Monday, April 14, 2008


There are obvious issues that the Democrats have made non-issues. Impeachment is an example; for that, we have pusillanimous Pelosiites in Congress to thank. Not for profit, single-payer health insurance is another; for that, thank Hillary Clinton’s success in marginalizing the concept in her corporate-friendly effort to reform health insurance in 1993, plus the continuing influence of insurance companies and other “interested” parties. Then there is immediate withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s off the table because the Democratic Party, though it has lately become more dovish, is no more anti-imperialist than it was five years ago when many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, voted to authorize George Bush’s plans for perpetual war in oil-rich regions.

Then, on an entirely different order, there are Democratic taboos. Near the top of the list is any hint that perhaps Israel should be treated like other countries or that it should be held accountable for its violations of international law and basic standards of political morality. Until Bill Clinton broached the idea of privatizing social security, that last bastion of the New Deal was a taboo topic too. [Clinton was distracted from following through, thanks to problems arising from his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.] It is also taboo for Democrats to utter kind words about “socialism,” say, or to violate prevailing norms of “political correctness.” Then there is a taboo that dwarfs all of the others. It has to do with religion.

The conventional wisdom after 2004 was that the Democrats would have won the election had they not estranged themselves from people “of faith.” From the Clintonite bowels of the party, the call went out: Never Again! And so, until now, Democrats have worn unseemly professions of faith on their sleeves. At no time has this been more retchingly apparent than last night (April 13), when CNN hosted a “Compassion” forum at Messiah College in deepest Pennsylvania.

Despite Campbell Brown’s generous display of leg, I could not bring myself to watch for more than a few minutes. Hillary Clinton came on first, and it was just too soon after dinner. Then I realized that I might have to vote for Barack Obama some day or at least hope that others do, and that that would be a lot easier if I didn’t hear what he had to say. Besides, what matters is what the pundits think and, on Monday mornings, one can count on hearing the doyenne of conventional wisdom herself, the inimitable Cokie Roberts, on NPR. She was, as usual un-illuminating; but I did gather that both candidates were appropriately respectful of godliness, and that the speak-not-ill-of-religion taboo was scrupulously observed.

Will the time ever come that an American politician can say that “civility” towards beliefs that have been known for centuries to be unworthy of serious consideration and that do so much palpable harm is, as Barry Goldwater might have said, “no virtue”? For the time being, one can only hope. Thanks again, Democrats.

In the short run, look for Democratic obeisance to godliness to get even worse. The next few days should be especially ghastly -- with so many Catholic voters in Pennsylvania and Pope Benny on the way!

The Messiah College gibberish took on special significance after Obama’s remarks to a closed fund-raiser in San Francisco last week about how hard times have turned many rural and working class whites “bitter” –causing them to cling to pro-gun and anti-immigrant sentiments and also, God forbid (that anyone should say it!) to religion. This “gaffe” caused the Clintons to go into full-fledged denounce Obama as “condescending” mode. They also suggested that Obama had violated the taboo – with untoward consequences to follow. No matter that what he said, though uncharacteristically unnuanced, is generally true, as everyone, including the Clintons, know. No matter too that Obama’s celebrated explanation for black anger “expressed in the pulpit” made essentially the same points. Clintons will do whatever Clintons must do – for Clintons.

Despite the successes of CNN and the rest of the corporate and corporate-friendly (NPR) media in dumbing down the political culture, and notwithstanding the inanities he may have uttered last night at Messiah College, Obama’s San Francisco remarks give cause for hope. Obama presents himself as a convert to Christianity – from agnosticism. But what he said in San Francisco, with the spotlight (supposedly) off, gives (some) reason to hope that maybe, he’s less than sincere; that maybe he didn’t take quite as benighted a turn as he claims. Maybe Obama has taken to heart Edmund Gibbon’s praise in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire of the wisdom implicit in Roman antiquity, where “the various modes of worship that prevailed…. were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.” The Clintons know this too, of course; but, ardent panderers that they are, they are less inclined to take it into account at a policy level as they respect the mother of all debilitating Democratic taboos. That’s why, under a Clinton Restoration, the Bush dream of “faith-based” initiatives in all areas of life is more likely than under an Obama administration. In this respect, as in so many others, it is reasonable to hope that Obama, in office, would be a (slightly) lesser evil.

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