This morning’s newspaper carried news of two deaths: Vaclav Havel and Kim John Il. The two men stood at polar opposites of the long chain of political engagement, and stood there firmly. To note only one example, Havel endured prison for his commitment to freedom and Kim Jong Il was the great incarcerator. Kim Jong Il’s death makes one feel as if this morning’s news contained news of a cure for cancer, the sensation that a great scourge has been lifted. Havel’s death fills one with a sense of enormous and specific loss, for his contribution to the cause of human dignity has improved the lives of millions.
This morning's Washington Post looks at the various strategies available to President Obama's re-election team to get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes. Starting with the states John Kerry won as a baseline, and I am not sure Wisconsin and New Hampshire are sure fire bets, the Dems see five different paths to 270: Florida only; The Southwest (Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Iowa; The Rustbelt (Ohio and Iowa); The South (North Carolina and Virginia); and Expanding the field (Arizona). Options 1, 2 , 4 and 5 are all heavily dependent upon gaining huge margings and high turnout among Latinos. Option 3 requires performing better among white, working class ethnics, a group Obama has struggled with as far back as the primaries against Hillary Clinton. In all cases, Catholics, be they white working class ethnics or Latinos, will hold the balance of decision.
I confess, I fell asleep halfway through last night's GOP debate. But, what I saw convinced me that Gingrich was able to more or less parry the attacks against him. The man is a first class debater and no one landed a punch, at least not a crippling punch.
That said, it would be a fun time to be an ad man for Gov. Rick Perry or Cong. Michele Bachmann. The spots needn't be expensive nor require much in the way of production values. The candidate looks straight into the camera and says, "Newt assures us that he did not lobby for Freddie Mac. Okay. But, then, what exactly did he do to garner $1.6 million? If it wasn't lobbying, what was it?" Another spot would have the candidate saying, "The media wants you to believe this is a two person race between Gov. Romney and Speaker Gingrich. Do we Republicans really want to award our nomination to either of these two guys who both, at different times, supported an individual mandate in health care?"
This morning brought news of the death of Christopher Hitchens, the most notorious and aggressive atheist on the planet and a conversationalist, wordsmith and bon vivant of the highest order.
Several news stories, both in print and on television, have discussed the “end of the Iraq War.” A ceremony yesterday at Baghdad’s airport marked the conclusion of the war, at which Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta presided.
Of course, the war is not really over. It is not even clear that U.S. involvement is at an end. True, combat troops left last year. And troops engaged in training activities will leave now. But, the Pentagon still has plenty of contractors on the ground to protect the sprawling U.S. embassy and American interests. They contractors do not operate with the immunity our troops had, and the reason our troops are leaving now rather than later is because the U.S. and Iraqi governments failed to reach agreement about extending that immunity.
CUA Politics Professor Matthew Green has a blog post up envisioning a Gingrich presidency at the website of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, where I am a visiting fellow and Green is a senior fellow. Green is an expert on Congress and delves usefully into Gingrich's record on the Hill to predict what kind of president he would be.
Over at the Washington Post's "On Faith" blogsite, several prominent commentators have assessed Newt Gingrich's Catholic cred.
Here is a link to Professor Stephen Schneck's article, and you will find links to posts by Thomas Peters' and Mathew Schmalz's at the end of Schneck's commentary.
Opposition researchers love someone like Newt Gingrich. His long career is filled with outrageous statements and deeds. But, people are less inclined to judge someone based on events from long ago when there is no contemporary evidence of similar misdeeds. Yes, Gingrich was the first Speaker to have to shell out $300,000 in fines on account of an ethics violation that was rendered by a large bipartisan majority. But, that was a long time ago.
The United States’ Hispanic/Latino bishops issued a letter to all immigrants this week. And, I can see from the combox that some readers took umbrage at my post about former Sen. Rick Santorum dissenting from Church teaching on the issue, especially my statement that “to be clear, the reason the Church defends immigrants is the exact same reason the Church defends the unborn: They are human beings, children of God, who, as the GOP candidates like to remind us, receive their rights from God not from the government.” Here is what we used to call a “teaching moment.”
Over at Huff Post, they have an interesting slide show of modern churches, mosques and synagogues.
The question for readers: Do you think these buildings are beautiful? Some clearly show the influence of modern thinkers like Mircea Eliade. Some do a masterful job of integrating the structure with the natural space surrounding it. And, of course, the most obvious deficiency of these buildings is no fault of the architect: a church needs time to soften, to be filled with prayers and with some of the kitsch that all heartfelt religions create and with the soot from burning candles and incense. Over all, I like most of them. What do you think?