Defend Family Values–For All


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Evangelical Leader Calls McCain An Unprincipled Waffler

One would think that religious leaders would not appreciate the unethical and dishonest campaign which John McCain has been running. One religious leader has actually spoken out against McCain, calling him an unprincipled waffler.  The Colorado Independent reports:

Richard Cizik is one of the country’s most powerful and outspoken Christian evangelical leaders. He happens to be a Republican, and he has known the GOP’s presidential nominee for many years. “I thought John McCain was a principled person,” Cizik says. “But John McCain has backed off, not just on climate change but on torture and a sensible tax policy — in other words, he’s not the John McCain of 2000. … He seems to be waffling on issue after issue.

It’s not illogical for someone to conclude that John McCain is going to be more like George Bush than John McCain is going to be like John McCain in 2000.”

Characterizing the GOP’s presidential nominee as an unprincipled waffler is strong stuff from the man who oversees governmental affairs and is the chief lobbyist of the 30-million-member Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Evangelicals. But Cizik — named this year by TIME magazine one of the world’s 100 most influential people — is no stranger to controversies that come from strong convictions.

Over the past several years, Cizik, whose organization represents 45,000 churches from 59 denominations, has emerged as a passionate leader in the Creation Care movement — efforts by Christian evangelicals to respond to the perils of global change.

Suffice to say, Cizik’s efforts have rocked much of his world — including the minds of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and a phalanx of other old-guard evangelicals like Tony Perkins, Paul Weyrich and Gary Bauer who tried last year, unsuccessfully, to get Cizik fired from his job of 26 years for sounding the global warming alarm.

Palin Wine Sales Fall

Perhaps it is because most elitist wine drinkers prefer Obama, but the announcement by John McCain of  Sarah Palin as his running mate led to a sharp decline in sales of Palin Syra wine. Serious Eats reports:

Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin might not be fond of San Francisco, but one San Francisco wine bar is fond of Palin Syrah. Or rather, it was.

“It was our best selling wine before (the V.P. announcement),” said Chris Tavelli, owner of Yield Wine Bar, which has offered Palin Syrah, a certified organic wine from Chile, by the glass since July. But after Sen. John McCain tagged Sarah Palin as his running mate, sales of the wine with the conservative’s inverted name plummeted—not surprising in famously liberal San Francisco.

As with the GOP ticket, the Palin falls second in the lineup. The wine’s tasting note reads as it did when Tavelli wrote it months ago: white pepper, madrone, dry. Incidentally, a madrone is an evergreen found primarily in the Pacific Northwest that bears red berries in the fall. When the berries dry up, they are replaced by hooked barbs that latch onto large animals for migration.

Even though sales are down, the wine—like Palin the politician—draws lots of attention and comments. One Yield regular suggested that Tavelli amend the wine’s tasting note to read: moosemeat, salmon, hint of gunpowder.

McCain Attacks Obama and the Press

John McCain’s campaign has been attacking Barack Obama’s background today, both in another dishonest ad and in a conference call with reporters. Marc Ambinder calls the ad “a breezy, guilt-by-association tour.”  Ben Smith points out that the McCain campaign’s charges against Obama are “rife with error.”

The errors in McCain strategist Steve Schmidt’s charges against Obama and Sen. Joe Biden were particularly notable because they seemed unnecessary. Schmidt repeatedly gilded the lily: He exaggerated the Biden family’s already problematic ties to the credit card industry; Obama’s embarrassing relationship with a 1960s radical; and an Obama supporter’s over-the-top attack on Sarah Palin when — in each case — the truth would have been damaging enough.

“Any time the Obama campaign is criticized at any level, the critics are immediately derided as liars,” Schmidt told reporters.

But as he went on to list a series of stories he thought reporters should be writing about Obama and Biden, in almost every instance he got the details wrong.

The McCain campaign responded by accusing Ben Smith of being in the Obama “tank.” Marc Ambinder responded:

As in — no, we don’t have to justify what we say, and the fact that you would question our assertions is proof-positive that you’ve absorbed the Obama campaign’s worldview.

Not only is that Addington-esque in its logic — the spokesperson is PAID by one tank, so how can he possibly make that accusation credibly — it’s also immature (like throwing reporters off planes) and counterproductive.  Maybe I’m in Ben Smith’s tank for saying this.

The McCain campaign didn’t leave it at attacking Ben Smith. Today they also attacked The New York Times:

Let’s be clear and be honest with each other. Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization.  It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day, attacks the McCain campaign, attacks Gov. Palin and excuses Sen. Obama.

One of their complains was a claim that The New York Times didn’t cover Joe Biden’s son’s activities as a lobbyist. Ambinder points out that “The Times has covered the story, twice.”

These attacks on the media show once again how McCain/Palin seems far too much like a replay of Nixon/Agnew. I’m still waiting for them to attack the media as an effete corps of impudent snobs or nattering nabobs of negativism. While these attacks on the media will excite the far right base, most rational people will see through them.

The entire line of attack based upon Obama’s past is faulty. They used factually incorrect attacks which have already been debunked many times and relied upon guilt by association. They hoped to tarnish Obama’s reputation with the overall reputation of Chicago politics, ignoring the fact that while in the Illinois legislature Obama passed landmark ethics reforms. By making the past history of the candidates a part of this campaign, they make raising the Keating 5 scandal fair game against John McCain. A true case of unethical conduct by John McCain is far more meaningful than any number of false attacks on Obama from McCain. If McCain wants to campaign based upon guilt by association, we can look more closely at his close ties to lobbyists, along with his close association to George Bush.

Secularism and The Religious


Bill Maher and Andrew Sullivan had an interesting clash over religion on Real Time this week (video above, along with a discussion of Sarah Palin.) This exchange demonstrates an important point regarding the politics of belief vs. disbelief. Bill Maher generally takes the extreme attitude of not only disagreeing with those who believe in god but of making a point of displaying his disdain for them. Regardless of the validity of the opposing argument, it is a foolish point of view to take from a political perspective. You simply are not going to either change the minds or get the votes of people you deride as being fools. The exchange above also demonstrates why this is unnecessary.

There is similar intolerance on the other side of the issue, with many religious voters failing to understand the meaning of secular government as established by the founding fathers. Andrew Sullivan referred to himself as a religious secularist, which might help clear up some of the confusion among conservatives who equate secularism with hostility towards religion. He differentiated between his faith-based beliefs on religious matters and fact-based views on political issues stating, “I believe our politics should be governed by secular principles.” Maher, while still unlikely to have changed his mind on religion, did concede, “That’s an improvement.”

That is more than just “an improvement.” That is all that is necessary. Any individual’s personal beliefs on religion should be of no concern with regards to politics as long as they understand that religious beliefs should not be the basis for public policy.  Such a separation between religious beliefs and public policy is also what Obama has been advocating in his defense of separation of church and state. Obama has argued essentially the same point made by Sullivan in saying:

We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

In other words, religious voters might be influenced by their religious views, but such religious views are not a valid argument with regards to public policy. The beliefs of religious voters are only a valid consideration in public policy if they relate to general or universally accepted values and are not based upon specific religious teachings. It is not necessary to wipe out religion, as a handful of radical atheists seem to favor, as long as religious views are not imposed upon others through government action.

Oliver Kamm discussed this further over the weekend in the Times of London:

Beliefs about first and last things, and religious worship, are private choices in which the state has absolutely no legitimate role. Secularism protects religious liberty by, as Agnès says, abstaining from the choice of one religion against another, or of religious belief against non-belief. Atheism is a private belief, and one I hold; it is not a position that should occupy civic space, any more than should the monotheistic religions.

Even many advocates of secularism get this wrong. I agree with a good deal of the argument of Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, and consider, as Dawkins does, that there is an essential conflict between science and religion. (This is not due to any particular finding of scientific inquiry, such as the fact of evolution, which it’s perfectly possible for a theist to accept. It is due rather to the different ethos of science, which is questioning, and that of religion, which is by definition the explication of a body of beliefs. One is critical; the other is dogmatic.) My difference with Dawkins is on politics and social questions.

The cause of secularism is politically vital. But there is no political case for atheism. (I do believe, as a pragmatic point, that society would be better off if there were more atheists around; but I also believe that society would be better off if moderate religion, accommodating itself to secular government and education, supplanted religious absolutism. A consistent secularist would be indifferent between these possibilities.) Dawkins, by contrast, maintains (p. 44): “American atheists far outnumber religious Jews, yet the Jewish lobby is notoriously one of the most formidably influential in Washington. What might American atheists achieve if they organised themselves properly?”

Leave aside the tendentious first sentence of that statement. (American Jewry is not “formidably influential” in forming public policy, even with regard to US policy in the Middle East; it genuinely isn’t.) The second strikes me as a thoroughly bad idea. I do not wish to see, and will not sign up to, an organised interest group of atheists, because atheism is a private belief, of no civic significance. So is religious belief. The task of defending state neutrality between those positions is what we, and the President of the French Fifth Republic, should defend.

Quote of the Day

“I want to be done playing this lady Nov. 5. So if anybody can help me be done playing this lady Nov. 5, that would be good for me.”
Tina Fey on playing Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live (video here)

That skit appears to be having impact. Since Fey portrayed Palin and Amy Poeler, playing Hillary Clinton, challenged reporters to “grow a pair” and “ask this one about dinosaurs,” one of the hottest search engine strings to bring readers here has been variations on “Palin and dinosaurs.”

John McCain and Deregulation of Health Insurance

They say timing is everything. For John McCain, this was the worst possible time to have this article (pdf) come out in which McCain writes:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

Jonathan Cohn discuses the problems with McCain’s plan for deregulation while Obama took advantage of this problem for McCain in the above ad. As he notes, “States are the ones who must regulate the insurance policies that carriers sell directly to individuals (as opposed to the ones large employers provide for their employees).” While McCain is primarily talking about deregulation to allow cross-state sales, the effect of this would be to leave individuals with far less protection and insurance companies far freer to do what they please.

McCain/Palin Campaign Dominated By Old Bush Advisers

The Washington Post provides more arguments for considering McCain/Palin to be running for a third Bush/Cheney term, reporting that many of their advisers are from the Bush administration.

When Gov. Sarah Palin flew home to Alaska for the first time since being named the Republican vice presidential nominee, she brought along at least half a dozen new advisers to conduct briefings, stage-manage her first television interview and help her prepare for a critical debate next month.

And virtually every member of the team shared a common credential: years of service to President Bush.

From Mark Wallace, a Bush appointee to the United Nations, to Tucker Eskew, who ran strategic communications for the Bush White House, to Greg Jenkins, who served as the deputy assistant to Bush in his first term and was executive director of the 2004 inauguration, Palin was surrounded on the trip home by operatives deeply rooted in the Bush administration.

The clutch of Bush veterans helping to coach Palin reflects a larger reality about Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign: Far from being a group of outsiders to the Republican Party power structure, it is now run largely by skilled operatives who learned their crafts in successive Bush campaigns and various jobs across the Bush government over the past eight years.

Many Republicans are happy about the increased discipline in the McCain campaign but others see the downside to the changes in his campaign:

Yet others, including some sympathetic Republicans, have begun to quietly question whether McCain and Palin are well served by strategists so firmly anchored in the Bush establishment when the candidates are presenting themselves as a “team of mavericks” and agents of change. One Republican with long-standing ties to the Bush administration described the situation as a paradox in which Palin is especially vulnerable.

“If the McCain campaign is trying to prop up Palin as its change agent, and its inoculation against the ‘third Bush term’ rap, then why on earth is she surrounded by a cast of Bush advisers?” said the Republican loyalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Since she’s been selected, every single one of the senior aides that she’s brought on board had prominent roles in Bush’s White House or on his campaigns, or both.”

McCain Campaign’s Connection to Loan Companies Stronger Than Previously Reported

A few days ago I noted that John McCain put out a dishonest ad trying to connect Barack Obama to Fannie Mae and received two Pinocchios from The Factchecker at The Washington Post. The New York Times now reports that ties between the McCain campaign and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are even stronger than we had previously known. Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain, was paid more than $30,000 per month for five years in anticipation that McCain would run for president. They report:

Senator John McCain’s campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say.

Mr. McCain, the Republican candidate for president, has recently begun campaigning as a critic of the two companies and the lobbying army that helped them evade greater regulation as they began buying riskier mortgages with implicit federal backing. He and his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, have donors and advisers who are tied to the companies.

But last week the McCain campaign stepped up a running battle of guilt by association when it began broadcasting commercials trying to link Mr. Obama directly to the government bailout of the mortgage giants this month by charging that he takes advice from Fannie Mae’s former chief executive, Franklin Raines, an assertion both Mr. Raines and the Obama campaign dispute.

Incensed by the advertisements, several current and former executives of the companies came forward to discuss the role that Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager and longtime adviser, played in helping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac beat back regulatory challenges when he served as president of their advocacy group, the Homeownership Alliance, formed in the summer of 2000. Some who came forward were Democrats, but Republicans, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed their descriptions.

“The value that he brought to the relationship was the closeness to Senator McCain and the possibility that Senator McCain was going to run for president again,” said Robert McCarson, a former spokesman for Fannie Mae, who said that while he worked there from 2000 to 2002, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac together paid Mr. Davis’s firm $35,000 a month. Mr. Davis “didn’t really do anything,” Mr. McCarson, a Democrat, said.