Monday, April 14, 2008

What About The Rest Of Us?

Yesterday, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton participated in a Faith Forum in Grantham, Pennsylvania. (John McCain declined an invitation.) They answered questions about abortion, human rights, and global warming. But the most important issue concerning faith and politics never came up, so I'll phase it here:

Many people believe that an individual's faith or lack thereof is a personal matter, something private that should be kept out of the public sphere. They believe that one can easily infer candidate's values from the positions they take, and that public professions of religious belief amount to pandering. Furthermore, they look at the historical impact of religious fundamentalism -- be it Christian, Islam, or anything else -- on public policy and find it largely negative. My questions: What distinctions do you draw between personal values and religion? Are they one and the same, or is religion one of many possible influences on personal values? At what point does religious faith become an inappropriate influence on public policy? Has this ever happened with Christianity in the United States? Has it happened recently? Please cite examples...

Fred Kaplan dissects Bush's speech last week endorsing the 45-day pause in Iraq troop drawdowns requested by General Petraeus. It's an especially interesting read because the brevity of the statement allows Kaplan to parse it word-by-word in some places. For example:

Bush: "As a result of the surge, a major strategic shift has occurred. Fifteen months ago, America and the Iraqi government were on the defensive; today we have the initiative."

Kaplan: "This isn't really true. Yes, "progress"—tactical progress—has been made. But U.S. and especially Iraqi forces are still, by and large, responding to crises when and where they occur. The recent (and unusual) attempt at taking the initiative—the offensive in Basra, which Bush last week called "a defining moment"—played out badly, as Gen. David Petraeus admitted at his Senate hearing on Tuesday. The operation revealed that the Iraqi army is nowhere close to being capable of leading a major fight, and it confirmed that the Iraqi police are nearly hopeless."

Bush: "Gen. Petraeus has reported that security conditions have improved enough to withdraw all five surge brigades by the end of July."

Kaplan: "I hope a few people on the speechwriting team blushed when they penned this passage. Those five surge brigades were going to pull out this July no matter what the situation in Iraq happened to be. Their 15-month tours of deployment will be up by then; they will go home; the Army has no combat brigades ready to replace them. This was always the calculation. It's the product of arithmetic, not policy."

Bush: "As Iraqis assume the primary role in providing security, American forces will increasingly focus on targeted raids against the terrorists and extremists."

Kaplan: "The key word here is the first word in the sentence: "as." As the Iraqis take on "the primary role," we'll reduce our role. The Iraqis are not close to doing this now. So we won't be shifting down for the foreseeable future, either."

Again, read the article. It's an excellent example of how to analyze and interpret political doublespeak. That's something we really can't get enough of...

''We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election." Attributed to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on 9/29/06, in reference to Guantanamo detainees.

It's not big news that the Bush Administration has no problem with politicizing the judicial process, nor is it big news that the MSM appears to have completely missed the impact of this story. The Nation didn't though, pointing out that "political interference at that level would lead to indictments in any other American courtroom." But, that didn't stop them in 2006 and won't stop them this year, either. As The Nation argues, "it has become painfully clear that the Administration's concern is to have not a credible, transparent trial of 9/11 conspirators but election-year convictions at any cost."

What's also painfully clear is that this Administration figured out a long time ago that a broad assault on the democratic process will numb the mainstream media to the point of ignoring it. Either that, or take advantage of the MSM's simpleminded tendency to report everything in a he said-they said context, thus conferring legitimacy on any idea no matter how harebrained or dangerous.


Scrumpy's Baker said...

I am always fascinated by the moral values vs. religion discussion. I am a person of no faith, yet (I like to think) I stick to my values with the best of them. I do use religion to label people, just as many religious people would label me. I am basically instantly suspicious of anyone who claims to be very religious, no matter what the religion. Haven't a great many of the world's atrocities been performed in the name of religion?

K. said...

I was raised Catholic, the stopped attending church as an adult but still considered myself vaguely RC. I returned for a while in the early Nineties and found the Church greatly changed in some ways and not changed at all in others. As it was unchanged in areas of intellectual freedom, human sexuality, and reproductive rights, I fell away again. I stopped considering myself a Catholic over the issue of stem-cell research. The beliefs and practices of religious fundamentalists combined with readings in science have pushed me to agnosticism in recent years.