Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Will Imus Keep a Conservative From Taking ’08, or Pave the Way for One?

As everyone jumped on board the “Fire Imus” bandwagon last week, I experienced a very familiar feeling: a violent futility that mirrors the catch-22 in which conservatives often find themselves. I wanted to yell out, but realized that doing might help fulfill the stereotype that conservatives are angry loudmouths. I wanted to defend him as others have by comparing his comments to what we regularly hear in hip-hop. But others might see me as fulfilling the “conservatives are racist” stereotype. Whatever my reaction was, I realized I was in a catch-22, where any action that seemed natural would “fulfill” the false stereotypes that leftists have successfully generated about conservatives.

I experience the same thing at my liberal academic institution, and even from time to time in the church, where things are more political than ever. If I say that racism as it is defined by the academy isn’t as bad in America as it is in other places, I’m part of the problem, because I am denying and suppressing the truth of racism. If I argue that we, as a society, have an obligation to help those in need, especially minorities, then I am paternalistic, and my help isn’t wanted. It seems that the only real way to have traction is to take the “low road”, which is what we used to call the “high road”. In our easily-offended culture, the only way to show that you are truly above-the-fray, that you are morally above reproach, is to champion every cause that “helps” the underdog, and pounce without mercy on the perceived racists and bigots of the world.

So conservatives may have a harder time, maybe a much harder time, in the future to defend their ideas. Think welfare reform was hard in the mid-90s? Who would want to touch it these days? Think immigration reform is likely now? If Imus can get fired for what he said, the labels “racist,” “white supremacist,” etc. would surely be in play for those advocating reform, and few politicians have the will to follow through. I would argue that unless there is enormous push-back among voters and consumers, the sensitive nature of political correctness in America Imus exposed will make it much harder for a conservative to now be elected president. After all, who among the politically indecisive would want to ally themselves with Imus by NOT voting for Obama or Clinton? In other words, ideas may be losing their power; now, it’s all about posturing.

Or, there may be an enormous vacuum that a strong conservative can fill. If the frustration over what happened to Imus and the subsequent debate about hip-hop and hypocrisy in the media builds, an outspoken conservative may be able to awaken the sleeping Republicans. Not that I am very confident any significant legislation would emerge, but it may be better than the alternative. Perhaps the backlash over the Imus debacle could actually lead to immigration reform, but only if conservative politicians show political will they have so far been unwilling to exhibit.

In the end, ideas must continue to be of primary importance, not the opinions of others. The strong, silent type so perfectly seen in the likes of Howard Roark is becoming a more and more hated commodity, and far too many are taking the low road of championing causes in speech only. If all it takes to be above reproach is to say the right words, which may or may not be true, our standard for critique has become dangerously low. I propose we ignore most of what people say, and focus on what they do, because talk is cheap, for better or worse. As lofty as the Sermon on the Mount was, it would have meant very little if Jesus had never healed the sick or raised the dead.

Friday, April 06, 2007

It was a Long, Cold Global War on Terror/Terrorists/Terrorism

I have become increasingly confused as to what to call the war, or the series of battles, or the skirmishes in which our military, or intelligence, or coalition forces are engaged in in Iraq, or Iran, or the Middle East, or world, against terror, terrorists, radical Islam, or haters of freedom. Now that I have made it clear what I am confused about, let me express my real confusion: how has a false threat (extreme climate change) overtaken a real threat (terrorist states with nuclear capabilities)?

I am reminded that the first stage of grief is denial. We saw a pretty clear case of denial this week when the House Armed Services Committee banned the phrases “global war on terror,” and “long war.” As the offensive “surge” seems to be working in Iraq, and Iran is starting to show its vulnerabilities by taking hostage, then quickly and oddly releasing 15 British marines and sailors, it seems House Democrats need to deny any of these signs of progress. The best way to do so is to ignore the reality in which we are engaged: a long, global war on terror. It reminds me of the victim in horror movies who repeat lies to themselves over and over for comfort: “He’s gone,” or “It’s going to be okay,” or “It was just a bad dream”, all the while the audience knows a madman with a knife is hiding behind the curtains. So while they are quite literally denying the real war, they are embracing a false one.

It seems inevitable now that Congress will eventually act on the “growing consensus” that extreme climate change is both man-made and reversible. Perhaps the next President will sign us up for the Kyoto Protocol. In the meantime skeptics of global warming, like Michael Crichton, are articulately and patiently voicing doubt. His State of Fear makes several particularly salient points with regards to the faulty science that so assuredly predicts global disaster. But perhaps more importantly, he points out that we have essentially replaced our fear of the Cold War era with our fear concerning environmental destruction. For instance, he points out the massive upswing in words like “crisis,” “catastrophe” and “disaster” in news media since the end of the Cold War, apparently to fill the vacuum of fear. Consider this excerpt:

“There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as crisis, catastrophe, cat­aclysm, plague, or disaster. The word catastrophe was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. Its use doubled again by the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on fear, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic.”

Crichton claims the rise in these words is directly linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the vacuum of fear that was then created. With the Cold War over, what would we wring our hands over?

But according to this insightful article in the Wall Street Journal, our face-off with Iran is eerily similar to the Cold War. So what seems to have happened is this: we lived with fear during the Cold War, even learned to adjust to it. We won the Cold War, but had a vacuum to fill, so we have with a classic fear-mongering scam, global warming. But now that we face a very real threat again in Iran, we are incapable of dealing with it because other, larger threats like environmental degradation have diverted our intention.

Worse, they have relativized our fears: it’s allowed many to say, “What’s worse: One lunatic in the Middle East or the extinction of life on earth?” This false relativization has prevented us from switching gears yet again: the tide seems so firmly focused on the false war of climate change, we can’t focus on the real one, the Long, Cold, Global War on Terror.

Worthy of note as well are the similarities Iran has with Hitler's ideology, mainly in the lack of fear concerning national suicide. In a culture where martyrdom is upheld as a social virtue, we have lost have similar bargaining power that we had with the Soviet Union, who did at least seem interested in national survival. Did our victory in the Cold War convince us we cannot be beat? If we continue to discredit the fear of global warming, will we be able to focus again on Iran, or similar nation states with evil intent?

I reckon I am glad it is Holy Week: at least I have theological answer to all of these questions, if not a political one.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Relievedebtor Echo Syndrome? “Christian” Under Attack Again

This is hardly an echo of anything I wrote, but in November, I posted some thoughts regarding the viability of the word “Christian” in a Postmodern context. Because America largely sees itself as Christian culturally as much as spiritually, the label seems to be losing its vitality, and needed to either be reclaimed or replaced. I suggested “Disciples”, “Followers of Jesus”, even “Apostles”, all of which have limitations of their own. In the end, I’m not sure how much titles matter: “A rose by any other name…”

Anyway, this article made two salient points on the question, this time regarding Evangelicals specifically. Because of fracturing within Christianity and even within Evangelical circles, it is harder, if not impossible, for that term to define a core of beliefs. What is it that unites them? Scriptural inerrancy? The movement of the Spirit? Worship style? Global warming?

Yes, apparently global warming, as a “subset” of stewardship of creation, is a hot-button issue for some Evangelicals. These are environment-friendly conservatives who may agree with Al Gore that caring for the environment is now a “moral” issue. But is there more behind this recent embrace of environmentalism? I have a sneaking suspicion at least two major forces are driving this unlikely union, besides legitimate concern for stewardship of creation. (I personally do not equate stewardship of creation with massive economic regulation.)

First, Evangelicals are tired of being taken for granted by Republicans. As David Kuo points out very well in Tempting Faith, Evangelicals have been seen as guaranteed votes by the Bush administration, and it’s worked well for Bush. Spoken about in the same language that minority groups have been spoken of concerning voting for Democrats, Evangelicals will simply not go down that road. In other words, Evangelicals are too smart to just be pawns in a nasty political game; they want to carve out their own niche. Second, in true Postmodern form, Evangelicals are becoming more liberal at heart, which to my mind is not altogether a bad thing. Major divisions in Evangelical circles around the ordination of women and the accuracy of the Bible have already taken place. I would not be surprised if the homosexuality question isn’t next. Whereas that question has been debated for many years in mainline Protestant circles, Evangelicals to my mind have hardly entertained conversation. That may soon change.

So like the word “Christian”, the word “Evangelical” is quickly losing value. In the words of the author Paul Chesser, “One historical credo for traditional evangelicals is that they stand on the truth, first grounded in the Bible, and secondarily in measurable, incontrovertible evidence. Human-induced global warming doesn’t pass either test...If evangelical is allowed to go the way of Christian, we may need to develop yet another identifier. Conservagelical, anyone?”