Category Archives: Obama

Politicians as Rice

I greatly miss Chappelle’s Show.  It was one of the funniest shows on television before the eponymous comedian, concerned with the direction of his program, walked off the show and took a sabbatical halfway through the 3rd season (leaving behind a multimillion dollar contract).  One of his friends, Neal Brennan, was also a writer on the show.  In looking into the demise of the show, I came across this great nugget from an interview with Brennan, himself a standup comic:

Brennan met President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011 and says he seemed like a cool, personable guy. “I just wish he was better.” Brennan’s dissatisfaction with the president is more reflective of his views of politics in general. “I thought a black president would make a difference,” Brennan says. “Maybe what I’ve come to realize is that politicians are like rice. Whether it’s brown rice or white rice, it’s empty calories either way.”

Yet another reason why Jesus is my candidate.

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Empathy – the Enemy?

 

I read an interesting piece by Mark Steyn recently that questioned to oft-vaunted “empathy” of the Left.  The occasion for this discussion was the horror that some members of the media showed when Rick Santorum explained the circumstances around the death of an infant child.  In brief: though told that the baby would live only hours outside the womb, Mr. and Mrs. Santorum decided to take the child home so that the family could meet him.  Basically, he decided to treat his non-viable child like…a life.  How strange.

Steyn points out the irony of the “empathetic” Left showing horror at this occasion:

The Left endlessly trumpets its “empathy.” President Obama, for example, has said that what he looks for in his judges is “the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.” As he told his pro-abortion pals at Planned Parenthood, “we need somebody who’s got the heart — the empathy — to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom.” Empathy, empathy, empathy: You barely heard the word outside clinical circles until the liberals decided it was one of those accessories no self-proclaimed caring progressive should be without.

Of course, the irony goes deeper than this instance.  The Left’s empathy ends when it meets people with whom it disagrees:

The Left’s much-vaunted powers of empathy routinely fail when confronted by those who do not agree with them politically. Rick Santorum’s conservatism is not particularly to my taste (alas, for us genuine right-wing crazies, it’s that kind of year), and I can well see why fair-minded people would have differences with him on a host of issues… The usual rap against the Right is that they’re hypocrites — they vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, and next thing you know they’re playing footsie across the stall divider with an undercover cop at the airport men’s room. But Rick Santorum lives his values, and that seems to bother the Left even more.

All this has me wondering if empathy is much good at all.  I recently completed Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve.  If you aren’t familiar with systems theory, you probably should be.  His basic argument in this book is that leaders lead best who lead themselves.  That is, the best leaders are able to remain connected while staying differentiated (not “bound up” on a core level with those one leads).  Doing so enables leaders to take well-defined stances that, if maintained, encourage growth on the part of those around her or him.

Empathy, as it turns out, is counterproductive to this model of leadership (and maturity).  Friedman points out that “empathy” entered our language very recently, and yet in its short history has come to be viewed as indispensable in all kinds of professions and contexts.

“As lofty and noble as the concept of empathy may sound, and as well-intentioned as those may be who make it the linchpin idea of their theories…societal regression has too often perverted the use of empathy into a disguise for anxiety, a rationalization for failure to define a position, and a power tool in the hands of the “sensitive”…I have consistently found the introduction of the subject of “empathy” into family, institutional, and community meetings to be reflective of, as well as an effort to induce, a failure of nerve among its leadership.”

The basic assumption of empathy is understanding.  The classic illustration is that sympathy can look down on someone from above with pity, but empathy puts us right next to the person in trouble.  Friedman’s argument – and he is not a reactionary arch-conservative but a Reformed Rabbi and counselor – is that the empathetic stance is actually counter-productive to the growth and “self-regulation” (read: maturation, development, positive change) of the others we seek to help.

The bottom line:

“Forces that are un-self-regulating can never be made to adapt toward the strength of a system by trying to understand or appreciate their nature…it is self-regulation, not feeling for others, that is critical in the face of entities which lack that quality.” (133-135).

What do you think?  Is empathy actually holding back our churches, families, and communities?  Is empathy the enemy?

Egypt and Carter-bama

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Some folks will hate this comparison, but I’ll go for it anyway.  Victor Davis Hanson, the classicist, military historian, and political commentator reminds me a lot of the polemical theologian Stanley Hauerwas.  They are both fairly angry, fairly old white dudes.  Both are very intelligent and wide-ranging.  And I enjoy both of them, though each occasionally veers off into ideological extremes which I don’t care to follow.

VDH (as his fans call him) has just written a very interesting new piece for National Review comparing Jimmy Carter circa 1979 to President Obama in the midst of the Egyptian crisis.  In both instances, he argues, a so-called new-era idealist liberal has been roughed up by a nasty world that does not share his pretensions.  Here’s a highlight:

Yes, our third year of Obama hope and change is beginning a lot like 1979 (I’ll skip the domestic parallels), as an unjust and imperfect world rejects the utopian visions of another liberal idealist, and sees magnanimity as weakness to be exploited rather than as kindness to be reciprocated.

Is Obamacare Constitutional?

 

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Whether you lean left or right, Uncommon Knowledge is a good source for debate over contemporary policy.  It’s hard to come by intelligent discussion in today’s media environment, on either side, and with that in mind the Hoover Institution does us all a favor with these interviews.

Their newest interlocutors are legal professors Richard Epstein and John Yoo.  Props also to Peter Robinson, the host, whom I find very enjoyable.  He’s not an ideologue, but rather a well-read and articulate interviewer.  Check out the first part of the interview here.

Seems especially pertinent since the house repealed Obamacare today.

Obama Endorses American Exceptionalism(?)

Has the President been reading National Review?  The day after a column by Rich Lowry defended the oft-debated notion of American Exceptionalism, Obama seemed to endorse precisely the core tenets of the doctrine.  The Weekly Standard points it out thusly:

The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”

Has anyone on the multiculturally-inclined left caught on to this? Surely some of Obama’s cultured sycophants will not stand for this.  For the time being, as the Weekly Standard concludes,

…we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.

 

Note: For my leftist friends, National Review and Weekly Standard are both conservative magazines.  Clicking on the links in this blog may cause your liberal friends to disown you.

Glenn Beck: Restoring Jack Squat

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I am continuously astounded that many on the far right – which has a large contingent of fundamentalist Christians – have been more than willing to overlook Glenn Beck’s Mormonism because they like his brand of low-brow, popcorn-density “journalism.”  I think that his particular blend of civil religion – one that confuses any reference to “God” to an endorsement of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and cannot distinguish enlightenment Deism from orthodox Christianity – is so vague than many of these Christians on the right honestly can’t tell he’s coming from a different place from them theologically.

A friend of mine pointed me to an article by Dan Webster over at Episcopal Cafe’ that makes some interesting connections between Beck’s Mormon faith and his political program:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, believes Christianity fell into apostasy when the original apostles died. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, believes he was called by God to restore the gospel that Jesus taught but had been radically changed by second generation Christians and those who came after.

So when Beck says America has been “wandering in darkness” and that he is here to help lead the country back to God he is emulating the founder of his religion. He wants to restore America’s greatness just like his church believes it is called to establish the “restored gospel.”

I don’t agree with Webster on all points, but he makes some interesting arguments that I have not seen elsewhere.  Webster also points out that, while Beck is vague on his own theological proclivities, he isn’t shy about attacking the details of others’ faith.

He’s expressed discomfort with Obama’s brand of Christianity (hey, props for calling Obama Christian!) due to its affinities with liberation theology, which he calls “socialist.”  And to an extent, he’s right.  Where he is wrong is finding any expressions of a strong faith in Obama’s policies.  It may be there, to the President, at least.  But Obama’s not really talking about it; whether because it’s not there, or he’s trying to distance himself from Bush, his outspoken evangelical predecessor, is not really possible to know.  Beck has made too much hay out of something he knows little about.

In his piece, Webster argues that Beck is channeling Joseph Smith moreso than Martin Luther King, Jr.  And so far as that comparison goes, he’s spot on.  But Smith wasn’t really a restorationist; he wasn’t restoring an existing church, he was making a new one.  The LDS church is a creation of his own mind, which I think makes him equal parts huckster and genius.

Like Smith, Beck isn’t really trying to restore anything so much as create something that never existed and in the process garner a great deal of attention, wives, money, and power: a pristine, just, and prosperous America that is simultaneously the sole superpower and completely God-fearing (though,significantly, the question ‘whose God?’ is never asked).

I think that makes Glenn Beck more like the Pied Piper of legend.  A man playing a flute, making pleasant noises, leading us away like children…on a journey to nowhere.

A Glimpse of the Future

From the Gray Lady:

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism. Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. “The Europe that protects” is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead. With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.

“We’re now in rescue mode,” said Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister.

It is interesting that we are sliding in this direction just as Europe, and especially Greece, is realize that this social and economic model is simply untenable.  It should be no surprise.  Congress gives themselves a raise pretty much every year.  As a people, we have realized that putting the right people in office can likewise increase our own government benefits on a regular basis.  A people who gives little to their country but demands every kind of cradle-to-grave benefit will only have some combination of tyranny, corruption, and poverty as their reward.

This is the shape of the “change” to come.  As Fareed Zakaria put it aptly,

In the long run, health-care costs will destroy the federal budget and with it the American economy. Interest rates will surely rise, which will force up the cost of servicing debt. New competitors emerge every year in every industry from other countries that are working hard to make themselves attractive to business.

Events have conspired to give America some breathing room. Leaders in Washington should take the current climate as a godsend and use it to start retooling the American economy. Everyone knows what needs to be done — restructure entitlements (including state pensions, which are the next catastrophe); force down health costs; reform immigration, taxes and regulation — and thus restore the country’s competitiveness. Or our leaders could sit around and put off all the hard decisions until America finally does look like Greece.

A Simple Question On Health Care

From Yahoo News:

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

Let’s leave aside the question of requiring the purchase of insurance; we would rather have a coercive government than a free citizenry, because freedom requires something of us.  Fine.  Besides, many states, like mine, already require all drivers to have basic car insurance, and so this isn’t a huge leap.

Helping families with incomes of $88K buy insurance?  If I’m not mistaken, that is almost triple the poverty rate.  It is well over double what I make, and well into middle class.  Why do these families need subsidies to buy health insurance?  Many of these families can afford new cars, flat-screen tv’s, and regular sushi dinners.  Why the hell should the government pay for part of their insurance when someone of that income bracket, generally, CAN afford health care and simply CHOOSES not to have it?

Abortion is a whole separate issue. I’m honestly not sure if this bill allows for government funded abortion or not, honestly.    My own inclination is to side with the Catholic Bishops over Nancy Pelosi.  But why did this debate only revolve around abortion?  Let’s start with this: a government that won’t allow us to make “bad” choices is a government bordering – at minimum – on the despotic.  Welcome to the land of change.

The Pope on Sex, the Historical Jesus, and (maybe) Obama

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What does it look like when the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the man in Saint Peter’s seat, is also one of the most profound and prolific systematic theologians of our age?  It looks like now.  That is precisely the situation with Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  I’m not a Catholic, but you don’t have to be to appreciate his work.  Ratzinger has gotten an unfair reputation for being a pit bull, but in reality this is a liberal reaction to his being a faithful Catholic.  He was, for years, the head of the CDF, the theological watchdog of the RCC; but in his writing we see him as a servant of his Lord and his Lord’s Church.  I’ve previously highlighted some comments from his excellent little book Eschatology, which is well worth your read.  I’m currently working my way through his Introduction to Christianity, which is an extended meditation on the Apostle’s Creed.  Some highlights:

On Sex…

…the apparent liberation of love and its conversation into a matter of impulse mean the delivery of man to the autonomous powers of sex and Eros, to whose merciless slavery he falls victim just when he is under the illusion that he has freed himself.  When he eludes God, the gods put out their hands to grasp him. (114)

What prose! What wonderful use of irony, and how true!  Watch TV for ten minutes and tell me that the whole generation under 40 is not under the hands of “sex and Eros” under the guise of “liberated” love.  Seeking to free ourselves,we have, like Icarus, been too care-free and are in danger of falling to our deaths.

On  the “Historical” Jesus…

For my part I must confess that, quite apart from the Christian faith and simply from my acquaintance with history, I find it preferable and easier to believe that God became man than that such a conglomeration of hypotheses represents the truth. (215)

This is Ratzinger’s take on the thrust of historical Jesus research, which purports to explain how a failed Messiah, Jesus, was gradually transformed into the Christ of faith that the modern, rationalist mind can neither comprehend nor tolerate.  The more I read and reflect on the phenomenon, the more I loathe the whole historical Jesus project.  As Ratzinger points out, one cannot neatly separate the man Jesus from the office of Christ, the figure of history from the Son who is worshiped in faith.  His conclusion shows the absurdity of this “quest” with great humor and precision.

On Obama (?)…

Hope would become utopianism if its goal were only man’s own product. (242)

This is not entirely fair.  I admit this up front; this book was written well before Obama was even a presidential candidate.  Here he is speaking of how Christian faith looks out in hope  – not simply thinking back to a fantastic origin – but forward to a blessed future for the whole cosmos.  We have hope because of what God has revealed in Jesus Christ, not because of our own capacities, ideas, and projects.

That said, I connected this with Obama because of the clever and effective use by his staff of the word ‘hope’.  I’m not surprised that an increasingly secularized, de-Christianed country went for this.  If Marx and his followers have taught us anything, it is that people want hope by the bushel, just leave God out of it.  (Marx has, at his core, an eschatology much like Christianity: the view of a perfect future of peace and justice.  Unfortunately for Marx, the materialist, bereft of God, must accomplish this future of his own accord.)

I was, and continue to be disturbed, however, that so many Christians bought into the President’s rhetoric of ‘hope’.  We witnessed a political usurpation – a hijacking – of a theological virtue, and many of us simply cheered without a second thought.  But as Ratzinger rightly points out, ‘hope’ without reference to Jesus Christ is a void; it is no hope at all; it can only tend towards the meaningless entropy of utopian fantasy.

Liberal Christians excoriated the Christian Right for taking religious cues for their visions of “family values” and morality, and in general, for blurring the lines between politics and faith.  But liberal Christians have seemed unable to stop themselves from making the exact same play now that it is their turn to call the shots.  Alas, more sweet irony.

Enough ranting.  Read some Ratzinger…you’ll be glad you did.

POTUS or President of the NCAA?

President Barack Obama sits courtside with VP Joe Biden as Georgetown battles Duke game at D.C.'s Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon.

Is the President of the United States – the leader of the free world;  the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world (which is currently engaged in two wars); the man currently presiding over an economic downturn…

…providing color commentary for a college basketball game?

Benjamin Franklin, when asked what the Constitutional Convention had achieved in Philadelphia, responded:

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

Wave bye-bye.  Between the increasinly bureaucratic and centralized federal government, and the bastardization and trivialization of the Chief Executive, we most certainly are not keeping it.

This is preposterous.  Can you imagine Winston Churchill calling a cricket match?  George Washington sitting next to John Madden in the booth?  Abe Lincoln putting on headphones to talk about the Braves?

We got exactly what we you voted for.