Morning Report, August 17: Spiritual Snake Oil, Public Droption, Bushitler=Obamahitler, Mystery MD, Professor Summers, John Edwards' love child, and the amazing dancing Speaker of the House

1.  As mentioned in yesterday’s “Sunday Funnies,” the New York Times presented an article yesterday on “prosperity gospel” folks such as Kenneth Copeland and how they’ve continued to flourish in the midst of the recession.  In my role as the manager of the Evangelical Portal for Patheos, I try not to make any group that could be called “evangelical” feel unwelcome.  Yet this I cannot abide.  I find such spiritual swindlery obscene.  I do not doubt that many of the ministers engaged in this sort of ministry are sincere in their beliefs.  Yet they are exploiting the Word of God for financial gain, taking money from many who cannot afford it (and whose tithe would be better directed to authentic ministries) and making the whole of Christianity look like a farce to non-believers.

2.  The White House appears to be drawing back from the “public option,” which is presently one of the major centers of the anger the proposed reforms have elicited.  It’s unclear whether this was a white flag or a trial balloon, and probably it’s more of the latter.  Yet the Obama administration can claim that it is all for the public option even as its allies in Congress remove it from the bill.  This would shield the President from some of the anger that will surely flow from the Left should the public option be dropped.  Remember, there were many in the House who were pushing for single-payer government health insurance, and they only agreed to compromise when they were promised a strong public option.  Joe Klein thinks he is vindicated in his belief that the public option was never really intended, but was only kept in hand as a bargaining chip.  I don’t read it that way.  Klein thought the public option was not even going to make it into the bills, which it did so far, and I think the Obama team always wanted to pass the public option.

The public option is seen by many as an indirect way to crowd private insurers out of the market.  Since a government program need not turn a profit, and can operate at deficit as long as its funds are replenished by Congress, and can benefit in a thousand ways small and large from its status as the government’s own (and therefore preferred) provider, it is feared that private insurers would be unable to compete.  Barack Obama’s Op Ed yesterday promises four benefits for all Americans, and none of them requires a public option.  In fact, all could be achieved through more targeted changes, and it’s more than questionable whether the reforms currently on the table could deliver them.  Even those on the hard Left are condemning Obama for botching this whole process.

As Christians, we always have to honor an authority higher than the political.  We always have to ask: in what ways is this government failing to live up to the ideals set forth in the Word?  Even those who are ideologically liberal–actually, especially those who are liberal, since their voices will have more weight–should hold the Obama administration up against the highest standard and speak out where it is found wanting.  It seems to me that one of the reasons the administrations’ attempts to push reform through Congress have stalled is because people have begun to doubt that this is really about better serving Americans.  As with the stimulus package (which 57% believe has had no effect or a negative effect, and 60% believe will have no positive effect in the years to come), once the general principles are thrown into the meat grinder of Congress and all its committees, they emerge as an hodge-podge of half-efforts, dispensations to favored industries and voter constituencies, posturing for the next election, and efforts to grow the rolls of those who comprise government or are dependent upon it.  It’s hard to square the simple, idealistic rhetoric that streams so elegantly from Obama’s mouth with the inelegant, byzantine and ethically compromised monstrosities passing through Congress.

Obama should also stop saying things like “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” when so many people know that this will not be true, in practice.  If this reform passes, after people begin to find their employers dumping their insurance and paying the penalty instead, promises like that will come back to haunt Obama and the Democrats.  The administration is making the same mistake it made with the economic stimulus: claiming that we must either go their way, when we will find beds of roses, or we are headed to armageddon.  The public is smart enough to know a false sales pitch when it sees one.  Making the case for the need for reform is not making the case for why this reform is best.  Yes, the protesters at town halls should be civil and should allow for a true dialogue, but they’re angry, at least in part, because they are not getting a true accounting, a true dialogue that lays out all the facts and all the pluses and minuses, from the Obama administration.

3.  Whenever an activist strongly opposes something in the American political arena, there seems to be a strong temptation to label the leader of the opposite side a “Hitler.”  People on the Left referred to “Bushitler” for years and propogated all manner of Bush assassination porn (they didn’t receive the outraged coverage that anti-Obama posters have, but they were there, by the thousands).  Of course it’s not surprising to see the same thing appearing on the Right.  This is a human foible, not a Left or a Right one.  But it’s absurd.  Nothing we have seen has remotely approached the horror of the Nazi regime, or of fascism in general.  By likening Bush or Obama to Hitler, we belittle the evil that Hitler represented.  I’ve been against this from the start, and recently several opinion pieces (see this and this) have appeared along these lines.

We need a civil discussion of health care reform, one that is honest about all of the facts, not just the facts that support one side of the argument or the other (a fairly balanced look, which shows that America does not have the worst health care in the developed world, all claims to the contrary, can be found here).  We also need a transparent process.  Neither side is reassured by backroom deals with big Pharma.  (Pharma must have been betting that some major reform was inevitable, and this was the way they could limit the damage to themselves.  As major reform becomes less likely, and the Obama administration publicly retreats from the promises it made to Pharma, one wonders whether Pharma will want out.)

4.  Amid all the talk of astroturfing, of course, it has come to light that organizations associated with the Obama administration really are paying people to agitate for the Dems’ health care reform proposals.  Also, here is an interesting case of an Obama supporter pretending to be a doctor in order to give more heft to her support.  When the people who are supposed to be asking the tough questions are big-time supporters (or children of big-time supporters) of Obama, they are not necessarily “plants.”  They are simply people who wish for Obama to succeed, and understand that their words will mean more to listeners if they are not identified as complete partisans.  This happens on both sides, by the way.

It’s actually rather disappointing that the Obama camp has been screening those it lets into his town hall meetings on the subject.  It could have been enlightening if Obama spoke with someone who was genuinely upset about his proposed reforms–and especially if Obama acknowledged that there was legitimacy (since there is) in some of his/her concerns.  For a President so fond of ‘teaching moments,’ he should not let this one go.

5.  One of the big issues concerning Pharmaceuticals is how long they can be the sole producers of a drug they develop.  Pharma is pressing for 12 years from the time when a new drug hits to the market to when a generic version becomes available.  The Obama camp is pressing for 7 years.  Would it not be possible to institute a rigorous accounting process for the costs of developing these drugs, and when the costs are extreme give the manufacturer 12 years–and when the costs are lesser, the period of exclusivity is lesser?  This would seem to be a common-sense solution.  What is the problem with it?

6.  A thoughtful reflection on what Larry Summers the professor would think of the economic policies that Larry Summers the advisor has seen on his watch.  Also, as predicted, one of the metrics by which we will measure the Bush and Obama responses to the economic crisis is by comparison with Europe–especially since France and Germany, the two countries that famously rejected Obama’s call for more big spending, are leading the recovery, and well ahead of us.

7.  Apparently John Edwards is going to admit what seemed obvious: that he really is the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby.  All those protestations to the contrary, he fathered this child, which means that he carried on the affair far longer than he admitted, and indeed carried it on past the point where his wife Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer and they went around the country advertising the wonderfulness of their relationship.  This raises all sorts of legal questions as well, since campaign money was flowing toward Rielle Hunter, and Edwards apparently arranged for his long-time aide to claim that he was the father instead.  Some on the Left, like Markos Moulitsas (the guru of the Daily Kos) insisted there was no evidence and only whack-jobs would believe Edwards was the father.  Others, like Micky Kaus (a center-left figure, I suppose), are justly redeemed.

8.  This story begins: “Students, teachers and local pastors are protesting over a court case involving a northern Florida school principal and an athletic director who are facing criminal charges and up to six months in jail over their offer of a mealtime prayer.”  Worth reading.

8.  And to end on a light note: the new cast of “Dancing with the Stars” is revealed.  Biggest surprise: Tom Delay.  I guess he decided his political career cannot be resurrected.  As Michael Sherer says, “What a country.”

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

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