Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Red Sox and the GOP

On the wall outside my grandmother's bedroom when I was growing up there were two pictures. One was of Ted Williams. The other was of President and Mrs. Eisenhower.

Grandmother would be very pleased with her beloved Red Sox this summer. Sitting in first place with the Yankees seven games back in fourth place, it doesn't get much better than that. But I'm not at all sure that she would be pleased with the Republican Party this summer.

Grandmother and I didn't agree on matters of politics. She once demanded that I remove a political button when we visited her in the early sixties. It was, as near as I can remember, an indication that I was supporting, even though I was not old enough to vote, H. Stuart Hughes, a peace candidate for the Senate in 1962. A Ted Kennedy button would have been only slightly less offensive. The only acceptable candidate would have been the Republican George Cabot Lodge. Years later I learned that my mother had voted for Kennedy in 1960, but had kept that a secret.

Today I am not at all sure how Grandmother would view the Republican Party. As the granddaughter of a Congregational minister and the daughter-in-law of an Episcopal Archdeacon, she would, I think, be very disturbed by the recent actions of some in the GOP - passing the Farm Bill in the House without any money for Food Stamps; threatening a government shutdown unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded; passing state laws that make it harder for people who are poor to vote; and opposing any policy simply because it has the President's support. 

Grandmother wouldn't recognize today's GOP. It is not the party of President Eisenhower who warned us about the military-industrial complex. It is not the party of the first President Bush who understood that providing nutritious food to children saves us money in the long run. It is, sadly, a party that appears to have no interest in governing responsibly, in working to craft solutions to the nation's problems. Perhaps in five or ten years the Grand Old Party will be one grand once again, but I'm not holding my breath.

But we still have the Red Sox.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Unfinished Business

Progressives - liberals - call us whatever you want - but know that we have a great deal of unfinished business. 

Two pieces of business are fairly obvious.

  1. The section of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court needs to be rewritten and enacted. I don't hold out a great deal of hope for this, given the intransigence of Republicans in the House, but not trying is not an open. Until a new section is signed into law, legal challenges need to be made to every attempt by states to deny people the vote. Challenges cost money and that means that all of us who care about the right to vote should be prepared to write checks.
  2. The pathway to marriage equality continues to run through the state legislatures and the courts. We have had remarkable success in the past year, but those successes didn't happen without significant work. Those of us who live in places where marriage equality is already achieved need to support the work on other states.
Reducing gun violence is a more complicated piece of unfinished business. Passing new federal legislation is not the only challenge. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his address to the NAACP, laws like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" have not made America any safer. Repealing those laws is a daunting task and it will take time, but the overly broad interpretation of self-defense in these laws cannot be allowed to stand.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Who Is My Neighbor?

It's Sunday morning and in a little less than an hour we will begin celebrating the Eucharist. The Gospel for today is the very familiar story of the exchange between Jesus and a lawyer who asks, "Who is my neighbor?"

That, of course,  is the wrong question and it is our constant focus on that question that has led us into so much trouble. We want to know how closely we can set the limits of our love for the neighbor. This person is my neighbor whom I am commanded to love, but that person over there is the Other, the Stranger, the Enemy, and I don't have to love that person. 

It is the asking and answering of that question that led to the death of Trayvon Martin. Whether George Zimmerman is guilty of a crime or not, he, like all the rest of us, is guilty of deciding that some people aren't neighbors and we don't have to love them.

In challenging the lawyer with what we call the Parable of the Good Smaritan, Jesus focused on what it means to act with neighbor-love. Jesus shocked his hearers by saying that it was the Outsider, the Other, the Enemy, who showed neighbor-love, who fulfilled the commandments. 

Jesus challenges us as well. If we are to be a blessing to the nations, to all people, we need to stop asking, "Who is my neighbor?" and ask, "How can I love my neighbor more extravagantly?"

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Have You No Sense of Decency?

The decision of Republicans in the House to pass a Farm Bill that does not include food assistance for the most vulnerable Americans should not have surprised me. The GOP caucus has for quite a while been in the thrall of Ayn Rand's radical ideology. The rich are virtuous and should be rewarded and the poor are lazy and should never be helped in any way. The GOP justifies its ideology by constructing a straw man Democrat who thinks "rich people are evil," "people of faith are ignorant and uneducated," and "the earth is flat." (The quotes are from a June 18 Politico piece by Gov. Jindal.) These are same people who claimed that the Affordable Care Act, which had its origins in a conservative think, is socialized medicine and includes death panels. These are the same people who tried to make us believe that the IRS was targeting only conservative groups that were applying for 501(c)4 status. These are the same people who complain about the President's decision to postpone enforcement of a provision of the Affordable Care Act that they voted against. These are same people who.... No, the list is too long and it makes my head hurt to think about it.

In the midst of a televised hearing in 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy accused attorney Joseph Welch, who was representing the Army, of having an associate with ties to a Communist organization. Welch responded, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." When McCarthy continued his attack, Welch said, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"

Some in the GOP have decided that demonizing the poor, in the much the same way that McCarthy demonized liberals, makes good political sense. To them I echo Welch's words. "Have not these Americans suffered emough? Have you no sense of decency?"

Friday, July 5, 2013

Edward Snowden and the NSA

I had breakfast this morning with my friend Paul Bresnahan. Eventually our conversation moved from matters ecclesiastical to Edward Snowden.

I have to confess that the Snowden affair has left me puzzled. I am not at all surprised by the extent of the NSA's domestic surveillance, but I am disappointed. I had hoped that the President would not continue the policies of his predecessor and I have some faint hope that now there will be some serious discussion of these surveillance programs. Faint hope only because it seems that there is little interest among members of Congress, many of whom want to have hearings on just about anything - perhaps hearings on the President's golfing could be next.

I am puzzled mostly about Snowden himself. He violated a promise he had made when he went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton and rather than take his knowledge of how vast the surveillance program to a member of Congress or a major news organization here, he went to China and shared the information with an English newspaper. Daniel Ellsberg, to whom Snowden has been compared and who has made some supportive statements about Snowden, first took the Pentagon Papers to a member of Congress and only then went to the New York Times. Then he waited to be arrested. Perhaps, as Paul suggested at breakfast, news organizations here now lack the courage they had then, but I don't think so.

As puzzling as Snowden's decision to go to Hong Kong, his decision to release details of US spying on the Russian President was even more puzzling. Was it motivated by spite, by a desire to embarrass President Obama on the eve of his meeting with President Putin? While our knowing more about the domestic surveillance programs may serve a useful purpose, what useful purpose is served by our knowing about spying on world leaders? Many of us assumed it was happening, and that other governments were gathering as much knowledge as they could about ours. Having it confirmed by Snowden serves no purpose.

I hope that Snowden will find a way to return home. I even hope that the Justice Department will help make that possible by showing some leniency. I don't want Snowden to live out his days as a man without a country.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Last week's decisions by the Supreme Court were a mixed bag. The court's decisions on marriage equality will work to move the nation towards the Constitution's stated goal of a more perfect union. All married couples will now be treated equally by the federal government and marriage equality is now a reality in one more state. The fight against marriage equality will, sadly, go on with the heterosexists among us trotting out all the discredited claims about danger to children and to the institution of marriage and complaining about the discrimination that they are enduring. It will take time, but it is clear to me that marriage equality will be achieved in every state, sometimes through legislation and sometimes in the courts.

What is much less clear to me is how voting rights will be protected after the court's striking down of one section of the Voting Rights Act. Within hours of the decision, Republicans announced their intention to enact new voting rules that had been blocked by the Justice Department. Picture ID requirements will be passed in some states, making it much harder for poor citizens, many of whom are people of color, to vote. What is remarkable about this attempt to disenfranchise thousands of voters has been how honest some of the Republicans have been about their real goal - to make it harder for Democrats to get elected.

Because I have a fairly realistic view of human nature, I don't hold out much hope that the members of Congress will replace the invalidated section of the Voting Rights Act with one that is not likely to be struck down in court. Nor am I optimistic about a change of heart for those Republicans who are working to disenfranchise voters. I think we will have to protect voting rights through the courts, challenging every new attempt to limit citizens' franchise. The Supreme Court's decision has made that harder and more costly, but it has not made it impossible. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.