Friday, October 14, 2011

Presidential horserace commentary

I know, nobody needs any more of it. We're already drowning in the quadrennial drivel. The Republicans offer a circus of crazy and that's on their good days, when they rise above merely ignorant and mean. The Prez remains mired in an economy whose winners he chose not to piss off; if he is saved, it will be a not entirely welcome byproduct of the energies unleashed by people in the streets.

Still, I'm not going to skip commenting on the some of the comments of the commentariat, observations that seem worth drawing out.

Race still matters.
At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall and friends are chewing over the sudden collapse of Rick Perry in Republican polls.

As Governor of border state, Perry has needed to take a more pragmatic approach to illegal immigration than is considered acceptable among GOP voters in other states. But the biggest mistake Perry made, the knock-out punch he delivered to himself, was calling his critics of denying in-state aid to children of illegal immigrants "heartless." To conservatives that just sounded way too close to "bleeding heart liberal" territory for comfort, and it killed him, and that was the point where he really took a nose dive in the polls.

In the Republican base, it is impossible to overestimate the degree to which fear that the Others are taking over drives political choices. They know they can't just proclaim that all those Black and Brown people with funny names are not Americans. They will applaud members of the Other who play the talking dog role, who offer them cover for their fear -- hence the Herman Cain bubble. But in their guts they can't accept the browning of the United States.

Why has Obama administration so badly flubbed the politics of governing?
That's been my core question ever since the spring of 2009: how could a politician and his people who had shown such a deft touch for campaigning as to put a Black man in the White House be so flat footed in office? A Washington Post correspondent, Scott Wilson, asked a similar question:

Is it possible to be America’s most popular politician and not be very good at American politics?

Wilson's answer, stated in less politic terms, is the same as mine: YES. Obama and his people are at best benign technocrats who perceive themselves as smarter and better able to govern than the masses who put them there. Wilson emphasizes that the Prez himself is a thoughtful loner, not a people person. I can easily imagine that being "Obama" simply drains him. But the result is deeply anti-democratic, oblivious to the passions at work in the land. And people react to that. Let's hope that being sent out to stump for reelection reminds the Democratic Party establishment that doing politics is governing.

Religion still matters.
I find James Fallows' blog consistently thought provoking and informative. But in this snippet about the Romney campaign, I think he's just wrong.

But for people to come out and say that they won't back a candidate because he's Mormon and therefore a "cult" member is no better than saying "I'd never trust a Jew" or "a black could never do the job" or "women should stay in their place" or "Latinos? Let 'em go back home." Maybe it makes things more "honest" for people to be open about their anti-Mormonism and discreet about other prejudices. ... Still, it's bigotry.

It's a convention of our politics that aspirant office holders must have a religious affiliation. I think that's unfortunate -- there are plenty of ethical people without religion or with only vague religious ties -- but it is there. But since we demand of these people that they have a religion, then we naturally examine how they relate to the flavor of religion they claim. It's one of the ways we assess whether we trust them. After all, far more of us are equipped to think about how religion shapes our choices than about whether a pol has good plan to fund health care or reduce carbon emissions. So we want to know whether the stances of their churches form their characters and how they deal with the challenge of squaring church positions with a pluralistic democratic society.

Romney is up against anti-Mormonism of several sorts. Among a certain kind of Christian, he a born member of a heretical sect that crashes the Christian party. I think that is sort of anti-Mormonism that Fallows is talking about. It does look like bigotry if you doubt that particular faith affirmations such as getting your words about Jesus "right" is the key to eternal life.

But I don't think it is bigoted to ask of Romney (or any politician) whether he is down with the official stances of the religious body he claims. His Church of the Latter Day Saints is vigorously engaged in preventing civil society from recognizing gay marriage. The LDS supports of an idealized patriarchal family that scarcely exists. How does Romney relate to that? If he can't manage to adequately affirm that good people live among us who organize family differently, he's got a flaw as a Presidential aspirant. In this, he's no different from Catholic pols: it is fair to ask them how they deal with Church teachings, some opposed by most liberals like wanting to outlaw reproductive choice, others strongly affirmed like opposition to the death penalty or hospitality toward immigrants. The public has the right to know. Heck, the public has a right to know what politicians mean by their claimed faith, even if it is some kind of vague generic Protestant Christianity that still passes for "normal" in our civic life.

So long as we demand religious affiliation of politicians, it's not bigotry to ask what they mean by it. And if we don't like their answers, it is not bigotry to say so.

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