Let Me Repeat: Democrats Have Been Appealing to Religion for a Long Time

Obama compassion

Obama talks about his Christian faith at the Messiah College “Compassion Forum” in 2008

I appreciate the Pacific Standard calling attention to religion and the race for the Democratic nomination, but Chayenne Polimedio’s piece makes it sound as Democratic candidates talking about religion is a new thing.  Granted, Hillary Clinton could have done more to make religious appeals, especially to moderate evangelicals, but the religious left has been around for a long time.  I wrote about this here and here.

Here is a taste of Polimedio’s piece:

Democrats seem to have finally caught on to the fact that national elections can be hard to secure with purely secular campaigns. This is a wise observation: Faith plays a large role in the lives of millions of Americans, and religious values drive the voting choices of many of them. In this election cycle, Democratic hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro, who’ve not only embraced their faith but also made it a pillar of their political platforms, are telling of potentially larger shifts within American society and politics.

This evolution of how faith is discussed in the public realm and who gets to lead that discussion is, in part, due to America’s changing religious identity: The evangelical church is graying and losing members, religious “nones” are on the rise, and growing Latino and Asian populations mean that religion in the United States is becoming less white and more diverse. These are all factors that, at least ostensibly, work in progressives’ favor. In fact, the 2020 election cycle is, in some ways, poised to be one in which the Christian right won’t have a monopoly on the role of religion in public life, with some progressive politicians determined to close the “God Gap” once and for all.

Read the entire piece here.

Did Men Invent “Likability?”

Hillary nominated

Check out historian Claire Potter‘s piece at The New York Times: “Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.”  She reflects on the origins of the idea of “likability”  advertising culture and, eventually presidential politics.

As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.

But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining — Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last — and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who — you guessed it — is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”

Likability: It is nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless, yet inescapable — and female politicians seem to be particularly burdened with it even when they win and especially when they run for president.

In a recent interview on CNN with Michael Smerconish, Potter challenged the audience to find one female candidate in the 2016 race who has been called “likability.”

Here is another small taste of her piece:

Americans were also taught that being likable was a quality that could be cultivated as a means to get ahead. In 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” warned that those who tried too hard to be liked would fail: Theodore Roosevelt’s naturally friendly greetings to everyone he passed, regardless of status, Carnegie noted, had made it impossible not to like him, but Henrietta G., now the “best liked” counselor at her office, had been isolated until she learned to stop bragging. (Though looking back, we have to wonder: Would Henry G. have needed to hide his accomplishments?)

As presidential candidates put advertising experts in charge of national campaigns, perhaps it was inevitable that likability would jump explicitly to politics. In 1952, some of the first televised election ads sought to highlight Dwight Eisenhower’s likability. The advertising executive Rosser Reeves put Eisenhower in controlled settings where his optimism, self-confidence, humor and nonpartisanship could be emphasized over his political inexperience and what Reeves viewed as his “inept” speaking style. The animator Roy Disney was commissioned to make a cartoon spot with a catchy jingle: “Ike for President,” the song repeated, cutting to Uncle Sam leading a parade down the streets. “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” the chorus sang as Eisenhower’s smiling cartoon face passed.

Read the entire piece here.

Joe Biden and the Catholic and Evangelical Vote

Biden grab

How will Catholics respond to Joe Biden in 2020?  John Gehrig, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, has some thoughts.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

Data from the 2018 midterm election analyzed by Ronald Brownstein of CNN shows that Trump’s favorability among white working-class voters who are not evangelicals — think white Catholics in Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa. — has already fallen.

Catholic women will be a critical part of this demographic. Democrats, the analysis found, “ran particularly well this year among white working-class women who are not evangelicals, a group that also displayed substantial disenchantment in the exit poll with Trump’s performance,” Brownstein wrote. “Those women could be a key constituency for Democrats in 2020 in pivotal Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where relatively fewer blue-collar whites are also evangelical Christians.”

Right now a fired-up base of progressives is setting the tone in the Democratic primary, making Biden, with his baggage of Anita Hill’s treatment during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearings, a cozy relationship with the banking industry and his record of opposing busing to desegregate schools, a very tough sell.

But don’t sell him short. If Biden can emerge from the necessary challenges on his left to articulate a compelling vision for an inclusive America, one that honors the dignity of work and affirms the vital immigrant character of our nation, Catholic voters could punch his ticket back to the White House as the first Catholic president since JFK.

Read the entire piece here. I think Gehrig is right.

I also think  Biden is going to have to make some kind of an appeal to American evangelicals.  He will not win many of them, but he doesn’t have to win many to take the White House.  Biden is pro-choice, but he has often talked about his personal opposition to abortion.  This might be enough for some 2016 evangelical Trump voters to peel away and vote for him.  In 2016, there were many moderate evangelicals who were looking for a reason–any reason–to vote for Hillary Clinton.  Unfortunately, Clinton never gave them one.  I wrote about this here, two days before the election.

I also wrote about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign.  In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.”  Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions.  During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for later-term abortions.  There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Let’s hope Biden learns from the Clinton campaign.

Who is Amy Klobuchar?

Klob

Ben Terris of the Washington Post has a great piece on Amy Klobuchar and her relationship with her father, legendary Minneapolis journalist Jim Klobuchar.  It is worth your time.  A taste:

On a recent April morning, Amy Klobuchar stood in her dining room flipping through a scrapbook of her father’s newspaper articles. She was on a brief break from the campaign trail, trading hard-hat tours of ethanol plants in Iowa and a uniform of nondescript blazers from New Hampshire town halls for a quiet morning at home in a comfy pastel fleece.

“I just remember being horrified by this headline,” she told me, pointing to a yellowing page that featured portraits of her, a recent high school graduate with hair down to her turtleneck, and her father, who wore long sideburns and a cardigan. The article detailed a bicycle trip the father-daughter duo had undertaken and was titled:

“Jim Klobuchar and daughter encounter new relationship.”

Amy, 58, shook her head and laughed, her short bob swaying side to side.

It’s been something of a theme over the course of Amy’s life; both an evolving kinship with her father and being mortified by things he put in the paper. For decades, Jim Klobuchar was a daily columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune; part sportswriter, raconteur-adventurer, voice for the voiceless, and needler of the ruling class. Little in his life, or Amy’s, was off limits.

Once, Jim had mentioned in a sports column that Amy had correctly diagnosed a football injury as being “groin”-related. That got her teased at school. There was the story Jim wrote about his divorce from Amy’s mother, Rose, the day after the split became official in 1976 (“My mom never liked that,” said Amy, whose mom died in 2010). And then, in 1993, there was the front-page article Jim had to write about his own arrest for drunken driving.

Amy was a young lawyer by then, and at one of Jim’s hearings to determine his sentence, she took the stand. But she wasn’t there to defend him.

“It was a prosecution,” Jim wrote later.

Read the rest here.

Falwell Predicts Evangelicals Will Turn to Trump in Greater Numbers in 2020 Than 2016. I’m Not So Sure.

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Here is the latest from Breitbart:

“I think 83 percent of Evangelicals voted for him [in 2016], and I think in 2020 it’ll be an even higher percentage,” he explained.

Falwell Jr. went on, “Even Evangelicals were disillusioned by the moderate Republican administrations of the last few decades. They voted on social issues back in those days, and they finally realized that there was never really going to be any change on social issues, so they stopped voting on social issues, and instead now they vote on the same issues that all average Americans who supported Trump vote on: bringing jobs back to this country and fair trade deals.”

“I think it’s great what [Donald Trump] is doing on China,” continued Falwell Jr. “I admire a president willing to be able to take a hit. The economy will take a hit when he fights these trade wars, but he knows long-term that the benefit to America will be much greater than any hit we take in the short-term. We’re getting ripped off with these bad trade deals. I think Evangelicals see that.”

Falwell Jr. added, “[Evangelicals] see immigration as a big issue. They just gave up on voting on social issues because they’ve been betrayed by Republican administration after Republican administration. So they just quit, and they started voting on the same issues that working class Democrats and average Americans vote on, and it’s all the issues that Donald Trump ran on.”

Read the rest here.

I think the Lynchburg court evangelical is correct about immigration, but I am not sure he has captured the pulse of the entire pro-Trump conservative evangelical electorate if he thinks that they no longer vote on social issues.

While I am sure that there are white evangelicals who voted for Trump because of immigration and the economy, there is also a large pro-Trump evangelical voting bloc that is white, middle class, and doing relatively well economically.  They pulled the lever for Trump because they hated Hillary and believed Trump would appoint pro-life justices.  All of this is anecdotal, based on my visits to dozens of towns and cities during the Believe Me book tour, but this wing of pro-Trump evangelicals could make a difference in 2020.  What if they decide that Trump delivered on the Supreme Court with the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and now it is time to get rid of him because his immoral baggage and disrespect for the rule of law is too much to bear.  Just a thought.

Mayor Pete Shows-Up at Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class

Carter and Pete

Carter invited Buttigieg to read scripture, but so far I have not seen anything on the what specific passage he asked the South Bend mayor to read.

Buttigieg showed-up unannounced.  Carter, perhaps in an attempt to avoid playing favorites, told the members of the class that Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, both Democratic presidential candidates, have also visited his class.

Read all about it here.

Frankly, I am not a fan of this.  As I have said multiple times at this blog in the context of conservative evangelical political activity, I don’t like bringing politics into the church in this way.  Call me a skeptic, but this move by Buttigieg looks like an attempt to win the support of progressive Christians.

Jimmy Carter Beat 17 Competitors to Win the Democratic Nomination in 1976

Carter 1976

As Gillian Brockell notes at The Washington Post, the last time we had a very large Democratic primary field we got Jimmy Carter.  The Plains, Georgia peanut farmer emerged as the primary winner over Birch Bayh, Lloyd Bentsen, Jerry Brown, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Sargent Shriver, Morris Udall, and George Wallace, to name a few.

Here is a taste of Brockell’s piece.

As the primaries approached, one Democrat after another announced campaigns for president. Most were senators. Some were governors. One came from a university town in Indiana. They spoke of a need to clean up an executive branch they said was riddled with corruption.

No, this isn’t a description of the 2020 campaign. It was 1976 — the most crowded Democratic presidential field in modern American history, until the current election cycle, which boasts 21.

And, despite worries about a bruising intraparty battle, the little-known peanut farmer who won the primaries also won the White House. His name was Jimmy Carter.

How many Democratic candidates were there in 1976? One historian put the number at 17, though it depends on how you count them. Let’s just say the race was remarkably fluid right up until the last primary.

Read the rest here.

Every Pete Buttigieg Interview

Buttigieg

This is hilarious.  An excerpt from Evan Allgood’s piece at McSweeney’s:

How do you plan to tackle income inequality?
If I may, I’d like to speak to that very specific issue with a few glittering generalities.

Go on.
Freedom. Democracy. Bridges.

Care to elaborate?
Optimism. Honesty. A child’s lemonade stand.

All right, no more softballs…
Uh-oh, my seat’s heating up! Reminds me of Afghanistan. Did I mention I served in Afghanistan?

Several times, hero. What did you learn from your time in the Navy Reserve?
The Middle East… (steeples hands) is complicated.

Wow. That’s the kind of profound insight you only get from fighting on the frontlines.
Here’s a Polaroid of me in the desert, holding a gun.

You just… carry these around?
You can keep that. I’ve got tons more because I served my country for so long.

How do you feel about the use of American force abroad?
It’s like Graham Greene said: “Innocence is like a dumb leper that has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

(Nods slowly)
I wrote my thesis on Greene at Oxford, where I was a Rhodes scholar — but oh, I don’t like to talk about that. Here’s a hard copy of my thesis. You can keep that; I’ve got tons more.

Is the mayor of a town of 100,000 people qualified to run a country of 327 million?
I guess you haven’t seen this sweet pic of me rolling up my sleeves.

Why you? Why now?
Both of my dogs are rescues.

How do you respond to people who say that you’re just another empty suit, or an Ivy League business guy’s CV that was brought to life when it was struck by lightning?
The American people are sick and tired of politicians answering questions with answers. That’s why I always respond with a hobby, a quirk, or a song.

Read the entire “interview” here.

How Biden Can Land the Democratic Nomination for President in 2020

Biden ad

Yesterday I argued that Joe Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020.  But I also realize that he will have a tough primary-season battle with the progressives in the Democratic Party.  Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver makes the case for Biden:

  1. Former Vice Presidents usually win their party’s nomination.  Check out Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, and Al Gore.
  2. Biden has a huge lead in the polls.
  3. Biden has the highest favorable ratings among all Democratic candidates.
  4. Biden is electable in November 2020
  5. Biden controls the most popular “lane” of Democratic voters.

Biden, of course, also has some liabilities.  Silver covers them here.

Is Joe Biden the Jon Meacham Candidate?

Here is the Biden announcement video:

Biden appeals to the “Soul of America.”  Historian Jon Meacham recently published “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.”  (Biden and Meacham appeared together earlier this year).

Biden focused his campaign video on the Charlottesville race riots of August 2017.   In his Introduction, Meacham begins with the story of segregationist Strom Thurmond’s 1948 speech in Charlottesville and then moves to the racial violence in Charlottesville in 2017.  (Biden and Meacham also discuss this here at around the 56-minute mark).

If I were Alexander Burns annotating this speech at The New York Times I would note Biden’s debt to Meacham.

Meacham writes:

I have chosen to consider the American soul more than the American Creed because there is a significant difference between professing adherence to a set of beliefs and acting upon them.The war between the ideal and the real, between what’s right and what’s convenient, between the larger good and personal interest is the contest that unfolds in the soul of every American.

He adds:

Philosophically speaking, the soul is the vital center, the core, the essence of life….Socrates believed the soul was nothing less than the animating force of reality….In terms of Western thought, then, the soul is generally accepted as a central and self-evident truth.  It is what makes us us….

Biden’s campaign video is inspirational. It will win him supporters.  But unlike Meacham, who distinguishes between the “American soul” and the “American Creed,” Biden confuses the two.  He begins with a reference to the “soul,” but spends most of the speech talking about America as an “idea.”

I am not sure I have a larger point here.  I am just wondering if “soul” and “idea” are incompatible when applied to a nation.   🙂

 

If Democrats Want to Remove Trump From Office in 2020 They Need to Rally Around Joe Biden

098ac-bidenBiden is in the race.

In a head-to-head battle with Trump, Biden wins easily.  He will win Pennsylvania and will probably win Michigan and Wisconsin.  That’s all he needs.  (Actually, he just needs Pennsylvania).

If anyone else runs against Trump–especially someone in the so-called “progressive lane”-there is a much better chance Trump will get another term.

So what does the Democratic Party want to do?

If the members of the party really want to defeat Trump, the current candidates should all drop out of the race right now and rally behind Biden.  Every time the Democratic candidates beat-up on Biden during the primary season they reduce the chances of their party taking back the White House in 2020.

It is that simple.

Does Biden Have Silent Majority?

Munich Security Conference in Munich

Yes.

At this point, I think he is the Democratic Party’s best chance to beat Trump.

Over at The New Republic, Alex Shephard argues that Biden’s views represent the views of most Democrats.  He will also win moderates and independents, most of whom are looking for any reason not to vote for Trump.  Finally, I think he has the potential to win enough anti-Trump evangelicals to win easily.

Here is a taste of Shephard’s piece:

A Morning Consult poll released Monday found Biden still leading the Democratic field with a nine-point advantage over second-place Bernie Sanders. Politico, meanwhile, reported that “party gatekeepers” in key primary states still had Biden’s back. The former vice president has perhaps been written off by left-leaning media or left Twitter, but not, it appears, by plenty of other Democrats.

One explanation offered up for the disparity between the narrative about Biden on the left and his actual standing among Democratic voters is that social media has warped perceptions of the party’s base. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy, working off of research by the centrist Hidden Tribes Project, found that “the outspoken group of Democratic-leaning voters on social media is outnumbered, roughly 2 to 1, by the more moderate, more diverse, and less educated group of Democrats who typically don’t post political content online.” These Democrats described in the Times were significantly less likely to have attended a protest in the past year and significantly more likely to view so-called “political correctness” with suspicion. “Over all,” reported Cohn and Quealy, “around half of Democratic-leaning voters consider themselves ‘moderate’ or ‘conservative,’ not liberal. Around 40 percent are not white.”

The party’s progressive base, they contend, is overrepresented on Twitter and Facebook. “Roughly a quarter of Democrats count as ideologically consistent progressives, who toe the party line or something further to the left on just about every issue. Only a portion of them, perhaps 1 in 10 Democrats over all, might identify as Democratic socialists, based on recent polls,” Cohn and Quealy wrote.

Read the rest here.

Alterman: Democrats Must Win the Springsteen Vote

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

Bruce Springsteen’s music appeals to white working people.  It always has and it still does.  But many of the young working-class baby boomers who connected with Springsteen in 1970s and 1980s are no longer young working class men and women.  Many of them are white middle class and upper middle-class folks who can afford to buy a ticket to see Springsteen in concert or on Broadway.  When I go to a Springsteen concert I see a lot of guys in blue dress shirts and khakis. When I saw him on Broadway I am not sure how many working-class people were in attendance–it was hard to see everyone from the cheap seats in the back row of the Walter Kerr Theater.  (I did, however, see New York Times columnist David Brooks).

While I am sympathetic to Eric Alterman‘s piece calling the Democrats to appeal to the kind of folks who came of age with Springsteen’s albums, and I am a fan of his written work on the Boss,  I also think that a lot of Springsteen fans are conservative (there are a lot of Chris Christie-types out there) and a good number of them may have even voted for Donald Trump.

I will never forget what I witnessed on the night of September 11, 2016 at a Springsteen concert in Pittsburgh. Here is part of what I wrote about that show:

In another revealing moment a fan in the front row threw a copy of the United States Constitution onto the stage.  Bruce picked it up and showed the crowd that it had the words “F… Trump” written on it.  The crowd cheered and the woman next to me lifted her hands in agreement, but a significant number of people in my section began yelling similar derogatory things about Hillary Clinton.  Despite Springsteen’s outspoken progressive politics, his fans remain a politically eclectic bunch.

Here is a taste of Alterman’s piece in the Los Angeles Times:

With Sherrod Brown out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, a crucial question arises: Who will be the Bruce Springsteen candidate?

Who is the one that can win back Trump voters and Clinton-sitter-outers who feel forgotten by the Democrats? They’re the guys who worked the assembly line for decades but now get minimum wage at Walmart; the women feeding their families cold cuts for dinner and trying to make ends meet by selling vitamins from home; the manufacturing employees filled with xenophobic rage because the companies that used to employ them have moved their operations abroad.

Part of the reason Hillary Clinton lost working-class Democrats in 2016 was that she was seen as a representative of the very class of folk who profit from the troubles of American workers. Donald Trump’s braggadocio that he “alone” could reverse the trends that had harmed them was music to their ears.

Ever since Ronald Reagan misunderstood the lyrics to “Born in the USA,” candidates have sought to claim Springsteen’s aura as their own because of his rapport with a certain type of American voter. He has campaigned for Democrats in the past and shown particular affection for Brown, to whom he gave a shout-out while campaigning for Obama in 2012. The senator won Ohio in 2018 after Trump took it by eight points two years earlier. And while he was flirting with a presidential run, he traveled the country speaking about “The Dignity of Work.”

Read the rest here.

Some Front Porchers Pick Their Candidate for 2020

Buttigeig

What is a Front Porcher?  One way to define a Front Porcher is someone who reads (and generally likes what they read at) a website titled Front Porch Republic.  Here is a description of what the website is all about:

The economic crisis that emerged in late 2008 and the predictable responses it elicited from those in power has served to highlight the extent to which concepts such as human scale, the distribution of power, and our responsibility to the future have been eliminated from the public conversation. It also threatens to worsen the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state. We live in a world characterized by a flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms. Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing. We’re in a bad way, and the spokesmen and spokeswomen of both our Left and our Right are, for the most part, seriously misguided in their attempts to provide diagnoses, let alone solutions.

Though there is plenty we disagree about, and each contributor can be expected to stand by the words of only his or her own posts, the folks gathered here more or less agree with the above assertions. We come from different backgrounds, live in different places, and have divergent interests, but we’re convinced that scale, place, self-government, sustainability, limits, and variety are key terms with which any fruitful debate about our corporate future must contend. We invite you to read along, and perhaps join the discussion.

Or you can read this book to learn more about the Front Porch movement.  The website also recommends essays by Patrick Deneen, Mark T. Mitchell, and Bill Kauffman. Back in the day, I also wrote a few things for the Front Porch Republic.

Front Porchers tend to be conservative, localist, and communitarian.  They celebrate limits and community.  They love authors such as Wendell Berry (and agrarians like him) and Christopher Lasch.

And now a few Front Porchers have suggested that South Bend mayor Pete Buttigeig is their guy in 2020.  Here is a taste of Elias Crim‘s essay “Found: The Perfect FPR Presidential Candidate!“:

In our ponderings, the notion of the perfect Porcher candidate naturally has arisen, but I have to report the pickings have thus far been slim. Perhaps that’s because of our pig-headedness in clinging to certain criteria.

To wit: our ideal Porcher president would necessarily be a committed localist. And we’d need some deeds as well as words on this score—none of that armchair agrarian nonsense.

Next, we need someone whose beliefs are a tad more vigorous than that limp phrase “faith-based” implies. I think we’d be looking for someone who self-describes as religious, without necessarily plumping for any one of the Great Traditions. (The old expression Judeo-Christian comes to mind, at the mention of which my friend Joseph Epstein always likes to ask, “So who are these Judeos anyway?”)

As enthusiastic readers of that brilliant madman Bill Kaufmann, we would certainly want an anti-militarist, God help us. Maybe also someone critical of neoliberalism and distributist (in some fashion) in outlook.

If we wanted to get really starry-eyed, we’d hope for someone who’s highly literate—even multi-lingual, now that we’re really getting carried away here.

To my astonishment, it turns out we have a chap who fills this bill—and turns out he’s been living only a few miles down the road from me, happily ensconced in the security of being mayor of that smallish Midwestern city, South Bend. I refer of course to the skyrocketing Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

His public career is a parable of the local boy who went away, made good (and much better than good: Harvard, Oxford, McKinsey, U.S. Navy), and moved back home to get down to work. Buttigieg’s new book, Shortest Way Home (title borrowed from James Joyce), is a sentimental portrait of South Bend beyond the wildest dreams of any civic booster, while also describing how a place-based and “smart city” strategy has completely changed the fate of that previously feckless-looking small city.

That Mayor Pete is also a religious person might surprise some, but they’ll be even more surprised at the enthusiasm and candor with which he discusses his faith publicly, as in this recent appearance

His criticism of NAFTA, the financial system, and our history of perpetual war are standard points now in his interviews and (assuming he announces) will find a place in his public platform.

Read the entire piece here.  This makes perfect sense, although, as Crim notes, I am not sure the Christian Front Porchers will be willing to vote for a gay man.

2020: Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Beto 2

Journalist Ross Barkan reflects on the “eternal presidential sweepstakes” with the help of Neil Postman.  Here a taste of his piece at The Baffler:

The Beto/Trump hand gesture skirmish—Trump jerks and floats his arms and hands around in even odder ways—was another inanity of this 2020 campaign, one that is sure to be followed by many more. This is because a campaign of this length demands programming. As cable channels peaked in the early 2000s, TV producers realized they had a lot of dead-time to fill and only so much money to spend filling it. Hence, the birth of reality TV: SurvivorAmerican Idol, and, to the detriment of our future selves, The Apprentice. They were all aspirational, promising us stardom, great wealth, or the kind of self-discovery that can keep any average schmuck alive on a desert island.

Today, the hours, days, weeks, and months of the perma-campaign must be filled, too. Beto’s hands, Amy Klobuchar’s salad comb, Bernie’s head bandage, Elizabeth Warren’s beer chug, Cory Booker’s girlfriend, Kamala Harris’s musical tastes while she smoked pot in college. No triviality is too trivial for an underpaid journalist somewhere to bundle into an article, video, or meme in the hopes of attracting attention and driving fleeting dollars to a collapsing media ecosystem. The perma-campaign is the apotheosis of reality TV because the stakes are so high—we are choosing a world leader with the power to drop civilization-annihilating bombs, and therefore every plot twist in the extended marathon can be justified in the solemn, self-satisfied way a political reporter will defend just about every absurd practice of the profession. 

Beto, Bernie, Biden, Kamala, and more—these are characters the American people must get to know through their TV screens and social media. This year and next, they are all Democrats, and they are auditioning for us. They will speak to us, rally for us, and construct events in states ten months before a vote. Why? Well, the show needs content. And if you aren’t producing content, you are irrelevant. Imagine a presidential candidate deciding to take April, May, and June off, arguing that an entire six months of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses is probably enough to win votes. The horror! What will be tweeted, Instagram storied, Facebook lived, and packaged into lively, anecdote-addled reporting for a New York Times political memo?

Thirty-four years ago, the media theorist Neil Postman published a book that is distressingly relevant today. Amusing Ourselves to Death was a prescient indictment of TV culture that drove to the heart of the matter in ways few academic texts ever do. Postman’s problem wasn’t so much with TV itself—people have a right to entertain themselves—but with how the rules of this dominant technology infected all serious discourse. He fought, most strenuously and fruitlessly, against the merger of politics and entertainment.

We’ve only metastasized since Postman’s time, with the internet and smartphones slashing attention spans, polarizing voters, and allowing most people to customize the world around them. What’s remained constant, at least in certain quarters, is the principal of entertainment: most political content operates from this premise first, that it must captivate before it informs. The image-based culture triumphs. Beto told you in a crisp three minutes and twenty-nine seconds why he wanted to be the leader of the free world.

Read the entire piece here.

Pete Buttigieg’s Faith: What’s All the Fuss About?

Buttigieg

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s excellent Washington Post piece on Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg‘s progressive Christianity is getting a lot of attention.  I think its cool that Guttigieg studied early American religious history in college. But his progressive approach to religion and politics is nothing new.  Here is a taste of Bailey’s piece:

Now Buttigieg wants a “less dogmatic” religious left to counter the religious right, an unofficial coalition of religious conservatives that for decades has helped get mostly Republicans into office.

“I think it’s unfortunate [the Democratic Party] has lost touch with a religious tradition that I think can help explain and relate our values,” he said. “At least in my interpretation, it helps to root [in religion] a lot of what it is we do believe in, when it comes to protecting the sick and the stranger and the poor, as well as skepticism of the wealthy and the powerful and the established.”

He thinks President Trump has found favor among many white evangelicals and white Catholics because of his opposition to abortion, he said. But Buttigieg said he believes the president is behaving “in bad faith” and said there’s no evidence that he doesn’t favor abortion rights deep down.

“I do think it’s strange, though, knowing that no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us, that a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like this can have any credibility at all among religious people,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

I am not sure there is anything new here beyond the fact that Buttigieg is gay.  He seems to be following some pretty well-established progressive/liberal/Democratic Christian political candidates, including George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Joe Lieberman (if you move beyond Christianity), Hillary Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama.  I might even put my former Senator Bill Bradley in this group.

Perhaps it is time that we stop getting so excited about Democratic candidates who can talk about religion.  They have been around for a long time.

Beto O’Rourke Apologizes for High-School Mixtape

REO Speedwagon? A taste from Andy Borowitz’s piece at The New Yorker:

“In my youth, I put a song on a mixtape that I deeply regret adding,” O’Rourke told a stunned crowd at an Iowa City diner. “REO Speedwagon does not represent who I am.”

The Democratic strategist Tracy Klugian cautioned that O’Rourke’s apology might not have put the mixtape scandal to rest.

“If that’s the only tape out there, then Beto moves on from this,” he said. “But if a mixtape comes out with Air Supply on it, he’s done.”

Read the tragic story here.

🙂

Is Jimmy Carter an Antidote to Trump?

David Siders thinks so.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Politico:

“Carter almost takes us out of the entire realm of what our politics has become,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Carter and Howard Dean. “He’s the anti-Trump … I mean, we have almost the polar opposite as president, somebody who is so an affront to everything that’s good and kind and decent.”

Maslin said, “I have felt for some time that a candidate who is not just good on the issues but can marshal a moral clarity about what our politics ought to be, in contrast to what it has become, that person … that could be the currency of 2020.”

In fact, Carter has become a constant point of reference early in the campaign for Democrats polling outside of the top tier. John Delaney, the little-known former Maryland congressman who by August 2018 had already campaigned in all 99 counties in Iowa, has likened his focus on the first-in-the-nation caucus state to Carter’s.

And after her pilgrimage to see Carter this year, Klobuchar wrote on social media, “Wonderful lunch with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter today at their home in Plains. Tomato soup and pimento cheese sandwiches! Got some good advice and helpful to hear about their grassroots presidential campaign (when no one thought they could win but they did)!”

Read the entire piece here.

I still think Carter’s 1979 “malaise speech” is one of the best presidential speeches I have heard in my lifetime.

  • Notice that Carter used the phrase “I feel your pain” before Bill Clinton popularized it.
  • The speech has a streak of populism in it.
  • It is deeply honest and humble. Can you imagine a president today reading criticism of his presidency before a national audience?
  • Carter identifies the loss of national purpose and a “crisis of confidence” as a “fundamental threat to American democracy.”  It is a forward-looking message of hope and progress.  Carter speaks with conviction, often raising his fist to strengthen his points.
  • Carter says that self-indulgence, consumption, and materialism undermines citizenship. According to historian Kevin Mattson, this comes directly from historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch and his best-selling The Culture of Narcissism.
  • Carter points to the many ways the country has gone astray–Vietnam and Watergate and economic dependence on Middle East oil.
  • Carter offers “honest answers” not “easy answers.”  Of course no one wants to work hard and make sacrifices, they want individualism and freedom instead.  A little over a year after this speech Ronald Reagan defeated Carter with just such a message of individualism and freedom.
  • Carter warns us about the path of self-interest and fragmentation.  This is what America got with Reagan.  See Daniel T. Rodgers’s The Age of Fracture.
  • Carter sees the national discussion of energy as way of bringing a divided nation together.  This seems more relevant than ever today.  Green New Deal aside, a green solution to energy would create jobs and strengthen the economy.
  • When Carter talks about foreign oil and America’s dependence upon it, he is invoking founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton who worked tirelessly to make the nation economically independent.
  • Interesting that in the 1970s Democrats still saw coal as a vital energy source.  He also champions pipelines and refineries.
  • Carter calls for a strengthening of public transportation and local acts of conservation.  This kind of self-sacrifice, Carter says, “is an act of patriotism.”  This reminds me of the non-importation agreements during the American Revolution.    To stop drinking tea or buying British goods was seen as a similar act of patriotism. See T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution.  Carter says “there is no way to avoid sacrifice.”
  • As I have noted above, this speech hurt Carter politically.  But it is deeply honest and, in my opinion, true.

Richard Ojeda is Running for President in 2020

Ojeda

Who the heck is Richard Ojeda?

  • He is a Democratic candidate for President of the United States from West Virginia
  • He lost his election to West Virginia’s Senate in 2018, but made up a 36-point deficit from 2016, making his race the largest voter swing in the midterms.
  • He has 36 tattoos
  • He served 24-years in the U.S. Army as paratrooper and earned two Bronze Stars.
  • He supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary.
  • He voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
  • He supports the legalization of marijuana.
  • He supported the 2017 West Virginia teachers strike.
  • His grandfather was an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
  • Trump once called him a “stone cold crazy wacko.”
  • He supports quadrupling funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • He supports coal and green energy.
  • He favors single-payer health care.
  • He supports firearm background checks and defends the use of AR-15s.
  • He thinks the NRA is “absolute garbage.”
  • He favors a strong military.
  • He favors a plan that would require the President, Vice-President and members of Congress to give all their net worth over a million dollars to charity.
  • Despite his 2016 vote, he has attacked Trump for his “faux regard” for the working class and his broken promises.
  • He plans to run in 2020 on a left-wing populism that includes support of the working poor,  unions and “anti-elitism.”
  • Unlike Bernie Sanders, he is not wealthy and does not own multiple homes.

Read more about him here.