Morning Report, July 20

Morning Report, July 20 July 20, 2009

1.  The White House is delaying release of its usual midsummer budget update, apparently because the news is so bad that it would further complicate, and possibly sink, their efforts to pass health care reform in the next month or so.  The administration promised economic armageddon if its stimulus were not passed and a swift recovery if it were–even as private forecasters predicted a much deeper recession and slower recovery.  Now the White House, I think, is paying for the optimistic picture it sold along with its stimulus.  Biden claimed they “misread” the economy, and Obama said they had “incomplete” information.

2. Robert Samuelson, a respected economist who tends to stand on the center-right side of things, agrees with the Obama administration that we should not be surprised to find that the stimulus has not yet stimulated the economy.  After all, “It was mostly a political exercise,” he writes, “designed to claim credit for any recovery, shower benefits on favored constituencies and signal support for fashionable causes.”  He rejects the notion of a second stimulus.  “The problem with the first stimulus was more its composition than its size. With budget deficits for 2009 and 2010 estimated by CBO at $1.8 trillion and $1.4 trillion (respectively, 13 percent and 9.9 percent of gross domestic product), it’s hard to argue they’re too tiny. Obama and congressional Democrats sacrificed real economic stimulus to promote parochial political interests. Any new “stimulus” should be financed by culling some of the old.”

In the same vein, Bobby Jindal makes a strong critique, and reminds everyone that he should be taken seriously as a 2012 contender, with an article in Politico.

3.  Malcom Gladwell speculates on the psychological causes of the financial collapse.

4.  I thought this was going to be yet another article where yet another writer is astounded to discover that the new version of evangelicals actually cares about the poor and the needy.  Thankfully, the author has the following paragraph:

“Let’s be clear: America’s evangelicals have long served the needy, and in all parts of the country. What is new and different about the Season of Service, though, is the participants’ emphasis on “preaching” through idealistic action rather than pious words, and their partnership with the progressive politicians who run City Hall. Weren’t evangelicals supposed to condemn liberal politicians rather than work with them?”

I don’t know if either of these elements is truly “new.”  And one would only expect evangelicals to condemn rather than work with a liberal politician if one assumes that evangelicals are too judgmental to work together in common cause with people different from them.  The truth is that evangelicals have been doing this sort of thing for a very long time.  Still, it’s nice to see someone recognize that, yes, Virginia, previous generations of evangelicals also cared about serving the needy.

Still, suggesting that evangelicalism is “evolving” because it is turning away from “culture and politics” battles to social service ministries–and thus, even while losing elections, “winning something even more important: it’s soul”–is rather irksome.  It presupposes that evangelical stances against abortion and same-sex marriage (wrongly called “cultural” issues) were backward and less evolved.  Secular progressives are finding here and there a version of evangelicalism they like better and choosing to call it more evolved and soulful.  Apparently evangelicalism loses its soul when it makes common cause with conservatives, but wins its soul when it makes common cause with liberals?

I love what people are doing in Portland with the Season of Service.  And this is a step in the right direction, since the author recognizes that evangelicals have always served the poor.  (Believing that government services doling out money and generating dependency are not the best approach to serving the poor is not the same as believing that individuals, churches and communities should have no concern for the poor whatsoever.)  Yet I’m still waiting for popular media to learn how to write about evangelicalism.  (Christianity Today does a better job here.)

5.  The Center for American Progress, America’s largest liberal think tank, issues a study announcing that, due to demographic trends, the culture wars are essentially over.  Among the issues embraced by the term “culture wars,” according to the author (referencing James Davison Hunter), are “family and religious values, feminism, gay rights, race, guns, and abortion.”  I’ve never seen it adequately explained why these are supposed to be cultural issues.  For most Christians these are deeply moral and theological issues.  Wherever one stands on race and guns and etc., the nature of family, the life of the unborn, the nature of sexuality, etc., are far more than merely cultural matters.  Where one stands on them is not a culture but a matter of faith.

The author writes:

Conservatives especially seemed happy to take a culture wars approach, reasoning that political debate around these issues would both mobilize their base and make it more difficult for progressives to benefit from their edge on domestic policy issues such as the economy and health care.

It’s very kind of the author to explain that this was the “reasoning” behind the “culture wars approach.”  It could not be, of course, that religious conservatives simply cared about these issues, held deep convictions about them, and were willing to make them major influences on their voting–could it?  No, no, it has to be a cynical ploy.  And this must be the way that religious conservatives overcame the inherent superiority of progressives on the economy and health care.  Progressives could not have lost, in other words, because their ideas on the economy and health care were wrong or less persuasive–no, of course not; they must have been undone by some cynical exploitation of “culture war” issues.

Among the major pieces of evidence the author cites are the victory of Barack Obama and the flame-out of Sarah Palin.  This is pretty thin gruel.  Obama is a far more effective spokesperson than Palin has been, and Obama won, if anything, not because of but in spite of his positions on abortion and gay marriage; in times of crisis it is defense and the economy that matter most as issues.  Remember that Obama was losing in the polls until the stock market cratered.

The rest of the argument concerns the voting preferences of the younger generation (including those too young to vote) and of minority groups.  Yet as one becomes older and becomes more established, with a vested interest in the status quo, one generally becomes more conservative–and Hispanics and African Americans are among the most conservative blocs when it comes to some ostensibly “cultural” issues.  David Paul Kuhn registers a dissenting opinion.

6.  Finally, Christianity Today reflects on “Who Speaks for Islam?”, an extensive study discussed at Patheos already.  They make a distinction between classical political liberalism, such as the views held by the American founders in favor of democracy and free markets, and moral liberalism.  Muslims are generally in favor of classic political liberalism and generally reject the second form of liberalism, “which is characterized by the right to blaspheme, pornography as a protected form of free expression, the exclusion of religious symbols from the public square, the right of teenagers to receive sex education and contraceptives, the right to abortion, prostitution as a worker’s right, and so on.”  They conclude that “the West would do well to show Muslims its more traditional face. Currently Muslims see America mostly through the lens of popular culture. But the values of Hollywood are not typical of the way most U.S. citizens live. If Muslims could see more Americans who go to church, raise intact families, and espouse traditional moral values, they would be less vulnerable to the propaganda of radical Islam.”

This seems right.  It has always struck me that Hollywood types were eager to talk about “why they hate us,” but certainly not eager to portray through popular culture (movies, music, etc.) a vision of America as a place of moral substance.  The reasons for Muslim antipathy toward the West are many, but one of those many is the immoral filth that the American movie and music industries pump out around the world.

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