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Influencing the Culture

Another Cal Thomas quote, this one from a recent WaPo article by Kathleen Parker:

If people who call themselves Christians want to see any influence in the culture, then they ought to start following the commands of Jesus and people will be so amazed that they will be attracted to Him...The problem isn't political. The problem is moral and spiritual...You have the choice between a way that works and brings no credit or money or national attention...Or, a way that doesn't work that gets you lots of attention and has little influence on the culture.

Imposing Morality

Another quote from Meacham's article:

The columnist Cal Thomas was an early figure in the Moral Majority who came to see the Christian American movement as fatally flawed in theological terms. "No country can be truly 'Christian'," Thomas says. "Only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that 'All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing'." Thinking back across the decades, Thomas recalls the hope—and the failure. "We were going through organizing like-minded people to 'return' America to a time of greater morality. Of course, this was to be done through politicians who had a difficult time imposing morality on themselves!"

Some Disappointments About Obama So Far

Here is a collection of some of the things that have disappointed me about the Obama administration so far, in no particular order...

Congress set restrictions on firms receiving bail-out funds.  The Obama administration is worried that the restrictions will be a prohibitive discouragement to those firms participating in the bail-out, so what did they do?

...the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.

A few days after instructing the government to ignore George Bush's signing statements, Obama issued one of his own (instructing the executive-branch to consider dozens of provisions of the spending bill as advisory and nonbinding):

...Mr. Obama said he would continue the practice of issuing signing statements, though “with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well founded.”

Please.  The radical view of executive power by the Bush administration was unwelcome.  It is no more welcome from Obama.

On occasion Obama has slipped from his principled stand against "politics as usual," instead dipping into the usual bag of political tricks.  For example,

Obama suggests that the bulk of his opponents don't want to do anything at all. This makes them look absurd. It's true that some people hold this view. But the bulk of his opponents believe in some stimulus bill, just not the one he proposed. This is a perfectly standard political trick, but it's hard to pull off if you're a president promising a new kind of politics.

Obama and his aides also flirted with another old-style trick. Republicans during the last administration used to frame principled opposition to policy as ignorance of the problem the policy was supposed to solve. If you didn't like the Patriot Act, then you were soft on terrorism. In the argument over the stimulus bill, Obama and his aides often characterize those who oppose it as narrow Washington thinkers who don't know what's really happening in the country.

Then there has been the trend of doing the same thing but calling it something else.  Homeland Security Secretary said the following about a new term for terrorism:

In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.

The term "war on terror" admittedly left a lot to be desired, but so does the new term:

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department's office of security review noted that "this administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' [GWOT.] Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation.' "

It was pretty pitiful to see Office of Management and Budget director, Peter Orszag, at a press conference flipping through his paperwork trying to find the phrase because he couldn't remember "Overseas Contingency Operation."

They've also been stumbling a bit in making a clean break form the Bush Administration's torture policies.  Sure, Obama explicitly repudiated torture and announced the eventual closure of Gitmo, but in other ways he has been too tentative...continuing to invoke "state secrets" in regards to torture victims and debating whether to yield to Republican threats to "go nuclear" if the Obama releases certain documents that would be embarrassing to the Bush administration.

In an article in Harper's about the torture of Binyam Mohamed, Scott Horton said it nicely:

Barack Obama came to office with a commitment to end torture backed by promises of transparency and accountability. Yet the two cases relating to Binyam Mohamed cast a shadow over these promises. Obama need not repudiate the notion of state secrecy. It was debated in the course of the Constitutional Convention and has been invoked by executives at least as early as the Jefferson administration. But roughly 90% of all invocations of state secrecy in court proceedings have occurred in the last eight years, a clear sign that something is terribly wrong in the Department of Justice. State secrecy should exist to protect the nation’s military and diplomatic secrets, and those are the parameters which have governed its use since the time the Constitution was adopted. But state secrecy must not be invoked to keep materials secret because they would be politically embarrassing or harmful to individual politicians. And even more clearly, state secrecy must never be invoked to conceal evidence of a crime.

and then:

President Obama has committed to end torture and the extraordinary renditions program, and in light of that the decision to invoke state secrecy in the Binyam Mohamed cases can be understood as implementation of the commitment that Obama has made–and which I support–to grant immunity to intelligence operatives who implemented the Bush Administration’s felonious programs. But the proper price of immunity in these cases is a full and fair accounting for what happened and an appropriate system for compensating those who suffered torture and mistreatment. Canada already approached this issue in a fair and dignified manner in dealing with the claims of Maher Arar, another victim of a Bush Administration rendition to torture. Using state secrecy claims to cloak criminal conduct without any acknowledgment of the misconduct that occurred is a bad, even criminal, idea. It can only bring the government itself into disrepute and will serve to undermine the nation’s security and respect for state secrets.

There have been plenty of other ways in which the change Obama promised has been slow in coming.  He promised to reform the earmark process).  He promised to post bills on the web and allow at least 5 days of comments before signing them, but so far he hasn't been doing it.  Of course, there are reasons and excuses, but sooner rather than later you need to stop making excuses and deliver on what you promised.  It's not as if the record has been dismal so far (you can check the Obameter: 22 promises kept, 7 promises compromised, 4 promises broken, 4 promises stalled, 56 promises in the works, and 421 with no action), and sometimes keeping a promise is a mistake...but we expect better than what we've seen so far.

Then there is the AIG bonus fiasco.  The Obama administration knew about the bonuses and then played along with the populist outrage.  At least they eventually squashed the silly tax bill Congress put together in response to the bonuses.

Perhaps silliest of all, he's been turning of the job of president into a car salesman:

What else has been a disappointment?

Earthly Power

Another quote from Meacham's article:

The Jesus of the Gospels resolutely refuses to use the means of this world—either the clash of arms or the passions of politics—to further his ends. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the dazzled throng thought they had found their earthly messiah. "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." When one of his followers slices off the ear of one of the arresting party in Gethsemane, Jesus says, "Put up thy sword." Later, before Pilate, he says, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight." The preponderance of lessons from the Gospels and from the rest of the New Testament suggests that earthly power is transitory and corrupting, and that the followers of Jesus should be more attentive to matters spiritual than political.

Religion and Politics

From a Newsweek article by Jon Meacham:

By the time of the American founding, men like Jefferson and Madison saw the virtue in guaranteeing liberty of conscience, and one of the young republic's signal achievements was to create a context in which religion and politics mixed but church and state did not. The Founders' insight was that one might as well try to build a wall between economics and politics as between religion and politics, since both are about what people feel and how they see the world. Let the religious take their stand in the arena of politics and ideas on their own, and fight for their views on equal footing with all other interests. American public life is neither wholly secular nor wholly religious but an ever-fluid mix of the two. History suggests that trouble tends to come when one of these forces grows too powerful in proportion to the other.

P.S. Lately I find myself frequently annoyed by article headlines that exaggerate the content of the article.  This one by Meacham is titled "The End of Christian America" but quickly admits:

According to the American Religious Identification Survey...the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent.

Let's be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian.


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