Monday, April 28, 2008


Historical Analogies

Analogies to "Munich" are overworked ... so let's have "Snyder's addendum" to Godwin's law about analogizing any act of war avoidance to Munich (especially when some of the "containment" strategies being proposed are exactly what we should have done at Munich). In the meantime, too many nit-wit "free traders" don't seem to understand a whit about what happened in the Irish Potato Famine. If you wanna use a historical analogy, perhaps you should give Munich a rest and reference the Potato famine instead?

Just a suggestion ... could make for some interesting threads though:

A: War! War! War!
B: I think that we need to reach a compromise, instead
A: Your attitude is just like that of Chamberlain at Munich, er that which produced the Irish Potato famine
B: Swha?

See pro-war folks? This'll be good for y'all as you can confuse your opponents in argument to the point where they just can't respond! (warning: approach does not work in actual wars with guns and such -- but this won't matter to chickenhawks who ain't enlisting anyways).

Friday, April 25, 2008


Wow ... This Blog's Almost Updated Daily

but I'm not makin' any vow to do that (as they say you should say to be on the safe side).

Anyhoo ... sometimes the news sure is stupid. NPR had a segment on how the French have soured on Sarkozy. Wow! I never saw that coming < / sarcasm >. Come on folks -- if you have a choice between Bush and Kerry, er, Sarkozy and Royale, I understand how Kerry, er, Royale could turn you off with her general attempts to seem "tough" or whatever it was that she did that made her just look like a jerk ... but Sarkozy was in the public eye enough, the French people should have known what they were getting.

IIRC, as I said in the last French election, the French are starting to turn into Americans ... and indeed they sure are: they voted for a turd sandwhich (Southpark reference, in case you don't get it) knowing who he was and now are upset about it? Unless they were so dense they didn't know who the Sark was when they voted for him ... and how purposely dense is that (insert joke about French tastes here). How much ya wanna bet that at the next election, they'll vote for Sarkozy again in spite of what he is because they decide the other candidate isn't "serious" or something?

Thursday, April 24, 2008


You Heard it Here First

McCain is stepping up his campaigning on "the Dem nominee will raise your taxes, which, in this economy, y'all know you can't afford -- vote for me, I'll cut government spending". As people have pointed out, even if McCain were motivated to cut spending, he probably couldn't cut entitlement spending much without people realizing "hey, you may not be raising my taxes, but your screwing me out of the money to which I am entitled" and can't cut earmarks without offending key supporters.

I have heard noises that McCain is actually gonna cut military spending. Look out in the coming weeks/months for supposedly independent "news analysts" and pundits to start talking about how "like it took Nixon to go to China, the military-backgrounded McCain is in a unique position to actually be able to cut the bloated defense budget as if Clinton or Obama did it, people [like me] would accuse the President of not supporting our troops ... but people know St. John supports the troops, so he'll be able to cut defense spending". FWIW, I bet he also has a secret plan to get us out of Vietnam, er, Iraq.

If I'm right about this, can I get a lucrative job prognosticating political trends as a pundit? Oh, wait a minute -- they pay people to be wrong, not to be right ... otherwise Michael Moore (who called the need for a new cold war, er, the war on terrorism over 10 years ago, c.f. Canadian Bacon, etc.) would be on all the TeeVee gabfests and the current punditocracy would be the ones being dismissed as propagandists with weight problems.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


More Bittergate

Based on what various friends of mine who are more in touch with "Middle America" than I am (I guess, c.f. Emerson on where America begins, coastal dwellers, people who are not exactly white -- no matter how working class they are -- non-Christians, etc., are not real Americans?), Obama's bitter remarks really are hurting him amongst white, working class folks.

Ironically, they seem to be hurting him because he's struck a nerve. Many white, working class Americans are bitter. They see the social liberalism that dominates the Democratic party (mainly because (1) talking about teh sex is more fun and (2) the media is afraid to talk about class issues because they know on which side their bread is buttered -- so the political discourse, Dem and GOP is dominated by "social issues") as being liberalism by and for rich people and involving tax increases the working classes can ill afford. To the working stiffs, all those rich liberals who think everyone can afford the governmental programs those rich liberals propose, are out of touch.

However, when Obama points out that white, working class Americans are bitter and eschew social liberalism because they are economically not comfortable, those same working stiffs consider him to be an example of the very sort of out of touch liberalism that drove them into the "Reagan Democrat" camp 30 years ago? I guess people so dislike even a whiff of condescension they'd rather shoot themselves in the foot than vote for someone who dares merely repeat what white, working class Americans themselves have been saying all along? It reminds me of those Jews who, in the run up to the Iraq war, were practically bragging about how good it was that the US was gonna fight Israel's battle for it but then, when Walt and Mearsheimer made the same point, referred to the latter as "anti-Semitic".

And it's not just Obama who has suffered from this problem. Edwards too was dismissed by the very people whose words he echoed. In general, it's gotten to the point where X says "I am Z" but when Y says "X is Z" that is taken as evidence, even by X himself, that "Y is out of touch with X"? What's going on here? And how do we fix our body politic so long as the very evidence of being "in touch" is taken as a sign that one is an out of touch elitist?

Have we become so bogged down by the sins of envy and pride that the mere existance of limousine liberals becomes evidence of liberals being out of touch and liberalism as being too expensive for the working stiff to afford? If so, how do we liberals address these perceptions of liberalism as being costly? The real victory of the right in the class wars, after all, was convincing working stiffs that they benefit from conservative maintainance of social hierarchies and that liberalism was by and for the professional classes and thus too expensive for the working classes.

We've discussed at length, here and elsewhere, how the right did this -- in terms of a focus on virtue, perverse effects, etc. Of course, the coincidence of great upward mobility by women and minorities reaping the rewards of the civil rights era with general economic problems due to global economic issues like the oil embargo and "malaise" sure didn't help us as it seared a zero-sum mentality into the minds of white, working class males -- as much as the right claims we liberals are only concerned with "dividing the pie" rather than growing it, the conservative obsession that "taxes take away my share of the pie" and ignorance of how a more evenly divided pie might result in growth (as it historically did -- the 1950s the conservatives so like was the result of a more equitable economic system created by liberal programs) belies that a zero-sum mentality on the right that resonates with working stiffs (who see their economic situation as zero-sum for good reason) and that is projected onto the left.

But again, I ask -- how do we address these problems when people think that you being "in touch" enough to address them is a sure sign of you being out of touch? Working stiffs will tell you they'd vote for a Dem who is [] and then they proceed to describe an Obama or Edwards. And yet, immediately they label Obama or Edwards as exactly the kind of "out of touch" Dem. that drives them away from our party? What gives? And how do we change whatever gives here?

Monday, April 21, 2008


Nice Polite Republicans


-- Lincoln Chafee was complaining about there being "too many extremists on both sides" and praising "the gang of 14" and then complained that Dems. didn't do enough to block the Iraq war? I guess he's in no position as a nominal, somewhat former Republican (and "independent") to be otherwise, but what wankery! Will someone point out that the Dems. are ineffective not because they are a bunch of dirty hippy moonbats but because they are too afraid of being liberals to make a stand? That us "extremists" were wanting the Dems. to take a stand whilst the leadership was effete not out of liberalism but out of a lack thereof?

-- Ira Glass (he probably thinks he's a Democrat) thinks that Geoff Davis' appology was a good example of heart-felt and exemplary whilst Obama's (and Clinton's) were not? Well, AFAIC, a fake gaffe deserves a fake apology. Meanwhile, how is an "apology" in which you say you didn't mean to impugn someone's integrety when that is exactly what you meant to do in any way exemplary? The frightening thing is that this sort of wankery by hipsters (which is pro-GOoPer) is what gives us liberals a bad name. Nu? How's that?


Pesach, Shabbos HaGadol and Achrey Mos Blogging

It almost seems that the allusion to the deaths of Aaron's sons at the beginning of this last week's parsha was along the lines of Dershowitz' hypothesis about God himself learning morality. Is this because morality is, as the realists/natural law theorists might say, something to be discovered? Or is there another lesson here?

Perhaps the kasha about God not appearing in the Purim story (but maybe not about Moshe not being in the Haggaddah) is related. The reason for the delay of the rule against entering the Holy of Holies except on Yom Kippur is that God did not know his own power until after the death of Aaron's sons: God is as suprised by what happened as Cain is by the death of Abel. The answer to the question can God make a stone too heavy for God to lift is perhaps " even God cannot know that". Maybe that's what Milton Steinberg would say? Perhaps God is in the Purim story as God, pace Einstein, does play dice with the universe?


On Shabbos HaGadol, in preparation for our hope for Elijah at the seder, we read of Malachi's promise of the return of Elijah. Until Elijah's return, since Malachi, we have not had a Navi. Imagine if we had a Navi. Given all the rhetoric surrounding those who dare criticize the US or Israel, could you imagine the reception such a Navi would get? Perhaps, until we can do a better job accepting criticism, God cannot and will not send Elijah -- which means no Moschiach until we are more humble?


I'm Blogging from a New Location ...

... don't get your hopes up, though -- I've not made my triumphal return to the NYC area yet, but I'm now in the new FSU chem building! Hurray! I guess ...

Anyhoo, you'd think someone would have already done this, but, in honor of being the day after a festive meal -- a Talmudic treatise on the acquisition of leftovers (written whilst waiting for the movers to need us to kibitz):

Moochim 1a

Mishna: Leftovers may be acquired via 4 virtues: by helping out with the dishes after the meal, by helping to prepare the festive meal, by leading the grace after meals particularly quickly but with a beautiful and understandable voice and by being a student. R. Moocher adds, by being a begger so that the master of the house may fulfil the obligation. But the sages disagree, saying the truly needy would not sit down to eat.

[The] Gemara [begins]: Which obligation? Rava states the meal refers to the seder and says the obligation is to feed the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt. Ravina says the meal is Sukkoth, thus the true begger would not sit, lest he dwell in the sukkah and thus no longer be in need [of housing].

Come and hear, how the grace after meal acquires leftovers, as it is said, "feed me with my portion that I may not be full and deny Thou". Feed me with thy portion refers to what is ate at the meal as well as leftovers. For he that saith grace is evidently not full and thus may not have had his portion, the remainder of which he taketh home in a doggy bag even if he hath not a dog.

It was taught in a Baraisa that being a student (*) acquires leftovers as it is said "everyone thirsts for water". The Torah, being as sustinance, is acquired by a student. Moreover, the study of Torah is rewarded in this world as well as in the world to come. "This world" refers to the meal, "the world to come" to the leftovers.

R. Moocher was once invited to a banquet at the home of a gentile. He ate heartily and was asked to lead grace. Having led grace so beautifully, the mistress of the house proceeded to give him food but then stopped -- "how will you eat it, as your home is kosher?". Whereupon R. Moocher accepted the food saying "I have paper plates and plastic flatware and shall eateth of the food over foil".

(*) Rashi notes that the Amorim are saying that one acquires leftovers by being a student not that the state of being is one of leftover acquisition. The tosaphos expand "come-on Gramps, everybody knows that -- the most important question is who taught how grace acquires leftovers. It is R. Pappa who obviously had some of his own beer when he made that argument"


I hope all are having a happy Pesach!

Friday, April 18, 2008


A Gut Shabbos un' Zissen Pesach ...

... to all! Even Daniel in the comments to the last thread ...

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Yet Again ...

... the only way to find out what's happening in the world is to know someone who very carefully combs through The Hindu and sends you links. I've been saying this for years, but you'd never see something like it in the American media, now would you?

When it comes to high food prices, on the right they like to blame "dirty hippies with their bio-fuels", on the left big-agribusiness, meat eaters, etc. And everybody blames government subsidies. But maybe the markets themselves are problematic? A market sometimes is a good thing -- it provides people with a way to profit from distribution and hence incentivizes distribution. But that profit has to come from somewhere: almost, literally in this case, there is no free lunch. If people are profiting, their is cost added, so we consumers have to pay more. A market "taxes" just like a government distribution program requires tax money to function. Why don't people realize this? Why can't people add?


Update: I wonder whom Daniel will call an "idiot" in re. this?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


A New Kid on the Block

J-Street's really hit the ground running, that's for sure ... especially in the publicity department. And isn't this what an advocacy/lobbying organization at some level needs most?

Maybe they'll finally be some reasoned pro-Israeli voices in our discourse? To hear the so-called pro-Israeli voices talk (same thing with the so-called pro-American voices), any criticism of Israel means you hate Israel and the Jews. Sorry to go ad hominem but I'd hate to see how people who think this way raise their kids: "I love my kids, so I'll never offer them even constructive criticism"? Or how they treat their friends "I can't tell my friend he's going to do something stupid -- after all, I'm his friend, I have to encourage him to do whatever he does".

I'd hardly call the sort of person who would rake a Navi over the coals for being a "self-hating Jew" for his criticism pro-Israeli in any meaningful way. Let's hope this J-Street thing works out and changes the tone of discourse. Heck, let's hope it does succeed in pushing the peace process necessary for Israel's long term, healthy survival.

'Cause ya know -- if we Jews are living always under siege in Israel, what was Zionism then? How has it made the situation of our people "normalized"? So long as Israel and its "supporters" maintain a siege mentality vis-a-vis Israel's enemies (whether that mentality is a reasonable or even the only response to the very real security challenges faced by Israel), the Zionist dream has not been realized.

Maybe the mere attitude of J-Street represents an actual "victory" of Zionism?


Grade A vs. Grade B Maple Syrup

I was raised on Grade A Maple Syrup. Heck, my dad would drink the stuff. I decided since I like stronger flavors than my parents (and I also need to pinch some penneys), I'd try the Grade B stuff. It might indeed not be worth the extra money to get Grade A, but still, I just don't like Grade B as well as Grade A: I might like stronger flavors, but I also like subtlety, and Grade B Maple Syrup just lacks subtlety -- it seems like it just doesn't have the same balance between the "maple flavor" and the bouquet that Grade A has. Maybe people are not irrational to pay for Grade A and it's called Grade A for a reason?

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Things That Confuse Me

* Since when does being a friend to [X] mean you can't critize [X]? Since when does loving [X] mean you can't criticize [X]? Does a true friend let someone do something self-destructive? To hear certain neo-con types talk, ya start to wonder -- how much do they spoil their kids if they think that loving [X] means not criticizing X?

* How was Obama's latest comment about working-class whites being bitter elitist and out of touch? That sounds like some major projection on HRC, the media's, et al's part ... I wish Obama wouldn't have tried to "clarify" what he said but to stand by it (and to quote MLK saying similar things -- how many people actually remember that MLK's famous speech Our God Is Marching On contained a very succinct account of how segregation was part of a larger plan primarily to keep the white working classes down?). Obama's so-called gaffe really could have been a way for him to reach out to white, working class voters ... but by running away from it, he lost the opportunity to embrace a message that, since Edwards' leaving the campaign, has been absent (and which could be a winning message). But by running away when someone says boo -- Obama has just done what every Democrat running away from the liberal image is doing ... why the #@$% did he do that?!?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Theodicy and God as a Parent, or, Out of Season Genesis Blogging

I was thinking (whilst having a political debate with someone) about how the Arab/Israeli conflict would be solved if it were the brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, fighting over a toy rather than two peoples fighting over land. Of course, in the Bible, God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah, but imagine if my parents or your parents were the parents of Isaac and Ishmael ... I dunno about your parents, but my parents would not even listen to any complaints about who was right or who was wrong, but would take the toy away from both of us until we could share it. This might not be the most just way to handle a fight, but that's what parents do ... and perhaps with good reason.

There are many times in Genesis where God is not just (c.f. the footnote to this post). Theodicy definitely is a problematic area. But if we view God as Our Parent rather than the Font of Justice, doesn't a lot of divine (in) justice make sense? Just as a parent takes things away from the child in the right as well as the child in the wrong rather than take sides, is it surprising that God does not do the same?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Tzaria/Mitzora Blogging

I don't have much to say (or maybe, judging by the length of this post, I do -- but I, follow the lead of my wife's Rabbi from his sermon last Shabbos, am not talking so much about Tzaria per se as using the Holiness Code as a synecdoche for Leviticus and talking about that ... although I'm going in a somewhat different direction here than he went), so I'll pretend it's not a leap year and that this week's and last week's parshioth were combined. Moreover, one of the advantages of this blog being over a year old is that not only do I not have much to say, but I've said most of it before, so I'll just link to it.

One thing additionally to note is that we often consider the priestly tradition as being focused on purity whilst we consider the prophetic tradition to be focused on mussar. And we think "the priestly code" is not only "out of date" but also too harsh and difficult. However, it is the words of the Prophets that we de facto treat as being out of date by not realizing what they had to say politically (look at the furor over what Rev. Wright said -- could you imagine what people would say about the words of a modern day Isaiah? or Jeremiah?) and it is their moral exhortations that are the hardest to live up to. OTOH, the priests, rather than exhorting people and nations to live up to their moral potential, came to where the people were (even if they were "lepers" or otherwise unclean) and helped them take baby steps, via rituals, toward a better life.

It's no wonder then, that the purveyors of cheap religiosity often try to enforce (misinterpretations) of the Holiness Code legislatively, and to claim that the Holiness Code is the end-all of morality, at the expense of Prophetic teaching. Their version of the Holiness Code not only appeals to our prurient interests but is easier to live by (all you need to do is avoid teh hawt gay sex ... or place in the Frum Olympics ... and you are a moral person, as far as they are concerned). Heeding the words of the Prophets involves an awful lot of self-criticism, at which we are all, at some level, loath to engage (and when we do engage in it, it is typically as part of a pity-party designed to get others to boost our spirits by telling us we don't suck as much as we are claiming we do).

This is not to say that the priestly tradition has no place in our religious lives. We need both the priestly tradition to help us to return to God (and the moral discipline instilled by the Holiness Code -- and when we view the Holiness Code as something to help us be holy unto God, perhaps we can better reinterpret it as a positive document to deal with today's modern understandings of sexuality, etc., rather than condemning behaviors the Holiness Code really did not seek to condemn nor would it have condemned them in today's context) as well as the Prophetic tradition to set lofty goals for us as well as to tell us of our need to return (which we hate getting told -- c.f. the controversy about Rev. Wright).

Indeed, liberal Christians tend to view Jesus' message as rejecting the priestly-code aspects of Judaism while keeping the Prophetic ideals. However, outside of the Sermon on the Mount and a few other speeches like that, nothing could be further from what the Christian Bible presents about Jesus. He may be presented as of the tribe of Judah, but his message is clearly Levitical (in fact, I seem to remember reading somewhere some sort of evidence that Jesus was not of the tribe of Judah but was in fact a Zadokite Priest): as a Priest, he reaches out to the lepers, to the sinners to bring them back into society ... and he certainly was no Navi (conta Islam). That Christianity "rejected" Jewish notions of "purity" does not bespeak a rejection of the Priestly tradition, but rather a rejection of anything but the Priestly tradition -- in imitation of a priests who sought to purify the sinner, the liberal Christian tradition often seems, from a Jewish perspective, to forget about the purification aspect, but still to focus on reintegration of sinners rather than exhortation ... meanwhile the socially conservative Christians do focus on "purity", even if they tend to be misguided about what really is involved in distinguishing between tahor and tamey.

Perhaps reading closely what the Priests had to do -- from changing their clothes and mucking out ashes, to having to examine potentially highly contagious sick people ... and considering the lineages of the Priestly caste in the Hebraic religion (from Levi being punished for his actions with the Shechemites to Phinchas -- ironically for the white-supremicist types who view Pinchas as being exalted for his actions which they are in racial terms, Jewish tradition sometimes sees Pinchas as being given the priesthood as a means of controlling his dangerous zeal and moreover the name Pinchas means pretty much "the Nubian" indicating an African origin) -- we can better understand the Holiness Code (which we will start reading in a few weeks) not as an esoteric set of rules designed to stifle our sexuality and such, but as a set of loving guidelines to help us approach God. And with this understanding, perhaps we can remember to reinterpret the Holiness Code in light of today's social situation and realize that, as a document to help us approach God -- to be holy for God is holy, the important part of the code is not to regulate who can sleep with whom ...

I guess I should probably revise this and continue this when I am more awake (it's been a long day, and I'm currently still in lab waiting for certain e-mails to come my way) ... but I suspect I'll just leave this as it is. Hopefully it's understandable!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


A Few Quibbles ...

... if only to procrastinate about updating my job talk ...

I listened to E.J. Dionne last night on Word for Word. All in all he gave an interesting talk (is he sure he's Catholic? he has a somewhat "Jewish" tone to his voice ;) ...), but I do, of course, have some quibbles, which perhaps are actually pretty major, come to think of it:

(1) He seems to think that Christian conservatives would share his view of "Original Sin" and that a Christian would certainly not engage in the kind of hubristic thinking that led us into Iraq as they'd be constantly aware of Original Sin. However, he (like some Catholics who supported the war because they thought that a very Christian, if heretically Protestant President would be conscious enough of Original Sin not to have done what we moonbats knew he was doing and hence they trusted him) forgets that, outside of Orthodox Christianity, the "Catholic-Lite" forms of Protestantism and neo-Orthodox intellectuals, most Protestants have a rather different view of Original Sin primarily framed by the Arminian/Calvinist debate: either they reject the notion (and instead believe that we just will inevitably and irredeamably sin, so any personal or social reform, outside of Christian sphere is doomed to fail) or they accept Original Sin in its "on steroids" version of Total Depravity and view some as Elect who, as Perservering Saints, never really fall victim to the Original Sin.

In this later view, what an Elect person does is, by definition, not sinful, not hubristic and in fact moral. I've discussed the consequences of this here and elsewhere, but politically, the result of belief in Original Sin is for many, pace Dionne, not a certain humility but a certain over-trust in "good people" to do "good things"

(2) E.J. Dionne points out, quite correctly, that social conservatives are not necessarily right-wing in their views on the war, economics or other non-hot-button "moral" issues. He even points out, quite correctly, that the war, economics and other non-hot-button "moral" issues nonetheless have a moral component. However, E.J. Dionne seems to assume that people who realize Jesus and the Prophets were more concerned about the poor than abortionists having teh hawt gay sex would naturally adopt liberal positions on economic issues and moreover vote accordingly.

What E.J. Dionne misses is the difference between believing "abortion is murder" or even "homosexuality is 'abnormal'" and believing "it's important for us to take care of the poor, the helpless, etc." While one can argue that Democratic policies are better for the poor, this is debatable. It may be hopeless naive even to think that arguments that the GOP's "up by the bootstraps" approach is better for the poor are made in good faith. But then it may also be hopeless naive to believe that the Dems. are gonna resurrect FDR, HST and LBJ and actually do something about poverty.

Nu? How can you make the leap from "Jesus said ya gotta be concerned about the poor" to "I'd vote Democratic based on economic issues"? Jesus might not have said "cut the capital gains tax" but he didn't say to raise it either (*). OTOH, if you believe (or more precisely, considering that most pro-life people in their actions don't actually think of fetuses as humans except when viewing pro-life propaganda that pictures them as such, think you believe) that abortion is teh horrible murder of teh cute pre-born babeez, how could you vote for anyone who wants to ensure that murder is legal? Which candidate would you vote for? Candidate X who says murder should be illegal or Candidate Y whose policies will in fact lower the murder rate but who thinks murder should be legal? Indeed, if you are a Christian social conservative (vide infra about the embrace of social conservatives of what Hirschman calls "the futility argument"), you probably don't think of laws in a pragmatic way anyway -- you don't necessarily think the import of a law is that it'll influence behavior (you think that's futile, c.f. Paul's critique of Jewish "legalism"), but rather to you (sexual) morality is exactly what you think should be legislated as the point of law is to send a message about what society should accept and what it shouldn't accept in order to develop virtue amongst the citizenry (c.f. Nisbet's version of conservatism).

The focus of social conservatives on issues involving teh hawt sex may in part be (as we liberals tend to assume) about anti-feminism or simply a prurient interest mascarading as anti-sex ideology, but there is a key difference between social conservativism and economic liberalism as far as Christian conservatives concerned: while it's important to support politicians who campaign to allieviate poverty, who is to say that Dem proposals are any better than GOP proposals or that Dems are campaigning in any better faith to do so than the GOoPers? OTOH, if you do believe abortion=murder, then how can you vote for someone, even if you agree with her on other issues far more than her opponant, who thinks abortion should remain legal? And even if the choice is between a nominally anti-abortion Dem and a pro-choice GOoPer, what matters is the judges who are the ultimate interpreters of the law: if the Dem would enable the appointment of judges who view abortion as a constitutional right while the GOoPer would enable the appointment of judges who'll allow abortion to be treated as murder, who is really pro-choice and who is really anti-abortion?

I'm not arguing we should change our stance on social issues (at the very least we'd loose voters of faith by not acting in good faith and maintaining our view that our stances on social issues are also moral stances), but we need to be realistic about our chances with Christian social-conservatives: just because they may be shaking off their ties to the GOP and realizing that we liberals actually have the same priorities as does the Bible while the GOP might not, that doesn't translate into votes for us -- directly at least (**). After all, while we liberals too often dismiss the importance of priorities (and consider those of us who point out that we liberals would do well to prioritize economic liberalism to be "concern trolls"), just because we have Biblical priorities doesn't mean we have any more of a lock on moral values than the GOP does: we may care about the poor and the Bible says that's important, but who's to say our ostensible caring means much? Nu? Why should a social conservative who is not yet a committed economic liberal vote then for a party with Biblical priorities on economic issues but not, in their point of view, social issues? (BTW -- I must add here -- in many places in this post, I'm not arguing how I actually feel but trying out that liberal value of seeing things from other points of view ... I, as y'all know, do feel we liberals also embrace Biblical priorities on social issues and that the Bible is perfectly compatable with social liberalism ... indeed, I am a social as well as an economic liberal in part because I believe in certain religious tenents ... however, for me to think that we liberals have a monopoly on moral arguments would be as wrongheaded as for conservatives to think the same)

Additionally, even if someone believes in helping the poor, there is an antinomian/"libertarian" tradition in Christianity which would tend to distrust government action (and hence modern liberal approaches) to do so. A large part of what distinguishes Christianity from Judaism (and even goes into the idea of Original Sin that E.J. Dionne embraces) is a distrust of "legalism" and the efficacy of good works in providing either personal or social salvation. The Social Gospel E.J. Dionne referenced is, we should remember, the work of 19th century Protestantism and, while it was transformative in the development of American Progressivism (but also in part responsible for the perception of us liberals as a bunch o' Puritanical busibodies), it has not been, throughout most of Christian history (or even among most Christian leftists, c.f. liberation theology) the predominant way Christians have conceived of how to deal with the problems of poverty, etc. While the dispensationalist premillenialism that influences so much of today's religious right is also a 19th century development, the "futility argument" premillenialists have about social change ("the world is so contaminated by evil, we mere mortals cannot make it better -- we can only make it worse to immanatize the eschaton in which Jesus'll make it all better for us -- just as our efforts cannot save us from sin, but only the sacrifice of Jesus does so") has far deeper roots in Christianity (and even has branches in leftist thought -- as Albert O. Hirschman points out, Leninism in particular is based on the idea that Progressive politics are futile to effect social and economic change).

So even if a social conservative is concerned about the poor -- and even does think we Dems share that concern about the poor more than does the GOP (but c.f. ** for why it's important we Dems. be perceived that way even by social conservatives who'll never for us) -- they still might find Dem. ideas to be futile non-solutions and still vote based on their social conservativism and not based on whom they think is more concerned about the poor as they view mere concern as, well, just concern, and the Dem. ideas as futile anyway.

(*the situation is more complicated in Judaism where our idealized theocracy was extremely redistributionist and where the Talmud gives explicit rights to poor citizens -- viewing a Jew as a citizen of the Jewish People -- and make specific obligations, which presumably would be enforced by the government and the tithing system involved would be a de facto if not de jure tax, to the rich ... so you could argue that Jewish morality says to raise capital gains taxes, but while Jesus was pro-tax -- "render unto Caesar" -- and pro-tax-collector, he wasn't necessary pro-raising taxes to better care for the poor)

** what Dems. who argue "the social conservatives will never vote for us, so why should we care what they think" are missing is the power of "even the ideologically X person/group Y thinks the ideologically ~X person/group Z is right about issue W" (how many liberals supported the war because "even the liberal New Republic thinks that Bush is right about the war"? how many moderates have voted and will vote for the GOP because "even the liberal NPR thinks the Dems are too partisan"? etc ...). We shouldn't change our core values just so so-called values-voters will vote for us (obviously, by doing so, we'd turn off values voters!) ... but we do want people saying "even my socially conservative friend thinks the Dems. have the right priorities on economic and national security issues". As tempting as it is to focus on teh hawt sex, by prioritizing economic issues and actually doing something in the security arena (who could possibly hate the stupid rules and regulations about what you can't bring on an airplane more than social conservatives who view the very project of rules, regulations and laws to effect, e.g., security, as ultimately futile?), we'll have people saying "even my socially conservative friend thinks the Dems are doing the right thing trying to overturn the liquids on planes ban", etc. And even if the "socially conservative friend" will never vote Dem, it would make the speaker of such a line more comfortable and receptive to the liberal agenda and hence gain us vote(s)!

So appealing to social conservatives in areas of common ground between us liberals and they certainly will help us! We just shouldn't abandon our core, liberal values because that won't gain us any votes but rather will cause us to loose the votes of those who are socially (if not economically) liberal.


Wow! This post is long (and rambly and mispelled, etc.) ... I guess it qualifies as a screed. I guess I'm really so nervous about my upcoming job interview, I don't wanna think about it or engage with it constructively (c.f. the futility argument?), so I'm doing this instead?

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