Not a prophet nor the son of a prophet

Liberal evangelical Jim Wallis, editor of “Sojourners” is saying that the satirical comedian Jon Stewart of the “Daily Show” is a prophet. Wallis thinks the Old Testament prophets were all about condemning social injustice, so since that’s what Stewart does, he is one too. Stewart himself rejects the compliment and even the idea that his satire is based on condemning social injustice:

“Because we’re in the public eye, maybe people project onto us their desires for that type of activism coming from us, but just knowing the process here as I do, our show is maybe the antithesis of activism, and that is a relatively selfish pursuit. The targets we choose, the way we go about it — it’s got more of a personal venting aspect than a socially conscious aspect.”

Part of the problem with what Wallis says is that he gets tangled up in language and its figurative possibilities. I might say that I predicted that the Nationals would lose their last game and I was right, so I am a prophet. But that doesn’t make me, you know, a PROPHET. There needs to be some supernatural stuff going on–specifically, the working of God’s Word. This can happen in ordinary preaching. But, again, that doesn’t make the pastor a PROPHET prophet in the Old Testament sense.

I’m intrigued with Stewart’s honest and insightful analysis of his own humor: that it’s selfish, that it’s just venting. It has been said that only conservatives can be satirists, since that genre requires the existence of objective standards by which to measure society and to find it wanting. Can you think of examples of that kind of humor?

From “government option” to “public option”

More language games to make a policy sound more palatable. From
Hugh Hewitt

The Obama/Pelosi/Reid push to take over and nationalize health insurance via the so-called “government option” has received a face-lift this week, with many advocates of the takeover now calling it the “public option,” which sounds less intrusive.   No matter what you call it, the “government/public option” will destroy private sector insurance very soon after it passes and will push tens of millions of employed and covered Americans from the insurance plans they currently own (and generally like) into the sprawling, top-down, rationing-on-the-sly plan that is just Medicare on steroids, a “public option” that will be just as broke and just as oppressive when it comes to intensive treatment of difficult diseases and conditions as medicare is. 

At any rate, the president laid out elements of his health care plan to the American Medical Association, which applauded the parts that were favorable to doctors and remained silent or even booed the parts that were not. See this report.

Post-traumatic embitterment disorder

The American Psychiatric Association is considering labeling bitterness as a mental illness:

Having floated “Apathy Disorder” as a trial balloon, to see if it might garner enough support for inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the world’s diagnostic bible of mental illnesses, the organization has generated untold amounts of publicity and incredulity this week by debating at its convention whether bitterness should become a bona fide mental disorder.

Bitterness is “so common and so deeply destructive,” writes Shari Roan at the Los Angeles Times, “that some psychiatrists are urging it be identified as a mental illness under the name post-traumatic embitterment disorder.” “The disorder is modeled after post-traumatic stress disorder,” she continues, “because it too is a response to a trauma that endures. People with PTSD are left fearful and anxious. Embittered people are left seething for revenge.”

This particular post on the Psychology Today website rejects the idea, saying that bitterness is justified (wait for it) by the Bush administration. But depression is also justified sometimes. What the APA wants to do, apparently, is medicalize moral and spiritual struggles. I’m curious what the treatment for post-traumatic embitterment disorder would be. How will psychiatrists get bitter people to forgive those who trespassed against them? Medication?

Our new Special Master for Compensation

The Wall Street Journal reports White House Set to Appoint a Pay Czar:

The Obama administration plans to appoint a “Special Master for Compensation” to ensure that companies receiving federal bailout funds are abiding by executive-pay guidelines, according to people familiar with the matter.

The administration is expected to name Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the federal government’s compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to act as a pay czar for the Treasury Department, these people said.

Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw payouts to 9/11 victims, will keep tabs on executive pay at companies in bailout.

Mr. Feinberg’s appointment could be announced as early as next week, when the administration is expected to release executive-compensation guidelines for firms receiving aid from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Those companies, which include banks, insurers and auto makers, are subject to a host of compensation restrictions imposed by the Bush and Obama administrations and by Congress. . . .

The government is also pursuing a separate revamping of financial-sector rules that could change industry compensation practices more broadly. For instance, the Federal Reserve is considering rules that would curb banks’ ability to pay employees in a way that would threaten the “safety and soundness” of the bank. . . .

Mr. Feinberg will report to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, but he is expected to have wide discretion on how the rules should be interpreted. Firms likely won’t be able to appeal decisions that Mr. Feinberg makes to Mr. Geithner, according to people familiar with the matter.

What interests me–in addition to more top-down control of the economy and of individual companies by the federal government and more repudiation of free market economics–is the language: “Pay Czar” speaks for itself, but having Czars for this thing or that thing–with the connotation of Russia’s absolute rulers–has been around a while. But “Special MASTER”? Does anyone recall another government or bureaucratic official that we have to call MASTER? The very language, by which we think, is getting totalitarian.

As for the central issue, our Master will focus on companies that have taken bailout money, but notice that the administration is contemplating putting limits on salaries in other businesses too–banks as part of new financial regulations the government is working on, but under the new statist economic policies, why shouldn’t the government tell every industry how it can pay its employees?

Another kind of God-talk in the public square

In the course of a discussion about that litigious atheist who is seeking to censor “In God We Trust” from the nation’s coins, Pastor Cwirla makes a fascinating point:

Newdow is that new breed of assertive atheist who doesn’t want to hear or see the G-word in public, especially at public expense.  Apparently putting the G-word on currency is the equivalent of state-sponsored religion, contrary to the 1st amendment, or so he argues.  I guess no one ever thought of that back in 1864.  To call this state sponsored religion is a bit like suggesting that a teenager who says “ohmygod” every other sentence is being very religious.  

If we are going to ban the mention of “God” and religious references from the public square, let’s enlist the ACLU and militant atheists in a crusade to ban profanity. (Scatology [bodily function words] and obscenity [words about things that should take place out of sight, "outside the scene," such as sex talk] can, of course, remain.)

Taking God’s name in vain, curses that consign individuals or objects to eternal punishment, and the like are all primitive and atavistic, if you come to think of it. And the speech of unbelievers tends to be full of this supercharged religious language. Its persistence strikes me as an odd proof that the religious impulse is innate and cannot be gotten rid of.

This reminds me of Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s novel “Wise Blood” who is running away from God and so goes to morally degraded people and places and actions that he thinks are the farthest away from any kind of Christianity. But the bad language of his new companions–”Jesus Christ!”–cuts through him like a knife. Even in the depths of Sheol, He is there.

Pragmatism to do WHAT?

I have long said that claiming to be “pragmatic,” as opposed to ideological, is a dodge. Someone who claims to do whatever “works” is begging the question of “works to do what?” The means still have to have an end. And the decision of what ends to pursue grows out of an explicit or implicit ideology. “Washington Post” reporter Alec MacGillis agrees with me, and so does the leftist political advisor Robert Reich, speaking of the president’s oft-cited pragmatism:

Last week, President Obama told Sen. Orrin Hatch, the veteran Utah Republican, that he would appoint a “pragmatist, not a radical,” to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

The assurance was hardly necessary. After all, everything Obama does is pragmatic. His adviser David Axelrod let it be known just after the election that Obama was a “pragmatist and a problem solver,” which was a good thing, because, as Axelrod had said shortly before the election, “people are in a pragmatic mood, not an ideological mood.” When Obama introduced his national security team, he declared that “they share my pragmatism about the use of power.” And as he recently told the New York Times, the same goes for his economic policy, where “what I’ve been constantly searching for is a ruthless pragmatism.”

Ruthless pragmatism! It sends shivers up the spine. But what does it mean, really, to have a “pragmatic” president?

Very different things in different arenas, it turns out. On some issues, such as tax policy, Obama’s invocation of pragmatism shrewdly frames an egalitarian agenda. On some social issues, such as stem cell research, pragmatism means settling on a middle course to avoid distracting battles on lesser priorities; and on thorny questions such as how to handle detained terrorism suspects, pragmatism means a search for expedient solutions that can seem at odds with the president’s principled rhetoric.

Since his start in the Illinois legislature, calling Obama pragmatic has been a handy way of capturing his conciliatory tone, his disavowal of shopworn solutions and his willingness to bargain with opponents. But the more he and his team use the term to describe his politics — the recent 100 days coverage was chock full of the P-word — the less useful it becomes, and the more it seems like a way to deflect questions about what he’s trying to accomplish. . . .

But pragmatism fails as a political definition, says Robert Reich, who served as President Clinton’s labor secretary, because it describes how a politician moves toward a goal, not the goal itself. “It’s possible to be ruthlessly pragmatic in terms of how you get to an objective,” Reich said, “but the phrase is nonsensical in terms of picking an objective.” . . .

“Most presidents who were change agents . . . described themselves as centrists but clearly had a collection of values about what was good and right,” Reich said. “The question becomes one of how much you reveal about where you want to lead people.”

So that presidents keep most of where they want to lead people hidden? This does not sound fitting for a self-governing people.

These points about pragmatism apply not just to governing but to churches, businesses, and individual decisions. The goal has to be considered. Actually, the goal is especially paramount in pragmatism because it is not so much a philosophy as a tactic: the ends justify the means.