Saturday, December 27, 2008


I'll be relaxing in the sun for the next several days, so no more blogging until 2009. Happy New Year, everybody.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Durable Majority

(First, apologies for the low number of posts lately. There will be more to read after the holidays.)

A quick note - E.J. Dionne on the Rick Warren pick: 
Although I support same-sex marriage, I think that liberals should welcome Obama's success in causing so much consternation on the right. On balance, inviting Warren opens more doors than it closes. [...] liberals also need to come to terms with what it means to build a durable majority. Doing so requires not just easy gestures but hard ones. Here's a prayer that this one will be worth the risks it entails.
This seems like the right idea to me. Back when Karl Rove still enjoyed his reputation as a political guru, he used to talk about the "permanent Republican majority." I never bought into the hype, simply because the Republicans were quickly and intentionally making their tent ever-smaller: Frank Rich has detailed how they became an almost exclusively white party; Andrew Sullivan has detailed how they became an almost exclusively fundamentalist-Christian party; and David Frum has written convincingly about the purge of intellectuals from the party. Between 2004 and 2008, their only regional gains were in the South. These various attributes were embodied in Sarah Palin, and the standard defense of her was that she "energized the base." That's true, but she also alienated most voters (moderates couldn't stand her) and will go down as a major factor in McCain's loss. This apparent disconnect between Republicans and the political center does not portend well. 

All of this is just a long way of saying that a permanent majority (or, more realistically, a durable majority) cannot be a 50% + 1 majority. Obama understands that the tent has to be bigger. The task of governing is quite different from the task of being in the opposition; it's easy to demonize your opponents and stick to your guns when you're not in charge. But Democrats are in power now, and Obama is doing what he's always said he was going to do: bring diverse voices together to seek common ground. Rick Warren may not be my favorite person in the world, but he's immensely popular and undeniably powerful - and in spite of everything, he's done some good work. Obama is being mature and responsible by bringing him on board. It's a painful choice. It's a difficult choice. But I think it's the right choice. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Huckabee on the Daily Show

Ta-Nehisi Coates sums up my feelings about Mike Huckabee pretty nicely:
I disagree with Huckabee on just about everything [...] but still Huckabee has a lot of cross-over appeal. He makes the same pitch as most religious conservatives, but without the mean and without the sarcasm. That doesn't quite get it. I need to think more. But the guy fucking scares me. [...] His style is, I must say, very Obama-like in this limited sense: Obama is a master at taking progressive stands, renaming them, and pushing the point forward.
There is something about Huckabee that is surprisingly disarming - one of my friends once remarked that he'd make a terrible president, but a wonderful grandfather. I think, in addition to being pretty smart, he really is folksy, which is a lethal combination in politics (and his folksiness isn't nearly as grating as Sarah Palin's). He was pretty good on The Daily Show recently - at least, as good as an unapologetic social conservative can be in front of an unfriendly crowd when facing tough questions from Jon Stewart (who I really love as an interviewer). Here is a link to Part 1, which was pretty good. Part 2, though, was more revealing - their discussion about gay marriage (Video here).

This is where Huckabee's "aw-shucks" traditional-values oh-we're-just-defending-apple-pie-America-from-the-new-scary-unnatural-trend schtick finally comes undone (at least as far as I'm concerned). I'm not really on board with any of Huckabee's platform, but a lot of it seems to be relatively benign conservative populism - nothing terribly insidious. The religious stuff, on the other hand, is pretty alarming, and it's unfortunately it's the main part of Huckabee's politics. He doesn't have any convincing answers for Stewart's criticisms because there aren't any - and while (in my more charitable moments) I'm willing to believe Huckabee when he says that opponents of marriage equality aren't all rabid homophobes, I do think that quite a few of them are less than comfortable with homosexuals - so maybe they're just mild homophobes. Not exactly a victory for open-mindedness.

I hate to have to come to this conclusion, because it's terribly unsatisfying on a number of levels. First, is that all we can say about the motives of Huckabee and his base? That they're mild homophobes? It seems like an incomplete explanation, and yet it's all that remains. All of their other arguments are so ludicrous: gay marriage does not threaten heterosexual marriage. Marriage has undergone a series of changes throughout history, and "changing the definition" is something humans have done with the institution a number of times. Since marriage promotes societal stability, the right to marry should be extended to devoted homosexual couples to start families. (And certainly children raised by two loving parents are better off for having been adopted!) And the slippery slope argument - that we'll eventually end up with legalized polygamy, bestiality, or whatever - it's just silly. The theological argument is similarly weak, although I think it's irrelevant insofar as legislation goes. Given the failure of these arguments, what else can opponents fall back on? If "redefining marriage" isn't going to destroy society as we know it, and if the Bible is less than categorical on the issue (as, in fact, it is), there's not much left to fall back on.

Not much left at all - except for Thomist claims about what's "natural." Oh, boy. It's times like this that I'm thankful for Andrew Sullivan:

This concept of nature is, however, itself divorced from modern science - which finds that same-sex orientation is close to universal among all natural species and that sexual orientation is far deeper and broader than sex acts - and rests on medieval conceptions of the teleology of sex. [...] From a Catholic perspective, I am forced to respond that these neo-Thomist assertions about "our true nature" are philosophically circular, incompatible with the vast increase in our knowledge of human psychology and sexuality and evolution over the last two centuries, and have ended up marginalizing a small minority of humans as the one true symbol of moral righteousness.

None of this advances caritas or veritas. And in the end, a Christianity resistant to truth and terrified of love is the real objective disorder.

As we Christians say: Amen.