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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
For the prosecution: Don Rumsfeld and the Bush Bible briefings
More news from the Dr. Strangelove era in American politics. GQ nails the Pentagon's Jesus briefers, and paints Don Rumsfeld as perhaps the worst Defense Secretary EVER.

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posted by JReid @ 12:46 PM  
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Pew survey finds Christians back lions in torture debate
The Pew survey so many people are talking and blogging about, which found that the more a person goes to church in America, the more likely they are to support the use of torture. Jack Cafferty dealt with it in his CNN segment last week:

The survey has produced mass consternation, mostly from people outside the world of evangelical Christianity. Actual Christians, have mostly reacted with sort of sad disbelief, or by deflecting the issue, when they've reacted at all. I suppose many Christians worry that the survey will provide yet another excuse to bash their faith as witless and primitive. Of course, it will, and many on the left, including atheists, will take their shots. But as a Christian myself, if a fairly tortured one (no pun intended,) I do wonder why frequent church-goers would favor the tactics of Caesar over the teachings of Jesus... I can think of three reasons right off the bat:

1) Partisanship. White, evangelical Christians are both the majority of torture proponents, and the most likely to be cultural conservatives who vote Republican, and to have supported George W. Bush. Had a Democratic president used torture, I suspect the poll would have shown fewer evangelicals supporting it.

2) Fundamentalism. All religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam -- all have their fundamentalist elements, and the further you go along that trajectory, the more violent the tendencies become. Think Jewish settlers on the West Bank, Islamist jihadis and Christian extremists like the Ku Klux Klan, violent anti-abortion activists like Randall Terry, and the like. What they all have in common is a belief that everyone other than them is going to hell. When you believe that, sympathy for the devil-bound is probably hard to come by.

3) Religious xenophobia. The Pew survey specifically asks about the use of torture against "suspected terrorists," who probably everyone taking the survey presumed to be Muslims, given the times we live in. And many Christians of the right wing variety have a strong, shall we say, intolerance, for alternative faiths, and probably consider practitioners of Islam (who they likely presume are the people being subjected to torture) to be inherently evil -- "the enemy" -- and whatever might be done to them to "protect America and our way of life" is justified.

There is a fourth: and it is the possibility that while they love to "call on his name," many Christians, like the Calvinists before them, think Jesus is fine to revere, but they don't really buy into his "new age" philosophy. They prefer the hardness and certainty of the Old Testament to the lovestruck view of the New. There is an element of fundamentalism that won't even accept change when it happened 2000 years ago, and that in a sick way, is drawn to violence as a way to achieve religious "victory" over the evils of modernity, something that's true of extremist Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. There is a certain violence inherent in all fundamentalism, and I suspect that's why so many evangelicals were drawn to "The Passion of the Christ," with al its violent imagery. [Still from the movie shown at left]

Ironically, Jesus wouldn't have fit in with the crowd that claims him most passionately in America. Compared to them, he would have seemed an absolute hippie, with all that "blessed are the meek" stuff. (Indeed, in Jesus' time, he was rejected by his own people because he wasn't violent enough against the Romans...)

That said, I think evangelicals need to take a good hard look at themselves, and ask whether one can be both "pro life," and, as many other commenters have said, pro gun, pro torture and pro death penalty, or whether perhaps some Christians have a little too much in common with the Pharisees. In the end, the bargain of "torture for (alleged) safety" is no bargain at all. As this very smart guy says:
A nation that turns its bravest and best into torturers instead of warriors has dishonored itself. There are worse things than losing a war and that is one of them.

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posted by JReid @ 11:07 PM  
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Meg Whitman??? ... and other thoughts on the Rick Warren presidential forum
My initial impression of the Rick Warren "civil discussion" tonight featuring one hour each for Barack Obama and John McCain is that the forum, and particularly the questions, did seem tailor made for McCain, which isn't surprising because Warren, like most evangelical leaders, is a Republican. Still, I thought he was fair, for the most part (except when he failed to remind John McCain to stay off his stump speech,) and thoughtful, and his forum enlightening. So here's the scorecard:

1. Thanks for nothing, honey. When asked who the smartest people he knew were, and who he would turn to for advice as president, Barack mentioned his wife and grandmother as the wisest, then fired off an assortment of Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate like Dick Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn as people he would turn to for advice (interestingly, he did not include either Clinton...) John McCain coldly ignored poor Cindy altogether, not to mention his very old mother, and instead reeled off the strangest triad I've ever heeard: Gen. Petraeus (surprise, surprise) Democratic Congressman John Lewis ... a Clinton friend and flip-flop to Obama guy, and Meg Whitman, the CEO of Ebay. HUH???

Whitman is a McCain campaign co-chair, She's also a former Romney girl, which increases the possibility that he's being influenced in that veep direction. And I guess he thought he was being economically hip by mentioning an online company that was hot like, ten years ago. The John Lewis thing I can't even begin to explain. Maybe he got his Georgias confused... Score this one: Obama.
2. Talking points memo. I have to give this one to McCain, who will, as David Gergen noted on CNN tonight, be a tougher debater than the Obama Nation might have imagined. While I found him irritating (he's simply got to drop the "my friends" thing -- it's extremely creepy and weird...) pandering and repetitive (war, war, Gen. Petraeus, war, al-Qaida, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, can I tell you one more story about Vietnam, my friends...?) he did what any communications director wants to see: he fired off the talking points and repeated them over, and over and over again, no matter what he was asked. When asked about his greatest moral failing, he gave a clipped answer: "the failure of my first marriage," and then moved right back to his stump speech talking points. Asked about abortion, he begged to talk about the Supreme Court, so he could give his talking points. (and then mentioned he would not have nominated the four liberal justices, including David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, all of whom he voted to confirm in the Senate, by the way ... he probably would have voted to confirm John Paul Stevens, too, but he wasn't in the Senate in 1975 ...) Asked about security vs. privacy, he threw in secret union ballots -- a right wing favorite topic -- straight out of left field ... McCain pandered on every answer to his audience of religious right voters, and was aggressive at promoting his ... you guessed it: talking points. McCain came off more blatantly political and Obama more thoughtful and authentic, but that may not matter to undecided voters, who want one of these candidates to force them to make up their minds. Score this one: McCain.

3. Too cool for school? Barack Obama was his usual cool, languid self, but his communications team has simply got to get him to shorten his answers. By being so thoughtful and nuanced, Obama missed the chance to take more questions, and he failed to get across clear, succinct messages. On the up-side, he actually had an intimate, real conversation with Rick Warren, whereas McCain simply hammered on the talking points and pandered to the audience, rarely addressing Warren directly. I think Obama hit paydirt with his Supreme Court answer by saying that the justice he would not have nominated would be unqualified Clarence Thomas (he righties are just seething over that one, and we love that!) But as Chuck Todd points out over at First Read:
Obama spent more time trying to impress Warren (or to put another away) not offend Warren while McCain seemingly ignored Warren and decided he was talking to folks watching on TV. The McCain way of handling this forum is usually the winning way. Obama may have had more authentic moments but McCain was impressively on message.
Score this one: McCain.

4. Land mine avoidance. McCain completely circumvented Rich Warren's attempts to get him to elaborate on issues that could split him from the right wing of his party. His six word answer to the "worst personal moral failing" question was one example, but he did that one better when he completely avoided the obvious answer to the question of what instance he could cite when he bucked his party at great political risk to himself. The obvious answers: campaign finance reform and immigration reform. McCain chose neither one, instead picking climate change, or something... Warren, who we should stipulate is not a reporter, didn't follow up. Score this one: McCain.

5. Maybe this would have been a good time for McCain to mention his wife? Asked by Warren what amount of income qualifies someone to be considered "rich," Barack gave a pretty good answer, joking that anybody who has sold 25 million books, as Warren has, qualifies. But then he got down to numbers, saying that if you make over $250,000 a year, "you're doing pretty well." McCain? He set the low bar for being considered rich at a cool $5 million. As Chris Kofinis said on Fox tonight, that was an opposition ad waiting to happen, and that ad should be made. Score this one: Obama.

6. Faith first. This was, after all, supposed to be a faith forum, and on that score, Obama won by a mile. He came off as much more humble, more conversant with the topic of faith, and more versed in Biblical scripture. He talked about man's need for humility in confronting evil, knowing that God is the only one capable of eliminating evil from the world, while McCain went into full eye bulge, vowing to "chase bin Laden to the gates of Hell" and using the church venue to attack "Islamic fascism." Obama said that marriage was a sacred union, where "God is in the mix," but his missed a chance to use the phrase, "I have been married to one woman for 15 years, and have vowed before God to remain with her for life," which his communications team MUST insert into his talking points. Still, compared with McCain's staccato answers on spiritual matters, Obama won by a mile. Score this one: Obama.

Final score: Obama - 3, McCain - 3. A good old fashioned draw, which unfortunately is pretty good news for John McCain.

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posted by JReid @ 12:15 AM  
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Hagee to Catholics: you don't like the term "Great Whore," eh?
John McCain's friend, televangelist John Hagee, says sorry to Catholics for calling their religion "The Great Whore", at least, he's sorry they took it badly.


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posted by JReid @ 11:08 PM  
Monday, February 25, 2008
Talk about Rovian tactics...
Barack Obama greeting crowds in Kenya in August 2006.
You won't see this photo circulated by the Clinton campaign...

So Hillary is pissed that Barack Obama's campaign circulated mailers that pointed out that she's prepared to garnish wages to achieve mandated, universal health care coverage (something she admits) and that she praised NAFTA during her husband's administration (something that's fairly obvious, since there are no public records suggesting otherwise...) and she calls his tactics -- pointing out POLICY differences -- "Rovian" ... but we're supposed to believe that the Clinton camp's decision to circulate a photo of Barack Obama dressed in what looks like traditional Muslim garb during a 2006 trip to Kenya, forwarding it to Matt Drudge, and implying that he is a Muslim, when Hillary knows damned well that he is a Christian, is not Rovian? My head hurts...

Obama's response is sufficiently stinging, with campaign manager David Plouffe calling it "divisive" and "fear mongering."

New campaign manager Maggie Williams' response is clever, but actually makes matters worse, in that it implies that Camp Clinton is indeed behind the photo flap. And she gets the country wrong:
If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.
WRONG! It was Kenya, dear. Nothing more to see, here...

Meanwhile, Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times gives us some background on that photo:
WASHINGTON—Retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration, who accompanied Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on his trip to Kenya in 2006, on Monday defended Obama’s trying on local garb over his clothes during a visit to the rural Wajir region in the country, a picture of which is at the top right now of the Drudge Report. ...

... Gration was with Obama on every leg of the African visit, including Wajir, an area that often does not get the attention of foreign visitors. Obama, whose father was Kenyan, was treated as a head-of-state during the visit, part of a multi-nation trip of which Kenya was the highlight. Obama, his wife Michelle, their two daughters and friends accompanied them on the Kenya leg of the trip.

Gration is a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force major general, a native of St. Charles, Ill., who spent much of his youth in Africa. I asked him about the circumstances surrounding the photo during a conference call the Obama campaign organized as a prebuttal to a major foreign policy speech Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will deliver today in Washington. The just completed call featured Obama foreign policy advisors Susan Rice, Gration and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.

“I was along on that picture,” Gration said. They were seeing a “community mobilization” in Wajir and witnessed the “live auction” of camels and other livestock..

During the course of this, Obama was given an outfit, and “as a great guest,” he tried it on, much in the way, Gration said, people “try on Christmas gifts” they may not want to keep.

Obama did “what any leader should do…accept the gift, accept the hospitality,” said Gration. Obama was “accepting a gift of friendship in a way we expect,” he said.

Rice, who served as an African expert in President Clinton’s White House, said release of the photo was designed “to be divisive.’’ But she also noted that President Clinton had himself dressed in kinte cloth as part of respecting local customs and cultures.
Sweet wrote about the 2006 trip, which was highlighted on Barack's Senate website:
It's not unusual for members of Congress to travel to African nations -- a House delegation was in Kenya last week, led by House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.). Dreier was in Kenya to observe the work of the U.S. House Democracy Assistance Commission, which helps new democracies establish government services.

But Obama's unique situation -- the only African American in the Senate -- a son of an African with family in Kenya whose popularity in the United States is soaring to the point where he is being talked about as a presidential candidate -- makes this journey special, a trip of symbolism as well as substance.

Obama is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel on African Affairs. Obama, sworn into office in January 2005, in his freshman year visited Russia and other former Soviet states; Iraq, Kuwait, Israel and the West Bank.

In other words, it was not unusual to take the trip, or wear the outfit. But for Barack, the reception WAS unusual. He was greeted in a manner we're accustomed to only seeing with Bill Clinton (or Will Smith, or a generation ago, for Mohammed Ali) -- only with Barack, it was far more personal. CNN covered the euphoria with which he was greeted:

KISUMU, Kenya (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of Kenyans lined the streets of Kisumu on Saturday, giving U.S. Sen. Barack Obama a hero's welcome as he arrived to visit the nearby village where his late father and grandfather lived.

Massive crowds screamed "Obama, Obama" and waved flags emblazoned with his name and face, as the 45-year-old junior senator from Illinois rode through the streets in a truck flanked by a lengthy convoy.

"I greet you all," he shouted in the local language, Luo, waving.

Many people wore T-shirts dedicated to the Democratic Party's rising star, who was received like a head of state, if not a rock star.
The NYTimes covered it, too.

Frankly, as one who also visited hundreds of countries as first lady and as a Senator, taking care to respect the culture of each one as she traveled, Hillary Clinton should know better.

Mrs. Clinton, with all do respect, raise your game. If you're going to stay in this thing, then have a little class. This kind of campaigning is beneath you, and yes, it's very Rovian, too. Leave this kind of crap to the folks at Fox Noise, and get Maggie Williams a world map.

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posted by JReid @ 1:16 PM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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