Are we living in “a pivotal moment in American history?”

Bernie

In his recent call for a bill to introduce universal healthcare legislation, Bernie Sanders said “This is a pivotal moment in American history.  Do we, as a nation, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to every person as a human right?….”

Let’s be clear about one thing.  We have no idea if we are living in a pivotal moment of American history.  Every generation believes that they are living in the most important moment in human history.  This is why we need historians.  They will help us sort it out. But they will not be able to do so until enough time passes to get some perspective.

When a present-day politician says that “this is a pivotal moment in American history” it is just as bad as the politicians who talk about the right and wrong side of history or say that we have “the most dangerous president in American history.”  These kinds of statements are political, not historical.

Notre Dame President: “Dogma Lives Loudly”

Barrett

You may recall our recent post on Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber’s criticism of the Democratic Senators who may have violated Article VI of the Constitution in their questioning of University of Notre Dame Professor Amy Barrett during her recent confirmation hearings for a federal judgeship.

Over the last several days, a host of smart people have joined Eisgruber in his criticism of Diane Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and Al Franken.  The latest is Notre Dame president John Jenkins.  Here is the bulk of his letter to Feinstein:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Considering your questioning of my colleague Amy Coney Barrett during the judicial confirmation hearing of September 6, I write to express my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern at your line of questioning.

Professor Barrett has been a member of our faculty since 2002, and is a graduate of our law school. Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials.

Your concern, as you expressed it, is that “dogma lives loudly in [Professor Barrett], and that is a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I am one in whose heart “dogma lives loudly,” as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology.

Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates.

It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom “dogma lives loudly”—which is a condition we call faith. For the attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern.

Many people have defended the Senators’ line of questioning, including some of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  They say that if the faith of a religious judge is going to result in taking away the rights of others, then asking questions about religious belief is perfectly fair.  Some can get quite passionate about it.  But the bottom line is this:  The people who have interpreted this line of questioning as a possible violation of Article VI are no intellectual slouches. They also represent, to one degree or another, a significant portion of the American electorate.

This debate over religious liberty and test oaths reveals the deep divide in this country right now.  What makes this so intense is the fact that both sides of the debate appeal to American ideals–religious liberty, individual rights, and the disestablishment of religion, to name only a few.  I am not sure how these social issues can be resolved as long as people like Franken, Durbin, Feinstein, Sanders, the authors of the Nashville Statement, the court evangelicals, and many others continue to dig-in their heels.

Princeton University’s President on the Democrats’ Religious Tests for Public Office

I saw this today at Alan Jacobs’s blog Snakes and Ladders:

I write, as a university president and a constitutional scholar with expertise on religious freedom and judicial appointments, to express concern about questions addressed to Professor Amy Barrett during her confirmation hearings and to urge that the Committee on the Judiciary refrain from interrogating nominees about the religious or spiritual foundations of their jurisprudential views. Article VI of the United States Constitution provides explicitly that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This bold endorsement of religious freedom was among the original Constitution’s most pathbreaking provisions. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), holding that the First and Fourteenth Amendments render this principle applicable to state offices and that it protects non-believers along with believers of all kinds, is among the greatest landmarks in America’s jurisprudence of religious freedom. Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests is a critical guarantee of equality and liberty, and it is part of what should make all of us proud to be Americans.

By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state, or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to Professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s “no religious test” clause.

Source

 

Here is Al Franken:

I should add that the Blackstone Legal Fellowship has an advisory board that includes law professors from  University of Texas, University of Nebraska, Harvard (Mary Ann Glendon), Princeton (Robert George), and Notre Dame.

Here is Diane Feinstein:

Here is Dick Durbin:

And let’s not forget Bernie Sanders from earlier this year:

Here is Emma Green’s reporting on this at The Atlantic.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: Bernie Sanders Should Apologize or Resign

jeffress

We did a post on this story last week.  Sanders was clearly out of line in suggesting that Trump nominee Russell Vought was not equipped to be the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (or any other federal office for that matter) because Vought believes in an exclusive message of salvation. Michael Gerson of The Washington Post also wrote about the matter.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress, the pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist Church, has now added his two cents.  The church website announces:

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, releases the following statement in response to Senator Bernie Sanders’ application of an unconstitutional religious test to Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy White House budget director:

“Senator Bernie Sanders, in declaring his intention to vote against Russell Vought because of his Evangelical Christian faith, has not only launched a direct attack against the Constitution by applying a religious test, he has also attacked tens of millions of Evangelicals, who embrace the same historical Christian beliefs as Vought.

This attack by Senator Sanders is abhorrent first of all because Article VI of our Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Vought’s comments in a blog post, published in the context of a controversy at the Christian college from which he graduated, affirmed the words of Jesus Himself who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Yet the affirmation of this core Christian doctrine led Sanders to conclude that Vought failed Sanders’ religious test: “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.” These words, and this sentiment, are not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable by a public official. 

Second, this attack by Sanders is abhorrent because he has effectively said that Evangelicals, who make up 41 percent of the population of our country, are not qualified to serve in public office, and “not what this country is all about.” It seems that Secretary Clinton isn’t the only one who looks at our great country and sees a brimming basket of deplorables.

Because of this assault on the Constitution and on fully 41 percent of the American people, there are only two responsible courses of action for Senator Sanders—apologize to the country for his foolhardy attempt to introduce an unconstitutional litmus test that would exclude 41 percent of the country, or resign.”

Some thoughts:

  • Jeffress is ready to pounce on Sanders while at the same time supporting Trump’s religion-based travel ban.  If Jeffress wants to defend religious liberty he needs to defend religious liberty for everyone.
  • Why is Jeffress releasing this political statement on his CHURCH WEBSITE? Does he make these kinds of political attacks from the pulpit as well? I thought Baptists believed in the separation of church and state?
  • Isn’t this the same Robert Jeffress who said that Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 because he was a Mormon?  Isn’t this a de facto test?

 

Michael Gerson on Bernie Sanders and Religious Test Oaths

Bernie

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently commented on the Bernie Sanders-Russell Vought controversy.  Here is a taste of his column “Bernie Sanders’s Crusade Against…Believing in Hell?

Here is a taste:

Perhaps Sanders was just meaning to deny a government job to someone whose theology he finds objectionable. Which is not only presumptuous but unconstitutional (see Article VI). The same would be true in the case of a Muslim nominee or anyone else willing to serve the country and uphold the Constitution. A pluralism too weak to protect Christian believers is too weak to protect Muslim believers, and vice versa. And both have the right to think they are right.

A few questions for the senator: Does he really want to begin examining Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians and everyone else for theological beliefs that offend his ideal of liberalism? How strongly does a belief need to be held to be disqualifying for employment? Would he permit a Christian colleague to shoot down a government job seeker if that man or woman believed that the universe is an echoing void and that human beings are merely bags of chemicals?

Read the entire column here.

What is Bernie Sanders Doing?

This is why many evangelicals turn to a strongman like Donald Trump. They believe that their religious liberties are under attack and Trump will defend them.

Whatever one thinks about Russel Vought’s religious beliefs or the way he handled Bernie’s grilling, what happened here should concern all of us.  Even atheists are concerned.

This seems to me to be a clear violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece on the incident at The Atlantic:

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders flirted with the boundaries of this rule during a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. During the hearing, Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

Later, during the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Sanders brought this up again. “Do you believe that statement is Islamophobic?” he asked Vought.

“Absolutely not, Senator,” Vought replied. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”

Where Sanders saw Islamophobia and intolerance, Vought believed he was stating a basic principle of his belief as an evangelical Christian: that faith in Jesus is the only pathway to salvation. And where Sanders believed he was policing bigotry in public office, others believed he was imposing a religious test. As Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement, “Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office.”

Read the entire piece here.

Many conservative evangelicals are likely to turn this into another culture war issue. Few will try to use this incident to think more deeply about how to balance the exclusivist claims of religious faith with participation in a pluralistic society.  The former is easy, and because it is easy it often becomes our default position.  The latter takes hard work–work I am not sure many evangelicals are interested in, or capable of, performing.

Jimmy Carter: I Voted for Bernie

Bernie

This is not very surprising, but it is worth pointing out.

Here is a taste of a piece at Salon:

In an interview an hour prior to his discussion with Sanders, Carter told AJC that the longest-serving independent senator was a perfect representation for what Carter Center’s forum stands for.

“I think during the last election in America, Bernie Sanders represented the best of all the candidates what this conference is about,” Carter said. “When you lose your opportunity to have some reasonable chance of a decent income, you lose a lot of other things as well. One of the key things people feel is that they’ve lost a voice in their own government.”

Carter, 92, listed ideals that the American people need to continue to fight for. “Basic human rights, income, status in society, health care, education, justice,” he said. “The things in which we used to have complete faith have now been distorted by rich people getting richer.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Context on the Democratic Party’s Debate on Abortion

WilliamsThe articles on the Democratic Party’s abortion problem continue to appear.  Check out Graham Vyse’s “Why Democrats Are Debating Abortion Yet Again.”  I also recommend Clare Foran’s “Is There Any Room in the ‘Big Tent’ for Pro-Life Democrats?

Once again, if you want some historical context I encourage you to read Daniel K. Williams, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.  (Or listen to our interview with Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

Here is a pertinent passage (p.247-249) from Williams’s Epilogue

Many pro-lifers were reluctant to leave the party of Franklin Roosevelt, but a larger cultural shift in both the party and the nation made it impossible for them to remain loyal Democrats.  Until the 1960s, both parties had championed the male-headed, two-parent family as a social ideal, and that idea had undergirded Catholics’ loyalty to the Democratic Party.  For three decades following the creation of the New Deal, most liberal Democrats had grounded their calls for social welfare programs and economic uplift in the principle of helping the male-headed household–a concept closely accorded with the Catholic Church’s teaching that the family unit was the foundation of society.  But in the late 1960s and 1970s, liberal Democrats exchanged this family-centered ideal for a new rights-based ethic grounded in individual autonomy and social equality, thus alienating many theologically conservative Catholics, including the pro-lifers who viewed the defense of fetal rights as a liberal campaign and who had hoped to ally with Democrats…

At first, pro-lifers tried to meet liberals on their own ground by defending the rights of the fetus in language that seemed indistinguishable from the constitutional rights claims that women, gays and African Americans were making, while eschewing references to the larger ethic of sexual responsibility and the family-centered ideal that might have branded their campaign as a throwback to an earlier era.  Yet in the end, despite their approbation of rights-based liberalism, their campaign failed to win the support of liberals who realized that fetal rights were incompatible with the values of bodily autonomy and gender equality.

Once autonomy and equality became liberal Democrats’ primary concerns, it was only a matter of time before many devout Catholic pro-lifers who had long been loyal Democrats faced a stark choice.  Would they swallow their reservations about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion in order to further other goals?  Or would they abandon their other political convictions and work with the Republicans?…

While most pro-life activists decided that they could not countenance the national Democratic Party’s stance on abortion, many were nevertheless happy to work with individual Democratic politicians who embraced the pro-life label and were willing to endorse the HLA [Human Life Amendment]. This was an especially popular strategy for pro-life liberals in the mid-1980s, when they still thought they had a chance to regain influence in the party.  Democrats for Life refused to endorse the Democrats’ presidential tickets (since those always featured pro-choice candidates), but nevertheless worked for pro-life Democratic candidates at the local level and attempt to elect pro-life delegates to the Democratic National Convention.  Yet the chilly reception that these conventions gave to Democratic politicians who refused to toe the party line on abortion rights only served to confirm pro-lifers’ growing suspicions of the party.  When the organizers of the 1992 Democratic National Convention refused to Pennsylvania’s Catholic Democratic governor Bob Casey a speaking slot to present a defense of his pro-life views, the snub confirmed many pro-lifers’ belief that the Democratic Party wanted nothing to do with their cause…

A Strange Week on the Abortion and Contraception Front

3f27b-bernie

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on some interesting developments this week in the world of abortion politics.

It turns out that the country’s most well-known progressive is defending a pro-life candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.  At the same time, the Trump Justice Department is still defending the Obamacare contraception mandate.

Here is a taste of Shellnut’s piece:

Despite Trump pledging to dismantle Obamacare and to defend religious groups against “bullying” by the federal government, his administration has opted to still stand by the birth control requirement in court.

The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department requested on Monday that a federal appeals court continue to negotiate with Christian schools like East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, and Westminster Theological Seminary for another two months, rather than dropping their case and allowing the schools to continue to not offer contraception coverage per a lower court decision.

The colleges are among many evangelical and Catholic groups—most notably the Little Sisters of the Poor—who challenged the Obamacare requirement that employers’ heath plans include emergency contraception, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and other birth control. Some believe that certain methods prevent implantation of an embryo, and others object to all artificial birth control. While exemptions for schools and nonprofits allow them to delegate employee coverage to a third party, theses organizations are requesting the full religious exemption that churches qualify for.

Becket, the religious liberty defense firm representing the two Baptist schools, issued a filing last Thursday requesting the Justice Department drop the cases given the new White House administration’s stance…

While the Trump administration takes an unexpected course on the birth control mandate case, one-time presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders recently made headlines with a twist of his own. The pro-choice Independent supported a pro-life Democrat in Nebraska, spurring debate over abortion’s place in the party’s platform.

Sanders (himself a secular Jew) campaigned for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, who is Catholic and pro-life. Sanders defended his decision, saying, “You just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

NARAL Pro-Choice leadership and the Democratic National Committee chairman disagreed, arguing that abortion policy is a fundamental, “non negotiable” part of Democratic identity.

Read the entire article here.

 

Mark Silk: GOP is Not the Only Party That Makes Abortion a Litmus Test

Bernie

Over at his blog Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk chides the Democratic Party for get so bothered by the fact that Bernie Sanders backed a pro-life Democratwho is running mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

“Abortion access is not a ‘single issue’ or a ‘social issue,’” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “It is a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our family’s lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights.”

Let’s stop right there.

For many Americans, abortion is no such proxy. They support equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage and a human right to health care and doing away with the death penalty. They believe in climate change and want there to be a serious effort to combat it.

Mello, like a lot of his fellow Catholics, is one of them.

Nevertheless, after NARAL issued its condemnation, the liberal website Daily Kos withdrew its endorsement. The Democratic National Committee began waffling.

But Bernie Sanders, the Independent who is now the Democratic Party’s biggest star, did not hesitate to show up at a rally for Mello in Omaha. And on Face the Nation yesterday, he stuck to his guns:

If you have a rally in which you have the labor movement and the environmentalists and Native Americans and the African-American community and the Latino community coming together, saying, we want this guy to become our next mayor, should I reject going there to Omaha? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so either.

After John Kerry narrowly lost the 2004 election, the new Democratic National Committee chair, Sanders’ fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, decided over the objections of the D.C. Democratic establishment to pursue a 50-state strategy. That involved recruiting candidates who were, yes, pro-life.

In 2006, the Democrats recaptured both houses of Congress.

You can be seriously pro-choice and embrace that approach again. Or you can mirror the Republican base and sacrifice all your other values on the altar of abortion.

Read the entire post here.  Robert David Sullivan, the editor of America, makes a similar argument.

Michael Eric Dyson on Identity Politics

dysonIn light of some of the things I have been writing on identity politics lately, someone on Facebook who disagrees with much of what I have written so far asked me to respond to this New York Times article by Michael Eric Dyson.

First, let me say that I have learned a lot from Dyson over the years. I would love to host him at Messiah College some time.

Last Winter I was driving through Alexandria, Virginia listening to C-SPAN radio and heard Dyson talking about his book The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America.  I found the interview so compelling (I have written about this before here at the blog) that the following week I bought a copy of the book at Hearts and Minds Books, Byron Borger’s bookstore in Dallastown, PA.  I took it home and read it in two sittings.  It helped me to better understand the Obama presidency and the subject of race in America more broadly. (You can see that interview with Dyson here).

Here are some thoughts on Dyson’s current piece:

  1. I think it was unfair of Kanye West, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to say that George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.”  Dyson apparently disagrees.
  2. I also think it is unfair to equate Donald Trump’s views on race with the views of liberals and progressives such as Bernie Sanders or (implied) Mark Lilla. (More on Sanders below).
  3. Dyson does not distinguish between the universal ideals at the heart of the American Revolution (or at least the way these ideals were used by social reform movements through American history) and the failure of white people to apply them in American life.  For example, the idea that “all men are created equal” was used in arguments on behalf of women’s rights, abolitionism, the opposition to Jim Crow, and other reforms.  See, for example, Pauline Maier’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence.  So here is my question: Do the ideals of equality and human rights transcend race?  I would answer yes.  In other words, they are universal Enlightenment ideals that all human beings share.  And if one wants to argue that they are “white” ideals, then it seems that we should be thanking white people for introducing them into global history.
  4. But there is more to the story.  I largely agree with Dyson’s account of American history.  Yes, these universal ideas were not consistently applied in American history. (And we should not be thanking white people for that).  This is the history any American with a conscience must confront.  This is why I think the deep connections between American Slavery and American Freedom (as Edmund Morgan put it) must play a prominent role in the teaching of American history.  It is also why I think history is needed more than ever as a means of teaching people empathy for the stories of all Americans within a national narrative.  As a historian my vocation is to tell the story.  It is then up to my students and my audience to decide what to do about the story. (The latter work can take place in the history classroom, but it is not this is not the exercise that drives what happens in the history classroom). After telling the story my work as a historian is done.  (Of course my work on this front as a human being, a Christian, a citizen or a community member should not end, although one’s involvement in the cause will vary from person to person).
  5. So let me say a word about moving beyond the classroom.  Should we throw out these American ideals just because they were not consistently applied in the past? Some would say yes. They would say that the weight of racism (the failure to apply these principles) in America cannot be lifted.  They would say that the idea of “we shall overcome” is a relic of the past.  I must part ways with such thinking.  I will cast my lot with Martin Luther King and other early leaders of the Civil Rights movement who longed for and prayed for an integrated society.  My America, like the America King talked about in Washington and in a Birmingham jail cell, is a nation where we must continue in the long hard struggle to apply the principles that our founders put in place in the eighteenth-century.  As a Christian who believes in sin, I doubt we will ever get there on this side of eternity, but that is no excuse to stop working.  (And we have a lot of work to do–I have a lot of work to do–when opportunities arise). We are called to advance the Kingdom of God on this earth and, with a spirit of hope, await its ultimate fulfillment,.
  6. I like what Dyson said about Obama in the C-SPAN interview I cited above: “When black people’s backs are against the wall as American citizens…the president should take the side [of black people]….When they are being gunned down in the streets…and especially vulnerable to racist rebuff, you must use your billy pulpit to amplify their cause and their claims and you must do so not simply as the ‘first black president’–that may be inessential at this point.  What is essential, however, is that you as the representative of the state must speak on behalf of all citizens including African American people.” (Italics mine, although Dyson does inflect his voice on these words).  Here Dyson is appealing to the ideals that bind us together as a people. He is making what appears to be an appeal to the ideals of the nation and the responsibility of the POTUS (and by implication all of us) to apply them to the cause of racism.
  7. I agree with Dyson that the administration Trump is assembling is not equipped to handle race in America and will not be up to the task as I have just described it.
  8. As you might imagine by this point, on the question of “identity politics” I find myself siding with Bernie Sanders.  I believe that Bernie is correct when he says that we need to move beyond identity politics and toward a more national vision that seeks to address the things that affect all Americans–economic equality, the power of Wall Street, and climate change.  These things affect people of all colors.  I see a lot of Eugene Debs in Sanders–or at least the Debs that Nick Salvatore writes about in his book Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist.  What I take away from Salvatore’s treatment of Debs is the way that this prominent turn-of-the century socialist invoked the civic humanism of the American founding.  Debs’s civic humanism was certainly limited.  Our does not have to be.
  9. To suggest Sanders is a racist is wrong. (I don’t think Dyson is saying this).  To say that he does not care about black people or race in America is wrong.  (And I don’t think Dyson is saying this either, but he may come close).  I also don’t think a Sanders presidency would have ignored race.
  10. In the end, I see Sanders reaching beyond racial identity to make an appeal–primarily–to the things that all  Americans must address.  Isn’t this what the POTUS should be doing?  Isn’t this the politics we need to move forward?  Citizens of the United States must continue to frame their arguments about race in the context of the national ideals.

OK–there are some quick thoughts.

Another Reason to Study History

The study of history teaches us to make evidenced-based arguments. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, people do not seem to have a problem with making bold statements in public speeches and interviews that are not backed up by evidence.  Does evidence matter any more?  We need history more than ever.

Watch this:

Just as an aside, I am continually amazed at how influential Bernie Sanders has been in this election.  When was the last time a POTUS candidate (especially a GOP candidate) tried to separate himself or herself from Wall Street money.

On the Potential of a Sanders-Trump Debate

Trump SandersOf course I would love to see this.  As of this morning, I was thinking the conversation about a Trump-Sanders debate was little more than a publicity stunt and had no real chance of happening.  I still think that this is probably the case.

But today on CNN, Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s campaign manager, told Wolf Blitzer that the campaigns have been in contact about a potential debate.  Weaver also said that he has heard from every major television network about hosting it. If Trump and Sanders had a debate it would no doubt draw tens of millions of viewers.

Will the debate happen?  I think there might be a chance.  Let’s remember who we are dealing with here.  Trump is a narcissist.  Though there may be no political upside for him in debating Sanders, I am not sure if Trump can resist being on television in front of so many people.

Everybody, even Donald Trump, has a weakness.  Trump’s weakness, as I hope to explore more fully in a future post, is that he is prone to making statements based upon his narcissistic passions. If Trump hesitates to debate, the Sanders campaign will go after him.  They will make it look like he has something to hide.  They will continue to question his character. They will say that he is not a strongman, but instead hides behind his bluster.  In the process, they will hope that Trump will counter-punch and perhaps even agree to the debate to defend his honor.

It just might work.  At the very least, thanks for indulging me on this one.

UPDATE (2:31 EDT): Trump is holding a press right now and has said that he would love to debate Sanders in a big arena somewhere on national television.

 

A Tale of Two Progressives in State College, Pennsylvania

Bruce at PSU

As I type this, Bernie Sanders is giving his stump speech to a packed house at Rec Hall on the campus of Penn State University.

Sanders draws very large crowds at his rallies.  But there was another progressive in State College this week who draws even larger crowds.  Rec Hall holds just under 7000 people, but it is not the largest indoor space at Penn State.  Bryce Jordan Center, home of the Nittany Lions basketball teams, holds over 15,000 people.  Bruce Springsteen filled it last night.

I don’t know who Springsteen is supporting in November, but I would not be surprised if he is backing Sanders. It seems as if their politics are identical.  Both men are angry about inequality and the control that special interests have over the democratic process.  They both blast the fat cats.

Right now, as I watch on C-SPAN, Sanders is railing on the “greed” and “illegal behavior” of Wall Street that “seriously hurts the lives of our fellow Americans.”  He just said that the “business philosophy of the major financial organizations in the United States is fraud.”

And here is the Boss from his song “Shackled and Drawn“:

Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill
Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn

Shackled and drawn, shackled and drawn
Pick up the rock, son, and carry it on
Trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong
Woke up this morning shackled and drawn

On social issues, Sanders is adamantly pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.  Recently Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro, NC in protest against the state’s law requiring trans-gendered people to use the public restroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificates.

But last night in the Bryce Jordan Center, Springsteen did not talk politics.  He did not mention the Greensboro cancellation.  Instead, he played an old-fashioned rock and roll show.  I was there.  And it was incredible.

During this tour Springsteen is playing his entire 1980 double album  The River. Bruce describes The River as an album he wrote as he was trying to figure out “where he fit in” in a world of  fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, good comradeship, love, sex, faith, lonely nights, and teardrops.”  He defines it as a “big record that felt like life.”

This was the third Springsteen concert I have attended with my entire family.  My wife and daughters are casual Springsteen fans, so I prepared everyone by playing the entire album on the 90-minute drive up to State College. For the first time I can remember, everyone listened intently.

Here are the highlights:

  • Meet Me in the City,” an outtake from The River, is quickly becoming one of my favorite (top 25) Springsteen songs.  He has opened every concert on this tour with the song.  (Although I thought he might break with tradition and open with his lesser-known “Lion’s Den” in the way that he did in his 2012 show at Penn State).
  • Penn State students love Springsteen, even when they don’t know the words to the songs.  We had a pack of them around us in the pit.  The whole night felt like a college show.  A lot of 18-22 year-old kids were wearing red, white, and blue bandannas.   (You don’t usually see this at 21st century Springsteen shows).  During the encores Springsteen played “Born in the USA” for them.  When Max Weinburg hit the drums on this song it felt like the entire arena shook..
  • A Springsteen concert is very white and very middle class, but the age diversity is striking.  From our spot on the floor I saw several elementary school-aged kids as well as people who were probably, by my best guess, in their 70s.  Yet it was the college students who led the way.  Bruce was energized by them and on several occasions praised the crowd.
  • As is often the case, the 66-year-old rocker did a little crowd-surfing on “Hungry Heart.”
  • The River is not my favorite Springsteen album, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the songs in the order that they originally appeared on the album.  In an age of ITunes, I worry that no one listens to albums anymore.  Springsteen albums tell stories.  And he told one last night.
  • After finishing The River, Springsteen played hit after hit: Badlands, Promised Land, Because the Night, and The Rising.  Then it got even better.  In response to a sign in the audience, the Boss and the E Street Band played the epic ballad Jungleland. This was the moment that my daughters were hoping for.  They love Jungleland and until last night they had never seen it performed live.  Jake Clemons has a long way to go before he plays the sax solo as well as his uncle Clarence, but it was still very good. Jungleland was followed by Thunder Road, Born in the USA, Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Rosalita, and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.  What a run!

Springsteen did not play any songs from his last few social-justice oriented albums. Instead he turned to his old song book–songs about girls and boys, cars, love, ambition, brokenness and fun.  Sometimes this is all we need.

Bernie is still speaking.

It Happened: Bernie Met With Pope Francis

Bernie

The other day we wondered if Bernie Sanders’s trip to the Vatican was worth it.  Apparently it was.

As some of you may recall,  yesterday he spoke at a conference on Catholic social teaching sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.  Bernie’s topic was “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus.”  You can read the speech here. (Again, you read our post here).  I think it is fair to say that Bernie basically delivered his usually stump speech inflected with references of Catholic social teaching, but I will have to go back and read it more carefully.

Politicos thought that the decision to go to Rome in the middle of the New York primary would be a disaster for his presidential bid.  He is, after all, caught in a tough primary battle right now with Hillary Clinton.  This was especially the case when it appeared that Sanders would not get an audience with Pope Francis.

But then it happened.  Bernie and Pope Francis did meet yesterday.  Here is a taste of the New York Times story:

VATICAN CITY — Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, met briefly with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday morning before the pontiff’s trip to Greece, the senator said.

“I conveyed to him my great admiration for the extraordinary work that he is doing all over the world in demanding that morality be part of our economy,” Mr. Sanders said during his flight back to New York from Rome. “We have got to move toward a moral economy, not simply an economy based on greed,” he added.

Mr. Sanders said he had also thanked the pope for his encyclical last yearcalling for action on climate change. “I can tell you, as a member of the Senate committee on environment, that encyclical has played a profound role in changing a lot of consciousness on the reality of climate change and the need to act boldly to address it,” he said.

The meeting lasted about five minutes, said the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, an adviser to the Sanders campaign, who said he had been present. Mr. Sachs said the pope had thanked Mr. Sanders, who arrived Friday at the Vatican for a conference on social and economic issues, “for coming to the meeting and for coming to speak about the moral economy.”

Read the entire article here.

It doesn’t sound like much of a meeting, but it did happen.  Let’s see how this helps Bernie on the trail in New York and beyond.

Some Quick Thoughts on Bernie’s Trip to the Vatican

bernie-sanders-portrait-01Is it a bad a political move for Bernie Sanders to leave New York in the lead-up to the state’s primary in order to give an address at a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in the Vatican?

Maybe. (How’s that for a definitive answer).

Two thoughts.

First, it is worth noting that Bernie will be speaking at a conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.   John Paul II delivered this encyclical on the 100th anniversary of Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum.  Most scholars trace the origins of Catholic social teaching to Leo’s 1891 encyclical.  In Centesimus Annus, John Paul II opposes Marxism and communism, defends private property and labor unions, condemns socialism and consumerism, and celebrates the dignity of the human person.  It will be interesting to see what Sanders, a self-professed “democratic socialist,” will say about this encyclical.  His address is titled, “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus.”

Second, I am sure that Bernie has political motivations for going to the Vatican.  Perhaps he hopes to attract American (or New York) Catholics to his candidacy.  But Sanders’s decision to go to Rome also seems to transcend politics.  The issue of a “moral economy” is near and dear to Sanders’s heart.  Why can’t the press accept that Bernie may be motivated to speak at this event by something other than politics?