A bumpersticker seen in more liberal areas of the country reads: "Jesus save me from your followers." Now, that may not be a very "Christian" way to open a column which falls on the Christian Good Friday, but I was reminded of it by yet another episode of Catholic leaders denouncing liberal politicians. To these leaders, I have to say, isn't there something about beams and dust motes and eyes which you could be more productively teaching about? Or perhaps that one about throwing the first stone?
The occasion for the outrage this time is Notre Dame -- a Catholic college -- inviting the President of the United States to speak at its graduation ceremony. Outrageous, huh? Some bishops and priests and other Catholic leaders have raised an outcry and, if Obama was Catholic, would no doubt be calling to ban him from taking communion. Their theological logic (ahem) is that since Obama supports the law he swore a holy oath to uphold for all American citizens (the Constitution), he should be shunned by the Catholic community. Yes, it was a "'holy" oath, since Obama added the (non-required) words "so help me God" at the end. And yes, abortion rights are part of that law. Meaning that, to the bishops and other leaders, Obama cannot be given the right to speak at a Catholic forum, since he does not follow to the letter the holy laws laid down by the Pope.
To which I have to say: Hypocrites!
Yes, this is a little harsh to say on a Christian holiday, but so be it. They have brought this upon themselves. Because when was the last time any of them made a similar outcry about any politician who supports the death penalty? Or torture, for that matter? When was the last time any Catholic leaders called for banning any politician from speaking to their flock who supported the Iraq war (which the Pope spoke out against)? The height of this hypocrisy has to be the newly-converted Newt Gingrich, who is currently with his third wife (after divorcing the previous two). Where is the outcry for banning all these sinners from speaking to all Catholics? If we're going to have some sort of "speaker purity test" then applying such a test to only one theological issue would simply be inconsistent -- an example of moral relativism (which the Catholic Church is definitely not in favor of). Where is the demand to silence anyone who has ever advocated birth control from blaspheming the tender ears of Catholics with their speech?
The answer is: it doesn't exist. Which is why I say: Hypocrites!
While Jesus does not say a single word in the Bible about abortion, He talks quite a bit about the wealthy, and what their chances are for entering Heaven (see: camel, needle's eye). How many of these bishops are wealthy men, one is moved to wonder? How many of the people who are now enraged that the leader of our country dares to speak to college graduates of their faith would Jesus consider "rich," and what would he say to them? He was, to be blunt, a pretty liberal guy.
Fortunately, for them, the Bible already has an answer. From either Mark 10:17-22 or Matthew 19:16-22 comes the story of Jesus and the rich man, which ends with:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Any of Christ's "followers" who have been ignoring these verses, in my opinion, simply have no moral standing to be demanding perfection from others. And anyone -- for any theological reason whatsoever -- who would deign to decide who speaks (and who does not speak) to a Catholic audience, I would hasten to remind them that Jesus himself palled around with lepers and prostitutes and sinners of all types. He befriended them. He, one assumes, listened to what they had to say, even if He did not agree with it.
And, whether you call yourself a Christian or not, that is a much better example to follow than the one put forth by these sanctimonious hypocrites. One wonders how they even manage to walk around with the Sequoia-sized beams in their own eyes.
[Note: While I do not enjoy calling religious leaders of any faith or creed hypocrites, when they meddle in the world of politics they are then fair game, as far as I'm concerned. I offer this criticism of Catholic leaders who have spoken out about Obama's Notre Dame appearance, but I am not criticizing Catholicism or all Catholics by doing so, in any way, shape, or form. I heartily wish all my Christian readers a Happy Easter, my Jewish readers a Happy Passover, and for all my pagan readers (who probably know why eggs and bunnies are symbols used during this season) a happy Œstre spring fertility rite.]
The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week goes to six Democratic senators who at least tried to get the Obama administration to consider being a bit more strict with Wall Street.
The surprising thing is how "moderate" most of them are. Senator Dianne Feinstein, for instance, has crossed the aisle more times to vote with the Republicans for pro-business measures than I can count. Not exactly a flaming leftist, our Dianne. The full list of these senators, from the Newsweek story where it was reported: Maria Cantwell, Byron Dorgan, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb. Now, Sanders is admittedly about as far left as you can get, and he apparently had a lot to do with provoking the meeting, but the rest of them are a pretty centrist bunch. And if even the centrists are suggesting tougher regulations, doesn't that mean that it's now politically viable to do so?
For their efforts, all six are awarded this week's MIDOTW award.
[Congratulate the six senators on their Senate webpages, by clicking their names -- Maria Cantwell, Byron Dorgan, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb -- to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
Unfortunately, we've got a lot to get to in the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week section of our program.
First up are some Senate Democrats who are undercutting the rest of the party (and Obama) on the estate tax (known to Republicans as "the death tax"). Ten unnamed Democrats are pushing this issue, but it hasn't really come to a boil yet, so their MDDOTW award will have to wait.
Because this week, we have two MDDOTW awards to give out, to two cabinet members. While not named, it's pretty easy to see Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's fingerprints all over the story of how the Treasury is scheming to get around the (quite modest) executive compensation limits that have managed to become law. They are, in essence, laundering the taxpayers' money through a phony dummy company, in order to avoid the executive pay laws.
While Geithner is not explicitly named in the story, I am awarding him a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, and keeping one in reserve until we find out if the president himself had anything to do with this shameful and idiotic plan.
The second MDDOTW award this week goes to Attorney General Eric Holder, for continuing the Bush "state secrets" policy in three separate lawsuits (Dan Froomkin has a good wrapup, with links to the cases themselves).
And I've got one more Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award if needed, in case President Obama's explanation for Holder's actions is less than complete.
Both awards this week are (one hopes) not part of a disturbing trend. Only time will tell.
Volume 73 (4/10/09)
I have to admit, I am continually astonished at what the national media picks up and what it ignores. This is a general statement, applying to all sorts of things, I should point out.
But in specific, there was what could be called a cyberterrorist attack (although that's a bit of overstatement, I admit) in the heart of Silicon Valley yesterday, and apparently nobody noticed. Of course, since I was affected by a 24-hour blackout of the internet, perhaps I missed all the headlines and am speaking from ignorance.
In what would seem to be a fairly juicy story, some unknown person or persons cut four fiber optic lines and wiped out a few counties' phone lines. Some landlines were down, a lot of cell phones were down, ATMs were down, credit card processing was down, the internet was down, and (most importantly) emergency 911 service was down -- for over 50,000 people. Nobody knows if terrorism played any part, or whether it was union workers with a grudge (contracts are currently being negotiated for a telecom workers' contract that expired days ago), or it was some lone whack-job with the ability to pull a manhole cover and the knowledge of which cables to lop. But whoever was behind it, it seems to have enough intrigue in it for the media to notice.
Maybe it's just one of those East Coast/West Coast things. You can bet that if this happened in Baltimore or Boston, the national media would have picked up on it. To say nothing of New York or Washington.
Anyway, the hometown San Jose Mercury News put the story on their front page (at least), for those who would like to read about it further.
As for the rest of the media... hmmph.
Hmmph, I say!
But enough Andy Rooney-esque grumpiness. Looking back, there seems to be a flavor of grumpiness throughout this whole column. The moral of our story (I guess) is: Chris have no internet for a day, Chris get very grumpy!
Anyway, let's quickly move on to our weekly installment of: "How to talk to the Media (Democrats' edition)." In other words, the Friday Talking Points.
Tom Toles, in-house cartoonmeister for the Washington Post put it better (in far fewer words) than I could this week, so I will pause while you all enjoy his commentary on President Obama's overseas diplomatic trip last week.
This is important, because some pundits (of the righty persuasion) have been desperately trying to portray Obama's European trip as a "failure." This needs to be laughed down.
"All President Obama had to do in order to make his first European diplomatic trip a smashing success was to stand up and say the words 'I am not George W. Bush," and then sit back down again. If that is all he accomplished, you would still have to call his trip a success. You may accuse me of somehow 'lowering the bar' by saying that, but I would answer this by saying that it wasn't Obama who lowered this bar, it was his predecessor. Obama is raising this very bar, which is precisely why his trip was a success. In later years, more substantive progress may be required to call such a trip a success, but this time around, he succeeded just by being who he is -- not Bush."
So polarized you need Ray-Bans to look at it
I wrote about this earlier this week, in an article titled "Obama Should Be Ashamed Only Two-Thirds Approve Of Him." This attempt at irony or sarcasm was meant to point out how absurd it is for the right wing to try to denigrate Obama's supposed "polarization" of American politics, especially when his job approval numbers have stayed so high. Because this is sort of a buzzword-of-the-week, be prepared to talk about this in an interview by rubbing a few noses in some historic facts.
"Obama's the most 'polarizing' president ever? Did you just actually say that? So, I guess the American public weren't polarized over George W. Bush. Or Bill Clinton. Or Ronald Reagan. Or Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War wasn't polarizing? Civil rights didn't polarize the public? If you go back even further, F.D.R.'s New Deal is fondly remembered now, but was actually extremely polarizing when he introduced it. I guess you think that America wasn't polarized under Lincoln, in the middle of a civil war?!? Please -- give me a break. Anyone who is expressing astonishment over the quote, polarized, unquote, American public is simply and completely ignorant of just about all of American history. Pick any newspaper at random from fifty, a hundred, or a hundred-and-fifty years ago, and you'll get a face full of polarization. Polarization in American politics is not some new-fangled invention dreamed up by Barack Obama, it is actually the natural state of affairs in American politics. The American people don't care about such issues -- what they care about is getting things done. And for all this so-called polarization Obama has engendered, it sure seems from where I'm sitting that he is getting a lot of things done that people approve of."
The (bipartisan)ship of state
Which leads into another inane media mantra which needs smacking down -- "bipartisanship."
"You know, it's funny how the media has such a gigantic double standard when it comes to the word 'bipartisanship.' When Republicans are in control, bipartisanship is supposed to mean when the Democratic minority goes along with them and votes with them. But when Democrats are in control, it somehow gets switched around to mean the Democratic majority is supposed to eviscerate their own agenda to meet the demands of the Republican minority. The word bipartisanship, if it means anything, must be applied consistently. I suggest the following definition: bipartisanship is when a fraction of the minority votes with an overwhelming majority, and if no bipartisanship exists, then it is the fault of that minority. How's that? Because that's how it was used during the last eight years, so let's agree to use that definition for the next eight, OK?"
Say it ain't so Joe (McCarthy)
That was my first response to this story, in all honesty. The talking point writes itself.
"I notice a Republican member of the House -- no, I'm not going to use his name and give him the publicity he so desperately seems to crave -- was just quoted that he had a list of seventeen 'socialists' now serving in Congress. If the Republican Party truly thinks that channeling the spirit of Joe McCarthy is going to help them politically, the obvious response must also be dredged up from the annals of history: Have you no shame, sir?"
And you're astonished... why, exactly?
The media had a minor kerfluffle when it breathlessly reported that Obama was going to begin to tackle the immigration issue this year. Any question on immigration needs to be used as a springboard to point out the media's failings, instead.
"Well, when President Obama unveils his plan for dealing with immigration, then I will comment on the specifics of this plan. I'd like to comment, though, on a larger point. This is just the latest in a series of media reports which seem absolutely astonished that Barack Obama is doing exactly what he promised to do on the campaign trail. The American people remember what Obama promised, and they are waiting to see what he comes up with. But the fact that he is actually tackling the issue -- as he did with all these others -- should at some point stop coming as such a surprise to you folks. Obama obviously means to try as hard as he can to achieve the goals he set for himself as a candidate. Immigration was one of those goals, and his following through on it is indeed newsworthy, but it should really come as no surprise by now."
Obama getting better at press banter
This doesn't really fit the description of a talking point, but it's been a slow week. Barack Obama is getting better at bantering with the press. For all of you breathlessly following the White House dog story, your questions may all be answered Monday. From the Washington Post blog "44" (Obama's the 44th president, get it?) comes the following report.
"When is the dog coming?" a reporter called out to Obama, who had finished his formal remarks.
"Oh, man, now, that's top secret," the president teased the press, according to the White House transcript of the exchange, generating laughter. "That's top secret."
"Exactly!" said a reporter.
"Oh, no, no, this is tightening up. Any of you going to be at the Easter Egg Roll?" asked the president.
"Oh, yes," came the reply.
"That's big," Obama said, again provoking laughter. "That's big. So we look forward to seeing you on Monday. Thanks, guys."
Ask the teabaggers what it means
This one is just too, too funny. But since it describes certain sexual practices, I must issue a standard warning to children. Kids, you need to stop reading. We're about to discuss the adult subject of why conservatives are idiots, and why they are making total fools of themselves. Please, please, just close this page now, and spare your tender eyes.
OK, all the kids gone? Good.
In some sort of protest about something or another (the whole "movement" seems to be best described as the "We hate Obama!" diehards, due to the disparity of their complaints), groups across America are planning a "tea party" this tax day (April 15th). You may not be aware of this, in which case you simply don't watch enough Fox News (ahem... so to speak). This is supposed to be reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party, except somehow waving bags of Lipton around probably isn't going to have the same visual impact.
But putting all of that aside, they are apparently blissfully unaware that "tea bag" can be used as a verb. As in "teabagging" or "to teabag." Which describes a certain oro-scroticular (I believe that's the proper term... ahem) sexual act.
One would think somebody over at Tea Party Central would have figured this out by now. One would be mistaken. These new-fangled Googles are mighty tough to do, eh, guys?
But while some lefty pundits (cough, cough, Rachel Maddow, cough) are having a field day with this, actual Democratic politicians should be more restrained. Feign ignorance, but use the term as often as possible -- in the hopes that the interviewer will jump in, out of total embarrassment. Resist the urge to actually point out the punchline, in other words.
If they actually let you finish, you simply must end with asking the oroscroticularianists what it means.
"I see that there's some sort of teabagging event... some protest or another by the teabag groups... which is taking place this Wednesday. I'm not sure exactly what these teabaggers are protesting, myself, so I guess you'd have to talk to one of these teabaggers and find out what teabagging is actually supposed to mean."
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground