Back From Hiatus

This is the blog formerly known as Political Moose -- with a new color.

Friday, September 29, 2006

23 Democrats can't get off the hook

By now, everyone knows that yesterday the Republicans in congress passed a bill to authorize the President to use warrantless wiretaps to spy on us. The papers and democratic party leaders are saying that this was the result of a house that is controlled by the Republican majority. And if you look at the numbers 232-191 in favor of passage, it would appear that yes, this went down party lines and there is nothing that the Democrats could have done. Well you can ask the 18 democrats who voted in favor and the 6 who didn't vote at all if that truly is the case. If the leadership would have convinced the entire party to do the right thing this bill would be dead. 214-215 opposed should have been the outcome except that the following democrats think Bush Co. should be allowed to spy on you without warrants, and for basically as long as they want. Here is the list of those Democrats :
John Barrow Georgia-12th
226 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-1012
Phone: (202) 225-2823
Melissa L. Bean Illinois-8th
512 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-1308
Phone: (202) 225-3711
Marion Berry Arkansas-1s
2305 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-0401
Phone: (202) 225-4076
Dan Boren Oklahoma-2nd
216 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-3602
Phone: (202) 225-2701
Leonard L. Boswell Iowa-3rd
1427 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515-1503
Phone: (202) 225-3806
Robert E. (Bud) Cramer Jr. Alabama-5th
2368 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-0105
Phone: (202) 225-4801
Henry Cuellar Texas-28th,
1404 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4328
Phone: (202) 225-1640
Lincoln Davis Tennessee-4th,
410 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4204
Phone: (202) 225-6831
Chet Edwards Texas-17th,
2264 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4317
Phone: (202) 225-6105
Harold E. Ford Jr. Tennessee-9th
325 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4209
Phone: (202) 225-3265
Bart Gordon Tennessee-6th
2304 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4206
Phone: (202) 225-4231
Stephanie Herseth South Dakota-At Large
331 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4101
Phone: (202) 225-2801
Jim Marshall Georgia-3rd
515 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-1003
Phone: (202) 225-6531
Jim Matheson Utah-2nd
1222 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4402
Phone: (202) 225-3011
Charlie Melancon Louisiana-3rd
404 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515-1803
Phone: (202) 225-4031
Collin C. Peterson Minnesota-7th
2159 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-2307
Phone: (202) 225-2165
John M. Spratt Jr. South Carolina-5th
1401 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515-4005
Phone: (202) 225-5501
Gene Taylor Mississippi-4th
2311 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-2404
Phone: (202) 225-5772
And the 6 who didn't vote: Lane Evans (il), Luis Gutierrez (il), Lewis (GA), Martin Meehan (MA), Ted Strickland (oh), Bart Stupak (MI)

WAKE UP AMERICA! SOMEONE IS PROBABLY WATCHING YOU AND CONGRESS IS OKAY WITH IT, YOU SHOULD NOT BE OKAY WITH THAT!

Monday, September 25, 2006

We let them get away with this stuff?

I walked over (I'm too slow to surf) to Skippy's and noticed this crazy blurb about Newsweek dumbing down the U.S. version of the magazine cover. Throughout the rest of the world Newsweek features a cover with a title "Losing Afghanistan", but here in America home of the free press we get blessed with a cover entitled "My life in Pictures" featuring a story about Annie Leibovitz. Come on!! Do they think we can't handle a story about the truth? Is there an article somewhere in the magazine where Newsweek explains why the kid gloves are used with Americans? I know that Americans are way too in love with celebrities and it's a terrible shame the way we are apathetic and just lazy about world news and politics, and maybe I'm optimistic but I think more of us would like to read a story about what is going on in a country where we are fighting a war than read a story about a photographer.
I can't believe that this got me riled up, but I do believe the magazine is called "Newsweek". You would think that they would be comfortable reporting news and letting us know on the cover that that is their intention. Go here to see pictures of the cover.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Fighting the Good Fight

Yesterday was one of those days where it seems like things just tie in together. It started out with a sermon from my pastor about the how we will be remembered when we're gone. He read to us a scripture from the Book of 2 Timothy, in which Paul was reflecting back on his life. Paul knew he was to be executed and was writing about his life as a servant of Christ. Looking back Paul says, " I have fought the good fight. I have completed the race. I have kept the faith." Our pastor likes to finish with another story that relates and then tie in together to show that these messages still have relevance today. For me, meeting John Miller and talking to him a little today made this sermon all the more relevant.
You see John Miller is running for congress as a member of the Green Party in a district that is drawn to be traditionally Republican. And he's running against incumbent Devin Nunes at a time when reelection rates for House members are between 96 and 98 percent. John was hosting a Green Party booth at the Tulare County Fair when I met him today. He looked and sounded somewhat tired, understandable seeing as how he had been there 5 days trying to get the word out about his candidacy and about the party. Not to mention he teaches kindergarten in Porterville. Yes, I purposely used the bold font, it's a room full of 5 year olds. That should be enough on one man's plate.
I started thinking about where he's finding the time and energy to run a campaign that realistically the odds are just against. It would be very tough to convince a person to do what he's doing. To go out in public and speak out for the issues that matter and that you believe in, knowing that most of the very people you want to help won't even be listening is a hard task to sell. And to do that while maintaining a normal life is just asking too much.
Yet here we are less than two months away from election day and John Roger Miller is fighting the good fight. He's up against the GOP machine with little financial support trying to change the status quo. When it's all over and we look back we'll know that he fought the good fight, he completed the race, and kept the faith. And for that we should all be thankful and wish that more of us had the same strength.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Say It Ain't So Joe, Say It Ain't So

Posted by Alli

Well, I've been putting up with it for two days now, and I have something to say. First of all, I want to say congratulations to Ned Lamont for winning the primary in Connecticut. I think it's great to see our political system working somewhat in a manner it was intended. But now, what I really want to do is comment on some of the junk I've been hearing about what this means, and how it will affect the democratic party. Tony Snow came out and said that the defeat of Joe Lieberman suggests that democrats truly do not care about national security since we did not vote for someone who voted consistently with the Presidents wishes over the last six years. What I suggest is that democrats do care. We care about lies. We care about the fact that our President sent our troops to war on false premises and has continued to perpetuate the lie that got us into this terrible mess in the first place. We care about the human condition. The war in Iraq is costing American lives, and Iraqi lives. It has cost us our credibility in a region that desperately needs strong and positive democratic influences. It has limited what we can do to fight countries like Iran and North Korea, countries we know are working together to build nuclear weapons. It has cost us protection. While our armed forces should have been locating Osama Bin Laden and anyone else involved in the September 11th attack, they were forced to do a "death march" in Iraq, leaving time for Al Qaida to plan bigger attacks like the ones unearthed in the UK today. Not to mention the mental and emotional trauma inflicted on our troops, most of them youths, an entire generation of America who will carry scars for a lifetime. These things make us angry! And they are inexcusable. And if you call yourself one of us, you had better not try to be one of them. No kisses, no pardons and no excusing their stupidity. We will cast you out, and cast our votes for someone better.So farewell Joe, I cannot wish you luck with your run as an independent. But I am glad.... and not just for Lamont. I think this is just the wake up call that dems need nationwide. We do not approve of this president, and our representatives and senators had better take note, or pack their bags

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Good sign for Democrats

Tonight democrats were finally sent a message that they will hear. Ned Lamont ran as an anti-war candidate and beat out three term Senator, and great friend of the Bush administration, Joe Lieberman. Democratic activists nationwide helped in supporting an alternative and won the primary. While this doesn't mean that the Senate is rid of the war hawk, it does mean that the leadership in the Democratic party is going to have to start listening to their constituency. For five years party members sat back as their leadership abandoned them, letting Bush do whatever he felt like (with the exception of ruining social security because a few republicans were up for re-election) and our country has suffered greatly for it. Finally now we have a sign that the democratic party may be forced to move back somewhat to the good side.
Still there is much work to do. The very activists who have brought down old Joe should have looking for a replacement for Diane Feinstein as well. Unfortunately the Democrats in California didn't do that, but thankfully the Green Party went ahead and did it for them. Todd Chretian is a left winger running as the alternative. He's part of the only party which has supported peace all along the way. Democrats and Republicans frustrated about the war should really give him a strong look.
This is part of what he has to say about why it's time for a change.
"Sen. Feinstein occupies the center of California politics. It is difficult to distinguish her, for instance, from Gov. Schwarzenegger, which is why he is considering endorsing her. She supports the occupation of Iraq, stands 100% with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and helped President Bush pass the USA Patriot Act (twice). She opposes gay marriage, a living wage, national health care and supports President Bush’s immigration proposals, which millions of Californians rejected on May 1 by marching in the streets. No doubt her money and her fame will bring her many votes, but, as I’ve always said, if this races turns into a referendum on the war in Iraq and voters looking to express their solidarity with immigrant workers vote for me, then this race could get very interesting."

GNN has must read article about why Dems won't dump Feinstein

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Devin Nunes and his new ANWR bill

From RenewableEnergyAccess.com via google news:
Last week, Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare, CA) introduced a bipartisan Bill titled the American-Made Energy Freedom Act, which takes a unique approach to funding alternative energy development. By opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration, and placing the lease and royalty revenues generated into a trust fund, the next generation of homegrown energy would be incubated, says the Congressman.

This bill looks to easily pass in the house, but should have a hard time passing the Senate (hopefully). It seems to me like another normal ANWR dressed up and given an inspirational name. RAC reader Adrian Akau says "It is nothing more than finding a sneaky way of getting oil companies into the Artic National Wildlife Refuge." I agree, and I'm sure Devin Nunes, who doesn't believe in global warming, will be getting nice campaign contributions from Shell and Exxon.

One more thing, 9 democrats co-sponsored the bill including my representative, Jim Costa. Here's the list of the guilty party. In fairness 11 republicans also co-sponsored, but that's to be expected.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.)
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.)
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.)
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.)
Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.)
Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.)
Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.)
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Young Woman Heckler

I wanted to post about this last night, but blogger wasn't working. So a day late and thought half forgotten, I visited Common Dreams and found a story about Medea Benjamin getting arrested for disrupting congress during Iraqi PM al Maliki's speech. She stood up and shouted in support of bringing our American troops home, something most Americans and Iraqis actually want done.
I decided to see if this got any coverage from the major media outlets on the Web. So I went to cnn.com where they reported that an anti-war protester had to be removed. They reported that the woman was identified as Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. Okay so not much, but at least they knew her name and who she was representing.
Then I went to Fox News, not expecting much. "Al-Maliki paused and grimaced while the young woman was lifted from her seat and carried by officers from the House visitors' gallery. Dressed in a pink T-shirt that read, 'Troops Home Now,' the woman repeatedly called back, 'Listen to the Iraqis.'"
That's exactly what they reported, no name, organization, or clue about her age. Just the type of reliable news were used to from Fox.
And I just new that MSNBC wouldn't let me down. "Al-Maliki was interrupted briefly by a shouting demonstrator wearing a pink T-shirt that read, 'Troops Home Now.' The young woman was lifted from her seat by officers and carried out of the House visitor’s gallery, while al-Maliki paused and grimaced in irritation."
Now it looks to me that one of these news organizations did what I used to do in 7th grade when I used the encyclopedia as a reference. Hmm. . . if I move this sentence here and leave out these two words it will look like my own work. How do neither of the news outlets give at least a name? How do you write off the 54 year old, founder of CodePink and Global Exchange and one time U.S. Senate candidate as a "young woman"?
Well I knew there was one place I could go who would do a fair job of covering the story. I went to a young woman's blog, and found that yes she did know Medea Benjamin's name. And if you read more you'll see that she's got time mock the weight of a woman who lost her son in Iraq.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another reason I love google

It's funny what you can find out with sitemeter. I found out that if you do a google search for "Devin Nunes Disgusting" (without the quotations) you get a link to us, well actually first you get Devin's official site, then you get us. Go figure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Democratic Party Fascism?

After hearing that a couple of his blogging buds had been blocked from a Joe Lieberman campaign event with Bill Clinton, Skippy had this to say:

"is this what the democratic party has come down to? refusing entry to a public event to citizens that happen to disagree with those in charge? that’s something that george w. bush has done throughout his administration, and there are numerous instances of people even going to jail for simply wearing an opposition button or tee shirt.this kind of fascism is not the democratic party i know. for you to be associated with this kind of elitist exclusivity not only does not reflect well on you, but will ultimately not reflect well on your wife, sen. clinton, should she want to obtain any higher office.i’m a blogger, i’ve been blogging for 4 years, and jane is a blogger, both of us attended the yearlykos in las vegas last month. i know markos of dailykos and duncan of eschaton and pretty much all the major bloggers, and i can assure you that this story will not sit well with the readers of our blogs who thought america was the land of free speech and the freedom to associate."

He did say that I could feel free to borrow from him so I am, and maybe somewhat out of context, but that's what we as bloggers are allowed to do. I'm only picking on Skippy's quote, which is actually a message he left on President Clinton's answering machine, because he is one of the few democrats that I really enjoy reading. And since he used to link my old blog I feel I owe reciprocate by linking back as often as I can.
My real problem is with big party politics. And I feel that finally some democrats are starting to feel what third party advocates have always felt. Greens and others have been getting kicked out and arrested for years when they try to gain access. It's an exclusive party and they are very careful about who they want joining. Diane Feinstein, Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden and other's have been in power too long, but as long as they can keep scratching each other's backs they'll stay there. They will stay there to protect other rich people and put on a populist hat come election years, and if one is ever challenged by someone who might do real good the others will step forward to squash the rebellion.

So now you know how I really feel about the democratic party, sorry.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Leaving Lebanon

Originally posted by Alli over at Democratic Alli

Ok, I tried to post on this yesterday, but I lost my post when I tried to spell check. That's what I get going for accuracy.An estimated 25,000 American citizens are currently living in Lebanon, 8,000 of whom are trying to flee the country. Our government, in true and shameful Katrina like fashion has so far not done a great job of getting this accomplished. After most European countries had already evacuated their countrymen, Americans were still getting the run around at the Embassy, who was claiming it was not their job to organize evacuations. Finally, on Sunday we had managed to evacuate about 160 women and children. Yesterday, we had gotten those numbers increased and loaded about 1,000 Americans on a cruise ship, and we are hopefully getting even more out today. A few things have really distressed me about this situation. First, with 25,000 of our own living in Lebanon, I would have hoped our government would have done more to convince Israel to show restraint with their bombing raids to protect our won citizens. Instead our government has done nothing but defend Israel's attack against infrastructure in Lebanon. Second, reports abound of people being misdirected in their efforts to leave. Being told to call numbers where no one answers the phone, and instructed to show up at the wrong places for departure. Third and most disturbing to me, American citizens are being forced to sign promissary notes to reimburse the costs of evacuation to our government. I just think this is disgusting. Is our government saying that the lives and safety of our citizens are only worth saving if said citizens can pay for it? To force people with this kind of choice, after surviving the last week of bombing and war, it is shameful. It is wrong.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What we're up against

I just finished visiting an old favorite website of mine; Open Secrets. Here's a look at what we're up against.
2006 RACE: CALIFORNIA DISTRICT 21
Devin Nunes (R)*
Raised:
$790,895
Spent:
$518,097
Cash on hand:
$431,360
Last Report:
5/17/2006

PACs:
$292,350
(37%)
Individuals:
$498,418
(63%)
Candidate:
$0
-
Other:
$127
(0%)
Ernest Steven Haze (D)
Raised:
$14,432
Spent:
$2,587
Cash on hand:
$11,845
Last Report:
5/17/2006

PACs:
$0
-
Individuals:
$2,412
(17%)
Candidate:
$12,020
(83%)
Other:
$0
-
John Roger Miller (3) No reports on record for this candidate.


From the sign on the side of my blog you know who I'm supporting. This shows just what kind of struggle it is for a third party or independent to try to go against the establishment. It's sad that we continue to let people like Devin Nunes buy themselves a seat in congress.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Mutually Assured Destruction

Here's an excerpt from an article over at TruthDig, by Chris Hedges.

This is the world of the apocalypse. It is the world where those on either extreme become indistinguishable. And if we do not find a new way to speak, and soon, there will be untold suffering—not only for many innocents in the Middle East but eventually innocents at home. It was the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon that spawned and empowered Hezbollah. It was the decades-long occupation and humiliation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by Israel that spawned and empowered Hamas, and it is the brutal American occupation that has bred the legions of extremists in Iraq. And when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah promises “open war” against Israel, as he did in an address shortly after his Beirut offices were bombed, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he won’t cease his attack until Israel is secure, it is time to run for cover, especially when George W. Bush is our best hope for peace.

And another one via Common Dreams "This is Going to Be A Big War" by Dahr Jamail.

Reading these articles lets me know that there are some people out there who understand just what is happening here, I wonder if our President has got a clue. I don't think most Americans have a clue the potential of this crisis is.

Friday, July 14, 2006

New Contributor

I want to welcome a new contributor over here at Back From Hiatus. My sister Alli of Democratic Alli will be an infrequent contributor. She's a lefty democrat and hopefully we'll get her first post over here soon.
I'm still hoping to add another member, maybe someone not as liberal as the two of us, but we'll see.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hi, I'm Alli

Well, as you may have guessed from my clever title, I'm Alli. I have also blogged from time to time, and share a couple of parents with Moose. He invited me to contribute to his blog, and I thought it would be fun. Just so you know, I am not a green. That's right... I'm a dem, and I love Al Gore. Deeply. If you haven't seen the sketch he did on SNL, in which he played out the alternate ending to the 2000 elections, you need to.
I did want to post tonight about Israel and Lebanon. John Bolton today vetoed a resolution at the U.N. that would have called for the removal of Israeli troops from the Gaza strip and that condemned the bombing of civilians and infrastructure in Lebanon, including the Beirut airport, as too extreme. He vetoed the resolution even though it had already received ten votes of approval from other U.N. members. The U.S. has vetoed resolutions that would call for restraint from Israel an astonishing number of times. This comes just before the G8 summit and while the pres. is in Europe courting the EU, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights. This means that America is further polarized not from the Arab nations in the middle east, but also from countries that we need to cultivate as allies. Our government needs to weigh the costs of allowing Israel to act without restraint, and without compromise, we can continue to support Israel but also hold them to an expectation of just conduct.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Skippy Censorship?

I was over at xnerg.blogspot.com a little earlier this evening and posted a comment (off subject) about Instant Run-off voting. And I went back to check just in case anyone had commented back only to find the post was gone. Had I never really visited? Had I not asked Skippy a serious question? Are they censoring an opinion that promotes democracy and free elections? I hope not, I hope someone there can give me an explanation as to why the post was erased. I want to know where Democratic Bloggers stand on Instant Run-off Voting, is that too much to ask?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mexico's Election Problem. . . Ours too

You all have been keeping an eye on Mexico's election I'm sure, seeing as how it's looking more and more like one of our own. While a winner has been announced in Calderon, Lopez Obrador continues to fight the close election outcome and has alleged rigged voting machines. Depending on how much attention you've been paying to the election you may or may not know that there was a third candidate who happened to garner over 20% of the votes, so neither of the aforementioned candidates were close to a majority anyway, but the election could have been clearer if they had adopted a policy of voting that a small minority of us our campaigning for here in America -- Instant Runoff Voting.
You see, given three fairly popular choices in Mexico, if one had the opportunity to vote for numerous candidates based on a ranked choice we might have a better idea of the majority pick. By eliminating the least popular candidates through second round voting (instant runoff) until we get a majority opinion we know who the people would have elected given only the two most popular. Pretty simple idea that would really clarify elections and lead to a more democratic process isn't it?
Yet while our congress is busy asking for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and flag burning, (why not just make it one amendment, save some time) they stay away from issues that actually matter to democracy. We could for once have a president that gets 51% of the vote. Is that too much to ask for the man or woman who will lead us into illegal war, spy on us, and take away our social security? If IRV, shorthand okay, was in place say back in 2000 do you think America would look any different?
So why haven't I heard Skippy or any of the Kossacks talking about this issue? Democrats haven't given any reason why they would oppose IRV, yet they haven't been able to stand up and make this People's Issue a party issue. Skippy, if you're out there will you help us make this land a more democratic place.
A couple of good places to check out:
http://www.instantrunoff.org/
http://www.fairvote.org/irv/

Friday, June 30, 2006

Are we the right folks for the job?

Another one from cnn.com getting my attention. Apparently we are getting ready for that day when Fidel Castro is gone and we can spread "democracy" in Cuba. The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (catchy name; sounds like a PAC preparing to fund Jeb Bush's presidential run) recommends that "the U.S. government will need to be prepared well in advance to help in the event assistance is requested by the Cuban transition government."
By request assistance do they mean Raul Castro decrying the United States as an Empire and calling our government Cuba's worst enemy? If that's what they mean then I'm sure we'll have soldiers, I mean peace keepers, and propagandists, uhh I mean humanitarian aid workers there in no time. The job they say we will be needed to do "would include freeing all political prisoners, legalizing all political activity, conducting democratic elections and establishing a free press," says the commission.
Hmm. . . "freeing all political prisoners" they mean Cubans right, we can still hold them there. That's still okay. Conducting "democratic elections" . . . with untraceable, unaccountable, fixable electronic ballots right? Maybe Ken Blackwell can preside over the whole election and Mel Martinez can be the prime minister. Establishing a "free press" . . . no nosy New York Times. By freedom of the press we mean free to report whatever we tell you to.
I know Castro won't be there forever but I'm just having a real hard time believing the Cuban people will be better off under Condoleeza Rice and Alberto Gonzales.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Starting Over

I never thought starting over with a new blog would be so much work. From choosing colors and trying to remember how edit a template to coming up with a name that I won't be sick of after a week, I stayed up till the early hours of the night last night until I could barely keep my eyes open. But the worst part of it is finding all my links. I've been out of it for so long that I can't remember half of the websites I used to visit, and now that I don't go to them anymore I can't decide which ones I should really even link to.
The other big problem is going to be traffic. With the old blog I had enough people coming by regularly adding comments that it was easy to keep it going. I just hope that I can stick through it long enough to start to see some of the visitors coming back. I'll at least try to keep going throughout the November election, which reminds me of a few other links to add. I've got to post a link to John Roger Miller the only central valley green running in the fall. Okay then back to work on finding more to add and meeting new people to blogroll.

Obama's Speech on Religion

I read this article earlier tonight at cnn.com, and then found some very interesting debate going on at correntwire.

One of the bloggers was kind enough to post the entire speech and I'll return the favor here. As a liberal Christian I often find myself frustrated with the monopoly that the religious right has on the debate. Barack Obama makes some great points here and whether they are politically motivated is not the question, the question is what will progressives do about a huge portion of the voting population that we are out of touch with. If we are to make change we need to win elections. And if continue to allow the moral (religious) debate to be only about gay marriage and abortion which affect a small part of the population and are purely private matters, instead of bringing the debate back to poverty, a shrinking minimum wage, and healthcare than we will continue to lose.

Obama: On Faith and Politics
Wednesday, June 28th, 2006
Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference, and I’d like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you’ve given so far about poverty and justice in America. I think all of us would affirm that caring for the poor finds root in all of our religious traditions – certainly that’s true for my own.
But today I’d like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments over this issue over the last several years.
I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible and discuss the religious call to environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact if we don’t tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.
For me, this need was illustrated during my 2004 face for the U.S. Senate. My opponent, Alan Keyes, was well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.
Indeed, towards the end of the campaign, Mr. Keyes said that, “Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.”
Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, his arguments not worth entertaining.
What they didn’t understand, however, was that I had to take him seriously. For he claimed to speak for my religion – he claimed knowledge of certain truths.
Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, he would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.
Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.
What would my supporters have me say? That a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?
Unwilling to go there, I answered with the typically liberal response in some debates – namely, that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.
But Mr. Keyes implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer didn’t adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and beliefs.
My dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we’ve been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics.
For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest “gap” in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.
Conservative leaders, from Falwell and Robertson to Karl Rove and Ralph Reed, have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.
Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that – regardless of our personal beliefs – constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word “Christian” describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.
Such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when the opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people, and join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.
We first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people believe in angels than do those who believe in evolution.
This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that’s deeper than that – a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.
Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily round – dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets – and coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.
They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them – that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway towards nothingness.
I speak from experience here. I was not raised in a particularly religious household. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, I did too.
It wasn’t until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.
The Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed a part of me that remained removed, detached, an observer in their midst. In time, I too came to realize that something was missing – that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart and alone.
If not for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn to the church.
For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; it is an active, palpable agent in the world. It is a source of hope.
And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts. You need to come to church precisely because you are of this world, not apart from it; you need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away – because you are human and need an ally in your difficult journey.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.
The path I traveled has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans – evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at a turning point in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives them.
This is why, if we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at – to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own – we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.
Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome – others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.
In other words, if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s will continue to hold sway.
More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to “the judgments of the Lord,” or King’s I Have a Dream speech without reference to “all of God’s children.” Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.
Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical. Our fear of getting “preachy” may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.
After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness – in the imperfections of man.
Solving these problems will require changes in government policy; it will also require changes in hearts and minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturer’s lobby – but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we have a problem of morality; there’s a hole in that young man’s heart – a hole that government programs alone cannot fix.
I believe in vigorous enforcement of our non-discrimination laws; but I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation’s CEOs can bring quicker results than a battalion of lawyers.
I think we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys, and give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished. But my bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman’s sense of self, a young man’s sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence all young people for the act of sexual intimacy.
I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith – the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps – off rhythm – to the gospel choir.
But what I am suggesting is this – secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize the overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of “thou” and not just “I,” resonates in religious congregations across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of America’s renewal.
Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like my friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality. National denominations have shown themselves as a force on Capitol Hill, on issues such as immigration and the federal budget. And across the country, individual churches like my own are sponsoring day care programs, building senior centers, helping ex-offenders reclaim their lives, and rebuilding our gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
To build on these still-tentative partnerships between the religious and secular worlds will take work – a lot more work than we’ve done so far. The tensions and suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed, and each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration.
While I’ve already laid out some of the work that progressives need to do on this, I that the conservative leaders of the Religious Right will need to acknowledge a few things as well.
For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. That during our founding, it was not the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of this separation; it was the persecuted religious minorities, Baptists like John Leland, who were most concerned that any state-sponsored religion might hinder their ability to practice their faith.
Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, who’s Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Levitacus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?
This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.
This may be difficult for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.
We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.
Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God’s test of devotion.
But it’s fair to say that if any of us saw a twenty-first century Abraham raising the knife on the roof of his apartment building, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know, be it common laws or basic reason.
Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion.
This goes for both sides.
Even those who claim the Bible’s inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, a sense that some passages – the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity – are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.
The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.
But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God;” I certainly didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs – targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers – that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.
So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool to attack and belittle and divide – they’re tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that’s not how they think about faith in their own lives.
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So let me end with another interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:
“Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you.”
The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be “totalizing.” His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of President Bush’s foreign policy.
But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight “right wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” He went on to write:
“I sense that you have a strong sense of justice…and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason…Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded….You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others…I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”
I checked my web-site and found the offending words. My staff had written them to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.
Re-reading the doctor’s letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms – those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.
I wrote back to the doctor and thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own – a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.
It is a prayer I still say for America today – a hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It’s a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Back From Hiatus

I decided to start all over with this, another new blog for nobody to read. Eventually I hope to have all kinds of interesting things to write here and have other people join me (I might just borrow from other people) to discuss political news. I had a perfectly good blog called Political Moose back in 2004-2005, so why do I need a new one? Well the old url has been claimed.

So now we have Back From Hiatus, and the nice thing is whenever I want to stop blogging for a while I can come back and just announce that we're back. Nice and convenient. Well now, I've got to get to work on designing this blog and recreating links and sidebar and that fun stuff.