How Liberals Treated John McCain

McCain New School

During John McCain’s funeral service, Barack Obama and George W. Bush made veiled attacks on Donald Trump for the current president’s failure to promote civil discourse across political parties.  But University of Pennsylvania historian Jonathan Zimmerman argues that liberals are also to blame for eroding “the civil discourse that McCain held dear.”   Here is a taste of his piece at The Dallas Morning News:

Like body odor and accented speech, however, incivility is a lot easier to notice in the other guy than in yourself. So I hope that those of us at universities will pause for a moment and ask ourselves how we, too, have eroded the civil discourse that McCain held dear.

How many professors have made snarky comments about Republican candidates or causes, instead of engaging our conservative students in respectful dialogue? How many students have denounced anyone they disagree with as racist, thereby cutting off discussion instead of promoting it?

And how many of us have insisted that only certain views — our own, of course — should be aired on campus, and that opposing ones should be discouraged or prohibited?

That’s what happened at the New School in 2006, when nearly 1,000 students and faculty signed a petition urging the school to rescind its invitation to McCain. “Pre-emptive War is Not a New School Value,” declared one sign at a rally outside the school. Other protesters denounced McCain’s position on abortion. “He has been opposed to Roe vs. Wade for more than 20 years,” one professor told the rally. “He is a man who believes in female sexual slavery.”

Got that? We (always “we”) are opposed to the war in Iraq, so we don’t want to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise. And if you’re pro-life, you don’t belong here either. In fact, you’re an advocate of slavery!

And so it goes, right down the line. If you question affirmative action, you’re a bigot; if you oppose gay marriage, you’re a homophobe; and if you resist gender-neutral bathrooms, you’re a transphobe.

Read the entire piece here.

Remembering John McCain

McCain Falwell

McCain with Jerry Falwell

Here are some things I remember about John McCain (1936-2018).

The “Straight Talk Express” was a breath of fresh-air in 2000.  McCain was strongly critical of the Christian Right approach to politics.  He blasted George W. Bush for visiting Bob Jones University before the South Carolina primary.   During the campaign he said, “I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.  Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.”  At one point he called Jerry Falwell and Robertson an “evil influence” on the Republican Party.

In 2008, McCain did a flip-flop on the Christian Right. (I wrote about it here). He knew he needed its support if he was going to defeat Barack Obama.  McCain gave the commencement address at Liberty University on 2006.  He said that the United States Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”  (I wrote about this in the introduction to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).  He took the endorsement of Christian Zionist John Hagee and then rejected it after Hagee made an anti-Semitic remark.  He started using the phrase “City Upon a Hill.”  And, of course, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

During the 2008 primary season, the sponsors of the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College invited McCain to come to campus to talk about his faith and its relationship to politics. The event took place several days before the Pennsylvania primary.  CNN covered the event and it was hosted by Jon Meacham and Campbell Brown.  McCain declined the invitation.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accepted the invitation.  I will always be disappointed that McCain did not make this a bipartisan event.  I spent a lot of time that night in the press “spin room” explaining to reporters that McCain was invited, but chose not to attend.  (Later he would attend a similar forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church).

I will remember his “thumbs down” on the GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I still watch this video with amazement and study all the reactions of his fellow Senators

I will remember this and I wonder if we will ever see anything like it again.  When civility and respect for the dignity of political rivals is disregarded, the moral fabric of a democratic society is weakened.  What McCain did at that town hall meeting in 2008 was virtuous.

Rest in Peace

Trump Will Create a New Faith-Based Initiative

White House

George W. Bush instituted the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.  Barack Obama continued the initiative with the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  Now Donald Trump is getting into the act.  According to Adelle Banks’s reporting at Religion News Service, this new faith-based initiative will have a decidedly court evangelical flavor.

A taste of Banks’s article:

Johnnie Moore, a minister and public relations consultant who serves as an unofficial spokesman for a group of evangelicals that often advises Trump, said the new initiative takes an approach different from the previous ones.

“Ordering every department of the federal government to work on faith based partnerships — not just those with faith offices — represents a widespread expansion of a program that has historically done very effective work and now can do even greater work,” he said.

Florida megachurch pastor Paula White, one of the key evangelical advisers to the president, also cheered the new initiative.

“I could not be more proud to stand with President Trump as he continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with communities of faith,” she said. “This order is a historic action, strengthening the relationship between faith and government in the United States and the product will be countless, transformed lives.”

Moore and White, of course, are both prominent court evangelicals.  It appears that their are few details thus far.  Stay tuned.

Read Banks’s entire piece here.

Who Do Evangelicals Trust on Politics?

Trump Beleive me

A recent poll has found that almost fifty percent of evangelicals say a Donald Trump recommendation would make them more likely to vote for a candidate.  Meanwhile, fifty-four percent of evangelicals said a Hillary Clinton endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidates.

Here is the list of evangelicals’ most-trusted celebrity endorsers:

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Mike Pence
  3. George W. Bush
  4. Paul Ryan
  5. Barack Obama
  6. Michelle Obama
  7. Oprah
  8. Joel Osteen
  9. Bernie Sanders
  10. Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here is the list of evangelical’s least-trusted celebrity endorsers:

  1. Hillary Clinton
  2. Kim Kardashian
  3. Nancy Pelosi
  4. Bill Clinton
  5. Kanye West
  6. Barack Obama
  7. Michelle Obama
  8. Beyonce
  9. Ellen DeGeneres
  10. Bernie Sanders

Kate Shellnut has a story on this survey at Christianity Today.  Read it here.

A few quick observations:

  • Joel Osteen is the only minister who made the top ten.
  • Evangelicals trust Oprah more than ministers to offer them political advice.
  • The Obamas and Bernie Sanders are on both lists.
  • Evangelicals do not take political advice from Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Beyonce, and Ellen, but the fact they they made the “least-trusted” list shows that they are clearly obsessed with these celebrities.

Linker: Evangelicals are “Dreaming Small”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

American evangelicals, according to Damon Linker at The Week, are on the defensive.  Here is a taste of his piece “The Dwindling Ambition of the Religious Right“:

The conservative evangelical Protestants who have long been the foot soldiers of the religious right may be thrilled with President Trump’s judicial appointments (and so willing to overlook his mountain of personal moral failings), but that excitement has nothing to do with ambitions to take back the country in the name of traditional moral values. On the contrary, evangelicals and their conservative Catholic allies today engage in politics from the position of a defensive crouch, anxiously hoping sympathetic judges will protect them from bullying at the hands of an administrative state empowered by anti-discrimination law to stamp out various forms of religiously grounded “bigotry.”

To see the change, ask yourself when you can last recall hearing a major figure on the religious right propose a major reform of American public life. (And no, restrictions on abortion don’t count, because supporting the placement of limits on abortion-on-demand doesn’t require affirming traditional religious views; one need only believe in the existence of human rights and recognize that a fetus on a sonogram is a human being.) Since Bush’s failure to reverse the rapid advance of gay marriage in the United States, the religious right has been playing defense and even entertaining withdrawal from active engagement in politics at the national level.

 

Read the rest here.  This is what happens when evangelicals are motivated less by hope than by fear.

 

Court Evangelical: An “Axis of Evil” is Destroying the Trump Presidency

As many of you know, President George W. Bush used the phrase “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union Address to describe foreign governments sponsoring terrorism and seeking to build nuclear arsenals.  Bush applied the phrase to North Korea, Iran, and Iraq.

Jeffress uses “axis of evil” to describe the Democrats and Republicans of the “establishment” who are trying to destroy Donald Trump.  “We cannot allow that to happen,” he says.

Is this a call to a holy war of some type?  Is Jeffress pitting the forces of God against the forces of anti-Trump evil?  Is Jeffress comparing the opponents of Donald Trump to what Bush describes here?:

Seconds before Jeffress came on the air, in the same segment, Lou Dobbs was talking about Pope Francis’s criticism of the Trump administration.  This was the context in which Jeffress used the phrase “axis of evil.”  Is Francis part of this axis of evil? If so, this would not be the first time Jeffress has spewed forth anti-Catholic rhetoric.  Whatever the case, this Dallas court evangelical believes that Trump is God’s anointed one and anyone who opposes God’s anointed one is evil.

And you wonder why I have suggested that the course of American Christianity is changing?

Michael Kazin on the Fate of Presidents Who Didn’t Win a Majority of the Popular Vote

John_Quincy_Adams_-_copy_of_1843_Philip_Haas_Daguerreotype

John Quincy Adams

I have said it many times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home: historians cannot predict the future.

But they can provide much needed context.

That is what Michael Kazin of Georgetown University does in his recent Washington Post op-ed “No matter what he does, history says Trump will never be popular.”

Here is a taste:

…American history is clear: Presidents who’ve lost the popular vote don’t win popular support.

The four previous presidents who finished second in votes cast all struggled to convince Americans that they were doing a good job. Each battled the perception that his victory was undemocratic and illegitimate; each soon lost the confidence of his own partisans in Congress and led an administration that historians regard as a failure. Each faced an uphill struggle to keep his base happy and mobilized while also reaching out to the majority, which preferred policies his voters detested. Most, like Trump so far, did not even try to square that circle.

Only George W. Bush seemed to escape this fate, for a time. But his temporary success had more to do with the acclaim he received after the attacks of 9/11 than anything else he accomplished in office. And this crisis-induced honeymoon didn’t last: During most of his second term, Bush’s rating stalled far below the 48 percent of the vote he had won in 2000, when half a million more Americans preferred Al Gore.

The three other presidents who lost the popular vote all lived and governed in the 19th century. None managed to overcome his initial political deficit or to enact any of the major policies he desired. In the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams drew just 31 percent of the popular vote. The conditions of that contest have never been repeated: Adams was one of four candidates, all of whom nominally belonged to the same party, the Democratic-Republicans. Because no man won an electoral-vote majority, the decision fell to the House of Representatives. Adams triumphed, largely because he agreed to appoint Henry Clay, one of his erstwhile rivals, as secretary of state. Andrew Jackson, whose popular-vote count had easily topped that of Adams, screamed that his rivals had made a “corrupt bargain”; if citizens accepted it, he charged, “they may bid farewell to their freedom.”

Read the entire piece here.

W: “Bono is the real deal”

Bush and Bono

U2 singer Bono stopped by Crawford, Texas to see George W. Bush.

ABC News reports:

Lead U2 singer Bono made a pit stop Friday at former President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, a few hours before his band’s sold-out concert in nearby Richardson.

“Bono is the real deal,” Bush wrote on Instagram, along with a photo of himself with Bono at the Prairie Chapel Ranch. “He has a huge heart and a selfless soul, not to mention a decent voice. @laurawbush and I are grateful he came to the ranch to talk about the work of @thebushcenter, @onecampaign, @PEPFAR, and our shared commitment to saving lives in Africa.”

Both men have been active in efforts to end the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Bush created PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, while Bono co-founded ONE, a global campaign and advocacy organization that rallies around AIDS awareness and anti-poverty initiatives.

“More than 11 million people are alive today thanks to this man’s creation of PEPFAR, the U.S. AIDS program that has been saving lives and preventing new HIV infections for over 10 years, with strong support from political leaders right, left, and center,” Bono wrote on ONE’s Instagram account, alongside the photo of the two men. “That progress is all at risk now with President Trump‘s budget cuts, which will mean needless infections and lives lost. – Bono.”

Bush wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last month urging lawmakers to keep PEPFAR fully-funded because approximately “12 million lives have been saved … Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease.”

An Oral History of 9-11

card-to-bush

This one comes from the people surrounding President George W. Bush on the fateful day.  Here is a taste of this widely-shared Politico piece:

This oral history, based on more than 40 hours of original interviews with more than two dozen of the passengers, crew and press aboard—including many who have never spoken publicly about what they witnessed that day—traces the story of how an untested president, a sidearm-carrying general, top aides, the Secret Service and the Cipro-wielding White House physician, as well as five reporters, four radio operators, three pilots, two congressmen and a stenographer responded to 9/11.

Andy Card, chief of staff, White House: We woke up in Sarasota, Florida, at the Colony Resort. There was a terrible stench in the air—the red tide had killed a lot of fish that had washed up on the shore. I remember being struck by that smell coming from Air Force One the night before. We’d gone off to dinner in Tampa. It was unusual for President Bush to stay out late like that, but it was a relaxing evening.

Ari Fleischer, press secretary, White House: The day couldn’t have begun any better or more beautifully.

Gordon Johndroe, assistant press secretary, White House: The day starts off very normally—the president went for a run, and I took the [press] pool out with the president. I remember I got stung by a bee, and I asked Dr. Tubb if he had something he could give me for the swelling. He said, “Yeah, we’ll get you something when we get to the airplane.” Needless to say, I promptly forgot about it that day.

Sonya Ross, reporter, Associated Press: This was a garden variety trip. It was low-ranking staff and a lot of the top journalists didn’t come. It was a scrub trip.

Mike Morell, presidential briefer, Central Intelligence Agency: I walked into his suite [for the president’s morning intelligence briefing]; he was surrounded by breakfast foods and he hadn’t touched any of it. He asked me if I’d gone to the beach the night before, and I told him I’d just gone right to bed. The second intifada was well underway then, and the briefings at that time were very heavy on Israeli-Palestinian stuff. A good bit of the briefing that morning was about Israeli matters. There was one thing that caught his attention, and he picked up the phone to call Condi [Rice] to ask her to follow up on it. There was nothing in the briefing about terrorism. It was very routine—just him, me, Andy Card and Deb Loewer from the Situation Room.

Andy Card: The president was in a great mood. He had that George W. Bush strut that morning.

Read the entire thing here.

“I Alone Can Fix It”: Some Historical Perspective

Trump can fix it

Some of you may remember our interview with Yoni Appelbaum on episode 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  Appelbaum is the Washington Bureau Chief for The Atlantic.  He also has a Ph.D in American history from Brandeis University.

Today at The Atlantic, Appelbaum applies some good historical thinking and context to Donald Trump’s claim that he “alone” can “fix” this country.

Here is a taste:

Has any American political leader claimed so directly to embody the nation, to speak for it, to be its sole hope for redemption?

In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke of a nation torn apart by crime at home, and by wars abroad. But, he promised, better days were ahead. “Without God’s help and your help, we will surely fail; but with God’s help and your help, we shall surely succeed.”

In 1980, Ronald Reagan painted a similarly dark picture of a troubled nation, and offered a similar message of redemption. But his acceptance speech called on Americans to work together to solve their problems. “I ask you not simply to ‘Trust me,’” Reagan said, “but to trust your values—our values—and to hold me responsible for living up to them.”

In 2000, George W. Bush called a troubled nation to renewal, and ended with a note of humility. “I know the presidency is an office that turns pride into prayer,” he said, “But I am eager to start on the work ahead.”

In 2016, Donald J. Trump mounted the stage, and told America that the nation is in crisis. That attacks on police and terrorism threaten the American way of life. That the United States suffers from domestic disaster, and international humiliation. That it is full of shuttered factories and crushed communities. That it is beset by “poverty and violence at home” and “war and destruction abroad.”

And he offered them a solution.

I am your voice, said Trump. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order. He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.

He broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office—and above all, for the nation’s highest office—acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.

Read the rest here.

Leave Dubya Alone!

George W. Bush is taking a lot of heat for this:

If you think that Bush’s dancing and moving to the beat of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was inappropriate for a memorial service, check out this piece at The Atlantic.

Here is a taste:

It has come to the attention of our editorial board—a group of august, Harvard-educated, middle-aged Boston Brahmins in tweedy suits sitting at heavy wooden desks and smoking fine pipe tobacco * —that there’s a controversy afoot involving “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” To wit, former President George W. Bush is being criticized for swaying just a little too zestily during a rendition at Tuesday’s memorial service in Dallas for five police officers killed by a gunman…

Let us (we tweedy band of editors) stipulate that this is hardly the most important or momentous news of the day. Let us stipulate further, however, that as the periodical that first published Julia Ward Howe’s abolitionist poem, The Atlanticfeels a special obligation to weigh in on the matter.

So here it is: Eh, let the guy be.

Look, any criticism delivered can only pale in comparison to the greater penalty Bush faces in this case, which is for anyone to watch this video, in which he looks like—to use the scientific term—a doofus. The true star of this clip is First Lady Michelle Obama, who looks at Bush with what looks like affectionate shade and helpless embarrassment as he rocks out, even as the rest of the dais stands somberly. But when the choir hits the chorus (“Glory, glory hallelujah!”) both Obamas seem to get into the act, swaying along with Bush.

Two points here: First, it’s not the case that getting in the spirit and even laughing are incompatible with memorializing the dead, a point made eloquently by Obama’s own rendition of “Amazing Grace” at a memorial in Charleston for those slain at Emanuel AME Church. Second, it’s the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” not the “Battle Dirge of the Republic.” The tune was borrowed from a religious camp meeting song, and even before Howe wrote her lyrics, Union soldiers hadadopted it as a marching song, under the name “John Brown’s Body….”

In short, it’s a song made for movement, not stiffness.

In conclusion, leave Dubya alone.

Read the entire post here.

Consensus and the "Bill W. Obama" Era

Writing at The Front Porch Republic, Andrew Bacevich argues that politics during the last three presidential terms have been defined by a “neoliberal consensus.”  This consensus, Bacevich argues, is not unlike the consensus that Richard Hofstadter wrote about back in 1948.  Here is a taste of his piece:


In his classic text The American Political Tradition, the historian Richard Hofstadter identified the parameters of that consensus.  It emphasizes, he wrote, “the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, [and] the value of competition.”  It assumes “the natural evolution of self-interest and self-assertion … into a beneficent social order. ”  Grab and get ultimately works for the larger benefit of all.  That, at least, is the idea….
To imply that all Americans subscribe to this neoliberal consensus would be misleading, of course.  A loosely-organized antiwar movement objects, however ineffectually, to Washington’s penchant for military adventurism.  Moral traditionalists protest against the casting off of social conventions, again without discernible impact on policy.  Risking the charge of engaging in class warfare, groups such as the Occupy Wall Street movement raise a ruckus about the yawning gap between the rich and everyone else.  Again, the effects of their efforts appear negligible.
As far as their practical impact is concerned, these dissenters might as well be locked in a soundproof booth.  They shout, but are not heard.  Hofstadter had anticipated their predicament.  “The range of ideas … which practical politicians can conveniently believe in,” he observed, “is normally limited by the climate of opinion that sustains their culture.”
Here we come to the heart of the matter:  the climate of opinion.  Only politicians who possess an aptitude for interpreting the prevailing climate will succeed in gaining and holding high office.  In the political sphere, ideas at variance with that climate are by definition inconvenient.  Expedience dictates that they should be ignored.

#43 to #43

Here is a letter from the 43rd president of the United States to Cade Foster, the University of Alabama kicker.  Some of you are familiar with the difficult time this kid is going through right now.  By the way, he wears number 43.

This is a classy move by George W. Bush

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