Token Dissonance

Young, Gay, Black, and Conservative! Oh, my! What on Earth did Yale do wrong?


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The Church is Responsible for This

Rek:

I read these haunting words from Candice’s article, and my heart wept as though some modern-day Lazarus might never breath again:

“These people have only one conclusion…that God must not want them. And the Church is responsible.”

In reflecting on crosses we bear in our struggle to know and live the Love of God, I hope we all find some comfort in this sacred command our Savior offered:

“Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love… That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:42-5

At some point, whether from the pulpit or the pews, we have to reckon with the fruit of the ministry of our lives and the examples set by our decisions. What is Love, for which Christ died for us, and how do we live or compel others to know it by turning away those who seek God in good will?

For the more secular among us, perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect upon the ways in which we – of any or no faith – have turned away people who sought out our guidance or companionship, because we could not be bothered to step outside ourselves to engage with the unfathomable weight of somebody else’s life. Most people at least profess to believe in the Golden Rule – do unto others as we would have them do unto us – but how often do we follow that to its logical and emotional conclusion: we are our brother’s keepers?

After all, if you stumbled or fell or were facing affliction, persecution, or ruin, would it not strike you as cruel for the people around you to step away? Or should we understand those Good Samaritans who risk themselves to help strangers in distress as somehow intruding where one ought not be expected to tread? One of the joys I find in political and philosophical conservatism – and many a Democrat I respect would say something analogous of their liberalism – is precisely that traditional emphasis on the power and necessity of communities rooted in an interdependence that can be said to mirror the triune communion of God. Accordingly, I cannot help but see darkness and a devilish inhumanity in the programs and mindsets that reflexively build and sustain walls between people who might otherwise come to know, love, and understand one another.

But whatever your thoughts about God, gays, and love, I hope this article gives you pause.

Originally posted on Candice Czubernat:

photo

by Candice Czubernat

I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity. Every week, I get emails from individuals all across the country who are full of desire to be a part of a church. They want to go on the church-wide mission trip, join the choir, serve in the youth group and attend a small group. These are people who long to serve God, connect with other Christians and be a part of a wider community.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Here’s the heartbreaking part: they write me because the church won’t let them do those things and they don’t know what to do.

Their church has found out they are LGBTQ and because of this are no longer welcome to join in these church activities they long to be a part of. The worst are the emails I get are from young…

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Right Quick: Freedom from (Religious) Freedom

It seems like only yesterday two days ago that I was evaluating the Left’s supremely disingenuous attacks on the Hobby Lobby ruling that affirmed congressionally enacted protections for religious liberty. Those who remember that post from all those hours ago may recall that I challenged progressives to come clean about the nature of their mendaciously hysterical objections to a legally sound ruling and campaign openly against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, if they have indeed renounced it to the partisan tune of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Now, as we prepare to celebrate the signing of our civil-rights-affirming Declaration of Independence, the zealously progressive Freedom From Religious Freedom Religion Foundation is gleefully patronizing the hack-liberal august New York Times with a full-page ad calling for the repeal of RFRA.

How dare people who create jobs and hire people be religious?! #OUTRAGE

How dare people who create jobs and hire people be religious?! #OUTRAGE

Well that didn’t take long.

In the ad and the news release about it, the Freedom from Tolerance Religion Foundation champion the discredited trope that the Supreme Court ruling allows “employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use” or has anything to do with gender on the bench.

Of course, in reality (which we have been told has a liberal bias), the law merely frees closely held or nonprofit corporations (whether churches, schools, family-owned companies, or what have you) from having to pay for some types of contraception—an accommodation the administration itself already extended to certain corporations (a key point made in the ruling, for those who bothered to read it). Employers will still have no say (or interest) in what employees do with their own money, and anyway, no woman will lose access to birth control. But since the Freedom from Pluralism Religion Foundation is so enthusiastically shaming folks for supposedly objectionable views, let’s take a closer look at that ad:

“The photo of the woman at top is that of Margaret Sanger-idol of the pro-choice movement (and the founder of Planned Parenthood) who — this has been all but erased from the panegyrics to her greatness — was a proponent of eugenics. She was, in the words of Arina Grossu a ‘racist, eugenicist extraordinaire’ whose role in pushing these Nazi-like laws resulted in more than 60,000 sterilizations of vulnerable people, including people she considered ‘feeble-minded’, ‘idiots’ and ‘morons.’ She also spoke to KKK women’s groups.

But what is worse is this line from the ad:  ‘All-male, All-Roman Catholic Majority on Supreme Court Puts Religious Wrongs over Women’s Rights.’

Anti-Catholicism apparently is no problem for this group. Should there be a religious test for public office or the highest court of the land?”

How far the progressive antagonists of the RFRA-affirming Court will go in attacking religion, from Catholicism to President Obama’s own political allies in communities of faith, will be an interesting thing to watch.


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The Talents of Christian Vocation

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” –Matthew 7:20

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin…

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin…

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby case, which has been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly affirming the codified rights of people who lead closely-held corporations, the once steadfast commitment on the Left for religious freedom appears to have all but collapsed. My friend Yishai Schwartz in the New Republic blames this liberal apostasy on the excesses of conservative opposition to Obamacare.

Commentary Magazine’s Seth Mandel dutifully addresses the undercurrent of victim-blaming that transmogrifies Schwartz’s insightful observation into a distressing bit of progressive apologia—after all, what were the owners of Hobby Lobby, their peers, and supporters to do? Void their actual conscience in the name of abstract “conscience protections”? Aggressively police the partisan media narrative of a case they could never hope to control?

Among many avowed progressives, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s acerbic dissent (the core of which was joined only by Justice Sotomayor) is something of a new Gospel of slippery slopes that the majority has now unleashed in the name of God. Of course, Ginsburg’s parade of horribles is exceedingly disingenuous and painstakingly countered in the very ruling she contests, but we’ll come back to that point soon.

Like many of Ginsburg’s dissenting fans, Jonathan Merritt, who has profited handsomely from his public Christianity, shores up the rising progressive consensus against religious liberty by attacking the notion of Christian businesses. He has made the following point repeatedly, in famously hostile faith-friendly media like MSNBC, before and since the Hobby Lobby decision:

“Additionally, conservative evangelicals believe that a Christian is a person who is actively engaged sanctification, the process of becoming more holy. They accept that this process is accomplished by the work of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But a corporation can neither accept Christ nor be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

So if someone (or something) can claim the label “Christian” without repentance, belief, salvation, or sanctification, what is left? Or put a finer point on it, what makes a corporation “Christian” exactly?”

It almost goes without saying among the faithful that this liberally secular misconception of how many Christians view their work is precisely backward. Ironically, Merritt touches on the reason behind this truth in his attempt to deny it:

“If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term “Christian” is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”

For Christians who have “repented, believed in Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness,” obedience to God permeates every aspect of life, from the rearing of children to the vocations by which we serve our neighbors, promote the Gospel, and support our families and communities. It is profoundly unchristian to suggest that born-again believers ought to abandon the Word at the precise point at which they gain the ability to minister to the unbaptized world at large.

This very point is arguably at the heart of the parable of the talents in Chapter 25 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. To start with the obvious, the Lord pointedly rewards the servants who turned a profit on the talents he invested in them for the fact that they turned a profit in his honor. As for the non-profit(able) servant, the Lord also had a lesson (Matthew 25: 26-28, NJKV):

“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.’”

Before we go any further, let me be clear that I am not not engaging in a theological debate on New Testament hermeneutics. This parable, like any other, is open to all manner of interpretation and moralizing, and individuals in different denominations reach different conclusions for divergent reasons. I bring this parable up only to shore up what many a conservative (or liberal) Christian already knows—one’s vocation (whether in a closely-held for-profit company or otherwise) is often an extension of the ministry of one’s faith, and the economic and political compartmentalization that seems so natural to some (particularly secular) folks strikes many a true believer as a Petrine exercise in denying Christ.

Put simply, it is useless and unproductive to dismiss the faithful to an extraneous audience by progressively “mansplaining” their own beliefs to them. The real issue in this case is whether we, as a nation, will value and protect religious freedom, or not.

Here we should note that, contrary to what some might like to pretend for partisan—or perhaps ingenuously obtuse—reasons, Antonin Scalia’s Employment Division v. Smith decision profoundly limiting the prerogative of religious objection to generally applicable laws remains binding constitutional precedent. That precedent is not abrogated because the Court has now acknowledged the current government’s actions run afoul of a duly enacted law of Congress (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) long understood—and demonstrated, even under the Obama administration—to protect religious rights beyond the point of incorporation.

For the proof, let us go to the ruling. In the first place, there is a test for how religious freedom claims are to be evaluated for exemption:

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicabil- ity” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.””

And lest you get caught up, as is fashionable, one the term “person,” the majority notes (my emphasis):

“HHS argues that the companies cannot sue because they are for-profit corporations, and that the owners cannot sue because the regulations apply only to the companies, but that would leave merchants with a difficult choice: give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits of operating as corporations. RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice. It employed the familiar legal fiction of including corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons,” but the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees. Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them. Pp. 16–19”

In case your objection, like Merritt, is over whether a corporation is for- or non-profit (and here let us remember, as Schwartz notes, that churches, newspapers, schools, and other charities are all corporations), the justices also have an answer:

“HHS and the dissent nonetheless argue that RFRA does not cover Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel because they cannot “exercise . . . religion.” They offer no persuasive explanation for this conclusion. The corporate form alone cannot explain it because RFRA indisputably protects nonprofit corporations. And the profit-making objective of the corporations cannot explain it because the Court has entertained the free-exercise claims of individuals who were attempting to make a profit as retail merchants. Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U. S. 599. Business practices compelled or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the “exercise of religion” that this Court set out in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872, 877. Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law. States, including those in which the plaintiff corporations were incorporated, authorize corporations to pursue any lawful purpose or business, including the pursuit of profit in conformity with the owners’ religious principles. Pp. 20–25.”

But, Smith! you (and Ginsburg) say, noting its appearance in the prior passage:

“Also flawed is the claim that RFRA offers no protection because it only codified pre-Smith Free Exercise Clause precedents, none of which squarely recognized free-exercise rights for for-profit corporations. First, nothing in RFRA as originally enacted suggested that its definition of “exercise of religion” was meant to be tied to pre-Smith interpretations of the First Amendment. Second, if RFRA’s original text were not clear enough, the RLUIPA amendment surely dispels any doubt that Congress intended to separate the definition of the phrase from that in First Amendment case law. Third, the pre-Smith case of Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc., 366 U. S. 617, suggests, if anything, that for-profit corporations can exercise religion. Finally, the results would be absurd if RFRA, a law enacted to provide very broad protection for religious liberty, merely restored this Court’s pre-Smith decisions in ossified form and restricted RFRA claims to plaintiffs who fell within a category of plaintiffs whose claims the Court had recognized before Smith. Pp. 25–28.”

The majority even goes so far as to assume the prerogative of the government to mandate cost-free contraception:

“The Court assumes that the interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to the four challenged contraceptive methods is compelling within the meaning of RFRA. Pp. 39–40.

(2)The Government has failed to satisfy RFRA’s least-restrictive-means standard. HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. The Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate. That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS’s stated interests. Pp. 40–45.”

Taking into account all of Ginsburg’s objections faithfully, the majority nonetheless observes that existing U.S. law—not the Constitution, mind you—requires more accommodation of the religious beliefs motivating closely-held corporations, whatever the profit motive, than Obamacare’s unelected regulators allowed. (Here we should note that Justices Kagan and Breyer pointedly renounced Ginsburg’s musings against RFRA’s protections for profit-making corporations.)

And let’s be clear, as the President would say, that the Obama administration essentially argued that closely-held corporations should be forced to fund everything from non-kosher products (whether Jewish or Muslim) to late-term abortions to assisted suicide were government bureaucrats to mandate it. If opponents of this ruling are fine with that reasoning, they should say so openly and clearly.

As for the supposedly slippery slope, the majority notes the slide is actually quite sticky (my emphasis):

“The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. See post, at 32–33. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

… HHS analogizes the contraceptive mandate to the requirement to pay Social Security taxes, which we upheld in Lee despite the religious objection of an employer… We noted that “[t]he obligation to pay the social security tax initially is not fundamentally different from the obligation to pay income taxes.” 455 U. S., at 260. Based on that premise, we explained that it was untenable to allow individuals to seek exemptions from taxes based on religious objections to particular Government expenditures: “If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax.” Ibid. We observed that “[t]he tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.” Ibid.; see O Centro, 546 U. S., at 435.

Lee was a free-exercise, not a RFRA, case, but if the issue in Lee were analyzed under the RFRA framework, the fundamental point would be that there simply is no less restrictive alternative to the categorical requirement to pay taxes.”

So contrary to what you may have heard, contraception is and will be no less accessible now than it was just two years ago. Corporations, like individuals, will still generally and broadly be compelled to follow laws. Women, gay people, nonbelievers, and so on will be no more oppressed tomorrow than they were the day before yesterday. And the Supreme Court is not in the business of legislating the hyperbolic political grievances of the Left (or the Right). The only legitimate grounds for opposing this ruling is either because one believes, as Breyer and Kagan do, that the contraception mandate passes the RFRA test (an understandable disagreement) or because one outright opposes RFRA.

If Democrats honestly now believe the once bipartisan consensus for protecting religious freedom—forcefully promoted by such disparate voices as Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy (who explicitly endorsed the two-part RFRA test Justice Alito quotes in the majority decision)—is analogous to Apartheid and Jim Crow, or comparable to slavery and segregation, then they should act accordingly. As New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie helpfully noted in his principled  evasion of a response to the Hobby Lobby ruling:

“When…your Supreme Court makes a ruling [you] gotta live with it, unless you can get the legislative body to change the law or change the Constitution.”

If liberals and progressives are willing to admit their opposition to RFRA and campaign accordingly, then I, like many a conservative, welcome the opportunity for honest debate about American values and sound policy in the modern era. Otherwise, all this Ginsburg-fueled partisan mendacity is little more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying hackery nothing.


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Reflections on a Tempest in Arlington

“A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest,
 as rivers of water in a dry place,
 as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The eyes of those who see will not be dim, and the ears of those who hear will listen. Also the heart of the rash will understand knowledge… The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places,though hail comes down on the forest…” –Psalm 32: 2-4, 17-19

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

I remember, distantly, that time the Army picked my family up and moved us across the Atlantic to a land the natives still call, “Father.” The oceanic climate deep in the continent was much too cool for my liking, and the winter days far too short. The coldest nights were little eternities unto themselves, yielding all too often only to the gray coolness of monotone skies along the Neckar—skies that seemed forever pregnant, never delivering. Until they had slipped from my grasp, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the endlessly soothing cycles of thunderstorms and sunshine that marked summertime in the American Southeast. Whether among the forests of Virginia, the swamps of Georgia, or along the waters of Florida, I could sit in that solace for hours.

At another time, in another climate I hate, I heard a gentleman speak about Edmund Burke at the meeting of a debating society near the southern coast of New England. He rhapsodized about the beautiful and sublime, of flowers and storms, of men and God. I remembered then the days and nights of violent atmospheric chaos I loved so peacefully, like a lamb cuddling into the fur of a lion and feeling ineffably safe. I remember those forays, early and late, into the philosophies of transcendence and stewardship of tradition. It was a reminder that man is as much a tiller of the world as a ward of powers beyond reckoning.

It was like faith made incarnate. In the quiet of the conditioned air and with the thunder rolling outside, I could see somehow a living truth in the requiem of light and darkness at the core of the paradox by which I was soothed by the presence of nature’s destructive power. What is it to feel safe—comforted, even—by confrontation with something that you know could very well hurt you but will not?

As I sit, years later, in an eleventh-floor apartment across the river from the capital, the storm raging beyond my balcony ignores me. It quakes in a vicious symphony of light and awe and mist, and I think of that captivating thought I heard in a movie: “God is in the rain.”

I suppose God may be in all things, but if there were a particular meteorological phenomenon that touched on the awe we feel for the divine, it would be the storm. When it comes to the winds of summer: the lower the pressure, the closer to God. Somewhere at the nexus of fear, awe, and solace that comes at a window looking out into the fury of heaven is the love a child feels for his parents—and in time, perhaps, the world he inherits, with rights and duties tracing back to the Father. It is the love of that which could wring destruction but will not—the love that begets trust, and the trust that begets love—that foments a sense of place, however tempestuous, and purpose, however elusive.

It is the beginning of everything sublime in our judgment.


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The Joke of Central Virginia: What Eric Cantor could have learned from House of Cards

“So don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.” – Beyoncé

The majority in Washington won't lead itself!

When was I supposed to think of you? This Washington majority won’t lead itself!

There is an episode in the first season of the American House of Cards (I will try to elide significant spoilers) where the show’s antihero, Democratic Congressman Frank Underwood of South Carolina, is burdened in the middle of crucial legislative negotiations—on an education bill that will boost his cache in the Democratic White House—with the oddest of interruptions.

A teenager in his district has died in a way that (notwithstanding her own irresponsibility—don’t text and drive, folks) implicates certain decisions made by the local leadership—and supported by Rep. Underwood. A certain ornery (and classless) perennial rival of Frank’s is gunning to use the incident to stir up the kind of grassroots passion that could accomplish the rare feat of unseating a member of the House Majority leadership.

When informed about the situation by his loyal aide, Doug Stamper, this key exchange occurs:

Frank: He’s after my seat again. Has he learned absolutely nothing?

Doug: It’s a full-on smear campaign, boss. He’s out to destroy you.

Frank: With this? It’s a peach, for Christ sake. Let him make a fool out of himself.

Doug: No, he will make a fool out of you. If he spins this right, gets national coverage–

Frank: National coverage? It’s a joke.

Doug: And you will be the butt of it. We can’t afford that right now, not when you’re in the spotlight with the education bill.

Frank: This thing has caused me so much damn trouble.

Doug: I know.

Frank: So who should I call: the parents?

Doug: Phone call’s not going to cut it. You need to go down there.

Frank: Can it wait until Monday?

Doug: We get on this thing right now, we can contain it. We wait until Monday, then there’s no way to know how much this is going to blow up on us.

The vital core of Doug’s argument—to which Frank ultimately succumbs—is that no matter how grand and important the backroom machinations of Washington may seem to a given politician and his elite conspirators, the foundation of the games of Congress rests on winning elections. An elected official who wishes to say in office cannot hand-waive away the “small-ball” discontent of his “two-bit” constituents. He (or she) has to be present in real-time to keep them continuously convinced that he shares their values, cares for their needs, and represents their concerns. A politician who forgets this role in the intrigues of the high politics of the Capitol is a politician on track to early retirement.

All of which brings us to the curious case of Eric Cantor, who was presumed to be the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Whatever might be said of his values, leadership, policy positions, ability to play well with others, or influence-peddling affinity for money-laden New York, no report of the many I read about Cantor was quite so damning as this one from Sean Trende, one of Cantor’s erstwhile constituents:

“I have yet to read anything suggesting that Cantor had a good home style.  His staff is consistently described as aloof, and his constituent service is lacking. This is consistent with my experience. Anecdotes are not data, but after passage of the Affordable Care Act, I called his office with a question about what autism therapies for my son would now be covered (I lived in Cantor’s district for six years).  I never heard back.  This surprised me, as constituent questions rarely go unanswered. I never once saw Cantor, not at county fairs, not at school board meetings, and not in the parades that would sometimes march past our house (we lived on a major thoroughfare). This isn’t to say that Cantor never did these things, only that they weren’t frequent enough to register; he wasn’t the stereotypical Southern politician whose face showed up at every event.”

I have contacted Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, the congressman for my old high school, or his staff at different times for different reasons. I have received a prompt response every time. As a native of Florida, where I used to vote, I emailed Sen. Bill Nelson in the midst of the healthcare debate. (Full disclosure: in my college years, when I was liberal and silly, I was inclined to support the Democrats’ still-materializing healthcare reform effort. But unlike Mitt Romney, I have the decency to own up to the youthful mistake and sincerely apologize for it.) The population of Florida is more than 24 times larger than that of Cantor’s district, and Nelson was decidedly on the wrong side of a lot of voters on that issue—meaning his office was undoubtedly inundated by inquiries.  Nevertheless, I got my (somewhat less prompt) response from Nelson like I did from Connolly.

That Cantor’s office did not deign to respond to his constituent speaks volumes. Of course, a member will not cater their position on any issue to each constituent concern—nor should they be expected to—but the necessity of at least a polite, pro forma response is never so blisteringly oblivious as when erstwhile supporters begrudgingly conclude their own congressman does not regard them as worthy of even basic courtesy. That a Southern gentleman, of all congressmen, would be so rude is as inexcusable as it is terminally arrogant. (It’s also stupid, given that successful primary challenges are concentrated in the South.)

In looking at some other candidates who (often shockingly) lost winnable races, this theme of distance emerges. Republican Mike Castle barely competed in his Delaware primary, while Christine O’Donnell’s supporters played to win and did. Massachusetts Democrat Martha Coakley was uninterested in properly campaigning for the U.S. Senate; Republican Scott Brown asked a broad coalition for votes and got them. Former Sen. Dick Lugar famously did not even live in Indiana, and now he doesn’t represent Hoosier voters.

Likewise, failed presidential candidates, from Democrat Chris Dodd to Republican Michele Bachmann, have routinely fallen into expedited retirement after their constituents lost patience with the manifold downsides of their all-consuming national ambitions. In his aforementioned article in Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende notes that GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham cruised to re-nomination in deep-red South Carolina, despite the well-known hostility of the conservative base, with the help of exceptional constituent engagement.

But unlike Graham—and quite like the other electoral losers—Cantor was far too absorbed in the imagined heights of his ambition to realize that he was falling without style or a parachute.

Consider how much seething constituent anger must have slow-cooked under the aegis of Cantor’s blithe ignorance (or indifference). Consider the many reports of the outgoing Majority Leader’s disengagement from his district and increasing focus on the intrigues of the Acela Corridor’s insular game of thrones. Consider that his approval rating back home sat at just 43 percent among Republicans (within the margin of error from his 44.5 percent in the primary), disapproval of the GOP leadership was much higher, and two-thirds of all voters in the seventh district outright disapproved of the Majority Leader.

Reflect on how out of touch Cantor’s operation must have been to let his position deteriorate so far without even noticing it. Facing hardly any organized opposition, the House Majority Leader was heavily booed at his own rally when confronting a primary challenger of so little repute that even notoriously primary-challenging Tea Party organizations spent not a dime. The incumbent then went on to inspire an exceptionally large portion of his own constituents to nominate that underfunded, barely known challenger by a 10-point margin.

In the end, of course, it is difficult to isolate why exactly a given incumbent loses this or that race, especially when primary losses are so rare. Most theories are probably wrong or incomplete, but if there is a single bipartisan lesson that emerges from Leader Cantor’s catastrophic fall, it is to remember, as Frank Underwood does, the “small-ball crap” of the supposedly little people in your own backyard. After all, chances are that those “little people” will remember and someday act on that John Ruskin quote my Dad loved to invoke in my youth:

“He who can take no interest in what is small will take false interest in what is great.”


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The Prisoner of War Games

“And when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”  –Somebody in the Media

"And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down." –Nathan Bradley Bethea

“And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.” –Nathan Bradley Bethea

As I’ve noted before, I periodically watch MSNBC to keep up with the rote dissembling of our friends across the political aisle. Although I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the predictably biased inanity of cable news (by no means limited to the “Lean Forward” crowd), it still astounds me to be wandering in an alternate universe, where grounded perspective—let alone a reasonably honest presentation of the facts—is more like a demon to be exorcised than a standard to be pursued.

So it was in last night’s performances of Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber (filling in for Lawrence O’Donnell) on the supposed right-wing partisanship surrounding the criticism of Bowe Bergdahl.

Maddow kicked off, in her usual smugly protracted historicism, with a surreal attempt to compare Bergdahl to, of all people, Iraq War veteran (and former POW) Jessica Lynch. She concluded with the not-really-subtle suggestion that critics of Bergdahl had so poisoned the well that the military might be incapable of giving him a fair trial—a claim that Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran, seemed compelled to awkwardly rebuff. Not an hour later, Melber doubled down on the notion that Republicans were seeking any means they could find to attack President Obama and politicize what should be a noble and celebrated occasion—the return of an American POW.

Contrary to this chicanery, one might expect most reasonable people to see an obvious difference between the capture of a dutiful soldier whose convoy was ambushed after a few wrong turns (Lynch) and the apprehension of a negligent soldier who, by the Army’s own reckoning, voluntarily and deliberately abandoned his post in the dead of night (Bergdahl). Did I mention that the Pentagon did not even classify Bergdahl as a POW for the bulk of his captivity?

Reasonable people might also distinguish easily between Lynch admirably correcting the media-fabricated account of her Rambo-style heroics and Bergdahl contributing to the deaths of at least half a dozen Americans in the vain attempt to retrieve him from a fate he indisputably brought upon himself. But Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber are evidently not aiming to engage with or fairly convey the motives of reasonable people.

There is no halfway decent argument that Jessica Lynch did not deserve to be honorably discharged after her service in Iraq. Thus her service was noted, even if it turned out not to be as flashy and Hollywood-ready as the media (against her will) had led us to believe. By contrast, the notion that Bergdahl should be so honored offends a great many of the warriors who wear the uniform and keep their sacred oaths to our country. Suffering does not confer righteousness, any more than falling victim to one’s own iniquity makes one a hero—especially when it gets heroes killed.

In truth, and this bears repeating, the loudly disgruntled voices criticizing the alleged deserter are not right-wing hacks but the very soldiers who served alongside Bergdahl and risked their lives searching for him in a place where older maps would warn, “Here be dragons.” The original critics are the soldiers who watched their brothers-in-arms die preventable deaths in ambushes made possible by the adjustments required to search for a man who voluntarily abandoned his post, his country, and the lives of his unit.

In fact, the notion that Bergdahl might be some sort of “Manchurian Candidate” if he ever returned home was raised in the furthest of the far Left Think Progress back before liberals predictably closed ranks, once again, around something associated with Obama:

“I’m also curious about how audiences will respond to a Manchurian Candidate-style story about a prisoner in our current wars… I’d be curious to see what the reception would be for Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a Taliban prisoner of war since 2009, if he ever makes it home.

[…]

Would the high regard in which the country holds the military mean that we aren’t willing to consider the possibility of a brainwashed prisoner of war? Or would our security concerns make us more likely to consider it?”

All that said, it is certainly reasonable to note and defend the unyielding American dedication to returning all those who wear the uniform to American soil. There were and are people on the Right—and in the military—who (understandably) questioned the discernment of releasing almost as many dangerous terrorists as were killed looking for the potentially treacherous Bergdahl in the first place. It is worthwhile to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to dutifully returning all soldiers home, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly did on his Facebook account. But that is not what the chattering armchair patriots of MSNBC were doing last night.

Instead, the talking heads impugned the motives of those with the gall to give voice to indignant troops and dissimulated even on the blatantly false notion that nobody had questioned the wisdom of exchanging high-level Taliban for Bergdahl or the policy of expending resources to chase deserters—which supposed hypocrisy and political opportunism was particularly hyped by Melber and the similarly tendentious Think Progress—the liberals get it wrong. The New York Times noted that the idea of a prisoner swap drew bipartisan criticism back in 2012:

“Until now, the administration has said publicly only that the negotiations included talks about releasing the five prisoners from Guantánamo to the custody of the government in Qatar — which some Democrats and Republicans in Congress have opposed — and not that the five might be exchanged for Sergeant Bergdahl.”

The Republican officials, like John McCain, that Melber and Think Progress (along with Media Matters) specifically single out never questioned the principle of retrieving a captured U.S. solider, they merely continued this years-old bipartisan skepticism of trading high-level Taliban prisoners to achieve that goal. McCain, for example, made clear back in February—in that very Anderson Cooper interview the hacks find inexplicably damning—that the details of any potential prisoner exchange would be critical to determining his support (my emphasis):

“COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.

MCCAIN: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release — Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.”

Note the Senator’s (and former POW) consistent opposition to the release of five “hardest of the hardcore” high-level Taliban leaders. It takes a certain kind of meretricious reasoning to twist a position so straightforward, whether one agrees with it or not, into something else entirely—all for political gain. But on the subject of inconsistency on this prisoner swap, it is curious that these righteous liberals neglected to mention the sudden backpedaling of support from Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill. Even progressive stalwarts like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Chris Coons refused to call the swap a good deal. Not that the pundits of the Left feel you need to know such things.

Of course, the duplicity did not stop there; Melber’s segment further included The Atlantic’s Washington editor Steve Clemons making the priceless claim that Congress was adequately consulted on the prisoner swaps before they occurred. Those of us in the real world know that such consultation—or even a polite briefing—never happened. This fact is verified by such arch-conservative knaves as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller. Instead, when the matter was discussed between lawmakers and the administration years ago, Politico notes that “Republicans objected to any such deal for Bergdahl, fearing it could lead to more kidnappings of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan.”

But what of all that? There are Republicans to bash! (For an idea of what a profoundly less warped telling of the Bergdahl saga might look like, the U.K.’s Telegraph offers a helpful example.)

I will not sink to the level of these Acela pundits by impugning the motives or wondering aloud about the aggressive ideological agenda of Maddow, Melber, or likeminded hacks. But I will note that they do their countrymen and the military they claim to honor a disservice by the deranged partisanship with which they contrive to weave a tale of malice and slander with the threads of legitimate objections.

To the extent that there are liberals (and some conservatives) behaving so deplorably, we should be thankful, perhaps, that not so many Americans trust the media all that much anyway.


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Our Neighbors’ Keepers

“We look at clouds. We dream of machines.” –Kevin Williamson

xkcd honest_1146

“How about we go back to that ‘madder than hell‘ line? That work?”

Back in college, I used to spend a few evenings a week with a set of philosophically or politically inclined peers in the constituent parties of the Yale Political Union. With wooden gavels, pedantic snark, and occasionally insightful wit, we would debate questions big and small about the nature of rights, duties, citizenship, morality, education, faith, reason, and an innumerable host of ideas about the world, its foundations, and our place in it all. While those bright college nights are long behind me, I had the recent pleasure of attending a facsimile of the old debates, when a number of my friends in the D.C. area opted to borrow from that format to explore our ongoing disagreements out in the “real world” for the edification of all involved.

The debate topic, “Every dollar spent on dog food is taken directly from the mouths of the poor,” allowed for vigorous dispute and concurrence on, among other things, the nature of ethics, duty, charity, and love, wherein even those on the same “side” of the resolution found many thoughtful occasions for profound disagreement on underlying principles. By the end, we even had some attendees rethinking their outlook on life and resources, as one should expect from a good conversation.

One particularly resounding strain of thought dealt with how profoundly difficult it is to sincerely help people. Many who fall upon hardship have not fully grasped how they stumbled into their peculiar circumstances, nor are they always aware how to identify or resolve the weight of their own affliction. Indeed, the best means to support those in need—whether the economically destitute or damaged souls in the bodies of the well-to-do—are often realized through an ongoing engagement built on persistent humility through trial and error.

Providing the love or innovation that rebuilds broken lives is, in short, an intensely personal and organic engagement, rather than a bureaucratic and mechanical one.

The value of such constructive familiarity is the ability to deliberately understand and influence the individuals and communities affected by your actions and be deliberately understood and influenced in turn. It is this dynamic rapport that allows for, as my friend (and debate attendee) Leah Libresco puts it, neighbors (in the metaphorical sense) who understand what to offer each other beyond whatever initial attempts at charity may awe or falter. Likewise, it is the inevitable lack of such rapport that consigns distant, centralized administration to its trademark unresponsiveness—i.e., the inability to adequately identify, learn from, and remedy mistakes before they become disastrous.

We can see the gangrenous limbs of this truth rotting throughout the impermeable labyrinth of ambitious public policy. The old liberal conception of the welfare state, a degraded simulacrum of communal investment in the most vulnerable of us, ravages communities unabated and still facilitates entrenched social dysfunction. The ongoing scandal with the Department of Veterans Affairs has shown that, despite the best laid schemes of donkeys and elephants, the federal government of the United States cannot even, as Kevin Williamson notes in National Review, “ensure that its own employees and contractors do not negligently kill its other employees and former employees.” This dark realization about the VA’s grotesque inadequacy is all the more unsettling against the backdrop of state governments’ inability to manage even the presumably simpler task of operating Obamacare’s online exchanges.

And lest we forget, liberals once held up the VA as an exemplar of “actually socialized medicine” to be instructive for Obamacare In the words of Vox founder and progressive “wunderkind” Ezra Klein:

“If you crudely ordered America’s different health-care systems from least government control to most, it would look something like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration (Medicare is single-payer, but VA is actually socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors).

If you ordered America’s different health systems worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration.

That symmetry should get more attention in the health-care discussion than it does.”

Given the kinship of government control between “the healthcare discussion” that produced Obamacare and the “socialized medicine” of the VA, we should certainly have that discussion Klein wants. To start, let’s glance at the federal-run healthcare exchanges in my native Florida, where Obamacare-compliant plans are facing complaints with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services for discriminating against customers with HIV. In Klein’s triumphant ranking of “America’s different health systems [from] worst-functioning to best,” where do these results fall?

Not that along ago, the critics of Obamacare pithily expressed their Big-Government skepticism by asking, “Do you want to put the folks who run the DMV in charge of your health care?” Now, in Florida and elsewhere, the more sobering realization is that the folks at the DMV may be among the best of a system that, at its worst-functioning, enables fecklessly homicidal bureaucracy in a Cabinet-level department.

(Sadly and predictably enough, the homicidal healthcare bureaucracies of “actually socialized medicine” are not unique to the United States).

Whatever your opinion of President Obama—and it is hardly a secret that I’m not a fan—the problems plaguing the VA are less about his failings (which are legion) than the flaws inherent to so vast and impersonal a would-be “neighbor” as the federal government. It is inestimably difficult to help people, especially in ways that will meaningfully better the trajectory of their lives and ennoble the good neighbors in their interdependent networks. While the recent failings of government “beneficence” naturally call to mind one of President Reagan’s more famous lines, I will instead note another insightful observation from the aforementioned (and –quoted) Kevin Williamson (emphasis his):

“It will not occur to very many of the people with a strong emotional stake in that debate that it does not matter whether we choose x or y if that is the beginning and end of the conversation. There is a prior conversation that must take precedence, one in which we answer a more fundamental question: How confident should we be that our policies will produce the desired outcomes?

[…]

Not every regulation or government program is doomed to fail. But we might consider the slightly terrifying possibility that when government does get something right, it does so by accident, temporarily, and for reasons that it cannot understand or replicate. This may be why the sheer volume of law and regulation has been climbing so rapidly: Intuiting its own inefficacy, Washington is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks… We’d be far better off paying veterans’ medical bills out of the Treasury than trying to operate a network of hospitals and clinics. And no matter what Washington promises to do to solve this problem, it is a good bet that the policy enacted will not produce the result intended. Reform is a random walk.”

As much as we might like to believe otherwise, the government cannot and will not respond to us as one with a stake in our well-being. Whatever the dreams and competence of its necessarily ephemeral leaders, the Leviathan is simply too distant, labyrinthine, and self-involved to evolve with the self-interested rapidity of a private business, or the soulful agape of a longsuffering neighbor.

Thus is the eternal life of government programs.

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