops Barack Obama and John Boehner from taking smoking breaks together isn’t that they’re jerks. It’s that they don’t agree on as much.

The parties have become more ideologically coherent, which has led to the current problem.

But where Beam and other detractors of No Labels fall short is on how to solve this issue.  It’s as if they don’t seem to care that important issues are not being discussed.  Of course partisan wrangling is part of the deal in a democracy.  An open society is not supposed to be a nice society.  I have no doubt that Democrats and Republicans were arguing back during the halcyon bipartisan days of the 1960s and 70s on the issues of the day.  Continue reading