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TAG | Barack Obama

Jan/10

18

On the Miscellany

Walter, that’s an interesting round-up. The Irish blasphemy law merits a separate post of its own (the issues are a touch more complicated than they seem), but for now I’ll just comment on two of the other stories you pass on.

I have no idea whether Obama is right or wrong in thinking that there’s a ‘spark of the divine’ within each of us, but I see no reason for anyone to be ‘offended’ (dread word) by the assertion. Coming from a believer it is, in fact, a compliment.

And then there’s Mitch Daniels. The Indiana governor’s claim that “all” the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists is absurd, even if we assume that he is referring to the major historical atrocities that defiled that unhappy period. In this context, it says something in particular about Daniels’ knowledge of history that he so confidently includes Hitler in the atheist ranks. Hitler was no Christian, certainly, but to work out what his religious beliefs really were is no easy task, not least because many of his own statements on the topic were more a matter of cynical political expediency than serious professions or rejections of faith. So far as one can discern, however, Hitler does appear to have had some belief in God or ‘Providence’, but perhaps Gov. Daniels has a different interpretation of what the word “atheist” actually means.

Or maybe he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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Human compassion has produced the usual generous outpouring of aid to devastated Haiti.  Meanwhile, Obama has shown himself in a statement today to be a standard American politician, having included among the admirable qualities of the Haitians the fact that their faith has been unwavering.  Why is holding on to religious faith in the face of contradictory evidence a virtue?  In any other field—climatology, say–maintaining a belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary would be seen as a lamentable failure of rationality.  If a human being had foreknowledge of, and the capacity to prevent, a coming disaster like the Haitian earthquake and yet did nothing, he would be viewed as a monster.  Pat Robertson’s interpretation of the Haitian earthquake as divine punishment for voodoo and for an alleged  “pact with the devil” has been universally mocked, but it at least represents an effort to explain why God, who had both knowledge of the earthquake and the capacity to prevent it, nevertheless chose not to act in this particular instance, though he  acts to save other lives all the time, such as when keeping America safe since 9/11 or answering a family’s prayers for a cancer victim.  Interpreting the source of divine displeasure that gave rise to natural disasters was a regular function of preachers before secularism cut religion in the West down to size (on May 26, 1703, for example, during the most destructive storm in British history, the vicar of Cheshunt preached a sermon entitled: “The Necessity of Repentance Asserted: In order to Avert those Judgements which  the Present War, and Strange Unseasonableness of the Weather at Present, Seem to Threaten this Nation with.”).  Obviously, anyone who interprets God’s will is going to fill it in with his own biases (if seeing retribution for breaking the first two commandments is a bias).  But I’d rather have consistency in the inclination to ascribe meaning to events in God’s universe than a retreat into obscurantism–“the human mind cannot fathom God’s reasons”–when the candidates for a meaning are unacceptable.  The mind cannot supply any possible reason for God’s inaction here that doesn’t either grotesquely violate one’s sense of fairness or imply fault on the side of the sufferers, yet a reason there must be, according to our demand for a God who rules the world not by caprice but according to good cause.   And however politically incorrect Robertson’s interpretation of the consequences of idolatry currently is, that interpretation has an impeccable pedigree in the Bible and has never been officially repudiated.  Contrary to the assertions of believers, it is easier to understand how unmerited suffering can arise in an undirected universe than in a directed one and requires less torturing of reason and perverse implication of fault.  And though we may live in a universe of random injustice, the human capacity to conquer such injustice grows by the day, thanks to the tireless application of the scientific method to nature. 

Many are undoubtedly now praying to God to save the earthquake victims, an act of empathy arising out of human love that thousands of other humans, believers and unbelievers alike, are acting on.

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Nov/09

5

O’Reilly says: Hurry up!

Bill O’Reilly was elaborating on the “ineffective Obama” meme last night:

This guy’s been paralyzed on Afghanistan for two months,

he sneered.  Apparently, if you were to possess the insight of Mr. O’Reilly, deciding whether to escalate or deescalate a war in a tribal, backwards country, each of which options comes with considerable, if not massive, geopolitical repercussions, would be a straightforward decision, kind of like that other no-brainer of invading Iraq.   I mean, what could you possibly learn in two months about as transparent a spot as Afghanistan that you couldn’t have brushed up on in a week?  Two months, after all, is several lifetimes on the “no-spin zone.” 

Then there’s the stretching-on of the health care debate:

How long has health care been going on?

O’Reilly asked. 

He’s not even going to make Christmas.

Now the simplest way not to have a months-long negotiation over health care reform is not to engage in such reform at all, or at least, not to seek a total transformation of the system in one stroke.  Some would argue, with justification, that such inaction is precisely the proper course.  But if you do set yourself such an ambitious goal, leaving aside whether it is a wise one, spending months debating and working out the details hardly seems excessive.  

The Right launched the “ineffective Obama” meme a few weeks ago, and even the MSM has picked it up.  It happens to conflict with the “Obama is rapidly turning us into a socialist country” meme, but what the heck. (more…)

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Oct/09

25

Full-court press

The New York Times asks whether Obama’s White House is too male-dominated.  It took the Times weeks to acknowledge the Acorn and Vann Jones stories, but a little delusional grousing about all-male (as opposed to?) basketball games immediately catapults the feminist complaint  to front-page status.  As delightful as it is to see the furies of identity politics howling after a liberal Democratic administration, one that has always encouraged identity solipsism, it is equally scary to contemplate the possibility that the Obama administration may be even more responsive to feminist hen-pecking than spineless Republicans.  To be sure, Obama’s rejection of the basketball  criticism was refreshingly vigorous:

Mr. Obama, in an interview with NBC on Wednesday, called the beef over basketball “bunk.” . . . “I don’t think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever.”

But he could have also rebuffed the charge of male-dominated policy-making on the substantive ground that his political initiatives –expansion of government social service and education unions under the guise of economic stimulus, explosion of welfare state initiatives, suspicion of private sector autonomy—is as feminized an agenda as any Womanist Studies gynocrat could hope for.

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Oct/09

24

Economic hot potato

Barack Obama should stop blaming his Republican predecessor for the problems facing his presidency, writes Peggy Noonan:

The president said last week, at a San Francisco fund-raiser, that he’s busy with a “mop,” “cleaning up somebody else’s mess,” and he doesn’t enjoy “somebody sitting back and saying, ‘You’re not holding the mop the right way.’” Later, in New Orleans, he groused that reporters are always asking “Why haven’t you solved world hunger yet?” His surrogates and aides, in appearances and talk shows, have taken to remembering, sometimes at great length, the dire straits we were in when the presidency began.

On manliness grounds, Noonan is right.  It would be admirable if Obama simply addressed the problems at hand, rather than assigning blame.  But whether or not Obama should continue mentioning it, it is true that the Republicans handed Obama a massive financial mess.  They did preside over the reckless leveraging of debt that led to the financial sector collapse.  Would the world economy have already perked up had McCain won in 2008?  Perhaps.  Perhaps if the Republicans had responded to the economic downturn with huge tax cuts, business formation and hiring would be much more vibrant today.  I certainly would have preferred such a strategy to the Ponzi scheme of stimulus spending and the anxiety-producing promise of “health care reform.”  But the tried and true Republican tactic of tax cuts unmatched by spending cuts is fiscally irresponsible, too.   And it just might be that the complexity of the market situation at the moment is beyond any government policy to right in the short term.  (more…)

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Oct/09

12

Magical thinking watch: foreign policy chapter

The Obama Administration is bruiting it about that the president is impatient with the slow pace of “nation-building” in Afghanistan, reports the New York Times.  Nine months (Obama’s White House tenure)–or, hey, call it even eight years (since the bombing began)–has not been enough time to lessen corruption, establish a viable government and court system, or train the feckless police force.

“The president is not satisfied on any of this,” said a senior administration official.

So they really are that ignorant–i.e., as ignorant as the Bush nation-builders.  The culture of a non-self-serving civil service, as much as we rightly deride bureaucratic bloat, is a triumph of civilization that takes centuries to evolve.  Ditto the practice of due process of law.   Of course, nation-building in Afghanistan is no more unlikely a foreign policy accomplishment than ending poverty in Africa.  Declare one undoable and a proper application of logic would bring the whole naive edifice down.   But maybe one step at a time is all one can hope for.

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Sep/09

24

What Michael Steele should have said:

Gadfly Michael Meyers celebrates the presidential hook shown to New York Governor David Paterson as the demolition of the cordon sanitaire that has protected mediocre New York black politicians.   What’s next? Meyers asks:

We can only imagine, only hope, what postracial judgments await. It could be only a matter of days before Obama calls House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and lowers the boom on Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, too, because, as Obama will put it to Pelosi: “Being black is not enough: The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has to pay his taxes and be above ethical reproach and not constantly under investigation. For the sake of the party and for the sake of Democrats to maintain some semblance of credibility, Rangel must step aside.”

Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. But a postracial American can live in hope.

No sign, however, that Obama’s color-blind booting of Paterson has undercut the conceit that white criticism of Obama is race-based; NPR this morning earnestly pursued the “racist pushback to Obama” story from Selma.  And still no sign from the authors of that conceit how we distinguish legitimate criticism of a black president from race-driven criticism.  Steve Chapman has an excellent column in the Chicago Tribune on the American tradition of hating presidents, white or, now, black.  I have to say, though, for me, the more strident the rhetoric against a perceived political enemy, the more it produces the opposite of its intended effect.

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Sep/09

22

The Right plays the race card

Right-wing criticism of Obama is not racial, but Obama’s kick in the pants to New York Governor David Paterson apparently is.  Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele told CBS on Sunday:

I found that to be stunning, that the White House would send word to one of only two black governors in the country not to run for re-election.

Republicans denounce identity politics, except when they engage in it themselves.  Steele is claiming either that Obama is going after Paterson because he is black or that Obama should not go after Paterson because he is black.  The first proposition is ludicrous, the second, poisonous.  Steele strikes me as intermittently unhinged, but his exploitation of identity discourse here is hardly sui generis.  Sarah Palin parroted Hillary Clinton’s feminist blather in announcing her vice presidency: “It turns out that the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.” Her supporters regularly accused her critics of being anti-woman.  I wouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, to have seen Limbaugh or some other Republican luminary, instead of Steele, play the race card against Obama for his anti-Paterson campaign. 

Is it too much to hope that Republican criticism of Obama stay within a zone of rationality and dignity?  Yes, the Democrats demonized Bush, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans have to respond in kind.  Why not be icily factual and coldly respectful, rather than hysterical and hot-headed?  Both parties seem to have forgotten the Clinton and the Bush eras.   Democrats, in portraying right-wing hyperventilation over Obama as a manifestation of covert  hostility to blacks, forget the insane Clinton conspiracy theories that grew like kudzu even in the highest reaches of Republican opinionizing.  Only this year has the right-wing obsession with the Clintons appeared to have finally and thankfully petered out.  But Republican pundits, in portraying Obama as an unprecedented danger to the country—on Wednesday, Mark Levin announced: “We’ve never been in this situation before at least in modern times . . . They intend to use the system against you”–forget their own dire warnings about the Clintons as the end of civilization. (more…)

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Sep/09

8

Obama’s Speech to The Children

The overheated right-wing pundits were on to something after all.   Obama’s speech to the “nation’s students” was pompous, ridiculously long, chock-full of ed-school bromides, and wholly beyond a president’s proper role. 

Why should students study, according to Obama?  Because they will develop “critical thinking skills” from “history and social studies” that will allow them “to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free.”

How about studying because you will gain actual knowledge–not just “critical thinking skills”–that will lift you out of ignorance?  How about for the love of learning and beauty?  How about because facts matter? (more…)

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Aug/09

2

Beer Summit Theology

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. concluded the Beer Summit on a far more gracious, even presidential, note than President Obama.  Gates had the courtesy to acknowledge, however belatedly, that “police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day.”  Obama said nothing about the police, even though he had previously fit the Gates incident into the ACLU’s master narrative about a national epidemic of biased policing.  In his post-summit official statement, however, he pretended that the controversy could be deflated back to a matter between two individuals and disposed of with nearly meaningless platitudes.   His silence about anything policing-related carefully let stand his previous allegation that “blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause.”    Obama’s embrace of activist-generated misinformation about the police, which I contest here, here, and here, will be the most damaging consequence of Gates-gate, one with the potential to erode the public safety gains in minority neighborhoods achieved over the last fifteen years. 

I was struck nevertheless by the sudden infusion of God talk in Gates’ post-beer statement: 

Let me say that I thank God that I live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day . . . .

Thank God we live in a country where speech is protected, a country which guarantees and defends my right to speak out when I believe my rights have been violated . . . .

And thank God that we have a President who can rise above the fray, bridge age-old differences and transform events such as this into a moment in the evolution of our society’s attitudes about race and difference. President Obama is a man who understands tolerance and forgiveness, and our country is blessed to have such a leader. (more…)

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