Friday, August 31, 2012

My RNC 2012 Conspiracy Theory

In his classic of gonzo journalism Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (New York: Warner, 1973), Hunter S. Thompson said the following:

The reason Nixon put Agnew and the Goldwater freaks in charge of the party this year is that he knows they can’t win in ’76—but it was a good short-term trade; they have to stay with him this year, which will probably be worth a point of two in November—and that’s important to Nixon, because he thinks it’s going to be close… But the real reason he turned the party over the Agnew/Goldwater wing is that he knows most of the old-line Democrats who just got stomped by McGovern for the nomination wouldn’t mind seeing George get taken out in ’72 if they know they can get back in the saddle if they’re willing to wait four years. (pp. 319-320)

He went on to say,

But the thing you have to understand is that Nixon has such a fine understanding of the way politicians think that he knew people like Daley and Meany and Ted Kennedy would go along with him—because it’s in their interest now to have Nixon get his second term, in exchange for a guaranteed Democratic victory in 1976. (p. 320)

Thompson did not see the future with total accuracy. He thought that the 1976 election would be a contest between Spiro Agnew and Ted Kennedy; he didn’t know that both Agnew and Nixon would resign from office in disgrace which would put Gerald Ford in the White House in 1974 and at the top of the Republican ticket in 1976. He also didn’t know that the Watergate scandal would pave the way for a relative unknown named Jimmy Carter to carry the Democratic banner that year, much less that Carter would win the election.

I think, though, that had Agnew and Nixon not resigned and had Agnew been the Republican nominee in 1976, the Democratic candidate, no matter who it was, would have won.

It was a year (the year in which I turned 18 and voted in my first presidential election, by the way) in which a Democrat was almost fated to win, much like 2008. As my wise uncle told me early in 2008, “It doesn’t matter whether Hillary or Obama gets the nomination. This country is going to elect a Democrat this year.”

Getting back to 1972, though, Thompson’s main point was that Nixon was willing to do whatever he had to do, including setting his party up to lose the White House four years down the road, in order to get reelected and that the Democratic establishment was willing to see McGovern get defeated if it meant a virtual guarantee of a Democratic win four years later.

I found myself reflecting on Thompson’s words as I watched and wondered about the Republican National Convention this week.

First, I wondered why the Republicans had nominated Mitt Romney.

When you look at the record of his four years as governor of Massachusetts, it seems clear that he is at heart a moderate Republican. Yet somehow, he managed to win the nomination of a party that has swung way to his right. Yes, he has, in the process of running for President, said that he now believes most of the things that the most conservative wing of the party wants him to believe, but when you observe the lack of enthusiasm for Romney—a lack for which he tried to make up by naming Paul Ryan as his running mate—you get the sense that lots of Tea Party Republicans don’t really believe that he is one of them, most likely because he is not. Two of the reasons he got the nomination, it’s fair to say, are (1) the more conservative and Tea Party-favored candidates were obviously unqualified for the position and (2) Romney had much deeper pockets than his opponents.

The bottom line is that the Republican Party has nominated as their presidential candidate someone that many, many of them don’t want and about whom few of them are excited. His one qualification, so far as they are concerned, is that he is not Barack Obama.

Second, I wondered why the final hour of the convention was so badly mismanaged.

Lots of other people are wondering about this, too. These days, for better or worse, the major networks only carry the 10:00-11:00 EDT hour of the convention; that hour, then, is very important in terms of getting the party’s message out and of introducing its candidate. But on Thursday night, the video about Romney, which got good reviews, aired before 10:00 and Clint Eastwood’s entertaining or bizarre, depending on who is describing it, monologue was seen during the prime hour along with Marco Rubio’s strong address and Gov. Romney’s acceptance speech. Why wasn’t Eastwood on earlier and the video on later?

Third, I wondered why some speakers, especially Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, spent almost all their words talking about themselves and almost none of them talking about the nominee.

They aren’t running for President. Well, they aren’t running this time.

When I put Hunter S. Thompson’s observations about 1972 together with my wonderings about the 2012 Republican convention (a dangerous melding, I admit), I find myself pondering a rather conspiratorial theory.

Could it be that the Republican Party has put forth a nominee that they doubt seriously can win—and don’t particularly want to win—so that, four years from now, after four more years of President Obama struggling with either the results of failed policies (they hope) or the results of continual virulent and obstructionist opposition from House and Senate Republicans (they know), they will (they think and hope) be virtually guaranteed to win the White House with someone that the Tea Party folks can and will gladly get behind and who effectively launched his 2016 presidential campaign at this convention, namely, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, or Marco Rubio?

Thompson wrote that the man with whom he shared his observations responded, “That’s so rotten I really have to admire it. Boy, I thought I was cynical!” to which Thompson replied, “That’s not cynical. That’s pure…politics…” (p. 321).

I know I may sound cynical.

I don’t think that the GOP planned to nominate someone that they didn’t like and they didn’t think could win. I just think that, given that’s the way it’s worked out, they have decided to work with it as best they can.

They might be able to take four more years of Obama over eight possible years of Romney, if that’s what it takes to elect someone in 2016 that will insure the presence in the White House of a true believer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Patriotism, Religion, and the Building of American Community

With Memorial Day upon us and Independence Day following close behind, my thoughts have turned to the value of patriotism.

I confess that in years past I have spent quite a bit of time pondering patriotism’s too frequent mutation, under the influence of fear, arrogance, and xenophobia, into nationalism and jingoism. I confess furthermore that I am still troubled by those who talk and act as if the United States is always automatically better and more correct in any scenario that is played out under any circumstances with any nation and as if anyone who offers a criticism of an American policy or program is, if not an enemy of the state, at least unpatriotic.

I confess also that in years past I have spent quite a bit of time fretting over the too often uncritically reflected upon connection that many people seem to make between Christian commitment and patriotic allegiance and particularly over the marriage of convenience between far right wing Christianity and far right wing politics. I confess furthermore that I am still troubled by those who talk and act as if somehow pledging allegiance to the American flag and pledging allegiance to the Christian flag are two sides of the same coin.

But I’m not thinking about those things this year—well, not much, anyway.

Instead I’m thinking about the valuable and healthy role that patriotism can and should play in forming, preserving, and enriching a sense of community among Americans.

“Patriotism” as I define it is a healthy love for, respect for, and devotion to one’s homeland, whether it is one’s homeland by birth or by adoption, and to its people, its traditions, and its principles, and a commitment to protect it, to defend it, and to work with all other citizens to make it even better.

Now, as a Christian (and I think I can safely assume I would say this if I came from another faith tradition) I must add that my commitment to love and to serve my God and to have my life formed by my Scriptures is prior to and more important than and thus must inform and can even sometimes limit the ways in which I can serve and support my country. It’s simply a matter of putting first things first and as a Christian my primary allegiance is to my Lord and all my other allegiances, including my allegiance to my country and even to my family, exist under and are shaped by that primary allegiance.

One of the great principles upon which the United States is founded is the principle of religious liberty; in this nation people are free to practice their religion (or to practice no religion) and are free from being compelled to support an established or state religion. I think that is a good and healthy thing, which I am sure the Founding Fathers would be relieved to hear. I furthermore think that it is a principle around which we should rally and which we should all, irrespective of our religious traditions and convictions, defend.

But one of the side effects of our tradition of religious liberty and the resulting tremendous religious diversity in the United States is that our religious traditions and convictions often become lines of division and debate and even of antagonism. There is nothing wrong with the practice of apologetics and all Americans should certainly have the freedom to make their case and to speak their minds so long as we are respectful and civil about it. Let’s face it, though—most of us do in fact think that there is something a little more valuable and “right” in our faith tradition than there is in other traditions or in no tradition; otherwise, we wouldn’t stay in it. I, for example, am a Christian and I truly believe that the ultimate and at the same time most accessible (a tension I just have to live with) revelation of God is in Jesus Christ. I would very much like to see absolutely everybody absolutely everywhere become a disciple of Jesus.

But that is not going to happen here in America or anywhere else. Moreover, all American Christians are never going to interpret or practice their Christian faith in the same way.

Therefore, practicing ecumenism is very difficult. Perhaps to our shame but nevertheless understandably given the way things are, holding truly ecumenical Christian worship services or sharing in truly ecumenical Christian ministry efforts—and by “truly ecumenical” I mean services or efforts at which any Christian group or individual would be fully welcomed and fully included and fully appreciated—is difficult, given the differences in worship and doctrine and practice that divide us. Certainly, then, holding truly ecumenical—with no requirement or expectation that the participants be Christian—worship services or ministry efforts is even more difficult.

For the record, I’d be more than willing to try it in either or both ways—“Christian ecumenical” or just “ecumenical”—but I recognize the difficulties. While it is true that God is one and while it is true that people of all religious traditions probably should be willing and able to come together to worship that one true God, it is simply the case that our different beliefs and convictions and practices make it hard.

In the United States of America, then, building over-arching community around religion, even around the worship of the one true God, is a non-starter.

So here I return to patriotism—did you remember that this is a post about patriotism?—and to the valuable and healthy role that patriotism can and should play in forming, preserving, and enriching a sense of community among Americans.

The bottom line is that we have at least a chance to be unified behind our common allegiance to the United States and to the principles on which the nation is built.

It is not—or at least is should not be—difficult for us to see that we best celebrate our American freedoms or remember our American history or embrace our American heritage when we do so not as Christian Americans or Jewish Americans or Muslim Americans or Buddhist Americans or Atheist Americans but rather as Americans who happen to be Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist.

It is our common allegiance to America that can and should bring Americans together and create American community.

I know that some will say that this is idolatry, the putting of America in the place of God, but I deny that. I say again that for a person of faith his or her commitment to God must come first. I also say that where ecumenical progress can be made it should be made. But I also say again that our heritage of religious liberty and the fact of religious diversity make it impossible for religion—even faith in the one true God who, I would say, is most fully revealed in his Son Jesus Christ—to be the basis for American community.

The creating of such community is the most important role that true patriotism can play.

(This post originally appeared in 2011 on my blog On the Jericho Road.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Passing the “No Religious Test” Test

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. (Article Six of the Constitution of the United States)

Both the rapidly approaching 2012 presidential election and the not-so-distant past one of 2008 offer clear evidence of just what a great country the United States of America really is.

In 2008 we elected as our President an African-American Christian with an Arabic name and a Muslim father. As we all know, there were people who believed then and there are people who believe now, all evidence to the contrary, that President Obama is in fact a Muslim.

Some folks who accepted candidate Obama’s long–term participation in a Chicago Christian congregation as evidence enough—as if his own testimony was not sufficient—of his Christian faith nonetheless used the preaching of his pastor as political ammunition against him.

My point is that, while the United States Constitution prohibits any religious test for an office holder, that’s not going to stop pundits and voters from applying one.

In the mid-1970s I asked my late great father, who would these days be considered something akin to a Blue Dog Democrat, for whom he had voted in the 1960 presidential election. He looked sheepish as he said, “I’m not ashamed that I voted for Nixon but I am ashamed of why; I was afraid if Kennedy got elected the Pope would be running the country.”

I find it interesting, given the Cold War in which we were engaged at the time, that my father and others did not find Nixon’s Quaker religious affiliation equally or even more troubling, given that faith’s belief in pacifism.

Of course, President Nixon was not a pacifist, was he?

And President Kennedy was not, when it came to his policies, beholden to the Vatican, was he?

As my father and many others have shown, voters tend to pay close attention to the religious affiliations—even though those affiliations may or may not reveal much about the candidates’ actual beliefs—of some candidates and not so much attention to those of other candidates. Put simply, we tend to analyze closely the religion of those candidates whom we oppose on other grounds in the hope that we can find further reason to oppose them.

It will be interesting to see if the left-leaning media examines Gov. Romney’s Mormonism as closely as the right-leaning media examined Sen. Obama’s Christianity.

Regardless, this fall folks down here where I live are going to have to choose between two candidates of whose religious affiliations many of them are suspicious.

One option is Pres. Obama, of whose Christian faith many of them are doubtful and whose particular type of Christianity, at least as seen in the church he attended in Chicago, makes them uneasy.

Let me hasten to add that many of the African-American Christians here in the rural South do not share that uneasiness given that their religious and cultural experience allows them to identify with that of the President and that there are white Christians here in the rural South who are not uncomfortable with the President’s brand of Christian practice, either.

Still, many folks in my neck of the woods don’t think that President Obama is “their kind” of Christian, meaning that he is not Evangelical enough or conservative enough or traditional (as they define tradition) enough.

The other option is Gov. Romney, who is at least three things the vast, vast majority of rural Southerners are not: (1) Wealthy (2) Northeastern and (3) Mormon. I’m not a pollster but I can say with much confidence that as far as most Christians of the standard variety around here—Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Non-Denominationals—are concerned, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult about which they know little, understand less, and fear some.

So that is our choice this November: on the one hand, a liberal Christian with an Arabic name that many suspect is actually a Muslim and on the other hand, a Mormon.

That such is our choice is a clear indicator of what a great country this really is.

We grew up a lot when we elected an African-American Christian as our President.

This year we will grow up some more as we choose between that African-American Christian and a Northeastern Mormon.

The 2012 presidential contest is one that honors Article Six of our Constitution.

It is cause for celebration.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why You Should Follow This Blog--I'm Talking to You, Morning Joe!

Welcome to the first post on "A View from the Hinterland," my new blog on which I try my seasoned hand at political and social commentary.

While there is no way to bracket my Christian faith from my opinions and while there is no way to bracket my ministerial identity from my thought processes, I want to make it clear that I see this blog as more "secular" in its orientation.

I want to be transparent about my agenda with this blog, which is two-fold: first, I want to express my interpretation of events and my opinion of those events and second, I want to market my interpretations and opinions.

So come on, Morning Joe--give me a market!

For a long time now I have campaigned for a recurring role on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," which I watch every morning (not the whole show--I do work for a living) and which I enjoy very much, even when it frustrates me very much, which it tends to do when Joe talks to Mika like she's fifteen years old and she does not in response scratch his eyeballs out.

Every chance I get, by today's accepted means of serious communication, namely, Facebook and Twitter, I tell Joe, Mika and crew that they should have me on the show every now and then.

The reasons, I have told them before and now tell them again, is that they need (a) a voice that comes from the hinterland, from rural, agricultural, small-town America, (b) the opinions of someone with "Rev." in front of his name whose name is not Sharpton or Graham, and (c) the perspective of a true, died-in-the-wool, and committed political, religious, and social Moderate.

Let's face it--the only people that we hear on Morning Joe or on any of the other network or cable news programs are the media elites who have no real idea what's being said or thought in the hinterland, in those places far away from New York City, Washington, D.C., or even Atlanta, Georgia.

Joe Scarborough himself often claims to speak for the Northwest Florida/Alabama/Georgia population but really now, Joe is more Washington and New York than he is NoFlaAlGa, which is appropriate and understandable given where he spends most of his time.

My purpose, therefore, is to share my interpretation of the social, moral, and political aspects--and sometimes of all three aspects--of life in America, from the perspective of someone who lives in the part of America whose voice is seldom heard.

As for my credentials--well, I grew up in Barnesville, Georgia, lived for ten years in Adel, Georgia, and have lived for over three years now in Fitzgerald, Georgia. I did spend four years in Macon, Georgia but during some of those years served as pastor of a small church outside of Sparta, Georgia, seven years in Louisville, Kentucky but during some of those years served as pastor of a small church outside of Owenton, Kentucky, and six years in Nashville, Tennessee, but during some of those years served as pastor of a small church in Fosterville, Tennessee, just up the road from Bell Buckle. During my six years in Augusta, Georgia I pretty much stuck to the city.

So, I am in and of rural Southern America but I have spent enough time in metropolitan areas not to have tunnel vision.

I live, I think, and I write.

You should read me.

I'm talking to you, Morning Joe!

Welcome to A View from the Hinterland...