Friday, July 30, 2004

Yielding Home Field Advantage

Some of us have often wondered why it is that when Jerry Falwell urges his flock to vote Republican he is engaging in an unconstitutional breach of Church/State separation, but when Jesse Jackson urges black parishioners to vote Democrat he's standing in the best tradition of African American preachers. Creationists are accused of illicitly trying to impose a religious point of view on students by suggesting that metaphysical naturalism may not be true, but Darwinians who tacitly advocate metaphysical naturalism are not. It seems that religion in the public square is just fine as long as it's used to reinforce the liberal side in the culture war, but not if it is invoked by conservatives. Thus Bill Clinton's religious affirmations were never seen as a threat to the health of American politics, but George Bush's are.

Even granting that religion should have a legitimate place in our public life, however, there is a right way and a wrong way to express it. Steve Waldman has some interesting thoughts on this at National Review Online He writes:

The Left and Right have both followed the advice of the Founding Fathers at different points in history. Abolitionism and the civil-rights movement - two moral highpoints of our history - were driven by people attempting to impose their religious views on others. So is the right-to-life movement.

There is, however, a problem with the way some religious conservatives approach the political sphere. The problem is not dogmatism, but laziness. Someone who rests the argument for a certain position entirely on the fact that his religion told him to is not really attempting to persuade. Even if one is motivated by faith, one still has to convince others using secular, or at least broad-gauge, moral arguments. It is fine for someone to oppose gay marriage because Leviticus frowns on homosexuality. It's neither appropriate nor smart to say Leviticus calls homosexuality an abomination and so you should too. That is demanding that other people accept your religion. Some religious conservatives forget to persuade because they live in a political cloister, speaking mostly with others who agree with them, and for whom Leviticus is an effective shorthand. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers thought religion important to a functioning democracy is that it would tamp down passions and ensure that people would listen to each other. Religious conservatives need to understand that part of the Founding Fathers' wisdom, too.

Waldman is right. Unless people can argue from mutually shared assumptions they'll just be talking past each other. Thus Christians may hold to a particular belief primarily for religious reasons, but unless they can find non-religious premises from which to advocate their beliefs they'll be unpersuasive to people who don't share their religious worldview. If Christians wish to be effective players in the public arena they have to learn to meet those with whom they disagree on their opponent's turf.

In other words, every big game for the Christian has to be an away game. The only time they can play at home is when they debate each other. If they insist on engaging non-Christians on their own field by quoting Scripture, etc. they're going to find that nobody is going to show up for the game.

Kerry's Acceptance Speech

Usually when John Kerry speaks he reminds me of the history teacher played by Ben Stein in Ferris Buehler's Day Off, but last night he was pretty good, style-wise.

The actual content of his speech, however, was bizarre. It was as if he'd undergone a political sex-change operation.

Like the old football star who brings his game films to the 30th class reunion, Kerry wanted to remind us, and keep reminding us, that he had been a soldier, but he seemed to go right from the Mekong Delta to the campaign trail for president. I almost expected to see thousands of Special Forces troops rappelling down out of the Fleet Center ceiling instead of a balloon drop. Where was there any insight into his nineteen years as a U.S. senator? What did he accomplish during his three terms in the senate? Most importantly, how does his record in the senate support the guarantees he made in his speech?

From the emphasis that was placed on his military service by himself and others it's clear that he considers this his chief qualification to serve as president, but it all seemed surreal, as did the reaction to it in the arena. These people are not big fans of military service, much less of service in Vietnam, and if they really believed that military sacrifice makes Kerry more fit to be president than Mr. Bush they would have all voted for Bob Dole in 1996.

Kerry proudly proclaimed, as if to distinguish himself from George Bush, that he defended his country as a young man, but almost no one over fifty in that arena would agree with him that, his combat heroics notwithstanding, whatever he was doing in Vietnam, it was not defending his country. By 1975 that war was seen by almost everyone as completely unwarranted and unrelated to any conceivable threat to the United States. Kerry knows this. He said as much in his war protest years, so why insist now that he was indeed defending his country?

Aside from the mass hypocrisy of the left-wing of the Democrat party masquerading as pro-military hawks for the rubes out in the heartland there were a number of things about Kerry's speech which were plainly cheapshots.

For example, Kerry slapped Bush for preaching family values but, he said, you don't value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter serving in Iraq. Well, true enough. What you do is ask the senate to approve an 87 billion dollar appropriation to provide those kinds of things and hope that Senator Kerry and his left-wing companions will not vote against it. Your hopes are disappointed, of course, because, despite his grand rhetoric last night Kerry has voted against every single appropriation that has come before him in his 19 year tenure in the senate that would better prepare our military for the battles they must face.

After having clearly implied that Bush lied to us about getting into Iraq, after having stated flatly that Bush only went to war because he wanted to, he called on the president to agree with him to conduct an honorable campaign. This is the Democrats' idea of an honorable campaign: They get to call the president a liar and a betrayer of his country, they get to allege that the president was AWOL from his National Guard service during time of war, they get to accuse the president of sending thousands of people to their deaths just because he wanted to, and they get to allege that the president's talk of values is hypocritical. The president, however, for his part, must refrain from citing the total disconnect between Kerry's votes on the senate floor and the promises he made on the convention floor because that would be a below-the-belt slander. In the democrats' vision of an honorable campaign the president may not even defend himself against the accusations against him for that would be to imply that those making the charges are liars which would be mudslinging of the worst kind.

Senator Kerry claimed that he would restore trust, credibility, and respect to the White House. If he did he would be the first Democrat since Truman to do so, but, the sorry record of his predecessors aside, how can we expect a man who so willingly distorts his opponent's record and motives to be honest with us when things get tough?

Why did Kerry imply that the Bush people have ever said that our economy can do no better than it's doing? When did any high ranking White House spokesperson ever say such a thing? Is this how we restore credibility to the White House?

Kerry observed that we need to bring our allies to our side and assured us that he's just the man to do this, but it's wrongheaded to think that our allies are not at our side because the wrong man is in the White House. As I wrote yesterday, there is a bitter hostility toward the United States percolating throughout Western Europe based primarily upon jealousy over our success and resentment that our success has shown up their own inadequacies. Europe (i.e. France and Germany) are disinclined to follow America's lead in any venture unless, and until, America subordinate itself to their wishes. Thus the only way Kerry will succeed in his arrogant claim to be the right man to bring France and Germany to our side is by diminishing our national sovereignty and weakening our economic, military, and cultural influence. We must, to appease them, repudiate capitalism in favor of the same socialism that has made them such economic juggernauts. In other words, no matter who is in the White House, the French, Germans, and even the Canadians will remain cold and aloof until we become as weak as they are. Like our own domestic politics, it's not about personalities it's about power.

Ultimately, though, neither convention speeches nor debate performances should matter much to a voter. Good speeches are not necessarily good indicators of whether a person would be a good president nor is a good debate performance. These events are media shows, and they do very little to help us determine how fit a man is for office. A man should be judged not on his style, nor his appearance, nor anything else but his record. It's insulting to the electorate to have political managers conducting focus groups and micromanaging a candidate's image, seeking to package a candidate to make him appealing to the least well-informed segment of the voting population, and tacitly telling us that they believe that all that matters to us are the most superficial qualities of the man. Both of the contenders in this campaign have an extensive record, and anyone who doesn't know by now what George Bush stands for or what sort of president John Kerry would be hasn't been paying attention and probably shouldn't vote in November anyway.