The GOP's in-house comic

stine_bricksBrad Stine landed the gig, sort of. The conservative and Christian comedian, who really wanted to perform at the Republican National Convention, didn’t win the same billing as Michael W. Smith or Third Day, but NPR’s Talk of the Nation mentions that he performed at “R: The Party,” hosted by the hard-partying Bush twins (click here for Talk of the Nation‘s interview, which lasts just over three minutes).

A radio actualities page on the convention website describes him as “Brad Stein, Convention Comedian” (click here for Stine’s one-minute paean to George W. Bush).

The GOP convention is not the first venue to botch Stine’s name. In an interview on Thursday with Terry Gross of Fresh Air, Stine joked about people who confuse him with Ben Stein, the former Nixon speechwriter, harried teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and egghead host of the campy game show Win Ben Stein’s Money. When Gross said his name “sounded so Jewish,” Stine talked about wishing he could be Jewish (or left-handed). Perhaps most amazing of all, Stine managed to make Gross — not your typical patron of Christian-subculture comedy — laugh several times.

If Stine finally realizes his dream of performing on The Tonight Show, he may have to drop his career-defining complaint about being held back because of his faith and his hairy-chested patriotism.

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Watch the conscience clause: GOP ready for pro-choice era?

fetus_gopWhile I hesitate to jump-start the no-way-to-win debate about abortion opinion polls, I owe it to people on both sides of that stat fight to pass along a Newsweek article by Karen Fragala entitled “A Fight for the GOP’s ‘Heart and Soul.’ ” It includes this amazing summary:

The GOP’s largest pro-choice advocacy group, the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), was a chief proponent of the new language in the platform preamble and regards the change as a small step in the right direction. Far from viewing itself as a renegade faction, the RMC touts a recent American Viewpoint poll that found that 73 percent of Republicans claim to be pro-choice. The organization says it is an outspoken minority that has overwhelmed those voices and established the party’s agenda.

This a fascinating statement, but ultimately meaningless — because it does not include the language of the poll question these Republicans were answering. Does “pro-choice” mean that they do not favor overthrowing Roe? Does it mean that they do not want a total ban, but support restrictions after viability? Stripped of this language, the figure is meaningless — except to say that the GOP is not a party united in its defense of the unborn.

So this would mean that 27 percent or so of God’s Own Party is “pro-life,” contrasted with what percentage of the Democrats? You might recall the fairly recent Zogby International poll indicating that 43 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement that abortion “destroys a human life and is manslaughter.” And 78 percent of Hispanics agreed that abortions should be outlawed. These numbers are hard to deal with, but much better than the totally vague Newsweek number.

So 43 percent of Democrats are pro-life, but only 27 percent of Republicans? Whatever. As I wrote a week or so ago, this just shows you the degree to which the great middle of American voters are defined by the questions they are asked, as much or more than the answers they give. Journalists must give us the information to know how to judge these statistics.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments in the two party platforms. You may recall that the Democrats’ 2000 platform said their party is “a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.” Then the 2004 platform replaces this conscience clause with a statement that Democrats “stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine” abortion rights.

Now, the Republican Majority for Choice lobby is hailing a change in the 2004 GOP platform preamble, which now calls on Republicans to “accept and respect” each other’s divergent views on social issues. Thus, that Newsweek Q&A with RMC executive director Kellie Rose Ferguson gladly proclaims:

The pro-choice position is certainly the Republican position. Our core beliefs are limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom. That’s the Republican base. The party has strayed a bit from that, and we’re doing everything we can to bring it back.

Do you envision a shift in the next few years toward a more libertarian stance in the Republican Party regarding social issues?

We certainly hope so. The party leadership is understanding that moderates are a key voting bloc and that to win elections, you need to turn out the moderate base, specifically in key states. We respect the president’s personal views on these issues, but we don’t think his personal views should be turned into policy issues for the country.

So the question is whether the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudolph Giuliani, Andrew Sullivan party will continue to rise with the tide of mass media and the splintering of mainline and even evangelical Protestantism. This is a political stance that even plays well in prime time on Fox News.

Meanwhile, President Bush did include what some might call a “James Dobson” passage in his acceptance speech. But note the lack of specifics in this text:

Because family and work are sources of stability and dignity, I support welfare reform that strengthens family and requires work. Because a caring society will value its weakest members, we must make a place for the unborn child. Because religious charities provide a safety net of mercy and compassion, our government must never discriminate against them. Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support the protection of marriage against activist judges. …

My opponent recently announced that he is the candidate of “conservative values,” which must have come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters. Now, there are some problems with this claim. If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I’m afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values. If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values. If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling the Reagan presidency eight years of “moral darkness,” then you may be a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of them.

Thus, the leader of the far, far right — to read the “moderates” who favor abortion on demand — is now vague on abortion and somewhat specific on the definition of marriage. Perhaps that is a poll-data thing. Nevertheless, this language was still too much for Sullivan, as a “moderate.”

I CANNOT SUPPORT HIM IN NOVEMBER: I will add one thing more. And that is the personal sadness I feel that this president who praises freedom wishes to take it away from a whole group of Americans who might otherwise support many parts of his agenda. To see the second family tableau with one family member missing because of her sexual orientation pains me to the core. And the president made it clear that discriminating against gay people, keeping them from full civic dignity and equality, is now a core value for him and his party. The opposite is a core value for me. Some things you can trade away. Some things you can compromise on. Some things you can give any politician a pass on. But there are other values — of basic human dignity and equality — that cannot be sacrificed without losing your integrity itself. That’s why, despite my deep admiration for some of what this president has done to defeat terror, and my affection for him as a human being, I cannot support his candidacy. Not only would I be abandoning the small government conservatism I hold dear, and the hope of freedom at home as well as abroad, I would be betraying the people I love. And that I won’t do.

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So little time to write, here in the path of the storm

FrancesBelieve me, there are all kinds of things I would like to write about these days on this here blog.

Let me give you an example.

* I have long thought that if you wanted to understand where a man is really coming from, if helps to pay attention to the life and beliefs of his wife and children. President Ronald Reagan leaps to mind, along with his administration’s very mixed track record on moral and cultural issues. With that in mind, I have wanted to pause and write a bit about the performance of the Bush twins the other night. Do you think the religious right folks are chatting that up these days?

Here’s one of the best takes on that disaster, drawn from John Podhoretz at the New York Post. The evening included sublime moments for the political right, and then:

The ridiculous — politically, culturally and sociologically speaking — was the joint address by the Bush twins. In their debut on the political stage, they acted not like the daughters and granddaughters of two presidents, but like aspiring contestants on an MTV Spring Break dating show. I’m surprised they didn’t come out wearing wet T-shirts.

* I could write about that, but there isn’t really time. I could even find a way to link that story to the latest Britney news. It seems that THE WEDDING will be Catholic, not Kabbalah. What will her Southern Baptist parents say?

* I have also wanted to comment on another AP Stylebook issue that is sort of in the news. When a married man is accused of seeking gay sex, why do people say this proves he is gay — instead of bisexual? I mean, even the Kinsey Report said human sexuality is a spectrum of behaviors and, in many cases, not a matter of either-or. Is bisexuality a tougher legal sell these days? Just asking.

* Yes, I could write about that, but there’s just no time at the moment. And what about all of those Contemporary Christian Music stars at the Republican National Convention? The Democrats have real music stars and the Republicans have niche-market stars. Something tells me that this is not a fair fight, in terms of star power. But a born-again Alice Cooper gig sponsored by the Family Research Council would be cool. Don’t you think?

* And then there was that Zell Miller speech, a vivid reminder of life in the Democratic Party before pro-life, culturally conservative politicians were banned from public events. Wasn’t it fascinating that the most overtly religious speech in prime time at the GOP rally was given by a Democrat?

Anyone who wants to remember what the Southern half of the old FDR-Truman coalition used to sound like can read this this Miller quote about W. Bush:

I can identify with someone who has lived that line in “Amazing Grace,” “Was blind, but now I see,” and I like the fact that he’s the same man on Saturday night that he is on Sunday morning. … I have knocked on the door of this man’s soul and found someone home, a God-fearing man with a good heart and a spine of tempered steel.

Gosh, so many things to write about these days.

But, you know what, I am really more interested in requesting the prayers of GetReligion readers who are into that kind of thing. The hurricane shutters on our house are almost totally up and we have just made the decision that, unless something changes radically, we are riding the storm out here in West Palm Beach. We are not in the evacuation zone and we live in a post-Andrew house. If you don’t know what that means, I don’t have time to explain it.

And one more thing. Palm Beach Atlantic University, where I teach, is on the canal in downtown. If we take a direct hit and Palm Beach island goes under water, the campus will suddenly be facing the storm surge. This has not happened since 1928 or so and the city is a radically different place now. No one really knows what will happen downtown.

So I may or may not vanish for a few days on the blog.

This morning, I took the “essentials” out of my campus office. It is an interesting thing, trying to choose what goes in one box to take out of the flood zone.

All my academic books are still there on the shelves, covered by plastic trash bags. Then there are the four tall filing cabinets full of notes from 25 years of reporting. They could be ruined. All those manila folders full of notes scribbled in Flair pen — the ink that runs when it gets wet.

I saved things that cannot be replaced, like lecture notes, icons from Greece, a few marked-up books and old video tapes. Oh, that and the large oil painting of Aslan. Further up and further in.

One box. To go. It was a sobering process. And not a bad thing to have to do, every now and then.

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F Bomb true confessions

bauerNearly 20 years ago, I thought my habit of cursing was under control. Then I went to work at a daily newspaper, and I soon tumbled off the wagon. I usually give up cursing for Lent, but I spend the rest of the year in such verbal decadence that I have something to give up again by the next Lent.

The Hill reports that Gary Bauer, who once built a stereotype-defying friendship with Richard Gere, dropped the F Bomb in response to some of those charming protesters who have made Republicans feel so welcome in Manhattan this week. If GetReligion is to go medieval on Bauer for this moral failure, the moral indignation will have to come from Terry. Don’t hold your breath, though: my hurricane-threatened colleague, knowing of my decades-long weakness for invective, has goaded me into writing this.

Nor can I pretend to feeling a greater sense of scandal when Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy where to stick it. Considering that the Senate floor once was the scene of a thrashing, I find it impossible to work myself into a lather about the vice president’s speech habits. (Among the pundits, Charles Krauthammer wrote the most candid column on the carnal pleasure of letting the F Bomb fly.)

None of this is to say the F Bomb is a good thing, or that our culture would be better off with more of it. I prefer to keep it behind a Break Only in Rhetorical Emergency glass, then to spend at least a day or two in self-loathing. But if you’re a tailgater, an especially aggressive panhandler or a mincing motives-basher, it’s your fault. Peace out.

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Honest questions for W

bush_nimbusBack in June, I took issue with a Time cover story by Nancy Gibbs that included this sentence: “It is as though Bush can’t allow the possibility that the enemy is motivated by its understanding of God’s will lest his critics note that he believes the same of himself.”

Gibbs, joined by her colleague John Dickerson, pursues the idea again this week in a Q&A with Bush, and with a surprising result: he doubts whether members of Al Qaeda are even real theists, or “truly religious.” Let’s go to the Q&A:

You’ve said that you don’t think that they’re religious people.

I don’t.

They’re religiously motivated.

I don’t think people who would believe in an Almighty God would slit somebody’s throat, just like that. I believe that they use religion as a justification for their ideology. But I don’t view killers as truly religious people.

I think this reflects a failure of the president’s religious imagination. To deny that “religious people” can be capable of monstrous acts is, it seems to me, just as foolish as insisting that religious faith invariably leads to monstrous acts.

But here’s a more interesting turn in the conversation, informed by a sharp follow-up:

Faith is important to you. Have you ever prayed for Saddam?

No.

There is that challenge to pray for your enemies.

Absolutely. But you asked me a personal question, Do I pray for him? No, I haven’t. I pray for a lot of things. I pray for the safety of our troops, I pray for those whose hearts are broken because of the decisions I made, I pray for strength, I pray for wisdom. Maybe I will [pray for Saddam], now that you’ve asked the question.

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Who is a liberal? Yin and yang at GOP convention

rudy2004It’s political convention time again and, once again, it is time to offer kudos to two of the best sites in terms of the religious language and symbolism of this media event. As with the Democrats, the yin and the yang of Republican God-talk is being served up by Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman and Christianity Today blog maestro Ted Olsen.

Yesterday, Olsen offered up a lively contrast of the activities of the various “non-partisan” groups on the religious left and the religious right. (Another AP Stylebook aside: Why does it look strange to leave “religious right” lower case, yet “religious left” looks strange upper case?) The headline on this blog report was a classic: “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Ad Hominem Attacks.”

Don’t miss the coverage of the Family Research Council fortune cookies being handed out in New York. And there is this especially concise commentary on President Bill Clinton’s non-partisan sermon at Manhattan’s cathedral of the lifestyle left, Riverside Church:

Kevin Madden, spokesman for the Bush campaign, told the New York Daily News, “It’s astonishing that anyone would use a church pulpit to launch a baseless attack containing nothing but false accusations.”

Oh, come on. Bill Clinton accuses Republicans of only following nine of the Ten Commandments and of bearing false witness, and the best response you can come up with is that he’s misusing a pulpit?

On the other side of the aisle, sort of, Waldman has really come out of the blocks smoking in his convention blog. Some of the commentary is especially interesting in light of our recent discussions here at GetReligion.org on the meaning of religious labels such as “fundamentalist.” Apparently, these kinds of issues are hotly discussed among the members of God’s Own Party. Check out this anecdote from the almost-Libertarian front lines:

Went to a party thrown by the estimable conservative magazine National Review. Spoke to a woman wearing an “I Only Sleep with Republicans” button.

“Hey, I thought Republicans advocated abstinence before marriage,” I said.

“That’s conservative Republicans,” she said.

Who says they don’t have a big tent?

There’s more. Political conventions are, these days, about as spontaneous as discussions of the morality of abortion in a meeting of the Political Science department at the University of California at Berkeley. In other words, most of the speeches and texts are carved in stone long before the spotlights are turned on.

But perhaps it is hard to make some of the Republican Party’s religious voices seek the soft, non-offensive hymns of the party elite. Many of our readers would be interested in the online dialogue that is taking place between Waldman and Dr. Marvin Olasky of World magazine about the policy implications of George W. Bush being “twice born,” while John Kerry has only been “born once.” This is one of those cases where the views of the two men should be read — instead of turned into quickie headlines.

And here is another choice Waldman anecdote from the pre-prime time podium action at the convention.

When I read the prepared text of the speech by Mississippi congressional candidate Clinton LeSueur, I saw the line “The foundation of this great nation is faith,” and thought there was nothing controversial in that. Chris Suellentrop at Slate listened to the actual speech, in which LeSueur declared instead: “The very foundation of this country is Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ.”

Go ahead, Cosmo and company, serve up your favorite one-liners about Thomas Jefferson.

Actually, I haven’t been paying that much attention to the convention for reasons that are obvious for anyone who can tune in the Weather Channel. Does anyone know how to put up metal hurricane shutters?

What I have seen so far has — surprise! — raised more questions for me about the way the mainstream media use certain loaded words. This time around, I am wondering what the word “moderate” means when applied to members of the Republican Party who are pro-abortion rights. As they march to the platform, commentators are noting that their presence is an attempt by the GOP to reach out beyond its “conservative” base and reach “moderate” voters.

I am confused and want to ask this question. If abortion on demand is the “moderate” position, what is the “liberal” position? For years, polls seem to indicate that the public is divided three ways on this most painful of issues. On one side is a camp of people who do not want to limit abortion in any way, even when dealing with the partial-birth procedure that some Democrats have compared with legal infanticide. On the right are the conservatives — fundamentalists, even — who want an outright ban with few, if any, exceptions. In between is the great muddy middle in the electorate that favors some legal restrictions.

But in public media, “moderate” means pro-abortion-rights — period. Those who favor any legal limits are “conservatives.”

Help me out here. Who are the “liberals”? What is the “liberal” position on abortion? Has anyone seen this perfectly honorable political term used lately, in the context of political issues linked to a debate about morality and culture?

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Meet Leon Mosley, dangerous theocrat

mosleyChris “The Cosmopolitan,” one of GetReligion’s most frequent voices of dissent, has now delivered a “God’s Official Party” quote.

Here is Chris’ comment, posted to the thread on Trying to out-Jesus the Republicans, in its entirety:

Okay, Doug–It’s Time For Crow!

Three weeks ago tomorrow you issued a challenge in the August 10 Get Religion posting:

A challenge: Produce a “God’s Official Party” quote

“I need to ask this: Can anyone find a quote from even a state-level Republican leader claiming that believers would or should vote only for Republicans?”

Well, good things come to those who wait. And Michael Crowley, posting in today’s TNR blog, provides the documentation:

http://www.tnr.com/blog/rnc

[Here's a more direct link that doesn't require scrolling down.]

BASE BALL:

This morning I stopped by a meeting of the Iowa GOP delegation, attended by Nebraska Senator (and potential 2008 candidate) Chuck Hagel. I’ll be writing more about Hagel later this week, but the thrust of Hagel’s short speech was a strong call for a more multilateralist U.S. foreign policy. Speaking in a drab little conference room at a midtown Sheraton Hotel, Hagel said that America must “reach out” to allies in the war on terror, and follow ideals of “tolerance, listening to people, bringing people together with a common purpose.” It all sounded more like John Kerry than a Republican angling for a presidential bid. It’s not clear how well this line went over. The delegates interrupted Hagel’s remarks with applause a couple of times, but only when he talked about ending divisiveness in politics–never during his foreign policy spiel. It seemed to me that these delegates have other priorities. Soon after Hagel spoke, the acting state Republican chair–an African-American man in a white cowboy hat named Leon Mosley–urged his delegates, “Let’s remember what’s paramount in our life: God … This is the GOP: God’s Official Party.” At that, the room burst into sustained applause. Behold, the Republican base.

I propose the crow be served and eaten with gusto equal to the original post. How about it?

Congratulations, Chris. I’ll take this crow appetizer with Thai peanut sauce. If you’d like me to send a prize acknowledging this stunning victory, whether something from the Air America gift shop or a bobble-headed saint, let’s talk.

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Trying to out-Jesus the Republicans

Bill Clinton can be eloquent in the pulpit, as he was in the Memphis Speech in 1993 (excerpts here). Like so many politicians, however, Clinton is not above using a weighty moment to attempt some score-settling, as in his remarks yesterday at The Riverside Church.

Most news reports focused on Clinton’s chutzpah-laden charge that “our friends on the other side have become the people of the Nine Commandments” because of TV ads from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Columnist Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted Clinton weighing in on two non-negotiable planks of the Sexual Revolution:

Clinton took up a pair of issues, the labeling of pro-choice advocates as “pro-abortion,” and the demonizing of gay and lesbian relationships using Old Testament scriptural references.

“I have yet to meet anyone who is for abortion,” said the former president. He argued that being for choice means safeguarding a deeply personal decision that should be made in the privacy of the family.

“I’m not ashamed to say gay people shouldn’t be discriminated against, and I don’t think Jesus had much to say on the subject,” Clinton added.

Clinton’s remarks were part of announcements regarding the Riverside-backed Mobilization 2004 campaign. The sermon was by the Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Stiers on the theme of “Come to the Banquet.” (No texts or cassettes of the sermon or of Clinton’s remarks are yet available on Riverside’s website, but Sunday’s order of worship is here.)

So far as Connelly is concerned, Mobilization 2004 is the sweet voice of reason, as opposed to the Christian Right:

Mobilization 2004 aims not only to put the faithful on the streets but to reach voters’ minds. If successful, it will provide an alternative to the heavily ideological “Voters Guides” distributed by such religious right groups as the Christian Coalition.

The principles include — but go beyond — the Protestant churches’ historic social justice theme of responsibility for children, the disadvantaged and the elderly. As an example, Principle No. 6 says: “Disdain the Arrogance of Power.”

It reads: “Does the policy show humility before the governed, and respect the need for checks and balances on power? Does it fall victim to the hubris of ideological certainty, or a sense of entitlement to govern?”

Principle No. 7 takes up a similar theme: “Guard Freedom of Thought and Discussion: Does the policy provide for free press, free discussion, the expression of dissent, along with fair and just methods of participation in the democratic process.”

Such are not principles generally associated with such administration figures as Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

There’s absolutely no ideology in those principles, heavens no.

I’ve not found a single story today that questions whether Clinton’s remarks at Riverside might just qualify, ever so slightly, as electioneering from a church pulpit. So far there has been no horrified reaction from Americans United, The Interfaith Alliance or Sojourners. (But you can watch Sojourners’ cartoonish perceptions of the Christian Right here. This video makes Choice Chick look like high art by comparison.)

Julia Malone of Cox News Service explored some of these questions on Aug. 13, reporting that Americans United has sometimes protested pro-Democrat breaches of the church-state wall o’ separation:

Americans United executive director Barry W. Lynn insisted that his group does not target conservatives. He noted that they are also seeking an IRS probe of the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, where the Rev. Gregory Groover welcomed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Palm Sunday as “the next president of the United States.”

In an interview Thursday, the pastor said, “I am personally a registered Democrat and have been all of my voting years, but I do not as a reverend endorse any candidates.” His introduction of Kerry was “absolutely not” an endorsement, he said.

Don Parker, spokesman for the liberal-leaning Interfaith Alliance, which officially opposes all partisan politics in the pulpit, said that black churches are not scrutinized as strictly. “There has to be a historical understanding” of the special political and civil rights role of African-American churches in their communities, he said.

At a forum last March in Washington, a board member of the Interfaith Alliance, the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr. of New York City’s Riverside Church, said that he will be tacitly endorsing the Democrat from the pulpit.

“When I stand up in front of my congregation and tell them what principles I think our faith would cause us to concentrate on, they pretty much get the impression,” said the noted black minister, who added wryly: “I don’t have to call anybody’s name.”

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