Category Archives: religion and politics

Reader Response: “Good Xtians”

Quite a few readers commented on my post on South Carolina’s Lt. Governor Andre Bauer, who said that poor people are like “stray animals” who shouldn’t be fed because it just encourages them to “breed.” Reader Stefan Thiesen’s comment consists of the definition of  Psychopathy: “a personality disorder whose hallmark is a lack of empathy.”

I especially like this response from Charlie Ehlen, a Vietnam Vet and retired machinist from Louisiana, who wrote about my post on his blog Charlie’s Corner:

Now keep in mind that this guy, Andre Bauer, claims he is a “good Christian”. He is running for the office of governor in his state also.

This “wonderful” person is on record as saying that we should treat poor folks like stray animals and not feed them. You see, according to this “good” guy, the poor folks will just come back for more if you help them. We should, I suppose, just let them fend for themselves, and if they die, well, so much better for the state. Yep, that way there would be fewer poor folks to clog up the system. Oh, and more for those who aren’t poor.

It amazes me how these miserable damned jackasses can run around America claiming to be “good Christians” and then say crap like this and the media just lets them walk away from this sort of comment.

Here again is another “fine” example of what I continue to call an Xtian. There is NO Christ in the Xtianity they practice. There is none in what they preach either.

Now, some will jump on me as I am an old heathen, but I do know some bits of the Christian story. Jesus mentioned helping the poor at different times in the New Testament. He did not, that I remember, say to not feed them and just treat them like stray animals. In one story Jesus even went so far as to show socialist tendencies. I refer to the story where he told the rich man to sell all his belongings and give the money to the poor. Not being a follower of any religion, I do not have the chapter and verse in front of me. Any real Christians who might be reading this can look it up I am sure.

I, too, have often had occasion to denounce this kind of hypocrisy from those who proudly identify themselves as “good Christians.” Over the years, the right has tried, with some success, to gain a monopoly on the word Christian as shorthand for a set of narrow-minded and punitive conservative beliefs that are anything but.

However, I’m the grandson of a minister, and while I’m not religious myself, I have no desire to criticize people who are inspired by Jesus’s teachings to do some genuine good. (Quite a few of them are at work in Haiti right now.) That’s why I like Charlie’s terminology, which immediately serves to separate the real Christians from the Xtians.

S.C. Republican’s Plan: Starve the Poor So They’ll Stop “Breeding”

Poor people are like stray dogs and cats, says South Carolina’s Republican Lt. Governor, Andre Bauer. If you feed, them, they’ll just come back for more–and worse still, they’ll multiply. That’s why it’s a bad idea to give them free food or other forms of public assistance. 

At a forum in Greeneville on Saturday, Bauer, who is running for governor, told the crowd:

My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.

You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.

In a later interview with the Columbia, S.C. newspaper The State, Bauer “said he could have chosen his words more carefully,” but that doesn’t change the fact that “South Carolina needs to have an honest conversation about the cycle of government dependency among its poorest residents.”

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, those “poorest residents” include 190,000 children. South Carolina is the 37th worst state when it come to child poverty, 45th worst for infant mortality, and 48th worst for low birth weight babies. Perhaps Andre Bauer can have an “honest conversation” with them–if they aren’t too hungry to talk.

Bauer, who has risen in state politics as a Christian conservative, was immediately attacked by his Democratic opponents for the governor’s seat:

“It amazes me how some Republican politicians claim a monopoly on Christianity and then go out and say and do some of the most un-Christian things imaginable,” said Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod, who participated in a candidates forum in Columbia along with Bauer Saturday. “… Bauer’s comments are despicable and the total opposite of the Christian values Bauer espouses.”

Those “Christian values” were much on display back in June of 2009, when Bauer was rumored to be pressuring Mark Sanford to resign after the governor declared his love for his Argentinian girlfriend. (According to state law, Bauer would have replaced him.) Bauer denied the accusations–and at the same time, attacked rumors of another kind. In the week after the Sanford scandal broke, The State reported:

In each interview, Bauer has not called for Sanford’s resignation, saying it’s not his call. But at times, he has subtly turned up the rhetoric.

During an interview Monday, Bauer, who is a bachelor, voluntarily brought up the subject of his sexual orientation, which he said has been the subject of rumors.

Asked, then, if he’s homosexual, Bauer said: “One word, two letters. ‘No.’ Let’s go ahead and dispel that now.

“Is Andre Bauer gay? That is now the story,” he said. “We’re a long way from where we were a week ago.

“We have diverted what the real topic should be here: Is the governor capable for carrying on the duties for which he was elected?”

Right Wing Gun Group Puts “ObamaCare” in Its Crosshairs

Right-wingers have depicted health care reform as a front for various dastardly schemes, which include everything from killing off grannies and unborn babies to ushering in a socialist state. Now, one radical gun rights group sees yet another hidden agenda behind the reform effort: The health care legislation, they say, threatens their right to bear arms.   

D.C. Tea Party protest, September 12, 2009

The accusation comes from Gun Owners of America, a 300,000-member group that proudly advertises itself with a quotation from Ron Paul: “The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.” The GOA has been described as “eight lanes to the right” of the NRA, which it tends to dismiss as a pack of wussy sell-outs; and the group’s longtime leader, Larry Pratt, was booted from Pat Buchanan’s inner circle for having ties to the militia movement and hobnobbing with white nationalists.

Yet, like the Tea Partiers who draw Republican Congressional leaders to their racially tinged protests against “National Socialist Health Care,” the Gun Owners of America could well influence the reform debate in ways that belie their extremist status. GOA has thrown itself wholeheartedly into the battle for the soul of the GOP, pledging to help oust “RINOs” and other insufficiently trigger-happy Republicans in the 2010 primaries. And last week the Washington Post reported that the GOA’s campaign against health care reform could also “cause political indigestion for Democrats from conservative states,” and have some influence on their final votes.

In fact, no version of the reform legislation even mentions firearms. But that hasn’t stopped the Virginia-based group from raising the alarm about what it calls the “anti-gun ObamaCare bill.” In its most recent alerts, the GOA has fixed on the proposal for a nationwide system of electronic health care records, which, it says, “will most likely dump your gun-related health data into a government database….This includes any firearms-related information your doctor has gleaned or any determination of post traumatic stress disorder or something similar, that can preclude you from owning firearms.”

In other words, better record-keeping and information-sharing might lead some people to be denied gun permits on the basis of serious mental illness. Presumably, this could include people like Cho Seung-Hui, the student who gunned down 32 others before killing himself in the 2007 Viriginia Tech massacre. Less than two years before the shooting, a state court order had directed that Cho be taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation, declaring the young man mentally ill and “an imminent danger to himself or others.” (He was later ordered into outpatient treatment and released.) But Virginia failed to supply this information to the FBI-monitored National Instant Criminal Background Check System, so Cho was able to purchase two semi-automatic pistols in local gun stores, along with two ten-round magazines of ammo on eBay. After the massacre, even George W. Bush willingly signed a new gun control bill—the first in 13 years. But Gun Owners of America doesn’t think insanity is necessarily incompatible with gun ownership. (The group also has a novel approach to such massacres: Put more guns in schools.)

A GOA alert earlier this fall was titled “ObamaCare Could be Used to Ban Guns in Home Self-Defense.” Their premise, as described by PolitiFact, is that “in a bid to control spiraling health care costs, the administration will target people who have ‘excessively dangerous’ behaviors that officials believe raise the cost of health care.”  The legislation’s “special ‘wellness and prevention’ programs” the GOA warns, “would allow the government to offer lower premiums to employers who bribe their employees to live healthier lifestyles — and nothing within the bill would prohibit rabidly anti-gun HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from decreeing that ‘no guns’ is somehow healthier.” (Sibelius earned GOA’s unending wrath when she vetoed concealed-carry gun legislation as governor of Kansas.) “It is even possible that the Obama-prescribed policy could preclude [insurance] reimbursement of any kind in a household which keeps a loaded firearm for self-defense.”

Such dire prognostications are quickly spreading far beyond the GOA’s membership. The Washington Examiner quoted Dave Kopel, research director of the libertarian Independence Institute of Colorado, who said, “The more you socialize costs, the more you empower the argument that the government has the authority to control private behavior.” Kopel continued, “If [the Department of Health and Human Services] can write regulations for lower premiums for healthy habits in general…”Then I don’t see anything in the bill that stops HHS from saying people get higher premiums for unhealthy habits such as owning a gun or a handgun.”

With Republicans sticking to party-line votes against health care reform, the GOA is going after what it sees as vulnerable Democrats. After the Senate cloture vote, GOA attacked Democrats from Conservative states who “were bribed into selling out the American people because Harry Reid ordered them to do so,” and declared: “Can you spell R-E-C-A-L-L?  GOA is looking into which states are the best targets for recalls–and you can be sure that we will be pursuing this option aggressively, exposing the Senators who sold their vote.” It provided a model letter for its members to send, which begins: “Just so you know, I will not forget how you voted on Saturday, November 21 when you threw your support in favor of anti-gun socialized health care.”

But if Democrats like Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln or Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu are swayed by the likes of the GOA, it will mark a new low in the party’s capitulation not only to conservatives, but to extremists of a truly hateful variety. While his views on some subjects may not represent all GOA’s members, Larry Pratt, who has been the group’s executive director for 26 years, has been up to his neck in far-right extremist activity for several decades—an outrider among the pistol-packing white power crowd, and a fellow traveler and inspiration to the militias that sprung up in the 1990s.

Leonard Zeskind, the expert on white nationalist movements, has described Pratt as having “one foot in the political mainstream and the other in the fringe.” Pratt comes out of Fairfax, Virginia, and served two terms in the state legislature in the 1980s, arguing an anti-abortion, anti-tax line. But he made national headlines in 1996, while he was co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign, after news surfaced on his attendance at a meeting of the racialist far right in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1992. As described by Zeskind, in an article for Rolling Stone:

The three-day strategy session was organized by Pete Peters…who pastors to members of a fringe religious group called [Christian] Identity. Identity doctrine contends that Northern Europeans are racial descendants of the biblical Hebrews; that our government is in the hands of satanic Jews; and that black people were created before Adam and are therefore less than human. Identity believers have begun to stockpile weapons, food and supplies in preparation for Armageddon, which they think will be a race war in the United States.

Among the speakers were Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and legendary Klansman Louis Beam. And as Zeskind writes, “Although many of the participants had met before, this gathering was different. This meeting marked the birth of the modern militia movement that would tie well-armed radicals to gun advocates in a right-wing national network.” Beam laid out his theory for carrying forward a white revolution against the Zionist Occupied Government by means of a “leaderless resistence” cell strategy. Instead of mass organizations with known chains of command, Beam said, right wing revolutionaries should go underground in secret cells, unknown and unrelated to one another. The cells could number a few or many members, or individuals could act on their own as so-called Phineas Priests. It’s not a stretch to say that this meeting, and the ideas and energy that came from it, may have helped inspire not only the modern Militia Movement, but also crimes ranging from the murders of abortion providers to the Oklahoma City bombing.

And in the midst of it all was Larry Pratt. Lenny Zeskind describes the GOA leader’s appearance at the meeting:

Pratt stood at the podium and peered out from behind his glasses. He confessed to the crowd of gun lovers that he wasn’t a particularly good shot or an enthusiastic hunter. “I bought my first gun in 1968, during the riots in Washington, D.C.” that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he said. At the time all he could buy was a shotgun. “If they’d had that assault rifle, so-called, for sale, and I’d seen that big old magazine there at the time, that’s exactly what I would have bought.”

Pratt, who had studied the evolution of death squads in places like Guatemala and the Philippines and glorified these vigilante groups, joined Beam in providing inspiration for a revived militia movement. He argued the importance of the old-style posse, organized in militias. In his book Blood and Politics, Zeskind quotes from Pratt’s writing: “When the government no longer fears the people, atrocities become possible….Long live the militia! Long live freedom! Long live a government that fears the people.”

Larry Pratt's facebook photo. (He has 3,021 friends.)

Pratt’s history, in general, exemplifies the blurred boundaries between the “mainstream” and the “fringe”—the right and the extremist (and usually racist) far right. In addition to GOA, Pratt set up the Committee to Protect the Family Foundation, which attacked gays and demanded a quarantine for anyone with AIDS. “Our judges coddle criminals instead of caring for the victims of crime. They’ve chased God out of our schools, defended abortions…and now they are trying to infect us with strange and horrible diseases.” He was a keen backer of Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, and when the government shutdown OR’s finances, Pratt’s Protect the Family Foundation raised money to help pay off the groups debts and fines. And Pratt is also a founder of the anti-immigrant groups U.S. Border Patrol and English First, and a contributing editor to a periodical of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America.

Pratt has said that he is not a racist or a violent revolutionary, though his record suggests otherwise. And the apparent mainstream influence of a radical group like GOA seems especially sinister at this historical moment. We live at a time when the election of the first black president has sparked an explosion in gun sales, and when attendees at anti-health care reform town halls carry assault weapons and signs saying “It is time to water the tree of liberty” (with the “blood of patriots and tyrants” as the quotation continues). All of which is just fine with the Gun Owners of America. Commenting on the idea of “Americans openly carrying firearms outside presidential appearances,”Pratt told CBS News that “the most remarkable thing about this is that some find this behavior to be remarkable.” A few days later, Chris Matthews asked GOA spokesperson John Velleco whether people attending a presidential event should “be allowed to walk in the door armed… Should they be allowed to come into the president’s company and sit in the first row with a loaded gun?” Velleco said that would be fine with him.

In times like this, accommodating the likes of Pratt and the GOA–over health care reform or anything else–is playing with fire.

Days of Whine and Rogues: Palin’s Persecution Complex

If you can stand to read one more thing about Sarah Palin’s overhyped autobiography Going Rogue, have a look at Thomas Frank’s takedown in today’s Wall Street Journal, called “The Persecution of Sarah Palin.” Frank argues that the supposedly tough, indefatigable Palin–the woman who shoots wolves from helicopters and is pround of her high school nickname “Sarah Barracuda”–has in fact drawn virtually all of her political capital from depicting herself as a victim.  

Remember when, as First Lady, Hillary Clinton was ridiculed for talking about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband’s presidency? The conspiracy against Palin, if we are to believe her take on things, is vaster still. It includes not only everyone to the left of William McKinley, but also everyone who ever contradicted, annoyed, or said mean things about her. Furthermore, it’s these malevolent enemies, and never Palin herself, who are responsible for every one of her screwups, shortcomings, and humiliations.

Members of Palin’s base–who similarly tend to see themselves as victims of the tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading left-wing freak show–appear to wholeheartedly embrace, and even celebrate, this etiology. Frank writes that conservatives “love a whiner,” and continues:

It is her mastery of the lament that explained former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s appeal last year, and now her knack for self-pity is on full display in her book, “Going Rogue.” This is the memoir as prolonged, keening wail, larded with petty vindictiveness. With an impressive attention to detail, Ms. Palin settles every score, answers every criticism; locates a scapegoat for every foul-up, and fastens an insult on every critic, down to the last obscure Palin-doubter back in Alaska.

From Ms. Palin’s masterwork, we learn that the personal really is the political. Every encounter with a critic seems to be a skirmish in the culture wars, from the Alaska debate moderator who didn’t play fair once to the “wealthy, effete young chap” who ran against her for governor.

It’s those “effete” types who have most relentlessly persecuted poor Palin–including that devious shill for the liberal elite,  Katie Couric. According to Frank, Palin “claims that what ruined her famous interview with wily CBS News personality Katie Couric was the latter’s ‘condescension,’ which caused Ms. Palin to bungle questions like the one in which she was asked to name her favorite newspaper.”

This type of victimology, which depicts the “little guy” at the mercy of this snobbish but shadowy elite, is nothing new in the Republican Party; it’s at the root of the “conservative populism” Frank himself described in What’s the Matter with Kansas? But it seems especially twisted coming from the gun-toting, trash-talking Palin, who likes to act as if she could survive in the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a pocket knife and a book of matches, but can’t prevail against a bunch of liberal journalists or McCain campaign meanies.

When she quit the Alaska State House this summer in what many saw as a cut-and-run move, Palin says her father declared: “Sarah’s not retreating, she’s reloading.” But clearly, Palin does best when she can pretend that she’s the one in the crosshairs of a hostile and unfair world.

Catholic Hierarchy Threatens the Capital’s Homeless

For the second time in a week, the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church has jumped into sexual politics at a time when conservatives are trying to make sexuality and reproductive rights a divisive issue in health care reform. Last week the Conference of Catholic Bishops got involved in vetting and promoting the anti-choice amendment in the House health care reform bill. Yesterday, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., threatened to cut off money provided by Catholic Charities to the poor and homeless in the capital over the issue of of gay marriage.

Once again, the Church has decided to elevate its own policies on sex to the forefront of national politics, and at a time when the entire social service sector of the economy faces dramatic change. The conservatives have seized on sex as a powerful political lever in the health care debate scheduled to go to the Senate floor next week. Now it may also become a device to influence local policy, under threat of undermining desperately needed social services in the midst of a recession.

Here is part is the Washington Post’s report:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

“If the city requires this, we can’t do it,” Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. “The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”

Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city’s long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination. The clash escalates the dispute over the same-sex marriage proposal between the council and the archdiocese, which has generally stayed out of city politics.

On the one hand, you could say that the Church is simply standing up for its beliefs, which hold both abortion and same-sex marriage as unacceptable. But by choosing these means to advance their beliefs, the Church hierarchy has placed its mission to control sexuality and reproduction before its mission to help the sick and the needy. In doing so, they are serving the agenda of hard-line conservatives, and setting themselves apart from rank-and-file Catholics, who strongly support both health care and charitable work for the poor, and have far more nuanced views on same-sex marriage and reproductive choice than the Church fathers do.

In fact, the current predicament has its roots in decades of conservative policymaking. It began in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan shuttered psychiatric hospitals, dumping thousands of mentally ill people onto the streets, where they were joined by ranks of the poor abandoned by the shrinking social safety net. Reagan’s solution was to tell faith-based charities to take care of them. This, of course, gave these charities the opportunity to impose their religious beliefs on the needy. Yet even in this environment, churches have seldom made threats such as this one, which could harm thousands of the District’s most destitute people. As the Post lays it out:

Catholic Charities, the church’s social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington’s homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers….

Since the 1980s, the homeless have been a commonplace fixture in Dickensian Washington. They beg from downtown street corners as the lawyers, politicians, and lobbyists brush past. Their presence in the capital brings shame on the nation as it is–but if the Church makes good on its threat, they may be worse off still. And over what? 

“Lets say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on top,” said council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 6), the sponsor of the amendment. “Why can’t they say, based on their religious beliefs, ‘I can’t do something like that’?”