The “hobbits” vs. Mordor

Did you hear about how former Republican presidential nominee John McCain has been mocking the Tea Party folks as “hobbits”?  He apparently never read Lord of the Rings.   The lowly hobbits ended up defeating the unlimited government of Mordor.  And, according to Marc Thiessen, this is what happened in the debt reduction battle:  How the Tea Party ‘hobbits’ won the debt fight – The Washington Post.

I think the Tea Party folks should drop the Boston harbor revolutionary label.  They should do as “Christians” and “Protestants” and “Lutherans” have done:  embrace the label intended as derogatory.  Tea Partiers should change their name, trademarks, and stationery and start calling themselves “Hobbits.”  That reference, with its connotation of ordinary down to earth villagers up against overwhelmingly superior power, would make them far more sympathetic.  I know John McCain’s attempt at a putdown (what if he were president?), which he got from the Wall Street Journal, makes me appreciate more these populist activists who are forcing the government to control itself.  Again, conservatives need to win the battle of language and the battle of metaphors to win over the nation’s imagination.

The two debt-reduction plans

So House Majority Leader John Boehner has a debt reduction plan on the table.  It is competing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan.  (Notice how both sides are cutting President Obama out of the discussion.)  Both plans cut spending by $1.2 trillion.  Neither plan involves a tax increase.  In fact, the two plans are extremely similar.  Philip Klein gives us a useful comparison:

Similarities:

– Both plans claim to reduce discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion.

–Both plans create a joint, bipartisan, Congressional committee to find future savings.

– Neither plan includes specific entitlement reform.

–Neither plan includes specific tax increases.

Differences:

– Reid’s plan wants to raise the debt ceiling all in one chunk (and boosts the claimed deficit reduction number by relying on savings from the expected wind down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), but Boehner it raised in two parts.

– While both plans endorse a joint committee, the Boehner plan makes the second debt limit increase contingent on Congress passing $1.8 trillion in additional deficit-reduction based on its recommendations.

– Boehner plan would ensure a vote in both chambers on a Balanced Budget Amendment.

– Boehner proposes caps to future spending.

Possibilities for compromise:

– It would be easy for Reid to allow a vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment.

– The differences over whether the debt limit increase should be short-term or last through the 2012 election is not an ideological-based disagreement, so it seems either side could give way on that one.

– Depending on the level of the spending cap, there may be some compromise there.

via Boehner and Reid plans aren’t that different: a comparison | Philip Klein | Beltway Confidential | Washington Examiner.

And yet, for all of the similarities, both sides are still at each other’s throats. Not only that, Boehner’s own party is in revolt against his plan.   I’m not sure why.  Surely the Republicans are getting what they want, over a trillion dollars in cuts and no new taxes.  The main issue now is political:   Reid is proposing a two year package, tiding things over until after the 2012 elections, while Boehner wants to go through all of this again in a year.

Meanwhile, the country faces default and probably worldwide economic collapse if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by August 2.

Under President Clinton, the ascendant Republicans  in Congress shut down the government, sparking a popular backlash that re-elected the unpopular president.  I suspect the same thing will happen again:  Today’s ascendant Republicans, giddy with having taken the House of Representatives, will show themselves willing to shut down the economy, sparking a popular backlash that will re-elect President Obama.

Compromise

by Jimmy Veith

For many, the word “compromise” has negative connotations.  People who “compromise” are viewed as people who lack moral courage to live up to high ethical standards.  We admire most those individuals who stand up against the system and do the right thing regardless of what others think.  When “Mr. Smith” went toWashington, his filibuster in the Senate was not obstructionism.  It was a heroic act.      John Wayne never compromised.   Our aversion to compromise, is probably a reflection of our individualism, which is a dominate personality trait of Americans.

There are cultures, primarily in the East, that seem to place a greater emphasis on getting along with others.  The middle way or the “golden mean” is a dominant theme in their religions and philosophies, which place a greater emphasis on living in harmony with others.   We are more defined by our Judeo-Christian heritage which places a greater emphasis on absolute truths.

The Bible is full of warning and admonitions against compromise.  Yet, there are passages in the Bible that describe circumstances in which compromise is considered to be a good thing.  Consider Acts 15, which describes what is know as the Jerusalem conference, where Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the other Apostles to discus whether or not Gentiles who converted to Christianity had to become Jews first, and thus be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.  The view of Paul and Barnabas prevailed and the conference concluded that converts did not have to be circumcised.  (Yea!)  But even then, the Gentiles were instructed to comply with Jewish dietary laws.  (See Acts15: 20)   Was this an example of a compromise?    Are there other or better examples in the Bible where compromise is considered to be a good thing?

The United States Constitution is full of compromises.  The greatest conflict among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was between the big states and the little states.  The big states wanted proportional representation based on population.  The little states wanted equal representation so they would not be dominated by the big states.  This conflict threatened to tear the convention apart, until they decided on the so-called “Connecticut Compromise” which gave proportional representation to the House of Representatives and equal representation in the Senate.

Today, we are engaged in a national debate over what should be done to address our national debt crises.  The far right refuses to raise taxes.  The far left refuses to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits.   Isn’t this a situation where a compromise which does some of both, is the moral and ethical thing to do?

What are the moral and ethical dimensions of compromise?   Isn’t the attitude of “My way or the Highway!” repugnant in a Democracy?     Is it possible that in some circumstances, our willingness to compromise is an expression of Christian humility?

Headaches for Bachmann

It is being reported that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann suffers from “incapacitating” migraine headaches.  The implication is that this disqualifies her from office.  Is this a concern?  Or an example of the punditocracy, having already discredited her religious background, being willing to bring up anything to damage the prospects of a conservative candidate?

See Bachmann’s Headache | Stress-Related Condition | Pill Use | The Daily Caller, which broke the story, and The Fix at the Washington Post, which makes a big deal about how this will hurt her prospects.

Bachmann is no longer a Lutheran

It is now official, I guess.  Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann left the Wisconsin Synod shortly before running for president. This, as the press started portraying the conservative Lutheran denomination as a weird cult for believing that the Pope is the antichrist and that homosexuality is a sin.  From the Washington Post story:

The conservative church that Michele Bachmann officially left days before launching her presidential campaign said Friday that the Minnesota congresswoman’s decision came at their request.

“The impetus came from the church,” said Joel Hochmuth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the denominational organization that includes the church. “For the pastor’s sake, he wanted to know where he stood with the family.”

Bachmann (R) had stopped attending Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church two years ago but did not formally end her membership until June 21, a date first reported by CNN. The timing raised questions because it came shortly before she formally kicked off her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, and because the church has taken controversial stands on Catholicism and homosexuality.

Candidates have often come under fire for the religious company they keep. During the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was forced to disavow his affiliation with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright after videos emerged of Wright’s more controversial sermons, which included statements critical of the United States and what many considered to be slurs against white people.

A spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office said she now attends a non-denominational church in the Stillwater, Minn., area but declined to specify which one.

“As the family’s schedule has allowed, they have attended their current church throughout the past two years,” spokeswoman Becky Rogness said in an e-mail.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a conservative branch of Lutheranism that has about 390,000 adherents across the country. It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist. Bachmann has said emphatically that she does not share that view, and church officials recently told the Atlantic that it is not a central tenet of the faith.

The synod — a term Hochmuth defined as “a fellowship of congregations that hold to the same beliefs and doctrines” — also believes that homosexuality is a sin and can be changed.

Bachmann’s husband, Marcus Bachmann, has recently come under fire over his Christian-based counseling center’s treatment of gay clients. Several recent reports say the center practices “reparative therapy,” which seeks to “cure” gays and lesbians of their homosexuality.

On Thursday, Marcus Bachmann acknowledged in an interview with the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis that counselors at Bachmann and Associates do treat homosexuals who seek to become heterosexual, but that it is not the clinic’s main focus, and “we don’t have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone.”

Michele Bachmann stopped attending services at the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church after she moved to a different part of town, according to media reports. Around the time that her campaign for president geared up this spring, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz asked that she make clear her relationship with the church, Hochmuth said.

The Bachmanns then asked the church council that they be removed from the membership ranks — a request that is not required of a person that leaves the church, but assists with recordkeeping and helps the church ensure that “you’re in the spiritual care of someone else,” Hochmuth said. “In other words, we would want to know if you are being ‘fed the word,’ as we say.”

Bachmann did not specify to which church she was moving, Hochmuth said.

via Bachmann left church at pastor’s request, official says – The Washington Post.

The story is accompanied by another story (from the Religious News Service) on the WELS stance on the anti-Christ and the associated charge of anti-Catholicism (the abundance of links will fill you in on the whole controversy):

 The Lutheran denomination that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann quit in June sought to explain its belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ after reports questioned whether Bachmann is anti-Catholic. . . .

The denomination says on its Web site: “We identify the anti-Christ as the papacy. This is an historical judgment based on Scripture.’’ . . .The Republican, who has surged in recent presidential polls, denied that she is anti-Catholic in a 2006 debate. “It’s abhorrent, it’s religious bigotry. I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the pope is the anti-Christ, that’s absolutely false.’’Bachmann also said that her pastor, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz, told her he was “appalled that someone would put that out.’’

According to Hochmuth, the pastor told Bachmann that WELS “primarily views the office of the papacy as the anti-Christ, not the individual popes themselves.’’

Asked for comment, Birkholz said Thursday, “I have been asked by my congregation not to give any more interviews.’’

An online report in The Atlantic magazine on Thursday (July 14) reported on WELS’ anti-papal doctrine, and questioned whether Bachmann also subscribes to the view.

Bill Donohue, president of the watchdog Catholic League, said he does not believe Bachmann is anti-Catholic, but that “it is not inappropriate to ask some pointed questions of Rep. Bachmann and her religion’s tenets.’’

Hochmuth said in an interview the anti-papal doctrine is “not one of our driving views, and certainly not something that we preach from the pulpit.’’ Hochmuth said he doubts whether many members of WELS are aware of the doctrine, which dates to Protestant Reformer Martin Luther.

“As a confessional Lutheran church, we hold to the teachings of Martin Luther who himself maintained the papacy, and in turn the pope, has set himself up in place of Christ, and so is the anti-Christ,’’ Hochmuth said.

He also described the anti-Christ as a theological principle, not a “cartoon character with horns.’’

Hochmuth added that “we love and respect Catholic Christians … Yet we pray that they would come to see the errors of their church’s official doctrine that the pope is infallible and that no one can be saved outside of the Roman Catholic Church.’’

Was this well-handled?Is this responsible reporting?Was Michele Bachmann driven from her church in the same way Barack Obama was?

Should confessional Lutherans now refuse to support Bachmann now that she has abandoned her confirmation pledge to uphold the Lutheran confessions?

UPDATE:  The article in The Atlantic that broke the story is not all that bad, in that it explains the theological position pretty well.  HT to Jonathan and Todd for that.

And now the Marriage Pledge for politicians

Republican presidential candidates keep getting asked to sign pledges–not to raise taxes, to oppose abortion, etc.–in order to get the support of key voters.  The latest is a pledge about marriage that goes on to include stances on various issues of sexual morality.  Signers must promise not only to oppose gay marriage, but also to oppose divorce, extra-marital sex, pornography, women in combat, and to believe that homosexuality is a choice.  Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum have signed it.  Mitt Romney refuses to.  Tim Pawlenty has said he agrees with the substance of the document but refuses to sign it.  (Complicating the pledge was a statement since removed that said African-American families were better off under slavery than they are today.  Again, that statement has been removed and the signers are repudiating that part.)

Are such pledges wise?  While they might seal up some voters, won’t they alienate many more?  Given the cultural climate of today, isn’t a politician who signs a statement like this doomed to defeat?   Might Christian activists who demand this kind of ideological purity be engaging in a counter-productive effort, ensuring that candidates sympathetic to their cause will lose rather than win?

via Pawlenty punts, Romney rips Iowa marriage pledge – latimes.com.


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