The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for October, 2005

Massachusetts Fair Districts Initiative Petition

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If we can collect enough signatures, there will be an initiative on the Massachusetts ballot in 2008 that will take the drawing legislative districts out of the smoke filled room — where they can be drawn in the light of day by an independent commission. Sound good? It is.

It’s called the Fair Districts initiative petition. Currently, election districts are drawn by the legislature — which has a poor record of drawing districts fairly. Deval Patrick, who was Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Clinton Administration, said in endorsing the initiative: “In a healthy democracy the voters choose their representatives. In the system we have, the reps choose the voters. That’s upside down.”

Other endorsers of the initiative include fellow leading Democrats Michael Dukakis, Barney Frank, Steve Grossman, Scott Harshbarger, Robert Reich, Tom Reilly, and Warren Tolman — as well as Republican Governor Mitt Romney and Lt. Governor Kerry Healey — and many other political, academic and legislative leaders, as well as such newspapers as The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and The Springfield Republican.

The campaign is being spearheaded by Common Cause, and, writes Leo Maley who is coordinating the participation of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, it is

endorsed by many leading good government, civil rights, and progressive political organizations including PDM, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Mass Voters for Fair Elections, Mass PIRG, and Clean Water Action, among others…. What will the initiative accomplish? It will end “gerrymandering,” the political manipulation of electoral districts to dampen political competition and ensure easy reelection for those who control the process.

What has gerrymandering meant for Massachusetts? Unfair political gain. Lack of electoral competition. Cronyism. Poor community representation. Disenfranchisement of minorities. Payback for disfavored rank-and-file legislators– especially progressive legislators… Eleven other states draw their districts through independent commissions with significant success. The Fair Districts initiative petition takes the best practices from several states and adapts them to our unique political climate.

While PDM is helping gather signatures, Common Cause has comprehensive information on its web site, including downloadable copies of the petition.

With all of the support for this landmark electoral reform measure, what could go wrong? It’s simple. If citizens — that means us — are unable to get enough valid petitions signatures by the deadline, the measure will not appear on the ballot. Organizers say they need 100,000.

Please mail your petitions to:

Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts
Campaign Office
256 North Pleasant Street, Suite #1
Amherst, MA 01002

Please send in whatever number you have before November 15th.

To find out how you can help, write to Leo Maley,

Written by fred

October 26th, 2005 at 2:04 am

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Taking Leadership in Response to the Religious Right

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The Religious Right rose to power while most of the nation remained somnambulant. Books and articles were written; film documentaries broadcast; and activist and scholarly seminars and conferences held — but most of our leading institutions have had little to no response. Fortunately, this is changing. Leaders of major religious and secular institutions are beginning to speak out — and to lead their institutions into the central struggles of our time.

Last week Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, spoke out against the attacks on the mainline churches — including his own. This week, Dr. Hunter Rawlings, interim president of Cornell University called on the Cornell community to address the “invasion of science by intelligent design.”

According to an account of his speech by Susan Lang of Cornell news service, Rawlings’ call came in his first “State of the University” address since becoming interim president in June.

Read on. Meet Hunter Rawlings: professor of classics; hero of constitutional democracy; and a role model for how university leaders can and must respond in this era of theocratic creep in American public life. Here is an excerpt of Lang’s report.

Rawlings said, “I.D. [intelligent design] is not valid as science… I.D. is a subjective concept…. a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. It is neither clearly identified as a proposition of faith nor supported by other rationally based arguments.” Advocates of I.D. voice a creationist argument that some features of the natural world are so “irreducibly complex” that they must have required a creator, or an “intelligent designer.”

I.D. is, he said, “a matter of great significance to Cornell and to this country as a whole … a matter … so urgent that I felt it imperative to take it on for this State of the University Address.” The packed auditorium gave Rawlings a lengthy standing ovation at the conclusion of his address.

“I am convinced that the political movement seeking to inject religion into state policy and our schools is serious enough to require our collective time and attention,” he said. As such, he asked that Cornell’s three task forces — on the life sciences, on digital information and on sustainability — consider how to confront such questions as “how to separate information from knowledge and knowledge from ideology; how to understand and address the ethical dilemmas and anxieties that scientific discovery has produced; and how to assess the influence of secular humanism on culture and society.”

He said that Cornell, which some refer to as the world’s land-grant university, is in a unique position to bring humanists, social scientists and scientists together to “venture outside the campus to help the American public sort through these complex issues. I ask them to help a wide audience understand what kinds of theories, arguments and conclusions deserve a place in the academy — and why it isn’t always a good idea to ‘teach the controversies.’ When professors tend only to their own disciplinary gardens, public discourse is seriously undernourished,” he said.

In his address, Rawlings first reviewed how the I.D. issue is playing out across the country, with disputes about evolution making news in at least 20 states and numerous school districts. He then recounted the controversy historically, with Darwin publishing his groundbreaking book, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” in 1860; the 1925 Scopes trial that deterred anti-evolution legislation pending in 16 states at the time; and the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that ruled as invalid Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” that would have forbade teaching evolution in public schools. Now the controversy is back full throttle in a highly polarized nation, Rawlings said, challenging again what is taught in schools and universities.

Rawlings then reviewed how Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, Cornell’s first president, were definitive about the issue when they created the first “American” university. Rawlings quoted White as writing that the institution “should be under the control of no political party and of no single religious sect.” Rawlings then quoted from a letter Ezra Cornell had placed in Sage Hall’s cornerstone in 1873, and unearthed just a few years ago….”

Rawlings’ quote from Ezra Cornell’s letter well summarizes the role of religion in a secular institution and a secular society. Cornell warned “that the principal danger, and I say almost the only danger I see in the future to be encountered by the friends of education, and by all lovers of true liberty is that which may arise from sectarian strife. From these halls, sectarianism must be forever excluded, all students must be left free to worship God, as their conscience shall dictate, and all persons of any creed or all creeds must find free and easy access, and a hearty and equal welcome, to the educational facilities possessed by the Cornell University…..”

Written by fred

October 24th, 2005 at 7:45 pm

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Patrick Launches Campaign with Labor in Pittsfield

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Deval Patrick kicked-off his first official campaign tour on Sunday at the annual Labor-Legislative Breakfast of the Berkshire Central Labor Council. By the accounts coming in so far — it was a roaring success.

The Berkshire Eagle reported:

Deval Patrick says Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been nothing more than a “recreational governor” during his time in office, using the state’s money to travel the country in hopes of making a run at the presidency in 2008.

Patrick, speaking to a crowd of about 250 at the 20th-annual labor-legislative breakfast at Sons of Italy Itam Lodge 564 yesterday morning, fired verbal salvos at Romney and spoke about his own political aspirations to run for the governor’s seat next year as a Democrat.

“(Romney) was going to build job opportunities in Massachusetts, but what he’s done is gone all over the country on our dime,” Patrick said.

A former NAACP and Clinton administration lawyer, Patrick, gave a stirring speech that elicited a standing ovation. He has not officially announced his run for office, but Suzanne Bump, Patrick’s deputy political director, said he will do that today in Pittsfield when he makes two public appearances.

Well, OK. But what are bloggers saying about the event?

The headline at MargeBlog reads: Deval Patrick Wows Them in Pittsfield

Walk In Brain writes: “If Patrick can govern a tenth as well as he can speak, Massachusetts would be in capable hands. You can officially move this blogger from ‘undecided’ to firmly into the Deval Patrick camp.”

Written by fred

October 17th, 2005 at 4:05 pm

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President of UCC Says Rightist Groups "intent" on "destroying our life together" as a Church [Updated]

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Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ acknowledged on Friday what mainline protestant church leaders have been reluctant to address for two decades: the rightist Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and allied groups are seeking to undermine if not destroy the mainline Christian churches in the United States.

The conservative movement and parts of the corporate sector have loathed the rise of the social gospel in the mainline churches for a century. They have loathed the social justice traditions that were catalysts for the civil rights movement, women’s rights, and principled opposition to the excesses of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Central America. It was the latter that led to the formation of the IRD as a hub of antichurch organizing. Since then, IRD-affiliated “renewal” groups have been at the center of nearly every controversy in mainline Christianity — most recently, but certainly not exclusively, issues of gay and lesbian equality in church and public life.

Thomas spoke, according to United Church News about groups “within and beyond the UCC” that are “intent on disrupting and destroying our life together.”

“Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive,” Thomas said. “Their relationship to the right-wing Instit ute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is now longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be ‘nice,’ to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.”

UCC seminarian and blogger Chuck Currie has more over at Stree t Prophets. Currie has written about the IRD-affiliated Biblical Witness Fellowship in the past, as have I.

Last year, the IRD and its Association for Church Renewal, (of which the BWT is a member) attacked the UCC for its warmhearted TV ads that had been rejected by the TV networks as “too controversial.”

Last summer when the UCC’s General Synod endorsed same sex marriage, the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWT) went ballistic and implied that the UCC is no longer a Christian denomination. Previously, it had called for the resignation of John Thomas.

All of the major denominations as well as the National Council of Churches have been affected by this well-funded, and sustained campaign of attrition over the past two decades.

IRD has received substantial funding and direction over the years, from what some might consider the first couple of theocratic philanthropy, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson who were profiled by journalist Max Blumenthal for last year. This article is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand what John Thomas is talking about.

The Ahmansons have reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to IRD, on whose board Roberta Ahmanson sits. The institute, Blumenfeld reported, has a

“Reforming America’s Churches Project, which aims to ‘restructure the permanent governing structure’ of ‘theologically flawed’ mainline churches like the Episcopal Church in order to ‘discredit and diminish the Religious Left’s influence.’ This has translated into a three-pronged assault on mainline Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal churches. With a staff of media-savvy research specialists, the institute is able to ply both the religious and mainstream media, exploiting divisive social issues within the churches.”

It is a good thing that the courageous leader of a major denomination has publicly acknowledged that his denomination is under attack by politically motivated agencies. I hope the UCC and all of the mainline denominations will begin to take a more forceful posture in relation to groups who have abused their standing in tolerant and welcoming communities in order to sew division and discord.

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October 16th, 2005 at 11:14 am

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Changing the Light Bulb

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Sometimes getting Democrats, (and progressives, moderate Republicans, libertarians and so on) to change how they think about and respond to the religious right is like the old light bulb joke:

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

We have been seeing encouraging signs for some time that we really do want to change — but change can be hard, and it can take time, and well, drop down on the priorities list. Indeed, it can mean acquiring new and seemingly strange areas of knowledge, and then of course, we might have to consider changing long-cherished ways of doing politics.

But given that the Religious right as a political movement has been one of the most powerful factions in American politics for some time, and their candidates are winning elections for public office at all levels of government in ways that everyone would have thought impossible a generation ago, maybe we oughtta really, seriously, you know… change the light bulb?

Here is a beginning of a discussion of one interesting but particularly challenging pieces of the puzzle. One of the harder things for most of us, is figuring out what to make of some evangelical notions of the End Times.

The Left Behind series of novels and movies has made the evangelical theology of “premillennial dispensationalism” a big national and even international matter. This is actually not a new issue. During the presidential election of 1984, Ronald Reagan was asked about several statements he had made regarding his apparent belief that we were living in Biblically prophesized “end times.” People were concerned about whether certain interpretations of Biblical prophesy might be driving U.S. foreign policy. (I don’t think this was the case, but it was a fair concern.) This question came from a reporter during a nationally televised debate with Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. Reagan replied, accurately, that Jesus himself had said only his Father knows the time of his return. That pretty much settled the matter as a public issue — until LaHaye’s novels came along. Many commentators raise the same concerns about the apocalypse today — often in apocalyptic terms. But these writings often way overstate the nature of the beliefs of most people, and makes trying to understand what various Christian sects believe about the biblical book of Revelation, and what it means for ordinary people, additionally baffling. Fortunately Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates in Somerville, MA is especially good at explaining it in useful ways to non-evangelical audiences. He has a post about it today on Talk to Action, crossposted at DefCon.

I am not going to go into it in any detail, rather commend this short, but probably provocative essay for your thoughtful consideration. Berlet has a point that goes beyond the details of the theology of Tim LaHaye. (There are books and articles for coming up to speed on that stuff). For years Berlet has argued that Democrats and progressives can compete for the white evangelical vote — but they have to not only want to do it, but they have to learn how. He suggests that one aspect is learning enough about what they believe in order to be able to address their concerns and not behave in an offensive manner — just as we would anyone else. The temptation to ridicule what one does not understand is understandable, but it is not necessarily smart politics.

“Because the leaders of the Religious Right have mobilized such a large voter base,” he writes, “they regularly have meetings with powerful political leaders, including the President. Today the Religious Right plays a major role in shaping foreign and domestic policies.

We can change this situation. The Religious Right does not speak for all Christians or even all evangelicals. The leaders of the Religious Right sometimes argue for policy positions that make their own followers uncomfortable. In a constitutional democracy, the ideal path for the nation is always open to debate; and the idea of God is too big for small minds to shackle. If we want to defend the Constitution, we must learn the religious beliefs of those evangelicals who dominate the Religious Right, treat them respectfully, and yet engage them in a critical public conversation over the appropriate boundaries for civic political debate set by the founders and framers of our nation.

Berlet’s optimism is hard-headed. It is based not only on his scholarship and his commitment to a progressive politics, but his real-world experience of engagement with the kinds of people he is writing about. I think what is especially helpful about Berlet’s approach is that he reframes the entire matter in the best George Lakoff sense of the word. Rather than dwelling on the wonky details of theology, he goes for how we might begin to think about it in useful ways, and find fresh political attitudes in ourselve — framed in terms of our own values — to begin a more rational and productive approach to the politics of the occasion. I will add, and I know he would agree, that what he proposes will not work with everyone of the premillenial persuasion. But we should not find that necessarily discouraging. There is nothing that works with all of the people all of the time.

Written by fred

October 15th, 2005 at 2:53 pm

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Deval Patrick’s First Big Campaign Swing

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Deval Patrick has crafted a credible campaign for governor of Massachusetts from nothing in six months. He has steadily built momentum, rather than pandering to the Conventional Wisdom.

Patrick has been systematically introducing himself to the electorate and to party activists, and he has been received with warmth and enthusiasm. What’s more, he has started to receive public endorsements from national and state political figures, most recently, state Representatives David Sullivan of Fall River and Michael Rodrugues of Westport, according to an article in the Fall River Herald News.

This week marks the official kick off of Patrick’s campaign for governor. His very public round of campaign and media appearances begins, (according to the preliminary schedule sent to reporters and bloggers) in Pittsfield on Sunday; Pittsfield, Holyoke and Springfield on Monday; Randolph and Brockton on Tuesday; Lowell and Lawrence on Wednesday; Fall River on Thursday.

After six months energizing grassroots support, strong fundraising, and meeting with voters concerned about health care, education and jobs,” the campaign declared in a press release, “Deval Patrick will tour the Commonwealth… to officially announce his candidacy for governor.

Over the past several weeks, Patrick has released key parts of his Moving Massachusetts Forward plan, including health care, education, and economic growth policies for the state. These issues releases follow months of intense grassroots work, which has brought to the campaign over 2,000 active volunteers, who are using a state-of-the-art website designed to meet the needs of the volunteer base.

Starting October 16th, Patrick is traveling across the state visiting the sites and people that relate to the heart of his Moving Massachusetts Forward plan. His stops will include a tour of the former GE plant that now houses a business park in Pittsfield, a conversation with students at American International College in Springfield, and a tour of the women’s programs at the YWCA of Greater Lawrence. At each of these events, Patrick will talk about his reasons for running and about his Moving Massachusetts Forward plan.

As I wrote recently, it’s too early to conclude very much from the polls, activities, and fundraising of the candidates. We have eleven months to go — a political eon — before any votes are actually counted. But to those paying attention to the development of the Deval Patrick campaign — and the candidate — I think this week will be a bench mark.

Written by fred

October 14th, 2005 at 3:45 pm

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Bush Seeking to Revive Religious Test for Public Office?

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The Christian Right of the 18th century didn’t like the U.S. Constitution because it did not declare that the U.S. a Christian nation. Not only that, but the Consitution explicitly banned religious tests for public office in Article Six. This set in motion of the disestablishment of the official churches in the colonies that had mostly functioned as little theocracies — and made the United States the first nation in the history of the world to be founded on religious equality. But the Christian nationalists have never given up.

Now the Bush administration, way down in the polls and facing a conservative revolt over the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court is making at least a gesture in the direction of giving the Christian Right one of its dearest goals: the revival of the religious test for public office.

The New York Times reported this morning: “On a radio show being broadcast Wednesday, [religious broadcaster James] Dobson said he discussed Miers with [White House political strategist Karl] Rove on Oct. 1, two days before her nomination was announced. Dobson said Rove told him ‘she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life,’ but denied he had gotten any assurances from the White House that she would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.”

Later in the day, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution (DefCon) issued a blistering statement denouncing the apparent White House collaboration with Christian Right leader James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family. “I am deeply troubled by the appearance that the President is applying a religious litmus test for his judicial appointments,” said Isaac Kramnick, professor of government at Cornell University. “Such a test violates the Constitutional prohibition on religious tests as a qualification for public office.”

“Since 2002,” Kramnick continued, “the President has repeatedly said that he will appoint judges who believe that God is the source of our civil rights. The notion of asking judges to acknowledge a source of law other than – and perhaps higher than – the Constitution is unacceptable. It shatters the fundamental premise of our founders that the Constitution itself is the supreme law of the land.”

Later today, an Associated Press story underscored Kramnick’s concern: “‘People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers,’ Bush told reporters at the White House. ‘Part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.'”

“Bush, speaking at the conclusion of an Oval Office meeting with visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said that his advisers were reaching out to conservatives who oppose her nomination ‘just to explain the facts.’ He spoke on a day in which conservative James Dobson, founder of Focus on Family, said he had discussed the nominee’s religious views with presidential aide Karl Rove.”

Meanwhile, according to The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, speaking to a Republican group in North Carolina recently, warned of the danger of Islamic theocracy in the United States.

While the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism around the world are certainly not to be minimized, someone needs to tell Gov. Romney that the theocratic movement in the United States is not trending Islamic.

Written by fred

October 12th, 2005 at 11:57 am

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The Wave of the Future is Already Here: Interactive Blogging

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Yes, it seems like everyone has a blog these days. Businesses. Newspapers. Dogs. Cats. Candidates for public office. And often, these are worthy of some celebration. But amidst call the hoo ha, I want to call attention to one kind of blog — interactive blog sites — where hundreds, even thousands of people post essays and engage in online conversation, debate, political organizing, and the creation of culture. This is one of the most remarkable developments in modern democracy and electronic media. These sites are changing political and media culture faster than anything since cable television. I encourage readers to get involved and to master the mechanics of participation. These skills and the knowledge you aquire of the blogosphere will be coming in very handy. Consider this: It’s free. It’s going to happen anyway. And the only question is whether you will be directly engaged in this remarkable trend sooner or later.

Here are a few of the trend setters:

The Daily Kos has enormous traffic and is playing a central role in the national political conversation, and in some areas of issue and candidate advocacy. Recently remarkable discussions have sprung forth as a result of posts by Sen. Barack Obama, Rep. Louise Slaughter, and Rep. John Conyers, among others. Their posts appeared along side those of rank-and-file, and usually anonymous writers. This is but one example of the way in which interactive blogging is by far the most democratic media in the U.S.

I am also a fan of Booman Tribune — it doesn’t attract the big names, but the conversation is less focused on the Democratic Party; and similarly, My Left Wing, is the Left Coastish site started by Mary Scott O’Connor. It’s lively, irreverent, reliably progressive.

Pastordan’s new site, Street Prophets is a spin-off of The Daily Kos. It brings a decidedly progressive slant to discussions of religion and politics. Its like nothing else out there, and I highly recommend it.

A site that has been slowly coming along is e Pluribus Media — an outgrowth of the exciting citizen journalist movement that helped expose fake White House reporter Jeff Gannon.

And there are two more big interactive blogs that are still in the works and whose launches seem imminent — a few weeks in both cases. (But I have been wrong before! These things take longer than one might think.)

Political Cortex will bring a number of innovations to the world of interactive blogging, and feature the next generation of political bloggers. You can sign up for the mailing list to be notified of the launch. Or if you are a regular reader of this blog, you can be sure I will announce it here whent he time comes.

Finally, my baby, Talk to Action is inching along. I can promise you a slate of excellent writers — some of them brand new to the blogosphere. Unlike the sites listed above in which pretty much any and all subjects are appropriate, and the conversations can be kind of a free for all — we are headed in the other direction. We want to have a more focused conversation about the religious right and what to do about it. Of course, even that can be a pretty wide-ranging discussion. You can still visit our temporary site where some of us have been posting while we ramp-up the fully interactive national site.

Written by fred

October 9th, 2005 at 1:10 am

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John Danforth & the Christian Right

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Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, former GOP Senator– and Episcopal priest — John Danforth is at it again.

According to a story running on Religion News Service, “Since publishing two confrontational op-ed pieces in The New York Times earlier this year, Danforth has accepted a series of invitations to take his provocative questions on the road. This fall, he’s a panelist at Notre Dame, a guest preacher at Harvard and Yale, and a featured speaker for Roman Catholic and Episcopal groups in Washington. Danforth is on a speaking tour denouncing the “divisiveness” of the Christian Right.”

“I’ve been away from (the Senate) for more than 10 years,” he said recently at the Memorial church at Harvard University, “and I see politics from a distance. And I’m appalled by what I see…. Right there in the midst of all the partisanship, in the midst of all the nastiness, right there with their wedge issues and litmus tests and extreme rhetoric, right there as the most divisive force in American life, are my fellow Christians.”

As encouraging as it is to hear Danforth speaking out, his words are unlikely to have much effect. The power of the Christian Right is not in the divisiveness of their rhetoric, although that is a factor. It is in the political power they have attained — largely through the effectiveness of their political organizing. What Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson say now is little different, and no more divisive, than what they were saying 20 years ago when Danforth was in the U.S. Senate and not (to my knowledge) speaking out. Since that time, the Christian Right has become the best organized faction in American politics — and one of the most powerful.

As someone who has been writing and speaking about this subject for almost 25 years, I want to underscore that as important as issues of language are, they are not as important — not nearly as important — as issues of power.

I’d like to hear what John Danforth thinks should be done about those.

Written by fred

October 6th, 2005 at 9:56 pm

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How to Evaluate the MA Governor’s Race: Not by Polls Alone

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You know how it is with us political junkies. We are like gamblers looking for the hot tip at the track; analyzing every angle — and sometimes finding more meaning than perhaps is warranted. I think that’s what happened to David over at Blue Mass Group when he drew stronger conclusions from a poll than the political circumstances really support. David focuses on a UMASS poll of 403 registered voters that showed, among other things, that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick’s name recognition is significantly lower than the other candidates.

“The percentage of voters who don’t know enough about him to answer the favorable/unfavorable question remains astronomical at 64%,” he writes; “he is the only Democrat who loses in a hypothetical race to Romney; and he barely beats Kerry Healey with a “don’t know” number so high for that race that the result seems meaningless.”

He concludes: “For a while, it was fine for Patrick to say that he is a relative unknown, that he hasn’t been involved in MA politics before, and that therefore people need some time to get to know him. But with recent reports of his campaign’s financial difficulties and with little apparent movement in his poll numbers, it seems fair to start wondering aloud whether his campaign is gaining any traction outside the small circle of activist/progressive types who are the core of his campaign.”

Since I am a known Patrick supporter and arguably one of those “types” David refers to, you may be thinking that I will now rejoin with a glass-is-half-full kind of argument. Nope. I don’t see a glass that is half- empty or half-full (and I see no reason to do much more than yawn in response to that poll.) But I will, however, adapt the metaphor. I see a steadily filling glass — and a public thirsty for some real leadership.

Let’s look at the issues David raises. There are problems in Patrick’s campaign? Well, gosh. First time candidate; brand new organization. It would be a shock if there weren’t problems of various sorts. There is plenty of time for Patrick’s campaign operation to gel. Good thing he was smart enough to start early enough so these things could get worked out.

Meanwhile, Patrick is raising enough money to field an effective campaign and he really does not have to worry about early polls measured against career polititians like Tom Reilly and Bill Galvin; or for that matter, the sitting Governor and Lt. Governor. Remember Patrick’s speech at the Democratic convention? The enthusiasm of party activists at the convention is played out on a smaller scale just about every day around the state. That Reilly and Galvin have wide name recognition seems like the least they could accomplish given their status as statewide elected officials. Aren’t they being overly credited for having achieved the inevitable? Will they be effective candidates? Hard to say. I don’t recall that Reilly has ever had a tough race. And Galvin is not even a candidate (he got in last time only to drop out early for, well, lack of traction.) But are we surprised that they are polling well against a lousy and increasingly unpopular governor who makes his state the butt of his jokes while testing the waters for president? Come now. That Reilly has amassed a large campaign treasury is impressive; but taken alone is not necessarily the juggernaut its made out to be. In fact from where I sit, Reilly’s big campaign kitty — claws both ways. Indeed the raising of over $3 million, so far, by a sitting Attorney General seems problematic in the face of an electorate that has made it clear that it wants governmental and campaign finance reform. My point here is, that the campaign has barely begun, and the issues that will be central to it, have not yet emerged.

Meanwhile there is plenty of good news for Patrick rolling in. For example, the Swampscott Reporter reports today:

Citing the need for fresh leadership in the governor’s office, state Reps. Doug Petersen (D-Marblehead) and John Keenan(D-Salem) have endorsed Deval Patrick for governor. They are two of almost 30 on Beacon Hill supporting Patrick’s gubernatorial bid.

“Deval Patrick is running for governor because the challenges facing us require strong, creative leadership,” said Keenan. “Deval brings leadership that stands up to the old politics of division and defeatism – the old politics that are getting us nowhere.”

Keenan is serving his first term as a state representative for Salem. Before his election, he was the Salem city solicitor and is a former Essex County assistant district attorney.

Petersen is known on Beacon Hill as a champion of the environment and a public health advocate. He is one of the sponsors of the emergency contraception bill recently passed over the governor’s veto and is working to strengthen rules on disposing of mercury in the state.

“Deval brings a fresh perspective to this race,” said Petersen. “He is a leader seasoned in the federal public sector and private corporate worlds. His thoughtful, problem-solving approach is just what Massachusetts needs.”

Robert Reich, who came in a close second in the Democratic primary last time, did not get in until just before the Democratic caucuses. And he was endorsed (if memory serves) by exactly one member of the state legislature — then-Rep. Pat Jehlen of Somerville. Many elected officials at all levels who might have supported Reich were already committed to other candidates. And progressives were divided among several candidates in the Democratic primary field last time. That is not the case this time. Of course, Bob Reich was much more famous than Deval Patrick when he started out, and that was a huge asset — one he is using to help Patrick this time. But Patrick is already way ahead of where Reich was when he started — and its only October. Campaign manager John Walsh told leaders of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts (PDM) during an endorsement interview, “Give me a couple thousand volunteers and I can beat the money.”

Every indication from where I sit — is that Walsh is getting his volunteers. He is assembling a significant field organization — much of which will have been working together for a full year by the time of the Democratic primary. The Patrick campaign received a significant boost when he was endorsed by PDM — an organization that has been building this very kind of field capacity for the past two years, turning neophytes into experienced campaign activists. Doing the hard work of establishing a functioning field organization is not something that will get one instant notice in polls. But a dynamic grassroots field organization can win elections — as the late Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) repeatedly proved, the prevailing winds of the Conventional Wisdom, not withstanding.

When I look around for indicators of “traction” in the Patrick campaign, I look at things that I think will build towards a victory in the primary next year — and so, no, I don’t find much signficance in small snapshots of public opinion at this stage. I am confident that given time, the campaign’s efforts will be reflected in the polls. Reilly and Galvin have had decades to arrive at wide name recognition. Let’s give Patrick a break and not make too much of the polls until, say, around the Democratic caucuses. By then the field will probably be set; Patrick will have been a candidate for nine months; and the media will have started to pay much more attention. Of course, even then, the primary will still be 7 months away.

Written by fred

October 6th, 2005 at 4:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized