Conservatives Outraged Obama Quoted Bible

Conservative JesusExodus 22:21 tells us, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Or, more accurately, “וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.” But it is important to remember that this seems to be Exodus 22:20 in the Hebrew Bible. I don’t know; it is hard to get my head around, since it is read right to left. Regardless, we know that the Bible tells us this because during his speech last night, Obama told us, “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.” I just looked it up.

I believe that like all religious books, there is much wisdom in the Bible. But I don’t like it being quoted by our secular politicians. Can you imagine the uproar that would have occurred if our first Catholic president had used the Bible as ostentatiously as every president since Reagan (Not Carter!) has used it? But I don’t blame Obama for using it. It is now what a vocal minority demand. Indeed, as Emily Arrowood reported today, it was only Wednesday that the folks on Fox & Friends complained that Obama wasn’t Christian enough:

On November 19, the hosts promoted a “fiery” online op-ed penned by Chuck Norris, echoing his outrage that Obama had not publicly opposed a local school district’s decision to remove references to religious holidays on the schools’ calendars. The hosts then aired video of former President Ronald Reagan talking about Christmas and his Christian faith, saying, “Chuck Norris’ point was, remember the time when American presidents weren’t afraid to talk about traditional values, as Ronald Reagan did back in 1981.” Hasselbeck remarked that Reagan’s religious rhetoric gave her goosebumps.

As Arrowood noted, Obama throws scripture liberally in his speeches, but conservatives continue to complain. Let’s be honest: Obama can’t win. Conservatives don’t hate him for any real reason. They just hate him because he’s of the wrong party and then they come up with reasons for it. And that was on clear display this morning.

In a rational world, the Fox & Friends folk would be thrilled with Obama for wiping away the dust from his Bible and quoting from everyone’s favorite Red Sea pedestrians. But no. It was a silly idea. What’s the point of even speculating about a rational world? Two days ago they complained that Obama didn’t talk about Christianity and today they thought he talked too much about it. According to Arrowood (no video yet), they were “challenging him to a ‘scripture-showdown’ and claiming it’s ‘repugnant’ for Obama to ‘lecture us on Christian faith.’”

Of course, there is a kind of theological distinction here. This kind of use of the Bible as a moral weapon is generally looked down upon. The only true Christian is one who uses it to push social conservatism and to push Christianity as the One Truth Faith™. This is what is behind the whole War on Christmas™. The war — such as it is — is not about Christians being denied the right to observe the holiday as they see fit. It is rather about Christianity being held up as an earlier passage from Exodus, “You shall have no other gods before me.” That’s the right kind of Christianity — the kind that Chuck Norris practices.

What it is really all about is that conservatives know what Obama was doing: he was rubbing their noses in their favorite book that they never read. He was effectively saying that it is anti-Christian to be against immigration reform. And he’s right! Obama quoted the Old Testament, but he could have as easily quoted Jesus (“I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not” — he meant that as a bad thing!) or even the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor…”).

But that isn’t the conservative way. They aren’t out there grappling with what is a very difficult book. They aren’t reading, What Jesus Meant. They only think that Christianity is right because they assume it tells them that they are right in whatever they want to do. And they don’t want immigration reform. So Obama is a heretic to quote the Bible when it isn’t in the service of what they know the gay-hating, rifle-wielding, free-market-loving Jesus stood for.

What would Jesus do? Deport them all! For when they were hungry, he said, “Get out of the country you moochers!”

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics, Spiritual/Religious

English Grammar Is Not in Decay

Geoffrey NunbergI do understand why people would have this impression of decay. And I have it too, particularly when I’m surfing the internet or reading a corporate report. But are things really worse than they used to be? Maybe it is just that I’m getting old and cranky. Complaining about English has always been an old man’s game. I say man — curmudgeon is an interesting word: it’s not a word we apply to women; only men can be curmudgeons. It occurs to me that maybe a lot of this stuff was going on when I was younger but I was too busy to notice or too mellow to care. It would be hard to prove it one way or the other. In fact, people complain about the language but they never really document the claims the way they would if they were economic complaints. People don’t say:

The pronoun “whom” was off sharply last quarter as the language was already reeling from a 37% increase in the use of “office” as a verb.

People just assume that everybody knew how to write and spell correctly until things started to fall apart about a generation ago. Partly that’s just the selectivity of literary memory. Whatever becomes of the general run of evil that men do, our bad writing is interred with our bones. So we don’t have to read the popular journalism of earlier generations. Just as our descendants won’t have to read ours. If you ever go to a garage sale, pick up a copy of Collier’s magazine and look at it. And then look at People magazine today. People‘s a much better written magazine than Collier’s was.

—Geoffrey Nunberg
City Club Presents

Leave a Comment

Filed under Quotations, Reading & Writing

Obama’s Executive Action Is a Double Win

Obama HopeMy father’s late girlfriend used to call Obama a communist. I once asked her, “So what would you call Stalin?” I don’t think she fully appreciated my point. But conservatives really should consider it because they are living it right now. Over the past two weeks, the Republicans have been warning the president that if he took executive action on immigration, it would be all out war. It’s kind of like Hitler threatening all out war if the Allies continued to bomb Berlin. How exactly is this going to get worse?

But in addition to this, there is the way that Obama has been presented in all of this. The average Fox News viewer already thinks that Obama is a lawless president who has enacted one law after another that is unconstitutional. (I doubt one in a hundred of these people could explain why these laws are supposedly unconstitutional.) Now Obama has done something that pushes political norms but he is not breaking the law. So what are the Republicans to say? If they were honest, they would say that he was pushing political norms. But they can’t say that because no one would care that the great lawless usurper is simply doing something that past Republican presidents have done, but a little more aggressively. So they will lie and say he is lawless.

And who really cares? In the conservative imagination, Obama is already lawless. Are they going to say that he is double plus lawless? Or are they going to recalibrate and claim that before they were being a bit hyperbolic and that he wasn’t really lawless but now he is? So what?! It really doesn’t matter given that the Fox News viewer already thinks he is the man who brought National Socialism to America.

This morning, John Boehner declared, “We have a broken immigration system and the American people expect us to work together to fix it.” He added, “All year long I have warned the president that by taking unilateral action on matters such as his healthcare law or by threatening action repeatedly on immigration, he was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together.” This is “fall down laughing” material. In 2009, Mitch McConnell said that the Republicans’ number one task was to make Obama a one-term president. And they did everything they could to make that happen. Yet they claim that they are the ones who have reason not to trust. It is amazing.

So after Obama’s landslide in 2008, the Republicans wouldn’t work with him. After the Republican landslide in 2010, Obama bargained away everything and the Republicans would not take it. After a solid Democratic win in 2012, the Republicans wouldn’t work at all with the White House. And now that they have control of the entire Congress, we are to believe that the day of bipartisan compromise has arrived? It is shocking in its presumption.

This morning, Jonathan Chait laid out the real result of this move, “Ardent populists are demanding a series of suicidal confrontations, from shutdowns to, potentially, impeachment, as the Party leadership strains desperately to keep them at bay.” And I’m sure that was a big part of Obama’s calculus in this matter. As I discussed yesterday, the Republicans’ “working together” with the president would always be a day away.

From a Democratic standpoint, the worst that now happens is that the Republicans do exactly what they were going to do anyway. But that is unlikely. It is far more likely that the crazies in the party will demand all kinds of self-defeating actions. And Chait is right that this will cause whoever becomes the presidential nominee to have to move far to the right on immigration. So what we have is an action that is both good policy and good politics. I can see why the Republicans are unhappy about it.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics

René Magritte

René MagritteOn this day in 1898, the great surrealist painter René Magritte was born. When I was younger, I didn’t much care for his art. There were a good too many apples and bowlers and too little of the overwhelming brilliance of Salvador Dalí. But over time, I came to appreciate Magritte’s art. For one thing, he has much less of a clear style than Dalí. And so the genius behind the paintings is clear.

It’s also the case that Magritte didn’t produce that many works. This may be partly because he wasn’t that successful until quite late into his life. In fact, he had a career arc rather like that of Cervantes: producing work throughout his life, but doing many things to support himself. But it is also the case that he tended to have very distinct thoughts behind his work.

By the late 1920s, he was producing very interesting — clearly surrealistic — work. Some of this, such as The Treachery of Images, is over-intellectual. But other works, such as The Empty Mask, seem to be much deeper than Magritte himself was aware of. I think that is important for an explicitly intellectual artist; the work has to be somewhat out of control or it becomes contrived.

Magritte was always interested in the question of what was behind images. We see that as early as The Empty Mask. It is a profound question to consider coming from an artist who is, after all, only interested in the surfaces of things. But in fact, every image is just covering up another and on and on. In the mid-1930s, he looked at this quite explicitly in his two paintings The Human Condition, where a painting rendered inside the painting covers up exactly the reality it displays.

The Human Condition - 1935

He did some other interesting work around this time such as Not to be Reproduced and On the Threshold of Liberty. And then his production slowed way down for a decade because of the war. He produced some good work and experimented a lot with color in ways that he didn’t seem to bother with much at other times. And then in the late 1940s, he seemed to arrive at a fairly dependable style that we know him for as in paintings like The Art of Life.

In the early 1950s, he produced a series of paintings, The Empire of Lights. The concept is simple enough. But it is lovely:

The Empire of Lights - Magritte

Magritte didn’t produce his best known work until shortly before he died, The Son of Man. What Magritte wrote about it could stand as a general description of his entire output:

Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.

Happy birthday René Magritte!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Birthdays, Visual Arts

The HHS 6% Error Is No Big Deal

We Heart ObamacareWhy is it that whenever discussing Obamacare, I feel like I’m in a fight with a creationist? This was well spoofed in an episode of Futurama, where it really doesn’t matter how many transitional fossils science finds, creationists will always be there to point and say, “Aha! What about the transition between Homo rhodesiensis and Homo sapiens?!” But whereas creationists are largely considered freaks, not welcome on sane television, their closely related cousins the Obamacare denies are considered quite respectable.

Just like the creationists, the Obamacare denialists will always have another reason why the healthcare reform law is evil and unworkable and whatever other pejorative they can come up with. Jonathan Chait pointed this out earlier this year about Reason Magazine‘s Peter Suderman, Libertarian Accidentally Shows How Obamacare Is Succeeding. In the article, Chait chronicled how Suderman would publish an article that claimed Obamacare wasn’t going to work for reason X, only to follow it up with a later article where he admitted that reason X didn’t come to pass, but that Obamacare wouldn’t work because of reason Y. And so on. Chait summed it up with his usual style:

We have gone from learning that the law has failed to cover anybody to learning it would cover a couple million to learning it would cover a few million to learning that it has probably insured fewer than 20 million people halfway through year one. The message of every individual dispatch is a confident prediction of the hated enemy’s demise, yet the terms described in each, taken together, tell the story of retreat. The enemy’s invasion fleet has been destroyed; its huge losses on the field of battle have left it on the brink of surrender; the enemy soldiers will be slaughtered by our brave civilian defenders as they attempt to enter the capital; the resistance will triumph!

This is why the most recent Obamacare outrage is so pathetic. The news is minor, Obamacare Sign-Ups Were Inflated With Dental Plans. The Department of Health and Human Services got screwed up and included 400,000 dental plan sign-ups in their figures for the number of people signing up for Obamacare. So instead of just over 7 million new sign-ups, it will be 6.7 million. This is causing conservatives to complaining the the administration did this on purpose because apparently the 7 million figure is really important to them.

Of course, the critics would have to say that. If they didn’t, they would have to explain why it is that the administration is lying so little. Why not goose the number by a million or two? It doesn’t really matter. Any negative news about Obamacare will be trumped up as proof that the law is evil and unworkable and whatever other pejorative they can come up with.

What I don’t understand is why supporters of the law would pretend that this error was a big deal. Today, the very smart and reasonable Jonathan Cohn wrote, The Government Overstated Obamacare Enrollment by 400,000 People. That’s Inexcusable. Really?! A 6% error that was caught by the government itself only a month after it was made is an “inexcusable” error? This is part of the problem with liberals: we are in such a rush to be so squeaky clean that we push anti-government narratives like this.

An administration screw-up that only affected the monitoring of a program and not the program itself is not an “inexcusable” error. That word should be applied to things like the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. That actually cost human lives. That’s inexcusable! People make mistakes all the time. Other than giving Republicans yet another talking point, the 6% error had no negative consequences.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics

Government Shutdown Unlikely to Hurt Republicans

Paul WaldmanPaul Waldman wrote a good article yesterday, How Republicans Are Learning to Love the Shutdown. He isn’t alone: a lot of people have been reporting about the increasing zeal that the Republican Party has for shutting down the government. Right now they are talking about doing it over the president’s expected announcement of executive action on immigration. But it doesn’t much matter; they have increasing zeal for shutdowns, breaching debt ceilings, and impeachment. They’re Republicans!

What no one seems to be discussing is why this is. I’m afraid that this was always going to happen. The only question is whether the Republican leadership can somehow divert this trend. The way it works this is. When the Democrats had complete control in Washington, the Republican position was quite rightly, “So what?! We’re still going to fight you with everything we have.” But when the Republicans gained control of the House, the Republican response was, “We won the last election: now you have to do everything we say!” The leadership had to point out that this was not, in fact, how things worked. The Republicans only won one chamber of Congress. They didn’t have the Senate and they didn’t have the White House.

Now that the Republicans have won both chambers of Congress — but before actually getting into power — the base is again acting out like children, “Can we do everything we want now?!” Although this behavior is typical of conservatives, it doesn’t only affect them. Whenever a court overrules some democratically approved law, people normally complain, “But it’s what the people want!” I have to remind them that 51% of the people might want to enslave the other 49%, but that hardly makes right.

The question now is whether the Republican leadership will be able to quiet the masses. It’s actually kind of hard. When they had the House from 2011-2012, the Republicans didn’t shut down the government. The leadership could rightly argue that if the new Republican Representatives were good little boys (and a tiny smattering of girls), they would have the White House in short order and all their dreams would come true. That’s why we did get the shutdown in 2013. I question whether “We’ll win the White House in 2016!” will be all that compelling an argument.

Right now, the Republicans are making the argument that the last time they shut down the government, it didn’t hurt them. In fact, it might have helped them, by causing liberal and moderate voters to just give up on democracy. These people are forgetting an important point, of course. The 2013 government shutdown hurt the Republicans enormously at the time. But they were saved by the website debacle that was all anyone was talking about as soon as the shutdown was ended. By January, everyone had forgotten about what the Republicans had done and were still thinking that the government couldn’t do anything right, as was clear thanks to the Obamacare website. I don’t think they are going to have that good fortune again.

Just the same, as long as the Republicans don’t shut down the government within three months of the next election, I wonder how much it would matter. The truth is that Americans don’t much pay attention to politics. A September poll found that over 40% of Americans said they didn’t know which party controlled the House and the Senate. And that doesn’t even include the ones who said they knew but were wrong. Although 38% knew that Democrats controlled the Senate, 20% said the Republicans did.

Given all this, it is amazing that Americans blame the Republicans for shutting down the government even at the time. They certainly aren’t going to blame the Republicans a year later. And as I indicated, in the long run, Republicans are probably helped by government shutdowns. It is a great way to push their philosophy that the government is incompetent. That not only increases the number of conservatives who show up to vote, it decreases the number of liberals who bother to vote.

So I won’t be cheering if the Republicans shutdown the government. The harm done to the people of the United States will be for nothing. And the best outcome will be that it will have no effect at all in 2016. And it might result in the people deciding that the way to get things done in Washington is to put the people who have obstructed for the previous eight years into power. Because Americans are just brilliant at that kind of anti-logic.

2 Comments

Filed under Politics

Indy Mike Works for Republicans From “Center”

Sam SederThis morning while making breakfast, I was listening to part of Sam Seder on Majority Report. He was talking to “Indy Mike” — a guy I had heard mentioned in the past but didn’t know anything about. He was talking about how Obama shouldn’t take executive action on immigration reform. Instead, he should use the new Republican controlled Congress to make a deal with the Republicans. And if that didn’t work, well, everyone would know that the Republicans are just unreasonable.

It was one of those instances where I’m in the kitchen shouting at inanimate objects. Seder patiently explained multiple times that Obama had done exactly this five months ago when he announced that if the Republicans in the House wouldn’t do anything, he would. And Seder noted that the Senate had passed a draconian immigration bill that Boehner has always refused to bring up for a vote. What was entirely typical of Indy Mike is that he didn’t seem to know this history. As usual for such a “centrist,” he was calling for Obama to do what Obama has already done. And then he claims that Obama will get credit for being the “adult in the room,” even as he shows that he has given Obama no credit whatsoever for being the adult in the room previously. In fact, Indy Mike didn’t even seem to know that Obama had been the adult in the room over and over again.

Later, after Indy Mike went on his merry, Seder speculated about an alternate universe. Suppose that Indy Mike had not made his public announcement that Obama should try to make a deal now and wait until next February to do anything. Further, suppose that Obama went on television tonight and did exactly what Indy Mike thinks he should do (what Obama did do five months ago). In February, after it was clear that the Republicans were not going to do anything regarding immigration reform, Indy Mike would say exactly what he said today: Obama should offer to work with the Republicans and only take executive action later. Tomorrow, tomorrow! You’re always a day away!

When Seder countered that Obama had lately done exactly as requested, Indy Mike fell into a kind of No True Scotsman fallacy. Sure, Obama may have done what Indy Mike wanted, but he didn’t really do it. He wasn’t effective doing it. He didn’t publicize it enough. What this allows is for supposed centrists like Indy Mike to constantly move the goal posts. And that is because they aren’t actually interested in the policy. But that doesn’t mean that they are interested in process either.

Based upon things said after Indy Mike left, I got the impression that Indy Mike is independent in the sense that my father is; that is to say that he is just a conservative. The “middle ground” is a nice spot of ground to stake out if you are a conservative who doesn’t want to be seen as a conservative. You can claim to be reasonable and not partisan, when what you really want is for nothing to get done. If a deal ever becomes a real possibility, you can just join your friends on the right at that time.

The net effect of this kind of “third way” rhetoric is to allow Republicans to get a pass. Over the past 40 years, we have seen the Democratic Party move steadily to the right to the point where they are no longer even liberal on economic policy. The Republicans, meanwhile, have gone off the ideological cliff. But according to Indy Mike, it is still Obama who should be doing everything he can to get along with the Republicans. Even if the two parties were at the same place as they were in 1972, it would not follow that the Democrats should always be expected to be the “adults in the room.”

What’s more, listening to Indy Mike, the Republicans and Democrats are only equally to blame when Sam Seder asks that question explicitly. Otherwise, it is always the Democrats who are discussed. This is a kind of Marxist concept applied to modern American politics: each according to his gifts. Since we all know that the Republicans are unreasonable, we can’t expect anything from them. And the more unreasonable they become, the less the self-described centrists will ask of them. The “third way” crowd like Indy Mike are the best propagandists that the Republican Party ever had.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics

Jimmy Ruffin: Not Just David’s Brother

Jimmy RuffinThe great soul singer Jimmy Ruffin died on Monday at the age of 78. He is best known for the song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which we will listen to shortly. I just wanted to mention that the obituaries for him have bugged me. He was the older brother of David Ruffin, lead singer for The Temptations in the mid-1960s when they had hits like “My Girl.” But Jimmy Ruffin was a major talent in his own right. What does a man have to do to get a little respect?

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that his career was focused on the United Kingdom. And you know Americans: if it doesn’t happen here, it never happened at all. Still Ruffin had two top-10 hits here. And “Brokenhearted” is one of those songs that was a lot bigger than its chart placement would indicate. I always thought it was a number one hit, but it only made it to number seven.

Ruffin had been very sick for at least the last month, but he had been performing until quite recently. He left us with a career that spanned seven decades, a dozen albums, and countless singles.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Musical Stuff

Duane Allman

Duane AllmanOn this day in 1946, the great guitarist Duane Allman was born. I can’t think of anyone who plays rock even as good, much less better. Most people think Hendrix was better, but it is hard to see that. I think that is because of what Hendrix did regarding the sound of the guitar. In terms of what he played, it was mostly pretty standard blues. Allman was pushing the envelope of what rock guitar was. It was still mostly blues, but it was a whole lot more. It is sad that we missed out on his evolution. He died in a motorcycle accident when he was only 24 years old.

He worked as a session musician for years, where he had a profound influence — working with people like Boz Scaggs, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin. He is probably best known for his guitar work on Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.” He’s the one who created the guitar riff, which is about the only thing people remember on the song. He and Clapton shared guitar on the song with countless overdubs. But all the slide guitar was Allman.

Allman teamed up with his younger brother Gregg and a number of other great musicians to form The Allman Brothers. The three albums they released while Duane was still alive are all classics. They are more standard blues rock, but this isn’t Savoy Brown — as good as they are. And live, they are really something special. I’m having some difficulty finding really good live video, so here is “Whipping Post” from 1970 at Fillmore East (not the concert their third album was drawn from):

Happy birthday Duane Allman!

2 Comments

Filed under Birthdays, Musical Stuff

“Twice As Good” Is a Racist Concept

Ta-Nehisi CoatesI just read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, The Cosby Show. In it, he discussed a long reported piece he wrote back in 2008 when he followed Bill Cosby around the nation on one of his hectoring tours to tell the African American community that their problems were all their own fault. This is what Coates refers to as “respectability politics”; I wrote about it in another article recently, The Failure of Respectability Politics. But I was struck by a phrase he used in today’s article, “Twice as good.”

The idea of the phrase is that African Americans — or any oppressed group — have to be twice as good as white majority. And if they are, then the white majority will accept them, “Kumbaya” will be sung, and all will be good in the land of the free. The major problem with this is that it is a fantasy. It treats racism, and power politics more generally, as though it were rational. But it isn’t. The colonists didn’t start slavery based on skin color because they saw that dark skinned people behaved badly. And so the idea that hundreds of years of white privilege will be wiped away by African Americans being “twice as good” is just outrageous.

Consider one of my favorite examples: the guy who cut you off. Suppose you hate Latinos. If you are driving and a white guy cuts you off, he’s just a jerk. But if it is a Latino, well, isn’t that entirely typical of Latinos — they just don’t know how to behave! Now if a Latino stops to allow you to merge into traffic, well, that’s the exception. In general, Latinos are the last people do that! Racism is a system of confirmation biases. It simply exists and whatever data is available will be used to justify it.

So unless the African American community can be perfect — which is impossible — there will always be blacks for whites to point at and say, “Isn’t that typical of blacks!” And it doesn’t matter in the least how untypical of blacks “that” might be. And it certainly doesn’t matter how many “twice as good” blacks are there as a counter example.

Part of the problem is that successful and “morally pure” blacks become, at best, a kind of subset. Whites can think, “Blacks are terrible, but there are those special blacks that break the mold.” And all that means is that any given African American is presumed guilty until he is shown to be one of those “good” blacks. So the whole idea behind “twice as good” is racist — it is built upon the same toxic idea as white privilege is.

The fundamental issue is why African Americans have to be twice as good. In White Like Me, Tim Wise spends a lot of time talking about how many chances he has received in life. Is there any definition of fairness that includes countless do-overs for a white man and zero for a black man? Telling a young African American to be “twice as good” is not necessarily a bad idea. He does live in a racist society and he will be held to a far higher standard. But to tell the African American community the same thing is madness. It isn’t the solution to racism; it is just more of it.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics