Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vilification and Violence…and President Obama’s Leadership

Not long after the Tucson shootings, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona made statements blaming the recent heated rhetoric and political vitriol for the shootings: “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous." He added that Arizona had become a "mecca of prejudice and bigotry.” (With the latter comment, he seemed to be referencing Arizona’s notorious S.B. 1070.) Sheriff Dupnik attracted both jeers and praise for encouraging a toned down approach to political discourse.

I must admit that when I first heard of Sheriff Dupnik’s comments I instinctively praised his statements in my mind. My initial gut reaction was that he was right. I have been dismayed by the violent imagery used in some political websites and the uncompromising, intolerant tone employed by some in recent civic discourse. GOP senatorial nominee, Sharron Angle, made references several months ago to “second amendment remedies” in fighting government opponents she viewed as “tyrannical.” To me, that was probably the most chilling political vitriol because of the explicit linking of violence to political disagreement. However, I don’t think Ms. Angle was alone in her views; she was just more up-front and transparent about her attitude.

I do still believe there is a lot of merit to encouraging a more civil approach to politics. But I don’t think it is entirely fair to blame the Tucson shootings on politicians like Sarah Palin (as some have). By all accounts, the Tucson gunman was a very troubled man; he had serious issues that may have prompted violence even in a more temperate political climate. Not long after the Tucson shootings, NPR had an insightful report on the motivations of past political assassinations. The bottom line of their report was that political assassinations are rarely politically motivated.

I listened to President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial Service. His words broke my heart, but also encouraged and up-lifted me. When he was done with his speech, I prayed with moist eyes in thanksgiving for such a wise president.

For those who have questioned President Obama’s assertion that he is a Christian, I think his speech provided ample evidence of the sincerity of his faith. President Obama could have easily pointed a finger at the over-the-top, inflammatory, anti-government rhetoric of many on the right. Many would have thought him justified. After all, he has been the recipient of incessant, ridiculous, baseless attacks against his faith and his citizenship. The current minority leader of the Senate has publicly announced his party’s priority of blocking the president from achieving any of his goals simply to ensure he does not win re-election. In that context, Mr. Obama had the right to chastise those on the right who have attacked him mercilessly with such an over-the-top approach.

But President Obama did not use the attention focused on him in that speech to chastise the right. Instead, he rebuked those on the left who were tempted to point fingers at the right for the Tucson shootings. President Obama called for us all to recognize that we share much in common and to work to make this country as good as Christina-Taylor Green believed it was. He encouraged us to recognize our interdependence and to work for the common good. He also encouraged us to recognize that relationships are more important than anything else in our lives. At a time when he could have sowed more anger and division for political gain, President Obama opted to not do that. In some ways I was surprised that he did not go in that direction. I was very proud and humbled by his speech.

Having grown up in D.C., I don’t tend to get idealistic about politicians. Despite being a pretty optimistic person in most situations, I tend to be pretty cynical about the motives of politicians. But President Obama’s speech lured me away from that cynicism and gave me great reason to admire him. I am grateful for his leadership, and in my own small way, in my own little corner of the world, I too want to make this a better country so that the hopes of idealists like Christina-Taylor Green and Gabriel Zimmerman will be vindicated.

Luke 6:27-37 (New American Standard Bible)

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
"Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.
"Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
"Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
"If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
"If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.
"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reaction to the Shootings in Tucson

I live in Arizona, so folks in different parts of the country have been asking for my reaction to the recent shootings in Tucson. I don’t live in that part of the state, however, and I don’t know any of the folks who were involved. But like Americans all over the country, I’ve been absolutely heartbroken. As a Christian, I view all human life as sacred, and a precious gift. The loss of any human life is tragic, but especially so when it is taken so senselessly and so cruelly.

I was deeply touched by several aspects of what happened that Saturday morning in Tucson. It was profoundly moving that two husbands—Dorwin Stoddard and George Morris--used their own bodies to shield their wives--Mavanell Stoddard and Dorothy Morris--from the bullets. To use one’s own body to protect someone like that is an amazing expression of love. My husband and I have talked about that sacrifice several times since the tragedy; we’ve been very moved.

I was so proud of the ordinary people on the scene at the grocery store who risked their own safety to stop the gunman’s violence. Patricia Maisch snatched away the gunman’s ammunition before he could reload and shoot again. Bill Badger, a 74-year old retired colonel, who himself had already been shot, somehow found the strength and presence of mind to tackle the gunman. Roger Sulzgeber and Joseph Zamudio helped Colonel Badger restrain the gunman. I’m awed by the courage and selflessness these people displayed.

I was also so deeply proud of the selfless courage of Daniel Hernandez, a young man who had just begun an internship with Representative Giffords’s office days before. Mr. Hernandez is a twenty-year old college student. He is also an openly gay man, who is a member of Tucson’s City Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender issues. Amidst the chaos of the bullets, Mr. Hernandez rushed to the congresswoman’s side after she was shot; he applied pressure to her wounds and kept her from choking on blood. He is credited with having saved her life. Mr. Hernandez then rode to the hospital with Representative Giffords and comforted her in the ambulance. Afterwards, he explained that he had long looked up to Representative Giffords. He commented, “It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.” I am amazed that someone so young acted with such heroism, putting people who “needed help” above his own physical well-being. I’ve been on this planet twice as long as Mr. Hernandez, but with great humility, I admit that I am not sure I would have reacted in the same way if I had been in his shoes. Mr. Hernandez is an inspiration and a role model for all of us.

I was also proud of David and Nancy Bowman, a doctor and a nurse, who were doing their grocery shopping. They set up an on-site triage to minister to those who had been shot. It is amazing that such individuals could put aside their own fear and emotional trauma to use their professional skills to help save lives.

The tragedy of the Tucson shootings is very painful to me even though I have not known any of the victims personally. I could relate to many of the people who were impacted directly. As a mother, the unthinkable murder of a child is hard to comprehend or accept. As a wife, I was heart-broken for the spouses who were widowed. As someone who grew up in D.C., interned on Capitol Hill and have known plenty of fine people who worked for members of Congress, I was aghast that a congressional staffer was killed while doing his job and serving constituents. And as a lawyer and a person who believes in the rule of law, I’m absolutely devastated that a lawmaker was expressly targeted for assassination and a judge was killed in the shooting spree. Moreover, as a Christ follower, I can identify with the fact that the judge had just come from attending daily mass at his church. None of these people deserved the cruel, premature taking of their precious lives; none of their loved ones deserved to have them snatched from them. What an unimaginable void that must leave in their lives.

I was in an airport out-of-state when I first learned of the shootings. I had called my husband to check in with him when he told me what had happened. He had been running errands all day and first heard something about the events in Tucson when he was at church that evening; the victims of the shooting were included in the congregation’s prayers during the service. As we spoke on the phone and tried to piece together what had happened, my husband and I were both horrified and stunned by the violence. It was hard to process what had happened.

Even many days later, when people mention the shootings, my eyes moisten. I had felt embarrassed by this reaction until a friend of mine (who is also a wife, mom and a lawyer) mentioned she has been crying a lot.

Another friend of mine shared that she also has had a heavy heart because of the shootings. She told me her immediate reaction when she heard the news was to go into prayer to cover the victims, their families, the first responders and everyone else with God’s love. She added, she even prayed for the man who did the shooting because obviously he was troubled and needed prayer as well. I was so proud of my friend for her generous spirit. It is hard for us humans to pray for the well-being of someone who inflicts so much fear and pain. But of course, as Christ followers, that is what we’re called to do.

Matthew 18:21-35 (New American Standard Bible)

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
"When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
"But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
"So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'
"And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
"But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.'
"So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.'
"But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
"So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
"Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'
"And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
"My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Talk Radio (and TV)

Recently, I blogged about the growth of angry conservative talk radio, and its spill-over into other media. I lamented the efforts of those on the left to mimic the vitriol instead of finding another, more productive response.

I recently came across an interesting discussion of this issue. In a syndicated column, Peter Funt shed light on the topic: "Why Conservatives Win the Talk-Show War." I thought it was a good follow up to my blog on the topic. The column is available at the following link:

Romans 1:13 (The Message)

Please don't misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I've made plans for Rome. I've been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God's work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet—it matters little whether they're mannered or rude, smart or simple—deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that's why I can't wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God.

Ephesians 4:26 (The Message)

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Open Letter to Mr. Joseph Farah (Founder and CEO of WorldNetDaily)

Dear Mr. Farah,

You have honored me greatly by leaving a comment on my humble little blog. I am amazed that a man of such prominence with so many responsibilities would even take notice of my recent post and take time to provide feedback. Thank you very much.

Your comment expressed concern that it was inappropriate to mention in my prior post that WorldNetDaily had been founded with an “unabashedly conservative” viewpoint. That same blog post also indicated that WorldNetDaily’s purpose was "exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power." Both phrases were in quotes in my post because I understood these to be your words. If these quotes do not reflect your actual words and I have therefore inadvertently misquoted you, please accept my sincere apologies.

Since receiving your comment, I have modified the blog post in question to cite the sources where I found those quotes. The quote, to which you object, was found in two places: (1) on the Wikipedia page providing your biography and (2) in an article in the Los Angeles Times. See See Faye Fiore, “Raking Up Muck and Rolling in the Dough,” Los Angeles Times (Jan. 27, 2010). After reading your blog comment, I re-read those sources, and realized that quote was apparently referring only to the Sacramento Union. I apologize profusely for initially interpreting the quote more broadly, i.e., as describing all publications on which you worked subsequent to leaving the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

Please know it is never my intention to promulgate untruths or to sow confusion. If I have unintentionally done so, I offer you my deepest apologies and I would like to extend to you the opportunity to set the record straight in greater detail on my blog. If at any time you would like to submit a guest blogger essay (of any length) about the quote in question, or to express a different opinion than I expressed about WorldNetDaily or the lack of civility in modern American political discourse, please contact me. I would be greatly honored to publish your thoughts as a guest blogger essay.

Respectfully and sincerely yours,
Your sister in Christ,
Claudine Pease-Wingenter

P.S. I am writing this note as an open-letter to you because you did not leave an e-mail address when you left your comment on my blog.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lessons from Dr. King in an Era of Incivility

This weekend at church, as our pastor led us in praying for our congregation, our community and the world, we prayed in thanksgiving for the “life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King.” That phrase has stuck in my mind.

We often hear Dr. King’s name invoked in secular, political contexts these days. And many gloss over the fact that Dr. King was a Christian pastor and his civil rights work was rooted in biblical teachings. I like using the phrase “ministry” to describe his work. I think it is very apropos. As Christ followers, a basic tenet of our faith is that God created all human beings in his image, and each one of us is infinitely valuable. We also believe we are part of the Body of Christ, and all parts are critically important. There are no second class citizens in the Body of Christ.

As I have been thinking about the gift of Dr. King’s life and ministry, it occurs to me that he provided us a wonderful example to follow in our current climate of uncivil public discourse. Two points from his ministry seem particularly helpful.

First, Dr. King was courageous and fair in flagging injustices. He didn’t just tell his flock to suffer through the indignities and dangers of Jim Crow. Dr. King had vision to decry long-established social norms that brought misery and kept African Americans from fully developing their potential. He encouraged people in the pews to go outside and peacefully demand justice outside the walls of their church.

Second, as Dr. King was flagging injustices, he did not demonize those who opposed his work. Instead, he appealed to our better nature and spoke in terms of brotherhood. Even after his home was bombed and his family was nearly killed, Dr. King preached love, not violent retaliation.

In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King used the occasion of his incarceration to take time to respond to Christian leaders who had condemned his civil rights work. The text of the letter is available at the following link:

It is a beautiful, eloquent, wise letter written under challenging circumstances. Had I been in Dr. King’s shoes, I would have been sorely tempted to name-call the critical leaders to whom he was responding. At the very least, I would have wanted to use sharp language to call them hypocrites. The spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. A more mature Christian than me, Dr. King refrained from such unproductive pettiness. He opens the letter calling the condemning clergy “men of genuine good will” and expresses his aspiration to respond to their criticisms in “patient and reasonable terms.” He clearly succeeded. In the letter, he is firm in pressing for the cause of social justice, but Dr. King’s words are full of respect, humility and love. They are a tremendous example for us all to follow at any time in human history. But they seem to have particular resonance in this current American climate.

One of my favorite parts of the letter is when he responds to charges that his actions have been extremist in nature, Dr. King writes:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as
I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of
satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for
them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist
for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an
ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I
bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an
extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God."

Another passage that also speaks to me is the following:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in
Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught
in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford
to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives
inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its

May you have a blessed day, gentle reader. May you be enriched by the words of our brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hosea 10:12-13

Sow with a view to righteousness,
Reap in accordance with kindness;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the LORD
Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.
You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice,
You have eaten the fruit of lies
Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Did We Get to this Pervasive Lack of Civility in Public Life?

In the United States, we have always been passionate about politics. And dirty politics entered the scene very early in the history of our republic. So it would be factually incorrect and potentially disingenuous to mourn the loss of perfect civility in our American public life. Nonetheless, many long-time residents of Washington and others have noted a noticeable decline in civility in the past few decades. In Congress, there is now less reaching across the aisle to work in a bipartisan manner. Obstructionism trumps as political opponents look for any edge to prevent the other side from accomplishing anything on their agenda. Anyone who disagrees is vilified mercilessly.

In my observation and in my opinion, this sad trend really began at the grass roots level with conservatives. First, talk radio exploded in the 1990s as an opportunity for disgruntled conservatives to come together to gripe, blame others, and verbally high five each other. The hosts and listeners have often expressed tremendous amounts of anger and frustration, as well as a fair amount of sanctimoniousness. On such talk radio shows conspiracy theories have often received a lot more attention than they have in traditional news outlets (e.g., Bill and Hillary Clinton murdered their friend, Vince Foster, but made it look like a suicide).

During this time, we saw the rise of Rush Limbaugh. Despite his multiple divorces and drug scandal, his “dittoheads” still speak adoringly of him. Mr. Limbaugh has been the predominant icon of talk radio. But others have also achieved a lot of success in that arena including Laura Ingraham, Laura Schlessinger (a.k.a. “Dr. Laura”), Dennis Miller, Neal Boortz, and Michael Medved, among many others.

In the late 1990s, we also saw the advent of the Fox News Channel on cable television. It provided another venue for conservative talk programs. But when compared to talk radio, there was generally less interaction from the audience and more hours of broadcasting. Instead of just an hour or two in the afternoon, the Fox News Channel broadcasts 24/7. Like talk radio, Fox News programs often feature a lot of griping and blaming of others. Many of the programs are marked by a high level of anger and outrage. In its success, Fox News Channel has created celebrity pundits including Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.

Some Fox News celebrities have also been successful in talk radio. Some came to Fox News Channel from talk radio. Others started in television and later branched out to the talk radio format.

Many talk radio personalities and Fox News celebrities have also written books. Some have also toured the country giving “shows” with pricey tickets where the audience is treated to in-person versions of their angry rants with some comedy thrown in for good measure.

During this same period when talk radio and Fox News Channel became staples for many, conservative journalists in on-line news media have also gained a following. They often lack the audience interaction that is the hallmark of talk radio. And they don’t necessarily have the angry tone common to both talk radio and Fox News Channel. But conservative on-line news media have gained notoriety in some quarters for providing attention to conspiracy theories that target liberal persons and institutions.

In the 1990s, we saw the emergence of the Drudge Report, an internet news website that provides links to a variety of other reporting sources. The site provides plenty of access to traditional news stories, but the Drudge Report has also gained prominence in publicizing scandals (or gossip of potential scandals) involving high-profile Democrats. For example, the Drudge Report had the dubious honor of being the first to break the story of Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The site also played a significant role in gaining attention for the accusations of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and in circulating a photo of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in Somali tribal attire. The Drudge Report has also run controversial stories of questionable merit including allegations that Bill Clinton’s aid Sidney Blumenthal beat his wife, gossip that Bill Clinton fathered a child out-of-wedlock, and rumors of an intern scandal when John Kerry was running for president.

In the late 1990s, WorldNetDaily was founded with the stated purpose of "exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power" with an “unabashedly conservative” viewpoint. See See Faye Fiore, “Raking Up Muck and Rolling in the Dough,” Los Angeles Times (Jan. 27, 2010).
. WorldNetDaily has attracted high profile conservatives including Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Katherine Harris (among many others) to contribute commentaries and columns to the website. However, WorldNetDaily has also become known for its attention to conspiracy theories. It is cited as a significant contributor to the rise of the “birther” movement; as of January 2011, the site continues to run stories about the theory that President Obama is not a “natural born” citizen. WorldNetDaily has also made incredible allegations that the Girl Scouts have a secret “sex agenda”, and have a relationship with Planned Parenthood. The articles of WorldNetDaily often have semi-hysterical headlines that express a fair degree of paranoia (e.g., “Is this the end of America?,” “How to prevent mass murder,” “Cop, unprovoked, shoots Christian on train”). The articles featured on WorldNetDaily also seem to focus disproportionately on the legal status of abortion, efforts to impose prayer in secular settings and attacks on Christianity.

I force myself to listen to a lot of viewpoints, with which I disagree. To that end, I’ve spent a lot of time in my life listening to programs hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and others with similar view points. I’ve also read books by folks like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly. There are only so many hours in the day, so I admit I myself don’t read the Drudge Report very often, but my husband reads it regularly and often fills me in on the latest stories. I force myself to find out what these different media sources are publicizing not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but because I believe in being open-minded, in listening to people and trying to find common ground.

Ultimately, in all honesty, I think most of these celebrity talking heads are in it primarily for the money and may not really care about the issues on which they rant. For example, Glenn Beck has described himself as an “entertainer” and even a “rodeo clown.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has derided Mr. Beck as a “cynic.”: “Only in America can you make that much money crying. Glenn Beck is not aligned with any party. He is aligned with cynicism and there has always been a market for cynics. But we became a great nation not because we are a nation of cynics. We became a great nation because we are a nation of believers." See (Amen, Senator Graham!)

Not everyone shares this opinion. I personally know many lovely folks who listen to talk radio personalities and Fox News celebrities earnestly following their angry rants in agreement. If my neighbors are listening to these folks with enthusiasm, as a good citizen, I should know what is being said. I admit it does sometimes make me queasy. But at times I have found points, with which I agree.

Though I believe conservatives got us started in this trends towards vilification and away from civil discourse, liberals no longer have clean hands in the matter. Instead of having the vision for an alternate approach, most have reflexively jumped on the bandwagon to try to do the same thing as the Limbaughs, the Becks and the O’Reillys but with a left wing tilt.

Air America, a radio network specializing in liberal talk radio programming, went on the air in 2004. It never caught on and ceased operations in 2010. I was always curious about it, but never knew where to find it and frankly never had enough time to look. Presumably folks like me were the target audience of Air America. Maybe liberals and progressives are too busy to listen to talk radio in the day time. Younger generations do tend to be more liberal and/or progressive, and when we are young, we are in a particularly busy season of our lives. In our 20s and 30s, many of us are getting an education, getting established professionally and/or raising children. That makes for busy days and not a lot of time to listen to people rant on the radio.

One alum of Air America, Al Franken, did enjoy a great deal of success after his time on the radio network. A comedian, who wrote and appeared on Saturday Night Live in the 70s, 80s and 90s, he began hosting a program for Air America in 2004. Prior to joining the network, he wrote books combining liberal politics with humor. Who could resist classics like Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations? He famously took on Fox News Channel and others with Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Many of us discovered Mr. Franken’s books after he gained attention because of his work on Air America. He then translated that publicity into a (barely) successful campaign for Senate.

Though Air America was not successful, its cable news counterpart has done better. MSNBC was actually founded in 1996. In its early days, the news network featured celebrity conservatives like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. But towards the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the network was taking more of a progressive tilt and doing better in the ratings. It began to feature left-tilting talking heads like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews.

Again, I assume I’m probably in the target audience of such MSNBC shows, but I rarely watch the network. First of all, I am not a fan of television and our family does not even have cable. As a result, I only have access to MSNBC when I travel. Second, the network’s programming is just not appealing to me. Sure, it is generally less nauseating to listen to Rachel Maddow than Glenn Beck. But to me, MSNBC is only slightly better than Fox News Channel. I’m glad they call out hypocrisies and injustices. But the talking heads on MSNBC are smug, self-righteous know-it-alls. They have a snarky tone that really puts me off. In that respect, the talking heads on MSNBC have a lot in common with the talking heads on Fox News. They just embrace different political views.

I don’t want progressives to emulate the angry talk radio format or the in-your-face propaganda of Fox News Channel. I’d like progressives to take a different approach entirely. Instead of playing that same game, we ought to change the rules and find a better way. The snarkiness, the failure to listen, the default vilification—none of that is helpful to our society.

Matthew 17:5

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, " This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vilification v. Civil Discourse

In recent posts, I’ve spoken out against the trend towards vilifying political opponents, as well as the break-down in civil discourse. In my last post about Representative Michele Bachmann, I deliberately opted to not write about my concern for her politics and polarizing rhetoric. I want to be clear about my rationale in deciding to not dwell on the negative and to focus instead on common ground. It is not because I advocate ignoring destructive political tactics to simply extend a hand across the aisle to sing “Kumbaya.” It is a lovely song, but that approach does not really get us anywhere. However, plenty of folks have already documented and spoken out against Representative Bachmann’s inflammatory rhetoric. There is no need for me to tread again on that same ground. Instead, I was trying to do something different that we don’t see enough in our current political climate. I was trying to see the congresswoman (someone with whom I disagree on a host of issues) as a human being and not as evil incarnate.

Vilification is defined as “to speak ill of; defame; slander.” “Defame” means “to attack the good name or reputation of, as by uttering or publishing maliciously or falsely anything injurious; slander or libel; calumniate.” Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve understood the term “vilification” to be related to the term “villain,” which has been defined as “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel.”

With this understanding of the term “vilification,” I was trying to bring attention to the trend in recent years of speaking pejoratively about political opponents. These days, people routinely lob personal attacks against those, with whom they have political disagreement. Those on the other side of the aisle are called Nazis or Socialists. Alternately they are derided as crazy and/or of poor character.

We Americans do not debate ideas. We don’t even listen to each other. We just vilify anyone who does agree with us because they are wrong, they are bad, they are evil. It is all black or white. Many in our society never even consider the possibility of common ground. A person is either on the right side (no pun intended) or the wrong side. It is all very clear. Everything is very easily divided. Including our society.

That is not a healthy way for a democratic nation to operate. I suppose such vilification and division would be fine if we lived in a totalitarian dictatorship where the few folks in charge with an open-ended reign made all the decisions without consulting anyone else. But thank goodness we live under a different political system.

Because our government requires people from different parts of the country and different backgrounds to work together to make decisions collectively, it is absolutely critical that we take time to listen, to hear what the other person is saying and to understand their concerns. We’re not a homogenous society, so we’re not all going to agree 100% of the time. That is ok. We have to find a way to work through disagreements. We have to find common ground to make decisions about how we will be governed. And we have to be good losers. When we don’t get our way, when we lose an election, or a bill we endorse doesn’t pass, it cannot be the end of the world and consume us. When we do get our way, however, we should not let the power go to our heads. We should not let a short term “win” be an excuse for trampling our political opponents.

In my opinion, as a Christ follower, I think that as we’re trying to work through disagreements and find common ground, an overarching value we should embrace is the inherent dignity of each human being. As a Christian, I believe a loving, omnipotent and faithful God gave us this planet and gave each of us life. I believe that we human beings are God’s crowning achievement and glory amidst all his wondrous creation. God so loved each and every one of us that he sacrificed his one and only Son. God’s love extends to the lawmakers in Washington and to the street people trying to stay warm by sleeping on a grate a few miles from the Capitol. God so loves the firefighter who selflessly risks his own life to save others, but God equally loves the sociopath who heartlessly murders innocents causing pain, trauma and anguish. As a Christian, my God loves the brilliant atheist scientist, the little child saying her prayers at night, and the woman with Down’s syndrome who bags my food at the local grocery store. God loves the greedy investment banker living in an overpriced Manhattan loft, as well as the undocumented immigrant who risks exploitation and his very life to enter the U.S. to earn a little money to support his desperate family in Mexico. God loves each one of us, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or how the world does (or does not) value us. As a Christ follower, I would hope and I would encourage that we’d all embrace that knowledge when we are discussing politics.

Genesis 1:26-27 (New American Standard Version)

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

John 3:16 (The Message)

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Michele Bachmann

I’ve been blogging about the modern trend towards vilification of political opponents and the Christian duty to see our brothers and sisters as God does. In that vein, I wanted to blog about Michele Bachmann.

Representative Bachmann began serving her Minnesota district in 2007, but she has gained particular prominence in the last year because of her affiliation with the Tea Party Movement. She has received a lot of media attention and her political star seems to be on the rise. Like many, I strongly disagree with much of her politics and I’ve been frankly horrified by some of her polarizing rhetoric, which has often vilified Democrats. Her political positions seem to be based on misinformation at times, which is quite concerning for a number of reasons. And her political posture seems chronically angry and antagonistic, which is not productive or promotive of healthy discourse.

There is much I could write about Representative Bachmann to express my disagreement and disappointment with her use of the political arena. However, I am not going to dwell on the negative. Even if she vilifies those who think and/or vote like me, I’m not going to waste my time to do the same. Instead, I would like to flag some common ground I see.

First, I note that Representative Bachmann does appear to be a sincere Christ follower. In reading about her, I see that before she got into politics, her life choices seemed to revolve around her faith. Though I glean that she and I might not share a lot of common ground in our respective Christian theology, I understand her faith seems to have directed her choice of law school, her family composition, her career choices, and her community activism. Representative Bachmann has apparently been a life-long Lutheran. She attended a Christian law school, Oral Roberts University. Prior to her graduation, the law school became affiliated with Regent University, which was founded by Pat Robertson. Representative Bachmann and her husband have raised five kids and been foster parents to 23 children. They have also owned a Christian counseling business. Representative Bachmann was raised in a Democratic family, but as an undergraduate determined Republican values were more in line with her own. She has publicly indicated she believes God called her to run for Congress; she and her husband fasted for three days in their discernment of God’s calling.

Second, I appreciate that Representative Bachmann is a professional woman. Like me, she has earned a bachelor’s degree, a juris doctor and an LL.M. in tax. Also, like me, she worked in the area of tax law when she was a practicing lawyer. She is well-educated and has held her own in the professional world. She is now one of the few female political leaders of prominence in our country. She is a trailblazer in that sense. Although she herself may chafe at the label, some would consider Representative Bachmann a feminist for this reason.

Third, by all accounts, Representative Bachmann is a caring mother. She gave up her professional career in tax law to be a stay at home mother. It is impressive to raise five children. My husband and I have just two, and are always awed by parents who are outnumbered by their children. Raising a large family is not for the weak or passive; it is a difficult, on-going challenge. But of course it has great personal rewards.

I particularly admire the fact that Representative Bachmann has been a foster parent to so many children. Children tend to be among the most vulnerable in any society and children without parents are arguably the most vulnerable. The Bible tells us repeatedly to care for orphans. I applaud Representative Bachmann for taking that command seriously to make a home for children in foster care.

Jeremiah 5:28

They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Senator Mitch McConnell and the Struggle Against Vilification

I’ve written recently about the breakdown in public discourse and the tendency for people to vilify their political opponents. As a Christian, I believe I’m called to resist that tendency and to look for the good in all my brothers and sisters. That responsibility encourages me to look for areas of commonality with those who embrace different positions on various issues. I must admit that in some contexts living up to that responsibility is a particular challenge.

In our current dysfunctional culture and political system, people get caught up in achieving their own short-term political gain. In the process, they ignore the long-term good of the country and/or the pressing needs of our brothers and sisters. In that context, people forget that politics is simply a means to an end. It should not be an end in itself. How empty and meaningless that would be.

After the recent mid-term elections, Senator Mitch McConnell publicly announced that his party’s chief goal is to make sure President Obama does not win re-election. Like others, I was floored by such a candid admission of a very twisted priority. To heck with achieving any progress on any of the pressing issues facing our nation and its people. Apparently, Senator McConnell simply wants to make sure his party gains control of the White House in 2012. At least he let us know what his priorities are. But I’m stunned that he would think such a priority is publicly acceptable. The following link discusses the senator’s comments and contains media pundit reaction.

Senator McConnell later elaborated that one of his party’s specific goals was repeal of the health care law enacted by both houses and signed by President Obama. He suggested that his party would be unrelenting in their pursuit of such repeal.

I just don’t understand that. First of all, Barack Obama made it quite clear in his campaign for the presidency that he wanted to achieve health care reform that would help more Americans get meaningful health insurance coverage. On that platform, he won the presidential election handily—both in terms of the popular vote and the Electoral College. He did not squeak out a win by a razor thin majority or the assistance of the Supreme Court. Candidate Obama never hide his plans for health care reform. For that reason, it literally makes me want to scream when politicians and others whine in a revisionist manner that our president is forcing an unwanted policy on us. The facts make it clear that is not the case. A minority may be unhappy and quite vocal about it. But a majority of us voted for such health care reform.

The anti-health care reform crowd derogatorily refer to the law that passed as either “Obamacare” and/or the “government take-over” of health care. Like the misinformation over the “death panels,” that is distortive propaganda. Such manipulative word choice implies that the health care reform law that was enacted will be a form of “socialized medicine” similar to the systems adopted in countries like Canada, Britain and France. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

President Obama and his party compromised greatly to get some health care reform accomplished. A single payer approach was nixed early on. Even a more modest “public option” was abandoned pretty soon into the debate. What was eventually enacted was modeled after the Massachusetts plan implemented under Republican Mitch Romney. The law that was actually enacted will require us to all buy insurance plans from for-profit companies. Republican President Richard Nixon long ago though that was a good idea. I’m not sure why the current Republicans are so hostile to the approach. It creates more customers for the insurance companies. Simultaneously, it will help many Americans who could not otherwise get affordable health insurance coverage. There are a lot of things I don’t like about the bill. But at least, it makes some modest improvement in the lives of people in need. In all honesty, the only reason I can imagine the current Republicans oppose the bill is that it is likely to be considered an accomplishment for President Obama. It could be used as a basis for his re-election.

The GOP has controlled the White House for many years and never did anything to enable people to get affordable, quality health insurance. They did not get rid of impediments to insurability based on preexisting medical conditions. Why on Earth not? People have been dying because they could not get treatment for chronic conditions. Families have lost their hard earned life savings when family members get sick. Costs have continued to spiral out of control. Who on Earth thinks that the status quo is desirable? It is not even sustainable. And gutting malpractice liability is not a panacea to the very complex problem. Texas has shown us that.

The link below includes Senator McConnell’s comments about the repeal of the health care law.

I simply do not understand Senator McConnell’s priorities. I try very hard to see the good in all my brothers and sisters. But when some people place political gain above all else, it is a tremendous challenge to me. I admit that with sincere personal humility.

To try to understand why Senator McConnell might have such priorities, I have done a bit of research about him. The senator has publicly indicated for a long time that he is a Baptist, but apparently he no longer is affiliated with any Baptist church. Senator McConnell has three children from his first wife. He has been married to his second wife, Elaine Chao, since 1993. They are considered to be a major power couple in political circles. Senator McConnell is a lawyer by profession, but almost immediately went into politics instead of practicing law. He has been in Congress since 1985. He is currently one of the wealthiest members of Congress; his personal fortune is over $30 million. I’m not entirely clear how he earned this huge amount of money. From what I have read, it appears to be from mutual fund investments. Many Americans invest in mutual funds, but few of us have that kind of phenomenal success. The links below contain some background on Senator McConnell:

Matthew 9:12

But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Haiti: Then and Now

I appreciate Governor Palin going to Haiti and bringing some attention to the plight of the people there. It continues to be a heart-breaking, desperate situation. As we begin a new year, it is important that we not forget that fact. In that vein, I wanted to share two recent broadcasts about Haiti that have nothing to do with Governor Palin’s visit.

First, as we were driving home from Texas after Christmas and listening to NPR in the car, we listened to a report that explained in disturbing detail what has been going on in Haiti recently. The report sheds light on the flow of aid from international donors, the state of health care, the cholera epidemic and the recent election. One emphasis in the report was that Haiti will not be able to rebuild without resources and assistance from foreigners. For that reason, it is critical that we not forget about the needs of the Haitian people. The link below contains the transcript of the report.

The second broadcast was a repeat of an earlier episode of the Diane Rehm Show featuring Isabel Allende. I had actually heard the original broadcast of the episode, but it was fascinating to listen a second time. Ms. Allende was discussing her recent novel, Island Beneath the Sea. The protagonist is a slave in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which would become the nation of Haiti after the widespread slave rebellion that led to the Haitian Revolution. Ms. Allende spent four years researching the history and culture before writing her novel, and she shared a lot of interesting insights during her interview with Ms. Rehm.

Even before the earthquake last year, in the modern era, we Americans tend to think about Haiti as being such an incredibly impoverished nation. However, we are woefully ignorant of the nation’s history. Ms. Allende pointed out that prior to the Haitian Revolution, it was a land of incredible wealth and extensive resources. The riches of Saint-Domingue were cultivated via incredibly brutal oppression and inhumane working conditions of the enslaved Africans who were brought to the island. Ms. Allende pointed out that life was so miserable for the enslaved Africans that their life expectancy after being brought to the colony was only a few years. That unimaginable brutality created an environment where the slaves had a tremendous incentive to try to escape to just survive. This fed an atmosphere of constant terror among the Europeans who lived there. The interview with Isabel Allende is available at the link below.

Deuteronomy 26:12

" When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”