Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tripartisan Group to Meet, May Back Independent WH Bid

David Broder has a report in today's Washington Post that quickened my pulse and warmed my heart this morning. He reveals that a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, along with Independent New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, will meet in Oklahoma next week (7 January) to challenge the major party contenders to create a "government of national unity." Participants, Broder says, are ready to state that "if the likely nominees of the two parties do not pledge to 'go beyond tokenism' in building an administration that seeks national consensus, they will be prepared to back Bloomberg or someone else in a third-party campaign for president."

Those Democrats involved with the meeting, according to Broder, are former OK Senator David Boren (the host), former Virginia Senator Chuck Robb, former Georgia senator Sam Nunn, and former Colorado senator Gary Hart. Major Republicans include former Missouri senator John Danforth, former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, former party chairman Bill Brock, and Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel. "Others who have indicated that they plan to attend the one-day session include William S. Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine and defense secretary in the Clinton administration; Alan Dixon, a former Democratic senator from Illinois; Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida; Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman from Iowa; Susan Eisenhower, a political consultant and granddaughter of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower; David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency; and Edward Perkins, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations."

This is no joke, and that list reads like a centrist's dream team.

Boren and Nunn said they decided to "issue invitations to other moderates with whom they had served, and found that almost everyone was willing to come." Boren told Broder "Electing a president based solely on the platform or promises of one party is not adequate for this time. Until you end the polarization and have bipartisanship, nothing else matters, because one party simply will block the other from acting."

Danforth: "My party is appealing to a real meanness, and an irresponsible sense of machismo in foreign policy. I hope it will be less extreme, but I'm an American before I'm a Republican."

Cohen: "The important goal all of us share, is to get government back to the center."

Big, exciting news for centrists, and something to watch for sure. Folks, this may be the moment we've all been waiting for. If anyone can make this happen, it's this group of good, committed folks.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Hooray for Prudence!"

From McSweeney's: "The Lesser-Known Slogans of Political Moderates" by Kate Johansen and Katie Bukowski. Hilarious.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Depends on What the Meaning of the Word "Saw" Is, eh Mitt?

[I see in things I've been reading since I started typing this post that others are using the same headline, but it has to be done].

The Boston Globe confirms today that Mitt Romney did not actually see (with his eyes, anyway) his father march with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s ... and now in a bit of grammatical contortion not seen since the days of "depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is", Romney says he was using the word "saw" in a "figurative sense."

Among other recent retellings of the story, Romney said in his 6 December "Faith in America" speech "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King." On "Meet the Press" last Sunday it was "My dad marched with Martin Luther King." But in fact Romney's father never actually marched with King, and Romney's facing questions about his veracity in making the comments. His answers are pretty remarkable:

"I've tried to be as accurate as I can be. If you look at the literature, if you look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of in the sense I've described. It's a figure of speech and very familiar, and it's very common. And I saw my dad march with Martin Luther King. I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort." ... "I'm an English literature major. When we say I saw the Patriots win the World Series, it doesn't necessarily mean you were there."

Um, Mitt, the Patriots play football (and hence, the Superbowl). Even I know that. And seriously? "As accurate as I can be"? This is what verbs are for, Mr. English Literature Major.

'Supported'? Fine.

'Believed in'? Good enough.

'Saw'? 'Marched with'? No. Sorry.

At least he's given up on the line he used in a Boston Herald interview way back in 1978 (proving that the recollection problems and/or verbal gymnastics are no new occurrence): "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit." Mitt's campaign emailed the Boston Globe yesterday denying that one too: "Mitt Romney did not march with Martin Luther King."

Mitt, this is ridiculous.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Candidates Perverting History

On 6 December, Mitt Romney delivered a speech, "Faith in America," in which he tried to allay certain qualms some may have with his Mormon faith and to lay out his own views on the proper roles of religion and religious expression in American public life. He presented what seemed to me an incorrect and frankly dangerous interpretation of those roles, and trotted out selective readings of our country's founders to bolster his arguments.

Romney said "We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'"

The founders of our nation did not put God on our currency (that didn't happen until the 1860s), or in our pledge (that was 1954). Their religion was a personal matter, not to be worn on the sleeve, but to be practiced as they saw fit within the context of their own lives (witness Jefferson's sincere grapplings with his faith, or Franklin's, or Adams'). They understood the moral underpinnings that can be offered by religious faith, but they did not shove their religion in the faces of others, as so many in America today seem entirely set on doing.

To me, religious faith is one of the most intimate and personal parts of a person's life, and it seems utterly offensive that Romney felt he had to stand before a crowd and attempt to justify his family's Mormon beliefs. A candidate's faith, it's true, might inform their policy positions or political judgments, but there is a reason that the only mention of religion in the original (unamended) Constitution was this one, in Article VI: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

No religious Test. But can there be any other term for what Romney was attempting to 'pass' by giving that speech this month? Or for when all the candidates in a debate are asked whether they believe every word of the Bible is true? Indeed, those aren't official religious tests, but they're getting awfully close. My views on the Bible are my own; yours are your own, and certainly we ought to be able to talk about those views and debate what differences exist in a calm, deliberate and rational manner - but I simply don't believe that questions of personal faith or theological interpretation should be playing such a visible and outsized role in our presidential politics.

TPM's Steve Benen brought up another interesting example of current candidates twisting history to suit their own ends recently, noting comments by new Huckabee campaign manager Ed Rollins to Lou Dobbs on Friday. Dobbs asked Rollins "... I have never, perhaps you have, but never in my experience have I seen so many candidates talking about God in a primary campaign and in a general election, I presume and it will remain there. How comfortable are you with that and is it appropriate for god to be in religion and faith to be this prominent in a secular campaign for president?"

Rollins began his response by saying "You go back to the signing of the constitution I think 26 of the people that signed it were ministers. At the beginning of this country, we began with a nation under God ..."

Not exactly, on so many levels. J.L. Bell over at Boston 1775 fact-checks Rollins' statement, finding that of the 36 signers of the Constitution (55 men total were at the Convention, but only 36 signed), only two had ever preached: Abraham Baldwin of Georgia, who served as a chaplain during the Revolution before becoming a lawyer, and Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, who was licensed to preach but taught math instead.

Rollins' confusion might stem from his boss, who made a similar goof during an October debate. Huckabee, in answering a question about abortion rights, said "When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them. I still believe that."

In fact, just one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (there were 56) was an active minister in 1776: John Witherspoon of New Jersey. Several others (3, maybe 4) had preached at various times in the past. Hardly "most" by any measure.

These missteps may be and presumably are entirely innocent, but they serve to perpetuate the myth that Romney, Huckabee and others who envision a much more prominent contemporary role for (Christian) religion in American public life wish to promulgate. If candidates are going to use history to win votes and influence people, they ought to at least get it right.

Recommended Reading: "Goodbye to All That"

Greetings all! I know it's been a long time since I chimed in on anything here - I've had a busy few months. As we get closer to the primaries I may be writing a bit more frequently, but that will depend on how things go. First, I simply want to recommend to everyone Andrew Sullivan's excellent Atlantic piece this month, "Goodbye to All That." Sullivan discusses Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, and asks what I think is the crucial question about this campaign:

"... Obama’s reach outside his own ranks remains striking. Why? It’s a good question: How has a black, urban liberal gained far stronger support among Republicans than the made-over moderate Clinton or the southern charmer Edwards? Perhaps because the Republicans and independents who are open to an Obama candidacy see his primary advantage in prosecuting the war on Islamist terrorism. It isn’t about his policies as such; it is about his person. They are prepared to set their own ideological preferences to one side in favor of what Obama offers America in a critical moment in our dealings with the rest of the world. The war today matters enormously. The war of the last generation? Not so much. If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man."


"If you believe that America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think that pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, if you believe that today’s ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do. And a Clinton-Giuliani race could be as invigorating as it is utterly predictable.

But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable."

Read the whole thing. It's important.