Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Hillary’s pneumonia

September 18, 2016

So what was all the excitement about?  Shame, shame, she did not let the media know immediately when her doctor informed her that  she had a mild case of bacterial pneumonia.  And who thought this was so terrible?  Why, the MEDIA of course!

And what was the context that the media so feverishly crafted, days and even weeks before?  Over and over again coverage was given to Trump’s ridiculous attempts to paint a picture of Hillary with “one foot on a banana peel, and the other headed toward her grave.”  Yes, the media felt that it was appropriate to report Trump’s (and Fox news’s) repeated efforts to convince the public that Hillary Clinton was in poor health.

The media reported on this over and over again, somewhat extensively.  Even Rachel Maddow did a deep backgrounder identifying all of the persons who had fainted while Presidents and candidates spoke, and also all of the times that Presidents had become ill, or fainted.  What was missing from all of the reporting was any categorical denial that the reports on Hillary’s health had any basis in fact.

And so the Sunday of missteps came–and along with it the somewhat faltering response of the Clinton campaign.  She was overheated, and then, later in the day, disclosure of the diagnosis of pneumonia.  But did Hillary Clinton have any obligation to report this diagnosis before that Sunday?

Recognize that there are two types of people: those who deal with their illnesses and other things by sharing with the world, and those who prefer to mull over their illnesses in the privacy of their own mind.  After all of the charges, countercharges, accusations, speculations, etc. etc, that Hillary has  had to absorb over her public life, including recent speculations about her health, maybe this was one circumstance that she wished to cope with as a private citizen.

A final thought–women may be more inclined to deal with issues of personal health in the privacy of their thoughts than men.  Could it be that the charge that she failed to inform the media of her pneumonia diagnosis is just another example of the anti-feminine bias on the part of the media?  If so, once again, the media were playing right into Mr. Trump’s hands. Is that what they are being paid to do?


Trump’s Birther Denial

September 18, 2016

“President Obama was born in the United States, period.  Now let’s get back to the business of making America great again.”

Not so fast, Donald!  It is not that easy to reverse  course on an issue that you have been so outspoken about for so long.  You have given no indication of the evidence that led you to make the claim that he was not born in the United States.   And you have not given any indication of the evidence that led you to change your mind.

It appears that this statement was issued by Donald Trump only after it became evident to his campaign team that his “birther position” was possibly a liability to his  campaign.  This is just one of many reversals that Donald Trump has made so that he can appear to be a reasonable candidate for which  traditional Republicans can vote.  That may also be the reason he accused Hillary Clinton of being the originator of the birther movement in 2008, although fact-checkers find no evidence for this claim whatsoever,

But he can not walk away from the position so easily.  His constant assault on President Obama’s citizenship was a significant factor in undermining President Obama’s leadership.  The birther issue was used by Trump to question the legitimacy of Obama’s Presidency.  What price, if any, is Trump prepared to pay for the damage that  he has already done?


Trump’s Reversal of his “Birther position”

September 16, 2016

President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.  Now let’s get back to the business of making America Great again.

Not so fast, Donald! You have not provided any account of the evidence that led you to take the position that President Obama was not born in the United States in the first place.  Nor have you provided any explanation of what has led you to change  your position.  Attributing the origin of “birtherism” to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign may tickle your followers.  But fact-checkers have found absolutely no basis for this claim.  This attribution makes clear that the only reason you have left this position behind is to make your candidacy more appealing to traditional Republicans.

But Candidate Trump can not walk away from this issue so easily.  He has questioned the place of President Obama’s birth for years.  His challenge to Obama’s birthplace has been tied to a challenge to the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency.  It has been one factor among many designed to make that presidency ineffective.  Certainly among Republicans and Trump-followers the perpetual challenge to Obama’s citizenship has contributed to an undermining both of his credibility and leadership.  What price is Donald Trump willing to pay for the damage he has caused, not only to Obama’s presidency, but to our country?


Does Business prepare one to be President?

July 23, 2016

Mr. Trump is not the first candidate to point to his business background as a key qualification to become President of the U.S.  George W. Bush also stood on his  business background.  Right at the top let me say that business can be as good a background of experience for a President as many other fields.  There are, however, two qualifications that must be made.

First, “business” is an accordion word.  There are many and diverse activities over which the word “business” can be stretched.  It can extend to being a real estate developer or owning a baseball club.  From my perspective the key question to ask of any business man seeking the Presidency is: “How much management experience have you had?  How many resources did you both acquire and manage?  How many people did you supervise?  What processes were required to produce the service or goods for which you agency was responsible, including skyscrapers and casinos?  How successful were you?  How did you relate to all of the people that were in some way involved in your enterprise?  How did people feel that you affected along the way in your career? What were your contributions to the community both through and beyond your career?

Trump’s daughter, when introducing him on the last night of the convention, spoke to some of these things.  But Trump himself has done little but claim that he has been successful, and the primary evidence that he has presented is that he got very, very rich. If one has had any acquaintance with Peter Drucker, then it is clear that there is a lot more to being a successful manager than getting rich.  If Trump himself does not elaborate on what his experience has done for him in preparing him to be President, the media should take this upon themselves.  The press, especially,  USA TODAY, has done this.  Sadly, what has been uncovered are some pretty dark dealings.  Cable TV should begin to join the exploration of Trump’s business career.

The second qualification of the statement that business can be a good background for becoming President is that business by itself is not politics.  Within most managerial structures there are elements of authority that increase as one moves up the management ladder.  Trump sat at the top.  He knows what it is to have authority.  But does he know what it is to be political.  You can’t order the American people to behave as you wish them to.  You can not tell the Senate, the House, or the judiciary what they must do.  Politics requires some measures of self-effacement, a considerable amount of other directedness, and quite a lot of compromise, not only of take, but also, of give.  To this point, there has been little evidence not only of Mr. Trump’s political prowess, but of any desire on his part to function as a politician.  In fact in his acceptance address all that he had to say about politicians was a series of negative accusations against them.

So a career in business can prepare one to become President.  But in Mr. Trump’s case, it is not at all evident that his career has prepared him for this very overwhelming task.




Will Trump “lead from behind?”

July 18, 2016

Last night on 60 Minutes Trump reiterated his position that ISIS must be wiped out.  Leslie Stahl asked if he would send in American troops to accomplish this.  Trump immediately responded that he would not.  He insisted that NATO and other countries adjacent to Syria and Iraq would be engaged to accomplish this.

In an article in the New Yorker, April 26, 2011 Ryan Lizza first suggested that the phrase “leading from behind” might describe the policy being followed by President Obama, particularly in the Libyan situation.  Based on some statements of Nelson Mandela, Lizza described the heart of the idea as “empowerment of other actors to do your bidding, especially, when other nations would withhold their cooperation if the United States acted unilaterally.

Once Lizza linked this phrase to President Obama’s foreign policy, Republican conservatives jumped all over this phrase not only because for them it summed up the weakness of Obama in the foreign policy arena, but also suggested that Obama himself perceived the United States to be operating from a position of weakness.  To this day, the phrase is enthusiastically used by Obama’s critics.

But in suggesting that American troops should not be used to wipe out ISIS,  but that NATO and other countries should take on the major task of accomplishing this, is Trump not suggesting that the United States should “lead from behind?”  Will Republican critics be as quick to criticize Trump for this stance as they were to criticize President Obama?  And, by the way, “Who will pay for the wall between the US and Mexico?”  In this case, too, it appears that Trump is ready to lead from behind.


Too Much Broccoli

March 28, 2012

Leading up to the Supreme Court hearings on the Healthcare Reform Bill there was a lot of reference to broccoli:  “If the government can force you to buy health insurance, why can’t they force you to buy broccoli?”  OK, so that was the question of partisans and pundits.  When the issue reached the supreme court it would be pursued at a whole new level, right?  No, wrong!

Yesterday, more than one judge raised this naive question about the mandate that each citizen is responsible for securing insurance to cover their own health needs.  I could not believe that the judges themselves would pursue the broccoli question.  Let me explain.

While in college I learned the maxim: “To distinguish well is to teach well.”  (I think this maxim was attributed to Thomas Aquinas.)  I would expect not only educated citizens to be capable of distinguishing well, but also judges on the Supreme Court.

Let’s take a look at broccoli, a simple commodity available in the produce department of supermarkets.  Broccoli is just one vegetable among many through which certain food values can be acquired when it is eaten.   Since it is only one vegetable among many, I can make an unforced decision to buy it.   My decision can be determined by market factors: what is the demand for broccoli?  what is the price of broccoli? or, by a simple taste test: am I hungry for broccoli, do I like it?  When broccoli is on sale, I am inclined to buy it.  When the price is up I am more likely to buy lettuce, cabbage, or spinach.

Now let’s take a look at health insurance.  First, there should be no doubt that everyone at some point in their life will need healthcare.  This need while inevitable is unpredictable, and meeting this need is very expensive.  The need for healthcare can only be met by checking in with the health care system.  While there are some market factors that will govern my choice of which providers and services I will be using, there is no option as to whether I will or will not take advantage of one of these options  (unless I simply allow myself to become less and less healthy, and eventually, bring about my own death by carelessness.)  This is a first major distinction between health care and broccoli.  I have much less choice as to whether I will receive health care, and I do not know of any case in which the failure to eat broccoli by itself can lead to death, whereas the failure to receive timely health care can.

Second, when I receive healthcare, I will be billed for it.  But the bill will not simply be a function of the current market for the healthcare that I received.  The price will be affected by my need to make a contribution to the development and maintenance of a healthcare system through which I receive the particular healthcare that I need.  That contribution will be needed to cover the cost, for example,  of the education of doctors and nurses, the cost of facilities including hospitals, and the cost of very expensive diagnostic equipment and laboratories.  Even if I do not make use of these each time that I draw on healthcare services, I make some contribution to some portion of these costs.   The price will also be affected by another important variable–the growing number of persons who can not pay for healthcare, yet receive it, and do so at the expense of all of those who can pay for it.  This is another major difference between health care and broccoli.  When I buy broccoli, that is what I am basically paying for, or not paying for, depending upon the purchase price.  By the way, I know this price before I ever put the broccoli in my cart.  When I go in for healthcare, I am altogether clueless as to its ultimate cost.  That is still another difference.

Finally, because the bills for healthcare are large and unexpected, about the only way that anyone can manage the payment of these costs is through securing insurance.  That statement is just as true whether I have insurance or not.  If I have insurance, I hope to be able to manage the cost of my healthcare.  If I do not have insurance, I may not be able to pay my healthcare costs, or these costs may  bankrupt me, or both.

So given these distinctions, why are we talking about broccoli? In particular, why is broccoli being discussed at the supreme court?  Sadly, I fear it is the consequence of two things.  First, we can never discuss any issue these days without polarizing the issue within the frame of our current politics.  This leads to gross oversimplification of issues, as well as an excessive use of rhetoric.  Secondly, it is a reflection of our lack of humane and/or moral sensitivity.  We forget that there are millions of Americans who cannot afford healthcare, and who daily forgo its benefits, or receive it without the capacity to pay for it.  In either case, these Americans do not have access to the same health care that is received by those who are insured.  Rather they receive healthcare sporadically, and without regard to their overall state of health.

As the judges weigh the issues of  the healthcare reform bill and the mandate which it includes for personal responsibility for the purchase of health insurance, they would do well to remind themselves that there is on way to interpret the Constitution by considering only the words which it contains.  If they know very little about contemporary theories of language, they will still know that the meanings of words are not something which are attached to the very words.  The meaning of words depends upon their use in a much broader context, including the whole “system” of behavior of humankind.  Given the comprehensive context in which any text must be interpreted, the justices will do well to weigh carefully the consequences of their decision.  A question for all of us to consider is whether once they have weighed in with their decision they will still be worthy of being called “justices”, or whether they will simply be politicians holding a different title.

Whose in charge?

June 16, 2010

Last evening the common response of those commenting on the President’s speech was distress that he had not really made it clear to the American public that he was in charge of the oil spill and of recovery from it.  This view of things began approximately one to two weeks after the spill began.  Initially, most folks recognized that it was BP that had caused the spill, and therefore, it was BP that was responsible for capping the spill and cleaning up after it.  

 But when time went on and the oil kept gushing from the well and spreading out over the Gulf the entire development came to be perceived as a national catastrophe which the federal government was responsible to manage, including stopping the gushing and spearheading the recovery.  The fact that the spill continues and that at best the recovery only drags along leads folks to charge the president with a failure of leadership in handling this crisis.

To charge the President with a failure of  leadership in this crisis is at best naive, and at worst downright perverse.  It is naive if it fails to recognize the controlling realities that give shape to this crisis.  It is perverse if it undermines such leadership as the President is providing and deflects public attention away from those controlling realities.

The controlling realities are:

first,  that the crisis was created by a private coroporation, BP, that put a higher premium on earning profits for shareholders than on looking after the safety of its workers and the reduction of the risks surrounding its activities;

second, that neither BP (nor any other oil companies)  have developed technologies or protocols for addressing the possibility of  failures such as that of  the Deep Horizon well and the potential aftermath that would follow from such failures;

third, that whether the federal government should or should not have anticipated such failures and developed the necessary technologies and protocols for addressing them, this was never on any politician’s agenda, nor were the American people pressing the government to do so;

fourth, that any extant technology for adressing well failures or spill recovery is owned and under the management of BP, and by extension other oil companies and related industries;

fifth, and most importantly, were the President to insist that he is in charge, and to claim that he was taking charge, this would in effect shift responsibility from BP to the federal government, even though the federal government as such was powerless either to cap wells, or to put in place the equipment and operations necessary to contain the spill;

sixth, if from the outset the President had insisted on being in charge of capping the flow and containing the spill, he would have committed political suicide;  much lesser agressive measures relative to the nation’s financial institutions and the major automobile industries have led to charges as extreme as socialism and nazism.  The President is accused by all of his opponents of exceeding the limits of reasonable federal power.  What would they have thought if he had in fact taken control of BP, which would have been the only way that he could have effectively taken control?

It is time to recognize that we all share in the consequences of the gulf catastrophe and that it is, therefore, in our mutual interest to support  the President in his efforts to hold BP accountable and responsible for both capping the well and cleaning up the mess.  The President should not take charge of a situation created by private industry and for the resolution of which private industry holds all of the available technology and equipment , however inadequate that technology and equipment may be.

Buying votes

December 23, 2009

Yesterday I heard an interview with Senator Grahm of South Carolina.  He had asked his state attorney general to look into the legality of the deal by which Senator Ben Nelson was persuaded to vote for cloture on the health care reform bill.   He along with others was appalled that the state of Nebraska will have its share of the increased Medicaid costs resulting from the Health Care Bill waived as a condition for Senator Nelson to vote for cloture.

Senator Graham is not the only person who has asserted that this arrangement does not pass the “smell test.”  Before I continue,  I should say that I do not believe this arrangement to be fair either.  Moreover, I believe it is never a positive development to bribe legislators to vote in one way or another, even though I am realistic enough to recognize that this kind of  thing goes on all the time.

What I do want to go on to say, however, is that in criticizing this arrangement it is important to consider what made it necessary.  The first consideration is that we no longer have majority rule in the Senate.  Almost anything that is presented needs to have the 60 votes to impose cloture on the debate.  In other words, every piece of substantive legislation on which there is any partisan differnce is subject to the requirement of a procedural vote of 60 members.  Under these conditions a legitimately elected majority is prevented from carrying out the mandates on which they were elected.

A second consideration which made Senator Nelson’s vote necessary was the refusal of the opposition party to engage in any constructive dialogue regarding the needs for health care reform and any good faith effort to develop legislation to provide that reform.  When under the leadership of Senator Baucus of the Finance Committee Republicans were given the opportunity to have a direct impact on the bill, those involved chose to use this opportunity to water down the bill, rather than to present positive proposals for reform.

A third consideration is the disingenuous participation of some Republicans and Democrats alike.  Chief among those involved was Senator Joe Lieberman.  Lieberman represents Connecticut, a state in which a large majority of the voters supported including a public option in the health care bill.  Lieberman, however, would have no part of it.  Why?  Because he also comes from a state in which the insurance industry has corporate headquarters, and because his pockets have been well-lined by corporate insurance contributions.  (Lieberman is, of course, an Independent, but Democrats were not exempt from being in a similar position.  Consider Evan Bayh of Indiana.)

So, yes, immediate deals made prior to the post-1:00 am vote early  Monday morning generated a might stench.  But those objecting to the smell must also acknowledge that the entire process was odiferous from its earliest beginnings, and there is plenty of blame to go around for that.  No one source of smell should be singled out either for investigation or criticism.

A Religious Justification for the Prochoice Position

September 18, 2008

A Religious Justification for the Prochoice Position

It is frequently argued by the conservative Christian right that the prolife position is based on the Christian faith, and that the prochoice position cannot be defended from a Christian point of view.  In fact some Christian conservatives go so far as to say that the support of a woman’s right to choose rests on some secular values that exist independently of religion. 

Before addressing this basic contention it is important to point out that one does not have to be in favor of abortion to argue the pro-choice position.  Many defenders of the prochoice position believe that all things considered, abortion should be a solution of last resort to the problem of an unwanted pregnancy.   They believe further that in every case the decision to continue a pregnancy or to have an abortion should be a moral decision, a decision that involves weighing ones options in the context not only of ones personal values, but also values expressed by the communities of which one is a member, whether family, church, or the larger community.  Such persons do not accept the view that abortion is just one option among many that can be chosen with no regard for the value of life in particular,  or moral values, more generally.  Whether from a religious perspective, or a secular perspective, these persons believe that there are way too many abortions, and that ways should be found to reduce the number of abortions that occur.  The premise for this belief is not simply the biblical commandment against killing, but the affirmation common to biblical and secular thinkers alike that in all of its forms, the affirmation and promotion of life is preferable to its destruction.

But is there a religious basis for a prochoice position?  If one thinks within a religious framework is the option of abortion precluded in the context of a pregnancy?  Is there in fact no choice to be made?  In order to answer this question, it is necessary to consider what would have to be assumed in order to eliminate any possibility of choice.  What would have to be assumed is that life when viewed within a religious framework has absolute value, and that, consequently, there can never be any justification for an act which involves the destruction of a living creature.   But is the life of a creature viewed as having an absolute value within the context of what can be described as “conservative Christianity?”

Within the framework of conservative Christianity there are many evidences that the value of human lives is considered to be relative, rather than absolute.  The very fact that human beings are creatures sets them apart from their Creator.  While absolute value may be believed to reside in the Creator, creatures are creatures pecisely because they are not of absolute value.  Their value is always relative in relation to their creator.  They are good, but not good to the point of perfection.  Therefore, the possibility of sin is within them from the moment of their creation. 

The probationary command that is given to Adam and Eve also suggests that their lives are of relative, rather than absolute value.  The probationary command is the instruction that they may eat of the fruit of all of the trees of the garden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The penalty for failing to follow this instruction is death.  So, the lives of Adam and Even do not have an absolute value.  The value of their lives is contingent upon their obedience to the command of God which they are free both to obey and to disobey. 

Once humans are living east of Eden, they are living in anything but a culture of life.  Cain’s jealousy leads to the death of Abel.  Only a sign from God is sufficient to prevent he and his seed from facing certain death.  As sin becomes widespread, all living creatures with the exception of Noah and his family are destroyed in a flood.  Abraham is directed to sacrifice his son for no apparent reason other than to test his willingness to place obedience to God ahead of the preservation of the life of his son.   The lives of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah are placed on the table when Abraham bargains with God in order to save these cities.  How many righteous lives must be found in these cities before they  will be spared from destruction? Initially, it is suggested that fifty righteous persons will justify sparing all of those living in these cities.  The number shifts down to forty-five, to forty, then, to thirty, and twenty, and, finally, ten.  Clearly, given God’s assent to these varying numbers of righteous persons, the lives of the residents of these two wicked cities are judged to be of relative value.

When the Israelites leave Egypt they do so only after the first born of every Egyptian family is killed by the angel of death.  In this case the freedom of Israel is what justifies this slaughter. Further death is experienced by Egypt when Pharoah and his hosts are drowned in the Red Sea after Irael has passed through the sea on dry ground.  Relative to Israel’s freedom the life of Egyptians is perceived to have a relative value.  An even more challenging evidence of the culture of death that is found in the Old Testament involves Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  Israel is ordered to slaughter the inhabitants of the land.  When it is not the military force of Israel that accomplishes this, it occurs as the direct result of divine intervention such as at Jericho.  What is clear is that the only condition on which Israel can occupy the land is if those already living there are destroyed.  Also within the Old Testament there is an affirmation of the lex talionis: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.  What is the justification of taking any life if all life is of infinite or absolute value.  The fact that one life is perceived to be the equivalent of any life that is taken is itself evidence that neither life is judged to be of absolute value. 

It may be argued that against the background of this culture of death, the New Testament affirms a culture of life.  Jesus himself said, “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)  This claim concerning the New Testament, however, overlooks the fundamental premise of conservative Christian religion.  This premise is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners by giving his life as a ransom for many.  If there ever was a living creature upon the face of the earth who would be a candidate for having a life of absolute value, it would be Jesus.  For however much he may have shared in the very existence of God, it is the belief of Christian conservatives that he was fully human.  For Christian conservatives, it was necessary that Jesus die in order for humans to receive salvation.  Looking at this necessity more closely, it does not arise from the very nature of humans.  As creatures of God, humans were made in such a way that when God looked upon them, he saw that they were very good.  For Christian conservatives the necessity of Christ’s death is rooted in the sin of human beings.  By any measure, the sin of any one human being is not of absolute value.  Specifically, there is nothing that comes into existence through sin that can be judged to be of absolute value.  Whatever deeds are performed sinfully, one can be sure, produce results the value of which is ony relative.  These finite acts of finite creatures producing results of limited perfection become, however, a barrier to humans entering into and maintaining a positive relationship with God.  So God decides that for these sins of mortals, of finite and limited value, it is needful to have his son Jesus, the righteous one, die on a cross.  If the life of Jesus is of absolute value, it is sacrificed in order to bring into harmony with God the lives of limited, finite, sinners.  For Conservative Christians, this is the good news of the gospel.  This once and for all sacrifice clearly relativizes the value of the life of all those who are redeemed through it, even as it makes relative the value of the life of Jesus himself.   One way of putting this is to say that once it is clear that Jesus the perfect man needs to die, all life, including his is affirmed as having finite, or limited value. 

 Evangelicals demonstrate that life is not an absolute value in other ways. They support war as a means of defending the nation’s freedom. In this case, national freedom, as well as personal freedom is assumed to be of greater worth than the lives of thousands of relatively innocent civilians on either side, not to mention, the lives of the military personal who participate in the conflict. Let their be no mistake about it, one can not affirm war as a national policy without at the same time accepting responsibility for the loss of thousands of lives. Secondly, most evangelicals support capital punishment. In some cases, capital punishment is thought to be appropriate because it is somehow appropriate to cause a person to die if that person in fact has killed another. How does taking one life justify a similar act on anyone else’s part if life is an absolute value? Somehow, the supporter of capital punishment believes that anytime a life is taken, even if that be the life of another human being, that is sufficient justification for taking the murderer’s life. We all like heroes who risk their lives for others. But no one believes that one should blindly throw oneself into a deep pool of water to save another if in fact the one who jumps in to save another can not do anything in water other than become another drowning victim. Becoming a hero is considered to be a matter of taking a calculated risk, and determining that one would risk ones own life because of the possibility of saving another. How is it that becoming a hero should be a matter of relative judgment, but the admiinistration of capital punishment is perceived to be a matter of exercising absolute judgment? Isn’t it possible that the judgement leading to the administration of capital punishment is itself a relative judgement? Surely within our judicial system capital punishment is not uniformly administered for the same crimes. Whenever it is administered, this action is not based upon absolute values, but upon a relative judgment. This is clear if it is kept in mind that capital punishment is not restricted to the actual taking of the life of another. Capital punishment may be administered in cases of violent rape, or in cases of treason, where no lives have been taken by the recipient of that punishment. This, too, suggests that the life of that person is of relative, rather than absolute value.

One further evidence that life is not regarded as an absolute value within our frame of reference is that we believe that there are many values other than life itself for which it is worthy to die. Thus, most Americans consider their national and personal freedom to be values for which they would put their lives at risk. Many Americans would put their ife at risk to defend their property.

So what relevance do all of these considerations pointing to the relative value of human life have to the discussion of whether it is appropriate to be prochoice as well as prolife?  If human life is of relative, rather than absolute value, any time one is faced with allowing a life to continue (as in the case of those who are comatose and require expensive life support systems to continue their life), or one is faced with discontinuing the development of a fetus at earlier stages of pregnancy, a moral choice or decision is necessary.  One cannot deal with these circumstances simply by appealing to the abolute value of living creatures.  One cannot do this, first, because ample evidence has been provided that in the context of the total set of beliefs of conservative Christians, life does not have an absolute value.  But, secondly, one cannot resolve the question of abortion by an appeal to life as having absolute value because the world into which that life may eventually be born is not the world that God contemplated and found to be very good.  It is a world into which sin has entered.  In a sinful world good is never all lined up on one side of any question.  Continuing a life in this present world may lead to a compounding of circumstances which are already evil, even as the life itself at birth is clearly good. 

Far be it from me to hypothesize circumstances in which aborting a fetus is better than letting the fetus to develop to full term and to be born into the particular set of circumstances that will greet the child upon its birth.  Suffice it to say that the consequences of bringing a child into the world are not all lined up on the side of good.  At birth when every child enters the world their are consequences which are both good and evil.  These consequences need to be faced long before the fetus develops to a point at which it is capable of independent life apart from the womb.  There are circumstances, however, in which the prospects of a fetus developing into a free independent person involve shadows in which evil, rather than good results.  One clear example to which most will agree is if the continued pregnancy and/or birth of the fetus poses a real threat to the life of the mother.  Another example is when the continued pregnancy and/or birth of the fetus involve threats to the life of the child.  And, then, there are threats to life that go beyond the threat of physical death.  The risks associated with these threats are, of course. far more difficult to weigh.  What is the consequences for both the life of the mother and the life of the child of having been conceived through a rape or through incest?  What are the consequences for all concerned of being born into a context in which poverty is so extreme that the necessities of life cannot be provided?  As a general rule, it may be that abortion should be avoided. But whether it should or should not be an option in a particular case can not rest only on the general consensus as to the value of the life of every creature or on the negative implications associated with halting the development of life or of allowing this development to continue. This act, deciding to end the development of  a fetus, or of allowing the development to continue, like every human act, will take place in a context marked by complexity.  In the end the judgment to allow the development of a life to continue, or to terminate that process, can only be made by the person that is most intimately joined to that new life. One cannot stand upon some absolute platform and dictate that decision for others. That is taking away not only the freedom, but also the responsibility which each of us has for the decisions that we make.   What is evident in suggesting the above examples where a decision to terminate or continue the development of a fetus may be needed is that from a religious as well as a secular perspective these circumstances confront the mother with the need to make a decision.  For her to make a decision she must have a choice.

Is Obama playing the race card? Is McCain a racist?

August 5, 2008

Sunday talk shows included comments that Barack Obama, by suggesting that his opponents would state that he looked different from other Presidents, had introduced the race card, and in so doing, had made a bad week for himself that included slippage in the polls.  In so-doing, they were taking their lead from the McCain campaign which had received Obama’s suggestion as a charge that John McCain was a racist.  It is important to see that if a race card was being played, it was being played by both campaigns.  By suggesting that his opponents would state that he looked different from other Presidents, Obama was, of course, referring to his race, and by claiming that Obama had accused McCain of being a racist, the McCain campaign was, of course, introducing race into the political campaign. 

But Obama had not accused McCain of being a racist, even if he had said that McCain’s campaign might suggest he looked different.  This may seem like splitting hairs, but it isn’t.  Two points make this clear: first, John McCain and the McCain campaign are two quite distinct entities, just as Barack Obama and the Obama campaign are quite distinct entities.  Of course, John McCain must accept responsibility for his campaign, just as Barack Obama must accept responsibility for his.  My simple point is that the McCain campaign can make a point about Obama’s race as a tactic independently of whether McCain is or is not a racist.  But secondly, the McCain campaign cannot afford to be explicitly racist.  If the McCain campaign openly made recognizable racist statements, the McCain campaign would be dead in the water.  Not only would the media jump on this, but the the majority of Americans who share a basic sense of decency would be highly offended.  So if the McCain campaign is going to play the race card, be assured that it will be below the radar, and at as imperceptible a level as possible.  By the same token, Obama can not afford to play the race card.  The same Americans that would be offended by explicit racism coming from the McCain campaign would be offended by any suggestion from Obama that his opponents would intentionally use race to defeat him. 

So is Obama playing the race card?  and Is McCain a racist?  Is race an issue in this campaign, and if so, how has it become an issue?  There is no simple answer to these questions.  There is no simple answer because for most Americans at this point in our history, it is no longer socially acceptable to engage intentionally in forms of thought and action which are readily identifiable as racist.  Evidence for this claim is found in the quickness with which most of us (including Senator McCain) deny that we are racist at the first suggestion that something we have said or done may be so-perceived. This fact about American culture has not, of course, put an end to racism.  It has driven racism underground and led to more subtle and devious ways of expressing it. 

With respect to the parallel issues of whether Obama is playing the race card, or whether McCain is a racist, my position is that all of us are racist, and neither Obama nor McCain can escape that reality.  The root of racism is in the perception that someone or something is different from, or other than ourselves, and the further perception that what is different from, or other than ourselves, in some way, at some level, poses a threat to either our enterprise, or in the worst case, to ourselves.  The root of racism is biological in two ways.  First, the differences that initially fuel our fears are biological differences, including our physical appearance.  Secondly, the fears arising in response to these perceived differences are fears relating to survival.  It is important to note that the fear response can arise in the context of perceived physical differences far less evident than race, and that differences in physical appearance are only one set of differences that can generate a fear response.  When the cold war began, in my childish imagination I imagined every Russian to be much larger in size than the average American, and believed that their disposition could only be compared with that of bears.   Perceived cultural differences can generate the same biological response of fear related to survival.  In urban areas in which persons of diverse cultures live in contiguous pockets, there has historically been a significant level of tension at the edges of these pockets where interaction between persons of different cultures becomes unavoidable.  Every immigrant group had its particular biases, jokes, and terms of abuse for persons from groups other than their own. 

Of course, with the passage of time and the acquisition of experience, most of us try to outgrow our fear of that which is different, and to mute those responses growing out of our primitive fears revolving around our survival.  And to varying degrees we succeed.  But our success is never complete.  There are traces of racism in every last one of us.

So what does this mean for the first Presidential campaign in which an African-American is running against a Caucasian?  It means that racism is going to be a factor no matter who says or does what.  Racism shapes our sensibilities, even if it has a limited affect on what we say or do.  So I think there should be two simple rules:

First, everyone involved in this campaign, whether candidates, campaign staff, citizens, and especially, representatives of the media should resolve to work as hard as they can to avoid saying or doing anything that can be construed as racist.  This applies not only to explicit forms of racism, but to the myriad of below the radar, subtle forms that racism can take.  The race card simply should not be played.

Secondly, charges and counter charges of racism should be taken off of the table, not only by the candidates and their campaigns, but also by the media.  They should be taken off the table, not because race will not be a factor, but because no one can make such a charge without being guilty of the very thing of which he is charging others.  To be sure, any explicit expressions that are obviously racist have to be seen for what they are.  When either candidate makes an explicit reference to race, they should be held accountable for doing so. 

Two things must be avoided at all costs:

First, neither campaign should set itself up as the judge of whether the other campaign is playing the race card, or being racist.  The resolve of both campaigns should be to have the greatest degree of integrity possible by doing everything possible to prevent making race a factor in this campaign.

Second, media personnel should get off of their judgement seat and recognize that because of their personal history with racism, they are in no position to make judgements about whether either Obama and his campaign, or McCain and his campaign are playing the race card, and therefore, trading on racism.