Archive for August, 2005
It was just a matter of time before the religious supremacism of the Christian Right began to fracture the coalition which made it possible to ever describe the movement as “the religious right.”
The Boston Globe’s Nina Easton has a must-read article about how key elements of the Christian Right could never bring themselves to support the candidacy of Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts for no other reason than that he is a Mormon. Here is an excerpt:
“The Southern Baptist Convention website categorizes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a ‘cult’ that is ‘radically’ different from historic, biblical Christianity.”
“A faith guide issued by the influential Christian right group Focus on the Family declares that ‘God cannot be identified…. with the Mormon religion’s notion of god.’ And each year, evangelical organizers behind the National Day of Prayer bar Mormons from speaking at their proceedings.”
“As Governor Mitt Romney mulls a race for president in 2008, his strategists expect their ‘family values’ candidate — who opposes gay marriage, abortion, and some forms of embryonic stem cell research — to find a natural base of support among religious conservatives. ‘As Mitt’s traveled the country and tested the waters, he’s gotten very strong responses, including from religious conservatives,’ said Michael Murphy, a political consultant who advises Romney.”
“But an examination of the views of powerful Christian right groups suggests that, even as some of these voters might appreciate Romney’s lifelong commitment to his church, the governor’s Mormon faith could become an obstacle for others among this same group, who make up a large and vocal segment of Republican primary voters….”
“Dobson’s Focus on the Family website features a guide for teaching Christianity to children that lumps Mormons in with pagan worship. ‘God cannot be identified with an object, such as a metal or wooden idol, or with some aspect of nature, such as a star or tree, or with a person, such as Japan’s Emperor Hirohito in World War II or the Mormon religion’s notion of god,’ the guide declares.”
There were three winners in the Democratic primary for a state senate seat from the 2nd Middlesex District. Rep. Pat Jehlen, (D-Somerville) who won the primary; the organized democratic progressive movement in the state, and the growing network of MA political bloggers who covered the race and helped generate interest in a special election in the dog days of August.
Voter turnout was higher than expected. This is partly attributable to the coordinated get out the vote efforts of allied organizations backing Jehlen. Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts (PDM) along with a long list of progressive and labor organizations in the state endorsed Jehlen, as well as numerous current and former state legislators, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. PDM organized fundraisers and deployed activists into the district to help in this important, and likely-to-be-low-turnout summer special election.
Turnout may also have been stimulated by the growing coverage of electoral campaigns and candidates by the growing network of MA political blogs — notably, .08 Acres (and a Donkey), Blue Mass Group and Left in Lowell — helping to create a spirited democratic political culture in which people become more knowledgeable; have access to more sources of information — such as being able to easily find candidate web sites and relevant newspaper articles and editorials. Blue Mass Group even issued a candidate questionnaire, to which Jehlen and former state Rep. Joe Mackey (who came in second) responded. In this race, Blue Mass Group provided comprehensive coverage. They and the others will undoubtedly will have great postmortems, with links to the best of the blog and media coverage.
The special election is to replace the late Sen. Charlie Shannon. Jehlen will face the Republican candidate Somerville Alderman Bill White on September 27 in this heavily Democratic district.
UPDATE & Correction! Commenter Ron Newman reports “Pat Jehlen will face Bill White in the September 27 special election – NOT in November….(as I had previously reported. that error is now corrected.) “Adding to the confusion,” he reports, “there is a Somerville city election on November 8, and a Somerville Ward 3-only preliminary election on September 13.”
Thanks, Ron. Its important to get this stuff right!
Incumbent U.S. presidents facing a challenger sometimes don’t do much campaigning, but instead make a bigger show of doing the job of president. This is known to reporters as campaigning from “the rose garden.” Unlike the White House, the office of Massachusetts Attorney General does not, as far as I know, come with a rose garden. But Tom Reilly’s campaign for governor seems to be all about the rose garden.
On August 18th, I wondered what had happened to Tom Reilly, who seemed not to be campaigning. He didn’t show for a big annual political fest, the Sheriff Ashe picnic in Agawam. I noticed at the time, that at least according to his campaign web site, there hadn’t been a public campaign event since July 23rd. Indeed, visitors can still, as of this writing, sign-up for the July 23rd event. (Hey, sign up today so you can enter Tom’s Time Machine to take you back to Pittsfield where you can “learn about how you can impact the race for the Corner Office in 2006!”)
Reilly’s campaign so far mostly comprises fundraising events and press generated from his work as Attorney General. As a matter of fact, the last update on the campaign web site shows “Tom relaxing in Martha’s Vineyard” before a fundraiser in Edgartown.
But the media have begun to wake up and smell the roses. The Boston Herald reports, “As Attorney General Tom Reilly ramps up his run for governor, he is packing his public payroll with a team of political advisers and strategists — most of whom are paid more than his top attorneys.”
“In fact, one of Reilly’s top operatives, Stephen Bilafer, is listed on state payroll records as filling the $100,000 taxpayer-funded position of “senior counsel” to the AG — even though he is not a lawyer.”
“Also in Reilly’s inner circle at a taxpayer cost of $100,000-a-year each are chief of staff Stephen Kerrigan and ‘bureau director’ Brian Delaney, a public relations guru and former press secretary to U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Pay for assistant attorneys general, who prosecute court cases for the state, ranges from $30,000 to $79,000. Aside from Bilafer, Delaney and Kerrigan, Reilly’s taxpayer-funded PR team consists of six employees making a total of $313,700 annually…. While the AG’s public payroll is stacked with PR pay, campaign finance records show that Reilly’s campaign is paying just $35,000 a year to spokeswoman Kendra Medville and $22,000 a year to another staffer. He also paid $16,900 in July to The Campaign Group, a Philadelphia-based campaign consultant.”
The article notes that “The line between state duties and the campaign has been further blurred recently with appearances by a Reilly press assistant taking notes at press conferences by Reilly’s potential opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney. And Bilafer, who insiders speculate will head Reilly’s 2006 gubernatorial bid, has been quoted in news stories on campaign-related issues. State ethics rules ban state employees from doing campaign work on the job.”
The article quotes an office spokesman who insists that there is a “bright line” between the AG’s office and the campaign. Yes, and thats not surprising, since so far Reilly’s activities are almost all office and almost no campaign.
Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh looked at the matter from a different angle recently. “As attorney general, Thomas Reilly has had two and a half years to put together a campaign kitty of $3 million. Not so Deval Patrick, the only other serious candidate currently in the race. Unlike Reilly, Patrick, a former assistant US attorney general, doesn’t have a public post to lend him prominence — or to provide staffers who can double as after-hours troops for his campaign. While Reilly gets by with a three-person paid political team, Patrick is paying a staff of 14, plus several consultants.”
And that campaign staff has not been inactive.
The Reilly web site shows a campaign lazing its way through the summer, and raising ever-more money. But Patrick’s campaign web site shows a regular schedule of campaign events — and I have seen signs of a growing grassroots campaign infrastructure in all parts of the state. I see an active and inspiring candidate that is turning many a skeptic into a believer. Not only does this pragmatic progressive candidate inspire, but he convinces people of his viability wherever he goes.
Its a relatively quiet time in politics. Its the week before Labor Day. People are on vacation, and thinking about the start of the school year. The primary for the Democratic nomination for governor is a year away. But its worth noting that since Patrick announced his candidacy a few months ago, his big public speeches — to the MA Democratic State Convention, and to the New Democracy Coalition on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act — have been home runs, bringing people to their feet and flocking to his campaign. Patrick campaign manager John Walsh said, recently, “give me a couple thousand volunteers and I can beat the money.”
I have no doubt Walsh will get his volunteers.
Pat Robertson’s incendiary call for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez certainly has backfired — and ignited a firestorm of criticism that is engulfing the Republican televangelist from Virginia Beach.
Mr. Robertson has in three days called for the murder of president Chavez; claimed he didn’t; and then admitted that he did and kind of apologized. The back-pedaling is covered in Thursday’s New York Times. Will the story die there, on the fourth day? Not likely.
We have yet to hear from any major Christian right or Republican leader — with two significant exceptions. Robertson, a former Baptist minister who resigned his ministry in the 1980s to run for the GOP nomination for president, was denounced by two top leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that Robertson “brought shame to the cause of Christ…. Our witness to the Gospel is inevitably and deeply harmed when a recognized Christian leader casually recommends the assassination of a world leader.”
And Bobby Welsh, president of the Southern Baptist Convention said: “The Southern Baptist Convention does not support or endorse public statements concerning assassinations of persons, even if they are despicable despots of foreign countries, and neither do I.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post editorialized:
“…some of Mr. Robertson’s fellow travelers have not been able to locate their tongues over this latest Robertson-inspired international disturbance. The Family Research Council and Traditional Values Coalition spare no moments in rushing forth to denounce irresponsibility on the part of those they dislike. Not so with Mr. Robertson, who only called for the United States to murder a foreign head of state. Even the Bush administration can’t bring itself to censure a fellow conservative who publicly calls for his country to break the law. ‘Inappropriate,’ the State Department managed to say. The White House, embarrassed by Mr. Robertson yet again but too afraid to mix it up with his narrow but loyal base of support, simply averts its gaze.”
Mr. Robertson may think that his apology for making a bloodthirsty call for the murder of president Chavez will end the matter. If he does, I think he is wrong. Not only does his written statement appear to be more damage control than an act of contrition, but Pat Robertson is one of the best known religious and political figures in the United States. He is far better known than any mainline protestant or Catholic leader; far better known than many top elected officials and members of the president’s cabinet; far better known than any other leader of the Christian Right, with the possible exception of James Dobson. As of this evening, the Robertson imbroglio is one of the top news stories in the world.
But for all the media buzz and moral outrage from many quarters around the world — we have yet to hear from any of the leaders of the Republican Party or the Christian Right. There is a reason for that. Pat Robertson epitomizes the corrupt relationship between the Christian Right and the Republican Party.
The silence you hear is the corruption talking.
Pat Robertson, having been hoist by his own petard, is now apologizing for calling for the assasination of president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Earlier today, Robertson claimed on his 700 Club television program that he never called for Chavez’ assassination. He also claimed that the Associated Press had “misinterpreted” his remarks. A few hours later he issued a statement apologizing for calling for the asssasination of Hugo Chavez.
Here is what the Associated Press is reporting today:
“I didn’t say ‘assassination.’ I said our special forces should ‘take him out,’ Robertson said on his show. “Take him out’ could be a number of things including kidnapping.'”
“He later issued the apology on his Web site.”
“When the AP had called Robertson on Tuesday for elaboration, spokeswoman Angell Watts said Robertson would not do interviews and had no statement about his remarks. He also declined several interview requests Wednesday.”
Here is the arc of the story so far. Robertson calls for murder. Then he denies it, and tries to blame the media. When the lie is exposed, a perfuctory statement of apology is issued on his behalf, and he refuses further comment.
Pat Robertson, who is being condemned internationally for calling for the assassination of president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, now says he didn’t say what he said.
CNN reports, “I didn’t say ‘assassination.’ I said our special forces should ‘take him out.’ And ‘take him out’ can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time,” Robertson said on “The 700 Club” program.”
Two paragraphs later in the story, CNN quotes Roberston’s actual words and links to the video of the original broadcast:
“‘If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it,'” said Robertson on Monday’s program. “‘It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.'”
Robertson seems to have forgotten about the video. But CNN didn’t. Neither did Media Matters for America which posted the assassination comment video in the first place.
CNN didn’t say it; but Media Matters put it in their headline: “Robertson lies….”.
The New York Times has a story today, devastating in its understatement, about reaction to Pat Robertson’s internationally televised call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. The story is devastating, not so much for Pat Robertson who is being denounced worldwide anyway — but for the wider Christian Right, who are unable to distance themselves from Robertson’s demagogic call for a domestic and international crime. This could be a bellwether moment in the fortunes of the Christian Right if domestic and international interest in the ideas and influence of Robertson and his political, religious and broadcasting empire can be sustained for a little longer than the emotional bandwidth of the current outrage.
But let’s begin with Day Two of the assassination story and then broaden it a little.
Bernardo Álvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, said: “Mr. Robertson has been one of the president’s staunchest allies. His statement demands the strongest condemnation by the White House.” That hasn’t happened of course. Although, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the state department spokesman distanced themselves from Robertson’s comments at their daily news briefings. The official line is a disingenuous claim that he is just one private citizen. The State Department called Robertson’s remarks “inappropriate” but would not otherwise condemn them. Still, thats fairly strong stuff considering that Pat Robertson is one of the most prominent leaders of the Republican Party and one of the top televangelists in the world. Anyway, lost amidst the tumult is the truly devastating point. Veteran religion reporter Laurie Goodstein had a hard time finding prominent conservative Christian leaders to comment.
“Some of Mr. Robertson’s allies distanced themselves from his comments” Goodstein wrote. “The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, released a statement saying Mr. Robertson should “immediately apologize, retract his statement and clarify what the Bible and Christianity teaches about the permissibility of taking human life outside of law.”
(The National Clergy Council is a small outfit, and Schenk is best known for his militant antiabortion activism.)
The Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals told the Times that he and ‘most evangelical leaders’ would disassociate themselves from such ‘unfortunate and particularly irresponsible’ comments….”
“But other conservative Christian organizations remained silent, with leaders at the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition saying they were too busy to comment.”
“Mr. Robertson has a history of getting attention for inflammatory remarks,” Goodstein continued, “In May he said the threat to the United States from activist judges was “probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.” In 1998, he warned that hurricanes and other natural disasters would sweep down on Orlando, Fla., because gay men and lesbians were flocking to Disney World on special “gay days.” And he has often denounced the United Nations as a first step toward a dangerous “one world government.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted that Robertson has been urging his ‘700 Club’ audience to pray for more vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court so that current justices can be replaced by President Bush with ‘righteous’ judges: “During the same Aug. 22 broadcast where Robertson called for the assassination of Chavez, Robertson prayed that God ‘take control of the court, that you would take control of the confirmation process for Judge Roberts, that you bring about other vacancies on the court….’.
While Robertson’s reckless comments, and the international outrage they have provoked may turn him into a pariah, Robertson’s politics run far deeper than his high profile outrageous public statements. His 1989 book The New World Order is a hair raising testament to the depth and breadth of his ideology and why he is a dangerous and destablizing influence in American constitutional democracy. This book was sent to every new member of Robertson’s Christian Coalition for the first several years of it’s existence and it was on the New York Times on the best seller list. Millions of copies were and undoubtedly still are, in circulation. The New World Order is was one of the most influential books in the history of the Christian Right.
I wrote a great deal about this book and its significance in Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Here is a short excerpt:
“Robertson made it clear in The New World Order that anyone who is not Christian or Jewish is not fit to hold public office. he specifically names Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, atheists and ‘new age’ adherents. He details his wistfulness for the colonial theocracies [of early America] where, he claims ‘almost all were committed to the biblical worldview,’ and that ‘They all shared the same language traditions, and political concepts about the nature of man and the will of God.’ This nostalgia for a cultural homogeneity which never was tells us much about Robertson’s contemporary bigotry and political ideals. He longs for the time ‘when this country started,’ when voting rights were restricted to ‘property owners’ because ‘People had to have a stake in society, before they were allowed to determine its laws.’ His implicit endorsement of these policies suggests that he too believes that only people who own property have a stake in society, and thus would deny voting rights to renters and tenants of public housing, along with the religiously incorrect, if he and his movement ever gain sufficient political power.”
Due to the current focus on the future of the Supreme Court, much is being written and said about consevative notions of “original intent,” and the interpretation of the Constitution. The Christian Right makes noises about this, but what when you hear phrases like “biblical worldview,” “biblical principles” and “biblical law,” the vision for society is mostly preconstitutional. The nostalgia for the colonial era when conservative Christian minorities held sway; when voting rights were determined on the basis of race, religion, gender, and property ownership — says much about Robertson and other leaders of the Christian Right. It is this era that the framers of the Constitution sought to forever put to an end in founding and defining a new nation. Although the Constitution as written did not perfect the equality of citizens, it took some bold first steps, and set the stage for every advance we have made in these areas since.
Fastforwarding back to the present, as we look at the views of Pat Robertson, I want to underscore again, the news is not that Pat Robertson makes extreme or nutty sounding statements once in awhile. It is the profound religious supremacism, and the twisted historical revisionism, and the anti-constitutional political agenda that marks Pat Robertson’s career in public life; views that are imbued in all of the institutions under his control and influence to varying degrees. The current bruhaha may provide an opening to talk about the depth and breadth of Pat Robertson’s views and their influence in society.
Finally, lets hear the devastating silence of fellow leaders of the Christian Right and the entire leadership of the Republican Party in response to Robertson’s latest outrage. Ths silence underscores just how important Pat Robertson is in the Christian Right and in GOP. Any examination of Pat Robertson’s views beyond the quote du jour, will be a disaster for them. And they all know it.
Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, called for the government of the United States to murder the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the Associated Press reports. The AP story is being picked up by major media all over the U.S. and the world.
“We have the ability to take him (Chavez) out,” Robertson declared on his television program The 700 Club, “and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,’ In apparent reference to the war in Iraq, he also said he considers assassination by covert operatives to be “cheaper” than a “$200 billion war” and “I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” Robertson claims that Chavez “has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he’s going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.”
Media Matters for America has the video and transcript.
Some people will be tempted to say that Robertson is nuts and should not be taken seriously. But in fact, Robertson is one of the leading religious broadcasters in the world and one of the top leaders of the Republican Party, and has been for a generation. Pat Robertson is so much part of the Republican mainstream, and associating with him is so considered so respectable, that even former Attorney General John Ashcroft now teaches at Robertson’s Regent University, a graduate school in Virginia Beach.
I wonder if his fellow televangelists and Republican members of Congress will follow Robertson’s lead in calling for the assassination of democratically elected foreign leaders?
Its an old maxim that politics is pretty much run by those who bother to show up.
Anyone who thinks there is no truth to that, needs to visit Walk In Brain, the blogger from Cincinnati who recently showed-up in North Adams, MA.
Walk In Brain is being welcomed by MA political bloggers, as is our custom when we discover new a progressive political blog. Well, if in less than a year anything can be called a custom. Anyway, its something we do in MA as the political blogosphere steadily becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Wes Flinn, the man behind the blog, moved to North Adams to take a job as Assistant Professor of Music at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Turns out that he was in town less than three weeks and he had already attended a city council meeting; been asked to run for council (he declined. Way too soon to even think about it); met Ted Kennedy, and was profiled by the North Adams Transcript!
“What’s happened is that those of us who are interested in politics have started to discover what the real possibilities are of blogging on a political level,” [he told the Transcript.] “It’s not just about raising funds for candidates, it’s almost an open-source think tank. There’s the free flow of ideas, the interchange and, hopefully, lively and robust discussion.”
“While the mainstream media has a tendency to present political bloggers as wild cards spouting biased lunacy, Flinn believes they might be missing the big picture by focusing so intently on specific bloggers.”
“‘Democracy is not always clean and discussion is not always clean,'” said Flinn. “‘I think it’s important that these discussions take place and people get passionate about it. I would be distrustful of people who weren’t passionate about something.'”
From what I have seen so far, Wes epitomizes the kind of passionate civic engagement that the political blogosphere has been all about. Meanwhile, from what I’ve heard, the main concern the mainstream media has about bloggers is not biased luncacy, so much as that people are tuning them out — and tuning us in.
(Biased lunacy? Fox News anyone?)
I love newspapers, and I want them not just to survive but to become robust engines of a revival of the spirit of constitutional democracy in America — instead of trending toward being tepid toadies to power, filled with celebrity profiles and entertainment news. I hope that newspapers will seize the opportunity to play a vital role in informing and revitalizing democracy — fearlessly and fairly holding government, and candidates, and corporations accountable.
I would hate to see the further demise of newspaper journalism because people decide that if they want entertainment news they can do better on TV, and for information about politics and government, they can turn to the internet.
Time was, TV and cable were the main competition for newspapers. As much as I think that blogs and the internet are helping to bring a renewed vitality to American democracy, I don’t want to see newspapers lose the competition. A vigorous independent press in America — operating based on the highest standards of journalism — is something we need to value, and to demand. It is just too important
Whatever newspapers finally decide to do, I am celebrating the continuing dawn of the political blogosphere. Citizens of all sorts are writing and publishing like never before. The authors of the First Amendment would be amazed and thrilled.
Censorship is alive and well in America. And the fight against it has many fronts.
Led by the Christian Right, public school boards, teachers, public libraries, and public colleges and universities are all too often pressured to eliminate books from curricula, reading and recommended reading lists, and public library shelves.
Fortunately, The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) the American Library Association and other major organizations sponsor the annual Banned Books Week, “the only national celebration of the freedom to read.” Thousands of libraries and bookstores will sponsor events and exhibits during Banned Books Week, September 24 — October 1, — speaking-out against attempts to censor books and celebrating the freedom to read.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom received 547 reports of challenges — or attempts to remove books from schools and libraries — in 2004. Robert Cormier’s “The Chocolate War” was the most challenged book of last year. They also maintain a list of the 100 most censored titles.
Other sponsors of Banned Books Week include the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.
The American Library Association kit goes for $35 and includes three posters, a list of titles that have been challenged over the last year, 100 bookmarks and a Banned Books Week pin.
One suggested activity is to hand out the Campaign for Reader Privacy bookmarks and petition urging Congress to restore the safeguards for bookstore and library privacy that were eliminated by the PATRIOT Act. The bookmarks can be ordered free from the American Booksellers Association by calling ABA at (800) 637-0037, ext. 6635. The petition can be downloaded.
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has a host of resources for Banned Books Week, including a discussion of book burning in history.
In one episode this year, a Colorado newspaper reported on February 3:
“…. a book that was being used as part of an English assignment was confiscated from freshmen at Norwood [Colorado] High School due to references of paganism and an alleged magnitude of profanity.
“Here in Norwood, a small group of parents sent letters to Superintendent Bob Conder, expressing their concern over, “Bless Me, Ultima,” a book being used in the classroom as a literature book. Conder said the books, about 2 dozen in total costing $6.99 each, were pulled from the classroom, and designated to be destroyed. The parents approached the superintendent and asked that they be able to burn the books instead of the school janitor destroying them.
“Conder granted them their request…. ”
Mark your calendars!
Banned Books Week:
September 24 — October 1, 2005
[Crossposted from Talk to Action]