Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Electile Dysfunction

I have posted several times about the importance–the absolute necessity–of Congress passing the voting rights act. Among other important things this law would accomplish, it would do what the Supreme Court has shamefully refused to do–outlaw the gerrymandering that makes a mockery of democratic systems.

I am certainly not the only person advocating for passage of legislation that would  protect “one person, one vote.” Apparently, the message is less effective when delivered via textual arguments in columns or on blogs by people like yours truly–so when I saw this video, I knew I had to share it.

A favorite line: “passage may cause a Federal condition called accountability.”

Click through and enjoy, then pass it on!

How Has It Come To This?

One of the Republican Congressmen who voted for the extremely popular infrastructure bill has reported getting death threats.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) — a moderate who voted for the infrastructure package — said during an interview Monday evening on CNN that a caller left a message with his office that was filled with expletives and called him a traitor. “I hope you die,” the caller said, adding that he hoped everybody in his family died as well.

Paul Gosar–one of several GOP Representatives who are clearly and demonstrably mentally ill– posted a “cartoon” video of himself killing Democratic Congresswoman AOC. (In Gosar’s case, it’s notable that all six of his siblings ran an ad opposing him in the last election cycle; you really need to be “out there” for your family to publicly warn that you pose a danger…)

If these and similar examples were equally “out there”–that is, if the party leadership was distancing itself from its racists, anti-Semites and other assorted nut cases– it would be troubling enough. But the party not only isn’t distancing itself, it has arguably stopped behaving like a political party that needs to appeal to as many voters as possible, and has stopped even the pretense of caring about governing or policy or the future of the country.

This recent headline from the Washington Post would have been unthinkable not that long ago: “Tensions rise among Republicans over infrastructure bill and whether any agreement with Biden should be tolerated.”

Republicans are increasingly divided over the bipartisan infrastructure bill that will soon become law, with tensions rising among GOP members over whether the party should remain united against all aspects of President Biden’s agenda or strike deals in the rare instances when there is common ground.

Former president Donald Trump has led the call to trash the bill while deriding Republicans who voted for the measure, saying they should be “ashamed of themselves” for “helping the Democrats.”

Politicians have always played partisan hardball, but until recently, they have done their best to portray that game-playing as zeal to protect a policy goal –to prevent excessive spending, or government over-reach, or to protect “state’s rights.” (Dissident Democrats with personal agendas still maintain that public posture–Manchin comes to mind.) Incredibly, however, today’s GOP no longer even pretends that concerns for the common good or responsible governance are involved. As the article notes, the “divisions and hard feelings over the bill reflect the degree to which Republicans have defined themselves heading into the 2022 midterms as being against whatever Biden and the Democrats are for.”

We now know why the Republicans didn’t bother to craft a platform for the 2020 election: the party is simply against whatever the President of the United States is for. No matter whether a Presidential proposal is good for the country, no matter if it is popular even among the rabid base of their own party, if the President wants it, they oppose it.

Publicly. Unashamedly.Incomprehensibly.

Several media outlets have reported that allies of Trump are advocating for more than criticizism of party members who voted to repair the nation’s decaying infrastructure. They are proposing to punish them, particularly those who hold senior committee positions.

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in interview on Stephen K. Bannon’s “War Room”podcast Tuesday that all 13 members should “absolutely” be stripped of their committee assignments by House leadership in the coming days.

This isn’t traditional politics, and the pathetic remnants of what used to be a normal political party can no longer be viewed as political actors.  They are consigliere and henchmen to the aptly-named Don.

I have to believe that there is a limit to just how long Republican gerrymandering and vote suppression can protect people who lack even enough shame to impel pretense; these  corrupt and clueless empty suits don’t care about governing, and they are uninterested in  feigning concern for the people they are supposed to be serving.

They are willing to be exactly who and what they are.

 

 

The Politics Of Religion

What happens when politics–or racism–masquerades as religion?  Because that’s where America finds itself.

A guest essay in the New York Times put it, “Evangelical now means ‘Republican.'”The article noted that what is drawing people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is its identification with the Republican Party rather than theological affinity for Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, in 2019, fifty percent of the self-identified Evangelicals who never attended church said they were politically conservative. 

A recent column by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin amplified those findings, casting doubt on the conventional wisdom that abortion and gay rights motivated “devout” Evangelical voters.

Conservative commentator and evangelical Christian David A. French acknowledges in a piece for the Dispatch: “We know that opposition to abortion rights motivates white Evangelicals far less than their leaders’ rhetoric would suggest. Eastern Illinois University’s Ryan Burge, one of the nation’s leading statisticians of American religion, has noted, for example, that immigration drove Evangelical support for [Donald] Trump more than abortion.

”As for gay rights, the Public Religion Research Institute’s annual values survey shows a majority of White evangelical Christians still oppose gay marriage, but that “substantial majorities in every major religious group favor nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people, ranging from 59% among white evangelical Protestants to 92% among religiously unaffiliated Americans.” Moreover, even opposition to gay marriage is declining because of a massive generational divide on the issue between older evangelicals and more tolerant millennials and Generation Xers.

Rubin’s reading of the relevant research leads her to conclude that what Evangelicals want is not a government that produces legislative fixes to real-world problems but a government willing to engage their enemies on behalf of White Christianity.

Longtime devout Evangelicals have reached similar conclusions. Peter Wehner recently shared his pain in an article for The Atlantic, in which he described the Evangelical Church as “breaking up,” and argued for reclaiming Jesus from his church.

Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC. The Christian Post, an online evangelical newspaper, published an op-ed by one of its contributors criticizing religious conservatives like Platt, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, as “progressive Christian figures” who “commonly champion leftist ideology.” In a matter of months, four pastors resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church, a flagship church in Minneapolis. One of those pastors, Bryan Pickering, cited mistreatment by elders, domineering leadership, bullying, and “spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.” Political conflicts are hardly the whole reason for the turmoil, but according to news accounts, they played a significant role, particularly on matters having to do with race.

In an effort to understand what was happening, Wehner reached out to dozens of pastors, theologians, academics, and historians, as well as a seminary president and people involved in campus ministry. What he found clearly pained him.

The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.

How is it that evangelical Christianity has become, for too many of its adherents, a political religion? The historian George Marsden told me that political loyalties can sometimes be so strong that they create a religious like faith that overrides or even transforms a more traditional religious faith. The United States has largely avoided the most virulent expressions of such political religions. None has succeeded for very long—at least, until now.

Wehner quoted one scholar who noted that Evangelicals “are quick to label their values ‘biblical. But how they interpret the scriptures, which parts they decide to emphasize and which parts they decide to ignore, all this is informed by their historical and cultural circumstances.”

More than most other Christians, however, conservative evangelicals insist that they are rejecting cultural influences,” she said, “when in fact their faith is profoundly shaped by cultural and political values, by their racial identity and their Christian nationalism.”

The lengthy Wehner article is wrenching; it testifies to the pain of truly religious Christians in the face of the politicization of their faith. 

The rest of us are faced with a different pain: the threat to America posed by a racist politics that its practitioners think is religion.

 

A Thought-Provoking Conference

On November 6th, Women4ChangeIndiana held a conference, via Zoom, on “Resilience” and the status of women in the Hoosier State. The various presentations, all of which were excellent, went from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and featured a number of accomplished professional women who addressed the various challenges that face women in Indiana: the diminution of our voices via Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering, the psychological strains of the pandemic, current efforts to improve inclusion and diversity, and the distressing lack of progress in improving the economic status of women in Indiana, among other issues.

I really encourage anyone who cares about policies that affect women in our state to click through and watch some or all of those presentations, (enter password sow21) and Charlie Richardson’s tribute to Indiiana’s icon, Marge O’Laughlin, but today I want to explore the broader implications of a remark made by one of the presenters. Shruti Rana is the Assistant Dean for Curricular and Undergraduate Affairs and Professor of International Law at I.U.’s Hamilton Lugar School in Bloomington.

During her presentation, Rana pointed out that many of the more intractable problems Hoosier women face are the result of policies requiring them to find individual solutions to what are really public problems.

Think about that for a minute, because that observation–and the barrier it represents– is true for all Americans, not just women. It is another way of describing the consequences of our ongoing disagreements over the proper role of government.

What constitutes a “public problem”? Why is a correct characterization important?

Americans valorize “personal responsibility,” and for good reason; the assumption of responsibility for our own behaviors, the “ownership” of our own mistakes, is an important part of mature adulthood (and evidently in short supply–but that is an observation for another day…). However, it is also important to recognize that there are elements of our lives that the assumption of personal responsibility can neither control nor affect to any meaningful degree.

If the electricity goes out, I suppose you could fault people who hadn’t equipped themselves with personal generators, but most of us would recognize the unfairness of  such an accusation. Victims of gun violence aren’t responsible for America’s persistent lack of firearms regulation. In the midst of a deep recession or depression, even Republicans recognize that joblessness isn’t due to laziness or lack of ambition. Most of us would bristle at the accusation that we bear any personal responsibility for the rise of QAnon and similar lunacies.

In other words, there is a difference between problems we can solve individually, by dint of hard work and the exercise of personal responsibility, and problems that require a collective response.

In the wake of the pandemic, for example, a significant number of women who want to re-enter the workforce cannot find childcare. The absence of affordable, safe places to care for their children is not, I would submit, an “individual” problem–it’s a social problem that most developed countries have recognized as such.

Rana’s remark led me to an “aha” moment–an epiphany.

I have been depressed lately–a depression shared with a number of my friends and relatives–not because of anything going on in my own life, which is admittedly a privileged one. Along with so many other Americans, I am depressed by the news, by the constant spotlight on the nation’s dysfunctions. Rana’s comment illuminated the main reason for that depression: the feelings of  helplessness and powerlessness that are a consequence of  Americans’ tendency to categorize public problems as individual ones.

It isn’t that individuals can’t do anything: we can vote (but then, gerrymandering and vote suppression…); we can organize; we can lobby our elected officials. I can educate myself by reading broadly, and I can–and do–pontificate on this blog. But most of the problems we face are not individual problems, and the exercise of personal responsibility can only take us so far.

Clearly, not far enough.

One message came loud and clear through all of the conference presentations: Unless Congress passes the voting rights act, and allows the democratic process to proceed fairly, elected officials will continue to ignore the will of the voters–and efforts to collectively address problems that are clearly public will go nowhere.

 

I Know It’s Tacky To Laugh…

I’ve seen several references to this…event…in Texas, but I think Juanita Jean–she of the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Shop, Inc.–has the best description. She titles it “I Love Yew, Texas.”

Well see, the QAnon people are coming to Dallas because there’s gonna be a slamdinger of a show!

Some staunch believers of QAnon think that JFK Jr is in fact alive and well, and plans to make a return to public service and announce a tilt at the White House as vice president on the ticket of Mr Trump, who has not yet announced a 2024 run but is widely considered by many to be the favourite to win the Republican nomination if he does so.

And it’s not just JFK, Jr – it’s the entire Kennedy clan showing up. However, it’s not clear if it’s all of them or just the dead ones. Word is that they are meeting on the grassy knoll, except they spelled it grassy noel, which in Texas translates to Christmas in the wheat fields.

Her best line, though, invokes Indiana’s former embarrassing Governor.

And if you’re wondering who comes back from the dead to be vice president, you need only look as far as Mike Pence. So there ya are.

Actually, I’ve been mulling over the fact that, in January, Mike Pence actually did something admirable–he refused to take part in the coup attempt. He followed the law, and refused to refuse to certify ballots. (Granted, when it comes to Mike Pence, the bar for “admirable” is very low…) As long as I’ve known him (and that is ever since we were both Republican candidates for Congress in the 1980s, so a long time) it is the only admirable thing I’ve ever seen him do–and the irony is that in today’s GOP, doing the right thing and respecting the rule of law has probably been the kiss of death to his presidential ambitions. (Not that I think those ambitions were very realistic in any event, but then, who would have  thought anyone would vote for the pussy-grabber…?)

Democrats are constantly being criticized for “elitism,” for “looking down on” unsophisticated/uneducated /rural “real Americans.” I think this is largely a bum rap: I don’t know any liberals who sneer at people simply because they lack a degree or live in a rural  area or even because they vote Republican. I do know people (and I’ll admit to being one of them) who shake our heads and perhaps even snicker at folks who look for Hillary Clinton’s child trafficking headquarters in the (non-existent) basement of a pizza parlor, or who blame California wildfires on Jewish space lasers, or who ingest horse dewormer rather than listening to their doctors and getting vaccinated…Admittedly, the people who turn up at protests with grossly misspelled signs also get a chuckle .

And forgive me if I fail to take seriously the QAnon lunatics who traveled to the “grassy noel” to await the reincarnation or whatever of JFK, Jr.

Let’s be candid: Today’s GOP is profoundly unserious about governing. Its base is filled with crackpots of various kinds, and the party’s elected officials and political leaders are virtually all spineless panderers to those crackpots. Thanks to gerrymandering, vote suppression and weaponizing of the filibuster, they’ve managed to prevent Congress from engaging in anything resembling actual governing.

If we couldn’t laugh, we’d cry.