Thank God for mind candy

I’m not a Catholic, and I never could be one, I think.  But I have taken to carrying a rosary around.  I use it as a mnemonic device for my prayers.  I’ll decide, say, to say a prayer of thanks, and then think of one of God’s blessings to me as I go through each bead.  It’s a pretty good mental exercise to sit down and make lists of things that one is thankful for — and it’s important to get beyond the biggies like life, health, a loving family,  and such.  If all you do is thank God for your wife, you are missing a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of smaller things that, when you think about it, become pretty big in the living of daily life, like a really cool song that makes my day go better, or my boss giving me a week off so I can go to the beach, or finding a great new author, or a new book by one of my favorites.

So,as I was running through my rosary I thought, of all things, of Robert Parker.

For the past 10 years, I have been a fan of the Spenser novels, and then the Jesse Stone novels.  I guess that they really aren’t high falutin’ literature, but the bottom line is that they have been a great comfort and escape for me.  When my father died, I immersed myself in Spenser novels; it was what I needed.  I recently started reading the Jesse Stone novels, and my wife loves the Sunny Randall ones.  It always seems that Mr. Parker writes another one when we need it the most.

His novels are fast and they transport me to a world that works the way it should.  Where the right people do OK and the wrong people don’t.  Where the important things are important, and they really matter. And, for a little while, I’m in a place where I know that what should happen will happen.  Sometimes I need that.

And for that I thank you God, for Robert Parker.

Real Conservatism

The Evangelical Outpost, authored I believe by Joe Carter, has a couple of articles on how to “save” conservatism. It got me to thinking, and this is an expansion of a comment I left there. Mr Carter has a number of suggestions to rejuvinate the conservative movement. I think, however, he misses out on the most important point. His definition of conservatism is so narrow that if he insists on it, he will exclude most people, even those who are naturally conservative.

Mr Carter is a social conservative, so his primary focus is on changing American culture to better reflect Evangelical Christianity. He pretties is up a great deal, but primarily, his view of conservatism is essentially theocratic. He sounds a lot like Huckabee, in the sense that a “conservative” is nothing more or less than somone who wants to encode evangelical Christianity into law. You can see that in many of the conservative Christian pundits, particularly Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — they pay passing homage to the idea of limited government, and then blithely discard it when such limitations include limits on social control. As such, they are *not* the traditional conservatives that they pretend they are. As far as I can see, for instance, there would be little or no difference between a Huckabee administration and what we suffered through in the Carter administration. Carter attempted to run the country (and still runs his life) according to specific conservative Christian ideals. And if you look at those ideals, and their proposed implementation, there is little difference between “liberal” Jimmy Carter and “conservative” Mike Huckabee.

I’ll maintain that “real” conservatism has actually been poisoned by religious social conservatism. That doesn’t mean that I think that religious social conservatism is bad — I am one after all — but that it is fundamentally necessary to separate what should be matters of social persuasion from those of social control. Paul did not, for instance, say that the first generation Christians should agitate for the disestablishment of slavery. No. He believed that the fundamental changes were *individual* and that once *individuals* were persuaded to act in a Christian manner, then the social constructs within which they express that action became essentially irrelevant. Thus, when he returned the slave Onesimus to his master Philemon, he did not say that slavery should be abolished, but instead said that since they were equal in Christ, he expected their relationship in Christ to make the master-slave relationship irrelevant. He writes to Philemon:

I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Does that mean that Paul thought slavery was a good idea? Of course not. I think he believed two things. First, I think that he believed that Christ would return so soon that social activism was irrelevant. More important, however, I think he believed that if enough people became Christians that the social issues would naturally evolve — that slavery would wither on its own.

But it seems that the social conservatives, particularly the evangelical Christian conservatives, have actually lost their fatih. They no longer believe that the force of their Christianity is enough to convince others that their values are superior, but instead must impose those values on the unwilling by force of law. They have abandoned persuasion for coercion. That is antithetical to Christianity, as far as I am concerned. One symptom of this is the need to create exhaustive lists of purity tests to determine who is and who is not a “real” conservative. It reminds me of a story I once read about two church leaders in ancient Rome who had been arrested for preaching the gospel and were awaiting execution in the arena. Each leader headed a large faction, and the followers of each leader surrounded the entrance to the prison they were in to stop the followers of the opposing elder from bringing any food, clothing, or other support. Thus, both church leaders ended up spending their last few weeks in dismal conditions because their fellow “Christians” could not agree to support each other, even at the time of martyrdom. They were so worried about trivial differences that they could not see the real issues.

In fact, there are very few criteria necessary to call someone a brother or sister in Christ — the belief in the message of Christ, the acceptance of his substitutional atonement, and a belief in the resurrection of Christ and of the saints. And that’s about it.

But of course, that’s never enough. Instead, dogmatists create long lists of minutiae to quiz people on to see whether or not they are “real” Christians. It’s not as bad now that there are real threats to Christian belief in society — now folk recognize that the overt threat to criminalize Christian expression as “hate speech” and ban expression of Christian thought in the public square mean that there has to be some solidarity. But I can remember where people believed that only Baptists, or Methodists, or Church of Christers, or Catholics would get into heaven and that nobody else was a “real” Christian.

The modern threats to faith have caused many, if not most, Christians to see beyond petty denominationalism. However, the conservative purists have not had that epiphany yet. Conservative denominationalism  is destroying the movement. The conservative right needs to return to the few fundamental princples that held it together, and stop making huge laundry lists of specific conclusions derived from those principles into purity tests.

Those principles are very simple; they embody the corresponding basic Christian ideals. That’s what is so sad about the ocial conservatives abandonment of them. Just as Christ died for us individually and God intercedes for us individually, so are our rights given by God to us individually. Just as the transformation of God in our lives is individual, and the actions we thus engage in reflect that transformation, thus it is best for societal change to come through individual decisions and from the bottom up, rather than be imposed from the top down. Just as the Holy Spirit can lead different people in different ways, and yet they are all still in the body of Christ, so is it possible for people to have real conservative convictions yet come to different conclusions about individual issues.

Are there pro-choice conservatives? Yes, of course. In fact, there are good theological reasons for a Christian, even a conservative evangelical Christian, to be pro-choice.

Are there non-Christian conservatives? Yes, of course. In fact there are stridenly antiChristian conservatives.

Is it possible to be a conservative and believe that draconian immigration laws are not the best way to achieve security? Yes, of course.

Is it possible to be a conservative and believe that the principle of free speech trumps the idea that we should protect everybody from sinful images and speech? Yes, of course.

Is it possible to be a conservative and believe that capital punishment is an abomination before God? Yes, of course.

Yet the conservative pundits would not allow such liberty of thought — a liberty that is the very core of conservatism. When the “real” conservative pundits create these purity tests, they should not be surprised that the number of “real” conservatives is very small. They have redefined conservatism in such exclusionary terms that *their* conservatism is doomed to meaningless minority status. And the McCain victory is the rest of us telling them that’s where they are headed. The conservative movement *can* regain ascendency, as Mr Carter writes, but only if it becomes the kind of conservatism that it once was. Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, et al. claim the Reagan mantle, but they don’t have it at all. They have merely fashioned a rather shoddy straightjacket and planted his image on the collar.

The Dem poison seeps out…

The “take no prisoners” political tactics of the Clintonistas, looney left and the DNC have recentered the political debate in the dirt ever since Bill and Hillary decided to trump up charges against the poor civil servants in the White House travel office.  Now that McCain is the clear winner for the Republicans, the Dem lies have already started.  It’s pretty pathetic.  I expected it, of course, and it’s not all bad.  The Clinton primary campaign has reminded us so much of Clinton fatigue that even the Democrats don’t want to go back to it.  But now that the Clinton dirt is the center of the Democratic mainstream, it’s up to Dean to push the edges.  And he has.

I’m kind of glad its starting this early, because it will remind the US voting public about what they didn’t like about the Democrat years.  But it’s a little like waking up knowing you have a bad day of work ahead.  You know you’ll get through it, and you know it’ll be OK, but it just makes you tired before you start.

John McCain and the Petulant Right

Well, my man bowed out. Looks like it will be McCain against either Hillary or Obama. McCain was not my first choice, but he’s a good man. I don’t understand why the more popular radio talk show hosts are acting more like hysterical Kos kids than rational conservatives. And, quite frankly, it’s starting to piss me off.

I’ve been a Republican and a Conservative a lot longer than most of these people. As a kid, I was a member of the the Young Americans For Freedom — the youth corps of the John Birch Society. I was a follower of Barry Goldwater back before I could vote. My Aunt used to read William F. Buckley Jr. to me at bedtime. I’ve been a registered Republican for over 30 years.

And now these people want to pretend that I don’t know anything about being a Conservative. Shame on them. The most strident of them, like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity have defined a nice little corner of conservatism and pretend that *they* get to say who is and is not a conservative or a good Republican. They are full of it. They are not the “real” Conservative Right. They are simply the Petulant Right.

First, of course, the Republican Party is a party, not an ideology. It is a way of *generally* like-minded folk who agree on *general* political principles to get what they want done accomplished. The Republican Party is a pretty big tent, based on the general ideas of anti-federalism (aka New Federalism), individualism, and liberty. That leaves lots of room for variation, at least before the poison of the Petulant Right set in. There were “Rockefeller Republicans” who had one view, “Goldwater Republicans” who had another, hard-core libertarian Republicans who had another, social conservatives who had another, etc. There were (and, in spite of what the pundits say, are) pro-choice Republicans, atheist Republicans, Christian conservative Republicans, straight Republicans, homosexual Republicans, and, yes, even liberal Republicans who believed in small government liberalism.

These radio talk show people think that they can define “real” Repblicans and call everybody else RINOs. Not only is it insulting, but it makes them no better than the libertarian bloggers who are either not actually Republicans at all or who are openly Republicans by convenience only, who like to run around calling everybody they don’t agree with RINOs. The Republican party is not one of narrow-mindedness and petulance, and the voting public within the party are showing them this is the case.

The voting in the Republican primaries should be teaching these pundits that, in fact, most of us are more broad minded than they would allow us to be. Within the broad tent of Republicanism, there is room for compromise. There is room to recognize that in order to govern reasonably, you can’t insist that a candidate be ideologically “pure” in every little thing. The very idea that in a large national party *any* candidate “must” agree with you on every point is simply silly.

But the Petulant Right would rather be pure in their adherence to a rather bizarre and unworkable absolutist ideology and have no effect on the real political path of the country than get into the real world and make the practical compromises necessary to govern a real-live government. And that’s the choice the Ann Coulters and Laura Ingrahams of the party actually are trying to give us. To them, it is better to be irrelevant and pure than to make the hard decisions it takes to unify a nation. They like to pretend they hold the mantle of Ronald Reagan. They do not, and they are being ignored because they do not. Reagan was a uniter — who was able to show us that there was a way of reaching a broad consensus accepting a relatively small number of basic principles. Reagan was pro-life, but was not histrionic about it — what he actually said was that he really didn’t know what the right answer was, but that being as pro-life as possible within reason seemed to be the most prudent. Reagan was a New Federalist, but did not have a problem with national programs he felt were worthwhile. Reagan was a man of faith, but did not try to push every doctrinal belief he had onto us in form of law. And, of course, there was a Republican party before Reagan — the party of Lincoln, Coolidge, Rockefeller and Goldwater, Eisenhower (can you imagine what Ann Coulter would say about Eisenhower??), and yes, even Nixon.

And now these “pure” Republicans who want to “return” the party to its “conservative” roots want to to turn the Republican Party into an irrelevant tiny inward-looking exclusionist club that has no real meaning in the real world. They are no different than the libertarian Republicans who want to turn the Republican party into the Libertarian party. The Ann Coulters who want to engage in suicide-voting don’t want to save the party, they want to destroy it. Their battle cry is not conservatism. It is self-serving aggrandizement — apres moi, le deluge. They are not advocating principles, they are abandoning them. People who act like adults in the pRepublican Party recognize that there are things bigger than they are, and that even if their favorite person doesn’t win, those principles mean that the goal of the team is worthwhile. And those principles are the big things I mentioned — not every single little issue.

And that brings me to John McCain. The very thing that the Petulant Right hates about McCain is exactly the thing that they should like about him. He is fundamentally a man of principle. His principles are not *exactly* those of the Petulant Right, but they are real, and they are good. He opposes torture. Since when does a “real” conservative have to be pro-torture? He supports a compassionate response to immigration issues. Since when does a “real” conservative have to be a xenophobic thoughtless dogmatist? He supports an open political debate not corrupted by mega-monied big pockets. Since when does a “real” conservative have to support buying votes? Have some of his solutions not been the ones I wanted? Sure. I think McCain-Feingold sucks. But that’s the way it is with laws — not everybody can see the unintended consequences, and it’s simply unfair to pretend that the unintended consequences are the intended ones, and that he is not willing to fix what is broken.

And, of course, on many issues he’s pure Conservative — defense, second amendment, most economic issues, free trade, etc. But the Petulant Right won’t even give him that. Some have engaged in the most despicable activity of trying to denigrate his tremendous service to the country during the Vietnam War. Shame on them. Shame on them twice.

McCain is a good man. He is a man who has placed principle above his own political aspirations — which is why he was willing to go against the Petulant Right when it was in ascendance. And he will govern this country with principle. Most Republicans recognize that, which is why they are ignoring the Petulant Right and embracing the *real* and traditional Right. And, quite frankly, if the Petulant Right wants to take its ball and go home and seethe because they can’t be King and Queen, the Republican Party will do just fine. If it keeps nominating people of the quality of McCain, it has nothing to fear — from the Democrats on the left, or from the Petulant Right.

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