Yesterday, Michel Martin interviewed me on her NPR show "Tell Me More" about my biography of Jerry Falwell and his enduring influence on today's GOP, an influence newly demonstrated by the news that Mitt Romney will be delivering the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University next month. Here is a link to the audio.
One of the most frustrating things for me about politics is that the need to reduce every issue to the straightjacket of a 30-second television spot – and now to 140 characters on a Twitter account – tends to eliminate all the things that those of us trained in Clio’s craft most relish: The sense of historical contingency, the interplay of ideas and events, the usually complicated relationship, especially in a democracy, between leaders and the led, the sheer complicatedness of human culture. All this gets lost when issues must be reduced to soundbites.
Another frustrating dynamic in politics is the way a given narrative takes root which may or may not have made sense at an earlier time, in different circumstances, but which fails to take account of new facts and, even more, proves itself barren of new policy approaches. It is easy to arm oneself with statistics to bolster almost any claim, and soon you go on Fox News or MSNBC and the narrative is reinforced instead of questioned, its adherents dig in rather than re-evaluate, and the potential for anything like a new and fecund idea breaking forth seems ever more remote.
Nathan Pippenger at the New Republic on what Justice Antonin Sclaia does not know about immigration policy.
I attended Congressman Paul Ryan’s lecture at Georgetown this morning. One of the words you often hear about Ryan is that he is very bright, and he was certainly quick on his feet during the Q & A. He mentioned that his copy of the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching is well dog-eared. But, while he may be bright, there was nothing in his speech that suggested much in the way of depth.
Congressman Paul Ryan has an article up at the National Catholic Register in which he tries to rehabilitate his claim that his budgetary proposals, which have been adopted by the GOP-led House, are consistent with Catholic social teaching.
New numbers from the Gallup poll show that Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by 17 points among those who identify themselves as "very religious." Curiously, his lead among "very religious" Catholics is only 4 percent and among all Catholics, Romney trails Obama by 6 points. In 2008, Obama won the catholic vote over John McCain by 8 points.
The numbers show that both campaigns have their work cut out for them - Obama will need to hold his lead among all Catholics, or even increase it slightly, if he hopes to hang on to states that were close four years ago. And, Romney needs to work on attracting those who describe themselves as "moderately religious."
A final point. The numbers indicate to me that by "very religious," many Americans mean "very concerned about sexual morality." Having watched Mr. Romney essentially deny the essential humanity of immigrants, pay homage at the pagan altar of libertarian economics, and beat the drums of war in the Mideast, I would have a hard time characterizing those positions as the kinds of positions one would associate with such "very religious" figures as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, etc.
You may remember Marc Thiessen for his ham-handed effort to justify torture, despite the fact that it is an intrinsic evil. Now, at the Washington Post, Thiessen comes to the defense of Cong. Paul Ryan whose budget the USCCB recently stated failed to meet the moral criteria they had stipulated.
Thiessen of course does not attack all the bishops. He aims his fire at Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, who is the chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestice Justice and Human Development. Blaire signed the letters to members of Congress urging that they not cut vital social programs but instead consider alternative means of addressing the nation's growing debt. But, Blaire's letter was not the result of whim. He answers to a committee and is known for his highly consultative method of drafting such letters. He was speaking for the bishops, all the bishops, no matter how much Ryan and Thiessen try to paint him as some kind of quasi-socialist ideologue.
In the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez has an article on the Arizona immigration law, which comes before the Supreme Court today. In previous posts on immigration, several commentators have suggested that Catholics can, and should, support efforts like the one in Arizona to enforce our nation's broken immigration laws. Archbishop Gomez's article demonstrates why Catholics must oppose such laws. Additionally his treatment of the issue demonstrates not only a pastor's heart, it shows, as does his entire career, how immigration strengthens America. Archbishop Gomez, after all, was not born north of the border, but how blest we are that he crossed it.
Mitt Romney unsurprisingly won all five primary contests last night by wide margins. And, when he stepped to the podium, he seemed like a man with the wind at his back, giving the best speech he has delivered so far in the campaign. Game on.
At Politico, Joe Scarborough writes: "Since Jerry Falwell founded The Moral Majority in 1979, few things have unified American liberals as much as their contempt for self-righteous types who pushed a political agenda by attacking the faith of partisan opponents." Alas, whatever one's objections to Falwell's politics, I do not once recall him "attacking the faith of partisan opponents." Yes, he criticized their moral reasonings. Yes, he felt betrayed especially by Jimmy Carter, the first "born again" president who, in Falwell's eyes, gave Baptists a bad name. But, he never denounced Carter's faith, or Ted Kennedy's, or any other politician. He was highly critical of other evangelists, especially Pentecostals, on religious grounds but those criticisms had nothing to do with politics.
The habit of some rightwing zealots today have adopted of impugning President Obama's faith, or some leftwing zealots today have of impugning Mitt Romney;s faith, is truly ugly. It is not truly Falwellian.