Thursday, December 23, 2004
Happy Holidays! I've been posting so lightly that I couldn't even find it in me to go after the News-Press for endorsing McClintock's insane budget plan yesterday, or to pull together a post on the right's ridiculous war on politeness with this Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas battle the right has ginned up. Oh well, plenty of stuff for the new year. Have a great holiday and rest up: 2005 is going to be an exciting year.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Isn't it Christian to care about mothers? When ardent right-to-lifers state that they believe in saving "pre-born" fetuses even when the health of the mother is at risk, ask them if they're referring to this.

There's something very wrong when Christian fundamentalists crave Christian babies so much that they start killing Christian mothers to get them.


What is the biggest threat to heterosexual marriage? Is it gay marriage? No. Liberal activist judges? No. Renegade, God-hating blue states? No. It's the Federal government, courtesy of the Social Security Administration, that is taking away the church's God-given right to perform marriages between a man and a woman.

The linked article ends with this quotation: "They're delving into every aspect of our lives, including marriage.... I'm appalled." We're so used to thinking that "they" in this type of quote is some shadowy cabal of liberal elites, but here it describes Bush's faith-based government. When will churches realize they're being taken over by the Federal government?

Thanks to Atrios for the link.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Two definitions of equality. My proposed Democratic message begins with "Equality." Republicans and Democrats have different definitions of equality. We have to show how theirs is a sham, and how it takes away your security and freedom.

Case in point. Today, the LA Times reported that Bush has opened a health savings account (HSA). As a healthcare consultant, I can assure you that these are terrible ideas, but that's for another post. Let's focus on the fundamental inequality of Bush opening an HSA.

According to IRS Notice 2004-2, a person eligible to open an HSA : "(1) is covered under a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)...(2) is not also covered by any other health plan that is not an HDHP (with certain exceptions for plans providing certain limited types of coverage); (3) is not entitled to benefits under Medicare (generally, has not yet reached age 65); and (4) may not be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return."

As noted in the LA Times article, "All commanders in chief receive free healthcare from the military," making him ineligible under criterion (2) above. Laura Bush may be eligible to open an HSA if, as the article claims, she is covered by an HDHP from the Federal Employees (FEHB) plan, but as First Lady, she has no employment income she can contribute to the HSA herself.

Is Bush violating Federal tax laws to open up a healthcare tax shelter? And if he gets off on a technicality, what definition of "equality" allows a millionare with free healthcare to use a tax shelter designed for those who are only supposed to receive healthcare benefits after paying high deductibles?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The importance of security. The second part of my proposed Democratic message is "security." Our political debate has been awash in the terrorism aspect of security for years now, but we can't forget that the administration's second term is determined to continue threatening our economic security. And the first salvo in that battle, the battle over Social Security "privatization," is an excellent area to hone our message discipline as an opposition party.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has an excellent post today on our strategic imperatives in this battle. I will resist as best I can at repeating too much of the post; please follow the link and read it yourself. I'm struck, though, at how the warnings in his post about Democratic pitfalls closely mirror the battles we've lost on the "moral values" front. Specifically,

  1. Democrats often take the Republican bait. Republicans are framing "privatization" as an effort to let the American people and the financial markets "save" a Federal program. They're trying to leverage Democrats unease with adopting 401(k)-style reforms in Social Security to distract and frame the debate on their terms. The point we have to remember is that the changes Republicans are proposing, are designed to cripple and eliminate Social Security, not to save it. We made similar mistakes in the gay marriage debate, where we let fundamentalists' efforts to "save" their religious concept of marriage obscure the fact that gay marriage bans impose theocracy on all Americans while also increasing government control over churches.
  2. Democrats aren't aggressive enough in decrying Republican "sins." The Republican spin is that Social Security is in "crisis," or has "problems," or is going "bankrupt." But Social Security runs a surplus every year, and it will continue to run surpluses under the status quo until somewhere between 2042 and 2052. The problem is that Republicans have spent like drunken sailors, hiding the fact that their $500 billion annual deficits don't even mention the $200-300 billion of Social Security surpluses they spend annually on things other than Social Security. If Republicans want to believe that Social Security will go "bankrupt" in 40-50 years, then by the same logic, they've bankrupted the Federal budget every year that Bush has been in office, and the best way to save social security is to crack down on the massive erosion of Federal revenue power and the rampant growth in unaccountable government spending. We've made numerous similar mistakes on the "moral values" front, where we've been forced to defend the use of specific abortion procedures, instead of noting the dramatic increase in abortions under the Bush administration due to horribly designed abstinence-only education programs and the phenomenal drop in Federal economic support for women at greatest risk for unplanned pregnancies.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The perils of dishonesty. Via Atrios, we learn today’s sad morality tale.

On October 4, in the heat of the presidential campaign, Bush showcased the family of Mike Hintz, a youth pastor in Iowa who had benefited from Bush tax cuts. During an Iowa bill-signing ceremony, the Reverend Hintz extolled Bush’s moral values:

Where we are in this world, with not just the war on terror, but with the war with our culture that's going on, I think we need a man that is going to be in the White House like President Bush, that's going to stand by what he believes.

Apparently, though, we need to worry about the believers that stand by Reverend Hintz. He was fired from his church on October 30, and is now charged with sexual exploitation by a counselor. The married youth pastor, $1,600 richer because of tax credits for his four children, began an affair earlier this year with a 17-year-old attending his youth group.

This is not just an opportunity to gloat at religious hypocrisy. This is an alarming indication of the dangers we face from growing religious corruption in America. We cannot trust our children with pastors on the front lines of “the war with our culture.”

Reverend Hintz is another convert to the church of Arthur Dimmesdale, the pastor in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Reverend Dimmesdale, you will recall, tempted Hester Prynne into an adulterous affair with him, condemned her to forever wear a public stigma for her sin, and yet continued to lead his church without being identified as her lover. Reverend Dimmesdale, in a private moment with Ms. Prynne seven years after their affair, acknowledged that his dishonesty allowed evil to lurk undetected among his parishioners:

Canst thou deem it, Hester, a consolation, that I must stand up in my pulpit, and meet so many eyes turned upward to my face, as if the light of heaven were beaming from it!—must see my flock hungry for the truth, and listening to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost were speaking!—and then look inward, and discern the black reality of what they idolize? I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! And Satan laughs at it!

You may have grown weary of sex abuse scandals in the church. This is different. This lays bare the unholy alliance between The Scarlet Party and Christian fundamentalism. Republicans are propping up hypocritical clergy cum culture warriors, who are making churches unsafe for our children.

Even if your church doesn’t have its own sexual predator, the government will be happy to find other ways to endanger you. Consider, for example, that an administration that eagerly sought church directories for campaign fodder is now using the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force to spy on parishioners.


Equality, Security, Honesty. One of the themes of Democrats' election post-mortem is the search for a message. We're starting to acknowledge that many now perceive us as a collection of political interests rather than a party with a organizing philosophy. "Equality, security, honesty" is my nomination for that message. It's a tweak on Clinton's "New Covenant" message of "Opportunity, responsibility, community," built for the post-9/11 and moral values age. Feel free to adopt it and repeat it anywhere you speak on behalf of Democrats.

Of course, we need more than just a slogan. We need to understand how to use the slogan to advance our cause and discredit theirs. I'll post later today on the "honesty" part, using moral values hypocrisy to make religious Americans fear the unholy alliance of Christian fundamentalism and Republican policies.

Saturday, December 04, 2004
Speaking of Our Leaders, I just came across the Mayor's Weblog. Great stuff on there!

I can't believe this is real: Our leader. But those aren't photoshopped.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Gay marriage and the cooties theory. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to overturn gay marriage in Massachusetts. The circumstances and the arguments around this case highlight the most effective strategies of conservatives and Christian fundamentalists. They also highlight how their tacticts can be used against them most effectively.

The case had been brought by Liberty Counsel, a legal group with ties to Christian fundamentalists, and the VP of the Catholic Action League was the prime plaintiff. You'd think that the religious right would be arguing that gay marriage will destroy the family, is against God's will, etc. Instead, they used the "activist judges" line of attack. According to the plaintiffs, Americans have the right "to live in a republican form of government free from tyranny, whether that comes at the barrel of a gun or by the decree of a court." Apparently, those activist judges were practicing tyranny by interpreting the law.

The key to their argument is that letting courts rule for gay marriage is an example of how the liberal elitists are going to tell every one of you how to live. You may not see that in the above quotation, but it will get spun that way in conservative and Christian fundamentalist circles. Witness Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, who claimed the next day that gays and lesbians were "hedonists, self-absorbed hedonists, if you will, that want to impose their particular sexuality on the rest of America." In other words, the activist judges are forcing tyranny on all of you, but what they're really doing is trying to make all of you gay.

This, in essence, is the ridiculous "cooties theory" that explains Christian fundamentalist efforts to ban gays the right to be teachers, boy scout leaders, or even acknowledged as the parents of schoolchildren. It also trades on the commonplace conservative practice of insisting that liberals don't just want freedom for everyone, they want to actively restrict your freedom. This tactic is phenomenally successful, whether or not you find it reprehensible, and it was largely responsible for those 9 million new Bush voters that showed up in November.

The defense in the Supreme Court case stated the obvious, which is that no such conspiracy exists. Merita Hopkins, a Boston city attorney, rightly stated that "Deeply felt interest in the outcome of a case does not constitute an actual injury." Because the plaintiff was not injured by the decision, she argued, they did not have a right to bring the case to the Supreme Court. No one was forcing them to become gay, and no one was forcing them to marry someone of the same sex.

The defense argument was a traditional progressive argument. It even has its roots in scripture. Jesus warns the Pharises in Mark 12:17 to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." It's explicitly a justification of paying taxes to a secular government, but other New Testament passages discourage the Christian church from becoming active at all in changing secular governments or laws.

Unfortunately, the traditional progressive argument is not as effective as a sound-bite message or a voter-mobilization tool as are variations on the cootie theory. So, how can we spin gay marriage bans as an infringement on the rights of Christian fundamentalists? The answer is to frame the legislation of exclusively religious morality as a dangerous infringement on church rights. That strategy requires three steps:

  1. First, acknowledge that religious organizations can and should define marriage. You may not believe it, and you don't have to. But it will throw them off.
  2. Second, acknowledge how much the government has already encumbered marriage by granting it all these secular legal rights and privileges. Probate and property transfer rights, hospital visitation rights, and a slew of taxation provisions have already taken away much of the church's autonomy over marriage.
  3. Then raise fears of Ruby Ridge-style government attacks on Red State churches, something that the ACLU alleges is already happening.

Then, with a straight face, you can say that by opposing gay marriage bans, you're really trying to save the church.

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